Keeping a sketch diary

A Happy New Year to all my readers, I hope you all enjoyed the festivities! I had a lovely time with my family and friends, it was kind of sad to take down the decorations today.

What was your best Christmas present? I have two favourites - one was a blackboard mug which is surprisingly good fun, but the one I want to show you today is this:

and inside it looks like this...

I'm super excited about this - there's just enough space for me to record my year in sketches! This is an idea that we saw in the museum of life in Leamington Spa, where a lady from bygone times kept a sketch diary of all her social outings. It was really very interesting and much easier to browse than a written diary.

My diary's very first outing was to Costa Coffee in Ormskirk, one of my daughter's favourite destinations for completing homework and revising for exams.

By the end of the first week it looks like this:

Tuesday: my budgies Chiquitita and Lollipop

Wednesday (New Year's Eve): Jules Holland's Hootenanny - I love that program!

Thursday (New Year's Day): a cup of tea in my Edwardian teacup; our handmade chinese lantern fairy lights that we bought in Germany just before Christmas; and a fox screen cleaner that our Xmas house guest forgot to take back to the USA with her :( 

Friday: a gorgeous fox red labrador that daughter was puppy sitting

Saturday: a small part of our family New Year's meal and my birthday scooter (enjoyed by most of the oldies and only a couple of the younger more self concious adults of the family) 

Sunday: surprise surprise, we're back in Costa - the Maghull one this time for a change :D

I do hope you like seeing my sketches. I'll show you some more over the course of the year here on my blog and will be showing more regular updates over on my Stephanie Guy Fine Art facebook page

Did you get any good arty Christmas gifts this year? Share your favourite ones with me in the comments!

Dolls House and Miniature Scene

Whoopedidoop!! The "Dolls House and Miniature Scene" Christmas edition magazine is out and I have a two page spread in it all about me and my mini paintings 

I'll be writing a bi-monthly piece on how to reproduce old paintings in miniature starting with Van Gogh's Sunflowers which will be in the January edition, and working my way through 7 famous paintings, all in a simple to follow format with lots of tips and techniques.

You can get hold of a copy here and follow their facebook page here.

And of course you can follow my very own facebook page here!

Derwent Graphik Line Painter Review

Last week I treated myself to a couple of new sketching pens.

I've been torn between the Derwent Graphik Line Painters and the Winsor and Newton Watercolour Markers, and after a coule of trips to Rennies Art Shop in Liverpool where they very helpfully let me try them both, I decided to go for the line painters on the grounds that the drawn lines were easier to wash away.

I chose 2 pens: Brilliant Blue and White.

I wanted to use the white pen against a dark background to give a striking and luminescent effect, so I began by painting card with dark blue, red and purple acrylic paint.

Once the acrylic background was dry, I opened my white pen. The ink is dispensed through a nib operated by depressing it slightly, and once it began to flow I found I could get a lovely fine line that washed out very nicely with my waterbrush. However after a very short time the flow stopped and I had to gently depress the nib which point the pen started to blob and drip. Fortunately I'm used to working fairly loosely with my paints and am very fond of flicking paint around, so just worked the blobs into my painting.

I'm very much into sketching whilst I'm out and about, one of my favourite activities is drinking coffee and painting in my local coffee shop. Sadly this pen isn't going to be accompanying me on many of my painting adventures...the second painting took far too long to dry, over half an hour. This is too long for me to wait, and I ended up carrying it around the shops with me in my hand until it was dry enough to pack away.

With the blue pen I chose to paint an owl that I had seen the same day that I bought the pens. The blue lines did not wash away quite as well on my 300gsm "NOT surfaced" watercolour paper, and to make adequate washes I had to wet the paper first and then very gently drop ink in, then wash it away. Not ideal, but not insurmountable!

The main problem I had with my blue pen was that the next time I came to use it, the ink would not flow at all. If I depressed the nib I got blobs but no flow - so I have taken that pen back for a refund.

I decided to keep the white pen for adding highlights to my work as it really is very very white, but on the whole I cannot recommend these pens.

Taking product photos on a budget

Taking photos for on line selling is a big problem for many sellers, especially when there isn't a lot of money around to buy fancy light boxes etc.

So I thought I'd show you my photographic "studio" set up and a selection of my product shots, and explain how I get there with minimal cost.

My biggest sellers on line are small paintings for miniature collections and dolls houses. Folk who are new to mini paintings often don't know how to display them, so for my first product shot I like to show one on an easel on its own - that one usually takes centre stage in my product listings.

My easel is made out of matchsticks - the instructions for you to have a go at making your own are here.

Next I usually take a couple of context shots - here I've used one of our many Sylvanian Families rabbits in one photo and a coin in the other to give an idea of size. Sometimes I include a photo of my fingers holding the painting but the light has to be good enough for a quick snap to work well as I'm not very good at keeping still!

Alternatively I sometimes show them propped against a pebble

They look quite good don't they? So how do I do it without a light box?

My photographic "studio" is simply a piece of white watercolour paper to use as the background, a piece of white glossy foam core mountboard (or matt, as some of our friends around the world call it) to use as a reflective sheet to increase the light. and a camera on a firm surface. Depending on the light I use these in different ways.

[I only own one camera so the next 2 photos were taken with my phone camera so that I could show you my proper camera in action.]

  • If the natural light is very bad (dark clouds) I set up on a stool by the window like this, with the mountboard as the base and the watercolour paper behind. There's plenty of reflected light in this set up.

  • If the light is brighter but not sunny (white clouds) then I set up on my mantle piece with a tripod like this. I just hold the glossy mountboard so that I can adjust the angle to get the correct amount of reflected light.

  • And if the light is good (sunny day) then I don't use the glossy reflector at all.

I like to have my paintings slightly backlit - this helps make the background appear less grey. In both of these set ups the window is on the right hand side and the paintings are turned with their backs ever so slightly to the window.

And I always use either a tripod or a flat surface to put the camera on and use a 2 second delay to eliminate camera shake so that I get a nice clear image. This is SO important - if your photo is blurred how can anyone see how beautiful your product is?

While we're on the subject of cameras, I use a compact bridge camera that I was lucky enough to win,, however a simple point and shoot camera is just fine. The important thing is to be able to have that 2 second delay in between you pressing the shoot button and it taking the photo.

After taking the photos I head over to my pc and I ALWAYS do some editing in Corel Paintshop Pro, taking great care to that my photo looks as good as, but not better than, the painting. I'm very careful to make sure that my customers are not going to be disappointed - I'd far rather they thought "wow this is amazing, so much better than the online photo"!

  • I know my paintings are square or rectangular but sometimes the camera angle turns them into odd shapes - if this has happened then I perform a perspective correction.
  • I adjust the white balance, saturation, lights and darks so that the colours in the photo of the painting appear more like the real thing. This can take 10 to 15 minutes per painting to get right!
  • I crop my photo to a square to give a nice contemporary feel.

I'm sure you can do the same sort of editing in Photoshop although I've never got my head around that one. And if you don't have either of those you can download Picassa for free - there's a one click photo processing button that works wonders.

You can see how I use all three shots in my product listing here.

I really do hope that you found this article interesting and useful for your own product shots. Feel free to share with your online shop buddies, and do please leave me a comment to either let me know how you get on or to share your own top tips too!

Figures in pastel workshop

Yesterday I attended a very good workshop at the Lady Lever Gallery at Port Sunlight, run by Steve Hersey.

The subject was figures in pastel, and it was designed to accompany their current Rossetti’s Obsession exhibition, where you can see drawings and chalk sketches that Rossetti made of his muse Jane Morris. It's really interesting to see these pieces, they helped me to understand Rossetti's pre-painting process of pencil drawings, chalk tonal sketches, chalk colour sketches, all before he began his oil paintings.

In the workshop we began by looking at stick figures, dividing the body into 8 head lengths

which we then turned into block figures. I have studied these before but did have one ah-ha! moment when we used arcs (which I turned into circles as I find them easier to draw) to find joint positions.

Next we developed our block figures into robot figures and added shading, taking around 10 minutes on this. Something went wrong with the arm on the right here - I should have noticed and corrected it at the stick figure stage, but never mind, I'm pleased with the rest of it.

After a much needed coffee break, we completed 5 minute A3 sketches of each other, concentrating on proportions that we had learnt in the previous session and starting out with a stick-to-robot under-drawing.

Next Steve demonstrated a figure in pastel using an improvised sheet of paper (a piece of paper table cloth) and very basic reeves pastels, proving that you do not need specialist materials to get a good result.

And finally Steve posed for us and gave us half an hour to complete our own A3 pastel portrait. I really hate the feeling of chalk on my fingers so was not looking forward to working with pastels, but I can honestly say that we were working so fast that I didn't have time to think about it!

I really enjoyed this workshop and whilst I'm not converted to pastels, I did enjoy using them for half an hour. They create far too much dust for me to consider using them at home, I'm not overly fond of cleaning (!) and need relatively a dust free environment for my oils.

Brusho, Watercolour and Wax comparison

I recently discovered Brusho, a wonderfully vibrant form of watercolour. It really is an absolute joy to use - watching paint dry has never been so interesting!

For this comparison I chose to paint dance related ACEOs in preparation for a stall I was holding at my local dance school summer fete.

I found some lovely reference photos on Paint my Photo and sketched them out onto a spare scrap of A4 paper. When I was happy with the sketches I outlined them in black pen and using a window as a light box, I transferred the drawings to watercolour paper. I don't normally paint more than one of any design, but for the purposes of this comparison I thought it would be best to be able to view the colours and textures using the same subject matter.

Now for the fun!

The first lot are Brusho

 The second are watercolour (W&N professional grade)

And finally the watersoluble wax (Derwent Artbar)

Which are your favourites?

Do NOT varnish acrylic ink paintings!

I recently painted a really pretty little box canvas using my FW acrylic inks

Based on a sketch of a still life, set up by a friend of mine.

Today, 10 days later, I tried to varnish it using a gloss acrylic varnish and a large flat brush.

And now I am sad.

The varnish has dissolved the inks and caused all the colours to mix together and turn muddy.

It might be possible to get away with using a spray varnish (I haven't tried it) but please please please don't use a brush!

Meanwhile, I'll give this one a few days, remove the varnish (using varnish remover), re-gesso the canvas and start again with a more durable medium.