Category: Education

Making my own Paintbrushes from Natural Materials

Paintbrush made from natural materials

Autumn is my favorite season with its beautiful scenery, changing leaves, and cooling weather.  And the drizzly days let me hole up in my Colorado studio without guilt that I’m not outside.  I wait for all year to walk through the aspen trees with their golden leaves raining down on me when the wind blows.  This year, I decided to bring home some of nature’s bounty from my hike to see if I could make some unique paintbrushes using these materials.

I gathered up some sticks to use for the paintbrush handles first. Then, I picked up some pinecones, native grasses, spruce boughs, thistle heads, feathers, and more. Using electrical tape, I attached these elements to the sticks. For a little flair, I decorated the handles by wrapping them with colorful yarns and threads. Watch the video to see how easy they were to make.

MARK MAKING WITH MY NEW BRUSHES

I dipped these new brushes in India ink (a luscious black color) and started making marks on paper.  I used heavy copy paper and created lots of great marks, all different from anything I could have made using traditional paintbrushes.  Some of the natural brushes fell apart with the rough usage, but most of them held up surprisingly well.

QUIZ: Can you match up each brush with the marks they made below?

PAINTBRUSHES
Making brushes with natural materials
BRUSH MARKS
mark making with natural material brushes
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Paintbrush mark answers from left to right:
spruce bough, feather, pinecone, and dried leaves
How did you do?

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’?

The benefits of taking a workshop

Falling Rock

This past weekend, I attended a fantastic art workshop in Vermont taught by the artist Claire Desjardin. I have long admired her colorful, organic paintings and the loose, playful style of her work.

Taking a workshop is a great way to grow as an artist. But like learning any new skill, it can also be accompanied by frustration and disappointment. The key to enjoying your workshop experience is to go in with a creative spirit. A workshop is a great place to experiment with new ideas and make new artist friends. It is NOT a place where you can expect to do your best work or come home with finished masterpieces after having mastered the latest techniques. You will likely feel as if you are struggling. That’s because you are. It’s important to just dive in, take risks, and push on with this new approach. Pushing through the struggle rather than succumbing and resuming old practices that are comfortable is the whole reason that you took the workshop.

Another great benefit is that you get to spend concentrated artistic time with like-minded peers. How special is it to have protected time to create; time where you are freed from the concerns of everyday living. Traveling away from home to attend a workshop gets you away from ringing phones, laundry, bill paying, and other distractions. Set aside this opportunity and protected it on your calendar. Attending a creative retreat will help to nourish and replenish your creative soul.

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.

It’s never too late to learn something new

Paint and Pixel art class

For Christmas this year, I got a new iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil. It’s been sitting around because I wasn’t really sure how to use it as an art tool. Stop lollygagging! As Nike says, “Just do it”! So I did.

I just signed up to take an online class by Ivy Newport call “Paint and Pixel”. It’s about learning to make art using your iPad. I thought this would be a fun way to learn more about digital art creation process. It sure beats reading the manual! Check out www.ivynewport.com for all her classes. This class is an online self-study type course with a Facebook support group for more personal interactions. Want to join me? I’ll post some of my work once I get started.

Painting in someone else’s shoes

Erin Fitzhugh Gregory copy1

Erin Fitzhugh Gregory

I like to step back from time to time from creating my own paintings and learn something new from the exercise of copying another artist’s style.  My paintings these days are very labor intensive with all the paper cutting and piecing I am doing.  I’m looking for a method to help me speed things up by using larger, bold marks in my work.   I recently came across the colorful paintings of Erin Fitzhugh Gregory and thought I would see what could be learned from painting in her loose, juicy style.  Though I usually paint with acrylics, I switched to oil paints for these still lifes .  It was fun trying to emulate her bold brushwork using thick, colorful paint.  I struggled to capture Erin’s free, lively style where she represents a flower with just a handful of brushstrokes.  Still, I did learn to focus on each brush stroke, getting it right the first time and then leaving it alone in its simplicity.

Of course these exercises aren’t for sale seeing as they are copies of another artist’s work.  If you like them, you can buy your own  Erin Fitzhugh Gregory original or canvas print at www.efgart.com.

A special thank you to Erin Fitzhugh Gregory for permission to post this blog topic.

How I build my painting panels

I like to paint on cradled birch panels. I like how the 2″ depth lets me show a painting without the need for additional framing. The advantages of using wood panel instead of canvas is that the wood surface gives me a hard, inflexible material on which to painting. Working on canvas, especially large ones, is like painting the surface of a trampoline and it is too “bouncy” a painting surface for my tastes. I’m starting a new 4′ x 4′ painting today so I thought I would show you how I make the cradled panel for it.

First, I cut the top panel out of a sheet of 1/4″ birch veneered plywood and the sides and braces out of pine 1 by 2’s. Then I paint the pieces with 3 coats of white gesso. Next, I attach the cradled sides to the panel using wood glue and clamps. To keep the panel from warping, I also add a center brace and corner braces . I counter sink nails at all the joints for even more stability and patch the holes with wood putty. Last, I add more gesso over the nail holes. Voila! A new painting panel waiting for painting and paper.2014-10-14 19.50.34panel 2panel3

Wearing the Gown for the Third Time

The last time I wore a cap and gown to graduation was in 1985 (29 years ago!), long before marriage or kids, when receiving my MBA from Wharton Graduate School. This time around, my husband and two of my three children were there to cheer me on as I received my diploma for a Masters in Fine Art from the Academy of Art University. It was such a rush walking on stage to receive my diploma. I have to admit, it never gets old. What should I major in next?

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Pushing another chick out of the nest

Exodus

More good news…I sold another painting this week to a previous collector.  Some paintings are harder to let go of than others because they have special meaning for me.  “Exodus” is one of those paintings as it is the first painting I did for my master thesis.  This painting tells the story of an autocratic society where the citizens’ lives are heavily controlled under the guise of security and “the greater good”… (i.e. “1984”)  Some citizens choose to risk escaping into the unknown, forfeiting a life of safety and order for the chance at personal freedom.  And I’ll bet you thought it was just a painting about seed pods!

Like the seed pods, it is time for “Exodus” to escaping the confines of my studio and enjoy the freedom of a new home.

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YES…NO…or MAYBE? Defending my thesis!

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I had my MFA dissertation presentation today (called a Final Review at the Academy).  In front of a group of three professors, I had to present my thesis, my artwork and the concept behind it all.  Though I was well prepared, I was still nervous.  I am happy to say I passed with flying colors.  I received some great feedback and direction for my future career as an artist.  I am looking forward to mulling this advice over once I stop celebrating.  Now it’s just one more month of class, six more paintings and I’ll be wearing a cap and gown again at a graduation ceremony.  I can’t believe it has been 29 years since the last time I did that!