Daily Painting: Toys (First Half)

While the theme for November is toys, I have a few other aims for the month. Having bought a set of artist quality gouache paints, I want to get in some practise with them. Another goal is to up in one place and use the same lighting for all paintings. I was pretty chuffed with the first one.

However, it took me 2 1/2 hours. I can’t spare that much time every day of this month, and while I hope to get faster from practise, I need to choose toys that are simpler to paint. Like this wooden train. I left out the carriages.

While the train was one of Paul’s childhood toys, this Pink Panther was one of mine.

The colour mixing was weird. I’m using a warm spotlight on the toy, while the easel light has a cool ‘daylight’ globe. The coloured card of the background influences the slightly off-white card on the table top. As I’m mixing I’m holding a loaded brush up in front of the colour I’m matching to get as close as possible to the colour I’m seeing, but the result is startling – usually much darker that I expect. Yet it looks fine in the painting.

I have a box of amusements I used to keep on my desk when I worked in an office, including this this keyring sized Etch-a-Sketch

A bath toy.

Very old puzzles. I think they belonged to my Dad, so they might be much older than me.

My teddy bear. I was never one for soft toys, but I have a few favourites.

I had a few matchbox cars as a child. My favourite is this red Mini.

As a teenager I used to charge to solve other kids’ Rubik’s Cubes.

One of my Mum’s toys. The lid of the teapot was lost before she gave this to me, and the stalk of the apple disappeared since then.

A tiny teddy bear made by my friend, KRin.

Slinky! I did the outline and background the night before, because I knew this one would be a challenge.

Lego! Having taken out my small box of Lego, which comes out for visiting children, I decided to see if I could put together all of the sets I had. They were from the mid 70s, with the original larger figures. Paul and I made eight sets, including one minifig set, but from the remaining pieces I reckon there’s a vehicle and house set we can’t identify. Though it’s always possible there was some migration of pieces to and from my box and my brother’s.

KRin’s bean bag Totoro.

Halfway through the month, I’m both having the time of my life and starting to get a little overwhelmed. The latter is more to do with having so many other things demanding attention or sapping my energy. Some of those things are good, like returning to art classes, ongoing 8-shaft course samplers and making Christmas presents. The rest are either too personal or boring to mention here. At the same time, I’ve been exploring ideas to revamp the look of this blog, and what theme, medium and ground I’ll use for December’s daily painting.

Can’t complain I’m not occupied!

Daily Painting Challenge

As the month of October drew to a close, I had a decision to make: do I continue painting flowers for a year, or stop, or do something else? Painting the same subject for a year is strangely appealing, but when I contemplated it I couldn’t help wishing I had chosen another subject. Something I would gain more benefit from, like faces, or just ‘people’.

Not that I didn’t gain anything from painting flowers. They are a subject I’ve felt I’ve never been much good at, so I had a lot to learn from focusing on them. I could learn a lot more, but I can see that there would be a learning curve that was initially steep and exciting, then would taper off to being nearly flat with just occasional little steps up.

Better to have the benefit and fun of the steep learning curve over and over, by tackling a different theme each month. So I considered those other subjects I wished I’d chosen. Faces. Hands and feet. Pets. Birds. Then there were subjects that I wouldn’t want to study for a year, but would have fun with over a shorter time. Cars. Buildings. Food. Toys. To that list I added kitchenalia and accessories (hats, bags, shoes, etc.). I split pets into cats and dogs. That gave me twelve subjects if I included flowers.

So instead of painting or drawing the one subject for a year, I’m going to try to tackle a different one each month.

Each of the subjects is going to require different kinds of materials and levels of preparation. With toys, food, accessories and kitchenalia I can plausibly work entirely from life – which has the extra challenge of requiring me to arrange backdrops and lighting. With cars, cats, dogs, birds, faces and hands I will have to work from reference photos much of the time. Painting in a tiny sketchbook was fun, but I was very ready to work at a bigger size. I also decided to use different mediums and grounds each time, though I could also choose to use a mix for a particular subject.

The practicalities of painting every day are a challenge in themselves. First there’s keeping the time commitment to a workable length. Then there’s ergonomics. One of the reasons I decided not to paint flowers for a year was it had me sitting in awkward, hunched positions way too often and my back was starting to protest.

In fact, the reason this post is a bit late is I had a back flare up that was probably related to spending more time painting. The next post will feature the paintings from the first week of November. With me not posting about Christmas presents I’m making, things may get very art-centric for a while, but hopefully that’ll change in a few weeks.

Light Bulb Moments

For my birthday recently I received an easel light.

It’s fantastic. It came with two very solid bases: one that clamps to the edge of the table and one that clamps to the top of an easel. My table easel is a bit light for the weight of the lamp so I’m using the table clamp, but I can see myself using the easel clamp on my floor easel if I ever have a studio. I can also see that a battery-operated version to take to life drawing classes would be very useful.

Having decided to make as many Christmas presents as possible this year, I chose to paint the cat of one recipient (but can’t show you in case they visit this blog). I did the underpainting some weeks back but it had sat around untouched since. I’ve been wondering if all the artist videos and books I’ve been looking at would influence how I worked, and I got my answer when I finally sat down to do this painting. In less than two hours I had 95% of it finished.


Considering that the last painting of that size took me … maybe eight hours… it’s quite a change. What made the difference? First, the aim to not put any paint down that wasn’t correct. Second, to not concentrate on one area but put down the colour I mixed in all the places it appeared. Third, to use more brushes so I didn’t need to wash them until the end. All which added up to less faffing about overall. All it took to finish off the painting was less than an hour’s worth of adding fine details like whiskers and making small corrections.

Those three intentional changes were thanks to the videos of James Gurney and Chelsea Lang. I wasn’t trying to paint like they do, just adopt what seemed efficient in their painting practise. I suspect the Flower-a-Day project also helped by improving analysis of colour, hand-eye coordination and simply waking up the arty cells of my brain.

It was a huge boost of confidence, but I have no expectations that the next painting will be as fast. Besides, I’m going to paint that quickly, I’ll need to line up a LOT of new subjects very soon. I have two mini pet portraits waiting, and a still life idea I want to explore, but that won’t occupy me for long. I need to put a lot more intention and planning and, well, I’ve had some thoughts on that, too.

For me, deciding what to paint can be a black hole that suck the enthusiasm out of me. I feel my subject must be worthy enough to spend my limited time on. I also worry about doing art that other people have already done – about not being original – as if anything is original these days! But I have more time now, and even if what I’m painting isn’t ‘worthy’ or ‘original’ it’s still honing my skills. Every painting is practise.

And every painting is thinking time, too. When I weave I’m thinking about what I want to weave next, and I used to plan the next book while working on the one I was writing. It’s a cascade effect I need to set in motion for art. Though maybe I am already. Now that the Flower-a-Day has been going for nearly a month, I’ve come up with a plan to continue daily painting next month, but with a new twist. But that’s going to need it’s own post.

Posted in art

Flower a Day, Week 4

Encouraged by the success of the previous day’s flower using pencil, I did the same the next.

The following day, however, I had only 15-20 mins free to paint and it was raining, so I took a snap of a strawberry flower and whipped this up.

Strawberry flowers are really quite interesting, when you look at them closely. They’ve been blooming like mad and the flowers turning into berries, but we’ve not had enough warm, sunny weather for them ripen.

The following day was a rest day and I had plenty of time, so I brought some roses inside and set up with the gouache again.

I don’t know if it shows how much I was struggling. My neck had been getting cranky over the last few days, and I’d had trouble sleeping. My feet had also started to ache in the night and it spread up my legs over the day. By the evening I was having a full-on flare up and I was so tired I fell asleep in front of the tv then hauled myself off to bed at 8:30.

The next day I felt better but far from 100%, so decided to take it easy. I searched my phone for an easy flower and found this native violet.

While painting these evening primroses, I realised that painting every day in a tiny sketchbook, sometimes perched on a stool and hunched over to get a good look at a flower was probably not doing my back any good.

Still a bit sore, mostly in the neck, I found this cheery sunflower in my photos. It wasn’t too big a challenge.

Hoping to be a bit nicer to my back the next day, I chose a photo of another Clivia, but while it was more comfortable than working in the garden, it was a quite fussy painting and I spent far too long on it.

My friend KRin came over the next day with these delightfully delicate purple flowers.

Then I plucked some lotus flowers from where they were peeping out underneath the evening primrose.

And finally, I took on the challenge of this grevillea flower.

At the end of the book was a few empty pages, so I wrote about my aims and what I learned. I was definitely ready to wind up the challenge, but also excited to start a new one. Which I’d already mostly set up for by then. I’d love to keep up a daily art practise, but looking ahead I can see a few days coming on which it’ll be to be difficult to find the time. I suspect I’m going to find that daily painting was much easier in lockdown!

Posted in art

Handspun, Handwoven Scarves

Oldest yarns plus handspun plus twill with tabby were the inspirations for these scarves. The draft are Strickler #263 and #265, both using a corkscrew twill threading and tie-up.

The first, #263, was slow to weave and it was easy to make a mistake. It required three shuttles: one for the handspun pattern yarn, one for the thin black tabby binder, and one for stripes of the same black yarn I used for the warp.

It reminds me of the tracks of tyres, or some kind of ancient writing.

#265 was a much faster point twill treadling, using two shuttles: one for the handspun and another for the tabby binder. They pattern looks like dramatic bow ties.

They turned out very well, and I will definitely be more confident in designing weaving projects using handspun now.

Flower-a-Day, Week 3

At the beginning of the third week, my friend KRin brought over a rose from a bush given to her to commemorate her late husband. It had an amazing scent of cinnamon, and was a lovely matte orange.

She wanted to watch me paint. Unfortunately, I do find it hard to talk and paint at the same time, and tend to ramble inanely when I do.

As I said in the last post about these paintings, I’m struggling with defining edges and depth. In dim light with a matt single-colour flower it’s hard to see much definition. Though the camera captured the shadows more easily than my eyes perceived them. And I suspect I was at the edge of the capacity of the paint set, too. I eventually outlined the rose with black paint applied with a paintbrush.

A few days before, an order for some Winsor & Newton designer gouaches arrived and I was keen to try them. Especially as I hoped they’d give me the subtle but effective range needed to show depth. Working with a photo of a flower that had the same kind of matte (mostly), single-colour petals, I took my time and I’m pretty happy with the result.

The next day I sat outside and attempted to portray this convolvulus flower. I wasn’t happy with it until I deepened the shadows with black later.

I tried the purple variety the next day from a phone pic.

While it’s very rough, I do feel like I captured the light.

The next day I headed to the native garden. The flower I picked is tiny, and when I found I wasn’t getting much subtlety I decided to approach it as if it were a printed fabric design using only three colours.

I tried the same approach the next day, but the result wasn’t as satisfactory, though perhaps I’d like it better as a fabric design if it the flowers and leaves were more densely packed.

Same area and also a native, but this time only using pencil.

Looking back, I created the best and worst flower art in this week. That tree peony turned out so much better than I expected, using a medium I’m not overly familiar with. But the chocolate lilies disappointed me.

The Art of … Getting Art Done

Lockdowns have meant I’ve been to few art classes in the last two years. In the first lockdowns I barely managed a few simple sketches at home. I’d anticipated a freezing up of creativity because I’d read about going into ‘survival mode’ during stressful times, which I’ve experienced before, so I don’t feel bad about that.

In the past I’ve managed to do some art at home, but always when I had no classes, and as soon as I started going again I stopped. I’ve assumed this meant I had a limited need for art, which classes satisfied. Recently it occurred to me that it might not be that classes fulfil my need for creating art, but that going to classes reduces the incentive to do art at home.

It’s not that classes discourage me, but to set up a workable space and regular habit takes focus, time and dedication, and that doesn’t happen because I don’t need it to.

I’m not going to stop going to classes. Feedback is essential, and hanging out with other artists is inspiring and motivating. What I am going to do is see if I can keep painting at home as well.

When I rearranged my craft room a few months ago to have a permanent sewing area I also examined my painting space critically. Acknowledging that I don’t want to stand to paint, I moved out my floor easel and put a table easel on my work table instead. My art materials cabinet was already beside the table, which completed what is now a cosy painting corner.

I’ve been making paint charts, started on a painting that will be a Christmas present, and done the occasional flower painting there. Some issues still need to be resolved. Lighting, for a start. There’s no good spot in this house for natural light. I’ve requested an easel light for my birthday so hopefully that will solve the problem.

Creating a habit is the next challenge, and for that I need to plan ahead. The art that I’m doing and two little cat portraits waiting in the wings will keep me occupied for a month or two, but I have nothing after that. I might need a bigger objective, like the portrait painting I challenged myself with a decade ago. Something that won’t be stalled by lockdowns and such.

Flower-A-Day, Week 2

On day 8 I tackled another rose, this time using watercolour pencils blended with a little water. I’m not as happy with this one. The rose petals had a pink line around the edges, but in the painting this just looks like a pencil outline.

The following day it was wet, so I painted clivias from the shelter of the desk. I started with the intention of using only paint, but couldn’t get enough nuance from the brigh, saturated colour so delineate the edges, so I resorted to pen, which looks great.

Another day of unappealing weather so I went through my phone pics searching for flowers, and hit upon photos of grass tree flowers on Flinder Island. I enjoyed doing something different. A pale yellow silhouette of the plans went on first, then some green and grey, then I switched to watercolour pencils for the texture, then switched back and forth to get the darks and background. If I’d painted this for a travel diary I’d have been very pleased.

Another photo reference, of the native pigface that grows on the embankment next to the pool. There is no black in the background in real life, but I liked the contrast and drama it created.

On day twelve I drew the flower that identified the Dietes plant that had sprung up among the Dianellas, before getting Paul to dig it out.

Only lucky day thirteen I painted this magnificent rose I’d spotted the day before. It has the most divine scent, despite the unromantic name of ‘stainless steel’.

On day fourteen I popped outside to paint an azalea. The sunlight was quite hot though the day itself wasn’t particularly warm. Unfortuantely, I don’t have the label for this one.

I didn’t use the watercolour pencil until the end, when I added some texture by working into wet paint.

I’m learning something with every flower, whether by making mistakes or trying something new in approach or medium. Portraying depth and defining edges are proving a challenge, but at least I’m getting the flower in the middle of the page now!

Trying Different Hats

Normally, I try not to even think of the ‘C’ word until the beginning of December, unless I know I need to order a present early. This year I’ve put that rule aside for three reasons:

Firstly, I’m sick of ordering online. While I understand and empathise with Aussie Post for the delays, it’s one more thing to worry about. And the delays are only part of the problem with ordering online. Recently some items I ordered hadn’t arrived so I tried contacting the shop, but they didn’t reply to messages left via email, their answering machine, their website’s contact form or their Facebook page. It took a couple of weeks to finally get through on the phone, only to find out the items had always been out of stock and help up by international shipping issues. If I’d known they were out of stock I wouldn’t have ordered the items. Two and a half months later they still haven’t arrived, but the shop is the only one in the country selling them so I really don’t want to cancel my order.

The second reason is I don’t much fancy shopping in person, either. When lockdown ends there’s going to be a rush on shops, and things will sell out, and since we’re supposed to be transitioning to ‘living with Covid’ (which will no doubt mean ‘dying with Covid’ for a number of people) and I doubt the vaccine passport idea is going to go smoothly, I’m intending to stay away from strangers as much as possible.

The third reason is because my solution to the above is to make most of my gifts, and that takes time and planning.

On the up side, I have a very short recipient list. On the down side, it includes two men who aren’t easy to pick something for even when not choosing hand made.

One of the ideas I had for gifts was to sew hats. I found a free bucket hat online and gave it a try. Aside from me misreading the interlining pattern pieces as lining and having to unpick them then cut and sew a new lining, the construction was problem free and it fits perfectly.

The outer fabric is denim and the inner a navy cotton with tiny flowers in red, green, yellow, blue and white. Both came from destashes.

I also have a sunhat pattern I’ve been wanting to try for ages, so I gave that a whirl. The main fabric is a white corduroy printed with green and black parrots from an old, stained dress of Late Lucy’s. The lining is a white cotton bed sheet.

This was a bit of a faff to construct, with lots of stay stitching and a seemingly unnecessary bit of gathering thread to ease the side piece to the top, but there is a nice bit of theatre when you turn what looks like a clump of fabric inside out and it turns into a hat. It fits and I like it.

Still, it’s not really Mum’s style and definitely not Dad’s, so I stuck with the bucket hat.

Mum’s uses some offcuts of fabric from a dress she made years ago and more of the white cotton sheet for the lining, and Dad’s uses the same denim I used on my bucket hat with a lovely soft red cotton plaid for the lining.

All the hats have used destashed or repurposed fabric, so I’m pretty chuffed about that. I’ve offered to make one for Paul, but I’ll have to enlarge the pattern. If I made it with the black denim in the stash it would be easy to tell which hat was his and which was mine, and I have a black and grey plaid shirt that would work for lining. Hmm.

Flower-A-Day, Week 1

The sketchbook. Teeny weeny.

For the first flower, I went out into the garden looking for something relatively simple to start with. And accessible. Most of our flowering plants are on a steep embankment, but I found this little nasturtium had sprouted behind a low retaining wall where most of my lavenders died.

I learned two things from this: first to consider carefully if the picture needed a background, second that sometimes you can’t mix a colour and need to add a new pigment to your set. In this case, I brought out the Stuart Semple palette, which had an orange bright enough for the flower. From then on it was my first choice when I wanted to use paint.

Next, the red hot poker had one last flower on it, so I decided to do that before the opportunity passed.

Much happier with this one. I realised that at eye level the tubular flowers rarely come straight at me, but up and down.

Next, I was going to paint bright yellow flowers on one of the natives, but they were already past their prime and their position on the embankment was not going to make for comfortable painting. Instead, I headed for the Unexpected Succulent Garden, which has been looking amazing recently.

I hadn’t intended to add the leaves, but got inspired. But adding them put the picture off balance on the page.

Soon after I started the next one, I went and got a seat. I thought I’d be able to sit on a rock, but I was wrooooong. I got myself a stool.

It really needed a green background to contrast with the red flowers. The paints weren’t getting me the feel of the subtly striped petals, so I ducked inside and got some watercolour pencils.

I’d be happier with this if I’d managed to centre the flowers on the page. I had to look up the name of the succulent and this one, and I was amused to find this one was an African Daisy. A couple of years ago I went looking for African Daisies for the front garden, not realising I already had them in the kitchen garden.

The next day was really cold, so I turned to my iPhone’s photo albums. And I finally managed to get a flower centred.

Again, watercolour pencils made adding texture much easier.

This plant isn’t in flower at the moment. It’s in the giant tongue-like leaves stage. They’ll die off and the plant will all but disappear until the flowers emerge from the ground next autumn, first with bright buds like giant parrot beaks, then opening to make these alien-like flowers.

The following day was lovely for flower painting.

The label stuck into my gardening diary told me this was a Dianthus. It didn’t mention that Dianthus are ‘pinks’, which it turns out is another name for carnations. Now I understand why on gardening shows presenters would sometimes gesture to a bed of not-pink flowers and call them pink.

Turns out the colour pink is named after the flowers, not the other way around. And pinking shears are named after the shape of the petal ends.

This one was quite the research black hole.

The seventh flower was a rose. One of my climbers.

No paint this time, just watercolour pencils without water. It suited the densely packed petals.

Overall, I found that I was always better off trying to painting what I saw, including flaws, rather than ‘fix’ anything or try to ‘just paint the gist of it’. Taking photos and looking at the thumbnails helped to reveal overall flaws too, and a friend’s honest assessment that the carnation looked a bit flat helped me fix the problem.

The painting have taken between 20 mins and an hour and a half. I’m sure I’ll get faster, or at least better at choosing quick subjects when I’m short on time. Though it is nice to spend more time as well when I have it.