Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tuesday Tip #15: Soft as a Rabbit in a Hat

In your quest to become the best artist that you can be you may have come across other artists talking about "edges".  Edges can be tricky. Lost and found edges, soft and hard edges. When and where do you use them?  As with everything in art there are no definite rules but in this instance you can almost always use this tip to help you in a landscape painting. If you ever feel like your landscape paintings aren't conveying distance/depth, try softening the edges you want to appear in the distance. In this quick sketch of the blusiest street in Chicago you can see the harder edges of the signs and awnings appear close and the softened edges of the buildings make them appear to be further away.  In reality our eyes would focus and see all of the buildings as hard edges, but in the reality of the painter we have to convey a three dimensional world on a two dimensional substrate, in order to do that we have to use a few magic tricks here and there. This one is as reliable as a rabbit in a hat.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Tuesday Tip #14: Use Your Tools

Engine Order Telegraph 7x5" ink on Bristol
One of my biggest frustrations lately is having to deal with people who have poor problem solving skills. I just got back from the dentist and he told me about how one of his daughters was trying to get to New York for spring break but the flights were all cancelled due to weather.  He laughed and said his daughter's first attempt to work through this issue was to call her mom. Really? What was her mom going to do? She's not a pilot nor a travel agent. That's just a minor example and I'll leave it at that. For now.
As for problem solving when it comes to art, try using your tools. Sometimes I find myself stuck, trying to figure out how to do something. Nine times out of 10 there's something nearby that will help me solve my issue. We've all, most likely, used a butter knife for a screwdriver. We've all used our teeth to open stuff, even though that's a REALLY bad idea. For the sketch above I was struggling with making a circle.  I have templates and a couple of compasses that I never use and, sadly, I'll admit that it took me a few minutes to think of those tools. The one compass broke, the other was rusted shut, seriously. The template was too big so I was right back where I started. Ready to give up I rolled my eyes at my situation and they rolled right in the direction of a couple of cameras sitting on a shelf. The lens on one of those cameras looked like it would be the right size and what do you know, magic. I used the front of the lens for the larger circle, traced around it, then flipped it over for the smaller circle. The cool kids might refer to this tool as a Bronson rock. The TV show Then Came Bronson, Michael Parks's character, Jim Bronson, fixes his bike with a rock, thus Bronson rock.  As long as you have a Bronson rock laying around you can fix anything. You don't always need the fancy, expensive tools, you just need to use your problem solving skills. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Tuesday Tip #13: Creature Comforts

Today I went out to paint with a couple of friends on our annual, short sleeves in February paint out.  For the last few years we've been out painting in February when it's been unseasonably warm. It's still winter and should be in the 20s with five feet of snow, but we've lucked out and found 60 degrees and sunshine. I had to post my second sketch from today because John made a funny comment about it. He said he tries to never paint these types of clouds because he thinks they end up looking amateurish. I was feeling pretty proud with my efforts as I've never attempted to paint these types of clouds before. "These types" are, I think, cirrus clouds, the thin and whispy kinds.  They could probably benefit from more practice but I gave it a shot.
As for the tip today, we've all heard people say something like, get out of your comfort zone. Then there's the "creature comforts".  What's so comfortable about creatures? Creatures are supposed to make you uncomfortable.  Anywho, the tip comes from John F. Carlson and it's about how you should avoid creatures and comforts.
"I have often told my students that if they would only spend as much time arranging their motif-eliminating, sacrificing, moving-as they do upon just the painting of the thing, the road to mastery would be much shortened.  Most of the time I find students have planted themselves in some place that was "comfortable," or near some friendly fellow-student rather than at some place from which their selection or motif was at its best.  After a time the student can, of course, paint "any old thing" from "any old place" (even indoors), but the beginnings have to be beginnings, and the student cannot start where the master leaves off".
This one can be tough for beginners because they want to have that safety net of having a fellow painter nearby.  They want to be close so they can ask questions or have conversations. Here's an idea; when you go out with a group of friends to paint spread out and find a good composition, work on your painting then make plans to meet up after and discuss the paintings.  You can do something similar in the studio or in class. If you're in a class try to finish your entire painting before you ask questions. You'll force yourself to problem solve on your own. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tuesday Tips #12: Mind the Moths

"Glass Bowl Challenge" Candy Conversation Hearts 7x5" watercolour on Stonehenge Kraft paper
This tip actually comes from the newest Rosemary and Co. catalog. I love love love their brushes for oil and watercolour.  They're some of the highest quality brushes I've ever used and the prices are hard to believe. Sometimes when the prices on things are so low we tend to think of them as disposable. This is a bad mindset to get into because these brushes are worth taking care of.  I abuse mine pretty badly and they still hold up but if I took better care of them they'd last a lifetime I'm sure. So the tips from the book; use gum arabic to re-shape your brushes and keep the moths out of the studio.  First, I had no idea moths enjoyed snacking on brushes.  Second I had no idea lavender would help keep them away.  The gum arabic makes sense as that's usually what's in brand new brushes. You know when you get a new brush and it's stiff and feels a bit curnchy?  That's the gum arabic that helps it keep it shape while it's in transit/on the shelf waiting to be purchased. A bottle of gum arabic isn't very expensive and can be found at most art supply stores.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Tuesday Tip #11: Hot Hands & Litter Mats

Late afternoon on the Frozen River 5x7 watercolour on Stonehenge Kraft paper. 
Late Sunday afternoon I took Petey for a walk and then set up to paint. I've heard all of the stories about how you simply can't paint with watercolours in the winter. Evidently it was one of those things I had to find out for myself. I think my problem was that I started too late in the day. The temperature drops really fast when the sun starts going down and the wind didn't make things easier that day. Didn't matter, I was determined to paint. 
Here's my setup and the orange arrow is pointing to one of my latest and greatest additions to my plein air set up. It's a kitty litter mat. I picked one up at Menards for $1.99 thinking it would help keep my feet warm while I painted in the colder months. Sometimes my thinking really pays off. While painting someone stopped and talked to me (aka interrupted my work) and I stepped off the mat to chat. I noticed I was getting colder and couldn't figure out why. Then it hit me, I was standing in a couple inches of snow where moments ago my feet were warm because they were standing on that little mat. It's hard to believe but it makes a huge difference. Surely any mat would work but I chose this for the price and that it can easily be cleaned off and rolled up and put into my bag. 

The second tip was another quick thinking moment that paid off.  I finally found out that it is in fact difficult to paint with watercolour in freezing temperatures. I use a Holbein watercolour palette similar to this one you can get at Dick Blick. Made of aluminum and coated with enamel and zero insulation.  You can see from the photo above, the right side has frozen clumps of water and paint. On the left side it's not so bad.  That's because the left side is thawing out after I grabbed some Hot Hands hand warmers. I keep Hot Hands around mostly for my hands but with two pairs of gloves on I didn't need them for my hands but I thought if I set them under my palette it would keep it warm and prevent it from freezing and IT DID! Hooray. Now next time I will take a smaller travel palette so I don't have so much palette to keep warm. So it is possible to paint with watercolour in the cold, you just need to be a little more prepared.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Tuesday Tips #10: Naked Trees

Notan to check the composition before starting. 
Someone asked me if I was still on my quest to learn how to paint "naked trees" and my answer was YES! Of course, I'm always trying to learn, always trying to figure things out and put those thoughts to the test.
45 minute sketch of some naked trees by the river. 
Every time I paint trees I learn something different and just as soon as I think I have it all figured out something new comes up and I have to learn about that new something. For example, these naked trees in this sketch are now covered in snow which presents a whole new challenge. Just as I was getting ready to work on today's post I scrolled through Youtube for some background noise. Some people say there are no such things as coincidences but it's the only way to describe stumbling on this video. It popped up in my "Recommended" section and the only thing it was missing was a spotlight and the sound of angels singing.

I enjoy Steve Mitchell's videos, they're fun and informative.  He approaches watercolour differently than I do but I always walk away with a useful technique or idea.  This is a 40 minute video where he demonstrates and discusses how he approaches bare winter trees. There are five things I wanted to point out that I think are extremely helpful in this video.
  1. Aerial distance-  He discusses how to achieve this and it's a pretty important topic if you're a landscape painter.  A lot of people refer to this as aerial perspective.  It's basically how you make objects, in this case it's the trees, appear to sit farther back in the distance to give your two-dimensional painting more depth. There are a few easy ways to do that. In his video he makes the distant trees more bluer and grey. 
  2. Get reference material- This one is a must.  Painting can be stressful enough but then add pulling something out of thin air on top of that and you're setting yourself up for disappointment. By no means do you need to copy the reference material, just use it as a guide or a starting off point. Something to give you ideas or clues as to what to do with your painting. 
  3. Stonehenge Aqua- He's using Stonehenge Aqua 300lb cold press paper in his video.  I used Stonehenge Kraft paper for my sketch. Stonehenge Aqua is very affordable and works really well. I know how it is when you're first starting out.  The supply lists are intimidating and then you see the price tags on some of the required items and you already feel defeated. What's worse is buying those expensive supplies then being afraid to mess them up because you're just a beginner. I don't want to ruin a $25 sheet of paper!  The Stonehenge Aqua is really affordable and is a great paper for beginners and experienced painters. 
  4. Tester paper-  He has a tester paper to test out his yellow before applying to the painting. This is always handy and it's something I wish I would remember to have around.  I often swipe my brush on the tape but it's not the same thing. I know I've heard some artists say they never use a tester paper, but back to the previous point, if you're afraid of messing up that expensive sheet of paper then by all means use some scrap tester paper. Once you get more advanced then maybe you won't need to test your paint first. 
  5. Branches aren't thicker than the trunk- This one is about the trees, and this is any kind of tree, not just naked ones. It's something a lot of people do and I'm not sure why.  They paint/draw in the trunk of the tree and work out from there and somehow the branches end up thicker and bigger than the trunk.  This isn't how most trees grow.  There's probably some exception to that rule but look around outside and see what the trees look like. All I can think is, thank God the branches are smaller than the trunks otherwise I'd need a new roof on my house every year.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Tuesday Tip #9: Take the Challenge

Winter at Oakland Mills 5x7 watercolour on paper (sold)
Since February is just a couple of days away this is the perfect time to do a month long challenge. It's the shortest month and therefore you have less of an excuse to not finish. What do I mean by a month long challenge? I mean you commit to a whole month of something. Anything. A lot of people do the 30 Paintings in 30 Days challenge for the month of January to kick off their year in the right direction. Just search for painting challenges if you need some ideas. There are some like, 30 days of painting patterns, 31 days of painting flowers.  Here's a link to an article on one of my favourites, Duane Keiser, and his daily paintings. You can see he chose pretty random subjects.  In October I do the Inktober challenge, which is more geared towards comic book illustration inking but it got me off and running on a whole series of ink drawings I affectionately refer to as daily doodles.
A few random "daily doodles"
For the month of February I'm challenging myself to draw the same thing everyday. Sounds boring doesn't it? Maybe but by the end of the month I should be able to draw that thing with my eyes closed. What I'm aiming for is to put my creativity into overdrive. If I'm stuck drawing the same thing every day I'm eventually going to have to get creative with the way I render it. At least that's the goal. I'm not sure what I'm going to draw yet but I have two days to figure it out. I'm going to make a 28 page sketchbook to better document my progress. It should be fun to see how I progress.
I encourage you all to do a challenge for the month of February. This might not seem like a useful tip but if you do it you'll probably realise it's one of the more useful tips out there.