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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Owl #2 - A Little Goofy Looking!

Wow!  I've managed to give this noble creature a goofy look.  Just couldn't help myself, I guess.

Meanwhile, my work with solvent and colored pencil continues and I'm getting more used to it.  I definitely like the technique and am beginning to learn how to control the blending.  In some cases, though, it just doesn't blend as much as I'd like.  I think it may be the specific pigments.

As I worked on the background of this one, I was reminded why I like colored pencil so much - it's the glazing and the great control that one can get layering color.  With layered glazes, the color doesn't get muddy, just richer and richer.  This worked especially well for me in the lower right portion where I have gold, brown, green, and purple - a sure recipe for mud if one were to mix the colors.

I have been tempted to brush a few highlights with oil, but haven't done it.  When all nine drawings are complete, I'll see if I want to do it then.  I'm also thinking of adding a coat of retouch varnish for the shine, but, once again, I'll wat till the end.

I'm happy with my progress so far and can't see any problem with finishing at least nine by early January.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

So Many Owls, So Little Time

Actually, only 9 owls, and until January 10.  Our art association, Placerville Arts Association, is having a 3D and 3X3 show.  The primary motivation is to have a show for our 3D artists, but since we need to be sure we have enough art to fill the walls, we're supplementing the show with a 3X3 portion.  The 3X3 portion will be twelve collections of 9 paintings.  Each collection will be by a single artist working in a single medium and united by a theme of the artist's choice.  Each painting will be 8" x 8" and will be hung unframed.  The nine paintings in each collection will be hung together in a formation of three rows and three columns - hence, "three by three."

I'm one of the participating artists and my theme is owls.  So here's the first one.

For my medium, I chose colored pencil.  I've worked a fair amount in colored pencil, but always in a "drawing" style rather than a "painting" style.  For this group, I'm using solvent (Gamsol) with the colored pencil.  The solvent seems to intensify and, in some cases, blend the color.

This is my first effort, and I must admit that I struggled with all the detailed markings in the feathers.  And the solvent, applied sparingly with a q-tip, was certainly something I had to get used to.  Although I prefer other brands of colored pencils, I'm using Prismacolor because I think they are the most popular and so it's a fair guess that much of the information I've seen on the internet about using solvent would apply to this brand.  If I like the effect, I'll probably experiment later with my preferred kinds, Caran d'Ache, Derwent, and Polychromos. 

So far, I have learned that the solvent acts diffferently with different pigments.  Some spread and blend more than others and Indigo Blue becomes very brilliant and somewhat greenish - kind of reminds me of Prussian Blue.  I like the intensity of color that the solvent gives, but I seem to be losing some of the control with value that I'm used to by varying my pressure.  Also, I have to be very careful when applying the solvent because some colors - black, for example, will smear.  But, as my sister would say, "Keep working!" 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Animal Fairy Challenge - part 1, the Swan

Shelley suggested an animal fairy challenge and I thought it was a fun idea, so we got started!  I have a deck of Druid Animal Oracle cards and we decided to use them to suggest our subjects.  We began by removing all the animals that we thought wouldn't really work very well and that left about 20 cards remaining.  Shelley spread the cards, and I drew one - the Swan.  Next time I suppose I'll spread the cards and she'll draw.  But it doesn't really matter since if we continue long enough we'll do them all anyway.

We gave ourselves a few days for "research," then got started.  Shelley is working on an adorable baby swan - a cygnet.  When she's finished I'll post the photo.  Meanwhile, here's mine - a black swan - I named Nuit Saphir (Sapphire Night). 

I used interference blue and interference violet mica powders over black polymer clay for the body, head, and neck, and pink and orange mica powders on her bill, legs, and feet.  As usual, I made the wings from wire and Fantasy Film decorated with Art Glitter and Swarovski flat-back pearls.  She has tiny star-shaped cubic zirconia at the tips of her antennae and a pearl on her head.  She also carries a cluster of pearls on her back, standing for her clutch of cygnets.  She's standing on a beautiful piece of natural crystel.  I hope you enjoy the photo.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Catching Up with Amulets

Having not blogged in a week, I have a lot of catching up to do.  After all, art goes on even if blogging doesn't!
I've been making totem animals using a faux bone (or maybe it's faux ivory - I'm not sure) polymer clay technique.  I've tried faux ivory before but haven't done any in qute a while.  Last week some time I followed a link from the IPCA's (International Polymer Clay Association) newsletter to polymer artist Luann Udell's website and was intrigued by her tiny totem animals inspired by her life-long admiration of the Lascaux cave paintings.  The article in the newsletter and Luann's response discussed the issue of copying vs. stealing and Luann has some very strong opinions on this subject.  She definitely does not want others to copy her pieces that are in a unique and identifiable style that she has worked so long and hard to develop. 

Knowing this, I was somewhat reluctant to make animals amulets using the faux ivory technique.  But, in my own defense, faux ivory techniques are pretty common knowledge amongst polymer artists (I didn't use hers anyway, but one that I developed from one that I found in a tutorial a couple of years ago), and my animals are definitely my own style and not influenced by the Lascaux paintings or Luann's work.

Almost always in my polymer clay work I finish my pieces with mica powders and get wonderful metallic sheens.  But that finish would obviously not be appropriate for faux ivory.  So I imitated scrimshaw by varnishing the cured clay, rubbing it with thinned oil paint to push the paint into lines I had incised in the clay before curing it, then wiping most of the paint away.

I really had fun with these pieces and like the results.  I have been wearing the otter pretty much constantly since I finished her and had great fun at last weekend's local gem and mineral show shopping for the perfect stone to accent her - a faceted citrine nugget.  I made the otter and bear from the same batch of clay then mixed up a new batch for the fox and rabbit.  I prefer the slightly darker first batch.  But my favorite of these animals is the rabbit.  She has such a sweet and playful expression.  I messed up the fox when I was finishing it.  Apparently I didn't do a very good job with the varnishing and left large patches unvarnished.  These unvarnished patches sucked up the oil paint and left stained blotches when I tried to rub the paint away.  There was nothing I could do to get rid of these stains.  So -- lesson learned!

I'll be making many more of these!

By the way, I prefer Fimo Soft for this type of sculpture work. 

The Light of Love

Here's the finished portrait of Patches.  Strengthening the sunbeam was the final touch.  I wanted it colorful and strong, but when I first painted it it was way too colorful and way too strong.  It was at that point that I discovered a technique I should have known all along - lifting.  I used a clean brush to slowly pick up paint from the yellow portion, then used q-tips and the chisel edge of a large flat clean brush to pick up streaks, leaving clearer individual shafts.

The overall look is somewhat sentimental but I think it's completely appropriate for a portrait of a beloved pet who has passed on.

I'm happy with Patches and pretty happy with the sky.  I would like more color in the sky - peach and green perhaps - but my skills aren't there yet.  Next June I'm registered at the IAPS (International Association of Pastel Societies) conference in Albuquerque and one of the two classes I've signed up for is on painting skies in pastels.  I am really looking forward to it.  In fact, I wish it were next week, but I'll just have to wait.  Painting beautiful and dramatic skies would be a wonderful skill to have.  Meanwhile, I'll keep working on it on my own.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Sun Shines on Patches

I began today's session by working on the sky.  I added a sunbeam but then decided I wanted the blue at the top of the sky darker so added a glaze of Phthalo Blue.  I had too much oil in my paint and had to fool with it a bit - blotting with a paper towel, smoothing with my finger, then adding a little more paint with less oil.  In the process I got blue over the clouds and mostly lost the sunbeamt.  I tried to crisp up the edges of the clouds but the colors were mixing on the canvas so I decided I'd have to leave it for now and come back to this tomorrow.  I really want the sunbeam more intense and more colorful.

After that, I continued working on Patches herself, adding to and refining what I did yesterday then focusing on the right side of her face which I didn't get to before.  I worked on her nose, changing the color to add a brownish-red tone and adding a few shadows and highlights to better suggest the right eye.  A little brighter red added color to her collar and tag.

I don't think she looks sad any more.  To me, she has a sweet, somewhat searching look.  Perhaps she's wondering what I'm doing!  The muzzle and mouth still needs work so perhaps she will change her expression again.

When I looked at the painting last night the lower left corner bothered me so I changed the line of her back to raise it a bit.  The new part of her back will need more work tomorrow to better integrate it into the rest of her body.

Patches is a little sweetheart, and tomorrow the sun will shine more brightly on her!

The Sky Clouded Over a Bit

Today was session number 2 for Patches and I couldn’t wait to begin the clouds in the sky. It’s quite a challenge for me, but I’m happy with my progress so far. There is still much remaining: adding the sunbeams, perhaps deepening the contrast in the blue part of the sky between the top and bottom, adding color to the sunbeams, and perhaps adding more clouds. I’m looking for a spiritual feeling and keep thinking of the beautiful skies that fellow Placerville Arts Association member Bruce Gruenzel paints. He paints boats in stormy seas - scenes of deep and obvious peril - with a small bit of brilliant light falling from the dark sky - to me a clear metaphor for redemption.

How to proceed with Patches herself was unclear. One possibility would have been to refine the blocked in colors. But I was pretty happy with them so I opted for adding fur detail, beginning with the ear. I worked left to right on Patches so that I would be able to stabilize my brush hand on the dry part of the painting. I kept the lights purposefully too light to leave room for glazes of color later. After three hours I hadn’t worked all of Patches, but I did enough to be able to view it as a complete layer so quit for the day.

Tomorrow I’ll work more on both the sky and Patches but I will need to completely finish the sky first.

After I took today’s photo, I noticed that the left ear was a little too narrow and some of the curves along the edge were wrong so I quickly sketched in a correction with some Van Dyke Brown so that I’ll be off to a good start tomorrow.

Meanwhile, after painting yesterday the polymer clay was calling and I made this tiny fairy, the “Eat Your Vegetables Fairy.” For a while now I’ve wanted to make a diminutive animal using half a walnut shell for the base. By the time I finished, the walnut shell didn’t play much of a role, but I find that they make good bases - just the perfect size. I think smooth flat river stones about 1 ½” or 2” in diameter would be good too. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for some.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sweet Patches

Today I started on a commissioned portrait of a lovely little dog named Patches. She led a happy life with her owner to whom she brought joy every day. Sadly, she is now passed away and I have the honor to create this keepsake in her memory. I hope to do a special job with this portrait and that Patches' spirit will guide my brush as I paint.

Here is the first layer, just blocking in the main shapes. I have big plans for the sky - clouds with the sun breaking through and casting rays around Patches. She looks a little sad at this stage, so I'll pay special attention to cheering her up as the painting progresses. Perhaps she's a little reluctant to be painted, but hopefully we'll become more and more comfortable with each other.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Finally! A Face I Approve of!

This was my fourth attempt at a fairy face and I'm finally happy with it. I think I've figured out a few things, including the shape to start with - not a ovoid ball, but a piece pinched and prodded into something more like a head with the bottom half protruding and the forehead receding in a gentle slope. From that start, it's a matter of pinching out the nose, indicating the eye positions with the tip of the knitting needle, cutting a slit for the mouth, and forming the lips by creating a crease under the lower lip and pushing out the two halves of the top lip (with a flat tool pressing upward and the upper surface of the mouth cut).

I'm pretty clear about that part, but the eyes still defeat me. It's really hard to push them in so that both pupils are looking in the same direction. The eyes need to be set pretty deep, but setting them pushes up clay around them. You need enough to push up enough clay to form nice eyelids that are thick enough, but not so much that it distorts the rest of the face.

I find the ears pretty easy, and the only part of the head that I add on. It doesn't matter if the head is too narrow front to back because the hair will cover it. But if there's really too little, I can alwways add more without worrying about a seam (to be covered with hair). The neck is separate but not too hard.

And I finally found a base I really like - a part of a slab of redwood burl. I cut with a bandsaw then made the final more details cut on my scroll saw. It looks nice I think. I felt that it was necessary to apply a varnish to preserve the wood. Even though an oil base varnish would bring out the grain really beautifully, I didn't want to use one because it might not make a good sticking surface for the glue that I will need to attach the fairies (2-part quick set epoxy).

I keep experimenting with different ways of creating fairy hair, and this is "dyed degummed throwsters silk" which I got from Meinke Toy Fiber Art Supplies (http"// I really like this silk for hair. Sadly, I haven't been able to find very many colors (although the ones I've found I really like). But I also got some of the same product that isn't dyed and I'm going to try dying it with the dyes I got for painting silk scarves. More news on that later!

As always, the Fantasy Fiber wings and the jewelry were so fun to make. But the little rabbit was best of all.

I still need a title for this piece.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Not a Lot of Art Happ'nin'

I sure haven't had much success lately in being productive with my art. It used to be that I could take care of chores of various sorts at by 2pm and then spend at least 3 hours on art. But lately the time just seems to vaporize and before I know it it's 5pm and I don't have the energy to start anything.

Nonetheless, I finally finished the rabbit painting and here it is. My sister suggested that it needed something in the lower left corner and I think she was absolutely right. So I added more weeds. I think there are two benefits. First, the piece no longer has an "empty quarter." And also the front rabbit is less of a white blob. I knew from the beginning that the white full broadside rabbit would be a design challenge and now I think it works pretty well. The funny part is that the biggest success is how good it looks in its frame! I had been using the frame which I paid nearly $100 for with another painting but, for a variety of reasons, re-framed it. So I wanted to do a piece to use that expensive frame. Hence, the rabbits.

And tonight I sent in my application for the Society of Animal Artists, using this rabbit painting as one of the required five images. The others were the three I used for signature status in the Sierra Pastel Society and an oil portrait I did of my sister's irresistible Springer Spaniel, Sunny. So wish me luck! I should hear in mid-November. My fingers will be firmly crossed until then.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Fifth Image

The rabbit painting is now either complete or nearly complete. I'll put it up by the tv tonight and take a final scrutinizing look and make and last additions tomorrow. The great thing is that I have now finished the fifth image that I'm going to use for my application to the Society of Animal Artists.

The five will definitely include the squirrel, "Sparkle," the bear cub coming down the tree, "Precarious Descent," the kitten "Badger," and this rabbit painting which still needs a title. Then the fifth one will either be the cat I recently completed, "Aslan," the drawing of the vervet monkies, or the pastel of the three sun conures. I'm not sure how to make the choice among these three. Personally, I'd like to use the drawing to show that I can work in different media, but I don't know whether that would be a plus or a minus. I know that some people think that working in more than one medium is a problem. Obviously, I am not counted among them!

Actually, over the past several months I have been having an inward debate about focusing on one medium. And I suppose if I were to do that, it would be pastel. The pluses would theoretically be that I would make more progress that way. But the minus - and it's a big one - is that it's probably just not me. I really enjoy switching among media. And I think possibly one learns about one by working in another. For example, I was so pleased with the way I could glaze with the alkyds - which I have had trouble with in pastel. So maybe working in various media allows one to become clearer and clearer about which concepts are best done in which media. And this knowledge should, in turn, improve all one's work.

Well, I guess that's that and the decision is made - no focus for me!

By the way, working with the walnut oil instead of Liquin was great with the alkyds. The Liquin just dried to fast with the alkyds that were themselves quick drying. The walnut oil vastly improved the flow of the paint but still dried quickly enough that I could continue painting the next day. Of course I paint in pretty thin layers.

I feel good that this painting is done (or will be tomorrow) and I can get my application in early (for a change!)

P.S. My plan for proceeding so methodically with this painting just didn't work out, and I don't think it's work trying to figure out why. The search for a "method" was an interesting concept that didn't pan out - at least not this time!