Thursday, June 26, 2014

Jutta, for Julia Kay's Portrait Party

I have been busy with our whole dying refrigerator experience the past week, and now that the new double door stainless steel gleaming machine is installed and the food is back being safely chilled.  Oh, and I once more have ice for my summer beverages. 

But I had been enjoying a little book of contemporary drawing and sketching called Freehand: Sketching Tips and Tricks Drawn from Art, by Helen Birch.  I checked it out from our excellent local library, but I find myself referring back to it over and over for the engaging illustrations, and then looking up on the featured artists.  It made me itch to try out some new ways of working.

That's what made me try an entirely different style in this portrait of Jutta Richter.  I am filling up a cheap paper sketchbook with tan toned paper for my most recent portraits, so I experimented with drawing outlines with a Micron ink pen, and also doing some simple textures with the pen.  Then I limited myself to white, red and blue colored pencils, dispensing with any shading at all.  This drawing was all about design and flat areas f color.  I hesitated making her face white, but it provided the contrast I wanted. 

The background is greatly simplified.  I added just enough to suggest the outdoor rural winter scene, and I brought dark areas up to contrast with her white skin.  Looking at the results now, it occurs to me that the shapes are simple enough that I could try a portrait using collage - but that will have to wait until later.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


It's the first day of summer, the solstice, but sunshine is in short supply.  We've been in a rainy patch this week, and that has prevented me from heading up to Door County as I had hoped I could do.  My art seems to be limited to Monday evening figure drawing and playing around with an online collage sketchbook class I signed up for.

My project involving entering the names of Janesville's oldest burials at Oak Hill cemetery on Find a Grave was put on hold temporarily when hackers brought the website to its knees for a couple days.  I realized when I couldn't look up my entries or make new ones, that I may have the beginnings of an addiction here.  When the site was restored yesterday I headed out to Oak Hill to photograph a few old headstones.  I was surprised to see that workers had already demolished the 1912 red brick drive-through porch on the chapel.  I wondered how that would affect the appearance of the building, and was surprised to find I think it will eventually look better without the addition, though the old porte cochere did provide welcome shade.

Other than that we are still camping in our own house, living out of an old green Coleman picnic cooler while we wait for our new stainless steel refrigerator to arrive.  The old Amana quietly expired a week ago, and now that I no longer have it, I am appreciating the wonder of readily available ice on hot days.  We are eating out a lot.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Monday Evening Community Figure Drawing

Week two of the summer session of Whitewater's Community Figure Drawing went fairly well.  Our faithful male model posed, and I found myself doing a better job of filling up my large (18x24 inch) sketchbook pages in both 5 minute and 20 minute poses.  I did beg him to quit sitting in the wooden chair with slat back, since drawing the chair was taking up most of my time and psychic energy, so for this pose he sat in a simple desk chair.

Both of the drawing here are 20 minute poses.  I'm still feeling rusty after taking so many months off, but this week was easier than last, and I just kept at it, not beating myself up too badly in my own mind and taking each pose as it came.  I usually leave the session with 8 or 9 drawings after about two and half hours, so I see that as a good thing.

There was an unexpected pleasure last evening that had nothing to do with trying to draw.  A young woman introduced herself by her first name, and said she was new to the group.  It turned out she was also from Janesville, and was an elementary art teacher.  When I asked about her last name I knew why she looked familiar.  She had been in my freshman English class over a dozen years ago.  I remembered her mostly for her friendly smile and her passion for drawing horses. 

Small world.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Show Your Work!

I've been reading a little book by Austin Kleon called Show Your Work! : 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered.  I liked his previous book, How to Steal Like an Artist, and hoped this would be as down to earth and sensible as that one was.  I think it is.  Actually I read it quickly a month or so ago, and now am revisiting it and considering how to put its recommendations into practice.

Yesterday I brought this assortment of small pieces home from the local gallery that carries my work.  My original thought was that they might sell because they are small, and they're unframed, which keeps the cost down.  I cut the mats myself from larger projects (another cost containment measure), and bought bags to keep them nice.  They are standard sizes, so fit in a ready made frame.

I liked them.  But hey, they didn't sell after six months or more.  I might have left them there hoping for a miracle, but the gallery owner is changing her business plan.  Instead of selling art, pottery, jewelry and textiles on consignment, artists and craftspeople will lease space for six months at a time, and she will no longer take a percentage.  So - I will be leasing a bit of wall space, which means everything at this location will need to be framed.  I will need to consider what I take to her gallery much more carefully than I have in the past, and that will probably mean I have higher standards for what ends up in my personal gallery space.

Which brings me back to why these small pieces didn't sell.  It could be that the local economy is not strong.  It could be that unframed art doesn't grab people as much as pieces that are ready to hang.  It could be that since they were in display racks with other people's work, they shifted down the pile and then were not seen.  It could be that there was so much inventory in the store that people just never noticed them.  OR... it could be that they are not really very good.  

Austin Kleon, in Show Your Work discusses some of the characteristics of amateurs.  They love what they do.  They strive to continue learning new things about the thing they love, and uncertainty and the unknown do not trouble them.  Their work may not have the polish of a pro, but it sparkles with energy and enthusiasm.  He suggests that preserving a bit of the amateur is not necessarily a bad thing.  But, it is also prudent to remember that not everything that gets written, painted, sculpted, or whatever, is any good.  Kleon quotes sci-fi writer Theodore Sturgeon on this matter.  Sturgeon once said the 90 percent of everything is crap.  That's OK, just try to figure out what the 10 percent of good stuff is, and frame that.   I suspect my little unsold pieces are, sadly, crap.

Except the puffin...I may still frame him.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

One Week, Two Hundred Miles

Last week I made my first trip north to Kewaunee and Door Counties to see my dear aunt, who turned 86 this week, and to drop off a few small paintings and collages at a gallery.  It was fun seeing my aunt and my brother and sister-in-law

Back to Summer Figure Drawing

18x24 inches, charcoal
5 minute gesture drawing

It's summer, at least according to the local university calendar, and time to begin various and assorted renovation projects.  Last summer the school where I like to attend open figure drawing sessions on Monday evenings ripped up a couple parking lots and roads, and this summer they're doing over the experimental theater space and all the ceilings and light fixtures throughout the arts building.  I guess it doesn't matter, as long as a model and several artists show up to draw.

It's hard starting back into figure drawing after not having done it since last August.  As hard as going off a diet and then going back on.  As hard as exercising, then becoming a couch potato,  and then heading back to the gym.  Inertia gets you.  All winter I did collage work,and when I drew, it was portraits from photos, no larger than 8x10 inches.  In summer I like taking an evening to drive the half hour or so to the university, treating myself to some supper, then drawing from direct observation for a couple hours. For these sessions I really like working larger and bolder than usual, and often the warm up gesture drawings are more appealing to me than the longer poses.  It certainly was true this week.  Just bang it out, and suppress the urge to fiddle with details.

 18x24 inches
colored pencil and pastel

The model usually does a series of short, 3-5 minute, warm up poses, and then does a couple twenty minute poses.  This was one of those, and I find myself playing around with details more than I want even at 20 minutes.

18x24 inches
Derwent Coloursoft pencils on toned paper

There is always a 40 or 45 minute pose, broken up for the model's benefit into a couple sessions.  I think I wrote 20 minutes on this drawing, but it actually was 20 minutes on the body and another 15 or so on the face before I packed up and headed out.  I like it well enough, though not so well as the bolder gesture drawing.

I generally leave a little early for a couple reasons.  First, and probably most important is that it takes me almost 45 minutes minutes to get home taking the back roads, and I am so keyed up after the drawing session that I need time to unwind before bed.  I find that if I stay until the end people get to chatting and I don't make it out the door in enough time.  My other little secret is that I like to stop at Culvers on the way back and indulge in some frozen custard.  This week they had $1 shortie shakes.  My fresh raspberry shake was a perfect finish to the first session of the season.