Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Painting Moon Snails in a Limited Palette

On the sixth day, God created the artist, realizing no doubt that He had far from exhausted
the uses of color.
                                                                                                                       ~ Robert Brault

Moon Snails with Coral - 5" x 7" oil on canvas

I've mentioned a few times over the years that I really enjoy working with limited palettes. Certainly I am often tempted to augment my colors when I see all the gorgeous paint choices at the art supply store, but I've managed to keep my palette hovering around 6 colors plus white for a while now. Generally I use a warm and a cool red, a warm and a cool yellow, and a warm and a cool blue to mix all the rest of my colors from. I've found that this method gives me nice color harmony in my work, with the added advantage of not having to dig through piles of tubes of paint trying to find a specialty color. I suppose I could also say I'm lazy in that with fewer colors, I don't have to remember as many combinations of which colors play nicely when mixed together and which tend to make mud.

Blocking in the shapes and values.

In this painting I only used 3 colors plus white to mix all my other colors from: alizarin crimson, winsor yellow, and ultramarine blue. This is certainly not a painting with a lot of flashy color; it's much more low chroma, but I like the subtlety. I plan on painting this set-up a few times, playing with different combinations of primaries to see how they affect the mood of the scene.

Detail from painting

Moon snails (a carnivorous gastropod with a craving for clams) are found around the world, but the particular species in my painting live along the Atlantic coast. These two shells are from wintertime visits to the New Jersey coast with dear friends of ours. We love beachcombing in winter. The heat and the throngs of people are gone, leaving us a wild and beautiful expanse of sand to explore.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Life Happens. Keep Painting.

If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play.
                                                                            ~ John Cleese

The Bell - 6" x 6" oil on canvas panel

Things are rather chaotic here at the moment while repairs are being made to our kitchen. It's amazing what you take for granted until you don't have it anymore. We have a mini kitchen (microwave, toaster, and dorm-sized fridge) set up in our utility room to get us through, but oh how I wish we had a sink in there!

Aqua Glass Insulator - 6" x 6" oil on canvas 

Because I work from home, I'm the default on-site go-to person, so I squeeze art and creative play in whenever there are a few seconds of peace and quiet. This means I don't have time to set up elaborate still life paintings if I want to get anything done. Plop an interesting item down, adjust the lighting, and go!

3 Dollars - 6" x 6" oil on canvas

The other night I was painting some sand dollars on a plate and stopped in surprise when I realized that instead of my typical cautionary inner voice guiding my painting ("Not sure you should do that. It might wreck the painting."), a much more curious and carefree voice was at the helm ("Let's see what happens if..."). I think the daily creative play may be influencing my more "serious" art work!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

My Orange Phase

To stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play...
                                                                                                            ~ Albert Einstein
Bonus quote today!
I don't grow up. In me is the small child of my early days.
                                                                                                                ~ M.C. Escher

Conch shell in orange - 6" x 6" oil on canvas

I am now on Day 12 of incorporating creative play into my daily life. A few days ago I realized my definition of creative play was much too narrow. I was still trying to keep it "practical", and in doing so I was putting myself on the path of early burn-out. My creative play doesn't always have to be in a 2 dimensional form and doesn't always have to be limited to visual art-related projects. Ideally it should engage more of my senses than just seeing, and get me into a child-like state of fun and non-judgement (Fingerpainting with chocolate pudding, anyone?) It's amazing -and kind of sad- that we have to re-learn how to play.

One day after this realization, I made sculptures out of the geometric-shaped cardboard pieces packed in an Ikea furniture box. Today I sorted through stacks of my reference photos and gathered together a bunch of images of orange things, including the painting above that I recently did, and the items below:

(Can you tell I was that kid who had all the crayons organized by color?)

Speaking of being a kid, I'm finding that one integral part of my creative play is thinking about what I loved to do as a child. Tapping into my memories has not only reminded me of some really fun things to do, but has also helped me to overcome my adult tendency to dismiss the importance of play to my art practice. When my adult mind is grumbling that my time would be better spent taking care of the dishes that need to be washed, I just pull up the memory of spending hours happily building little houses for the chipmunks and toads in my backyard, complete with acorn-cap plates and twig fences. My resolve to be "practical" dissolves pretty fast after that.

What did you do as a child that brought you hours of fun? As an adult, what do you do to get back to that state of creative joy?

If you want to see an artist really playing with a painting, check out this video of Duane Keiser painting an ice cream cone. What delicious fun!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Mind is a Funny Thing

I'm always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning... Every day I find something creative to do with my life.
                                                                                                                             ~ Miles Davis

Blue Sea Stuff - 6" x 7" oil on canvas

Because I'm still in the process of setting up my new studio after our move, there's not space for my easel yet, so I've been painting on my pochade box instead. I'm still trying to put into practice everything I learned from that recent color workshop I attended. I'm pretty pleased with this piece. Not the most elegant title though.

I'm now on my 6th day of daily creative play. You'd think it would be easy. What could be easier than playing? Especially when the play involves what you love. But the mind is a funny thing. As soon as you put a label on something - "you have to do this every day." - it can become just another item on the to-do list. Or the play becomes burdened with expectations. Judging sets in. It starts to feel forced, not fresh. I have to stay very aware of what's going on in my mind and keep my thoughts from heading in that direction!

Here are a few of the results from my creative play:

Creative play - ink & watercolor

This one I really had fun with:

Creative play - ink

I was googling about creativity and found some exercises designed to spark one's creative mind. One of the exercises involved pairing random adjectives, nouns, and verbs together and then illustrating the resulting phrase (I'm embarrassed to admit I don't remember the exact source/website for this exercise). My phrase was "Tall flower crying."

(During my online research on creativity, I also ran across this article, "The Creativity Crisis" from 2010 in Newsweek that talks about the need to teach creative thinking in school. Fascinating!)


Those mean little flowers! Even the bug is getting in on the teasing!

Creative play - monotype print

While I was looking for something else the other day, I found some of my printmaking supplies. Play time! 

I think my biggest challenge to sticking with this daily creative playtime is going to be getting over the idea that I'm not doing anything worthwhile. It is amazing to me how hard it is to break free of that ingrained work ethic and just allow myself to experiment and explore!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.
~ George Bernard Shaw

Creative Play #1

Okay, so it's kind of a cheesy title for this post and not terribly original. There's a song, there's a movie, and who knows what else. But somehow it also felt appropriate for this post. Yesterday was my birthday, and it happens to be the year before the big mid-century mark. I had expected next year's birthday to be a bit of a cage-rattler, but turns out I got a preview this year. Woke up with a headache and it went downhill from there*. You know: the whole questioning what I've done with my life thus far thing.

I've been continuing to ruminate over what I talked about in my last post, and all of your comments have given me lots more food for thought. (Thank you so much!) Last week I also had an idea floating around in my head about wanting to have more creativity in my life. Not the serious "must paint something worthy" type of creativity, but more the kind I seemed to have an endless supply of when I was 13 or 14, before it became buried under the chaos of growing up. Remember creative play? Creating for the sheer joy of it? (artist Belinda Del Pasco just happened to talk about creative play in a very timely, beautifully articulated post last week on her blog here) Seems that we have to give ourselves permission to play as adults. So I'm giving myself permission. Every day. And I will be posting the results on the blog, perhaps not every single day, but certainly more often than I've been posting lately.


So this first play session, completed today, was simply a matter of asking "What if?". What if I put watercolor on Bristol paper instead of watercolor paper? What if I add some india ink? What if I scribble the paper with some clear wax first? What if I blow on the ink and watercolor before it dries? Some may say that it's a waste of time to play and this piece will never be fine art, but through playing and exploring I found effects I really like that I could recreate in a "serious" piece later. Plus, and much more importantly, I had fun and the world could sure use more fun.

Another detail

Hopefully after a year of play, when the big Five-O rolls around, I'll wake up that morning thinking 49 was the best year yet, and eager for more.

*I should note that my birthday was not a complete let-down. My husband took me out for dinner to one of my favorite restaurants and we tried their chocolate layer cake for the first time and oh wow! Gooey, chocolaty and huge; this thing should be illegal! I felt much better after that.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Bison Color Study and Thoughts About Blogging

I never met a color I didn't like.
                          ~ Dale Chihuly

Bridger Mountains as seen from Bozeman, MT at dusk

Oh dear, I have been neglecting my blog. Partly it is Life zooming along at breakneck speed, but also partly feeling less than inspired about what to post. Back in late April I attended a fantastic 4-day color workshop for oil painters in my beloved Montana, so you'd think that would give me some blog-worthy material to share with you, but the writer's block has remained stubbornly in place. We also moved across town to a new home, which has provided endless excuses for me to procrastinate.

My new studio space is clearly a work in progress.
Can you spot the cat sleeping peacefully amongst the chaos?

I've been feeling very restless artistically, and went through a couple of months of wondering what my artistic purpose/direction was. I don't know that I've really sorted that out yet, but at least I'm feeling more energized about art again. However, I'm still not clear on my focus for blogging. 

Back in 2006, I started a blog to be able to participate in Illustration Friday, and then in 2009 I used the blog to track the 100 Painting Challenge I undertook with support from Laure Ferlita over at Painted Thoughts. At that point the blog became the "Inner Artist", to reflect my journey in reclaiming my long-buried artistic soul. However, 6 years later and "Inner Artist" doesn't seem to fit me any more. I'm certainly not saying that I don't still struggle with self-confidence and fear, or that I've "made it" as an artist, but I think I've moved beyond the original intent of this blog. So now what?

Workshop color study with blue-violet and yellow-orange as my main colors. The middle column of color
is made up of the neutral shades that were mixed from those two complementary colors.

Blogging experts say that you should figure out your niche, what makes you unique amongst other bloggers and focus on that. I'm not sure exactly what my niche is, but one place to start is to consider what in this blog has been successful. What is it that people come to my blog for? Looking over my blog statistics, the most popular post of all time was about a weird rock formation I saw on the Oregon Coast. Had nothing to do with art.The other most popular posts were of some daily sketches early on and a few posts from the 100 Painting Challenge. Looking these over, I am not finding any clear cut niche that these posts reflect.

Okay, so maybe figuring out my niche is going to take some time. Perhaps I could think about this from another angle and consider why I blog. Certainly one of the reasons I blog and read other artists' blogs is to be inspired by and connect with other artists. Blogging is a wonderful way to participate in an artistic community for people like me who live far away from cultural centers and resources. I definitely want to continue to have an artistic community. However, with more and more demands on my artistic time, it is becoming very challenging to make a regular habit of commenting on other artists' blogs. This seems to be a common problem that a lot of artists are running into, so at least I don't feel like I'm the only one dropping the ball, but it is unfair and unrealistic to expect people to comment on my blog if I'm not commenting on theirs.

Workshop final project - Bison painting using new color knowledge

Ideally I also want to blog as a way to reach potential customers and direct them to my website or an internet shop where they can purchase my work. Again, living far away from cultural centers and resources means I have very limited options for trying to sell my work. The internet could be a lifeline for me, but again, what's my niche? What would make me stand out amongst the thousands and thousands of other artists out there? It gives me a headache to think about.

So if you are still with me on this long rambling post, thank you, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on all this. What brings you to my blog? What kinds of posts have been the most interesting or helpful here? If you are also a blogging artist, what have been your challenges with blogging? Did you figure out your niche and if yes, how? If you leave a comment to this post, I promise to be more conscientious and leave one on your blog, too.*

*Obviously obscene, mean, or spamming comments will be ignored.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Have Paints Will Travel - Part II

Among famous traitors of history one might mention the weather.
                                                                                      ~ Ilka Chase

Safety Tip: Wait to cut and glue the wine corks in place until you've sufficiently recovered from the wine.

At the end of the last post, I was contemplating the need to drink 4 bottles of wine. (I know, I know; you all feel very sorry for me.) The resulting 4 corks would be perfect for holding up the palette insert in my DIY pochade box. However, the idea of this DIY project* was to keep costs down and 4 bottles of wine could get a little spendy. Luckily friends of ours (who also happen to have excellent taste in wine) decided to throw a dinner party just in the nick of time and I was able to procure the 4 corks without undue strain on my budget or my health.

Through this project, I also discovered that you can use sandpaper on wine corks - even the synthetic ones - to smooth them down to a nice level surface.

I had a local glass company cut a piece of plexiglass to size, with a little notch in the corner for easy removal. The plexiglass sits on top of the 4 corks...

Shameless product placement.

...leaving just enough room underneath to store my tubes of paint, or a spare canvas panel.

Ready to go!

I added some Velcro dots to the inside lid of the box, and then corresponding dots to the back of my canvas panels to keep the panels in place while painting. I also used an S hook suspended from the notch in the plexiglass to hang my solvents from. Now I was ready to get out and paint on location!

Winter's not over 'til it's over.

However, the weather had other ideas. A wet messy snow was falling and the ground was muddy and I gave it up for another day.

* For more ideas on DIY pochade boxes, check out this inspirational round-up of designs on James Gurney's great blog "Gurney Journey".

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Have Paints Will Travel - Part I

Everything that is painted directly and on the spot has always a strength, a power, a vivacity of touch which one cannot recover in the studio... three strokes of a brush in front of nature are worth more than two days of work at the easel.
                                                                                                                        ~ Eugene Boudin

A hopeful sign of spring

Despite my resolution to get out and paint in the field this winter, I utterly failed to do so. However, I'm happy to say I've had a bit more success with my other goal; build an inexpensive compact pochade box. As the first day of spring approaches (at least according to the calendar) I'm putting the last finishing touches on my DIY pochade box and getting excited to take it out for a test-drive. Here's how I built my portable easel:

I found this wooden box at a second hand store. The inside of the lid can accommodate up to an 8" x 8" canvas panel, which is more than enough room since I typically work on 5" x 7" or 6" x 6" canvas boards in the field. I had looked into using a cigar box for this project, but the hinges and latches on the cigar boxes I found were very lightweight and would have needed to be replaced. This box had heavy duty hardware, which saved me a step.

I found the scrap wood in the shed, left over from some previous tenant's long-forgotten project.

I glued a strip of the scrap wood between the hinges for the top of the box to rest on while it is open.

Because the bottom of the box is made of fairly thin wood, I glued the bigger piece of scrap wood to the box to make something a little more substantial to bolt the tripod mount to.

To protect my tendonitis-prone wrist, my thoughtful husband stepped in at this point to drill through the bottom of the box and the piece of scrap wood and then attach the tripod mount to the box with a bolt. Now the whole box can be attached to a tripod, and my wrist is uninjured and ready to do some painting.

I'm so thrilled to see this looking like the perfect little pochade box for me, but I can't get out and paint yet. I still have all the inside details to complete. In Have Paints, Will Travel - Part II, I'll show you why I had to drink 4 bottles of wine in order to finish this project.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Once More With Feeling

You must aim high, not in what you are going to do at some future date, but in what you are going
to make yourself do today. Otherwise, working is just a waste of time.
                                                                                                                                  ~Edgar Degas

Laughing gulls watching the surf. Or are they waiting for a bus? 5" x 7" oil on canvas board.

I have two little paintings to share with you. I worked on this painting of two laughing gulls last week, but I'm not entirely happy with it. While I am pleased with how I captured the light, the painting's subject matter seems a little static. The gulls look like they're just standing around doing nothing, and that doesn't make for an interesting painting. Every time I look at it, it bugs me. Today I decided I needed to improve upon the theme.

This is MY beach. Go find your own. 7" x 5" oil on canvas board.

I'm much happier with this painting. I feel that the bird's pose is much more engaging than the previous painting. I'm also really pleased with the thicker paint application and more purposeful brush strokes (I've been trying to work on that). I just wish I'd made the bird a wee bit smaller, or had a wee bit more canvas at the bottom to give a little more room between the gull's feet and the end of the canvas. I was so focused on the painting process that I didn't pay attention to the placement of the bird. It's always something, isn't it?

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Fun With Color Charts

"Take time learning new skills and principles... Knowledge acquired quickly, flies out the window. In art the tortoise wins.
                                                                                                                              ~ Harley Brown

Color chart using Napthol red as the base

I added a new color to my palette recently: Napthol red. I needed a warm, bright red to go along with my workhorse red, Alizarin crimson. To explore how this new color would interact with the rest of my colors, I painted a color chart for reference. Starting on the left, I used Napthol red mixed with Yellow Ochre and then added white in increasing amounts as the column goes down. I continued to do the same thing across the chart with my other colors: Azo Yellow, Chromium Oxide Green, Phthalo Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Raw Umber, and Burnt Sienna.

This particular type of color chart is based off of the color charts in Richard Schmid's book Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting. If you don't have the book, David Gray has a video on YouTube that will take you through the process. I know some people find making color charts boring and tedious, but for me it's like playing.

After I completed the color chart, I saw a lot of colors I was itching to use in a painting. I had a little antique Hall teapot - creamer? hot water? I've read a lot of different identities of this piece - that seemed the perfect subject to try out all these new red colors on. What fun!

Still Life with Hall China - 5" x 7" oil on canvas board

- Argh! I misspelled "naphthol" in this post. My apologies.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Summer Storm - Eastern Kingbird

"As practice makes perfect, I cannot but make progress; each drawing one makes, each study one paints, is a step forward."
                                                                                                                          ~ Vincent van Gogh

Summer Storm - 16" x 12" oil on canvas

I enjoy working on my little almost-daily 5" x 7" and 6" x 6" pieces as I continue to explore oil painting, but sometimes it is so satisfying to jump in the deep end and take on a bigger piece. I've used this bird in other paintings and drawings before, but it keeps inspiring me. It's from a photo I took a few years back at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge in Stevensville, MT. Eastern kingbirds just say "summer" to me. They were such a common sight on barbed wire fences all over Montana, as were thunderstorms on summer afternoons. It's a nice memory to savor as we're slowly plodding along through February.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Philadelphia's Murals

"Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.”
                                                                                                                            ~ Lyndon Johnson

Independence Hall - Philadelphia, PA

I lived in Philadelphia for 19 years and I took a lot of things for granted when we lived there. Now I look forward to trips back and immersing myself in all of the cultural opportunities the City of Brotherly Love has to offer.

In the last couple of years, I've started to "collect" photos of the amazing murals that fill the city. Started in 1984 as a way to combat urban vandalism, the Mural Arts Program (the largest public arts program in the US) now boasts over 3,000 murals scattered throughout Philadelphia.

I'm not going to go into detail about the symbolism of these murals, or the collaborations between artists and neighborhoods that went into their creation, as you can find that information elsewhere (a good place to start is the Mural Arts Program website). I just wanted to share some of these beautiful works of art with you.

Building The City - Michael Webb
12th & Moravian Streets

Legacy - Joshua Sarantitis
707 Chestnut Street

Sometimes the shadows from surrounding buildings made photographs a bit tricky, which is a shame especially in this case because this mural was not painted - it's made of glass tiles!

A People's Progression Toward Equality - Jared Bader
S. 8th  & Ranstead Streets

Tree of Knowledge - Micheal Webb
N. 13th & Market Streets

So if you are planning a visit to Philly, along with trying a cheesesteak and seeing the Liberty Bell, check out the city's murals. There's even a two hour guided mural tour you can take. And let me know which murals were your favorites.

(In my research, I've sometimes found conflicting information about the exact location or the title or artist of these murals, so if you notice a mistake here, let me know in the comments.)

Monday, January 12, 2015

More Shell Paintings

"To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow..."
                                                                                                              ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Conch shell - oil 5" x 7"

Shells with ink bottle - oil 7" x 5"

My first post and first paintings for 2015. The shells are all from my father-in-law's collection, and the lovely antique ink bottle was a gift from a dear college friend. I just love that color blue.

Happy belated New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

50 Ways to Paint A Nautilus

"She said to me 
The answer is easy if you 
Take it logically
I'd like to help you in your struggle 
To be free
There must be fifty ways..."
  ~ Paul Simon

An early attempt at a still life with nautilus.

Beautifully rendered paintings don't happen overnight. So many beginners (and some more advanced artists) give up on art because of the overwhelming frustration of not being able to produce what they see in their heads. It is incredibly discouraging when it doesn't go right, when you start to question why in the world you are torturing yourself like this. Good art takes practice, perseverance, and many many mistakes. Typically we don't get to see the mistakes of other artists though, only the final perfect piece which looks dishearteningly effortless. I think this adds to the unrealistic expectations we have of ourselves. So I'm going to share a whole series of abandoned and what I would consider sub-par paintings that I've done while attempting to render a particular subject to my liking.

You may remember my slight obsession with the seashells that my father-in-law gave me this summer, particularly a beautiful chambered nautilus. It sits in a place of honor in my studio and often calls me to draw and paint it. It turns out a nautilus is a challenging shape to render. It's not a circle, yet the brain - or at least my brain - keeps jumping to conclusions and I find myself constantly having to reevaluate the shape as I paint. This leads to overworking the painting and making the edges of the shell too hard; then the shell either ends up looking flat or like a cut-out.

Attempting the stripes on the shell

And then there are those darn stripes! The painting above had potential, but I got intimidated by the stripes and quit. The stripes have to follow the shape of the shell, not only in direction, but in value and color saturation to match the shell's curvature and shadow. If the shadow part of the stripe doesn't match the shadow part of the shell, it won't make sense to the eye. Eeek! I was so nervous about messing up the stripes that my hand was shaking as I tried to paint them.

Another attempt at a still life with nautilus.

Here's another try at the stripes. Before I added the stripes the nautilus shell itself had pretty good form, but I didn't get the values right on the stripes as they curve and go into shadow.  Too many attempts to fix the problem muddied the colors and created too many sharp edges and the shell ended up looking fairly flat.

I got some very helpful critiques from other artists and what they said made sense; I just couldn't seem to put their advice into practice. At that point, I just wanted to abandon painting the nautilus. I painted many other subjects in-between, but that nautilus mocked me every time I went into my studio. It would catch my eye as I painted other things. It fascinated me and called to me. I wanted to paint it so badly! Maybe I needed to take a deep breath and approach this in a different way; be logical about it, since I was so emotional about it. There's a reason all those Master painters did study after study of things, before they even started on a full-blown painting. And so I broke down and painted the nautilus again.

Nautilus study I
And again...

Nautilus study II
And again...

Nautilus study III

This last study, in which I took a deep breath and added the stripes, is the closest I've come to what I want, so far. I even managed to get that sense of mother-of-pearl on the interior of the shell. I now have hope that I can successfully include a nautilus in a painting after all. There are definitely things I can still do to improve it, but that thrill of accomplishment, the sense of victory after so many defeats, is a bit intoxicating and probably is what drives us to do this crazy thing called art in the first place.