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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Glass Blowing - a fabulous new experience

For our Wedding Anniversary this year my husband bought the most amazing gift - the chance to make 2 stemless wine glasses OURSELVES.

A friend's wife owns a studio only miles from our home. Now regulars to this blog will know that my husband is actually the most talented artist in the house. It's just that his job makes it hard for him to spend any time pursuing his art. So I can assure you, I was excited, but he was more so than me!

Whilst painting is my muse, I love anything creative and this was just a dream come true. Like one of those forays into the unknown.

Painting is accessible to most but glass blowing has always been one of those specialist things that Joe Bloggs (pardon the intentional pun) can't pick up because it needs specialist stuff.

So we arrived at the studio not really knowing what to expect. We were greeted by Susie and we started to discuss our piece. Being our Copper Wedding Anniversary (22 years) my better half had wanted this metal included and we had kind of envisaged there would be a kind of nugget in the base of the glass.

Copper on the outside...
Little did we know that copper is one of the few metals that can work successfully in glass blowing and that depending on how you use it - inside or out it can look dramatically different.

We were blown away (another bad pun sorry) to see how it reacts differently and in awe of Susie and her craft.

We had an amazing time but boy was it hot in there.

I hope you like the results though. We love our wine glasses although I have them on display and am scared to use them. Susie says she always throws her things in the dishwasher but I reckon if they break it's ok as she can make them again! So I'm treating these very carefully.
...and inside

So what's next in my art journey? Well it's made me more determined to try encaustic painting. Watch this space.

PS Art bunnies in Lousville. Please check out or visit them at 9409 Norton Commons Bvd, Prospect, KY. Either buy Susie's amazing glass pieces or do it yourself for a great day or evening out.

The end result

Monday, July 8, 2013

Art on the Go

We are 2 days from having lived in the USA for a year. It's gone so fast that it it's been breathtaking. We've travelled a bit, seen some great cities, mountains, lakes and seas and experienced the diversity of our new home. One thing that struck me, though, was the fact that, for the first time since my parents took me to Spain as a kid, I have stayed in the same country for a year and it was weird going on vacation recently without needing your passport!!

Of course, these days, I have a packing requirement that goes with me everywhere - some basic art supplies. So, with this in mind, here are my top 5 tips for "Art on the Go".

1. A good quality spiral bound art journal

Great for capturing things you see around you when out and about or simply relaxing in your holiday home or hotel.  Art journals are great for inspiration and many of my subsequent paintings have come from quick sketches in a journal. They are also a great way to remember your vacation.  My fav is the Strathmore Visual Mixed Media Journal. The quality of the paper is great and will work with a variety of media from ink to watercolor. Spiral bound is important too. If you are traveling, opening things up frequently etc, spiral bound is much more durable. These journals are readily available both in your local art store and on-line.

2. Portable or table top easels

If you plan on painting using more than just an art journal, then you will need a table top or portable easel. The former is a collapsible, lightweight easel that fits easily (no pun intended) into your suitcase or takes up only a little space in your car. Often used by plein air painters, it extends to full size and will take a canvas or a board if your are painting watercolor. The latter is smaller but compact and will sit on a table for indoor or outdoor use.

3. A good quality waterproof bag.

Here is mine all packed up and ready to go to Florida recently. Why waterproof? Well self explanatory really when  used to hold art supplies!!

4. A selection of painting surfaces

Now I'm obviously not suggesting you take 20 canvasses with you, but art stores carry a huge array of types and sizes of portable surfaces from canvasboard to gessoboard, clayboard and wood.

5. Your art supplies

This is such an individual choice but here is what I always take.

Firstly I would not leave my house without my Derwent Inktense Pencils. They produce amazing intense color and I use them in 90% of my art journal creations. They can be used like traditional color pencils or used with water to create amazing effects. They leave watercolor pencils on the start line and are just amazing lol! To wet the ink I always take a couple of Sakura Watercolor Brushes. These versatile little things hold a small amount of water and are invaluable on planes.

Then I use a variety of permanent pens from Microns to Sharpies to give me various line thicknesses and to create my lowlights, coupled with a correction pen for the highlights and you can't go wrong.

Then add a few pencils and ballpoint pens (or use the ones in your hotel - great memories) and a portable watercolor kit and bingo - you can do just about anything you want!

What art supplies do you like to take with you on vacation? Let me know!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Cows and a visit from a great little guy

I have to admit I have been a bit lax with my blog posts of late.  It's Summer Break - 2 1/2 weeks in Florida, entertaining the kids and endless trips between various activities to keep the little blighters occupied. Oh yes and it's Wimbledon Fortnight (being an avid tennis player and fan I am glued to the TV for 2 weeks) plus we got a new little kitten who is into everything and got his paws covered in oil paint today.  I have no doubt it will NOT be his only experience with the medium.

So major relief today to get back into the studio and ignite my passion and work on some quick palette knife cows. They may not be the best but I love painting cows. They have such funny faces and attitude that just let the creative juices flow.
Cow in the Grass

My experience was made all the better by a visit from a special little guy who lives in our cul-de-sac. He is 5 years old and just about to start Kindergarten but this guy is very wise beyond his years and has such authority that you have just got to believe what he says and trust his judgement on everything.

He pops over to see me and just likes to hang out with me, my kids and my pets. So he appears at the studio door.

Little Guy: "Mrs E's Mom (he does not know my name) what are you doing?".

Me: "I'm painting, this is my art studio".

Little Guy: "Mrs E's Mom what are you painting?".

Jaunty Cow
Me: "Cows. I love painting cows".

Little Guy: "Well its just, Mrs E's Mom, that that does not look like a cow".

Me: "Ok, why not?".

Little Guy: "Well, Mrs E's Mom, this cow is pink and I know cows are not pink".

Me : "Ah well I like painting them in lots of colors. Is that ok?".

Little Guy: "Yes, I guess so!".

So he goes on to look at everything on my art wall and give me his opinion. This includes my pink and grey abstract Shanghai landscape which he tells me is so wrong 'cos the river is not blue. Now, my Shanghai friends will know the Huangpu River is most definitely not blue, especially since its recent "dead pig" incident. Well at least I wasn't cows.
What color the river??

Maybe I rest my case, cows can be pink.

What do you say?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Fat Over Lean

I tell my students if they only take one technical aspect of painting away from their class then it must be the concept of "Fat over Lean". Usually they then give me a puzzled look, amused by the strange term I have just sent their way.

So what do we mean by "Fat over Lean" and why is it so important in oil painting.  In a nutshell, you need to use this principle to reduce the risk of your painting cracking and give it longevity if you are creating a piece with multiple layers. 

This principle relates to the drying times of the paint and is a way of making sure that the bottom layers of paint dry before the upper ones. If this doesn't happen, the risk of cracking increases because the lean paint shrinks above the slower drying fat layer below. 

Fat paint comes straight from the tube. Mixing it with an oil makes it fatter and increases the amount of time it takes for a layer to dry. 

Conversely, lean is paint thinned with turpentine or a fast drying medium.

Breaking this down, make sure your bottom layers are thinner and become gradually fatter and you won't go far wrong. 

'Fat' oil paint is oil paint straight from the tube. Mixing it with an oil makes it even 'fatter' and increases the length of time it takes to dry completely (even though it may feel dry to the touch, it will still be drying under the surface). 'Lean' oil paint is oil paint mixed with more turpentine (white spirit) than oil, or oil paint mixed with a fast-drying oil. 'Lean' oil paint dries faster than 'fat' oil paint.

Also bear in mind that different paints also dry differently. Prussian Blue dries v quickly but colours such as Mars Black are v slow. The former has a lower oil content than the latter. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How (not) to mess up a painting

Let's face it we have all been there. Your painting is looking good and you keep working on it and BANG it all goes wrong. Or you paint a canvas forever and it never looks good no matter what you do.

Shoot you've messed it up. So what do you do?

Well my thinking is twofold. Follow some very simple tips at the start to keep you on the right track, then some during painting. These should keep you on the right track. And, if push comes to shove, you can always paint over an area either fixing or starting a section again.

1. Composition- think about the crop of the painting. Don't put the focal point in the middle like an egg yolk. Try
Think about offsetting the subject
offsetting it. Or try to create interest by cropping off the side of an object. If you are working from a photo, put it in Photoshop or a similar application and play with the crop. You will be amazed at the difference. If painting plein air or still life, use your fingers to make a simple frame and follow the same techniques.

2. Tone - be constantly aware of tone. Don't paint just flat colors. Think about the variations and look for them. See the post "The Importance of Tone " May 12 2013. Keep a black and white version of your photo beside you and refer to it. Or create a tonal under painting where color is stripped from the equation initially.

3. Work on a simple area first or a color you like to get into the groove. You're more likely to mess something up if you're not in your comfort zone and become frustrated which can lead to mistakes. Likewise, if it's not going where you want STOP. Taking a break can give you renewed enthusiasm and a fresh perspective.

4. Think about your color composition and make the best use of complimentary colors. Think about how they all work together and keep the color wheel in mind. Try adding some of your focal color in other parts of the canvas to create interest and pull things together.

5. Lastly know when to stop. Many paintings have failed because the artist does not know when to stop. Go with your gut instinct. If you think you're done you probably are. Don't strive for perfection. It's a painting not a photo.
Make the best use you can of complimentary colors

Monday, May 20, 2013

There's No-one Quite Like Vincent

Beautiful complimentary colors
Rather than focusing on technique this week, I thought I'd focus on one of my favourite artists Vincent Van Gogh.

Now I know he is hugely popular but his work is amazingly good. So why?

First and fore-mostly, I thinks he appeals to lots of people in different ways - yes I think that's it. His appeal is universal in a nutshell. All things to all people regardless of training, education or creed.

We visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam on a layover  between the UK and China. Our kids then aged 9 and 4 were blown away by his paintings. They loved the simplicity.

Then there was his use of color. He pushes complimentary colors such as blue and orange round the canvas in amazing ways and his paintings are vibrant and happy.

Plus there's a slightly abstract, manic twist on reality. Sunflowers need I say more.
Crazy, manic sunflowers

Now Van Gogh  is never going to be one of the best painters in the world in terms of realism but his work was  groundbreaking. Some of his early pieces are often criticised because objects are not correct as he had not yet mastered some techniques. A good example of this is the 1885 piece "The Potato Eaters". But maybe this is what makes that piece interesting and likable.

I particularly love Van Gogh's bold brush strokes, coupled with great content and emerging impressionistic style that broke the mould and have won our hearts.

Now I'm gonna be controversial here but this was in an age where photography was emerging. Previously we liked paintings that now look like photos. Now we like more simplicity and abstraction and he brought this to us.

No-one was working or approaching art the way he did either.  We must also look to the stories and messages within his paintings. They don't depict biblical themes or reflect patronage but they are semi- autobiographical, emotional and reflect his tormented life.

So pull this all together and you get a unique picture, into a unique artist at a unique time in the development of art as a medium.

Vincent, there's no-one quite like you.

Share your favorite artists with me so we can feature them in future posts.
The Potato Eaters

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Importance of Tone

For a beginning and even a more experienced artist, tone is often one of the most difficult concepts to master.

The reason that tone is often tricky is that the color can often get in the way and create confusion.

Now what do we mean by this?

Each color, regardless of how light or dark it is has tone but this is all relative to the other colors around it.

So taking this to the next level even a dark color like black can have tone. There can be light areas that look grey or even white as the light reflects off it and darker areas of shadow.

Look at the rain capes in this picture and you can see all the lights and darks in all of the capes regardless of their color.
You can still see tone in the capes

A question students often ask is "Why worry about tone. If its blue why not paint it blue? ".

Well put simply, painting without tone will make a piece look flat, dull and it will have no interest. Tone creates depth and interest and a better quality of finished item.

If you are struggling with tone, a good way to overcome your fears is to paint a monochrome painting either using shades of black and white or another single color mixed with white. This will help you start to see tone and strip color out of the equation.

In this example, the veggies are painted using only 5 variations of white to black.
Try monochrome

It's also a good discipline to work on an under painting before applying color or to sketch out a painting using a black and white version if you are working from a photograph.

You can create a simple photocopy of your painting or create a digital version in a program like Photoshop (Photoshop is my best friend - see post dated 5/5/13) which you can either print or use direct from your computer.  That's way you focus only on the tones and can ignore the noise created by color.

Creating a good under painting also makes adding the color on top easy. In this study of "After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself" by Edgar Degas, I created this tonal under painting using white and burnt umber only. It made the next stage of the painting easy as the tonal value was already there for me to see.
Or a tonal underpainting

So next time you are struggling with tone, strip out the color it causes too much confusion and keep mindful that, if its not working, it may well be down to tone, or lack of it.