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.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Tuesday Tip #8: Karate Chops and Cheesecake

Ever look at a painting and say, wow I wish I could paint like that? Most people can answer yes to that question. How many of us, after proclaiming we wish we could paint like that, actually went out and attempted it? Probably not that many. Years ago I wanted to learn how to make cheesecake. I love cheesecake so why not learn how to make it. I attempted it then changed my mind and said I'd rather enjoy cheesecake made by someone who took the time to learn how to properly make one. I think a lot of people do that when it comes to painting.  They say they want to  paint like John Singer Sargent, make one attempt at it then just say, oh well I'll just admire his work instead. This is where I tell you to not give up, maybe on cheesecake, but not on painting.
Here's one thing you can do to help achieve your goals; get out a notebook or a piece of paper and write down all of the things you wish you were better at. Making a list might seem silly but it does a couple of things, it keeps your thoughts and goals organised and it makes you accountable.  One of the things on my list is painting "naked trees".  I don't know that this one will ever be removed off of my list because I'm not sure I will ever master it. I still keep trying though. Make this list and make it honest, it can be anything from learning how to mix colours, learning perspective, making better compositions, etc. Once you have a list you can then focus on the specifics. So when you go to search the internet  or look for books in the library on "how to draw" you won't get two billion pages with generic results. If you know you want to learn how to draw hands that's what you type in and your search is refined. The same goes for signing up for workshops. If you know you want to have more experience painting landscapes search for an instructor that specialises in that. Don't sign up for a portrait painting workshop and expect to learn how to paint a mountain. Each learning experience builds you up to the next level, then you can eventually refine your list. You could think of building your experience up like they do in Tae Kwon Do or Karate, when you master certain skills you get a new belt that signifies that. Can you imagine if everyone was required to wear belts according to their experience level?  I'm definitely stuck at the white belt level for making cheesecakes, but that's ok, I know where the black belt sells their cakes.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tuesday Tip #7: The Big Truths

In the last post I mentioned the term "pattern" and how it's confusing.  I've been working on a post about it and it's not quite ready. The big issue, I think, is the choice of vocabulary. The way some people explain it is sideways from the way another explains the same thing. After reading dozens of tutorials and explanations I realised everyone was saying the same thing but using different terminology and some were using really bad visual examples. In order to not further confuse the issue I'm going to continue working on it.  So this week it's a continuation of confusing terminology. Perhaps this is why we're painters, we communicate better non-verbally. We reach and struggle to grasp the words when we could easily just demonstrate it in a painting. 
Back to Andrew Loomis and his P's and C's.  While I was searching for the correct words to use to explain pattern I re-read part of Loomis's book and I found a part that I wanted to share. While highlighting that particular part of the book it reminded me of being a kid in school.  I don't know how long highlighter markers have been around but I remember them being the latest and greatest study tool back in the 80s.  The teacher was so excited for us to use them and she explained that they were for highlighting important words in textbooks. Obviously I had to make the argument that all of the words in the textbook were important. You, and I'm sure the teacher did, think I'm just arguing semantics but it's important to communicate correctly. Don't be lazy with your choice of words, there are millions of them to use, use the right one to best get your point across. What the teacher should have said was, highlight the KEY words. If the words are in a textbook and I'm required to read them, they better all be important words but there are some that are KEY to understanding the topic.  This goes for the same as when you paint. Sure everything you put in your painting should be important but there are key elements that you want to focus on.  So imagine your painting as a textbook and you're going to use your fancy highlighting marker to make the most important (KEY) words stand out. How do you do that? Here's what Loomis says,"The artist won't go wrong when he can see the big truths, or what he feels to be the big truths. If he looks for the big planes, the big lights and shadows, the big values and relationships, he will do a better job. One can easily get lost in a lot of little truths without seeing the big ones. The leaf compared to the bulk and mass of the tree itself is the difference between the big truths and the little ones, or between big vision and eyesight.".  When reading that I envisioned the big truths as being those key words that I should highlight in the textbook and the little truths were the rest. The little truths, or non-key words, are still important because they hold the sentence/painting together. I suppose you could think of it as the main actor, supporting actors and stage props. They're all important to put a play together but the main actor is going to do the most important parts that the audience will want to focus on. I'll try to demonstrate with a photo now.
This is the photo reference I used for the painted sketch up above. This picture hasn't been manipulated in photoshop, it's exactly what came from the camera on automatic settings.   
This one has been edited to emphasize all of the "little truths".  Every little tiny detail is highlighted.  It's harsh and unpleasant to look at. You don't know which part to focus in on.  Some artists say you need a place to "rest your eyes".  This picture has no resting place.
This one has been edited to be somewhere in between the two photos above. Most of the fine, tiny details, or "little truths", have been softened.  Simply by taking the focus off of the little truths the big truths emerge and the composition is much more pleasant. I  did further edits in the sketch in order to highlight the key part of the painting also known as focal point.
Here they are side by side for easier comparison. The language barrier will always be there so hopefully by demonstrating with photos and paintings makes it a little easier to comprehend.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Tuesday Tip: #6 P's and Thank You

225 S. Canal St  7x5" ink on Bristol
In Andrew Loomis's book, Successful Drawing, he writes about the 5 P's and the 5 C's.  I think there needs to be one more P added to the list and that's part of the tip for this Tuesday.
Loomis's fives P's are;

  1. Proportion- the three dimensions.
  2. Placement- a position in space
  3. Perspective-relationship of viewpoint to subject
  4. Planes-surface appearance as defined by light and shadow
  5. Pattern-the deliberate arrangement of the tones of a subject
I'm adding number six, Practice. Practice practice practice. If it sounds like I'm nagging you to practice then that's on you. If you don't want to practice then it won't feel like nagging. If you know you should be but you aren't it will sound like nagging, so again, it's all on you. If you feel guilty for not doing something that's not my fault. In another book I found this, "Remember the pianist who said that if he did not practice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audiences would know." Truly there is no better P than practice. 
If it weren't for practice I wouldn't have been able to do the above sketch. It utilizes most of the P's as well. Proportion was considered from the start. What would this look like in a landscape view? The height of the building wouldn't come into play as much and maybe it would feel like more of an intimate setting. Instead I wanted to emphasize the grand size of the building. Placement was considered with the few standing figures. I could have thrown them in any old place but I put some consideration as to where they'd be best placed to make a nice composition.  Perhaps they could have been placed somewhere else but it's a bit of a gamble and another reason why we should do sketches and think first. Perspective, hopefully this one is obvious.  I knew it was going to be a difficult subject so I went for an easy one-point perspective. I didn't want to start the new year off by pulling all of my hair out so I took the easy route. Planes, again this one should be easy considering I did a black and white ink drawing, but you can see where perspective plays a big role for my planes to work correctly. The white floor and the white walls could easily be seen as a flat plane but hopefully the strong vertical lines of the columns and horizontal lines of the benches help break up those planes. Pattern, pattern is the one I struggle with the most. Or used to for sure. When I hear the word pattern I think of textiles and those types of patterns. Polka dots, stripes, paisley, PATTERNS. This one is more about putting lights and darks down to emphasize each other. Pattern might be harder to explain with these black and white drawings so maybe I'll do a Tuesday tip on that by itself.