Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cleaner Brushes Faster

Warm Tones
16 x 12
I hate cleaning paint brushes, and yet I never manage to complete a painting with less than 20 brushes.  Mostly it's because I don't want to have my solvent open and evaporating beside me for hours, so I keep it closed until the end of the painting session.  In between, I just wipe the brushes briefly in a rag, or, unfortunately for me, grab another brush from my overly-large supply.  You really can't have too many brushes!
But clean your brushes you must if you're going to produce nice work.  I've looked at some of my students' brushes, and found them to be little more than sticks because of all of the old, dried up paint crusted in between the bristles.  There is no hope that those brushes will produce the sensitive, painterly layering that these painters are yearning for.
The good news is that even my 20-brush sessions don't take all that long to clean up.  I follow a simple order that minimizes open solvent time and keeps the brushes soft.
First I wipe as much paint off of the brush as I can using a rag.  Paper towels are not as effective.  A 15" scrap of an old t-shirt will clean all of the paint off of all 20 brushes and it would take 10 or 15 paper towels to do the same thing.  This has also encouraged me to clean out my closet with an eye to making paint rags, and that's not a bad thing.
Next I put them in a coffee can of odorless mineral spirits with a grid at the bottom.  Scrubbing the brushes against this a couple of times will get almost all of the paint out. 
It's important to change the solvent regularly to keep it working effectively.  I decant the cleanish liquid off the top and discard the sludge at the bottom of the can into a lidded bucket which, when full, I take to the firehall as hazardous waste.
After this, I wipe the brushes again to remove most of the solvent, and then I put them in a small bucket with a generous squirt of castile soap in the bottom.  I fill this up to mid-ferrule with hot water and let the brushes sit in it.  They can stay for hours if they're bristle brushes, or just for a few swishes and then a rinse if they're soft synthetic brushes which will permanently bend in hot water.  Dishwash soap is a bad choice as it is so powerfully degreasing that it leaves the brushes splayed and dried out.  Castile is a vegetable oil soap which is very mild.  A gentle shampoo would also work.
And that's it.  I don't squish my fingers between the bristles at any point, because it would take me hours, and I don't need to.  I never have paint trapped in there after this cleaning routine.  If cleaning brushes has been a grind, I hope you'll try this method and get on with the good things in life.
Happy painting!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Commit to your Art

The Cast 2
14 x 11

As a painting instructor, I find that, though all of my students come to me with the desire to be painters, and an interest in art, not all of them are ready to commit to art.  And if they don't commit, they don't improve; at least not as they'd like to improve: dramatically.

To commit, a painter has to leave the old priorities behind - a clean house, mowed lawn, interesting and innovative meals - and put all of that reclaimed energy into painting, looking at paintings, and reading about painting.  Above all, to be a painter takes time.  Like playing the piano, you can't get better if you don't practice every day. Talent in painting is just a well-trained eye and the patience to create endless amounts of paintings that you will eventually throw away.

And to be a good painter, a person has to need to be one.  Simply wanting to be one isn't enough; it has to be an ache, a yearning, a deep ambition.  Because learning to paint has such moments of deep frustration that you have to have a deep desire in order to carry on. 

The good news is that painting is highly addictive, so the students who begin out of interest, often become painters who decide to commit, and who discover a deep need within themselves that only art seems to fill.
Clean house be damned, we'll be happier and better people if we live our passions.

Monday, June 14, 2010

An Education

12 x 16

An Education

I went to a Zhaoming Wu workshop in Edmonton this weekend at Pros Art School.  It was a fantastic experience.  Artist and school owner, Gene Prokov does a very nice job with weekend workshops, right down to the elegantly-presented, home-cooked food that we are served for lunch. 
On Friday evening there was a wine and hors d'oevres meet and greet, followed by a 3 hour demo by Zhaoming.  What impressed me was the absolute focus with which he moved the piece steadily to completion.  There was never a moment when he seemed uncertain about which direction to take in the painting, and it progressed cleanly and clearly from the first sketch of the model to the final, sumptuous painting.  That's experience!
On Saturday, we broke into two groups, each with a draped model, and spent the day trying to recreate the precision painting that we'd seen the night before.  Not as effortless as it looked! 
I backtracked, waffled, fudged and fiddled the day away.  It took an hour to make a 2 inch section of shoulder turn in a believable way, with all of the planes cleanly rendered, softened where they needed, and sharp where they needed.  In the end, with Zhaoming's help, I found my way and got an adequate result, but it lacked strength and assurance. 
I spent the evening reviewing the steps from Zhaoming's demo, and plotting a more successful approach for the next day. 
Sunday, after (too much) coffee and a fortifying breakfast, I launched into the second painting.  My focus was on the steps, and on the brushwork.  Z. uses very precise, crisp, synthetic flats, and the distinctive marks that they leave are important to his style.  I'd brought a few flats but most were bristle, and they leave a more open, broken mark.  I used these only for the underpainting, and switched to my few synthetics for the upper layers, concentrating on crisp marks.  The model breaks were a great opportunity to plan a comprehensive brush buying trip when I returned to Calgary. 
The painting above is the result of Sunday's work.  It went more quickly and didn't wander.  At least, not much. 
What I liked about the workshop was that I learned something new, but don't feel like I need to renovate my own style completely.  The lessons that I received comprised a deepening of my knowledge and skills, and showed me how progress from my current level to a higher one.  An absolutely worthwhile experience!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Practise Non Attachment

Old Soul
16 x 12
A gallery owner once told me that some works didn't sell because, he believed, the artist was too attached to them.  That clinginess lingered in the finished work and turned off potential buyers.
Flaky?  Maybe.  But it's pretty easy to get attached to a work. 
I put my in-progress paintings up on the wall so that I can study them throughout the day and figure out my next move.  Seeing them every day can  make them feel like part of the decor: an indispensable part, and that does make letting go pretty tough.
But letting go is easier if I concentrate on the process of painting, rather than on the product.  If the thrill is in the problem solving and paint application, then, once those are done, the finished painting feels like a piece of history.  The experience will stay with me even after the painting has found a new home.
So I practice non attachment, and send my works out into the world with my blessings, hoping that they never return.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Paintings of Nothing

One of my students remarked that I paint pictures of nothing.  She didn't mean this as an insult; she said that I make nothing look good.

What she did mean was that I don't bring in reference photos of scenic lakes and mountains for the demos on landscape, instead, I bring images of  - well - nothing, really.

One week it was a picture of a dried out marshy landscape with a line of dusty, winter-weary evergreens in the background.  But it did have a point to it: there were some low, scrubby willows in the mid-ground which were beginning to come to life.  The branches were an unusual lime-green that I'd never seen in willows before.  That was the focal point for me and what I emphasized in the demo.  Everything else was just the stage on which this main character could be dropped.

If you really look at what's around you, there are paintings everywhere: in the shadow that a tree casts on the ground, in a puddle in the dirt, or in a cranky child on a couch.  There is something interesting, arresting or beautiful absolutely everywhere.

This subversive idea should never be revealed to your non-painting spouses, however.  When you tell them that you absolutely must go to Provence for that painting workshop, you need to be able to tell them that France's scenery is so much more paint-worthy than anything that you have at home.

Above is a photo of nothing and the painting that it inspired.  The point of this was the unusual light on the field behind the fence of this rubbish-strewn yard.  There's beauty everywhere.