22 January 2019

Bits and pieces

Here are a few bits and pieces from the end of the week and the weekend; some class work and class goofing off, and an "urban sketch" from a Monday play date with a tardy friend.

Another, slightly better (but not final) take on my "Persephone" parts-and-whole project for class.

A doodley grid of items in case I decided to do the "Honey" project instead (but I think I'm sticking with Persephone).

I ran out of things to sketch and was waiting to use the grinder to bevel the edges of my zinc plates, so I filled the time by sketching my earnestly laboring classmates in front of me.

And from Monday, a new café discovery in Eagle Rock, with some tasty veg and vegan fare. My friend Erica got lost and showed up late, so I had the time to sketch this fellow, looking at his phone while his partner ordered their breakfast at the counter. It's a cheery little place—I love yellow.

And that's it for now! 

17 January 2019

A new art form

I decided life would be better with some structure. It seems like the more I have to do, the more I get done; but only when it is outwardly imposed. The truth is, this is the year I'm supposed to go from Miss Havisham to Marie Kondo, but every day I find a blog post to write, a meme to create, a book to read, an errand to do, that keeps me from starting that gargantuan household project. So what am I doing about it? Signing up for a class, of course!

I've been following a Facebook page called Linocut Friends for quite a while now. I have always been fascinated by all kinds of print-making (and used to be into making my own rubber stamps), but have never learned how to do any of it; but all these carvers inspired me to look for a local class. I found one out at Moorpark College, which is actually a four-semester program covering all types of print-making, but since I'm not interested in the kinds that use chemicals, I'm sticking with semester one, which is intaglio followed by linoleum cutting, and then I will branch off on my own. Class started last week, and our assignment for this week was to go buy all our supplies (ouch), and then come up with some ideas and maybe some sketches for our first project.

We will be incising two 5x7-inch plates for our first project, and the theme is "Parts > Whole." So the first plate is supposed to be all the elements that build up to something final on the second plate. The teacher used the example of an apple, by depicting seeds, blossoms, bark, etc. on the first plate and the whole apple on the second; or including the apple on the first along with butter and bags of flour and sugar, and making the second plate a PIE.

I have two ideas, one of which came to me because I've been reading Circe, by Madeline Miller (see my review here), and the other from doing a little illustration project for my cousin's blog.

The first idea is the legend of Persephone, so the Plate One would include a narcissus (because that's the flower Persephone was out picking in the field when she was kidnapped by Hades), and a pomegranate (and seeds) because that's how he trapped her into staying with him for half the year. The second plate, if I can pull it off (this drawing is pretty bad) is a copy of a fragment of a sculpture featuring Hades and Persephone, and perhaps some symbols for the four seasons.


Kirsten bought a book for me at Christmas, and wanted to feature it on her blog, The Swoon Society, so she asked me to make an illustration for her. (Not putting that up here until after she has used it for HER blog.) It made me think about bee-keeping, which is something else I have always wanted to do, and in the process of looking for images online to help me with the illustration, I came up with some ideas for Parts > Whole for my own project:


These are all, of course, just sketches, and not unified in style, but they gave me some ideas. We will see what my teacher has to say about these. New art form, here I come!

10 January 2019

Real people reading

Every year in December I go to calendars.com and ponder my choices for the following year's daily notations, ordering one in time to input all my year's doings (birthdays, events, meetings) by New Year's Day. Sometimes I go for a one-artist calendar, sometimes a 365-days-in-a-foreign-country extravaganza, occasionally an art era such as Impressionism, but my most frequent choice in recent years has been the "women reading" calendar. Being an avid reader myself, I love seeing all the many and varied portraits of women enjoying books.

Back at the beginning of my painting career, when I was taking Watercolor III at Valley College, the penultimate assignment for the semester was a portrait of my cousin Kirsten, reading a book. I got her to sit and pose for me on my sofa, but then largely made up both the color scheme and her attire to fit with the assignment, which was to look at an artist's work and paint in that style, color palette, or some other feature. For this portrait I looked at Cezanne's portrait of his wife in a red chair, and chose the color palette accordingly.

Ever since I painted that picture, I have had the intention of doing more paintings of people reading, but I have somehow never gotten back to it. But since this is the year when I am creating my new consulting business, The Book Adept, and its accompanying blog reviewing books and discussing them in terms of readers' advisory (http://bookadept.com/blog), I decided that a good companion project would be to finally assay the readers' portraiture. Here is my first attempt, taken from a quick photograph of a guy reading at the Encino/Tarzana Library near my house. Part of my goal is to paint what I call "real" paintings, as opposed to illustrations, which means drawing in pencil and letting the paint be the primary medium, rather than first defining the image with my ink pen. I may not stick exclusively to that method, but I chose to for this first one.

The color scheme in this library is so similar between walls and furnishings that it was somewhat hard to distinguish where chairs and tables started and walls and bookcases ended (if I did it again, I would choose my own colors and not be so slavish to reality), but I did like the reflection in the window behind him of the elderly and focused reading man.

This is a relatively tiny picture (maybe 6x7 inches?) but I'd like to get back to painting on a larger scale, as I did for Kirsten's portrait. It leaves more scope for getting the details right! I really struggled with the hands and face in this one.

Watercolor on 140-lb. paper.

05 January 2019

Incidental on-site sketches

I had one pause during the holidays when I wasn't making art for gifts or gift tags, which was the afternoon I spent picking up my cousin Toni from Texas from the airport (LAX). My other cousin, Carol Sue, with whom she was staying, has a foolproof pick-up routine that she shared with me and I followed: You drive to the Westchester Starbucks, which is just up the road from the airport, wait for whoever is arriving to get through baggage check and out to the curb, at which point they call you, and you're five minutes away from retrieving them. So I headed off to LAX with plenty of time to spare, just in case traffic decided to be heavy (it was the weekend before Christmas, after all), and arrived in time to do a quick sketch of part of the insides of the Starbucks before Toni paged me to Southwest Airlines. It turned out taking a little more than five minutes to get there, but we met up in the end and headed back to Woodland Hills for supper.

The rest of the week was a combination of Christmas Day and New Year's Eve festivities, chat-fests with family and friends, and hibernation in my very cold house, in which the furnace has ceased to function! I've been living in triple layers of clothing and spending lots of time reading in front of the oven in the kitchen. I did need to go to the chiropractor this week, and decided to do some other errands and then take myself out to a late breakfast afterwards, so I took along the sketchbook. I've been observing that many people take even a sketchbook this wide and do a panorama across two pages (my book is 5x8 inches, so that becomes 5x16), so I managed to do this by a combination of close-up objects and part of the scene I could see from my table:

After that one outing, I stayed in my cocoon and avoided going out for a couple more days. I had been eager to get back to water aerobics this week to work off my holiday lethargy; but despite the sunny weather, the wind has been glacial, and I just couldn't bear the thought of the outdoor pool in that frigid air. But after eating too much and moving too little for way too long, I was beginning to get both stiff muscles and a stir-crazy brain, so today I put on my sweats and headed over to Lake Balboa, to have a gentle walk-and-sketch session. I strolled around the lake, enjoying the sun, and realized the wind had finally abated. I stopped a couple of times at different vista points to make a drawing, and I swear, it was the warmest I've been in three weeks! I'm going to have to repeat this at noon at regular intervals, until I get my nerve back up for water aerobics. Here are my two sketches:

This above is looking west, toward the Santa Monica mountains. Below: The lake has always had paddle-boats, but now there is a new innovation: Swan boats, which have caught the imagination (and the rental fees) of a lot more people.

Lots of birds out today, including coots galore, fat noisy geese, small white cranes, some cormorants, and even a few stately pelicans settled here after migration.

Finally, the last picture I have to share is a small illustration I made to go on a postcard advertising a T-shirt stenciling workshop I'm hoping to promote at libraries. It's fun to realize that the flyer you are making needs an illustration, and then be able to decide what it should be, draw and paint it, scan it, and put it right into the spot for which you designed it.

That's all for now...but I have a couple of breakfasts coming up for which I plan to be early...

26 December 2018

My other Christmas painting

In addition to our family circle, which always draws names, we have a few people we love who have been joining us for Christmas Eve for many years now. Two such people are my cousin Kirsten's best friend, Kirsti, and her husband, Aaron. This year I had no trouble finding multiple gifts for Kirsti, but I was stumped for Aaron. I found a few things online, but by the time I was ready to make up my mind, I discovered that I was in denial about how long the mail would take (Amazon has spoiled us all), and nothing would arrive in time.

I keep a file of "reference photos" on my computer—photographs that I think would translate well into watercolor paintings—for when I am lacking inspiration, or when I need to capture something that is happening too quickly to paint from life (not a still life, but live action). One such photo had been there for years, and I have considered making a painting from it for that long, but have never gotten up my nerve; I am generally bad at portraiture, and not great at painting animals either. But when I went and "thumbed through" my ref photos file on Sunday afternoon, it popped up again and I decided I was going to give it a shot.

I did the drawing and laid down a nice warm yellow background around 5:00, and then sat down on the sofa with my book to drink a cup of tea and let the background wash dry; suddenly, it was two hours later, and I was waking up to cold tea and the prospect of wrapping ALL of my Christmas presents. So I switched on the TV and wrapped until 11:30. By then, because of my nap, I had a second wind, so I thought Hey, I'm going to finish that painting for Aaron! I figured it would take me an hour, maybe 90 minutes. When I decided the touch of shadow I had just painted was my last brushstroke, I looked up to discover it was 2:30 a.m.! But I got it done, and next day my framer obliged with a mat, and I was able to give it to Aaron on Christmas Eve.

That's Aaron with the guitar, and his quizzical and engaged listener is Owen. Owen sadly passed on a while back, but Aaron appreciated the memorial, and said I exactly captured Owen's expression as he listened to Aaron play. I called the painting "Freebird" not because that's what he was playing, but because of the lyrics: It's been a sweet love, he had to travel on, but this love you cannot change. The love and loyalty of all our wee beasties is so precious. I loved making this picture of the bond between Aaron and Owen.

25 December 2018

Copying art

We draw names in my family, and buy one large Christmas gift for one person. This year, I drew my cousin-in-law, David. As we all get older, it gets harder to find something special to give, because most of us are working, making a decent living, and for the most part buying for ourselves the things that we need and want. So I decided that I'd like to paint him a picture, because that's something he couldn't do for himself; but what to paint? He previously had some Asian-influenced art in his apartment, but my cousin Kirsten said he was phasing that out and going with a pure Arts and Crafts movement vibe. So I went and looked at the designs of William Morris, Charles Rennie MacIntosh, Edward Burne-Jones, and others, and tried to figure out something to paint.

The problem with that movement (which I love probably as much as David does) is that most of the so-called art is actually functional: architecture, a lamp, a chair, a ceramic pot, the tiles surrounding a fireplace, or (in the case of Morris) a wallpaper  or textile design. After all, the famous quote from Morris states, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." Although there were painters from that era, I am not so cognizant of the entire movement that I knew who to look up, nor did I feel confident in David's preference for one over another. So after feeling frustrated for a while, I decided to study the wallpaper designs of Morris, and to choose one of those to copy in watercolor.

I ended up with one of his many variations on an acanthus-leaf design, this one including a couple of flowers and with some bright, contrasting colors (so much of his work is subtle and dark and therefore hard to copy from a print). Because I came to appreciate the intricacy and deliberation he put into each of his designs, I documented my steps in painting this piece. Here they are, start to finish:

The "drawing" was done as a trace; I printed out a photo of the wallpaper swatch at the size I wanted, did a double-layer of graphite transfer (translation: I scribbled on the back in both directions with a soft-lead pencil) to the back, then laid the xerox on top of my watercolor pad and faithfully traced all the leaves, flowers, and branches onto the paper.

I decided to proceed from light to dark, leaving the background color until last, especially because with that color being intense, it would cover a multitude of pencil edges so I wouldn't have the challenge of erasing them. So I began with the pale blue-green acanthus leaves:

There was a lot of shading and color variation in each leaf, not to mention the introduction of an occasional dot or splotch or another color (pink, in the case of the green leaves).

Next was the intense mustard yellow:

Again, duplicating these leaves entailed at least three separate colors of yellow/brown, and had unexpected highlights of lime green.

Next came the green of the two blossoms and the darker greens and browns of all the background leaves and vines:

These were particularly hard to achieve, since many of the leaves had veining, which I wanted to be there, but to look natural, not like lines painted over the top. In some places I succeeded, and in some not so much! I think Morris himself must have painted in oils, which might have been easier?

And finally, I applied the background by carefully filling all the remaining white space with a deep, rich red. It really makes all the other colors pop, and shades the borders together too:

Then I went back in and added a bit of shading and a few darks, for more emphasis.

I hope that David enjoys hanging and looking at it as much as I did painting it. It was quite a lesson in layout, design, color theory...there is a reason William Morris was a major figure of his day and continues to be lauded all these years later.

"After William Morris," pencil, Paul Jackson watercolors, on 140-lb. Strathmore paper.

Gift tags

People were impressed that I painted my own gift tags this year, but what really happened is that I was so disorganized that I had no other choice. I turned in the grades for my students at UCLA on Dec. 14, and thought to myself, Okay, 10 days until Christmas, plenty of time to get everything done, and then...I zoned out. I suddenly realized, on Dec. 22nd, that although I had gifts for about 85 percent of my people, I hadn't bought any paper or ribbon or gift labels, I hadn't wrapped anything, and I was still missing a couple of big gifts, at least one of which I was supposed to be making myself. I checked my cupboard and discovered I had enough leftover paper and ribbon from previous years to make it work, but there wasn't a gift tag to be found. So, I chopped up a couple of sheets of watercolor paper and spent an evening in front of the TV drawing little bunches of mistletoe and holly, a couple of trees, and a nice wreath for my main giftee (David)—we draw names in my family, get the person we draw something big, and then maybe a small thing for everyone else.

Here are my tags, most of which arrived with their designees last night (we do Christmas on the Eve), so now I can show them:

Uniball fine-point black pen and watercolors (various makers) on watercolor paper. They were fun to make; maybe I'll make it a tradition.