Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Some new barns...

Rust, 8x10 soft pastel on card

In preparation for upcoming art shows, I am adding to my "Southern Exposure" pastel series with some new pictures from the rural south. Even though I live in "the city," rural Alabama is very much a part of my life, from road trips and extended family, to our produce bought through the Eastlake Farmer's Market and our dairy picked up from Wright Dairy in Alexandria. I love the beauty of our rural landscape, the thick trees, the rolling fields, the lazy cows, and the old barns in so many conditions, shapes and colors.

Wood, 4x6 soft pastel on card

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The hard days...

Sometimes art comes out almost effortlessly. You can sit down, full of energy, and pop out a piece of art quickly and without struggle. Last week felt that way to me. I was able to create several pieces in an afternoon, a quick piece at the kitchen table in the morning, another while my kids played in the yard.

Then the pollen came. For years I have made it through the Spring without any allergic downfalls...but this year, I have not escaped! My energy curbed by a heavy head, cue "the hard days": those times when art is a wrestling match, a struggle to create, when nothing comes easy.

A few years ago (well, probably more years ago than I care to admit), a man told me during a one-time conversation, in criticism of a statement I had made about waiting for the "right mood" to do art, that the mark of a "real" artist is if he or she creates art in any mood, even on bad days, similar to an athlete who pushes through the sport even when it is a fight. I remember being insulted, and thinking he was rather rude and pompous, but, as much as I hate to admit it, there is some truth in it. I reject his choice of words, because anyone who creates art is a "real" artist, whether they paint all the time or only when the mood strikes them. I also find it hard to compare an artist's process to basketball practice. BUT... I can get behind the idea that a "professional" artist, or someone trying to make a living out of art must learn to create art in any mood.

So, here are my two pieces wrestled out on one of my hard days. I had high hopes for the pieces when I formed them in my mind, but the execution was a struggle. I still have distaste for some aspects, but another "must" for an artist is knowing when to walk away.

Little flock, 8x10 Soft Pastel on card

Shade Tree, 8x10 Soft Pastel on card

"Art is never finished, only abandoned." -Leonardo da Vinci

Friday, March 25, 2011

the Raven

the Raven, 8x10 Soft Pastel on Card

Warning: this is not the most cheerful post, so if you want to read something peachy today, this post isn't for you. This does not mean that I am wallowing in sadness today; these are just my thoughts and expressions on a darker subject of the human experience. This piece was inspired by yet another poem by William Blake:

The Human Abstract

Pity would be no more,
If we did not make somebody Poor:
And Mercy no more could be,
If all were as happy as we;

And Mutual fear brings peace;
Till the selfish loves increase.
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.

He sits down with holy fears,
And waters the ground with tears:
Then Humility takes its root
Underneath his foot.

Soon spreads the dismal shade
Of the Mystery over his head;
And the Catterpiller and Fly,
Feed on the Mystery.

And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
Ruddy and sweet to eat;
And the Raven his nest has made
In its thickest shade.

The Gods of the earth and sea,
Sought thro' Nature to find this Tree
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the Human Brain

In religious communities, and especially Christian theology, one hears a lot about "the Fall," "Original Sin," "Adam and Eve," and "the fallen nature of humanity." These theologies bring a sense of unavoidable doom. While in my own spiritual journey, I choose to search for the good in humanity, the love of God, the optimism and life found in nature, I cannot deny that some form of underlying depravity (thought I hate to even use that word) exists within our beings, that it tries to grow within our minds as our bodies grow. Selfishness, greed, deceit...they are part of us whether we encourage their growth or not. We should and hopefully do resist; we can and should choose goodness, love and service. But it seems, as much as I wish to deny it, that this darker side of humanity--our ability to choose deceit and to cause pain--is inevitably present, and very hard to avoid, if at all possible. If left unchecked, these darker thoughts can grow in our lives as a tree; if indulged, a sort of darkness can roost in the shade of our mind's arbor like a Raven. This Raven, not meant to be ominous or depressing, serves as a reminder to myself that while a darker side of life exists, it does not have to triumph. This Raven can be an omen of doom, or a sign of life, depending upon our own choosing.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Charcoal Portrait

Charcoal Portrait by commission, 11x14 on Pastel Card

This is the first charcoal portrait I have done in quite a while, usually being commissioned for either full color pastel or graphite portraits. I used various pieces of compressed charcoal, some very soft, some hard, as well as some old Willow Charcoal that was my grandmother's many, many years ago. I drew the portraits on Sennelier La Carte Pastel Card in a light sienna, allowing the sandy texture to enhance the piece. I was satisfied with the result, and enjoyed the darkness and smooth application of the charcoal, as compared to the sketchy, almost shiny quality of graphite. I hope to do more charcoal portraits in the future!

(P.S. This portrait was done as a rush order, so if you are ever interested in giving a piece of art as a gift, but think the deadline is too close, think again! I am always happy to do what I can to make it happen in time!)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ocean Cliffs

Ocean Cliffs, 14x18 Soft Pastel on Card

The works of Monet and my love for the beauty of the British Isles inspired this piece; what made it's creation even better was drawing outside on such a fabulous and warm Spring day. I love Impressionism, and this particular image seemed a perfect choice for another attempt at using bolder color and strokes. In my art room above my desk, I have a handwritten quote taped to the wall by Georges Riviere from 1877: "To treat a subject for the colors and not for the subject itself, that is what distinguishes the Impressionist from other painters." I am far from an Impressionist and am constantly pulled toward capturing minute details, but this sentence echoes through my thoughts when I am drawing, pushing me to look for color over subject, for feel over accuracy. It never fails to surprise me that when I let go of rigidity and move with the colors, I step back and see that the picture has come together...and each time I delightfully wonder how it happened.

Gray Barn

Gray Barn, 8x10 Soft Pastel on Card

I was drawn to this scene by the curved, rutted tracks in front of the tall gray barn. I loved the colors in the grass and dirt, and put in some simply drawn cows to keep the piece company.

Hay Fields

Hay Fields, 12x16 Soft Pastel on Board

I love pastels, and I love teaching. Because of the nature of this dusty medium, it is hard to demonstrate to a large crowd since I cannot easily draw the picture upright, as on an easel, as the pastel dust cascades down the board with each stroke. To remedy this problem, in a recent pastel demonstration for the Birmingham Art Association, I inclined the board a bit to make it more visible and drew upside down, standing behind the table. My unorthodox method worked and here is the finished result: a colorful landscape that began upside down and was touched up a bit at home. I like the bright colors and think it is a pleasant, simple little scene.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Au Naturel

Au Naturel, 5x7 Pastel on Board

My favorite first sign of Spring is when the Daffodils appear; we have some that pop up around a tree in the front yard. I especially love the simple, small yellow version...the kind without the frills and elaborate coloring. Just a little yellow flower, with its six delicate petals, its fragile trumpet, and its softly colored green stem. Simple, basic, au naturel.

In this small piece, I tried to work quickly, getting down the basic shapes and colors without overworking, to capture the warm simplicity of the image...two little flowers in an old honey jar. I used a board painted with pastel ground in varying textures.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Joy & Woe

Joy, 8x10 Soft Pastel

Woe, 8x10 Soft Pastel

Something I have found over the course of the past year is that Joy and Woe meet often in life, converging into one simultaneously unified and separately distinct emotion. I have written and created art on these thoughts before ("Sewing Lesson"), and the same poem by William Blake again inspires me. An excerpt from his "Auguries of Innocence":

It is right it should be so
Man was made for Joy & Woe
And when this we rightly know
Thro the World we safely go
Joy & Woe are woven fine
A clothing for the soul divine
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.

In these new pastels, which will be framed as a pair and form a separated but unified piece of art, I have personified Joy and Woe as birds; a pair that travels through our lives, touching down sometimes in turn, but often together. These emotions, as birds, sometimes land in our lives for a moment, and sometimes settle down to nest in our hearts for awhile. Joy & Woe are both part of this life, and to recognize it makes me more grateful for the Joy, and more patiently accepting of the Woe. These contrasting emotions come and go as birds to a branch, woven into the fabric of our lives as the limbs and leaves weave above our heads, and the roots below our feet.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Spanish Steps

After a few weeks, the Spanish Steps are finally complete!

Since the piece is so large and bulky (30x30"), I moved my workspace from my art desk to my kitchen table, propping it up on a makeshift platform of a pastel box and French box easel. I used the grid method to make sure I got this technical subject correct, checking angles and being careful to keep my lines straight. I use a grid, dividing the space into quarters first and then lightly into 16 spaces, only occasionally when enlarging to such a great extent. I sketch first with pencil, making only a few corrections by pressing with a kneaded eraser (never rubbing as it damages texture); I just draw over "mistakes" rather than spend time erasing, since the pastel will cover any marks-gone-awry. Over the correct pencil marks, I redraw with a charcoal pencil to give it more substance and to ensure no parts get "lost" in the vibrant pastel.

After the Spanish Steps were drawn and my area prepared, I began layering the pastel. Working on my self-prepared Pastel Ground surface proved different than I first expected. To the touch, the texture felt fine and grainy like a Pastelbord, but when I began applying the pastel for my sky, I found it more bumpy than sandy. At first I was frustrated working with such a rough texture that showed every pastel stroke. As I moved on to the rust-colored buildings, I embraced the difference of surface and adjusted my application to a more Impressionist-like, unfinished stroke, and with perseverance, am finally satisfied with the result.

I like the roughness I see when I look closely at the fountain, and it reminds me of some of Degas' gritty looking pastel drawings. In the future, I will choose my surface based on the result I seek, adding Pastel Ground into the mix when I am looking for a deeper texture. This project was a learning experience and I am pleased to have been able to "experiment" a bit more than usual.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Erin Hardin Art

My good friend Erin Hardin is a wonderful oil painter based here in Birmingham. She has a love for painting reflections, and does so with amazing realism, painting smoothly on metal surfaces mounted on wood. This fantastic piece will be displayed at the Energen Art Competition in Birmingham, Alabama. Be sure to check out Erin's website for more of her beautiful works of art!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A New Project

I am currently working on a commission for a large, off-size pastel of the Spanish Steps in Rome. Since my preferred surface is a sturdy, textured board, and Pastelbords don't come in 30x30", I have embarked on a new adventure: preparing my own textured pastel board. My first challenge was finding some sort of board in the size required. While in retrospect I probably could have bought and had cut a piece of Masonite board, I chose a 30x30 encaustic board in a frame, thanks to the help of my friends at Forstall Art Center.

The next step was to apply the texture with my jar of Golden's Acrylic Ground for Pastels. I tested the ground on some smaller boards first, dividing the board into quarters and trying different methods of application: straight, smooth brushstrokes; crosshatched brushstrokes; random, mottled brushstrokes; smoothed with my fingers; and finally, gently sanded areas to soften the texture. Once dry, I tested the surface with several bright and contrasting pastels, looking for good coverage and hoping for uniform texture. Alas, the coverage was good, but all textures were lacking. After doing a bit of research, I settled into thinning the pastel ground with 20% water and applying the medium smoothly and uniformly with a foam roller that I bought for about $1. Perfection! It looks and feels so much like a Pastelbord, and I am very satisfied.

More on this project soon to follow...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Birds on a Wire

Birds on a Wire, Soft Pastel

Birds on a wire. When I was drawing this picture, this phrase echoed somewhere in my mind. I get a small sense of what it means, but like something free-floating; like a feather you can't quite catch, just out of reach. To try and clarify this vague colloquialism, I googled the phrase and received similarly vague and mixed results. To some, "bird on a wire" gives a sense of freedom, a bird high in the air, able to fly and perch where it pleases. To others, it is an expression of limited freedom, as a bird tied to a wire, able to fly but confined. "Bird on a Wire" is the title for a song, a movie, and books. There were lots of "not sure what this means," and "I think I heard it means this..." 

When I hear the phrase, I think of spectators, onlookers, observing and judging from their perch, high above. I have been in that place, drawing conclusions with only a birds-eye view, missing the details-not in a place from which to judge. I have found that when looking at others, we should not presume to have full understanding. We can only see the surface, and maybe- maybe -a little bit more. The human life is so very complex; the human heart a mystery even to ourselves. As Henry James once wrote and William Boyd later borrowed, "Never say you know the last word about any human heart." 

When I drew these pigeons, I imagined, with a good bit of humor, their attitudes. The large one towards the right, with beak snubbed to the sky is the matronly ring leader, guiding her feathery followers with her too-lofty observations, when all they have is a birds-eye view. The pigeons are drawn with more simplicity than I usually employ, with fewer details and definition, lest we also think we understand the spectators too clearly.