Friday, 29 May 2015

Exploring creativity

Creativity can be what you want it to be, whatever satisfies that 'creative itch' we all suffer from - According to one dictionary, creativity is "the ability to create and is characterized by originality and expressiveness".

You don’t have to create exquisite sculptures or breathtaking sonnets. We’re creating all the time simply by being alive. Every decision we make, every time we move, breathe, or speak we are creating. In fact, we couldn’t not create even if we wanted to. It’s simply impossible.

I've heard people say that they should have started being creative in their childhood and that they're "too old" to start "being creative now". Unfortunately, there are many impediments to creativity in childhood and early life, from parental disapproval to criticism in school. Children are easily discouraged or diverted into other activities. As a young adult it may be a matter of individual circumstances, where one has to sacrifice creative art for a regular pay cheque.

I read on the internet about a woman who started painting in watercolour in her early 70s. She worked hard at it and persisted in spite of serious health problems and the death of her husband. At the age of 91 she still paints every day - and has a show each year, selling just about everything she paints.

Being "older" or starting something late in life can be a blessing in disguise. As you probably have more time on your hands with the children out of the house, maybe retirement looming, it's an ideal opportunity to focus and put all your attention into being creative.

"Cloud Study" - by Maree - one of my first experiments with watercolours in the 1960's

We all release our creative itch by doing what we love; cooking, baking, sewing, woodwork, beading, painting (as in art), painting (as in walls, which I can stand and do for hours!), sketching, sculpting, writing, graphic design (even on the computer can be highly creative and fulfilling), pottery - I can probably fill 10 pages trying to list the ways in which we express our natural creativity.

As an aspiring artist, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to be more creative. I’ve explored the traditional paths to creativity; painting, drawing, playing an instrument, creative writing, poetry, etc. I connected with creative souls; artists, and people living off the grid (away from the mainstream.

While I found this sparked my creative spirit, it only went so far and I realised that, to truly tap into your creative nature, you only have to realize one thing…

You are already an artist.

Some people believe that creativity is a gift or a talent possessed by a "chosen few'". I don't believe this. I believe that creativity is something every normal human being is born with. Each of us is born with a clean slate and the potential to develop into a creative being. You make creative choices every day, and by using a little imagination you can stimulate your own creativity every time you decide what to wear, what to fix for dinner, or how to plant a flower bed. Creativity doesn't pertain only to 'artists'. And talent has two definitions - a natural ability or a developed skill, but there is nothing to prevent an average person from developing creative skills to a high degree.

Talent is a potential, not a guarantee of success. There's no real test for talent - it's a matter of faith and experience. Talent consists of wanting to do and believing that you can.

It requires the relentless pursuit of your creative goals and the three P's - Practice, patience, perseverance. When you feel disappointed about your progress, remember that it took Beethoven twenty years to compose his "Ode to Joy."

Flaubert said, "Talent is long patience."

"View across the road" watercolour by Maree©

Laptop sleeve printed with "View across the road"

Henri Matisse said,

"Creation is the artist's true function. But it would be a mistake to ascribe creative power to an inborn talent. Creation begins with vision. The artist has to look at everything as though seeing it for the first time, like a child.

To create is to express what we have within ourselves. We take from our surroundings everything that can nourish our internal vision. We enrich ourselves internally with all the forms we have mastered, which we set to a new rhythm. It is in the expression of this rhythm that the artist's work becomes really creative.

Great love is needed to achieve this, a love capable of inspiring and sustaining that patient striving towards truth, that glowing warmth and that analytic profundity that accompany the birth of any work of art.

And is not love the origin of all creation?"

"The entrance" watercolour on Bockingford 300gsm - Maree©

I believe creativity is a choice. You can be just about anything you decide to be, if you work hard enough for it.

It's never too late to create.


Friday, 22 May 2015

Exercise your imagination

We've all heard of writers' block - but how about 'artists' block' or 'inspiration block'?

Inspiration is the force behind creativity. Inspiration can come in any form. The key to inspiration is to be in communication with it at all times. Inspiration, basically, is a way of life. It is important to realize that every day when you step out of your home and go about your day, you are surrounded with inspiration. The same holds true with anything that you encounter during the day. Be aware of your surroundings and receptive to what you see.

Ernest Hemingway said,

"The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write (create) the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start."

What he means is that, while you are filled with inspiration, stop right there and hold it deep inside you - your sub-conscious will constantly be aware of it, lock onto it, nurture it and so the anticipation will grow until you start creating again. That way, there is an excitement in the air, something to look forward to. And don't be afraid that you will lose it, that it will go away - it won't. It can only grow and anticipation is the greatest inspiration of all.

"Cosmos in Vase" watercolour - Maree©


Friday, 8 May 2015

Tools of the Trade

It is said that the tools make the craftsman and this is especially true when it comes to sketching and painting. The same as cooking in a good frying pan or oven makes all the difference to the end product, painting with a good grade watercolour brush can make or break your painting.

We all know that an excellent chef can turn out an excellent meal almost anywhere with almost no 'tools' at all, look at Floyd for instance, and yes, you can do a sketch or painting on any piece of paper with any pencil or brush, Picasso did it on restaurant walls, but where's the joy in seeing your masterpiece in it's full glory on an excellent piece of watercolour paper, painted with your favourite Sable hair brush?

Here are some tools of the trade you will be needing to create your extraordinary works of art. Some are necessities and some just make your life easier and enjoyment so much better!

Art Board - The art board is probably regarded as your first and foremost piece of equipment (besides your pencil, of course!) for stretching your paper and ensuring a beautiful painting. It mounts easily on an easel and is also easy to use on your lap or art table. I am still using the same board since 1975 and shows interesting wear and tear

Art Box - A handy all-in-one box for your paint tubes, oil mediums, palette, pencils and rubbers, with a pull-out tray for storing paper or finished art works. Ideal for storage and indispensable when sketching in the field.

Artist's Lamp - A lamp for providing good lighting is not totally essential, but it certainly helps to view your art in good lighting.

Magnifying Light

Paint Tubes - Your paint is, of course, utterly essential and the brand and make, and whether you use tubes or a paint box, is a matter of personal preference.
Paint box

 Watercolour brushes - Painting with a good quality watercolour brush brings not only joy, but excellence to the finished product.

When selecting a brush, you have to decide whether you want a natural hair, bristle, or synthetic hair. A short standard length handle or a long handled brush is a matter of preference for the type of painting you may want to do.

Brush Hair Choices
This is the finest Red Sable available. It is a finely pointed hair, which performs with great spring. The hair is ideal for watercolour and acrylics.

Red Sable
This hair is red in color and is sometimes mixed or passed off as Kolinsky. There are many different grades of Red Sable, depending on the region of the world from which the animal comes.

This hair is very absorbent and will carry a lot of medium. The very fine pointed hairs leave a smooth, streak-free stroke. Squirrel hair brushes are used by China and Sign Painters alike. They can be used in all media.

This hair is quite strong, easily dyed different shades of color, but lacks the fine tips of Red Sable or Squirrel. It is ideal hair for mops and mixing with other hair.

This is usually a very soft white hair used in blending or softening the appearance of your project. This hair is very fragile and has a tendency to break if abused too much.

Years ago a brush maker termed the name “camel hair” since no hair comes from a camel to manufacture. It was called “camel hair” since leftover hair of different types were mixed together so as not to waste any hair. This hair is good for school grade brushes.

This is a strong coarse natural hair that comes from the ear of a pig. It is used in heavy media such as oils, acrylics and lacquers. They are used on rough surfaces like canvas, porcelain, brick, concrete or unfinished wood.

This is generally referred to as Taklon. Most familiar gold in color but can be dyed in various colours. Taklon comes in different grades of quality and diameters just as it does in fishing lines.

Stiff Synthetic
This filament is not as soft as the above-mentioned Taklon. The stiffness of the filament is used for fabric painting on denim and other rough surfaces. This can also be used to make stencil brushes.

Hake - A hake brush is indispensable and is an oriental-style wash brush on a long flat handle. It is useful for laying in large areas of water or colour, for wetting the surface, and for absorbing excess media. It has a wood handle and the hair is bound with cotton. Make sure it says "HAKE" on the handle to ensure you get the real thing.

 Flat brush - A flat brush is, as the name would suggest, one where the bristles are arranged so the brush is quite wide but not very thick. The length of the bristles can vary, with some flat brushes having short and some very long bristles. When buying a flat brush, look for one where the bristles have a spring to them, or snap back when you bend them gently.

Not only will a flat brush create a broad brushstroke, but if you turn it so you're leading with the narrow edge, it'll produce thin brushstrokes. A short flat brush is ideal for small, precise brush marks.

A flat brush's paint carrying capacity is determined by the bristles it has, and by the length of these. A short-haired, synthetic-bristle flat brush will hold less paint than a long-haired, mixed or natural-hair brush. The flat brush in the photo has got hog hair, which holds paint well and, being stiff, is ideal for leaving brush marks in paint should you wish to do this.

Rigger - A rigger or liner brush is a thin brush extremely long bristles. These may come to a sharp point, have a flat or square tip, or be angled. Rigger brushes are great for producing fine lines with a consistent width, making them ideal for painting thin branches on trees, boat masts, or cat's whiskers. They're also good for signing your name on a painting.

Oil Paint brush

 Acrylic brushes

 Assorted brushes

Brushes and other tools

 Pencil - Art pencils are one of the most exciting and flexible tools in the art world. There is a lot more to a pencil than the number 2 pencils you used on your school tests!

Many pencils across the world, and almost all in Europe, are graded on the European system using a continuum from “H” (for hardness) to “B” (for blackness), as well as “F” (for fine point). The standard writing pencil is graded HB. According to Petroski, this system might have been developed in the early 1900s by Brookman, an English pencil maker. It used “B” for black and “H” for hard; a pencil’s grade was described by a sequence or successive Hs or Bs such as BB and BBB for successively softer leads, and HH and HHH for successively harder ones.

As of 2009, a set of pencils ranging from a very hard, light-marking pencil to a very soft, black-marking pencil usually ranges from hardest to softest as follows.

9H, 8H, 7H, 6H, 5H, 4H, 3H, 2H

H, F, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B

7B, 8B, 9B


Graphite pencils
These are the most common types of pencils. They are made of a mixture of clay and graphite and their darkness varies from light grey to black. Their composition allows for the smoothest strokes.

Charcoal pencils
They are made of charcoal and provide fuller blacks than graphite pencils, but tend to smudge easily and are more abrasive than graphite. Sepia-toned and white pencils are also available for duotone techniques.

Carbon pencils
They generally are made of a mixture of clay and lamp black, but are sometimes blended with charcoal or graphite depending on the darkness and manufacturer. They produce a fuller black than graphite pencils, but are smoother than charcoal.

Colored pencils
Commonly known as pencil crayons, these have wax-like cores with pigment and other fillers. Multiple colours are often blended together. The versatility of a set of crayon pencils can be determined by the number of unique colours it contains.

Grease pencils
Also known as china markers. They write on virtually any surface (including glass, plastic, metal and photographs). The most commonly found grease pencils are encased in paper (Berol and Sanford Peel-off), but they can also be encased in wood (Staedtler Omnichrom).

Watercolour pencils
These are designed for use with watercolour techniques. The pencils can be used by themselves for sharp, bold lines. Strokes made by the pencil can also be saturated with water and spread with brushes.

Tri-pod Artists' Easel
Many artists do not use an easel, but I have found that, viewing your work in progress head-on instead of from above, gives you a much clearer view of the sketch or painting. I also allows you to control the amount of water and paint you put on the paper, as you can see any excess when it starts running down. Find an easel that's light-weight and easy to set up and transport and you're well on your way to an enjoyable painting experience.

 H-Frame Artists' Easels are not really for transport, but more suited to a permanent spot in your studio.

Aluminium Tri-pod Artists' Easel - light-weight and easy to transport

Cabinet with flat drawers for storing art paper and completed art works.

Draughtsman's chair - a comfortable chair, preferably with adjustable height, is a must if you work regularly in your studio.
Brush storage - This canvass roll-up brush storage bag comes in very useful if you do sketching and painting out in the field as it is portable, easy to pack and, above all, provides protection for your brushes.

 A Taboret is useful in your studio for various items like water bottles, paints, brushes, etc, as it can easily be rolled to any place in the room.

Draughtsman's table - a draughtsman's table is a useful, albeit expensive, item for your studio. It can be used for new sketches while you are waiting for your painting to dry on the easel. I can also replace the easel, as you can tilt it to any degree you find comfortable.

Sponge - sponges are used to dab up excess paint or water and are also used in certain paint techniques.

Print rack - useful for stacking magazines or art books.

Primed cotton canvass - for oil painting

Pre-stretched frame - buying a pre-stretched from saves a lot of work in preparing your canvass and allows you to have a painting ready for immediate sale.

Portfolio bag - I find my portfolio bag indispensable for storing watercolour paper, note books and sketch pads when travelling.

Paint palettes - indispensable for mixing your watercolours, usually made of plastic and easy to clean. Even paint that has dried over-night can be revived by adding some water.

Paint palette

Palette knives - used in oil painting

Oil mediums - various oil mediums like turpentine, oil, etc.

Watercolour pencils - easy to work with and gives almost the same effect as watercolour paints.

Full range of equipment



Water Container

Enjoy and find inspiration in setting up your art studio with all your 'tools of the trade' and may you have many happy painting hours!