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Friday, July 29, 2011

Collage: As Fun As It Looks!

"La Chatte Orange" 12 x 16 Mixed Media on Paper
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This piece isn't too much different from my mixed media works, except for the text. It was adding the text, however, that made this piece an official collage for me.

It was originally just a little mixed media cat, but I wasn't too excited about the finished look. Layering tissue paper, acrylic (including some metallic gold paint), and chalk pastel, I thought the piece would have more punch when it was finished. I gave it the title "Chat Orange," which got me thinking about what influenced the piece in the first place.

Toulouse Lautrec has always been one of my favorite painters, and the "Chat Noir" prints have been regulars in home decor and greeting cards in my family. I was disappointed to learn as an adult that the Chat Noir was actually a bar, not a character that would appear in more of his pictures.

When I started my "Chatte Orange," the initial sketch was based on one of my male cats, who happens to have a larger than average head and was sitting in a very "Chatte Noir" pose. As you can see from the finished piece, the subject went from a chat to a chatte (male to a female) and retained none of his original gray color.

For the text, I've had some very strong, purple striped tissue paper I've been saving for the right piece. This seemed like a good time to break it out, so I hand-cut the letters and applied them with matte medium. I added a little of the paper to other parts of the painting to pull it together.

I'm feeling inspired to do a cat for each color-- hoping to start a blue one next.

To see original works for sale, click here:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Simplifying Subject Matter

"Oak" 4 x 6 in. chalk pastel on paper

Another afternoon at home, another quick plein aire session with the pastels. The above painting was done in about 20 minutes. There are two things that help me complete a quick daily painting like this: working small and keeping the painting simple.

We have many scrub oak trees on the property, and there is one that sits somewhat by itself in the driveway. I've always liked this tree, because it differs from the others in that it is taller and always has a dramatic shadow.

I sat on the ground to paint this, and chose to keep the composition simple, focusing on the tree and its shadow. The view behind the tree actually has hills and flowers in it, but I knew that those would complicate the process and take away from the bold position of the tree. So, I filled the background in with sky instead.

Some artists use a viewfinder to help narrow down a composition outside. I find it more helpful to pick one focal point to refer to, and relate everything else I choose to include in the painting to that focal point. This means that as I usually end up painting the scenes or objects that stand out because of their strong shapes or values.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

More Plein Aire Close to Home

"Californa Cottage"
9 x 12 chalk pastel on paper
Original Sold
Click here to buy print (cards start under $3):

I have neighbors with beautiful houses; we jokingly say we're the poor folks on the block. Buildings have always presented a challenge for me, though, so I've been a little shy about painting houses in general. Still, I'm getting pretty comfortable with plein aire, which makes it easier to take risks.

One thing I tried to share with my students who were intimidated by drawing and painting buildings: keep it simple. I've found that if I limit the details that require perspective, I can focus on the things I enjoy most: value, shape, and color. I would love to be one of those artists with a knack for technical prowess and accuracy, but that would mean giving up my impressionistic style. So, I'll just stick to simple representations of structures and admire the more realistic, detailed architectural works in my free time.

This house has always looked pink to me, but was for sale for a while and may have been repainted while it was on the market. The view in the painting is just the top floor of the house; if I had included the whole house, it would need a different name. As it is, the house in the painting has a cozy, nestled feel with all the trees around it, so "cottage" came to mind.

To see original works for sale through Paypal, click here:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bromeliads! Fun with Color...

"Bromeliads!" 12 x 18 Chalk Pastel on Paper

While out with my sister, I spotted a peculiar looking bunch of plants. My sister had to identify them for me: bromeliads! I thought it was a funny name to go with a funny-looking flower, and took several photos for a future painting.

These particular bromeliads were orange, and stood out among all the green surroundings. When deciding on colors for the painting, I was in the middle of a green, purple, and orange streak (also known as "secondary colors"), and began blocking in the shapes on orange-toned Canson Mi-Teintes paper.

I always run into the struggle between color and value, and emphasizing one or the other. For this piece, I stuck to the original color inspiration, which slightly flattens the image. I particularly enjoyed highlighting the pottery, and felt that the color scheme gave it a twist on a typical floral painting.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

A Workshop, Plein Air, and a Little Fun With Media

"Bolsa Chica Grebe" 16 x 20 Acrylic on Canvas

Original Photo "Reflected Dreams" by Bunny Clarke

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A year ago, I would have been afraid to tackle a workshop like this: Solo Exhibition's Sojie 12, where artists
translate photographs posted by fellow group members. I've never worked on a collaboration like this before, and wanted to select a piece I had a genuine interest in so I could give it my best.

I took a class in wildlife painting a few years back, and although I loved it, I never focused too much of my art on painting wildlife in the traditional style (i.e. realistic!) I loved the reflections in this painting, and thought it would give me a good challenge: painting wildlife in acrylic, a medium I've been out of touch with for a while. Acrylic doesn't lend itself well to chasing a two year-old around the house, but now that my husband is home, I can get back into it while he does toddler duty.

For this workshop, artists must post at least two work-in-progress photos, so I am including mine here with a brief description of each step:

Step One: rough sketch on canvas with chalk pastel, to block in the composition and map out darks, lights, and a hint of the color scheme

Step Two: Bird still in pastel, with water blocked in using acrylic

Step Three: after getting a little carried away painting the water a lighter color, I had to redo it with the original blues and greens. The bird is also blocked in with the first layer of acrylic.

Step Four: see large image at top of post. This was the "details" phase, where I added in touches of brighter color, more texture on the bird, and highlights in the water.

To view the entire workshop and its progress, click here:

In addition to the workshop, I did a little plein air painting at the harbor in Oceanside, California:

"Harbor Pair" 9 x 12 Chalk Pastel on Paper

It was a Friday night, and there was quite a crowd walking around. I had to smile when some of the parents shushed their children as they walked by me; I was tempted to tell them that I'm used to painting with noisy kids circling me on a regular basis. It was a warm, pleasant evening, and I'm hoping to return for another session soon.

"Le Chat Orange" 12 x 16 Mixed Media on Canson Canva-Paper

And, for something completely different: a mixed media cat on my new pad of Canva-paper. Sketched in with pastel, I followed with a layer of yellow acrylic, red tissue paper, metallic gold acrylic, and chalk pastel as a top layer.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Plen Aire at the Fair: No Sissies Allowed!

"Flower Power" 18 x 22 in Chalk Pastel on Paper
Click here to view/buy print:

Sunday, June 26th: one of the most anxiety-inducing, exhilarating days of my life. It was plein aire day at the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar.

After a peaceful drive, a slight snag with the parking permit, and about a half hour of perusing the fairgrounds for a spot to paint, I trotted my "cart" with my supplies to the farm area in the children's section of the fair.

This was my first experience painting plein aire in a public place, and I thought it would be best to get my feet wet in a quieter area. I found inspiration in an exhibit titled "Race to the Farm" (the theme for the year was "Race to the Fair"). It was a VW Bug, parked in the middle of the edible plants exhibit, filled with plants and complete with a ladybug driver. I've never made a painting focused on a car before, so to paint a car plein aire was definitely a challenge.

I'd only intended to paint for two hours or so, but I worked until late afternoon. I was lucky enough to get a visit from a couple of friends, who kindly watched my stuff while I took a quick bathroom break. Other than that, I was in the sun for about five hours, pastelling my little heart out. I brought a large hat, but forgot to roll on the sunscreen (hey, it was still foggy when I started the painting), and I paid dearly for that later in the day.

I was expecting my biggest challenge to come from dealing with curious onlookers. I couldn't have been more wrong-- everyone was polite, friendly, and pleasant. I'm chalking this up to the idea that people who like plants and flower power tend to be nice people. It also helped that I had a nametag on and was clearly involved in a contest for artists, lessening the curiosity factor (I wasn't the first artist they'd seen by the time the came around to my little corner of the fair).

The day at the fair was one of the most pleasant painting experiences I've ever had (and what do you know, no bugs except for the ones in my painting?) It was grueling in some aspects though: people are watching you paint, the sun was pretty brutal, and I had to cart myself and all my stuff back to the exhibit to turn the work in for judging, which was quite a feat considering I had to weave my way through the thick crowds with a highly smearable chalk painting.

I didn't win a prize-- the judge wanted high energy crowd scenes, definitely something I was about to tackle my first time out. The paintings were all beautiful (about 30 artists participated), and it was exciting to see the different interpretations of the fair through the eyes of the artists. I'm already looking forward to next year!

In the meantime, here's a chalk pastel portrait of my daughter at the beach last year, completed in the spirit of summer:

"Little Cali Girl" 9 x 12 Chalk Pastel on Paper
Click here to view/buy print:

Click here to see additional California inspired works:

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Plein Air Experiment, Part 2 (Afternoon)

"Pomegranate Bushes" 9 x 12 chalk pastel on paper

One of the challenges I worried about with painting plein air was light. The first couple of days, I waited in the morning until the fog burned off, so there would be enough light. Of course, once the light made an appearance, so did the bugs.

The next few days (leading up to June 26th), the timing was better for me to paint in the afternoon (or dusk). The piece above, "Pomegranate Bushes," was painted in the late afternoon, as the sun was setting to the west.

I happen to have a soft spot for these bushes. I've eaten their fruit and shared it with friends, I've taken pictures with my dogs by them, and I was relieved to see them recover quickly after the 2007 wildfire. They thrive on their own, and house many of the birds I love to listen to throughout the day. As I painted them, I tried to focus on their basic core shape and the effect of the setting sun on their leaves. Pomegranate bushes are famous for being messy, and it was in the spirit of messiness that I worked in an abstract style with lots of pastel strokes.

The second piece was completed at dusk, and presented the biggest challenge of all:

"Birdhouse in Hiding" 4.5 x 6 chalk pastel on paper
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Bugs! Hungry, flesh-eating gnats that kept attacking my arms, so that I got pretty good at painting with one hand and swatting with the other. This piece was done in about 25 minutes. Since it was dusk, I had to work quickly to capture what was left of the fading light. This poor little bird house sits buried in an oak tree, often covered by wild cucumber in the spring. I'm not sure if this one gets much in the way of inhabitants, but I enjoy seeing it peep through the leaves and branches throughout the year.

I'm finding plein air painting to be enjoyable, and may invest in some bug spray so I can continue to work outdoors. The challenges are different than the studio, in that you have to be on your toes and make the most of your session. This works in my favor, however, as I always need a little bit of pressure to push my skills into overdrive and achieve a piece I enjoy looking at later.

In my next post, I will be sharing my plein air piece from the contest at the Del Mar Fair, completed on June 26th. It's a big one, so I've been waiting for my camera cord to arrive in order to take a proper picture and share it online. Here's a hint: think flower power meets German engineering!

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