For this episode of Art Tools and Gears, we have the privilege of inviting guest artist Daniel Novotny from Slovakia to share with us his paintings, art-tools and some tips on painting and drawing with ink.
Currently based in Slovakia, Daniel specializes in painting landscape, portrait, sometimes still-life, using watercolor as his medium, and drawing studies and sketches and portraits with fountain pens. Daniel has been painting and drawing ever since childhood but seriously since 2003.
Qn: Can you tell us more about yourself? (How did you get started on painting and drawing? And where do you learn art from? Do you teach art?)
As for my journey, ever since I can remember, animal kingdom and nature in general fascinated me tremendously and I felt this strong, deep connection. Even today, I draw my energy from being in nature. And so, naturally, as most children do, I drew. I drew animals and only animals, of all kinds and I loved it profoundly.
It wasn’t until the year 2003 though that I picked up pencil and brush with more serious intentions. At that time I happened to visit an exhibition with various styles and media on display. The second I saw watercolor, I recognized my calling. The decision was natural. I started as every amateur would, with painting pretty pictures. It wasn’t until I discovered American watercolor that my work experienced the first big leap forward. The illuminating influence of artists like Frank Webb, Ratindra Das, Robert E. Wood, Rex Brandt gave me the necessary tools to do the work I’m doing today.
I do not teach art as yet, but I do blog about all things watercolor and run a Youtube channel where every week I publish demonstration videos. In each video, I share my thoughts behind any particular painting and I try to include tips on composition, technique and philosophy of painting. I am currently planning a series of 101 videos oriented more towards beginners.
Qn: What are your art-tools and materials that you use for painting?
I like what Joseph Zbukvic said on one of his DVDs: “I could paint with Mickey Mouse paints on the ground and I would still be ok...” The materials I use, though directly influencing the resulting painting and of due importance, are not as important to me as the painting itself. Of course, when I was starting out I cared about the materials tremendously. A nice brush here, beautiful palette there, and I spent all my money on things that didn’t make me a better artist. Since then I learned that all I need is a good quality paper, a pigment rich paint and a flat brush I am comfortable with handling.
The one important thing I care for though is the quality of the materials regarding their archival properties. Be it paint, paper or ink they must be among the best on the market where permanency is concerned.
All that being said, every artist appreciates a good quality tool, it just makes the work easier. I personally prefer working with flat brushes, ranging from 1/2 inch to 3 inch in size. This is dictated by the style I work in, and the influence of instructors such as Frank Webb. As far as brush hair goes, I have brushes with goat hair, synthetic hair, squirrel and sable. Many artists prefer sable and won’t use anything else. I like them all. Each type of hair has its character and I like that. Except for large flats I enjoy using lettering brushes, both sable and synthetic for enlivening a painting with calligraphy marks (linework). These brushes have long hair and flat points, which produces a mark consistent with that of the larger flat brushes.
There are two paint brands that suit me best, American Journey and M Graham. American Journey for their 37 ml tubes and unbeatable value and also great quality, and M Graham for their pigment packed tubes, making their tube last twice as much as others do. Of course there are other good paint manufacturers and I’ve used them all throughout the years, such as Winsor and Newton, Da Vinci, Schmincke, Holbein, Daler-Rowney, Rembrandt, Daniel Smith, MaimeriBlue, etc.
As for paper, I only use 100% cotton rag watercolor paper. The finish that I use most often is Cold Press which is the most versatile of them. Currently I use Fabriano as my brand of choice but that is more an availability thing than preference. I would use probably Arches if I could choose. All these paper brands are great though, Fabriano, Arches, Saunders, the choice is really more based on the specific behavior of the paper in absorbing paint and how it suits one’s style of working. Paper is very personal choice.
And finally, my palette. I am very fond of artist’s palettes. I don’t know why is it but I have been ever since I started painting. Palettes, palettes, palettes. I don’t buy any more of them anymore but I have quite a few in my studio. Quiller’s palette, Robert E. Wood palette, American Journey Cavalcade porcelain palette, John Pike palette, even the enormously popular Robert Young brass palette. Only one of them stood the test of time though - Webb palette! Not because it’s been designed by Frank Webb, it just works. The open wells allow for unrestricted access when mixing. The palette is large enough to hold 25 different colors. It’s lightweight and has a convenient lid. It just works.
Qn: I see that you have uploaded several youtube videos on watercolor painting – Can you share with us what you cover in each of these videos?
I like to think of my videos as sort of an open studio event. I invite you in and it’s as if you were standing next to me when I paint. I like this approach, each video deals with issues or principles particular to that painting and so they’re not too repetitive, basic, nor, hopefully, boring.
As of now I don’t do the usual “how-to” and “explained” kind of stuff as I mentioned. But I am working on a series for beginners. Learning the basics is very important and I want to provide something for everyone.
Since my own watercolor journey has been a solitary one I want to give something back. It was only by the generosity of great artists willing to part with their knowledge in benefit of others that I had the chance to educate myself, to better myself, my work and hopefully, the world around me. This is what I strive to do for others. If my video manage to inspire just one person to pick up a brush and paint, I’ve done my job.
Qn: What are your art materials for your drawing/sketches? (And what sort of pen/s and paper do you use?)
Forget what I said earlier about not caring too much about materials! Where pens and inks are concerned this doesn’t apply at all!
It comes as a surprise to many people but I don’t use “artist markers” or “art pens” - basically any kind of disposable pen - instead I love using fountain pens. When I had been taught to write in school we used fountain pens. Ever since my first fountain pen I’ve been in love with the tool. We have a special relationship. And even though I’m not a collector I have quite a few pens, from metal pens to acrylic to Ebonite handmade pens. Even some in special finishes as Makrolon or modified Celluloid. It’s all a great fun, fountain pens.
Currently I enjoy using Indian handmade fountain pens (Noodler’s Ink, Gama, ASA). These are made of Ebonite, which is the material of vintage fountain pens and it’s basically a very hard rubber. The first pens had been made of Ebonite. It feels great in the hand, much more pleasing than plastic or metal. The great thing about these pens is that they use Ebonite feeds (a component that feeds the ink to the nib) and therefore are not only adjustable but also provide better ink flow as the material has superior capillary properties than plastic. I can make them feed more ink if I desire, I can swap nibs in these pens. I just love the utility. These are the true workhorses. If I had to name my favorite conventional brand it would be definitely the German brand Lamy. They’ve been making pens for quite some time and they know what they’re doing. Reliable as few other pens are in my experience.
Fountain pens require different type of ink than we artists usually work with. As artists we are familiar with India inks, calligraphy inks, acrylic inks, etc. but if we put those in a fountain pen we would surely ruin it. So there are specific fountain pen inks, and there’s a lot of them! My main requirement is permanency and so this considerably narrows my options but even still, it’s difficult to resist some of those amazing colors! The most notable brand I love most is Noodler’s Ink. They’re an American brand and their inks are more often than not a statement, often political. That being said, I can’t resist an ink in beautiful glass bottle and so I have more inks that I can use in the next few years (they wouldn’t even fit into the picture above)!
Qn: You have also shared on your website numerous online tutorials on art – Could you elaborate on the lessons you have covered in these tutorials?
Yes, I do write tutorial style articles from time to time. Their purpose is to educate on topics that are not widely talked about. I do not want countless of views, I want to pass onto others the knowledge and experience I’ve gained through trial and error, through hours upon hours of hard work. If I want quality results I need to put in the work. That’s why I do my blog the way I do. I have a series of articles on how to get professional results when photographing your own artwork at home, I show how to adjust your fountain pens, I share how to make proper value studies for your watercolor painting and more.
Qn: Do you have any favorite painting/s and/or drawing/s you can share with us? Could you tell us more about these paintings/drawings? (How long do you take to finish them? What did you use to paint, draw? :))
The length of time depends generally on the size of the work. I do quarter, half and full sheet watercolors (a full sheet being 22 x 30 inches or 56 x 76 cm). These take somewhere between 2 to 4 hours. I depends on the approach but as a rule I don’t work on any painting for more than a day. My intention is to put down an idea and that’s that. Once the idea is expressed, there is no reason for me to go in back and fiddle more. If I have another idea I make sure to do another painting.
As for drawings, I do a lot of sketching. Not in the sense of going out and copy nature, which is a good thing to do from time to time, but I spend quite some time working on concepts, ideas, abstract forms, arranging my ideas into future paintings. I play around with shapes until a painting emerges. I’ve been also drawing and painting a lot of portraits lately for the JKPP Flickr community (that is Julia Kay’s Portrait Party). Great people and lots of fun! Good for eye-hand coordination too. We are even coming out with a book soon! Everybody can join so google it if you like drawing portraits.
Title: Behind the City Walls, France. This was the first painting that brought me a little bit of recognition. It succeeded in a competition quite fierce. It also was the one that pushed the boundaries of what seemed possible to me at the time, my personal masterpiece I would say. The painting is made of several simple flat layers of greenish grey. There is few highlights of pure color which add the necessary punch. The thing to note about it is the composition and the abstract nature of shapes. It is a half sheet watercolor which took me between 1 and 2 hours to paint. The process of painting individual washes wet on dry takes some more time as every previous wash has to be dry before applying another. The resulting pattern is abstract and very flat, just the way to show the depth of space without punching holes into the painting.
Title: Revisiting France. This is a full sheet painting. The shapes were painted directly, with little layering. The value is the king, colors are calm, composition dynamic. Notice the white shape, it creates a passage through the painting beginning at the lower left coming up all the way to the upper right hand corner. The painting took mere 2 to 3 hours to paint but this time doesn’t include the effort of designing the painting. Working out a design may take minutes, hours, days, sometimes weeks.
Title: Patrick. A portrait. Quarter sheet. Done under 20 minutes. Painted directly on the paper without any pencil lines. This is my direct emotional response to the model.
Qn: What was the most challenging and/or rewarding experience you encountered in your art career?
The question of style is one everlasting and every artist probably fights it every now and again. My most challenging experience was simply to find my own way, my style, my expression. Too many “my”s perhaps but as Oscar Wilde put it, “Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.” And so making an honest art, true to myself is the ultimate challenge. As it happens, it is also the most rewarding one. Everything falls into place when we know who we are.
Qn: Do you have any tips to share with our readers on painting and drawing?
Only one, but it’s the one that got me through the obstacle race called watercolor. The great American artist and teacher Edgar Whitney said “No door is closed to a stubborn scholar.” It’s been my life motto ever since I first heard it.
I would also add that when you’re a beginner, go for quantity over quality. Absorb everything that crosses your way and leave no rock unturned.
If I achieved anything I did it because of my undying desire to better myself, my art and the world. Keep this attitude and you can go far beyond what you can even imagine.
If I should be specific as to the method I would recommend you to go after what you like. There is no sense in doing things you don’t like. Do what you like and do it every day.
Qn: Could you share with us any art-book/s or art-related materials you have read?
That’s a very good question. I do love a good book and read every day and with passion. I even review books on my blog. I only review the books that I approve of, for some reason or other, so whatever book you find reviewed on my blog would probably be of benefit to you. Quality books are not that easy to find in the sea of books coming out every year and so I focus on those that offer true value.
Among the books on art I really enjoyed are “The Art Spirit” by Rober Henri, “Art and Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland, “Henri Matisse Cut-outs” by Gilles Néret, everything from Frank Webb (and I mean everything), “Expressive drawing” by Steve Aimone is a great one on drawing, “Cézanne Composition” is a true gem. There are, of course, other ones worth mentioning but these are the few that I remember as being a great help.
Qn: Lastly, which other artist/s do you think we should approach next for an interview?
Daniel also shares his artworks and tips on art through his twitter page.