Monday, April 21, 2014

Finding your style

 Study for a boat painting

 How do I find my style? Its a question that I get asked by artists starting their journey and my answer is " You don't. It finds you."

A style is something that makes your work recognizable as you. It can be a subject, a medium, a palette choice or technique of applying paint to a surface.  Whatever it is, it becomes associated with you - your style of working in art.

Development of a style comes over time.  Initially there is a lot of experimentation with technique and materials and subject matter until you find yourself doing the same thing over and over.  The repetition shows how something pulls your interest and never leaves.  You spend your time expanding your knowledge of the subject and honing your ability with a technique and realizing that is now your comfort zone.  It becomes almost like a comfortable chair.  You sink into it, knowing the contours, creating colours is intuitive and you could draw/paint it in your sleep.

But it does take time.  And experimentation.  And hard work.   Style  doesn't come easily or instantly usually.  As artists evolve over their lifetimes, style will change and adapt, and the artist may explore other aspects of a subject or medium, testing its limits through abstraction to realism or vice versa or toss the brush and reach for the knife instead.   

If you lined up all the work you have produced, what would be a common element in them?  Colour, subject, or technique?  You should see a thread connecting them all, even if it is just a glimmer.  Continuing to build on that thread by constant painting and drawing constantly. 

Step outside the box of safety and really paint using instinct as well as theory.  See what is there or invent it. Choose your own colours, not what you see in front of you.  Become an artist, not a copyist.

Be prepared to fail.  Not every painting will be good.  A lot will be horribly bad.  That is a good thing.  Its how we learn.  Keep painting.

Your style will find you.  Paint your path and meet it half way.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hidden secrets

6" x 8" original drypoint etching

Most artists have a variety of tools that help them ply their trade.  There is always something new to tempt either in the art supply store or online and the temptation shouts loudly, doesn't it?  I'm guilty I know.  I accumulate 'stuff'.  I have paper and paint and more paint and tools that I know I'll rarely or never use.  Now, to defend myself, most of the obscure tools are relics from my distant art past.  (I even have some original tubes of dried out paint from the first set that I ever bought.  I'm a sentimentalist, or so I tell myself, otherwise why would I have carted them across an ocean and kept them for 30+ years when they are no earthly use to anyone?)  

Experimentation in early days of artmaking is common and encouraged until a style emerges and a medium is adopted as a preference.  For me, its water, boats and fish, with oils as the medium of choice.  But when I need a break or the muse takes a vacation, I dabble in other mediums and am glad that I haven't banished them from my studio entirely.

Still inbetween paintings, I'm playing with etchings and decided to invest in some new etching styluses.  Of course I had to add some new inks, papers and acrylic plates to the order - to get the free shipping of course...  I have inks, I have papers.  I am weak where art supplies tempt.

 Etching Supplies

However, the tools do make a difference to the final product.  They don't have to be expensive, branded tools, but they should demand a sufficient enough investment that you know you have quality and that they will do the job you ask of them.  Buying a tool, whether paint, paper, ink or brush because another artist uses it will not magically provide you with the capability of that artist.  You will simply have another tool in your studio that may or may not be useful to you.  

 Dry Pigment

I am clearing the studio and finding things that I am putting to one side.  These are tools that I thought were vital or interesting but now I know they were more likely a random purchase and if they have not been used, they are of little use to me. know how difficult it is to let them go. There is always the 'I might use them to make...." syndrome.

What are your hidden secrets in the studio?  What have you bought but never used?  Maybe we all need a swap meet and simply go home with a new range of tools that we may or may not use.

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!