crowded work table

Several times people have commented on the difficulty of devoting regular time to developing their art without a studio space.

Even though I have a beautiful light workspace, it is comparatively small and I still have to work around all the projects I usually have going at once. So maybe some of the solutions I’ve found could help you to get your art done despite limited space and time.

Yesterday I wanted to start the day by doing a watercolour of some leaves I’d found on my morning walk with Lucie. I pushed some paperwork aside, got out a travelling watercolor box and some scrap paper and went to work. 15 minutes later, this was the result.

morning watercolor study

We’re not worried here about perfect art, but about continual effort, which leads not only to improvements and new ideas, but to accumulating a body of work.

Limited space, no time? – 7 Tips for working anyway

  1. Put everything you need to start work in a plastic storage basket. For a watercolor this would be: pencil, paint set, paper, brushes, water jar, paper towels or rag.  You can put the basket within easy reach and start whenever you are inspired or get an extra moment. Cleanup- easy! Dump it all back into the basket.
  2. Keep a sketchbook together with several drawing materials within reach.  I have a little cloth bag made by my friend Miriam which holds everything I need in the same place. I hang it on a door handle and grab it when the light falls on Bernardo the horse at just the right angle.
  3. Keep a basket of materials for several different media- for example, one for collage, one for wet media, one for oil pastels, etc.
  4. If you don’t have a slanted surface to work on, keep a thin piece of plywood about 10 x 10 inches, depending on your preference for size
    of working.  Put it in your lap and lean it against the table or your knees- instant drawing table!
  5. Make sure you have a mobile angle poise or other simple reading light nearby to illuminate your work.
  6. See how much you can get done in snatched 5-10 minute segments. A quick blind contour. One cut-out shape pasted in a sketchbook. Sometimes just handling the materials can ease that feeling of not being able to get to what you really want to do because of all your ‘Have Tos.
  7. Give yourself permission to do what you love first, before you start your daily ‘To Do’ list.Even if it is only for 10 minutes.

You can do this. You could try making a 30 day commitment to touch art materials to paper for at least 5 minutes every day.

Acrylic tips

April 26, 2012

Keeping acrylic paints wet

This is a quick post to share a few things I’ve learned in the years I’ve painted with acrylics.

In between sessions, I keep my squeezed out colors moist by first spraying them with a plant sprayer then covering groups of colors with these little plastic mixing cups. Anything else will do, small bottles or jars, but they can’t have too much air in them or the paint will dry. I can keep the colors workable this way for about a day and a night.

And my other tip, learned in the recent workshop I took and wrote about here is to use a big jar for rinsing brushes during painting, filled with hot water. It dissolves the paint much faster and more thoroughly.

Try it, it makes changing colors while painting really pleasant and easy.

No blue skies allowed

April 15, 2012

Yesterday I attended an all day workshop on how to loosen up your painting technique.

We were a group of about 15 people at various levels of ability under the instruction of Antje Sonneschein, a German artist living in Holland. Below is a painting of hers. Here is a video of one of her workshops, in Dutch, but you get an idea of the work and atmosphere.

The Red Farm by Antje Sonneschein. Image from Kunst.nu

Her style is reminiscent of the  (founded in 1918) Groningen Expressionistic group called ‘de Ploeg’ which means ‘The Plow’. They used bold forms and bright colours to paint the Groningen countryside and villages. See below, a painting by de Ploeg artist Jan Altink.

Painting by Jan Altink. From the site of JBalvers .

In the morning we selected a landscape photo to work from.

We could do anything we wanted- with one stipulation, we were forbidden to paint the sky blue.

The reason for this was that the sky determines the coloring for the whole painting, so by choosing an alternative color for the sky, you immediately are thrown into a different palette than your familiar one.

First, we made a charcoal sketch on a small piece of matte board, already making decisions about what to leave out, change or add to make a better composition.

Then we went to work, over the charcoal, in acrylics with a relatively large brush and quickly mapped in the colors. We had 20 minutes from start to finish including the sketch. This resulted in the most spontaneous work of the day. Here is mine.

The photo I selected is fairly close to this. I liked the flowing landscape, the road, and the grouping of trees on the right. The yellow is a mass of dandelions which made a very troublesome foreground, and I chose that as a challenge.

Then we started on a large version of our painting. About 18 x 24″ on a thin piece of MDF board coated with a thin layer of neutral grey. We sketched in our composition with white pastel and went to work with thin paint and a large brush.

I liked this underpainting so much for its rhythm and confidence (sound familiar?), I didn’t want to ruin it so I started another one. (We worked from background to foreground, so the trees will be added later).


My epiphany for the day was when I asked the instructor how to progress from the underpainting and keep the same freedom. Whereby she came along, and with my permission, took an inch wide brush, a huge glob of white paint and some ochre, and in a few quick strokes, painted in the sky.

It is difficult to describe my reaction. Read the rest of this entry »