Until this evening I hadn’t painted for two whole weeks. That’s a long time for me. But it’s okay. I’m not bored or blocked or down and blue. In fact, I feel the exact opposite. I’m happy and excited to rekindle some past hobbies and interests. It started with yoga which my sister is into too so we’ve had fun discussing what poses we can and can’t do and then it went to herbal teas and kitchari making and then somehow it made it’s way to Bach Flower Remedies and before I knew it I’d dug out all my old flower essence books and signed up for an online class. I wasn’t really looking for more screen time. After a day of work at the computer I’m happy to switch off but I switch it up with reading actual physical text books. I’m an all or nothing person and before I knew it two weeks have gone by without painting!
It felt so good to pick up a brush tonight. Sometimes all we need is a rest. And who knew studying flower remedies would be my rest from painting flowers.
How to be a Better Artist
Learn the importance of value. What is value in art? Value is the measure of light and dark. White being the lightest and black the darkest. Many value scales have ten steps with black being number one and white being number ten but you can work with a value scale of less say, five or three.
Value is important as it applies to all styles of painting. For a realist painter the more value a painting contains the more lifelike a painting will be. However, abstract and impressionist artists will benefit from value too. Value helps to move the eye around an image, as well as creating a resting place for the eye and adding interest and drama.
Drama is created by putting very dark values next to very light values. An artwork does not need to be perfectly balanced between light and dark. A painting can be predominantly dark such as in chiaroscuro or predominately light but areas of the opposite value will always create drama.
You can create your own gray scale value finder by drawing a row of ten boxes on a piece of paper. Paint the first box pure black and name it value 1. Paint the last box to the right pure white and name it value 2. Next mix equal amounts of black and white and paint the middle box on the row. This will be value number five. Keep mixing equal parts of the two values next to each other and painting the box in the middle with the result. Continue until all the boxes are filled in. You should see a row of boxes move gradually from black to white in even steps. Try squinting when looking at the value scale. If any boxes jump out it means the value is off slightly and should be remixed. Keep going until you see a smooth flowing value scale.
If you have a piece of work that is hanging around that just doesn’t work or you feel is boring ask yourself if it contains a full range of values. Are there some very bright areas as well as some very dark areas. If the answer is no try lightening the lights and darkening the darks. But remember this doesn’t mean using pure white and pure black. Mix lights and darks from your main color palette. Lights should be crisp and clean and darks interesting and colorful.
We are on our third week of quarantining and social distancing here in California. In normal circumstances three weeks at home is a gift for an artist but I’ve spent very little time painting. I can’t help feeling guilty for having the privilege to stay home and paint when so many others are struggling. I’ve heard lots of artist friends say they are unmotivated. But there are also a whole host of very motivated, kind and generous artists out there offering free and discounted classes, sending out daily encouragement and sharing their knowledge. It’s nice to have these posts popping up as a distraction from other news.
Here are a couple of places I’ve been spending my time.
Paul Foxton: Paul has been live streaming every week day from his studio while he paints various spring flowers. There are not many people I can watch paint but Paul’s set up allows you to see his canvas, palette and subject in on one screen. He has a beautiful, calm energy and describes his thought process as he works. He is well worth checking out and you get a British accent too!
Michael Klein: A few months ago I met a beautiful flower artist who told me she had learned most of what she knows from studying the videos of Michael Klein. I find it really difficult to learn from videos. I find myself switching off and wondering what I’ll have for lunch, but during the month of March Michael Klein offered his Flower Painting Insights video for free. I managed to watch it on the last day of the offer. The video is made over three days and shows you his process from start to finish with lots of close ups on the brushwork. Now I completely understand how someone can learn to paint from Michael’s videos – I didn’t think about my lunch once during the 1 hour and 15 minutes. Unfortunately, the free access has expired but even if I’d paid full price I wouldn’t be upset. In fact, the next time I paint with oils I will use the video for my starting point.
We can’t all be on the front lines fighting this virus but we can use our time productively while we practice social distancing.
Stay home, keep healthy and be kind.
Just start. Don’t wait for the perfect day when you have the house to yourself. Don’t wait until you have entire afternoon to devote to your art. Don’t wait until you have a better brand of paint or that one particular color. Don’t even wait until you are inspired. Just sit down and start. Use what you have. Paint over an old canvas, mix your own colors or do without. Paint your dog or your cat or your half empty coffee cup and the plant that’s sitting in the half light on the window sill. Today more than ever it’s important to use what we have and the time we have. Just start and see where it leads…
How to be a Better Artist #2
Once you know the medium you want to use you need to know how to use it. We all like to say ‘there are no rules in art’, but there are a LOT of rules in art and you will have an easier time of learning if you know how to get the best from your products.
For example you will have less control of watercolors if you do not stretch the paper before painting and oil paintings may crack or never dry if you don’t follow the ‘fat over lean’ rule and a beautiful graphite drawing may yellow if the paper is not acid free.
Before you sit down to create do an internet search or get a book on your chosen subject and learn a few rules and techniques. It won’t take away all the frustrations but will help the learning curve to flow easier.
How to be a Better Artist #1
What can you do to be a better artist? Here is something that is free and easy and can be used by anyone. It can be for new artists looking for a starting point, those who have been painting for some time and looking for the next step and experienced artists looking for a new direction. I’ve used this method several times and it always gives me focus, clarity and a new direction.
So it goes without saying, if you want to be a good artist, you have to look at art. Look at lots of art. Look at good art and bad art. Look at art in museums and galleries and on the street. Look at art on book covers and in magazine pages. Look at the masters and look at kids’ art.
But don’t just look – ask yourself what do you like about a piece of art? Is it the subject matter, is it the colors? Ask yourself what you don’t like about a piece. How does it make you feel and how could it be improved.
Now you’ve been looking at artwork, create a Pinterest account and create a board named ‘I Want to Paint Like’. When you find a piece of artwork you would like to aspire to add it to the board. When you have about twenty images or more ask yourself what they all have in common – are they all portraits or landscapes or still life subjects? Are they oil paintings or watercolor? Are they collage or missed media, abstract or realism? Use this information to help you decide what direction you should be going in and your next steps.
Click HERE to see my ‘I Want to Paint Like’ album on Pinterest and discover new artists…
Last year my goals were all about big, bold flower paintings using acrylic paint.
Then in December 2018 I switched to oil paint and decided I wanted to try still life subjects on smaller canvases.
I can feel the shift. My output has slowed down and I find painting more stressful than relaxing. The learning curve is real. Suddenly my goals that were so clearly defined have become a big foggy mess. So I’ve decided to be kind to myself. I have two, possibly three painting workshops to attend for February and March. I’ll attend these and then reassess at the beginning of April. I’ll still paint when I feel it’s a joy rather than a chore, and in the meantime, I’m cleaning up my website. In the past whenever I work on my website my painting falls behind and vice-versa so this feels like a good time to switch gears.
How do you set your creative goals? Are they set in stone or are they open to change? Drop a comment below and let me know.
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