More paintings from the Snake River

Snake River, Idaho, II, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Tomorrow (Veteran’s Day) is the final day of my landscape painting class.  We have been using watercolor with pen and ink added for details.  It’s been a great class but a little challenging for me.  I usually like to include something man-made in a landscape painting to give it that human touch, as well as to provide scale.

Most of the paintings we’ve done this class have been pure landscapes without any notion of a human in sight.

Tomorrow’s painting will involve a subject with a water feature.  Looking through some of my thousand of photographs, I decided to add a water feature since this is pretty common to landscape paintings.

Here are two simple compositions of the Snake River in the southeast area of Idaho.  The paintings are created with about five or six colors, but certainly less than eight.

Palisades Reservoir, Snake River, Idaho. Watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

One shows the reservoir lake as the viewer is looking into the sun. The other shows the Snake River with the sun at the back of the artist.  Both are relatively simple landscapes but should be challenging for a class of beginners to try.

Painting the Snake River

Final, Snake River painting. The final step is to use some pen and ink to add some details but be careful not to add too much. I suggest that you zoom in on the image so you can get a better idea of what I’ve done. It’s really just a lot of scribbling and very loose calligraphy.

I mentioned last week that I’m teaching a watercolor landscape painting class. I let the class choose which subject they wanted to paint and they selected the colorful sunset.  Well, it seemed easy but was a little more difficult than they thought.   I’ve painted that scene three times and none of them have turned out exactly the same.

So, I thought I would try to find something a little easier for the class.  One of my selections is this scene from a trip we took out West several years ago. This is the Snake River in Idaho near Palisades Reservoir.  Such beautiful country out there.

Snake River, original photo upon which the painting was based. As you can see, I eliminated many of the shrubs in the foreground to better draw attention to the river and the mountain.

This is a classic landscape valley with pretty clouds and blue sky, a nice piney mountain, a river, and some trees up front leading us into the scene.  I only used eight colors for this painting,  three brushes, and my fade-proof ink pen.  The paper is Arches, French-made of 100% cotton rag.  The painting time was about two hours.

To see a step-by-step view of the process, click here or go to Artworks and scroll down to Snake River Landscape.

Juicing up your painting colors

Bill’s Gate, Autumn, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

I’m teaching a class in landscape painting, watercolor with pen and ink. Last week I asked the students which picture they preferred, the regular photo or the one with the juiced up colors.  They all agreed that they liked the one with the brighter, more emphasized colors.

It is often a difficult choice for artists who paint in a realistic style, of whether to paint exactly what they see or to change things to suit themselves.  I tend to change things to suit me.  Personally, I like paintings with a little extra pop in color.  Not to go garish, but to just add an extra emphasis.

Below are some comparisons between the original photos, the juiced up photos, and the final paintings.

Which do you prefer?  Would love to hear your comments.

Autumn sunset photo before enhancement.

Autumn sunset with color saturation.

Autumn Sunset, painted with the enhanced colors. Watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

East field in fall, before enhancement.

East field in fall, after enhancement. I wanted to emphasize the warm autumn colors in the trees in the distance.

East Field in Autumn, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Florida Keys before color correction.

Florida Keys after photo saturation.

Florida Keys painted from the color saturated photo. The water down there is actually a turquoise color but it’s a great place to spend a morning in the shade.

Wickliffe Road without color enhancement.

Wickliffe Road, Watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

 

 

 

Why get an art critique?

My work table in my studio, finishing up the final painting in my Intimate Spaces series. This one is called Ogling.

I recently finished a series of paintings that I’ve been working on all year.  Intimate Spaces – Beach Series, focuses on my observation that beach goers often stake out their territories – putting up tents, setting up the umbrellas and lawn chairs, bring out the coolers – and then for some reason think that they are magically invisible if they’re in their little plot of sand.  They’re not, of course.  The artist / observer can see them.  Guess I’m somewhat of a voyeur.

I planned out this set of paintings in early January and have been diligently working on them throughout the year.  The smallest is 16 x 12 and the largest is 50 x 34.  By the end, I’ll admit to being pretty tired of painting sand and sun and sea.

So, now that they’re all done, I can sit back and relax, right?  Nope, now comes the proofing process, something akin to allowing bread dough to rise. I’ve been going through them one by one, looking for mistakes and omissions.  But this is the time ask a trusted colleague to view them and give me some feedback.  To get a critique.

Lest you shudder at the thought of someone criticizing your work, let’s be clear; there is a big difference between a critique and criticism.  A critique is designed to evaluate the attributes of the artwork, not the artist.  Criticism is often much more personal and tends to evaluate the artist.  A good critic knows the difference.

So what does a good critique do?

  1. It gives the artist an outside perspective, presumably in an objective manner.
  2. We are often too close to our work and can’t see glaring mistakes. A good critique will often point out flaws.  This could be in composition, execution, unclear passages, whatever. Some critics will make helpful suggestions but it’s up to you whether you wish to incorporate them into your artwork.
  3. Or a critique will evaluate that you’re hitting what you’re aiming for. Yay, you!
  4. Did you the you accomplish what you set out to do?
  5. Finally, distance yourself. You are not your artwork, no matter how much sweat and effort you have put into it. It is still up to you to decide whether or not to take any suggestions and make changes.

Many art schools and colleges will have group critiques, usually led by the instructors or the students themselves.  However, if you are beyond this, you should seek out someone whose opinion you value. We work alone so much that it’s helpful to touch get an objective, outside opinion. The whole point is to help you improve as an artist.

Does your high school have an art museum?

The impressive entrance to McGuire Hall. I wonder how much those giant blue vases weigh?

I had an opportunity to return to my hometown Richmond, Indiana this past week where I stopped in at my high school to visit beautiful McGuire Hall.  In addition to a lovely theatre space, this wing of the high school hosts one of the few in-school art museums in the country, Richmond Art Museum (RAM).

This is the entry hall for McGuire Hall. The wooden doors on the right lead into the theatre. It is so elegant that it’s difficult to believe this is a public high school.

The Tortoise fountain by Janet Scudder

I marveled at the marble floors and carved wood doors and trim, the Tortoise fountain by famous sculptor Janet Scudder, and the current exhibits.  They were featuring an exhibit of the works by local artist John Elwood Bundy (1853-1933). Famous for his many depictions of local scenes, especially the beeches and other sylvan scenes, at one time his work could be seen all over the area including libraries, businesses, restaurants and other locations, public and private.

Winter Landscape by John Elwood Bundy, one of the many paintings currently on exhibit at Richmond Art Museum.

Part of the exhibit by regional painter John Elwood Bundy including oils, watercolors and drawings.

The Richmond Art Museum (RAM) permanent collection is currently displaying a very nice collection of American Impressionists, regional artists and the famous Hoosier Group.  William Merritt Chase’s self-portrait is on prominent display as are other of his works.

This gallery displays some of the impressive paintings in the permanent collection.

More of the permanent collection on display.

William Merritt Chase, self-portrait.

As a student, I remember walking past these famous paintings on my way to art classes which were held in this wing.  I thought every high school had an art museum and only learned differently many years later. I remember being sent out of class to “draw something” and sitting on one of the marble staircases making my little watercolors.  I’m sure this influenced my choice of career in art making.

Richmond has a long history of support of the arts and they still have an active art scene.  There are many wonderful old homes in town and the city still holds much beauty, from the exquisite Whitewater River Valley, to Glen Miller Park, their rose garden, the famous Madonna of the Trails, and Earlham College.

Although regional art museums don’t get the same attention as do big city museums, if you’re in the area, I urge you to stop by the Richmond Art Museum which is open to the public.  I’m sure you’ll find this small gem a pleasant surprise.

The Art Fair Circuit

The beautiful fountain at the center of St. James Court. It’s beauty is somewhat dimmed by all the lovely art booths. The line at the Bloody Mary booth quickly formed when the fair opened.

I attended the St. James Court Art Fair in Louisville this past Friday.  I’m not sure if I ever mentioned this before in my blog, but I did art fairs for about twenty-five years.  The memories came flooding back, some good and some not so pleasant.

Love this giant dinosaur at St. James.

Traveling around the country to attend art fairs is like being part of a big family, something like being in a circus, I imagine. If you spend a few days next to someone, you quickly make friends.  Sometimes you start a conversation in May and end it in October.  Your friendships may carry on for years.

Mr.and Mrs. Huiying Lee in their bonsai booth at St. James. I always love to stop by. Not so successful with keeping a bonsai alive but it’s still a dream.

Brandon King, a young man from Jonesboro, Arkansas stands in front of his beautiful display. This is only his second year of exhibiting at art fairs.

Most of the time I would travel to the fairs alone but for some of the bigger ones I would take help, usually hiring a high school student or one of my boys when they got older.  I think I only did at most about twenty shows a year but pretty well traveled throughout the Midwest.  Some artists I know did the art fair circuit in the northern states in the summer and then went south to cover the southern states in the winter.  I knew several artists who lived and created totally in their campers.  Another couple I knew floated around in the Gulf of Mexico in the winter on their boat, stopping at ports to collect mail.  Of course, now all that is done on the internet and with e-mail, but this was quite a few years ago.

I love these colorful glass garden flowers I saw at St. James.

So this past Friday I decided to take a trip to Louisville to visit the fair at St. James Court, one which I had exhibited at for about twelve years.  The weather had finally broken and the day was cool and sunny.  I got there very early as I am aware of the difficulties of snagging a parking space as the crowds arrive.  The early bird, etc., etc.  As I made my way onto the fair site, the first thing is that I was met with the smell of cooking onions…at 9:30 in the morning.  But the aisles were uncrowded as the artists put the final touches on their booths.

Last year St. James as blistering hot.  But some years when I exhibited, it was so cold and rainy that we kept buying cups of hot cider just to keep our hands warm.  It’s all part of the job.

I only recognized a few artists that I knew in the past. I guess many of my contemporaries are retired now, too.  I made my way to some of my favorite booths.  I love the couple that sells bonsai.  Looked for the glass artist with the special paperweights but he wasn’t there this year.  Spent some time talking with a nice young man from Arkansas about his beautiful paintings.  So much to see.  After a couple of hours, the crowds were packing in and I was getting tired.  Time to leave while my feet could still move.

Over the years, I’ve had people approach me and say, “I would like to do this.”  They have NO idea, I would think.  The months of preparation, creating enough inventory, the application process, booth fees, traveling expenses, dealing with the weather, bugs, etc. Not to mention the physical toll of hauling your stuff all around.  Sheesh!

Me and my art fair family at Ann Arbor. I’m the one waving.

I have had many wonderful experiences over the years but a few stand out.  There was the singing garbage man in Ann Arbor.  And the time I had a water main leak IN my booth….at St. James, of course.  The time a big storm was coming and I had packed up my artwork and had just taken the weights off my tent when a wind tipped it up and over….while I was standing in the booth!  The time a couple consulted and bought my show piece (largest painting).  The little boy who would attend the fair every year just to talk to a real artist; I watched him grow up over the years.  The couple who invited a few of us artists to their home at the end of the day for a home-cooked meal. That was very welcomed.

So next time you’re at an art fair, take some time to talk with the artists. You might be surprised what they have to say.

This is what the street looks like at 6:30 in the morning on the day of set up at Ann Arbor. This is one of the top ten art fairs in the country, with three fairs going on simultaneously. Plus every merchant has a sidewalk sale and everyone with a front yard is selling something. That is the student union in the background.

Early morning, road is clear. Wait until this afternoon.

The Art Guild crew laying out the booth spaces before we can set up.

It’s mid-morning. The booths on the sidewalk side set up first.

Mid-afternoon, most of the booths in the interior are set up by now.

September garden update

Cherry tomatoes from just two bushes, picked mid September.

Normally this time of year, the garden starts slowing down. Not this year.  Despite the record-breaking temperatures and drought, our garden is still producing.

Dried cherry tomatoes. A jar of yummy deliciousness.

While most of the regular tomatoes have slowed down, the cherry tomatoes are still coming on strong.  We have a debate whether the best ones are Sweet 100s or Sweet One Million.  They’re both delicious.  I have been drying plenty of them in the dehydrator.  I found the best and quickest way to dry them is to cut them in half and then gently squeeze out the seeds.  They will dry much faster.  We love to put them in bread or just eat them straight for snacks.  Yummm.

Fresh green beans from the second crop planted in mid-July.

And the green beans which I replanted in July have been coming in.  Amazingly, they’re better than the first batch we planted last spring.  Big and juicy and practically bug free.  I love green beans!

A multitude of peppers. Jalapenos, Anaheim, and sweet yellow peppers.

The peppers haven’t given up either.  We have jalapeno, Anaheim and sweet peppers.  A few of the hot peppers go a long way so we’re always glad to share them with the neighbors.

Sweet potatoes cluster, all from one slip. Variety Puerto Rican vining.

My husband loves sweet potatoes.  This clump is from just one slip!  And he planted fifty slips!  And they’re still growing (the vines haven’t died back yet).

Although the squirrels are harvesting most of our walnuts, I always feel a kinship as I “squirrel” away our garden produce.  Apologies for the bad pun.

Art and Fear

Art and Fear, a small book with a powerful message.

The only work really worth doing – the only work you can do convincingly – is the work that focuses on the things you care about.  To not focus on those issues is to deny the constants in your life.

I just finished reading for the umpteenth time one of my very favorite inspirational art books, Art and Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING by David Bayles and Ted Orland.  This small but mighty book has been in print since it was first published in 1994.  It always ranks high on the lists of books on art making.  So why is it so difficult to describe, except to say read it?

I think it’s because the authors address the secret, deep down challenges of art making.  Whether you are a visual artist or musician, writer or dancer, they seem to be able to tap into those questions that we raise in our souls.  What are we doing?  Are we any good?  Who says?  Does anyone really care but us?  What makes a serious artist?  Do we actually need talent or is just plain perseverance and hard work enough?

The authors portend that these questions only really have arisen in the past couple of centuries.  Before that, artists knew their role and their expected work, whether working for the church or their clan.  Few artists had the luxury of just creating for themselves.  You joined the guild that your father belonged to and that was that.  You accepted that you would carve stone for the rest of your life, doing the best that you could.

Now we have so many options available, that we’re often left blowing in the wind, twisting from one attraction to another.  If you do settle on one or two outlets for your creative efforts, you will still probably be working alone (excepting for those artists who are part of  larger group projects.) Maybe even after you’ve put hours, days, weeks, years into your project, you are still faced with the fact that no matter how skilled you may be, someone will come along, probably younger and glitzier, who will garner all the accolades for the next new thing.  Maybe they whip up a frenzy over their spray painted graffiti turned art or that they’ve stuck a bunch of miscellaneous objects together with snot and string (and I’m not saying that those things aren’t art), and you’re looking at your studio stocked full of precision master drawings or paintings, and wondering, Was all my effort worth it?  Doesn’t anyone appreciate real art?

In the end, art is hard work.  You have to keep after it, often (usually) for very little reward.  You work long hours, usually alone, for …what?

That ultimately is the question that this book – answers is not the right word, maybe explores. It will make you think. There are so many quotable quotes in this small tome.  The battered, used copy that I purchased years ago has underlines from at least two other readers (who the heck uses red for underlining?), plus a name label in the front.  Plus my own stars and underlines.  What the other readers thought was important may not be what I focus on.  Or maybe I do now at a different time of my life.

Whatever your art making form and wherever you are in your art making journey, I highly recommend this book as a great prompt for deep thoughts that you will want to return to often.

Figure drawing. How to improve your work.

A typical selection of notebooks or sketchbooks. From 4 x 6 up to 11 x 14, I use these to captures moments of everyday life no matter where I may be. I try to remember to make a note of the date and location as my memory is poor after time passes.

There are so many artists who really excel at figure drawing that I’m always envious of their talent and the ease at which they seem to be able to capture the human figure.  I’m not one of them.

For me, drawing the human figure is mostly a matter of hard work.  Draw. Draw. Draw.  That is my MO.

I was pulling out some notebooks in my studio this week.  In a career of over 30 years, I have a lot of notebooks!

I noticed that I seem to be attracted to figures of all types and sizes, all ages and venues.  I don’t concentrate on one “type” of figure.  Not the big eyed children nor the beautiful sylph models, but the old and the gnarled, the fat and the thin, children doing what children do, people doing what they do when they think nobody is watching.  I don’t think I have a type but others may disagree.

One thing that I noticed when I was pulling notebooks out of my flat files is that I’ve been consistent over the years with my drawing.  I draw a lot. This, more than practically anything else, has probably led to my ability to capture figures.  And I’ll admit right up front that not everything I’ve drawn has hit the mark.  But practice is the best way to develop a skill.

I have small notebooks (4 x 6) which I can squirrel away in a purse or bag.  I’ve been able to amuse myself at airports and museums, restaurants and beaches.  Nearly anywhere people gather.

This is a situational sketch in my small notebook. The location is Topaz Thai Restaurant in mid-town Manhattan. I did this while I was eating lunch. Toned markers were used for quick shading.

Macy Gray at the Iridium Jazz Club near Times Square. Using pen and toned markers.

It was late evening on Times Square. I found that if I leaned up against a wall, I could draw street vendors and other passersby without any notice. It’s a fun challenge.

Audience members at Birdland. I think we were waiting for Rita Moreno but can’t remember exactly. Should have written it down.

Some of my sketchbooks range up to 18 x 24 or larger, which are not always easy for transporting, but great for working on larger compositions.

For drawing instruments, I use everything from pencils to pastels, gel pens to markers to charcoal.  Each has a special characteristic but I suggest that you try many different types of instruments.

Some life drawing sketches. The model is Ron whom I’ve drawn for over thirty years. He can hold a pose for a long time and entertains the artists with stories in his southern drawl.

I’ve taken life drawing classes.  Yes, the models are naked but you get used to it.  I’ve drawn one male model, Ron, for over thirty years.  He’s not a Mr. America by any means but he’s a really great model with inventive poses which he can hold for a long time.  He’s in his 70s now!

Another typical life drawing sketch. If you look closely, you can see where I’ve made initial marks for the model’s trunk. Pencil is the medium.

These are quick sketches in life drawing class. Typically the artist is only given 2 – 4 minutes before the model changes poses.

We don’t get too many opportunities to draw two models together so this was fun. Also, nice to be drawing some real bodies with all the lumps and bumps.

And then when I’m working from photographs, I do several preliminary drawings of the subjects.  This helps me get acquainted with their shapes and postures.  I can work out problems before I even begin to tackle anything in paint.

This is one of several preliminary sketches that I made from photos for a painting I just completed. It’s good to work out problems before I tackle the final subject.

This is an older sketch of my son and granddaughter as a preliminary drawing for a large painting. I love the way his hands dwarf her tiny body.

More preliminary drawings from photos. The granddaughter and her tiny hand grasping her father’s shirt.

So my best advice is to get a notebook, any size but you might be more comfortable with a small one to start with, and a pen or some toned markers, and get to work.  You will be surprised but most people don’t even notice that you’re drawing.  I’ve drawn in restaurants and theatres, at musical venues and just along the street.  I’ve even drawn while in line waiting for a theatre to open!  Yes, really.

Asymmetrical composition

Beach Readers, Intimate Spaces series, acrylic on linen, 24 x 30, Kit Miracle The whole attraction of this subject was the irony of the two young women who are reading and totally ignoring the beautiful day at the beach. I also love the way the red beach chairs draw the viewer’s eye into the scene.

There are many rules of painting composition which I have discussed in previous blogs (search: composition).  These are usually conventional and are designed to lead the eye through the picture.  But one of my favorites is an asymmetrical composition, that is, not even or necessarily balanced.  I liken this somewhat to whether you are a candlesticks at each end of the fireplace mantle kind of person or you feel comfortable placing both candlesticks at one end (usually balanced by some other object at the other end.)  It’s just a matter of personal preference.

The painting above, Beach Readers in the Intimate Spaces series, is a good example of asymmetrical composition. The bright red chairs on the right lead the eye into the scene to the two girls who are reading.  Most of the other action is in that quadrant of the painting.  However, the small figure playing in the surf at the far left is able to balance the scene.  If you don’t believe me, cover the figure with your hand and see what a difference that makes to the feel of the painting.

Asymmetrical composition came into vogue in the 1880s and 1890s as the Impressionist artists were influenced by the import of Japanese prints.  These prints not only led to some experimentation in composition, but to flattened colors and situational composition.  This would be similar to a photograph that is just cut off at strange places.  This could include people looking out of the picture plane, cutting off the head or legs of horses, or even figures exiting the frame.

Below are several examples of paintings by Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet which illustrate this influence.  The first two artists collaborated for years with their printmaking but as you can see, the Japanese influence directly appeared in their work.

Mary Cassatt, Woman and Child in the Driving Seat.

Degas, more race horses running out of the picture plane. Lots of empty space but it works.

One of many Degas racing scenes. Notice how some people are only partially shown in the picture plane. This is a similar composition to my Beach Readers in that there is a big blank space in the lower left side of the painting, with the action on the right leading into the main subject.

Degas. Another very unusual composition of race horses and jockeys.

Degas, Place de la Concorde. Notice how everyone seems to be looking off in a different direction. And why are the little girls cut off at the waist?

Edouard Manet, Portrait of Gillaudin on a Horse. You can only infer the horse in this painting although the main subject is centered.