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Monday, August 30, 2010

Today I submitted my entires for the Pastel 100. This is a competition sponsored by Pastel Magazine and the top 100 entries are featured in an up-coming issue. I entered last year and didn't make it. I was "on the fence" about entering this year, but decided nothing ventured, nothing gained. It's a bit pricey - $20 per image entry fee and I entered two. One of the tough parts about this competition is that non-winners (notice I didn't say "losers") are not notified, so there's just that "left hanging" feeling. I entered my latest two painting, the Sun Conures and the portrait of Aslan. Wish me luck!

My next project will be two oil paintings. I'm going to try working on two at once and see how that goes. Since I work in lots of layers and each layer has to dry overnight, sometimes a painting session is pretty short so two paintings will keep me busy! This is very likely a bad idea, but we'll see.

One of the paintings is my first commission for my venture into pet portraiture. "Patches" is a sweet little dog who has sadly passed away. It will be an honor to paint her as the finished piece will be an important keepsake for her "mom." Also I will earn $250 for the cat shelter that I donate to. Patches is mostly black with just a little white on her chin and chest, so the color will be quite a challenge.

The other painting will be of three rabbits. I have a frame that is pretty wide and has fancy carving. I thought it would look good with an old-fashioned picture of the rabbits. I began drawing it last night and I really got engrossed in the task. The rabbits are pretty much completely drawn but I still need to decide what to do with the background. I still find drawing the most fun medium of all.

Friday, August 27, 2010

the finished Aslan portrait

I believe I am now done with my portrait of Aslan. (The photo is shockingly blue, the original not so.)

After rubbing out the shadow underneath him (which I thought was too dark), I re-did the shadow and surrounding background, then re-established the fringes of fur falling over it. I added a bit of black soft pastel on his back and strengthened the highlight in his left eye. Whiskers were the final touch.

Happily, I was proud to sign my piece, with the initials "SPS" after it, designating my new signature status with Sierra Pastel Society. This may be one of the five pieces that I use for my application to the Society of Animal Artists which is due in mid-October.

A while ago I mentioned that I was making a polymer clay bear head for a bracelet. Thought you might like to see the finished piece, so here it is! I dotted the piece with glass and stone cabochons then embroidered seed beads all around. This bracelet definitely makes a statement! Just not sure what the statement is.

By the way, I got the beautiful vintage glass cabochons from and you might want to take a look. They have great vintage glass items - beautiful and unusual!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Improved but not there yet!

This morning I decided to stop crying and whining about the mistakes and problems with this piece. Instead, I was determined to find its strong points and work on enhancing those.
So I worked more on the cat. I think he's pretty well drawn and felt that if I could strengthen him more, increase the value range, and add a little color to harmonize with the background that it might get better.
I noticed that Aslan in real life has a much darker back than I had given him, so I decided to darken his back in the drawing, hoping that a darker back would lessen the impact of the too-dark shadow under him. I worked mostly with hard pastel - very little pastel pencil - then added some soft pastel which really began to bring up the color.
After I took this photo I decded that the shadow under him is REALLY TOO DARK. I tried to add lighter pastel over it but that didn't work, so I got out a paper towel and rubbed off a lot of the pastel in the shadow, ready to re-work that area. Of course in the process I removed the lower edge of the fringes of fur so I'll have to re-do that too which will be a little tricky.
At this point I can say that I am truly a fan of the Pastelmat paper, despite my problems with glazes. I will definitely use it again.
I think this piece will make a nice greeting card, and I may even crop it pretty severely to leave not much more than the head, upper chest, front paws, and mouse.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A journey of a thousand miles

Just as a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so a painting of a million strokes begins, progresses, and ends with single ones.

Here's the beginning of "Aslan" which promises to be a painting of very many strokes indeed.

With animal paintings I always begin with the eyes so that I have someone to talk to as I paint!

I did a smaller version of this same design a year ago when I was beginning pastel. I painted small portraits of different cats on different types of pastel paper to get a taste of the various choices. The small version of Aslan was on sanded paper which I didn't like AT ALL. It was way too messy with so much dust and it ate away at the patels with lightning speed. This time I'm using Pastelmat, continuing my investigation of this paper.

For the design around Aslan, I blocked in the color of the pattern then added the background color in wide striipes of green and brown. For the texture, I added tiny strokes of different colors over the ground color.

Several hours later, here's where I am. I have the background design in and have done some work on the cat. The background and cat's face is all done with pastel pencil. But I blocked in some preliminary color on the body with my Polychromos hard pastels. I really like these pastels. The set includes 7 gradations of cool grays and 7 gradations of warm grays - perfect for this cat.

At this point I discovered a problem. The smaller version I did last year worked with this pattern in the background, but I don't feel that this is working very well. I pulled out last year's piece and discovered that in that piece the background color was solid and the stripes were in the pattern. Yikes! I have it backwards - striped background and solid pattern. I like the original version a lot better. But clearly at this point I'm stuck.

It seems like it wouldn't make much difference, but in the older painting I faded the background above and behind the cat to a solid color, which worked well with the solid ground but won't work with the solid pattern. Hmmm. This is a problem that I'll have to solve, but at this point I don't have any idea how.

More progress, continuing dilemmas, and new problems.

I've done more work on the cat, adding detail with pastel pencil.

I needed the mouse to stand out, so I made him red. But now I have a color scheme problem. How can I make the red fit? Red is related to the brown in the background and in the cat's fur, but it doesn't seem like enough. Something to ponder.

Meanwhile, I'm having trouble with the area behind and above the cat. I'm thrown because I thought I was doing what I had done in my earlier painting, but inadvertantly introduced a crucial difference.

I had trouble with the shadow under Aslan. My hope was that after several layers of pastel - there are four layers of pastel pencil over the background pattern - I could add a glaze with a soft pastel. But this was not the case. Apparently enough of the texture of the Pastelmat remains that it scratches pigment from the soft pastel unevenly. I'll have to do a separate experiment and see if I can eventually get a glaze if I have enough pastel built up on the Pastelmat.

I have a lot of major problems to solve - coming up with an integrating color scheme, getting the shadow under Aslan the correct hue and value, and what to do with the background behind and above the cat.

Friday, August 20, 2010

To Sell or Not To Sell?

I know that many artists have this internal conversation about their desire to sell their work. And today that question came once again to the fore with me.

The next town up the road is a quaint little foothills community with a monthly "art walk" on Main Street. Businesses decorate with the work of local artists and set up on the sidewalk to promote their wares and services. Visitors enjoy the artwork and a sort of business "open house" at the same time.

This month I am happy to have the opportunity to display 9 of my paintings in one of these business. When I got there this afternoon the business owner asked me if I had tags for the paintings showing their price. (Selling isn't required for this event.) As I was hanging the paintings in a nice little display I was remembering creating each one and how satisfying the process had been. All the pieces are of animals and I was feeling the natural appeal of the subjects.

Sell them? Part with them? My babies!?!?

I said I would return tomorrow with tags with the names and media and, for those that I decided to put up for sale, the price. But I doubt that I'll put prices on more than one or two. Perhaps as time progresses and I have more "inventory" I'll be more receptive to the prospect of parting with them. In the meantime, I'm happy if people simply enjoy my work.

Selling ones work can be a mark of success. But I suppose that the face of success depends in part on why one paints. If one paints to sell, then selling is surely a mark of success. There is also painting for shows, in which case ribbons are the mark of success. I must admit that, although I seek affirmation in shows that my work is quality work, I paint for myself. Success is communicating back to the viewer the love of the animal that I put into the piece.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Good news - Signature Status in Sierra Pastel Society

Good news arrived in the mail today - a letter from the president of Sierra Pastel Society saying that my application for Signature Status has been accepted. She enclosed the judge's comments which were gratifying and also very helpful. I am very forunate, grateful, and humble. I thought you might enjoy seeing the three paintings that I submitted for the judging, so here they are.

"Sparkle," is a portrait of a squirrel who is very special to me. About four years ago, my sister who was living in a second floor condominium called me about the possibility of relocating a squirrel. "Sparkle" was quite tame and regularly enjoyed nuts on my sister's balcony. Some of the nut shells would fall to the deck below and, unfortunately, the human occupant found this totally unacceptable and was vocal to the point that my sister was concerned that her neighbor might poison Sparkle. So we trapped her and relocated her to my property which is ten wooded acres. She has been here ever since. She has raised several children here and we see her and hand feed her nearly every day. Sparkle is part of our animal "family" and this painting is a portrait.

The bear is one of the cubs that was rescued a few years ago by Idaho Black Bear rescue. I have been working on a series of bear paintings based on their photographs (with their permission) to make into cards. I will donate the cards to them to sell and perhaps they can raise some much-needed funds from them.

"Badger" is a kitten from my friends cat shelter, Fat Kitty City. (You can visit their website at This painting was one of four that I did for a series of cat/kitten cards. Cindy and Ed do such a great job rescuing cats in these difficult economic times. Badger's story, though it started out sad ended up good. This little darling was adopted by great human parents - a veterinarian and his wife. If only all the kitty stories had happy endings!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Today I put up a new page on the blog. It's a series of links to products and books that I've tried and am happy to recommend. Please take a look, and if you're interested in buying any of these products, please use these links. Because if you do, I will receive a small percentage of your purchase price from the vendor, and I will pass these funds on to animal charities. If you take a look at my website (link on the banner) you will see that I have created a non-profit organization to raise money through art to donate to animal charities.

I didn't post a photo of my latest animal fairy yet, so here she is - Emeralda! As you can see, she's a mouse fairy. I used bigger glass eyes on her than I have on my other animal fairies and I think it works well for her. Her headdress has a small peacock feather in it, and just in front of the feather, though it doesn't show well in this photo, is a beautiful emerald green square crystal drop from an old, broken piece of jewelry. I split her wings into an upper and lower pair and she's pulling her lower right wing forward so you can see how beautiful it is.

I decided to try Pastelmat again, and today finished the drawing for my next pastel painting and transferred it to the Pastelmat. My painting will be a portrait of Aslan, one of the special cats at Fat Kitty City ( , a cat shelter that I support through donations. The Pastelmat will be perfect for the detail in the carpet, and I'm going to give it my best try as a good surface for fur - as far, nothing beats Hahnemuhle velour paper as a surface for fur! Aslan is a gorgeous long-haired cat with incredible blue eyes. I'm really looking forward to getting started on him tomorrow.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Finished at last!

I made a few changes after "sitting" with this painting propped up by the TV for a few hours last night. I darkened the lower part of the large leaf in the foreground, lightened the sky behind the bird on the right, and intensified highlights and shadows on the berry branch. So now I think I've gone as far as I can go with this one.
I'm happy with the color scheme and composition in this piece, and I think the personality of the birds comes through. The background is busy and complicated and I probably could have/should have done better with it, especially by layering leaves on more vertical planes for depth. On the other hand, I was trying for an almost abstact look with the leaves, so perhaps I acheived that. As I look at the photo, I see that the upper edge of the big leaf on the lower right "reads" more like part of the sky than the curved edge of the leaf lobes. Darn. If I had noticed that sooner, I could have corrected it. But now that I have the fixative on it I'm reluctant to mess with it any more. All in all, I'm pretty happy with this one. I don't think it's one of my better pieces, but I give myself points for venturing out of my comfort zone and trying a new type of paper.
It feels good to have this one finished. Except for one step: thinking of a name a bit more creative than "Sun Conures."
The jury is still out on whether or not I will use this paper - Pastelmat - again. And really it's only a question of fitting my style. As I said yesterday I couldn't get a "wash" and that's very important to me. Probably I should assume that it's me and not the paper and give it another chance. I really liked the way it grabbed so much pigment off my pastel pencils.
I'm working on the drawing for the next one - a cat - and hope to start it tomorrow so I guess I'd better make my paper decision pretty quick.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

So is it finished?

We artists are plagued by the question "when is it finished?" And I'm certainly no exception.
Working on this piece has been very slow. Partly, I think, because I wasn't used to this paper, Pastelmat, that I'm trying for the first time. And I kept deciding that I needed more colors, would order them, then suspend working on the piece until they arrived. The new colors certainly helped. But I must admit to sometimes finding shopping for more art supplies more fun than working through a difficult stage on a piece of art! By the way, the additional pastels I bought were several Rembrandt greens, open stock, and a set of Polychromos pastels.
As far as the Polychromos pastels go, I really like them. They are "hard" soft pastels, much like Nupastel, but them come in more colors - 120 instead of 96. The colors are matched to the colors in their colored pencil and watercolor pencil set. I wonder if they're somewhat new as I haven't seen them before on the websites I typically shop at (,,,
As for the paper, I liked it and didn't like it - compared to velour paper, that is. Here's what I found - my opinion only! The pluses I found for the Pastelmat are:
  • Lines transfer very well. My process includes completing a careful drawing before I begin the pastel and transferring the drawing to the pastel paper by tracing it, going over the back of the tracing paper with graphite, then placing the tracing right-side-up on the pastel paper and going over all the lines with a stylus. On velour paper, the transferred lines are light, fuzzy, and thick, so it's hard to preserve a lot of detail from the initial drawing. I found that transferring on Pastelmat requires a light touch with the stylus or I get a line that is too dark and a little tricky to cover with the pastel, but the lines are sharp and nice and thin.
  • Seemingly untold layers of pastel will adhere to the paper.
  • There is a negligible amount of dust. Dust also isn't a problem with velour paper, but I can't stand the amount of dust that I get on sanded paper.
  • Pastel pencils leave a lot of pigment on the paper, as opposed to very little on the velour paper.
  • Blending is very easy, either with the pastels themselves as I applied them, or by lightly rubbing with my finger.
On the other hand, the pluses I have found for velour paper are:
  • Fur looks incredibly soft on this paper.
  • The paper will take many layers.
  • There is virtually no dust.
  • "Washes" work really well once I have a few layers of pastel on the paper. It looks that the pluses for Pastelmat outnumber those for velour paper, but this wash thing is very important to me. I found washes impossible on the Pastelmat.
My next pastel painting will be a cat on a rug, and the rug has a lot of detail in it. There are arguments for both papers for this deign, and I'm not decided yet.
But back to the painting of the three sun conures. Is it finished? Probably not quite yet. I'll put it up next to the TV tonight and give it one more evening's "thought" then final touches tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

more animal fairies - I'm hooked!

After creating the bear fairy, I was inspired to make another---and another---and another---etc! There are so many possibilities. And they're just so darn fun to make. Especially the wing part when I get to play with the shimmery fantasy film, the glimmery glitter, and the sparkly crystals! Alert to all polymer clay artists: GIVE THIS A TRY!
The one I made after the bear was a lion. I named him "Kyrie," or "lord" in ancient Greek (I knew that would come in handy some day) and I feel that he is definitely lordly despite his diminutive size (he is 3" tall at the top of the antennae). The cabochon on his forehead is a carnelian, a stone which symbolizes the great circle of life. The beads at the ends of the antennae are small faceted carnelian and they have such a beautiful warm color. I added crystals to his wings after I took this photo - about 20 2.8mm Swarovskis in sun, topaz, and dark topaz.

And of course having completed the lion, a lamb was surely next. I named her "Moonbeam." Because she is so young, her antennae are still small and her wings are mere "buds," hints of beautiful wings yet to grow.

I hope you enjoy these photos and that they inspire you to do some tiny sculpture. You can see more photos from different angles on my website. Look in the "Ooak Art Doll" section.
If you need a word of encouragement to try this, you may be interested to know that until I tried it I had no idea that I could sculpt. But I think that drawing skills translate to 3d work fairly easily. After all, it's just a process of doing something, evaluating it, correcting it, and proceeding until done!!!