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Category Archives: Art

How Safe Are Oil Paints?

Q. I’ve heard people say that painting with traditional and water-soluble oils poses health hazards for the painter. Some say even people with whom the painter comes in close contact, such as family members, are at risk. Just how safe or unsafe are oil paints?

A. Traditional oil paints are basically a drying oil and pigment. Manufactures also add stabilizers because modern paints need to be stored for a considerable length of time before use. Stabilizers keep the oil from separating from the pigment. Let’s consider the safety of each of these components:

1. Drying Oils

Drying oils used in artists’ paints are mainly linseed, safflower, poppy or walnut. We know that linseed oil is safe to work with because we can buy specially processed food-grade quality linseed oils in health food stores as a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. The health food industry uses the term flaxseed oil in reference to the plant from which we derive linseed. We use both safflower oil and walnut oil in cooking. Poppy oil doesn’t appear to be popular in the health food realm, and references point only to its use in paints; however, manufacturers do use it in skin care products.

2. Stabilizers

The stabilizers, if used, are metallic fatty acids. Because they’re mixed into the paint, they do not pose an independent threat to a person using an art material.

3. Soaplike Substance

Water-soluble oils contain an ingredient that would be considered close to soap, which makes water combine with the oil for assistance in cleanup.

Regardless of the origin of the oil and any additives, you should not consider paints safe to ingest. Keep them on the palette and the painting, and they’ll pose no unusual health risk.

Pigments can be as benign as common dirt or as harmful as many other chemicals are to the human body. Many of the paints used by artists from the Middle Ages to the late 20th century had varying degrees of toxicity. Even today, while the most highly toxic pigments have disappeared, no pigment should be considered nontoxic. The one property that makes oil paints so safe to use is that the pigment is bound in a liquid vehicle (the drying oil). Therefore the problem of dry powder finding its way into artists’ lungs or flying about and landing on their families’ food is eliminated. Even the nastiest of pigments, which no longer are readily available, wouldn’t give off toxic vapors or be otherwise harmful unless taken directly into the digestive system by mouth or, in the case of some pigments, they came in direct contact with unprotected skin.

Safe-Use Practices for Oils

Q. What safety precautions should I follow when painting with oils?

A. My recommended safety precautions fall into two main areas:

1. Keep paint and solvents off your skin.

I would remind artists that repeatedly allowing oil paints to splatter on their hands and arms is a bad practice. That’s especially true when an artist removes paint from the skin with a solvent. Skin, the largest organ of the human body,
is a sponge for taking in substances. Unbroken skin may be good at repelling germs, but an artist negates that protection when he or she tries to remove paint from skin using a solvent-soaked paper towel. Skin absorbs solvents, and when you mix paints with a solvent, the paint can enter the body as well. When using oil paints, slathering paint on oneself and cleaning it off with solvent poses the greatest risk.

Common sense and careful studio practices are crucial to keeping the paint on the painting and off the body. My advice to painters who display a tendency to get paint all over themselves is to wear disposable gloves and to protect other areas of the body with clothing or an apron. When oil paint does get on the skin, remove the paint with plain soap and water. Painters who hate gloves should at least use a barrier cream, sold in art stores, that provides some degree of protection against paint components entering through the skin.

2. Paint in a well-ventilated area.

Use extra caution with paints classified as alkyd quick-drying colors. Unlike traditional oils, these contain a small amount of odorless solvent; you should not use these in a closed studio space unless you outfit that space with continuous airflow and exchange. When you use alkyd colors outdoors or in a well-ventilated studio, handle them in the same way as traditional oil paints.

Many artists, of course, don’t have studios, and some admit to painting in their kitchens. This is one place where food and painting materials have too great a chance to interact. In addition, the potential for fire rises when solvents come into close contact with cooking appliances. If possible, set up a painting area in another part of the home where you can establish ventilation that constantly changes the air in the space. As I’ve explained, when it comes to poor ventilation, the problem generally isn’t so much with the paint as with the solvents the artist uses for cleanup and paint dilution.

Most artists use oil paints for many years without ill effects. Follow the few safety precautions I’ve mentioned above, and all should be well.

Waste Management for Oils

Q. How can I safely dispose of oil painting materials?

A. you can easily and safely control the disposal of unused paint and solvent in a home environment. Use a closed metal solvent can, just as plein air artists do outdoors.

How to Use a Solvent Can

Open the can only when necessary and close it immediately after use. Wipe excess paint onto disposable paper towels before using solvent to clean brushes. This makes your solvent less prone to becoming overly dirty with paint. The solvent not only lasts longer, but you decrease your exposure to the solvent because you can clean your brushes quickly. Place the used paper towels in the closed metal can.

What to Do When the Solvent Can is Full

When the pigment waste in your plein air solvent can accumulates to the point of coming close to the bottom of the inner basket, it’s time to clean the solvent can and dispose of the pigment in the container. Let the can sit for several days until the pigment waste has settled to the bottom and some clear solvent remains on the surface. Slowly decant the clear solvent into another container for temporary storage. (You may want to purchase a second solvent can to use in tandem with the first one.)

Remove the inner basket from the solvent can containing the pigment waste. Pour the pigment sludge onto a flat piece of aluminum foil folded around the edges to create a shallow pan. Make sure you support the foil with a palette or sturdy piece of cardboard. Let the sludge dry outdoors in a safe place that won’t be disturbed. Fold the aluminum foil around the dry sludge, and take it to your local waste processing facility for disposal. Many counties have paint and hazardous waste reclamation programs for properly disposing of these types of materials.

Another option is to let the paint waste dry and then mix it with an alkyd medium to make a paint-like material that you can use to tone canvases or panels for future paintings.
With an adequate, well-ventilated space and a waste disposal method that limits solvents escaping into the studio, a family can live safely with an oil painting artist.

Tips The Importance of a Good Photo Reference and What to Avoid

1. Small image

Often, the photos people send are candid shots, taken just for fun. While these photos have a lot of sentimental value, rarely are they large enough to do a quality rendition, particularly if you’re painting a person’s or pet’s portrait. (I often say, “I’m an artist, not a magician!”) You simply cannot draw what you cannot see. Being able to see all of the small details is what makes you able to accurately obtain a great likeness. If you cannot see the small things that make up the individual, you then have to fake it. This makes it “close” to the person, but that is not good enough. A good portrait must be spot on!

2. Blurry image

Even though someone may give you a photo reference that’s large enough, sometimes the photo is a bit blurred or out of focus. Again, you can’t see the details well enough to capture the likeness, and you cannot draw what you cannot see.

Free Download! How to Draw a Picture from a Photo: A Free Portrait Tutorial

3. Poor lighting

Having a large, clear photo is not all that matters. I’ve received reference photos that have extreme lighting to them, making the highlight areas wash out and the dark areas fill in. These lighting problems hide the very important details that you need.

4. The colors are too pale

Sometimes a photo reference will have a dull color, making a good likeness hard to achieve. Every person and every animal has colors that are unique to them and only them. To draw a person or a pet with colors that don’t match them naturally alters how they look. Even a great likeness will appear “off” if the color is not exact to them.

While this is a cute snapshot, it’s not a great photo reference for portrait painting. The colors are off, so making it into art would be difficult, and would appear unrealistic.

5. The colors are too intense

This is one of my pet peeves. Often photos can be altered to enhance the colors, often making them appear unrealistic. I hate it when I see a butterfly in a photo whose colors have been altered away from its natural beauty. (A purple monarch, really?) People and animals are the same. Altering the colors by making them more red, or too yellow, ruins the reality of the subject.

This drawing shows the effects of nature’s shadows and how they alter the look of the facial features in a portrait drawing. It takes close observation to keep it looking real.

6. Outdoor lighting and shadows

I have done some cool portraits of people outdoors. But, often there are a lot of shadows involved. These shadows should be used as a part of the story being told by your art. This drawing of my son in the woods (above) is a good example of using shadows for interest. Sometimes people will give me a photo reference similar to this, but they want a traditional portrait. My answer to that is, “Get me a different photo.” It’s often very difficult to try to remove unnecessary shadows in your work as you go, for shadows often distort the details.

7. Printed copies

Often in my classes, people will bring in great photo references. However, they have printed them out from their computers and lost some of the clarity. ALWAYS, have the photo printed out as an actual photograph. That way the colors stay true and the details are crisp and easier to see.

8. Too many subjects

People will often send me a group photo, and only want one of the people drawn. This can work, but only if the other subjects are not altering the look of the desired subject. For instance, is there a shadow of the person next to them altering the lighting? Or, are the people next to them cutting off vital info, like their hair and ears? Look closely, before you say yes to this!

9. Combining photos that conflict

If someone wants a group shot, it isn’t always necessary that everyone is in the same photo. Combining photos, however, isn’t easy. When choosing reference photos to combine, you must address the lighting. You can’t put two or three people together in one drawing if the lighting is different for each one (for instance, one lit from the right, one lit from the left). Be sure to have neutral lighting that is not in conflict before you begin. I’ve seen some beautiful portraits that are very well rendered, but the shadows are in conflict, making the subjects look disconnected. Epic fail!

10. Altering photo references

Often, a person will give me an unflattering reference photo, then tell me everything they want me to correct. For instance, one time I was given photos for an oil painting. The photos were great! Clear and large. However, I needed to add eyeglasses to one subject, (they did provide a photo of them, but they were from a different angle!) They wanted me to remove some of the wrinkles and fullness of a double chin. (Yes, become a plastic surgeon!) They also wanted the color of one sweater changed from red to blue, and their hair needed to change color, for they had gone gray. I also had to remove and add jewelry (again from different photos) and take away a birthmark. They also wanted a scene behind them, depicting a trip they had taken with palm trees and water. I was able to pull this off and they loved it, but each alteration was an additional charge. I ended up charging them twice as much as I had originally quoted. Moral of the story: Do not give a firm price until you fully understand what will be involved. People have a tendency to change the plan and want to add things at the last minute!

This is a much better photo reference. The clarity, size, and colors are great!

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider if you choose to take commissions based on photo references. The best art is always done with the best photos. If you’re a photographer, I recommend doing a photo shoot yourself because you have the artistic eye and know what you need. If not, always tell your client what you need, and don’t be afraid to say no if the photos just aren’t good enough. The worst thing you can do is to go ahead and work from inadequate photographs. Your art is only as good as the photos you use!

I hope this helps!
I wish a very artistic and creative New Year to you all, and I’m looking forward to being your guide for many more years!
Happy 2017!

New Year Resolution For Artist

This is a time when we all declare to make some changes with New Year’s Resolutions. The turning of the calendar page to whole new year signifies a beginning and a clean slate to play with. An artist, however, may have a different looking list of resolutions than the average individual. Usually, it contains goals for creating more art!

I’m a firm believer of resolutions and goals. There’s something very creative about them, with thepossibility of recreating yourself in the process. We all are works in progress after all, and life is about change. Even as artists, we grow and change, and our artwork reflects our journeys.
If you’re a creative individual, here are some artistic New Year’s resolutions that you can use to become a better artist. Even after a 40-year career, I still strive to be better! An artist never quits learning or growing as long as we are alive.

New Year’s Resolutions for Artists

1. Commit to learning a new medium. There are endless drawing and painting techniques and always new products to play with. Is there something you think is interesting, but have never tried? Now is the time. Dive in! I’m going to try modeling paste to add some 3-dimensional qualities to my paintings.

This is my grandmother’s old lap desk, on which I created a mosaic design with brown and white egg shells. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to create more mosaic art.

2. Is there a medium you like, but never seem to do enough of it? We all have our favorite techniques that we seem to go to religiously.  What technique do you love, but never seem to find the time for? Revisit an old love. I enjoy using oils, but I never seem to make the time to work with them. This is the year I crack out my oil paints again for some serious work! I also love mosaics, and am determined to do more this year!

3. Is there a class you’ve always wanted to take, but never took the time? (For instance, taking a Lee Hammond art workshop? Hint, hint!) You can learn so much from someone who is already a pro! Make the decision to broaden your horizons and take an art class! I’ve signed up for some photoshop classes to make my photo references more interesting.

4. Are you using inadequate art supplies? Yes, we all have to start somewhere, and often that means the bargain brands. While they’re good to start with to get your artistic feet wet, you may not be seeing your full potential. Invest in yourself! (You can cut back on something else to free up some money for this, like the daily coffee splurge.) You’ll be amazed at how much better your work can look with the right products and tools. I was amazed when I tried high-grade paper products such as 500-series Bristol. Yes, it is expensive, but it makes my work much more professional and sellable.

5. Are you skimping on your art supplies by using up all of your old stuff before investing in new? I’m guilty of this, for art supplies aren’t cheap. However, running out of colors or using little ends of pencils or pastels, has a dramatic effect on your work. Working on creased or dirty paper cheapens your work as well. Make the decision to replace some things for a fresh start. I’ve decided to replace my pastels with fresh sticks. Yes, I’ll use up the old ones, but there’s something so inspiring about a fresh display of colors!

I resolve to do more oil painting this year!

6. Are you an artistic slob? Do you have clutter and mess in your art studio or work area? Make a resolution to clean up your act! Having your things organized and tidy can be very inspiring. A cluttered work area isn’t very conducive to creativity! Nothing feels better than putting things where they belong. I also like to divide my colored pencils into groups of colors, for easy access, and arrange my art supplies so they look nice. Also, this is a good time to keep the promise to clean up as you go!

7. Have you always wanted to be more professional and sell your work? This is the year to go for it! Make the decision to go pro. Create a good website (I recommend hiring a professional to help you) have some flyers and business cards made, and start to market yourself. Take a cue from others already in the business to see how it should be done, and what you want to charge according to the existing market. This is your year to elevate your art business! I’m starting to take commissions again this year. I haven’t done that for a while due to other commitments, but I’m changing that. I have a brand new website ( and will be selling many more commissions and prints.

8. Are you making the time to draw or paint? You can’t grow as an artist unless you’re doing the work! This is the year to create an “art schedule.” Plan out a two-hour window that’s all artistically yours. You can do it if you really want to! For me, that window of time was very early in the morning, before my kids woke up. I’m NOT a morning person, but realizing that morning was the only time I had for “me,” I made myself get up at 5 AM to do my art. I remember looking forward to waking up, so I could drink my coffee and paint in the quiet before the day even began.

9. Use your art to document your life and desires. Each week, create a simple drawing that represents the great things you experienced in the last seven days. Make it like a collage of “feel good” doodles, phrases and drawings of the things you’ve appreciated throughout the week. In a new book I’m writing titledREACH!, I recommend this type of art journaling as a way to keep your mood elevated, and your desires coming your way. You can literally “draw” what you want into your life.

Yes, this can be YOUR YEAR for being a better artist, and a happier person! But, it takes determination and desire. Most resolutions are dropped before February even arrives. Don’t let that happen to you! Get busy! Get creative! Buy more art stuff! I will post my progress on my website and Facebook as inspiration to you. In turn, I want to hear from you, and see if any of this advice works for you!

Happy New Year my creative friends!!!!
Until next time,

Stamp Carving Art

If you’ve never carved stamps before, rest assured you don’t need any special skills—you don’t even have to know how to draw. The carving part takes a little practice, but a few helpful tips will shortcut your path to success.

The tools and supplies needed are minimal and fairly inexpensive: a carving block (I like the Speedball Speedy-Carve blocks), a linoleum cutter handle with a chuck, a set of linoleum cutter blades, a craft knife, cutting mat, scrap paper, ink pads or water-based markers, and some baby wipes. Having two cutter handles allows you to switch between different blades quickly, instead of having to switch out blades in one handle. Cutter handles with a simple chuck system are easy to use–simply insert a blade and tighten it down.

It doesn’t take much to get started with stamp carving; the basics include cutters, a stamp block, and ink pads or markers.

Any type of design will work for stamp carving, but if you’re just beginning, I recommend starting with a simple shape, like a solid heart, leaf, or flower. The three-layer technique I’ll show you isn’t difficult, but practice first with some basic designs to get the feel of the blade and the block. I drew my image (a flower) onto copy paper with a dark graphite pencil. You can also use copyright-free images, either tracing or re-drawing them.

A hand-drawn image for a hand-carved stamp

Here’s the best part—to transfer the image to the block, simply place the drawing, right-side down, onto the block, and rub until the image appears (I used the end of the pencil). Lift up the paper to make sure your image is transferring, trying not to move it—you may want to tape a corner down before rubbing. If you want the image more defined, trace over the lines on the block with permanent marker.

Rub the back of the pencil-drawn image, and the design will transfer to the block.

It’s as easy as that! Here’s my design on the block. After transferring the image I cut around it with a craft knife so I’d have a smaller piece to work with.

The image transferred perfectly!

When I carve, I almost always start with the small U-gouge, which creates a very thin line. I run it along the outside of my design first, creating an outline, then go around again, widening the line. You don’t have to dig deeply into the block—just put a little pressure on the blade to remove some of the rubber.

Start the carving by creating a thin outline around the image.

Remember, everything you carve away will not print, and everything left behind will print. Also, the transferred image will be backward on the block, but oriented correctly when you stamp the image.

For the flower, I wanted a fairly thick outline for each petal, and have some lines inside the petals. As you can see, I didn’t follow the outline exactly–you can try to match your image, or take a little artistic license.

After carving more around the outline, I created a border for the petals that was about 1/8″ wide. When you carve, go slowly. This isn’t a race, and you’ll be more pleased with the results if you don’t rush. Also, one of the most important things to remember is to always carve away from yourself. Never angle the blade toward your hand—it can easily slip or skip across the block and cut you—the blades are quite sharp. When making curved lines, keep the blade steady and turn the block, but—let’s say it together—always angle the blade away from you. Two more helpful tips: Have a good light source, and don’t carve when you’re hangry. Get that blood sugar nice and level.

After carving the border I carved the inside of the flower, leaving those lines in the petals. To carve away larger areas I switched to the bigger U-gouge, which removes more rubber. Then it was time for a test—this is an important step in stamp carving, allowing you to check your progress and see what still needs to be carved and cleaned up. Before inking the stamp, brush off any tiny pieces of rubber, or give it a cleaning with a baby wipe and dry it.

You can see here how I’ve got the basic shape, but a lot of carving lines still remain. I like to leave a few extra lines, and how many you leave is completely up to you; some people like to leave a lot to emphasize the hand-carved look.

The insides of the petals were carved away next, leaving a border.

Here’s the stamp and the stamped image after an initial cleanup:

The image is starting to look good, but more carving is needed.

A little more cleaning:

Looking better, but not quite there yet.

And here’s the final image. As you can see, it’s far from perfect, but I really like it. I also cut around the flower with a craft knife to make it easier to stamp. I could have stopped here and been as happy as a clam with a stamp. However, I’ve been seeing this trend in commercial stamps of layered stamping—stamping parts of an image in different colors to achieve a dimensional look—and I wanted to give it a try.

The final stamp. I left a few carving lines, which gives the image a hand-carved look.

I went back to my original drawing and drew around the inside of each petal, then carved just the petals.

I carved another stamp to fill in the petals.

For one last layer I drew a smaller portion of the petals, and carved that.

The third layer adds dimension to the petals.

I needed some leaves, and carved a base layer and an overlay. I also wanted a little detail stamp, so I carved some dots from a piece of rubber I had cut away.

I added two-layer leaves and a small motif stamp.

I like that the flower and leaves don’t exactly line up, so the images will always look slightly different. But to make sure I stamp all three layers as accurately as possible, I made a small dot at the top of each stamp as a reminder.

Marking the backs of the stamps with a small dot makes them easier to align.

Here’s how the stamp looks on a page in my art journal; I added a simple label that I also carved (the letters are purchased stamps):

A page from my art journal, with the hand-carved stamps.

Like any stamp, this one’s quite versatile. Here’s the image stamped in navy blue permanent ink, and colored with watercolor:

The stamp takes on a much different look when colored with watercolor.

I painted the stamp with watercolor, stamped it, then used a water brush to spread some of the color around:

Using watercolor directly on the stamp gives it a hand-painted look.

And here, I stamped the petals with pigment ink, then removed some of the ink with the dot stencil to get a polka dot pattern.

Removing some of the ink with the small dot stamp resulted in a polka dot design.

You’ll probably get on a roll when you start stamp carving, as I did. I decided to make a quarter repeat stamp, which is a quarter of an image that can be repeated to make various combinations of designs. I did this quickly, and frankly, I wasn’t super happy with the results and almost tossed it.

Wasn’t a big fan of this one at first.

But…when I repeated the image clockwise three more times and added some doodles with a black pen, I was suddenly head over heels.

When repeated in a circle, this stamp quickly became a favorite.

Repeating the stamp in the same direction gave me this cool pattern, which I stamped in acrylic paint over a painted background in my art journal. Don’t get discouraged if every attempt doesn’t turn out exactly how you expect it to. Give your stamps a chance, and see how they work best in various patterns and with different mediums.

Repeat stamping without turning the image resulted in this pattern.

By the way, you can care for your stamps the same way as you do commercial rubber stamps: Keep them away from heat and light, and clean them with stamp cleaner or alcohol-free baby wipes. If you stamp with acrylic paint, wash them immediately afterward so the paint doesn’t dry on the rubber. Hand-carved stamps can be mounted as cling stamps for acrylic blocks, or on wood blocks, if you prefer.

I imagine you wanting to get going on some carving, so here are a few more things to check out from the North Light Shop before you head out on your stamp carving adventures!

Here Art Metal Embossing

Let’s start with the metal itself. I used a sheet of medium-weight copper metal from Amaco ArtEmboss, which has a thickness of 5 mil, about 10 times thicker than the tin foil you have in your kitchen. It’s sturdy stuff, but also nicely malleable. You can cut it with scissors, but I wouldn’t use good fabric scissors (the ones your mom always yelled at you for using); any decent pair of scissors will work. You’ll need a paper stump and a couple of styluses, with tips in different sizes. I used a set meant for shaping paper, but there are also specific metal embossing tools available. You should also have two surfaces to work on, one hard and one soft; I used a glass cutting mat, and also a piece of thin craft foam. And you’ll need a plastic stencil, (preferably one that’s not too detailed), and some low-tack tape (I used washi tape). Optional and not pictured here are modeling paste and a palette knife.

The tools for metal embossing include metal, styluses, and some craft foam.

Decide what size piece you want to make, and cut the metal about 1″ larger in height and width. Tape the edges if they’re sharp or jagged, and tape the stencil to the metal, making sure it’s firmly in place. By the way, isn’t this a great way to extend the use of your stencils? And please note that at Cloth Paper Scissors Central, we do not clean our stencils.

Tape the stencil to the metal so it doesn’t shift while you’re working.

Place the piece stencil-side down on your hard surface, and burnish the design with the paper stump. Make sure you can see the entire design; while working, I flip the piece over to make sure I’m getting everything.

Burnishing the metal with a paper stump reveals the design.

With the stencil still in place, go over the design from the back with a small-tipped stylus. Outline each piece of the design, pushing the stylus right up to the edge and really defining the shape. If the stylus slips outside the lines, don’t worry—we’ll fix that later.

Outline the design with the small-tipped stylus.

Flip the piece over and you’ll see that the design is starting to become dimensional. But since you’ve been working on a hard surface, it’s flat on top.

The design has dimension, but it’s still flat on top.

Place the foam sheet on top of your hard surface and the metal piece on top, stencil-side down. Using a stylus with a larger tip, go over the designs again, pressing fairly hard. This process stretches the metal and rounds it. You don’t want to stretch it so much that it tears, but this metal is fairly heavy, so you can get some pretty good height. Note the difference in the four petals that have been embossed on the hard surface, versus on the foam.

By using a larger-tipped stylus on a foam surface, the details become more dimensional.

Work the entire design, then remove the stencil. The metal embossing should be pretty prominent at this stage, but the edges won’t be that sharp. To make them more defined, place the metal right-side up on the hard surface, and run the small-tipped stylus around the outline of each design element. This will create edges and also flatten the piece, which has probably become a little domed due to the embossing. To flatten the piece more, use the paper stump to gently push the metal down.

Working the design from the front helps create defined edges.

Note the difference below between the design on the left, which has defined edges, and the one on the right, which still looks a little blobby.

The motif on the left has been detailed; the one on the right has not, and is less defined.

As you continue work on the piece you’ll flip it from the right to the wrong side, and from the hard to the soft surface. When flattening and defining the piece, work on the hard surface. When embossing, use the foam. Take your time and refine the design, emphasizing the shapes, flattening, and edging. Use the paper stump to gently flatten any stray lines or marks. If your hand gets tired, take a break. The nice thing about metal embossing is that you don’t have to worry about anything drying out or not being workable after a certain point. You can leave it and go back to it anytime.

At this point you can add some details to the piece. I pressed the small-tipped stylus into the motifs, creating little dots. You can also create free-form swirls, lines, or add other designs. Keep in mind that since metal is shiny, sometimes it’s difficult to see details. Move the piece around to make sure you’re seeing all the hills and valleys accurately. Also, I usually cut a small piece of metal to practice on or try out designs.

Add your own design details to metal embossing.

Metal embossing is all about creating interest through texture, dimension, and color or patina. I didn’t want the entire piece to be smooth and shiny, so I marked off a border around the piece and between the motifs. Then I sanded that area, using 220-grit sandpaper, and wiped off the metal dust with a baby wipe. In addition to adding texture, sanding also helps camouflage any errant lines or mistakes. I used a permanent pen to mark the borders, and that can be removed with alcohol.

Sanding metal is one way to create texture.

Use Water Brush Lettering Learn 3 Techniques Using Markers

 Lettering with a brush is very forgiving. I’m currently editing a book by Jen Wagner titled Happy Hand Lettering (due out this summer). I love her use of watercolor for lettering and I felt inspired to give it a try—albeit with a twist—using a water brush. Water-based markers such as Tombow dual tip brush pens are a perfect and playful companion to water brushes.

Technique 1: Loopy Lettering

This first technique simply requires writing in cursive with large loops to make widening lines easier. Going back over the marker with a small amount of water from a water brush gives the lettering a lovely painterly look.

Using the fine-tip end of a Tombow dual tip pen (or a similar water-based pen), letter a word, keeping things “loopy” when you can.

A water brush with a fine point is best for adding a small amount of water to the marker lines. You just want to activate the color, not have it bleed too far out.

This is cool. See where the upstroke of my Ls crosses over the downstroke? When you activate the color with a water brush, the line disappears nearly completely.Admire your finished word and set it aside to dry completely.

Adding Color

You may like your word as is, but if you would like to add some color, here’s an easy method.

Using either end of your chosen color marker (I used the fine tip end), closely outline your word. Go over the color with a fine- or medium-point water brush.

Technique 2: Brush Pen Script Lettering

For this second technique, try lettering with the brush tip end, then adding water.

Take advantage of the broad surface of the brush pen and exaggerate your fine and wide strokes. A small flat water brush creates even painterly strokes over the marker and as the color is activated, you can smooth out any areas as needed.

Adding Color

Applying color over black yields a subtle result.

Simply repeat the previous process: Use your color of choice and the brush end to go over the lettering. Then use the flat water brush to activate the color. Subtle, but still a nice painterly effect.

Technique 3: Hand-Drawn Letterforms

I’ve recently been inspired by the work of Joanne Sharpe, whose hand-dra
wn letters I love. You can have a lot of fun by drawing whimsical (or less whimsical) letters from your imagination. And each letter can be different!Keep it simple or go a little wild. Using the fine point end of your marker, draw letters that have space to be colored in.

Just as you did for the first technique, use a fine point water brush to activate the lines and give the interior of your letters some shading.

Adding Color to Letterforms

Use the fine tip end of your favorite color and make dots in limited areas of your letterforms. Activate the color with a water brush and blend the concentration of color as you desire. You could have fun with more than one color, too.

Adding Color Outside of Letterforms

Technique Tuesdays Nature at Mixed Media Art

Artists find inspiration in a variety of things: music, food, memories, and in their surroundings. But nature is unquestionably one of the more popular sources of inspiration for many artists. Whether it’s using found bits in artwork, being inspired by what is seen in nature, or using natural elements to create media to make art, artists continue to show us how nature fits into their art-making processes. See how some of our contributors incorporate nature in mixed-media art, and share some expert ideas, tips, and suggestions.

1. For artist, author, and instructor Nick Neddo, nature is more than a source of inspiration. Neddo looks to nature for art tools and media as well, making everything from paintbrushes and pens, to inks, crayons, and more. In his article “Charcoal Drawing Sticks” May/June 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, he shares how to make your own charcoal sticks, using a backyard fire, an old tin, and narrow sticks from your surroundings. After scraping the bark from the sticks (he includes tips for the best types of wood to use), they are packed tightly in the tin, and the tin is set in a hot fire for at least an hour. Once cool, you have plenty of charcoal sticks for drawing. If you don’t like getting your hands dirty, Nick also provides instructions for hollowing out another stick to create a holder for the charcoal.

It’s easy to make your own charcoal pencils using twigs. (Art and photo by Nick Neddo)

2. Rebecca Ruegger creates beautiful stick figures, inspired by her walks in nature with her dogs. Made from a variety of sticks found on these adventures, these whimsical creatures will make you take a second look at how you can include nature in mixed-media art. In her article “Stick Figures” in the September/October 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Rebecca shares her techniques and tips. She says to look for sticks that have intriguing curves and perhaps knots for joints. Though joining the pieces sometimes requires a little creative thinking, Rebecca suggests filling in holes, divots, or depressions with clay, allowing it to dry, sanding the joins, and then paining them so they match.

Artists who incorporate nature in mixed-media art often use interesting materials such as twigs and rocks. (Art by Rebecca Ruegger, photo by Sharon White Photography)

3. Mixed-media artists are well known for using all kinds of everyday and found objects for stamping, and Rae Missigman is no exception. In the June 2016 Art Lesson Volume 6: Nature Stamps, Rae uses the ends of branches with paint for mark making in her collages. Done correctly, not only is the shape apparent, but the rings show well, too. Rae says it’s important to “properly prime your organic stamp.” Make the first application of paint heavy, and stamp on scrap paper before stamping on your canvas. It’s also important to use firm pressure, and to hold the stick in place for a few seconds before lifting to ensure a good print. The first stamped impressions will be heavy, but subsequent prints will reveal more of the wood-grain pattern.

The end of a branch, primed with some paint, becomes a stamp in the hands of a mixed-media artist. (Art and photo by Rae Missigman)

4. In the March/April 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Colleen Ansbaugh shares in her article “Felted Stitched Landscapes” how the shapes and colors on the horizon inspire her small landscape pieces, along with some tips for felting success. To begin, Colleen felts basic fabric shapes to the background, laying the foundation for her landscape. She stresses the importance of using just enough wool roving when felting to secure the pieces to the background without completely obscuring these additions. Alternatively, be sure to do enough felting to adhere the pieces so they don’t fall off. Though felting is usually done front to back, Colleen suggests flipping the piece over and felting from back to front for a different effect.

Surrounding landscapes inspired this felted mixed-media piece. (Art by Colleen Anspaugh, photo by Hornick/Rivlin Studio)

5. Graham Keegan is another artist who looks to nature for materials. Keegan creates one-of-a-kind fabrics using natural dyes he concocts, some incorporating plants he harvests in his Los Angles neighborhood. Keegan created “A Shibori Flag” in the July/August 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. The star section of the flag was created by accordion folding the fabric, first parallel to the long side, then parallel to the short side, and then tying off each corner with thread, blocking the pigment from those areas. Keegan stressed the importance of applying the dye in thin layers, saying, “You cannot achieve a stable, long-lasting deep shade with a single long dip.” Important to remember!

Using natural dyes brings in a bit of nature in mixed-media art. (Art by Graham Keegan, photo by Sharon White Photography)

6. Nature printing is a fun and easy way to create any number of art pieces; Sharon Gross created greeting cards using leaves in the article “Nature Print Greeting Cards” in the September/October 2013 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. Unlike other methods, Sharon suggests applying the paint to the back, or the vein side, of the leaf. She places a paper towel over the leaf before gently rolling over the leaf with a brayer. The paper towel keeps the paint from splattering, resulting in a nice crisp print.

Reveal the beauty of nature in mixed-media art by printing leaves directly onto paper. (Art by Sharon Gross, photo by Sharon White Photography)

7. Get an in-depth look at capturing nature in mixed-media art in a variety of outdoor locations in Cathy Johnson’s book Artist’s Sketchbook: Exercises and Techniques for Sketching on the Spot. Some of the most beautiful sights we see are things reflected in water. Catching that image in a sketch can be a bit intimidating, but Cathy has some tips for making it more doable. When a reflection occurs in still water, she says to mirror the shape or position of the reflection. If the reflection leans to the right, sketch the image in the same way. Also, it’s important to remember that the image will become less distinct the further it is from the reflected object. In this case, the branch becomes a scribble.

Paying attention to elements like shadows and ripples lends an authentic look to artwork.

8. Dorit Elisha has another way to create and use natural dyes that involves steaming or cooking plants, leaves, and bark from her own backyard. She reveals all in her article “Eco-Dyed Collage” in the July/August 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. The eco-dye process starts by creating a stack of papers with plant materials arranged between each layer, and then tying and submerging the stack in boiling water that also has plant material in it. This process not only dyes the papers, it also creates prints from the materials between each layer. Dorit added rusty bits to the mix for another punch of color, and used these papers for beautiful earth-toned collages.

Another way to print from nature is to boil plant material with paper or fabric. (Art by Dorit Elisha, photo by Sharon White Photography)

9. Deborah Wolff found inspiration seaside for her felted seashell cards, adding texture, line, and definition to her shells with free-motion stitching (See her article “Seaside Inspiration” in the July/August 2013 issue ofCloth Paper Scissors magazine). Once the needle felting is accomplished, for the best results, Deborah suggests steam pressing the shell piece, using the maximum steam option. This also helps to hide the holes created by felting, she says.

Shells were the inspiration for these bright and colorful felted cards. (Art by Deborah Wolff, photo by Hornick/Rivlin Studio)

10. Deborah Muller let nature inspire her doodle art, and she shares her techniques in the article “Building a Doodle Library” in the Spring 2016 issue of Zen Doodle Workshop magazine. Deborah catalogs her designs by shapes or style, and says you can’t go wrong by starting with basic shapes. Here she started with simple leaf shapes, filling them with a variety of basic doodles for stunning results. Natural shapes are easy to reference and draw. Think about using flower, shell, and tree motifs as the basis for doodles. Deborah’s suggestions for doodling success include drawing out your designs in pencil first, since practicing the basic shapes will help you master them. Later you can forego the pencil. Start in the middle of your design and work outward; this helps balance the design. And, last but not least, remember to accept little bloopers and turn them into your own designs.

Here Problem Solving with Oil Painter Joshua LaRock

 Master drawing: Learn to put aside assumed ideas of what you are looking at, and educate your eyes enough to see what is actually in front of you. The maxim is “Draw what you know rather than what you think you see.”

Laura in Black (oil on linen, 20×16) by Joshua LaRock

To begin the drawing, think in two dimensions: Flatten the portrait as if looking at it through a window (the picture plane) and tracing on the surface of the glass.

1. Point relationships: Analyze where one landmark is relative to many others—the tear duct to the edge of the nostril, for instance. You may use two established points to locate a third in what is often known as “triangulation.”

2. Tilts: Think carefully about the angles of relationships. Are the eyes perfectly horizontal or tilted slightly one way? The nose and mouth should also be at the same tilt as the eyes.

3. Shapes: Attempt to see the shapes that make up the features, and, of extreme importance, do not ignore the shapes around the features that make up the cheek, forehead, chin, etc. Abstracting these shapes often helps you observe more acutely, and the portrait then becomes an interlocking puzzle. As examples, attempt to see “a bird” for the combined shadow shape of the nose and eye, or “a cartoon man in profile” for the light shape of the cheek.

4. Comparative measures: Use a pencil or paint brush, held at arm’s length, perpendicular to your line of sight, to measure various proportions and compare them to others. I always begin by judging that the distance from the chin to the tear duct is almost always the same as the distance from the tear duct to the top of the head. I establish this as an anchor point, calling it the vertical half.

Song Without Words (oil on linen, 15×15) by Joshua LaRock

Now think in the round: The flattened portrait, now in proper proportion, can be further understood and refined by imagining it in three dimensions. Try to re-create an imagined space behind the canvas or paper.

The Entrance (oil on linen, 36×40) by Joshua LaRock

Work with values by working with form: This is perhaps the most vital method for analyzing value—and the most difficult to fully grasp. In short, consider only the fact that the planes, which are more perpendicular to the direction of your light source, are brighter in value than planes that are less perpendicular—and forget almost everything else you think you are seeing. Please don’t misunderstand me! The phenomenon of light on form is more complex than this (not least of which is understanding the “highlight”), but thinking about this physical truth will take you a long way in your ability to refrain from the improper practices of copying values one for one and copying what you perceive as local contrasts.

Meet Joshua LaRock

In 2012 the artist’s portrait submission of his wife, Laura, was celebrated as “deserving special attention” during the historic America China Oil Painting Artists League (ACOPAL) exhibition at the Beijing World Art Museum. Reproductions of Laura became the best selling souvenir throughout the Chinese tour, and the artist was commissioned to paint many other Chinese personalities, including Mrs. Wang Limei, director of the Beijing World Art Museum, and Mr. Brian Lu, vice president and general manager of Apple Inc. in greater China. This past June, another painting of the artist’s wife, Laura in Black won the 2016 BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery London.

LaRock is represented by Collins Galleries, Cape Cod; Portraits, Inc., New York; Stephen Ling – Beijing. He has participated in exhibitions throughout the U.S. and China, has received a number of awards from the Art Renewal Center, and is a much sought after workshop instructor.

Art Benefit for Kids

Think back to when you were in elementary school. In between doing all the dittos and spelling tests and times tables, there were specials (and aptly named, too). Nothing was quite as exciting as the gleeful anticipation of putting on your smock for art class or pulling out the wooden recorders for music. And when it was time for the class play, just forget it. Whether you starred as Snow White or donned a furry costume as Woodland Creature #7, school couldn’t get much better. And that was the whole point.

These days, however, not only are many kids lucky if they have art-on-a-cart, but when they do, proponents often have to justify the programs in relation to students’ performance on standardized reading and math tests. Because in the age of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), few things matter more than test scores (read our report on NCLB at Well, the bad news first: Although kids who are involved in the arts do tend to test better, there’s no direct cause-and-effect evidence that participation actually helps raise scores.

This sounds like awful news and justification to slash school arts programs even further, right? But “dismissing the arts if they don’t directly boost scores is a big mistake,” says Richard Kessler, executive director of the Center for Arts Education in New York City. “In fact, plenty of research shows that children who spend time in school doing visual art, performing music or dance, or even acting in a play gain a whole set of creative and analytical skills that are quickly disappearing from the rest of the curriculum.”

That’s because in the majority of public schools, the emphasis is on test prep, which means lots of memorization, rote learning, and following directions. In fact, many have more than doubled instructional time in math and English language arts (ELA) since NCLB was enacted in 2002. More math and reading instruction might sound like a good thing — that is, until you realize what’s being eliminated to make room for it. Those same schools have cut arts education by an average of 35 percent. Ideally, children should have an hour of each arts discipline once a week. But few schools make the grade. Twelve percent of school districts don’t offer any arts instruction at all.

And it’s not like putting all the focus on nonstop test-prep is having the desired effect. Test scores have failed to rise as hoped. Meanwhile, Hong Kong as well as Japan, Canada, Finland, and five other countries that consistently outperform us in math and reading all require extensive education in the arts without narrowing their curriculum, according to a new report from Common Core, a Washington, DC, educational research and advocacy organization. For example, national guidelines in Hong Kong recommend that fourth-graders visit artists’ studios and study great works of sculpture and painting; in Ontario, Canada, learning musical composition and conducting are standard for eighth-graders. “The situation here is extremely frustrating,” says Lynne Munson, Common Core’s executive director. “We have lots of proof that a broad education that includes the arts works better than what we’re doing — and yet we’re ignoring it.”

Could your child have ADHD? Read our Parents’ Guide to ADHD to find out

All of this has education experts worried indeed. It should also worry parents. “It’s not as easy to test the skills that children learn from the arts, but that doesn’t make them any less important,” says Kimberly Sheridan, Ed.D., coauthor of Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education. According to a recent study she conducted with colleagues at Harvard’s Project Zero, an educational research group, participating in a school arts program increases a child’s ability to:

Observe the world carefully and discard preconceptions n envision something and then create it
Go beyond just learning a skill to express a personal voice
Problem-solve and persist despite frustration and setbacks
Reflect on the results and ask what could improve them

What’s more, other research using brain imaging along with behavioral assessments has established strong links between the arts and specific cognitive skills. In a landmark 2008 study by the nonprofit Dana Foundation, neuroscientists at seven universities found that:

Musical training improves reading by helping children distinguish the sound structure of words
Acting boosts memory and the ability to articulate ideas
Strong interest in a performing art leads to better attention and memory

But perhaps most crucial of all, the arts foster creativity and innovation far beyond the classroom. “Art gives kids a chance to learn by doing instead of just being lectured to,” says Jeff Gonzalez, a middle school art teacher in Dobbs Ferry, NY. “There’s no right answer in art, which means they can explore, connect new ideas, and learn from what they feel were their successes and failures without negative consequences. They just can’t get all that in math or history.” This is why our current educational strategy is so shortsighted. The arts have definite practical applications for our kids’ futures. A recent survey of business leaders rated creativity as a top skill that will only increase in importance. And as First Lady Michelle Obama said in a recent speech, “My husband and I believe strongly that arts education is essential for building innovative thinkers who will be our leaders of tomorrow.”

The Obama administration is starting to act on this belief by launching a new survey to assess the state of arts education. Results aren’t expected until 2011, but in the meantime some schools are proving that wonderful things can happen when arts are a valued part of the curriculum. When administrators at Middle School 223 in New York City’s South Bronx realized that art classes were a big draw, they began to schedule them on Mondays and Fridays, when attendance was typically lower. Attendance went up immediately, says principal Ramon Gonzalez. More than that: “Once we got the students engaged and feeling confident in art, we were able to use that as a bridge to build engagement and confidence in other subjects. For example, we see that kids who don’t normally like to talk in class will discuss their painting or hip-hop routine passionately, and this new skill spills over to other areas.” That’s one reason Gonzalez goes against current practice and eliminates periods of math, English language arts, and other subjects on a rotating basis to make room for 12-week blocks of visual arts, drama, dance, and both instrumental and digital music. “The academics haven’t suffered,” says Gonzalez. “Instead, the whole school has improved.”

Across the country, in Flagstaff, AZ, third-grade teacher Diane Immethun incorporates music into her lessons as part of Keeping Score, a program that trains classroom teachers to enhance learning through music. “I’m not a music teacher, but ever since I began using music, I’ve noticed an immense improvement in my students’ logical thinking, creativity, and writing skills,” says Immethun. “Music enhances their imaginations. I’ll have them listen to Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ and make up a story. Their writing is much richer than it was before. Or I’ll use ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ to teach them how a composer gives a voice to a musical instrument and how that’s similar to the way an author gives a character a voice in a book. It’s a sophisticated concept for third-graders, but music helps them make the connection.”

The Creative Connections Arts Academy, a K-8 charter school in North Highlands, CA, has taken things even further. In addition to providing classes in music, drama, dance, and drawing and painting, the school has integrated the arts into almost all academics. In social studies, students act out plays or create drawings about the people they’re studying; in math, they make the connection between quarter- and half-notes and fractions. In total, students are involved in the arts for a whopping four to six hours each day. “Kids get tired of rote learning, but they never get tired of the arts,” says principal Joe Breault. “We have a wide variety of students, including kids with learning disabilities, but we have no trouble engaging any of them.” And — surprise! — standardized-test scores have risen at all three of these schools (Immethun even warms up her students’ brains on test days by having them sing rounds). “Research might not always be able to prove a direct connection to higher scores, but there’s no doubt that an arts program makes kids better at everything they take on,” says Breault. “It helps them become well-rounded, well-prepared thinkers and citizens of the world — and that should be our main goal.”

Hull’s Ferens gallery to reopen after £5.2m refit backed

 One of the most important regional galleries in England is to reopen on Friday after a £5.2m refurbishment, paid for in part by a cash-strapped local council that said cuts to culture funding were a “false economy”.

The Ferens in Hull has been closed for the last 16 months while it underwent an essential revamp to fix the gallery’s temperature, humidity and lighting systems. The work was deemed necessary if it was to be trusted to care for world-class art.

The investment, £3.7m of which came from the local council, is already paying dividends as Hull begins its UK City of Culture celebrations. On Thursday, 100 years after local industrialist TR Ferens purchased the plot of land on which the museum stands, its new star attraction was revealed: a restored 14th-century gold panel painting, Christ Between Saints Paul and Peter, by Italian Pietro Lorenzetti, saved for the nation after the government placed an export bar to stop it being snapped up by a foreign buyer.

Unveiling the painting on Thursday, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, the director of the National Gallery, said he was “very envious” of Hull for owning such an exquisite piece of art. “I do hope one day you will consider lending it to us,” he said.

Also at the Ferens in 2017 is the showFrancis Bacon: Nervous System, and works by the internationally acclaimed sculptor Ron Mueck. Rembrandt’s The Shipbuilder and his Wife will also arrive on loan from the Queen’s royal collection.

Hull council has been criticised by some residents who are unhappy that the city’s cultural budget has remained untouched while brutal savings have been made in almost every other non-ring-fenced area, admitted the deputy council leader, Darren Hale. Central government funding to Hull in 2020 will be 55% of what it was in 2010, he said, representing a loss of £136m over 10 years.

“Many cash-strapped councils are making difficult choices, with some choosing to cut arts, leisure and culture. At Hull city council we will not be doing that,” he said. “We have managed to not just preserve but enhance our cultural offering. It has been a struggle. People say ‘why are the cuts not applied evenly?’ But we see that investment in culture boosts the economy. To cut the culture budget would be a false economy. We spend £1.5m on galleries each year and we know that they bring in two or three times that amount to the local economy – hopefully much more than that this year. It’s a no-brainer.”

Matt Hancock, the culture minister, said councils that cut culture budgets were acting “politically”. The government contributed £1m to the Ferens revamp, with the Arts Council providing a further £500,000.

Hancock told the Guardian at the Ferens relaunch: “All the evidence shows that investment in culture improves the towns and cities where that investment is made. It improves these places socially, it brings people together and it boosts the economy.”

Asked if he had sympathy for councils that have slashed arts budgets, such as Lancashire, which is closing more than 20 libraries and shutting museums, he said: “Hull shows that you can make efficiencies elsewhere and deliver investment in the arts. Making a political decision not to do that is a mistake. I think that people right across the country in councils that are looking to balance their books should see the impact of cultural investment in places like Hull.”

During its closure, Ferens lent out one of its treasures, Nicolas Régnier’s Saint Sebastian Tended By the Holy Irene and Her Servant, to the National Gallery for its Beyond Caravaggio exhibition. Reviewing the show on Radio 4, an eminent broadsheet art critic said he had not seen the painting before because it had been “hidden away in Hull”. Hancock urged such critics to leave London. “Get on the train,” he said.