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Painting techniques

Turning something tired into a conversation piece

You can paint on anything, everybody knows that. And “anything” can be turned into “something” – an heirloom piece or a conversation piece, with careful flicks of a brush or two, and a bit of paint.

Today my girls were painting hydrangea in class and I thought to myself, I will paint hydrangea on the cover of this very interesting tired old thing I had. I sometimes paint an item in class instead of just demonstrating on a painted board and so the plan was to paint on this thing in class. But since the girls were busy painting their leaves, we did not start on the hydrangea today so the thing remained empty.

It was a very interesting thing – an hors d’oeuvres tray actually – which I bought many many years ago in Malaysia. Or was it Dubai? Anyway, I love blue and white and whenever I saw something blue and white, I would buy it. This hors d’oeuvres tray was a round container with a cover, and it had a short pedestal with ball-bearings – it turned like a carousel. Outside it was sort of veneered with a basket weave.

My hors d'oeuvres tray with cover

Inside the container were five little blue and white china dishes, a square one in the middle and four almost boat-shaped ones that fit snugly around the centre dish. It was really handy, not just for hors d’oeuvres but also for sauces, nuts and the like. I have to say that I hardly used it because I was afraid the dishes would break. It was more a decorative piece. One day one of the dishes broke. Then another one chipped. One fell down…and piece by piece I lost my blue and white. It broke my heart because there was no way I could replace them. At the end I only had one piece of the blue and white boat-shaped pieces left and the tray became somewhat of a white elephant.

Only one blue and white dish left

I really did not know what to use the now empty-round-box-with-cover-which-turned and the dark brown basket weave was so bland. One day I “improved” it by slip-slapping a lighter brown and gold all over the box and its cover. It looked much better but I still did not know what to do with it. It just stayed in the kitchen and I kept knick knacks in it. It stayed that way for a couple of years until I took it into the studio yesterday.

As I tidied up after class today I saw my tired little box and was reminded that I was going to paint it so I decided there and then to start painting it. Tired or not. I quickly penciled in the hydrangea ovals and the leaves and sat down to paint.

Painting on a basket weave is not quite the same as painting on a smooth, basecoated surface. I had to use a slightly stiffer brush and much more paint than usual but it worked really well. I finished the leaves in just over five minutes and was really pleased with how it looked on the dark brown basket weave surface – I had always painted hydrangea AND taught hydrangea on a light background such as cream, pastel blues, greens and pinks and wondered how it would look on a dark background. I think the box will look splendid!

In go the leaves..

I decided to paint three different colours of hydrangea on the cover of my box and started with whitish-greenish ones, then bluish-purplish and finally tri-coloured pinkish-purplish-greenish! I loved how they turned out.

Three different colours of hydrangea

They really brightened up my tired old ex-hors d’oeuvres tray and the transformation took less than an hour! I’m really pleased with it.


Suddenly my old box no longer looks tired but in its stead, colourful and fresh. Certainly it was going to be my new conversation piece and perhaps an heirloom, who knows.

My new conversation piece

But for sure, I still don’t know what to use it for. Any ideas?

French folk art at the Lille Christmas market

Its always nice travelling during the festive season. One year we were in France on a road trip and we stopped at a Christmas market in Lille. It was very cold yet when we stumbled on the market, I didn’t mind taking my time walking around looking at the Christmassy wares on sale.

One of the stalls I found was a peinture d’art folklorique stall. The artist had put up for sale a large collection of painted work, every one of them painted simply on an off-white background.

Christmas market at Lille 2

Many of them were painted with various fruits motifs – apples, cherries, lemons. Some were painted with lavender and others with more rustic motifs such as chicken! Christmas market at Lille 1

There were also pansies and I saw a nice teapot painted with a lavender garden. Very quaint!

Christmas market at Lille 4

The artist had painted on various types of surfaces too. Many of them were enamel or other metal objects and they were everyday kitchen items like teapots and coffee pots, jugs and colanders.

Christmas market at Lille 5

This ordinary metal colander has been painted with pansies and turned into a lamp shade!

The artist was very creative with these everyday kitchen items turning them into clocks and light shades! This jelly bowl clock for example, was decorated with cherries and Roman numerals!

Christmas market at Lille 6

And how about this great kitchen clock?

The artist was obviously very talented at turning everyday objects into useful items for a rustic kitchen as she also took a simple garden shovel and turned it into a clock!Christmas market at Lille 3

There were other items like letter boxes, organisers and bread boxes which were made of wood and I loved every single one of them! Unfortunately I had to stop myself buying any because I simply did not have space in our luggage… :-(

The folk art paintings I saw at this Christmas market stall just goes to show that decorative painting is a very simple and rewarding pursuit – you don’t need to do anything complicated to turn simple everyday items into beautiful items to treasure.

Just pick a colour scheme, a simple motif and paint away!

Tulip Day

I never knew but it seems that the 13th of May is Tulip Day! So I shall remember to wish everyone a Happy Tulip Day every 13th May from now :-)

Tulip motifs are fairly common in the world of decorative painting and you can find them in the traditional folk art of Hindeloopen, Bauernmalerei, Rosemaling, and even Zhostovo as well as in the contemporary style of decorative painting.

Stylised tulips I painted on a Rosemaling plaque

Multi-loaded tulips in the style of Bauernmalerei 

It is said that…

…the tulip is one of the world’s most easily recognized and loved flowers. The meanings of tulips coupled with the immediately identifiable shape of their colorful blooms make them a comfortable flower choice. They are not too elegant, too romantic, too big, too small, or too bright; the tulip is always just right.

The meaning of tulips is generally perfect love. Like many flowers, different colors of tulips also often carry their own significance. Red tulips are most strongly associated with true love, while purple symbolizes royalty. The meaning of yellow tulips has evolved somewhat, from once representing hopeless love to now being a common expression for cheerful thoughts and sunshine. White tulips are used to claim worthiness or to send a message of forgiveness. Variegated tulips, once among the most popular varieties due to their striking color patterns, represent beautiful eyes.

By coincidence I just finished a tulips class painted in the contemporary style. It was the second project for another student of mine from Egypt. But it wasn’t red, purple, yellow or white tulips!

It was pink.

Pink tulips bouquet 

In traditional folk art the stylised tulips would for the most part be painted with a round brush and the technique used would be strokework. These contemporary tulips were painted using a filbert brush which allows us to blend the strokes and achieve the soft colours and a variegated look of a tulip.

We had a lot of fun painting these lovely spring flowers..Happy Tulip Day!

Painting with confidence

It was a great morning shared with one of my Kuwaiti friends and students. Coffee and a conversation about our favourite topic – painting – is such a nice way to start the day! Its been a while since I saw her and she had a project she was trying to start. When we spoke yesterday I told her to bring the tray she wanted to paint and we’d try to sort out her issues.

This particular friend and student of mine is very talented and her passion in decorative painting is strokework. And why not – her brush work is very natural and she seems to be able to paint strokes effortlessly! When I first met her many years ago, she had found my decorative painting website and written to me. We met and she went absolutely crazy when she saw all the work I displayed in my studio.

She had everything one would need to paint projects endlessly – so many books, brushes and paints. AND she knew a lot about the various decorative artists and decorative painting styles. And she was especially interested in hindeloopen!

Having known her all this time there was only one thing that stopped her from painting as much as she wanted to – I think its called confidence…the confidence to put brush to paint to surface and paint away, and trust the project to turn out a beautiful work of art.

And if not? So what, start another project I say!

This time around, she had basecoated a tray with a light pastel blue and had even traced a Hindeloopen pattern on it. But she was still trying to find the right colours for the project. She had tried out a number of colour schemes for the tray and had done this by painting the design on a clear plastic sheet placed on top of the traced design. She wanted to make sure she had the right colours…she’s a perfectionist – JUST LIKE ME! LOL

When I was learning to paint, I was told it was OK to be a perfectionist but it was also OK to make mistakes. The adage “We learn from our mistakes” is so very true and its just as applicable in painting. Any kind of painting.

I’ve learned and discovered many new things from mistakes. Sometimes new techniques and sometimes new colour schemes. I call them “happy accidents”.

Anyway, we were determined that she would start painting this tray of hers when she got home. After discussing all the options and looking at the colour schemes she had tried, she finally decided to paint a blues three-toned hindeloopen, something like this coasters holder I had painted for myself.

Three-tone Hindeloopen Coasters Holder

Any hindeloopen design is usually painted first with a medium value (a mid-tone), then the shadow strokes are painted in a darker value followed by the highlight strokes painted in a lighter value. Finally, details are painted using a liner brush and the lightest value colour, almost white. The same principle is applied when painting hindeloopen in traditional colours.

We picked the colours then decided to try them on a piece of cardboard painted with the basecoat colour of her tray.

Colour swatch for Hindeloopen project

And voila!

This is the best method of determining the suitability of a colour scheme on a background. It doesn’t take a long time to paint a section of a piece of cardboard. And it gives you the confidence to start your project knowing it will turn out perfect!

Good luck with the project, my friend!

Painting lines

I received an e-mail from a decorative painter recently asking for tips on painting thin lines for stems of flowers, for example, and that inspired me to write this post about painting lines.

I think that painting lines is one of those techniques in decorative painting that gets so taken for granted. That’s because it looks so easy! And mind you, it IS easy. As with everything else, the right tools and the right techniques are all you need to paint lines well.

White zhostovo on bisque

Linework is important not just for painting stems etc. You need to develop your line painting skills so that you can paint intricate borders such as the one on this zhostovo project.

First, you need the right brush both in terms of quality and size. Technically speaking you should be able to paint a thin line using any round brush (with Taklon or sable hairs or a combination) that is in perfect condition. A brush in “perfect condition” is important because it must be able to give you a sharp point once loaded with paint.

Of course, the best way to paint a thin line is to use what we call a LINER brush.

Heather Redick liner brush

This type of brush is specifically made for painting thin lines and so it has very few hairs. It almost looks like a make-up brush! There are many brands of liner brushes available on the market but the best liner brush I have used is Heather Redick’s liner brushes. She is a decorative artist and sells her own line of liner brushes. It is truly the best liner brush I have ever used! She has a website and sell her brushes there. There are three sizes available now and if you get the middle size you should be able to do all your line painting quite successfully. I think she gives a special price if you want to get all three sizes.

Secondly, you need the the right paint consistency. To paint thin lines you need to load your liner brush with watery paint, the consistency of ink. That’s very watery paint. Load the liner brush with just the right amount of paint – no blobs and certainly no paint on the ferrule of your brush – then paint away! If you buy Heather’s liner brush, it also comes with instructions on the right way to load the brush.

Lastly, the right technique. Its not difficult at all..basically you must learn to allow “the brush to do the work”. It takes practise to do this. The only way I can explain this is to not try to “draw” the line because your hands will shake and you will get a wiggly line.

Place your project in front of you at an angle that allows you to comfortably pull the brush TOWARDS you, not AWAY from you. Place the loaded brush at the base of your flower, press it down a bit to release the paint and pull it towards you. Try to use your whole arm to pull the line. Rest your arm or your little finger on your project to control your movement. If you want a thicker line, just put more pressure on the brush.

Its not complicated at all, it just takes a lot of practise and before long you will painting perfect lines without any effort at all. Just take some paper, ink consistency paint and a liner in perfect condition and practise, practise, practise.

Mastering side loading

Side-loading is a very important decorative painting skill and many of my students still find it a little daunting when a project involves side-loading!

All I can say is – everything is easy if you know how and that applies to panting skills too.

What is side loading?

Side loading is one of the principle methods for applying acrylics. A side loaded brush has paint on only one side for placing graduated colour. This technique is sometimes referred to as floating colour. And indeed, the paint should float on a layer of water in order to dry smoothly. Side loads are used to place shading, highlighting and accent colours within the design. The contrast between light and dark values creates depth in the painting. Like other painting techniques, side loading requires practice to master.

Sharyn Binam, CDA, author of “The Sideload Book”

That’s right. Practise. Practise. Practise. There’s no running away from practise.

Basic side loading involves loading a flat brush with paint on one edge of the brush and water on the other edge. I usually tell my students to use the biggest brush possible for the project. A small brush is more difficult to load….that is until you master the technique. The brushes I use the most for floating are the 1/2” angle or #10 flat. But get a 3/4” angle and save it for floating – you’ll never regret it.

23-Carat Tulips on Desk Box

Side loading was the major technique used in painting this tulips deskbox project. The floating technique was used here to layer the highlights to create depth and the “light within” effect.

The key points for a successful float (other than perfecting the technique of course!) are:

  • a flat or angle brush in PERFECT condition – in other words, like new, with a perfect chisel edge
  • clean water always for dressing the brush
  • a clean wet palette for blending the brush to dress it
  • fresh paint – certainly without lumps. Leftover paint is not advisable
  • less is better – use very little paint to load your brush

Start by dampening the brush in clean water. Blot the excess by touching the brush only once on each side on a folded paper towel. Pick up a small amount of paint with one corner of the brush. Hold the brush vertically and blend the paint into the brush by pulling a short strip on your palette towards you. This is called the “blending strip” and it shouldn’t be more than 1”. Maintain the brush position and push and pull the brush back and forth so that you spread the paint across the brush and create the dark-to-light gradation.

A good side-loaded brush will have colour on one side diminishing gradually to nothing on the other side.

If the colour has travelled completely to the other side you will have a strip colour when you paint the float. When that happens you must wash the brush and dress it all over again.

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