Category Archives: Tips

Get It Now

I have some Art advice worth sharing. When a child needs art equipment—find a way to get it for them.

My grand daughter is a young aspiring artist and loves painting, also she loves art supplies, tools and equipment. She has fallen in love with the idea of getting a French easel (usually $140 plus unless on sale) and is saving towards it. Family members have discussed getting it for her birthday. “Really”….if she were a hockey player or in any other sport it would be equipment needed for playing the game and would be purchased immediately as needed. Because it is art the tools are thought of as gifts instead of equipment. This is her sport. She needs it now.

As to materials and supplies, magazines and books that support and enlighten the young artist, well birthdays and Christmas are great times to fatten up the studio with the more exotic or expensive items, but like a hockey stick and gear, an easel is the gear of an artist, a main tool, so are general supplies. Paper and brushes are like tape and hockey pucks, they are a consumable and replacements are needed continuously.

It is not a pony or a castle. most kids today have a cell phone worth hundreds, and most small studios for a child can be equipped with materials, supplies and equipment for the price of one cell phone or e-device. Start with a French easel, they are portable, small and very versatile.   is a good place to start.

Get them now get them going you never know how long the “Muse” will await a child.

The tip…don’t just think about it and don’t  forget about instruction, lessons and exposure by a real capable teacher for art, a mentor if possible.






The Five most important lessons my art teacher shared with me . . .

My-first-painting My First Painting

8″x10″ Oil on canvas board, 1954

Heads up – this is a 2100 word posting (longer than my average). My editor suggested breaking it into five short postings, but I couldn’t figure how to make the story flow so I put up the whole thing.  I would appreciate any comments to the article, both about length and content, or if this type posting is worth your reading time.

1-Paint on purpose

She was old and frail and beautiful.  She was fussy and gentle, regal and talented.  Even though she was frail she was magnificently strong in being there.  I was eleven years old and barely 5 feet tall and she was only an inch taller; she assured me she used to be tall and I would be one day (I’m still waiting).  She was Mrs. R, my first and only real art instructor.

Born in the late 1800s, Mrs. R. was a picture out of a story book.  Simply magnificent.  Always fully dressed in “going to town” attire, always ready with a story of meaning, never wasting hers or my time with trivia, yet always aware of the smallest of life’s tiny elements.  Her father, an older father than normal, served in the first world war, died many decades ago, she informed me of this at our first meeting.  He had been an architect and with failing eyesight he would ask her to sit at his drawing board and read off the calculations to assure accuracy. She would say this as if it were his excuse to have her visit with him.  “Subtleties,” she would say, “Are what make a picture, a story, and a life worth observing.”

There she was, sitting by my side, checking my accuracies and telling me about this.  Of this and other things, she would mix the instruction on a palette of colors and words.  “To paint a picture is not so important as to see it, and if you don’t feel anything it is because you’re not seeing,” and to see it before you paint it.

“Rendering will always leave you disappointed because no one can paint as well as they perceive.”  I would ponder this for years. “To discover your painting as you go is for amateurs,” she would say, “Not that you shouldn’t lean into happy mistakes or events, but to paint on purpose and arrive at that, well, that is being an artist,  To paint and discover, that is being creative but cowardly,” she would say.  “It fools the viewer but not the great art spirit.”

I realize now that I would rather say “This is what I envisioned,” instead of “This is what I discovered,” and most of us will never tell you which is which.  She would say “Paint on purpose or don’t paint.”

My next question was about doodling, of which I am a lifelong super fan. “Oh, doodling is the best way to stay pure,” she would say. “That is how you get all that discovery stuff out of the way.”  So I doodle a lot, I just don’t over-claim it as a vision or insight; it is a discovery process. So Paint on Purpose!

2-Look from your heart

Mrs. R would tell this eleven year old, “LOOK, don’t copy, LOOK,” she imparted that to see is to understand.  Look and understand what you are seeing, trust that what you feel about it, that is what others will understand.  She made it clear that one must copy to learn, but do not learn to copy.  You must trace to find true edges, but you will have no edge of your own if you trace.

I don’t remember every exact word she spoke to me almost sixty years ago, but I remember her exact self; she painted it into my memory with truths and caring and patience and love.

My father owned a steam laundry, was not really a fan of art, loved sports and hunting and expected me to be like my older brother (captain-quarterback of the high school football team), and to walk in his shadow.  I was born an artist. He agreed only to let me have art lessons at age 11 if I paid for them myself.  Perhaps he thought that would be the end of it.

But every week, I would beg a ride with the laundry truck driver (Floyd), to Mrs. R’s neighborhood, five miles away.  My lessons were scheduled by his delivery route, so he would drop me off.  She would greet me warmly, and set me up on her three season porch, there to pay my five dollars a week earned from working in the laundry after school and weekends.  65 cents an hour was a fortune to an eleven year old and in those days it was not unusual for a child to be working.  Do the math, hour and a half after school and seven hours on Saturday: $9.45.  My previous agreement with my parents was to save half of what I earned for school clothes, roughly $4.75, so I always traded with my sister for a couple of her work hours.

So I was working or in school or doing homework and chores all the time, but I was getting art instructions from a real professional artist born in a different century, wow!  In those days, that was held in high regard, and some of my happiest days.  I felt like a young man.  After all these many years, those times are what taught me to “see.”  Not the light drenched vista in front of me, but that within it is a story, a vision others, too, will recognize as a part of their life, their delights, or struggles, and of such pictures are made.  It isn’t just looking out through your eyes, but looking out through your joy and pain and experiences, then knowing that by seeing others you have seen yourself, too.  Paint what your heart sees, and the eyes of others will recognize it on some level.  So look with your whole self, then paint!

3-Time is more important to a picture than paint

Even back then, as an elderly woman sitting by my side, Mrs. R would teach me art as she knew it.  The image is made of canvas, a grounding coat, and a pigment mixed in a medium and all that mixed with time. “See the russet brown at the very edge of the leaves; use burnt sienna, it is there to under-pin the ocher and the hansa yellow.  It is the sign of the mid season of fall.”

She was in the winter of her life; I would learn that the fall is made of summertime being pressed into a dessert to munch on until winter could unfold its real beauty.  I did not yet understand this as an eleven year old or much at all then, not of depth anyway, but something unseen had made me insist on art lessons, something made me retain most of what she was saying for later understanding.  She would say things like, “Stop rushing the painting, slow down, it is doing that is joy, not having done.”  I didn’t understand but knew I wanted this.

It is today that I ponder how useful all the instruction has been.  It is today that I think how patient she was, sitting there with all her experience waiting for me to make a useful brushstroke.  She was still observing, still composing, still tasting the dessert from her seasons of life.  Teaching an eleven year old the proper use of materials, the placement of concept into perspective, the impact of tiny implications in brushstrokes.  Time taken to understand materials, processes, and looking.  It is the act of engaging human spirit into individually filtered communications that the artist may choose to employ.  This takes time to render, this takes time to see.  She gave me this; it was worth more than I was paying for.  Now I know why she gave lessons, she was having her dessert.

Time taken to experience and recall, to know others who look upon images you may create, well they are also seeking deserts of the mind and spirit to munch on as they too await arriving beauty of their own seasons. Time must be taken to carefully create this response and let others belong to that feeling as well.

Use time to make art, use time to share what we learn, and to have the courage to put it out there.  Discovery of your true self can be seen in the simplest of images if you take time to put it there.  Paint pigment mixed with a medium and time will make art.  Don’t get in a hurry.

4-Your work is yours – if you really made it.

Mrs. R would not show me on my canvas what she meant with her instructions.  Other people did – they would grab my pencil or brush and demonstrate their thoughts on my work, but not Mrs. R.  I would beg her, “Show me what you mean.”  She would then paint some example on her own canvas, but never on mine; the example she would use never matched what I was trying to paint. “If I touch your work, when will you know that it is really yours?  Will you lie and say you painted it, how will that feel?”  She would say that whatever I painted, well that is what it is.

She would show examples of great color treatments, or how things might respond, how to use the slightest thing for the greatest effect, but never put her tools in my paint or on my canvas.  She said personal integrity is more important than success.  You will always be able to say “I painted that,” or “That was my idea.”

To this day I do not paint on someone’s canvas; I have taught and demonstrated on sketches and others’ drawings with tracing paper layed over, then removed, but how will they know when the drawing is theirs?  The sooner one discovers what is theirs, the sooner they improve.  Most of us can see after we have made a mistake, that we did, that is called learning.  Don’t copy and call it yours, don’t trace and say that it is yours and don’t let someone “improve” your work; it not only ruins your work, it destroys that secret inside that is really your trying to get out and be an artist.

This is not to say that inspiration cannot come from trying on styles and techniques or taking good examples and research to build good images. Photos, sketches by others, ideas of others can all inspire our own work, but unless we keep our integrity as clean as our painting surface, we will lose creative self respect, and that shows up in the images.

5-Art is currency.

Art has value, and over time it has more value.  Styles emerge, trends and fads and pop culture comes and goes, building a mountain of untold amounts of images.  My art teacher, Mrs. R, spoke to me almost 60 years ago, “Being an artist, doing art, and being lucky enough to have talent is currency.”

Most of us fall prey to being commercial; this out of necessity, as I have done.  We sell our work, we sell our time and talent in exchange for the currency of the realm. When Mrs. R talked about commercial art she said, “It comes and goes in passing through your life but, being an artist is timeless; what you make is currency – it is timeless, when you sell it, well, that is commerce.”

When you look upon a piece of real art, do you not know that it has something of substance that transcends time, language, nationality or opinion?  The contributions, participations, even the musings of multitudes of artists expressing themselves somehow coelesce into an ongoing conversation that is felt over time by everyone.  Does the bottom grain of sand in an anthill do more or less work than a grain on the top?  It is an anthill; as a collective pile the hill has a separate identity from each grain of sand.  To the ants, it is the whole world.  The artwork of our societies creates a mountain of work and understanding in the arts.  The images from long ago only stand out if they have been kept as a visible outer shell of the overall effort, but the inward hidden art or art near the bottom, done by the unknown obscure artists of long ago, helps support the mound of images, too.  Art is a collective human endeavor, and it is an individual performance.

The most important thing here is to understand that it is art and artists are currency, the act of “artisting” produces value.

Being an artist, doing art or having art is understood in every language, every nation and can be converted to the currency of any local society, because it is its own currency.  If people want to buy it from you, well that is commerce.  No fixed value, just the perception of currency that is worth more than the coin of the realm, an exchange of currencies so to speak.

Mrs.R. said, “Good art is never merchandise, it is always currency.”

We should always see ourself and our work as currency, not as product or labor.”


Related post


Number one tip for painting wires in landscapes

Black and White

A very fascinating tip in art, that affects almost every observation in nature, is this:

When illustrating wires such as telephone wires, or high power lines, paint them as very light or white when they are in front of something, such as a bunch of trees, or buildings, and paint them as very dark, almost black, when they are in front of the sky.

Why? Well next time you are out and about, take a look and that is exactly what you will see, especially when the sunlight is on the same side of the wires you are on and not behind the wires. Observe how they go from near black in the sky to bright white across the trees.

If you observe very, very closely, you can see that the wires are both, white light from the sky hits the tops of the wire, and shadow caused by the wire on itself makes a black underside.  In the sky you only notice this black because the white blends with the sky colors, and in front of dark objects the black blends in and you only notice the white.  Paint it that way and your work improves because you are seeing better.

Now at sunrise or sunset, have you ever noticed how the orange is very bright on wires and lines?  That is because the light is sideways to the wire (and to you as well), and so much more light is being reflected back to your eyes that it glows.  Look carefully and you will see the wires turning several shades of orange as the wires swoop down and up. Often you can hardly see any shadow on the wire, or even highlight, just orange or yellow!

Cylinder-like tree trunks, light poles, fence posts,etc. have a white line on both edges.  A large one on the sunny side, and a little one on the back. That is, because of the atmosphere, much of the natural light from the sun is bouncing off the air and lighting the back side of objects.  All objects have this effect, but the round or cylinders are the most noticeable because you can see around the corner (so to speak).

Grapes and oranges and pretty much all round things have lighted edges, even on the back shadow sides.  Sometimes it is so very faint, but it is there, as long as there is an atmosphere.  Sometimes in the very cold climes, this effect is very pronounced because the frozen crystals in the air bounce more light, but sometimes because the cold is so very cold, the moisture “freezes out,” making clean dry air, and the shadows are much more dramatically dark.

So to depict back light, always place a little light along the back dark edge.  I pay attention to the seasons and the time of day.  It is surprising how very different the same objects can bounce light with small changes, not to mention big ones.


It’s in the Cards

One of my favorite tools in the studio is old credit cards.

I prepare them by sanding one edge with 400 grit wet or dry sandpaper. ( you can use an emery board or fingernail file too). I sand them wet to keep any heat created by friction on the abrasive sanding paper from deforming the plastic. This smooths them and removes small burrs and irregularities along the working edge left over from their previous life. They have small nicks and rough spots, as well a some that I create using them. You can have a small bowl of water to set them in during a work session. This keeps them both clean and ready to touch up with the sanding paper.

I  use them as glue spreaders, or to lay down a smooth layer of gesso.

I use them to squeegee out a water-soaked paper.

Lay down oil paint background into a fresh canvas.

Clean off a palette knife.

Paint shield for straight edges.


eraser-pens_web ←Erasing pens & Power eraser→ power-eraser_web


OK, did you know that for a really fine drawing, the first thing you do before you draw, is erase the paper? Well, that is, if you have paper that has been handled or is suspect of having exposure to dust, or graphite particles (often found on or near drawing boards, work areas and storage in a studio). You usually don’t use a regular eraser for this – (you can) but you use an eraser bag, (cleaning pad).

eraser-bag-1_web   ← Bagged eraser crumbs →    eraser-bag-2  Hand-held and rubbed lightly across the sheet of paper. The eraser crumbs are formulated to dry remove and counter oils and dirt, and pick up graphite by sticking to it, then brushed away with a studio brush, not the hands!   Oh, and first you must wash your hands and dry them – this removes any oil or dirt that might transfer either to the paper or to the bag.  Don’t ever use an eraser bag on a rendering once you have started to draw, as it will ruin your bag and your work.  Use only on fresh paper.

Fully ink rendered work, or permanent media can be cleaned with these (cleaning pad) bags after the work is completed.

Here is why artists “erase first”:  If any hand oil or foreign dirt is hiding in or on the paper, and graphite marks are placed over it, the oil or dirt will show up; that is bad enough, but if the eraser is drawn across graphite in that area, the eraser will “skid,” pushing the graphite into the oil or dirt, and then pushing that into the paper.  This scars the rendering in that spot beyond repair.  Often, this is done near the end of a picture creation.

Erasers, tortillions, chamois and other blending tools will cause problems with oil and dirt sketched over as well.  Many hours can be lost.  Usually it ends with trying to save the work by changing the drawing, until another “skid” is encountered.  When in doubt, wash your hands and lightly erase first .

Keep in mind that placing hands or arms on paper while sketching can also add oil and dirt and damage to areas not yet rendered, as well as areas already finished.  To avoid this, use clean paper scraps to lay your hands on or use a drawing bridge or maul stick.  Use nothing that can smudge, smear or transfer foreign matter to your drawing surface.

Often an artist will try and “clean” finished areas with an eraser, moving oil into the work and creating “edges” where working strokes end. Keeping contact with the paper to a minimum is important.  Use of covers, shields and “bridges” helps this. [Other tools for rendering handle these and other difficulties. This post is just about erasers].

In my studio, I always keep at least the selection of erasers shown above. Clean rags, paper towels, a maul stick and plastic drawing bridge.

The eraser:  “Tips”

◊  I think of the eraser more as a drawing tool and an editing tool.

  The eraser is used to make shapes in a drawing; not just for removing mistakes, but for placing effects and remarks.

◊  Erasers remove a little or a lot or all of placed graphite marks, making areas lighter or blended or highlighted.  It is easier to “remove” graphite to make a highlight than to “leave” a highlight in the graphite marks.

◊  When used with straight edges, masks, eraser shields, and erasers are design tools.

◊  I don’t suggest anyone ever use a pink colored eraser on fine art work; they will disappoint you before you’re done.  But for regular sketching, a #2 yellow pencil with pink eraser is great.

◊  To remove larger areas of rendering use an Art Gum (don’t brush off crumbs with hands).  Follow up with a clean drafting brush.  If you don’t have one, you should.

◊  I keep the older (hardened with age) erasers to clean my sanding boards.  I also use as props for the drawing board or the drawing bridge and often carve them for fun.

◊  After a long session on the drawing board, or before I begin again, I take my erasers to the sink, and wash the oil and dust off as much as possible. Let them dry for an hour or more before using again (a blow dryer will ruin them after a while).  Don’t do this with a kneaded eraser.

◊  Erasers are a consumable tool, meant to be used up just like paint or pencils.  Cut them, shape them, sand them clean, use them up and your drawing will go better and quicker.  Don’t protect them – just keep them clean!

Basic types of erasers

Plastic erasers are made of a material that is less likely to scar the paper.  Use these for fine art work, cut and shape them for fine lines.  Cut away edges that have heavy graphite if you can’t get them clean.

Pink pearl erasers are great when new, but begin to leave pink trails with age.  They also scar the paper as there is a small amount of abrasive in the material.

Art gum erasers are designed to crumb up and take the carbon dust with them.  Messy as they are, they work well.

All ink erasers work on the principal of releasing dissolve and absorb chemicals while abrading the paper, and will certainly damage the surface if used very much  (Most of them don’t work well).

The kneaded eraser is like putty; you can shape it and keep it kneaded to clean it. They absorb graphite carbon and pastel very well, last a long time and only need replacing if they get too dirty from picking up graphite dust. Then you can entertain yourself by sculpting desk top figures out of them.

For very fine work use a kneaded eraser or a vinyl eraser.  Kneaded erasers will do very fine delicate work and can be used to lighten or blend graphite passages. Kneaded erasers will heat up with long or hard strokes, smudging the graphite and flattening the “tooth” of the paper. Use in small strokes and knead often to keep the surface clean.  Shape the eraser for fine points or lines.  Reshape after every stroke. They work best if strokes are started in the lighter or white areas and moved into the darker areas.  Remember that kneading the eraser also lifts oil and dirt from your fingers, so start with very clean hands.

White soft rubber erasers are used for pastels.  Designed to “lift” and should be cloth wiped after every stroke of erasing.

◊ The number one eraser of oil and dirt is:

Soap & Water!  ……….. Before you begin and ever so often, wash your hands!

White bread was the first eraser (cut off the crust and roll up tightly and erase your pencil lines; some artists still use it for removing charcoal or pastel as it is very sensitive, absorbent and you can shape it.  If you get hungry you can just eat your eraser.

1770 was the date of the first rubber eraser.  Edward Naime (English). Using a piece of “rubber” by mistake, instead of the roll of white bread (turned black from carbon dust), he rubbed his drawing and it worked better than the bread.

Goodyear’s vulcanization of rubber (1839) made rubber work well and rubber erasers became common place. The term to rub, or a rubber was a part of how rubber got its original name.



Sharper pencils (sanding boards)

MAKE YOUR OWN Sanding boards!

(Commercial) sanding boards are usually too rough for good rendering points on graphite or pencils.  You need:  Double-faced tape. Carpet tape works well.

A piece (or several) of hard, waterproof material (not glass) – metal or plastic is good, old kitchen spatula or just get a piece of plastic from the hardware store, 2″x8″ or thereabout.

Wet or dry sandpaper – Hardware or building supply stores carry this (usually black in color).  I use 200 grit – 320 grit and 400 grit.  Cut into 2″ strips and put double face tape on back and affix to your plastic strip. (I use carpet tape, it holds good, removes easily and can take the water when washing the sandpaper out).

These sanding boards are then washable and you can keep both your work area and hands cleaner.  I wash mine and dry with a hair dryer about every half hour when sketching.

jmc/emc extra


Masking with Post Its

Post it notes for masking

The familiar little squares in a sticky tablet, are the greatest addition to a drawing table tool kit. I use them to mask out, create edges, and make safe places to set my dirty hands on. I also use them with the kneaded eraser (and plastic eraser) to shield out areas I wish to protect. Used with almost any media they will protect areas from spoil, they lift off without leaving any noticeable residue, are re-useable, inexpensive, and you can shape them.

If you get white ones as well as colored ones, you can see through them enough to trace outlines then cut a mask to fit your needs.

If you use them with graphite though, they will lift some of the graphite if you stick them to it, use them only on un-rendered paper.

With ink you can use them over the ink without any problems.

I keep a sharp pointed pair of Scherenschnitte scissors, and an x-acto knife, nearby, to  cut into the sticky edge side. Also a hole puncher to nibble out edges.

Use with Graphite shading, pastel, pencil cross hatching, ink line hatching, finger smudging effects.

The list is huge. Go buy some and use them beside your drawing board.