Friday, October 29, 2010

Fossicking Friday

It's Friday, and here are some great things that I have found on the net this week:

      • I was very flattered to receive an email from Delmus Phelps this week. I have mentioned his site, Easy Oil Painting Techniques a few times and he was writing to thank me for doing that - how kind. I do love the info that he makes available. I am particularly interested in his series on How to Sell Art, and will be having another closer look at some of those points this week.

          • This video is a watercolour demonstration by artist Joyce Faulknor. I love the way she handles the brush and places the colour so confidently.

              Monday, October 25, 2010

              Make Art or Make the Beds?

              I have done very little serious painting since we welcomed our baby James into the family 11 months ago. Art and children just don't seem to mix. The new born baby stage is hectic, but the crawling stage is pretty intense too. My gorgeous 8 year old, Cleo, needs different parenting to the baby, and although Dad does his fair share, I can't seem to find the time or head space to paint. It does not help matters that we are also in the middle of selling our house. 

              My good friend Chrisna tells me that she sketches in the car while she waits for her girls at their school. This got me thinking, if I want to paint, I need to have a plan.

              Unable to juggle art and life?
              Here are some strategies:

              • Lower your standards. (Huh? You've got to be kidding me - how low can you go?) Maybe I can't paint large, time consuming oil paintings at the moment, but there must be something less labour intensive that I can work on.
              • Experiment and learn. This is a great time to experiment, to try new materials, paint from life and hone my drawing skills. I don't have the time or inclination to put a body of work together right now, but I can still paint.
              • Go smaller - a smaller painting will only in theory, take less time, but even a small detailed painting will be quicker than a large detailed painting.
              • Change your medium. Acrylics take less time to dry than oils, and watercolours lend themselves to quick sketching.
              • Be organised. In your art and in your life. Have dinner planned for the week, get the grocery shopping done, carpool.
              • Make the most of the time you DO have. I set up to paint while James is awake, paint while he naps, and clear away when he is awake again. I try to be as productive as possible in that short space of time. 
              • Have your easel and paints ready to go. This works quite well if your studio is not the dining room table, and you are not selling your house.
              • Limit TV and internet time. (Except this blog!) These activities eat time. I get onto the computer at night when the kids are asleep and I am too tired to paint.
              • Don't fret about what you could be doing. Be present with your kids in their time, and present with your art in your time.

              How do you juggle your art and life? Please leave a comment with your suggestions and I will keep you posted with how these strategies are working for me!

              Friday, October 22, 2010

              35 Ways to Radically Improve your Paintings.

              1. Cultivate a sense of wonder about your work and your ability to make it.
              2. Don't entertain negative or disparaging thoughts about your paintings.
              3. Throw yourself into the process and enjoy it.
              4. Be a learner at heart.
              5. Paint things that really excite you - not what you 'should' be painting.
              6. Plan your paintings before you start, but be open to the 'happy accident'.
              7. Choose a format that suits your subject matter.  You don't have to settle with a standard size.
              8. Practise as much as possible.
              9. Improve your drawing skills.
              10. Keep sketchbooks, journals and notebooks and use them regularly.
              11. Read about art in books and magazines.
              12. Buy good quality materials.
              13. Learn about your materials and experiment with them.
              14. Choose the right medium for the subject matter.
              15. Look after your brushes and they will work better for you.
              16. Know the difference between transparent and opaque colours, and know when to use them.
              17. Keep your water or turps clean when you are working.
              18. Don't mix too many colours together - keep them fresh.
              19. Use perspective correctly, but don't let it be mechanical and boring.
              20. Group objects in interesting ways.
              21. Use light and dark to establish mood.
              22. Make the negative spaces interesting and varied.
              23. Use more detail in the focal point of the picture.
              24. Balance the dark areas and light areas so that the painting does not seem lopsided.
              25. Stand back from your work to gauge its overall effect. 
              26. Check your tone, tone is more important than colour.
              27. Paint what you see, not what you know.
              28. Find a teacher that inspires you.
              29. Make friends with other artists and share ideas.
              30. Visit galleries and museums and look closely at the work.
              31. Paint often.
              32. Paint every day.
              33. Think about and write about your work.
              34. Store your finished works carefully so that they don't get damaged.
              35. Be grateful. That painting never existed before you made it.

              Monday, October 18, 2010

              Caring for Your Brushes - Part 2

              Part 1 of Caring for your brushes, was information on how to take care of your paintbrushes while you are working.  If you use a brush carefully, you can prolong its lifetime, and make cleaning up after a painting session much easier.

              In Part 2, I will explain the best ways of cleaning your brushes after working, as well as how to store them correctly. If, of course, you are happy to replace damaged brushes with new ones quite regularly and do not want to take time cleaning, you can skip this section all together and head back to the easel!

              Cleaning your brushes after working.

              All traces of paint and solvent must be removed from brushes at the end of each painting session and before they are stored. Paint and solvent residue clings to the hairs of a brush that has not been properly cleaned and builds up, making the bristles thick and brittle.

              Below left, is a sketch that I have of done to show the parts of a brush (with apologies to Jim Dine on whose work this sketch is loosely based).  On the right, I have placed a new brush next to one that has not been well looked after - it is still usable, but you can see how a residue has built up, discolouring the bristles, particularly near the ferrule.


              To keep your brushes in good nick, follow these pointers:

              • Clean up immediately after each session.  Make it a non-negotiable part of the painting process.  I like to mull over what I have just done while I am cleaning up, although what usually goes through my head is: "why do you have to use so many brushes!"
              • It is best to remove as much paint from the brush as possible before you start to clean, do that by wiping the excess paint off with a rag, or brushing it off on an old telephone book.  This works well, because the soiled page can be easily torn out and tossed in the bin.
              • When most of the paint has been removed, agitate the brush in water or solvent. Use only water for watercolour brushes and turps or thinners for oil paint.  Acrylic paint is also removed with water.
              • When agitating your brush, do not bang the bristles on the bottom of the jar, or scrub with them and NEVER leave your brush standing head down for any length of time.
              • If you feel that your brushes need soaking, suspend them in the solvent by using a brush washer that holds the brush in a coiled handle.  Don't let the solvent touch the handle of the brush, as the wood will swell and the varnish will crack. Brushes should not be left to soak for more than a few hours at a time.
              • Thoroughly cleaning your brush means removing all build up of paint, particularly near the ferrule.
              • After the solvent stage, comes the soap and water stage. Before I became a reformed brush washer, it never occurred to me to wash my oil painting brushes with soap and water, but it is not the pigment that causes the damage to the brush, but the oil and the solvent residue that can only be removed with soap.
              • I have a tiny tub with a piece of laundry soap in it that I take with me to painting lessons and workshops. I find this soap cleans well.  It is hard on the hands if you are painting every day, so wear gloves. You could also use a commercial brush cleaner instead of soap.
              Tub of soap for cleaning brushes
              • Wipe your brush across the surface of the soap. Don't scrub. Get a good lather, particularly near the ferrule, and then brush in a circular motion in the palm of your hand. Rinse with warm water and repeat as necessary. I take care to ensure that the ferrule and handle are also free from paint and residue at this stage.
              • Use warm, not hot water which can expand the ferrule and cause the hairs to fall out.
              • Remove the water from the brush by shaking and flicking. I wipe my brushes dry with a tea towel, but am gentle with the bristles. Remember to dry the handle and ferrule.
              • Shape the damp bristles gently with your fingers.  If you need to, you can wrap them with a strip of tissue or paper which will contract while drying and reshape the brush.  Watercolour brushes can be reshaped by dipping into gum arabic shaping with fingers and leaving to dry until the next painting session. (Remove with water when you next use the brush.)
              • Leave your brushes on a flat surface to dry - I put mine on a dry tea towel - at room temperature in an airy environment.  Don't expose them to heat.  If possible, hang them with the bristles facing downwards to dry.
              • If you cannot get the whole washing process done, at least clean your brushes immediately after working to the solvent stage and put in a plastic bag to be properly washed later.
              • Don't wash watercolour brushes with anything that you would not use on your own hair.
              Storing your brushes
              • If you are painting regularly, you can store your brushes upright in jars, if not, it is best to store them flat, in an airtight container, away from dust, mould and insects.
              • Make sure that your brushes are absolutely dry before packing them away.
              • A bamboo holder is good for storing (and transporting) brushes, as it allows air to circulate freely.

              • If you cannot find a bamboo holder, you can improvise with a place mat, as I have. Thread it with elastic to hold the brushes in place, roll up and secure with the elastic and a toggle.
              • Cover the ends of the bamboo holder for extended storage time, so that insects do not crawl into your brushes.

                If you are kind to your brushes, they will give you many good years of service.

                Friday, October 15, 2010

                Fossicking Friday

                Fossicking AGAIN.  Thought your might like to know where I have been sticking my nose in this week.

                Here are the gems:

                • I had a look at some of the beautiful paintings of Joseph Raffael. His watercolour is so fresh, bright and clean. I particularly liked the glimpses into his studio.  I just love pictures of studios - so inspiring!

                • Although I am not a fan of acrylic paint, perhaps I should be, looking at the work of artist Rick Pas.  Download a free digital feature on his acrylic layering technique at Artists Network.

                  • It's a real treat to watch someone paint, I am so interested to see how another artist approaches their subject matter.  This is a video Painting on Location with Roger Bansemer - "Heritage Park". It is quite a long, so get a coffee first. I was fascinated to see that he took a photo of the subject and projected that onto his board before he began. I also loved the glimpse into his sketchbook - wow!

                    •  I have referred the site, Easy Oil Painting Techniques, before, and I really like this article on Pricing your art.  Pricing is something most artists struggle with in the beginning, and these are some fabulous suggestions. 

                    • Look at this snippet from the book, Ignore Everybody by cartoonist, Hugh Macleod of gapingvoid.  I may need to hunt down a copy of that book! I could not resist including an example of his work here:

                    Do let me know what you have found in your fossicking this week!

                    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

                    Caring for Your Brushes - Part 1

                    There was a talented lady named Dawn, who attended art classes in my studio in Benoni.  She painted beautifully, had a knack for sharing her ideas, and before long, was teaching her own oil painting classes.  I learned a lot of things from Dawn, but the one that sticks with me, is that I should take better care of my brushes.

                    When Dawn arrived at my studio, she had recently been retrenched from her job, had few prospects of further work, her husband was retired, and money was tight. Dawn chose her materials and equipment carefully, she bought good quality, and was not extravagant. Perhaps it was her money situation, or her general attitude, but Dawn's brushes were beautifully maintained, and always looked new. This was in sharp contrast to my shocking habits, I had hundreds of brushes, but most were damaged and misshapen beyond rehabilitation.

                    I am pleased to say that I am reformed. I am not only fastidious with my brushes now, but take good care of all of my art equipment.  I still have more brushes than is sensible, and use too many in a painting session, but if I am tempted to leave them without cleaning, I am reminded of Dawn's jars of beautifully kept brushes.

                    Here are some of my brushes - most of them look pretty good!

                    Looking after your brushes should become part of your painting routine.  Brushes that are used properly, cleaned properly and stored carefully can last many years. If you find that your brushes could look better, perhaps you should invest in new brushes, or like I did, in better work habits.

                    Caring for your brushes while you are working

                    Looking after your brushes starts during the painting session.  Good working habits can prolong the life of your paint brushes and make the clean up job easier.
                    • Don't start your painting with a dry brush, dip your brush into water or solvent (turps) before you begin. This will stop the paint from clinging to the bristles and make them easier to clean at the end.
                    • Rinse your brush thoroughly throughout the painting session, and change your water or turps frequently.
                    • If you are painting with acrylics, you cannot leave your brushes for any length of time without rinsing them thoroughly.  Acrylic paint dries quickly and is difficult to get out once dry.
                    • Get into the habit of rinsing out your brush and lying it down on the work surface during your working session rather than leaving it upright in the water jar.  A brush cannot stand on its head without suffering damage to the bristles.  When bristles are bent, it is almost impossible to correct them.

                    I like to put my brushes in this organiser while I am painting, so that they do not roll around or fall on the floor. I found this 'organiser' in a junk shop, I am not sure what it is, but I have also used a piece card folded concertina-style.

                    • If you need to move away from your painting for a few hours, wrap your brushes in a bit of rag soaked in turps and then in clingfilm or a plastic bag.  They can be stored like this in a sealed container or  in the fridge if the weather is hot. (this applies to oil painting only, watercolour and acrylic brushes must be properly rinsed out.)
                    • Don't use good brushes to apply masking fluid, it will ruin the brush! If you use masking fluid regularly, keep brushes aside just for that purpose. Dip the brush into dish washing liquid first, remove the excess, and then into the masking fluid.  When you are finished, the masking fluid should rinse out quite easily.  
                    • Keep your watercolour and oil painting brushes separate if you paint with both. Don't use the same brushes for both mediums.

                    When you are finished painting for the day, all traces of paint must be removed from your brushes, they must be washed, rinsed, dried and packed away, ready for the next painting session. In Caring for Your Brushes - Part 2, I will explain how to do this so that your brushes stay in tip top condition.

                    Monday, October 11, 2010

                    Day in the Life of a Real Artist

                    • Pouring with rain. My studio has a leak.
                    • Hubby is away at a conference.
                    • 8 year old discovered a hole in the sole of her school shoe - had to wear others and take a note.
                    • Best friend Judy came to paint last night - both of us worn out - had a chin-wag instead.
                    • House goes up for Sale by Auction this Saturday.
                    • Hope prospective buyers like the 'soggy-lawn-muddy-tiles-look'.
                    • Hubby has left his phone charger at home - phone calls are very brief.
                    • Came up with a great painting idea  - took great photos.
                    • Discovered that Hubby has taken the camera 'link-to-the-computer-thing' instead of his phone charger. I can't download my photos.
                    • Took paints out to work while baby had nap.
                    • Baby napped for 40 minutes instead of 2 hours.
                    • Put paints away with baby on hip.
                    • Cold and rainy - baby grumpy all day. 
                    • 8 year old had swimming this afternoon - lucky pool is indoors.
                    • Prospective buyers through the house at 'bath-the-baby-and-feed-the-eight-year-old-time'. MacDonalds for dinner.
                    • Couldn't find my sketchbook all day.
                    • Found it in the studio - wet.
                    • It's my birthday tomorrow - There'd better be cake!

                    Friday, October 8, 2010

                    Fossicking Friday

                    Twice a year in Brisbane, Life Line has a charity Bookfest, the largest second hand book sale in world.  Bookfest is my idea of heaven on earth - hours and days rooting around in mountains of dusty pre-loved books. I was sharing my enthusiasm for this event with a friend who replied, "Gross!! All that dust and grime! I am just not a fossicker!"

                    Well I am.

                    When I am not fossicking at book sales or rummaging through charity shops, I am foraging on the web. Patiently wading through site after site, looking for the good stuff! And there certainly is a lot of good stuff out there.

                    Here are this week's gems:

                    • Click on this link to read about Planning a painting, a list of the essential decisions to make before you start. This advice would be particularly helpful for the novice painter, but I will be following it myself. 

                    "Have you heard of writer’s block? But builders don’t get blocked and unable to lay another brick. Teachers don’t run out of things to teach. I can’t think of any other job where people make excuses for not doing their work. If you’re having trouble writing forget everything else I told you in the Blog Writing Magic series and just write what comes into your head. You can worry later about if you can make a blog post out of it, if anyone would want to read it or what your colleagues will think when they find out about your quirks and quibbles. Just write."
                    I think this is equally fitting for artists experiencing a creative slump.

                    WHY do you want to show at this or that gallery?
                    WHY do you want to sell more art?
                    WHY do you want to register for a class?
                    Motivation requires motive.
                    If you don’t know why you want to accomplish certain things, you’re going to have a hard time prioritizing and moving forward.
                    • It seems so obvious when she writes it out like that. I struggle with motivation, and have never asked myself these kinds of questions.

                    • Wildlife artist, Kalon Baughan's paintings are a real feast for the eye. I particularly like the way he paints fur!

                    I hope you find much pleasure fossicking through these fascinating sites.

                    Sunday, October 3, 2010

                    Turn a Good Painting Idea Into a Great One

                    I often get a good idea for my paintings, rush to start, and before I know it I am up to my eyeballs in problems that I could have avoided had I worked with my idea a bit.

                    There are several things to do before you begin painting that will help you to: 
                    • clarify your idea 
                    • identify problems before they arise
                    • and turn a good painting idea into a great one!
                    Our first ideas are not usually our best ones. A good idea is better than no idea, but it is usually only the beginning of a great idea.  A good idea needs some work before it can become a good painting.

                    (I have recently written about how to find good ideas for your paintings. You can read that series by clicking on these links: Day 1Day 2 and Day 3.)

                    Transform your idea with thumbnail sketches.
                    Thumbnails are small, quick drawings that help develop the initial idea by examining important compositional elements like format (the size and shape of your paper or canvas), viewpoint (where you position yourself and how much you decide to see) and focal point.

                    The thumbnails help you to build on your initial idea, to develop it, and sometimes to grow several painting ideas from the first one.

                    To demonstrate, I have started here with onions in a bowl. It's a simple idea, but after doing some thumbnails, I realise that there are many ways that I can approach the subject matter, and many possible paintings that I could work on.

                    By playing with the format, viewpoint and focal points, I can see which composition may work best for a painting.

                    Transform your idea with a viewfinder
                    A viewfinder will block out visual distractions and focus your attention on the subject matter.  It is useful for visualising how the subject will fill the format and help you to come up with a strong composition.

                    A viewfinder can be paper or card with a rectangle cut out, (an empty slide mount also works well, particularly out in the field.)  I find it useful to cut my viewfinder into two "L" pieces, so that I can change the size and shape of the 'window' I am looking through.

                    Here is my set up.  I have placed my bowl of onions in a box to remove any background distractions.

                    Notice my viewfinders on top of my sketchbook.

                    Here I am using my viewfinders to explore composition and cropping.

                    There is a really nifty viewfinder that you can purchase at Artwork Essentials, if you don't fancy making your own!

                    Transform your idea with photographs
                    Use your camera to take photographs of your subject matter. This is a quick and easy way to experiment with different viewpoints and compositions. The camera has its own built in viewfinder.

                    Here is a sample of the many photos that I took of my bowl of onions.

                    Transform your idea with lighting
                    I have set up my angle-poise lamp and tried lighting my onions from different angles. Lighting can transform the shadows, highlight or details or bleach them out, and radically change the mood of a painting.

                    Transform you idea by looking at other paintings
                    Click here to see Van Gogh's painting of onions, Cezanne's onions, or Matisse's onions.

                    Here are many other onion paintings.
                    To see some fabulous onion paintings, go to Carol Marine's Painting a Day blog. I also watched the video of her painting the cups and apple - loved it!

                    Transform your idea in other ways
                    There are many other ways to turn your good idea into a great one.  You can change the colour, introduce texture, work in different mediums, but I think I have given you enough to think about for one day!

                    Friday, October 1, 2010

                    I Have a Good Idea!

                    So... I have trawled through my sketchbooks, looked carefully at the work of artists I admire, looked at nature and the world around me and searched my inner thoughts and feelings.  I have paged through my Picture Notebook, and my Trash Can Journal, and I have finally come up with a good idea for my painting. Clever me - can't wait to get the paints out and get going...

                    This is precisely how most of my paintings start - I look a bit, think a bit, get a good idea and before you can say "Leonardo Da Vinci", I have the basic design mapped out on my canvas, all my equipment set out and I'm up to my eyeballs in paint.

                    Let me tell you what happens next....

                    I paint with great gusto for 25 minutes
                    I stop to make a coffee
                    I prop the work up on my easel and stare at it while I drink my coffee
                    I wonder about the placement of one of the figures in the picture
                    I paint that figure for 10 minutes
                    I paint around that figure for 10 minutes
                    I go to the kitchen to make a sandwich
                    I eat my sandwich staring at the painting I have done so far
                    I take my plate back to the kitchen
                    I notice that there are dishes in the sink, I wash them
                    I go back to my easel and paint a bit of the background of my picture
                    I paint for another two minutes trying not to think 
                    I stand back and have a little think
                    I paint a bit more of the background
                    I worry that the background is not right for the figures
                    I rinse out the brush I was using
                    I clean three other brushes while I am at it...and my palette knife
                    I wipe my palette a bit
                    I take a deep breath and make myself paint for another 25 minutes
                    I can't resolve the background
                    I quickly wipe off the background (I am working in oils here)
                    I wipe off the figure that was worrying me earlier too
                    I feel much better
                    I wipe off another few centimetres of another section of the painting
                    I paint over everything for 45 minutes
                    I stop to make a coffee
                    I prop the painting up on my easel to stare at while I drink my coffee
                    I wipe off the whole picture
                    I take my cup back to the sink
                    I feel much worse
                    I wash my cup
                    I look at my watch and realise that I need to fetch my daughter from school
                    I dash off to school
                    6 hours later, when everyone is in bed, I clean up my paints and palette
                    I carefully wash my brushes, first with turps, then with soap and water and put them away
                    I put the canvas away and my easel
                    I take out my old sketchbooks, and my Trash Can journal, I open my Picture Notebooks 
                    I start looking through them
                    Looking for...a NEW idea

                    Wait a minute...

                    I had a good idea.  I liked my idea, it excited me, it had me running to my easel.  I could imagine it as a painting.  What happened?

                    What happened is this: I did not check to see if my good idea was a great idea. I did not go through any of the steps that I need to go through before I start to paint. I did not work on my good idea. Of course it could have been much worse. I could have been painting for several weeks before I wiped it all off. It would not have been the first time.

                    So...if you have a good idea like me, here is the very first thing you need to do before you start painting:

                    Do Nothing!

                    Live with your idea for a few days.
                    And when you have done that.  I will tell you what you have to do next to turn your good painting idea into a great one!