Saturday, September 20, 2008

Experimenting for artistic results

Over the years I've learned that if you want to try new methods in your work it's best to do a bit of non-critical experimentation first. By non-critical I mean that a experimental mistake right on your work could ruin a whole canvas or sculpture that you've worked on for days.

If you'd like to see an example of a simple experimental process, I have one I've been working on here on my website's WIP page, it involves LS transfers but it doesn't matter what method or medium you're experimenting with, the process is much the same. 

The most important aspect of experimenting is to write down the steps you've taken as you go...I also photograph them. I just did 4 samples this morning but there was some slipping and sliding and if I hadn't written down the location of each one I might have gotten them mixed up. I learned from experience that if you don't keep careful notes you probably just wasted a lot of time if you can't remember exactly how you got the effect you wanted on only one out of several pieces.  

It seems like a lot of work, but really it's mostly fun. There's lots of anticipation and yes, disappointments too, but some times you get lucky and not only get what you want but find some happy accidents that stretch you in even more directions. And since you usually work on a very small scale when experimenting you are not wasting a lot of medium and material, and even better, you didn't lose an important piece because something didn't work out. 

And the best part...sometimes tedious exercises beget great creativity because you are freed from the worry of something going wrong while you're working :)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Keeping a tchnical art journal via work in progress page and reference photos

 My way of keeping an art journal is to share my WIP's (work in progress), something I started to do on art forums a long time ago. At the time I did it for feedback, but I found that it's a good way to keep track of formulas, experimental successes and failures and the whole thought process. So now I keep a WIP page on my website as a way to share my art and what I've learned and to always have a record I can refer back to. 

 I think it's important to challenge myself with each new piece...sometimes it's just a conceptual challenge, sometimes it's trying or re-cycling a new technique. I can't always remember an obscure color formula or the order of certain steps but I always remember which pieces I used a certain technique on, so it's easy to find the information I need by going back in the archives to that piece. 

Yesterday I started a new sculpture and I'm chronicling the process. I do this for all my work, though the less important practice pieces sometimes end up on my onsite blog rather than as a detailed step by step journal since they aren't all that involved. 

I find it easy to keep updated since I formulated a blog type form for this page so I can just pop in and add a new entry. It also allows me to control how many entries appear on each page and it automatically creates a new page. 

I size my photos to a maximum size of 325 pixels...I keep the quality high but it makes for a small file size and easier loading.

It's not hard to record the process...I just basically go step by step and describe my thought process as I go. I'm not one of those people that sketches out their ideas, it's already firmly embedded in my head, or close enough that I just have to work out a couple mechanical issues as I go. Plus unless you're going to cut out and file each sketch page it's going to be pretty hard to go back and find what you need. You don't need to publish your work in progress page if you feel awkward about can just go to your Word or NeoOffice program, write and insert photos and then save into a special file to refer back to.

I also take a lot of photos of things I find interesting and I also download photos to use as reference. I'm not copying them but using them to understand details or get conceptual ideas. I categorize all of them in my iPhoto program so they're handy. This may not seem like it's a technical art journal but color, masses and shape are important to my artwork and may be the answer to a technical issue I'm having. So, again, I've given myself a place to research when I need anwers.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sam the Squirrel

I got my little squirrel sculpture done yesterday, it's not got it's final varnish as I'm waiting for the oil paint 'patina' to dry. Since I used an ivory toned clay I should have been able to leave him the way he was, as the light causes a bit of color variation in the thinner parts. But I'd used a black rubber smoother and some of the black dye rubbed into the clay. The patina is just hand rubbed ochre and antique white Paintstiks. It dries overnight if it's applied thinly. Usually I rub some burnt umber into the recesses to bring out the detail but I've learned that using deeper undercuts works better. He's 2 1/4 inches tall and is quite lovely to hold, he fits perfectly in my hand.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Creativity - Spontaneity versus planning

I always admired artists that could just sit down, work in a mad flurry and produce something creative and beautiful. The problem with me trying to be spontaneous is that any time I've gotten an impulse, be it painting or sculpting, I soon end up in trouble because I didn't take the time to work some of the mechanical issues out. 

Just for practice I've been sculpting a squirrel in a basket. I thought it might come out well in a raw sort of way because I just dove in to it. Well, I soon got the basic shape but when it came to adding the needed detail like the basket weave and facial features I got into a bit of trouble. So I pulled out some ref photos and and got my squirrel, but so what? was just a squirrel. So I had to put the photos away again and give the squirrel the personality I wanted so it becamemy squirrel, with the personality traits I wanted. 

Then there was the basket really would've helped if I'd even done a pattern like that at least once. I was also fighting the softness of the clay and the shape kept going out of round and my fingers were also mooshing the squirrel as I worked. I learned that I should have made and baked the basket first and then modeled the squirrel on it afterwards. 

So I ended up baking it in the rough and I'll have loads of sanding to do to fix things. Hopefully I did just what I needed creatively at the end of the session, and will just be polishing the rough edges and not overworking it. 

Anyways, the point is that you don't have to be spontaneous to be creative...creativity is just the idea, and something that needs not to be overworked, so it looks fresh. There's nothing wrong with planning out your steps ahead of time, because then the likelihood of overworking a piece has lessened, and with the end result firmly in your head you will more than likely have a fresher piece. 

Something to share...yesterday I got my Polymer Daily email with a link to the jewelry work of  Laura Timmons  and whew, I was impressed! Even if you're not an artist you'll be interested to see how she creates these magnificent pieces, so check out her Process page too.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Revisiting artist block

Today I decided I want to re-visit the subject of artist block, perhaps I was a bit glib with my get-back-to-nature viewpoint earlier. As an artist I do truly understand how agonizing a blank canvas can be when you've lost your point of view. And I do think that concept and artist block go hand in hand.

I guess I want to quantify that I'm not an expert on anything really, but I am a working artist that has figured a few things out. If you want to learn about marketing I'm not the person that has the answers...but there is a ton of good advice out there for the googling. 

What I can do is share what I've learned, both in technique and angst. Art and artist evolve together and one day it will click into place. Despite a money driven world there's still a purity in the fact that something you created is appreciated (and even loved) by others and after all, isn't that the point? 
Artists see things in a unique way, and in the beginning sets about to share that viewpoint in imagery. Of course, usually that's where the frustration sets in...a beginner's skill set may show promise but cannot truly convey meaning unless they know how to bring out the best in their medium. A long journey of learning technique then begins, but it's very easy to lose the original intent along the way. 

Oh, we artists know the angst of that's a huge part of the reason we end up with artist's block. Even if we have done work that is consistently good technique wise, we are still not we work even harder on technique. 

But that is not the answer. 

What is wrong is that the work you are doing feels stale. It may be a good painting of children playing on a beach, or a wonderful lifelike portrait or a superb three dimensional rendition of an animal. But what makes it stand out from all the other work out there of the same type subjects?

It comes back to viewpoint. You can't paint/sculpt things just to make things. You paint/sculpt to show something beyond the 'thing'. What you need to paint is emotion, your emotion. 

Joy. Fear. Contentment. Wonder. Entrancement with a certain mysterious smile. The human form in all its glory or weakness. Nature at its most stunning.

You say you don't know how? That is what you need to figure out to take a chosen subject and not just re-create it but totally create it as something new. 

My way was to create a new character...and the sole purpose of that character is to express the things I want to share... joy, simple pleasure and humanity (even though they are not human). That was my answer, but look at others...Michelangelo put his sculptures on steroids, Picasso went cubist and Monet went Impressionistic. 

You don't have to invent a new character or art style but you do have to bring creativity back into the picture. Quit staring at the blank canvas or wondering what to paint next. Do a test piece for the heck of doesn't can throw it away, put it on hold for how ever long and you don't have to show anyone. 

Pick a subject that you've enjoyed doing in the past. Stop there....don't pull out your canvas/medium yet. Say you like doing portraits, like I did. Do you really just want to paint/sculpt a face on a body? I'm sure you want to share personality of the subject, but you also want to put yourself into do you put your feeling in there? Thats where your creativity comes in. 

I wish I could just give you the answer, but I can only put my own creativity in my own work. You need to find not just the subject's emotion but your own and then you have to figure out how to marry them into the finished piece. Find your own original viewpoint from way back when you first wanted to paint/sculpt/draw. You may not find the answer first time out but I've learned that once a journey is begun it finds its own path in the end. Think about what you might need to exaggerate or minimize...will props help convey something? It's a puzzle but you truly are the only one that can solve it...and you will.

 Don't look at it as pressure, the world doesn't just want a piece of artwork, they want a piece of you...and that is the true value. Be excited because you are about to meet yourself and the rest of us can't wait to meet you through your work too.

Shiva Paintstik demo

Shiva Paintstik Demo

This is a demo done by  for a tutorial on using oil sticks (also sometimes known as oil bars) , please visit the Art and Artistry forum for more useful demos, membership is free :) Also, see this thread to also see a paintstik demo done by cj Kelly. (you need to register to see threads)


Paintstiks are oil paints in stick form consisting of linseed oil as a pigment binder along with enough wax to make it solid. They come in a split side cardboard tube that the stick can be pushed out of.

This is my collection of Shiva Paintstiks, 56 colors, sorted by temperature, divided into rows using wooden chopsticks. No worries about them drying out since they form a skin which is easily rubbed off, along with all contaminants the next time you want to use them.

The Paintstiks can be used in many different ways, you can paint directly using it as a drawing tool, or with brushes, knives or rags and you can use any medium you would use with regular oils. The advantage is that they dry a lot quicker than  tube oils and are very good for alla prima work, you mix the colors right on your support.  You can intermix them with oils also.

For this demo I'll be painting a simple wall vase with tulips . I wanted a slightly textured yellowish background, leaning a touch green. So I took my citron yellow and dipped it in an oil medium that is higher in solvent ratio. I'm using a 9x12 sheet of watercolor paper and didn't want to soak it in solvent, the wax content in the Paintstiks allows paper to be used, unlike with straight oil paints where there's a higher ratio of linseed oil that can eat into the paper over time. Dipping it softens it just enough to flow easily and I just lightly scribbled it all over the paper, barely uses any paint, but it's enough for my purposes, since I will then take a giant size stick of titanium white and blend it wet into wet.

In less than a minute I had my background done and with the texture I wanted. If I had wanted a smoother texture I could then brush it out or for a heavier texture I could apply more and manipulate it with either a knife or big brush.

The bluish tone in the corner is due to a cast shadow, but I could gradate any color in until I have the effect I wanted. Here's a close can see the raised paint creating purplish shadows, most of the watercolor paper texture is covered, these paints apply thickly if you bear down or thinly 

Usually Paintstiks dry overnight, titanium may take longer, and I'm in a dry climate, it can take two days in a very humid place perhaps. Also, they are only touch dry then, so you can paint over them without lifting any color, but if you want to drybrush vigorously give them more time to dry. It's nice to have a pre-toned surface done with the sticks, it enables you to scrape down to the original color once it's dried.

As you can see, any color can be moderated to the tone you wish by mixing it on canvas with another color or two. I like applying it this way as you get an optical mix, whereas sometimes overbrushing gives too blended a look.

My tulips will be yellow and orangish red so this base color will not affect the color too much, the vase is cobalt, but so much darker that it shouldn't lean green. The paintstiks tend to be more opaque, but can be brushed on lightly for more transparent effects. But even though they are opaque, remember that the under color will influence the colors laid on it.

Usually I don't break my sticks but this one was already broken...I don't recommend it, the cardboard tubes keep the paint from getting all over your hands. I lay in the color almost to the edges, since I'll be pushing the paint where I want it to go with brushes and perhaps a knife. The flowers are only about an inch and a half wide...a bit hard to get details in something that small, but I wanted to show what the sticks are capable of even in small areas. I could get super detailed if I let the painting dry and went back in with a tiny brush and some medium, just like in a regular oil painting.

I then use a small flat to drop in my shadow colors. I just wipe the brush across the top of the stick and lightly lay in my shapes. I can then push my yellow up to the edges and blend into the tones. I wipe my brush a lot so I'm not contaminating areas I want to stay pure. If the brush is heavily loaded I dip it into some veggie oil and then wipe dry. The brushes will clean up later with Dawn dishsoap and hot water. If you're not happy with an area you can scrape or wipe it back and you can really push the paint around until it's where you want it.

Applying the stamen wasn't too hard...I went over the green with with Purple Sage (a deep bluish purple) and then really darkened the dark areas with some Prussian blue. When the flowers were finished I used my smallest palette knife to scrape out some highlights on the edges.

I blocked in the dark shadows of the vase with prussian blue first...again, not quite to the edges.

I then scraped out the underwater stems...they are vague and not as light a value as the highlights will be, so I used a pastel shaper which would just leave a stain. I then laid in some cobalt blue and started brushing it out, being careful not to touch the Prussian until the end, then I just took the brush and ran it over the edge of both colors at the same time to blend.

 I scraped back to the background color with a palette knife for the highlights. A great way to do them, and you can soften the area around them for a cast glow when you paint up to them with a dryer brush. The vase was the quickest easiest part of the whole painting...took less than an hour.

This is an egbert's very soft, long badger hair, maybe 1 1/2 long or more. It's so soft that I have to lay my finger over the edge and push to pick up any paint with it. It's great for 'fluffing' on a soft shadow or light blending.

This is the final image, with shadows and reflective cast colors, about 6 hours total, all except the background painted in one alla prima session. 18 hours later it is touch dry. So if I were so inclined I could go back in and do more detail work already. There was no leftover paint wasted...I really didn't use much paint...these sticks last forever unless you are solidly covering a huge rough canvas.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Studio contamination

Most every artist I know has a mess in their studio...been there, done that, and if I hadn't moved my draft table back into the living area from my studio (spare bedroom) then I'd still be there.

There's something to be said for keeping your art materials organized so you can find things without doing a major scavenger hunt. But more important is to keep your work areas, tools and mediums clean.

I've started working with whites and ivories a lot lately and even though I've been very careful to start with a clean working space I get involved with what I'm doing and forget to clean up in between color stages. It's a lot harder to get a stray speck of red out of your white sculpture/painting than it is to just wipe down your work area. It's something we all know to do and kick ourselves for when we forget (over and over). 

Today I got really frustrated when dirty smudges kept showing up in my space was clean, my hands were clean so what was the deal? Cheap tools. Yep...I'd bought a black rubber wedge for smoothing and discovered that it's soft rubber and the color actually lifts from it. Perhaps it's because I do clean it with ammonia but I never had that problem when I was throwing pots and using a wedge, so I think it's all about using a cheap one. 

My biggest problem is rushing...sure, I'm caught in the throes of creating and it's like a burning that won't go away until the piece is complete. But in the long run I always pay (and take longer!) for not being more patient and organized. 

So, deep breaths, might as well bite the bullet and admit...being creative really is stifled by messiness, not enhanced...what a concept!

The site of the week this time is for an artist I met online and have been good friends with for quite a few years now. At that time we were both working with pastels and paint, she has since moved on to wood carvings. She has her own unique style (I've an eye on some of her pieces) and I hope you enjoy Kathy Robbin's work as much as I do.