23. Nuts And Bolts

Dear Sade,

In my studio, as you know, there's a handmade sign that hangs on the wall, it reads: 'Stay Bright - Stay Loose - Don't overwork your Art - Paint Dangerously - Paint like you're the Boss.' I am a great believer in the power of affirmations - they tend to move from walls into minds. I'm also a believer in practical advice, so here are a few thoughts on the nuts and bolts of painting:

Painting is 35% preparation, 15% cleaning and 50% working.

I plan my paintings slowly, but I try to work quickly when producing them.

When placing colours on your palette always put them in the same positions - the subconscious is amazing -like a typist your hand will know instinctively where to go.

I've learned to be wary of Aliziran crimson gouache, it tends to do strange things, like cracking after drying.

If you want a loose, breezy buoyant look in your work paint with your elbows, not your wrists.

For lines use a fine Rigger brush (it has long hairs) - like roller skating it takes time to get the hang of it but mastered you have a friend for life.

Getting the right fresh green can be difficult. I mix lemon yellow with a touch of medium green drawing ink - the once result is a sparkling crisp green.

I always use a bigger brush than I think I need - it stops me from being too careful and finicky.

This one comes at the risk of getting some backs up: I don't get hung up on my brushes - if a brush feels right and works well then I couldn't be bothered what it's made from. One of my favourites is an old 'cheepo' hardware brush that I bought for peanuts. Many of my brushes look as if they've been hit by a Scud missile but I know their strengths and weakness - like old friends. My brushes do occasionally get shampooed and conditioned!

Nothing can kill a painting like too much gold.

I much prefer paint that comes in tubes rather than cakes or tubs.

Make friends with Winsor and Newton Designers Gouache - this under-rated medium will light up your paintings.

For a loose, free look paint with gouache and ink using a Japanese bamboo decorating brush.

Never skimp when buying paper or canvas - get the best you can afford. Great paintings have a way of coming through when you least expect them - be prepared to welcome them on a good support. I learned this the hard way When painting fish mix silver gouache with a touch of turquoise watercolour and use it as a glaze over your subject. It gives the fish an amazing translucence.

Additional to your usual water bottles keep a plastic bucket or two filled with water at your side for brush cleaning. The water in your regular bottles will stay clean longer - when things are going well you don't have time to break the rhythm in order to recharge water bottles.

For a free unrestricted look in your work tie your brush to a thin dowling stick (or even better insert it into a bamboo tube) - this will force you to hold the brush further away from your support which will loosen you up.

Sade, I hope that you can use some of these suggestions.