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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.