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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Avocado on the Side

"Avocado on the Side" 12 x 18 chalk pastel on paper

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Getting ready for the Avocado Festival...

This year, I decided to enter the "Art of the Avocado" contest, sponsored by the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce. I've been putting together a lot of avocado-themed pieces, but I couldn't decide on one for the show. Finally, I created this one: a simple chalk pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes paper. It was different from all of the previous pieces in that I didn't include all of the details I had in my other avocado works. It's also much brighter.

During one of my art classes at UCR, the instructor asked us if we were "simplifiers" or "complicators." I still don't know the answer to that. I have a feeling that my tendency is to complicate, but once I realize that I'm losing control, I reign it in and bring the piece back to basics. This piece was unique for me, because it started off--and stayed-- simple. Once it was finished, it just felt right, and I knew it was the one I wanted to enter into the show.

I'll be posting more details on the festival in the near future, since I'll be participating with a booth this year!
In other news, I got my first home page feature on Red Bubble today. If you look close, you'll see my pastel "Entangled" (with the big pink flower) in the collection of pastel-themed features.

Click here to link to this home page feature:

All work above is protected by copyright of the individual artists who created each piece.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tropical Layers

12 x 18 Chalk pastel on paper
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 There are times when I find myself hating a piece until the very end, when it all finally starts to make sense. This usually happens when I try something a little different, and am not sure if the risk is going to pay off artistically or not. "Tropicale" was one of those pieces. Once it was complete, I was quite happy with the experiment. I used dark green Canson Mi-Teintes paper, thinking the green would blend nicely with the background. I thought I would try to exercise some patience and build the trees with layers of color. It quickly turned into a battle between the colors, and I was fighting to keep the trees from turning into mud. I finally realized that no matter how many layers of lights I added to the foliage, it wouldn't look right until I went back in with some darks. I used my almost black gray pastel, and worked in some tiny shadows to emphasize the lights.

Once I was finished, I put the piece aside to look at it from afar. I noticed the sky needed a little work, so I used a fluffy watercolor brush to lift some color out of the sky, allowing the dark green paper to come through. I named the piece "Tropicale" because it has the feel of the tropics (mainly the palm trees against the deeply colored sky). It's based on a reference photo of the trees and plants behind the pools at Glen Ivy Hot Springs in southern California.

Click here to browse more originals for sale on my website!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Still Life with a Bird

"Vogel-Figured" 12 x 12 Pastel on Paper Click here to buy print: What to do when I have a rare bit of quiet in the morning and don't know what to paint? Still life! I have way too many little knick-knacks around the house, which I keep available because I intend to paint them some day. This is one of two little bird figurines given to me last year. The second one is sitting in my broken pile, waiting for glue. Between a house full of cats, a toddler, and my own personal set of butterfingers, most of these figures end up broken. I've always liked the shape of these birds, and thought it would be good practice for me to paint the still intact bird as a daily painting. One of the most memorable painting tips I've read was from my Chinese brushpainting book: when painting a bird, keep to the form of an egg. This little bird is particularly-egg shaped, making it easy to follow that piece of advice. I went for a square shape on the paper (still need to fill up those square frames!) and tried to fill the majority of the space with the bird's form. I debated on using a different color for the stand, but since the bird and its little stand are all attached, I kept them unified with the same colors. Even when painting an animal that isn't real, I manage to inject a little attitude into the animal's face. I really wanted to paint a sweet-faced little bird, but as usual, ended up with something different. I guess animals--even fake ones-- are more interesting when they have difficult personalities. What inspired the name? "Vogel" is the German word for bird. To see some paintings of real-life animals with attitude, click here:

Friday, March 25, 2011

Keep Off the Rocks!

"Keep Off the Rocks" 9 x 12 chalk pastel on paper (framed)
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Last summer, we spent a day at the beach at Aliso Creek. I don't normally go to Orange County beaches, being partial to San Diego. I did get some great photos of the rocks and cliff at this beach, though, one of which inspired this painting.

This group of rocks looks particularly inviting, with lots of flat areas. It has a large sign warning people to stay off of the rocks, probably because they are constantly bombarded with waves and most likely slippery (see the green in the upper half of the painting). Throughout the day, the lifeguards repeatedly had to trot out to the rocks and tell people to go back to the sand. Finally toward the end of the day, they drove over to the area and made a loud announcement on the speaker, reminding people to stay off the rocks not only for the rest of the day, but the rest of the summer. It was pretty funny.

It's been dark and rainy off and on all week, so I felt like working in darker tones. For this painting, I used gray-toned Canson Mi-Teintes paper. I was going to keep the piece somewhat dark and gray, since it was a pretty cold day there and I wanted to make the rocks a little foreboding. I had to sneak in some bright color though. I've never been able to pull off a neutral look in any of my works. I also enjoyed the pathway the water made through the rocks, and used stronger pastel strokes to create the rushing water. I added a figure toward the top of the rocks, to capture the temptation so many visitors felt to ignore the "Keep Off" sign that day at the beach.

To view additional California-themed works, click here:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Venice Canals (in an impressionist style)

"Canal" 9 x 12 chalk pastel on grey toned Mi-Teintes paper
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I tried to keep this one light and loose-- it was on small paper. I've painted this subject before, with acrylic on paper in one of my classes at UCR. In that attempt, I was focused on pattern and texture, and had a much larger piece of paper as a surface. Knowing from experience how much "information" there was in the reference photo, I reminded myself to stick to my basic impression of the place and not muddle around in the details. Keeping a light touch and focusing on lights and darks helped me do this.

I took this reference photo a few years ago along one of the canals in Venice, California. As a child, I often heard my grandmother reminisce about living in Venice and visiting the canals. Every few years, we'll make the drive out there to walk along Venice Beach and have lunch. The last time we visited was the first time I got to see the canals, and I was enchanted. I would love to be able to walk into my backyard and hop into a boat for a little trip down a canal. The bridges and rowboats also reminded me of Monet's paintings, so of course I had to take a bunch of pictures.

On a side note, another great city with canals is Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I'm a little nervous about those canals, though. I'm terrified of alligators (or any other creatures with sharp teeth under dark water!)

Click here to see more paintings of California scenery:

Friday, March 18, 2011

If at first you don't succeed, try another medium?

"Cats" 9 x 12 pastel on paper
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I originally tried these figures in a mixed media piece-- one of my first Egypt-themed pieces, and the result was this:

And then I realized the piece was hitting a wall, so I put it into the Epic Fail pile. I may cut it apart and repurpose it, or I may make changes to it, but overall I didn't feel satisfied with the mixed media version. I went on to try a different mixed media work on a different subject, which turned out to be much more successful:

"Egyptian King" 15 x 20 mixed media on paper
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The difference, I think, was that I needed to choose the right medium to suit my purpose. When I first tried to paint the cats, I was more interested in playing with the media than showing the character of the two figures. As a result, the impact of the two cats' faces was lost. When I painted them in pastel, however, I was able to get the bold look I wanted while still keeping the character in the faces. I used a lot of broken color and did very little smearing, intending to give it that primitive look that these artifacts have.
One of the reasons I use pastel more than anything else is its convenience. I have very little time to layer in my mixed media pieces these days, and pastel keeps me honest as far as being a daily painter. As I get more comfortable in different mediums, I'm learning that it's ok to take a subject that didn't turn out the way I wanted and try it with a different set of materials.
How do I know if a piece turns out the way I intend? Well, a lot of art shows are coming up, and I usually rate my satisfaction with a finished piece by putting it into one of three categories. When I feel like a piece has reached the stage of completion, I ask myself: do I want to hide it, sell it, or show it? Those pieces that reach the ultimate level of satisfaction are the ones that fall into the "show it" category. Those pieces also happen to be the ones created with the right medium to express the piece's intentions.
To see more of my Egyptian-inspired pieces, click here:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Big Paper, Big Color

"Party Pack" 18 x 24 Pastel on paper
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More stylized pots... this piece was about working big and enjoying the medium of pastel. I used another reference photo of some Ancient Egyptian pots, and knew that for this piece I wanted to play with different red and green based hues (particularly scarlet and teal). I have an extra soft set of pastels, and those seem to work best with these bright color combinations.

The focus on color took away from some of the value (lights and darks), which gave it more of a flattened look. Normally I would feel the need to work those values back in, but I knew I would lose that emphasis on color if I did so.

The colors and stylized look of this piece made it fun to work on, because it has a retro feel to it. It was also a chance for me to try out my extra large Canson watercolor paper-- I liked the first block I bought so much (which was 12 x 18), I thought I would go bigger this time. The Canson watercolor paper has a great texture-- I like the Canson pastel paper textures too, but this paper grips the medium in a different way. It makes it feel more like, well, paint. And, if I get the urge, I can always add a little water to the painting and not worry about ruining the paper underneath!

To see more Egyptian-inspired pieces, click here:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bathers: A Classic Subject

"Bathers" 12 x 18 oil pastel, chalk pastel, and water on paper
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I've taken many photos of the beautiful scenery at Glen Ivy Hot Springs in Southern California. I've never felt comfortable snapping random photos of people, although the spa patrons are really the most interesting subjects there. I don't like to ask people if I can take pictures of them, because then they pose and it doesn't look natural. On the other hand, I don't want to be that creepy person that randomly walks up and takes pictures of people without their permission.

I've always enjoyed paintings of "bathers," which we might today refer to as sunbathers or swimmers. There's something about people in or about to get in water that makes them look so playful and free. I also like the fact that there is no idealized beauty in a lot of these paintings-- in Southern California, it's hard to find a place where people who haven't had plastic surgery are willing to bare their skin in public. The spa is a little different-- everyone lets it all hang out, much like in those old paintings of bathers.

For this painting, I began with oil pastels. I sketched in the shapes and blocked in the darks with a dark blue. I then added a little bit of color to each figure with the oil pastels, but left the water alone. Once I had the figures pretty well blocked in, I went over the painting with chalk pastel, which I used for the water. I liked the textured feel of the oil and chalk, but the piece didn't look finished. The next day, I decided to go over the water and figures with a brush and a little water, to get a better blended feel. Once that dried, I again took the chalk pastel to emphasize the figures and to add a little more value to the water. I left the rafts almost the same color as the water for two reasons: the rafts really are that color (although they've since added white ones), and I wanted them to blend in with the background so they wouldn't take away from the figures.

It was a hot day when I took this reference photo from atop the roof of the cafe, and the pool was loaded with people. I cut several out of the composition and just left the three strongest figures, although I thought it would be fun to leave the floating legs in the top corner-- suggesting more people beyond the scope of the painting. I also couldn't resist painting those legs and feet, because they reminded me of the feet sticking out from under the house dropped on the Wicked Witch of the East in The Wizard of Oz.

This is the same pool I painted in my larger piece, "Heavenly Pool." To view my blog post that includes that piece, click here:

To see some paintings of bathers by Paul Cezanne, click here:
To see a variation on bathers by Henri Matisse, click here:

And, a quick little daily painting I did in pastel of an ancient Egyptian pitcher:
"Primary" 12 x 12 chalk pastel on paper
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Visit "The Tomb" to see more of my Egyptian-inspired artwork:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Good Gauguin, He's Everywhere!

It seems like every once in a while, one of the old masters comes back into society's consciousness. Suddenly, that artist is everywhere, and try as you might, you can't escape seeing his or her work.
I've noticed Paul Gauguin popping up in articles and web forums lately. It seems like he's not only a hot topic because of his work, but also because he was highly skilled in the art of self-promotion.

If asked, I've never felt the need to list Gauguin among my influences. I think it's due more to a personal dislike of the way he lived (leaving his wife and family to pursue life in the tropics, taking advantage of underage native girls, and so on). However, I find myself drawn to many of his pieces. When I visited an exhibit of impressionists some years back, I bought a few postcards without really looking at the artists' names. One of them was a piece by Gauguin. Every time I look at Van Gogh's work done in Arles, I am equally fascinated by Gauguin's pieces as well. Lately, as I have begun working on some paintings with a more tropical feel to them, I again find inspiration as I glance through some of Gauguin's pieces.

I may not like the man (or I should say what I have read about the man), but the more I grow as an artist, the more I appreciate his use of color and the division of his canvases to create such bold compositions. I can also appreciate his need to find a simpler, more primitive version of life. There are days when I envy the birds outside, because they wake up and know by instinct what they need to accomplish each day. I guess it's important to remember that every artist is human, and has his or her own personality faults. Those faults may contribute to the art, but it's ultimately the work that defines that artist for future generations.

In other words, it's ok to admire an artist's work without admiring that artist as a person.

Two of my latest works, the second one definitely inspired by some of Gauguin's design and subject matter:

"Sticks in the Window" 9 x 12 Oil/Chalk pastel on paper

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And the second piece:

"Heavenly Pool" 18 x 24 chalk pastel on paper

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Click here to read a great article about Paul Gauguin: