So I stated this new painting at the end of June (small detail shown above). I struggled with it. I was unmotivated to work on it. It was an interesting idea for a technique I’d never seen used before — one of those meaningful, high-concept projects that typically gets picked for juried art shows. Also the type of project that is very much out of my comfort zone. It seemed like I should be excited to work on it, but I just wasn’t.
After having it sit there unfinished on my easel for a few weeks, I finally realized why I couldn’t muster the ambition to keep working on it. It’s all about anxiety. The first layer of this work is a montage of images of things that generate anxiety. Working on it, while artistically fascinating, was emotionally disturbing. I couldn’t look at all those illustrations of anger, angst, hostility, and excess without absorbing some of the negative emotional energy it contains.
I’ve put it away for now. I haven’t decided if I should complete it, or paint over it and start something new on that panel. It would be good art, but certainly not the sort of art someone is going to hang on the wall in their favorite space and gaze at all the time. I’ve definitely decided not to spend long stretches of time on it. If I finish it, it will have to be in small increments interspersed with work on more peaceful and uplifting images.
Some artists use painting to pour out the emotions they are feeling onto the canvas as a cathartic exercise like journaling for writers. I thought that was what this was going to be for me — expressing the way I feel about the way the world is going this year. It turned out that I was absorbing emotion from the painting instead of emptying it into the painting. Not at all what I expected when I attempted broaden my artistic horizons.
So it’s the 4th of July, and I’m sitting around in my red, white, and blue (flip-flops and Eeyore pajama pants are patriotic, right?), and I’m musing about the strangest Independence Day ever. The usual local fireworks display at the high school football field down the street has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the neighbors seem to be taking up the slack… and then some — at least the neighbors who are less concerned about keeping all ten fingers.
The extended family didn’t plan anything today except that we attended a memorial service this morning for a dear friend. Our daughter is moving to another state in a month. My husband is waiting to hear if he will get the job he interviewed for on Thursday. He’s been at home since March; his previous job was eliminated due to the pandemic’s economic fallout. There was one art fair where I planned to sell my work at the end of the summer, and I just now learned that it has been Corona-canceled. Everything seems to be in a state of change or uncertainty. In the midst of all this, my motivation to make art has had its ups and downs.
I’ve been working on a bunch of smaller works on paper and trying out some art supplies that I had collected but never used. Three pieces (pictured above) that I was very happy with came of it, and then I ran out of ideas for a few days. The next round produced one even smaller floral watercolor (with bee) and then one dud (not pictured). They can’t all be winners. If it’s not a success, then it’s lesson, right? I think the main lesson in that one was that cheap watercolor paper is no bargain.
I am looking into selling my art as prints and merchandise. There are several print-on-demand sites where I could set up an online store. For those who don’t have a place to hang a large oil painting but still want to enjoy a little art, perhaps a print to put on a desk will be just the thing. I’ll keep you posted.
I finished a new painting last week. I’m calling it Irish Pasture. Now it’s sitting on the easel in my studio for me to stare at while it dries. That’s what I do when I’ve finished a painting — I stare at it. While I’m working on a painting, if I’m doing it right, life and light flow out of me onto the canvas (or paper, or panel) and then when I’m finished I get to stand back and absorb that life and light back into my own soul.
Eventually the effect wears off, and then I’m less attached to the piece and I can sell it. At that point, ideally, I will have the next one finished and then it can be my stare-at piece. My husband said that’s disturbingly vampire-like, but I explained to him that it’s roughly the same thing he gets from reading his poetry to a live audience, so he gets it now. Runners claim to get a high (I’ll take their word for it), and this is the painter’s version.
The focal point in a painting is always the eye or eyes if there are any. This scene has several, but the only one looking directly at the viewer is the steer on the left. His eye and the effects of the morning light falling on his face are definitely the main focal point, but I painted that first so I suppose I’ve already “sucked the life” out of that bit already.
The parts that now keep catching my attention as I walk past the studio door are the weeds in the foreground. They aren’t anything special, but they are an eye magnet — at least for me. I suppose each viewer’s eyes will settle on a different detail. Or, if I did my job well, there are enough eye magnets to keep a person looking, and looking, and looking. If you can’t easily look away, then I’ve hit a home run!
Once Irish Pasture is dry and ready to sell, I am going to donate a portion of the sale price to the missionary who took the photo, my friend Korina. Korina has traveled to many places around the globe, but lately she’s been going back to Greece for a few months at a stretch (interrupted by a bit of a pandemic) in order to work with Syrian refugees, a Roma (Gypsy) school, and Threads of Hope, a ministry that helps victims of human trafficking, and otherwise making a big difference in the world. I am hoping to make her next flight to Athens much more affordable.
I’ve been doing more studying about art than actually making art. One thing I learned is that most of my brushes aren’t meant for oil painting. Since I’m transitioning into oils from acrylics, I thought I ought to transition to the appropriate brushes too. Everybody seemed to be telling me that there are important differences between oil painting brushes and water media brushes. Water media includes acrylics, which was my primary media until recently.
One of my Youtube mentors instructed that sable brushes (real or synthetic) are no good for oil paints because the abrasiveness of the paint will grind away the soft hairs. (Poor, sad brushes). He said, “A brush with no hair is a stick, and you can’t paint with a stick.” He also said that I shouldn’t be using short handled brushes, because those are for watercolorists who work close to their work at a table. For oil painting at an easel, he said I should be using long-handled brushes. He recommended buying the expensive brushes and the cheapest paint. His rationale was that all paint is basically the same, but that the quality of your tools affects the quality of your work.
Then I watched another artist’s video and she used short-handled brushes of all types for both oils and acrylics. She recommended buying the cheapest brushes (though not so cheap that the bristles fall out), and the best quality paint. Her rationale was that the brushes are going to wear out regardless of how well you care for them (faster if you aren’t fastidious with cleaning) and they’ll get tossed and replaced frequently, but the paint becomes a part of the art you create, so you want it to be the best you can buy.
Both sounded like reasonable conclusions. Before I came to any conclusions of my own, I wanted to try out the boar bristle brushes that the arts & crafts stores sell as “oil painting brushes,” because I had little personal experience with those. The experience I did have with them was generally bad. Taking a look at the brushes for sale at a local shop, I determined that my issue with boar bristle brushes was because I had only ever used extremely cheap ones that are about the poorest quality you can get.
Looking at the photo above, a difference in the quality of these brushes — both new — is obvious. The brush on the right is the type I had tried in the past, and I only own it because it came in a large set of miscellaneous brushes. I probably paid around $5 for more than a dozen brushes in that package. The one on the left was a mid-range quality that sells for about $15 per brush, but I got it on clearance for around $4. The nicer looking brush is also more flexible, yet stiff enough to move the paint where it needs to go. The straighter, more even bristles allow it to hold paint and let it flow onto the canvas evenly. There is no way I could control the application of paint with that splayed mess of bristles on the cheap brush.
Now that I’ve tried the better quality boar bristle brushes, I’ve formed some opinions of my own:
- Price matters much more with boar bristle brushes meant for oils than with soft hair brushes meant for water media.
- Boar bristles are definitely the better way to go for oil paints, which are much thicker and stickier. Trying to paint with with oils using a soft synthetic sable brush is like trying to push a paperweight around with a peacock feather — it ain’t goin’ nowhere.
- Oil paint is much, much easier to wash out of brushes — whatever the quality of the brush. Score one for oils over acrylics. (Watercolors are still the easiest to wash out though.)
- Short handles work fine for me, even when I’m working at a canvas on an easel, because I have to stand pretty close to it anyway. Darn progressive lenses!
- Walking around the room looking for your glasses while holding a loaded brush in one’s teeth is a very bad idea.
Various things have gotten in the way of my painting this winter. My sister-in-law passed away, so we made two trips out of state. Doing all the record keeping and paperwork required for maintaining my art as a businesses has been a time consuming hassle… taxes, taxes, and more taxes. Plus…y’know… Life. But I’ve been keeping my skills sharp by sketching when an opportunity presents itself.
Of course, those opportunities present themselves more often if I keep some art materials handy. Sunday morning at church I found myself with a few idle moments before it was time for Sunday school to start. I pulled my mini sketchbook and the stub of a No. 2 pencil out of my purse and looked around for something that was saying, “Draw me!” At first I only saw all of the same objects that are always there. Then I spotted my Dad’s hat sitting on a chair — lots of interesting curves, just the right amount of detail, and gorgeous texture. BINGO!
I never thought that art would be at the mercy of the weather, but I find myself anxiously watching the forecast. I’ve started painting on wood panels instead of canvases which I want to coat with sprayed-on primer… which requires temperatures between 55 and 85 degrees F and calm winds. For weeks I was waiting for cooler days, and then MUCH cooler days descended upon us rather suddenly, so now I’m hoping it will warm up again at least briefly and that the winds will calm down. I can’t complain too much knowing what they’re dealing with in North Dakota right now — lost crops buried under feet of snow, and having to use the winter supply of hay to feed the cattle so it won’t likely last until the spring thaw.
I want to get all the panels I’ve bought primed and ready to use before winter sets in, so I can paint during those winter days when I’m stuck inside. You may have noticed the spray cans in the photo. Yes, that’s Rustoleum™ automotive primer. I learned that it’s an ideal primer for oil painting. It’s oil-based itself and it’s made to last a decade on your car out there on the road, so it’s going to last for centuries indoors hanging on a wall. I also like that it makes a smoother surface than brushing gesso onto canvas, and a smooth surface is critical when painting highly detailed work. I like it when the best product is also reasonably priced too! I painted those eight square panels with just one can.
The primer comes in white, though I haven’t been able to find it at any of the local home improvement stores. I’ll try the auto parts stores next. I tend to paint dark though, so black primer might work best anyway. If I don’t get any paint on the edges when I’m painting the front, then smooth, black edges will make framing optional. Bonus! Frame-less art seems to be the trend, and it’s certainly more economical, so I’m good with that.
Next Wednesday, September 11, at Art Walk in downtown Elkhart, IN., I’ll be displaying my art again, but this time instead of displaying my art by myself at a downtown business, I’ll be participating in a joint effort with other artists at the Elkhart Art League. I’ve slashed my prices to clear out space in my studio and make room for new creativity. I’ll be volunteering to help “mind the store” all evening (apart from a quick visit to Hotdogeddy’s for some supper), so come down to the train depot building — west end — at 131 Tyler Street, and say Hello while you check out a great variety of affordable original art. A portion of the proceeds go to support the Art League which promotes the arts in the community.
So, my first experience as an artist vendor for Art Walk, my home town’s monthly art event, was both good and bad. They assigned me to a great location for April, The Bookworm, an amazing book store. The owner and staff were fantastic — very welcoming and helpful. The only problem with that location was that the books are so impressive (like the library in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) , so that people who walked in were so awed by the display of books (just like Belle in the film) that they looked right past the art. But I digress. (Seriously, if you read and you live in Michiana, go to the Bookworm.)
The bad part was the weather. It was barely above freezing, windy, very gray, and raining off and on. There were about two dozen people who came in while I was there, and only about a dozen who were there to look at the art. Also the Art Walk sign that was supposed to be right outside the door may have been moved a bit so that it wasn’t obvious that the store was one of the designated art displays. I did make one sale, so there was one goal met for the year. It was a small sale, but that counts. It was to a young acquaintance (now I know what her mom is getting for Mother’s Day), so I still haven’t quite met my next goal of selling art to someone who I didn’t already know. And I spent a lot on frames and display easels, so the goal of breaking even is a long way off. Those business start-up costs are considerable.
Now I’m gearing up for the next Art Walk, which is May 8. Come and see me if you’re in the area. This time my art will be on display at MisFit Fitness, 515 S. Main St. The extended weather forecast is more hopeful for this one. In addition to artists displaying their work at a variety of local businesses up and down Main Street, there will be live music. There are a lot of great food choices downtown too. I recommend Hotdogeddy’s at the south end of downtown across Main St. from the train depot — awesome hot dogs and the nicest staff you’ll ever meet. Usually they’re only open for breakfast and lunch, but on Wednesdays they’re open until 8:00.
I haven’t posted in a while, but I promise I haven’t been a slacker. I couldn’t post what I was working on until recently because it was not publishable work. There are lots of reasons a work of art may not be publishable… one was a commission for a birthday surprise and I can’t spoil the surprise, one was an 80% plagiarized watercolor I did for fun as a silly Valentine’s day gift for my husband, and another was a sketch of a young acquaintance that I can’t share because he’s a minor and I don’t know his parents to ask for permission. (He thought it was pretty cool though.)
Then I went to an art event at my friend Jake’s studio, and met A. R. Drew. She describes herself on her web site as “a contemporary badass warrior artist.” I bought one of her pieces – something I rarely do because I already have an excess of art at my house (occupational hazard). It was a fascinating small figural sketch done in gold paint marker. I also watched her sketching one with that marker and I realized that was the answer to my problem of always taking a couple weeks or more to finish anything. With a big, bold marker, I can’t fuss over detail, and I can’t erase, so I’m forced to work confidently and “sketchily.” Thanks for the inspiration, A.R — Crown On!
You see that onion picture above? That one’s a photo, not a painting. I took that photo while the sun pouring in the west window was perfect, intending to use it as a reference photo for a small oil painting, and I have actually started on it – the picture is sketched in pencil on a canvas – but then I stalled on that project because in order to paint with oils or acrylics, I have to have a significant block of time. If I’ve only got half an hour, that’s just enough time to get paint on the brushes and then clean up.
When a local crafts store announced a moving sale, I bought a set of oil-based paint markers and I’ve been going nuts with them in a watercolor paper journal. First I found some public domain photos and drew the lamb, the duckling, and the wolf in just marker, and then the parakeet in paint marker with a watercolor background. Then I thought I should try something other than an animal, and I did a distant cousin, Elsie Grace, from an old photo circa 1905. I’ve always liked that photo, and what I like most about the sketch is that it actually looks like Elsie, even though I only spent about five minutes on the face. Drawing a person is easy – achieving a good likeness is hard.
If you live in the Elkhart, Indiana area, come get a closer look at these smaller works and my larger paintings too during Art Walk – April 10, 2019 from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm. Businesses up and down Main Street’s “Arts & Entertainment District” will be hosting the event. April’s event will also feature a lot of talented young artists. More details on that and my exact location for the event will be in my next post. Thanks for reading!
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!