Saturday Creative Hop

Beautiful colors, fascinating abstract design–it’s easy to love the art of Helen Wells.

"The Underwater Dream" © Helen Wells

“The Underwater Dream” © Helen Wells

From her website: “This unique painting is made by adding multiple layers of watercolour paint, and detailing with a pencil and iridescent silver watercolour paint.”

Paste magazine talks about books, and books are art. And this discussion is about Harper Lee and her new book Go Set A Watchman.

Harper Lee

Harper Lee

There is a lot of controversy about the book, written before To Kill A Mockingbird. The concern is that Harper Lee is not mentally clear enough to make the decision and is (or is not) being manipulated by her lawyer.

Duy Huynh is a Vietnamese artist who paints poignant and beautiful artistic works that illustrate ancient myths, fairy tales and comic books.

©Duy Huynh

©Duy Huynh

He learned to paint as a way to illustrate his own communication struggle when he learned English as an immigrant.

© Duy Huynh

© Duy Huynh

The idea of trust in the above painting is particularly poignant to me.

For me, posters are a perfect opportunity for good design. Poster Cabaret has a lot of posters and art prints, including this crane poster by Michelle Morin.

© Michelle Morin, "Cranes"

© Michelle Morin, “Cranes”

Andrew Bird concert poster by Jason Munn.

Ben Harper poster  © Jason Munn

Ben Harper poster © Jason Munn

Munn does several great graphic effects in his posters.

Have a creative weekend!

-Quinn McDonald is having fun with taxes. It’s almost as much fun as nailing your tongue to the wall.

Saturday Joyride

Yes, it’s Saturday, and time for a creative walkabout to see what’s happening with creative folks.

Robin of Open Eyes, Open Mind, Open Heart makes beautiful mandalas. Her blog shows several she’s made recently and one is shown step-by-step. Beautiful!

Here’s more about the history of mandalas and the famous Buddhist sand mandalas that they painstakingly make, and when completely, the monks sweep them away and let the sand or river take them.

A page from Jane LaFazio's sketchbook.

A page from Jane LaFazio’s sketchbook.

I’m in love with the watercolor art of Jane LaFazio. She has such a lively, deeply satisfying style.

Abstract art is not just paint spilled on a canvas. Jo Murray does some interesting abstracts, and discusses her process in a fascinating blog.

Jane Farr does beautiful, delicate, colorful, powerful calligraphy. And there are links to contests and more on her blog.

Have a creative weekend!

–Quinn McDonald loves color. And sometimes she loves monochromes. Because it’s all beautiful.

Art Graf Stick (Viarco): Review

Viarco is a family-owned Portuguese art supply company. They make the highly-water-soluble graphite stick called Art Graf Stick. It may be my best impulse purchase of the summer.

Viarco makes the graphite stick.

I’ve used graphite for reductive drawings, and I’ve used liquid graphite, only to discover that it is not my medium. The Art Graf Stick  is interesting, easy to use, and fun. I tried it on watercolor paper and Bristol board, both with good results.

Because of its water-solubility, it lays down a love gray wash, smooth and even. A gradient is easy to lay down if you keep enough water on the surface of the paper.

Gradient wash made with Art Graf Stick

Because of its elongated square shape (9 cm long), it can cover a large surface quickly. But you can also use a corner or an edge to draw with.

It’s soft enough so that harder pressure leaves a thicker line. When the line is blended with water  and a brush, the lines flow together. The more water, the lighter the gray. Once dry, re-wetting doesn’t pick up the color like watercolor. Once the color is down, it’s staying there.

I made the painting above by using a wet #4 Teklon watercolor brush stroked against the blunt surface of the graphite stick. To make the shades of gray, I picked up water or blotted on a blank sheet. And I sketched the under-drawing with the stick as well.

The stick can be erased prior to wetting. After the wet portion dries, an eraser picks up some color, but you’ll need an electric eraser (I paid $7 for mine) to make all the graphite disappear.

The stick is versatile and for those of you who love black and white tonal shades, it’s great to work with.

Disclosure: I purchased the stick at Arizona Art Supply.

Watercolor Brush: Synthetic or Natural?

Artists use brushes for many purposes–to paint, certainly, but also for applying glue, frisket (a removable masking fluid), ink, varnish, or sealant. Brushes are also good for removing eraser dust, glitter, cat hair, and the occasional cookie crumb that finds its way onto canvas, paper, or journal.

The confusing information about brushes is the number associated with their size. Flat brushes are measured by the width at the ferrule, and that logic makes it easy to guess how large the brush it.

The synthetic brush (black handle, top) holds considerably less water than the smaller squirrel-hair brush.

Round brushes measure from 0 to 24, with 0 being the smallest in the group. They also go below zero, with 0000 being smaller than 00.

Mop brushes are numbered with the same system, but the size of the brush doesn’t equal the size of the round brush. This can be a head-scratcher if you are new to buying brushes.

Tip:  A typical squirrel mop #0 equates to a #10 round; a mop #6 is the equivalent to a #16 round, and so on.

Tip: Genuine hair brushes (from kolinsky sable, red sable, fox, squirrel to ox and goat ) use real hair from the animal, (generally the tail). Real hair has ridges and scales and holds water better than smooth synthetic brushes. Natural brushes are also “springier” which means they recover their shape better while in use. Natural  brushes are more expensive than synthetic brushes. Often, much more expensive.

Tip: For watercolor, which demands loading with lots of color and water while retaining a good point, use a natural-bristle brush.

Tip: Acrylic paints are alkaline and wear out natural-hair brushes faster than synthetic brushes.

Here is why the natural-hair brush is worth the extra price when you are painting with watercolor–the “fatness” of a synthetic brush doesn’t tell you how much water it will hold. So I did an experiment.

I put all three brushes into water. (I tinted the water blue to make it show up on the photo.) You’ll notice I didn’t just drop them into a jar. Natural-hair brushes shouldn’t be left point down to soak. It ruins the point. And once a natural-hair brush has a bent tip, it’s ruined.  Wet, the two larger brushes look about the same size.

The synthetic brush (black handle, top) holds considerably less water than the smaller squirrel-hair brush.

I then pulled each brush straight out of the water, allowed the water to stop dripping, then squeezed each brush over a napkin. The wet ring shows how much water each brush held. The synthetic brush (black handle, above, top) sheds water as you pull it out of the bottle. The smooth fibers don’t hold water like the scale on the hair of the natural-bristle brushes. The natural brushes hold more water.

The water-ring of the synthetic brush is smaller than the water-ring of the smaller of the two squirrel brushes. It’s a big difference; when you are loading your brush with color and water, use the biggest brush for the work. For my money, I prefer natural-hair brushes.

Tip: A cheap brush doesn’t save you money. You will spend more time working with them. They often shed hair on your surface, and that’s difficult to pick out without disturbing the paint or surface.

More information on brush material and sizes.

Quinn McDonald is discovering a certain joy in using watercolors and watercolor brushes for their lack of control.

Art Journaling Tip: Watercolor Pencils

Hanging out with art pal Lynn T. today, we were talking about making it easy to take along a journal and use it. She reminded me of a handy trick I haven’t used in a long time. It’s a great idea, so I’ll share.

Blending on the left, creating a palette on the right.

You’ve played with watercolor pencils in your journal. Depending on the quality, you may see some pencil streaks after you apply the wash. (See the left side of the page.) I was playing with blending colors. Supposing I want to take a journal with me, but not pack a lot of watercolor pencils or watercolors. On the right side I used my excellent-quality Caran D’Ache (pronounced to rhyme with Baron Wash)  and scrubbed them heavily directly onto the page in small squares.

Work from light to dark, using the squares of color as paint.

Using a travel watercolor brush with a reservoir, I used the squares as you would a half-pan of watercolor. Wet it with the brush, and use the color to paint the vine.

Detail of color blendsIf you work quickly, while the first color is still wet, you can blend in a second color with great results. In the photo above, I’ve marked the leaves with the squares I used to blend the colors.

You can use the back pages of your journal to create a palette. You can use primaries, or as many as a page or two will hold. Then you pack your journal and your traveling water brush, and you are ready to go!

–Quinn McDonald is an art journaler and color lover who always wondered what to do with the last few pages of a journal. She now makes them into instant palettes.

Name Your Own Color

It’s time for another Michelle Ward Street Team Challenge. Last month, she asked us if our color palettes changed from season to season. Living in the Sonoran desert, where the temperature is currently on “broil” I instead compared the colors and styles I used when I loved on the East Coast and then when I moved here.

This month, in Crusade #53, Michelle asked us to find colors we had blended ourselves, and give them new names. I love exploring color, so I picked up my three Daniel Smith watercolor paint sticks–New Gamboge (yellow), Quinacridone (red), and Ultramarine (blue) and renamed them to Arizona colors. Our sky is huge and bright blue, so the blue became Arizona Sky.

The yellow is a dusty, dry color that matches the color of our horizons when the dust storms move through, so it got the name of our dust storms: haboob.

The red is the color of a the juice of a saguaro fruit. The fruit is pressed out of the very seedy pod, mixed with sugar, fermented, and then used by the Tohono O’odham in a ceremony to call forth the clouds that bring rain.

But that was just renaming the colors I used. The real task was to create blended colors and name those. Below is an acacia tree –from which we get gum arabic, among other things. The tree was painted with the three color sticks above. No other colors were used. The three colors I used are primary colors, and every other color can be made from them. The greens were mixes of yellow and blue, sometimes more yellow, sometimes more blue.

The sand and underpainting of the trunk were an orange mixed from yellow and red. I then added blue to the orange and made brown, added a bit more red and made the trunk and stems.

The re-named colors are: in the top of the tree: Sun-Shot. Over to the right, the tender green is April Morning. In the center, the leaves in shadow are July Shadow.

On the right edge, the dry, tired green is Sun-Blasted. The trunk is Bent Trunk, and below the tree, there is Hot Sand.

What a great challenge! Thanks Michelle, for your unending imagination and inspiration!

–Quinn McDonald’s book, Raw Art Journaling, is newly released by North Light Books.

Product Review: Daniel Smith Watercolor Ground Part 2

A few days ago, I started a review on Daniel Smith’s Watercolor Ground. I had to stop to allow the ground to thoroughly dry. Once the ground was dry, I wanted to put it through its paces.

First, using Daniel Smith watercolor sticks in yellow, red and blue, I painted a tag using the wet-on-dry method. Good color coverage and good color blending.

Next, I painted over the transparency. There was not any difference between the roughed-up section and the smooth section. Both of these were wet-in-wet techniques using Daniel Smith Prima-Tek colors–watercolors made from authentic mineral pigments. I loved the technique, and I loved the result.

Here is the watercolor ground on black paper. Again, I didn’t see much difference between the single coat and double coat of ground. I wanted a heavier saturation, even with wet-in-wet, so I loaded the brush with color. Again, good results, and the drydown still has enough contrast to make a good background.

Finally, you may remember the white fabric box I made last week. I painted the box with watercolor ground, waited until it was damp dry, sprayed it with distilled water and used the watercolor sticks and a brush to apply color. I wanted to see if I cold get a fresco effect–paint applied to wet plaster. I deliberately did not try blending, just applying color on wet ground. I like the clear colors and cloud effect, although I will continue to work on the box once it is dry.

I’m pleased with the results of watercolor ground on paper, fabric, and transparency. I like the feel, although I might sand some of the finish down if I wanted a smooth look. I think there is a lot of potential here, for mixed media artists and book artists alike.

FTC required disclosure: I purchased all materials from Daniel Smith or Arizona Art Supply. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Review: Daniel Smith Watercolor Ground

First, before you get deeply involved, the review is a partial one. As usual, I wanted to use the material in slightly different ways than originally designed, so the first step was to wait–and I didn’t. It turned out to be more important than I thought.

Daniel Smith is an art supply company that sells a series of grounds–paintable substrates that allow you to use fabric, metal, plastic and other unlikely materials for digital transfers, or, in this case, watercolor.

Daniel Smith’s latest project is a watercolor ground–a material that leaves a paper-like background on plastic, metal or glass so you can use watercolor–not an easy medium– on the painted piece.

I love watercolor. I love the unpredictability, the transparency. But I was far more interested in using the watercolor ground on a variety of papers that won’t hold watercolor. As a collage artist, the idea of creating a wide variety of watercolor background that didn’t originally work for watercolor is exciting.

I coated a piece of transparency. The instructions say to rough up the paper, so I tried it without roughing up (top) and with roughing up (bottom).

I also tried it out on black cover stock. Half of the stock got one coat (top); the other half got two coats (bottom). Both feel like heavy, rough watercolor stock. You can easily see the difference:

Finally, I painted two pages of an old book. The instructions on the jar clearly say to wait 24 to 72 hours for the watercolor ground. That, I thought, was for metal and plastics, but paper was surely different. I live in Phoenix, and our bigger problem is paint drying too fast. So, after waiting half an hour, I painted over the book page. Not a good idea. The paint spread and soaked in, leaving an indeterminate shadow of paint. After another hour, I used watercolor pencil to add detail, and it spread a bit, too.

On the left is the result of a heavily loaded watercolor brush, loaded with both yellow and blue. The colors were strong, but without letting the ground dry, I got a much lighter result than expected. However, I can see the usefulness of being able to paint, then write or collage, on a book page.  On the right, you can see the pale halo around the flower where the first red paint simply spread out. The petals are drawn with watercolor pencil about an hour later.

At that point, I decided to follow directions and wait the full 24 hours. Using the watercolor ground could be a big leap forward in my collage work–allowing me to add watercolor to fabric and a big variety of papers. But first, I now know that the directions were serious, and I’m going to wait.

–Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling, a book for people who want to art journal, but can’t draw. It’s not a how-to book, it’s a how-to-be book.

Watercolor Pages for Raw Art Journaling

OK, I’ve said I’m a minimalist when it comes to raw art journaling. Nothing’s changed. I like using watercolor pencils and washes with writing. I’ve always done the ink work first, then added the watercolor. I’ve never been adept at watercolor, so today I took a class with Alice Van Overstraeten at Jerry’s Artarama in Tempe, AZ.

Grapes with silver highlights. © Quinn McDonald, 2010. All rights reserved.

Alice is relaxed and easy. In fact, her class was called “Free and Easy.” She may be the non-fussiest art instructor I’ve ever taken a class with. Her demo was amazing. In order to allow all the students to see her work, she held a piece of artboard in front of her and drew so we could see the work–she was working upside down from her point of view. She used a pencil to sketch in circles where the flowers would be. The circles were no more than placeholders. They were not recognizable flowers.

Using a mop brush, Alice picked up several shades of color on the one brush and pressed the brush onto the paper, pulling it in one direction. She repeated this process. She then loaded the brush with greens and browns and drew in lines. Notice I didn’t say stems. So far, the artboard looked like it had red round shapes and green long shapes. The next part was amazing. Using a Pitt pen, Alice drew in lines that created poppies, stems and leaves.

The demo was encouraging. If Alice could do it upside down, I could probably handle it with a piece of paper in front of me. I had varying amounts of success. The less I planned or forced, the better it looked. The harder I tried for realism, the less real the flowers looked.

Orange flowers with gold edging. © Quinn McDonald, 2010 All rights reserved.

Time flew and I tried a variety of subjects–various flowers, grapes, and another version of radish bird. (Radish bird is a recurring figure in my journals and in my book, Raw Art Journaling.)

What I love about watercolor is that you can write over it. Unlike acrylics, which create surface texture that may be impossible to write on unless you use a big marker, watercolor works well with pen and ink. I love the ease of the washes today. Am I now an expert? No, of course not. But I like the results, and in my journal, I don’t have to be perfect.

–Quinn McDonald uses her talents and her own handwriting to create raw art journaling. Her book will be out a year from now, in June of 2011.

Poppies, © Quinn McDonald, 2010 All rights reserved.

Art Takes Different Eyes

It seemed like a good idea when I signed up for two art classes this semester. I work at the Mesa Art Center and want to get to know the other instructors. My spouse is 2,500 miles away, and I am setting up a new business–having a built-in art break sounded like a stroke of genius.

watercolor brushesI signed up for watercolor and basic drawing. While I’m an artist, I’m not an illustrator, and wanted to learn some illustration skills for the visual journaling class I teach. There were two different equipments lists, and I ran around two different art supply stores getting what I needed. At least both classes has a drawing board and pencils in common.

That was the last thing they had in common. Drawing is all about seeing the detail and proportion and getting it exactly right. Watercolor is about seeing the heart of the idea and capturing it in the fewest possible lines. My drawing teacher walked past, and showed me how to use a pencil to get the angle between two pieces right. My watercolor instructor walked past, looked at my attempt to get the colors exactly right and said, “So, who’s winning?” Sadly, the answer was “nobody.”images-3.jpeg

Drawing is about watching carefully, seeing exactly so you can get the same thing on paper. Watercolor is about watching carefully, seeing exactly, so you don’t put it on paper, but give the viewer enough hints to get your meaning.

Impossible, I thought. If only things were more like writing, I’d bet better at being an illustrator. But, in fact, drawing is exactly like writing. If you don’t get the dialog down precisely, your story will sound flat and uninteresting.

images-12.jpegIf you spell out every detail you will bore the reader.  Skip an important detail and you will lose the reader. Like a watercolor artist, a good writer will know the bones of the story and get them down. The rest is up to the reader’s imagination. A right balance of imagination and good writing makes a book come alive and echo through the decades as powerful writing.

So I swing back and forth, being exact, being clear, painting, drawing and writing down life to make it come alive for others. And to make some meaning for myself.

–Quinn McDonald is an exhausted art student, writer, and certified creativity coach. She also runs seminars in journal writing, business writing, and presentations. In her spare time, she prays that the mattress for her bed shows up soon, as sleeping on the bed slats does nothing for her sense of perspective. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Image: writing sample: