Saturday, December 27, 2008

Study "5:01"

It's been harder to keep up on the Blogging through the holidays - mainly because I've been doing mostly housecleaning and not so much art ;D (If you really want to hear about the housecleaning just let me know).

The art work that I have done has been mostly technical and preparatory work - playing with still-life setups, priming newspaper (don't worry, that will come in a not-to-distant future blog post!), and things like that. Again - not so interesting to blog about.

But I'll post this little study for you - it's a practice piece for a larger still-life that I hope to complete this month (as it would be perfect to submit for an upcoming show). I didn't get any in-progress shots (the digital camera is recovering from all of my reference photo shooting yesterday!) but I'll be sure to take them when I do the big piece.

Textiles are so fascinating - cut glass, liquid, leather, metal - I am enjoying learning how to manipulate my pastel pencils further to get somewhat realistic renderings of these type of surfaces. Still life set-ups are tremendous fun as well - playing with objects and light, reflections and refractions.

The final painting will tell a bit of a story - I think this study will give you a sense of where the title came from. Enjoy!!

9x9" Pitt pastel pencil on Canson paper

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, or whatever midwinter event you celebrate!

I hope you're enjoying the holiday season as much as the dawgs enjoyed their Christmas presents this morning!!

(^^^ Very happy doggies!!)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Meet Morgan - This is a commission I did this month of Morgan, a beautiful golden retreiver who passed away very recently. Morgan was left at a clinic when he was 6 and was lucky enough to be found by a new family where he has lived with his dog-sisters for the past 4 years or so. Morgan was diagnosed with splenic cancer two years ago and with treatment he continued to enjoy going for walks and swimming in the pond. Sadly he developed more cancer which spread rapidly and took his life this year - but he is a beautiful reminder that illness does not need to consume us.

As people we have such a hard time overcoming the mental weight of our problems - illness, stress, money concerns. The problems are very real - but they only beat us when they keep us from enjoying every precious day of our lives. Dogs are so much smarter!

Reference photo:

Morgan's portrait was done in pastel using a modification of the Colorist technique that I have learned some from Charlie (a wonderful pastel painter who teaches on WetCanvas - check out her blog!). I wanted a realistic final portrait - but by using a colorist foundation (strong, bright colors mapping out the light and shadow areas of the painting) the final result will have greater depth and body than if I use layer upon layer of the same color families.

As all my paintings do - it stars with a sketch after careful selection of the crop and composition I wish to use. I am working on Wallis paper for this one (remember - the stuff that is like sandpaper). I grind the initial colors of pastel into the paper to give it a base color to work on and draw the undersketch in vine charcoal:

Next go the base colors - yellows, blues, oranges and purples predominate. I sent a copy at this point to the client who ordered this painting (it's a close friend of mine and, yes, I was having a bit of a joke). She wisely heeded my warning to 'wait until it develops, it will look better' - but I'm sure I scared the pants off her.

I start layering more 'normal' colors over the base - eventually all of the base will be covered up and you will only see it in micro-tiny bits that peek through the top layers of color. This is how it adds to the depth of the painting without actually being part of what you see in the end.

I always work the background first - it's generally my least favorite part but at the same time extremely important to get right. In this case I am doing a detailed background - it's always my preference to have the subject in a setting, but a detailed background comes close to doubling the painting time so it isn't always an option. In this case I had enough lead time and the reference photo was so perfect I had to take advantage of it!

As the painting progresses I hone in on the face. Although, truth be told, I flit back and forth throughout the painting process - mapping out the values, adjusting, layering, and tweaking the parts I'm not directly working on when I take breaks from the parts I am focusing on.

Many animal artists start with the eyes, I tend to leave them until the end. Most of us will agree that the eyes make or break a portrait. That is where you capture the life and emotion of your subject, and I guess that's the reason people will start with the eyes. For me - I put so much into the eyes (time-wise I probably spend more than twice as long per square inch on eyes than any other part of the painting). So if I start with the eyes, get them perfect, and then have anything be off on the rest of the painting it is a dismal proposition to go change those eyes. By leaving them until last I am sure that I'm happy with the rest of the proportions, values, and composition before I do that last little burst. Plus the painting doesn't really 'come to life' until the eyes are done - so near the end when I paint them it's like a grand unveiling - even for me who's been a foot away from the painting for hours to days at that point.

So here is the final version - Morgan in the back garden. I hope you like it. I hope Morgan approves!

And if you didn't see my previous blog entry on pets and loss please have a look here.

~~ Boots ~~

Monday, December 8, 2008

Word of the year - Discipline

Or as my niece used to say when she was 5, "Didiplus!".

Why is it that the simpler solution is so often the better one? I was introduced to the concept of choosing a 'word of the year' from the blog of a wonderful artist, Tina Mammoser. She in turn got the idea from Christine Kane's Blog. And I find myself sitting here a few days later thinking 'that's a really good idea, I want to share this'.

I urge you to check out both of their blogs - they are full of interesting material! But to summarize for those of you who's clicker-finger is broken.. the idea is to choose a single word that will be your 'guiding light' for the year. Rather than the typical list of New Year's resolutions (which everyone knows are forgotten by spring) this is a way to address all those 'I should's that seem to come up this time of year. But the approach is not to list what you should do on the surface - but try to get to the heart of it.

So what would my usual "New Years" list consist of this year?
- More regular exercise
- Less time frittered away on the internet
- Set and stick to a daily schedule
- Set and fulfil goals with my art
- Lose weight
- Keep up on the housecleaning

That's a reasonable list. I'm sure many people have some of those items on their list. I hold absolutely no illusions that I'll actually do these things any more than I already am - which is why I don't officially make a New Year's Resolution list.. what's the point?

So I read Christine's blog and no one word jumped out at me (I liked Tina's idea of 'Structure' but didn't want to be a copycat.. but also, although disorganization is is one of my issues it's not the heart of the problem - in some areas I'm extremely structured and organized). So I scrolled down to where she had the list - and I had read through maybe ten words before 'Discipline' popped into my head. I read further and sure enough it was in the list (not that your word has to be in the list - but it made me feel better about choosing it).

So why discipline?
First - positive reinforcement. I have been working very hard the past 3 months on developing business and marketing plans and really applying myself to my art. In short, being disciplined. And I feel great about it - I feel in control, and I can see the improvements in my art already.

Second - negative consequences. Look at my list above.

1. More regular exercise. Why don't I? I love getting outside, I feel great when I do, we live in the middle of the freakin' mountains! It's just that I need to respond to this post, and I'd rather be painting, and it's damp out there.... if I implemented a little discipline I'd get over all of those tiny impediments and go do what my body longs for. And you know what? I'd feel great!

2. Less time frittered away on the internet. (She says as she blogs). That is completely a choice. In fact when I pull myself away from the computer I not only get more 'real life' things done but I approach the internet with a bit of a plan... I need to do this, and this, and this.. and lolcats will just have to wait today (then invariably someone sends me the funniest lolcats so I have gotten more done *and* not had to slog through the cute-but-not-that-funny ones). It just makes sense.

3. Set and stick to a daily schedule. This seems great on the surface - with my current status of being a "budding entrepreneur" (nice spin on that eh?) that setting a schedule would be a good thing. But when I thought about this a little further I realized that on days that don't go 'as scheduled' but that I get a tonne of stuff done, I feel great. Some days I check everything off my list but I still feel at loose ends. It's not the lack of structure specifically that bothers me - it's when I reach the end of the day and think 'I could have gotten so much more done if I'd just not (insert time waster here)'. Apply discipline and *poof* - I don't dally on things that are really unimportant and I get off my butt and get done the things I need to do. I feel good at the end of the day.

I could go on, but I'm sure you see the point.

(er.. Discipline!)

I urge everyone reading this to read Christine's blog and think about your own Word for 2009.

I'd love to hear what word you choose! Leave it in the 'comments' section below!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Late Harvest

So it's getting a little late in the season for this theme - but it's technically still autumn, so here goes.... this is a little painting I did for a project on WetCanvas.

For any artsy folk out there I have to put in a plug for WetCanvas - it's a fabulous site and a great resource for just about any kind of art! Check it out!

Back to the corn - for this puzzle project I received a tiny little image, it's 1/16th of a larger image (which we have yet to see as I write this). Quite obviously some harvest corn. I decided to do it on a piece of terra cotta Canson paper I had around. I haven't worked on Canson in awhile - it's very different than the Wallis paper that Bells was done on. Not better or worse in my opinion, just different.

Here's the preliminary sketch in charcoal - I've marked off quarters around the margin, I'm trying to keep the proportions really exact in this as it has to line up with other people's pieces. The original image is exactly what you see above. My painting will be 6x6" (this sheet of paper is 8x8" to leave a margin for working):

And starting with color... first I block in the dark purple and red kernels. Because further layers of pastel will lighten I want the tone I use here to unfluence the final color - but it isn't what the final color will be:

Next I continue by working a bit more on the weird shapes in the background (upper left) and blocking in the lighter kernels:

Now to give these guys some depth - admirably avoiding the black pencil I used mostly blues for the darker kernels...

And purples for the yellow kernels, with blue-gray for the very pale kernels. I start to smooth out the red kernels:

Next I smooth out the dark purplish kernels. They get layers of the ruddy brown base color with blues in the deep shadows and a pale mulberry color for the highlights. A color shaper helps to smooth the color gradations together and just a light touch of white at the brightest highlights makes them really pop!

I continue, smoothing out the yellow and white kernels, deepening their shadows and brightening some of the highlights. The corn is really getting some depth. I've gone back and futzed with the background a little too - I have to admit, it's frustrating for me not knowing what it is... if I were working from a high resolution photo I could reproduce it, but since I'm blowing up a very tiny image I end up filling in the gaps with my imagination (a dangerous thing):

And there's the finished piece! (It looks little different because the last shot is always scanned and cropped (as opposed to taken under easel lighting with the digital camera - this is closer to the actual appearance of the painting in real life)

Hope you enjoyed this one! Although it started as a little project I quite like it, it will look lovely with a wide museum mat!

Next post I'm thinking we'll be back to the doggies, I've got a few good things cooking so stay tuned!

Monday, November 24, 2008

A caffeinated diversion...

The other night I had a little artistic diversion - a product of my endearing love of coffee.

Those who know me are never surprised to find a trail of coffee cups leading to my studio. One of my residentmates even wrote a poem about a particularly famous coffee mug of mine (ah, Sylvester, I knew him well!). So a little while ago I came across Coffee Paper (see the Oct. 22 Blog entry) and now that it's arrived I'm trying to figure out what best to do with it.

The topic of this blog entry isn't actually the Coffee Paper. That was just what started the process - in brainstorming ideas about what to print on my special, new ecopaper this little guy just popped right out of my head....

That is exactly how I feel first thing in the morning, can you relate?

I know he's not what I usually post here - although graphic design isn't my MO, I do love tinkering in Adobe Illustrator from time to time. Well it turned out that he didn't look good on the Coffee Paper (so that particular quest continues) - however he spawned a series of like-minded illustrations...

Well.. I do!

"I've always dreamed of standing by a lake of coffee, but not like this! Never like this!"

If you're a math nut maybe you'll get the hidden message of what goes well with coffee (at least in Canada - go Tim's!)

The most dire of diagnoses... severe hypocaffeinemia requiring a stat CRI of java.... Scary!

Now although these guys don't fulfill my ecopaper need - after spending an evening with them I decided they'd look pretty cute on a T-shirt. So to that end I've uploaded them to Cafepress - if you're interested in buying a T-shirt (or other item) with one of these images on it click here (or you can click on any of the images above!). If there's an item not listed that you'd like with one of these designs just email me (!

Next time I'll be back into the fine art category... now that I've had my coffee.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Still life "Bells" - Part 2 of 2

It is finished!

Unfortunately I managed to lose the in-progress photos that I took as I worked, so we'll just have to skip to the end!

Day 2 of work was much more difficult - I was having trouble getting into R-mode ("The Art Zone" as the hubby calls it) and it was the final stretch of the picture which is always more tedious than I think it will be. But the difference between 'art for fun' and 'art for work' is that I don't have the luxury of walking away - so I sat at the easel and kept plugging away. And here it is at the end of Day 2:

So after this it was time for bed - with four steps left until the end:
1) 'the hubby-check', 2) 'turning it to the wall', 3) 'peer review' and 4) 'revisions'.

It passed the hubby check with flying colors – though not an artist he has a good eye, and often points out trouble spots that I may have missed. One down.

Before I 'turn it to the wall' I make a few small notes – I'd like to darken the deeper crevices in the cloth in the upper half. I think the reflections on the upper half of the bells need to be darker, and there's a reflection on the third bell that I've not made clear enough. I wrote these on a post-it which goes on the easel beside the work-in-progress. Now I'll walk away from it for at least 10 hours, have a good night's sleep – and when I come back with 'fresh eyes' I'll see any errors more clearly.

Before bed I also posted it to Wetcanvas– a wonderful forum for artists of any kind! This is the 'peer review' part – artists of all levels will give me feedback on the work.

The next morning the notes on my post-it still are pertinent, I don't see any glaring new problems but a couple more tweaks I can do, such as tiny highlights over the surface - little dings in the metal that I hadn't noticed before. On Wetcanvas the feedback has been tremendously positive – I get some very good advice; to deepen the reflections (as I'd already noted) and to enhance my highlights with a little pale lemon yellow.

All of these go into Revisions.


After the minor 'revisions' we're done!

I've framed it out to 16 x 20", slightly large for this painting but that's the size I have so it will have to do for the time being - it will make for a wide mat which increases the drama so I think it will work. This is a visually strong piece, so a clean white double mat shows it in it's best light.

I hope you've enjoyed this demonstration - leave comments if you have anything to share!

This picture is available as greeting cards on

- Pam

Monday, November 17, 2008

Still life "Bells" - Part 1 of 2

'Tis the season! Well not quite yet – I hate the fact that Christmas marketing creeps earlier and earlier every year as much as the next person, but by this point in November some Christmas carols start creeping into my house somehow. It occurred to me that I have a dearth of seasonal works – it's actually a bit late for me to be doing this, however my motto is 'better late than never' so I'm trying to get at least a few pieces done by mid-December.

I've been wanting to paint a still-life with pastels, and (Christmas theme aside) one of the objects that I've been planning is the string of 'jingle bells' I still have from the days when I owned draft horses. To play into the Christmas theme I set up my still-life on a red, satiny fabric.. like so:

Today I'll take you through the first phases of the piece - and I'll follow with another entry when I'm finished. I was able to get in a good right-brain R-mode last night and got a lot done in about 6 solid hours of work. I hope you enjoy!

Stage 1:

This piece is pretty small - about 6 x 11" on Wallis sanded paper. I 'primed' the paper first with a yellow-orange pastel stick, rubbing it in to change the background color from a cool grey-brown to this warm color. I sketched out the image with vine charcoal and did a quick upside-down check. I admit I was getting impatient to put down color, and at first I intended this to be a quick study, so I may not be spot-on but I was satisfied. At this point I have added some base color - it's a warm red (almost bordering on deep salmon).

Here is where mindset takes over. I just love surfaces like metal and glass - the reflections and distortions of color are amazing! They seem so complicated at first - but the key to painting these is to stop looking at the bells and only look at it as blobs of color. Note that I did not start by working on the background, then moving to the bells. I just laid down * all * the places that were red, then all the dark shadows. In some places the color on what will be a bell is exactly the same shade and value as the color of the cloth - this is called a 'lost edge', and it's keeping faithful to bits like that which makes a painting look real and believable. Our eye really wants to draw lines around everything - but there are no outlines in real life!

Stage 2:

So I'm getting well into R-mode by this time - I'm no longer seeing bells, just gentle curves of color and value! I start adding some deep browns to for shadow (I'm trying really hard to minimize my use of black), a little cool green in the deepest shadows of the red cloth to tone it down, some warm yellow highlights on the cloth, and I've started laying warm grays on the bells themselves.

Stage 3:

Now, magically, they're starting to look like bells - with depth! It's hard to not see bells now, but because I've been in R-mode for hours my left brain seems to have wandered off to do something else. This is why I like having a large block of time to work on a piece (and incidentally, I slept like a rock last night after this!). You'll notice how I keep circling all over - I don't want to have to think about my pencils too much (ie I don't want to work in one area then have to go back and sort out which pencil colors I've used when I move to the next). By working 'all over' I use the colors evenly over the surface and don't have to 'break stride' (I have to say this is much easier to do in a small piece like this!).

R-mode is still important here - there's such a strong pull to think of one quadrant of one bell as a distinct object. The key to these bells are the reflections - note where the reflections cross quadrants of a bell, those details are what will make them look 'real' at the end.

I'm also trying to preserve the fine detail - but not getting too hung up on it. An important place for this is on the cut edges of the bells - at this stage I'm trying to observe the colors (note how those edges are a combination of mid gray, light gray, dark gray, orange, red and light yellow - no edge is a single color it's whole length). It's important to realize that in pastel a fine line is often not created by drawing a fine line (jeez - why would you expect that?). Instead I draw a sort-of fine line and refine it further by adding a sharp edge of adjacent color - in pastel it's easier to get a single sharp edge than a thin line with both sides sharp. See the 'fine' red and gray lines in the middle of the leftmost bell? Look at it up close...

The bell's really taking shape now! I'm working the whole piece over as I go - adding highlights and shadows in the cloth, filling in the leather strap with layers. The oranges and yellows and salmon-reds need to be in the cloth (the only actual 'red' object), the bells and the leather - this is a very saturated image and the objects have to all relate to each other to make it ring true (oh dear, I didn't even mean that pun, honest!!).

Stage 4:

This is where I stopped for the night - the leftmost bell is close to done.

I'd like to point out what I found the most challenging so far - the interior of the bells! Clue #1 - they're not black! I used a very dark gray in the initial stages to mark out the place - but if I'd left it like that it would look flat. So looking very closely at the ref photo I see that there are subtle highlights in there - probably secondary (light bouncing of other parts of the bell) rather than a direct beam shining in through the slit (that looks more like the interior highlight you see in the middle bell). A light scumble of a deeper, gold color over the dark gray adds tremendous depth - now you can see the shadows inside, giving the impression of a concave surface.

Also, even though these bells are silver - I used a really warm light source for the ref, so adding a light yellow-orange around the highlight, blending it with the grays I'd already laid down, gives more 'shape' to it. And my favorite part - the bright white highlight! This is the first I've used pure white - again, white and black need to be used sparingly for the brightest highlights and deepest shadows (I learned that the hard way!). I usually put all the highlights and deep shadows in at the end - but after 6+ hours I just wanted a glimpse of how the whole piece will look when it's done!

Well I hope you've liked this little stroll-through-a-still-life!

I'll follow up with Part Deux once it's completed - now I have to get some real reds, as you can see It's more orange than red right now - part of that is intentional (I really want the final picture to be WARM, so using lots of orange and yellow underneath will make it shine!) but part is that I don't actually have any true reds in my growing pastel collection. Oh dear, a trip to the art store, what a chore! (LOL!)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The end of an era

No, I'm not talking about the election!

I've called it - 'Hey, we're napping here' is officially done!

I'm not entirely happy with the blanket in the front, but it's achieved my goal of being there but being relatively subdued so as not to detract from the kitties.    It took a long time - and I won't be tackling another 14 x 22" piece in the near future - but it was worth it!

The piece is framed and will be hung as soon as I decide which venue it will fit best in!

And as a bonus - also finished is Cuppa!!  After my initial worry I was able to use some better pastels and some .. interesting techniques to rescue it.  I didn't always know what direction this one was headed, but I like the way it's turned out.  I had originally intended it to be a bit more abstract, but I guess I'm stuck somewhat on realism for the time being.  There are worse things!


Thanks for watching the process on Napping.  I'll post some more once the next things are under way!  If there's anything you've found interesting so far on my blog please leave a comment!

~~ Boots ~~

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Update: Napping

A progress report on Napping (gosh this is a big piece).  I'm actually having more fun with this painting than I anticipated  - it occurred to me that all three kitties are fairly monochromatic - white, white and gray, and  gray.  But as I paint them, trying to stay somewhat true to the reference photo, it occurred to me that the play of warm and  cool tones within that limited spectrum is one of the things that made me fall in love with this picture - albeit, admittedly on a subconscious level.  

Michael, the white kitty, is the most neutral - he has subtle yellows and blues in his coat but the color  'temperature' balances out nicely.  Dufus, the middle kitty, is decidedly cool (in color, believe me in real life he's the biggest dork on earth).    The dark parts of his coat are underpainted with deep blues and the pencils used were predominately in the cool gray series.  Nessie, the latest addition, on the other hand is very warm (which is amusing, because in life this kitty is an ectotherm who likes to crawl into bed with us at night and plant her tiny ice-cube feet on any exposed human flesh she can find (like your face)).  When I roughed her in you can see the use of pinks and tans under the warm series of grays...


Another value check...


And here is where we are currently.


I have taken a little artistic license and deepened the hues of their eyes, as well as brightening the highlights, compared to the reference photo.  I feel justified in doing so - I live with these guys, and their beautiful eyes are like jewels in reality which just wasn't caught well in the photo. 

(Detail - this is close to the actual size of the painting)

The next step will be the foreground blanket (oh why aren't they on a solid-color blanket?).  I was actually really excited about the blanket when I started this picture, now I am so close to finishing it that I just want to be done!  That'll teach me.. interesting objects are for still-lifes, not portraits!

Hopefully my next post on this one will be the finished piece!  'Cuppa' is almost finished as well (I was able to salvage it).   And then I'll have easel space for the next run of projects, including 'Sarah and Harley' which I haven't forgotten about!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.

You are beautiful, but you are empty. One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you--the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered, because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.
- Antione de Saint-Exupery.

I first read Le Petit Prince in french class in high school.  I'm really glad my first reading was in it's native language because even though now I can barely follow the french version (and that mostly from memory) there is a depth there that can't quite be caught in English.  That being said, even translated the book is beautiful.   That man was a genius.

I particularly love the above quote - that whole chapter in fact.  It's all about 'taming' - what it really is about is 'bonding'.

To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys.  And I have no need of you.  And you on your part, have no need of me.  To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes.  But if you tame me, then we shall need each other.  To me, you will be unique in all the world.  To you, I shall be unique in all the world…
Wheat is of no use to me.  The wheat fields have nothing to say to me.  And that is sad.  But you have hair that is the color of gold.  Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me!  The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you.  And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…  

Why do I love pet portraits?  How can we reconcile the difference we face in veterinary medicine between a stray cat who is euthanized and one who's brought in by new adoptive owners that will have a long, happy life?  

It is because a cat or dog (or person for that matter) is just like a hundred thousand others on this earth - and for the most part meaningless to us as we go about our everyday lives.   That changes the moment we care - when we give the stray cat some fresh water, pat a loose dog and toss a stick for him, engage our neighbor in conversation - we start to forge a bond.  The more we interact, the more we give, the stronger the bond.  Is it any wonder we are so bonded to our children and pets?  And it's beautiful to observe, isn't it?  I don't have to know the old lady in the park with her little terrier on a leash, but seeing them interact can bring me, a complete stranger, joy.

But you can't have joy without sorrow to balance it.  
So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near
"Ah," said the fox, "I shall cry."
"It is your own fault," said the little prince. "I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you..."
"Yes, that is so," said the fox.
"But now you are going to cry!" said the little prince.
"Yes, that is so," said the fox.
"Then it has done you no good at all!"
"It has done me good," said the fox, "because of the color of the wheat fields."

I have experienced the loss of a loved one.  I have been present during many, many, many other partings.  When someone loses a pet through euthanasia or natural death it can be devastating.  When someone loses a pet or person they've been caring for, maybe nursing them through a bad illness, the loss is compounded by the sudden removal of that 'need'.  There is no-one to water anymore, no-one to put a globe over, or a windscreen around.  What do you do?  

Well - you move on.  And like the fox you cry.  And you see things in the world a little differently for having known and loved.  And whether you have a picture to look at, or you see it more clearly in the color of the wheat fields, if you take the time to look with your heart open you will see that they are always here with you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A small tangent...

One thing about pastels is that they're not very portable.. at least not 'Napping' which is 14 x 22". So since I was out of the house much of yesterday I'm using that as my excuse for not working on the painting and instead doing this:

It's 5 x 7" ink on regular drawing paper, regular except that it's been 'manipulated'.   

Some time back I treated this particular page of my sketchbook by soaking it in wet coffee grounds then flattening it under heavy books.  At the time I was striving to make 'coffee paper' - and I like the aged, wrinkled effect (and what a better surface to render Rosie, wrinkled little thing that she was!).  

However my hopes of using this as an art surface were dashed when I read that coffee is acidic - presumably counteracting any acid-free/archival properties of the sketchbook paper.  But necessity is the mother of invention (or the Internet is the big steaming pile in which you can find ANYTHING) and so after a brief search I found this which the manufacturers claim is acid-fast paper!

So watch for Eco-Art on tree-free paper.. coming soon to a blog near you!

But back to the current piece... this is Rosie.  She was an English Bulldog (adopted) who shared my life for 10 years before she succumbed to lymphoma.  I'd like to say she was an angel, but it seemed that when other dogs were around she tended to misplace her halo (to put it lightly).  She was a dear though - and despite her allergies, cancer, and the curse of being born a bulldog she was always full of life!  I can still see her scaring herself with her own farts!

Hope you like my little pen & ink.  It was fun to do!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Status Report - "Hey, we're napping here!"

Well - posting has indeed helped light a fire under me on this piece.  I decided to work on the second kitty (his name is Dufus.. believe me, he earned it!).  I wasn't getting his face just right so I flipped my page upside-down.  If you read my earlier post referencing Betty Edwards this may seem like a reasonable thing to do.  But in case you're not familiar with such exercises I'll explain a bit.  

Often when what we draw doesn't look the way we want it to it's because we're not seeing the subject properly.  By putting both our reference picture and our artwork upside-down we force ourselves to truly look at it - not as Dufus the cat, but as shapes, values and lines and their relationship to each other.  This, in essence, forces a shift to right-brain mode and generally results in a much happier artist when the work is turned back rightside-up.    

My initial blocking in of Dufus:

And the current status (his face isn't completely finished - I still need to do a value check and add whiskers.. but I save those for last, they're my favorite!!):

While I had the image upside down I decided to tackle the 'problem' I mentioned earlier.  I had used a really cheap pastel for the curtain, and although it doesn't show well on the image if you look close you can see that it doesn't completely coat the paper ('fill the tooth') leaving a grainy, dull appearance.  Terrible!  I honestly just wasn't thinking when I grabbed the pastel stick - but I've learned for myself what so many have told me - always work with the best materials you can afford.  This is so true of pastels... had I worked much with those sticks initially I think I would have gotten very discouraged indeed!

So to fix the problem my plan was to remove as much of the pastel as I could - using a small foam 'brush' (the kind you get in the hardware store painting section) I started to gently whisk away the white.  To my surprise the cheap pastel came right off!  You can see in this picture the upper left corner that is still white, which I whisked as well - but that part was done with a higher quality white pastel pencil.  The fix was much easier than I'd anticipated.  After I whisked all of the old white off I coated it with a better white which fills the tooth nicely and stays put!!

So here's the current status of the picture - I've also made changes to the first kitty's eyes (Michael).  Dufus' body will be next, then it will be time to tackle Nessie and the blanket under them.  

But before I go back to it - it's time for a value check!  In Photoshop I desaturate the image so I can see the values without worrying about color, compared to the reference photo it is easy to pick out places where the values are 'off':

The cushion behind him needs much lighter highlights, and the right side of his nose could stand some deeper shadows.  His eyes are a little different than the reference - that is actually on purpose (sometimes you need a little tweaking to make the 'real life' picture look good).

I think that's enough posting for today - I'll catch you up when I've gotten a bit more done!  Thanks for watching!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Well autumn is here!

My favorite time of year - and this is our first year in the Rockies, it is absolutely perfect!  In the past weeks we've watched the trees filter through each stage of color on the way to their winter rest.  I only hope that I blaze as brilliantly in the last quarter of my lifetime!

Traditionally autumn is a 'downgearing' time of year - activity slows, preparations for the winter ahead, hibernation (if you're into that).  But not this year, not for me.  Things are just revving up here and anyone reading this can come along for the ride!  I started this blog to complement my forage into a career in the arts, without really much direction.  It's been about a month since my first post - mainly because I wasn't really sure *what* to post.  I know one thing that always fascinates me is watching the process.  So it seems prudent to put some of that into my blog - and I've got a lot of process going on!  

Perhaps someday I'll be more structured and disciplined, but for now my M.O. is to have multiple projects going at once.  I always try to keep conscious of my mental attitude when doing my art - if I'm getting frustrated with a piece it is best to walk away, otherwise I run the risk of overworking it or just spinning my wheels.  But I'm not always done with art altogether at those times - so having another piece on the go allows me to divert my energies but keep moving forward.  When I come back to the first piece I have fresh eyes and usually I know what I need to do.

So in that vein let me introduce you to my current pastel works-in-progress (WIPs):

First: "Hey we're napping here!".  This piece is giving me minor fits - I started it awhile ago and since this medium is new to me I'm already adjusting my techniques.  Plus there is a problem that may not show up on the scan, it involves the white curtain in the background and it may or may not be correctable.  But I'm determined to finish this piece so by placing it here I'll *have* to keep working on it, right?  

Second: "Cuppa".  Now this piece is the biggest one I have on the go - but the problem I mentioned for 'Napping' is even bigger here - that being I started it with some crappy quality pastels while waiting for my order to come in, and I may not be able to salvage it.  I'm not quite ready to give up on it though - so I'm posting it too!  

Third: "Sarah and Harley".  A new piece!  Not even started yet - you can watch the progress on this one as we go.  

There's a lot of fodder for me to blog about here!  As I work on these pieces I'll post the progress.  If you have any thoughts please leave a comment!!