The New Easel

Way back when I was in Art School, a handy friend helped me make an easel for painting.  I dismantled it upon graduation, but later when I took up painting again, I made another one.  It’s just  2 x 1 and 2 x 4 construction with long lag bolts to slide the horizontal surfaces up and down.  It’s simple, but it works and will hold a large canvas without much trouble.  Being made of unfinished lumber, I often use it to wipe down loaded brushes.  Sometimes it even stands in as a mini palette for mixing colors.

Home-made easel.  Simple but effective!

Home-made easel. Simple but effective!

I’ve been using this easel for years. You know I never felt I needed anything more even though there are some super nice store bought models on the market.  However, earlier this month I walked into the local university bookstore to buys some snazzy new pens when lo and behold, there stood a darling sporty model!  It was  a really nice easel, all finished beechwood with knobs to adjusting the horizontal bars.  No more lag bolts!  The best part was it was on sale.  Who doesn’t love 50% off?!

I bought it and brought it home.  Having 2 easels in the studio feels like a luxury, but moving and stacking up wet paintings is a real hassle.  It just made sense to expand my tool bin with another easel.

Lovely beech wood and very easy to use!

Lovely beech wood and ready for a test drive!

I promptly loaded up an unfinished painting and got to work.  Time to get my horse’s portrait off the “in progress” wall and turn it into a completed painting.  I scraped off all the old paint from my glass palette and put out some fresh oils. The squiggly snake in the middle is artist grade walnut oil.

New paint waiting to get going!

While I was sorting out the colors I wanted to use, it occurred to me, some followers may want to see my set up.  Here’s a few pics of my palette table.  Maybe it’s unique to have a palette table, but it works pretty dang good!  I bought an old dresser, painted the drawers in fun colors and use them to store my paints.  The top drawer holds oils, the middle one my acrylics while the others are employed as storage for canvas, tapes and various tools. The top surface is covered in white paper with a large glass plate over that for mixing.  It’s super easy to use a flat paint scraper for removing old paint and it cleans up really well.

studio_today 005

studio_today 004

I keep pliers in the drawer to take off caps.  Sometimes those little caps will hang on for dear life, turning the paint tubes into a twisted mess. If the cap refuses to come off, I might cut the end of the tube and squeeze the paint out the bottom.  That’s a sure fire way to get paint all over oneself, but it’s worth it.  A little aluminium foil can be used to wrap up the end.

For paint, I mostly use M. Graham and Winsor Newton.  There are a few old tubes of Grumbacher too, but these probably date back to my college days.  They don’t dry out if you cap them properly, but the paint sometimes needs coaxing with turpentine and oil to get them to flow again.  When choosing a palette of colors for a particular painting, I try to anticipate where I am going  (color wise) and put them all out at once.  I put out more than I need, since I don’t like having to stop in mid painting to add new paint to the repertoire.  I will if I have to, but would rather not if I can help it.

When I left off on the portrait of Cricket, she was just sketched in.  With fresh paint and some background music on the stereo, I began to put color on her body.  I like to work wet on wet and often mix right on the canvas.  Acrylics are a whole other ball game… they work well for layering and glazing, but oils are so blendable.  I love being able to tinker with the color.

Background was pretty much done... now on to the nitty gritty!

Background was pretty much done… now on to the nitty gritty!

Things were going well but  for the face.  It was being difficult since I was using a photo of her all tacked up (saddled and bridled), I had to imagine what the shadows and highlights would be like without a bridle.   It was getting muddy and I still need to fix some parts here too, but will have to wait until she dries out some more.  At that point, I’ll glaze in the trail dust too.

Almost done, but for the dust.  I'll have to wait for it to dry so I can glaze that dusty over her legs.

Almost done, but for the dust.

So far so good!  I’ll post some finished ones after I finally sign it.  That’s always the last thing I do to a painting besides getting a final clear coat.  While that dries, I’ve got another winged chair in the works.  Found a new upholstery store and couldn’t resist getting more fabrics for another chair.

Next post:  shopping at “Remains of the Day”!

Swirls

Now that I am writing about my art, I find that I am thinking about the process of creating art .  Not only current artwork, but projects from the past.  I’m starting to see trends and themes that I never really saw before.  When you have a body of work to pull from, you will invariably have threads of your creative process that show up in more than one place.  Thus the title of this post: Swirls.

I had just finished an incredibly realistic painting of a wolf howling, so detailed, you could see his breath and practically every hair.  It’s nice, but I think I painted it to prove to myself I could be “tight”… it was an exercise in skill.  How good was I?  Well,after it was done, I thought, pretty good!  Here it is, judge for yourself:

Full Moon Song Oil on canvas board 18"x24"

Full Moon Song
Acrylic on canvas board
18″x24″

It was a painstaking process and after I was done, I felt the need to loosen up.  To stretch a little, as it were.  I built a large canvas out of unbleached duck (a grade of canvas) and set it up on my easel.  Hmmm, now what?   For some reason, I didn’t prime the canvas.  I don’t remember what possessed me not to apply gesso… maybe I was out.  It was a long time ago and we were barely scraping by, living in a run-down (read death trap) trailer and sleeping on a mattress on the floor.

I stood in front of the raw canvas and closed my eyes for a minute.  Took a deep breath and hoping something would come to me, did a mini meditation.  Nothing.  Another deep breath and this time I said, “Ok… Whatever is in me or around me that paints through me, now’s your chance.  You can do whatever you like… I’m tapped out of ideas right now, you give it a go.”  Or words to that effect, it was (literally) decades ago.

I put some paint on my palette, picked up a fan brush (which I never use, so that was new right there) and began painting these swirls.  I scrubbed paint into the dry and porous surface, rubbing in every bit, letting the canvas soak up the pigments and oil.  I hardly used any turpentine, just some linseed to help the paint flow in places.  I scrubbed and scrubbed and wore the brush down to a nub.  By the time I was through, this had emerged:

The muse painting.  Oil on Canvas 2.5'x3'

The muse painting.
Oil on Canvas
2.5’x3′

 

It was pretty cool and very different from anything else I’d done before.  I liked it!  But life got in the way after that.  I set aside my paints as we moved, got new jobs, had a baby.  I poured my creativity into other outlets.  I gardened, sewed baby clothes, drew small illustrations, took up basketry and jewelry making.  One day I realized it had been almost 10 years since I had painted… how on earth had that happened?! Well, enough time had gone by, so I built an easel, set it up in my laundry room and got back at it.  I painted a couple of horses and some small landscapes.  And you know what?  Those swirls began to pop up where I least expected.

Oregon High Desert Oil on Canvas 24"x18"

Oregon High Desert
Oil on Canvas
24″x18″

 

The above painting used to be twice as wide and featured my horse running in the desert.  But it wasn’t very good… and to top it off, I had some issues with that particular horse.  One day, in a quasi exorcism from him, I cut up the painting and cut him out of my  life.  The best part of this painting had never been him anyway.  It was this half with all the swirls and flow.

We moved again and now I had my studio set up in the one car garage.  I worked small but I kept swirling about.  An avid backpacker,  I began to paint where I’d been.

Mary's Peak Oil on Canvas 12"x18"

Mary’s Peak
Oil on Canvas
12″x18″

The Steens

The Steens Oil on Canvas board 8″x10″

 

3FJack

Three Fingered Jack

 

I even hid things in the swirls.  See if you can find the three sisters… they’re not hidden very well.

Three Sisters Oil on Canvas 22"x28"

Three Sisters
Oil on Canvas
22″x28″

 

It looks like I went through a landscape phase here.  The swirls began to get more prominent.

Oil on Canvas 24"x36"

Purple Leaves Oil on Canvas
24″x36″

I even explored some illustrative themes.  I rarely paint people.  The 3 Sisters were a place, but also something spiritual. With that in mind, I painted this next piece.  But it’s somehow too personal… the figure looks sadly troubled.  I probably should stay away from people… they never are quite what I expect them to be.  This one seems to be ignoring the spiritual wisdom that is being doled out to the fish in the stream.  Yes, yes, lots of symbolism here.

Fishes and Wishes Oil on Canvas 12"x16"

Fishes and Wishes
Oil on Canvas
12″x16″

Throughout all this, the bristles on my brushes got smaller and smaller.  But I kept working on prepared canvases, ones where the surface is primed.  I decided to see if I could recreate the original flavor of that first swirly painting.  So I stretched out a couple of huge canvases and decided to return to the original raw/scrubbed in format.  By the time I got to this point, my husband and I built my studio.  Right on top of the garden.  I was actually kicking tomatoes out of the way as we measured off the space.  Gardening took a back seat and rightly so.

Orange Swirls Oil on raw Canvas 36"x48"

Orange Swirls
Oil on raw Canvas
36″x48″

 

 

 

Rainbow Swirls Oil on raw canvas 36"x48"

Rainbow Swirls
Oil on raw canvas
36″x48″

 

I was feeling pretty good about these, though they are somewhat overpowering when hung in a small room.  Especially the rainbow one.  So I toned it down with some smaller paintings.

Blue swirls. Oil on Canvas 18"x24"

Blue swirls.
Oil on Canvas
18″x24″

 

Small Orange Oil on Canvas board 8"x10"

Small Orange
Oil on Canvas board
8″x10″

 

I did a few more small ones, where I explored purple and green, they weren’t very exciting, so no pictures.  Believe me, you aren’t missing much.  I think I was running out of steam for pure swirls.  I returned to painting horses.  The Red Flame horse is a prime example of swirls in my work (you can find it in the horse art gallery).  They continue to slip into my paintings, so I know my muse is still with me in spirit.  She does not disappoint.  Most recently she returned with, well, not a vengeance, but with a will!

Kingfisher Oil on Canvas 16"x20"

Kingfisher
Oil on Canvas
16″x20″

Seattle @ Night

SEATTLE@NIGHT

Several years back I was approached by a local nightclub owner for a mural.  While I  love painting murals, they have a habit of eventually being painted over; which may be great for the new owner of whatever wall has now been transformed, but not so much for me.  I don’t know if I will ever get used to the notion that my artwork may be scrubbed out by a fresh coat of paint.  I realize public art (of which most murals are) can be transitory, but rarely do I get any input as to how long or by what decision that temporary status is given.  I may have released the need to interpret my art to others, but I have yet to let go of it’s destruction/transformation at the hands of others.  I’m working on that.

All this prefaces my suggestion to the owner that the mural become instead a large canvas that could be moved when and if the nightclub ever undergoes renovation.  We agreed, I created a sketch for approval, the commission was negotiated and I went to work.

seattleSketch

Seattle sketch

At the time, I was a professional color consultant for a Benjamin Moore retail outlet as well as working as a painting contractor.  BM had a new product line that I found pretty impressive and decided to paint the mural using these new, very dense and very opaque  latex house paints.  Their new line of paints was called Aura and they were being showcased nationwide in the BM trade publication Profiles as well as a variety of marketing outlets.  Seizing the chance for self promotion, I contacted the company magazine and told them what I was doing with their paint.   Which led to this featured article:

My first national magazine article!

My first national magazine.

This project was the biggest thing I’ve ever had in my studio.  The studio itself isn’t that large, so a huge canvas was a challenge.  I pushed all the tables and work surfaces out of the way to make room.  When working large, you need space to be able to step back and see your work but I was hampered by the size of my studio.  I still have a desire to enlarge the space, but that will have to wait.

9 feet long... barely fits!

9 feet long… barely fits!

The other challenge was working with house paint.  I used to be such an artistic snob.  In college I had even learned how to grind my own paint, so quality ingredients was embedded in my idea of who I was an artist.  But I was a few years out of school at the time, and well past my art teaching days.  I’d learned to “make do” and freed my mind from snobbery to the possibilities of alternate mediums.

While Benjamin Moore isn’t paying me for this endorsement (though in the past they actually have)  I’ve gotta say that Aura is excellent paint.  Very high quality, gorgeous color and great coverage.  I mixed my own to create my palette, and used extra pigments not generally available to the public.  You can ask your paint store to sell you tinting agents, they are designed to be used with house paint, so while you can mix your own colors, don’t use them in other brands or types of paint.  Warning: tints are super strong.  Think of them like bouillon cubes… a little goes a long way.

Anyway, the challenge of the paint was how fast it dried.  Aura products are designed to dry fast so painters can get in and get the job done.  I’m predominantly an oil painter so anything that dries in less than a week is hard for me.  This stuff was dry in minutes so I had to work fast.  When you work fast, brush strokes become very fluid… there’s no time to coax your colors into being.  No sweet talk here.  Wham bam…. well, you know the rest.

The result was energetic and electrifying.  And one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Seattle@Night

Seattle@Night

PS:  Thank goodness I had the foresight to paint on canvas.  The nightclub shut down a year later and the painting was moved to a martial arts/art gallery in Eugene.  Weird combination of venues, but it actually worked in that space!

Horse Art

After completing the chair, I spent the day tinkering about the place.  I tidied up the studio too and thought now is a good time to drop in a gallery of work.  So here is some of my horse art.  There’s quite a bit of it… yeah, ok, so I like horses!  And yeah, probably more than the average person.  Maybe not more than the average horse person, but still… a lot.  Enough that at one point, I got sick of making landscapes and creating work that may be marketable and really focused on painting what I love.   I kept at it until I had quite the collection of horse paintings.  I make greeting cards out of many of them and sell them at fairs and horse shows which just about pays for my horse activities.  Not quite, but every little bit helps.  Enjoy the gallery!

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Why would a chair need wings?

When an idea comes at you from the great beyond, you should probably listen to it.  Unless however you are a sociopathic misfit with murder on your mind, then by all means don’t you be listening to those voices!!  But for an artist, true inspiration is a cool thing, so here I am following up on the Winged Chair idea.  Once I had finished the first wing, the second one posed a slight problem.

Wing One is done but for the embellishments.

Wing One is done but for the embellishments.

I took some time to ponder how to cut the fabric feathers so wing two would be an identical mirror image.  I wasn’t concerned about perfect… it just had to look like a mirror image.  Nothing in nature is absolutely perfectly symmetrical.  I solved this small problem by laying out tracing paper, tracing the shapes, then flipping over the paper onto the second wing.  I could then cut out similar feather shapes and push them into place by using the traced paper as a guideline.

Tracing the feathers.

Tracing the feathers.

Lots of gluing, cutting, sticking and various active verbs took over and before I knew it, we were at the point of  “almost done”.  I took some time off for good behavior and other soul searching activities before returning to the studio where the wings awaited my finishing touches.

The columbines are blooming!

The columbines are blooming!

I pretty much solved all the issues, but still faced a couple of decisions.  So, to play with some ideas, I cut out extra feathers and applied paint and other embellishments to try them on for size.  I have a whole lot of metallic paints that I like to get out and wish I could find a use for, so those were employed in the search for how much is too much?

Gold paints, blue metallic inks and a desire to bling it out!!

Gold paints, blue metallic inks and a desire to bling it out!!

Oh yeah!  Liking the blue ink.

Oh yeah! Liking the blue ink.

Next on the agenda was the chair itself.  Painted or not painted?  Hmmmm.

Chair as is.  Too ordinary.

Chair as is. Too ordinary.

 

The chair itself was pretty paint splotched and gummed up, so I got into a little scraping and sanding before the final paint job.  I painted the back of the wings silver and after they dried, I used a couple of clamps to try on the wings and help me decide if painting the chair was where I wanted to go next.

Silvery!

Silvery!

Chair seems to disappear into the wings.

Chair seems to disappear into the wings.

I resumed sanding since the chair still looked like a Goodwill find.  Which it was, but now it is art!  As I was slogging through the doldrums of the creative process I began to think about what my answer to the big question would be.  Why would a chair need wings?

Wings are for flying.  If you are a bird or a plane.  They are for swimming if you are a penguin.  But chairs don’t swim… unless they are on a boat.  By that logic, they don’t fly, unless they are on a plane.  Since these are obviously imaginative wings,  they must be for your imagination!  If you are sitting in a chair and need to escape, but also need to remain seated, your imagination is the thing that is going to fly you the hell out of there.

Which takes me back to grade school.  I used to be a good little student.  And then I wasn’t.  I was always the youngest in the class as my birthday was late in the year and in those days,  they let your parents enroll you in kindergarten if you were going to turn 5 before the Christmas holiday.  As a teacher and a parent, I can’t imagine my 4 year old going off to school, real school… but there I was,  a half year behind my peers at best, a year or more behind them at the worst.  At some point it all caught up to me and when I wasn’t developmentally able to understand certain concepts because of my age, I fell behind.

I don’t recall caring much about my slipping GPA, instead my mind took me other places and I day dreamed my way through 3rd, 4th and 5th grade. There were years where my report card stated unequivocally that I’d be a better student if I wasn’t daydreaming all the time. But I didn’t see it that way.  Day dreaming was a good use of my time if I couldn’t understand why 3 from 5 was 2.  Wasn’t 3 from 5… uh, 3?  I actually used to think that the little shaded box at the end of the equation held the answer to the problem.  All you had to do was count the shaded lines.  That’s how far away I was from the concept of subtraction.  It is here I most likely developed a curious belief that I couldn’t do math.

I think that’s probably the time I needed a chair with wings in my life.  Because I sure as hell was sitting in one whether you could see it or not.

A Winged Chair can transport you to another planet, another dimension, another body.  If you needed a fantasy escape, a winged chair could take you there.  I may have to use it to post blogs… we’ll see if the actual manifestation of the concept ( ideas taking flight) will elevate the activity of tapping keys on a laptop into something amazing.

I’ll let you know how it all works out.  But for now… here is where we stand.  Or sit.  It’s something grander than an old school chair that’s for sure!

Winged Chair 54" x 62" Mixed Medium: wood, paint, fabric.

Winged Chair
54″ x 62″
Mixed Medium: wood, paint, fabric.