Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hipstamatic Inspiration

Sometimes you find new inspiration in unexpected places. Bored with the same old style of my art, last Fall I found bold new colors and the freedom to enhance what is seen thanks to a text message joke from my sister. As children, we had this joke (which will probably sound lame, but we thought it a hilarious trick). We took lots of road trips back then and whenever we saw a hay bale, we'd say "Hay, (insert name)." If the chosen trick-victim said "what?" the trickster would giggle and giggle and point at the hay bale, exclaiming "I got you!" I told you...a little lame, an inside joke, but it was funny to us. As adults, let's just say it may or may not still happen...

Now bringing my ramblings to a point: on the way back from a family beach trip, my sister texted me the picture below with "Hay (omitting funny childhood nickname) Mary Liz!" She had snapped the photo out of the window with the Hipstamatic App on her iPhone.

Hay Bales, 12x16 soft pastel

Her little joke set me on a new course full of turquoise and golden skies, darkening edges, simple photos from our region of the world. Since that day, I have taken a whole collection of pictures from rural Alabama and love finding inspiration in alternative colors thanks to Hipstamatic. If you are unfamiliar with this camera app, it is a program you can purchase very inexpensively on smart phones that allows you to change combinations of lens and film to get different colors and effects. My favorites are the John S lens and the Bettie XL lens. I love experimenting with it...you never know when you'll get something new and fabulous! It is a great asset to my artwork. Below is another example of a different lens/film combination.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Reflection

"Resurrection. The reversal of what was thought to be absolute. The turning of midnight into dawn, hatred into love, dying into living anew.

If we look more closely into life, we will find that resurrection is more than hope, it is our experience. The return to life from death is something we understand at our innermost depths, something we feel on the surface of our tender skin. We have come back to life, not only when we start to shake off a shroud of sorrow that has bound us, but when we begin to believe in all that is still, endlessly possible.

We give thanks for all those times we have arisen from the depths or simply taken a tiny step toward something new. May we be empowered by extraordinary second chances. And as we enter the world anew, let us turn the tides of despair into endless waves of hope."

-Molly Fumia

Thursday, April 21, 2011


About a week ago, while running errands with my family, on a persistent whim I decided I wanted one of the several thistles scattered along the shoulder of the road. As with most "whims," there was not much reason for it...I just saw a tall, spiky, blooming thistle and became briefly obsessed with pulling one out of the ground. Partly driven by nostalgia, remembering a trip from my youth when my parents pulled over and showed my sister and I a thistle, partly driven by an "educational opportunity" for my own children (and humor at hearing my daughter say "thithle" with her slight lisp), and partly driven by an artistic impetus, I cajoled my husband into making two loops on a busy road so I could pop out of the car and pull up my coveted thistle.

It was one of my finer moments: dressed in nice clothes, climbing out of a little mini van, carrying a brightly striped child's pullover (for spike-protection), dashing down a weed covered hill, watched by a whole intersection of onlookers merging off and onto the interstate, I quickly yanked up a thistle before scurrying back to the car with my strange prize. I'm sure I looked totally normal...

When I got close to my chosen thistle, which was much larger than I expected, I had a moment of panic that after all this trouble, in front of all these anonymous commuters, I wouldn't be able to pull it up, and there I would be tugging in vain before retreating to the car in shameful surrender. To my relief, it came up with a quick snap.

My thistle has been blooming steadily all week in it's little jar of water and giving me lots of opportunity to draw it, observe it, and reflect upon why I am fascinated by this odd plant.

At once both soft and jagged, with downy coverings and serrated thorns; both beautiful and dangerous, with soft red tufts of flower tempting the touch, while fingers must weave cautiously through the plentiful thorns. Strikingly harsh with it's stiff, sharp leaves, and artistically intriguing with it's curving, striated stems and colorful urns of flower. An unlikely place to find beauty, grace found among thorns.

Here are my impressions/studies of the thistle; I plan on trying it again soon with some different techniques.

3 Studies of a Thistle, 5x7 soft pastel on card coated with pastelground

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Re-Do with Bob Ross and Michelangelo

When teaching art classes, especially to children, I like to encourage them not to use an eraser. As Bob Ross said so often, "happy accidents" happen a lot in art and "mistakes" can be turned into something else, often improving a picture beyond the original conception. We could talk about the beauty of unplanned discoveries, the surprises found in the creative process...

But sometimes, you just want to start over. Sometimes you need some major changes.

When you spend so much on a high-quality, archival surface, it hurts to waste it, but you can't make a whole new picture on top of an old one in pastel, right? I mean, of course you can paint over a painting in acrylic or oil, but surely not pastel...it would smear and blend! Or would it? My answer: it depends upon your surface and the thickness of the pastel already applied.

On paper, if the pastel has been applied lightly, you can have a "re-do" without too much trouble, depending on how well the new subject meshes with the old. On papers, the pastel blends and smears a bit more and new layers to not adhere as easily, which can be frustrating. Since paper is more inexpensive than other textured surfaces, it may be your best bet just to start a new piece.

If you use a sanded paper, such as Sennelier La Carte Pastel Card, the textured surface allows you to add a heavier amount of pastel on top of pastel due to the gritty surface that grips the color and prevents as much unwanted smearing/blending. Wallis Paper allows you to gently wash off some of the pastel, and also has a sandy surface to hold more pastel, but you have to be gentle and let it dry thoroughly since it is a type of paper/card.

If you use a sturdy, textured Ampersand Pastelbord, you have several options. You can a) wash it off in the sink and let it dry, b)use a kneaded eraser and pull up a lot of the pastel (a good technique for any of the above surfaces), or c) just draw right on top of it, which is what I did with the picture below. I was drawing some sheep on a gray Pastelbord, and just wasn't "feeling it." I didn't want to draw sheep on it anymore, so I "buried" them under a Celtic stone. I had already applied several layers of mostly white and black for the sheep, and had even redrawn the sheep in some different positions, before I began the cross. But, as you can see by the detail picture below, it did not hurt the texture or amount of pastel I applied later.

Celtic Stone, 8x10 Soft Pastel on board

Detail of Celtic Stone

The other night, my husband and I were watching a PBS show "Secrets of the Dead: Michelangelo Revealed." In the show, they showed how Michelangelo made great alterations to finished marble sculptures, such as the Moses found at the tomb of Pope Julius II. Michelangelo recarved Moses to turn his head in a whole different direction. In stone! If Michelangelo can have a re-do with stone, surely we can in pastel!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Spot the difference! A lesson in pastel corrections

Many times, especially at art shows, I am asked about the fragility of pastels. True, if you wipe your hand across an unframed picture, you will smear it. True, if it rains on a picture, it will mess it up. BUT...you can fix it! There have been several big "accidents" in my 3 years of pastel-painting:

1) when spraying a fixative on a 4x4 portrait with a can of spray that was clearly running out, I gave it a test and decided to go for it and ignore the omen of splatters. I gave it a quick spray...um, make that a big splatter. After chunking the can across the yard and kicking a newspaper (to my neighbors' amusement, I am sure), I took my darkened and spotty picture inside and touched it right up with some light layers of flesh tones and any needed details. Frustrating, yes; big deal to correct, not so much.

2) After delivering a finished pastel to a client, the piece fell victim to a big drip of rain water off of her porch. She brought it by and it was quite a drip-- a big, dark circle right in the center of the subject. I took it in the art room while she waited, and in a matter of minutes it was repaired. I just covered the dried spot right up with the same color blue.

3) One of my "precious" (note sarcasm here) cats decided it would be a fabulous idea to jump on my art table, walk on a very large pastel painting, put black footprints in the sky, scratch down the middle as the picture slid, and slide right down off the side. Awesome. I found the culprit by inspecting dirty, furry feet. In this case, I blew off the excess dust outside, then went to work layering the appropriate color pastel to cover up the paw-prints and smears. Good as new (but maybe not my mood)!

I've gotten a bit more careful, especially when spraying. I steer clear of rainy days and keep my pastels inside or covered; I make sure to seal them up to keep fingers (and cats) off of them.

Recently, I have used this comfortable knowledge of pastel's ability to cover mistakes to make some alterations to a commissioned piece. Before I began the Spanish Steps (30x30 pastel), the decision over whether or not to include flowers on the steps was not firm. I told my clients that I could add them later if they wanted, after they saw the finished piece. We did decide to add some red flowers, and while doing so I made a few other corrections. Below is the piece with alterations, and the piece before the additions. Pastel covers well, and is not as fragile as you may think! How many differences can you spot?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Good Creation

In our family, we read a short passage before our meals from A Grateful Heart: Daily Blessings for the Evening Meal from Buddha to the Beatles. This morning during breakfast, my daughter asked if we could read one, and this was the next "blessing" on the page...very fitting thoughts for an art blog, and for all those who create some form of art, which, to me, is anyone and everyone.

Holy Creator,
thank you for artists:
visual, verbal,
musical, kinesthetic,
Within their creative process
may we recognize
the divine in all creation
and be moved to awe
and wonder and worship.
-Chris Glaser

Thursday, April 7, 2011


In preparation for the Mountain Brook Art Association's Spring Show at the Crestline Elementary field in Mountain Brook, I have been drawing some little bees. I usually don't photograph my art after framing, but the bees, which are about 3x3 inches, look so cute in their frames! The bees are a fun subject, especially when drawn while enjoying a beautiful Spring day!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Little Bird Hope

The Little Bird Hope, 8x10 Pastel on Card

Hope is the Thing with Feathers
by Emily Dickinson:

"Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul,
and sings the tune without the words,
and never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
and sore must be the storm
that could abash the little bird
that kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chilliest land
and on the strangest sea;
yet, never, in extremity,
it asked a crumb of me."

Sometimes the little bird hope seems very small, almost hidden in the branches of my heart. On those days when hope is difficult to find, when I feel deflated and situations seem so very hard to bear, if I listen carefully in a quiet moment I can hear hope's tiny song in the hazy parts of my mind. It's quiet song sustains me and tells me to be patient, to breathe slowly and wait for peace to come in whatever form. Sometimes it is hard to lean on this little bird's uncommon and unlikely strength, but I have found if I just stop and cling to the small part of me that remains strong, I will weather any storm. Hope is ever-present and even a small bit can warm our hearts on the darkest and coldest of days.

On those brighter days when all the world seems charmed and full, the little bird hope steps out with a flourish of feathers, encouraging me with it's bright song that life is full of beauty and grace. No matter the circumstance, hope's presence is felt in large and small ways...never abashed, always supporting, ever aware.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


In a departure from my usual livestock and landscapes, I spent an especially artistically-energetic evening drawing a series of waterlilies, obviously inspired by Monet and my affinity for Impressionism. The pieces range in size from 4x4 to 8x10, and these are two examples.

To me the simple floating flowers seem almost meditative...tranquil, pleasant and serene. Like a lingering hug or a lazy overcast morning, an invitation to pause and breathe slowly and deeply. A quiet moment of stillness when all the world seems good, safe, happy and wrapped in peace, soothing worries and calming the spirit. I enjoyed drawing the waterlilies so much, I had to force myself to stop before I had a dozen!