Monday, 26 April 2010

Dragon Gate (San Francisco)

After reading the book "Painting landscape with atmosphere" by Ray Balkwill, I wanted to try a mixed media painting and settled for watercolour and graphite.

Dragon Gate (San Francisco) - Watercolour (31 cm x 39 cm) by Benoit Philippe

I really enjoyed the freedom of playing with colours. After drawing the taxi with a pencil, I covered it with masking fluid. I also splattered the sheet of paper with masking fluid to create an effect similar to the batik technique on fabrics.

I then laid out the washes and applied colours for the elements of the background. When the washes were dry, I splattered the paper with colours in the same way I did with the masking fluid.

The graphite gives texture to the dark lower part of the car

After removing the masking fluid, I painted the taxi.

It was time to switch tool and draw with the graphite pencil. The texture of graphite on the paper is coarse and gives vigour to the drawing. I also hatched the dark parts of the car to create a pattern.

The effect created by using graphite and watercolour together reminds me of some of the works by Enki Bilal, a creator of elaborate comics I admire.

The random splattering creates some interesting texture as well as an idea of movement

The coloured washes loosely fit the drawing, which was my intention

Friday, 23 April 2010

Book review: Hot-Wiring Your Creative Process: Strategies for Print and New Media Designers

Hot-Wiring Your Creative Process: Strategies for Print and New Media Designers by Curt Cloninger is one of my “lateral reading” books.

According to the author, this book is not a graphic design primer but rather a “sourcebook for creative approaches” using the design principles. This means that its interest goes beyond the boundaries of the designers’ community.

As you can expect from a designer, the book presentation is engaging and the layout makes reading it a pleasure. The style is good and easy to read and the text completed with inspiring quotes. There are also plenty of visual examples to illustrate the different points discussed and some interviews with designers talking about their approach.

The first three chapters (“A Process Primer”; “Basic Creative Wisdom” and “Four ways to bypass inertia”) give some detailed and practical way to get your creativity in motion. I liked the part on “exploratory sketching” as a way to come-up with new ideas.

For me, the most interesting chapter was chapter 4 on “Mining art and design history”. I can’t agree more with the general advice the author gives: “Fall in love with a master: Find someone whose work resonates with you and learn about his history and practice.”

The author goes on to explain that you have two basic ways of mining art and design history:

  • First, you can mine the visual forms (the surface, style and mechanical methods

  • Secondly, you can mine the conceptual approach (conceptual theories and principles).

Your goal is to internalize these influences and make them part of your visual vocabulary. And if you are worried about not being totally original, meditate on this humorous way Cloninger debunks what he calls “the Myth of Scratch”:

“The truth is, no human ever created anything from scratch. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth”, Genesis tells us – and we’ve been remixing His work ever since.”

The book also contains a good analysis of the formal elements used by the Bahaus, in particular Paul Klee and Kandinsky.

Favourite quotations

Apart from the quotations above, I liked some of the quotations selected by the author. There is the one from Paul Klee on the dialogue between artists and nature already published on the blog.

Another one is a saying by the craftsmen of Bali that reads: “We have no art. We do everything as well as possible.”

Overall, this is a very good and instructive book.

Additional information

Hot-Wiring Your Creative Process: Strategies for Print and New Media Designers by Curt Cloninger
Publisher: New Riders

Year of publication: 2006

Add to Technorati Favorites

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Nobody there (Yosemite)

This watercolour is part of my "Californian Dream" series.

Nobody there - Watercolour (31 cm x 39 cm) by Benoit Philippe

Monday, 19 April 2010

More on using a ruler for watercolour

In an earlier post, 10 ways to improve your watercolours with a ruler, I wrote that a ruler is useful when tracing objects like buildings in perspective. In particular, verticals remain vertical and this is also something you can trace with a ruler. Even if you don’t want to trace everything with the ruler, at least consider the main outlines.

If you have a drawing table, like James Gurney, then tracing vertical lines is not a problem. This is not a practical solution if you are travelling or away from your studio.

An alternative solution is to use a translucent plastic ruler, graduated on both sides with the same units (it does not really matter if it is centimetres or inches, but you cannot use a ruler that has one side in centimetres and one side in inches).

This is the way I do it:

  • I trace a frame all around the sheet of paper with at least one centimetre margin.

  • To draw a vertical line, I position the ruler perpendicular to the horizontal frame line at the top of the page. To ensure the ruler is really vertical, I check that the marks on each side of the ruler are aligned on the horizontal frame line (as shown on the photograph).

Friday, 16 April 2010

Taking down an exhibition

My current exhibition at Intel just finished and I went to take it down. I thought I would show you what happens behind the stage.

I am using IKEA bags (I have no share or commercial interest in IKEA – unfortunately). They sell them very cheaply and they are very strong. After I installed the exhibition, I folded the bubble wrap and stored it into the bags, so everything was ready when I had to take down the exhibition.

At the start

All packed - ready to go!

I leave the paintings on the wall until I pack them. This reduces the risk of breakage.

I collect all the labels first. Before filing them (see my previous article on “Storing your exhibition labels”), I will use them to double-check that I have updated my inventory in order to indicate the exhibition information for each painting.

I am wrapping all paintings individually or two by two if they have the same dimensions. In this case, I put the paintings back to back so that the D ring and screws do not damage the frame of the other painting. As the paintings are facing outward, I can find a painting in my storage area without having to unwrap them.

I am using masking tape, available from any hardware store selling household paint, to seal the bubble wrap packing. Masking tape is easy to cut (even with your fingers only) and can be removed without causing too much damage to the bubble wrap. Before, I was using the brown packing tape but you can’t get it off without tearing apart the bubble wrap. This way I can re-use the bubble wrap several times.

Painting wrapped using masking tape

Add to Technorati Favorites

Monday, 12 April 2010

Jake and the Cuckoo Flower - Pastel

The field was full of buttercups, but Jake stopped and raised his right paw... and just in front his left leg was a white cuckoo flower.

Jake and the Cuckoo Flower - Pastel (6" x 8") by Benoit Philippe

Friday, 9 April 2010

Lateral reading

The title of this post is an allusion to the expression “lateral thinking”, the terms coined by Edward de Bono (See his book Lateral Thinking: A Textbook of Creativity); and the concept is not far from it.

Old book by Anna Cervova

I am curious by nature and enjoy practicing what I called “lateral reading”, which is a way to expand your horizon and harvest new ideas. I read both for pleasure and to learn. Any book brings some new snippets of information or sends me on new tracks to explore.

Another phenomenon I noticed is that when you have a centre of interest, your mind somehow builds some bridges from unrelated topics back to your main interest and brings unexpected insights into your art practice.

With art as my main interest, I read the following types of books to further my education:

  • Painting instruction books

  • Art history books

  • Journals and correspondence by artists

  • Artists’ biographies

  • Artists’ monographies

This is just the inner circle, the core. Other disciplines can bring interesting information and inspiration:

  • Sculpture

  • Textile art

  • Design (form, composition)

  • Photography (Choice of subjects, composition, lighting…)

But you can learn from other topics that are further away. For instance, garden design books contain valuable information on composition and colour combinations.

This only addresses the artistic side of the practice, and I am also interested in the business side of it, so I read books and articles on business, marketing and technologies…

Finally, I like to read fiction and poetry not only because they are generally a pleasure to read, but also to feed my imagination.

One last experience I would recommend: go to a lending library, in a section you never visited before, and pick a book that catches your attention (the title, the cover…), then bring it home and read it. Who knows what you can learn?

By all means, read art books, but also read laterally… Have you read great books you want to recommend? Please leave a comment below.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

An artist’s dialogue with nature

Paul Klee Self Portrait, (1911). Ink on Paper

“An artist cannot do without his dialogue with nature, for he is a man, himself of nature, a piece of nature and within the space of nature”

Paul Klee

(Quoted by Curt Cloninger in “
Hot-Wiring Your Creative Process: Strategies for Print and New Media Designers")

Add to Technorati Favorites

Monday, 5 April 2010

The creative Process

This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – March 2010. Follow the link to receive this free monthly newsletter.

In the expression “creative process” the important word is “process”, because the best way to get creative is to practice you art regularly. You may not realise in the moment of creation that you are being creative and it is only after, when you reflect on a particular work, that you see its creativity. You don’t want to have to think “Am I creative?” in the fire of the action. You just want get started and be “in the flow” and keep going as long as you can.

Colorful Pencils by Petr Kratochvil

The best way to increase your chances of hitting the creative spark is to ensure a regular output. There is always the possibility to edit out your work and keep your experiments to yourself. As Curt Cloninger explains in his book “Hot-wiring Your Creative Process: Strategies for Print and New Media Designers”: “Intentionally following a clearly defined (or even loosely) defined process may be the single most useful practice in any designer’s arsenal.” This statement remains true when you replace the word “designer” by “artist”.

Twyla Tharp, the author of the book “The Creative habit”, also insists on the importance of the process: “Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits. That’s in a nutshell.” She also stresses the power of rituals to get you started: “It’s vital to establish some rituals – automatic but decisive pattern of behavior – at the beginning of the creative process, when you are the most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving-up or going the wrong way.”

Related resources

Hot-Wiring Your Creative Process: Strategies for Print and New Media Designers

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Add to Technorati Favorites

Friday, 2 April 2010

How to set-up your French easel (on your own)

This will seem very basic if you've owned a French easel for a long time, but can you save you some guess work if you just acquired one.

First extend the back leg which is folded under the box of the easel.

Then comes the tricky part. I balance the box on my knee and hold one side of the box with my hand.

I unfold one the leg opposite to the side I am holding with my hand.

Standing on two legs, the easel is more stable and I don't need the support of my knee any more. I can now unfold the third leg.

I make sure the box is level and adjust the extension of the leg if necessary (if the surface is bumpy).

Now I can open the box and get ready to paint.