Category Archives: Beginning Artist

Encouragement and help for the beginning artist

photo of pottery in Crazy Horse Museum

Spiritual Painting

Today, I thought I’d share some thoughts about my personal painting philosophy and how I arrived at it.  As I grew as a student artist I often wondered what kind of artist I should be. I truly felt and still do that to be an artist is to partake in the creative nature of God. Definitely not on His scale, but as He is creative how can we not be creative also, since we are created in His image.

When I paint I feel this strong connection with God but I wanted it to be more. How could I express my faith in my art without being didactic? I asked my artist communities and was given the same examples of painting Biblical scenes, like Noah’s Ark. No, that isn’t what I wanted to do.

While still chewing on this bone, my husband Al and I took a walkabout to see the country. It’s amazing how beautiful North America is. We took in all 48 lower states and 6 Canadian provinces and the whole trip that little voice inside me kept saying, “Even the rocks cry out God’s glory.” And I’m thinking, I could paint rocks; I could paint nature in a way that shows God’s glory.

Then we ran across a group of Native American artisans in the Columbia River Valley. They believe that a piece of their spirit goes into whatever they create. So if they have hatred or anger in their heart when they are beading or weaving, that hatred or anger will also be in the art. Their spirit must be pure while they work.  This really resonated with me. I started praying, “Create in me a clean spirit, Oh Lord,” every time I painted.

Then one day a scripture came to mind and it has been my mantra ever since: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praise worthy–meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

So these are the subjects I paint. Nature, of course, is on top of the list but not totally exclusive.

Does that mean I would never take on a painting of a darker nature. Not necessarily, but I would concentrate on the compassion or hope that lies within the darkness.

So there you have my philosophy. It’s doubtful you will ever see a painting of a Biblical scene from me, but  I hope you feel the presence of God in all of my work.

 

 

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Artist Mops and More

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that mops are treated differently than other artist  paintbrushes. First of all mops, with a few exceptions, are not meant to apply paint to a surface but to smooth and soften what you’ve already applied. They also can be used to blend the line of separation between one color and another. They come in several sizes and shapes. Their hairs may be synthetic, camel, squirrel, hog , goat or a synthetic blend. Most are soft, but some are purposely stiff.

When you use a mop you will not wet it with water or extender first. Usually you will want to make light crisscross strokes over the wet paint. But there are times the smaller mops can be stroked or pounced, always lightly. The mop is going to move the paint around and pick up some of it. If you are too heavy handed you may create holes in your work, taking off more than you intended.

I never clean a mop while I am using it. Instead I vigorously stroke it on a shop towel to get most of the paint out of it before using with a different color.  When I am totally done for the day I can clean it. For the large fluffy mops, I prefer not to use water for cleaning. I rub hand sanitizer in the hairs that still hold paint. It evaporates quickly, leaving the mop still soft and floppy. I’ve tried washing my earlier mops with hand soap and water, but they were never the same afterwards. They lost their softness.

Hand sanitizer works well for all mops and is the best option. If you are concerned about drying out the hairs you can use soap and water but the lather can get out of control. Cut the soap down to a minimum and  be sure to rinse thoroughly.

Hopefully, I’ll have some demonstrations on how to use mops, as well as others down the road.

Don’t Sweat the Curve

I just read a fabulous blog by Jennifer Harnett-Henderson about accepting imperfection in yourself. This is a really hard thing to do. We are our own harshest critics. It got me thinking about the anxiety I used to have as a newbie painter. I couldn’t learn fast enough. I was ashamed of being a beginner and embarrassed by my work. What would people think if they saw this piece or that? I saw flaws where others didn’t. I was my own harshest critic.

Because of my critical eye, I would rework and overwork my strokes, striving for perfection but getting mud instead.  This is an easy trap for beginning artists and it took awhile for me to find my way out of it.

I realized that to progress I was going to have to accept where I was–just off the starting block–and show myself the same grace I would show another beginning artist. As I calmed down and started accepting the learning process I quit overworking my pieces and they started taking on a new life and vibrancy (albeit beginner level).

Jennifer shared in her blog “Psalm 46:10: ‘Cease striving and know that I am God.’ In the notes, that ‘cease striving’ means let go, relax.”

For an artist that means no matter where you are on the learning curve–beginner, intermediate or advanced–let go and relax. Accept where you are in the journey and be satisfied. For today it is enough. You are enough. Each day you will grow, but for today relax and enjoy where your skills are and who you are as an artist.

Photo of tornado damage to home

Gone With the Wind

A couple days ago I promised a blog about paintbrush care. Unfortunately, I had to take a few days off because of unforeseen circumstances. As you can see from the photo, we encountered a slight bump in the road. We are all safe. The rest is all stuff. It can be replaced. Most of the art was saved. I’m banged up a bit but nothing serious. I’ll be typing with one hand and hobbling around for awhile but each day is getting a little better.

Now for some brushcare tips that I promised. First, lets look at the parts of a brush. The hairs or bristles are called the head of the brush. The very tip/edge of the head is called the chisel. With an angle brush, the long tip is called the toe and the short side, the heel. The hairs are glued to the handle or shaft and are kept in place by a metal piece called the ferrule. So now that we have the terms, it will be easier to discuss care.

When you first buy a brush, run your finger along the chisel to break up the sizing, and then wet the hairs with water and soap or brush cleaner. If using soap, go for a mild bar or liquid and avoid harsh detergents. There are some fantastic brush cleaners out there, too.  Personally, I use liquid hand soap. Squirt a small amount into the palm of my hand and stroke the brush back and forth in it to get it worked into the hairs, rinse thoroughly. Reshape the head and dry flat.

If there had been paint in my brush, I would repeat the soap and rinse steps until all color is out of the brush. Then continue with the drying. Once dry, dressing the brush head in extender or retarder will keep the hairs from becoming brittle. I use DecoArt Extender Medium.  I put a few drops of it onto a waxed palette, dip my brush into it and stroke back and forth on a clean spot of the palette. Then I pinch wipe out the excess with a folded paper towel,

Acrylic paint, no matter what brand, is very hard on the bristles. The extender will act as a barrier, protecting the bristles. You can use it in place of water to help the paint to flow through the hairs. And, having extender on your brush will help the paint to release during cleaning.

When I paint I usually do not clean my brush between colors. I simply pinch wipe and pick up the next pigment.  The extra bits of color will add harmony throughout the painting. But, there are times when you’ll want to clean paint build up out of the brush before continuing. When this happens, do not set the brush in a water pail or scape it across a ridged pail bottom. Keep the brush shallow and swish it around in the water. Pinch wipe between paper towels and redress in extender, pinch wipe again and you are ready to go.

Try to avoid getting water or paint into the ferule, which could loosen the glue and flay the hairs, so the head will no longer have a sharp chisel.

Mops are a different beast altogether. I’ll try to get back on tomorrow to cover them.

If you find this post helpful, please share with your friends. And, if you have any questions about care and use of brushes, please comment and I will get back with you.

 

Value Study painting by Lynnette Horn

Paintbrushes for the Acrylic Artist

One of the biggest mistakes I see beginning artists make is to short change themselves when it comes to supplies. They go on the cheap, buying a packet of assorted craft brushes and buying student grade paints. And then, they wonder why their paintings are not as they should be. Well, duh.

First of all, let me state that there are no magic brushes that will make your brushstrokes a thing of perfection. But, a good quality set of brushes will help you along your journey and won’t wear out nearly as fast. My rule of thumb has always been to buy as much quality as you can afford.

Just a side note about student grade paints–they contain more solids and filler than artist grade paints. If you are following a dvd or a painting pattern, and using student grade paints you will not be able to achieve the same look as the instructor’s. It will appear duller. If you don’t realize it is the paints, you may get discouraged and give up. Always use a good quality artist paint.

The next issue is deciding what type of quality brushes to buy. There’s so many to choose from–hog bristle, squirrel, synthetic, synthetic mix and nylon. No matter what they are made of, what is most important is the degree of softness. In the store, brushes will always feel a little stiff. they have sizing in them to help them keep their shape in shipping. brush your fingers along the chisel (which is the edge of the bristles) to break up the sizing, before you check for stiffness.

Oil painters usually choose the stiffest brushes that will allow their brushstrokes to be seen. Acrylic artists generally want softer brushes that will paint flat, yet have enough resilience to bounce back to their chisel point. Watercolorists use the softest brushes of them all. Personally, I use DecoArt Traditions Brushes, which are high quality brushes specifically made for acrylics. The Traditions line of brushes fill all my needs with a wide variety of liners, rounds, filberts, flats, angles, mops and blenders. If you are interested, they can be purchased from http://www.artapprenticeonline.com. By the way, I don’t receive a penny for endorsing them.

Not matter which manufacturer you go with, the cost may be prohibitive to buy the whole line. So the beginning artist should concentrate on buying the workhorses that will form the foundation for future purchases. Here is my list–stripped down to the bone essentials:

  • •big fluffy mop
  • •3/4″ or 1″ oval brush
  • •#3 round
  • •#4 filbert
  • •#6 filbert
  • •1/4″ angle
  • •1/2″ angle
  • •#10 dome blender
  • •3/0 liner or 0 liner
  • One step beyond bare bones is a #1 mini mop–I just love this brush and couldn’t leave it off, but absolutely necessary, well…

If I had to, I could get by with only these brushes, yet I rarely paint larger than 16″ x 20″ canvases. If you plan on painting mostly larger canvases, you might want to up the sizes a bit. As you learn different techniques from various instructors, you will want to add to this list. I recommend that you just go slow and only buy as needed. If you take care of them, they will last your a very long time. Tomorrow I will cover taking care of your brushes.

Do you have a favorite brush that would be on your bare bones list?

How to Prepare a Canvas to Paint

I spent the day prepping canvases. So that means I’m between paintings right now. I have several ideas in various stages of development and for me, that is the perfect time to get ‘er done–while I’m still in the thought and sketch mode.

I know many beginning artists dislike prep work. They want to get on to the good stuff with the brushes and pigment. But, if a canvas is not prepped properly it can ruin an otherwise beautiful painting. I didn’t like it at first and tried to create shortcuts, but they never worked out and my art suffered for it.

Somewhere along the line, I made peace with it and can honestly say I enjoy it now. How much prep your canvas needs will depend on your own preferences and sometimes on the technique you choose to use. For instance, if you were painting impasto, which is a technique using thick, textured paint (think Van Gogh), you could get by with just applying primer and sealer. But if you are anything like me, you’ll want a smooth canvas with hardly, if any, weave showing.

There are many products out there and many ways to prep canvases, but I’m going to tell you what works for me. Since I like a very smooth surface, it takes time and it’s easier to prep a number of canvases at once. Prepping will take several days.  I encourage you to comment with your favorite or unique way to prep surfaces, if they differ. The more information available the better it is for beginning artists.

First, I use a medium length palette knife to scoop out a large dollop of DecoArt  Acrylic Gesso and spread it over the canvas.  If the canvas is large, I may use a drop or two of DecoArt Traditions Extender and Blending Medium to keep it pliable longer. Then I use the knife to smash the gesso into the weave of the canvas, scraping the excess as I go.  I wipe the excess onto an area not yet covered and smash and scrape again. Continuing until the whole canvas is covered with a thin layer. (Some prefer to use an old credit card or a paint spatula, instead of a palette knife for this.)

Don’t try to fill and hide the weave with one layer. This is a multi-layer process. Each layer must dry thoroughly and then be sanded before the next layer is applied. If you apply another layer over a layer that has not dried completely, you risk cracking the gesso. But it won’t happen right away. It may wait until you have your beautiful artwork on it.  For that reason, I give my canvases a long dry time. Pending on the season, I may dry then in the shade outdoors. Some use a hair dryer, but I don’t trust that a dryer is getting below the surface.  This is why it takes me so long.

Okay, let’s talk about sanding. I use a fine sandpaper that is meant for wet sanding. Get the sandpaper wet and move lightly over the surface. I use a circular motion and spend extra time on any areas that appear thicker than the rest or any ridges. I take my time to make each layer as smooth as possible. Then I use a clean shop towel to wipe it clean.

I usually use 3 or 4 layers in all. When the last layer is dry and sanded I seal with DecoArt Traditions Multi-Surface Sealer. I let is cure for 24 hours before I would start painting on it. I’m probably over cautious, but hey, I want to make sure this baby’s good enough for my finest work.

Well, that’s the nuts and bolts of prepping. If you found it helpful, share it with your friends. And if you have an even better way to prep, please let me know.

Daffodils by Lynnette Horn

Art is in the Editing

I was out in the front yard this morning trimming rose bushes. I know I should have done that in the fall, but winter came on us very quickly this year. We didn’t have much of a fall and before I knew it we were buried in snow and the deadwood would have to stay until I could get to it this spring.  Anyway, there I was pruning away and an amazing thing happened. Without the massive rose bush ruling over the garden, the spring daffodils suddenly took center stage.

I don’t think I had ever given them a second thought before. But there they were in all their glory. Of course, I had to get my camera. And of course, I had to draw a correlation in art. And that is artistic editing. Some call it their artistic license to change things for the sake of the composition.  When I first started painting my own pieces (not patterns), I would take reference photos and try to paint everything that was in the photo.  This made it realistic, right? No, it made a cluttered mess.

By cutting out unnecessary elements, you will draw more attention to the stars of the show. As a new artist, you might ask, “What do I cut out?” Well, that really depends on what you are trying to say with in your painting. What do you want your viewers to see the most? That will be your area of interest or focus. The secondary elements should help lead the viewer through the painting to the focus area and back out again–around and around.

Using the photo above, I might choose to have the rose bush as the main focal point, with the recycle bag in the background and add my loppers to the foreground, totally eliminating the daffodils if I wanted to tell a story about garden pruning. If I wanted to tell a story about spring I may or may not leave the pruned rosebush in the background, keep the clump of grass in the front right and eliminate the rest. Or I might choose just a few daffodils instead of the whole clump. (It’s always good to paint in odd numbers–1, 3 or 5. It adds more interest.)  Or, I might go all dramatic and concentrate on just one bloom. As an artist the decision is all mine. Nothing is written in stone that says I have to stay true to what’s in a photo, or in what I see.

How  would you edit this photo? Is there a story there you’d like to see?