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.
Threads, 12″ x 12″, acrylic
A new year has begun and after the holidays it’s time to get back painting and all the activities that go along with it. When people think of the life of an artist they think of the actual act of creating art. But there is so much more to it than that.
There are many related activities one must make time for and often pay for as well and this includes a lot more than just shopping for the materials. Most artists belong to some kind of organized group of those with similar interests. I belong to both the Topeka Art Guild and the Lawrence Art Guild and dues to both are due at the beginning of the year. The Lawrence Art Guild recently reorganized after having only sporadic activity for the past year or so. The Topeka Art Guild has a gallery where members may show their work for a fee and also six hours of work in the gallery per month. Their shows change every two months and I enter all of them. Later in February I’ve been asked to demonstrate plein air painting to one of their classes.
I’m always looking for places to show my work and the free places are now fewer and harder to come by. So I enter a few other shows as well, which means paying a fee whether my paintings are chosen for the show or not. I did get one painting, “Hay Bales,” accepted into the Rice Gallery in Overland Park’s upcoming plein air show, which meant an out of town drive to deliver that painting. I received a rejection from the Heartland show. I have information about the Images show which I have gotten in before, so I will probably enter that. If I get in, it will mean another out of town drive in city traffic to deliver a painting.
A frustration for me is the amount of computer knowledge an artist needs these days. This year Art in the Park in Lawrence could only be entered on line. I could fill out the form but transferring the images of the paintings required husband’s help as well as paying on line. Why not simply allow photographs and checks? Even writing this blog becomes more difficult as the way it is set up changes from time to time with no notification and directions.
The painting above is one I have done during weekly meetings of a small group of artists who work on their various projects. “Threads” was painted at the home of a fiber artist. Her sewing machine door opened to display the above colorful threads. It seemed like a good idea for a still life. In spite of the expense and frustrations I intend to keep on expressing myself artistically as long as possible. Like many creative people, I can’t help it.
Dec. 31, 2015
While I’ve been too busy to paint during the holidays, art continues to be a part of my life. And I’ve been learning about a new form that may or may not be something I would consider art. We had a big gathering of relatives here to celebrate Christmas with lots of presents under the tree. Among those were crayons, magic markers and paper for a three year old and a big set of art supplies and sketchbooks for an 11 year old. Both these gifts were requested by their moms and I think it’s great when parents want to encourage creativity in their children.
But then I listened to what several adult women had to say about a new activity for adults, adult coloring books. One had received a book as a gift and had tried it and enjoyed it. Another, who has done some creative art, is buying the books for herself as a form of relaxation after a day on the job. A young woman who works at a senior care facility said a woman of very advanced age who lived in the facility spent many happy hours with such books.
I don’t know what to make of this. It is true that these books are nothing like the coloring books children used to use. The adult version features intricate abstract designs that are filled in with colored pencils. Is this a creative activity? I suppose some would say so. I’m not against people following patterns. Women who sew, quilt, knit or crochet have been doing that for many years and create attractive, creative and useful items. But what does one do with a completed page in a coloring book? Another thought. While both men and women pursue various forms of the arts, I can’t imagine a man using an adult coloring book. But I’ll try to keep an open mind even though I won’t be buying one for myself.
Still life with Hedge Apples, acrylic, 18″ x 14″.
What do you think of when you think of autumn? As a painter I have tended to think of the beautiful colors of the trees as they turn from green to yellow, gold, orange and red. I have painted them many times. Since rural areas are not far from where I live I have also painted pumpkins, cornstalks, and soybean fields at this time of year. But a problem with living in the same area for a long time and also being a painter during those years is that it can become difficult to find subjects for painting that I have not done many times before.
Last month I was at a friend’s house where I had often painted before. The weather was just too good to paint inside and I would rather look at what I am painting than paint from a photograph. I went out on the deck to look at the view, which wasn’t particularly inspiring, but on a table sat a pot of yellow mums along with some green hedge apples. I don’t remember seeing hedge apples before I moved to Kansas. When my kids were young they used to pick some up in the neighborhood and bring them home. I liked the looks of those bumpy green balls and would set them in a bowl on the table.
But I don’t remember ever seeing a painting featuring hedge apples. I like to paint with a palette knife and both the mums and the texture of the hedge apples seemed to lend themselves to that kind of painting so I set up my easel on the deck and got busy. As painters we need to be especially aware of our surroundings. Who knows when the next unlikely object will strike our fancy. Hedge apples and mums, at least here in Kansas, will remind me of the beauty of autumn.