17 October 2016

Another workshop

This weekend, I went to the long-anticipated three-day workshop with painter Iain Stewart, whose work I tremendously admire.

Fife Sheep, by Iain Stewart

I'm glad I took the workshop, but although I learned a lot, the thing I took away from it was that it's time to quit taking workshops. Not because of anything that happened there; Iain was great. He shared a lot of knowledge and technique, and was laid back and helpful.

Iain's techniques bore some resemblance to Paul's, in that both of them start with a light wash, either smooth or variegated, and then build on that with a middle ground, middle dark, and a foreground darkest dark to highlight a focal point. They are both planners, but while Paul's planning seems to take place more on/during the actual painting, and he considers specific steps in great detail, Iain's planning takes place mostly in his sketchbook, where he does multiple layouts until the composition pleases him. Then he transfers the sketch to watercolor paper, still adjusting as he goes, and once he picks up a paintbrush, things become a lot more spontaneous (and also a lot harder to duplicate).

Here is an example of a piece he did to teach us, and following is my attempt at it:

This is a long view of a landscape in Pals, Spain. Off in the distance is water, with Catalonian islands emerging from it. In the middle ground are buildings, trees, and fields, and in the foreground, a bunch of trees rise up in front of the viewer. The goal with this was to teach background-middle ground-foreground in terms of value intensity, in terms of attention to specific detail, and also to show layout--how you have to balance the elements in a painting (placement of the buildings, direction of the fields, roads, and trees). This isn't the demo Iain did in the workshop; that one was even more monochromatic in terms of color than this one was, and we dealt with fewer buildings. But it's the same scene.

Here is my attempt. (Some of the left side is cut off, due to the capacity of my scanner.) While it's not horrible, and in fact a couple of people complimented me on it, it's a textbook example of what I came to realize, after spending three days with Iain only two weeks after spending three days with Paul Jackson: What I need is not another workshop, but a regular, disciplined approach to painting. I need to make many, many paintings!

I spent much of the three days frustrated, not because I didn't understand what he was doing, but because my eye and hand just wouldn't duplicate it. And it's not because I'm not capable, it's because I'm not practiced. Using this as an example: The islands and sky are too dark for background, as are the trees just in front of them. The church on the right should be bigger than the house behind it, because it's much closer to the viewer, and the villa on the left should be twice that size, so that you have the sense of the scene moving forward towards you. The darks in the mid ground are also too extreme, so that what you have instead of a graduated scene of less detail to more detail and less intensity of value to more intensity, is a series of stripes of light and dark. (We won't talk about the tree line in the foreground at all!)

So the truths I discovered from this exercise were: I don't use my sketchbook to think out what I'm going to do. I don't sketch much at all! I don't spend a lot of time planning things out, or considering what elements need to be balanced with other elements. I don't have a good grasp of perspective and planes. My judgment is not good when it comes to light, medium, and dark gradations. I don't have good control of brush, color, or water. I haven't developed the judgment to know when the brush is too wet or too dry, or which colors to use to mix what I need. And if I want to be a good watercolor painter, I need to learn to make snap judgments as I go, to be fast enough so that the "bead" doesn't dry up on me before I can work it smoothly down the page.

In short, what I had to face this weekend, which made me so uncomfortable that I actually left the workshop early on the third day by making a lame excuse about having to go to work (yes, I need the practice, but doing it in front of other people was getting to me), was that while I have nascent skills that include drawing and color sense, without a regular practice, I'm not going to improve. I enjoy making my contour drawings and using watercolor to enhance them, and I'm pretty good at it; but compared to what the serious artists whose work I admire are doing, I'm just noodling around. While there's nothing wrong with that, and while I will keep doing that, it's time to make a plan for a life as a painter that includes daily attention.

I don't know whether I'm ready for that yet, if I'm completely honest. So I'm not going to make a bunch of resolutions here, only to break them. I'm just going to know that I now have the knowledge, and when I choose to do so, I can develop the skill. But I have to want it. I hope that I'll have great things to post on this page someday that let me take myself seriously as a painter. Until then...

I did a contour/watercolor "noodle" this afternoon of two of the storybook cottages (with all their weird little angles and planes) on Hollywood Way in Burbank for the Burbank Arts for All auction--the deadline of October 21 approaches, and I now have six more pieces to turn in on Friday.

One can't be serious ALL the time...

13 October 2016

Sketchbook vs. "Real"

I posted a picture that I had scanned from my sketchbook on an email I sent out at work, and my supervisor called me up and offered to buy it! I had to say no, partly because it's in a sketchbook (and I don't want to tear it out), and partly because it had lettering under it, which I had deleted from it before posting the picture, so she wouldn't have been able to frame it without that showing.

So, although this was not my art plan for this afternoon (I was going to finish my Paul Jackson "masterpiece," which has been languishing), I decided to make her a new version of it. It's a crucial time to do so, because it's a painting of asters from my yard, which only bloom for about three weeks in October. So I cut some (avoiding dozens of bees in the process), put them in another clear glass jar like I did the first time, and set to work.

The first one, which I did on sketchbook paper, was drawn with a black Micron pen, and then watercolored. For this one, I decided to just draw it in pencil, for a more natural look, since I was doing it on good watercolor paper. But after I got done painting it, it seemed a little lackluster, and also I accidentally washed through parts of it and it became blurry, so I went in afterwards with a sepia-tone Micron pen (not as obvious as the black, and nice with the color scheme) to do some "accents" and outlines.

Honestly, I think I like the first one, which I did in half the time on so-so paper, better than the one I spent the afternoon on! (The second one isn't all here--I made it bigger (with more flowers), so the scanner cut off about an inch on either side.)

I hope Cathleen likes it anyway. If not, I'll try again.

08 October 2016

New Palette

Well, the plan for today was: Go to the chiropractor, eat breakfast, do some chore-type things, make a new watercolor palette, and finish my giant painting from last weekend's workshop. I did the first and the second, did a little painting out of order with my old paints on some postcards (one for the Secret Art Show, the other as a thank-you note for a birthday gift), and then...I took a nap. A three-hour nap. I guess a three-day art workshop preceded and followed by a five-day work week makes you tired!

Here's the jukebox from the Great Grill in Burbank...

and here's the thank-you postcard, featuring the books I received
as gifts from Kirsten, which I mailed to her today.
(She's on vacation in New Orleans, so she won't see it until
she gets home, unless she looks at this blog, which I highly doubt,
with beignets and absinthe to distract her.)

Now that the light is leaving us earlier, I knew I wouldn't still have time to get stuck into my big leftover Paul Jackson painting after my nap, but I did have time to put together my new Paul Jackson palette of paints that I bought myself as a birthday gift! So I pulled out a spare palette I had sitting around the house and filled 'er up.

Paul has plans to develop five more colors, he says, because his favorite palette has 24 slots but he made 19 colors. My new palette only has 20 slots, however, so it was perfect for this project...with one exception. Upon consideration of his 19 colors, it becomes apparent that Paul is one of those artists who believes all greens should be mixed. I mostly tend to agree with that, because mixed greens are so much prettier and more flexible than flat colors straight out of the tube.

There is one green, however, which I cannot do without--it's a feature in many of my sketches and paintings, and hard to mix. So, luckily for me, there was one slot left in my Paul Jackson-only palette, and I committed the heresy of adding in my Holbein Leaf Green.

Here it is, ready to go!

02 October 2016

Revelation, revolution, reflection

This week I experienced the whirlwind that is Paul Jackson, Watercolor Artist.

Last Sunday, I drove down to San Pedro to see a demo and lecture by Paul. I was familiar with his work on Facebook, primarily because of his amazing 5-foot by 10-foot painting of the chain bridge in Budapest (below), so I was excited to see his lecture. I knew he was giving two workshops this week, but I didn't sign up for either of them, because in two weeks I am taking my mini October vacation (four days) and had already signed up for a watercolor workshop with Iain Stewart, and I figured that was stimulation enough, plus taking extra time off seemed problematical, and did I really need to pay for another workshop right now?

After seeing his lecture, I went to work on Monday and asked for Friday off so I could take his second workshop on Friday-Sunday. It's called  “Reflection, Translucency and Transparency,” which is basically about painting glass...but it's so much more. It's really about how to work with watercolors to make them do what you want them to do.

The reason I found this workshop so much more amazing than any I've ever taken before was that everything Paul said and did turned everything I ever thought about a workshop on its head. I have complained here in the past about going to workshops and always encountering those students who persist in asking the teacher, "What kind of paintbrush are you using?" "What kind of paints are you using?" "What kind of paper are you using?" It really bugs me, because it always cuts into our workshop time, and I want to say to them, Bah on your magical thinking! Painting with the same tools and materials is not going to make you another Keiko Tanabe, or another Frank Eber, or another fill-in-the-blank. It's painting every single day for years, striving to improve and learn and grow that does that. Materials are just materials.

Paul Jackson convinced me I am wrong. (Not about the practice part, but about the materials part.) And made me spend a whole lot of money. As in, my mortgage payment! (Don't worry, it's covered.)

First, he talked about his Kolinsky Kayak brushes. They are brushes that he designed and handmade for a few years and then he found someone else to do it (in a more professional form). I have always used synthetic brushes, partly because they are affordable, and partly, too, because I am a vegetarian and didn't like the ethics of killing some animal in order to get its hair to make a paintbrush. But once Paul explained two things, I had to have his brushes. One was his demonstration of the way natural hair brushes hold water differently than synthetic brushes, and what that means in terms of having control of your water and paint. The other was that the hair in these brushes is obtained by giving a haircut to "the southern end of a northbound male Marten weasel in winter plumage." Nobody dies (although there may be some outrage involved). And did I mention that they are double-ended, so you get two sizes on each brush?

Then he talked about paper. He uses 260-lb. paper, and I'd never heard of it before. I normally use 140-lb., which is pretty good, and sufficient for everything I have done up until now; and I have occasionally bought a big sheet of 300-lb. for a large painting for which I wanted to go the extra mile in terms of quality, but honestly, I dislike working on the 300. It doesn't take water or paint in the same way that the 140-lb. does, so I mostly avoid it.

Paul explained that the 260-lb. paper is essentially like working on 140-lb. but better, while the 300-lb. has a different kind of fiber and sucks up all the water and pigment, which is why I had a bad experience. After trying some of the paper he had with him, I will definitely order some 260 and avoid the 300 from now on. I didn't spend any money on that (yet), but I'm definitely going to explore the differences between the 140 and 260 and decide for myself.

Then we started talking paint. I have always used medium-grade paints like Graham, and have been pretty satisfied with them. Lately, I have tried out a few colors from Holbein (I liked them), and also, given that several artists I follow and admire are featured by Daniel Smith paints and have raved about them, I've been picking up a tube of that here and there.

While I like some colors of Daniel Smith very much, I have found them to be quite inconsistent from tube to tube. I bought a tube of Naples Yellow, for instance, and absolutely loved the color as a base for complexion in portraits. The next tube I bought was a completely different color of yellow. I couldn't believe it--I thought it was a mistake--so I bought a third, and that one was about halfway between the two.

Paul talked a lot about paint, because he has spent most of his career (he's been painting since age 15) working with both Windsor Newton and Daniel Smith, and has a lot of experience of their products. Not to say anything bad about them, but this caused him to decide to make his own paints. And, being the entrepreneurial all-or-nothing kind of guy he is, he did so, and marketed them independently before finding a company--Da Vinci--to produce them for him, to his exacting standards.

I was skeptical, again, that paint could make such a difference, but decided to try out two of his signature paints, Jackson Blue and Rockstar Pink. After working with them for just two days, I went for the whole 19-color set.

I felt like a country rube falling for the patter of a slick big-city salesman, but honestly, during the course of the three-day workshop, he backed up everything he said about his brushes and paints with proof, and when I tried them for myself, I was impressed enough to go whole hog.

So, what else did we do in the three days? Well, we made great big paintings of six different pieces of art glass. This was another area in which I thought I knew better about what was a good practice for an art workshop: I have always felt that teachers who have all the students make the exact same painting weren't really teaching them to paint, but were teaching them to mimic. And I still believe that's true for the ones who say, Okay, follow along: Make this stroke, now make this one, now go here and do this, now go there and do that. In Paul's workshop, we all started with the same under-drawing, and we did follow along to some extent, but every painting in the class looked different. They all looked good, they just all looked different, because we were encouraged to try things, to make our own decisions, to follow his lead to learn a lot but not to worry if it wasn't identical.

We learned how to use masking fluid (yes, you guessed it, he makes his own, and it's awesome, and I bought some) to save all the multiple reflections and colors of the glass; we learned how to stain and then glaze the paints in multiple layers (the final painting probably had 14 layers of paint, but in no way looked overworked), we learned tricks of controlling the paint by having the correct water-to-paint ratio, and how to tell if a brush was loaded, half full, or dry. We learned that it is possible to lay two wet colors down right next to each other and not have them bleed together, because the water balance was equal! We learned a fair amount about color theory, complementary colors, what to mix with what to get "gumbo," and how to use it once we have it. We learned a LOT.

Here is a picture of Paul's painting at about Layer #3.

And here is a picture of Paul with the finished painting:

The paintings the rest of us made are about 85 percent done, because we had to watch the last three layers at the end of class and ran out of time to finish our own work. But we have the knowledge of what to do to complete them. And while I know mine won't be nearly as wonderful as Paul's, it's honestly not half bad, and what I learned from doing it? So far beyond where I have ever gone before.

I will definitely continue to do my Micron pen and watercolor sketches for fun, and will still enjoy doing them. But what I learned in this workshop showed me that there is so much more that is possible, and that I am completely capable of doing it. I can't wait to try a major painting like this on my own and flex the skills I learned this weekend. I already have a subject in mind!

28 September 2016

BBW Shelf-talkers

Here are the last of the Banned Book Week shelf-talkers that I'm going to have time to make. But I'm enjoying making these, and am going to focus on doing one or two every week to put up in my Young Adult Fiction section for regular books that I like and want to recommend. They're pretty fast and easy, and fun!

27 September 2016

Another small one, more shelf-talkers

I'm still doing small 4x6-inch art pieces for the Secret Art fundraiser. Here's my latest--a couple of chickens at roost on a fence:

And I'm still disliking working this small! But needs must. I drew this one with a sepia-tone Micron pen instead of the usual black, since the chickens are mostly brown.

Tonight, I had a program at the library, but since someone from the outside was actually running the program (an SAT Essay Writing seminar), all I had to do, after checking in all the participants and doing a couple of announcements, is sit at the back of the room and make sure everything ran smoothly. Not wanting to be bored, I brought myself some busywork--some shelf-talker forms, some micron pens, and my Altoids mini watercolor kit--and made half a dozen shelf-talkers. The only problem I had was, I had only a hazy idea or memory of some of the books for which I wanted to make shelf-talkers, so I made headlines and artwork for a bunch, but only completed two. I'll finish the rest tomorrow, when I have access to the books (or to a computer) for a summary, and then I'll share those too. I really enjoy making these shelf-talkers!

18 September 2016

Two more small sketches

Here are two more 4x6-inch pix for the auction.

"Motel," a sign along Olive Avenue in Burbank, California

and "Coffee," with an obvious model.

This last idea I can't claim as original--Carol Carter, one of the excellent artists whose Facebook page I follow, did a much more translucent and spontaneous-looking rendition of this a few days back, entitled "taking a break," and I thought it would make a good subject for the small art that people might like to buy for the fund-raiser. I'm hoping Carol doesn't mind--it IS a fairly universal image, and I can't imagine no one before her has painted it, but I did appropriate it directly from her inspiration.