19 April 2014

A new art adventure

This weekend, the City of Burbank (which employs me as a teen librarian) is having a street fair featuring arts and crafts. More crafts, alas, than painters (you can sense my priorities here), but I did find some fab earrings for me, and a cool steampunkish toy for my friend Anarda. One of the things they advertised for the fair was that there would be sidewalk chalk art. (Turns out there were only three artists out there today, but whatever.) So, weeks ago I got the bright idea to have our teens do chalk art on the sidewalks at the Central Library, which is just three blocks away from the scene of the street fair, the day before, so that people could see their chalk art too.

Our workshop was yesterday afternoon, from 3:30-5:30, after school. We didn't get nearly as many participants as we'd hoped, but the ones we did get enjoyed themselves thoroughly! We hired a chalk artist--Bianca Ornelas, who had won awards with her work at the Pasadena Chalk Festival--to give the kids tips and tricks (and bring the good chalk--we had the kind that little kids use to play hopscotch, but Bianca's was more like oil pastels!)--and she was great. We had some really original ideas and executions, and if you'd like to see them all, you can go to our teen Facebook page, where I put up an album.

Alas, that's the only place you or anyone will see them, because when I went to the art fest today, I stopped by the library, only to discover that the lawn sprinklers had come on in the night, washing away about half of the chalk. It's always the little things (like automatic sprinklers on timers) that you don't think of that do you in.

Still…it is, after all, an ephemeral art, and as they say, it's the process, not the product, or it's the journey, not the destination, or it's the experience of making art on the sidewalk, not the immortalization of same. Right? Anyway, this is a definite do-again program for us, and hopefully word will spread of what fun it is!

Here was my contribution--since Bianca was in charge, Anarda (my co-teen librarian) and I got to play right along with the teens. Messy, hard on the knees and fingers, but what fun to learn a new medium! Happy Ostara!

By the way, the Pasadena Chalk Festival is June 14 and 15 this year (Father's Day weekend), from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Check it out--I'm going to!

04 April 2014

Freehand Drawing Meetup

I went drawing tonight with a group I found through Meet-up. The venue was the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena--the museum has "free night" on the first Friday of each month, and this group meets there every month (as well as other meetings during the rest of the month) to draw together.

Question: Where can you find life models who never get tired, who don't need to stop for a drink or a snack or to visit the facilities, and who don't twitch, sneeze, shift, or breathe?

Answer: Your local museum!

What a great idea this was--why have I never thought of it? The Norton Simon has a bunch of foot-high sculptures of bathers, dancers, and horses by Edgar Degas, sitting around the museum on little plinths in plain view of large benches, and Phoebe, the leader of this meet-up, suggested to us that they were perfect for gesture and figure drawing. I have always thought of sculptures in museums as "those things I walk past on my way to the paintings." Not any more.

I was drawing with a pen, so my shading is a little wonky, because I didn't set out to do anything but contour, and then decided that some shading might be fun. But I still think drawing with a pen makes you commit in a way that a pencil doesn't. So in some cases I just scribbled over mistakes in proportion and kept going.

We started outside with the lifesize sculptures of Rodin on the front lawn, and then moved indoors when the sun went down to capture the Degas women. We had planned to head downstairs to catch a few Buddhas from the Asian exhibit, but ran out of time while wandering the galleries looking at all the paintings. I will definitely go back to do that!

I hadn't been there in many years (why?), so it was a delight to rediscover the collection. I took a few photos in the 17th century rooms:

This is Marie-Genevieve Bouliar--the artist and the picture, as it's a self-portrait. She was so beautifully serene. Most people in self portraits can't help reflecting in their faces the effort that's going into the painting, but not Marie-Genevieve! It amazes me when I think about all the self-portraits that were done before the existence of reference photos.

This is Baron Joseph-Pierre Vialetes de Mortarieu (what a mouthful), by the portrait painter Ingres. Doesn't he look like he stepped straight out of a Jane Austen novel? The epitome of the romantic hero.

And THIS is "Aldrovandi Dog" by the artist Guercino. He was the companion of Count Filippo Androvandi, whose castle in Bologna appears in the background. He was such a handsome fellow, I had to take a photo. This painting is huge--68x44 inches!

A fun evening, to be repeated next month!

23 March 2014

Tombow sketch

I haven't done much drawing lately, and it shows when I get back to painting, so I'm going to start doing some casual sketching again. I like using Tombow markers sometimes, to lend an element of color without getting out my paints. This sepia was well suited, considering both the flowers and the vase are primarily a rusty peachy brown. Maybe I'll do another and add watercolor before these flowers shed their petals.

19 March 2014

More book fan art

When I like a book, sometimes I feel inspired to make some art to go with a review of it. This one is for Bad Girls Don't Die, by Katie Alender, our sixth/seventh grade book club book for this month, and I have to confess that this one defeated me.

It's hard enough to paint a human but to paint a doll, which is trying to look like a human, while keeping it looking like a doll, is crazy hard. Especially if you're trying to make it look like a crazy, possessed doll. This one looks rather vacant, not very eerie or threatening, which was the point.

I was pretty happy with the dress, but the hair and the face left me dissatisfied. Just to give you a hint of the back story: Possession by little girl who died at the hands of other little girl bullies, eyes of the doll glow bright green when inhabited by her. Pretty creepy!

Kirsti, I was going to dedicate this one to you, but I'll have to try again and use a creepier model.

02 March 2014

Book love

I had to read I Am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak, for high school book club this month, and by the time I was halfway through it, I was enjoying it so much that I started this drawing / painting in anticipation of blogging about it when I finished the book. I loved loved loved the book…until the last couple of pages. I really really didn't like the way he ended it. He has this fantastic build-up and then takes you right out of the story…ker-thump.

Still, I would not hesitate to recommend the book, despite the weird denouément. Zusak is quite the storyteller. His characters are compellingly real, and his language is electric--fresh, descriptive, evocative. A very different book than the one for which he is better known (The Book Thief), but equally striking.

Regarding the painting, I wanted the lettering to be yellow, showing through a darker background, so I painted yellow over the letters first, but since I knew I was covering it up with a darker color, I was sloppy and just painted the entire area in a big yellow blob. What I didn't realize was that if I used purple (its complementary color) as the overlay, I would end up with them blending into a lovely shade of…mud? Oh well. I had fun with it, and the good part about doing these little fan-art pieces is that they are ephemeral, destined for one use on the blog and then history. I enjoyed drawing the taxi cab!

17 February 2014

Painting cats

I have decided, because I love cats and because I love paintings of cats, that I need to start painting my cats. Particularly because they're not getting any younger, and because I so regret not painting Beatrice more while I had her, not to mention all the others going back 35 years, who came and went, unmemorialized in watercolor. (I didn't actually start painting until age 47, so I do have an excuse for everything previous to this last decade.)

My challenge, however, is that both of my indoor cats--Dante and Miniver--are black. Painting black cats is challenging on more than one level:
  1. Just try to get a decent reference photo, in which you can see their features well enough to paint them--usually what you get is a black, cat-shaped blur with an eye peeping out of it;
  2. The reference photo is also challenging because cats do NOT like to be photographed. Especially if you're trying to do it while using a flash because, them being black and all, it's hard to get any detail without it!
  3. You would think that the solution would be to paint from life, but no. Most cats won't sit still for it. You start looking at them and, if they are friendly, they take it as an invitation to immediately get up from their pose and get closer to you; if they are not friendly, they also get up and walk away, because they are made uncomfortable by people (you) staring at them for prolonged periods.
But…there are a LOT of beautiful cat paintings out there, so other people have bested these challenges. I decided I would too. I have discovered that one thing it takes is to just keep shooting photos until you get one that's acceptable, and that may be after dozens, or not this session, or not this hour, day or week, but sooner or later…a lucky photo lands in your camera.

Second in difficulty to photographing black cats is, of course, painting them. What you have to learn is that black is never just black, it is gray, and blue, and brown, and yes, maybe even pink or yellow. What you have to do is really look at the color and try to see other colors instead of just saying to yourself, "that cat is black" and painting him black. I'm not great at this yet, but I hope to improve by painting cats.

So…here is my Dante, curled up on my bed, head raised from where it has been resting on my pillow, which is covered by my Grandmother Allie's double wedding ring quilt. I thought the bright patchwork would be a nice counterpoint to a (mostly) black cat, and I was right; the quilt was also a major pain to paint, especially when I tried to achieve the suggestion of the quilting itself. Try painting white on white stitching (or in this case, cream on cream, both because the quilt is a bit yellowed and because white on white is, well, white) and you will see what I mean.

I also had difficulty with scratching out his whiskers. People make it look so easy, scratching things out of a painting (some even doing it with the end of their paintbrush), but I had to try three different progressively sharper implements to get a result, which was more subtle than I had intended (and also bit into the paper further than I had planned). I think the problem was that I waited until the paint was dry.

For being the fourth cat painting I have ever made, however, I am pretty pleased with the results. My scanner wouldn't scan the whole picture, and I couldn't figure out how to merge two halves into one whole in Photoshop Elements (I know it's possible but my brain wouldn't encompass it today), so I scanned the most pertinent part (the cat) and then re-scanned the right side so I could show the rest.

09 February 2014

The Virtual Paintout

I recently discovered (can't remember how, but through a friend of a friend on Facebook) the "Virtual Paintout." The guy who hosts picks a location each month, and then artists, using Google Street View as a resource for traveling, find an interesting subject to paint within that location.

The designer of this project, Bill Guffey, summarizes the purpose thusly:
  • To gather in one area of the world, virtually, once a month with other artists.
  • To paint or draw a scene and composition of your choosing, within a predetermined area.
  • The artist must use a view found through Google Street View as the reference for the painting or drawing. Artwork created from photographs not acquired through Google Street View will not be accepted. The point is to "walk" around the streets using Google Street View, in the pre-determined area, as if you were actually participating in a real life paintout.
This month's location is Washington, D.C.and I'm sure that as his submissions he will get a number of monuments and fancy buildings (that's what I went to, first), but I was inspired by the painting he himself put up as the first entry--"G Street Houses," below--to actually do what he suggested and click on a random part of the map, then walk around to see what I found.

So I wandered, and came upon this street scene by chance--and I so loved the "story" it told that I decided to paint it, even though it could be anywhere.

Standing side by side are Smokey's Barbershop and Oldies, and a Unisex Hair Salon. Coming out of the front door is a girl, and the attitude in which she's been caught in the photo makes it seem like she's sneaking out the door--like somebody sent her to the barber shop for a haircut, but she's heading out to the Unisex place while no one is looking!

Here is the url to the actual scene on Google Maps: http://tinyurl.com/lttcdkg

As you can see if you go look at it, I simplified quite a bit--that great big lamp post and the bike racks in the foreground were too distracting (I wanted the girl to be the focal point), and I took out a few architectural details too. Maybe too many--I didn't have the patience or the skill to translate the facades of the buildings into their various bricks and patterns.

This was kind of a hybrid: I painted it pretty small (8x10 inches), and I knew I couldn't do that tiny lettering with a brush, so I did the sign and the awning with a pen, but then I drew the rest in pencil and painted it. I probably should have chosen one or the other--an ink illustration or a straight painting.

I also did something wonky with the angle of that garage door over on the left--don't know what happened there. Well, it's always something, right?

This was fun! I think I'll do another one or two before the month is up. (The limit is three submissions per person.)

If you're an artist reading this, why don't you do it too???