I've noticed a thematic perspective recently. I love to be deep in the embrace of the forest, looking upwards. It's a natural perspective in the Blue Ridge mountains, where the vegetation is thick and rich, and the small, smooth mountainsides are steep. Rhododendron again clothe this dell. Columns of deciduous trees vault their canopy against the sky, sheltering the ruby dogwoods. From a scene along Wayah Creek in NC.
'Rapture & Serenity' 11x13" Soft Pastels on Wallis Museum Grade Paper
Early one evening my darling and I took supper on the patio. As we finished I took note of the fringe of white fire that the late day sun was striking in the edges of the Sieryu maple. The Buddleia was still in bloom, and despite the contrast, her purpleness, and some lovely orangey glow was twinkling in her canopy. I ran for the camera and after snagging some shots, I continued to study the scene for the few minutes that it continued.
As you might expect, the photo darks were very dark, near black, but I knew they were not quite as inky as they appeared. There was a ‘smokiness’ to those darks in the real garden. As I prepared to paint I considered two conflicting strings of painterly advice I had picked up:
“Students go too dark too soon. It’s a common problem.”
“In pastels, if you don’t get your darks ‘dark enough’ early, there’s really no going back to fix it late in the game.”
Hmm. Definitely some serious darks here, and some serious brights. I decide to set the darks at absolute and layer in lighter values of color as needed for texture until I found that ‘smokiness’, whatever that was. It went slowly for me. Long periods of looking and thinking between small bits of painting. I tried a blue in the darks to push them back…but ouch! It was all wrong. Broke the warmth of the scene. In brushing it off, I found my way back in. The brushed out areas left a dark haze, but some tint of light was shining through from the white paper. There was that suggestion of smoke! I do love how the process of painting can be a continual puzzling out of problems, approaches, fixes, and yes, that sweet rush when some little thing works.
I renamed this piece and post 'Rapture and Serenity' after cropping it hard on the left and studying it some more. I just couldn't escape the sensation of 'standing in the presence of God.' Here it is cropped and framed for printing on greeting card stock.
"Vocation is Where Your Deep Joy Meets the World's Deep Need."
This quote from Oprah, made many years ago, has long been my mantra. It has guided me to make career choices that were intimidating in scope and demand. Each has become a foundation block on which the next choice was laid.
It’s been very nearly 12 months now since I ‘got serious’ about my development as an artist.(30 months since I first dabbled at painting.) This week two of my paintings were accepted to a local all-media juried art show.
Immediately I needed to design business cards with a brief artist statement. I found the experience surprisingly ‘focusing’. Crafting a message that communicated my media, subjects, passion, and status in such a compact space brought me to a laser focus on the artist I WANT to be. It also sharpened my expectations for my blog and my painting efforts.
I am pleased with what I accomplished this year:
Joined two artists groups and volunteered to help with a group art show,
Attended a 3-day pastel workshop, studied artist DVD’s, and solicited a professional critique
Attended several art shows and a couple museums
Changed to sanded paper, purchased more pastels, tried new techniques
Subscribed to and consumed several blogs and magazines for artists, art business, and artist websites,
Studied everything I could find about painting in pastels and otherwise,
Learned how to use Photoshop and Illustrator,
Hunted for photo ops and possible painting subjects,
Tracked my painting and ‘art related’ hours (which average 15-20 hours a week above my day job)
Submitted my work to a local juried show and got accepted
And yet…I am disappointed:
I didn’t paint nearly enough
I STILL struggle to settle on a subject, interpretation, and style.
My dithering has made for inconsistent quality in the little production time I had
I don’t have enough good work to make a website feasible, which leaves me with only a blog to put on the business card.
There is now a large disparity between the me I see on the business cards and the me I see in the blog.
I suppose these disappointments are a good thing, they show me what needs to improve over the next year.
And so concludes year one of the pursuit of my vocation.
Out Highway 20 at Arbor Ridge road is an unnamed garden center housed in an old barn faced with galvanized sheet metal. On the morning that it caught my eye, the nearly noon sun was barely peeking over the edge of the 'cowboy town' facade where it happened to strike a few purple muhly grass in full bloom and the variegated yucca beside them. Ever since then I've been determined to capture that muhly grass and the lovely rusting wall.
In the actual painting that deep watermelon halo on the muhly grass is hardly noticeable behind the creamy salmon froth of light. I just haven't figured out how to quiet rambunctious reds in Photoshop without losing the jewel-tones in the other colors.
Joy of Man's Desiring
9x9" Wallis Professional Sanded Paper
I've been trying a new approach this week. I didn't use an under-painting, but used the brown Wallis paper, and did a very loose color study on a scrap piece to work out most of the values and color choices. I just wanted to see how throwing down color fast and loose would work out. I knew I'd make color mistakes and was happy to scrub over them until I got closer to what I wanted. In that process I discovered the joy and necessity of that delicious grass apron, which I extended for the painting. In that discovery the final painting became all about the three color fields, with the elements themselves as mere excuses for placing and layering those colors.
As I considered the title for the finished piece, this indulgence in the joy of color brought to mind Bach’s famous treatment of the old hymn, and suddenly the fact that the subject was a garden center became essential. What better place to see the joy of man's desiring than in the plants he grows to recreate the Garden?
Today’s pastel painting began with a photo from a lovely hike in the forests of the Rufus Morgan Falls area of North Carolina. I wanted to do something different with the picture, something that is focused on color, something that keeps the mystery of the dark wood alive while celebrating the sparkling fall sunlight. So I dove in, and when I was done I had landed here.
And if you didn't see it yesterday, too bad. I decided to crop it today and that crop is now posted. I'll probably catch some flack from the Mathemagical Cowboy who made me promise not to ever throw any painting away no matter how bad I thought it was. Guess I'll save the scraps for him. Now I have to change the title, as the focus is a little different.
4 o'Clock Shadow
10.5 x 10.5" Soft Pastels on Wallis Museum Grade Sanded Paper
This week I also ‘discovered’ Wolf Kahn. I had viewed his work a few years ago, and didn’t really get it. This time I watched a couple video interviews and I heard him articulate precisely what has been bedeviling me. I Love color. I Love working from the inside out. I have little interest in ‘representing’ a scene realistically, yet it seems that’s the only approach I know. Kind of maddening.
Here are my Wolf Kahn Take-aways:
• He always wanted to get away from ‘description.’
• ‘Get away from the brushstroke, just let things happen.’
• ‘Get away from deliberateness.’
• ‘To Paint is to live in the moment, trust our intuition and freedom of expression.’
At least my natural impulses are in good company. There is some comfort in that.
Hoping to go see his exhibit at the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta GA this month.
Last fall I was traveling up the Highlands Highway in North Carolina and stopped to take my tourist shots of Cullosaja Falls.The shadows were long. The river poured out of the blue forest before me onto the giant golden-rock falls caught by the hot evening sun. At the top of the falls stood this distinctive tree. She reached into the spotlight and presided over the crashing drama below like an Opera Queen in her final aria. I knew I would paint her one day.
I've removed her from the big stage so I could concentrate on her unusual structure and the fall foliage. Second in the tree series.
'The Diva' 8x13" Pastels on Wallis museum grade paper
She just seems a bit shy to me, as though she would happily hide, but the harsh afternoon sun and her own exotic foliage conspire to make her a star.
5.5"x11.5" Pastels on Wallis Museum Grade
The challenge to myself was to take an utterly boring photo and do a painting using Richard McKinley’s watercolor under painting technique…and try to make the painting more interesting than the photo. You see the journal entry here with color sketch and photo.
The first time out I used a rather strongly colored under painting like I see so many artists use. My colors got too hot though and I couldn’t get harmony between a lemon-lime sky and hot orange leaf litter.
So I tried again. Here is a series of snapshots as things progressed toward what was the final piece at the top of the post. This time I spent much more time on the sketch, trying to get the radial arms placed properly as shapes. When I wing it, my drawing mind gets lazy trying to keep up with my color hand (as we see in the first attempt). In the end I could see from the watercolor where the painting was supposed to go. That’s much more than I could say for the first attempt.
So okay—it’s a tree in the woods and it’s not a riot of circus colors...it’s nearly normal looking, and yet I am pleased. 10 hours today from decision to the declaration of ‘done for now.'
Thank you Gary Keimig for allowing me to use your photo from Horse Creek as the reference! It’s been a month getting here. First, I was enamored of Gary’s photo, but wasn’t really sure what was drawing me to it. Maybe it's that I’m a mountain girl at heart and here I saw what could have been my beloved Appalachia and the Rugged Rockies in a single view. At any rate, I wanted to explore this image, and an expedition it became.
11x17" Soft Pastels on Wallis Museum Grade paper
I took the image into Photoshop and just pushed the contrast and brightness a little. That revealed the shadow lines and the lay of the land in the foreground. Wishing to avoid all the detail of the brush, I simplified the image to value masses and decided to try it as a representational abstract in watercolor. Enjoyed this, but the clouds were a disaster. Removed and tried again until I finally ruined it and gave it up for lost.
Gary Keimig's Photo from Horse Creek
Determined not to be beaten, I returned to Photoshop just to play and see what I could discover with the painting tools as I had not yet used them. In my mucking around I happened to create a pale yellow sky where there was none at all, and THAT inspired the treatment you see here. I saw a late (or early) thunderstorm moving off east, with a clear yellow sky, and cloud tailings being pulled away into the retreating clouds. That gave me excuse for the light on the golden hill, and a way to tie the bottom of the image to the top. This time in Pastels.
I have been living with this piece for several weeks and love it more very day, though until today, I was unable to say why. Now I know. I like that the distant mountains seem to be so 'other worldy' as if from a dream. This picture speaks to me in metaphor, the 'mental' clouds beginning to lift the veil between what is beneath my feet and what could lie in my future. Solid obstacles lie between, but so does a path from here to there...and so the name should be simply 'Clearing.'
At last. After 25 hours of painting, she is presentable.
Early one spring morning I was out with the camera. It had rained the night before so everything was drenched and sparkling in the morning sunshine. I was standing inside the canopy of the Moonfire Japanese Maple just to see what could be seen from there. The foliage was ablaze with translucent fire and reflected violet. This is the sort of subject that I really enjoy painting...though I'd starve to death if I needed to make a living from it!
11x15" Wallis Professional Sanded Paper, Pastels
The challenge to this piece was it's complexity. I did have to simplify some, and to invent a couple hands of foliage to fill in where I omitted visual chaos. I knew that once all sketched onto the sand paper, it would be hard to keep up with what the lines 'meant' so I outlined with red, violet, or green pastel pencil as I went. This proved to be very helpful. I knew that 'value' was going to be a real challenge for this piece. #1 because the darkest and highest contrast objects were in the foreground and these were 'cool' colors #2 because behind them were flaming reds. It's just the nature of even a dark red to be brighter than any blue or blue green.
Thought it might be interesting to show the reference work. First is the original snapshot. Second is the crop from that original that I used as the inspiration.
I joined my local artists association recently, Sawnee Art Association. They put on a lovely little '3-D' show this weekend in the historic Brannon-Heard House in down town Cumming, Georgia. What is a 3-D show? That was my first question.. 3-D to 'me' sounds like holograms and funky movie glasses. 3-D is the art of making a 2-D image 'look' 3-D.
Apparently I am mistaken. 3-D is what 'Fine Art' is not...free of the wall. I understand the need for a descriptive label, but if you ask me, this one is awkward and does not communicate to the 'non-art' community the nature of the show. And don't get me started on the snootiness of 'Fine Art' as a label that means 'paintings and photography'. There. I've said my piece and I am well aware that the Gods of art nomenclature are taking no notice of my pedestrian opinion.
I did say it was a lovely show. It featured over 30 artists in pottery, sculpture, glass, fiber, gourd, metal, jewelry, and wood turning and scroll work with elegant live music playing in the background. Here are some photos from the show. I don't know any of these artists, so I was not being partial...just looking for interesting photos and to show a bit of the space.
For almost two years I have wanted to paint from a photo of a log jam along the Columbia River in Portland. The image had strong lines, but until now, I could not think how to interpret it. In my sketchbook I worked in pen and then colored with alcohol markers to get a feel for value and colors. I actually love that sketch but I knew that it would not translate to pastels, they just handle so differently. Finally I decided to think in terms of abstracts for pastels: indulging the shapes, the colors, the values, and my 'poetic' concept of what I was rendering.
6x9" Wallis museum grade sanded paper
Anyway, I also decided that I would have to pick up water color so I could try pursuing my ink and color sketches.
I’ve been stalled, art-wise. I got to a point where I didn’t know what to do next that would keep me growing. I felt like something energetic and emotive was beating on the walls from deep inside, but what I was doing was just not giving it expression. Did I need to move into abstracts? Did I need another couple media under my belt to have some choices in times like these? Did I need to scrap all my reference work and strive to collect only images shot in the dark with a slice of light piercing the gloom?
I bemoaned to my friend that I couldn’t believe established artists weren’t using the internet and Photoshop to reach and teach students coast to coast in a personal way that didn’t require expensive travel, or limit the student to local teachers. Then I discovered Bill James, master of three media, who offered just that.
I submitted my 4 best recent pieces for an overall review. The upshot was that I lacked dramatic lighting and attendant value changes, which would not only add focus and energy, but would also allow 3-dimensional form to be emphasized, adding depth. What I thought was bright light was just too dim. What Bill did was SHOW me how to envision the life back into my own work. He digitally re-tooled one of my jpgs to show me what HE saw that was missing. This is even better than having a teacher ‘show’ you on your own canvas.
So, here are the Sycamore Branches from November 2009, re-polished.
One thing I confirmed from this exercise is that my Rembrandt pastels just aren’t cutting it. The brightest brights are just plain flat and true darks outside of pure black are non-existent. I was able to get the pop only after finding that a few of my Sennelier were applicable.
This has set me on the great search for better quality pastels. This is going to be a considerable investment, as you know. And I’ve never ever been okay with the 16 color crayon box. SO, I have ordered a few selected super-darks from Diane Townsend Soft Form and Terry Ludwig and some mid tones from Great American ArtWorks to see how these compare to Rembrandt and how they layer.
If I like them, the long term plan is to cover all the bases with a couple sets of Great American, selected Ludwigs, and mostly Unison. This also forces me into a ‘big box’ storage system for all the brands. I’ve spent many hours comparing every pastel storage system I can find….It’s looking like a Heilman box (gulp).
Soft Pastels on Wallis professional grade paper 6x9”
The ‘Ann’ saucer magnolia in bloom seems crowded with exotic pink birds, her complex curving branches weaving an open air cage. The open weave of this frame was essential to the setting for this uncluttered pair, but it was the idea of ‘Sanctuary’ that allowed me to find the life in the lighting.
The placement of the branches provided the composition lesson for this piece. The curving branches generally spiral from behind the flowers. I included a couple branches I shouldn’t have, and had to minimize their presence late in the game. On the right I used the nexus of crossing branches to accomplish two things: to establish a third ‘point’ in a diagonal arrangement with the flowers for a subtle sense of movement, and to become the bottom frame for the space on the right that features the distant pink spot. To keep that space from spilling off the page, I pulled a branch down from above.
(This piece no longer exists. I tried to 'fix' all the 'official' issues with it and finally threw it away. Lesson? Leave well enough alone. Start again from scratch if you think you can improve it.)