Tuesday, April 12, 2016

New Painting; Polar Bear

First layer of color on new painting
I have begun a new painting; the first in a very long time. It's a simple painting set up mostly to be non threatening, non intimidating and fairly easy. It's the first in what I'm going to call my Stepping Stone series, a series of new paintings designed to resurrect my failed artistic confidence and get me enthusiastic, confident and prolific once again. 

A famous artist once said (and I'm paraphrasing) "Behind every masterful artist are a lot of failures". That quote has stuck with me as I've struggled to get back into the game. I briefly considered calling new paintings "failures", but that seemed self defeating. Why declare a work of art a failure before it's even begun? Why bother putting much effort into it if it's destined to be a failure anyway? So, I've settled on considering them stepping stones on the path forward that I'm building for myself.  

Back to that new painting. Some time ago I bought a rather large plastic polar bear at Michaels, intending to use it as a model some day. It seemed like a good place to start with the first stepping stone in my series, a rather easy form to draw as compared to a horse or wolf or human. Stacking a couple of boxes of appropriate size, I set up a still life stand on top of a tray table next to my easel, covered the boxes with a bath towel and placed the polar bear on top, choosing a pleasing angle for his "portrait". 

Envisioning an arctic scene, I toned an 8x10 inch canvas board with thinned Naples Yellow and proceeded to draw the bear directly on the canvas with a brush. The first attempt didn't look quite in proper proportion, so I made some adjustments, painting over the wrong lines and made new ones.

The result looked better, but I wanted to check my accuracy so I did a little trick with the computer. Seated at the easel, I took a photograph of the painting and then took another one of my still life setup being sure to frame the polar bear in the viewer just as it was on the canvas. Next I brought the painting into Photoshop and imported the still life photo on top of it in a new layer. By reducing the opacity of the layer, I could see the painting underneath and just had to move the layer around a bit so that the two bears overlapped nose tip to rump tip. I was dismayed to see that the drawing was still off in some areas although the body length was spot on. 
Drawing with reference superimposed to check for accuracy

I immediately beat myself up for not getting the drawing exactly right and fell into deep despair. Fortunately at that point my Nurturing Parent stepped in to to say, "Wait a minute here, Bucko! Don't be such a perfectionist! Remember, you haven't done very much drawing from life (or still life) since art school 30 years ago. Yes, Yes, we need to do more of this and up our skills at drawing accurately. But for now cut yourself some slack."

I felt better after that and was ready to move forward. Then the next dilemma cropped up. Should I leave the drawing as it was or make another bunch of corrections to match the photograph? Would it be cheating to do the corrections now? I decided that I wouldn't be happy with the painting, knowing the drawing was still off, if I didn't, and so I did. 

Once I had the drawing set and had drawn in a rough landscape, I painted a thin first layer of color over the whole canvas. Shown at the top. It's in what we artists call the "ugly" stage, but that will be remedied in subsequent layers where I will work in more color and detail. 

Early in the process I looked up photos of polar bears and the arctic on Google. So far I'm very happy with the way I caught the diffused winter sunshine of an arctic day and the pristine blue of the arctic waters. 

Thank you for stopping by, and please visit again.

Monday, February 29, 2016

"Molly" A Dog Portrait

"Molly" pastel dog portrait

Looking through a pile of old portraits, I came across this one of Molly the Bichon Frise.

She was a charming little dog who loved her tennis ball, so of course it had to be included in the portrait. She lived in a house with green shag carpet, a perfect backdrop for her snowy white coat. 

When I delivered the portrait, her owner seemed a bit underwhelmed (never a good sign) and sure enough, a day or two later she called to say that the portrait was not quite right; it just didn't look like Molly. I dutifully retrieved the portrait and examined the reference photo closely, and to my embarrassment realized that I had gotten Molly's head too narrow and the ears not right. 

Making corrections on a pastel portrait is fairly easy, and in no time "Molly" was looking like her real self. This time the client's enthusiasm was more genuine when I delivered the corrected portrait, and she has since told me how much she loves it. 

Sometimes one can get too close to a work of art and fail to see the flaws. I have learned to avoid this by standing back often from the easel, checking it frequently against the reference photo and looking at the work in a mirror where mistakes are more obvious. No artist, however accomplished, is immune from this myopia, so I've learned to be aware and to not flog myself when it happens. 

Thank you for stopping by. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

"Cadence", A Driving Horse Pastel Portrait

"Cadence", a pastel portrait

Here is another in a series of old portraits to share with you. 

This is Cadence, a flashy Morab driving horse. The portrait was 11"x14" pastel on paper. I took the driving photos for this composite portrait at a local show but used the very nice head photo provided by the client. 

I am particularly pleased with how the eye turned out. Some day I'd like to do a larger version of Cadence with his owner/driver in a country landscape. Wouldn't that be lovely? 

At one time I had note cards available of this image. But after the horse's owner asked if I was going to split the sales of the note card with her, I decided it was time to retire the design. After figuring in the cost of producing the cards, I wasn't making much profit nor was I selling many. 

So it goes for a portrait artist. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Sudan, Palomino Horse Painting

"Sudan" 24x24 inch oil painting

While I'm toiling away preparing tax stuff to send to the accountant, I've decided to share some of my older artwork and portrait work with you and share the stories behind them; good, bad and downright ugly. It should be fun. 

First up in the spotlight is "Sudan", one of the last commissioned portraits I accepted. Sudan was a nice looking palomino Arabian Quarter Horse cross gelding. His owner wanted me to depict him in his summer and winter coats since he turned much lighter in his winter woollies.

Although I got to see him in person, I didn't have my camera with me and had to rely on photos provided by the client; almost always a challenge. I was downstate visiting my elderly parents and didn't have the camera with me at the time.  

The most challenging part of the portrait was selecting the photos that were the best AND which worked together the best. Once I had the composition worked out, the painting went rather smoothly. It was delivered to the client on another downstate visit to my parents. 

 "Sudan" might not be up to my current painting standards, but it was one of my best at the time and for that deserves a bit of recognition. 

I hope you enjoy him, and thanks for stopping by. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

One Step Forward, Two steps Back

It's safe to say that I am rusty when it comes to painting. Witness the painting above. 

Last week I put in time on this painting two days in a row. On the second day, I wiped off part of what I had painted the day before. On the third day, I tried to wipe off what I'd done on Day Two, but the paint had already dried, and I was only able to get off a little bit of it. 

The "progress" you see is on the hind legs and haunches of the horse. The left side isn't too bad, but the right haunch is a different matter. I mixed three piles of reddish brown: dark, medium and a lighter version. But somehow the haunch all came out pretty much one value. 

How did that happen? I asked myself. Well, I just wasn't paying enough attention when I mixed fresh batches of each value. I will have to paint that area again. There are other corrections to make as well. 

Although I'm eager to get back to the painting, I've taken a break to give the paint plenty of time to dry before I put on another coat and also to get some progress made on income tax information for the accountant. Then I plan to set aside three whole days to do nothing but paint the horse. 

So that's where I am now; dealing with Life responsibilities before getting back to the painting. Next time you can be sure that I will mix those different values more carefully and test them out before putting paint on the canvas again. 

Sometimes it's just one step forward and two steps back. That's just the way it goes in the life of a painter.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Blink Of An Eye

"Twilight Reverie" in progress painting
Revised painting, in progress

After an unusually warm Fall and a very green Christmas, the weather has changed from mid October-like to mid winter in the blink of an eye. As I write this, we are experiencing what is locally called Lake Effect snow. Those who live on the borders of the Great Lakes know exactly what I mean; periods of heavy blowing snow interspersed with blinding moments of cheerful sunshine. Mother Nature is at her most fickle.

Early January is the time that my day job dictates doing all the end of the year chores that are required for preparing business tax figures for the accountant. In my case, that would be two businesses: my husband’s and my own. So, this week I am sorting through papers, making new file folders, moving records and compiling documents into the Tax Box.

On the art front, I always do an end of year assessment, looking back over the year and noting what art sold, what art was started, exhibitions participated in, new products created, hours spent in the studio (yes, I do keep track of that for every work of art) and other assorted things. Part of that is also planning ahead and making new goals for the coming year.

So here I am in the midst of all this busyness, thinking about the promising year ahead. Having gone through some very difficult years (family, health, emotional) where art has taken a back seat and practically been kicked to the curb, I am thinking more than ever that THIS is the year to poop or get off the pot. Pardon the vulgarity, but that is exactly the phrase which is most apt. Either start creating again or throw in the towel for good.

For quite a few months now, I’ve been stuck on one particular large painting. There was something bothering me about the background. Was it too warm - or not? I feared that I had fallen into that crippling pit of following the reference photo too closely. I couldn’t decide, and so it languished on the easel, staring back at me in admonishment of my incompetence.

A few months ago I decided to learn more about Notan, an art technique used in the composing a work of art. I will write more about that later. Having learned how to apply it to a work of art, I decided to  apply it to this same painting to improve another problem that was bothering me. The simplest way to do that was to manipulate the image on the computer in Photoshop, and in the process I could try cooling down that offending background with a thin layer of blue on the computer screen. That is exactly what I did, and in another blink of an eye I knew this was the answer to my dilemma, and it hadn’t even risked ruining the painting!

However, the holidays were fast approaching, with much to be done and little time to devote to art. I decided to put off working on the painting until after the holidays which brings me to the present.

I love this part of winter when I can hibernate inside and not feel guilty about all the things I should get done outside. It is a time to relax, regroup and begin anew. Having resolved the problem of how to fix the painting (which had also greatly boosted my miniscule self confidence), I am now eager to work on Twilight once again. THIS year I resolve to put art at the top of the priority list and let everything else fit around it.

I am letting go of all the rejections and disappointments of the last several years and moving forward with new confidence, moving in new directions and setting more realistic expectations for the future. I feel more upbeat than I have in years, and that is a very positive thing. 

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