Category: Art Materials

Hyper-Lapse sketch of leafy twig (1 minute long)

Time-lapse sketch using traveling sketch kit

In a previous blog post, I wrote about putting together a travel sketching kit.  Here, you can see me putting my travel kit into action.  So as not to make the video too long, I sketched the twig before the video started and compressed it into a hyper-lapse format.  Watch me use colored pencils as paint with the use of a water brush.  Click on photo to start the video.

Why I sketch while traveling and why you should too

Travel art supplies

Travel sketching is fun to do while on vacation. While I don’t consider myself an advanced sketcher, my sketches have a way to bring back vivid memories of my trip, much more so than photographs (which I take lots of too 🙂  Sketching requires me to be wholly present while I explore and record my new experiences.

After much trial and error, I’m happy to say that I’ve finally figured out which sketching supplies to pack, and how surprisingly few I need. Take a look at what’s in my art travel bag.

  • Spiral-bound watercolor journal. Use one with 140 lb. paper so it’s heavy enough that it doesn’t bleed through and can take water without warping.  You can even turn your sketches into postcards to mail to your friends. (Don’t forget to pack stamps)
  • Mechanical pencil for the preliminary sketch. It never needs sharpening so I can eliminate bringing a sharpener.
  • Knead eraser.  I erase my pencil marks after I’ve drawn over them with ink.
  • Waterproof black pen (it won’t bleed when wet). I like the Staedtler permanent Lumnocolor fine size.
  • Water-soluble colored pencils.  Mine are Prismacolor, but Caran D’Aches are great too.
  • Waterbrush. Derwent #2 (brush and water all in one so I never need a water source either).
  • Small bag to hold it all.

That’s is.  In the past, I would bring watercolor paints, a small water container, paper towels, multiple paintbrushes, and more. I’ve found water-soluble color pencils to be a simpler solution.  I can layer them to create a wide variety of colors just like mixing paint.

So grab a sketchbook and some supplies, get out there, and have fun! Remember, your sketches don’t have to be perfect; it’s the act of sketching that’s important. It’s calming and lets you connect with the unique and beautiful things in this world. Focus on what moves you, and draw to remember it.

I encourage you to tuck a sketchpad in your suitcase when you’re packing for your next trip and see what pleasure it might bring for you.

How to make a small studio space feel bigger

Wall easel paper bird studio & design

I am so excited about my new wall easel from Paper Bird Studio & Design (aka Tueller Easel Company) custom built for me by Jason Tueller. To maximize the space in my smallish Colorado studio, I opted for this amazing wall easel. It’s over 100″ long and I can put up to four canvases (or one huge canvas) on it at once! It is a great way to open up some floor space and still have lots of painting surface to work on. I’ve temporarily mounted some old family photos on it to try out the canvas holders.

You’re never too old to play

Collage papers

I’ve been thinking about the importance of play in art.

I feel pulled in many different ways on a daily basis. There’s so much to get done – writing and organizing social media posts, updating my websites, applying for exhibitions and grants, nevermind painting. And what about family, bills, exercise, and a balanced life?

I noticed one of the first things to go in my art practice was the action of play, as in anything I do simply for the joy of doing rather than a means to an end. It rarely feels like ‘play’ when I’m trying to create a successful piece. I worry about messing up when time is so valuable, and I want the final product to be great. Yet I know that failure is a good thing.  Some of my best works have come from creating something new when things didn’t work out.

I needed to get out of my studio and away from distractions to truly immerse myself in ‘playtime”.  So last week I took a collage and paper-making class with Suzanne Siegel and Jane Davies.  I set a goal NOT make a finished piece of art.  The idea was to try as many new techniques as possible and to start a lot of work without trying to complete any of them.  It was a success, and I’ve come home with piles of messy, weird, and uniquely printed papers and painting starts. Will I continue working on them?  Perhaps a few, but mainly the purpose was to explore and have fun. Now I just have to bring that into my daily art practice.

What have you done recently for yourself that qualifies as ‘playtime’?

Five tips for moving your art studio

moving van

moving studio packing tips

I have moved my art studio many times over the years, and I would love to share a few tips I’ve learned.

Tip #1:
 Get rid of as much as possible

The less you have to move, the easier the move becomes. I’ve found the longer I’m in a location, the more stuff I accumulate. After a while, my piles of stuff become overwhelming and make my studio mostly unusable. Over the course of many moves, I’ve forced myself to become more selective about what I keep to help reduce the clutter.

I start by ridding myself of a lot of my old paintings. I am happy to say my work has improved over the years and much of my earlier art isn’t up to my current standards. Now, I only save the professional pieces that I’m not embarrassed to show anyone, plus a handful of earlier pictures of which I’m particularly fond. As a result, I have a pretty streamlined collection of my work (with just enough old stuff for that museum retrospective I plan to have when I’m 90). So what to do with this work you’re not keeping?

  • Have a moving sale offering your older work at a good discount. Someone gets your work at a great price, and you have lightened your moving load. Win/win.
  • Gift your work to friends, charities, and other places (hospitals, retirement communities, etc.) that might like some free artwork to hang on their walls.
  • Throw it away.  Or have a bonfire party where you and your artist friends can purge their unwanted artwork as a cathartic way to start fresh. 

Next, I cull the materials I don’t use. During my MFA, I experimented with all kinds of mediums that I’ve never used since. I went through and sorted what I use from what I was keeping out of some mistaken thought that I might one day use them. Ground pumice, carborundum grit, silk screens, linoleum tiles, & rabbit skin glue (I’m a vegetarian for heaven sake!) Yep…time to give that stuff away.

Tip #2: Buy plenty of high-quality packing materials

I like to pack my art supplies myself (and purge as I go). The key to making the packing go quickly and smoothly is to NOT skimp on packing materials. Don’t use old, worn shipping boxes as they are generally too thin to protect your supplies. Instead, purchase the heavy-duty cardboard boxes, packing paper, and bubble wrap. Don’t over pack your boxes, cramming your materials together without padding. Instead, wrap your supplies well, and add extra padding around the bottom, sides, and top of the box. If it’s important enough to transport, it’s important enough to pack it well. Home Depot has very affordable supplies, and you can return any unused purchases so buy more than you need to eliminate unnecessary extra trips to the store.

Tip #3: Hire qualified movers to do the lifting

I have personally packed, loaded, moved, and unpacked my studio by myself several times. It’s time-consuming, back-breaking, and I end up with lots of bruises and smashed fingers.

I’ve realized that it’s better to leave the physical lifting to the professionals. It may seem expensive, but I’ve never once regretted the added expense. With pros moving my stuff, I don’t run the risk of injuring myself trying to carry studio furniture that weighs more than I do down a flight (or three) of stairs. Plus, movers are faster than I ever could be at the job. Seriously. During this recent move, they had ALL my stuff including a massive table, two flat files, and heavy wooden easel loaded in the truck in less than 30 minutes!

Tip #4: Handle your fragile artwork and breakable supplies yourself

If you are moving locally, move your most fragile stuff yourself. I have pastel sticks that break if you sneeze on them and unframed paper works that need special care. I prefer not to let the movers handle these more delicate items. Instead, these things come with me in my car to my studio’s new location. I can treat them with child gloves, and if anything gets damaged, at least it was by my hands. Somehow, it makes damaged work easier to bear.

Tip #5: Don’t ask the movers to move your chemicals

Most movers won’t deal with your chemicals. Plus, the last thing you want is for a container of turpentine to suddenly start leaking in a box. It would expose the crew to harmful fumes, it’s flammable, and could potentially damage your property stacked up around it. So what to do instead? If headed out of town, get rid of as much as possible to another artist or hazardous waste site. If you are moving locally, make a separate trip using your car. While not exactly the most optimal thing having a box of chemicals packed in your vehicle, it’s probably no more dangerous than your full gas tank. Seal everything in plastic bags, packed with copious amounts of packing materials, and drive carefully.

Do you have some moving tips from your studio move? Please share them in the comments section.

 

Every artist can benefit from a sketchbook

When I complete a sketchbook, I like to doodle on the cover

I’m a huge fan of sketchbooks and I’ve been an active sketchbook user for the past 10 years.  I first begin using one when earning my MFA and have continued using one ever since.

I hope this post I will give you enough reasons to finally start using one, and even if you don’t consider yourself visually creative, sketchbooks are a lot of fun!

1. Sketchbooks can capture and store your ideas

I’m a visual person and noting things quickly with a sketch is the most efficient way for me to record the idea and understand what I meant by that later on.  Sketchbooks are convenient because the paper is bound, and I don’t have the problem of containing lots of loose papers. Inspiration strikes at the oddest moments, and if I don’t note it down quickly, I often lose the idea. If I don’t have my sketchbook with me, I’ll jot the idea down on a post-it note or scrape of paper and stick into my book.  Later, I can develop these initial ideas and I will have the entire creative process in one place to look back on it.

When I “don’t feel inspired” or “don’t know what to make”, all I have to do is flip back through my sketchbook and I find dozens of ideas waiting for me. I think being inspired by your own ideas is far better than looking to other artist’s work.  Noting your ideas doesn’t have to be fancy … my sketches are very, very rough.

2. Sketchbooks are a great place to explore

Sketchbooks are a place where I play and I am free to mess things up and make mistakes. It helps me loosen up, try new things, explore new techniques and styles radically different from what I often do.  It’s a place where I can take a break from my “finished” artwork and make art just for the fun of it. I have permission to create horrible art, and guess what?

I don’t have to show my sketchbooks to anyone. Ever.

My early drawings are for exploring the possibilities, solving problems and making all the mistakes I can right there, so when I commit to making a finished piece of artwork I already know what works and what doesn’t.  My advice is to be free in your sketchbook. Nothing you do in it is wrong. Nothing.

3. I get to have a sequential view of my progress

This is very important in times when I feel like my art isn’t as good as I want it to be, and I doubt my abilities. Seeing my old art and witnessing that I am in fact improving can give me a boost to get out of this rut.

So if you feel like you’re not getting where you want with your art, flip through your sketchbooks for a while and you’ll see solid proof that you are getting better all the time.

4. Sketchbooks help me resolve problems

Art therapy is a legitimate form of therapy that’s gaining popularity because it’s very effective.  When you feel bad, open up a new page and go wild. Scribble aggressively, pour paint and ink over it, draw every unpleasant image that comes to mind — just get all those feelings out. Write sentences or words that are running through your mind. Vent. Draw or collage over it. You want to make a brain dump onto the page so it doesn’t bother you anymore. Repeat as many times as needed.

I’ve even managed to find solutions for practical problems this way, though I haven’t explored this to the fullest. I use words, doodles, Venn diagrams, flowcharts and make it all colorful with markers and color pencils, and as I’m doing it a solution presents itself. I guess that my brain finds this mode of working much more efficient than when I’m just thinking. People learn and think better when they engage their senses. Try it!

Tips for keeping a sketchbook

Carry it with you at all times

If you don’t have it when you need it (when those ideas come knocking) it’s as if you don’t have it at all. So keep a small sketchbook handy when you’re out in the world. They make them in all shapes and sizes, so find one that can fit into your purse or your pants pocket.

Get a cheap one

If you get an expensive sketchbook, you might be too precious about it and avoid making a mess. Get one that you won’t feel sorry about if the covers get scratched, if you spill something over it, or if your dog starts chewing on it.

That said, make sure the paper is something that handles all the media you like to use. My favorite one is a large (9″ x 12″) Blick Wirebound sketchbook with thin paper so it has 80 pages, yet it can handle watercolor fairly well. The most important thing is that you get a sketchbook that you will use without fear of ruining it.

Don’t be confined to a single medium

Sketchbooks are for sketches, right? Not always! You can do whatever you want in them. Seriously. Here are some ideas of what you can do:

  • Write/journal
  • Glue notes, concert tickets, photos, and other mementos into it
  • Glue fabric samples, fliers with color schemes you like, photocopies of diagrams from anatomy books…
  • Collage magazine cutouts and draw over them with markers
  • Press flowers in it
  • Use a scalpel to make a paper cut sculpture from one of the pages

Whatever you feel is the best way to note your idea, solve a problem or just plain have fun, do it. Sometimes a sketch will do, sometimes you will need a mixed media approach.

Can you think of another reason why they’re awesome, or do you have a tip to share? It would be wonderful if you wrote it in the comments.

How to create an acrylic poured painting

For the past couple months, I have been experimenting with creating paintings where the paint is poured onto the canvas instead of applied with a paintbrush.  My two daughters thought it would be fun to try this style of painting too. The video below shows my daughter Darby making her first acrylic poured painting. Either I am an incredible teacher, or she has an innate talent because she rocked it on her first try!

Is it “pouring” where you are?

BLUE INVADER Poured painting

Summer is a time of artistic exploration for me. I spend most of the season in Colorado (out of the New York City heat) where I have a small studio with only a hand full of art supplies. I find having fewer art materials to work with helps me to be more creative with the ones I do have.

I have been wanted to try my hand at acrylic poured paintings.  It is a technique where the acrylic paint is poured directly onto the canvas and mingles together into interesting compositions. With only limited control over the paint, every pour gives a different result.  Adding other materials (alcohol, silicone, PVAc, and more) to the pour also changes the look of the painting. Even the paints’ opacity and density is a factor that alters the final product.

Working with all these variables has made the creation of these painting more an exercise in chemistry than art.   More challenging than I thought, I’ve encountered a number of problems.  These problems include:

Crazing

Crazing – This is where the top layer of the paint dries faster than the bottom layers and causes cracking of the paint surface. This is most likely from the paint being too thick (solution: thin paint) or from not pouring enough of the excess paint off the canvas (solution: leave a thinner layer of paint on canvas.)

Broken paint cells

Broken paint cells – I add silicon to the paint to create these cells. I am either mixing the silicon into the paint too vigorously (solution: gently, lightly stir in silicone), or trying to over-extend the paint by tilting the canvas too long (solution: use more paint).

Muddy color – I get dirty, brown colors when complementary colors (red+green=mud) mix into each other (solution: be careful of which colors are poured next to each other) and over-manipulating the paint on the canvas (solution: don’t tilt the paint on the canvas back and forth over itself.)

I find I’m getting closer to my intentions with every try but I still have a long way to go.  Once I have the technical aspects worked out, I will post a video so you can see the process in action. If you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them. Advice is always appreciated.

How transparent are you?

Paint color chart

I am experimenting with acrylic poured painting, a style of painting where the paint is poured onto the canvas and the paint manipulated by tilting the canvas. It’s different from painting with a brush in that the outcome can never be planned, and all sorts of interesting things can happen.  However, a downside of poured painting is that it can use up a lot of paint and that can get expensive when using professional quality materials.

Blick Fluorescent Paints
Blick Art Materials offer some fun fluorescent paints in a variety of neon colors

Luckily, these poured paintings seem to work just as well with cheaper brands like Blick Studio and Amsterdam Standard Acrylics, generally marketed for the budget conscience student or beginner artist.

One of the first things I do when getting new paint is to make a color chart to see what is looks like on paper (it’s too hard to tell in the tube).  I paint a black line first, then over that, I paint a swatch of each paint color.  If the paper covers up the black line, then the paint is opaque.  If I can see the black line, the paint is translucent.  I use this information to know which colors will cover up other paint, and which ones will make nice sheer glazes over other colors.

It’s also an indication of density which is important in poured paints.  Opaque colors are usually denser and will “sink” while lighter translucent colors will float to the top of the paint pour on a canvas.  Stay tuned, as I will be posting some of these poured paintings in the weeks to come.

Purple is my color of the month

Some months, there seems to be one color that pops up everywhere.  For me, June is the month of purple.  

Purple photos
Purple seems to be everywhere

It started with my toes.  When I went to get a pedicure, I couldn’t pass up the new Obi polish color “Do you lilac it?”.  Then, while picking out pens with which to do some Zentangling (a fancy new term of doodling), every other pen I reached for was some variation of purple.  Even my collage papers seem to be brimming with purple.

Purple is an interesting color as it has so many variations. If you skew it redder, it becomes a magenta, mulberry, or plum.  Tint it bluer and you’ve got your violet, eggplant, and lavender.  Add a little gray, up pops heather or wisteria.  Even my Crayola crayons have some great names like “purple mountains majesty” and “purple heart”.  Do you have a favorite purple color?