Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gold and Blue

Some time ago I bought a large number of handmade cotton rag paper with the intent of using it for pastels.  It has an interesting texture, wonderfully torn edges and comes in 25 colors.  When I got caught up in oil painting this spring, the paper was forgotten.  It sat neglected in a drawer for many months until a studio clean up this summer brought it back to light.

At the time, the winter wheat was ripening and the contrast of golden yellow with bright blue skies was irresistible and this paper seemed perfect for it.  There are two of them right now, and since they seem to make a pair I mounted them together on a piece of matboard to show of the edges.  Both are currently available in my etsy shop.

Top: Through the Fields 8 1/2x11 pastel, copyright 2013
Bottom: Turning to Gold 8 1/2x11 pastel, copyright 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013

Turning 75

Every fall the Dayton Society of Painters and Sculptors has its annual members show.  Most years it has a suggested theme with a special award.  This year the theme was "75" in honor of the organization's 75th anniversary.

Themed shows are a bit of a struggle for me, especially when they are open to interpretation.  I can be rather literal-minded, so figuring out how my rather traditional works fit into a theme can be a head scratcher.  This time though, I decided to just go ahead with a very literal interpretation.

Interstate 75 is a major highway that passes just west of downtown Dayton and is prominent feature of the city.  When heading into Dayton (including the DSPS gallery), we usually take US 35 - the interchange between the two is quite impressive.  US 35 passes underneath I75 and the ramps curve and soar overhead in a dance that always fascinates me as I pass through.  Unfortunately I am usually driving, making it impossible to grab a decent photo.  Thank goodness for Google StreetView, which gave me just the inspiration I was looking for.

I had some fun with this one, and a lot of reworking to get the perspective right (if a bit exaggerated), but it was an enjoyable experiment.  It didn't win any awards, but it did turn some heads.

Approaching Interstate 75 16x20 pastel, copyright 2013

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Back in the Saddle

My blog has been ignored lately, and for that I apologize.  It has been a crazy six months as I have a tendency to overcommit myself to non-art.  I've also been focusing on my Facebook page, since I am often on there anyway talking with geographically scattered friends and relatives.  And while Facebook has been attracting a lot of views, this blog seems to be attracting mostly spam.  But Facebook has its limitations; the biggest one being that it is difficult to "follow" if you are not on Facebook.  But I'm willing to try again for those loyal few who are legitimately following this blog and who justifiably have a dislike for social media.

Let's start with some more recent pastels, and then I'll work backwards a bit, interspersed with new works as they come along.

It's common for pastelists to mat their work, which means we often have scraps and bits of mat board just sitting around in a pile.  Another artist whose blog I follow, Karen Margulis, has said that she often uses scraps for quick studies and sketches, so I decided to give that a try.  I had two long narrow pieces in a warm dark grey that would work for panoramic scenes.  Here are the results:

Dormant 5x14 pastel, copyright 2013

End of Summer 6x16 pastel, copyright 2013

Turns out, this shape suits me quite well!  They ended up more as finished pieces than sketches but I am quite pleased with the results.  I'll admit to giving myself a little pat on the back for the snow scene in particular.  It can be a bit of a challenge to work out the composition on unusually shaped pieces, so I played around with cropping the reference photos first, then sketched them in charcoal and dark pastel until I was happy.  After that they almost painted themselves.

The Dayton Society of Painters and Sculptors has an annual invitational for new members each December, I've decided that the snow scene will be one of my entries.  The next challenge will be getting a custom frame!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Show off

I'll admit it, I have been neglecting my blog lately.  Short little blurbs on Facebook are just too tempting, and I wasn't sure how many people were actually reading the blog.  But I have been reassured that indeed I have an audience, so I will try to do better.

There are a few new things on my plate this summer.  After building up my skills on the 16x20 canvas board I gave a 24x24 gallery wrap canvas a try.  My original intention was use the small Connected study and go bigger, but as often happens, the painting went its own way and I just followed along.  It got rather dark at first but with some effort I was able to get it a bit lighter.  I am finding that if I hang a painting on the wall and turn off the brightest lights to imitate typical lighting situations in a house, it helps me to make a few adjustments.

Evening Storms Likely 24x24 oil, copyright 2013
Next month will be a bit hectic as I will be showing in two places at once.  The first is the Cozy Kup Cafe on US 35 in New Lebanon.  It's a coffee shop (obviously) that my husband stops in occasionally - I'm not a coffee drinker, but he brings home excellent chocolate chips cookies - and the owner Sarah is an art lover.  A fellow artist, Phil Erbaugh, suggested I stop in and see if she would be interested in showing my work.  She said yes, so now I have my first venue on my own!  I'm pretty excited about it, so if you are local, be sure and stop in for a cuppa joe and a painting during the month of July.

In addition to that, thanks to a last minute change of plans I will be participating in an invitational show at the Preble County Art Center in Eaton during July.  And the Preble County Fair is coming up at the end of the month.  Now how am I supposed to decide which paintings are going where?  And if only I had this problem more often!

Friday, May 31, 2013

June Shows

May has been a rather crazy month, and as a result I've been rather negligent with the blog.  My Facebook page seems to be slowly taking over, but I will try to do a better job of keeping up on here.  The "craziness" of this month includes two shows, both with receptions coming up shortly.

The first show is the Dayton Society of Painters and Sculptors annual Spring Open Juried Show, which runs from May 31 (today!) to June 23.  The reception is June 3 from 2-5 pm.  I will be there, at least for a few hours at the beginning.  Three pieces were entered and one, a small pastel, was accepted:

Heading to Grand Central 6x6 pastel, copyright 2013

Cityscapes are not typical for me as there are far too many straight lines, but I decided to give it a try.  And to be honest, it wasn't the straight lines that gave me trouble to much as getting the cars to look right - I had to break out the reading glasses to get the details!

The other show is the Preble County Art Association Annual Juried Show, which is June 4 to June 29. The reception is June 8 from 2-4, and once again I will be there.  I have two pieces in this one:  a pastel, Scout and the Pink Kimono painted last year, and an oil shown below.  It's the first time in a few years that I have entered an oil, but I have been on a bit of a roll since taking the workshop with Steven Walker.  Hopefully I will see some of you at one or both receptions!

Storm on the Horizon 16x20 oil on canvas board, copyright 2013

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bigger and brighter

This weekend I attended the opening reception for Spring Fling, an annual juried exhibit at the Gateway Arts Council in Sidney, Ohio.  This year I was privileged to have two pastels accepted into the show.  It's an excellent exhibit with many talented artists participating, making the quality of the pieces displayed quite high.

I learned a few lessons as I walked around the exhibit.  The first, which I really already knew, was that while my work has gotten much better over the last few years, I still have some catching up to do.  The second was that I need to paint bigger and brighter, especially for these types of exhibits.  Larger pieces often do a better job of commanding attention, in particular when they surrounded by many other pieces.  A little 9x12, while quite lovely in a living room or bedroom, is overwhelmed in such a space.  In addition, all the dark shadows which were supposed to be dramatic turned out to be more melodramatic in a setting with lighting that is more subdued than in my studio.

Taking all of this into consideration, I have resolved to paint bigger and brighter, at least for exhibits.  Even for other pieces I will try to make the mood brighter - occasionally walking the pieces out of the studio and setting them in a room with more typical lighting (my dining room, for example) will help with this I think.  Something like the painting below is step in the right direction I think.

Chance of Scattered Showers 16x20 oil, copyright 2013

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dark skies

Winter Sky study 9x12 oil, copyright 2013

Connected study 8x10 oil, copyright 2013

Since taking the workshop with Steven Walker I've been playing with my oils, trying to work out how they will work best for me, and I find myself focusing more and more on the sky.  Really, that shouldn't be much of a surprise as that is what I have been doing for some time in pastels.

These two are the most recent of those studies.  During the workshop Steven pointed out several times that my clouds were rather dark and ominous looking, and these are no exception.  I like the drama that dark skies create and have many, many reference photos of storm clouds.  After finishing the second one in particular though, I realized he had a point - it's a bit too dark.  It may not be obvious on a computer screen, but it is obvious when it's on my living room wall.  It appears that I need to learn to compensate for the fact that a typical room in a house is not as well lighted as my studio.  I think I will try the second one again, but larger and brighter, while keeping the drama.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Thoughts on the Steven Walker workshop

The first week in April I took an oil painting workshop with Steven Walker, and it quite an eye opener on so many levels.  I learned so much, but more importantly rediscovered the joy of oil painting.  It's a long post, but I wanted to share my thoughts on the experience.

Steven working on his first demo.
The first day we introduced ourselves - more than half of the other artists were watercolorists, some were full time artists, and most already knew each other - which meant there was lots of chatter and laughter.  Then Steven talked about himself and his background in illustration and how he ended up in Ohio from Richmond, Virginia.   He takes his work seriously - but not himself, a good combination.

After that he showed us his set up, going over colors and additives and techniques in detail, answering questions as they came up.  Then the first demo, again talking as he worked.  It was mostly finished in about and hour and a half.

Then it was our turn.  I rather unwisely chose a single cluster of clouds as my reference photo for the first painting.  I say unwise because I struggled with it for the first two days - it was far more complicated and difficult than it seemed at first.  Watching the professional artists next to me breeze through their paintings with beautiful results made me feel rather inadequate.  By the third day I was done with that cloud whether or not the painting was finished.  One of my fellow students kindly told me that I was being too hard on myself.  I didn't see it at the time, but he was right.

The troublesome cloud painting,
with a study and the reference photo.
Finally found the "zone" with this one.
A landscape was chosen as the next painting, and that just clicked.  I was able to relax and get into the flow of things during the rest of the week.  The fields were painted with gusto and a pallet knife, a first for me.  It is such a wonderful feeling, being in the "zone" and such a relief to finally get there.  The rest of the week went very well I am happy to report.

What I learned

1) Relax.  I put too much pressure on myself to get it right immediately, instead of just going with the flow and letting it happen.

2)  Don't compare to others.  There were some impressive artists in the workshop, far above my skill level.   Experience counts for a lot, and I still have many, many hours of experience before me.

3) Plan.  As fast as Steven works, he still takes the time to think about what the final product will look like.  He had a stack of small scale studies that he often paints before starting on a larger painting, and encouraged all of us to do the same.

4)  Simplify.  It's a painting, not a photograph and not every detail is necessary, so worry only about what's needed.  At the end of the week he made a point that I had never thought about before.  If the painting is small, the viewer will automatically step closer to see details.  If it's large, the viewer will step back to take it all in, so larger paintings can have less detail than smaller ones.

5) Soften.  This goes along with the don't fuss over details idea.  Hard, sharp edges don't often occur in nature so having them in a landscape can make it look forced or artificial.  I was about doubtful about this with my clouds, but I went along with his suggestion to soften and blend cloud edges on my last painting.  The response from other artists and viewers was positive, so it turns out he was right!

Softer clouds on this one -
 I still need to finish the fields though!
There is much more I could talk about, but those are the basics of what I got from the workshop, technique-wise.  But most important of all was confidence.  I feel much better about my abilities with oil and believe that there will be a big improvement in the quality of my painting.

If you ever get the chance to take a class or workshop from Steven, I highly recommend you do so.  He really is a wonderful teacher.  And a special shout-out to Dan Knepper and his son Jordan for encouraging me to participate in the workshop.  Thanks guys, I'm sure I'll be seeing you around soon!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Turning koi

Turning Koi 6x6 pastel, copyright 2013

A few months ago I painted a series of 4x4 pastels, playing with a smaller size and surface.  Though most turned out alright, they weren't quite as good as I had hoped they would be so I've decided to give one of them another try.  Much better - and easier to photograph too.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Waiting for spring

Waiting for Spring 9x12 pastel, copyright 2013

The weather has been volatile this past week - it is March after all - wrecking havoc on sinuses but making for excellent scenery.  The beginning of the week saw heavy clouds and patches of flurries, but there were holes in clouds allowing sunlight to stream through.  I spent more than hour chasing the sunlight down backroads new to me and somehow managed not to get lost.  There were a few times when I wasn't sure exactly where I was, but I did manage to find my way back without having to consult a map, so I can say I was never completely lost.

This little gem of a spot came up unexpectedly when the road took a sudden turn to the right and meandered along a creek.  Corn and soybeans are the most crops around here, but winter wheat is my favorite to paint, as it turns the most wonderful shade of gold when ripe.  Right now it is dormant and a sort greenish yellow as opposed to the brown earth in the other, fallow fields.  Though the darkening clouds foretold six inches of snow (and a day off from school for the kids) later in the week, the bright field predicts that spring is just around the corner.  I am certainly ready for it.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Last Light

Last Light 11x14 pastel, copyright 2013

After I had so much fun with the little 6x6 pastels on claybord, I decided to try again with a larger one.   It works!  I am really loving this surface.  It doesn't take as many layers as the paper, but that's a good thing.  I tend to try to correct mistakes by adding more color and end up with "mud".  It takes some effort to fix when it's on paper and I've ruined a few erasers (and some paper) in the attempt.  But with this surface I can just wipe it down with a wet rag, paint on a little more primer and go back to work.  Perfect!

This scene is from a series of photos I took this fall while my husband drove me around the backroads near our house.  I've gotten a lot of inspiration from those photos, so don't be surprised if you see even more of them in the future.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Evening Glow

Evening Glow 6x6 pastel, copyright 2013
available for purchase $75 in my etsy shop

Two years ago I was experimenting with a new (to me) surface for oil paintings: 6x6 clayboard.   Designed for water based media, the clay coated surface soaked up the oils.  I coated it with pastel primer to make it less absorbant and also gave it a bit of texture.

Lately I've been thinking about surfaces for my pastels, something a little more sturdy but not outrageously expensive.  Some artists use gatorboard, but it isn't acid free.  Suddenly it occurred to me that clayboard would do the trick.  There were only two pieces left.  The first was covered in red acrylic, then pastel primer was applied with a very soft bristle brush.  On the second I used pink.

The results?  It's perfect!  The first one turned out quite well, the clayboard works just as well as any sanded paper, plus when framed it needs no backing board for support.  It looks great in the gold frame I had bought for the oil paintings.  The second one turned into a wiper, but that's okay - I just took it to the kitchen sink and sprayed it down - now it's good to go.  The other nice thing about clayboard is that it can be purchased in large sheets and cut down to size.  I think I'm going to have fun with this!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Tank top

Tank Top 12x16 charcoal, copyright 2013

Back to Life Drawing this week.  There were three poses; two were twenty minutes and one was forty minutes.  The twenty minute poses didn't turn out very well, but the forty minute one did.  The left hand and arm were at a very awkward angle to me and were erased several times, so I never got the chance to finish them.  I'm satisfied with everything else though.  

Monday, February 4, 2013

Tell me a story

Footprints in the Heart 9x12 pastel, copyright 2013

This fall I decided I would give portrait painting a serious try for the first time.  A year and a half of Life Drawing session had given me some confidence, and I had the perfect photo to work from.  Or so I thought.

As I started working, it became more and more obvious that the photo was not the best choice to use.  It was grainy, the lighting wasn't great, and the angle of the face was unusual.  However, this mimics a lot of situations for commissioned portrait painting, so I just went with it.  Four months later I have come to conclusion that I just don't have the patience to be a commissioned portraitist.

Don't get me wrong, I'm quite happy with how it turned out, but the path to get there was long and frustrating.  It was erased and wiped and reworked and overworked and erased again so many times that I had to walk away and let it sit on several occasions.  I have gained huge admiration for portrait artists, they have the hardest job in the art world in trying to make everyone happy!

Some of you will recognize the subject of this painting, but others will not.  The reason I chose this particular image is for the story it seems to tell.  Like Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring (not that I can even compare myself to Vermeer!) a good portrait should tell a story - or let the viewers make their own stories.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


For the past two weeks I have been struggling with three different pastels, each very different from the other other but all of them giving me fits.  One is nearly done but not quite there.  The other I may give up on, it's been wiped down twice already.  And then there is this one.

Drifting Fenceline 9x12 pastel, copyright 2013

It started out as a painting of a plowed field, snow covering the furrows in rows behind one lone fencepost.  It works quite nicely as a photo.  But those nice neat little rows did not want to work in a painting.  First the perspective was wrong.  Then the shadows.  Then the color.  The pastel layers kept getting thicker and thicker until I finally realized I was just making mud - or perhaps slush would be a more appropriate term.

Last night I finally gave in, wiped the snow off completely and started over.  It just did not want to be a plowed field, and I'm slowly starting to learn to "listen" to my paintings.   They want to be painted, but they sometimes seem to have their own opinion about what they want to say.  And this one was reminding me to simplify - so that's what I did.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Snowy farmstead

Snowed In 12x9 pastel, copyright 2013

Though long gone, it seems there is still plenty of inspiration to be found in the snow.  The reference photo was a drive-by on my way to pick up some paintings in Sidney.  It was not a very good photo and included reflections in the window and some of the car door, but it was good enough for a starting point.  From that it was mostly a matter of being confident enough to trust to "artistic license".

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Gone but not forgotten

Red Barn, Winter 6x6 oil, copyright 2012

Thanks to rain and above normal temperatures this week, our snow is completely gone.  I did manage to get quite a few reference photos though and am working my way through them.   Snow can be rather challenging to paint.  The brain tells you that it is white, but the eyes see blues and purples in the shadows, yellows and pinks and oranges in the light.  It can be tricky to find the right balance between what you think you know and what you think you are seeing.

This particular painting was the last one I did last year.  It is loosely based on a neighbor's barn, one that can be seen from our house.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Rethinking things

Path to the Creek 6x6 oil, copyright 2012

It seems my New Year's resolution to better my photography skills has yet to come to fruition.  The texture of both the paint and the canvas are giving me fits and I have not figured out how to work around them.  I'm sure it as something to do with the lighting.  Hopefully further experimentation will resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, it was suggested to me by Susan Pownell that "more and better" was far too vague a resolution especially if I had no idea how much I had done to begin with, so I took a more detailed look at the year and was a bit surprised at the results.  I was in nine shows, took one workshop, had 80 blog posts, won three second place awards, and posted 64 finished pieces.  It seems I have been much busier than I thought I was, which is a good thing.

After this I've refined my goals somewhat.  I'd like to take more workshops or perhaps a class.  I don't necessarily feel the need to be in more shows but rather will try to get into more juried shows (I was one for two last year) and go beyond my usual haunts.  And while 64 finished pieces is a good number I'd rather see more better quality pieces - quality rather than quantity.  

The marketing thing has me a bit stumped though.  80 posts on the blog equals 80 posts on Facebook and Twitter.  There were a few extra postings on Facebook, but not many.  I know some artists post on Twitter daily and I have seen an increase in followers, but I'm not seeing how that is really helping me. Perhaps I just haven't figured out how to use it effectively.  I'm also wondering if I should increase my online presence by entering more online shows (I entered only one).

All things to think about and a big shout out to Susan for helping me change my mind set on this.  By the way, you should definitely check out her work, she does amazing things with pen and ink.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Getting better

Chateau Eze 9x12 pastel, copyright 2013

Over the holidays I was reminded that several photo albums borrowed from my parents three years ago had not yet been returned.  Before giving them back I decided to see just how far I had come since 2010, painting a photograph for a second time.  Above is the painting finished just this morning, below is the one painted three years ago.

Chateau Eze 12x16 pastel, copyright 2010

I think it's safe to say there have been improvements.  Details are no longer as important to me as light and shadow.  Creating a sense of depth and drama has overridden the urge to "get it right".  I'm also much more confident in my ability to paint with pastels and to find my own voice.   This exercise certainly makes me feel good about the direction I'm headed.

As a reference point, here is the photo that I was working from.

Chateau Eze by David Kuhns, copyright 1996

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A world in white

Freezing Over  6x6 oil, copyright 2012

It's a new year, and time for some new resolutions.  I find that I'm not good at following through with specifics, so this year I've decided to go for the simpler approach.  More and better.  More paintings, more pastels, more marketing, more connections.  And better at all of these.  This I can stick to.

One of the first things I can do better is photographing my art.  I still haven't figured out how to do a good job on the high contrast paintings with lots of texture.  You'll just have to trust me that this little painting looks much better in reality than it does on your screen.  When I figure it out, I'll go back and replace this photo.

And I should have plenty of practice coming up.  Nearly eight inches of snow fell on the day after Christmas, and it's still around, plus a bit more.  With reference photos in hand, I've started another series of small oils, much as I did two years ago, the last time we had a significant snowfall.  While it is not easy to drive in, it is easy to get inspired.  The creek is high due to the rains that came before the snow, but not so high that it isn't starting to freeze along the edges.  This is one of my favorite spots, where it takes a bend and disappears beyond the trees.