Friday, July 29, 2016

A Wonderful Plein Air Painting Workshop

Kathie and Mary Jane respond to a student's questions
The Windmill Gallery's porch provides shade for one student.
     Taking painting classes and workshops always inspires and motivates me as well as improving my skills and range. In May of 2015, I set myself a particularly tough challenge by participating in a two-day plein air workshop in the north-central Florida countryside near Gainesville. We set up outside a former art gallery, the Windmill Gallery, on a highway near the Paynes Prairie preserve on a rise overlooking Orange Lake--a uniquely long view given our mostly flat Florida terrain.

Kathie Wobie, Mary Jane Volkmann (left to right)





     Two excellent painters led the workshop and proved to be super teachers, Mary Jane Volkmann and Kathie (Kathleen) Wobie. Somehow, events last year caused me to forget that I had never told you about this experience, so I'll hit some of the highlights now. The sketchy nature of the few notes I have from those two days remind me of the quick (yet manageable) pace Kathie and Mary Jane set, with a wealth of helpful exercises for us--usually preceded by brief demos or specific, targeted information fitting the purpose of each. Called "Color and Dimension", the plein air workshop helped us explore light, color, and perspective to give our landscape paintings a sense of immediacy and distance. 
Overlooking Orange Lake in the distance
A view from one shady (but bee-filled) spot I used

     We were encouraged to use a limited palette with two blues, two reds, and two yellows (a cool and warm hue of each), white, and black. Students, who had a range of skill levels, could use either oil or acrylic paints. As an acrylic painter, coping with the paint's fast drying time outside was difficult. Beyond that, the main challenge for me was to work boldly and quickly before the light changed (or the teachers called "time's up"). I am truly a studio painter at heart, used to taking my time with a painting over a period of weeks or even months. Among all my other workshop discoveries and new approaches, I now have better tools for making color sketches on site to take back to the studio and an increased capability to work quickly on early stages of a piece to produce greater unity and vitality.

     So far, I have completed just one of the works (see earlier post) started at the workshop, the largest I worked on there, and feel it differs from my other work in an interesting way. Other workshop pieces, though extremely useful as learning exercises, are unlikely to be worth further development. But above all, the growth and insights I brought home from the experience are valuable on many levels. Mary Jane and Kathie are a kind, inspiring, gifted teaching team for whom I am truly grateful.

Question of the day: How many of you also love life-long learning?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

"Overlooking Orange Lake", a Painting with Mimosa Tree

     The acrylic painting, "Overlooking Orange Lake", a scene which includes a mimosa tree, is complete after many months of being put away while I worked on other projects. I painted the first stage--the entire background and grassy foreground--at a wonderful two-day plein air workshop in May of 2015. I have searched this blog in vain for the post in which I told you all about that workshop. Oh my. That post never appeared, and I apologize for the omission; it was a complicated time for me. Since telling you about the workshop along with information about this particular painting would get too long, I will post in a few weeks about the two-day workshop itself and the excellent team of artists who taught it.

     Painting en plein air with acrylic paints was completely new to me and was difficult for several reasons. As a studio painter, I am used to taking my time and developing a painting carefully. Yes, what I paint is based on my personal adventures in beautiful coastal North Florida, but the outdoor time is spent observing in detail, making sketches, notes about color and atmosphere, and taking reference photos. Painting as quickly as plein air requires in order to capture the light and look of the moment was a real challenge for me--and an excellent learning experience. A second difficulty--or cluster of difficulties-- included the weather (heat and humidity in this case), wind (my work blew off the easel onto the grass at one point), bugs, etc. as well as constantly battling the quick drying time of acrylics with pared down equipment.

     So, it was a small victory to block in the entire scene and to cover this 14" x 18", 1 1/2" deep gallery-wrapped canvas with the underpainting in the short time allowed for this particular exercise on day two. The main benefit of painting en plein air is to observe a scene and paint at the same time. Thus, painters can capture precisely the colors and values as they see and experience them. I did not attempt to duplicate the exact colors and tones I saw, but worked to get the feel of the bright afternoon sizzling in an unseasonable heat with realistic colors in the range of the actual view. Another concern was to show atmospheric perspective in the painting, especially because Florida's flat terrain makes a "long view" a rare treat. It was important to me to give the viewer a feeling for the way I experienced looking out over Paynes Prairie to Orange Lake in the distance. 

      Beyond adding the mimosa tree (for which I had color sketches, but nothing on the canvas), very little else needed to be changed when I began working on this piece again (after a full year!). I added some detail and texture in the foreground and completed the clouds, deciding just to "punch up" the rest a little. Although there was a large mimosa tree in the actual scene, it did not stand alone like a sentinel as it does in the painting. I left out some scrubby saplings and other tangled growth to provide this personal interpretation of that North Florida day. 

Question of the day: What experiences have you had either observing painters working en plein air or painting outside yourself?     

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Visiting the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens

     
     A few weeks ago, we hit the trails in the delightful Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens, a lovely, varied nature preserve reclaimed from the edge of a former waste dump. Husband Mark, a Master gardener, participated in the cleanup and some of the replanting--all of which has transformed this into a precious natural educational and recreational spot.

     Opened in 2008, the Arboretum includes 120 acres with 13 distinct ecosystems. As we and Maggie, our little Shih-tzu, explored the lake, one of the streams, part of the lower ravine trail and more, we experienced the tranquility and easy companionship of time walking outdoors.





     When I posted about the Arboretum a few years ago, I was gaining strength in my first artificial hip. This time, I was enjoying even better mobility (and no pain!) breaking in the second hip. There is a great deal to be thankful for.

     This weekend, I am also grateful to live in such a gorgeous area here on the North Florida Atlantic Ocean coast. We will walk wide beaches and maybe splash in the surf without needing to travel at all. 

     As we enjoy North Florida's beauty this Memorial Day weekend, we will sincerely give thanks for all who have served--and who currently serve--in all branches of the U. S. military and for the sacrifices their families make as well. 


Question of the Day: How are you observing Memorial Day and celebrating your holiday this year?


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Three Hand-dyed and Painted Silk Scarves

     Although I have enjoyed making 22" x 22" square scarves (earlier scarf posts here), I wanted to make long scarves even more. However, it took awhile until I had room for the long stretching frame required to work on them. Here are the first to be completely finished; each measures 11" x 60". 

     Each one was an experiment, as I am still a learner in this art form. The yellow and dark blue scarf was free-painted with no resist to separate areas of color from one another. I first painted the entire scarf deep yellow, let it dry, and then lightly sketched the lattice design in water soluble fabric pencil before painting several layers of deep blue dye in all pattern areas.

     Gutta resist defined the patterns on the other two. The brown, turquoise, and blue color-block scarf first got a coat of very light (watered down) brown overall. Once it was dry, I used a water soluble fabric pencil to mark off the areas according to a scale model design I had sketched out ahead of time. I followed the lines with gutta resist, applied fairly thickly, and let that dry well. Finally, several layers of each color filled the blocks according to my plan. I am pleased with the design and plan to make it again in different colors, maybe pink, rose, blue, and purple.

     The flower design began differently with free-form flowers brushed on the white scarf. Then, I outlined the designs with gutta, staying mostly on the edges of dyed areas to avoid all-white outlines. I deepened the colors within the lines and added a few extra details in the petals and centers. The blue and green background was the last step and gave me fits because of some wayward drips and streaks. Once dye is on the silk, it is there to stay--virtually impossible to remove without streaking the areas around it. So, I gathered up my courage and tried brushing on just water to blend everything, adding just a bit of dye to vary and blend the background colors. Whew! It turned out pretty well compared to the earlier unsightly spots.

     If readers are interested, I will post more in the future about the various finishing steps involved in steam-setting the French dye colors, removing the sticky gutta, washing and ironing the completed scarves.


Question of the day: Do you enjoy experimenting with new crafts or art forms--even the painful parts of watching things go wrong and learning from the process?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Painting of the Sun Rising Over the Ocean

     The painting of the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean at Jacksonville Beach, Florida is finished, delivered, and now hangs in the master bedroom in the Jacksonville Beach home of our younger son and his wife. They are truly thrilled with it which is extremely gratifying to me after many hours working to make "Here Comes the Sun" all that they--and I--had hoped for. The piece is in acrylic paint on a 30" x 40" gallery-wrapped canvas. 


     For some background on the original request from them and the reference photos used, see an earlier post about creating a painting to coordinate with a room's decor. I was touched and honored by their faith in me. I was also more than a little scared to undertake the largest painting I had tried so far as well as facing the difficulty involved in painting a realistic sunrise (not overdone or cheesy). The result truly pleases me. If it hadn't worked out for their home, I would have placed the piece in one of the local shops that exhibits my work. That fallback plan reassured me during the process.

     The photos show the painting in their bedroom (taken in the evening) both with overhead lighting and then with softer lighting from side lamps as well as the painting alone against their golden-yellow wall.


     I apologize for the gap between my last post and this one and will try to write entries on a more regular basis again. I have completed three new hand painted silk scarves for you to see as soon as they are pressed and ready for a photo session. All my best to fellow creators, fellow bloggers, and faithful readers of this blog.

Question of the day: Have you taken on any particularly challenging projects creating art or craft pieces for people you love?

     

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Painting of an Egret

"Silent Stalker"
     The painting, "Silent Stalker", shows an egret in one of our neighborhood ponds standing motionless waiting for a frog or small fish to come within striking distance. It had been wading very slowly and (fortunately for me and my camera) then waited in utter stillness for quite some time. Unfortunately, I could not stay long enough to see it actually spear prey.

     After preliminary decisions about the composition and palette, this 12" x 16" acrylic piece on gallery wrapped canvas moved along fairly quickly whenever I worked on it. However, due to several interruptions--especially time spent working on a large sunrise painting for our son and his wife--the egret piece was set aside a couple of times.

     In some ways, it is less refined than most of my work, and I anticipated at least several more hours of work when I put it back on the easel to give myself a break from the large piece. However, after some adjustment of the shading in the egret's feathers and subtle increases in the contrast of lights and darks in the foreground, it was pleasing as it was. It hung in the studio for a few days for me to look at now and then--and still it seemed right just the way it was. Sometimes it is very difficult for me to decide when a painting is done and to avoid the temptation of refining the life out of it trying to make it "perfect". For once, deciding to stop was not too hard. 


Main reference photo
     The main reference photo reveals the minor simplifying changes I made to the composition as well as greater changes made to enhance the colors. This represents a very common scene all over our coastal North Florida region. We love our beautiful, graceful wading birds.









Question of the day: Are you ever tempted to "overdo" or to be too perfectionistic in a project of some kind?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Favorite Paintings--When to Keep, When to Sell

"Summer Reflections" 18" x 24" in acrylic
     Every painting is a valuable learning experience, but some emerge as personal favorites. (Note that each photo caption is a link to earlier blog posts about that painting if you are interested in more background on any piece.) 

     Since we have down-sized our home in retirement and already have some treasured wall art, we have limited space for new pieces. If none of my babies left home, they would pile up under the bed and beyond, even though I am a slow painter with limited output. So, it has been delightful for me to connect with people who value a particular piece enough to purchase it. I have also enjoyed giving paintings as gifts--something I do carefully and only when I know for certain the recipient likes the work. 
"Castaway Island Cedars" 9" x 12" in acrylic

     However, a few particular paintings would be difficult to part with. They are not necessarily my best work; in fact some represent a creative struggle with a composition that stubbornly refused to come together for a time. Others feel like markers of growth and may have flaws or elements I would do differently now. My wonderful mentor, Linda Blondheim, taught me to value them all--from the earliest, awkward efforts on--because they represent the best I could create at the time.


"Look to the Hills, I" 18" x 24" in acrylic
     In a recent post, I showed you a painting called, "Hanna Park Heron", which found a wonderful home, but which I miss at times. Today's works are (at least for now) definitely not for sale. 

     Other artists (including the real professionals) seem to have varied viewpoints on keeping versus selling artwork. I have heard some say that "everything is for sale" and that it's foolish to hang on to anything, while others treasure certain works in what is often called "the collection of the artist". Of course, I am a simple hobbyist (though a serious one) and am fortunate not to have to make a living through my art (which would be a pitiful living, indeed!). That leaves me freer to choose what and when to sell.

     Why these three? The first is from 2014 and just pleases me no end; I particularly like the clear focal point, feeling of depth, and optimistic mood. The second is from a walk in a favorite preserve and feels serene and very typical of North Florida. The third is an earlier work, inspired by our 2006 revisiting of a lovely retreat center in New York and the memorable time we spent there with precious friends.

Question of the day: What special objects are your "keepers"--whether or not you made them?

     

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Feeling Grateful and Ready to Get Back to Work

      I am grateful to be getting back to normal after a second hip replacement (on the other side). The surgery and recovery have both gone very well. Physical therapy is not always fun, but truly does work wonders.

     I regret my absence from the blogging community and have missed the enriching experience of creating paintings and silk scarves for awhile. The last couple of weeks, it has begun to be possible to stand at the easel or silk work table for a period of time, and I hope to have something to show you before too long. It feels as though I am just beginning to flex those "muscles", too.

Question of the day: How are all of you?

     

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hanna Park Heron painting

The Painting
This post is repeated from 2010 as I feel nostalgic today for this particular painting. Although I was thrilled that it sold to people who love it, both for itself and for its power to remind them of family outings to Hanna Park over the years, I still miss it at times.

The reference photo for this painting was a quick, drive-by snapshot of a great blue heron at Hanna Park Lake here in Jacksonville, Florida. As I studied that photo and others taken that day of the heron, the lake, and the surrounding trees, I knew that I could base a painting on them. But, just how should I compose the painting? Unlike some scenes, the focal point in this one chose itself. In spite of the appeal of dark, shimmering water, tall palm trunks, and jungle-like vegetation, the heron clearly draws the eye of the viewer. I felt certain, in fact, that the heron itself knew that he (or possibly she) had no competition for the starring role in this little tableau.
Reference Photo

In preliminary sketches, the main issues I worked on concerned how to arrange the elements--how much yellowed grass in the foreground? where to place the major horizontal elements? how much vegetation area in comparison to the water? And of course, just where to place the heron? In the photo, it is too near the center and is looking out of the scene--clearly unsatisfactory. Some of the other elements could stay more or less as they were in the photo.

The major change from the photo to the painting may not be immediately obvious. I decided to move the sun. The relatively short time we spent at the lake that day gave me no choice about the lighting, and I took photos with a bright overhead sun. However, I wanted more dramatic shadows in the painting and moved the sun, first to a point low in the sky behind the background trees and palmettos. Then, halfway through the painting, I moved it again--higher in the sky to the viewer's right. What fun! There is such power in creative projects--I can move the sun itself. However, the fact that I changed the light source as I worked caused a fair amount of readjustment in the painting along the way, as you artist readers can well imagine. Luckily, working in acrylics allows me to paint over nearly anything, which saves me and my paintings every time.

You will notice other differences from the reference photo. The background vegetation gradually took on a life of its own and became a sort of jungle fantasy instead of a literal rendering of what I had seen. Also, I realized late in the process that the varied greens in the background, despite touches of blue, yellow, and rusty browns, needed to be broken up by some other color. Given that there were winter-bare branches and dead trees nearby, I felt free to add a few fallen branches and to import a pair of dead trees from another scene. They help the overall composition in more than one way, I think, as they also echo the grey tones of the heron and add one other distinct vertical.  
Question of the day: When you pursue a creative endeavor, do you normally begin with a clear vision of the final outcome and then create that? Or do your creations change along the way? Are you comfortable and flexible if your original vision changes as you work?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Creating a Painting to Match a Room's Decor

September sun fully risen over the Atlantic
     I have not yet planned a landscape painting specifically to match a room's decor. However, I do not necessarily try to duplicate the hues I see in a scene either. Since I sometimes determine a painting's color palette in advance for my own creative reasons, having an "assigned palette" may not be too different. So, when a beloved daughter-in-law asked for a painting to blend with the warm tones of the remodeled master bedroom in their Jacksonville Beach home, I was honored by her request and started planning. The room is painted a rich, warm yellow with bedding that quietly introduces orange and a soft sea-foam green, and Ashley wanted warm tones like orange and yellow to predominate in the painting.
About 15 minutes before sunrise

     So, blue sky and lush green vegetation are out--an Atlantic Coast sunrise is in. Why a sunrise rather than a sunset? Because here in Jacksonville, Florida, the sun rises over the ocean and sets over land. Although I have some nice ocean view photos taken around sunset, they lack rich, warm reflections in the water because the sun is setting behind the viewer over the land. 

Before sunrise looking north, showing morning mist
     Creating this painting does scare me because sunrise and sunset paintings seem quite difficult. They can either be gorgeous or can be so dramatic as to look phony, and I have avoided trying one so far. The other scary part is that this painting will be the largest I have undertaken to this point--in other words, a true learning experience lies ahead. I claim to love learning experiences, right?!?
Before sunrise, looking into heavier mist to the south

     These photos are of a sunrise we saw from a beach house weekend a little south of Jacksonville Beach. I plan to (carefully) intensify the warm colors somewhat, maybe with more clouds and more reflections in the water. A Google search for images of Jacksonville Beach, Florida sunrises has offered some possible modifications of the sunrise I personally saw and photographed. Of course, I would never paint directly from someone else's photos--just gather a few possible ideas to enhance my own original composition. As slowly as I paint (and given that I have a couple of other smaller projects in the works), you may not see the finished painting for a number of months. But I would love your suggestions for meeting the challenges of painting a sunrise. Please share!

     By the way, I know that many artists reject the very idea of creating or choosing a painting in colors to match decor. At home, I personally hang paintings or other wall art that we love, whatever the color scheme; landscapes in particular look fine anywhere in my view. However, I completely understand that many people like to complement or match a room's color scheme and will enjoy giving the challenge a try--especially for our fine son and his wonderful wife.

Question of the day: How do you feel about choosing art works to match the colors of the decor in a room?  

     

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Two Hand-painted Silk Scarves

     I have completed two more hand-painted silk scarves, each 22" square, one in shades of turquoise, blue, and purple and the other deep rose with purple and pearl white. Each has been a learning experience, especially the rose colored scarf. Since I have not made many scarves (other scarf posts here). since my class last year, it is still a trial and error process. But, no complaints--I enjoy both what I learn from the errors and the challenge of making things work anyway.

     The blue blend scarf went fairly quickly (not counting the steam setting of the dyes and the chemical removal of the lines of resist). I blended blue and green to a pleasing shade and quickly covered the entire scarf using a wide foam brush--intentionally varying the shading. Once that dried, I used gutta resist to block off a wavy border and a corner feature of tear-drop shapes. The free-form border blend of colors came next (after the gutta had completely dried) followed by filling in the tear drops. Going over some of the areas again deepened the color--or using a different shade, changed the color subtly. Sorry there is no photo of the entire scarf--am in a rush, and it is too wrinkled to look decent laid out flat (how lazy is that?).


     I'll spare you the tortured tale of trial and error on the rose scarf, but again, I started by painting the entire scarf--this time in a rose color blend, both to serve as a background and to ensure that the later gutta outlining would not be stark white. Since it turned out darker than desired, I "lifted" some color with a wide brush filled with water. Then: let it dry, gutta outlines for the leaves and iris flowers, let it dry, paint layers of purple, and several different green shades in the leaves and flowers, and make a narrow purple border. Finally, I made the lily of the valley flowers with Jacquard Luminere pearlescent fabric paint (which comes in small bottles and can be squeezed directly onto fabric from the bottle tip). Keeping a toothpick in the other hand, I quickly pulled the paint up twice each time I made a flower "drop" to form the little pointed petals (as always, click on any photo to enlarge it and see more detail). The alcohol spray spots and little random whats-its on the scarf were attempts to camouflage drops of dye and other oopsies. I also wanted the variation in texture of the alcohol spotting. Overall, not bad. The color is so lovely, it's hard to hate the result.

Question of the day: What would we do without color?
     

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Art and Fun of Photography

Marching turtles on a creek near our home
     I enjoy taking photographs, but am by no means an artist at photography. Many of my photos are to preserve memories such as family events, large and small, and travel scenes and experiences. Many others serve as reference material for landscape painting. I have a great admiration for artistic photos, however, and sometimes wish I were more accomplished. Truly artful photography can be charming, brutally honest, breath-taking, and more.
A view of the creek
An extreme close-up of the creek and reflections

     A teen family member named Alex reminded us in December that artistic photography is a wonderful hobby and a rewarding pursuit. Visiting here in Coastal North Florida from inland southern California, Alex had no age peers during his visit but made the most of his time with us. Fortunately, he is passionate about photography--a wonderfully portable pursuit. When we asked what he would like to see or do in Jacksonville, he said--only partly joking--that he wanted to "find art". What a wonderful way to express his joy in finding interesting photo subjects and unique angles from which to make pictures!

     So, Alex took us all on several adventures to find art. My husband, Mark, showed him a nearby creek that he always enjoys on morning walks. I have used various views of this creek, viewed from a little bridge on an ordinary two-lane local road, in several paintings. It is just the sort of small treasure most people would pass by that inspires many of my scenes. Alex loved it and took a number of creative photos.
Just two of the many branches of the Treaty Oak
Alex meeting us at the south end of the Main Street Bridge

     Then we visited a truly amazing live oak tree, called the Treaty Oak (yelp has some photos), which stands in its own little urban park in Jacksonville. All of us had a great time there, and then Alex expressed an interest in one of the major bridges over the mighty St. Johns River. We dropped him off on the north end, and he walked over the bridge taking a number of photos on the way.

     I wish I could show you some of Alex's photos, but I do not have any. A few of my snapshots, though not "art", will show you the local locations we enjoyed together while on Alex's quest.

Question of the day:  What non-touristy spots would you show Alex near your home?