Watercolor Glossary: Brushes for Beginners

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Choosing the right paintbrush can be really overwhelming when you’re starting to paint. If you’ve wandered down the aisle of your local art store and seen the dazzling array of brushes, all made of different materials and some for students and some for artists and some for professionals and some for oils and some for watercolors and some for painting model airplanes (okay, okay, if you’re seeing that one you’re in the wrong aisle), you know there are a LOT. So let’s break it down to the basics in this edition of the Watercolor Glossary!

I was really fortunate when I started to paint because there was an amazing local art supply store staffed by an Australian woman who seemed to know everything about art supplies and wasn’t snobby about it at all! She helped me pick out my first supplies and made the subject approachable and beginner-friendly, and I’m aiming to do the same for any beginners who are reading this very post.

Medium:

To start, there are paintbrushes for just about every kind of painting and medium. Brushes for oil painting, acrylic painting, watercolors, house painting, wall painting, and turkey basting.*

Really briefly though, oil and acrylic brushes usually have much longer handles (they’re easier to use when you’re painting something on an easel). Some oil and acrylic brushes are made of the same materials as watercolor brushes, but you’ll want a watercolor-specific brush for painting. Trust me, you’ll notice the difference.

*check out the Turkey Baster Glossary for more on that.

Shape:

How many different brush shapes can you name? If you’re thinking, “Um, paintbrush-shaped?” Don’t worry! That’s what I’m here for.

Among the many, many types of brushes* we are going to focus on three: the round, the filbert, and the flat. As you continue to paint, you’ll undoubtedly want to add more brushes to your arsenal, but those three brushes are capable of a LOT and are all I personally use.

Here’s a little illustration I made to show you the general shapes:

A round brush: this is the most traditional size, and what you’d think of when you think, “paintbrush.” A round is very versatile and is by far the most-used paintbrush in my own arsenal. Rounds come in lots of sizes and are capable of doing very fine detail with the point of the brush, but also laying down a lot of paint when you use the belly of the brush.

A flat brush: the metal part that holds the bristles of the brush is called the ferrule. On a round brush, the ferrule is round. On a flat brush it is pressed flat, which makes the bristles form into a square/rectangle shape. These are best for doing broad strokes and washes, though you can get some detail and good lines with the side of the brush.

A filbert brush: a filbert looks a lot like a flat brush, but the sides are rounded. Filberts are the brush of choice for many artists as they can hold lots of paint, do big washes, and you can get some nice detail work by using the sides of the brush.

The takeaway from this section? If you’re just getting started, invest in a good-quality round brush. They can lay down a lot of paint but their fine point means you can also create beautiful details. A round brush is my go-to in my own paintings, but if you’d like to try a few different shapes, go for a round brush, a flat brush, and a filbert.

Click here for one of my favorite brushes I used when I was learning to paint. I’d recommend it to any beginner!

*an incomplete list: round, pointed round, flat, bright, filbert, sword, rigger, liner, taper, fan, angular flat, detail, and mop.

Here’s a link to a handy chart that Blick Art Supplies made (pictured below).

Size:

The size of the brush is typically printed on the handle. The size refers to the bristles/hairs and here’s something fun (and by “fun” I mean kind of annoying…)…there is no consistency between brands regarding sizes. A size 6 brush in one brand can be completely different from a size 6 brush in another brand! And so on and so forth for every number and brand. There just isn’t a standard size chart for brushes, so make sure you always look at the brush measurements provided if you’re buying online. Some brush manufacturers also have free catalogues with brush images printed so they are at their actual size.

The takeaway: to give yourself the most range when you’re starting, go for a small round brush (somewhere between size 0-2), a medium round brush (somewhere between size 4-6), and a larger round brush (somewhere between size 8-12).

Again, here’s a great resource from Blick about brush sizing, and it also goes into some interesting information on brush hair, which we’ll cover in more detail below.

Material:

Watercolor brushes can be made from natural animal hairs or synthetic bristles. It’s a veritable petting zoo of animals, too, and includes sable, ox, mongoose, hog, badger, squirrel, goat, and pony!!

The best watercolor brushes are made of Kolinsky Sable, which is a fur from the Siberian Weasel. Sable fur is held to be superior to all other materials for brushes–it is extremely soft, absorbs lots of paint and water, and holds a beautiful point for detail. It is also a lot more expensive, but you can really tell the difference when you paint with a Kolinsky Sable brush.

This video gives some behind-the-scenes info on some of the most expensive Kolinsky Sable brushes–it is REALLY interesting to see what goes into each brush. Did you know there are only a few brush-makers who can make the Winsor and Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable brush? And it takes three years of training before they’re ready! The nine (ONLY NINE) brush-makers who make these each have 27 years of experience on average. Okay, I’ll stop quoting the video to you and just encourage you to watch it when you have a minute 🙂

When a brush is labelled “camel hair” it is usually made of squirrel hair, or a mixture of goat, pony, squirrel etc. These are cheaper brushes and I don’t personally enjoy using them as I like a bit more spring in my brushes. Because they’re quite inexpensive, though, it’s easy to experiment and see if you like them.

Finally, if you don’t want to go with natural brush hairs, you can also purchase a brush made of synthetic fibers. They do perform a bit differently, but a lot of the synthetic brushes I’ve used are just as good as the natural ones. This is a set of mini synthetic brushes and I use them all the time. I do find that synthetic brushes don’t seem to hold up as well to my sable brushes, but they tend to be cheaper and easy to replace. Also, if you are opposed to buying products made with animal components, they are a great choice.

Anyone else love the show “How It’s Made”?? This video is amazing if you’re interested in learning more about paintbrushes, how they’re made, and the different components.

The Takeaway:

As with all art supplies, you will find your favorites by experimenting. That can be a little difficult at the beginning of your painting journey if you’re not sure what to experiment with or if you don’t have a lot of money to spend on a bunch of different art supplies. If that describes your situation, I’d recommend purchasing a couple good quality round brushes in at least three different sizes. Princeton makes some great affordable brushes. If you’ve been painting for a while, though, and you’re ready to upgrade, you can’t beat a Kolinsky sable brush. Check out Rosemary and Co. brushes and the Winsor and Newton Series 7 brushes for the very tippity-top of the line.

As always, let me know if you have any questions or feedback in the comments below! Happy painting!

TOP FIVE: June 27-July 4

Top Five

#1: Home Cooking Podcast

I listened to the beautiful, inspiring, and fun podcast “Home Cooking” by Samin Nosrat and Hrishikesh Hirway over the last couple weeks. (Samin is the host of that beautiful Netflix special whose name I can never accurately remember…I think SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT. Could I Google it? Yes. What can I say? I am lazy, and Googling it seems to be the equivalent of getting up to put the kettle on so I can have a cup of tea while I write this post.) And Hrishi is the co-host on the West Wing Weekly and the host of Song Exploder and if you listen to podcasts I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. ANYWAY, here is how they describe their podcast:

“Home Cooking is a podcast from Samin Nosrat and Hrishikesh Hirway. We want to help you figure out what to cook (and keep you company) during the quarantine!”

It is SUCH a good listen, and full of amazing cooking tips and fun stories. There are only a few episodes, but they are each a delight. Plus, it leads me to my next item on the list, which is Yo-Yo Ma.

#2: Yo-Yo Ma

In one of the episodes they were chatting with Yo-Yo Ma and brought up a series of music he’s been making called Songs of Comfort. They are beautiful and recognizable and seem to be a reaction to the turbulence and uncertainty of these times. Here’s a clip of him discussing Songs of Comfort:

He just seems so NICE, doesn’t he?!

The host asks, “What can music and art do?”

And Yo-Yo says, “I kept looking for my voice, and I think my voice is in finding the needs of others and then representing them…So, everywhere I go, it’s always about finding what people are thinking, feeling, how they think about themselves in the world, and if I can find something that they need and if I can actually offer a little bit of something that is comforting, than that’s how I would define my job.”

I couldn’t say it better, I couldn’t agree more. In my small way, through flowers and paintings, I hope I can achieve the same.

Here is one of my favorites:

#3: Grace Rose Farm

Grace Rose Farm. There are hours of endless inspiration to be had just by scrolling through their feed. Any time I need a little injection of beauty or to see unbelievable roses, I hop over to their Instagram account. I’ve been drooling over the mail-order bouquets they offer and I’m not sure I can resist THESE incredible roses…

#4: Morgan Harper Nichols

Morgan is many things, but I know her from her art+poetry that I first came across on Instagram. She writes beautiful poetry and creates beautiful art around it. I am personally inspired to start sharing more of my words and thoughts as a result of her work! Click here to go to her Instagram page and see some of her beautiful work.

Loosen your shoulders

relax your jaw

breathe deep.

Make room for peace

right here in the wild of things.

-Morgan Harper Nichols

#5: The new course I’m taking!

I’m so excited because this week I started an online course called “Leverage Your Art” with Stacie Bloomfield, whose work you might know from Gingiber. Just in this first week, I’ve really been challenged to expand my art and I want to start sharing it with all of you as well. There is a unique challenge to be found in drawing and creating new things but maintaining my voice and style overall. I’d like to be able to paint a flower and have someone say, “It looks like Alex painted that!” and have that same hand be evident in the people or animals or objects I draw. That’s a lot of work! But it is work that I love 🙂

What did you love this week? Tell me about it below or join the conversation on Instagram by clicking here!

Watercolor Glossary : Watercolor Paper for Beginners

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Welcome to the first topic of the Watercolor Glossary! This week we’re talking about watercolor paper and all of its many varieties! Knowing what kind of paper to use can be a little overwhelming if you’re just getting started, especially because watercolor paper varies in texture, weight, dimension, manufacturing process, and presentation.

NOT TO WORRY. I’m here for you.

If you’re at the very beginning of your watercolor journey, you might not even know that there IS a specific paper for watercolor paper, or that there are many, many options. If you’ve been painting for a while, you probably already have a favorite type of paper that you gravitate towards. Either way, you can learn something from this post as I share a quick overview of the different varieties of watercolor paper available and talk about their different characteristics and how they can effect your painting.

Ready?!

Texture:

Watercolor paper texture can be super smooth (hot pressed) or very bumpy and textural (rough) and everything in between. These textures react differently to brushstrokes and to your paint, so it’s important to know what you’re looking for. For example, if I was trying to paint an extremely detailed and realistic botanical piece on rough paper I’d quickly get frustrated as the bumpy paper texture would interfere with my tiny brushstrokes.

You’ll mostly come across hot-pressed or cold-pressed paper, especially if you’re just beginning. These words refer to the manufacturing techniques–hot-pressed paper is made by rolling the paper with heated cylinders, which results in a much smoother surface. Cold-pressed paper is pressed with un-heated rollers, which results in a much more textured and rough surface. Here’s a quick video by Italian paper manufacturers Fabriano that shows the paper manufacturing from cotton pulp all the way through to final product. It’s pretty neat!

Watch these artisans take cotton pulp and turn it into beautiful, handmade watercolor paper!

These surfaces react differently to paint and water. Cold-pressed paper holds a lot of water and doesn’t dry as quickly. If you’d like even more texture, opt for Rough watercolor paper, which has a lot of texture. It’s hard to paint details on this type of paper, and many artists will paint landscapes or seascapes using rough textured watercolor paper. If you opt for one of these, you’ll find that the paper fibers are visible and the paper itself is very rough to the touch.

Hot-pressed paper, due to it’s smooth surface, is much easier to use if you’re interested in painting detailed or realistic paintings. The paper texture is so smooth that the fibers don’t interfere with your brush strokes and your brushstrokes will dry quickly. Typically, if you’re using a LOT of water in your washes and painting, I’d recommend using cold or rough paper.

Cold-pressed paper is textured, and that can provide some great effects in finished paintings. The brush can catch along the ridges and edges of the paper fibers and leave beautiful textured effects. As I mentioned above, cold-pressed can handle heavier applications of water than hot-pressed.

This is a picture I took of some of the papers I have on hand. You can see the subtle differences in texture between various brands and types of watercolor paper.

Try a bunch of different papers and see what you like! I personally gravitate toward hot-pressed paper because I paint highly-detailed paintings with lots of layers. Many artists prefer the toothy-ness of cold-pressed paper, though, and I recommend trying both. Most student papers are cold-pressed, so keep that in mind as you begin to paint.

Weight:

Watercolor paper comes in a range of different weights, and you’ll see this number right on the front of a pad of watercolor paper. There are three common weights: 90lb, 140lb, and 300lb paper.

300lb paper is the gold standard of watercolor paper. It is expensive, thick, sturdy, rarely warps, and typically comes in huge sheets of paper. Don’t go for this until you’re ready for it, though, you won’t appreciate the specific qualities of 300lb paper until you have some experience painting, so it’s better to spend your art-supply budget on other things.

90lb paper warps very easily. Typically, this is a student-quality paper. It’s thin and best used for testing out colors or making practice sketches. As in all things, there are exceptions to the rule, and I know a few artists who paint on 90lb paper, BUT it’s always best to learn the “rules” and how they work before you break them 🙂

140lb paper is the most common. This could also need to be stretched (we’ll get to that later!), though I usually use it as-is because I my paintings tend to have many detailed layers of paint that dry quickly, so it doesn’t warp easily.

Each weight is available in hot-pressed, cold-pressed, and rough-textured paper. So, for example, I prefer 300lb hot-pressed paper, though I use 140lb hot-pressed paper for almost all of my paintings, and I rarely make use of 90lb paper.

In addition to seeing the pounds, you’ll probably also see the grams measurement. Here’s the conversion in case you need it: 190 gsm = 90lb, 300 gsm = 140 lb, and 638 gsm = 300 lb

Materials:

Watercolor paper can be made out of cellulose, wood pulp, cotton fibers, or a mixture of them all.The very best watercolor paper is made of 100% cotton, but it’s totally fine to use something with a mixture of fibers when you’re practicing or creating studies/sketches. That way, you can save the good stuff (which is also the more expensive stuff) for your final paintings. 

Student papers are usually about 25% cotton, and are often not archival or acid-free, which are properties you’ll want as you continue to paint and create final paintings, so it’s something to keep in mind as you buy paper.

Presentation and Form:

You can buy watercolor sheets in a simple pad of paper, but they are also available in blocks, journals, sketchpads, separate sheets, and myriad other forms!

A block of watercolor paper is glued with light adhesive on all sides with a small section left un-glued. You can insert a palette knife or other sharp edge into that small section to remove the top sheet. The adhesive keeps the paper from warping, which is a great feature. The only con is that you can only work on one painting in your block at a time.

Large sheets of paper can be more cost-effective, but typically students and beginners will use smaller sheets of paper, so I recommend starting with a pad.

These are a few of the paper options in my studio. On top is a pad of student-quality paper that I use for testing colors and ideas. Next is my watercolor journal that I use for preserving notes and color swatches for future reference. On the bottom is a block of 140-lb, hot-pressed, 100% cotton watercolor paper that I use for my final paintings.

Other things to consider:

Watercolor paper is also available in a range of whites from bright-white to natural-white. This isn’t very important when you’re starting out, but it’s something to be aware of. 

If you’re painting motifs with the intent of scanning them and using them for surface pattern design or to create digital artwork, use bright-white, hot-pressed paper so that the scanner doesn’t pick up unwanted texture/shadows. 

For final paintings, use acid-free, 100% cotton paper where possible. It’ll make a difference in the longevity of your piece.

The takeaway for beginners:

Opt for a mid-range pad of 140lb cold-pressed paper for your final paintings. Here is a good option! Don’t automatically go for the cheapest as it won’t perform properly and it’s easy to get discouraged when you don’t get good results, but you’re also not ready for the expensive types of paper yet. As you progress, try hot-pressed paper, if you have a problem with warping, try a block of paper. If you have a good paper cutter, buy larger sheets and cut them down to size. Remember, you have the rest of your life to learn all there is about watercolor, so just jump right in and go from there and don’t let yourself get overwhelmed.

WHAT I USE:

I’ve found that, while Arches is the industry-standard as far as high-quality watercolor paper goes, Blick has a fantastic range of watercolor paper. My go-to is a block of Blick Premier 140lb hot-pressed paper, and for larger paintings I’ll splurge and use Arches 300lb hot-pressed sheets. I also love my Strathmore watercolor paper journal as a place to keep color swatches and notes about paints for my own reference. 

OTHER RESOURCES:

If you enjoy reading about art supplies and are interested in a more in-depth look at how paper is created and the different properties of watercolor paper, Handprint is basically the most exhaustive, comprehensive blog about watercolors and art supplies out there. Here’s his extensive series on watercolor paper.

Here is a video from Arches that features some beautiful footage of the paper-making process. There are some unusual creative choices in this video, but the footage of the process makes it worth it to watch!

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments or if something was particularly helpful! And, if you have requests for further articles in the Watercolor Glossary, I’d love to hear about them. 

Happy painting!  

Introducing the Watercolor Glossary!

Watercolor Glossary

Watercolor painting has a reputation for being difficult and, as with any craft or hobby, starting to learn to paint can be daunting. Maybe you don’t feel confident in your drawing, or you aren’t sure how to work up the courage to actually put paint to paper, or maybe you are overwhelmed by the amount of supplies and techniques you have to learn. Supplies with names like frisket, hot-pressed, Kolinsky sable, and half-pans.

It’s okay! I’ve got you!

This glossary will be an on-going series that explores the supplies and techniques specific to watercolor. My hope is that it will become a comprehensive resource for students of watercolor. Whether you’re just starting out and need someone to hold your hand for a little while or if you’ve been painting for a while and are looking to get some more detailed information.

As a self-taught artist and self-proclaimed Art Supply Nerd, I’ve learned and absorbed information for years and my students can tell you that sometimes I get a little carried away talking about art supplies and just where those paint pigments originated* but there is an endlessly fascinating world out there, and I believe that the more we learn, the better we will become at this craft.

I’ll be starting with simple supplies and techniques. Just what is the difference between hot- and cold-pressed paper? What kind of brushes do you need? Why are there so many kinds of paint out there!? And then I’ll move on to some questions that I would really like to know the answers to, like…how exactly do they get the hair for watercolor brushes? And where does the name liquid frisket come from??

Eventually, I hope to include interviews with specialists and artisans who continue to create beautiful supplies and use both traditional and contemporary techniques. I sure don’t know everything, but what I don’t know I’ll find out. Feel free to send me your questions for future editions by writing to hello@alexsgardenstudio.com. No question is too basic, I promise! A new post will go up each Wednesday and I’ll be answering questions here and on my Instagram page where you can find me @alexsgardenstudio.

There’s a lot to learn out there, so let’s get to it! Let me know in the comments, what are you hoping to learn about?

*Hint: cow urine, crushed beetles, burned bones. INTERESTING, right?

Driving from Texas to New York during a pandemic.

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Okay, so two weeks ago I was driving somewhere through Tennessee with my sister, caravanning with our parents as we all drove from Texas to New York. It’s a weird time to take a road trip, but we still managed to hit all the hallmarks of a good one: excellent regional food (hello Memphis BBQ!), cute Airbnbs (a little farmhouse in rural Kentucky), and social distancing.

Wait, that last one just snuck in there.

Our waiter was carrying a gun, and the BBQ was the best I’ve had in a LONG TIME maybe ever?

Now I’m in New York and I’ve spent most of the last two weeks working outdoors, putting a garden in, and sleeping way too much. I think my normal schedule is something like, go to bed around midnight and read for too long and then wake up groggy. But now…it’s like my body/mind decided that now was a good time to catch up on a lot of bad night’s sleep from the last couple months, and in between wearing myself out with fresh air and raking out wood chips, I am going to sleep around 10 and waking up…well, still waking up late, but I’ll take it! Thanks to THE WORLD SITUATION all shipping is really delayed right now, so the bed and mattress I ordered to be here at the house has taken a couple extra weeks to arrive, and I’ve been on an air mattress. I’M STILL SLEEPING GREAT. It’s weird. I like it.

I’ve taken a couple weeks off as well, which has been bliss. I’ve been reading SO MUCH. For me, I think the ideal vacation is basically sitting outside and reading while someone brings me hot coffee and then, later, iced coffee. I’m easy to please.

Somewhere between Texas and New York

The thing is, when you work for yourself, you could technically take a vacation any time you want, right?

WRONG. You’d think it would be that way, but actually it means you have permission to work all the time, every evening, every weekend, with friends, while eating dinner, thinking about things to change and goals to achieve. It takes me a while to unplug, and with the extra addition of pausing on social media for a little while, I am finally starting to relax. I mean…just in time to get back to work, but I have honestly really enjoyed this time to unplug.

Everything is still pretty closed here in New York, so lots of time spent in the garden. We had topsoil delivered and picked up a few truckloads of wood chips from a local lumber yard. We are going with a “no dig/no weed” garden this year. The idea is that by creating raised rows and laying down lots of natural mulch, we’ll have very rich beds for the good things to grow and bad conditions for the bad things to grow. Fingers crossed! I’ll share a few pictures below, and if you scroll back far enough on this blog you’ll find posts from a few years ago when we first broke ground on our (then much smaller) garden.

Don’t forget to check out today’s Top 5 too–I shared some of my favorite things from the last week!

I also have a few commissions to work on and some virtual classes I’ll be opening up. I can’t wait to get back to teaching in-person, but virtual will do for now! The shop has been on vacation, and I’m adding some new paintings to it and will be opening it up for the summer in a couple days. And that’s all I’ve got for now! Any questions about a pandemic road trip? Any suggestions as to what I should read next? Let me know in the comments!!

Top 5 for June 7-June 13

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Time to share the best things from the last week! This week was a week of settling in as I get used to being in Upstate NY for the summer after Texas. It’s pretty different here, and in some ways that I love (the mountains! the nature! the trees! the weather!), and in some ways I don’t (I’ll just leave you to guess so I don’t offend anyone haha!).

So, top 5 for this week:

1. Facebook Marketplace

Facebook Marketplace has provided some REALLY GOOD deals in the last couple weeks, making it possible to outfit our mostly-empty home here in NY with all kinds of awesome finds. I like the bargain-hunting and when you don’t need something urgently it can be fun to keep an eye out for it. (If only Facebook Dating worked as well as the Marketplace…) (Oh, you guys, I should really write a post about the similarities between digging through overpriced shiny garbage with inaccurate descriptions on marketplace posts and dating apps.) (Actually, that sentence really said it all.)

I’m really looking forward to when our local country auction opens up again soon. It is an amazing place to find a great deal and some cool history. I like to say that I’m really good at buying and selling, but certain people in my family have pointed out that I’m mostly good at buying. 😀

2. Biolage Hair-Products:

Jenn over at Rambling Redhead (check her out you won’t regret it!) was sharing about her favorite shampoo/conditioner and how good her hair smelled, so I took advantage of an ULTA sale and bought some hair stuff. Guys, it smells SO good, and I am really loving this spray-in product which is great for air-drying your hair. My hair is long and I feel like it’s an upper-body workout to dry and style it, so this is good for summer days. OKAY I’M NOT A BEAUTY BLOGGER LET’S MOVE ON.

3. After writing about a spray-in hair product, I’m tempted to list local organic-matter-heavy topsoil as the third thing, just to keep you on your toes, BUT, this spot goes to the NY TIMES crossword puzzle app. I LOVE crosswords and have for years, but I’d gotten out of the habit of doing them until my brother reminded me about the app and pointed out how much more enjoyable it is to do them on an iPad with a bigger screen. So, now I’m firmly back in the crossword-puzzle camp. I can do Monday-Wednesday no problem, Thursday is tricky, Friday and Saturday are only doable with the autocheck on, but they’re a great way to wake up with a cup of coffee in the morning!

4. SWITCHFOOT. (Sw–sw–switchfoot.) I’m throwing it back to the early ’00s. My sister and I were listening to some classic Switchfoot in the car on our drive up to NY and isn’t it just amazing how your brain can locate the filing cabinet in your brain where all lyrics and melodies are stored and pull up the exact words and notes you need after ten years of not accessing that particular file? IT’S AMAZING. That link will bring you to “Only Hope” which is obviously one of their best, also sung by Mandy Moore, but–dareIsayit–I think Jon Foreman does it better!

5. Stewarts Ice Cream

I’ve been waiting for the creamy goodness that is Stewarts Ice Cream since I left the North East last summer. Okay, but also I need to maybe not eat ice cream every night. But also…have you had their Brownie-Cookie-Dough Ice Cream? If you live within driving distance of a Stewarts, order that next time. If you DON’T, you can come visit me and I’ll take you there if I can get an extra punch on my scoop card. 😀

A Social Media Break and Weeding the Garden

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A social media break and weeding the garden go hand-in-hand, don’t they? It’s almost like one is a metaphor for the other.

Right now, I’m sitting in the little kitchen in the house in Upstate NY and I’m wearing dirty gardening clothes, a sweaty baseball hat (let’s go Mets!). I’m letting the setting sun stream through the windows and fall across the table and I want to share pictures of the things I did today: visited a bookstore that went out of business and all the books were free! I have the first little seedlings from the flower seeds I planted last week, I’m making a delicious recipe tonight, my peonies are blooming, the sun is shining gloriously day after day and everything is so green and beautiful. But Instagram tends to be the place I go for sharing those things, and Instagram seems to have become a battle zone, and all I want to share paintings and gardens with you.

There is this unpleasant feeling on the Internet lately. There is constant bickering and, worse, shaming of everyone who doesn’t agree exactly with you. There is no place, it seems, for someone who doesn’t want to talk politics, but does want to share shots of the garden.

And that isn’t to say that we shouldn’t talk about the important things. We should. It’s just…we also need creativity and beauty and joy to counterbalance all the darkness and misery and hate of this broken, fallen world.

I don’t have a big, overarching theme right now. My own thoughts are muddled with all the pressing circumstances of the world. Muddled by small things, too. But I wanted to share a little bit about where I am during this pause. I know I can’t be the only one who feels tired of bad news, social distancing, sad news, injustice, and the feeling that you can never let your defenses down even a little bit. It’s nice to garden, to go out and weed the good from the bad, to relax in the morning light with a cup of coffee.

Top 5 : May 18-22

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This week’s Top 5 are brought to you by spring breezes and luxe hand-cream.

Luxe hand-cream, you say? YES. My friend Anne Marie is a beautiful person inside and out. Her beautiful shop, named after her grandmother, was one of the most welcoming, elegant, sophisticated, best-smelling, luxurious, SOFT, decadent places. Yes! All of those things!

Anne Marie is starting a new chapter in her life and her shop is now closed, but she held the BEST sale on Facebook Live a couple weeks ago and I snagged some of my FAVORITE THINGS that make me feel like I am not currently surrounded by moving boxes and using a $20 foldable plastic table I picked up from a sketchy FB Marketplace Ad at a remote storage unit.* NO, when I burn one of the Tokyo Milk candles and apply some Lollia perfumed lotion, I am suddenly in my Parisienne pied-à-terre, swathed in some sort of soft silky fabric, reclining on my velvet chaise-longue and I also know how to pronounce all the things I just typed.

So: TokyoMilk literally anything in their “Song in Dm” scent.

NEXT: The Victoriocity Podcast

I LOVE a good audio drama or fiction podcast. My brother and SIL got me hooked on a few amazing ones, and I should write a whole post about those.** Recently, I saw someone recommend the most amazing audio-drama in the comments section of a different blog and I listened to the ENTIRE THING in a couple of days. It is called “Victoriocity” and it.is.amazing.

The premise? A steam-punk, mechanical, electricized version of London in the 1880s. A society debutante and a hard-boiled kind of bumbling detective join forces to stop a widespread criminal plot. The narration is BRILLIANT, the entire thing is witty beyond belief, and I was laughing out loud and marveling at the sound design the whole time.

NEXT: Tillamook Mudslide Ice Cream

Tillamook mudslide ice cream. For some reason, the main type of frozen dessert in the south is frozen custard and, guys, I just don’t get it. ICE CREAM IS WHERE IT’S AT. And Tillamook is almost unbeatable. For those of you who say that the Mudslide flavor has “too much chocolate” or is “too rich” JUST GET OUTTA HERE AND GO FIND A DIFFERENT BLOG.

THEN: Carcassonne board game and every.expansion.pack.

Just like you, my fam has been stuck in quarantine for the last 742 years. We started playing this board game sometime around Christmas and then we quickly added in a bunch of expansions once we were stuck in the house, and we are STILL NOT TIRED OF IT. Part puzzle, part strategy, part board game, part feudal system…if you like board games, try this one!

AND: PEONY SEASON!

There’s no link for that, obviously, but I started following this hashtag on Instagram called #peonylove, and now my feed is just filled with the most beautiful flowers unfurling all across the world. I also have some in my bedroom, on the coffee table, and on the canvas.

There they are, my Top 5 for the week! I’d love to hear what’s gotten you through the week or if any of the above resonated!!

TOP 5 DISCLAIMER: So, I don’t get paid for any of those opinions. I wish someone WOULD pay me for my opinions. I have so many of them.

*we should talk about this story sometime

**and I will

Essential Watercolor Kit VIDEO TUTORIAL!!!

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This is an exciting moment for me! You know how hard it can be to try new things? I bet you do! Well, I have been wanting to make and share videos about watercolor painting for a long time, and I have finally learned enough and had enough time to make this first one.

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If you’ve purchased the Essential Watercolor Kit (available here) or have heard me talk about it before, this video is a short unboxing of what comes with the kit and then I paint one of the included templates, explaining the techniques I’m using and chatting about how you can get started with the kit. The video is embedded below, or you can follow this link to head to my YouTube channel, where you can subscribe to be notified about future videos.

You know, every time I try new things, I think it makes me a better teacher. It reminds me of how it can be difficult to start something, and how, if you’re a perfectionist, it can be hard to not be REALLY GOOD AT IT RIGHT AWAY.

I tell my students that learning to paint isn’t about having a beautiful, finished, gallery-worthy painting straight away. It’s about learning something from each painting you finish and taking those lessons to the next painting. The same can be said for just about anything, and I hope that as I continue to explore the world of online tutorials and making videos, I’ll continue to gain skills that I can only imagine right now!

I’d love it and appreciate it if you would watch this FIRST VIDEO TUTORIAL (ahh!) and let me know your thoughts! Leave a comment about some videos you’d like to see–I have a whole bunch of ideas up my sleeve, but I’d love to serve you all and make things that will be helpful to you.

20+ Watercolor Leaf and Foliage Shapes for Beginners

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Friends, I’m so excited to start sharing some educational tips and tutorials with you! I’ve been teaching watercolor in-person for a while now, and in the back of my mind I’ve been wishing and hoping for a chance to expand that educational content into something more accessible for everyone!

Thanks for the chance, Quarantine!

Scroll down to find more than 20 ideas to inspire your leaf and foliage shapes. If you’ve ever been a student of floral arranging, you know that the greenery and foliage is a KEY component to creating a beautiful bouquet. The same holds true when you’re painting. While there are always going to be those big, show-stopping blooms (peonies, roses, hydrangeas, etc.), you need to back it up with some great supporting actors (leaves, berries, foliage, and more!)

In the coming days and weeks, I’m going to be releasing videos and graphics like the one above that demonstrate a few of my favorite parts of watercolor painting.

Each of the leaf shapes was created using a Pointed Round Watercolor Brush and a mix of a few green paints that were already mixed up in my palette. You can watch me paint them using simple brushstrokes in this short timelapse video!

As always, let me know if you have any questions!

Happy painting,

Alex