02 November 2014


I was too lazy and disorganized today to work on my big painting--I'm putting it down to discombobulation at the time change! (I don't know why one hour makes such a difference, but it does!) But along about 4:00, I wearied of reading and decided to paint for a while. I had done the under wash for this painting months ago and had never gone back to it, so I decided to try to be fast and loose and knock it out in one hour.

This is a dovecote from a photo I took last year in St. Loup Lamaire (France), and I had watched Jane Minter, our teacher at Bandouille, do a demo painting of this from a photo of hers. While I didn't want to copy her, I must confess that I did look back at hers to see how she interpreted it. Mine turned out more realistic but less skillful.

Parts I like (the light and shadows on the dovecote); parts (the foliage) are a muddy mess. There were areas about which I was indecisive about how I wanted to proceed, and those poor decisions made this a less pleasing painting. But I like this process of under wash that still gives the lightest lights a slight tint. I will try more like this, on a day when I can plan better and take more time.

31 October 2014

Contour studies

I am gearing up for a large painting, and woke up this morning with the desire to do some contour drawings of some of the disparate elements. I think what Daryl, my friend who requested a painting, had in mind was a simple contour with some watercolor highlights (like I have done for a few of our friends at the library), but once I got into researching the project (a Steampunk still life), I became excited by the various challenges presented and decided to do a large, full-on "real" painting. After painting a lot of small things that I could complete in an afternoon or even a couple of hours, I am wanting to get back to some bigger, more detailed work that takes time, planning, focus. We'll see how it goes! For now, here are some contours from my sketchbook:

More on this project as it unfolds. Since I go back to work on Monday, it may take a while! Happy Hallowe'en, everyone! Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha.

29 October 2014


I am not a great photographer--in fact, lack of photographic documentation (or ability) is a trait that apparently runs in my family, because photos of any of us are few and far between, and most of the vacation photos my parents took to memorialize their many trips were fuzzy interchangeable vistas. Previous to the advent of cell phones with photo capability, it rarely occurred to me to bring along a camera, and when I did, I forgot to use it!

Now I am making up for lost opportunities, but as I said, not great at it. So I often go online and root about in others' photos. I seldom work straight from one photograph (since I agree with Judy Morris that it's both risky and not particularly ethical), but I often take disparate elements and combine them, as I did in this painting I made about 10 years back in watercolor class at L.A. Valley College. I took out a book from the library with pictures of trees in it. I took out another with rodents in various poses. The cat I drew from life, having examples available around the house. The glass slipper was somewhat humiliating--I put this painting on display once, and someone said to me "I love that you made the slipper peau de soie instead of glass." Not intention, m'dear, just lack of skill! The coach is a hybrid of my own blue teapot with the wheels, door and perch of the Disney Cinderella coach.

There is another reason why I don't often copy faithfully from one photo--the fact that I am almost always dissatisfied with the rendering. As much as I want to paint freely and loosely, copying from a photo seems to send me straight back to that painstaking person who has to (try to) capture each minute detail, and not only is my skill set usually inadequate, but I get halfway through and think, THIS is not the painting I wanted to make at all!

I decided, however, to give it a shot again this week, because I saw a photograph I wanted to capture, for a couple of reasons. One was, of course, that the composition, colors, and subject matter appealed to me; and the other was that I wanted to make the painting as a gift.

I am a fan of the author Deb Caletti. She writes both young adult and adult fiction, and I have liked all of her books, some of them a lot. I also feel guilty about Deb, because I once invited her to be a guest speaker at my library and then had to uninvite her. I had sent out emails to a variety of YA authors who would be in Los Angeles for the L.A. Times Festival of Books, hoping to snag one for an author appearance while they were in town. Deb (who lives in Seattle) was one, and Maggie Stiefvater (Virginia) was another. Maggie's agent replied and said Hey, Maggie is just starting her Printz tour (her book The Scorpio Races was a Printz Honor book) with John Corey Whaley (who won the Printz for Where Things Come Back), so how would you like a twofer--Maggie and Corey? I was ecstatic, accepted, and booked the auditorium. Two days later, I heard back from Deb personally, and she said she would be delighted to appear at our library. Ordinarily I would have just said Author panel! and booked her too, but since Maggie and Corey were part of a tour, I couldn't do that. So I had to say Gee, Deb, I'm so sorry but you can't come after all. She was graciousness itself, but I always felt badly.

Long story to get to: I follow Deb Caletti on Facebook, where she occasionally posts photos of weekend activities amongst the news about book tours. She posted a photo from a day when she was at Lake Union, with a caption that said "I finally found my boat!" The photo was an unusual composition, with color challenges, an interesting perspective, and water (of which I haven't painted much), and I immediately resolved to try making a painting of it. I also decided that if I did and it turned out okay, I would send it as a gift to Deb Caletti to say, Sorry again for reneging on the author appearance, and please come by the next time you're in Los Angeles! Here is the painting:

As I said above, not really the one I wanted to make. How I'd love to paint is something like Thomas Schaller, who creates the ocean with a quick wash, flicks his wrist to make waves before the paint is dry, and sketches in a pier or a boat freehand in a beautiful ultramarine/burnt sienna mix while simply eyeballing his photo. But that's not me. So I spent about nine hours on this, hoping as I went along that it wouldn't turn out looking like a paint by numbers affair. There are many areas with which I am less than satisfied, a few that make me happy, but over all, I think I will call it good and send it to Deb Caletti. Hopefully she won't be as critical as I am and will simply be reminded of a delightful day out, and of a librarian who wishes her well.

12 October 2014

Negative painting

That heading is a double entendre, because this is my attempt at what's called a "negative" painting, and I feel negatively about it!

This was from a close-up of the asters that bloom every October in my garden. The bees love them, and I caught this one collecting his pollen. I decided I'd take this close-up and make a painting from it, using a technique I have seen others--notably Brenda Swenson and Joe Cibere--use. (I have never taken their workshops teaching negative painting, and this is my first unschooled attempt.)

Basically, you do the drawing lightly, and then you do an under-wash of your lightest color or colors, in this case a graduated pale lavender to pale green. So far, so good:

Then you paint in layers. You leave your lightest colors (the petals on the asters, in this case) the original under-wash color, and you paint around them with the next darkest color, and then put in the next darkest, and the next darkest, each time defining the lighter parts of the painting by painting around them with darker areas to define them.

It sounds easy in theory. In practice, I found it both difficult and boring. You have to really focus on how you are going to make your lights stand out, and you also have to do a lot of waiting in between coats of paint before you can go on to the next one. Also, you have to have a good sense of the negative spaces in your painting, which I did not (the photograph being a bit indistinct in certain areas and I too inexperienced at this to know what to do with them), and you have to know how to deal with both positives and negatives as you move towards the finishing touches, which I found confusing.

In short, I got frustrated and bored, and I finally just stopped. In some areas of the painting, I stopped too soon, while in other areas, I stopped too late, leaving some parts unfinished looking while others are overworked! I felt like I was doing a paint-by-numbers project!

So this was a good exercise to teach me one of two things: Either I shouldn't attempt stuff without watching a pro do it and getting advice; or I should be more patient and committed to the process and be willing to practice more than once before giving up on it. But honestly, I just don't think it's my kind of technique. Anyway, for what it's worth, here it is. Maybe I'll try another someday.

05 October 2014

Sunday morning lakeside

I woke up at 6:30 this morning, and since it's been pretty hot, I decided I'd forego another hour or two of sleep and head out to Lake Balboa, which is a manmade lake and recreation area about a mile and a half from my house, for some painting. I packed up my watercolor tote, and threw in my recyclable bag too, so I could make some art and then hit Trader Joe's before the morning rush.

I didn't get up quite early enough to get sunrise over the lake, but I did get some nice photos from my back yard before I left:

I'm not much of a plein air painter, which is to say I haven't done it much, am not particularly comfortable with it (especially fending off or ignoring all the people who stop and want to watch or comment--I overheard a "beautiful!" and an "oh, she's just messing about" this morning, for instance), and don't do a great job. So I decided this morning, so as not to put pressure on myself, that I would just do some pen gesture drawings of the birds at the lake and maybe one painting, which I would also draw with pen, taking away some of the expectation of capturing the scene realistically. Here are the gesture drawings of all the plenitude of water birds that hang out there--egrets, geese, coots, herons…

And here are a couple more, along with a fast gesture drawing of a little boy who went by. Most of the adults were either jogging or walking so quickly that I couldn't catch a likeness before they were gone, but this little boy was walking slowly enough that I could get a tiny bit of detail:

And here, finally, is my little painting. I quite like parts, although I overworked the focal point fall tree in the foreground, trying to capture the colors. I caught a jogger stretching against the picnic table and decided she'd make a nice addition to a scene of nature.

Here's a photo of the same scene (although I condensed and simplified a bit, and changed the planes):

So--it's 10:00 a.m., and I have driven, drawn, painted, shopped, scanned, Dropboxed, Photoshopped, and posted! Time for breakfast. And a nap.

29 September 2014

Last day of vacation...

…was yesterday, so I decided to make one last painting. (Not last last, just last during this precious free time.) I tried my hand at an all-over pattern, since Judy Morris's pattern-heavy paintings made me want to "get busy." Of course, if Judy had done this it would have been perfect…and with no pencil lines or skips or flubs. But I am me, and I don't have the patience or the desire for perfection. So I finished it up this morning, and here is my little still life of fruit from the farmers' market, on a piece of fabric I bought as part of a package of "fat quarters" to use someday (when I retire!) in a quilt.

I actually used salt on those pears, but then I painted over them so much that it's virtually undetectable. Also, let me just say that it is hard to know how to do shadows over fabric that is both pink and white. Hmmm. And that wash at the top was really smooth before I tried to fix the horizon line and had to glaze over the whole thing again. Oh, well. It was a good use of my last morning off.

Here also is a photo "in process," just because I always like to see those.

What could be better than spending your morning out on the patio painting? (By the way, those bankers' boxes in the background are full of paperwork for the taxes I was supposed to be doing this weekend. Yes, last year's taxes. But…priorities! Ha ha.) And now…back to the library!

28 September 2014

New techniques: Salt

I decided yesterday to try my hand at introducing salt to a picture, following Judy's instructions from my workshop (see previous post two down from this one). This is from a photo I took while in France last year, in some small village--don't remember which one, but I'll ask Bix. I am proud of myself that I didn't give in to the urge to put this on the light box and trace it--this is a freehand drawing, and done, moreover, while sitting in Judy's workshop, which amazes me due to the level of distraction present. There are a few non-true angles and wonky perspectives, but I can easily write that off to its being a funky little building, yes?

The thing I liked about this subject when I took the photo was the variety of textures and materials used in this cottage or outbuilding or whatever it is: rough stone, smooth stone, plaster, wood, some kind of blue aluminum siding, and of course the metal of the post box and the gate. There is also the brick and concrete of the walkways, the earth and scattered leaves surrounding the plants, and finally the gangly, unpruned climbing rose, which introduces the natural element into it all.

All of that also makes this a hugely challenging scene to paint, and I am happier with some parts than with others. First, though, the salt:

I used regular table salt throughout. I salted the plaster at the right; then I decided to salt the brick and sidewalk; and finally I went all out and also salted the stones on the left and the side wall area.

I really liked what the salt did for the plaster on the right, and I accentuated it afterwards by introducing some dabbed-on-and-blotted green to give it a moldy feel. I also like what it did for the wall behind the gate, and for the sidewalk emerging from that side. The problem with this photograph was that even when I took it into Photoshop and brightened the heck out of it, I still could see no detail on the receding left-hand side of the building behind the gate; but I think the salt, combined with mixing a variety of dark colors to give it presence without definition, made it work.

I was much less happy with its effect on the bricks, and in fact am displeased with the bricks, period--I think they are the one area in this painting that doesn't work. I expected the gate to be the biggest problem, but it came out pretty well, and I was pleased with the juxtaposition of the somewhat flat red with the textured wall behind it, and the echoed angles of the sidewalk and crossbars.

One is sometimes not sure a painting is finished, and with this one the foliage is what kept me futzing for a while. I'm still not happy with it--the foliage in the photo was much denser and more complex, and I just didn't have the will to continue, so I stopped. I'm not great with foliage in general, and I short-handed it, which is contrary to the style of the rest of the painting. But…to use a recently well-worn phrase that has absolutely no meaning, irritates me when I hear it from others, and yet seems to express one's emotion perfectly sometimes, "It is what it is." Done. I call it "Secret Garden" because despite all the detail, the thing I like most about the painting is the possibility inherent in opening that gate and finding out what's in the back yard!

Although I enjoyed working with the salt and feel it added a dimension to this particular subject, I'm not sure I will adopt it with the fervency with which Judy Morris uses it! Still, nice to know a tool is there when you need it, and I'm sure I'll try it again in some other context.

This is a larger painting (12x16), so I photographed it instead of scanning it, but I think the colors are pretty true.