Another chance to paint with me…!


Exploring Oil Painting

Mondays, November 3 through December 1

1-4:00 p.m.

Explore the fundamentals of oil painting in a fun and casual setting with artist/instructor Glenda Blake. Together we’ll paint from a still life in the classroom, learning as we go about composition, underpainting, light, shadow, and color. If you’ve always wanted to paint in oils, now is the time! If you have painting experience already, come to learn new techniques and gain confidence – there’s always something more to learn! Please bring a portable floor easel if you have one (available on loan from the instructor, if you don’t) and a work apron, and/or wear older clothing to paint in.  Classes will be held 5 Mondays, 1-4:00 p.m., November 3 through December 1.  There is a limit of 10 students per class.  A one-time $15 fee is required to cover supplies.  To sign up, stop by the circulation desk at Your Home Public Library, 107 Main Street, Johnson City, NY.

I love teaching this class — please join us if you can!


Still Life at Mary's studio
Photo of still life set-up at Mary Robertson’s studio

It’s been one heckuva winter. Felled by first one virus and then another, I’ve been doing pretty much nothing for about two months while it snowed and froze outside. Still have the residual fatigue and cough, but last week I started painting again, thanks to my artist-friend Mary Robertson, who invited me to a still life session at her studio a few blocks away.

Cutler Maples_03
Unfinished, stage 03: Cutler Maples, 16×20 in., oils on canvas*

I’m not happy with the underpainting I did that day, but the activity has spurred me on to work more on a figural landscape I started last summer, which has been sitting on a shelf in my studio since July.

And that’s what I worked on when Mary came to my studio this week. Painting is such a solitary occupation, it’s great to occasionally have someone nearby to bounce things off of.

Study for Demeter 01
Unfinished, stage 01: Study for Light Within/Light Without: Demeter, 16×20 in., oils on canvas*

I’ve also done a couple more underpaintings for 16×20 in. oil studies for another large-ish series of 24×30 in. pieces, this time underpainting in burnt umber rather than cadmium red. I wasn’t sure at first what the unifying series theme would be, but as I worked in Photoshop composing the pieces, it came to me that all the pieces are explorations of interior figures in indoor light modified by outdoor light from windows. The figures are variously live or statuary. The series is tentatively titled Light Within/Light Without.

Unfinished, stage 01: Study for Light Within/Light Without: Rebecca, 16×20 in., oils on canvas*

But the first two underpaintings are not drying, and I’m wondering if that’s due to the citrus-based solvent I used for the first time, Turpenoid Natural. Has anyone else had this problem? I’ve learned, since buying it, that citrus-based solvents are actually more toxic than plain old unscented mineral spirits. I use solvents only on underpaintings, so toxicity’s not a major concern, but after this first experience with TurpNat I’m switching to the mineral spirits. In the meantime I’ve tried spraying the first piece — Demeter — with touch-up/damar varnish, which I’ve read somewhere will help it dry. If it works — fingers crossed — I’ll try it on Rebecca. Any advice/suggestions welcome! [UPDATE: I’ve done some online research, and sure enough artists are complaining about excessive drying times when Turpenoid Natural is used as solvent or medium in a painting. An advisory group on art media suggests using it for only brush-cleaning. And the damar varnish has just lain sticky and wet over the wet parts of the Demeter underpainting. Looks like a re-do on these two pieces.]

Have to take it slowly still, but it’s sure good to be painting again.

*”Like” my Facebook page at left, for access to the ongoing progress on these pieces — see my photo albums for each piece as it develops.

The Unlikely Dance series: finished, and soon to be shown!

Unlikely Dance: Roundabout - 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas
Unlikely Dance: Roundabout – 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas

Finally, I’ve finished the Unlikely Dance series — and what a journey it’s been: a year and a half of learn-as-you go planning and painting! Except for the first one I’ve started each piece with a growing sense of confidence, only to be waylaid by an obstacle or three in the form of illness, competing time demands, technical issues, composition, lighting, line…

In the case of Unlikely Dance: Roundabout, the first issue was naming; I didn’t have the piece finally composed when the call came for a list of exhibit information. Knowing at least what dance figures I was using, I called it “Unlikely Dance: Velveteen,” for the velveteen waistcoats the figures wear. But, unhappy with the provisional visual context, I decided to change from Cutler Gardens to a shoot in downtown Binghamton’s courthouse square, and settled on the new traffic circle as an unlikely — and visually interesting — dance site. The light was wonderful, and shot specifically to match the angle of the sun in the original photos of the figures. So I renamed it “Unlikely Dance: Roundabout,” for a nice dance-like reference. That caused some confusion about the exhibit name… but all is well now, and the show is scheduled to open on First Friday, November 1.

Skintones palette for Roundabout
Skintones palette for Roundabout – warm lights and cool shadows

On the painting end of things, the primary challenge of this piece was the composition, which proved to be overly heavy on the right side. The angles of the figures #2 and #3, the mass of the neoclassical bank building on the right, and the unstable curved line of the traffic circle’s edge all conspired to rotate and lean in that direction; I actually found myself tilting my head when I looked at it. The darker buildings and the cloud formation on the left were meant to counterbalance that effect, but they seemed to be outweighed.

Fortunately, a darkening of left-hand elements, a lightening of the right-hand elements, a few added or revised stabilizing vertical elements (the bank window, the central figure’s spindle, the end of the cloud formation, a subtle color trail in the sky) worked pretty well without spoiling the dynamics. It’s all a lot easier to say than it was to do, but I’m happy with it now.

So: the exhibit! The culminating show of this grant-funded painting project will be in the gallery space at the Broome County Arts Council, 81 State St., Suite 501, in Binghamton. Along with the complete series of finished paintings, I’ll be showing studies and preparatory materials with each piece. Read more about it here!

Now I have to get all those smaller materials matted and framed — and in some cases, ready to show — and get print-quality photos of all the paintings in the series, to post for sale in my online shops in time for the show.

Here’s the progression of “Roundabout” as it went together:

The “Unlikely Dance” project was made possible by a grant from the Artists Fund of the Community Foundation for South Central New York, facilitated by the Broome County Arts Council.

Down to the wire with Unlikely Dance

Unlikely Dance: Confluence, 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas
Unlikely Dance: Confluence, 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas

My Unlikely Dance grant period is over on November 1; today is October 2, and I have one more painting to do. Yes — it’s deadline time again. In fact, I have a solo show of the completed grant-funded Unlikely Dance series OPENING on November 1 (details on that to come). That means I really have to have this last painting finished by the 24th so it’s dry when I hang the show on the 29th and 30th. Yikes. Work steadily, and hope that everything comes together well — that’s my plan.

It’s the second part of that plan that didn’t work on the piece I just finished (above), and I blame the Pre-Raphaelites. You know the Pre-Raphaelites, that super-sincere, uber-romantic, technically amazing group of 19th century English artists? I’ve loved them since my college days, when my second-generation abstract expressionist instructors were horrified by that forbidden love. I wrote papers on the Pre-Raphs. I collected books on them. I hung prints of their works on my walls. Meanwhile, over the last 15 or 20 years, they’ve become enormously popular in the mainstream. Oh, it’s gorgeous, schlocky stuff, and I still love it. But it’s not where I’m going with my own work. What happened was, after I’d done the underpainting of Unlikely Dance #5 – Confluence – I was unsure of how to proceed with the foliage of the tree, both on the trunk and over the figures. So I pulled an art book from the shelf to consult… a book called “The English Dreamers,” a collection of Pre-Raph and related works.

I’m so easily unconsciously influenced by others’ work I love — it amazes me sometimes. It just happens, somehow — images come off the ends of my brushes, with no conscious thought of the original on my part, that reflect some art I’ve recently seen. (Take for example the Della Francesca-looking face, far right, in Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds, which appeared just after I’d seen “Piero Della Francesca in America” at the Frick.) So Confluence turned itself into a Pre-Raph imitation: pretty, detailed, and without visual impact of any kind. I loved it — until I suddenly hated it.

I despaired. I combed the internet for clues. I discussed on Facebook. But in the end, I went back to Degas, and then, for some reason, to John Singer Sargent. I own books on Degas, but not on Sargent, so I went to the public library and borrowed a couple. I’ve seen and admired more of his work recently, thanks to a Facebook page called I Require Art, but knew little about him except that he was American, turn-of-the-century (19th to 20th), and had painted Portrait of Madame X, that wonderful profile portrait we had to learn in art history. He was a master of “bravado brushwork,” (his idol, Diego Velazquez, was, as well) and that’s what I was after. Degas was never as consistent as Sargent, so I spent a couple of days perusing Sargent… and it worked. As I posted on my professional page on FB, “Confluence 18 – finished at last! John Singer Sargent certainly had a thing or two to teach me, this time around. Clarified the light source, punched up the contrast, simplified many elements, changed a head. I could go on…”

So now I’ll go on. Here’s what got straightened around:

1. In the first place, I’d made a composition with four equal figures, and that’s a no-no. Three, yes. Five, yes. Not four. I realized that in my previous paintings of four figures, I’d singled out one in some way, so it read as three plus one, rather than four. How to do that here?

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, by John Singer Sargent 1882
The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, by John Singer Sargent 1882

After a couple of days with my library books, I turned back to Sargent’s portrait of four young girls — The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit — and noted how he’d not only singled out the sitting figure for that necessary “three-plus-one” compositional effect, but also set them in varying degrees of light , with one girl barely visible in the shadows.

2. I’d gotten far too detailed and democratic with the tree on the left, and it was a distraction. So I painted a dark glaze, made with a brownish “mother grey,*” over the tree trunk, and then over the foremost figure, which overlapped the tree. This solved the problem of visual clutter, of singling out one of the four figures, AND of the next —

3. My light source wasn’t clearly defined. I had light falling on the back of the left-most figure (#1), on the backs of the two right-most figures (#3 and #4), and on the face of the second-from left figure (#2). The face of figure #4 was also in multi-directional light, and I had dappled light falling through the foliage onto the grass.

My current palette, clockwise from left: titanium white, cadmium yellow light, cadmium yellow medium, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, cobalt violet, ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, viridian, sap green, burnt umber, burnt sienna, raw sienna
My current palette, clockwise from left: titanium white, cadmium yellow light, cadmium yellow medium, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, cobalt violet, ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, viridian, sap green, burnt umber, burnt sienna, raw sienna. *Mother grey is made up of all of these colors mixed together. This preserves and promotes color harmony within the painting.

With the dark glaze on the figure #1 and the tree, one of my light sources went away. With a change of head on figure #4 and a diminution of highlights in the figures’ black dresses, the light became more defined and less ambiguous. And with a slight shading of figure #2’s face, that ambiguity gave way. I also gave the piece more contrast, mostly by making the darks darker — divisions between rocks, the underside of the waterway under the bridge, and the barely-visible rocks under the water on the right.

And I think it all worked. I have impact. I have definition. And I have two weeks left to paint Unlikely Dance: Velveteen! I can do it.

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.

“Entry Hall” progress, and two new landscapes

Unlikely Dance: Entry Hall no. 11
Unlikely Dance: Entry Hall no. 11 (unfinished) – 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas

I’ve realized, in looking at my schedule for the summer, that because of the Unlikely Dance series I have very few new small pieces to show. And getting so mentally tangled up in Unlikely Dance is not really good for either the work or me. So I’ve started two small (20 x 16 in.) landscapes, and am working them in around Entry Hall. It’s proven great for the large piece — taking a couple of days’ break from it gave me a new outlook, and I made a lot of progress when I got back into it. And I’ve found a new model reference for face #1 (L-R), which just wasn’t working. I’m just waiting for the overpainting to dry. I think two or three more work sessions should see it finished.

River Willows 03, unfinished, 20 x 16 in., oils on canvas
River Willows no. 03, unfinished, 20 x 16 in., oils on canvas
During drying times I’ve gotten both small landscapes underpainted, and am nearly finished blocking in first colors on the first one, River Willows. It’s referenced from a series of photos I took last spring, along the Susquehanna River around Endicott, NY.

I also have a new taboret and palette! My husband is doing a complete renovation of our kitchen (his wonderful food and cooking blog is Dinner at Leo’s), and he no longer needs either the small pantry drawer unit or the wire kitchen cart so I’ve taken them over, and added a 12 x 18 in. cheap metal picture frame on the top for a palette. The glass in the frame makes the easily-cleaned palette, and I put light grey paper under the glass for a neutral colored mixing surface. The wheeled cart is so much easier than the previous small shelf unit to move from one painting to another. Very pleased!

My new taboret and palette
My new taboret and palette: the diagonal rod across the drawer unit is the leg of my folding easel.

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.

Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds – finished!

Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds
Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds – 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas

Finished… and being submitted this afternoon to the 2013 Roberson Regional Art Exhibition, along with my other finished Unlikely Dance painting, Green Skirt. No guarantees of a place in this juried show, of course, and it’s impossible for me to be objective about it. As my artist friend Barbara says, we’re always in love with the latest piece. And I do love it, as well as the many friends and fans on Facebook who’ve Liked it. I’m such a sucker for approval.

My assistant, Lydia

Getting good photos of these larger pieces has been a real trial — I was afraid I might have to pay a professional to do it (which I’ve done in the past — photographers have to make a living too, but I don’t make a lot of money with which to pay them). Finally I found a place/time that worked — it’s at the top of the stairway to my studio, where at midday or thereabouts there’s even, diffused light coming from the rooms at either side of the landing. Here’s an unedited version where you can see how I’ve set the painting into the center doorway, with door closed:

Golden Clouds, uncropped
Golden Clouds, uncropped

You might notice the small wadded-up piece of paper in front of the painting, which was deposited there by my young studio assistant, Lydia. She’s not the most helpful assistant ever, and can be a distraction at times, but she means well, loves the work, and is very soft and comforting. :)

And now, onward with Unlikely Dance — I’ve got a finished underpainting all ready for the easel. But first, the whole process of Golden Clouds:

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.

Golden Clouds: blocking in the colors

Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds, stage 8
Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds, stage 8 — colors blocked in except for heads

Golden Clouds is coming along nicely, I think, though it is a cause of discomfort — and derision, I understand — for some morris foremen. (It is art, after all, not a dance manual… I suspected this might become an issue.) I’m not having as many problems with glare now that I’ve rearranged the easels — had to fit my smaller easel in to work smaller pieces concurrently with the large (30″ x 48″) Unlikely Dance paintings, and although a bit crowded, the change has resulted in some lighting improvements.

My theme painting for Window on the Arts is now finished and drying — next post will be on that piece. Meanwhile, I’m doing some further preliminary studies on the heads in Golden Clouds, before painting.

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.

Life Drawing Sessions at Windsor Whip Works Art Center: You are Needed!

Important Note, 6/23/16: Windsor Whip Works Art Center has suspended their life drawing sessions. They may start up again in the future.

Life drawing – drawing the nude from a live model – is valuable to any artist’s practice, and one of the basic building blocks of art education. Drawing from life in a timed session enhances working speed, visual acuity, and the experience of being “in the moment.” It is not about sexuality or “cheesecake.” It is about perception of form, line, shadow, and proportion. It’s about the courage, creativity, and grace of the model. It’s about our attempts to capture, on paper, all of these qualities.

We’re fortunate in the Southern Tier of New York to have a regularly scheduled life-drawing venue at the Windsor Whip Works Arts Center — 98 Main Street, Windsor — most Thursdays, 6-9:00 PM. The three-hour sessions start with one-minute warm-up poses, working into progressively longer poses. There is no judgment or grading; it’s a convivial and welcoming group of fellow artists of various skill levels.

However, without enough steady participants the WWW cannot afford to keep the sessions going. Please join! If you’d like to car-pool from Binghamton/Johnson City, contact me. To be put on the email list for monthly session schedules, contact the Windsor Whip Works. The cost is low – the artistic rewards are high.

Walk-in price (not prepaid) : $15 per session
5 sessions for $60 for non-members (Save $15)
5 sessions for $50 for members* (Save $25)
Sessions you attend need not be consecutive, and there is no expiration date.

*Membership Fees for Windsor Whip Works Art Center :
$25 Students (21 yrs. & under)
$25 Seniors (55 yrs. & over)
$45 Regular Membership
$65 Family Membership
$500 Lifetime Membership
*Membership also entitles you to discounts on artist workshops sponsored by the WWW.

Starting a new piece, with pastels

I’ve been asked to teach a non-credit class in pastels at Broome Community College, so until then I’m working exclusively in pastels. It’s been a while! Using pastels (essentially, dry pigment in chalk-like form) is similar in many ways to working in colored pencil — one of my current media — but VERY different in others. So soft, so smudgy… a very responsive medium, and a little loose and out-of-control, which makes it fun and full of surprises.

I’m considering this first piece an experiment. After fussing around for several days with highly-worked compositions, gessoed panels, and such avoidance-prep, yesterday I decided to go with a simple pre-toned paper (Strathmore laid charcoal paper) and a simply cropped photo, from a modeling shoot with my nieces two years ago, for source/reference.

It’s not a bad start, though I think next time around I want to start with a cadmium red base (worked into the substrate — probably paper again — and well anchored with workable fixatif), as I do in oils. The toned paper seems a little dead to me. Still, working up my chops in application techniques and color layering is proving both enjoyable and challenging.

Working title: “The Mirror.”

The Mirror - stage1
The Mirror - stage 1: taping down, gridding up, and sketching in red. Two regrets, as the work proceeds from here: using white conte pencil for the grid, and not smudging down a red background. The pastels don't cover and spread the conte as I'd hoped, and the paper color, though neutral, seems a bit dead.
The Mirror - stage 2
The Mirror - stage 2: blocking in the lights in the background, experimenting with layering "fractured" color. Love the yellows on the grey -- wishing I had a lilac color stick. Finding that the initial coat of fixatif on the sketch doesn't stop the red from migrating into adjoining color areas when it's dragged a bit.
The Mirror - stage 3
The Mirror - stage 3: found a lilac stick in my alternate pastel set! Dealing with flesh tones and reflections, layering and blending. I'd prefer to keep a fresher mark rather than blending a lot, but the lack of a lively underpainting means I have to blend to make the flesh tones glow. Not meant to be a portrait, but I need to differentiate a bit more between the two figures.