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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Here's owl number three - a barn owl.  The color's actually a little brighter than it appears in this photo.  As I continue working on this series, I get more used to the colored pencil/solvent combination.  But it continues to be a learning process, mostly about the different pigments, as some brighten and smooth out with the solvent much more than others.

A few years ago I went to the winter CHA show in Anaheim and was introduced to Faber Castell's Polychromos water color pencils.  When I got home I bought a full set as well as the matching full set of regular colored pencils.  I've use the colored pencils and really like them, but the watercolor pencils remain untouched.  I was a bit intimidated at how bright the colors got when I dampened them.  Now I'm thinking that working with them and a damp brush may be very similar to this process with the solvent, and I far prefer Polychromos to Prismacolor pencils.  I remember also that the Polychromos watercolor pencils have a wonderful quality - once you moisten the pigment laid down on the paper, the color becomes fixed when it dries.  So layering should be a snap.  I'm eager to give them a try but am somewhat reluctant to change pencils in the middle of my series of nine owl drawings.  So, for now at least, I'll continue in the same manner.

As far as this drawing goes, I'm quite happy with the plumage but wasn't able to achieve what I was trying for in the background.  He's perched on an opening in the side of a wooden building, but since I didn't get enough texture on the brown wood I'm not sure that it's clear what it is.

I remember all the barn owls who would roost in the old well house where we used to live.  Pretty much any day, you could see one sleeping in the rafters waiting for nightfall.  And seeing the fledglings in the spring was a special treat.  I think barn owls with their heart-shaped faces are among the most beautiful of owls.

All of these owl paintings pose the same problem.  On the one hand, the moon says that it's nighttime, or at least twilight.  So there is too much light coming from the front illuminating the owl.  I have very liberally utilized my artistic license!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Finally Blogging Again

It's been a long blogging break, but now it's back to business.  After I got back from my trip, it seemed to take a while to get back into the old routine. 

We've had many rainy days, as attested to by the accompanying wet dog photo.  And those days were quite condusive to staying inside the cozy studio and making more and more and more polymer clay bears.  My excuses (reasons?) were two-fold: preparation for the Bear Page on my website, and preparation for the Holiday Market.

The Bear Page will be an addition to my website, devoted entirely to bears.  Sally at Idaho Black Bear Rehab has kindly agreed to link to this page once I have it up and running.  I am hoping that bear lovers will find their way to my page and purchase bear art.  All the proceeds will go to Idaho Black Bear Rehab and I'm hoping it will be a successful fund raiser for them.  I've made bear theme necklaces and several pretty nice little bear totems.

The Holiday Market was yesterday and Friday.  I had cards from my paintings, jewelry, totems, a gourd, a dimensional painting of three bear cubs in a tree, and two hand-painted silk scarves.  I was anticipating a good sale as the location was right on Main Street in Placerville at a great time of year for shopping.  But I was disappointed with the outcome.  I only sold $225.  But it's $225 I didn't have before, and the bears and kitties can certainly use it.

Here's a little anecdote from the Holiday Market.  One of the necklaces (with earrings) I sold was my favorite and I had a sinking feeling when I realized that the woman looking over my pieces was going to buy my favorite necklace.  I had put a price of $95 on it, thinking that if I had to let it go, at least I wouldn't be giving it away at a ridiculously low price.  It was a little bear on a large beautiful piece of amber, and the necklace was finished with so many beautiful stone beads - turquoise, chryophase, amber, carnelian, prehnite, and jade.  The woman said "I won't wear this, but I want it because it's such a beautiful piece of art!"  Her kind words of appreciation, coupled with the promise of helping the bears and kitties, ended up making me happy about a sale I had felt quite reluctant to make.

By the way, I bought the amber piece I used in the necklace on my trip, along with one other piece.  I had never seen such big beatiful "nugget" style amber beads before, and I wish I had bought more.  I think I'll call them this week and see if they're willing to ship me more.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Disappointment and a Challenge

I received the response to my application to the Society of Animal Artists --- and I didn't make it.  This is quite a disappointment.  But it's also a challenge.  I really didn't have a feel for whether or not I would be accepted, but I know of the work of one other member and I thought my work was as good as hers and that, therefore, I had a real chance.  But it was not to be.  So now my work is cut out for me.  The next opportunity to apply is April 15, 2011 and I will need five new paintings.  And not just paintings, but paintings which I believe (evaluated with a very critical eye) are my best work.

Fortunately, I got a little bit of feedback from the jurors. 

Two of my paintings - the fox squirrel and the Springer Spaniel - they liked but felt the work was uneven.  I agree with the "work being uneven" comment.  In the fox squirrel, I felt that the roses were not as well done as they should be although I was quite pleased with the squirrel herself.  For Sunny, I felt that the body was not well formed and that the background was a little amateurish.  I don't find fault with the background for being minimal, but the sky should have been painted better.

One painting - the face of the kitten - they had no comment on.  This is a painting that I really like.  But I like it for reasons that may not be important in this context.  For example, I like the decorative quality of the background and the expression on this kitten's face.  This painting won an award in a show recently - the Sierra Pastel Society's International juried competition.  The judge commented that he "didn't ordinarily do cute" but that he couldn't help himself because it was so well done - especially the surface treatment in the background.  But I can see why this piece wouldn't get comment one way or another from the Society of Animal Artists jurors. 

The jurors commented that the anatomy was quetionable in two of the other paintings, the three rabbits and the black bear cub.  I would have to agree with this comment.  In the rabbits, the entire body of the forward rabbit is pretty undefined.  In the bear cub, the paws are rather crudely done and there is too little definition in the body.

So the juror's comments give me some hints on where I need to concentrate.  This, of course, is assuming that the juries are consistent, at least in their guidelines, from session to session.  And what other conclusion can I work with?

Here's what I need to do:
  1. Pick subjects where the anatomy is clear and make my rendering excellent - no guessing.
  2. Don't be overly ambitious on backgrounds - choose backgrounds that I know I can do well.
  3. Don't combine subjects from different photos without very careful thought.  This type of combination can lead to spatial and lightint problems which need to be overcome.  I should only take on this type of challenge with a clear purpose.
  4. Pay attention to every square inch of the painting.  It's not that everything has to be detailed, but everything has to be right.
  5. Don't ever be lazy - this has to be my best work.  Nothing is "good enough."

Here are some things that may help me:
  1. Do value sketches and use value to add drama and interest.
  2. Study the anatomy of the subject separate from the pose I'm using. 
  3. Check my paintings in progress frequently in a mirror to be sure that I catch problems early.
  4. Crop my photos of my paintings to get the best possible presentation. 
Here are some of my more general conclusions based on my paintings and the comments:
  1. Of the paintings that were more successful, one was an oil and one was a pastel.  The same is true of the paintings that were least successful.  I now conclude that a variety of media does not add anything significant to my presentation, so it may be a good idea to focus on one medium for these five paintings.  Oil is probably my best best because it gives me the most control.
  2. Both of my more successful paintings were images of a single animal.  In my opinion, one of my strengths is portraying interaction among multiple subjects.  But I think for this purpose, single animals are not a drawback.
  3. In various critiques I have attended I have asked if there are any special considerations for painting animals and the answer that I consistently get is "no" - all the standard stuff (value, composition, etc.) applies equally to any subject.  Although I think this is generally true, I also conclude that in this context there is a difference.  Correct and compelling drawing of the subject is the most important thing - the "sine qua non."

So I now embark on my quest - wish me luck!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Seals for Something New

After making so many bears and rabbits, I wanted to work on something different, so I chose seals.  They were really pretty simple to make, but I complicated it a little bit by making some paper thin mokume gane sheets in very subtle colors of gray and gray-green to add a little pattern to mama's back.

Mama's eyes are the glass eyes I like so much, but baby was too small for even my smallest glass eyes, so I just used black seed beads.  Mama has whiskers of very thin black wire, maybe 30 gauge or even thinner.

I liked this dark rock for a base and used some of my interference blue acrylic paint for the spirals.  I think the two wavy lines around the widest part of the rock look kind of like waves lapping against the rock.  The final touch was a little glitter on the rock and seals, the seals having already been finished with mica powders.

As I was making the baby seal, it seemed that two of them would be very cute on a bead.  I had this blue lace agate "marble" which turned out to be a perfect base for them.

There's a hole pieced between the shoulders of each seal pup, but the hole doesn't go all the way through because of course the blue lace agate sphere is in the way.  So I'll have to glue a metal loop in each hole then finish the necklace from there.  I went all the way to Sacramemto to U-BeadIt to see if I could find some blue lace agate beads.  They had them but their color was dull in comparison to the sphere, so I got blue chalcedony instead as well as three or four colors of seed beads.  I'm thinking of several strands of seed beads gathered together here and there by threading them all through a large stone bead.  Should be a very nice necklace, and one with a touch of fun.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Again - More Totems!

I got a call today from Sally at Idaho Black Bear Rehab.  She wanted to thank me for the check I sent (proceeds from sales at the recent Studio Tour) and we chatted for quite a while.  She told me how timely my donation was as she was wondering how she was going to buy food for the cubs through November.  I am so happy to help and just wish I could do more.

Her call motivated me to really work on items for the Holiday Market, in hopes of raising more money for the bears.  Here are the most recent additions to my "inventory."  I am really enjoying making these little totems and I hope they'll sell reasonably well.  Of course pricing will be very important, so I think I'll consult a few friends on that issue.

For something a little different, I embellished the little bear with some beads - African turquoise (which has a subdued greenish tint), white Buffalo turquoise, and turquoise colored glass seed beads.  I know the beads lend a Native American flavor, while the spiral I painted on the rock is a Celtic image.  But I think it's OK - yet another application of my artistic license (which I have framed on my studio wall - ha ha).

Then I turned to the rabbits.  My intent was to make a small group of rabbits standing in a circle on the flat dark rock.  I made the first rabbit pretty much as small as I could - it's about 1 1/2" tall - but it was still too big to have more than one on the rock.  So I abandoned that idea for another day.  It was a hoot "dressing" him in polymer clay Druid garb.  The cloak is very thin so that I could drape it and I was a little worried about how fragile it would be.  As it turned out, it's somewhat flexible so not as fragile as it would be if it were brittle.  But it's a fragile piece, nonetheless.  After trying him on the flat dark rock, I discovered that he looked better on a light rock, so I glued a flourite point on a piece of river-rounded quartz and added the rabbit in a position of delighted discovery!

A program I saw a while ago on the "star disk," a beautiful artifact of Celtic origin, inspired the final piece - the rabbit on the flat, dark rock.  In the piece, the rock loosely - very loosely - represents the star disk with painted bronze spirals and glued on topaz colored crystals.  The little rabbit is studying the disk and apparently finds meaning in the portion she's about to touch.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

More Rock Dwellers

I didn't have much time today to devote to art, but I managed to make these two little owls.  Once again, I am so pleased that I found a great source for these wonderful glass eyes.  They really make the animals come alive, far more so that beads.  I used larger eyes - 4mm - on these owls which are about 1" tall overall.  The owls are sitting on a small quartz rock that I found on my property.  It's stained a bit by all the iron in the soil around here, and no amount of cleaning or bleaching would remove it.  But the color goes just fine with the owls.

By the way, my source for the eyes is

The only problem that I had with these two little ones was one that I could have predicted.  The white clay got terribly dirty no matter how clean I tried to keep my hands.  I have this problem all the time with Fimo Soft clay but it seems especially bad when I'm pairing the white with either black or brown.  Perhaps I'll give Kato or Cernit a try and see if the problem is quite so bad.  Or, instead of begininng with a Skinner blend of white and, for example, brown to get a nice transition from the white belly to the brown back , perhaps I should just make the whole owl brown and add a thin piece of white for the belly at the last minute.  The way I've been working, I'm handling the main piece so much and constantly "tracking" bits of brown over the white.  The mica powders help the problem a little bit, but not enough.  In the end, I antiqued these owls' bellies with a little Burnt Sienna oil paint so that the texture would show, so I guess a clean white belly didn't matter that much after all.

If I keep going at this rate, I should have quite a few new items for the Holiday Art Market.  And I have to say that if I don't sell any I won't be unhappy to keep all these little guys.

Toward the end of working on this piece I thought it might be fun to make a set of five or seven owls in graduated sizes for a necklace.  But for now I'm on a roll with the "rock dwellers."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Totem Rock Dwellers

There's an Artists' Holiday Market coming up the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving.  It's in a great location, right on Main Street in Placerville and the entry fee is so reasonable that there's just no excuse to not participate.

So I've been busy the last few days making some things for the Market - little polymer clay animal totems sitting on rocks.  Most of them have a Celtic flavor and I've painted some relevant symbols on the rocks with beautiful antique bronze Daniel Smith acrylic paints.  I've used spirals and words in ogham, the "tree script" of the ancient Irish Celts.  Some of the symbols don't strictly belong - for example, the runes which come from ancient Teutonic people rather than Celts.  But they're beautiful and somewhat mysterious looking, so I guess a little "artistic license" is OK.

To give a sense of scale, the rabbit is about 2 1/2" tall, including the rock.

The rabbit is wearing a torc, a style of necklace (seen in bracelets and anklets as well) so typical of the Celts.  The horse is Epona, the horse goddess.  She has a spiral on her flank made of flattened gold-filled wire imbedded in the clay.  (I'd never be able to paint a spiral that even!)

I finished the bear with two coats of water-based varnish then an antiquing of oil paint thinned with walnut oil.  I used mica powders on the rabbit and horse, then added a light sprinkling gold and translucent micro glitter from on the horse. 

The gems on the foreheads of the rabbit (ruby) and horse (emerald) are tiny gems I got at the gem show a few weekends ago.  As far as I know, gems in the foreheads were not images used by the Celts (although tradition has it that foxes and otters carried precious gems in their heads) but for some reason this type of image appeals to me, so I use it often.

These little animals are so much fun to make.  And although I'm making them for the Market I'm going to have a hard time parting with them.  Perhaps I'll make several of each animal and keep the example of each that I like best (though at this point, having just labored over the horse yesterday it's hard to image making another one!).

I am so grateful to have discovered polymer clay!