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.

A walk through the yard

After weeks of oppressive heat and no rain, we finally had a few storms blow through here earlier this week.  Not only did the yard and garden receive a beneficial watering, but the temperatures have dropped to actually pleasant for late August.  The windows are flung open and I can’t help but want to play outside.

Chicken in the Woods fungi. Such a beautiful color and shape. This is supposed to be edible but I’m not too fond of wild mushrooms.

This evening the dog and I took a walk around the yard to see what was going on.  The first thing to catch my eye was a spectacular Chicken of the Woods mushroom.  It grows in about the same place every year.  It’s supposed to be edible and is highly sought after, but I’m not much for wild fungi.

Garden sunflowers about a week ago. Some of these beauties were over twelve feet tall!

Sunflowers down after the big storm blew through here earlier this week.

This sunflower seed head is already being harvested by the little critters.

And here are two photos of my giant sunflowers.  One from a week ago.  And the other from a few days ago, after the storm knocked them down. Well, all is not wasted.  Apparently the critters are already feasting on the seeds.  Enough flowers are still standing for the hummingbirds and finches, too.

Wild Joe Pye weed is a perennial which grows throughout the Midwest. The butterflies love it and it’s supposed to have been valued for its medicinal properties by the pioneers.

Our yard is surrounded by fields and woods.  There are banks of Joe Pye weed and Jewel-weed.  So pretty for summer bouquets.

We planted this peach tree over thirty years ago. It blew over many years ago but has managed to survive and even provide some of the sweetest peaches I’ve ever eaten….if I can get to them before the animals do.

And here is an old survivor, a thirty year old peach tree which still produces.

Damage to cedar bench from wood bees (Carpenter bees), and the wood peckers who went after their larvae.

As a little sidebar, I am showing you the damage to the cedar benches we refinished a couple of years ago.  The wood bees (Carpenter bee), digs a hole into the wood and lays her eggs.  This only causes a little round hole but the inside is eaten out like a honeycomb which weakens the wood.  The real damage you see are from the pileated woodpeckers who are going after the larvae.  Gggggggggggrrrrrr.

The last lily of the season. I’ve drawn and painted this one many times.

Here is a photo of the last lily of the summer.  It is a beautiful peach color with a yellow interior.  I’m not sure what variety this is but I have painted it several times over the years.

Beautiful large hosta blooming in late August. Variety Plantaginea Aphrodite.

Finally, these large white hostas (Plantaginea Aphrodite) are just coming out.  They’re the last of my hostas to bloom in the garden.  They have large white bell-shaped flowers and a heavenly perfume.  I especially like the whorls of flowers.  They’re very hardy and need little care.

So, this is just a walk though my little corner of the world.  I hope that you have someplace where you can enjoy a bit of the outdoors, to reflect and just admire.

In every walk in nature, one receives far more than he seeks.

  John Muir

Exodus

Exodus, Intimate Spaces – Beach Series, acrylic on linen, 50 x 34, Kit Miracle

When I first planned this series of paintings back in January, it was in order to drill down and challenge myself to sticking with a theme.  In this case, Intimate Spaces – Beach Series, was meant to depict how people seem to stake out their territories at the beach, and then to presume that they are invisible to the outside world.  They aren’t, of course.  The Artist’s eye is one of observation, especially of the human animal, and how we go about our lives in public spaces.

There are sixteen paintings planned in this series.  I planned each one back in January, including doing preliminary drawings, NOTAN studies, and approximate sizes.  Some are fun or humorous, some relay my quirky sense of humor in observation, but some are more serious.

I am painting each work in the order that I’ve planned them.  However, as I drew closer to working on the painting Exodus, it seemed as if my thoughts turned to more serious matters.  That is due in part to the turmoil that our country has faced in recent months regarding the influx of people seeking sanctuary here.  This led me to reflect upon the Bible and the story of the flight of the Israelites from Egypt. (Exodus is the second book of the Bible.) Even up to the past few centuries when our country was populated by people seeking a better life than where they were from.  My mother immigrated to the United States when she was only nineteen.  I can’t begin to imagine the courage it took to leave everything and everyone she had ever known for the promise of a better life.  It still gives me pause to think about.

Exodus – Intimate Spaces, Beach Series, detail 1, Kit Miracle

So while this painting actually depicts a family leaving the beach at the end of a long day of sun and surf, with the young boy looking back wistfully at the ocean, it seems to hold so much more meaning.

Exodus – Intimate Spaces, Beach Series, detail 2, Kit Miracle

The actual painting is 50 x 34, the largest of the series.  No faces are revealed except that of the young boy.  And the family seems to be marching off into the sunset.

The sky ended up with multiple layers and the beach sand is heavily textured.  However, the figures are meticulously painted in a manner reminiscent of Renaissance religious paintings.  Even the children have slight halos.  I haven’t totally examined all my reasons for choosing such a method of painting but I’m sure it will dawn on me later.

To actually view the step-by-step painting of this piece, click on this link or go to the tab marked Artwork and scroll down to Exodus.

Thanks for stopping by.  Your comments are always welcome.

Thick Kale Soup with Smoked Sausage

Thick Kale Soup served with crusty multi-grain bread. Great any time of year.

We often think of soup as being a cold weather food but actually soup is great any time of year.  You can just go “shopping” in your fridge or garden and come up with a variety of tasty and healthy options.  After my recent post of my Corn Chowder recipe, I had a request for the Kale soup recipe.  So here goes.

This soup has been a family favorite for years and we’re likely to make it any time of year.  It is often a little thicker than soup (stewp?) but it is hardy any way you make it.

Ingredients:

·         3 tablespoons olive oil ·         1 large bunch of kale, deveined, chopped
·         1 pound smoked sausage, cut up ·         2 quarts chicken broth
·         1 large onion, chopped ·         2 cans white beans (northern, cannelloni )
·         4-8 cloves of garlic,diced ·         Cracked pepper
·         4 large potatoes, cubed ·         Salt to taste

 

Heat the olive oil in a 6 – 8 quart soup pot.  Add the chopped smoked sausage.  You can use any kind of smoked sausage – regular, light, turkey, or even Polish kielbasa. Stir and brown.

Add the chopped onion and stir until clear.  Add the minced garlic.  Keep stirring so they don’t burn.

Kale soup – Step 1. Brown the cut up sausage, add the onions and garlic.

Meanwhile, wash and strip the tough veins out of the kale.  Rough chop and add to the mixture, stirring until wilted.  Add the chicken broth and cover. Bring to simmer.

Step 2. Add the chopped kale and wilt in pan.

Wash and dice the potatoes.  Sometimes I leave the peel on just for added texture. Add to the pot after it comes to a slow boil.  Cover and bring back to simmer.

Step 3. Add the chicken broth, bring to simmer. Add the cubed potatoes and cover. Cook for 20 minutes.

When the potatoes are cooked (about 15-20 minutes), use an old fashioned potato masher and rough mash them in the pot.  This just helps the soup to thicken.

Then add the two cans of beans (drained).  Frankly, I just use whatever white beans I have available.  I’ve even added butter beans and it works fine.

Add the cracked pepper to taste.  You probably won’t need any salt as the sausage is pretty salty, but suit yourself.

Serve with crusty bread for a filling lunch or dinner.

Corn chowder

Sweet corn, bi-color. Peaches and cream variety.

It’s that time of year for those of us who grow gardens.  The produce is coming in and we have to scurry like squirrels to put it all away.  Fresh green beans and new potatoes.  Juicy sliced tomatoes or sweet cherry tomatoes popping in your mouth.  With the vagaries of the weather this summer – buckets of rain in June and the beginnings of a drought now – I feel lucky to be able to pluck anything at all from the garden.  But we always say that.  Some years it’s too many zucchinis.  This year, none.  I even had to replant the green beans. We can never quite predict what the bounty will be.

With all of these fresh veggies, we’re making soups -vegetable, minestrone, and fresh tomato.  Sometimes Thick Kale soup with smoked sausage. But this morning I picked the first batch of sweet corn.  I think this variety is peaches and cream and it’s so so good.  We’ll put most in the freezer but I made a triple batch of one of our favorite soups, Corn Chowder. I thought I’d share this family favorite recipe with you.  You can use canned corn but fresh is better.

Ingredients

·         ½ pound bacon cut up fine ·         2 cups milk
·         1 small onion, cut fine ·         3 tablespoons cornstarch
·         1 – 2 potatoes, cubed ·         1 ½ teaspoons salt
·         1 cup water or chicken broth (or both) ·         ¼ teaspoon fresh grated black pepper
·         1 ½ cups corn cut fresh off the cob (or canned) ·         Couple of dashes of garlic powder

In a large soup pot (6 -8 quarts or larger if you increase the recipe), saute bacon until soft and half cooked.  Drain the fat. Add chopped onion and stir. Cook until soft.  Add cubed potatoes and stir.  Partially cook (about 5 minutes).  Add water or broth, corn, spices and bring to low boil. Stir in milk.  Bring back to simmer.  Make a slurry of the cornstarch (mix it with a little water), then slowly pour in while stirring.  This will thicken the soup.  Simmer until potatoes are done, adding additional milk or broth to thin. Serves 6 -8.

That’s pretty much it.  You will want to double or triple this recipe because it is sooooo good.  Serve with fresh hearty bread or cornbread.

Mangia!

Alley View, Plein Air Painting, Jasper, Indiana

Alley View, Plein Air Painting, final, 16 x 20, acrylic, Kit Miracle. This shows the final view of the scene. I might tweak it sometime later after I live with it for awhile, but so far, I’m satisfied.

Although I do a fair amount of plein air painting, I don’t do too many competitions.  Today I participated in a local event which is always fun.  I’m familiar with the area so it’s always a challenge to find new and interesting things to paint.  Yesterday I scouted out a few locations. I don’t like to do what everyone else is doing but seek to highlight a vista that might make people see their own space in a new way.

Alley view, initial scene, very early in the morning.

So this morning found me sitting in an alley. I was drawn to this blue garage and the alternating light and shadows as I looked up the alley.  It was very peaceful on a Saturday morning at daybreak.

Alley View, 1st step. Using a red-toned canvas, I painted in the basic shadows and main shapes.

Alley View, second level. Here you can see more added colors. This is the point in a painting that everything looks like a real mess. But I’ve learned to just keep pressing on and it will come together.

As you can see, I started with a red-toned canvas, 16 x 20.  First I blocked in the main shapes and the darks.  Then I started to lay in the markers for the greens.  The last colors to go in were the lightest colors – whites, off whites, and the sky.  I don’t always work in this order but usually.

Alley View after two hours. Notice how the shadows have changed. Usually 2 – 3 hours is the most time I have for a plein air painting.

Despite the heat and humidity, my acrylic paints kept drying out quickly.  I didn’t bring a retarder with me so I kept having to spray the paint and add layer after layer.

But I enjoyed the peace of the scene.  A few dog walkers, a couple of interested passersby, the occasional bunny rabbit, and inevitably, the Saturday morning lawn mowers all created the peaceful atmosphere.

I might review the painting later to see if I need to tighten it up, but actually, I like the feel of a warm summer morning. How about you?

Alley View, Plein Air Painting, final, 16 x 20, acrylic, Kit Miracle. This shows the final view of the scene. I might tweak it sometime later after I live with it for awhile, but so far, I’m satisfied.

Summer garden

Giant tomato, Park Whopper My husband ate the entire tomato for lunch. Yummmm.

 

You haven’t heard me bragging about the garden this summer because, well, in a word, it’s been awful.  We usually plant a big garden (25 x 40) and a small spring garden which holds spring crops, such as, lettuce, spinach, kale, peas, etc.

Tomatoes ready for canning.

Everything was looking good before we went out west last month on vacation.  Although we enjoyed wonderful weather on our trip, apparently the Midwest received buckets of rain the entire time.  We returned to a garden full of weeds, at least, that which was not drowned.  I could watch them grow on the deer cam.

Multi-stemmed sunflowers just came out this week. They’re already being eyed by the goldfinches.

Red sunflower being strangled with a morning glory. The bees are loving this.

Then with a couple of weeks of extreme heat, there were some crops that we just gave up on.  The peas blew past, the kale, lettuce and spinach bolted.  The beans, corn, and squash in the big garden looked anemic.

New bean crop. The red line gives you an indication of location.

This past month we have spent hoeing and weeding, feeding and trimming.  Some things we’ve just given up on.  I planted new beans a couple of weeks ago and they’re up now, doing nicely.  The sweet corn has recovered but we’re trying to keep the varmints out of it until we can pick it.  The raccoons have already cleaned out the apple trees and devastated my seckle pear.

Swallowtail on some volunteer flowers.

Butterfly and zinnias

A bouquet of zinnias just for me. I love cut flowers in the garden.

The sunflowers are out, the butterflies are loving the zinnias, and we’ll still probably end up with way too many tomatoes.

Anyway, that’s life in the country.

Where were you when?

We all have memorable events in our lives, milestones in history.  With all the celebration of the 50th anniversary of landing on the moon, I thought I’d ask a few people where they were when.

Bombing of Pearl Harbor  Sunday, December 7, 1941

As the population ages, there are fewer people who were around to remember this significant event of WWII.  I asked my father who was nine at the time.  He said that unlike today when we are constantly tuned into the news (bombarded), they didn’t have the radio on all the time.  He said it probably wasn’t until that evening or even the next day that he learned of the bombing.

Assassination of President Kennedy  Friday, November 22, 1963

I was in sixth grade when Mrs. Nicholson came in during our afternoon milk break to give us the bad news.  We all prayed (back when that was allowed).  So sad that such an inspiring young leader was taken away from us too soon.

My husband said he was in the alley working on a car with his buddies when someone came out and told them.

Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King  Thursday, April 4, 1968

I don’t remember this tragedy as well as some of the others but it had an impact on all of us during the turmoil of the sixties.

My husband was called up (in the National Guard) to help quell riots in Pittsburgh.  They weren’t issued any ammunition but later were given one bullet each.

Landing a man on the moon  Sunday, July 20, 1969

I got to celebrate this very exciting event while I was at a summer conference on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington, Indiana.  I remember about 200 students sitting in a darkened room on a cold linoleum floor watching the first step by Neil Armstrong on a black and white television.  And the room erupted in cheering.  It still amazes me.

Explosion of the Challenger spacecraft  Monday, January 28, 1986

I was at work at Ford Motor Company when one of my co-workers came in at lunch time to tell me about the tragic event.  We listened to the news on the radio with tears in our eyes.

My father was at a seminar in Florida at Cape Canaveral.  They actually went to the window to watch the rocket launch and saw the terrible event in person.

Terrorist attack  Tuesday, September 11, 2001

I was at home getting ready for work when I saw the first announcement on the morning news.  As I watched, I saw the second plane hit the second tower.  I was heartbroken and in shock.  Needless to say, I didn’t go to work that day.  What I really remember was how quiet the skies were the following week as all the planes were grounded.

In addition, my father was at the airport heading for a vacation in Paris.  I panicked as I didn’t know if he was actually in the air, what plane he was on, or where he was.  Fortunately, he was turned away at the airport.  It wasn’t until several hours later that I was relieved to find that he was safe at home again.

We all have memorable days in our lifetimes, some happy – marriage, birth of a child, and some sad – death of a loved one.  Although these are often personal times of remembrance, sometimes we share national days of historical importance.  Where were you when?