I usually like to look for somewhere to paint that I haven’t been before. But some artists in the past have taken the opposite view and painted on the same site over and over. Monet liked to do it under different kinds of light. Think of his haystacks paintings.
Recently I returned to the Y Camp near Winter Park, Colorado, where our family has a reunion every three years. I think this year was the seventh time we have been there. I have painted each time so I am familiar with its many scenic places. This year I returned to a view high above the lake where there are mountains in the background and wild flowers in the foreground. I had painted there six years ago, but was dissatisfied with the result. I decided to try it again. And dodging intermittent rain showers I managed, by returning to the same spot over several days to complete a painting.
I like this year’s painting better than the previous one, although in some ways they are very similar. But the major difference, which I think improves the painting, is that that I moved slightly so that the lake was no longer in the exact center of the painting. The light was also different, a cloudy sky instead of a blue one. A less noticeable feature is that the dead trees in the background of the first painting have been replaced by new growth.
A relative actually liked the first painting and I gave it to her some time ago. But I prefer the new one and plan to fame it and hang it on my living room wall.
Creative work can often be a solitary experience. We imagine painters, writers, or musicians creating in their studios by themselves. And sometimes it is that way. But it doesn’t always have to be. These days there are organized groups for many different kinds of creative activity. In Lawrence there are guilds for painters, fiber artists, potters and photographers. The Lawrence Art Guild is open to anyone who considers themselves an artist, regardless of media. These groups provide a chance to meet others who share your passion. They may offer ideas on where to show your creations or sponsor an annual show themselves. The Lawrence Art Guild’s Art in the Park the first Sunday in May is an outdoor show that is highly anticipated and attended. I am a member of both the Lawrence Art Guild and the Topeka Art Guild, which sponsors a cooperative gallery.
But the art groups that has been most meaningful to me have been those made up of painters, especially some plein air painters. The first such group that I joined I came across in an art class, when one of the members told me about a group of painters she painted with and invited me to join. The women were of retirement age and although I was a few years younger I also was not employed. One of the most valuable things about the group was that the members suggested places where we could plein air paint. Several members had beautiful gardens. One lived in the country. Eventually as the members aged the group slowly disbanded.
But two women who had occasionally attended the group in its later years decided to form their own group. They lived in the country and each had a spacious indoor studio. I was invited to join them. Eventually others also joined who were not only interested in plein air painting but various crafts, especially in the fiber arts. I’m still a member of that group and look forward to Wednesday mornings when we bring our lunches and spend the time together creating. The above painting was done in plein air last month on the property of one of these aritsts. Although we are aging and some of us have had health challenges, encouraged by each other, when we are creating we are ageless.
Cloud Formations, Acrylic, 16″ x 12″
Painting can be the fun part of being an artist when things are going well. But for any painter who enters exhibits and occasionally sells paintings, record keeping is important, even if it takes time when you would rather be doing something else. It begins when you have produced a painting that you really like. The first record should be a visual one, you take a photo of your painting. I am now using my phone to do this. I still like actual prints, so I make a print and put it in an album where I can easily slip paintings in and out of plastic sleeves. I write on the back the title and the year and keep all the paintings from one year together. The year the panting is produced is important because some shows require paintings done only within a fairly recent period of time.
I also include the photo on my blog in the correct category page.
On my computer I include more detailed information, not only the year and month but also where it was painted and whether it was done on site or from a photo. Whenever the painting is put in a show, I record the date and where it was shown. Some shows I am in annually, and this gives me a record of what paintings I have already shown at that location.
If the paintings sells, I move it to a sold file on the computer and also to a Sold photo album. I record who I sold it to, the address, if possible, and how much it sold for. This will come in handy if I want to send post cards to past customers about future shows. If I give a painting away, I move it to a Given file on the computer and also to a Given photo album.
The painting above was done from an old photo, where I neglected to write on the back where it was taken. I’m guessing, somewhere out West. But I have recorded information about the painting in the manner mentioned above.
Remember back in the old days when photos were actually printed on photo paper and not just accumulated on a phone or computer. I have boxes of them in the envelopes that came from the developer. It is not often that I go back through them, but recently I was looking for some photos of grandchildren when they were young and before I owned a digital camera or a cell phone.
Among those photos I found many that I had taken on various vacation trips. One place our family has frequently visited is Colorado, especially Rocky Mountain National Park. I was drawn to a photo of a dead tree, because of the gracefulness of its lines. It reminded me of a dancer. I knew I had to paint it and the result is shown above. I call it “Western Ballet.”
The tree probably isn’t there any more, since the photo was taken in 1995. (I did write on the back of some of my photos, where they were taken and when.) But now it lives on in a painting. I sometimes wonder how lasting digital photos will be. Phones can be damaged or lost and things can go wrong with computers. But printed photos can sometimes survive for a long time. I’m glad this one did.
A Shady Nook
Being an artist can sometimes seem like a solitary pursuit. Often there are no other artists in our immediate families. We may attend art classes or workshops occasionally, but these activities are often of limited duration. There may also be an art association near where you live that holds monthly meetings and provide information about places to exhibit. I’ve done all of these things.
But the best way I have found to connect with other artists is to belong to a group that meets often weekly where members are actually making art. The first such group that I joined was many years ago. I met a woman in an art class who told me about a group of painters that she belonged to. In good weather they painted outside on various locations in the morning. They brought their lunches and would eat and talk together after painting. When it was very hot in the summer and members might be on vacation they didn’t meet. In the winter they met indoors. I believe this group started as an interest group of University Women.
These women, all retired, were a bit older than I but I discovered one was my neighbor. When I was no longer employed, I joined them. It was a fairly large group so there were always ideas about where we could paint in pubic locations in town or on the property of members. Two were also members of garden clubs and had beautiful gardens. It was too large a group to meet in homes, so in the winter we met in city owned buildings in parks, the Community Building or an unused room in a museum.
The group eventually disbanded as members aged, died or moved. During the last year of that group we had occasionally been joined by several artists who lived in the country. They decided rather than drive into town they would form their own group and paint on their property. I eventually joined them. The group has evolved to include artists who work in various media. We have had artists who weave, spin, knit, decorate gourds, etc. We are a small group, so we meet in homes. We may express ourselves differently, but we all have a passion to create. The painting above was done near the home of one of these artists. My life as an artist has certainly been enriched by these experiences.
It is easy to view extraordinary sights such as majestic mountains, a tumbling waterfall, or a beautiful rose garden and feel the urge to paint. But I have found that sometimes objects much closer to home can also inspire that “I simply must paint that” feeling.
Does it seem weird to be inspired by a group of onions? To me, not really. I have painted onions before. But this batch of onions of different colors tied together by their tops in the home of an artist friend who grows her own vegetables, said, “Paint us,” very clearly.
My friend and I searched her home for other objects to add. Eventually I placed the onions on a small wooden table and added an earthenware pitcher for some additional height.
We were painting on her porch that day and the foliage just beyond the porch repeated the color of some of the onions. The still life was a joy to capture on canvas.
There are many times when painting outside is not possible. So keep your eyes open for those truly beautiful objects that may be in your kitchen or sitting on a shelf. When they call out, “Paint me,” it’s a good idea to listen.
So often all we see is the front side of a structure we plan to paint. This is especially true of buildings. How often do we photograph or paint only the front of churches, downtown structures or farm buildings. I’m glad I had an art teacher in college who taught us to look at what is behind. She had us take our sketch pads into the alley behind some commercial buildings. There was a lot to see, weathered doors, brick walls, trash cans and the alley itself.
I have done several paintings from the back of churches, which to me were more interesting than the front of the building. I have a painting on exhibit now of a historic building in Lawrence, KS, as seen from the side where one can see the stairs leading to the upper level and a bit of the community garden that was next door, “Vermont Street Garden” is now on exhibit at the Phoenix Underground (the lower level of the Phoenix Gallery) on Massachusetts Street in Lawrence, KS. This exhibit features artists who will be in Art in the Park on May 6.
Spring seems to be a time for art exhibits. I also have two paintings in the Lawrence Art Guild exhibit at Landmark Bank on 6th Street in Lawrence. You will see the work of a lot of talented local artist at both of these shows and at Art in the Park.
I usually don’t do a series of paintings on the same subject. However, over time I’ve accumulated so many paintings that sometimes when I am planning an exhibit, the paintings will have a similar theme. Currently, I have an exhibit of 11 paintings at Presbyterian Manor in Lawrence that depict spring.
But my most recent paintings have turned out to be a series of doors. Husband and I went on a garden tour of England several years ago and I took lots of photographs. Some of my favorite are doorways. I love the way the English plant flowers around doorways to their homes. I have also found interesting doors on churches, especially at the back. In our bedroom hangs a large painting of the back door of one of the California missions.
A problem with painting doorways is that they usually involve perspective and it is really important to get that right. I have read of different ways of doing this, but have come up with a unique way of my own. Once I have my drawing on the canvas in charcoal, I can check to see if I have the perspective correct by laying the canvas on my kitchen floor. Like many kitchens, mine has a tile floor with easy to see lines between the tiles. I line up my drawing with a tile line even with where the horizon would be. I tape two yardsticks together. By laying the yardsticks across the top of the door in this painting and down toward the tile line, I can mark a vanishing point on the tile with charcoal. Then I can lay the rulers on the bottom of the door or the top and bottom of the window and extend the rulers to the vanishing point to see if the lines are correct.
I suppose there is always a bit of mystery connected to a closed door. What is behind it? But at least there won’t be any mystery about whether the perspective is correct.
Bailey, 11″ x 14″, Pastel
I’ve been painting with acrylics for years doing mostly landscapes, plein air when possible. But I have many other art materials, in addition to acrylic paint, that I have accumulated and tried through the years. Among them are several boxes of pastels. One box dates from college. Others are from a portrait class with live human models that I was enrolled in many years ago. I think some others were given to me by artist who had no longer wanted them.
Some years ago my daughter wanted me to do a painting of her two dogs, since the older one might not live much longer. I hadn’t used pastels in years but it seemed like the right media for these portraits. Then two years ago another daughter’s coworker was looking for someone to do a portrait of her husband’s favorite dog as a gift to him. Although I almost never have animals in my paintings and don’t own any, she suggested me. Again, I used pastels, which I think are a great way to portray fur.
Recently, another coworker who had seen the dog portrait wanted me to do a portrait of her dog. She gave me a photo of a beautiful animal with long, golden fur. That’s Bailey, shown above. I guess the idea here is not to be afraid to try something you don’t usually do. It could point you in a whole new direction.
You never know when a sight that you absolutely must paint will suddenly show up. That’s why I carry a small camera with me, although most people these days prefer to use the camera in their phone. In October I went with my husband to San Antonia, where he was attending a convention. That left me with plenty of time to explore the city.
I’ve been to San Antonio before, so I’ve toured the Alamo. And we went down to the River Walk every evening for dinner. So I was looking for someplace I hadn’t been before and chose the Botanical Gardens. San Antonio has a good city bus system, so it was easy to get there. It is an amazing place with different types of foliage and flowering plants in the various sections. I soon noticed that professional photographers also appreciated this location. I saw two of them there with all their equipment and their human subjects. One was a beautiful young girl in a long pink, hoop skirted dress. She was accompanied by what looked like her mother and a couple of girl friends. It was not the season for proms and the dress color was wrong for a wedding. What could her special occasion be? Then I remembered that Hispanic families may celebrate a daughter’s 15th birthday as a special occasion. She looked Hispanic with her long, black hair that fell to her waist and the age seemed about right.
As the photographer moved her from one location to another, I longed to be able to photograph her unobtrusively. I really wanted a view from the back. It lent an air of mystery. Who was she? What was she doing amid all that greenery. But I couldn’t seem to get in position to get the shot I wanted. So I gave up and wandered off. When I was about ready to leave, I came across her again. This time I got just the shot I wanted before she moved on. When I put the photo on my computer at home I saw that I had been lucky and I couldn’t wait to start painting. The painting is 18″ x 14″ in acrylic.