How to Paint Great Still Life

In a word – symbolism

According to an article that I read,  artists today just seem to place items in their paintings that seem randomly chosen. OK, so this is a problem – why? If the items look good together what’s the harm?  I guess the real question is – what’s the point?  I must admit that I have often wondered why someone would paint a beautiful bouquet and then place a skull beside it but each to their own. It would seem that there is a point to this and here’s what I learned by investigating how to paint great still life.

These are some of the common symbols that you probably all know:

  • Roses are typically a sign for love but a faded rose love lost or fading beauty.
  • Butterflies in flight reminds us of resurrection.
  • An hourglass is time slipping by.
  • A skull – death.
  • Bunches of grapes – symbolizes the Holy Communion.
  • Cup and bread represent the blood of Christ and His body.
  • Apple – original sin.
  • Whole lemons suggest fidelity. Half-peeled lemons warn that life isn’t always sweet but sour as well.
  • Oysters and shells are usually associated with sensual desire although scallop shells or clams symbolize the Virgin Mary.
  • A knife signifies that life is fragile.
  • Lobsters suggest abundance. Other types of fish could represent the bounty of the sea.
  • Gilt and silver dishes, brass serving stands show wealth and ostentation.
  • Mice symbolize decay.
  • Clocks and watches remind us that life is short.
  • Grapes can symbolize fertility and salvation but also remind us of the dangers of debauchery.
  • Whole peaches – truth; split peaches – human excess and frailty.
  • Plums symbolize loyalty in Christianity but could also suggest a costly pleasure.
  • Cherries could suggest sweetness of good works as well as fleeting sensual pleasure.
  • A gourd means the pursuit of luxury.
  • Rotten fruit is a symbol of aging.
  • Foods in general like fruit, vegetables and meat when depicted as fresh symbolizes abundance; where, decaying food reminds of immortality or coming change.
  • Money, purses, jewelry and boxes, mirrors and glass balls all suggest vanity and narcissism.
  • Feathers stand for hope, faith and charity but can also represent freedom.

This is not an exhaustive list but symbolizes how important it is to research your subject beforehand. Whereas it is nice to paint a lovely still life composed of objects that are esthetically pleasing, to get the full effect of a work of art it should emotionally impact the viewer.

Following is a video of a commissioned work.  What was the person who commissioned the work hoping to convey to his restaurant clients with this painting?

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Do Artists Live Charmed Lives?

It is true that for the most part I am in a state of contentment when I paint but there are frustrations as well as the disappointments. There is hard work and many, many hours of learning and practice.

There might be people who from the first time they pick up a brush are able to make amazing art but this was not my experience. While taking an on-line 42-week art course, I literally spent an entire week just laying down brush strokes on relatively cheap water-color paper. I would upload an 11 x 8.5 sheet of paint marks only to be told I needed more practice (which I did) and so I would start another sheet.

In the beginning, I was so frustrated with painting in acrylic that I didn’t think I would ever get it. I was given paintings to duplicate as best I could in different styles. Here are a couple of my earlier works that bring a smile to my face.

little stream indian paint brushes

 

 

 

 

Then came the time to put the brush strokes together to create my first original painting. This was actually the second attempt at the same painting but the one I submitted as my final work for marks.

Field of Daisies

This remains one of my favorites of which I wouldn’t change much.

Since that day, I have painted more than 100 paintings and logging thousands of hours. But the work doesn’t end with the creative process, there is also the marketing side as well as the web site work. In addition to being the artist, I also have to be a webmaster and a marketing specialist. Traffic will not come just because you build a web presence –it takes work and patience to build a following or even to get noticed.

Being an artist is easily a full-time job that can have crazy hours and sleepless nights just like any job.  It is all too easy to neglect social contact when the mood strikes and the creative process is working well. Being an artist can be lonely.

There is a certain discipline needed to keep the work fresh and you must constantly improve on your skills. I take a risk each time I try something different and bare my soul to the world each time I show a painting. Yes, I do have fun and enjoyment at times and obviously think it worth the trouble but it is by no means a charmed life.

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How to Paint Roses

Sometimes the technique is so simple it makes you wonder why you didn’t think of it.  That’s what I thought when I saw the following video.

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Lessons Learned From an Art Sale

display brickworksSetting aside the debate of should one sell art in a yard/garage sale setting and at reduced prices; there were lessons learned in doing such a sale.

I can say that having more than one artist involved whose work compliments one other instead of competing was a great idea. The event was more of a test the waters experiment and it that respect it was successful.

  1. Pick a weekend where there aren’t festivals and other events competing for customers.
  2. Perhaps Father’s Day weekend wasn’t the wisest choice.
  3. Make sure your event is visible from both directions of the street.
  4. Invite friends and relatives to make a crowd because people attract more people.
  5. Advertise more and start earlier. Include pictures in ad if possible –perhaps making flyers.

Jewelry and poster artThe sale was not a huge success but it certainly wasn’t a failure either. It was worth the try and worth trying again.

 

 

This little gem of mine sold: Fall creek

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Is It Wrong to Sell Affordable Art?

Selling Affordable Art

apple blossoms

Diane’s Poster Art

The debate continues: Is it suicidal for an artist’s career to cut the price to reflect the current economy?

I’ve heard all sides to this argument: That to sell for less is to devalue the art as well as running the risk of not being taken seriously. This of course is an abbreviated version as there are many arguments for and against selling for less and even (dare I say it!) reducing the price.

So the dilemma is do I want to have my art sit around in storage with a high price tag or do I want to sell it making a small profit but happy in the knowledge that someone is enjoying the art.

I guess the answer depends on the artist’s reasons for making art in the first place. In my case, I love to paint and it makes me happy when someone likes my work enough to spend money on it. Of course I would love to make thousands on my work but like any career time and effort are most often the forerunners of a profitable career.

If you liken the career of artists to actors then we all know that the most famous of our stars did not command the high salary in their first role.

This Saturday, June 14, 2014, a fellow artist, Diane Naiker, and I are combining our art works in a sale. Diane makes wellness jewelry and art prints and posters with images she has taken and some are digitally enhanced. My contribution is original, unframed, acrylic paintings priced to sell.

Diane’s art posters can be viewed at http://fineartamerica.com/art/all/diane+naiker/all and my art at http://lmacdonald.ca/store/store.html

The events starts at 9 am and runs to 1 pm and is located at the corner of Upper Paradise and Sanitorium Road. (316 Upper Paradise Road).

This is an amazing opportunity to buy one of a kind art at very affordable prices. Do come!

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Hamilton’s Bayfront Continues to Inspire

Walking the  Bayfront Trails

On Sunday my husband, son and I took a wonderful walk on Hamilton’s Bayfront area. The park never ceases to inspire me as an artist as well as an amateur photographer.

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Hamilton really is a beautiful city especially near the Bay. For years the city has been known as a stinky steel producer but with the steel industry largely gone the focus has shifted. The Bayfront park area is an enormous tourist attraction for boating, canoe racing, site-seeing, camping, fishing, skating (both ice and roller), and various events throughout the year. It is also a wonderful place to enjoy a meal, a coffee or an ice cream.

Another area that’s really taking off is the James Street North Art Crawl. This is by no means the only art area because Locke Street has its own festival as does West Dale. Born in Copenhagen, I have always found that old world attraction to Hamilton with its distinctive architecture and its beautiful harbour.

There is nothing better to inspire an artist than to spend a day watching the swans guarding their nest, the geese parading their young across the roadways holding up traffic, seagulls gliding gracefully over sparkling water, sailboats moving silently on the horizon or sitting quietly on a bench listening to the water lapping against the shoreline.

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Wood Panels Versus Canvas

fallBarnBecause we are in the early stage of packing up for our move, there is little time to experiment with new techniques or trying a different style; therefore, this week I just tried a new medium – a wood panel.

I’ve been told that wood panels can really soak up the paint but I did apply some gesso first. I found the medium wonderful to work with in that it is a solid surface unlike canvas where you can get lines from painting over the stretcher bars.  The wood panel did seem to splinter a bit so I wonder if the quality of the panel wasn’t the best. There were wood fibre being dragged through the paint giving the art interesting texture. All in all, I liked the way this painting worked out. Although I thought that I might have to do many layers to bring out the richness in color this wasn’t the case.

Canvas shows the weave through the painting but wood if left un-gessoed could show the wood grain. I’d like to try that sometime! It all goes to personal preference.

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How to Transfer Image to Canvas

image transfer

Image transfer to canvas

A week ago I learned how to do an image transfer to a canvas.  The process is not hard but there is a lot of idle time waiting for layers of gel medium to dry.  This time could be used working on another project, sipping wine (tea) or chatting with a friend.

Here are the steps to making the transfer:

  1. Print an image using a laser printer (color or black and white) to the size of the canvas.  If you don’t want a margin around the canvas make sure the image fits to the canvas edge.
  2. Using gloss gel medium and a 2-inch brush apply a generous layer of the medium to the paper image and let it dry.  (A hair dryer may be used to speed up the process).
  3. Apply 2 more layers in the same way using a variety of brush strokes for a bit of texture and drying in between gel applications.
  4. Once the paper image is completely dry then apply a layer of gel medium to the canvas surface.  Immediately apply the dried image picture side facing the wet canvas and smooth all the bubbles out of it similar to hanging wall paper.
  5. Allow this to dry completely.
  6. Once dry add water to the canvas and paper and very gently start to rub the paper off the canvas.  Do this with minimal finger pressure to make sure that you don’t rub the picture off too!
  7. Keep applying water and rubbing gently as the paper starts to pill (peel) away from canvas leaving behind the image.  This is a slow process that is going to take patience.
  8. Other instructions say that you can run water over the canvas and this works well for getting the pilly stuff washed off.  If you are using a stretched canvas on wood then soaking the canvas can work but I had a cardboard backing on my canvas that didn’t take well to being wet.
  9. While the canvas was still wet the image looked fine but after drying it went completely cloudy.  Don’t despair!  My friend used walnut oil rubbing it gently over the image (again be careful not to damage the image).  You only need a bit of oil on the fingers because it will stretch far and you are to keep rubbing carefully until your image shines.

I didn’t have walnut oil at home so I wondered if olive oil would work instead and it did beautifully.  Another friend went over some areas touching up with paint and adding accents to her transfer.  She also did more than one image transfer one on top of the other.  The sky’s the limit!

 

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When Art Goes Wrong What Do You Do

Sometimes it’s great to let the paintbrush loose to see what you get especially on a piece that is beyond all hope of turning out the way you intended.  Recently I did a small painting that I had high hopes for but that didn’t work out the way I planned.  It was beyond tweaking and so I gessoed over it and started something new.

funky night scapeI read one time that if you paint strictly from imagination you will produce the same scene over and over again.  This is true of my still life.  Once I painted a flower vase with (well, what else) flowers in it and it turned out quite well.  I think though that I keep trying to improve it because I have done a number of similar paintings.  After my second attempt at this small painting I realized that there it was again, the same blue vase with similar flowers and I laughed at first… and then you guessed it, I gessoed again.

That’s when the paintbrush took off on its own.  Why not have some fun, after all, the canvas was destined for the trash anyway?  I started to apply various color combinations in an abstract way with a palette knife.  The pattern itself would have made an interesting painting but then I thought it needed something recognizable on top.  Well, that didn’t work out so well either.  By this time I had very thick and I might add wet paint slathered on the canvas so, I took a brush and started to smooth the paint out.  This resulted in multi colors running together in what turned into a sort of plum-colored back ground.

I really didn’t know where to go from here but then I took the pointed end of the brush handle and started to etch a cityscape into the thick layers of wet paint.  That produced a weird but strangely interesting art piece.  To really pop the cityscape out, I painted in a m0on with a haze around it in a dark sky , some windows dark and some with light and the bench.  I don’t think I’ve had this much fun since my childhood finger painting days.  Sometimes it is great to abandon all common sense, all restraints, all methods, all rules and just play.  I think I’m going to keep this little experiment around!

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