I struggled for years to make art on a regular basis but in 2019, I became a daily painter.
A few suggestions for framing paintings on cradled wood panels and flat hardboard panels.
Don’t let your precious art supplies get confiscated!
Video chat between me and Sam Marshall, a UK based artist and printmaker.
The cycle of ideas and working in a series.
Images of the drawing series that helped me get unstuck.
Rediscovering the joy of painting with oil but without the smells and toxic chemicals!
Watch fellow artist, Chris Long, and I paint the same still life.
Do you ever wish you could go back to school?
Am I a bad artist if I make bad art?
Painting the past to take a break from the present.
Idea for an April creative practice to keep our spirits up!
This week, I went to see an exhibition of 100 paintings (watercolor and a few oils) by J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) the English romantic painter. I haven’t viewed much art in person lately and this was a rare opportunity to see such a large collection of Turner’s work in my area.
The show was at the Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut. It’s the largest maritime museum in the United States. I haven’t visited since I was a kid. It’s the sort of place you visit on a school field trip to walk aboard old ships and watch people in costume making crafts or playing sea shanties in 19th century buildings. Lots of fun for kids.
What’s new is that there is now a beautiful new building which housed the Turner show, the Thompson Exhibition Building. I’d have taken a photo but it was raining!
Turner’s abstraction of landscape is what fascinates me the most. I thought I’d share a few highlights from the show. These are just cell phone photos and it’s tricky to photograph art behind glass but I think you can get an idea of what interested me in this work.
I will admit I don’t enjoy museums as much as I used to because they are always very crowded, but, it’s always better to see art in person!
Have you gone to any shows lately? Are there any you plan to visit this year?
It is the unknown that excites the ardor of scholars, who, in the known alone, would shrivel up with boredom.Wallace Stevens
20 years ago this May (gulp), I moved to New York City only two days after graduating college.
The city was almost completely unknown to me. I had only visited on field trips and had rather spontaneously decided to move there during my last semester of art school.
On weekends, I would get up early and get on the bus or subway from my neighborhood to somewhere I didn’t know very well or at all.
I preferred the bus because I liked to see the neighborhoods I passed. I made mental notes of areas that looked intriguing so I could visit them in future.
When I arrived at my chosen stop, I’d walk and walk. I’d walk for hours. I’ll never know how many miles I walked.
Eventually, when I got tired or hungry, I’d get back on the bus or subway and make my way back home.
I didn’t have a plan for those walks. Sometimes I’d have a particular grocery store or other destination in mind, but usually, I was on a mission to explore an interesting looking block I’d passed another time.
Often, I felt like I was pushing the boundaries of the known a little further.
I was thinking about these walks the other day and what my life was like then.
Not everyone had a cell phone and I didn’t really text anyone. As a shy introvert, I rarely spoke on the phone.
Internet was dial-up (although I did manage to waste a fair amount of time online).
My landlord didn’t want any holes made in the building (yes, really) so there was no cable. I was limited to watching only a few fuzzy local channels.
My walks were an adventure. Even in a familiar neighborhood, I could still see new things.
Even after living there for years, the city remained mostly unknown to me.
It was a slow time. The days felt long.
There was so much to explore, something new to see every day.
That is what makes life interesting.
That is what makes one day different from the next.
I think that’s why I feel nostalgia for that time.
When life becomes entirely predictable, each day blends into the next.
We can get stuck in a cycle of doing the same things on a loop. Nothing is unknown.
That’s why I think a creative practice of any sort adds so much to our lives.
In creativity, there is unpredictability.
With my art supplies in front of me, there is the possibility of creating something I haven’t made before.
I can feel or think something new or have an experience I haven’t had before.
I’ve begun to think of my creative practice the way I used to think about my walks.
I set out eager to explore the avenues of tools before me, each one leading to an undiscovered place.
Do you leave space in your life for exploration and the unknown?
Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.Anne Lamott
I feel like it’s been ages since I painted or wrote a blog post.
In reality, it’s been 2 weeks.
Yet, I feel frustrated with myself for taking a long(ish) break. I’m also itching to get back to work (which I take as a good sign).
I think that after having let so many years pass without making art, I’m fearful of returning to that state. I know though that I love it too much and it’s so solidly part of my life now, there’s no going back!
This time of year is a busy time for most of us. If there’s ever a time to break from one’s usual activities, the holidays are it.
We all deserve a break, don’t we?
I have to remind myself that 2019 was a good year for my art.
I finally established an *almost* daily practice, which was jump-started through a 100 day project.
I explored all kinds of new-to-me materials (here’s one example).
And not only is it okay to take a break, maybe it’s beneficial.
A few years ago, I was taking a daily beginner French class. I found that after a long weekend, the lessons sunk in more and I returned to class with better skills.
I’m hoping the same to be true in the process of making art.
After some time away, perhaps we return with some clarity or a fresh perspective.
So let’s not punish ourselves for taking breaks.
How do you feel about breaks? Do you get upset with yourself from taking time off? Or do you see the value in taking a break?
I listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts this year. I used to listen to music while I make art but now I listen to podcasts.
Listening to a good conversation does something to distract my mind so that I can create more freely. Does anyone else feel this way?
Here’s a list of some of my favorite shows and episodes – I’d love to hear yours, please feel free to comment below and add to this list:
Hands down, my favorite podcast. The host, Antrese Wood, has fantastic guests and does a phenomenal job of interviewing them. These are some of my favorite episodes, but really, I have never been disappointed by any episode.
Burton Silverman (2 parts) https://savvypainter.com/podcast/components-good-art-burton-silverman-pt-1/
Errol Gerson https://savvypainter.com/podcast/errol-gerson/
Carol Marine https://savvypainter.com/podcast/carol-marine/
I love every episode! https://alicesheridan.com/podcast/
I love every episode! https://www.laurahornart.com/thepodcast
So many good conversations, these are a few favorites
Roanne Van Voorst https://thecreativityhabit.com/project/roanne-van-voorst/
Lots of good episodes but these are a couple I found useful:
Ep 219 – The 3 Journeys to Creative Transcendence http://www.creativepeptalk.com/episodes/2019/2/19/219-the-3-journeys-to-creative-transcendence-amp-how-to-know-which-youre-stuck-on
So many good episodes! https://www.thejealouscurator.com/blog/art-for-your-ear-podcast/
Alex Kanevsky http://www.artistdecoded.com/podcast/kanevsky
It’s not an art podcast but there are many years of wonderful conversations between Krista Tippett and her guests
Rex Jung – Creativity and the Everyday Brain https://onbeing.org/programs/rex-jung-creativity-and-the-everyday-brain/
Talking with Painters
Do you listen to music or podcasts or perhaps audio-books while you work? Tell us about it in the comments!
I’m thrilled to share that my work and a little bit about me is featured this week on a website I recently joined, Daily Paintworks.
Daily Paintworks is a website featuring the artwork of about 1,600 artists all over the world. The site was started by an incredible artist, Carol Marine, and her husband (a talented web developer).
Each week, the featured artist is interviewed for their blog which you can read here.
In addition to the interview, I am giving away one of my newest paintings!
The giveaway piece is a mixed-media painting titled, “thrown thunder”, inspired by the Irish landscapes is 4×4 inches on cradled wood panel.
Anyone who has made a purchase on the Daily Paintworks website in the last 30 days can enter to win! Visit their site (link above) to enter.
This painting is part of a new series that I’ve just begun to share. I’m calling the series “IRELAND INSPIRED” and you can see the beginnings of it here.
One reason I started my November daily challenge (#20brushstrokes30days) was to try out some ideas I had for semi-abstract landscape paintings.
In conjunction with this challenge, I created a dozen or so larger and more in-depth studies for a new landscape series that has been brewing in my mind.
The studies were mostly created on watercolor paper using gouache, water soluble pastels, and graphite and charcoal pencils.
The materials (and often a good amount of water) used on paper allow produced results that I’ve found hard to achieve on surfaces like canvas or wood panels.
I was pleased with the direction of the studies. There’s a looseness that I’ve been struggling to achieve and I also feel that through these studies, I’ve begun to communicate something about the feel of a place.
The challenge then was how to take what I’d achieved with the small studies and translate it to another substrate – preferably one that can be framed or hung without glass. I prefer using wood panels for the firmness and I don’t really like the texture of canvas.
I suppose I could have started using watered down paint on panels primed with gesso but I’m concerned about the longevity of pieces made that way.
Although I am not at a stage where I feel the need to be worried about my work surviving a hundred years, I do not want it deteriorating on a collector’s wall in my lifetime. I try to be conscious of the materials I use and how I use them.
If I’m working on non-porous surfaces (I.e. primed canvas or panels), I don’t water down acrylic paint because water affects the ability of those little plastic molecules to hold together. The result could be paint that peels and flakes off the panel.
So, how can I achieve the loose and free qualities of my studies on wood panel?
I’ve experimented with acrylic medium that helps acrylic paint flow more easily but I have not yet been pleased with the results. I’ve also mounted some paper pieces on wood panels which I find a good solution but I still wanted to paint directly on panel.
Sometimes, the universe presents us with exactly what we need.
An artist I follow on Instagram, @pamelajbates, posted that she was often trying to achieve the qualities of pieces in her sketchbook on other substrates. She shared that a few other artists suggested trying a watercolor ground.
Watercolor ground can be applied to a myriad of surfaces (wood, metal, glass, etc). Once it’s dry, it will accept water media such as watercolor, gouache, and even diluted acrylic paint.
I didn’t even wait for Pamela’s results, I ordered it right away.
I painted it on my wood panels in a single layer. It is thick like gesso but has a dry, chalky quality. It dries fast but it does need to cure for at least 24 hours. The surface can be sanded smooth to remove all brush strokes if desired. I left mine slightly rough.
I’ve started the new series on panels (primed with the watercolor ground) using the same materials I applied for the paper studies – gouache, water-soluble pastels, and charcoal pencils. It is almost like working on paper and the results have been exciting. The wonderful thing is that it doesn’t warp like even good quality watercolor paper tends to do.
I have a lot of work to do on the series but I am pleased with this new direction and will probably be ordering most watercolor ground soon since the little pot is already half empty!
What materials have you found that helped take your art to a new level?
The Myth: You have to make art full-time to be a “real artist”. Real artists live in big cities, mainly New York. Real artists have massive, paint splattered studios in old warehouses where they toil over immense canvases day and night. Sure, some real artists also teach at important universities, but other than that, they certainly do not have “day jobs”.
When I graduated art school and moved to NYC, this was my narrow definition of an artist. I believed that no one would ever consider me a real artist or show my work if it wasn’t my full-time occupation.
I wasted many years not making art partially because I believed in this outdated model.
It took me at least 15 years to realize that wasn’t the only option.
First, let’s address this thing about who gets to claim the artist label.
If you make art, guess what, you’re an artist. Feel free to pin that label on proudly.
If you make art but you….haven’t sold a single piece of art, work another job (or three), or are a stay at home parent…you are still an artist.
If you make art but you didn’t go to art school…..yes, you are an artist.
No one has to give you a seal of approval before you can call yourself an artist.
When someone asks what you do (why is that all anyone ever asks), would you rather have a conversation about art or a boring job? If you don’t feel like discussing the latest irritating thing happening at work, tell them you’re an artist!
Most people are interested and if they aren’t, they’re probably boring and you’ll be better off having promptly killed the conversation! (It’s amusing, try it)
Second, most of us cannot live on our art sales alone.
Your goal may be to become a full-time artist but you don’t have to go all in when you’re starting out. In fact, that’s a terrible idea, don’t do it until you’re ready!
We need other income to support our lives.
If you have another job, or even an entire career, that has nothing to do with art, it’s okay. You don’t have to give up that artist label.
Other jobs help fund our art or provide inspiration or other useful knowledge and experiences.
It can feel soul crushing to do a job that doesn’t fulfill you, but it may be a means to an end. If that job allows you to buy art supplies, pay for a class or teaches you something about marketing that you can use to sell your art, those are major benefits.
I had a career that required me to travel all over the world. Although I enjoyed the travel and had great experiences, I didn’t make art during most of that time.
Eventually, when I started making art again, my job provided the financial resources I needed and the travel provided the inspiration
(I wrote about it here).
As an added bonus, making art made my job more tolerable since I had a fulfilling project to look forward at the end of each day. I also felt like I more purpose and was allowing myself to be the person I had suppressed for a long time.
Once I returned to making art, I also began to consider myself an artist again – and I began introducing myself that way. I think that seeing myself as an artist helped motivate me to create more and take my practice more seriously.
(Side note here: if you don’t feel like your work is ready for viewing, it’s okay, you can keep it to yourself for now.)
If you’re still struggling to call yourself an artist, practice telling people. Next time the dental hygienist or hair stylist starts asking personal questions, talk about your art. You can get away without having to show them your work so there isn’t as much pressure, you’re free to just talk about it.
If you don’t mind having your work seen by a few people, bring some of it to the office to keep on your desk. It might prompt a conversation with a coworker. Give some of your art to friends and family for birthdays or holidays.
It’s easier to see yourself as an artist when others think of you that way.
So, are you a real artist? If not, what’s stopping you from saying you are?
This series was inspired by a daily painting project I started earlier in 2019. You can view the gallery here.
Every day, for more than 100 days, I painted my cup of coffee. Well, that was how it began anyway.
After the first 30 paintings, I permitted myself to include cups of tea, glasses of water or wine, etc. Some of these were small breakfast scenes incorporating my plate of biscuits, the jar of jam or perhaps a box of cereal.
I started the series to establish a daily practice and also to explore color, composition, style and technique.
Each small painting became a document of my daily routine or sometimes the exceptions to that routine if I was traveling or out for the afternoon.
Through this project, I discovered the pleasure of painting a subject again and again. I challenged myself to use different color palettes and to vary the composition each day.
Most of the paintings feature the little white mug I poured my coffee into every day. I looked forward to my daily painting as much as I looked forward to that first cup of coffee.
I also discovered that I am a person who enjoys routine.
The paintings in this series were more in depth explorations of this subject, inspired by some of the daily studies.
These are acrylic paintings which unless specified, are painted on cradled panels made from wood or gesso board. The cradled aspect (as seen in the photos), means that the panels are mounted on a wood frame which enables the paintings to be hung without requiring a decorative frame. They also look nice sitting on a shelf. A decorative frame is of course still in option, in which case, I would recommend a “floating frame”.
Please visit my gallery, “Cups & Glasses”, to view the series.
So, you’re ready to return to art or try it for the first time. You’ve decided to make it a priority, you’ve carved out the time and you can’t wait to make all the amazing art that’s been hiding deep inside!
Great. But where do you start?
I often dive right in when an impulse strikes. I like action and I’m incredibly impatient. If I have an idea or desire to do something, I like to start straight away. (I’ve been known to rearrange furniture at very odd hours.)
This kind of motivation is great, but it hasn’t always served me well where art is concerned. I operated on these whims for many years and it led to many false starts.
Several years ago, after a very long absence, I wanted to make art a regular part of my life (read about that here).
I didn’t plan when I was going to make work, I hadn’t thought through any ideas and I didn’t prepare my materials and workspace. This meant that in those infrequent moments of “inspiration”, I wasn’t always able to act on it. It meant that I had to use my time just getting ready to make the thing.
I didn’t set myself up for success.
It has taken me a while to figure out that I need to do some planning in order to establish a consistent creative practice.
Here are a few questions and ideas that may help you to get started.
- When are you going to make art?
- Do you have a specific window of time and specific days or is it going to be flexible?
- Do you need to tell your family or anyone else who may be affected?
- Where are you going to work?
- Do you have a dedicated place at home?
- Can you leave your work and supplies out or will you have to put them away after each session?
- Do you need to work somewhere else (cafe, car, park bench)?
- What materials will you use?
- Do you already have them or do you need to buy them?
- Here’s a list of the basic tools I used when I first returned to making art
- Do you know what subject you’re going to start with?
- Start keeping a list of possible subjects
- Perhaps you want to revisit a subject you enjoyed exploring in the past
- What artwork, styles or mediums are you drawn to?
- Consider creating a Pinterest board (here’s mine) or bulletin board of inspiring artwork or other imagery
What other routines have you successfully established for yourself? Is there anything you can learn from them?
Do you have any other suggestions to add to this list?
In an earlier post, I shared a list of materials I used when I first returned to making art. These might be helpful if you’re just getting started.
I hope you will join the conversation with your suggestions.
If you’ve ordered one of the 4×4 inch paintings from my #cuppadaypainting series, you may be wondering how to frame it.
(You can see the complete series of “Cups & Glasses” in my online gallery hosted on the Daily Paintworks site.)
I like small art to be framed with some space around them so I would suggest matting the cup paintings.
Below, I’ll list a few options I found online but I would recommend first visiting a couple of stores so you can shop in person. You could try stores that sell pre-made frames like big art & craft supply stores (Michael’s, AC Moore, Hobby Lobby) or stores that sell home decor (Target, TJ Maxx, Home Goods).
The first option I came across are these affordable square frames from Jerry’s Artarama. I have not tried these frames yet myself so this isn’t an endorsement but they may be worth trying!
There are 2 sizes that both include a mat with a 4×4 inch window. There is a 6×6 inch or 8×8 inch frame. The larger frame will add more white space around the painting since the mat will be 2 inches wider. These are available in 3 colors: black, white, silver.
Another type of frame to look for are floating frames. These consist of 2 pieces of glass that sandwich the artwork so it “floats” between the layers. Some use metal clips to hold the glass together, others have a metal frame or a more traditional wood/composite frame. I’ve purchased floating frames like this at Michael’s Craft Store.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to send me an email directly!
This isn’t an advertisement, I just came across these and thought I’d share! Here’s the one I described from Jerry’s that inspired this post.
I also found a couple of options from Michael’s Craft Store. There were more on their website but I’m just linking to two. The first has a fold out easel back so it can be displayed on a tabletop, shelf or mantle.
Our days and weeks are jam packed so how can we possibly find time to make art?
Question everything you think you have to do.
Does it all really have to be done and does it have to be done by you?
Can you delegate some things or simplify them?
Are there things that can be eliminated completely?
I used to think dusting and vacuuming were avoidable. I hate doing it but I’m a little OCD (or a lot depending on who you ask) so I also hate a dirty home.
Eventually, I came to the conclusion that it didn’t need to be done as often as I thought AND there were a couple things I could do to make it faster and easier.
First, I bought a robot vacuum.
They were new at the time so it was a big investment but I had a good job and thought it was worthwhile. (After I got over the initial excitement of watching it work, it did become a huge time saver.)
Second, I got rid of a lot of the stuff that collected dust.
It may sound like my home was starting to look like a prison cell but I promise it was still beautiful and cozy (to me anyway). I realized that I prefer having less stuff. I like a clean and simple space.
I choose to hang art on the walls and paint my walls interesting colors than to have a bunch of dust-collecting tchotchke (yes, I had to Google how to spell that) around.
I’d accumulated a lot of things from my travels, eBay and those home décor stores where everything is irresistibly cheap and stylish (maybe sometime I’ll write about how creating art helped me kick my conspicuous consumer habit).
Not only did it all collect dust, it also made the act of cleaning slow because I had to go around all that stuff.
Those two changes made a difference. Maybe I had only managed to free up a couple of hours each week, but it was more time than I had before.
There are so many areas we can examine to steal away some extra time. Errands are a big time suck. Is there a different approach?
- How often do I have to go to the grocery store?
- Can I use Amazon Pantry or a local grocery delivery service for some things to save a trip or at least make shopping faster?
- Can I get mail order prescriptions?
- Is there a faster way to prepare meals?
- In cooking more simply, can I actually make healthier meals? (A large pot of soup could last for several meals)
- Could the kids be responsible for a dinner?
Where else can you find time in the day? A few suggestions:
- Try keeping a sketchbook with you, maybe in your bag or in the car
- Get a painting app for your tablet
If you keep these things handy, use them (instead of looking at your phone) when you’re on a lunch break or waiting at the doctor’s office.
If you don’t feel like sketching, use the time to:
- Plan what you’re going to work on
- Organize inspiration photos on your phone
- Listen to creative and inspiring podcasts like The Savvy Painter
If you’ve managed to carve out a little time, now what? Where do you start? I’ll share some ideas in an upcoming post.
Feel free to share ways you’ve managed to make time to create in the comments.
Join me for a fun 30 day challenge starting November 1, 2019 to get our creative juices flowing!
The #20brushstrokes30days challenge is to make one small painting (mine will be 4×4 inches/10x10cm) using no more than 20 brush strokes every day of the month.
The subject and medium can be anything you choose. Mine will be on paper using acrylic paint and I’m going focus mostly on landscapes.
My hope is that these little paintings will loosen up my style, help me simplify shapes, help me really “see” my subject and possibly inspire some larger paintings.
Even if the result is 30 ugly little paintings, I know it will still be a fun project for November!
You can follow my progress on Instagram, @rachpetru, where I promise to share my painting every day, regardless of how it looks!
I hope you’ll join me, remember to hashtag #20brushstrokes30days on Instagram and please tag me, @rachpetru, so I get to see what you’ve created!
Prior to even deciding what to create, ask “Why do I want to create?”
Before we can make space for creative endeavors, this is an important question to ask yourself that may help determine how much of a priority a creative practice is to you.
- Is it because you enjoy making art for yourself and you’re looking for a hobby?
- Is it because you want to become a full-time artist?
- Do you want to share your art with the public and participate in shows?
There are many possibilities, what is your “why”?
After you’ve come up with your “Why”, you may want to consider everything else you have going on in life and determine some things such as:
- What is most important to me?
- What improves my life / bring me joy?
We all have the same number of hours in each day and we all have things we have to do. If we want to do 15 things but only have time for 5, what are the options?
Be honest with yourself.
We can spread ourselves thin and try to do it all, at the risk of not doing it well and eventually burning out. We can do the most urgent and easiest things, missing out on what will bring us joy and potentially leading to burnout.
Or we can decide what is truly necessary and what adds to our quality of life and reduce or eliminate the rest.
I think it’s like de-cluttering your home. If our homes are overflowing with lots of stuff, we can’t see the things we treasure most. We also waste a lot of time searching for stuff.
If we keep what is useful and beautiful, not only is there more space, it allows us to bring the important things to the foreground and highlight what is beautiful.
The bad news is, you probably don’t have time do all of the things you want to do.
The good news is, prioritizing will allow you to fully engage in the activities that most enhance your life.
What have you done to make time for your creative endeavors? What challenges do you currently face?
I made this short video for Instagram so I thought I would share it on my blog.
I’ve never taken an acrylic painting class so I was working in this medium for quite a while before I stumbled upon “stay-wet palettes”. I was living outside the US, in a remote area, and wasn’t able to buy one so I read about how to make one.
The first one I made was very small and crude but it worked. I used a small rectangular lid from a gelato container (you can guess where I was living). The other 2 materials were the same: paper towels and parchment paper.
The basic idea is to have a flat, non-porous container (with low sides so you can get in there with a palette knife to mix your paints), lined with a soft absorbent material (soaked with water) which is then topped by a paper that will allow a very small of moisture to penetrate, keeping your paint wet.
It worked so well, I was astounded. After using it the first time, I didn’t clean up and when I went back to the table the following morning, the paint was actually still wet.
While the paint will stay wet for a couple of days – providing that the paper towels are kept damp and depending on the air conditions – I prefer to use the paint for just 1 day if I’m working on canvas or wood panel. The reason is that after a day, I find that the paint absorbs too much water.
I’ve done some research about acrylic paint and water and my limited understanding is that too much water can compromise the binding strength of the polymers (plastic) in the paint. Perhaps I’m too cautious but I tend to use what I’ve put out within a day anyway.
If I am working on paper, I’ll go ahead and use the more soupy paint that’s been sitting for a day or two. That’s because the paper can absorb the pigment. I do exercise caution here too and use the thinned out paint for the layers that go directly on the paper. Once I’ve got a layer of paint down, I go back to full strength acrylics.
The materials needed (as mentioned in the video) are:
- Sheet pan / Cookie Sheet / Butcher’s Tray / Plastic Tray
- Paper towels
- Parchment paper
Place 2 or 3 layers of paper towels in your tray. Saturate with water. Pour off excess. Top with parchment (cut to size). You don’t want water on top of the parchment paper so if it overlaps the paper towels a little, that’s ok. Put acrylic paints on top as you would any palette
- Add water as needed by lifting a corner of the parchment (if you already have a palette going)
- Change the paper towels every so often as they can start to smell and even get moldy (it takes a while but it does eventually happen)
- Some artists use a tray they can cover which probably keeps the paint even longer (I don’t find this to be necessary since I use it in a day or two)
When I finally returned to making art, my first project, a series of candid portrait drawings, involved a few simple tools and I believe that it is one reason I stuck with it. It was unintentional but by keeping my materials and subject simple, I set myself up for success (more about that project here).
I used pencil and paper, the same basic materials I used when I first became serious about art as a teenager. I already knew how to use them and there was minimal set up involved.
In the past I wanted to paint, so I bought a set of oil paints and tried to make one painting. In college, I took only the required oil painting classes so the learning curve was way too high.
I didn’t do any preliminary sketches or play around with the paint, I went straight in to the final product. There is also a lot of set up and clean up required for oil painting so I couldn’t quickly dive in if I had limited time or energy.
I’m not suggesting that pencil and paper will help everyone return to art.
I believe that using materials that are familiar and enjoyable to you could alleviate some of the obstacles to making art.
You may not want to start out with a medium you’ve never used if your goal is to start a regular practice of making art.
It can be difficult to make art on a regular basis, try to choose a medium that doesn’t make it harder. This will mean something different for everyone.
Perhaps you can think back to what materials you loved using when you felt no pressure and just enjoyed the process of creating.
(Share your go-to materials in the comments!)
For me, those materials were:
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A digital camera
I started with the large Canon DSLR that I already had. I began taking it with me when I traveled, but I wanted something smaller, lighter and more subtle.
After much research, I bought a Sony Alpha NEX-5N. If you’re interested in the tech stuff…it’s a compact, mirrorless camera that is much smaller than a DSLR camera. It has a large sensor and interchangeable lenses.
I chose it for size and photo quality but also because the screen on the back tilts so I could hold the camera very low and tilt the screen up towards my face. This enabled me to take stealthy candids out in public without attracting much attention.
It’s also just a generally great camera that I still use often and is particularly terrific for travel due to its compact size.
You can find the current Sony model on Amazon
(As an Amazon Affiliate I may earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.)
I like soft graphite in order to achieve dark areas so I usually use 6b up to 8b graphite pencils. You may want to experiment with a range of hard to soft graphite to see what you prefer – this set from Faber-Castell includes one each of 8B, 6B, 4B, 2B, B, and HB.
8B is the softest in the set, meaning it makes the darkest mark. At the other end of the spectrum is HB which is the hardest in the set so the marks will be lighter.
When I started drawing portraits, I used an 11×14 inch Strathmore pad of 80lb smooth white drawing paper. It’s a good quality, acid-free paper and it’s affordable.
A General’s kneaded gum eraser is useful for pulling up some graphite to lighten an area. You simply squish the eraser with your hands and press down on the area you want to lighten. You “clean” the eraser by “kneading” it together like dough. These erasers last for decades in my experience!
To erase large areas as completely as possible without damaging the paper, I use a Staedtler Mars white plastic eraser.
You may prefer electric sharpeners but I go for the old school handheld type like this one from Staedtler.
You’ll find a ton of other art supplies on the Blick website.
What are your go-to art tools?
Creative block is something that many artists suffer from and I allowed it to prevent me from making art for a very long time.
It was during a particularly frustrating time in my life when I returned to making art consistently.
I found myself ten years into a business career I never planned on, living in a place I didn’t like. I was frustrated with myself for delaying my dreams so I found fault with everything around me.
I needed an outlet.
Without any ideas, the easiest thing for me to do was take pictures. I had absolutely no plan. With my chunky DLSR in hand, I went out and started taking candid pictures of the public.
I’d take photos of people coming out of the wholesale club store or going into the Chinese buffet. I went to a protest rally that was opposing a movie theater’s proposal to sell beer and wine, just to take pictures.
I never intended to show the pictures to anyone but I kept taking them.
Once in a while, I’d look through the photos on my computer. The faces and expressions were intriguing but I still had no ideas.
Finally, I zoomed in on the face of an older Asian man and was compelled to draw his portrait.
His skin was weathered and his expression was that of despair or deep sadness yet he was just walking towards a restaurant, holding his wife’s hand.
I had almost no experience in portraiture but I felt like I needed to draw this man.
I had a pad of 11×14 inch paper and some drawing pencils. I laid the paper on my desk with the computer screen behind it, displaying the zoomed in photo, and I started drawing.
I didn’t know any particular methods for how to draw a portrait, nor did I care to find out. I didn’t know about the grid method that helps achieve precise proportions. I didn’t study portraiture in college.
None of that mattered to me, I just wanted to draw.
After that first portrait, I was pleased with the result (in retrospect it was not very good, see it below next to the larger version I did many portraits later) and excited to try more. Through my photos, I found a wealth of subjects.
I didn’t show the drawings to anyone except maybe a friend or two. It was my private project and I still didn’t know what it was about or what to do with the work.
I remember thinking about large portraits I’d seen in galleries and museums, thinking that I couldn’t possibly create something bigger than my little 11×14 inch portraits. Then, by chance, I had the opportunity to get some very large sheets (about 30×40 inches) of good quality paper for free.
It felt like a sign.
The full sheets were too large to store flat so I ripped them in half and started new portraits. Immediately, the larger than life portraits became more dynamic and the practice from doing 20 or so small portraits paid off.
My skills were improving and it was more comfortable than I thought it would be to draw so large.
I became obsessed with drawing.
I couldn’t wait to draw after work and on weekends. Before I left the house to go to work in the morning, I’d stop and look at the latest portrait in progress, anxious to return to it.
This project also meant that I wanted to collect more source material so I started bringing my camera everywhere. I was fortunate to have a job that required me to travel all over the world. Whenever I had a spare morning or evening during my work trips, I walk around whichever city I was in, snapping photos.
I didn’t set out with a plan or a concept and I didn’t know what to do with the portraits, but that project brought me back to making art.
I felt like I returned not only to art but to the identity I lost for so many years.
During my years working in business, I often felt like I’d taken on a different identity because I didn’t consider myself an artist anymore.
What this project taught me was that by working on my art consistently, I’d find not only the inspiration to continue but it would fulfill me in a way that I’d missed for a decade.
At times it was hard to continue the work but I decided that making art needed to be a priority in my life so I aimed to stop making excuses and get on with it!
In the next post, I’ll share info on the specific tools and materials I used for the project you just read about.