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.
Sunflower Bouquet, acrylic, 16″ x 12″
This past week I participated in the Art is Ageless show at the Presbyterian Manor in Lawrence. This art show is an annual event and anyone who is a senior citizen can enter, not just residents of the Manor. There are a number of categories including needlework, such as quilts or embroidery. The categories for paintings are either amateur or professional. But all professional means is that you occasionally sell your work. This year I won a second place ribbon for the above painting. The person writing their newsletter interviewed me before this show because I had won a best of show ribbon last year.
As a senior citizen this was a good show for me to enter because it was near where I lived and only required me to deliver two paintings. Best of all, although I could have entered by computer, I didn’t have to. I could just hand in a form filled out by hand when I delivered my paintings. They didn’t even charge an entry fee. Of course there was no prize money either, which may be whey there are not very many entries, although I’m sure Lawrence must have many senior artists.
Often artists keep making art long after the age of 65. In fact some take it up in retirement. The Artist magazine also recognizes this with an annual contest for senior artists. A problem for senior artists is not so much the making of art but showing it. The time when I could lug many paintings to an outdoor show that might last a couple days, find help to put up a tent, and sit out there in all kinds of weather is past. I now only do one outdoor show, Art in the Park in Lawrence, which does not involve long travel and only last a half a day. Also, this show still allows people to enter by submitting photographs.
A major difficulty for senior citizen artists is entering art shows. They almost all require computers not only for the form and to pay the fee but also to submit images of one’s art work. Some seniors don’t even have computers. Others, like me, have them but only use them for a few simple things. I haven’t found the help categories on my computer very helpful. Sometimes my husband can figure it out. My son who knows the most about computers lives too far away.
If you are planning an art show in your community, also make it friendly to older artists. Let people enter either by computer or by snail mail with photographs and a check. If the show, either indoors or out, is the kind where each individual brings a number of paintings, maybe have a few younger people available to help those who are less able. As we share what we are creating we may also encourage others to keep on keeping on.
I don’t know who she is but I know she is a teenager who shares my love of art. At Christmastime a church group I belong to gets the name of a family who needs gifts at Christmas. Then each member of our group takes one of the names and buys something from their wish list. We’ve done this for a number of years. Sometimes the requests have been for sizes of clothing I can’t easily find or a child will ask for some toy I’ve never heard of and don’t know where to buy it. But this year was different.
A teenaged girl asked for art supplies and canvases and I knew right away that was the person I wanted to shop for. For a low income person wanting to paint, the expense can be daunting. The two high schools in our town have very good art programs so I assumed the girl I was buying for had already been introduced to some basic concepts and wanted to do more. (If she is already enrolled in art classes she was ahead of where I was at that age. My high school offered no art at all.)
I never go shopping on Black Friday but this year I made an exception. Both Hobby Lobby and Michaels had bargains too good to pass up. When my package is delivered she will have a nice surprise. I wish I could know what she will do with it. I discovered art in college and although it has not been a way to earn a living it has enhanced my life considerably over many years. I hope it will do the same for her.
Last year was not a good year for me artistically. There were less places locally to exhibit paintings than there used to be. And no one seemed to be interested in my work. I signed up for Art Walk in October, when people visit local artists at their homes or studios. In addition to the numerous paintings on the walls of my basement gallery, I put out a stack of older work I wanted to get rid of at greatly reduced prices. The only painting I sold all year was one from that stack.
It made me wonder what was the point in painting if all I was doing was piling up art nobody wanted. But for some of us not being creative does not seem to be an option. We are simply programmed to be artists. We can’t help it. The same seems to be true of writers and musicians. So I gave a few paintings as gifts and kept on creating.
Then came more bad luck. My computer stopped working and went away for repairs for almost a month. Computers are vital to just about everyone these days, including artists. I couldn’t add photos of new paintings to those already on the computer or print them. The records of my work were on my computer. And I couldn’t write on my blog or enter art shows that these days have to be done on a computer. When my computer finally returned I found a new Microsoft system on it and even more frustrating a whole new picture system, Adobe Elements 14, that is probably a good system if I could understand how it works.
But then suddenly things began to change for the better. My daughter referred a woman to me who wanted a painting of a dog, now deceased, that had been her husband’s favorite. She provided a photo. I hadn’t done a dog in years but I rashly said yes and agreed to do it in pastels, a medium I don’t usually work in. The result is below. (I wanted to put it above but somehow couldn’t.) The woman was pleased with the portrait of “Benny,” which was to be a gift for her husband.
Several more sales followed. I participated in Art in the Park and sold a painting of a Bradford pear tree. I joined the plein air painters at the Overland Park Arboretum spring event and sold a painting from it. A relative bought a painting to give as a gift. So I guess I’ll just keep on keeping on. The process itself is irresistable.
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.