Saturday, March 29, 2008

Keep it simple

Yesterday I mentioned that I would post an entry entitled 'keeping it simple' and that I would explain my art magazine ritual.

First of all, my art magazine ritual is a treat I give myself on days when I am running errands. I try to do this at least once a month. That way I can be sure that I don't miss issues. The treat is quite simple. Sometime in the midst of dashing to the pet store, to the grocery store, to the art supply store etc. I visit my local Starbucks/Chapters store. I buy a cup of something and then I sit and browse through the latest art magazines. This doesn't need to take a long time but I find it quite refreshing to sit and look at the art and to skim articles. I do buy magazines but I enjoy briefly looking at them as a bit of respite in amongst the errands. This is one of my 'add beauty to your life' actions :-) (in addition to the ones mentioned in the March newsletter).

I try to offer suggestions to my students as to how they can stay motivated and enthusiastic about their art journey once a course has ended. Buying art magazines is one of them. You can learn a lot about the making of art by reading the articles and it is a great opportunity to see the work of other artists. You can see how others approach a subject, the colours they used, the composition they chose etc. Even if you work exclusively in coloured pencil, you can learn a lot from artists working in other media. Having said this, I should also mention that there can be a down side...

Thursday night I was looking through the latest International Artist Magazine. While browsing through all of the informative sections in the magazine, it struck me how all of this can be rather overwhelming. There are so many artists out there and so many ways to do this art stuff. How do you master it? To a beginner, this is probably all new information. I imagine that one could be left with a sense of how on earth can I learn all of this. Perspective, hard lines, soft edges, value, composition, mixing colour, warm temperatures, cool temperatures, focal points...on and on it goes.

So here is my advice, if you have a desire to learn about art and you would love to actually be able to create your own work...keep it simple! Don't let everything you have yet to learn frustrate you or worse, defeat you. As one who was a beginner (and we all were, and yes I am still learning) I can honestly say that you will eventually get understanding in these areas, but it doesn't need to happen all at once. Keep it simple right? Just isolate one area that you wish to improve in. Perhaps you need to just focus on your medium. If it is coloured pencil, work on getting more comfortable with your paper, or your stroke or how to build colour. Don't think that you need to create a masterpiece. Don't worry about perfect perspective, or composition. If this stuff overwhelms you, just ignore it. You can deal with it later. Once you gain a bit of mastery in one area, then add something else. Lets say you have been playing with your pencils for a while and you think you are getting the hang of it. Pick an area that you think you need to grow in...maybe you think you need to learn how to compose more interesting still lifes or you would like to improve your photo references. Then take a step in this direction and look for resources that will help you in this area. Once you have learned a bit in this area and are ready to tackle something else, move forward into the next area. Don't overthink this whole art thing. Don't overcomplicate it or you will give up. The key to enjoying your art journey is accepting where you are now. Have fun exploring and taking small steps. I promise you that if you keep at it, adding to your knowledge little by little, where you will end up will amaze you. Just enjoy the process. So read those art magazines for inspiration but don't let all the info scare you. Buy the odd one and then you can refer back to it over and over. It will start making sense eventually. Please...keep it simple!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Earth Hour

I was reading Jeanette Jobson's blog entry for Wednesday Mar. 26th, 2008. I was inspired by her thoughts on global warming to share this website with you, If you haven't heard of earth hour, it takes place Saturday March 29th at 8:00 p.m. All you do is turn off your lights for an hour. Why not visit the website, watch the YouTube video and participate?

Out and about on a Thursday night

Last night I was out and about doing some shopping. I need a new computer. Notice I don't just want a new computer, I need a new computer. By nature I am a frugal sort of gal and I am definitely not much of a consumer. That is why I always find myself waiting until something has completely stopped working before I go out and shop for a new one. Well, my computer is 10 years old and it is definitely on its way out. It has been giving me problems for about four months now and the frequency of its mishaps are getting in the way of accomplishing much on the computer. It locks up and stops working, it has dropped attachments, renamed files (that was weird) and in general just struggles to get through the various tasks. So, while it hasn't completely failed to boot up, I am mindful that a replacement needs to be found and fast. Okay, so I am in an electronics store checking out different brands. They have these things hooked up to the internet and everything! So, what do I do? I visit my favourite website, which is of course my own!! (Tells you a lot about me doesn't it!) Actually I wanted to see how my website looked on a new screen, LCD and all...The website looked pretty much the same, except the background colours and the colours I chose for text etc. weren't quite what I had intended. So I decided to check out my blog. That was informative! My photos looked quite different from what I see on my home computer. Perhaps the florescent lights in the store had something to do with it and it wasn't just the computer?? I had to laugh at myself because I have been saying things like "Please note that the background colour isn't as dark as it appears in the photo" when on this computer, my orchids on Stonehenge looked rather anemic. Same for the photos of the pastel paper orchids. This time the colours looked more like my original, unlike the photos I saw on my screen at home. So much for trying to lighten photos or to give disclaimers. I have no idea what you see on your end. I don't assume that you are all viewing my blog on ancient computers. I shall have to wait and see what it looks like here at home once I actually buy a new computer.

I also bought groceries last night and the grocery store I frequent has a wonderful flower shop area. Now I can wheel my cart past the Doritos, past all the chocolate, as well as the icecream refrigerator but it is rather difficult for me to get past this section. To wheel past the flowers and not buy, is I imagine a bit like how a crack addict feels driving past their dealer's house. There is a reason I frequent this particular grocery store and it isn't because of the selection in produce or the prices. And oh the floral extravaganza this spring! Now I did restrain myself when shopping before Easter and I felt quite virtuous. There I was, admiring all the blooming hyacinths, the gigantic hydrangeas, the glorious tulips and daffodils and of course those Easter lilies. But my cart was already overloaded and the bill was going to be I wheeled on. Oh but last night was different...there was room in my cart and there was a sale on. What else to do with those Easter lilies one week after Easter but to pratically give them away. Okay, I paid $1.99 but it felt like a give away. The blossoms are just opening so I have many days ahead to enjoy them. I also made room in my cart for a lucious purple azalea and a pot of campanula (bell flower). My weakness was the campanula (see picture above). I love this plant, in all of its varieties. A picture I did of a this 'bell flower' is on my business card and the painting isn't for sale. I was delighted to see campanulas in the garden here when my husband and I had showings on the property last summer. Campanulas and a studio... might as well draw up the offer to purchase right then and there. So once I saw my favourite purple posies out in the aisle, I knew I was a goner...might as well jump in with both feet and buy some others as well. The campanula and the lily will end up in the garden for future blooming. I am going to pot up the azalea to stay indoors.

I also might as well confess that my house is not blossom deprived. I currently have a primula in bloom as well as paperwhites, christmas cactus plants, geraniums and shamrocks. I also have a large container of impatiens that I brought in from outside last fall. It has been amazing, blooming like it is on steroids or something (but then again maybe that is what Miracle-Gro is to plants). I am delighted to see that my plants like the light in this house.

I also did my art magazine ritual last evening (I will explain later.) While going through the latest issue of International Artist magazine, I had the thought that I should post a blog entry regarding 'keeping it simple'. This is turning out to be a long blog post so I shall save this topic until tomorrow. I need to get back to the studio and to my orchid piece.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Orchids on Stonehenge WIP

It is looking better now...please note that the background colour isn't as dark as it appears in the photo. Also, the finished composition will be different as I will be cropping it when it is matted.

As I mentioned in the last post, when I began working on the flowers I started with the areas with the darkest values. Here you can see that I worked those areas quite a bit. Satisfied that I had established my darkest values, I started to work on the upper right and left petals. I worked on the upper right one first and then the left one. I work on areas like this separately because I don't want to miss the uniqueness of the different petals. For example, if I applied a base layer all over the right one and then did the same thing on the left and then repeated this with each colour, there would be the possibility that I would miss subtle differences in shading and colour between the two petals.

I am working from the top of the flowers down. If I had done the lower petals first, my hand would be positioned over the finished petals while I worked on the upper ones. I don't typically work with a hand guard. While coloured pencil pigment doesn't usually smear (oil based pencils are more prone to this or if you have a lot of dark pigment applied it will), I prefer not to have my hand resting on a finished part of the paper. While the upper blossoms are not finished, I have the majority of the base colours down.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Orchids on Stonehenge WIP

One of the reasons I created this blog was so that people who were interested in coloured pencil could get a sense of how an artist actually uses them. When I first started my art journey, I really would have appreciated an opportunity to watch over someone's shoulder as they worked. Even today I would like to hang out in another artist's can learn a lot by watching someone work. Therefore, I shall try to detail some of the steps involved in creating this new piece. Please keep in mind that this is just my way of working, there are many ways to use coloured pencils.

First of all, I am redoing the orchids (as seen in previous posts on pastel paper). This time I am using a white printmaking paper, Stonehenge brand. To start, I transferred my drawing to the Stonehenge using a lightbox. I drew on my Stonehenge using a gray Col-Erase pencil (made by Sanford). I prefer this to graphite as it is a soft pencil and therefore less likely to score the paper. It also erases beautifully. I don't mind drawing over the Col-Erase lines if I am using a dark coloured pencil. If you use a graphite pencil for your drawing make sure that you use very light pressure. Graphite seems a bit greasy and it can smear. Essentially you want the lines of the drawing to be barely visible. Once my drawing was completed I lifted off some of the excess pencil pigment with reusable adhesive.

My next step was to do the background. I chose to work on the background first as I would be building up the colours in the orchids in relation to whatever colour the background became.

Why did I create a yellowish background? First of all, I love the colour. :-) Secondly, most of my paintings have a light background and I would say that this is part of my style. Orchids are delicate looking and I like the fact that the light background doesn't overpower the flowers. Third, the blossoms will end up being various shades of violet and the background colour is opposite violet on the colour wheel. I like using complementary colours in my work.

Using Prismacolor pencils, I started the background with a layer of Cream, using a vertical stroke. I added two more layers of colour on top, Sand and Jasmine. By establishing a light coloured layer first, the following darker layers look more even. The background didn't take long. I erased any visible pencil lines outlining the blossom edges as I coloured up to them.

Next I layered in some colours for the stem and then I went to work on the darkest areas of the piece. I like to establish my darks first as again, I will colour the rest of the blossoms in relation to the depth of values I achieve here. I establish my darks by working light to dark. I took a close up photo to show you just how light I start off in the beginning. This slow build up of colour isn't necessary, it is just how I like to work. I like to gradually build up colour as this way I can change direction easily. As I have control of the developing colour, I find I don't end up having to lift colour. In the second picture, you might be able to see how light my pressure is. I don't burnish and there is still lots of tooth visible in the paper. Keep in mind that I will be adding more pencil layers so I don't want to completely fill the tooth of the paper. You can also see that I have begun to play with building up the violet colour in the petals. It doesn't look too attractive at the moment but it will get there.

Monday, March 24, 2008

New class dates

I have added new dates for the Introduction to Coloured Pencil course. This new session will run on three weekdays in April: Monday April 21st, Wednesday April 23, and Friday April 25, 9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

The previously scheduled June dates (Saturdays: June 7th,14th, 21st) for this course are still available. If you would like to read further info on the intro course or other classes being offered, please visit the classes section of my website.

This week I am going to redo the orchid piece, this time on white printmaking paper versus a burgundy coloured sheet of Colorfix pastel paper. I shall post my progress. I look forward to comparing the two results.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Pastel Paper Orchids

Well, here it is...The picture is a bit dark.

My thoughts after working on this piece: first of all, working on coloured paper sure speeds things up a lot. Second, pastel paper is faster as it won't accept many layers of pigment. I liked the fact that you could erase pigment with an eraser. I also liked the fact that you could layer a light layer over a dark layer. For example if I happened to get something too dark I could just go over it with a lighter pencil and the dark bit would be covered.

I don't like the sheen that is on the surface. You can only see this in person and you have to be very close to the art but still...

I love detail and working with this paper frustrated me at times. The gritty surface just doesn't allow fine lines.

I tried the technique of using a stiff bristle brush on areas of applied pigment. I wasn't keen on the technique or the results. I think I will leave this to Linda Hardy and others who do this really well!!
( About halfway through this piece I started to care less about the final outcome and only finished it to gain the experience. There are things that need to be fixed but this is as far as I am going with it. It is definitely not my best work but I did enjoy getting outside of my usual way of working box.

I have used Ampersand Pastelbord and loved working on that surface so I will order some of this from an on-line supplier. It isn't available here in Ottawa. I enjoyed working on the coloured surface so I will work on one again, just not on this brand of paper. On to the next piece...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Outside the Box Orchid WIP

For my next piece, I chose an orchid picture. I went 'outside the box' on this one in a couple of ways. First of all, this is my first time using a photo that I didn't take. This picture was taken by my husband and yes I have his permission to use it :-) While the lighting in the photo makes for a fine photo, it isn't my usual preference for lighting a subject that will become a painting. My normal way of working is to have strong contrasts between light and shadow. I enjoy playing up these values and I think it makes for a more interesting piece. Having said that, I find myself liking pieces by other artists that have flattened values. Such pieces tend to have a peaceful quality. High contrasts often lend an air of energy or excitement to a work. I like it when an artist is confident enough to break the rules. I loved the photo so I decided to get out of my box and work on this image as it...I would resist the temptation to punch up the values.

My next step outside the box was in choosing a new support...coloured pastel paper. Pastel paper is paper that is coated with a gritty surface (similar to sandpaper). This type of paper is used by painters and pencil artists. It isn't just for pastel. I love working on a medium toothed, white printmaking paper but I decided to challenge myself by working on this surface. I have messed about with pastel paper but this was going to be an attempt at a 'real' work.

This photo shows that this is very much a work in progress. You can see that I am using a burgundy coloured paper. Very dark indeed. You cannot apply as many layers to this surface as you can other papers. What surprised me was that as I worked a sheen started to develop! I have never had this happen before. Definitely a signal that the surface was getting coated with the waxy pigment and it wouldn't be taking many more layers. I am using primarily Prismacolor pencils. You have to use heavier pressure to get results and it of course 'eats' your pencils more than smoother surfaces. On the plus side, I found it much faster to work this way and you can actually erase pigment from this surface. Okay, back to the studio...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Coloured Pencil Sculpture

Just have to share this...check out Jennifer Maestre's incredible, unique pencil sculptures, Stunning and so intriguing! I love the nail sculptures too. Read the 'about the sculptures' page. Inspired by a sea urchin indeed! Isn't creativity just the neatest thing? Kind of makes me want to start snapping off some of my pencil tips to give this a try. Guess I had better restrain myself unless I can get my hands on a large supply of coloured pencils meant for children. Think about how we mourn the breaking of a lead and this woman happily cuts pencils up into small pieces...

On the studio front, I have finished tweaking the pine cone piece and I am starting to begin a new one. I am deciding which photo reference I will be working from so things are still in the very early stages. More on it as the work progresses.

Monday, March 10, 2008

March Newsletter

I have written a new newsletter! This newsletter can now be read from my website. In the past, I sent out news via emails. I have set up a section on my website where this issue and future issues can be read. There is also a link to the newsletter here on my blog...see the side bar on the right. I will post a blog entry each time a new one is written. Members of the Newsletter Group, will receive a notice in their mailbox when a new newsletter is ready to read. To become a member please email me. Please note that if you are currently on my mailing list, you have automatically become a member of the Newsletter Group. The newsletter is free.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Snowed Under!

Welcome to my world! Okay, enough is enough...March has sure come in like a lion here in Ottawa. In the first week of March we received about 40 cm of new snow (not to mention the freezing rain that made our driveway a skating rink). Then March 8th brought a huge storm with heavy winds and 50cm of additional snow! The photo on the upper left was taken this morning and it is of our back deck. The right photo is looking out the door in my kitchen/family room. Needless to say we couldn't get out that door until we shoveled.The lower picture was taken from inside our garage, looking out into our backyard. Keep in mind that this door previously had a path leading out from it as I go out this door to access the bird feeders in the yard. It is hard to believe that in the summer you actually have to step down from the garage to the yard! I woke up before 6:00 and was hesitant to look outside. The storm had continued to rage throughout the night and I didn't want to see how much more snow we had received. I grabbed a cup of tea and headed for the studio, determined to stay in denial as long as possible. By 8:00 a.m. I had to face reality...the birds outside my windows were chirping and I knew the feeders were covered in snow. So out I went. I put on snowshoes to get to the 11 feeders placed around the property. Even in showshoes I was dropping down about 1 1/2 feet with each step. I stumbled back into the house. Mission accomplished. Now what? I put together a pot of chili for the slow cooker, threw another log in the woodstove, grabbed another cup of tea and headed back to the studio. I may not come out until April...

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Pinecones and Needles Work in Progress

This is a work that has been in progress for a long time - years in fact! I started this piece about four years ago. I wanted to complete an additional piece for a show. I loved the photo that I had taken of the pinecones so I chose it as the next project. At least the beginning went well. I did the pinecones first. No problem. Then I started the needles. Yikes! I soon realized that this piece was not something that could possibly be finished in time to get framed and drawing all the interwoven needles also ran the risk of driving me insane. I shelved it and moved on. From time to time I would pull it out and think "you know I should really sit down and finish this". Fast forward to last November when I participated in a studio tour. I wanted to work on a piece during the tour as I like to demonstrate coloured pencil to people who have never seen it. I had just finished a piece and I had no work in progress to take. Guess what came out of the cupboard...while I was too busy and distracted to really work on the piece during the tour days, I did get reinterested in it. So this winter it made its way back to the drafting table. I need to tweak it here and there but it is darn close to being finished. Yippee. The motto of this tale, never throw a piece out - even if you think you have ruined it, are bored with it or just don't know how to finish it. You may be surprised by what you can do later on.

Mixed Media 'Tapestry'

This is a picture of an 11" x 14" mixed media piece that I recently created. I have done a smaller one in the past but I thought it would look interesting in a larger format. This particular piece is the same size as the one students will be working on in November in a mixed media workshop. I normally work exclusively in coloured pencil, in a realistic style, with lots of detail. This feels more like instant gratification as it didn't take several days to complete. I used fluid acrylics and gesso for the base and the 'threads' of the tapestry are drawn in with coloured pencils. To learn about my classes and to see a schedule for 2008 please see my website.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Upcoming Mini-Conference

I just received an email advising me of a mini-conference that is taking place in Ottawa west (Carp) on Saturday April 5th, 2008. The event is being hosted by the West Carleton Arts Society. There will be presentations by three guest artists on painting, digital photography as a fine art medium, as well as 'nurturing your creativity'. This is a full day affair and food is included...and wow - check out the fee for this mini-conference - $20.00!! So, if you live within driving distance and you would like to know more, go to the West Carleton Arts Society website. No doubt this conference will fill up fast so if you are interested, don't delay in letting the organizers know. See you there!

Monday, March 3, 2008

My New Studio!

My husband I moved last fall (2007) and I now have a new studio location. I am a very fortunate gal! I am well aware that my studio space is what many artists dream of. There are six windows that bring in lots of natural light, not to mention wonderful vistas of the forest and gardens surrounding my home. I must also mention the tons of floor space I have (700 square feet) as well as the oodles of storage space. Spoiled indeed. The previous owners of this home were the builders. The wife of the couple was and still is an artist and this space was created for her use.

The pictures only show part of the studio. You can't see the storage closets or the couch (might as well be comfortable while looking through all those reference photos).

Anyway, I now have a wonderful space to work in and to also teach in. My apologies to the students who attended classes in my former home. Being huddled around the conference table in my husband's office (in the basement!) just doesn't compare. Oh well, now you have an additional incentive to return for more classes and/or workshops!

Sunday, March 2, 2008


Welcome to my new blog. Please visit back often as this site is currently under construction.