Saturday, October 1, 2011

Daily Art Is Daily Progress

Recent sketch page for a life drawing activity at in the Drawing from Life forum. Tombow brush pens in a Stillman & Birn "Delta" sketchbook.

Build a habit of daily art. Say hello to your sketchbook to manage it, even a full time artist may have days when spending several hours on a painting isn't practical. Even a timed three minute gesture sketch every day will increase your observation skills, your rendering skills and most of all, your confidence.

Date every sketch, drawing or painting you do.

One of many benefits to daily sketching is that deciding what to draw becomes minor. It's not a big deal if you're only going to spend a few minutes rendering it. You'll get more and more practice on your favorite things until every time you sketch them, they come out well and accurate.

If you spend all week onother activities but set aside some time on the weekend to paint, it's easy to block up on just deciding what to do. If you're used to sketching daily, it becomes a habit to choose something. More than that, you may have already been planning a painting in your daily sketches. One of them came out well, gave you an idea it'd be cool to turn it into a painting.

By the time it's Saturday afternoon and everyone else in the family has been chased out to their separate pursuits, you know what you want to do next. The sketches and value map studies for it are all there in your sketchbook. It's easier to get started or keep going on a long project because daily art gives you a habit of creativity.

Some artists choose to create small paintings in oil or acrylics daily. A good example of a brilliant daily painter is Carol Marine. Her small 6" x 6" oils appear on her Daily Painting Blog (the link) where she auctions them with a starting bid of $100.

Look closely at Carol's techniques. She's not using a small round brush to get in a lot of tiny details. She's working bold and big on a small canvas with a flat brush, letting the planes of the objects come through by hue and value without smoothing everything out to photorealism. Her colors are subtle and realistic. She captures the shine of clear glass and opaque ceramic, contrasts that with the juicy insides of oranges or the look of rusty metal.

I've been following her daily art blog for a couple of years now and seen what daily painting has done for this master oil painter's style. Go to her blog and look back a few years. Study her style and see how in just the past two years, she's still always growing and learning. She was brilliant when I first started reading her blog. It's just that now, as I view her later still lifes, I can see greater complexity, greater subtlety, interesting compositions and wonderful textures.

She keeps an interesting collection of still life items. Figurines, cups, bottles, various other objects return again and again in her compositions. So here's the chance for you pack rats to justify all of those odd little things you picked up on vacation or bought at thrift stores.

Organize them in a cabinet that's easily accessible. One thing you can do is store them by color - have a shelf for blue stuff, clear stuff, red stuff, yellow, green, if you don't have enough of a color you can group them together like "orange and yellow" or "gray and multicolor."

Then set up a small folding table. Be sure it's a folding table that stays folded most of the time, otherwise it'll accumulate keys and books you're reading, other stuff, become a drop spot for everyone in the house. Unfold it and put it near the window or near a handy tall lamp so the light falls on it from above and to one side or the other. Having that strong lighting is important.

Start setting up a still life. At first, set up easy compositions. Just put one or two objects together under the light. Fruit from your local grocer make good still life subjects because they come in a wide variety of colors and have simple, easy to paint shapes. Plowers are good too if you love color and want your still life to be colorful. Set up a drapery behind it just by putting a cloth over the back of a chair or put a colored mat board behind the table.

Anything so that you have a background color and a defined change of direction from the flat table surface to a vertical "wall" or drapery. This will let you capture cool shadows from your still life objects. If the folding table is too complicated to paint quickly, put a towel or tablecloth over it to make it one flat color.

Set up your objects and move them around till they form a pleasing arrangement. If it's one object, place it off center on the page (wherever it falls on the table). If there's more than one, it will look better if they overlap visually from where you stand or sit to sketch them.

Sketch the entire setup very fast. Start with a timed gesture sketch - an egg timer or kitchen timer is great for this. Two to five minutes, no more, to just sketch in the basic shapes and maybe the major shadow shapes. Don't try to shade it unless you have time on the timer. Start over when the timer goes off.

Then take some gray scale pens or markers to do a value mass sketch. You can also combine a pen and a pencil using the pencil for a middle value to get a three level value mass sketch or notan. Just use what you have.

Before taking down the still life, do a color study with felt tip pens. Tombow dual tip brush pens are great for these but you can use any colored markers or pens in a sketchbook. Try to capture the color as accurately as you can, including matching the values to what you see.

Put the stuff away. You don't need to do a full setup every day. It's easier to start out with one object under a lamp and do daily studies of your favorite obkects. Start with easy ones like plastic fruit and fake flowers - the ones that'll still be there to work from when you have a few hours to do a good painting.

Colored pencils are also good for that type of sketching. Look for soft ones like Derwent Coloursoft, Prismacolor or Caran d'Ache Pablo so that they're soft and smudgy rather than hard and delicate. Pastel pencils are another good choice for quick sketching in color, or colored Conte crayons. You can even use children's crayons - it's all in your sketchbook, these practice sketches don't have to last forever.

The key to successful daily painting or drawing is to work small and squeeze it in no matter how short a time you have on any given day.

Another way to explore techniques that may take longer in daily art is to work small. If you do work larger, go very bold and swing your arm around more than your fingers with pastels or charcoal.

Don't try to get it perfect. Just get it better than the last one. Do the best you can, relax, date it and put it away or turn the page.

Constant daily practice eliminates most self conscious jitters. If it doesn't have to be perfect, you open the door for serendipity that comes out tons better than you expected or would have planned. Most of all, it becomes playful. Art is something I do every day as a break whether or not I have something major to work on.

If you like, try to create Artist's Trading Cards daily. Then you can trade them and start building a good collection of others' work in the tiny ATC format - 2 1/2" x 3 1/2". Art Cards, Editions and Originals are the same thing but can be sold as well as traded, so you can put them on eBay or Etsy to help fund your art supplies.

If you're a member of LiveJournal, there's an annual event called ArtSoMoFo which is a challenge during October to create art every day. You can join anytime during the month of October and just keep up from your join date, that's what I did the first year I found it. I think I started on the fourth or fifth.

It was eye-opening how much my sketching improved by the end of the month that first October. So now's a good time to get involved and get into the habit of daily art - any medium, any size, any style you want to. Even a doodle on a sticky note counts! Just be sure to count it, date it and post it to share with your friends.

It takes three weeks to form a habit. Starting now, you could be in the habit of daily art by November and find it easy to keep up all year round. Daily art is also wonderful for stress management - there's something deeply satisfying about having a small success to count on every day of your life. That success is knowing that you can keep up daily art - even if you don't like the drawing, you know you're learning to draw better and can pat yourself on the back for doing it.

Go on, give it a try! Today's the day to start!

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