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Friday, November 26, 2010

Mixing media and ancient pots

"Pair of Pots" 15 x 20 Mixed Media on Paper
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These two little Egyptian pots looked so cozy together, I had to create a piece just for them. I've been trying to stick with working big as often as possible, as it's more enjoyable than agonizing over small details.

I started with an acrylic painting in pink, purple, and white to show the values. Once the paint dried, I added some chalk pastel to show a little more color and neutralize the background. I've used this combination in the past and enjoyed it, although the acrylic does tend to eat up the chalk pastel (useful if you want to get a nice flat side on any of your chalk, I suppose). The finished product was awfully dusty, though, and lacked any areas that "popped." A little blending with one of those craft sponges lifted off some of the dustiness, but didn't entirely solve the problem for me.

I decided it couldn't hurt to scrawl in a little oil pastel. If I didn't like it, I could always cover it with chalk or paint. The oil pastel cut nicely through the chalk and acrylic, and provided the extra areas of visual focus I was hoping to add. This surprised me, as I normally won't put oil over chalk pastel when I combine the two. The acrylic underpainting must have made a difference.
I can't seem to get enough of painting Egyptian pottery-- the simplicity and beauty of the shapes fascinates me.
Click here to see more of my pieces inspired by the Ancient Egyptians:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Accidents (experimenting with pastel techniques)

"Standing Alone" 12 x 18 Chalk Pastel on Watercolor Paper
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It was that time of night where I was tempted to just call it a day and get some sleep, but felt guilty because I hadn't painted yet. Lying on the floor with my feet by the heater, I grabbed my chalk pastels and a large piece of Canson watercolor paper. I find it helpful to tape paper down on some type of board earlier in the day, so I have one less excuse to get out of painting. I figured I would work large and simple, use complementary colors, and toss the piece out at the end if I didn't like it. I used one of my photos of a simple, beautiful Egyptian pitcher as a reference.

I didn't have much in the way of light, which also freed me from agonizing over details. I worked quickly, and had a complete (first stage, anyway) painting within a half hour. I finally felt justified in drifting off to sleep.

Upon waking, I discovered that the texture of the cardboard showed through on the background. I liked the roughness of the piece and the texture from the cardboard, so I was careful with my smearing. I also chose not to add water, letting the pastel sit in its raw form on the watercolor paper.

After a little noodling, I took a paintbrush ( a nice strong one) and tried a little blending. The heavy brush actually lifted off the layers of pastel, which I found intriguing. I began using the brush to lift out some of the "muddier" areas to reveal the original color. Then I added a little white pastel for highlights, and I was done.
And then there are those pieces where the accidents are not so happy...

"A Grand Tradition" 9 x 12 Chalk Pastel on Paper
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This was another piece where I struggled with reflections-- and it was worse because they had to "line up" with the original objects, and some of those objects were very straight walls. I would get one area to make sense, then discover I had ruined a different part of the piece in doing so. Still, I put it aside each time I got frustrated, and took a fresh look at it the next day. I finally kept a ruler handy so I could straighten up some of the lines (I'm one of those people who gets vertigo if walls aren't straight.) Persevering paid off, though, and I finally hit the point where I felt like the painting worked. This is an image of the Grand Tradition in Fallbrook, CA, minus the huge crowd that was there on 4th of July.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Back to the big paper... make it Canson Watercolor

"Clearing" 12 x 18 Pastel on Paper
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I used to have a brave motto for myself when it came to painting: paint big or go home. If I had to resort to something as small as 9 x 12, it was because I was out of the bigger stuff.

In recent months, particularly once I began painting regularly, I've had to cut my paintings down in size. Between time constraints, tiredness, and lack of space, I could only go for the big paper or canvas when I got the rare opportunity to spend a few hours painting at a time.

Painting small has its benefits-- it takes less time (in theory at least), and doesn't require as much energy for me to cover the paper with the media. It has a big drawback for me too though: I end up painting much tighter than I originally intend to, and end up squinting over that small paper or canvas, trying to get my details straight.

With this issue in mind, I recently bought a pad of Canson watercolor paper in the 11 x 15 size (on sale, of course). I was lucky enough to have a couple of large pieces of cardboard on hand to use as paintboards, and decided to try the chalk pastel and water combination on the Canson paper. This resulted in the piece above, a scene of a clearing in the land and water at one of the Everglades parks in Florida. The pastel blends more easily with the water on the Canson paper, and becomes almost like a tempera paint in consistency. It doesn't grip as well as the Arches Cold Press, but dries more quickly and has a smooth finish. I'm hoping to go back to painting on the bigger paper more often for my daily paintings, as it was so much more comfortable for me to keep my subject matter loose and focus more on the joy of spreading the media around on the paper.

I did struggle with the reflections in the water on this one... more on reflections in the next post, as the reflection is the focus in the next painting I'll be adding...

To see more paintings of places, click here:

To read my latest Red Bubble journal on sharing yourself as an artist (rather than copying others), click here:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I see Arches Cold Press in Your Future...

"Esmeralda" 9 x 12 Chalk Pastel on Paper
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I've always had a fascination with gypsies (or at least their outfits) of my favorites is Esmeralda, the fortuneteller in the machine in front of the arcade at Disneyland. She looks especially interesting at night, with all of the lights around her.

For this piece I broke out the Arches Cold Press watercolor paper-- I enjoy blending the chalk pastel with water, and this type of paper really lets that combination shine. I blocked in my painting with strong pastel strokes, using bright colors. Instead of smearing with my fingers, as I usually do, I used a brush and a small cup of water. I learned this time that it's best to use a stronger brush-- the brush I was using was made for Chinese caligraphy, and not at all helpful with the "bubbles" that formed when the water hit the chalk. Still, a little patience went a long way in carefully blending the water and chalk throughout the piece.

There were a few scary moments when I got a little too much water on the paper, and had to lift it off with a paper towel for fear of making "mud" and losing my values. I let the painting dry flat, and went back over it with a new layer of chalk. It was quite dark after the addition of water, and I have to confess that Esmeralda went through an awkward stage of looking more like Jack Sparrow than a gypsy woman. A fresh layer of light colors (this time smeared lightly by hand) fixed that, and she was herself again by the end of the piece.

I was pretty happy with the end result in this one-- I've been getting frustrated with my work lately and haven't felt like posting it. I think giving myself a little time to evaluate this piece and work carefully helped, as did focusing on a subject I truly enjoyed.

To see more California scenes done on Arches Cold Press with water, click here:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It's All in My Head (painting from imagination)

I don't normally paint from's hard to stay "on topic" if I don't have a clear reference as a reminder of what it is I wanted to paint in the first place. One of the things that helped me stay focused in this case was to make a thumbnail sketch as a guide.

I used to paint from imagination all the time, before I began taking art classes. It was frustrating to ind that what was in my mind never quite matched what came out on paper. In fact, it rarely even came close. Now that I have a few years of painting practice under my belt (and know a lot of special tips and tricks), I feel ready to occasionally try something from pure imagination again.

One of the things I enjoy seeing (and am spoiled enough to see often) is a beautiful sunset. Of course, it's not always practical for me to run out and try to paint the sunset-- it changes pretty quickly (and don't get me started on the gnats!) Occasionally I'll take a picture of one, but the truth is, we see them so often, I wouldn't know where to start when choosing one for a painting.

For this piece, I tried to remember what it is I like about sunsets, so I could incorporate it into the painting. Living in Temecula as a kid, I often stopped playing to gaze up at the fiery, color-soaked sunsets. Based on those memories, I came up with a few characteristics I wanted to paint: luminous clouds, turquoise sky, red and orange streaks, and water or backlit mountains. I chose not to use water in this one, but kept the rest, and got the following result:

"Sundown" 6 x 10 Chalk Pastel on Paper

Click here to buy print:

The nice thing about painting from imagination was that I didn't have to worry about how realistic it looked. Instead, I concentrated on making sure I liked the colors and composition, and that it gave me the same delight all those sunsets I stopped to look at as a child did.

To see other paintings inspired by places, click here:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Another "Wild" Night (Painting Wildflowers)

"Pretty Wild" 9 x 12 Pastel (oil and chalk) on paper
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I'm finding it quite therapeutic to paint random scenes from nature these days (in my usual messy fashion of course). What turned me off to a lot of these types of scenes initially was that I didn't want to get caught up in all of that detail... so many leaves, branches, petals, etc! I've since become comfortable focusing on emphasizing just a few details, and making the paintings mostly about the texture, patterns, shapes, and colors.

It's important to work the whole painting at once, rather than get sucked into making each area perfect before moving on to the next. I started this one with the oil pastels, using dark blue and purple to map out the main shapes for the branches and larger flowers, and then adding in the overall patterns of flowers and leaves. I tried to detail a few leaves or flowers, just to bring them into focus so the eye could identify them (left brained of me, I know).

Once I had the darker colors blocked in with oil pastel, I began to add chalk-- sparingly this time, so the lights of the paper could show through (I'm getting a little better with this aspect of mixing oil and chalk so I can save a few more of the lights).

I used a reference photo of some more flowers at the Grand Tradition in Fallbrook, CA. My favorite thing about this painting was actually the way the vertical lines of the textured paper show through-- for some reason, the whole effect reminds me of my favorite little hippie ring I wore in high school, which was white with a bunch of blue and pink flowers and came from a thrift shop. It's funny how those visual memories stay with you and come out later in your work...

Click here to see more oil and chalk pastel paintings:

Or, click here to see more floral inspired work:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fast, loose, and small (a quick daily painting)

"Boy" 6 x 6 Chalk Pastel on Paper
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I had a little 6 x 6 piece of black Canson paper left, and I was feeling portrait-ish. I didn't feel like getting trapped in the realistic painting vortex, so I flipped through my Egyptian museum photos. One of them has many figurines in it, and all I could see was the head of shoulders of what looked like an Egyptian boy. I used a pink-orange tone to start, and added bright yellow and green blue to finish the shape of the quick sketch with the pastels.

So how did it end up so blue? I began smearing (my weakness) and adding a touch of black and lots of dark blue. As I smeared and highlighted, the shape of the boy's head and shoulders rose from the pastel dust, and became a recognizable face. I left it loose and soft, since I was working from a pretty tiny reference, and because it left the boy with a little mystery.

It was really hard to stop when I did, but I figured it was better to stop too early than to ruin it with too much detail. This is always the battle for me, and I'll probably spend way too much time layering in color on top of color in the next one to make up for it. On a side note, I'm finding that when I need to paint small, it helps to fill those smaller pieces of paper up with large subjects, rather than killing my eyes on a bunch of tiny details.

In other news, "Egyptian Pitchers" was featured in two groups on Red Bubble-- I wasn't even sure I wanted to add that piece, but now I'm extremely glad I did!