Into the Woods

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I am constantly hunting on Pinterest for lesson ideas for both my watercolor and acrylic paint classes. I found this lovely little watercolor of the woods and thought boy is this a great way to show students how to paint a subject matter that is visually chaotic.  When looking at the woods, I think most of us would not know where to begin.  Now I want to give credit to this artist, but the website is not in English. So this is what I found:

​[남일 풍경수채화 시범작품]

숲길 – 수채화 과정.

 watercolor on Arches (rough)

by NAMIL

* 그림과 영상이 마음에 드시면… 공감, 댓글 남겨주세요~

시청해주셔서 감사합니다~

This was a blog and there was a wonderful  progression showing how the artist tackled the subject matter.

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Guess what?  This progression works!  Some ideas to keep in mind are to paint the background lighter and the foreground deeper in color and have less detail in objects that are supposed to be far away and more detail in the objects closest to the viewer.

Here were two paintings I did while teaching the class:

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Thank you to Namil.  His demo made it possible to teach a whole class of students how to paint the woods.

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Garden of Grackles

__2019-05-08 09.31.15bGarden of Grackles -watercolor 18″ x 24″

This painting is very special to me.

I have been blogging about my art journey for almost 8 years now.  Can you imagine that?  -8 years.  In that time I have complained A LOT. Sorry about that :)  My almost decade frustration has been not knowing what my “message” as an artist would be.

First, as an artist,  I had to figure out what art medium was best suited to me and which best expressed my talent. Second, what style felt right?  abstract? illustration? graphic design? botanicals? landscapes? still lives?  and Thirdly, most importantly, what is my message as an artist?

Eight years later I can safely and proudly say I am an experiential learner. Meaning, no one could ever tell me me the answer, I had to learn the hard way.  I had to learn by trying EVERYTHING and I’m sure I will keep exploring.  No one could say “Hey, you seem to shine when you do xyz” or “You really should stick to xyz subject matter”. I have painted with acrylics, gouache and watercolor. I have tried printmaking, pastels and mixed media.  I have painted still lives, landscapes, abstracts and everything in between.

I really struggled with my message as an artist.  Some artists don’t care. They are just happy doing what they’re doing.  But inside me all the existential questions lie.  Why was I born?  Why am I on the planet earth? What is the point of  being alive and dying?  Is there a point? What will I do with the life I have been given?  I have gifts how will I use them?  and most importantly, what can I give back to the world?  

As an artist I have always taken this last question to heart.  I was not born with a scientific brain to cure diseases.  I wasn’t born to be a world leader that will guide future generations. I wasn’t born with a medical mindset to nurture and heal others.  I was born with a particular gift of creating images.  I haven’t really seen a society who value’s this gift.  Not like they value notoriety, wealth and technology.  How do you answer the question of giving to your community, your planet and the world at large as an individual?  As a human, I can care about the earth, be politically active, raise responsible children, pay my taxes and do no harm.  But a give to the world by making images?  I’ve struggled for years with the guilt of feeling frivolous, redundant, obscure, voiceless and insincere.

With age comes reason.  Again it comes back to experiential learning.  I had to experience and search and search…. and continue searching.  And the answer is that it was always with me all along.  The school of hard knocks. I would not accept any other way than to search, knock on hundreds of doors, open hundreds of doors and close a hundred doors. I can say I’ve tried on one hundred hats and I think I’m at the point of finding one that fits.

This is a bit long-winded, I know, but now I’ll get to why this painting is special to me. It has taken 8 years of trying everything else to be clear in what is special to me.  Artists that gleam the attention of the world’s mainstream express their strong feelings about death, suicide, mental illness, sexual identity, war, human rights, activism, ant-capitalism, tribalism…. all sorts of -isms. I’ve tried them all, but I never felt true to myself.  Again, like I was wearing someone else’s hat.

My message is a lot quieter. It’s really quiet actually.  My loves are very simple and I can’t change that.  Lord knows I’ve tried.  I love my gardens, the critters that crawl within them, my bird-feeder, staring out the window, smelling nature, feeling it underneath my feet and I am obsessed with recreating it in COLOR.

This painting is special because I am owning this quiet little message.  It may not be loud, it may not be flashy and it may not get a ton of social media hits, but it’s still a message.  It’s a message to my tribe.  My tribe of flora, fauna and everyday backyard enthusiasts.  I for several years, have tried to run as far away as I could from this concept.  But  I have to own that inwardly, I am very quiet. I’m a bit of a dork actually.  I don’t mind sitting in my driveway for hours watching squirrels and listening to the birds.  And they don’t have to be fancy animals either. Blackbirds, robins, cardinals and seagulls, insects, woodchucks, skunks and bunnies – they do it for me.

Forever, I have painted what I see ( ie. a gorgeous bouquet from my garden or a beautiful scene from a vacation). This painting above is one of the first explorations from my imagination.  I simply thought about all the things I love and assembled them into a composition that does not exist anywhere other than my mind. That is very scary.  I think it’s why I haven’t really done it before.  I can’t blame the image on the circumstances or the environ. It’s on me.  I am telling the world what I love and it’s incredibly personal.  There’s the fear of what if people don’t like what they see?  But again I think that age and time give you the confidence to care not. There is so much freedom in not caring.

I made a painting and  “I”  love it because it has all the things special to me within it.  It’s colorful and happy and strong and unapologetic – in a very quiet way.

Bingo. That’s the direction I need to move in.

I’m feeling very comfortable in this hat.

LOL. So now I’ll get off my soapbox and show you the progression of the painting and some of my favorite parts:

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Thank you so much for being on this journey with me :)

 

 

To Paint like Shirley Trevena

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The students in my watercolor class are fabulous.  I throw so many challenges at them and they take them and run with it.  This challenge was no exception!

Shirley Trevena is an amazing water colorist from England.  When you look at her work, there is so much going on, you can barely figure out how she does what she does.

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Luckily she is a giving enough artist that she shares her process in her many books.  I grabbed two of them, studied them and created a lesson plan to try some of the painting techniques in our watercolor class. Below is a word doc explaining some of her painting techniques.

TECHNIQUES TREVENA LIKES TO USE

Here are two paintings I used to demo in my class:

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If you are interested in trying some fairly unconventional watercolor techniques or you simply want to enjoy some absolutely gorgeous artwork, check artist Shirley Trevena out.  She is a master.

Teaching Watercolor – Painting Glass

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Painting the image of glass is something beginning painters avoid.

Why would you want to avoid painting glass? Hmm, let’s see. First you need to capture the background which is showing through the glass. Next, you have stems and leaves that show through. Third there is refraction going on, so the stems might appear bent or not where you expect them. Next you need to capture liquid. Is the glass half-full or empty? Finally, you need to paint the glass itself and the reflections that bounce off of it.

So yes.  There is quite a bit involved.

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I came to watercolor class with everything else painted and ready to go.  I also sketched in some very simple guide-lines.

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The two glass bottles in this painting were done using two different techniques.  why?  So I could show my class there are two ways to tackle the problem.  I wouldn’t normally do this in a painting, but it does help to show.  The left bottle was done with dry-glazing techniques. Meaning I used many layers of light watercolor wash.  You use very little water so as to have more control.   The bottle to the right was painted using the wet-on-wet technique.  I painted the entire bottle with clear water and then dropped paint into the water which makes it spread where ever there is water.  The glazing technique gives you a more precise look and the wet-on-wet is generally softer and more flowing.

Now I’ll tell you the secret to painting glass in watercolor no matter which technique you use.

glass

There is no white paint in watercolor.  You use the white of the paper.  So if you want a white area, don’t put any paint there.  However, there is another technique you can use to create white areas.  The technique is called lifting.  Lifting is when you take a clean paintbrush, dip it in water, take the access water off so it is damp and then you rub the paint away in a particular area.  Watercolor is not permanent.  You can’t dry it and it’s there forever.  In some ways that’s bad, but in some ways it’s good.  By simply wetting your painting you can pull up or “lift” the paint off the paper.  Now look at the photo above.  See all the different places where I am simulating reflection by creating light areas.  I rubbed, scrubbed and wet those areas until the paint lifted.

The rest is observation and practice, which for most of us takes a life-time.  With that said, there’s no time like the present.  Let’s get practicing!

Back to My Roots

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From From My Garden,  16″x20″ watercolor 140 lb cold press paper

I just realized I have been posting the every-day-progression of this painting on Instagram, but never in my blog!

My blog is more like my journal or diary.  Maybe even my confessional? It is where I divulge my inner most thoughts, which many times can come off as self-deprecating  or even once in a while a bit witty and informative. I have all of those traits within me. I always think it’s best to be brutally honest because that is what is most sincere to others.  To see that we are all not perfect.  We all have struggles important to us even if they may not necessarily be important to others. We have ups, but we also have downs.

With that said, I have had an epiphany.  Did anyone else realize I have been working on abstracts in acrylic for over 6 years?  Personally, it’s been a really rough ride. I haven’t shown most of the paintings because I never felt like I could create the vision I had in my head.  Over and over again I would start a painting and feel defeated mid-way through. For six whole years. Day after day. I have probably 20 unfinished paintings in my basement.  It has left me truly wanting to quit art-making altogether.

But maybe it wasn’t that I needed to quit making art. Maybe it’s that I needed to change my art practice.

Before six years ago, I was a watercolor still-life painter.  That’s where I started. That’s what was intuitive to me.  I have traveled on a path of denying this. Trying everything else in my wake and de-valuing what came natural to me.  I blame this on being an experiential learner. Some of us won’t believe the stove is hot until we actually touch it. No matter who tells us otherwise.

I’ve had a six year stove-touching :)

I had to experience everything else I could do to know thyself.  Some think that’s why we are on this planet.  We didn’t come here to do what we already know, we came here to experience.

Well.  I am at the point that I am ready to value what comes natural to me.  I LOVE COLOR PERIOD and I really know my way around a watercolor box.

Since this awakening, which was about a month ago, I have been painting up a storm.  These watercolors are just flowing right through me. As soon as I’m done there isn’t ten minutes before I’m starting another. It feels great.  Like I’ve come home.

The painting in this blog is one of the first larger ones.  I’m working on another larger painting as we speak and then I’m also working on little 11×14 size paintings for more “fun/exploration”.  The little ones are my permission to not take myself so seriously.  That feels good too.

I am trying really hard not to look backwards and ask the question what do I have to show for the past several years?  I have to look forward and ask what will come out of me next? The answer I hope -amazingly bright colored pretty things :)

Now on to the ART-part of our programming.  I always think it’s fun to look at the progression of a painting. So here it goes:

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 I have questioned myself. Why florals? Ugh, still lives? How boring. Neither nature nor still-lives will ever lead you to something unique. Maybe I’m supposed to do or be something else? Would something else make me better, more well-known, more deep and introspective? Happier? Well I’ve spent some time looking for the answer to these neurotic questions .

After six long years, this is what I’ve learned. I didn’t choose floral watercolors. They chose me. A soprano is never going to achieve singing like an alto. They are a soprano. Singing like a soprano will light up their world. Meaning : Honor your skill set. Honor your strengths.

Surrender.

I have surrendered. So now let’s see where it takes me…

Translucent vs Opaque Painting

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My painting II class has resumed in the new year and our first lesson is a loose abstract play on translucency vs. opacity. Here is a little write-up I did on the project:

translucent vs. opaque

 

Where I find playing with loose shapes and a ton of water free and fun, a lot of my students panick at the idea.  Too funny.  I think the idea of having no control freaks us adults out, but very quickly it is a reminder that you can adjust and work with whatever comes your way.

Gosh, sometimes art is such a great metaphor for life isn’t it?  lol

So we got going.  In essence – “playing”.  Allowing the watercolor paint to flow where it wanted… and seeing what we could find to “pull out” of the painting.

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I started to hear comments about how it truly is easier to draw the negative space or contour of an image.  The focus is on the space between objects as opposed to the objects themselves. You use a different part of your brain which I’d imagine is the special part of the brain.  It feels different and is a great way to exercise that part which we don’t always use.

It was great to see how very different everyone’s artwork turned out.  Isn’t that another great thing about art?  You can all begin in the same place, but wind up in vastly different places.

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It was a successful class.  I could see I had challenged some people and took them out of their comfort zone.

We also discussed changing the opaque color.  What if it was white, taupe or green?  The different look you would get. Also, you could loosely paint with watercolor and after it dried, do another coat of watercolor as opposed to changing to acrylic.  The project is a great stepping stone into experimenting with mediums. How about gouache?

So if in these winter months you are looking for something to do, try it.  And send me a photo of what you come up with!

 

Surfer’s Christmas – RI Christmas Card Series

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I think this image is one of my faves.  There’s just something nostalgic about it.  Who wouldn’t want to go Christmas tree shopping in an old vehicle?  And what surfer wouldn’t want a vintage woody to strap their board to?

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Narragansett, RI is famous for its seawall.  It wraps around 3.5 miles of breathtaking Atlantic coastline. It’s where us locals go to catch our first whiff of spring and where every tourist HAS TO take their selfie.

So, without great detail, my image hints at the seawall.  I have a friend who grew up in Newport, RI and said the card reminded her of the seawall there which is great.  It’s a universal nod to our entire region.

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I’m reminded of the phrase “Salt in my Veins”.  I live that.  I love that. I have traveled to many regions and encountered many seas, but only in New England do I inhale this distinct smell of rotting seaweed, fish and salt.  It is so pungent and so strong.  I’ve not smelled it in the south, nor the west, nor any countries abroad. It is a North Atlantic smell.

It’s what brings me to the seawall.

It’s how I know I’m home.

 

 

 

 

Holiday Herring Gulls – RI Christmas Card Series

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This might sound weird, but I am pretty sure I could devote the rest of my life to painting seagulls and never tire.  For one thing, they are fascinating and for another, they are hilarious.  I think of them as the con-artists of the bird world.

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Funny thing.  My whole life I thought the male seagulls were white and the female seagulls were brownish-gray.  Guess what? I was wrong!  Brownish-gray seagulls are juveniles. They grow into their white feathers when they reach adulthood. Good thing I figured this out before I began illustrating ;)

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There’s nothing like a good peck under the mistle toe ;)

Gansett Gingerbread Towers – RI Christmas Card Series

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Where I live, there is a famous Victorian era building called The Narragansett Towers.

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It’s right along one of our prettiest beaches so every Rhode Islander passes along its way at least once each summer.

I thought it would be fun to convert our landmark into a gingerbread house. If only we could eat it!

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I’m wondering your thoughts on a card with a black background.  Is it too menacing for the Christmas holiday?  I keep flip-flopping on which to print; black, white or go back to the drawing board.      ….hmm….. choices….

For Santa – RI Christmas Card Series

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I’ve had a lot of fun designing Christmas cards that are very unique to where I live.  They call Rhode Island “The Quirky State” and this is for so many reasons…

Here is a link to favorite foods, locations and traditions of Rhode Island: 48 Cool, Hidden, and Unusual Things to Do in Rhode Island This way, you will be able to understand why people might find my cards funny.

Some local faves are coffee milk and famous Allies Donuts.  So here I have offered them up for Santa instead of those regular old cookies and milk.

In the next few days I will send images of each card in the series. I am also playing with different editing software to try to decide what I want the final cards to look like… Luckily I have plenty of time.  I won’t be offering these until next year :)

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              I hope you are all enjoying the things that make your region special.

Tis’ the Season!