Those presky greys

The next step in my tonal exercises was to paint the cubes in the greys. I also needed to make a chart that I could hold up to the still life setup to measure the tonal values.

I was surprised at how difficult it was to match the greys on the grey scale. Mixing the paints took hours even then I wasn’t happy with them. I’ve left the cubes to dry – the oils are going to take a few days – they look like they’ll need a second coat anyway.

The chart wasn’t any easier. I mixed another set of greys and tried again. Still not happy. I kept going on this exercise until I felt competent. It has taken weeks.

The upside is that I can now mix those greys in about 45 minutes!

Grey scale

Another problem came up with the grey scale I was using. The more I worked with it the more I was convinced that it too geared to the light end – the differences between the lightest colours was too subtle compared to the mid tones.

I had been dithering for weeks about whether to send away for the Munsell Student Set. This issue did it. I knew the Student Set had a value scale, I also knew that the whole basis for the Munsell Theory was value steps that are spaced visually even. It’s scientifically done and tested. In short a scale I could trust. I sent away for it.

When the Munsell set arrived I started over. More charts. The one here is the latest. Not very elegant but the greys are good.

And I’ve finally put the second coat of paint on those cubes, sphere and cones.

Rules to exhibit by…

Maquette for artist's book

Maquette for artist’s book

I recently entered some of my art in the WA Printmaker’s Association Annual Awards. Not that I was expecting any awards since I was a brand new member without a clue, but there was the thought that the best way to learn about exhibiting in the real world would be to submit something and see what happened. What I got was a crash course in what not to do…

When I visited the exhibition I couldn’t find my prints. Why? Because they were hidden down the back, around the corner, in the dark. Why? Because they were printed on cartridge paper. Oops… I was taken quietly aside by several members, on both occasions I was near the place and lectured about paper. I was told quietly that they were only included at all because the images were so strong. At least that’s something. Still embarrassing.

Rule No.1 Cartridge paper isn’t good enough for the real world.

The second mistake I made was submitting three prints as a triptych rather than individuals. I thought this would mean they would be hung side by side. Wrong this means they were all put in one extra long frame, one above the other, like a totem pole. Yuk. Probably helped them get hidden.

Rule No. 2 Ask how things are done.

The other piece I submitted was an artist’s book. It wasn’t hidden down the back but had a lovely plinth with a perspex box over the top. Wow. It would have looked wonderful, except it was the wrong way up. The person looking after the exhibition couldn’t help me change it – we couldn’t get the lid off. Apparently I should have submitted a diagram showing what it should look like. At least it wasn’t cartridge paper…

Rule No. 3 Assume nothing. Document and label carefully.

My last faux pas (that I know of…) was the catalogue. The association decided during the exhibition to put together a photo catalogue and make it available on CD. An email went out requesting photos. How on earth? My stuff was in the exhibition several hours away. Not fancying the drive – I remembered I had other copies of the prints and a maquette of the book. Beaut. Unfortunately my photos weren’t very good. Especially after emailing them. Oops. Someone rescued me (or rather they wanted their CD to look good) and re-shot my stuff for me…

Rule No. 4. Take decent photos with good lighting. No snapshots.


Painting Big

A colourful new look to the rainwater tank at a Chidlow park in Western Australia



A colourful new look to the rainwater tank at a Chidlow park in Western Australia

A fellow artist needed an extra brush or two this week – when her commission to paint a mural on a water tank coincided with recovering from foot surgery.

Never one to miss a bit of fun, I volunteered with no idea that the project was going to take the best part of a week or that the acrylic paints would come in litre tins rather than my customary tubes or pots.

I needed a long soak for the aching muscles each night and plenty of band aides for the brush holding blisters – goodness knows how she kept it up! My previous mural painting exploits were years ago and indoor. Nothing like this.

We ended up with a picture in the local newspaper and an article in the local arts centre magazine. Which is about where the whole thing became unstuck.

Unstuck? Publicity is good? Yes? Well sometimes. Most of the article focussed on the fellow artist, which is as it should be. After all, it was her project. Then somewhere in the middle of it there’s this “The project provided an opportunity for the fellow artist to mentor Amanda in the process of creating a public art… bla bla.” Now I don’t know where that came from, or why. What I do know is that I didn’t sign up for mentoring. Grrr…

At least the painting part was fun. What did I learn? Never trust what gets said to reporters out of ear shot.

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.