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She did it!

As a teacher, I feel really happy when a student gets highly motivated to paint AND she paints!

My Kuwaiti friend and student with whom I sat down and helped choose a colour scheme for her Hindeloopen project said she was going to do it when she went home, and she really did it.

I felt privileged to receive a blow-by-blow account of her progress with her blues three-toned hindeloopen tray project all day long. Via text message! A couple of days ago she brought over the finished tray project to show me and it was beautiful. She allowed me to share her adventure here.

Hindeloopen is easy to paint if you put your heart and mind to it – and provided you understand the simple principles and have developed the necessary strokework skills, of course.

The very first step - basing in the first strokes

The first stage is the easiest and involves involves painting every stroke of the design in the medium value of the chosen colour.

Stroking in the shadows

Next, the shadows are stroked in using the darkest value of the colour chosen for the project. These strokes are usually smaller than the base strokes so that the base colour shows through. These shadow strokes start to define the various objects whether they’re leaves, flowers or birds.

Painting the highlight strokes

The third stage involves lightening the medium value used as the base colour and using this to paint the highlight strokes.

The objects become more defined at this stage.

The completed Hindeloopen tray

And finally, the detail strokes are added in the lightest shade of all, almost but not quite white.

So there it is. Its really easy if you know how!

I knew she could do it and she proved she could do it. All on her own. Next week we will paint another Hindeloopen project in class in the traditional Hindeloopen colours and I’m sure it will be just as breathtaking!

Trompe l’oeil….is it real?

Its very important to me to show students the techniques I am teaching them step-by-step without painting ON their projects. To do this, I usually paint the same project with them – either on my own surface or sometimes on a piece of canvas, or black practise paper.

I usually pick a piece from my stash (yes, stash!) of basecoated pieces or sometimes I deliberately basecoat a suitable piece from my other stash – a delightful collection of things I want to paint which I buy whenever and wherever I see them! I have wooden clogs from the Netherlands, carved candle stands from somewhere in Europe, musical door harps from someone on the internet who makes and sells them, an MDF calico cat, even a nest of Matryoshka dolls I bought in St Petersburg, Russia!

I have a lot of painting I want to do! LOL

Yesterday, while teaching red roses on fabric I demonstrated the techniques on a piece of black paper and, as stunning as the project was on linen, I have to say it didn’t look too bad on the black paper!

The red roses on black paper....sigh..

After the class, I remembered that sometime ago, Nina had given me a tea box. I had even prepared the faux finish background on the lid and left it to cure. Its been there a long time waiting for something to be painted on the lid. Of course I exclaimed, “I could have painted those roses on this tea box instead of the black paper…!” Why didn’t I think of that…

I decided I’d paint it later during the day after class….”Hmmmm do that….it should take you only fifteen minutes to paint that on your tea box!” So I retrieved the tea box and set it on the studio table resolving to do just that..paint the red roses on them later, really quickly.

But when I looked at the tea box, I remembered that I had always wanted to paint something trompe l’oeil on it…like teabags maybe?

Trompe l’oeil is French for “deceive, fool or trick the eye” and is an art technique which involves realistic imagery that creates an optical illusion that the painted objects appear in three dimensions.

It is the artistic ability to depict an object so exactly as to make it appear real. A heightened form of illusionism, the art of trompe l’oeil flourished from the Renaissance onward. The discovery of perspective in fifteenth-century Italy and advancements in the science of optics in the seventeenth-century Netherlands enabled artists to render objects and spaces with eye-fooling exactitude. Both witty and serious, trompe l’oeil is a game artists play with spectators to raise questions about the nature of art and perception.

Famous painting of a boy

And that’s the textbook definition of trompe l’oeil. In decorative painting, trompe l’oeil is similarly applied by painting items on objects to look real e.g. strawberries and chocolates painted on trays, spectacles and pens on a desk box and many more possibilities.

So I went to the kitchen and looked around for some objects to create a still life composition for my tea box. I selected three teabags in individual paper bags, diffused some tea to get a used teabag, and my Delft blue used tea bag holder. Then I set it up on a piece of mounting board.

My still life of selected objects from the kitchen!

Next, I drew it in white pencil on the cover of my tea box, selected my colours and started painting. Of course it took much, much more than fifteen minutes because in painting trompe l’oeil, the goal is to make objects appear as realistic as possible. So you guessed correctly that a lot of detailed work was involved! But the finished product was gratifying, as indeed, it looked real.

The finished painting, viewed from the you would see it.

So “real” that when I was painting the used teabag tab, I borrowed a fresh teabag from the kitchen to look at the details. I put it down for a moment to get something and when I wanted to start painting again, I tried to pick up the teabag tab I had painted! :-)

My new teabox enjoying its place in the kitchen

Everyone can paint very simple trompe l’oeil projects: the important thing to remember is that other than trying to make the painted items as realistic as possible in terms of the drawing, colour, texture, detail etc, they have to be life size i.e. the same size as they are in real life, and they have to be painted as the eye would see it on the object i.e. in terms of perspective and elevation.

And the final thing to remember is – to have fun!

Stunning red roses on fabric

Most of the projects I teach my students are painted in class on wood or MDF (medium density fibreboard).

Having said that, the beauty of what I teach in my decorative painting classes is that you can paint the same subject matter on many other different surfaces. The medium we use – acrylic paint – is very versatile and can be used to paint on canvas, metal, leather, fabric, even candles and plastic!

Today I had a class with a student who had a red piece of linen-like fabric on which she wanted to paint roses. When completed she would have the painted fabric fitted onto the cover of a tea-box which she will give to her sister for Christmas. I suggested really red roses and she loved the idea. Red is after all, very festive this time of year.

Really red roses on red linen

The finished painting was really very nice, bravo! I’m sure her sister will be very proud to receive such a nice piece of work, and for sure its going to be a family heirloom!

Painting on fabric is an easily learned skill, especially if you have painted the subject matter on a wooden item before.

Some things to note about painting on fabric are as follows:

Your fabric should, preferably, be “mounted” onto a piece of cardboard. This serves two purposes – firstly, your fabric won’t move around when you scrub your strokes, and secondly, the cardboard absorbs the paint that seeps through the fabric. I use masking tape and this is easily removed once the painting is completed.

As with painting on wood, you can trace your pattern onto your fabric using the regular transfer paper or if you prefer, the transfer paper specifically produced for fabrics. You would buy this in a haberdashery. Of course you can also free-hand a design onto your fabric using a water soluble pencil or fabric pencil.

Pattern hand-drawn and painting begins!

The brush is normally “scrubbed” into the fabric otherwise the paint doesn’t get transferred to the fabric – so you would need a flat or angle brush with stiffer bristles than those used for painting on wood.

With fabric medium, the paint is easily scrubbed into the fabric

Because I paint mainly with acrylic paint, I have never tried fabric paint to paint any of my designs on fabric. I simply use my acrylic paint with a fabric medium and it works out really great. I can use my favourite colours and apply my colour palettes to any of the projects I want to paint.

There are many different brands available on the market but I have used DecoArt Americana fabric medium as well as Jo Sonja’s textile medium and both convert acrylic paint into a fabric paint which easily penetrates and bonds with fabric. Both are permanent on the fabric once heat-set and the painted fabrics are hand-washable.

Once painted, your fabric needs to be heat set to create permanence. Heat setting also softens your painted fabric.

Its easy to have a go at fabric painting: all you need are your decorative painting instructions, a piece of fabric, an old shirt or T-shirt, you acrylic paints and some fabric medium and you’re all set!

A UFO here and a UFO there

Last week I discovered five UFO’s in my studio and I just about freaked out.

Not Unidentified Flying Objects!

UFO’s are the dreaded “Un-Finished Objects” which every decorative painter tries to avoid but sometimes doesn’t succeed! These are the projects which get put off from one day to another until they are hidden from plain sight and forgotten. I discovered one project which I did not finish from 2006, one from 2007 and one from 2009. Another was a class project I taught the week before and the last one was the most recent class project..I was really disgusted and resolved to finished ALL of them before starting any new project! I painted everyday until they were all complete.

Thankfully I can go back to a normal painting life now..

UFO’s happen many ways. Many people have “good” reasons, like having to travel on an emergency (me!), running out of paint and no time off from classes to go out and get fresh supplies (me!), waiting for inspiration on how to complete a design (me!) etc etc  Most of the time its just pure procrastination. Is there ever another reason? LOL.

Anyway, UFO’s are not good at all. For one thing, depending on how long you’ve left your project lying around, a layer of dust and grime have collected on your painting, making it not the most friendly surface to paint on. You will find that paint tends to run off the surface when you try to paint it and it gets quite frustrating. What to do? Once I had to gently clean the surface with a soft sponge wetted with some water and a touch of hand soap. Then I dried the surface thoroughly with a hairdryer before I started painting on it.

If you’re painting from instructions, you will also probably be hunting high and low for those instructions. Maybe its instructions I gave you or maybe its instructions in one of your books or magazines. Do you even remember in which book or magazine it was??? Sometimes you may have the instructions at hand but it has been so long since you painted the project that the instructions don’t seem to make any sense. Another frustrating thing about UFO’s is that your wet palette has completely dried up or has been cleaned many times over and you no longer have the colours you used to paint that particular project. Its even worse if any of the colours you were using were mixes. Far worse if you don’t have the paints and the paints in your palette were the ones provided by your teacher at class!

Once I had a UFO which was a box with a cover and as usual I had removed the screws when I basecoated the box. Although I was careful enough to put all the screws in a little plastic container, God forbid, I had misplaced it! Thankfully, I found it in the end….but it was quite unnerving when I could not remember where I put it.

Those are just some of the problems with UFO’s. Maybe you have an experience to share?

So to end on a high note, here are a few good reasons to finish every single decorative painting project in good time and not procrastinate:

  • Your palette is still fresh with all the colours you used to paint the project
  • If you started painting the project in a class, techniques taught are still fresh in your head and you can still make sense of the instructions provided to you
  • Your surface is still fresh for painting – no dust or grime to deal with

Most importantly, remember the high that you feel when you look at your completed project…that’s the best reason to finish your painting project.

First Daisies at a Taster Class

The first "Taster Class" of 2010 was a great success. The girls painted the brand new "Girlie Daisies" project on an MDF plaque.

Being first-time painters, they were quite naturally nervous at first but the good thing about painting in a group is that you get to motivate each other and learn from each other.

Taking basecoating seriously..

Basecoating is always taught at your first class – I know it looks easy but trust me, its easy to forget that its one of the most important steps of decorative painting.

To get a good end result, we have to start right. These ladies soon learnt the trick to get their plaques perfectly smooth, ready for painting. Patience, patience, patience. Absolutely no shortcuts or your project will not look like an heirloom!

Concentrating....and PAINTING!

Confidence is important in decorative painting and at the first class its always necessary to develop confidence by practising brush loading and brush control.

OMG I did it! I painted my first daisy...

Once a reasonable level of confidence is attained, we start painting on the project. Of course, its quite natural to be a bit nervous. Its your first time, right? But when you see that first daisy take shape, believe me, its MAGIC….you are painting!

We painted these!

You might find it hard to believe, but everyone gets to finish their project on Day 2 of a Taster Class…these ladies thoroughly enjoyed it and are so proud of their work.

Big smile for the camera…..and CLICK!

Batik-inspired on wood

What do you think I did after my taster class in batik painting in Malaysia? I tried to re-create the batik experience on wood of course – without the wax.

I found a couple of open tea boxes and decided on a simple design inspired by a batik outfit I love so much until this day.

I and imitated the batik look……and viola! I thought it looked pretty good.  Green and purple Batik tea-box

On the long ends of the box I painted a design which in traditional batik is called the kepala or “head”. The conical shape is inspired by the pucuk rebung or bamboo shoots.

 Green and purple Batik tea-box - another view  

I was really enjoying the experience that I painted another one in an equally bright combination of colours: pink and blue!

Blue and pink Batik tea-box

Blue and pink Batik tea-box - another view

This is a very simple project which a beginner decorative painter will be able to finish in an afternoon.

Batik painting – Malaysian folk art

Originally an Indonesian craft, batik has made itself at home in Malaysia.  As a Malaysian, of course, I will say that Malaysian Batik is the best in the world!

There are four ways of creating batik today: block-printing, drawn freestyle, silk-screened, or tie-dyed. While batik is produced and available pretty much anywhere in Malaysia, the best batik are those painstakingly hand-drawn by artisans in its true home in Malaysia – in the state of Kelantan.

Batik is traditionally created on cotton and silk. When hand-drawn, the design is created using a canting filled with liquid wax.


The fabric is then dyed with the first colour. The wax is then melted away by boiling the fabric in water and a second part of the design is drawn in.  After this repeated process, an intricate and beautifully coloured design is produced.

While in Malaysia on one of my trips back, I took a taster class in batik painting on silk and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Pink Hibiscus Batik on Silk Purple Orchid Batik on Silk

I can’t imagine painting metres of silk fabric but the 2 small projects that I painted was enough for me to appreciate the beauty and art of batik!

Next….batik on wood!

Are you a messy painter?

It’s always a good idea to start your painting session with your tools and supplies properly laid out in front of you. And yes, there is a RIGHT way to place everything so that you can paint in a relaxed manner.

If you don’t set up your painting area properly, you won’t be able to reach your tools…. you might also spill paint all over your work, or worse, get paint on your sleeves.

The most effective way to organize your painting area is to place everything around you according to how you move your hands when you are painting. Everything else you don’t need, especially when you attend a class or workshop where table space is limited, should be put away out of sight!

This is how you should lay out your painting area whenever you sit down to paint – your project is always directly in front of you:

Right handed painters

Layout for right-handed painters

You pick out your brush from the brush basin where it is resting, move to the right to swish it in the bottle of water, pick up your paper towel with your left hand and dab the brush to remove water, refer to your instructions which are on the left, load the brush in your palette on your right, then paint.

Left handed painters

Layout for left-handed painters

You pick out your brush from the brush basin with your left hand, move to the left to swish it in the bottle of water, pick up your paper towel with your right hand, refer to your instructions which are on the right, load the brush in your palette on your left, then paint.

So now you see the logic of laying out your painting area this way: whatever you need to do, you should never ever have to reach out across your project.

That’s all there is to it – if you make it a habit to place everything where they should be as suggested here, you will find that painting is so much more enjoyable!

Have you been practicing your roses?

Everything you put in to learn a new painting technique is an investment – your time, the fees you pay, the brushes and paint you are collecting etc.

To make sure your investment is worthwhile, you have to practice the techniques you learn by painting on your own or with another fellow painter when you are not attending classes.

This is especially true of stroke flowers, whether its roses, or daisies. The more you paint them, the better your flowers will look.

Pink roses on a  small black box

My first daisies were awful and my son and husband said my first roses looked like ice-cream! The only way you will improve your skills – even remember what you’ve learnt – is to practice, practice, practice!

However, it can be difficult to get started painting on your own and also to paint regularly.

Try the following:

  1. Make a painting appointment with yourself e.g. every Tuesday afternoon for 2 hours, or every other day for an hour. Commit to this appointment and do it!
  2. Find a permanent space in your home to paint – a table, a corner in your kitchen or claim a part of your husband’s study :-D  If you always have to take your painting stuff out to paint and put it away when you finish, you’ll find it harder to paint regularly.
  3. Keep a journal, like a diary, of the skills you are learning. Get a notebook or do it on your computer. Make a note of skills you need to improve and paint projects that help you develop those skills. Update it every time you find you have improved those skills.
  4. If you don’t have magazines or books to paint from, use the tracings provided to you when you attend a workshop with me and copy parts of the design to create your own design on whatever surface you are painting.

A Husband’s Diary

I don’t know how many of you remember your early days of painting? If like me, you painted and painted and painted, you will identify with this little poem. I don’t know who wrote it but its brilliant!

She learned to paint on Monday,
Her strokes were going fine.
She forgot to thaw our dinner,
So we went out to dine.

She painted daisies Tuesday,
She says they are a must.
They really were quite lovely,
But she forgot to dust.

On Wednesday it was strawberries,
She says the blending’s fun.
What highlights! What shadows!
But the laundry wasn’t done.

Her apples were on Thursday,
So juicy, bright and red.
Guess she really was engrossed,
She never made the bed.

It was violets on Friday,
In colours she adores.
It never bothered her at all,
The crumbs on all the floors.

Maid dusting

I found a maid on Saturday,
My week was now complete.
My wife can tole the hours away,
The house will still be neat.

Well, it’s already Sunday,
But don’t call me a saint.
I yelled, I raved, I ranted.
The maid had learned to paint!!!!

- Anonymous

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