Sunday, April 13, 2014

Take five


Every day I sketch something - anything.  Drawing and sketching are the keys to keeping those hand/eye/brain skills sharp and I can't recommend it enough.  With  a laptop, tablet or smartphone there is no shortage of opportunities to capture and share sketches, no matter where you are, like this sketch I did on a plane, then captured on a webcam in my hotel room.

I had to travel to Ottawa this week for a few days on business. Travelling gives me a chance to study people in airports and on planes and see how many faces I can capture on a page before they move on.

No time?  For those who say they don't have time - you do have time, you just need to make the decision and grab it. Many of my sketches take five minutes or less.  This little sketch of the rabbit top on a sugar bowl took less time to draw than it took for my coffee pod to process.

  • Sketches are ideas, snapshots of a shape or movement, not finished drawings.  Let them be rough, show the construction lines and rethinking that goes on.
  • If you spend hours on a sketch, its not a sketch.  Don't try to make it perfect.
  • Sketches are usually from an object in front of you, not a photograph.  Drawing from life lets you see shapes and values more accurately and gives you a wide range of opportunities to capture subjects that you never would be able to otherwise.
  • When drawing people be aware that they move all the time.  That's ok, they'll always go back to a similar pose and you can start where you left off.  Simply start on another person while you wait.
  • You can sketch with any marking tool.  Pencil, pen, crayon, twig, whatever you like- and on any support.  Some of my best sketches are on the back of envelopes or brown wrapping paper scraps.
  • If you sketch daily, I can guarantee that your drawing skills will improve immensely.  As drawing is the backbone of all art, its a skill that is essential for all artists.
  • Look carefully, focus on negative shapes and values.  Fill in the broadest shapes and values then work on detail.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Fraternal twins

4.75" etching on Stonehenge paper

I'm still on my little etching path and reusing disc protectors as etching plates.  As a result, a fish is born.  Well, two, to be precise, and likely more.

I was looking at the acrylic protector and thinking how could I incorporate the central hole into the etching, then of course! The pupil of an eye.  I scratched the image into the disc with a little etching needle.  I torn some Stonehenge paper into 6 x 8 sheets, sprayed then and put them into a ziplock plastic bag to sit overnight and become pliable and plump.  The next morning I coated the plate with Caligo oil based ink in Carbon Black (I love how intense and matte this ink is) then ran a print under the press.  The first print was great (but a couple of tiny flecks of ink on the surface); the second print ok and the third a bit blurred as the paper was too damp.

4.75" original etching on stonehenge

With the second print, I added watercolour washes to it and like the effect as I can see the lines clearly through the pigment.  Put next to each other they look like fraternal twins.  Alike but different.

I'll be printing more of this image as long as the plate holds up.  With acrylic plates the lines compress and burrs become less distinct as the run proceeds, so most are limited editions due to the more fragile nature of the plate.

I've ordered some acrylic plates and etching needles as well as some more printmaking papers to try.  I'm familiar with a lot, but there are always new ones coming out and its good to keep testing and see what may become a new favourite.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Etching in the round

 Double Dipping

A late snowstorm shut down most things today and provided me with a snow day. Hopefully the last til next winter.  I can't begin to tell you how tired I am of winter, its been relentless this year.

So having a day to be in studio was a bonus.  I am in between paintings, so was clearing up, writing content for an upcoming online drawing workshop and uncovered some blank acrylic cd protectors.  These are the clear acrylic sheets, the same size and shape as the cd which protect the top of a stack of blank cds that come on a spool, if that makes sense.  As I use a fair number of cds at work there were a handful kicking around so I grabbed them, thinking I could do something with them.

Using an etching stylus, I scratched an image of a boy fishing for capelin with dip nets taken last summer at the beach.  Of course the central hole and circular ridge are present, but that adds to the uniqueness of the etching.

I used Caligo etching ink in Carbon Black to cover the plate, removed the excess, then hunted around for a few pieces of paper to test print.  The first I grabbed was an Unryu Japanese paper known as “cloud-dragon” This paper istranslucent with long kōzo fibers embedded in it.  I sprayed it lightly with water then sandwiched the disc, paper and padding and put it through my bottlejack press.  The image above is the result.

I did a couple more which were not as clear and may be because the paper wasn't as damp, but I will keep them and add some colour to them and see how well that works.  The etching burrs on drypoint tend to degrade with excess prints and don't hold as much ink, so the number of prints will be limited.

There are any number of options for etchings using these disc protectors that likely would just be thrown out or recycled in other ways.  Watch for more circular etching ideas using these in the future.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The End of Summer

 16" x 40"
oil on gallery canvas

I've completed the second salted cod painting.  I enjoy exploring the multitude of colours which appear in the flesh of the fish as it dries. Going from soft pastels to glowing golds or greys and blues to rich siennas, they never fail to fascinate.

And while dried fish takes a backseat in most food cupboards these days, salt cod seems to stay, at least in Newfoundland. Tradition and history die hard.

In communities dotted throughout the landscape, you'll find cod drying as it has done for hundreds of years on lines, on flakes, on anywhere that it can, to sustain and add to food sources during the winter.

If you'd like to try your hand at this centuries old tradition, here's how.

Friday, March 28, 2014

10 tips for funding applications

 Untitled -work in progress
16" x 40" oil on canvas

For artists who want to see an idea expand and are willing to put in the prep work, there are art grants available to assist on a variety of levels.  It take some research to find them and more research, careful planning and networking to bring a concept to a level where others may be willing to fund it.

I've discovered the following when considering applications for funding (and many apply to entering juried competitions as well)

  1. Have a unique concept.  Its quite amazing how much art is a repeat of something that's gone before.  Unless its a unique spin or technique on a subject, or an approach that explores a subject from a different angle,  its a difficult sell. Do your research on the organization you are considering applying to for funding.  Has a similar project been done?  Did it receive full funding?  Successfully funding projects are usually listed on the organizations' websites.  Take time to browse and see what's been previously funded.
  2. Plan the project in detail from the outline of the concept, to final details.  This walk through will reveal problem areas.  The general layout starts with an overview, which is a brief paragraph of what you will do, when and how.  A detailed explanation of what you will do, how you will do it, the time frame, the end result is next.  Finally a detailed budget should follow.  Depending on the organization, it may be simple, but should include a detailed breakdown of costs and a final total.
  3. Do budget research in real time.  Don't guess at prices.  Review and compare costs, including tax and shipping.  Get pricing from three companies for products or services that you will need.  You don't want to under or over estimate costs, it could affect the outcome of your project.
  4. Read the application instructions and follow them to the letter.  Obvious yes?  Often this is a slip up area, when vital documents are not included.  Make sure your checklist of included materials is there and in the quantities requested.  Ensure your art resume, biography and artist statement are up to date. If references are required, ask permission to use a person's name ahead of time so there are no surprises for them.
  5. Don't take the little things for granted.  Printing costs include ink, paper, photographs, copying fees,etc.  Its easy to think they won't take up a lot of time or supplies but they can mount up quickly, depending on the project.  Look at every aspect of your project and research the cost to you.
  6. Consider partnerships and networking in your proposal.  These are key words in today's business industry.  They expand reach, lessen costs and provide long lasting impact.  In many funding applications, they are an option that can tip the scale for your application.
  7.  Community involvement comes high on the list for gaining brownie points.  Consider how to share your work with the world.  Talk to a gallery to confirm an exhibition or set up one in another venue.  Run a workshop to teach a technique, give an artist talk.  Its all about sharing.
  8. Be professional.  If you are provided with funds, make sure you keep accurate records, images and written documentation to provide the granting agency with a report at the end of the project.  Being slow with reports, inaccurate accounting or the ultimate faux pas, not completing a project, will be a black mark for any future grants.
  9. Say thank you.  It sounds simple and obvious, but can be overlooked.  Give credit to funders on resources produced by your project, provide links on your website, blog, social media wherever possible.  Invite them to exhibitions, keep them informed.
  10. Give your proposal to someone else to read.  Have them proofread for errors and grammar and check budget figures for accuracy.  Ensure you know the deadline for applications and get your application in before that date.

Good luck!

Sunday, March 23, 2014


12 x 24 oil on canvas

I am longing for spring with some heat in the sun, a glimpse of green grass, crocuses popping up and people smiling more.  It has been a long, cold winter that doesn't want to relinquish its hold on the land.  Its snowing as I write this, yes March 23rd.  Snow.  Sigh.

The change of seasons with longer days, brighter light and hope for summer can affect how I paint to some degree.  I know with these grey skies interspersed with hints of spring have me creating paintings that reflect light, pastel colours and feeling of warmth in them.

Seasons don't usually affect how much time I spend in the studio.  If I have to produce, I have to produce, its like any job - you have to put in the hours to get the product out.  But the breaks and day trips are longer as the land grows again and crops need tending, chickens need feeding and eggs need gathering.
18 x 24  oil on canvas

Light fuels inspiration too.  While grey days produce beautiful light, sunlight glowing through a leaf is always breathtaking.  Sketching moves outside the confines of a car when outside.  In winter, its just too cold and uncomfortable to perch on a snowbank or frozen puddle and sketch no matter how inspiring the view, so its done from a car. Sketching in summer and spring gives a new lease on creativity and feels different.  There is a freedom there that only the seasonal light and warmth can  bring.

How does spring affect your painting rhythm?

Friday, March 21, 2014


 Three on Lace
9 x 12 oil on masonite

I'm in my ninth year of blogging.  I truly didn't think I would last two weeks,let alone pushing through the ninth year.  With statistics showing that many blogs dissolve into nothing within three months of inception, I must be long winded, obsessive or am going for a world record!

Its likely more of the first two that keep me typing to what seems like an empty box at times.  I originally started a blog to make myself accountable to produce art.  Its served that purpose and continues to be a niggling thought in the back of my head daily, whether I've posted here or not, that I must work on art and I must share my thoughts about it.  Whether there is audience or not is irrelevant.  Yes, of course, its good to have feedback, although I'm not a statistic hound and my blog has become similar to a personal art diary, with benefits of interaction with others from time to time.

There are other bloggers of similar vintage who produce wonderful work and words of wisdom.  Perhaps the long lasting bloggers should start a club to compare notes about blog aging. Blogging content and frequency has reduced over the last few years with the presence of social media and its effortless (or nearly) one button or 141 character method of expression.  While social media are very effective, I believe that blogging continues to be a draw for those people wanting to know the underpinnings and thoughts behind a comment or image.  Its rather like books, they'll never disappear even if electronic form and become the place where information and imagination reside.

Will I continue past the nine years and into ten?  Likely so.  If I've gone this far and still have something to say and someone takes something from it, its been a useful exercise.  Looking back over time there have been some popular posts and its interesting to look at them and remember the process, the event, the good and the bad.  Have a look at some of the popular posts in the list on the right side.  Is your favourite there?

Thanks for coming along for the ride, I hope you'll stay for the rest of the journey.  I like having your company.

PS  The painting above is a demo painting from a recent workshop I gave in palette knife painting.  Those who know me know that I find pears a bit boring as they are such a constant subject in paintings.  However, the simple shapes and composition makes them good for beginners to tackle.