Sunday, November 2, 2014

Polar Bear Sketching Fun

Polar bear and cubs pencil drawing

A couple of weeks ago I was in Michaels and couldn’t resist buying some of those cute miniature animals. Telling myself that I would use them as props in paintings and drawings, I happily carried home a wolf, a Percheron draft horse and a giraffe. But what captured my interest and imagination the most were the polar bears: a mother and cub. 

This morning I happened to turn on the TV at the end of a documentary on a female polar bear and her two cubs. Remembering my own sow and cub and my plans for them, I watched and studied the bears as they went about their daily activities. When the show was over, I grabbed a sketchbook and did this drawing from memory of a polar bear and her two cubs on the ice. 

I didn’t bother with using my little models; I just wanted to grab from memory with no reference and no expectations of this little sketch being a preliminary for something more refined. That’s the way I often drew as a kid; from memory with no references. I spent many many happy hours drawing this way just for the pure enjoyment of it. 

If you’ll recall, I took a workshop three years ago in which we drew a stuffed polar bear at the Dennos Museum in Traverse City. I channeled my memories of that experience, too, along with the observations of the bears in the documentary. These are the only two times I have ever drawn bears, and I’m  fairly pleased with the results. I like the gesture of the mother bear’s movement and the babyness of her cubs. That is not to say that any of them are perfect, but that wasn’t the purpose or goal of the sketch. 

When I brought those polar bears home from Michaels, I had a painting in mind to do with them. The scene would be in the winter darkness with the Northern Lights in the sky behind them. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, to paint those light colors into the coats of the bears and on the ice? Perhaps this sketch will be the starting point for that painting after all; just an idea of an image to expand upon in a full fledged painting. Perhaps I’ll head to the Dennos and do some more sketches of that stuffed bear in the lobby. 

Yeah, that sounds like a plan. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Old Horse Painting and Getting Back To Normal

"Bear", 11x14 pastel horse painting

It's been a long time since I last posted, and although I haven't quite gotten back to the easel yet, I thought I'd share this old portrait with you today for Throwback Thursday.

This is Bear. He was an Appaloosa gelding who belonged to a riding friend several years ago. I had the pleasure of painting his  portrait as a gift and am still reasonably happy with it. An artist is never completely satisfied with any finished painting, but that's another story.

The portrait was done in pastel, and what a fun time I had getting all that roaning to look natural and to match the markings on Bear's face and body. I haven't worked in pastel in a very long time now, not since I quit accepting portrait commissions, but I'm getting the urge to pick them up again.

That will be a lot easier now that my studio is finally all put back together after the long layup during the surgery recovery. During this past month, I sorted through all of my oil paints and separated them into warm and cool colors. Then I separated out duplicates and packed them in an old fishing tackle box that I'll use for painting outdoors.

The final step in getting the studio back together involved going through my art supply closet and rearranging it. In the process I found a few things that I'd forgotten I had and got rid of some other things no longer needed. All is arranged much better now, and my lifetime supply of old t shirts and pillowcases is organized in two boxes to be used as paint rags as needed. There was even left over space to put a few things away that had been kicking around the studio floor.

And, very lastly, my husband brought my drawing table back out of the attic to resume its old position folded up against the wall. I love that drawing table; so compact when it's folded and yet a large working surface when set up. It was the final piece to putting the studio back into full operating mode.

Meanwhile during the month, I went to physical therapy twice per week, did my exercises (mostly) faithfully and got caught up on various doctor appointments and the cat's vet appointments. I am now finished with PT and am looking forward to more free time to devote to catching up on so very many tasks that have gone undone for way too long. There are bird feeders to clean and set up and horse blankets to wash for the coming winter among many other tasks.

Homeward Bound on a trail ride
During the month of September, I was able to ride somewhat regularly and to fit in four trail rides. Oh, how glorious that was! Trail riding season is fast coming to an end, and it's time to plan for arena riding through the winter.

Speaking of which, can you believe that the Holidays are almost upon us?! Where has this year gone? It certainly has flown by.

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