Saturday, March 30, 2013

Some Pastel Techniques and Recent History

As mentioned in a previous post, I was fortunate to be able to take off a few days from work and enroll in an Introduction to Pastels workshop by Lella Lee Edwards through the Rappahannock Art League in Kilmarnock, VA.

Marge Alderson was also in the class and it was wonderfully educational for me to listen to these women who are of my mother's generation, to talk about the early days of the Torpedo Factory and the artist organizations in Northern Virginia in the mid 1970s. My mother and Margaret Huddy were good buddies and mom ran in these same circles.

It was reassuring to go into another artist's studio and realize that there are highs and lows in everyone's working life. Lella Lee actually picked up and started working on one large pastel painting that had been sitting on her easel, untouched, she said, for five years. "I think I was just sick of flowers," she announced at one point.

Marge's children attended the same high school I did and while I don't remember her kids, I was pretty wrapped up in my own circle at that time.

I did complete several small pastels while I was there. Apparently, I work pretty quickly. I wasn't thrilled with a couple of them. One, in fact, has already been rubbed out. A second, of a ram, is staring at me now and will likely meet a similar fate. The drawing is very weak and I just can't quite be happy with it. But the subject has potential and I may give it another go with a different palette.

One piece made me very happy and just happened to be the first one I did on a scrap of some old charcoal paper she gave us to play with. It is a painting of a cabbage from my garden. When it was close to finished, but I was just not sure what it was missing, Lella Lee made her rounds and suggested that the outer leaves needs to be lightened. I reached for a light green and she pointed to a light blue. "Try that," she said. Sure enough, it was the perfect choice.

The theme for the April RAL members show is "The Color Green", so I plan to submit this if I can get down there at lunch time to put it in on Monday.

Mom helped me put a mat on it and I popped it into a frame that I had sitting around. It doesn't have the 3 inches of matting that Lella Lee recommends, but for a quick job (and cheap), I think it will do.
I do see, now, however, that I need to invest in the non-reflective glass as the cheap stuff in this frame makes it nearly impossible to see the painting. I think this is due, in part to the darker colors of the painting, so the glass is behaving like a mirror against it. But with the right glass, or in a room without windows, it works fine. You can see the camera and my hand reflected in the glass.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Being a student

Next week I'm taking a pastel class from a local pastel artist named Lella Lee through the Rappahannock Art League. I am due for some time off from work and I honestly cannot think of something I want to do more than play with my pastels for three days.

The class is from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I have to facilitate a group at work Tuesday evening, but other than that, I'm going to focus on my artwork for three days. I'm hoping to make that four or five days actually because I also took off on Friday and already had Saturday off.

Lella has sent an email advising us students not to purchase any additional pastels or materials but to bring what we have. When I talked to her briefly at the opening of the water themed show at the gallery earlier this month, she said that she has many pastels in her own collection and will discuss how to avoid a pastel stash that is unmanageable.

We are also to bring some simple reference photos as we are focusing on technique and not necessarily finished works.

I'm looking forward to learning something new.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

An Artist Statement

I'm working on it.

What's interesting to me is that while trying to summarize what I do (because other than pastels and drawing, I would not really see a theme in my work), I discovered that I am leaning towards a focus on captured moments. The work of the impressionists is greatly inspiring to me. I really cannot imagine how they managed to capture what they did without photographs. Well, I've recently learned that Degas did use some photographic reference, but it was very limited. I also recently learned that while he did field sketches, his finished works were all done in the studio.

I love the play of sunlight across things... across the curve of a body, across the shape of a building. Or maybe it's the shadows that grab my attention. In any case, I (at least currently) like scenes that are brightly lit and have distinctive shadows and values.

But almost everything I've done that I really like so far, has had some sort of historic/historical connection. My husband working on geneology. The old jail building in town. The swamp (in an area where wetlands abound, but nationwide, they are endangered), my mother's hands while she knits. I have reference photos for things like the hands of a weaver while warping a loom and pictures from the blacksmithing shop. I love old farm buildings and hope to spend some time this Spring and Summer doing some plein air work featuring one or more of them.

And, while I'm a little hesitant to declare victory just yet, the doctor has finally discovered what may be a basis for my fatigue, bouts of lightheadedness and intolerance for heat and much of my weight problem. Seems I have something called atrial fibrillation. Its cause is genetic but can result in stroke. So, the doctor has put my on a beta blocker with the idea of stopping the palpitations. Since Wednesday when I started them, I've lost a lot of water puffiness, I feel more focused, the lightheadedness has stopped and my fingernails are growing like weeds. With the drop in water retention, I've noticed my joints do not hurt so much. But when I run out of steam (around 7 p.m.), I really am done for the night. I'm hoping this is a side effect that continues; but I've also noticed my appetite has returned to "normal" and I am not driven to eat by the grinding fatigue. I have distinct hunger pangs now and find no desire to eat unless they are there. And when I do eat, I can tell immediately when I'm satisfied and have no problems stopping. This is all contrary to what the literature says this stuff does; but I'm not complaining.

So, it's not specifically art related but does affect my quality of life (and possibly my longevity), so for me, it is.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Geneologist

This is a portrait of my husband, Ken.

He was deeply involved in doing some geneology reseach on the computer with the morning sun shining in on his face and he never noticed me snapping his photo.

In the early stages of the painting process he was pretty unhappy with the underlying colors. There is a lot of green, blue, purple and reds.

I'm not very happy with the background, but the only thing there was a stack of CDs and a stack of paper, so I picked up some of the greens and yellows from the face area and did a general shadowy thing.

In the end, it really does look like him and for that, I'm happy.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Swamp Drawing

There are a lot of opportunities to takes pictures of water, boats, docks and even some beaches here in the Northern Neck of Virginia. There are even more opportunities to visit, photograph, draw and paint swamp land.

I took a series of photos to show my progress on this particular pastel painting starting with an underpainting. You can also see my reference photo. In real life, the colors were bolder than what you see in the photo. I'm not sure if I actually captured the colors and values accurately... and of course, the photo of the painting may not translate accurately either. But here goes:

 This is the initial underpainting and the reference photo I took recently. It was low tide and those are mud flats with logs in the "beach" area.

My husband complained that the sky had become too dark. I wasn't happy at this point with the bright orange in the trees across the water and the grasses in behind the tree.

And Finished:
This is 8X10 on sanded paper.



Friday, March 1, 2013

Waiting for the weather

I have this idea that I want to work outdoors with pastels. This type of work is referred to by artists as "en plein air".  It is probably referred to by everyone else as "a recipe for disaster".

In order to do this, you must work very fast as the sun is shifting constantly and it seems as if the most dramatic lighting is also accompanied by looming dark clouds and rising winds. Working from photographs would seem to make more sense. But I have come to realize, even while not experiencing the bugs, sun, wind, dirt and discomfort of working out of doors, that there is something completely different in the translation by the camera, computer and printer of what my brain and eyes are seeing. No matter what I've tried (so far), the photos I'm taking do not look what what I saw. The colors are different, the field of focus is different.

That's not to say I haven't gotten some really cool reference photos. A few weeks ago I took a walk down one of the local nature preserve conservation walks and came upon these scenes (among many others). And despite it being a fairly long walk down the gradually descending path, it may be worth hauling pastels and the easel down there to paint.

I just wish I had someone who would be interested in going out with me. My husband, probably would not mind a fishing trip. But his attention span is fairly short (only an hour or so). And despite any insistence on my part that I can handle my own equipment, he would insist on carrying it for me (because he was raised a gentleman), he would also complain about it (because he's also an old, but lovable curmudgeon)