Sometimes it's fun to paint something completely different from my usual subjects. We put up our Christmas tree yesterday, and feeling like after reading too much sadness in the news lately that I could really do with studying something cheerful for a bit, decided on the tree. Study of tree, oil on panel, 9x12"
I spent the morning with photographer Kristin Teig. She was taking pictures of my studio and me in it, and I was drinking a lot of tea and working on a small study of a toy boat. It was a bit of a challenge for me, a reluctant subject of photos most times, to act and paint naturally in front of a camera, but it got easier as the morning progressed. And it certainly was an honor for me and my work to be sought out as subjects. I can't wait to see the finished photographs. As I can't share the photos yet, here's the toy boat study. Oil on panel, 10x10".
I took a break from my daily studies while traveling for the holiday last week. I definitely felt out of practice this morning as I pushed myself to get as much done in an hour as I could. This is not my favorite painting, but it was a good exercise all the same.
I just got back from a lovely trip to Virginia for Thanksgiving. On the way I dropped off a few pieces at Principle Gallery in Alexandria for their holiday season. I'd recommend a visit to the gallery if you're in the DC area, it's always a treat! New works at Principle Gallery:
I've actually wanted to paint this subject for a while, but haven't quite known how to go about it. This morning I was in a hurry to get my daily study out of the way and couldn't decided on a subject. I was standing in the sun, looking around, and thought, why not just paint my shadow? How hard could it be? Famous last words. I think it definitely is worthy of another attempt--there was quite a learning curve to it, not least as sun through a window sweeps across the floor at quite a clip. But here it is: my sunny floor.
Busy as a bee... Just a note to traffic to and from my website, no doubt you've noticed it's a bit outdated. I'm currently in the midst of the enormous project of redesigning it in its entirety. To those of you who are extremely savvy in the ways of computers and websites, it is probably not such a huge task, but to those of us whose computer classes began and ended with Typing 101, it's more monumental. I hope to have it up and running soon. In the mean time, I'm sure you will have more patience than I do, and you can always buy a postcard of one of the paintings missing from the site to tide you over.
Ok, so it's not actually the new year, but why wait until January to start on some good new habits? One of the fabulous things about the Open Studios I participated in last weekend was that it forced me to take a good look at the work I'd done in the last few years. Any artist will tell you, we're always learning, always growing. Looking at all my work hung up on my walls, I was reminded how important it is to me to have a goal, a direction, in my work, and how important it is to be always painting. So, I resolved to paint more, that is, paint daily studies in addition to whatever other work I might have in progress, and to set some time aside each day to plan future paintings.
First thing in the morning, well, after breakfast, I've dedicated to brief studies. Here are the first two:
In case you missed open studios and would desperately like to own some postcards of my work, they are available on Etsy for your purchasing pleasure. You can also find a few prints (I'm working on getting more works available in that form). And if you would like to purchase the paintings themselves, of course, please contact me at email@example.com
--A pause between Open Studio shifts-- I've always had a difficult time pricing my work. How much is it worth? And what does that mean? The question of worth is made more complicated by the love-hate relationships I often have with my paintings. Some pieces I labored and agonized over for months and called them finished without ever being truly happy with my work, others are the result of two days of inspired labor--to me seemingly much better, stronger, more successful paintings than the work of months, but on a price list, often "worth" the same or less. And, of course, each painting feeds off the paintings and experiences that came before: one inspired painting is often the child of years of uninspired paintings (the ones hidden in the back cupboard, of course). It only seems fair to charge for the years that went into the culminating work. It's why someone with a PhD gets paid more to teach than someone with a BA: you're paying for their experience, for their years of study. So how to price? You'd be hard pressed to find an artist who can explain their prices well. Some people just make up numbers. Some people use a price per square inch method, but that often breaks down if your paintings have a large range of sizes, often leaving small paintings costing less than the materials used to make them, or larger paintings costing as much as a house. And an artist can spend more time creating a small painting than a large one, so what then?. I try to be fair; when I started out I did a lot of research on the prices of artists with similar styles and sizes and backgrounds, trying to figure out where I fit in the market. Now, certain sizes and genres of my work have established price ranges from years of showing and selling: those I can't change. And other work of similar size and quality (ah, such a tricky quantity to measure: quality) get similar prices, plus some adjustments for size and frames. And I try to extrapolate out from there, but it's tricky: I sometimes worry I've got it all wrong. And I'm always somewhat heartbroken when people who so clearly love my work cannot afford it, so I've tried to make up for that by selling prints and postcards. Open Studios has been an interesting experience for me. Usually dealing through galleries, I've spent more time talking to the people who sell my work than those who buy it (or refrain from buying it). Letting the world into my studio, I've heard all sorts of reactions to my prices, from those who flat out told me my work was over priced, to the kind lady who asked about my most expensive piece and then told me to stick to the price because I would get it someday, no question. In the end, I think, the matter of worth is individual to each person. No one is going to pay a lot of money for a painting they do not like, but beyond that, what really matters? I studied for years to gain the techniques and skills I bring to my paintings. They are unique unto themselves. People spend hundreds of dollars on smart phones, which, if treated well, will last them a few years. My paintings are well crafted oil paintings, they bring joy, wonder, beauty, laughter (yes, people laugh at my work--in a good way), if treated well, they can last generations. To me, that is worth a lot. And how many smart phones is a painting worth, anyway?
We've just had a hurricane on the East Coast, I'm sure you've noticed. I spent the day placing buckets under the various leaks in the studio and trying not to worry too much about the likelihood of the windows blowing out. Thanks to preparing for Open Studios, all my work was fairly organized, and I had gotten it wrapped up and tucked under a table before the leaking began. I'm very thankful to have been spared to brunt of the storm. Yesterday the sun came out again, and I went for a long walk along the river to check on the beautiful old trees that grace my regular route. Most stood up to the storm. As I was walking I came across a hydrangea bush that had had all of its heavy blooms ripped off and strewn around by the storm. I gathered a few, as they were still fresh and beautiful, and decided a few quick, small paintings were in order before the flowers faded--and also, being a bit pressed for time what with cleaning up from the storm and finishing framing and hanging and organizing for open studios, I didn't have the time for anything more. Here are the paintings--oil on panel, both:
Hydrangea I find particularly tricky to paint. They require a particular patience to find the balance between too much detail, with which they start looking over wrought and tedious, and too little, with which they turn into amorphous, cotton candy-like, blobs of color. I think these little studies are my most successful attempts yet.
And here's one last mushroom painting, just for fun:
We are having Open Studios in my town the first weekend of November, which means, as stages of preparation go, I've now reached total chaos. I'm excited by the opportunity to show my work and studio, and it's been great to have a deadline by which to finish pieces that have been dragging out and also to get frames on things (something about a frame always makes me much more able to see my work as other people must--a finished work) but I'll be so glad when my studio is tidy again and no longer has piles of paintings everywhere in various stages of preparation. Here are some pictures of the chaos just for fun and as way of invitation to the Opening. I will post pictures of the work hung and the studio sparkling and tidy closer to the big day(s).
Ok, so this picture is less of the preparation and more just a nice picture of my work area I took while taking the other pictures.
There are ways in which I haven't changed since I was five. I still think forts made of couch cushions are great; I still think all clothing should come with pockets big enough to stash a sufficient amount of treasure (books, marbles, acorns, butterfly wings, etc.); I still have the urge to jump into the middle of deep puddles; and I still bring home awesome mushrooms I find on my walks. I no longer have my mother at home, however, to suggest that perhaps the mushroom would like to live outside. Now things go more along the lines of, "Hi, honey, I'm home... will be eating dinner late, I found this fantastic mushroom I have to paint..." and then I disappear with my mushroom for the evening. This means, of course, that eventually I will find myself with a rather gross, decaying mushroom in my house--my mother is right, of course, it would like to live outside.
Edge of the Fairy Ring
Ok, must run, there are more mushroom studies to be had :)
My paternal grandmother passed away nearly a year and a half ago. She was an amazing woman. And an avid grower of plants. After she died, I took cuttings from some of her house plants and brought them home with me, where they've flourished, a lucky thing, as the originals languished without her care. One of the plants bears lovely little white flowers which I've been meaning to paint for a while now, in her memory. The painting below is actually of a plant grown from a cutting I took from my first cutting-- now I have two-- and this little guy was just so cheery in its little pot and all full of blooms. She never knew what the plant was called in English, in German, its common name is something like 'bridal veil'. To me, they are Oma's flowers.
I just returned from a few weeks travel around Italy. I traveled with a simple paintbox I'd fashioned from a cardboard box, a few brushes, paints, and small panels, and a notebook. I've never been particularly good at plein air painting; it takes a lot of practice to be good and to understand the shifting light and wind and life that is painting outdoors, and I've neglected to do so with the diligence needed to master the art. But I still enjoy it, and I find myself more willing to take risks in plein air than in my studio, painting things I consider far more difficult than what I can manage in an hour or two, because I'm not expecting a brilliant finished painting anyway, so why not make the most of the study and try something tricky? I came home with nine paintings and a couple of drawings, and while none of them are fabulous, I learned a great deal in the process.
I spent a fair amount of time painting with my friend, Kelly Medford, who lives and paints regularly in Rome. Our first day out to paint, it rained. It rained buckets upon buckets. And we were soaked through. But what to paint in the rain? We found an interesting old building the the Borghese Gardens with an overhang which would keep us dry as we sketched the crumbling interior. It was challenging to try to capture the gloom of the rainy day as well as the complicated architecture.
(My shoes were wet, I promise I didn't wander around Rome barefoot.)
The next day was windy with dramatic clouds. I set up next to an aqueduct:
and painted the field leading to the hills beyond Rome.
After Rome I went up to Cinque Terre, an area almost too beautiful to paint. One morning I started a painting of the colorful houses bunched up along the sea, but quickly decided I had gone about it all wrong, trying to capture the details in the buildings instead of keeping it simple blocks of color. Instead of starting over, as I knew I should, I went to the beach (it was my vacation after all) and decided to paint boats the next day, as I'm infinitely more interested in painting boats than buildings anyway.
Here's the unfinished start of the jumbled buildings:
The next morning I got up early to paint the boats in the harbor of Riomaggiore. I found a seat on the rocks by the shore and fell in love with a beautiful white boat with a purple floor and orange walls. It went much better than the painting of buildings, but before I could finish, the sun came over the hill and changed my light completely. And while I was sitting there contemplating trying to fake it, that is, to make up the way the light would have been while looking at a scene completely transformed, a man came and took my beloved boat out to sea, so I packed up and went for coffee.
If I had a boat, it would have a purple floor too.
I do have a thing for boats, among other things, there's a growing collection of toy boats in the corner of my studio. And so I spent a lovely while in a cafe overlooking the sea sketching the various boats as they went by, trying to capture them with as simple of a sketch as possible: a few perfect lines, the right shape, a silhouette.
It was a great exercise.
The next day, encouraged by the boat sketches, I had a go at a gnarled tree. I have a bad tendency to be lazy with trees, not bothering to study accurately the patterns of the branches, even though, truth be told, those patterns are probably my favorite part. So I decided to do a proper study.
Tree study, Riomaggiore.
And then I found myself in Florence, a bit astonished to be returning to a place I used to call home. In San Domenico, I again decided to do a proper study of a tree, this time in paint, and of an olive tree.
I've always loved the character brought out of the trees through years of cultivation, they are such twisted, gnarled creatures.
Then we had a turn in the weather, an overcast day, threatening rain. I had another go at buildings. For all the the lines of Florentine buildings are all a bit crooked, they seemed less challenging and more straightforward than a pile of brightly colored houses wrapping around the cliffs by the sea. It certainly was a more successful painting.
One of the things that always strikes me in Italy is the way the buildings glow. It's not the bright colors in the sun, although those glow as well, it's the light bouncing off the bright colors and lighting the shadows with incredible warmth that catches me and makes the scenes seem fantastic. I tried to capture it in the study below of a few Florentine buildings. I neglected accuracy of drawing in the buildings themselves, but I think I started to get the glow on the orange wall in the shadows, and that was exciting. It was also, that day, despite being brilliantly sunny and startlingly clear, very cold, and I stopped the painting sooner than I would have liked in order to go in search of warmth.
My last few days were spent in Venice, and after wandering around under perfect blue skies, admiring the green of the canals and the arch of the bridges, I decided I couldn't paint them. Not that I was unable to paint them, but that there are already so many paintings of them, and their beauty has been so well captured by so many artists, that I had nothing to add. So I wandered around, enjoying the beauty around me, but wondering what I would finally paint, and I came across a boatyard. A busy, cluttered, fabulous boatyard, which was far too complicated for a plein air painting of a few hours, but which begged to be painted all the same. So, hoping to get to a larger, more finished painting of the boatyard, I did a study that was, among other things, a wonderful exercise in leaving out a hundred million details and focusing on the big picture. It was the most exciting painting of the trip.
Or at least it was the most exciting painting, until I found an old man with an old boat turned antique shop. It was a fabulous old, beat up boat, piled in junk: chairs, boxes, chandeliers, cake pans, vases, saw horses, table cloths. All covered with a faded, brilliant blue sail to keep off the sun, and anchored next to yellow and orange buildings on the edge of a canal. It was another scene that begged a larger, finished painting, and also a study in simplification. It was so much fun to paint.
Boat of antiques, Venice.
It was lovely trip, and while the paintings are of various quality, I learned so much from my studies, I hope to launch into successful work in the studio now that I'm home.