Moon Watcher

Moon Watcher - 30 x 40 in., oil on canvas
Moon Watcher – 30 x 40 in., oil on canvas

After a long time off the easel, Moon Watcher — the latest in my “Watchers” series — is finished! The Watchers are all based on statuary I love, imagined into strange and significant places.

The depiction of moonlight was really tricky — the reference for the background was not originally moonlit — but once I added a cobalt violet glaze to the sky it really worked, and gently popped the foreground figure’s orange-y tones.

I’ve left this piece pretty loosely rendered, maybe more so than usual. Here’s how it went together:

Click in any of the tiled photos below, to switch to a slide show of progressives. To exit the slide show, click the small X in the upper left corner.

Unlikely Dance: Entry Hall finished, Golden Clouds and Green Skirt accepted!

I’ve finished Unlikely Dance: Entry Hall, though I haven’t yet done a “formal” photo of it — glare from the large area of black is giving me some problems. Some last-minute resolutions, such as a cool, thin glaze defining the profile of the central figure, and a more finished rendering of the face — along with the successful re-rendering of figure #1’s face — make me very happy with this painting.

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

And yay! Both of my submissions to the Roberson Regional juried biennial exhibit — Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds and Unlikely Dance: Green Skirt — have been accepted into the show! Now to figure out whether/how to frame them…

Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds; Unlikely Dance: Green Skirt
Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds; Unlikely Dance: Green Skirt – each 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas

I’ve also entered — and will enter — a few more biennial competitions; will write more about those as jury results come in.

Here’s the final progression of Unlikely Dance: Entry Hall:

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: Entry Hall – in progress

Unlikely Dance: Entry Hall (unfinished) - 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas
Unlikely Dance: Entry Hall (unfinished) – 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas

I did the underpainting for Unlikely Dance: Entry Hall almost a month ago, while waiting for the block-in of Golden Clouds to dry and working on the smaller, unrelated Puppet Parade. But both of those pieces had deadlines closing in, so they took precedence for a while after this underpainting was finished. In the meantime, I bought a couple of inspiring instructional videos, and both — Alla Prima Portraiture with Rose Frantzen and Painting the Portrait in Oil with Brian Keeler — have affected the way I’m working on this piece. Not that I’m painting the faces in any way like these two fine artists do their portraits; I’m feeling their influences more in the way I’m handling the paint and the values, holding my brushes, and self-critiquing as I go.

Studio assistant Lydia (the kitten) studies my technique
Studio assistant Lydia studies my technique

It’s quite interesting to me how the pieces in this Unlikely Dance series are developing so differently from one another, despite the common threads of size, medium, and theme — I’m learning a lot as I work through this self-imposed assignment.

The dancers in Entry Hall are referenced from my photo shoot of a Scottish country dance group, though of course I’ve changed the visible faces (“borrowing” my niece’s face for the central figure) and placed them in a setting other than the school gym where they dance. To offset the very dark and brown decor of the local museum hallway I’ve set the dancers in, I’m leaning the colors more towards purples and yellows — which do combine to make brown — for some color snap. Pretty happy with it so far!

Here’s the process, up to this point:

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.

Finally finished: Blue Glass and Teapots

Blue Glass and Teapots
Blue Glass and Teapots

It was supposed to be a three-day project, for the still life exhibit in Johnson City. Instead, Blue Glass and Teapots took five weeks. Or was it six? But it was worth it, I think. Whatever possessed me to think it was a simple still life?

It features two of my teapot collection, a favorite glass vase of my husband’s, and a long-lived houseplant, in our sun-filled family room, on one of my vintage tablecloths. The nested spoons were left in my car by my friend Judy, after our trip to Philadelphia (they’ve since been returned). Sunny, warm, and convivial is the feeling I was after. Though I’ve published some of the progress in an earlier post, I’m showing the whole progression here.

I used a lot of semi-transparent and transparent glazes in this piece, as opposed to solid, opaque colors, due largely to the larger proportion of Liquin dryer I used in my medium, and I think that helped with the luminosity of the piece.

First of a series? Small pastels

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

Last week I grew completely frustrated with the largish (16×20″-ish) pastel piece I was working on. I’d started it three times, experimenting with different underpaintings and tints. I had some wonderful source photos of last year’s flood in the Greater Binghamton region, and a request for art concerning the Susquehanna River, but I just couldn’t seem to make the piece come alive or please me. So I switched to a smaller format — a favorite 8.5×11″ buff fibered paper I use for a lot of different things — did a violet-toned ink underpainting, and worked loosely over that. And I’m very happy with it! The smaller size kept me from overworking the detail with the blunt pastel sticks, and the violet underpainting turned out to be a fine foil for the yellowish water, green foliage, and blue-grey sky (which became a light violet).

Rushing to get it to the Vestal Public Library in time for the small river-themed group show there, I took time for neither step-by-step photos nor even a good photo of the finished piece; I matted and framed it, jumped in the car, and delivered it. Today I finally got myself across the river to the library, and photographed it.

I’m thinking I’ll do a series of small pastels on the 2011 flood.

(Be sure to check out my pastels course, running June-July)

The Mirror finished, and lessons learned

The Mirror
The Mirror, on Etsy at GreenBoat Gallery. Click on the picture to see the listing! More in-process photos below.

I’m pretty sure “The Mirror” is finished, and it’s been a real learning adventure. I rather like it — have already signed and listed it — but there are a lot of things I’ll do differently on the next one.

First, I’m going to work on heavier paper. This was done on some Strathmore Laid charcoal paper I had lying around and hadn’t used because I didn’t care for the color. Lesson learned: use a ground color I actually LIKE, and that will complement the subject matter. I’d eventually like to work into using prepared hardboard panels like the ones I’ve been using for colored pencil pieces (but with more grit in the ground), but since I’m going to be teaching this pastels course using paper, I suppose paper should be my first priority as a substrate.

Next lesson: I will NOT use white conte pencil for my grid! It still shows slightly, in the finished piece. Not only did I emboss it into the paper because the medium was so sharp and relatively hard, but it seems to resist coverage by the soft pastels. I do love using a grid; it gives me proportional and composition control while allowing freedom of movement for my drawing hand. However, I have to find another, gentler, less permanent way to line it out.

Another point learned: although the indiantrene blue and the burnt umber sticks are very dark and make interesting substitutes for black (I don’t generally use premixed blacks in any medium), the violet, though lighter, is a livelier black sub.

Over the last few days I’ve done a bit of online research on pastel technique, and one artist wrote that she generally works top to bottom so the pastel dust from above doesn’t fall on finished work lower in the painting. That’s a very good point. I don’t know if I can muster that kind of discipline, or how it would affect my work, but the falling pastel dust gave me some problems for sure. The last time I worked with pastel it was not upright on an easel, but that’s what I prefer now.

Last, a potential problem I haven’t yet confronted: color shift due to application of the final fixatif. Without fixatif, pastel work is incredibly fragile. But everyone I’ve read cites the color-shift problem as a serious risk. I do remember it from when I last used pastels, but I wasn’t as fussy then as I am now… we’ll just see how that goes.

Here are the final steps of my process:

The Mirror - stage 4
The Mirror - stage 4: blocking in the darks, bottom and center. I've also lifted some of the brown from the mirror frame, and gone back in with an olive green.
The Mirror - stage 5
The Mirror - stage 5: adding more dimension to the darks and the fleshtones, detailing the faces a bit more, blocking in the arm and hand at lower right, as well as the adjacent round pot form.
The Mirror - stage 6
The Mirror - stage 6: finishing details in the background/mirror, burnishing fleshtones a bit, finishing the modeling of the hands.

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.

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.