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Monthly Archives: January 2017

Tips to View Your Photo Reference for Accurate Drawings

We have clear definitions in our mind, stored much like a computer. When we think of an eye, for instance, instantly a preconceived image pops into our head. The same goes for all of the facial features. So as we draw, rather than really looking at our reference, we have a tendency to draw what we “think,” instead of what we “see.”

Our photo reference gives us all the information we really need. But often, we lack the focus to truly analyze it properly. What we end up with in our drawing is usually a composite; a blend of what we’re actually looking at and what we’re recalling from our minds.

Even when someone is focusing on their photo reference, I’ve found that the placement of their photo is usually all wrong. Often it’ll be off to the side, at a completely different angle than their artwork. So they look at the photo, then look away to work on their art. Again, they’re drawing from memory this way. There’s no way to be accurate doing this.

The solution for all of this is proper placement of your photo reference while you are drawing. Here are some good tips to follow.

  1. Tilt your work. When drawing, it’s very important to tilt your work towards you. Your face and your drawing paper should be parallel one another. This prevents any distortion. (This is why they created drafting and drawing tables that tilt towards you.) Yes, it may feel good to draw flat, like we did as kids, but that’s what creates errors and distortions. Drawing flat elongates your work. It may look great flat, but tilt it towards you, and whoops! You may end up with a huge, stretched out forehead like Herman Munster!
  2. Keep your photo close. Tape your photo right next to your artwork. This makes it easier to keep your eyes going back and forth from one to another for accuracy while you draw.
  3. Concentrate. As you are drawing, place your index finger on your photo, in the exact place you’re placing your pencil on your drawing. Go slowly and move your finger to match what you draw. This keeps your hand and eyes working together. You’ll be much more accurate this way.
  4. Use straight lines to see angles. Use a grid if you have a hard time seeing angles. The straight vertical and horizontal lines of the grid will break down the shapes into increments, making the tilts and angles much easier to see. Sometimes just dividing your photo into four equal squares with one vertical and one horizontal line is enough to help you see it properly.
  1. This is the most important tip! Check your alignment!  Be sure your photo AND your drawing are at the exact same angle. Look at the references provided. This is one of my drawings in progress. In the first example, the photo is close to the art, but it’s NOT at the same angle as the drawing. Can you see how the tilt of the little girl does not match? This will lead to inaccuracy as you draw.

In the second example, the photo is straight up and down, which matches the paper. But the drawing itself is tilted more to the left than the image in the photo. While subtle, this too will lead to inaccuracy.

The third example is the correct way to draw. The photo has been tilted a bit more to the left to match the slight tilt of the drawing. If I had allowed the photo to be viewed straight up and down, it wouldn’t have matched and the angles would be slightly off. These small inaccuracies lead to problems when it comes to capturing a likeness.

7 Painting Substrates Acrylic Painting Tips

1. Canvas

Canvas is commonly used as a painting surface and offers many advantages: it’s absorbent, has a wonderful fabric texture, is lightweight and portable. Canvas supports comes in three types: unstretched, stretched and commercially made canvas boards. Canvas paper also comes in pads, but canvas paper feels very slick, not at all like real canvas fabric.

Stretching it yourself takes practice. You’ll need wood stretcher bars, a staple gun and stretcher pliers. Wrap the canvas around the bars and tack it down in the back, pulling it tightly each time. Start from the center and work outward. Stretched canvases can be purchased in standard sizes, or custom-made by your art store or framer. Those that are mass-produced with a machine can sometimes cost about the same or less than supplies for stretching it yourself.

2. Paper and Cardboard

Paper and cardboard are great support choices if you are a beginner or just want to experiment. Both are economical and easy to find. Both have absorbent surfaces that make washes and over-watered acrylic techniques possible. Select acid-free papers or cardboard, which are more archival and will not have impurities that might stain through into your painting.

3. Wood and Composite Panels

Wood is a great support for paintings, especially for thick applications of paint and other techniques that require a rigid, sturdy support. There are many types of natural wood available, as well as composites such as Masonite, high-density fiber board (HDFB) and medium-density fiber board (DFB). Birch makes great thin, lightweight panel for large paintings.

Wood has many impurities, resins and other natural elements that may seep through into paint layers, causing stains and yellowing. Always clean the surface first, coast it with a stain sealer, then prime before painting.

Composites are strong and have the feel of wood but don’t have a natural wood grain. Another type of composite product is particleboard, which is made of pressured sawdust. Moisture will cause the surface of particleboard to swell, so sand it after the first few coats of sealer and primer to smooth out the rough surface, and it should remain smooth for subsequent coats and painting.

4. Patterned Fabric

I love browsing in fabric stores to get ideas for colors, patterns and textures. Sometimes I buy small pieces of fabric just to hang around my studio for inspiration. A fun technique is to take your favorite fabric and use that as the starting surface to begin a painting. No need to stare at that white canvas with fear. Get a jump-start by beginning your painting with colors and patterns already there!

5. Silk

If you want to paint on silk and hope to keep the fabric soft and freely flowing to use as a banner, fabric installation or wearable art, fluid acrylics offer a more stable alternative than fabric dyes. Dye works well on silk, but is not as lightfast and stable as acrylic. This technique demonstrates how to use acrylic on silk for durable, lightfast, washable color while maintaining the softness of the fabric. This technique may be used on fabrics other than silk.

6. Metal

The two issues of concern for preparing a metal support are adhesion and rust control. This technique works best for ferrous metals like steel and will provide a long-lasting rustproof support for indoor or outdoor use, suitable for coating with acrylic paint. There are many types of metal to choose from. Research safety issues, availability and necessary additional preparation. This demonstration uses 11-gauge,1⁄8-inch (3mm) Mild Steel. Whatever metal you choose, have it professionally cut to your specifications.

7. Glass

One reason to paint on glass is to take advantage of its clarity. The main concern with painting on glass is adhesion. Etching or sandblasting the surface will add tooth. Both methods will make the glass slightly cloudy, so etch only in the areas where paint will be applied.

Purchase glass at any glass supply store and have it cut to size. Float glass and window glass are smooth, clear, inexpensive choices that will work well. Glass also comes colored or textured. If you are sandblasting, use glass that is at least 1⁄4-inch (6mm) thick. If your glass piece will be freestanding, cover the sharp glass edges with framing.

Tips to Working with Vintage Materials

Vintage materials add unique touches to mixed-media art, telling a story and providing texture, dimension, color, and patina. Whether it’s bumpy rust on an antique hinge, a hand-written ledger entry, or a threadbare piece of an old quilt, these items have a story that artists love to share.

A few expert tips and techniques can go a long way in working with these treasured bits. We’ve gathered several ideas from our artists just for you, along with helpful resources. Pull some vintage items from your stash and start creating!

1. Old photos offer plenty of possibilities for art journal pages, collage, and more, but sometimes it’s tough to give up the original. Kristen Robinson and Ruth Rae used a transfer technique and incorporated it into an assemblage titled “Cherish” for their book Explore Mixed Media Collage. Start with a photocopy of a vintage photo (a laser print will also work) and apply gel medium over the surface. Place the copy image-side down onto fabric; in this case, a vintage white baby dress. Once the gel medium is dry, wet the back of the paper and roll the paper off gently with your fingers. Allow to dry.

2. Vintage jewelry is hard to resist, but it can be pricey. Good news for mixed-media artists—you don’t need perfectly intact pieces to create stunning, one-of-a-kind jewelry. In the article “Simple Vintage Assemblage Jewelry” in the November/December 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Andrea Verrill showed how to recycle parts of vintage jewelry with resin-filled bezels to make a cohesive piece. She says it can be overwhelming to sift through boxes of trinkets to decide what to use to make a jewelry piece, and offers some advice: First, keep in mind the color and theme of your piece, and reusability of the item. Second, consider components such as broken watch parts, charms from old earrings, and damaged crimp beads. Seen with new eyes, they can all be incorporated successfully. Don’t be afraid to combine disparate pieces. Verrill frequently joins chunky chains with refined ones, and rhinestone drops with matte charms.

3. The next time you’re at a thrift store or flea market looking for vintage materials, pick up a few old books and turn them into unique mixed-media wall art. Jenn Mason showed how in the article “Paper Hearts” in theFall 2014 issue of Paper Art magazine. Choose a sturdy book cover, one that’s not  brittle, and draw a heart shape on the cover in pencil. Create 2 small heart-shaped templates in different sizes from chipboard or cardstock, and cut 20-30 hearts in each size. Stack the templates, fold them in half lengthwise, and poke two holes along the fold for sewing. Use the templates to create sewing holes in the cover, within the heart shape. Bonus tip: Place a folded towel underneath the book cover to protect your surface while poking the holes. Thread a needle with embroidery floss, tie a knot in the end, and sew the hearts to the book cover. Take the needle from the back side of the cover, and sew the hearts in place. The hearts can be bunched up, laid flat, or nestled against each other. Continue adding hearts, creating more sewing holes if needed.

4. When Roxanne Evans Stout pulls together vintage materials for her collages, she often chooses bits and pieces that have meaning to her, something to think about when creating your own collage. “Morning Poem,” featured in her book Storytelling With Collage, has a scrap fabric background, to which she’s attached bailing wire bent into a circle, a vintage keyhole, and remnants of a garden ornament. “These objects are all different but all connected and beautiful in their simplicity,” she says. “This collage is made of small pieces of my life that all hold a memory or a special meaning.” Vintage pieces, even if they’re found, can express a cherished memory or set a mood.

5. Dina Wakely incorporates vintage photos on her art journal pages, but she gives them a decidedly contemporary look. In Art Lesson Volume 10: Wielding Complementary Colors, she created a layered collage art journal spread using stencils and acrylic paint. For collage elements, use vintage images printed on plain paper; laser-printed images work best, since the toner won’t bleed. Tear the edges of the image and adhere it to the page with gel medium. Paint around the image with white paint, making sure the paint connects to the sides, top, and bottom of the page. While the paint is still wet, paint an analogous color around the image without covering all of the white; this helps ground the image into the background. Add another analogous color. Paint the image, using complementary colors to make it pop on the page. Add shadows and details with water-soluble crayons. Outline the image with a water-soluble pencil, like a Stabilo All pencil.

6. Working with some vintage materials can be tricky; old papers and fabrics may be especially fragile. Cas Holmes has a technique for combining such pieces so they’re sturdy enough to use as book pages, and she explained it in her article “Stitching a Story” in the March/April 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. Lay out a rough composition of the papers and fabrics you want to use. Layer the pieces, making sure that they overlap each other by at least ¼”, with no gaps. Bonus tip: Take a photo of the layout to reference the design as you go. Cover your work surface with plastic sheeting, brush each collage element with a dilute mixture of cellulose paste, and layer it back on the plastic sheet. When dry, peel off the backing plastic and iron the collage between Teflon sheets or pressing cloths. Add details and borders with machine stitching, creating patterns and designs with free-motion stitching. If you like, add some hand stitching as well. Sew a zigzag stitch along all four edges of the piece.

Tips to Choosing The Right Painting Medium

Here are lists of pros and cons for most common painting mediums. In addition to those listed here, paintings can be made with many other mediums such as gouache, oil pastel, ink, pencil, markers, spray paint and silkscreen among others. Experimenting with new painting mediums, even for a short period of time, can be fun and inspiring, and expand how you use your current medium once you return to it.

Painting with Oil

Pros: Oil paint is slow drying, allowing for more time to make changes and to blend colors. Oil refracts the color pigment in the paint for a beautiful, rich glowing color. Great for realism, blending and detail, oil can also be used for experimental and playful methods of abstraction

Cons: Working transparently (such as glazing) requires the use of oil mediums that often contain toxic solvents. Oil paint alone is not toxic, but some mediums used to extend oil paint are toxic. Reduce toxicity by using non-toxic mediums in the paint and baby oil to clean brushes.

Oil paint never fully cures even when dry to the touch, so correct care must be taken for handling and storage. The painting must not be shipped or varnished too soon. Layering requires correct chemistry so that a more flexible layer is always applied over a less flexible one.

Oil has the potential to crack, especially if used thickly. Most oils turn yellow over time, dramatically reducing luminosity in white and light value colors.

Painting with Acrylic

Pros: Acrylic paints, mediums and products are almost all nontoxic. Acrylic is known for its fast drying qualities but is also available in slow-drying forms. A wide variety of acrylic products are available to customize paint and to personalize preferences in surface absorbency, texture and sheen. Fast-drying acrylic paints are great for layering while slow-drying acrylics imitate the look and feel of oil.

Paints are available in varying consistencies (viscosity), so acrylics can imitate both watercolor and oil in look and feel. Acrylics can be as thin as ink or thick and heavy bodied for textural effects. Acrylic offers the widest range of possibilities and is now considered more archival than all other mediums. When used correctly it will not crack or yellow, and fully cures in about two weeks. Acrylic can be used in conjunction with many other mediums such as creating a fast-drying underpainting for use under oil paint.

Cons: Acrylic binders usually contain ammonia, and though considered nontoxic, can cause sensitivity with some people, especially when used without proper ventilation.

Painting with Watercolor

Pros: Watercolor naturally creates transparency, and its water-soluble nature allows for some changes even after it has dried.

Cons: Because watercolor is usually applied to paper, the paint will sink into and stain the surface, making the paint difficult to remove fully once dry.

When finished, watercolor paintings need protection, such as being framed behind glass, due to paper being not as archival as panel or canvas as well as the non-permanent nature of the watercolor paint.

Painting with Chalk Pastel

Pros: Pastel is actually a drawing medium, but finished works in pastel are often referred to as paintings. Drying times are not an issue when working with pastel, making it portable and an excellent choice for working outdoors. Good quality pastels can produce a unique and luscious sheen in the final surface. Colors come in a wide range and can be blended and mixed directly onto the surface.

Cons: Pastel remains delicate on a surface and requires protection with glass and framing. Alternative protection, such as spray fixatives and sealers, will diminish pastel’s color and sheen.

Painting with Mixed Media

Pros: Combining paint and painting mediums with other materials expands possibilities and adds an immediate contemporary appearance.

Cons: Non fine-art materials, such as those made for craft and commercial use, can fade over time with exposure to light and air, requiring UV or other types of protection such as sealing applications or framing with UV glass.

When one type of material is layered over a different one, it may need extra procedures for proper adhesion between them.

A Word About Painting Mediums

The word medium has different meanings depending on its context. It can designate a discipline such as oil or acrylic, or it can refer to an actual binder or extender used in the chemistry of that discipline. For example, linseed oil is a medium and is used with the medium of oil paint.