Sunday, February 27, 2011

Travel Planning Tips

This photo was taken in the Madrid Airport last summer by a man who wanted to prove to his wife back home, that just because you are an artist you don't have to hall two huge suitcases full of stuff all over Europe! 

I know my limits!  I am not strong enough to lift a large suitcase onto a train, so I travel with my Rick Steve's backpack and this 22" carry-on roller bag.


In the past few days I have been contacted by several people interested in my watercolor workshops and we have been discussing travel plans.  Since I know that many of you that follow this blog are travelers also; here are some tips I have been sharing with my students.   

PASSPORTS:  There is a slight possibility that the Federal government may temporarily shut down due failure of congress to agree on a budget.  If this happens the Passport Office will shut down as it is not considered an "essential service".   If you need a passport go to the post office and obtain your application form and go on line to the governments website at to follow the instructions.  There are websites that are privately run and offer to expedite the process but you will pay extra for their speedy service above and beyond the cost of the passport.  If you have your passport, check the expiration date.  Some countries will not let you enter if your passport has less than 6 months to expire. 

DISCOUNTS:  Most tour companies and cruise lines offer discounts for early booking, so stop procrastinating and get planning now!  

My "CREATING WATERCOLOR MEMORIES OF THE CINQUE TERRE" watercolor workshop on the Italian Riviera is not until September 2011; however, if you book now you can save $100.00.  The Early Bird Discount deadline for this trip was February 28, but I did not publish a reminder of this deadline until a couple of days ago.  Therefore, the tour company Toscana Americana has graciously offered to extend the deadline for the $100. discount to March 15, 2011.   To learn about this workshop click here , then click on "Italian Riviera & Cinque Terre" on the home page and you will find a gallery of photos of the Cinque Terre.  At the top of that page is the link to all the details about my workshop.

TRAVEL INSURANCE:   If you are planning to travel check to see if your health insurance covers you where you are traveling.  If not, make sure the Travel Insurance you purchase covers health insurance and health related transportation. 

Even if you are covered for health problems I recommend you purchase travel insurance to cover the entire cost of your trip if it has to be canceled for any reason.  Also, cover the cost of having to change or cancel flights for any reason.  You may be young and healthy, but you can't predict natural disasters, political unrest, or health alerts.  I had to cancel a trip to Bali due to Sars disease several years ago.  You just never know.  I have used the trip insurance offered by AAA and also Travel Guard.

FLIGHT DEALS: is my "go-to website" for searching for travel deals.  I love the "Travel Alerts" feature which allows Kayak to send you email alerts.  Months ago I set up a weekly Travel Alert for a round trip flight from Sacramento to Paris this May and June.  Each week I received an email notice of the best price on the dates I wanted.  The price started around $1,600. and stayed around that price for the first couple of months, then it suddenly dropped to $945.00!  Wow!  I checked the details for overall length of trip, departure times, layovers, etc.  It looked good, so I went to the website where Kayak found the flights and booked it.   Two days later the price started going up, last time I checked it is around $1,300. still good but not fantastic.  Here is the interesting part, my search was for flights from Sacramento to Paris and Kayak found this bargain using Icelandic Airlines website.  I would never have thought to search Icelandic airlines!  And the bonus:  the longest leg of the flight is only 7 hours from Seattle to Iceland.  No 9 hour to 11 hour flights this time....whoopee!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Non-Traditional painting tools

Yep that's me, wearing one of my favorite non-traditional painting tools!   Sometimes instructors have to get a bit silly to make a point. 

Today my point is, painting tools can be anything.  I once painted an entire watercolor without using a single brush.  We were camping and I forgot to pack them.  I used pine needles, moss, grass, a sponge and leaves.  It worked great!

 Artists are creative types, and creative types are usually good at thinking outside the box.  In this case lets think outside the Paint Box to the grocery store, craft store, upholstery tool website, office and plastic store...

Here is a photo of the non-traditional painting tools in this post.  

WOODEN SKEWERS  (from the grocery store)

For watercolor painters, wooden skewers work well for applying or stirring masking fluid.  Masking fluid should be thin like water, not clumpy and lumpy like bad gravy.  If yours is thick, use the wooden skewer to pull out the clumps.  Then add water to thin what is left and gently stir with your skewer.  Do not shake masking fluid because shaking creates bubbles that get in the way when trying to apply it.  To achieve a very thin line of masking fluid, dip the pointy end of the wooden skewer into the thinned masking fluid, touch jar edge to remove excess, then draw with pointy end.  To create dots of masking fluid flip the skewer, dip the thicker round end into the masking fluid and apply to your paper or Aquabord. 

Wooden skewers can also be used to make tiny dark lines in watercolor on paper.   Apply color first,  then while wet use the pointy end of the skewer to scratch your watercolor paper.  The wet paint will run right into the scratch in the watercolor paper creating a thin dark line.

Wooden skewers make wonderful tools for stirring liquids, like fluid acrylics and mediums.  They also pick dried paint out of the end of tubes.  At 99 cents for 100 skewers you can't beat the price!

MAGIC ERASE BY MR CLEAN  (found in the cleaners isle of the grocery store)   

This stuff is the best cleaning tool in my studio.  It is an abrasive with no added chemicals (use the blue box original to avoid chemicals) and it gets all kinds of things cleaner, especially my sink.

Watercolor painters will love this stuff!  Buy the blue box original Magic Erase from Mr Clean.  Cut each brick into one inch cubes with a pair of scissors.  Then cut the one inch cubes in half on an angle forming two triangles.  Made a mistake?  No problem.   Dip a triangle into clean water.  Using the point of the triangle for details or the side for larger areas, gently pull the damp "eraser" in one direction across the paint you want to lift off.  The paint will be absorbed into the Magic Eraser.   You are using an abrasive, so work in one direction gently so as not to rip the paper.  It also works great on Aquabord.  Keep going to further lighten or lift the color completely off.  Yes even the most staining colors can be completely lifted off!

Please share your ideas for this great product with the rest of us.


Try using the tip of the blade for picking tiny flecks of color off a watercolor painting.  Really useful for making that very tiny reflection in the pupil of an eye.  


Just because it was designed for oil or acrylic painters does not mean it can't become a handy tool for watercolor artists.  I use it for splattering paint or masking fluid.  Dip in runny masking fluid or paint, hold it an inch or so above the place you want to splatter.  Now pull the tip of the metal blade towards you with one finger and let fly. 

I also use my metal palette knife to make very thin lines of masking fluid.  Dip the blade into thin masking fluid then draw with the side edge of the blade.  Practice a bit first, you will get the hang of it.  Works great for llama eye lashes and hair.  

DECKLE EDGE SCISSORS  (from the scrapbooking isle of the craft store)

My student Deb taught me this trick, thanks Deb.  Deckle edge scissors are great for cutting the edges of watercolor paper so it looks nice framed in a floater frame.

UPHOLSTERY TACK REMOVER  (from upholstery supply stores or websites)

I "borrowed" this tool from my husband's trade show sample box (he is a Manufacturer's Rep for the maker of the tool, C. S. Osbourne).  I stretch my watercolor paper over stretcher bars designed for stretching canvas.  I secure the paper with thumb tacks because I can easily pop out the tacks with this handy tool when the painting is complete.  I then use the deckle edge scissor to cut the folded edge off.  The manufacturer of the tack remover does not sell directly, but distributors are on the web under upholstery suppliers.

RED PLASTIC  (Tap Plastics, just ask for a small sample...they probably won't charge you)

If you have difficulty distinguishing value from color it helps to change everything to one color.  That way it is easy to see which shape is darker in value and which shape is lighter in value.  You can get a piece of red or green plastic (3" x 4" is a good size) from Tap Plastics, or use red or green cellophane.  Of course if you really want to be cool you can get red sunglasses like those I am wearing!  They were a gift from my friend and student Merryjane.  I have o idea where she found them.  My friend Berna popped the plastic lenses out of a pair of cheap sunglasses and inserted red cellophane in one side and green in the other.  That way she sees neutral.  Really smart!

Please share your ideas for non-traditional painting tools in the comment section on the blog, or email me.  I will include them in another blog post and in my newsletter for everyone else to read.  Thanks,   Sandy