I’ve just spent the last month taking and teaching art classes, and it is surprising how often I see artists hampered by these bad painting habits.You may find yourself frustrated if you don’t kick these habits asap!
1. Leaving Your Brushes in Water or Solvent
This weakens the glue that holds brush bristles in the ferrule and damages the paint sealing the handle. Eventually the ferrule (the metal part holding your bristles) gets loose and wobbly. Working with brushes that are damaged is frustrating. When you rinse your brush, make it a habit to dry it and lay it down flat. Avoid storing the brush with the handle end down until the water or solvent is completely dried.
2. Thinning your paint too much
Watercolor artists are notorious for using very thin washes. I’ve observed many artists having a difficult time mixing a dark enough paint because they rinse between colors, adding water each time. Watercolors tend to dry lighter than they appear when wet. Your work will look freshest if you apply your washes at the proper value on the first pass.
3. Working constantly at close range
I, myself, am guilty of this one! We tend to get so absorbed in our painting that we forget to view it at different distances. Cultivate the habit of stepping back frequently. Giving yourself the perspective of your viewer is important. Work is rarely viewed at very close range.
4. Using your reference photo or drawing to make all your decisions
Part of the attraction of art is seeing how the artist uses their imagination. Translate your subject through your own design ‘filter’ to allow viewers a glimpse of your creativity.
5. Starting without a plan or value sketch
I often hear artists saying ‘I’m just playing’ when they talk about planning. Planning can also be playful… actually more playful than trying to make a painting work without a plan. Quick sketches are the sandbox of playfulness. Enjoy the process of trying out different ideas before you actually start painting. Sticking to a plan is easier if you jot down your ideas for dominance, color and values.
I hope these tips will keep frustration at bay for you! I find myself constantly reminded of them during my painting. Here are a few new images I’ve been working on recently. Do you have other suggestions of bad painting habits that need kicking? Let me know your thoughts.
August 12 – 18, 2018 – Creative Arts Community at Menucha, Corbett, Oregon: Painting with Digital Exploration:
Learn how digital painting can expand your creative process. Students will use the ProCreate app and and IPad to plan and alter works in progress. Learn to use this inexpensive app to try out ideas before you execute them in paint. A few spots remain: Click here to register
September 24-28, 2018 –ISEA Exhibition and Workshop, Newport, Oregon
See why Cold Wax Medium has captured the fancy of many contemporary artists. Join me for a hands on, interactive workshop that meets you where you stand on the journey of discovery in this sensuous medium.
I’ve found Oil and Cold Wax to be workable, flexible and consistently attractive to students and collectors alike. Unfortunately, I don’t offer many workshops in Wax, simply because of the space and infrastructure required.
What’s involved? We begin by preparing our painting surfaces and talking about subject matter. Even with abstraction, I find it very helpful to have an idea, emotion, or subject for each work of art. Painting in Oil & Wax involves the application of many layers of paint, with drying time between each. We’ll work on several different surfaces each day in order to keep muddiness at a minimum. You’ll learn different application techniques and see how they apply to design elements and principles.
A Small Group Setting
Class size is limited to make sure you receive personal attention and individual help in a safe and supportive environment. There are many advantages of learning in a small group atmosphere like this. You’ll not only learn from the lessons presented, but also from observing the progress and questions posed by fellow students. This dynamic ebb and flow of information is one of my favorite things about teaching workshops. I also love the immersion that happens in this concentrated 3 day session. No distractions – just time to focus on art.
You’ll have a chance to slow down, focus and connect with your inner creativity. I find that in these workshops, the enthusiasm in contagious. Watching the demonstrations and seeing how each person interprets them gives each student a deeper appreciation for the creative process. Not only that, but it allows students to free their minds of stress and worry and focus on their own personal expression.
Here are a couple of comments from recent students:
“Thanks for the great workshop today. You created a lot of motivation for our members to stay and paint. GOOD JOB!!!”
“We all had a wonderful experience! Thank you!”
Last Friday I spent the day with an experienced group of painters, the Buffalo Grass Watercolor group. Here are a few photos of my demonstration in progress. As you can tell, I was in a ‘purple’ mood!
Need more inspiration to join us? How about this quote by Mary Oliver:
“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” – Mary Oliver
I know I’m so glad that I decided to study art and become a life-long learner.
If you’re in the Salem area, you can catch a free lecture on CCTV channel 21 – I presented this lecture on Abstraction to the Institute of Continued Learning at Willamette University on February 3. It will air 2/14 at 12 pm, 2/16 at 8 pm, 2/19 at 8 am, and 2/22 at 2:30 pm.
Call to Artists:
I’ll be jurying the Spring 2018 Show of the Society of Washington Artists. Watercolor, Oil, Acrylic, Pastel and small 3-D subjects accepted. Click here for entry information.
Yesterday was “Groundhog Day” in the United States, and those who are enduring a long harsh winter may be wanting to get a jump on Spring. There’s not a finer way to do that than to experiment with an Abstracted Floral!
My painting above “Wild Daffodil” was inspired by fields of daffodils that dot the countryside in Oregon. You can see where abandoned home sites were by scanning the beautiful green fields for waves of bright yellow, naturalized daffodils. The cheerful yellow always seems at odds with the fact that a home once stood there and now is gone.
I love the flowers that come from the fields – they are often tattered by weather, and many have grown away from their cultivated lineage to be wild, multi-petaled and blowzy. This painting would brighten up a bedroom, office, library, dining or living room. I love the drama that the dark background adds.
I used an app called IArtView to show how this work would look in a couple of different settings. A wonderful feature is you can also upload a photo of your wall and visualize how it would look in your home! Try it out!
Inspiration for Abstract Floral Paintings
If you’re looking for other floral inspiration, check out my Pinterest board. You’ll find interesting abstractions by some of the following 6 talented artists:
Jimmy Wright: This artist emphasizes the fluidity and motion of petals, and comes up with some pretty unusual and subtle color emphasis too.
Winifred Nicholson: I love the unified color in this simplified still life. You can almost smell the lily of the valley.
Jake Muirhead: Converting a colorful Iris to black and white, Jake also adds drama and personality using line and simplifying the setting.
Scott Conary: Scott’s textural paint application and emphasis on pure vs. subdued color make me want to touch his work. They also touch me!
Ophelia Pang uses bold and repeated shapes to create entertaining and playful abstractions.
When I teach repeat students, I’m often asked if I’m saying all new things from previous workshops. Often I’m repeating something that I’ve said earlier, but the student did not internalize the information. It’s always surprising how we don’t hear advice until we are ready to implement it. We often don’t even take our own advice! I think this proves the value of repeating classes or workshops. As we grow in our artwork, we become more ready to absorb information or put it into practice.
“Listening is a positive act: you have to put yourself out to do it.”
I filmed a time-lapse of my process for “Summerfall.” I didn’t talk during the filming. My inspiration for the painting was the farming term Summerfall. It means to plant in late spring in preparation for a late fall harvest. Planting this way is unusual and farmers sometimes resort to it because a fall planting failed. As I worked, I thought about colors for summer like blues & violets and colors for fall like reds and golds. If you’re receiving this post via email, click over to the website to view the video here!
The early parts of the video show the painting with the top on the right, to better fit the video format. I tried to lay in the layers in a sort of x-shaped movement, falling from the high horizon line. You can see this in the earlier parts of the video best. As sometimes happens, I felt that mid-way through the process my values got a bit too dark. My solution in this case was to add metallic silver and opaque blue and yellows to lighten up areas of the work.
My repeated Mantra
One thing students who are listening hear me say over and over is to paint your own personal experience. I must say this multiple times in each workshop. It’s always amazing to me how much inspiration I can still find in this series about my rural upbringing and the farm.
I hope you’ll enjoy watching this peek into my process. There was so much idle time toward the end stages of the process while I agonized over what to do. Those finishing touches require so much courage and contemplation that I don’t think I could do them while worrying about a camera!
In other news, I’m preparing for upcoming workshops. My good friend, Ruth Ellen Hoag, will be here teaching at the beginning of February. I always enjoy painting with her and learning how her mind works! After that, we are expecting new lambs here on the farm. Then I’m headed south to Santa Barbara to study with Skip Lawrence and to teach a workshop of my own. It’s going to be a busy spring when you throw in all the shows I’m doing… I hope you can join me!
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As procrastinators go, I would rate my ability to ‘do it later’ as above average. That doesn’t mean that I don’t aspire to become a better procrastinator. This trait is vital to my success as an artist. You may be wondering: ‘Is she serious?!’
Yes! Let me explain. Artists must wear many ‘hats’ to sustain their small business. Marketing, networking, framing, presentation, book-keeping, graphic design, reproductions, and (in my case) teaching. I forgot to mention one other very important thing: making the art! It is easy to lose sight of the importance of regular studio time when faced with that long list of business oriented work. Add in household duties or a small farm, as I do, and you have many choices for how to spend the few productive hours in a day.
One way that I cope is to joke with myself about being a ‘good procrastinator.’ I’ve even set goals to become better at procrastination. I’m not talking about wasting my time… I’m just choosing to put off things that can wait till less productive hours. For example, I can do laundry in the evening when my brain is fried. Or I might postpone writing a blog post until I’ve finished new work. Another great way to procrastinate is to put off running errands until you can consolidate several into one trip. This is especially beneficial for those of us who live far from a Metro area.
In all seriousness, I like to enter my studio with the goal of just fooling around for a little while. Giving myself strict productivity goals often seems to backfire. Forcing productivity turns off the part of my brain that just wants to play with color. Being responsible is not for day-dreamers like me. (At least not while I’m in the studio.) I love Mary Oliver’s take on the Artist’s Task – part of the collection of essays in Upstream. Read her view on solitude and responsibility here. Un-interrupted by my more responsible self, I’m free to chase ideas to my heart’s content.
I’m not good enough at procrastination to go full blown ‘Instant Gratification Monkey’ like Tim Urban. If you haven’t seen his TED talk, do yourself a favor and hop on over to take a listen. This is the self-defeating phenomenon described in Steven Pressfield’s War of Art – when someone is resisting doing the difficult thing. Ultimately I’m trying to fool myself out of ‘resistance.’ If I can trick my mind into feeling like I’m playing hooky from important jobs, then the artwork becomes the instant gratification!
Are You Procrastinators?
When do you procrastinate? Does it help you or hurt you? How? I’m fascinated by how each of us self-manage. If I were a negative person, I’d be beating myself up right now. I’ve started 6 blog posts today, and finished only one of them. However, I choose to look at the glass as half-full. I have the start of 6 fabulous essays ready to be fleshed out. I’m excited to add to the ideas that came up while I wrote this post.
I’ve put off the real reason for this post long enough! I’ve been in the studio and here is the latest and greatest. This new abstraction was inspired by a memory of chasing the cows when I was a kid. Our fences on the farm were more like suggestions. The cows frequently escaped their pasture and wandered around. This summer day, it was my designated job to get them back into the pasture. We had seen the herd near a slough in the center of a large field – probably 200 acres. Normally I’d do this job on foot, but I was getting older and smarter, so I took my horse! I was about 11 years old, and riding bareback.
As I approached the slough, the scent of wild mint wafted through the warm air and I felt happy. Suddenly, the neighbor’s giant Polled Hereford bull ambled out of the thicket of brush and lily pads. Fear and panic surged through me as I quickly decided that even on horseback I didn’t want to tangle with this creature. I did not hesitate: I escaped with my horse and called for reinforcements.
Trying to paint this memory, I knew that I wanted the peaceful and fragrant greens, contrasted by the sinister blacks and bolts of red fear. I tried to channel both the peace and the fear – thinking about a poem by Jane Hirshfield titled “Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World.”
Give it a read, then let me know your thoughts about the poem, the painting or procrastination. I hope your New Year’s resolution involves hanging out with procrastinators like me! Finally, don’t wait: tomorrow is the final day to enter my giveaway! Click here to enter: http://rutharmitage.com/solstice-giveaway/
Praise and success are a tricky thing for the artist. While everyone wants to be successful and praise is seductive, the nature of art is so subjective that there are many definitions of success. During the creative process, we run the risk of becoming perfectionistic if we allow thoughts of success to overpower the idea at hand. We all know that perfectionism is fear, and bold creations cannot thrive in an atmosphere of fear.
“We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
I have been re-reading “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. I find it difficult to maintain a regular studio routine during the holidays. Well, let’s be honest here. I always find it hard to maintain a regular studio routine. That’s what the book is about. I’ve been trying to balance making time for artwork with preparing for the Christmas holidays. At times like this I’m thankful to have a dedicated studio space where I can retreat, even for short periods.
Another reason that praise or success can be a fickle mistress is that it breeds pride. Pride is different than self-confidence. Hubris, or pride, is the most serious of the 7 Deadly Sins. I’m not talking about feeling the humble joy of success. Hubris is more about egoism, or undeserved self-aggrandizment. I have seen many artists hamper their own creative growth because of pride. Pride demands that we ‘save face’ and avoid failure. The creative process demands that we risk failure to grow and change.
“Success leads to the greatest failure, which is pride. Failure leads to the greatest success, which is humility and learning.” – David Brooks, The Road to Character
Artists must always monitor the evaluation of their own work. One must be unflinchingly honest – we have to maintain a healthy amount of self-esteem to even attempt self-expression. But we must avoid hubris or false pride in order to maintain humility and openess to the creative process.
Avoiding Seduction – Keeping it in perspective
Everyone loves to hear that their work touched someone. Sales tell me that someone loved my work enough to live with it. I also receive positive feedback from social media and from juried shows. But by the same token, I know that I need to remember:
Ratindra Das has accepted “Jump” for the 9th Annual Signature American Watermedia Exhibition in Fallbrook, CA. I’m honored to be in great company. Artists must be a signature member of a Watercolor Society or Group to enter this show. So, the competition is tougher to get in. Standards for achieving signature membership vary. Generally it means your work has been accepted into more than one exhibition or has passed a review board.
The show will run February 4 – April 15, 2018
Open Daily February 4 through April 15, 2018 | Mon – Sat 10 am – 4 pm | Sun Noon – 3 pm
The Janice Griffiths Gallery @ The Fallbrook Art Center
103 S. Main Ave, Fallbrook, CA 92028