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Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Imperfect Butterfly

When we're first learning to make art as children, we hear a few things that become familiar over time.  Skies are blue! Tree trunks are brown, leaves are green.  Butterflies are supposed to be perfectly symmetrical!

"Mini-Butterfly 1"
4 x 4 inch found metal and acrylic on canvas
Click here to view auction
Well, if you take a long look around you, you'll notice that most of that well-intended advice was wrong.  Trees can have blue, purple, and green trunks-- or even red or yellow, depending on the lighting.  Leaves can be just about any color too!  Butterflies, while appearing symmetrical, aren't necessarily so if you look closely.  Most of the butterflies I paint from photos have damaged wings, which isn't noticeable to me until I take the time to examine the photos in detail.

"Mini-Butterfly 2"
4 x 4 found metal and acrylic on flat canvas
Click here to view auction

So why do we hear the same advice being repeated to kids over the years?  What's the first question most people have when a child shows us a painting?

 "What is it supposed to be?"

I catch myself asking this with my own kids. I've tried rephrasing it into "What did you paint?" Or "What did you make in your painting?"  It still implies the same thing though: "I don't know what you painted!"

It's human nature to look for the familiar in a picture.  We look for faces, blue skies, tails on animals, or green grass.  Using those tired, familiar rules helps people immediately identify what objects are in the painting.  Making a butterfly symmetrical helps the viewer recognize that you painted a butterfly, which eliminates the awkward practice of having to explain what you painted.

"Swallowtail" 5.25 x 5.25 Mixed media on paper
View on my website
So, when presented with paintings (particularly by children), I'm going to try harder not to ask what they painted.  Instead, I'll stick to some different responses:
                                   "Tell me about your painting."
                                   "What do you like about your painting?"
                                   "How did you feel while you were painting this?"
                                   "What inspired your piece?"
                                   "What did you learn by making this piece of artwork?"

In my piece above, "Swallowtail," I used a photo of a butterfly I took on this past Easter.  Looking at the photo, I thought the bottom part of one of the wings was shaded by the leaves.  Once I zoomed in and looked closely at a couple of different angles of the subject, I could see that part of the "tail" on one of the wings was missing.  

Instead of making the wings match, I left one of them shorter and less defined.  The original butterfly was no less fluttery and beautiful because of its missing piece, so I left it that way in the painting.  There are enough perfectly symmetrical butterflies out there to look at!  Butterflies go through an amazing journey, and it's ok for them to end up with a few imperfections by the end of it.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Spring Things

View on Daily Paintworks 
It's spring, and this year that means a few more rain showers, plenty of birds, and rattlesnakes.

It also means time in the garden, along with a spring pastel workshop, which was the artistic  highlight of my month!

We painted spring butterflies, and my daughter managed to turn her face green by rubbing her pastel-laden hands all over her face as she worked.
Classwork from our Family Art Workshop-- Spring pastels at St. Stephen Lutheran in Fallbrook
Learn more here
I originally created this piece as a demo for the workshop, and finished it up a bit later at home:

"Spring Butterfly"
9 x 12 pastel on paper
Spring is a time of renewal, and every year I find myself busy in the springtime.  The days last longer, there are plenty of art events on the calendar, and the weather is much more inviting.  The birds return to familiar nesting spots.  The nights here are still pleasantly cool, and the hills are exploding with colorful flowers.

We even did an extra bit of spring cleaning at home, and now there's more space to work.

In the past, spring wasn't my favorite season-- the heat appears rather quickly here, and the feast of flowers also bring unwanted visitors (bugs, gophers, and as I mentioned above, snakes).  As a teacher, spring was rough because the kids went bonkers-- just in time for high stress testing!  Now that I'm an amateur (VERY amateur!) gardener, I appreciate the ease with which plants grow in the spring-- kind of like the ease with which I paint at this time of year, with so much inspiration around.

"Secret Garden"
View on Daily Paintworks

"Gayle's Garden"
View on my website

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Skies of Inspiration

It's hard not to be inspired by the skies here in Southern California-- particularly at this time of year, with storms moving in and out throughout the days.

"Evening Sky"
4.5 x 5.5 inch pastel on paper
Click here to view large
At the risk of sounding like a mommy-blogger, I've fallen behind in my artwork and posting since summer ended for a couple of reasons (they rhyme with "mildren").  I've also fallen into a bit of a painting slump, but the sunsets and sunrises here in Fallbrook have drawn me back into making more time for artwork.

We're having a particularly vibrant winter, as the frequent rain invigorates the contrasting colors in the landscape here.  We've also had some noisy horned owls, who like to announce their imminent departure each morning just before the sun begins to rise.  This means I'm usually up early to get a peek at the silhouette of our vocal visitors before they fly off to hide and sleep-- and if I can keep my eyes open, I get to see the occasional glorious sunrise.  I'd love to paint the owls themselves, but as close as they are to the house, we can't see much more than their shadows in the dim light.

There are a couple of events on the horizon for the new year: Saturday, January 23rd, I'll be teaching a family art workshop at Saint Stephen Lutheran Church in Fallbrook.  The evening of Friday, February 4th, I'll be participating again in the First Friday art Event ("Art off the Walls")  in Temecula, California.

"Early Light"
6 x 9 inch pastel on paper
Click here to view on Daily Paintworks
As I work on bringing painting back into my regular schedule, I continue to draw inspiration from all the beautiful art on Pinterest.  Click here to follow me!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Flower Mania: An Inherited Obsession

I paint flowers, I'm trying to grow flowers, I take pictures of flowers... I guess it's a healthier habit than collecting kittens that turn into full-grown, demanding cats ( which was my previous habit).

"Dusky Marigolds"
17 x 23 Pastel on Paper
View on Daily Paintworks

Flowers were a favorite subject for my late grandmother, who was my first art teacher.  All the women on my mother's side had prolific green thumbs.  My dad loves to grow flowers too.  I didn't inherit the green thumb, but I've been working diligently on growing my own flowers.  It started as a fun project with my daughter, and now it's become an obsessive hobby.  Maybe in twenty years I'll actually have a decent garden.

"Sprig" 9 x 12 Pastel on Paper
View on Daily Paintworks
Like painting, I'm learning that gardening is intuitive.  I spend a lot of time observing and experimenting, figuring out what works and what doesn't for the soil we have (and all the little monsters that try to eat my plants).  There are plenty of failures-- it was pretty disheartening to see entire bunches of flowers disappear overnight courtesy of Mr. Gopher!  The reward is always worth it-- my small bunches of flowers are growing into bigger bunches, some of which are re-seeding and growing on their own in the ground.

If I spend too many days away from the plants, they begin to wilt.  The same thing happens for me with painting-- too many days away, and I'm just trying to catch back up and reconnect with my art.  

I can see why floral arranging is so popular-- it's both calming and fun to work with the different varieties of flowers.  Due to my aforementioned cat collecting problem, I can't keep floral arrangements around the house unless I want to clean up thrown-up flowers.  So, I'm content to occasionally take my tiny bunches of flowers and make arrangements to give to others--and in the meantime, I take plenty of beautiful photos of flowers to paint.  

Floral art looks great in any media, and in many different styles.  From expressive impasto flowers to crisp watercolor floral paintings, so many artists take inspiration from these natural wonders. Looking closely at any freshly opened bunch of blossoms, grown from what were once tiny seeds, it's easy to see why they're so inspiring to artists.

Visit my "Gardens and Fields" gallery to see more nature-inspired paintings!

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!