Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Importance of Using the Right Equipment

Now, I bet that you think I'm going to say that using the right equipment is of utmost importance, well you'd be wrong.  This post could just as well be titled "The Importance of the Having the Right Painting Environment/Natural Light/Ventilation".  All of them are great excuses for not painting.  I knew an art student who said that she couldn't understand how I painted in my flat, sat in front of my computer most of the time with tubes of paint hiding behind the keyboard and under the monitor.  She needed a big light room with a big table to put her paints and brushes and immaculately organised mixing palette with the colours always in the same order.  She found it difficult getting access to such a studio so hadn't painted since she left university.  Sad really.

Excuses, excuses.  I mix paints in the bottoms of cut up fizzy drinks bottles or on the polystyrene trays you get food on in the supermarket.  This way I can have one mini palette for dark colours, one for whites, maybe a skin tones one or a green one, depending on the painting.  They fit easily in the palm if you're standing up or can be propped on the edge of the messiest table. They are also useful because I can squirt white spirit in (I use the cheapest supermarket turps I can find, not the expensive artist's stuff) and have five little wells of colour with a mixing area in the middle.

Now, the point of me writing all this is not to advise you to adopt my "PalmPalette", in fact, sometimes they are annoyingly small and  can easily become chaotic (but who cares? grab a new one!).  I also have a few traditional  palletes (which are so completely covered in paint on both sides that they are about an inch thick and weigh about 2 kilos each) , and I have used the type of pallette which utilize tear-off sheets of greaseproof paper (both comercial and homemade), which are great for oils and absolutely indispensable for acrylic painting if you want to keep your paints from drying (you have to put moist tissue underneath the greaseproof paper).  Any of these options is acceptable (for oils at least), I've heard of professional artists who use glass tables to mix paint on, every night they scrape them clean ready for the next day, and wouldn't that be lovely in an ideal world, but I for one am too lazy and would rather see a dollop of paint dry and harden over a few weeks than throw it in the bin on a tissue every night.  Try to avoid muddy colours, put colours with similar colours on the palette so that you don't accidentally get some black in your yellow or blue in your orange.  I often use various dollops of white, each dedicated to a certain colour for mixing: one next to the blues, another for the skin tones.  But the shape of your palette is not going to have much of a detrimental effect on your painting , forget about all this pre-preparation, do it if it comes naturally but try to concentrate on the colours in the painting when choosing what you're putting on the palette.  For me, the palette should be dictated by the painting, not visa versa.

The point of me writing all this is to say that painting should be the most important thing, if you are being prevented from painting because you think you need everything laid out like a surgeon's scalpel trolley then you need to realize that your are procrastinating, everything needn't be perfect.  Just relax a bit and get started, you'll enjoy it when you get going.

The same goes for using bad lighting as an excuse.  Ok, you need good light to take photos (especially of your paintings), and you will need good light if you plan to paint from life, but I paint late into the night using supermarket brand low energy light bulbs and my painting seem to turn out ok.  I have various lamps of varying power and hues scattered about my study, I  use them alone or in combination depending on my necessity at that moment.  Most of the time when I'm just relaxing and painting at night (or on dark winter evenings) I prefer to use my 9W desk lamp which has a warm tone, if I need more power or a more careful assessment of the colours in a painting I switch on one of two 20W lamps which are portable and can be hooked onto shelving, depending on where I want the shadows to fall (or not fall). Although probably not true daylight bulbs they cover more of the spectrum than the warm yellow variety and are better for judging colours on a painting.  I only use them when necessary because they are very bright and make me feel that I am painting in a bathroom or kitchen, working rather than relaxing.

It is important to note that these bulbs are low energy (of the compact fluorescent type) and so the light they produce per watt is much more than an old tungsten bulbs, the 9W behaving like a 40W incandescent lamp; and the 20W somewhere around a 100W of the old type.  This also has the added advantage that I am able to put a powerful 100W equivalent in a flimsy but portable light fitting only rated for a 40W bulb.  It isn't a professional studio lighting system (during the holidays I sometimes work back in England for a friend who is a professional lighting engineer and we put floodlights on schools and do interiors of churches and the occasional art gallery, a genius of light and electricity and a conscientious craftsman, Nick Bove of Nico Electrics (don't contact him, he doesn't need and more work)), but the set up I have good enough for my painting and costs next to nothing.

It is always better to paint in daylight if you can but as the light fails you needn't worry so much about the dangers of artificial lighting influencing your ability to assess the colours in a painting, you might be painting relative to the colours already put down in the daytime in which case you probably won't stray off into strange hues as long as you keep your mixing palette as well lit as possible.  You might wake up to find the colours in your painting different to how you remember the night before but at least you'll be waking up to see a painting, instead of another pile of excuses.

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