Posted on Leave a comment

Stretching

This week I decided to share how and why I stretch my watercolor paper. I bought a new painting techniques book at Barnes and Noble the other day, and the Author shared a different way of “stretching” paper that I had never heard of, so I decided to try it. I have a painting in the works using that technique (I may start it over because I don’t like the perspective I drew it in), so you’ll see a little bit of it here, but I want to focus on prepping the paper and why I like to do so.

When I started out watercolor painting, I didn’t even know about stretching paper and I would tape it down to a board and through the course of painting, the paper would begin to buckle and warp. This was irritating to say the least, but I thought it was just a part of watercolor painting. I was also using a very low-quality paper when I started out, and that, as I have learned, makes a huge difference in the paper’s ability to hold water, be stretched, and hold up to many washes.

So, first, a few pictures:

In this book the author talked about taping the edges of the paper, not taping it down to the board, and just tacking it to the board at the top to hold it on. As you can see from the above picture on the left, the paper didn’t necessarily buckle, but it still warped a little and definitely rolled on the sides. This was frustrating as I painted because it got caught on my sleeve as I turned the board, I almost bent it a couple times reaching to get paint or grab my water or paper towels. However, the paper didn’t really buckle, as far as making waves all across the paper. So, I guess, if you were in a hurry, this might be an option. Just not an option for me, because I found it frustrating.

The center picture is of paper that has been properly stretched and lays flat. I created a YouTube tutorial on Stretching Watercolor Paper that you can view, and I will go through some of the reason why here.

The Paper is one of the biggest keys to stretching watercolor paper. It needs to be 100% cotton paper. If it is wood pulp paper, or a mixture it doesn’t hold up as well to the stretching, some you can’t even stretch, it will just tear. It also doesn’t hold up to lots of washes, scrubbing techniques and things of that sort. Stores like Wal-Mart and Michael’s rarely carry 100% cotton paper. Most student grade paper is not 100% cotton. So, when you buy paper, pay attention to what it’s made of. Art supply stores are a great place to find 100% cotton paper, my favorite brand is Arches, but there are a number of different brands to choose from. There are also a number of online stores (I have bought through Cheap Joe’s and Blick mainly) that sell a large variety or cotton watercolor paper in large sheets, notebooks and blocks, all really nice papers.

The purpose of stretching the paper is to get rid of the buckling and warping. Paper just left without being secured down will roll up when wet as you can see in the picture of the Lion above. It dries that way as well, so you are constantly fighting the rolling if it’s not secured down to a board of some kind. Paper that is secured, without stretching, will buckle and warp because the edges have been secured down. As you wet the paper, the paper swells and has nowhere to go, consequently you get that buckling and warping effect. This makes it harder to control the paint as you have hills and valleys. The paint wants to run down the hills and puddle in the valleys. If you paint on the drier side of watercolor, you can control this if you are careful, but washes of any kind will puddle.

Wetting the paper gives the paper opportunity to swell to its full capacity. After fulling wetting both sides, securing it to a board of some kind at that stage and letting it dry means that it will stretch as it shrinks. When fully dry, it will be fully stretch. If properly stretched, as you add water through washes and the painting process, the paper will not swell beyond the stretched staples and your paper will lay flat throughout the painting process. This is much easier to work on, and consequently a much easier surface to control the paint on. Just a note, I stretch using staples, which you will see how in the video, and then I tape the edges simply to give me a nice, finished edge when the painting is done.

If you are just starting out watercolor painting or have become frustrated because of paper problems, I would encourage you to buy 100% cotton paper, and to stretch it before you begin. This way you start out without the problems that frustrate a lot of beginner watercolor artists and make some quit because of the frustration. In my YouTube video I also discuss options for cheap DIY boards as well as tell you my favorite boards (a little more expensive but worth it) to staple paper down on for your backing. I also give some options of paper blocks that don’t need to be stretch that I love using especially when I travel.

If you have any questions about stretching paper, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Posted on 2 Comments

Comparison

Image result for comparison quotes

I am still on the Burnout topic from a couple of posts ago. I was thinking of this as I was writing about Burnout, but I felt like it would be a better post on its own. We live in a world where it is super easy to share anything and everything we do in our lives. We are inundated with pictures from our friends of their vacations, date nights, girls (or boys) nights out, even down to what we ate for dinner. And everything looks perfect. And of course, we stand back and see all this “perfection” everywhere and compare it to what we might be doing at the moment, the laundry, the dishes, cooking dinner, cleaning the toilet.

If we look too long, we forget that everyone out there has a toilet to clean, a house to tidy up. Everyone has to eat at some point and go to work to make the money to make it all possible. It’s amazing how much of life is really just mundane stuff that simply has to be done, whether it be for sheer survival, like food, water, heat, or whether it is for physical comfort, like cleaning, doing laundry, and so on. Obviously, there are people who can afford to have others do much of this for them, but that’s not the norm, no matter how much we may wish it was sometimes.

Burnout comes when we see one thing, the “perfection” that everyone portraits, and compare it with the mundane that we feel we experience for the most part in our lives. Burnout comes when we are constantly working for the “perfection” as well, constantly feeling like we missed the mark, that we didn’t measure up to someone else’s standard, that we never will.

I am grateful for the opportunity to paint. I have learned through my painting that perfection isn’t really attainable. I have seen beautiful pieces of art, commented to the artist about it, and they can tell me everything wrong with it. If there is a stroke in the wrong place, the wrong color, whatever, they see it. I am the same way. I start a painting, and at least once during the process I look at it and think it’s been ruined. At first it was hard to persevere through that part of the painting, but I have learned a couple things through the process.

The first lesson I have learned is that if I persevere through the ugly or ruined looking stage of the painting, that rarely do I have to start over. It may not turn out exactly like I wanted, but I always learned something, and it never turns out as ugly as I thought it was going to somewhere in the middle when I wanted to quit.

The second lesson I have learned is that everyone is different. I have painted pictures that I thought, “it’s alright, but not my favorite.” I share it on my Instagram page and have people request prints. They love it way more than I do. But it’s something that brings them joy in their life. I have also painted beautiful pictures, that are my absolute favorite pictures and have no one purchase them, ever. It is what it is. Both of the paintings are beautiful, and because of the differences in each one of us, my perfection isn’t going to be yours and vice versa. Maybe that vacation was super fun for that person, but you may go and find out that it’s not really what you wanted to do with your time or money. When we compare, we often can’t see that the experience was for someone else, not for us.

The third lesson I have learned is that there are a lot of really awesome people out there, when you get off social media and out into the real world, who are super supportive of others. I talk to so many people, some who buy my art or books, some who don’t, but they talk to me about it, they’re curious about how it’s done, and they usually have a story to tell that gives them some sort of background or experience with art that is super interesting and connects them to what I am trying to do. They are encouraging and have great ideas and suggestions. I have never had someone come in and tell me I painted something wrong or that they were better than me, even if they’re an artist as well.

The last lesson I have learned is that I am unique. I have gone to bazaars and shows where there was other artist, even other watercolor artists, and each person’s creation is unique. You could have three watercolor artists line up their work of the same subject, and each one would be unique. Each one would have a personal flair or touch that was different from the rest, and the people who came to look would like different artists as well because the viewer is just as unique as the painter. I love that because it reminds me that in all reality, you can’t compare yourself with anyone else, because each person has a unique flair, a unique touch that sets them apart from others. It doesn’t make any one of us better than the other, but it makes us individual.

Comparison is the thief of joy. Sometimes we have to look around and see how everyone is doing and strive to be better because of the inspiration we get, but we should not compare where we are with where anyone else is. We need to celebrate our success, and celebrate our neighbors’ successes, because there is enough success for every single person. So, for less burnout, and more peace and happiness, put down the phone or turn off the social media. Don’t try to keep up with your neighbor, simply be yourself and succeed in what you are striving to do.

Posted on Leave a comment

Icicles

I didn’t get a whole lot of response back about adding an additional day to my blog focused mainly on my art, so today I am going to start. This past week I watched a tutorial from Emily Olsen Art about painting Icicles. I really don’t like painting winter scenes in the winter, don’t ask me why. Maybe it’s because I’m ready for summer, or I’m always freezing in the winter. But this tutorial intrigued me, so I decided to watch her video and see what I thought. I loved the technique, so I went in search of icicle reference photos. I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, but I knew I wanted a brighter background than what she had painted. I found several sunset type backgrounds that I liked and decided to kind of combine, as well as use my imagination. When I was finished, I showed my daughter who is currently serving a mission in New Mexico. She loved the painting and thought it was the marshy swamp outside our living room window. I decided that was the best compliment of all, although I thought I had come up with the idea on my own, I guess what I look at daily stayed in my mind just waiting for a painting like this to express itself.

During Covid I decided to learn how to digitize my own photos. My husband had purchased a really nice camera that I decided to try and use. It worked great. There is quite the learning curve to digitize art as compared to photographs because there aren’t presets for digitizing art, and the colors really do make a huge difference to get it to match the original piece of art. But, through a lot of experimentation I am learning how to do a better and better job. Plus, it saves me a lot of money. That was the expensive part of getting my art printed.

I also have a fantastic new printer as well, that prints archival prints. The ink is not an inkjet type ink, but a pigmented ink. If taken care of, a print from a pigmented ink printer will last 300 years or more, which I am learning is the standard for high quality art prints. I love this printer. It has to be used regularly so the heads don’t get plugged, but so far, I haven’t had an issue with that! Today I printed the prints for my icicles. I am amazed at how good the quality is, but also amazed at how much the paper affects the clarity of the final print. I am learning why people like a high gloss finish on photos, as the pictures pop off the page on the gloss paper and have a duller look to them on the matte finish art papers.

The lighting in my basement is very yellow, so these aren’t the best pictures, it’s also from my phone, which doesn’t have the best camera. But even in these pictures you can see the difference. The picture on the left was printed on a matte finish cardstock weight paper. The picture on the right was printed on a glossy photo paper. While both pictures look nice, I like the crispness of the one on the right better than the one on the left.

Well, that’s what I have been working on this week. I would love to know what you are doing to be creative in your world through a picture comment or email.

Posted on Leave a comment

Changes

Image result for change quotes

For the last several months I have been pondering on, and slowly making changes to my business. Last year, a few weeks into the year I decided to write this blog once a week. Then, as the year progressed, I decided to up that to twice a week. I have really enjoyed sharing my thoughts with you, and hope that you have enjoyed reading them. I have also enjoyed the comments that I have received, and hope that you continue to do so. With the 1-year anniversary of my blog approaching, I wanted to get some feedback from my readers,

I have been trying to decide how to proceed this year with my business. This isn’t a new thing, I’ve been thinking about several ways to proceed since about October, and have started to implement some already, and have several that I will work on as the weeks go on this spring. But I wanted to touch base here and get your opinions. I have been debating on adding one additional day to my blog, not sure which day yet, that would be totally dedicated to what I am doing with my art/business, whether it was links to YouTube tutorials, things I was working on painting, art I had uploaded to my website, new products or product reviews, etc. I would still write this blog, with thoughts and things on Sunday’s and Wednesdays.

So today I am looking for feedback from my readers, particularly those who are subscribed and getting these as an email. I know that I am one of those people that, as soon as I start getting a ton of emails from a particular company, even if I like that company, I unsubscribe. Simply because I don’t have time to read them all, and I don’t really want them cluttering up my email every day. Obviously, this wouldn’t be every day, but I don’t want to clutter up your email with stuff you really don’t want to read.

I do share, and am planning on increase what I share, on my Instagram page. I enjoy sharing there, but I feel like there is a limited amount of “space” there to share. I know I can write whatever I want, to any length I would like, but again, when I’m on Instagram, if it’s very lengthy, I don’t read it unless it’s really interesting, or something I have been researching myself and want to learn more about (or if it’s family). So now I am asking you to share with me. Do you want another email? Do you want to know more about my art? Would you rather I just stick with 2 emails a week and look at other platforms for sharing art? What other platforms do you like for your business? I have debated on doing podcasts, do you listen to and like podcasts? Do you have any other thoughts about subject matter, even for this biweekly blog? Change is inevitable, and if we can’t learn to change, we will be left behind. I look forward to and love change, it stretches me and makes me grow. I am looking forward to hearing from you and listening to your thoughts. You can comment here to my blog post, or you can contact me via my email – richeysteph@gmail.com

Posted on Leave a comment

Christmas Tree

See the source image

One of my least favorite parts of Christmas, the live Christmas Tree. I love Christmas Trees, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t enjoy going out in the cold, picking out a Christmas Tree, usually in the dark. It’s all covered with snow. We drag it in the house and it’s usually several FEET too large, so we have to cut it down a little, in the middle of my entryway of course. Then we get it up. It’s a real tree, so there are no sides that are perfect. Sometimes we have taken bottom branches and drilled holes in the trunk and added to fill in. But most years I don’t want the mess, so it is what it is. Then it has to sit for several hours dripping all over the towels we lay out on the carpet, making a mess. Then there’s the needles from now until we take the tree outside. They’re not too bad until someone bumps the tree, and then it’s like a pine needle shower.

This year wasn’t so dark. We got out before it got dark, so we could really see the actual tree, and not just random shapes out in the swamp. But, as you can see, there are still towels all around the tree to soak up the dripping, melting snow. So, why do we do it? If it had been totally up to me, we would have had a fake tree years ago. But the kids love getting the real tree. When they were little, dad would cut down the tree and drag it out of the woods so that they could “help” haul it back to the truck. Now, one of the kids, usually one of the boys, cuts down the tree and drags it out onto the road where they can all grab hold and haul it back. Dad and I walk out to the spot, supervise, and walk back to the truck. It’s not too bad.

Now, having expressed my dislikes, there are a couple of things I do like about the real tree. I love the smell of pine. Not that it’s super prominent, but when you’re close you can smell it. I like the imperfectness of the real tree. Fake trees are all perfectly shaped, and really have very little character, so flat sides, or no good sides, they are still more unique than a fake one. This one is going to be weird, but I like that there’s fewer branches. They require less lights and less ornaments. I also like that the uniqueness of the tree goes well with the mostly homemade ornaments that we have collected throughout the years.

I don’t know if we will forever have a live Christmas tree, when the kids are all grown, if they don’t get one for us, we’ll probably go to a fake tree just for convenience. But, while there are still kids willing to wade through the snow in the dark and cold, I think we’ll probably have a real tree. I can handle the mess because it makes for wonderful memories. Do you have a real tree or fake tree? What do you like about yours? I would love to hear a memory from your childhood involving Christmas trees!