Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Season of Gold and Silver

The view from my studio

Lady Autumn has descended on northwest Michigan, laying her golden hued gossamer cloak upon the earth and imbuing the air with a soft glow that no other season knows. Like the squirrels and birds which scurry about stashing nuts and seeds for the impending winter storms, I am busy cleaning out flower beds and putting away the garden equipment. 

This fall, more than any other, I feel a part of this golden season as I seek to find a new place for myself, a new meaning in daily living and art. I am becoming more comfortable in my own autumn season. It was quite timely, therefore, to encounter an admired artist from my past this morning. 

Burton Silverman, now in his eighties, was interviewed in The Artist’s Magazine. It took me back over 30 years to my final year in art school when our class took a field trip to Chicago. One of the highlights of the trip for me was a visit to a top advertising design studio where we were able to peek into the tiny cubicle spaces of illustrators as they worked. Lining the walls were original paintings by some of the top illustrators of the day. 

I was awestruck. Although enrolled in the commercial art program at Northwestern Michigan College, it was the Illustration courses that excited me the most. The nineteen eighties may not have been the Golden Age of Illustration, but its top illustrators were golden in my mind. The likes of Robert Heindel, Bernie Fuchs, Bob Peak, Mark English, Bart Forbes, Nelson McLean and Burton Silverman inspired me to make art my life’s work; to have something to say through art. 

Looked down upon by the Fine Art establishment, illustrators were all blue ribbon winners in my mind. While following the constraints imposed by clients and art directors, they were still able to create great art. To tell a story or illustrate a point is the purpose of commercial illustration, but isn’t that exactly the same goal that fine artists strive for? They create without having to follow the dictates of outside voices. Who, then, is the better artist? Consider also that many illustrators become some of the most respected fine artists in their own right, having honed their skills and sensibilities in the commercial art world. 

Getting back to that interview with Burton Silverman, he discussed his endeavors to make his models not just objects but flesh and blood people with real lives, putting them in some sort of context in his paintings; telling a story and making a point. Isn’t that what the greatest paintings have always been about, going back through the centuries? 

It was a small reminder to me of what I’ve long wanted my own art to do. It was a nudge from a fellow artist in his own golden years to do my own thing. 

My life has wandered many paths since art school days; some led nowhere, some through briar patches and dark woods, but now in my Autumn years, I am finding my way along the path that destiny laid out for me in the birth of my own Spring. I am finding my destination. 

As a child, I earned the nickname of “Silver” because of my silvery blonde hair. Now here I am in the Golden Years, the Silver One again. When the flower beds are cleared and the garden tools put away, Burton Silverman will follow me as I enter my own winter hibernation in the warm inspirational walls of the studio. 

There I will embrace this Season of Gold and Silver and look forward to the promise of Spring. 

Looking northwest from the studio

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"Echo", a Horse Drawing

"Echo" a Quarter Horse Mare

Drawing from the photograph

I saw a woolly caterpillar in the barn aisle the other day, and that is a sure sign that Fall is here and winter is on its way. 

Usually, Fall is very busy at our house as we batten down the hatches preparing for the snow and cold ahead: taking water craft out of the water for winter storage and cleaning out the flower beds, preparing for the holidays and other sundry things. This year is no exception and is shaping up to be even busier than normal after what was a busy summer. 

For one thing, we took our cat, Molly, downstate to a cat clinic for radiation treatment for hyperthyroidism. She has been on medication for two years, but it was no longer working. It has been traumatic for both us and poor Molly since she had to stay at the clinic for four days and is now in quarantine at home for a week. The treatment itself is very safe, but she was stressed to the max just being taken away from home and "abandoned" by her people and now isolated from all of us in her room alone. She came home very thin and totally exhausted but is now doing fine if not very lonely. 

In spite of the hubbub, I started a new drawing the other day. Not a sketch but an honest to goodness drawing of a Quarter Horse mare that I wanted to finish in colored pencil. I will probably also use the drawing for an oil or pastel painting of this mare and her foal, a painting that I've long wanted to do. 

The drawing was done freehand using the photograph above. I didn't do any measurements to start with, and when it was done, I found some problems. Hunting up my calipers or dividers or whatever you call the thing, I used that to measure the proportions of that particular horse, using the head as the basic measurement by which all others were compared. One head equals the length of the neck and also the width of the barrel and the length of the forelegs to the fetlocks and so on. I traced the original drawing onto a sheet of tracing paper, making some adjustments as I went. This is just the first tracing. I will do another over the top of this one because there are still several adjustments to be made. 

When I'm satisfied with the drawing, I'll trace it onto a good sheet of paper and finish it with colored pencil. That can serve as my color study for the larger oil painting. For that I will add a foal and a background. The foal photo I'd like to use has lighting opposite to what is in the photo of Echo, and I'll have to change it to match the mare by doing some sketches and a value study before proceeding to the painting. 

It feels very good to be tackling a brand new image with challenges to overcome and having the confidence to do it. 

Echo was a former ranch horse who became a broodmare and a trail horse. She is still very much missed by her family. This will be her tribute. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

"Impromptu" Revisited - A Horse Head Drawing

"Impromptu" a horse head pencil drawing

Saturday, September 12, 2015 was an exciting day for us die hard Michigan fans. The University of Michigan has a new football coach, as almost everyone in the country knows, and yesterday was Coach Harbaugh's debut in the Big House where he once played on that same field years ago. 

As a native of Ann Arbor, child of a professor and University graduate, my roots with Michigan football run deep. Many is the time, from a youngster through college and into adulthood, that I cheered on the Wolverines and sang Hail To The Victors within the awe inspiring walls of the Big House on crisp Fall afternoons. The stadium truly lives up to its name. 

On this particular Saturday I chose to revise this little drawing while watching the game. It was done back in July, if you remember. It had been an exercise in drawing a horse head using no reference whatsoever except my own knowledge of and experience with horses. But, I wasn't completely satisfied with the results, so on this day I gathered pencils and erasers and set to work tweaking here and changing there as I cheered on the Wolverines. 

Unfortunately, the paper support only allowed minor tweaks and very little erasing. For that reason, the drawing is now as good as it's going to get. It's better but there are still changes I'd like to make while keeping to the exercise of using no reference. Perhaps I'll throw a sheet of tracing paper over it and rework the outline and create a completely new drawing from that. Perhaps in colored pencils this time which is a medium I haven't used in many years now. 

Meanwhile, Coach Harbaugh got his first victory in The Big House, and the great tradition of Michigan football has been revived. 


Friday, September 4, 2015

Labor Day and Summer's End

The fence line flower beds all weeded and mulched

Whew! It has been a very busy summer! 

After a year of total neglect, I did finally get all the flower beds cleaned out, the annuals and a few new perrenials planted and the beds all fertilized and mulched. What a job! 
I did some sketching but not much else in the art department. Our house is not air conditioned, and sometimes it just gets too hot in the studio. Those overhead studio lights really heat it up. 
My horse, Scottie, is doing well at the moment. He did have a bout of mild laminitis in July so we’re now keeping a close eye on him and his feet and will remove him from his beloved grass if he goes lame again. He had a very good checkup with the equine vet dentist last month. She was very pleased with his weight gain and over all condition considering his worn down teeth and chewing difficulties. 

Riding The Pines trail with a friend
We went on trail rides when it wasn’t too hot, and Scottie was eager, enthusiastic and tired less than he had last summer. All are good signs that he has fully recovered from his terrible sinus infection of three years ago and that his Cushings disease is under control. 

Back on the home front, we’ve made a big change in our lives. We just bought a 23 year old pontoon boat to add to our “fleet” of water craft. We had an old one years ago when our kids were little. We had a lot of fun on that boat with our kids and relatives and friends. It wasn’t much to look at, had no built in seating, but it did have an outhouse on the back. During a lean time we sold it. 

In the past couple of years, the kids and I have realized how much we missed that old pontoon boat, and now that we have the dogs, a pontoon boat will be much more practical and comfortable for all for taking the pooches with us out on the lakes. My husband was persuaded, and we lucked into finding a really nice used pontoon boat on Craig’s List at a really good price within our meager budget and not too far away. The owner, an older gentleman from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan was downsizing and was motivated to sell. We snapped it up as fast as we could and hauled it home two weeks ago. 

Thummbelina, our new/used pontoon boat
After some maintenance work by my husband, we got it in the water and are all eager to enjoy it this weekend. Beautiful Torch Lake is just a short boat ride away, and the weather is supposed to be great for the next two days. 

Another project I’ve undertaken this summer is to copy my mother’s Life Stories from printed sheets of paper onto my computer. I will compile them all into a book of sorts and plan to give them to anyone in the family who wants a copy. Talk about a trip down Memory Lane!  Some of the stories I’ve heard all my life, but others are brand new to me and very revealing about my mother and her unique life. 

I am a convert to writing Life Stories. It’s just too bad that more people don’t do it because so much family history is lost forever otherwise. I am writing down some of my own memories and experiences and will take another writing class or two this Fall. 

One of the reasons I’m looking forward to the end of summer and the  passing of Labor Day is because the next project on the agenda is to begin sorting through all the old photographs of my parents’ and putting them into albums. I figure that is a perfect companion project to the writing and copying of stories.  

Perhaps my mother’s book will be “illustrated” with old photographs from her past. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

"Twilight"; Horse Painting In Progress

"Twilight Reverie", oil painting in progress

Sound the trumpets! Ring the church bells! 

I am finally at long last back to work on paintings! 

Last year was a difficult year, and to tell you the truth, I am still recovering from surgery and the consequences thereof. But, I'm getting my mojo back and have worked on this painting for the past two days. 

When last I worked on it exactly one year ago, I could see a few problems with it and wasn't quite sure what to do about them. And so it sat on the studio wall for months and months. My mind was just not in the right place to deal with painting problems - until now. 

I am back to riding after another long layoff due to a knee injury. I am back to gardening which was a near impossibility last year. The flower beds are cleaned out, and I'm ready to plant and fertilize and mulch. I can walk almost normally (although not far without pain). In short, I am back into a normal routine of being able to do the things I care the most about. 

And one of those things is painting. With the thought of Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained, I resumed work on this painting yesterday and today. It is now back on the studio wall to dry before I tackle painting the final layers of the horse which is still in the underpainting stage. 

There were several things that needed correction. For one, the background trees on the right needed improvement. For another, the outline of the horse had "grown" during the initial painting stage, as often happens, and needed to be trimmed back. The rump was too rounded and plump. I did a few nips and tucks in other areas as well. 

But the biggest problem I could see was that the head was too large in proportion to the body. That could have been due to camera compression and distortion or it could have been due to the head growing as it was painted or it could have been both. At any rate, it got an over all trim and now looks more in proportion and in perspective. I am pleased. 

What will I work on next while "Twilight" dries? There is that little lamb study I never finished, two cat paintings and another of a horse rolling. I am anxious to finish up paintings to fill up my depleted inventory and get started on some new ones. 

I am eager and ready. Sound the trumpets!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Houseplant" Colored Pencil Drawing

"Houseplant" 5x8 colored pencil drawing
This is a colored pencil drawing of a house plant that I did thirty years ago. It was drawn from life. I never finished it and, from time to time, come across it again as I leaf through this sketchbook. Each time I admire it and feel that it has potential. 

Maybe it's time to get out the colored pencils and actually finish it. Only one of the leaves has been burnished with a colorless blender. How will I complete the rest? That is something to ponder. 

I no longer remember what kind of plant this is. I only know that it was one of the few houseplants that I couldn't manage to kill through neglect. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Figure Head Sketches From TV

"Jim Sciutto of CNN" thumbnail sketch
 Yesterday was Mother's Day. My kids never come home for this occasion because they come up for the longer Memorial Day weekend which is later in the month. That's fine with me. The weather is still iffy on Mother's Day and not much to do anyway. 

So, my husband took me out for a lovely brunch at The Blue Pelican Inn in Central Lake. We had a lovely meal and afterwards took the long way home just to get in a little drive, even though it was cloudy and sprinkling. 

When we got home, my husband busied himself with mowing the lawn for the first time and cleaning up tree debris from where we had two big beech trees cut down a week ago. Since it was MY day, I did whatever I felt like doing; I watched my Sunday morning shows on CNN and did a little sketching. The first sketch is of Jim Sciutto hosting "State Of The Union". Since I had recorded this show, I paused it at an appropriate pose moment and finished the sketch which I had already started "live" from the TV. 

In another segment, he was talking to a White House advisor, and I sketched this fellow, too. Didn't pause the video for this one; just went for the gesture drawing. 

"White House Advisor" thumbnail sketch
 This was a good exercise in observation and drawing quickly while the subject is moving around. I used a mechanical pencil for these sketches which are only about 2x2 inches so they are very rough. 

I confess that I don't often draw people, and considering that, I am quite pleased with how these two little sketches turned out. I think I was able to capture the unique features of each man to the point that they could be identified by those who know them. I was able to capture the more chiseled features of Jim compared to the softer more rounded features of the advisor. They are not finished portrait quality by any means, but they work for what they are; thumbnail sketches of two different men.