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Monday, September 27, 2010

Homeward Bound (Kayaker at the end of the day)

"Homeward Bound"
6 x 12 Pastel on Paper
Original sold
Click here to buy print:

I was sure I would experience more bad karma with this paper...

I bought the paper at a large creative supplies store, which shall not be named here. I was irritated because they no longer have the plain old block of cheap Strathmore art paper, so I bought some extra large pieces of toned paper for pasteling (Canson). When I got to the register, the cashier started to roll up the paper, and I snapped at her to leave it flat. Normally I try not to snap at anyone doing his or her job, so I felt guilty-- and the bad karma from that incident has been following this paper. It's taken a beating with some wrinkles and water drips, and has narrowly missed several cat and child-related mishaps. I promised myself I wouldn't snap at a cashier again for not knowing how to handle art paper. I probably shouldn't be shopping at places like that in the first place.

As for this painting, I took several pictures of a couple of kayakers dragging their kayaks up at the end of the day. Unlike the surfers, who usually emerge looking refreshed and proudly carrying their boards, these guys looked tired and "over it." So, I named it "Homeward Bound" after one of my favorite songs, because this kayaker looks like he's already heading home. I left the tone of the paper as the color of the kayak, and used a limited set of colors with purple, yellow, and white, with a touch of blue and orange for contrast.

You can't beat Canson paper for chalk pastels (dry anyway), and I used the less textured looking side of the paper, which to my delight held the chalk so well there was hardly any dust to shake off.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Writer with a Painting Problem (written reflections on art)

One of the things I like about Red Bubble is that it supports writers as well as visual artists. Writing comes out in all areas of my life-- I enjoy both creative and communicative writing. Writing is much easier than talking, because I get the chance to carefully edit what I'm saying. It also leaves little room for selective hearing or misinterpretation, since everything is right there in print.

So, I'm adding a new page: A Writer with a Painting Problem (click here to view):

I'll be updating this page with links to my Red Bubble journal or any other pieces of interest I write as I progress as an artist.

If you're a writer, you know that you spend an awful lot of time avoiding the actual sitting down and writing part. So really, I should be doing more writing instead of all this painting-- which is why I consider myself a writer with a painting problem-- I keep picking up the paintbrush instead of sitting down to write. It's just so much more calming to paint these days, because I don't have to think so much. I'm hoping to work my way into a balance of the two, hence the addition of a page for my writer self...

Painting a Pet Portrait

"Sourpuss" 8.5 x 10.5 Pastel on paper
Click here to buy print:

Pet portraits, like people portraits, have a big pitfall: if you're painting an image of a person or animal you know well, your left brain is always whispering in your ear-- telling you that your portrait doesn't match up with the real thing. I wasn't even going to make this an actual pet portrait-- I just wanted to paint a stylized white and pink cat on a blue-green background for fun. Once I started blocking in the chalk, though, it felt wrong not to match her face up with the real thing, since I was using this cat as a model. It might have something to do with that accusing stare, which she shares with just about everyone she meets.

I took a wildlife painting class some years back, and the big thing I took away from it was that the face gives the animal its personality. To get the face accurate, you have to turn off that left brain, which is searching for recognizable features that can be named. Instead, it helps to break the face down into shapes-- good old two dimensional or three dimensional ones (triangles, cones, spheres, etc). Put the shapes in the correct relationship to each other, with the right proportions, and add in values. Then, the face will come out on its own, and your left brain will go back to nagging you about other things.

Don't get me wrong, I know we need our left brains. When I'm painting though, I usually invite mine to take a hike. When I teach an art class, I like to turn the lights off for a minute and explain to my students that it's time to tell their left brains to get lost for a while, and come back later for math class. They giggle, but it works.

I think it's worth noting that I have a much easier time painting pets I don't know well-- there's no pre-formed memories of those pets in my mind, so it's much easier to focus on shapes and values.

On a side note, I used Strathmore watercolor paper on this one, and I don't recommend it for pastels with water. I would stick with Arches Cold Press, because it grips the pastels much better.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Toddlers and Cave Painting...things artists don't have to worry about today

While painting again with my toddler, I started thinking about how much different life must be for artists today compared to those who created early cave paintings.
"Lockin' Horns"
9 x 12 Watercolor and Pastel on Paper
Click here to buy print:
We have the luxury of bright light whenever we want it, as long as the electricity is functioning. We can paint in a comfortable environment at pretty much any time of day and year, if we have the convenience of a mild climate or a thermostat. We can paint on just about any surface. Our colors come out of a tube, ready made and pre-mixed if we want them to be. We can share our works worldwide, thanks to the internet.

Best of all, I can sit on my kitchen floor and swirl paint around with my little girl, and there's no pressure to do anything but enjoy the experience-- and, I don't have to worry about being eaten!

Started the painting above with watercolor on watercolor paper, then added a layer of pastel once it was dry. I knew we were done with the watercolor when the little one finished as she usually does, by dumping the water on the floor and swirling it around with her hands. It reminded me of those cave paintings at Lascaux (my sixth grade teacher experience is showing), so I went with that theme as I finished up with some heavier watercolor and topped it off with pastel.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Creating an image-- toddler style

"Jewel Bug"
9 x 13 Pastel and Watercolor on Paper
Click here to buy print:

Well, my little one has figured out that pencils make all kinds of interesting marks. I taped down some watercolor paper and handed her the paint board, and she immediately took a watercolor pencil in hand and began scribbling. The scribbles looked like branches to me, so I dipped the brush into the paint and sketched in some purple branches. She continued to add scribbles with her pencil, then swapped the pencil for the paintbrush (she gets pretty irritated with me if I don't let her take over with the brushes). I continued to work around her marks, and got something that looked like a crawfish on a branch as a result. Her attention span is pretty short, so once she turns her attention to smearing the water all over the floor, I usually add the finishing touches and let it dry.

Later, I went over the painting with a heavy layer of pastel, defining the image into an insect-like creature resting on a branch. The blue shape looked like a jewel on its back, hence the name "Jewel Bug." When she's a little older, we'll write a story to go with it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Flamingoes at the Wild Animal Park (Keep those drawings on deck)

"Mingoes" 9 x 12 Pastel on Paper
Click here to buy print:

I always avoid the flamingoes-- they're noisy and they STINK! Of course, they're beautiful to look at. I managed to find a couple on their own, where the smell was a little less vile.

I've never been particularly interested in these birds, because their images are used so often in the cheesiest of venues: dive bars, a Vegas hotel, bad tourist shirts. These two, however, strutting quietly through the water and taking an occasional drink, provided a much more dignified representation of the bird. Their necks make the most graceful shapes. Really, they can be just as pretty as swans, once they're away from their noisy friends.

I originally did this picture on toothy pink Strathmore "art paper" with a china pencil. The paper was so textured, however, that it ate the china pencil and took away from the lights and darks of the image. I used this same brand of paper for "Everglades Afternoon," and I liked the way the soft pastel adhered to it... so, I took this drawing back out and gave it a layer of chalk.

I'm finding that on days when I'm pressed for time (or energy), it helps to have a drawing on deck, ready for color. That way I still feel like I got something accomplished without having to start from scratch. I highly recommend keeping a few pieces with the values already in place, ready for the finishing touches of color.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Canopic Jars (Dust them off and try again)

This was a lonely-looking canopic jar in the original photo. In my first version, I ended up with a pretty dark painting-- cold light, warm shadow. I wasn't thrilled with the result, mostly because I was distracted by a crying toddler while I painted. Even though she was upstairs in another room, I had trouble tuning her out, and kept rushing my work so I could stop her crying (as moms are prone to do).

I went back and noodled it a little, but I wasn't totally satisfied.

So, I decided to try it from a different approach. I know that many people tend to imagine everything in Ancient Egypt as cold, dark, and dusty, since that's how the things they left behind look today (you would too, if you'd been sitting in a tomb for thousands of years). However, they lived in the constant bright light of the desert sun, and must have used bright colors in their creations too. I decided to make the brighter version to liven it up a little, and boy did it ever!

I was much happier with the second piece, so it does pay to go back and start over if you're dissatisfied with the end result of a painting. I may tackle this subject again in other ways, to see if I can improve it even more with the next try...

Email if interested in purchasing original

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hot Air (painting hot air balloons with pastel)

Although I enjoy the wine and the food, the real reason I want to go to the Temecula Wine and Balloon Festival every year is to see the balloon glow-- and take pictures of something you don't get to see too often: hot air balloons lit up against the backdrop of night. I've been painting some of these hot air balloons off and on for a few months. I've painted them with acrylic, mixed media, and plain old chalk pastel. It's difficult to strike the balance between the bold lights against the dark night with the soft shapes of the balloons.
I found that if using a medium like acrylic, I needed to keep it extremely loose and keep the shapes simple. I need to keep the focus on basic shape, light, and dark, and leave out the details. This makes for some abstract-looking balloons (see below, left).

"Night Balloons in Temecula" (left) "The Pechanga Balloon" (Right)

On the other hand, having recently grown more comfortable mixing the oil and chalk pastels, I was able to find the right balance between hard and soft edges (and light and dark), and show a little more realism in the painting (see above, right). I think it has to do with the roundness of the balloons; although they have a lot of lines because of the stitching, it's better to suggest the lines rather than try to draw them all in. They also have a lot of geometric design, so you have to keep the patterns and colors in mind while maintaining that balance between lights and darks.
So, with an oil pastel underpainting (which honestly looked ridiculous at first) and a lot of chalk rubbed in on top, I have finally reached an enjoyable method for painting hot air balloons. For the record, I did not use any blue in "The Pechanga Balloon." I'm sticking with the program for now (see previous posts for my relationship with the color blue!)
To purchase originals and prints:

"Night Balloons in Temecula"

Click here to buy print:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Trying to get off the blue stuff...varying use of color

I was beginning to suspect that blue was becoming my go-to color in all of my work-- I tend to use a lot of color complements, so if I pick up the blue, that attaches me to orange. It's just that it seems that blue is everywhere I look-- black, gray, even white often looks blue to me. I should have seen this coming; as a child, I colored all of the models' teeth in my mom's magazines blue, because I thought blue teeth looked prettier.

I knew there was a problem when I glanced through my Red Bubble favorites a few days ago, and noticed I had selected almost exclusively blue-based pictures. I had also completed a monochromatic painting ("Blue 'Tude") and even joined a Red Bubble group for works strictly done in blue.

In the original book The Wizard of Oz, the Emerald City looked green to its inhabitants because everyone had to wear green-tinted glasses. I don't want my choices to to be limited as though I am wearing my own version of tinted glasses. So, I'm forcing myself out of my comfort zone and cutting back on the blue for a while. It's rocky territory; on the one hand, I enjoy identifying which artists have completed freshly posted work because I recognize their typical color choices. I want my work to be recognizable like that too. On the other hand, I don't want to trap myself in the Emerald City (or in my case, The Sapphire City), so I'll be monitoring my uses of color to see if I can get that consistent look without sacrificing the element of surprise.

So, freshly on the wagon for people addicted to blue, here's a new piece:

Sunset at Morro Rock
9 x 12 Chalk pastel and water on paper
Click here to purchase
Click here to see more California-inspired art on my website!