Category Archives: art

Evolution of a painting

Barry, portrait in acrylic on linen, 28 x 34. Kit Miracle

Except for plein air painting and sketching, it’s pretty rare that I create a painting by just diving in and slapping some paint on canvas.  Yes, I know, movies and biopics of artists give that impression.  But really, it’s hard work and, for me at least, requires a lot of preliminary work.

When I’m doing a portrait, which is to me the most difficult to achieve, I always begin with some preliminary sketches.  Generally I begin with some charcoal sketches.  Sometimes one is enough but more often it’s several.

Barry, preliminary charcoal sketch. Kit Miracle

After that, I may try some color sketches on canvas paper or panels.

In this case, I had recently been gifted with some art supplies by a friend who was moving so I proceeded to a conte crayon study on pastel paper.

Barry, conte crayon. on pastel paper.

The next step was to do a larger oil stick pastel, also on pastel paper.

Barry, oil stick pastel on pastel paper. Kit Miracle

The final painting was created on a large stretched linen canvas 28 x 34.  I had already primed it some time ago with a dark neutral background and some splashes of color in the center.

I sketched in the main figure with charcoal.  Then, sanded the primary area and gessoed it again.  Then sketched over that again with charcoal.  A little spray fixative set the charcoal so the painting process would not pick it up.  I decided to leave the background unfinished with just the initial undercoats of paint.

The figure is painted in acrylic very loosely but with attention to detail in the face and hand.  The primary difference with painting a human portrait as opposed to painting a building or landscape is that if you’re off a brick or leaf in the landscape, no one will know. But if you’re off a quarter of an inch on a nose, you have totally missed the mark in capturing a portrait.   At least in my opinion.

What do you think?

Juicing up your painting colors

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

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

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

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

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

Autumn sunset photo before enhancement.

Autumn sunset with color saturation.

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

East field in fall, before enhancement.

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

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

Florida Keys before color correction.

Florida Keys after photo saturation.

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

Wickliffe Road without color enhancement.

Wickliffe Road, Watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

 

 

 

Why get an art critique?

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

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

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

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

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

So what does a good critique do?

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

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

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.

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.

Western Landscape Paintings

Arches Vista II, watercolor, pen and ink, 13.5 x 9.5 inches, Kit Miracle

Since we returned from our big adventure out west a few weeks ago, I have been taking a break from the beach series of paintings that I’ve been working on.  It has been fun painting several landscape impressions in watercolor with pen and ink overlay.  I just can’t get away from this subject.

These paintings are very loose with bright colors.  I have probably done more paintings in this medium than any other over my artistic lifetime.  And I still find them fun as well as challenging.  Of course, they’re all for sale in my Etsy shop.

Arches Vista I, watercolor, pen and ink, 13.5 x 9.5 inches, Kit Miracle

Zion Vista II, watercolor, pen and ink, 13.5 x 9.5 inches, Kit Miracle

Zion Vista I, watercolor, pen and ink, 13.5 x 9.5 inches, Kit Miracle

Grand Canyon Vista III, watercolor, pen and ink, 13.5 x 9.5, Kit Miracle

Zion Vista III with Virgin River, watercolor, pen and ink, 13.5 x 9.5 inches, Kit Miracle

10 states, 4,435 miles, four national parks, 16 days

Duck on a Rock, Grand Canyon, plein air sketch, 12 x 16 Kit Miracle

Part I

Ten states (plus three of them twice).  Indiana, Illinois, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, and back through Illinois and Indiana.  Lots of different terrain and climates.

4,435 miles.  Not really too bad.

4 National Parks – Carlsbad Caverns, Grand Canyon, Zion, and Arches.  Plus, you can’t be in the area without stopping at Roswell to see the alien museum.  It’s not exactly on the way to anywhere.  Even their streetlights are painted like aliens.

16 days – we left a day early and returned a day early.

Whew!

Earlier this month we drove down to Texas to pick up our granddaughter for the summer.  Then we went of a big adventure.

I like to keep a journal of my travels with notes and musings, small sketches, mileage, and even sometimes the label from that chocolate shop in Paris which I never can remember.  These travel journals are always fun to revisit later, long after my memories have faded and gotten fuzzy.  They instantly transport me back to the place and time, allowing me to experience the trip all over again.  They’re, of course, nothing so monumental as the Lewis and Clark journals, but they work for me.

Sun breaking through the clouds over Arkansas, sketch, Kit Miracle

After months of planning and preparation, making reservations at the big stops (didn’t realize it was the Grand Canyon’s 100th anniversary until afterwards), we lit out on June 2nd, a day earlier than planned.  We were concerned about the flooding in the Midwest and decided to skirt along the Mississippi to Arkansas and then take the southwestern route to Texas.

Flooded Arkansas River in Little Rock, sketch Kit Miracle

Fortunately, the only flooding we saw on the way out was the Arkansas River in Little Rock but that didn’t affect the drive.

Driving west on 87, sketch, Kit Miracle

After we picked up the granddaughter, we headed west through the Texas hill country (beautiful), to the flatter and dryer areas of west Texas.  Just a delight to be on the road again, away from the daily maintenance of the homestead.

Longhorns resting in shade (from memory), sketch, Kit Miracle

Abandoned House, Texas sketch, Kit Miracle

We negotiated miles of roadwork through the oil fields of west Texas and New Mexico to land at our first national park, Carlsbad Caverns.  My husband and granddaughter had never been in a cave, and even though I have, this was a truly fascinating experience.  The vistas outside were gorgeous, and inside the cave was even more so.  We elected to take the elevator down (700+ feet) rather than walk.  The National Park Service has done such a wonderful job of making this site accessible and interesting.  We took a self-guided tour of the great room which still took an hour and a half. Although many other areas remained to be viewed, that was enough for us.  We didn’t stay for the bat exodus at sundown  either.  Just too tired and road-weary and ready for a meal and bed.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, sketch, Kit Miracle

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, sketch, Kit Miracle

Carlsbad is probably typical of any town in the oil field area with lots of traffic, overpriced rooms, and not much scenery.  As we were waiting at a restaurant for dinner, we spoke with a lady who was a local who said it was always this way during boom times.  People renting a room in their homes for $1200 or more.  And getting it.

Sample sketchbook – journal with alien streetlight, sketch, Kit Miracle

Our stop the next morning heading north was Roswell, NM.  You have to stop if you’re in the area as it’s not exactly on the way to anywhere.  We visited the alien museum built in a former movie house.  It was pretty much as I expected.  A mix of history, facts and lots of speculation.  (I hesitate to use the term cheesy but you get the idea.)  Of course, had to buy the T-shirts and trinkets as I don’t expect to get down this way again.  The whole town has gone alien nuts; even the streetlamps are painted as aliens.  The annual UFO festival this year is July 5-7, 2019.  I expect it will be a sight.

Butte, New Mexico, sketch, Kit Miracle

We continued on down the road towards Gallup where we spent the night.  My granddaughter’s major requirement for a hotel was a pool (she’s nine).  After a quick stop in the morning at Walmart, we stocked up on food for our stay at the Grand Canyon.

The further west we drove, the more interesting the landscape became with the big mountain in Flagstaff calling us (Humphrey’s Peak).  It still had snow on the top.  After a roadside picnic lunch (sure got tired of fast food in a hurry), we headed north to the east entrance of the GC National Park.  I’d been there before but the others had not so I couldn’t wait to introduce them to “my” canyon.

We drove through sparsely populated reservation territories.  Some beautiful scenery but appeared to be struggling.

Finally, we arrived at the East entrance of the Grand Canyon. I want to insert here that every park employee that I have met has been terrific.  They’ve always been so polite and helpful.  This is true for every park we have visited.  And I also want to emphasize that our National Parks are one of the greatest assets the American people have.  People from all over the world travel to see our lands and it makes me just want to bust with pride.

Duck on Rock, Grand Canyon, sketch, Kit Miracle

Duck on Rock, Grand Canyon, sketch, Kit Miracle

My granddaughter and I got up early and went out plein air painting.  Well, I painted and she checked out the rocks and vegetation.  The first day was very windy, but after that, it eased up.  My husband was really affected by altitude sickness but we all had a great time.

Next week I’ll post Part II of the remainder of the trip, parks and scenery

Hopi House, Grand Canyon Village, sketch, Kit Miracle

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.