Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Walk in the Woods

Sitting down to my WIP today was a daunting experience. So much left to do. Although I have more than 50% coverage, most of the covered areas need development, darkening, burnishing. Today, I am tackling 'sky holes'; you know, those glimpses of sky you see through the branches of the trees. Scary stuff, deciding on colour values and strengths that are not too dark and not too light (a true Goldie Locks moment). Meanwhile, Spring opens up with the early show of wildflowers. While my current WIP is certainly an expression of burgeoning Spring (absolutely rampant with blatant fertility symbols if you haven't already noticed) I'm missing out on the small moments that slip by so quickly.

I'm not sure how others manage to hole themselves up in studio for days at a time (at least I hear that this is what people do). I need to be outside, up and moving my body through the world. I walk everyday, and almost always in the woods.

To paint the forest I need to understand it. Understanding is more than just pulling out a camera and snapping a reference shot. I need to see the forest, but not just that, I need to smell the forest, all it's scents inhaled deeply. I need to feel the forest, not just as the ground beneath my feet, but to feel it in my muscles as I trude along, an ache in my knees and my hips from countless footsteps past, feeling endless footsteps forward.

This is where the art comes from, and without the physical experience, there would be no art.

About the pics:
Click to see them at a decent size.

Top, is the trout lily showing off one of it's best features (and the one it is named after). See it's brown speckled leaves? They are gorgeous, sparkling and upclose have an almost holographic glimmer to them. Here is last years coloured pencil version of the Trout Lily.
Still walking along, how can one possibly miss a the startlingly bright Scarlet Cup, a ground fungous most notable for it's colour.
One down further, and here is the White Trillium still shaking off winters sleep.
And last, Spring Beauty. If you can actually bother with getting down on your hands and knees and getting nose to nose with a cluster, you'll notice they smell as sweet as they look. On a wind still and warm day, where they are numerous, you may even catch a whiff of them as you walk by. I apologize for the blurry photo, but my camera is a 2M point & shoot, and the view finder is so small I haven't a clue what it's focused on until I get home. It's the best I can do for now, and it is such a small and diminutive flower I didn't want to leave it out.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Coloured Pencil-Start to Finish Part 3

Linework & Filling it In:

I thought this part would be easy. I'm always hoping the next part will be easy. Hey, it's all laid out, now it's just colouring in, just like you were a kid, right?


I'm first laying in the lines, as I want them to be visible in pure tones right to the finish. This is a style choice, and actually a little unusual as it will make the final image look more like a drawing and less like a painting so keep that in mind if you want to try this yourself.
I start with lemon yellow and very strong as I want this colour to pop out. If I wait until the end, and put lemon on top, it will pick up other colours and smear. Basically, you want to be working from light to dark with coloured pencil because of it's transparency. At the end, I can put light over dark, but it will mix with, not cover over the darker colours. As in watercolour, you'll want to reserve the white areas too. I'm working the entire surface, as I want the entire image to carry the same strength and style. Without a photo reference (though you'll see that I keep my two aceo's handy, and an old forest photo too) I'm feeling my way along. If I work too hard in one area, I may, figuratively and literally 'paint myself into a corner'. Enough lemon and I begin adding other colours.

Eventually, I start to fill in with soft shading to get things moving along. Shading is the thing that will get you towards realism in style, for me it's a shortcut because it's a little faster than laying down a million tangled sketchlines. Someday, I would love to do a piece that was nothing but lines layered to the point of fully burnished colour but, frankly, I just don't have the patience to try that right now.
I'm trying my best to keep things balanced but I have a tendency to work on the lower half. It's physically easier, and psychologically, this is where the action is. I need to balance that out. Turning the whole piece upside down is a great trick. It's not that it just brings this part of the image closer to me, but it forces the eye to view the artwork in it's abstract form.
Next time, I'll show you what happened. Back to the drawing board for me.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Coloured Pencil-Start to Finish Part 2

Preliminaries--Thumbnails, Studies, Sketching In:

First, there are the thumbnail sketches (far upper left graphite). I've gotten in the habit of doing them approximately 2.5 by 3.5 inches, ACEO size. It's a good size to work with. These are very rough, mere impressions done when the image first popped into my head one sleepy morning. The scribbles represent the conscious me trying to pull something out of the back of my brain. Once that was done, I did the colour and paper studios shown in the previous post, but I'm not yet ready.
I then did a number of mostly awful figure drawings (you can see one perched on the upper right), trying to work out the ondine (forest water spirit--part of German folklore) and realized quickly that stylization was more difficult than expected. If it was too rich in detail it would clash with the stylized background and look too much like popular 'fairie' art, something that would distract from the idea I'm working on. Not enough detail and she would look like a cartoon version of E.T.. I finally settled on everything but her head, and then got started on the final version, drawing in HB pencil directly onto the bristol.

Pencilling In:
This is the part I like to skip, partly because I usually want the final piece to look loose and painterly. However, coloured pencil is a translucent medium (like watercolour) and not very forgiving of mistakes. Erasers can be used, but they can damage the paper and generally, colours will at least leave a stain. You can also use masking or cello tape to 'lift' colour. I'll get to that when I need to, but I'd rather avoid the circumstance altogether.
The pencil I'm using is a hard HB pencil, with slightly rounded end. A sharpened pencil will leave fine lines, a soft pencil will leave too much graphite on the paper. Graphite will mix with the coloured pencils and show through, especially in the lighter ranges, and pressing too hard, or using a sharp pencil will indent the paper and leave fine white/silvery lines as you colour over them. So have to go soft and gentle, but I can indulge in erasing and redo's at this point, and I do. You can barely see the pencil in the photo as I'll be using lemon yellow throughout the piece as an edge colour. In fact, I'll need to lighten up some lines with my soft eraser (just gently pressing and lifting) so that I can have a clear yellow line. The problems of pencil showing through and/or indenting the paper is another reason I avoid using it when I can, but in this case, I really need to have a decently laid out piece to begin.

Oh joy! I'm done all the preliminaries. Wow! I finally get to begin. Whew, that was a lot of time spent without any tangible results. Hoping it was a good investment.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Coloured Pencil-Start to Finish Part 1

My next project is taking awhile; a long while, and at 14x17 purely coloured pencil, mostly line work, it's my most ambitious project to date; so how about a how-to series?
Keep in mind, I don't do photo-realism, or conventional realism of any kind when I use the pencils. For me, the pencils speak for my inner eye, and whatever comes out on the page comes from that vision with greater or lesser success (the inner eye is not terribly obliging about giving up its secrets)--that said, the nature of the medium does dictate a number of standard techniques that will be the same regardless of individual style.

Part 1: Technical Preliminaries: Supports and medium
This is not the order I generally work in; 1st comes concept, but I don't feel like discussing concept right now, so lets get nitty gritty with the techie stuff. Support is the 'artsy' term for the thing you paint or draw upon. Stretched & gessoed canvas is the support for most oil painters, but it could also be wood, or anything else. Coloured pencil usually goes on paper, but what paper? I've worked on office paper, which is nice and smooth but not worth framing, and brown kraft paper would be a beautiful support for coloured pencil, but it's not archival. I've used watercolour paper (very nice), and Canson Mi-Teintes Paper (colourful, but prone to fading--very bad), and my favourite so far is Strathmore 300 Series Bristol. It's bright white, smooth and relatively tough. It can 'take' erasure and lifting without too much damage, and it's smooth texture is nice for line work and pure saturated colours. I also, when I wish, soak, stretch and colour it up with watercolours--this is tough stuff.
For this project, I took a bit of time trying to decide. The work shown is on Yupo. The planned piece (just a twinkle in my eye at this stage) bears no resemblance to that shown, but I'm working with colours and motifs that will be part of the planned piece. On Yupo, I'm experimenting both with colour values and the physical qualities of the paper. I've used Prismacolor here, and some Inktense Watersoluble pencils. Technically, it's all experimentation and I see much that I don't like. My Inktense pencils are pale or when thickened are gummy, and while trying to achieve intensity in the greens, my Prismacolors left streaks and gobs. Not nice--I won't be doing my final piece on Yupo.

I've also done two ACEO's to continue the experiments. You'll see some similarity in colour values here. One is Inktense on watercolour paper, the other is Strathmore Bristol with Prisma's. Once again, I'll be working on the bristol, but I'll be using the ACEO's as reference for mood and colour. I like the Inktense pencils, but I decide against their use, as I'm looking for the intense saturated waxy colour that the Prismacolors give me. On the other hand, the Inktense experiment is something I may like to revisit another time when I want this effect.

Next: Part II

Image: Fragrant Lily, 5x9 Yupo with Prismacolour and Inktense pencils, looking less blobby in 75dpi.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A View from the Other Side

Well now I'm really glad I've gone on record here respecting the artist model as now I've seen the whole thing from the other side.
For our latest session, the model did not arrive; we don't know why, they're usually very prompt and responsible. The artist in charge (we don't have instruction, but he's the guy who handles the administrative stuff when we are there) got up to model first, so the night would not be a total loss.
Jibes where thrown his way about stripping down, but the consensus was to leave the clothing on--please. Funny how that positive attitude to nudity shifts depending on context. Thereafter, in an ad hoc but completely efficient fashion, other artists volunteered and walked up. Men first--perhaps they were less self conscious than the women. I was actually quite pleased to draw them. I always feel I need more practice drawing men. The poses they used were casual, natural and commonplace--just the kind you want. I found the clothing, especially pants and running shoes a challenge. It's so easy to make a foot look like a foot when you draw big toes and little toes on the end. A running shoe, on the other hand, can look like an amorphous blob.
And then I walked up. Ulterior motive, my hand needed a break. Models need breaks so this usually isn't an issue, but since everyone was taking turns, we had a continuous roster of models and for some reason everyone chose a long (20-30min) pose. I said I'd do 4 five-minute poses but that didn't happen. I tried to make it interesting and sat on the bench, crossed my legs, leaned on one arm. I can do this for five minutes, I thought. And then the whispers began. They were good whispers, 'nice pose', 'look at the drapery' (I was wearing a billowing lime green shirt over a purple t), 'that would be great to paint'. That felt wonderful, I was considering a career change, I offered to hold the pose longer. I felt excited to be part of the creative process and whatever was happening on those big pieces of paper, I had something to do with it.
Alas, at the 14 minute mark, my elbow began shaking, and my dangling leg was all tingly, and I made the mistake of looking at the second hand of my watch and it seemed to be crawling through much for a new source of income. I'd loved to say I hopped off the table, but I more or less hobbled and then spent 5 minutes stretching out stiffened limbs.

Image: graphite life drawing of a colleague on office paper, ink sketch done with a pentel pocket brush, the next morning while sitting in the car. Obviously, my brain had sufficiently remembered a pose enough to be able to invent something on it's own. The evening life drawing session was decidely useful.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Legend of Ondine

Life Drawing is truly a synergy of artistic energy, akin to jazz, or dance improvised to live music. When a model is involved, the art is no longer solely about the artist and their own interpretation; the finale product results from the work and inspirations of two separate individuals--artist and model.
Our model, on this day was ill. Likely, she should have stayed home, she was having trouble breathing and couldn't talk, but made her best effort. For the long pose she was given clear instructions to chose a comfortable reclining pose, but instead she chose this one. Even after being given every chance to change the pose, she insisted on holding it. It was obviously difficult for her and occasionally she had trouble catching enough breath as she panted mouth open. While at first I reacted fully and truly as a decent human being, and worried about her, thinking she should change her pose, the artist took over and became completely caught up in the 'story' that her physically vulnerable state implied. Her pose and her breathing brought to mind the legend of Ondine, a tragic story of a water spirit that gives up her immortality for a human lover and as she begins to age, he loses interest in her and betrays her. I felt like a voyeur in that while I should have felt nothing but sympathy for her discomforts, instead I took full advantage of the situation and used it to create an (I hope) evocative drawing. Much credit for this one must be given to the model. It was a beautiful pose full of possibilities.

Image: 9x12 cream canson paper, coloured pencils

Friday, April 17, 2009

What Am I Doing Here?

My bloggerversary has come and gone, sometime in January, but I am very much aware I've come full circle, and it's a problem. There are times when I struggle, what new thing do I have to say? Last year, everything rested on the changing seasons of nature; I was also newly exploring the medium of coloured pencil which made capturing the moment very exciting. It still is, but I'm finding blogging about it more difficult. I work on images that are not finished in time for a blog post. Remember my lovely escapade in the sink hole? The day it happened, no image came to mind. One sleepy morning, I flashed on a finished piece; it is only now at the stage of being lightly pencilled onto 'good' paper. The two ACEO's above are part of the work I did getting to that place, searching for themes, experimenting with different types of paper (yupo, which I didn't like), and inktense pencils, trying out the colours; and here I am, writing a blog post as a clear act of procrastination, afraid to proceed.
I've had this conversation before, with myself, and with my coffee-shop friend. I asked her, 'what is my blog about? I can't always write about the forest?'. She told me my blog was about my life as an artist, and that includes my art, how it's done, and what inspires. Seemed like a good answer at the time.
I've been reading other blogs (too few, but as long as I'm on dial-up, it will have to remain that way) and I find that I truly enjoy reading the small details of your life. Not always; if you have an art blog, I expect art. If you have a nature blog, I expect nature, but life's diversions make you interesting. Your humanity is interesting, but I always ask myself, is mine?
That said, I'll continue along, writing posts about what compells me. I'll be adding a few 'how to's' while I go along, but this never has been a 'how to' blog, and won't be. There's plenty of good books out there. I'll continue posting my own artwork, as this is a challenge that spurs me on even when the muse abandons me--I hope you don't mind the rough sketches, and irrelevancies; knowing I can post a piece to the blog prods me into finishing. And hopefully, now again, I'll have a good story to tell (but I don't intend to get stuck in a bog again anytime soon).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Life Drawing at Latcham

I held back on this one, as I didn't want to give the impression that this blog would produce a constant stream of scribbly naked people; not that there is anything wrong with naked people, it's just not what this blog is normally about.
I'm a nature lover, and a youngest child, and as such I'm probably more socialized with animals than people; cats and dogs, chipmunks and birds, being a more constant presence in my life than people. So there are times when the sight of human skin, and I mean such things as face, hands, and arms strike me as strangely naked, and fur would seem so much better. Pale flesh and bare skin can strike me as ugly, as if I were looking at something unfinished or not yet ready to come forth into the sun, and yet in Life Drawing, I have found natural beauty in the human form. If Eve, driven from Eden was compelled to don clothing, then Life Drawing class is Paradise Found where the naked body regains its innocence and grace.

Image: support is bristol painted with acrylic paint and gel medium, drawing is black conte and oil pastel, life drawing

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

We should always make the most of our Holidays. Friday was a statutory holiday (across Canada) and it seemed like everybody was outside walking around the block, face up to the sun, breathing in the air. I was exploring the East Don Parklands with my brother and my husband for company. We planted a letterbox and watched birds. A male cardinal sang from a perch on a black wire while his mate sipped from a puddle below. A girl on a swing made the swing set screech, but my brother said it sounded like music--and indeed, when I really listened, I realized it had a pleasant pitch and timbre, and cast a fluting melody across the day. Enjoy your moments as they come.

Image: hand-painted easter eggs. I haven't done this in a very long time. Some traditions should never die.

PS. What are your spring holiday traditions?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

It Pays to Watch Adventure Films

Sorry about the picture disconnect, but I just haven't bothered to illustrate this latest escapade (which is entirely true).

Alternate Title: the Joke's on Me

We've had snow, tons of snow. 12 inches of snow in the woods that by yesterday sank down to 6 inches of slush. So I was wearing knee high rubber boots. This is important, as without the slush, I would not have donned the boots, and without the boots I would not have decided to go wandering about off trail in the valley along the Vivian Creek stream bed. Some of you may already know where this is going by now...
It was a lovely day for a walk, sunny and warm, but after slogging through 12 inches of snow for 5 k the day before, my calves were sore, really sore. I wanted to take a shortcut. I realized that wearing knee high boots gave me a freedom to explore that I don't have wearing other footwear (I'm like a cat, not liking wet feet--see, now I've tied in the illustration!). So I began wandering, in dog-like serpentines through a part of the woods that is always too wet for walking. This was fun, something like puddle-jumping, only soggier and slower, as I stepped into pans of damp hummus. They got wider and darker and all the more enticing when I saw green things growing (swamp marigold, I think). Ankle deep, I stooped to investigate. They were nestled in a thick bed of jet black muck and sphagnum moss (rather pretty and not the least bit smelly). The moss should have been a clue, but by then it was too late. I was already stuck, having sunk in to the top of my boots. My attempts at leaving made things worse (I didn't try hard, I've seen the movies you know).
So I stopped.
See, if I learned anything at all watching those movie heroes caught in quicksand, I knew that whatever you do, you must not struggle. So I didn't.
I carefully tried one more step, and sunk a bit more.
I had visions of awaiting rescue emersed up to my thighs in black sucking muck--not good.
Vaguely I remembered that lying horizontal to distribute your weight is a good idea but not one I entirely trusted. I pried a rotten log from the bog and moved it to convenient position, sort of a security log, something to hang onto in case I started sinking. While having visions of me hanging on one handed, while the rest of me sank up to my eyeballs in muck, I cast myself across the log, and attempted, once again to move a boot. It was like a concrete anchor. I did, however, manage to slide my foot out of the boot. There I was, face first in puddle, in socks. I was pretty glad I managed this much (I was alone) but the idea of walking another kilometre through slush and muck in socks was highly unappealing. So crawled up on the log, turned about, and there I was, kneeling and saying prayers to my sinking boots. And they were brand new boots too, so what I that bought them at Walmart; I payed good money for those boots. I wanted them back.
No amount of yanking at their slick and muddy edges budged them even a little. Back to those visions of walking out in my socks.
Time to stop, and think again. Assess the situation--I did have a dog with me, which meant I also had a dog leash.
Feeling like Indiana Jones, I crawled forward and slipped the leash through the drawstring of the nearest boot, and hauled. With a plurp, it flew free of the sucking muck. The other one, further away involved lying flat and hand crawling over, elbows and hands in the muck. Let's just say that by the time I was done, I resembled tar-baby just a little. But I had two wet (inside and out) black boots to don and black hands that smelled like summer woods in the rain.
The moral of the story, Don't Get Cocky.
Of course, not walking in boggy areas is another one.
On a serious note: yes, the Hollidge Track has real sink holes, and yes, you can get stuck, really stuck.

PS. Yes, I know. This one awards me the Stupid Award. I can't believe I was dum enough to do that, as in, of all people, I should have known better. On the other hand, it took me a very long time to stop laughing.
Image: life drawing, coloured pencil on 5x7 sketchbook.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Endangered Innocence

Unicorns, the ubiquitous territory of little girls, and girlish women, myself included. What then the fascination? Is it a stale trope, or an enduring symbol? I always loved horses (until I worked at a thoroughbred farm for four years, but that's another story) and dreamed about them. I went to bed drumming my fingers across the pillow to fall asleep to the rhythm of galloping hooves. I have white unicorn figurines (made in China) adorning my basement bathroom, remnants of childhood unbroken. But is that all it is, a pretty horse mixed with empty wishes? Does trite fantasy compel me or is there something more.
In medieval times, the unicorn symbolized innocence, but it was also a creature of unfettered spirit, wild and impossible to tame except in the lap of a genuine virgin. Indeed, virgins were used to lull them into stupor, wherein hunters could take advantage to capture and kill the magical beast. From a 21st century point of view, this act is impossible to comprehend. How could anyone wish to capture and kill a thing of such wonder and beauty? And yet, in the wake of civilization, we have left a litany of very real extinctions of beasts every bit as wondrous as the mythical unicorn. The unicorn, for me, is a symbol of all that is lost in our world. Lost creatures and lost mysteries as the rigors of science and logic leave little room for belief in the fantastic. This is my tribute to a world that is gone, where passenger pigeons darkened the sky and it was easy to believe in dragons.
Some amazing, but extinct beasts here.

Image: linocut using softoleum, ACEO 2.5" x 3.5" on bristol, watercoloured background, hand-pulled print, available at etsy.

PS. Fellow bloggers, need your help here. I finished (well, I'll still be tweeking) a static 'sales' page which I won't bother you with, but now have moved on to a more, erm, casual page for people who just want to say hi (well, I hope you want to say hi). I called it Casual Connections, but that doesn't sound right? Anything else? It's just a page for where to find me on the web for chitter and chatter, and other silly things. Since I had to eliminate comments for technical reasons (this allows the page to appear without the post date) just plop them here, or twitter, or whatever. Suggestions welcome. Everything is still a work in progress.
And if anyone else wants to know how to build static pages in blogger, here are the instructions I used--it worked!


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