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

Monday, March 30, 2009

Why Colored Pencil?

Laure of Painted Thoughts Blog left a comment and a question in response to my last blog post detailing some cp experiments. Laure's question was:

"Not being a CP girl, I guess I'm a little confused. It seems from your conclusions that you are leaning towards the results that look the least like CP . . . . If this is the case, why not just use the acrylics to paint the skin tones? What am I missing?"

Good question! After letting the question sit in my subconscious for a few days, here's the surprisingly simple answer: It feels good! It really feels more like cp picked me, than I picked cp. For some time I'd seen really great cp work on various blogs and though I liked the artwork, frankly, the idea of painting with painstakingly slow pencils that have a point about as big as the end of a toothpick did not appeal to me at all. I think in the end curiosity got the better of me. I just had to give it a try, and when I did I was really quite surprised to find out that I loved the medium. Of course there are times I wish it wasn't such slow going, but most of the time I find the slowness almost meditative and when I settle into a cp piece the world goes away and I'm doing what I was made to do.

I like the fact that with cp the color goes directly onto the support. There's no mixing, no selecting a particular brush, no dipping in water.... just pick up a yummy color that's conveniently housed in a handy pencil and go to it! There's no mess to clean up (I love the look of pastels but dislike the dust and the mess), no fumes that make me queasy (oils), and no brushes to wash up. You don't have to wait for it to dry, nor worry about your painting becoming too dry while you're making up your mind. Plus, if you're afflicted with the "detail bug", cp excels in that area.

Having said all that, even though I love using cp, I don't want to be limited in the finishes and effects that I can achieve. I love an expanse of rich smooth color. I also don't want people to look at my art and say (usually in a dismissive way), "Oh, that's colored pencil"- as if it's somehow inferior to other mediums. I'm convinced that cp is as capable as any other medium of delivering art that can make a viewer's eyes pop and their emotions stir.

If you'd like to see some really great cp art, here's a link to Ann Kullberg's website where you can find a cp art gallery guaranteed to wow you:


Well, that was fun! Thanks, Laure, for asking - I've enjoyed thinking it over and now I'm even more excited about my next cp piece!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Colored Pencils: In search of smooth skin...

Top color swatches: Colorfix
Bottom swatches: Arches, underpainted on left, plain on right

After taking some time to play around with my new Chroma Atelier Acrylics (the results of which ended up in the trash can - guess I need to play some more) I decided to do some colored pencil experiments to try and come up with a better technique for skin. Specifically, achieving a smooth blend between skin's lights, darks and halftones, and getting smooth even coverage. Though I don't always want a smooth look, when I do want it I want to know how to get it.

To that end, I made some tiny little color samples on two different supports: Colorfix and Arches Hot Press watercolor paper. I didn't include Stonehenge because I've already experimented with it quite a bit and though I like it, there are times it doesn't fit the bill.

I also wanted to see how underpainting affected the appearance of colored pencil on Arches, so I painted a light peach colored swatch on Arches (I used the Chroma Acrylic paint but diluted it to the point that it looked like watercolor). I then made three color samples on the plain Arches, the painted Arches and the Colorfix.

In each swatch group pictured above...
- The top squares are simply layers of colored pencil.
- On the middle squares a solvent was used in between every color.
- On the bottom squares, the color was burnished in between each layer.

The results were interesting...

1. The two swatches that looked the most promising for smooth skin tones were the simple layers swatch (no solvent, no burnish) on the Colorfix paper, and the simple layers swatch (again, no solvent, no burnish) on the Arches that was underpainted.
2. I was surprised to see the layered swatch on Arches that was underpainted was substantially smoother and softer in appearance than the layered swatch on the plain Arches. The underpainting made a difference.
3. Burnishing significantly inhibits the application of additional color layers. On the top sample swatch pictured, note the difference in saturation between the top two color squares and the bottom square which was burnished. I didn't try doing all the layers and then burnishing once after the last application because when I'm working I never know which application will be my last!
4. For the purposes of smooth color, my two least favorites were the burnished swatches on the Arches without the underpainting and the Colorfix.
5. All three swatches on the underpainted Arches were significantly smoother than the three swatches on the plain Arches.
6. The swatch that showed the least amount of pencil strokes was the layered swatch on the Colorfix (and the way it was eating my pencils it SHOULD be smooth!)

Conclusion: If we take time to play and experiment with our chosen medium(s), we acquire valuable information that can be used when painting a real project.... when time counts and you want predictable results.


Gracie ..... finished?

Possibly. I'm going to let it sit for a day or two and see. The scan makes her skin look kind of grainy, but it's actually much smoother than it appears onscreen.

As usual, comments and constructive criticism welcome!

I'm 6:49 a.m.

Rosie over at Corners of My Mind had a link to a little quiz that tells you what time of day you are based on your personality. Turns out I'm 6:49 am (as was Rosie) even though most mornings I'm usually up between 5:00 - 6:00 am. Yes, I'm one of those disgustingly cheerful morning persons! Below, in italics, is how I was summarized by the quiz. It's surprisingly accurate.

You're the time of day right around sunrise, when the sky is still a pale bluish gray. The streets are empty, and the grass and leaves are a little bit sparkly with dew. You are the sound of a few chirpy birds outside the window. You are quiet, peaceful, and contemplative. If you move slowly, it's not because you're lazy, it's because you know there's no reason to rush. You move like a relaxed cat, pausing for deep stretches that make your muscles feel alive. You are long sips of tea or coffee (out of a mug that's held with both hands) that slowly warm your insides just as the sun is brightening the sky.

I wonder what time of day you are?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Shapes, Teresa, SHAPES!

A quick post for the day. I'm working on the portrait of Gracie and another artsy light bulb has gone on. (Amazing that the more I paint, the more I learn - fancy that!).

I've almost completed Gracie's mouth, and when I stepped back to view the entire portrait I realized I had some overall tweaking to do. As mentioned in an earlier post, I knew the eyes needed adjusting and I've taken my time doing that because I want to get good results with as little re-doing as possible. As I carefully studied what was in front of me and what I wanted to see in front of me, I wanted to know why I didn't get it exactly right the first time. I looked from the ref photo to my painting a dozen times, analyzing the differences. I looked again at my previous blog post where the problem showed up clearly after I posted the fourth WIP. Then it hit me. I had painted what I thought I saw and not what I actually saw. How many times have I been warned of that very thing in art books? There are tips to keep a painter from doing that. Things like... turning your painting upside down so you see it as shapes, rather than as a person; squinting to see basic shapes without detail distracting you; thinking in terms of colors and shapes. Shapes, shapes, shapes. Not eyes, but shapes.

Ah ha! I needed to get the stereotypical appearance of an eye out of my head and simply paint what I saw. I needed to remember that I'm not painting an eye, I'm painting a shape. And that holds true for whatever I'm painting.

So now I'm trying to subdue into silence the analytical, logical side of me and let the artist rule the roost. I'm happy that this light bulb came on- forewarned is forearmed!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Newspaper column for March 2009

Wisdom of the ages: ancient advice on an age-old obstacle

When I find myself waiting for inspiration before writing or painting I think of a favorite quote: "The muse comes to the moving pen."

In other words, don’t wait for inspiration; begin, and inspiration will follow. A guarantee of sorts... action brings inspiration.

In practice, the quote appears to hit the mark. I’ve noticed more times than one, as I sit expectantly at my computer staring at an empty white page, a kernel of an article does indeed present itself to me. Then, as I make a tentative beginning, somehow, from somewhere, the first few words are joined by others until, to my surprise, a full article appears.

This makes me wonder: how many articles have I not written, and how many pictures have I not painted because logic would seem to dictate that inspiration must come first and the beginning second. And why did I have to grow as old as I am now for this to sink in? (I hope I’m not the only one who’s taken their sweet time assimilating this little gem of truth). So now, after following the advice of this quote, I not only have a subject for my column (which Gary, my always time-conscious editor, will surely appreciate) but also a new truth to ponder.

Of course this is not, by a long shot, the first time I’ve heard this principle. Taped to my monitor is an impressive quote that reads, " Boldness has genius, power and magic. Engage, and the mind grows heated. Begin, and the work will be completed." This comes from a gentleman named Goethe who lived from 1749 to 1832. If Mr. Goethe knew this truth a couple of centuries ago, why do I, and apparently many others, still wrestle with its implementation today? Continuing on the same subject comes another quote: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step." (Chinese philosopher, around 531 B.C.).

So, here we have Mr. Goethe, from a couple of hundred years ago, and an ancient Chinese philosopher from a couple of thousand years ago telling us the same thing: Don’t wait for inspiration! Get off your butt and get started! Do something! Modern day psychologists and those in the success coaching industry agree that if there is one universal human failing it’s procrastination. And procrastinate we do, on the stuff of our dreams, the implementing of our goals, because, at least in part, in the back of our minds many of us still think we don’t have the green light until we get that heady rush of inspiration.

Part and package of the begin now, don’t procrastinate doctrine is the underlying idea of a deadline. A literal deadline. At some point we will be exactly that: dead. Dust, kaput, finished, done for, pushing up daisies, kicked the bucket (whether we finished The List or not), curled up our toes, bought the farm, and all of the other euphemisms that tell us the deadline has arrived, we have run out of time. Not the most enjoyable or pleasant of subjects, but realistic and potentially motivating: Time is limited! Get started!

Think of the Biblical parable of the landowner who, before leaving for a long journey, gave out talents (money) to his servants, various amounts according to their ability. Each man used his money differently, and each made a profit, except one, who, afraid, buried it. Today we’d say that he let fear of failure keep him from taking the first step. So the talent remained unused. A sad waste. Better a failed attempt than no attempt.

A can-do approach, like that of past president Theodore Roosevelt (someone well worth reading about) could be our most valuable asset.

Among the quotes Roosevelt left us is this jewel:

"Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ‘em, ‘certainly I can!’ - and get busy and find out how to do it."

This no-procrastinate, get-started-now approach is also backed up by the renowned philosopher Aristotle who said, "For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them."

That’s all the green light we need.

Copyright Teresa Houston, March 2009.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Gracie: WIP #4 - A Book Review - Top Five Art Books List

Okay, here's the fourth WIP of Gracie. Making progress on the face, but since posting this WIP I see some changes necessary in the shape of the eyes. Wonder why it is that when you post your work onscreen, errors jump out with wild screaming abandon? While working on this portrait I'm trying to keep in mind things that I've learned from previous portraits, tips and techniques generously shared by other bloggers and valuable pointers gleaned from art books.... that's a lot to keep in mind! I've also been mulling over the background while working. This was a night time shot so I'm considering a medium to dark blue sky... but not a heavy, saturated blue. I'd like something that is light in saturation... something almost dreamy (like a watercolor effect)? As always, comments and constructive criticism welcome! (I'm also posting the original reference photo for comparison).

The biggest thing I'm trying to do with this portrait is to not re-do! I'm squinting a lot to check the masses and basic shapes and help keep me away from details. I want a fresher look - a touch of alla prima if you will. So, I'm working and spending time figuring out... how to be spontaneous! :-) I have a feeling it takes a lot of knowledge and many hours of practice to achieve that kind of spontaneity and still turn out a great portrait..... so I know I have many hours of studying, drawing and painting ahead of me... which is not a bad thing at all... in fact, it sounds very satisfying.

Over breakfast (Honey Nut Cheerios and 1% milk!) I read back over part of a book I bought a year or two ago. When I first read it, I read it thoroughly, highlighting the things I felt were important. I was amazed this morning to re-read over some of the text and it was as if I'd never read the book! Some things that didn't click the first time did click this time. There were things I'd read that I knew were important, but at that point it was theory, not practical knowledge. After struggling with that very thing and then reading some timely advice on how to correct it, the knowledge moved from theoretical to practical..... where I could use it.

I then realized that, by no means, did I fully appreciate the value of this book until I had struggled for some time by myself. The book is
"Portraits from Life" by John Howard Sanden. I noticed before I bought the book that a couple of reviewers on Amazon had taken issue with the fact that Sanden promotes his own line of portrait oil paints in the book - but he does so tastefully and offers equivalents for those working with other brands of oils. The fact that he uses his own line of paints does not in any way detract from the wonderful advice written for the portrait painter. I'm using colored pencils for my portraits. His advice transcends medium; the basics are still the basics regardless of what type of binder you choose to carry your pigment.

In the section on drawing he begins by saying,

"I don't differentiate between drawing and painting. To me, these are part of the same process. Each time I place a brushstroke I am in fact painting and drawing. The preliminary marks I use to begin a painting of the head are like a map rather than a full-scale drawing. I advise against a full-scale drawing in preparing a portrait not only because it's quickly obliterated, but also because it's too confining." (page 22)

I like that. I guess everybody has to find their own way, but I never understood the need for a detailed drawing showing every shape of every shadow on the face when it will all be covered by the first couple of layers of color that I put down for the skin. All that careful drawing and now it's covered up and of no use to me whatsoever! I like idea of starting with a basic outline and going from there.

For the portrait painter, this book is a treasure trove of wisdom. The book is arranged as follows:

Part One: Studio Essentials and Supplies
Part Two: The Elements of Painting (Drawing, Values and Color)
Part Three: Premier Coup Techniques (Premier Coup is the same as Alla Prima) and his Nine Principles of Premier Coup are:
1. Start with a white, untoned canvas
2. Establish Your Goal
3. Make Every Stroke Count
4. Be Deliberate and Decisive
5. Focus on the Larger Masses
6. Maintain the Drawing
7. Work with Speed
8.Treat Your Edges Softly
9. Overcome the Fear of Failure
Part Four: Two full step by step demos accompanied by lots of photos of the work in progress to illustrate the particular technique he's explaining.
Part Five: A Gallery of Commissioned Portraits

For me, Parts Two and Three are especially helpful.

While writing this review I thought of another must-have, can't-do-without book.... "Eternal Truths for Every Artist" by Harley Brown. Then I thought of a couple of others that are becoming dog-eared and have Post-It notes on various pages to denote important info; the books that don't seem to make it back to the bookshelf because I regularly refer to them and keep them handy. So I thought I'd list my Top Five Most Helpful Art Books, and I'd love it if you would do the same. Would be fun to compare lists and see what everybody's reading that's impacting their art. Do join in!

Here's my Top Five Art Books (in random order)

1. Eternal Truths for Every Artist by Harley Brown
2. Drawing People by Barbara Bradley
3. Drawing with Your Artist's Brain by Carl Purcell
4. Colored Pencil Portraits by Ann Kullberg
5. Portraits from Life by John Howard Sanden

There are lots more books I have that I love, but these are the ones that have the most influence on my art.

Tomorrow morning I'll be back into Portraits from Life to glean more advice - over a bowl of Cheerios of course!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun!

And I did!

Did a quick ATC using mostly colored pencils with a touch of pastel. I wanted to try out a different support for cp's so, having various colors of Mi Teintes on hand (left over from last year's experimental sessions with pastels) I selected a blue and went for it.

The only thing I drew was a quick horizon line, then got out the cp's and played with color. Was quite relaxing, I learned a few things, and, got an ATC out of it too!

Here's what I learned:

1. I don't care for Mi Teintes as a support for cp's. The paper texture is too difficult to cover.

2. Next time I use a colored support, I'll choose the color based on what would work best for emphasizing the focal point of the piece, not the overall tone. In this piece the focal point was the setting sun and the glorious yellow-orange-red haze it created in the sky. Problem was, with a blue/grey background it was difficult to get a vivid yellow for the sun (that's where I caved and pulled out the pastels). I had hoped that a white cp base for the sun would give enough opaque coverage that I could get the intensity I was looking for, but that was not the case. Knowing cp's are translucent (evidently my brain was on hiatus at that point) I should have known better. Lesson learned!

3. Occasionally it's good for me to set aside a demanding piece (i.e. a portrait) and let my inner kid just "color"! Sometimes this girl just wants to have fun.... and if I learn a couple of things in the process that's even better.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Gracie: WIP #3

A quick update on Gracie. I did a little more shading and experimenting with solvent and liked the results. I like the painterly look you get when the solvent dissolves the pigment and you don't see the pencil strokes any more. This was not the first time I've tried solvent, but I've been busy trying new techniques and hadn't used it lately.

I'm trying to do something with this portrait that I'm not good at: Get it done right the first time and don't redo it. Easier said than done! I tend to fuss over details too much. This time, instead of jumping right in to do the face, I spent some time really studying Gracie's features. I noted things like the angles on her mouth, the way her facial shadows start and end gradually, the fact that one eye looks slightly larger than the other (due to the slight turn of the head) and made a note to resist the impulse to make the eyes exactly alike. In other words, I'm trying to capture what it is that makes Gracie Gracie. What does Gracie's expression say and how do I translate that into paint (pencil)? When I felt comfortable, I drew the features. I'm going to let it sit a little and see where adjustments are needed. Then, onto the color!

WIP #2 and Why I've Been AWOL...

Posting another WIP of Gracie wearing her first Halloween costume. Really should have taken more photos as I was going along, but got carried away playing with color and here we are!

About being AWOL: In a nutshell, health problems and unpleasant side effects from medication to resolve the health problems (what's the old adage about the cure being worse than the ailment? Bingo!). It's nothing life threatening, but does interfere with daily activities from time to time.

I'll be trying to catch up on my blog reading for the next few days. Because I live in a very rural area, high speed internet is not available (except for a couple of satellite providers whose set up and monthly fees are ridiculous) so I'm still on dial up (I hear and appreciate your groans of sympathy), so please be patient with me 'cos it takes forever for pages to load on turtle speed dial up. If I haven't visited your blog lately, know that I've missed reading your posts and I'm getting there as fast as I can! :-)
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