Thursday, January 28

Paint In the Sunshine (& Shadows)!

Today’s Image

As I sit here on a gloomy, overcast day, I'm writing today's blog on one of the most important things in painting or other media, such as pastel or even pencil--painting sunshine and shadows. I’m blogging about it because my next painting, which I have just started on, is full of sunlight and shadows on a tabletop.

As I said, I think the contrast between light and dark is the most important thing in your work you can do to give it life and attract a viewer’s eye.

Of course, not all motifs lend themselves to sunlight and shadow. I’m aware of that, but for those that do, it can make your painting sing, pop, or any other word you would like to insert here.

One quote that usually makes the list of notables is from Edward Hopper, who just wanted “to paint the sunlight on the side of a house.” It’s one of my most favorite art quotes, and I remember it every time I start a new work.

Sunlight and shadow give vitality and interest to a painting. As in the ying and yang of life, their dueling personalities provide the tension and flow to keep your eye moving around in a painting, among others techniques.

In another blog I wrote about the difficulty in painting (the color of) shadows, so I won’t go into all that again. I will say it will improve your work if you become somewhat proficient in the skill of painting these two intangible but very real objects.

Another thing Edward Hopper said as he was working on a painting was something like, ”OK, now I’m going to paint in the sunshine.” What!? He was actually talking about painting in the shadows around his subjects.

This is important--the moment you add a shadow, you add sunlight. You have “painted in the sunshine” on your work.

What’s more, the darker the shadow, the brighter the sunlight appears to be. If you don’t believe me, just look out the window on a sunny or partly cloudy day, and you’ll see what I mean. Better yet, practice painting different levels of the sun’s brightness by progressively making a shadow darker and darker.

I didn’t say it was easy. Some shadows are easier to render than others. I think the shadow on a building as well as the shadow a building casts is easier (OK, somewhat easier) to capture than a shadow on natural objects such as a tree. In fact, painting the shadows of tree leaves can get downright difficult. But once you understand and learn how to do it, your trees will look more real.

It seems as if there are as many kinds of shadows as there are things to paint in the natural world. So it’s pretty amazing, to me anyway, to be able to paint nature’s reality.

If you want to paint in the style of realism, or representational art as it’s also called, there’s no better way to achieve that look than to paint (or draw) realistic looking shadows and sunlight.


Monday, January 25

Prep Work for Watercolor

Today’s Image
"Prep" Work

I hope you’re having a good art day or that you will soon begin your art day.

Some days I have a little trouble getting started. I don’t know why. I thoroughly enjoy my artwork and painting, and I look forward to it (almost) every day.

I suppose it’s that initial push to move you from inertia to action that I need—especially on a Monday morning. Whatever.

I’m at that point right now. I’m writing this on the laptop in my studio, and my current project sits right next me. I can look over and see my painting, or what will eventually be my painting, waiting patiently for me to get back to work on it.

I will just as soon as I finish today’s blog.

The plan for today’s work is to finish masking off all the areas with the whitest-whites on my painting with frisket. I’m almost finished with this masking, and I should actually be able to start painting.

This is the part of the preparatory work in painting that should be called drudge work. This is after you have selected your motif and you’ve envisioned the masterpiece it will become. Only you can’t start on it yet because you have to “prepare.” I don’t consider the prep work as part of the creative process.

For a watercolor, this preparatory drudge work can include:

-paper stretching; I don’t do it, but some people stretch their watercolor paper before they begin to paint to keep the paper from curling up; I just wait until the painting is finished, then I flatten it.

-measuring off the dimensions of your painting and applying tape around the edge of the image area so that you will have a border around it; this can be tricky when you’re trying to peel off 30 inches of tape at one time; (hint: use tear-by-hand tape).

-transferring you motif, or your vision of a motif, onto your paper or canvas as the case may be; this can be done by sketching or tracing; (this assumes you are not free-handing an abstract work that will somehow paint itself :-)

-as I mentioned, masking off the areas in which you don’t want any paint to touch; this part is mind-numbing, for me anyway.

Finally! After doing most or all of that, I can actually begin to mix and apply some paint. I can hardly wait.

Now I just need to finish this blog--that’s easy…


Thursday, January 21

Are You A Habitual Artist, a Creature of Art Habits?

Today’s Image
The Same Old Road

Today's blog is about art habits. I'm sure you have them.

Habits are like being on the same old road, similar to Today's Image--you don't have to think about where you're going or look for anything new.

Have you heard, or heard of, the song, ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’? Maybe you can remember that classic from the Temptations. How do you do the art things you do?

Like when you begin your art day. Does it begin the minute you awake, or does it carry over from the previous day? Do you jump right in, or do you slowly ease into it from the day or night before?

Like where and how you physically do you art. Except for plein air painters, many artists have a location where they always draw or paint or sculpt. Do you have a certain stance or a certain way you hold your head, arm, or hand?

Like how you arrange the colors on your palette or the type, size, and shape of your palette. Do you ever change it up, or would that throw you off completely?

Like how you arrange your art studio. Are you meticulous with every pencil, every brush, every color in its proper place? Or do you toss things over your shoulder, metaphorically speaking, after you’ve used them?

Like, a favorite brush, or brushes, you always use depending on the brushstroke needed.

Like the medium in which you always, always render your art, no matter what, because you just can’t bring yourself to make a change.

A final point. There’s nothing wrong with habits unless and until they inhibit or hinder you from creating the art you’re capable of creating. Do not be a creature of art habits so much so that you limit yourself or your art.

New roads can lead to interesting destinations.


Monday, January 18

Stippling - A Simple Way to Improve Your Paintings

Today’s Image
My Stippled Sky

Today's blog is to remind you of how you can use one of the most effective, efficient, and easy techniques to improve or enhance your paintings.

It’s stippling.

It’s a funny word, one of those that seems to make the sound of what you’re describing. I think those are called onomatopoeias, or whatever. Who says blogging is not educational?

Wikipedia—the authority on everything, right :-)—says it’s creating a pattern that looks like varying degrees of solidity or shading by using small dots. It also says it’s similar but distinct from pointillism, which is for optically mixing colors, and stippling is not.

Say the word “stipple” out loud. Can’t you almost hear the soft swoosh of your paintbrush dotting your canvas or paper? Sure you can.

Stippling is one of the easiest ways to add texture to any area of you artwork. You can also add depth and dimension to your work depending on the pattern you make and how light or dark your dots are.

I would like to thank whomever invented stippling because it is so useful. It’s great for:

- blurring any areas in which you don't want to show detail

- creating the illusion of distance on a horizon or actually anywhere in your painting

- making objects, such as walls, buildings, trees—almost anything—appear more real by giving the illusion of texture and shadow, especially from a distance.

But, I think stippling is most useful to artists like me when you want to COVER UP a mistake or series of mistakes in your painting. There’s just nothing else like it.

Have a smudge or color that just won’t lift or be covered up—stipple it!

Want to de-emphasize a faulty perspective—stipple it!

Don’t want to spend time on painting every last detail on objects, such as leaves, rocks, or sea-spray—stipple it!

There are all kinds of stippling brushes available from which to choose to create all kinds of effects. If you haven’t used stippling in a while, give it a try.

I recently used it to cover up a thumb print on a watercolor that just wouldn’t go away no matter what I tried--until I stippled it. Then it disappeared as if by magic. See Today's Image and just try to find my thumb print.

As the old house-paint saying goes, “a can of paint can cover a multitude of sins.”

Well, so can stippling!


Thursday, January 14

Perseverance, A Most Important Factor in Painting

Today’s Image
"Pennsylvania Avenue"
Watercolor on Paper
Copyright 2010

Well, I posted my latest watercolor as Today’s Image. It’s not quite finished, but I decided it’s finished enough to post on the blog. I’m blogging about it not for any praise or to promote it (honestly).

I’m blogging about it as a lesson in perseverance and stick-to-it-ive-ness on my part, and I hope this will help other artists.

I’m neither organized nor forward-thinking enough to plan my motifs ahead of time. That is, I do not “set up” any motifs, such as a still life, to paint, either from a live view or as a reference photo.

No, I just take pictures of views I think are interesting when I’m traveling or just out shooting photos. It’s only later when I’m looking at my photos that I select ones that, in my humble opinion, will make a good painting.

That was the case for "Pennsylvania Avenue." The reference photo was from October, 2009, on a visit to Washington, D.C. There were a couple of shots from this viewpoint; I chose this one because it provided the look and feel I wanted for the painting.

The photo, as well as the painting, reminded me of an Impressionist-type painting of a Paris street scene from that era, so I decided to paint it. Please, don’t take this to mean I am comparing my painting to any of the masterpieces of the Impressionists.

I like to paint architecture, not all the time, but it interests me. However, as I began to render the image and to paint, I began to think that maybe I had gotten in over my head.

First, the angle is somewhat unusual. I was on a fifth- or sixth-floor balcony looking out and down on the street. The camera caught the building across the street (the main building in the painting) as tapering down to a vanishing point somewhere below street level in addition to having a vanishing point high above the top of the building. It was distortion from the camera lens, and it didn’t make it any easier to paint, that’s for sure. This aspect was so troublesome that I actually had to start completely over. In my first attempt, the angle of the building just did not look right and never would, so I began again with a new sheet of watercolor paper.

Second, it’s just an odd building architecturally. I haven’t researched what building this is, but it appears to have been built in the early 20th century—at least the bottom part. You will notice that the top part looks as if it were added on with obviously much more modern architecture, maybe sometime in the 1980s (I’m guessing).

Then there’s also the sharp angle of the street, which is Pennsylvania Avenue, as you look down on it.

Other difficulties for me were capturing the proper light and light source on a very overcast day. Oh, and did I mention it was raining? I had to paint the pavement to reflect that.

Finally, it was suggested that I use a color palette similar to the Old Masters. I had never painted with that palette, but I will tell you I liked it very much and will use it again. The palette is: Indigo (the blue). Brown Madder (the red), Raw Sienna (the yellow), Green Gold, and I had to add Hooker’s green to get the darker green of some tree leaves.

I tell you this, not to complain, but to let you know there are always obstacles to overcome in a painting. Do not get discouraged. Think of the obstacles as opportunities to learn and to create a painting of which you’ll be proud.


Monday, January 11

Stay Active & Keep In Touch - Attend an Art Gallery Opening

Today’s Image
Attending an Art Gallery Opening

I have been a busy artist since the month began. I have painted every day for four to five hours straight in the afternoon when the light is the best plus a few additional brushstrokes added at other times during the day as well. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I’m working to finish a painting I began more than a month ago.

Anyway, I’m telling you this as a segue into the topic of today’s blog--artists don’t get out much.

We’re usually holed up in the studio doing our artwork; that is, we’re drawing or painting or whatever your particular artistic bent is. We need to get out more. That said, I did my part this past weekend. Of course, I was out with other artists, but that counts, too, right?

What was I doing? I attended an opening of an art gallery exhibit (similar to Today's Image).

Actually it was the reception “to view recent works” by two artists I know whose paintings are being exhibited during the month of January. These artists are known for their realistic paintings of landscapes and still life.

I had heard the artists talk about this showing a couple of months back and when they would be busy hanging their show. The invitation arrived before New Year’s, so I was looking forward to it.

The venue for the show was right in the middle of the Museum District here, next door to the Contemporary Arts Museum and across the street from the Museum of Fine Arts. I would say it’s in pretty good company. If you’re an artist, it’s the part of (your) town you should be familiar with so that you are comfortable visiting and attending the art openings and events that take place there.

The reception was a huge success. The place was packed with all kinds of artists and collectors along with family, friends, acquaintances, well-wishers, and students of the artists. The walls were lined with more than 35 of their watercolors and acrylics. All are beautiful.

The point of this blog is to encourage you, me, and all of us artists to get up and out, to stay active, and to keep in touch within our chosen artistic interest. It does us good to get out there and mingle with other artists as well as collectors and those who simply like to view artwork.

Otherwise, we can become inner-focused, not that that’s all bad, but it can stifle your creative interest and talent. It’s one thing to have and express your artistic style; it’s another to be self-absorbed and paralyzed from branching out and exploring new possibilities.

Take every chance you can to learn, view, and discuss art. Accept every invitation to a class, a party, an opening, an exhibit. Artists are naturally reticent and tend to be introverted, well many of us anyway. So, do not let yourself become isolated and stale.

New Art Possibilities—keep that in mind.

(To end the blog where I began, I’m estimating my current watercolor painting is about 90+ percent complete, so check back, it might be posted on my next blog.)


Thursday, January 7

Artist of 'Mystery' Painting - Solved!

Today’s Image
Thom Belle Eastwood Harris' Rendition of The Blue Boy

They say you only need to look in your own backyard, if you have one, to find what you’re looking for.

That was certainly the case in my attempt to learn about the artist of a “mystery” painting that has been in the family for more than 50 years and about which I recently blogged.

It was not long after I clicked the Publish button on my blog entry, A ‘Mystery’ Painting – Finding the Origin of an Unknown Painting & Artist, when a family member emailed me with some news.

It turns out I was incorrect in thinking the mystery painting had been a gift to my grandmother from her neighbor, “Mrs. Downey.” I remember Mrs. Downey as a proper elderly lady who liked to drink tea, but she was not the benevolent friend for which I had given her credit all those years. Sorry, Mrs. Downey, wherever you are.

The credit for the gift of the mystery painting actually goes to a distant relative in the family. T Harris, which is how the painting was signed in the lower left corner, was a cousin of my grandmother’s. T Harris is actually Thom Belle Eastwood. She was a first cousin of my grandmother; she was born in 1887 and died in 1962. She married Giles Edward Harris and took the artist name of T Harris.

Not that you care, and without getting too geneological on you, my grandmother’s mother (my great-grandmother), Alice Eastwood, was the sister of Thom Belle’s father, Thomas Eastwood. So, she and my grandmother were first cousins. I think that makes me a third cousin of Thom Belle's—whatever.

All the kudos in solving the mystery go to my family member who researches and keeps up to date with the family history and family trees for the rest of us. Without that knowledge, we would never have figured this out. In several ensuing emails and attachments, we corresponded with long out-of-touch distant relatives.

All the emails confirmed that Thom Belle Eastwood was, in fact, a painter, although there is no mention of where, or if, any of her paintings were shown or sold, no matter. What matters is that the relatives all spoke lovingly of her paintings which she gave to many family members and which now hang in their homes.

Thom evidently enjoyed painting still lifes, and she must have also liked classics, such as Pinkie and Blue Boy (about which I also recently blogged). I tell you that because she painted The Blue Boy, and her rendition is Today’s Image.

Though this has nothing to do with art, the lesson from this should be to talk with your family members and friends now. Get clarification on all those events and people your parents or grandparents talked about back in the day. As a little kid, you had no context, and you probably don’t have all the right connections about who's who.

Anyway, back to art. I guess I’ll have to stop referring to it as the ‘mystery’ painting and give it a name. S0, since I’ve always liked the dominant color, I think I’ll call it the Turquoise painting.


Monday, January 4

Getting My Art Groove Back On

Today’s Image
Sunrise On A New Year
Copyright 2009

As you can tell by the headline of today’s blog, I am “rarin’ to go” to get back to my art and artwork. It’s time after a long holiday break, which was enjoyable and enjoyed. Today's Image is a painting of mine that says, to me, time to start again.

Now it is time, and I can’t wait.

It began building a few days ago when I hung the 2010 Monet calendar in my studio area. It’s a calendar with a Monet painting for each month from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. His paintings are beautiful, which you don’t need me to tell you, and an inspiration. The January painting is The Houses of Parliament, Sunset, 1903. It’s quintessential Monet.

During the holidays, I had packed away a lot of my art paraphernalia so that there was room for gatherings and guests. (I also didn’t want anyone messing anything up or stepping on any of it :-).

Over the weekend I retrieved my paint and brushes and palettes. I pulled out the watercolor I’m working on and that I mentioned in a previous blog. It’s the one I began in early December and had to start over. It’s still only about 25 percent complete, but it’s the first thing I’m going to work on. I will post it when completed, I promise.

Early January is the time of the year when people declare crazy things like they’ll start over, do better, lose or gain—whatever. Artists are no different. We may, or may not, be more attuned to the creative process. However, I bet that most of us have an inner desire to create the best art work we ever have in the coming year.

Have you ever heard an artist say, “Oh, I think I’ll just blow it off; I don’t care if my work is worse than ever this year,”? Well, I haven’t either, and I don’t think anyone has.

I know it sounds corny, he said through rose-colored glasses, but it feels like a new beginning.

I hope it feels that way for you especially if you’re one of those for whom creating art is a painful, skin-shedding process. I don’t think it’s supposed to be that way. Hard, yes, but physically and emotionally painful—I don’t think so.

Anyway, as I began to work on my watercolor, mixing the right colors for the building that’s in the foreground, I began to feel much better. The holidays are a wonderful time, but when they’re over, there’s always a sense of loss for me that it’s all over for another year.

Painting helps put me in a good state of mind. As I apply the paint and washes, I can feel that I'm getting my groove back on for the coming year, and I hope you can, too!