Friday 31 August 2012

'An artist painting a picture should have at his side a man with a club to hit him over the head when the picture is finished.'  (John Singer Sargeant, 1856 - 1925)


'Draw everywhere and all the time. An artist is a sketchbook with a person attached.' (Irwin Greenberg)
'One must keep right on drawing; draw with your eyes when you cannot draw with a pencil.' (Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres)

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Keeping a Sketchbook or Ideas Book

If you don't already have the habit, I really recommend keeping a sketchbook or ideas book. It will pay you back many times over any time you spend on it.

Sketchbooks get you in an artistic frame of mind. They keep you practising which keeps you coordinated and used to seeing detail. They can also be such a relaxing thing to do. I love sitting and drawing in the garden.

You can also take notes as reference to use later:

 or to teach yourself something you find difficult. I spent a lot of time in Europe drawing statues' knees and taking notes!

You can also use them to collect things you find inspiring - photos, postcards, pictures of other people's works, magazine cuttings etc. Then you have a resource book of ideas and reference material for other works.

Sometimes they can provide providence (a sort of history of inspiration and development) for potential buyers and gallery owners. People are often fascinated by artists' sketchbook, and some galleries even have exhibitions of just sketchbooks. I love seeing the sketchbooks of my favourite artists - seeing how they work through their ideas.

One of the best uses, I think, though, is as a souvenir. They can make invaluable mementos of holidays, or children growing up, of artistic phases in your life, of the change of seasons in your garden. If you haven't been keeping one, try and find a little time to start one today.

Monday 13 August 2012

Keep it Fresh! Tips to Avoid Overworking Your Artwork

It's easy to work so hard to get a good result that you overwork your drawing or painting. Colours get muddy or they lose depth, the tonal range becomes more narrow or you lose the freshness or vision that you originally had.

There are a few tricks around this, particularly for students:

1. For paintings, spend 70% of painting time with brushes the same size or bigger than your thumb. Don't get too fiddly with small brushes - this is the surest way to make your work muddy and lose the big picture.

2. Always work from big to small. We often spend way too much time on the details, but the details are not how we orient ourselves through the world. We spend more time in the real world trying to not walk into a table than noticing the woodgrain. To convince someone of it's realism, the big structure has to be correct first.

3. Give yourself a time limit to finish the work or finish specific parts.

4. Try this technique: study your subject for 5 minutes, then draw for 5. Feel free to change or erase as you go. This can give some really interesting results.

5. Limit your palette (that is, the number of hues (colours) you use). Choose either a cool or warm palette at the beginning and stick to it (more on this later!) This includes blacks and whites. Avoid premixed tertiary hues (colours) whenever you can - make them up from your other colours. There are three reasons for this: you'll learn about colour mixing; similar colour combinations bring a sense of cohesiveness to your work (link parts of your work) and generally, the fewer colours, the fresher the work.

6. Step back to see, step forward to make marks.

7. Mix your colours on your palette, not your artwork.

7. Have a plan to blend colours or apply shading before you approach your work. Choose the direction of your strokes ahead of time and make them as efficient as possible. Strokes should show what the surface is like (the texture), and the direction the surface moves in (around, away, to the viewer, drops off sharply etc), as well as the lightness or darkness (tone) or overall colour.

8. Have an exit point planned before you start your work. In other words, have it clear in your head when your work will be finished (writing it down will help). You may like to think of it as the aim of your work, e.g. 'to create a strong, fresh floral painting.' This will help you know when your work is finished so you don't overwork it. As my favourite art teacher once told me, an artist knows when to walk away!

Friday 3 August 2012

Why You Should Buy the Best Supplies You Can Afford

1. Student paints aren't always pure. They may be labelled as 'hue' which means made to look like a pigment, but not made of that pigment. One common example is Cerulean Hue which is not made up of cerulean pigment but pthalo and white. These mixes may make a muddier, (less pure), colour or not mix how you expect them to as the properties of the other pigments, such as the white, will affect the mix.

2. Student paints can contain a shorter-lasting fixative or binding agent. They may degrade over time or even go mouldy! Some less expensive acrylics also get very plasticky, and can peel off the canvas or paper.

3. Some papers, particularly watercolour papers, contain so much rag that they absorb the paint really quickly. They don't hold detail as well or give you time to work your painting. They are also unforgiving, and will pil, (degrade), with the smallest touch. They may also need so much more paint that they become a false economy, (in other words, you save on the paper but you pay more than you saved on the paint).

4. Some papers are not pH neutral or acid-free, meaning they can discolour or leach color over time.

5. Some paintbrushes lose bristles as you work, which get left in the paint. Others come apart or rust at the ferrule or the wood swells or flakes as they age, which can also contaminate the paint.

6. Some cheaper primed canvasses aren't well folded or tight enough. If not stored properly, they can get pressure marks which can't be easily removed, (or can't be fixed at all). The frame may be badly cut, loose or uneven. Primed canvasses may not be pH neutral.

5. Cheap materials can make you work harder to accomodate them, taking longer to complete works and making the learning process that much more complex. Moreover, if you get frustrated with the problems that arise, they can stop you enjoying your art as much as you could!

Thursday 2 August 2012

Characteristics of Shadow

In reality, shadows are very rarely black or pure grey. As well as changing in line with the strength, colour and quality of the light, the characteristics of shadows change with their surroundings. The more complex the surroundings, the more complex the shadow.

Shadows are not just an absence of light. Instead of thinking of them in terms of what they are not, think of them as what they are: the addition of the qualities of the casting object(s), the qualities of the light and reflected light and the qualities of the surface that they are being cast onto. These qualities include opacity, (solidity), tone, texture and hue (colour).

Some general rules of thumb are this:
1.The stronger the light, the darker the shadow.
2. The more solid the object, the more solid the shadow is (particularly its edges).
3. The more angled the light, the longer the shadow.
4. The longer the shadow, the more it interacts with its surrounds (shows variation).
5. The more textured the cast surface, the more jagged the shadow.
6. The more reflected light, the lighter and/or more uneven the shadow.
7. The more absorbent the cast surface, the darker the shadow will be.
8. The further from the casting object, the larger and often lighter or less crisp the shadow will be (unless the light source is very strong and/ or the objects are very solid and small. You may not see any variation in a still life scene).

In terms of shadow hue, (colour), consider that in that dark tone, there is also a blend of the hues of the surface and the hues of the casting object as reflected light.

Loosen Up!

Ways to loosen up your work:

1. Watch your grip. Don't hold your pencils or brushes too tightly or close to the end. For some people, this could also mean taking a finger off your grip.
2. Exercise your wrist. Draw and paint from the wrist, not the fingers.
3. Be prepared to throw work out.
4. Try this exercise: draw, then erase some off (at least a third). Draw again, erase again, etc. This can teach you to explore your work and not get too precious about it.
5. If a part of your artwork is not working, redo on it another piece of paper. Then, once you have it right, redo on the original (or just paste it on if that suits the work).
6. Take a break. Do something fun, come back.
7. Put on/ change/ turn up the music.
8. Try drawing or painting a step further away.
9. Give yourself a time limit to make you focus on the bigger picture. Three minutes is a good limit.
10. Stretch and jiggle.
11. Trying observing 3 steps back and come forward to make the marks.