Keep Your Eyes Open

Souvenirs, Acrylic, 11″ x 14″p of artists

I’m part of a small group of artists who meet weekly when enough of us are available.  This encourages us to come up with some sort of project to work on when we get together.  In good weather I like to paint outdoor, although that can be a challenge when I am at the same place I have been many times before.  Sometimes in bad weather I paint from photos I have taken.  But on this particular Wednesday morning about a month ago I didn’t even have a photo in mind and had no partially completed canvasses to work on.  But I packed up my paints and went anyway, hoping I would see something inspiring.

We met at a home where I had not been before.  The weather was not good so we were inside.  Fortunately, there was a lot to see.  This woman loved to travel and she did not come home empty handed.  She invited me to wander around and look at her treasures.  I was first attracted to the pot because of its subtle colors, which she told me was very old and came from Guatemala.  I have seen examples of the black pottery from a New Mexico pueblo before but I liked this one with its different shape.  The plate I chose she said came from Finland.  The tomato from her kitchen counter added a bit of brighter color.

I made good progress on the painting shown above that morning, took some photos and finished it at home.  The owner of these souvenirs bought the painting because, she said, “Each piece has a story.”

I seem to be getting luckier artistically.  I recently had paintings accepted into three different art shows that I tried to get in last year and didn’t.




Among My Souveniers

Along the Canal, acrylic, 18″ x 24″

Husband and I have been fortunate to be able to travel quite a bit to a wide variety of places.  And everywhere we go we see souvenir shops.  People want to remember an especially enjoyable trip.  But is another tee shirt with some sassy comment written on it the answer?  As an artist I don’t think so.  I know that the really artistic way to capture where I’ve been would be with a sketch book and pencil.  But that is hard to do if one is with other people who want to move on to the next site, or the weather is not great, or there are a lot of strangers around who will want to look over my shoulder.

So I do the next best thing and take lots of photos.  And you do have to take a lot to get that one or two that will make a good painting.  Most people these days take photos with their phones, but I still carry a small, simple camera in my pocket or purse.  And of course you have to have your camera with you at all times because you never know when you are going to see something you just have to paint.  I remember a teacher in a photography class I took long ago telling us that at a time when cameras were big, bulky things with detachable lens.

So here I was in Amsterdam in October of last year out walking by myself while husband attended a convention.  The day was sunny and warmer than usual and there were people everywhere enjoying the day.  I took the photo I based the above painting on standing on a bridge over the canal.  There were more people and bicycles in the photo than I included in the painting.  One does have to edit and people and bicycles are hard to paint.  The buildings were hard to paint too, especially trying to get the correct perspective.  But I’ve found a way to do that.  If you have a tile floor in your kitchen or bathroom as I do, lay your painting’s horizon even with one of the tile lines.  The choose a vanishing point somewhere outside the painting and mark it with charcoal.  As you draw in the buildings, lines of windows and doors, take two yardsticks, since one may not be long enough, and lay them across the tops of the windows, etc. and down to the vanishing point.

I think I captured the essence of that scene with young people hanging out beside the canal enjoying the sunshine.  It will be my souvenir of a lovely afternoon in Amsterdam.  I won’t need a tee shirt or wooden shoes.

Among My Souveniers


The Front Range, acrylic, 12" x 24"

The Front Range, acrylic, 12″ x 24″

Husband and I do a fair amount of traveling.  And one thing we see wherever we go are those shops selling souvenirs to tourists. Especially in this country, the items vying for tourist dollars may not even be made in that region.   China is a more likely country of origin.  We do not buy this stuff.  Our souvenirs have tended to be the photos we take.  In the days before digital cameras and smart phones, husband amassed boxes of slides and I have  numerous envelopes of photos.  These are our memories of places we’ve been and significant times with family and friends.

I have some photos from when a was a young child because my mother put them in an album.  I did the same for my children and they have enjoyed looking at them.  I also put photos of some of our earlier trips in a photo album.  But now people are increasingly storing their photos on their smart phones or computers.  On Facebook I recently saw a photo posted by a relative who is taking her young son on his first trip to Paris.  But what will become of that photo?  When he wants to tell his children about that memorable trip, where will that photo be?

I am glad that I have some souvenirs that are likely to be a little more long lasting.  They are the paintinsg depicting various places I have been.  Some have been done from photos.  Others, like the one above, were painted on site.  I was visiting a relative in Colorado recently.  Fortunately, our trip lasted a week and was not overly crowded with planned activities.  I drove to a nearby park with a beautiful view of the front range of the Rockies.  Even though there was no shade, I painted on two mornings and then finished up inside on a third.  It was a great experience sitting there and really looking at the mountains and how the color changed as time passed and the sun was at a different angle.  The park is used a lot in the mornings.  People exercise by walking, jogging, biking or just walking their dogs.  Some commented or took a brief look at what I as doing, but fortunately they were really focused on their exercise so it wasn’t a distraction.   How a particular scene looks at a specific time and how the artist views it are really the purposes of plein air painting.   And that makes a very special souvenir.