Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Oh, My Stars!

A new shape is coming out of the kiln—8 point stars. I finally solved the riddle of how to put one together, and found I can make a nice little 4-plus inch star. There should be lots of great color combos possible, even though they're a bit constrained by the desire for symmetry. In the first one I wanted to try and combine lime green and cranberry. That turned out a bit harsh and unsatisfying, but the addition of a few contrasting colors—aqua and pale gold—blended them together in a way I really like.

I ended up having to fire this one twice, because two of the pieces crawled apart as they melted instead of joining together. Oh well. I would just as soon learn all my lessons now before I move on to bigger, more complicated pieces.

I tried a second star on Christmas Eve, in a mix of reds and ambers that has become one of my favorite color combos.

Everybody stayed put this time, and I loved the way it turned out. I love the small irregularities in shape from the varied shapes of the chips, the subtle color changes from the overlapping hues, and the way they look like melting, colored ice. The light reflections off of every rounded edge and the perfect smoothness of the glass makes them really fun to touch, too. I'm beginning to have thoughts of the possibilities of three dimensional texture I might have with even this simple layering process.

Fun fun fun!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The 12 Days of Solstice

Our Hardy Plant Society chapter had our solstice party this afternoon. We contemplated the confusion about today being both the start of days getting longer (that's GOOD), and also being the first day of winter, which will last for the next three months (that's BAD). Not that bad, really, because the hellebores are starting to sprout, the pieris and heather and rhodies are all covering themselves in fat buds. In just a "few" weeks, the witch hazels will start blooming, then crocus and daffodils will start popping up, and the next thing you know, it will be spring!

We sang a song today that I really enjoyed, and I wanted to share it with you. So with permission of the talented Carol Koshkarian who wrote it, here is "The 12 Days of Solstice":

On the first day of Solstice, Apollo gave to me...Rain and 40 degrees.
On the second day of Solstice, Apollo gave to me...two muddy boots,  (...yadda yadda yadda...)
On the third day of Solstice, Apollo gave to me...three thousand slugs,
On the fourth day of Solstice, Apollo gave to me...four soggy beds,
On the fifth day of Solstice, Apollo gave to me...five Golden sunbreaks!
On the sixth day of Solstice, Apollo gave to me...six ponds a-brimming,
On the seventh day of Solstice, Apollo gave to me...seven lawns a-swimming,
On the eighth day of Solstice, Apollo gave to me...eight streams o'er-flowing,
On the ninth day of Solstice, Apollo gave to me...nine molds a-growing,
On the tenth day of Solstice, Apollo gave to me, ten gutters leaking,
On the eleventh day of Solstice, Apollo gave to me, eleven culverts seeping,
On the twelveth day of Solstice, Apollo gave to me, twelve gardeners weeping....

Enjoy the lengthening days, the holidays we have to celebrate, and the rest of 2011! Best wishes to you all!

Conquering portrait anxiety

This is Boomer. His family are my friends at Meadowcroft Farm, whose garden I painted last year. They were agreeable to having me try some portrait work of their three dachshunds. She sent me some photos and I quickly picked Boomer, the senior partner, as my first try. I hadn't done a portrait in 25 years, human or canine, but I grew up with pet dachshunds from when I was 7 or 8 till I left for college, so I felt like I knew them well enough to be able to do it. Plus, Boomer and his other housemates were friends of mine, and I thought I had a chance of getting a good likeness for that reason.

I was determined to do a fairly loose study, and started with some pencil sketches. With those under my belt, I grabbed my liquid acrylics and threw a head sketch onto a small canvas panel. I took all of the sketches to my friends, and he looked at the acrylic and said "that's him". But the next time I picked it up to work on it, I went into panic mode. If the acrylic was the one they connected with, I had to continue with it, I could never get that lucky again (that was my line of thought). Then I discovered that the reference photo of Boomer was very faded out around his paws—the trickiest, most complicated part of a dachshund's anatomy. None of the other photos showed a paw in a similar enough position for me to use it. I went to the web looking for references and still didn't have any luck. All of my confidence and conviction fell flat, all the (hot) air squeezed from them by my fear. I knew I could never meet their expectations, so why even try?

About that time I fired up my glass kiln for the first time in five years, and for the next two months I didn't want to do anything but glass, so Boomer lay on the shelf, alone and footless, while I pushed down my guilt over not having at least made an attempt to give him some paws. At the beginning of December I ran into my friends at a party, and he remarked again that he thought I had really gotten Boomer's look. That statement somehow gave me the courage I needed to go back to work on the painting. I spent a few hours photoshop-playing with the original photos until I believed I could see what the the missing paw pixels had to look like, until I could construct an image in my head of how that lumpy, amorphous arrangement of bones and skin and fur would appear. I was determined, at that point, that I would just keep reworking it until I got something I was happy with.

As it turned out, I had to rework several areas, and it certainly is not a great painting. But I'm still happy with it, because when I look at it, I see my little friend, Boomer.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December Art Sale On Etsy!

All the works I have in my Etsy shop are now on sale—25% off!—for the entire month of December. So if you're looking for a really special gift of art for yourself or a loved one, please check out my offerings there. The coupon code to use is DECARTSALE2010, just enter it when you make your purchase to receive the discount. I'll be putting some of my glass pieces up there soon, as well.

I'm sorry to see my friend, mentor and supporter Annie Howden closing up her beautiful gallery down on Washington Street. Not one to be down long, she'll be opening a new framing shop up the hill in upper Oregon City around the first of the year. I'll miss my regular visits to see all the works by other county artists and chat with Annie and with Kim Walton of King's Raven Winery at the tasting room there. But I did manage to trade a couple of my Garden Jewelry pieces for a couple of great bottles of Pinot Gris!

I started working on my Christmas card design yesterday and I found that my glass work is already influencing both my color choices and my design approach when I'm doing paint sketches. The first thing I did was start putting my favorite bright colors together in an abstract arrangement—exactly what I do with the glass—and when it started looking like a landscape, I went with that idea. What I ended up with wasn't exactly a Christmas card, but it was fun to do. When I started with a second sketch, I started with a design first, but again I found myself going to the bright colors, in combinations very familiar to me from the glass work. I've always felt inhibited in my color selections and too concerned with choosing "realistic"ones, so I'm thinking this is a good step. I think anything that helps you break your own self-imposed and unconscious boundaries is not just beneficial, but enlightening.

Here's the first sketch, just for fun:

Yes, it's true—I like to play...

But you know what? Last month I was interrogating my muse again about where new ideas and inventions come from, and the answer I finally got was—from play.

Works for me!

And, I'm taking on a small glass project—when I was in the local Goodwill last week, I came across a great wrought iron candle stand I'm going to convert into a glass-and-wire-and-iron garden art piece! Oh boy—my first sculpture! I'll let you know how that goes.

Stay warm!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

There's a Full Moon Out—Do Your Full Moon Dance!

This time of year, it's all about the weather for me. I'm a compulsive radar-map and thermometer watcher. I just saw that there was a small radar blob on top of my house and I went to the back door to see if it was indeed sprinkling outside—but the sky looked clear and a big full moon is shining brightly, rising behind the tall firs. I will never figure out the weather in Oregon. One of my favorite days was a few years ago, I don't remember if it was late spring or early fall, but all day long from the time I woke up, thick dark clouds rolled overhead from the southwest. Hour after hour it looked like it could rain buckets at any moment, but by mid-afternoon, it was still dry, just wind and clouds. Then while I watched through my living room window, the clouds began to break and quickly they shrank and disappeared, and the brilliant sun came shining beautifully from the west as it headed toward the coast. And that was when it started raining, with no clouds overhead—a soft, steady, light rain that kept falling for a quarter hour. All I could do was laugh in wonder.

I actually went out and dug up a half dozen weeds—well, Labrador violets—this afternoon, out of the mud, it was so nice. Cold, but nice. I think the garden is all ready for the impending freezing nights. I'm sure my geraniums and begonias are going to bite the big one, but that's the circle of Life. The begonia tubers will sleep all winter in my garage, and I'll be ready to buy more baby geraniums next spring. I planted the two new hardy sedums I just bought from Anthony and Susan of Green Gate Nursery in Willamette (old West Linn). It's tough being a plant junkie. You try and try to resist them, but then you get close to one you've never seen before, and it's soooo cute, and then you hear the words, "It's so easy to grow..." and you're sunk.

But the winter weather is here, and it's time to take all that digging energy and put it to work in my studio. My little glass fusing kiln has been helping keep my garage warm, as piece after piece has been coming out. I've been having several thoughts of new designs, some fairly easy and some I'm not ready to try yet.

I wasn't just happy that I finally got a good-looking 8-ray star form, using a square center, I fell in love with the color combination of the amber-gold with the cranberry red. With the orange accents, it looks like a sunset.

I had to try another one, with another color combination I hadn't used for years—lime green opal (translucent) glass with deep turquoise transparent:

Of course I had to add a few more colors, medium and lime green, and green iridescent. The pieces stayed almost square to each other, and I was so excited when I opened the kiln I did my little happy kiln dance.

You can dance if you want to! You can leave your cares behind! And in winter when it's 55 in your garage, it'll help you keep warm!

Happy freezing!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Growing for growing's sake

I found a tiny miracle in my house this morning when I got up. This summer a friend gave me some prunings from one of my favorite shrubs of hers, an unknown variety of Pieris that has bright pink new growth every winter. I potted up several cuttings from it and they've been living under lights inside my house, along with a hydrangea cutting from my flowers-bigger-than-my-head plant. Although none of them  have died, they hadn't shown any signs of growth either—until this morning. One of them has a tiny new branch with several miniscule leaves on it. Sure hope it keeps growing till spring, when I'll be able to put it out in the garden.

A couple days ago I did a piece that reminded me of one of Diebenkorn's Ocean Park series—the blue and green colors and the blockiness of it. Usually the shapes of the pieces don’t add that much to the overall look of the piece, but in this one the color shapes combined to make a real composition. Looking at his work again reminds me of where I got lost in my painting, when it seemed like I stopped getting what I wanted, and I realize that never happened—I just kept changing what I wanted. Learning to paint what’s inside you is exploring the unknown, and exploring the unknown is like going up a staircase and thinking every step is the summit. You spend time at each one, examining every bit of it in detail so you can translate it into your experience.  You paint it this way and that until it’s yours, all yours, and suddenly you realize—it’s not the top, it’s not where you’re trying to get to—it’s just another step. You start looking around for the rest of the staircase, the next step. You come upon something that clicks with you—it might be anything—something that stirs you, that makes you want to run and grab your paints and start working again.

Looking at Diebenkorn's work on the web made me feel that way—that I wanted to grab my paints—but I didn't, I made more glass instead.

I made a peppery color scheme, for a fellow gardener, that looks good enough to eat in the sun.

And then I made one that looks rather unfortunately like a really old piece of pizza. It will go to a lonely, dark corner of my garden where no one will ever notice it. I hope. Or maybe I'll bury it, so a hundred years from now a future resident can dig it up, and go "Ewwwww!"

Yesterday I attended a memorial service for a member of our local Hardy Plant group, a wonderful woman whom I clearly did not get to know well enough. The pastor who officiated said something at the end that touched me. "If you want to honor Ann, take a little bit of whatever she gave you, and pass it on to someone else."That is a way of growing that I hadn't thought of—growing a memory into an act of friendship, growing a previous relationship into a future one. By passing on even the tiniest gift, you multiply it far beyond its original size.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Getting a lesson in ZING

If you're already sick of my garden photos, might as well turn away or grab a baggie...it's a new week and new colors are out. And miracle of miracles, 3 sunny days in a row to enjoy them! Hooray!

My 'Hilleri' Japanese maple is hitting its stride now. You don't usually notice this unless you're right down in the northeast area I call my grotto, but this time of year you can't miss it from the house, even.
It's a very nice little tree with dark green leaves 50 weeks out of the year. Then for a week it slowly shifts to dark burgundy, then dark brick red, and then--POW!

I mentioned before that my Satomi always turns orange red. This year it got more sun than every before, I wonder if it'll go brighter next week?

This was the second 'Forest Pansy' redbud I got, and it gets more sun than the first one, but usually it just goes yellow gold and then immediately sheds. This year it has a lot more red in it than I've ever seen. I wonder if it might be in love?

That's it, except for my 'Bloodgood' Japanese maples and my Cotinus 'Royal Purple', which haven't even started thinking about changing yet. But I do have some new glass pieces. I wanted to try a mixed fusing of opal glass (mostly opaque) on the bottom and colored transparent cathedral glass on top. I think they'll work better than just the transparent in areas where the light may not hit them directly, or there may be a dark area behind them like a dark wall or thick greenery, but the opal still lights up when the sun hits it from behind. It's a different effect, and I like it.

I had taken my last load of pieces down to the Howden Gallery on Tuesday, and my studio looked really empty except for a few "seconds" that exhibited one or more glaring defects or a general lack of appeal. It's good to have some bright stuff back hanging around, at least for a while. I fired my 23rd piece last night. The two below I really cranked out quickly, but now as I'm seeing how they turned out I'm seeing there are a lot of possibilities in mixing the two styles of glass. I'm realizing that each piece really is a painting on its own, and worth spending the time to play with. I noticed on a couple of the recent pieces that I may have all the colors I want in a piece and it still won't look "together", or have that particular—well, hook—that grabs your eye. I would think I was done putting the chips together, but still be wanting to play with it. I'd rearrange a couple pieces a little, or replace one or two with slightly different colors, and suddenly there's a ZING! in my gut, and I knew it had gone to a new level. I look back at all the paintings I've done and finished, and know that sadly, there were a lot of them that didn't have a ZING. ZINGless. I'm thinking this is a good thing to know, when you have ZING vs. when there is no ZING. Some ZING is definitely better than no ZING.

I must have a new brain cell or two (I was SO happy to read that adults can still grow them after all), because I've been realizing a lot of things just lately. One was that I need to add a link to Shari Erickson's webpage. If you've never seen her miniatures, they really are rather jaw-dropping.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Thank You For My Garden

I woke up early this morning, in time to catch the first light coming through the fog. Every morning that I do this it reminds me of just how lucky I am to live here in such a beautiful place.

As the good-bye colors come out all over the countryside, I really want to offer my heartfelt gratitude to all the plants that have continued to grow and thrive in my garden. I started planting trees and perennials five years ago, and every year since then they have been growing, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Every month there's a new surprise to see when I walk outside, new growth or new flowers. This fall they're really starting to show their colors.

Two years ago, this Acer circinatum was a pair of four-foot sticks. Now it's starting to look like a real tree. I love the rounded palmate leaves, and the fact that it's a perfectly adapted and adaptable native of Oregon. Shade, sun, heat, cold--it doesn't care. It's just happy to be here.

This Cornus kousa Satomi was the very first tree I planted here, a bare root twig. Now it's 7 feet tall and about to turn the brilliant red-orange it turns every fall. Oh boy!

This Acer palmatum Sango Kaku, coral-bark maple, in the foreground is a young tree I just planted a year ago, and it started turning color almost a month ago. In early morning when the sunlight hits it, this baby lights up like a Las Vegas marquee. I'm already imagining what it's going to look like two years from now when it's a foot bigger in each direction (drool). Behind it is one of the Viburnum plicatums, the snowball viburnum, who is still getting established and couldn't manage to crank out any snowballs this year, but is making up for it with a really lovely fall show.

The aforementioned snowball viburnum. Ahhhhhh.

My extra-super-special scoop of the year, a very hard-to-find Disanthus cercidifolius, in the middle of transforming from green to crimson. It's also covered with tiny flowerbuds the size of ladybugs, that I think will open this winter.

My Sedum 'Brilliant' is still living up to its name this fall, even though the flowers have already dried.

And last on the list but right at the top of my heart, all my beautiful hydrangeas that bloomed so richly this year are in their gentle fall colors. This Sister Theresa has big, pure white heads of flowers, and now they're lovely pink and green. Other ones are blue/green, blue/violet, and blue/pink, I could cut some off for inside the house, but they're still so pretty outside I haven't wanted to.

So thank you, dear plants, for making my garden so beautiful, for being a continuous source of joy and inspiration to me, for making me feel like an artist every time I walk outside. May your roots grow deep and your trunks strong, and may your beauty bless the earth till the end of time.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Will work for FUN!

I went into the studio yesterday evening hungry for some colors, so I grabbed glass and cut up some blues, greens and browns, cleaned them and dumped them onto a sheet of paper. I looked at the pile and a light went off in my head. When I first started fusing I had had an idea of making an openwork piece, with gaps between the individual pieces. I'd made a couple tries at it but they hadn't looked good enough to fire. Now there was one sitting in front of me. With a little bit of rearranging, they turned into what I took out of my kiln this morning:

If you half-close your eyes, you can see my back yard in here!

I noticed with one of the other pieces I blogged about yesterday that it was the culmination of another idea that I had to iterate on several times before I got one that was recognizable as my original idea. Several other of the pieces that led up to it were interesting in themselves, just not what I had been aiming for. But they spun off other ideas to try to develop. That got me thinking about how often that had happened in my painting where I would have an idea of an image and work it up into a painting, only to have the result not really embody what I had imagined to begin with. But the paintings took so long that I would always figure that it was as close as I would be able to get, and rather than keep working on that idea I would go off in a new direction.

That reminded me very much of watching Pablo Picasso working in the excellent video I believe I have written about before, The Mystery Of Picasso. He reworked everything in the video as he painted it, constantly changing and revamping, wiping out and repainting a dozen times, or painting over, or throwing out and starting all over. I wonder if that was the issue with him, that he was trying to get closer to his starting idea. It might not be. Robert Burridge, if you've ever watched any of his videos (and if you have not, I recommend them highly) seems to pull stuff out of his hat as he goes, with or without an an actual beginning idea. He'll start with a thread of an idea, or hint of a thread of an idea.

I was taking some of these pieces down to Howden Gallery this morning, where they are now for sale, priced from $15 to $30, and started thinking about what I would answer if someone asked me, "Now that you're doing glass, are you going to keep painting?" I wasn't sure what the correct answer would be, but on the way back home I was thinking about the glass colors, and got an idea for another ink painting that I'll be doing soon. So, I guess Art feeds Art, and ideas come from everything you do! Or as Robert Burridge says, "No matter what the question is, the answer is always 'YES!'"

Monday, October 25, 2010

Passion takes a hand

A 1.5"x5" piece with both transparent and opal glass in garden colors—
blues, lots of greens, and a bit of pink and red.

One of my first rings, also a mix of transparent and opal glass.
A shot of warm color, like orange juice on a cold morning.

I've been having so much fun fusing. I just finished my 14th firing, a different style piece composed of overlapped small rectangles filling in a circular shape. It has to cool in the kiln for 6 more hours, so I won't see it till tomorrow morning—I'm not staying up till 2am! I've tried a couple different shapes and more new color combinations. Yesterday I spent a while making wire loops for them and monofilament hangers, and today, for the first time, I took the two pieces above outside and hung them on a garden pole in between rain showers. I love looking at them outside. The spots of bright color against the cloudy skies and the dark trees are really welcome additions to my garden. I want more out there, more pieces, and larger and more complex. I'm thinking of the single pieces as Garden Jewelry, for poor leafless trees that have to stand there naked all winter. But I have fences too, that can be decorated, and more garden poles, eaves, and low-hanging fir branches that can use some decoration too. The rings have the lovely habit of rotating slowly in the breeze, so the colors change a bit as the light hits from different angles.

Here are a few more pieces:

One of my friends said this one reminds her of that formica countertop
that came out in the 1950's that had little orange and turquoise boomerangs all over it.

A couple of the orange rectangles surprised me by turning dark red during the firing.

I thought that maybe from a distance, the clear might disappear and the blue pieces would look like they were floating in air.

The warmth of earth tones, the forest in summer.

When I was doing a firing a couple days ago, I had a really interesting moment. I was thinking about how playing with the glass was giving me an opportunity to reduce my work from painting to the two simplest and most important elements I had craved in my painting—color and shape. Creating good paintings requires so many more things, unless you go to color fields, which I came close to in my last ink painting. But with these small glass pieces, color and shape are all I'm working with. And as I thought that, it was as if a window opened in my side and I could see and feel a place in my core that didn't want to do anything but make colors and shapes, and it wanted to make piece after piece. No doubt, no thoughts, no emotion even, just this fierce drive—to work, to make, to do this one thing. I've felt the effects of that desire to create before, but I had never seen that core impulse in myself,  completely intense and unyielding, as an instinct might be.

So now I know what's making me do this. It's hard-wired into me.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Painting with glass

Funny how every now and then you get up in the morning and do something different. One morning a couple of weeks ago I drove up to Portland and bought 15 pounds of scrap glass from a couple of professional glass artists, and ended up cranking up my little HotShot kiln that I hadn't plugged in since I moved into this house five years ago. It took me two days to find all my tools and books and firing logs, but eventually I got everything together and started playing with my scraps. Having them already cut into small random pieces made it really easy to get started, I didn't need a plan or pattern, I just had an idea of which colors to start with. I made a pile I liked:

Now I had an arrangement I liked, but it was too big to fire in my little kiln, so I cut the pieces down to this:

It was late night by that time so I went to sleep thinking of colors and shapes and different designs I could try, and right after breakfast the next morning I set up a chair and table in the garage so I could babysit my first firing in over five years. My brave little kiln fired right up and worked perfectly, and later that afternoon I was able to take out my piece and enjoy it:

I love glass! I love the colors, I love how it melts and flows together, I love the technical aspects and the need for focus and attention, and I really love how it adds light and beauty to a space. The transparency or translucency gives you another parameter to play with. It's also really fun to have something you can hold in your hands, and hang indoors or out.

I had so much fun I did four more firings in the next 6 days!

Here's another piece in the kiln, ready for firing:

And here's my latest piece, which I fired yesterday:

Having all these colors of glass, not to mention iridescence and dichroism and surface textures as well to play with is just like being a sugar junkie in a candy store. I think it might be addictive. One thing it's great for is playing with color in a free and fun way. But like the ink paintings, there's a need for precise control during the process and there's waiting involved, so it's no instant gratification thing. Patience is good, and it's something I find myself working on all the time.

Another great benefit to living in NW Oregon is that Portland is home to two premier manufacturers of glass for fusing, Uroboros and Bullseye, and probably hundreds of glass artists, many of whom are constantly pushing the boundaries of glassworking.

So I've got me another fascinating indoor hobby to work on through the winter. I hope to have a garden full of glass goodies by spring!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Red Sky, Blue Planet

Mystery Of Water
Ink & Colored Pencil  22x30  $550

At last—a new painting! It feels good to finish one again. It's an ink painting, one I saw an image of in my mind before I started planning it. I let the idea settle for a couple of days, before I laid down the first layer of color on paper. After the first layer dried, I did a second layer to create the dark blue textures. It took several days for that layer to dry, before I could do the finishing work with colored pencils.

I had a new challenge in this one. I wanted to develop the foreground textures enough to be interesting, but I didn't want them to distract from the drama of the simplified background. It took me a few days to decide how much interest was enough. It's a personal choice, and at first I wasn't happy with having to make a choice at all, between doing what I've been doing lately—making the most of every possible detail—and directing all the strength to the main theme—the contrast between the landscape and the sky.

I used to joke about paintings that depend on having a spectrum of colors for their impact, and now I've made one that has little else. That's what comes of poking fun, I guess; the turkey comes home to roost.

What does it mean, The Mystery Of Water? Water connects us to every life form on the Earth. The storm in the sky is water, the lake and the river are water. Trees, grass, birds, bugs, humans—we are all made of water.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Time Spent Fishing

Afternoon Dream
Acrylic 30x15 $225

Fishing is a symbolic act. Artists are constantly fishing, first for ideas and then for the way to bring them to fruition. We bait our hooks with a need, a desire, to make a new painting or drawing or whatever. We throw that hook into the waters of consciousness, of memory and imagination, the great Cosmic Ocean. Sometimes we wait for days or weeks for a nibble, sometimes the fish is there waiting for us as if it knows our name. We reel in our catch and begin to see it for the first time. Then the magic—and the work—begin.

Depths Of Time 3: Honor The Earth

Depths Of Time 3: Honor The Earth
Ink & Colored Pencil 22x30 $550

The third painting in my Depths Of Time series is complete. This new one has a greater richness of color and texture than I've been able to achieve before. I'm not sure why it worked better, but I think it has to do with the particular sequence of colors in the inking and pencil layering. The inking is unpredictable as to density and exact pattern, and what I get each time is still a surprise. That doesn't keep me from trying new things each time to have more control over the result, but it's still a gamble. With the colored pencils, the sequence of layering and the time in between applying the layers also produces differing results. The translucence of the wax in the pencil pigments actually makes every layer visible as long as they're not too dark, so up close you see not just the color impression of the mix of hues, but at the same time, each separate hue.

The title actually comes from the theme of Annie Howden's next show starting in May at Howden Gallery, "Celebration Of Honor". My central theme of this series is to make visible the complexity of the invisible Earth beneath our feet, the Earth we seldom see and rarely notice. The roughly 4.5 billion years the Earth has existed are all there, written in that stone and dirt that our green world grows upon. It feels right to me to honor that time, and all the change that has taken place in that time.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Are Inktense pigments really permanent? Not so much...

I sure hate to have to eat my words, but after doing a couple more sketches with my new Derwent Inktense pencils, I'm having a little word snack, you could say. I was working on a 5x7 sunset painting with really deep blue-grey clouds and a dark foreground. I had put down a rich layer of blue and wanted to tint it fuschia, and was surprised to have lots of blue pigment come up as I tried to lightly wash over it. I hadn't noticed that happening with my first sketches on absorbent paper, and it wasn't obvious when I was building up the dark greens on the garden sketch in my last entry, perhaps because I was adding thick pigment over a thin wash. This time, however, I had hoped to do a pale thin wash over an already heavily pigmented area on the gessoed paper, and ka-BOOM! Up came the pigment.

The documentation all says the pigment has to be completely dissolved to become permanent, so I thought maybe I just hadn't dissolved it all, in my eagerness to make the color rich and dark. Today I decided it was important to find out just how dissolved they have to be, so I took a few wet tissues and wiped all the color I could off my dark, rich sunset. All I had left was a pale, water-color-ish ghost of what was there before. If you can envision a value scale, the darkest areas went from an 8 to about a 3. Sorry I didn't take a picture of it to show you. After the paper dried again to the touch I put on a medium wash of blue, taking the value back up to a 6 or 7. I used lots of water, and brushed the pigment around for a minute, making sure there were no visible particles of pencil left. I let that dry again for over an hour, till it was completely dry to the touch, and I took the same soft round brush I had used to make the wash and lightly rubbed it over a small area, using ample water. The color came up immediately, going back to almost as light as it was before this last wash.

Okay, so now I'm unhappy. I take my wet brush and go attacking all the other sketching I'd done—except the garden sketch—and find that the only color that doesn't come up is the amount that gets absorbed into the surface. On my watercolor paper, very little of the color comes up. On the gesso, almost all of it comes up.

Now why is that? What do you suppose I'm doing wrong? Is my water the wrong pH? Do I live in an area where the pigment won't ever really dissolve? Do I need to give the pigment another day to really dry?

So much for my dream of having a pencil behave like acrylic paint. Sigh. Of course whether this really bothers you is probably going to depend on how you paint. If you're used to working in watercolor, it's no big deal, and it does mean you'll be able to intentionally (as well as unintentionally) lift out pigment to lighten an area, and the less absorbent your surface is, the more you'll be able to lift. And if you want to put more color on an already dark area, just expect that the pigment will come up, and you'll be literally blending the new into the old.

But I wish I hadn't rushed to such a favorable judgment on them, and not believed what others wrote without testing it myself. Bad blogger! (Sorry.)

I think I'll go back to plain sized watercolor paper and keep playing with them. Also, I ordered 14 more colors that should be here soon!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Playing with Derwent Inktense Pencils

Robert Burridge's February edition of his Artsy Fartsy Newsletter came out a couple days ago and he showed some sketches he'd done with Derwent's Inktense water soluble colored pencils. The richness of color and value contrast he got went way beyond anything I'd ever guessed you could get with a watercolor pencil, and when he said the wetted pigment dried waterproof, a big flashing lightbulb went off in my head and I really wanted to get a few to try them with the other mediums I use. So after going to see the "Celebration of Creativity" art show in Beaverton where Jackie McIntyre has several pieces showing, I drove to the nearby Art Media and coughed up for a packaged set of 12, plus a white and a medium blue. I did some sketching on some old Liberte paper last night and this morning, and found out why they're called Inktense—the colors really are intense, as intense as I would ever want them to be. Handling them dry is just like using any soft colored pencil, but the magic happens when you get them wet—the color pops out like something from a fantasy dream and handles just like water color. You can contain it, wash it, blend it, lift it, or carry it to other areas. It takes an amazingly small amount of pigment to make a nice light wash.

On the wetted paper, you can draw more, and if there's enough water the pigment will feather out into it. Let it dry a little more and you can lightly or somewhat more heavily work in more of the same or different colors. Another drop of water will further enrich the colors. As long as it's damp, you can lift all or some of it. The literature says that only the pigment that's fully dissolved will become waterproof; I found this to be true.

This afternoon I did a sketch on gessoed paper. I wanted to make a sketch of the patio furniture I planned to put on my patio background (in the previous post) because I wanted to try making it red. Here's what I got:

Patio sketch with Derwent Inktense pencils

I laid in most of the color and then went in with a wet brush (suggestion: Don't use a brush you really love—I couldn't get the pigment out with my regular brush soap), starting with the lightest colors first, and trying to manipulate the water flow and blending. I did the furniture last and then let it dry for a few minutes. I darkened the shadow greens and let it dry a few minutes more. Then I took a sharply pointed deep indigo pencil and lightly sketched in the shadow pattern. When I wet it, the red was still wet enough to be picked up, but I really liked the way the shadow looks sort of brushed and sort of drawn.

And that, in fact, is the thing I love most about these pencils—you're just drawing, not painting. Pencils were my first art medium and even though I don't draw that much any more, it's still easier for me, particularly when working with line work, to use a pencil. Much, much easier.

So, it's a pencil first, but you get to play with water, plain water, and the color pops like magic—it's just fun! I really like them! Now I want all the colors...all 71 of them. But first I'll have to see how I can mix them with acrylic paint.

I will mention that on the plain sized paper, the colors seemed to lighten on drying. But when I made them as intense as I could, they stayed intense. And on the gessoed paper, they seem to not be lightening as they dry. And my perennial complaint—I really wish someone could make a decently opaque white pencil. With this one I'm able to lighten colors once they dry, and it works better than my Prismacolor white pencil for that, but I would really, really like an opaque one. I presume at this point that it's not possible to make one. Sure wish it were. You have to think like a watercolor painter, and save your whites.

I keep thinking of how quick and easy they would be to use when sketching outside. A pad, a cup full of pencils, and one of those water-reservoir brushes.

There's quite a bit of information about them and some nice examples on the Derwent website, http://www.pencils.co.uk.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Forsythia and Pussy Willows

Want to beat the winter doldrums? Painting a bright bouquet really helps.

Spring Colors 8x10
Acrylic on paper

I've been finding that trying to change my approach to painting, even just to try approaching painting in a different way, is more complicated than I ever thought it would be. After spending many hours admiring the abstract compositions of Claire Harrigan, I was very curious to see if I could come up with a loose, colorful background that would complement the foreground subject and add design elements that contribute to the overall composition. To make a long story short, even after I had arrived at a color scheme I liked, it took me four different passes to come up with an arrangement I was happy with. It went through stages of randomness for the first two passes, and then I observed a bit of a pattern emerging and I began trying to develop it. As the pattern of lights and darks moved around, I noticed the different effects it was having on the flowers and vase, which I had already largely painted in. I also realized that I wanted to not worry at all whether the background shapes actually looked like anything, as long as they made a pleasing design. The fourth pass gave me a background that I felt supported the design of the bouquet and added some interest on its own.

But it wasn't fun painting around the blossoms on all four of the passes, so I thought the next time I would at least try to develop a background I liked before I started work on the subject. Here's the first pass:

Ultimately it's going to be a patio in a garden. I'll be developing it over the next few days, and will add the new versions to this post. I don't know what will happen, but I hope it will be interesting.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Cultivating the Unexpected

I'm snuggled in under my heated plush throw and following links on Ruth Armitage's blog, and just found a wonderful example of a series. It happens to be on a theme I really love—rivers. It's the River Series by Casey Klahn. The individual works are all deliciously unique in composition, and a great lesson on how much variety you can achieve within a constricted framework.

I suspect there is no end to creativity. If you try to squeeze it from one direction, it just spills out in different ways to the other. The more you try to focus it down to one idea, the more variety you find popping up within that smaller idea. If you think about just the obvious elements of a painting, it's not hard to see how by varying just one or two things, you could get dozens of variations:

1. Subject idea
2. Overall design
3. Dominant colors
4. Emotional content
5. Painting style

You could also use a series to try on different styles. Pick a favorite photo or painting of yours and try painting it as say, five of your favorite artists. Pick artists with styles very different from yours, and different from each other.

Something I'm doing right now with my sketches is playing with other styles, incorporating lines by drawing with the brush on top of my painting, copying the color schemes others use, and incorporating abstract blocks of color in otherwise representational paintings. So far, they haven't been successful enough to share, but they are stretching my brain and I find myself thinking of approaching my compositions in ways I never have before. They're making me focus more on the painting as a whole, and less on the subject. I touched on this idea in "The reference and the subject", on my desire to do less copying and more innovating. It's tough to innovate when you don't know how to come up with different ideas. When I feel like I'm stuck in a rut, I want to be able to remember that there are different languages of visual expression, and that I know a few words in some of them. The other thing I want to always remember is that I can combine those words in any way I want, as long as it makes something I like.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Depths Of Time 2: A Green Earth

It's officially a series now—there are two. Or does it take three? Then that will take another month or so. I do have more ideas in this theme.

Depths Of Time 2: A Green Earth
Ink & colored pencil 22x30 $550

My biggest concern with this one was that it would end up looking just like two different paintings, stuck together. I did a few things to try to keep that from happening. The first was to make the first row of trees with strong contrasting colors. The second was to have a steady progression from warm at the bottom to cool at the top, with the addition of some aerial perspective. The third was to use very dark blue violet as a common color on both halves as well as the center. The last was the repetition of the curved shapes of the hills in the details of the rock strata. When I made the initial print, I was hoping that the pair of diagonal cracks in the strata would add an interesting element. I think instead they're too much of a distraction, so I tried to minimize them. Not everything you can think of makes for a better composition. That is one problem with this technique that makes better planning a great idea.

Well, on to the next one—happy painting!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Painting Other People's Gardens

I had the great good fortune to paint the beautiful garden of a friend of mine last fall. Her garden has a fantastic collection of conifers, both dwarf and standard sized, well-established perennials, and Japanese maples. I loved it! Of course I wanted to paint it! (I wanted to own it!) My second visit I spent half an hour just hanging out in it, taking lots of photos from different directions, with close-ups of the smaller plants. From those my friend chose her favorite view. My first effort was to make a sketch to test the color range and the overall design:

Study for Jayne's Garden
Acrylic on Paper

I felt like the overall design and the red-violets and blue-greens worked well together so I went forward with the painting. This was the first time I'd ever done a full color study as preparation, but it really made a difference to have it while I was working on it. It was much easier for me to visualize being in the real garden and remember how the plants stood in relation to each other. In the end, I still struggled for some time to capture the different textures and the rich color palette of the many different plants. Since my friend and her husband own a nursery—the wonderful Meadowcroft Farm in Oregon City—I felt duty-bound to render the foliage at least semi-recognizeably. After a couple weeks of concerted reworking, I eventually arrived at a final version:

Jayne's Garden
Acrylic on Canvas 18x24 SOLD

The painting went to its new home and I have a great experience and wonderful memories, forever. How lucky I am to have friends with such beautiful gardens.

Painting A Series: The Depths of Time

Depths Of Time 1: The First Shelter
Ink & Colored Pencil on Paper 22x30 $550
For some time I've been wanting to attempt a series, and I finally got an idea for a series of mixed media paintings. The theme is to show two aspects of landscapes—the beautiful scenery we see around us, and the secret, hidden structures that lie beneath them. The Earth is every bit as complex and dynamic a construction as the more visible organic forms that inhabit it. In an environment as profusely alive with carbon-based life forms as here in the Willamette Valley, it's hard to remember the beauty that we don't see. A few days' stay in any desert should open a new window for you into this world.

I have been interested in rocks and stones since my childhood, living in the desert at Davis Monthan Air Base by Tucson, Arizona, and after a summertime visit in the Petrified Forest National Park. But I never felt a real sense of the earth by itself until I spend a four-day Thanksgiving weekend in Death Valley, camping out with friends. I'm a tree and plant lover, primarily, and it took me two days of seeing rocks, rocks, and more rocks with almost no plants whatsoever to stop wishing there was more greenery around. On the third day there, I suddenly began to notice the colors and forms of the stone around me. I could for the first time feel the deep strength, the quiet but definitely alive energies that could only have been coming from the Earth. I came away from that trip knowing that I had had to slow down my mind and my body for a long enough period of time to be able to feel the life energy in that great stillness, to sense it in a separate way, as the foundation of all the more active beings that live and grow upon it. I've never lost that connection which was forged there, and for me, the Earth is as alive as I am.

I am calling the series "Depths of Time", in recognition of how this Earth of ours has changed over time, and how its history is written so clearly in the thick and thin layers of rocks and soil that we get to see where the processes of creation and destruction reveal them. I'd like to dedicate this series to the thousands of inquiring minds, professional and amateur scientists alike, who have over the preceding centuries been given the grace to see and understand the clues that have lain around us for aeons—in the depths of time.

Old Friends and New Connections

I've found some great new links to share! My good friend—and great painter—Pam Flanders has started a blog where she's posting some of her new still lifes. Ruth Armitage is an accomplished watercolorist new to Oregon City whom I just met yesterday at a Hardy Plant Society lecture. Marilyn Woods is a truly amazing ceramic artist of Oregon City, a gallery mate at Howden Art, and someone I love to talk with about the divine mysteries of making art. Ben Dye is a very talented sculptor and like Marilyn, a member of our local Hardy Plant chapter. You can visit both Ben's and Marilyn's studios on the Beavercreek Open Studios Tours. The next tour is this summer (ah! what a lovely word!) June 11-13 this year. You can see some really great art on this tour and it's a wonderful way to spend a weekend. I started going last year and Jude Welter's and Jill Montgomery's were two other studios I really enjoyed.

The links are all in my sidebar, 'Friends and Teachers' I hope you enjoy their work as much as I do.