Category Archives: Making art

Creating a series

Familiarity  brings freedom in painting

It’s a fact that the more familiar I become with a painting subject the easier the actual execution of the elements becomes , the freer the paint or pastel application flows and the more instinctual the response to the material is. All this adds up to a fluid, responsive, and totally “in the moment” painting experience.

When I stop thinking about how to get the shape of a particular rock , or what colour to use in those shadows or how to create a sense of movement in the water things happen almost by themselves.

How do I get to this stage?

Getting to this stage is relatively straight forward – I paint a series! Of course this can become all consuming if I let it so I need to know when I’ve exhausted the material and said all there is to be said about it. To help recognise the moment to stop I organise myself before I start.

Preparing the references for a series.

In an earlier post Cropping is my Friend I explained how I took the original photo above and cropped it many times to create new painting references. From the many crops I did  I whittled it down to three possible series – and here they are.

The Shadows series

Here I focus on the shadows on the sand using different formats gradually cropping in to a intimate view  which emphasises the subject. Here’s my  my first painting in this series.

 

The Reflections series

Now I turn to the reflections bringing more attention to the water. Although the shadows are still in there it’s clear that the real subject focus has shifted to the golden reflections of the cliffs.

The Cliff series

It seems a natural progression to zoom in on the  cliffs now. The ochres and yellows glow and there are opportunities to make a feature of the gumtrees on the headland.

The Abstract series

After all those crops it became apparent to me that the reflections were the real pull for me in this photograph so now I get rid of much of the other subject matter and just focus on a sliver of the shore and the wonderful golden reflections.

 

I’m a bit excited by these possibilities now so all I need to do is get started painting!

Cropping is my friend! Day 15 Photography 101

When I take photos as references for later paintings I often use my artist’s eye to create a composition close to what I will eventually paint. This is just something that happens naturally as I spend my time screening everything I see as a potential painting subject! I scan scenes looking for pleasing squares, portrait , landscape or panorama shaped snippets from the landscape. In effect I “crop” the landscape before I click the shutter.

I find it helps starting with a good composition and then later I’ll crop again looking for compositions within the composition. In this way a single photo might provide references for a whole series of paintings.

The original photo above has many of the elements  I look for in a painting reference:

  • complimentary colours ( blue and yellow)
  • areas of strong contrast ( the shadows on the sand) ,
  • good leading lines ( the diagonal of the beach, the vertical tree trunks and the horizontal water plane)
  • roughly follows the rule of thirds

Here is my first painting using the uncropped photo.

Here I take that original and crop a new series that focuses on the shadows on the beach and the cliff reflections. My favourite is the square format and I plan to use this as a pastel demonstration for reflections very soon (stay tuned).

Next I try a different series where I leave out the beach entirely and look in more detail at sections of the cliff. Here the tall thin composition is a portrait of the large gumtree but I would move the boat off to the left a little. I prefer the square reflection crop and this helps confirm that what really interests me about this subject are the reflections.

So now I zero right in on the reflections and take a look at some more abstract crops. These crops retain the basic elements of complimentary colours, leading lines and areas of strong contrast so will  work equally well as a painting.

So that’s why cropping is my friend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creating a dynamic visual pathway in a painting

What is a dynamic visual pathway?

When I paint a picture I aim to make a composition that will engage the viewer as long as possible in exploring the various elements of the painting. I do this by creating  a pathway that leads around the painting, providing areas of interest for the eye to stop for a moment before leading on again to a different area. I need to introduce design elements that will stop the eye from moving out of the painting edges too soon – of course the viewer will want to move on eventually but by using lines, shapes, careful positioning of elements , colour and texture they can be encouraged to explore the painting a little longer.

The reference photo

This is a pretty good composition already – the shed is a a touch too central and to the edge but the client really wanted the view sweeping down to the lake from the cabin porch so I left it there and emphasized other areas of the scene to draw attention away from the shed. The bottom left corner seems to pull the eye out of the painting so I plan to make the flowers a little taller and a bit bolder. At the moment the garden bed is a bit like a river running down hill!

 

 

Original photo
The reference photo – the view from a cabin by the lake.

 

The flower bed fix.

You can see how the riot of colourful flowers just lifts the whole composition. I took a few liberties with the reference photo to add greater interest but it’s still very recognisable as the original flower bed. I made the orange flowers much taller, fuller and brighter and now the garden bed doesn’t seem to flow out of the corner. The orange flower bush acts as a full stop and the eye is drawn back into the painting. I also flattened out the grassy slope at the edge of the lake a little which helps to keep the eye from running out of the picture at this point.

 

There are layers and curves that lead the eye into the painting.

First we follow the contours of the garden bed from the bottom left up to the shed, now down through the lawn terraces towards the lake . When our eye reaches the trees we start following the lake edge around until we come to rest on the trees behind the shed and again back around the far edge of the lake until we come to the tall trees again. The trees lead our eyes up into the sky where we skim across the hilltops until we reach the tall trees behind the shed again. Now our view is pulled up to the clouds across the sky following the cloud shapes and when we come to the trees again they pull our eyes back down to the grassy area and across to the orange flowers where we start all over again.

 

The visual pathway
The visual pathway

 

Next time you’re looking at a painting notice how your eye is drawn into and around the picture. Soon you will find yourself noticing the design elements an artist has used to help you enjoy the different areas in the composition, a place to linger , a jolt of colour to excite, a quiet area to let your eye rest a moment. If you find yourself lingering in front of a painting chances are the artist has created a strong visual pathway.

Cleaning day in the studio.

I’m a bit of a slob when it comes to cleaning my pastels. On Saturday I was doing a little painting and pulled out a brown stick of pastel, swiped on a good solid swathe only to find it was really a deep, luscious red!

With that little bit of motivation a grabbed a rag and started cleaning- now I have a box of glowing pastel sticks sitting on a new bed of rice ( brown of course!) The rice keeps the sticks clean as they roll around and rub against the grains – polenta is even better but I’d eaten it all!

The art behind a handmade bag.

I make bags much the same way as I paint a picture. Something will catch my eye, a shape will stick in my mind, a fabric pattern will pop out from all the others and I start thinking how I might use that idea to sew a functional piece of art – and what could be more useful, decorative and functional than a bag!

Just like a painting I get to make all sorts of decisions that will influence the final outcome. Will the bag be large or small, will the patterned fabric dominate or just add a highlight, will it be big, bold and bright or more elegant and subdued.

I like to paint fast. I try to be expressive and gestural in my approach. I value simplicity of design over fussiness . Just as I  want a painting to come together and tell a story so I want my bags to tell their own story , to insist on going to the market and being filled with winter pears , to sashay into the evening accompanied by a little black dress, to be slung over a shoulder and take a ride on a scooter.

There are lots of little details and flourishes that will lift a painting out of the ordinary and give it that extra something that makes you want to live with it on your walls for years to come. I like to add small details to my bags to finish them off. I might use strips of the main patterned fabric to trim pockets and isolate a graphic element in a small square against a plain fabric background just like a painting in a frame.

 

Sometimes a bag design will develop purely to showcase a fabric like this little tote with 3 “windows” I made just to frame a hand printed penguin on a mustard linen. I liked the result so much I’ve started using it to frame Japanese kimono fabrics .

I love hand printed fabric and make my own stamps to add a touch of whimsy to otherwise plain bags. I often”frame” them on squares of fabric which I attach to flaps, pockets and backs.

The other way by bag making is like my painting is that I have an overall design idea, an artistic concept and I start. I don’t always get it right first time, I may botch up something and then learn from that. I often measure with my eye not a tape measure! I make changes on the fly! No  two bags are ever the same – I  would get bored with that. I could always streamline my process and make a lot more bags a lot more efficiently but I just don’t want to. When I sit down to sew I look through my fabric stash to see what excites me today -then I choose a design idea to rework or try something new . Just like painting I want to be inspired, to try new techniques to challenge myself and hopefully make a thing of humble and useful beauty in the process.

You can check out my other bags at my Etsy shop.

The art of recycled packaging.

I love a beautifully packaged gift but I hate the waste of paper and card it generates so I had a bit of a dilemma when I decided I would like to package some of the handmade items I sell in my Etsy shop. It wasn’t just the aesthetics I was after it was also something sturdy enough to keep items in good shape while making their way around the world to their new owners.

My solution was to use scrap cardboard used in packaging disposable items from my workplace. The card is a really good thickness and size with a white side and a natural cardboard side. The sheets have no writing and a great for making all sorts of packaging.

 

1a

Because I use various handmade stamp designs to print on my fabric bags and cushion covers I decided to coordinate  the packaging by using the same stamps on the boxes and envelopes . I also do a range of hand painted cushion covers and I draw a mini design to match on the cardboard wraps.

… and then I thought why not make little folded cards for my earrings using the same dragonfly stamp.

 

I also made an early decision to keep any branding to a bare minimum and never tape closed a box. I’ve come up with some creative ways to fasten boxes and envelopes so that the recipient can recycle the already recycled gift box or envelope to pack their own gifts.

As time goes on I’m finding more and more ways to fold and fashion minimalist yet stylish recycled packaging. Packaging can be art too!

Stay tuned for an easy to follow demo on how to make the dragonfly box. I’ve got it in the pipeline for next week.

Light and Shadow – beach painting.

I love this little beach in the south of Tasmania – Drip beach seems such a humdrum name for such a gem of a place ! I painted this over the weekend and tried my hand at a time lapse video which I’m trying to edit to post on YouTube this week. Apparantly it’s very simple – I’ve heard that before! Actually I’ve already downloaded some software and done the time lapse bit but the music soundtrack didn’t appear to “stick” and it’s a silent movie – will have another Google and see if there’s a fix for that before I post it.

I also did a full length video of the process – the painting took an hour so not sure if anyone will ever want to sit through that. And I learned that I like to chew my cud whilst painting – who knew! So from now on I’ll have to mindful of all my little painting foibles and do a bit of editing before I hit record. I still have to do the voice over so that might have to wait till later for it’s first night release – so hold off on the popcorn and choc top ice cream till further notice!

Given all the delays that are bound to happen as I navigate the technological maze ahead I thought I’d just throw up a quick still demo here. Apologies for the photos which are not my usual quality – I took some stills from the video and didn’t realise they would be so low res.

Sketching up

Just a few simple charcoal lines to block in the basic shapes of tree line, beach and rocks. There’s no real detail and the rocks will change as I go on.

Full Sketch (28-02-2016 5-32 PM)

The sky

Here I just layer in loosely some soft pinks and yellows near the tree line and then some light blues at the top of the sky . I run the blues over the pinks and yellows and then with the side of my finger blend the colours together to cover the reddish background colour. I don’t really want the backgrund to show through here but it will give a bit of an underglow to the sky.

Next I go back in with the same colours and lay a light layer down to bring back the luminosity to the sky. The crystal structure of the pastels allows the light to bounce off them but not if they’re all pushed into the paper. That’s why I go back again to get a looser layer on top – I want that light and luminosity back again!

1

 

The trees

Now I start to block in the tree shapes starting with some deep dark blues along the beach edge . I follow with some lighter greens , golds and siennas. I work the whole area going back and forth until I have a good balance of dark shadows and sunlit areas. I will come back later and adjust. I also add a sliver of sand at the base of the headland.

 

The Water

Using a light blue similar to the sky value I start laying in the water. I pop in sonme of the tree colours from the headland as reflections and then just smooth them a little with the side of my finger. I let some of the back ground colour show through the water.

I add deeper, darker colors for the water in shadow at the beach edge along with some darker blues.

Reflections2 (28-02-2016 9-51 PM)

 

The beach

Now I want to get the beach established which I do by laying in strokes of purples for the shadowed sand and pinks where the sunlight finds it’s way through the dense trees. I add some sienna next to the dark water where the sun is shining and the contrast really helps to add a bit of zing to this area.

Beach 3 (28-02-2016 9-53 PM)

 

Back to the water

In with some deeper blues, a few rocks and some white foam around the rocks. I also start some dark shadows in the rocky area.

rocks start (28-02-2016 11-06 PM)

Now for the rocks

With a deep purple I block in the shadows and then use a cream colour for the brightest highlight on the rocks. Then I can start modelling the rocks using mid value oranges, golds and greys. I then come back in with blues and browns in the shadows until I have the rock shapes defined.

 

A final round up

I go back over the painting adding a little here and subtracting a little there. I tidy up the rock shapes, add some grey tree trunks amongst the foilage, refine the pebbly area next to the rocks and the painting is done.

Light and Shadow

 

You can also watch a time lapse video or the full narrated 30 minute video.

 

To paraphrase Kermit – “It’s not easy painting green”

I’ve been doing a lot of commission paintings lately of wonderful, verdant landscapes. Forests, mountainsides covered with pines, flowering grassy meadows, homes set in expanses of green, green lawns  surrounded by stately trees.

It’s just not that easy to paint a subject with such a lot of green. You can fill the canvas or paper with swathes of lush shades of green – your trees can look just like trees, the grasses fresh and bright but somehow it just fails to look natural. Why is that when nature is so full of greens and they all look very natural???

I don’t really know the answer to that but I do know that there are ways to help avoid the “unnatural” greens.

Never use a green straight out of the tube – it’s a real killer 

  • mix your greens from blues and yellows
  • add a very little red, sienna , umber or  ochre for a more natural green
  • don’t over mix on the palette – let the colours mix on the paper/canvas
  •  here’s a good video on mixing greens

 

Underpaint with red or orange

  • adds a bit of a zing where the complimentary colour shows through the green
  • if you’re painting with pastels choose a red or sienna coloured paper

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Underpainting with red

 

Break up the green area

  • use wildflowers and weeds to add splashes of colour to meadows and lawns
  • use different textures with brushes, fingers, palette knife – more interesting that flat expanses of green
  • use several different greens to paint a single area

 

Don’t use green at all!

  • as long as you use the right tonal value it will read as “green”
  • mix it up with blues, yellows, oranges, ochres, reds all making up the impression of vegetation that you would normally think of as green

     

 

 

Use interesting darks in the shadow areas

  • try blues, purples ,violets, dark browns and deep reds instead of dark green
  • this is your opportunity to inject a bit of extra contrasting colour to break up the expanse of green so go for it!

 

Next time you’re faced with an expanse of green try a few of these techniques.

 

 

Moving on

My last post wasn’t very positive –  it was positively negative. I’ve lost a lot of reference photos but I’ve decided I just need to get over it and get painting. So here’s my latest.

 

I enjoyed painting a flower portrait for a change. There’s so much complexity and symmetry in floral subjects so they lend themselves to detailed paintings which can be very therapeutic – here I am in charge of my subject, studying detail and recording what I see. I can also be a bit looser in the background – mixing colours on the canvas, suggesting with a hint of pink and green that there are other proteas in the garden. I can take control , no passing clouds to change the landscape form, no scrambling to finish before the light changes.

Today that’s what I needed – a sense of order restored!

USA National Parks Sketchbook

After my post on how to make a concertina sketchbook I decided to try a little variation and whipped up a small panorama concertina sketch book with a window opening on the front.

Window concertina sketchbook 2

I added a brown leather cord to tie it shut and filled it with sketches from a recent trip to some iconic USA national parks. Here’s a few pages…

usa1

usa4

usa5

It’s very simple but quite effective. I’m thinking of including it in The Writers upcoming birthday present – he’s totally obsessed with desert landscapes at the moment. ( I’m a bit obsessed myself!)