Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tuesday Tip #4: Beware the Bargain Beauty

This can be said for just about anything you're going to spend your hard earned money on. If you want something that's good and is going to last save your money and buy the best you can afford. If you're not looking for long term use then feel free to go cheap.
For artists, buying supplies and tools can be one of the most agonizing parts of the whole process. You have a lot of people telling you what brand they prefer, what colours they use, so on and so forth. Unless you're planning on becoming a master forger there's no need to purchase everything your favourite painter uses. There's a chance that your favourite painter is also getting paid to say they prefer one brand over another when secretly they don't. On the other hand it's nice to know what other painters are using because when you go to the store or look at the catalogs the choices are overwhelming. We need somewhere to start. A lot of times our impulses tell us in order to try new things we should buy cheap so we can try out all of them. DON'T do that. In college one of the drawing instructors was big into using gouache and we all wanted to try it. Back then I was in the mind of more is better so I bought the cheapest, but biggest, sets of gouache I could find. I used them once and threw them away. Threw them away because the quality was so poor that cheap kids' tempera paint put it to shame. I wasted money and had regrets. If I had been smart I would have purchased fewer paints of a better quality. Paint, especially watercolour, grants us the luxury of only having to buy a few tubes and mixing from them.
Another thing to consider is canvas and paper. When I got back into painting I went out and bought a huge roll of canvas because I was going to go gung ho and paint big and paint a lot. I still have 85% of that roll of canvas taking up space in my studio. I don't even really like painting on canvas.  If I had purchased a couple of ready made canvases, used them first, then remembered why I didn't like it I would have saved money and space. Same with paper. I've taken workshops where the teacher recommends a specific paper to use and like an idiot I went out and bought pads and pads of paper when I could have just bought a single sheet and tried it first. At the time I figured if the teacher was telling me to use it it must be the best. Maybe it's the best for them but I have loads of it taking up precious space in the studio. (An aside note on this particular example, if you're taking a class and the supply list includes specific material like paper, ask the instructor if they sell sheets or samples that you can purchase at the class).
This even goes as far as pencils. PENCILS!  The art supply snobs are most prevalent in the world of comic books, at least when it comes to pencils, ink and brushes. If you're not dipping a Winsor Newton Series 7 in your bottle of ink you're just not doing it right! That's a load of bologna right there, but some people buy into it, literally. I've been to demos where some of the most prolific artists were demonstrating their skills and all they were asked was, what kind of pencil are you using. REALLY!?  Like the magic pencil is doing all of the work. Have you ever been to a restaurant where you really enjoyed the meal and thought to yourself, hmmm I wonder what kind of pots and pans that chef uses because the food was really good?  I doubt it, so why do we do that to artists? When I was a kid I used a school pencil and a fine tip Sharpie.  The other day I got out one of those yellow school pencils and turned out the drawing I used for this post. I started out with a fine tip marker but switched to ink, but the point is, it's not how expensive or what brand of pencil it really is how you use it. Or more importantly how often you use it.
Honestly, painting and drawing aren't easy to begin with so why pile on regret by spending a lot of money on supplies you don't need or won't use more than once? Just because an item's on sale doesn't make it a good purchase, especially if you're never going to use it.
Stay tuned for the upcoming tips as I'll be writing about limited supplies, what to save on, what to splurge on and tools you can purchase that will be multi-functional to help save money and space.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tuesday Tip 3: Paint With a Purpose

Meat Counter 4x6" watercolour & coloured pencils on paper
To say, paint with a purpose, might sound like something a jerk would say. Duh, if you're painting you must clearly have a purpose.  It's not that simple because a lot of people think the purpose is simply to paint. Anyone can paint. Seriously, check out James Gurney's post on Pigcaso the painting pig.
Having a purpose to your painting will serve two-fold and possibly more but I'm only going to give two examples.  One, if you paint with a purpose it will show in your work. If you're just here to splatter paint around you might work out a way to get treats like Pigcaso, but most likely you'll have something else in mind.  This one is a little harder to explain but I'll give you a windy example. I used to take a sketchbook with me everywhere I went and sketched whatever was in front of me. I did it simply because I thought that's what I was supposed to do. So and so does it and they're  a great painter so I should do it too. Here's the problem, I had no purpose behind it other than I thought it was the key to being a better painter. I got bored drawing the random stuff in front of me and I eventually got out of the habit of sketching.  If I had only changed one thing about doing that I would have never stopped. If I had just had a purpose to sketching like say, I want to get better at drawing ellipses or work on perspective or any specific reason I wouldn't have gotten bored. It's like going to the grocery store with no specific purpose. You have no idea what kind of food you want to eat so you just buy a bunch of random things and by the time you get home and unload the bags you realise you really have nothing to make a meal with because it's all so random.  The second reason why you need to have a purpose to a sketch or a painting is to keep you on track. This works especially well for plein air painters. How many times have you been 3/4 of the way through a painting and it starts to fall apart and you can't figure out what to do to fix it? This is when you go back to that original purpose. What was it specifically about the composition that made you stop and want to paint it in the first place?  What was the story you were originally trying to tell? It seems ridiculous but more often than not a painter will get most of the way through the painting and forget why they originally started the painting. Not because we've been sniffing too much paint thinner but because it's easy to get caught up in minor details somewhere other than where we began.
Having a purpose works really well for students, especially if your instructor gives you an idea of what they'll be teaching before you head to the class/workshop.  Sometimes an instructor will tell you to bring your own photo to work from.  In a situation like that you have every opportunity to work out the reasons for choosing that composition.  Do you want to practice painting trees, people, buildings, etc?  When you choose your subject matter keep in mind the reason why you did, that way you can ask your instructor specific questions. If you chose buildings because you want to work on drawing in perspective let them know that, that way they'll know what you need help with. If your instructor assigns you a subject, study it and decide what it is about it that you need the most help with.  Go into the assignment with a purpose and not just the purpose of having a finished painting by the end of class. That's a good goal but if that's your only purpose you may as well ask for a paint by number assignment.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tuesday Tip: A Thumbnail A Day

These are the four thumbnail sketches I did for a set of paintings that will be part of the Fairfield Art Association Member's Show. It wasn't that long ago that I thought thumbnail sketches were a waste of time.  My first few experiences plein air painting only reiterated that thought. I felt I didn't have time to do a small sketch because the light was going to change so fast. That was all half ignorance and the other half misinformation. I didn't know and I was too busy listening to what others had to say not considering that we all work differently and we all have different goals when we approach a painting. In school I found them to be a waste of time because I was always on a deadline, get it done fast. Never mind if it's good just as long as it's done. Now I know better.
A thumbnail sketch is useful for all matter of things. You can work out your composition, find any problem areas and fix them before you approach your final painting. You can work out your colour palette. You can place your values down so if you are painting outdoors and the light changes you have a "cheat sheet" that will tell you where the lights and darks were when you started. There's an endless list of reasons why to do them.  They don't have to be big, fully detailed or even pretty.  A lot of artists do them simply as a warm up. Athletes warm up their muscles before they take the field, artists should do the same. Writers begin with a rough draft, consider a thumbnail to be an outline or a rough draft to your finished work.  Once you get in the habit of doing them you'll find they take very little time.
On a side note, I finally had the opportunity to watch the documentary on the Ghost Army.  These men were/are amazing.  If you get a chance you should definitely watch it. They show pages from their sketchbooks and they're breathtaking. These men took advantage of their down time to do small sketches whenever and wherever they could.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tuesday Tips #1: Men WITH Hats

Hardcore fans of 80s pop music will understand the title. For the rest of you, sorry you missed out on the Safety Dance.
On Instagram I follow an account called studio and pleinair that does a weekly "Tuesday Tips".  They gather tips from artists around the globe and share them for others.  Recently they asked viewers to kiss the butts of the artists who share these tips. (No lie it's right here kiss butts here).  I'm not going to ask anyone to do that but I'm going to try to do my own Tuesday Tips here. I'm still not sure I want to even continue this blog but if I do I'll start here with one post a week.
So here's my first Tuesday tip(s), practice makes progress.  This year I learned something valuable, if you're not good at something keep doing it. For example, I'm not good at painting clouds.  Before I would avoid them, put the horizon line near the top so I wouldn't have to worry about painting the clouds in. Cover up the sky with trees and buildings, all sorts of things like that. Finally I set myself a goal to do 1,000 cloud studies.  Sounds like a lot but the clouds change so quickly you can easily do 20  thumbnail sketches of clouds in one afternoon. After doing about 200 I got fairly comfortable with them. I learned a lot in just that small amount. Small compared to my final goal. I still have a lot to learn but from the studies I've done I'm comfortable enough to not shy away from them anymore. Now my goal is to improve my skills at drawing people wearing hats. I want to work on a specific project that involves men in hats but there's a problem, I'm not good at it. It takes me a really long time to make it look right. Drawing people isn't easy and drawing them in hats is less so. There is no magic pill that makes you instantly good at drawing people in hats, trust me I checked. So the only thing to do is to draw as many men in hats as I can until I feel comfortable with my abilities. I set a goal and even made a sketchbook with a set amount of pages in it specifically for this. One hundred pages of men in hats. Thank goodness for the insane amount of western movies out there I have enough reference material to get me through this goal and if it's not enough there's an endless amount of westerns that I can draw men in hats for the rest of my life if I want. 
This is page two of my sketchbook I made in order to reach my goal. I hadn't realised how bad my posture was until I scanned this in. This is what happens when I sit at my drafting table and sit on one foot, everything goes at an angle. Here's where my Tuesday Tip comes in and I call it, Nothing Comes from Nowhere. Sounds stupid, but so many young artists believe the opposite. They see someone, who's been doing this forever, pick up a pencil and start drawing something, something from nowhere. Or so it seems. It actually comes from somewhere, their long hours of practise. When you first learned how to ride a bike you may have had training wheels and they were taken off once you got comfortable with what you were doing. Same goes for drawing. Don't feel embarrassed if you have to draw in guide lines in order to construct your drawings. You can think of drawing like cooking from a recipe. The first time you try a new recipe you may check it several times. You measure the ingredients carefully  and follow the recipe to the last instruction.  After making the same dish a few times you get comfortable and you look at the recipe card less and less. Eventually you no longer need to look at the recipe card and somewhere down the road you even put your own spin on it by adding some new spice or something. This is how we learn to draw. We first use our forms, or scaffolding, to help guide us.  Then after several times of drawing similar subject matter we gain confidence and take off the training wheels or put the recipe card away.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Just Keep Swimming

Went out to Lake Geode to paint today. The lake has recently been drained in order to perform some maintenance, which hopefully includes the removal of several tires that are currently stuck in the mud. Hiking along one of the lesser known trails there were a bunch of dead fish and several swarming eagles. It seems as though when they drained the lake they left some of the "undesirable" fish to fend for themselves and the shallow creek they found is basically a shallow grave. These fish probably won't make it unless there's a monsoon in the forecast.
My friend John and I set up our easels and started to paint. We both brought watercolours today, the easiest medium to travel with, thus we were able to hike on that lesser known trail. Unfortunately the watercolours weren't drying very fast today. In between waiting for paint to dry we were discussing my previous post about Victor Lundy. He was telling me how it reminded him of a documentary he watched about the "Ghost Army". Here's a short article about them with a couple of sketches done by Victor Dowd. "Design a Tank? Yes, a Fake One"  It references the movie that John mentioned and here's a link to PBS with a trailer and more info on the group.
Aside from being amazed at their talents my take away is that it's amazing how in such horrible conditions these men were able to be creative. Think about it. Today people feel as if their world is going to crumble if the internet is down for five minutes and they just can't cope. These men were in war torn villages, where buildings were destroyed and people were dying and could still pull it together.  After seeing what these men achieved there's just no excuse for not getting the work done.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Take Off, Eh!

Ink on vellum 
Last night I came across an article that prompted me to come out of early retirement.
I originally had this really long rant typed out about people who sit around and say they're going to do something vs. those who actually do something.  I deleted it because I figure it's a waste of time. Plain and simple there are just those types of people who would rather sit around and talk so they can hear the sound of their own voice and there are those who will let their actions speak for them. But for those who are teetering, for those of you who haven't yet decided if you're a person of words or a person of action, here is the link to the article that inspired this post. http://mymodernmet.com/victor-lundy-wwii-sketchbooks/
This is a short article with several pictures of Victor Lundy's sketchbook. When I first read the article and looked at the pictures I was in awe at how great and how young he was. Then it hit me.  How often do you hear someone yammer on about how they'd like to get better at something and then make the excuse that they don't have the time? Oh, I'd like to be able to paint like so and so but blah blah.....SHUT IT!   If this man could find the time to sketch while bombs and bullets were flying past his head then you have no excuse! It's just proof that if you really want to get better at something you'll find the time.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Dog Gone

5x6 watercolour sketch
This is a farewell post. Just wanted to thank all of you who read my ramblings and nonsense and even left comments. It's time to let this thing go.  I'll leave the blog active for another week then shut it down so fill up on all of the ridiculousness that you might have missed. Thanks again and take care.