Accidental Still Life

Cafe Still Life with BaristaI have been painting more still lifes in the past couple years.  They provide subject matter for painting inside when the weather is not good for painting outside and I don’t have a photo that particularly inspires me.  I always set up my own still life from items that are close at hand.  I decide which items to use and I do the arranging.

But this summer while traveling in Europe I came across a wonderful still life that was already arranged by someone who probably had no idea that’s what they were doing.  I had a sketchbook with me and at noon we would often sit at a sidewalk café for lunch.  I would sketch whatever I could see from where I was sitting.  But this particular day in Poland it was raining at noon and we entered a small café and sat inside.

Looking around, I suddenly noticed on the counter the most amazing still life of fruit in glass bowls, a huge watermelon, and various containers.  I began sketching at once and also took photos, not only of the objects on the counter but also of the young woman who was working behind the counter.  Something about her expression reminded me of a impressionist painting of a bar maid behind a counter.  So I photographed her too.

Back at home I painted the still life pretty much as I had seen it and just moved the young woman a bit closer to include her too.  All those details were very challenging to paint and I spent much more time on it that I usually do on a painting.  As I was painting, I noticed something else too.  The painting reminded me of those samplers young girls use to embroider many years ago to show the kinds of stiches they could do.  This painting included so many examples of what artist learn, such as painting different shapes including cylinders and three dimensional rectangles.  There are repeats of colors and shapes. It features examples of how to paint fruit, glass, metal and china.  There is also a portrait.

Whoever arranged that counter had the soul of an artist and I am so grateful for the inspiration.

 

 

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Those Lightbulb Moments

If you are an artist, you probably know what I mean.  Sometimes you see something that you just know you have to paint.  It may be something entirely different from what you usually do.  But you know you have to paint it, and if you do, it will turn out to be worth doing.

Something like that happened to me this spring.  I usually paint landscapes or an occasional still life.  But when I returned home about noon one day, I looked across the street and saw the men who had been doing some work on my neighbor’s foundation taking their lunch break in the open garage.  I don’t know what it was about them, maybe the color of their hoodies and the cans they were sitting on or the way they were grouped together, but I knew I had to paint them.

I would need photographs, of course, but how was I to do that?  I had heard them speaking Spanish to each other.  A camera they could see might alarm them.  I tried to put the idea out of my mind, But I knew I had to paint them.  Later I figured out how to photograph them discretely.  My garage was directly across from my neighbor’s.  What if I took a photo through the back window of my car when I was parked in my open garage?  I tried sitting in the back seat of my car and the view looked good.  Now if only they would have their lunch break in the same way the next day.

And they did.  The next day at noon there they were and I took my photos.  The above painting was the result.  I call it “Taking a Break.  I was reminded of the paintings of the French Impressionist, Degas.  Usually he painted ballet dancers or horse racing scenes.  But he also painted women ironing.  He saw something in these anonymous workers too.  Maybe he had his own lightbulb moment.

 

 

Sharing Art

A common problem many artists have who have been creating for a long time is what to do with the products of their labors.  We may exhibit at art shows, a gallery or in places such as restaurants, theatres, offices, etc.  For most of us this results in occasional sales while the rest of our output simply accumulates.  Eventually storage becomes a problem.

Many people simply don’t think about acquiring original art.  It may seem too expensive.  They decorate their walls with posters, reproductions and décor purchased at a local hobby store.  A question we as artists have to think about is, should original art belong only to the well-to-do or highly educated?  Some artists say yes, that giving away original art or selling it at greatly reduced prices reduces the chance for artists to make a living at what they do (which is really not a possibility for most of us.)

I don’t agree.  I would like my art to find a home with someone who appreciates it, regardless of their financial status.  I keep records and I think I have given away as much as I’ve sold.  Some have gone to charity auctions.  Many others have gone to individuals, some as appreciation, and others to recognize special occasions.  Recently two of my paintings found homes, one to a newly married couple, and the one above as a graduation and engagement present.

When I am giving to individuals, I like to let them choose.  I have numerous paintings on the walls in my basement and it is fun for me to watch them try to decide which one they will choose and why they like it, sometimes for reasons that would never occur to me, such as the high school graduate a year ago who chose a painting of a Norwegian Fjord because it reminded him of Narnia.  The one above was chosen by an aspiring filmmaker because, he said, he liked the light and shadows, which was what he tried to capture on film.

So I’ll keep on painting and giving but selling one occasionally would be nice too.

Painting from a Photo

Photo of Prairie Tree

Prairie Tree, Acrylic 18″ x 14″

It’s always good to be offered a commission, but it usually involves painting from a photo someone else has taken.  Recently I was asked to do a panting from the above photo, which the woman was very enthusiastic about.  A friend had let her family stay at their country place while work was being done on their house.  What she wanted me to do was to paint from the photo they had taken while there so she could give the painting to their friend.

I said I would do it but I didn’t tell her what I thought of the photo.  The tree in the photo was directly in the center, and artists are taught never to put the center of interest in the middle of the painting.  Secondly, the size of the foreground was too near the same size as the sky, another no no.  Also, the foreground in the photo was so dark that it was difficult to see the vegetation.

The painting above shows how I handled these problems.  I moved the tree a bit to one size and shortened the foreground and made it lighter.  I thought this preserved the  essence of the scene while making it more pleasing to look at.  She was a little concerned that the painting did not look exactly like the photo, but did buy it.

Keep Your Eyes Open

Souvenirs, Acrylic, 11″ x 14″p of artists

I’m part of a small group of artists who meet weekly when enough of us are available.  This encourages us to come up with some sort of project to work on when we get together.  In good weather I like to paint outdoor, although that can be a challenge when I am at the same place I have been many times before.  Sometimes in bad weather I paint from photos I have taken.  But on this particular Wednesday morning about a month ago I didn’t even have a photo in mind and had no partially completed canvasses to work on.  But I packed up my paints and went anyway, hoping I would see something inspiring.

We met at a home where I had not been before.  The weather was not good so we were inside.  Fortunately, there was a lot to see.  This woman loved to travel and she did not come home empty handed.  She invited me to wander around and look at her treasures.  I was first attracted to the pot because of its subtle colors, which she told me was very old and came from Guatemala.  I have seen examples of the black pottery from a New Mexico pueblo before but I liked this one with its different shape.  The plate I chose she said came from Finland.  The tomato from her kitchen counter added a bit of brighter color.

I made good progress on the painting shown above that morning, took some photos and finished it at home.  The owner of these souvenirs bought the painting because, she said, “Each piece has a story.”

I seem to be getting luckier artistically.  I recently had paintings accepted into three different art shows that I tried to get in last year and didn’t.

 

 

Still Arting

sunflower-bouquet-2

Sunflower Bouquet, acrylic, 16″ x 12″

This past week I participated in the Art is Ageless show at the Presbyterian Manor in Lawrence.  This art show is an annual event and anyone who is a senior citizen can enter, not just residents of the Manor.  There are a number of categories including needlework, such as quilts or embroidery.  The categories for paintings are either amateur or professional.  But all professional means is that you occasionally sell your work.  This year I won a second place ribbon for the above painting.  The person writing their newsletter interviewed me before this show because I had won a best of show ribbon last year.

As a senior citizen this was a good show for me to enter because it was near where I lived and only required me to deliver two paintings.  Best of all, although I could have entered by computer, I didn’t have to.  I could just hand in a form filled out by hand when I delivered my paintings.  They didn’t even charge an entry fee.  Of course there was no prize money either, which may be whey there are not very many entries, although I’m sure Lawrence must have many senior artists.

Often artists keep making art long after the age of 65.  In fact some take it up in retirement.  The Artist magazine also recognizes this with an annual contest for senior artists.  A problem for senior artists is not so much the making of art but showing it.  The time when I could lug many paintings to an outdoor show that might last a couple days, find help to put up a tent, and sit out there in all kinds of weather is past.  I now only do one outdoor show, Art in the Park in Lawrence, which does not involve long travel and only last a half a day.  Also, this show still allows people to enter by submitting photographs.

A major difficulty for senior citizen artists is entering art shows.  They almost all require computers not only for the form and to pay the fee but also to submit images of one’s art work.  Some seniors don’t even have computers.  Others, like me, have them but only use them for a few simple things.  I haven’t found the help categories on my computer very helpful.  Sometimes my husband can figure it out.  My son who knows the most about computers lives too far away.

If you are planning an art show in your community, also make it friendly to older artists.   Let people enter either by computer or by snail mail with photographs and a check.  If the show, either indoors or out, is the kind where each individual brings a number of paintings, maybe have a few younger people available to help those who are less able.  As we share what we are creating we may also encourage others to keep on keeping on.

A Young Artist

I don’t know who she is but I know she is a teenager who shares my love of art. At Christmastime a church group I belong to gets the name of a family who needs gifts at Christmas. Then each member of our group takes one of the names and buys something from their wish list. We’ve done this for a number of years. Sometimes the requests have been for sizes of clothing I can’t easily find or a child will ask for some toy I’ve never heard of and don’t know where to buy it. But this year was different.

A teenaged girl asked for art supplies and canvases and I knew right away that was the person I wanted to shop for. For a low income person wanting to paint, the expense can be daunting. The two high schools in our town have very good art programs so I assumed the girl I was buying for had already been introduced to some basic concepts and wanted to do more. (If she is already enrolled in art classes she was ahead of where I was at that age. My high school offered no art at all.)

I never go shopping on Black Friday but this year I made an exception. Both Hobby Lobby and Michaels had bargains too good to pass up. When my package is delivered she will have a nice surprise. I wish I could know what she will do with it. I discovered art in college and although it has not been a way to earn a living it has enhanced my life considerably over many years. I hope it will do the same for her.

Large or Small

peppers-3-1

Peppers, Acrylic, 6″ x 6″

As the holiday season approaches, small seems to be in when it comes to paintings.  There’s a very practical reason for this, of course.  They cost less and when it comes to holiday art shows they are competing in price with items like scarves, earrings and other jewelry.  I am in three holiday art shows this year.  The Southwind Gallery Miniature show in Topeka asked artists to paint six inch by six inch paintings which the gallery then framed all in the same way.  That show just opened and will run during November and December.  The Topeka Art Guild Gallery asked artists in their December-January show to contribute art selling for $100 or less, which means that the art will be of small size.  The Holiday Art Fair at the Lawrence Art Center in Lawrence on Saturday November 19 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. did not specify size but when competing with jewelry and other small items I plan on bringing smaller, lower priced paintings.

What can an artist do in a small space?  The painting above will be in the Southwind Gallery Miniature show.  When I am faced with a small canvas I tend to focus on small items.  My other painting in that show is of one water lily.  Not as impressive as a whole pond of them but I think there is something to be gained by limiting one’s focus to just one or a few simple objects.  I loved all the different colors in that one pepper.  Also, if the painting doesn’t work, not so much time and effort have been wasted.

I remember some years ago when I had some paintings in a local gallery, the gallery owner urged me to paint very large paintings.  I think they were in style at the time.  I was told that art majors at our local university were also encouraged to use large canvases.  Well, I tried one that was, I think 48″ x 30.”  It took a long time to paint and then the gallery owner didn’t like it.  I never tried another one that large.  I think smaller paintings have come back and that suits me just fine.

Ready, Set, Go

Tis the season when multiple art shows will be popping up all over the place.  As you look at the work of the artists, you may picture a painter at an easel, brush or palette knife in hand, and think, “Oh that looks like such fun.  I wish I could do that.”  I’ve heard similar comments.  What they don’t realize is that there is a lot more involved in being part of an art show than painting a group of canvases.  They have to be framed, of course, and a record of them kept that shows when they were painted and where they have been exhibited, so as not to keep showing the same paintings in the same annual shows.

My painting are in five shows this month.  Two shows are in Lawrence.  Delivering two paintings to the Phoenix Underground, the lower floor of the Phoenix Gallery downtown, was no problem.  The next local show will be Lawrence Art Walk, Saturday Oct. 22 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday Oct. 23 from noon to 6 p.m.  There will be a map showing where the various participants are located.  (Check for details online.)  My paintings are already hung on the walls of my basement family room but I will still have to make sure each painting has a card listing its title, media, and price, which means printing cards for the newer paintings and placing cards with each painting.

I made a special trip to Topeka to turn in three paintings to Warehouse 414.  That business is having a show honoring the Topeka Art Guild, of which I am a member, on their 100th anniversary.  Two of my paintings will be in the Kansas Artists show at the Topeka Art Guild Gallery  and two or three from the last show there will go on to the nearby Eagle Car Wash.

After preparing for all those shows I wasn’t sure I wanted to enter another.  But an email message said more artists were needed for the Lawrence Art Guild Holiday Art Fair at Lawrence Art Center November 19 and that that day was the last day for entries.  Oh well, why not?  I printed a copy of the online entry form and could see that this was going to be more work than I expected.  Not only were three photos of my work required but also a photo of my proposed exhibit.  That meant getting my screens out of the garage, setting them up, going to the basement and bringing up enough small paintings to fill them, finding the hooks and hanging them on the screens so I could photograph them and then putting everything away.

Next I had to transfer the photo of my exhibit to my computer and print it on my color printer, plus finding photos of three of the paintings on the computer and printing them.  Then I discovered that I didn’t have a padded envelope to put all this in for mailing so I had to go out and buy one.  Next I addressed  the envelope and added the photos, entry form and a check.  Artists not only have to pay to enter shows.  If they sell anything, they have to pay a percentage of that as well, which is why art sold at shows and galleries my seem high priced.  So finally, I have entered and am glad for this season at least, to have places where others can see what I’ve been doing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep Your Eyes Open

St. Edward's Church, Rear View, edited

St. Edward’s Church, Rear View, acrylic, 20″ x 16″

In July husband and I joined a Road Scholar tour of the gardens of England.  It was a tour I had long wanted to take because I love both painting and growing flowers.  And England has just the right climate, cool and moist, for growing wonderful blooms.  We did see some spectacular gardens, many on large estates that required a crew of gardeners to keep everything looking just so.  These gardens contained not only flowers but water features,  hedges trimmed in various shapes and in some vast expanses of woodland.  I look a lot of photos.

But when looking over my photos at home, I found that the two I most wanted to paint had no flowers in them at all.  The photo above shows the first painting I have finished inspired by our trip to England.  Here’s how it came about.  Our group was in the Cotswolds and our tour bus had dropped us off in the town of Stow on Wold  for some free time.  (I have no idea what a wold is).  It was a fairly small town built as some U.S. small towns are with the shops surrounding a green area.  Husband and I walked along these main streets and looked in at a craft fair in the city hall.  For a time we rested on a bench in the green area.  But soon we were ready to explore again.

This time we took one of the side streets leading away from the center of town and soon came upon a very ancient looking stone church surrounded by gravestones in the church yard.  We did go inside the quite elaborately decorated church, which we learned was St. Edward’s.  We admired the stained glass, the altar and the beautiful needlepoint kneeling cushions.  But what I immediately knew I wanted to paint was outside, behind the church with its moss covered stone walls, and heavy, dark, wooden door surrounded by two giant yew trees.  The scene looks like it belongs in some Medieval tale.

So keep your eyes open and a camera handy.  You never know when inspiration may strike.