Vision: Seeing Things or Not

S/W Ver: 96.66.76R

Photo by Ellie

The human brain is strange. Sometimes it allows you to see things and sometimes it doesn’t. You can look at an image for ages and not really observe it clearly and at other times you can see things that aren’t even there. This can be both annoying and great for your creativity.

In my last post I put up several photos of Ellie’s and was so focused on the images that I did not notice there were some hand blurs at the edges of some of the pictures. It was not until I saw the photos on a larger screen that I saw the problem, which I have now corrected. I was so busy looking at the main scene that I could not see this detail. Sort the opposite of “not seeing the forest for the trees.” It was a definite case of selective vision that can happen to all of us at times.

This got me thinking about the way we see things. If you want to go into the art history and cultural side of this John Berger’s seminal book Ways of Seeing (1972), based on a BBC TV series, is a good place to start. What I’m talking about is more from the personal creative side. One person can look at the same thing and see something totally different and our individual vision is what gives us original ideas.

I was looking at some of Ellie’s old photos and found the one at the top of this post. It was accidentally snapped when she was holding her phone and she had completely discounted the shot. But I saw this as a wonderfully evocative image with her hair floating out from the dark silhouette of her hat against the bright cloud filled sky. She saw it as a mistake but I saw a quite beautiful scene. Always take another look at what you have done. You might be surprised.

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Ammonite Fossil

Seeing things in another way can provide inspiration. We have an unusual polished ammonite fossil that was bought on a holiday as a memento. It was not chosen because it was the perfect specimen, but when you view it from a particular angle it looks like there is the head and torso of a Shakespearian Gentleman wearing a puff sleeve jacket and a neck ruff. Can you also see him?
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This ability to see things that are not really there can lead to interesting artwork. I have a small piece of driftwood, that when you stand it vertically, is like a tree that resembles a figure. This inspired the following ink drawing in my sketchbook.

 

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Dryad, Pen and Ink Drawing by Kat

The brain often sees figures and faces in trees and foliage because we are wired to recognize the human form from birth. Using this concept I did a pen and ink drawing of the imaginary faces that I could “see” in the trunk of a vine-covered tree. It is called Spirits of the Forest, and depicts some of the scary and strange beings that may be encountered out in wildness of the Australian bush.

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Spirits of the Forest, Pen and In Drawing by Kat

The human mind is sometimes selective and we can miss seeing the obvious but it can conjure up all kinds of images if we see with both our eyes and inner vision. Just keep looking.

Kat

A great feel good song is I Can See Clearly Now. Jimmy Cliff did a terrific version in the 90s but I also love the 70s original by Johnny Nash.

Wild Winds and Inspiration

 

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Wind Measuring Instrument, 1911 Illustration

Last weekend in Melbourne there was a bad windstorm and it’s about to get very windy again this weekend. As we live in a coastal city we often experience storms coming in from the bay, especially in early spring when the temperatures are starting to rise and the winds become more severe. These can be frightening but are also inspirational giving us spectacular views of nature at it’s wildest.

The following is a video taken in 2011 of one such storm over Port Phillip Bay with some beautiful photos and vision.

In 2015 during one of these wind events an extreme gust brought down a huge branch of the African Coral tree next door. It broke a part of the fence and just missed the windows of next doors family room giving the inhabitants a huge fright. The following photo shows the size of the branch. Since then they have had the tree pruned extensively as it really sways in windy weather.

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Storms have long been an inspiration to writers and artists, especially in the days when travelling by sailing ships, which were constantly at the mercy of the elements. Looking in some of our old books I found some illustrations of storms from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of these are for well-known stories while others are more obscure and it is interesting to see the different ways storms have been depicted. Many stories have begun with a shipwreck in a storm as the basis for the drama to follow.

One such is Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. In our 1904 edition of Shakespeare, the storm is depicted as a scene on the ship with crashing waves and a panicking sailor confronting Prospero. Very melodramatic like the stage play it illustrates but not very atmospheric with regards to a storm. You can imagine the stage hands throwing buckets of water and rocking a stage prop ship.

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The Tempest, The Leopold Shakespeare, 1904 edition

Two other famous stories with a similar beginning are Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Johann Rudolf Wyss’s Swiss Family Robinson (1812-13), also about people stranded on supposedly deserted islands. The frontispiece of our 1905 edition of Robinson Crusoe shows the crashing waves while men are being washed from their overturned lifeboat. In the distance is their floundering ship. It’s a wonderfully energetic drawing and conveys the desperation of the situation. The Swiss Family Robinson scene is very atmospheric with foaming waves almost engulfing the ship, its masts broken, as it smashes against towering rocks. It is from an edition of about 1907.

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Robinson Crusoe, 1905 edition

Illustration at this time relied heavily on the engraver’s art, which reached amazing heights in the 19th century. From our 1895 set of Charles Dickens works is a fantastic illustration by Fred Barnard of the tragic storm in David Copperfield (1850), which sees the deaths of both David’s friends, Ham and Steerforth. In the illustration we see Ham, with a group of seaman, about to go out into the stormy sea where you can see Steerforth’s boat and its wreckage. The figure of Ham is a solid presence surrounded by swirling water and foaming waves. It is a masterly drawing where you can feel the tension of a dire situation.

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The Storm by Fred Barnard, David Copperfield

In our collection we also have a couple of less well-known 19th century adventure stories written for children. The first is the Last Cruise of the Ariadne by S Whitchurch Sadler RN (1877). The frontispiece has a wonderful colour scene on a ship in a storm with a group of passengers being drenched by sheets of water. One of them is unconscious or has perhaps drowned. It is a very beautiful and poignant illustration of the perils of a sea journey in the past. You can almost feel the ship being buffeted by wind and water.

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The second book is A Voyage Around the World, A Tale For Boys by W H G Kingston (1880). It is full of the adventures of a couple of boys on a voyage to far away places. They always seem to be involved in some lucky escape, especially at sea. Two illustrations show the young boys bobbing in stormy seas. One includes their companion dog. Real “Boys’ Own Annual” stuff and it would have been exciting in the days when travel was not easy. By the amount of literature devoted to shipwrecks and storms at sea, it is a wonder anyone willingly sailed at all.

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Many visual artist’s are inspired by the wind and turbulent weather. One of the mast famous is the British artist, J M W Turner, who did many paintings of storms. His are some of the most atmospheric works. Churning seas, wind-driven rain and snow swirl around on his canvases and watercolours so that the viewer is caught up in the storm. With just a little paint and skillful brushwork he could say a lot as the following watercolour sketch of a Storm at Sea reveals.

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Storm at Sea, J M W Turner (1775-1851), Watercolour, Wikimedia Commons

As a child in the sixth grade I did a painting of a storm scene. It was quite unusual for me to do such a gothic work as I usually painted happy pictures and did not like thunderstorms. Maybe I had been watching a scary movie and loved the thought of a castle on “a dark and stormy night.” Or the idea of a windswept sea appealed to me as it has done for countless generations of artists. I have kept some of my childhood art so here it is.

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One Dark and Stormy Night, Kat

Wild winds and violent oceans might be dangerous but they can inspire all kinds of art works. What is life without some risk and excitement to get those creative juices freely flowing? But just don’t stand under a tree.

Kat

As the wind picks up around our house what better way to end this post than with Buster Keaton battling a storm in Steamboat Bill Jnr.

 

Two heads are Good, Four Heads are Better

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Group Energy

After some dreary days in Melbourne, the sun has been coming out intermittently and I have finished with macabre subjects for a while. Time to get out and do things with others, which can be very uplifting especially if you are doing something creative together.

Working with others on a creative project is not only more fun but the results can be so much better than if you do it alone. You can bounce ideas off each other, give suggestions for improvement and exchange knowledge. If you have someone with whom you can collaborate that is good and if there is more than two people even better. Extra energy is generated when you are part of a group.

From school projects you learn to work with others. I have very happy memories of our end of High School party. A group of us got together and made painted banners to fit the theme and each contributed ideas. Not everyone was good at painting but this did not matter. Those of us who had more skill did the difficult parts. There were plenty of areas to fill in with colour so no one felt left out. We ended up with large banners from our combined effort and they looked fantastic at the party.

Visual art has long been full of groups of artists collaborating on the same work. Renaissance and later artists ran studios where apprentices did much of the preparation and under painting and the master added final details to the work, which would bear his signature. Everyone would benefit. The students would learn new skills and enable the master to produce many more paintings than the would on their own. Artists have continue to work in groups devoted to similar interests using many mediums. For instance performance artist groups, like the anonymous Guerrilla Girls, have taken art outside of the gallery system. Group artworks are boundless.

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Getting together and chatting over a cup of tea or coffee can generate collaborative ideas

Writers collaborate on all kinds of works. One of my favorite jointly written works of the fantasy/science fiction genres is the Empire Trilogy by Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts. Often the screenwriting for film and television productions is undertaken by a group. There are a lot of websites devoted to collaborative writing if you Google the subject, with ideas and advice for those who would like to try this or have a project in mind. My only experience of writing with someone else was when I wrote some songs with a friend. I did most of the lyrics but we did throw ideas around to improve a song.

Musicians have always collaborated, from medieval troubadours to rock bands and everything in between. Some famous examples of modern group collaborations are Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure and the combined talents of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison in the Travelling Wilburys.

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For years Ellie and I have been doing music together. As sisters we can do vocal harmonies that sound unified because of the similarities of our voices. I was saying the other day that it is a pity we don’t have another sister because then we could do three part harmonies. But you need to go with what you have in this life and if something is lacking try another way of doing it. Over the last couple of months we have been working with another ukulele player, who is also a violinist and this has given us a fuller sound. His knowledge of music and violin skills has enhanced and has made a world of difference to our performances.

Getting together with like minded people in a club or group associated with your creative field of interest is a good way to find others to work with or start your own group by advertising on line or in local papers. Often it just takes a bit of action on your part to get others involved.

You don’t need to be an artistic genius or musical virtuoso to work with others. In fact you will learn a lot of new things, contribute ideas and hopefully have an enjoyable experience.

Kat

I had a toss up between including the Travelling Wilburys Handle Me With Care or the 2004 tribute to George Harrison, with Prince’s amazing guitar solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Too hard to choose one so here are both.

Midwinter Chills: Ghastly Ghosts and Comical Phantoms

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It’s the middle of winter in Melbourne and there have been icy winds, frosts and dull days. A good time for ghost stories as these are so much more enjoyable when it’s dark and cold. Reading a modern ghost story has brought back memories of the classic old spooky tales, which I have always loved. Not all are serious and a bit of humor is needed when it is chilly. These stories stimulate the imagination and have led to endless interpretations of this intangible world.

Belief in the supernatural has provided plenty of material for artists and writers over the centuries. Shakespeare gives a chilling account of a ghostly apparition in the form of Hamlet’s murdered father, which has given visual artists inspiration for some beautiful illustration.

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In the 19th century ghost stories were very popular. They were so much more convincing at a time without electric light. In winter one could imagine terrible spectres lurking in the dark of night. Some of the stories are quite creepy, like those by the Irish author, Joseph Sheridan le Fanu, who wrote some truly disturbing tales. A couple about haunted houses, like An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Anger Street (1851) and An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House, are full of terrible apparitions and shadowy figures on the walls (click on titles to read stories). Read these late at night when the wind is howling for full effect.

Ghostly legends can also be very funny. The Ingoldsby Legends (1840) by Thomas Ingoldsby (Rev Richard Harris Barham) contains many humorous stories and poems about ghosts. Tales such as The Spectre of Tappington; The Ghost; The Legend of Hamilton Tighe; and The Dead Drummer are accompanied by quirky black and white illustrations (click on titles to read stories), which include skeletal spectres, headless figures and phantoms done by well-know artists of the time. These stories are wonderful parodies of ghostly folklore.

Another writer and illustrator who dealt with ghosts in a humorous way was W S Gilbert, the lyricist of Gilbert and Sullivan operetta fame. His collection of poems, Fifty “Bab” Ballads (1884) contains a nonsensical poem that I have included below called The Ghost, the Gallant, the Gael and the Goblin, complete with Gilbert’s (Bab) delightful drawings. It’s about competitive haunting that does not go to plan. A very quaint story with the witty use of words you would expect from the man who wrote, “I am the very model of a modern major-general, I’ve information vegetable, animal and mineral…etc.

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Probably the most famous ghost story of the 1900s is Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. We have a copy from the 1890s that has drawings by Fred Barnard, who was one of the illustrators of Dickens works. The grotesque depiction of Marley’s ghost became the prototype for many film versions of the tale. Michael Hordern as the tormented Marley in the 1951 version of Scrooge starring Alistair Sim, seems to have stepped out of the illustration.

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The magic of film has made it possible to depict transparent ghosts and ghastly hauntings. From the earliest days of film we can see attempts to bring the spectral world alive for the viewer often with unintentionally hilarious results, as for example in George Melies The Haunted Castle, 1896.

Since then there have been some very terrifying movies, such as The Haunting (1963), with its horrifying haunted house. You would not want to watch this one alone on a dark winters night. It uses sound to a frightening degree (warning: even the trailer is really chilling). Often films that leave much to the imagination are scarier than those with lots of special effects because of the mystery.

There have also been many entertaining comedy films about ghosts, such as Topper (1937) starring Cary Grant and Constance Bennet, a hilarious story about a dead married couple haunting a crusty old bachelor that lead to some ridiculous situations.

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Plains of the Darling, NSW, detail by Edward Officer

In Australia there are old bush ballads about ghosts, such as the swagman who haunts the billabong in Waltzing Matilda (Matilda was his swag, not a woman). Like Washington Irving’s story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the idea of a ghostly horseman riding through the countryside has also peaked Australian writer’s imaginations. One of my favorites is the poem Rafferty Rides Again (1940) by Thomas V Tierney about a bushranger’s ghost that is seen riding in the bush on moonlit nights. As it is still in copyright click on title for a link to the poem. The song Ghost Riders in the Sky is in this tradition and Johnny Cash does a great version.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, in wintertime it is fun to read or watch spooky stories, especially when you are inside near a fire or heater and you know you can turn up the lights any time you like.

And what better way to end this post than with Australia’s Kransky Sisters, singing Talking Heads Psycho Killer as only they can.

Kat

Stuck in a Fug

I have been in a bit of a creative fug this week and am trying to fight the urge to vegetate. The post that I was going to put up has stalled. In the middle of winter with the heating on sometimes you just want to curl up with a book and do nothing, so I have thought of a few fun things to stop the malaise that might work for others as well.

Wear something red. It can be a beanie, a fedora, glasses or something completely crazy. Red always brightens up your day and stimulates the senses.

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Play with your dog or cat. Pets are so full of energy that you can channel their liveliness. Just don’t watch them sleeping. It has the opposite effect. A ball game outside when it is cold will take away the cobwebs.

As owners of fox terriers, just watching them running around makes you want to get up and do something.

Eat a couple of pieces of 70%+ chocolate, as it is a stimulant. It’s safe provided you don’t overdo it and tastes wonderful. But don’t leave the packet lying around or you might be tempted to eat more and it’s dangerous for dogs.

Music can make you feel more energetic. Play something you love loud. It does stimulate the brain.

Victorian band Stonefield, made up of the four Findlay sisters, channel the rock of the 70s in their own unique way. Really wakes me up.

Talk with others in the real world, not just online or by text. A nice long conversation with a friend either on the phone or in person will give both of you a boost.

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Climbing Up the Walls

If you are climbing up the walls it is time to go out and do something with others. Then you will return refreshed.

And if you really need a break don’t fight it. Find a really good book or movie and enjoy the experience. Sometimes your body is telling you to have a rest.

Kat

Art Materials: Money Saving Ideas Part 2

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Wrens, Miniature Oil Painting on Canvas Board, from my realist phase

Artist’s Paints

In the previous post I discussed ways to save money on drawing materials. In this post I talk about ways to keep down the cost with artist’s paints that I hope others may find helpful.

The price of artist’s paints can be off-putting at times. It is a good idea, where possible, to use paints and materials made by local manufacturers, as these are less expensive than imported products. I find that sticking to a limited palette is also a way to prevent over spending. The main colours which I use no matter what the paint type are Titanium white, Ivory Black, Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Yellow Ochre, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red Pale, Burnt Umber, Viridian, Cerulean Blue and French Ultramarine. Some brands use different names for these colours.

For work in visual diaries and designing textiles, gouache is a good water-soluble paint because the colour is intense, you can use it on dry paper and create defined images. To save money it is wise to prevent wastage of your gouache paint. I keep my gouache tubes in an old Tupperware container found at an op shop to prevent them from drying out and store this in a cool cupboard. I put out the colours from the tube into the compartments of a round palette kept in a biscuit tin and I use two inexpensive plastic palettes for mixing these paints. One is for warm colours, the other for cool ones.

If you mix a larger amount of a colour do this in a deep plastic palette with a lid or in small paint wells that can be stored in a disposable food container. When finished working  cover all the paint holders with cling wrap before putting on the container lids. With traditional gouache (not the acrylic type) if the paint dries out water can be added and the paint is still workable like watercolour pans and can be used again. Taklon (synthetic) watercolour brushes are great for gouache and are less expensive than hair ones. These last for a long time if you gently wash them in a mild soap to stop paint build-up.

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Fernery, Gouache on Paper, Woven Tapestry Design

For works on canvas the main types of paints are oil and acrylic. Artist quality paints can be very expensive together with the various brushes and equipment. There are also mediums for both oils and acrylics that add to the cost. So the whole process for both oils and acrylics can become complicated and expensive.

I like to use both paint types. In summer the slower drying properties of oil paints make them perfect in a hot climate. While it is wise to limit the use of solvents, you do need some type of paint thinner in the under painting. This requires lots of ventilation and it is easy to open a window and use the exhaust of an air-conditioner when the weather is warm. Oil paints are also easy to take outdoors and this is probably the safest place to use them. In the winter when it is too cold to open windows and use exhaust fans, acrylics are much safer and more pleasant to use than oils, as long as you are not in a very confined space, because all paints give off some type of fumes. The cooler weather means that they do not dry quickly and mediums can slow down the drying process. There is even a rewetting agent (Atelier Unlocking Formula) so after drying you can still rework small areas. It is also possible to use acrylics thinly underneath oil paint to reduce your exposure to solvents.

So how can you save money on these paints whether you use oil, acrylics or both? Firstly, as I said above, buy local products. You will save money and support local manufacturers. A beginner does not need lots of paints and equipment. I began using oil paints at school with only a few tubes of paint, basic brushes and small canvas-covered boards. Don’t be tempted to buy every colour under the sun or lots of brushes at first. You learn more about colour mixing with a restricted palette and it is easy enough to clean a small number of brushes as you go.

With regards to cleaning oil paint from brushes, don’t use a dangerous solvent. I use a cheap oil to clean brushes while I am working then give them a good wash in mild soap and warm water afterwards. But remember you must never mix non-drying oils like safflower or sunflower with oil paint, the latter being made with an expensive drying oil like linseed or walnut. First I clean the brushes with cheap sunflower oil to get rid of the paint, wipe it clean on a rag or paper towel, then I dip the brush in linseed oil and give it a good wipe to remove the sunflower oil. That way my paints are not contaminated with incompatible oil and I don’t waste a lot of expensive linseed oil on cleaning. Have two labeled jars with lids to contain small amounts of your cleaning oils and discard when they become too dirty.

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As with most art materials, if you can find good second-hand paints and equipment, all the better. My wooden oil paint case came from a relative with a quantity of useable paint tubes, brushes and a couple of small bottles for a medium and linseed oil. A case makes it easy to transport the paints. You could also use a plastic fishing tackle case. As I use up the paint, I replace the old tubes with a local brand (Art Spectrum) and have slowly added to my brush collection when funds allow and have included some old pliers, which are great for opening stuck tube lids.

With oils you would need thinning and oily mediums, because unless you use a quick, wet in wet painting method, the paint must be built up in layers, progressing from fast drying to slower drying to prevent cracking. To simplify the painting process and reduce solvent use and expense, don’t use lots of mediums. I originally worked with artist’s gum turpentine as a thinner but it is very irritating for the lungs and skin. Odorless mediums and solvents still give me a headache and make me feel dizzy. I prefer a medium with some kind of odor because at least you know by the smell how much exposure you are getting.

An alkyd-based medium contains lower amounts of solvent and odor than turpentine. I use Art Spectrum Liquol. I’m sure that other brands would have something similar. It speeds up the drying of the first layers of paint and can be used for smoothing brushstrokes and glazing. You don’t need to use much and can add a little linseed oil to the final layer of paint instead of liquol. To reduce exposure I put a small amount of liquol in one of the metal containers that you can attach to your palette. I keep the lid on when not mixing it with the paint and if inside, the window is wide open and exhaust fan on. The other container holds refined linseed oil. No mediums are needed for the wet in wet method where you blend the paint quickly, usually in one session. Great for out-door painting and impasto effects.

When using fast drying mediums you will need to clean your palette after you have finished painting for the day or it will become encrusted with difficult to remove paint. To save paint, put any pure, medium-free colours onto an old china plate and cover this with cling wrap ready for to use at your next session. Oil paint stays wet for a while like this. Scrape off the unusable paint from the palette with a palette knife onto a paper towel and wipe it clean with a small quantity of linseed oil. Always wear powder free plastic gloves if you are doing anything messy with any paints and when cleaning your equipment because toxic solvents and heavy metals in paint pigments can be absorbed through the skin.

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Acrylics are perfect for large canvases created in the studio. As with oil paint I use a good Australian brand (Atelier) to reduce the cost. Acrylic paint keeps well in pots or tubs, which are more economical than tubes when using large quantities. You can’t use water to thin acrylics as this weakens the paints binding properties and you will need painting mediums that control flow and viscosity. You don’t need lots of different mediums. Just use what suits your style. I work with two mediums, an all-purpose mid-viscosity clear painting medium for slowing down the drying time and blending paint and a low viscosity-liquefying medium for fine detail work (this can be used with airbrushes), but I think I will buy some of that unlocking formula to rewet paint. There are also mediums available for impasto and glazing, as well as drying retarders and varnishes.

It is best to keep acrylic brushes separate from those for oil painting. As with all brushes buy a few at first then add others as required and always wash them regularly. For priming canvases and large brush stroke effects, house-painting brushes are cheaper than artists. When mixing larger quantities of paint use a palette knife to save wear on your brushes.

As with all art materials, a way to save money is to make your paints last for as long as possible. For mixing small amounts of paint needed for a small, quick work, a large palette with tear off sheets is great because acrylic paint can be hard to remove when dry, but for slower works it is better to use a wet palette. These can be made from an old plastic tray, which is lined with several layers of blotting paper or blank newsprint. Wet the paper thoroughly then place a sheet of baking paper cut to fit on top. You can mix your paints on this surface and they will stay wet for a long time, using a fine spray of water to keep them moist. By covering the palette with cling wrap under some kind of lid made from a larger tray, the paint can be kept for several days. I found a plastic seed tray and duck taped a plastic sheet over the bottom holes to seal it. Upside down it fitted over my wet palette. After about a week mold may develop on the damp paper so you know it is time to replace the layers.

When mixing larger quantities of paint do this in disposable food containers with lids so that you have enough for the whole painting and it will not dry out. Any plastic food packaging is useful for mixing acrylics. With containers without lids cover the paint with cling wrap but you would need to use it quickly.

If you chose to work with just one of these paint types you would definitely save more money. I find that oils and acrylics each have their advantages and disadvantages and that is why I like to work with them both. Experiment with a limited number of paints to see what suits you and have fun.

Kat

The Painter is a beautiful song by Neil Young. Here is a video with some inspiring artwork.

Art Materials: Money Saving Ideas Part I

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Cloud Cuckoo Land, Inktense Pencils and Technical Pen

Drawing and sketching materials

There are some wonderful art products available these days. But the downside is that they are so expensive. I like to find ways to save money on these so that I can enjoy doing artwork without wastage and unnecessary expense. The following are some of the cost saving methods that I use.

I’ll start with drawing materials. I have tried many kinds and have made some expensive mistakes. When I was at art school I bought a set of 45 soft pastels that I used throughout the course. A few years later I decided to buy a larger, expensive set of the same brand in a wooden box. Unfortunately I became sensitive to the pastel dust and could not use them anymore. I gave them to Ellie but she also has allergies, so they are sitting on a shelf. If you have asthma or dust allergies, don’t waste your money on soft pastels. If this is not a problem make sure that you use any fume producing fixatives outside as these are quite toxic and may give you lung problems. A product is only worth buying if it is safe to use so check for health warnings before selecting an item.

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Neocolor Pastels and Colour Selection Chart

Oil pastels are an alternative to the soft variety. These don’t produce any dust and you can buy them individually. One disadvantage is that they require a solvent such as denatured alcohol to blend them like paint, which can be bad for the health. My favorite oil based pastels are the type that can be used dry or blended with water. I bought a starter kit of 15 Caran d’ache Neocolors to try them out. If you are not sure about a product don’t get a big set at first. These pastels can be bought individually and I have added more colours. I put them all in an old marker pen tin that I found. It is always good to hang on to old biscuit tins and chocolate boxes for storing art materials.

Refillable water brushes work really well with Neocolor pastels as you can control the amount of water needed. You just wipe the brushes clean between colours so you don’t need many. I use Neocolors all the time for free drawings on large sheets of paper. They work well on thick paper, in a visual diary/sketchbook (with good quality paper) and are most effective on watercolor paper. Well worth the purchase.

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Keep Smiling, Neocolor Pastel Sketch

Colour pencils can be used for detailed drawings or sketches. No matter what brand you choose, always buy good quality colour pencils as they last for ages and are versatile. You can create soft effects or build up layers with several colours. I still have the set of Derwent Artist pencils I bought at school. I used these throughout art school, although a few of the pencils are now quite short but these can be replaced. These pencils were the first artist quality materials I used. I remember saving up for ages so I really looked after them. To save on the price you can find second-hand colour pencil sets that have had little use on eBay or Gumtree.

 

Water soluble pencils are also great for sketching in a journal and Ellie has a watercolour set. I like stronger colours so use Derwent Inktense pencils for this purpose. They last longer than expensive artist’s inks. Blending can be done with refillable water brushes and you can combine these with other colour pencils. They add colour to pen sketches. I buy disposable technical pens. Refillable technical pens block if you don’t use these regularly and then you spend ages taking them apart and cleaning them with hot water and methylated spirits. I can do without the aggravation. The ink for these pens is also really expensive.

 

For larger areas of colour in works on paper, watercolours or gouache are popular choices. I inherited a couple of watercolour paint sets, one with tubes and the other pans. Some of the tubes had dried up so I replaced these with student grade ones to try out this medium. The pan colours were still soluble when water was added despite their age. A water dropper is a good water dispenser. I squeezed some tube colour into the empty pans. This is an economical way of creating your own refills rather than buying replacement pans.

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Old Water Colour Sets

Watercolours are great for transparent effects and wet on wet painting. I prefer strong colour and tended to use them more like gouache. I’m glad that I did not spend a lot of money on these paints because I am not really a water colourist. I did not replace the tubes when they ran out or dried up and instead purchased some gouache tubes. But don’t let me put you off. If you want to try out watercolour or only use it for journals where the work is not always exposed to light, an inexpensive brand is a good solution. Have look on-line to find a suitable type for your budget. You might be lucky and find a decent second-hand set.

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Beach Mangroves, Watercolour Sketch

When you want to try out a new art material check that it is safe to use, look at on-line reviews and demonstrations and initially buy a small starter set to find out if you like the product before spending more money. It is a plus if Drawing materials can be bought individually so you can add to your collection. Good quality pencils and paint pans or pastels to which you add water will have a longer shelf life than wet ones. And remember keep an eye out for any second-hand bargains or discounts.

In my next post I will talk more about paints and how to keep the price down.

Kat

This post needs a fun song so here’s the Canadian Band, The Barenaked Ladies with Drawing.