While many people retire at around age 65 and completely stop doing what they’ve spent much of their time doing for years, this does not seem to be true of artists. Instead, some may find that when they stop earning a living, they have more time for art. And even those who have been creating art for years may not be willing to give it up just because they are aging.
But we artists have to be realistic. As an aging painter I know that there are physical aspects of what I do that become more difficult with the passing years. If I want to keep on painting, and I do, I will have to adapt. And as it happens, I’ve found several ways to do that. The first, which I did several years ago, was to buy a new French easel that had wheels and a long handle like my suitcase. I ordered it from Blick, but their current catalog doesn’t have one. I’m often a plein air painter and carrying a heavy easel and other gear was getting harder. Then there are the acrylic paints that I use. Those small metal lids seem to easily have paint stick in them and are hard to open. If I’m painting inside, I run hot water over them and that helps, but I can’t do that if I’m painting outside. So now I use only Liquitex paints with their big plastic lids that will open no matter where I am.
I find that a camera is a vital tool. I photograph the scene I’m painting in plein air in case I need to finish the painting at home. And I always photograph every finished painting and put the photos on my computer in case I need them to enter art shows. The problem was that my hands are not as steady as they used to be. At home I use a tripod but when I’m outside and want to photograph something I might want to paint some day, I don’t want a blurred picture. When my current camera stopped working and I had to buy a new one, I chose a small Sony that was advertised as taking very sharp pictures. And it does. Husband says it is because of the higher number of pixels.
My latest gadget, which I used for the first time on our recent tour of gardens in England, is shown above, a cane with a fold up seat. I took it because I knew I couldn’t do a lot of walking without having to sit down and rest occasionally. But I discovered it was very useful for sketching, since it provided me a place to sit in the exact location I wanted. I had ordered it on the internet a few years ago for a previous trip and didn’t use it then. So with a little help from these aids, I plan to continue painting.
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.
Handcrafted, Acrylic, 12″ x 12″
I sometimes like to watch those artists on the public television station demonstrate how they paint. They seem so sure of themselves, as if they know from the beginning that this will be a really good painting. Some encourage their viewers to paint along with them, but they paint so fast that this doesn’t seem practical. How do they do it? I recently had reason to ask myself that question.
I am a member of the Topeka Art Guild and there is a back room at their gallery where art classes are sometimes held. The teacher of a weekly afternoon class of primarily senior citizens asked me to demonstrate plein air painting to her class. Since this was in February, going outside was not an option. But she wanted her students, who usually painted from photographs, to learn more about the art of painting what is in front of you. I said I would do it and then had to figure out how to go about it.
When I paint outdoors in a public space, such as a park, people sometimes look over my shoulder briefly to see what I am doing and maybe make comments. But they come and go quickly and I don’t really talk much to them. I just keep painting. This would be different. I needed to figure out how those artists on TV did it. I decided on a simple still life that I would paint on a small canvas. I chose three objects that I had in my house. They represented simple shapes, a sphere, a cone, and a cylinder, that students in art classes learn to shade.
First I practiced painting the still life at home. Some of the drawing did not look quite right. So then I practiced just drawing the still life several times with charcoal. Finally it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to draw the still life ahead of time on the canvas to be sure to get it right. Finally the big day arrived and I set up my easel and the still life in the room before the class arrived. I talked a little bit about plein air painting to the class and about the objects I had chosen to paint.
It turned out to be easier than I had imagined. Mostly the class members concentrated on their own work, occasionally walking up to where I was painting to see what I was doing and ask questions. I didn’t quite finish the painting during class time, but I got enough done that they could see how it would look. I finished it at home. I plan to enter it in the next Topeka Art Guild show, so they will be able to see the completed painting.
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.
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.
Kentucky Street, Acrylic, 14″ x 20″
Now that fall has arrived with cooler days that encourage folks to be out and about, it’s time to get ready for Lawrence Art Walk, which is scheduled for October 24th and 25th, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. This is the 20th year that Lawrence artists have opened their studios to the public and I have participated many of those years. It’s a great way for artists to introduce their friends and neighbors to what they create without having to pack up paintings, screens, tent etc. and haul them to another location. But it does take a certain amount of preparation.
I want to make sure some of my most recent paintings are framed and ready to hang, although since I have quite a lot of wall space in my exhibit area, there will also be paintings from past years. Most will have a Midwestern theme but there will also be paintings based on my yearly trips to Colorado and also from places farther away. With each of those paintings I will include a card listing the title, media, and price. I still have quite a few of those to print. The last few years I have also been making cards with photos of various paintings and those will be for sale too. I need to make some more since I have been using up the cards for birthdays of my large extended family. I’m also going to have a stack of unframed paintings from past years for sale at garage sale prices. But those still have to be chosen and removed from storage.
Maps will be available at each artist’s location and there are 21 of us this year. We are painters, photographers, and those who work with ceramics or glass. Since I have to be here with my work, I can’t see what those other artists have on display in their studios. But if you and I want to see some examples of the creations of the Art Walk artists, the Phoenix Underground Gallery in downtown Lawrence has an exhibit of paintings by those artists that will continue during October.
I’ve had some good news recently. My painting, “Kansas Hay Bales,” which I entered in the Topeka Art Guild’s current Kansans Paint Kansas juried show, won an honorable mention. That show will continue until the end of November.
Grinter Sunflowers, acrylic, 16″ x 12″
I have been painting at the Grinter sunflower field for some years now as the mother of the man who plants these gorgeous fields is an artist friend of mine. The sunflower field is located between Lawrence and Tonganoxie, Kansas. On Sept. 2 I drove out there to paint. I loaded my painting gear and me, not an easy task at my age, onto a flat bed parked near the field. The day was cloudy and there was no one around. The sunflowers were at their peak. I began to draw in a few lines on my canvas and then the rain began. I sat in the car for a while hopeing it would stop but it didn’t.
On Wednesday Sept. 9 I returned and what a difference. The sun was shining, the weather was not too hot and there were people everywhere. The grassy area across from the filed was filled with cars. Three other artists that I know of were painting, mothers wandered about with their children too young to be in school. Everyone seemed to have a camera, some fancier than others.
Ordinarily, I don’t like to paint in a crowd, but some of the sunflowers already looked a bit raggedy. If I wanted to paint it had to be today. Up onto the flat bed went me and my gear. I had a great view. I could see an artist with a white umbrella who was actually sitting in the field. Across the road where the cars were parked another artist had lifted his trunk lid to provide a bit of shade and was busily at work.
Soon I was too while the people continued to arrive and depart and snap their pictures. Several even thought I looked picturesque and asked to take photos of me. Overall everyone was polite and good natured. They asked if I minded before they perched their little ones on the flat bed and with flattery or promises of bribes tried to coax them into looking cute. In spite of all the activity I am pleased with my painting pictured above. And I got to meet two women artists from the Kansas City area at lunchtime.
The Lawrence Journal-World wrote that thousands had visited that field this year from across the United States and the world. (It’s a good thing I didn’t come on a weekend.) The paper credited social media, especially Grinter Farms Facebook page, for the field’s increased popularity.