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.