A successful festival, shadowed by sad news

My booth at Window on the Arts
My booth at Window on the Arts

Saturday’s Window on the Arts Festival was a smashing success, both for the festival itself and for me personally. I was a bit concerned about how large (or small) a crowd it might draw, with this year’s relocation away from the central town square to a nearby but not-so-central park; and the night before, the winds and rain came crashing down on the early set-up gazebo tents (mine amongst them). However, the local Binghamton newspaper had given the festival the front cover of its Thursday “Good Times” supplement, the Friday night storms stopped in time, and all began — and continued — well.

Parade of the Puppets opens the Festival
Parade of the Puppets opened the festival, just before the sun came out
End of the Festival Parade
End of the Festival Parade

I showcased my “Feathered and Feline” series of art about birds (mostly owls) and cats — along with a few other pieces, and had matted art prints and art cards of most pieces, as well as many not hanging at this show. I was so busy selling prints, cards, and earrings that I never did have time to set up for on-the-spot portraits. It was so gratifying the way people responded to my cats and birds, and I even sold a larger print of The Flood,

The Flood
The Flood: 10.7×8.3 in., pastels over ink underpainting on fibered buff paper

a pastel piece of last year’s flooding Susquehanna River.

And beyond the sales, everyone wanted to interpret and discuss the art. I just love hearing people’s interpretations of some of my images, especially when they’re not speaking directly to me. “Oh, look,” said one man to his wife about Window, “it’s a cat looking into a mirror, and he sees himself as an owl.” Wow. That’s the one that’s stayed with me.


In the early afternoon, Sweetie brought food, the dog, and a break (after calming me down and packing the car for me in the morning — not to mention helping me set up the gazebo tent the night before). We were both impressed by the quality of the arts and crafts there, as well as the quantity of fifty artisans… and Sweetie is not easily impressed!

Alan Crabb 1942-2012

As I walked around the festival on my break, he took over the sales for a while but called my cell phone, after checking Facebook on his phone, to tell me that Alan Crabb had died. It was not unexpected; Alan had been in the UPenn hospital for a couple of weeks, suffering open-heart surgery and severe complications after a risky heart procedure, but it was still a shock and a sorrow. He was friend and maestro to so many, a beloved high school music teacher in his working years not so very long ago, a gifted world-class tenor, and one of a kind. He was a manic, maddening, arrogant, rude, distracted, and self-centered Welshman with an aura a mile wide: a demanding but gentle mentor to all who sang under his direction, a warm and loyal friend — father of two adult sons from his first marriage (to the first — and so far only — woman mayor of Binghamton) and of a two-year-old son from his recent second marriage to a lovely young violist. Sunday, I felt consumed by exhaustion and grief, and laid low for a day. Rest in peace, Alan Crabb — 1942-2012.

This week I have several projects to start or continue: finish unpacking the car (and clean it), mat and frame my two entries for the upcoming Rude and Bold Women show, get back into the new still life (calling to me now from its easel across the room…), replace the traded-out still lives in the Acme exhibit, design and build the Acme business window, photograph contra dancers for Unlikely Dance, sing Diamonds in the Rough‘s “Eldercare Tour,” and — as if that’s not enough — start a call for images of Alan, with which I plan to build a commemorative/interpretive painting of him. More on that next.

Wol is finished, and the Lost Dog show is hung

Finally finished Wol and the Stone Goddess yesterday, and got it framed in time to add it to my Feathered and Feline show, which I hung this morning in the Lost Dog Cafe.

Today proved to be a bit of a bad art karma day; when I got to the Lost Dog, there was already art on the walls, and complications ensued — which included my discovery of a broken piece of framing glass on one of my pieces. Delayed by the brouhaha and confusion, I hung the show as quickly as possible (whew — what a simple way to describe a LOT of work!), took the broken piece back home, re-framed it, and ran it — along with the missing tag for Wol — back to the Dog, only to find a jam-packed restaurant. I do hope Nicole was able to put the drawing and the tag in place when the crowd thinned out!

So here’s the finished Wol and the Stone Goddess. It’s also now available as prints from my Etsy shop — just click on the photo to go there.

Wol and the Stone Goddess
Wol and the Stone Goddess - colored pencil on painted hardboard, 24 x 24"

And here are some photos of the show in place, before the onslaught of diners. It’s such a popular place, and the people are so nice; I love showing here.

Talking at FASST, fixing a figure, and running art around town

I felt so appreciated at the FASST (Fine Arts Society of the Southern Tier) meeting last night. Such fun to speak to a group of artists about how I make — and attempt to market — my fine art. And it was so good of the Community Foundation to allow me to borrow back three pieces from my show there for last night’s talk — I re-hung them them this morning, with thanks.

In an attempt to do a quick fix on Wol and the Stone Goddess last night before the meeting, I succeeded in making the figure barrel-chested as well as pin-headed… but it was fun to talk about, with a sympathetic group. I’ll have to make it work soon, as it’s going to be an addition to my Feathered and Feline show when that moves from Tranquil Bar/Bistro to the Lost Dog Cafe next week.

Later today, I’m taking two pieces to the Broome County Arts Council gallery for their upcoming April show, Accompaniment.

Here’s the unsuccessful fix on Wol and the Stone Goddess:

Wol and the Stone Goddess - stage 13
Wol and the Stone Goddess - stage 13: pin-headed and barrel-chested goddess figure

…and these are the two pieces headed for the Broome County Arts Council’s Accompaniment show:

All-In: Morris 5
All-In: Morris 5 - 24" x 18", oils on canvas

Princess Royal: Morris 3
Princess Royal: Morris 3 - 16" x 20", oils on canvas

Wol and the Stone Goddess: still a work in progress

Sigh. Well, I finally had to go out and buy some stinky-toxic workable fixatif, but after that the finishing stages of the now-titled “Wol and the Stone Goddess” went swimmingly, I thought, until I photographed it, and, as I was editing the photo for upload, noticed that I’d screwed up the neck of the goddess figure with too much blue. And now the disproportionate head is much more noticeable. I’ve started repairing it, but the piece will have to go to my demo and talk as an actual in-progress demo…

Ah well. I’ve borrowed back a couple of pieces from the my Community Foundation show and will show progressives for this piece and “Spring Rites,” as well as my Etsy shop.

Here are last night’s and today’s progress. Other than the part in question, I’m pretty happy with it.

Wol and the Stone Goddess - stage 11
Wol and the Stone Goddess - stage 11
Wol and the Stone Goddess - stage 12
Wol and the Stone Goddess - stage 12... and the work continues...

Bottom to top, day to night

So it turns out I’m making a piece of art that shifts from day to night as one goes from bottom to top. It’s a bit of a surprise to me too, but that’s what’s happening. Love it when the art takes over.

Today I’m trying the new non-toxic casein- and alcohol-based fixatif — just applied the second layer. No fan needed, but drying time is required, and although it says it’s workable, I’m not sure it’s going to give me the texture I need to continue applying pencil in layers. The whole piece is slick with wax, now, and I have more layering — and virtually the entire owl figure — to do.

I’d really like to finish it for the FASST demo tomorrow night — may have to skip tonight’s Binghamton Downtown Singers rehearsal to do that, though sometimes work finishes rather suddenly when I’m not expecting it. I’m hoping for that, but right now this piece of art is paramount. Here’s what I got done yesterday.

Owl and Stone Goddess- stage 7
Owl and Stone Goddess- stage 7
Owl and Stone Goddess- stage 8
Owl and Stone Goddess- stage 8
Owl and Stone Goddess- stage 9
Owl and Stone Goddess- stage 9
Owl and Stone Goddess- stage 10
Owl and Stone Goddess- stage 10

Owl and Stone Goddess… day 3

Owl and Stone Goddess, stage 5, in studio
Owl and Stone Goddess, stage 5, in studio: my lighting consists of a close overhead fixture covered with a Japanese paper shade, a focused and moveable desk lamp (with wax-paper diffuser) to my left, and natural window light to my right. All artificial lights contain daylight-spectrum compact fluorescent bulbs. Although their light isn't truly full-spectrum, it's a remarkably good simulation.

After spending most of my professional life in the discipline of publication deadlines, as a freelance artist and designer I still find deadlines my most effective motivation, such as scheduled shows and exhibits and this FASST demo on Monday.

So here’s what I got into yesterday. Some literature on colored pencil says to work light to dark. I haven’t found that method altogether successful — in my experience, different colors work with one another differently, regardless of shade or tint. All are translucent; some, like white , are more opaque; some make a drier mark and are easy to work over, like the indigo blue I used first to render the goddess figure; and some are slicker and less easy to cover… like the yellow I laid down first for the owl figure. I’m afraid a lot of the darks and midtones in the plumage will have to wait until I apply the first coat of workable fixatif, restoring the grab of the surface. Before that happens, I plan to get the tree started, over the laid-in sky shapes, and then proceed to work the sky between the branches so the tree is integral to the piece rather than laid over it.

Owl and Stone Goddess - stage 4
Owl and Stone Goddess - stage 4: taking the color trail of indigo darks into the goddess figure, laying down midtones - dark yellow and lilac, respectively, into the owl and goddess figures
Owl and Stone Goddess - stage 5
Owl and Stone Goddess - stage 5: starting the figure rendering over midtones
Owl and Stone Goddess - stage 6
Owl and Stone Goddess - stage 6: darks rendered in goddess figure, and over-burnished with a lilac pencil stick. lights will come later. Owl figure's rendering will have to wait, due to the slick surface of dark yellow I used as a first layer.

“Wol and the Stone Goddess”? …the work continues

Maybe I should call this piece “Wol and the Stone Goddess,” to correlate it better to “Eddie and the Blue Eggs.” (“Wol,” was, of course, the way Owl in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories — no Disney, please — signed his name.)

Something to mull as I continue working. I’m giving a demo and presentation for the Fine Arts Society of the Southern Tier on Monday, and I’d like to have this finished, or nearly so, for that.

So here’s what I got done yesterday:

Owl and Stone Goddess - stage 2
Owl and Stone Goddess - stage 2: I've corrected the proportions of the goddess' face, and firmed up the owl, added a bit to the tree.
Owl and Stone Goddess- stage 3
Owl and Stone Goddess- stage 3: blocking in shapes in the sky and determining some of the visual flow with stroke direction. This is the stage where I begin to discover the purposely accidental textures left in the painted ground -- elements I'll have to work with throughout the process.
Owl and Stone Goddess - stage 4
Owl and Stone Goddess - stage 4: pulling out the pattern of small darks -- birds, owl's eyes and facial center crease, and shadows in the goddess figure -- and laying down midtones in the figures. Wondering if I should add a third major figural element; I thought it'd be the tree, and it might yet... or a cat in the tree? Too corny? Cursing myself for using graphite for the initial grid.

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.