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!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Thinking of the Italians

Ten years ago I traveled to Italy. Like most tourists, I took many photos, but some of my favorites were of older Italians sitting in a park, or on a wall visiting with one another. Of course, I painted using these photos as references. The other day, as I dug through my file drawers, I came across this one.

The transparent watercolor painting as it came out of the drawer of shame

Clearly I was in my pattern, pattern, pattern and more pattern mode. In fact, I was embarrassed by how overboard I went on this painting and stuck it in a drawer where it was never seen by anyone until a couple of weeks ago.

When I pulled it out, I saw it with new eyes. Yes, it was overly busy, but I saw a charm to it. I also felt a sadness for Italy amidst this Corona Virus emergency. How the ladies and gentlemen of Italy must miss their afternoon visits with one another!

I sent my friend, Kathy Tiger (who has often praised my pattern making), a photo of it. She immediately responded saying it had some potential if I could only get rid of some of the unnecessary patterning. Following her suggestions, I decided to get rid of the farthest hills and sky as well as the yellow pathway into the painting at the bottom.

I thought of another artist friend, LaVonne Tarbox Crone, who years ago taught me to "take it to the sink." Another artist, Mary Holt, introduced me to Ichiban tape. This tape is semi-transparent and really keeps the water from leaking into areas you want to protect. So here is the images of the taped up painting.

Taping the border, before it goes to the sink
I had no idea just how much paint might lift off after sitting on my paper for ten years. As I worked with water and a natural sponge, I used a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to see just how much more I could remove. (I first heard of using the Magic Eraser from John Salminen.)

The painting after scrubbing the heck out of it!
Frank Webb, another artist said that Arches 140 pound paper could take a lot of abuse and this proved him right.

Now the big problem was what to do with the background. Thanks to another artist, Ruth Armitage, I had learned how to use the Procreate App to try out different colors and for the background on my iPad. Using various layers, I was able to try many different colors, some with patterns, some without and settled on a neutral gray. 

When I showed the Procreate image with the neutral background to my granddaughter, Angelica, she suggested that I use a circular pattern in the sky to tie it together with the rest of the painting. So I tried a couple of ideas and finally made a stamp. (Thank you, Betsy Dillard Stroud, for introducing me to making personal stamps.)

Now back in the studio, I gave a try at continuing with transparent watercolors, but as you might guess, there was too much of the color left on the paper. I had to move on to gouache, an opaque watercolor paint. I applied it with a foam roller to get a uniform effect. I then used a very subtle color change to apply with my stamp.

This is truly an homage to the Italians who are currently quarantined. It is also an appreciation of all the artists out there who teach and share their skills with the likes of me.

Now, what is the best name for this piece?

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Photo Apps, To Use or Not to Use

I have two photo apps on my iPhone: Waterlogue and Notanizer.  I was introduced to these this past summer by another artist/friend. I have not used them before as anything more than personal entertainment until this past week. Using an app to create art brought up some real questions about art, originality, and personal interpretation.

Waterlogue allows you to download a photo from your camera and use the app tools to show various ways the image can look with various watercolor vibes.

Some of the 13 options provide you with some really lovely ways to change a normal photo into a more beautiful rendition of the original image.

Then there is Notanizer. This app works much the same way, but allows you to mess around with contrast using its tools. This can be very helpful, especially for artists who find it challenging to get enough contrast from light to dark in their paintings.

original photo
So this past week I took a break from my "Teach Me" series  to try painting using the Waterlogue app to inspire me to loosen up.

Waterlogue's version
I chose this photograph of my daughter (and granddaughter (Auntie Meg and Hannah) because it's is so striped and sweet.

And then I did 2 studies, first highly influenced by Waterlogue, then one painted only using the photo as a resource. (I want to add that I recognize that I am not a portrait painter and there is muddiness that I don't like.) I think I would title the second one "Wearing Reindeer Ears is Exhausting."

I also took another photo to the Waterlogue app and painted two studies from that.

Waterlogue version

So the questions I pose are these:

  • It it cheating?

  • Is it art when you are highly influenced by 
  • a technological product?

  • Is this any different than taking a workshop where a step by step process is offered by the instructor? Usually participants come out with pieces looking very similar to the instructor's.

I hope to have some feedback from my readers.

I do want to get opinions from the "peanut gallery."