The Comment That Made Me Cringe

Today I’m talking about the importance of drawing. Why it’s important, and some top tips to help your own drawing skills.

Drawing skills – essential or unnecessary?

Some years ago I was encouraging an arty friend of mine to draw. She was reluctant, to say the least.

“But I’ve already learnt to draw. Why do I have to keep doing it? Now I just want to paint.”

Maybe you can relate?

I’ve certainly heard similar comments from students during decades of teaching. I get it – using colour is fun.

I think we’re also conditioned from a young age to think of a pencil drawing as subservient to colour. Every child has been asked “Aren’t you going to colour it in?”, rather than the drawing being celebrated for its own sake.

But there were so many things wrong with those words it was hard to know where to start. I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or explode with frustration. Here’s why:

  • Her drawing skills were good, but not great. Practice is always beneficial.
  • We should never consider that we’ve “finished” learning to draw. We wouldn’t believe we’d “finished” learning a language, would we? We’d continue practicing, becoming more fluent, more expressive, more able to say what we wanted in the way we wanted. It’s the same with drawing skills.
  • You judge proportions and relationships more accurately and easily. Far fewer corrections necessary!
  • Improving your drawing skills improves your painting. If the underlying drawing is wrong, adding colour doesn’t make it right.
  • Tonal drawing helps us to see the tones of our colours when painting. That’s not just green I need to mix, it’s mid-tone green, and it’s lighter than the brown and darker than the blue next to it.
  • Drawing helps us to understand the structure of whatever we’re painting. We learn more about the relationships between different parts of our subject.
  • Mark-making helps us to convey textures as well as tones. We develop our own visual language as unique as our handwriting.
  • Drawing gives you confidence. As your drawing skills improve, you can see what is wrong and know how to put it right. You have the confidence to work in any medium and on any scale.

There’s a reason the traditional art school training had students drawing for a year or two before they were allowed to use colour. It’s about building skills and having a strong foundation. Knowing the rules allows us to break the rules when we choose.

I too spent two years just drawing. Not at art school, but just through my choice to improve my drawing skills. I’m not suggesting that you should do the same, but we can all benefit from regular practice.

Painting of champagne bottle with glasses and platter.

Did you use special gold paint for that?“, someone once asked me.

No. The “gold” was Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber and Titanium White, in various tones.

The shininess of all the objects in this painting is reliant on observation and creating the correct tonal relationships, both skills that are honed with regular drawing practice.

I don’t think I could have painted this if my drawing skills were poor.

Obviously we don’t want to spend the rest of our lives only making pencil drawings, but there are plenty of ways to draw without relying on pencil.

We can change or combine the media, or alter the scale to keep each project interesting.

So how can we practice our drawing skills without relying on pencil drawings every time?

Monochrome life drawing over random background

Here are a few ideas:

  • Go big and bold with charcoal
  • Try watersoluble graphite with a brush pen
  • Use pastels or paint – a single colour in light, medium and dark
  • Draw with a brush and ink
  • Draw white on black paper.
  • Use a mid-tone paper, with black and white pencils or pastels for the shadows and highlights
  • Spread black and white paint or ink randomly over a support, then draw over it to bring out the image
  • Use pen and add tone with watersoluble graphite

Some top tips for accurate drawing

My Aigas Art Challenge posts form the first lockdown give a lot of drawing tips, from line drawing to tones, thumbnail sketches and negative shapes. Ideal for beginners and improvers. Check out the first post here.

There are other posts on drawing too – see Related Posts below.

Here are a few more helpful hints.

Clock face angles

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty bad at estimating angles, unless it’s 90 or 45 degrees. Err… is that 26 or 28 degrees? Maybe it’s 24? But when drawing it helps to reproduce the angle you can see on your subject accurately.

Facial proportions of a Snowy Owl

Here’s an easy way. Imagine you’re looking at a clock face. The centre is where two lines meet. Now imagine the two lines are the hands of a clock.

This first example would show 10 to 6, the second, 10 past 5. Now it’s easy to reproduce those angles on your drawing.

Pencils – more than a drawing tool

Use your pencil for measuring as well as drawing. Hold it vertically in between you and your subject. Which parts of your drawing would that vertical line pass through?

In the image below, the right-hand corner of the left eye is directly above the left corner of the open beak. If the same isn’t happening on your drawing, something must need adjusting.

A plumb-line would do the same job, but a pencil can be held horizontally or at an angle too

Look for relationships between parts of your subject. Here, the eyes and beak form an equilateral triangle, slightly skewed from the horizontal.

If your drawing doesn’t show the same relationships, it’s time to make some alterations.

So I encourage you to keep drawing, interspersed with painting sessions. I promise your paintings will benefit.

See a round up of 2022 posts here and pre-2022 here.

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Discover the Benefits of Painting Knives

Note: Some affiliate links may be used in this post. I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you use my affiliate link. Full disclosure policy here.

Today we’re talking about painting knives and palette knives; essential equipment for painters who use acrylics and oils.

Why are they essential? Because you can mix colours on the palette or support and apply the paint in a range of marks. You’ll achieve effects that are impossible to make with a brush.

Acrylic painting of Wheatear on rock

If you like texture, you’ll love painting knives.

They make painting rock texture a doddle. Painting the rocks in Contrasts with a brush would have taken twice as long and probably been half as effective.

Painting knife or palette knife?

First things first:

What is the difference between a palette knife and a painting knife?

We tend to use the words interchangeably, but they’re not the same item.

Palette knife and painting knife.

A palette knife (above, top) has a straight, sturdy blade. It is used for mixing paint on the palette.

A painting knife (above, bottom) has:

  1. a thinner, more flexible blade, which makes it better for making a variety of marks on the canvas.
  2. a cranked handle, which allows the artist’s hand to be close to the support without touching previously applied wet paint.
  3. a variety of blade shapes, for a range of mark-making possibilities.

Which shape is best?

I find that the teardrop shape is the most useful for general purpose use. That said, the most useful is the one that will achieve the result you desire. There are numerous different shapes available, and they all make slightly different marks.

Obviously it helps to have a blade that’s an appropriate size for the painting. Then consider whether you need something that can make broad sweeps of colour or is tiny to make suitably tiny marks. Square ended or rounded? Toothed or pointed?

Two or three shapes should be fine, if you’re just beginning knife work. Then add different shapes or sizes as necessary.

Teardrop shaped painting knives.

The blades shown here range in size from 6cm to 12 cm. The smallest is my go-to knife for most applications. The larger sizes are great for work on really big supports.

I’ve found that even similar size and shape knives vary in feel, so if you’re struggling with yours, it’s worth investigating other brands or shapes.

Sometimes I’ll swap my trusty teardrop for a specific shape because I know it will make the mark I need. I remember once using the edge of a long, thin blade to make marks that resembled pine needles. Perfect tool for the job!

So it’s good to have a range of shapes available, if your budget runs to that. If not, I suggest the teardrop shape is the most versatile.

3 Knives and the marks they make.

Any of the rounded or crenelated shapes will make stripy marks.

The exact mark will depend on the tooth spacing, paint thickness, knife pressure, knife angle and paint consistency.

If you want to explore these types of knives, this is the craziest set I’ve seen. I haven’t tried them yet, but I am tempted.

Buying tips and knife care

When buying a painting knife, make sure it’s solidly constructed. The metal type with a wooden or rubber handle is ideal. Otherwise there are moulded plastic ones available. Plastic knives are thicker, so if you want to used the knife edge-first for a thin line, metal knives are probably better.

If possible I buy the types that have the metal blade held into the wooden handle with rivets. I’ve occasionally found that the ones that have a hole drilled into the handle and the blade pushed in may come loose after prolonged use.

Knives are available singly or in sets, in more shapes and sizes than you’d expect. Liquitex, Jackson’s and RGM make extra large knives, designed for murals or large canvases.

Top Tip: if you’ve found a blade that you particularly like, make a note of the brand, size and shape in your art notebook. They last a long time, but not forever – especially if you use them vigorously – and you’ll be able to replace your broken favourite with something similar.

Like brushes, painting knives benefit from care. Always clean your knife carefully after use, ridding the blade of stray blobs of paint. A knife with even the smallest blob will carve a channel through an otherwise perfectly smooth swathe of colour.

New painting knife? Make a test sheet

I’ve talked about my experiment sketchbook before in my Step Away From The Comfort Zone post. This is where I test new products and try out new techniques.

Whenever I buy a new painting knife, I make a test sheet in my experiment sketchbook. I first draw around it on my page, so I know which size and shape was used. Then I try as many ways as I can think of to use the knife. Spread, scrape, dab, twist, scratch, print… it’s not only useful but fun!

Your test sheet will be invaluable reference in years to come as you can refer back to it whenever you need to produce a particular mark or texture.

Painting knife test sheet.

Technique tip – don’t overmix

Vibrant and blended colours.

Put blobs of three colours, close together in a line, on a piece of paper or board. Pass the painting knife across, spreading the colour.

The colours will retain their vibrancy, even when they blend in places

Now scrape the paint off and pass the knife back over the line a couple of times.

You’ll notice that the more times you spread the paint, the more the colours blend. This blending is useful if you want to achieve a soft colour that hints of the original three. It’s not so great if you want to achieve colours that merge but don’t blend. So be disciplined, and put the knife down, if you want clear colours.

Acrylic experimental piece.

Detail from an experimental piece. I can’t remember why I created it, but I think I was just revelling in the feel of the paint and the look of swiped colours.

I couldn’t have achieved this with brushes.

It’s a mix of Heavy Body standard and iridescent paint with Gloss Gel.

(Find out more about Gloss Medium and Gel in my previous post here.)

Using a painting knife

How much or how little you employ a painting knife depends on the individual painting and your own personal style.

Some artists work solely with a knife, laying down blocks of colour or texture to great effect. Personally I like to have a mix of knife and brushwork.

Winter Visitors (below) was such a painting. The background was mostly knife work, which gave a heavy texture and broken colours, reminiscent of frosty ground. The birds were a mix of brush and knifework, so that the treatment was different, but retained a link to the background and emphasized the camouflage.

Redwing and Fieldfares acrylic painting.

Soft and Sharp (below) was also painted with knife and brush, though the effect is much softer. I used thinner paint so that the colours blended more and the overall effect was less textured.

Eagle Owl acrylic painting.

The painting knives were great for spreading muted colour over the support.

The uneven merge of colours suggested early morning light filtering through the branches. The twigs and branches themselves were defined with brushes.

Painting knives and mediums

If you want to mix and apply mediums with your colours, painting knives are unrivalled. They’re capable of applying any finish, from large swathes of colour to heavy texture.

Abstract painting.

This abstract explored the contrasting effects of different textures and lustres.

The smooth silver layer was built up with thin layers of colour, and the heavier texture was Gloss Medium with different additives – marble dust, glass beads and mica flakes.

I hope this has given you an taste of just how useful painting knives can be. If you aren’t already a fan, I urge you to gibe them a try, and add a new dimension to your art practice.

See a round up of 2022 posts here and pre-2022 here.

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How to Write an Awesome Artist Statement (Part 2)

If you haven’t already read last week’s post, you’ll find that helpful before reading this one. You can read it here.

How to write an artist’s statement

There’s no perfect way to write your statement, but I’ve found this a good method, as it really digs deep into what you do and why you do it.

It’s not a quick method, so you may prefer to take it one stage at a time, over several days.

If you don’t want to write your statement, but just want to gain some insights into your art, go through Stages 1 – 3

The first stage is to assess your work. Let’s make this fun and creative.

Grab some coloured pens and some big sheets of paper. Old magazines/ catalogues/ leaflets that you don’t mind cutting up, scissors and a glue stick will be useful too.

Stage 1 – Gather your inspiration

Gather some images of your best paintings. The ones that you were really fired up to create. Add images of subjects that really inspire you. These could be images from books, magazines or online images, and/ or physical objects.

You just need to be able to see a group of images that inspire you.

The key here is that it’s images that excite you at a gut level. “OMG, that’s incredible!” makes the cut. “That’s nice” doesn’t.

I remember my mother once looking at a magazine photo of a pile of fabrics, beautiful silks in all her favourite colours. Not being prone to outbursts, she nevertheless exclaimed. “Couldn’t you just eat it!” Ideally, that’s the level of reaction we’re looking for.

Now start to leaf through the magazines. Snip out any words or images that resonate with your art. It could be a photo of the sea or the word sea, if that’s what inspires you.

Include any images or words that provoke a strong reaction in you, even if they’re not currently part of your art. Patches of colours, or colour combinations too.

Don’t get sidetracked with reading the articles. (Been there, done that!)

Stage 2 – Assess your images

By now you should have a pile of images and words in various formats.

We’re going to make some spider diagrams, so write subject, medium, style and method on a piece of paper, with enough space between them to add more words and images. Circle each word.

Take a look at one of your images. Write down the subject and link it to the subject circle. Do the same for the medium. Or paste the word/ image if you have a cut-out of it.

Now let’s look a little deeper. Why did you choose to paint that subject in that way? (Or what do you particularly like about it, if it’s someone else’s image?)

Maybe because it allowed you to use all the brightest colours in your paintbox. Perhaps it’s the opportunity to create a heavily textured surface because you love impasto. Perhaps seascapes are your thing, but they’re always moody and dramatic rather than sunny.

Start to link the key points on your diagram, adding new ideas as necessary.

Purple Gallinule

Suppose I was doing the exercise, and I’d chosen this painting.

Subject matter is obviously a bird, and the medium is acrylic, so I can add both those words to my spider diagram.

I really liked the angularity of this subject and the repeating triangles of beak, tail, wings, legs and reeds, so repeating shapes and angularity can be added to my diagram.

Another key inspiration was the back-lighting and the way the light shone through the beak and legs, so other relevant words could be strong light or backlight.

The jumble of weeds were fun to paint, so texture would also be applicable.

Repeat the process for your other images. You might find that certain words or phrases come to you as you look through your images. Jot them down too.

When you find that words, phrases or subjects recur, emphasize them on your diagram by underlining, highlighting or embellishing.

Don’t censor your thoughts at this stage. We’re just gathering information that we’ll cull later.

Stage 3 – Final additions

By the time you’ve finished you should have a diagram that has plenty of information about your art. When finished, it’s a cross between a spider diagram and a vision board.

Yours may be more, or less, complicated than mine.

This is my (relatively) quick version about my non-wildlife work. Make yours as creative as you wish. The overall result may tell you much about your natural style of work.

You should be seeing some key themes emerging. This type of diagram is hugely useful in seeing how different aspects of your art relate to each other.

Once the analysis of the images is finished, we can start to consider other questions. If they elicit any new information, add it to your diagram.

  • What do you particularly like about your preferred medium?
  • What is your process?
  • Modern or traditional?
  • How does your art make you feel as you create it?
  • Do you prefer working indoors or outdoors? Why?
  • Is your work spontaneous or carefully planned at every stage?
  • Which words and phrases would you use to describe your work?
  • How would others describe your work?
  • Is there anything else you want to include, that’s not already covered?

Sometimes words or phrases come to you later. I’d finished my diagram, and was doing something unrelated, when I suddenly thought “I really like the way a painting evolves.” So that insight is something I can add to the Method part of my diagram.

Stage 4 – Extract the key themes

By now you should have an intricate diagram that delves deeply into what inspires you, and how you create it.

It’s too complicated as it is to express in a few paragraphs, so now we’re going to simplify it by extracting the key elements.

I like to move to my computer for this next part. Hard copy is fine if you prefer to work that way, but you’ll want to adjust and re-write, which is much easier when you can cut-and-paste.

Look at your diagram to see the links and common themes. What are the most important words and phrases? The obvious ones. Jot them down.

Look for a theme that encompasses several different inspirations. I find calligraphy, hieroglyphs, runes and logography intriguing, which can all be grouped under visual communication.

You might find that you paint exotic flowers, dragonflies and seascapes, which don’t at first seem to have much connection. Yet the colours are similar; rich jewel colours of cerise, purple, emerald, turquoise, azure. Maybe it’s not the subject matter that’s important to you, but the colour palette.

Is it important enough to include? Your diagram is quite complicated, so don’t feel you have to include everything you’ve written on it. It’s the parts that resonate with you the most that you’ll want to capture.

I’ve found a lot of inspiration in ancient Egyptian art and Roman mosaics. So history and the art of other cultures are important to me, but actually it’s the juxtaposition of pattern and imagery that I particularly like. So I may not mention individual cultures in my statement, but I’d certainly mention pattern, especially as that links to repeating shapes which are evident in other parts of my work.

Selection of pattern-based images.
One of my inherent themes is pattern. These six images were created over a thirty year time-span. They are disparate subjects and colour palettes, but pattern is important in all of them. It’s a key element for me, even though I may not have been aware of it at the time.

By now you should have a list of words and phrases that capture the essence of your art.

Stage 5 – Rough draft

Now that you’ve discovered the key elements of your art, you can string those words and phrases together into sentences. You may want to explain what you do, why you do it and how you do it. What do you want people to know when they look at your work?

Don’t worry about creating the perfect paragraph at this stage. We’ll refine it later. This is about creating a rough draft.

Remember, you’re aiming to engage your readers. What would they find interesting? What would make them look at your art afresh?

Aim to go beyond the obvious, “I love painting seascapes” to something more interesting, “I’m fascinated by the interplay of light and colour that together create atmospheric seascapes.

Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine.

  • Bright colours have always thrilled me, especially when they clash. I’ve banished brown and black from my paintings.
  • I’m passionate about pattern. A surface can’t be too ornate. I build up the pattern gradually by….
  • I never draw my subject. Painting straight onto canvas reflects the spontaneity of moving subjects. It’s risky but exhilarating!
  • I’m a traditionalist at heart. My work is inspired by classical compositions and works by the Old Masters….
  • Not for me bustling cityscapes. The power of lonely, windswept hills and dramatic skies calls to me. I emphasize the mood by limiting my colours…

Once you have a pleasing rough draft, put it away for a day or two.

Stage 6 – Hone it down

Now that you’ve seen your draft afresh, you’ll probably want to tweak it, and you’ll almost certainly need to cut down the word count.

Aim for a couple of paragraphs, ideally, but certainly no more than an A4 page. Your viewers want to have insights that makes them want to look closely at your art. Few will want, or bother, to read pages of text to make sense of what you’re doing.

If you only have a few paragraphs, you can’t afford to waste words. Besides, shorter sentences have more power.

Take one sentence at a time and make sure it absolutely captures what you want to say.

  • Make sure you have a strong opening sentence that grabs the attention
  • Instead of “I like/want to capture…” cut it down to “I capture…”
  • Make positive declarations. “I create” is much better than “I try/ hope/ aim to create”
  • Avoid filler words: like; mostly; really; almost; quite; very
  • Avoid starting every sentence with “I…
  • Use engaging words that are suited to your style and personality. Happy is good, thrilled or delighted may be better.

Check your spelling and grammar, or ask a friend to proofread it, if that isn’t your forte.

You could ask a friend to help you with the writing if that’s not your strong point, but make sure you’re clear on the essence of your art first. This is what you want to say about your art, not what someone else things you ought to be saying.

Finally, when you’re sure your final version is as authentic and pleasing as you can make it, show it to a few people in your inner circle, to gauge their reaction.

It’s worth showing it to arty and non-arty people to see the different reactions, but the key people who need to respond positively to it are your target audience.

Once you’ve nailed the final version, use it on your website and at exhibitions and Open Studios. It’s a promotional tool, but the clarity you’ve gained through creating it will help you talk about your work in any situation.

See a round up of 2022 posts here and pre-2022 here.

Posted in Art, Business of Art | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How to Write an Awesome Artist Statement (Part 1)

Photo by Lisa Fotios on

This week I thought we’d take a look at an essential piece of promotional kit for artists – the artist’s statement.

First things first:

What is an artist statement?

An artist statement is a document that is viewed alongside a body of artwork, perhaps at an exhibition or on your website.

It doesn’t duplicate information in your biography. Think of it in this way: your bio relates to you, and your statement relates to your art.

It gives the viewer more information about your work – what inspires you, connections and influences, and perhaps how you make it. Done well, it offers insight into your practice and allows viewers a greater engagement with your art.

Buyers like to have inside information. It helps them talk about your work to their friends and makes them sound knowledgeable. The more a viewer is engaged, the more they are likely to buy. So a well-crafted statement helps your art to sell.

Photo by Tim Gouw on

Features of your artist statement

  • It relates to your current art, and perhaps its future direction
  • It’s engaging, encouraging the reader to look again at your art
  • It’s written in the first person
  • It doesn’t duplicate information given in your biography
  • It avoids jargon that your target audience is unlikely to understand
  • It’s concise, usually just a paragraph or two
  • It doesn’t mention other artists. (You want the reader to concentrate on your art, not someone else’s.)
  • It will evolve and change over time

Who needs an artist statement?

I’d suggest that most creatives can benefit from a statement. If you’re a complete beginner, then probably not. Certainly professional and semi-professional artists will find crafting a statement beneficial, both through assessing their work and by using the finished statement for promotion.

Keen amateurs will benefit too, especially those who are competent with their medium and are looking to create their own individual style and themes.

Your statement doesn’t just help viewers to engage with your work, it helps you ascertain what you do and why you do it. If you don’t know that, how can you know how to progress your work? How can you expect others to assess your art if you haven’t already done so?

Make your statement understandable

The fundamental purpose of an artist statement is to communicate.

If it doesn’t grab your audience’s attention and make them look again at your work, it has failed in its primary purpose.

So, most importantly, your statement needs to be intelligible. If your audience doesn’t understand what you’ve written, whatever you’ve said is futile.

Assuming you want to display your artist statement to the average (wo)man-in-the-street, potential buyer, I suggest you don’t write like this:

“These images represent the juxtaposition of the timeless and majestic elegance of nature’s sensory-surpassing miracles with the entangled and growing tensions of our time in culturally reconnecting with the shift away from the human condition of love.”

That’s a sentence from a genuine artist statement; I haven’t made it up.

Did you understand it?

I didn’t.

I think I’m reasonably intelligent, or at least not stupid, but even after several readings I still only have the vaguest understanding of what the artist is talking about. It’s probably better when viewed next to the work.

Such a statement has it’s place, perhaps in an application for an art degree. That’s what I mean by making it appropriate for your target audience. You probably wouldn’t use the same statement at both your open studio and when applying for a Masters degree in Fine Art.

Think about when and where you might use your statement, who will ideally be reading it, and tailor it accordingly.

For most of us, I suspect the statement fragment above wouldn’t grab our attention or enable us to engage with the work. We’d be better off with something with less jargon and a more conversational style.

The danger with a very academic statement is that it puts people off more than it engages. I suspect it reinforces many viewers’ opinion that art is either too highbrow for them to understand or it’s a lot of pretentious nonsense.

If it turns your audience off, it has failed.

It doesn’t help many artists either. They’ll be convinced they can’t write like that so they’ll shy away from writing their statement altogether. Or they’ll try to come up with something highbrow that ends up sounding grandiose without actually saying anything significant. That’s a pity, because a good statement has several benefits.

The advantages of writing an artist statement

  1. It forces us to consider our work as a body, rather than individual pieces. You don’t just paint any faces, you’re intrigued by this type of character, depicted in that particular style.
  2. We become clearer about the inspiration behind our work. Not just the subject matter for individual pieces, but what fundamentally lights us up – colour/ emotion/ texture/ realism/ pattern/ abstraction/ contrasts/ structure etc
  3. Clarity of vision encourages us to create purposefully, rather than being seduced by Shiny Object Syndrome – the next new medium, subject or technique. That clarity enables us to keep focused, freeing us from chasing numerous unrelated subjects. A cohesive collection is easier to promote.
  4. Viewers are more able to understand our work. They are likely to look more closely, appreciate the thought that went into it and connect more deeply.
Photo by olia danilevich on

Consider your current practice

Before you write, take time to carefully ponder these questions:

  • What is your preferred subject matter?
  • Which media do you prefer?
  • What colour palette do you favour?
  • What do your favourite images have in common?
  • Do you prefer a bold style or fine detail?
  • Modern or traditional?
  • Abstract or realism?
  • Do you work indoors or outdoors?
  • Is your work spontaneous or carefully planned at every stage?
  • What influences you? Other cultures/ politics/ specific places/ environmental concerns…?
  • How would you describe your work?
  • How would others describe your work?
  • How is your work different from other art inspired by the same subject?

I’m sure you can think of many more questions that will help you uncover your core art values.

Then you can start to capture they key elements that make your art personal and individual. Write down the statements that are most true for you: your inspirations, process and meanings.

If you’re not great with words, ask a friend to help you. Or you may find it easier to record your spoken answers and transcribe they key points later.

Take your time

Your artist statement requires thought and it requires you to evaluate your work. This isn’t a quick process, but it does pay off in giving both you and your viewers a greater understanding of how and why you create your art.

Yes, you can write a statement the night before your exhibition, because you think you ought to have it available, but it won’t be as meaningful as if you’d spent time constructing it. It will lack the impact you could have achieved.

Some things shouldn’t be rushed.

Avoid jargon

When crafting your statement, think about who you want to read it. What words and phrases will they understand? What will be a barrier? Anything that is a barrier to understanding must be amended or culled. Your statement’s purpose is to pique interest, not repel it.

I’m not suggesting it should be written so simply that a child would understand it, just that you suit your vocabulary to your audience.

If you’re tempted to use something on a par with “majestic elegance of nature’s sensory-surpassing miracles“, at least run it past a few people in your target audience. Gauge their reaction and make adjustments if necessary.

Talking to others about your work is great preparation for writing your statement.

You may hear the same words and phrases when viewers talk about how they view your art. You might gain insight when someone says “I can see you prefer earth colours” or “All your paintings use diagonals.”. When we create instinctively, some aspects may be more apparent to the viewer than the artist.

Whether positive or negative, feedback is always useful.


Your art is a reflection of who you are. It’s reflected in your subject matter, medium and style.

If your personality is larger-than-life, your art probably will be too. A statement that is very calm, controlled and understated will me a mismatch.

There’s no right or wrong way to write an artist statement, so align your statement with your temperament. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine.

Photo by Steve Johnson on

Keep it succinct

If you only have a couple of paragraphs, you can’t afford to waste words. Eliminate waffle, and make every word count. Shorter sentences have more power.

Instead of “I love painting really bright colours, largely due to growing up in the Caribbean, where everything was very vibrant and full of light“, try “My Caribbean heritage fuels my passion for vibrant, luminous scenes“. Same meaning; more dynamic; half the words.

I like to write my artist statement without worrying about the length, and then pare it down to essentials. It’s like cooking – when you reduce a sauce, the flavour becomes more intense. Pruning your statement makes it stronger.

Review, cull, repeat, until every word matters.

Keep editing

If you’re not happy with your artist statement, keep adjusting it until you are. You’ll know when you’ve got it right.

If you cringe when you read it, you’re likely to keep it hidden. If proud of it, and feel it encapsulates what and why you create, you’ll use it and benefit from it.

Next week I’ll take you through a fun, creative step-by-step process of exactly how to craft your artist statement.

See a round up of 2022 posts here and pre-2022 here.

Posted in Art, Artists' tools, Business of Art | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Nothing Matters

Photo by imustbedead on

If you’ve read today’s title with concern, don’t worry, I’m not sinking into a “Woe is me, nothing matters anymore.” depression. Neither am I about to embark on a treatise on the meaning of life, or lack of it.

Today I’m talking about the power of (empty) space – nothingness – in our art.

The significance of space

It’s easy to think of our subject being the important part of the painting, and everything else being insignificant. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When we see a space, it’s tempting to think there’s nothing going on, or that the area is unimportant. No! Spaces have purpose.

Spaces matter, because they give balance to an image. They help the composition, by separating elements, which allows the viewer to see exactly what the artist wants them to see. They allow the viewer to focus on a particular subject, or rest their eyes in between busy areas.

While a hyper-realistic painting is highly skilled, a wholly detailed painting is actually quite hard to view, as we don’t normally see that level of detail. Our eyes need plainer areas for rest.

The benefits of negative spaces

I suspect that most of my readers are familiar with the concept of negative spaces, but in case anyone isn’t, here’s a quick recap on what they are and how they help us.

Fallow doe.

Negative spaces are the spaces between and around the subject.

When I draw a deer, the animal is the positive shape and the spaces between the antlers (if it had any), around the animal and between the legs would be the negative spaces.

When drawing, negative spaces are very useful. If you can see along, thin negative space when you look at your subject, but your drawing shows the same area to be shorter and/or wider, it’s a good indication that something isn’t quite right. Maybe the legs are too short, or they’re too widely spaced. 

Once we’ve identified the problem, it’s easy to correct. Thank you, negative spaces.

Negative spaces and composition

Negative spaces are’t just for help in drawing. they’re also important in making a pleasing composition.

Obviously we don’t want to arrange all the elements cluttered up together, with acres of space in another part of the painting. Neither do we want too much or too little space between the individual elements.

When planning my feather paintings, awareness of the spaces in between the feathers is crucial. I usually spend almost as much time trying out different arrangements as I do actually painting.

Watercolour of eight feathers

Ideally, we don’t want to create straight lines of space between elements. If you can crop your image without cutting through any of the elements, there’s probably a line of space running straight through the painting, spoiling the composition.

Background spaces

Another element of composition is our use of negative space as a background, such as in a portrait or still life.


In a portrait, there’s usually more space in the direction the subject is looking towards.

Although Marcia is largely facing the viewer, her attention is to our right, so there is more space on that side of the painting.

Note the twists of hair that stick out on each side of the head, breaking up the negative shapes. Without them, the hair outline is an even curve, making the negative shapes less interesting.

Although a background is effectively empty space, if it’s too large or plain, we can add interest through light texture or graduation of colour.

We often use such space instinctively. Few would paint a vase of flowers all standing straight and tall in a vase. We’d usually have a trailing leaf or two, or a drooping bloom, to add interest and prevent large straight-sided negative shapes.

Anders Zorn, White Lilies

Anders Zorn’s painting uses none of the subject to break up the spaces. White Lilies is two thirds negative space.

To break up these large empty areas and avoid a plain background, he uses tone, loose brushwork, broken edges, and watercolour blooms that would normally be deemed a mistake.

The effect is spontaneous, energised and carefree.

Other ways to break up an area of empty space include:

  • Clouds or contrails in a blue sky
  • Foliage – trees, hedgerows, branches, that break up a straight edge
  • A flight of birds
  • A ship, island or cliff on a seascape’s horizon
  • A building, such as church spire/ tower/ skyscraper

In this abstract, the plain negative shapes balance lines of iridescent texture.

Particularly large spaces are modified with pale lines of soft grey.

Spaces and relationships

Awareness of spaces, and how they help our paintings, isn’t confined to negative shapes.

The space between two elements is hugely important, as it conveys their relationship.

Years ago when I worked at Nature in Art Museum and Gallery, I used to teach children about sculptures.

We had a group of chicken sculptures, so we used to talk about the sculptor might choose to display them, starting with the chickens close together.

At first they appeared as a group, and might appear to be interacting (wary, competitive, aggressive etc) due to their closeness. As we gradually moved the sculptures further and further apart, the narrative changed as the chickens became several individuals and less a group. Finally they were so far apart they became independent. Only the space between them changed.

The same applies when we group people or animals in a painting. What do you want to convey, and how are you placing your subjects to show that to your viewers?

Think about a an image or predator chasing prey. The space between them helps to tell the story.

  • A lot of space between them suggests the subject will escape
  • Little space between then suggests the predator will prevail
  • An intermediate amount of space conveys tension, as the encounter could go either way
Bruno Liljefors, Golden Eagle and Hare
Bruno Liljefors, Golden Eagle and Hare

So you see, spaces in a painting have just as much importance as the subject itself.

We ignore them at our peril.

  • See a round up of 2022 posts here and pre-2022 here.
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Six Ways to Paint a Spotted Pattern

Experiment with spots

Regular readers know that I’m a big fan of experimenting with different techniques, instead of feeling that I have to produce a painting every time I’m at the easel.

Experimenting not only gives you a lot of experience to use in future paintings, it’s hugely fun too. Better still, I find that a lot of creative ideas for other paintings come to me while I’m experimenting.

Today I’m going to suggest different experiments for painting spots. I’ve used acrylics, but most of my examples would work with other paint types too.

I recommend keeping a dedicated sketchbook for all your arty experiments. Then it’s all in one place and you don’t have to trawl through umpteen sketchbooks to find the technique you need.

Remember to write down the details of your techniques as you make them, or as soon as possible afterwards. It’s amazing how quickly we forget.

It’s hugely frustrating to have the perfect effect in your book, but not be able to remember how you made it.

I note what I did, specific products and tools I used and the order in which I applied layers.

Knowledge of how to paint spots is useful whenever you need round shapes, such as in underwater scenes, decorative or abstract work, to imply texture or to modify a plain area.

Note: I wouldn’t use any of these for painting realistic big cat fur, as the shape of those spots are so variable according to perspective and position on the body. (See previous post on painting animal fur instead.)

There are many ways to create a spotted effect. Why not have fun exploring some of these methods?

Remember that varying the method, paint consistency, tone and density of spots will each affect the results. Working on wet or dry paper may cause significant differences too.

The spatter technique

Spatter the paint by flicking a loaded brush or tapping it against a finger

Important: always cover a wide area around your work if you’re spattering. Stray droplets can travel further than you’d ever dream possible, and dried acrylic is hard to remove from most materials.

If you want spots concentrated in a particular area, loosely mask off the other areas of the painting by laying sheets of scrap paper over the painting. Make sure the previous layers of paint are thoroughly dry first.

Spattered paint on dry and wet surfaces.

Try spattering onto a wet, damp or a dry surface to see how that affects the way the paint behaves.

Spattered paint on a wet surface spreads to form a mottled, even tone.

Try letting a wet layer dry and then spattering again. Layers of colour bring depth and interest to a surface.

Remember, you can spatter water too. Just use a small spay bottle to spritz an area of wet colour and see what happens.

The bubble wrap technique

Paint onto bubble wrap and dab it onto the paper.

I’ve lost count of the number of paintings I’ve seen where the artist has painted colour onto bubble wrap and printed with it.

As a technique, it certainly works. Unfortunately, it is almost always glaringly obvious that the artist used bubble wrap.

Bubble wrap printing

Personally, I’d rather be more aware of the effect than the technique.

If I’m using bubble wrap, I aim to use small pieces and repeat or overlap them, so I can vary the space between spots.

Or modify when dry. Adding other brush marks, or using bubble wrap in tandem with other methods, makes the method slightly less obvious.

See if using popped or unpopped bubble wrap gives a different effect.

The stencil technique

Cut holes in a piece of paper to use as a stencil, or use commercially produced stencils.

Stencilled spots

I used a hole punch and thin card for this example

Using small pieces of a stencil repeatedly, allows you to overlap or increase the space between the spots.

This works better than using a single large sheet, which tends to emphasize the regularity.

The paintbrush technique

Use a brush to paint spots, either freehand or by painting around circular objects.

Twirling a fan brush also works well.

A range of brush-painted spots

This method gives the most creative control, as the artist can choose the size, weight and density of the spots.

It’s also the only one of these methods that gives rings as well as solid spots.

Alternatively, you could dip the end of a pot in paint and print with it to create rings.

The fingerprint technique

Dip your fingertip into the paint and gently tap onto the paper.

Don’t use too much paint or you’ll be left with an unsightly blob.

Spots made by fingerprints

I like this method as it gives more variation than stencils or bubble wrap. The spots aren’t perfectly round either, which also give pleasing variety.

You can adjust the size of the spots by using different fingers and by altering the pressure.

If you’re a clean freak, this probably isn’t the best method for you, but it’s great if you like getting hands-on. Literally.

Other tools can be employed instead of fingers. I picked up some swabs (the kind used for covid tests) from the Scrapstore, and they are brilliant for making small dots. Skewers or sponges would also work well. (See post on Scrapstores, if you’re not familiar with these goldmines.)

The liquid colour technique

Use a pipette to drop liquid colour onto a surface.

Spots of liquid colour dropped from height

I’ve used acrylic inks here, but watercolours, alcohol inks or any diluted paint should work well.

As you can see, this method gives a range of different size spots , the larger ones having broken edges.

Dropping the colour from different heights, or onto an angled surface, will give different effects too.

Once you’ve discovered a range of effects, you can try some of them in combination with each other. That will give you a rich pattern unlike anything created purely with a brush.

Another good way to explore spotted effects is to vary the background to your spots. Try similar, contrasting or clashing colours.

Or try adding some brushmarks to turn some of your spots into bubbles.

How else might you create a spotted pattern? The more we can think of new and different ways to apply paint, the more individual our art becomes.

In future, whether you are working on a large or small scale, or in a realistic, free or decorative style, you’ll be able to choose the most appropriate method for that particular painting.

Have fun!

See a round up of 2022 posts here and pre-2022 here.

Posted in acrylics, Art, Artists' tools, Painting, Tutorial | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Creating a Painting – Behind the Scenes

This week I thought I’d mix things up a little and give you a look behind the scenes in one of my paintings. Whatever the subject, medium or style, there are several different stages to undertake.

The occasion was a visit to Glen Srathfarrar, with my Highland Art Week group from the wonderful Aigas Field Centre. On our way into the glen, we stopped to watch and sketch a herd of Red Deer hinds. As I was teaching, I didn’t have a lot of time for my own sketches.

I did manage a few quick sketches work while the others were getting set up. I like to work on the same subjects as my students, as then I can see exactly where the challenges lie. Besides, a sketchbook of reference material is useful as a teaching aid later in the week.

Stage 1- Inspiration

I love painting deer of all species, so when I saw the deer under the trees, taking refuge from the heat of an unseasonably sunny autumn day, it really set the creative juices flowing.

So that’s the first stage in any painting – the inspiration. There are numerous ways a subject can speak to an artist – subject, colour combinations, textures, lighting – but for me it’s all about getting outside and discovering something that excites me.

Maybe that’s wildlife behaviour, perhaps camouflage, sometimes naturally occurring pattern. Whatever it is, I know I’ll get a more individual and more authentic image than if I’d simply used a reference photo from Pixabay.

Here’s a photo of the initial scene, and this is what spoke to me most:

Original reference photo
  • The bright green field behind the deer. It looked even brighter because of the dark tones framing it. That’s known as induced brightness.
  • Dappled light on the tree trunks
  • Deer in full shade, dappled light and bright sunlight
  • Contrasting textures of tree canopy against smooth green field behind.

Once you’ve experienced the inspiration, it can be quite tempting to dive straight into a painting, especially when you’re fired up with enthusiasm. Ease up on the accelerator though, there’s a few stages to go through before starting a major piece.

One photo doesn’t give enough information, so the next task is to…

Stage 2 – Gather reference material

Knowing that I wouldn’t be back in the studio for some time, and I was unlikely to have a chance to see Red Deer once I was back in England, it was important to get as much reference material as possible on site.

I took a few quick photographs straight away. If the deer moved or the light changed, I’d still have captured the scene. Then I was free to concentrate on sketching.

As well as the photographs, I made three quick reference sketches on A4 cartridge paper:

Page of 3 sketches

1. A pencil sketch showing the main tonal relationships between the deer and the trees

2. A pencil sketch of the trees with a single deer for scale.

3. A watercolour sketch to establish the colour palette

Time was against me and the deer were quite distant, so I wasn’t able to make detailed sketches. If I’d tried to get closer they’d have been spooked and run away.

Red Deer hind sketches.

Fortunately, I knew I had some sketches of Red Deer hinds from a previous sketching trip, so I was able to add those to my reference material.

I also have plenty of deer photos from other occasions, so I had access to more detail if I’d needed it.

Stage 3 – Preparation

Rather than leaping straight into the painting, it pays to do some preparation first.

  • Prime the support. Unnecessary for watercolours or on pre-primed canvas, but I work on board so priming with a couple of coats of gesso was a boring but essential stage.
  • Composition sketches. Not really needed with this one, as I knew from the outset how I wanted the painting to look. Usually I’d make thumbnail sketches of different layouts. (See previous post on thumbnail sketches.)
  • Colour study. I’d already done this on site, but if not I’d have made a small colour study in the studio.
  • Explore. If it’s a new texture or a particular effect, it’s good to make a few test pieces in your sketchbook. You’ll want to find the best method, before you start the final piece.

Stage 4 – Let the painting begin

Finally it’s time to paint.

Preparation sketches should give a sense of which colours to use. I aim to be able to mix all the colours I need from as few as possible. For this painting I used Liquitex Heavy Body, in the following colours:

  • Titanium White
  • Unbleached Titanium
  • Yellow Light Hansa
  • Raw Sienna
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Ultramarine

Darks were mixed from Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna. Greens from Ultramarine with either Yellow Light Hansa or Raw Sienna. (See previous post on colour mixing.)

My first step is blocking in the colours, establishing which parts of the image are green, brown, grey etc. Tones are only approximate at this stage, as I know they’ll be adjusted as the painting progresses.

Blocking in covers the whole support in a single layer of paint and hides the white of the gesso. Then the colours and tones can be judged against each other, and also seen as a whole. Big areas of unpainted support would distort the tonal range, making the colours harder to judge.

Early stage of deer painting.

Deer are just shapes at the first stage. As the painting progresses I make corrections to the shapes and add more tones.

Detail will come later, but not too much as they’re quite distant.

You’ll have noticed I didn’t include green in my palette. There’s a lot of green in the image, but I chose to create all my greens from blue and yellows, which allowed me to mix a wide range of greens. The contrasting cool blue-greens and warm yellow-greens gave a sense of both sunlit and shaded foliage.

I used a fan brush for the foliage, building up layers of brush marks to create depth.This gave broken marks that suggested leaves. (See previous post on fan brushes.)

Canopy detail.
The foliage looks detailed, but isn’t. A fine brush depicts individual leaves along the lower edge, which is enough for the viewer to subconsciously assume the whole canopy is detailed.

It’s as important to know what to omit as well as what to paint. The bright green field had far more texture in my photograph, but I didn’t feel it was necessary in the painting. The brightness was more important than the texture, and a smooth area of green contrasted nicely with the canopy..

The final stage is to add more detail to the deer, tree trunks and foreground.

Deer -  work in progress.
Later stage: more deer and more detail..

I also added a couple of extra deer to imply a denser grouping in the centre.

And so to the question I’m often asked:

“How do you know when it’s finished?”

That’s quite a hard question to answer. I’d like to say “You just know”, but sometimes we don’t. Let’s be honest, we’ve all experienced overworking something and then realising it was better before we fiddled with it.

If you find yourself fiddling with detail, just stop. After you’ve achieved a certain level of detail, adding more probably doesn’t improve the image. Better to ascertain if any areas of tone or colour need correcting and fix those instead.

So my best answer is, “When it stops annoying me!”. I find that I can be quite pleased with a painting, and feel like it’s finished, but perhaps there’s one part that really niggles. So I’ll put that right and then consider it done.

The final image:

Finished image.
Light and Shade, acrylic on board

I hope this post has given you an insight into the way I work, and shown how much preparation takes place before painting starts.

If scenes like this would inspire you too, why not join us for the Highland Art week at Aigas in September?

See a round up of 2022 posts here and pre-2022 here.

Posted in acrylics, Art, Nature, Painting, Wildlife, Wildlife Art | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Zest is Best

Note: Some affiliate links may be used in this post. I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you use my affiliate link. Full disclosure policy here.

Today’s post is all about an excellent product range.

So let’s hear it for….drum roll please….


Maybe Zest-it is new to you, or maybe you’re already a diehard fan. I first used it years ago, but times have moved on and the range has expanded massively. I’m rediscovering it, in all its new incarnations.

What is Zest-it?

Zest-it is the brand name for a range of products aimed at making art supplies safer for artists. One of the components is orange peel, hence Zest in the name and the orangey smell.

(If you don’t like the smell, there’s a citrus-free version available.)

So if you’ve ever felt uneasy about the health implications of using products such as turpentine or white spirit, simply replace them with Zest-it equivalents. Use it exactly as you would turps or white spirit.

Being non-flammable, non-toxic and biodegradable, the Zest-it range is safer for both the environment and the artist.

Why bother? Surely solvents aren’t that dangerous?

They shouldn’t be, but I give you the case of artist Govinder Nazran, who died from head injuries after a fall. A coroner ruled that a contributory factor was his regular use of a solvent-based varnish in an unventilated room without using suitable breathing apparatus. This caused him to suffer epileptic-type fits, one of which finally led to the fall.

If you’re using turps, white spirit or varnish, ALWAYS make sure it’s in a well ventilated space. Personally, I prefer not to use them at all when I know there’s a safer alternative, especially when the performance is equally good.

Art history is filled with artists harming themselves through their creative lifestyles. From over indulgence in absinthe to brawls with rivals or simply using paints that were made from undesirable ingredients such as lead, cadmium and arsenic. I wonder how many great paintings were never created because the artist died too young.

Van Gogh is one of the most famous examples of an artist with an unhealthy lifestyle.

I’m no doctor, but his habit of licking his brushes (EEW!), which he’d used with lead-based paints, must surely have been a contributory factor to his mania and demise.

That really is suffering for your art.

Be safe. Don’t be like Vincent.

But I digress. Let’s get back to Zest-it.

I first tried a Zest-it solvent with my oil paints, many years ago. Back then it was only available as a single solvent. Revelation! It was excellent for diluting paint without leaving a residue, and it made cleaning brushes easy.

Better still, we weren’t all inhaling turpentine and white spirit fumes in our weekly art class. Those fumes are bad enough when you’re painting alone, but in a group they’re far worse. This was a much healthier environment, and when we left the hall, it was ready for the next users rather than stinking of turps.

More than just a solvent

These days there are umpteen products in the Zest-it range: separate diluents and brush cleaners, painting mediums, masking fluid remover, varnishes, printmaking supplies and many more.

My current favourite product is the Zest-it Adhesive Remover. While it’s ideal for removing hinging tape and old backing tape from frames, I must admit it’s been pressed into service throughout my home.

It’s perfect for removing glue left when you peel off a label. You know the type – that gross sticky residue that welds itself to a jar and refuses all attempts to remove it. Zest-it laughs in the face of its tenacity and removes it in seconds.

Another advantage of Zest-it is that as it’s non-flammable, it’s safe to take on an aeroplane when you are going on a painting holiday.

Even so, getting it through airport security probably depends on the common sense of individual airport staff. Enough said.

The Zest-it range starts at £5, so it won’t break the bank. Zest-it solvent for oil painting is marginally more expensive than turpentine: 250ml is £9.30 compared to £8.80 for W&N turpentine. An extra 50p is a small price to pay for environmental benefits and increased health and safety.

Safety sheets are available as PDFs on each product page.

Zest-it is available in many countries worldwide. You can find a list of stockists and see the full range of products here. At the time of writing Jackson’s Art Supplies has Zest-it on promotion. See their range here.

Compared to artists from history, we benefit from much safer working conditions today. Highly toxic horrors like Realgar, Orpiment, and paints containing arsenic have disappeared from our palettes. Lead-based paints have largely been replaced by safer alternatives, Cadmium-based paints are being phased out in favour of cadmium-free versions.

Now that safer products are available, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of them.

Found this post useful? Please share so others can benefit too.

Posted in Art, Artists' tools, Painting, Product review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What is Cashback?

My final post this week gives another possibility for saving money in your art practice.

Put money back in your pocket with Cashback

What if there was a platform where, when you bought something, the supplier would give you some money back?

Well there is!

It’s called cashback, and it works like affiliate marketing. When you click on an affiliate link on a website, that takes you to business page on a second website. If you buy something, the business will give a small amount of the purchase price back to the original website owner. It’s a thank you for recommending their company and product.

So if you buy through a cashback site, instead of keeping all the affiliate money for themselves, the cashback site will pass some back to you. So effectively, every time you use a cashback site you’re receiving a discount on the purchase price, even if you were buying goods already on sale.

Buying through a cashback site usually means savings in the range of 1-10%. Depending on the percentage on offer and how much you spend, you could earn anything from pennies to hundreds of pounds per transaction.

To find out more about cashback sites, and the best ways to use them, I recommend you read this page on

Sadly, I couldn’t find any art materials suppliers listed on either Quidco or TopCashback.

In which case, how can we benefit from cashback sites in our art practices?

We need to think outside the box. An art practice doesn’t just spend on art supplies. All of these purchases relate to your art practice and would qualify for cashback.

  • Art magazines
  • Refreshments for a Private View
  • Car insurance – you use your car for travelling to workshops, exhibitions or collecting supplies
  • Train tickets and railcard, if you don’t use a car for the above
  • Painting holidays and the subsequent costs such as travel insurance, airport parking, flights…
  • Phone contract, assuming you sometimes use it for arty conversations
  • Broadband contract – for online research, Zoom calls, emailing clients, marketing etc
  • Website hosting

That’s not an exhaustive list, but it does give you an idea of how else you spend on your art, and how you could benefit from cashback.

Of course there are plenty of opportunities for cashback outside of your art practice. The more you use a site, the more you earn, and if there’s some extra money in your life, why not divert it towards your creative practice?

Cashback shouldn’t drive your purchase, but it is worth having if it’s available.

Cashback credit cards

Alternatively, certain credit cards offer cashback whenever you use them. That could be in the form of cash, points, airmiles or vouchers.

That means when you pay by credit card you can gain cashback on all your purchases, including art materials.

Get even more cashback by buying via a cashback site and paying with your credit card.

VERY IMPORTANT: credit card debt is a very expensive way to borrow, so only do this if you can afford to pay the whole balance off every month, and you’re organised enough to do so. Otherwise you’re spending more than necessary instead of saving.

Here’s the wisdom on cashback credit cards from

So cashback offers two opportunities to put money back in your pocket. At a time when the costs of many products and services are rising, they are certainly worth considering.

I hope this series has been useful. While many of the savings are small individually, they all add up to something more substantial.

A final thought to consider.

Many art sales attract a commission of around 50% after taxes are included. In which case, artists have to earn £2 to add £1 to their bank account. So that means every pound you save is effectively doubled.

And whether you’re rich or poor, who’d say no to having extra money in their pocket?

Posted in Business of Art, money saving | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Save the Planet, Save Money

According to this newspaper article, the average artist income tends to be well below the average national earnings, both in the UK and internationally. Although the article is several years old, I can’t believe the situation has improved significantly, especially after covid hit incomes hard.

So it makes sense for artists to save money whenever possible.

Money saving in your creative practice isn’t just about getting discounts on art materials. Sometimes you can save by acquiring items without the need to spend any money at all, freeing up money to spend on your creative practice.

That’s the subject of today’s post.

A couple of years ago I discovered Freegle, and I LOVE it.

What is Freegle?

Freegle logo

Freegle is a UK platform where people can offer an item they no longer need and someone else in the community can ask for it. Signing up is free.

One of the few rules is that everything is given away FREE.

If you’re not in the UK, Freecycle is a similar organisation with a global platform. Items on Freecycle can be gifted, borrowed or loaned.

One person de-clutters and another gains something they need. A useful item is saved from landfill, so the environment benefits too.

Once the giver has chosen a recipient, the recipient collects the item from the giver’s home or agreed meeting place. That’s it.

Items are preloved, so that means they can be anything from antique, to a decade old, to brand new and still in the original packaging.

I’m constantly amazed by what people will give away. There’s anything from flower pots, shoes and half rolls of wallpaper to computer equipment, TVs, music systems and occasionally even cars!

While Freegle and Freecycle are both general sites, rather than a specifically arty, I have found a number of items useful in my art business. Here are just some of them:

2 sketching easels
  • Metal sketching easel

I’ve seen both metal and wooden sketching easels on Freegle. To buy new they’re a minimum of £25, much more for the better quality ones.

I snapped up a red version of the yellow one shown here.

  • Office chairs
  • Large stretched canvas
  • Studio storage furniture – bookcases and a cupboard
  • Desk
  • Wooden table
  • Acrylic leaflet holders
  • Paper storage – ring binders, punch pockets, box files
  • Greetings cards spinners
  • Ceramic tiles for use as palettes
  • Paper shredder
  • Dropper bottles – great for acrylic ink mixes
  • Magazine files
  • Large clear plastic sheets for covering tables
  • Printer ink cartridges – major brand, still in the original packaging
  • Hairdryer for drying paint

The printer cartridges alone have saved me nearly £100. The greetings cards spinner another £100, so there are big savings to be made.

I didn’t need them, but I’ve also seen drawing boards, textile supplies, craft items and card-making kits on Freegle.

Even if you don’t find arty stuff, you could find something else useful. Money saved on that can be put towards your creative practice.

Top tip: check often and, if you want an item, respond quickly. The best items may be snapped up as soon as they are posted. Some people give the item to the first respondent, some wait for replies and then choose the recipient.

If you don’t see anything useful, you can request items too. Just post a picture (optional), describe the item and upload. A sentence explaining why you need it may encourage responses too.

“But doesn’t mis-matched furniture look awful?”

No need to be concerned about studio furniture not matching because they’re from difference sources. I painted a cupboard to match my plan chest, so it fits right in. I gained two office chairs, but they are both black, and similar shapes, so they work well together.

Besides, you don’t have to request an item if it won’t work for you. Or request it now and replace it later when another becomes available, passing the first one back to someone else on the platform.

Or just be patient until a different version is on offer. Office chairs, filing cabinets, shelves and cupboards are regulars on the sites.

Alternatively, celebrate the eclectic nature of your surroundings and upcycle the items so they suit your taste and creative style.

Give as well as receive

Both platforms are a great wat to declutter. Just write a short description of the item, upload a photo and wait for the email requests to roll in.

If your item isn’t snapped up straight away, the item will be live for a week or two. Thereafter you can choose to remove it or continue the listing.

So all in all, these platforms are a great way to save, declutter and care for the planet.

Discover more about Freegle and Freecycle.

See you back here for the final post in this money-saving series.

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