Saturday, May 28, 2016

Let Them Eat Cupcake

I posted just once last week because my dinosaur of a desktop computer finally gave up on life. It has been stumbling along for years now and honestly, I'm surprised the ancient machine hung on as long as it did. Luckily, I had already created an "ark" for almost all the photos and documents stored there so its death wasn't overly traumatic in that regard. However, the old computer's demise meant the loss of my beloved copy of Photoshop 7. [*sniff*] So I've been trying to figure out how to edit photos in a new, rather clunky program on my MacBook Pro and the learning curve is steep, practically vertically in fact. In addition, I'm still not entirely comfortable with the Mac in general so I'm having trouble saving things where I want them and finding them again. Photos here may be a little "off" until I find my rhythm. A couple more weeks and I'll have plenty of time to devote to learning new technology such as my woefully analog brain will allow.

Today's illustration is something I drew a couple years ago and just recently painted. I do that a lot: draw in my sketchbooks when I have drawing time and return to those doodles when I have painting time. I love the way her dress turned out; it makes a difference to leave little bits of unpainted spots that show off the white paper underneath. Many people apply watercolor with solid coverage and that eliminates stark highlights which provide depth and liveliness. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Frenzied Four Weeks Begin

Just four weeks now until the school year is over. These are the most hectic weeks as students are especially restless; they sense the impending summer vacation like sharks scent blood in the water. They are scrambling to finish end-of-the-semester work and participating in traditional end-of-the-year field trips and school-wide events. Today, my art students begin a three-week field/urban sketching journal in which they will carry around a small watercolor journal and supplies for 21 days, recording the people, plants, landscapes, objects, places, and events they encounter. It is their final project after a year of study in observational drawing.

As for me...if you said that it seems that I've been bouncing all over the studio lately, dashing in and out of projects...well, you'd be exactly right. I've settled into the habit of randomly selecting a sketchbook or journal each morning and working in that particular book as long as my schedule and attention span allows. I work for about an hour prior to work and a bit after. And since my teaching gig is also part "artist-in-residence," I work on my own art here and there while at school. I believe it is important for students to see their teacher practicing her own art for many reasons. Most importantly, it shows students that regular practice is the key to good art, NOT natural talent (a common misconception among middle/high school students.) My classroom mantra is that "talent" is merely aptitude in a subject studied with passion (a good attitude) and persistence (devoted practice.) I work to dispel the notion that some students are simply more gifted in art than others and that all others are simply pretenders. This is not something I have to deal with at the elementary-school level; young kids are enthusiastic and fearless experimenters. That carefree mindset, however, shifts as students approach middle school and they face more peer and academic pressure.

In other news, I devoted two intense hours this past Saturday to finding the title for my upcoming show. The show title/theme is an important thing I usually finalize early in the show preparation process; this year, the title was very slow in coming and I felt my momentum starting to grind to a halt without the guidance of a central theme. I had a few ideas but nothing satisfactory. So I made myself sit down and get to the business of discovering what this show needed to be named. To this end, I do what I call "word-sifting." I make long lists of words and phrases that I love, working through a vintage thesaurus to find obscure synonyms and a dictionary (bound not electronic) to research word origins. I work in a zigzag but forward fashion until I stumble upon the perfect word(s) to encapsulate my intentions for the show. Once I settle on the show title, I tuck it away in my brain and heart like a precious seed. In private, it will take root and begin to weave its way through each piece I produce. When I feel that title/theme is strong enough, I'll bring my title out into the world. Show prep for me is rife with small superstitions and odd rituals. As the next four weeks tick down, I'll be spending most of my free moments moving through those studio traditions so I'm ready to hit the easel once the last student skips out the door toward summer.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Hacking the Studio: Vol. 2

Welcome again to a new feature here at Lost Coast Post where I share the little things I use and do to make my studio more user-friendly. Today's episode is really about "hacking" one particular product: the watercolor field box you receive when you purchase a set of pan watercolors by Prima. 

I have a few travel watercolor sets but they are all plastic and none of them quite meet all of my personal requirements: one is too small, another too big. None of them have the color selection I'm looking for when I go out and about to sketch and paint. Then I read about these new watercolor sets by Prima and I decided to take a chance. This purchase was really all about the box the paints came in; I'll talk about the actual paint in a bit.

This is a fantastic little travel paint box. It is 3-inches high by 4-3/4-inches wide and about 3/4-inches deep. It fits comfortably in my hand (a must given all my grip issues) and has a wee fold-out metal ring on the bottom that I slip my left thumb into so I can hold the palette with my left and paint with my right. It opens up to reveal two mixing areas and 12 half pans of watercolors. I bought the "Decadent Pies" palette which features colors great for landscapes and portraits (including 4 metallic paints.) All the edges of the tin are rolled so there are no sharp parts.

As I said, the tin comes with 12 half pans of watercolor. You can fit another 7 half pans down the "center aisle," giving you the opportunity to expand to 19 colors. In case you are unfamiliar, half pans are tiny plastic boxes (3/4-inches high x 1/2-inches wide x just over a quarter inch deep.) You can purchase pre-filled half pans from any of the leading paint companies like Holbein, Winsor & Newton and Sennelier via most art supplies stores. Pre-filled pans can be expensive: a half pan of Holbein cadmium red, for example, is about $15.50. (Generally, as the paint pigment quality goes up, so does the price.)

As an alternative to pre-filled pans, you can purchase empty half pans and fill them with paint squeezed from tubes. You can use paint directly from your pre-existing stash and create any palette of colors that you desire, arranged in any order you like. I eyeballed the Prima watercolor tin for just that purpose. 

Without any hacks whatsoever, you can expand this tin from 12 to 19 colors just by adding 7 half pans right down the middle of the box. I wanted to push the total number of colors just a wee bit further. However, the removable tray that holds the pans had rounded corners. So I took a hammer and gently flattened those curves so I could slide in 2 more half pans - top and bottom rows - for a grand total of 21 colors! 

I chose to keep the 12 Prima colors and then added a couple more greens, two yellows, two reds, a teal, and a couple of shadowy colors. In the future, I will probably remove the Prima pearl white as white isn't really used in traditional watercolor techniques anyway. I'll fill the gap with some other color I think is missing from my overall palette. The half pans aren't fixed so I can add, remove, and rearrange to my heart's content.

Now...let's talk about the paints that come in the Prima set. There are three different sets (Classics, Tropicals, & Decadent Pies.) Each set is about $25.00. The paint is mostly opaque and non-granulating. In the case of the blues and greens in Decadent Pies, the color is intense (so much so that I suspect the use of dyes rather than pigments.) Here's the big HOWEVER...not a stitch of information regarding pigment content, lightfastness, or toxicity is provided. The colors are not even named, only numbered. It is standard practice to provide pigment information for most paints listed as "artist grade" and most definitely for those labeled "professional grade."

For everyday purposes and everyday painters, lack of information on the pigments used probably isn't that big of a deal. Journals aren't exposed to light on an ongoing basis and fading is kept to a minimum. Professional watercolorists and/or people would want to sell original watercolor works should not use these paints; you could paint something, scan, and then sell prints, a technique that is advisable anytime you use products not rated as "professional" in work to be sold in its original form. To be fair, Prima is marketing these paints to the craft/journaling/scrapbook/coloring book crowd and NOT to professional watercolorists.

But back to the box...this is why I purchased this particular product. It really is a wonderfully sturdy little travel box and now, hacked to my whims, it is pretty much the watercolor box I've been looking for over the past few years. I love how the metal feels in my hands; the plastic field kits always felt awkward. Remember though, that's just my particular quirk. There are some great travel watercolor sets on the market. Just use whatever encourages you to get out and paint.

EDIT: Someone asked where you can find the Prima watercolor sets. They can be scarce and/or overpriced on Amazon. I got my set at Frantic Stamper...

2nd EDIT: SInce they seem to be available now at Amazon at a good price, I have included an Amazon affiliate link to the Prima sets within this post. Just know that the price can fluctuate so shop around for the best deal.  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Flirting with the Light

My pre-show explorations continue. For my next show, I'd like to do more painting with tools other than a brush, add an assemblage "show-within-a-show" (more on that eventually,) and I'd like lighten up my work. I use a lot of color but many of my pieces consistently lean toward darker values. I always thought that the monster theme was best served by a dark palette (it felt natural) but I've been wondering whether or not that is actually true. So, before show work starts in earnest, I'm playing with more white. As I experiment, I realize how little white I actually use in my work; I'm even a bit uncomfortable which just might mean I'm on the right track. This is another "messin' around" page in a large Canson mixed media, spiral-bound journal. I like how it turned out so I think it's time to get brave and if a monster can emerge surrounded by light as easily as it does from the dark.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Inching Towards a More Painterly Approach

This little fellow is the first in what I hope will be a series of experiments in painterly creature creation. As I've said, I start serious studio time in mid-June, the moment the school year ends. Now is the time to work out the details of my new show so I can be as productive as possible in my nearly three months of blissful vacation.

Looking back on my painting work over the years, I see an almost compulsive need for smooth, polished painted works. I can't abide seeing brushstrokes. However, when I asked myself how I could freshen up my painting practice, how I could improve my creatures, I knew immediately that I needed to change how I apply paint. My creatures are a little weird, edgy, wonky and they are begging for a painting style that serves to strengthen that impression. I think adding more texture and imprecise lines/shapes could be exactly what my characters need.

As you can see, I have a way to go. Although I used something other than the bristles of a brush (palette knife, fingers, brush handle) to apply paint on about 80 percent of this piece, it still doesn't have much visual or actual texture. I tend to smooth out the surface by overworking things; it is hard for me to let imperfection stand. Still, he does have a slightly different look so I think I'm moving in the right direction....just need to carve out some more time to practice.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Protector. Avenger. Detective. Champion.

Still just spending my spare moments messing around with paint and paper, using this time to work out details and techniques before I hit the ground running full speed with show production once work ends in six weeks. At that point, I'll be in the studio all day, every day trying to make good use of my 2-1/2 months of vacation. There'll be a few doctors' visits too as I've had to put off a few things until work obligations are complete. But mostly, it will be lots of long, lovely hours spent painting monsters. (Just might be constructing some creatures too...)

The only point of this random page was to practice working with a palette knife. I'm changing up how I render my creatures and critters (less polished/more painterly) so I've been reacquainting myself with using something other than brushes to apply paint to canvas. I'm also working more with heavy body acrylics which hold peaks in the paint, allowing for more texture. All of this experimentation will come in handy when I sit down to get serious about pieces for my October show.

Of course, I couldn't resist adding a little character, a wee forest guardian who steadfastly defends the majestic redwoods with his tiny spear and flowered helm.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Revelations of a Journal Page

So this is one of those journal pages where I think "What in the hell was I thinking!?" I'm just messing around in this large mixed media journal but this page is waaay out there. I think it really shows how uncomfortable I've become with collage as a primary technique to create focal imagery and in that respect, this page is very instructive and encouraging. It feels more natural (and fun) now to draw and/or paint an image than to construct it from bits of images from someone else, even if I render those images unrecognizable from their original incarnation. I'll never abandon collage all together: I still love to use collaged papers in the backgrounds of my paintings and I have several smaller journals with collage as the central technique. However, when it comes to creature creation, I am finally at a place where I love and trust my ability to generate imagery from my imagination. That has been a long-term goal of mine that I've voiced here & there over the years at Lost Coast Post. I still utilize references to get proportions correct (Dover is the best source for copyright-free inspiration) but this page, in all its awkwardness and wackiness, helped me realize that I've reached a place where I can make the things I imagine come to life AND like them!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Newest Members of the Menagerie

I recently took my art students through the creation of clay animals sculptures inspired by the wood carvings of Oaxaca, Mexico. As usual, the kids rocked the project (pictures forthcoming once the varnishing process is complete.) I always manage to create lots of samples as I progress through a lesson plan so this newest set of clay creatures is what showed up when the samples were finally finished.

My poor llama suffers from an embarrassing overbite so she thought perhaps a side view would be the most flattering. I took pictures of her buck teeth but she implored me not to post them ("Once on the internet, it's there forever," she gently reminded me.)
Mr. Armadillo is all stretched out here so you can admire his lovely spots courtesy of the end of a paintbrush. This guy was fun to welcome to my growing clay menagerie as I enjoyed trying to create something a bit more realistic-loooking.

Finally, a common cat and dog showed up, dressed in uncommon colors and patterns. The pup has a perpetual playful tilt to his head that "Hey! Can you  play?" I have been experimenting with tilting the heads of my creatures, whether I'm working in pencil, pen, paint, or clay. A little shift of the head to the side and the characters seem a bit more lively, cheeky, and present.

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