Are you a crab or an escapee?

Ghost crab or sand crab on the beach at night on South Padre Island. When “caught” with a flashlight, they freeze, only to scurry away if the light wavers.

I was scrolling through some vacation photos from last summer and came across this photo of a crab on the beach.  My granddaughter and I went out after dark one evening to spot crabs. They were everywhere!  We had so much fun walking along the sand at night at catching the crabs with our flashlight.  The little critters skittered here and there but froze when the light shone on them. If the light wavered at all, they were off like a flash.

The photo put me in mind of one of my favorite expressions crabs in a bucket.  If you’re not familiar with the expression, it comes from the old story of the fisherman who was catching crabs and throwing them into a bucket.  His grandson asked why he didn’t have a lid on the bucket and wouldn’t the crabs all crawl out.  The fisherman replied, no, the crabs don’t crawl out although they are certainly able to do so, but when one crab reaches a claw over the top of the bucket, the other crabs all pull him back.

Sound familiar?

I can think of so many applications for this parable.  Whether it’s being a better student or artist, getting a promotion or a new car, we all tend to compare ourselves to others.  I wonder why that is?  Isn’t it possible for everyone to be successful at whatever they want to be?  Being around negative people, those who complain all the time or put down others, is very draining.  I always try to look beneath the surface to determine what their real motives are for complaining.  Feelings of insecurity or inferiority?  Or are they just crabs in a bucket who don’t want anyone else to succeed if they can’t? Or are they looking for excuses for their own lack of motivation and hard work?

Have you ever faced some crabs in your life?  When you announced that you just got a raise, they responded with well, you’re just going to have to pay more taxes. Or maybe you aced your last test and your friend called you a brown-noser.  Or someone in your neighborhood complains about those snobby rich people down the block who think they’re really something. I could go on and on.

Being a crab is unfair and being around crabs is depressing.  The news and social media are filled with crabs, those who want to basically gossip about this person or that.  I’ve always been of the opinion that if you’re not happy with a situation, change it, don’t just complain about it.  And certainly don’t waste your efforts envying someone who has something, whether a skill, a trait, maybe a material possession that you don’t have.  Stop being a crab.  Escape the bucket and make your own path.

Little Stone Church, Provence – demonstration painting from photographs

Little Stone Church, Provence, France – final. Acrylic, 12 x 16. As you can see, I made the sky more interesting and edited the road a bit, too.

I thought I’d share another lesson from the class that I’m teaching about painting from photographs.  Frankly, this process can be as complicated or as simple as you want to make it.

Little Stone Church, Provence – original photo

In this example, I have a real photo – you know, the printed kind – from a biking trip that I took through Provence, France many years ago.  I like to browse through the old photos and inevitably I see a new subject that I overlooked before.  In this case, I remember exactly how I felt cruising through the olive groves when I passed this old stone church one morning.

Little Stone Church cropped.

The original photo included more subject matter than I wished to include in my painting so I cropped it to fit my canvas size.  This is easy to do if it is a digital photo, but in this case with a real picture, I used paper L-shaped pieces to manipulate the photo (not shown here.)  I don’t usually need to do this anymore since I’ve been painting for so many years but it’s a good hack for new painters.

For the purpose of the class, I actually scanned the photo and used these images to demonstrate.

Little Stone Church – photo divided into thirds. The center of interest – the church – is at the intersection of one of the thirds. Also, notice how the road leads the eye into the painting and points towards the church.

I divided the selected picture area into thirds each way and then placed the church on one of the intersections.  This generally makes a nicely balanced composition.

NOTAN Here I changed the photo to black and white, then pushed the contrast to the extreme. This helps one get a better idea of the basic shapes. Notice how the stone church (center of interest) also has the greatest contrast with the trees framing it.

The prior week we had discussed NOTAN – the theory of making your image extreme black and white in order to seek balance in the composition.  Here, I manipulated the image by computer to show a high contrast in black and white which is essentially NOTAN.  Here is a link to a very good explanation of NOTAN by artist Mitchell Albala.

A black and white image of the same photograph. This helps the artist gain a better handle on values, lightest to darkest. The same effect can be achieved by viewing the color photograph through a piece of red gel. See a prior post on the subject at the link.

I then showed a regular black and white photo to the class so they could get an idea of the values.  Again, you can use the trick of a piece of red gel to get the same effect.  (Click here to see an earlier post about using red gel.)

The next step was to demonstrate to the class my procedure for painting the scene in color.  In oil or acrylic, one usually starts with the darks and works towards the light.  Watercolor usually proceeds the opposite way with laying in the lights (or reserving the lights) and adding more and darker color as the painting progresses.  There are several demonstrations of both of these methods under the tab Artworks at the top of the page.

The takeaway here is that composition can be enhanced for using old photos as painting materials by manipulating the size and shape of the photos, taking care of the placement of the center of interest, and selecting pleasing balance and contrasts of lights and darks.

Little Stone Church, Provence

Way the Wind Blows – a quiet painting

Way the Wind Blows, acrylic on wood panel, 8 x 10, original painting, Kit Miracle

With the nasty weather screaming through the Midwest the past couple of weeks, I’ve been surfing through old photos and files for subjects to paint.  I came across some images taken on a visit to New England to visit family.

This is a painting of the cupola on the 200 year old barn at my brother’s home in New England.  Made of red oak, the original timbers inside were marked with Roman numerals for assembly at some time in the past. I was attracted to the late afternoon sun as it caught the weather vane on top.  One wonders at the history this barn has seen in its long existence.  These old buildings always make me reflect on life as it was back then.

Although the subject of the painting is not one of the more complex that I’ve painted, I just enjoy the peace and calm of the scene.  Very plain.  Which just demonstrates that a one doesn’t need a lot going on in a scene to make compelling painting.

Painted on wood panel in a contemporary impressionist style, this small painting will fit in many spaces.

Way the Wind Blows, framed. Sometimes framing a painting makes all the difference.

When the wind is in the east,
It’s good for neither man nor beast.
When the wind is in the north,
The old folk should not venture forth.
When the wind is in the south,
It blows the bait in the fishes’ mouth.
When the wind is in the west,
It is of all the winds the best.

Link to painting on Etsy.  

Winter reading – artists’ biographies

I love reading biographies, particularly autobiographies, particularly artists’ autobiographies.  Winter is a great time to snuggle inside with a book or two or ten.  These are a few of my current recommendations.  You may be surprised that I don’t just read books about painters or even about artists who work in the same style as I do; I am more interested in their motivations, how they became who they became, and what obstacles they had to overcome.

Alexander Calder, an Autobiography with Pictures.  1965.  In this autobiography, Calder dictates over a period of several months, his life and career as an artist.  From a struggling student in engineering to the famous artist he became, this is a fascinating tour of his life.  He doesn’t always delve into the why of the works he created, but it’s amazing to see how his career grew.  And I couldn’t believe just how much he and his wife Louisa traveled, not only between the US and France, but all over the world.  They moved frequently and were undaunted to tackle any old derelict of a farmhouse, apartment or barn.  Personally, I would not be able to remember all the details about my life as he relays in this account of his.  Full of photos in both black and white, this is a page-turner.

Chuck Close, A Life  by Christopher Finch (2010) Chuck Close is a brilliant artist known for his gigantic portraits but he also faced many struggles in his career. A poor student, he probably suffered from dyslexia, but he overcame the naysayers to garner acceptance into Yale.  His early successes established him as a leader in the art world.  I loved reading about his years in a loft apartment in the Village, and the name-dropping of other famous contemporaries.  His spinal stroke in mid-career set him on a new trajectory that would have sidelined many lesser individuals.  Close didn’t discover until late in life that he actually suffered from prosopagnosia, i.e., he is unable to recognize faces, even of those whom he knows well.  This probably set him on the path to focusing on the giant portraits.

Renoir, My Father by Jean Renoir  (1959) It was interesting to read this biography of such a famous artist by his own son.  I always admire the early impressionists (although they didn’t call themselves that at the time) and to read such a personal account by an eyewitness of the day is fascinating.  I learned a lot about Renoir and in the end, didn’t really care for him as much as a person.  But this is still a great you were there account which gives the true flavor of what it was to be a painter at this critical period in France.

Van Gogh by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (2011)  Nearly everyone holds some ideas about Van Gogh but many of those ideas are shallow characterizations.  He was much deeper than cutting off his ear.  He painted to celebrate his love of God and God’s world.  The fact that he was able to create in the face of so much ridicule and drive himself to continue to paint is inspiring.  This book is not for the faint of heart as it is over 900 pages, but it is very thorough.

Edward Willis Redfield, An American Impressionist and His Paintings and the Man Behind the Palette by J.M.W. FLETCHER (1996)  I am a huge admirer of Redfield and his work.  He was such a dogged master painter and had some of the best working habits of any artist that I’ve read about.  Redfield doesn’t get as much attention as he did during his lifetime but take a look at his work if you happen to visit a museum.  What I love most is the sheer energy that he put into his paintings.  You can tell by the bold and sure strokes.  He was a big man and usually painted large canvases….on location.  No matter the season, winter or summer, he would wade through snow and ice to get what he wanted.  This book is a personal labor of love by the author who researched it about as thoroughly as anyone could.  It contains just about every detail of Redfield’s life and career as he could round up.  I feel that some of the photos that the author took could have been done a little better, but overall, this is an amazing portrait of an American Impressionist.

Willard Metcalf, Yankee Impressionist  Spanierman Gallery, LLC.  (2003)  I fell in love with Metcalf when I first viewed his painting The North Country in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It became an annual pilgrimage to visit this painting on my many trips to the city.  The delicacy of the colors of the painting cannot be done justice in any reproduction compared to the real painting.  Metcalf was prolific and had many successes early in his career.  However, he was not so lucky in his relationships and had a problem with alcohol.   The book is filled with many beautiful plates and is certainly a good depiction of a lesser-known American artist.

This is just a small list of some of the artist biographies that I have enjoyed.  Check them out and be inspired. I’ll post links to my favorite women artists another time.

Links to the books:

Calder – Autobiography with Pictures

Chuck Close – Life

Renoir, My Father

Edward Willis Redfield 

Willard Metcalf 

Year of the Pig

Year of the Pig, green background, original painting, 6 x 6, Kit Miracle

The Chinese Year of the Pig begins on Tuesday, February 5th.  I had this cute little pig teapot and decided to paint it for a close family friend who is Chinese and whose birth year is the Pig.  Actually, I painted two versions.

The painting is a very simple portrayal in acrylic on a canvas panel.  Although the teapot is small, the pig is big on character.  It was very fun to do after some of the more complex paintings that I’ve been doing lately as I don’t usually paint on this small scale except for watercolors.

The Year of the Pig (birth years 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019) portends good luck for the people born in this year.  They are hard workers, energetic and enthusiastic.

So, to my friends of Chinese background, and to everyone else, Happy New Year!

One version of this painting will be listed in my Etsy shop.

Year of the Pig, brown background, acrylic on panel, original painting, 6 x 6, Kit Miracle

 

Beeches – Painting Beyond the Photo

Beech Trees in Winter, snow scene, original painting, 16 x 20, Kit Miracle

Photographs are a wonderful tool for artists and have been used for well over a century.  I’m teaching a class on painting from photographs and wanted to create a demonstration of how a photo can best be used.

I would guess that most artists who paint in a realistic manner use photos at least some of the time.  I know that I have boxes of photos from years past when film was developed.  Now, with digital cameras and phones, we have thousands of images available to us.  Digital photos are also easy to use on a computer and crop or change as needed. I use an old laptop in my studio for this purpose.

For some reason, some artists seem to be ashamed of using photos but I consider them just another tool. I always paint still lifes from real life but might take some photos of flower bouquets to save for future reference.  And I love plein air painting so most of my landscapes are painted from life.  However, I take plenty travel photos for later use.  I also participate in life drawing studios which is great for building hand/eye coordination, but many figure paintings are from photos.  And it goes without saying that I only paint from my own photos; never from commercial or other pictures which could violate copyright laws.

Beeches, original photo. It was too wide for the format I planned to use so I cropped it to a more pleasing composition.

We haven’t had much snow here yet this winter but we had a couple of inches a few weeks ago.  I took the dog for a walk in the woods and the snow made the beeches really stand out.  Beech trees are native to this part of the country but we don’t have many on our property.  They make pretty good firewood and were chopped down long ago (before our time).  However, we’ve noticed a resurgence of beech trees since we moved here over thirty years ago.  They hold their leaves over the winter so the orangey color contrasts nicely with the snow.

Beeches cropped photo.

As you can,  my original photo was wider than the format I chose (16 x 20) so I cropped it to a more interesting composition.  I divided my canvas into thirds each way (nine squares) and drew directly on canvas with a brush loaded with a darkish color.  The canvas had been primed in red.

I usually start with the darks and then add the midtones and then the lights, starting at the top of the canvas.  As I was painting, I realized that the painting was a bit drab with the overcast sky and muted shadows.  Although the beech trees gave it some color, I want to put more oomph into it.

Therefore, I decided to make it a sunny day and added some sunlight streaking in from the right, with a brighter sky and some clouds behind the distant trees.  This defined the path through the woods much better.  I added some sunlight on a few of the trees to bring them out more.  Ah, it’s great to be an artist and to change the world to suit myself!

Beech Trees in Winter, detail 1. This is the road through the woods. I probably made the snow look deeper. And I’ve learned over time that white will often look brighter with a little yellow thrown in than just plain white. It certainly catches that sunlit feel.

Beech Trees in Winter, detail 2

Beech Trees in Winter, detail 3, notice the clouds in the blue sky behind the distant trees

The point here gets back to what I said at the beginning of the post.  A photograph is a tool.  It’s the artist’s job to use what we can, to add more or to change whatever we want.  I certainly think the sunlit painting has much more appeal than the original photo.  What do you think?

Dreaming of Rabbits

Dreaming of Rabbits. Border collie painting, 18 x 24. Acrylic on canvas. Contemporary impressionism. Kit Miracle

This is a rare quiet moment of my dog Mikey.  Anyone who has ever been owned by a border collie knows that they are power plants of energy, always ready for a walk, a ride or a new adventure.  Mikey spends much of his days chasing squirrels, birds, rabbits, anything that moves, really.  Here you see him in one of his other favorite pastimes.  He climbs up onto a patio chair and takes a nap, even if no one else is around.

Artists who paint in a realist fashion are always advised to paint what you know.  This is what I know.  Just a common, everyday scene.

Painted on canvas in a contemporary impressionist style. Check out the muted colors of the shadows and the impatiens flowers.  The lovely, soft colors are so easy to love.

Yes, for sale here:  KitMiracleArt.

 

Baby it’s cold outside. Let’s make soup!

Homemade beef vegetable soup and homemade bread slathered with butter. Perfect meal for a chilly day.

A nasty weather front barreled down on us yesterday.  Rain for several hours.  Then a drastic drop in temperatures, the winds picked up and came at us from the northeast, and all that rain turned to ice and snow.  What to do?

Let’s make soup!

It should be no great secret that in this house with two cooks, we make a lot of soup.  It was my turn today and I decided to make a hearty beef vegetable soup.  There is a big difference between soups and stews.  Stews are thicker with larger pieces and fewer vegetable varieties.  Minestrone soup is a whole different thing; usually two kinds of meats, different vegetables, and cooked in a different manner.

Today’s beef vegetable soup started with a shopping trip to the freezer,  We plant a large garden and put up a quantity of vegetables.  This trip netted diced tomatoes, green beans, ground beef and homemade beef broth.

Shopping basket from the freezer. Ground beef, homemade beef broth, diced tomatoes, green beans.

Homemade vegetable soup can have many varieties and even mine are not exactly the same each time.; it depends upon what I have on hand. I usually chop the vegetables pretty small so they are similar in size and will cook the same.  I used a six quart pot but we often use a very large soup pot, 10 -12 quarts. This is what I put in today’s special.

  • Ground beef, 1 ½ pounds
  • Chopped onion
  • Chopped carrots (five)
  • Beef broth
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Green beans
  • A couple handfuls each of quinoa, lentils, and orzo pasta. I would have used alphabet pasta but was out.  Any kind of tiny pasta or even broken spaghetti or noodles will work.
  • Corn, one can
  • Potatoes, three
  • Finely chopped kale (I was out of cabbage)
  • Spices and seasonings – salt, coarse ground pepper, garlic powder, beef cubes

Step 1:  Brown the beef in a couple of tablespoons of oil, breaking it up as you go.  Then drain any fat off.

Step 1:  Add the chopped onions and carrots.  Carrots take a long time to cook so they get added near the beginning.  Stir until softened.

Step two. (Step one is just browning the beef in a couple of tablespoons of oil. Drain any fat off after the beef is cooked.) Carrots and onions are added at the beginning as they take longer to cook.

Step 3:  Add the beef broth and beef cubes.  Add diced tomatoes, bring to simmer.

Step 4:  Add a few handfuls of lentils, quinoa, and tiny pasta.  Don’t use larger beans unless they’re canned or pre-cooked.  They won’t cook in time and no one likes crunchy beans.

Step 5:  Simmer and stir.

Step 6:  Add green beans and corn.  Cabbage or in this case, kale.  Bring back to simmer.

Step three. After the diced tomatoes and handsful of dried goods (lentils, quinoa, tiny pasta) have come to a boil and simmered, then add the chopped green beans, corn and finally the potatoes. Let it all simmer until done.

Step 7:  Add chopped potatoes and then let simmer until all the vegetables are done.

Serve with some homemade bread.  Yummm!

Beef vegetable soup, final. It is thick but not thickened like stew. Very hearty!

This freezes well but I don’t think we’ll have much left over.  And I’ll have to keep my husband from giving it all away as he is apt to do. He’s a very generous person.

We’re hunkered down and holding our own against the storm.

What’s on your menu these days?

A hot cup o’ tea

Laura’s Grandma’s Teacup. watercolor, pen and ink, 4.5 x 6.5, Kit Miracle

In celebration of National Hot Tea month – which is especially appropriate for January – I thought I’d paint a few images of my teacup collection.

This is a small watercolor / pen and ink painting of a teacup which is especially dear to me.  It was given to me by a friend who was moving and had to pare down.  I was honored to being gifted this beautiful teacup which had belonged to her grandmother.  It is a Royal Doulton in the Passion Flower pattern.  Very light and pretty.

I’ll put this up on one of my Etsy shops soon.

Wings, a beach scene

Wings – final, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24. Kit Miracle

I was looking through some old photographs for subjects to paint which I haven’t visited for awhile and came across the inspiration for this painting. Sometimes the subject doesn’t grab me for several years until I revisit the pictures but this photo was only from last summer. I love the beach scenes by Sargent, Sorolla and Zorn, particularly the ones involving children.

For this painting, I decided to work slowly and do plenty of preliminary work.  My last post included several sketches, some Notan studies, and one painting study of the central figure. The latter is actually larger than the figure in the final painting.  See the sketch for this painting.

The title comes from the focus on the little girl with her water wings and the flapping wings of the seagulls.  Sargent did a wonderful painting of Neapolitan Children at the beach and one of them is wearing a contraption of bladders for floating, similar to today’s water wings.

To learn more about this painting, check out my step-by-step page here.