Goodnight Moon and the North Star Painting

This is the latest in my starry night camping series, just finished today:

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North Star, 24″ x 30″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © 2015 Kathryn Beals

For this painting, I decided to experiment with more of a turquoise blue.  I have always loved the night sky in Clement Hurd’s illustrations on the last page of the classic children’s book Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, a book I enjoyed when I was little and now read to my children.  The room gets darker and darker on each page until the last page when the lights are out, little bunny is asleep, and the stars are shining through his window:

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“Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.”(Photo from our copy of Goodnight Moon, 1947 by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd, Harper Collins)

I always liked the way the night sky in those pictures is not black but actually a bright turquoise blue. As an artist, it inspired me to try painting a night sky using little or no black.  I want my night sky paintings to have the same calm, wondrous feel as the sky in Goodnight Moon, even in the very different setting – sleeping on a cold mountaintop, instead of safely tucked into a warm bed.

For this painting, I used my usual combo of Anthraquinone Blue, Paynes Gray and Titanium White, with clear glazes of Quinacridone Magenta, but I also tried adding Turquois (Phthalo) in areas to make it more of a greenish blue like in the Goodnight Moon illustration.

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The tent is something I like to add to bring more emotion and connection to a landscape.  This scene isn’t based on any particular mountain or trip, but it reminds me of the feeling of camping in the high Sierras or the Rockies, above the treeline and under the stars.  I didn’t plan on it being a snow painting, but like many of our camping trips, sometimes it turns out that way.

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This painting is available in my Etsy store as a photo print or canvas print.  The original is for sale through my website.

6 Beginner Painting Mistakes that are Easy to Make

This is part of my guide for beginners learning to paint in acrylic, based on my own experiences as a self-taught painter.  These are some mistakes I made when I was starting out, and how you can avoid them in your own paintings.

Mistake #1: Not modifying your photo composition

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I strongly recommend working from photos as a way to improve technical skill.  If left to my own devices, I would probably just paint the same landscapes over and over, but my work doing custom paintings from photos helped me learn new skills and find enjoyable subjects that I never would have tried.  However, it’s important to think of the photo as a starting point, not your end goal.  Many new artists get tripped up trying for photorealism. We have cameras for that.  Move things around, take things out, change the sky, make it your own.

Mistake #2: Cleaning your brush too often

Taking care of your brushes between painting sessions is important, but while you’re painting, resist the urge to clean your brush thoroughly between each color.  Instead of rinsing it off completely each time, just wipe off the excess paint on your apron or a rag, and let a bit of the color stay on your brush.  This will help tie together the colors in your painting, and help you to discover new combinations you may not have tried.

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Getting Started: Setting up your Painting Space

Welcome to my series for beginners learning to paint, based on my own trial-and-error experiences as a self-taught artist.  

Once you’ve got your paint, brushes, canvases and other supplies, you’ll need a place to set up.

While an easel is great for serious painters, it can take up a significant part of your budget, and you don’t really need one when you’re first starting out.  My recommended canvas size for beginners is something in the 9″x12″ to 16″x20″ range, and this size is manageable for working flat.   If you’re sitting at a desk or the kitchen table, try propping up one end of your canvas on some books (protected with a rag) to see if you prefer working at an angle.  If you do, you might want to invest in a table easel at some point.

Try to keep your most used supplies within easy reach, so you don’t set yourself up for back or shoulder pain.  This is my current setup in my garage where I paint:

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Getting Started: Your Supply List

Welcome to my advice series for beginners learning to paint, based on my own trial-and-error experience.  These are the basic supplies you’ll need when starting on a budget.  

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Paint

Buy small tubes of professional or “artist” grade paint in these colors:

  • Ultramarine blue
  • Cadmium yellow (or Primary yellow)
  • Cadmium or Naphthol red (or Primary red)
  • Carbon black
  • Titanium white
  • Consider adding Burnt Umber, Yellow Ochre, Quinacridone Magenta, Phthalo Green and Zinc White if you can

Brushes

  • Large flat or filbert
  • Small round
  • Medium angular bright

Canvas

  • Buy 5-6 canvas panels (recommended size 9″x 12″ or larger) to start
  • Then buy back-stapled or gallery wrap canvas (not side stapled) when you’re ready

Other Supplies (buy or find at home)

  • Masking tape
  • Disposable palette paper
  • Old apron or button down shirt
  • Rags
  • Big water jar or bucket

You’re ready to paint! Leave any questions in the comments or send me a message.

Next: Setting up your Painting Space

Getting started: Paint

Welcome!  I’m posting a series of tips for beginner artists, based on my own trial-and-error experiences as a self-taught painter.  

1. Paint

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My primary medium is acrylic on canvas, which I recommend to all beginners since it’s a water-soluble medium (no solvents needed) and you can paint over your mistakes and start again on the same canvas whenever you want.  There are some arguments to be made for learning in watercolor, but I’ll be talking about acrylics only in this post.  My advice is to spend most of your budget on a small but careful selection of high-quality paints and brushes, rather than the large cheap beginner sets, and I’ll explain why. 

Student quality vs. Artist grade paints

When you go to the store to buy paint, you’ll see that there are two grades; student quality and professional or “artist” quality.  Some brands carry both.  The main difference, other than price, is that professional quality paints have a much higher pigment concentration, meaning more pigment and less filler.  With artist quality paints, your colors will be more vivid, mixing will be easier, and you won’t need to use as much paint.

When choosing paint, beginners tend to gravitate towards the large, budget “student” sets with a lot of colors.  However, you’ll develop more mixing skill and have better results if you just start with quality paint in a few basic colors.  These are Golden Professional Heavy Body acrylics, the brand I use, but in general just look for a type that doesn’t say “student”.

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