Portraits have been a love/hate relationship for me. When I’m painting them, time just flies by. The brush nudges a cheek into existence and with just a dot and swirl, there is an eye and I almost expect to see a blink. I often say, “Well, hello!” I honestly don’t know if other artists have this response. I don’t wait for it and I don’t expect it, but it almost always happens. That is the love part.
The hate part is that it might not work. This isn’t a problem unless it is a commission. In one commission, I had a parent ask if I could take off some fat and add some hair to her child. What child did she want me to paint? Another commission, the parent gave me a handful of photos and said to paint anything that moved me. I did. They said my painting looked just like the photo, but not like the child. “Can you make her look more like a monkey?” You meet all kinds.
This year I’ve joined some amazing artists from around the world in a special small group on Facebook. We post sketches online and the only obligation is to interact and exchange positively. We can’t just “like” an image. We are encouraged to say what works and what might need some tweaking. Sometimes there will be a challenge to sketch an “assignment” and they are always fun. Last week some of us sketched a portrait based on photos from their Facebook page. I chose Laura. This sketch took a little less than three hours from paper to “hello”.
“Laura” 10.5″ x 7″ watercolor
I used to paint with tiny brushes and my face close to the painting, then I started painting tablecloths and banners and found that a large brush and a large canvas is such fun! First, you have to use your whole body when the canvas is large, using whole arm and shoulder movements (and everything else if the studio music gets a little wild). Second, in order to see what is happening on the canvas you have to step away from it so I walk a lot. The drawback is the possibility-or perhaps I should say probability-of stepping into a paint pot or onto the palette which in my case is a dinner plate. It was nice to go to the deck where I could hose things off if the paint got away from me.
Here is the first step: a three-foot pear shape on a four-foot square canvas.
A pear shape!
Then a leaf and highlights.
I took the canvas out on the deck so I had more room to add the golden halo around the perimeter. Notice the dinner plate is on the table instead of on the floor. I still got paint on my feet.
The hardest part was adding the text. You wouldn’t believe how many times I changed font size and I tried a variety of methods to get those letters on the canvas. I eventually used a squeeze bottle with a nib which has a tiny hole. I tried a paintbrush with ghastly results. Here is part of the process:
I finished it today. I enjoyed the process tremendously and being able to paint out on the deck was marvelous. Next is a three-foot square of grapes. Maybe I should just start out on the deck…
Alaska’s State flower is the Forget-Me-Not. It is such a simple and delicate little flower ranging in color from pale to deep blue and even shades of pink. With a gentle fragrance of baby powder, it is one of my favorite flowers.
I’ve been taking part in a fellow artist’s “75 Day Sketching Challenge” and the last several sketches posted have been part of the challenge. Some artists are sharing every sketch on their blogs, but you really don’t want to see some of my experiments. My first sketch of the Forget-Me-Not looked like I had run them over with the car before I sketched them. They were very sad.
Having only found lichens and bare trees to sketch since the snow melted, I walked beside the lake, hopeful of finding the first spring flowers. Crocus buds and blossoms had just bloomed and I sat among them, happily sketching while raindrops pattered around me and on the paper. I walked a few steps toward the lake and sat to sketch it as a background for the wildflowers. When I was almost done, I heard a splash like a body falling into the water, then I heard another. I didn’t hear any gasps or cries like I knew there would be if humans were jumping in a lake where ice had been days ago. Then I heard the muffled voices of the swans. They were talking to each other in that lovely low honk, honk they do right after landing. I looked around a tree and there they were, white against the dark water. I must admit that I was feeling a bit hesitant to sketch them because they are so beautiful and I could so easily make them ugly. I started with the one on the right and thought, “I’ll never get the other one” when it stuck its head under water to feed. I never thought about that pose, but it saved me from drawing two swan heads. The texture in the background is from the raindrops falling on the paper. Who needs an umbrella?
I’m busy with last-minute framing for this First Friday show in Anchorage. If you live in the area, it would be a pleasure if you would stop by and say hi. Some of the Facebook Photo series will be on display and lots of paintings never seen before. (I finally got them framed) A deadline is a great motivator. Hope to see you there!
Tomorrow I will post the first “My Way or the Highway” sketch. There is so much beauty as Spring turns to Summer in Alaska. I’m planning on two posts a week.
I haven’t posted for some time, since I’ve been busy getting this website to function as more than just a blog. It is amazing how much time it takes to research options and set it up. Thankfully, I haven’t had to do this alone or it would have never happened. I finally have a place to sell and display art. There are several more pieces to post as well as the details of size and prices. Here is a piece available on the gallery.
Close-Up Geranium, watercolor
The next post will begin a new series called, “My Way or the Highway”. During the summer you might see me sitting by the road as I sketch views along the Glennallen Highway here in Alaska and flora or fauna nearby-that part is the “my way”. We have some of the most amazing wildflowers. In fact, I sketched the first ones yesterday!
"The Shalom of Grace" watercolor
Her name is Grace. She is an orphan living in Kenya with Kate and Johnny who host an orphan home. There are also fourteen other children. Kate told me some of her story:
“We rescued her from an orphanage that made her work as a ‘maid’ for the home. She didn’t go to school and spent her days washing and cleaning for the other kids in the home. She was often beaten and just wanted out. Before going to that orphanage, her mother would leave her outside, not feed her, and beat her. So when she was six, a good Samaritan took her away from her crazy mother and put her in that orphanage.”
“Shalom” is a Hebrew word and although I don’t know many words in that language, this word is very special. In English we have words with many meanings, but this word has depth of meaning. From what I’ve learned, it means peace, but also restoration, wholeness, completeness, quietness, to be safe. But the incredible thing is that it also means the process and movement toward restoration, wholeness and completeness.
I called this piece “The Shalom of Grace” because she is at peace and safe in the love of her new family and she is in the process of restoration and wholeness. Here is a photo of Grace with her family, a picture of shalom.
Only one more painting left in this series. I still haven’t decided on which photograph I’ll choose. There were so very many wonderful images of my Facebook friends. Your comments on this blog and in person have been so encouraging. Thank you so very, very much.
"Ella, the Biker" 11"x 14" watercolor
When I saw this photo of Ella, I chuckled. The “slow” sign did it. She is probably not old enough to read, but I don’t think she would care if she could. The sign obviously doesn’t apply to her.
Some paintings, like “Friendly Feet”, I paint in pieces. I sit at my painting table and apply the paint in a “paint by number” style. I painted each shoe and ankle separate from the other. It gives a crisp, bright feel to the image. With this little biker, I wanted to show lots of movement so I stood up to paint. I wet the paper on both sides to saturate the fibers and stuck it to a piece of plexi-glass. I used a large brush to apply lots of paint, allowing the watercolor pigment to swim together on the surface of the paper. As the paper dries, I add sharper and darker details by using thicker paint. I used this same method to paint Hagar, the dog.
Now on to #8 in the Painting Facebook Friends series. This one warms my heart.
"Friendly Feet" 9.5" x 15" watercolor
Kendra, who is a friend on Facebook, is a delightful combination of brilliance and fun. She took this photo and posted it on her wall in black and white. This image is the sixth of ten in my “Painting Facebook Photos” series. Because I know some of these colorful characters who are wearing these shoes, I wanted this painting to have fresh, clean colors. I chose to use only three tubes of watercolor; Pthalo Blue, Red Rose Deep, and Hansa Yellow Light.
I wanted the shoes to sparkle against neutral pavers so I started with a little color sketch. The terra-cotta pavers in the top sketch are warm and sunny, but I wanted the warmth to come from the shoes and feet, so in the bottom sketch I tried a gray-blue with the clean colors coming from the shoes. The result was sparkling shoes and clean colors.
An interesting thing to note is while the sun is coming from one direction, creating the main shadows, there is a bright window creating another subtle light source seen mostly on the boots. Am I an artist or a detective?
"Hagar" 9.5" x 9.5" watercolor
I wasn’t going to do a portrait, but I couldn’t resist those eyes. What a colorful little character is this dog, Hagar. I believe my friend, Melissa, and her husband adopted him from the animal shelter. If the story is different, perhaps she will be kind enough to give the full story in the comments.
This is the fourth in a series of ten paintings. For inspiration, I am using photos my Facebook friends have posted on their walls. In the evening, I look at photos of my friends and I smile. I have very nice friends and their photos show their love of life. Six more paintings to go. Oh, there are some delightful images for me to paint and I can’t wait to share them.
Thank you for your kind comments. You have no idea how much it encourages me.
If you would like to see the first three paintings, you’ll find them here:
1) Ballerina Buddies
2) Fall Walk
3) Claudia and Lola