Thursday, January 31, 2008

What increases your artistic productivity?

Drawing with Ease!
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I've been prompted by a couple of posts I read recently on a productivity blog (see links at end ) about organisation and increasing productivity to ask all my readers two things:
  • What's the one thing you do which increases your artistic productivity - BUT you've never read about it in a 'how to' art book?
  • Which recommendation for improving artistic productivity do you tend to ignore - because it doesn't work for you?
Go on - show off and/or 'fess up - either or both!

Here's mine

My tip for artistic productivity

People like to draw in all sorts of different ways. I've always felt that anything which helps anybody to draw should be encouraged. For those of us who experience various aches and pains, being comfortable while drawing is a very important way of increasing our productivity.

I have problems with both sitting and standing due to a genetic inheritance which impacts on my soft tissue (eg ruptured insteps) and leads to falls. The injuries arising as a result have only exacerbated the existing problems.

This means trying to find a comfortable way of sitting for long period can be a bit of a trial. ;) I sometimes 'seize up' while sat still in my drawing class! While out sketching I sketch - for short periods only - resting on my knees or at a table. At home, I've had major reservations about using either a normal drawing board or table or an easel. I can't stand still for lengthy periods and need to sit wedged against a desk!

So, I've tried and tested all sorts of possible solutions over the years. I started to make progress when I came across the notion of a lap desk.

Nowadays, all my art is produced sitting in a comfortable armchair. I can get comfortable and find it very much easier to focus and concentrate and easily get lost for hours in my work as a result. It works particularly well for my work with coloured pencils but can also work well when I'm working on a large support with pastels - although I then tend to switch to the sofa which acquires a protective cover over the sofa cushions to avoid accidents plus I have wet wipes to hand at all times!

How do I work in an armchair? Well I've worked out all sorts of ways of making sure that I can have my materials to hand and can work at a suitable height and angle without compressing the circulation in my thighs! Click on the image at the top for a close-up view of my imaginary perspective of what I look like! I think I may need to try this one again.... ;)
  • I sit in an arm chair with cushions supporting my lumbar region.
  • I have flat surfaces to left and right for drawing materials. I usually have the colours on one side and the rest of the drawing tools on the other.
  • 5mm foam core boards of various sizes are used as drawing boards. I use a board slightly larger than the size of paper I'm working on. Foamcore is very robust and extremely lightweight (It also makes a great drawing board to take on holiday as it can go in the bottom of the suitcase and doesn't eat into your weight allowance. Take two boards and sandwich all drawing paper inbetween to avoid damage)
  • the advantage of using a 'free' board is that I can twizzle the board around to make drawing easier as I follow contours or create patterns with my pencils strokes
  • I use and adjust a selection of firm and/or soft cushions and pillows on my lap to get the board at the right height and angle - which tends to vary with the size of the board.
  • I've been tempted more than once by a lap desk but haven't succumbed as yet as I haven't found one lighter than my current arrangement. You can find various versions if you put 'lap desk' into a search engine and I've included some links below. I'm just waiting for the bright spark who comes up with a lightweight drawing board which can be angled and is also fitted with a lightweight micro-bead bottom.....
What doesn't work for me

I'm afraid I'm not a huge fan of the inspirational artist books. I do know there are people who have found them enormously helpful for getting kick-started, continuing to make progress, moving up a notch and generally being productive - but somehow they just don't do it for me.

I think it's maybe because it all comes as a book with lots of pages whereas I think I prefer to read shorter and more focused pieces on a weekly basis in things like Robert Genn's Painter's Keys letters or Alyson B Stanfield's Art Biz Blog.


So what's your unique way of increasing your artistic productivity and which tip fails to 'hit the button' with you? If I get lots of interesting and really good answers I'll do a follow up post and link back to your blog - and any post in which you write about it.

I'd love to see your drawings of you being productive as well! :D


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tonight Matthew I'm going to be JMW Turner.....

A study of Turner's snowstorm seascape
coloured pencil on Arches HP, 8" x 10"

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Every now and again I try to emulate - in coloured pencil - a work of a master painter. I find it works extremely well in terms of making you really get to know a work. It also helps with understanding more about how somebody works. I don't mean literally in terms of the media used - but rather in terms of how they construct paintings and develop finishes and a 'look'.

Last night I needed a break from writing - so did a drawing based on one of Turner's works - limbering up for my project on Turner later this year! Emulating another artist's works always make me think of a television programme we used to have over here called Stars in their Eyes in which people impersonate singers. I never used to watch it (too painful!) but always remember the catchphrase "Tonight Mathew I'm going to be....."

This particular painting is part of the Turner Bequest and hangs at Tate Britain - you can see here. It's very appropriate for the time of year - being a snowstorm in a seascape. It's also got one of the longest titles for a painting that I've ever seen. It's short title, as used on the Tate website is "Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth". It's proper title is "Snow Storm - Steam-boat off a harbour's mouth making signals in shallow water, and going by the lead. The author was in this storm on the night Ariel left Harwich." Some argue this is Turner's greatest seascape.

What I always marvel at with Turner is how his later works could be hung in any contemporary art gallery and nobody would bat an eyelid. And yet this painting was completed in 1842 and
was exhibited at the Royal Academy in the same year.

I found the structure of the vortex interesting to do and finding a way of adding in just enough boat but not too much was tricky. It was also very interesting to note how the drawing and values worked in relation to the golden ratio - see yesterday's post.

Drawing this painting as a study also provided me with an opportunity to work with coloured pencils in the way I like best - and which I'm seeking to develop this year. This felt very comfortable to me but I need to find a way of working on my own reference material for landscapes in a more abstracted way. I might be practising a few more Turners to help 'get my eye in'.

One sour note - I discovered last night that one of my books on Turner (Turner - the life and masterworks by Eric Shanes) has really terrible colour reproduction on some (but not all) of the plates. Shanes is Chair of the Turner Society, an authority in Turner and an author of several books and I'm very surprised that he'd allow colour reproduction like this.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Composition - thinking in threes

The 'rule of thirds' is an approximation of the 'golden ratio'
A diagram comparison - using algebra and numbers of
"the golden mean" and "the rule of thirds"
plus identification of the 'sweet spot' area and how this can be used for the focal point
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
(click on image to download for free for education/non-commercial use only)

After 'Composition - the four most important lines' I was going to have 'focus on thirds' but I've changed it to 'thinking in threes' so I can highlight something else which is worth keeping at the front of the brain when setting up a composition.

Mathematics and art

How do numbers relate to art? Ratios and number intervals are important in rather a lot of famous artwork - just as they are in music.

I've always known that a talent for mathematics and music very much go together - in terms of conceiving patterns and sequences - but have sometimes wondered whether and how much of this translates over into art.

For example, quite a lot of artists seem to be really uncomfortable with numbers while I know a lot of classical art is based on ratios plus I seem to do a lot of visual counting ("too much/too little") and literal counting ( "how many inches?") every time I set up a composition.

This post covers some maths - but I also hope it's accessible to people who don't think they're any good at maths, while also providing detail for those who are interested. Just skip over the bits which you don't relate to and you'll probably still get the gist of what this is all about!

The golden ratio and rule of thirds

A ratio describes how one number relates to another. The most famous ratio used in art has various names and a simplified version for those who don't do maths.

It's been called the divine proportion, the golden ratio, the golden section, the golden spiral. The simple version is the rule of thirds.

It's actually related to a ratio which can be found again and again in the natural world. The golden ratio is approximately to 1·61803 39887 to 1 or 1 to 0.61803 39887. You can read definitions below in the boxes - but skip these if you feel mathematically challenged.

I've included a diagram at the top of the page which compares "the golden ratio" with "the rule of thirds". You can see and download a larger version if you click on it. It shows you the algebra. It also shows you how it works in terms of numbers. You'll note that the rule of thirds is an easy way of remembering the golden ratio - and also that they are not quite the same thing.

"The rain it raineth every day" (1889)
Norman Garstin (Newlyn School)
Penlee Gallery, Penzance, Cornwall
Garston's composition of this painting of Penzance promenade on a rainy day was much influenced by Japanese art. It also illustrates how you don't have to place subjects exactly on the sweet spots to help the composition - nearby can be fine.
The title is a quote from Shakespeare who used the phrase in ‘King Lear’ and ‘Twelfth Night’.

Definitions of the golden ration / section / mean

Here are two definitions - the first one from ArtLex
A proportional relation (ratio) obtained by dividing a line so that the shorter part is to the longer part as the longer part is to the whole. Another way to describe this: a proportion between the two dimensions of a plane figure or the two divisions of a line, in which the ratio of the smaller to the larger is the same as the ratio of the larger to the whole: a ratio of approximately 0.618 to 1.0
ArtLex - Golden Mean or Golden Section
and the second one from Wikipedia.
In mathematics and the arts, two quantities are in the golden ratio if the ratio between the sum of those quantities and the larger one is the same as the ratio between the larger one and the smaller. The golden ratio is approximately 1.6180339887....

At least since the Renaissance, many artists and architects have proportioned their works to approximate the golden ratio—especially in the form of the golden rectangle, in which the ratio of the longer side to the shorter is the golden ratio—believing this proportion to be aesthetically pleasing. Mathematicians have studied the golden ratio because of its unique and interesting properties.
Wikipedia - The Golden ratio

The golden spiral is an extrapolation of the golden ratio and is explained in the wikipedia article. I'm using a diagram of the golden spiral as as an icon avatar for Composition and Design - Resources for Artists

'La Coiffure' / Combing the Hair (circa 1892 - 1895)
oil on canvas,
114.3 x 146.7 cm
Edgar Degas
National Gallery London

The Sweet Spot

The sweet spot is where the lines intersect if dividing up both height and width according to the golden ratio or rule of thirds.

On the diagram at the top of this post I've shaded the space inbetween the intersections and circled the area which would be broadly be regarded as the sweet spot.

You don't need to know or understand the maths to know that placing a the focal point on or near the sweet spots (see the diagram above) is very likely to make an image very pleasing to the eye.

The ratio is used extensively in natural forms and lots of items in nature - such as Nautilus shells and the spiral within the seed head of a sunflower work on the principle of the golden ratio - hence the notion that this measure of proportion is divinely inspired. There are lots of examples of images of the golden ratio on Google.

"Combing the hair" , the painting by Degas, is usually studied because of its use of a particularly strong and striking colour palette - but it's also very interesting in terms of how it relates to the sweet spots. What I notice is that the changes in direction in the girl's elbows and the woman's hands and the small yellow vase on the table mark the outer perimeter of the four sweet spots while the girl's face and the hand and brush seem to be plumb on two of them. When you see this painting in person the colour and the length and direction of the main lines seem overpowering - but I find that my focus remains on the action of the hair brushing.

Tip: Use the sweet spot for:
  • areas within the drawing/painting which you want to emphasise
  • areas where strong contrast is being used to draw attention to the focal point
  • areas where there are changes in key elements of the drawing/painting - such as the direction and/or angle of a line, the beginning of a transformation of a shape - particularly if these are being used to guide the eye around the drawing/painting
Tip: After reading this post, refer back to my post about finding and creating the focal point for all the ways in which elements can be used and then see if you can find a painting and analyse how it works in terms of the focal point. If you post it on your blog please include a link to that post in the comments below.

Tip: the ratio and rule are useful guides - which can also be broken. Your drawing/painting is not a failure because you didn't follow this particulae guides!

Other sources

You can find more information about use of the rule of thirds in the links below and in the 'rule of thirds' module in Composition and Design - Resources for Artists. The photography links are particularly good at demonstrating how photographers use the rule of thirds to compose photographs.

Thinking in Threes

The other thing I wanted to emphasise around thinking in threes is an old adage which will be well know to gardeners planting out beds - and that's that odd numbers work better than even numbers when it comes to presenting objects. I've no idea why this should be other than that odd numbers tend to be more pleasing to the eye. Maybe because they tend to be easier to fashion into shapes which are also more pleasing or because they are easier to balance within the visual field?


Making a Mark Composition Project:
Golden Ratio / Rule of Thirds

Monday, January 28, 2008

Composition - the four most important lines

I have always been taught that the four most important lines in a painting are the edges of the paper or canvas which crop the image you are using as a subject.

There are various views about how to crop a subject and a lot that can and has been said on this topic. I've tried to touch on just a few of the issues to do with cropping below and have then suggested some tips at the end. I hope you find it food for thought!

Where to start

First base for most people learning about art tends always to focus on learning about how to use media - and consequently there's a huge tendency to focus on the more conventional and safe options for composition before contemplating how this might change as confidence in handling the medium grows. Sometimes people never ever get round to contemplating that there may be scope to change how they compose a picture!

Our thoughts about how and where to place those four lines is something which then often seem to change as we make progress with our art and mature in our experience, knowedge, perspective and practice.

It's also one of those topic areas which is often rewarding to revisit from time to time no matter how experienced or knowledgeable an artist is.

There is no right answer per se - but looking at how others have tackled this topic can often be very stimulating to our practice as individual artists.

Art History - containment versus creative tension

Although there is no right answer but there have always been different views as to how those four edges can be placed and this has varied over time and between different places.

You can read a useful overview of the history of pictorial composition and design by Nancy Doyle.

Questions and answers about where to place the four lines and what choices are available for how to crop the image also seem to depend in part on what sort of artwork people are used to seeing and how much they have experimented with different sorts of crops. Which is why visiting art galleries and museums - in real life or online - often opens our eyes to different ways of seeing.

One very obvious example is the way in which Japanese art had a huge impact on western art as Japan opened up and its artwork became available to a wider audience in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The style of composition, picture format and crop associated with Japanese wood block prints became a significant influence on many notable artists at the end of the nineteenth century. Van Gogh, Whistler and Degas were all hugely influenced by the work of Japanese artists such as Hokusai and Hiroshige. (More about this in a later post)

While reading "how to read paintings", I also came across something which was new to me.
The majority of paintings up to the end of the nineteenth century......correspond to the ideal of the closed composition. The main elements of the subject are placed in the centre of the picture. In particular, all the human figures are contained within this sector and are surrounded by space - an empty zone in which the motifs are less dense - between them and the edges of the canvas. This was very often exactly the case in Classical style paintings of the seventeenth century.....

From the end of the 19th century artists started becoming far more interested in opening composition up, leading to its almost systematic decentralisation.
extract from "How to read paintings" - Composition - The Interior of a Painting
At The Races - before the start (1885-1892) by Edgar Degas
oil on canvas

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (United States)

He then goes on to comment on how Degas compositions engage the viewer by unusual angles and crops which systematically cut figures off at top, bottom or sides. It struck me that much of what is taught as conventional 'rules' relates more to the classical style of painting and less to what Degas was up to!

Marion Boddy-Evans (the Guide for also comments about placing subjects in the centre in the top 5 ways to ruin a painting
Fried Egg Composition: It can be done successfully, but only rarely. When it's done badly, it's from the Fried Egg School of Composition (also known as the Bull's Eye School). Putting the subject or focal point of a painting right in the center of the painting, vertically and horizontally, is dull, boring, hideous, horrible. A viewer's eye goes straight into the center of the painting, takes in what's there (but not what's around it, towards the edges), and moves on to the next painting.
Marion Boddy-Evans Top 5 ways to ruin a painting
Filling the frame

I find it interesting to look at the work of professional photographers to see how they employ composition as the elements and principles used are intrinsically the same. Here's one example.

One approach widely advocated in photography is "fill the frame". Here's the results of a photography challenge to 'fill the frame'.
Fill the frame with as much of the subject as you can. This can be done by getting in extremely close, or simply changing your angle or perspective. Any distracting background is eliminated, and the image is much more intimate, viewed at an eye-to-eye level.
Composition Refresher by Theresa A. Husarik
Cactus #4
8" x 8", coloured pencil on Arches HP
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I'd love to do all my work from objects in front of me but the reality is I can't always stay long enough in one place or get hold of what I want from flower shops so it's an approach I use a lot when producing my small works for flowers and other botanical subjects. There are various photography websites which show you how to 'fill the frame' and what sort of impact it can have on your images as a result.

If you have a camera and like flowers, you can experiment very easily by just reading the section in the manual about how the macro button works! I took a bit of time to read that bit and therefore initially had to employ the cropping tool in PS Elements to work out the options using my own photographs.

Figures in Paintings

The implication of 'containment' for figures means that you tend to see all of the figure - which makes the figures smaller (or the painting larger). It brings a setting into play and places more emphasis on the context in which the figures are set. It also means that things like perspective of natural forms or the built environment become more important. Portraits by people who are proud of their homes often involves the home in some way in the background.

Alternatively the crop can portray only part of the figure and the background can disappear or become altogether less important. A neutral background helps to focus on the faces and what people are doing.

The key question is probably to ask yourself what role the figures play in a composition and hence which treatment might suit them best.

The picture format and ratio

Two very important things to think about when constructing your four lines are:
  • the picture format - either 'portrait' (longest side is vertical) or 'landscape' (longest side is the width). Conventionally images of individuals are cropped in a portrait format - but they don't have to be. Landscapes too are conventionally constructed in a 'landscape' format - but they don't have to be.
The Bird House
pastel 40cm x 28.5cm
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
  • The picture ratio - which is is the ratio of height to width. Whether viewing an image plein air and using a one form or other of viewfinder to find the most pleasing image or whether you are looking at a reference photograph or sketch check what the picture ratio is. Do this before starting to translate the image to paper or canvas and you can avoid a lot of wasted time while you puzzle out why the picture doesn't look right!
Some Tips - on picture format and cropping

Crop around or Cross through?
Think about the scope for containing subject matter or cropping right across it. Here are some different ways of experimenting with different crops.
  • Use a viewfinder when working plein air. Remember to walk around and try and find alternative viewpoints with different sets of four lines. Walk backwards and forwards ie zoom in and back up!
  • Do consider cropping across your subject matter but try and avoid creating a candidate for the 'funny amputations' album
  • Use sketching to try out different compositional formats and different ways of cropping an image. I find that
    • the more I sketch, the more I feel able to try out different ways of 'seeing' and 'representing' an image on a piece of paper.
    • if it's not going to be a finished piece, people are often feel more able to experiment.
    • if you don't want to "spoil a sketchbook", you have to get one that you don't mind spoiling!
  • Try out alternative options in a 'working drawings' sketchbook before starting. This is intended to be for experiments - it doesn't matter if it doesn't make sense to anybody else!
  • Back in the studio use your computer. Try using a digi photo and/or a scan of a sketch and then try using the crop tool in Photoshop (or other sofware) with different picture ratios at different sizes.
    • Take one photo and see how many acceptable alternatives you can produce. Repeat with another photo - and then remember to keep trying different alternatives every single time you use reference material.
    • switch to greyscale before using the crop tool if you want to work in value thumbnails.
Image format matters!
Think about how the image format relates to the format of your support. They must be the same format otherwise your drawing will become distorted as you try to fit the image to the paper.

In other words it's no good looking through a 6:4 ratio viewfinder if you are then trying to work according to a 10:8 piece of paper!

Here are a few tips:
  • work out what the ratio is on your camera's viewfinder. Tthe large screens on digital cameras are now very useful for trying out different crops before starting work.
  • check to see if you can change the format of your photography on your camera
  • if using a photo as a reference then check its format first
  • take out homemade viewfinders with you which have a different format. Common ones are 6:4, 7:5, 10:8. These can multiply up to working in common formats eg 12:8, 14:10 and 20x16.
  • use the rule of thirds as a guide (coming soon - in a post later this week)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

27th January 2008: Who's made a mark this week?

Derwent Catalogue - Artists Pencils spread
including my drawing of Ashness Bridge

Who made a mark this week and what's the above picture all about?

Well - small toot and a 'tada' - that'll be me and the drawing that Derwent commissioned me to to do for the 2008 Derwent Catalogue which was published this month. Derwent have done a good job of reorienting their catalogue to make it much more consumer oriented and attractive. Each set of pencils now has a complete colour chart on its profile page - including all 120 colours of the Artists Pencils which I used for my work.

My drawing - shown above in the catalogue - is of the world famous Ashness Bridge in the English Lake District. You can read more about the work I produced here Ashness Bridge - my drawing for the new Derwent Catalogue.

My work is on page 2 and also on pages 12-13 of the brochure (10-12 of the pdf file). I even get a personal mention in the news section of the Derwent website (if you page through) and the reason why they chose my work for their catalogue. (I must speak to them about the mispelling of my surname on the website though!).

If you're interested you can now download the 2008 catalogue. (3.22MB pdf file) . You can also see work by other coloured pencil artists including Bob Ebdon, founder of UKCPS and a recent convert to blogging with UKCPS News.

Congratulations to....

  • Armand on the 4th birthday of Moleskinerie and the First Annual Moleskinerie Exhibition being held to celebrate it with a retrospective of selected works from friends and supporters around the world. Armand invited me to participate - for which many thanks - and I committed the cardinal sin of not dealing with the request straight away. I remembered I needed to get my images and details off to him and then my laptop hit the skids the next day! So hopefully we'll sort that out for the future. In the meantime take a look at the exhibition.
Art Blogs
Tumbling Down
10 x 14 - mixed media on watercolor paper
Karen Winters 2008
  • Karen Winters is absolutely having a ball with both oils and watercolours at the moment. I loved this post about painting a waterfall - Tumbling Down. You can see the painting she produced as a result - but the most important bit is the description of how she did it.
  • Michelle Hendry in Muskoka, Ontario has a fascinating post about the use of limited palettes and Field colour on her blog Artscapes - Musings on Art and Life. She also explains about making a field colour chart and has an example about more painting with field colour. I've already talked to Michelle about this concept and we'll be revisiting it during the colour project on this blog later this year.
Field colour is a colour method that was used by the Masters from the Renaissance right through the 19th century and has become less common since the rise of Impressionism.
Do any of you know any of the blogs highlighted in the arts and crafts section of The Bloggies? I don't! Click the link and then scroll an awfully long way down the page to get to the blogs which have got through to the final five of each section. Somebody please explain to the person who designed the site how to use hyperlinks and anchors!

Art exhibitions
Art history
Art materials and supplies
Art scams and fraud
Art spaces
  • see Marissa Lee Swinghammer's - and baby Blee's - handmade art space on the Modish Spaces blog. You can also see more handmade spaces where the handiwork of artists and crafters gets done. One day I'll be taking photos.........................(and I'll stop fibbing too!)
Art videos

Not one, not two but THREE videos about Wolf Kahn. These are:
Websites, webware and blogging
and finally - sketching and small works

A french painter produces portraits of his fellow Metro travellers while travelling. He uses a lip gloss tray for small dabs of oil paint and uses a Metro ticket for his 'canvas'. Read more about Luc Grateau and his 1,000+ mini-portraits here.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Resources for Art Lovers - Hockney, Turner and Hokusai

A Turneresque sunset
coloured pencil, 4" x 4"
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Yesterday I published the latest in a series of sites I'm developing for specific artists I've studied or will be studying this year. These are:
I comment on these below - together with comments about a couple of tasks involved with setting up a new lens
  • Each new lens requires a mini picture. This needs to be clearly associated with the subject of the lens but also recognisable when small - and hence distinctive within the lensroll. I've started doing my own mini versions of something distinctive about individual artists and I've included new icon images for four lenses in this post.
  • At the end of this post, I've included a tip about the use of tags for all those people who are developing their own squidoo lenses.
I hope those who are interested enjoy the new lenses.

David Hockney - Resources for Art Lovers

As a number of people will be aware I rather like David Hockney and have posted about him, his portraits, his exhibitions and his sketchbooks on this blog a few times.

The new site provides the holy grail - otherwise known as the link to his authorised website which I spent years looking for on the internet! There exists a small group of Hockneyphiles - of which i'm a member - who swop links to good sites about Hockney when we find one and these are included too (but please do check to see if I've left any out inadvertently).

The icon for this one was kick started by the graphic format used for the title of for his book about his early years. I just couldn't work out how to do a mirror reflection of the letters so did this instead!

J.M.W Turner - Resources for Art Lovers

This is an artist I'm aiming to study later this year - although he'll probably crop up earlier in relation to both the composition and colour projects. It includes enough links to be published but will be acquiring more as the year progresses.

I'm rather pleased with my rather loose Turneresque sunset (see top) and am quite taken with the idea of trying a few more! I think Turner's style is going to work very well with my preference for optical mixing. It also works rather well as an exemplification of some of the elements and principles of design!

Hokusai and Japanese Art - Resources for Art Lovers

As I indicated in one of my weekly posts, I published two lenses in December which relate to the next project on Japanese Art, Ukiyo-e and Japonisme.
However, as of yesterday, I finally managed to get rid of their squid icon images and they acquired their own images for their iconic pictures and so have now been added into my Group Lens as well - Artists in History - Resources for Art Lovers.

I've used the Giant Wave for the Hokusai lens and another of his works - a view of Mount Fuji - for the Japanese Art lens.

Crops of images of the 'Great Wave' and one of the views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai
4" x 4", coloured pencil

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I think the thing which I find interesting about the icons as tinypics is that it really reveals which are strong images - in design and composition terms - and which 'lose' the viewer irrespective of the quality of the work used. Of course, this is a lesson which can be equally applied to artwork

A tip for those developing Squidoo lenses

My main reason for using and publishing squidoo lens is so that I have a safe and organised way to store all my links to topics I'm interested in. And everytime I have a computer which fails I'm thankful that I now am able to store information outside my computer. So I'd be using this webware even if it didn't publish to the world at large!

However I also like sharing information and it's always seemed pretty silly to me to collect information for future use if you don't then share it around with those who are interested if there is an easy way of doing this. Which there is and therefor it's what I do - and why you see the links to the squidoo lenses in the right hand column of this blog.

The importance of 'tags'

One of the interesting tasks when publishing a lens is to think about which 'tags' to use so that others interested in a topic can find a lens.

Tags work in much the same way as categories or labels on blogs - tags are one of the things which help to get your lens found by people interested in the topic. Search engines like them as they effectively act as key words - so long as they match content and are a way of the search engines finding the sites most likely to satisfy the search queries. See these two posts for why labels are important when using Blogger
In Squidoo, you can have up to 40 tags for each lens.

At the outset I try to think of all the ways I'd describe the topics covered in the lens and include what seem to be the more important ones as tags. Periodically I then do a review of all search terms used in the previous 30 days by people who have visited the lens and compare these to the tags in use and revise as required. You'll find that the traffic screen in the admin section for each lens provides the data about how many people use which terms.
  • To find your tags: check the right hand column in 'edit' mode and then click on the 'edit' icon next to the tags
  • To review the statistics and traffic for different search terms - click on 'check my statistics' in the toolbox or access via the dashboard - and then review the traffic menu. Stats for the last 7 days are shown automatically. Use the drop down menu to change the number of days of visits you are viewing.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Drawing A Head - 24th January 2008

Drawing a Head - 24th January 2008
pen and ink on Daler Rowney Heavy Cartridge,
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Last night in my 'Drawing A Head' Class, I took a larger piece of paper and set myself a challenge. Three views of the same head - in pen and ink - and no outlining. I had to do all the studies by drawing the value structure using smallish strokes. Here's the result.

I've included an enlargement of one section so you can see how it works.

The trick I find is to stroke in the direction of the contours - if that makes sense and to set up a rhythm so that you can hatch very fast with equal distances inbetween strokes.

I hatch close together for darker values and wider apart for lighter values and then cross hatch only where I need to give more sense to the contours or need a darker value.

I had about 35 minutes for the first one (top), 45 minutes for the second (bottom left) and 30 minutes for the last one (bottom right). However I was sat very close to the model for that last one and was looking up at him and I think as a result I've left an impression of an elongated head!

I was using an Edding 1800 profipen 0.3. This has pigment ink which is lighfast - which means it's feasible to consider selling work done in pen and ink.

I think I'll need a small supply of these with me if I draw a lot more with it as I was beginning to hammer the point by the end given the very large number of very small strokes in these drawings.

You can see other posts relating to my 'Drawing A Head' class by clicking the 'drawing a head' category. in the right hand column

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Composition and Design - finding and creating a focal point

This post is about how to create a focal point in a picture. It provides a synopsis of various approaches used by artists to find and create a focal point.

I'm afraid it all looks a bit list-like at this stage however I'll be saying some more about parts of it as this composition project progresses during 2008.

Why have a focal point at all?

"Emphasis" is one of the design principles. Providing an emphasis on a particular part of a painting will lead the eye to what the artist wants the viewer to see.

What is a focal point?

The focus of a picture should be about the reason why you wanted to paint it. So for example, when working plein air it should focus on what attracted you to a particular view and then held your attention. In a still life, it might be whatever caught your eye in a 'found' set-up.

ArtLex provides the following definition
focal point- The portion of an artwork's composition on which interest or attention centers. The focal point may be most interesting for any of several reasons: it may be given formal emphasis; its meaning may be controversial, incongruous, or otherwise compelling.
ArtLex - focal point
How is a focal point achieved?

When viewing a drawing or painting, the viewer's eye is led through the work. How the eye moves depends on how the eye scans visual information, cultural factors and how the drawing or painting has been designed using the elements and principles of composition.

How the eye tracks visual information: Those countries which read from left to right train the eye to scan anything visual from left to right. This usually means that people from 'western' cultures (ie the Americas and Europe) tend to look at artwork produced in the west in the same way - from left to right. (Incidentally, people normally scan information on your website or blog in a similar way (but in an 'F' shape). You can read more about this in Jakob Neilsen's eyetracking research in relation to websites).

Cultural factors: In countries where the eye is trained to read in a different way (eg right to left) I assume that they will also tend to enter and leave a picture in a different way to 'western' eyes.

How to create and design a focal point

Leading the viewer's eye to the centre of interest can be achieved in a number of ways.

Greg Albert also feels that an artist needs to attract the mind of a viewer. He suggests the use of dominant features which he calls compositional 'magnets' - something that provides an "irresistable attraction that pulls the viewer in".

He also defines the focal point and centre of interest as follows
Magnets for the viewer are of two types: a focal point and a centre of interest. The focal point of a painting is the spot that attracts the eye of the viewer because it is visually appealing. The centre of interest is the spot that attracts the mind of the viewer because it is intellectually appealing.
Greg Albert - The simple secret to better painting - Pleasing the eye
Here are some of the ways to attract the eye and the mind.
  • use the principle of the 'divine proportion' - a 'natural' mathematical ratio exists which is sometimes referred to as the 'divine proportion', 'golden section' or 'rule of thirds'. Use this to find the 'sweet spots' in the picture (not to be confused with the place your the tennis raquet which makes a return a winner - which is also mathematically determined!). This will be the subject of a future post in this project
  • introduce a dominant feature - use the design principle of 'dominance' to emphasise one of the elements eg. colour, size, shape, mark, etc. Ways in which you can do this are indicated below.
  • use a high degree of contrast. Consider this in terms of the elements of design - I'll use the same order as in the blog post last week
    • in tone - eg. where the 'darkest dark' is next to the 'lightest light'
    • in colour - eg. complementary colours - which are opposites on the colour wheel. This is one of the reasons why artist often choose a palette for a painting which features a complemetary contrast of some sort.
    • in luminescence - This is a variation of colour and tone eg where a light source seems to have a different quality. It explains why people like looking at sunsets. Muted colours/tones contrast with light/bright colour. Similarly in a picture full of bright colours, your eye will look for the quiet spot where it can take a rest.
    • in form or shape - eg. within a picture of circular or speherical objects a square/cube instantly stands out. This uses the design principles of repetition and variety.
    • in size - eg. where a very large object is next to a much smaller object
    • in space - eg. where two or more objects are closest together - or furthest apart. You always notice the gap in a sequence or when a part of an ordered sequence or a recognizable pattern doesn't quite fit with the rest. I've always found that patterns in the landscape which exist but are underplayed can often be very helpful in leading the eye but without shouting 'follow the pattern'. Try thinking of furrows in fields or ruts in paths or lines on a road.
    • in texture - juxtapositions of different textures draw the eye - eg. shiny (glass) and matt (pottery), solid (rocks) and liquid (sea)
  • introduce 'symbols' which viewers will instantly recognise and/or will want to try and relate to in some way.
    • viewers are naturally drawn to people in general and their faces in particular. For example, adding a small person into a large landscape instantly creates a focal point for the landscape. Your brain automatically scans a portrait for the same sort of visual clues about a person that you would do when meeting somebody in real life. Eyes, mouth, facial expression and how the head is held all provide important clues.
    • numbers also hold an attraction for the eye
    • symbols - icons or signs - which usually tell you what to do - eg a an arrow pointing to an object generally makes your eye follow where it is pointing. An arrow like shape eg a positive shape (a triangle) or negative shape (eg the crossing of two diagonals) works in the same sort of way.
  • Use line - to lead the eye in and around a flat artwork. For example, lines which follow the natural tracking path of the eye help to lead an eye in. By way of contrast, lines which act as shapes which cross the path of the eye effectively act as 'blocks' to the eye moving on. Somehow a line (eg a path in a landscape) which originates in the bottom left feels more comfortable than one starting at the bottom right.
Aids which help to find or create a focal point

Aids exist which can help you to find a focal point within a visual plane.

These include the following tools. Your individual preferences will probably determine which one(s) work best for you. You may like all or none!
  • a viewfinder - you can see the one I use from time to time in the 'drawing aids' section on the 'art materials' page of my website.
  • A camera's viewfinder can be used in much the same way - although you have to mentally insert the third lines. I sometimes take photos and then study them in the screen to see what the look as 'thumbnails'
  • A mirror can be used to look at a view or a composition in reverse. It's often a very neat and simple way of working out whether or not you can clearly see a focal point
  • tools to find and assess value and tone
    • thumbnail sketches in 3 values (or 5 values) - see Composition and Design - Resources for Artists for tips on how to do this as the blog post about how to do this comes later!
    • Use the Notan approach to focus on values and the impact of positive and negative shapes with different values. You can learn a little more and also see how I worked with value studies last year in Learning about Notan #1, #2 and #3.
    • reducing a digital image of your work down to a thumbnail size often provides a check of whether the value pattern is registering
    • converting a digital image to greyscale values also helps to identify whether the focal point is lost when you do this
    • Artellmedia provide a software programme called Artworks Basic - which seeks to aid composition. I'd show you a screenshot but having just upgraded to Vista when I got the new laptop I'm not sure whether it's compatible or whether they've got the upgrade ready - so I'll get back to you on that one. I'll also be referring to it again when writing about the 'rule of thirds'. One of the useful things it does is to reduce colours to mono and then into value gradations.
    • Adobe Photoshop Elements enables you to reduce a reference photo (or a scan of your work so far) to up to 8 values using the cutout tool. This is what I've been using for my notan work - and the blog post on that will follow very soon! I've been using it since version 3 and I'm now on version 6!
A checklist for finding and creating a focal point

I'm also intending to create a composition checklist. It's in draft at the moment and the short form, when completed, will be available to download for free as a pdf file from my website. I'm also investigating an e-publication for the more detailed versions. I'll come back and update this post when I've got that aspect progressed further.

Sharing about your own experinces can be very helpful to others so please do comment about what you find most useful.

Also, if you'd like to identify any omissions (I just know I'm going to have left out something really obvious!) or additions please use the comments facility.

All artwork copyright Katherine Tyrrell - all rights reserved.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What should artists do about marketing their art in a recession?

Waterlily - notan in colour
coloured pencil on Arches HP, 5" x 5"

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Since my own close call with Northern Rock and the sub-prime crisis, I've been reading the financial pages on a regular basis and then saying to anybody who'll listen that the financial and property markets and money matters generally were going to get a lot worse by the end of 2007 and that there might be the equivalent of a financial blood bath come the end of year results in January. Well, on Monday, it arrived and Wall Street approached meltdown.

What I've also been reading is what seems like an increased number of blogs posts about marketing art in the first three weeks of January. While some of the these have been due to the fact it's the beginning of the year, it seems to me that the rest have been associated with or have also been anticipating
  • a significant downwards shift in 2007 (and 2008?) of gallery sales and attendance at the trade fairs associated with selling decorative art in both the USA and UK
  • the unfolding of the impact of the credit crunch on the property market (falling values everywhere) and everybody from the clearing and merchant banks, through mortgage and credit companies on downwards to the individual. (which led to the 'Monday Massacre' - where there was a major financial panic)
  • what the BBC referred to as Carnage on Wall Street as loans go bad before yesterday's somersault.
This is emphatically not a blip in the market. If we all stop still and look for long enough, we are all staring at a recession in the making. Confidence in the marketplace is plummeting - on a global basis and many traders are biting their nails.

[Update 24.01.08. It's now clear to me that this post would have benefited from a preamble which indicated that one's perspective on the current situation is likely to vary depending on where you live and the extent to which your local economy will feel the impact of events in the USA - see the comments for more about this aspect.]
The United States has now effectively entered into a serious and painful recession. The debate is not anymore on whether the economy will experience a soft landing or a hard landing; it is rather on how hard the hard landing recession will be. The factors that make the recession inevitable include the nation's worst-ever housing recession, which is still getting worse; a severe liquidity and credit crunch in financial markets that is getting worse than when it started last summer; high oil and gasoline prices; falling capital spending by the corporate sector; a slackening labor market where few jobs are being created and the unemployment rate is sharply up; and shopped-out, savings-less and debt-burdened American consumers who — thanks to falling home prices — can no longer use their homes as ATM machines to allow them to spend more than their income. Indeed holiday sales in the US were much lower in real terms than in 2006. As private consumption in the US is over 70% of GDP the US consumer now retrenching and cutting spending ensures that a recession is now underway.
Nouriel Roubini's Global Economic Monitor -
Europe Will Be Hard Hit by the Recessionary Storm Now Sweeping the U.S.
The scope for defaults on loans of every sort from money market bonds to credit card bills is truly frightening. Yesterday the talk was all about the ripple effect around the world - or what happens when the US economy catches a cold. You can find more analysis of this on the BBC website's analysis of the Global Credit Crunch and yesterday's Financial Times article The worst market crisis in 60 years.

How does this all affect art?

Well anything which impacts on homes and stimuli for changes in decoration (like house buying and selling) and the amount of 'free' money which is around to spend on and invest in art is likely to have a very major impact on sales of artwork in 2008.

Plus, let's face it, at the end of the day unless you're involved in high end investment art, most of the art which is bought is actually purchased to decorate a home whether or not the artists who produce it would like it be called "decorative art". Which means both galleries and sales can be very vulnerable to economic shifts. It's just not the sort of thing which people buy when their financial status is uncomfortable or possibly under threat.

What are the possible strategies for artists in a recession?

I'm not active in 'pushing' my art within the art market - however I am very interested in the conundrum of what this all means at the moment and I have lived and managed through a recession before.

So what are the alternative options for artists? "Fight or Flight" is a dilemma for both investors and those marketing art at the moment.

Here's a few options for you to ponder on
  • move upmarket: One option which a number of artists are thinking about is moving upmarket - towards the people who still have money and won't feel the pinch quite so badly.
  • move out of galleries: Any gallery owner who says his sales won't be affected by what's happening should be avoided in my opinion. No matter how charming and nice they may be, naievete is not an asset in the current situation. Galleries will almost certainly become major casualties in a recession. You want to be doing business with those who are market savvy. Those who have experienced and ridden out previous recessions and know how bad it can get probably have 'war stories' which are worth listening to. Artists in galleries definitely need to make sure that they have reviewed how much of their business is vulnerable to the well being of their galleries, how much stock they have in each gallery (I've heard about and read a few stories about how getting stock back when a gallery goes bust can be really time-consuming) and they also need to know or find out which ones are doing well - and which ones aren't. An alternative to getting out of galleries is working with gallery owners to reposition supply and marketing in the current context.
  • get into direct selling: artists can maintain similar income levels on lower turnover if they're able to market and sell their work effectively and on a direct basis at gallery prices. It's time to think about what might be the most cost-effective opportunities in terms of direct selling from art fairs, studio, online galleries/sales sites (etsy/e-bay etc) or direct selling by an artist online (through website and/or blog). The key here is probably to work out how to differentiate 'product lines' - the type and size of of work and how well received it is. You don't need to sell all your work direct - but you might well find it cost-effective to sell a part of it direct.
  • create opportunities for the risk averse to feel good: This is important - we all need to feel good when life starts to feel a bit riskier. Think about those people who are risk averse. One of the things that can happen if a recession does bite or people feel nervous is that they won't risk the expense of moving. However they might well decide to freshen up their home as the next best thing. The 'DIY' craze took off during the last recession precisely because people knew they couldn't afford to switch away from 'secure' jobs or move homes.
  • invest in effective marketing - Marketing is about analysis as well as advertising. Know your markets and understand how they are changing. Then work out how you can raise your profile without blowing your budget. Remember that people who have bought from you in the past and 'word of mouth' is the cheapest and most effective way of your art coming to the attention of new customers.
  • manage your debt - and that's your own personal debt (avoid headaches - they dent creativity) and any debts owed to you. While I know it's not possible for everybody, my own personal preference is to live a life style which is far from 'flash' but which means I am and can remain debt free. However I had a father who often used to say 'Never a borrower, nor a lender be'......
What do other people think about marketing art?

Here are some posts from various blogs about marketing that I've been reading
  • Alan Bamberger ( writing last November was very clear that The Art Party is Over and - more worryingly - was predicting that past investors will shortly be flooding the market with art as they sell up.
Art is generally the last item added to someone's list of discretionary expenditures when times are good, and the first to be lopped when times turn tart and those discretionary dollars commence to curtail.
Alan Bamberger - The Art Party is Over
SELLOUT is a dialogue about every practical aspect of being a visual artist--from saving money to resizing jpegs, and everything in between. It is more than a professional advice aggregator and hot-tip provider. We want any information we provide to be fleshed out as anecdote or called out as bullshit.
About Sellout
Now over to you. What do YOU think about the current situation and what sort of response are you planning?

Note on the Waterlily Notan:
I'm enjoying experimenting with both composition and levels of abstraction using photographs I took of flowers last summer (I rushed out on days when it wasn't raining!). Digital manipulation can really assist with working through compositional issues. I'm doing a series of small single flowers using the cut out function and I'm rather liking the way the simplification makes for an image which is a little bit more abstract. If you'd like a post about how I do this let me know in the usual way.