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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Problem with Restraint

The problem with restraint, in my view, is that it begets more restraint.

"Blushing Birds" 9 x 12 Pastel on Paper
View on my website


There are times when restraint is important, even for artists.  I remember the first pastel class where I had successfully been careful with my color choices and pastel strokes, and was amazed out the outcome when the painting was finished.  I learned that restraint paid off if used in a strategic manner.

Some of my favorite paintings are by the Fauves, because I love color.  One of the reasons I'm so fond of pastels is because their colors are hard to resist.  Once I had been painting for a few years though, I wanted to develop what I saw as a more mature style.  This meant I had to start exercising some restraint, and make choices that took my paintings in a clear direction, rather than abandoning them to the use of wild colors.

Years later, I'm struggling with the opposite problem.  Lately I've caught myself shying away from the bright colors, worried that they'll take over my paintings.  The "blushing birds" in the painting above sat for a few weeks in an unfinished state, full of neutrals, lights, and darks.  I couldn't figure out why I wasn't enjoying finishing the painting, so I decided to use my tried and true method of flipping and scrolling through pictures of artwork I enjoy looking at.  I realized that my poor birds were missing color, so I added the reds and brighter purples. The original background was only a field, with no sky.  One night I was reflecting in my mind what was still missing, and it dawned on me that the birds needed a bright blue sky.  I added in the turquoise, adjusted a few details, and the piece finally felt right.  Incidentally, I've read that artists should avoid plain old blue skies.  I tend to embrace them, since the typical sky here in San Diego County is blazing blue.

So going forward, I guess I'll be using restraint with a little more, well, restraint.



If you like birds or butterflies in art, visit my Winged Nature gallery!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Battling Nature

Having taken up gardening as a bit of a hobby, I've become quite conscious of those elements of nature that cause trouble: weather, animals, and bugs.

"Exposed" 16.5 x 20.5 inches
Mixed media on paper
Click here to view more details
With moths, I'm still not sure which ones are harmless and which ones are going to cause me headaches.  The moth in the painting above arrived on a sunny afternoon, and sat perched against the outside of the house, periodically flexing its wings.  I took plenty of close-up pictures, fascinated by the textures and markings on the wings and body.

I knew I wanted to paint this creature in a work using sand, so I felt confident enough to use a palette knife to slap down some paint with decorative sand mixed into it.  Of course, that confidence disappeared over the next few weeks, as I realized I had forgotten how difficult it can be to use sand as a texture in a painting.  I grew to dislike "the moth."  My son also seemed to dislike it.  Every time I turned my attention to the painting, he came in with some sort of crisis, wailing for my attention and tugging on my shirt.

Finally, I took some water and lifted off all the pastel.  I created a "stain" effect over the painting by giving it a layer of watery acrylic, using paper towels to lift some of the acrylic off throughout the painting.  I adjusted the top wing-- it took me until the last stage of the painting to realize that I had been looking at the wings wrong, and I was in fact painting the moth's two right wings, rather than a right and a left wing.  I grew to love the moth again.  I decided to name the piece "Exposed," because the painting showcased the underside of the moth's wings-- this type of moth is rare enough to see at night, and it was even more rare to get to look at it up close in broad daylight.

Of course, now that I'm growing a little edible garden, I want to make sure I know my moths-- lest I be encouraging the dreaded tomato horn worm moth to hang around and pose for pictures!  I tried to look up this particular moth to identify it.  The closest pictures I could find were of the Cecropia moth (exact same markings, but more red and orange than this one, which was brown).

After reading more about the Cecropia moth, I felt kind of sad-- the adult moths do not eat, and only live for a few weeks in order to mate and lay eggs before they die.  I'm glad I got to honor its short-lived beauty in a painting, which brings me to the other side of battling nature: I know I'm never going to do justice to the beautiful things I see in nature when I decide to paint them.  I feel compelled to paint them anyway, though, just for the sheer joy of getting to examine them closely and express the beauty that I see when I look at them.
"Poised"
Available on Etsy

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Stages of Painting: a Basic Breakdown of my Painting Process

It's a long haul from that moment of inspiration to a finished work.  I'm constantly snapping pictures for future use, but to find the time to paint the things that inspire me has grown increasingly difficult.
It doesn't help that some of the photos I take are so stunning, it's tempting to just enjoy them as pretty photographs.  I credit technology and the beautiful sights of Southern California for this phenomenon--my photography skills are limited to mommy moments and art references!



Stage 1: Committing to a subject

I've been struggling lately with committing to what I'm actually going to paint.  I have two very vocal children, and by the time I get a few minutes to sit down and start working, I'll catch myself flipping through photo after photo (on my phone or actual printed pictures), unable to decide what to paint.  My main concerns are usually time, energy, and tenacity: will I have time to finish what I started?  Will I have energy to keep working, and the tenacity to pick it back up and finish it after I put it aside for the night?

Finally, I settled on a photo:

A cloudy afternoon at the beach in Oceanside, California
I took the kids down to play at the beach a few days before Christmas, and just as the marine layer made its way back in, I stopped for a few photos.  I settled on this one because of the play of light and water.

Stage 2: Getting started

First sketch: composition 
This is the fun part!  I love the early stages of working on a painting.  Some people are intimidated by a blank canvas.  I'm not-- I usually begin sketching with gusto, and enjoy working out a composition.
Lights and darks blocked in
Once I've got the initial sketch down, I block in lights and darks.

(Please excuse the awful photos, I was painting at night and didn't have much of a light source.)


Stage 3: The awkward middle

Once the lights and darks are blocked in, I begin working on color and start adding some details.  During this stage is usually the time where all my concerns resurface: someone needs something from me (time), my eyes are getting wonky and I feel the need for sleep or a break (energy), and I've begun stumbling on a few problems, which I don't seem to be able to fix despite repeated efforts (tenacity). 

 I don't like to leave a painting at this stage, because the temptation to just put it aside and forget about it is too great.  There are a couple of steps I use to push through this point.  The first is fixing the truly obvious (shapes that are off, wrong colors, etc.) The other is  remembering a set of simple instructions from my first pastel course: smear it, fix it, let it dry.  So, I'll give the piece a last good blending by smearing the pastel.  Then I'll take it outside and spray the fixative, and leave it a few minutes to dry.  I'll set the piece aside and walk away from it (usually overnight, or until the end of the day).

Smeared and fixed, this is the middle stage of the painting.

Stage 4: Making the painting sing

Every artist has her own method; for me, the final stage of a painting is best done with a cool head and a plan.  It's not a time to experiment, or throw any new elements into the piece (if I feel the need to do this, I mentally put myself back into the middle stage of the painting).  I've usually had a little break from the piece, so I can take a fresh look at it and decide which areas need tweeking, and what my goal for the final stage of the painting is.  In this case, I wanted to focus on bringing out the lights and unifying the clouds, sand, and ocean so that they were a little more harmonious.

This last stage is definitely not a good time for me to try to work if I'm sleepy.  I end up making mistake after mistake, and have ruined many pastel works by trying to finish a piece when I wasn't in the freshest state of mind.

It's hard to know when a painting is really finished, but generally, if it "feels right" (meaning no obvious mistakes) and I enjoy looking at it, I'll sign it and set it aside to be photographed and shared.
"Water and Light"
9 x 12 pastel on paper
Follow me on Pinterest to see more recent paintings!


This painting ended up having a little bit of a rainy effect in the clouds-- we've been getting a bit of rain this season, so I thought I'd leave it in the painting.

Visit my Vango profile to see more of my pastel paintings, or stop by my website to see additional pieces!



Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Joy of Alla Prima Painting

After a busy couple of weeks, I'd only worked on a few small pieces-- as usually happens if I haven't painted in a few days, I got the painting bug last night and set up my acrylics.
"Fire Flower"
14 x 18 inch acrylic on flat canvas
Available on Vango
or email nicolehilsabeck@yahoo.com if interested in purchasing


I don't often break out the acrylics and brushes-- usually I paint with acrylic and a knife to create texture for a mixed media pastel painting.  I was lucky enough to get a full painting session in last night, so all I had to do this morning was wake up and add a few finishing touches and sign it.

I've painted this flower before with oil pastels and chalk, but I never felt that I captured the vigor of the flower in that painting, so I decided to revisit it with acrylic.  I spent quite a bit of time working the background of the piece, hoping to strike the right balance of color and contrast with the flower.  The colors were created with a simple primary palette: cadmium red and yellow and ultramarine blue.

One of the things I do miss about daily painting was the anticipation of getting up in the morning and seeing what I'd worked on the night before.  I do enjoy the fun of painting alla prima, keeping the whole painting wet as I work and blending with a dry brush for effect.  I feel that finishing a painting in one session gives the completed painting a sense of energy, as though it came bursting to life with brush and paint.

"Waiting for Butterflies"
Available for purchase on Vango
I've also been lucky enough to win a couple of awards in my last two shows for my mixed media pastel works.
"Tropical Night"
Available for purchase on Vango
"Waiting for Butterflies" won first place in the miscellaneous originals category (floral division) at the Southern California Fair in Perris, CA in September.

"Tropical Night" won second place in the pastel category at the Fallbrook Art Association Open Juried Show in November.

I think I've finally figured out why I like to paint landscapes and natural subjects: I've lived in Southern California almost my whole life, and although the constant development and influx of people has changed the area, there are many sights that remain the same.  I find it comforting to see the familiar views of nature as they follow the seasons, and upon close observation, I find plenty of new things to appreciate about these familiar sights.  I can look out at the ocean and still see it through the eyes of my childhood, or take delight in recognizing new blooms on plants that repeat their life cycles each year, knowing that even though they don't last long, they do return over and over.

Visit my website or stop by my Vango profile to see more of my original works for sale!  All prices include shipping as part of the list price.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Taking Flight and a View of the Night

Been working on a night scene for a while...
"Luminous Night"
12 x 16 pastel on paper
Click here to view on my website

"Luminous Night" is a painting of a night view of the Grand Tradition in Fallbrook, California.  The popular event destination features stunning grounds, complete with a small lake.  The gazebo is a popular spot for dancing, especially at the annual Fourth of July celebration.

I painted the piece above using wet pastel sticks on Canson Canva-Paper, layered with dry pastel for a textured, impressionistic effect.  I've often been inspired by Van Gogh's night Cafe scenes, and enjoyed creating the reflected light using abstract shapes and contrasting lights and shadows brightened with color.  I've learned that although light and shadow are important in painting a night scene, it's the color that really brings it to life in a pastel painting.

I've also been busy filling my website and Etsy shop with smaller pastel paintings, many of which feature some of our local birds:
"Finch"
Click here to view Etsy listing
"Dove 2"
Click here to view Etsy listing
"Dove 1"
Click here to view Etsy listing
"Calm"
Click here to view on my website
We get a lot of birds here in Fallbrook, and a couple of our favorites include the doves and the finches.  They are fun to watch at the bird feeder, and seem to get along with each other.  

We also see plenty of birds down at the beach-- we know it's a nice quiet day down at Oceanside Harbor when the birds outnumber the people, which usually doesn't happen until the fall weather makes an appearance.

I've also been adding to my Vango portfolio-- everything on my Vango page is also available through my website.  Either way, shipping is included in the price!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Small Victories

After a massive heat wave that ended with a fiercely stormy afternoon, we seem to have finally reached fall weather.  Hooray!

"Power Pole"
Miniature pastel painting on watercolor-toned card
Click here to view details


"Stormy Dawn"
Miniature pastel painting on textured paper
Click here to view details
The paintings above feature a couple of scenes from my house--having a dog means that I get to go out early and see the beautiful morning skies, so I'll often snap pictures when I do.  "Stormy Dawn" was inspired by some of the storm clouds passing through our area-- it's been an active hurricane season on the Pacific, so the moisture has been traveling up our way and making for some interesting skies.

"Power Pole" was painted on one of the hot days-- too hot to go outside, so I sat in the kitchen and painted the view I could see out one of the windows.  In a funny twist, the power actually went out for a couple of hours as I worked on this piece.  I remember an art teacher saying that a strong vertical shape adds visual interest to a painting (as does a cruciform shape), so I often take advantage of the power poles and palm trees we have around the property as I work.

Between the heat and cranky children, sometimes the small paintings are the only ones that get completed in a timely manner--It's much easier to bring a small piece to completion if I only have a few short breaks to paint throughout the day.

After several stops and starts, I did add a couple more finished pieces to my tropical paintings series. Stop by and see my butterfly-inspired collection of prints on Redbubble!


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Five Things I Learned at LeucadiART Walk 2014

"Autumn Path" 9 x 12 Pastel on Paper
Started as a demo piece at the LeucadiART Walk 2014
Click here to view details
I had a booth at the 10th annual LeucadiART walk on the 101 Auguast 24th, 2014.  It was a long day, but I learned a few things:

1) Quiche really does taste best from a French Bakery.  My sister brought me quiche and coffee from French Corner on the 101, and this turned out to be the highlight of my day-- actually my week.  It kind of ruined me from quiche from any other place, not that I eat it that often...

2) If you're at a festival featuring a large number of artists (in this case 100 or so), being physically located at the end of the festival makes for a long day. People are either stopping briefly as they begin the long walk, or are tired of looking at artwork by the time they get to your booth.  Being at the complete opposite of the beer garden didn't help-- although it was probably at least quieter.

3)  "Leucadian" is a word, and it's used with pride.

4) I'll never, ever adjust through the sound of a train barreling by at regular intervals.  I find this strange, because I grew up hearing that same train fairly often, since my great-grandparents lived off Tamarack and I spent many hours playing outside there.  I jumped every time I heard the horn.

5) Even when I think I am super organized and have everything packed ahead of time, I'll still forget my can of fixative.  (This one is not so much something I learned, but rather confirmed. I think I remembered to bring fixative to one event so far this year).

I did appreciate meeting so many people who enjoy discussing art.  I'll definitely be back for that quiche and hand-made latte at some point!

For the next couple of months, I'll be concentrating on putting some artwork in local shows-- fall is a great season for inspiration and motivation!
"Balboa Turtle"
Original now available on Vango!


Want to see how my artwork would look in your own space?  Try it out with Vango!