Saturday, October 03, 2009

Portrait of a girl - early stages

I've made a start on a new portrait and its very early stages at this point. My preliminary drawing is done with a brush straight onto a toned canvas panel. The likeness has moved away a little as I haven't worked on the eyes yet. However, I'm not worried as it will come together as I get further into the piece - I hope!

I've used a limited palette with this painting, almost Zorn, but with the addition of ultramarine blue. I want to keep it simple and feel that very often the first stroke should be the final stroke. I like the loosness and feel of simple strokes that aren't blended too much. Quite often I go back into a piece then wish I hadn't as the freshness is very easy to lose.

Going through the stages of a painting is always a little traumatic. Keeping the vision of what I want it to be throughout the ugly stages is always a challenge and is often where people go wrong and stop or trash the painting. The amazing part is seeing features appear out of the canvas and knowing that it is matching what's in my head.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Northern Ireland

Listeen Road, Castlereagh, Northern Ireland

October's Virtual Paintout is in and around Belfast in Northern Ireland. I did a quick oil painting of a field in Castlereagh, outside Belfast. Compared to what was referred to as "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland, this peaceful pastoral scene provides a different picture.

I spent about a year in Ireland, mostly in the south in Cork, but I did travel all over, including the Aran Islands. I didn't go into Northern Ireland as it wasn't stable there then but knew a number of people from the north and still can pinpoint that musicial northern Irish accent that's so unique to that region.

I will be back to explore Belfast and the surrounding area and work on some more paintings. This was another 'use up what's on the palette' painting so my colours are limited and I need more browns and yellow in this. Perhaps I'll adjust it tomorrow.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Grids, projectors and other secrets

I usually resize images by gridding but its a task that I truly dislike. All that measuring, all those lines, all that transferring of squares. So I decided that I'd invest in an art projector. Not a hugely expensive piece, but one that would allow me to increase sizes of original drawings or play around with reference images to get them to the size I want without tears.

There are a couple of schools of thought about using projectors, or even gridding for that matter. One school of thought brings out the 'are you cheating' concept. This says that if you use a mechanical aid to help you, you're less of an artist for it.

The second school of thought believes that aids are simply that. A method to move you more quickly and more accurately towards the end result that is in your mind's eye.

I have a foot in both courts. I don't believe that using a projector is an any way 'cheating'. If creating an outline or pinpointing angles of facial features or landscapes makes a person an artist, I'd love to let them tackle a full piece complete with values and colour. I do believe that slavish use of a projector or gridding diminishes the ability to make that mind/eye/hand connection that helps you judge and measure and draw effectively. If you use a crutch enough, you will forget how to walk without it.

For the tedious aspects of drawing, such as transferring drawings from a master to a clean sheet of paper. For increasing the size of a piece and for accuracy when it really counts, I believe in using every aid that exists. It doesn't make me a better or worse artist for it, I am still an artist. In your job, I don't ask if you used a computer to create a presentation or a graphics program to manipulate an illustration. I accept that you do your work and use the tools that you need to do so.

After all, who where the original users of similar items? The camera lucida and obscura go back hundreds of years and are reported to be used by some of the most famous artists. David Hockney's book 'Secret Knowledge' looks into the use of tools by artists of the past. Durer's grid seen in the image above is an early form of using a grid for a life drawing. A challenge in a life drawing class I would think!

There is no stygma in using tools to help you achieve a result. The problem only arises if they are what you rely on completely so that you can not produce art without them. There are pluses and minuses on both sides. What is your take on it? Do you use tools to help you?

Finally one of several pairs of earrings I have created that will go into my Etsy store. Sterling silver wrapped from head to toe with tiny clear glass drops that looks like rain.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Oil pastels and apple cores

I sat down to watch the news when I got home today and there was a box of various art supplies at my feet that I had been sorting the night before. I took out some oil pastels and played around with them, creating this apple core from memory in a small sketchbook.

I have never really done anything with oil pastels. I see work of others that looks effortless, yet I struggle with child-like lines and blobs of colour, hoping they meld into something that looks vaguely familiar. Oil pastels do not seem to have a strong following of artists who use them exclusively. Often they are used to set up an preliminary drawing for an oil painting.

I was getting them to blend a little and that is when they seem to come into their own. I know that with any medium that I'm unfamiliar with, it is a matter of practice to be able to be anywhere near proficient.

This article on Empty Easel is a good starting point for those who want more information about how to use oil pastels. And more detail and information on oil pastels in a squidoo lens.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day jobbing and art

About 14 percent of artists rely on solely on their creativity and art sales to pay the bills. The other 86 percent have alternate jobs that bring in the bulk of their revenue and use their spare time to create and market their art.

I am one of the 86 percent.

Day jobbers go off each morning to serve coffee, teach children, manage corporations and a myriad of different tasks, shedding that skin each evening to become someone different, someone creative and productive. While we fill our day job roles and do them well, the day job doesn't always get 100% of our brains. There is a part that is constantly in creative mode, thinking about what will be done next, seeing inspiration in a corner of an office or meeting room or inside a coffee cup. Often we are silent about our other life, as if to speak about it too much jinxes it and it is at risk of dissolving.

Or we do talk about it to colleagues at breaks and lunch and see in their eyes that they don't understand the passion or why you forego the latest episode of a current television program to sequester yourself away in a room or corner and find your own world of imagination

I'm asked how I am able to work full time and still have time for all the activities that go along with creating and selling art.

Well the primary reason I work is that I need to pay bills. There is no choice in the matter. Starving artists are a cliche. A starving person can't create or buy materials to create. An artist needs a roof over her head, heat, food and clothing - and these days a computer, scanner and digital camera!

There are a few things that carry me through times when I'd rather be in the studio and some things that I do to push myself to create.

1. Know what you want to do

Do you want to write sonnets, draw animals, paint oceans, illustrate greeting cards? Knowing what you want to do keeps you going through those times when the tedium of daily work wears at you. Having that vision spurs you on.

2. Make a plan

Once you know what you want, how are you going to get there? You need to know that otherwise you move in circles constantly and have no benchmark by which to measure progress.

3. Make time for yourself

Everyone has busy lives, too busy a lot of the time, but it is often of our own making. Do we feel less important if we take lunch away from the office instead of at our desk? If we turn off the cell phone so we can have uninterrupted time to sketch at lunch? Will anyone die? No.

4. Get up earlier

Adults often sleep more than they need. And early morning when it is quiet is a perfect time to work on a painting or drawing. Try getting up 30 minutes earlier. If you're still tired, go to bed earlier. You'll go to work feeling that you've accomplished something, I promise. And you'll be more productive.

5. Turn off the television set

Sure come home and watch the news, get sorted out but then head to your creative spot and give yourself permission to do nothing but draw or paint. You've worked all day, you deserve it. If a partner protests at being left to amuse themselves, either find a new one or limit your time creating. But don't abandon your creativity or you get sucked back to where you started.

6. Find creativity in your day job.

No matter what you do for work, you can find creativity in it. You can glean ideas for marketing or planning. You can develop networks. You can find ways to benefit your work with your art and vice versa.

7. Take 10

Take a 10 minute break to devote to sketching during your day. Sketch anything, anyone. Who knows, that sketch of the coffee cup or client chair could be the inspiration for your next major piece. That 10 minute sketch will refresh and inspire you as well as keep your mind/eye coordination sharp.

8. Make your space at work your own

If you work in a cube farm, make it your own little piece of heaven. Bring in art, be comfortable. Take your favourite mug, listen to your favourite music if you can. You will enjoy work more and put yourself and others you work with in a better frame of mind.

9. Downsize your job

If you're constantly stressed with work, constantly at breaking point and caught up in the vicious cycle of 'who can do more' game at work, get a job with less responsibility. You'll have all the skills and it will make it seem easy. The new company will love you and your stress level will drop dramatically. You may even find that you'll soon be making more money than at your previous job. Take on a consulting role, teach art or workshops, find more time to paint, draw, market your art.

Little steps to change how you view your day job and how it interacts and benefits your art move you closer to your goal. You may push the statistics up to 15% for artists who get their sole income from their work, but if you don't, at least make it pleasurable being a day jobber.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Afternoon shadows

Afternoon Shadows
6 x 12 oils

After yesterdays unheaval with the ducks and the owl, I wanted to do something that I didn't have to think about too much.

This little oil painting is a 'plein air' and is of the view from the drive up towards the rear meadow and small greenhouse. I liked how the sun was bleaching the grass in bands as it filtered through the trees.

The paint is laid on pretty thick here. I was going for speed I think as the air was cool despite the sun and I wanted an impression of the scene in front of me, rather than realism and detail.

I also thought about greens and the abundance of them in trees and grass. As I have previously mentioned, my oils paints for green consist of two tubes: sap green and terre verte. The rest come from mixing various blues, yellows and white to try to vary the shades. Even the bench under the trees is green!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The unromantic reality of life in the country

Many people see a superficial view of life on a small farm and think its idyllic. They buy vegetables or fruit or pick up their chickens or turkey and wax lyrical about how wonderful it is to live here. And in many ways it is. But there is another side of life that people don't know about and don't want to know about in many cases. Its a side of life that makes you deal with death and predators and disease.

This morning was a prime example. I woke around 6ish to crows cawing loudly and incessantly from a tree in the yard. There are always crows around and I love crows. I think they are intelligent birds and have never had problems with them taking things they shouldn't (well a little duck feed from the pen now and then) or getting into garbage. They go about their crow business and I go about mine without friction.

The one huge benefit of having crows when you have livestock of any kind is that they become the air raid siren when predators are around. Hawks, eagles, foxes, coyotes are heralded by lots of loud cawing and they don't stop til the intruder is gone.

So when I heard the crows this morning I knew something wasn't right. I instantly thought of the remaining three ducks still in the pen in the field. These three ducks were the last three (besides BD) that I have. They were badly injured in the last mink attack and couldn't be sold with the last batch that went. So they went to the 'rehab' pen in the field and were slowly getting better but would never be quite 'normal' as the injuries affected muscle and tendons.

It first it was thought that it was a fox in the pen, with the brown colour and the early light, but when it raised its head there was no mistaking. It was a Great Horned Owl sitting in the entrance to one of the duck shelters in the pen. He (or she) had obviously gone into the shelter to attack the ducks who go in at night.

The remaining duck was quickly shut into the other pen but it took quite awhile before this owl was going to leave. The owl sat on the ramp to the box dozing off and on, not scared by people at all. Crows joined forces and continued to scream at the owl and dive over his head to scare him off but it took several hours before he slowly made his way from the pen to the field then to the trees at the end of the meadow. Crows continued to harass him and blue jays joined in. The noise was pretty loud as you can hear from the quick video clip that I did. I didn't get too close to the owl as I'm not sure if it would attack or not and those talons are very big!

The remaining duck was rescued from the box in the pen and put in the barn, so hopefully the owl won't be back again with nothing there to attack. Of course, the two ducks that he killed were females, both egg layers and lots of people always want duck eggs. No more.

So while this isn't pleasant for me and may not be pleasant to read, it is reality. The animals on the farm aren't as pet-like as most people's idea is, but they are well cared for and it isn't good when this happens for several reasons. I don't think there are many more predators left to come and visit. We've had hawks, a bald eagle, foxes, coyotes, mink, weasels and now an owl. The only thing left is likely a black bear and I really don't want to see one of them!

The positive thing out of this? I have some good photos of a Great Horned owl.