Saturday, November 29, 2014

Self Portrait

Recently, while sorting through boxes I had stored away for several years I came across this lovely gem:

Green Alice
Watercolor on 300 lb. paper
14" x 10"

In a watercolor class I took years ago, we were assigned to sit in front of a mirror and make a funny face, then using a 'gesture drawing' technique, sketch ourselves. (No looking at the paper, just the subject)  After the drawings were done we were assigned to use a color that matched our expressions to paint them.  

For something so simple and silly, this assignment turned out to be one of my favorite pieces that year.  In fact, my children loved it and wanted to try it themselves.  Looking at it again after all this time I am reminded that sometimes the best paintings are those with a simple motif or subject using a limited palette.  

Never underestimate the power of simplicity.  

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thoughts on College Graduation..

After four and a half years, I am fast approaching the December 12 completion of my Bachelor in Fine Arts degree process.  Every time I stop to think about this, I have a hard time processing the knowledge.  This goal has taken full concentration and effort for so long that the idea of having it behind me gives me a lump in my throat.   Don't misunderstand, I don't tear up because I'll miss it!  To be honest, it is emotional to me because it will be such a relief.

Learning to handle watercolor
When I began, I told myself that each time it got hard I would just ask, "Do I want this badly enough to ___________?"  The answer was always yes, although by this past year the answer has been less enthusiastic!  This goal has cost attending family events and time with my loved ones, enjoying friendships and even income I could have been earning.  An acquaintance once implied that I was going to school for my own entertainment and that it was a selfish thing to do.  However, my sweet husband has been cheering me along, encouraging me when things were difficult and comforting me when missing important things made me sad.  In other words, this has been a major event in my life, filled with doubts at times and discouragement.  I couldn't have done this without someone in my corner.

Trying to find a style, but painting from photographs only
As I look at this process I've been through, I see it through my art.  Of course, I take a visual view of it!  I've learned so much about myself and motives and know that this has been worth the effort.  I am a stronger, more able woman coming out this end of the process- in addition to being a better painter.

Learning to paint from life, including imagining parts of it instead of copying only what I saw

This painting was pivotal in my development.  For the first time, I 'got' the concept of painting from my heart rather than just my eyes.  This came straight out of my creativity and nearly knocked me over; suddenly I saw my potential and a different way to create!
The inspiration for this piece was simply a desire to play with light and shadows. It was painted with pure joy!  

The largest painting I've ever done in watercolor, this piece was liberating to create as I have learned I can paint how I want something to appear instead of being a slave to total reality.  

Looking back only makes me anxious to move into what lies ahead.  The possibilities are only limited by my own shortness of sight.  Here goes Meemaw, bravely into the future!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Green, Green, the Grass is Green..

Or is it?

Recently I saw a group of pictures in which the painter had used green colors straight from the tube for his vegetation.  The work was actually charming and the artist shows promise, but one of the marks of a beginning painter is tube-greens.  I have  friend who often judges paintings at our state fair and he can spot a green straight out of the tube from a mile away.  Really!  

As children, many of us got beautiful new boxes of crayons with their sharp tips and bright colors now and then.  I don't know about you, but the variations of green were wasted on me.  For trees, grass, bushes and leaves in my pictures, I wanted the truest, brightest green in the box.  I think when we approach painting, at times we  automatically think vegetation = green.  Period.  As we learn to "see" the world through painterly eyes however, we begin to understand the subtle shades of green, passing into grays or blues and even with oranges or reds beneath them.

One of the best ways I know to begin to understand the amazing world of greens is to mix them myself.  When one practices mixing colors, the outcome is an increase in the ability to see the world around us in its amazing technicolor wonder.
Using colors found in most painters boxes, I made 132 different mixtures of green.  Some, like Pthalo Blue are strong and make bright colors, while Cobalt or Cerulean are weak mixers and make more grayed greens.  

Most painters have a variety of blues and yellows on their palettes.  What we often don't know, or forget, is that green shades don't always have to be mixed from just yellow and blue.  By mixing each of our yellows with every other color in the palette in turn, we can find many ways to express green.  Even if it doesn't look like "green" on the paper, when applied to a tree or bush shape, or even dropped into a wash as a grassy area, the viewer will still see it as green.  A variety of greens in one piece can give a texture one green hue alone can't match.

Gunnar Widforss is one of my all time favorite watercolor landscape artists.  He is a fabulous example of a painter who used subtle greens to dramatic effect.  
A mixed green will always add a richness to any genre of painting that one straight out of the tube cannot.

Maynard Dixon's paintings of the West are stunning to me.  His ability to reduce fussy detail to simple shapes so effectively is a skill I am trying to incorporate as I learn and practice landscapes.

If you have been following my blog, you will know that I struggle with landscapes.  As I work to develop a landscape style, I look to painters like Widforss and Dixon for knowledge and inspiration, particularly in the ways they handled vegetation and green passages in their work.   

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Winsor Newton Watercolor Markers?

This week I've been taking a look at Winsor Newton's new watercolor markers.  Taking a look because I haven't gotten my hands on some to try them out. Yet.  However, I know what I'll be hoping is in my stocking this year.  Following are some links that I've been looking at today.  

A simple demonstration with a look basic watersoluability (is that a word?):

A good look at all of the colors:

A very nice review of them from H. Locke's blog post on Wordpress:

If anyone out there has tried these babies, I'd love to know about your experience and to see what you've produced with them.

(Image from Winsor Newton's website)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Art Journey America; Landscapes

Whenever I have taken an art class and all of the final work is set out for critique, I never fail to be amazed by all of the different styles lined up for review.  When each student draws or paints the same thing, each piece is still very different, showing the unique styles of the artists who made the works.  After a few classes, one can look at the work being produced and pick out who made what pieces as personal styles become more apparent. To me, this is one of the most fascinating aspects of the world of fine art.

My worn copy; I think even the cover of this book is enticing
A few months ago I bought a book entitled, Art Journey America; Landscapes, 89 Painters' Perspectives.  This book can hold my attention for hours.  Unlike books that one reads then puts away, consumed and finished, this book can be perused over and over.  Looking at the subject of landscape painting and the endless style possibilities within the genre,  paired with the variety of materials and interpretations contained in this book is, to me, very instructive. Not to mention a sensual treat!

Each page has a short biography and interview with the artist featured and one representation of that artist's work.  How did they choose just one painting to represent themselves?  I  often get no further than the next page before I'm off to the computer to research an artist and look at his or her other works.  
If you are looking for inspiration to get your creativity jump-started or ideas of how to handle a passage of your own work that has you stumped, consider investing in this book.  If I ever turn out a landscape that reaches the mark, it will be, in part at least, because of what I learned from these artists.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


Merriam Webster Dictionary describes nostalgia as "a feeling of homesickness, or a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition."  In my wanderings, I usually have to stop the car and take pictures of old, run-down places.  I don't know why, but there is a longing in me to create art that reflects the emotions these old places stir.  I haven't had time to experiment much with paintings that would be classified as nostalgic, but I have photos in a file that I can look at to inspire me when the time is right.  

I love history. My preferred method of experiencing it is by visiting historic places and seeing with my own eyes the things that have been left-over from another time, then going home and reading about them.  Luckily, we live in the southwest and have easy access to historic places from ancient Native American ruins to remnants of the old west of the 1800's.  

Today, the wind is blowing cold and the light outside is bright and giving the air a clarity that only comes with Fall.  Days like this fill me with nostalgia.  Here are some of the photos from my collection. They are my work; if you'd like to use any of them for a project of your own, feel free but please give me credit for the ideas.  

Old California Spanish Mission. I love entryways and windows, they are so filled with symbolism and possibilities. 

Mesa Verde in Colorado

Doorway of a Spanish Mission in California

Cemetery in Mogollon, NM, a mining ghost town nestled in a canyon and repopulated by a few hardy souls in recent years

Typical 1800's house, adobe and hand-made windows, Lake Valley, NM

Lake Valley, NM

Lake Valley, NM church, adobe brick and plaster

Lake Valley, NM, mining equipment from the Bridal Chamber Mine

Adobe ruin, New Mexico


To add perspective to yesterday's discussion, I thought I'd re-post the following documentary that first aired on the BBC.  It is about an hour long, but is well worth the time for anyone, particularly those who are seeking to understand different aspects of the art world.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Art vs. Craft Discussion

  • Since my last post concerning art/craft, I've had some interesting feedback from several people.  With the permission of one of them, I'd like to share some of it with you. 

    My brother in law, Quentin Lee Webb, is articulate and deeply thoughtful.  He's made a career with his creativity, but further than that, he lives his life creatively.  I value his ideas and musings because I know they are thoughtful and not offered lightly.   
    Quentin: "Hey there -- love your Whatercolorit post today!
    This is a subject that has fascinated me for years. I tend to get a bit opinionated, so be forewarned. 
    I feel that the term 'artist' is an honorific that should be given, not taken. It means little when it is claimed for oneself. It requires objectivity -- frequently the very thing most demonstrably lacking in those who readily claim the term for themselves.
    I also feel that to earn the honor of being called a craftsman is worthy of aspiration. To be a craftsman signifies a thorough understanding — a mastery of skill. It is a validation of hard work and sweat and it is a reward for striving to improve and knowing there is more to learn. (My guess is that there are fewer craftspeople per capita today than in the past — the level of commitment and work it takes to achieve is not currently in vogue. There is no app for that.)
    I think the line between craftsmanship and art is scribed by the observer. The user. The buyer. The owner. I think also that once the critic, the gallery owner, the academic or the self-claimed 'artist' attempts to prescribe the line, it should be questioned out of reflex. These folks are enticed to delineate the border for power, for profit, for ego.
    I sometimes marvel that more people can't (won't?) detect the pungent whiff of BS (layered with notes of ego and cronyism) that surrounds the "art world" like a fog. It's The Emperor's New Clothes writ XXL."

    I have to say, I completely agree with him.  What a great response.  Thanks, Quentin!  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Art or Craft?

Since we watched the PBS episode of Craft in America, my husband and I occasionally discuss the line between art and craft.  If you are looking for a final answer on what defines art vs. craft, you'll have to look somewhere else.  I'm still wobbly on just where the distinction between the two lies- the lines to me are still blurred.

I paint and, now and then, weave.  My husband, Tom, calls himself a carpenter, and makes a living by it.  I often point out that he's more like an artist sometimes and then he says, no a carpenter is just fine for me, and I say… You get the picture.  I'm considered an artist by society because other than being looked at, my creations are fairly useless as far as function goes.  Tom believes that function is beauty.  So do I, for that matter.  Everything he makes is functional.

Consider chairs.  Tom loves to make chairs.  Some of them are designed from chairs I've admired and some are creations from his mind that fill a need inside of him to make something.  Let's look at the process.

Tom needed a new finger-sized plane, so using an old chisel for a blade he made himself one.  Often times he, like me, needs a warm-up project to get the creativity flowing.

Before he started cutting the oak for new dining chairs recently, he made a mock-up out of a left-over 2x12 pine board.  (After the grandkids came to visit, we decided upholstered seats were OUT.) We liked the mock-up enough to keep and use it.  

Ready to make the oak chairs, he cut each piece out and fitted them together so that they were tight.  Amazingly enough, each chair has 26 mortises cut into it.  The part that never ceases to fascinate me is knowing that he has this chair already put together in his head.  No drawn out plans; he works from his head.  I don't think in 3-D, so this blows my mind!  

The seats of the chairs are all carved out and shaped exactly the same for a comfortable sit-down.

Here is one of the dining chairs finished and ready to use.  They are quite beautiful, and as he says, "Bomb Proof!"

An 18" high chair he made for little people to sit on when they visit us. The seat is calf skin.  This chair gets used!

This cherry piece was made by hand-tools, including ones that were made just to create it.  The bent back, legs and seat make this a graceful piece of art to me.  It goes with a matching desk that I treasure.  

After we got my art show hung earlier this week, we were talking about this concept again and Tom said something that I've been pondering on since.  He told me my paintings were finely crafted by an artist.  They were painted with my best craftsmanship.  He's right, but further they are ideas from my own mind.  Talk about blurred lines! His cherry chair (pictured above) is to me exactly the same thing.  It's just functional.   

The house we live in, the bookshelves, cabinets, tables, bed frames, mirrors and chests in it are all things from his creativity.  He builds things from inspiration he feels inside himself.  Frank Lloyd Wright said, "Whether people are fully conscious of this or not, they actually derive countenance and sustenance from the 'atmosphere' of things they live in and with."  I can say that this holds true for my life.  The things Tom makes are finely crafted and made to last generations.  Is that an art?  I say it is, but as to whether these things are defined as "art" is beyond me.  You figure it out, and when you do, get back to me will you?  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hanging a Show

My last art project required for graduation is a senior thesis art show.  There are five graduates this year, so we have divided the gallery and each taken a section for our work.  The art needs to consist of a body of work that represents what we've each developed artistically.  I have been cranking out paintings of cacti all semester for my show.  Yesterday, my husband helped me get the pieces hung in the gallery- opening night is Friday.  

Instead of framing the paintings, I decided to hang them directly on the wall.  This worked out pretty well, I think, as I painted each piece right to the deckled edges and those edges add to the overall look.  I puzzled over how to hang them without attaching anything to their back sides or putting holes into the paper and finally came up with the idea for rare earth magnets.  Putting a galvanized washer onto the wall with a sheet rock screw where the corners of each painting would hang gave the magnets something to stick to.  Those little magnets are strong!  One in each corner, with an "L" shaped nail at the bottom center of each wide piece, attached the paintings to the wall securely. Even through 300 lb. paper, those magnets are holding the paintings tight.    

My husband, being a carpenter, handled the math of spacing and getting the washers on the walls square and straight.  I am hopeless at that part!  

My section of the gallery.  I like how the cacti theme is working together and am pretty excited about the show.  

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Painting Reflections, Finished

A month ago I did a demonstration on painting reflections for a class I was teaching and then posted the beginnings of it here:

Yesterday I finally took the time to finish the piece.  Here are the rest of the steps for this painting.

  Instead of mixing orange for the fruit on my palette, I wet their shapes and dropped yellow into them, followed by alizarin crimson and let them blend on the paper.  It took two layers to get the colors as intense as I wanted.  The values of the reflections in the pitcher area are just right for a light background at this point, but I knew after the dark background was added, they would need adjusting. 

The background is a mixture of sepia and pthalo blue.  My camera picked it up as streaky, but in life, it laid down fairly smoothly.  You can see now that the pitcher area will need beefed up a bit to handle the dark background when you compare this picture with the one above it.

Although the objects I started with were set up in a white cardboard box so that I could control the reflections and light source, I wanted them to look like they're on a wooden table top.  Here I added more yellow ochre and started to look at how I wanted the reflections in the table to go.  Before shadows are added under objects in most paintings, they appear to be floating.  Once the shadows are in, they'll set right down and appear to be on a  surface.

Mixing sepia and more yellow ochre, I painted a streaky layer, starting paler at the back of that area and going slightly darker as I moved down the paper.  Adding more sepia to the mixture, I splayed out a brush with my finger and added the wood grain onto the dry paper.  To finish the piece, I darkened the reflections in the handle shape, and the two sides of the pitcher area, put shadows under the fruit and made reflections on the table top.   

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fascinating Documentary

Over the last few years, I have become a fan of art critic and philosopher, Roger Scruton.  Going through school and being exposed to many new ideas and artistic styles and opinions has been good for me, helping me clarify what I believe about art and why. Scruton helped me understand things that I had sensed but had not been able to put into words.  To view an example of his work and watch a thought provoking video on art and beauty, click the link below:

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Crowning Glory

The next time I am painting on a deadline, someone please remind me that A. Painting on a deadline is a dumb idea to start with B. Don't choose something that is a big, fat experiment at those times and C. Conducting said experiment on a piece of paper that cost $50.00 will add a whole lot of pressure to an already difficult week!

That said, thankfully the painting is finished and it worked and I survived.  I not only survived, I have to admit I learned a whole lot from the process.  Actually, if we aren't learning and growing, are we living?  Really living?  Even though I am about to graduate after 4 1/2 years of hard work, I hope I never stop learning.  When I do stop, you'll know I'm gone.

With the mask removed from the fruit areas, I could finally begin to see what I had.  Up to that point, I could only hope this would work like I'd planned.  
Each fruit shape needed shadows, the individual petals highlighted and the hooked thorns detailed.  Just those tiny bits of color changed the character of the whole thing.
Crowning Glory, Watercolor on 300 lb. paper, 30" x 42.5"

I love painting.  I love looking at, making and reading about paintings. The smell of paints and a big, clean surface are like magnets to me.  However, it's time to put the brushes away for a couple of weeks and get my last, and of course, biggest research papers done so I can graduate.  One last, big push! See you soon.