Category Archives: Making art

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.

 

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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!

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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

 

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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…

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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!)

The joys and pitfalls of commission painting.

Over the last few years I’ve done quite a lot of commissioned paintings. In lots of ways it’s very rewarding but it can also be a bit of a sticky wicket if you don’t manage the process well from the very outset. I was reading a great article by by Lori McNee that covers this topic from go to whoa and it made me think about some of my experiences with clients and what I’d learned from them.

What do I enjoy about painting a subject chosen by a stranger? Firstly – I feel a bit chuffed that someone who has never even met me has decided to trust me with their vision, their story and their cold, hard cash! Sure they’ve seen examples of my artwork and style on their computer screen but that can be a bit different than seeing a physical painting.

Secondly, I learn a great deal by letting go of the subject matter choice and moving outside my normal choices. I develop new insights and skills as I tackle different subjects and this can lead me down new and interesting artistic paths. Of course I’ve had to sit on  the chuffed feeling sometimes as it trys to egg me on to tackle a subject I know will be too far outside my skill set (portraiture – I once did a fantastic portrait of my teenage son with beautifully draped clothes, shiny metal chair legs and in his own words”the face of an ork!”. I did fix the problem though- when revealed to him a few hours later he was perfectly happy with the addition of the paper bag over his head).

Thirdly, I enjoy helping clients realise their artistic vision. I’ve created paintings to celebrate anniversaries, weddings, retirements,to immortalise family memories, homes and special pets.

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Heading Home

I’ve painted the lake where that proposal was made, the hiking track that gets visited every year, the view from the family lake house for a soldier on active duty.

I’ve had some wonderful feedback

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Thank you so much for making this a great Christmas for my family! My mother cried when she saw the painting and it now hangs over their fire place!”

… how could I not be touched when a client feels this way. It makes up for any frustrations during the process.

There can be difficulties. Maybe that’s because the reference photos I need to rely on are just not very inspiring, perhaps the client wants a composition that I know isn’t going to work or they have an unrealistic expectation of how long it takes to complete a painting. I recently had a request by a client in New York who hoped I could do quite a complex urban scene and have it reach her in New York from my island home of Tasmania in just 2 weeks. Postage alone would probably take more than 2 weeks!

I find that good communication will sort most of these problems out – I’m the artist and I need to be providing good artistic advice and choice about composition, colour and size of the painting depending on the subject and taking into account my clients own vision.

Taking on commission work has taught me some valuable lessons:

  • be clear from the outset what the client wants
  • be clear whether you can ( or want to) take on the commission
  • agree on all the details composition, size, cost, materials, delivery time
  • don’t give the client too many choices – less is more
  • put the details in writing
  • get a deposit before you start painting
  • provide updates as you go so you can make changes at an early stage if needed
  • pack well and always use a tracking service

 

 

If you haven’t tried commission work and you get an opportunity I recommend the experience as one that can grow your artistic skills and foster some very rewarding client artist relationships.