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October 2007

The Haunted Studio

Halloween is rapidly approaching, so maybe I've been "tricked"  ...  or maybe it's a ghost...but what a fright!

  Who could have made such a mess?

We assemble the are their "Mutt" shots...

  First on the scene...was it you?

Anyone this relaxed under interrogation couldn't possibly be guilty

How about you?  Did you make that mess?


Heck no...not me...(vigorous head shake of denial)...maybe it was the cat.


What Cat?

That cat...


That cat doesn't even live here....

Lets look for witnesses...

Sorry...didn't see a thing.


Clearly it is a great the Great Pumkpin...

I've been tagged...

I received two interesting emails over the past two days.  The first was from Vivien Blackburn, announcing that she had "tagged" me.  The other was from Joanne B Kaar. 

Joanne B Kaar is a fantastic fiber/paper artist who lives in Caithness, Scotland.  I found her work through Kirsty Hall's blog.  Somehow, Joanne saw a comment I had left on Kirsty's blog and followed the link back to my site, where she discovered we had both attended the Oregon State University. She contacted me about what a small world it actually was, and I checked out her blog, where I found a wonderful story about a message in a bottle. Which inspired the direction of this post.

The Internet, and blogs, are a modern equivalent of the "message in a bottle."  We send out our thoughts, and like the bottle in Joanne's story, it's found by people from distant lands, and lasting friendships are formed.     I have found some wonderful friends through blogging.  Although they may not realize it, their words enrich my life, and let me know that there are others with the same dreams and struggles.  So, according to the rules, I must now reveal those seven facts no one knows.

           1.  I have a strange phobia about phones.  If you call me, I'll talk all day, but for some reason I hate to pick up the phone to call someone.  Even to order pizza.

           2.  In high school I thought I would grow up to be a marine biologist and swim with Flipper.

            3.  I still have a small blue ceramic pig that I made in art class at age 9.   It's the only relic that remains from my childhood, it's 50 years old now, and I think it is a talisman.

Dsc011344.  I can devour an entire pan of rice crispy squares in a single sitting .

5.  I absolutely cannot sing.

6.  My great-great-great Uncle was John Chapman, known as "Johnny Appleseed."  Since I'm related to a man who walked around the wilderness with a pot on his head, it's okay if I'm a little weird.

7.  My great aunt traveled across the Sahara by automobile when women weren't supposed to do such things.  So now it's double okay that I'm a little weird. 

Now, here are the blogs that I'm tagging: 

First, Bill Sharp, my Portland buddy, also an "over 50" artist who "gets it."

Second, Tina Harris, who was one of the original Loft artists, a fantastic photographer, and a good friend.

Third, Margret E short, who's fantastic Rembrandt project was everything an artist should aspire to, and who hasn't blogged for a while.  I miss hearing about the new pigments she's found.

Fourth, Laurel Neustadter, who's drawing blog and easy style are refreshing and definitely worth checking out.

Fifth, Paulette, who's introduction to her blog "Becoming a Renaissance Woman" is exactly what I aspire to at times.  Especially the fainting part.

Sixth, Joanne B Kaar, whose blog is fascinating.  While I can't exactly "tag" her in the traditional sense, her site is definitely worth visiting.  Read about how she makes fascinating things like kelp paper, and get inspired.  She's an artist's artist.

Seventh, Jeanette Jobson: Illustrated Life.  I found the "save the Bunny" game here, plus, her emphasis is drawing, as are many of the other blogs I'm mentioning.

Now, if you've been tagged, according to the rules you must now reveal seven facts about yourself and tag seven other blogs. 

Save the Bunny

Bunny_surgeryI found this on Jeanette Jobson's Illustrated Life blog.  Jeanette said " You have a minute to bring the bunny back to life. Don't despair if you screw it up. You can try again. Go on, you know you can't resist..." 

She's right, I couldn't resist.  We all need a little stress reliever now and then.  Click here to save the bunny.

Reclaiming the Passion

Over the past few days I have been caught up in a discussion about art reminiscent of those exciting art school days: debating theory, exploring new ideas, an Internet version of what my friend Bill describes as the "bohemian" lifestyle.  All that was missing was the absinthe.   And while the discussion eventually moved on and I stayed behind, I realized how important those intellectual interactions were to me in rediscovering my passion.  Suddenly I was excited again.  I was thinking about my art in formal terms as well as creative ones. And I was regaining a perspective that was empowering.

Developing a career, no matter what you choose to do, depends on many external factors over which you have no control.  The business nuts and bolts can drain your energy as well as your finances, and people with wonderfully valid and creative ideas fail every day because the traffic patterns change.  Maintaining your passion gets lost beneath the worry of how to pay your bills.

An art career is no different, although many of the costs associated with a bricks-and-mortar business don't exist.  But the definition of that career, which is so unique to each individual artist, is often vague and unformed.  Do I want to approach galleries?  Juried shows?  Should I take the Internet and Art Fair route?  How can I make a living doing what I love to do?  Beneath all those avenues and choices lurks the isolation that artists often experience, and with isolation comes the slow draining of purpose, of value, even forgetting what compelled you to create art in the first place.

Finding creative ways to interact with other artists should be a high priority in any artistic "business plan."  The Internet is one avenue, because you can share ideas with artists from around the world, and depending upon the message boards, get fairly specific about the topic of discussion.  Forming an Artist Collective can be another way, although as with any group, the "personality" that emerges might not be the "personality" you expected.  And when people are in the same room together, they often don't maintain the respect for equality that usually exists through the Internet.  Teaching and blogging can be sources of inspiration.  As for me, the first few tries didn't yield what I was looking for, but I now realize that positive interaction is so vital to my artistic passion, I'm not willing to let the idea go.

I would encourage any of you, no matter where you see yourselves in your artistic careers, to find ways to communicate with like-minded artists.  Discuss the current trends in Art in America, or color theory, or whatever inspires you and makes you question where your own art fits.  Reclaiming your purpose and your passion should be at the top of your to-do list. 

"Chicago"  2005  30 x 40, oil on canvas   Copyright @ 2005

Where did all this passion go?  How did I lose it?  "Chicago" sold right away, not at any fantastic price, but the buyers were so excited about this painting that when I saw them earlier this year, they told me how they had repainted their entire living room just to complement this work.  Nearly three years after purchasing it, they were still excited.   That's what I want to recapture.

"Modern Discourse"  2005  24 x 36  Oil on Canvas Copyright @ 2005

I loved this painting.  I was in the midst of my Georg Bazlitz  period.  Actually, it was a break-through piece.  I remember feeling like I was stepping through a door into another room, another level of thinking.  I was no longer cautious, worrying about whether or not it was "pretty."  It's an upside down figure screaming.  I guess it was me, trying to find my way.  Anyway, another student,  my daughter's age, loved this painting.  Every time she saw me, over the course of that year, she begged me to sell it to her.  I finally got to the point where I felt I should let it go, that it wasn't a talisman any longer.  I told her I would sell it, and simply told her to pay me what she could afford.  She didn't have much money, so I know that it was a real sacrifice for her to come up with the $100 that she offered.  That was the real value, I think.  When someone responds to art to the point that they pay what is -- to them -- a significant amount of their hard earned and often already spent money.  When she took it down off the wall she was so excited - "My first real piece of art!"  That was a moment!  How did I forget that?   

Reclaim your passion. 

Plein Air Painting - a Novice Experience

There comes a time in every respectable landscape artist's career when they have to actually go outside and paint the real thing.  I have been able to avoid this necessity for quite a long time.  I've thought about it, planned.  I've had a french easel for almost two years now and still haven't used it.  Ah, but I finally realized I was out of excuses and if I didn't give it a go, then what kind of artist was I? wasn't that bad.  In fact it was really fun, other than the yellow jacket that came around once or twice, and the gnats that are still stuck in the wet paint.  Actually, I'm kind of proud of all my planning because, even though I only went as far as the tennis courts at the top of the hill ( now, don't laugh, it was more than three blocks away, I had to drive my car to get there), I had everything I needed and in a convenient, easy to manage form, too. 

So here's a quick run-down of what I learned, for those of you still hesitating:

  1. Practice setting up your french easel at home so you don't look like a total nerd out in the field staring at all those little turning things and wondering which one releases the legs.
  2. Create a travel painting kit to hold your supplies.  I made mine out of a plastic tub with detachable lid, designed to carry hanging files for the office.  I put in a small metal letter/file sorter (the upright kind) to use as a canvas divider, worked great.  A small roll of paper towels, turps in a glass jar, brushes, latex gloves, and only 8 tubes of paint. For my palette, I bought a cheap picture frame at the $1 Store, took out the mat and put in a medium gray matboard.  It works just like my large glass palette in the studio, but smaller in size (6 x 8).  When I was done, I wiped it off with the paper towels I had been using to wipe my brushes.  Oh, remember to take along a little trash bag, too.
  3. Small canvases fit into the plastic box: using the divider, I could transport my two wet canvases with little trouble. 
  4. Take a camera to photograph the scene for comparison back in the studio.
  5. Take a jacket.  The weather was brisk but refreshing.  The wind got a little carried away, though.  Luckily, my canvases didn't fly off the easel.
  6. Food and water for those times when you just want to sit there and enjoy yourself.

So, here is the result of my first try.  Here is the view. Dsc01068_2 I love the fantastic clouds we get in the fall.  The sun is at just the right angle to create beautiful skies.  I am really trying to learn how to paint clouds.                                                                  

My first painting.  You can see that there are at least 5 gnats embedded in the sky.

Here is the second try. Fewer gnats.Dsc01076_2 I can see that I am quite comfortable abstracting the ground in a
way that I like, but I am struggling with the clouds.  First I try to abstract them, then I try to paint them realistically, but neither method is completely what I'm after here.  I will definitely continue going out into the "wilderness" to see if I can improve.   

Inspired by...

Over the past few days I have been reading about the "A Painting a Day" movement that seems to be sweeping through the internet.  I've visited sites where artists from around the world are painting small little gems each day: one such site belongs to  New Zealand artist Paul Hutchinson, and you can see what I mean here.  While I never thought I would be interested in such a concept - it centers mainly around realism and still life, although there are several artists working in landscape and abstract -- I was soon fascinated. And hooked.   

My interest in this trend comes from an invitation I received to teach a four week class on beginning oil painting.  While I mentor students one-on-one, I've never prepared a formal, stand up and demonstrate type of class, and assuming there will be enough interested folks to sign up, I've got to prepare enough material to fill up four 3 hour classes.  What to do?

So, here is my first inspiration.

I started by creating a very limited palette.  My choices are: Bright Red, Thalo Red Rose, Winsor Yellow, French Ultramarine Blue, Cerulean Blue, Raw Sienna and Titanium White.

Dsc01052_3I'm using an inexpensive white plate - under $3.00 -- as a palette.  It's actually quite easy to hold and the slightly raised rim works to keep the the turps under control  and gives me a place to rest a brush without the tips or handles getting into my paint blobs.  It also fits nicely into a the plastic carry box for hanging files that I found for under $6: I'm amazed at the useful artsy things I found in the office suppy area of my local big box discount store.

My goal was to build an affordable painting travel kit: a simple metal or plastic slotted letter organizer fits in the bottom of the plastic tub to hold wet canvases upright, a fishing tackle box works to hold paint much fun, so little time.

Dsc01046copyHere is my still life set up.  Yes, sadly, I am using plastic lemons because I want to keep using them for classes.  The dried stem of leaves is real, though, and preserved...available at the local craft conglomerate.  The cloth was chosen because of the color, the compliment to the yellow lemons.  My light source was set up to cast interesting shadows...

Dsc01049Okay, this is practice.  Here is an initial wash of raw sienna, with the lights wiped out and the darks re-stated, getting the basic composition on the canvas.  Time elapsed: 15 minutes. 

Dsc01050Next, blocking in the background and foreground, working warm to cool, right to left, front to back.  Another 15 minutes.  Practicing the stroke, stroke, stroke, wipe system I, uh, always forget to use.  That's the one good thing about having to teach someone else, it keeps you aware of all your bad habits. 

Dsc01053First intoduction of main mid tone colors.  According to the digital time read-out on my camera, this took another 15 minutes.

Dsc01057About 45 minutes later, I had developed the image to this point.  I reworked the shadows on the leaves, trying to capture the movement and line, and create contrast with my basic lemon forms.  I was definately trying not to over blend...another bad habit, I confess.  What I discovered , though, was the hidden gift of photographing each step.  I recaptured elements that I lost when I noticed them in the progression photos.

Dsc01063copyHere is the almost finished painting.  This took another hour, although we do have to factor in the coffee break I took (actually several) while I evaluated my progress.  I might still go back into the painting, because I like the yellow-green in the photograph that isn't quite as strong in the  painting.  Otherwise, I think I accomplished my goal.  11 x 14, Lemons.  All images copyrighted. 

Start to finish, even counting the set up and safety discussions, then clean up,  I think  we can accomplish this in one 3 hour class, even allowing for a break.