I read a book on mud brick houses, go out and do a weekend workshop and plan on building my own ….one day. Actually it will have to wait until The Writer heads off to the next life as any mention of building has him muttering about the “divorce house”. I can’t help it – I just see something I love that hits my creative g spot and I want to try it for myself. Once I’ve tried it I want to share how easy, satisfying, frustrating, energising, fun, rewarding or just plain crazy it was to tackle the project.
Most of the stuff I create comes from a deeply internalised belief that if I think hard enough about how to do something, read up on it, seek the wisdom of those who do it well and then just jump in and try something good will result. That’s not to say it will be good the first attempt but every artistic endeavor adds to my store of knowledge and the next attempt is incrementally better.
I mull things over, I dream of new projects, I buy supplies and lay them up for when the mulling bears fruit. I want to try EVERYTHING! I know I should probably settle for a few things and do them really well but I’m fascinated by others artistic and creative outpourings and I start down a new path before I know it.
Right now it’s bookbinding. I’ve never done it before or been to a class but I saw a simple concertina sketchbook in my art store and decided I could make one. So I did – and then some more adding little windows, then a travel book with a fold over cover and I just interrupted my first attempt at a leather covered book to write this! In between I’ve been googling images and reading blogs and tutorials and have ammasssed a good understanding of some basic techniques. It’s never been so easy to get good information for new ideas.
So this blog started because I’ve been amazed at, and grateful for, what’s out there on the interweb – I wanted to add my slim store of knowledge and experience. I’m interested in what inspires others to blog , this simple mantra inspires me. See it, Make it, Share it!
Recently a work friend asked me to paint her a large acrylic painting – she just gave me a few hints- water, maybe a rock or two and some sand. I’m used to clients being pretty prescriptive about what they want. There’s usually a photo or three and several emails before we settle on exactly what I’ll be painting and how. My friend was very open – she just wanted those blue green waters and the rest was up to me. It was such a pleasure to paint that I felt I hadn’t really earned my fee – so I decided to donate a large chunk of it to the Fred Hollows Foundation. So now whenever my friend looks at her painting she will know that four people can now see because she asked me to to paint it. I kind of like that thought.
I really loathe the expression “point and click”. The word I really object to is point. It’s such a sneery term implying that as the owner of a digital camera with a very good auto function I will simply point my camera at any scene and click away with no more thought than if I were flicking a light switch.
The Writer often extolls the virtues of his digital SLR- talking all that photographer speak of f stops and iso . I remind him that I’m not a photographer, I’m an artist. Red Velvet, my lovely red camera, is simply another artistic tool in my studio and whenever I use her I am most concerned with composition . I NEVER “point” and click.
Sunset Hokitika New Zealand
I could go all technical if I had the inclination , after all I run an MRI unit where I’m constantly concerned about signal to noise, contrast to noise, resolution and image quality. I know how to manipulate factors to improve image quality and provide high quality diagnostic images of the human body. Of course I could learn to manipulate my camera’s many manual features if I wanted to- but the truth is I don’t really want to. There’s been a lot of R&D gone into fine tuning her auto functions and I can tell you they work just fine without ant intervention from me. I’m never going to be one of those people who carry round a notebook and jot down the ISO for this shot and now what does it look like with a different ISO? Just don’t care! Surprisingly I’ve done some of my best work from less than perfectly focussed or lit photo references!
What I do care about is using my artistic sensibility to frame in an inspiring way. To see an imperfect scene and crop before I shoot. Of course I’ll keep cropping afterwards because cropping is my friend. …but why would I want to just point when I can frame?
Tuscan evening sky
Taking photos for me is another form of sketching. I’m making little thumbnails of a scene, I take one in portrait, one in landscape, then I move the horizon low …what about if I make it all about the sky and move that horizon really low? I’m already working on the painting that might not materialise on canvas or paper for several years. I’m storing up visual memories that will lay dormant until some time in the future when I search through my archives for inspiration and bang! there are all my thumbnails , the composition options already thought out and one will leap out at me and I’ll be excited because all those memories of being there, on the spot, will come flooding back. If I had just pointed I wouldn’t have the scene so firmly etched in my memory.
Tuscan clouds and wheat fields
That doesn’t mean to say I don’t use a sketch book as well- but sometimes a camera is more convenient. When I’m travelling with The Writer we often hike through amazing scenery and he hikes a lot faster than me! If I were to stop and sketch every sketch worthy scene I would never make the ridge , the top of the mountain or the end of the track. So I take along Red Velvet and frame and click away with just the occasional sketch when we stop for a break. Later that night I’ll make some more sketches after dinner to fix the subject even more firmly in my memory banks.
Monumental rock peaks in the Italian Dolomites
So that’s why I hate that phrase. I don’t judge you if you like to mess about with your ISO and F stops so don’t judge me just because I love the auto functions on my digital camera!
I’m having a bit of a snow theme lately with my commission work! My client asked me to capture the excitement and movement in this winter sledding scene. It was a bit of a challenge for me as I’ve only ever painted dogs once before….but then that’s one of the reasons I do commission work– for the challenge of subjects outside my usual comfort zone!
As with any painting I can see areas that are less than perfect but there are also passages I’m quietly pleased with. I like the sense of movement from the different leg positions of the running dogs, the way the fur on the lead dog is being swept back by the wind and the lolling tongues that suggest they’ve been running hard. The lead husky looks a bit wolf like but that’s really how he looked in the reference photos!
Research always helps
I did a bit of research on husky sled harnesses so I could understand how the harness wrapped around their bodies as it was difficult to tell in the reference photo – this really made it easier to paint the fur as it moved around and over the harness.
I was saved the problem of painting facial likeness by the fantastic reflective visors! I like the way the man is leaning as they round the corner – it helps that feeling of movement. I added the flakes of falling snow for another touch of movement and a feeling of cold and fun as they sled through the swirling snow.
Practice makes perfect
So now I’m going to practice some dog portraits – I’m determined to get better! A workmate has clumber spaniels and St Bernards so I’ve offered her a portrait if she will give me an honest critique. I wonder how that will go?
I’ve just completed a commission for a client and really enjoyed painting a snowy scene for a change, despite it’s challenges. Living this far south ( 42 degrees ) you would think I might see a lot of snow in our Tasmanian winters but the truth is it’s pretty mild here. It snows in the mountains but rarely at our house near Hobart and so I don’t often paint a winter scene with snow.
This is the photo my client sent me to work from. It’s a good composition with strong leading lines created by the curving river and the leaning trees – although the river has got a bit of a downward slope that will need correcting. There’s dramatic contrast between the light snow , the dark river and the exposed rocks and bare branches with some mid tones in the background trees.
What’s lacking is colour. The photo has flattened out all the colours into an almost black and white rendition of the scene. This makes for a very stark and cold feeling. “What’s wrong with that”, I hear you say. “After all it is winter and snow is surely cold!” Surprisingly snow is not just white. Light hits the snow crystals and reflects back creating blues, violets,pinks as well as the expected whites. Then there will be dips and hollows creating strong shadows.
I decided I wanted to go for that sparkly winter feel. I created a cool blue sky as a back drop to the sparkling snow. I used reflected colours from the sky and snow to create more interest in the river and then changed the lighting direction to create a shadowed bank on the right so I could introduce violets, mauves and blues into the snowbank. The stronger directional lighting also allowed me to better define the river banks with the shadows of the tree trunks which also break up the expanse of snow. Lastly I injected a bit of warmth in the background trees with some ochres and yellows. This works really well because yellow and blue are complimentary colours so the trees play off against the sky and the river creating a bit of a zing.
Here you can see the painting and the photo side by side. It’s always a challenge when I change a photo for a more artistic interpretation to make sure that I keep the essence there for the client.
Reference photo for the commission
I’m happy with the changes – let’s see what my client thinks!
This is what my client had to say “Wow it’s beautiful! I absolutely love it. It’s going to be my mom’s mothers day gift : )”
I fell in love with pastels for their bright and glorious boldness but as our relationship developed I began to appreciate more and more the quiet beauty of the muted greys. So in this video I explore the more restrained colours that can help develop a more subtle mood.
If you’ve seen many of my paintings you might think I only use brights. It’s true I’m a bit of a colourist and my hand naturally gravitates to those jewel bright sticks in my pastel box but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the muted pleasures of soft greys. Tonight I pulled out my box of Great American Artist greys to use in a small painting of a Tuscan evening sky and I didn’t miss those brights at all.
I’ve had this photo on my idea board for a while . It’s a quick snap I took a few years ago on a trip to Italy. We were driving home one night and the sky was just beautiful – full of soft pinks and mauves with a typical Tuscan farmhouse and cyprus trees silhouetted against it. Well – I took more than one snap that night but this is the one I’ve been thinking about lately. I’d planned to paint it fairly large but as I walked past my painting area a scrap piece of purple paper that looked just right caught my eye so I decided to go small and paint right then!
The photo doesn’t show much colour in the foreground so I wanted to up the colour there for a little more interest. The sky was the main inspiration so I planned to render that area fairly faithfully . The tree on the right didn’t seem to serve any purpose in the composition so I got rid of it. I decided on more contrast between the fields and the foreground bushes to add a bit more depth to the picture…and that was my planning process before I started painting.
This is a fantastic set of greyed pinks, blues, purples, browns and greens. They’re so useful for evening skies, soft shadows and understated subjects. These weren’t a cheap buy but I don’t regret a cent – they’re a must have in my collection. This is the set I used for tonight’s painting with the addition of a few darks. It’s surprising how few pastels you actually need to paint a subject like this.
I’m reasonably happy with this little 20 minute painting. It has a bit of verve, I haven’t overworked it, there are some lovely soft colours in the sky that give the glow I was looking for. True ,the house roof could do with a bit of quieting down and a few of the trees are looking a bit stunted , but overall I’m pleased with the results of my box of muted greys.
I decided to add some little windows to the basic design so I could have an image on the front when it’s closed. I also experimented with different numbers and shapes of the windows and different types of ribbons and cords for tying the books closed. I’m loving the leather strip just wrapped around the plain book several times ! I’m now offering a custom book making service since I enjoy making them so much.
Here you can see how I’ve used the windows to paint tiny pictures to hint at what’s inside. The open book shows a series of seed pod studies from seeds I picked up in my garden and daily walk.
The books have strong enough covers that you can stand them up on a shelf to display the paintings – this one features colourful Australian birds. I don’t have enough shelves to display all the artbooks I’m making so they’r off to my Etsy shop. where I’ll be offering custom paintings in a custom artbook .
This is the one I made for The Writer for his birthday – it’s filled with small watercolours of iconic US national parks we visited on our last holiday. He absolutely loves it and keeps it open on the shelf above his computer station.
I’d like to try one filled with flowers for Mother’s Day or some poetry with just a touch of artwork and maybe one with vintage cars, or cats, or ……..the possibilities are endless!
So that’s what I’ve done with mine – what have you done with yours?
Painting with pastels is very intuitive. I think this is because it takes us back to our childhood when we used crayons and chalks in a very fluid way. We hadn’t started judging our art yet so we were happy with every picture we drew. For me, picking up a pastel stick takes me right back to that happy place where each stick of luscious colour was there to be slathered on the paper with joyous abandon. I don’t worry about the end result I just enjoy the experience.
Using pastels is a combination of drawing and painting and there are many different mark making techniques to experiment with. The more you paint the more ways of manipulating the pastel you’ll discover.
When I started out I used a small range of simple marks and they still form the basis of most of my paintings. Of course I’ve learned a lot over the years and developed some of my own ways of adding texture and interest but the basics underpin all my work. You can check out a demonstration on my mark making video.
Different pastels for different marks
The type of mark you make with a pastel depends on a number of factors:
the hardness or softness of the pastel stick
the amount of pressure you exert
the part of the pastel that comes in contact with the paper
Soft pastels v. hard pastels
Soft pastels give up their colour more generously with less pressure than hard pastels. It’s surprising how easy it is to “eat” up a soft pastel when using it on sanded paper. Less pressure is the rule here! The marks are generally softer and more rounded than a hard pastel as it’s more difficult to keep a sharp edge on a soft, round pastel. Soft pastels lend themselves to natural forms such as clouds, trees, flowers, landscapes, skies, animals etc
Hard sticks are often square and are wonderful for sharp, linear marks that you would find in grasses, wire fences, boat masts, rigging and architectural details. Compared to soft pastels you will need to use more pressure to get the same amount of pastel deposited on the painting surface. They are also a more economical way to block in large amounts of colour in the early stages of a painting with the added advantage of leaving gaps in the colour to allow optical mixing of later layers.
Here you can see the larger swathes of colour left by the soft pastels creating shadows in the grass clump and the crisper linear marks made with the edge of hard pastels help to define the individual grasses.
Where the pressure has been lighter the pastel has less contact with the paper so the grasses are thinner and finer. By increasing the pressure you can vary the thickness of your mark.
Side of the pastel v edge of the pastel
Using the side of a round or square pastel you can lay down broad strokes of colour quickly to establish areas of sky, water and land. Then the edge of the pastel can be used to add crisper details.
Here you can see that I’ve used the broad side of different blue pastels to make sweeping bands for the sky and water. Layering these blues will give your sky and sea more interest. Then I came back in with the edge of a white pastel to suggest some sails.
Rounded end v sharp tip of the pastel
The rounded end of a pastel is useful for painting trees and bushes in the landscape. Just moving the pastel the paper in a scrumbling motion will give a soft rounded form. When you come to adding in branches, trunks and stems a sharp tip is just the thing.
Try slanting the pastel so differing amounts come in contact with the paper to give a natural variety in your tree and shrub shapes.
Bringing it all together
So let’s see how we can bring these basic techniques together to create a painting full of life and interest. This a little 30 minute sketch using the basic techniques. You can join me and paint along as I demonstrate how to paint this in a step by step video.
You can copy and print this reference photo if you would like to practice these techniques or paint along with me.
I would love to see your paintings so feel free to post a link in the comments section.
Living on an island has meant I’ve had a long love affair with the coast. Tasmania has some wonderful mountains, lakes and rainforests and I’ve walked many a wilderness track over the years with stunning scenery and seemingly endless mountain top views but it’s always the coast that draws me back time and again.
Shoreline – Pastel
Beach Path – pastel
Freycinet – pastel
My earliest holiday memories are of riding in the back of the ute all the way from Lonnovale to the end of the road at the far southern beach of Cockle Creek where we camped in an old canvas tent for a glorious week of freedom.
Summer holidays followed at Sister’s Beach in the north ,swimming every day, lying on the hot sands and bundling up in a jumper for an evening walk in stormy weather. Later as a teenager joining friends for camping trips to Binalong Bay on the East coast where camping was pretty basic but the water was a stunning turquoise that lapped the glaring, white sands.
We explored nearby beaches with huge sand dunes and lichen covered rocky coves. We clambered over giant orange boulders , rock hopping along the sea edge.
Bay of Fires
The salty tang of the sea air, the healthy tiredness after a day of sun, surf and sand and then the sound of waves sending me off to sleep – these are the memories I cherish.
I visit the coast as often as possible and love it in every mood.
Evening sky- SOLD
Sunset colours – Pastel
Storm brewing – SOLD
It’s not always the grand view that inspires me – sometimes a small sketch or painting seems to say it better.