Category Archives: art

It’s not work if you’re having fun

This is where the magic happens. The easel for oil painting. The flat table for watercolor and some drawing. Everything I need within a hand’s reach.

I think people who are creative are the luckiest people on earth. I know that there are no shortcuts, but you must keep your faith in something greater than you,and keep doing what you love. Do what you love, and you will find the way to get it out to the world.” — Judy Collins

My husband will often call me in from my studio for dinner. I’m busy.  I’m right in the middle of something, I respond.  Or my brother will quip that I haven’t really retired but have just found another job.  Yes, I agree.

When I go out to my studio, a commute of about 30 feet, I am lost to the world.  Music or recorded books.  Ideas abound.  Running out of something to paint or express is totally foreign to me.

This does not mean that there are not challenges or some labor involved.  I spent several days recently cleaning my studio.  Let me be frank. Artists are pack rats.  We can always think of something we can do with the flotsam and jetsam in the creative space.  This could be useful.  Maybe I’ll need this some day.  Really!  But, there comes a time to clean and to toss.

I have spent plenty of time at the burn barrel…mostly with few regrets. Occasionally I think of something that I’ve gotten rid of and wish I had saved but it was probably for the best.

And then there is the business side of art.  Following up on e-mails and phone calls.  Scheduling exhibits and competitions.  Ordering supplies.  Keeping up with the money…or lack thereof.  Successful artists really pay attention to these details.

But, this isn’t anything at all like writing a fifty page grant application (or final grant report). Or next year’s budget. Or a formal business plan for a new venture just because the powers that be never thought you could.  (They were impressed.  And someone else ran off with the business plan. Pfftt.)

So, yes, I’m retired and have a steady income stream.  That is always a relief.  But the more important thing is that I just get to do what I want with my time.  And I want  to create art.  That’s enough.  It’s not work.

“There comes a time when you ought to start doing what you want. Take a job that you love. You will jump out of bed in the morning. I think you are out of your mind if you keep taking jobs that you don’t like because you think it will look good on your resume. Isn’t that a little like saving up sex for your old age?” — Warren Buffet

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Plein air painting on a lovely spring day

I went plein air painting with my friend Bill Whorrall this week up in beautiful Martin County, Indiana.  There is just a small window between the dreariest of winter and the veredant summer.  This time of year the landscape sports so many different shades of greens, as well as the beautiful red-bud, dogwood and other spring flowers. I wanted to capture the scene before it was gone.

Plein air painting in Martin County, Indiana. The Overlook in Shoals.

This day we painted at The Overlook in Shoals, Indiana.  The scenery is gorgeous any time of year but especially now with the freshly tilled fields.  The river you see there is the White River which can sometimes be pretty angry.  Now you can see it as the peaceful water highway it once was.

The painting is acrylic on hardwood which has been gessoed and sanded.  I chose the longer format as it seemed to fit the landscape.

I only had a couple of hours to get most of the painting down before the sun had moved.  A few final tweaks were done in the studio.  Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted all of my photos for the day so this is the only one available from my Facebook page.

Yes, the painting is for sale on my Etsy shop, KitMiracleArt.

The Overlook in Shoals, Indiana. Martin County. Acrylic on wood panel,12 x 24, Kit Miracle, Spring landscape.

Spring Flower Explosion

Columbine, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

After a roller coaster ride of weather conditions the past two months – we had 80 degrees on one day and blizzard-like conditions the next – it seems as if spring is finally here…with a vengeance.  Suddenly, all the spring flowers are blooming.  A quick walk around the grounds reveals spring beauties, violets, irises, bluebells, azaleas, columbine, sweet William,  the end of the daffodils and narcissus, lilacs and more that I’m sure I’ve overlooked. Oh, of course, the fruit trees are all in bloom, too.

And I’m trying to paint them all!

Violets, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Here are three samples of yesterday’s work, all done in watercolor with pen and ink overlay.  For efficiency, I use a quarter sheet of watercolor paper (about 11 x 15 inches), divide it into four boxes of 4 ½ by 6 ½ with margins between and surrounding.  I tape the whole thing onto a board and then hand sketch each subject.  This is the same technique that I use for the fruit and vegetable paintings.  I have been using this method for about 30 years and it works for me.

Columbine, demo, working on four paintings at once.

Then I paint each sketch with watercolor.  The tape around the edge is enough to keep the heavy paper from buckling.  When the paint is completely dry, I then add an overlay of India or carbon ink.  I like my Platinum pen with the cartridges, but my first love is a quill #104 with India ink.  As you can see in the photos, each painting is slightly different although the subjects are the same.

Blue Bells, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Today’s sample of flowers for painting. Violets, blue bells, columbine.

The little paintings are matted in museum-grade off-white mat with a foam core backing.  Yes, they’re for sale on my Etsy shop, my90acres.  Mother’s Day is coming.  Get a 20% discount on everything in the shop until May 13th.

Original art makes your house a home

Or…ten tips on decorating with art

I am astounded when I walk into someone’s house and they have nothing on their walls! What?!?  It’s like watching one of those home improvement shows and the final reveal shows nothing personal at all; just “wall art” that can be picked up at any decorating store.

Your home is your sanctuary.  It’s where you go to be you.  To be with your family.  If it doesn’t reflect who you are, then who are you?

Are you bohemian or modern?  Are you zen or kitschy?  Maybe you feel most comfortable with Swedish Modern or French Provencial.  Who are you?

Art adds so much to our lives but so many people are afraid to make a choice.  They’re afraid to make a mistake.  Afraid to put a hole in the wall to hang a painting.

So here are a few tips I suggest for choosing art for your home.  Some but not all will ring a bell with you.

  1. Choose the largest piece you can afford and make it a focal point.  Make the colors of your decorating scheme around the painting if you wish.  (But it does not have to match the sofa!)
  2. Do you have a theme in mind? Maybe you collect bird or flower-related items? Landscapes of Nova Scotia?  All pink or red or orange works? Perhaps you just enjoy modern abstract.  Whatever floats your boat, do it.
  3. Group items. Maybe you don’t have that large focal painting, but you can make a focal area by grouping artwork.  They don’t have to be framed all alike, or maybe framed at all.  That’s okay.
  4. Don’t forget bookshelves and sideboards. You can tuck small paintings or artwork into unexpected corners.
  5. Change out your artwork. You don’t have to keep the same pieces up all the time. You can switch them around or change them out as your mood or the seasons dictate.
  6. Avoid too much matchy matchy. Maybe you like Norman Rockwell prints but do you need twelve of them?  Just saying.
  7. How is your family and love for them represented? Do you have a framed painting of a child’s masterpiece?  Try it.  You’ll like it.
  8. Buy what you love. So what if the art you love isn’t currently in vogue.  It’s your living space.  You can have what you want.
  9. Let your art collection grow and go with you. When you move to a new place, hanging your own personal touches will make it feel like home very quickly.
  10. Make your home a retreat. This is the place you can come to kick back and be yourself.

Art makes a house a home.

The Demise of Art Supply Stores and Bookstores

Just a small part of my secret addiction.

Two of my favorite hangouts when I go shopping are bookstores and art supply stores.  For some reason, these marvelous emporiums of possibilities grab me and hold on until I manage to escape some hours later.  Usually lighter of wallet, too.

Last week I made a foray to the “city” of Evansville and, as usual, stopped by Dick Blick’s art supply store.  I had my list in hand, had checked out online prices, and was prepared to spend some money.  I milled around a bit, filling my basket with some “necessary” studio items, and proceeded to the checkout.  The clerk couldn’t tell me if the in-store prices matched the online ones or not. What the heck.  I was there already so I checked out anyway.  It seemed like a lot but when I got home and checked the online prices, they were the same.  That’s good for my budget.

And I’m afraid that I do the same thing at bookstores.  Spend hours perusing my favorite sections, surreptitiously check prices with Amazon and Bookfinder, and see if the book I desire is the latest edition.  It’s just so easy so shop from home and have my heart’s desire delivered to my doorstep.

But the past several years, I’ve made a concerted effort to actually buy something in these stores, even if the price is a little more.  I think we need to support our local merchants for more than just a cappuccino and to read magazines for free.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be enough.

Yesterday I received an e-mail notification that Dick Blick’s in Evansville will be closing later this month.  I am so sad.  This was one of my favorite stops every time I went down there.  Shopping online just doesn’t supply the same adrenaline rush of actually fondling new pens and paints, checking out new authors, just looking around to see what is available.

Over the past several years I’ve seen Border’s flagship bookstore in Ann Arbor bite the dust.  As well as Hawley-Cooke in Louisville.  These stores had knowledgeable staff, enormous selections, and were just comforting places to hang out.

Lee’s Art Shop in New York closed its door last year.  Dang, that is where I bought my Lamy fountain pen (in dayglow green).  And the awesome Rizolli’s Bookstore in upper Midtown was a store right out of casting central – beautiful carved stone exterior, well-worn wood inside, nooks and crannies to find some amazing tome.

Sigh.  I know.  Things change. And we’re all guilty of bottom price shopping.  But where are people going to shop, to hang out, to fondle the plants at the nursery or the special pens and crayons at the art store? To find out what is new and amazing?  Are we all going to sit in our isolated armchairs and just punch buttons to order things?  It is fantastic to be able to find that something special online but it doesn’t quite replace the in-person experience of ogling something new in person. It’s so sad but I await to see what’s next.

What are your thoughts?  Have any of your favorite stores closed?

When is a painting finished?

Grand Canyon from the South Rim. Cloud shadows on the rocks. Painted in impressionistic style in acrylic, 20 x 20. Kit Miracle

Sometimes when I’m working on a painting, it just seems to paint itself.  I have a clear vision of what I want and it all comes together.

Other times, not.  I may think I’m finished, then when I go back into the studio, I see a glaring mistake.  Or something I was attempting didn’t quite turn out the way I wanted.

This is a painting of the Grand Canyon from the South Rim.  I was particularly attracted to the play of the cloud shadows across the scene.  The Canyon has such beautiful colors which change constantly throughout the day and the seasons, that it’s difficult to catch just the right time and color.  Sometimes I get some part of the painting which becomes “too precious”, meaning that I like it and tend to paint around it, but it throws off the rest of the composition.

This particular painting was created with the limited palette that I mentioned in my last post but took me far longer than some of my other recent paintings.  In fact, I painted some other paintings and then came back to this one.  Still not sure it’s finished.  What are your thoughts?

Painting with A Limited Palette

Abiquiqui, Georgia O’Keeffe’s home, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, acrylic on canvas panel, 12 x 16, Kit Miracle

How many colors do you actually need on your palette to create a painting?

In truth, you probably need far less than you think. Some time ago, I marveled at a young artist who bragged about using 37 different colors.  My first thought then, and still, is, “Don’t you know how to mix colors?”  Maybe he does now.

My current color palette consists of six colors plus white.  This isn’t a hard and fast rule because I’m a sucker for a new color just like anyone else.  But this seems to work for me.

Acrylic palette currently in use

The hues that I currently use are:

  • Titanium White
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Prism Violet
  • Quinacridone Magenta
  • Cadmium Red Medium
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium

I seemed to have weaned myself off of Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber and Sap Green.  But really, this is enough.

I like bright colors and can mix pretty much anything from this small group.  It also makes it very easy to transport for plein air painting rather than dragging along a whole sackful of paint tubes.

The paints displayed are all acrylics.  I’m leaning toward heavy body (thicker paint) and plan to replace the next selections with them.  When I initially tried acrylics, I wasn’t too pleased with the quick drying properties and the fact that I couldn’t “sculpt” the paintings.  However, I have adjusted my working procedures.  Textures are easily obtained if one can wait just a little while before applying new layers.

Acrylic palette in use. Disposable plate.

As you can see, I’m using disposable plates for my palette.  (I hate to clean palettes!)  I can spritz them with water and cover them up for the night.  It works for me.

And cleaning brushes used for acrylics is a must.  Immediately.  They do dry quickly and you don’t want crusty brushes the next day.

So, this is the color palette that I’m using these days.  This may change.  What do you use?

Abiquiqui – Framed, Georgia O’Keeffe’s home, New Mexico, 12 x 16, acrylic on canvas panel, Kit Miracle

By the way, one is not allowed to take photos inside Georgia O’Keeffe’s house and studio.  After touring the home, I had to drive back just to take these photos from the outside.  Love the adobe buildings and brilliant blue sky.

Watercolor with Pen and Ink – Part 2

Sunset in watercolor with pen and ink. This is a quarter sheet of Arches 140 pound cold press paper, I juiced up the colors a bit. Click on the painting to see more detail.

Last week I discussed some of the intricacies of creating paintings with watercolor and pen and ink.  This week I will go into more detail.

Support

I always use top quality watercolor paper. This is at least 140 pound pure rag paper.  I like Cold Press which has a little tooth.  Some people like the Hot Press which is very smooth.  Rough has a very rough texture and is a little difficult to draw on with a pen.  Of course, heavier paper is fine.  Lighter weight paper tends to buckle and is not so good for water media.

The paper is usually divided into quarter sheets (a full sheet is 20 x 30 inches) and is taped to a board.  You can use a drawing board, heavy plywood, or some other heavy support.  If I use a full sheet of paper, I “stretch” the paper and staple it to the board.  It actually bends the ½ inch finish grade plywood that I use!

This is a demonstration of the steps I take for creating a small watercolor with pen and ink. I use this method for most of the fruits and vegetables which appear on my Etsy shop, my90acres. I divide this quarter sheet of watercolor paper into four rectangles of a little more than 4 x 6 inches with some space left between the squares.

Drawing

I start out with a rough pencil sketch done with a #2 pencil.  In the case of architectural elements, you may wish to add more detail but generally keep the sketch loose.  You don’t want to get to the point of coloring in the sketch.  Also, beware of erasing too much or of bruising your paper.  This will mark you paper so that when you apply the watercolor, it will soak into the paper, leaving dark marks.

This is the painting of the Falls in plain watercolor before the pen and ink is applied. As you can see, it is a very nice painting and stands on its own merits. Reminds me somewhat of Winslow Homer.

Painting of the falls at Bald Mountain Tennessee. This watercolor has had the pen and ink applied to it. Check out the detail to see how loosely the ink part is done.

Close up view of the painting Falls at Bald Mountain. See how loosely the ink lines are drawn.

Painting

I always use Winsor Newton artist grade watercolors. I apply the paint starting from light to dark, making sure to keep the white areas free.  I do not use any masking fluids.  Try to paint in bigger strokes and not get too fussy.  You may need to let the paint dry between layers.

These are the general tools that I use for my watercolor and pen and ink paintings. The large ruler (actually a quilting ruler) is what I use to lay out the painting squares. The small ruler is sometimes used where I need a straight line. Pencils and a plastic eraser, the platinum pen and two dip pens, India ink, carbon ink cartridges for the platinum pen, tape, either regular masking tape or painter’s tape.

Sketching with ink

At this point, you may decide not to apply any pen and ink.  See the samples of the waterfall.

If I decide to apply some details with pen and ink, I do so very loosely.  Do not try to add every detail.  Let the viewer’s eye add the details.

For many years I used a dip quill pen #3 and plain old India ink.  I like the bounce and variance of the lines.  I would also buy the nibs in bulk because I like a sharp point.

Then I moved to some commercial pens.  I like the Lamy Safari.

My current favorite is the Platinum Carbon Ink pen.  It has great flow and the carbon ink is light-fast.  It is also permanent and doesn’t seem to smear if you have to apply some more water media on top.

The real key is to draw with your whole arm, not just your fingers.  Keep it very loose.

Arthur L. Guptill’s book Rendering in Pen and Ink. This is an old book but probably has the most extensive demonstrations for pen and ink.

One of the most beneficial books about Pen and Ink instruction is Arthur Guptill’s Rendering in Pen and Ink.  Although a little dated, the information is very useful for technique.

So, this is my method of using watercolor with pen and ink.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need more clarifications.

Also, check out some of my previous postings on this subject.  Links listed below. Also, search for pen and ink for more demonstrations.

How to Combine Watercolor and Pen and Ink

Painting Wildflowers

Sage Cottage

Peonies en Plein Air

Watercolor with Pen and Ink – part 1

Rockport, MA. Watercolor, pen and ink, 10.5 x 14, Kit Miracle

There are many styles of watercolor with pen and ink overlay.  Some artists do the pen and ink drawing first and then add the watercolor washes on top.  If you use this method, you must be sure that the ink is totally waterproof and won’t smear once the watercolor hits it.

In my case, I draw a pencil sketch first before adding the watercolor washes.  After it is totally dry, I then go back and add the pen and ink details.  I have used this method for twenty-five years but I suggest that you experiment with several methods to find what works best for you.

All of the small paintings shown on my Etsy shop My90Acres are created this way.  I like the looseness that this method allows me.  If I were to draw the object first in pen, I would have a tendency to get too bogged down in the details. Then adding the the watercolor would feel more as if I were “coloring in” the painting.  This seems to make the painting more static without much life, good for medical illustration but not the look I’m after.

I always begin a new wc/pi painting by marking off the outside edge of the painting (adding an extra ¼ to ½ inch) and then taping it down to a drawing board.  I use at least 140 pound watercolor paper.  Sometimes I’ll use painter’s tape but actually, regular old masking tape will work just fine if you’re not going to keep it on the board for months.  A few weeks will be fine but you’ll probably be done with the painting before then.  Taping the painting to the board will help reduce any buckling when the watercolor is applied.

The next step I take is to make a loose sketch on the paper.  Be sure not to press too hard with your pencil or to do too many erasures as it will bruise the paper.  Bruised paper will create dark splotches when the watercolor hits it; not an attractive sight unless that is the look you’re going for.

After the sketch, I apply layers of watercolor, usually working from light to dark. A hairdryer will speed up drying time between layers of paint.  After the paint is totally dry, then I begin to add the ink drawing.  I always start with the more complex parts of the painting, such as, the buildings.  I might even carefully use a ruler for the straight lines, but the painting will look fresher if you just freehand it.  The ink is just used to loosely add details; you don’t need to put in every brick and board, every blade of grass or leaf.  Simplify the shapes and let the viewer’s eye fill in the rest.

Finally, after your painting and the ink is totally dry, you can use a plastic eraser to remove some of your pencil lines if they are still showing.  Really!  I don’t know how this works, but it does.

Take a look at these three paintings of Rockport, Massachusettes. Click on the paintings to examine some of the details.

Part 2 of this post will explore some of the materials and other techniques.

Main Street, Rockport,Massachusetts. Watercolor with pen and ink. 6.5 x 9.5 Kit Miracle

Beach at Rockport. 6.5 x 9.5 Watercolor, pen and ink. Kit Miracle

 

Jack Frost Visits

Jack Frost on my windowpane in the studio.

After a balmy winter holiday, the temperatures in the Midwest plummeted.  We recorded minus 4 degrees (F) this week.  Needless to say, I’m a wuss and am not spending much time outdoors.  However, even working in my studio has challenges.

As I have mentioned before, my studio is an old summer kitchen about 30 feet from the back door.  It was designed when cooking was done on wood-fired cook stoves (which it actually had when we moved here.)  This was to keep the heat out of the house in the summer.  You’ll find one of these buildings on many old farms in southern Indiana and throughout the Midwest and South.  I am lucky that ours is about 15 x 25’, which is pretty large for a summer kitchen.  In this case, the family and field hands actually ate in the building.  It is a perfect size for a studio.

Unfortunately, the whole purpose of the design was to keep the heat out of the house so they didn’t really care about insulating the building.  Thus, it’s very drafty.  Although I have a gas heater, unless I want to go broke, I keep it turned down.  This week I was wearing a hat, many layers of clothing, two pairs of socks (the cold comes up through the floor), and I was still chilly.

I snapped this photo of the beautiful patterns of the frost on the windowpanes.  It looks like giant feathers.  With all of our insulated windows and super-heated houses, window frost has become more and more uncommon.

The beauty of nature is all around us, even in the most unlikely places.

Since I was confined to studio painting, here are a couple of my recent works.  Plus, I tweaked the still life with red cabbage and artichokes that I posted on here a few weeks ago.  Artists are never quite satisfied with their finished work. Renoir was known to bring his paints to gallery exhibits even after his paintings were hung, just so he could make changes.  I’m not quite that bad but I might fiddle around with a painting which doesn’t quite suit me.

Here’s hoping that the weather is better where you are and that warmer days will be here soon.

Artist Still Life, oil on canvas board, 10 x 10, Kit Miracle

Down by the Creek, oil on canvas, 20 x 16, Kit Miracle

Red Cabbage and Artichoke, 18 x 24, oil on canvas, Kit Miracle. Still Life revised from previous version.