Sunday, September 26, 2010

Step-by-Step Watercolour Painting - Part 5

This is the last Part in the Step-by-Step Watercolour Painting Series.  You can see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 by clicking on these links.

I started with a photo that I had taken a while ago.  I have been working on these plastic animals in bowls for sometime, and have quite a few reference photos.  This painting is 18cm x 18cm big, a bit bigger than the subject matter (the bowl is about 10cm in diameter.)

It has been quite some time since I have used watercolours, and in this work, I experimented with adding gum arabic to the paint to give it a gloss.  There is not much difference between these three stages, just a tweaking of the wash on the bowl, and cleaning up some of the details that got lost.

Figure 18

Figure 19

Kerry Daley, Settling In. Watercolour on Paper 18cm x 18cm © 2010

Overall, I am happy with the result.  If I had to paint this again though, I would definitely do the bowl first and the insects afterwards.  It was difficult to work on the bowl with the insects already painted, especially as I had used so much gum arabic, and the paint came off the paper very easily.

While trawling the net this week, I came across these great things:

I would like to thank Katherine Tyrell of Making a Mark and Darren Brant for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave a comment.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Top 10 Reason Why We Make Art

When we want to make art but don't know where to start, or feel stuck in a rut or a slump - it can help to think about why other people make art.

Thinking generally about why humans make art, can help us to clarify specifically why we want to make art ourselves.

Humans are driven to create and there are probably as many reasons to make art as there are people, but here are the top 10 reasons why people have made art throughout all time.

1. We make art to tell a story.
Art is primarily a powerful form of communication, a visual language - we speak to our viewers through our work and we tell them things. The stories we relate may be other peoples' stories, our own stories, those of our family or culture, or even universal stories. The desire to communicate is an overwhelming human need that has found expression in all forms of creative work throughout history.

2. We make art to honour the gods.
Western art was once dominated by images of Christianity. The Church was a huge patron of the arts, commissioning countless important religious work. In times when few people were literate, the walls and ceilings of churches were painted with scenes to tell stories of the bible.  Wealthy individuals also commissioned devotional objects from artists. Prior to Christian times, art of pre-history and of the Greek and Roman periods incorporated religious and mythological themes. In modern times, with the decline of organised religion, many artists make work to meet a personal spiritual need.  

3. We make art to mirror our external reality.
Artists have painted nature for centuries, but until the Dutch artists of the 17th century started to paint landscapes and still life for their own sake, it served as only a backdrop to more 'important' subject matter. Since that time, we have been captivated by the people, objects and natural wonders of the world around us and compelled to capture a likeness of them for posterity.  

4. We make art to clarify our internal reality.
Our internal world is rich with thoughts, feelings and emotions that we draw on to inspire our work. We can use our imagination to create elaborate fantasies.  Emotion or mood can be expressed in realistic work through poses and expressions and in non-representational work, through colour and composition. Some artists choose to emphasise the concept of the work as opposed to its physical expression, the intellectual idea becoming more important than the look of the work itself. 

5. We make art to keep a record.
Before the invention of photography, an important function of art was to make a visual document. Those in power wanted a record of themselves, their families and significant events. This was especially true if the wealthy patron was the hero or victor in the situation. Although art is not used in this way in society today, it can still be a powerful way to record and remember on a personal level.

6. We make art to influence.
 Some artists use their work to support a regime which they believe is best for their society or the world, and other use art to oppose a repressive or corrupt government. Art can be a powerful tool of propaganda. Large public works are often commissioned by ruling powers to encourage patriotism. As a form of communication, art can be used to influence those viewing it.

7. We make art for fun, to entertain, to lift our spirits.
Art can be a creative and satisfying pastime, it can be therapeutic and uplifting for the artist, and also a positive viewing experience. Some art is humourous and fun, incorporating visual puns and in-jokes, some is light hearted and deliberately entertaining.

8. We make art to demonstrate collective pride.
The art work of certain cultural groups can be identified by a unique style, the style becoming synonymous with the people and customs of that group.  In some traditional societies, dress, beadwork, ceramic wares and painting styles for example are attributed to the group rather than a specific individual.

9. We make art to decorate our belongings and our surroundings.
From the time man started to make tools, he has been compelled to make those tools beautiful as well as functional. From the day man sought shelter from the elements, he has been driven to decorate that shelter. Visual appeal has always been as important, and in some cases more important, than practicality. Art satisfies our inherent desire for beauty.

10. We make art because we can.
And that is the wonder of it all, through art, we are able to communicate, to express ourselves spiritually, to imitate the world around us, to disclose our innermost secrets; we are able to influence the thoughts and feelings of others, to entertain, to demonstrate allegiance and to add to the beauty around us.  Through art we can be totally ourselves and totally human.

These are the top 10 reasons why humans throughout the ages have made art, how many reasons do we have to not make art?

Perhaps that is a story for another day.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Find Great Ideas For Your Paintings - Day 3

This is the third day in the series on ideas, scratching around in our lives to find those sparks that get us working.
Day 1, we considered our own art work and our sketchbooks in particular, as a possible source of ideas.
Day 2, we looked at how the work of other artists can help us generate ideas for our own work.

Each of us has a unique approach to finding ideas and turning those ideas into paintings, drawings, sculptures or other creative works. There is no magic formula, ideas come from everywhere. As creative people, we need to be ready to jot
down any new idea that comes to us by having a notebook or sketchbook on hand. 

Be intuitive – when something feels right – when it feels like a good idea – it probably is. Make a note, take a photo, do a quick thumbnail - don't let it go.

Ideas come from the world around us
There are as many ideas as there are things to look at. Artists are inspired by things that they see in the world around them.
Nature: landscapes, plants, stones, bones, seeds, shells, seascapes.
Countless artists look to nature for ideas like ConstableTurner, and Monet.

People: faces, groups, relationships, old people, children. Chuck CloseLucien FreudRon MeurckCarravagio,  RubensAdolphe-William BouguereauHenry Moore all have people as their subject matter.

Animals: ideas for paintings can come from wild animals, pets, farm animals, insects, fish, etc.
Lascaux Cave paintingsRosa Bonheur and George Stubbs are examples.

Objects: still life groupings, fruit, food, bottles, cups, cakes, flowers. Wayne ThiebaudCezanneJuan Sanchez CotanAudrey Flack, are artists who have grouped objects to paint.

Man-made objects: buildings, interiors, mechanical objects, gadgets, clothes, jewellery, cars and vehicles Richard EstesClaes Oldenburg, are examples.

Ideas come from our interior world

Our thoughts, feelings and emotions, intellectual ideas, imagination and sometimes moods are a rich source of ideas and subject matter.
Artist who look inside of themselves for ideas, include Heironymus Bosch, Paul Klee, the Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, Surrealists like Max Ernst and Salvador Dali, (who described his paintings as “hand painted dream photographs”), William Blake, Arthur Boyd, Wassily Kandinsky, to name just a few.

Ideas are everywhere - cultivate an open mind alert to the possibility of ideas in all environments and situations. 

4 Foolproof ways to capture that idea

1. Make a note.  Write down everything that comes to you as you think of it.  Be as detailed as the situation allows.  If you are too brief or cryptic, it may not jog your memory as you hoped when you come back to it in a few days.  Make your note legible!

2. Take a photo.  Take photos of the things that excite you visually when you are out and about. The photos may not become paintings, but they may give you ideas for backgrounds, moods, colours or compositions.

3. Do a quick thumbnail sketch. A tiny sketch should be sufficient, but if you are worried about details, take notes too.

4. Collect things. Postcards, pictures, clippings, ticket stubs, coins, stones, feathers, shells, bottle tops, cash slips, coasters, etc, can all become ideas for work or can be incorporated into the work.  They are also great reminders of mood, conversations and places.

“Ideas come when we do not expect them, and not when we are brooding and searching at our desks. Yet ideas would certainly not come to mind had we not brooded at our desks and searched for answers with passionate devotion."

Max Weber

Saturday, September 18, 2010

5 Favourite Watercolour Paintings

Here are 5 of my favourite watercolour paintings.  

The style of these paintings was inspired by botanical painting after I had seen a wonderful exhibition of the Shirley Sherwood Collection of Botanical Art at the Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town, South Africa.

This is a painting of a loquat leaf from a tree outside the classroom where I taught high school Art.  It is painted on a smooth paper called Schoellershammer. The paint sits on the surface of the paper and does not soak in as it would on a watercolour paper.  The colours and edges are crisp and clean as a result. 

This is a piece of copper wire.  I love the delicate lines.

Shells are among my favourite painting subjects.

I picked this mushroom straight out of the lawn in our garden in South Africa.  I had to keep it in some soil in a dark kitchen cupboard until I had finished painting it.

This was a beautiful specimen of a weaver nest that I kept for a long time and drew and painted.

If you would like to see how I approach a watercolour painting, I have photographed and explained the stages in a series of posts starting at A Step-by-Step Watercolour Painting.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Step-by-Step Watercolour Painting - Part 4

This is Part 4 of my watercolour painting. I have been photographing each stage to show the development of a watercolour painting step-by-step.  You can click on these links to see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

Figure 16

Figure 17
In these photos, I am starting to put in the washes for the bowl - very nerve racking, as I am quite happy with how the bugs have turned out, and don't want to mess up at this stage!

In a perfect world, I would have used masking fluid on the bugs and on all the little openings in the bowl, laid over a perfect wash, removed the masking fluid and then painted the bugs at the end - a bit late now.  So the wash is a bitty affair as I try to get around all of the details.  I have never had much success with masking fluid on watercolour paper, I find it tears the surface a bit - pity, because it is such a great idea.  If anyone can tell me what I am doing wrong with the stuff, I would love to know!

I have a terrible habit of leaving the backgrounds until the end, and getting myself into all sorts of trouble - don't do what I have done - paint from the back to the front, it's good advice!

That said, I quite like the backruns in the wash, and truthfully, am over the moon that the painting is working at all!

The legs of the ladybird have bled a bit into the background - the fault of the gum arabic, I think.  They will need to be touched up at the end.  The gum arabic has given the paint a wonderful sheen - I love it - quite unlike the surface of a watercolour painting - I am planning on glazing a thin layer over the whole painting at the end.

Can't wait to see how it all turns out! (See the finished work here.)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Step-by-Step Watercolour Painting - Part 3

This is Part 3 of the series showing my step-by-step approach to a watercolour painting. 

In Part 1, I explained how I transfer the image onto the paper, and in Part 2, I started to layer the watercolour paint on in thin, transparent washes.

In Figure 14 and Figure 15, I have started to build up more layers of paint to get a rich, transparent colour. I am mixing the paint with gum arabic, which is an experiment, but I am pleased with how the gum arabic is giving the paint a gloss.  It is making the paint more difficult to control as it is sitting on top of the paper, rather than soaking in.  As each layer of wash goes on, it mixes slightly with the one underneath, so I do have to be gentle with the brush so that the colours don't go muddy.

What I like about it, though, is that I can move some of the paint after it has dried, which is not always possible with watercolour.  The highlights on the ladybird have been created by lifting off a bit of the colour.  I have also been able to move some of the dark on the legs and body of the fly, to smooth out the highlights.  

I like to be able to lift out with watercolour, it gives me freedom to make mistakes and fix them up later.  Lifting out is easier with a paper that has a lot of size (the glue stuff they put on the surface of the paper to control its absorbency), but watercolour paper does not have a lot of size, so I am pleased to see that the gum arabic is giving me the same result.

Figure 14

Figure 15
I left the butterfly to last out of these three bugs, because I don't really like it - I have painted it before - in oils, and it is quite textured and difficult.  I do still have to layer more colour on the wings of the fly, and do a bit of tweaking here and there on all three before they will be finished.  I have not left the highlights completely white, unfortunately and cannot lift out any more paint in those areas, so it seems that I may have to use a bit of white paint (horror of horrors - not traditional!!) in a few tiny spots - I will leave that decision to the very end.

I have yet to tackle the bowl and background, but am feeling more confident that I may be able to pull it off.  Here's hoping.

Stay tuned for the next instalment.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Step-by-Step Watercolour Painting - Part 2

This is the Part 2 of my watercolour painting process.  In Part 1, I showed how to transfer an image from a photo onto the watercolour paper and gave my Top Tips for Tracing.  Here I lay out my equipment and start painting in thin transparent washes.

Figure 7
Figure 7 I have used a piece of prestik (blue-tac) to mark my place on the photo as I draw from it - all those little holes in the bowl look the same and I can lose my place without the marker.  I learned this tip from a botanical painter.  Move your marker as you go along.

Figure 8
Figure 8 Here I have placed the tracing and the finished drawing side-by-side.  From this you can see that I add a lot of details after I have finished transferring the image from the tracing paper.  The tracing is an aid - not a crutch!

Starting to paint

Figure 9
Figure 9 This is my watercolour painting set up. My brushes, water and palette are placed on my right hand side (I am right handed) so that I don't drip on my work reaching over to get at them.  I experimented with a disposable palette (as seen here under my paintbox), but it is too waxy for watercolour, and I used my paintbox palette instead.  I love a disposable palette for oil painting - so easy to clean up!  

Figure 10
Figure 10 The first washes are on, thin and transparent.  I should really start with the background, but as I am undecided about it, I have started with the insects.  I don't intend to paint the pattern on the plate, nor the blue background behind the plate, but I haven't decided what I am going to do.  I don't recommend this as best practise, but sometimes it is the way a painting goes! I am hopeful that I will decide as I go along, or I may end up in a bit of a mess.  

When laying a small area of wash (thin wet paint) such as I have done here, it is not necessary to wet the area first as the colour can be quickly applied without fiddling too much.  DON'T touch after you have applied the wash until the area is completely dry!

Figure 11
Figure 11 In this photo, you can see that I have put another transparent layer of colours over the first.  I have used a mix of ultramarine and burnt sienna for the dark areas, and in some cases a bit of winsor blue with burnt sienna.  The wing is burnt sienna, and the yellow, new gamboge.

Figure 12
Figure 12 At this point I am starting to use a little gum arabic with the paint - I have never tried it before, but read that it gives the painting a shine.  I can see the shine, but doubt that it will be very effective on the paper I am using - Bokingford 300g - it is far too textured and absorbent.  I like a very smooth drawing paper with good sizing for fine detail watercolour, but couldn't find what I wanted so have settled for something not quite suitable for this painting.  Have to soldier on. 

Figure 13

Figure13 As this photo is taken in daylight, rather than with a flash, the texture of the paper is more visible and the colours are more accurate than the earlier photos - note to self - do painting in daylight so that you can photograph!.  I have added a few more layers of paint - sticking to transparent colours at this stage.  I am happy with how the paintings is going, but can see that I will need to do some work to make the image appear 3 dimensional rather than flat.

More of this step-by-step watercolour painting in Part 3

Painting from Photographs

There is an interesting discussion on painting from photos on Making a Mark, the excellent blog by Katherine Tyrell.  Using photographs to paint from is always controversial 

My own opinion is that a photograph is a tool, often more convenient, quicker and easier than working from life.  I like to work from a photo, I also like to work from the real object.  I am against painting from a photo I have not taken myself (except in the case of a portrait where I may use the sitter's photo.) I don't like the practise of painting from magazine pictures or stock photos, it is unimaginative and often plagiarism.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I HAVE been painting today!

I have been working on the step-by-step watercolour painting today, and have taken pictures at all stages.  It is going well, but I need to wait for daylight to continue.  I hope to have it up for you tomorrow - Brisbane time.

Watch this space!

In the meantime, while doing a little research about gum arabic this afternoon, I came across this great Watercolour site:  Ask Susie - Watercolor Q & A.  where you can post questions about watercolour painting.  She also has some other blogs - take a look!

I was also reading about an artist who uses gum arabic for glazing with watercolour, and found his site.  Click on this link: Eric Christensen - to see the brilliant colours he gets with water paints. I was fascinated to see that he seems to have found himself a niche market painting wine!!

Off the topic of watercolour, but a good read, look at Coach Yourself through the difficulty of Creating, by Cynthia Morris - some excellent advice.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Step-by-Step Watercolour Painting

I have just started a watercolour painting using the same theme as my recent oil paintings.  I thought you might like to see how I go about it.

Transferring the image onto the paper

Figure 1
Figure 1 This is the photo I will be painting from and the tracing that I have made of it.  I have started with a tracing in this case, because it will be difficult to get the bowl accurate if I don't.  A tracing saves time, I get everything in the right place quickly and move on to the painting.  It is also a good opportunity to show how to trace with tracing paper.  This will be a small painting - 10 inches x 7 inches (254mm x 178mm).  

Figure 2

Figure 2  When I have traced as much as I can see, I turn the tracing paper over and colour over the lines with pencil. The tracing is done in pen, so it remains visible under the pencil.  I have used a 2B pencil to colour with.

Figure 3

Figure 3 When I have covered all of the pen lines (on the back) with pencil, I turn the tracing paper back to the right side, position it on the watercolor paper and tape it down so that it does not move.

Figure 4
 Figure 4 To transfer the image, I again use pen and carefully go over the original lines.  I use a different kind of pen (or colour) from Figure 1, so that I can tell where I have been.  This is not as important in a small, simple tracing such as this one, but in a larger, more complex image, it is essential to see what has already been traced.

Figure 5
Figure 5 Here you can see how the image has been transferred onto the watercolour paper in pencil.

Figure 6
Figure 6 When the tracing is transferred, I take the tracing paper away, and look carefully at the original photo.  At this point I make corrections.  It is very easy to get a tracing wrong, and often fine details become thick and bulky in the tracing process.  Refining is essential.  I also use a putty rubber to remove as much of the pencil as I can without losing the image completely.  If I leave too much pencil on the paper, it will show through the watercolour and look clumsy.

To be continued...

Top Tips for Tracing:

  • Use a pen to trace your picture, and trace carefully.  There is no point in tracing, if you are not going to be accurate.
  • It is a good idea to write "right side" on the tracing paper.  I have transferred the wrong side of an image more than once.
  • Only colour over the lines, as too much pencil on the back of the tracing paper will smear on your watercolor paper.
  • Tape you tracing paper down onto your watercolour paper so that it does not move.
  • Use a different colour pen from the first one to transfer the image, but DON"T press too hard, you do not want to engrave the image into your paper!
  • Correct and refine after tracing so that you image is not thick and clumsy.
  • Remove as much of the pencil with a putty rubber as possible before you start painting. (Prestik or Blue tac will also do the job.)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Find Great Ideas For Your Paintings - Day 2

This is the second in the series where we find great ideas that get us hopping out of bed in the morning, eager to get painting.

On Day 1, we looked at our own sketchbooks as a possible source of ideas.  Looking at our own art work sparks new trains of thought, so does looking at the work of other artists.

Look at the work of other artists

This is a no brainer. Looking at art inspires us to make art! But don’t look passively, do an active search for clues. You may want have a notebook ready to catch those ideas as they come to you. It's always best to look at a painting in real life, but books and pictures or a Google image search will do.

Here are 5 ways to look at the work of other artists when you need ideas for your own.

1. Look at work that you really like: Figure out what it is that you like so much about the work. Is it the subject matter? The technique? The mood or feeling of the work? The use of colour? Try and answer this sentence: I like the work of (insert name of favourite artist) because … When you are able to articulate exactly what it is about the work that excites you, see if you can come up with ways to incorporate that into your own work. Artists have always looked to other artists for inspiration, but don’t be derivative. Looking and admiring does not mean copying.

2. Look at work that you really don’t like: This is less obvious than the first point. Find something that you really don’t like and figure out what it is that repels you. Ask yourself, how could I make this work better, what about it needs changing, can I use what I don’t like about this work to come up with some work of my own. Write down your answers! We are on a fact finding mission!

3. Find out something about the working process of an artist you admire: Some artists have interesting creative habits. Do your favourite artists have routines that help them to generate interesting ideas? Can you take some aspects of these routines and incorporate them into your own?

4. Read up about your artists’ working methods: Artists are often inspired by their materials and working process, can you find out more about those of the artists you admire? I will be elaborating on this as an excellent way to get good ideas later in this series.

5. Collect postcards, clippings and pictures of art work and stick it in your Trash Can Journal.

Now write down 10 painting ideas that have come to you from looking at the work of other artists. Don’t stop until you have 10. Some of these you may be able to work on right away, some may need a bit of incubation, and some you may never use.

'When truly creative people come up with a new idea, they do not reject it immediately because of its flaws. They play with it, looking for strengths and sliding over weaknesses." Dr David Campbell

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Find Great Ideas For Your Paintings - Day 1

This is the first in a series where I show you how to find those great ideas that will have you running to your easel!

I have been talking about how important it is for an artist to keep sketchbooks, notebooks, diaries and journals as part of the creative process.  I have described how to keep a Trash Can Journal, and its function, and also how and why to start an Picture Notebook(Click on these links if you have not read these posts.)  In the previous entry, I listed 30 reasons why I carry a sketchbook with me and one of the reasons is that I get plenty of new ideas from looking through my old sketchbooks.

Where are your old sketchbooks?  Are they on a dusty shelf in your studio? In a shoe box under your bed?  Are they still packed in boxes since your last move?

Get out your old sketchbooks! They are a treasure trove of good ideas!

Go...find them...fetch them...Now!

Open them, look at them, carefully turn the pages and admire them.  Did you really have all of these ideas?  Clever thing!

Here are some pages from a 1997 sketchbook of mine (I had to ferret it out of a sealed box...)

My old sketchbooks, especially those that I may have forgotten, are full of ideas and images that I can use for new paintings.  Because I haven't seen them in a while, the content is fresh, and exciting.  And because I know that I did it all myself, I don't feel intimidated as I sometimes do when looking for ideas in other artists' work.

Some ideas in my old sketchbooks will spark new trains of thought that may have little to do with what is on the page, and others I may end up using almost unchanged.

There are a lot of things in a sketchbook that I might never use again.  But looking through them inspires me.

I never know what it is that might spark a fresh and exciting concept for a new painting or drawing, sometimes it's a colour, sometimes a technique, and sometimes it's just the act of looking at my own stored away ideas.  

A sketchbook is a place to put our ideas, if we keep our sketchbooks diligently (even sporadic is better than not at all), if we store our sketchbooks carefully, and if we remember to dust them off and go through them, we should never be short of ready to use, unique and personal content to spice up our paintings.