Monday, 29 August 2011

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Venturing into Digital Art!

From time to time my daughter in Sweden sends me the artistic offerings of her five children, in particular those of her one little daughter, five-year-old Hafsah, such as the one above which is a portrait of me!

I love to see them and I am very encouraged by the way Hafsah draws and paints with such confidence. Long may it continue!

But recently something new arrived by email – two of Hafsah’s digital paintings!

The Pink Panther on Television

As you know, I have my reservations about digital art. But I think these are great fun and they seem to have succeeded in keeping that spontaneous, ‘hand-drawn’ look that is sometimes lacking in digital art.

Hafsah's friend, Sarah

For someone who isn’t much interested in digital art, maybe it is strange that I do actually own a graphics tablet? It was a Christmas gift from my son and I use it almost daily to clean up my designs – ie to remove little marks and bits of fluff that have been picked up in the scanner or even little splashes of paint or glue that aren’t easy to see with the naked eye but which sometimes show up when the cards are printed.

To begin with, I had a very hard time coordinating what I was drawing on the tablet with what I intended to draw on the screen and I practised by writing my name until it became legible. 

I was comforted to find that another artist friend found it even more challenging than I did; though, on the other hand, a non-artist friend took to it like a duck to water, when I allowed him to ‘play with’ my tablet! Maybe it’s something to do with the way the male brain is wired? Could there be a connection with the way men generally find parallel parking so much easier than women do?

But I’ve found that the more I use the pen and tablet, the easier it has become and I am at last able to draw recognisable people and objects with it. I still find it rather awkward and unpredictable, though, compared to using paper and pencil. I think this may be something to do with the way I normally draw – not in single clear lines but more as if I am feeling my way around a shape. People have suggested I should try sculpture but I call it my ‘Annigoni’ method. And I still find the difference in pressure required on the tablet somewhat disconcerting!

I seem to have a low boredom threshold when it comes to my artwork. So when I feel the first signs of waning enthusiasm, I try something new, just for the fun of it! I had been wondering whether it would work to draw my design in the normal ‘dead tree-ware’ way, scan it and then work on it with my tablet and pen. Recently, an afternoon of experimenting and ‘playing with my tablet’ was an excellent antidote to staleness and this is the result:

I don’t think it’s something I shall do all that often; maybe just when the subject seems especially suited to this style. Nor do I know whether any dentists would really want to send this to their patients as a check-up reminder. But as it cost me nothing but time to produce it, I thought I might as well post it on Zazzle, just in case!

And I would have found this Jewish New Year Card very tedious to paint neatly so doing it digitally worked well for me:

It certainly wasn't quicker than painting it traditionally would have been. But I learned a lot from creating this design digitally. So, while I was about it, I created a Diwali design, putting into practice the lessons I'd learned - such as blowing it up to at least 200% from the start saved me a lot of 'cleaning up' time later!  The finished traditional Rangoli pattern found its way on to all sorts of Diwali gifts as well as greeting cards; so watch out for it in next Monday's post on my other blog . . .

It’s also nice to know that, if it ever comes to the point where this ‘starving artist’ can no longer afford expensive art supplies, my ‘naughty pencil’ will still have my graphics tablet for a playground!


Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Another artist who doesn't know what she's doing!

A friend told me about a programme about an elderly artist I'd missed so I was delighted to find it was going to be repeated on the BBC News Channel. But when I switched over to watch it, the rebels in Libya had just entered Tripoli and that, of course, took precedence over the artist, Gillian Ayres!

Fortunately, I found it on BBC iPlayer and would like to share it with as many people as possible as I found it very inspiring:

I'm not sure how long this will be available or whether it is even availble outside of the UK, but if you can, do spare half an hour to watch it - and let me know in the comments, what you think!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Guest Post by Painter, Nicki Ault, 'Painting en Plein Air'

This month's Guest Post is by Nicki Ault, a Canadian artist whose work I have admired ever since I came across her blog, where she charts her journey as an artist into ever more exciting territory!

Here Nicki tells us about her experiences of painting 'en plein air' -
In 2000, after taking drawing classes for a couple of years, I decided I was ready to try painting. I thought I would kick start things by signing up for a week long class called “Painting Fairy Island” at the Emma Lake Kenderdine Campus. This is a satellite campus of the University of Saskatchewan and is located in the boreal forest 2 hours from Saskatoon (Canada).

The class took place in both a studio and outdoor setting. I loved the idea and I fully expected to love painting, however, I realized on the first day that I might be in over my head! I didn’t even know what to do with my obediently purchased gesso! By the end of the week I was frustrated and disappointed with my lack of skill and understanding. I didn’t feel very good about painting. What I did feel good about though, was the “en plein air” (outdoor/open air) experience.

As a child I loved exploring forests, trails and meadows. I loved catching frogs, swimming in lakes and biking to secret places where I would sit quietly and think. With the discovery of plein air painting it was as if my two lifelong loves, art and nature, joined forces and opened my eyes to something new and exciting. With determination I went back to the Kenderdine Campus the next summer and happily had an “A-ha!” moment while on a painting excursion at Spruce River, P.A.N.P. Things were beginning to gel with painting and the joy of the plein air experience grew even more.

  “Seeing The Light”, 2001

As with anything there are pros and cons to painting outdoors. Probably the biggest con for me would be the bugs. I recall one outing when I accidentally set my easel up on an ant hill. Not fun. At all.

An entirely different time I was wrapped up in my painting and absent-mindedly sipping my coffee. I kept spitting out little bits, but there was a busy squirrel in the trees above so I thought it was tiny pieces of bark or pine needles that had fallen down on my travel mug. Eventually I took a break to analyze my work. At this point I paid a bit more attention to the coffee I had been drinking only to discover that it hadn’t been tree debris that I had been spitting out, it was in fact... ANTS!

“Feathery Pine”, 8x8”, 2010

Other cons of plein air painting might be the difficulty of editing the visual information, the challenges of transporting wet work, painting in conditions where the light changes, or the frustration felt if something has been left behind at the studio (like a palette- doh!).

Although purchasing the equipment for plein air painting can be quite a costly venture and therefore a con, it doesn’t have to be. I painted five small paintings this summer with my palette in my lap, holding the board in my hand all while sitting in an Adirondack chair at the beach.

Another obstacle can be the weather. I recall one winter day when I had been painting in the snow. As the temperature dropped with the passing afternoon the paint began freezing on my brush and at that point the session ended.

   “Ice, Water, Snow, Frost”, 7x7”,  2010

The summer of my “A-ha!” moment I was tackling a large canvas and things were going really well, but I could see dark clouds approaching. I worked fast, but finally when they were overhead it was a downpour! My acrylics began bleeding before I could whisk the canvas to the truck. I went back to the studio and put on a few finishing touches and this painting is one of my all time favorites. This is where a con can also be a pro. The changing weather and light can actually push you to work quickly and not fuss as much as you might indoors.

   “Rained Out”, 24x24”, 2001

For me the pros of painting outdoors outweigh the cons otherwise I wouldn’t bother. I love being immersed in nature while I am working. I love the sights, the sounds, the smells and the fresh air. I enjoy the exercise as I hike with my supplies to find a perfect location and I always feel a sense of adventure with each experience.

Sometimes I find dramatic evidence of nature, like bones,

or sweet signs of nature like a nest of eggs hidden in long grass. 

Other times I find humour, like the ninja squirrel -

 - who zipped around me and my easel this one time at art camp. Here is a link to that story.

Aside from coming up with an exciting painting infused with the experience of that particular excursion, for me the greatest pro in plein air painting is the adventure and the stories I can tell later. It all makes me so happy.

“Find What’s Not There”, 10x10”, 2009

When I am outside painting it is one of the times that I feel the most me.  It is not for everyone, but if you have always wanted to try it I hope this post has inspired you and I hope that painting directly from nature will give you tremendous joy.

   “Alone With The Sky”, 6x6”, 2011

    “Ending”, 6x6”, 2001

I will leave you with a quote I found at the Art Gallery of Ontario this spring in the section of the gallery housing the work of the Group of Seven. It was written in 1926 by Fred Housser, a Toronto journalist:

“The new type of artist… puts on the outfit of the bushwhacker and prospector; close with his environment he paddles, portages and makes camp; sleeps in the out-of-doors under the stars; climbs mountains with his sketch box on his back.”

Out on Valley Road - 10" x 10"

Thank you to Judy who asked me to write a guest post about my interest in painting en plein air; it was fun to look back at my experiences. 

I hope you enjoyed my stories and images.


Thursday, 11 August 2011

Printing your own Greeting Cards

A Word of Warning...

If you’ve ever thought about printing your own greeting cards to sell, perhaps at Craft Fairs or through your local shops, you’ve probably discovered that using a printing firm is probably not the best way to go. In my experience, printing firms usually want to print at least 50 of each of your designs. So it simply won’t work if you are just wanting to ‘toe-dip’ to find out whether your cards are popular enough to sell.

But with home printers becoming better and cheaper all the time, the answer is obviously to do it yourself. All you need by way of equipment is the printer, a trimmer and maybe a bone-handled dinner knife to help with the folding.

As far as ‘consumables’ are concerned, suitably heavy card (280gsm and upwards is best), envelopes, cellophane sleeves and self-adhesive labels to seal them are all reasonably easy to obtain, as are the replacement ink cartridges for your printer.

All the printing, folding, trimming and packaging are a bit tedious but it’s good to see your greeting cards looking so professional so you embark on your printing/selling project with enthusiasm. So far, so good.

But wait! Even before you invest in your equipment and supplies, stop and ask yourself whether printing your own cards is something you will want to continue with indefinitely. Because, in my experience, unless you have money to burn, once you’ve begun, it won’t be easy to stop without losing money!

Take this scenario:

Because most of the items are more affordable if you buy them in bulk, you’ve stocked up on 100 sheets of suitable printing paper, 1000 envelopes and cellophane sleeves and a pack of 210 self-adhesive labels, plus a set of new ink cartridges.

You print 75 cards and your ink cartridges run out, so you buy new ones. Then you print 25 more cards and you cardstock runs out but you still have a lot more ‘juice’ left in your ink cartridges – and 900 envelopes, cellophane sleeves and 110 self-adhesive labels.

So you buy more card, only to find that, before you’ve used it all, the ink cartridges need replacing again...and so on and so forth. Even if you manage to buy the same quantity of most of your supplies, it’s almost impossible to predict how long the ink cartridges will last because different types of designs use vastly different amounts of ink.

If you are fully committed to printing your own cards for the foreseeable future, it will probably all even out in the end. But if you’re unsure whether your cards will sell, or whether you will want to continue spending time on what is a rather tedious, time-consuming task, you will need to take into consideration the fact that you will be spending out on supplies long before you begin to cover your costs through sales and you are likely to have a constant surplus of one or other of the items.

Just a word of warning!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Selling online - is it turning you into a workaholic?

Are you comfortable with how much time you spend online?

I find myself in a confusing position; most of my ‘offline’ friends, some of whom don’t use a computer at all and others who don’t work, repeatedly tell me that I work too hard. And there is probably some truth in this. But, on the other hand, as soon as I turn on my computer I feel bombarded by exhortations to work even harder!

Forums and newsletters are full of suggestions for getting more sales. A recent Zazzle newsletter was actually titled, ‘Seller To-do list’! And Twitter will lead you to vast choice of blogs and articles, often contradictory, about things to do to increase your income.

But I don’t even need to visit a forum or log on to Twitter to feel pressured. Ever since I submitted my sites to a list of search engines – a suggestion from a forum! – I’ve had several emails daily with Subject lines that suggest there is more I should be doing if I’m serious about my business!

And of course,
The Internet never sleeps!

A partial solution for me has been to set myself ‘working hours’, as if I were going out to a job, to avoid allowing work to take over my life. I say ‘partial’ solution because it hasn’t solved the fact that I still feel pressured by all these 'suggestions', especially when sales are slow and I start to wonder whether I’m really doing enough ‘promotion’.

When I started offering my artwork in its various forms on the internet, I was warned that I would probably spend 20% of my time creating, and 80% promoting. Recently I was asked by the Inland Revenue to give a breakdown of how I spend my working time, as part of a review of my benefits. Luckily I had my ‘work schedule’ to refer to but when I typed it out to send it to them, I looked at it in more detail.

This is what became apparent - and it astonished me:

·    I work a minimum of 52 hours a week, often more.
·    I spend roughly 4 hours a week painting/designing.
·    I spend a further 4 hours a week scanning and editing my designs and adding the texts.
·    The remaining 44 hours are more or less equally divided between the uploading and ‘processing’ of my creative work and promoting it.

So, according to my calculator, I’m spending less than 16% of my time on ‘creative’ activities, half of that if you restrict that term to the actual painting!

I think what’s at the heart of this difficulty is that it’s almost impossible to say what really works when it comes to promoting. So we go on trying this, that and the other, in the hope that something will make a noticeable difference. And it all takes up time.

At one time I thought that keeping track of statistics would provide some clarity so I tried various forms of analytics for a while – another job to do! But the statistics bore no relation whatsoever to my sales – eg when I had a UK sale on Zazzle, there was no trace of any visits from the UK on the day concerned. So I gave that up as a bad job.

So, what’s the answer? Well, given that we have no control over how the internet works, I don’t think we can look for a solution from outside of ourselves.

That leaves us with individual choices to make about how we spend our time. The results of analysing my working time came as a bit of a shock to me and I think being aware of how we’re living is a good starting place. For me that means steering my own course between what my offline friends would have me do and the pressure that comes with being online!

Also bear in mind that at least some of the suggestions about how we can get to the top of pile stem from someone else’s self-interest; there are plenty of people out there trying to sell us something which they claim will increase our chances of success. and our strong desire to succeed in the face of overwhelming competition, can sway our judgement.

But I always remember a thread on the Zazzle forum where a ‘newbie’ asked ProSellers for tips. All the usual advice was wheeled out – get your keywords right, promote on facebook, etc etc etc. Then another ‘Pro’ came on and admitted that he didn’t do any promotion at all!

It made me wonder!