On Art and Entitlement

Here’s a scenario that many artists and other creative people will be all too familiar with: You finish a project you were working on and you’re really proud of how it came out. You’re not sure what you’ll do with it yet; maybe you’ll keep it in your collection as a reminder of how much your skills are improving. Or you might have a go at advertising it for sale (not only is selling art a nice boost for the ego, but the money it brings in can be a good way to make your hobby self-sustaining). But before you can decide either way, a family member (or maybe friend), sees it and swoops on it, declaring “Ooh, I’ll have this!” and taking it before you can work out a polite way to stop them.

The first time this happens might not upset you that much. After all, if someone likes your work enough to want to keep it or display it somewhere, isn’t that a good thing? But gradually you’ll find yourself producing more and more good art but ending up with nothing to show for it, because you keep giving it away/it keeps being taken off you before you can do anything with it. This can be especially problematic if you are making art specifically with the intent to sell, as a lot of artists use the money they get from selling paintings and drawings to buy more art supplies so they can keep making art, or they may need that money to pay for bills, groceries and other everyday expenses.

A few months ago, I was asked to paint a small commission piece by a friend. I completed the painting, and the friend sent me the payment. On the morning I was going to post the painting, it was no longer on my desk where I had left it. I eventually found it on the fridge, where a family member had displayed it with a magnet, and once I removed it and posted it off, the friend who received it was very happy. Unfortunately the family member was not, resulting in this conversation…

Them: Where’s my painting?
Me: What painting?
Them: The coloured tree.
Me: It was a commission. I sent it to the person who paid for it.
Them: But you gave it to me!
Me: No, you took it without asking. It never belonged to you.
*followed by a lot of sulking from said family member who felt like I should have asked for their permission before sending off the painting that I had been paid to do for someone else*

So, there’s going to come a time when you don’t actually want to give a painting or drawing away for nothing, but you know there are going to be hurt feelings when you make this clear. Much of this will depend on the personality of whoever’s asking for the art; hopefully most of the time the worst that will happen is they’ll pout and sulk a bit, but some people really do not handle being denied things well at all and can get quite abusive about it. But whichever category they fall into, they are going to have to get used to hearing one particular word from your mouth: “No.”

It might help to think of it this way: Will anyone ever really value your art if you just keep giving it away? I do think a lot of the problem stems from the fact that people don’t view making art as ‘real’ work. While they wouldn’t hesitate to pay for a plumber to fix their toilet or a mechanic to fix their car, or to buy a dining set hand crafted by a woodworker, they view paying for art as a waste of money. They believe artists ‘don’t do any real work’ and therefore are greedy or selfish if they expect payment for what they create. They refuse to acknowledge the expensive canvas and paper, the various tubes of paint or boxes of pencils you had to buy, the hours and hours you spent not only creating the art but also practicing your craft, so they think that no matter how big or detailed or beautiful your creation is, they should either get it for free or for no more than the cost of a takeaway meal. But refining your skills and having to cultivate the patience and discipline required to finish a painting or drawing is real work, and you deserve to be compensated for it.

All of this isn’t to say you should never give away your art – you may occasionally give someone a painting because you think it’ll appeal to them, or maybe draw a portrait of their pet for their birthday or Christmas. You may even reach an agreement with a friend or family to give them a piece of artwork in return for them giving something to or doing something for you (I have traded artwork for churros and hot chocolate). But you should never feel forced to give it away.

Though it’s easier said than done, learning to say “No” to people who want you to give them your art for nothing is one of the most important skills you can develop. Unfortunately I don’t have any advice for you to make this easier, but I hope that after reading this, you will at least know that you are not obligated to give your art away for free, and that you should not feel guilty about expecting payment for your work.

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Watercolours: Orange Slice Still Life (demonstration)

After seeing a gorgeous coloured pencil drawing of some oranges in one of my art books, I decided I wanted to have a go at something similar. At the time I decided I didn’t have the patience to do such a detailed colour pencil drawing so I went with watercolours instead. This painting was based on a photo uploaded to the WetCanvas Reference Image Library by Fagan, though it had a light background. I’ve listed the materials I’ve used but you should be able to achieve the same results with your favourite watercolours.

Blick Artists’ Watercolours:
-Lemon Yellow
-Cerulean Blue

Da Vinci Watercolours:

Grumbacher Academy Watercolours:
-Payne’s Grey

Lukas Gouache:
-Chinese White

Watercolour Pencils
Prismacolor Premier Watersoluble Pencils:
-WC21003 Spanish Orange
-WC2918 Orange
-WC21063 Cool Grey 50%

Silver Black Velvet 3/4 inch flat
-Silver Black Velvet size 10 round
-Creative Mark Rhapsody Kolinsky Sable size 4 round
Creative Mark Ebony Splendor size 2 round
Creative Mark Beste Script size 2

300gsm rough press watercolour paper (I used Arches Rough Press). You can do it in whatever size you like but I did it on a 7″ X 10″ block.

Other Equipment
Masking tape
Kneadable eraser
Greylead pencil (HB or 2B) (optional)
Masking fluid (optional)

Step 1
Before you begin, mask off the border of your paper with masking tape. For the first step, you can either trace the outline of the orange from your image and then transfer it to your paper, or do as I did and draw a faint grid over the original image, faintly draw a matching grid to the watercolour paper and then draw the shapes using the grid as a guide (make sure you keep the grid lines soft and light so you can easily lift them with the kneadable eraser). I chose the grid option as it allowed me to draw the actual lines with watercolour pencils in colours that would be used for those areas, eg. orange for the rind (skin), green for the pith (the whitish area between the rind and the flesh). This way, once I started painting, the lines would blend into the colours without any muddy greylead residue. At this point, you may want to reserve the highlights on the orange rind with some masking fluid, but I didn’t bother, figuring I’d just use white gouache instead.

Step 2
Mix Magenta and Viridian so you have a dark purple or greyish purple. It doesn’t really matter if you don’t get it exactly the right colour at this stage as you will be building up multiple layers over the top. All you want is the foundation for a deep, cool violet to contrast with the warm oranges and yellows in the fruit. At this point I was going to have a dark background but a lighter surface, which is why I only applied the purple to the top half.  However I realised that even if the surface was light, it would reflect the dark background anyway along with the orange slice.

For the orange slice, put in a wash of pure Lemon Yellow for the flesh, then mix some Magenta with Lemon Yellow to make a pale orange for the orange’s rind. Ensure you keep the colour and intensity consistent between the actual orange and its reflection beneath it. For the pith, mix a little Cerulean Blue into the yellow for a pale green. Depending on how you’re going to light the orange (from behind or from the front), you may want to leave this white and add subtle colours later, but as I mentioned before, I changed my mind about the lighting when I was part way through, which probably worked against me.

Step 3
Make a denser mix of dark purple from Magenta and Viridian and use it to fill in the whole background. Add another layer of your orange mix to the rind. Add a thin layer over some of the pith, leaving a sliver of green along the outer edge on the left side. For the flesh, mix a slightly stronger orange by adding a bit more Magenta to your orange mix and wash this in along the bottom of the flesh (it’s darker here because it’s thicker). Start to bring this way up towards the top, gradually lightening it until you reach the top edge, by which point it should be almost pure yellow (leave a tiny, uneven white edge at the top as a highlight). While this is still wet, drop in a tiny bit of green in the top parts of the orange flesh in some patches to show the natural variation in the fruit.

Step 4
Add yet another layer of your dark purple to the background. It might be good to mix a little Payne’s Grey into it as well to make it really dark. For the shadows on the underside of the orange (make sure you mirror it in the reflection), add a thin layer of your background purple colour; violet is a complementary colour to orange so it will end up looking like a dark dusky grey. Put another light wash of green over the purple area of the pith. Similar to Step 3, lay in another graduated wash of darker orange in the flesh, working from dark at the bottom to a very pale wash at the top.

Step 5
Mix the strongest wash of dark purple you can and add some Payne’s Grey, then wash this over the background. The background should end up looking almost black but with a violet tint. Add another layer of purple to the shadowed underside of the orange slice and its reflection and wait for this to dry, then go over it with a stronger mix of orange, keeping it lighter in the top left corner of the rind and in the lower left corner of the reflection. Using a size 2 round, pick up some diluted white gouache and dab it in the light areas of the orange rind, making the dots more concentrated at the outer edges. Dabbing in little dots rather than painting in with typical strokes will help you achieve the pitted look of the orange’s skin.

Mix up a puddle of dark reddish orange and a puddle of orange similar to what you’ve used for the rind, as well as a third puddle of yellowish green. Using your script or liner brush (also called a rigger), draw in the veins in the flesh. Make sure they converge towards the centre of the fruit. Where the flesh is dark orange, use your deeper reddish orange, blending the veins into a lighter orange towards the centre. The veins in the upper yellow part of the flesh should be pale orange or light green (vary them a bit for interest). Let some of the veins join up with others, while some should just trail off on their own.

To sign the painting, I mixed a little white gouache with the dark background purple and put my initials in the corner with the number 2 round. Once this dries, it’s time to carefully remove the masking tape from the border.

That’s it for another painting demonstration. I hope you enjoyed painting this refreshing orange slice, and as always, if you have any questions, let me know in the comments.

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Watercolours: Blick Artists’ Watercolours (review)

Time to review more of the art supplies my parents brought home from America! Today it’s the Blick Artists’ watercolours, which are essentially the ‘home brand’ of Dick Blick. Up until now I’d only used their coloured pencils but I thought those were very good for the price, so I was looking forward to trying their watercolours.

Here’s the colour chart for the four Blick colours I got.

There are 63 colours in Blick’s range, providing plenty of choice without being overwhelming. They are competitively priced, with the Cerulean Blue being about $18AUD for a 14ml tube – some other brands are about the same price but most are more expensive, even for smaller tubes. Pigment concentration across the four colours I tried is as strong as in most other artist grade brands. Pigment information is also readily available on Blick’s site and on the tubes themselves; I’m not sure how many of the range are multi-pigment mixes but the four colours I got are all single-pigment paints. I have seen other reviews say that some colours that are normally single pigment are made using two or more pigments, however when I was looking at the information on the site, deciding what colours to buy, I didn’t notice any instances of this. Then again, those reviews are old, so it’s possible Blick has reformulated their watercolours since then.

Since I often like to squeeze paint into my palette and then use it later once it’s dried, I did this with my Blick watercolours to see how well they’d perform in that regard. Some brands are difficult (if not impossible) to rewet once they’ve dried, but the Blick watercolours easily reconstituted with water, without any gritty particles like some watercolours have if you use dried tube colour (I’m looking at you, Winsor & Newton). As I mentioned above, these watercolours are just as good as the other artist grade watercolours I’ve tried; it’s easy to get nice, strong washes, and when used wet-in-wet, they are quite active, flowing and blending on the paper. With the exception of Magenta, the colours I got also lift relatively easily (though this can also depend on the quality of the paper you’re using).

Here’s a painting I did with the Blick Artists’ watercolours, based on a picture uploaded to the WetCanvas Reference Image Library by Fagan (I also used Payne’s Grey from my Grumbacher Academy watercolours, and some white gouache for the highlights).

If you live in or are visiting America (or have family who are going on holiday there 🙂 ), it’s well worth picking up some Blick Artists’ watercolours. Sadly they’re hard to get for non-US citizens but if you can get your hands on them, you’ll be very happy with how affordable they are and how well they perform.

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Paper: St Cuthberts Mill Saunders Waterford Watercolour Blocks (review)

When I was in an art shop in the city sometime last year, I saw some Saunders Waterford watercolour blocks on their shelves. I quite like my Arches blocks (mostly because blocks save you the effort of having to tape down all the edges to prevent or reduce buckling) but they are quite pricey, so when I noticed that the Saunders Waterford ones were a little cheaper for their size, I decided to get a 5X7 inch one to try.

The more watercolour paintings I’ve done, the more I’ve realised that rough press papers are my preference, a feeling that has been confirmed by my use of the Saunders Waterford rough press block. I also like thicker papers (again, to reduce buckling under heavy washes) so I got the 300gsm block. They also come in bigger sizes and in different weights, and in plain pads as well as the blocks.

Like many watercolour papers, Saunders Waterford is more of an off-white, ivory colour (even though it’s marketed as ‘white’). You can buy truly white watercolour paper but those seem to be more expensive (maybe because they have to be processed more? I don’t know). A lot of watercolour painters like this ivory colour as it helps provide a warm cast to their paintings.

In terms of the paper itself, I can safely say it’s one of my favourites, easily equal to Arches. The rough texture makes it easy to produce broken, dry brush effects, but still allows smooth washes when you want them, and the paper is sturdy enough that it can tolerate a fair bit of lifting (a technique I used quite a lot in the first and second paintings below). Even though some of my paintings required dense watercolour washes, I didn’t notice any buckling in this paper.

Here are a few paintings I’ve done using the Saunders Waterford rough paper (most of these have appeared in previous art supply review or demonstration posts).

St Cuthberts Mill Saunders Waterford blocks are excellent for watercolour artists who want a high quality paper in a convenient format. The smallest size seems to be hard to find in Australia – though I found my original block in a city art supply shop, no one seemed to carry them when I wanted more, so I had to buy some off eBay – but bigger sizes are obtainable easily enough online, if not in store. It’s definitely worth trying this paper out for yourself; you won’t be disappointed. And if you can get one of the smaller blocks, it’d be great to put it in your plein air painting kit.

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Watercolours: Grumbacher Academy Watercolours (review)

As I’ve often lamented on this blog, currency conversion rates and excessive postage costs have meant that I can no longer buy art supplies from the big American retailers, which tend to have a much larger range of products and brands than we do here in Australia. Some of these brands are only available from specific American art supply stores, making it even more difficult (if not impossible) for me to get my hands on them. So when my parents said they were going to America and Canada for a holiday, I immediately started plotting what I wanted them to get, so I could give them a big list when they left. They arrived home this morning, and happily they’d managed to get just about everything on the list (though I’d mentioned they should only get them if they happened to find an art supply shop on their way, Dad apparently walked around San Francisco for half a day to three or four different stores, so I definitely owe him some beer or Wild Turkey). I’m planning to do reviews of all the different goodies I got, starting with the Grumbacher watercolours.

I actually wanted the Grumbacher Artists’ watercolours, but whether my Dad misread my list or the staff member he handed it to misread it, I ended up with Grumbacher Academy watercolours, which are the student grade line. Either way, it was still a new brand I hadn’t tried, and I haven’t reviewed a lot of student grade stuff on this blog, so it’s a good chance to even things up a bit.

Here are swatches for the three colours I got.

The strength of the colours is very good compared to most other student grade watercolours I’ve tried (including Winsor & Newton’s Cotman watercolours and the Sakura Koi watercolours). As is common with student grade paints, there are a lot of multiple pigment mixes in the Academy line; all the paints I have include at least three pigments. This means it is important to check the individual pigments, as the more pigments a mixture includes, the higher the chance of one (or more) being fugitive.

I tried using these watercolours fresh out of the tube and squeezing them into a palette and leaving them to dry out overnight. While some paint brands dry almost solid within a few hours, the Grumbacher Academy watercolours were still a little squishy the following morning, and when I started using them the following night after they had finally dried out, they rewet perfectly well. The Naples Yellow Hue watercolour, however, was almost completely fluid when I poured it out of the tube, and it’s still a little gooey even after two days. Luckily it still seems to work alright, though it was a little weaker than the other two colours I have. I should also note that some colours like cobalts and earths can be a lot harder to rewet (regardless of brand) so test these colours with a small amount before squeezing out a whole lot onto your palette. The Grumbacher Academy watercolours are quite active wet-in-wet, allowing for subtle blended washes.

Here’s a small still life I painted from imagination on a Strathmore watercolour ATC. I used a little white gouache for the highlights on the top section of the glass.

Grumbacher Academy watercolours are a reasonably priced student grade paint that perform almost as well as some artist grade paints, making them excellent for both beginner artists and more experienced artists who may be on a tight budget. They’re difficult to find outside the US, but if you are an American, these would be an excellent watercolour to start with.

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Van Gogh and the Seasons Exhibition – National Gallery of Victoria

On the way home from uni at the end of May after teaching my last class for the semester, I saw a large advertisement on the train for an exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria: Van Gogh and the Seasons. Naturally I immediately photographed it so I could make stupid puns about it on social media with my friends:

But since I’ve been playing with my paints more recently and experimenting with Impressionism myself, I thought it might actually be interesting to see the exhibition. It would also mark the first time I’d been to an art gallery in about 15 years; the last time was when I was dragged along on a school excursion to look at a bunch of abstract contemporary art, which didn’t appeal to me at all (not just because I don’t care for the art style but at that stage of my life, I wasn’t making a lot of art anyway). I was looking forward to being able to wander around and take in the art at my own pace, rather than being hurried along past all the paintings I really wanted to look at. So as soon as I had a day free between exam marking and writing my thesis, I headed into the city to the National Gallery of Victoria.

As you enter the exhibition, there’s a video playing on the big screens, footage of various landscapes during the seasons providing a visually appealing backdrop to the narration by David Stratton. Also included are letters and comments from Van Gogh, read by David Wenham. Much of the information in here is freely available online and in books but it was a nice addition to the exhibition for those who might have been less familiar with aspects of Van Gogh’s personal life. There are also some tablets set up where visitors can scroll through an interactive timeline of the artist’s life accompanied by sketches and photographs.

The first main room has a number of prints and engravings by other artists that were owned by and/or inspired Van Gogh, including some beautiful prints by Japanese ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Hiroshige. I hadn’t seen much work in this style before now so I found the almost illustrative style of these landscapes and figures particularly beautiful. Once I’d spent time perusing these prints, I moved on into the main section of the exhibition where Van Gogh’s works were displayed. Throughout the exhibition are sections of text displayed on the walls, providing more details about specific paintings or series of paintings as well as the artist in general.

Unsurprisingly, many of Van Gogh’s most famous works – such as The Starry Night, Irises, Cafe Terrace at Night, Vase with Sunflowers – are absent from this exhibition; given their value, I’d imagine whichever museum or private collector owns them would be reluctant to let them out of their sight. Some of the paintings that were on show at the NGV included Still Life with a Basket of Apples and Two Pumpkins, one of his Self Portraits from 1887, River Bank in Springtime, and Avenue of Poplars in Autumn. Some of my favourites included The Rectory Garden in Nuenen in the Snow (1985) for its muted, misty qualities and bleak atmosphere, and Bowl with Peonies and Roses because of its loosely textured background and flower petals. The paintings are all arranged by season – as the title of the exhibition would suggest – and together they convey Van Gogh’s fascination with the way nature’s cycles influence and parallel our own lives.

Though it’s easy enough to look at photos of paintings online, it’s just not the same as being able to see the art in person. When you look at a painting on a computer monitor, you don’t see the textures, the rich brush strokes, the subtle blends of colour within each area of the painting. Some that I particularly loved were Orchard in Blossom, The Garden of Saint-Paul Hospital and Flowering Meadow with Trees and Dandelions, where the short, sharp strokes created an almost illustrative style. The Green Vineyard also drew me to it with its brightly coloured, thickly applied paint; so much paint has been slathered on that the foliage look almost three dimensional, and areas of the sky look like they were blended with the artist’s fingers rather than with a brush.

As I left the exhibition, I couldn’t resist picking up a few souvenirs featuring some of the key works, The Wheat Field with Cypresses and View of Saintes-Maries.

Apparently Van Gogh is one of the fastest-selling exhibitions in Australia, with 150,000 visitors coming to the NGV in a little over a month. If you have any interest in Impressionism, it’s worth going along to the Van Gogh and the Seasons exhibition. It provides an interesting look into the Dutch artist’s life and it’s a rare opportunity to get a close look at paintings by one of history’s most renowned artists.

The Van Gogh and the Seasons exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria runs from April 28 to July 9, 2017.

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Soft Pastels: Conté Crayons (review)

I ordered this set of Conté Crayons from Jerry’s Artarama to push my order over the line into the next discount bracket, which effectively made the box free. I thought the little drawer-based box was cute, and as I hadn’t tried any Conté products before, I wanted to see what they were like.

The full range has about 80 colours with a decent variety of hues. Here’s the colour chart for the 18 colours I have (the small brown sketching box contains duplicates of the white, black and two browns in my larger set).

Though they’re called Conté “Crayons”, these are not crayons at all. They are actually hard pastels like the Derwent or Faber-Castell pastels. I suspect they’re also similar to the Cretacolor hard pastels, though I haven’t tried those. They feel about the same as the FC ones, a little smoother than Derwent pastels. Even though they’re firm, they are still smooth to draw with, and easy to blend by rubbing slightly with a finger.

As I mentioned in my review for the Derwent pastels, the Derwent pastels seem to have been discontinued (both in sets and in open stock), and the Faber-Castell pastels have had their range slashed from 120 to 60 and are seemingly now only available in sets, not individually. Conté Crayons, on the other hand, are available in open stock and in sets. For this reason, Conté Crayons are worth looking into if you like using hard pastels, as it’ll be easy to replace a colour or buy a set if you need to; at around the $2.50 mark per ‘crayon’ (depending on where you buy them) the price between Conté Crayons and Faber-Castell pastels (if you can even find the latter) is negligible.

I haven’t done a proper lightfastness test, but I did have a sketch I did with these sticks many years ago which I’d left sitting on the sidebench in the spare room and promptly forgotten about. When I came back to it a bit under a year later, I couldn’t see any noticeable fading. Though it wasn’t in direct bright sunlight, it was still a reasonably sunny room, so the fact there was no fading suggests that their lightfastness is at least reasonable (though I’d want to do a proper test with some swatches in my front window to confirm).

Here’s a little sketch I did today with the Conté Crayons.

Whether you want some hard pastels to use under softer pastels or just to use on their own for quick pastel sketches, Conté Crayons are a solid investment. The compact size of the sets makes them excellent for drawing on the go, and their texture allows for fine detailed lines as well as smooth blends. It’s worth buying a small set to add to your drawing supplies and see if you like them enough to upgrade to a larger set.

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