Sometimes even the most experienced artist needs a reminder of these basic tips for good practice.
When I paint, I sometimes get so subsumed in the creative process that I forget some of the hard learned lessons of past works consigned to the “good idea but didn’t quite work” cupboard. Here are a few of my cardinal sins.
Don’t overwork – less is more. When you are focused on a detail and struggling with it’s representation it can be all too easy to “labour the point”. Practice that detail elsewhere – in your sketchbook or on some practice paper/canvas. Come back to your painting when you know exactly what you are going to do.
Know your colours – blue and yellow don’t always make green. I have a sheet that I keep to hand showing all the colours I use and their mixes with every other colour. There are some surprising results. To stop your mixes turning to mud, aim to use as few pigments as possible. To do that you need to take a look at the tube. Some colours are a mix of several pigments – these are best avoided to make your mixes from as they often create mud. Use them as they are or lightened only. Knowing your colours will help you use less paint too as you will know the mixing strength of each colour. The picture above is a link to an example of a ready made mixing chart with frequently asked questions answered.
Practice, practice, practice. Like exercise to keep you fit, doing a little every day will help you improve in leaps and bounds. I know how difficult this can be – four children, moving house more times than I care to remember, working long hours, caring for family. The list goes on. That’s when you need to set aside even the smallest chunks of time to keep your creative brain exercised. In the kitchen while cooking, waiting for appointments, travelling on public transport to work, doodling in those tedious meetings and so on. It will soon become a habit and you will reap the rewards I promise. The saying use it or lose it is never so true as in any creative endeavour.
Look for criticism from experts you trust who create work you like. And learn to take it. Your family and friends are all well meaning people and will enthuse about your work endlessly. If they are not critics though, it may not be helpful to rely on their input alone. I don’t recommend community groups either, especially those online as many are not trained to look objectively at a work. Also, many are looking to get comments on their own work and so aim not to offend. A good way is to join a class by someone whose work suits your genre or take one of the many courses that include a critique.
Copy work by great painters especially the great masters. Yes, I really did say copy. Of course, this is work for you only. What you learn from this is invaluable. You get to see how a picture has been constructed, the design, how the elements relate to each other. What has been left unsaid for you to interpret, how the eye is drawn to what the artist wants you to see, how illusion is created. This is your opportunity to “stand on the shoulder of giants”. You can look at a painting and see it, it’s not until you complete that process of creating it yourself that you understand.
I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand. -Confucius
I have a bit of a block today deciding what to write. There are lots of things I want to add to this blog but they are quite demanding of my time and it’s late on a Sunday evening. I have also already written 2 posts today, so I am going to cheat a bit.
I have another blog, a blogspot called Jangill Designs. I put a few how-to jewellery making ideas on there and quite a few of my photographs. It tends to get ignored when I get busy. One post that is regularly visited is this one. It’s a step by step tutorial on how to create the dragonfly pendants above.
Each Tuesday I would create a piece of jewellery and photograph each step to create a series of tutorials. It was great for me, as it kept me thinking in terms of teaching and demonstrating, as well as designing and making. It provided great added value for the demonstrations I was doing as people could look up steps if they forgot them later. It is one of the goals for this site too. I’m not sure if I will be confident enough to do a video, but it is a challenge I have set myself. It scares me, but that is supposed to be good for us 🙂
Have you set yourself any challenges? Do they scare you a little? Would love to hear about it, so feel free to share in the comments 🙂
This is a post I wrote some years ago with some additions.
I was reading a forum today where someone asked about making a cheap lightbox for photographing small items in. Funnily enough I have just made one 🙂 I needed to stop reflections on my glass tile jewellery and this worked amazingly well. I will now be going back to some of my glassware listings and putting up better photos!
In this picture the top is the third tissue covered window – the light in the room made it look brown
Here is how it’s done. Take a cardboard box roughly cube shaped. Mine is about 18″ on all sides. Cut out a square window in 3 of the sides, not the bottom of the box. Cover these in white tracing or tissue paper. Cover the inside bottom of the box in white card. Also cover the third side and that will be the base. You can add whatever color you want to stand your item on each time you set up. You can also create an infinity back drop by taking a piece of unfolded card, taping it to the top of the back panel and to the front of the base panel, bending the card but not folding.
Mine looks very crude but does the job 🙂
You can now set up lamps pointing into the box through the tissue windows. Daylight bulbs are best if you have them.
When using your camera, turn off the flash – this is what causes the really harsh reflections and unflattering shadows. I usually over expose by one stop to make the light areas nearer to white. You can check your histogram on your camera to make sure the big peak is close to the right hand side. If it isn’t, you need to increase the exposure. It is worth taking some time over this as the less you have to adjust on your computer the better. If you have no control over your exposure, take a few pictures on different settings and see which gives you the brightest result.
If you are photographing something much larger, such as paintings, you can create something similar. I hang a white bed sheet (any white fabric will do) from my mantelpiece as the backdrop and use four panels made from very large boxes and lightweight white voile. They are hinged together with duct tape so they fold flat and store away. Set your painting up against the backdrop and place your “light box” in front. Use strong lamps to light from the sides and above.
If you have a conservatory this is one of the best places to photograph. You can set up the same system in there or if you have translucent blinds, use those instead.
One important thing to remember with photographing paintings is to make sure your camera is level with the centre and both painting and camera are vertically upright.
If you have some cash to spend there are some good light tents on the market. I have one that pops up then folds back into a small bag. It’s a bit like this one.
Have you got an idea for a make your own light box? Leave a comment if you’d like to share.