Thursday, December 22, 2011

Returning to Fun with Gourds

After so much painting - and also a lot of drawing which I haven't been posting - it was definitely time to go back to 3D work, and I was inspired to create a gourd for the 3D show coming up in January.  Now that I'm done with it I like to too much to part with it.  So it may or may not go into the show after all.  A ridiculously high price with solve the possibility of selling it, but it's probably not worth worrying about at all given how poorly art has been selling lately. 

I always find it exciting to combine painting with 3D.  For the lid handle, I sculpted a little rabbit from polymer clay.  She has a small madiera citrine in her forehead and is resting her paw on a rock crystal sphere.  Thank goodness for two part epoxy glue!

I designed the spaces for the rabbit portraits between intertwining bands which are supposed to reminiscent of celtic knots.  The space at the very top under the sculpted rabbi, as well as the triangles between the bands, are filled with gold leaf.  I painted the rabbit portraits with soft body acrylic then glazed the backgrounds with interference green/orange acrylic.

To finish it, I added a band of script around the bottom.  It's Theban script, and a transliteration of "European brown hare, fear or caution, a personal choice" which reflects some of the symbolism associated with this animal.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chip Gets an Upgrade

Here's Chip after more work.  Actually, I can't think of anything else to do other than strengthen the whiskers and maybe add more.  The colors in this photo look so different from the previous one.  I haven't made any changes at all in the background yet this looks a lot more blue.  I guess it must be the light when I took the photo.

I'm pretty happy with the way the fur turned out with this technique, so I won't hesitate to use it again for furry animals.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Portrait of Chip

I'm doing this little portrait of Chip on commission and it will be a Christmas present for Chip's doting mistress.  He is a long-haired Chihuahua, and I love this photo that Chip's Dad took of him.  I think the fluffy hair on Chip's ears make him look a bit like a Viking!

I'm using Carel's technique again - acrylics worked like watercolor on Strathmore Illustration Board.  I wanted to see how I could do portraying fur with this tecnhiqe.  So far I'm pretty pleased, but I've got quite a ways to go.  I've used only three brushes - a 2" was brush, a #0 script liner, and a #12 flat.  Carel likes to use his liner brush on its side for larger areas and it seems to work fine.

As I look at the photo of my painting, I see that the black stripe is not centered on his forehead.  Also, it needs to be wider, and the black areas at the temple need to come further forward.  I'll correct that next time.

Covering the Bad Spot

Now it's time to deal with that ugly blob in the sky.  After much contemplation I decided that there was nothing I could do but cover it up, so I added another owl - one flying away - and then partially covered him with more mistletoe.  Once that was done, I finished the branches and added the little mouse.  The most fun part was painting the moonlight highlights on the branches.  I know that the lighting in this painting is not realistic.  The should be a much stronger shadow on all but the very edges of the owl.  I probably should have pushed that farther than I did but I just couldn't bear to cover all those feathers that I worked so hard on.  This painting really looks different depending on the lighting - I prefer it in somewhat dim light.

A Great Horned Owl

I have been looking forward to beginning this owl painting.  I did the drawing while I was still working on the painting of the mice in the chrysanthemums.  I'm using Carel's technique again.  Unfortunately, I missed my opportunity to photograph earlier stages.  My first step - after I transferred my drawing - was to do the underpainting with Raw Umber, except for the mistletoe which was a mix of Raw Umber and Sap Green.  Like Carel does, I used my #0 liner, most frequently working with lines but sometimes using the side of the brush for larger areas.  Specifically, I used the side on the branches for a nice texture.  And I also used it to shade the feathers.  I notice that the chest feathers lay very smoothly over each other and form large vertical undulations.  So before I began the individual feathers, I shaded to create the larger forms.  After masking the owl and the moon - but not the branches or mistletoe - I used several washes to paint the sky and each wash was a slightly different color.  Successive washes concentrated more and more towards the top of the paper making the lower part of the sky the lightest.  Unfortunately I have a big boo-boo in the sky just to the right of the mistletoe.  While I was working on the underpainting I got paint on my knuckle and smudged it on the paper.  To correct that problem I painted over it with white, not thinking that it would change the way the paper takes washes, so it created this ugly blob.  I'll deal with it later somehow.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Diminishing Returns

I can't really say that I've finished this painting, but I've stopped working on it - at least for the forseeable future.  I have really enjoyed Carel Brest van Kempen's painting technique and will continue working with it.  The paint goes so smoothly onto this surface and I appreciate being able to work successive glazes without disturbing what's underneath.  On this piece, I worked almost exclusively with transparency and didn't really explore what could be done with an opaque application used along with transparency, so that's for next time.

This little painting motivates me to learn more about rodents and especially mice!  While I was painting them it became clear that I didn't really understand their anatomy that well.  It also became clear that rodents are among my favorite animals.

When I went to Carel's workshops one of my goals was to learn how he does such beautiful detailed backgrounds.  He gave a lot of information, and I'm pretty sure I understood it.  But I didn't apply it that well in this piece, especially in the very back.  I definitely should have done better there.  This whole piece is pretty uneven in quality, actually.  And I especially wish I had had a better drawing before I started painting.  But, after all, it was a workshop piece and I learned a lot.  I like this design well enough that I may try it again in the future.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Inching Along

Today I didn't get to work on this as much as I'd have like to.  But I did manage to finish the textured garden floor with three rounds of masking and glazing.  Then I removed the mask from the entire painting.  At that point I could see that the contrast within the texture on the garden floor was too pronounced so I added another glaze layer to tone it down.  Then it was on to the dried leaves.  I didn 't come anywhere close to finishing them, but I made a good start.

Aside from various compositional problems and things not fully thought through (no value sketches) - I wish I had done my initial outlining on the leaves and flowers with green rather than brown.

As Carel predicted, the acrylic paint is flowing beautifully on this Strathmore illustration boad.  It's pretty easy to get even washes and the absorbency of the surface seems just right.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Feeling My Way

Four plus hours later, and it doesn't look that much different.  But Carel's process is admittedly a slow one.  And it's a process that I find I'm enjoying very much although I certainly can't claim to have a firm grip on it.

So far I'm working mostly transparently, and I'm not so sure how it's going to work painting opaquely over this base, but we'll see.

Today I finished masking the "main charaters," both animal and vegetable, and proceeded with a wash over the rest, establishing a basic values pattern and, in the process, the idea that the light source is above, to the left, and to the rear.  The "scooting out of town" mouse will end up in shadow (which I'd like to figure out how to dapple), along with the other two towards the back of the painting, while the two foreground mice will be in the sun.

After the wash had dried, I finished outlining the dried leaves.  It was time-consuming but also relaxing.  As I worked toward the front of the painting, I realized that it would look better to have some gaps in the leafy floor.  To work the spaces between the dried leaves I'm going to use Carel's technique for sand but with tiny debris shapes rather than tiny sand shapes.  (Actually the wash colors make me think I'd like some moss patches on the open ground so I'll try to figure out how to begin that tomorrow.)  So I masked out lots of little shapes in the spaces between the leaves then washed over them, grading the color as I went - layer one of many to come.  I think that in the end - after several more layers of masked shapes and washes - this ground will be a mid tone between the lights and darks in the dried leaves.

I usually have trouble painting more than two hours at a time, but today I didn't have trouble with more than four.  I'm liking this technique and feeling rejuvenated.  Thanks, Carel!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

a Gift of Something New

I attended a wonderful workshop over the weekend.  It was at the Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona.  But even more wonderful than the location was the instructor, Carel Pieter Brest van Kempen, a naturalist and fabulous artist who is a Master member of the Society of Animal Artists.  I was so blessed to receive instruction - and encouragement - from this marvelous person.  We were also treated to hearing his comments on his paintings that were in the one-man show in the museum's gallery.

Here's the piece I worked on in the workshop.  Carel asked us each to bring some photo references.  We composed compositions from them, then went to work painting using the technique he has developed.  He uses acrylics thinned down so that the technique is similar to watercolor. But it's quite an improvement on watercolor for at least a couple of reasons.  First, glazing is easier as the lower layers absolutely stay put.  Also, one can paint light over dark by using the paint more opaquely.

 The photo here is my piece after an additional painting session here at home.   And I intend to continue working on it until it's done, which will likely be quite a while from now as the technique is so meticulous (though it will no doubt be less so in my hands!).

Carel really challenged me right from the beginning of the workshop by asking me why I wanted to paint mice.  I am ashamed to say that my flustered, bungling answer was essentially "because I like them."  Not very deep.  But the lesson is, I think, that considering why I am painting a certain subject will help to convey something in the painting other than simple surface decoration!

I learned that I need to do a lot more planning with my painting, even including value sketches, which I have carefully avoided so far.  I didn't do one for this painting, but I promise myself to do one for the next!

Invariably, I see something new when I look at the photo of my painting on the computer - in other words, when I write my blog entries.  And what I see here is that I have misdrawn the lower right mouse.  I had intended for him to be looking at the mouse who is scooting out of town.  But instead he's looking up in the air.  Rather than try to correct this problem - and it's probably too late anyway - I think I may add the shadow of a hawk so that it makes sense for him to be looking up.  This type of wriggling out of trouble has been typical of my process.  Sometimes it leads to happy accidents but I think it would be far better to work everything out ahead of time.

By the way, Carel has written a wonderful book - "Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding" which is available on  and well worth the price.  It's a generous collection of his paintings with much informative and entertaining commentary. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Expanding on Pencil

For manyrecent  months I have focused on pastel.  This is because I was working on paintings for my SAA application and I believed that pastel was my strongest medium that photographs well.  But I have been wanting to experiment with mixed media based on graphite drawing because I think that drawing is my real strenghth.

So now is the time!  It happens that our art club is having a show in January which we're calling 3D and 3X3.  It's primarily a 3D sthow, but to be sure that we have art to cover the walls we are also including "3X3 collections" - sets of nine 8"x8" paintings by the same artist in the same media centering around a single theme.

Last year I did owls in colored pencil and they turned out pretty nice and sold well.  This year my theme is "a dog's love is steadfast" and I'm going to experiment with mixed media based on drawing.  Here is my first try: "a dog's love is steadfast in the exuberance of youth."

I began with a graphite drawing I did back in August.  It's on Stonehenge drawing paper and is all .5mm HB lead.  My first step was to seal the drawing front and back with Krylon Workable Fixatif.  I had a 8"x8" piece of 1/2" MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard, available at the local home improvement store in 2'x4' sheets that I cut on the table saw) that I sealed with spray primer (another home improvement store purchase).

I attached the drawing to the MDF with acrylic gel medium and when it was dry I turned the piece face down and trimmed the excess paper away with a utility blade.  So far, so good.

My idea was to add color with very thin washes of Liquitex Soft Body acrylic.  The problem was that there was a working time of exactly zero!  So there was no chance to soften edges or do any wipe outs.  I tried dampening the surface furst with clean water which yielded an extended working time of perhaps 1/2 second!  After laying in Dioxazine Purple washes in the shadows, then a Cadmium Yellow wash over the entire dog, followed by a Burnt Sienna wash in the mid tone areas, and a Burnt Umber wash in the shadow areas, I gave up on the washes.  I think I would have proceeded further, despite the non-existent working time, except that a distubing speckled pattern was beginning to emerge.  I think (not sure, though) that it resulted from an incomplete coat of fixative on the back of the drawing resulting in uneven absorption of the gel medium.

So I switched to colored pencil softened with Gamsol applied with a q-tip.  This worked fairly well, but now I was into an oil-based medium.  Despite that, I cautiously added a very few highlights with white acrylic.  I painted the edges of the MDF with brown acrylic and applied a "finger rim" around the edges.  This is a technique I learned so long ago in china painting.  You dip your finger in gold lustre and run it around the rim of a plate giving a nice even edge that you could never get with a brush.  But in this case, I dabbed my finger unevenly along the edge then quickly knocked down the blobs with a quick swipe of a clean fingertip.  This gives the uneven edge that you see and which I like.

To seal the piece, I coated the front with retouching varnish.  For some reason, it really soaked in and in the process gave a nice translucent look.  I'll paint the back with acrylic then seal the back and edges with acrylic varnish.

I'm pretty happy with the results with a few lessons learned for next time.  Next time, I will also use a 2B lead for darker darks.  And I will also leave brighter highlights at the acrylic wash stage.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Taking a Squirrelly Break

I got an e-mail from Fire Mountain Gems asking for a donation of a handmade bead for their charity drive supporting breast cancer research.  Now that I'm collecting feedback before the final push on my SAA paintings, it seemed like a good time to take a break from the painting and get out the polymer clay.  And here's the result!
They're both really pendants rather than beads - a little too big for just beads.  But either one would be appropriate for the donation.  The one on the left is the one I'm sending in.  The hole runs horizontal through the upper chest.  I've added a dangle of a Swarovski pale lavendar pear shaped pearl which nicely picks up the mica sheen on the squirrel's fur.  The other one I'll keep for myself, so of course I had to made her into a fairy.  Her wings are polymer clay finished with mica powders in interference gold, green, blue, and violet with a final dusting of very fine glitter.  It will be fun indeed to make her into a necklace.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Adding a Background

There were some changes that I wanted to make to this painting.  When I went back and looked at it the calves looked flat to me.  So I did quite a bit of work on both of then adding value contrast.  I also removed his rear ear and horn.  Despite the fact that they matched the photo, they just didn't look right to me, so out they went!

Previously, it wasn't as clear as I wanted it to be that he has his nose tucked into her neck.  I think that now shows better.

But one of the biggest changes I made was to the background.  Before, the upper part was just plain dark green with a little mid-green mottling.  I felt that I needed a real background, but not a complicated one.  So I drew on my memory of the hills around Livermore and this is what I came up with.  A bonus is that the blue of the sky repeats the blues in the halters which pulls the painting together better.  The background is quite loose which I think is fine since it's quite a ways in the distance.  The only thing I might change is to refine the light shapes on the upper edge of the left far hill.

The fog coming over the hills is a bit cold and gloomy so I brightened the cows and hay immediately around them.  I'd like to suggest sunlight falling on them, but I don't think I have quite succeeded with that.

Adding Perspective

I asked Shelley to take a look at this painting and what bothered her was a lack of perspective.  It's far too late to put the floral pattern on the lace in perspective, but there were still some things I could do.  My main goal was to flatten the floor and to do that I lightened it at the top and graduated the tone downwards.  I also darkened the curtain behind Phreddee to suggest that it is tilted more to the vertical. Tilting this part of the lace vertical also means that the pattern is not out of perspective. By darkeneing the lace further on the left side of the painting, and particularly around Phreddee's tail I think I reduced the tendency for the eye to travel to the tail and then out of the painting.

The worst perspective problem now is the two rose petals on the left.  I may or may not do anything about that.  I can correct the one on the carpet but correcting the one on the lace is next to impossible because it would involve redoing the lace which I just don't think I can do at this point.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Phreddee Gets His Fur Done

I thought I was done but now that I look at the photo I'm not so sure.  Obviously I want the focal point to be his face but that's not where my eye goes.  Instead, it travels to the spots with the greatest contrast - the tail against the curtain, and the chest.  And what's worse is that the dark tail leads my eye right out of the photo.

So I can think of a few solutions.  One would be to darken the upper left and left side of the background.  The other would be to crop some of the tail out.  Here's the cropped version.
The cropped version works better but I like the wider one better.  Hmmm.  I'll do some darkening and then see.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Working on Phreddee

I'm thinking I may very well crop off some of the left side but I still need to add rose petals to the left.  Perhaps I can tuck one in the fold of the lace.  I haven't yet finished the second coat on Phreddee's fur but I see that I need much more contrast and depth in the light fur.  It's only value differences in the light stripes on the legs and head that will make them look round since the darks are so dark.

I also need to add shadows on the lace curtain which will be a challenge.  Can't wait to get back to it tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Working on the Lace

The lace is in, Phreddee the cat has some fur, and the rose petals are brightened up (but not enough yet).  So next I'll turn my attention to Phreddee which will be a lot of fun - what I've been waiting for, in fact.  Oh, and then there are the rose leaves and stem.  That green is important to pick up the green in Phreddee's eyes.

The carpet was quite tedious, but I believe that the patience required to add layer after layer of dots pays off.

To do the lace, I first finished the carpet and glazed over the curtain area with cream.  Wherever the curtain folds over itself I added a second pass of glazing to represent the two layers of fabric.  Then it was on to the pattern.  I outlined all the flowers and leaves with pretty hard pressure, then filled in with lighter pressure leaving the vein areas untouched.  With the sharp edge of the pastel I laid in rows and rows of cross-hatching to represent the loose weave of the fabric, then added random dots to try to suggest a little more of the lace detail.  Working on such a fine subject with the thick pastel stick is frustrating since I'm such a detail person.  So I had to keep reminding myself that in the end the lace curtain would be part of the background - not the main area of interest.

With the focal point of Phreddee's eyes being so far into the upper right corner, I have a little bit of a worry about the composition.  After all, this flagrantly violates the "rule of three."  (Rule of Three: imagine dividing the image in thirds with both horizontal and vertical lines.  The focal point should be on or near one of the intersections of these lines.)  To me, rules are guidelines and not laws.  And I'm hoping that the secondary focal point of the torn rose will balance things out.  As I look at this photograph, I'm thinking I need more petals trailing off to the lower left.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What Was I Thinking?

"What was I thinking" may very well not be a unique title for my posts as I often wonder that at some point in working on a painting.  But, really, what was I thinking when I decided to put Phreddee (the rosarian) on a draped lace curtain?  Well, all I can do is forge ahead, try my hardest, and hope for the best.

My process so far has been to block in the colors of the roses, then block in the brick red around the roses and cat, add the texture for the carpet, glaze the beige over the curtain, then begin to fill in the curtain detail.


A few months ago I saw a fascinating show investigating the brain power of octopi.  And they sure have it!  There was one scene in the show - too complicated and off the subject to describe here - that I don't think I'll ever forget.  In fact, I can "play it back" for myself now as I think of it.

Being always on the mental look-out for ideas for extravangant beading pieces, it seemed that an octopus could make a focal point for a pretty cool necklace.  And yesterday was the day that I was inspired to sculpt her.  She was pretty challenging.  And much of the detail - the suckers on the tentacles - it turns out that you can't see anyway.  But that's OK since I may very well make more for other purposes where the suckers will show.

But now I'm not so sure what I'll do with her.  She's rather large (she's on an 8" tile in the photo) which isn't a problem in itself for a necklace.  But the tentacles are probably somewhat fragile.  So for a necklace, I should have cut them in sections then reassemble the sections on the beading backing.  I could probably still cut them with a jeweler's saw but it might be risky.  So I tried to think of other ideas and all I could come up with was the lid of a decorative box.

The items around her are the things I had that might look good with her in the beading.  The little sand dollars and the sharks' teeth are fossilized, as are the split and polished ammonites.  (I remember collecting these sharks' teeth on family vacations in Florida when I was a kid so many years ago.)  I also have a Roman coin that I bought on eBay but I forgot to put it in the picture.

I'm not ready to start the beading yet since I still must decide what I'm going to make, so I'll just ponder things for a while.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


This is the finished drawing that I began as a demo in my drawing class.  This little puppy is just irresistable!  I'm considering tinting the drawing with washes of acrylic but I'm a bit reluctant because it's on un-backed paper so I don't know if it can stand up to the water media.

On another note, there's a show coming up in January for which I will need nine 8"x8" pieces all in the same medium and united by a common theme.  I'm thinking of drawing - perhaps tinted with acrylic - and dogs.  This little guy really inspired me.  I could do them on MDF sealed with gesso and coated with Golden's drawing medium.  I'll have to do a sample and see how that works out.


For unknown reasons, it was suddenly time to sculpt crows.  And then this necklace emerged!  I made the pieces from black polymer clay coated with a mixture of interference blue and interference green mica powders.  The eggs are freshwater pearls.  Originally I was planning to pair the crows with black freshwater pearls but then decided to make everything from polymer clay and fashioned the branches and leaves.

The construction on this piece was different than what I've ever done before.  Some of the parts have a hole through them but some just have holes in the ends. I joined the pieces that just had holes in the end with short lengths of wire, small "spacer" beads, and two part epoxy glue.  As it turns out, I could very well have made all the pieces with holes and that would have been a lot easier, but this piece just planned itself.

The gluing technique will come in handy in the future for joining more irregular-shaped pieces.  And the other thing I learned on this one is that I can bend a pieces of wire inside a tube fairly radically and still pull it out after curing as long as the piece is still warm.  Good things to know!

It's been a while since I've done polymer clay and it was GREAT to get back to it.

detail of the crow on the nest

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Brief Update

It turned out that the pastels worked just fine over the fixative.  I used Krylon Workable Fixatif.  I have other, more expensive, "specially for pastels" fixatives but Kryon is the one I grabbed and it worked just fine even when I put it on pretty thick.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Marco Polo is Nearing the Goal

After another layer on the lab, a little more work on Pepper, and brightening the highlights on Molly I turned to the water.  At last it was time to put in the water drops and that was FUN!  Then I did what I almost never do: thinking that I was finished I sprayed the painting with fixative.  I made that choice because I really wanted to keep the whites.  But now that I look at it, I think I should darken the top part to break up the water and improve the composition.  I'm not sure that will be successful over the fixative, but I'll give it a try tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On to the Soft Pastels

Today I switched to my soft pastels - the Giraults and Rembrandts - and did a third layer on the middle and right dogs.  I also continued working on the water around these two dogs.  There were no new insights today, just more of the same, adding more detail and trying to portray the look of the water and the wet fur.  The front dog, a golden retreiver, has long enough hair that it's floating where his body meets the water, so I portrayed that with very soft strokes.

I think it's working so far.  But I'm going back to my initial concern about there being too much blank space.  The way I positioned the three dogs pretty much rules out significant cropping.  And I can't think of anything else to put in the painting.  Hopefully it will help when I add the bright water splashes because that will effectively "enlarge" the dogs.

I need names for these guys.  I've been referring to the front dog as "he" but now I think of him as a her, so I'll name her Molly, a sweet older girl.  The lab will be Bodie after my dog's golden lab friend at daycare.  I don't know the breed of the center dog.  But I think I'll call him Pepper.  There - all named!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Marco Polo - the Game is Under Way

It's so important to have a good photo to work from, but even more important, I think, is to notice carefully what's going on in it.  And from these photographs, I've learned something about portraying water.

I notice that the color shapes, nearly without exception, have rounded and not pointed corners.  Also the edges between the color shapes are sharp, not gradual.  Some little tidbits to tuck away in my memory.

Today I worked another layer on the three dogs and also began to work a bit more on the water around the closest guy.  I'm still using my hard pastels - the NuPastels and the PolyChromos.  Next I'm going to keep working on the water till I'm nearly done with it then I'll return to finish the dogs.  My final step will probably be the water drops, splashes, and drips.  This has been more fun that I expected!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Back to Work!

It's been difficult to find the creative energy to get back to work on entries for my SAA application, but yesterday I finally got down to it with a drawing, and today I set pastel to paper.

Last month my sister took her dog to a dog event and got several good photos of the participants having fun in the water.  She was kind enough to let me use them and I selected two to combine into this composition.  One photo was of the two dogs on the left intent upon a tennis ball and the other was of the lone older dog on the right.

After I completed the drawing yesterday and had it transferred to the velour paper I had serious doubts about it.  I thought the dogs would be too small and there would be too much essentially blank space around them.  I thought that I would have done better with just the two dogs and with the animals much bigger.  But since I already had this on the paper I decided to give it a try.  It seemed that it would be very important to have distinct areas within the expanse of water - not just everything the same - and have those areas be a definite part of the composition.  So here's the beginning.  I'll set it up by the tv tonight and see what I can find in it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lookin' Pretty

Almost finished!  I just have to extend the wallpaper to the right a bit at the top.

I wish the center mouse would show more, but I'm not sure how to make that happen.  I've used value contrast about as much as I think I can.  They're so darn small it's hard to get the details right.  Excuses!  Excuses!  Excuses!

I learned a pretty important lesson on this one.  Although the lace skirt was pretty easy to do, there is no chance to re-do it.  I was tired when I started it and it would have been better to wait till the next day.  The folds in the very front don't seem to make sense and I may have been able to avoid that problem if I hadn't been so tired.

But all in all, I'm happy with this one and am inspired to do more teddy bears once I'm done with my paintings for the SAA application due in mid-October.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Bear Gets Dressed Up

What happened to the oh-so-blue roses?  My best guess is that I took this photo under different light conditions.  I did wash a little orange over the background, but that couldn't have made this big a difference.  Another possibiliy is the mysterious action of the velour paper which sometimes seems to eat pigment.

Anyway, I selected this subject for the fun it promised, and today's painting session was finally a fun one.  I always enjoy doing fur.  The simple act of repeating layers of strokes of different colors magically  yields fur!

The lacy dress was really easy - just a wash of cream followed by strengthening the folds and some details here and there.  The pearls also were fun to do, but I see that I have them a little too cold.  I underpainted them with light blue then added light gray, then cream, then finally white highlights.  I'll have to go back and add some warmer reflected light and see what that does.

I see that the left curve of the dresser top edge is lower than the right one, so I'll have to correct that.  And of course I have yet to add the other mouse and complete the rest of the pearls.  I began to add a little purple here and there in the roses and I like it, so I'll continue that as well.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Big Trouble!

Wow!  I don't know that I've ever seen something quite this blue!  It didn't look it when I was working on it, but the camera said "yes, this is REALLY blue!"  I thought that the red roses had to go.  The color just wasn't working with the rest of the piece.  I re-worked and re-worked and just wasn't happy with them.  So I got out the trusty paper towel and wiped away as much of the pigment as I could.  Then I went back with the blue.  I know that blue roses are a mere figment of the imagination but I thought the color would work better.  And I think it does - it's just too bright.  So I'll have to tone it down - maybe a wash of dark blue or maybe a wash of orange.  I don't think the paper will take much more pigment at this point.

So, this piece was supposed to be "just for fun," but it hasn't really been that much fun yet - probably a combinatiion of it just not going like I envisioned and spending so much time fooling around with the wallpaper.  Anyway, there's always hope...

Friday, September 2, 2011

Something Just for Fun

After a few weeks of intense stress, preparation and recovery from having all my carpet replaced with Pergo, I was missing being able to spend much time on art.  And now that I am able to get back to it I wanted to do something just for fun.

Inspired by a photo of a teddy bear in an gift catalog - a bear with the most incredibly sweet face I've ever seen on a teddy bear - I decided to set her on an oak cabinet with rose wallpaper behind her and a string of pearls and matching earrings on the dresser.  She is wearing a gorgeous filmy lace outfit and I added ribbon roses in her "hair" and at her waist.  To complete the composition I've placed two little mice misbehaving with the pearls.

There are so many different textures in this that I'm sure it will be quite a challenge in addition to just being a fun subject.  So far, I'm having problems with the rose wallpaper.  Specifically, I'm not happy with the colors.  But then it's difficult to judge before the rest of the painting is blocked in.

Usually I would begin by blocking everything in, but this time I am taking a different approach.  I am finishing the background first then moving forward.  The lace is see-through and the pearls will be easier to place over the wood than paint around.  So that's why I made the decision on my approach.  We'll see if it works!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

My Drawing Class

Last week I gave a drawing class and despite the very hard work preparing for it I really had fun teaching it.  The subject was drawing animals and this was the sample drawing I did in preparation.  I took photos of the drawing at various stages and included it in my write-up.  I find reproducing drawings very challenging.  My photos pick up the details but are inevitably too dark. Manipulating the photo on the computer doesn't yield anything better than this.   And my scans don't pick up the details and miss the subtle gradations of tone.  So what to do?  I don't know the answer to that.  But I do know that it's a problem that I'd like to solve.  Drawing is my absolute favorite medium and I'd like to do more with it.  But the reproduction problem is a serious one.
I've looked on the internet for some help but have only found advice to use a scanner and that "pretty much any scanner should be adequate for pencil drawings" but I don't find that to be true.  Perhaps I need to take a drawing to a store that sells a variety of scanners and actually try them out.

Anyway, the class went well.  It was only four hours long and I had way too much material, but all twelve students hung in there and produced results they seemed happy with.  A few came to my house a few days later to continue.  And I think at least some of them will do more drawing that they would otherwise have done, so mission accomplished!

Also, I got an invitation to do a demo at a local art group next May.  And that should be both fun and terrifying!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Accepted into the Pastel Society of America!

When I attended the International Association of Pastel Societies convention in Albuquerque in June I attended a demo by Rae Smith who is the President of the Pastel Society of America.  I also heard her speak at the President's Council and she encouraged IAPS members to apply to PSA.  Apparently PSA, based in New York City, has been primarily an east coast organization and they are interested in widening their scope.  So I figured "why not?"  When I got home I put my application together.  The PSA application required 3 images, and the SAA jury had liked 3 of the 5 images I had submitted to them in May.  So I used those 3 - pictured here - and was fortunate enough to be accepted.

Pastelists seem to be so focused on landscape that I often feel a little like the "odd artist out" at my local pastel group, so I was especially pleased to be accepted into PSA with all animal subjects.

I have been concentrating on pastel recently.  When I began preparing for my second SAA application I thought it would be a good idea to focus on one medium and I chose pastel even though it is a relatively new medium for me - about 2 years.  Although I like working with a brush, I like drawing even more, and even though pastel pieces are called "paintings," I think of the process as drawing.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What Should I Call It?

After more tweaking, I think I'm done - at least for now. Per Shelley's suggestion, I modeled the right dog's head more.  And I also added pure white to the sky and some of the highlights.  I liked the warmth of the very light yellow, but I like the addition of the white as it both brightens it and cools it. I'll do a final review in a month or so when I'm getting my SAA application together.

But what shall I call this painting?  I think this is the first one I've done in a long time that I didn't have a name for from the beginning.  I don't know the names of these dogs, or even what sex they are.  But I've been thinking of the black one as a boy and the other as a girl.  They look like a "Barney" and "Pixie" to me.  And they are waiting patiently.  So how about "Barney and Pixie - Patiently Waiting."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Keep Going!

I was definitely in unknown territory working on the snow.  Somehow I needed to use color variation to suggest little drifts covering the landscape.  The land had to be clearly different from the sky, and also clearly receding into the distance.

It's always fun to do stray grasses and weeds.  But now I see that I need to bring the fur down a little lower on the dogs to catch the weeds in the image.  Also maybe I should open up that dark streak across the bottom with a patch of lighter snow.

I'm happy with the highlight on the black dog's back - it breaks up the large dark mass and shows more of the texture of the fur.  But I'm a bit unhappy with the right dog's eye and feel that I still need more color in her fur.

Working on the Fur

It may seem odd to so enjoy working on the fur when it's so repetitive - adding layer after layer of pretty much the same thing.  But it's so amazing to see the lines slowly transform into something that actually looks like fur - soft here, wiry there, short here, long there - bringing the dogs to life.  The challenge with the black fur is to make it rich looking and not just a dead black solid color.  And the challenge on the other dog is to get the markings right so that they help define the form.
The background seemed too spotty so I added color to even out and enlarge the cloud shapes, especially on the right.  Now I'm happier with the sky, but the icy tundra definitely needs work.

A Cloudy Morning

Now that I have a good idea of the general layout of the background I wanted I searched the internet for reference photos that would help me flesh out my ideas.  I found a few that offered help on colors and I have to say that it was great fun roughing in the sky and icy tundra.  The colors are subdued but very appealing to me.    Fortunately the Girault pastels that I have include beautiful selections of grayish blues and a few purples that worked well. 
For the dogs, I just continued working the fur, adding more color using as varied a selection of colors that I could within the fairly narrow range of the dogs' coloring, being careful to keep the overall cool feel.

Off to Alaska!

Two years ago a woman from our art club visited Alaska for the Iditarod race and kindly shared her photos with her fellow artists.  At that time I was just starting to work in pastel and painted these two charming dogs.  In the photo they're standing at the side of a large truck, clearly waiting for the action to begin.  I love this photo so much that I wanted to try it again now that I have more experience with the medium.
In my first attempt, I just made the background a solid blue, but this time I wanted to place the pair in an Alaskan landscape and left plenty of space in front of them to balance the composition.  For the scene, I decided on somthing pretty simple - a snowy bare landscape with an early morning sky.

Beginning the black dog was a challenge as I clearly didn't want to make him just black.  So I underpainted him with a cool, slightly turquoise blue.  And I placed a light blue textured with gray under what would be his white fur.  I underpainted the brown and white dog with blue also, but used lighter colors.  Since the dogs are back-lit by dawn light, they will definitely have a blue cast to them. 

I worked a very dark brown for the black dog's fur, using lighter brown here and there where the barely visible highlights are.  It was important to me that he have a sculpted form to the extent that the lighting and his dark color would allow.  I used a variety of browns on the other dog. 

When Generously-Sized Cats Fly

Here is my sixth and final project as Guest Designer for Art Glitter - feline fairy wings.  It has been so much fun, and working with the sparkle and gleam is such a great break between the more "serious" paintings.
The concept on this project was interesting, but I must admit that the final product, though great fun to make, is completely impractical.  I have nine cats.  When I tried to find one to try the wings on, six immediately headed for deep cover.  Of the remaining three, Phreddee was willing but too fat – the harness wouldn’t close!  I got the harness on Mopsy, but she immediately flattened on the carpet and began crawling backwards at mach speed!  Belle tolerated it – but just long enough to get the picture - and only with Shelley's helping hand coaxing her. 
I wish I could have figured out a way to make a headband (that would stay on!) that I could attach feelers to.  Anyway, I learned that cat harnesses have great possibilities as costume bases if only one had a willing cat.......

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Not So Fast!

Shelley critiqued my painting and did me a favor by telling me that I could do better!  So I buckled down and did a lot more work and - magically! - I do think it's better.  Mostly I concentrated on the background.  I added texture to the trees, deepened and smoothed out the color in the farthest background at the top, added brambles and several branches hanging down from the top, broke up and lightened the bands of grasses behind the fawns, and added grass heads to the right and left as well as more in the front.  On the fawns, I deepened the shadows.  I'm somewhat uncertain about the brown areas in the right foreground, but generally I'm very happy with the way this piece turned out, and grateful to Shelley for challenging me to do better.  Thanks, sis!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Fawns Complete - at least for now...

I think I'm finished with the fawns now - at least until my final review before the SAA application is due.  In this session I added some more interesting color, specifically light blue on the front fawn highlights, more purple in the background as well as a bit of orange, and some yellow in the grasses.  I also changed a few lines - narrowed the front fawn's back legs and softened the curve of her haunch, and lowered the curve on the rear fawn's back.  Also, I spent quite a bit of time improving (hopefully) the eyes.

As for the problem of the fawns appearing to be standing in a hole, I decided against the option of trying to make the brown areas look like clumps of leaves and decided to add more grass.  I can always crop away the bottom are later if I decide I need to.  And actually, I see the brown persisting on showing through.  Rats!  Anyway, a problem for later.

I took this photo in a bright room and it looks a lot more colorful than my photos of previous steps.  I'll have to remember to take all my photos under the same conditions in the future.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Almost There!

After working to "de-shag" the front fawn, I gathered my courage and added tall grasses. This was a nerve-wracking step. Once I made a stroke it would be very difficult to remove, change, or cover-up. But I couldn't allow the nervousness from that fact to give me an unsteady hand. It came out pretty well and I set it up by the tv to study it during the evening. Then I saw a BIG problem. Although I meant the brown areas in the foreground to be clumps of fallen leaves, they look like bare dirt. And in that case, why are the fawns' feet sinking out of sight? They look like they're standing in a hole. What to do? I could crop the painting so that the lower brown areas are gone. I could try to make them actually look like mounds of leaves. Or I could add a lot more grass and just maintain the value shapes that the brown areas are giving my by using different values of greens in grasses. Hmmm.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Keep Working!

Today I started working with the softer pastels - Rembrandts and Giraults.  By the time I was finished working for the day I had worked over pretty much the entire painting, adding detail, emphasizing value contrasts and softening edges in the background and adding detail to the fawns.  I'm happy with the overall composition with one exception.  I want to remove the lower left brown areas and extend the grass there instead.  That will give the fawns a more obvious path into the painting.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Beginning the Background Detail

Today I started detailing the background, and it was with great trepidation.  I started out OK, but then I realized I was doing a landscape.  Gulp!  But I persevered and, having begun in the upper left corner, managed to work nearly halfway down the painting.

In the process, I removed the center tree when I realized that not only was it "sprouting" from the rear fawn's head but also that it was directly in the horizontal center of the painting.  The now middle tree is sprouting from  the front fawn's head and the space between the two center trees is the same width as the trees themselves - another problem, I suppose.  These things don't really bother me so much but I know that they're grievous infractions of the "rules."  So I'll have to ponder what, if anything, I'm going to do.  And I see some odd shapes which I will change as I proceed.

I also added another layer to the rear fawn.  Her back was completely washed in sunlight in my photo, but I made it darker and "found" some spots for her.

So far, it's going reasonably well.  By the way, I'm still working with hard pastels.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Fawns have a Woods to Play in

 Today I blocked in the rest of the fawns then turned to the background.  I have a photo that I took of the woods next door that I'm working from.  But I'm just using the photo as a general guide for shapes and values.  The photo is of the dry early July woods, so I will be changing the colors to spring ones to be in tune with the age of the fawns.  Actually, what would be best is to have the grasses mosty dry but still with touches of green in them since things dry out so early here in northern California.

What I'm looking for at this point is just to capture the feel of a sun-lit clearing surrounded by plenty of places to run and hide.

The picture below is the same photo with the "auto levels" filter option in FireWorks.  I think it's handy as a reference for where I'm ultimately headed with the range of value.

Next time I'll begin detailing the background starting at the top and working down to the level of the fawns' rumps.  At that point, I can return to working on the rear fawn.