Thursday, August 6, 2020

Playing with a Different Surface

Most of us water-media artists start with traditional watercolor paper and eventually find one they enjoy because they can trust the results when watercolor paint is applied. For me, I've always loved Arches 140 pound cold pressed, but I know other artists have different favorites. And then there are some surfaces that push the boundaries  of the traditional way to apply paint. Some of these interesting and challenging surfaces can be made at home.

A few years ago on a day when I just didn't have the inclination to paint,  I collaged strips of newspaper on a 300 lb. Arches watercolor paper. I then used gesso (a white paint mixture consisting of a binder mixed with chalk, gypsum, pigment, or any combination of these) to cause the words to fade leaving an interesting and rather unique surface to paint on. It does not take kindly to transparent watercolor, but both gouache and acrylic paints work well on top of the surface.

Having the news implied by this surface, I have used it to talk about more historical or newsworthy subjects. For this one, I had in mind the 100 Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Two years ago, I painted a similar one with the Suffragists in the background and a woman and child in bright colors in the front. 
Because Women Marched

But my idea for this one was to have a row of women of all ages and colors in front.

Suffragists on the March

It is quite a bit of work to paint these ghostly figures from the past.

Adding today's women

And then came the modern women as a front line. It came to mind that this is somewhat like Portland's Wall of Mothers. But creating it reminded me so much of my childhood making original outfits for my paper-dolls. 

As my frontline became complete, I realized that they needed to be grounded somehow. I had an inspiration to create shadows, not with paint, but with newsprint collage without the white gesso. (I often get these ideas that are super cool, but add complications to finishing a painting.)

Newspaper collaged on deli paper

And here is the finished painting: Carry It On.

Carry It On
15 x 20 inches, Mixed Media

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

A Drive, a Picnic and a Painting

I know my husband and I are not alone in missing a dinner out, face to face visits with friends or a movie in a theater. Rather than complaining or feeling sorry for ourselves (and believe me we have nothing to complain about) we try to create an adventure by driving for 45 minutes, up dirt roads, climbing 4000 feet to a spectacular viewpoint.

This view of the Three Sisters is spectacular. Not only can you see these three mountains, but there is a panoramic view of many other Cascade Mountain peaks. We pulled out our chairs, a cooler with our lunch and settled back to soak up the beauty. If you are unfamiliar with our forests, the brown areas among the green are the results of past summer fires.

As we relaxed with full tummies, Mike pulled out a book and I grabbed my traveling art bag. Using the cooler lid for my paints and water, I began a quick sketch.

Some might question why I would try to paint a wonderful scene like this, when a photograph captures it so well. But in this recent isolation, I have discovered an enjoyment to plein air painting and I can see my skills grow along the way. Another reason to paint it is Mother Nature forgot to put the fuchsia fireweed into the scene--something a camera cannot do. Ignoring the whining mosquitos and flies buzzing around, I painted away until both Mike and I were ready to pack up the 4-Runner. I had the feel of the scene and good photos to finish the painting in the studio.

So with a put of work today in my studio a finished this piece, cherishing the memory of yesterday.

Olallie Ridge View, 10 x 14, Watercolor on Paper

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Art Is Often About Problem Solving

Problem solving is part of the fun and often frustrating part of creating a painting. Today I will try to run through how both fun and frustration entered into the process of of this painting, "Pondering."

The Constant Gardener

Problem 1: What to paint. I so enjoyed the painting I completed prior to this one, "The Constant Gardener." I liked the idea of shared space for figures, and the challenge of creating a high key painting. (high-key image consists primarily of light tones, without dark shadows.) So I began thinking of the possibilities of painting another shared space. I had taken pictures of some of my family out by our back pond and decided that would be just right for the shared space idea.

Problem 2: Composition. How could I arrange these figures around the central image of a pond? I pulled out my photos and enlarged some, flipped some and began to arrange them onto a full sheet of watercolor paper. I also used just a bit of an underpainting, leaving a lighter cruciform (cross shape) to later guide my composition. Why? a cruciform allows the viewer to come into the painting from all four sides, plus it's just a thing us artists do and like to talk about (lol.) The blue figures are created using a masking film to protect the figures while allowing me to paint the background more freely.

Pondering: Beginnings

Problem 3: Painting by glazing and imagining a background scenery. It is not my usual way to apply a light color and then layer over it until I get a suitable amount of color on a painting. But if I am not experimenting and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, how will I learn?

Pondering: Be Gentle

Problem 4: Creating stonework. So where are my figures sitting, and what surrounds the pond itself? For this, I used both reality and imagination. In my photos, all figures were sitting on a small rock bench my husband created at the beginning of our shelter at home period. So how could I seat them all in an understandable way while continuing the pastel colors of the background.

Pondering: Settling in the Figures

Problem 5: Yikes, painting the water. After several attempts and scrubbing the paper raw, I was discouraged. How could these people be "Pondering" and ugly pond? Then I had an Ah-Ha moment. I thought of the suminagashi marbled paper I created a year ago or more.  I pulled it out and decided it might add a very different feel to the painting.

Of course I had to consult with a friend about how to do this. Liz Walker has worked with collaging marbled paper for years and I figured she could instruct me over the phone, which she generously did.

Problem 6: What to wear. After painting the skin on all my characters, I wanted to cloth them so that one stood out, while the furthest figure faded away a bit. The man? Jeans and tee-shirt made it easy. I worked some color into the pond and covered up most to the stains left from my failed attempts. I gave the closest figure a small pile of rocks, with one in her hand to create a little side story. I thought I was done, but . . .

Problem 7: Splitting the painting in half. As I looked at the finished piece in a thumbnail photo, I realized I had done a big no-no. The upper part of the painting was entirely cut in half! So back to the table it went. I reworked the trees to the right and decided that background needed a bit more interest. 


This was quite a personal journey in just one painting. It took much longer than most of my pieces, but to return to the beginning, problem solving is part of the fun and often frustrating part of creating a painting. I learned so much about the application of paint and my own ways of creating. The success of this painting is more about the learning and adjusting and perseverance than the painting itself. 

As always, your thoughts are welcome and appreciated!

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Forty-three Days of "Shelter in Place" Produces Twenty-eight Paintings

We are all living in challenging times--not just in our neighborhood, nor in our county, nor in our state or country. This has and is a global issue. Italians sing to their communities from their balconies. Every evening at 7:00 p.m., New York City residents open their windows to salute the city's medical workers with sound. The Blue Angels perform fly-overs. Neighborhoods are having happy hours from their driveways. 

Here in Blue River, Mike and I are living in our own 6 acres of paradise. We have spent some time being stewards of our land. I've pulled weeds, done some transplanting, mowed--Mike has worked on his raised beds, gotten out the weed-eater, and cleaning out the woods. Together, we reinvented a small portion of our backyard, removing plants that had taken over and sculpting a new rock feature where one can sit and ponder the pond.

Preparing meals, and watching "The Sopranos" almost every night has been our way of reconnecting at the end of the day. (Mike has gone back to making sour dough bread.)

I have never been a plein air painter, nor have I painted flowers or landscapes as a rule. But on March 31, 2020, looking at the unknown timeframe of an empty calendar, I decided to "paint my own backyard." Everyday for 30 years I have looked out my kitchen window at this captivating scene, and thought "Monet would paint this."

And so I finally put together a small tote of painting equipment and pledged to do a painting a day. Well, I didn't make it, but I did paint 28 paintings in the last 43 days. 

It has been a period of freedom and learning. Am I great at landscapes or flowers? No, but I've gotten better. Almost every day I've picked up a brush and forged ahead. I really renewed my joy of painting with transparent watercolors. There is a difference between painting an idea (my usual mode) to just putting paint to paper and trying to communicate what you see and feel--loving watching the colors bleed into one another. 

And really, I got better with time. Just the process of re-educating myself with the skills I began with and have put aside over the years. Some of the paintings have been improved by a trip to the studio. By lifting paint and using gouache paint on some, they have certainly gotten more pleasing to my eye.


An example of before and after the studio.

I hope not to bore you, but feel free to scroll down and see some of the paintings I have created over the last 43 days. All are my interpretation of places or flora around our property. 

Do you have a favorite? What have you been doing to keep from going crazy?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

"Precious" -- A Paralyzing Part of Creating Art

Many of my art friends often use the term "precious" to describe a painting or part of a painting that, as the artist, you fear losing or changing. When you look at something you painted and it just thrills you (becoming precious), it may be nigh impossible to change or edit the art, even when it will take a piece from okay to really good.

This happened to me recently with the painting Teach Me: Unsheltered America. I thought I was finished. I had so carefully painted the details: tent, grocery cart, litter, spray paint cans, figure, etc. However, the feedback I got from artists I trust was it was still too pristine to convey homelessness. I knew at the time, this had become precious. I was scared to touch it. So the painting sat in the studio for days on end.

In the meantime I started painting my backyard on a daily basis. I've always wanted to do this, and with this "stay home" situation, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to give it a whirl. Now these paintings were just quick (less than 2 hours) studies and were not "precious" at all. When I was done with one outside, I had no hesitation to take it into the studio to correct, revise and improve it.

Example 1 of Not Precious. This is how the painting looked as painted plein air. Pretty blah.

And this is is after some studio time of lifting, using gouache (opaque watercolors) over the transparent, and adding more contrast.

Example 2 of Not Precious.  This is the painting of azalea blossoms plein air. Terrible background.

 And this is how it looks after collage, more intense paint, and black background to make the colors pop.

And now back to the original topic, the painting Teach Me: Unsheltered America.

 Teach Me: Unsheltered America, when I was paralyzed.

Teach Me: Unsheltered America, after pushing back the industrial background using a mouth atomizer, roughing up the grass/dirt foreground, and darkening parts of the cement.

Do you think the narrative of the painting is more powerful now?

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

From My Brain to the Paper

I know many great artists create art differently than I do when working in a series. For me there is always learning, investigating and looking for new source material.  I like to dig into the idea and let my brain sort out what I can envision to paint a particular message.  Of course, I create other kinds of art that are painted more quickly,  perhaps less idea driven, but there is a great enjoyment for me to put content and information into a piece.

Teach Me: Liberia
For the past year or so I have been fleshing out my Teach Me series. The flame that lit the torch was reading articles about countries around the world where the percentage of girls receiving opportunities to be educated is tremendously low. As a retired educator, I know that education leads the entire society out of poverty, unwanted pregnancies, and independence.

And so began my paintings featuring fabrics and art, plus a bit of geography from a part of the world where education is very limited for females. The hand reaching for the infinity symbol comes from years in the classroom seeing students' hands spring up in eagerness to share information.

Not long ago, it came to me that there is another group of undereducated girls right under my nose, our unsheltered population. But how would I paint that story?

I began filling in my various ideas with photographs. I drove around Eugene looking at the tents, carts, as well as the people who have no roof over their heads. I asked my granddaughter (she's 18) to come with me to talk to some of the unsheltered. I figured she would seem less of a stereotype than I would on my own. I asked if I could take photographs and engaged in some surprising conversations. At the end of our meetings, I gave out $5 Safeway cards as a thank you for their time. I photographed graffitied walls and bridges as well. Then I printed them all out and started to see the painting take shape in my head.

What I wanted to paint gave me pause. Could I do a decent job of painting a tent and grocery cart overflowing with one person's vital belongings? I ended up doing something that is rare for me, I painted a study of just that portion before putting it on the paper.

Tent and cart study

The study was not perfect, but I could see that I could do it and would be able to pull it off in a better fashion on the full sheet. Next was creating the cement wall where the graffiti would be painted.

Concrete illusion

I use a blue film to block off areas I want to protect. In this case, it was a figure spray painting--my granddaughter posed for this--and the grocery cart. I then used matte medium on burlap to create a great texture that would convey concrete for my graffiti to cover.

Slowly I started painting the real stuff, tent, cart, graffiti.

Too neat

When I checked in with my friend, Kathy Tiger, she said, it's way too neat. Where's the litter, how about some drips of paint?

Almost done

I wanted to add an urban background behind the wall. Houses? Apartments? The winning choice was industrial. Then all that was left was the figure.

I would love to get your feedback regarding this piece, my process, or whatever you might have to say about my art. 

Stay Home-Stay Healthy in this crazy time!