Family at the Beach

Intimate Spaces Series – Family at the Beach, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30, Kit Miracle

This is the twelfth painting in the Intimate Spaces Series.  Family Day at the Beach reminds me of the many beach scenes by Sargent, Sorolla, and even Mary Cassatt.  There is nothing really extraordinary about the scene and that is what I like about it.

If you look closely at the mother in the painting (click to zoom in), you will notice that she is very pregnant.  The son will soon have a sibling.  Dad is painted with a slight paunch.  Not all scenery at the beach is magazine perfect. This is real life.

Family at the Beach, detail. Notice how abstract the sand is painted. Layer upon layer.

Again, another detail of the sand in the foreground.  This is painted very abstractly.  There are many layers but the whole point is that the focus should be on the family and not necessarily anything else in the painting.

Settling In

Intimate Spaces Series – Settling In, acrylic on canvas, 28 x 38, Kit Miracle

This painting is number seven in the Intimate Spaces Series.  It is titled Settling In which is where the beach-goers begin to stake out their territories.  In this case, the woman in red is being helped by the beach attendant.

Intimate Spaces Series – Settling In detail 1, Kit Miracle

I was attracted to the complexity of the chairs and umbrellas, to the figures and the contrast with the brilliant blue sky.

Intimate Space Series – Settling In, detail 2, Kit Miracle This detail shows the abstract brush strokes I have used for the sand.

As you can see in the detail photo, I have painted the wet sand in a very abstract manner.  It is important to not be concerned about trying to depict every little detail, but to let the viewer’s eyes fill in the details.  The entire painting is a study in contrasts, between details and abstracts, light and dark, near and far.

More series, Intimate Spaces – Beach Series

Go! Number 11 in the Intimate Spaces – Beach Series. Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 16. Kit Miracle

I completed the twelfth painting in my Intimate Spaces series this week.  My thoughts behind painting this series of beach paintings is that when people go to the beach, they carve out their little spaces, arrange their belongings, and then seem to act as if they are invisible within their own little territories.  They’re not.

Maybe I’m just a voyeur, or just have an artist’s eye for observing, but I have always been drawn to people-watching.  The beach, of course, is a great place to be an observer of the human animal, but there are many other places to do that, too.  More thoughts for future series.

Many artists have created series of paintings around themes in the past century and a half.  Most notably are Monet and his haystack paintings or Van Gogh and his sunflowers.  Some artists work the same theme for their entire lives like still life painter Gorgio Morandi who essentially painted the same objects over and over.

And what is the point of painting the same thing over and over? you might ask. For some artists, like Monet, it’s to study the object or scene in different lighting conditions.  For instance, he would often have several canvases at different points of completion, and then work on them when the same lighting and conditions presented themselves.  Most notably, his Rouen Cathedral series, but he was known for this throughout his life.

For me, it is the challenge to drill down into the subject. I like to paint the human figure in situ, or it’s natural, unposed state.  How do people interact when they think no one is watching them?  With each other, or with their surroundings?

My series of beach paintings, I have sixteen planned in all, does exactly that.  Children, families, individuals, seagulls, the landscape – all of the interactions within a limited scope of place.  If it were a different beach or place, there would be different subjects and activities.

But I am surely getting tired of painting sand and sea and sky.  Not doing the beach for the next series, for sure but I already have ideas rolling around.  First, however, will be a little plein air painting for a change of pace.

Stolen artwork

I’ll admit to a somewhat maudlin fascination of stories about stolen artwork.  The number of books and movies out about the subject indicates that other people have the same interest.  Did you see The Monuments Men about the hidden masterpieces and recovery after WWII?  Or Woman in Gold?  Both were based on true stories.  Or Priceless by Robert K. Wittman or Stealing Rembrandts by Anthony Amore?  Or The Rockwell Heist by Bruce Rubenstein?  Again, true stories.  Of course, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is a fictionalized account of an art theft but immensely popular.

Most of us will never encounter a circumstance of art theft.  As a director of a gallery and art center for many years, we never had an issue with stolen artwork although we weren’t displaying Rembrandts either.

However, this is a tale about a real art theft.  Or two or three.  All involving myself.

Scareboy. Watercolor on paper, 29.5 x 19.5, Kit Miracle. Stolen artwork.

The first painting I had stolen was from a public building in 1994.  I had an exhibit in the Chamber of Commerce building in downtown Indianapolis.  This was the second time that I had exhibited there. So you can imagine my surprise when I got up one morning and found a message from a Sargent somebody or other from the Indianapolis Police Department with a request to call him back about some stolen artwork. Of course, he was off duty when I called so I called the organizers of the exhibit at the Chamber.  I had a few dozen paintings there so I thought it was probably one of the smaller pieces.  To my surprise, I learned that it was the largest piece I had in the show.

Later that evening, the Sargent called me back.  After we discussed the theft – I never saw the exhibit on display since I just dropped it off at the loading dock and picked it up a month later – I asked how someone could steal such a large painting, through a revolving door no less!  Didn’t the security guard run after the thief?  The Sargent chuckled and remarked that the guard probably wasn’t running too many marathons.  (The building was open at night because the lobby held an ATM.)

The painting, Scareboy, was an amusing watercolor painting of the scarecrow that I had created out of my son’s Doctor Denton’s with a Mickey Mouse hat.  I guess someone really liked it, just not enough to pay for it.  (The Chamber did reimburse my loss.)

Set of framed vegetable paintings, originals, watercolor, pen and ink. Kit Miracle. Two of these paintings were stolen at the Broad Ripple Art Fair.

Another case of stolen artwork was at the Broad Ripple Art Fair, also in Indianapolis.  This was a very nice fair with a fence and security.  The theft occurred as a mother and her son distracted me by asking a question about a painting in the back of my booth.  When I went back into the booth, two paintings were missing.  These were small vegetable works in watercolor with pen and ink.  At the time, I was offering about forty-five different fruits and vegetables.  (And still do in my Etsy shop.)  They were very popular, all original, not prints. Apparently a partner was snatching the work while I was being distracted.  To add injury to insult, when I tried to report this to the fair officials, I was directed to the phone in the office to file a police report (this was before cellphones.)  And I later got blackballed from the fair since I had left my booth early to make the phone call. Humph!

The team working to distract the artist or booth operator is not a novel operation.  I had a couple use their dog (the guy practically pushed it into my face for me to pet) while the gal was shoving packaged cards into the pockets of her coat.  Sigh.

The interesting thing is, that artwork is such a personal thing.  People either like it or they don’t. At my level, I’m hardly a superstar in the art scene and my paintings are modestly priced.  But for famous artists, thieves often forget to think ahead about what they will actually do with the masterpieces after they steal them.  A famous painting is very hot and not easily sold on the open market.  Some are held for ransom.  Some are sold to the underworld/undercover market.  Eventually they come to surface somewhere.

But, hey, if anyone out there sees my Scareboy, just know that he belongs at home.

Studio lighting options

In over thirty years of working as an artist, I’ve tried many different types of lighting. While none is perfect, I thought I’d review what I’ve been working with lately.

Daylight from north window. Pretty even cool light, but, of course, not good for working at night.

First is just plain north light through the window.  This is often considered the gold standard for artists.  It is a cool and pretty consistent light.  My studio, the summer kitchen building of this old house, has four windows in the main part of the studio.  Only one window is on the north side, two on the east, and one south facing.  Using natural lighting is great but not always practical, especially if you want to work in the evenings or at night.  But it has come in handy on occasion during power outages.  If you’re working in a centuries-old medium, you can just carry on without electricity.

Fluorescent lighting fixture with a cool bulb and a daylight bulb for balance. Great for a broad work space such as framing and matting.

I am unusual in that I actually like fluorescent lighting (most people don’t).  I think it provides good light and is great for working, such as, cutting mats or assembling frames.  I have two standard light fixtures in my studio but have opted to pair a cool bulb with a warm (daylight) bulb.  Although this is difficult to see in the photo, it provides a nice balanced illumination for the studio.  However, if I’m working on a still life, I want aimed lighting without the overhead fluorescents.

Old can lights on a track lighting strip. These get pretty hot but are useful for studio painting displays. I’ll probably replace them in the future with smaller LED or halogen lighting.

Another lighting option in the studio are the can lights.  As you can see, they’re pretty old.  I’ll probably replace them with the smaller halogen lights in the future.  But these are really great for highlighting hanging paintings, such as when I have a studio show.

I also have several clamp-on lights (not shown) which I have used with photography tripods.  These are inexpensive and great for lighting still lifes.

A standard goose-neck clip on lamp with a daylight balanced bulb. Some flexibility but not so suitable for larger paintings, creating hot spots again.

Most of my painting in the past few years has been done with a clamp-on gooseneck lamp.  It has a daylight bulb.  Unfortunately, it sometimes causes “hot” spots on the paintings (uneven lighting).  I’ve tried placing it behind me but then I’m working in my shadow.  This is especially a problem when working on larger paintings.

Recently I investigated some new easel lighting.  First I tried the Phive LED desk lamp.  This is made especially for drawing tables and has a really wide lamp head. It also adjusts to many color temperatures and intensities.  Although it has a somewhat flexible head, I just could not get it affixed correctly to my easel.  This was not a cheap lamp so I returned it and ordered my current favorite.

The Phive LED architectural light attached to my studio. The first part of the lamp is stiff and only the top part is articulated. I could not find a way to attach it to my easel without the actual lamp getting in the way.

This was my second option for attaching the Phive lamp sideways.

As you can see, the Phive lamp has a very wide head, but because I couldn’t center it, it threw hot spots on the painting area. I thought about trying to remove the clamp and affixing the lamp to the easel with bolts, but it still wasn’t articulated enough. Also, the clamp was not easily removable.

The most recent lamp that I’m using is by IMIGY with a super long and very flexible 24 inch gooseneck.  This LED lamp has several settings for cool, warm and mixed lighting with several dimming options.  It also has a delayed timer for turning it off.  The clamp is much smaller than the Phive but I may also remove it entirely and attach it directly to the easel with some two-hole plumbing clips.  However, the flexibility of the lamp means there are many options for aiming the light.  The light bar is shorter than the Phive but the output seems at least equal.

The IMIGY lamp with a 24 inch gooseneck and many lighting options. Very flexible and stays where I put it it.

It is important to have good lighting in your studio.  I discovered many years ago that if I worked under a warm light, then my paintings turned out too cool.  Now I usually use a cool light which mimics north light which means that I paint a bit warmer to compensate.  If you are unhappy with your current work space illumination, you might want to try out some of these suggestions.

The IMIGY light with cool light display.

The mixed lighting setting on the IMIGY lamp.

The warm lighting setting for the IMIGY lamp. A little too warm for painting but good to test the display.

Phive LED Desk Lamp link

IMIGY LED Desk Lamp link

Stretching canvas

The current series of paintings that I’m working on calls for some unusual sizes of canvases.  I could have ordered ready-made canvases but decided to spend some time stretching my own.  I already had plenty of rolled canvas so I just ordered stretcher bars of the sizes I needed.

Stretcher bars awaiting assembly. You need two of each size unless you’re doing a square, then you need four the same size.

Assembled stretcher bars and tools, scissors and rubber mallet.

Stretcher bars can be ordered in various widths, depths and lengths.  These are 1 ½ inch bars. The canvas that I’m using is cotton duck.  I also use linen for some of the really special pieces.  This canvas is already preprimed which I would not recommend or order in the future.  I’d prefer to gesso and prime my own canvas.

The tools for stretching canvas are pretty basic.

  • Rubber mallet
  • Scissors
  • Tape measure
  • Staple gun (electric) and staples (1/2 inch)
  • Tack hammer or framing hammer
  • Canvas pliers (not shown) I don’t usually use these, just grip the canvas and pull really hard

The bars are prenotched and will fit together with a little effort.

This is what the corner should look like after assembly.

Assemble your stretcher bars by aligning the grooves and using the rubber mallet to pound them together.  This might take a little trial and error until you get the hang of it, but don’t be afraid to put some muscle into the pounding to make the bars go together.  Of course, if you’re assembling a rectangular canvas, remember to use the two short and the two longs on opposing sides.  After you’re happy that the bars are assembled, measure diagonally from corner to corner to make sure they’re pretty square.

Measure diagonal corners to ensure the canvas is square.

Lay your assembled stretcher bars on the canvas and cut around. Leave a few inches in all sides, enough to wrap around to the back of the bars.

A roll of pre-primed cotton duck canvas. I prefer the unprimed canvas but was using this up.

Lay the assembled stretcher bars on your canvas and cut around leaving enough canvas to wrap around to the back of the frame.  This depends upon the depth of the frame you are assembling.  Then, making sure that the primed side is out, lay the assembled bars on the canvas face down. Make sure the canvas has the same border all around the bars. Starting in the middle of one bar, add a staple.  Then on the opposite side, pull the canvas really tight, making sure it’s not puckering, and add another staple. Then do the two sides.

More tools for actually stretching the canvas. Electric staple gun, 1/2 inch staples, tack hammer, tape measure.

Start in the middle of one side, put a staple in. The do the opposite side, pulling tightly. Then do each end, same thing. Then go back and add a couple of staples on either side of the first staples. Keep working around the frame, always pulling tightly. When you get to the corners, neatly fold the corners in. You don’t want a bunch of canvas on the corners as that will hinder framing.

Work your way out to the edges all the way around until you get to the corners.  The corners are a little tricky but try to wrap the canvas as neatly as you can.  Then go around the canvas and set in the staples with the tack hammer.

Drive the frame wedges into the slots in the corners. These are plastic wedges but they also come in wood and in various sizes. You will need to pound them in with the rubber mallet. They should be pretty tight and your canvas will be very tight.

The canvas will appear pretty tight but you need to tighten it even further by driving in the wedges into the corners with the rubber mallet.  Align the straight edge of the wedge with the corner frame as pictured.  Then put in the other one going the opposite direction.  This will really tighten the canvas.  If it should loosen over time, you can readjust the wedges or even re-stretch the canvas.  As you can see here, I am using plastic wedges but they also come in wood.  You will need eight pairs per frame.

If you have never tried stretching your own canvas, I urge you to give it a try.  It seems a little complicated at first, but you will end up with a better product and save some money in the long run.

Getting things done – Accomplishing your goals

Someone said to me out of the blue the other day, You know, you really get things done.  You don’t need reminded. You’re so organized and you just quietly go about your business.  People can really rely on you.

This came as quite a surprise to me as I was just finishing up a job.  Hummm, I thought, this is what I do all the time.  I don’t know where this trait came from as my parents were never the kind who pushed me (although they were very organized, too.)  And I will readily admit, my getting things done trait doesn’t extend to every aspect of my life as my family can attest.  I can definitely walk past piles of books without a compulsion to straighten them up.

I think the attention to finishing tasks began way back in high school when I was yearbook editor.  How many kids are told, Here’s your $10,000 budget.  What are you going to do with it? Thanks to a great adviser, I learned how to plan, meet deadlines, make assignments, and finish the task on time.  These skills were a great help in college when I was juggling a full slate of classes while working part-time jobs.  And so it goes ever since.

Even in retirement, it seems I still rely on these skills.  Currently I’m working on a series of paintings which will total sixteen in all.  I’m halfway through.  This is where the push comes as my energy flags.  Or as this week when I’m gardening, planting pots, and tackling other outdoor projects.  Whatever it is, I just keep at it.

I’ve been thinking about the conversation mentioned at the beginning.  What does make some people better organized than others?  What follows is my short list.  Of course, people work differently so these may not apply to you, but maybe some of them will.

  1. Decide what your final destination will be. As the saying goes, if you don’t have a goal, then any path will get you there.  As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I make long-term goals at least to give myself direction.
  2. What is your short-term plan? What do you want to get accomplished this year, this month, this week, today?  I am an unapologetic list maker.  I get great pleasure crossing things off the list.  But I’m not compulsive about it.  I frequently do not get everything done that is on the list. That’s OK, but I got some things done.
  3. Break bigger tasks down to sections. This doesn’t have to be formally but it can be if the project is big enough.
  4. Set aside some time to do the project. Start early. Get something done – the outline for the report, the materials lined up, your tools ready, whatever.  Take away excuses.
  5. Set a timer if you really are avoiding the job. You know, cleaning the garage or the basement or your closet.  When the timer goes off, you’ll find that you’ve probably accomplished a lot more than you thought.  I find that I often am in the groove and reset the timer or keep carrying on.  But I know that I can quit if I want to without guilt.
  6. Tackle the hardest thing first. If I find myself procrastinating, then I usually know I’m avoiding something. Just doing the hardest thing first will often give me the momentum to carry on.
  7. Focus, forget multi-tasking. Just do one thing at a time and try to finish it, or at least part of it.  Jumping around only leads to distraction and doesn’t accomplish anything. Close your office door if you have to.
  8. Don’t be a perfectionist. Yeah, me.  As General Patton said, A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.. Sometimes it’s more important to get a job done, make a good start, than it is to vacillate and over-plan.  You can always fix it later.
  9. Set the project aside and come back and review it later. Mistakes will be glaring.

So these are just some of my little tricks for getting things done.  There are entire books and websites devoted to organizing your time.  Coaches, personal planners, all kinds of gimmicks and aids.  But you don’t really need all that.  You just need to get started.  What are your favorite ideas and tricks for getting things done?  I’d love to hear them.

Do plants move?

This is a follow-up to my post last Wednesday about some spring flowers.  As you can see, more flowers are blooming.

Red Trillium. This lovely wildflower just popped up next to my studio this year. This is the first time in three decades that we have seen this plant here and have no idea how it got there.

Today I had a surprise. As I was doing some mushroom hunting – right next to the house is the best place actually – I discovered this beautiful red trillium.  This is the first time that I’ve ever seen this trillium in this place.  Yes, up in the big woods which is half mile away, but never close to the house.

So my question is this, how did the flower get here?  Were the roots in the ground for decades?  Did some animal move it there?  Sometimes it’s easy to see how plants move from one place to another. (I’ll rant about the Russian Olives that the DNR planted over at the lake which is two miles away and which are now establishing themselves here, but that’s a story for another day.)

From one little patch of flowers, these delicate Virginia Bluebells have now established themselves all over. And I plan to move them into the woods very soon. They die back after blooming to totally disappear until next year.

Here are the Virginia bluebells.  When we moved here, there was only one small patch in front of the house, over fifty yards away. Now they spring up in the most unusual places.  This patch is behind the dog house.  However, they’re so beautiful with their pinky turning to sky blue flowers.  And they totally disappear after blooming until next year.

Columbine is a beautiful, delicate flower which self-propagates through prolific seed production.

These columbine are very prolific.  I planted one plant fifteen years ago.  They have now established in many areas.  Their seed pods practically explode but I really don’t mind these flowers as they are so pretty and delicate.

These beautiful old-stock lilacs were here when we arrived. They were probably shared from someone else’s garden, as we have since shared them with others. That is how old plants moved.

Finally, this is a beautiful old lilac.  I have a few bushes around the yard but have often dug up starts to replant elsewhere.  Today, I noticed one that I had my son plant along the road ten years ago is now blooming next to the mailbox. My son has some starts from the same bush at his home.

Not in bloom now is some golden sedum which has popped up in the most unusual places.  Or the jungle of forsythia bushes which are now also planted along the road. They’ll get a hard pruning when they finish blooming.

So, how do plants move?  Well, obviously humans have some influence, and birds dropping seeds.  But otherwise, I’d like to believe that it’s magic, maybe faeries or garden elves who are just having fun with us.  Hey, it could be true.

Spring has finally arrived

I haven’t always had luck with tulips. They’re like candy to the deer. I planted these last fall right next to my studio. Mikey the dog will keep the critters at bay.

Spring has finally arrived in this part of Southern Indiana.  It’s so beautiful that it takes my breath away.  Remember that crayon you used to have in your box called Spring Green?  Well, it’s all over the place now. At this old homestead (over 130 years), there are many established flowers and trees.  Plus we’ve added many more in the three decades that we’ve lived here.

So I thought you’d just enjoy a walk in the country.  Some of these flowers and trees are already on the wain while others have yet to bloom, the redbuds and dogwoods are just coming out now.  Maybe another post about them later.

An in and out day with the scudding clouds chasing the sunshine. I love the spring greens.

Little pansies are so cheerful. These came from an early foray to the local garden center about a week ago. I couldn’t help myself.

A cheerful crab apple next to the garden. This is a start from the original which was a Mother’s Day present to me many years ago.

More tulips basking in the sunshine.

A friendly little toady emerging from the leftover leaves. He looks a little ragged. I expect he’d like a nice breakfast of some juicy bugs.

The east fields, still soggy from the night’s rain. More clouds and sun shadows.

Bluebells and narcissus. These have become naturalized in several spots of the yard and I have more plans to move some starts elsewhere this spring.

I love violets. They come in so many variations but these deep purple ones seem to be dominant.

The importance of preliminary work

Green and Yellow, 20 x 20, acrylic, Kit Miracle. Intimate Spaces series

I recently posted a step-by-step outline of my painting A Day at the Beach (4-10-2019). A critical part of creating a significant panting is the preliminary work. I sincerely believe that the more thought I put into the piece at the beginning, the more I can work out the problems ahead of time, and the better the final result will be.  Well, that’s my theory anyway.

Green and Yellow, detail.

This is another painting in my series Intimate Spaces, all about the territory that people carve out when they visit the beach.  In this painting, I was sitting behind a couple who staked out their space early in the day with two chairs and an umbrella.  They didn’t show up until mid-afternoon.

NOTAN sketches for Green and Yellow. This is where I work out basic shapes and composition. As you can see, initially I intended this to be a rectangle shape but then changed it to a square shape.

I liked the near silhouette of the couple with the contrast of the kids playing in the surf in front of them. Maybe they were grandma and grandpa.  I don’t know and never did figure it out.

Large graphite sketch of the main characters for Green and Yellow.

As with most of my paintings, I begin with a NOTAN sketch, just hard contrast of black and white to get a feel for the composition.  Then I did a large graphite sketch of the couple.  I didn’t feel a need to sketch the kids as they’re just notes really.  They were painted directly.

NOTAN sketches of past couple of paintings. Working in black and white allows me to focus on the shapes and composition.

Here are a few more examples of NOTAN sketches.  You’ll notice the one from my last post of A Day at the Beach and how I was focusing on the interlocking umbrella shapes.

More NOTAN sketches from Jump.

And the two pages of NOTAN of Jump which I created in February.  With some of the bigger pieces, I’ll also do a color sketch but not always.

The final conclusion is that no matter what style of art you create, you will often have better results if you put in more thought and work into the beginning of your work than having to correct problems later.  Indeed, sometimes you may discover that the scene or piece doesn’t merit following through.  Or you may decide to attack it from a different direction.