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Question Sticker Series: My Thoughts on Accuracy

Question: "What are your biggest struggles or fears when it comes to making art?"

Reply: "That my sketch and pencil work don't look good and aren't accurate"

Let's Talk About Accuracy

Reading this reply, I feel like there are two separate items that need to be addressed. The first is concern about whether or not something is "good" which denotes some level of judgment or evaluation. The second is more about a technical skill relative to an expected outcome. While I will touch on what is "good" in terms of art and also on comparison, I think that these subjects are worthy of an entire blog post by themselves, so this discussion will focus mainly on accuracy.

The Importance of Accuracy

I think accuracy is something that most artists consider in their work. I would even go so far as to say that it is a skill where most artists show room for improvement, myself included. My sketches are never 100% accurate (and my paintings are never perfect, ever! Regardless of how you may interpret them, I promise they are full of mistakes). If I really wanted a sketch or drawing to be very precise I would have to devote considerably more time to it. So instead of 15-20 minutes, it would take me more like 5-10 hours (I don't know about you, but I do not have the time or the patience for that lol).

Not Always Necessary

In most cases, particularly with organic subjects (like trees or fruit), I find that a general approximation works just fine (no one knows the difference unless you show your reference right next to your sketch). So in this way, accuracy is of relative importance. You need to determine what level of accuracy is needed for the type of artwork you want to make. I think a high level of precision is only necessary when photo-realism is your goal or with things like recognizable portraits and scientific/botanical type drawings.

Approximate

When sketching, I just approximate things based on relative scale and placement within the composition. I am as they say, "eyeballing it". When painting landscapes, no one knows if I moved the tree a bit to the right and if they do notice, they don't know whether or not this was intentional. I will often shift things slightly or remove objects to suit my purpose and aesthetic. Staying 100% true to your reference is not always necessary or, depending on the circumstance, even desirable.

Practice

Everything else aside, accuracy comes down to practice and understanding the basic underlying principles of drawing. Things like relative proportions, perspective, scale, measuring angles, composition, and other rules of thumb. Another big part of drawing is just teaching the eye to see and observe rather than following what your brain thinks something looks like. The more you practice the more these things will develop. However, the most important takeaway from all of this is that accuracy is a skill that can be learned and improved upon.

Master the Basics

Drawing is the foundation for painting (even for the cartoonist or abstract painter). If this skill is underdeveloped, it will show in your work. Be patient. Be dedicated. Practice... Everyday. It is well worth the effort. It doesn't matter how well you can render shadows and match colors if your underdrawing is super wonky it will be noticeable. You have to develop the whole artist package and that means developing proficiency in multiple skill areas. Being an artist is a highly multi-faceted thing.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind:

  1. There is a big difference between self-criticism and self-evaluation just as there is a big difference between constructive criticism and harsh judgementalism. It is good to evaluate your work and see where you have done well and where you can improve. It is not helpful to always focus on the negative aspects of your artwork and ignore the positive ones (or to never stop and see how far you have come). There is something to be learned from every painting or piece of art you make.
  2. Let go of perfectionism. Perfect is a word we use for an idealized thing or situation which quite frankly, most often does not exist in reality. Making art (and life for that matter) is not about being perfect.
  3. Have realistic expectations for your work. No one becomes a master overnight. Art is a life long journey, enjoy the process.
  4. Do your best to avoid comparing your art to other people's work. This is a mistake that will only create jealousy or feelings of discouragement. Everyone has to start somewhere. You don't know how much practice and time another artist has put in to get where they are. We all have to work with what we have in this moment.
  5. Art is not some unspoken competition. The purpose of making art is not to be the best, it is for the joy of creating and self-expression. Do it for the process, not the end result.
  6. Remember that what is "good" when it comes to art is completely subjective. What I think is good, another person may think is crap and vice versa. The phrase "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" really rings true when it comes to art. "Good" is a matter of opinion. Everyone has an opinion, but you don't have to listen to it or take it to heart.
  7. There are numerous drawing techniques to help with accuracy, such as using your pencil to measure angles or creating grids. Learning a few of these simple tricks can make a big difference in your work.
  8. Develop a sketching practice. Try to sketch for 15 minutes everyday. It doesn't have to be good and you don't have to show anyone your work. But consistently putting in the time will make a difference. I have seen this in my own art practice over the course of the past several years.

Final Thoughts

Don't give up!!! Believe it or not, I gave up on art for a while because at a certain point I realized my art would never be as accurate (or as instantaneous) as a photograph. I thought that I could never compete with a camera, so why bother? It took me years, but I finally realized that the point of creating art is much deeper and more profound than just attempting to be a human camera. You are not a machine and no one but you can make your art.

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REVIEW: Zen Art Supplies Sketchbook

Today I will be reviewing another product from Zen Art Supplies and this time I am going to talk about their sketchbooks, which come in two sizes and are available on Amazon. I chose their portrait format B6 sketchbook (4.9 x 6.9 in or 12.7 x 17.8 cm) which features 160 blank pages (80 sheets) of 81 lb. or 120 gsm acid-free ivory paper. It comes with some nice features such as two ribbon bookmarks, elastic closure, and inner back pocket.

First Impressions:

One of the first things I noticed is the soft flexible cover. It is made of bonded leather and has a textured fabric or suede-like feel. To be expected, it also has a slight leathery smell. This has dissipated for the most part with time.

Moving on, I love the size of this sketchbook! It is super cute and perfect to take with me on the go. It fits nicely in my hand and has reminded me how much I enjoy sketchbooks of this size! The outside edge of the paper has also been decorated with a spotted pattern which can only be seen when the book is closed. I think this is a nice touch and I really appreciate little details like that. I also like that the inside cover is black paper (rather than the same paper as the rest of the pages). I decorated mine with a sticker and a white Posca paint marker.

Performance:

This little sketchbook as a ton of pages, which is made possible by the lighter paper weight. Before doing any sketches, I decided to do a test page in the back of the book to see how different drawing materials would behave on the paper. I would say that pencils performed the best, erasing cleanly with no show through to the backside of the paper. Micron pens also worked well but there was some show through. Pens with heavier ink flow such as my Lamy Safari fountain pen or typical Pilot gel pen had more noticable show through on the backside. Lightly applied watercolor performed fairly considering the weight of the paper but did cause some slight warping and noticeable wrinkling.

I also found that dip pens are probably not the best for this paper. While they write well on the smooth surface, this type of pen typically applies a lot of ink at one time and also scratches the surface of the paper causing considerable show through on the backside. I did not have a chance to test any alcohol based markers, like copics, because I do not own any, but I would be curious to see how they perform.

While this paper is only 81 lb. and not meant for watercolor or wet media, I decided to try it anyway. I found that I could get away with some watercolor use as well as ink and wash without the paper curling or warping too much (which really surprised me). However, the colors seem a touch dull and it is difficult to create traditional watercolor effects one would expect with actual watercolor paper. I also found it a bit tricky to achieve smooth paint application over large areas.

I would like to mention that none of the things listed above are due to a flaw in the paper. To be honest, this paper holds up amazingly well all things considered. One cannot expect watercolor to perform to its maximum potential in this situation because the paper is not intended for this purpose. Some understanding of paper types, paper weights, finish, etc. is needed when purchasing any kind of sketchbook or paper. The kind of paper you choose should ideally be suited to your art and the purpose you have in mind (what works for one person may not work for another). All paper is different, and there are vast differences in performance between different brands of watercolor paper, nevermind between drawing paper, bristol board, the list goes on. As always, I advise that you do your research before spending money on a product to be sure that it is capable of meeting your needs.

In the course of testing this book, I did a variety of sketches. Some with more ink drawing and less watercolor and others with just watercolor, even working with some fairly wet washes. Medium to heavy watercolor application wet the paper significantly but did not leave a mark on the following page. I am also noticing some bleed-through along the seam in the center of the book, but it has been minimal thus far. Working on the backside of the previous page/sketch is not advisable. I tried this several times and found the show through to range from slight to considerable (depending on the materials used). In one case, using a black gel pen, it effectively ruined the sketch on the other side of the page.

The other thing I noticed is that the book will not lay flat without some extra assistance, particularly while using the pages at the beginning or near the end. It lays flatter when opened more towards the center of the spine.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, I would say that this is a cute little sketchbook at a great price point. It is obvious that a lot of thought and care went into the design. I would recommend this sketchbook for dry media like graphite, colored pencils, and pastels. It is okay for some pens (fine liners, etc.) but less than ideal for others (dip pens), depending on the nib and amount of ink application. Ink brush pens and markers are not recommended due to a lot of show-through onto the reverse side of the paper. I feel that watercolor use is really pushing the limits of this sketchbook as the paper is not meant to handle that level of moisture. However, as I have demonstrated, you can get away with it if you are careful and not expecting normal watercolor paper results. I plan to use this book for more casual sketches with a few splashes of watercolor here and there.

I hope you found this helpful and as always, thank you for reading!

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Challenge Prompt: 2 Colors

Colors of Summer Art Challenge

PROMPT 2: Two Colors

This post is intended to supplement the Colors of Summer Art Challenge that I am co-hosting on Instagram throughout the month of August (2019). Exercises in color are generally meant to help with color theory and color mixing. While I believe this challenge can accomplish both, I will be focusing on color mixing. I would encourage you to experiment and try new things. Color mixing is fun and really helps you get to know the colors that you have. I genuinely hope that in the process of this challenge, you discover something new! For more information and the challenge prompts, please see the challenge post on my Instagram feed.

This is a tough one!

This prompt is, in my opinion, the hardest out of the bunch. Working with just two colors is really challenging but it also means you will learn a lot. If you have no idea where to begin, I suggest you start with color swatching. Pick two colors at a time and just see what you can make by mixing them together. I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to approach this exercise but luckily I came across a reference photo and immediately realized I could manage it with two colors. So that may be another option. Keep your eyes peeled for images in a very limited color palette. Photo filters can be your friend here as well, and trends like orange and teal could also work in favor of this prompt.

Example of an orange and teal photo reference.

What colors to pick?

Ideally, you want to choose two different colors (pans, tubes, etc.) preferably not from the same color family. So, for example, not two different greens or two different purples. Choosing colors from the same color family avoids color mixing which is the intention behind the prompt. Also, there is little value in it in terms of learning about color. Choosing black will have a similar impact, diminishing the usefulness of the exercise. So again, I would say that black and white do not count as colors for this. However, if you mix two colors together to create your own black, this is completely different and absolutely okay.

The goal is to make as broad of a range of colors as you can from just two starting colors. Additionally, you want to be able to create a full range of values using color rather than relying on black. Keep these two things in mind when you pick your colors.

Some things to try:

  • A dark neutral plus a bright color. Example of dark neutrals: Sepia or Payne's Gray.
  • Complimentary colors, this will work some of the time but not all of the time. Example: Red and Green.
  • You can also try compliments that are shifted slightly, like blue with an orangey-red or pink and a bluish-green. Example: Magenta or Carmine and Perylene Green make an interesting shade of dark purple.
  • In general, colors that mix to create a neutral are a safe bet. Example: Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna.
  • Avoid picking two colors that are light in value as this will lead to problems with creating contrast. Example of light value colors: Potter's Pink and Naples Yellow.
  • Simple subjects like a pitcher or a piece of fruit may be an option if you are running short on ideas in regards to subject matter.
  • It does not have to be a full edge to edge painting. Feel free to leave the background white.

This photo reference could be painted using only dark blue and dark brown.

What colors did I choose?

For my painting, I have chosen Indigo and English Red (both from White Nights). A slightly unusual combo but it is effective and suited the photo I wanted to use. Using only these two colors I can create delicate pale washes as well as a near black mix and everything in between. They also combine to create a very nice neutral grey.

A Few Final Tips

  • Don't undervalue the importance of the color of the surface you are working on, aka the white of the paper.
  • Don't be afraid to push the limits of your comfort zone, this is a challenge after all!
  • Remember to have fun! Learning through play is one of the best ways to gain experience and develop your skills.

I hope this helped you and I can't wait to see what you create!

P.S. - If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment here or reach out to me on Instagram @amyearls.art

Reference photos shown here are from Pixabay.

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Challenge Prompt: Monochromatic

Colors of Summer Art Challenge

PROMPT 1: Monochromatic

This post is intended to supplement the Colors of Summer Art Challenge that I am co-hosting on Instagram throughout the month of August (2019). Exercises in color are generally meant to help with color theory and color mixing. While I believe this challenge can accomplish both, I will be focusing on color mixing. I would encourage you to experiment and try new things. Color mixing is fun and really helps you get to know the colors that you have. I genuinely hope that in the process of this challenge, you discover something new! For more information and the challenge prompts, please see the challenge post on my Instagram feed.

Artistic License

From one artist to another, please feel free to interpret the prompt however you wish but if you are looking for a little guidance or a few suggestions, read on and I will do my best to explain without getting too technical or going off on a tangent about Physics lol.

What does Monochromatic mean?

According to Google, monochromatic means, "containing or using only one color." This means all of the colors in the color spectrum (aka - the rainbow) are fair game. To offer further clarification, you are not limited to primary colors. Orange, for example, would be considered one color, even though it is made up of red and yellow. For our purposes think of using just one pen, or one colored pencil, or one tube of paint, etc. This is how we will define "one" color.

What about Black & White?

While a black and white image is considered monochromatic, I would encourage you to not to choose either of these as your "color". In fact, I would go so far as to say that white and black do not count as colors for the purposes of this challenge.

Why am I making this distinction? One very simple reason, this challenge is open to all art mediums. When it comes to opaque mediums such as acrylic or gouache, white is used to lighten a color and black can be used to darken a color. In other words, in order to create a range of values the use of black and white is unavoidable and I don't want this to hamper your color choices. That being said, the black or white should not be used alone for this first prompt, but mixed with your main color. For the watercolor painter, this consideration is more than likely unnecessary. I almost never use black or white, and if I do it is not to create changes in value.

If you want to get super technical, Wikipedia says that, "Monochromatic color schemes are derived from a single base hue and extended using its shades, tones and tints. Tints are achieved by adding white and shades and tones are achieved by adding a darker color, grey or black."

Why just one color?

The monochromatic prompt is intended to encourage you to explore the range of values and dimension you can create using just one color. It is also good practice for keeping your values consistent. Think of this exercise as a more in-depth value study but instead of being limited to greyscale you are using a color instead. Using color can make it a bit trickier but also more fun. In general, darker colors are the easiest to use for this purpose as they only require you to change the value in one direction (make it ligher). For me, as a watercolor artist, this just means adding more water. However, I think that changes in value can be created in most mediums so please do not be discouraged if painting is not your thing. Here are a few ideas on how to explore this prompt using other mediums:

  • Pen - changes in value can be created using hatching, crosshatching, stippling, or even just scribbling.
  • Colored Pencil - the pressure applied to the pencil with effect the darkness of the color and can create beautiful gradients.
  • Marker - I would suggest starting with a color that is more towards the middle of the value range. Leave the white of the paper for highlights. Add more layers where you want darker values.

A Few Final Tips

  • Don't undervalue the importance of the color of the surface you are working on, aka the white of the paper.
  • Don't be afraid to push the limits of your comfort zone, this is a challenge after all!
  • Remember to have fun! Learning through play is one of the best ways to gain experience and develop your skills.

I hope this helped you and I can't wait to see what you create!

P.S. - If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment here or reach out to me on Instagram @amyearls.art

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Question Sticker Series: Overworking

Question Sticker: "What are your biggest struggles or fears when it comes to making art?"

Reply: "Overworking"

Oooh, this one can be tricky. Let's first define what overworking means and then hopefully I can shed some insight on how to avoid it.

Before I begin, I would like to point out that this is something that happens to all artists from time to time but is more apparent with mediums that are less forgiving. I have overworked my share of paintings and I am sure I will do so again in the future. For the oil or acrylic painter, if they don't like something they can simply paint over it. This is not the case with watercolor since it is a transparent medium. Thus planning before you start the painting process goes a long way.

What is overworking?

So what does it mean to "overwork" a painting? To me, this could mean several things.

  • One, that my colors are getting muddled and muddy and are no longer distinct. In other words, too many unintentional neutrals (greys and browns, AKA 'mud').
  • Two, that I have created unwanted textures with excessive brush strokes or damaged the paper by scrubbing and lifting too much. This is distracting and can, in my opinion, detract from the aesthetic appeal of the work.
  • Three, that I have put too much paint down on the paper, or simply made everything the same value. By making everything too similar in value it has a flattening effect on the painting due to lack of contrast. This also diminishes the impact of the focal point and lessens the effectiveness of the composition.
  • Four, high level of detail in too many areas of the painting. Excessive details are often distracting and overwhelm the eye of the viewer. What constitutes excessive will vary a great deal from one painting style to another. Again this is just my opinion.

I am sure there are other things that could be called "overworking" but these are the ones that come to mind.

I feel like this piece was overworked because much of the green is the same value and feels flat.

How to Avoid Overworking

While I do not consider myself an expert in this area by any means, I am happy to share the things that have helped me deal with this problem. I hope you find them helpful as well and I encourage you to add to this list if you have other techniques or suggestions. That way we can all learn from each others knowledge. Much of what I have to share on this is similar to my previous post about Understanding Light & Shadow, as the two things go hand in hand.

Things to Keep in Mind

  1. Value studies.
  2. Thumbnails and/or rough sketches.
  3. Color planning/mixing and making swatches ahead of time. Mixing colors in advance saves time later and can help a lot with timing (which is often quite important when painting with watercolors).
  4. Use a limited color palette. Fewer colors in your palette means less mixing and fewer decisions of "what to use where". In other words, it can help simplify the color aspect of painting so you can focus on value and tone, etc.
  5. Remember that contrast and value are more important than color.
  6. Intentionally exaggerate or engineer the contrast between values to create greater depth and impact in your artwork.
  7. Leave some areas of the paper white. You can always go back and tone them down later. But once you've painted over them, there is no getting that pure white back.
  8. Try using a well-developed under-drawing with some values indicated.
  9. Don't rush! Take your time. Rushed decision making will lead to more mistakes.
  10. Try not to get caught up rendering details from your reference photo UNLESS they have a purpose. (I struggle with this one!)
  11. Less is more (most of the time), especially in watercolor. Both in general and in regards to the number of washes and brushstrokes.
  12. You do not have to create just one version of a painting. Masters will often repeat the same painting over and over until they get it just right. Masterpieces don't happen by accident.

Planning is Key

Preparation will give you a solid plan and help you to avoid overworking. It is like creating a road map for yourself to follow. Planning allows you to work out a lot of the questions ahead of time so you don't have to make rushed decisions during the painting process. When it comes to a successful painting, VALUE is far more important than COLOR. It is easy to get distracted with color matching and the vibrant hues in your palette, so stop from time to time and do a progress check. Take a step back and evaluate your contrast and value range. Sometimes a few well-placed dark tones are all a painting needs to feel complete.

For a while, I had a piece of paper taped to my wall with three words listed in order of priority when it comes to painting. It read: contrast, composition, color. This advice comes from Tom Newnam, a successful Pennsylvania watercolorist.

If You Are Unsure, Stop

Often, if things start to go wrong it is better to just stop and move on to another area of the painting. Many times I have overworked a painting by trying to "fix" it. While sometimes it does work itself out, there are plenty of other times I just made it worse. If you are unsure how to handle a particular area, take a break. Make a cup of tea, go for a walk, then come back to your painting with fresh eyes. Trying to rush or force things is usually not the best solution.

No Painting is a Waste

It is easy to feel disappointed when your painting doesn't turn out, but try to keep in mind that every time you put brush to paper is a valuable learning experience. As watercolor artist Angela Fehr says, you are "logging brush miles." All of our mistakes are teaching us, showing us what we need to work on to take our painting to the next level. Without mistakes, we cannot learn, without learning we cannot move forward.

Angela also encourages artists to use overworked paintings as a place to push your limits and experiment. If it is already "ruined" you have nothing to lose by taking things in a new direction. Try something dramatic or turn it into an abstract. Regardless of what you choose, try to get the most out of it rather than seeing it as a failure.

Quality Matters

I think it is also important to note that the quality of the materials you use matters and can impact the amount of "wiggle room" you have before a painting starts to get overworked. Paper quality, more than anything else, can have an effect on this. Higher quality paper can take more brushing and lifting before it will start to show damage or pilling. It also helps to make your washes smoother and layering easier. It dries flatter with less warping, which means less puddling etc. Long story short, good quality paper can completely change your painting experience. I am often frustrated by lower quality papers because I am fighting with it the entire time, trying to get it to behave. It is not something I am doing wrong, it is just how it goes with cheap papers. I worry that some people blame the flaws in the paper on themselves and think it is because of something they are doing. Keep in mind that painting should be a pleasant experience, and your supplies should work with you, not against you. I promise you that spending a few extra dollars on better quality paper will have a positive impact on your work.

Additional Resources

One of the artists I follow on YouTube, Steve Mitchell (his channel is called The Mind of Watercolor), has a video about overworking where he shares his insight on this topic. You can watch it HERE. It's a vlog style video so skip ahead to 1:15 to get to the painting stuff. Steve has an entire playlist on watercolor basics as well as many other types of videos such as product reviews and his painting process.

Thank you for reading!

Wow, that was a long one! If you made it this far, thank you so much for choosing to spend your time reading my blog! I really hope that you found this helpful because I know overworking can be super frustrating. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback. You are the inspiration behind my posts so if there is something you'd like me to talk about, please let me know.

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Tips for Painting with Yellow

Achieving Vibrant Yellows

I was approached by one of my lovely art friends on Instagram about painting with yellows and how to keep them looking vibrant. This sounded like a perfect topic for a blog post, so here I am. Again, I must profess that I am no expert in this area but will happily share what I know. Most of my knowledge of color as well as painting with yellows has come from trial and error as well as a LOT of mixing, swatching, and playing with color. Don't be afraid to test things ahead of time if you are unsure of the outcome. Disclaimer out of the way lets dive into yellow.

Clean Everything

When painting with yellows I try to keep them as pure as possible. By pure I mean not contaminated with other colors, etc. So using clean water, a clean brush, and a clean mixing area/palette is important (and no dirty pans). Yellow is quickly overpowered by other colors and contaminated very easily. Both of which will throw off your colors and mixing.

Glazing

I use a lot of pale layers and glazing for yellows (Glazing requires that the previous layer is completely dry before adding more color). Remember with watercolor the light or the brightness must come from the white of the paper, so translucency is key. Nothing you put down on the page will be brighter than the white of the paper you are using. Yellow is not lighter in value than white.

It is also important to note that many yellows are at least somewhat opaque. This means that they are only partially transparent. The term opaque means not able to be seen through; in other words, the brightness of the white paper cannot show through it. According to my Daniel Smith color range chart Hansa Yellow, Azo Yellow, and all of the Cadmium yellows fall into this category. This will vary somewhat from brand to brand, so pigment information is very helpful to have on hand. When painting with these semi-transparent colors I suggest using a generous amount of water so as to counteract this opaque quality.

Shadows

I find that shadow colors for yellow is tricky and color theory also plays a role here. Payne's grey is a very blue grey and when layered with yellow does not make the most attractive color (not to mention blue + yellow = green which is probably not what you're going for). Neutral tint is another color to consider mixing with but do not use black. Moreover, there is no universal shadow color that is appropriate in all situations. When it comes to yellow, reach instead for warm neutrals or subdued earth tones. For example, I often use yellow ochre as a shadow color when painting with yellow, but again this depends on the subject matter.

When mixing shadow colors for yellow you can also try adding the complementary color. In this case that would be purple. But you want to start with yellow and then incrementally add very small amounts of purple, not the other way around. Be aware that purple is a strong color and will easily dominate yellow. So go slowly until you get a slightly darker and less saturated yellow. You may also want to test out various yellows and purples to see which ones play nicely together and which do not.

A few yellow & purple mixes. Please note: the colors do not appear exactly the same to the naked eye.

Make It Your Own

As always, remember that with art there is some room for artistic license. Unless you are painting a scientific botanical drawing, your art does not have to match back exactly to real life. Choose colors that you find appealing and that work well together to create dimension. There is no wrong answer and much of this will come down to color preference.

A Recent Example

Now that we've covered all that, let's walk through an example. I recently painted these little yellow sunflowers and I will share with you my color palette and process. I am going to limit the discussion to just painting and just the petal part of the flower, otherwise, this will get quite lengthy.

I used 4 main colors for the sunflower petals: Lemon yellow, Mayan yellow, cadmium yellow deep, and yellow ochre (with a touch of 'palette dirt' grey). I started with the lightest color (lemon yellow) and worked to the darkest (yellow ochre) in multiple transparent layers. I do not at any point use these colors at their full strength, straight out of the pan/tube.

I am also using two brushes to paint this. One brush is loaded with pigment and the second is clean and damp, ready to soften off edges. I rinse this second brush constantly to keep it clean. Each time I put paint on the paper I am blending it out immediately with my clean brush. In addition, I have two jars of water. One to rinse dirty brushes and the other for clean water for blending. These jars were both cleaned out and refilled before I started painting the petals. That way no green from painting the leaves can sneak into the yellow.

Work Light to Dark

To begin I did a very pale wash of lemon yellow over the entire flower. This will be my lightest value. I then went back in and added more lemon yellow to each petal. I am already thinking about my highlights and my shadows, taking care to leave some areas of the previous light wash visible. I then move on to the Mayan yellow, looking at shadows and areas of medium value. For a light orange or golden tone, I mixed cad. yellow deep with lemon yellow. This was more for the center of the flower and the base of the petals.

Lastly, I mixed some yellow ochre with a little bit of palette grey to desaturate it slightly (this grey is an undetermined mix of various blues and browns that I always have on my palette and I keep adding to it or adjusting it each time I paint). This color was then used for the shadow areas or the darkest parts of the petals. It is not perfect and it does not match back exactly to my reference but it still gives dimension to the flower. I do not have to render everything with watercolor because I am relying on my ink lines to form edges and most of the details.

Final Thoughts

That sums up my technique for painting in yellow. I have used this for flowers as well as other yellow subjects, such as lemons, and been happy with the results. I hope you have found this helpful and if you have any additional tips or something to add please leave a comment or reach out to me on Instagram (@amyearls.art). I am always happy to chat about art and watercolor! Thank you for reading!

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Question Sticker Series: Fear of Being Laughed At

Question Sticker: "What are your biggest struggles or fears when it comes to making art?"

Reply: "Being laughed at"

Wow, where to begin. The first thing that came to mind was that if someone actually laughs at your art then they are a total jerk (to put it mildly). Period. The second thought was that thankfully we can't hear people laughing through Instagram and if they laugh we are none the wiser. I would say that in general, I have found the art community on Instagram to be really supportive and encouraging. While I have had a few spam, "hey look at my account" type of comments (so rude by the way), I have not had anyone say anything mean to me or about my artwork. If someone did say something inappropriate, I would simply delete their comment and be done with it.

That being said, making art should not be about other people or social media. It should be something you do for yourself because there is something inside of you that needs a creative outlet. A voice that can only speak through your artwork. It doesn't have to be saying anything profound, it can simply be a joy for making things. Don't let anyone (especially some jerk) take that away from you. Moreover, don't let the fear of judgment take it away from you either. If you choose to share your art on social media, do so to find connection with others and to put a bit of yourself into the world. Don't do it for praise or to impress people because those reasons are unavoidably tied to judgment.

A colored pencil drawing of female cardinal I did when I was nine years old (1992).

Its okay to be at the beginning.

We all (as in all creatives) have to start somewhere. Any activity that requires skill takes time, dedication, and practice to develop to a proficient level (regardless of talent). Art and creativity is a journey of constant evolution and learning that never ends no matter how long you've been at it. I have been drawing all my life but I am still learning and growing as an artist. I still consider myself a student and not a master. It is okay to be at the beginning of your journey.

Furthermore, there is this strange stigma with Art where people think you have to be out of this world amazing or you are not allowed to participate. But thankfully there is no such unspoken rule. My art will probably never make it into a museum and that is okay. I will never be the next pop sensation but that doesn't stop me from singing in the shower. I will never be an Olympic athlete but that doesn't stop me from loving horseback riding with all of my heart. It is no different when it comes to art. There is no need to compare yourself to legends like Da Vinci or Rembrandt or anyone else for that matter.  Make art because it makes you happy and who cares what anyone else thinks (especially some random stranger on the internet)!

Long story short, no one has a right to impose their judgment on you or your art. Please do not let fear limit you or your creativity. Be brave and be true to yourself! What you have to share matters!

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REVIEW: Moleskine Art Sketchbook

Admittedly, I bought this sketchbook because the cover was red and I am on a red kick this year. Last year it was moonglow and the year before that it was turquoise. What can I say? #colormood

You can find this sketchbook listed HERE on Amazon.

As a side note, I have used Moleskine planners and sketchbooks in the past. The quality is decent, usable for my purposes but nothing to write home about. I know they have changed their watercolor paper several times in the past but I am not so familiar with their products to have noticed this.

For starters, I just want to clarify that this Moleskine sketchbook is NOT a watercolor sketchbook. It is from their ART Collection product line and has smooth ivory colored paper. The packaging describes it as follows, "Made using pigmented pulp, this rich sketch-grade paper stands up to eraser use and provides a great base for a wide variety of media. Ideal for Moleskine Drawing Pencils and Moleskine Pens (I didn't know they made pens?), as well as pastels, charcoal, fountain pens, and markers."

104 pages, 111 lb./165 gsm acid-free paper, 5" x 8.25" with expandable inner pocket.

 

First Impressions:

I absolutely LOVE the red of the cover and matching elastic closure (sometimes it's the little things, am I right?). The size is really nice for quick sketches and it fits easily in my bag. The ribbon bookmark is a bonus. I always forget to use the inner pocket and goodness knows if I put anything in there it might as well be in a time capsule (LOL).
I was a little bit disappointed to discover the paper had an ivory tone rather than being white (I prefer a warm white paper). This isn't a huge deal considering my intentions for this sketchbook BUT I do not like how it gives a yellow tone to the watercolors. It is also more difficult to photograph and often ends up looking more yellow in pictures or throwing off the white balance sensor in my camera. 🙁

Performance:

I fully agree with Moleskine's claims and think that this paper works really well for pencil sketching and ink, including fountain pens and limited use of paint markers. It also handles the watercolor surprisingly well. I was happy to find that I could use wet washes and layers without warping the paper much at all. In fact, it dries fairly flat, so I have no complaints. That being said, I did notice that the colors seemed a little on the dull side and certain effects just don't work. Salt, for example, produces almost no texture at all on this paper. Some granulation is apparent, but not as much as I would expect, especially from colors that I know produce granulation on watercolor paper. As an added bonus, this paper also dries pretty quickly which is great for working in a sketchbook format. While the paper is smooth it does not have the same feel as hot press paper, which I find to be rather slippery for lack of a better word. When dry, the paper surface tolerates erasing well, but when wet it does not react favorably to scrubbing or lifting and will start to pill quickly.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, I would say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the use of this sketchbook, however, that is directly related to the purpose I had in mind. I bought this knowing the quality of the paper with the intention of using it as a "no pressure zone" to create. Due to the fact that it is not watercolor paper, it liberates me of having any self-imposed expectations or responsibility to "make something good". I am free to experiment, splash around, and work more roughly than I usually do. It encourages me to sketch more often because it has been designated as a safe area where I can simply play. There is a shift that happens mentally when we pull out the good paper and suddenly feel obliged to make something we are proud of but I truly believe that creativity needs more space to flourish and that this is just a trick of the mind. At the end of the day, it is just paper and we shouldn't let a thing like paper become an obstacle that stands in the way of artistic expression. This is something I have been working on overcoming and it is still a work in progress.

While I am happy with this sketchbook as a creative outlet I would say that it does not replace an actual watercolor paper sketchbook. I am still on the hunt for a sketchbook that does all the things I want it to do and I have several new sketchbooks in my collection that I am itching to test out now that this one is complete. Hope that you found this review helpful. Sometimes you just have to buy things because they are RED! ❤️

Thanks so much for reading and if you would like to get a page by page look at this sketchbook, please see the video below.

Moleskine Sketchbook Flip Through

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REVIEW: Black Tulip Watercolor Brushes

A few weeks ago, the generous folks over at Zen Art Supplies contacted me and asked if I would like to try out a set of their watercolor brushes. I was thrilled to receive such an offer and happily agreed to try them out. A big thank you to Zen Art for sending me this lovely set of brushes!

A little bit about the Black Tulip Collection: it is a 6 piece set that includes two round brushes, two flat brushes, a rigger, and a cat's tongue (swipe to see photo). The set is listed on Amazon for about $25 which works out to just over $4 per brush which is a pretty good value in my opinion. The set also offers a really nice variety of brush shapes. Lastly, the brushes are made with vegan synthetic bristles that are meant to mimic squirrel hair.

First Impressions:

The set came all together in a single package, which gave excellent information about the brushes themselves as well as usage and proper care. I thought this was a nice touch since most brushes do not come with any information whatsoever. This also gave the added bonus of eliminating the need for those pesky UPC code stickers from the handles which are a pain to get off and leave behind a sticky residue.
The brushes themselves are aesthetically pleasing to the eye, with well balanced and beautiful handles that feel very comfortable in the hand. All of the brushes come to an excellent point or edge, especially the round brushes, which is something I love and is a quality I look for when purchasing brushes.

Performance:

The bristles on these beauties are a bit springier than what I am used to, but not excessively so. They do hold a smaller pigment load than my usual natural fiber blend brushes but both of these qualities are to be expected of a synthetic brush. The only thing I found while using these was that it was possible to overload the brush with pigment which would then drop off leaving a big drip. Once I realized this, I was able to adjust my brush loading to avoid it. Naturally, there is an adjustment period when using any new art supply as you learn how it behaves.

Final Thoughts:

Overall I would say that these brushes are a great value for the price point and the best full synthetic brushes I have tried in recent years. If you are in need of new synthetic brushes or are a beginner looking to purchase a set of brushes this Black Tulip collection from Zen Art Supplies may be just what you've been looking for.
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Question Sticker Series: Understanding Light & Shadow

Question: "What are your biggest struggles or fears when it comes to making art?"

Reply: "To understand light and shadows, especially in still life"

In My Own Work

First of all, I would just like to say that I omitted things like shadows and reflections from my artwork for YEARS because I found them quite intimidating. They are not an easy thing to master and just like everything else in art, it is a skill that takes time and practice and patience. If you want to get good at it, you have to put in the effort.

Let's start with the very beginning...it's a very good place to start.

For starters, subjects with a single direct light source are the easiest and a good place to begin practicing. It is also easier to practice on simple shapes rather than complex ones. Spheres and cubes are the usual examples. Things like an empty vase or a wine bottle or even a piece of fruit can provide more interesting subject matter.

Observe

Most importantly, I would encourage you to use the power of observation. Study your subject closely. Look at it as if you had never seen it before. Pay attention to the details. For example, the shape the shadow makes, and where the highlights are. So long as your light source is constant (and not moving like the sun) then your subject will give you all the information you need.

The Basics

Here are a few "rules of thumb", they may seem fairly obvious, but keep in mind I am writing this to include all skill levels.
  • Shadows will always fall on the side of the object that is opposite from the light source. Highlight and shadow placement should be consistent throughout your piece, so if the highlight is on the upper left-hand side of one object it should roughly fall in the same place on every object in the scene. Likewise, the shadow will always be on the (opposite) lower right-hand side. Things like reflected light and overlapping shadows can be worked in later once you feel like you have a handle on things.
  • There is no standard color for shadows, colors should be determined on a case by case basis and will vary greatly depending on the subject in question. For example, the shadow on a tomato will be very different from the shadow on a blue vase. Furthermore, shadows tend to be more muted and less saturated in color. Additionally, shadows are generally cooler in comparison to areas not in shadow.
  • Highlights and light areas can be left the white of the paper or with a subtle tint of color. I will sometimes mask out my highlights so I don't forget to leave white areas and absentmindedly paint over them.

Due to the fact we are attempting to render a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional surface (the paper), things like depth and contrast between light and shadow areas often need to be intentionally exaggerated. In other words, they need to be designed or engineered to create the desired effect. The intensity of this effect will be tailored to your individual preferences and you will develop an eye for it over time. Do not simply copy the values from your reference, especially if working from a photograph. Doing so will tend to make your paintings look flat. (Don't worry, you are not alone, I have a habit of doing this too!)

As you begin to develop your understanding of painting light and shadow, I suggest starting with just three values and in greyscale, adding color often complicates the issue (it is easy to get distracted trying to color match rather than focusing on the value range.)

Practice

Practice by making value studies, they are an excellent tool to determine the placement and level of value before you start your painting. It's like making a road map for your painting process and will eliminate the need to make quick, in the moment decisions that could make or break your piece. World renown artist Thomas Schaller is an excellent example of an artist who uses value and high contrast in his work. He will often do value studies before starting a finished painting. The more value studies you do, the more you will start to see things in terms of value rather than color.
Painting in three values:
  1. Lightest areas (leave these the white of the paper, if you're not sure, leave it white, it is much easier to add more paint later than trying to lift it off once it's dried).
  2. Middle values - various washes that are about 30-60% pigment to water.
  3. Darks - these should be the areas of darkest value and strongest paint concentration.
TIP: It is typically easier to see value in black and white photos - you can use your cell phone to snap a quick photo of your work and then convert it to a black and white image. This will allow you to do a greyscale value check of your painting. My friend and fellow artist Jen Dixon has a quick Skillshare class called "Studio Fu - Check Tone with Your Phone," on ways to use your phone to check values and tone if you'd like more instruction.

Final Thoughts

If you do not understand or are unsure what I mean by the term 'value', please take a moment to look it up on Google. It is a fundamental component of creating dimension in your artwork.
I hope this helps you understand light and shadows a bit better! I welcome your thoughts and opinions on this subject, after all, I am still learning too! And of course, thank you for reading!

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