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Inspiration from Catherine Jao… Open to Critique!

A little while back I got an e-mail from Catherine Jao, who is an artist living in Japan. Her ink drawings are sensitive, yet bold. They evoke traditional Japanese art, but with a definite modern spin.

Catherine says “I would love to hear what you and anybody else thinks about it, and kick start some exchange and discussion!”

Check out her gallery and let Catherine know what you think of her art!


I was also referred to some great animal photography by Ken Archer. These are some of his recent bird pictures. He does a great job of capturing animal behaviour. Have a look at his site for some inspiration, just don’t forget about copyright!


Experiencing An Artistic Identity Crisis?

If so, you’re not alone. Because I am too!

According to popular opinion, the key to success as an artist is knowing what you want from your art. Do you want fame and recognition? Do you want to be rich? Do you simply want to make a living making art?

Well, what if you can’t identify what you want from your art, or even what kind of art you like to do? You end up like me, spread too thin, not committed enough to any one thing to be successful.

Tough to admit? You bet!

Where does all this ambivalence come from? I’m convinced it’s the result of years of  “brainwashing” in art school. I started school believing I was into one type of art, and I left school believing I was into another type of art. Now I’m floating somewhere in between, not sure where my beliefs end and the school’s teachings begin.

Anyone who has been to university for fine arts can probably tell you that there is a definite emphasis on content and concept over technical skill or presentation. Paintings should have some type of narrative or commentary. Realistic, representational work is boring, pointless, stagnant. To paint something because it will sell is to sell-out.

Well, that was the message I got anyways. It wasn’t until fourth year that someone actually said to me, “if you want to paint realistically, that’s fine, just make sure you do it well.” But by then I was so far gone that I responded with, “I don’t want to paint realistically, it’s become a crutch.”

I’m pretty sure I believed it at the time. Now I’m not so sure.

Plagued with doubts as I am, I look at self-taught artists with envy. They seem to blindly forge ahead, confident in their abilities and direction, completely unfettered by the trappings of the “institution.” And as a result, they are successful.

So, what’s an artist to do in the face of an identity crisis?

My solution is to get back to basics and find the enjoyment in art I had before school by taking these steps:

  • Stop feeling so much pressure to produce, produce, produce.
  • Stop worrying about if it will sell, if there’s a market for it.
  • Focus on painting what interests me.
  • Stop when it’s no longer interesting, move on to something else.

I have been browsing the Wet Canvas Reference Image Library for images that intrigue me and painting whatever catches my fancy (like my horse up there). I want to rediscover the joys of painting and settle into a niche that is more comfortable and natural.

I am re-learning my artistic identity. I don’t know how long it will take, but it’s a necessary step to figuring out what I want from my art and achieving success.

How to Paint a Sphere in Acrylics Using Scumbling to Blend – Tutorial

Tutorial on How to Paint a Sphere with AcrylicsBefore attempting this tutorial, I would suggest you read both How to Shade Your Drawings and Blending Acrylic Paints. The first article will teach you what you need to know about the different values (areas of light and dark) on a sphere, and the second describes in more detail the scumbling technique.

So, it occurred to me that while I have done a lot of drawing tutorials, I haven’t done a huge amount of basic painting tutorials. This is back to the basic painting for those of you just starting out. This kind of exercise is good practice for painting any kind of three dimensional object with a rounded surface.

In this tutorial we will cover how to create depth through the use of shadows, mid tones and highlights, as well as how to blend the three basic values together. I am using the scumbling technique here because I think it’s probably the most basic and common technique used by people learning how to paint with acrylics. The technique lends itself well to the quick drying time of acrylics.

One disclaimer: This is not the only, the right, or even the best way to paint a sphere or anything else. This is one method using one technique, simplified for the sake of the tutorial. Once you gain some experience, you should experiment to find your preferred way to paint.

Okay.. let’s go!

For this tutorial, I will be using just two paints: raw umber and white. This way we can use value to create form without being distracted by colour. I like to use a raw or burnt umber to create shadows instead of black. I find that it gives shadows more depth, while black is very flat.

Before we actually start painting, let’s do a quick exercise to get some practice mixing different values. Paint a value scale that has pure raw umber on the left and pure white on the right. Try to create a scale that shows an even and gradual transition from one value to the next.

painting value scale

Start with a simple line drawing that shows the shape of your sphere as well as the values within it.

Tutorial on How to Paint a Sphere with Acrylics

Starting with a value in the middle of your scale (3), fill in the mid-tones, or everything that isn’t a shadow or a highlight.

Tutorial on How to Paint a Sphere with Acrylics

Next, fill in the shadow area with raw umber, leaving a slight buffer between it and the mid-tones.

Tutorial on How to Paint a Sphere with Acrylics

Now it’s time for our scumbling. Mix a colour close to 2 on your value scale. dry brush this on the edge of the shadow area. Slowly add more white to your paint, bringing the value to a 3 as you work away from the shadow and blend into the mid-tone.

Tutorial on How to Paint a Sphere with Acrylics

Let’s do the same with the highlight. Remember, that only the very, very centre of the highlight will actually be pure white. Fill this in, leaving a large buffer. You will need more room to get a gradual gradation here.  Now we can very slowly add the umber to our paint, working our way backwards on the value scale. Scumble this in with a dry brush until you get to the mid-tones. Don’t be afraid to blend over top of the mid-tones to get a smooth gradation.

Tutorial on How to Paint a Sphere with Acrylics

Tips to Remember

  • Paint on canvas or a textured paper, you will need the tooth to be able to scumble effectively. Don’t use smooth paper (like I did, oops!).
  • Make sure your brush is nice and dry for the scumbling; no water! Keep a paper towel handy.
  • If you’re having trouble mixing the subtle values (as in, you add a tiny bit of umber to your white and already it’s too dark), try mixing your mid-tone value first, then add that a little at a time to your white to darken it.
  • Don’t forget that acrylics dry slightly darker.
  • Remember, this is not an exact science! It will take time and practice. If you find your shadow growing to take over the whole mid-tone area, mix up more of that middle value and scumble back on top. There will be a bit of back-and-forth. This is normal!

There you have it, a three-dimensional sphere done in acrylics with a scumbling technique. Once you’re comfortable with this, try your hand at some apples or oranges. Have fun practicing!

Give Your Clients (and Friends and Family) An Education in the Arts

Don’t ever be afraid to speak up about your art and the art market in general to those who don’t know how things work.

I don’t know how many times people have casually asked me how my work is going. They like to ask me things like “do you have your work in a gallery?” and “are you planning on selling some of your work?”

Yes. Because it’s that easy. Poof! Paintings are sold, just like in the Sims.

Honestly, my gut reaction to these kinds of questions is a mix of guilt and shame and a bit of anger. I feel badly that I have to say no, my work is not in any galleries at the moment. Yes, I’d love to sell my work but no one is buying it. I also feel put-out that these questions are asked at all. It’s somehow akin to asking someone how much they get paid at their job.

Then come the inevitable “helpful suggestions.” Maybe you could show your work here, or maybe you could sell your work there. It drives me crazy. But then, I might be a little sensitive!

The truth is that people have no idea what the art world is like and their questions come from a place of ignorance and well-meaning curiosity. This is our chance to educate!

Instead of being annoyed or embarrassed or ashamed, I try to take the opportunity to explain a little bit about how the art market works. Most people are completely unaware of how a gallery operates, what the process is for applying for art shows, or the fact that you need to have a body of work before you’ll even be considered.

This also applies to your own work and how people view it. Many people have zero knowledge when it comes to art in general, and a little education can go a long way towards their understanding and appreciation of art. According to Alyson Stanfield, “helping people to understand why [your work is] amazing can lead to more fans.”

So the next time someone asks you a dumb question or says something about your work that gets your back up, shrug it off and take the opportunity to educate. You do yourself a favor, you do the person in question a favor and you do every other artist a favor!

Inspiration à la Kyla Tomlinson

I love this, people sharing their work with everyone else! Kyla Tomlinson is an animator and illustrator. Her illustrations are dynamic and full of character; you can see her drawings come to life. Here’s what Kyla has to say about her work:

I’m really keen to develop a stronger approach with the use of mixed media in the character work that I’m doing.  So many character designs for commercial animation are brilliant and beautifully executed, but have a very typical and generic look.  I want to experiment and try something different.

I love that Kyla is stepping outside the box and and doing something different. We need more artists like her!

Check out some inspiration from Kyla, and let me know if you want your art featured!


3 Things the Sims Taught Me About Painting

Finish a painting, toss it into the air and get cash…

If only it were that easy!

Okay, so the Sims isn’t completely realistic when it comes to being an artist, but it actually has a few things to teach us about being a successful painter.

For those of you who are living under a rock and are thinking, “what the heck is the Sims?” here’s a quick rundown: The Sims is a game that simulates real life. You take control of a household of sims, or people, who have unique personalities, aspirations and goals. You are responsible for making sure your sims are cleaning house, cooking food, going to work, socializing, and having fun.

And here’s my dirty little secret of the day… I love playing the Sims! Yep, I’m that much of a dork.

The cool feature about the game is that your sim can be an artist. It’s more a hobby than a career, but with some practice, it can be quite lucrative. As I was playing yesterday, I began to realize that this mindless game has some valuable things to teach us about what it takes to be a successful artist.

Here are three lessons about painting learned from the Sims:

1. Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Even in the sim world, bills have to be paid. The myth of the starving artist is just a myth, and the reality is that a day job serves a very necessary purpose. It’s the day job that keeps you clothed, fed, sheltered, not to mention able to buy art supplies. The key to having a job and being an artist, in life and in the Sims, is making sure you spend time painting. Try to dedicate an hour, or even half an hour a day in the studio. It doesn’t have to be  a lot of time, but making that commitment is important.

In the Sims, as you progress as an artist, you are able to sell your paintings for more and more money. When you get to the point that you are selling paintings for more than you can make at work, then it’s time to quit. In reality, this would take much, much longer! The same rules apply, though, and when you get to the point that your art can consistently sustain whatever lifestyle you have determined necessary, then lose the day job. Until then, keep it up and don’t resent it. Without that day job you may not have a roof over your head!

2. Paint, Paint, Paint

The only way for a sim to become a better artist and increase the value of his paintings is to paint. A lot. The more the sim paints, the more quickly he will gain skills. Isn’t this true of real life?

We’ve all heard the phrase “practice makes perfect,” but do we really buy into it? I don’t think we do, but we should because it’s true. The only way to get better at something is to practice, and the more you practice the more you improve. If I spent as many hours out of a day in the studio as my sim spent painting, I’d quickly become more experienced and more skilled. It can be hard to fit everything in, especially considering number one, but give yourself permission to skip the dishes one night and do a little painting. It’s important and it’s worth it!

3. Quality will Follow Quantity

Perhaps the toughest lesson to accept.

In the Sims, artists have different types of paintings they can create: regular, brilliant, and masterpieces. The more skilled your sim, the more likely he is to paint brilliant paintings and then masterpieces. But, he will never consistently produce either. It’s totally random.

This absolutely applies to real life. People often think that quality and quantity are mutually exclusive, but the more paintings you paint, the more likely you will be to paint a really great piece. I don’t mean that you should be whipping out piece after piece regardless of the quality. It’s more that you should focus on producing as much as you can of the best work that you can, but don’t get caught up in creating a perfect piece every time. Accept that some pieces will be better than others and instead of worrying at it forever trying to fix it, move on to a new painting. You can always come back to the other piece to fix it.

There you have it, three things I learned about painting from playing the Sims. Follow these three lessons and you could be selling paintings for upwards of $5000 in just a few weeks just like my sim!

…Or not.

Drawing, There’s More to it Than Just Pencils

Think drawing is all about the pencil and paper? Think again!

Sure, the pencil is the most traditional of drawing tools, along with charcoal and and ink, but there are many other mediums that can be used for drawing, including materials you might think are reserved for kids. Don’t limit yourself to tradition, try something new:

1. Coloured Pencil – Pretty much the same as pencil crayons, these let you build up luminous layers of colours, resulting in vibrant and rich works. Check out a some coloured pencil inspiration to see what can be achieved.

2. Pastel – Pastels are available as dry, dusty chalk, or thick, wet oils. Each has its own benefits and each can create beautiful pieces. Have a look at what you can do with chalk pastels and oil pastels.

3. Watercolour Pencil Crayons – Similar to coloured pencils, these are unique in that they are water soluble. You can create a water-colour effect by painting water on top of your drawings, allowing you to blend your colours. Here is an example of watercolour pencil crayons.

4. Crayons – Not just for kids! Crayons are a perfectly legitimate medium to work with, especially when you’re playing around. Remember that you can layer colours to get more variations. Check out this crayon drawing.

5. Markers – Used a lot in illustrations, markers are great for a clean, graphic look. Copic markers are relatively new on the market; they are pricey but they allow for blending. If marker is your thing, check them out! Here’s a drawing in copic marker.

6. Paint – Don’t be fooled, paint can be used for drawing! It’s all in the application of the paint. Using different tools can help you get away from the more traditional painterly approach; try things like sticks, sponges, stamps, strings, etc. Take a look at this painted drawing.

There are a lot of different materials out there. The trick to finding the ones that suit you best is experimenting. Try as many different things as you can and you’ll soon find the ones you are drawn to.