Category Archives: painting instruction

The drudgery work behind the scenes of being an artist. Packing, framing and shipping.

This is the time of year which finds me packing, framing, and shipping.  My paintings travel from coast to coast, and even overseas!  It’s important to make sure they arrive safely.

Shipping unframed paintings in these shiny pink envelopes gives the customer a nice surprise. The painting is inserted in a clear plastic bag (to prevent water damage), secured between between two pieces of cardboard to give added support and inserted into the bubble envelope for even more protection.

My flat pieces generally are packed in my signature shiny pink envelopes.  I put them in a clear plastic bag, add the shipping information, secure them between stiff cardboard, and insert the whole deal into the envelope.  Larger paintings are wrapped similarly but put in boxes.

Framing a 16 x 20 into a standard size frame. Using Z-clips makes it very easy. I actually took another painting out of this frame which demonstrates the benefit of using standard sizes.

This is also the time of year to prepare paintings for exhibits.  One advantage of painting standard sizes is that I usually have standard sized frames available.  If not, I might slip another painting out of a frame to use.  This is also the benefit of using neutral frames.  In my case, usually black, white or gold with very simple profiles. It’s been a long time since I’ve selected special frames for each painting as it gets very expensive.

Alley, Belgravia Court, Louisville. Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20, Kit Miracle This is the painting I showed a few weeks ago. The simple frame is versatile and will suit many painting subjects.

Beginning arts professionals often don’t realize that they may spend about half of their time doing the mundane tasks behind the scenes – framing, preparing canvases, paperwork, shipping, delivery – than actually spent in front of the easel.  The final exhibit or sale is the icing on the cake.  I think this is probably true for any arts professional, not just visual artists.  Being a successful artist also means being a good business person.  Paying attention to procedures, cutting costs where you can, and making your customer happy it what it really takes to make a living in the arts.

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Pen and ink, a test

I’m teaching a class next month for flower painting with watercolor and pen and ink.  I’ve been using this technique for about 35 years now so I might have learned a thing or two about the subject.

A few of the pens that I used in the most recent test. Top to bottom, India ink and a #4 quill dip pen, my favorite Platinum Carbon Ink pen, a Uniball Vision Elite, Lamy Safari, Shaeffer calligraphy, and a brush pen with ink.

In preparation for the class, I dragged out all of the accumulated pens that I’ve used over the years.  I first started with the old fashioned dip pens and India ink.  This is still a tried and true favorite.  I use a #4 quill and used to buy them by the dozen as I tend to wear them down. (Or a #102 crow quill.) I like the feel of the quill pen and the slight variance of the lines as I draw.  However, there’s often the problem of an errant drop of ink on the paper, which, being India ink, cannot be removed and is difficult to cover up.  Also, when I was doing house portraits and using a ruler for some straight lines, the ink would sometimes wick under the ruler, again, spoiling the painting.

Several years ago, I began exploring other pens.  I’ve tried many of the mechanical drawing pens but they were too difficult to clean.  Some commercial pens were nice but the ink faded over time.  I’ve actually done some tests in the south-facing window of my studio and some of the inks faded totally away!

My current favorite is the Platinum Carbon ink pen.  These are wonderful pens with cartridges, never seem to clog, and are very affordable.

Several others that I tested in this sample are the Lamy Safari, Faber Castell, a brush pen, and whatever else I had.

Samples of various pens and inks. The blurred samples are where I dragged a brush loaded with clear water to test the fastness of the ink. As you can see, they’re not all the same.

After drawing the test sections, I let them dry completely, and then passed a brush with clear water over the lines. As you can see, some of the inks are not waterproof at all.  This could be a problem for artists who do the ink drawing first before they add the watercolor.  In my case, it wouldn’t matter too much as I always start with a quick pencil sketch, paint the watercolor, then add the details loosely with the pen and ink.

This test paper has been in my window for 16 years. On the inside of this piece, I tested several commercially available pens as well as the standard India ink. Some faded totally away while some others held up surprisingly well.

Anyway, if you’re interested in the class, there are still some openings but it’s filling quickly  Here is the link for the signup. Flower Painting Class.

search my blog for more posts about using pen and ink.

Painting close to home

Garden in August, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20, Kit Miracle

Visiting new places is always fun and inspiring for artists, but many of the best paintings have been made close to home.  One of my favorites is one that Renoir painted of Monet in his garden.  It’s just a homey painting of a backyard with other houses in the distance.

Renoir painting of Monet in garden

Today I decided paint a scene that I see every day from my breakfast table. It is of my garden this month with the tall sunflowers and multi-color zinnias and other flowers.  The rest of the garden is still producing but is beginning to look a little straggly this time of year.  We’re still getting plenty of tomatoes, eggplants, beans, and peppers.  But it’s the flowers that I really love. The birds and butterflies love them, too.

Garden in August. The sunflowers and zinnias are in full bloom. The vegies are still producing heavily. Lots of tomatoes, eggplants, beans and peppers.

I got out early to take advantage of the cool morning and the shade.  The canvas is primed with a beige color and painted black on the border.

Garden in August, step 1. Here I have generally covered most of the canvas. Notice that I’ve edited the trees in the background to provide more interest.

The first step as usual for me is to lay in the general composition and the dark colors.  As you can see, I did some editing, removing the line of trees in the background and just including a few big trees.  I also squashed things together a bit for the composition.

Garden in August, step 2. More blocking in plus I’ve added the sky and most of the foreground.

Next I laid in more darks and some brighter greens as well as the sky.  I wanted a rosy early morning sky….so I made one.

Actually the most difficult part was painting the flowers.  It is so hard to get them bright without being gaudy.  I ended up painting a light wash of pale green over some of them to tone down their brightness.

The entire painting took about three hours minus some time for a phone call to a friend while I was waiting for paint to dry. The point here is that you don’t have to travel a great distance to find something worthy to paint.  A good subject might be just outside your window.

More spring flowers

Spring bouquet of azaleas and bridal veil bush, watercolor, pen and ink, 10 x 14, Kit Miracle

The flowers keep coming and I just can’t seem to paint them quickly enough.  The past week I’ve been working exclusively in watercolor with pen and ink. This allows me to loosely capture the beauty of the flowers but add detail with the pen and ink.

Red Azaleas, watercolor, pen and ink, 4.5 x 6.5, matted to 8 x 10, Kit Miracle

I always sketch the flower arrangement first, then add the watercolor.  When that is completely dried, I add the details with a Platinum pen and carbon ink cartridge.  Sometimes I still use the dip quill with India ink. I can even use a plastic eraser to remove some of the pencil lines without disturbing the painting.

Lavender Azaleas with Ruffled Edges, watercolor, pen and ink, 6.5 x 4.5, matted to 10 x 8, Kit Miracle

These paintings are usually done on quarter sheet watercolor paper, 140 pound, Arches or another quality paper.  They are 10 x 14 inches with a ½ inch border or I divide the paper into four sections.  The smaller paintings are matted in museum grade soft white mats of 8 x 10 inches with a foam core backing.

Blue Phlox, watercolor, pen and ink, 4.5 x 6.5, matted to 8 x 10, Kit Miracle

Flowers this week include a branch of dogwood, an arrangement of some lovely salmon-color azaleas with fronds of bridal veil.  Smaller paintings include Greek Valerian, Blue Phlox, more varieties of azaleas and whatever else I find blooming.  The season is often so short that I can’t capture everything I want to paint but I give it a good try.

Branch of Dogwood, watercolor, pen and ink, 10 x 14, Kit Miracle

Branch of dogwood flowers for painting

Spring flowers. This is a selection of flowers that I painted recently. I’ve picked up the little vases over the years at resale shops, and even our farm dump. Everything is useful.

View the details of these paintings on either of my Etsy shops.  KitMiracleArt or My90Acres.

Spring Flower Explosion

Columbine, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

After a roller coaster ride of weather conditions the past two months – we had 80 degrees on one day and blizzard-like conditions the next – it seems as if spring is finally here…with a vengeance.  Suddenly, all the spring flowers are blooming.  A quick walk around the grounds reveals spring beauties, violets, irises, bluebells, azaleas, columbine, sweet William,  the end of the daffodils and narcissus, lilacs and more that I’m sure I’ve overlooked. Oh, of course, the fruit trees are all in bloom, too.

And I’m trying to paint them all!

Violets, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Here are three samples of yesterday’s work, all done in watercolor with pen and ink overlay.  For efficiency, I use a quarter sheet of watercolor paper (about 11 x 15 inches), divide it into four boxes of 4 ½ by 6 ½ with margins between and surrounding.  I tape the whole thing onto a board and then hand sketch each subject.  This is the same technique that I use for the fruit and vegetable paintings.  I have been using this method for about 30 years and it works for me.

Columbine, demo, working on four paintings at once.

Then I paint each sketch with watercolor.  The tape around the edge is enough to keep the heavy paper from buckling.  When the paint is completely dry, I then add an overlay of India or carbon ink.  I like my Platinum pen with the cartridges, but my first love is a quill #104 with India ink.  As you can see in the photos, each painting is slightly different although the subjects are the same.

Blue Bells, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Today’s sample of flowers for painting. Violets, blue bells, columbine.

The little paintings are matted in museum-grade off-white mat with a foam core backing.  Yes, they’re for sale on my Etsy shop, my90acres.  Mother’s Day is coming.  Get a 20% discount on everything in the shop until May 13th.

Painting with A Limited Palette

Abiquiqui, Georgia O’Keeffe’s home, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, acrylic on canvas panel, 12 x 16, Kit Miracle

How many colors do you actually need on your palette to create a painting?

In truth, you probably need far less than you think. Some time ago, I marveled at a young artist who bragged about using 37 different colors.  My first thought then, and still, is, “Don’t you know how to mix colors?”  Maybe he does now.

My current color palette consists of six colors plus white.  This isn’t a hard and fast rule because I’m a sucker for a new color just like anyone else.  But this seems to work for me.

Acrylic palette currently in use

The hues that I currently use are:

  • Titanium White
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Prism Violet
  • Quinacridone Magenta
  • Cadmium Red Medium
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium

I seemed to have weaned myself off of Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber and Sap Green.  But really, this is enough.

I like bright colors and can mix pretty much anything from this small group.  It also makes it very easy to transport for plein air painting rather than dragging along a whole sackful of paint tubes.

The paints displayed are all acrylics.  I’m leaning toward heavy body (thicker paint) and plan to replace the next selections with them.  When I initially tried acrylics, I wasn’t too pleased with the quick drying properties and the fact that I couldn’t “sculpt” the paintings.  However, I have adjusted my working procedures.  Textures are easily obtained if one can wait just a little while before applying new layers.

Acrylic palette in use. Disposable plate.

As you can see, I’m using disposable plates for my palette.  (I hate to clean palettes!)  I can spritz them with water and cover them up for the night.  It works for me.

And cleaning brushes used for acrylics is a must.  Immediately.  They do dry quickly and you don’t want crusty brushes the next day.

So, this is the color palette that I’m using these days.  This may change.  What do you use?

Abiquiqui – Framed, Georgia O’Keeffe’s home, New Mexico, 12 x 16, acrylic on canvas panel, Kit Miracle

By the way, one is not allowed to take photos inside Georgia O’Keeffe’s house and studio.  After touring the home, I had to drive back just to take these photos from the outside.  Love the adobe buildings and brilliant blue sky.

Flower Market – Provence, France

Flower Market, Jardin du Sur, Uzes, Provence, France. 16 x 20 on red-toned canvas panel. Kit Miracle This shows the final painting. I have sharpened some of the details and added more. I deliberately did not concentrate on the white labels for the flower pots as I thought they would be too distracting. Overall, I like the painting but it seems a bit busy.

Small Flower Market, Uzes, Provence, France. 16 x 12. Kit Miracle Final painting. I like the way the path leads the eye to the main figures. Plenty of color but it works for the subject.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to bike through Provence, France.  It was the opportunity of a lifetime.  I fell in love with the area.

One of our stops was in Uzes at the Jardin du Sur.  This was wonderful open air flower market on a very hot Sunday.  I spent quite some time there, sketching, taking photos, writing postcards, and, of course, buying a souvenir or two.  The flowers and the people were so inspiring.

A few weeks ago, I was going through the old photos and my journal when I came across these references to the flower market.  I decided to create the larger painting first which is on a red-toned canvas panel.  After I was finished with it, it seemed a bit too busy even though I had cut out many details.

Then I decided to do another painting of the same scene but just a close-up of the two main figures. This was on a canvas which I had toned fuchsia!  Yes, really!  I think I like the second canvas better but what do you think?

Anyway, if you’d like to see a step-by-step, visit this page where you can follow along on both of the paintings.

Painting on a toned surface

50 Cents, farmers market still life with contre jour lighting (back lighting). Acrylic on canvas board, 20 x 16, Kit Miracle

My studio is an old summer kitchen about 30 feet from the back door.  It was built to keep heat out of the house, therefore it is not insulated.  In the winter I often work with a hat, two pairs of socks and multiple layers of clothes.  Despite the old leaky building, I worry about breathing paint fumes from the oil paints.  Even though odorless turpentine is supposed to be, well, odorless, it isn’t.  And even if it were, I would still be exposed to the fumes.  Not good.

So when a friend recently gave me several canvas panels, I decided it was time to try something new.  These panels are all 16 x 20.  I don’t usually use canvas panels this large but why not?

I decided to work on my acrylic painting skills and toned several of the panels in red. (See the links at the end of this post for other pages about using toned canvasses.) I like using red as little bits peek out, adding a lot more life.

At the Flea Market, acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20, Grafton, MA Kit Miracle

Acrylic paint has some of the best and worst properties of watercolor and oil paint.  It is water-based and dries quickly.  It is also has the opacity of oil paint along with texture.  But it requires a lot of planning and forethought before you can even begin the painting process.

Farmers’ Market Bounty – in process. Notice the loosely drawn vegetables. The actual painting is much more vibrant than the photo shows.

Farmers Market Bounty, acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20, Kit Miracle

These four paintings were created relatively quickly.  I deliberately used larger brushes and aimed for the feel of the subjects rather than fussing over too many details.  The subjects were from photos that I took at some farmer’s markets and flea markets last year.  I also thought it would be interesting to paint some crowd scenes.  Anyway, I’m pretty pleased with the results.

Check them out below. Check out my Etsy site for more details photos.  Yes, they are for sale.

I always welcome feedback.

Saturday Morning at the Farmers Market, acrylic, 16 x 20, Kit Miracle

Other links.  Painting on a Toned Canvas – Step-by-step. 

Also, search for toned canvas for several other posts about the subject.

Watercolor with Pen and Ink – Part 2

Sunset in watercolor with pen and ink. This is a quarter sheet of Arches 140 pound cold press paper, I juiced up the colors a bit. Click on the painting to see more detail.

Last week I discussed some of the intricacies of creating paintings with watercolor and pen and ink.  This week I will go into more detail.

Support

I always use top quality watercolor paper. This is at least 140 pound pure rag paper.  I like Cold Press which has a little tooth.  Some people like the Hot Press which is very smooth.  Rough has a very rough texture and is a little difficult to draw on with a pen.  Of course, heavier paper is fine.  Lighter weight paper tends to buckle and is not so good for water media.

The paper is usually divided into quarter sheets (a full sheet is 20 x 30 inches) and is taped to a board.  You can use a drawing board, heavy plywood, or some other heavy support.  If I use a full sheet of paper, I “stretch” the paper and staple it to the board.  It actually bends the ½ inch finish grade plywood that I use!

This is a demonstration of the steps I take for creating a small watercolor with pen and ink. I use this method for most of the fruits and vegetables which appear on my Etsy shop, my90acres. I divide this quarter sheet of watercolor paper into four rectangles of a little more than 4 x 6 inches with some space left between the squares.

Drawing

I start out with a rough pencil sketch done with a #2 pencil.  In the case of architectural elements, you may wish to add more detail but generally keep the sketch loose.  You don’t want to get to the point of coloring in the sketch.  Also, beware of erasing too much or of bruising your paper.  This will mark you paper so that when you apply the watercolor, it will soak into the paper, leaving dark marks.

This is the painting of the Falls in plain watercolor before the pen and ink is applied. As you can see, it is a very nice painting and stands on its own merits. Reminds me somewhat of Winslow Homer.

Painting of the falls at Bald Mountain Tennessee. This watercolor has had the pen and ink applied to it. Check out the detail to see how loosely the ink part is done.

Close up view of the painting Falls at Bald Mountain. See how loosely the ink lines are drawn.

Painting

I always use Winsor Newton artist grade watercolors. I apply the paint starting from light to dark, making sure to keep the white areas free.  I do not use any masking fluids.  Try to paint in bigger strokes and not get too fussy.  You may need to let the paint dry between layers.

These are the general tools that I use for my watercolor and pen and ink paintings. The large ruler (actually a quilting ruler) is what I use to lay out the painting squares. The small ruler is sometimes used where I need a straight line. Pencils and a plastic eraser, the platinum pen and two dip pens, India ink, carbon ink cartridges for the platinum pen, tape, either regular masking tape or painter’s tape.

Sketching with ink

At this point, you may decide not to apply any pen and ink.  See the samples of the waterfall.

If I decide to apply some details with pen and ink, I do so very loosely.  Do not try to add every detail.  Let the viewer’s eye add the details.

For many years I used a dip quill pen #3 and plain old India ink.  I like the bounce and variance of the lines.  I would also buy the nibs in bulk because I like a sharp point.

Then I moved to some commercial pens.  I like the Lamy Safari.

My current favorite is the Platinum Carbon Ink pen.  It has great flow and the carbon ink is light-fast.  It is also permanent and doesn’t seem to smear if you have to apply some more water media on top.

The real key is to draw with your whole arm, not just your fingers.  Keep it very loose.

Arthur L. Guptill’s book Rendering in Pen and Ink. This is an old book but probably has the most extensive demonstrations for pen and ink.

One of the most beneficial books about Pen and Ink instruction is Arthur Guptill’s Rendering in Pen and Ink.  Although a little dated, the information is very useful for technique.

So, this is my method of using watercolor with pen and ink.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need more clarifications.

Also, check out some of my previous postings on this subject.  Links listed below. Also, search for pen and ink for more demonstrations.

How to Combine Watercolor and Pen and Ink

Painting Wildflowers

Sage Cottage

Peonies en Plein Air

Watercolor with Pen and Ink – part 1

Rockport, MA. Watercolor, pen and ink, 10.5 x 14, Kit Miracle

There are many styles of watercolor with pen and ink overlay.  Some artists do the pen and ink drawing first and then add the watercolor washes on top.  If you use this method, you must be sure that the ink is totally waterproof and won’t smear once the watercolor hits it.

In my case, I draw a pencil sketch first before adding the watercolor washes.  After it is totally dry, I then go back and add the pen and ink details.  I have used this method for twenty-five years but I suggest that you experiment with several methods to find what works best for you.

All of the small paintings shown on my Etsy shop My90Acres are created this way.  I like the looseness that this method allows me.  If I were to draw the object first in pen, I would have a tendency to get too bogged down in the details. Then adding the the watercolor would feel more as if I were “coloring in” the painting.  This seems to make the painting more static without much life, good for medical illustration but not the look I’m after.

I always begin a new wc/pi painting by marking off the outside edge of the painting (adding an extra ¼ to ½ inch) and then taping it down to a drawing board.  I use at least 140 pound watercolor paper.  Sometimes I’ll use painter’s tape but actually, regular old masking tape will work just fine if you’re not going to keep it on the board for months.  A few weeks will be fine but you’ll probably be done with the painting before then.  Taping the painting to the board will help reduce any buckling when the watercolor is applied.

The next step I take is to make a loose sketch on the paper.  Be sure not to press too hard with your pencil or to do too many erasures as it will bruise the paper.  Bruised paper will create dark splotches when the watercolor hits it; not an attractive sight unless that is the look you’re going for.

After the sketch, I apply layers of watercolor, usually working from light to dark. A hairdryer will speed up drying time between layers of paint.  After the paint is totally dry, then I begin to add the ink drawing.  I always start with the more complex parts of the painting, such as, the buildings.  I might even carefully use a ruler for the straight lines, but the painting will look fresher if you just freehand it.  The ink is just used to loosely add details; you don’t need to put in every brick and board, every blade of grass or leaf.  Simplify the shapes and let the viewer’s eye fill in the rest.

Finally, after your painting and the ink is totally dry, you can use a plastic eraser to remove some of your pencil lines if they are still showing.  Really!  I don’t know how this works, but it does.

Take a look at these three paintings of Rockport, Massachusettes. Click on the paintings to examine some of the details.

Part 2 of this post will explore some of the materials and other techniques.

Main Street, Rockport,Massachusetts. Watercolor with pen and ink. 6.5 x 9.5 Kit Miracle

Beach at Rockport. 6.5 x 9.5 Watercolor, pen and ink. Kit Miracle