Solstice and the holidays coming ’round again


We’re into the dark and dismal days of winter — particularly grey in my area of New York State — and I’m pining for the light.

Every year I go into conniptions about our Yuletide card — what medium? What subject? — and my sweetie has to remind me that it’s not of earth-shaking importance. This year I really wanted to do a nice holiday still life in oils, but managed to agonize about it for too long (with four separate compositions, none of which was QUITE perfect) and ended up doing this perfectly fine colored pencil piece of our front door.

In the meantime, my cards and earrings are once again for sale at Old Barn Hollow Market, but through missed communications I didn’t make it into Cooperative Gallery 213‘s holiday members’ show. Disappointing, for sure.

GreenBoat Studio holiday cards, available at Old Barn Hollow Market.

However, I have just sent in my application materials for full exhibiting membership at Cooperative 213. Fingers crossed — I know there are some very fine artists out there who’d also like to join, and memberships are limited in number.

My latest painting course at Your Home Public Library ended on December 1, and the next one is scheduled to begin on Saturday, March 21. I know there are some who will be happy it’s moved to Saturdays, rather than Mondays, and I’m looking forward to it myself. This last group of students was just terrific — some very strong work came out of it — though I did feel bad for the student who felt she was in over her head, and dropped out. I hope she’ll try again — I’m rewriting my class plan again! (To get a place on the waiting list, contact YHPL.)

I still have my shopping to do (I know, I know) and a gift painting to finish. Oh, and after hosting 18 people for Thanksgiving, sweetie and I will be hosting 12 or so on Christmas day. If only Lydia the kitty doesn’t pull down the tree by then!

Wishing you the best of holidays, and a happy new year.

Starting the painting of the Unlikely Dance series: “Dark Angel”

"Dark Angel" cad-red underpainting
“Dark Angel” – 30×48″ cad-red underpainting, ready for painting

I’ve spent the last few months gathering material and composing for Unlikely Dance, and finally, a week or so ago, I put brush to canvas to begin the series with “Dark Angel.” Or should that be, “Unlikely Dance 1: Dark Angel”? Guess I’ll make decisions on naming protocol later — first, the painting.

This was the third composition I’ve built for the series, but finally all that back-pressure from queued-up images pushed me into action. So I tinted the 30 x 48″ canvas with thinned cadmium red acrylic… and then came the holidays. The tinted canvas sat on my size-adjusted easel as Yuletide and New Year’s came and went,

Our dog Luna
RIP Luna, 1999-2013

with family dinners and friendly get-togethers. Then I started the cadmium red underpainting (see my painting process, for a further explanation of the red underpainting), only to be held back by unhappiness with my rendering, and then knocked on my backside by the illness and death of our cherished dog, Luna.

But now I’ve finished the underpainting, and tomorrow I’ll start laying in colors!

On the faces and identities of dancers: The issue of permission to use individual dancers’ images in my paintings proved problematic for a while — getting signed releases is a cumbersome process, and one dance organization wouldn’t agree to my asking for releases at the entry table. But I was photographing a crowd, and taking hundreds of photos with no idea which ones I’d use, so approaching photographed dancers “later,” as was suggested, simply wasn’t practicable. In my informational handout for dancers I promised to change all faces. The problem with that is that I inevitably paint likenesses of the faces in front of me, whether I mean to or not. In the past I’d tried replacing faces, in the compositional stages in Photoshop, with faces from stock (commercially released) photos, but finding appropriate faces in similar lighting circumstances was a terrible and tedious chore, and not always successful. And now I no longer have access to a stock photo service. So I came up with the idea of lighting a mannequin head and photographing it at the proper angle. After spending some hours shopping online for mannequin heads, my gaze fell on my little poseable 12″ Art S. Buck drawing mannequin, a little-used gift from my prescient niece.

Drawing mannequins
“Artemis” and “Arthur” are my models

Sure, it was grey in hue, and a bit discolored from time spent in a sunny window, but easily positioned, easily lit and photographed, and once in Photoshop, easily colorized to whatever hue I needed. A little experimentation proved it easy to to manipulate the features and expression with Photoshop tools, easy to silhouette and drop into the composition… and in fact, positioning the mannequin’s body like the dancer’s also helps me to understand what was physically happening under the clothing. So I immediately ordered the male version as well — using grant funds I’d intended for live models — and I have my faces, as well as my models “Artemis” and “Arthur.”

The “Unlikely Dance” project was made possible by a grant from the Artists Fund of the Community Foundation for South Central New York

To follow my progress in Unlikely Dance, just click on the “Unlikely Dance” link under TOPICS, on the left of any page in this blog.

Cat, Owl, Pussycat, finished – and other small victories

Cat, Owl, Pussycat is finally finished! And has a first coat of damar varnish to even out the surfaces of the various dull and glossy paints. I’ve recently added an earth pigment to my deliberately limited palette, and it seems to go dull or shiny at different times, with different amounts of medium.

The new pigment is burnt umber. I cut all earth tones from my palette a while ago, in an experiment to make color harmonies easier; if all colors are mixed from the same basic pigments, they’ll bear a closer relationship to one another than colors from a broad palette. But I’ve grown weary of mixing all my blacks and browns, so burnt umber — which I happened to have kicking around in my taboret — is a welcome addition. Combined with ultramarine blue it makes a deep, rich black, and with various combinations of cad yellow, cad red, and viridian it can fill in for any number of other earths. I still practice the art student avoidance of pre-mixed blacks.

So, my palette now consists of (clockwise from bottom):

  • titanium white
  • cadmium yellow light
  • cadmium red
  • alizarin crimson
  • cobalt violet
  • ultramarine blue
  • viridian green
  • burnt umber
  • … and, in the center, mother grey (a mixture of the other colors, made from palette scrapings of still-viable paints when each painting is finished)

I try to use as few solvents as possible — my studio is the second floor of our home — so my medium is a half & half mixture of stand oil and walnut oil, with a little Liquin (an alkyd drier), and I clean my brushes with a baby oil/turpenoid mixture and then dish detergent.

Just bought some long-bristled synthetic bristle filbert brushes, in sizes 2, 4, and 6 — I’ve been using sable and synthetic flats and rounds — and I LOVE them! So versatile and sensitive.

I’m exhibiting at the offices of the Community Foundation of South Central New York in March, and my work will be the backdrop for a special public event — how exciting is THAT?!

Also in March, my solo show Feathered and Feline will hang at Tranquil Bar and Bistro, and in April I’ll have two pieces in the group show Accompaniment at the Broome County Arts Council. Small victories all!

Midtones, Mardi Gras, and upcoming shows

Date night out for Mardi Gras, last night — mostly watching the revelers while sipping at a martini, but I took quite a few photos with a bar series in mind… the lights and movement are great.

Over the last couple of days I’ve been experimenting further with altered digital collage*, as Cat, Owl, Pussycat has dried — nothing to show you yet of the former, as the latest experiment hasn’t worked out, but there are more on track. Hoping to have something to show, and soon, since I’m scheduled to hang Feathered and Feline a week from today! Gotta love deadlines.

Meanwhile, yesterday I got into the midtones of Cat, Owl, Pussycat, adding some depth to Cat, Pussycat, bowl, pot, and greenery. Today I’ll go wet-into-wet with some lower lights, and start tackling the tablecloth. I want some indication of texture and pattern there, but don’t want to go all nit-picky with detail…

Cat, Owl, Pussycat: stage 4
Cat, Owl, Pussycat: stage 4 - going back into midtones, after rushing too far ahead on the lights in last stage. Next - lower lights wet-into-wet, and some texture/pattern in the tablecloth. Apologies for the paint rag, lower right! These pieces of discarded t-shirts are my erasers; as I work, I use them as needed for wiping paint from the canvas.

Another show coming up, involving another art I participate in: Diamonds in the Rough at Dorothy’s Music Room, in Trumansburg, NY, March 8. More info here.

* If you’d like to see some earlier altered digital collage work, here’s a sample. Basically, I assemble a collage in Photoshop, print it out, and then work back into it by hand with a variety of media. My aim now is to go larger, and use paint as well as colored pencil for alterations.

Cat, Owl, Pussycat: more paint

I haven’t worked on Cat, Owl, Pussycat since last Friday, due to drying time and little interruptions like dentist appointments, root canal work, and my own exploratory work in altered digital collage (more about the latter, later). All very exciting, but I’ve also been eager to get back to this piece. This afternoon I’ve laid down more paint, worked on a couple of bits that were nagging at me from that nail on the wall – like the terracotta saucer that had grown way out of proportion – and gotten the underpainting covered. Sometimes just getting some paint on the more intimidating parts is real progress!

Flowers aren’t a subject I’ve taken on very often, so this is a new challenge and learning experience. Hoping it doesn’t veer too far to the Cute and/or Pretty side…

Cat, Owl, Pussycat: stage 3
Cat, Owl, Pussycat: stage 3: at lower right, on the easel shelf, my Color Isolator tool. :)

Bert at Ease will benefit the Montrose animal shelter

Yesterday I dropped off my original colored pencil drawing, “Bert at Ease,” at the Windsor Whip Works Gallery for their Canine/Feline show; I’m so happy to be part of this! 25% of proceeds will go to benefit the True Friends Animal Welfare Center in Montrose, PA. I’m a firm believer in adopting — not shopping for — animal companions, as is everyone else in my family. I’ve never been without at least one furry companion, and usually have more than one. Each one has been special, and a character unto his- or herself.

The show opens February 11, 2012, and runs through March 3. I’ve also pledged 20% of my proceeds from cards and prints of “Bert at Ease” to the TFAW Center during that timeframe. (And I’m considering making it a permanent pledge.)

If you’re local to Greater Binghamton, do stop in to see the show! It was juried — coordinated by Marc Schimsky — and the work I saw yesterday at drop-off was superb.

Bert at Ease
Bert at Ease