Archive for the ‘My way of doing it’ Category

Saved for a rainy day

Monday, June 15th, 2020

The idea of “saving for a rainy day” has become something of a joke because we often don’t recognize when the “rainy day” arrives, so we hesitate to touch what we’ve saved, even then.

"This Too Shall Pass," by Charlotte Mertz (11"x15" watercolor, #200404w)

“This Too Shall Pass,” by Charlotte Mertz (11″x15″ watercolor, #200404w)

What I’ve “saved for a rainy day” is photographs, reference material to use when I might no longer be able to travel as freely as when I was young.

Well guess what. That rainy day is here! The time has come when most of us have found ourselves looking at the same scenery day after day.  For many, our world shrank down to our immediate environs. Travel has been limited, and the comfort of human interaction has been discouraged.

But I still have those photographs, as well as images sent by others, and the personal memories of a lifetime to broaden my view, to remind me that there are other things, other places, other people in this world beyond our immediate surroundings and concerns. They carry me outside the present insular world of limited space into the universality of human experience.

It’s been euphemistically raining cats and dogs for months now. Buckets; a deluge, a gully-washer. Longer even than the 40 days and 40 nights of Noah’s proverbial (and likewise unprecedented) voyage. It’s a prime time to sift through my savings of photographs and a lifetime of experiences and remember that everyone everywhere has been affected. Although a clearer sky may be on my horizon, others may still be feeling the brunt of the storm.

Can I use my art to provide an emotional stabilizer to lift spirits and remind us all that “this too shall pass”? I have to try.  What can I do to uplift others? Paint, teach, encourage,…?

Is it enough? Maybe not, but it’s a start. It’s something. And it may mean more to someone else than I realize at the time. Even though it doesn’t feel to me like enough, it may mean everything to them.  So I paint.  And teach.  And offer encouragement when I can.

 

A breath of plein air

Monday, June 1st, 2020

A few weeks ago, for the first time in several months, I met with some friends for a plein air outing. We gathered in the combined shade of a private park filled with live oaks and shared our news and goals for current artistic endeavors.  One friend worked with colored and watercolor pencils, another with graphite, and a third focused on color-matching exercises, while I did a watercolor sketch of one of the scenic views before us.

"Oak Park Pond," by Charlotte Mertz (5"x7" watercolor, #200506w)

“Oak Park Pond,” by Charlotte Mertz
(5″x7″ watercolor, #200506w)

Despite maintaining acceptable social distances from one another, it was a welcome change from the creative isolation we had all been feeling.

On our second outing, for the first time in many months, I played with water-miscible oils to brush up in that area. (I find I have a lot of brushing up to do in that realm, having fallen quite out of practice since agreeing not to use oils in my home studio. My husband’s extreme sensitivity to solvents means that I need to use oils en plein air or not at all; until recently it’s been not at all. But I’m hoping that that, by using the water-miscible oils, that can change this summer.)

Therefore, for several reasons, our plein air group members all look forward to continuing to meet on a regular basis.  

I hope you have all been able to start enjoying some opportunities for getting out and sharing some real togetherness, too, since shelter-in-place restrictions have started to loosen up.

What new undertakings have you been exploring while sheltering in place?  What are you looking forward to doing (or have started doing) again, that you haven’t been able to do for a while?  I’d love to hear from you.

Graduation and Commencement

Friday, May 15th, 2020

While it’s wonderful to celebrate the end of a school year or an entire stage of learning, it’s important to keep in mind that the terms “graduation” and “commencement” don’t refer to the end of something but the beginning of something else. So even if there is no ceremony, we can still forge ahead.

This spring, whether from school or our current stage in life, let us all graduate from wherever we are and commence our journey with a fresh vision, new goals, and renewed purpose.

"Morning Has Broken" by Charlotte Mertz (11"x15" watercolor, #200403w)

“Morning Has Broken” by Charlotte Mertz
(11″x15″ watercolor, #200403w)

I find that I’ve spent so much time trying to learn that I’ve somewhat ignored the purpose for learning, which is to become productive. Oh yes, I’ve produced a lot of work as I sought to develop understanding and skills in specific areas, but without a clear, long-term direction, I tend to lose focus.  In artistic terms, I was painting without having preplanned the composition.  Though an innate painting style gradually emerged, the subject matter, varied approaches to my media, and other aspects of my work lacked a sense of unity.

So even without ceremony or certificate, I’m declaring myself GRADUATED!  Have no fear: For the rest of my life I will continue to learn. But am now commencing a new stage of life with an overarching goal in mind—one of expressing appreciation, encouragement, and hope through my artwork, words, and actions.

This spring I have begun a purposeful series, the theme of which is Faith in Adversity. It draws visual motifs primarily from landscapes of the American Southwest to exemplify Biblical scripture as it relates to our Covid19 situation. These are secular images through which a viewer is encouraged through the title or implied concept to contemplate God’s role as we navigate through these troubled times.

My hope is that these images will encourage viewers to turn their focus from their immediate circumstances to refocus on their faith and the promise of a better future.

Affordable alternatives to becoming “self-taught”

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

Many amateur artists seem to pride themselves on being self-taught.  But have you ever noticed how few professional artists claim to be?  There are exceptions, and my hat goes off to them.  No fooling. They are remarkable!

It’s true that self-directed learning may seem to be the only option some artists feel they have if they can’t afford either the time or money for formal training, or if they are geographically or socially isolated, as so many of us are now. But fully self-directed learning can be difficult and slow.  The greatest problem with it is that most untrained artists often don’t recognize what they don’t know.  So they don’t know what they still need to try to figure out.

Without guidance from knowledgeable sources, they may be oblivious to artistic principles or techniques that would markedly improve their work.  So unless they discover answers through conscientious observation or through trial and error, their work will be very slow to improve.

In truth, in today’s world, anyone with internet access has little need be solely selftaught.  Lessons, tips, artist blogs, comprehensive art courses, museum collections, on-line galleries, as well as discussion forums are all available.  Many are free; others can be accessed for a nominal fee, compared to the cost of attending a brick-and-mortar art school.  Online examples of both good and bad art abound. The difficulty for untrained artists is to discern the difference, beyond their personal preferences of subject matter or style.

So, although it’s an easy term to employ, claiming to be “self-taught” is a rather foolish act of hubris:  either unintentionally admitting to having limited one’s learning by choice, or failing to acknowledge all the influences to which one has been exposed.  After all, what part might have been played in one’s education by the galleries and museums browsed, videos viewed, how-to books read, community classes attended, other artists watched and listened to, …?   With rare exceptions, these are the teachers from whom most “self-taught” artists have actually learned.

Although the artist may not have received formal training, he or she is still both student and facilitator who decides what and whom to study.  That’s self-directed learning.  But unless the artist has painstakingly worked out the design principles and mastered the medium and techniques in isolation, it’s foolish to limit oneself to self-teaching.

I received little art guidance (and even less formal art training) in public school, but I later found many sites online that offered classes and how-to tips. I learned from knowledgeable friends who were kind enough to point out what I was doing right and problems I should watch out for. Eventually I was fortunate to find a comprehensive online course (Virtual Art Academy) that filled in the gaping holes in my understanding of art, with knowledgeable and encouraging feedback through its student forum.

So I certainly can’t claim to be self-taught! Nor would I want to. Guidance from other artists has been invaluable in my own artistic development.

Now I like to give back to others whose artistic endeavors may be self-directed, as my own were.  Although I completed the Virtual Art Academy course several years ago, I feel strongly enough about its benefits for artists wanting to increase both their skills and understanding of artistic principles that I remain actively involved in the student forum.  And I continue to learn as I review the continually supplemented and updated curriculum, and as I review the lessons with increasingly experienced insights.

If you would like to read more about me or my work, you can sign up here for my free monthly newsletter, “Around and About” in which I always try to share some of my own learning, struggles, practices, and more, including a monthly critique to provide some insight into what works, what doesn’t, and why.

I wish you increasing satisfaction and success with your own work.  And whether you’re formally trained or self-directed, I encourage you to keep learning!

Palette types — pros and cons

Saturday, February 15th, 2020

Having written last time about how I tend to lay out a watercolor palette, I thought it would be appropriate this time to show you some of the actual palettes I use and point out some of the pros and cons of each type, along with how I have adapted them to suit my own purposes. There are many manufacturers and numerous variations of these and similar palette designs. My intent here is not to list or compare them all but to show you several possibilities and some of the benefits and drawbacks each design might have.

 

Palette---Tom-JonesA standard large table-top palette (like this one by Tom Jones), provides a good number of individual color wells. Many include a fitted lid to help keep paints from drying out. This general design is available from a variety of manufacturers in both plastic materials (some more prone than others to cracking and staining) and ceramic (heavy but durable).

Pros: The large mixing area allows for a lot of free-flowing color mixing and includes enough space that supplemental colors needed for a specific painting (such as the green-gold shown here) may be temporarily added.  I also like to keep a bit of kitchen sponge available for both cleaning the palette and to draw excess moisture from my brush.

Cons: The downside is that it takes up a lot of space on (ideally) a flat surface. Lightweight plastic lids may tend to crack.

Adaptations: If more well space is needed, the larger wells on some types may be divided with “walls” created by strips of hot glue. Paint names can be written on removable tape along the outer edges of the palette.

 

Palette-Cheap-Joes-piggybacCheap Joe’s version goes a step further than most tabletop models by providing a PiggyBack palette that fits into the lid of their large plastic table-top palette.

Pros: The PiggyBack can either hold additional colors or may be used, as I often have, as a slender travel palette, using the lid as the mixing tray. The palette and lid are not attached so may be used separately or set atop each other to save space.

Cons: This setup does not allow space for a sponge. The plastic stains from certain pigments (but is cleanable with isopropyl alcohol). When set on an easel tray, the lightweight plastic (particularly the lid) is subject to getting blown around in the wind.  Note that paint introduced into any travel palette should be allowed to dry flat before transporting or any pooling paint may migrate into nearby wells, as the yellow paint has done here.

Adaptations: I add paint names on slivers of tape between the wells so they can easily be replaced if I change colors. I have also added a spot of white gouache on the lid, and allowed it to dry, for emergency touchups in the field.

 

Palette-Cotman-half-pan-pocA more traditional travel palette is represented here by a Cotman half-pan field version. Alternative Cotman field palette designs may include a water bottle and attachable cup.

Pros: This particular pocket-or-purse-sized palette came with a small #5 round brush, which fits into a specially designed groove next to the paint wells. The half pans allow for a greater variety of colors, and the small mixing wells in the relocatable tray (shown here attached at the right), can double as supplemental color wells. With the exception of a flexible plastic thumb band around the hinge side (which gave out after many years of use), both the brush and the sturdy plastic casing have held up extremely well. Individual, half-pan cups for the paints are removable and can be replaced with half as many full-sized pans if preferred.  (But be aware that not all pans and half-pans are made to the same dimensions so may not be interchangeable among all manufacturers.)

Cons: Cotman paints are the student grade made by Winsor-Newton, so, though not bad, they aren’t my usual choice for colors.  Again, note that tube paint introduced into a travel palette should be allowed to dry flat before transporting. Even dry pan paints should be permitted to dry again after use to prevent spillage.

Adaptations: I unwrapped the individual pans and removed the dry blocks (pans) of Cotman paint, replacing them with tube colors from brands that I prefer, and allowing them to thoroughly dry.  I also modified the setup by adding a thin bit of sponge both under the brush tip to absorb any remaining moisture after use and by taping another piece into one of the mixing wells (thin enough, even when swollen with moisture, to allow the box to close). I also taped a list of paint colors to the underside of the removable panel on the right for reference.

 

Palette----En-Plein-Air-ProThe En Plein Air Pro Travel Palette is a somewhat larger travel setup with more wells, intended to accompany the En Plein Air Pro Travel Easel. (Their standard watercolor palette, which fastens onto a tripod, is similar to the large tabletop design shown above, with a generous central mixing area surrounded by individual wells.)

Pros: This palette has several more wells than most of the other travel palettes I’ve seen. It also provides a bed large enough to store several brushes. And it includes a thumb hole so the palette can be either kept in hand or laid on a flat surface, such as a lap or an easel tray. The well lid cover helps to keep any still-moist paints in place within their wells when closing up after use. And the mixing wells in the main lid have slight ridges between them to help separate individual puddles of paint mixtures.

Cons: This palette is larger than many travel palettes, so it won’t fit comfortably inside a pocket or purse. Although I haven’t used it much yet (it’s a recent acquisition), I do anticipate some leakage from well to well, despite the interior well lid, if the kit is closed up with still-wet paint and not packed flat. This can compromise the purity of the colors in adjacent wells. But that is true of any travel palette. (Staining from this kind of leakage is evident between the wells of the PiggyBack palette above.)

Adaptations: I’ve taped a list of the paints onto the well lid for easy reference, and have included a bit of sponge in the well provided for brush storage. Again, I’ve added a spot of dried white gouache in one corner of the well lid for emergency touchups in the field.

 

Palette-QOR-metal-storage-bAnother palette design you may encounter is illustrated here by the metal box provided with (the larger) QoR Modern Watercolor set. (The small sets come in smaller boxes with both fewer and smaller wells.)

Pros: An advantage of this type of box palette is that I can keep the tubes with the palette for replenishment as needed, along with a few other miscellaneous supplies.

Cons: The temptation with this kind of arrangement is to fill the (shallow) cups randomly with the colors needed for a specific painting. This leads to less efficient mixing and the need to clean off any residue for the next painting, which tends to waste expensive paint.  I find it more helpful to maintain a consistent arrangement, which is difficult to do when the cups are distributed as these are. This layout is also more conducive to developing the bad habit of mixing within or between the home wells rather than in the larger “mixing” well, which offers very limited space.

Adaptations: Note that this palette is currently in transition. As the pans empty, I will eventually move the blues in the second row from the left, up one spot, leaving the quinacridone magenta separate from the manganese blue, with which it now shares a well. The combination of the two colors is beautiful, but it is difficult to keep them from unintentionally blending when they are kept so close together—a situation that occurred when I needed to add magenta (a cool red) to an already full palette.  I have since eliminated one of the less-used colors to make room for the change. Overall, I feel that the disadvantages of this design outweigh the benefits.

 …

Conclusion: Of these designs, my favorite is the standard table-top (or tripod-mountable) style, which provides a generous, adaptable mixing area surrounded by a large number of wells large enough to easily accommodate at least an inch-wide brush.

For short travel jaunts and quick-sketch convenience, I usually prefer the Cotman pocket style palette.  For even easier painting, this palette pairs well with a waterbrush, whose self-contained water reservoir precludes a need for a separate water container and an extra hand or surface to hold it.

For longer plein air excursions, when I am likely to carry an easel and want a wider range of colors from which to choose, I expect to opt for the En Plein Air Pro Travel Palette.