My Blog Journal


Messy paint palette and acrylic tubes
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What I Need to Create Art

I painted my first cat portrait in June 2009. Reluctant to call myself an artist due to lack of skill and experience, I quietly observed established working artists, compared myself to them, and in turn, compared them to the preconceived notions I’d formed about what “being an artist” meant.

My friends carve out a large space of their lives to dedicate to their craft:
A physical space, defined as a studio, with walls covered in finished canvases and works in progress, workstations overflowing with paints, brushes, and assorted tools of the trade.
And also a mental space, a focused work ethic, an attitude which places a higher priority on “creating art” than on mundane things like washing laundry, watching television, or reading books.

For several years, I told myself that in order to be “successful”, I had to acquire these same things and achieve the right mindset.

When we moved, I took possession of one of our 3 bedrooms for my studio, and I purchased a drafting table and an easel. I stocked up on supplies, I made schedules, and I set goals…

Tara Fly Art Studio

A rare picture of my clean former work-space.

Five years later.

I’m evolving into the artist I was born to be, by slowly letting go, and discovering what works for me and what doesn’t.
I don’t need a studio. I surrendered the bedroom to my son last year, but I hadn’t been using it for months.
I prefer to work on the go… like a Pop Up Studio.

Utility paint caddy, portable art studio

I purchased a Rubbermaid utility caddy that works well to carry paint, brushes, pencils/scissors, scraps of paper (for jotting down ideas and sketches), and a glass jar for holding paint water. I typically work on 5×7 or 8×10 canvases, which can be tucked into one pocket.

As my kids have become more socially active, rather than trying to maintain that elusive separation between work and family, I found it easier to bring my work with me: to the park, to appointments, even to my former workplace (where I’d sit and paint in my car during lunchbreak).

TaraFly pulling children in red wagon

If they want to play outside, I can simply grab my tote, canvas, and move the studio outdoors, too. :)

I don’t use an easel because my paintings are usually small enough that I can hold them on my lap, brace them against my knees, a steering wheel, a table, bookcase, wall, or a display rack (during my shows). It is one less piece of equipment that I need to carry, as my hands are always full. :)

painting cat art with a cat in lap

Painting with a cat in my lap…. I still need to finish that portrait. LOL

I used to have dozens of paint bottles, the cheap $1 craft brands, but my children have appropriated them for their own art projects over the years. I am now buying student-grade artist brand paints ($4-$6 per tube), and I only buy the bare minimum that I feel I need.

Initially, that consisted of: cadmium red, yellow ochre, oxide of chromium green, phthalo blue, burnt sienna, raw sienna, raw umber, payne’s grey, mars black, and titanium white.

I didn’t purchase an “orange”, as using a blend of burnt sienna and yellow ochre works for me. Last year, I finally caved and bought winsor violet, because the shades of purple that I’d been mixing myself looked muddy.

Galeria and System 3 paint tubes

I’ve also added a lemon yellow (which is brighter than the ochre), ultramarine blue, crimson, and sap green. I have two tubes each of the white, black, red, and burnt sienna.. I use those frequently!
The “System 3” Daler-Rowney paints are the ORIGINAL tubes that I purchased 3 – 5 years ago [my art store discontinued System 3 in favor of Winsor-Newton’s Galeria brand]; I haven’t needed to replace them yet! :D

I like my limited color palate because I tend to go “color crazy” when I have too many choices. Keeping just four or five tubes on the table (3 colors + black/grey & white) forces me to think about stuff like balance and continuity, which are concepts that I’ve never been formally taught.

If you look through my artwork over the past five years, it will become obvious that I’ve been teaching myself how to paint by trial and error… with lots of errors! ;)

I never have a master plan when I begin painting, rather a vague idea floating about, perhaps a color palette, or a costume that reminds me of a certain character. I usually sketch my ideas in pencil directly onto the canvas.

Sketching Jane Seymour Cat onto canvas

I sketched Jane Seymour Cat on my lap, at my Farmer’s Market booth.

I used to sketch with pen, but quickly learned that ink seeps through the paint. :P

People who watch me paint live at shows are probably bemused at my haphazard style. I envy people that know exactly where to put the paint, with confident and purposeful strokes.
I throw a bit of paint somewhere, swirl it around a bit, mix and blend it, or wipe it off. I just keep working at it until I like the result, or paint over it.

Messy paint palette and acrylic tubes

I don’t use a paint palette anymore. It’s easier for me to mix colors directly on the canvas, using water to blend them. With watery layers, I can add color gradually until I feel confident, and if I mess up (which happens every 5 seconds), a thin layer is easier to cover up. ;)

In the beginning, I did use a palette for mixing colors, and had trouble with the paint drying out. I researched articles on how to keep paint wet: people recommended sponges, Saran wrap, various methods of prepping and storing, all of which seemed ridiculous to me.

I recall picking up a tube of paint, and thinking ~ “It stays moist just fine inside the tube, if the lid remains tight!”

So the palette was retired, and now I grab a spot of paint directly from the tube, dip the brush in my jar of water, and add it to the wet paint on my canvas. To change colors, I’ll rinse the brush in the jar, wipe it off (usually on my clothes), and dip into the next tube.

Painting Kimono Cat

Juggling raw umber and white… painting straight from the tube.

I lose very little paint this way. It doesn’t dry out on a palette. Hence, I’m still using tubes of paint that I bought in 2010. ;)

People who watch me paint often remark on this method… “I’ve never seen anyone do that!”

I don’t think I invented anything, hehehe; there are probably thousands of practical and poor artists who refuse to waste time trying to “preserve wet paint” in special rubber containers. :P

All the time artists spend obsessing over their work spaces, I can spend with my family and enjoying other pursuits.

I’m not an artist to the exclusion of everything else.

I know a couple of people who would see that as blasphemy… that a “real” artist will think, live, breathe, eat, and love art above anything.

Variegated fritillary butterfly on catmint

I love many things. Gardening, baking, reading books, watching movies, walks through the woods, photography, and performance art… and before this turns into a Dating Profile (where I divulge what matters in a man), let me say that having interests and passions outside the realm of fine art is healthy and should be encouraged.

If my ability to paint were stripped away, I would shift gears and find a new way to express myself.

I am never at a loss for ideas. Whenever I’m feeling creatively blocked, I can “turn the art off” and enjoy a novel or dig around in the earth for a few days. I always emerge from my sabbatical ready to paint cat portraits again. My trouble is that I have too many ideas, and helpful people are always giving me more! LOL

It has taken five years to discover my style and creative process. I’m curious to see the artwork I will be creating five years from now. :)

Tara Fly

About Tara Fly

A Crazy Cat Lady ... who divides her time between painting portraits of cats dressed in period costumes, watching BBC mini-series, growing weeds and wildflowers, and baking pumpkin pies seasoned with cat hair. Would you like some fur-flavoured coffee?

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1 Comment

  •    Reply

    I like your blogs, and this one raised a dozen questions as I read, but I’ll forget most of them by the time I see you at a market. I have to say you are a successful pragmatist … at least it appears that way on your blog. Keep up the good work and keep on enjoying your life.

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