- Art Sale
Last week Craftsy launched their new DVD program, and somehow, I missed the email that informed me that my course, Better Paintings with Watercolour Sketching had been chosen for the first set of courses to be available on DVD! This is pretty special, as it means that out of thousands of courses on Craftsy.com, the course I designed, wrote and painted was considered to have the most appeal to consumers.
I’m pleased about this; while my revenue share of the DVD’s isn’t large, it does meet my main objective for teaching watercolour in that it offers another way to reach out to people. I’m passionate about making personal connections and encouraging beginning artists is such a source of joy and fulfillment; I’ve learned from experience that good teaching has to come from the heart. Not all artists have access to painting instruction where they live, and not all artists have the internet capabilities to stream video lessons, so offering the DVD’s fills a need and I’m excited about that.
The course’s title, Better Paintings with Watercolor Sketching is a bit of a mouthful. It’s based in my experience that painting your subject in a series of loose “sketches” is a wonderful way of building skill and familiarity with your subject while determining how best to approach your reference material. It results in a more confident, effortless-looking painting, and helps you practice technique and express your personal style. The course is really packed with content, little gems of instruction in technique, composition, and colour theory; all the tools that will help you become a better decision maker as you paint.
You can order the DVD here, or enroll in the online course. Either way, you get the condensed, professional content that Craftsy is known for, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with them when this course was developed last year.
It’s so exciting to see the days warm up. Last week my mum and I were able to take a hike on the Peace River hills, looking for spring crocuses, and this year I’m hoping to put in many more hours painting en plein air. Being outdoors, sharpening my observation skills by painting from life is something that’s always on my to-do list, and with our northern weather, the window of possibility for plein air adventures is pretty short.
One of my favourite places to paint is right in my back yard!
My goal for this article is to fill it up with links to resources to help you get set up painting outdoors. Some items you can make or source yourself, while others might find their place on a wish list as painting luxuries. Feel free to comment below with your own favourite resources for painting outdoors!
I like to I keep things pretty simple when I’m painting outdoors, to just get started and then see what I need as I go along. My initial set up was a folding stool with pockets for storage, a soft-sided briefcase that I’ve kept my travel supplies in for almost 20 years, and a tripod with a painting board attachment. (My husband added the screw mount attachment to a painting board, it’s a pretty easy DIY, check out Steve Mitchell’s tutorial here.)
Last year I bought a watercolour travel easel. Watercolour easels are different from standard easels, because they need the painting surface to be almost level, while paintings on canvas are usually more vertical. I ordered a Winsor & Newton Bristol easel, but I wish I’d taken more time to research my purchase, because I always struggle to set it up correctly. Usually I put it together backwards and upside down before I get it right!
With a goal of painting from life more often this year, I took a look at my tools, and made a wish list of items I’d like to add to my painting kit. While I know I can paint with the basic tools that I have, it does feel easier when I have tools that 1. make painting more comfortable and 2. decrease distractions from my surroundings.
My painting bag: I keep this bag stocked with the necessities; my brushes in a roll-up brush holder, my paint palette (usually one of my standard Reeves palettes in a ziploc bag), paper (another Ziploc bag), a spray bottle, a couple bottles of water & water containers, a wad of paper towel, tiny containers of salt, a roll of masking tape, pencils & eraser, ruler, and a dozen or so bulldog clips. These are so handy for keeping things from blowing away in the wind as well as attaching stuff to your easel.
I’m also planning to add a viewfinder, because it can be really hard to frame a scene when you are sitting with a panorama spread before you. I could make my own, but I don’t ever get around to it, so sometimes it’s just easier to buy, and the plastic will be more durable than a cardboard one anyhow.
Camera: Bringing a camera means I can start my painting session with a photograph to accompany my painting, to help me remember the details when I’m back in the studio. Because the light is constantly changing, it’s a good idea to take several photos through the painting session. I use a Nikon 1 J5 mirrorless camera, with a wide angle lens. I like the convenience and smaller size of this camera that gives me many of the options of a DSLR and a selection of lenses for different tasks.
Easel: I love the Advanced Series Watercolor easel from En Plein Air Pro. Everything you need to set up your painting surface and tools is included in this package, including a shelf for your palette, clips for attaching your materials and backpack for hauling the lot! According to the listing, you can order it without the tripod if you already have one, but I haven’t actually seen it available in that configuration. This model comes with a palette that mounts on the tripod, for about $20 more. I’m kind of obsessed with that palette…
Because I already have an easel, what I want to do instead of buying a full easel setup, is make work what I already have. What my WN easel lacks is a place to put my materials. I need a shelf for my palette, and a place to hold my water containers and brushes. I’m looking at these:
Easel Shelf: This one (see below) should mount perfectly on my existing easel. This one has a cupholder and a different type of mount that fits tripods. Truthfully, I could probably ask my husband to build something that would mount on my easel; the trick is tearing him away from his hot rod projects to make time for my requests!
Guerrilla Painter: Once I started looking at plein air tools, I was amazed at the options available! Maybe I need a more comfortable chair, like this Guerrilla Painter Bestbuddy, a folding, roller chair with storage space, umbrella mount and lumbar pillow! A simpler (read: cheaper) version is the ArtComber chair, which doesn’t include the pillow or umbrella mount.
My husband, Wade, laughed so hard when I told him about stone bags. These are actually a photography tool, and they attach to your tripod or easel to keep it from blowing over in the wind. It does seem a little silly to buy a bag to put rocks in, but I’m going to remember to add a bag that I can put weight into for those windy days. I have some drawstring shoe bags that would work really well!
You can buy umbrellas that mount on your easel to keep the sun off, and this is a great idea if you paint outdoors often, since direct sunlight shining on your painting will not only blind you, but will also dramatically speed drying time to make your painting almost unworkable. With an umbrella mounted on your easel, you will definitely want to prevent the wind from carrying it away by adding weight.
There are also paper towel holders (again, something easy to make at home), brush holding clips, collapsible paint buckets, a host of hooks, boxes and bags (I like this one for carrying full sheets of watercolour) to get you set up with no excuses for not getting outdoors.
I think we all know that having the right supplies isn’t really what makes a plein air painter. It’s taking what you have, and just getting out there and doing it! So while I might not have all the tools on my wish list, my goal this season is to just GO, even if I only make it as far as the back yard.
What are your necessities for painting outdoors? Leave a comment below!
Product Links for Amazon.ca:
Not all items are available from Amazon.ca
Tripod Mount for painting board assembly
Guerrilla Painter BestBuddy Chair (wow, expensive!!)
Portfolio Bag for Full Sheet Watercolor Paper
When you make a purchase using one of the links above, I receive a small commission. Thank you!
Watercolour is frequently described as the “most difficult medium” and the main reason for this is that a mistake will change the course of an entire painting. Unlike other mediums, you can’t cover mistakes with more paint, at least not without losing the whole point of painting in transparent watercolour.
For a beginning painter, there are few things more disheartening than a ruined painting. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that it sometimes feels soul-crushing. For a new artist, much time and concentration is poured into each painting, and to see mistakes take over can leave the artist questioning whether they should even try to paint at all.
Please don’t think that failed paintings equal failure as an artist! Trust me, if you keep painting, you will develop a new mindset, one that sees mistakes and failure in a different light.
I painted the river scene in this article more than seven times before I was satisfied with the result.
What if, instead of looking at the past – perceiving the hours of struggle that went into the painting – as time wasted, you looked ahead – remembering that the hours you spent painting yesterday make you a better painter tomorrow? Would it be easier to accept if you viewed any time spent painting as critical to your learning process, regardless of the painting’s outcome? This becomes easier to do when you have been painting for a long time and can look back to see the patterns of success and failure as almost cyclical. The paintings that are a painful struggle indicate a learning phase, and at the end of that phase is a sweet place of accomplishment.
I’ve realized that every painting starts out as a problem…and continues to be a problem, right until it’s finished. Think about it; your first problem is a sheet of blank paper. How do you get the image in your mind onto that sheet of paper?
You place your first brush stroke, more or less where you want it, and your problem comes alive. With every stroke you are trying to resolve a problem, and in the process, creating new ones, acting and reacting. Your plan has to continually change (especially, if, like me you prefer to paint loose & fluid) and you’re not always going to make the right decision, which will change the plan again.
Viewing a painting as a problem you are solving sounds like a negative way to think. No one likes to face problems all the time! But I’ve found that I’ve actually learned to view problems in a positive light. If you tackle a problem, you become a problem-solver. That’s a good thing to be!
A problem solver is someone who isn’t easily deterred, who doesn’t give up when things get tough.
A problem-solver thinks outside the box.
A problem-solver makes things happen.
Mistakes become challenges, opportunities to move in a new direction and explore new ideas.
In life, we don’t always get to fix our mistakes. Sometimes we have to accept that life is broken. But in my painting, I can do what I want, and what is totally freeing is being able to look at that big, ugly mistake and say, “Well, I just totally messed that up. Now I have nothing to lose,” and fill that paper with passion and spirit.
You might enjoy this video sharing a few practical ways to fix mistakes in watercolour:
I spent this weekend at a Chi Running workshop. Running has been my exercise of choice for 8 years now, and I am always looking for ways to improve. Chi Running is a technique developed that focuses on using good alignment (posture) and relaxing your body to prevent injury and run more efficiently.
I try not to write about running too much; if I wrote about it as much as I wanted to, I’m sure I’d become very boring very quickly! I am continually seeing parallels to watercolour in my experience of growing as a runner. The benefits of training, persistence and achievement, the idea of making personal goals instead of comparing to others; all of these fit both running and painting (and life!).
Frosty winter runs can get a little…brisk!
One thing Angela James, Chi Running Master instructor, shared this week really resonated with me deeply, and I saved it in my heart to share with you.
Be mindful. You don’t choose mastery; you choose to create the conditions for change to occur.
Learning Chi Running involves making changes that don’t happen overnight; it’s a journey. (sound familiar?)
I won’t become a better runner if I take a workshop but then never put on my shoes to run again. Implementing changes doesn’t happen overnight – if I am anxiously trying to remember and implement five or six “rules” for running, I’m not relaxing. Chi Running is based on relaxation, it’s a gentle, gradual change from where I am now to where I want to be.
Watercolour is the same way. Can I force my painting to improve? Can I muscle my will into better self-expression?
Painting expressively and intuitively in watercolour (always my goal) comes through mindfulness (paying attention to what is happening on the paper, and what I am feeling in my heart). Growing skill in watercolour doesn’t happen at a pace I get to set, however I can create the conditions for growth to occur by painting often, allowing mistakes to teach me, experimenting with different techniques, styles and subjects.
With a “Chi Painting” approach, I recognize the need for patience, I relax into my current situation and let the journey teach me.
New painters, I see you. I see you looking at art on the internet and wondering if you should just pack up your brushes; there’s no way you’ll ever be THAT good. I know you’re reading about “happy accidents” and thinking that anything good that happens in your paintings is always an accident.
You heard that art instructor say she NEVER uses a pencil to sketch first, and another say that NO ONE should paint from photographs but only from life, and you shrank as you looked at the pencils and photographs spread across your work surface.
I see you finishing a painting you are proud of, posting it online and just hoping one person will like it.
You have a question about a technique you heard of, but you don’t want to ask because it seems like everyone already knows this stuff, and you don’t want to look silly for asking.
Here’s the thing. There’s no shame in being a beginner.
You said YES to something you’d always wanted to do! You started!
Everyone else that seems to know so much? They began once too, only their timeline fell in a different place than yours. If they remember how it felt to be a beginner, they will be kind, and if they don’t remember, they are probably too self-absorbed to care about your art anyhow. (who needs them anyway!)
You get to choose to paint.
Paintbrushes do not require a permit to use. Whether or not you want to follow an instruction manual is totally up to you. There is no age restriction, no task force aimed at keeping art in the hands of the “right people.” If you want to paint all day or for only ten minutes a day, in your basement, living room, garage or backyard, it’s all allowed. You can even paint in public places, in fact, if you do so, you might find yourself distracted by too much positive attention, rather than being forced to stop! The funny thing is, even though many people dream of making art, they let fear hold them back. But not you. You said “Yes!” Be proud of that!
You get to choose what to paint.
Yes, there are paintings you admire. Ideas you wish you had thought of first, with the ability to bring them to life. There are many artists with incredible skills at making art. I know you envy them their work. I do too! Do you know what they call it if you succeed in making art just like them?
Copyright theft. Plagiarism. It’s illegal.
Don’t make art like someone else. My favourite part of making art is that I can do whatever I want. If I feel like it, I can make it, because it’s my choice. There are very few places in life where we have complete freedom of choice. Let art be that place for you. If you feel like painting abstracts using only your thumbprints, go for it. If you get excited about painting tangled balls of string, let that be your happy place! If you want to cover your watercolour painting with white paint, don’t let the transparent watercolour purists shame you. Your art, at any skill level, should be an expression of you. If you can tap into that inner place of self-expression, your heart will overflow with joy, and envy will be a lot harder to find.
The best art is always the fullest expression of the artist. Let that be your goal.
There is one thing you don’t get to choose, at least not completely.
You don’t get to choose how quickly you will learn.
Practice helps. Logging many “brush miles” as you learn techniques and expression is the way you build your skills, but there is no set date where you will be able to say “I just need to work this skill for two more days and I’ll have it mastered.” I’ve dedicated myself to watercolour for over twenty years, and I still feel like a student. I am learning every time I paint, and knowing that I will never feel like I’ve learned everything there is to know about my chosen medium helps me settle in and enjoy the journey.
If you can’t choose how long it takes you to learn something, should you be ashamed of not having mastered it yet? Be proud that you are painting! Make your accomplishment the knowledge that you haven’t quit! That you are taking steps to grow your skills, caring for your creative health and making your dreams come true.
The feeling of absolute mastery is a myth. The perfect painting is always just out of reach. Recognition and commercial success only leaves you striving for the next big award or big ticket sale. Satisfaction in art is found in the process of creating it, even if you never see a perfect painting come off your brush.
Need more encouragement on your artistic journey? Sign up for my weekly live lessons & emails aimed at helping your build your watercolour skills here.
I teach watercolour lessons to help you paint more loosely and develop your personal style. View the course menu at http://learn.angelafehr.com
Venetian Red (Daniel Smith)
Wisteria (Daniel Smith)
Yellow Ochre (Sennelier)
Cinereous Blue (Sennelier)
I squeeze my paint from tube into palette, so it’s not always convenient to read the label. You’ll know your paint has a degree of opacity if your paint water looks “milky” after rinsing your brush. Another way to tell is to stroke a wash of paint over dark paper and see how well it shows up. Remember that any paint will look opaque if you put it on thickly enough, so try to have the mixture an “inky” consistency when testing its opacity, and you’ll get a more accurate sample.
I just got home from a family spring break vacation. We spent two weeks in Galveston, Texas and enjoyed daily beach walks, sightseeing, and oh, so much ice cream! (It’s my favourite treat; I used to eat ice cream every single day.) We’ve found that vacations have a special kind of family bonding. Because my husband Wade and I are both self-employed, sometimes it feels like one of us is always working (usually me. Teaching online can be 24/7 if I let it!) and so taking time to get away is a great way to regroup and relax in a way we don’t at home.
I have noticed that there is also a kind of stress that can accompany new experiences. Fear of things going wrong, the discomfort of being out of the comfort zone, the cost of everything and the countdown of days left before we return to normal life can make a person feel like even a vacation is a source of anxiety. Thinking about this during our trip reminded me why I believe so firmly in choosing a positive approach in every circumstance. As a mom, I’ve learned that my children’s response to my instruction can vary dramatically based on the wording I use:
Option 1: “Your room is a mess! Why can’t you be responsible for your own stuff? You’re not doing anything else until your room is clean.”
Option 2: “You know, when you clean your room, it’s much more comfortable, and easier to find your things. Why don’t we work on that right now?”
I have the same heart as my children do, and it’s one that responds best to positive thought and instruction. I give very little real estate to negativity and work hard to frame my conversation in positive directions whether I’m talking about my art, dealing with people and or in my own internal self-talk.
Positive people are attractive; people you enjoy being with. There’s a Bible verse that talks about lasting beauty; the inner beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. (1 Peter 3:4) I don’t think it takes a certain kind of personality to be gentle, or the kind of quiet described here, which I think of as being like quiet waters. It’s a peace that ages well and fits beautifully on anyone.