2022 Blog Post #4 Finding Photo References
Where do you get yours? Most artists will take their own photos of subjects they want to paint.
Sometimes it might be a random drive with the photographing of a subject in nature that is oh wow. I tend to call these a 'drive by shooting' while not 'politically correct', most of us know what I mean! I know of one artist who took a day trip on a train through the country to take photos of the landscape for reference. Some will take specific photos at times of day or seasons to use for a painting. A purposeful destination for a reference gathering day out is fun too.
So what if you can’t do this? Not everyone has the mobility or freedom to go out taking photos or even plein-air painting for reference material.
We can ask friends and family for the use of that great photo they took. Most times it is better left as a photo than used for a painting, as that’s why they took it in the first place. Artists tend to see the subjects differently and so look for photos that translate as paintings, photos that has elements of light and dark, bright and dull etc.
The references we use must be ones that we are sparked by, that fire us up, or sound some kind of delightful bells in our hearts. They are relatable and inspiring. So don’t use ones by family and friends unless they are on the same wavelength as you are, their photos light you up and you can see a painting in them.
There is also the issue of copyright. Now this is definitely one for you to go and do your own research on. Each country has its own rules. Artists need to understand what the rules are and abide by them. I hear so many beginning to mid stream artists say that if they change some one else’s picture just by 10% then its no longer copyright infringement. Believe that and loose your house. Do the homework. I encourage you to ask questions from the correct information places, get clear on what you can and can't do. Even the pic that Aunt Mary wants you to paint...she will own the copyright on that image, which dictates what yo can and can't do with it.
Art shows often ask for the artist to be able to show that the references that used are their own.
So that is why this article is about finding your own references, or references that are given free to use rights by the owner. Search that one out too. Type it into your browser and sew what information comes up. Artists need to take responsibility for the integrity of their reference photos. Just Googling a reference photo is not on, that could lead to a copyright infringement and can get you into all sorts of trouble.
Some online companies tout free to use images. This is a bonus for those who can’t get out to take photos….or is it? The ones listed below have free to use images. These may have special licensees attached to them so that artists can make any sort of artwork from them without the need to get permission. Make sure you read the licence, and know where you stand.
There are sites on Facebook that offer 'Use My Reference' for a painting. These are terrific places to source painting reference material. Have a scroll through Facebook to find these sites Do remember though that some photos are better left as photos.
Be guided by your integrity. If it looks suss it usually is. Question the site offering the free to use reference photos. Ask what are the limitations? Are they offering only references to learn to paint from? What happens if you sell the work? What happens if you keep the work as a practice piece? Can you use these images in a workshop? Can you show but not sell these paintings done from free to use images? Ask questions, get the answers and know that your reference photo is good to use for the purpose you want.
I know it is a struggle to get great photos to paint from. Look for other ways to get them.
Maybe your art group has a meeting to swap and share their pics, copyright free. Artist friends can often give each other great reference photos. Be imaginative and stick to the simplest, most honest ways to get a reference photo. That day train trip is looking good especially if it is with artist friends!!
All the best in your painting endeavours
These are some of the sites that have reference photos but check out the 'rules' and the licences of use.
Internet sites: www.unsplash.com www.shutterstock.com www.pexels.com www.pixabay.com
Facebook: Free to Use References for Artists
Courses on pastel painting: www.onlinepastellearning.com
www.theonlineartsociety.com home for artists of all media to connect, learn and be inspired. Membership is monthly or annually.
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Blog Post #3-2022
Tone is a subject that most newish artists know about, but don’t fully grasp how powerful a painting tool it is. As one of our painting tools, it is I believe, the most important. When a painting lacks tone it lacks depth, unless the use of similar tones is the desired result.
As an art teacher I have seen so many students give tone a miss in favour of colour. They do colour well enough but have no regard for using tone, how powerful a tool it is and how it can carry a painting. Ever heard the saying that ‘a painting can have all the weird colours it likes, as long as the tones are correct it will hang together and read well’?
Art schools still teach black and white drawing first, for a reason. We all moaned about getting to use colour but until tone was understood and used proficiently we stayed working in black and white. I had the good fortune to attend a private atelier where my teacher was trained in just this method of painting. Tone was reinforced as the way a painting was modelled, by creating tones and sculpting the 3D form in paint on a 2D surface.
So why is tone so important? Tone is the muscle of the painting. If you take my analogy that “drawing is the bones, tone the muscle, skin is the colour” then it gives a useful image to relate to. Designing a painting to hang together means it needs to be supported by the other parts of the skeleton. Get the bones in the correct position, the muscle to do the heavy lifting and the skin to glow and shine. We sculpt these muscles in paint or other media, by using lights and darks.
Tone is described as the change of light, going from dark to light. To see this in painting terms, tone is shown on a bar, in a scale format, usually from 1-9. With No.1 being the lights at white, while No.9 being the darkest at 9. Tone is also referred to as value and so we have tone or value scale.
Tone can be referred to as shades and tints. Again we are dealing with light and dark. When a tone is said to be tinted it means white or light is added. When a tone is said to be shaded it means that it has black or dark added.
On the 1-9 tone bar the middle box is denoted as No.5 or tone/value 5. As the tones go up the bar toward black they are shaded with more black or more dark. From tone 5 going down the bar it is tinted with more white or light as it progressed toward No.1 at white.
When an artist understands how this relationship of light and dark works in a painting, then they are able to associate colour to tone and can move on to using light and dark colours, or toned colours to create with. As my teacher, Nan Paterson said “learn your craft then practice your art”.
So my artist friend, get out there and see what tone or value is all about. Learn as much as possible by practicing with it, get to understand how it works for you, as the muscle in a drawing or a painting.
best wishes, Karol
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Need to make a tone bar to help understand the use of tint and shade/light and dark? I have mini course available that walks you through making a tone/value bar for everyday use. In fact I make two in this video series, one for plein-air and one for the studio! Go to www.onlinepastellearning.com for this mini course using oils or pastel or acrylic.
Membership Group for artists of all Media:
www.theonlineartsociety.com home for artists of all media to connect, learn and be inspired. Membership is available by monthly or annual subscription.
Seeing Shapes in our Painting or Drawing Subjects.
As an artist it is really useful to be able to ‘see ‘our subject in terms of shapes. But just what does this mean?
Some visual artists can see the world as a series of intermingled or separate shapes, like a circle, square, rectangle, a free form puppy in the clouds, you get the picture. This is an inherent skill, it’s natural to them and makes the painting process quicker and simpler.
Most of us are struggling to grasp this concept let alone see shapes in our world. We have to learn to see shapes, learn to identify a shape of ‘something’ tangible. For instance, learn to see that the distant hills are all one shape, maybe a long rectangle, unified by a colour/tone.
The ability to break down what we see into shapes helps with the painting process. When we can identify the distant hills as a separate shape then we can assign the painting tools of tone, colour, temperature, edges, design and composition to them.
If we explore the idea that every object has a tone and colour, then every object has a shape. A single tree in the landscape is one shape. It might be as a child sees it, a lollipop, a stick with a circle or triangle on it. Then develop this idea further in a group of like trees with the same or very similar tone and colour, can be looped together to form a new shape. I refer to this as ‘lassoing’ a like group of objects, together, into a free form shape.
Imagine how this shape mapping would help with drawing up a subject! Have you ever seen a cartoon drawn up ready for tone and colour to be added? Not a Mickey Mouse caricature cartoon type, but a regular drawing up done for a painting. (It is called a cartoon.)
‘Cartoon' first designated “a design, drawing, or painting made by an artist as a model for the finished work.” https://www.merriam-webster.com
There are two painless ways of shape mapping that I encourage you to explore.
1. First is by squinting. Close one eye and half shut the other while looking at the subject. Note how parts of the subject, are distinguished only by tone. These parts can become a shape identified for the painting. Give the shape a name or a number, either way it is one recognisable part of the overall puzzle of shapes that make up a subject.
2. Second is an easy way to get to grips on this concept. Take a black and white paper print of a landscape that has some elements in it. Elements like a distant hill, middle hill trees, rocks etc. A reference photo that has some depth that would make a good painting. Then with charcoal or a biro even, have a go at linking, or ‘lassoing’ ‘like areas’ together into a shape. Remember these 'like areas' are similar in tone and colour. See what you could call that shape, say long rectangle, triangle on a stick….
Once you start to see how this works doors open, lights go on and ahh ha moments happen. A whole new world of painting just got simpler. I am one for asking why and ‘let’s see what happens if’, giving myself permission to go and be curios. I believe that curiosity fuels creativity. Ask yourself why and how and see what happens!! Use this concept of shape mapping in your planning for a painting or drawing. Use it to sort out tones and colours for your painting. Or simply to draw up from. Tell me how it works for you!
Want to learn more about shape mapping? www.theonlineartsociety.com/ scroll down to the bottom of the front page to view our course about Thumbnails Sketches. Shape mapping is explained and demonstrated as a part of this course.
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www.theonlineartsociety.com home for artists of all media to connect, learn and be inspired. Membership is monthly or annually.
Blog Post #1
As artists we are spoilt for choice when it comes to charcoal varieties. This organic substance has been used since caveman times and is considered the oldest drawing medium known to man. There are three modern types of charcoal we can buy:
2, Vine or Willow
1. Compressed charcoal
Compressed charcoal is powdered vine or willow charcoal with a gum or wax binder added and formed into blocks or rounds. It is also formed into thin rods that are encased into wood and sold as pencils which are then easy to sharpen to fine point.
There are grades of compressed charcoal from soft, medium and hard. The more binder the harder the charcoal which also determines how light or dark it is. The less charcoal powder and more gum or wax the lighter it is in tone. The binder in the mix of powder determines the degree of hardness or softness hence, lightness or darkness.
It is suggested that beginning artists go for medium grade, long sticks and break into short pieces. Use these short pieces for a variety of strong to light tones and thin to thick lines. The compressed charcoal gives deep, dark blacks that Vine or Willow by its very nature cannot. This charcoal also doesn’t erase from the paper.
2. Vine or Willow
What’s the difference between willow and vine charcoal? In general, you can say that vine charcoal is a bit lighter (greyer) than willow charcoal. Vine charcoal is slightly harder than Willow, it is more difficult to erase and has a slightly oily feel. Vine is thinner and straighter than willow. Willow has a range of thicknesses available and has more knots in the sticks. These knots may be annoying or accepted as part of the idiosyncrasy of this charcoal. The knots mean that they can break more easily or kinda get bogged by changing density. In using either of these, you will see that overall, the difference is not that great.
Willow branches or grape vine sections are stacked into an airless kiln and slow heated to make carbonised wooden sticks for drawing. These contain no binder, so they are powdery soft and at the same time brittle. Press to hard and the stick will snap!
Willow or vine charcoal sticks make a wide range of marks, thick and thin that can be easily erased. Use a putty eraser as a drawing tool. Using these sticks gives more control, more delicate nuances, they can be powered and applied with a brush, create gradations and delicate shadings.
It’s good to be remember that willow and vine charcoal are natural or organic products, and their properties (colour, tonal value) can differ from each brand, and also across every batch. Explore the different brands and see what happens, explore, and see what works best for you.
Powdered Charcoal is simply Vine or Willow, or a mixture of both, (brand specific) crushed into fine powder. It is sold in jars or pots ready to use. It has no binder in it and so stays soft and somewhat lighter than compressed charcoal. Layers can be built with this powder, and it can be drawn into with charcoal sticks or pencils. This powdered form of charcoal is used primarily for large areas of layering in tonal values which can give a base to work on with a soft and delicate look.
Traditionally used in drawing, the charcoal powder can be applied, erased, and manipulated in different ways. Such as with a brush, wet or dry, blending with a torchon or paper towel, erasing into it. Poncing is another method which uses powdered charcoal. I encourage you to look that one up as it might be a method that you can use in your art.
Other Styles of ready to use Charcoal
Highlight Charcoal Pencils
Highlight pencils sold as white charcoal are not really charcoal but some kind of chalk. They are not like pastel pencils which contain white pigment. They work with charcoal to add lights.
These are charcoal rods encased into wood for ease of use and sharpening. Pencil charcoals come in different sizes and weights and density, from soft to hard. They may consist of compressed charcoal, powdered Willow or Vine charcoal. Check the labels and ask questions.
Tinted charcoal refers to regular charcoal sticks and compressed sticks that have the binder tinted with a touch of coloured pigment. These vary across brands as some have more chalk in them or more binder/gum to create shades of grey. They may be in pencil or block form.
Do a little exploring and see who used charcoal to make great drawings. I encourage you to satisfy your curiosity and see just what can be done with charcoal and how it may work for you in your arts practice. Charcoal isn’t only for portraits. Search out charcoal landscapes from the 19th century, still life and animals. Check out the great artists who used charcoal; from John Singer Sergeant to Leonardo Da Vinci to modern day artists like Lynn Howarth, Caesar Santos and Harley Brown.
I haven’t touched on brands within these three groups. There are so many out there and each one will work differently, as well, as how it works on different paper styles. There are plenty to discover and maybe there is one that jumps out for you to try. For example, a drawing project with Guest Artist Lynn Howarth from Scotland, at The Online Art Society introduced us to Nitrate brand charcoal.
So, get going, try before you buy, ask your art group friends or at your local art shop too. Give this medium some attention and use it in thumbnail sketches, drawing up for a painting, or do a whole drawing in charcoal and explore its unique appeal. Post what you do on your social media and tag me in so I can see your creation!! My tag is @karoloakleyartist
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The Curious Artist Blog-
talks about everything and anything to do with painting.
It's my aim to share techniques, tips, tricks, adventures, products, paintings, educate, inspire and foster the appreciation of painting.
I welcome your feedback and questions and don't promise to post regularly, but to let you know when I do post .
I'l give it my best shot to answer your questions and if I can't I'll let you know. Gee I may even be able to give you the name of someone who can answer.
Either way this blog is about art, artists and everything to do with painting and drawing, being informative, heck maybe even inspiring, all aimed at making painting enjoyable. I sincerely wish you to join me on this adventure. best wishes, Karol