Sunday, February 27, 2011

quantum leap

Sometimes in art you paint for a while, and then suddenly you have a growth spurt.  A time when all of a sudden you are soaking up what you are learning like a sponge.  There have been times in my artist life like that.  I feel that I am going nowhere creatively, and then suddenly I see something, read something, or look at someone else's art and wham! I am off and running in a new direction, my muse on fire.

I always worked in oils, never in any other paint medium.  Then I spent several years when I didn't paint in oils because I was busy raising babies, and just didn't have the time or energy to keep them out of my paints.  I tried once or twice, and I remember cleaning oil paints off of Jim's little fingers (he was a toddler), and so my artistic bent went in other directions.  I taught myself needlepoint, crochet, knitting, shadow embroidery, smocking, and many other types of hand work.  I could do these and handle my babies without much of a hitch in my daily routine. 

But the muse was always there, simmering under the surface.  Waiting to break free.  My kids grew up, and I did something I always wanted to do but had never mastered.  I taught myself how to paint with watercolors.  It was pretty scary at first, and I made a lot of paintings I destroyed.  But gradually, by practicing, I got the feel of the media and eventually became comfortable enough to show some of my work to family and friends.
I found that even though painting in watercolors is something you have less control over, it sometimes it takes a serendipitous turn.  My watercolors tend to be small paintings, because it is something I like to be able to sit and hold in my lap as I paint, so I can pause and think about where I want to take the next step. 

That was the first quantum leap I took in painting as an adult.  The second leap was when we started the Treasures studio.  I had never liked acrylic paints, not even in high school.  They dried too fast, I didn't like the way the colors mixed, and they just annoyed me.  But in order to provide an experience in the studio for people taking classes, we had to offer the paintings in acrylic.  And though I had a rough start, I gradually got the hang of the feel of acrylics.  And found I liked them. I could layer the paint up and add details quickly, without waiting for each layer to dry.

This was my second painting in acrylic.  I thought it turned out colorful, but wasn't sure I knew what I was doing.  Heck, I KNEW I didn't know what I was doing.  How was I going to teach classes when I didn't even know how to do a painting in acrylic myself? 

But I kept on, and practiced, and gessoed over some really weird looking paintings, until I realized I was evolving.  Not only was I interpreting master works for the classes, but I was doing some original art of my own. 

It has been a process of growth, of learning, of quantum leaps of faith and skill.  And I never know when it will happen.  It just does.  But it is something I keep striving for.  Because it is a journey that will never really end, because as long as I put brush to canvas, I will grow. 

And the nicest thing about having this business, and painting in acrylics?  I have seen the same thing happen, over and over, to the people who come to paint.  They have fun, and the ones who visit often, have evolved.  And continue to evolve.  And I am privileged to be witness to this.

It does my heart good, these quantum leaps.  Whether they are mine, or others, it feeds my artist soul.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

a work in progress

If you've been watching my posts, you have seen me paint a couple of pieces of art step by step.  What you don't see is that I am not always sure when I am finished with a painting.  There is the beginning, when I have worked out a design in my head.  I begin to paint.  But I am not always sure where I will end.

Sometimes I stop for a bit, walk away, then come back to it and see immediately what I need to do.  (Just as we take breaks during the classes in the studio.)  When I walk away from a painting for a few minutes, it gives me "fresh" eyes. 

I see where my path lies with the painting, and I am once more focused.  Usually at this point I paint rapidly.  Everything is fresh in my head, I know where I want to go, and I paint fast because I want to see if my hands will lead me where my head has already taken me.  Usually at this point, I paint until I am finished.  Or think I am.  Those of you who follow our Treasures By You Facebook page have seen me post "completed" paintings many times, usually with the caption that it is complete "I think".  And if I say that, then most assuredly it is NOT complete, and I am going to lay a paintbrush on it again.  Sometimes right away, sometimes after I have slept on it overnight (yes, I DO paint in my sleep).  Then I approach it once again, the image clear in my mind, and I know what else needs to be done.  So I begin to add what is usually details at this point, and when I get to a point where I feel the need to stop, I stop.  I have gone too far with many paintings and "overpainted" to the point that the original design, or image I had in mind, is lost.
So I stop once more.  My work has progressed to a point that I must stop.  I look at the painting and think about it.  And do you know when I know it is time to stop?

I look at what I have painted, and a feeling of pleasure washes across me.  Then I know.  The work has progressed.  And it is complete.

*Note: today I am linking you to the Sketchbook Challenge blog I follow.  I don't always have time to participate in these challenges, because my job, and the business I share with my sister just keep me way too busy.  But I find when I follow these blogs, even if I don't pick up a pencil or pen, just looking at the creativity of others keeps my "creative juices" flowing.  SO I encourage you to have a look, leave a comment (if you dare :-)) and HAVE FUN WITH ART! 

See you soon!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


I was going to write the other day about what art meant to me.  I have been working on the art for our studio classes for March, and have had this running dialogue in my head for the past few days about why I love art, and what it means to me.

But as I started to paint, I suddenly experienced a moment from the past so strong, that I could hear, smell and see it in my mind.  It was as though I was transported back in time.  And I knew in the instant it happened that I would share it.

The painting I have been working on is a copy of one I did when I was 12 years old.  It is one of the first two or three oil scenes I painted.  I had painted the sky, the mountains and had started on the tree line in the background when I was whammed by a memory so strong I stopped and just stared.

All of a sudden I was 12 years old again.  I was sitting at an easel in a small, dusty studio, surrounded by painting paraphernalia.  I could hear the hum of the air conditioner, and smell the accumulation of dust, and wood, oil paints, and turpentine.  And I could see Erma Washburn standing in front of me, a rotund little woman with hair that was askew as though she had just run her hands through it quickly, because she had better things to do than comb it.

I could see the photo she showed me that I would be painting .  I was afraid and excited all at the same time.  She was a kind person, and had a soft but intense sort of voice.  And we got right down to business, because my great aunt Phoebe, and then my Grammy, paid for me to take lessons with her. 

So she squeezed out the oil paints I would be using onto my palette, to show me how to not use too much at one time.  Paint wasn't cheap.  Then she told me how to draw in the outline of the main shapes, and got me started on the background.  I loved the feel of my brush against the canvas.  Oil paint gliding on, blending it, mixing bits of this and that in to get the right shade.  The paint medium I used to mix with my paint was a secret formula she said she had gotten from the "master" artist who had instructed her.  In my young mind, that could only have been DaVinci (I know now she wasn't THAT old, but to a 12 year old with a fertile mind, that was where my thoughts landed).  I never did learn what that formula was.  She guarded it like gold.  And of course made a nice profit on every bottle of the concoction she sold to me.

As I painted, I thought all these thoughts and more, and I felt for a little while as though I was living on another plane of existence, and had one foot in the past and one foot in the present.  I could remember how she told me to paint the treeline, then the shadows of the trees, and finally I was working on the birch bark of the trees, adding white and shading with darker gray, making the bark look as though it was ready to peel off in my hand.

Finally I was adding the leaves to the trees, and the dried grass to the foreground.  Then a bit more work on the shadows and I was finished.  And it only took me a couple hours this time to paint what took me a few weeks last time.  Of course, acrylic dries much faster than oil paints, and I have been painting for over 46 years now.  Gone is the child of yesteryear, the girl who first picked up a paintbrush with no idea what to do with it.  Also gone is that first rush of excitement that comes with the newness of a thing...the excitement of the unknown.  I miss that sometimes...

But I realize that in the place of that has come a deeper love of art, an understanding of who I am as an artist, my passion for painting, and the knowledge I wish to share with others.  This journey isn't over yet.  I still learn every day.  And I still grow as an artist with every piece of work I create.

Thanks Erma.  I think you'd be proud of me.

*Today: I am sharing a link to another blog that I enjoy... My Paintings by Hinda Toufga.  She is a prolific writer with a wide variety of topics on her blog, and she is also a marvelous artist with a fresh eye and the curiosity to try different kinds of art media.  Visit her and tell her Cath sent you.  And be sure to check out her paintings, and don't forget to leave a comment if you enjoy her blog...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

channelling georgia o'keeffe

Today I am working on a painting for the studio's March calendar, and I decided it would make a good follow-along painting.  So many people read the post "you can call me bob" and seemed to enjoy it that I decided to do a step by step once in a while to let you see the process for other paintings.  Each painting I paint uses different brush strokes and techniques for achieving the end result (art I can hang). 

The painting today is Purple Petunias by Georgia O'Keeffe, one of the American Masters who had great influence on the art world, and especially Europe, until her death at the age of 98.  I admire O'Keeffe because she was influential, talented, and stood out in a world of art dominated mostly by men.

Our palette today is light magenta, dioxazine purple, phthalocyanine blue, white and black.  I had another purple laid out too, but decided it had too red a tone to it.  The predominant colors are a blue purple and pink.  White and black are used to change the tones, add highlights, and shadows.  I used a 1 inch flat wash for the entire painting.  You might want to use a 1 inch wash for broad areas, and a 1/2 inch wash for details.  I used a size 8 round for the flower centers.
First I started with some thinned purple to make the main outlines with.  You can use pencil to draw on the canvas too, but I don't recommend it because it is sometimes harder to cover pencil than another color of paint with acrylics, especially if you use thin body acrylics to paint with like we use for classes at the studio.  The lines are not to provide fill in the blank areas (that wouldn't be painting like a master now, would it?) but are meant to be general landmarks, or guidelines to keep the perspective correct.
Next I mixed some white with a small amount of black to make gray and painted the top and side areas around the flowers.  I shaded it a bit darker near the edge of the flowers.  Then I began to fill in the broad areas of the flower using the purple mixed with just a little bit of white.  This is the base color of the flower, what we add lighter and darker shades of color to, to provided depth and tonal quality to the painting.
Continue to fill in the areas, using pink in broad areas and purple.  This sets the stage for the next step, blending the edges and adding tone.  Now if you are quick enough, you can blend the colors before the paint dries, but you'd have to be superman to be that fast.  I paint fast and even I couldn't blend all the areas before the paint dried.  Which meant I had to pick up more paint and blend. 

Continue to blend the areas.  I didn't use much paint on my brush at this point.  Large amounts of paint just turned the pink to purple and the purple to lighter purple. 

It is what I call a dry brush technique.  You pick up small amounts of paint on your brush and blend.  If too much paint builds up, I wipe some off on the rag.  I rarely rinse my brush unless I have mixed too many colors together and it begins to look muddy.  The aim is to keep the colors bright, and control the blending.

If you rinse your brush out, then be sure to press down HARD on the rag to remove as much water as possible.  You want the brush to remain as dry as you can get it.

Next begin to add some white details to the edge of the petals on the flower in the forefront, and also to the bottom right edge of the blossom in back.  Again, dry blend the colors.

The centers come next.  Black with just a touch of purple.  And from the centers I blended out the dark areas of the flowers.  Dry blend...dry brush, dry brush...not too much paint...small amounts at a time and if I got too much of one color, I just wiped, picked up another color and kept blending. 

*TIP:  if you are nervous about blending on the canvas, buy a cheap canvas, to practice strokes and blending on.  I'd tell you to practice on heavy white paper, and you can, but the feel won't be the same because paper doesn't have the same "tooth" as canvas does.  You can also pick up a cheap small housepainting brush and gesso, and gesso over the practice painting so you can reuse the canvases.  We do this when we begin to have too many of one painting in the studio...we pick some and gesso over them to use for practice again.  Even famous artists often did this to save money on supplies.

Last I add the centers of the flowers with pink, purple and blue, mixed with a bit of white....
After all the blending and edging, you have your finished painting.  Only you will know when you are finished.  When you reach a point that you are pleased with the outcome, STOP!!!  I can't tell you how many times I have had to tell that to students who just wanted to add a 'bit more'.  That bit more can muddy a painting and you can lose the effect you were aiming to achieve. 

*Note: you can always add to a painting later.  Sometimes it is best to stop, walk away, and let your eyes and brain rest for a while.  Then when you return you will have 'fresh eyes' and probably a new perspective on what you were trying to achieve.  For those who attend class in our studio, we will 'bump' you past that point, by making you take a short break, then suggesting a brush stroke or two to jump start you again.

And so you have the finished canvas...O'Keeffe is fun to paint...and here is the original I used for practice:
HAVE FUN WITH ART!  See you next time!!!