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.
Here in Lawrence, Kansas, spring arrived early this year. All of a sudden the landscape was bursting with color, especially the trees. While it was still late March the Bradford pear trees turned white with blossoms. The redbuds and flowering crab apple trees soon followed. Now the neighborhoods are also filled with lilacs and the young cherry tree in my back yard is covered with blooms. What an inspiration for a painter.
But these very colorful sights are also very fleeting. A tree that is in full bloom one day may in a spring storm send petals to the ground. If you want to capture some of this beauty with paint you’d better not put it off. Coming out of exercise class one morning I noticed a row of blooming Bradford pear trees across the street. But I was in a hurry and didn’t stop to photograph them. Passing that way in the afternoon I did stop but somehow the scene was not the same. The light was coming from a different direction and that made a difference. Fortunately, I had enough sense to go back the next morning and photograph them and I have started a painting.
But actually painting on site is so much better. When I was driving out in the country to paint at an artist friend’s house, I noticed her blooming Brandford pear tree long before I reached the house and that’s what I decided to paint chosing an 18″ x 14″ canvas with wide enough stretchers not to need a frame. I was faced with a very windy day. But I was determined not to waste this opportunity. So I painted in my car, even though the car I have now is very small. And I will remember the beauty of springtime whenever I look at that painting.
So when you see one of these glorious sights of spring, seize the moment. Take a photo if you must or better yet don’t put off setting up your easel outside. This is one of the best times of year to paint.
On the Balcony, acrylic, 16″ x 12″
It is easy to keep doing the same things over and over, especially if we’ve had some success doing it that way. But we never know what we might learn and enjoy if we try something a little different. For some years I have painted with a small group of women. The two most faithful members live in the country so we usually paint on their land. And it can be a problem finding something I haven’t painted before, maybe more than once.
Recently we had a new woman join our group. Like the rest of us, she’s a senior citizen, but has been a more active artist both in time spent creating art and in entering shows both locally and in other communities. I was surprised when she said she had never painted with a group before and I admired her willingness to give us a try. When she invited us to her house in town to paint, I was glad to be going to a new location.
Her home contained an amazing amount of art, not only her own paintings but an extensive collection of pottery that she had collected in her travels, both in this country and abroad. I can’t imagine buying pottery in some distant location and trying to get it home intact. As I looked around for a place to paint, there was pottery everywhere. Finally, I went out on a balcony overlooking the back yard. The day was a bit cold for painting outside, but this balcony was enclosed in glass, which made it a perfect place to paint. And of course there was pottery on the balcony t00.
I have been drawn more to still life recently and this pottery was an interesting challenge, as was the tile floor of the balcony. Exactly what colors were these objects? It was fun to figure that out. Drawing the pots took some careful observation. Exactly what shape are they and how does one make sure both sides are the same? At home, I checked what I had done in this way. I drew around one of the pots on tracing paper and then folded it in half. I decided which half I liked best and then cut around it so that both sides were now the same. Then I placed this on the painting of the pottery and drew around it with charcoal, which showed me where I needed to make corrections. You can do this with elipses too, such as the one at the top of the larger pot.
I have a couple ideas of new places to paint and I can’t wait to give them a try.
April 12, 2015
Our family celebrated my birthday this past week and are looking forward to celebrating the college graduation of a granddaughter next month. Both of these celebrations can be occasions for gift giving.
One of the ways I make space for new paintings on the walls of my basement gallery is to give paintings to my numerous grandchildren to celebrate academic milestones, such as high school and college graduations. Since my granddaughter, who would soon graduate from college, was scheduled to appear at my birthday dinner I decided to use the occasion to let her pick out a painting as a graduation gift. When I do this I am always surprised at the choice that is made. It is never what I would have expected.
This young woman from Kansas, who had picked out a small painting of a field of sunflowers when she graduated from high school, now chose a 24″ x 30″ rather lurid depiction of sunset over the mountains near Santa Fe. I have good memories of an evening at the outdoor Santa Fe Opera when I took the photo that inspired the painting. However the painting itself is not one of my favorites. I’m glad it has found a good home.
The same evening an 11-year-old grandson brought a gift to me to celebrate my birthday. It was all his own idea. His mom didn’t even know he had brought it. It was, as pictured above, a set of art supplies, crayons, colored pencils, magic markers and watercolors. He later explained that it was his, a gift I suppose, that he had hardly used. He thought I might like it.
As I looked at it later, ideas began to form. I haven’t done much sketching since I began to take photographs years ago. I think part of the reason is that I so love color. The sunset painting is an example of that. But what if I sketched with colored pencils or even crayons or markers? What if I took this box with me the next time I traveled? I can’t walk for as long as I used to. It would be a good excuse to sit down and rest. Grandson, you may have started me in a new artistic direction.
It’s a new year and a time to try new things. Looking through some photos I’ve taken on my travels, I came across one of a street musician. He was part of a group of several. I don’t often have people in my paintings but I wanted to try something different. I had the photo in my computer in Picassa, so I tried the posterize setting to see what would happen. This gave me some new ideas about color, both different colors and blocks of color. The above small painting is the result.
I’m now working on another person painting but not in that style. I think we always have to be alert to notice scenes that cry out to be painted and have a small camera or sketch pad ready to record them. My opportunity came during the holidays when a visiting relative was curled up on the sofa in an interesting pose. I quickly snapped a photo, even though I seldom do portraits and haven’t done one for a couple years. I’ve already laid in the basic design on canvas and look forward to the challenge of not only achieving a likeness but a good painting. The fields, fence posts and barns will still be waiting for me when spring finally arrives.
April 28, 2013
There is always something new to learn and as an artist I’ve learned several new things this week. I was doing an online lesson and it called for using Photoshop, which I don’t have. I’m not much of a tech person. The art center here sometimes offers classes in how to use it but I feared it would be too complicated for me. Plus, it is rather pricy. But this week I found a free substitute on the internet called Gimpshop 2.8 that enabled me to do what the lesson required.
What I was supposed to do was make a black and white image of a colored photo or painting and also a posterized version. I had never done this before but with Gimpshop it was easy. Under the Image Manipulation program just click on Colors and then click on Posterize to make an image that looks like a poster or on Desaturate to make an image in black and white. The reason for doing these things is to study value (light and dark). Posturize also provides a more abstract image that I found quite interesting. Best of all, it was so easy to do. I’m sure I’ll be trying it again with some of my paintings.
Then while paintings with friends this week I discovered that there is a patron saint for artists when one of the painters showed us a medal she had been given of Saint Lucas, which turns out to be another name for Saint Luke. We artists need all the help we can get so I looked him up on Wikipedia. I knew Saint Luke as the companion of St. Paul and as the writer of the Biblical books of Luke and Acts. But who knew he had any interest in art?
But according to Wikipedia, Christian tradition says that St. Luke was the first icon painter. He is said to have painted pictures of the Virgin Mary. This saint evidently had a variety of interests as he is said to be the patron saint of artists, physicians, surgeons, students and butchers.
One member of our painting group died recently and I attended her funeral this week. On the funeral card was a quote from Michelangelo, “I am still learning.” Me too.
March 24, 2013
How does someone who has been painting a long time share knowledge about the art of painting with someone who is a newcomer to the field? I’ve never taught an art class but I’ve been in various classes, some good and some not to good. In some of the not so good ones the teachers were good artists themselves but I think they didn’t really know how to convey their knowledge to a group of people who had never had academic art training but who thought it would be fun to paint a picture they could hang on their wall or give to a relative.
In these classes the instructor woould provide a list of materials and the students, with a wide range of experience and ability, come to class and each start painting something different. The instructor wanders around and makes a few brief comments but the students are pretty much on their own. The classes are usually once a week for maybe about eight weeks. Beginners really won’t learn much under these circumstances.
The reason I’ve been thinking about all this is that this summer for about a week I will be painting with a beginning artist who hopes she can learn something from me, although she paints in a very different style than I do. What I’d like to do during that week is talk to her about some very basic ideas that can apply to any style of painting. Here are a few I’ve come up with so far.
Decide on a center of interest. It shouldn’t be in the middle of the painting.
Lead the eye toward that center by using lines, shapes or light and dark.
Paintings may be more interesting if there is a marked contrast between light and dark.
Don’t use a color in just one place in a painting. Repeat it somewhere else in the painting.
Using complementary colors adds interest to a painting.
I’m sure I’ll come up with more. In the meantime I’m looking at some of my paintings that hang on my walls and wondering why I
I didn’f follow these ideas more closely myself.
Back Yard in Winter, acrylic, 20″ x 16″
February 26, 2013
We’ve had two huge snowfalls here in Lawrence, KS, just a few days apart. The schools and university have been closed and most activities that involve getting out in a car and going somewhere have come to a halt. For me, that has meant more time for painting, but what to paint? I’ve read about a few artists who will paint outside in the snow but that is not me.
So I set up my easel and paints by my bedroom window warm inside while I looked at the snow outside. Snow is not that easy to paint. One reason is that living where I do, we ordinarily don’t see much snow so I don’t get much practice. At first glance everything just looks white but on closer inspection that is not the case. I’ve looked at paintings the Impressionists have done of snow scenes and what is emphasized against all that white is the shadows. I’ve looked at snow shadows through my window and tried to figure out what color they were. To me the shadows didn’t look as blue as the Impressionists usually painted them. I took some photos, trying to decide on a layout and when I printed one that I decided to use, there were those shadows in a grayed cerulean blue. I have also found photos helpful in getting the values (lights and darks) correct.
It was an interesting experience painting snow but I’m looking forward to painting spring flowers.
January 20, 2013
Mixing the colors for the commissioned painting I recently finished has been an interesting exercise. I like the way the painting turned out, it just doesn’t look like it was painted by me, even though it is a landscape, which is what I usually paint. That’s because I almost always paint with very vivid colors and this painting has soft, grayed tones.
I was given some of those paint cards you find where paint is sold to indiciate what colors the painting should be. But how does one come up with those colors? In this case it meant remembering very basic art instruction on color. If you want to gray a basic primary or secondary color, you add its complement. Remember the color wheel. It is a circle divided into six wedges: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. To gray a color add the color directly across from it on the color wheel. For instance, add a bit of green to red. Then, since I’m using acrylics, white can be added to make the color lighter.
I’ve already started on the second of the commissioned paintings. This time the challenge is imaginary flowers.
An Awesome Night
When we had our family’s Christmas celebration recently, one of my grandsons ran up to me as soon as he was in the door and handed me a painting he had done and told me it was my Christmas present. This was obviously an abstract painting, not usually my style. But I saw an idea in the painting immediately (not necessarily what he had in mind). With the bold strokes of gold, white and brown against a black background I saw in it an idea of what the sky on that first Christmas night must have looked like.
But having a more realistic approach to art, I wanted to make its meaning more clear. So when I had time I looked through the Christmas cards I had received last year (I keep them a year to see who sent cards to me) and the cards we had received this year and found two images in the right colors that I liked, that of an angel and the three wise men. I also found the word “peace” attached to one of the cards.
First I found a gold frame with glass among my stash of frames and cut the painting to fit it. I cut out the angel with a scissors. Cutting out the wise men was more difficult, but an exacto knife helped. Then using a glue stick I attached them to the painting along with the word “Peace.” When I decorate for the Christmas season next year, that painting will be hanging in my dining room.