Sunday, August 7, 2016

Stepping Stone #1; "Morgana", a Morgan Horse Drawing

"Morgana", graphite pencil drawing, Morgan mare

After several more hours and many revisions to the drawing, "Morgana", I am declaring it finished. It is the first piece of art (other than sketches) that I've completed in over two years, so its significance can't be under estimated. 

"Morgana" will be my first finished piece of art in the Stepping Stone series; a series of paintings and drawings that will help me to become actively creative again after a creative block of several years. Not only was it a confidence boosting drawing but also a learning experience. Here is some of what I learned:

1. Choose the paper support wisely before beginning to draw. I fought this utilitarian drawing paper from the beginning. It has very little "tooth"to grab onto the graphite and proved very difficult to get the darks as dark as I wanted them. 

2. Measure twice; draw once. I began the drawing sitting on the couch watching TV, holding the sketchbook on my lap while holding the reference photo in my left hand. I eye balled the proportions and angles rather than measuring them, and they were off in several places. I didn't discover this until the drawing was finished. 

3. Don't proceed with the drawing/painting until you're sure that the initial outline drawing is absolutely accurate. After that, corrections are very difficult if not impossible. 

4. Size matters. If this is to be something more than a quick sketch, draw it larger or enlarge the outline drawing on a copy machine or computer.

5. If your reference is a small 4x6 inch photo, scan it at a high resolution and enlarge it on the computer. Either work from a computer screen or print out the enlarged photo.

reference photo for the drawing, "Morgana"
This latter point was the most telling lesson of all. I didn't scan the photo until the drawing was done and did so only to show you what the reference was like. When I opened the image on the computer screen and saw it enlarged by zooming in, I could see far more detail than I had been able to see in that small 4x6 inch photo print. It was a real Ahah! moment to realize how much detail I had missed putting into the drawing. 

But, that's okay. Lessons learned, and that is the whole purpose of the Stepping Stone series; to build confidence and build skills through DOING. At the same time, I'm scraping off some of the rust of the inactive years and awakening again skills and lessons learned in the past. 

What will I tackle for Stepping Stone #2? Check back to find out. 

Thank you, as always, for your interest and support.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

New Drawing; "Morgana"

"Morgana" pencil drawing of a Morgan Mare

While watching the Democratic National Convention this week, I've been working on this drawing in one of my sketch books. 

As reference, I'm using a photograph taken several years ago at a Morgan horse farm. Her name was Lady, and she was a broodmare. In fact, she is the mother of Bullet, the Morgan colt that I've painted twice. The reference photo shows her with mouth open eating hay; a not very flattering picture. The challenge was to change the mouth, and I'm quite pleased with how well that turned out.

The drawing needs a lot more work. I will keep working on it to get it as close to the photograph and artistically pleasing as I can, keeping in mind balancing the values. It will be excellent practice in building up my "seeing" muscles again after such a long layoff. 

So, here you have "Morgana". The drawing is not big; about 6x6 inches done in graphite mostly with a 6B pencil and a little with an Ebony pencil to get the darks more dark. It has a ways to go. Already I can see about ten things that need to be corrected. It will be posted again when it's finished. 

I've always loved to draw  and used to do it endlessly as a kid. I'm really enjoying getting back to my drawing roots again and will be doing more of it from now on as part of my Stepping Stones project of rehabilitation and building up confidence in my artistic abilities again. 

 Please let me know what you think of this new drawing (remember, it's not finished yet).

Thank you for stopping by.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Closing a Door and Opening Another?

"Feel So Fine" springtime foal is now home and available for purchase.
For several years I've had my artwork in a very nice shop in the nearby small village of Central Lake. It started out as mainly a consignment shop for local artists and craftsmen, but over the years the shop has transitioned into more and more stocking commercially made very tasteful home decor and clothing.

I had good sales in this shop for quite a few years, but in the past 2-3 sales fell off considerably to almost nothing.

This past week the owner of the shop called to ask if I wanted to come get my artwork, and I readily agreed. It was something I had been intending to do for months but hadn't gotten around to. With sales so low and the shop no longer emphasizing local artists and craftsmen, it didn't make much sense to leave the art languishing in the recesses of a side room where many visitors didn't go.

Yesterday I picked up the original art, prints and the few note cards that were left. No one had told the young clerk, who was alone in the shop, that I might be coming in or where to find my art. It took her a long time to find it in their back room, and not all of it could be found in the whole shop! I had kept very careful records of what was in the shop and what had sold over the years so arrived with my own inventory list of what SHOULD have been there. 

If I had any regrets about leaving the shop they were quickly dispelled. Remembering that although the owner, an animal lover, had always expressed great admiration for my art, the woman she later hired to order the merchandise and approve the art and do the displays did not seem to share her enthusiasm. More than once I found original paintings of mine hidden behind lamps, and when I stopped in last year, I no longer had my own designated print rack; in fact my prints were nowhere out to be seen. Is it any wonder that none were selling? This was a big hint that it was time to go.

At this point my feelings are very mixed but mainly positive about this "loss" of gallery representation. Merry was very good to me over the years, and sales were good when I had given up other marketing outlets like art fairs and horse expos. In some years, the shop was my only source of income. 

Now that the art is home, some pieces will be available to show to honest to goodness local galleries where actual art buyers will be looking for their next purchase. That will be a better fit for me at this point, and that is my near term goal. 

That is the door I hope to open.

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.