Photos from the Past


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.


There’s Something About Doors

Village Doorway 2I 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.


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.

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.




Anaheim Beach, Acrylic, 19″ x 14″

In my mother’s day people stored their memories in photo albums with photos first in black and white and later in color.  Underneath was carefully written in ink where the photo was taken and who the people were in it.  In this way I learned what I had looked like as a baby and young child.  My mother also had saved photos of her parents, herself, and her brother and sister when they were young.  I still have some of those.

I have boxes of photos I took back in the days before digital cameras.  I even took a class on how to develop film at one point.  My photos were mostly stored in the envelopes they came in when they were developed.  I even wrote on the backs of some of them where they were taken, when, and who the people were in them.  I have passed some of those on to my children and grandchildren.

These days most people seem to take pictures with their phones.  They then post some of them on Facebook or they may send some by email.  But what, I wonder, happens to the photos after that?  When the phone’s photo space is full are they simply deleted?  Some people post photos on Facebook quite often.  How would someone wanting to remember a favorite vacation photo find it when several years had passed?  What is happening to those visual prompts to our memories?  How will today’s young people share photos of their youth with their children?

I now use a digital camera and transfer many photos to my computer.  I use Picasa, which I don’t much like but it didn’t cost anything.  Photos I really want to keep I print with my color printer.  That is how I save scenes that I might want to paint some day.  I have several envelopes filled with these photos.  They come in handy during winter months.  I found the photo on which the above painting was based in one of those envelopes.  I took it on the beach at Anaheim, California in 2007.  I am glad that I saved it by printing it.  To me computers are somewhat of a mystery.  While I keep most of my photos on my computer, I know that they can be hard to find because there are so many of them and Picasa doesn’t always file them as I think it should.  Having a photo that I can hold in my hand still seems like a good idea.

A Visit to Alaska

Lake Eva, Acrylic,  17" x 20"

Lake Eva, Acrylic, 17″ x 20″

Husband and I recently returned from a two-week tour of southern Alaska on a boat with about 50 tourists plus staff.  Alaska seems to be one of those places that some people are absolutely crazy about, but after this first visit there I am not one of them.  I knew very little about this state before our trip.  I certainly didn’t know that much of southern Alaska is in the Tongas National Forest, which is a temperate rain forest.  I didn’t even know there was such a thing.  What that means is that when traveling in a rain forest you should expect lots of rain and that’s what we got.  The sky was overcast and there was a cold drizzle most days.  The tour company knew this of course and provided rain gear.  But since it rains most of the time, shore activities were not cancelled because of rain.  We hiked in the rain, we rode in a small open boat that could get nearer to the shore in the rain.  Some brave souls kayaked in the rain.  We rode all terrain vehicles in the rain.

I know it was probably just a coincidence that a number of people on the boat developed a respiratory illness with lot of coughing and wheezing.  In the confined area of a tour boat viruses spread fast.  Some got sicker than others and I was one of the sicker ones during the last week.  I stayed in bed several days watching the scenery from our cabin window.  When I tried to participate in some of the outdoor activities, I then felt worse again.  But one passenger had it much worse than I.  He developed a ruptured appendix,  A doctor among the tour group diagnosed it.  But good medical care is so sparse in that region that he had to be flown all the way to Seattle for treatment.  I don’t know if he survived.

But even in less ideal surroundings an artist is going to see things.  I have a small digital camera that can fit in my pocket and I take lots of photos.  When I put them on my computer after we returned home, I saw several that could be the basis for paintings.  In fact I’ve already finished one, which is shown above.  To me it is a good example of what I saw in Alaska, dark forests, cloudy skies, and a sense of remoteness from the outside world.  I know that for some people that is the kind of space they want to inhabit.  But when someone back in Lawrence asked me what the best part of our trip was, I said emphatically, “Returning home.”