Friday, July 31, 2015

A Mess of Clouds

Today we took a flying trip. By flying, I mean my little car fairly flew trying to get us to Albuquerque before 5:00 pm. We made it, but only by the skin of our teeth. I've said I was going to put a painting in the state fair for several years. In the New Mexico State Fair there is a fine arts exhibit that is spectacular- every year. I always walk through it and think "I want to play in this sandbox!"  Well, this is the year I go for it. 

While my husband drove I decided to do a value sketch of the beautiful monsoon clouds. I can handle clouds if they're simple but these lofty, deep summer clouds always elude me. I hoped to learn from them by drawing them. I took my 'notes' with my pencil, then decided to try them with gouache used semi-transparent on the adjacent page. (Forgive the sad photography. I'm using my phone..)  Meh. They turned out to be nothing special. And, phthalo blue + burnt sienna makes a dirty green in gouache instead of the subtle violet they make in transparent watercolor, who knew?

Going for broke I figured I'd make the paint opaque. I have to stop being afraid of these stupid paints sometime and learn them. Le sigh.  I don't have anything fantastic to blog about tonight. I don't even have something to share that I've learned, well except that gouache isn't for the faint of heart. They are, however, smooth and creamy when mixed with white and might make some cool looking stuff. One of these days. (Possibly in someone else's hands) This just isn't that day. 

Thanks for stopping by!  Alice

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Life is a Beautiful Struggle

That's the name of this painting.  "Life is a Beautiful Struggle."  These little cacti grow out of basaltic rocks at a high altitude.  They sit under snow a good part of the winter and manage to push their way out of volcanic rocks.  Not loamy forest dirt nor beside the streams.  Out of rocks.  I picture them struggling to survive in drought years, staying alive when uncommon cold snaps over take them and at the bottom of the forest floor where the pine trees hog all of the sunshine.  Yet, they manage to put on a quiet, mostly unseen little show each year.  Sitting hidden where nobody but the birds or deer will likely see them, they produce vibrant touches of red contrasted against the rocks that shelter them. Reds that are vivid and full of life and beauty.  Reds that somehow make the rest of the forest around them look a bit more dressed up for a few days.  Would they be as lovely if they didn't have to struggle?  Somehow, I don't think so.

"Life is a Beautiful Struggle"
Watercolor on paper
22" x 30"
I have fought through this painting, afraid it would be a mess at the end and become a thing to put in the bottom of my painting storage drawer.  It has taken me weeks to finish.  However, at the end of my struggles, I am filled with joy that I could paint this and pay my small homage to these cacti.  It won't save the world or change anyone's lives, but it has made me happy and that's enough.  We live in an amazing world, filled with beauty and light.  There is ugliness as well, but aren't the beautiful things more lovely contrasted against the common and sad?  There is beauty in struggle.

Thanks for stopping by! Alice

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Repairs

Two days ago, I put my current painting aside till I could think through how to handle the messes I made on the unpainted areas.  Today I rolled up my sleeves and got back to it.  Although it's not what I have been working toward, it is what it is.
Knowing I was going to have to make the background area very dark, I began to beef up the shadows in the cactus shapes.  

I hoped I would only have to go this dark, but as you can see, the spot where the eraser flaked out is taking the paint differently than the rest of the area.

The eraser spot, detail.

Where the painting stands tonight.  There is so much water in the paper that I don't dare go further till tomorrow.  However, I think I'll be able to begin to remove the masked areas then.  That's always exciting.

I still have a ways to go on this one, but I can see the end drawing near.  This piece has been a tough one, but I am enjoying the challenge, if the truth be known.  

Thanks for stopping by!  Alice

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Setting Limits

The question of "What shall I paint?" has arisen so many times in my life I can't even count them. Sitting down to a blank piece of paper with paints, time and no constraints can be an overwhelming event.  I suspect the same holds true for writers and composers.  For example, sometimes, trying to paint in the great outdoors, I have driven around and around for hours looking for just the right subject and never made a brush stroke. I couldn't narrow down all that I saw and get to work.  I've learned that having no limits or goals can derail a creative person completely.

The assignment for this was a narrative of my life in shoes with crayon.  Although I hated it at the time, I learned huge lessons from this kind of work.

Several years ago, while attending college at Santa Fe Community College I took a color drawing class.  The teacher gave us assignments that nearly blew my mind. Things like: "Draw this knotted rope and vacuum hose in color 12 times, each time zeroing in more and more on the same part."  Or, "Use shoes as a narrative of your life with crayons on a 22" x 30" sheet of paper."  (I hated the class at the time)  Surprisingly, by the end of the semester I was drawing better than I ever had before.  I found I was more creative and generating more ideas.  I had begun to 'get' the good limits can do for me and my art.  That is probably the most valuable thing I learned in my years at college.
The first piece I imposed a limited palette on myself for- using only Pthalo Blue, Lemon Yellow and Madder Lake Deep.  

How can we use limits to our advantage?  Can narrow goals actually help move us out of a block and into productive time?  I believe so. Here are some ways I utilize limits regularly to keep me working and growing.  Maybe you already use some of these.
  • Set a time limit.  I tell myself, "you have to crank something out in 30 seconds," or two days or whatever.  
  • Choose one, two or three colors and only use them.  A limited palette is a hugely liberating tool and it makes more harmonious paintings.  Once I started using limited palettes, my work improved immediately.  
  • Research compositional devices and choose one.  Compose your subject using that style.  
  • Enlarge the subject as big as the surface will allow. Turn the drawing upside down and work that way; anything to change the way you see familiar things.  
  • Use the same thing for a subject over and over again.  When we explore an idea repeatedly, we actually begin to see just how much we can do with that one thing.  Look at the paintings of Vermeer.  He turned out wonderful art in the same room with the same props for years.  Creating in a series is a profound and vision changing way to work within limits.  I promise!  
I keep saying I'm through with cacti, but another idea will pop into my brain and I'm off again.  They may stick around demanding to be painted the rest of my life, who knows?  What I do know is this- the more I use limitations in my work, the more I recognize them in the work of master painters.  This is, I believe, the way to reaching my potential as an artist.  The more narrow my focus becomes, the wider my abilities grow.  And isn't that the point of the whole thing?  

Thanks for stopping by!  Alice

Monday, July 27, 2015

Disaster Strikes. Twice.

Sitting down this afternoon to begin the rock-patterned background on my current painting, disaster struck.  After thinking about it for a few days I had decided to move the line on the left. Grabbing my white eraser, (the one I've been using for a long time) I began to erase.  Except, it didn't erase! That white eraser began to rub off into the tooth of the paper, smearing graphite in with the sticky sludge and making a dark, grey mess.  I sat at the table in shock.  What do you do when you've put so many hours and effort into a large piece?  Quit and start again?  Bawl like a baby?  Pitch a wall-eyed fit?

This is what is left of the eraser smudge in the bottom, left corner.  Much darker in real life and gooey to boot.  
After calming down a bit, I got my brown gum eraser out and began to work the mess over. That's the point the next mistake happened.  Brushing my hand lightly over the eraser crumbles to get them off of the paper, I whisked across a wet area and pulled a bit of Pthalo Blue across what was to be the sky and made nice, permanent blue lines.  Using clean water and a paper towel I was able to tone the dang things down, but they're still there.  Time to hyperventilate?  Possibly..
Being Pthalo Blue, anything lighter in value that goes over won't hide it.  By default, whatever goes in that space will have to be something dark and nearly opaque.

My husband came through the studio and saw my, um, dismay.  He calmly told me he was sure I'd fix it and that what ever I figured out would look great.  Have I mentioned lately what a great guy I am married to?  Well, I am.  He managed to snap me out of the, "I'm an idiot and have ruined not only my painting, but possibly the rest of my life" silliness and into "Now what?" mode.  I still don't know now what, but I have the beginnings of an idea.  I'll sleep on it and try to tackle it tomorrow.  Tonight, however, I've had enough.  I will be under my bed with a carton of ice cream.  Maybe the jar of caramel sauce, too.

Where the painting stands now.  I'm out of this studio till I've had a bit of sleep and perspective.  Tomorrow is another day.
Thanks for stopping by!  Alice

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Learning From The Work of Masters

I've been looking at images on Google and Pinterest trying to learn from other painter's work.  Typing in 'Gouache,' I can see all kinds of ideas.  This is really helpful since I'm still not finding much to teach me about the medium.  As I looked, I kept coming across the work of Lawren Harris, one of Canada's Group of Seven.  Although I don't know if he used much gouache, I found myself going back again and again to see what made this artist's work so fascinating to me.
His tree shapes are just that- shapes.  I love this piece.

The work of Maynard Dixon pulls my attention in the same way.  What the work of these two painters has in common is the ability to shave away the detail and the unnecessary bits in a scene and distill it to simple, beautiful shapes, colors and textures.  This style speaks to me and makes me want to learn more.

Again, the trees are just great shapes, while the house area has very little detail added.
We spent the weekend away from home and on the drive I tried to look at the shapes of the passing countryside in a new way, in the way both Dixon and Harris depicted things.  I learned a lot.  Actually, what I learned is how much I don't know and have to figure out.  I have to learn to look at the world in a new way.

The reds in this grab the eye, leading the viewer to the tree trunks and their simplicity.
Sitting on the grass in a meadow this afternoon, I got my paints out and decided to work on a very small pine tree.  I tried to distill it down to its essentials and see it only as a series of shapes instead of seeing every single pine needle on the thing.  Although it looks like a picture from a child's coloring book, I think I can keep doing this till I am seeing in a new way.  I need to see less detail and more shape.  I need to see the values and textures instead of the things that clutter up my compositions, much like the one I posted about yesterday.

And here we have the childish and very pathetic attempts of an art student, Alice Webb.  However, I can learn this, I CAN!  
In the meantime, I am hot to find more to read about the Group of Seven.  If you get the chance, look at their work.  It is, in my opinion, magnificent.

Thanks for stopping by!  Alice

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Abandoned Farm

Like the first time I used acrylics, my first time with gouache for a painting was much more difficult than I thought it would be. It is easy to make transparent and the colors are pure and clean. However it's not as transparent as regular watercolors, making using them trickier for me at this point. So far I haven't figured out when to make them transparent and when to make them opaque. I spent this afternoon by an old abandoned farm. Instead of zeroing in on one aspect of it, I tried to paint the whole panorama. I learned from it but it's certainly not a beautiful journal entry.

I'm anxious to try more. My mind just spins with all the possibilities when I'm supposed to be sleeping. However the duties of my life call and I have to put the whole thing away. Dang it. 

Thanks for stopping by!  Alice

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Color Studies With Gouache

Well, the package I've been so antsy about finally came in the mail. The new gouache paints are here!  Getting a goodie in the mail is always exciting, but one with art supplies is the best.  I've had just a little bit of time to spend in the studio today, so decided I'd play with the paints a bit and begin to see what their properties are.  I have to say I am amazed at their versatility.  These seem to be watercolors on steroids.

New tubes of paint! The possibilities..
Billed as opaque and transparent, they certainly live up to that promise.  As I put the paints on the (hot pressed) paper undiluted, they were bright and intense.  Adding a bit of clean water and washing the pigment down the page makes them go from mostly opaque, to translucent and then very transparent, although the earthy colors are sedimentary.  That is not a bad thing, just a property of the burnt sienna and burnt umber.

I took my large travel watercolor palette and washed it out-, ready for the new paints.
The surprising part was when I added white to the colors.  They are very opaque with it added. The pigment is strong enough in each color that the white doesn't weaken their hue, it just makes the paints totally opaque.  When I've added white gouache to regular transparent watercolor before, it has always just made them cloudy.  The idea that I can use these paints in a painting widens the possibilities considerably.  Of course, that might be a bad thing as I like working within limits.  We will see.

Clockwise from the lower left: Black, Prussian blue, Pthalo Blue, Cerulean Blue, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Quinacridone Rose, Cadmium Red, Raw Sienna, Gamboge, Hansa Yellow and White.
The brand I bought was M. Graham.  I've wanted to try their products for years, but have always stuck with colors I knew about.  The M. Graham paints are quite smooth and lay down without streaking.  I'm impressed.  Mixed with honey as part of their binder, they tempt me to just take a teeny taste, but I won't eat my paint.  I think.

The colors as I played with them.  On the left, top and bottom, are 11 pure colors, but on the bottom row, the last four are with white added.  The secondary colors are with and without white added.  
All things considered, these are very exciting to contemplate.  Coming at this medium as a watercolorist will probably influence the way I approach them compared to, say, how a dedicated oil painter would.  I will have to learn to think dark first then add the lights instead of the way I usually work.  I hope I can sleep tonight.  My mind is swirling with the excitement of all the possibilities.

Thanks for stopping by! Alice

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Opaque Paint

Being in the canyon country of southern Utah earlier this month made me want to use opaque paints. I have oils, acrylics and soft pastels, but I don't really want to drag all that stuff out.  All three of the opaque mediums I am familiar with are bulky and require big cleanup.  As I've thought about this and wondered how to handle painting those amazing red cliffs, I've felt the need for something that I could use to layer color in a different way than usual.

(Check these little gems out)

There is a paint that is portable, water-based media, is easy to clean up- and is opaque.  That paint is gouache.  It hadn't even occurred to me till last week.  I used to have some but only used it for decorating things.  In fact, it is often billed as an illustrator's medium.  I decided to do some research on it. Looking on Amazon, I saw very few books about it.  Google didn't bring up much about it, either.  There are some very fine painters that come up on a Google search who are turning out cool work with gouache, but most of what I found was cute dolphins or turtles that looked like they were for children's books.  I even looked to Youtube- not even much there.  After looking at the work by fine artists that I did find, I decided I'd like to learn more.

Me, waiting for my new paint.  FedEx needs to show up already.  
Going to my favorite time-wasting website -Dickblick- I made my selections and ordered some gouache paints.  They were supposed to be here yesterday.  I can only be patient for so long, and they are a day late.  I wish Amazon carried art supplies; they'd get my goodies here in a timely manner!  Oh well, if they had come on time I'd have tossed my current painting aside like a dirty shirt till I got the new ideas out of my system.  As it is, I'm fighting my way through the background on it.  Sigh...

You can be sure I will be posting more about gouache as I work my way through this phase.  Till then, I'm going back to see if my package is here yet.

Thanks for stopping by! Alice

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Cactus Saga Continues..

It has been a heck of day.  The house looks like the huns have been through it. Twice.  Sacked, and pillaged.  However, no bones have been broken and all grandchildren are accounted for.  The extra dog and our dim kitty have not killed each other, more's the pity, and we are through one more day of the week-long overnighter.  I'm not whimpering, but it's not bedtime yet, either.

A small sampling of the studio.  Every surface..
Actually, the kids are adorable, but they are active and, as I pointed out yesterday, there are nearly 2,000 of them.  We love the darling things.  We are too old to raise kids, however.  My goals for the day were to survive and hopefully get the greens all dropped into the painting by bedtime tonight.  The only way that finally happened was by 1. allowing the children free-run of the place and 2. finally getting some watercolors out with a whole ream of paper and the old brushes and ignoring the mess.  Finally, the greens are in and the kids are in the back yard running.  Now that I have the cacti shapes painted, I am wondering if I need more cacti and less rock.  I'll have to sleep on it.  I wouldn't mind some opinions on this other than my own.  I'm too tired to know anything.

Behind the cacti shapes will be sky and a suggestion of the rocks they grow out of.  Not sure if I like this arrangement. Might need more cacti, less rock.  Not at all sure.  
Thanks for stopping by! Alice

Monday, July 20, 2015

Dropping in the Greens

It's time for the cactus shapes to get some color.  As tight and carefully controlled as the blossom areas have been, the little cactus shapes are a place I can loosen up in and let the colors 'do their thing.'  This part is going more quickly than the blossom bits and has been fun to do.  A mixture of Pthalo Blue, New Gamboge and Cadmium Red, the greens can be varied from deep bluish green to an olive tone.  I don't want them to be as powerful as the blossom shapes, so they are fairly monotone.

The masked needle shapes are going to push the greens back.  I hope.
Although there are about 2,000 grandchildren running amok through my house today, I did get some work done.  It's very fun to have the kids around, but it is also very busy.  Very.  By the end of this week, all of them will have been here.  If I can get this thing wrapped up by Friday it will be a miracle of Biblical proportions.

Worried at first that the deep greens would keep the reds from popping forward, it's looking like they'll work like I had planned.  Yay!  

Thanks for stopping by!  Alice

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Virtual Student, Katie Kellogg

When my phone rings late at night I know it's my virtual art student, Katie Kellogg.  She's also my daughter.  After her little ones are in bed she can spend time on her art- and when she has questions, she calls.  I look forward to those conversations.  It's very fun to have a kindred spirit in the family and have the chance to pass on what I know to one of my children.

9" x 12" -'Strawberry in colored pencil'
A fiber artist for most of her adult life, Kellogg is now pursuing colored drawing with a passion that drives her to learn and excel at it.  She uses colored pencils, Inktense water-soluble pencils and Caran D' Ache water-soluble sticks.  When she first began, I posted some of her work here.  It is fun to see her style emerging when you compare her earlier work with this.

9" x 12"  -'Pepper Pile'
The pieces that are emerging are like her, bright and intense, focusing in on the essence of her subjects.  Layering color, Katie is creating new tones that are at once eye popping and something all her own.  Of course, I'm her mother, so I'm supposed to be all agog at her work.  However, I think you'll agree that she is making something wonderful.

9" x 12" -'The Plums Emily Didn't Eat'
My favorite of this batch, this thing is where Katie began to understand underpainting
What makes me happiest is that she is finding her way to her own vision at a much earlier age than I did/am.  I dream of someday having a show of my work mixed with that of my children and hopefully even grandchildren.  Wouldn't that be an accomplishment?!

9" x 12" -'Time For Banana Bread'
Thanks for stopping by! Alice

Summer Means Salsa

On the way home from town, we stopped in Deming, NM at our favorite vegetable stand.  Diaz Farms sells pretty great produce and we can't drive through without stopping to see what they have.  This time, their boxes were overflowing with the ingredients for salsa.  We got enough for a big batch and ripe melons.  Added to the week's harvest of our own tomato patch, we'll have plenty.  Living in a hot desert does have merits now and then.

Green chiles, tomatoes, jalepenos, yellow-hots, onion and cilantro, beautiful to look at and yummy to eat.
Saturday, while waiting for sections of my painting to dry I'd run to the kitchen to work on cooking projects.  Back and forth all morning, handling things that are red.  Red paint, red tomatoes, I like red!  I may get this painting finished yet.  You are probably rolling your eyes because this one has dragged on for so long.  Me too.

Another blossom done this morning...  Slowly.
Both my husband and I grew up in the Southwest, so our days wouldn't be complete without chile.  We usually buy 3 or 4- 40# sacks in the fall and roast and freeze it for the coming year.  Most south-westerners wait eagerly for green chile season and the Webbs' are no exception.  Down to two bags of it in the freezer, we were getting worried.  It is addictive.

We like the flavor of fire-roasted veggies, so part of the ingredients are slow-cooked in a medium-hot oven. 
This year our goal is to bottle 150-ish quarts of salsa; the pantry is getting low.  Today's batch, however is fresh for eating and sharing.  We are going to a Pioneer Day celebration and chips and salsa will be a good accompaniment for BBQ and beans.  No matter that it is jalepeno-hot, it'll get eaten.

Roasted peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic- ready to add to the batch.
I often sense that making things with my hands, no matter if it is on the sewing machine, in the kitchen or at my easel- is a way of giving of myself.  When you create with love, or a desire to give something of yourself, I think a bit of that is conveyed to those who receive your creations.  I hope that someone who looks at my paintings can feel a bit of my spirit there and those who eat the food I've made for them get a little extra something from it. (..besides fat)  Maybe my idea is a bit too touchy/feely, but there it is.  That's how I feel.
All the ingredients added, including lime juice and plenty of salt.  

If you were here, we'd sit down with a bowl of salsa, some chips and have a good visit.  Laughing together makes life worthwhile.
A jar for the Webbs' and a jar for the party.  My fingers and mouth are on fire, got to remember not to rub my eyes!  

Thanks for stopping by!  Alice

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Best Part of Leaving is Coming Home

Town was mucho fun till it wasn't fun anymore and it was time to leave. We are 30 minutes away from home or possibly 30 minutes from insanity. Pulling a heavy trailer loaded with very expensive wood during the rainy season is a bit nerve wracking.

Hmm, I used 'very' very much today.  I must be very tired.  Very.  

Yesterday we met family at the always wonderful Albuquerque Botanical Gardens. There were so many things calling out to be painted but keeping up with five busy grandchildren precluded any painting at the garden. Had to work in the truck this afternoon. You can tell by the wonky lines..

Hooray for home! Thanks for stopping by-Alice

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Trip to Town

This week we needed wood for cabinets that my husband is building for a client. Best place for that is Albuquerque so we packed our little bag and headed out on the 5 hour drive to town. 


The drive to Albuquerque is always beautiful, but during monsoon season the clouds are extra fancy. I love to sit in the passenger seat with my sketchbook on my lap, ready at a moments notice. 

Tomorrow will be a long drive home day, but today is a town day and I'm anxious to do and see as much as we can squeeze in. Bye!  Alice

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Perfect Storm

Praise be! It rained for hours during the night and into the morning.  If you lived where we live, you'd realize how welcome a real, honest-to-goodness-rain-for-hours-ground-soaking storm is.  I love rain, love the cloud-close feeling of dark skies and the beautiful moisture on the scented air.  It's our monsoon season, so we usually get two or three gully washers in July.  Not this time, though.  Chances are rain is pretty ho-hum at your house, so bear with me here.

The garden is happy, standing up and cheering for the beautiful day! So are the weeds, darn it.

 Although I'm getting some painting in here and there, this has not been a studio week.  This morning I re-watched a video I posted a few months ago.  It seemed like a good rainy day thing to do. I love what this painter has to say.  Only 7:45 long, her ideas are good thought-food.  You can find the video HERE.  I hope you enjoy it.  If you've seen it, maybe you'll be like me and learn more the second time through. 

With the under-painting laid in, I can see my composition better.  Progress is progress, no matter how slow! (Sounds like Dr. Seuss.. made me feel wise)

If it's raining at your house today, congratulations!  If not, come to my house, there's enough to share.
Actual puddles.  How thrilling!  

Till next time, thanks for stopping by! Alice

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Criticism, Some Thoughts

At a gathering I attended not too long ago I overheard a conversation that has caused me quite a bit of reflection. In it, ridicule and criticism were expressed about people not present who were working toward a goal the group didn't understand. I have thought about this critique for several weeks, and about criticism in general and wanted to share my musings here. Lucky you.

“The trouble with most of us is that we'd rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” -Norman Vincent Peale

Critique given to or about ourselves can be a good thing, making us look at something through the eyes of another and evaluate what we are doing and why. This is criticism we can appreciate, particularly when it is given with the spirit of sincerely trying to help us improve even if we don't particularly agree with it. Then there is criticism that is offered to hurt, belittle or make the person giving the criticism feel less small. Is there a tool we can use to help us decipher criticism, both of ourselves or work and that of others? I think so.

When dealing with a critic, Steve Jobs is reported to have asked, “Do you create anything or just criticize others and belittle their motivations?” I love this because it gives me a great measuring stick to help evaluate what other's motives may be. Is your critic one who 'does' things -or- one who produces nothing in his or her own life? Chances are, the guy who looks at a piece of art and says scornfully, "Huh, I could have done that," hasn't thought about the skill or effort the work took. I always want to ask those folks, "Then why didn't you, hmmm??" when I hear those types of statements.
“Often those that criticise others reveal what they themselves lack.” -Shannon L. Alder
Giving criticism well is possibly more important than taking it, at least to my way of thinking.  I've made myself a list of critique self-check questions:

  • Have I been asked for my opinion? (What- you mean I should wait to be asked??)
  • Am I qualified to give it? (To keep me from saying something like, "I don't know anything about this, BUT...")
  • Is there a way to give my golden nuggets of wisdom that will build up and not tear down? 
  • Does what I am about to say add anything of value or am I just wanting to say something to look smart?  
Uncomfortable questions, indeed.  Of course, using the questions will require thinking before speaking.  Ah, self control...  We live in a world just full of people-things.  Some of them are going to give us sincere help along our journey and others will open their mouths and spew out real stumbling blocks in our paths.  The trick is learning to use the useful and discard the junk.  When we encounter someone who feels called upon to question our motives or abilities from a position of little mind/big mouth, we can ask ourselves (or possibly them, how fun would that be?) Steve Job's brilliant question.  However, when we come across someone who truly means well and has help to offer it is a gift.  I hope I can learn to receive it as such.

Whew, I'm glad I got that all worked out.  Thanks for stopping by! Alice 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Di Massey, Art Educator/Artist

This summer I have been blessed with a private watercolor student, Di Massey.  I say blessed because Di is a lovely person and has an instinctive knack for watercolors.  She's a twofer!  As she has taught elementary, middle school and high school art students, she has picked up art principles, adding them to her inborn abilities- she's raw talent, ready to take off.
One of Di's cat paintings.  First made for a friend's bathroom, Di found she loves repetitive patterns and uses that for her fabulous kitties. 

Although she has taught art, she hasn't had much time to take art lessons for her own enrichment.  Di has poured much of herself out for others.  I'm tickled that now in her life she has a chance to learn some techniques that will help her grow her own creative reservoir. The bones are there, all she has to do is flesh them out with new skills.  It will be fun to see where her thoughtful and creative mind takes those skills.

The background on this piece is fabulous, especially when you look closer and realize it was made by the simple method of laying plastic wrap over a wet wash of paint and letting it dry there.  
I think there are many people who spend much of their time and energy in their professions while inwardly feeling a mostly unmet need to express themselves in personal ways.  I have felt that way myself many times and I suspect I will again.  Finding balance between work and the studio is probably going to be a life-long quest for me.  Somehow, I don't think I'll ever find a perfect, permanent balance.  Instead, I will learn how to be more accepting of the day to day events that come along with the flow of life and how to work creatively among those events.

Today's exercises: underpainting.  The two on the left were underpainted with complimentary colors, while the right apple shape was painted with an underpainting of black.
Besides, I have a sneaking suspicion that if all I had to do was paint, it would become boring to me.  Too much candy and not enough salt.  Variety gives spice to life and yearning to be creating gives it more flavor when those hoped for hours come along.  The not-so-fun times make the fun times- well- funner.  (Sorry)  

Di's love of pattern is a natural for zentangle designs. 
Thanks for stopping by!  Alice

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Three Out of Five..

Blossoms, that is.

After all of the day's chores were finally done yesterday, I had a bit of time to work on my current piece.  Even though it's only one more blossom area done, it's a section closer to finished than it was the day before.  I'm fascinated by how the reds pop out of the page; no other color I've used has quite the power to do that.

The yellow-underpainted bits help me keep it sun-kissed.
While I'm painting the reds, I keep finding myself musing over the rock and cacti areas around the blossoms and how to handle them.  Hopefully they'll work themselves out by the time I get there.  This cactus piece seems to be going in a more realistic direction than the last few. It is interesting to me how some paintings have more of an idea where they want to go and just take me there, seemingly with little input from me.  This is one of those.

Only two more fussy parts to go, then I can start laying in wet, runny sections.  Looking forward to those.

Thanks for stopping by!  Alice

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Art of Baking, Honey Wheat

Baking is an art.  My very mean parents decided I needed to know this art when I was 14 years old. I baked bread every Saturday and took my rage at being forced to come into the house and work in the kitchen out on kneading.  It turns out that this was the exact right way to knead bread dough and I made good bread every time. Vigorous kneading develops the gluten in the dough and creates a nice crumb, or interior of the loaf.  Unconverted, I remained a very reluctant baker well beyond my teen years.  Later, raising our kids, I felt I needed to produce food as fresh as I could manage, so Saturdays saw me baking 24 loaves of bread in my adobe oven.  Today, I only need two or three loaves a week, but over the years, it has become one of my favorite ways of expressing myself in the kitchen.  It gives me joy.
The finished loaves. They won't look like this for long, my husband has been haunting the kitchen for the last 20 minutes waiting for the bread to come out of the oven.  

Here is the recipe for today's bread:

Honey Wheat Loaves
(makes 4- 8" loaves)
4 c. warm water
2 1/2 T. Yeast
2 T. Salt
1/2 c. Olive oil 
1/2 c. Honey (or brown sugar or molasses)
2 T. Poppy seed, flax seed and/or sesame seed (optional)
8-10 cups flour

To make braided loaves, cut one loaf's worth of dough into thirds and smooth them

Notes on flour: I use white wheat that I've ground myself because most commercial flour has the germ removed and isn't as fresh.  I noticed Gold Medal is now offering a white whole wheat flour. The turkey red wheat is good but makes a heavier/denser loaf. If commercial flour is what you can get, it will work just fine.  If you aren't sure which kind of whole wheat it has been made of, substitute 3 or 4 cups of unbleached flour for part of the whole wheat flour to boost the gluten.  (It makes better bread than all purpose)  The most consistent flour I can buy is Gold Medal and I only buy it or the ConAgra brand from Costco, myself.  You may have access to King Arthur or another excellent brand, these are just my available options.

Put yeast into the mixing bowl, add water, then add everything but the flour. Begin stirring in flour 1 cup at a time and knead till it's smooth, elastic and slightly sticky. Stop adding flour when you reach that point. All flour is different and local weather and your honey will affect how much of it you need. Go by feel, not by cups. Smooth and elastic and just slightly sticky are what you are aiming for.

Roll into three ropes..
Form the loaves and place them into greased loaf pans.  I use 8" pans and get 4 loaves from this. If you use 9" pans, you'll get three loaves.
And braid them

Let the loaves raise till over the top of the pans, then bake for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven. 
Tuck the ends in and place into greased pan to raise...
Take the bread out of the oven as soon as the baking time is up, then place loaves on rack or surface to cool.  If you leave them in the pans to cool, they will sweat, making them soggy. Blech.  
Risen just right to put into the pre-heated oven.  
Now that the bread is baked, the kitchen is (semi) clean and the laundry is hung out, I can go play in the studio.  Except I might need a nap first.  If you try this, I'd love to hear about your results.  For me, this bread baking process is soothing to my spirit and satisfying to my creative needs.  Enjoy it and pass a loaf to a neighbor.  Oh, and thanks Mom and Dad for being so stinking mean!  

Thanks for stopping by, Alice