A Moose! A Moose! And Choosing The Right Medium For Your Work


I have to admit that every time I see a moose of any sorts I sing that silly camp song "A moose, a moose, swimming in the water!" in my head. And sometimes not in my head. It's a nostalgic melody that plays the rest of the day, and despite me trying to convey the nostalgia to my husband as I hum that crazy song, I am alone in the sentiment. He has no idea what song I am talking about, and I've forgotten all the words expect for that one line.

Moose songs aside, I found a book recently that I want to share. It's called How To Draw Anything - A Complete Guide by Angela Gair. I only found it right as we were checking out at a used book store, but with a $10 price tag I just plopped it on the checkout counter without cracking it open and it came home with me. I am so happy it did. It turns out that the book is an old favorite of mine that I didn't recognize because of an older cover!

As I was reading through it again, I was impressed by the section on drawing materials. It said, "keep an open mind about what to use for different types of drawings, and experiment with a variety of materials to see what they feel like to use and what effects they can produce." No brainer, right? Well, I love how simple things like that can teach any level of artist, because it made me think how that applies to all aspects of drawing and painting! 

Try to imagine your favorite pieces of art in a different medium. What changes about them? Is it better, is it worse? Does the medium in which the art was made affect why you love that piece so much? My first thought was, "wow, Rembrandt's most powerful work in oil surely would not be so powerful in watercolor." (Although, on second thought with Rembrandt, maybe it would!) 

When considering a composition to paint, always consider not just how to paint it, but also, with what to "paint" it in. Maybe that composition would be better drawn, or more powerful in oils, but maybe, it needs to feel fresh and airy, and so watercolor it is! I'm trying to implement this into my own work, and not just work in oil paint as much as I love it. The moose shown above I painted in watercolor to give a more free, earthy, open feeling, versus a cabin-like, rich, strong feeling. With so many different varieties of mediums, why not experiment and change it up every now and then! What are your thoughts? Do you think an artist should stick to one medium for every piece?

Shown above: (Top Left) Mary Cassatt, pastel, Sleepy Baby. (Top Right) John Singer Sargent, watercolor and wax, Simplon Pass - The Tease, (Bottom Left) Nicolai Fechin, charcoal, Lady, Side. (Bottom Right) Vincent Van Gogh, oil on canvas, Irises.

Art Books - Old Masters List


I feel like I am in a stage with my art right now where my works are definitely my own, but I'm feeling ready to embark on a grand journey of change and I can't decide which of the roads to take. These changes happen to an artist work during their life I've found. Unconsciously or not. Sometimes I like to be aware of the change, sometimes not; sometimes it's for the better, sometimes it's not necessarily for the better, but it all works out eventually.

I've been pouring over lots of other artists' work lately, both from the old masters and my contemporaries, because if I am ever in a slump, not knowing what to paint, or not fully appreciating what art can be, or, like I mentioned earlier, looking for a bit of a change, I always open my art books. I love the ones that are primarily "picture books" with a little bit of history or interpretation; you know, the books with the BIG pictures in full color from the masters that tempt you to take the picture from the book and hang it on your wall (which I have yet to do! But I'm tempted daily.)

Recently, Mr. Nightingale and I have been into this thing where the best idea of a date is a cheap drive through (dollar menus are extraordinary!) and a used book store, because Chicago has a pretty great number of them. I'd been hunting for two books in particular, a Mary Cassatt book and a John Singer Sargent book. In the end, Chicago's used book stores delivered(!) and now I'm ready to order more copies because these books are worth more than gold to me!

I want to share not only those two books I was hunting for, but a few of my other favorites, too! I don't own them all personally . . . yet, but my birthday is coming up! but I have explored their beautiful pages a few times in other artist's studios. They are definitely on my to-buy list, and should be on yours too! These books are eye candy to artist and non-artist alike! They will not disappoint!

1. John Singer Sargent by Kate F. Jennings  (pictured above)
Big, beautiful reproductions of both famous and lesser-known Sargent paintings. There's a particular painting reproduction of a little girl with a hat that has outstanding color and detail. Unlike anywhere else I have seen. I found my copy for $12 and that painting reproduction alone was enough to sell me on it! It's not a huge book in terms of page numbers, and it's just a small collection of his work, but I am thrilled to have found it.

2. Mary Cassatt: Paintings and Prints by Frank Getlein (pictured above)
I sorted through five or six Mary Cassatt books before choosing this one. It's about 150 pages with great, large prints on nearly every page and beautiful interpretations of paintings and their history on the side. It's a pleasure to read and even more so just to look at! The details you can see in the paintings are exquisite! I am so happy to have found it!

3. Anders Zorn: Sweden's Master Painter by Johan Cederlund
This book is on my Amazon Wish List, and will probably be my next purchase. I feel like such a newbie to Anders Zorn, and it's only been, truly, a few years that I have known about him, but every time I see his work I am enchanted by it's beautiful subtleties against rawness. I saw this book in an artist's studio in Southern California about three years ago, and have been thinking about it ever since.

4. Sorolla: The Masterworks by Blanca Pons-Sorolla 
Another book from my Amazon Wish List! I feel this need to know Sorolla's book better because one of my favorite artists and one of my very first art teachers, Victoria Brooks, loves Sorolla's work dearly. Sorolla's work is outstandingly luminous and he is the ultimate plein air artist in my opinion. The way he creates atmosphere is something to be in awe over. I can't wait to pour over these pages.

5. Rockwell on Rockwell by Norman Rockwell
This book, though not completely full of full-page reproductions and eye candy that I love, must be included on this list because, well, it's one of my very favorites. I first found this book in William Whittaker's studio during an apprenticeship. Bill saw me looking at it and said, "why don't you just pull up a chair by the fireplace, forget your paints today, and learn from Mr. Rockwell! He has a lot to teach you! A fabulous book!" I read nearly the entire thing that day, and I would reread it again in a heart beat! This one is a must to any art book collection. Even if you are not an artist, I think you would benefit from learning how Norman Rockwell's mind worked a little bit. He's the ultimate story teller in pictures.

6. Peder Mork Mønsted: 80 Realist Paintings by Daniele Ankele
I'm actually rewriting this blog post just to add this book! It's currently downloading onto my iPad and I'm really excited. I found Peder Mork Mønsted's work on Pinterest a while ago and have been utterly infatuated with his landscapes. I'll keep you posted! In the meantime, please follow along on my Pinterest @sarahcroft for some extra eye-candy. I pin a lot of art! ;)

Oil Painting Basics: Ten Tips For Cleanliness


I remember thumbing through my clothes in my closet as a little girl, counting the number of t-shirts and jeans that had remnants of oil paint on them. (It was exciting and saddening at the same time.) I don't remember exactly how many there were, but I'd guess more than half had paint on them. Those were in addition to my box of "painting clothes" specifically reserved for painting; those reserved painting clothes were covered in so much paint they could be works of art themselves. To be honest, my clothes weren't the only thing in my house I left my paint tracks on. The floor, chairs, rugs, my cat (he jumped on my palette occasionally,) my sister's clothes, random things in the kitchen . . . there was sure to be paint on them somewhere. The more I think about it the more grateful I am to my parents for letting me paint so young.

I'm not alone in my oil painting messes; other artists and friends wanting to paint will say to me, "I used to paint with oil, but I switched to something a little less messy," or "I would love to oil paint, but I'm just worried about the mess." It's a wild and crazy medium, but I just think it is too beautiful to not work with. After painting for a number of years, ruining too many clothes and things, and having some fabulous teachers be great examples of cleanly painting and well kept workspaces, I have discovered some helpful ways to paint with cleanliness. Often times, I now paint in my nice, day-to-day clothes with confidence that I will walk away paint free. Here are ten tips to help avoid a mess:

1. Paint in the right area. A tidy studio or painting area is a huge factor in staying clean when you paint. I rarely paint over carpet or near furniture that I don't want ruined. No matter how much I trust myself, accidents happen. If there isn't that perfect place to paint however, like my tiny, shared dorm room my freshmen year of college, I make sure to have a wipeable surface completely clear of anything but my painting supplies, and put an old sheet or drop cloth below me.

2. Keep a paper towel in your non-dominate hand at all times. I keep a paper towel in my left hand while I paint (I hold the brush with my right,) or at least sitting between my palette and painting. This helps me to not only wipe my brushes between colors, to keep the color on my painting fresh and clean, but to keep thick wet paint from getting somewhere I don't want after I am done using that brush for a moment. An old phone book with the cover torn off is another great "brush wipe area" to have right next to you. The paper is absorbent, and they you can just tear the pages off as they get too filled with paint.*

3. Use baby wipes and clean right when it gets messy. Having a pack of cheap baby wipes in my painting area is one of the best ways I keep my hands, brushes, easel, and whatever else I may be close to, clean. If I get a smidgen of paint on my hands, brush handle, or somewhere else it is not supposed to be, no matter what, I put my brush down and wipe off the paint. I always check my brush handles too, as this is where I usually pick up the paint. If I don't do this, I am absolutely sure to touch my face or clothing and leave my painting tracks. Also, don't forget to check under your nails for paint!

*With both baby wipes and paper towels, I also find it important to put them right into the trash and not just laying around. If I don't away them away immediately, later, when I pick them up, I always get paint on me.

4. Put the lids on your paint tubes. This should be a no-brainer, but it something I still manage to forget sometimes; however, keeping the lids on your paint tubes not only allows your paint to last longer, but it keeps them from leaking out onto places they shouldn't be leaking out on.

5. Never lay your brushes in your palette. I used to work solely on a glass palette that I kept on a taboret or table, but when I made the switch to a handheld palette, I was surprised to find that by not having the option to lay my brush on my palette, my brush handles, my hands, and everything else stayed cleaner. I now keep a wood block with brush slots in it or a jar for all my "in use" brushes that I need to set down.

6. Wear an apron and gloves, but don’t get in the habit of wiping your paint on it or letting your gloves stay messy. To be honest, when I first wore an apron while painting, I thought all my clothes-destroying mishaps were over; however, because I felt like I had a shield between my clothes and my paint, I would skip the paper towel and just wipe my hands or brush on my apron. It became a habit that I quickly had to break when the sleeve of my arm would touch the apron and be ruined. I've learned to wear an apron as an extra precaution. Similarly, when I started wearing gloves to paint, I realized they're great for final clean up – take the gloves off and your hands are sparkly clean (assuming they were to begin with) – but they are not great if you think the paint on your gloves won't travel the same as it would if your hands were bare. The same habits now apply to whether I am wearing gloves or not: if paint gets on my hands, bare or gloved, I stop and wipe it off.

7. Keep your paintings upright, up high, where they can stay until they are dry. I usually leave my paintings on my easel over night, and then transfer them somewhere like a fireplace mantel or my studio window sill. I keep them upright so I can see them and not place anything on top of them (like car keys) in a rush. I also make sure to put them up high so no feet or pant legs run into them. Not to mention, little ones (though I don't have any yet,) and pets could also brush past them if they're down low.

8. Keep a trash can next to you. My favorite "trash can" when painting in just a brown paper grocery bag doubled so it is sturdy. I fill them with paper towels within a few paintings, and it's easy to just take the brown bag out to the trash. Plus, I find that trash cans get very dirty in art studios no matter what. This way, my "trash can" is always very clean.

9. Clean your brushes. I'll admit it, this is one I struggle with, but cleaning your brushes after you're done painting for the day not only helps them last longer, but it means that when you come back to paint, you know exactly where the wet paint is and what you're dealing with. Plus, clean brushes are just the BEST. 

10. Don’t start until you’re ready.  I always go through a check list of my "cleanliness kit," as I am now calling it, before I start painting. Being prepared for the little messes is the best way to avoid the big messes. It's always best to have everything within arm's reach and not in a cupboard across the room, don't you think?

If you're worried about the possibility of a mess with oil paint, try using these tips and go for it! To me, there's nothing more rewarding in regards to art making than working with oil paint. I know you'll fall in love with it, even if you have to be careful not to make a mess! If you have worked in oil paint before and have any more tips on painting with cleanliness, please comment, I would love to hear them! Happy Painting! 

Garden Roses - Preview for your Valentine


Spring has sprung in my studio!! Or at least I am pretending that it has. It's still frigidly cold outside here in Chicago, and when I paint by the windows to get some natural light I actually have to take breaks because there's a tiny draft and I end up shivering -- eek! But I am feeling very blessed knowing that this winter is what people are calling a "warmer" winter here. 

I found these stunningly beautiful garden roses from a florist department the other day, and I've been painting them from life every chance I get since. Sun up to sun down. They are so gorgeously fragrant, but what I really love is their charming softness. I have a couple other paintings from these roses that are still on my easel, but these two have won my heart for now. There is just something absolutely exquisite about painting these garden roses from life. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I love it. 


For Valentine's Day!!! These two floral paintings along with a few more will be available in my shop, January 31st at 5pm CT.  First come first serve. I am already feeling that little tinge of sadness when my originals leave my studio, but I love seeing them go to the perfect places in your homes - especially when it's for a special occasion! More details about this coming to the blog soon, so keep your eyes open and stay tuned! Be sure to follow along on Instagram @SarahCNighitngale or my Facebook page Sarah Croft Nightingale Art for frequent updates too! 

A Study of Tai O


What a happy new year it is! I am finally home from the glorious holidays and at my easel working. I never really feel like I'm home until I am at my easel. It's both thrilling and a bit sad to be away from family again. Nonetheless, I think we're in for a treat with 2015! 

It was my first time traveling abroad this past holiday season, and was nothing short of spectacular! My husband, Alex, and I went to Hong Kong for three weeks, and I was blown away by its beauty. It was nothing like I imagined it to be – it was so much better! Alex's family has been living there for eight years, and he and I have been trying to go over together since we were dating! It was a long-overdue trip. 

One of our day trips that we took in Hong Kong was to the Tai O Fishing Village. It is a quaint village on one of Hong Kong's Islands with dozens of little homes built on stilts and a very busy water way. I was in awe to see the fishermen cruise past on their boats with nets ready to be tossed out into the sea. The markets were filled with both delicious smells and terrible, fishy smells; mangy dogs that were equally stoic and beautiful roamed the streets; there were beautiful, more modern feeling shops in the market, but their neighboring shops were often shack-like and old. Crazy trinkets made from dried fish, oysters filled with pearls, and other Chinese paraphernalia and souvenirs lied quietly on market tables while both tourist and local buzzed about. It all came together in beautiful harmony that made the village feel perfectly authentic.  

While wandering the markets, Alex and I took a path into a more residential area and down a tiny alley so we could see the water way again. When we came to the end of the alley way, it led us right to the water where a fisherman with a red cap was tying his boats. I found it to be the most beautiful little sight. It was really the first time in Hong Kong (despite everywhere we had been already) that I felt like I was in a completely different country; it was a different world this fisherman lived in. 

The fisherman tying his boats was so simply poetic to me, and I thought that a painting of it would be a beautiful way to start my new year. A memory of a beautiful end to 2014. 

I put together this 12x16 boat study in a few hours one afternoon this past week. I plan to take it to a larger, more complete piece (with more details to the houses on stilts and more fluid water,) but there is still something about this study that I love. I didn't think things over too much when laying paint, I just painted, and the quick strokes seem to give it a dreamy feeling and a purposeful message. A real impression. What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts before I start on the bigger piece. 

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