Happiness is . . . new work

As I have said before, I had been blocked artistically since the election in 2016.  I knew I needed to find something that would blast me out of that place, and all of a sudden I remembered Phil Sylvester of The Drawing Studio.

I’ve taken classes with Phil before, and I find his teaching style so different. First, he thinks anyone can draw. Then he sets up the exercises in a way where you are kinesthetically connected to the media — pencils or paint and the paper or whatever it might be.  And then he tells you to make marks or types of marks that get you to the feeling of what you’re trying to represent rather than trying to perfectly replicate something. So, with that approach, it takes away all the anxiety of “this doesn’t look like the vase,” or whatever you’re drawing. It suspends that self-critic when you’re in your head. Phil is good at teaching a method that totally distracts that critical voice. Finally, his critiques are very supporting. He’s totally cool, and he’s been doing this since forever. He’s the reason I went to art school — he made me believe I could do it.

So I took a drawing class from him last Tuesday and a painting class last Saturday, and I feel terrific!  As you can see by the picture, above, this has allowed me to start working on my first painting in the water series, and I’m happy. I’m feeling more comfortable with actually working. Now I’ll take my inspirational photos into the class and work on different interpretations of that.  I’m feeling excited instead of anxious.

Why was I so thrown by the election, you ask? This may sound dramatic, but I was kind of worried our democracy was going to end. I grew up in the 1960s, and I lived through Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy being assassinated, Kent State, the Vietnam War, and other events that I found threatening as a child. My mother was a feminist and she instilled the idea that you do the right thing, which not everyone was doing at that time.

Then, when Trump  was elected, it brought a lot of that back. I was devastated at my very core that we had done something so profoundly damaging to our country on purpose. Nothing else seemed to matter to me, especially art. I was profoundly depressed. I was struggling to make sense of it and to find a place where art still mattered in this new world. Fortunately, I figured out I could do more work on local elections, and that helped thaw the block a bit.

So, now I had to figure out how to turn my artist button back on. I had already found my inspiration in the lakes at my cottage, but how to pick up the paintbrush again was still hard. That is, until I remembered Phil.

I’m back.

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Contemplation on a Color Palette

I have already talked about how I prepare my canvas for painting, but there’s another process that’s part of my routine that’s more meditation than anything. It’s mixing my colors in preparation to paint.

For me (and it’s so funny because I was talking to someone about this recently) there’s a feeling you get when you look at paint. Van Gogh always said he wanted to eat his yellow paint — and for many of us there’s a visceral reaction to your color that you want to taste it. And the color I want to taste can change almost every day.

On this palette, the color I wanted to eat that day was the little bit of lime green you see. So somehow, I’m going to use that color.

To start, I like to get my palette out — nice and clean, of course—and start making colors that I know I’ll use based on the Inspiration Board. And then I like to also include some that I’m not sure I’ll use, but I want to have ready just in case. Having your paint mixed is like having money in the bank. You don’t have to hunt for it, it’s always right there.  

How do I pick colors? Well, I just start mixing and I’ll think about complementary colors. The complement of blue is orange, etc.  I usually start with a shade of yellow and meander from there. I’ll mix paint for a good hour.  So, if I find a blue that I like, I may make the next color that blue with a little red or yellow in it as a variation of the shade, and I keep going on from there.

It’s artist’s choice. The colors you use are completely up to you, even if you’re painting the sky. You don’t have to pick blue. Some of my skies will have this salmon pink color in them or even an pale green.  Have fun with it. There are a ton of rules of color, and yet there aren’t any rules. It’s about what makes you feel good.

Sometimes I set up a double primary palette — creating a cool and warm color of blue, red and yellow — and use that for a truly wonderful effect. You can see an example of that below.

I used to get tubes and tubes of paint of different colors, but I now think it’s better to limit the colors that you buy and learn to mix the colors that you want. It actually gives you more versatility because you’re not limited to paint in a tube.

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Prepping the canvas

This post is largely for new artists who would like more details on how I prepare my canvasses. I’m very interested in making sure that my paintings, particularly in the last two series as well as the one I’m working on now, have a three-dimensional quality. So my process for that type of painting is very specific.

I start with a clean, stretched canvas, of course.  You can see for the one pictured above, I’ve used a very large canvas. I want viewers to feel like they can step into the painting. 

Anyway, I then applied three coats of gesso—a paint mixture that includes binder, chalk and gypsum that prepares the canvas. You can apply the gesso with a brush or a roller — I always use a brush.

In between each coat, it’s important to let the gesso fully dry, which usually takes a half a day or so. Then I sanded each coat using fine grit sand paper, being careful to brush away any dust before I applied the next coat of gesso (a perfectionist may vacuum up the dust, but that’s not me).  If you want more texture on your canvas, you can skip the sanding, but I prefer to develop the painting’s texture using layers of acrylic paint, not gesso.

After three coats, with sanding in between, the finish is then very smooth. 

Now it’s time to apply the gloss coats. The gloss layers are not a background, rather more of an underpainting. It serves to give your painting depth.

Before I start, I’ll tint my gloss, often a shade of blue, but it can also be red. I’ll apply at least three layers of the gloss (and often more), which dries much faster than the gesso.  There’s no sanding these layers.  On the canvas above, I think I did about five coats.

Once it’s fully dry, I’m ready to begin sketching, which I tend to do using a brush and paint — not a pencil. Some people will use pencil or charcoal, or whatever works for them.

Happy painting!

Revealed: the Inspiration Board for my Water series

You may have read my blog post about the inspiration for my latest series: The Shape of Water. Once inspired, I get very excited about finding items to put on my Inspiration Board. As I’ve also blogged about, I use the Inspiration Board to guide me throughout the series, keeping me rooted in my subject matter and allowing me to really dive into expressing all of it’s aspects fully.

So, I’ve pulled out my box of photos, articles, etc. that I’ve ripped from magazines, newspapers, newsletters and even books, or I’ve downloaded them from the Internet, and pulled out anything that gave me the same feeling I felt as I watched the color of the lake change that beautiful August evening.

The result is a collection of ideas that will guide me through this process (see photo, above). There’s an iceberg with all the blues in there, and another of waves. There’s even a nebula here that reminded me of water.  I just find things I like that will relate to whatever it is that i’m working on .  I keep it in my view when i’m working.

What I’m looking for is a representation of the three-dimensional qualities to water, or a feeling that I get when I look at it that reminds me of the way I felt when I first noticed how light on water changed it’s qualities.

The painting I’m most eager to start on relates to the fact that blue-green algae is terrorizing the Finger Lakes in New York State. When you see it, it’s an almost beautiful, iridescent mix of blues and greens with some murky elements in the middle. The photo below most relates to that first painting that will represent the blue-green algae phenomenon.

I’m looking forward to getting started. I’m not sure when that will be, but soon.

Inspiration art

The Shape of Water has Inspired Me!

It’s been a while since I’ve been inspired to paint. There’s something about last fall’s election that has put a brake on my ability to paint, which I’ll talk about in a future blog.

But I’m happy to report that while enjoying my 7,000th or so sunset on the porch of my beautiful Lake Owasco, I’m looking at the way water changes in a new way. I’ve watched it my whole life, but there was something about it that struck me today

As I sit here, comfortable in my oversized Adirondack chair on the porch, I watched the color of the water change as the sun dropped in the sky from an azure blue to a warm green or aqua with silver highlights. It’s amazing to me that something that, if placed in a glass, is a clear bit of water, yet has the ability to change it’s shape, color, form and even its level of danger so rapidly. There’s a magical element that allows it to change almost like a chameleon with weather,  wind,  light, if you throw something into it, or if it’s churned up by a boat.

There’s something so mysterious to it. Of course, there’s a scientific explanation for everything, but we look at water all the time, and yet it’s rarely the same. And I would say that’s especially true for water of rivers, lakes and ponds. There’s a depth there that people don’t really notice or even look at that I’d like to capture.

I knew I was inspired when that feeling of wonder came across me that I always feel when the magical beauty of nature reveals itself to me in a new way.  I can’t wait to start putting together my inspiration board for this new series. Of course, it has to be a series.