Easel Adaption

There’s a fabulous shop called Resource Rescue in Bayswater that sells all kinds of leftover bits and pieces from wood scraps to craft supplies to old shop mannequins. The foam pieces I used to carve grooves for canvasses in the wet panel carrier were from there. A few weeks back the shop announced on its Facebook page that it had taken leftover stock from a closed art and craft warehouse, so a friend and I headed over to check it out.

The first thing I saw was an easel full of art supplies. The art supplies were very much at the low end of quality, but the easel – a French style box – was pretty sturdy.

The design had a few flaws, but I figured I could fix those. The drawers were on the wrong side of the easel, for a start. The canvas clamps onto the lid of French easels, but that means that when the lid is open and in position to paint, the main part of the easel is behind the lid, out of reach. To get around this there is usually a drawer or two on the lid hinge side, but on this easel the drawers were on the opposite end side.

At home, after much rumination, I came up with a plan.

First I set about creating a way for a canvas to be attached to the inside of the lid instead of the outside. A pair of L-shaped metal corner supports on the lid struts provided something for a canvas to rest on, or be clamped onto if there’s a bit of wind. I also made a divider for the top section because every time I picked up the easel the contents would slide down into a muddle.

The drawers took up a lot of space and added weight to the easel so I removed them and screwed on a little door.

One cavity holds a brush carrier and some other bits and pieces, the other holds a palette I made that fits onto the top of the open easel and has beading that keep the paint from touching the inside of the cavity when stored.

The last amendment was to add a foot plate for a tripod and bigger rubber feet to accomodate the thickness of it.

I mostly use canvas paper taped to a board thesedays as it is light and takes up very little room. It can also be any size or shape so long as it fits on the board. I’ve made a board the same size as the drawer cavity, and a smaller one just because I had a scrap left over.

I’ve used the easel several times now, in life drawing workshops and to a plein air meet. And I took it with me on a recent two week slow drive to Adelaide and back. I’m pretty happy with it.

Un-Hampered

The itch to do plein air painting is back, and that’s led me to tackle a few related projects. The YouTuber artists I watch use box style wet-panel carriers made from wood or corrugated plastic, but I have yet to find a shop selling them in Australia. I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to make one, so I went looking for materials and found hamper box and a shoulder strap.

The hamper box closes with magnets, so all I needed to do was add a corrugated plastic inner to strengthen the sides. I bought the plastic edgings in the photo in the hopes it would make good dividers for the panels, but it was too deep for the job. Instead, I used a kind of dense black foam that I could carve grooves into. I drilled holes into the sides to for strong cord loops to hook the shoulder strap on.

Finally, I covered the hamper label with my own.

I’ll only be able to store canvas boards or the thinner style of stretched canvasses in it, and only ones that are 10″ on one side and a max of 14″ on the other, but there’s a good range of options available.

Of course I won’t know if it works well until I try it.

But hey, I was right that most of the materials in it would come in handy one day!

Daily Art: Accessories

The image in my mind of what this month’s daily art would look like has changed twice. At first I imagined realistic paintings like the toys theme, then cartoony black painted outlines with bright ink wash. But knowing that the final project and notes for the weaving course were due late July meant I needed something fast.

I settled on pen and ink. When looking for a suitable paper to use, I found two pads of calligraphy ‘parchment’ I inherited from Paul’s dad. The ochrey toned colour and interesting texture appealed, especially after a month of drawing on a mid-brown cardboard.

The drawings were super-quick and fun. Toward the middle of the month I started experimenting with coloured ink, and one is drawn with white gouache. Friends offered accessories to me to draw (thank you to KRin and Avril for the fish earrings, cow Swatch, tiara and white beaded gloves) and I borrowed the top hat, cuff links and bow tie from Paul’s wardrobe. The interlocking ovals hair clip and spiral star brooch were Mum’s, I wore the four-leaf clover bangle as a child and the locket was a present from my teens. There are holiday purchases and vintage buys and the straw hat and green bead necklace were made by me.

After calculating how much would be involved in having an exhibition to show all the daily art pieces, I decided I didn’t have the time or energy. That frees me to give the pet drawings to their owners and sell things in smaller batches or whenever anyone shows an interest.

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Daily Art: Pets

In contrast to May, June’s daily art theme was a delight. I put the word out to friends on Facebook that I needed reference photos of pets and received a good variety. Most were cats – no surprise to me – so I aimed for half the subjects to be feline and the rest to be a variety of other kinds of pets.

I chose conte pastel as the medium. Though I’ve been avoiding mediums that create dust because I have asthma, conte is really well compacted so possibly the least dusty. I intended to restrict myself to black and white, but pretty soon I was adding a little brown and grey, and then yellow, green and pink for eyes and ears, and the frog really needed to be green…

The brown card was an ideal ground, providing the perfect mid-tone and just the right amount of tooth. Each drawing came out better than I expected, making me question whether the results of using conte are worth the down sides. I could always wear a mask. It’s not like I don’t have a heap of cloth masks now.

I was sad when the month ended, but consoled by eagerness for the next theme: accessories.

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Daily Art: Chairs

In May I struggled with this challenge. I started off drawing chairs on graph paper in line and dot rendering with the intention of painting colourful 50s style brush strokes and squares in ink as a background. But the tracing paper was too absorbent so the ink came out very dark and obscured the fine drawing lines.

By the fourth day I knew I had to change what I was doing. I tried tracing the chairs onto tracing paper then arranging that on top of rectangles of graph and colour paper on top of a black card, and I liked the result. A bit of double sided tape and some black sticky dots to fix everything in place, and I now had “collage” as the ground. Then to that I added my signature and the date, and punched holes in the tracing paper for repetition of the circle element.

Partway through the month I had a big flare up of neck pain and didn’t draw for two days, so the next day I got back to it I drew a stack of three chairs. That means I have 29 collages. I want to frame them in groups.

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Daily Art: Faces

At the end of March, after a month of painting, my back needed a rest. So for April I chose a theme and medium that would allow me to do quick sketches while watching tv. Faces seemed easy enough but I still wanted a challenge, so I chose a medium I hadn’t even contemplated up until then: biro.

I’ve always hated biro. I hate how the ink blobs when you write. I hate how the point presses into and distorts the paper. I hate how it can fade out unexpectedly. But that was all to do with writing, not drawing.

Now and then I see art work in biro and it both blows me away and fills me with puzzlement. Do these artists know of some special brand of biro that doesn’t blob or distort or fade? Nothing I read suggested that, so I decided to just embrace the inconsistency.

Since this was the tool of doodles, I picked an equally humble surface to draw on: a notebook I made during my bookbinding days out of old envelopes. This turned out to be a very good pick, because something about drawing on the patterned side of the paper added an extra magic.

It did take me a few goes to get a feel for it, and straight away it was clear that bad references make for bad drawings. I started off drawing a model in a craft magazine, but those kinds of pics tend to have very even, uninspiring lighting. I didn’t want photoshopped perfection, either. And I wanted a diverse range of faces. The internet came to the rescue with free photo websites.

In the end it was the first month in which I wasn’t eager to finish. There was an appealing ease to the theme and medium that made me think I could easily make tv time drawing an ongoing habit.

But not yet.

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Daily Art: Nature’s Remnants

March’s theme was all about biological litter: bones, seed pods, shells, fossils, feathers and other remains of living things. Some I’d collected over the years, some I picked up during the month, and some loaned by a friend. Two were fakes.

They were painted with Casein on some kind of particle board (maybe marine ply) I picked up at Resource Rescue and prepared with primer and clear gesso. I set up on the craft room table with a spotlight – one thing I missed from the toy painting was doing interesting shadows.

I didn’t like Casein at first. It’s not as forgiving as gouache, thickening and drying out quickly. When I painted the red-orange leaf I found I could not get the richness of yellow I needed. the set I’d bought contained Naples Yellow, which seemed to create a dull orange when mixed with red. The red that came with the pack is Rose Red which was very pink, and I was glad I’d bought Alizarin as an extra.

Fortunately, I did not need Cerulean Blue for any of these, as it was the colour the shop forgot to include in the package.

I first learned about casein paint in one of James Gurney’s YouTube videos. He uses it as an underpainting for gouache and watercolour because it doesn’t reactivate with water. I found it did. However, in a recent video he demonstrated which paints reactivate and the casein did so. Looking close at the Alizarin tube, which appears to use an older label design, it says that it become “insoluable with time and exposure”.

By the end of the month I liked casein better and felt I had the hang of using it, but I still prefer gouache. Having thirty-one paintings, most of which I reckon are good enough to sell, left me feeling pleased with myself. But I also had a VERY sore back, and I chose the fastest medium I could think of to do in front of the tv for the next theme.

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Daily Art: Cars

February is a short month so I decided I should tackle something challenging that I might not like, but also something I could do in front of the tv, like the hands and feet sketches, so I had a rest from dedicating part of every morning to painting.

In the end I picked a double challenge: Copic markers (which I’ve barely used before), and cars (which I’ve always found harder to draw than I expect). I didn’t end up doing them in front of the tv, however. Somehow I got stuck in the morning art groove and continued working on the same table in my craft room I’d set up for the toys and food paintings.

Preparation was much easier than for January’s food theme. I simply watched YouTube videos and stocked up on Copic colours. Of course, on the first day I found I didn’t have enough of the right colours for cars. All that chrome requires a variety of warm and cool greys. I also needed a blender pen. Off to the art shop again – and another trip later when I couldn’t get the right pinks for a friend’s car.

As far as mediums go, this was all new to me so I learned the most out of the themes so far. Alcohol ink markers are like watercolours on sticks… except when they’re not. The pigment is much more controllable than in watercolours, but it can be pushed around. I especially liked being able to use one pen to pick up a bit of colour scribbled on plastic, to get hues between those I had. A fine white gel pen was good for highlights, but I discovered I could then colour those highlights by drawing over them with the Copics.

The popular method is to start with black outlines and fill in with colour. Since I’d like to be able to use Copics for urban sketching in a painterly fashion, I wanted to see if I could lose the black outlines. First I bought a set of grey fine liners, then later I tried just using the markers.

There aren’t 28 pics below because the drawing of parked cars seen from above was done over three days. That seemed reasonable when I was drawing a car a day and there were several in the picture.

Once again, getting good photos proved difficult as the special marker paper seemed to reflect a lot of light, exaggerating the shadow to the right. I’ll have another go at getting good pics when I put these in the art pages in the menu.

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Before, Now, Later

I know how it looks. All this art and no craft. But you’ll have to trust me – craft IS happening. It’s just not being finished.

I’m still weaving the tea towels on the Lotas. When I tried finishing the Theo Morman inlay project that had been on the rigid heddle loom I struggled with the sticky warp for a bit before deciding the inspiration was gone. The fine warp came off and I’m now weaving a plain white scarf from the ground warp.

Most of my weaving has been class samplers, and I’m not going to post about those again until nearer the end of the course. Which I’m starting to look forward to finishing. It’s not that I’m over the weaving and learning, but just a bit tired of doing a course. I’ve been thinking about why, and I reckon it’s partly because I’m tired of uncertainty. Will my health take another dive? Will my parents suddenly need all my attention? Will WW3 start? I have a strange itch to get it done while I still can.

But then, maybe it’s just because I’m really enjoying art at the moment. Life drawing classes have restarted and I tried doing a nude from life in oils the other day and was surprised to find I could do a reasonable painting in the time we had. Aside from a few back issues, my daily art practise is still going strong. It’s amazing me how all these finished pieces are building up. I’ve gone from two portraits plus a handful of pet paintings per year, to potentially 365 small artworks.

Of course, I already know that dedicating an hour or so a day can accumulate to big achievements because that’s how wrote the first draft of my last few books. The question I’m asking myself now is… what else could I tackle in this way?

That’s another reason I’m looking forward to finishing the weaving course. I want to put what I’ve learned, both in weaving and art, into practise, but I have only so much energy to spend, and a good part of it is taken up (sporadically) by classes and weaving samplers. I am, however, looking forward to doing the final year project, which is a finished object woven using one of the techniques we’ve explored.

That might just take the edge off.

Daily Art: Food

Preparations for January’s daily art theme began a few months before the start date, when I tested all the tubes of acrylic paint to see if I had a full set of the colours I like to use and if they were still viable. A few tubes were dried up but most were okay, which is amazing because I think I bought some of them more than 20 years ago.

For the ground, I fancied painting over text of some kind – perhaps a book – so I grabbed two old magazine pages and tried priming one with gesso and the other with a clear binder medium. I preferred the gesso. Next came a hunt in op shops for a suitable second-hand recipe book, with matte paper and sewn binding. Well, it turns out most recipe book pages are shiny but I did eventually find one with mostly matte paper. Perfect bound, but that’d have to do.

Then came gluing pages into sets of four. I started by sticking two together, then the third on top, then the fourth. But that came out wonky. Since the first two pages had adhered together nicely, I glued the rest of the pages into pairs, then stuck pairs together. Much better. Then, because I had a few extra pages, I cut out the ones that had shiny-surfaced photos on them.

Next, I gessoed all the pages a spread at a time over several days. When they felt completely dry pressed the book under several heavy books.

All this time I really didn’t know if it any of this would work, but when Jan 1st came and I did the first painting, I was happy with the result. It helped that my painting approach was a bit looser than the toy paintings. Instead of looking for a complimentary colour for the background I chose a similar colour, and let it be brushstrokey and not hard-edged. The objects had only a thin bit of shading at the base of each object. This approach gave the pictures an interesting flatness, even while the object was three dimensional.

It took me a while to get the hang of the paint (and to remember that drying retardant makes it a lot easier to work with under air-conditioning!) as I haven’t used acrylics for 20 or so years. The first objects were a bit wonky looking, but I liked embraced that, deciding to not aim for the lettering on packaging to be exact.

I expected taking individual photos of the inflexible, wonky pages to be near impossible, and I was right…

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