Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ideas for still life painting

In preparation for our upcoming Still Life class at ARThouse, I have been going through the photos of possible still life arrangements that I already have on my computer.  We will also discuss taking photos in class and create some of our own arrangements to photograph and paint from.  But to help get you started, I am posting some ideas below.  Please leave a comment at the bottom about which of these inspires you most for painting!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Winter 2012 Watercolor Class: Still Life with a Difference taught by Susan Avis Murphy

We are offering a new course at ARThouse in winter, 2012, called "Still Life with a Difference". It is intended for intermediate-advanced watercolorists who would like to get some practice and ideas for still life painting. The "difference" refers to the fact that we are not going to paint your typical stodgy, academic-looking still life! Instead we are going to try some fresh perspectives. Here is the registration form for the class. There are still a few openings.  Click here for the:  Still Life with a Difference registration form

We are going to be using this blog as a way to communicate during the course, so I am going to ask all class members to "follow the blog" using your email address to be alerted to new postings.  To do this, please sign in on the right where it says "Follow by Email".

Here are some of my own still life paintings to give you an idea of the kind of things we are going to do:

I am really looking forward to teaching this course.  It should be a lot of fun for all of us!  If you have any ideas or suggestions for subject matter, please let me know by commenting below.  The course will culminate with a student show in April here at The ARThouse Studio School!

Susan Murphy, ARThouse, 12/17/11

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An Innovative Textural Background for Watercolor

I have occasionally used an innovative textural background in my watercolor paintings, which has the effect of giving them a timeless sepia-toned look.  I have used this technique primarily for portrait paintings and my construction rubble series.  In fact, I discovered the effect accidentally years ago while trying to get an interesting, clay-like background for my rubble paintings.  I would like to describe it for you here, especially for my students, who are currently using this technique.  I call it the "rivulet technique"

Here are some samples showing the "Rivulet Technique":

 This is a close-up from part of the above painting:

My students are ARThouse are currently exploring this technique.  It is tricky to do and relies upon utilizing the correct earth colors, such as raw or burnt umber.  Actually I wrote an article about the technique for "The watercolor Page" of American Artist magazine back in 1986!  For old times sake, here is the original article, click on a thumbnail, and then click the "Image From" text near the bottom to be able to zoom in to read them.

Monday, February 21, 2011

How to build an art collection you can be proud of

     Art reflects style.  The kind of artwork you have on your walls is a reflection of you, your interests, your tastes, and your personal history.  Let your artwork tell your story.  More than any other element of home decor, artwork attracts the attention of visitors, and many are drawn to examine it minutely.  It is just as important to invest in good artwork as in a new couch.  Here are 15 tips for building an art collection you can be proud of:
  1. Buy originals whenever you can afford it.  Original paintings contain subtleties that no reproduction method can completely duplicate.  They are inherently more valuable, and in today's economic climate are often a bargain.  As a second choice, buy limited-edition giclee prints.  These can look excellent, and can be a good addition to your collection for places in the house where you don't need an original.
  2. Buy from accomplished artists.  Research the artist and look for a track record of accomplishments and credentials.  That way you will be able to speak confidently about the artist and know they are not just a "flash in the pan".  Do consider supporting early-career artists, though, if you feel strongly about their work. 
  3. Buy artwork you love that speaks to you strongly.  You will enjoy the painting for a long, long time if you really love it, and it will be worth every penny.  Beautiful art in your environment can be very uplifting.
  4. Have the paintings framed well.  Proper framing can really enhance an artwork, while the wrong framing can hurt it.  We call it "the framing effect".  The right proportions of mat to image, the right colors, and a frame that belongs on the painting are all elements of a classy design.
  5. Smaller works are easier to collect and to hang.  Of course you need several large paintings for prime locations, and those should be originals if at all possible.  But smaller originals can be "little gems" that can be hung almost anywhere, regardless of your decor.  The eclectic style of decorating popular today allows us to tuck a favorite artwork in any small space.   
  6.  Build your collection around something that reflects you.  What kind of things do you love?  If you love the outdoors, collect landscape.  If you love animals, collect paintings of the animals you love.  If you love flowers, collect beautiful flower paintings!
  7. Build your collection around an unusual theme.  Here are some quirky themes for an art collection:  music, bicycles, coffee cups, Adirondack chairs, food, china and crystal, sunflowers...
  8. Include figure paintings and portraits in your collection.  There is such a strong tradition of collecting these subjects, which are of inherent human interest.  People are drawn to paintings of people, and at least one classy figure painting is a wonderful addition to any art collection.  
  9. Collect works in a variety of media.  A sophisticated collector considers all art media to be worthy and broadens their collection to include original oils, watercolors, pastels, acrylic, drawing media, original prints such as etchings, and sculpture.  It takes time to build such a collection, but your heirs will appreciate eventually owning some of your valuable works of art, especially if they lived with them as children.
  10. Collect more than one artwork from certain artists.  For artists whose work you really admire it is nice to own a small sampling of their work.  Doing so will help promote their career and you will develop a relationship with the artist.  Believe me, they will appreciate this tremendously!
  11. Own several large "showcase" artworks for prominent areas of the house.  There is nothing like a spectacular large artwork to "make" a room.  Of course you want to consider this purchase very carefully, because it will be expensive and probably only fit in one spot.  We can help you with this.  Most artists will allow you to take artwork home "on approval" before you commit to purchasing.
  12. Consider commissioning an artwork.  For those special large paintings you might be able to commission a piece if you cannot find exactly what you are looking for.  Be prepared to pay a little more, though, because commissions are risky for artists (and for you!).   Some would be willing to work with you on colors for a certain situation, especially for a large abstract piece.
  13. See the artwork in person before you buy it, especially if it is large.  Some people are willing to take the risk of buying sight unseen through the Internet, but be careful.  You really need to experience the scale and impact of the piece in person.  Far better is to visit the artist in their studio or visit a gallery.  Don't worry about feeling "trapped" --artists understand that it takes time to commit to an artwork.  You may need to see it several times or take it home on approval.
  14. Get documentation about the artwork from the artist.  The artwork should come with an artist biography, title, and hopefully date of production, and perhaps a word about materials and their archival properties.  (Be wary of buying art that is not made with lasting materials--paints that are not lightfast, for example, or collage materials that are not acid-free.  You should ask the artist about this.)
  15. Take good care of the artwork you own.  Keep it on the wall so it stays away from dust and humid places.  Be sure the framing is in good repair.  If the dust cover on the back is ripped, tiny insects can get inside.  Be sure the art, if matted, has archival quality materials around it and behind it.  If you need to store it, place it in a sturdy plastic bag first, and store it upright, not sideways. 

Monday, January 31, 2011

25 Ideas for the Working Artist from ARThouse Students

On the last day of our ARThouse Student Show, we had a "Take-down Party".  I asked everybody to contribute an "art idea" to the Idea Basket.  The artists came up with lots of excellent tips and ideas, some practical, some philosophical, for the working artist.  Since this was primarily a watercolor group, many of these apply to watercolor, but there is lots of "meat" in here for everybody!

25 Ideas from ARThouse students for the Idea Basket: (Sue Murphy's comments in [......])
  1. Purchase an inexpensive mat cutter (A.C.Moore, Michael's, Plaza Art or online) as a reasonable one-time investment. This makes it easier to give paintings and prints to friends and relatives.
  2. When trying out new techniques or approaches, such as abstraction, buy some cheap paper so you don't feel so pressured about wasting paper!!! I purchased a pad of Strathmore 100 lb cold press paper (11x15”) which costs less than $1.00 per sheet. That way I can experiment without blowing the budget. [Plus sometimes cheap papers give you unusual effects!]
  3. Whenever you go out, take your camera and/or something to sketch on. [Keep an old camera in the car]
  4. Keep several painting projects going at once and have them nearby for 15 minutes of work.
  5. When deciding on your composition, always keep various size mats to help select the area to paint.
  6. Mr. Clean “Magic Eraser” will lift nearly any paint color. Just cut off a small part of the sponge, wet it, and rub.
  7. Here is an online discussion between two artists about their different styles. There are slides explaining their views, but no video: It is very interesting [as they compare their approach to the same painting].
  8. Have a group tour and critique of selected paintings from the BWS Mid-Atlantic show. [We might do this—will let you know]
  9. At the end of a painting session, jot down a few notes about things you are thinking about doing next, like “soften edge of left arm” or “darken shadows under tree”. This will help you get into the swing of things when you return to the painting next time.
  10. Trace your sketch onto your paper before soaking and stretching. This way, when the paper is dry the pencil lines are essentially permanent, so small details won't wash off as you work. If you want to make changes, you can remove the pencil lines with a Mr. Clean magic eraser before you paint that area.
  11. Learn more about depth of field and perspective using various means (color, line. etc.)
  12. Your paintings are YOUR ideas. It is OK if others do not view your work with the same understanding.
  13. Thumbnail value sketches are excellent prerequisites before using your “good sheet” of paper, allowing ideas in placement, value, main focus and light direction to be developed before you paint.
  14. The degree of finish for a painting has to be a personal choice.
  15. Consider changing the date of the ARThouse Student Show from late fall to spring. Advantages: 1) less pressure and competition from holiday events with their obligations, travel, gift buying, baking. etc., 2) after April 15 when taxes are paid, it is easier for customers to budget their expenses, 3) the weather is nicer with more people apt to be attracted to the show. [Will consider this, but spring is very busy too!]
  16. A word to the wise...never express how much you as a watercolorist ALSO enjoy painting with acrylics!
  17. Take classes with a variety of teachers to avoid copying only the style of your original teacher and develop your own personal style.
  18. Unwanted paintings can be used as “underpaintings” for new ideas using another media, OR collages. Try, try again! [Stick failed or unfinished paintings in a drawer somewhere—they might be useful...]
  19. If you really don't like your painting, wash the paint off under the faucet, dry and re-use.
  20. White, smooth packaging cardboard pieces [or scrap watercolor paper] make good practice sheets to use before you made a new stroke on your painting.
  21. Work hard on rescuing failed paintings! [Try finishing every painting—you can usually turn it around!]
  22. Go to the library and check out art books. I have learned so much from the books and have been introduced to many styles and techniques.
  23. Paint your inspiration! Paint with inspiration! Let your painting be an inspiration!
  24. Explore different surfaces.
  25. Don't be afraid to use mixed media, such as watercolor and pastel.