Thursday, 30 April 2015

Using watercolours

Creativity is all about coming up with new ideas, interpretations and methods and involves thinking and exploring what goes through your mind. It’s a quality that should be encouraged in all walks of life. Regardless of whether you are naturally imaginative or not, you need to feed your creative side with inspirational material, give it the time and attention it needs and let it run free.

I hope you find these pages inspirational enough to make you grab your sketch pad and paints and either increase your creativity or set you off on a life-long love affair with your inner artist.

Painting with Watercolours
I love dabbling in watercolours (oils are so much easier! – you can fix virtually ANY mistake …) – Watercolours offer a challenge and there are so many techniques that can be employed, from very wet-on-wet to dry, using fingernails and knuckles, masking tape, candle wax, salt, pointed sticks and cardboard strips. Spattering gives a fascinating finish and sponging can add incredible depth.

By just using the basic palette range of 7 colours : Raw Sienna, Lemon Yellow, Ultramarine, Burnt Umber, Light Red, Alizarin Crimson and Paynes Grey - a vast array of colours can be mixed.

Raw Sienna is an earth colour made from the mineral oxides found in natural soil and one of the oldest pigments known and is very transparent.

Ultramarine Blue is a permanent, warm, intense blue and good to work with.

Burnt Umber is a permanent earth brown and one of the cool colours – also an earth colour.

Alizarin Crimson is a cool, intense red and when mixed with Ultramarine, gives a rich purple and with Lemon Yellow it will make orange.

Light Red is another earth colour and very permanent.

Paynes Grey is a cool colour – very smooth and used to deepen other colours without losing clarity. By itself it's very flat and dull.

Lemon Yellow is a permanent, cool yellow.

I haven't included Veridian Green in my colour palette, for using it on it's own doesn't do justice to any colour from nature – I rather make up my own greens using blue and yellow, and by adding Paynes Grey, all the greens found in nature can be reproduced. Of course, you are welcome the use green totally on its own, as certain applications definitely require it.

Below is a perfect example of mixing your own greens in this painting done by Ron Ranson, which shows excellent clarity and depth.

White is very rarely used on its own as it is totally opaque. You lose transparency and you can tell where it has been used. Once again, rules are meant to be broken!

Then there’s the question of pans vs tubes, and all the different (not all necessary!) brushes is enough to give one sleepless nights –there’s the rigger, the hake, flat brushes, 1 inch, half-an-inch, No. 3, nylon, hog’s hair – the list is endless!

Rowney tubes

Various brush sizes

Flat brush

The Hake

Hake effect


Rigger effect

And as for easels, with their tiny wing nuts, they can be a nightmare – not only for transport, but for setting up as well. Find yourself an uncomplicated easel and you'll be off to a good start.

It is most often used to hold up a painter's canvas or large sketchbook while the artist is working or to hold a completed painting for exhibition. The simplest form of an artist's easel, a tripod, consists of three vertical posts joined at one end. A pivoting mechanism allows the centre-most post to pivot away from the other two, forming a tripod. The two non-pivoting posts have a horizontal cross member on which the canvas is placed. A similar model is fit to hold a blackboard, projection surface, placard etcetera. An easel can be full-height, designed for standing by itself on the floor. Shorter easels can also be designed for use on a table. Easels are typically made from wood, aluminum or steel.

There are two common designs for easels:

Tripod designs are based on three legs. Variations include crossbars to make the easel more stable and an independent mechanism to allow for the vertical adjustment of the working plane without sacrificing the stability of the three legs of the easel.

Tripod easel

H-Frame designs are based on right angles. All posts are generally parallel to each other with the base of the easel being rectangular. The main portion of the easel consists of two vertical posts with a horizontal crossbar support, thus giving the design the general shape of an "H." Variations include additions that allow the easel's verticality to be adjusted.

H-frame easel

There are three common usages for easels:

Studio easels are meant for use in the artist's studio with limited need for the easel to be portable. Studio easels may be simple in design or very complex including winches, multiple masts and casters. The largest easels are studio easels with some being able to support weights of over 200 lb. and panels over 7 feet in height.

Field easels are meant to be portable and for the creation of en plein air work. These easels are usually mid-sized or small, have telescopic or collapsible legs and are based on the tripod design. French box easels include a compartment in which to store art supplies conveniently along with a handle or straps so that the French box may be carried like a briefcase or a backpack.

Display easels are meant for the display of finished works. These easels tend to be very simple in design with less concern for the stability needed by a working artist. Display easels can vary in size and sturdiness depending upon the weight and size of the object to be placed on them.

An Aluminium easel is very light and easy to transport but, for me, there's nothing like wood - the look of it, the way it stands, holding your board with your painting on it...

"Setting up your easel in a landscape is an act of faith, a sacred event. The artist takes from nature without really taking."


Friday, 24 April 2015

Setting up a Studio

To practice your art, the right ambiance goes a long way towards sparking creativity!

Setting up a studio is as exciting as building or decorating a new house! Your painting space can be as luxurious as a room or a studio on its own, to a little corner set up with shelves and all your equipment. A couch is a welcome addition to sit and ponder over a cup of tea what your next move is going to be!

Any outside area can also be utilised, like an old potting shed or any space you can set up and call your own.

I'm a great one for scouring second-hand shops and painting and fixing up something I think will be useful.

Lumber yards are great for finding old shelving boards and second-hand shops offer great bargains.

My Studio entrance

The North-Western corner of my studio - A couch makes a wonderful addition to ponder your next move
Apart from shelving, peg-board offers great space saving features where you can utilise a wall to hang all sorts of odds and ends like water holders, easels and even fold-up chairs. A draughtsman's table comes in handy to use inside the studio as it offers comfort and a larger area to put pencils and brushes. A large table is a must for a vast array of stuff! Of course you don't have to spend a vast amount of money to buy one - find an old door at the lumber yard and placed upon builders' trestles it makes a wonderful table for very little money.

A corner with an old table top used as a studio

I love using vintage cups and mugs as hold-alls for brushes and tubes, but don't throw away your old chipped cups, mugs or drinking glasses. They make excellent hold-alls and I use all my old crockery (plates, side plates and desert plates) for mixing paints and testing colours (wonderfully easy to clean - virtually NOTHING sticks to porcelain - even oil paints can be removed easily!).

Office sundries like letter trays and desk tidies can be used with great efficiency and most households have these tucked away somewhere. Even old tea trays can be utilised. Of course, glass jars are the staple water holders, but for field work, best get yourself a portable, collapsible Japanese water pot.

A small table placed against a wall served as my first art corner.

My Potting shed converted into an open-air studio

A truly inspirational studio, every artist's dream!


Friday, 17 April 2015

A (really!) Quick & Easy sketch-book to make

An Artist's Sketchbook - front cover

Here in South Africa there aren't many choices of journals or sketch-books for artists to choose from in our book stores or art supply shops. I would imagine one of the few choices is the Moleskine range - they offer sketching and watercolour notebooks in various sizes, and they are really great to use - I have a full range - but that's about the extent of it. If you would like to make your own, personalised sketch-book, here's a really fun, quick and easy way to do it.

Artist's Journal Open

For this project I used an A4 Bockingford 300gsm watercolour pad (containing 10 sheets of paper) cut in half to form an A5 size (5.5" x 7.5" - approx. 14 x 19cm), giving me 20 pages. You can use any paper you like, but less than 140gsm doesn't give a good surface for painting on. You can also fold and tear the paper in stead of cutting it for an interesting effect on the edges, or use different colour papers.

For the front and back covers I used the backing card of the A4 watercolour pad (cut in half), but you can use any stiff board cut to size, even covers from old books.

Artist's Journal Inside

The next step is to mark where you want your holes and punch the holes into your paper and stiff board covers. You can use ribbon to hold the book together like I have done here, or you can use binder rings found at most craft shops. Two should do the job. I used a leather hole punch to do 2 or 3 pages of paper together, as 300gsm is quite thick. Or you could use the standard office 2-hole punch with the holes in the centre of the paper, but I have found that top and bottom works best to keep the book stable.

Binder rings

Leather hole punch

I punched 6 holes into the pages of this journal as I was going to put it into a leather-bound ring binder I already have, but when the pages proved to be too big, and I didn't want to cut them smaller, I changed my mind and decided to use the ribbon.

And here's the enjoyable part - designing your front and back covers. I have used plain brown paper to cover the stiff boards and glued on some Hessian cut into an interesting shape, using ordinary Pritt Project glue (Ponal or Alcolin wood glue does the same job). You can, of course, use any pretty paper or gift wrap you have lying around as well.

Journal Back cover - you can leave it plain as above or embellish it further with items of your choice, below.

Journal - last page and inside back cover

Optionally, for the inside back cover, I cut a piece of Hessian, glued all along the top, right-hand side and bottom edges, leaving the uneven edge open, to form a pocket for some notes (money or other-wise!). Always comes in handy when you've been out sketching in the heat and you need to buy a cold drink.

Enjoy and happy sketching!

List of supplies :
- 10 Sheets A4 watercolour paper, cut in half
- 1 sheet A4 board, cut in half
- 2 binder rings or ribbon, string, cord of your choice,
- Office or leather hole punch
- Gift, wrapping or any paper to cover front and back covers
- Scissors
- Craft glue