Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Viviane's Roses

Viviane's Roses, gouache on Arches 300 c/p, 2.5" x 3.5" 
I haven't painted a lot recently, having become involved in a family genealogy project that has sapped all my time, but I recently realized that I needed to do something that wouldn't involve mousing around. The ache between my shoulder blades often reminds me that I've become too compulsive! Treatment is a delight: I sit at the dining table with my box of paints and while away a day in a completely different posture and mindset. It's very refreshing.

The entire time I painted this little one, I kept reminding myself to just have some fun. When I'm out of practice, my paintings get somewhat more realistic, mostly because I have to prove something about my ability to paint what's there. I'm not free and easy and open with strokes and mixtures and the like until I've consistently practiced for a while. But for a realistic piece, this one is pretty relaxed and I really like it. A Facebook friend said it looks Victorian. I agree, but I can't quite put my finger on the reason why. The photo I used, on loan from a friend, was a lot less structured. I added the suggestion of a vase.

Favorite part: The star of the show rose at the bottom pleases me. I painted the flowers in three stages: medium, dark and light. I particularly like the juicy pink petal at the bottom, as it catches the light and comes forward nicely. Sometimes thicker paint is useful that way.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Complementary Bouquet

Complementary Bouquet, 3" x 3" on mystery paper
Do you ever forget about a painting? I painted this a month ago and recently rediscovered it under the pile of papers used to flatten it. I don't know why I didn't post it. I've had it set it up on the table next to my computer to view for the last few days. It pleases me.

The paper is a mystery. It's some I stashed away a while ago, so the brand is lost in time. I can't say I really like it very well. It's lightweight and has a texture that's too large-scale for the work I do. If I use a textured paper I like it to be fine textured enough to make the painting appear to be much larger, not dwafing the strokes too much.

But I like the color stucture and contrast here. I scratched out the stems with the handle of a paintbrush, which worked pretty well. Sometimes the direct approach is best.

Favorite part: The two long, arched white flowers leaning out of the composition on the right-hand side. They balance rest of the bouquet. Square compositions have some challenges, especially when the subject fills the page this way. Balance is the key to success, I think.

Monday, March 9, 2015

In the Mix

In the Mix, gouache, 2.5" x 3.5" on Arches 300 c/p

Needless to say, I want some color and vibrancy in my life right now! If you're like me, your eyes long to see certain kinds of colors. When you finally see them, there's a satisfaction that's quite physical. Perhaps you understand--I hope so. It's hard to explain.

The overbuilt saturation of these colors was quite intentional. I can't quite get the picture of it to behave, but this is a fair, if not good approximation of them. Winter has had me seeing too much black and white. It's time for life and color to bloom, so when I found this photo of a bouquet, I knew I had to paint it.

Honestly, the painting took on a life of its own, as they sometimes do. I found myself spraying it with water, dabbing away any too-wimpy colors and firing in pure, bright hues instead. Some colors simply demanded to be added, even though they weren't evident in the source photo.

Favorite part: The top of the yellow flower, sculpted by the velvety purple background color. Those colors zing, and the negative shapes define the positives in a very satisfying way.

It's 34° right now! Do you know what that means, after two months of temperatures well below freezing? Spring. Is. Coming.

Praise God!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

I Want It to Be Spring!

Tulips and Daffs, gouache, 2.5" x 3.5" on  Bristol Vellum
Alstroemeria, 2.5" x 3.5" on Canvas Paper
It's February 22 and the temperature in Amherst hasn't risen above freezing throughout the entire month. The mean temperature has been 12.8 degrees Fahrenheit. We've endured some record low air temperatures, with wind chills that haven't been seen here in almost a hundred years. We've had snow nearly every day for two months. Niagara Falls, a mere ten miles away, is frozen. If you live in the northeastern US, you understand. Alaska has had a warmer winter than we have.

And I want you to know that I am ready. for. spring.

Usually it's hard for me to paint against the season. When the snow was falling on my New Mexico home I would paint snow most of that time. I've discovered a lot about the snowy place I now live, and enjoyed painting it, but I can't take any more snow right now! So, given the choice of putting the paint away and hiding my head under a thick blanket, or painting what makes my heart soar with delight, even when it isn't the season for it, I decided to paint. These two paintings are the result.

Tulips and Daffs 
You can see the dry-brush strokes a result of dragging my angled shaper over a rag to remove most of the paint. I used creamy gouache, like thin mayonnaise, swathing the paper in a nice layer of paint, and then dabbed off the excess, so that I could go back in with the negative shape strokes to define the flowers, leaves and stems. The Bristol Vellum develops this texture as a result of way the paint is applied.

Favorite part: Those two white dabs near the upper tulip that catch your eye. I like the contrast and interesting shapes. The quickness of the strokes is evident. That pleases me, too.

Canvas Paper mimics the look of woven canvas, which I used to advantage in this painting. The texture shows where the lighter paint covers the darker strokes. I placed dry-brush effects on the leaves to enhance them and draw the eye there.

Favorite part: The color of the foliage. This green is very blue, a color that takes a little doing to get right. Too much blue and it reads as plastic looking! This time I think I got it right.

I'm refreshed by the flowers and will probably continue to paint against the season. Flowers? Maybe. Maybe a short visit to New Mexico, via my photographs.

And spring will come. Thank God!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Time for the Ruby Slippers

My Winter Wear, in my 3.5" x 5.5" Moleskine sketchpad
The weekly prompt for artwork in the Facebook group was winter clothes, but I just couldn't find any inspiration. For years we had an 8 foot peg rail that hung in various places, which offered the merest hint of an idea, but I couldn't find any photos that had winter wear on it, so I put that aside. I looked at drawing some of the people I see around here bundled up to the max with only their eyes showing through, but again I found little inspiration. I'm about maxed out with winter... Drawing mittens and hats seemed depressing.

And then I caught sight of a screenshot I had on hand showing the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy clicked her heels and was whisked away, saying all the while, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home."

Now don't get me wrong, I am at home. Anywhere my husband is will always be my home! But it was predicted to get to 25° BELOW ZERO with the wind chill here in Amherst, while our son was enjoying 60° at his home in Albuquerque! I longed to click my heels and go back to when we lived there, too. That's my kind of winter wear!

It struck my funny-bone, plus I figured it would be interesting to explore how to draw the sparkles. It's all a matter of contrast. The image is iconic enough that almost everyone who sees it will fill in some of the blanks. For instance, do you recall what color socks Dorothy was wearing with her slippers?

Favorite part: The star! I caught the jewel encrusted sparkle there without using too much detail.

I like that I managed to get the shapes right, too. It encourages me that I'm more able than ever before to see and record overlapping shapes somewhat accurately, something that eluded me for a long time. There's something to be said for practice increasing such skill. Obviously.

A dear friend reminded me that repeating "there's no place like home" should also keep me focused on heaven. This is not my home, whether I'm in Amherst or Albuquerque! I'm just traveling through and really looking forward to my heavenly home to come. I'm sure it will sparkle.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Stained Glass Tree

Stained Glass Tree, gouache, 2.5" x 3.5" on Arches 300 lb. c/p
A little bit of  departure from realism, though factually based, of course. I simply decided that the distant trees could be massed together to form a slightly darker shape, focusing on the interstices of the tree and the light of the sunset behind as my subject matter. I used a touch of fine point black Sharpie in the tree trunks.

Favorite part: The deeper peachy color of the sunset next to the purples and red-violets around it. That kind of analogous color always pleases my eye.

I'm glad the lake allows a hint of the sunset into the foreground or it would be too blue and white. It took some subtle shading to accomplish the snow banks and water/reflections, keeping the values similar enough to remain flat.

Winter Meandering

Winter Meandering, gouache 2.5" x 3.5" on Arches 300 lb. c/p
I'm interested in how to portray the dense winter background of tangles snowy tree branches and bushes without overdoing it. I think it began to work out in this one, though I have more ideas to try. When enough snow falls and ice coats everything the landscape changes so radically it takes another way of thinking to paint it. Snow changes all the value 'rules' that generally work. The land itself becomes the lightest value of all, in cases like this one. Part of the challenge is not to let the bluish snarl behind look too much like sky.

I bet I reshaped that stream a dozen times in different ways. I generally favor creating a sense of depth by simplifying a river or stream so that its widest point is at the bottom of the composition, but one can fall victim to over-simplifying. So in this case I decided to let it meander out to one side, but it was a bit of a fight! That's one thing I particularly like about gouache--it's opacity means I'm able to fight the painting without it showing too much.

Favorite part: The reflection of the large tree and the nearby bank in the stream. That's what gives this painting depth, I believe. It's nice when a plan works out.

Etched in Snow

Etched in Snow, gouache, 2.5" x 3.5" on Bristol Vellum
As we travel through this snowy landscape, I've noticed how one or two nearby trees are covered with a coating of snow that stands out against the darker woods behind. They're larger trees that catch the snow more than the snarl of dense growth behind them. I've wanted to explore the interesting white calligraphy they create, and I'm quite pleased with this painting.

It's hard to convey the size of this small painting, due to the size constraints here, so I shot this photo to help illustrate how small it really is. It's a little larger than your business card.

People often marvel that I like to draw and paint such small pieces. Many folks my age lose the ability to see details, but that's no problem for me. In fact, I'm most comfortable there. My nearby vision is excellent, although anything beyond my fingertips is blurry without glasses. It's convenient to work so small, making the dining room table my whole studio.

I added a touch or two of brown fine point Sharpie marker to this one. I rather like the resulting lines. I've always been a purist, thinking I had to use gouache alone, but in the last couple of months I've joined several online groups of painters working in art journals and my attitude is shifting, as a result. Why not make these mixed media? Whatever works! I expect you'll be seeing a few more such experiments in the future, although the vast majority of each one remains gouache for now. I love the versatility of this medium!

Favorite part: The falling snow effect that I was able to achieve using spattered paint. It's always a bit of a gamble to do this, but on the Bristol Vellum it works pretty well. The paint stays on top of the paper, not soaking in, as it will on more porous papers,. My technique here was to make a creamy thick mixture of water and Zinc white gouache, a paint that's more transparent in nature. I used a half-inch flat brush to spatter the paint with my thumb, and then placed a clean paper towel on top to remove the excess from the surface. I think it worked very well to give the impression of near and far flakes falling, as they have continued to do so often around my home lately! I can't deny I'm looking forward to spring.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Tomatoes (showing process)

Tomatoes, Moleskine sketchpad 5.5" x 3.5"
I have a small private group over at Facebook where we decided to put up a list of topics to draw weekly, just to get folks moving again. This week we're supposed to draw or paint something you find on the kitchen counter or dining room table. These lovely tomatoes were right there at hand, so I plunked them on the dining room table.

I knew I wanted them to go out of the frame on three sides, but I started drawing without much planning. As I got further along I realized that there was a lot of information in this very small space! Frankly, I started to get tired of all that drawing, so despite the fact that I usually blend my pencil drawings far more, I decided to leave it relatively unfinished looking this time. I carried it to slightly more finish on the right side, less so on the left, as you can see. As a result, you get a peek into my process. I do a lot of cross-hatching followed by blending, both with my ring finger and with a Q-tip cotton swab, and I clean up edges with my kneadable eraser and use it to pull out highlights.

Favorite part: the leaves around the stem on the far-right, front tomato. I like the way they curl and that I caught the light inside two of them.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Snowy Lady

Snowy Lady, 2-4-2015, Moleskine sketchpad 3.5" x 5.5"
This tree looked like a snowy lady standing in the forest. I enhanced the slopes in front of and around her, to give subtle action to what could have become a static composition due to all the strong verticals. I think these slopes enhance the interesting angles of the branches weighed down by snow. 

I live in snow country now, although I'm a recent transplant to Western New York. This is my first winter here. Recently, as the snowfall continued into the second month, I caught sight of some pine trees garlanded in snow. It popped into my head that all those Christmas cards with snowy trees on them weren't just made up, they were really draped in snowy mantles like that! It's particularly beautiful when the sun shines, adding sparkle to the view. 

Favorite part: where the lowest branches on the left-hand side kiss the snowline, which then obscures the branches to the right side. I had hoped for that but it seemed to happen almost despite me. 

Friday, January 23, 2015


Hamster, Moleskine sketchpad 3.5" x 5.5"
I like this little hamster's jaunty air. He seems like he's about to say something witty.  He's part of the collection of animals I'm slowly sending to my granddaughter. I find these furry or fuzzy critters are fun to draw.

Favorite part: the hair overlapping his ears. I think it really worked to give him softness.

I like his little turned-in paw, too Those paws are hard to draw. They're really odd little hand-like things with tiny claws. I recall what it was like to have them scratching at my hand when I was a kid.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Snowy Two-track

Snowy Two-track, gouache on Arches 300 lb. c/p,  2.5" x 3.5"
I liked the two curves in this one, the road and overhead branch. My theory is that when one has a strong visual pathway like this you must give the viewer a treat at the end of it, so I made sure the road points to the big tree, and the overhead branch and light in the distance culminate there. I think it works.

I also used Doug Dawson's approach to the color of snow, mixing more turquoise into the lighter foreground snow and keeping the distant trees in the upright plane more cobalt in color. It makes sense to me, since yellow appears nearer and purple recedes. I scumbled in a bit of whiter snow with a dry brush right in the front to create the snowy look there.

Favorite part: the look of dense twiggy trees on the left side that came about using a funny brush that's squished and crazy looking. It makes good random lines when turned different directions. The darker value served well and the multi-directional strokes read as snowy little branches.

I'm really enjoying the exploration of snow here in Western New York. I get to apply a lot of the theories I developed over the years when I painted with pastels. Here's a link to my chapter on snow, in my book, Landscape painting in Pastels. It's specific to pastels but contains a lot of thoughts on how to paint snow regardless of the medium you use.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

January Riverbend

January Riverbend, gouache on Arches 300 lb. c/p,  2.5" x 3.5" 
Sunset and snow are a marvel, and not easy to paint--but quite a lot of fun. I set up my paints and paper at my dining room table, with a lamp casting its hundred watts on my butcher's tray palette and view the photo on my computer. I open the photo in GIMP so I can tweak it, changing the contrast or levels so that I can view various aspects more clearly when needed.

I'm exploring icy edges where the shallow water freezes first. The ice is a pale gray, reflecting the sky.

Favorite part: The little patch of light through the trees on the right-hand side. It was incidental, but when something serendipitous pleases me I'll make sure to keep it.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Aged Apple

Aged Apple, 1-11-2015, Moleskine sketchpad 3.5" x 5.5"
In early September, not long after we moved to the Buffalo area, we found a lovely place to walk, Amherst State Park. Many people visit Glen Park Falls near there, located right off Main Street in Williamsville. The park is just slightly north of there and accessible by trails.

We found the parking area on the far north side of the park just beside a lovely old convent (now senior housing) and strolled down into an old, old orchard, where a few apple trees were still growing. Left to themselves, the trees were definitely senior citizens, much loved by the locals--the squirrels!

Favorite part: The trunk is really what it's all about, and I like that, but I guess the foreground shadow pleases me most.

Amherst Park is a nice place to walk. You'll find a lovely stream, a beautiful bridge, fields, rocks and trees, even a swimming hole with big trees, where we found some boys performing amazing feats--or so they thought.

And summer will come again!


Sage, 1-10-2015, Moleskine sketchpad 3.5" x 5.5"
The challenge prompt was to draw a medicinal plant. I wasn't too inspired by it until I discovered that sage is made into tea, and is used for soothing poultices and to sweeten breath.

I love the big, open plains in the northern areas of New Mexico where the sage scents the breezes with a heady perfume. Walk across such a field and the aroma will cling to your clothing for a good, long time. I usually grab a good sized chunk to place in front of the air vent--it's the best possible car freshener!

Favorite part: the angled dark shadows and bright little highlight on the distant mesa on the left.

How refreshing to visit this place in my memory. I think sage and pinon will always be the scent of heaven to me.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Lake Effect

We had a band of lake effect snow come through during the night, leaving about 8" of snow on the ground when we awoke. This afternoon, with the sunlight streaming on the reflective snow, bouncing even more light into my living room, it was a good day to paint.

But then any day that I open my paint box and apply gouache to paper is a good day.

Lake Effect, 2.5" x 3.25" gouache on Arches 300
This one I titled Lake Effect because I composed it while watching a video of the lake effect snow that's common around here. You might recall that just before Thanksgiving, Buffalo had a storm drop 7 feet--you read that right, 7 FEET--of snow. That was an extreme example of lake effect. Far more typical is about 5" or 6" of snowfall per hour.

Lake effect is caused by arctic air crossing over warmer lake water, sucking up the moisture and dumping snow. We really do get these weird bands of dense snow, like a big finger reaching off Lake Erie. We'll see blue sky above the snow band's lacy edge, gleaming in the sunlight ahead, as snow begins to fall.

If you're interested you can read more details about lake effect snow from NOAA, Warm Water and Cold Air, The Science Behind Lake-Effect Snow There it says:
Within the band, snowfall rates may exceed 5 inches an hour and be accompanied by lightning and thunder, a phenomenon known as thundersnow. A band of snow can hover over one location for several hours, dropping several feet of snow; however, 10 to 15 miles on either side of that narrow band skies may be sunny with no snow at all.
The only thing odder than driving from the sunny landscape into a visible snowstorm is to arrive there and encounter lightning and thunder! As I heard someone say, it's as if the weather is throwing everything in its arsenal at you at the same time.

Favorite part: The gleaming white snow band at the top, suggesting the bright sunlight on this side of it.

I also like the way the spatter worked to suggest snow. If you ever do this in gouache, make a slurry of water and white paint (I used Zinc, which is more transparent) that's a little runnier than toothpaste. Let the spatter set slightly, but before it's dry mist it with a light spritz of water from a spray bottle to soften and blur it slightly. Then step away from the paper until it's dry!


I decided to add this photo when I saw how HUGE this little painting looked on Facebook. I re-sized the image above so it's closer to the real thing until you click on it. Here it is in scale for you.

The color of the image at the top is far more accurate, but this gives you a sense of its actual size. Normally I paint ACEO/ATC size, 2.5" x 3.5" but I had some odd pieces with the deckled edge on them and grabbed one for this experimental painting.


50-50, 3.5" x 5.5" Moleskine drawing pad 
The challenge prompt was coins or banknotes, but I just wasn't inspired by the subject. Money troubles me too much to want to depict it, and circles and rectangles are so basic that, aside from angular variations or stacks, they seemed fairly mundane visually. I eventually visited Morguefile, where I sometimes find photos that are free to use, and tucked away there I saw this shot. It appealed instantly.

I don't believe in luck. As a Christian, I know that the Lord has His hand on every coin toss, but that doesn't mean I don't toss one every now and then, especially when I sense that there are two perfectly acceptable paths I could take and I simply need to choose one. I like the repeatable odds: 50-50.

The drawing is in my brand new Moleskine drawing pad, this one the same size as the one I've been using but without the detachable pages. The image inside the border remains 2.5" x 4.25" in size.

Favorite part: the glistening edge of the coin and the shadow cast on the hand, which is all one shape defined by values.

*This photograph shows a slight reworking of the image I posted on FB this morning, since I then noticed some things that still needed work. I reworked the shadow on the top of the thumb, the shaping and shading on the palm and a bobble on the deep shadow beneath the coin on the outside of the knuckle. Picky? Yes, totally. I have the time to be picky, which is nice, but it isn't my nature to work this way. Looseness shall return!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Chinese Teapot

Chinese Teapot, Moleskine sketchpad 3.5" x 5.5"
As I mentioned here previously, there's a challenge going on in the Artist's Journal Workshop on Facebook. The prompt for Day 8 is a fancy teapot. Well, this one is anything but fancy, but it's the kind of teapot that pleases me most--a beautifully rounded ceramic pot with a lovely sheen.

For several years, I've painted Miniatures in Opaque Watercolor,which are 2.5" x 3.5", so this size seems quite roomy to me. I love using color and will return to it from time to time, I'm sure, but pencil is a straightforward, tidy medium that I quite enjoy exploring for now.

Favorite part: The curved spout with its hollow opening. I composed carefully to feature this part. I think the simple composition, excluding the handle, expresses this teapot to my liking.

Monday, January 5, 2015


Niagara River Bridge, 1-5-2015, Moleskine sketchpad 3.5" x 5.5"
The prompt for the Artist's Journal Workshop Day 5 challenge on Facebook was a bridge. I recalled this photo I had stashed away from a visit to Niagara Falls a few years ago,

It seemed like a fun idea to draw such an impressively large river in such a small format. That river is frighteningly swift and energetic! You would not want to fall off that bridge because it's very close to the Falls. I almost felt like the logs were holding on for dear life.

Favorite part: the little cataract in the middle left. I think it serves to catch that fast movement.


Owlet, 1.5.2015, Moleskine 3.5" x 5.5"
There's a challenge going on over in the Artist's Journal Workshop group on Facebook. I just joined the group so I came in a bit late. The prompt for Day 4 was an animal. Since I drew all those animals for my granddaughter recently, I thought I'd just keep right on drawing them and send a few at a time to her.

Favorite part of this one: the blurry fluff on his breast. It really worked to soften the pencil there before adding the lines indicating the feathers. I tried not to make him look too intense or scary and would appreciate knowing if I succeeded!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Lucy's Portrait (in progress)

Lucy, 4" x 5" on mystery card
I found some cards in my paper stash and used one for this drawing. I was pretty well into it by the time I decided I really don't like the aggressively striped texture. (And, by the way, it isn't crooked--that's my lack of photography skill. Sorry!)

I shot a couple of quick pictures of Lucy before she left, seating her in the light from the nearby window. There were interior lights on, too, so I have a cast shadow and a secondary source of light.

Her long black hair is so beautiful. I haven't done it justice. I only used one pencil, a Bic #2 0.7mm, which is anything but fancy. It only goes so dark. It might have been better to use the Faber-Castell pencils that have a wider range of darks, but adding it now won't work.

I have another shot of her smiling that I might also try to draw, but it always seems odd to portray an open mouth. When we stick a camera in someone's face, they smile--it's a conditioned response--but if I were to draw her face as she sat before me she couldn't possibly hold that expression for long. Hence, portraits done in the time before cameras traditionally depicted a more relaxed face.

I can draw a big open-mouth smile, but I've never liked it as much as a more traditional portrait. But, to be frank, maybe it's just indoctrination/tradition that makes me want to fool you into thinking I did the drawing from life! Silly.

Favorite part: the shadow sculpting her cheek.