I have played with Yupo and watercolors before, with checkered success. More than once I have happily marched a failed painting to the sink and washed my efforts down the drain. I have been known to call Yupo the Etch-a-Sketch of watercolor painting. But for the past month I have been doing miniatures in acrylic, so I thought that working larger in watercolor might be good. So I signed up for a two day workshop at L'Atelier, a local art studio. The presenter was a fine local painter and teacher named Barbara Mathews. I've admired her work for several years, and despite the fact she offers ongoing classes had never worked with her before.
The workshop had everything I like: a knowledgeable and personable instructor, well-written handouts, many examples, a combination of demonstration and personal working time, and constructive feedback. Mathews spent the first day discussing the qualities of Yupo synthetic paper, how to prepare it for painting, and how she likes to apply pigment. She squeezes paint directly onto the Yupo, then moves it around with a damp brush. This was painful for me, since tend be miserly with my watercolor paint. I know in my heart this leads to all sorts of problems, so I took a deep breath and did as she demonstrated.
This first day was devoted to abstract designs. She talked a little about some simple compositional formats, then launched into examples of how to remove paint to create white spaces. The straight edges here were done by laying down masking tape, then using damp paper towels to lift the watercolor back to the white surface. She used a variety of stencils, some purchased, some made from everyday objects like cut mats, or jar lids. She created texture with a combination of found objects like plastic mesh, sequin tape, or plastic wrap, and purchased stamps. Basically she lifted away about half the paint, then added back whatever made a pleasing design. One hint she gave us was to limit the colors we used in these abstracts to two, that way the colors won't get muddy.
After the abstracts are dry, she likes to use a gloss spray fixative to ensure the watercolor doesn't lift. She warned us not to store Yupo paintings in plastic bags, because the paint adheres to the plastic and lifts away from the surface.
The second day was devoted to more realistic imagery. She began these paintings much the same way as the abstracts, by covering the surface of the Yupo with an intense layer of watercolor pigment, then allowing it to air dry well before proceeding (a hair dryer will push the paint around too much). When the background was dry she used graphite paper to transfer a simple drawing. Then she carefully removed all the paint around the shapes in the painting. Here she is working on a painting of horsemen and a tree.
This was my effort - not so bad in design, though the color choices were unfortunate. I wish I had chosen mostly dark pigments, with a small warm area to suggest the sunlight coming through the doorway. As it is, there isn't enough contrast, and the colors look like an ode to the Green Bay Packers or maybe John Deere. Still, I understood the idea. Next time I'll do better.
This is an example that Barb painted. While it looks complicated, the process is fairly simple. I like the way the green and gold works here much better than in mine.
Her final demonstration was of a Costa Rican tree frog. This time she drew the frog on the Yupo, then painted directly. The frog isn't done yet in this photo. She cleaned up edges, added light glazes, and added details that made him look alive. One great thing about working on this surface is the brilliantly intense colors that can be achieved.
I did a very small version in colors closer to the source photo, but then added black acrylic ink in the background when I got home. Mine never achieved the loose and glossy look that hers had, so I'll need to work on a series to develop my skills.
I had fun in this workshop, loosened up some, was more generous than usual with pigment, and generally felt my weekend was well spent.
About buying Yupo. I have never found the material at local arts and crafts stores like Hobby Lobby or Michaels, but you can order sheets or pads of the synthetic paper through Jerry's Artarama, Cheap Joes, or Dick Blick.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
414 inches, acrylic on mat board
It occurs to me that while I am thoroughly enjoying painting these miniature pictures, I don't know what I will do with them. Save them in hopes that the gallery that specializes in small format art will sell them? Frame them? Stash them in the old art drawer? The challenge of painting minis is intriguing, how to recompose and simplify old snapshots, what colors to choose. Often the photos are overexposed, or blurry, so I look long and hard to decide what is is I am seeing in them. The end results are something like magic to me, a re-envisioning of people long gone, times past. The initial drawing is useful for deciding on composition, but rarely allows me to appreciate what color will do for the image. Little by little the shapes become rounded, the figures take on personality, and the scene comes to life.
I know that the woman is my husband's mother, Lorraine. I'm not sure if the man is Walter, his father, or not. They look to be teenagers here, and I only knew them when they were in their late fifties and sixties. None of us at sixty look much like the teenagers we once were. Whoever he is, I particularly liked his obvious attraction to her, the confidence that comes through his body language, and those snappy shoes. I wish she was alive, for lots of reasons, but today I'd like to find out about the day this scene was captured in a snapshot.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
4x4 inches, acrylic on mat board
I was all set on Monday to head over to UW Whitewater for their evening figure drawing class, when I got an email from one of the longtime participants saying since it was spring break class was canceled. Too bad, because I have been enjoying painting people from reference photos, and looked forward to painting from life. It's funny how I used to look forward so much to spring break, and now I have no idea when it even is. The teachers and students here in town aren't haven't good weather at all - lots of rain, hail, and maybe today, snow.
I meant to start something new, but find that I am still enjoying doing these miniature paintings. The reference for this one is a black and white photo of Grandpa Pierce, probably in the 1930s, taking a rest on the kitchen porch of our farm house. There was a wooden porch and a little cement walk that led to a hand pump. I remember Dad doing the same thing after hours working in the barn or the fields, coming up to the house, pumping water and washing his hands and face, and resting for a while. This scene was morning, because of the way the strong eastern light lit his overalls and washing out the edge of the floor.
4x4 inches, acrylic on mat board
I finished this one yesterday. The original was badly blurred, but it made a fine reference anyway for this style. The boy is my second cousin, Jim. The oldest of six children, Jim eventually grew up to become a dentist, and a fine singer. I always liked the snapshot because of the way he is trying to balance in the water, and his little toy boat. Water has always been difficult for me to paint, but I like the way this turned out.
Friday, March 18, 2011
3x3 inches, acrylic
I finished the last miniature destined to be shipped up to the Paint Box Gallery in Door County for their miniature show. This one has a very different feel to it, in subject matter and execution. I tried to simplify the image, but ended up fussing over it longer than I intended. The original inspiration was a black and white snapshot of my brother-in-law's grandmother in her farmhouse kitchen. I've been in the house, seen the beautiful refurbished wood stove. The house was actually a log cabin, small, with a low porch. The family has fixed it up and uses it as a bed and breakfast; Door County is a quite a resort area. When guests check in they are treated to a warm loaf of bread and a little jar of homemade jam. Grandma Miller would have appreciated that, I think.
Writing this made me think of a poem I like by Gwendolyn Brooks:
When you Have Forgotten Sunday: The Love Story
-And when you have forgotten the bright bedclothes
on a Wednesday and a Saturday,
And most especially when you have forgotten Sunday -
When you have forgotten Sunday halves in bed,
Or me sitting on the front-room radiator in the limping afternoon
Looking off down the long street
Hugged by my plain old wrapper of no-expectation
And nothing-I-have-to-do and I'm-happy-why?
And if-Monday-never-had-to-come -
When you have forgotten that, I say,
And how you swore, if somebody beeped the bell,
And how my heart played hopscotch if the telephone rang;
And how we finally went into Sunday dinner,
That is to say, went across the front-room floor to the
ink-spotted table in the southwest corner
To Sunday dinner, which was always chicken and noodles
Or chicken and rice
And salad and rye bread and tea
And chocolate chip cookies -
I say, when you have forgotten that,
When you have forgotten my little presentiment
That the war would be over before they got to you;
And how we finally undressed and whipped out the light and flowed into bed,
And lay loose-limbed for a moment in the week-end
Then gently folded into each other-
When you have, I say, forgotten all that,
They you may tell,
They I may believe
You have forgotten me well.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
4x4 inches, acrylic on Tyvek
I completed another miniature today, this time based upon a snapshot of my grandmother and her best friend. They must have been in their twenties at the time, and I imagine that one of their husbands took the picture. I could not fit both figures in the 3x3 format that I have been using, so this one is 4x4 inches. I knew Betty, and she had dark hair, but I couldn't resist making her a redhead to fit her personality as I remember it. I have lots of photos of the two couples. They took vacations together; the men worked at the same factory, and I remember them playing poker every weekend when I was little. None of that matters to the little piece, but I enjoyed thinking about them as I painted this afternoon. I'm going to need to stop this soon and pop these in the mail.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
3x3 inches, acrylic on Tyvek
This week I had a relapse of the cold I caught in Mexico last month, but I have felt well enough to work on this series of miniature paintings. This one shows my grandfather with his new car, visiting my parents on the farm. He loved his cars, and we have several of him posing with them. This must be the late 1940s or early 1950s. The figure here is my least favorite of all the paintings so far, just because it is so tiny and was hard to make convincing.
3x3 inches, acrylic on Tyvek
This one, featuring my brother-in-law's grandfather, ice fishing in Door County in the 1940s, is more successful, I think. Even though the face is vague, the figure is better. It is hard making out all the details of old black and white snapshots. I find myself having to just make some things up, and omitting lots of extraneous small items to improve the composition. I laughed at the original picture. You can just make out words on the box on the right side, that says "Eat Your Salt."
Thursday, March 10, 2011
3x3 inches acrylic on Tyvek synthetic paper
As much as I have been enjoying working with collage, I am setting that aside for a couple weeks to work on a series of small paintings for a show of miniature art in Door County. None of the paintings, drawings, or wee prints will be more than 25 square inches. I had requested information about the annual show last year, hadn't heard anything for months and months, then got a nicely organized packet of material at the beginning of March. So, I found myself painting on 4x4 inch scraps of Tyvek, and using techniques I usually save for larger paintings. This first try was painted from a photo I clipped from a source I no longer remember. I liked the girls' body language, and their simple shapes, important when working so small. I didn't even try to add details on their suits, or even details of their faces.
3x3 inches, acrylic on Tyvek
This one was adapted from a black and white snapshot I had of my mother and aunt, probably taken about 1940. Again, I avoided trying to create an actual portrait, instead concentrating on making simple shapes, suggesting autumn with my color choices. I also worked to have the girls be the obvious center of interest, their faces framed by the ropes of the swing, the strongest colors reserved for them.
3x3 inches, acrylic on Tyvek
This is the painting I finished today. The girl was cropped from a photo I took on a trip to Punta Cana. It is becoming very clear to me that the simpler the shapes, the better these little paintings are. I took the trouble to make a little value study first, concentrating on getting a good range of values. Once I transfer the sketch to the Tyvek, which I coat with gesso first, then I do a an under painting of complementary colors - very gaudy. After that I go back and put in the local color, leaving bits of the complementary colors peeking through for added punch.
I'm excited by this project of miniature paintings, having fun choosing reference material from my trip photos and family stash. I may do one of my brother-in-law's uncles ice fishing, but I'm not sure I can leave these sunny scenes for a day on a frozen lake - even in paint.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
8x10 inches, mixed media
One of my personal goals is to find a way to create art that is unique to me, or at least it doesn't look like a reflection of the most recent painting workshop I attended. In 2008 I had a solo show at the local library, and while the comments in the book provided by the library was positive, I had the uneasy feeling that my painting said more about the influence of my various workshop instructors than it did about the way I approach making art. That show, based on the variety of approaches, media, framing, sizes, everything, looked like it had been created by a committee instead of one person. Live and learn.
I still resist settling into a single medium or approach, but little by little I see myself gravitating toward either straight collage, or a combination of collage with painting and drawing. This little piece started out as a recycled quarter sheet of Tyvek. I didn't like the portrait I had created on a full sheet of the synthetic "paper", so I cut up the sheet and decided to see how else I could it. I glued down pages from an old telephone directory using soft acrylic gel medium, then went over the results with a mixture of gesso and acrylic paint, to unify the page. I like using the gesso/paint combination because it has some tooth, and I can draw and erase on it easily. The image of the woman came from a photo I took of a garden statue. I liked the simple shape, and the strong areas of sunlight and shadow, perfect for this technique. I used white gesso for the highlighted areas, then added black acrylic ink to the white create grays. Gradually I transitioned to all diluted ink. The results were OK, but improved when I went over the dark areas with a warm gray colored pencil, and the white areas with a white pencil. I wasn't thrilled with the somewhat neutral background, so I went over part of that with a marigold colored pencil, and then buffed the background to smooth out and brighten the color.
I'd like to try this technique on figures done in a figure drawing studio - but of course I need to start hauling myself back to that on upcoming Monday evenings. The days are getting a little longer, so that will probably start happening soon.