Favorite Brushes

 

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ART, 8″ x 8″ Oil painting by Lisa David Remember wearing your Dad’s old shirt and using those long brushes? Art class was the best special of the week.

Every artist has them:  their favorite brushes. Over time, your favorites end up like Woody in Toy Story – tossed in the back row or put in some old brush jar, part of your personal museum of art supplies. I bet you have a collection. If you’re like me, you don’t throw out old art supplies. You think one day, you may need them, or maybe your children will want them. Maybe, just maybe, some collector will find them valuable!

Oh, the stories your old brushes could tell. They know all your secrets. The time you had to repaint over that garish green, or how many times you wiped down and restarted. Our brushes have personalities. Some are sharp, giving us a quick edge. Others are dull, glazing over quiet areas. Brushes can be downright ugly misshapen unfortunates, bristles going this way and that.  Even your once favorite brush can go bald after a while, losing precious hair. You think, “I didn’t even notice and now you’re practically bald”.

Paint brush cleaning

Clean paint brushes with Murphy’s Oil Soap, baby oil or olive oil soap.

Brushes are extensions of our brains and hearts. When you reach for a brush for that specific stroke, it’s best to get it right the first time. The brush must work in harmony with the paint. If the paint is too thick, too thin or not the color you thought you mixed, it can sense your frustration. Sometimes, we take our frustration out on our brushes. We forcefully rinse them in solvent, then blot with too much pressure on the paper towel. Sometimes we even throw them in fits of rage (well, I don’t, but you know who you are!)

Certain brushes become our very favorite. The “in ” brush – the popular brush. You bring it out for every painting, even take it on plein air adventure outings. Then, there are the cheap brushes. The discount brushes on sale at the big box art store. Come on, you know the kind. You can’t resist their low price.  Once in a great while, you may find a quiet, little unassuming brush.  It’s almost too good to be true – the price was right and it did the job.

Lisa David artist studio brushes

My studio paint brushes, Gamsol solvent & Viva paper towels.

Painters have their favorite supplier, too. And soon, when you thought you were the only one with the cool new brushes, everyone else has them and you are all painting the strokes!

Your brush truly is your most important tool. How it feels in your hand, the weight, the texture of its finish, the feel of the bristles as they glide on the canvas. If only some magic could flow through them like Tinkerbell’s wand!

Lisa David artist brushes

Brushes I used down to practically nothing. Hey- ya never know when you’ll need one bristle!

I paint with a woman who uses only one brush! That’s it! It’s a short flat, probably a number 4 or 6. Yes, I agree, flats are a good versatile brush. If I’m being honest, I could get by with about 5 brushes. So why the need to continuously purchase more? Luckily, for the Rosemary Brush Company, I can’t seem to get enough!

Of course, cleaning brushes is also part of the artist’s job. At the end of each day’s painting, I give my brushes a little massage for working so hard. I use either Murphy’s Oil Soap or baby oil in the palm of my hand. Then, using olive oil bar soap, I gently squeeze paint from the ferrule down.  Then, I lay them flat to dry.  When I start the next day’s painting session, these lucky brushes end up in the front row instead of back on the bench. Every few months, the weeding out process begins again, and those Woody brushes get put in a special container as if to say, someday we’ll be used again- someday. And so goes the life of a paintbrush.

If you have to paint from a photo…

Landscape painting reference photos

Reference photos I have used for studio paintings.

There’s a lot of debate in the art community about painting from a photo.  I was at a figure drawing class recently and the topic came up. There were several plein air painters in the group. There were also some newbies who didn’t quite understand the stigma related to both techniques. The debate went something like this: If you paint from life, your painting will be more lively, vibrant, have energy. It won’t look like a photo, it will look like a painting. You will get the colors and values accurate. The other side argued working from a photo allows you to paint on your own terms, in a studio. It offers the artist convenience and more freedom of subject matter. You are able to see details. You can take longer on a work.  It may look realistic. The rationale for each goes on and on.

I have my own opinions (as does everyone!). Basically, a painting is a painting. It’s not a photograph. The untrained eye will think the painting from a photo is “so good”. If it is tight and realistic, they may compliment it by saying “I thought that was a photo!” For a long time, I heard these statements. I thought this meant I was a good painter. I may be a good painter, but I want to be a good artist. I have become more aware and appreciative of paintings that show more of the artists brushwork and process. For me, being an artist means I am leaving a bit more of “me” on the canvas; my brushwork, my colors and my composition.

I studied photography in school. I have taken tens of thousands of photos. In fact, I have over 25,000 on my phone from the last year. Yikes, that’s a lot of photos! Anyway, I feel confident in my skills of composition and design. I learned to paint by copying my photos. But is the art in the photograph or in the painting? Recently have I discovered painting from life. I’m still copying what I see, but for some reason, I feel more like an artist! I get a rush from painting from life. I can interpret the colors and make bolder brush strokes.  Consider this: If I took a photo of the exact place I plein air paint, it would show a moment in time. A quick snap – a freeze frame. As a photo, it might be wonderful. Ideally, it would trigger an emotional response.  Now, if I stay in the same spot, becoming immersed while painting for a few hours, the experience would transfer onto the canvas.  And for many artists, they will use the plein air painting and a photo reference together for a studio painting.

It’s all just preference. Some artists have the propensity for details and getting every detail in their painting. There are collectors and art buyers who love to show off such works. Others prefer a more painterly approach, seeing the brushstrokes and the mark of the artist. While both techniques have their merits, here are a few tips to consider if painting from a photograph:

  1. Whenever possible, create a small painted study to accompany your photo. Not possible? Then draw a sketch. Not possible? Take some color notes. What colors would you mix? Jot down what the weather was like, or some words for your mood.
  2. If you must work from a photo, at least work from your own. Don’t use other’s photography. All you will be doing is showing your skills at copying. No fun.
  3. If you use a smart phone, keep it in portrait mode when possible. Also, make sure to keep the phone at same level and perpendicular to your vision. Distortion and wide lens are giveaways that you painted from a photo.
  4. Beware of shadows and highlights.  Your photo will obliterate the highlights. It will make all your shadows black.
  5. Make corrections immediately after taking the photo, while you are still in front of your subject.
  6. Take several photos in the same area, all around, all views.
  7. Compose ON THE SPOT if possible. It saves time and sharpens your vision as an artist.
  8. Find your focal point and soften the rest. Our eyes see differently than a camera. We cannot focus from one thing to the next. Try it! Look at something, anything in front of you. Now notice the extraneous objects surrounding the item you have focused on. You cannot make out their details. The camera flattens everything and shows you everything in clear focus but, we do not see that way.
  9. If you do paint from a photo, edit elements that won’t help your composition. Don’t put in every last item or detail. It can really weaken your painting
  10. Convert your photo to black and white to help see the values. This can be helpful if you are new to painting or just are having difficulty making them out.

Above all, remember that the camera is a tool. YOU are the artist, the one mixing the paints. YOU are the one reading the information and interpreting what you see. And only you can prevent forest fires. (Just seeing if you’re still with me!) All that really matters is that you are fortune enough to paint!

 

 

 

When life gives you lemons, paint them.

lisa david artist blog painting lemon brushtrokes

L’il Lemon, 6″ x 6″ Oil on panel. A very special, but not-so-good painting.

We all have them. Bad days, bad weekends. Lemons. This past weekend was definitely subpar, a lemon. There was no one thing that happened; nothing disastrous. Just a typical weekend, some cleaning and bill paying Saturday morning that took too long.  My whole house seemed to need spring cleaning. Before I knew it, I was putting away the winter coats, arranging lemons and rummaging around for a spring candle. Next, the bills needed to be paid.  That’s enough to put anyone in a down mood. Then, time for errands. I stopped by my Dad’s to pick up a new plein air system he custom designed for me. Quite deluxe (will post pics soon!). Of course, I wanted to test it out, but I wasted 2 hours aimlessly driving looking for just the right spot. Snow banks and trespassing laws prohibited me from most of the places I would have painted. I finally got set up, ready to paint a nice barn and thought: boring- it’s just a nice barn. Nothing interesting, old or vintage about it.  I went back to a place I had painted before but within 5 minutes, my hands start to go numb. What now? It was already 4:00 and the day felt like a waste. I was furious at myself for sleeping late, taking too long to clean, paying bills on a Saturday and wasting precious weekend time driving. I needed to do something to snap me out of my self-imposed “Looserville” syndrome.

Lisa David artist blog lemon

46 brush strokes (plus or minus one!)

Lemons. I had just read about an artist who challenged her students to complete a painting in a limited number of brushstrokes, like 40. The object of the exercise is to be aware of color mixing, brush strokes and brush selection, not to mention accurately reading color and value. Lemons! I had all those lemons in my clean kitchen!  Within minutes, my bitter mood turned sweet. I used a limited palette: White, Cad Yellow Pale, Cad Yellow Deep, Alizarin Crimson, Cad Red, Ultramarine Blue. I had a piece of canvas taped under the painting. Each time I made a brush stroke, I made a tally mark. I used a size 8 Rosemary Ivory flat brush. I started with the darkest value, then mid tones, and then highlights. I added the background last. The little lemon taught me a few things: One, that I need to slow down (in life and in painting) and have more gratitude.  I need to isolate shapes to really see accurate colors. I used my view catcher for this. Big brushes are awesome. Powerful, bold and confident. I typically would have used a small brush fussing with all the details. Brush strokes matter. I learned to not squander them, rather consider each stroke, it’s direction and length. I reached my 40 stokes and ended up using about 6 more to complete the background. Is it a great painting? No, but it’s an important painting; a reminder that when life gives you lemons, instead of making lemonade, paint them instead!

If artists were flowers…

I was in the grocery store over the weekend and wandered into the flower section. Maybe I’m just longing for spring, but the grocery store flowers all seemed to say, “pick me, pick me!” There were so many beautiful bouquets waiting for their escape out of the store. Every variety of flower looked glorious. Even the baby’s breath!

It got me thinking of the incredible variety of flowers and I realized artists are like flowers.  Each one is unique. A bouquet of all the same kind of flowers seems a bit boring. Even a bouquet of long stem roses. I would rather have a bouquet of all different kinds of flowers than just roses.

Thank God artists also come in an assortment of varieties!  So, if you were a flower, what kind of flower would you be?  Maybe you are like a rose? Do you paint classic subjects? Are you an established, classic artist? Maybe you excel in realism? Some artists are like zinnias with their bold use of color. Some are like the lilies of the valley- so fragile and tucked into shady areas, yet their paintings can fill a room with their presence like fragrance. Some painters are like morning glories. They reach for the sun and bloom in the golden hour. Some artists are like sunflowers. They grow all summer long and hit their stride as fall approaches; sunny, bright, and optimistic. Some artists are like impatiens. They want to bloom quickly. Maybe you’re a forget-me-not who just wants to be remembered for something. And all you wildflowers? You’re the plein air painters! Finding beauty everywhere, able to grow among the rocks and weeds. With Spring around the corner, I hope this post brightens your day. Now go treat yourself with a bouquet of sunshine!

 

Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time. Georgia O’Keeffe
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/georgia_okeeffe_134583?src=t_flower

Every flower must grow through dirt.     

Laurie Jean Sennott

Signing Artwork

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Stack of unsigned paintings.

“Put your name on your paper”. It’s literally the first thing you are taught. Even as a high school teacher, I repeatedly say “no name, no fame”. But I’m the kid that totally ignores the teacher. I procrastinate signing my art. Guilty as charged. Why do I put it off? What’s all the fuss with signatures? What’s in a name, anyway? Apparently, a lot.

It was a big deal during the Renaissance for individual artists to sign their art.  Before that, artists often worked in collective guilds. Historically, signatures can provide authenticity to an artwork. I recently watched the show Fake or Fortune (highly recommended). In Season 4, episode 2, there is dispute over the legitimacy of a Renoir because he never signed it! The provenance (the lineage) is easier to maintain with a legitimate signature.

artist signature

Inscribing signature into wet paint, alla prima.

Typically, the last time an artist puts brush to painting is to sign it. The act of signing may be the culmination of hours, days or months’ worth of work. When I sign, it’s like the entire process flashes before my eyes. So many thoughts and decisions go into a work. Often, as an artist, it’s sometimes hard to know when the work is finished. Inevitably, though, every painting says, “I’m done, please, no more!” An artist friend looked at my signature once and thought I was signing it to mimic that of a Grandma Moses because it is so primitive, lacking any artistic flair! I laughed, “No,” I said. “It’s just my name”. But then I got to thinking. I sign my work L. David. I often wonder if I should just sign David, and if changing the style is acceptable so I did some research. Yes! Turns out, artists signatures evolve over time. And it’s about time my signature changes. Maybe on the next painting.

So, you are done with your painting and ready to sign. How? Where? Are there rules? Standards? Yes, and no. Typically, a work is signed in the lower right or left corner in the same media the work was created in. The size is similar to the signature on a check. Some artists only sign their last name. Others sign the first letter of their first name, and their last name. Some sign meticulously. Their signatures are works of art. Others use an illegible scribble. It is preferred by the art establishment that the signature be legible.  Art collectors and patrons want art that is signed and legible. If they are spending big bucks on a work, they want bragging rights and a legible signature helps.  The signature should not dominate or take attention away from the art.

artist signatures

Artist signatures

Studio painters may wait until the painting is dry before signing. This allows more control with the brush. Plein air painters don’t have that luxury. They typically will sign on location by inscribing the work or simply signing wet on wet (alla prima). Collectors are thrilled when the artist indicates (on the back) where the piece was painted and perhaps a bit of information to go along with it. For example, I painted this today and inscribed it with a rubber tipped tool. It was painted partially from my car and partially from just outside my car. It wasn’t cold, a balmy 34 degrees. It was at Gurney Park, in Glens Falls, NY, just inside the Adirondack Park. Lucky for me, there was a sledding birthday party. I didn’t bring any cadmium yellow and had to make the best with the colors I had. The kids were screaming and laughing as they sped down the hill. While I painted, my husband rode his mountain bike on nearby trails. t took about an hour and fifteen minutes to complete. So, now you know the story.

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Sledding Party, 6″x 8″ Oil on panel, plein air painting. Gurney Lane Park, Glens Falls, NY

Eighteenth century landscape artist Jean Baptiste Camille Corot has the distinction of being the most forged artist of all time. Art news reports  “Corot (1796–1875) was extremely prolific: he produced some 3,000 paintings and roughly the same number of drawings”, Dieterle says. Even today, real Corots still come to light “in someone’s attic or basement, at a flea market or estate sale.”

I find art forgery fascinating! Christies auction house has a great article about signing art. 

True Story: I recently delivered some work to a gallery. Lucky for me, a customer wanted to purchase one just a day later! I received a call asking me to come in; apparently, I forgot to sign the painting. I apologized profusely and the gallery said not to worry, it happens often.  Looks like we need to add one more thing to the artist’s checklist! And remember, no name, no fame!

 

 

 

 

Two kinds of people.

Richard Schmid Color Chart

Arrangement of color charts with template peeled off.

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who believe in color charts, and those who roll their eyes like it’s a colossal waste of time and paint. I was in the first camp. I am also an admirer of artist Richard Schmid. Aside from being a master painter of landscapes, still life and the figure, Richard finds time to author some of the best art books I’ve ever read. I imagine Donald Sutherland’s voice reading his book. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting Richard. In his book Alla Prima II, Schmid details how to make color charts using “his” palette of 12 colors. While there are websites that explain his technique and reasoning, I highly recommend purchasing the book. It is packed with relevant content relating to all aspects of painting. So, with a week off in the dead of winter, the time had come. Time to make the color charts.

RIchard Schmid color charts

My color charts DONE!

Prior to making color charts, I was a consummate brush dipper. I dipped my brush into colors; dab, dab, dab – two or three colors at a time. I cleaned my brush and did it again for the next color. I instinctively mixed colors. Mixing colors is a bit like cooking. Unfortunately, my Irish genes kick in when I cook. I don’t use recipes. Rarely.  So, when it came time to make the color charts, I was doubtful I would be successful.  I envisioned wasting paint and making a hot, albeit colorful, mess. But I discovered something about myself I never thought possible:  I can be methodical. I can be organized. I can slow down. I can see. I can improve. I can follow directions and I can be successful. I made colors I had never seen before! If oil paint was edible, I’d have gained five pounds. I was a paint-mixing mad ninja scientist!  It was tedious, crazy-making work. Here’s some practical advice for your chart making adventure:

  1. Save time and order pre-made color panels from Color Frontier. They arrived two days after I ordered them! They come with a palette knife and have an adhesive window template. When removed, it will reveal all your wonderful colors.
  2. It took me 3-4 days, not two weeks as others suggest. The first chart took the longest, each chart thereafter was easier because I learned the unique properties of each color. The colors reminded me of my students or pets. Some were pokey, like yellow ochre. I had to use a lot of that color to get colors to “move”; then Alizarin permanent was the sassy color, only needing a tiny bit. She is strong! You see, you will get punchy making the charts. I worked 6-8 hours a day for 3 days and an hour or so on the 4th day.
  3. Use baby wipes and towels to clean your palette knife each time you touch a color. I even found myself folding the paper towel methodically after each wipe. Place your garbage can nearby.
  4. Use a palette knife to apply the paint to the chart. It is easier to clean than a brush and teaches you about knife work. I used a small Italian palette knife that was the perfect size to apply the paint.
  5. Make all your variations of each color on your palette before putting it on panel. You will see the variations in front of you. It was easier to lighten or adjust the color mixes.
  6. Start with darkest. Next, mix the middle value, then the lightest. Lastly, make the in between values. Keep the 5 values in order on your palette – it is easier to see the subtle differences.
  7. Make enough of your base mixture for each of the subsequent 4 lighter values.
  8. Don’t contaminate tube colors you have laid out.
  9. I had a push pin, binder clip and wall space ready to hang each panel.
  10. Be “present” and take note of the colors as you go.

I’m so glad I took the time to make the charts. I am patiently waiting for them to dry so I can really study them. I think I will waste less paint, especially white. Knowing the tinting strength of colors is going to help tremendously.  And I can now say, I made the charts!

An honest critique

When is the last time you had an  honest critique with real people looking at your actual work? It’s been a while for me. My biggest critic is my husband. I’ll walk a painting out to him, and he’ll usually say ah hmm m.  That means it’s OK. The longer he pauses, the worse the critique will be.  I love my husband, but he knows nothing about art. He does have a good eye, though.  And that’s great. Periodically, it’s good to get specific, targeted feedback in an honest, informed setting. What specifically do you want feedback about? Being specific and targeted, in my opinion, is a great way to advance your skills. Maybe you want to improve your compositions or edges, or have been working on specific subject matter, like trees, water or rocks.

 

As an art teacher, I bring my students through a four-step approach to looking at art. It’s a systematic approach. It is how I was taught way back in college. It’s actually simple. First, you describe the art.  “I see…” just the facts, as if you were on the phone and describing the art to someone who can’t see it. Next, you analyze it, getting into how the artist used the elements and principles. This will make you sound artsy and smart. “I like how the artist created a sense of rhythm with repeating the trees” or “Notice the variety of textures the artist used” Thirdly, you interpret the piece. “I think the artist is trying to say wilderness is a formidable, lonely place, but you can find peace”. It’s a juxtaposition of sorts “blah, blah!” And lastly, you evaluate or judge it. Is the piece successful, to you? Do you “like it”? That’s the basic approach.  It works in a general sense and is a great method for discussing artwork you are unfamiliar with, especially in the academic sense.  But in the practical “what do I need to improve” sense, it is lacking a bit.

One of my goals for this year is to get my art properly critiqued. In order to do that, I and my art must get in front of people. Plein air events and paint outs are wonderful. Lots of knowledge there. Ideally, you want a critique from someone who you admire. Someone who has proven themselves. Climbed the art ladder. I am suggesting you organize a critique. Find a public venue to display your art. Invite about a dozen people to participate. Encourage participants to pick a topic to discuss when critiquing. In school, we tend to steer away from negative comments (it’s school, after all), but there are ways to suggest an artist try something without sending them sobbing into a corner..  Posting your art online is another option. There are a few sites where you can post either works in progress (WIP) or finished works and seek criticism, as opposed to just thumbs up and likes. Wetcanvas is a site I regularly use.

Lisa David, The Chase

Lisa David, The Chase, 16″ x 20″. Remember chasing the ice cream man with your dollar?

 

True Story: I entered a show locally and received a modest award. The juror went around and gave feedback on each specific work. My work really resonated with him. Yay, I thought. Until he started giving some criticism. Shhhh people gabbing- I wanted to hear every word. I had been so immersed in the making of the art, I overdid it. I added detail to the details! Rather, he suggested the work would have been stronger if I didn’t have so many sharp edges. That night, I went home and read all I could about edges. Now, it’s something I work to improve in each painting.