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Saturday, March 28, 2020

Offerings for Sobek - An Exercise in Perseverance

I've been watching two Great Courses by Bob Brier lately. One is the history of ancient Egypt and the other is about hieroglyphs. I'm sad and ashamed to say that I put the hieroglyph one aside for a while because I just didn't make time for the homework, but I truly hope to get back to it soon.

Anyway, I've always greatly admired ancient Egyptian art, and I especially like the crocodiles! So I decided to do a painting of a crocodile taking offerings to Sobek, the god of crocodiles, the Nile, and fertility.  Actually, the bird is not part of the offering, but he too is going to give offerings.

Now that it's complete, I like this painting. But the process was grueling. Up until the very end I had strong negative feelings about what I was creating - except for the idea. By the way, this is acrylic on gesso board, 12" x 16". I started directly on the board with only the idea of what I wanted to do.

I worked on it for six sessions, 2 to 3 hours each, and at the end of each session - except the last - I was tempted to just give up. But, telling myself there's always something to learn, I just kept going. Every morning when I got up I'd look at the painting, hoping it wasn't as bad as I thought. But it always - once again, except at the end - was every bit as bad as I thought and maybe even worse.

But in the end, I pulled it off! The trick was to keep going, keep adding detail, keep adding contrast, keep darkening the sky. And in the end, I think it worked.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Repurposing Never Gets Old

I made this little polymer clay bear totem probably seven or eight years ago. For a while it sat around waiting for me to post it in my Etsy shop, then I decided I wanted to keep her. She has a little tassel of carnelian, citrine, and a tiny dragonfly charm. You can barely see it hanging down the far side of the stone at the bear's feet. She's raising her hand in blessing.

The jar is from a Yankee Candle. I just can't bring myself to throw these wonderful containers away, and now I've repurposed it.

I finished the lid with TENseconds Studio's VERday kit paints and patina. I chose the bronze. The paints are emulsions of finely ground metals. You apply a coat and let it dry. Then you apply a second coat and while it's still wet spray it with the patina. The patina reacts with the metal in the paint and gives a really nice look of aged metal.

After finishing the lid, I glued my totem on with E6000 glue and I now have a container for personal sized soaps. So fun! And it was nice to finally find a use for my little bear.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Rough Stuff

These weekly "just for fun" paintings seem to go better if I think of what I'm going to do sometime during the week. But with this one, I just decided as I walked into the studio. Then, rather that use the board I had prepared, I remembered this one that had already undergone two rehashes, resulting in an extremely rough texture. It's heavy gesso over crumpled rice paper - totally unknown to me!

I quickly sketched the raccoon then, on an impulse, decided to work the background with Gelatos. These are creamy water soluble sticks by Faber-Castell and they're fun to work with, but be prepared to work loose! I applied them to the upper part, then sprayed it with water. The lower ones are on the dry surface so haven't blended. Once they're wet, you can move them around with a brush or sponge.

Here I am further along with the background and - BOLDLY - I decided to work on the raccoon a bit. Looks like a zombie, doesn't she? That's what no eyes will do for you!

But I persevered. After I finished with the Gelators, I shifted to ink pen and acrylic. Just kept working it until I was happy. I drew the outlines of the leaves with ink pen then filled them with diluted acrylic.

Amazingly, the only frustration I had with this was the whiskers. I am still searching for a fine truly opaque white pen for whiskers!

I think I'll prepare more wildly textured boards and do some more pieces like this. It was fun!

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Working on My Technique

I've done about 50 of these tinted pencil illustrations at this point, but I'm still working on my technique. As far as the pencil goes, I'm pretty happy and have only made one change along the way which is to used harder pencils. I started using HB, then 2B, but now I've dropped back to H and HB with 2B in only the very darkest parts. Seems to work better because it's not as easy to smudge.

An on-going problem for me is adding color in large areas. I find it impossible to get a smooth covering with transparent acrylic washes alone, especially since it have to paint around the objects in the foreground. From the beginning, I've tried using colored pencil for these areas but I wasn't happy with the grainy look. Then I tried smudging the colored pencil with q-tips, which is helping. The first time I tried, I added and smudged the colored pencil without fixing the graphite and got smudging on some of the graphite as q-tips are not detail 'tools." So now I do the pencil, fix it, do the colored pencil and smudge it, fix it again, add two layers of acrylic matte medium over the whole thing, then finish with the acrylic washes.

This is working better, but I'm always trying to think of something better. By the way, I've tried extender medium and glazing medium to try to make my acrylic washes smoother, but it still didn't do the trick.

This is the finished piece.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

A Testimonial to Pets

The other day I received an e-mail from Best Friends (if you don't know them, it's a large and wonderful animal rescue group based in Utah The e-mail invited subscribers to share their thoughts on how pets have changed their lives. That sounded inspiring, so I followed the link, ready to enter my enthusiastic response. 

When I got there and started typing in the box I soon ran out of room. What? I thought we had 255 words! No! 255 characters. So, I cut and pruned and determined to write more here in the blog.

Here are my 255 characters:

Pets make me a better person by leading by example. Not the throwing up on the bed or the rooting in the garbage example, but by their abiding love and unerring devotion, by gazing into my eyes revealing kindred spirits neither of whom need ever be alone.

And now it seems to me it's enough. Maybe 255 characters was a good idea after all.

Meanwhile, in my opinion, no blog entry should be without an image. Therefore...

This is my colored pencil and watercolor portrait of my beloved companion Mick. He looks sad - and this is an accurate representation of his expression - but he wasn't sad. He was earnest. Love you, Mick! Always!

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Painting Light - or Trying

I greatly admire those artists who skillfully paint the effects of light. I am not one of those artists and I must admit that I seldom try. But recently I did try twice - to not very good results. But I suppose trying is the first step towards succeeding. 

This is one of my illustrations for a book I'm working on, A Milkweed Christmas 2020, and here are Audrey the badger and Gwen her daughter, making Audrey's renowned herbed potato rolls for the community's Christmas pot luck. It will accompany the recipe for the rolls.

When I thought I was finished I took another look and realized there was no indication that the inside of the sett (badger burrow) would be in shadow. So I added the blue-gray transparent wash on the right side. It could have been better done. I think it should be less blue. Also, the near side of the trees should be darker. Well, at least I tried!

When I'm done with all the illustrations I'll probably go back and work more on those I'm not very happy with, and this one will be on the list.  It's a shame really because I liked the drawing a lot.

And here's the other example - last weekend's just-for-fun 8"x10" painting (acrylic on board). This little jumping goat made me think of the cow that jumped over the moon. The near side of the goat and the tail should be a lot darker. I don't think I'll change this one, though. The point of these paintings is to work quickly, not obsess, and have fun!

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Renewal in the Garden

It's been a productive week for working on my books - both writing and illustrating - and today I finished my little painting for the weekend. But this time, instead of writing about any of that, I'm writing about the wonderful feeling of renewal that working in my garden gives me.

After working a few hours a day for the past three weeks, the garden is successfully 'tucked in.' 

The roses are pruned, the clippings are in the compost pile, the dead leaves are raked up and removed, and, best of all, they all have a new layer of about 3" of compost. Actually, it would be more accurate to say 'well-rotted horse manure' - the work of my sister's horse Merlin, the heat, cold, and rain, and all the worms and little microbes who've been so busy over the past year.

It's funny, but I get really enthusiastic shoveling that horse manure from the pile into the wheelbarrow, then out of the wheelbarrow and around the roses. The texture is perfect! And it feels like I'm putting a warm blanket around the bushes. 'Good night, little roses! Sleep tight and renew your strength for a spring, summer, and fall of beautiful blooms.

My next task with them will be to add epsom salts to the base of each bush when the new growth is about 2" long.

The chrysanthemums and dahlias are tucked into a deep layer of oak leaves. The dahlias are sleeping peacefully, but the mums just won't quit! When I cut them back in November and December, the new growth had already started. That's just the way the are! As you can see, the ducks and chicken (the black bird further back) approve.

Meanwhile, Merlin, whose area abuts the garden, is ignoring me. This would be quite different if the garden were green and I were pruning. In that case, he's have his nose pressed against the fence hoping for a treat. Rose blossoms are his favorite!

But I was going to write about renewal. Well, as I've mentioned, the plants are resting and renewing. But for me, every time I work in the garden is a renewal. There's always something different, even if only minutely so. Always work to do. Always the promise of things to come. It's soothing, and also inspiring to witness the strength of life.