Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bucket List-The Final Piece!

Reid's beginning to model the face

And so, here I am at the last two days of the workshop.  I have observed a great deal by watching every morning.  I learn best visually.  So every morning I watched and made notes on what I observed or what he said.  Someone would ask him a question and he would say, "I don't know.  That really doesn't help you much, does it?"  But when I thought about it, sometimes I don't know how to answer a student's question.  Maybe I don't know.  It's not a crime.  Yet, I know he knew what he was doing and why.  Mr. Reid seemed totally at ease with those types of answers.  Many times he had fine answers.  In fact  at one point he said he thought we ought to be less concerned with "all that", which I took to mean the mechanics, and just paint.   Several times he would tell us not to do something and then do that very thing!  I find this to be one of the biggest problems with teaching/teachers.  We get so used to "doing" a thing and it becomes so rote we forget how to break it down for the beginner.  But I did find him to be one of the better teachers I've had overall.
Fri. Reid demo-Joseph Wolveskill

What he did do that I found very valuable was talk through his process as he worked each morning.  As he drew he talked about what he saw and what he was drawing and why.  When he painted, what colors he was using and why, water to paint ratio,or brush work.  I was a sponge.  I tried to repeat something new each day with good and bad results.  Each afternoon he would go around to every student.  Every day I got a new lesson and something to work on.  The first day I told him I was trying to "loosen up" and he told me " I don't know what to tell you.  I know that doesn't help you, but keep trying." I was a little freaked out by that.  I thought, OK, well, what do I do now?  So I just kept trying.  And then he would come back around and tell me to lose an edge or finish what I started.  When I repeated what he told me I had success.  But old habits die hard and I kept falling back to my old way of doing things.  Two steps forward and one back. 

I came away with a renewed understanding of the importance of the gesture:  The portrait, but especially the figure is stiff without its proper gesture.  Correct proportions.  The value of measurement.  Line and edges:  Changes in the direction of the line and lost and found edges.  These are key in leading the eye and creating importance.  Color:  the temperature of color and where we place that and why.  Warm colors come forward and cool recede.  The extremities are warmer in color.  It just reads right- even if exaggerated. 

The models each day were of different ethnicity, which was very helpful.  We had an African American male and female,  an Asian female, a native American and a blond haired blue eyed Caucasian woman.   It's so important to be versatile and know what color mixes to use for certain skin tones.  It is always a good idea to learn to draw many different body types, skin colors or differing facial features.
Finished Reid painting- Joseph Woveskill

In the end, I failed in my attempts on Thursday and was not hopeful on Friday.  Thursday's demo had been of Joseph Wolveskill,  a native American of Sioux decent.  He was a colorful individual with a love of the history of his heritage and history in general.  Thursday he was decked out in traditional native American garb and the painting Reid did was fabulous!  I did not have him as a model until Friday.  Friday Joseph wore an authentic cowboy "outfit".  I watched the Reid demo in the AM and tried my best to draw and paint Joseph in the PM.  About an hour and a half into the process I was so frustrated I could have screamed. (I may have...)  I always have an awkward phase in a portrait painting which I work through most of the time.  This time I was just so frustrated.  I received some timely encouragement and instruction from Reid at this point and I turned a corner on the painting.  The finished piece I am very happy with.  I have an accurate drawing, I have good composition, I have lost edges, I have good values and strong color--and it's very loose!! 
unfinished painting of Joseph Wolveskill
Friday PM. 

I have not had the time to practice my success.  With the approach of the holidays and other commitments I have had precious little time or energy to paint.  This is my recurring problem!  I leave you with a painting I did for a demo that a student told me was "Reidesque".  So hopefully what I learned lies dormant and will revive itself in the coming months! 

Happy holidays- posts may be sparse until the new year!  Thanks for taking this little journey with me.  Your comments have been great!
Happy painting!   Michelle

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bucket List Part Two

Thanks to all of you who even thought any of the pictures last week were mine.  Sadly, I did not paint even one of those!  All were Reid's.  I will share some of mine, but be warned and get the children out of the room--they are not pretty! 
Last week I wrote about the first two days of the workshop.  Each night I would come back home with the kids (well, 28 & 26 are still kids to me) and flop down--EXHAUSTED! Being in a 9 to 4 week long workshop is more art than I usually do in a week!  And that in itself is why I do them.  I am able to fully focus and concentrate on my art for one week out of a year.  Nothing but art for one week. 

The first day. Seems stiff and
harsh to me.The only thing I like
is the chair!
Later in the week we are into a routine and I've found a coffee machine to fend off the afternoon fatigue.  Reid is still doing the spellbinding demo's in the A.M. and I am still working to loosen up and paint with bold color and one stroke confidence!  It's not happening!  But he makes it look so easy!!  I know it can be done, but can it only be done by the master?  Can the sensei impart the knowledge in one short week?  Is this student a little slow?  Shouldn't I be getting it by Wednesday? 
This workshop is painting the figure in watercolor.  I am no stranger to painting the figure.  I still have some issues with accuracy in drawing, which Charles helped me with a great deal.  His dot to line and gesture drawing, which I have been doing for years and which is nothing new, once again made a huge impact on what I really see and what I think I see.  Back to basics! 
Reid at work Wednesday A.M.
Right and below is the same model he did in the A.M.  I was happy with the gesture and the drawing, but the face is harsh and she still looks cut out and pasted on the page.  All things I am working to overcome.  It is not as harsh as the first one, so I feel I am making some progress. 
The floor beside Reid was as colorful as his paintings! 
He snaps the brush on the floor to remove excess water...
My work Wednesday P.M.
Somehow I find myself over the hump and staring down the last two days of the workshop.  I have a little panic attack since I have not produced one painting I feel good about.  Please don't misunderstand.  I am not being overly critical of my work.  But when you know where you want to go and what you want to achieve--you know when you are not getting there.  This was a turning point for me.  There were many fine artist I was with who made great strides quickly.  Others were struggling like I was.  Reid was right there, encouraging and giving help but I just couldn't get where I envisioned myself going! 

I will end part two with these reflections:  On Thursday I wondered if I should just make peace with what I could do as an artist.  Maybe my "style" was so strong I could not break free enough to do what I saw.  And should I?  Then I thought "why bother to learn anything then, or admire anothers work?"  If I gave up just because I couldn't do it the way I thought I should by now, what was the point of taking the workshop?  I am always telling students that no one is a virtuoso without training and most of all practice.  The very definition from Miriam Webster is:  one who excels in the technique of an art.  Excellence is never a waste of time.  But it does take time. 
Reids version of the model. 
And second, I clarified what I was hoping to learn and that was not trying to paint like someone else.   I do think it's possible to get so enamored with someone elses technique or style that you "copy" them at the expense of your individual voice.  What I wanted was to have that same control with a looser look and a better overall artistic voice. Looking around the room I noted that although each artist was looking at the same model, all are painting her in their own way.  Your art is like your fingerprint.  There is no one in that class who could paint like Reid, though a few could get close.  But even those that were close had a unique quality to their painting that no one else had. 

I went in Thursday morning understanding that I was there to stretch myself, not paint the way I always painted.  That meant being willing to fail again on Thursday.  But do I make the progress I want in the coming days?  Yes, I do.  In the end I learned some valuable lessons that I think have changed my art. (yet it only comes out every other painting!!  Old habits die hard!)  I'll show and tell all next week! 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Bucket List

I've never felt the need for a "bucket list".  I mean it's such pressure, right?  What if you don't get it all done?? And doesn't the list change over the years??  And why make yet another list??  But I have to say, I just crossed one off the list... and I've never even made one!

For years I've been following several artists who's work I admire. Years ago it never occurred to me I would ever meet them, let alone take a workshop from any of them.  Yet I watched their websites and read the workshop adds in the back of magazines, dreaming that someday...never realizing I was mentally making a bucket list.

Since my mom's death four years ago I've honored her memory (she was very supportive of my art) by taking a workshop.  These are not just vacations or gifts I give myself or things I can cross off a list. This is serious stuff! They are a time to reflect, (often I am alone in a hotel) on my art and myself.  They are a time to meet and interact with other artists and share experience.  And it's a time of learning from artists who's work I greatly admire. They have all been growth experiences.

I've blogged each year about my experiences. (I will try to post those in the sidebar as archived posts for you to look at)  As luck would have it (a figure of speech, I don't believe in luck) my son moved with his job to Phoenix, Az. I wasted no time checking out online the famous Scottsdale Artists' School.  The kids were just minutes from the school and one of my favorite artists was going to be there in November!  It was the beginning of August and that workshop was full with a waiting list a few weeks later.  Without really thinking it through well, (like how I would get there and where the money would come from!) I put down my deposit and I was in. 

So I saved my pennies and planned my trip with great expectation hoping I wasn't building it up too much and be disappointed.  I reasoned that at least I would spend a week with the kids in the sun and warmth of the southwestern landscape that I love, so no matter what, it was worth the cost.  And I was right.  The time spent with the kids was awesome.  And Charles Reid did not disappoint!

Now if you don't know Charles Reid, google him!  He is one of the most talented living watercolor artists in this country.  (not just my opinion)  His style is loose.  Very loose.  But I am drawn to that because, while it seems that loose would be easier, quite the opposite is true.  So most of us struggle to be loose and still make something recognizable!
First day, first demo
What I experienced is an older (older than me-so that's relative!) artist who is self taught in watercolor.  What makes his techniques interesting is that he was an oil painter who uses watercolor the way you use oils. But what makes him remarkable to me as an artist was the way he modeled form and manipulated the medium!  At one point I told him if I tried to put those same colors in those same intensities on my paper to paint a face, it would look like a clown!  He just said, sometimes it does!  His never did....
Finished painting
For the rest of that morning I sat transfixed as he painted  a portrait in two hours.  It was inspiring.  It was daunting!  Each afternoon we struggled to implement what he taught.  One day "getting it" the next day "losing it!" And I found myself afraid that I didn't have what it takes to paint that well.  So the fear paralyzes you.  And if you are paralyzed you cant grow. That was just the first day.  It was a week long, people!!

I have many things that need to be done around here for the holidays-so let me finish this blog in the coming weeks.  I'm looking forward to sharing what I learned with everyone.  The challenge now is to keep painting that way so I don't lose what I've learned!   Check back next Friday for more workshop adventures!
Day two.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Bittersweet is what I would call the last few weeks.  The fall will soon give way to winter.  While the brilliance of autumn has muted now to warm russet colored reds and oranges and the weather has cooled, these day's still hold warmth in both temperature and color.  I love the earthier colors later in the season-the dusky purples and red browns of the trees and the ochers of the fields against the deep blue of the November sky.  I love color! 

When I walk through the forest now most of the leaves have fallen.  This emptiness highlights the bittersweet vines bright display.  Nondescript during the rest of the season, bittersweet vine makes itself known as a star when most all else has been spent. Its hard yellow orange outer shell breaks open in thirds to reveal a deep orange-red berry. 

There are many theories for why it is called "bittersweet".  One theory is that one varieties bark, used for medicinal purposes, tastes bitter but leaves a sweet after taste.  Another, that the vine, while beautiful, will eventually choke whatever it wraps itself around.  One variety, called deadly nightshade, having beautiful red berries that when ingested prove mildly poisonous.  My reason would be because it's berries keep their orange outer shell and red orange berries until the early winter snows fly and the birds eat them.  Sort of falls last hurrah!

The meaning of the word is self explanatory.  Bitter and sweet at the same time.   I find myself happy to let go of the heat and green of the summer to welcome the cooler temps and bright fall colors.  But along with that I am reluctant to leave it and head into the long cold (and in the Midwest-dark and gloomy) winter.  I love the snow and cold and find great beauty in winter, but each change of season holds a bitter and sweet side at the same time.   

This painting was from a piece of the vine I brought home to do a watercolor sketch in my journal. The finished piece is now up at Wingspread Gallery for the holiday season.  Using the vine I brought home with its berries for inspiration, I enjoyed using the bold shapes and colors in an almost abstract way.  Like the earlier painting of maple leaves showing negative and positive shapes, this paintings focus was bold color and pattern.  I used the angles of the shell to contrast the round shapes of the berries that follow the lines of the vine itself. 

And to get creative with the whole theme here:  What activities or thoughts in your life are "choking the life" out of your creativity?  How do you view the duality of bitter and sweet in the creative process?  Does the bitter aftertaste of failure (and it's going to happen) keep you from trying again?  Do we "consume" the "bright red berry"-that flashy easy part of our art that poisons our creativity and kills our growth?   

Yeah, I know, "where does she get this stuff??"  But it's something to think about...


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Art and Reality

I am not a fan of reality TV.  And how can they call it reality?!  How "real" are these people with a camera pointed at them?  Some of my friends watch The Bachelor.  My daughter can be caught watching a Housewives drama. (a study in sociology, of course)  The kids love Chopped, a reality competition with chefs who create gastronomic delights from four or five ingredients chosen by the show.  My husband even found one about golf!  And who doesn't watch Hillbilly Handfishin'?  A show that takes a group out into the rivers of Mississippi and teaches them to "noodle" or catch catfish with their hands!  They are modern day game shows in a way and there is something for everyone.  And they seem addicting.  I really have no use for them.

But wait. Now there is one for artists!  Yes, you read right-a reality show about art and artists. It has the same premise as all the others.  Project Runway for the arts.  But I like it!  It's called Work of Art-The Next Great Artist on Bravo.  The premise is not new.  Challenges are issued, there is an elimination each week, a large cash prize and an exhibit in the Boston Museum of Art for the lucky finalist.  But what I find most interesting are the challenges and their results.  I am never disappointed as a group of talented individuals give me a charge of inspiration with their take on the challenge.  I have to admit, I am in awe sometimes. 

Last season I began to pull for the artists I thought had the most potential.  I watched each week as they struggled to use their unique creativity within the constraints of the challenge issued and asked "could I do that"?  I watched talented artists with amazing skills choke under pressure and sympathized since I've done that!  I saw the drama as artists let their personalities get in the way of their talents.  I watched an artist who I viewed at first as ho-hum rise steadily to each challenge and move through the weeks gaining confidence.  I realized that small steps done steadily move you forward.  Large glimpses of occasional brilliance are great, but what do you do in between?  I think you can loose momentum.  But those flashes of brilliance are a thing to behold.  And I saw some awesome art and amazing skills. 

I've seriously thought about taking on the challenges myself each week, but that's not reality.  On what plannet is it possible to lock myself away in a room with unlimited supplies and devote myself to creating.  But isn't that the dream??  And for a few lucky artists it is a reality.  And I will be watching!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Turning Negatives into Possitives

If you read this blog often you  know that I draw a lot of metaphors for life and art from my love of nature.  I have a deep connection to nature and need to spend time outdoors to keep myself balanced.  I am continually amazed at what God (or whatever you call or believe it to be)  reveals to me through creation. Creating is a very spiritual thing for me.  And my personal experience tells me that most "creatives" are pretty spiritual people in some form. 

This week I was doing a demo for a class on negative painting.  Using an old lesson, I wanted a new spin because I get bored doing the same thing over and over again.  On my walk the brown leaves are starting to crunch beneath my feet, but the colors are just starting to show.  Last years color was disappointing, so I am hopeful for this year. With so much rain the colors should be spectacular this year and I am watching daily as things turn a bit more each day.  If past years are an indication there will be one or two brilliant weeks of incredible color.    Inspired by a few fallen leaves with some color that I picked up to do a journal page with, the idea for my demo came. 

The painting above uses both negative painting (painting the space around the subject) and positive painting techniques (actually painting the object).   The simple principle is that the negative space is what shows the positive forms in my painting.  But it's hard to see and do because we are not used to seeing things that way or doing it!  I am reminded that in my art as in life the "negative" when viewed objectively is not necessarily "bad".  It is in fact a necessary part of the whole of the painting, and our lives.  We need to get past the idea that the "good" things or those things that give pleasure are the only valuable things.  While none of us are going in search of pain and adversity, the truth is that without the negative the positive would be that much less defined or appreciated. In nature, all these dreary rainy day's (which most of us view negatively)  have made for one of the 10 wettest years in recorded history in Ohio. But the "positive" to that negative is that it should be one of the most brilliant shows of fall color in many years as well!

I just had to share with you how multi layered the creative process is for me.  Look for the lessons you can learn from the things you see as negative in your life.  And try a negative painting to cement the idea that those very spaces define the positive ones!  Changing how we see in art as well as life is part of the way we grow. 

So what started as a search for a new way to teach a basic principle turned out to be a new take on an old lesson for me.  As I navigate some negative space in my life I'm finding it makes the positive aspects more visible.   Shifting to view the "negative" as not "bad" or unnecessary changes how I handle it.  And yes, it's easier said than done!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Wasting Creative Energy

Last week I talked about using 3 mediums to paint the same scene.  I completed two, which I  already posted.  My plans were to take the scene and expand it in a panoramic (10x20) format in oil.  As I did small sketches in my sketchbook to work out the composition, values and clarify my idea I became frustrated.  I'm not sure what the problem is, but I know from past experience that to push this painting until I have a clear vision, is a waste of my time.  The frustration stems from knowing it's not right, but not being able to identify why or what.  Yet.  I need to step away and get some perspective.
Experiment on Yupo paper
Sitting there on my easel was a photo of a friends dog he graciously let me use for a painting.  I knew right when I saw it, I had to paint it!   I put it there as a reminder and I had been looking at her for over a week now.  I quickly switched gears and decided to play with some ideas for the painting of this dog.  Playing is how I like to start a painting anyway.  So I did a few dot to line drawings to find the right angles which I knew were important for the tilt of her head.  I did a fast sketch on some Yupo which I bought to experiment on and see if I liked it.  Disaster!  (a new learning curve I don't have time for right now, but will explore in the future!  Yupo is a synthetic paper with a smooth nonabsorbent surface.)  While I loved some of what happened with the Yupo I lacked the control I wanted.  This "playing" is not a waste of time. In that freedom I saw what happened on the paper while finding colors and strokes I thought would work on a finished piece.  This time I had an idea, a clear vision of what I wanted to say and how to say it.

Gurdy-inquisitive and playful
My earlier frustration told me that this painting  needed to keep that playful spirit and convey what I experienced in the brush work and color on the Yupo.  Most important, I decided to let go, have fun and not worry about the outcome.  The painting that resulted was spontaneous and had the playful character I was looking for. The energy and playfulness was there.

Sometimes it's better to shelve something that is good in favor of something better.  It's not that I can't or won't revisit the idea or that I wouldn't have worked through it and made something happen.  But for me it's better not to waste too much creative energy on something that is frustrating me.  That photo sitting there for a week was begging me to paint it.  Most of my paintings are painted in my head before I ever do a sketch or bring out a brush.  It's part of my process.

I know that we don't always have the luxury of putting a project aside.  But if I do have to push through I often take a break or set off in a different direction while I look for inspiration to finish.  It usually comes, and if it wont the result is never my best work.

Now I will put those pictures of Glacier back up and ponder what, why and how.  If it never comes into focus maybe I will scrap the whole idea and instead use the 10x20 as a vertical for a waterfall!  Who knows what will present itself?  This I know:  I don't have enough time to paint as it is.  Why waste it trying to make something happen when it is repeatedly falling flat.  The next inspiration is just around the corner-or was there all the time! 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Hint Taken from the Season's

Farewell summer.  The day's are cooler and the colors are beginning to turn.  Mother Nature is not rushing into fall but instead is easing into the change. (so far) I appreciate that.   A more gradual approach to change suits me better.  I find I don't like change and yet tire of sameness.

View from Many Glacier - Pastel
Fall is my favorite season.  I'm not sure why, but I think it's the color.  While spring has startling color after the muted tones of winter, Fall makes a much bolder statement. I love the paradox of the colors  so warm and intense, just as we loose the heat of summer.  It's like natures last hurrah before a blanket of snow covers the earth and the cold makes dormant the very trees that screamed life only a month before.
I need the rhythm of seasons.  Just as I get tired of one another starts!  It must be part of who I am because I also find myself loving variety in my art as well.  Right now I am painting the a Glacier park scene in 3 different mediums with different formats.  I like each painting for a different reason.  But how would I have known if I had finished the first one and not tried any other way?  This approach allows me to find what best expresses what I want to say.  It may seem to others like trying to reinvent the wheel or a waste of time.  Maybe if I had thought out what I wanted to say thoroughly I would have know which format or medium best expressed that?  Since creating is largely intuitive for me, decisions make themselves in the process of even the best planned paintings.    Often it is better than what I planned originally and I go with it.  Sometimes it's a huge mistake!

I may not do this multiple painting thing often, but I find it valuable.  I helps keep my skills sharp in all mediums.  It helps clarify the idea or reason for the painting in the first place.  I stop when I feel I've said everything I want to say about that subject. 

Quick journal of a lone last larkspur of summer.
I'm taking my sketchbook journaling in a different direction as well, by recording what nature has for me each day.  The last Larkspur or hummingbird of summer.  Nothing big or dramatic, but the small "poetry" presented in nature.  With this in mind I look for something to paint that day and do an quick sketch in watercolor or pencil.   What a gift!  Like a gratitude journal in paintings! 

Try one of these or both and let me know what you think.  How do you explore a subject or make decisions on execution?  Look up the inspiring work of Kevin Macpherson's Reflections on a Pond.
While he does not change his medium he paints the same scene everyday of the year.  Now that's exploring a subject!

Just a few ideas to keep things fresh. A hint taken from the seasons.  We are nothing if we are not creative! 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sketchbook Journaling

That I was able to paint plein air while on my vacation in Montana was a gift!  Unless I go on a specific painting vacation do my vacations and my painting go together.  These days however I always take a sketchbook and a very small box of paints and I try to do at least something small when I can steal the time. And I look for small snippets of time more often now!

I remember the first time I took a sketchbook and paints.  I was so timid I never took them out!  The next time I did them in my room away from the eyes of onlookers.  Gradually as I gained confidence, I became a brave artist and painted away from any crowds.  The more accustomed I became to it the less I worried about others and the more I wanted to record my adventures with my art.  When focused, I don't notice the occasional onlooker, and they usually don't bother me either.

Notice the picture # for future reference
Yes, I took a lot of pictures!
A sketchbook travel journal is a wonderful way to keep memories even if you don't actually paint much in them.  You can take a photo, note the number of the photo and make notes for the future painting.  I note colors and impressions, details and even feelings to evoke the memories back at the studio.  That way when I go to paint it the scene comes to life again. 
If you get a chance, you can paint a small scenes as time allows.  A sketchbook journal is the perfect size to do quick studies.  Many of my paintings are unfinished because I had to move on.  Some of those unfinished sketches are favorites of mine.  I'm not sure why, but I try to remind myself it's not always about finishing.  Sometimes it's just about starting-isn't it?! 

 I noticed that while I had many photos, I couldn't remember even a week later where exactly I was, why I took the photo or other relevant things from my vacation.  As the idea evolved, I began to make written notes about each day of my travels.Now my journals are full of written records of my journeys with pencil sketches as well as tiny and small watercolor sketches.  Now when I go through them it is much more than a photo album, it is a record of my experience in the "here and now" of "then and there", if that makes sense.  I don't know about you, but when I get home it takes weeks to get back into things and by then the memories have faded.  But having those written notes is nice.

I have sketchbooks that are just for travel, but I also keep sketchbooks for everyday.  Every once in a while it's such fun to go back and read my impressions of something or see a quick sketch.  I don't write a daily journal nor do I sketch daily. I find I'm doing it more and more as a way to observe and then reflect on some of the important and the not so important things that interest me artistically.  I try not to be serious about them either.  They are for my eyes only and I have fun and play in them. 

Recently I was rereading The Pastelist's Year by Elizabeth Mowry.  She writes about a journal that she keeps to record nature and the impression it leaves on her during her walks each day.  I thought I might take my journals in that direction for a while beyond the travel journal and sketchbook where I work out compositions and things.  I love the idea of recording the wonders I see on my walks. 

So there are many ways to keep a sketchbook journal and just as many reasons.  I find the value of keeping one grows with each journal I fill.  Besides which, they are just fun!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Change Your Scene

First painting of the week. 
I spent the summer thinking about how to keep my work fresh and ever evolving.  About how to keep my life and art from getting predictable and staid.  There are a few things I figured out might help, but the most significant thing I did was experience a change of scenery.

A change of scene helps jump starts my creative juices.  Seldom do I come back from a trip and not have an abundance of ideas and reference for paintings.  Most of the time I have ideas in abundance when I'm there, but when I get home the reference photos just sit.  I am not a great studio painter.  I realized this summer that I am an experience painter!  I paint best from life.  On scene.  Everything translates to the painting better if I do it as a whole experience.  I personally like the paintings better as well since they tend to be loose and more painterly because I don't have time to fuss with details.  I have to get right to the point before the light changes or the subject moves, etc.

My change of scene this summer was a week in Montana.  My husbands brother lives in Helena and my youngest is working at a hotel in Glacier National Park.  Joe, my husbands brother and the director of Fish, Wildlife and Parks for the state of Montana and Alice his wife shared their Montana with us. I am ready to pack my stuff and move there tomorrow!  Montana is such a rugged, untamed and expansive place.  You never lack for a vista and my painters eye was on overload the entire week.

Rarely when I vacation (unless I go with a painting group) am I able to paint since we are usually on the move and packing around painting equipment is heavy! But my husband encouraged me to take it and paint whenever I could.  For a plein air painter, Montana is a gold mine! 
sketch of the first day's fishing excursion,
does not do it justice! Painting fast means
you have to think quick and make fast decisions.
I shouldn't have kept the front flowers!
The first day turned out to be a day just this side of heaven!  Long story short the guy's wanted to fly fish so we dropped them off downstream and headed upstream so Alice could fish the pond and I could paint on private property.  Golden hills dotted with pines (and pine scent), grazing cattle, a rushing creek in a field of wildflowers with grass so tall it came to my thighs! All against a backdrop of mountains and an expansive blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds!  My kind of place!  I was able to paint two plein air watercolors while the men fished for almost 5 hours.  The sun was hot and the paints dried out fast but I persisted.  It was the perfect day. And there were four more to go!

Quick watercolor sketch on the boat
of the gates of the mountains
The next day we took the pontoon boat down the Missouri river where steep limestone cliffs form what Lewis and Clark called the Gates of the Mountains.  Again the scenery was breathtaking.  I had taken my gear and painted small sketches as we moved down the river.  This was such a challenge and so much fun to paint and catch "spots of color" (a term Charles Hawthorn used) of the right value that explained the forms! 
View from Many Glacier Hotel

I was able to paint again when we went to see my son at Glacier.  Many Glacier Hotel has the most amazing views and we got up early and watched as the sunrise painted the mountains orange while a moose and her calf grazed across the lake!  The boy's went fishing once again and I set up to paint just outside the hotel.  The view was breathtaking and as is always the case it was hard to decide what to paint.  I chose a view and painted to my hearts content.  AND I was actually pleased with the finished piece!  But who could go wrong with such beauty? 

So Montana taught me that for this painter, the experience is key.  Until I experienced the grizzly bear up close and personal. (I haven't figured out how to turn that into a creativity blog yet, but it'll turn up!  stay tuned)  This change of scene did more than give me reference material. What I know now more than ever is that my experience of a place is heightened by taking the time to paint it.  I will remember the experience more richly because I took the time to really absorb it.  Get a sense of the place.  Fully observe the colors.  Inhale its essence.  Soak it up in all ways with all my senses.  And as artists, isn't that what we do?  As a chef, a decorator, a musician or any of the arts?  It's all about our senses and experience! 

So to keep my work exciting and fresh I know I need to vary my experiences.  (that's always been true of my life anyway!)  That I am a much better painter in the studio if I first experienced the scene as fully as possible.  This is often done in my sketch book and I will detail how that helps and what I do in my next blog.  For now, go experience your art!  Keep things fresh and consider a change of scene. I highly recommend Montana!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Slugs and Cheerleaders

One day my friend referred to someone as a slug.  Since we are both gardeners, I understood right away what she meant!  I had to ask her what she thought the similarities were.  To this she replied that a slug moves very slowly.  It eats whatever is in it's path, even and especially decaying things.  It is plump in the middle and rather slimy leaving a slimy trail behind it as it travels.  Basically it is a pest that makes a mess out of your nice carefully tended garden.  And finally as any good gardener knows, to bait a slug you set out a saucer of beer.  The slug is drawn to the beer, wades right in thus drowning itself!  Suicide by beer!  Now hold that thought.

I walk every day.  Almost every day I don't want to walk.  I get up and say to myself, "I don't think I'll walk today."  It's weird because I have to literally force myself to do one of the things that I enjoy so much and is so good for me both mentally and physically.  Some day's I sneak myself into it by just putting on my walking clothes when I get up.  That way, if I feel some energy I'm ready to go.  Most day's I'm ready after a cup of coffee jump starts me.  Some day's I just have to force myself by telling myself I'll just do a short walk today which always turns into the full course. 

Once I'm out there I always wonder what all that hesitation was all about.  I regularly get ideas for blogs and paintings or figure out a problem while my brain wanders and my feet plod on.  Every day I marvel at creation and the amazing natural world-never the same day twice!  My body loosens up and I feel the energy of the walk fill my body.  I just feel better all the way around.  And while I'm walking I'm so very grateful for that day and the ability to walk.

Back to the slug metaphor.  All of us have an inner slug.  I'm sure my inner slug is not about nurture, or I would have gotten rid of it long ago by the simple act of defying it every day.  Nor is it all about nature.  If that were the case I would have drowned in my beer years ago!   I keep repeating...balance!  We all have something we need to balance.

A lot of what I do as a teacher is encourage people not to quit!  I do that because I wish someone had done that for me when I was making my way in the art department.  Many of you have told me that my encouragement has meant a lot to you and that means a lot to me.  One student even called me a cheerleader!   Which is in a way, what I do for my students.

But in the end its all about putting one foot in front of the other isn't it?  It's hard to learn a new skill but there is a certain thrill at trying something new and then getting the hang of it.  The real test is whether you hang in there when it gets tough.  When you don't progress as you think you should.  When you didn't get out of a class what you wanted.  When the skill set seems to be more complicated than you bargained for and you cant paint (or cook, or write or sing or dance) the way you want.

When I haven't walked in a while I notice changes.  My energy level goes down yet I feel antsy.  I ache more and have less flexibility.  My mood is less optimistic.  In short, I feel "sluggish"!  In my last blog I talked about taking a break and the restlessness I feel when I've been away from creating too long.  I was getting that antsy feeling, but noticed I didn't really "feel" like going out to paint.  So just like with the walk, I gave myself a little push and viola!  Back in the saddle I went.  And I wondered what all the hesitation was about! 

Soon I will be starting classes again. I am eager to get back to what I love to do. I will see many familiar faces eager to get back to the routine and time carved out for their art. A class is a great way to make time for your art. It surrounds you with like minded people and hopefully helps you move forward with your skills. But what if you are not able to take a class for some reason?

In coming blogs I will be exploring how to stay in the game of art.  I'll give you some practical ways to help you make your creative endeavours more vital and less random.  I will be your cheerleader! 

Friday, July 22, 2011

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Remember when you went back to school and you had to write your first paper on what you did on your summer break?  I must say I am enjoying my summer!  Right now half the country is in this terrible heat wave that does not look like it will give way anytime soon.  I am in one of those unlucky states.    My grass is turning to straw before my eyes.  (bright side:  I gave up watering)  I have to hit the pavement before 8 am for it to be cool enough to walk my dogs! (bright side: I'm not wasting the morning)  In short, it's  H O T!  And so I changed my blog background to cool pool water!
Now, don't get me wrong.  I am not complaining.  I'm getting to a point in my life where I'd rather have this than cold.  But as cold with winter, the heat forces me inside to the AC.  (and what did we do without it?  Can you remember?  I can- and it wasn't pretty!)  So inside I've been.  My current ride has no AC so I patiently wait for my real ride to come home from work before I venture out, hopefully into the cooler evening air. (long car story- bright side: I am forced to catch up on all the indoor stuff I've neglected due to the "busy's" or outdoor needs)

So you would think I'd be in my studio painting right?  Well, you would be wrong.  Why is it so much easier to think about doing something than to actually do it.  I mean, it's not like I don't love doing it.  It's not like I don't have things right there waiting and ready. It's not like I'm out of the house!  But I just walk right by.  I've painted plein air a total of once.  It's almost the end of July-I think I missed the perfect weather!  But you know what, "it's all good!" as my son says. 

"So what have you been doing?" you ask.  Well, I've been redecorating.  You know, painting and organizing and arranging/fixing stuff.  We have a wedding next summer and the house was looking a bit run down and my tastes have changed.  And I've been reading.  There's no time for much pleasure reading when teaching and doing the regular routine.  I've been cooking.  I get out of the habit when I'm busy and we eat poorly.  I've been purging.  Not food :), but I had a huge garage sale and got rid of most of the stored stuff in the crawl.  Now THAT was freeing.  And visiting with friends.  And when I look at what I've done, it's all creative related since that's just who I am.  The decorating, cooking, reading, seeing friends.  All pleasures and things I find enrich my life.  Things that get the squeeze when time is short. 

In The Artist's Way it talks about taking artist "play dates" as it were.  Having experiences that don't involve actually creating are one of the exercises she uses to stimulate and rejuvenate a blocked creative.  I realized in a way that's what I've been up to.  An extended "play date"!  Like taking a vacation from my vocation! While I'm not feeling blocked, I was feeling a bit frenzied.   

So I write this not to catch you up on what I am doing with my summer.  I write this to remind you that its OK not to be doing what you normally do and take a break. In fact I recomend it.  Do I recommend you take long ones-like an entire summer?  That's relative to your situation.  After that busy May/June with all the classes and the Decorator Show House, I really needed some time off.  There are times in life when the break is forced.  There are also times in your life when you just need some perspective and some distance or a rest.  And to everything, there is a season. To be honest, I am still painting with a group of friends once a week.  The photo above is a quick study I did recently.  It's been nice to have that one activity and those great friends and no pressure, just art for me.  But just that one thing.  For now.

 I know myself well enough to know I wont stay away from it all too long.  It calls to me and eventually the voice gets pretty loud.  The urge becomes too great and I begin to clean a palette or sketch an idea and there you go!  I don't know about you, but I become restless if I have not enough creative outlet.  I'll bet you do too.  Ever thought about that?  That restlessness is telling you something.  For my dad it always signaled the need to travel.  For my friend Lindi, she makes a meal that feeds her soul as well as my belly!  For my sister, she spends hours making handmade cards that are works of art and labors of love as wonderful as the gift.  For my mom, she used to write and I stumbled upon her poetry the other day.  That is a wonderful insight into her soul.  My soon to be in-law Christy gets the urge to throw a party!  Tom MUST golf!  (maybe not creative, but definitely an urge that must be met)  Everyone needs their creative spot scratched! 

So, soon I expect to be restless.  When my mother died I did not feel restless for a long time.  Then one day there it was.  So in the wisdom of my years I know the tide will always come back in. The voice will be so loud I can no longer ignore it.  For now though, I am going to enjoy the peace, the heat and the AC!  Have a great summer whatever you do!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Much of what I do as an artist is serendipitous.  Meaning that not every piece is a masterpiece.  Much like life, I just keep making the best decisions I can and I hope will turn out well.  The more I know and the more experience I have as I move forward in life, the better my decisions and the more often I have a successful outcome.  But in my art the really good pieces almost seem to paint themselves.  I often feel it is a spiritual experience.  I cannot make a mistake and it is a thing to experience. Yet I cannot, for love, money or blood, recreate them...The other stuff I can...

This is the experience my fellow artist all have.  In fact, I have not met one that does not share this experience.  I had one say they enjoy a 2/3 success rate, two out of every three.  Mine is a bit lower.  Quite a bit.  Which leads to the discussion about what success is, really.  But that's a whole other blog...

Last weekend we took the dogs to the river.  Max, my retriever loves to swim for sticks.  Cloe, my schnoodle loves to roll in smelly stuff!  Anyway, my husband handed me a piece of driftwood to look at.  It was beautiful.  Gnarled and warn down by the water. Who knows how long it floated, what kind of wood it was, how far it traveled, what had shaped it.  But it was a work of art. 

I remember thinking I could never create something so beautiful in all its raw simplicity.  (and you know nature moves me!)  That God himself had a hand in the design of this piece.  There was lots of other driftwood to be found on that riverbank, but none that was so beautiful to me.  And I wondered about the process I personally go through to create.  Each piece having a different journey along the currents and meeting unique forces that shape them, but still flowing in the same river of my personal creative experience.  Some of those results are good.  Some of it is awful!  And every so often, I get some fine "driftwood".  And it gives me a lot of joy!  My happy thought is that when we create and that happens, we share something with a much larger creative force.  Serendipity?  Call it what you will.  The driftwood is on my coffee table...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Art Speaks-But Did You Really Catch What It Said?

I know I've been a bad blogger!  But sometimes your life just gets so crazy somethings got to give!  But hopefully sanity has been restored (well, if you call it that) and life may get back to semi-normal- which is my normal.

My last blog I talked about speaking with your art.  This blog I want to explore that theme a little farther.  As a woman's board member for the CMA (Columbus Museum of Art) I volunteered for the Decorators show house.  A major fundraiser of the woman's board, the show house is a Columbus area home redecorated by area interior designers and open to the public for 3 weeks. 

As a volunteer I was basically a docent for several show house rooms.  My job was to read the designers intent and explain the intent and the prominent features of the room to visitors.  It was a lot of fun and having a flair for the dramatic I was well suited to it.  I would bullet point the important things I read in my head, prepare a little speech and tell the visitors what they should know about the room.  What I found was that not all the docents had the same way of doing things.  Several people who came through more than once told me that the last person had not mentioned this or that.  Had not had the enthusiasm for the job I had.  What can I say?  I like people and talking!

What interested me about these comments were that the rooms came alive for the public when they understood the designers intent and were shown it's fine points.  One room, the Veranda, was a stand alone space.  It was cobalt blue and white and very beachy.  A showstopper on its own, but when I explained the floor was hand stenciled like Mediterranean tile-people were excited!  They bent to touch it.  They examined it from all angles.  Asked questions, etc.  Nodded their head when I gave the well known designers name. They were just a little more engaged.  A little more informed about what it was they were seeing.

A room that stood out for me was the "He Den".  In the designers explanation I found much to appreciate, but you did not get all the details and thought put into it from a brief glance around the room.  What was most interesting to me was the art in the room.  The designer had chosen a wonderful piece from Ryan Smith an instructor with CCAD who's large painting of the demolition of city center was the center of the room and design.  The colors for the room were pulled from this painting and when I explained it's meaning there were many excited comments.

What this experience brought home to me is this:  What we do as artists (and I consider interior design to be a form of art!) is to speak through our art.  But rarely does anyone "get it" as a stand alone.  My thoughts are that a piece may touch you for it's color while the artist may not have intended color to be the voice for the piece.  Not that it matters if it speaks to you.  I just think the meanings are deeper with information.  I'm always happy to explain my intent when someone is viewing and I notice they are always then more engaged with the piece.  If they watch me demo they are always more likely to like it or even buy it since I've detailed my thoughts on process and intent as I go. They are more invested and understand the piece better. 

The motto for the CMA is "Art Speaks-Join the Conversation".  How appropriate. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Speak to Me!

"Windy on Deck"-watercolor on paper

Recently, when painting with a friend she asked why I was using oils and not practicing what I had learned at my last workshop with Mary Whyte which was watercolor.  Well, I commented, "did you see the failure last week?"  I had tried the week before and had less than desirable results.  I made mud and other horrible, horrible things.  This week I had retreated to something less demanding.  Something more forgiving.

But what she said struck a nerve.  I had learned much in my head, but as of today had not been able to apply it to my satisfaction.  I tried but I kept failing and found excuses to move away from the failure. My friends words kept echoing back to me and when that happens I know what I have to do! Those thoughts are there for a reason!

So I began to apply the paint as I had seen and heard Mary do.  I remembered: "Float the paint over the first wash".  Float, we had asked?  She explained, she demonstrated.  I tried, made mud.  I reasoned that it was impossible to put complimentary colors together and get clean color.  But I had seen it done!  I was pretty sure it was magic and only a hand full of people possessed such a power!  So I tried again, made more mud...eventually I asked myself why I was doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.  (isn't that the definition for insanity?)  So, I thought, do what you know how to do and you will not be so frustrated.  So instead of trying to conquer the technique I did what I know how to do the next day and what I made was what I always make-WHICH IS WHY I TOOK THE WORKSHOP IN THE FIRST PLACE!  To change what I always do and have better language to communicate with!  Argh! 

After a few long agonizing painting sessions I have to say I had a breakthrough.  I think I get the "float" factor!  A lot of scrap paper and paint later but I think I may have mastered it for today.  Tomorrow?  We will see.  But this day and this painting have what I learned stamped on them.  I think I learned it.  Now I need to keep using my new skill so I don't loose it cause I sure worked hard enough for it! 

Besides learning a new skill I learned something less concrete.  I learned how to find my artistic voice.  Mary challenged us to decide before we began what we wanted to say in our painting-there is always a reason you want to paint a certain thing!  Find that and learn how to tell the viewer what it is!  "If you are not excited about your painting, others will not be either!  Your passion will show through your work!" (Mary-ism)

And that my friends is the lesson I think I really want to share with you all.  Speak!  And speak to me!  What do YOU think I was trying to say in this painting?  What was so interesting or captivating I had to paint this painting?  I think it's clear and I think I communicated my excitement!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Changing Your Scenery

Every year since my mother passed away three years ago now, I have taken a workshop in the spring.  I feel it honors her memory since she was so supportive of my art.  And I believe her spirit goes with me on these adventures.  Each one has brought some new insight that has added to my experience as an artist. I take this time to reevaluate, rejuvenate and find new focus and insight. 

This year I traveled to Chicago to take a workshop at the well known Palette & Chisel downtown.  I have always wanted to take classes or workshops there since I lived in the area years ago.  Now that my son lives in the city, I had a place to stay and I took advantage of that. 

This workshop was a week long.  Longer than any of the others I have taken.  I also chose a workshop  with an artist I was not too familiar with but whose reputation was amazing.  I could not imagine the breadth of what I would experience. 

Her name is Mary Whyte.  ( I learned of her through a DVD I bought randomly on painting portraits in watercolor.  I liked how she worked and I wanted to begin to focus on my portrait work and I have to say-the Palette and Chisel was part of the draw!  But I did not really know the extent of her talent or reach.  Nor how I would grow in such a short time.

Some workshops you attend leave some feeling "why did I spend all that money when I already knew that?"  I have not had that experience yet and this proved more than I could have imagined.  Mary was a wealth of information.  So much so that I took copious notes and still feel I could have used another week.  While I have been doing watercolor a long time and have most of the technique down, what I learned was more about the less concrete side of my art.  Focus and Concept chiefly among much else.

I won't bore you with the details just yet-I'll have more to say in future blogs-but I want to encourage you to step outside your comfort zone.  If you take classes from me, take them from someone else to learn something different or see a different way of doing things.  Give yourself the gift of nurturing your creativity.  Mine the gold from each source you can find.  Much of your digging may yield tailing's, but there is always a nugget you can find to add to your knowledge.  Occasionally, like this week for me, you hit the mother load!

Not only was it worth the cost, time and frustration of driving in downtown Chicago (a blog all it's own!), but my change of scenery gave me the awesome chance to visit and spend evenings with my oldest and his girlfriend.  I won in every way this time!! 

I will post more thoughts on what I gleaned and encourage my fellow creative's with what was shared by the others I met and the experience of being with a tribe of like minded creatives'! 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

How To Be Inspired!

In preparing for a mixed media class, I was searching for still life objects that inspired me.   If you've ever had to put a still life together you know it takes thought and can be a challenge to find pieces that might be fun to paint.  Earlier in the week I was reading a lesson for a course I'm taking online called Creative Pathfinder, the author brings up a point that I think we overlook.  The idea that having down time or "play" time is squandering your time.  When in fact nothing could be further from the truth!  It is precisely during those times when ideas and inspiration come to me.  Does that happen to you?
It does not happen every time I take a walk or go to the Zoo. And there is no guarantee that goofing off will provide a brilliant idea.  Which may be why most of us work through our dry uninspiring days with more work!  At least we feel productive or can show our boss we did something.  And something is better than nothing?  Maybe not. My thoughts are that sometimes I need to just do the work!  It is true that the more you do something the better at it you get.  But that applies to skill's, right?  Go with me here-does it apply to what inspires us?  Will your work be better if you are using your skills to produce something that you are excited about?  Is your answer YES?  Of course it is!
So I took the article to heart.  I asked myself "where can I go to find inspiration?".  I ended up at one of my favorite garden centers where I bought pansy's and a garden mouse!  Excited?  You bet!  Inspired?  All over the place!
Do this for yourself please:  take some time to play and find inspiration.  It is not a waste of time!   So I thought up these questions to ask yourself.  What do I really enjoy?  Who do I enjoy experiencing it with?  How do I feel when I am doing this?  What causes me to be the most creative?  Is it a time of day or maybe a place?  Am I my most creative and have the most inspiration when I am alone or engaging with others?   What has inspired me in the past?  What intrigues me now?  Do I need to stretch myself to learn new things? (These are just questions to stimulate ideas and self awareness.)
Now go do it!  And then write me and tell me about it.  I'd love it if it were contagious and we do some really awesome things with the right side of our brain!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What Really is Failure?


 A blog or two ago I wrote that I had let the pressure of performance derail my painting attempts.  I think I really wanted to do well and was disappointed that I had "failed" in my view.  But I had tried.  Years ago, I wouldn't have even considered showing up for such an event!  That is growth for me.

While talking to a student she remarked that she occasionally produces something she will actually show to others.  I remember that day too.  It was a milestone for me to feel I could show someone my work and I was proud of it and did not expect riotous laughter from the viewer!  What I know now is that the more you paint, draw or produce whatever it is you do, the more often that will happen.  I mean honestly, the odds are just better with numbers (hours and miles of paper/canvas).  A point driven home to me in the book the Tipping Point

So while I may not have had the success I wanted in that moment, I realize that I have stretched myself beyond my comfort zone (risk) to even put myself in those high pressure experiences.  And I have gained valuable experience for the future.  Since then I have had several successful paintings.  And a few not so. 

Last night I was painting with some friends.  I was using a panel painted with red (risk) to cover the monstrosity (failure) I painted the week before!  I've never worked on a red toned panel before.  Red is such a strong color and one I use sparingly.  Since I had no expectations or pressure I was up for the experiment.  The resulting painting I am very pleased with. (success)  See a pattern?

I share these thoughts to let you know that I fail more than I succeed.  But my successes come closer together than they used to.  And what, really, is failure?  (that's an entire blog itself!)  I am trying to remember that failure, like any other experience is a learning tool.  It doesn't unnerve me as much as it used to because, I guess I'm more used to it!  I don't shield myself from it as much as I once did. And when I succeed, I celebrate because that means I've learned from my mistakes!

Go forth and fail.   The end result will be more success.   Bet you never thought of it like that!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Primrose and Inspiration

Primrose Row-4x9 watercolor, unframed
I saw primrose on sale at the grocer for $1.50 each.  I bought two and then went back a week later for 3 more!  I was so cheered by their bright colors and promise of spring!  To give them light I lined them up on my kitchen window sill.  The sun shone in and back lit the petals with a glow-I had to paint them.  By the time I got back, the sun was behind clouds and only peeked out briefly while I painted, but I still felt good just painting a row of primrose.  I call it Primrose Row!
Primary Palette-5x7 oil, unframed

Today I took the blue, yellow & red ones and plunked them down in my painting room to do a study with primary colors. When I was finished loading the paint on my other palette I noticed how nice they looked right there on the palette and then I realized I was using a primary palette-hence the name!  What fun! 

Think spring!  Thanks for reading-stay tuned! 

Monday, March 7, 2011

What I learned at the Art at the Arnold

Ashley- Art at the Arnold
 Last year I blogged about the cathartic effect Art at the Arnold had on me.  (see earlier post 10/14/10 about last year!)  This years experience was not as profound in a sense, but no less a learning experience.  If you'll allow me to blather on I'll get my impressions out of my head!

Any time I participate in a competition and see all the amazing artists crank out this phenomenal art I think to myself "what was I thinking?!!"  It's extremely intimidating and my self doubt whispers - "never again should you put your work out next to these other much more accomplished artists!" And, no, it's not different in that sense at the Arnold. 

What is different are the surroundings and the vibe. The Arnold is very much about Arnold.  Last year only the finalist's had a chance to chat with the "Govenator".  I did get some nice shots of the secret service men holding the artists and the throngs of onlookers back!  This year he came by on Saturday to our competition area and graciously spoke to each of us.  To me he commented that watercolor was the hardest medium, which surprised me, so I asked something like "you know watercolor?"  Yes he had tried it years ago and decided it was too hard and left it alone.  I was impressed.  He told me my work was lovely or something and moved on.  What I learned? : Even Arnold Schwarzenegger has his limits!  This is a man who has been the best and a winner at many things- but decided that watercolor too hard!  I may switch to oil! :)

The Arnold is also about competition.  And there was some stiff competition.  I decided early on I was not in the running and was just hoping to produce something that I wasn't embarrassed to show!   Those whose work I admired had put in many more hours honing their skills than I have!  Just like the athletes competing in any of the other events had spent hours practicing and working to compete, so have these amazing artists.  One artist had spent 50 day's doing 50 paintings.  Another had taken life drawing classes since that was not her strong suit.  And my friends are painting all the time!  What I learned? :  I don't need another workshop or better brushes - I need to log more painting time.

At one point early on Saturday, I was so frustrated and so unnerved that I was completely unable to get it together!  This was a critical point and I turned to my friends for help.  They really saved me!  John said "Too much negative space!"  Ugh!  He was right!  I told my friend Karen that I was unable to get a drawing I was pleased with. (and the clock was ticking loudly in my head!)  She said "just redraw it until you get it right- don't go with something you aren't happy with!  And she was right!  What I learned? :  That I can freak myself out and my friends helped me pick myself up and put my skills to work.  I need my friends!

I was much more pleased with my painting last year than this year.  I felt in "the zone" last year while I was painting.  I loved the subject and had a vision when I began the painting.  While I never made the semi-finals, I enjoyed the process and was happy with the painting and that was enough.  That happens to me often.  The stars align and the gods smile on me while I paint and make decisions (a big part of painting) with ease.  That was not the case this year, AT ALL!  I remember years ago watching a documentary on Arnold as Mr. Olympia.  He would try to get into fellow competitors heads with his comments about or too them and that was very much a part of his plan.  In those same sentences he also told himself and others how great he was!

I had let distractions and intimidation by what I saw around me get in my head.  I listened to the voice that tells me "You're no artist!  You can't paint!  You have no business here!" and I didn't counter it with "you can do this! "  What I learned? : To do anything well, you MUST keep your head in the game! 

The winner this year was a very humble young man from Chicago who also competed the day before in some type of race at the Arnold.  After his award I spoke to him and asked how he had done in his race.  He told me he beat last years time and that was what he came to do.  He achieved that goal.  About his first place art award he said that last year his piece would not have even been considered.  That it's all about the judges.  He was probably right.  What I learned? :  All you can do is your best and on any given day it might be judged the best.  Most often, I won't be!  But I will try to beat my personal best every time from now on because that is really all I can do! 

I love Art at the Arnold!

Friday, February 18, 2011


Value Drawing-Martha Smith
As I  began my daily walks again I was challenged by snow.  I usually don't have much trouble walking in the snow, but the ice storm had crusted over the snow and made it hard to walk on.  Each step I made my weight broke through the ice crust.

On the sidewalks where others had walked, their footfall had made the walk uneven with snow and ice making it hard to walk without slipping or twisting my ankle!  When I finally made it to the path around the pond it was less traveled and not as hard to navigate.  I found that someone before me had left a nice set of footprints in the snow and that if I stepped in those I did not have to break the ice and do the work!  The stride was long, but doable.  So in someone else's tracks I found a safer, easier path to take.
Value painting-Nancy Lubis

 Do we do that with our creative path?  Do we find someone else's tracks an easier path to take?   Have we taken from a teacher we admire and tried to mimic their style instead of challenging ourselves to find our own?  Have we gotten into a "safe" way of doing our art?  Making art that "sells", or a way of doing things that is formulaic?  Are we looking for a short cut or easy way instead of doing the work of breaking through the ice ourselves?  Have we avoided the work it takes to learn the skill it takes to move our work forward? 

Value Sketch-Susan Smith

I asked this of myself as I walked around the pond.  The answer was yes and no.  I have done it the easy way and I have put in the work and forged my own path.  But the path of creativity never ends!  Which is the beauty and the joy of it.  There is no limit to creativity, no end to your journey.  So when you think you have found your place in it, move forward- don't stay there too long or you will quit growing.  While it is easier and more comfortable to stay where you are because life is good here and the unknown is a scary place, you will also never see what awaits around that curve in the path.  What's around that curve could be life changing! 

Value Sketch-
Myra Brenneman
This weeks sketchbook challenge I want you to see shapes by drawing big shapes first, medium shapes next and then small shapes.  Drawing the big shapes first helps us to place the large masses in the right places on the paper and gives us the big picture before spending time with smaller shapes and details.  Details are over rated anyway!

Happy creating!