Art Materials: Money Saving Ideas

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

Part 2: 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

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Cloud Cuckoo Land, Inktense Pencils and Technical Pen

Part I: 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.

The Nature of Things: Texture

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Ellie’s photo of a Cyprus Pine stump

Everything has a texture. Part of the essence of a life form, natural or manmade object and substance relates to its texture. This can be silky, smooth, rough, spiky, sticky and so forth. There are so many words just to describe how something feels, that one could go on and on. Even sounds and music can be referred to in a textural manner such as abrasive, soft, fuzzy, scratchy or sharp.  Textures are very inspiring to visual artists, writers and musicians because they can be used realistically and metaphorically.

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When I learnt basic photography as part of an art course, one of the first exercises given was to photograph patterns and textures. This has stayed with me and I still like to take photos of something just for its texture. These photos can be used as inspiration for an artwork or an end in themselves. The textures of plants create interesting photographs. The spiky native “Silver Sunrise” grasses with or without their yellow flowers; shiny yellow grapefruits against intense green foliage and rough tree-fern trunks all make tactile looking subjects.

I don’t have a SLR camera and it is difficult to get really close to an object so I must use iPhoto to crop the images and zoom in on a particular area. I find that you can do a lot with a basic photographic program to enhance and manipulate an image. For example I added definition to a yellow rose and increased the color, zoomed in on a sculptural rock to emphasize its soft green mossy texture and enhanced the shine on a rock with quartz crystals to make it more crystalline. The inherent characteristics were stressed for their own sake.

Sketching textures provides inspiration for visual art. With black ink, pens, stippling sponges, corks and brushes it is possible to get a variety of textural effects. I used some of these techniques in drawings for tapestry designs. They were worked up in a series of gouache vignettes, components of which were used in a final design. There are many other ways to use textures in art, from realistic oil painting, textured materials to simulated surfaces in computer graphics and is just a matter of personal preference.

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Our personal experiences give us an understanding of texture. It is difficult to forget the experience of a sweaty handshake, a lumpy mattress, or the soft, velvety feel of a puppy. Words relating to texture often describe a person. Someone can be prickly, slick, oily, sleek, bristly, slimy, cuddly, hard etc. We associate touch with human characteristics and using these types of words can sum up and individual’s attributes without the need for a long explanation and are very useful for writers. When the sense of touch is engaged with words our minds conjure all kinds of feelings that can either repel or bring us closer to the subject.

Texture in music is often very involving for the listener. Layered music that creates sound textures can take you to real or imaginary places. The contrasts between different types of instruments like strings, electric guitar and drums, melody, rhythm and harmonies makes for rich, complex and emotional pieces. The Australian band, The Dirty Three, play imaginative textural compositions. This band of Victorians was formed in 1992 with members Warren Ellis on violin, Jim White on drums and Mick Turner, who is also an artist and designer of their album covers, on guitar. They often collaborate with Nick Cave. The following is a piece from their album, Ocean Songs (1998)

When considering a creative idea, don’t forget texture. It will add another dimension to your work, whether it is visual, written or auditory.

Kat

Winter Creativity: Escape the Cold Weather Blues

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Penguin illustration from A Sketch of The Natural History of Australia by Frederick G Aflalo, 1896.

The weather in Melbourne has turned cold. For those of us who can’t leave town during the winter months it is good to find creative solutions to keeping warm and feeling invigorated. I’d rather feel like a butterfly happily searching for nectar, than a penguin sitting on a nest during a snowstorm. I’m not talking about pumping up the heating but tricking yourself into forgetting about the cold, dark days and taking a summer holiday in your mind.

I know compared with other countries our winter is relatively mild. You need to go up into the hills and mountainous regions to experience snow. But in Melbourne we do have icy southerly and southwesterly winds that blow straight from the Antarctic and the wind chill can be very unpleasant in the winter months.   I once heard a frequent British visitor say that he felt colder here than in an English winter. That’s why many retired people head north to escape. I could write a whole post about the peculiarities of Melbourne weather but I won’t. Instead here is a video taken by a drone of a snow-covered landscape near Ballarat, Victoria last year.

A good way to deal with the winter blues that can sometimes affect anyone is to involve your imagination and use all your senses. Begin with sight and surround yourself with images of summer: Flowers, the beach, out-door activities, whatever reminds you of the warmer months. When you need a boost watching movies that are set in the spring or summertime help to shut out the cold. Unfortunately we will view the new series of Game of Thrones in the middle of winter and all those snow scenes always make me feel really frozen. It will be a case of a fleece blanket, warm dog on lap and spicy curry on these days. So if possible avoid films and TV programs about snow (unless you are mad about snow sports) and find something with a sunny theme. Here’s a list of 100 Summer, Vacation and Beach Movies. You can also search for videos on You Tube with tropical related themes. Films of butterflies make me think of a past trip to North Queensland and the rain forests.

If you are lucky enough to have a spa pool, access to a local heated pool or volcanic hot springs you can still enjoy water activities in the winter, like the snow monkeys in Japan. A nice hot relaxing bath warms you up for ages, especially before you go to bed. If you have some type of bath, treat it like a holiday spa, with bath oil or bath salts. A few drops of essential oil will make it luxurious and smell wonderful.

On the subject of smell, fresh flowers with a lovely scent can lift your spirits when it is icy outside. Plants like Daphne and Winter Sweet give out a lovely fragrance in the cold weather and it is worth planting these in your garden to bring some flowers inside. Pine tree cuttings can do the same. Your home will smell wonderfully fresh. If you do not have access to any flowers you can always use fragrance diffusers or scented candles. The smell of lemon in a hot drink is most refreshing; in fact any citrus fruit brings in the sun so use oranges and limes in cooking.

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With the sense of taste you can relive summer memories and the right food will make you feel better. Nowadays we can obtain various summer fruits and vegetables all year round so put salads with your pasta dishes and make fruit pies. Curries, chilies and Asian style rice and noodle dishes are warming in winter but also a reminder of holidays in hot climes so tuck into these at any opportunity. Put pieces of fruit in drinks and stick in some cocktail umbrellas and imagine you are in the tropics. There are many more ideas for comforting food. My favorite dessert treat is Macha (Japanese powdered green tea) Key Lime Pie that requires no cooking just chopping, mixing and refrigeration (Recipe).

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Macha Key Lime Pie

Sound will take you to a warmer place. In a world full of music there is something for everyone to evoke the summer. It could be from a particular culture or from time spent in the sun. This is bound to be quite personal and there is no standard set list. When you are feeling sick of the cold play your favorite summer music and revel in the heat. Dance and sing to the music to elevate those endorphins. That’ll take away the winter blues.

When the cold weather is getting you down with a bit of creative thinking there are obviously plenty of ways to bring back that summer warmth and energy.

Kat

Here is a quirky indie pop song done by Melbourne band, The Lucksmiths, called T-Shirt Weather. I could not find a video version with good sound but the lyrics paint a sunny picture.

Visual Inspiration: When it is OK to Hoard

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Shrine, Collage from Magazine Images by Kat

As artists and writers we get inspiration from many sources.  Being a visual person I find that I often need pictures, not to copy, but to stimulate my imagination for painting, drawing, poems or blogging.  I collect different types of images for this purpose and have amassed quite a collection.  To avoid hoarder chaos I have organized these so that they are easy to find.

Images of artworks, figures, nature, patterns and textures are all helpful resources and are good things for the creative person to have at hand when a bit of inspiration is needed.  It can be quite expensive to buy art and illustrated books, especially those that contain a lot of colour reproductions.  Ellie and I do have quite a good library but if we do not have a particular image it is easy to find an example on the Internet.  I download those that I like into my computer’s photo library so that I can refer to it at any time.

Many designers and artists pin paper copies of all kinds of images on pin boards in their workrooms for visual stimulus.  Printing out copies from the computer can use a lot of costly ink so for this purpose I have a large collection of postcards and greeting cards, either bought on holidays or from friends and relatives.  These are less expensive than buying books and are easy to find when travelling.  Advertising cards that are free in your letterbox, found at movie theatres, art galleries, museums and other public venues often have interesting depictions and are worth grabbing.  So that I can easily access these individual images I have put them into photo and postcard albums, display books, plastic pockets in ring binders and small boxes.  If you keep your reference material organized it is less likely to be accidentally thrown out by someone else.

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Display Books with Paintings, Decorative Arts, Nature and Textile Images

Inexpensive visual reference books can be found at op shops, garage sales, and markets. Vintage books that were designed for children often have clear, simple images of nature, science and other subjects that can be really helpful for creative work.  Second hand magazines are also invaluable for doing collages and for pin boards.   If you had to buy these new it would cost a fortune.  It also pays to ask your friends and relatives to pass any old magazines in your direction.  Good quality advertising catalogues can be used as well.

A creative person needs to learn to be a scrounger but be selective.  I do have favorite subjects and have quite a collection of the works of Australian women artists for motivation.  I love paintings from the Medieval to contemporary, all kinds of textile works and fairy tale illustrations and have a bit of an obsession with butterflies so will keep any image that possesses these.  Only store what really grabs you so that you do not end up suffocating under piles of paper.  You can add new images and discard others as your library evolves.

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Post card Album with Australian Women Artist Cards (Margaret Preston Prints, Clarice Beckett Oil Painting and three Joy Hester Water Colour Paintings).

You will be surprised at how often you refer to these visual resources once you have your own personal collection. You can use them in many ways to trigger all kinds of original ideas and images.

Kat

I’ve been on a bit of a Paul Kelly binge lately.  He is such a great songwriter and I have his Memoir How To Make Gravy that is an inspirational book with all its helpful advice to songwriters.  The following live performance of his beautiful ballad Midnight Rain was recorded on his Stolen Apples Tour in 2007.  His nephew Dan Kelly (on the left of screen), a terrific guitarist and performer, plays lead guitar on this song.

An Artist’s Best Friend

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Our Two Fox Terriers

I had just written the first draft of this post and showed it to Ellie.  She read it and said, “no one wants to read about someone’s dog. It is too personal and boring.”  Of course she is right.  Anyone who has a dog thinks that theirs is the smartest, funniest dog in the world and they don’t want to hear about other people’s dogs unless it is an interesting story.  Taking on board what Ellie said I had a rethink and decided to write about dogs as a source of inspiration for artists and writers and how they have influenced my own creativity.

Dogs have inspired many works of fiction.  For example Jack London’s The Call of The Wild (1916), about the adventures of the Alaskan Klondike sled dog, Buck, Eric Knight’s 1940 novel, Lassie Come Home and Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel the 101 Dalmatians to name a few.  And who can forget one dog’s life story in Marley and Me (2005) by John Grogan.  These books were all made into popular and enjoyable movies.

Dogs as companions have produced entertaining characters like Scooby Doo from the cartoon TV series and Snowy in The Adventures of Tintin by Belgium cartoonist George Remi (Herge).  Generations of children have loved reading about the dog Timmy in Edith Blyton’s Famous Five books.  The French movie The Artist  (2011) benefited from the wonderful antics of the Jack Russell, Uggie and Eddie (Butch) provided many hilarious scenarios in the TV series, Frazier.

True stories about the incredible feats of dogs are also inspirational.  The Maremma Sheepdog used to trial their use for guarding Fairy Penguins against predatory foxes on the coast of the Victorian town of Warnambool, inspired the Australian film Oddball (2015).  There is also the successful Australian movie Red Dog (2011) based on a true story with a sequel in production.

Google songs about dogs and there is a long list.  Often they are used as metaphors that are not always flattering to dogs but more about human nature.  From old classics like Hound Dog (Elvis Presley) to anthems like Who Let the Dogs Out (Baha Men), these songs have kept our feet tapping.  Some beautiful songs have been written about dogs.  Cat Steven’s I Love My Dog, and Nick Drake’s Black Eyed Dog from the 1970s are just some of the many.  I have written a couple of songs about my dogs.  They are very personal and were a way of dealing with their loss.

There are so many stories, television shows, movies, songs and about dogs I could go on for pages and I have only mentioned a few.  But you get the point.  Dogs are popular subjects because they trigger strong emotions, whether in a story or as a symbol, that can generate creativity.

Our connections with dogs makes it hard to resist drawing and painting them.  Visual artists have created wonderful depictions of dogs to illustrate books.  I have a couple of early twentieth century children’s books with some lovely illustrations of dogs.  Tattine by Ruth Ogden (circa 1901) is full of sweet black and white paintings of a little girl, many with her puppy.  The frontispiece has a lovely watercolour of some puppies pulling at her night-clothes that has used typical behavior.  In Country Favorites (circa 1901) is a charming colour picture of two terriers watching a hedgehog.  As the owner of a terrier, I know this is in the realm of fantasy as they are hunting dogs and would not be leaving the poor thing alone.  But then again the hedgehog’s spines could be a deterrent and a realistic image would not be great in a children’s book.

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Greeting Cards Clockwise from top: Hide and Seek by Arthur Elsley (1869-1952); Dignity and Impudence by Edwin Landseer (1839); To School Well Fed on Grape Nuts, advertisement lithographed on tin (1917); The Girl With the Dog, Theodore Robinson (1852-1896).

Amongst my greeting card collection, I have several with images of children and dogs from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  A dog is a popular subject because anyone who has owned or loved dogs can relate to these works.  There is nothing like having the devotion and loyalty of a dog.  In fact in Medieval Flemish paintings dogs were included as symbols of faithfulness.

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Detail Justice of Emperor Otto III (1470-75) by Dirk Bouts

The actions of our own dogs have given both Ellie and me ideas for artworks.  We both like to do drawings of our two Fox Terriers.  Usually you can only get them to pose when they are asleep as they are in constant motion.  Ellie did a watercolour pencil sketch of her current dog that I really like and have included it below.

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Ellie’s Watercolour Pencil Sketch

You hear all kinds of stories about dogs rescuing people from dangerous situations.  One day when I was upstairs, our previous two Foxies started barking furiously at the side gate.  I went down to have a look and got to the front of the house only to see that someone had broken a window and the door was ajar.  The intruder must have heard me coming.  I saw a leg disappearing around the corner and yelled some rather strong language before calling the police.  I had not heard the door knocker and if the dogs had not barked so loudly and in such an agitated manner I would not have known there someone was breaking in to our house.  This episode became a tapestry design and I have included one of the working drawings in this post.

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Drawing for Tapestry Design by Kat

It is obvious that I love dogs.  Dogs have always been important in my life and I could not be without one.  I think it is essential to have a dog (or cat) if you work at home. Talking to your pet is a good way to work through an idea.  Better than talking to yourself which can look strange if someone catches you doing this.  But with a dog it is perfectly normal because they listen intently. You just know when they think your idea is rubbish.  Dogs do sneering well.  But when your enthusiasm for something is conveyed to them they take up the good feelings and go with it.  You know you are on a winner when your dog smiles and wags his tail like crazy.

Dogs can be heroes, counsellors, entertainers and best friends amongst their many traits and this makes them perfect subject matter for creative work.  If you work at home and spend a lot of time on your own it is so easy to get caught up in your work and a dog keeps you connected to reality.  We benefit in so many ways from our relationship with our dogs and should never take them for granted.  Dogs are always an inspiration.

Kat

The following video shows a compilation of clips from 1930s films starring the wired-hair fox terrier Skippy.  Skippy starred as “Asta” in The Thin Man films with William Powell and Myrna Loy, as “George” in Bringing Up Baby with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn and as “Mr. Smith” in The Awful Truth with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne.  This delightful dog’s actions are put to the song Who Let the Dogs Out performed by Baha Men.

A Room With A View

Version 2Version 2I’m not about to talk about the 1980s film starring Helena Bonham Carter, but about how it is always wonderful to have a pleasant view from the room where you spend most of your time working.  It is very soothing and good for your well-being to have an interesting outlook.  I have two large windows in our studio.  One window overlooks the back garden and the other has a wide view over neighbouring rooftops and of the sky.  Because a large two-story house is soon to be built next door, I will lose the unencumbered view.

This view has given me much pleasure over the years.  I have watched so many aircraft, such as the Air Force acrobatic team, the Roulettes, doing routines before the Australian Football Grand Final or the Melbourne Grande Prix, as well as Fighter Jets and Black Hawk Helicopters doing exercises.  Vintage planes in formations and huge aircraft for airshows have entertained me from time to time.  I often see parachutists descending to a local park and the Goodyear blimp has passed by making its slow way across the skyline.  There have occasionally been spectacular fireworks.  At dusk in the warmer months I see Flying Foxes (fruit bats) flying low over the rooftops on their way to find food and all kinds of birds have flown past this window on their way to who knows where.

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Views can keep us connected with the natural world and this is good for the health.  Observing natural phenomena has helped to elevate my mood and made me respect the forces of nature.  There is nothing like the azure blue sky of a bright sunny Melbourne day dotted with cumulus clouds to make you feel happy.  At other times watching the rain sheeting down over the rooftops is always an incredible sight.  When this view is gone I will miss seeing the moon in all its phases low on the horizon, the beautiful sunsets and the dark storm clouds rolling in at different times of the year.  Some storms have been quite scary at times when the wind is gusting at over 100 kilometres an hour and there are lots of dramatic forked lightning but they are exciting.  No matter what it says in the weather reports it is always better to see what is actually happening out the window.

There is not a lot I can do to stop the inevitable so I will have to make the best of things. At least I still have the other window that looks onto the greenery of the garden and can go outside in fine weather.  If I did not have this option I would probably put up lots of pictures and posters of the natural world and fill the room with plants to feel better in the winter months.

I have enjoyed my sky view for a long time and I will miss it a lot.  It might not be the most spectacular panorama compared with some wonderful scenery in the world but it has been mine.  If you have a sky view, no matter how small, make the most of its benefits while you can.  And if you have no view to speak of create one yourself with a virtual window and some posters and plants.

Kat

This post calls for a happy song so here is ELO, the 70s British band and proud wearers of satin shirts, doing Mr Blue Sky.