Friday, 25 February 2011

My blog post template

As some of you have a blog, I though I would share with you the method I am using to write my posts. One of the central tools that saves me a lot of time is a simple Word document template.

The idea is simple: I want to eliminate as far as possible the repetitive actions and have under my fingers all the possible elements I need from the first draft to the final product (in particular links to websites I use).

Here is my template (it has evolved over time and I keep playing with it):

  • First draft
  • Insert headers (newsletter / Frequency)
  • List related articles with links
  • Create Amazon affiliate links
  • Edit / revise
  • Get photograph
  • Format photograph for web use


Related articles and resources

Amazon Affiliate Programs

Product Links
- Link directly to a specific product on Amazon using the product image
or text.


This article was first published in "Frequency Magazine" [] – [month] 2011.

This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – [month] 2011. Follow the link to receive this free monthly newsletter. []

[End of template]

Related articles and resources

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

My pastel set-up

I thought I will show you my current pastel set-up in a few images.

A heavy watercolour paper, primed with Art Spectrum Sanfix ground, is secured with framing tape on my drawing board.

Stabilo Carbothello Pastel Pencils are great to establish the initial drawing and add fine details later on.

Conté square pastels. This is the first box I bought, and that shows...

Some more recent Conté square pastels bought in Paris.

A nice selection of Faber-Castell square pastels. These are half-size sticks, which means that you have more colours for a reasonable price. Hard pastels are good at the initial stage because they don't fill the paper tooth.

The light colours. A mix of Unisson pastels and Sennelier ones (the light colours in the Sennelier range have a more creamy texture).

A selection of medium and dark colours.

Monday, 21 February 2011

6 tips when painting on location in the city

This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – January 2011. Follow the link to subscribe to the newsletter.

Here are six tips to take on board next time you go paint outside in a city:

Rue de Rivoli – Oil on linen canvas (24 x 18 cm) by Benoit Philippe

1. Avoid the rush hour: In big cities, it is better to avoid commuting in public transport during rush hours (in particular if you are bringing back your fresh oil painting). The same goes for setting-up your material on location. Get-up early and start to paint early. Not only you will benefit from the morning light, but you will avoid an army of tourists going in your way.

2. Choosing the right spot: Michael McNamara gave an excellent tip on where to place your easel when painting in city areas: “Look for a stationary object to paint next to or behind, such as a mailbox or a lamppost that pedestrians will have to go around anyway,” (Michael McNamara's Urban Plein Air Tips – published in American Artists magazine)

3. Anticipate where the sun is going: How much time do you have before the sun disappears behind one of the buildings around you?

4. Keep your valuables at home: take the minimum with you. Have some cash in your pocket, but don’t carry around your credit card, jewellery or expensive equipment. Once you are concentrated on painting, you could become an easy target for pickpockets. If you have a bag on the ground, secure it by putting the front leg of your easel through the bag handles.

5. Take a couple of snapshots: I generally try to take some photographs of the spot I am painting as a safety net. It is also a great way to capture passersby in order to add them later in your painting. This way, you avoid painting a ghost town.

6. Take a few business cards with you or, even better -- take some blank cards and a pen: Many times, when painting on location, I have been asked if the painting was for sale or if I was exhibiting. This could be a great opportunity to add someone to your mailing list. Ask the person if he or she wants to give you their name and email address so that you can tell them when the painting will be exhibited. If they don’t want to give you their details, you can still hand them your business card.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Matisse on drawing

"I always considered the drawing, not as an exercise of particular skilfulness, but primarily as a means of expressing intimate feelings and describing mood, but as a simplified way to make simpler, spontaneous, the expression which should without heaviness reach the spirit of the viewer."

Matisse “Note d’un peintre sur son dessin” (in “Ecrits et propos sur l’art”)

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Grazing in Kent - Pastel

I painted this pastel from a reference photograph I took many years ago, while spending a Easter break with my family on a lambing farm in Kent (England).

Grazing in Kent - Pastel (6" x 8") by Benoit Philippe

See below a few stages of this work.

Initial block-in done with hard pastel. I then used alcohol to create the underpainting.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Play with light and shadows

This article was first published in "Frequency Magazine" – November 2010.

Light plays a crucial role. In the real world, you only see an object if there is some light on it. In a painting, it is the cement between the composition and colours and it commands to a large extent the key of a painting.

Sitting on the dock of the Bay - Oil on linen canvas (50 cm X 60 cm) by Benoit Philippe 

The same subject will look totally different depending on the time of the day and the season. Claude Monet exploited this to its full potential when he painted his series of haystacks or the Rouen cathedral at different times of the day. Mid-day light in summer will crush colours and draw hard edges. Morning light and light at the end of the day will give you long shadows as well as softer edges and colours. Morning light or light in late afternoon create more dramatic light effect and are often used by plein air painters.

From a composition standpoint, light and shadows add to the third dimension illusion. They model every object. Shadows give direction. If the sun is on your side, the projected shadows will give you horizontal strength, counter-balancing the perspective leading the eye towards the horizon.

Make sure you visit the spots you would like to paint at different times of the year. The position of the sun changes and you will find that some subjects become interesting because of the particular angle of the light at a definite period of the year.

Observation will teach you to take into account the three types of lights: Direct, indirect and reflected.

Shadows can be on the object itself or projected shadows. In both cases, the colour of the shadow will be influenced by the colour of the object itself as well as its surrounding. Shadows are neither totally black nor totally uniform. Observe the light in shadow areas. Light in a shadow can result from light bouncing back on the surface where the object is placed or light showing through the object itself if it is translucent. If there are more than one source to light (in general the case with artificial lighting), you will see multiple projected shadows. The surface where the shadows cross will be darker because each shadow is adding its own darkness to the mix.

Here are two suggestions to play with lights and shadows:

  • Try to vary the lighting conditions in your work. Working in the light for instance can give you wonderful effects: lighting the edge of the trees, and the top of people’s head and shoulders.

  • To better understand how light and shadows work, draw or paint a drapery. Take a white tea towel and create some waves, crease it, fold it… Place some objects under the fabric or let the fabric cascade from the back of a chair. It is important to use some white fabric. This exercise is about tones (lights and shadows), not colours.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Art, another form of intelligence

"A Picasso scholar – but not Picasso himself – may be given a PhD. Doing the arts should be recognised as being as legitimate an intellectual process as critical inquiries about the arts. The heart of this argument is that knowledge can be generated in many ways other than in words and numbers. Not all that we know can be put into words and numbers, nor is what can be put into words and numbers all that we do know."

Ken Robinson (“Out of our minds – learning ro be creative”)







Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Artist: Time to start a blog

This article was first published in "Frequency Magazine" – February 2011.

When I started an art blog four years ago, I was not sure how long it would last and what it would bring to me. 350 articles later, I know it is worthwhile and I want to encourage you to start your own art blog, if you have not done so already.

Provided you have access to a computer, setting-up and running a blog is free. The two main blog platforms are Blogger and WordPress. With Blogger, you can choose a template and customise it and then use the editor to write blog posts. The editor is as simple to use as a text processing software, and you can insert photographs and hyperlinks at a touch of a button. You can then save drafts, publish your blog post immediately or schedule post publication for the date and time of your choice. You will be up and running in less than one hour.

What will you do with your blog? There are many ways to use a blog and a good way to find out is to visit other artists’ blogs and see what they have created.

At a basic level, a blog is an online journal. Tracking your progress by publishing your works on a blog has great value. As visual artist, painter or photograph, you can build a blog just by posting images of your work online. You can also get valuable comments from visitors to your blog and better understand what people like in your art.

It is better if you own a good digital camera (you are always keeping a photographic record of your work, are you?) However, if you have a mobile phone with a camera, you can start with it. A resolution of 72 DPI is sufficient to display graphics on the web.

Writing articles around your art and your technique will train you to better understand and communicate what you do. Post after post, you will tease out what constitutes the uniqueness of your art. There is an abundance of topics you can talk about: your art, technique and favourite subjects or art material. I also like to review art books, discuss art history and share art quotations. Overall, the blog motivates me to keep creating, reading and researching art techniques.

This is what I learnt by reading and writing blog posts:

  • Post regularly: it could be once, twice or three times a week; but keep posting on a regular basis. Readers will abandon your blog if you publish only sporadically.

  • Stay focussed: You need to find your voice and this will take time. Until you do, think about the topic you want to cover, write a description of what you plan to share with your blog and use this as a guide. Your art should be at the heart of your content. You can then broaden the conversation by talking about connected interests.

  • Use pictures: You should have at least one picture in each blog post. This will make your content more attractive.

  • Grab their attention with titles: The title and the first few lines of your article may be all that your reader will see in their RSS feeds reader. The title should intrigue, amuse or at least retain their attention. The first sentence is your hook and will keep them reading.

  • Keep it short: readers on the internet surf from site to site. A short and well written article has more chance to grab your readers’ attention than a long and convoluted rambling.

  • Make your content scannable: Readers want to know quickly if the content is relevant to them. You can use various techniques to improve an article readability: put keywords or important sentences in bold (don’t write sentences in all capitals, it would be like shouting); use lists and bullet points; and use short sentences and paragraphs.
It takes time to build readership, so be patient and grow your audience post after post. See you on the web!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Tea cup and fruits

Tea cup and fruits - Oil on canvas by (8" x 6") Benoit Philippe

Friday, 4 February 2011

Picasso’s ephemeral works

This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – October 2010. Follow the link to subscribe to the newsletter.

Picasso created a lot of works all the time and tried many media or means of expression. But what is interesting is his attitude to art and creation: there was no minor form of art and he always had a playful attitude to art, like a child.

In his book “Conversations with Picasso”, the French photographer Brassaï gave several examples of this attitude. In 1944, when both artists came to talk about matchboxes, Picasso showed to Brassaï a sculpture he made with matchsticks linked together by small balls of plasticine. Unfortunately, Brassaï was not able to photograph this frail work which has now disappeared.

Dora Maar had a small collection of sculptures and objects created by Picasso: “small birds made of brass bottle caps, made of wood, bones; a piece of wood transformed in a blackbird; a fragment of bone gnawed by the sea and transformed into an eagle’s head…”

There is also a moving anecdote about Dora’s bichon:

“Dora had a white bichon that she adored… One day, it died… To console the dog’s sad mistress, at every meal, for several days, Picasso revived the little dog with his big black eyes and his dropping ears. The nose, eyes and mouth are sometimes punctured; more often burnt with embers from a match or a cigarette… One cannot see the fluffy paper of the napkin, but the silky and waving white coat of this dog brought back to life, looking at us through the fringes of his long hair.”

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Google Art Project: down to a brush stroke

The Google Art Project is a fantastic resource for artists, art lovers and teachers. It is born out of the collaboration between Google and 17 major art museums around the globe.

The site has several components. One is the ability to visit some rooms in each museum (Google used their Street View technology) where you can go around and look at the paintings.

As an artist, the most interesting feature is the super high resolution photographs of artworks. Each museum selected one painting. You can zoom on the painting down to individual strokes. I recommend that you look at the selection from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam as it shows very well the artist’s vigourous brush strokes.

Additional resources

You can read Google's press release for more details.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

10,000 views and counting

Less than a year after its publication, my free eBook Creative exercises for artists has been read by more than 10,000 people and downloaded almost 600 times.

Do you know a good creative exercise for visual artists? share it with other readers by leaving a comment.