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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Trying a New Medium

A couple of years ago I bought a full set of Polychromos colored pencils and the matching full set of watercolor pencils.  I've used the colored pencils and like them, but hadn't so far tried the watercolor pencils.  I bought both sets after a trip to a trade show in Anaheim where I tried the watercolor pencils and liked them.  But I just hadn't gotten around to ueing them here at home.  So, since I am taking a break from the pastel animal paintings, it seemed like a good time to unwind with something new.

So here's my Chipping Sparrow on a branch of peach blossoms.  This painting is small, abut 6 1/2" by 8 1/2" the way I cropped it in the photo.

I worked pretty tentatively, working a small area of one color at a time and dampening it immediately afterward with a brush loaded with clean water.  I also went light with the pencils because I'm not experienced with them to know how the colors would brighten with water.  As it turns out, some brighten quite a bit and others not very much.  No surprise there, I guess.

One of the big draws for me about these watercolor pencils was that the product literature said that once the dampened color dried it would not move again with water.  Hence, layer after layer should be possible.  This may be true of other watercolor pencils as well, but these are the only ones I'm familiar with.

The pencils sharpen to a very fine point so thin lines are quite possible.  I found that if I dampened them with not much water the lines didn't dissolve much.  So I could get quite a bit of texture on the bird's breast.

After a while, it struck me that working with these pencils is, in a way, like china painting.  The layers are transparent and don't move once they're "set" either by firing (china paints) or letting them dry.  Once I had the china painting mind-set, things seemed to progress more smoothly.

Before I began "painting" I put in the eye with permanent ink.  And once I finished "painting" I added a few touches of a very fine felt tip pen with dark sepia ink.  I also added broad strokes of iridescent gold and red watercolor coming in from the edges and ending unevenly partway into the image.  You can see some of the iridescence in the upper left corner.  I used Daniel Smith watercolors which I really like.

By the way, I used Canson Coventry Rag paper - very nice.  After I had begin adding color glazes to the background, I ran a very light line of graphit pencil to indicate the outer edges of the images.  I carefully erased these lines once they had served their purpose, but I see that the show a little in the photo.  I think the pencil lead must have slightly incised the paper and that's what I'm seeing.  So perhaps next time I'll tape some paper strips to mark the edges instead.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Where Did All the Pastels Go?

When I got back to work this afternoon after yesterday's session I was surprised at how dull the painting seemed.  I distinctly remember putting what I thought was quite a bit of value contrast in the fur yesterday using my Rembrandt pastels.  But it seemed like the velour paper had just inhaled them!  Shelley has commented on this unfortunate phenomenon with her paintings but I hadn't really noticed it until how.

So I began by once again strengthening the darks and lights. 

When I was observing this painting last night I realized that I needed more color in it - specifically, little Sparkle is quite orange!  I used three frighteningly bright oranges today, but in small amounts they're good - not shocking. 

The tail needed more work as well.  I used pastels on their side to give a light wash over the outer colored bands on the tail.  Each of the long tail hairs is banded with black at the tip and gold in the middle, giving the tail this beautiful appearance.  The hairs are slightly wavy and so they catch the light giving a sparkly effect.  I have tried to capture this and hope I have succeeded. 

I would like the pattern in the clouds to show a bit more and to do that I'll have to add more darks. 

As I look at the painting now, I see that the upper part of the back of the neck (behind the ear) needs to be darker.  I would also like to darken the upper right portion of the sky but I don't think I'll be able to without endangering the tail.

So it looks like I have one more short session on Sparkle.  She's been fun to paint.  I sure hope she's still alive and well.

Monday, February 21, 2011

More Work on Sparkle

As I continued with Sparkle, I knew I needed to get the sky in before I could work on her tail.  So that's the first thing I tackled.  I began with NuPastels.  Initially, I had the bottom quite dark with layers of dark teal, purple, and gray.  The center part of the sky was a pale turquoise and the top part regular old sky blue.

I liked the idea of clouds forming at the bottom, that is, in the distance, but I didn't like how dark I had it so I lightened it with light gray.  From there I swtiched to my Rembrandts and softened and blended the blues.  Finally, I went back to the NuPastels and tentatively added some clouds at the bottom with a very light gray and white.  The bottom of the sky needs lots more work, but at this point I thought I had plenty of pigment on the top of the sky and knew I could continue with the bottom later, so I turned to Sparkle.

Beginning to put her tail in was great fun.  I thought it was important to capture some of the glimmer so about half my strokes are broken strokes.

On her face and body, I worked with pastel pencil, NuPastel, and even some Rembrandt trying to get the right colors.  I'm pretty happy with the color on the face but the correct color for the back still eludes me.  It needs some brown and orange, but also has a gray cast.  At this point, I have three layers on the back, each of them textured with two different colors.  I think I'm closing in on the base color, and here's where I'll pick up with it tomorrow.

I wish I had more space on the left of the paper because I'd like to see Sparkle more off-center to the right.  I may end up cropping the right edge.  But I'll keep working on the whole image as I've begun it.  Actually, I think a really good shape for this piece would be low and wide.  Darn - too late for that!

It's so helpful looking at a photo rather than the actualy piece because I see new things.  What I see now is that I'd like to enlarge the post to the right.  I like the look of her but haning over the back but I think I can preserve that look while adding to the right side of the post and curving the top edge so it looks more round.  So far, so good, I think.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sparkle Returns

This is my second painting of our beloved tame fox squirrel, Sparkle.  And I hope she will return in real life as she is returning on paper.  She was badly wounded last fall in some sort of incident, losing two fingers on her front right paw and getting a big nasty gash on her neck.  The last time we saw her she looked otherwise healty - plump and her fur had a nice sheen.  But it's been a long time since we've seen her, perhaps as long as two months.  I'm hoping that she's holed up with babies, but there are other very unhappy scenarios and we just don't know.  So, for now at least, I must be content with remembering her.

I took these photos of her back in July of 2009.  Shelley and I were working in the garden and Sparkle came over to beg a treat.  Then she sat on top of this fence post watching us and enjoying her nuts.  I got several good photos of her.  The sun was behind her and lit up her tail gloriously.  The photo I am working from for this one is badly blurred.  But I can pick out enough information about the pose then fill in details from referencing the other photos I took that day.

So this is part of the first layer.  I'm working on light gray velour paper with pastel pencils.  Last week I got some new pencils I had ordered, Stabilo Carbothello, and they are sufficiently soft to lay down a pretty good amount of pigment on this paper.  As is usual for my first layer, I'm primarily concerned with setting down some base color while preserving my lines.  Her tail is fanned dramatically over her and I can't wait to get to that part.  But first I need to do the sky behind her and I'm trying to think of something a little different than just blue, but something that is still simple.  Since the view in this painting is of such a small area - anything but panoramic - fancy cloud patterns are out.  But I still want something distinctive.  So that's my homework assignment for tonight, then back to Sparkle tomorrow.

By the way, it seems that nice beiges are so hard to come by in pastels or pastel pencils and it's frustrating.

Friday, February 18, 2011

My Very Own Cake Shoppe

Last week, before I started working on the lamb pastel painting, I didn't have any blog entries.  I wasn't idle - I just wasn't working on what I supposed to be working on.  Here's what was occupying my attention - making miniature polymer clay cakes.

Each cake is about 1 3/4" in diameter.  The colors are the color of the clay.  The only thing in the cakes that isn't clay are the stems on the strawberries and cherries, which are wire.  The little plates, with the exception of the pink glass plate which is an American Doll accessory, are actually vintage butter pats which I had fun finding in local antique stores or on ebay.

The most fun thing was making the tiny decorations.  The lemon, lime, and kiwi slices are tiny cane slices, about 1/4" across.  The piped frosting was fun too.  After the first few cakes (the bright pink cake, the cake with the chocolate frosting and pecans, and the cake with the "piped" chocolate icing trim and the cherries) I developed a better way to do the frosting trim that actually looks like frosting piped through a star-shaped tip.

My original plan was to make charm bracelets, earrings, and pendants from the individual cake slices, so I cut each cake before I cured it.  But then I liked looking at the cakes so much that I haven't yet done anything with the slices.

As I was varnishing the cured cake slices, my mouth was watering just thinking about enjoying a piece of citrus cake or pineapple upside down cake, or whatever one I was working on at the time.  So I was inspired to make a real cake for Valentine's Day.  Here it is!  Not nearly as pretty as the little polymer clay ones, but a whole lot tastier - a yellow cake with lemon curd filling and buttercream frosting made with real butter!  Yum!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Happy with the Lamb

As I considered this painting last night I identified some changes to make on the lamb.  The indentations on the top of the head were too dak.  As a result, they seemed to suggest a line around the face that almost looked like the lamb had a mask on.  I think the fur on the face is shorter than the surrounding hair causing this look legitimately, but it was too strong.  Also, the left rear foot was too bright and the right front foot was not properly shaded.  I wanted to emphasize the demarcation between the right shoulder and the rest of the body and lighten the fluff on the tail.

When I thought about the possibility of adding a daisy I had to admit to myself what I think I knew all along - that it just wouldn't work.  Visually it would be too startling and emotionally it would be too sweet and cute.  But I wanted somethhing more in the background.  As I continued to look at the painting I noticed some very subtle domed shapes that had just "happened" in the lower right background.  They vaguely reminded me of little domed clumps of wild flowers.  I liked the idea of the domed clumps because they would echo, on a much larger scale, the texture in the wool.

I made the changes to the lamb.  Moving to the background, I very lightly began to suggest clumps with shades of green that were pretty close to the background values, but sufficiently different to model the clumps.  In front of the left front foot I had already added a shape that very strongly suggested a tuft of grass so I went with that idea.  To avoid cutting the painting in half and to integrate the new wildflower element with the lamb I carried it further to the left under the lamb and also put a clump under her right rear foot.  I decided on blue for the flowers and kept the values to a narrow range.  I then added some blue to the lamb's wool for color continuity.

At that point I was pretty happy and ready to put the painting away.  But then Shelley and Barb looked at it and they were both bothered by the unfinished look of the left front foot.  They were right because the foliage in front of it was not sufficiently strong to read as obscuring the foot - it just looked like an unfinished part of the painting.  So I strengthened that foliage, darkened the background behind the foot, and suggested a little of the foot showing between blades of the wild grass.  It's better now.

So I'm ready to put it away and begin the next painting.  I plan to come back to all five paintings before I send in my application and look for more finishing touches or problems that I may see with fresh eyes.  The fact that there is only one clump of grass bothers me a bit and I will revisit that potential problem at that point.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

On to the Medium Pastels

Today I proceeded to the medium pastels, my Rembrandts.  I used a Sennelier soft pastel in one place and didn't like it because despite my very light touch it left more pigment than I wanted on the paper.  So after that I stuck to the Rembrandts.

As I looked at this painting on the easel, I was happy with it.  But it looks so dark here.  Maybe it's the photo but I'm not sure.  In any case, I think it needs at least some lighter ares for a better sense of life.

I've kept the background minimal and I'm happy with that.  And rather than obscuring the areas that lie behind straw - such as the bottom edge and her left foot - by adding lots and lots of strokes for straw, I blended the areas into the dark background color then added only a few strokes of straw.  I think I like this better, but it's impossible to say with nothing to compare it too.

So tonight I'll set it up by the TV and take careful stock of it for finishing touches.  I have been considering adding a daisy as a symbol of innocence.  I'll consider this also.  Then hopefully finish tomorrow.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Little Lamb's Progress

I'm happy with the work I did today adding a second layer to the little lamb.  With the lines well established with the pastel pencil I moved on to the hard pastels - NuPastel.  My palette for the lamb was pretty limited: three shades of warm gray, two shades of brown, two shades of a brick/orangish red, a pale turquoise, and cream.

I must admit to being a little unsure as to how to proceed.  But I just kept laying in color and increasing the value contrasts while still preserving the lines.

There are a few parts of the lamb that I'm unsure of anatomically and I need to do some research on these before I proceed any further "in the dark."  Those parts are the feet, the nose, her left ear, and the rump.  For the feet, I know she has split hooves and two pads, but I need a more detailed understanding.  For instance, where do the pads begin and end relative to the hoof?  Is there a "dewclaw?"  If so, on all four legs?  For the nose, the photo looks like a dark nose similar to a dog's, but I know that's not the case.  I think the whole top of the nose is furry, so what's the dark patch?  In the reference photo, it looks like the opening of her left ear is facing the viewer, but I don't think that can possibly be.  I'm not sure how to work through that question.  In the reference photo I can't identify the demarcations between the tail and the upper part of her left leg.  I also can't tell whether the tail is docked or long.  I think that it would still be long at this age.

I want these questionable parts clarified before I proceed to softer pastels, so I have at least one more session of working with the NuPastels.

At this stage, I have simply blocked in the darkest tones of the background which will be almost totally hay and grass.  I think I can go one more session without getting more specific there.  So I'll use that time to consider what effect I want to achieve with the background.  At one point, I thought of adding a single daisy which is a symbol of innocence.  Intellectually, I like the idea, but I'm not sure whether or not it's a good idea visually.  More thought on that as well......

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Back to It At Last

After setting the raccoon aside I looked through the reference photos I had been collecting and considered either this lamb or a fox.  Both are very appealing and I may end up doing both, but for now I chose the lamb.

There are several challenges in this piece.  First of all, the eyes are closed.  Without the eyes it can be difficult to generate interest in the viewer, but I think the body language in this pose says a lot - the natural innocence of a young animal combined with the constant wariness of a animal that others would like to make a meal of.  Second, the pose itself.  It will be very important to correctly portray the various parts of the legs to make this complex pose look natural.  Of course the all white fur is also a challenge and invites "pushing color," especially since the background is so much brown grass and hay.  In the reference photo the entire background is the brown hay.  But I'm planning to change it so that the lamb is lying in a pile of hay that is lying on the grass.  Some green will be showing through and add some much needed color.

This is the first layer.  The drawing is somewhat complex so I had some important decisions to make in choosing the paper.  I wanted to use pastel pencils in the first layer to preserve the lines and small details in the drawing.  When I did the parrots I used a sanded paper and the pastel pencils transferred pigment very nicely to this paper.  On the other hand, I could never manage glazes in later stages.  I believe that glazes will be very important in this piece, so in the end I decided to stick with velour paper, and chose this buff color for warmth.

Now that I am finally back to the animal paintings I intend to proceed full speed ahead and finish my application paintings by the April 15th deadline with only minimal and manageable distractions!

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Study in Getting Nowhere

After I posted the photos of the raccoon painting the other night, I set it up next to the TV and spent some time studying it from a distance.  I didn't like what I saw.  Perspective errors jumped out at me and I had to correct them.  The question was whether or not I could correct them without starting over again. 

So the next day I literally went "back to the drawing board" and produced a couple of small size drawings that would show me the changes I would have to make.  I could see from my reference photo that the "horizon line" was right at the raccoon's eye level.  Starting from there, I picked a vanishing point and carefully drew all the lines in the brick wall, concrete step, and wood door.  But it looked so mechanical.  I thought that part of the problem was that the viewer is looking at the scene straight on - that is, all the horizontals are parallel to the bottom edge of the paper - and it's not very interesting.  So I started again, this time placing the horizontals at a slight angle and changing the detail on the door.  But I still didn't like it and it didn't seem like continuing to fiddle with the perspective or the design of the door would do any good.

After more thought, I realized that the background is all wrong.  The raccoon is out of place in this setting.  That wouldn't bad in and of itself, if there were some hints about why he is there - in other words, what's his story?  But there are no such hints, and I couldn't think of any.  So it was time to change the background completely.

I searched for reference photos of a semi-natural setting - perhaps some weathered stone steps in an overgrown garden.  I found several nice ones but there were problems with all of them - problems I didn't think I could overcome.  The main issue was the uneven ground he would have to be sitting on to accomodate the pose in the raccoon reference photo.

Next I thought about the possibility of taking photos on my property.  I thought I could find places with the proper slope and an interesting background.  But the problem with that was that it's February, and this young raccoon wouldn't be around in February. I didn't think I could "ad lib" the necessary foliage since it would be very complicated.

In the end, I decided to put the raccoon aside for now and come back to it when I can get some photos outside later in the spring.  I have never "given up" on a piece before (at least, not that I can remember).  Usually, with any piece, there are discouraging phases, but I keep working and try to pull it out of the fire.  I figure that once I begin the practice of giving up on pieces I will have a hard time ever finishing anything!  But in this case - working on pieces for my application to the Society of Animal Artists - I reminded myself that I need my absolute best work and really didn't think I could accomplish that with this piece.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Raccoon in the Rough

I finally got started on the second of five animal  paintings that I will need for my application to the Society of Animal Artists.  The application is due April 15 so I have a challenge in front of me.  The first painting is the portrait of Rudy that I completed last month.

I am working from a very poor quality snapshot of a young raccoon sitting on a window ledge.  The pose caught my eye and I am hoping that I can use other reference photos of raccoons in different poses to fill in the blanks, of which there are many.

Instead of having her sit on a window ledge, she will be sitting in front of an old weathered door.

Here's the drawing, ready to transfer to the pastel paper.  I chose a light warm buff color paper, hoping that it would give the entire piece a warm feeling.

My first step was to simply rough in the main colors to begin to get some sense of what's what.  On the raccoon, I used slightly different colors of brown to try to preserve the disctinction between different areas in the drawing.  It's somewhat frustrating that in this medium once the drawing is covered up it's gone forever (unlike acrylics or oils where I can re-transfer parts of the drawing over pieces I may be having trouble with).

I know I want a blue door, but am undecided on the shade of blue.  I'm leaning to a slightly more turquoise look, and of course more weathered.  Right away, I see that I'm not happy with the color of the bricks and am considering changing them to yellow bricks, but I'm not sure.  Yellow would look so good with the blue door, but the color may be too distracting.

I notice that the size of the bricks makes the raccoon look very small.  The raccoon is a young one, but this one would only be about 10" tall sitting with the brick size as it is.  Hmmmm.

I also need to really be straight about the light source.  In the photo it's coming from the front and to the right.  The problem is that then the face is in shadow.  On the other hand, it's tricky to change the light source from the photo reference.  Perhaps if I just have if coming from straighter in front it would work.

When I'm nearly finished I'll consider having some weeds in the foreground or perhaps coming up through cracks in the concrete or bricks.

I have a real long way to go on this one, but it will be fun with all the textures.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sylvianna in her finished WildWood Abode

the front view
This has been a long and complicated project.  But I took it slow, paid attention at each step of the way, and always tried to do my best.  I think all the work and concentration paid off because I'm quite happy with the end product.

I call it "WildWood Abode."  I would like to continue with similar pieces - fantastical woodland abode gourds with fairies - and perhaps create a series.  This was really a lot of fun and a creative challenge.

What I liked best about the process is that it wasn't pre-planned and flowed smoothly.  Of course I had an initial concept, but that was about it.  One part simply led to the next step.  The biggest surprise for me was the mulberry bark skirt.  I would never have thought of it, but as I was looking for something else, I ran across this piece of bark that I ordered from a silk fiber supply place on a lark and lo and behold! it found a perfect use.
one side - I really like the fern!
 I've commented at various steps along the way, so it's time to just let the photos speak for themselves.

the back - I think the name plaque is
an important quality  touch.

the other side - the little hole
 lets you peek inside.

the inside with the roof top removed - here you can
see the three rabbits, the fairies legs, and the
"nesting material."

here's a close-up of the fairy - hmmm.  She needs a name.
How about "Sylvianna," a somewhat fancy name
using a root from the Latin meaning "forest."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Polar Bear Family

This is my favorite totem so far.  But then, I say that about all of them just after they're finished!  The rock which is a piece of quartz I got at the local landscaping materials place is 3 1/2" long.  This makes the baby bears pretty small.  For example, the sitting one is 5/8" tall.

The bears are polymer clay with glass seed beads for eyes.  I coated the bears with mica powders before I baked them.  I used pearl white and interference blue on the fur, interference blue on the noses, deep red in the mom's mouth, and a tiny bit of black around the eyes and nose.  I lost control of the black mica powder on the sitting bear's right eye which gives him sort of a raccoon look!

The quartz had a little discoloration, so I painted the top surfaces with interference blue and interference green acrylic.  The paint also helps integrate the rock with the bears.  The interference colors are transparent, so there is a mica sheen but you can see through it - the rock's texture and color isn't obscured.

To make it a totem, I added some beads.  The tiniest ones are glass seed beads.  The colored round ones are kyanite - I selected particularly light beads from the strand - the white round ones and the carved leaf are frost quartz, the irregular clear is quartz, the irregular translucent pale blue are blue chalcedony, and the faceted bead at the end of the left strand is rainbow moonstone.

As far as it being a totem, the proper thing to do would have been to research the spiritual meaning of polar bears then find stone that have matching or complimentary meanings.  But I was making a personal totem rather than an "authentic" one.  To me, polar bears have an incredible strength from living with grace in such a forbidding landscape.  So pearls would have been appropriate in terms of meaning, but I didn't think they worked well visually, so I used transparent and translucent stones in colors that are reminiscent of ice.  In the end, it's a warm and soothing take on a cold and hostile place that is nonetheless home.

I think mom has a sweet face, and I'm happy with this piece.  I made it to replace the carnelian bear totem on my website because it sold, but I will have a hard time parting with this one!