Monday, January 31, 2011

Drawing Through

Here I go again, ruining a perfectly nice painting with all sorts of sloppy drawing. When you look at the photo , take care to note that I painted the background and the cloth OVER my previous painting of the pitcher and onion. Then I re-drew the contour of the pitcher and the onion.

This does look so very messy, and it is hard to make myself do it. But again, just as in the vase I did the other day, this bit of painting the background into a shape, and then drawing the shape back over, is my way of keeping the edges dynamic, the drawing accurate, the paint quality expressive and the illusion of depth.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dynamic Edges

Whenever I used to hear about Dynamic Edges, I got an image of some sort of superhero battling a razor blade. "Watch your edges." "Be careful of your edges." Those sorts of admonitions meant nothing to me, and I was too embarrassed to ask what an edge was.

Just in case you, too, are clueless and embarrassed, here's what an edge is: it's the place in the painting where one color leaves off and another begins. When we learned to color in a coloring book, we were told to stay in the lines, and from that point on we thought perfection meant having a nice, clean edge. We could cut clean edges when we painted the trim around our windows. We could really stay in the lines when we drew our design and painted it in on our canvas.

But... Dynamic edges? Well here's the thing: real life doesn't have sharp edges. Nearly everything you paint will have some sort of gradual transition from one color to the next. A lemon on a red cloth will be just ever so slightly blurry -- a little bit out of focus. This is called a soft edge. An apple on a red cloth may even just plain blend into the cloth. This is called a lost edge.

In your painting, you want to have a variety of edges: some hard, some soft, some lost. When you have that kind of variety, you have achieved the great goal of Dynamic Edges.  This is the way our brain processes light impulses, so if you paint with this in mind your paintings will be more believable.

As I developed my focal point, I made sure to vary the edges. You will see some obviously soft edges along the vase, and some obviously hard ones in the fruit. But observe more carefully and you'll find that each piece of fruit has some hard, some soft and some lost edges. Take a look:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Oh No, What Have I Done??

After two days of teaching, I'm ready to get back to the easel! Last session was fun: I had solved my problems of composition and theme, and quickly got the basic idea onto the canvas.

Now it's time for the weird part: the "structured drawing" and "painting through."

Both of them look like I've ruined my painting! It's almost mortifying to even post this picture at this stage. Lots of artists, in fact, skip this stage. Some people don't even know about it, but even when you DO know about this step, it's really hard to make yourself do it.

You can see in the picture that I have painted some of the background color back OVER the vase and fruit, and furthermore I have drawn lines on the vase and even drawn some of those lines over the fruit. This is not because  I can't control my brush and accidentally got paint all over the vase and the fruit. This counter-intuitive mess is crucial to achieve the illusion of light, depth and form that I want to get in the painting. You see, to make the vase look like it's curving back into the background, I need to put background color into the edges of the vase. And in order to get the shape of the vase to look three-dimensional, I need to "draw through" the fruit.

Tomorrow I'll post a picture of the result. It'll look good.  Trust me, I'm a ... an artist. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It's Five o'clock Somewhere

The light this morning is soft and cool. It strikes an assortment of large leaves I had collected last fall. I pick one of them up; it's perforated. The holes are the same size as those in the ceramic.

These are not tropical leaves. These are large, exotic-looking but deciduous. They have dried into tattered, windblown, dramatic shapes.

Hm. Fixing them into the vase, placing a collection of luscious tropical fruit at the focal point, I muse about the contrast in colors and shapes and a theme begins to emerge. God's creation is larger than just the season of one country. Winter and summer are going on all at once in this world. 

Experience is greater than that of one person. As one mourns, another rejoices. 

Once I've solved the problems of composition and theme, the first rough lay-in of paint takes only a few hours.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Birthing Pains

I got to my studio today to find that a fire had broken out in Glen Leven, the historic mansion where my plein-air painting group had planned to meet this weekend. The living quarters in the back of the house were damaged, but the rest of the place will be all right. Thank Heaven for that! The news stations made it sound like the place had burned to the ground. Grr!!

Much of my work time was distracted by that, but the main reason I didn't get any painting done today (and I didn't, and here is the excuse) was that none of the florists in town are carrying Monstera leaves this week! In fact, they really aren't carrying tropical greens or flowers at all. They're involved in forcing branches just now. How can I be so totally out of step? Honestly.

So here are some creative possibilities: forget my perforated-leaf and perforated-vase theme; forget my tropical theme; paint this picture when the leaves come in, and paint something else for now; go to the botanic garden and do drawings of tropical leaves and use those. Why not just use photos of tropical leaves? Because I need to have a mental understanding of how light falls on the structure of the leaves. Once I get that, I could refer back to photos. But for the painting to look real, I must actually study the real leaves.

Which of these options will I choose? I don't even know just now. In the morning, with the light on my vases again, I will have a better feel for it. You know... we do try to be businesslike and professional, but sometimes we artists just need to feel the light.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Stretching Canvas to Music

Music and art seem to go together pretty well... as long as you've chosen the right music. I tend to get so wrapped up in whatever the musicians are doing, that my own project can take a left turn. This can work to my benefit if I'm painting a bright abstract and listening to Metallica. 

I'm currently listening to a Pandora station which features artists like Hans Zimmer (Dark Knight and Sherlock Holmes) and Apocalyptica. VERY intense! So, I'm stretching a canvas today. Just mindless work, right? Should be able to listen to whatever I like. 

Until, half an hour later, I find the staples have gotten away from me and are marching across the stretcher bar in close formation, the canvas is so tight it's pulling the bars together, and the Joker has outwitted Batman AGAIN.

Sometimes silence is, indeed, golden. .

Friday, January 21, 2011

Where do Babies Come From?

Ok yeah I know where babies come from. But where do baby ideas come from? I've decided to document the inception and development of an idea, starting with something I really want to paint.

I have these wonderful vases and pitcher -- that's a closeup of one of them over there on the right -- and I want to paint them.. So here I am trying to come up with an idea that will do them justice. 

See the little holes in the vase? Those got me to thinking about tropical leaves. (the fact that we are having yet another snowstorm also has me thinking about tropical leaves, but that's another story) The kind of leaves I am thinking of are those big ones with the holes in them, just like the vase.

Ransacking Google Images, I found the leaf: it's called Monstera. Wow, that could get my imagination going a whole different direction! So, holes in the vase, holes in the leaf, tropical dreaming....monsters... not sure where this will go, but you'll know when I do!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Waterfalls in February!

As if snow isn't enough to paint, now we crazy plein-air painters have decided to tackle a waterfall in February.

Seems we have access to this wonderful waterfall, but the nearest views are a bit of a hike from the parking area. And if you REALLY want to see something spectacular, pack your painting gear down a cliffside trail to the bottom of the fall. Oh, and part of the trail does involve wading through the river. I've heard the term "extreme plein-air painting" tossed around!

However, the people who are making this possible for us will provide a fire and hot beverages. Now that sounds like it could work! Wonder if I could set up a campfire coffee still life there?

On the still life note: I have a new one planned. This will incorporate one, two or three fabulous large Majolica pieces which have come into my possession. As long as I can keep from breaking them, I hope to do a large painting and document it here. Should be nice; I'm excited! Plus I'll be warm and dry...and the refrigerator is in the next room. Ah, yes.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Painting Outside in Snow

Ah, beautiful snowy winter paintings! So tempting to capture that fluffy wonderland... until the artist contemplates frostbite. What can we do -- snap a photo and hope for the best? Wonder why everything that looked so magical outside winds up looking gray and black in the photo? Shrug and copy that anyway and wind up with a gray and black painting, no magic at all?

Part of painting outside in the snow is just plain courage. I've never tried it! But the Chestnut Group of plein-air painters has been out in it this week, and they have lots of suggestions for keeping warm. (Check out their facebook page, by the way -- some beautiful work!)

Anyhow, one big problem is keeping your hands warm and yet being able to manipulate the brush. Some people use fingerless gloves, but that results in very cold fingertips. One idea is the type of mitten that folds back when you need your fingertips and folds over when you want to warm them. A couple of our members use knitted mittens and just poke the brush through the fabric. 

In the Great White North,  at least one artist I know nukes a couple of potatoes and puts them in her pockets. That way she can warm her hands whenever she wants. Plus ... there's dinner!

Once you figure out how to keep your hands warm, the next big consideration is your feet. I've heard various things from various people but I really really recommend Sorrell felt-lined boots. These boots kept me warm and dry at high altitude in Wyoming and Colorado. They'll last a lifetime. 

Other than that, your usual layers, earmuffs and hats... hot drinks, water....

I think I'll paint a still life!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Artists Working to Save the Landscape

The landscape that we love to paint is disappearing at a rate I can't even quantify. For that reason, recessions are bittersweet for me: painting sales have slowed... but so have the bulldozers!

Today two of us met with someone who is trying to protect a beautiful, and truly special,  piece of property. We hope to work in concert with her organization in a fundraiser to buy the land. Would there were more people with that kind of vision! Wish us well. 

Meanwhile, the winter weather continues to plague everyone who is trying to get anything done -- and it lures those of us who want to go outside and paint it! 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Preparations for a Show

I had known about the upcoming show for over a month; what I didn't find out until less than a week ago is that this exhibit is to be a three-person show in a large room! I needed to come up with six significant works of art in ten days! Panic!

After a call to my local gallery and a perusal of the work here in the studio, I have scrounged up six paintings. One of them needs a frame, so my plan was to take it to the framer today. Well, the weather had other ideas: snow and ice storms throughout the South.

Hey, that didn't stop me. My most awesome fiance made some phone calls of his own, did some research, and together we decided that I could brave the road from my studio to the framer. Save! Now the plan is to pick up the frame tomorrow, collect the other paintings from the gallery, put together a price list and deliver the lot to the exhibit by Wednesday. (that is in between meetings and getting ready for Thursday's classes. Who said artists are bums?)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Artist and Time Management

Today was all about my calendar. Wow, can I get messed up when it comes to times and dates! I'll be serving as President for the Chestnut Group ( and have been worried about getting the meetings  wrong. When standing in front of the easel, or even thinking about standing in front of the easel, time gets away from me pretty fast!

So my most awesome fiance sent me the link to a downloadable calendar called "efficient calendar" -- made in China, it will get all users onto a "happy joyful road." Well so far it's working. It has views for the month, week, and day. I can enter events and tasks, and see the blocks of time thus allocated in color. Those color-coded blocks of time are VERY useful to me. I've caught mistakes in entering data just by the way the color blocks line up on the days and weeks. 

Today the calendar more than paid for itself. This is where time management is the word:  

I have to get six paintings delivered to an exhibit by Friday. Teaching on Thursday, a meeting here and there, and the rest of the week is free -- right? Wrong! Once I blocked in the times for the meetings, preparation for the classes, framing and documenting the paintings -- my week is full! I had written all these tasks down but seeing it in the color blocks really made this clear. 

This should help me to avoid getting over extended, and it will also help me to keep my painting time sacred. When I block that in, I will be less inclined to let anything distract me... but since the other tasks are also blocked in I will (hopefully) not forget them. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Business Side of Art

This, the first post on my new blog, will hardly cover all aspects of the business of art, but it's a start. The beginning of the year is a good time to put attention into business, and I'll share with you my experiences as I go.

When I started my business, I went to the Small Business Bureau and they gave an Excel template to me which works as a forecaster of income and outgo. I save a new copy of it each year, and enter the entire year's anticipated expenses based on what went on the year before.

Then I enter the entire year's goal for income. Yes an artist cannot know how many paintings will sell in a given year, but that is no different from any other business. The point is to set a goal at the beginning of the year, and to adjust these figures as the year progresses. My income is from painting sales, workshops, and a recording contract. Last year the painting sales and workshops were both down, but the recording contract carried me. 

This year, if this first semester is any indication, the workshops will be filled at pre-recession levels. So, when I make my estimates, I will use this first semester as my goal figure. I'll put in a slightly higher goal for art sales, again using this first semester as an indication of the possible loosening of purse strings in the art world.

The other side of this picture is the Outgo figure. I am extremely conservative with my Outgo. Just in case the goals are not met, or just in case a crisis occurs, I keep a year's expenses in a savings account. This comes in handy when your car dies, as mine did this week. I had to replace my car -- two years into the recession -- and the money was there for a new car. 

This is where Dave Ramsey has been a lifesaver. If you don't know about him yet, go here:   He has tools to help people avoid debt or get out of debt, and to help get started saving. Terribly important, especially for a freelance artist, to stay away from interest payments. You will have the freedom to make art without worrying about the wolf at your door!