Search This Blog

Loading...

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Painting Cats

After many years of painting cats, I've learned a few things.  Every time I start a new cat painting, it follows its own unique path, bringing challenges that I don't seem to face when I paint my more traditional material (landscapes, birds, floral and botanical pieces, etc.)

For example, cats don't stay put for too long (unless they're asleep, and even then they'll often stretch and change positions when you're least expecting it).  To combat this challenge, I end up working mostly from photographs.  That means adjusting the proportions, since the camera angle causes some distortion depending on the position and location of the cat.
"Eye Contact"
Oil Pastel
Not for Sale

"Side Glance"
Oil Pastel
Available on Etsy

 One of the reasons cats are enjoyable to paint is that they have strong facial expressions.  When I'm painting a cat, I get so focused on rendering the cat's facial features and expression, I forget to make sure I'm paying attention to the overall shape of the cat.  It helps to focus on the shape and values of the head,  body, leaving the detailed fur patterns and facial features for the end.
Another issue with cats: their bodies are so flexible, it can seem that they're never in the same position twice!  I know that in spite of the many positions of the cats I've painted and drawn, there's always a new challenge for me based on the tilt of the cat's head or position of its body.

Cats are also popular in art, and I often find myself tempted to stylize them.  I'll give in to that temptation if I'm making collages.  Usually, though, I try to stay true to the cat's personality, build, and features if I'm sketching or painting from my photos.  This would probably be easier if I weren't using photos of my own cats, because I could objectively look at their characteristics without needing to recognize my cat looking back at me through every stage of painting.  Like most cat owners, I spend so much time terrorizing my cats with affection, I know their faces well enough to be instantly put off if any details are inaccurate.

This month, Pinnell Gallery in Fallbrook is having a cat-themed art show-- there are domestic and wild cats, paintings, drawings, and illustrations in the show.  I used parchment paper and pastel to create my piece for the show, which I'm posting here in its "almost finished" state:

Unfinished Sketch "Wild Inside"
Pastel on Parchment
Finished piece display through June
Speaking of shows, I had a great time at Art Off the Walls in Temecula last night!  There were 15 artists invited, with work displayed on easels, unfinished walls, mannequins and tables.  The atmosphere was energetic, and there was music in an adjacent room.  The music was just loud enough to be part of the background, but not so loud that we had trouble talking to visitors.  This was my first time displaying on standing easels (as opposed to walls), so I learned from the experience too!
 The next Art Off the Walls event will be July 3rd.

Temecula also will be holding its annual street painting and art festival June 26th-28th.

Stop by my website to see some recent work!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Artists and the Internet: A Double-Edged Sword

"Clearing" 12 x 18 Pastel on Watercolor Paper
Click here for details

Where would artists be without the internet?  It's allowed us to express ourselves, connect with each other, present ourselves to the general public, and done away with a lot of the "gate keeping" that used to separate the majority of artists from the art buying public.  

I've received many benefits as an artist thanks to the internet.  It drew me into the practice of daily painting, and helped me feel connected as I shared my artworks with other artists-- particularly during times of isolation, when I couldn't get to art classes or events.  If I need a little pick-me-up, a scroll through Pinterest gives me plenty of inspiring art to view.  I've learned so much about contemporary artists by interacting with them and seeing their latest works!  When I consider my favorite artists, names that spring to my mind include many artists who are living, thriving, and posting their works on thoughts for the world to see.  I still love my favorite old masters, but I find many of today's artists equally inspiring.  I have somewhat traditional taste, so I'm not sure I would feel that way if it weren't for the boon the internet has granted the art world.

However, there is the other side of the internet and art.  Although I started posting my works when I truly felt I was ready, I still wish I had waited a couple more years to refine my painting style.  I often joke with people in my age group that it's a relief there was no internet when we were teenagers-- we could make plenty of mistakes without having them recorded for future viewers.  I see plenty of cases where the temptation to share and constantly post new work outweighs the quality of the work being posted, which leaves me wondering why some artists feel the need to post every undeveloped sketch and doodle on their profiles for others to see?  There's also the rampant copyright infringement-- everything posted online becomes available for those who have no qualms misusing artists' original creations for their own purposes.

In spite of the pitfalls, I think the internet is a worthy gamble for artists.  With a little care and consideration, artists can benefit greatly from participating in the now massive world of art.  

The above painting was originally done in 2010, but I took it out last month and gave it a little retouching to open up some of the shadowy areas.  Although my work has changed in the last five years (since I began posting), I felt like this piece stood the test of time and still matches my style today.  One thing's for sure-- I've painted many pieces that I'm now glad I never posted. I've gotten overly picky about what I post these days, but I guess that the alternative of giving in to the temptation to overshare would be worse.  I can always let works sit for a while and decide later if they're worth posting-- it takes a little extra self-control, but will make for a better collection of work in the future.

If you like "Clearing," check out some more water paintings in my Water Reflections gallery!


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

Visit my recent works gallery to see more butterflies!









Check out more of my nature-inspired work on Vango!

NEW ART NEWSLETTER FROM FOLIOTWIST: "ARTWORK REVEAL!"  Sign up here.

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!