Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Not All Palettte Knives Are Equal

Palette knives are great for mixing paint. I made one painting using only palette knives. As a newbie what surprised me is that they are not all the same. I use metal palette knives. Some are springy and too soft and too bendable and others are so stiff that they might as well be a thick butter knife, which to me is not good. Then there is the size and width which varies.

These are the type of little things that you must learn by experience. What you need for your own usage and style of painting will vary from what others prefer so hearing the opinions of others sometimes do not help.

If you jump into learning to paint you will learn lots of things by hands on experience that can never be prepared for and decided upon by thinking before doing. I understand the desire to save money and buy only the exact right supplies before you begin but that desire is just not possible for some art supplies. As you use things that do not work or are inferior quality it gets to a point when you just decide that a poorly working tool is too big a hindrance or a hassle, and the investment in a new better thing is truly worth it. Even when we are talking about a $3 palette knife, because art supplies start to add up!

I use a few at a time for paint mixing to allow each to remain dirty with paint, one for each major color scheme being used (blues, greens, grays or whatever I am focusing on at the time). I also use one designated for scooping out my acrylic gel medium.

P.S. I find packs of wooden handled metal bladed palette knives at discount at Tuesday Morning sometimes. If you have a chance to touch them in person in a fine art store I recommend that, after you know what it is you like and dislike.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Aerial Perspective / Atmospheric Perspective

One of the things I learned in my college Drawing II class and again in more depth in my Painting I college class is about aerial or atmospheric perspective. To be honest I never knew about it before although it's the way the human eye sees the world and I love it in photography and in drawings and paintings. I just didn't know its name or that it's a necessary art technique to use if you want your landscape to look realistic and right to the eye and mind.

There are two main components to aerial / atmospheric perspective: that the distant most part of a landscape has more blurry edges and is not as crisp as things in the foreground or middle ground and that in color works the color of the farthest away things is more gray or blue, cooler tones and not at all the same bright colors as the things in the foreground or middle ground. So a pine tree up close has bright green needles but the same variety of pine tree far away would be a different shade of green, more dull and grayish or bluish.

I was told that to not use atmospheric perspective is an amateur or newbie mistake and it reads so wrong to the eye and mind that it screams "bad art". I had never thought of it before but now when I see it I think to myself, "No! That is so wrong looking!"

I am so new to painting, having only done one landscape in trying to teach myself to do watercolor about five years ago. I am a newbie and am looking forward  to learning how to choose correct colors and to make the farthest away things not crisp and sharp so it looks as we see a real life landscape with our own eyes.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Process vs. Product, Why Make Art (and Thoughts on Crafts)

For my whole life I have been a process based maker. I knew it inside and that is why when I homeschooled my kids I was quite different than how other parents and teachers approached art making with children. I thought my way was normal and right but apparently I am / was the minority.  As I attempted to do group activities with other homeschoolers or neighbors I saw product not process. I also hated coloring books and never bought them for my little kids. Instead we used plain paper to draw and paint on. 

Then my oldest was a toddler I attended a lecture at a parenting conference by an artist, Susan Striker, who encouraged parents to expose their children to art making (not crafts) and she emphasized process not product. I completely agreed but wanted more info so I bought her two books and read them. They are ideas and her philosophy written for parents and teachers. She also had a line of anti-coloring books on the market which encouraged kids to use their imagination by asking open ended questions and having them draw out their answers. I did buy those but my kids wanted no part of them.

The reason to emphasize process not product with little kids is that the goal is to grow their creativity and to have fun with the process because they are too young to learn all the formal art rules that create works that look a certain way and attempts to copy to try those methods will yield ugly results that the child will hate sometimes, then they will turn on themselves, feel poor self-esteem and be discouraged from further experimentation and play with art making. Also the young child's poor gross and fine motor skills interfere with their brain and hands doing what it needs to do for some art making plans recesses. However knitting does help a child's brain prepare for learning to read, as does large body cross movements across the lateral plane, whether that is painting across large canvases, drawing on a big blackboard or using the monkey bars at a playground. 

When you want to have a certain product you need to know the steps to get there (but preschoolers and little kids are usually not developmentally ready for that). If you want a sweater that fits you must know how to get the right gauge by correct yarn selection and consistent knitting tension to match your knitting pattern or you will wind up with something that's too small, too big, too long, or wonky being all of the former mixed into one garment. If you want to paint a landscape of a sunset and have it look like the actual fantastic sunset you must use good paint and know how to mix it just right then how to apply the paints with different strokes and the brush you choose matters.

Ideas and Message Communication

In the adult world of art making there are three fields. 

One is to create a visual representation to convey a message someone else thought up, think of a children's picture book where an author wrote the words and the publisher needs the illustrations, in America we call that person an illustrator. Think of the Magic trading card game where game creators think up new characters and they need an illustration on the card, so an oil painter is hired to paint a dragon in a fantasy setting. 

The second field is graphic design where a company is selling something or marketing a product or service and they need everything from the company's name written in a font, color, and size that appeals or conveys a message, or they need a logo or an advertisement created. Packaging is also the realm of the graphic designer sometimes. The graphic designer doesn't invent the original product or company, they are hired to create marketing and promotional materials. 

The third field is what we call the fine arts. In my layperson's eye this means the artist is the one who conceived the idea and who carried out the process to make it. They are in full control and are working for themselves. The question becomes why are they making art? Presently it is considered in the art world to be most pure if an artist is making art to share a message or idea. A writer may write an essay and publish it on a blog or do freelance to rant on their hatred of rape but the artist uses primarily visual tools (not words on paper or on the computer screen) to convey emotion, thoughts and messages they want the viewer to learn, be exposed to, or influenced by. Sometimes the driving desire is to promote or lash out at an issue or a main goal of influencing others while at other times the artist is using art making to work out their own thoughts or emotions and the fact that someone else will see it is secondary or maybe not even cared about. 

There are artists whose goal is commercial sales and money making. Their original idea may have been to make something for fun or some other purpose and then it may change into something that is reproduced on a grand scale. I guess also comic strip artists fall into this category, I'm not sure. A comic may start as a way to share a message, silly, funny or serious but if hired for regular production  it starts to be about meeting a deadline and forcing creative content to be thoughtful for a deadline. 


Crafts of the type that uses a kit or specific detailed set of directions are about product making and the strictest types have little room for customization or freedom of choice. I was going to say these are very constricting and terrible as that is my personal opinion and experience with them but then I thought of my second child. After having a firstborn that was gleeful in making art and anything that was maker-generated with freedom of choice my second was the opposite. By the time he was in elementary school he firmly preferred a perfect final product which he seldom could make at age 5-7 and he wanted to be told directions. To him following directions strictly was rewarding. He wanted acceptance by the authority figure and he wanted to feel competent by feeling he could do a thing that was expected of him. It boosted his self-esteem to know he did a thing well and correctly. This is the opposite of my older son and I who never thought of the other people when creating. We had fun playing and experimenting with the materials. We wanted options and choices. We worked with spontaneity and the constant choice to change one's mind gave us freedom. We rebelled against sets of directions or the person who was dictating to us to do this then that then this then that just so. We wanted to improvise. 

To me when wanting a final product to be a certain way that is designed and conceived by another person, it is usually a craft. You can do the steps without feeling any emotion about it, there is no message or idea being communicated. There is usually no personalization. But if you change things with your own techniques or ideas or content then it transforms it into art and it stops being a craft. 


To put it simply to me art is when an individual creates something out of an idea or with a desire to share an emotion or message. The extent to which the viewer may understand or perceive the intended message cannot be always guaranteed as people have their own minds and opinions, ideas and perceptions. Even if an artist intends that their work should be interpreted or understood in a certain manner the viewer may reach a different impression or may miss the message entirely. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Believable vs. Unbelievable Landscapes in Art

Something to consider when making landscapes and other realistic art: it has to be believable.

Today I saw a photo of a sunrise along the shore, over Long Island Sound in my hometown. I have never seen anything like that in real life. This amateur photographer has a history of using Photoshop and filters. I immediately wondered if it was altered. The colors of the autumn grasses and other clues led me to believe indeed it was probably unaltered. It was just a crazy spectacular sky with outrageous rare colors. My next thought was if this was painted to record the wow factor the viewer may reject it as being unnatural and therefore unappealing.

This is like reading fiction when the story is too bizarre so we reject it and hate it. Or a movie. Yet sometimes in real life there are crazy stories that hit the news or celebrities or politicians so things in real life that are so over the top we are stunned and say, "Real life is stranger than fiction". But real life can get away with it and human-created art cannot get away with it.

In a landscape when considering the real scene sometimes also we have to edit out or move a thing here or there so that the work is more appealing. If being extremely true to life is the goal then the scene should just be photographed not painted or drawn.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Basic Acrylic Painting Steps

This is what I have learned about the basic steps of acrylic painting.

1. Select your stretched canvas. If prepared in the factory it is ready for use. If homemade, you must gesso the canvas cloth first.

2. Blend white paint with a neutral color to make a lightly tinted color. Paint this over the entire canvas as a base layer wash. You can add water to this to make the wash. The goal is to cover all that white up.

3. Plan your painting with thumbnail sketches for composition.

4. Make some studies on smaller canvases where you work out details like how to paint that bark on the tree or whatever it is you are painting. You want to work through some challenges on small canvasses where the stakes are lower when you fail. You are NOT doing test runs on on the big canvas.

5. Take a pencil or a light gray paint with a fine tipped brush, and sketch crudely on the canvas, the major things.

6. Block in the colors. This is like filling in a coloring book. If you sky will be blue paint it a light or medium blue. If your tree will be green, use green in that area. Paint the background into the objects as the back layer. There should be no white on the canvas now.

7. Paint in the objects starting at the back, the farthest away objects. Start with darkest values. Paint the lighter values on top. Even if you use retarder in your acrylic paint you need to learn your drying time. Do not mess with the paint layer once a skin starts to form or you will get balls and clumps of paint and medium kind of like lint blobs on clothing (but the acrylic  cannot be removed). Work an area until it starts to dry then move on to something else.

8. Work the entire painting. Move around the canvas doing some of everything. It is like a cycle. In a landscape you could do sky, trees, ground. Then the next pass after that layer dries is sky, trees, grass. The painting goes from base blocks of color to very detailed in the end, if detailed is your painting style and intention. You don't make final finished grasses when your sky is one flat blue swath. You move around in stages all over the canvas.

One reason for this is if you mess up a placement and need to correct something you won't want to widen the tree trunk if your grass on the ground next to it was 100% complete and perfect. You will have lost time as you have to redo even more, and you will be upset at losing work you felt was finished.

9. If using a glazing technique like I do, you use the opacity of the blended paint to cover up or bring out colors you want to hide or see more of. This is a constant process throughout the painting process. I also add in solid layers of acrylic gel medium in between some layers to add to the glowing effect and I put a clear coat as the final coat too.