Firstly, I should point out that I’m not always down at the art shop looking for new things. I’m actually a bit of a stick in the mud – preferring to use what I have and hope to get better with more practice. Sometimes I get pushed… and the dominoes effect does the rest. I’ve been comparing notes with Paul over at Learning to See and he said that he prefers to use brushes called “brights”. I thought they sounded interesting but couldn’t think that I’d seen anything like that at the art shop I usually go to. Thought no more of it.

Then I was looking for information on an oil primer that could be cleaned up with water (I’m allergic mineral turpentine – seriously so!). I’d heard that Art Spectrum made one so I was Googling – hoping for a data sheet. One of things I found was a page by them called Oil painting without solvents. Very interesting…

Among other things on the info sheet was a discussion of brushes – mentioning brights and their ability to give “crisper, harder edged brush marks”. Hmmm. About time I thought about these a bit more.

The problem is they’d have to be synthetic too. I don’t use animal products.

So I Googled around a bit and found a brand called Neef – who make a stiff bright synthetic- advertised as “allows for tight control in strokework, smaller sizes can be used for detail or highlight work. Due to the ease of control this brush is ideal for the beginner. The stiff synthetic has the firmest spring”. Beaut. Time to order. Mail order would do – I knew that my art shop wouldn’t have them.

Anyway as a follow up to this I did a bit more Google magic and found that there is a supplier in Perth – an art shop called Murray Gill Fine Art Provisions. I had never heard of them. They’re in Subiaco which is a long way from here. Never mind, we were having a day out maybe this could be the first stop. It turned out to be fun, a great little place with lots of different brands to those I usually see. I’ll definitely be going back.

What did I choose today? A few more Neef brushes – rounds this time. And this little wooden brush support for when you need to put a loaded brush down for a second.

Brushes on a brush rest

Brushes on a brush rest


Linocut tools

Linocut tools

Linocutting tools

Since I had them out to play, I thought I’d snap a picture and show my linocutting tool kit – even though there’s not much in it – someone may be interested…

  • two tools: a small v and a gouge out of a set of Japanese wood carving tools. I do have the set but only tend to use these two. I also use them for woodcutting so I’m careful to keep them sharp. Sharp tools are easier to use and safer too.
  • a strop kit to keep the tools sharp, I use this one but any strop would work. Small is fine because the tools are small. Clear instructions came with my kit but there are also good instructions in this thread at the Wet Canvas forum (go down to the third post by Willamette)
  • a small piece of the rubbery stuff that goes under floor mats to stop them slipping – any department store should have it. I “borrowed” mine from under the mat in the hall… It works better for me than a bench hook (shown below) – mine is home made from scraps of MDF and works just fine. I’ve simply come to prefer the bit of anti-slip mat.

Linocut bench hook

Linocutting bench hook

Beyond that that you need good lighting, a comfortable chair and some good music. It can be a long process on the bigger or more intricate blocks – please take care of your back by not hunching over. Remember to take regular breaks to stretch.

That’s it… happy linocutting.


Munsell madness

Munsell cubes

Munsell cubes, cones and spheres

My UK friend Paul Foxton is working through the tonal experiments too. Excep

t he’s doing a much better job of it than I am. If you want to know more about it you can check my archives to see what I’m doing. Or even better check out Paul’s blog.

Paul recently put up a post showing the cubes and spheres he made for the exercises. I couldn’t resist sending a photo of mine.

And being something of a pedantic fool I had decided that cubes and spheres alone wouldn’t make a balanced composition when it came time to paint the pictures. So, I found some styrofoam cones at a craft store and painted those in the Munsell greys too, just to round it out. Think about it… Since when should composition matter in an exercise in painting tonal values? I figured Paul would get the joke.

I think he did, ‘cos next thing I find he wants to put it on his website and share my lunacy with the world. Is that OK with me? Fine, but I’d better’ fess up here first… so here you have it: Munsell madness.

Life – drawing in colour

I’m hoping for a little fun at life drawing this week. I work mostly in pencil sometimes charcoal. I quite like the woodless graphite pencils too – except I dropped my new one. Oops. Warning: those things are really brittle and once broken into small pieces are useless.

This week I’ll be trying some Faber Castell Polychromos pastels. They’re harder than a normal pastel but not really hard like I had imagined. More like a Conte crayon with colour. Lots of colour. A whole rack of colour. I didn’t buy a box but rather went through the rack and selected ten more muted colours: ochres, pinks and grey blues and green. The sort of colours I imagined I would use for a life drawing. Then bought a cheap little plastic box to keep them organised and voila – a beginning.

Polychromos pastels in a plastic box

Polychromos pastels

Why so good you ask? Alright you didn’t ask but this is my blog so I’m going to tell you anyway. Most sane people don’t get so excited over a few fairly dull pastels.

One of the problems I have with colour is that I love the bright colours but don’t actually use them. I mean I have a veritable box full of lovely media like Pitt pens, pastel pencils, watercolour pencils and even a small box of soft pastels. Some I chose myself, others were gifts. All collected up over time. Mostly untouched. I really love the colours but when it comes down to it I don’t use them.

Time and again I take something different along to Life Drawing but reach for the charcoal or the stumps of my Conte pencils instead. Dull colours like black, grey or sanguine. What gives? It’s happened too many times to be forgetfulness. I think. I can’t remember.

I don’t think I’m afraid of colour. Not with sculpture or paint anyway. Just drawing. I thought about it and figured that maybe everything I have is just too bright. Too unlife-life. So on the recommendation of a friend I headed off to the art shop (any excuse) to look at Polychromos. This time, I showed great restraint and chose only the more muted colours. Just ten. Enough to experiment, not too many to get scary.

I can hardly wait until Life Drawing this week. I think I’m on to something.


Greyscales and cubes

As a first step toward getting control of tonal values I’ve swapped the white ceramic platter I’ve been using as a palette for a piece of glass. Under it there’s a sheet of masonite cut to the same size and painted mid grey. To be absolutely sure the grey was correct I used Liquidtex Grey No.5. Also sitting under the glass is a greyscale – showing the values from white to black. What next?

Jeffrey Freedner suggested I buy or make ten wooden cubes and spheres and paint them from white through the grey scales to black, then paint small still lives of them. This exercise was recommended by Graydon Parrish and he reckons it is a great exercise to do no matter what level you are at.

Another similar idea was to find objects around the house to represent the same simple shapes: cube, sphere, cone, cylinder. Then set them up, separately and together, with a good strong light source at a 45-degree angle. Look for the value steps in the objects and draw them. This suggestion looked easier because it would be easier than trying to make the wooden cubes and spheres.

In fact I’m going to do all of the above…


Wooden cubes ready for painting

The styrofoam spheres and cones came from the craft store. Cones? Why cones? Well I had this thought that if I’m painting still lives of these things then a little attention to composition wouldn’t hurt. Three items grouped would work. (Since when should composition matter in a tonal exercise… nuts!)

Now for the gesso.