Keeping it simple

I came across these two videos by Vinita Pappas on Youtube late on Friday evening. I rather like the idea of the exercise of using only six brushstrokes to paint a subject. I’ve been itching to try it, but not able to get to my brushes so far this weekend.

One of the things I’ve learned from painting is to slow down a little and not be quite so goal oriented. When I started painting I had a bad habit: every time I picked up my brushes I expected to create a final painting that would be good enough to put in a frame – and I wanted to do it in a maximum of one or two sittings.

Now I enjoy each stage more and have many paintings that pause for weeks before I go back to them and start working on them again. I find the waiting time gives me a fresh perspective which can sometimes be very useful.

The six brushstrokes exercise really slows down the thinking process, and although the whole thing is done in one sitting, it’s a far more reflective process overall. Every brushstroke has to make a contribution to the end result so each one has to count.

Given how much I like painting loosely, I was looking forward to seeing what she did with the paper she wet and was briefly disappointed when the first video ended before she started on it.  But, there it was – Part 2 of her Confident Brushstrokes exercise:

I can certainly see that this would help develop confident brushstrokes, but that’s not all the value an exercise like this delivers. There’s the added benefit of learning to distill the image down to the essence of the subject, and of getting better at creating purposeful marks on the paper.

I’ve already started looking for my first subject. Later this evening I think the brushes will have to be exercised!

Mixing media

Landscape watercolour painting - Mist Clearing
Mist clearing (watercolour 40cm x 28cm)

So often, it strikes me that there is a parallel between my current painting and something else I’m working on at the time.

For a while I’ve been thinking about the various online profiles we have and been aware that it’s all too easy for social media to give a skewed perception of who we are and what we do.  LinkedIn provides a reasonably comprehensive view of my working life, while Facebook and this website focus mainly on my painting. If you read any one of the three, you’ll get a very specific picture of who I am and what I do – but it’s only a think slice of the whole.

Last week I set up an About.Me page to pull all aspects into one single page. It took a few attempts to get the balance right between all aspects, and a good number of runs at getting the text right. I’ve written before about how difficult I find it to write about myself, and I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it a challenge. I got some extremely helpful feedback from friends along the way which helped enormously to refine my thinking about balance and tone for the content.  In time I’ll probably add some information about my work life to this website so the balance follows through here, but my blogging on this site will still be about sharing my painting.

On which subject – I’ve been thinking about doing some work in mixed media, something I’ve only touched upon once or twice in the past. I find the variety of marks created by different media can give a painting a different type of depth and interest so today, I had a go using watercolour, gouache and gesso in a painting.  If I were to start over from scratch I would probably tweak the composition in one or two ways, but overall, I quite like the atmosphere of this painting and I’ll keep on using multimedia in future. Maybe not for every painting, but certainly for a fair few.

Five by Five: cat’s eyes

Cat's eyes in green and blue (watercolour sketch)
Cat’s eyes (watercolour sketch)

The end of a wonderful long weekend, and the end of my self-imposed Five by Five challenge. It’s been a great exercise. Firstly, it made me focus on painting every day, and on blogging every day, and it got me thinking about the things that make me smile.

My last five are:

– Horatio. I’ve posted photos of Horatio before and he has his own special category in the blog. Admittedly there are only two photographs of him so far, and neither could be painted because they would just look wierd. So, I did a little watercolour sketch of cat’s eyes to represent Horatio. He is on my list of subjects to paint and clearly (judging by this little sketch), I need more practice painting cats before I can do him justice.

– My job. I often bemoan the fact that I don’t have more time to paint. But that shouldn’t be taken as that meaning I want to spend less time on my work. (Rather that I just wish there were more hours in the day, or that I was more organised with the hours I do have). I love the work I do and wouldn’t change it for anything. My company works with great clients. We love dealing with every one of them. And on top of that, we’ve recently added investment research to the work that we do which is fantastically interesting.

– Knitting. I spent almost all of Monday sorting out thousands of balls of knitting yarn. No, that doesn’t mean I have a stash of yarn that counts into the thousands. Instead we’re closing down an online knitting yarn business we’ve had for the past two years. Perhaps once that has all been sorted out and put to bed properly, I’ll have time to get my needles out again. It can be a great way to relax.

– Aquilegias. They self-seed in our garden and come up again in early summer. They always bring the rest of the flowers following along behind them. This year I want a carpet full of aquilegias

– My sister who is was my first artistic inspiration and who can be relied on to always give me an honest answer to even the most difficult of questions. I would feel lost without her in my world.

Thank you for taking this five day journey with me. I hope it wasn’t too tedious. Tomorrow morning it’s back to work and the usual routine again. Hope you have time to paint something fabulous this week.

Subscribe to this feed by RSS . Get updates by email

Meet the Artist: Mary Frances Millet

What or who inspired you to start painting?

Vintage Kitchen Tools - by Mary Frances Millet. Watercolour
Vintage Kitchen Tools – by Mary Frances Millet. Watercolour

My mom worked at Mayfair Gallery in Glenville and she asked if I wanted to try art lessons there. I said, sure. At age 8 I was exposed to my first art class and was hooked. I was then placed in Dorothy Fredericks class at the Burnt Owl until I was a teenager.

What mediums do you use for your artwork? – Which is your favourite and why?

Watercolor, textile and paper collage, acrylic. I have also worked in clay.

Formally trained or self-taught?

I graduated from the Professional Institute of Commercial Art in Maryland which is gone now. I also took class for several years from Karen Rosasco, AWS.  I also have degrees in Occupational Therapy and Sociology as backup careers.

What is your greatest frustration about art or the art world? (If you have one)

That we need to be better marketers. Being an artist is wonderful and we should all know how to narrow down our choices of what to do with it. It’s very confusing trying to figure out which way to go. There’s so many opportunities.

Which contemporary artists do you admire?

Charles Reid, Mel Stabin, Jeanne Dobie, Karen Rosasco to name a few. There’s many many more. Old master artists: Hopper, Homer, Matisse.

What has been the highlight of your artistic career so far?

Past: When I exhibited at e Wiregrass Museum in Birmingham, AL and was the top bid and top seller at the art auction.  Present: partnering with MVP Healthcare offering art workshops to their employees as a team building and socialization effort. It’s so much fun. I am impressed that they would include art as part of a healthy lifestyle.

If you had one wish (regarding your art), what would it be?

To run worldwide watercolor workshops. I’m working on one right now in Greece.

How would you characterize your style?

Loose, splashy, colorful.

Collage by Mary Frances Millet
Collage by Mary Frances Millet

Do you have a signature painting?

Yes. It’s a watercolor/paper collage of two boats with fisherman talking to each other.

What’s in your calendar for the coming year?

I teach private individuals, groups and corporate art workshops. I’ll be at the Clifton Park Library teaching watercolor to kids in April. I’ll be exhibiting my Uncle Sam statue in April also. It’s a program sponsored by the Troy BID to install 5 ft fiberglass life size statues of Uncle Sam embellished by 20 local artists. Sept brings the workshop in Greece. May brings my first grand baby.

Watercolour and collage by Mary Frances Millet
Watercolour and collage by Mary Frances Millet

If you had one tip share with other artists, what would that be?

Think big. Get a social media coach.i have one and she’s the best. It’s tough to do it all yourself.

New question: how do you keep inspired?  

How do I not?? Inspiration is everywhere! A tree, a window, a shadow, a color, seasons, flowers, people. Im distracted by everything.

How can people find you on social media? (Twitter, facebook, blog address, any other social media?)

Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Pinterest and Workin on a blog and placing more things on etsy, eBay and Pinterest. There’s so much to do! So many paintings! 🙂

Subscribe to this feed by RSS . Get updates by email

Two birds – one stone

L'Art de L'Aquarelle
L’Art de L’Aquarelle

When I went to visit fellow One Hundred Wash artist, Olivia Quintin last year, she introduced me to the joys of L’Art de l’Aquarelle – a magazine which features the work of world-class watercolours. Olivia was one of the interviewed artists in an edition last year.

I was so bowled over by the paintings in the magazine and the inspiration of seeing such high quality work, that I asked for a subscription for Christmas. I was delighted last week when the first of my four editions arrived.  I hadn’t realised that this beautiful publication is also available in English, so I am receiving the French version. But given that I’ve been trying to improve my French to the point where I can hold a conversation with Olivia and Alain when they visit us in August – it’s dictionary-at-the-ready and I’m loving every page, even if it does take a while to read.

Subscribe to this feed by RSS . Get updates by email

What’s your defining word?

Pushing personal boundaries - again
Pushing personal boundaries – again

About a year ago, Donna Zagotta challenged her readers to describe their life as an artist in only six words. The picture on this post was my response.

I realise that a year on, this is still true.

If you’ve not organised your own exhibition before, it can be a daunting prospect. I’ve managed events for charity and business before so I do know how much work is involved. Somehow, in between events, I always manage to forget. No change this time either.

We’re now one day away from our preview evening and the last minute list of things to be done seems a bit overwhelming. I have meant to write a series of posts about staging an exhibition, but time has eluded me and they haven’t been done. Perhaps that was a bit too ambitious for now. I will write them, but I suspect a retrospective ‘how to’ series may be more useful.

In the meantime, I challenge all my readers to select one word (only one!) that describes what art means to you in 2013. (There may be a new word next year).


My word is ‘Stretch’.

 Subscribe to this feed by RSS . Get updates by email


Eastern Influence

Facing East (watercolour painting)

Travel broadens your perspective on the world. The effect often subtle, but we absorb information subliminally and it sometimes appears later in unexpected ways.

Facing East (watercolour painting)
Facing East (watercolour WIP – 46 x 51cm)

This painting was sitting on my easel some weeks ago. Since then I’ve been to Japan and travelled across the countryside there.  I saw how much of the country has a mountainous outlook. I also visited art galleries and saw Japanese paintings. There’s a great energy in the cities, but a calm stillness in the countryside.

I’ve almost completed the painting now – it’s waiting for a bit more detail before its completely done. And I can see the influence of my visit to Japan in the work I’ve done on it since being there.

Travel broadens your perspective – it also stretches you as an artist if you let it.

 Subscribe to this feed by RSS . Get updates by email

Pick Me!

Pick Me! (watercolour - 66 x 18cm)

Sometimes even the most confident person finds the idea of showing paintings in public quite daunting. Taking work to a gallery is even more so as there is a definite element of judgement involved in the question of whether the work will be accepted. In an exhibition, each painting needs to be strong enough to stand out. This applies in a gallery, but long before that, the gallery owner’s opinion is the deciding factor.  So, until this is an established way of showing works for an artist, they may well be asking themselves whether their work is good enough for a gallery to accept it.

I suspect a more relevant question is whether the work is a good fit for the audience this particular gallery attracts. Keeping this in mind makes acceptance or rejection feels less personal.

Pick Me! (watercolour - 66 x 18cm)
Pick Me! (watercolour – 66 x 18cm)

This work was one which was not accepted for the selection exhibition of the Society of East Anglian Watercolourists, which seemed ironic considering it’s title. However, since I’ve had two galleries email me in the past fortnight asking if I would consider exhibiting with them – I thought it might be time to take that plunge and take a selection of works to a gallery I like.

I’m thrilled to say that this painting and one other got picked immediately and are now on show at the Darryl Nantais Gallery. Three more will be framed before also going there – and I’m sure there will be more in future.

In my painting journey, I have had advice and encouragement from many fellow artists. Three who have been amazingly patient and supportive in answering a stream of questions about gallery charges and fees recently are Ruth McCabe, Jean Haines and  Mo Teeuw who are listed on my page of Artists to follow. They have been generous with their time in giving me advice and I’m enormously grateful.

Effort vs Knowledge

Thank you Jacci for this great story about the impact of effort vs knowledge. Its not new, but the message is powerful:

Effort vs Knowledge - how does this apply to art pricing?Ever heard the story of the giant ship engine that failed? The ship’s owner tried one expert after another, but none of them could figure how to fix the engine. Then they brought in an old man who has been fixing ships since he was a youngster. He carried a large bag of tools with him. He inspected the engine very carefully, top to bottom.

Two of the ship’s owners were there, watching this man, hoping he would know what to do.

After looking things over, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer.

He gently tapped something.

Instantly, the engine lurched into life. The engine was fixed! A week later, the owners received a bill from the old man for ten thousand dollars.

So they wrote the old man a note saying, “Please send us an itemized bill.”

The man sent a bill that read:


Tapping with a hammer – $ 2.00
Knowing where to tap – $9,998.00

Effort is important, but knowing where to make an effort in your life makes all the difference.

So too with artwork – its the value of  effort vs knowledge

We’ve all heard comment about a piece of art: ‘My toddler could do that.’ (or something similar). The reality is that a toddler hasn’t spent years working on a creative skill. A toddler hasn’t had the insight, the inspiration and the perseverance to create a finished piece of art.  So often artists undervalue their own work – and I have been guilty of this myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that artists overprice their work. There is a sweet spot at which every painting will sell. Knowing where to find that particular price band is difficult and can be quite daunting for an artist. But make no mistake, the ratio isn’t quite as extreme as the case in the above story, but the skill of the artist is certainly worth more than many multiple of the material costs.  Its the sum of the artist’s effort AND more importantly, their knowledge.

If you’re an artist, don’t undervalue your work.

If you’re an art buyer, this is a gentle reminder that the price of the painting also encompasses a portion of all the hours and materials the artist has invested in work that led up to this piece of their inner world that will be hanging in your house from now on.