Happily Superstitious.

When I was growing up we would go on long car rides and my mom would always say, “Oh look, there’s a white horse! Quick kids, make a wish.”

I have since heard that making a wish on a white horse tends to be an Irish tradition. I don’t know how much truth there is in that but I will always believe. Now, whenever I’m going down a road and see a white horse in the field, I happily hear my mom’s voice in my mind and I think of her, smile to myself, and with a slight bit of superstition … I make a wish.

Sharing with you today, my reminiscence of that happy superstition. Make a wish.

Stretching your comfort zone.

We all have our favorite subjects to paint or favorite pallete we tend to use and drifting into those comfortable places when we sit down to paint is perfectly ok. After all, we paint because we love what we do and time is often at a premium. It is easy to just launch and not search for a subject that makes a new statement but is instead a tried and true image or formula.

That being said, sometimes we need to stretch our creative muscles.

Occasionally I will look at photographs I have taken and think of what attracted me to the view or image at that moment. Was it redeemable? Could it be a worthwhile painting? That question is what stops me today and makes me wonder, ‘what is my purpose for any particular painting session?’ And yes, the reason can vary!

If our reason to paint on any given day is purely to relax and have fun then that can be enough. If, however, we decide that we want to expand our abilities beyond the improvement that occurs with practice, we might also be heightening the risk of failure. I wonder how much pressure I place on myself for the time at the easel to be fruitful, and equating fruitful to time wasted and the potential loss of revenue.

Although I may say I am not painting to make my living, I must admit I don’t want to purely paint in my own vacuum and store work or gift it like I did early in my career. Perhaps I am not being genuine when I say it then? I do want to sell most of what I paint. I would like to share what I do with others. It’s gratifying and lucrative and therefor, helpful.

That begs the introspection of assessing why we’re painting in any given day and as a result, the potential censure of painting something that may fail because to fail means it won’t sell. That’s a self defeating loop. We need to continually challenge ourselves and gamble with potential failure. Yes, sometimes we need to paint for the pleasure, and sometimes we need to paint for revenue. Improvement is dependent on challenge so perhaps we should also include, sometimes we paint to stretch.

As for myself, I know I need to continually stretch outside my comfort zone so that I can expand the perimeters of that comfort zone, improve the quality of my work, and succeed more often than I fail by facing the challenges head on. It might actually, potentially, result in more sales.

Color on black Friday

Today is considered black Friday in shopping circles in the United States. Personally, there’s nothing I really need, or at least want bad enough to go fight the crowds for a black Friday sale. The things that I do want but don’t happen to have, can’t be found in a big box store anyway.

That being said however, I decided to spend the day in the company of my sweetheart and work at my easel. I didn’t have a particular person in mind but wanted to practice on the human face. This experiment is with direct but slightly back light on a female face.

I like some of Vermeer’s chiaroscuro  lighting because of the drama but I didn’t want to be quite that severe so I just played with the puzzling of how light and dark behave in this instance. It’s been fun and good to keep stretching my knowledge through practice.

So today, I give you a little bit of color on black Friday.

Process that traces reflection

The series of small images on the right are shots I took through the process of painting this last weekend. 

The canvas is relatively large for me at 24 by 30″ but I’ve been finding that painting a little larger allows me the freedom to use the larger brush and to be more gestural as I lay it out. The subject matter for this one was a little bit of an aggregate of several images that I had. First was a photograph that I had taken years ago close to home that had great light behind a good storm cloud. It wasn’t your basic thunderhead, but more of a whole weather front and it intrigued me.

Second, I’ve been wanting to try to capture one of those wonderful waves of rain that come out of a storm cloud in a thunderstorm so this was going to be a try at that too.

In addition to that challenge, I had just gone back and  watched one of the episodes of Outlander and been enjoying the wonderful vistas they filmed of the Appalachian mountains in North Carolina. They really are lovely hills and I have seen them many times in person. 

As a result I put all those elements together into this new picture. The final photo is taken at an angle while the painting is on my board so that you can see where it stands right now. It may be considered done, or it may be that I’ll dither with it a little more, but it’s close enough to show you. Sometimes paintings are just about the learning process; discovering how values laying next to each other affect our perception of that color; discovering how detail or lack of detail can control the wanderings of the eye; or how we can control and vary the lighting in 2 different places on a landscape.

My thanks to an artist friend and our conversation on Sunday. You gave me a great deal to ponder. Sometimes having something mulling around in your mind while you’re at the easel helps by running two conversations at the same time like sub processing while you’re working. Enjoy this final painting titled “Watching the Storm from the Ridge”.

Painting while I think

I’ve spent some time the last several days thinking about a conversation I had with a colleague last Wednesday. We talked about art and time spent with other artists talking about their work, and it got me to thinking again about what constitutes good or bad work, the learning process, and whether we should be open and transparent about what we do. I found myself kind of excited at one point — I would say more frustrated and angry — and this colleague laughingly told me the best thing I could do was to go home and get it out of my system and paint something. I realized I do that more often than I care to admit … channel emotions out onto a canvas. This little oil sketch is the piece that happened as I worked my way through that process. By doing this I was able to examine and address the feelings and put them in perspective. Sometimes it’s good to do a little painting to cleanse your palate or align your emotions before you start the next one. I hope you enjoy it.

The next post I do will be to show the process, or at least 4 or 5 captures, of the new painting I started on Saturday. I had conversation with another artist friend of mine this morning and it was most helpful to continue the introspective process I had begun, encouraging me and adding energy to that one on the easel.

Stay tuned.


Copyright conundrum and personal consumption.

I have talked before about copyright as it applies to painting an image that you do not have the rights to, and here is a prime example.

In one season of the Starz production of Outlander [based on the Diana Gabaldon book series] I had seen a picture of an actor (Sam Heughan) and liked the lighting. As a result, I decided to paint the image. Here’s where copyright comes in. Copyright law dictates that I cannot display the finished painting in a gallery, sell the original, or make prints of it until I get back permission from the actor and from the owners of the movie. It’s too bad really, but I completely understand it. Intellectual property, whether it be the creation of who you are and your place in the world, or the intellectual property of the person who made the movie or owns those rights, must be respected. I enjoyed painting it and I share it here at an angle in my home so you cannot reproduce it. The photo doesn’t do it justice as it lacks the quality that seeing it truly does. I had fun, and it was good practice. 

Painting something like this makes me wonder about the folks who do fan art, and whether or not they worry at all about such things? Perhaps it’s because I have aspirations of notoriety someday, but I do worry and I sure don’t need to have the wrath of lawyers down on my head. If you’re a friend of the actor or know who to ask about the movie permissions, let me know. 

So for your enjoyment, in a voyeuristic kind of way, I give you Jamie looking contemplaitively out the window at Lallybroch.

Introspection and an "ah-ha" moment

This post is going to take a slight side step from my usual path of talking about my work or travels. I am about to philosophize at length so feel free to pass on this one if you aren’t in the mood or short on time, I will not take offense. 

I owe this post to a playful challenge from a friend to take 7 days and list 7 favorite books on my personal Facebook page. My 1st instinct was to do it because it sounded fun, but changed my mind and decided not to play. No, it doesn’t mean I don’t support literacy, or care about my friend, or anything else. I just don’t tend to copy&paste, play the game, take the test, or find out ‘the real truth’by clicking ‘next’. 

I have a pretty fair idea of who I am at this point in my life. I know I have a huge list of things I truly love like art, and beauty, and truth, and love, and light, and kindness. I know I have a shorter list of things I hate like cancer and dishonesty and loss and hate and emotional manipulation, just to name few.  I celebrate the fact that my love list is longer than my hate list. I tend to talk about the good list and shun the bad one. As a librarian I absolutely support literacy, books, writing, and all tangential topics of enrichment of the human spirit. 

That being said, I’m going to indulge myself and talk through one of my personal revelations of the past few weeks. I think I know I have always wanted to be an artist. Some may say that I am already an artist. OK, that can be another discussion another day. I do often get asked when I started drawing. I usually laugh and say that as a child I would sit in a corner and color to stay out of trouble. That is only a partial truth.

Let’s start with the book challenge. I can’t do it, I am too busy over thinking it. I couldn’t begin to pick 7 books that represent my tastes, or what might have influenced me. I would need to qualify a moment in my life, an event, an emotion, an interest … so where would I start? My bookshelves from the time I could read would reveal a golden book sitting aside a zoology textbook, and couldn’t begin to make sense. What is the common thread? Maybe it should just be a fun thing, but it started me thinking.

Another friend of mine wrote me earlier in the week because he saw the cover of the book I just finished illustrating and said, “I’m immediately reminded of the paintings Wesley Dennis did for Marguerite Henry’s many horse and dog books.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. The common thread is the illustrations.

Illustrators who influenced me such as Dennis, Pyle, Wyeth, Muth, and Pinkney …to name a few.

I looked up Wesley Dennis and ran down the list of books that came up and realized I had read them all. I had owned most of them and read them over and over growing up. Horses, dogs, foxes, donkeys, and then I moved on to anything animal related. I wanted to be a zoologist, then a veterinarian, and took all of the pre-med courses because I thought it was about the science. I considered medical illustration, and eventually cartooning and wound up illustrating manufacturing catalogs for industrial hardware for 20 years. My next career was in Library science and as a cataloger I would spend way too long processing the books with illustrations, especially children’s books. I am a visual person. I wanted to paint Misty… and Golden Sovereign … and Brighty of the Grand Canyon. I wanted to be Dennis and Froud and Muth and N.C.Wyeth and Pyle and Pinkney and a dozen other illustrators that made stories come to life.

When I was a toddler my greatest joys were to sit in a corner and watch the dust float in the beams of light, or on the back steps watching the light change the colors of the yard. Now, when I look around me I am always painting. What I mean is, I am always painting in my mind. Always. I see the world in the fluid motion of continual analysis. The motion can be unnerving so I try to capture everything I see in visual images or illustrations of that precise moment in time. I have spent my life trying  to capture fleeting bits of color, light and movement and falling short because it all moves too fast. Plein Aire painting tries to capture the impression -tries  to slow down the speed of the image in an effort to remember the moment. A photograph captures the exact moment mechanically and allows me to hold that image still with hopes of painting a picture of it as filtered through me.

I think I may be at a point where the pieces are all coming together, finally. While I have always thought of myself as an illustrator it never felt like it had the credibility as that of calling myself an artist and the struggle is to come to grips with the terminology itself. I wanted to illustrate the story that is my life. I don’t know where to go with this thinking or with my next steps. Perhaps this is merely the next step of a woman stepping forward in faith.

Growing and learning in public view

This year has been a continuously challenging, learning experience for me as an artist as I have pushed out of my studio more and more and find myself doing my learning in the public view. It boils down to this being somewhat daunting – to reveal that I am actually an emerging artist at this point in my career. While I was extremely experienced in the handling of pen and ink back in the two decade long industry phase of my career (the days of pre-CAD drawings of nuts, bolts, and screws for the automotive and aeronautics industry) or studio painting illustrations, painting plein air is not something I am adept at…yet.

Last weekend I was at the Autumn Harvest Festival event at the Spring Valley Nature Center and Heritage Farm in Schaumburg, Illinois. 

I dressed as a 1880 Victorian era woman, impressionism painter. I must admit I had fun. I will also heartily admit I was in new territory since it was not rooted in lecture or art show. Having people scrutinize my work as I discover new techniques and then ask me how long it takes to do a painting was unnerving. I had to tell the truth but it made me think about what that might mean in an era when we want to equate value with hourly wage. How do I explain that an artists wage is based on years of training and accumulated knowledge and experience and not on an hourly minimum wage set by an employer or the State of Illinois. 

Their follow up question was often  “…when this is done will it be for sale … and how much will it be?”  I had to answer in all truthfulness that I didn’t know? I threw a couple prices out there to test the waters but that’s not the most professional way to determine worth!

Working loosely, making color and light choices, even the mechanics of structure and layout are not things that I am at all fast at. Perhaps it is ingrained in human nature to avoid showing fear in the form of lack of self confidence, lack of experience, or to basically avoid any show of weakness. I bring that fear into my art development and I suspect that many artists do. It’s why we make a drawing that gets thrown away before anyone sees it. It’s why we paint over canvases in the studio. It’s why we only bring out the best when we want to show someone our work. But as I’ve said in this blog before, that’s not honest. It is deceiving anyone who is beginning to walk the path of art and they think that somehow when a person is an artist farther along that surely they make no mistakes, they have no failures and they’re already at some nirvana place in their career. Well let me be clear. I am still learning and always will be. If I’m not, then I am doing something wrong. Case in point is the personal growth begun the last couple of years by incorporating the plein air style to improve my paint handling techniques and increase my speed. I look at my work when I’m around other plein air painters and I feel blatantly amateurish but I also know that those elements of my art that are strong will eventually blend with this new labor and I will improve. I don’t know if I’ll ever be competitive at the plein air competitions, or can even get good enough to be invited into them, but the romantic notion of being at some event painting shoulder to shoulder with other artists that I admire, is appealing. When that day comes, I will be painting in public, baring my learning process to the viewer, and growing.

The promise of a new year.

There is something unique and exciting about the new calendar year, isn’t there?  Each year as we prepare for the holidays, we are anticipatory and excited – driven to reach out to friends and family and co-workers until we hit an exhausting pitch of social engagement.  Now, more than at any other point in the year, we have high hope that we can make things different in the year at hand. We foster a frantic desire for wrongs to be righted, hearts to be mended, and balance to be restored. We start diet’s, we make plans, and we dream dreams.

I am admittedly one of those dreamers. I chose to skip the frenzy and retreat to the comforts of home and hearth with my spouse and our favorite relaxing activities. For me that includes time at the easel so I began two paintings the day before my holiday break with a plan to finish both by the time I returned to the campus. One was a 16″ by 20″ and one was a 24″ by 48″.

The larger painting is a tavern allegory and has been fun to dither with off and on the entire holiday break. That painting is almost done but not ready for showing yet.

The smaller painting, however, I worked hard at for the first day and then set it aside because I wasn’t quite sure how to pull off what I wanted to do. Today, on this wonderful first day of the New Year, I set aside the large piece and went back to the smaller canvas with its night scene. This was the right day to finish it.

Although the setting is out on a large body of water it is not a painting about loneliness. While portraying a time deep in the night, it is not a painting about fear or darkness. Nor is it a painting about apprehension. 

It is a painting of peace, and trust, and faith and promise. It is a study of still nights and calm waters. Typical of my work, it is also about light and the love that light often represents. For those who are troubled by any number of the challenges this world presents, may this New Year bring you peace and hope. For those who are preparing for an especially difficult journey, rest assured, all will be well.

I give you, Hope’s Nocturne.