Sunday, December 26, 2010

Thinking about prints

Some time back a friend asked if I would consider selling prints of my work.  At the time, I dismissed the idea.  The only way I was aware of to make prints was by going to a print shop and having giclees made, an expensive endeavor, or by having poster type prints made at someplace like Wal Mart, which was not the quality I was looking for.   Since then I've done some research and discovered a whole new marketing possibility - print on demand.

The basic idea is that I upload an image to a web site, which then will print (and frame if requested) the image whenever anyone wants one.  I pay a fee or commission and the web site takes care of the rest, including shipping, and sends me a check each month.  Everything from giclees to posters to greeting cards are a possibility.

Here are the two sites I am looking at: and  Imagekind is more expensive (not by much though) and has fewer options, but seems to be made more for the "serious" artist, if I can use that phrase without sounding terribly snobbish.  It is an affiliate with CafePress, so can be linked to the possibility of t-shirts, mugs etc.  That seems to defeat the "seriousness" of the art, but opens up more options.  Fineartamerica lets me sell through Facebook, create catalogues and sell greeting cards.  It's a huge site, which means a lot of potential customers, but also the possibility of getting completely lost in the crowd.  It's a tough choice.

I'm now seriously considering this, but I'd like to get some feedback from all of you.  Would you consider buying a print online?  Would you be willing to pay more for a higher quality print?  If you had an original, would it bother you if a print of that piece was made available?  Conventional wisdom states that one should sell prints only after originals have been selling well.  If I go ahead with this idea I will be going against that, but I'm hoping this will be another opportunity to get my name and artwork out there.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Painted Pony, again

Painted Pony, County Clare, Ireland 2x9 pastel, copyright 2010

Since I couldn't seem to get the image I used for the Virtual Paintout out of my head, I decided there was no point in fighting it any longer.  While the kids went to play in the snow during their unscheduled day off, I sat down at the easel and worked on this pastel.  It didn't take too long, about an hour and a half I think, probably because I had already worked it out in pencil.  It looks a little too orange on my monitor  but otherwise came out okay.  The colors are more muted than usual for me, but that seemed fitting, as I am guessing the photo was taken in the early morning.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Painted Pony

Painted Pony, 8 x 5.5 graphite pencil on paper, copyright 2010

This month's Virtual Paintout is in Clare County on the west coast of Ireland.  I've never been there, but Ireland is on my bucket list.  I didn't have anything specific in mind, so I just randomly picked a spot near the coast.  It took me only a few minutes to find this scene.  I might have to come back to it with pastel or oil, the colors are quite lovely - it looks like the photo was taken shortly after dawn.  

I'm a bit out of practice with pencils, it's been quite awhile since I've attempted a simple sketch.  It was refreshingly uncomplicated.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Should I stay or should I go

I'm having a bit of an internal debate this month.  Every year in December I get a notice to renew my web site, and every year I debate changing it.  There's really nothing wrong with the one I have.  My best pieces are on there, details of my biography and resume and so forth.  But it just kind of sits there.  There's not a whole lot of traffic that I can see - this blog and Facebook get a lot more hits.  I think that's fairly common since sites don't change regularly - they aren't really designed to be interactive.

So now I need to decide, is it worth it?  If most people are looking at my blog, should I even bother keeping the site?  Conventional wisdom says yes, because galleries and serious collectors like to look at a more serious site.  For now I am lacking in both categories, but I'm hoping to change that in the next year which makes me hesitant to abandon the site altogether.

Since I will probably keep the site the question then becomes, should it stay where it is or do I find another host?  I like the one I have now because it allows a huge number of images - up to 240.  For the same price I've seen a limit of only 20.  But other hosts offer things like email newsletters, art forums, direct buy, online contests and prints.

Another thing to consider is my ability to keep my domain name - would it be a big deal if I was no longer  There are now a number of places online where I have this listed, I would have to go about changing each one, although again most of my traffic is through the blog and Facebook.  But if start getting interest from galleries, it wouldn't be a good idea to suddenly change my web address.  So if I don't change, I may be stuck with what I've got.

Decisions, decisions, like I don't already have enough to think about this time of year!  If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Storm at Dawn

Color Study: Storm at Dawn, 8x10 oil, copyright 2010

Another quick piece, this time in oil.  The goal with this one wasn't so much to get a high degree of realism as it was to capture a mood.  I recently blogged about the beautiful sunrises while waiting for the morning school bus, and decided to play with that image a bit.  In particular I wanted to work out how the blue, purple and gray shadows and clouds would contrast with the yellow, red and orange sunlight on the filed and in the trees.  The bit of bright blue undergrowth along the edge of the field was something added as impulse.  It isn't accurate, but I like how it pulls the sky downward.  I think this one has the potential to be interesting on a larger scale, as long as I don't let myself get to caught up in the details of the trees.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

First snow

Snowbound 12x9 pastel, copyright 2010

The first snow of the season on the first day of December - a combination that could not be resisted.   These grasses in the snow are from a photo I took a number of years ago at our first house near the appropriately named Plain City.  We were surrounded by flat cornfields that did nothing to block the wind which piled the snow in huge drifts behind the barn.  After one such storm the kids and I bundled up went tromping out to take pictures in the evening light.  They were fascinated by the "sparkles" everywhere and my son was tickled that he could walk on top of the snow.

This pastel was just a quick study, taking about an hour at the most.  The hardest part was getting the snow to look like snow and not water.  A lot of a very pale pink seemed to be the solution.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

River rocks

River Rocks 12x9 pastel, copyright 2010

I almost gave up on this one.  At about the half way point I realized the rocks just looked like blobs, there was too much purple and yellow, and it really wasn't amounting to much.  But I kept on it, hoping it was simply, as I've heard one artist put it, at the "awkward teenager stage".  It's pretty common for artwork to look awkward in the middle and for the artist to wonder, "Is this really going to work?"  It's a matter of seeing the potential there and pushing through the doubts.  A highlight here, blend a little there, tone it down a little here and pretty soon it was back on track.

I enjoy these still lifes with deep shadows and strong contrasts.  They make for dramatic images, even with simple everyday objects.  It's been awhile since I've done one of these as I seemed to have been focusing on landscapes lately.   But a recent purchase of a lamp got me back into it.  It's just a basic light, but it has a clamp and a flexible arm which means I can place and point it just about anywhere.  It's great for getting those dramatic shadows.  I might have to start poking around the house looking for more ideas for a still life.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Every morning I have a wonderful view out my kitchen window as the sun lights up the trees beyond our fields.  I couldn't count how many times I've thought "I should try to paint that."  One of these days I actually will, although I'm not sure it's possible to capture such a thing in paint.

This morning in particular was inspiring.  I don't have a photo to share, just an image in my mind.  It was early enough to still be dark to the west, with a heavy cloud cover.  As I watched, the sun found a brief break in the clouds just as it was coming up over the hills behind me.  The trees in front of me were lit in reds and oranges, particularly brilliant on the white trunks of the sycamores.  All of this contrasted against the dark purple gray sky.  It only lasted a moment before clouds moved in front of the sun, but it was one of those moments that makes me grateful for living in the country.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Painting Challenge

A dramatic soccer season has come to an end, just in time for a round of birthdays and the holidays, all while starting a new job at the arts center.  I did manage to finish a pastel last weekend.  I follow a number of blogs of artists I admire, and one of them is Bonnie Griffith.  Bonnie lives in the Northwest and her pastel landscapes have a wonderful depth and vibrancy to them that I am always aiming for.  She recently issued a challenge on her blog to paint a photo she had taken while on vacation in Montana.  We don't get outcrops like this in western Ohio and I decided I needed the practice, so I took her up on that challenge.  This pastel is the result:

Outcrop with Juniper 12x14 pastel, copyright 2010
photo from SE Montana, copyright Bonnie Griffith 2101

It's interesting to me to look at the two images side by side.  I see lots of changes I can make, but I think it might be best to leave it as is.  One of the most difficult things for me is knowing when to stop.  I have a tendency to get caught up in the details and end up overworking the piece.  This time I left the photograph on the laptop rather than printing it out, and blurred the image slightly.  I think that helped and is something I will try again.

Thanks Bonnie!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The neighbors' barn, revisited

Just Up the Road, 16x20 pastel, copyright 2010

As some of you may recall, this past winter I painted a pastel of a barn about a mile from our house, a barn that I pass by almost every day.   It was in the Randolf County, Indiana annual show, but to be honest, I never felt it was as good as it could have been.  To me it seemed to be lacking in depth and vibrancy, and has been bothering me ever since I framed it.

One of the great things about pastels it that they are easily revised.  For some reason today felt like a good day to pull this one out of its frame and make it better.  I removed the tree on the left and decided to define the light and shadow better to give it more depth.  Having a well defined light direction is always a struggle for me, but when I finally recognize that's what's missing, I find the results much for satisfying.

Here is the original version for comparison.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sunflowers in a mason jar

Sunflowers came home with me again last week after a fundraiser at the art center.  This time I tried them in pastel and in a larger size.  At 18x24, this is the largest still life I've tried in pastel.   The multiple, long bright petals are perfect for the sort of loose, gestural quality I've been leaning towards.  And I decided I needed to use more red in the work this time.  It's a color I rarely chose as I seem to lean more towards the warm browns and blues.  I like how just a bit of red here and there in the flowers really makes the color pop.  I'm going to have to use it more often, although I obviously have no intention of abandoning my bright blues!

For some reason I can't get the image to load on the blog, you'll have to follow the link to see.  I'll see if it works tomorrow.

Update:  Still can't load a picture on this post, you'll just have to use the link.  Weird.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

While it is normally hectic around here, the last few weeks have been unusually so.  I've had a number of scrapers, a few that aren't quite finished, and always a lot of ideas that never make it to canvas or paper.  Two paintings were dropped off at the Richmond Art Museum, and the open judging is tonight.  Unfortunately I can't go due to other obligations, but I can only imagine it would be a nail-biting experience.

I was able to finish a pastel recently, though it has been reworked and reworked.  It took me awhile to recognize what the issue was and why it seemed rather bland and boring.  Horizontal lines provide a minimum of visual interest; vertical lines are much better.  After I made those changes the painting improved considerably.  It is based loosely on the view from my front yard.

After the Harvest, 12x16 pastel, copyright 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

Up and Down Day

Good news and bad news came today.  The bad news first:  I recieved a rejection letter in the mail today from the Cincinnati Art Club's annual show for my oil, Oranges in a Black Bowl.  There were over 350 entries and only 70 spots, so it's a pretty competative venue.  This was my fisrt attempt to get in, I'll give it another try next year.  I'm thinking about entering it into the Richmond (Indiana) Art Museum show, along with Sunflowers.  It will be my second attempt for that show.

The good news came in a box in the form of new pastels.  I was a little leary of ordering pastels on the internet because I like to look at the colors in person, but my choices came out just fine.  There was a lack of dark, saturated colors in my collection, so I chose some rich browns and purples along with a few greens - a landscape artist can never have enough greens!   Some of the colors are from brands I have not used before, so it should be a good way to try them out.  I may be tempted to go back and touch up some earlier pieces, especially with the purples and browns to make excellent, deep shadows.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Sugar Bowl 9x12 pastel, copyright 2010

I finally replaced the little glass sugar bowl I had broken sometime ago, and decided it really needed to be painted.  My thought was to try it in both pastel and oil in order to compare the two mediums.  I'm still working on the oil, and am not happy about it's turning out.  For whatever reason the pastel just seemed to click better this time around.  Working in both mediums was helpful however, as I noticed what was working in the oil and applied it to the pastel.  Hopefully it will work in reverse as well.

The primary reason I chose this subject was because I felt practice was needed for reflections, without the distraction of color.  I thought the transparency of the glass would make things a little easier as well, which turned out to be an incorrect assumption.  I think it worked on the bowl, but the lid was a bit more difficult, as was the texture of the sugar.  Part of the problem was that I initially became impatient and worked too quickly, ignoring some of the details.  Extensive reworking fixed a lot of the initial mistakes, but it took a lot of pastel to do it - I'm sure the paper can't hold much more!

If I like how the oil turns out, I'll post it later in the week.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In the "zone"

Sunflowers 16x20 oil, copyright 2010

This weekend's barn tour and dinner, a joint project of the Preble County Art Association and Preble County Historical Society, went very well.  Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, and big thanks to all the barn owners, the tour guide (Steve Gordon, a long time friend and historic barn expert), and all the volunteers who made it possible.  And to top it all off, the weather was just perfect.

One of the benefits of helping out with these projects is all the goodies that come with it.  A delicious free meal and a centerpiece from one of the tables - sunflowers in this case.   I grow a few sunflowers every year to provide munchies for the birds (and myself) plus a few plants that are purely decorative.  This summer's heat and drought didn't work out so well for the decorative ones, so I was happy to get a few to take home, hoping to find the time to paint them before they wilted.

I didn't really have the time, but I painted them anyway, most of it in one fell swoop on Tuesday.  I started out with a blue background, which I think made me unconsciously emphasize the orange rather than the yellow.  I liked how it looked, so I just kept going.  The paint is thicker than usual, and I used a larger brush.  All this helped me keep the painting loose and not bogged down in detail.  I was truely in the "zone" on this one, and it was only outside influences (ie family) that kept me from finishing all at once.  Fortunately I was able to hold onto that feeling and finish today.  Being pulled in many different directions can make it hard to find the zone and I was lucky to take advantage of it when I did.

I'm thinking this one might be worthy of trying for a show at the Richmond (Indiana) Art Museum next month.  Hopefully it will be dry by then!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Virtual Paintout

Break Time, 8x10 oil, copyright 2010

I think I mentioned some time ago a blog that has a virtual paintout challenge every month utilizing Google Street View.  The basic concept is that the blogger choses an area anywhere in the world and challenges artists to paint based on an image from Google Street View.  This month's choice:  Manhattan.  I couldn't pass it up, so I took a "walk" around the Upper West Side and found another brownstone that caught my eye.

The little painting above is based on this image on 76th.  Street View photos aren't the highest quality and aren't taken with the artist in mind, which means you take what you get as far as angles and lighting conditions.  It makes the whole thing more challenging, but I feel like I had a bit of an advantage in that I had been in that neighborhood only two months ago.  The biggest problem I has was in when to stop messing with it, in particular with the figures.   They are only about three inches high, so details had to be limited.  It wasn't easy, but I think it worked.

I also found an image of the brownstone I painted earlier this summer, but I like my photo much better!

Monday, September 6, 2010

A peachy experiment

Peaches Study 9x12 oil on museum board, copyright 2010

Last week I took the time to experiment a bit with oils, and this study is the result.  It was never intended to be a finished piece, just playing with color and texture.  I've noticed that a lot of artists, especially daily painters, are working in bits of pure color in an almost pointalist fashion rather than blending.  Brushstrokes are very visible and the paint is laid down quite thickly.  I think this is the result of working quickly and not worrying too much about details.  It can make the paintings almost abstracted when this is really pushed.

I'm a bit torn about this technique.  When done well, it looks quite good - I like how the peach on the left turned out.  But I'm not sure I'll take this route on a regular basis.  While I like the boldness of the approach, I generally work a little softer, a little more blended.  It was fun though, seeeing just how much paint I could get on without turning it all into "mud".   There were a few times I had to do some scraping.  And once the piece was finished and dried, I recognized a big mistake - reflections always point directly towards the viewer.  Ah well,  that's what experiements are for.

Friday, September 3, 2010

School days

Waiting for the Bus 18x24 pastel, copyright 2010

Although the local weather has offered no hint of a change in seasons, fall has officially arrived at our home with the start of the school year.  I am fortunate in that both my kids still love school and do well.  Our shepard mix however, does not look forward to it as it means missing a couple of playmates.  Every morning she watches as they get on the bus and in the afternoon sits in a shaded spot waiting for their return.

This pastel took me a bit longer than usual as I struggled to get the corn fields to look like corn and the tree at the end of the lane to stand out from the background trees.  The trick was to exaggerate the highlighs and shadows a bit to keep it all from getting too dull.  And in reality the dog is black, but she kept disappearing into the shadow so I had to lighten her color a bit.

I have submitted this pastel to a monthy online challange at Artists Helping Artists blog, which is an excellent resource for the emerging artist.  It will also be in the Greenville Art Guild's Annual Fall Art Show along with the brownstone painting.  I'll let you know how all that goes!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

New York skies

July 20 24x36 oil, copyright Erica Keener

A quick trip back to Manhattan for this one.  Actually, it was painted several weeks ago, but the paint is so thick it has taken a long time to dry.  It's been awhile since I've done any of my abstracted sky paintings, and this one didn't start out that way.  Based on a photo I took from the terrace of our hotel, I originally intended to include a building under construction.  It was a beautiful clear day and the clouds were reflecting in the windows and showing through the unfinished skeleton of the structure.  But as I started layering the blues, they just sort of took over.  Usually a two hour stretch at a time is enough for me - my back gets tired and I start to get bored - but this time I went for about 3 1/2 hours before I quit.  The paint just kept getting thicker until I was almost sculpting it.  Too bad I didn't think about using a palette knife - I'll have to try that next time.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Figuratively speaking...

One Minute Poses 18x24 charcoal, copyright 2010

It has been nearly 15 years (when I was in college) since I've done any figure drawing from a live model, so when the Preble County Art Center began offering Life Drawing I jumped at the chance.  Figure drawing was one of my favorite art classes and I've missed it, especially since it is rather difficult to draw one's own back!

I've gone twice now, and have made a few discoveries.  First, I am quite rusty and can definitely use the practice.  Second, I need to pay more attention to proportions - the heads tended to get too small.  Third, I really need to work on hands and feet - these are even more difficult for me than faces.  

On my Facebook page I've made an album of the drawings and plan on adding a couple of pieces each time I go to see how much progress has been made.   It should be an excellent opportunity to gain some experience.

Friday, August 13, 2010

That's how I roll

As I was recently contemplating a failed pastel of New York (aka a "wiper"), I had a bit of an epiphany about how I work.  I'm really not much of a planner.  I know this doesn't seem too revelatory to those who know me well, but bear with me.

After trips to New York City and out west, I was determined to do a series of paintings based on photos I had taken.  I gave it a lot of thought, went through photos, cropped them and played with images.  In other words, I spent a lot of time planning them out.  But looking back at all my paintings, these aren't the best ones.  The best ones are those that I had no idea I was going to paint until I stepped foot in my studio.  A few involved some minor planning - I did take the time to crop the photo of the brownstone, but it was only a few minutes before I started on the canvas.  And although I had considered the nautilus, it was an impulse the day I finally decided to paint it.

So, lesson learned.  I will have more paintings of the southwest and New York - when I feel like it, not when I think I have to.  Now if you will excuse me, I'm going to go paint...something.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Corner storefront

Corner Storefront 8x10 oil, copyright 2010

There seem to be a lot of these storefronts on the corners in New York, and it was the arched windows of this one that caught my eye.   The entire first floor of the building consisted of these arches, and the symetry of it intrigued me.  It is actually a rather ornate structure which I simplified quite a bit.  It is also faced with a pale colored stone block which made for a monochromatic painting.  I took a some artist license and converted it to brick for more color.  This painting was done quickly as I wanted to give it a sketchy feel, almost as if it was plein air.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A bit of the Upper West Side

Brownstone with Geraniums 8x10 oil, copyright 2010

The first couple of days in New York City my friends and I stayed on the Upper West Side, not too far from Central Park.  It's a pleasant neighborhood, and from what I experienced, it seems a little more laid back than areas closer to downtown.  The architecture of the buildings fascinated me - I'd love to take an architectural history tour of the area.  The steps of this particular brownstone caught my eye on the way back to the hotel after a picnic in the Park.

This one was an interesting challenge, as I had to spend a good bit of time sketching it in before I could begin painting.  The trick was to not get too detailed, especially since it is a rather small piece.  The nearly monochromatic palette added to the difficulty of trying to sort out those details.  In reality, the pots were the same brown as the building, but I thought making them pop a bit would add interest.  They also gave me an excuse for a little of that blue I love.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Central Park arch

Eagelvale Arch, Central Park  18x24 pastel, copyright 2010

As promised, this is the first of what I hope to be several pieces inspired by my trip to New York City.  This particular stone arch caught my eye as I was walking through the Park in the late afternoon.  The simplicity of the double archway and the quality of the light and shadow were what drew me in.  Once home I did a little research to find the name of this arch and found that it is the only double arch in the entire park; the right is a bridle path, the left is a walking path.

Turns out there are many stone and metal archways and bridges throughout the Park.  I also have picture of an unnamed "rustic" bridge that I intend to paint eventually.  Had I known all of these were such prominent  features of the Park I would have taken the time to wander through it a bit more.   But now I have something to look forward to for a future visit.

As a side note, after I started this one it struck me as a bit funny that of all the things I'd seen in New York, the first one I decide to paint is the scene that seemed the most like home.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A peek at Starry Night

This was the scene in the Museum of Modern Art in front of Starry Night.  It's a wonderful painting, and I was able to get closer when the crowd was thinner, but this sort of thing is standard at popular spots in New York City.  As a former museum person, I have some issues with heavily promoting an object, then not properly accommodating the crowds it draws.  As an artist, I was rather frustrated with not being able to take the time to look that this painting deserves.  Fortunately the museum has many other wonderful pieces (including another Van Gogh) that are easier to get close to.  In fact, one can get too close, as one of the guards pointed out to me (oops).

Despite the crowds and the 90°+ heat wave, I had a great time in New York.  Inspiration was to be found everywhere.  My biggest issue now is deciding where to start.  After a few days of going through pictures, I was finally able to narrow it down.  I painted a pastel today, but I'm going to let it sit for a day or two before I decide if it's done.  I'll post it after that.

By the way, the one photo of Starry Night that I was able to get came out blurry.  Most of the rest of my pictures turned out well, though.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

New York, New York

Tomorrow morning I am headed off to the Big Apple for five days to hang out with friends, see a couple of museums and catch some scenery.  In particular I'm excited about the Piccasso exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art.  Van Gogh's Starry Night is in the collections as well.

It's been at least 15 years since my only visit, and I am expecting to find plenty of inspiration of a different sort than I find in the country.  While I love the fields and creeks that surround me every day, it is nice to  occasionally try a new challange.  A few months ago I discovered the blog of a Daily Painter named Karin Jurick who often paints New York scenes.  I admire her loose, colorful style and the way she handles light and shadow - her work has been influencing mine a bit lately.

I'll post again once I get back, hopefully with a head full of ideas.  Meanwhile, I will leave you with something I hope to see, an 18th century ship found just this week during construction at the World Trade Center site.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A pleasant surprise

Amanda and Harry 9x12 pastel, copyright 2010

As I mentioned in earlier post, one unexpected but happy event that occurred this summer was the early arrival of my nephew.  He is small of course, but doing quite well, and has a beautiful face with big blue eyes and lots of blonde hair.  The first time I went to see him he was curled up in a ball on his stomach, and I didn't get a good look.  The second time my sister-in-law held him during a feeding, and he opened those eyes for me.  He is going to be a charmer!

This pastel was based on a picture I took of the two of them.   It was quite the challenge, as I have not attempted a portrait of someone I know before, and I've never tried a baby, let alone a newborn preemie.  I think it turned out pretty well - at least I've been told that their faces are recognizable, which is a good thing with portraits.

Monday, July 5, 2010

4th of July

After a frantic two weeks of art camp, vacation, a quick visit with friends, a family gathering, and unexpectedly early arrival of my nephew, the 4th seemed like the perfect day to relax.  I had intended to paint a bit, but never quite got to it.

My husband and our daughter decided to take our inflatable kayak for a short trip down Twin Creek.  When their arrival time approached, I walked to the creek to help them disembark.  While I sat waiting on the roots of a sycamore leaning over the water it occurred to me that it would be a good spot for a plein air pastel, with plenty of bright light, deep shadows and interesting reflections.  But then a kingfisher came cruising downstream with minnows in its beak, and swallowtail butterflies flitted about searching for the last of the flox, and damselflies hunted mosquitoes around the still pools.  When a bullfrog hopped out of the water and sat on the bank at my feet, I decided that sometimes it's best to just sit and look and appreciate without trying to capture it all on canvas and paper.

Maybe I'll paint tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Plein Aire at Fort Saint Clair

Stone Bridge at Fort Saint Clair Park, 12x9 pastel, copyright 2010

Things have been hectic as usual lately, leaving little time for my artwork.  I was able to sneak one in this week while my daughter ran with her cross country team.  The team ran at Fort Saint Clair Park in Eaton, and with the sun actually shining it seemed like a good opportunity to try some en plain aire, or outdoor, painting.  A nieghbor friend and talented fiber artist, Laura Wogamon, joined me as her daughter is on the team as well.

My experience with plein aire painting is pretty limited and I've never tried it with pastels.  The brilliant sunlight slipped behind the trees pretty quickly and the mosquitos started getting to us (note to self: bugspray!) but it was an enjoyable experience.  The fading light and limited time forced me to work quickly, but I was able to cover the entire paper, and did only a few touch ups in the studio once I got home.  Not sure if I quite captured the dappled evening light on the bridge, but I think it turned out pretty well.  Now I am actually looking forward to cross country practices!

Thursday, June 17, 2010


About a week ago one of the blogs I follow had a posting about comparing past and recent works to see how far you've progressed as an artist.   He admitted to being "embarrassed" about some of his earlier pieces, and in the responses below a few people even admitted going to far as to destroy past works.  I don't think I could bring myself to do that, and I don't find most of my old pieces embarrassing.  I actually like having reminders of how far I've come and how much I've progressed, especially in the last year or so.

Two years ago when I painted the pastel on the top, I really didn't know where I was going with my art, just a vague idea that maybe I could become a professional artist.  I was experimenting a bit with perspective and knew that I preferred saturated colors, but wasn't sure how to express myself well.  I had not found my "voice" yet, and in fact didn't even realize I needed to find it.

Two years later the above blog posting inspired me to bring out that same bowl and see how things have changed.  I now have a better understanding of lighting and the use of underpainting to make my colors even bolder, and how to create a more interesting composition using perspective.  And I'm no longer as concerned about getting it exactly right - I'm learning to loosen up a bit.  I'm still trying to find my "voice" but I feel like I'm a lot closer to it now.

Square Bowl on a Round Plate pastel 12x16 copyright 2008

Square Bowl with Blue Interior pastel 12x9 copyright 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010


The Garlic Keeper 24x18 oil

The oil painting I finished last week finally dried enough for me to get a decent photograph.  This little garlic keeper was given to me by my parents some time ago when they were living in Germany.  The German word for garlic is knoblauch, which is written on one side.  I decided to leave that out - I'm starting to recognize the necessity of simplifying.  It's taken awhile, but I'm getting more comfortable with the idea that paintings are not photographs, and don't need to be exact replicas  of what I see.  It's far to easy for me to get caught up in details, fussing to make sure everything is right.  The more paintings I do, the easier it is to let go of such things.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Yes, that's me

Water's Edge pastel, 12x9

Current events don't typically find their way into my artwork; it's just not what I do, and I think that's true of many artists whose primary subjects are still life and landscapes.  But I follow a number of artists' blogs, and have seen a bit of a trend lately, an exception perhaps to this.  There has been an increase in the number of  water scenes, in particular beach scenes.  I didn't recognize it until after I finished this pastel yesterday.  The oil spill seems to have given a number of artists a need to find a pristine beach, at least on canvas and paper.

This one is based on picture my husband took while we were at Indiana Dunes.  It's a beautiful place, if one can get past the view of the adjacent cooling tower.  Photographs of myself are rare (I'm usually the one taking pictures), and artwork even less common.  But I was drawn to the hat and the shadows on the barely perceived face, and the challenge of unusual position of the figure.  I don't generally like pictures of myself, but if I ignore the fact that it's me, I'm pretty happy with this one.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Nautilus, 12x9 pastel, 2010

Last weekend's trip to the Art Institute of Chicago left me feeling inspired, even if my family wasn't so impressed.  During the week I was able to (mostly) finish two pieces.  One was an oil which still needs a little work; I'll post that one later.  The other was the pastel I've posted here.

I've been thinking about ideas for pastels ever since my Colourfix paper arrived, but this one ended being more of an impulse than a planned painting.   The shell was bought by my husband many years ago while on spring break in Florida and it's been calling out to be painted for quite some time, but the iridescent interior put me off a bit.  With new paper and new pastels in hand, I decided to give it a try.   It took some effort on my part, but my main goal was not to get too caught up in perfection and to keep it loose.  Having a set of very soft pastels helps, it's hard to get too detailed with them.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Art Institute of Chicago: Lessons Learned

This Memorial weekend saw a flurry of activity from the family as we visited old friends, got a personal tour of an archaeological site, went to two museums and a beach.  We don't do relaxing vactions!  One of the museums was the Art Institute of Chicago, where I had been once before, nearly ten years ago.  This experience was very different from the first, and I learned a few important lessons.

First, art museums have little appeal to an eight year old boy, who would really rather see mummies and mastadons and a T-rex named Sue (we went to the Field Museum the next day).  Second, paintings tend to be a lot bigger then what you expect.  You can read in a book that Sky Above the Clouds VI by Georgia O'Keeffe is 96 in by 288 in, but it doesn't quite register how large that is until you see it hanging on a wall.

Third, non-representational modern art has little appeal to the non-artist.  And I'll admit, I don't always get it either, but I try.  I heard a lot of mutters through the galleries along the lines of, "What is that supposed to be?  How is this art?"  Some of this is the fault of the general public which likes to be spoon fed everything and some of this is the fault of the art community which likes to deliberately obfuscate, at least at this level.  When the two are able to meet as at the Cloud Gate, called "the Bean" by locals, it is art at its best.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Bono 12x9 pastel on pastel primer coated watercolor paper

Portraits scare me a bit, I'll admit that right off the bat.  Faces are particularly challanging to me, it takes so little to get them completely wrong.  And with portraits there is the added difficulty of not just making it look like someone, but making it look like someone specific.  I decided I needed a little practice, so I started this one late last year.  It didn't look right and I couldn't figure out why, so I set it aside.  Late this winter I pulled it out again and with fresh eyes made a lot of corrections.  I think it's a pretty close likeness - the nice thing about chosing a celebrity instead of someone I know is that I don't think Bono will be calling me up to complain that I made his nose too long!

I decided to post this particular one today as details of his back surgery have been released, along with the news that many tour dates this summer have been postponed - I was going to see U2 twice this summer.  I wish him a speedy recovery, and hope to see them next year.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Approaching Storm

Approaching Storm 18x24 pastel on pastelboard

I recently suffered through a minor "painter's block" that lasted a few weeks as I got bogged down in obligations outside of my artwork.  The end of the school year always gets hectic as sports are winding down and summer programs are winding up.  It can be difficult to focus creative energy in such a chaotic environment.  Fortunately Mother Nature came to my rescue.

A rather spectacular looking storm blew through just at sunset.  It ended up not amounting to much, but it was beautiful to see.  My family and I stood and watched as the clouds piled up and spread out, their underbellies lighted pink and orange.  As it got closer we could hear it as well, blowing through the trees and finally reaching us with a sudden drop in temperature and a huge gust of wind, much to my son's delight.  It was an excellent reminder that sometimes inspirations finds you rather than the other way around.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Barn Shadow 12x9 pastel

I managed to sneak in a few pastels the past two weeks, one small and one large.  This is the smaller of the two.  Before all the leaves came out on the elm tree near our bank barn, the trunk made some interesting evening shadows.  But what was supposed to be a quick little study ended up taking quite a bit of time.  It was a struggle to get the shadow right, to look like something other than veins.  It's been extensively reworked, and I'm not sure the paper can hold much more pigment, so I've decided to stop here.  It was quite the challenge, but hopefully I at least captured some essence of the late afternoon.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


It's been a rather frustrating and frantically busy week.  Between a karate tournament, a soccer game and gearing up for the summer shows, I haven't had much time for painting.  And when I was able to carve out a bit of time, it really didn't work out so well.  "Wipers", or sometimes oil painters call them "scrapers", are a part of the process.  These are paintings that just don't come together and get wiped or scraped off.   It happened to me twice this week.

The first was a large pastel that has been sitting for awhile as I hoped to be able to salvage it.  But it never really felt right and I finally admitted it and wiped it clean.  The second was a smaller pastel that wasn't right from the beginning.  It didn't take much convincing to wipe that one off.

I'm finding that the more painting I do, the more willing I've become to admit defeat.  It's a hard thing to get past "I can fix this" but I'm getting more comfortable with the idea that it's okay to fail.   Looking back over the past year's pieces, I can see that I'm making progress, slowing getting better.  A step or two backwards is frustrating but at the same time it can be liberating as I know a step or two forward is just behind that paint rag.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Maple Syrup Ewer

Two summers ago my husband, who is an archaeologist, excavated a maple sugar furnace dating to 1840-1860.  It inspired him to try making our own syrup, so he tromped through our woods to locate a small stand of sugar maple trees and built his own furnace (in the front yard of course) out of cinder blocks.  That winter we collected about 60 gallons of sap and boiled it down to 1 1/2 gallons of syrup.  It worked out so well we did it again this year, and I even made about 1 1/2 cups of maple sugar.  It's a lot of work, but worth it.

The only problem we had was the lack of proper serving ware.  Then a friend pointed me in the direction of Joy Bridy.  Joy throws wonderful stoneware pottery in practical shapes meant to be used, including bottles, mugs, storage vessels and even bird feeders.  They are then wood fired, giving them interesting and unique coloring.

She had some long necked ewers that worked perfectly for pouring maple syrup, as well as being lovely to look at.  When not in use, ours sits on display on a kitchen shelf.   This spring as the sun started filtering through the window, the interesting shadows cast on the ewer caught my eye.  This painting of it came together in one very satisfactory 3 hour sitting earlier this week.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Plectrums and Lemons

Plectrums, for those who don't know, are guitar picks.  Their presence in this painting is due to a conversation with a friend.  Another friend sent me few to use as reference when I got stuck trying to figure out how to make them look like something other than blobs of blue paint.  Sometimes a painting is a cooperative effort!   I love how the picks add an unexpected bit of whimsey to an otherwise straight forward still life.  They are also an excellent excuse to use my favorite blues.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A step forward

A few years ago I painted a pastel of oranges in a black bowl that I thought turned out pretty well.  As I was recently searching for ideas to paint, I decided to try it again in oil.  This is the result.  I hung it on my wall to dry a bit with every intention of doing more work.  But the longer it hung, the more I liked it, and the more worried I got about messing it up.  Hard as it was, I decided to just leave it be; artists never seem to be completely happy with their own work.  There are little faults here and there that could be fixed, but maybe I'm the only one who sees them.

I've been looking at a lot of other people's work, trying to figure out how to make mine better.  Finally I realized what was missing - I need to pay more attention to the lighting.  I've been told this already, but it seems to have taken about six months before it finally sunk in.  I feel like this particular piece is a big step forward for me.

This oil, along with a pastel (Spider Plant) will be in the Spring Fling show in Sidney, Ohio next month.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Finding the potential

Sometimes it takes awhile for a piece to come to its potential.  Back in December I started an oil painting of a pitcher and large plate on an unusually sized canvas.  There was a time when I bought a number of these, thinking it would be an interesting challenge, but gave that up when I found the biggest challenge was framing them.  This is the last of those canvases.

I had thought it finished in December, so I signed it and hung it on my wall.  It didn't take long to realize it wasn't right - the plate looked flat, the background was boring, and pitcher's opening was off.  But it hung there for several months, nagging at me to fix it every time I sat down to dinner.  Earlier this month I finally pulled it off the wall and got to work.  It took awhile to get the adjustments right, but now I feel like I can look at it without getting annoyed with myself.  Until I notice sometime else wrong with it.  An artist's work is never really done.

The pitcher and plate were both wedding gifts, given by two different people who had never met, yet their gifts complimented each other quite well.  Lemonade and birthday cakes have been served many times from these two pieces.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pastel Workshop

This weekend I was lucky enough to participate in my first pastel workshop, sponsored by the Greenville Art Guild.  This was my first formal instruction in pastel, and I was pretty excited about it. The instructor was Thelma Frame, a well know artist from eastern Indiana.  I had actually signed up for a pastel workshop with her last spring at the Richmond Art Museum, but it was cancelled due to lack of interest.

It's actually been a source of frustration for me, as pastel specific workshops and classes seem to be few and far between.  Most of what I have found has been several states away and/or beyond my limited budget, which is why I was so happy to find this one.

It turned out to be an excellent experience.  There were about 16 people there, all from the area, and Thelma seemed  to know most of them.  She demonstrated her technique for a bit, then walked around offering advise.   I chose a picture from the stack she had brought, and set to work with the limited 
colors I had brought.  The instruction she gave me was pretty minimal, mostly "keep going".  At the end she showed my piece to the few remaining participants, who invited me to join the Art Guild and take a class.  I feel pretty encouraged by it all, and hopefully have made a new set of connections.  I was also pretty impressed by the quality of work I saw on other people's easels.  I think this will be a good group to join.  A special thanks to Sandy for hosting the workshop in her remarkable house, Selena for the delicious lunch, and of course Thelma for her insight.

Here is the result of the day's work.  I touched it up a bit once I got home, but it really didn't need a lot.  It is on 12x9 slate blue Colourfix paper.

Shaded Lane, 9x12 pastel, copyright 2010

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Monument Valley revised

With the purchase of new tube oils, I decided to go back to the Monument Valley painting and do some touch ups.  I don't usually do a lot of touch up work, especially in oils, as it can be difficult to match the new work to the older. That really wasn't a concern this time as I reworked the entire painting.  Using a brush allows for greater detail as well as a wider color range than oil sticks, which are really too clumsy to use on a small painting.  I was also able to emphasize the highlights and shadows a bit more to hopefully increase the drama of an already dramatic setting.  I may have gone a bit overboard in the sky with my favorite blue, but for some reason the skies in Monument Valley and the southwest in general are a much more saturated shade of blue than they are in the midwest.  I'm not sure if it the dryness of the air or the increase in elevation, but trying to capture that is a temptation I'm finding hard to resist.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

In the zone

Some days it's a struggle to get in the mood to paint, to focus and find the painting in the canvas.  And some days it just happens with little effort.  Yesterday was one of the days where everything fell into place despite the chaos of soccer practice, gathering sap for maple syrup and an art association meeting.

When I posted my Monument Valley painting on Facebook, I got such a hugely positive response I threatened to pull out a Death Valley picture and paint it.  When I followed through on that threat yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised by the results.  I'm not sure it's possible to fully capture the scale of Death Valley in a small painting, but I'm happy with how it turned out.

Turns out my biggest issue with the Monument Valley painting was the paint sticks.  I love them, they are great to work with on a large painting, but are rather awkward for a smaller one.  So I bought a set of basic   colors in tubes and some small brushes.  What a difference having the right tools for the job makes!  I'm now thinking of a series of small (8x10) oils of the southwest, fitting them in while waiting for larger ones to dry.  It's funny, some pastelboard I ordered arrived on Tuesday and I have really not thought about pastels.  Since the oils seem to be going so well, I think I'll stick with them for awhile longer, and hopefully will be able to get back in the "zone".

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Monumental attempt

Earlier this week I took a break from a big painting I've been working on for awhile to do a small quick one.  I've discovered that a lot of artists are doing small daily paintings and then auctioning these on ebay.  I wish I had the time to do a new painting every day, I'm sure the practice would do me good.  Instead I'll have to settle for the occasional quick painting while another is drying.  This one is my first attempt, and it looks to me like I really could use the practice!  Landscapes seem to be something I find easier to capture in pastel.  And I don't think I made it any easier on myself by choosing a scene from some place as iconic as Monument Valley.  I'm not sure if it's the lack of colors available to me (I have 100+ pastels, but only about 15 oils, most of them oil sticks), or that I am not used to working on a smaller scale (the painting is about 14x11).   I think part of it may be that I am used to working pretty loosely with oils, and haven't figured out yet how to translate that into landscapes.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Back to oils

This past week a pack of canvases I had ordered finally arrived, and over the weekend I started on a new oil painting.  I have been concentrating on pastels lately and neglecting oils, but it felt good to get back into them.  Seeing swaths of color spreading loosely over a larger area is quite satisfying.  I find that pastels work well for me when I want to paint an object or place in careful detail.  Perhaps it's because I feel like I can have more control when holding the pastel directly in my hand as opposed to paint at the end of a brush.  It's not that a pastel painting can't be rendered loosely, or an oil tightly, but they just seem to lend themselves to me in different ways.

The biggest issue I have with oils is waiting for them to dry so that I can get on to the next step!  Using oil sticks helps a bit with that as they often dry by the next day, but since the colors can't be squeezed out onto a palatte, blending must be done on the canvas.  As a result I often find that I combine tube and stick paints.  It extends the drying time a bit, but with a stack of canvases at hand, I can work on more than one painting at once.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Just Up the Road

About a mile up the road from me is one of many barns in the area, this one a bit overgrown and neglected.    I'm not even sure if it's being used any more since there are a number of holes in the roof.  Combined with the abandonded pasture, I've found it's rustic charm quite compelling.  After passing by for the last three years, I finally got around to painting it last week.  I found a pad of canvas with minimal texture and coated it with pastel primer before starting.  It seems to work pretty well, buckling less than watercolor paper when I applied an acrylic underpainting.  The photographs I worked from where taken on a rather dull autumn day, but the painting turned out to be bright late summer day.  I think my instinctive reaction is to make the weather better than it is currently, and after nearly 2 feet of snow over the last two weeks a hot summer sky seems quite appealing.

Also, a quick update:  none of my pieces were accepted into the Rosewood Works on Paper show.  It's the third failed attempt.  I don't think I will try again as they seem to prefer much more contemporary works.  But the Randolf County show is still on.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Two shows

Every year the Rosewood Gallery in Kettering has a show titled "Dayton Area Works on Paper". It's a good show, and one that I have yet to be accepted into. I'm going to try again this year, with "Spider Plant" and "Blue Vase" and possibly a third one as well. Most of the pieces accepted are very contemporary which probably explains my difficulties. There are always a few more traditional pieces however, so I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Later in the month is the dropoff for another show, this one in Union City, which straddles the Ohio-Indiana border. It's a smaller show in a small town, with a more traditional bent. This one I have no trouble getting into. I'll wait and see what (if anything) is accepted into the Works on Paper before deciding what to take. After that, spring shows come up in rapid succession, and I hope to have a lot of good quality pieces for multiple entries.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Finished pastels

Although I'm continuing to work on the roses mentioned earlier, they continue to be incredibly time consuming. I think this is a piece I will have to work on a little bit at a time. I did manage to finish two other pastels in the month of January. The first is an image of Chateau Eza, near Monaco in the South of France. I've never been there myself, but apparently my parentswere in the mid 90s, and I based my painting on one of their photos. It's the first time I've done a painting of a place I've never been to. I think it turned out pretty well, and hopefully the "artistic license" I took wasn't too much.

I was also inspired by a copy of the Pastel Journal purchased recently which included a series of winter scenes. We've had a few snowfalls in January, so I decided to give it a try. The neighbor's barn, which I can see from our front windows, seemed like as good a subject matter as any. And building thick layers of pastel to represent the layers of snow seemed an appropriate technique.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Online Contest

In a previous post I mentioned an online art contest I was thinking of entering, and asked for opinions on which painting I should use. The feedback was interesting, as a number of you chose pieces I really wasn't expecting and the choices were all over the map. After a lot of thought I finally narrowed it down to one and entered last night, just making the end-of-the-month deadline for January. Turned out waiting to last minute was not a bad thing, as my piece is on the first page of entries.

There were several reasons I chose Lingering Clouds at Sunset. First, a few different people said they liked it. Also, it is a fairly recent piece, unlike a few of the others. Also, when I read the fine print I realized a signature had to be visible somewhere in the image. Careful inspection of a few of the others revealed this wasn't always the case. It's something I'll need to correct when I get the chance. There's also the fact that I really like this one. The sky is one of my favorite subjects - when you live in the country it is often the most dominant thing in the landscape, particularly at dawn and dusk.

I'm not sure when the awards will be announced. It appears there are over 700 entries, so imagine it will take awhile to sort through them all. I will let everyone know the results as soon as I get them. Thanks to everyone for the help!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


In the past few weeks the snow has melted and come again, and temperatures have been up and down. The joys of winter in Ohio! As I noted earlier, I did get out for a few pictures, some of which turned out well. There was really only one that struck me as exceptional, though - the one posted here. It was taken along the frozen edge of Twin Creek, just as the ice was starting to melt. I was actually looking at the creek itself, and nearly stepped on this leaf before I noticed it. I love it when I come across something unexpected, it's one of the joys of photography to capture such ethereal moments.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Walk away

Sometimes it's necessary to walk away from a painting for a bit when it isn't working well. I decided to do this with the roses posted below. Repeated attempts to get them right were only leading to frustration. I haven't given up entirely, just set them aside for a bit, to come back at a later date with fresh eyes.

The arrival of a set of new pastels early in the week was a welcome distraction. A box of top quality half sticks in 10 shades of blue was immediately opened and played with, resulting in the quick study seen here. I had never really grasped what "buttery texture" description meant until now. They are truly a pleasure to work with. The only problem is that I would now like to have an entire set, some 500+ colors, which at $4-5 each is not realistic at this point. Someday though, someday.