It’s been a rough winter weather-wise and we’ve used up our allotment of “snow days” at the school where I work for my day job. I didn’t sleep away my extra days off. Well… not a whole day, anyway. I did the taxes, and then I did art.
The picture on the left is three of my great-grandfathers sisters. I never met them; neither did my father. We only have the one photograph of them, but it caught my attention among all the other old family photos. They seem like people I would like to meet. They also seemed like people I would like to paint… and so I did — in ink and watercolors. It had been about thirty-five years since I used that medium, but I think I’ve got the hang of it again. I titled it, “The Smith Sisters, Circa 1935.”
The middle picture is the result of not being able to decide what to paint. I eventually decided that I would ditch all of the possible reference photos I was mulling over and just paint a face entirely out of my head. At first she looked a lot like me. Then, for a while she looked a lot like the actress Leelee Sobieski. I think, now that she’s finished, she looks a lot like one of those fictitious princesses created by a certain film company that also owns a few theme parks. Because she’s monochromatic and I “carved” her out of paint and my imagination, I titled that one “Cameo.”
The fish is just a little sketchbook practice, made with Sharpie pens and Sharpie markers, but I had a lot of fun with him. I drew the fishy and painted the fictitious portrait while listening to audio books from the Library. I recommend Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman. It’s an account of the lives of Vincent Van Gogh and his younger brother Theo, and of their very close relationship. It was intense. I mean the book, but their relationship was definitely intense too.
I will be going on a weekend road trip to visit relatives in a few days, and I’m taking my sketchbook along. The family visit may be all that we do, but if there is some “down time,” I want to be ready with some art supplies. I’ve never sketched in a moving car, but I might give it a try. Artistic confidence comes from Practice, Practice, PRACTICE!
I finished this pet portrait back in October, but I couldn’t show it to the world yet, because it was a commission for a Christmas gift. It started out as a pencil drawing, but I just wasn’t satisfied with the blackness of Max’s eyes, and I didn’t want to leave out the warm tones in his fur, so it evolved into a colored pencil painting. Or technically mixed media because I had to use ink to get the obsidian-like sparkle in his peepers.
This was my first experience with laid paper. If you’re not familiar with the term, laid paper has ridges in it that are the result of the manufacturing process. It was the usual type of once until it was gradually replaced by wove paper wove paper which has a uniform surface without lines. I learned that recently when I’d been reading a lot of those little signs next to the art at museums that describe what you’re looking at. A lot of them said “ink on white laid paper” or “printed on cream laid paper,” etc. I took out my phone and educated myself a bit. Thanks, Wikipedia!
My advice for laid art paper: Yes, when you see it on clearance for just 15 cents, by all means buy it. Just don’t try to use colored pencil on it. It was a bit like drawing on fine-whale corduroy and those ridges showed through unless I really pressed down hard. This work in progress detail photo shows pretty well what I was dealing with:
I was very happy with the finished work. My friend who commissioned it got a little choked up when I showed her. Her husband who received it for Christmas gave me a hug and thanked me the next time he saw me. I’ll call that a success! Here’s how they framed it:
If anyone else is interested in a pet portrait, I am open to doing more commissions. Valentine’s day would be a great time to surprise your sweetheart with a portrait of his or her special furry friend. Contact me for details.
A bonus chuckle — This is what my cat thinks of dog art:
I hope you all had a great Christmas, and I wish you a prosperous 2019. I finished this painting on December 9th, and it’s dry enough to handle now, so I attempted to get some good photos. It’s somewhat larger than I usually paint — 18″ x 24″. I’m very happy with how the moon turned out. So happy that I plan to paint a picture of just the moon for a future painting. NASA will have to help me out with the details… literally. I found one of their moon photos on my phone and held it up next to my canvas to paint this moon and get the details roughly correct. I wouldn’t want to put my Sea of Tranquility next to my Keplar Crater — that would be just silly.
Here’s what I learned from this painting: 1. I need a better camera for photographing my art. My phone takes a fairly good photo, but it isn’t up to capturing the subtleties of color that are in paintings. 2. I like painting in oils, and I’m getting used to them, but the drying time isn’t helpful business-wise. By the time the paint cures and I can varnish it, and then the varnish cures enough that it can be boxed up for shipping, it will be summer. Fortunately, I will be able to display it at an art show or deliver it locally much sooner than that. (If you’re interested it’s $432 +tax — message me, even if you just want a closer look.)
Now I have to decide what to paint next, and I’m having a hard time with that. I think I need to just clear the table in my studio and paint away without being concerned about painting anything worthy of sharing with the world. (I wonder how many paintings Rembrandt or VanGogh tossed on the rubbish heap?) I will probably try out my new watercolor brush pens next, or maybe pastels.
I was at the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago yesterday getting inspiration. They had some new Cezanne and Renoir works on display that I hadn’t seen before. They haven’t reassembled all of my favorite Sargents in the room that was my personal happy place last year, but some of them are now being displayed downstairs, so I was appeased. I also brought some inspiration home — two books from their gift shop — one about Rembrandt and one on Impressionist portraits. It was a glorious day of self-care… also self-indulgence at the Potbelly Sandwich Shop across the street. Their mixed berry milkshakes are heavenly.
I read that in 2019 the Art Institute will have a couple Rembrandts on loan. And at the end of May they will open an entire special exhibit of Édouard Manet works. I can’t wait to go back! Many thanks to my Sweetie for getting me a membership for my birthday again. Closer to home, I saw on Facebook that the Midwest Museum of American Art right here in Elkhart will be putting their large collection of Norman Rockwell lithographs back on display. I’m going to get a membership there and make several visits to study those. I hope you all have plans for 2019 that you’re excited about. Happy New Year, Everybody!
I don’t want to leave this until it’s one of those long overdue posts. There are some people who deserve my thanks. It’s only been a few months since I began working toward art as a vocation (that is, since I’ve been making serious attempts at getting paid for my art), but I have already received so much priceless help from some phenomenal people – people who I haven’t even met. I want to bring much-deserved attention to their amazing work and acknowledge them for what they’ve done to help me get started.
First, there was Robin Sealark. I found her on Youtube when I was looking for an instructional video on mixing flesh tones. She had a great video on that topic, and so much more. Robin is young and full of energy, witty, charming, and adorable. Her paintings are full of vibrant color and she dares to experiment and reinvent herself. Watching her videos made me feel like I already had a friend in the business. I would like to spend the first profits from my own paintings to purchase one of hers.
Next, there was Stefan Baumann. Wow. Just wow. I may have watched all of his lectures on Youtube (there are a lot) and I know I’ve watched at least a dozen of them a second time. I’ve never seen, or rather heard, art classes taught the way he teaches. I am so amazed that instruction this valuable is available for free on Youtube. The gift that he has given to the artists of the world in these videos is enormous. If you are a painter, you need to watch them. Even if you don’t paint in oils, you need to watch them. Even photographers should watch them. You won’t agree with everything he says, but you need to watch them. I’ve added attending one of his workshops at his Mount Shasta ranch to my bucket list.
Finally there is Patrick at Art Storefronts. He does their podcasts. I have determined that I am not quite ready to purchase their software/services to set up an e-commerce website with “Live Preview” (a super-cool feature where you can see what a painting will look like on your own wall). But they have so much genius advice available in those podcasts on the topic of marketing art. I’m so thankful that they offer it for free.
Besides the great people I’ve found online, I’ve been encouraged by some great people I’ve met face-to-face: church friends, friends at my day job (which I’m not quitting any time soon), old friends that I only get to see on social media, and especially my new friends at our local Urban Sketchers group — it was phenomenal to sit down with a group of strangers, talk and laugh like we’d known each other for years, and walk away friends. I look forward to getting to know you better. I’m so glad I live in a city where people care about art and artists have the means to find each other.
Most important of all, there’s my family, not one of whom ever told me that I would starve if I tried to make a living as an artist. Really. Not one discouraging word from one relative ever. Not when I was a teenager considering attending an art school instead of a traditional college. Not now, after I’ve had other jobs for decades and decided to get back into art and make it a profession. Not even one snarky comment. How rare is that?!!
The oil on canvas version of Still Life with Hydrangea (on the right) that I started back in mid-summer is finally finished. It just needs some drying time and a coat of varnish. The acrylic version on the left was finished last month, but I thought I’d wait until both were done to “unveil” them.
I started with oil paints that are water-miscible (water-mixable or water soluble — all three mean the same). I determined that they weren’t all they were marketed to be. Some colors/brands mix with water better than others. Some mix better with turpentine substitute (mineral spirits). Some don’t mix very well with either. Most colors got gummy at some point and resisted spreading. I ended up giving in and buying a bottle of Turpenoid® and a set of inexpensive conventional oil paints — the supposedly noxious chemicals that I’d been avoiding all my life for fear that they were dangerous to work with.
I found that I had been silly to wait so long to try oils. I had always assumed that oil painting required a big bucket of solvent. For that I blame Bob Ross and The Joy of Painting… also my unpleasant experiences with oil-based house paint. I bought a nifty little stainless steel cup with a spill-proof lid and a grate inside for rubbing the brushes against to clean them. It only needs a few ounces of solvent and it can be reused over and over again before needing to clean the cup and change the solvent, because the paint solids sink to the bottom under the grate. I can’t believe in all my years of making art, I never learned about this.
I’m sure you knew all about this and you’re shaking your head at my ignorance. Anyway, I’m very happy with how both paintings turned out and I will be posting them for sale shortly — the oil version will need to dry first. And I’ll need to keep my fingers out of the paint while it does. I seem to be getting better at that.
Here’s an update on the art I’ve been creating for the past month. It’s been a month for drawing practice. A painting doesn’t get very far if the artist’s drawing skills aren’t up to the job, and really painting is just drawing in color anyway. Above are a few of the ink drawings I completed this month for the Inktober 2018 challenge. I did them all in my miniature sketchbook that I carry around with me in my purse, so most of them are only about 3″ x 3 1/2 inches.
I’ve done other challenges — National Novel Writing Month (50,000 words of fiction in 30 days) for November and the National Poetry Month poem-a-day challenge for April — and those were interesting and fun, but also frustrating. I think that’s because I write well, but I LOVE drawing and painting. It’s my gift. Also, because I’d never heard of it until November 1st and I jumped in on a whim, I didn’t feel guilty when, about two-thirds of the way through the month and I stopped and only did two more for the rest of October. I just didn’t want to do any more. It was a liberating thing, actually, to abandon it, because it was good practice for a time but was no longer of benefit to me. Never keep doing something just because it’s what you’ve been doing.
I did these two drawings in an art group that I meet with at our church. The group leader stopped at a roadside produce stand to get the props to set up the still life. The drawing of the old man was from a photo she clipped from a magazine, and the rest of the page was cut away, so I don’t have the information to properly cite the photographer. I am particularly pleased with the hands, which are much harder to draw accurately than faces.
I finished two paintings in October too. The first was the acrylic version of that still life. I’ll share a picture when I finish the oil version, so I can unveil them together. The other was the abstract below titled “Vineyard” which started out as just a loosening-up exercise, but it went well enough that I refined and finished it so it’s ready for framing. I plan to paint three companion pieces in the near future titled “Orchard,” “Field,” and “Garden.” If you are interested in purchasing “Vineyard,” see my gallery page for more information.
Still plodding along with the still life. When I used the wrong mixture for glazing and had to set aside the oil version (on the right) back in August, I expected that it wouldn’t be dry enough to paint the next layer until Christmas. But it surprised me, and it appears that only a couple months was necessary. In the meantime, I started on the acrylic version of the same still life (on the left) and it has been going well… mostly. I’ve experienced some frustrations with the paint drying too fast on the canvas. (That’s situational irony, right? My 9th grade English teacher really tried, but I’ve always been a little unclear on that.)
So it wasn’t the subject matter that drove me to give up temporarily on the first canvas, it was the medium. And while working on the second canvas, the medium is making me itch to go back to work on the first canvas. I’m learning a lot, and relearning some too, about my mediums. (Or media, if you prefer–both plurals are correct in an art context; I checked.) That was pretty much the goal of this project–to learn the properties and possibilities of my materials.
So, even though I’m not finished with either version, I’m already thinking about Still Life with Hydrangea No. 3. I’ve got a whole room full of art supplies. I could do watercolor next. Or gouache. Or ink. Or watercolor over ink. Or pastels. Or charcoal. Or colored pencil. Maybe Crayola crayons will suit my mood?
OH, HOLD THE PHONE! I just recalled that single sheet of art paper that I bought on clearance this summer. (Only 15¢–I’ll never get out of an art supply store that cheaply again.) That paper is a rich muted red and that would be the perfect support for a pastel painting of that still life! I think it maybe the time is approaching to try out that box of pastels.