Sunday, September 7, 2014

Hard Choices

"Daisy" an old pastel portrait

It’s been a very difficult year. Not battling cancer difficult or losing a loved one difficult but difficult in other and multiple ways which combined together have become a mountain. 

First, of course, was the surgery to correct a crooked leg back in March which laid me up and off my feet (or TWO feet anyway) for far longer than expected; months longer in fact. It was difficult to be dependent on my husband for almost everything for nearly four months when I tend to be an independent, do-my-own-thing type of person. 

Also difficult was leaving the complete care and riding of my horse to one of my fellow boarders and not being able to see him for weeks at a time. It was hard to hear that he was “thriving” and “never looked better” under someone else’s care. Did that mean that I haven’t been a good horse mom all these years? 

Now that I’m back to riding him, his back is sore again. The vet says that either his saddle doesn’t fit him right or “it’s a rider problem”, neither of which I wanted to hear. I am now actively looking for a new saddle, a road that we’ve been down before with great difficulty. He is “hard to fit” it seems.

I also have to face the possibility that maybe I’m just too heavy for him at his age (29). So, what to do? Do I retire him even though he’s still rideable? Do I continue to ride him while I try to lose weight on a crash diet? Or, do I just not ride him until I can lose weight and let him lose the conditioning he gained over the winter? 

By far the most difficult thing has been to figure out over months of time that my online friends, some of whom I’ve known for years, weren’t really friends at all but more like acquaintances, at least in their minds. That one really rocked me to the core. How could I have misjudged so badly? 

I was once admonished that “to HAVE a friend, you have to BE a friend”. It’s always been very hard for me to trust people enough to let them close.  Now I’m left wondering how I could have failed so badly at being a friend, and where do I go from here? 

On the art front, things haven’t been much better. During my lay up I managed to start two new paintings, but when I ran into a road block with one of them, I totally lost momentum and haven’t been able to get it back since. It’s difficult to see the artwork of artist friends (or acquaintances) online who have advanced over the years while I have stagnated. The truth is that there are hundreds of horse artists in the world who are far better than I, and I keep wondering why I should bother continuing to paint when the chances of catching up to them are so slim, especially at my age. 

The truth is that I don’t have the passion to paint or the drive to create that so many other artists seem to have. Some do artwork every single day. I can go for months without doing any and don’t really miss it. I wonder, if I shouldn’t just give up on being a professional artist and just create for myself when I feel like it. Or, should I pack up all the art materials and equipment and sell it all? 

But then, who would I be? What would I do? 

So, here I am struggling to recuperate from a surgery that may not have solved a problem and dealing with issues which need to be resolved one way or another. 

Hard questions. Hard Choices. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Horse Painting; Glory From Start To Finish

My usual studio setup for painting, with references nearby. 
Whenever I create a painting or drawing, I take progress pictures along the way. By the finish, I’ve got lots of photos that I don’t need. Some are blurry, some are crooked and some have bad color. I’m starting to weed them out as the art progresses now, but I have a lot of old art photos that need to be purged. 

Today I did a purge of the Tribute to Glory pictures, and it occured to me that you might like to see how the painting progressed from start to finish all in one post although most of these have been shown before. So, here goes! 

The first step was to tone the canvas with a nice palominoey yellow. Then I drew the horse directly on the canvas using my reference photo as a guide. I added white to the mane and blaze in order to define them from the beginning. 

Next I did a value painting in gray to establish the lights and darks. I liked this stage so much that I thought about leaving it as is. This is a technique often used by the Old Masters. 

The next step was to add a thin layer of color over the whole painting. 

Following that I laid on a second layer of color, a little heavier this time. You can still see the gray underpainting showing through. 

At this point I realized that the proportions of the muzzle were too narrow and Glory’s dished face did not show as well as I wanted. I made a number of corrections to the face and muzzle and jaw line and also thinned the hindquarters  to keep them from dominating too much by painting over them with the background color. 

The colors change from photo to photo due to different lighting conditions. 

In this next photo I’ve begun applying a third layer of color and have gotten as far as the throatlatch. You can see a definite line between the layers. 

In this photo I’ve finished the third layer of color and have added some highlights to Glory’s coat. She is almost done!

At this point I decided that Glory needed a larger eye and painted one. I have also made other corrections along the way at each stage; ones that aren’t as visible but affect the whole. 

And finally the painting is done! Glory got some eye lashes, the mane and forelock were finished and a final layer of color went on the background. Notice that I softened the line of the hindquarters  by blending some background color over it in order to push it further back in the picture plane. 

Here is my reference photograph. This is a small 4x5 film print that is not the best image but somewhat captures Glory. I took some liberties in my painting to portray her more as I remember her and gave her a deeper gold coat than she had in reality. The final result is a painting both of tribute to Glory and one that I hope will be a popular image. 

Who doesn’t love a palomino?

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Saga of a Painting - "Have We Met? - Belgian Horses"

reference photograph of two draft horses for an equine painting
Felled by another bout of Hummingbird syndrome, I haven’t done any painting in a couple of weeks now. But I did sort through all of my photographs of one painting, both in progress and completed and managed to correct the best finished photo to very closely match the painting. 

I thought it might be instructive to artists and non artists alike to show you the reference photograph that I worked from and discuss all the changes I made in the painting. So, here goes. 

Above is the reference photo that I took at a horse pull at the county fair several years ago, and below is the finished painting.

"Have We Met? - Belgian Horses" 12x16 oil painting on canvas

Here’s a list of the changes made: 

1. Since I wanted the painting to be of a pair of Begians, I changed the color of the left hand horse from bay to chestnut. 

2. The horses were finished competing and were sweaty and unharnessed. I wanted the painting to show them freshly groomed but not show horse shiny since they’re work horses after all. Getting the muscling and highlights to look natural proved to be a big challenge. I had to look for other references of Belgians with the light coming from the proper direction. 

3. That trailer. Rusty and beaten up was not what I had in mind, so away it went to the body shop for some work and a new paint job. Again, I had to find other references for how a shiny trailer would reflect light. Luckily, I had some from a draft horse show. I also set up two of my Breyer model horses  right next to a shiny flat plane to see where the reflections would be. Notice that there are none in the reference photos. 

4. In the photograph the horses’ ears make a funny tangent where they almost touch. To correct that, I changed the right hand horse’s ear position slightly until it looked better. 

5. I confess to not liking very wide blazes that go over the nostrils on horses. So, I changed the right hand horse’s blaze to a narrower one. I didn’t change the actual shape of his muzzle at all, and notice how much more narrow it looks with the narrower blaze. 

6. Most Belgians do have blazes, so I added one to the left hand horse - just because I wanted to. 

7. Notice the fender showing in the reference photograph? I took it out of the painting because it was confusing and added nothing to the image. 

8. The trailer interior and uprights.What I was seeing in the reference photograph didn’t make sense, so I changed it to correspond with the near side, taking into account that the trailer was at a slight angle in the plane of the painting. 

9. I cropped the photograph to offset the horses’ heads slightly to avoid a perfectly centered composition. Notice that you see far less of the right hand horse’s shoulder.

10. The final change I made to the image was to give it a new name from the working name of “The Green Team” to “Have We Met? -Belgian Horses” which I think better expresses the engagement of the horses’ gazes with the viewer. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip through the brain of an artist and that you’ve learned a thing or two about how to use reference photographs in the best possible way. Rarely is a photograph perfect in every way, and some photographs just don’t work as paintings. Learning to evaluate a photograph from a compositional point of view is a necessary part of progressing as a realist artist. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Little Pinto Oil Painting

Oil Painting of a pinto foal

Yesterday's leftover paint painting didn't go as well as the first one I did. But, Hey! I made the effort, and that's what counts.

The little pitcher painting didn't get many Likes on Facebook so apparently others didn't think it was as wonderful
as I do. But, that's okay because "I" know it represents a step forward and turned out well for what I can create at the current time.

After painting a color chart of my brown oil paints, I used the leftover paint to create this little 5x7 of one of my Breyer foals. I didn't pay enough attention to proportions or fitting the image on the canvas (it was close to dinner time), so the foal turned out looking more like a pinto pony. I was rushing and having some trouble with the paint so just gave up at a certain point.

The background consists of raw ochre (a color I very much like) and burnt sienna over that. The foal is painted with burnt umber, I think, and some Van Dyke brown that is almost a black. And white, of course. Again, I used the #6 and #12 mongoose brushes.

I have one more color chart to do, but I've run out of space on the wall to put wet paintings so will put that off for at least a few days. Meanwhile, I'll get back to working on the big Twilight painting.

This weekend my "kids" are home, and we're celebrating Independence Day. I tried helping out in the kitchen last night but ended up very tired and very sore, so apparently I overdid. I will do quiet activities for the rest of the weekend and wait for the okay from the surgeon to get back to normal activities.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Nailed It! Little Blue Pitcher Painting

"Mom's Pitcher", 7x5" oil painting on canvas board

This is a little  painting I did yesterday of a blue green glass pitcher that had been my mother’s. It's a 7x5 inch oil painting on canvas board.

I put off doing this little color study for two days because I was afraid of messing it up. How silly is that? It’s a study for goodness sakes, not the Mona Lisa!

The idea was to use up leftover paint from the blue color chart by doing a small painting, just for fun.  But, by the time I got around to it, most of the paints had dried so I was limited in the number of blues I could use. Adding a teeny bit of Winsor Green and a teeny bit of purple turned the painting into an analogous color study to give it more punch. 

And, Voila’! It turned out really really well! 

The main colors are Ultramarine blue, Cerulean Blue and some touches of Prussian Blue along with Titanium White and the green and purple. Oh, yes, and some Delft Blue which is a very dark blue. 

I drew directly on the canvas from life and made myself use a larger brush for the background and foreground, a #12 Winsor Newton Monarch flat. The rest was done with a #6 Monarch flat. Keeping the painting loose was a goal and not fussing with brush strokes was another. 

All in all, I’m very pleased with the way I captured the look of translucent glass, rendered the shape fairly accurately and didn’t overblend. I love the brush strokes and reflections, especially in the table top. 

I am eager to do more of these and just wish I’d thought to do them after finishing the other color charts to use up those dabs of leftover color. 

As a bonus, here is a small sketch from life that I did of our kitty, Molly, while she slept one evening on the foot stool. It’s basically a line drawing but still captured some dimensionality. I’m very pleased with it, too. 

Meanwhile, I’m reading a very good book on color, Paints and Colors by David Pyle. It’s so good that it’s hard to put down, and I wish I’d found it many years ago. 

Happy Fourth of July to all my American friends and followers! Let the summer begin!
"Molly's Nap" pencil cat drawing

Friday, June 27, 2014

Painting; Making Color Charts

Red Color Chart of Oil Painting Pigments by Brand

A couple of weeks ago I made the very painful decision to give up on trying to finish a painting, let alone two paintings, to enter in a juried show at a museum in Texas. One painting wasn’t advancing to my satisfaction, and the other one was barely started. Better, I decided, to put the paintings aside and do them properly later than rush it and end up with subpar paintings. 

Meanwhile, I was sidetracked with other projects. One of them was to create color charts of all of my pigments. I’m doing them by colors, and shown above are the reds which are currently in my inventory. 

Step One; Create a Grid

I chose to do these on  9x12 canvas panels because I had them on hand, but one could also do them on unstretched canvas or canvas paper. The first step was to draw a grid on the boards with a fine tip Sharpie. At the very top is the brand of paint abbreviated and the color name. 

I tried to sort all the tubes in some kind of order from lightest to darkest and/or warmest to coolest. Some of my guesses weren’t quite right but it doesn’t matter that much. I put a dab of each color on a 9x12 paper palette. You really don’t need more than a dab. In the left lower corner I put a bigger dab of Titanium white, the most used white by artists. In the lower right corner I put a dab of ivory black. 

Step Two; Paint The Chart

In the second square from the top I placed an “X” with the Sharpie which revealed how transparent or opaque each color is. In that square was placed the mass color right from the tube. Below that I added successive amounts of white to the color until it reached a very pale value in four stages. 

Notice which mass color swatches still reveal the “X” and which don’t. 

Step Three; Paint The Darker Values

The chart is divided in half top to bottom by another grid line. This separates the half adding white from the half that black was added to. For the first two charts, i didn’t put in the center grid line and the demarcation tended to wander up and down across the board. The red chart looks much neater so I’ll definitely do that for the rest. 

Starting from the top of the lower section, I added increasing amounts of black to each tube color, starting with a very small amount until the final box contained just black with a small portion of the color. There are five divisions in the lower section. For those pigments which were already dark in value, five steps were not needed because they went to very very dark in a hurry, as you can see with the one Indian Red and the Gamblin Alizarin Permanent. 
My palette setup for painting the charts


The charts are very revealing. They tell me which colors/pigments are transparent and which are opaque or some degree in between. They tell me just how much a pigment will be dulled down by a touch of black added. They reveal the warm/cool bias of the color. For instance, the Old Holland Red Gold Lake on the far right goes very orange very quickly when white is added. So does the Old Holland Tansparent Oxide Red Lake. 

Notice the warm pinks produced by the Old Holland Scheveningen Red Light contrasted to the cool pinks produced by the Alizarins and the Old Holland Magenta (what a pretty hue that is!). One Alizarin is slightly more blue than the other while Old Holland Vermillion Extra is very close to the Old Holland Cadmium Red Light. 

Using this information I can tell which colors are similar enough to stock one in my studio supplies while setting the other aside in my plein air paint box. Or, which color will not be needed to replace when it runs out. 

I also got a feel for how well each tube of color handled. Some of my older paints are very stiff and applied very grainy, so they may need to be replaced with newer paint or eliminated altogether. 

Final Notes

I used only two #6 brushes (my favorite mongoose: one natural bristle and the other synthetic blend). One brush was used for the lighter half of the chart and the other was used for the darks only. This worked well although I had to rinse and clean the brushes carefully between colors so that remnants in the brush wouldn’t influence the next color. 

When the charts are done, I scrape off the remnants of the pigments and wipe down the palette for the next chart, leaving any remnants of white and black in the corners. Then the palette goes into the palette keeper until the next day. 

I also used gloves for part of the process, my favorite is the Nitrile EX  which seem to be fairly tough but also very comfortable and thin. My husband brings them home from the office for me. 

I look forward to finishing the charts and using them to help me get better acquainted with all my pigments when I soon get back to painting. 

Meanwhile, I’m also doing some sketching. Here’s one I did years ago from life of our German Shepherd, Daisy. That’s as far as I got before she moved. 
Pencil sketch from life of our German Shepherd dog, Daisy

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hummingbird Syndrome and a New Horse Sketch

"Goldilocks" palomino filly sketch

I’ve been suffering lately with a case of Hummingbird Syndrome; easily distracted and flitting from one project to another without finishing any of them. 


Having put the paintings aside to ponder on them, I decided to inventory my oil paint pigments to figure out which ones were getting low and needed to be ordered. That done, I decided to research each of those pigments and make notes on them as an educational project to help make better choices when choosing which colors to use. This turned into more of a project than initially anticipated! Some of my tubes of paint are so old that they don’t contain any information on them as to the pigments used or their toxicity and lightfastness; all information that is included on more recent tubes of paint. 

What followed was research online at the websites of various paint manufacturers and other art related sites. To my dismay, Grumbacher does not include pigment information on their website while Winsor-Newton, Daler Rowney and Old Holland do. Of course, I have a lot of very old tubes of Grumbacher oils. To supplement what I couldn’t find, I consulted the Artist’s Bible; Ralph Mayer’s Manual of Artists Materials and Techniques. Pretty dry stuff that and also incomplete for some pigment numbers found on newer tubes of paint. The book was last revised in 1991 so is now out of date. 

I’ve almost finished this project, and it’s been very illuminating. For instance, a company may change the pigment or pigments used in a particular named color over time. And what one company calls Burnt Sienna may contain totally different pigments from what another company calls Burnt Sienna. Each pigment has different qualities of lightfastness, opacity, drying time and toxicity, so it pays to know what’s in the tube. It’s also a good reason to stick with one or two brands of oil paint. 


One evening while watching TV, I sketched the above drawing of a foal. The next morning I worked on it some more and added some background. It turned out so well that I had to share it. Then I thought about doing more sketches, something I should be doing daily anyway. So I got out some more photographs to copy. 


My horse, Scottie as a four year old
But, before I could do anything about that, I was distracted again by a photograph of my horse as a four year old just before I bought him. Having scanned that and a few other photos and the sketch, I posted it on Facebook to share for Throwback Thursday when people post old photos of themselves or family or childhood pets; that sort of thing. 

Before I knew it, I started researching my horse’s pedigree and found some resources online. The biggest find online was a website where you can type in the name of a horse and get that horse’s pedigree that may go back hundreds of years. For instance, my horse is an unregisterd Quarter Horse, but his sire is registered. In researching his sire’s pedigree, I was able to track back as far as the foundation sires of not only the Quarter Horse breed but the thoroughbreds whose blood are part of the breed through a Thoroughbred named Three Bars. Three Bars goes back to the Godolpin Arabian, Darley Arabian and Byerly Turk all of which were used to improve the Thoroughbred breed back in the 18th century. Their pedigrees in turn go back to the 1600’s. That’s where I stopped. 

Finding these three horses in my horse’s geneology was nothing short of magical. It took me back to my childhood of reading Marguerite Henry’s books, Album of Horses and King Of The WInd. I adored Album of Horses and spent many hours reading and rereading it and even copying some of the drawings and paintings. 


Meanwhile I dealt with a spoofing attack on my email account. Some spammer was using my email address to send out hundreds of thousands if no millions of spam emails. Although the spam wasn’t going out of my email server, all the returned spam emails were coming into my email server. By the thousands! The highest count was over 9000! A call to my website host was not of much help except the advice to just wait it out and the returned mail notices would go away as the spammers moved on to use someone else’s email address as the From address. This blitzkrieg lasted for five days, and thankfully, yesterday morning it ended. Abruptly. 

The website tech guy advised me to sign up for a newer hosting package that included more perks and better spam filtering at a lower cost. So, of course, I had to look into that but couldn’t find much on the website. 


With all of these loose ends dangling at this point, I’ve dedicated today as a catchup day. Putting aside horse geneology and website hosting changes, I will endeavor to finish the pigments research project. Going through my horse’s folder and throwing out old farrier receipts, vet visit bills and Coggins test results is also on the schedule after which I will file it away again. And make a separate folder for the geneology finds. 

But first the bathroom needs to be cleaned.