Breath of Spring: New Work and a Drawing Exercise

Breath of Spring: New Work and a Drawing Exercise

My new painting, Breath of Spring, began as an experiment with line in my workshop at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. One can’t help being influenced by the landscape there. However, in keeping with my series, this work was inspired by memories of the landscape on the farm. Spring breezes always brought out scents of the season…. Mud, blossoms, fresh grass and a chilly breeze are things that I thought of as I worked on this painting.

Breath of Spring, Acrylic on Paper 15"x22" ©Ruth Armitage

Breath of Spring, Acrylic on Paper 15″x22″ ©Ruth Armitage SOLD

The gold colors of the background remind me of bare winter branches covered with lichen and moss. Linear elements refer to tree branches and wetlands.

A New Discovery

One of the things I love about teaching is that because I am not trying to make a finished painting, I often take more risks than I would normally take. In this particular painting, I had borrowed a ‘coke bottle’ pen from fellow instructor Rebecca Wild and I tried using it with sumi ink. That wild experiment was so chaotic that I used a brayer to roll the light gold color over most of it, allowing only hints of it to peek through. The resulting texture was so attractive to me. Another discovery occurred during one of the line exercises I set in class. The small, staccato-like white marks grew out of that exercise.

Give it a Try

If you enjoy painting, you might like to try the same exercise.

  • Assemble as many mark-making tools as you can find: brushes, pens, pencils, sticks, pastels, crayons, graphite, charcoal, black and white paint, etc.
  • Begin by making marks that vary from thick to thin.
  • Experiment with clustering the lines together, and then letting a few stand alone.
  • Vary the direction of your lines.
  • Use some broken lines and some continuous.
  • Try for a wide variety.
  • As you work, you might consider veiling or obliterating some of the lines that stand out too much.
  • Restate some of the lines with a different media.
  • Change medias frequently.
  • Listen to music as you make lines inspired by the rhythm.
  • Make lines that imitate letter forms, but are not legible.
  • Use your non-dominant hand to draw several lines.
  • Make a few lines to convey anger, calm, confusion, movement, etc.
  • After about 15 minutes of work, step back.
  • Decide which lines felt most comfortable to you, and which ones are new to your vocabulary.

This exercise is adapted from Steven Aimone’s Book “Expressive Drawing.” I seem to have misplaced my copy 🙁 If you have seen it, please let me know!

Finally, last call to submit images for the reader’s gallery! I appreciate your time and readership. 

Missing in Action! Reward for its return!

Art Isn’t Paint; It’s Love

Art Isn’t Paint; It’s Love

Art Isn't Paint

Art Isn’t Paint

Teaching students what art IS often involves me teaching them what Art Isn’t. One of the reasons I share my process through demonstrations is to make it clear that my decision making process is driven by the ideas behind the art. Students start to see that I’m not thinking about what the right way to express something might be. Instead, I’m considering how I feel about the paint and the story behind the art.

I love this quote by artist Phillip Hicken. Perhaps he and I think along the same lines because we both might be considered colorists. Phillip Hicken (1910-1985) was a painter and printmaker from Nantucket. He worked as a printmaker in Boston and for the WPA. His work shows subtle color nuances inspired by the Nantucket area. You can see several examples of his prints and paintings on my Pinterest Board on Color.

Although I had a clear idea for the painting below, I’m trying to decide on the best title. I’m considering both “Where There’s Smoke” and “Conflagration.” Please leave a comment below to vote for your favorite title!

One of my jobs in summer on the farm was to ride on the tailgate of the pickup holding a lighter. I used a drip torch of diesel fuel, lighting the dried straw as the field was burned to rid it of pests, diseases and straw. It was a dangerous but thrilling job, and I’ve tried to express the chaos and movement that I witnessed as the flames raced toward each other in the center of the field.

There were also accidental fires in the fields, which were even more frightening. Having been this close to the power of fire that is out of control, I have been a keen and somber witness to the London conflagration this past week. I cannot imagine the agony that those who died there endured. It is even more dismaying considering the economic status of the victims. We can only pray for change as a result of the tragedy. I rarely get on a ‘soapbox’ here, but it is not a coincidence that fire has been on my mind in the studio.

Reader Appreciation Gallery

Finally, don’t forget to send me images of your work or work you’ve collected for the reader appreciation gallery coming toward the end of this month. Email images to: Artist Ruth5405 @ (gmail.com) – removing spaces and parenthesis. I’m excited to see work by many artists and friends. Your comments and responses keep me engaged in this forum and I appreciate you!

Portland Open Studios: Save the Date!

The Portland Open Studios board has been hard at work and Guides are available now! New this year is a section about artists who teach – a great resource. Mark your calendar now for two consecutive weekends: October 14-15 and 21-22, 2017, 10-5 pm. I’m excited to participate again this year and hope you’ll stop by to see what’s new in the studio.

Conflagration Abstract Painting

“Conflagration” Acrylic on Paper, 30×22″ ©Ruth Armitage

Slow Growth

Slow Growth

"Slow Growth" Acrylic and Collage on Paper, 22x15" ©Ruth Armitage

“Slow Growth” Acrylic and Collage on Paper, 22×15″ ©Ruth Armitage

Though it may not seem like it to others, my work has been undergoing Slow Growth in the past year. This is a bit like seeing people’s kids once every six months and marveling at how they’ve changed. Only the parents know the infinitesimal daily changes that have added up to one big growth spurt. Because I pick and choose what to show on my website, one might think that these changes happen easily, or overnight. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I found myself mentioning to recent workshop students that one reason I teach is to force myself to become more comfortable with not KNOWING how a painting will turn out. I practice not KNOWING whether a decision is the correct one as I make it. Demonstrating for my classes forces me to pretend to be brave, and to make brave decisions. I have to stick to the plan as a good example for my ‘kids.’

About this painting

This piece grew out of a blind contour drawing that I used to create abstract shapes. Perhaps you can see the more geometric shapes near the bottom that were inspired by a building on the Sitka property. Maybe you can also see some of the foliage and limb shapes that move upward. This is not a realistic painting though, so it is ok with me if you don’t!

I rarely leave the white of the paper in my work, so this painting is unusual. I loved using some of the more spontaneous marks scratched into the wet paint, and the beautiful textures in some of the collage papers. Cutting out some of the strong black shapes from paper was more challenging, but I like the strength of those shapes in contrast to the more nebulous texture and color.

Sometimes I think we don’t even realize our own growth in art. We get wrapped up in the immediacy of the current work. It is difficult to see our current work in perspective. I think it is also difficult for students to see our work in perspective. They don’t often see the failures that led us to the point of a lesson, how we have struggled or where we’ve been influenced. As always, I appreciate those who add to the conversation by leaving a comment!

Send Me your Images

Don’t forget to send me your images of art you own or art you’ve made for the Reader’s Gallery blog celebration! I need them by June 25th please. Include your name, media, title and size. You can email them to me at ArtistRuth5405 (@) gmail (remove the parenthesis and spaces and add .com at the end.) You might even include a sentence about change and growth!

5 Keys For a Successful Art Business

5 Keys For a Successful Art Business

5-KEYS-SUCCESSFUL-ART-BUSINESS-PIN

Or – What I learned by shopping at Nordstrom

Gaining success in your art business without “selling out” requires common sense, organization and a willingness to think of others first. I often put myself in the shoes of my customer or collectors in order to figure out how best to reach them. My customers should feel like I do when I’m shopping at a classy store like Nordstrom. I want them to see all the wonderful things I have, I want them to feel important, I want to help them in any way I can, and I want to be friendly. This is a far cry from a street hawker who cries: “Buy my work, Buy my work!”

Here are 5 of my key business guidelines for artists:

  1. Don’t be shy: Even if you feel shy, project a confident demeanor. This doesn’t mean you have to be outgoing, but greet people with a smile, listen to them, ask questions. Talking about others can be a great way to divert attention away from yourself. Asking questions can break that awkward silence and let people know you’re truly interested in them.
  2. Let people know what you’re doing. Talk about your work; send newsletters; send postcards; maintain a website & blog. This isn’t pushy. People who know you want to know more about your professional life. Any personal insights you can share just help them to understand you and your work better.
  3. Get Out. Be sure to attend fellow artist’s events and classes. Bring friends. Maybe they will return the favor. Make friends beyond your artist circles. Join Gardening groups, book clubs, church groups, athletic teams, bridge groups, whatever you have a genuine interest in. Make sure people know you are a professional artist. Hand out postcards or business cards to people you meet. This is not because you want to sell them something, but because you want to maintain a connection.
  4. Pay attention to those who support you. Offer to help hang new purchases, photograph and publicize recent purchases, offer payment plans, keep in touch to make sure they are satisfied. Offer gifts during holiday seasons or birthdays for VIP’s. Share resources such as framers, galleries, decorators or any other professionals. Referrals are a true gift.
  5. Finally, put your best foot forward. Make sure your presentation and work are top notch. Don’t show everything you’ve ever made. Curate your show, making sure your prices are in sync with the market and your abilities. If anything, offer a price slightly below market value, but try not to undercut other artists. Let your clients know they have good taste and are receiving a good deal.

What’s New In the Studio?

I’ve spent the last week finishing a painting that began at the Clackamas Arts Alliance’s Art Extravaganza. The new work is Oil & Wax on Panel. I love working in oil, because it allows for lots of adjustments as I paint. This work is a case in point. It began with a landscape feeling, but became much more abstract as I worked on it. I’d love to hear your response! Leave me a comment, or start a dialogue on Facebook or Twitter.

"Not Very Deep" ©Ruth Armitage, 2017, Oil & Wax on Panel, 48"x36"

“Not Very Deep” ©Ruth Armitage, 2017, Oil & Wax on Panel, 48″x36″

Learn About The Artist’s Palette

Learn About The Artist’s Palette

Learn About the Artist’s Palette

"Summer Storm II" ©Ruth Armitage, Watercolor on Paper, 22x30"

“Summer Storm II” ©Ruth Armitage, Watercolor on Paper, 22×30″

Join me from 12-3pm on Saturday, February 25th, 2017 at the Portland Art Museum’s Rental Sales Gallery. You’ll have a chance to meet and visit with 4 artists: Chris Bibby, Chuck Bloom, Rachel Wolf and me.

You’ll also get to explore different wines by Chehalem Vineyards to excite your palate.

Two palettes or palates in one day! (*grins*)

I have decided to talk about my color palette… something that remains fairly consistent between the different mediums I work in: Oil, Watercolor and Acrylic. Each artists palette is as individual as a snowflake. I’ll discuss some of my favorite hues and how I use them.

One thing non-artists may not know is that in each medium, the relative properties of a pigment remain fairly consistent. For instance, Cadmium Red is an opaque (can’t see through it) pigment in watercolor, acrylic and in oil paint. Pigments can be classified as transparent, semi-transparent or opaque. They can also be synthetic or organic, staining or non-staining, pure or neutral… You’ll hear me throwing a lot of these terms around when I discuss the pigments.

I’ll also talk about choosing a mixing surface for each medium. Watercolorists often refer to this mixing surface as a palette, so it can get confusing! Throw in the palate you use to taste food and wine, and a person could get lost in the terminology. Fortunately, both color and wine provide subtle and unlimited variations of bliss.

I will bring some new work, too, so come downtown and check it out! I’m including a handy map, so you can easily navigate, and parking isn’t usually a problem in this area. I hope to see you there!

The gallery is located on SW 10th Ave at Jefferson Street, Portland, Oregon. 503-224-0674

Best Brushes for Watercolor, Acrylic and Oil Painting

Best Brushes for Watercolor, Acrylic and Oil Painting

"Seismic Shift" ©Ruth Armitage, 2016, Acrylic and Collage on Paper, 22x30"

Guess how many brushes I used for this work? “Seismic Shift” ©Ruth Armitage, 2016, Acrylic and Collage on Paper, 22×30″ – Will be on display at the Western Federation of Watercolor Societies show in April, 2017.

How does one choose the best brush for watercolor, acrylic and oil painting? My process is one of trial and error, tempered with education. I frequently get questions about my brushes. I have a large collection: some vintage, some for watercolor, some for acrylic and oil painting. It is my opinion that one can never have too many!

These filbert brushes by Vermeer were a discovery made by my friend Ruth Ellen Hoag. Although they are quite soft, they have a surprising amount of body and carry a lot of pigment. I love them for watercolor.

These are some of my vintage brushes. I love how stiff the Langnickel sable is. It is great for scrubbing and scumbling. I use these for all three media: watercolor, acrylic and oil.

These are some boar bristle brushes that I use for acrylic and oil. The large Princeton in the middle is newer and the other two are vintage.

These Grey Matters Brushes are made by Richeson. They are synthetic and great for acrylic and oil.

A selection of sables for watercolor. Kolinsky sable is the best, but it can be difficult to find now in the US.  From top to bottom: Connoisseur, Daniel Smith Autograph series, DaVinci Maestro and Escoda. You’ll notice that all but the 3rd one down are #10 rounds. DaVinci’s #8 and Escoda’s # 10 are about the same size! Size really varies by brand. The Daniel Smith brush has been around for a very long time. I’ve pretty much worn off the point, but it is still a favorite for the way it delivers the watercolor.

Most of the brushes above are synthetic. I rarely use these for anything besides watercolor or fluid acrylic. Notice the top four brushes have longer bristles. These are called ‘liners’ or ‘riggers’ and are used to create long, fluid line work.

Above are some of my flats, with the exception of the filbert on the far right. I like these for watercolor. The Daniel Smith filbert on the right is a favorite! Notice how dirty it is…

Pictured above are some of my “Skipper” brushes, available through Cheap Joe’s. These are the real work-horses in my studio. They are named for one of my favorite instructors, Skip Lawrence. They are useful for all media, and have a lot of body. You’ll notice that the three on the right are more worn than the largest one. I hope to remedy that soon.

The 1″ Skipper on the right is the one I’ve had longest. The bristles used to be as long, or longer than the bristles of the brushes on the left. I wore it down by painting!

At the far right you’ll see a few brushes that are sort of comparable to the Skipper. Two “Susie’s” by Daniel Smith, and a “Muslin” brush, also available at Cheap Joe’s. And the last, wimpy little brush is just a hardware store cheap-0 brush. It has its uses too.

I only have one, but I love this mop style brush by Princeton. It has a big ‘belly’ for water and paint, and a very fine point. These come in squirrel, but I think this one is synthetic.

I also use these: a silicone spatula for wiping out line, a dip pen, sponge rollers and a soft rubber brayer. The brayer is most useful for acrylic and oil.

Here is how I store my tools in the studio: The red cups on the rack are from Ikea.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into my brush collection! What is your favorite brush, and for which medium? I’m always on the lookout for new types of brushes.

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