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 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.
“It’s a Jungle Out There,” acrylic, 18″ x 14″
Have you ever looked at an abstract painting and wondered what the artist was thinking when it was painted? It is sometimes hard to tell. Often there is just a vague general title with a number after it, which makes me think the artist has as much trouble as I usually do thinking of names for my creations. But the painting above is an exception. I knew immediately what I would call it.
This painting came about from both a sketch and a photo taken on our recent trip to New Zealand. I was sitting in the visitors’ center at Mount Egmont on the North Island. The day was cold and overcast. The students in our group were hiking part way up the mountain. Hiking any distance uphill does not appeal to me any more so I sat inside at a table drinking a mochachino and waiting. When I looked up at the window I was amazed. The temperature outside must have been about 40 degrees–it’s winter in New Zealand in May–but here was brightly colored tropical foliage.
I took out my sketching supplies, which included colored pencils. I also took a photo with husband’s camera. When we returned from New Zealand the first painting I did from my sketches was the one pictured above. I knew right away what I would call it, “It’s a Jungle Out There.” If you watched the TV series about a detective named Monk, you might remember that phrase from the program’s theme song. Mr. Monk was a man who was afraid of many things. To him the world around him was a scary place. In my painting the woodlike frame is painted as part of the composition to show that the jungle is “out there.” But in my painting “out there” is not scary. With its bright colors and interesting shapes it calls us to come out and explore. Who knows what we might find?
June 21, 2015
Husband and I recently returned from a trip to New Zealand of a little more than three weeks. It was an amazing experience. New Zealand is a beautiful country but I wish we could have gone in what is summer for them. Because we were there in parts of May and June it was winter. The reason for the timing of our trip was because husband, who is a university professor, was the director of a two week study abroad experience for four chemical engineering students. So we left on our trip as soon as the academic year ended.
For my birthday in April a grandson had given me a child’s set of art supplies. I had not done much sketching since I took a required photography course as a journalism student many years ago. But I remembered a long trip to Europe when I was 25. We were traveling light with backpacks and I had taken sketchbooks and pencils and decided to try to do a sketch every day. I had really enjoyed doing that and still have those sketchbooks. Why not do something like that again, I thought? I would buy a sketchbook (pages 5″ x 7″) and use the crayons, magic markers, colored pencils and watercolors grandson had given me and try to average a sketch a day.
This proved to be quite a challenge for several reasons. Much of the time I was in a group with a specific agenda so there was no time to stop and sketch. Second, it was winter and I hate cold weather. Third, I was using materials I was not used to using. But somehow I did it. I came up with the same number of sketches as days we were gone. One thing this project taught me was to be observant. When we moved to a different hotel, motel or youth hostel (they are not just for youth any more) I was always eager to look at the view out the window, which is where I did quite a few of my sketches. I also sketched from the window of a visitors’ center while waiting for the weather to change. Of course this kind of sketching is essentially plein air art so things can change quickly. I was looking down from a hotel window at two men playing tennis on a rooftop court. I went to gather my art supplies and when I came back they were gone. I was sketching a young man slouched in an airport chair asleep. Before I could finish, he woke up and walked away.
The two examples above are from my sketch book. One is of three New Zealand fruits, quince (the yellow one), fuejau (the green ones) and a mandarin orange, which I sketched in our motel room. The other is a view from the window of the Youth Hostel in Wellington. If sketching interests you and you live in the Lawrence area, be sure to see the current exhibit at the Lawrence Public Library. The sketches on exhibit are those done by a University of Kansas college student during a study abroad semester in Europe. They inspire me to buy another sketchbook and keep trying.
Practice may not make perfect as the old saying goes, but it does tend to make one more skilled. And during this spell of snow and frigid temperatures which tends to keep us indoors when our regular activities are cancelled, what better time to practice some of the skills that will lead to better paintings. I’ve been practicing drawing the clothed figure. There are various ways to do this. Art teachers or instruction books will tell you to do this from life. That is, carry a sketch book with you and do quick sketches of people you see. I don’t do this because of the unwanted attention it would draw to my efforts if I sat in a restaurant or airport and tried to draw the people around me.
One way to practice at home is to record a TV show, play it back and then pause it. Still another way is to draw while looking at photos of people that you might find in magazines or newspapers. A problem is that these often show only part of the figure. One of the best sources I’ve found for photos of the entire figure is the Kohl’s supplement that appear in my daily newspaper so often. These ads will almost always include some entire figures of men, women and children. Also some of the poses are quite interesting. Try doing five minute sketches of these. I’ve been using a 4B pencil. You could also use charcoal. Keep in mind that the adult figure is about seven and a half heads tall. This number is less for children. How much less depends on the age.
So until spring does arrive keep on practicing. And take a chance and enter some of those art exhibit call for entries that show up on the computer or in the mail at this time of year.