Monday, March 15, 2010

Back to the Sycamore with Bill James

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).


  1. Carol,
    I think it is wonderful you took advantage of someone else's opinion on your art. That takes courage. It also takes courage to find yourself at that plateau, take a deep breath and find the next direction to climb. Good for you!

  2. Thanks Jennifer. That's a nice way to think of it. Makes me feel good, anyway :-)

  3. hey - Im a professional artist and we all go through those thoughts just about every time we paint (or draw, or whatever). It's part of the process, to doubt yourself means you are charting new territory, as all artists should. And keeping yourself open to other possibilities - weel done! So expect the doubt, the fight, and go with it - you're on the right track!

  4. Gabrielle is right. And I am glad you had done some soul searching. That means you are serious about what you are trying to do. Went through your photo blog and you have some great photos. I use my photography for my research and have gotten to the point where I try a lot of darks against lights Lights against darks etc. to apply towards my paintings. After a while it all fits together. I am now always composing and photgraphing as if I was painting. That does mean I do a lot that just doesn't work. Yesterday at sunrise I was out and shot 45 pixs with my digital and even what I thought were pretty good concepts were not unless I used a lot of artistic lisencing. But. I still have times with mental blocks and have to have a talk with myself.
    The painting I am working on now with the deer has taken a lot of changes and rethinking in the last few months from when I first visualized it. yesterday morning I went back up to the spot I took the original photos for more reinforcement. Surprisingly I could not even see what prompted me when I was there several months ago. It didn't look at all as I had started out. It was the time of day. The atmosphere. Even the editing I did to the original idea. Everything changed.
    Keep going. You are doing O K

  5. Thanks so much, Gabriel and Gary. Your encouragement is very much appreciated.

  6. How wonderful--and this is a beautiful piece.

    You are a very talented artist!

  7. Your Sycamore Branches turned out very nice. I really like the warm rust color you chose with the sky color.

    How exciting to be building a new set of pastels! Your Rembrandts will be good for glazing ;).

    Thanks for sharing this post.

  8. Thanks for commenting, Sandy. The rust was a key color in the bark. Can't say that I coordinated the rust and sky colors, but I'm glad you like them. On the sky I tried really hard to get the same effect that Bill rendered in the jpg. It was interesting to me that he used a bit of turquoise in the sky color, which would not have occurred to me.