Saturday, February 27, 2010

From the Art Institute of Chicago

On my birthday back in December Dick promised me a day trip to Chicago and the Art Institute.  I wanted to see the new modern wing, and to revisit some "old friends."   We drove to Harvard, Illinois, about a half hour from here, and took the Metra line to downtown Chicago.  The trip is a hundred miles, and takes a couple hours.  It was a nice day, clear, weather in the 40s, so we walked to Michigan Avenue, and got in for free, since the museum had a promotion of every day in February free admission.

It is OK to take photos in the museum as long as no flash is  used, so I took all sort of pictures of sculptures, and have only now gotten around to using them to add in my little watercolor sketchbook.  I want to do some more, but I'm not sure I'll have time before our trip to Italy, and after that I bet I'll want to work on other sketches.

Anyway, we explored all day, taking an hour off for lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant, and then returning to see how much more we could see.  I adore the Art Institute, but it is so huge that I feel bad about how little time I end up really looking at the paintings and sculpture.  By the time we walked back to the train station I was footsore and weary to the bone.  Good practice for Italy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pike Place Fish

Here is what I've been working on the past few days.  I took a photo of some sort of fish when we visited Pike Place Market in Seattle a couple years ago, and finally got around to playing with painting him (her?). I'm not even sure what sort of fish I have here, salmon maybe?

At any rate, I wanted to experiment with some Japanese Masa paper that I had been using for monotypes.  I found directions online somewhere, and gave it a go.  Masa paper has a smooth and a rough side.  I did a quick drawing on the smooth side, then crumpled the paper into a ball and soaked it about 20 seconds in the sink.  I have an acrylic sheet that I use for doing prints, so I gently smoothed out the damp paper, smooth drawing side down, onto the sheet.  Then I did some rather light washes on the rough side of the paper.  The paint spreads and seeps into the wrinkles of the paper.  I read that you should place the newly painted paper on some paper toweling and then wait until it dries naturally, usually several hours.  Impatient me used a hair dryer to speed up the process.

When the prepared Masa was dry I got a sheet of 140 lb. watercolor paper ready to use as a support. I used a sheet 16x20 inches, just a little larger than my Masa paper.  Then I got out some Elmers glue, a container of water, and a cheap brush.  I spread glue on the back (rough) side of the Masa, spreading it out evenly with a brush damped with water.  It helps to work from the center out, always brushing toward the edges of the paper.  I do this on scrap paper, like an old telephone book, because it creates less mess.  Then I placed the glue covered sheet on the watercolor paper (drawing side up!), smoothing it out gently first with my damp hands, then with a brayer, to create a good even bond between the Masa and the watercolor paper underneath.  Then I waited more until the two glued sheets dried thoroughly.  I admit I cheated again, speeding up the process with my hair dryer.

After that, the fun began.  I just started painting.  The Masa is quite absorbent. It works best to use a light touch, and let each layer dry before adding another.  If you rub too much the paper begins to pill like a cheap sweater, which isn't real attractive. My paper did pill a little, but when it was dry I was able to brush the pills away with a dry watercolor brush.   I actually went over my original pencil drawing with a little vine charcoal, then began adding watercolor.  I even added a little India ink in the eye and on the fins.

I like how he turned out, complete with his splotches and speckles.  I look forward to using this paper again, though I'll need to think carefully about what subjects would be enhanced by this process.  Landscapes?  Portraits.  We'll see.

I have never seen this paper for sale locally, but I was able to buy a package from Cheap Joes catalog, and I'm sure there are other places to purchase it online.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Recent Sketchbook Work

With all the snow on the ground, I find it easy to spend time up in my little studio.  I was combing through some workshop notes from a folder on the shelf, and I came across some notes from a class I took on nightscapes, with Catherine Wilson Smith.  I typed them up, and then decided to try out some of the combinations she often uses for mixed grays and earth tones.  Usually I would try these on scraps of old watercolor paper, but it occurred to me that the little papers generally end up in the trash, and they would be good to have to keep as reference.  So, into the Moleskine watercolor notebook, memorialized forever.  I like this plan, and I have used the page several times since I made it.  It only uses colors I have at home, nothing too complicated. The colors are real - not subject to the problems with three color reproduction in print.

I had a little stash of magazine clippings for that class, and one was of a man kneeling by a campfire in the snow.  I liked the image very much, and tried to reproduce the effect.  It isn't too bad, though it seems rather crude.  One thing that worked well in this little watercolor sketch in the Moleskine is the background snow, which I mostly did by lifting out the snow on the branches of the trees.

Since my brain was thinking about grays, I noticed an article I clipped ages ago in an art magazine about painting reflections in metals like silver and copper.  This was a demonstration from the magazine that I tried in my sketchbook.  I wouldn't call the result a rousing success, but it was interesting, and the colors were not ones I might have chosen on my own.

Here's another try, using different colors.  One thing I decided to try after reading this article was Winsor Newton's Neutral Tint.  The color is a transparent, mild gray that mixes beautifully with other colors, and may be useful for night scenes and things like roads and sidewalks.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Vintage Armchair Travel: Italy

Another consignment shop find today.  This stereopticon card from 1898 shows Saint Marks in Venice.  I love the scene of the lady in a hat surrounded by pigeons.  The scanner didn't get the caption, which says San Marco, Venice, Italy -- An Oriental poem in marble, mosaic and gold.  There is also printing on the back of the card which gives quite a detailed history of the place, a fact I somehow missed until today.  I bought the card because of our upcoming trip to Venice, and because I liked the vintage look at a place that has been a destination for visitors for centuries.

My grandfather had a stereopticon viewer when I was a child.  I remember playing with the cards, though I don't recall what views he collected; the set-up disappeared long ago.  Looking at the woman with the birds also reminds me of a slide show Grandpa Pierce's brother, Uncle Bard, showed us of one of his trips that included a stop in Venice.  All I remember was the pigeons, and an image of hundreds rising up from the square.  I suppose the canals and architecture weren't that interesting or familiar to me then, but the birds were.  I actually visited Venice for an afternoon in 1972, when a high school friend and I celebrated our university graduation by taking a six-week rail pass and youth hostel trip across Europe.  Honestly, it was so long ago, and I took so few pictures, that what I remember best is - you guessed it - the pigeons.  We'll be staying a couple days this time, so I hope I do a better job of paying attention and photographing.

Browsing through old viewer cards at the resale shop I see lots of themes: travel, history, culture, humor.  I suppose my little plastic View-Master was the technology upgrade of my 1950's childhood - though my cards were mostly about Disneyland and national parks.  I have yet to see the either the theme park or Yosemite (my favorite views).  Of course these old methods of armchair travel are quaint and outdated now, with the internet, glossy magazines and travel shows on television.  But I enjoy looking at these black and white scenes from the past, and anticipating seeing the actual building and pigeons very soon.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Vintage Valentine Greeting


It's cold and bright here in southern Wisconsin, a pretty Valentines Day.  I enjoy finding vintage cards like this one at my local consignment shop.  The back of this one has a signature in pencil: from George Stewart.  No love, but maybe this was from a school boy who didn't give his heart freely.  When my sister and I were little in the 1950s, my grandmother worked at the Rexall drugstore in Elkhorn.  She always made sure we got wonderful fancy Valentines (wish I still had them), and usually a big satin heart-shaped box of Russell Stover chocolates.  We made those candies last forever, and we played with the little pleated papers that each one sat nestled inside.  We kept the boxes for ages too, usually putting our costume jewelry or doll shoes inside once the candy had been eaten. 

These days I pretty much consider Valentines Day an artificial holiday, designed to boost the bottom line of card manufacturers, florists and restaurants.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  But we just decided to have pizza and play Scrabble, and skip the commercial side of the thing.  Dick did bring home a bog of Hershey kisses with almonds inside, just what I need to maintain my lovely figure.

Happy Valentines Day to all of  you who celebrate it; I hope your day is as good as you hope it will be.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Virtual Paintout: The SF Bay Area

Here's my February contribution to The Virtual Paintout.  The original plan was to paint this in water mixable oils, but I joined a group of painters on Thursdays in a nearby town, and wanted to haul it there today for feedback - so, I used acrylics.  My impression from a couple visits to the city by the bay is of lots of color, and I wanted that to come through here.  The original screen capture from Google Street View isn't very clear, so I did some guessing.  I'm not sure the painting is ready for prime time, but it was fun exploring San Francisco and putting this together.  The painting features both figures and architecture, each of which is a challenge for me.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Stormy Day

watercolor from reference photo, Moleskine watercolor sketchbook

My fortune cookie from the takeout place said I'd find something I had lost, and that something turned out to be notes from my Catherine Wilson Smith workshop on nightscapes in 2004.  I spent time yesterday typing up the notes, playing with her color combinations for grays and earth colors, and doing this small watercolor.  I like the drama of lots of dark, and I may go back to those notes and try more.  I have difficulty keeping the light passages, as in the field of the painting.  The sky isn't really dark enough either, especially on the far left.  But the scene is appealing to me, and I may try it with other color choices later.  Storms are always exciting; we have a snow storm brewing right now.

I'm nearly finished with the Robert Henri book, The Art Spirit.  Here are a few more notes I copied into my journal.

I can think of no greater happiness than to be clear sighted and know the miracle when it happens.  I can think of no more real life than the adventurous one of living and liking and exclaiming the things of one's own time.

More and more things are produced without a will in the creation, and are consumed or "used" without will in consumption or the using.  These things are dead.  They pass, masquerading as important while they are before us, but they pass utterly.  There is nothing so important as art in the world, nothing so constructive, so life sustaining.  ...Go to your work with a consciousness that it is more important than any other thing you might do.  It may have no great commercial value, but it has an inestimable and lasting life value.  (Steinbeck says something similar in East of Eden)

Men either get to know what they want and go after it, or some other persons tell them what they want and drive them after it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Current Work in Progress - Abstract Watercolor

I usually don't work on a full sheet of watercolor paper.  You can see how much of my work table a full sheet takes up.  I cannot walk round to see the painting from various angles, so I went to the hardware store and got a sheet of acrylic, and I work on that. I can pick up the damp painting as it lays on the sheet, and put that down on the floor, turn it around, see how it looks.  There is the cost issue with framing as well, but I had a mat someone gave me, so that is free, and I'll just use coupons from the newspaper to get metal sectionals.  Anything this size will need acrylic instead of glass, for weight and safety, so that will be more. Sigh. This is why I usually work smaller.

I have mixed feelings about doing projects with my weekly painting class.  I enjoy getting out of the house, like the people very much.  But unlike many of the other women (men rarely attend), I do paint at home, and I have lots of projects in my mind on which to work.  I don't particularly need an assignment, though I enjoy seeing demonstrations of various techniques.  This one started with lots of wet watercolor, and all sorts of texturing elements: plastic wrap, gauze, twine, even metal washers.  After that dried I drew in circles, and painted both inside and outside the overlapping figures to emphasize them.  Then I started adding things like Japanese papers, some of the stained gauze, even small bits of paper doilies, and tissue paper.  I'm not sure if I love it, and there will be a dozen similar ones that will show up in Art League shows in the next year, which is not so good.  Still, someone may fall in love with the colors, or like the abstract design, which is totally open to personal interpretation, which is good.

I have decided that my favorite, and best work, comes from my own brain, a topic or scene that I've been thinking about, with techniques that serve the subject and the feeling I have about it, rather than just showcasing a technique another artist has developed and taught in local workshops.  Or maybe that's not an original thought at all, but rather one from the book I'm still reading, The Art Spirit, by Robert Henri.  Since I'm not a football fan, maybe tonight I'll see what else Henri has to say on the subject.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Now For Something Completely Different - Dr. Sketchy

It was a fun art-filled weekend.  On Saturday I attended the workshop/awards for the Whitewater Arts Alliance WRAA.  The weather cooperated, and the show was judged by a wonderful watercolor artist named Amy Arntson.  Arntson paints large photorealistic paintings of water and waves, and she is a thoughtful jurist.  It was fun to see art friends from around southern Wisconsin, and I was pleased that my watercolor of a Mexican woman qualified for the state show later this year.
Then on Sunday I was pleased that an art friend I had seen on Saturday agreed to try a "Dr. Sketchy" field trip to the High Noon Saloon in Madison.  Dr. Sktechy's Anti Art School is an international franchise, life drawing with models dressed (more or less) in saucy costumes, held in bars.  It's informal, and lots of fun.  I had meant to go for months, but either I couldn't find someone to go along, the weather was bad, or I had other plans for the day.  

It helped that I had taken a life drawing class last summer.  I had lots of drawing materials, and I was ready for the short warm up poses, and gradually longer sessions.  It turned out that I liked the results of the short poses best.  The first two here were either one or three minute poses.  The vine charcoal and pastels worked well to capture these quick impressions.  Maybe having drunk about half a Spotted Cow didn't hurt either.

The model, who was advertised as a "fully posable Barbie" didn't resemble any of my collected vinyl goddesses, but she had lots of attitude.  She didn't wear pink, either, but I added pink pastel just because you can't have Barbie without some pink.

This was the result of a twenty minute pose, and I think this was the sketch that won me a box of pastels - yeah!  We had a great time, and the three hours flew by.  I had been a little nervous about heading out to a bar with a bag of art materials.  I thought I might be surrounded by lecherous men (I wasn't) and that I might be the oldest bag there (wrong again).  I wondered how bare the model would be, but she was nothing compared to what I saw later at the Grammys on television.  I enjoyed the intensity of the drawing, the great sound system and music, having a drawing buddy with me, and relaxing a little with refreshments.  

This being retired isn't bad!