I got a bit of fun affirmation — my painting A Tangle of Irises was chosen for the April page of the 2021 Elkhart Art League calendar, Art For All Seasons. It’s so cool to see it in print!
A dozen other local artists are also featured, of course, and I’ll bet they got a kick out of it too. It’s all lovely work, so I’m sure everyone who has one hanging on their wall will be enjoying them. Life has been so rotten in the past year, so THANKS Elkhart Art League friends for giving us all a sweet punch of cheerfulness.
Thanks to the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau for sponsoring the calendar too. Local friends, if you want one they might have copies left at their visitors’ center at 3431 Cassopolis Street — that’s State Route 19 just north of I-80/90 exit 92.
Here’s hoping we soon find ourselves living in a healthier world that will allow for art shows and art fairs where we can share our art in person too!
(The original Tangle of Irises is finally varnished and dry, so it’s for sale on my gallery shop page, if you’re interested.)
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.
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.
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!
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.
About thirty minutes after I published my last post, I had a face-palm moment. There was no brown in my set of paints, and there was no true green to mix with red and make brown, BUT there was a tube of yellow in the box that I never bothered to open. I did have all the pigments I needed to make brown. I’ll blame that on staying up too late.
After almost two weeks, the still life [see previous post] is still not dry, and I have determined that it probably won’t be dry enough to glaze another layer until sometime after Christmas. (It only has about five new fingerprints in it, even without the angry doberman.) While I waited on it, I did some more studying about how to use oils for glazing and how to work with water mixable oils. I learned that I should have done that reading first, and I should have finished that canvas in acrylics for the look I was after.
Today I was smarter. I took a cheap canvas that had a hole in it, and I made a chart of swatches to test each color. The vertical black lines under the swatches are there to help me see how transparent the different colors are. I labeled everything with an ultra fine Sharpie marker because the swatches won’t help if I don’t recall which tube I squeezed it out of.
I learned a lot. I now know that one brand is more highly pigmented–at least the two colors I bought. I learned that the other brand varies widely in consistency. I learned that both reds take a LOT of washing to come out of the brush. And I learned that the tube of French Ultramarine doesn’t mix with water like it’s supposed to and it’s also very, very stinky. It’s not turn-your-stomach stinky, but I would only use it as a last resort if I needed to mix a very particular shade.
I did a smart thing this time… I left the paint on my glass palette, so I can stick my fingers in that instead of the swatches on the canvas to see if it has dried. Next I need to slap some paint around a practice canvas and try some blending. Then I’ll have a better feel for these paints, and I’ll be ready to use them in an actual painting. Not tonight though–don’t want to stay up too late again. Time to feed the cats and catch some ZZZZZzzzzz.
Two days ago I spent the day at the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago, which really gave me the itch to get on with painting. Today, I finally opened up the new set of water soluble oil paints that I’ve been planning to try. It didn’t go quite as well as I’d imagined. Half an hour into the project, I was wrestling with a cat in the bathroom, trying to remove Viridian Green from her paws. I’m glad it was the water-soluble type of oil paint because Turpenoid® probably isn’t safe for kitty to be licking off of her paws.
The next problem was that there was no brown paint in the set and brown tones are more square inches of the picture than any other color. Yes, of course I know that you can mix brown from red and green, but there wasn’t a true green either. (Viridian is a blue-green, in case you aren’t familiar.) I wasn’t having much luck coming up with brown, but I did come up with a lot of interesting grays. I’ll need to go back to the store and get a few more tubes in more basic colors.
The next problem was too much linseed oil in my glazing mixture. The blue was amazing, but it started running down into the unpainted areas and staining the white parts. (I may or may not have said a not nice word when that happened.) At that point I decided that it should lay flat to dry and I should continue working on it later.
The final problem is me. I am apparently completely unable to get near a wet canvas without sticking my fingers in the paint. With acrylics, watercolors, or gouache, that isn’t a problem. I even managed to keep my fingers out of the latex paint I used on the studio walls until it dried, but not this stuff. I need an angry doberman to guard it out there in the garage and keep me away from it until it’s dry enough to work on again.
It wasn’t all disappointment. I do REALLY appreciate the fact that oils don’t dry out on the palette before I’m done using them. I didn’t do much thinning with water, but when I did, it worked beautifully. It’s weird mixing water with oil, but it works.
Yes, that’s a still life in black and white. Don’t adjust you set! (Seriously dated myself there.) Actually it’s the under-painting — about 3/4 finished. It’s an Old Masters technique that I read about, painting the values first to establish the form and then glazing over with color. They used it mainly on flesh tones.
I’m trying it out on a still life… because a peach is not going to complain that I didn’t capture her likeness adequately. Actually, if those peaches could talk, I think they’d be flattered. No wait, I already baked them in a cobbler, so they wouldn’t say a word. (Working from a reference photo at this point.)
I’ve got five cherries, a white pitcher and one big flower yet to go, and then I can get to the really fun part — glorious color. This stage is getting tedious, but I’m very pleased with the results so far. I especially like the way the wood grain in the table is turning out, and the reflection of the pitcher in the shiny wood. (That reflection is pretty subtle at this point — probably can’t see it in this small photo.)
I think I stopped fussing with the wood grain just in time. There is a famous art school proverb about painting: “It takes two people to make a painting — the artist to paint it, and another person to clobber the artist over the head and stop him before he messes it up.”