Friday, October 31, 2014

Guilty of garish colour?

I was teaching a class here, in my studio, on Halloween a few years ago. I donned a special hat to greet my students. J I remember that the pumpkin was surprisingly heavy – hurry up and take the picture. LOL 

The Challenges of Colourful Art

This week I am responding to a question from a reader that is struggling with super colourful subject matter (she wishes to remain anonymous). 

Specifically, she has been working on some landscape sketches and drawings this fall and she is feeling a bit overwhelmed by the foliage colours. She thinks her efforts are garish.

Her question was if I had any advice on how she could approach fall foliage.

This is a great question and it doesn't just apply to fall foliage. Colourful subject matter, whether depicting a busy market of vendors selling astonishing fabrics, rugs and colourful jewelry or perhaps a garden scene filled with brightly coloured flowers offers up some unique challenges.

Here are my suggestions for embracing colourful challenges:

1)    Simply embrace the colour, in all of its boldness and brightness. Just go ahead and depict it. Turn off the voice in your head that judges the work as garish. Sit with the piece for a while. Before making any changes, see if the colours might start to grow on you.

2)    If you think that all of the bright colour is creating a chaotic mess, make sure you have established a focal point. Give the viewer’s eyes a place to enter the picture and compose it in such a way that there is a path to visually travel around the scene. For example, if creating a landscape, chose a particular tree or small grove of colourful trees as your focal point. Place your brightest colours here. Subdue other areas as needed or soften the edges of adjacent trees.

3)    You can adjust the intensity of the piece by deliberately toning down the bright areas. Try dulling down some of the super bright areas that are not your focal point. Fortunately it is always easier to dull down a bright area rather than brighten up something you have already made dull, so work bright first.

4)    You can make the areas that are in strong light the brightest and dull down the areas in shadow. When viewing a scene, it is harder for our eyes to see bright colour in shaded areas so simply reflect this fact in your art.

5)    Limit your palette. If you are feeling compelled to throw in every colour in your pencil box, rethink this. A great way to get control of your colour is to limit yourself to fewer pencils or pastel sticks, etc. You will create with better colour harmony and the piece will have a more natural flow.

6)    You do not have to depict everything you see. Edit out some of the colour variations (there are an awful lot of them in fall foliage). Try limiting the colours you create and not just the pencils you use.

7)    Have a look at how other artists handle brightly coloured scenes. You may be surprised at what you see. Many contemporary artists work very bright and bold, unapologetically so. Years ago their work would have seemed unskilled and ugly. Today our minds are more used to busy images.

Below is a picture of one of my favourite paintings, Tangled Garden by J.E.H. MacDonald completed in 1916, (if you are ever in Ottawa, the original is hanging in our National Gallery. I urge you to go see it, as well as all other works by the Group of Seven).

At first glance it can seem a busy, chaotic garden mess but look at it long enough and it becomes a visual feast.

This is an example of a painting that can be immediately overwhelming, creating a desire to look elsewhere. But, if you really examine the image you can start to make sense of it all.

Obviously there is a lot going on with regards to all of the blossoms and plants but you can see that MacDonald has controlled his use of colour carefully. There is an amazing amount of colour harmony going on here.

Try and imagine the impact of Tangled Garden if you could see it full size –  47.8 inches x 60 inches (121.4 cm x 152.4 cm).

(with regards to copyright, this image is now in the public domain)

Bottom line, don’t be afraid of colour. Explore. Experiment.

As long as you are drawing or painting, it is all good! :-)

This was a great question and I hope my ideas are helpful.

If you have something that you would like my ‘two cents’ on, just send me an email.

Anyone else out there love the spooky art of illustration legend Arthur Rackham?!!! I have a book on his life and this week I have been delighting in revisiting his brilliant work. Such a master of drawing and such gorgeous use of line!  His work is definitely appropriate for Halloween.

Rackham, Fairy Ring, public domain

You are going to have to look closely in order to see the faces and fairies. I suggest you look for examples of his work on the internet or look for work he illustrated at your local library. I am a huge fan of Rackham trees! :-)

Friday, October 24, 2014

How does your art look on the wall?

In my newsletter today, I talked about the events in Ottawa this week and I shared a bit of my personal perspective. Here I shall continue on with some of the contents of that newsletter and the topic is lighting.

Lighting can be a big concern for artists. When we are seeing colour, we are actually seeing light waves being reflected off of a surface.

Imagine how yellow sunlight warms up the colours in a room. Think about how it affects the subject matter being painted as well as the colour of the paper or canvas. Now imagine the effect if the studio were lit only by fluorescent bulbs.

Admittedly this can be a complicated subject. An in depth discussion would take into account how the colour temperature of light bulbs is measured in Kelvin units, how brightness is measured in lumens and how there are colour rendering index ranges to consider. BUT we aren’t going to go there! J

Let’s keep this simple...

First up, diffused natural light is considered the best light for an artist to work under. For many centuries, large windows that face north have been considered the ideal studio environment. This is the direction from which sunlight is always indirect, regardless of the season or time of day. This constant, relatively cool light prevents changes in the light-dark patterns on your subject matter (whether a still life or a studio model).

Imagine how important light entering from windows was for artists prior to electric lighting. Ever tried to do anything by candles in a power outage? In Rembrandt’s day, you would need an awful lot of candles and lanterns to properly light up a studio in non-daylight hours!

Of course not all artists are fortunate enough to have large north light windows. Perhaps the light is blocked by a tall building close by or perhaps light from a north window is competing with strong afternoon light from a west window (you can use heavy drapes to block this light but not everyone wants to do this). Or maybe you have carved out a space to work in the basement and large windows are not an option. Perhaps your only hours to create art are in the evenings, after the sun has set. Don’t despair...

A great way to achieve consistent lighting is through artificial light.

Artists can choose to use light bulbs that emit a warm light or a cool light. Light bulbs can also be purchased that emit a spectrum of light similar to daylight.

A combination of lighting is the easiest way to go and is often the most effective. For example, you can use one type of bulb in overhead lights and then use a different type of bulb, for balance, in a desk or floor lamp.

But here is something else to consider...

I suggest that a very important issue is location, location, location.

Where will the artwork hang once it is finished?

Have you ever noticed how artwork created under bright lights seems to lose its intensity when hung on a wall in a room with low lighting?

Take whatever you are working on right now and test this. Move around the house holding your art up against various walls. Can you see how the different lighting arrangements in your house changes how much detail you can see in your art? Perhaps the colours don’t glow as much.

Living rooms and dining rooms are usually a lot less bright when compared to our studios. Hallways often have no source of natural light.

See how your art work looks in the evening, after dark, when artificial light is all that we have. You may be quite surprised to see how much your art changes.
Most art collectors hang art in homes that are not lit like professional art galleries or studios.

Also, to preserve the integrity of the pigment colours, remember that fine art should not be hung in areas of direct bright light.

Therefore, keep in mind that you art work needs to look great under normal circumstances not just in a fabulously lit studio.

My own studio makes us of a combination of lighting sources. I have many windows in my studio and they face south, west and north. I have halogen track lights overhead and I also have a desk light clipped to my drafting table that has a daylight spectrum bulb in it. I find this bulb really helps create a nice light in the room when I am working after dark. Sometimes during the day I have to keep this light off as it can skew how I see my work. I also have a floor lamp and a table lamp so my studio offers lots of lighting options.

This is a picture of me during a studio tour and I am holding up a work in progress. I chose this picture as you can see the west facing window behind me (one of two) and my drafting table is facing a south facing window. I position my table here as I love the view of the forest, not because of the light. J

There is another south window on that side of the room and two north facing windows across from where I am sitting. You can see one of my track lights in the ceiling. I have eight moveable lights on two strips down the center of the room and finally you can see my desk lamp which as I said above has the daylight spectrum bulb in it. My laptop is on my drafting table so I could work from my reference photo of peas in a pod. The pillow dangling over a lower bar of my table is a cushion for my feet while I work – in case you were wondering!

Once you have a handle on your lighting requirements, you might want to consider the colours of your studio walls and how they change the light in the room. Artists familiar with the concept of bounce light – reflected light that is bounced off of coloured surfaces – choose to paint their walls specific colours. For example some choose neutrals like a gray-green. Others go for a neutral white to accurately reflect the hue of the light onto the contents of the room. 

My studio was very dark when we moved in so I painted all of the dark woodwork trim, including my dark brown, stained plywood floors a specific shade of white. It was a lot of work but it made a huge difference. I also had to install the overhead track lighting as the room had no overhead lights.

If you need more convincing of the power of light to change the look of your art, take one of your pieces outside and snap a photo in natural light (a lightly shaded area works better than strong direct sunlight). Next, take the same piece of art and photograph it while lit by an incandescent bulb. Finally, photograph your art being lit by a florescent light. Now compare your photos. You will be amazed. 


A bit of trivia for you:

Light changes from warm to cool depending on the time of day and where on the planet you are located.

Sunrise and sunset light is warmer because it goes through more of the earth’s atmosphere as it skims the horizon and the atmosphere changes the temperature of the light.

Sunlight at noon is cool.

Locations with intensely blue skies can create the effect of even cooler light because light is bouncing off of the blue sky and mixing with the pure sunlight.


If you would like to conveniently receive the entire newsletter, I invite you to become a Newsletter Group Member (no spam, I promise), click here: Teresa Mallen Studio Newsletter

Friday, October 17, 2014

Productive like Picasso?

October 17th, TMS Newsletter excerpt:
This week I have a free ebook to tell you about. If you are interested in cp techniques or doing portraits, stay tuned. I also have a complimentary kick in the pants for you. J If you have been reading my newsletter these past months you will have noticed that I am rather fond of offering taps to your rear – done with love and good intentions of course.
Rather than a kick, let’s think of it as a gentle nudge – a gentle nudge to not get complacent.

We all do.

Let’s assume you have been carving out time for art this fall. Perhaps you have been making progress but art making has still been a bit more hit and miss than you would like.
Just how much art could you churn out anyway? Ever thought about it?

Sometimes it crosses my mind when I see someone I consider super prolific.
I think the following numbers put Pablo Picasso in the super prolific category.

Consider this:
It is estimated that Pablo Picasso made over 1,885 paintings, 1,228 sculptures, 2,880 ceramics, 18,095 engravings, 6,112 lithographs, 3,181 linocuts, 7,089 drawings plus 4,669 drawings and sketches in 149 notebooks, 11 tapestries and 8 rugs.

Does this seem humanly impossible to you?
Heck, I would be stunned to churn out a couple hundred sculptures, one or two rugs, just 1000 lithographs, and a few hundred ceramics.

Picasso said "What one does is what counts, not what one had the intention of doing." Ouch.
Having all of the best intentions in the world doesn’t yield art, not if we don’t act on those intentions.

I do not have goals to master carving or to create sculptures. Nor do I wish to invest the time required to become an accomplished potter or rug maker. I am content to stick to my fine art. But what about filling 149 notebooks like Picasso did, with well over 4000 drawings and sketches?
Obviously it isn’t about the exact numbers. What speaks to me here is that incredible productivity is possible – at least more output than I am currently producing.

This week I have looked back over the past twelve months and I have examined what art I have produced. I looked at the number of pieces, the style, the size and the complexity of the work. Following this assessment, I set new goals for the upcoming year. I set a number that stretches me, especially when I take into consideration the hours that I invest in the business side of things. I won’t be in Picasso’s league but I really like how having this new number feels.
I invite you to do the same.

Have a look at your sketchbooks, your stack of canvases or other finished pieces. Are you amazed at how much you have accomplished or are you perhaps a bit disappointed? Don’t despair. The gift of the next twelve months can bring many new accomplishments.

Set some goals and post them (so you don’t forget).

May Picasso inspire us all...

 "A jug fills drop by drop." (Gautama Buddha)

Now for the ebook I mentioned. The author of the ebook is coloured pencil artist Nicole Caulfield and here is the link:
At this stage of her career, Nicole is choosing other subject matter for her art and as a result she didn’t finish her portrait book (see her comment regarding it not being edited etc.). Still, I share the link here as there is a lot of great content in the ebook and if you are interested in doing portraits, this is worth checking out. Nicole’s section on creating the right lighting for a person’s pose is very helpful.

Even if you are not keen to do portraits, I think you will find her personal coloured pencil technique interesting to learn about. You can also have a look around her website and visit her facebook page for her latest kitsch work.
our meadow at sunset

Friday, October 10, 2014

happy Thanksgiving and your weekend plans

October 10th, 2014 Newsletter excerpt...

First up, I want to wish all of my fellow Canadians a very happy Thanksgiving. (It is our Thanksgiving holiday weekend here in Canada if you didn’t know.) And as my American readers are celebrating Columbus Day, I think many of us are planning busy long weekends!

A very small, quick study of the Carp Ridge in autumn, coloured pencil on Colourfix paper, copyright Teresa Mallen

Because many of you are planning family get togethers (or making pumpkin pies and stuffing a turkey) I shall keep this newsletter rather short.


 As this is an important holiday weekend in both Canada and the U.S.A. I have an invitation to extend to you –
I invite you to spend some time this weekend visiting artists! I know you are busy but seriously this would be a huge amount of fun so keep reading...

Here is how: look around for a local studio tour or for open studio events. If you don’t know of one, see what you can find on Google.
This holiday weekend is seen by many artists (in both Canada and the U.S.) as the perfect time to invite the public into their homes and studios. For those of us who live in areas where the foliage is changing colour, taking advantage of the leaf peepers driving around makes perfect sense.

What’s in it for you? Well, visiting artists gives you inspiration, fuels your creative ideas and many artists will share their know-how by offering demonstrations. How cool is that? They are also happy to answer questions. You might even decide to sign up for some classes!
You might find a gorgeous hand painted silk scarf, some ear rings made by a local metal smith, a new coffee mug from a fabulous potter or perhaps a must-have painting. And it is never too early to find something to tuck into a stocking – cause yes that season is coming.

Artists would really appreciate your support even if you don’t buy. Please remember that working tucked away in a studio can be a rather isolating experience. Offer feedback, tell them how great their work is, let them know what you like and why. Artists have done all of the prepping, now they are just waiting to meet you. J
As someone who has done her share of studio tours, I am very familiar with the work involved. Please keep in mind that these people advertise, turn their homes or studios into galleries, they arrange for parking, they set up merchant accounts so they can accept credit cards, they find someone to take care of their cats, dogs and children for days, they invest in display racks, they price and tag everything, they often buy apple cider and food goodies to offer guests, they buy additional insurance so they are covered to host the buying public at their home and they paint, frame, throw pots, etc. like mad in order for you to have something to see.

 So this weekend, give yourself the gift of a road trip. Look for a studio tour or for some open studios within driving distance of your home. Take a friend or plan a family event. Make a day of it. Do some sightseeing along the way. I promise you won’t regret it!

 For those of you in the Ottawa area, here are three studio tours for you to check out this weekend:

Crown and Pumpkin Studio Tour – Mississippi Mills (Almonte, Clayton)

Perth Autumn Studio Tour

Fall Colours Studio Tour – Westport area,

 See you on the gorgeous tree lined back roads! J
some of our autumn coloured hennies (we also have white ones, barred ones and black ones)

Friday, October 3, 2014

essential creativity practices

Newsletter excerpt for October 3rd:

This week’s newsletter is about a two step practice that is foundational to the success of a lot of creative people - from authors, to film makers to song writers to painters.

 If you are not doing this, then implementing these two steps will be huge for you.

Step One: Determine how and when you get your best ideas.

Step Two: Find a way to keep track of your creative ideas.

The second step is the easy part. You don’t need fancy software or special apps. A simple small notebook and a pencil will do.

The tricky part is fostering the right environment for you to receive these great ideas. This environment or situation varies from person to person and your job is to determine which one works for you.
Some of us get our best ideas from visiting art galleries, special exhibitions or brainstorming with artsy friends.

Other people find that ideas flow when they are cycling or jogging or when they are scrubbing up in the shower. Some folks get their best ideas when walking in nature, napping on a dock or sitting in silence with the lights low.
Maybe your idea ‘fairy’ shows up quite regularly, like first thing in the morning or just as you are drifting off to sleep.

If you can determine when your inspiring thoughts are most likely to flow, you can intentionally set the stage for their appearance.
Make a regular practice of doing those activities that foster inspiration. 

Once you find the way to prime your idea pump, keep pumping! Don’t let your idea well get stagnant or dry. For example If you are feeling dry and uninspired and you know that time in nature usually gets your creative juices ramped up, then book some quality time in nature into your schedule.

AND for art’s sake, don’t forget step two - keep track of those ideas!!!! This is often the part that people do not do. Seriously, ignoring your inspiring ideas is a creativity killer.
Grab your phone and leave yourself a voice message if you don’t have pen and paper handy. Thoughts float in and float out so quickly that you need to have a way to capture them.

Don’t assume your best ideas will come back to you. Usually they don’t.
I keep idea files. These are simple file folders in which I tuck inspiring images, photos, colour combination ideas, and biz ideas. I have several full folders and every time I look through them I am reminded of how much I would have forgotten if I hadn’t made the effort to store up my ideas. Perhaps a special binder or a creativity journal would work for you.

Do give this some thought. Ask yourself when it is that you get your best ideas. Ask yourself what you are doing. Make these activities part of your regular routine – lucky you if you get great ideas in the shower, cause hey, you are doing that anyway.
And then keep bits of paper and a pen handy. Stash some in your purse, your car, by your favourite armchair, and in your jogging suit pocket (they make mini-pens and mini pads of paper J). I have even heard of waterproof writing boards with special markers that you can use in the shower!

We have all heard of song writers getting the all important riff or chorus tune seemingly out of nowhere. Or the author that gets an idea for a twist in their story line that is just the thing that the novel was missing. This applies to painters as well. That perfect vista with the sun positioned just right, the eggplant with the quirky stem at the farmer’s market – make note of the idea, sketch it out, take a snapshot. Trust me, you are busy, your life is full of things and you won’t remember.

Next time you see your artsy friends, ask them how and where they get their great ideas. When does inspiration strike them? I am sure you will be fascinated by the stories you share.
I had a nudge of inspiration this past week and you can bet I made myself a note. But I almost missed it...I was visiting a craft gallery and I saw some delightful, very well done, small ink and watercolour pieces tucked away in a corner. As I looked at them, I felt a longing to get my own ink pens out. It has been a long time since I have done an ink and cp drawing and yet I love the pen and ink medium.

I continued to browse around some shops and walking back to our car I stopped. I knew I had wanted to remember something. Fortunately, I recalled the artwork I had seen. Obviously I should have written a note while still in the shop. I quickly wrote this moment of inspiration down. If I hadn’t, I would have made the trip home, got caught up in the stuff of life and this whisper of a calling to ‘do this, you love this, remember?’ would have been lost.

So go forth this week expecting to be visited by your muse of inspiration and be ready with pencil and paper. And watch the visitations increase in frequency!  No guff - studies show that the more we pay attention to these sorts of nudges of inspiration, the more often we seem to receive them. Perhaps we are just training ourselves to notice them. Doesn’t matter, bottom line, this stuff works.


 I am so proud of my latest Coloured Pencil Basics graduates. They all did such an amazing job. I knew they could do it! J

They went from total coloured pencil newbies (most didn’t even own pencils before this course started) to women that were confidently wielding pencils like pros.

 Here are some pics of these talented ladies hard at work...


We sure packed a lot into our time together. We started with basic info such as how to properly sharpen pencils, how to transfer drawings as well as the importance of good paper.

Here Cheryl is working her brush, keeping her paper nice and clean.

By our last afternoon together these gals were working some serious magic with their Prismacolor wands.
These former newbies had mastered burnishing techniques and had tried working with solvent. They had learned different stroke techniques and were doing some incredible backgrounds on their projects. They were confidently working with the impressed line technique to create leaf veins, and speckles in a plum. On the last day, they worked on projects – everything from a tulip, to a still life of pears to a red pepper that started off green - using a coloured pencil underpainting in a grisaille method.

Did I mention that they were charming, very friendly and enthusiastic? J

And this is me, the unhappy instructor, not having a bit of fun...LOL

Cheers ladies!!!  I enjoyed every minute and congratulations on all of your beautiful art!

Until next Friday, happy colouring everyone.

P.S. If you would like to receive the entire newsletter in your email inbox every Friday it's super easy. Just join the TMS Newsletter Group - click here for how. I can't wait to welcome you aboard! (no spam, I promise)