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Art while travelling

While most people have just only upped and left on their summer vacations this year, I have been AND come back! Back to hot and dusty Kuwait and to my studio.

Anyway, this post is not about painting while travelling – its about the art I deliberately try to see while travelling or sometimes, serendipitously bump into.

Many years ago, while on a trip to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, my dear husband, knowing my passion for decorative painting and especially the folk art of various European origins, planned a trip to Hindeloopen.

The Dutch town of Hindeloopen is one of eleven cities in Friesland and is a quaint little place with lots of wooden bridges over tiny canals. It was pretty as a picture and simply lovely to walk around in.

Bridge over a small canal A canal view in Hindeloopen

Every now and then you will end up in a narrow street and then suddenly you are confronted with a beautiful canal view, a monument to remind you of the glorious past of Hindeloopen, someone’s lovely garden, a painted door or a whole street of shops with wondrous displays of traditional art also called Hindeloopen.
 Sign outside Harmen Zweed's Hindeloopen shop


THAT was why hubby brought me here.

The hindeloopen form of folk art originated with the Maritime community of Hindeloopen. During bad weather when there was no fish to sell, fishermen and sailors alike took to painting to pass the time and make some money. Through trade with their neighbours in Norway, especially, Hindeloopen sailors would bring home painted artefacts in other traditional styles such as the Baroque style of Norwegian Rosemaling. Over time, these “imported” traditional art pieces influenced the development of the Hindeloopen community’s own painting style into what we see today.

A beautiful painted Hindeloopen door 
The town of Hindeloopen is a haven for the traditional folk artist – there is a large number of studios of very talented Hindeloopen artists and for the souvenir collection a warehouse of painted objects in the hindeloopen style!

We discovered that, traditionally, it was the men of the village who painted while the women and wives ran the business. The lady we met, Jenny, was very conversant in the art although it was not her but her husband who painted.

Jenny Zweed pointing out the details on her husband's work

She explained that there were ten colours traditionally used in the traditional Hindeloopen style of painting. And there were at least two different ways of painting the highlights which created different looks of the final painting. The predominant floral motifs were the Dog Rose, Star Flower and Carnation. Tulips were also quite common.

Two ways of painting Hindeloopen highlights 
I bought a lovely tray painted by the meister Harmen Zweed himself. What I really wanted was the tilt-top table…but it wasn’t practical as I had to take it back to Kuwait by plane!

Harmen Zweed tray which I bought

Before saying goodbye to Hindeloopen, we visited the Hindeloopen museum to find out more about its painting heritage. The Museum Hidde Nijland Foundation was located in the Town Hall (circa 1683) and housed an enthralling collection of colourful tines, bowls, and cupboards, furniture and even staircases for wall-beds, dating back to the 17th and 18th Century. There was a whole blue and white wall with floral and bird motifs. I was mesmerised by the detail and  passionate handiwork of the artist. No photos though as photography was prohibited. :-(

The Hindeloopen Museum

I personally love painting in the Hindeloopen style and I think its a painting technique that stretches you to develop and perfect your comma strokes. Its one of those techniques that, after painting a few pieces, your comma strokes seem to come out effortlessly!

Simple Hindeloopen on Malaysian clogs

Repetitive two-tone Hindeloopen

I’m really glad hubby arranged that trip to Hindeloopen. Not only did I get to see the little historic town, and enjoy its scenic beauty, I also learnt first-hand about its origins and saw the original work of its talented artists. It was truly memorable!

Painting on alternative backgrounds

Most decorative painting projects look amazing even on a plain background but sometimes its nice to do something to the background BEFORE painting on it.

There are many alternatives to a plain background. You can create a faux finish such as a marbled background or a smoked background. You can even crackle the background and then paint on it.

There is only one rule. You must base-coat the item you want to paint and leave it to cure for at least a week. In fact, the longer the better safer.

Rules

If we work on it immediately after basecoating there is a chance that the still drying basecoat paint will lift-off as we do our special effects. Its not so risky if you’re creating a smoked background but its very risky if you’re creating a background that requires you use masking tape, for example, to create stripes.

And, depending on the kind of background you create, you should again leave it to cure for another week.

A crackled background, for example, is very delicate to paint on unless the crackle has been allowed to dry thoroughly. Once I wanted to paint on a background I had crackled and I left it to cure for almost a month.

Recently I wanted to paint a gift for a friend who was leaving Kuwait and I thought I had a lot of time. I wanted to paint her a dainty plaque of roses on a striped background and had also decided to write “Home is where the heart is” on it. Suddenly her departure date was brought forward almost three weeks and I had to hurry to paint her something. I panicked and wondered if I had to cancel my idea because I would not have time to basecoat a plaque and let it cure before striping it.

Thankfully, I discovered I had a few base-coated items among my hoard which included two plaques. They have probably been there a year…obviously I never got round to painting them. Sometimes procrastination does pay! LOL

So I was able to stripe the background without any mishaps! I completed one plaque for my friend and I liked it so much, especially since the quotation was poignant for me too, that I decided to paint another for myself.

Two striped plaques

Striping is easy – the only meticulous part is the preparation. The part where you measure and mask the areas to create the stripes. But that time is an investment.

Masking for stripes

Once that is done, and you’ve made sure there will be no seepage, you paint the stripes, and that part is easy.

Its important not to use a hairdryer when you finish painting the stripes. Firstly, the hairdryer “melts” the masking tape glue which can be messy to remove from your basecoat, and secondly, its better to slowly and carefully remove the masking tape immediately after you paint the stripes because you can use a damp flat brush and clean up any seepage.

Which way to stripe? Paint the coloured basecoat first then paint the white stripes? Or paint a white basecoat then paint the coloured stripes?

I have done it both ways and I have to say, I prefer the first method – paint a coloured basecoat then stripe it white because the stripe looks “softer”. You should try both ways and see which suits you. There is no wrong or right here.

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!

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!

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 top...how 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!

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.

Floating

No, we’re not talking about swimming here! “Floating” in decorative painting refers to the application of colour to an object to create shadows and highlights.

It is a basic skill decorative artists learn so that they can paint realistic, three-dimensional objects. This skill is used in painting many subjects including fruits, flowers, inanimate objects, even teddy bears.

What are shadows and highlights anyway? In painting, there is something called the “light source” which is basically something the designer or you yourself can decide. It is the direction in which light is coming from in your painting. This determines where the shadows and highlights will fall—shadows occur in parts which are hidden from the light and highlights occur in the brightest parts where light hits the object.

Floating colour is done by loading a flat or an angle brush with colour on only one side. Only a little colour is applied to the brush. The brush is then blended back and forth on a palette until the brush paints a stroke which ranges from a solid colour of the paint on one end of the brush hairs fading into nothing at the other end. This colour is then “floated” on the object usually at the relevant edges where you want to create the shadow or highlight.

The colours used depend on the object being shaded or highlighted. Highlights are floated in colours lighter than the base colour of the object and shadows, with colours darker than the base colour.

Floating applied to a fruits design

This fruits project illustrates the use of the floating technique to create shadows and highlights.

Antiquing…first you paint it, then you age it!

Sometimes newly painted projects look, well, too new. One of the ways in which we make them look like heirlooms is to age them and there many different ways of doing this – "antiquing" being an example.  Antiqued Fruits Placemat

Antiquing also adds depth and warmth to a design.

There are many ways to antique a project and most of you have learnt one of them – oil-based antiquing, where we used oil paint and lean medium.

You can also antique a project using a water-based technique. Here is how you can do it quite easily.

BEFORE YOU START – dry your painted project completely and apply a coat of Jo Sonja’s Clear Glaze Medium to protect your painting. Leave your project to sure for at least three days before doing any water-based antiquing.

° Use any acrylic colour – raw umber if you want a sepia look, a darkish green if you want to add a green glow to your project, burgundy if your project is painted in pinks and purples – “play” and discover what appeals to you. If you liked what you did in oil-based antiquing, stick to burnt umber.

° Using a ¾” or 1” flat brush, mix a little of the paint with Jo Sonja’s Retarder and Antiquing Medium. Apply a thin, even coat to your painted project. You must be able to see the design through the colour. If you can’t see your design, you’ve probably put too much paint. Add retarder to the surface and smooth it out.

° Wet a sponge, squeeze all the water out and start removing some of the colour starting at the centre of the design, moving outwards. Leave the edges dark. Use a dabbing movement – the sponge will pick up the paint. Dab the sponge on a piece of paper towel to remove the paint you pick up. Continue until you’re satisfied with the distribution of colour.

° Using a mop brush, smooth the surface using a light touch.

° The retarder will keep the paint wet for some time, so if you don’t like the results, use a clean sponge, wipe it all off and start again. If you like it, use a hairdryer to fast dry the surface and leave it for at least a week before varnishing.

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