Thursday, 30 June 2011

Money-saving Tips for Artists

I’ve spent most of this month putting together a group of new greeting card designs to submit to publishers. I’ve found it quite a scary process so, to get me started with some enthusiasm, I paid a visit to the treasure chest that is our local Art Shop* and stocked up on some lovely new art supplies.

As any artist will know, the price of a new pad of good quality paper, a watercolour brush, a bottle of acrylic ink and one or two minor items made quite a dent in my bank balance that would need a lot of cards sales to fill. It made me wish, not for the first time, that I was a writer so that I could manage on just a notebook and pencil!

Art materials are invariably expensive, especially in comparison to what most of us earn from our art. The term, ‘starving artist’ wasn’t coined without good reason.

But there are ways to economise without jeopardising the quality of our work and I thought I’d list a few of my little money-saving tricks and hope that you will share yours –

1. Save unused paint.
At the end of a painting session, you may be able to salvage unused paint by wrapping the palette loosely but securely in cling-film or a sealed small plastic bag.

2. Save on sketch pads. Make a pad of paper for trying out ideas by saving any sheets of A4 paper – junk-mail letters and so on – that have a clean side. Use a bulldog clip to fix them to a firm surface such as a rectangular place-mat, if you have one. If not, save the firm cardboard back of a sketchpad or any pad of art paper and use that for the backing.

3. Save on expensive watercolour or pastel paper. Sometimes it’s perfectly possible to use the back of a ‘failed’ painting.

4. Paint smaller. If, like me, you like to paint big, this will be quite a challenge but designing greeting cards at 5” x7” (or more often, 7.5” x 10.5”) has shown me that it’s possible to adjust.

5. Save on palettes. There are many items of packaging, especially in boxes of chocolates or biscuits, that make excellent paint palettes and, as they don’t cost anything, you can throw them away when you’ve finished and avoid all that tedious palette-washing.

6. Make collages! This is the cheapest way to make art that I’ve discovered. I often use remnants of gouache that have dried on the palette for painting the paper. It gives some interesting paint effects as well as cleaning the palette for me!

The only materials/equipment I need for my collages are:

  • glue (an ordinary glue stick is fine!)
  • a packet of coloured tissue paper from the stationers
  • some backing card (I use some 300 gsm printer card that I bought that my printer wouldn’t accept)
  • a sharp craft knife and spare blades
  • scissors
  • cutting mat 
  • tracing paper
I've written several blog posts about making collage designs, mainly in the early months of 2010, but click here to get started.

    7. Use every ounce of your creativity to utilise what you already have! For instance, when I blew up my expensive A3 scanner – oops! – a neighbour kindly and ingeniously converted it to a light-box! But if you need a light-box but don’t want to spend the money, you’ll find plenty of instructions online for making one more cheaply. For years I happily used a desk-lamp underneath a glass topped coffee table.

    I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to save money on art materials and equipment. 

    What are yours?

    * Our local Art Shop and Gallery now has an online shop, with very reasonable prices. Just click on the line drawing on the home page to enter the site.

    Thursday, 23 June 2011

    A Fish out of Water!

    A little while ago, an artist I’ve been in touch with through various forums and social networking sites, surprised me with a comment. She loved the way the internet provided glimpses into other artists’ lives, she said. And she was pleased that this made her feel less ‘weird’, a feeling she gets around other non-artist friends.

    I can relate all too well to this ‘feeling weird’ - feeling 'different' from the people I knew. When my children were young, we lived in a very nice village in the South East of England, in ‘commuterland’ ie within commuting distance to London. I had lots of friends, made mostly through shared activities with our children, but I didn’t know one single artist.

    As our children grew up and reached school age, most of the other ‘mums’ went back to work. Their jobs were often part-time, so were sometimes referred to as ‘a little job’ – mostly in some secretarial, administrative or receptionist field. I didn’t go back to my teaching job. I began a correspondence course in Interior Design.

    It was fascinating and I threw myself into it wholeheartedly. I learnt technical drawing, colour theory, all about building materials etc and I wrote mammoth essays for the ‘History of Design’ module. But, even though the course was somewhat on the outer fringes of ‘arty’, I was still met with puzzled looks whenever I replied to the question, ‘What do you do?’

    I felt altogether like a ‘fish out of water’!

    Luckily I found my fishbowl full of water when we moved to Norwich. Not only was there an Art School in the city but the Adult Education centre had a thriving Art Department, which spawned a kind of ‘cafe society’ social life. But that aside, Norwich is the sort of place where you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that your cleaning lady paints mandalas or the surveyor you employed for your house refurbishment dabbles in watercolours.

    But then again, in places where I’ve lived since, it’s been back to the ‘feeling weird’ though it has come to matter less to me as time goes on.

    It seems as if there are still remnants of the notion of ‘artists’ colonies’, where artists gathered to live together, outside of the mainstream of society, thought of by the rest of society as ‘weirdos’ because of their unconventional ways of dressing and behaving. In the fifties, my mother wouldn’t allow me to go to Art College because they were ‘full of beatniks’!

    But the internet has changed all that! Once you become aware of just how many people are pursuing artistic careers, it seems as  ‘normal’ to be an artist as to be anything else.

    Another factor has changed that ensures that an artist feels like a part of society as a whole, not separated off from the mainstream, either as an individual or as part of a community of artists. Nowadays, in large measure because of the internet, artists need to be business-people as well if they are going to earn a living from their art.

    When ‘bricks and mortar’ galleries were the main source of sales, a lot of the business side of things could be left to the gallery to take care of.  Not any longer! We have to learn about marketing, promoting, networking, Search Engine Optimisation...all of which brings us into contact with non-artists. Although we might not necessarily enjoy this side of things, it does seem to have blurred the dividing line between ‘artists’ and ‘others’ and chances are we are feeling at least slightly less ‘weird’ than in times past!

    But I still struggle to explain to friends that my 'work' as an artist/designer is NOT something I look forward to taking time off from at the end of the week; nor do I look forward to 'retiring' - quite the opposite, in fact!

    Anyone else have that problem?

    Thursday, 16 June 2011

    Wordpress or blogger - which do you prefer?

    Morning mist over the River Usk obscuring the Blorenge Mountain

    Is Wordpress better than blogger?

    When I decided to start a blog, the question was: should I use Wordpress or Google’s 'blogger'? Both had their devotees, with a slight bias towards Wordpress. I finally decided to plump for blogger for the simple reason that I already had a googlemail account so I felt I’d be ‘keeping it in the family’, so to speak.

    But since I joined Twitter last year, I’ve been reading a great many blog posts about blogging and there often seems to be an assumption that any serious blogger (in the sense of a person who blogs!) will naturally be using Wordpress - and I’m wondering why. It almost seems as if there are first- and second-class bloggers but perhaps I’m attributing a kind of technological snobbery to this, that exists only in my slightly befogged mind.

    It’s true that blogger does have its occasional ‘mad moment’ and recently I’ve been getting ‘error 503’ rather frequently. But refreshing the page seems to solve that error quickly and effortlessly and on the whole I rather like using blogger. It mostly seems to do ‘what it says on the tin’!

    Content aside, I have quite strong negative feelings about Wordpress. When I visit a Wordpress blog, my first visual impression is generally less ‘user-friendly’ than a blogger blog. It often takes just that important fraction of a second longer to locate the actual blog post on the page. With time and attention at a premium, that matters.

    And then there’s the business of commenting. Many a time, I’ve decided not to bother with commenting because there seem to be more boxes to fill in – email address, website URL etc – than with blogger. And if I want to be informed of follow-up comments, emails arrive which require me to ‘subscribe’, not just once, but for every set of comments.

    But probably the feature of blogger that I most appreciate is the ‘follow’ button. Just a couple of clicks and a small adjustment to my bloglist in the sidebar and I can easily see when the blogs I follow are updated. No need to bother with RSS feeds, Google Reader and the like, which I have to contend with if I want to know when a Wordpress blog is updated!

    There is a huge amount that I don’t understand about computers and the internet – is there a person alive who knows it all? So it’s likely that I am missing something about Wordpress, due to my lack of knowledge and understanding. But when I start to read about the wonderful ‘plug-ins’ and ‘apps’ that are available with Wordpress, my mind seems to turn into something resembling the mists that often obscure the Blorenge Mountain that I can see from my upstairs windows. I believe the correct term for this is ‘cognitive shock’ and it’s not a condition I enjoy!

    So, please, if there are any Wordpress advocates out there, is it possible to explain the advantages to someone who is not entirely technologically challenged but who likes to keep things computer-related as simple as possible - to free up as much ‘brainspace’ as possible for the important things in life?

    Thursday, 9 June 2011

    All about ATCs and ACEOs - Guest Post by Crystal Harris Donnelly

    This month's Guest post is by artist, Crystal Harris Donnelly, sometimes known as 'Charris'. 

    Crystal is an altogether talented lady but here she focuses on just one of her many gifts, ATCs and ACEOs.

    Crystal introduces herself:

    A bit about me…

    I have been involved in the arts for all of my life, and have done many portraits of pets and people. My favorite of all mediums just has to be pastel.  I have designed craft projects for national craft magazines and my projects have been included in several hardback craft books.  Horses have been a big part of my life, with my daughter showing extensively.  I am also part owner of a Tack Shop, selling English and Western tack and apparel.

    ATC, ACEO - what in the world are they?
    Acronyms can be confusing.  Believe me, I know, because my husband, who works in the aviation industry, uses them on me all the time while I look at him in confusion.  ATC and ACEO’s are not that difficult to explain.  They are basically miniature art.  I have always enjoyed creating pieces of miniature art.

    Perhaps it comes from being thrifty with my art supplies, or maybe it is because these pieces are quicker to create as opposed to larger items.  The best reason of all is that since they are so small artists can sell at a price that is agreeable to just about any budget. When I discovered ACEO’s while exploring the Internet one day, I felt as if I had found my niche. 

    The difference between the two types of Art cards is pretty simple to explain.   

    • An Artist trading card (ATC) is a card that an artist creates for trading with other artists and is never for sale.  They have been around for many, many years.  

    • Art cards editions and originals (ACEO) on the other hand, started online by some enterprising and creative artists.  Now, everyone, artist and non-artists alike can afford to collect fine art.

    There are very few rules to creating art cards.  You are free to create them in almost any medium you can think of, but they must always be 2 ½” x 3 ½”, the size of a sports trading card. Before shipping I slip them into a plastic sleeve made for sports cards.  Collectors sometimes place them into albums or mat and frame them.

    Since the onset of ACEOs, collectors have sprouted up all over the world.  Some of them limit their collections to certain subjects, such as horses, cats, landscapes, etc. A good place to sell your aceo’s is on and 

    My etsy shop is Art2Cee2 and I sell on ebay as Charrisart

    When I work on my ACEO’s, I work under a true color Ott light bulb with a large magnifying glass in one hand.  This way I can get the detail that I love so much.  Detail is not necessary and there are many collectors who treasure abstracts and expressionistic pieces. 

    Why not try an ACEO today?

    Monday, 6 June 2011

    Roses Round the Door!

    I should think most of us like the sound of an English cottage, with 'roses round the door' - but mine have rather overdone it this year!

    The door above leads from my kitchen to the back garden. And it's an absolute joy to come down to in the mornings when the sun is shining through the roses and their leaves - but going in and out can be a bit tricky as the Albertine is a particularly thorny rose!

    I took this photo a few days ago and now that some more of the buds have opened out, it's an even prettier sight!

    Those of you who were reading my blog a year ago may remember that I always hope that the pink Albertine Rose, the blue Love-in-a-mist and the white Border Carnations will be blooming in time for my birthday in June. The story behind that is that on the day that I was born, the workmen who were repairing the war damage to our house, picked these flowers from the garden for my mother. Last year the Albertine just about managed to be out in time but this year, it's more of a worry that it'll be over and done with by my birthday! It began to bloom at the end of April!

    A couple of weeks ago, we had gales that were more like March or even November but they didn't cause the roses to come adrift from their supports on the wall as they did in my Norwich house, where one day I went out to my car to go shopping and found it hiding under my Albertine! But a few days after the recent gales, we had heavy rain, which the gardens needed, but the weight of the wet roses was enough to make them sag somewhat - right where the Albertine overlaps with the Alchemist above the door!

    My son is pretty tall and has a long reach, so when he comes down for my birthday, he'll be going up the step ladder to fix them back to the trellis!

    I'm no photographer and these pictures don't really do justice to how lovely the roses looked in the early morning sunshine because the sun was full on them, draining the colour. But by chance, I've just caught the blackbird's nest in the top right hand corner of the photo, tucked between the eaves and the drainpipe of my neighbour's house. I have a good view of it from my bathroom window if I stand in the bath but it's too dark to get a good closer shot. Over the past couple of months, there's been a lot of commotion in the honeysuckle just outside my dining room where I mostly work and now I understand why! And even from indoors the birdsong is wonderful! 

    Wales is sometimes called, 'The Land of Song' and when I first moved here, someone told me that even the birds sing more sweetly here; I think there's some truth in that! 

    The roses seem to thrive in the heavy clay soil here too so what more could a 'not-a-morning-person' like me need for an uplifting start to each morning!

    Can't you just smell them!

    Thursday, 2 June 2011

    The Dark Side of Life

    Hot Summer's Afternoon in Bruges - Judy Adamson

    I’ve just unsubscribed from a daily email, ‘Thought for Today’, that a friend passed on to me years ago.

    Its constant, well-meaning exhortations to be ‘pure’ and ‘radiant’, ‘sweet’ and ‘peaceful’ were getting me down – especially when my life seems particularly difficult or painful! I’d tried just not opening the emails but the subject lines were there, staring at me, filling me with shame at my inability to live up to all these positive traits. And then it suddenly occurred to me that I could unsubscribe  - so I did!

    Somehow these emails seemed unbalanced. They didn’t take into account the reality of being human, with all the messy, negative thoughts and feelings, the ‘shadow side’, that entails. So when I happened upon Jill Badonsky’s blog  post about ‘the gifts of the dark side’, it felt somewhat like coming home. Just as a painting needs the shadow to make us aware of the brightness, we need to embrace our ‘dark side’ and even use the creativity it contains, if we are to be whole, authentic people.

    I sometimes think that perhaps too much emphasis is placed on ‘beauty’ in art. So often we read that an artist is inspired by the Beauty of Nature. And yet, in reality, Nature is also ‘red in tooth and claw’, the ‘Shadow’ side. Can we just brush that under the carpet?

    To me it is one-sided to focus only on the ‘beauty’, as one-sided as those ‘Thoughts for Today’ that irritated me so much. It leaves something out, something that can add depth and authenticity to a piece of work and often it’s that ingredient that has the power to move us.

    I grew up with various old art books around the house, mainly with black and white reproductions as printing wasn’t as advanced as it is today. But one colour painting that always drew me to it was this one by Goya: it’s hardly what I’d call beautiful and yet it’s certainly powerful:

    The Third of May, 1808 - Goya

    The same could be said of a print that hung in my childhood home:

    'When did you last see your father?' W .E. Yeames

    Later I discovered Picasso and his absinth drinkers – again, far from beautiful in the usual sense of the word.

    One of Picasso's Absinth Drinkers

    And Picasso was not the first artist to be drawn to ‘squalor’ rather than beauty. Manet and Degas also portrayed absinth drinkers and Hogarth is known for his engravings depicting the debauchery he observed in 18th Century London!

    Detail from Hogarth's Beer Street and Gin Lane

    Of course Beauty has, without doubt, its place in Art; it has the power to uplift us and fill us with awe. But as human beings we can be moved by a whole range of things, not just by Beauty. And, to me, the whole point of a piece of art is that it makes a connection to something within us. So sometimes it can make that connection by force of its sheer beauty but equally, it may resonate with 'darker' emotions.

    As in the paintings above, a work of art may horrify, sadden or even disgust me and that is perfectly valid. The ‘great’ painters, as opposed to the ‘good’ ones, have not been afraid to create from their Dark Side.