Enjoy life now... it has an expiration date.

Monday, June 30, 2008

New Book and Cat Eyes in CP

Add "easy portability" to the growing list of things that I like about colored pencils.

My hubby plays in a band most weekends, so this weekend I took along my CPs and paper. While the guys set up the equipment and ran sound checks I was happily coloring away! I recently purchased a new CP book (Realistic Pet Portraits in Colored Pencils by Anne deMille Flood) and am really impressed with it. Aside from the wonderful art work that you expect to see in such a book (some of her pieces are almost photographic!) her instructions are blessedly clear and logical. What a relief! No guessing as to how this or that technique was accomplished, or how she got from one stage to another. As an added bonus - especially for someone new to CPs - she gives a lot of "recipes" for achieving rich colors using several different layers of color. She even advises you on how sharp the pencil point should be, the type of stroke, and how much pressure to use. This book is like a light bulb for someone stumbling around in the dark!

Anyway, I decided in the limited time I had to do a study on cat eyes. In this study I layered CPs for the first time, and though "my eyes" didn't look exactly like the book I thought they were alright for a beginner. I learned a lot just doing this little study.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Great Disconnect...

What I see in my head is usually not what appears on paper. When starting a new work, I see a lively, vibrant image with clean colors, sparkling highlights and rich darks. What I often get is more like a second rate copy of the original. Somehow there's a disconnect between the inspiring vision and the not-quite-what-I-had-in-mind reality. I'm slowly learning to close the gap. Each piece of art I make, I analyze. What came out right? What do I like and want to repeat again? What missed the mark and how do I need to change it in order to bring it into line with the original vision? Art is such an exciting challenge. So rewarding and satisfying... and so frustrating. There's so much that can't be acquired from a book - it has to be hands-on, making the mistakes, learning the techniques - experience. At least that's the way it is for me. I'm learning too, that when I start a new project, it's good to first experiment with techniques before I actually apply color to the piece. I'm starting a casual portrait of a small child. I'm using CP and not familiar with the medium. My virtual sketch was the first CP I'd done. So instead of jumping straight into the project, I took a piece of scrap watercolor paper and practiced some techniques. When layering CPs do I apply the first color, blend, then apply the second color? Or do I layer both colors and then blend? Through my experiments I found that for a child's skin I get a much softer result by blending in between applications of color. I also worked on rendering hair. There's a really great post on James Gurney's website http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/2008/04/hair-ribbon-secret.html that advises artists to render hair to resemble ribbon in order to avoid the "string mop" look. So my art time yesterday was pretty much about reading and experimenting. I'm posting one scrap featuring some experiments. The helmet-looking thing near the top is practice hair for the child's portrait. I tried to apply the ribbon technique. It's still not what I see in my head.... but it's closer!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Busy, busy week so far!

Wow. Five minutes out to catch my breath and update my blog! I have a friend who has a theory that the rest of the week will go as Monday goes... if Monday is busy the rest of the week will be busy, if Monday is slow the rest of the week will slow. I don't know how accurate this theory is on a long term basis, but it certainly held true for this week. It's been non-stop until today.

A few weeks ago we had 15 large pine trees cut down. Hated to lose them (such a lovely swooshing noise when the wind blew through them, plus lots of cool shade on our house) but they were too dangerous to keep. Since pines have one major tap root instead of the strong lateral root system of other trees they uproot fairly easily during heavy rain and wind -it was not unusual to see the tree trunks swaying back and forth! Not good when they're close enough to fall on your house.

After the trees are cut there are stumps to deal with. Luckily, my son works for a family tree cutting service, so he and his friend came down yesterday and ground the stumps. What an awesome machine is a modern stump grinder. The owner operates it by remote control. He stands a few feet away and pushes buttons. I watched as, robotlike, it rolled up to the first stump, lowered its rapidly spinning grinding teeth and proceeded to eat a large diameter stump in no time.

In old Southern tradition when someone comes over to help you out you always provide a good meal for them. So, while they were grinding, I was cooking (now you know why there's no new art to post today!). When all of the stumps were reduced to shreds of scattered pine chips we all settled down for a meal and talked a while. For dessert I served Blueberry Crisp (with my blog name being what it is, you knew it was going to be blueberries, didn't you?). Fruit cobblers are very popular down here in the South, but I actually prefer a fruit crisp. I love the sweet crunchy topping! For those who might like to try it, here's my Blueberry Crisp recipe:

Blueberry Crisp

4 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
1-1/4 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup water*
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup butter, melted and slightly cooled

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Using a little of the melted butter, lightly grease a 9x13x2 baking pan
- Combine blueberries, 1/2 cup of the sugar, *water, cinnamon and vanilla. Pour into greased baking pan.
- Combine flour, baking powder, salt and remaining sugar (3/4 cup); add egg and mix until crumbly. Sprinkle on blueberry mixture and drizzle with melted butter.
- Bake for approximately 35 minutes or until golden brown.
- Serve warm or cool. Great with vanilla ice cream!
*If using fresh blueberries, use recipe as is. If using frozen blueberries: when the berries thaw out there willl often be some liquid too. In this case, I omit the 1/2 cup of water and also add 1/2 - 1 tsp. corn starch to the blueberry mix so that it makes gives a nice "saucy" consistency to the blueberries instead of being watery.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Virtual Sketch Date for June

An Experiment...

For this month's virtual sketch I decided to use colored pencils. This is my first time out with this medium so I wasn't sure what to expect... but thought it good to let it be a learning experience and not worry about results. I also wanted to use this project to experiment with some choices I might not normally make.

I knew from reading a little about CP's they are a slow medium so I kept the image small (cut the paper to 4x6 - Stonehenge) and uncomplicated by using a really close crop.

I did the cropping in Photoshop and while there applied a Curves adjustment layer to bring out detail in the large blossom since some of the fine detail was blown out.

Some of what I learned through this experiment:

  • CP's are as laborious and time consuming as CP artists say! Wow. My hat's off to all of the CP artists! But I have to admit.... it was fun to "color"! I felt like a kid again. I thoroughly enjoyed laying down the color with those richly pigmented pencils - it was actually relaxing.

  • I do like the fact that CP's allow you to think as you go. No large swaths of color plunked down without thinking that are later regretted. Because it takes a while to cover an area you can adjust the color before you get too far. That's nice.

  • I think I'd like to experiment some more with CP's. I read about an artist who uses mineral spirits (I think that's what it was?) and many, many layers with her CP pieces to achieve a deep rich glow that looks a lot like oil. That experiment would definitely be kept small!

  • I don't usually do "edgy" crops and dark backgrounds. I tend to like a soft, vignetted look so this was a stretch for me. But I'm glad I tried it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Time Out!

Okay, here's what's going on with the honey (other than the fact that it tastes DIVINE- especially in herbal tea and on hot buttered English muffins.... yummy!).

I've posted pics showing my progress (or perhaps regress - keep reading) to date. I started out okay, but in the last pic you see me up to my old tricks. Instead of making the color on the honey richer and deeper as intended, I ended up overworking the area and lost the freshness that makes watercolor so appealing. Sigh. Work and rework. Work and rework. Poor abused watercolor paper! Ack! Somebody take this brush out of my hand!

Since I needed to put this project aside for a while (to work on the Virtual Sketch Date) I think that the next step is a Day of Play. That's right. A day of blissfully splashing around in my watercolor palette with no intention whatsoever of creating anything meaningful. But, of course, there's a catch. It's really an exercise in the smooth application of watercolor and learning when to stop painting.

In the meantime, I've got a brand new starter set of colored pencils that I'm going to try out on the lilies for the virtual sketch. Since CP is a slow medium perhaps I won't be tempted to rework each area several times? Think I'll have a muffin while I'm working. And a cup of herbal tea. With honey. If you can't paint it, eat it. Ha! Take that!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Next project...

This is a quick sketch for a small painting. There's a story behind this image, but when I'm in painting mode I don't want to write and vice versa. So, while I've got some momentum going I think I'd better take advantage of it and get this sketch transferred to paper so I can get out those juicy watercolors again. Such fun!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Maggie, framed and beribboned

Here's the finished version of Maggie - ready to go to her new home. While I'm not pleased with all aspects of the painting, it felt good to get the project finished and I think learned some valuable lessons for future paintings.
What did I learn?
  • That a limited time to finish a painting is a great motivator as along as I don't allow time pressure to rush me into making poor decisions or mindlessly slapping paint around.

  • That I need to constantly think about what I'm painting when I'm painting it. I've noticed I do much better if I've got some kind of an inner monologue going while I'm painting. For example, I start to paint an area and stop for a minute to study the source and ask myself questions about the size, color, shadow, direction of light, etc, and then try to put down a worthwhile brushstroke. I remember reading that John Singer Sargent would often start to paint a stroke and then stop, brushed poised in midair as he considered what effect the stroke he was about to make would have on the painting. He was thinking constantly while painting. This consistent attention doesn't come naturally to me. I start out being very conscious of what I'm painting and then my mind wanders off somewhere and I just simply paint... and inevitably mess up. So, I need to discipline myself to keep focused. I think this will get easier with practice.... I hope!

  • That I need more practice and little projects will probably be a good way to work on technique. There's a book out called "Work Small, Learn Big: Sketching with Pen & Watercolor" and though I haven't read it, I like the sound of it. Makes sense that lots of different little projects will give a wide range of painting experiences - I've noticed that a lot of art bloggers do this so it must work.

In non-painting matters, got my monthly newspaper article finished up. May post that here later in the week.... after it's been published since the paper has first dibs on it :-) Tonight we're having my parents over for dinner in honor of Father's Day. So it's off to the kitchen to make pasta salad and assorted other dishes.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Changes to Maggie

Okay, here's the latest on Maggie. Not sure I like all of the changes I've made. I tend to overwork a painting until I get it good and muddy. (I get good mileage out of a canvas/paper - I usually manage to paint a picture 2-3 times before I quit.) So I'm going to let it sit for a while. Really. I'm serious this time. You'll probably see more detail on this last image. The previous images I took photos and uploaded them. This image was scanned.


Okay, here's the Work In Progress. All of a sudden I have a new respect for all of the wonderful pieces of art that I see on blogs! Maggie is a Llasa Apso and belongs to my stepdaughter. I'm doing this painting as a birthday gift for her - but in case it ends up looking horrible I have a back up plan - buy a gift at the store!

I'm working from a photo (this dog is never still for 2 seconds unless she's asleep) and using a limited palette. I've posted several photos showing my progress so far, from the first washes to the last photo where I've put in a background. I'm not sure I like the background - I can't decide if it adds to the painting or is a distraction. I need to work on the eyes... I masked out the catchlights but need to make them smaller and break up the shapes. I've also got some kind of a dark blob going near the right corner of her mouth. Although she's a light golden color I think I need to add in some darks. The fur is tough to do without making it looking "stringy". If you have any words of advice or constructive criticism, please feel free to give them! I think I'm going to let the painting sit for a few hours while I finish up my monthly newspaper article... then I'm going to chill and watch a movie!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Cats and weekends...

I hope to be able to post a painting - more likely a painting in progress - sometime this week.

I normally have more time to paint during the week than I do on weekends. Weekends are generally busy around our house: my husband has a band and 2-4 Saturday nights out of the month we're traveling and playing at various locations. Let me clarify that...my husband plays - I'm the band secretary and P.R. person. If I sang/played I expect there would be a grand stampede for the back door. The hubby plays keyboards and - this is a totally unbiased opinion of course - he's very talented and does a wonderful job. Really! In addition, other than the Saturday nights that we play, on the weekends we're caregivers for an invalid parent. So, Mondays usually bring a return to a normal routine and hopefully the start of a productive week.

Since I don't have any art to post today, I've had a request to introduce you to our children (thank you, Jeanne). The four-legged variety. The two-legged variety have long since flown the coop. The tabby is Millie, a rescued stray and the gray/white Rag Doll is Bailey... also known as His Majesty, H.R.H. or King of the Roost. I found Millie a few years ago when I happened upon her just as I had purchased a chicken salad sandwich for my lunch. She rushed up to me, thin, obviously desperate with hunger and meowed so insistently that she left me in no doubt as to what she had in mind: my sandwich. Did cats eat chicken salad sandwiches I wondered as I tore off a quarter of the sandwich and handed it to her. Yes, they do. The food was wolfed down. I sighed, hungry myself, but knowing where the rest of the sandwich was going. That was about five years ago. Millie came to live with us and has since adopted my husband; he belongs to her and I belong to Bailey. Bailey is the opposite of Millie. He was born with a silver spoon in his dainty, aristocratic mouth (but don't let that fool you... he has a voracious appetite and could put a herd of pigs to shame at dinnertime) and he fully intends to maintain his position as Feline Royalty. He purrs and sighs when I brush him as if he just knows that my highest purpose in life is to groom him and attend his every need. But he really is a sweetheart. He's a perfect companion for quiet times of reading, movie watching (when he insists on getting in between me and the hubby so that he's right next to me) and knitting. Guess there's worse things in life than being butler to a cat?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Siren Call of Watercolor...

Well, I did it. After five+ years I pulled my poor neglected watercolor supplies out of storage and actually got some paint on the brush. I'm not an accomplished watercolorist (yet!) - just a dabbler - but the airy brightness of watercolor is more than I can resist. I've been reading Jeanne Dobie's Making Color Sing and decided this time around I'd try using a limited palette that's loosely based on her "Pure Pigment Palette" - plus a few other colors. For me, too many color choices is more of a hassle than an asset so I'm going to use some basic colors and add sparingly as I go. I'm hoping that using a limited palette will also help me to keep the focus more on values than color. Since it has been so long since I've used watercolor, a color chart seemed like a good place to start. Boy, was that fun! I was surprised - and thrilled - with all the bright, yummy colors I got from just twelve basic colors (Aureolin, Rose Madder, Cobalt Blue, Viridian, Cad. Red, Alizarin Crimson, Phthalo Blue, Hooker's Green, Gamboge, Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna and Phthalo Violet). I'm posting a pic of the chart I made - it was just slightly larger than my scanner bed so a little of the edges got lost.

Here's what I learned from making this color chart:

1. Aureolin plus Cobalt Blue, or Viridian, or Phthalo Blue or Hooker's Green makes beautiful Spring-like greens.

2. Rose Madder and Alizarin Crimson both make a gorgeous purple/burgundy when combined with either Cobalt Blue or Phthalo Blue or Phthalo Violet. I immediately wanted to paint blueberries when I saw those color combos!

3. Phthalo Blue is STRONG! Wow. This is a very dominant color - use sparingly in mixes.

4. I got some great dark shades without having to use a black or dark neutral from a tube.

5. I'd like to add a Cerulean Blue to the palette.

I plan to keep the chart close by when painting...as a guide.... and an inspiration!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Blog in a bottle?

A line drawing of a friend's house. I added text and her name to the front of the drawing (A Note from Carolyn's House to Yours) and printed them out as notecards on linen cover stock and packaged them with matching envelopes to give as a personalized birthday gift. The best part was when she opened the package, looked at the image and realized with surprise it was her own house!

I enjoyed doing the sketch. I've always been attracted to pen and ink drawings...I love the crispness and simplicity.

BTW, this post is backward. I keep forgetting that it posts in the reverse order of how I type it in. In other words, I wanted the sketch and accompanying text after the bit about being offline. Oh well.... you learn as you go!

Well, after a few days offline (and off computer) due to havoc-wreaking Gremlins running amok in my system I think I've finally banished the irksome little beasts (fingers crossed).

While offline I was thinking about the subject of my next blog post. And couldn't help but wonder if anybody had even read it - or would read it? I write a monthly column for our local newspaper... it's a small rural newspaper, but writing my little column is an enjoyable task. I get to ramble a little about whatever is on my mind at the time and occasionally get comments here and there from folks I run into while doing errands around town. Writing for a newspaper gives you an instant audience. But a blog is different - especially a new blog when you don't have an established readership. I look at it as a message in a bottle. You write the message and send it off, not knowing where it's bound and when - or if ever - anyone will read the message. The bottle may be found quickly or might float for a long time before anyone finds it. Sometimes it may not be found at all. But you want to put a good message inside - a quality message - because you never know where it might end up and who might read it.

So, even though this is a new blog, starting out without readers, I shall strive to make it an enjoyable blog and one that's worth reading. If it picks up some readers along the way, that's wonderful! But until then, I'll consider the posts as good practice to hone my writing and art skills.
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