How to stay motivated in the art studio

Recently I have noticed trouble maintaining my motivation to paint. I work a day job at a small rural community Public Library, where being motivated is rarely if ever an issue. I just do what I need to do and go home.  But at home in the studio it is more of a challenge.  it can be tough to stick to a working schedule when the reward is may not come for months, or even years.

For me I see myself as a marathon runner. At first it seems easy. as long as you put one foot in front of the other I will eventually arrive at my destination. but as you near the finish line the motion can be as if you are slogging through molasses.

I posted this quandary on my personal Facebook page. Here are some of the suggestions given to “…pulling yourself out of a funk and staying motivated”:

  1. Exercise
  2. Listen to Music
  3. Aromatherapy
  4. Use Incense
  5. Step away and try another art form
  6. Organize your studio
  7. Spend time with small children to gain perspective
  8. Give into the need for a break and relax
  9. Use Qigong
  10. Think positive thoughts
  11. Get out of the studio and get a change of scenery
  12. Meditate
  13. Wine or other alcoholic beverage
  14. Do research instead
  15. Stop trying to swim upstream, grab your camera and look for inspirational photos

Another activity that has been consuming my time of late, is knitting. Yea I know, what does knitting have to do with painting and fine art? Well I could elaborate on the fine art aspects of the craft but I will leave that for a future post.

If you are not familiar with the Knitting Guild Master Knitter program, you should go to The Knitting Guild Association website and read up. In a nutshell it is a three-level correspondence course that goes through the technical aspects of craft of knitting. Once you pay for the course you are required to do a slew of swatches and research to master the craft.

Misc. Knit Lace Swatches with Errors

Misc. Knit Lace Swatches with Errors

I myself am NOT signed up for the Master Knitter program. But when I first learned about it, I was able to poke around and find out the gist of what each level required. Since then, much of that information is not available online, so my lips are sealed! With a great deal of research and digging I came up with my own self-study program based on their guidelines.

So far I have completed a Level-One notebook and am in the middle of Level Two. I stopped working on it a year and a half ago, but I did dig out my notes and information the other day. I have also started a lace scarf I had planned on using as a gift. (Rethinking the gift idea after experiencing the learning curve of picking it back up)

TKGA Notebooks and Notes

Program Notebooks and Notes

So what is the reason for posting on this blog about knitting? I am questioning my past external and now internalized need to only focus on one or two areas of creativity. In fact we have a “Knitting Socks for the Absolute Beginner” ebook here at Artist-How-To Publications it is  also available at Amazon.com.

In the back of my mind I am considering rewriting or perhaps creating an entirely new publication involving knitting. Sometimes temporarily shifting to another activity helps to feed my creativity.

Over the past few weeks I have been re-releasing tutorials from the old site. A few of them include:

I also have been painting, and adding new work to the collection for an upcoming exhibit at the Bowlus Fine Art Center! The show is due to go up October 20th, giving me just over five more weeks. This is very doable! Wish me luck <3

Portrait OIl on Canvas

9X12″ NFS

Portrait OIl on Canvas

9X12″ NFS

Last month I showed how to make a simple light box with a cardboard box.  Here is another example, made from manila file folders.

A light tent can be purchased, but of course I prefer to just make my own.  Here I started with 2 discarded manila folders taped together so that they would stand as shown.  The extras are lying in front of them but only two were used for the main frame.

Folders are not terribly strong so you may want to use a thicker cardboard if you will be using it a great deal. Foam core works well, is inexpensive, comes in white and can be cut down to size.

In order to cut down on the yellow color coming through I covered the surface with 11” x 17” white printer paper by folding it over and taping it to the back.

Next a large piece of white fabric was laid down and over the top edge, press out wrinkles as you do.  I put a cloths pin on the top edge to keep it from dropping down, then folded it back over itself to drape over the top. I have seen folks use white trash bags, paper, tissue paper or whatever was available to get the desired effect.

I set up the tripod as shown in the camera testing example and then draped the material over the top of the camera.  This created a ‘white container’ to take the images inside.

After taking a few shots similar to the previous test, the image below was determined to have the correct setting at ISO 80, Macro setting, -1 flash.

Not bad, but I would like to get rid of the grayness of the white fabric.

 To do this I need to play with the exposure index.  After trying out -2 through +2 test shots this is the end result. I have to say that I like the change in the second photograph.

  

Continuing to experiment and see what works.

 

 

Just for comparison the image above was shot with Macro, -2 exposure, -.75 flash and a view of the image in black and white

  In my opinion the diffused light from lamp, on black, and same settings as above makes it appear much more three dimensional when compared to the other example. But I found some people preferred the images taken in the light tent and found it ‘softer’.

 

   

Hand blown glass paperweight shot in light tent compared to taken with flash on white background (paper towel)

Of course with some tweaking I am sure one could get much better shots here!

Surface Preparation of Canvas

Canvas is available in two forms, gessoed or pre-sized and ungessoed. Pre-sized, usually with gesso (acrylic medium combined with white pigment – very opaque, flexible and non-yellowing) and coated with a layer of white acrylic paint. The second is unsized, or ungessoed, canvas ready for surface preparation. Either you choose is available in many widths and textures. Many artists buy the sized and coated canvas (pre-stretched or by the roll), but then put on additional layers to further seal the fabric weave. Unsized canvas should be primed in all painting applications except acrylic staining, in which the canvas is purposefully left open and absorbent.

There are several techniques for surface preparation when dealing with canvas. If the canvas is already pre-primed with gesso and/or acrylic pigment, additional layers of gesso might be added to create a smoother and more even base upon which to paint. If you prefer an extra smooth finish, apply gesso over the pre-stretched canvas surface, making strokes in one direction. Allow it to dry thoroughly, and then apply a second coat in the opposing direction. If you use a soft brush, smoothing out obvious brush strokes as you apply the gesso, your finished product will be fairly smooth. But, if extra smoothness is desired, sand the surface lightly with light-grit sandpaper to remove any irregularities in the surface; then clean away dust with a soft cloth. If further smoothing is necessary, sand with sandpaper that is even finer.

Extra smooth finishes can be obtained by repeating the steps above. After the third or forth coat, begin to use finer and finer sandpaper, along with water, to polish the surface to a near glass-like finish. It can take up to eight coatings and sandings to achieve the extra-smooth finish loved by many fine detail artists who consider the effort well worth their time.

Raw canvas intended for use with oils should be sized with at least four coats of gesso. For use with acrylics in all techniques but staining, sizing (gesso, etc.) is also necessary. Application of the first layer could be done with a wide putty knife. The blade will smooth the gesso over the surface and work it into the weave of the fabric. Attempt to apply the gesso smoothly with the blade, avoiding ridges and oozes. After this coat dries, sand it lightly with medium sandpaper and clean with a cloth to remove the dust. Repeat the application/sanding process for two additional layers. Clean any dust from the surface and it is ready.
Although there is added effort involved in the preparation of unsized canvas, it is available in weights heavier than pre-stretched/sized canvas. This is especially helpful when the works are large. Thicker canvas stretches tighter for a smoother, more professional presentation and will not relax over time.

A further advantage to sizing your own raw canvas or resurfacing a pre-sized canvas is that you can augment the texture on the surface. If you want to create an impasto look, you can apply gesso thickly and build a surface. With thick, visible texture, less paint yields a richly applied painterly surface. You can also press textures into a thick, wet layer of gesso for unique textures. Some tools that are used for this method of surface preparation include crushed kraft paper to yield a broken, uneven, crackle-type surface; knife blades to create ridges and lines; and sponges to create a uniform but not smooth surface. Adding material such as sand, small stones or gravel, grasses, small twigs and the like to a layer of gesso can create some wildly textured surfaces that are unique.

Consider how fortunate we are to be able to pop into any art supply center and purchase acrylic gesso. The old masters were forced to create their own canvas preparation material. The ordeal began by melting animal hide glue (an organic product that turns rancid easily) and then combining it with powdered white pigment. This concoction was cooked in a double boiler until melted and well blended and then applied to the surface while still hot. It could only be used on wood or other rigid backings, as any flexible surface like canvas would allow the brittle surface to crack or break and fall away.

Hide glue surfaces cannot endure any blows or hard treatment and must be handled carefully. Despite all of these challenges, modern painters have begun a renaissance of this surface treatment method. Technique purists and oil painters that are trying to reproduce the look of old works are especially fond of the surface–purists because it hearkens back to the period of the masters and historical painters because of the “easy to age” surface. Today, paintings can be created that have the look of centuries-old pieces.

So if you paint on canvas (or canvas boards or Masonite), there is a surfacing method that could add new dimension to your work. Perhaps you are ready to add thick textures in the surface preparation. Perhaps you want to paint on an extra smooth, slick surface where every brush mark can be blended to perfection. Or maybe you want to begin to work on a new grand scale and want to know how to surface your own canvas. With today’s materials, there is a preparation method exactly suited to your needs that makes it easier and faster than ever.

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