Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Still Life Stand

"One always starts work with the subject, no matter how tenuous it is, and one constructs an artificial structure by which one can trap the reality of the subject-matter that one has started from."
                                                                                                                      ~ Francis Bacon


My still life painting set-up in action.

Other artists' studios are endlessly fascinating to me. How do they store their supplies? How is their painting area set up? What color do they paint the walls? What kind of lights do they use? I've spent many hours reading through blogs and articles getting inspiration for my own studio, so I thought I'd share a new still life set up I put together in my studio in the hopes that someone out there might find it interesting/helpful.

Up to this point, I've been using a desk near my easel to place my still-life arrangements on, so I've been stuck with my still life models always being at one height. I've seen many artists using stands with adjustable heights for their still life compositions and I've wanted to build one myself. I'd already worked with a tripod stand on my DIY pochade box, so I planned on using the same idea for the still life set up, but then my ever-practical husband pointed out that in this case I didn't need to be able to tilt the top of the tripod head (unless I wanted everything to slide off and crash to the floor. Could be handy when I get frustrated with a painting...), but I would need something pretty sturdy to be able to hold up the weight of my still life items and the supporting board. He suggested I use a speaker stand instead of a tripod since it would be strong enough to support the weight and would have adjustable height, but wouldn't cost as much as a heavy-duty tripod with all the bells and whistles. Brilliant!


So he found this baby* for me online for under $50. It can hold up to 100 lbs. and extends more than 6 feet tall. The supporting board is bolted to the head of the stand for stability (especially with a cat about the place. She hasn't tried to jump up onto the platform yet, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time.) Then I made a basic shadowbox out of foam core to sit on top of the board and control the lighting on the still life objects. 

Get into trouble? Who me?
 
I'm really delighted with this set-up and have been putting in many hours at the easel.

*This is NOT a paid endorsement (although if the company wants to throw some money at me for this post, I wouldn't complain...), but if you are interested, the stand is a PylePro PSTND1.

Monday, March 07, 2016

More Florals

“It is the hours, the tenacity, the work, the hanging in and doing again and again just to understand some technique.”
                                                                                                          ~ Daniela Andersen


10" x 8" oil on canvas paper.

We had friends over for dinner Saturday night and they brought us a beautiful bouquet of tulips as a hostess gift. Having had pretty good luck painting orchids, I decided to give the tulips a try. I seem to be going through a floral phase. Could it be that I'm craving Spring? 

The painting is in my usual palette of alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, azo yellow and titanium white.



One of the reasons I like painting still lifes is because my subjects won't move the way an animal or bird would. However, these tulips definitely moved during the four hours I painted them. The blooms on the far left side of the set-up didn't move much because they were already closest to the light, but all the other tulips were steadily leaning more and more towards my light source. 

Last Fall I planted daffodils, and I've been anxiously scanning the ground for the first signs of growth, but nothing yet (except early weeds). Hopefully the daffodils made it through the winter. Of course I can get store-bought daffodils to paint, but it would be wonderful to paint flowers from my own garden.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Practicing My Scales

"When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment.
I want to give that world to someone else."
                                                                                                                   ~ Georgia O'Keefe



Making art is definitely a juggling act. So many things to remember! Sometimes when I try to paint an entirely new subject, it's as if I've forgotten even my most basic painting skills. I don't remember back to taking piano lessons as a kid (except for hating to practice) so I wonder if when I tried a new technique, sometimes I forgot what I had already learned.

That's certainly what happened when I attempted to paint this orchid. We've had it for about two months now and I've been really admiring it. Last week I finally pulled out my moleskine sketchbook and did the pencil sketch above. Today, the afternoon sunlight slanting over the orchid inspired me to try painting it. I was so focused on figuring out the leaves and the orchid bloom that at first I forgot my color-mixing skills, and I botched the shape and shading on the cylindrical pot. Luckily cropping took care of most of the problem. It's one advantage of painting on canvas rolls rather than on a stretched canvas or canvas board!



It's just a little study, but I see elements that I'm surprisingly pleased with, given my lack of floral painting experience and I am eager to try again. I was not destined to be a piano player, but I don't mind this kind of practice!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Finally Something To Say

You have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.
                                                                           ~ Miles Davis


Tea - oil on canvas, 8" x 8"

I can't tell you how many times in the last few months I've sat down at the computer to write a blog post and ended up just staring at the screen. I had nothing. If you are here now reading this, thanks for sticking with me.

Some of you may know that I collect Hall china, particularly pieces from the 50's and earlier, and use them in many of my still life paintings. I just love their styling. Two weeks ago I went to visit a friend at his antique store in town and he had a new Hall piece to show me - something I hadn't seen before: a Hall china coffee pot. I bought it on the spot, knowing that the color and shape would inspire many paintings. I've already done a few 5 x 7's of the coffee pot, and then a few days ago I got the urge to try a more elaborate and slightly larger painting.

Once again, I'm using a very limited palette - alizarin crimson, azo yellow, ultramarine blue and titanium white. All my other colors are mixed from those. I really like the harmony that a limited palette brings to a painting. Plus it's easier on the budget.



I got to this point in the painting (above) last week and kind of lost interest. I was planning on just chalking it up to practice and starting over, but I let it sit for a few days and when I went into my studio this morning, I found that I had the desire to finish it.

Nearly there!

Although the china piece is a coffee pot, I was envisioning tea, especially with those two ceramic mugs, hence the title "Tea".

Finished!

Overall, I'm quite pleased with the piece. It's not the most dynamic of compositions, and I overworked a few things, but I'm glad I completed it. My ellipses are improving, and I'm really tickled about the rendering of the orchid bloom. The last time I tried to paint a flower it was completely unrecognizable as anything but a paint blob, so I'm thrilled to see improvement there. Now if I had just bumped it up to overlap the pot...

Friday, October 23, 2015

Studio Update


Never apologize for your studio.
                     ~ Denise Bezanson

Before

You may remember the chaos in my studio when we first moved into our house. This Fall I've been slowly and steadily working to make the space as user-friendly as possible. The studio isn't finished yet, but it's come a long way and I thought I'd share the progress. So, starting from the left corner of the room and spinning around to the right: 




This is the sitting area, with cat-friendly but not terribly photogenic coverings for the chair. The 1950's era built-in closet and drawers on the left provide lots of space to store big pads of paper and canvases. Plus I love all the natural wood.



Painting space and work table. The cart to the right of my easel was designed for kitchen use, but it is perfect for in the studio. It's on wheels, has a drawer, shelves and room for my palette on top. Thank you, Ikea! 



Shelves for still life stuff, and Tikka's look-out tower. I may extend the shelves along the top of the right-hand wall as well. It's great storage without taking up precious floor space.



And last but not least, here's the area where I put on my graphic designer's hat. Tikka's food dishes are cleverly hidden under the printer stand on the right and her (enclosed!) litter box is to the left of my desk. 

Wanting to squeeze a sitting area, work space, and computer area, along with the cat's litter box, food dishes and cat tree into a 9' x 11' space was challenging, but I was very motivated. For the first time in my 26 years as an artist, my paints and computer are not sharing a guest room/office with my husband, or on the dining room table, or in the basement wedged in between the furnace and washing machine. At last I have a room of my own! (Well, okay, I'm sharing with the cat, but technically it's mine...)

Disclaimer: My studio is never this tidy. I cleaned moved stuff to another room for the photos.

Friday, October 16, 2015

A Bad Day of Painting Is Better Than a Good Day at Work

The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time.
Always listen to the art.
                                                                                                             ~ Junot Diaz

The camera made the sky look more deep blue than it actually was.
It was still pretty darn beautiful though.

What with moving earlier this summer and now work on the house, it's been too long since I've been able to get out and do some on-location painting. I was lucky enough to get a weekend to myself, and the weather report was telling me I'd have two calm and sunny days before the next system rolled in, so I packed the car with my painting supplies and headed out into the wilds. The fall color was stunning, particularly the groves of cottonwood trees along the rivers, and there were so many beautiful spots to choose from. I wasted a lot of time going from spot to spot, wondering if the next one would be even better. I told myself that at least I was scouting the locations for my second day out. (A quote from Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back jumps to mind "All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, hmm?" - That pretty much describes me, too.)  

Cottonwoods Along Rock Creek - approx. 6" x 6", oil on canvas.

Well, it turns out this was the only painting I managed to complete, as the weather reports lied and on the second day a strong wind was thrashing the trees around and rolling tumbleweeds across the roads. Some die-hard plein air painters would still work under those conditions, but I'm a wimp. So regretting all those "scouting" stops the day before, I sadly turned my car around and headed home with only one (not terribly successful) painting to show for my whole painting weekend. Then again, painting one mediocre painting is better than not having gone out at all.

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!)


Detail

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.

Detail

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".