Long before I ever held a brush or even bought a sketchbook, I had a Tumblr where I collected my favourite things. During the Tumblr days, I came across a beautiful sketchbook. It had everything I aspired to learn one day: beautiful painterly strokes, expressive freedom, brief poems. Every page was more than a landscape; it was a moment.
I loved following the blog, which started in 2011.
It seemed unattainable to me; for sure, you needed to have a remarkable innate talent to be able to do that, didn’t you?
Fast forward to 2014 when I started dabbling in art. Landscapes didn’t interest me at all. I was dead set on becoming a commercial illustrator drawing and painting food, botanicals, florals, abstracts, surface patterns.
I honed my Photoshop, illustrator, and Procreate skills. Spending long periods trying to “find a viable commercial style,” paying overpriced classes while still posting and writing on my old Tumblr, collecting things that made my heart sing. These two things seemed to be in opposition.
Occasionally I would go visit that Sketchbook Tumblr and marvel at the artist’s work. I saw it as a package that was out of reach: to paint like that, you need to be incredibly talented (which she is), and you need to travel a lot to be genuinely inspired. I didn’t feel I had either.
Again, jump ahead to 2019 and 2020. Having abandoned the idea of becoming a commercial illustrator, I wanted to focus on my own work and started on the lonely road to finding what I wanted to make.
Without formal education and no peers that could give me feedback, I started to build my reference board again. I wrote my own manifesto and guide, I worked with mentors and consultants to help me untangle. I stopped being tortured by the “cost of materials” and instead decided that every art supply I bought was necessary for my exploration; it wasn’t a luxury.
Luxuries are of another kind, and I have those in abundance: a room of my own, time, silence, access to the internet and to world-class libraries, three languages to draw from, a part-time job with people I care about, a blog that helps me earn enough to sustain my materials and my modest art education. A Patreon with people who are creative, generous, and supportive… I mean.. What more?
During the summer during my social media break, I was updating my hand-picked classes page, I went to see what was new in Creativebug, and there I saw Missy Dunaway’s classes. The traveling artist from Tumblr!
Missy paints with Acrylic inks, and obviously, one little pot isn’t that expensive, but buying a whole panoply of colours is another matter. So I dropped the thought. I better continue with my Zorn palette explorations and come back to that later.
Creative Block Blues
Finally I found the FW inks at an affordable price in Toronto but you can also buy these at Jackson’s Art .
Re-watching Missy’s classes, I decided to apporach them as therapy, a simple way not to demand so much of my brain or my practice, as I was struggling with a severe case of creative block and apathy.
Beginning with her 30 day Sketchbook Daily practice first, to get familiar with the inks. The class is well structured, and immediately I lost the fear of ruining my first few pages. I did almost all the paintings except for the nib pen drawings.
I’m happy I watched her classes more than once; You must listen closely to what she’s saying. She sprinkles little tips and advice throughout her videos. In particular, I was intrigued by how she approaches colour. We are so accustomed to darken or lighten values; instead, she suggests to make changes in colour instead of simple changes in value. That was a revelation.
I didn’t share any of my paintings because I wanted to practice until I started to paint my own photos. When I finally managed to paint a night scene of the park where we walk Boris and where he was attacked in April, it was a bit like an exorcism. To see the beautiful fountain and the leaves reflecting the light from the lamposts. It was like I learned to see my surroundings again.
It’s been a Sisyphean battle to try to be original and unique, comparing my work to hundreds of artists and feeling bad when I adopt techniques I’ve learned. Still, in this case, I think with the history of admiring, Missy’s work is more in tune with my admiration of Berthe Morisot’s.
It’s the feeling these artworks portray that influence me the most.
I took small steps to distance myself from Missy’s style, and certainly, I’m still working on them.
I changed a few colours; instead of indigo, I’m using Paynes Gray, instead of Red Flame, I use Earth Red, and I tend to neutralize the colours a lot. I add a bit of Zorn into the mix to get that beautiful earthy green and don’t have a wide variety of brushes.
I loved painting with my fingers, as she demonstrated in her 30-day class. And I do use a palette because I can’t afford to change my pots every time the colours become muddy.
Writing on the pages with the dip pen is so satisfying. Just noting the place the photo was taken, but this will undoubtedly evolve into some calligraphic thing along the way.
I suggest you read the comments and questions under each class, specifically if you wonder if you can use acrylics, watercolor, or gouache for her techniques. I tried, and it’s definitely not the same. The flow and opacity of ink can’t be replicated with regular acrylic or gouache; you would have to dilute them very much, and your paper will buckle.
Missy uses a Moleskine sketchbook (not the writing journal); I’m using the Royal Talens Art Creation Hardback journal, a third of the price, and has excellent paper.
Lately, I wonder why I sit every day to draw and paint; I found this quote (I amended it, which is a full-time job: amending philosopher’s writings.. Man this, man that…) I guess this answer satisfies me for now.