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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Accepted into the Pastel Society of America!

When I attended the International Association of Pastel Societies convention in Albuquerque in June I attended a demo by Rae Smith who is the President of the Pastel Society of America.  I also heard her speak at the President's Council and she encouraged IAPS members to apply to PSA.  Apparently PSA, based in New York City, has been primarily an east coast organization and they are interested in widening their scope.  So I figured "why not?"  When I got home I put my application together.  The PSA application required 3 images, and the SAA jury had liked 3 of the 5 images I had submitted to them in May.  So I used those 3 - pictured here - and was fortunate enough to be accepted.

Pastelists seem to be so focused on landscape that I often feel a little like the "odd artist out" at my local pastel group, so I was especially pleased to be accepted into PSA with all animal subjects.

I have been concentrating on pastel recently.  When I began preparing for my second SAA application I thought it would be a good idea to focus on one medium and I chose pastel even though it is a relatively new medium for me - about 2 years.  Although I like working with a brush, I like drawing even more, and even though pastel pieces are called "paintings," I think of the process as drawing.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What Should I Call It?

After more tweaking, I think I'm done - at least for now. Per Shelley's suggestion, I modeled the right dog's head more.  And I also added pure white to the sky and some of the highlights.  I liked the warmth of the very light yellow, but I like the addition of the white as it both brightens it and cools it. I'll do a final review in a month or so when I'm getting my SAA application together.

But what shall I call this painting?  I think this is the first one I've done in a long time that I didn't have a name for from the beginning.  I don't know the names of these dogs, or even what sex they are.  But I've been thinking of the black one as a boy and the other as a girl.  They look like a "Barney" and "Pixie" to me.  And they are waiting patiently.  So how about "Barney and Pixie - Patiently Waiting."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Keep Going!

I was definitely in unknown territory working on the snow.  Somehow I needed to use color variation to suggest little drifts covering the landscape.  The land had to be clearly different from the sky, and also clearly receding into the distance.

It's always fun to do stray grasses and weeds.  But now I see that I need to bring the fur down a little lower on the dogs to catch the weeds in the image.  Also maybe I should open up that dark streak across the bottom with a patch of lighter snow.

I'm happy with the highlight on the black dog's back - it breaks up the large dark mass and shows more of the texture of the fur.  But I'm a bit unhappy with the right dog's eye and feel that I still need more color in her fur.

Working on the Fur

It may seem odd to so enjoy working on the fur when it's so repetitive - adding layer after layer of pretty much the same thing.  But it's so amazing to see the lines slowly transform into something that actually looks like fur - soft here, wiry there, short here, long there - bringing the dogs to life.  The challenge with the black fur is to make it rich looking and not just a dead black solid color.  And the challenge on the other dog is to get the markings right so that they help define the form.
The background seemed too spotty so I added color to even out and enlarge the cloud shapes, especially on the right.  Now I'm happier with the sky, but the icy tundra definitely needs work.

A Cloudy Morning

Now that I have a good idea of the general layout of the background I wanted I searched the internet for reference photos that would help me flesh out my ideas.  I found a few that offered help on colors and I have to say that it was great fun roughing in the sky and icy tundra.  The colors are subdued but very appealing to me.    Fortunately the Girault pastels that I have include beautiful selections of grayish blues and a few purples that worked well. 
For the dogs, I just continued working the fur, adding more color using as varied a selection of colors that I could within the fairly narrow range of the dogs' coloring, being careful to keep the overall cool feel.

Off to Alaska!

Two years ago a woman from our art club visited Alaska for the Iditarod race and kindly shared her photos with her fellow artists.  At that time I was just starting to work in pastel and painted these two charming dogs.  In the photo they're standing at the side of a large truck, clearly waiting for the action to begin.  I love this photo so much that I wanted to try it again now that I have more experience with the medium.
In my first attempt, I just made the background a solid blue, but this time I wanted to place the pair in an Alaskan landscape and left plenty of space in front of them to balance the composition.  For the scene, I decided on somthing pretty simple - a snowy bare landscape with an early morning sky.

Beginning the black dog was a challenge as I clearly didn't want to make him just black.  So I underpainted him with a cool, slightly turquoise blue.  And I placed a light blue textured with gray under what would be his white fur.  I underpainted the brown and white dog with blue also, but used lighter colors.  Since the dogs are back-lit by dawn light, they will definitely have a blue cast to them. 

I worked a very dark brown for the black dog's fur, using lighter brown here and there where the barely visible highlights are.  It was important to me that he have a sculpted form to the extent that the lighting and his dark color would allow.  I used a variety of browns on the other dog. 

When Generously-Sized Cats Fly

Here is my sixth and final project as Guest Designer for Art Glitter - feline fairy wings.  It has been so much fun, and working with the sparkle and gleam is such a great break between the more "serious" paintings.
The concept on this project was interesting, but I must admit that the final product, though great fun to make, is completely impractical.  I have nine cats.  When I tried to find one to try the wings on, six immediately headed for deep cover.  Of the remaining three, Phreddee was willing but too fat – the harness wouldn’t close!  I got the harness on Mopsy, but she immediately flattened on the carpet and began crawling backwards at mach speed!  Belle tolerated it – but just long enough to get the picture - and only with Shelley's helping hand coaxing her. 
I wish I could have figured out a way to make a headband (that would stay on!) that I could attach feelers to.  Anyway, I learned that cat harnesses have great possibilities as costume bases if only one had a willing cat.......

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Not So Fast!

Shelley critiqued my painting and did me a favor by telling me that I could do better!  So I buckled down and did a lot more work and - magically! - I do think it's better.  Mostly I concentrated on the background.  I added texture to the trees, deepened and smoothed out the color in the farthest background at the top, added brambles and several branches hanging down from the top, broke up and lightened the bands of grasses behind the fawns, and added grass heads to the right and left as well as more in the front.  On the fawns, I deepened the shadows.  I'm somewhat uncertain about the brown areas in the right foreground, but generally I'm very happy with the way this piece turned out, and grateful to Shelley for challenging me to do better.  Thanks, sis!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Fawns Complete - at least for now...

I think I'm finished with the fawns now - at least until my final review before the SAA application is due.  In this session I added some more interesting color, specifically light blue on the front fawn highlights, more purple in the background as well as a bit of orange, and some yellow in the grasses.  I also changed a few lines - narrowed the front fawn's back legs and softened the curve of her haunch, and lowered the curve on the rear fawn's back.  Also, I spent quite a bit of time improving (hopefully) the eyes.

As for the problem of the fawns appearing to be standing in a hole, I decided against the option of trying to make the brown areas look like clumps of leaves and decided to add more grass.  I can always crop away the bottom are later if I decide I need to.  And actually, I see the brown persisting on showing through.  Rats!  Anyway, a problem for later.

I took this photo in a bright room and it looks a lot more colorful than my photos of previous steps.  I'll have to remember to take all my photos under the same conditions in the future.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Almost There!

After working to "de-shag" the front fawn, I gathered my courage and added tall grasses. This was a nerve-wracking step. Once I made a stroke it would be very difficult to remove, change, or cover-up. But I couldn't allow the nervousness from that fact to give me an unsteady hand. It came out pretty well and I set it up by the tv to study it during the evening. Then I saw a BIG problem. Although I meant the brown areas in the foreground to be clumps of fallen leaves, they look like bare dirt. And in that case, why are the fawns' feet sinking out of sight? They look like they're standing in a hole. What to do? I could crop the painting so that the lower brown areas are gone. I could try to make them actually look like mounds of leaves. Or I could add a lot more grass and just maintain the value shapes that the brown areas are giving my by using different values of greens in grasses. Hmmm.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Keep Working!

Today I started working with the softer pastels - Rembrandts and Giraults.  By the time I was finished working for the day I had worked over pretty much the entire painting, adding detail, emphasizing value contrasts and softening edges in the background and adding detail to the fawns.  I'm happy with the overall composition with one exception.  I want to remove the lower left brown areas and extend the grass there instead.  That will give the fawns a more obvious path into the painting.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Beginning the Background Detail

Today I started detailing the background, and it was with great trepidation.  I started out OK, but then I realized I was doing a landscape.  Gulp!  But I persevered and, having begun in the upper left corner, managed to work nearly halfway down the painting.

In the process, I removed the center tree when I realized that not only was it "sprouting" from the rear fawn's head but also that it was directly in the horizontal center of the painting.  The now middle tree is sprouting from  the front fawn's head and the space between the two center trees is the same width as the trees themselves - another problem, I suppose.  These things don't really bother me so much but I know that they're grievous infractions of the "rules."  So I'll have to ponder what, if anything, I'm going to do.  And I see some odd shapes which I will change as I proceed.

I also added another layer to the rear fawn.  Her back was completely washed in sunlight in my photo, but I made it darker and "found" some spots for her.

So far, it's going reasonably well.  By the way, I'm still working with hard pastels.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Fawns have a Woods to Play in

 Today I blocked in the rest of the fawns then turned to the background.  I have a photo that I took of the woods next door that I'm working from.  But I'm just using the photo as a general guide for shapes and values.  The photo is of the dry early July woods, so I will be changing the colors to spring ones to be in tune with the age of the fawns.  Actually, what would be best is to have the grasses mosty dry but still with touches of green in them since things dry out so early here in northern California.

What I'm looking for at this point is just to capture the feel of a sun-lit clearing surrounded by plenty of places to run and hide.

The picture below is the same photo with the "auto levels" filter option in FireWorks.  I think it's handy as a reference for where I'm ultimately headed with the range of value.

Next time I'll begin detailing the background starting at the top and working down to the level of the fawns' rumps.  At that point, I can return to working on the rear fawn.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The "Nothing New Under the Sun" Problem

After too much angst I finally decided on the subject for my next painting - two fawns in a woodland clearing.  But there's a problem.  Specifically, the "nothing new under the sun" problem.

This subject has been done, done some more, and probably over-done.  So how can I make it "fresh?"  Or is that even possible?  I suppose I'm more aware of this issue than I would ordinarily be because I'm painting pieces for my next - and hopefully finally successful - application to the Society of Animal Artists.  Each piece must be the best I can do and the best I can do shouldn't include cliches.

So I have had real doubts about this subject.  My hope is that once I emotionally connect with these little guys the connection will come through and make the painting special.  The trouble is that with most other subjects I've felt connected before I started painting.

What to do?  What can I do but plunge ahead? 

By the way, I've used my Faber-Castell Polychromos pastels in this first stage and I really like them.  They're hard, like NuPastel, but there are more colors and once I break through the varnish skin on them they lay down the pigment beautifully.