There are some similarities between a glazed painting and a glazed donut. The painting definition for glazing is ‘a transparent colour placed ontop of a previously dry colour, so that the previous colour shows through.’ This effect of transparent layering of colour can give beautiful subtle shifts in colour. The light traveling through those layers does indeed give a different effect than just mixing that colour to start with. It’s most challenging with watercolour. For best effect in watercolour, make sure that the paint is completely dry, and use a quick light touch to apply the next colour. You may be surprised how little the first colour moves if you do this quickly, because it takes a few seconds for the first colour to reactivate with water. Sedimentary colours, which sit up on the surface, make this more difficult than working with staining colours. If you aren’t sure which is which, a good quality artist colour will tell you on the tube. However the best thing is always trial and error – that’s how most of us learn. And donuts? Well, with a sugar glaze on a chocolate donut, the colour of the chocolate does show through. Conclusion: the main difference between a glazed painting, and a glazed donut is … calories. 

Lines in the Sand

“Realism is condemned by those artists whose poverty of technique does not permit them to express it.” Walter J. Phillips –  “Photo-realistic painting is to impressionism what a ballroom waltz is to Argentine tango. Once you’ve done tango, the waltz seems stilted, controlled and oh so dull. Give me the passion, the sexiness and the bravura of the tango, thank you very much.” Brenda Behr –  “Realism has to be such high quality, you can’t fake it. It’s all hanging out there like the laundry.” Nelson Shanks –  “The contemporary art audience, having had a century of flotsam and jetsam flung at them, think that super-realism is miraculous stuff.” Sharon Knettell –  All these lines in the sand. Where do you stand? Do you prefer more realistic or more impressionistic art? 

The Trouble with Different

Ceramic artist Eva Zeisel, whose work has been recognised by the Museum of Modern Art as masterpieces of contemporary design, says this about ‘being different’. “This idea to be different is not my aim, and shouldn’t be anybody’s aim. … you can’t always try to be different. I mean different from different from different. …and no creative thought or created thing grows out of a negative impulse. A negative impulse is always frustrating. And to be different means not like this and not like that.” (From “Creativity – Flow & the Psychology of Discovery & Invention”, author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) Perhaps some artists have been confused on this issue, and it may explain why some recent art is different, but not inspiring. Truly valuable creative work seem to be a mix of drawing from past worthy creations, and bringing an original twist or addition to it. How can a visual artist hope to make great art, if they are unwilling to study the great art that has gone before? Just for fun, here’s a link to see some of Eva’s pottery –  Pottery images Eva Zeisel 

Who’s Driving?

“You are the only one with a front seat in your life. You are the only one with a 360 degree view. Why on earth would you let someone else drive?” Cheryl O – This doesn’t mean that you don’t take, and even seek out, good advice. It does mean taking ownership of the decisions you make – both good and bad. And there will be both; it’s called being human. I apply this to my art too. I enjoy getting lots of comments from others, even for a work in progress. I bring paintings in progress into class so my students can not only see them at various stages but also comment on them and develop critiquing skills. I also believe in encouraging live-in critics of all ages to give their 2 cents worth. When I was a beginner painter, I was delighted to discover that my youngest son (age 8 at that time) had a great eye. “Mom, that yellow is too wimpy.” And he was right! Artists or non-artists, occasionally a different set of eyes can pick up something in a painting, good or bad, that you will wonder how you missed. But always, I am totally aware that I am the one holding the brush. And I’m not afraid at any moment to reject any advice, no matter how strongly expressed, and carry on in my own unique and very human way. 

Putting Out Paint

Some artists have a real system for how they place their paint on the palette. I suspect it depends on how many pigments they prefer to work with – more pigments, more organization required. Some portrait artists in particular have very complex specific arrangement of flesh tone pigments and specific mixtures of these on the palette. Other artists like to use a colour wheel format. Since I prefer to work with fewer pigments, ideally 4 or 5 maximum, I don’t really fuss with where I put them on the palette, with one exception – the colour white. If I am using a white paint, I like to put it in the center of the palette so that I can easily pull it into the other colours that are placed around it. With white oil paint, I put a long ribbon of it in the middle of the palette. Then I can pull it into darker colours from one end, and lighter colours from the other end, and not worry too much about the white getting contaminated. 

Raise More Hell

“My advice to the women’s clubs of America is to raise more hell and fewer dahlias.” J.A.M. Whistler –  James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903) is one of my favourite portrait painters, and one of art history’s more colourful characters. His family was wealthy – in 1842 Czar Nicholas of Russia invited Major George Whistler (James’ Father), a British railroad engineer, to build a railroad from St. Petersburg to Moscow for a large annual salary. James attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1851, where he got first in drawing, but did poorly in chemistry. He was eventually expelled for constantly breaking the rules. Supported by a generous inheritance, he then went to Paris to study art. While copying masterpieces in the Louvre, he met Henri Fantin-LaTour and eventually networked with Courbet and Rosetti. You can see the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites – those romantic medieval dreamy paintings of women in long dresses – in some of Whistler’s work. Whistler’s art career had its bumps and rejections from the galleries too. Most notably, in 1877  John Ruskin wrote an insulting review of some of Whistler’s paintings in an exhibit. Whistler decided to sue Ruskin for liable in what has been called the most sensational art trial of that century. Whistler was awarded a small sum of money, and the trial ruined him financially. He was forced to sell his home. Fortunately he was at that time commissioned to do some etchings in Venice, and he spent 14 months there. He had enough of a reputation by then to make a more than comfortable living from commissioned portraits, and other painting sales and eventually settled in London England. He set up house with 2 of his models at different times, and did eventually marry in 1888. His wife was the widow of E.W. Godwin a famous English architect-designer. Here’s a link for you to see some of Whistler’s paintings. I have seen “The White Girl” at the National Gallery in Washington, and is often the case, it is breathtakingly beautiful to stand in front of, but a photo does not half capture that beauty. Paintings by J.A.M. Whistler (Find link on my website homepage, if you are reading this elsewhere.) And, I do love this quote, especially given the time period he lived in. 


“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” John Steinbeck – To be truly creative, you need ideas. Not just a few, but lots of ideas. Ideas popping up without any constraints. Fun ideas, crazy ideas – ideas that make you shout, ‘Hey, nobody has tried THAT before!” Now, there could be a good reason that nobody has tried THAT before. Or, THAT may just be what your art form needs to give it real pizazz. Don’t be afraid to have lots of ideas and sift through them. Some will go the way of the inflatable dart board. Others may be just the ticket to your creative freedom and joy.