Posted on 18 Comments

Selling Art Online

Selling Art Online

I was delighted to be asked to do an interview with Toby Buckley for the Net Gallery  about selling art and marketing. It was published recently on the “Artist Virtual” section of their site.  I thought I would post it here too:-

Stock Image

With successive lockdowns resulting in the closure and cancellation of many of the galleries, markets, festivals and art fairs that artists rely on to make a living, 2020 and 2021 have seen many artists trying their hands at online sales for the first time. To help anyone taking a jump into the online marketplace, we spoke to Swansea- and Donegal-based artist, Emma Cownie, to get some expert advice.

Emma’s distinctive oil paintings have featured in exhibitions around the UK and are even available from lifestyle giants John Lewis, but she doesn’t rely on these outlets to get her work out there. Spending “at least 50%” of her day marketing, Emma mastered the art of online art sales long before lockdown, selling over 200 pieces, originals and prints (many of which went directly to collectors) in 2018 alone.

Primarily selling work through her own online gallery, Emma has also sold work via online sales platforms like Artfinder and Singulart.

TNG: How did you come to settle on your current sales methods?

Emma Cownie (EC): My original sales methods came from the idea of being a “creative entrepreneur” which meant involving collectors and followers in the creation of my work. I did this mainly via blogs which described the creative process, from initial thoughts, going to actual locations, images created, then the painting process, right through to descriptions of the art when placed online. This allowed followers of my work to have an emotional stake in my work, to be part of its creation.

I have retained collectors from this formative period. It has always been important to bring followers with me on a creative journey, so that they are part of the process, buying one’s work, encouraging me as an artist via comments, likes and support. They are part of the process… Art is not created in a vacuum, and shouldn’t be sold in one either.  This is especially true when the places I paint, as landscape paintings, have personal attachment to followers and collectors also. In fact, they often purchase work of places close to their heart. I like to blog about work and my inspirations even today. Art can be remote sometimes so I feel it should instead gather people in.

TNG: How can an artist make the most of social media to boost their sales? 

EC: Social media is essential to boosting sales, to the uploading of new work and to the celebration of new sales. It keeps collectors and followers up to date on your artistic journey and lets them share in your success and development. An artist’s promotion is often done by people on social media who like your work. It is important to engage with other artists too, supporting each other via shares, comments and likes.

Most sales are a product of a network of social interactions with supporters and it is important to keep busy online. The more one interacts, the more one’s work seems to become visible which in turn helps sales… I also use social media to engage with followers about my work and it’s creation, and this helps too.

TNG: What is the first thing you’d recommend to someone who is trying to get their online art sales off the ground?

EC: Be yourself. By that I mean, collectors are looking for original work, art they have not seen before. They are not looking for derivative work. Novelty and originality are strong selling points. So it is important to develop a style of painting that is distinctively your own.

TNG: You have written that positivity is a key factor in selling art online. Why do you think celebrating success is so important in online sales? 

EC: When I post an image of a painting when it has sold, it invariably gets more likes and comments than when posted originally. Collectors and fans like to know an artist is succeeding. Collectors like reassurance about your qualities as an artist and that they are buying a quality piece that will keep its inherent value (obviously the value may also increase through time). They also like to see an artist developing and to be part of that journey in some way. Buying their work makes them intrinsic to that development.

Sales also confirm a collector’s taste in spotting talent, that it is just not them who sees an artist’s talent.

The Glynn Vivian, Swansea

TNG: What should an artist include in their bio to make themselves appeal more to potential buyers? 

EC: Collectors like to know if an artist has exhibited in “brick and mortar” galleries too and whether you have work in private collections around the world. I have found that a bio should contain pertinent personal information too. In my case, I started painting in a more concentrated manner following a car crash and painting helped me through the post-traumatic consequences of the crash. Painting helps me in my daily life. Some find this inspiring and it helps them understand where I am coming from.

I also mention my own inspirations and how they shape my work and my style of painting. This also gives them insight into where I am coming from in terms of art history.

TNG: How important are high-quality artwork images, and how would you recommend creating these?

EC: It is essential to upload high-quality artwork images. It is important that the images are as accurate as possible in representing the work. Collectors are relying on this when purchasing art online and remotely… I usually photograph on a greyish, overcast day too.

I get frustrated by artists who clearly have used a flash on their camera to photograph work as it can be seen in the bleaching out of the colours on one side of the painting… If you’re not using natural light, then artificially light a painting from both sides simultaneously. If an artist does not take their work seriously enough to photograph properly it sends out a negative message to collectors.

TNG: What’s more important when pricing works – a wide range of prices to appeal to all wallets or a consistent price that emphasises the value of the work? 

EC: Both. My first slogan was ‘Quality Art At Affordable Prices’ which had a range of prices from £30 to £900. As my work has sold over the last 8 years, my prices have incrementally risen. My most expensive painting is £2500, as I still want more people to feel that they can buy art, that it is not an elitist activity, everyone can and should own art as it is so uplifting and adds such value to one’s life. It is a gift that keeps giving.

I would offer a range of prices based on size of canvas used but have enough small, reasonably priced paintings to get sales going and to boost confidence. It is a great feeling selling art. It motivates you to do the same again.

It is important that prices rise in line with sales, however, and work should be priced accordingly.  Make incremental changes every time you sell and prices will keep going up but not in a way that discourages sales.

Art by Emma Cownie

The two artworks below, Suburban Cottage and With a Road Running Through It, were created using a minimal style that Emma has been developing over the last 4 years. We asked Emma to tell us a bit more about each piece.

Suburban Cottage by Emma Cownie. Image courtesy of the artist.

Suburban Cottage – “This is an urban minimal oil painting of Sketty, a middle class suburb of Swansea in Wales.  “Urban Minimal” was a deliberate attempt to simplify my paintings in a style similar to the American Minimalists. Much of my work has been influenced by American realists and minimalists. Urban minimalist paintings were painted in accordance with my ‘rules’ for composition and painting:

  • No cars
  • No People
  • Bright light. There must be shadows – at diagonals if possible.
  • Simplified forms – there must be little detail in the final painting. I found this the most challenging ‘rule’ to stick to.

“I wanted to explore the interplay of the geometry of shadows and man-made structures – the tension between the 3D buildings and the 2D shadows, the simplified blocks of colour.”

With a Road Running Through It by Emma Cownie. Image courtesy of the artist.

With a Road Running Through It – “I painted a series of paintings of cottages on the island of Goal, off the coast of Donegal, Ireland. I tried to paint in a style similar to that of ‘urban minimal’. These ‘rural minimal’ pieces pared paintings down to the basics. Minimal texture, simple but interesting compositions, strong light and  shadows, all intended to create a sense of the still, the quiet, a moment in life that is both now and eternal.”

Article by Toby Buckley.

To learn more about Emma Cownie and her work, be sure to check out her website: https://emmafcownie.com. You can read more of her advice about online art sales in her article on Medium. 

Toby Buckley

Read the original article here 

The Net Gallery

Posted on 22 Comments

My top tips & resources for artists

Top tips for Artists_Emma Cownie

I am sometimes asked if I hold workshops or produce intructional videos, and unfortunately, the answer is that I don’t as I am usually busy painting (and blogging). There is so much already available on the internet that I don’t feel I can compete. Others have done it better already!

So I have put together, instead,  a short list of tips and links for any one who is interested to help them develop. Please feel free to comment or suggest your own.  There are no affliate links in this blog. I have included websites and video clips that I have found personally useful.

My Top TEN TIPS

  1. Paint, paint and paint some more. The more you paint, the more your work will improve. Most artists keep a sketch book and sketch and paint in their spare moments. It is important to pratice without worrying too much about the expensive canvas you are painting.  I used to work in oil pastels  on paper  when I was younger but now I try to paint in oils most days.  I have also experimented with water colours and acrylics. It is only by doing and looking that you will develop as an artist


  2.  Look at Art. Decide what you like. Look at the works of many artists. Think about what they are doing and how they do it. You don’t have to copy them but you can be inspired by them.

    Albert Marquet, Fécamp
    Albert Marquet, Fécamp, 1906

    I particularly like pre 1950s artists  (especially post impressionists like Matisse, Marquet, Derain, Bevan, Gilman) for their use of colour and portayal of light.

    The Harbor - Great Spruce Head 1974
    Fairfield Porter The Harbor – Great Spruce Head 1974

    I also like modern American artists such as Edward Hopper Fairfield Porter, Lois Dodd, Peggi Kroll Roberts, Randall Exon, Mitchell Johnson and Jennifer Pochinski.

    Edward Hopper - Hodgkin's House, Cape Ann, Massachusetts
    Edward Hopper – Hodgkin’s House, Cape Ann, Massachusetts

    There are many fascinating interviews with artists on Savy Painter that  are well worth a listen!

    Randall Exon
    Beach House by Randall Exon, 2009

    It is important to see paintings “in the flesh too”.  Van Gogh and Monet need to be seen in real life to appreciate their scale, and how they have used the paint. I once saw a Picasso in Swansea’a Glynn Vivian Museum, and its presence quite blew me away. It was very big. I got a powerful sense of an artist who knew what he wanted to achieve and knew exactly how to do it. If I had just looked at online I would got none of that.  I save  images  of work I like on my  pinterest account.

    Picasso painting Glynn Vivian
    Someone else took a photo of the Picasso and posted it on trip advisor

  3. Paint – buy the best paint you can afford. Try out different brands. A paint may have the same name but look very different depending on the brand. Only buy Artist’s oil paints. The student version are cheaper and inferior. They are fine for underpainting only. They fade. My favourite brands include Lefranc and Bourgeois Extra Fine, Lukas 1862 Finest Artists’ Oil Colour, Sennelier Finest Artist’s Oli Colour, Talens Rembrandt Artists’ Oil Colour, Schmincke Norma Professional Artists’ Oil Colour, Michael Harding Artists’ Oil Colours.  It took me a long time to really understand what colour opacity and the transparency of paint meant in terms of my painting. I am still learning how to use this knowlege.

    Transparency-Oil-Acrylic-em
    Transparency of Oil and Acrylic paint


  4. Canvas – invest in good quality canvas.  I love linen canvas as they are really strong and hard wearing. In my early days,  I painted on cheap cotton canvases that years later would tear easily. It was quite heart breaking to realise that I had wasted my creative energy on an inferior product.

    Loxley Linen canvas (clear gesso)

    I particularly like the natural ones painted with clear gesso. If you buy the white ones, it’s helpful to paint the canvas with a coloured ground before you start painting. Here’s a excellent video on how to do it.

    Cass Art Linen canvases

    They are wonderful to paint on. UK stockists: Great Art, Cass Art, Loxley Arts,  you can also get Loxley Linen canvases at Art Discount and Pegasus Art.


  5. Composition – shapes and how they are arranged,  lines and their direction.

    Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) Munster, County Kerry, Ireland, 1952
    Henri Cartier-Bresson, County Kerry, Ireland, 1952

    I like looking at how photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Vivian Maier, William Eggleston and Harry Gruyaert used light, colour and composition in their work.

    William Eggleston
    William Eggleston

    “If the arrangement of the big shapes is strong and coherent, it’ll carry the painting. You are 90 percent of the way toward achieving a composition – and consequently a painting – that will work from Mastering Composition“by Ian Roberts

Compositional Guide see here 

Painting of Irish Cottage on Gola, Gweedore
Down to the Pier, Gola by Emma Cownie (Private Collection)

6. Tonal value – The value of a color is how dark or how light that color is. It is easy to see value shifts looking to an image in black and white or in grayscale; it is a little trickier to see it in color.

Tonal values video examples here  

Gray Scale and Value finder
Gray Scale and Value finder
Painting Value Studies with Peggi Kroll-Roberts DVDs
Jana Bouc, Painting Value Studies with Peggi Kroll-Roberts DVDs

Painting of Tenby Harbour
Tonal painting of Tenby Harbour  (Emma Cownie)

7. Colour 

Colour – warmth/coolness of colours and their intensity

Get a Colour Wheel

Colour Wheel

Browns
Brown isn’t on a lot of colour wheels

There is more than way to mix a particular colour. Sometimes its a matter of trial and error. Practice mixing colours and understand why some combinations (the three primary colours for example) result in mud. Mixing “warm” and “cool” colours doesn’t work either. See an explanation here. Remember that brands vary. I have found that  not all “Vandyke Browns” are the the same.

Colour Theory video here 

Van Gogh – used complementary colours in his work to intensify his colours

Some artist restrict their palette, inspired by Anders Zorn

The many shades of the Zorn palette
The many shades of the Zorn palette

Notice how the artist holds the brush with paint up against the reference source in this video clip

Compare the paint with the reference
Compare the paint with the reference

Mixing the exact colour examples here and with acrylic paint here 

Peggi Kroll Roberts – value and colour system 

The Yellow House, Emma Cownie (Private Collection)

8. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Yet don’t forget the details!

Catherine Kehoe
Catherine Kehoe

9. Using Source Material (photographs)  

Don’t be afraid to change what is in the source photos you use, leave out things, simplify forms. Sometimes a really good photo doesn’t make a really good painting. I take photos with the express idea of using them for painting, that means they are not necessarily good photos but they have the information I need.

Peggi Kroll Roberts  – translating from a photo  

Peggi Kroll Roberts, Sharing the Sun
Peggi Kroll Roberts, Sharing the Sun

Peggi Kroll Roberts – demonstrates a “high key” painting, where values are kept at a narrow range, in the lighter shades of value.


10. Watch videos and save them – If you want to know how an artist does something, look it up. It might help, it might not. I have found that looking up a technique say “scumbling” is more useful that “how to paint clouds” because I have realised that I have to find my own way of doing something.  I save links on my pinterest account.

Tucson Art Academy Online – lots of short clips 

There is an online gallery/site called Dailypaintworks.com run by Carole and David Marine and daughter Sophie  which runs regular challenges where you can post your paintings along side other artists. They also offer tutorialsArtBytes – Affordable Byte-sized Fine Art Tutorials. Some are free ones as well as modestly priced ones

William Kemp Art Shool offers excellent advice for beginners in oil and acrylics (and a downloaded book on starting acrylics).

How to Paint a Simple Still Life using Oil Paints
How to Paint a Simple Still Life using Oil Paints (Will Kemp)

https://gaborsvagrik.easywebinar.live/registration offers a free webinar


Finally, find your own voice. Forget all of the above points and just create. Don’t copy. By all means steal good ideas. You have to have your own style, like you have a style of hand writing you have a style of painting. Let it develop. Good Luck.

Painting of Early Morning Shadows at Low Tide, Three Cliffs (Gower)
Early Morning Shadows at Low Tide, Three Cliffs (Gower)

Posted on 18 Comments

Rural Minimalism (Revisited)

Rural Minimalism

My work recently has undergone two small but important shifts in focus.

The first is a compositional one.

I have decided to revisit some of the “rules” I first used in 2017 when painting my Welsh “Urban Minimal” paintings (see my paintings for my exhibition in the Cardiff MadeinRoath festival here).

My “rules” for composition and painting this project were:- no cars, no people, bright light. There must be shadows – at diagonals if possible and simplified forms – there must be as little detail as possible. I want to explore the interplay of the geometry of shadows and man-made structures – the tension between the 3D buildings and the 2D shadows. Simplified blocks of colour.

Urban Minimal Paintings by Emma Cownie
A Selection of my “Urban Minimal” Paintings

I later extended these “rules” to painting the villages of Gower, labelling them (half jokingly) “Rural Miminal” (read more here).

Lately, I have been reflecting on my recent body of work and have realised that many of these ideas got lost in the heady excitment of exploring the new landscape (and skies) of Donegal. Also much of my energy got diverted into recovering from my operation and subsequent recovery after I broke my leg/ankle. I spent several months painting watercolours in my bedroom (as I could not reach my oil paints in the attic)and that led me to think more about composition and simplifying forms.

Watercolour of houses on Gola Island

When I finally made it back to my easel, I could only manage short bursts of paintings so I focused on smaller pieces. The clear blue skies outside my window in Wales may well have influenced my fascination with the weather back in Donegal. Note that my use of colour has changed, they have softened, become more subtle. That’s because both the light and the landscape in Donegal is quite different to Wales. It’s also because I was observing more carefully.

Clouds of Donegal

This brings me on to my second shift. Colour. I was always aware that I played around with colour, brightened them just a little, to create cheerful and vibrant works. For many years I painted cheerful paintings when I, myself, was anything but.

Bright and Cheery!
Bright and Cheery!

Painting saved my sanity after a breakdown and going back to a teaching job that I found stressful. The bright colours were a bit of an emotional crutch, perhaps?  I am not sure.  They may have also been a result of hastiness/laziness, over-confidence  with a dash of insecurity.

My Colour Wheel

But change has been coming for a while. I was aware that I sometimes struggled with getting the colour of distant mountains correct. Often the problem lay in the fact that some of my colours were too strong and they needed softening.

I read somewhere that distant colours needed not blue or purple added into in them (as I had thought) but  it’s complementary colour. That’s the colour’s opposite  number on the colour wheel.

I bought a colour wheel to try and perfect those muted tones and watched a few videos on painting about tone and value. They didn’t really hit home with me.  My colour wheel did not have brown on it, I noticed. I had to look for another one.

Colour wheel with brown

My distant hills improved. I  held my paint brush up close to reference image more often before I placed it on the canvas. I used to only do that occassionally. Now I was trying to do it all the time. Work was slower as I thought and carefully considered my colours.

Painting of Tormore Island from Rosbeg, Donegal
Tormore Island from Rosbeg, Donegal (SOLD)

I saw a video that reinforced this growing fixation with getting colours exactly right.  I saw a video on  artist Mitchell Johnson’s Instagram Stories feed. I don’t know who made the video, otherwise I would include it here. I watched many times. Why was watching this clip so fascinating? I was getting excited about watching paint dry!

The tutor had three pieces of coloured card and he mixed the same exact shades of paint so that the paint seemingly “vanished” into the card. The cards were an acidic green, greyish blue and bluish grey.  The colour combination he mixed were fascinating as he added colours that I thought were not going work and yet in the end they did (often a dab of orange did the trick). I noticed that he was using a small pallette knife  to do the mixing. I ordered some palette knives to mix my paint with too. I have found that I can mix a larger quantity of paint. It means that the colour remains consistent.

The tutor made the comment that his students often asked him “Isn’t this close enough? Will this do?”. “No” he said. That sunk home. I knew I was guilty of thinking “This will do”.  No more.

So I set to combining these two “shifts” in thought. The return to simplified forms and the focus on naturalistic/realistic colours.

My first effort was a large painting of the townland of Maghery in Donegal. One or two houses in the middle distant were edited out to simplify the composition.  We decided to call this “The Polite houses of Maghery” because they have all been built looking away from each other! My husband says he finds this painting very calming.

Painting of Maghery_Emma Cownie
The Polite Houses of Maghery – Emma Cownie

I then revisited Gola Island to simplify my compositions futher. I had to resist the impulse the darken the shadows; to strengthen the colour of the pale pink sky, to add lots of yellow and bright greens to the grass. I think the result is also calming.  It is ever so less frantic and a bit more chilled than my previous paintings of the island.  There are still details, in the tiny reflections and pools of light on the doors and sills. You cannot have colour without light.

Oil painting of Gola Donegal by Emma Cownie
Traditional Two-storey House, (Gola)
Oil painting of Road on Gola, Donegal, Ireland
The Dusty Road (Gola), Donegal, Ireland

I suspect that these paintings better reflect my post-broken-leg state of mind. I go every where slowly and carefully (at the pace of a tortoise, according to my husband). I look at the ground to ensure that I do not trip. I gave up drinking coffee and caffeinated tea to reduce my swollen ankle so I am no longer pepped up on caffeine either. I always am mindful of where my feet are. I am now mindful of my colours too! Slowing down has helped me see colours better.

There are still many challenges to be solved. How will I include clouds in my rural miminal paintings? Will this approach work on a overcast day? Those are problems for another day!

Read more about 

PTSD and my art https://emmafcownie.com/2016/04/ptsd-creates-the-need-to-paint/

Me and watercolours https://emmafcownie.com/2020/04/watercolour-painting-2/

My Urban Minimal paintings for the Madeinroath Exhibition https://emmafcownie.com/2017/11/paintings-of-swansea-2/

The Hollowed Community Exhibition https://emmafcownie.com/2017/10/exhibition-swansea-artist-3/

Composition and my work https://emmafcownie.com/2020/02/the-art-of-the-large-landscape-painting/

Coloir Wheel and Colour Mixing

Read more

Posted on 26 Comments

The Art of Composition (or how to avoid going off at a tangent)

Art of Composition

I have found that my energy is slowly but steadily returning after my operation on my broken leg in March (although painting light is shrinking with the shortening days).  I spent much of the spring and early summer sitting in my chair wishing I could go outside into the fresh air or climb the stairs to my attic studio. I painted watercolours instead, and thought a lot about colour and composition. I learnt to simplify my images and edit them with more ruthlessness than I had done before.

Gola Island
Gola Houses (watercolor)

I have attempted to carry these lessons into the compositions of my oil paintings. I suspect that I need to go further. I am always torn between a desire to accurately convey what is probably a well-known location to local people, and the need to create an effective composition. In otherwords I want to create an engaging painting, regardless of whether a viewer has visited Donegal or not.

Painting of house on Gola, Donegal, Ireland
Blue Door, Gola (oil on canvas) SOLD

Here’s an example of editing my composition. I used several reference photos for this painting of Bád Eddie (Eddie’s Boat) but you will see that I decide to leave out the all the lamp posts. I felt they made the picture look cluttered. I also left out the the skylights on a couple of the houses for the same reason. I did, however, decide to include a couple of series of fence posts on the right side of the painting as they lead the eye down the hill.

Bad Eddie at Bunbeg
One of the reference photos for Bád Eddie at Bunbeg
Painting of Bad Eddie, Bunbeg,Ireland
Bád Eddie, Ireland. (Oil on canvas) SOLD

I have gone further with my editing of the reference image in my most recent painting of Arranmore. This is a painting of a (probably abandoned) white house that I had painted a watercolour of earlier in the year .

Watercolour of Irish cottage, Donegal
The White house, Arranmore, Ireland (watercolour) 

A lot of the compositional work is done when composing the reference photograph, but there is often a bit more tinkering to be done to clarify the image further.

Landscape painting of Arranmore by Emma Cownie
The White Bridge, Arranmore, Ireland (100cm x 65cm) (Oil on canvas)

Here you can see that I have again removed most of the telegraph poles, just leaving one further down the road. The fence posts as usual, get to stay. The ones on the right led the eye down the road. The central part of the painting on the right side is too cluttered for my liking too. It’s very confusing for the viewer. I have since discovered that this is because there are too many “tangents“. The word “tangent” usually just indicates that two things are touching, but in art the term describes shapes that touch in a way that is visually annoying or troublesome. This also describes those telegraph poles I removed. It all makes for an image that is easier to “read”.

Tangent Chart – From emptyeasel.com

I also removed a several of the buildings so that there is a clear view over to the tiny island of Inishkeeragh with its solidary summer home. Finally, I also simplied the pair of yellow buildings to the far right. I found the semi-abstract result pleasing and I felt that the lack of detail balanced the detail in mud, rocks and grasses on the near side to the left of the painting. I like to balance detail with areas of flat colour, such as the roof of the house or the sea, as I think that too much detail all over makes the head sore. The human brain doesn’t process images in this way any way. Our eyes/brains will focus on one or two areas and “generalise” other larger areas of colour.

Thus, I hope I have created a succesful painting rather than slavishly copying a photograph.

White Bridge Arranmore, (in situ)
White Bridge Arranmore, (in situ)

Read more about avoiding confusing tangents in compositions here  

and also in this article Compose: A Touchy Subject 

or watch this youtube clip

Posted on 26 Comments

The Art of the Large Landscape Painting

Landscape painting Ireland

Failures are always a challenge. When I used to be a Secondary school teacher, I always learned more about teaching when I faced a difficult class than a nice docile one. They made me go away and think about what I was doing and how I could do it better. Painting is no different.

 

I have been thinking about the composition of larger paintings. When I used to think about painting a scene I used to think in terms of  “that’s a small painting, it won’t “stretch” to a larger canvas”, or “That’s a mountain, definately, therefore, it’s subject suitable for a large canvas”. I am parodying myself somewhat but generally, I have this feeling that small birds belong on small canvases and big landscapes belong on larger ones.

My thinking was challenged by a commission I did in the summer where a client asked for a very large version (120 x 90cm) of a relatively small painting (41 x 33 cm). So I scaled up and despite my anxiety, it worked. This was important as my confidence had been dented by a previous large landscape painting that hadn’t work out for me.

Painting of Gola, Donegal
Small and Big Versions

It got me thinking about composition. I understood the basics and had looked of compositional grids in Artbooks as a teenager and thought I’d internalized them. I realized that I had got sloppy. I’ll explain.

A Beginners Guide to Composition
A Beginners Guide to Composition

I am not going to do an information dump about theories of composition here (I have added links to some good blogs on the subject below) but the “rule of thirds” is one that springs to mind here.  The idea that you should look for naturally occurring in divisions of thirds in a scene and try and locate points of interest at the intersection of the “Golden section”.


I had been influenced by ideas of composition from photography and the work of artist-turned photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson,in particular.

Rule of Thirds - Henri Cartier Bresson
Rule of Thirds – Henri Cartier Bresson

I liked his use of diagonals in particular, and this has influenced my paintings of urban scenes.

When I came to Donegal I was so blown away by the vast overarching skies and majestic landscapes. I got very excited by everything I saw. I tried to capture everything. The houses, the mountains, the sea, and the sky. Most of the time it worked.

You can probably look through these paintings and tick off the composition approaches I instinctively used; the diagonal, the pyramid, the rule of thirds and so on. They all worked.

Then, it really pains me to admit it. I lost it. I got carried away and overreached myself and painted this big beast.

Painting of Donegal Coast
Sailing By Edernish

What was I thinking? There is far too much sky in this painting. Worse than that, it was a large canvas. There are things I like about the painting, the light on the island in the bottom half of the painting, but the sky was just too vast. It pained me that I had such a large reminder of my errors of judgment. I don’t mind screwing up every now and then but I hate waste and that was an expensive canvas. It’s no coincidence that I am planning a blog post on reusing stretcher bars to stretch my own canvases.

My confidence was dented. It put me off large paintings for quite some time. It wasn’t until I did the commission I mentioned earlier, that I got thinking about what had gone wrong. I realized that I had to rigorously apply the same rule of composition to large canvases as I instinctively did to my small ones. So I tried an experiment, I took a successful composition of a medium size painting and did a much larger version of it.  This composition was based on a compound curve.

Over to the Rosses
Over to the Rosses 60x40xm
landscape painting of Ireland
View From Arranmore, Ireland 92x73cm

It wasn’t a copy of the smaller painting. It wasn’t meant to be, although it was meant to encapsulate the same feel of the smaller work, with some adjustments. I have included some more detail, changed the tree, and added a shadow and a ditch in the bottom third of the painting. I think it worked.

I have since done another small oil sketch of another composition before I scale it up. It’s another diagonal composition. Although, the larger version will not be “portrait” format but my usual “landscape” orientation.

I will add the larger version later in the week. So you will have to wait to see if that composition works as well as this smaller one. Watch this space!

 

Blogs on composition

http://photoinf.com/Golden_Mean/L_Diane_Johnson/The_Basics_of_Landscape_Composition.htm

http://www.workovereasy.com/2019/06/13/a-beginners-guide-to-composition/

https://feltmagnet.com/painting/Value-Pattern-Painting-Composition

 

Posted on 21 Comments

Donegal Blues

I warn you now that this is a blog post about paint; about one shade of blue in particular. It might even involve watching paint dry. Which, unless you are an artist, probably isn’t very exciting.

Paints represent a sort of non-verbal language for me. I actually find it hard to put into words how I feel about paints. I have a “feeling” in my stomach and I want to wave my hands about a bit to express those feelings, but it all seems very inadequate. I don’t know if other artists are like this. I see colours in life and think of the paints I might use to represent them on the canvas. There is a particular warm shade of brown that I am yet to satisfactorily find in a paint. For a long time, I struggled with particular shades of green, until I found that mixing turquoise produced the right level “zing” in my summer greens. In Donegal the greens need yellow ochre to make them ring true.

1640-50
The Madonna’s ultramarine cloak

I am particularly obsessive about a particular colour that until yesterday, I was even sure how it was pronounced. This is phthalo blue. I doubt you have ever heard of it. It’s not like Ultramarine blue, made from lapis lazuli stone, which was was famously so expensive it was solely reserved for painting the Virgin Mary’s cloak.

Now, I am absolutely no good at saying words I haven’t heard someone else say out loud. That “ph” at the beginning really confused me and I used to call it “p-th-al-ff-oo” blue, deliberately tripping over the syllables because I’d never heard it said out loud. Until yesterday, when I realised I could look it up! So it did.

What! It’s pronounced “thalo”!! Why don’t they just call it Thalo Blue? I noticed in the comments below the video that someone else said ” I say it as pfthpfthpfthpfthpfthpfthpfthalo blue”. I don’t recommend, however, that you listen to the Russian pronunciation of “пхтхало блю” on google translate because it’s sort of like my original managling of the word!

phthalo-blue-organic-pigments
Phthalo blue pigments

You are probably thinking, who cares? Well, I care because I am passionate about Phthalo blue. No, that’s not true I am obsessive about it. It is very useful colour in my messy box of paints. I particularly like the version made by French paint manufacturers Lefranc & Bourgeois.

 

Phtahlo Blue paint
I love you!

It’s not cheap but it a very useful colour. Its very strong. It’s very dark and I love it for creating really dark blues, blues that mixed with Van Dyke Browns and make wonderful dark clouds.  I don’t like to use black for dark shades as it has a tendency to “kill” a colour.  I have found that its essential for both the massive white Cumulonimbus clouds and the really filthy rain clouds of Donegal. It’s actually a synthetic pigment from the group of phthalocyanine dyes. When it’s mixed with Titanium white it makes a delightful light blue that’s also very useful for skies.

Painting of Errigal
Swirling Clouds Round Errigal
Paint
Phthalo Blue with titanium white

Oil paints are in essence pigments carried in oil (once upon a time vegetable oil was used) usually linseed today. The pigments were originally derived from mineral salts, a few from organic materials such as roots.  Many of the historical pigments were dangerous, such as the wonderful greens called Paris Green (copper acetoarsenite) and Orpiment (arsenic sulfide), which were highly toxic.  Happily, these pigments are no longer used. Later, man-made or synthetic, pigments increased the range of colors available, phthalo or phthalocyanine blue is one of these modern colours.

Chemists first developed this blue pigment in the late 1920s and it was sold under the trade name “Monastral in 1935. This list of alternative names is bewildering. Here are some of them; monastral blue, phthalo blue, helio blue, thalo blue, Winsor blue, phthalocyanine blue, C.I. Pigment Blue 15:2, Copper phthalocyanine blue, Copper tetrabenzoporphyrazine, Cu-Phthaloblue, PB-15, PB-36, C.I. 74160.  I want to add to this long list of names Hoggar blue. Surprisingly, this colour is also used in Lidl’s Dentalux Total Care Plus toothpaste!

Now, I am sometimes faced with the situation that I have used up all the paint in a tube (and I really do get all the paint out of the tubes) but I can’t read the name or number of the paint to reorder the right one. I might be able to work out the manufacturer but its name or number. Here’s an example of what I mean.

IMG_7346
What’s your name?

 

 

IMG_7345.JPG
Still a bit of paint in here!

Lefranc & Bourgeois are the oldest artists’ quality colourmen in France. They share the same parent company as Winsor & Newton. This is why, it difficult to get their paints in the UK most stockists carry Winsor & Newton paints instead. A while back they decided to have a rebrand and they changed their labels and the names on the labels. This caused me great confusion because neither of the two suppliers where I usually ordered this great colour listed “phthalo blue” anymore. I’ll show what I mean. Here’s the Lefranc & Bourgeois page from the Great Art website.

Great Art.JPG

And here’s the page from L. Cornelissen & son in London:-

Capture.JPG

So I ordered a Phthalo blue made by another paint maker, Lucas 1862. It was OK but not half as good as the L&B version. It didn’t feel the same, and it didn’t mix with other colours in quite the way I wanted.

IMG_7351-1.jpg
Left L&B and Right Lucas 1862

Looking back now, I can see that Hoggar Blue and Phtalocyanine Blue are actually the same colour, phthalo blue. The colour I thought they had stopped making. This meant I spent weeks eeking the last drop of paint out of the what I thought was my last tube, thinking that this colour was no longer to be had in the UK. Then I realised that I had another tube in a drawer so I got it out and studied the label carefully.

IMG_7358
All those different names

I realised that the names for this paint in other languages used Hoggar a lot (the Hoggar mountains are in Algiers, once a French colony); Blu Hoggar /Azul Hoggair /Hoggarblau so I went back and looked at the Great Art online catalogue and worked out that my phthalo blue was actually now listed as Hoggar Blue. So I ordered this Hoggar Blue and it was the same colour as Phthalo Blue. I was so happy! It meant that a part of my vocabulary was restored to me and I wasn’t going to run out of words!

So, you can see that I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I was obsessive about colour. Who else but an artist has a celebration over a particular shade of blue? The moral of the story is that all paint is not created equal and it’s always worth being obsessive about colour.

Painting of Errigal, Donegal, Ireland
Brooding Clouds Over Errigal

Oh yes, if you want to watch the video about paint drying, be my guest. I have watched and actually found it interesting (OK I actually skipped the drying bit to see the different colours)!

Posted on 21 Comments

How I paint in the dark

Blog about artificial lighting for artists

Hedgehogs and bears have the right idea about winter.

Bear asleep
Is this the best way to spend winter?

They hibernate and miss the dark winter months. I am finding this winter quite a struggle. In the last fortnight most days have been characterised by gloomy skies and poor light quality. In previous years I have struggled to get much painting done. I have spent hours tapping away on the computer looking up at the black sky outside my window, waiting for the sun to rise so I can start painting, and then often abandoning work at 2pm when the light goes. The best light to paint by is undoubtedly daylight, and my attic studio is blessed with a lovely northern light, but I needed to extend my painting time, to keep working.

A couple of years ago I invested in a “Professional” artists’ light. It was pretty pricey at £60 ($75US) but I hoped it would be worth it. I think it helped me paint on for about half an hour after the light had faded but not much more.

Daylight Professional Artists Lamp (old version)
Daylight Professional Artists Lamp (old version)

So I decided to add to it with a photographer’s’ daylight lamp. These have screw fittings so I had to buy a converter so that it would fit the clip fitting that I also bought. The whole set up did not cost much more than £12 ($15) so just on price it was likely to beat the expensive artist’s light. The bulb arrived, but when I opened it up I was so surprised it’s strange appearance (it was easily twice the size of the regular light bulb) that I laughed so hard that I dropped it, and it and smashed! Drat (not my actual words). I then had to order another one and wait all over again for a new one to be delivered.

Photography Daylight White E27 Lighting Lamp Bulbs 135W 5500k
Don’t Laugh! Photography Daylight White E27 Lighting Lamp Bulbs

It was worth waiting for. It was pretty good. It was cheap too. So I got a second one to place either side of me. This enabled me to paint on for an hour and half after the light had gone. This year, I have gone for a “full-Hollywood-lighting” with three of these beauties blazing away. The artist’s light has been relegated to acting as handy arm to clip the photographers’ lights to! I don’t even bother to switch it on, anymore, unless it’s really dark.

How artists see to paint in the dark
The two photographers lights clipped on the bendy arm of the artist’s lamp.

Now I think I can paint any time of the day or night (almost). It’s best for augmenting natural light and extending painting times. In yesterday’s gloom I was still struggling to see pale yellows and light greens. I am very tempted to see what a fourth one will do for me.

Artificial light in an artists studio
Lights on in my attic studio
Oil paintings of Donegal, Ireland
Recent paintings of Donegal painted (partially) under artificial light

Interestingly, despite all this artificial light I find I still need my SAD lamp to keep me relatively cheerful and regulate my sleep patterns. I have found that if I don’t get a good shot of SAD light around 7pm I awake at 4am bright-eyed and decidedly grumpy. That extra burst of light helps tell my brain that I should not wake up until 6.30, at least. That’s the best I can do most days. I long to sleep in til 9am but for some reason I just can’t.

What do other artists do to keep working in the winter months? Or you sensibly, wrap up warm and go to sleep for four months like hedgehogs and bears?

Sleeping hedgehog
That looks so cosy!

Here’s another artist’s solution to the dark days of winter.

To see my landscape painting click here 

Posted on 14 Comments

Can we all be artists?

“All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” –Pablo Picasso

painting-808011_960_720
Children love to paint

Children are hard-wired to play and be creative. They are more naturally arty than their parents appreciate as they are more involved in “process” and than the what end product looks like.  Process art is all about the experience the children have while they’re creating. How many times have you had the experience of admiring a child’s drawing or painting and then  had to ask “Now, what is it meant to be?”  In fact, being creative in this way allows children the chance to explore the world around them, ask questions, and see how things work. What the painting is meant to be is only one part of it.

So why aren’t all adults expert artists? Why do so many teenagers and adults announce “I can’t draw, well, except stick people”? Well, children develop in stages. Starting at the first stage of Self Expression (scribbling) then going through other stages to end up with the desire to see the world around them for what it is and to draw realistically.

  • The scribbling stage – 1 and 1/2 years
  • The Stage of Symbols – 3-4 years
  • Pictures that tell stories – 4-5 years
  • The Landscape –  4 or 5 years
  • The stage of complexity – 9 or 10 years
  • The stage of realism
  • The crisis period The beginning of adolescence

This produces a crisis in many older children and adolescences. They want to create a drawing that looks “real” As a result, they become increasingly conscious of details and proportion in what they are drawing. They become more conscious of the perceived shortcomings of their work. Those that cannot satisfy their need to make their work fit rules of perspective and proportion gradually stop drawing and label themselves as “not artistic”.

But that’s not the end of the story. Creativity often emerges in other areas of life – usually making things with their hands – such as gardening, hairdressing, DIY, sewing, or cooking. I don’t think online gaming counts as creativity, but I could be wrong. Academic research has shown that making things with your own hands is very useful for decreasing stress, relieving anxiety, and modifying depression. As in childhood, it is the process that is important; creative action can function as a natural antidepressant. Five years ago, I found that painting soothed my troubled spirits during my breakdown in and in the midst of PTSD. In fact I cannot go more than a few days without painting before I get “twitchy”. I am   not alone, psychologists have noticed that creativity is often an unexpected side effect of trauma, it even has a name: “Post-traumatic Growth“. Indeed, it often a life crisis such as illness whether physical or mental, or just retirement, that will bring adults back to art.

Art is one of those things that given encouragement and instruction anyone can start. It doesn’t matter what your age is.  Just remember, creativity as all about trying things. Some of them work and some don’t. It doesn’t matter. It’s all process. The point is to try stuff and develop the stuff that you feel “works”.  The irony is that many of the artists of the 20th century stopped trying to make their work look realistic and today’s conceptual artists today almost never pick up a pencil or paint brush yet they are all artists. So, yes we all can be artists. You just have to decide what sort of artist you want to be.

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” Pablo Picasso

Microsoft Word - Picasso et Sima.doc
Picasso and his pet owl

Find out more about Process Art