25 March 2023

Evolving work

This didn't turn out quite as I had envisioned it. My initial plan, after gessoing a board, was to paint it in acrylic; then I decided it would be better in watercolor. When I actually began painting, I had thought to do it in a more cartoon-y style and make it more like a Deb Weiers-inspired painting, with a colorful ink background and a wonky quality. But after the ink dried and I started to draw, I found myself making it mostly realistic so, despite the double black line and wonky colors, it became a more traditional rendering.

That's not to say it was entirely successful—for some reason I find Emma particularly hard to capture and even though each element related properly to the others, it somehow didn't become a sum of its parts in the way I would have liked. (And don't get me started on the teeth/mouth, I redid it about six times and should have left the first version!) I had a similar challenge when it came to capturing Pippin; both of their faces turned out too wide and not long enough.

I did have fun deciding where to put in "regular" color and where to let the background either show through or dictate the colors I used.

Anyway, it's not the result for which I was hoping, but it's not so bad I can't show it to people (I don't think?).

"Emma and Pippin"—Daler Rowney inks and watercolors on 140-lb. Fluid coldpress watercolor paper, 12x16 inches.

Here are my process pics:


14 March 2023

Reverting to style

I haven't been painting much (or at all) lately, and I don't know quite why. Some of it is that my legs are giving me trouble, so sitting for long periods isn't good; but if I can sit to watch TV or scroll Facebook, I can sit to paint, so that's not really much of an excuse. I just haven't felt moved to do much. I think maybe the rainy weather has been one component getting me down; although I'm not out in it, the darkness of the day does get to me after a while.

Anyway, I had this reference photo I liked, of Jenell del Cid looking crazed or freaked out or something, not sure what, except that the whites of her eyes were definitely a component! So I decided to journey back to 2019 when I took the class with Deb Weiers that got me started on portrait-mania, and do Jenell's slightly goofy expression in the bright colors of Daler Rowney inks in non-realistic colors.

Although I managed to draw her with a fair amount of accuracy in terms of the shape of her eyes, nose, and mouth and their relation to one another, I completely lost the head-tilt that made the expression more extreme, so she merely looks a little startled, as opposed to the crazed vibe for which I was aiming. I don't know how I managed to actually tilt her head in the opposite direction and yet keep her face shape and all the features in synch, but I did. (This is one of those times when one simple angled pencil line would have made a big difference!)

Anyway, I somewhat made up for the lack of extreme emotion with the neon colors I used to paint her; I started out with pencil marks all over the page, just for some interest and texture, and then followed up with spatter, spray, and wash in pink and orange. I let that dry, and then did the drawing with a Uniball pen. I had forgotten how much I like Deb's technique of double line everywhere, so I did that. I took some white gesso and put in some highlights on the forehead, brow line, cheekbones, nose, and chin, and also filled in the whites of her eyes. Then I painted in the face, using the pink and orange and accenting with shades of turquoise and Prussian blue, and then later with a little Payne's Grey. Her eyes are brown; I did Deb's effect of star lines coming out from the pupils, and put in highlights on those and her nose and lips with a white Signo pen.

I played around with some texture on her scarf by adding lines, put some darker shading into the hair and under her chin, backed off the fluorescent lime green of her jacket with a wash of Payne's, and intensified the background with another wash of pink. Last touch was a double-line border around it all.

I considered some trademark stuff of Deb's, like circles around the eyes, or an extended lip line, or even some random spots here and there, but ultimately decided I liked her as a simpler, less wonky but still distinctive character.

"Startled"—Daler Rowney inks, Uniball pen, gesso, on Fluid 140-lb. coldpress watercolor paper, 9x12 inches.

01 March 2023

Olivia #2

For an assignment two weeks ago, I chose to paint Olivia, a photo reference I had used before, for another class, in another medium.

The assignment on this one was to draw her in pencil, then wash over the whole thing with acrylic inks, and mess with the background in various ways—salt, splashes of water, and so on. I did the pencil drawing, but then decided to diverge from the assignment by using stencils in the background, so I applied them using white gesso. You can't see them at all when it's white on white, but then when you wash over them with the ink, the stenciling partially resists the color wash and shows up lighter against a darker background of ink soaked into paper.

I like the effect, but I messed up a bit on this, because I wasn't careful enough with my stenciling and so got some in the hair area on one side, where I didn't want it. So the hair didn't come out quite like I had planned.

In Angela Kennedy's version, the hair went straight up, as if the model was underwater and her hair was floating. I decided to send mine to the side instead, as if she's standing in a high wind.

The ink effect I achieved was quite subdued, because instead of using an ink color foreign to human faces (purple in Angela's case), I used a flesh-toned ink. It was so pale that I went over the background surrounding the face with a darker brown ink, to provide at least some contrast, and blend better with the hair. Then the rest of the picture was accomplished by painting with a high-water-volume brush in watercolor.

It didn't occur to me, but a friend of mine said she looks like the woman in The Birth of Venus, by Botticelli, and although I initially scoffed, I do see the resemblance. She's 9x12 on Fluid 140-lb. watercolor paper.

I painted Olivia a few years back, for a different class (Emma Pettit's) in a different medium (acrylic). It's sharper and more defined; I like the softness of this one, but I loved the intruding background and rust-colored shadows on that one.


(Botticelli on the left, my acrylic of Olivia on the right.)

I didn't feel like blogging at the time I painted this, but since I haven't been painting since then, I thought I'd toss it up here with some words about the process. Hoping to do another painting soon.

06 February 2023

This week's lesson

I haven't done three or four lessons in a row for Let's Face It 2023 because they were in pencil or charcoal or pan pastels, none of which do I enjoy. But this week was a little painting with a full figure and a bunch of pattern fun, so I decided to get back in the habit of spending my Monday afternoon on art.

I ended up with something quite different from the instructor's piece, for several reasons: She used a gelli plate to print her background onto the paper, and I don't own one or know how to use it (though it looks like fun and I might have to acquire one); and since I had to change the background completely, the rest sort of followed naturally.

Her suggestion for those without a gelli plate was to use a brayer to put some colors on the paper and then to incorporate stenciling or rubber stamping to give texture and interest. So I pulled out my liquid acrylics (I only own five colors) and dripped them all over the page, and then went to work with my brayer. Because I had only used small drops of the paint, and because I was doing it all at once instead of layering, I achieved an interesting effect of overlapping ovals and circles and swashes that immediately looked to me like a mid-century modern pattern, especially in the colors I had inadvertently used. So I went through my stencils and found some geometric things and pounced them on over the colors, using white paint. They didn't stand out a lot, but interrupted the pattern enough to be seen here and there, and also the white shows through paint put on top of it, which is fun for extra texture later.

Given this background, I decided that instead of the overstuffed red velvet couch the instructor had incorporated, I would look for a sofa from the '50s, and pose my sleeping model on that instead. Since it wasn't quite as cushy/smooshy, I had to find a different pose, which I did from Wikimedia Commons, plus brace her up with some strategically placed cushions. The model was nude, but I decided to dress her, initially planning for a dress but somehow ending up with a tank and shorts. She also had short hair, but because the instructor's model had long luscious locks, I went that way too. My last idea was to add in a prototypical lamp from the era, again incorporating the colors I had been using. I threw in a little gold gilt paint here and there, but it's hard to see unless you tip the page.

It's certainly not great art, nor one of my best pieces, but it was something different and I had fun messing with it all afternoon. And I can check off this week's lesson as done!

"Mid-Century Slumber"—pencil and acrylics on coldpress watercolor paper, 16x12 inches.

03 February 2023

Fixit ticket

Sometimes a painting keeps nagging you long after you have "decided" that it's finished. It can be anything—as small as one necessary highlight that somehow didn't get added, to a major restructuring of a face or a figure—but every time you pass it sitting there on your desk, it cries out to you, "I'm not right and you know it!" (This is yet another good reason for being a tidy person who puts her paintings away in a file drawer!)

I felt like painting today, but didn't have any big inspiration or even a general subject in mind; cue the nagging. The image of my Facebook friend, artist Flo Lee, was sitting right there staring accusingly at me, demanding I pay attention. So I went back into my reference photos and pulled up onto my computer screen the photo (screenshot) from which I had painted the picture, and then opened and put up the digital (scanned) image of the painting right next to it, and it became glaringly obvious what needed to happen.

Her nose in the painting was a little too long (which I wasn't going to fix, that would be a row of dominos resulting in a brand new painting), but the appearance of length was greatly exacerbated by the fact that I had painted the bridge, the tip, and the nostrils (i.e., almost the whole nose) way too narrowly compared to the one sitting on Flo's face. Likewise,  although she does have a small mouth, it's not nearly as tiny and pursed-up as the one I painted for her, and looked more relaxed in the photo; and there was something about the teeth....

So, I squeezed out onto my palette the half-dozen colors I would need to do repairs, turned on some '70s rock, and went about fixing Miss Flo Lee. I realized, while I was at it, that I had also given one eye too exotic a slant in my attempt to mimic her eyeliner, so I fixed that while I was at it.

Most people will probably look at this and say "Didn't we see this same painting a couple of weeks ago?" and not notice any material change. But I noticed, and if it hadn't happened I would know, so now it has. It's still not perfect (her nose is also a little crooked), but at least she's not shouting at me any more!

31 January 2023

Unmeeting wishes

Lipedema is a loose connective tissue (fat) disorder that occurs almost exclusively in women (about 11 percent of them) and is triggered by hormonal changes. It is a chronic medical condition characterized by a systemic buildup of pockets of adipose tissue (fat) in the legs and arms. It may be accompanied by an unusual texture within the fat that can feel like rice, peas, or walnuts beneath the surface of the skin. The intensity of pain may range from none to severe, and its frequency may be constant, or come and go. Common symptoms include fatigue, muscle pain, and easy bruising. It is not obesity and is largely unaffected by diet. Exercise can mediate the effects, but not the cause.

A side effect to lipedema, due to blockage in the body from the growing fat pockets, is lymphedema, a condition in which lymph fluid, unable to move out of the system, builds up in tissues (mostly in the legs and feet, due to gravity) and causes swelling, which can actually be more painful and impactful than the lipedema itself. People with lymphedema can carry up to 30 pounds per leg in excess fluids.

The combination of the two is known as lipo-lymphedema.

My friend Susan is receiving cancer treatment, and yesterday's Facebook selfie had the following post as accompaniment:

There are days that present a fair amount of normalcy. I hardly notice those, and I rarely stop in the middle and say, hey, this feels pretty normal. I mean, why would I? It’s normal. ⁣
⁣Then there are the far more frequent times during any day when I’m doing the dishes or brushing my teeth and I ask myself, is this really happening? Is this even real? All the meds and lotions and vitamins across my bathroom vanity say yep. Shit’s happening here. ⁣
⁣My physical and emotional selves have been in a near-constant state of stress, dread, and panic since my hysterectomy last October. After surgery my body had to hit the ground running to just keep up. To just cope. I’m sure there’s healing going on, but it feels like a completely passive activity. It doesn’t feel like something I can control even a little. ⁣
⁣Right now I’m having Very Bad Times. I’ve read and I’ve been told that’s normal, totally to be expected. I just passed the chemo halfway mark, and there is stuff to celebrate. But I think about getting well, getting a negative scan and then *being* well, and yay. But then I remember that even when I’m declared well, it’s not a “hey you’re done” thing. It’s going to be a lifelong vigil, watching for recurrence. It’s going to be my job. ⁣
⁣And all through this are these persistent, intrusive, and wonderful memories of just being me, but younger, decades away from this. It’s a nostalgia that is both comforting and not. Of not being sick, or older, or post-menopausal, and not even close to Y2K and yet a reminder that those days are gone for good. Looking back seems to be a pretty normal response when you’re having a hard time, but even I get sick of my over sentimentality. 

As a person who now has a chronic condition from which there is no permanent "recovery," this hit me deep in my solar plexus. It triggered a complicated response that I'm documenting here because this is my blog, even though it's always been about art and mostly nothing but. It made me think about times both past and ongoing, and about the complexities of guilt and remorse, anger and defiance, and the sheer magical thinking that goes into dealing with an ongoing, progressive diagnosis. And although there is certainly no comparison between the sharp and present danger of cancer with an ongoing condition that, while challenging, is not considered potentially life-threatening, I couldn't help but dwell on the emotions Susan's words brought up for me.

I have never been a person for what is now termed "self-care." I didn't mess about with makeup as a girl or young woman; I wasn't into fancy hairdos, never remembered to pluck my eyebrows, and completely disregarded such things as manicures and pedicures. As an older woman I never established a cleansing or moisturizing routine—a quick rinse with warm water would do me, and if I was feeling particularly dried out I'd slap on some Oil of Olay, but it wasn't the slavish nightly ritual women like my mother pursued—I simply couldn't be bothered. The idea that someone would spend 20 minutes or more "getting ready" for bed with cold cream and head wraps and such meant nothing more to me than a delay in my before-sleep reading schedule.

Before now, I always chalked it up to having better things to do; I was intent on life and the interests that filled it, and was always focused outward on the job, the project, the painting or writing, the book I was reading, the music to which I was listening, and never on myself as an object to be studied or cherished. Perhaps it has something to do with the religion in which I was raised, which taught me always to put myself last; but what I am discovering now is that I'm just not good at self-regard, nor am I a person who is easily or willingly or even consciously able to incorporate routine into my life. ADD has been mentioned more than once in my presence in the past few years, and owning it actually provides me with some relief from guilt.

Now that I have a need for the nightly lotion (but on my legs, not my face), the rituals like regularly ingested supplements, consistently worn compression stockings, vibration, massage, exercise, mindfulness, I find that my lifelong disregard or even disdain for them was actually a mask for an inability to fix them in my mind or perceive their necessity or obey their rules. As such, I am the worst possible person to be diagnosed with a condition that requires alertness, self-reflection, and a regimen, program, method, order that promotes a more mobile, less painful life.

I still want to be focused on the next thing—the book, the TV show, the painting, the project. In my mind I am still capable of filling all the holes in my walls with joint compound, masking the trim with frog tape, and repainting my living room; in reality, it's all I can do, with cane in one hand and a single trash bag in the other, to get down the step from the front door to the porch in order to take out that week's garbage. I still have thoughts of driving from Los Angeles to Port Angeles to see if it's somewhere I'd like to retire, while the actual situation is that I can't do 45 minutes in traffic without paying for it with spasming leg muscles and plantar fasciitis in my right heel on the gas. In the spring I think about the yard I want, in which I have dug up and replaced the grass with five kinds of ground cover and a host of bird-, butterfly-, and bee-friendly annuals and perennials, while I haltingly shuffle along the three-foot border by the fence to toss zinnia seeds onto the surface.

My mind, in short, has not yet given in to the demands of the body, and I'm not sure it ever will, which is a bad result for my physical well-being. I need those routines, that program, a plan to be better; and the irony is that if I were to simply yield to their exclusive pursuit for a while, my body might respond and give me an extension of my current abilities. But my mind keeps fighting with that "might" and disagreeing that the reward is worth the effort, and as long as it does that, I'm stuck in this limbo of reality up against unmeeting wishes.

Along with my friend Susan, I have not quite come to terms with the idea that from now on, this is going to be my job.

22 January 2023

Mixed instructors!

I had a bunch of leftover paint on my palette the other day, and of course heard the voice of Emma Pettit in my head, saying "Don't waste paint!" So I made a background, and then pondered what to do with it. First, I applied some stencils, bringing in some more (brighter) colors, and then I decided to paint a picture of another mentor, Flo Lee. So this is Flo, in (sort of) the style of Emma!

This was a tough one—Flo is a unique-looking individual, and I kept getting the face too wide, the nose too low (I think it still is, a little), and her tiny little mouth is challenging to paint as well, especially (as in this screen grab reference) when it's open with teeth showing. I ended up making the bridge of her nose too narrow and the mouth too tiny, but the shapes are close enough that I'm not going to mess with it at the moment. I may come back to it.

To add some additional challenge, I chose to include her hand. Gotta get over the fear and practice hands sometime. I hope she forgives me for this effort!

"Flo Lee"—charcoal drawing, acrylic painting, over scrumbled acrylic background with stencils on Canson Aquarelle watercolor paper, 16x12 inches.