The Weirdest of Art Supplies

So, I was walking down the sidewalk recently, getting my exercise for that day, when I noticed this sitting on the sidewalk:

In case you can’t make it out from the photo, it’s a tennis ball. Or rather, it WAS a tennis ball. Obviously the dogs who play inside the nearby fence had done it in. I thought to myself, “Ewww. Gross,” and I kept on walking. Then a few blocks down the road I suddenly halted when I remembered something I had seen on another artist’s social media post. This other artist (whose name I can’t recall, so sorry — can’t give credit) was using half of a tennis ball to wash paint brushes.

Many of us who paint clean our brushes by rubbing them in soap or brush cleaner in the palm of our hand. This works fine, except for the small danger of heavy metals. Genuine pigments are minerals that are ground up extremely fine and mixed with a binder to make paint. (Basically, pigment is dirt.) A few of those mineral pigments are toxic, such as cadmium read, lead white, or cobalt blue. [Many paint manufacturers avoid these toxins by substituting safer pigments that have been dyed, though the colors aren’t always a true match to the real thing.]

The risk of absorbing these toxic metals through the skin while painting is not extreme, but it’s not zero either. Some artists go so far as to paint wearing rubber gloves. I haven’t gone that far, but I did think putting the stuff in the palm of my hand and rubbing it around was probably not the healthiest practice. And if I have a lot of brushes to clean, just the friction can be irritating. So when I read that this artist’s husband sawed a tennis ball in two for her to use as the washboard for her brushes instead of the cupped palm of her hand, I thought that was brilliant.

There were two problems with implementing this practice myself: (1) I didn’t have any tennis balls, and didn’t want to buy a whole can just for that. (Yeah, I’m a cheapskate.) And (2) I didn’t have any way to safely cut one in half if I did spend the $4.99 plus tax. That’s why, on the way back from getting in my steps for the day, I stopped and (very gingerly) picked up the remains of that sad former doggy toy, which was already neatly split in two for me. It didn’t take much to remove the remains of the felt covering and clean it up for artsy use.

Now don’t feel bad for those two dogs that lost their toy. It was no longer useful to them, and it had to have been one of their humans who flung it that far outside the fence onto the sidewalk. Besided, those doggos are mean, and they owe me a used ball for all the times they’ve jumped at the fence barking their heads off and scared the breath out of me.

Not Quite An Announcement

So far, I’ve only submitted an application to participate in an art show/fair twice. The first one was last summer and it got COVID-canceled before I even found out if I was in or not. Sadness. At least I got I refund.

A few weeks ago, I submitted that second application, and it was for the Village Art Fair in Winona Lake on June 5th and 6th. It looks likely that it will actually go ahead as planned. I knew getting in wasn’t a sure thing, so I was prepared either way — get busy and get ready if I’m accepted, or get on with business and apply to the next one if I got rejected. I forgot there was a third possibility, and I wasn’t prepared for that one — I got wait-listed.

That’s pretty cool, because it’s affirmation that I’m good enough for these events, but it leaves my plans in limbo. Oh well, after the craziness of the past twelve months, I’m rather used to plans that are entirely tentative. You too? They are supposed to let me know by the 8th of April. I’ll let you all know. Maybe you can come see me there!

Dog Gone!

Today I delivered my fifth dog portrait commission in as many months. I’m a cat person, but I believe all animals (even the blobfish) are beautiful. Dogs have particularly expressive, soulful faces, so portraits of dogs are especially appealing.

My cats wander into my studio and critique my work. They’ve been sitting on my dog portraits or chewing up my reference photos, so I’m interpreting that to mean they don’t approve. My clients have been very happy though, and I’m grateful for their business. Business has been steady since I put out a notice on Facebook that I was available for a few pet portraits before Christmas. It’s been good practice too, and I feel like my abilities have increased with each new portrait.

I’ve got three more pups to paint, and then I’ll definitely be ready to tackle some new subject matter. Maybe a cat. Aren’t there any cat people out there who love their kitties so much that they must immortalize them in oil on canvas? My theory is that cat people tend to be creative types, so they’re painting their own portraits. Or maybe it’s just that they have so many thousands of cat photos on their phones that they don’t feel the need for more cat pictures.

I’m a Calendar Girl!

I got a bit of fun affirmation — my painting A Tangle of Irises was chosen for the April page of the 2021 Elkhart Art League calendar, Art For All Seasons. It’s so cool to see it in print!

A dozen other local artists are also featured, of course, and I’ll bet they got a kick out of it too. It’s all lovely work, so I’m sure everyone who has one hanging on their wall will be enjoying them. Life has been so rotten in the past year, so THANKS Elkhart Art League friends for giving us all a sweet punch of cheerfulness.

Thanks to the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau for sponsoring the calendar too. Local friends, if you want one they might have copies left at their visitors’ center at 3431 Cassopolis Street — that’s State Route 19 just north of I-80/90 exit 92.

Here’s hoping we soon find ourselves living in a healthier world that will allow for art shows and art fairs where we can share our art in person too!

(The original Tangle of Irises is finally varnished and dry, so it’s for sale on my gallery shop page, if you’re interested.)

Art and Emotion

So I stated this new painting at the end of June (small detail shown above). I struggled with it. I was unmotivated to work on it. It was an interesting idea for a technique I’d never seen used before — one of those meaningful, high-concept projects that typically gets picked for juried art shows. Also the type of project that is very much out of my comfort zone. It seemed like I should be excited to work on it, but I just wasn’t.

After having it sit there unfinished on my easel for a few weeks, I finally realized why I couldn’t muster the ambition to keep working on it. It’s all about anxiety. The first layer of this work is a montage of images of things that generate anxiety. Working on it, while artistically fascinating, was emotionally disturbing. I couldn’t look at all those illustrations of anger, angst, hostility, and excess without absorbing some of the negative emotional energy it contains.

I’ve put it away for now. I haven’t decided if I should complete it, or paint over it and start something new on that panel. It would be good art, but certainly not the sort of art someone is going to hang on the wall in their favorite space and gaze at all the time. I’ve definitely decided not to spend long stretches of time on it. If I finish it, it will have to be in small increments interspersed with work on more peaceful and uplifting images.

Some artists use painting to pour out the emotions they are feeling onto the canvas as a cathartic exercise like journaling for writers. I thought that was what this was going to be for me — expressing the way I feel about the way the world is going this year. It turned out that I was absorbing emotion from the painting instead of emptying it into the painting. Not at all what I expected when I attempted broaden my artistic horizons.

Strange Holiday

So it’s the 4th of July, and I’m sitting around in my red, white, and blue (flip-flops and Eeyore pajama pants are patriotic, right?), and I’m musing about the strangest Independence Day ever. The usual local fireworks display at the high school football field down the street has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the neighbors seem to be taking up the slack… and then some — at least the neighbors who are less concerned about keeping all ten fingers.

The extended family didn’t plan anything today except that we attended a memorial service this morning for a dear friend. Our daughter is moving to another state in a month. My husband is waiting to hear if he will get the job he interviewed for on Thursday. He’s been at home since March; his previous job was eliminated due to the pandemic’s economic fallout. There was one art fair where I planned to sell my work at the end of the summer, and I just now learned that it has been Corona-canceled. Everything seems to be in a state of change or uncertainty. In the midst of all this, my motivation to make art has had its ups and downs.

I’ve been working on a bunch of smaller works on paper and trying out some art supplies that I had collected but never used. Three pieces (pictured above) that I was very happy with came of it, and then I ran out of ideas for a few days. The next round produced one even smaller floral watercolor (with bee) and then one dud (not pictured). They can’t all be winners. If it’s not a success, then it’s lesson, right? I think the main lesson in that one was that cheap watercolor paper is no bargain.

I am looking into selling my art as prints and merchandise. There are several print-on-demand sites where I could set up an online store. For those who don’t have a place to hang a large oil painting but still want to enjoy a little art, perhaps a print to put on a desk will be just the thing. I’ll keep you posted.

Getting High On Weeds

I finished a new painting last week. I’m calling it Irish Pasture. Now it’s sitting on the easel in my studio for me to stare at while it dries. That’s what I do when I’ve finished a painting — I stare at it. While I’m working on a painting, if I’m doing it right, life and light flow out of me onto the canvas (or paper, or panel) and then when I’m finished I get to stand back and absorb that life and light back into my own soul.

Eventually the effect wears off, and then I’m less attached to the piece and I can sell it. At that point, ideally, I will have the next one finished and then it can be my stare-at piece. My husband said that’s disturbingly vampire-like, but I explained to him that it’s roughly the same thing he gets from reading his poetry to a live audience, so he gets it now. Runners claim to get a high (I’ll take their word for it), and this is the painter’s version.

The focal point in a painting is always the eye or eyes if there are any. This scene has several, but the only one looking directly at the viewer is the steer on the left. His eye and the effects of the morning light falling on his face are definitely the main focal point, but I painted that first so I suppose I’ve already “sucked the life” out of that bit already.

The parts that now keep catching my attention as I walk past the studio door are the weeds in the foreground. They aren’t anything special, but they are an eye magnet — at least for me. I suppose each viewer’s eyes will settle on a different detail. Or, if I did my job well, there are enough eye magnets to keep a person looking, and looking, and looking. If you can’t easily look away, then I’ve hit a home run!

Once Irish Pasture is dry and ready to sell, I am going to donate a portion of the sale price to the missionary who took the photo, my friend Korina. Korina has traveled to many places around the globe, but lately she’s been going back to Greece for a few months at a stretch (interrupted by a bit of a pandemic) in order to work with Syrian refugees, a Roma (Gypsy) school, and Threads of Hope, a ministry that helps victims of human trafficking, and otherwise making a big difference in the world. I am hoping to make her next flight to Athens much more affordable.

Brush Work

I’ve been doing more studying about art than actually making art. One thing I learned is that most of my brushes aren’t meant for oil painting. Since I’m transitioning into oils from acrylics, I thought I ought to transition to the appropriate brushes too. Everybody seemed to be telling me that there are important differences between oil painting brushes and water media brushes. Water media includes acrylics, which was my primary media until recently.

One of my Youtube mentors instructed that sable brushes (real or synthetic) are no good for oil paints because the abrasiveness of the paint will grind away the soft hairs. (Poor, sad brushes). He said, “A brush with no hair is a stick, and you can’t paint with a stick.” He also said that I shouldn’t be using short handled brushes, because those are for watercolorists who work close to their work at a table. For oil painting at an easel, he said I should be using long-handled brushes. He recommended buying the expensive brushes and the cheapest paint. His rationale was that all paint is basically the same, but that the quality of your tools affects the quality of your work.

Then I watched another artist’s video and she used short-handled brushes of all types for both oils and acrylics. She recommended buying the cheapest brushes (though not so cheap that the bristles fall out), and the best quality paint. Her rationale was that the brushes are going to wear out regardless of how well you care for them (faster if you aren’t fastidious with cleaning) and they’ll get tossed and replaced frequently, but the paint becomes a part of the art you create, so you want it to be the best you can buy.

Both sounded like reasonable conclusions. Before I came to any conclusions of my own, I wanted to try out the boar bristle brushes that the arts & crafts stores sell as “oil painting brushes,” because I had little personal experience with those. The experience I did have with them was generally bad. Taking a look at the brushes for sale at a local shop, I determined that my issue with boar bristle brushes was because I had only ever used extremely cheap ones that are about the poorest quality you can get.

Looking at the photo above, a difference in the quality of these brushes — both new — is obvious. The brush on the right is the type I had tried in the past, and I only own it because it came in a large set of miscellaneous brushes. I probably paid around $5 for more than a dozen brushes in that package. The one on the left was a mid-range quality that sells for about $15 per brush, but I got it on clearance for around $4. The nicer looking brush is also more flexible, yet stiff enough to move the paint where it needs to go. The straighter, more even bristles allow it to hold paint and let it flow onto the canvas evenly. There is no way I could control the application of paint with that splayed mess of bristles on the cheap brush.

Now that I’ve tried the better quality boar bristle brushes, I’ve formed some opinions of my own:

  • Price matters much more with boar bristle brushes meant for oils than with soft hair brushes meant for water media.
  • Boar bristles are definitely the better way to go for oil paints, which are much thicker and stickier. Trying to paint with with oils using a soft synthetic sable brush is like trying to push a paperweight around with a peacock feather — it ain’t goin’ nowhere.
  • Oil paint is much, much easier to wash out of brushes — whatever the quality of the brush. Score one for oils over acrylics. (Watercolors are still the easiest to wash out though.)
  • Short handles work fine for me, even when I’m working at a canvas on an easel, because I have to stand pretty close to it anyway. Darn progressive lenses!
  • Walking around the room looking for your glasses while holding a loaded brush in one’s teeth is a very bad idea.

Death and Taxes

Grabbed a photo from my favorite photo sharing website to sketch from at my monthly sketchers’ group meeting.
a mini sketch in my pocket sized sketchbook
Moo.

Various things have gotten in the way of my painting this winter. My sister-in-law passed away, so we made two trips out of state. Doing all the record keeping and paperwork required for maintaining my art as a businesses has been a time consuming hassle… taxes, taxes, and more taxes. Plus…y’know… Life. But I’ve been keeping my skills sharp by sketching when an opportunity presents itself.

Of course, those opportunities present themselves more often if I keep some art materials handy. Sunday morning at church I found myself with a few idle moments before it was time for Sunday school to start. I pulled my mini sketchbook and the stub of a No. 2 pencil out of my purse and looked around for something that was saying, “Draw me!” At first I only saw all of the same objects that are always there. Then I spotted my Dad’s hat sitting on a chair — lots of interesting curves, just the right amount of detail, and gorgeous texture. BINGO!

Painting Weather

freshly primed wood panels drying in the garage

I never thought that art would be at the mercy of the weather, but I find myself anxiously watching the forecast. I’ve started painting on wood panels instead of canvases which I want to coat with sprayed-on primer… which requires temperatures between 55 and 85 degrees F and calm winds. For weeks I was waiting for cooler days, and then MUCH cooler days descended upon us rather suddenly, so now I’m hoping it will warm up again at least briefly and that the winds will calm down. I can’t complain too much knowing what they’re dealing with in North Dakota right now — lost crops buried under feet of snow, and having to use the winter supply of hay to feed the cattle so it won’t likely last until the spring thaw.

I want to get all the panels I’ve bought primed and ready to use before winter sets in, so I can paint during those winter days when I’m stuck inside. You may have noticed the spray cans in the photo. Yes, that’s Rustoleumâ„¢ automotive primer. I learned that it’s an ideal primer for oil painting. It’s oil-based itself and it’s made to last a decade on your car out there on the road, so it’s going to last for centuries indoors hanging on a wall. I also like that it makes a smoother surface than brushing gesso onto canvas, and a smooth surface is critical when painting highly detailed work. I like it when the best product is also reasonably priced too! I painted those eight square panels with just one can.

The primer comes in white, though I haven’t been able to find it at any of the local home improvement stores. I’ll try the auto parts stores next. I tend to paint dark though, so black primer might work best anyway. If I don’t get any paint on the edges when I’m painting the front, then smooth, black edges will make framing optional. Bonus! Frame-less art seems to be the trend, and it’s certainly more economical, so I’m good with that.