It’s been a long time since my days of trying to find and agent or publisher, when I’d spend a fortune going from one writers’ conference to another, flying or driving around the country hoping readers would buy my existing books, or a publisher or agent would take me and my idea on board. It was hard, demoralizing at times. Ultimately, I chose Shadowridge Press as my publisher because they do beautiful work and spend a lot of time on design. I was mostly responsible for my own marketing and since I hate that sort of thing, I have a lot of books in boxes at home, and a lot of stuff on Amazon that doesn’t move. It’s my own fault for not making an effort but in my defense, I spent YEARS trying to sell, and schmoozing, and spending money on marketing. In the words of Bartleby, “I would prefer not to” continue to do that.
But painting is something else entirely. I don’t feel a need to sell, sell, sell. I’m not looking for my big break, one painting that’ll set me for life and pay off my house. I paint because I like it, because when I do a pet portrait, I smile when I’m painting, and the people I paint for smile when they see the final product.
Recently my future son-in-law started making beautiful, high-end cutting boards. Instagram @travwoodworks
He discovered a Makers’ Market in town and signed up for a table. I did as well, figuring since I’ve got a couple of dozen paintings, and am creating more all the time, I ought to try to sell some. I have my originals, prints, and have a shingle out to take commissions for pet portraits. The vibe when I’m doing this for pleasure instead of to support myself is very different. Yes, I want to get paid for work I do, but I also like the events and talking to people, getting to know others, and hearing from passersby that my pups and the paintings are cute.
All the pictures I’ve posted in the past were photos of paintings. To give a better idea of the quality, here are some high-resolution scans.
I’ll be working on the new kids’ book and will hopefully have it for sale at the Maker’s Market in the next couple of months. Keep an eye out for new paintings and shows.
The book is just about done, Meaning the rough draft at least. All painting are complete, except one. Once I finish that one I’ll do one more run through for final brush strokes. The narrative parts of the story are also nearly done. I decided to tell the story in poem form since it’s for kids. Here’s a picture of most of the paintings in various stages, plus the “Very formal” outline of the book with notes.
In the next part of the book, where I left off in the last post, Anna tells Granola that it’s time for her to go, for good. She says Granola is ready. Granola is saddened by this so runs away from home, has a good cry on a rainy day, and is finally brought home by her parents. She gets a warm bath and lots of hugs.
Later, Mom sits Granola and Scruffy down and tells them some big news.
In the end, time passes. Granola turns two! She doesn’t see Anna anymore but says she knows Anna still watches over them all. Except she says this in kid-friendly terms, in rhyme.
I’m still working on the cover but here it is, still in progress.
My next post about this book will be when it’s done and ready to read. Until then I’ll be focusing on some of the other paintings and my new foray into Makers’ Markets and selling my work.
Though I’ve sworn off writing fiction and instead have thrown myself into oil painting, I’ve realized recently that maybe there’s a way to do both.
The day after Christmas, my old Schnauzer Anna passed away from complications of dementia and heart disease. My dog Granola was very close to her old doggy sister, though she also adores her middle- aged buddy Scruffy. One day I noticed Granola looking in a mirror, so I photographed her as I often do. I decided instantly to paint it but then got the idea to add Anna in, but only on one side.
From there I became completely pulled into the idea of writing a book about loss for children. I planned out the book on index cards, just like old times. Though this time there weren’t as many cards as an 80,000 word novel needs a bit more planning.
I decided to start the story when Granola was little. These paintings still need a little touching up but they’re a good sneak preview.
Over time, Anna’s age started to get the best of her. One day she got sick and Granola and Scruffy waited and waited. But she didn’t come home… Note my masterful sketches I use as a guide.
After that day, the pups were very sad…
Soon after, in the book, Granola sees Ghost Anna in the mirror, where it all started. She is very excited until she jumps right through her. She runs and hides but eventually comes out again, tentatively. Again, not to worry, these paintings are drafts. I’d never post drafts of writing online but with paintings I think it’s fun to see the process. I’m grateful my dogs are so good about picture time.
After that, when Granola saw Anna’s ghost wasn’t going to hurt her, it made her happy. Anna stuck around for a while. They hung out and played games together, though Scruffy couldn’t see her and thought it was her imagination. Why I got the idea of puzzles I’ll never know but I thought it would be fun to paint.
That’s plenty of teaser for now. I’ve got a lot more paintings done and only ONE PICTURE left to paint. Then I have to work out the narrative part. I know what I want to say but any good writer will tell you, it’s how you say it. And that, I don’t have figured out yet.
I’ll share more soon but didn’t want you all to think I was being lazy or binge watching TV with my “free” time. Okay, I am also binge watching TV, from behind my easel. I highly recommend Offspring and Wilfred. I’ve recently started watching LOST which I haven’t seen since it aired. And of course the perfect shows whose seasons end all too quickly, This Is Us and Call the Midwife.
Since my last post, I’ve had twinges of longing to write again. I’ve sat down at my laptop and “scribbled” down some badly written starts. In the past I’d persevere until the bad scribbles turned into something good. But with my long hiatus from writing, it’s still difficult to bring myself to write much more than blogs. In the meantime, I’ve been exploring my newfound love of painting.
When I was very young I loved to draw. I wanted to be an artist when I grew up but wasn’t good at it. This was back in the 70s and we didn’t have much money so art lessons in person weren’t even thought of. When we were kids, we played outside a lot and followed our creative pursuits and let our schools lead the way. There was no Internet or YouTube, no online lessons. Maybe there were art books in the library but writing stories came a lot more naturally to me. So that’s what I did. In sixth grade, I still really liked drawing and art class but because of budget cuts (Prop 2 I think it was called) only the tops kids got to pursue art in seventh and eighth grade in a class they called Super Art. I wasn’t chosen, not by a long shot, so that was that with art except for occasional cartoons I’d draw for myself or others.
When I took an oil painting class months ago it was a random happenstance, and I didn’t expect much. I couldn’t draw so I wouldn’t be able to paint. I’ve learned in the last several months that they don’t have to be interrelated. When I paint now, I’ve got the same excitement and enthusiasm I had when I was a child.
Since the last post here are the paintings I’ve finished. I’m throwing fewer in the trash and more are being hung on my wall or sent to people who want them hanging in their homes. This is a wonderful feeling, seeing my work on someone else’s wall. Each day something I created brings them joy. There’s nothing better than that.
Without further ado, here’s my newest stuff.
We’ll see what 2022 brings but for now as long as I’m doing something creative, I think I’ll be just fine.
I’ve been painting like a madwoman because whenever I start a new hobby I go full force. I started painting dogs for practice and feel like I’m getting pretty good at it, enough to start selling them one of these days. Maybe it wouldn’t be as much fun if I had to do it but I may explore this and put any money earned toward my credit card debt. And if I don’t go that route, I’ll paint a bunch more and hang them to add fun and whimsy to my living room wall.
Here are the ones I’ve completed to date. The black and white ones are all of my Granola. The Australian Shepherd is my friend’s dog, Jasper. The terrier-type dog is my stepfather’s buddy Scooter.
This weekend I did the two below. The little brown dog, Maysie, belongs to my husband’s coworker. The poodle is my father-in-law’s dog, Bridget.
I’ve got two more to paint that someone requested and then I’m seriously going to consider opening an Etsy shop or at least advertising locally. I’m a little intimidated with trying to paint humans but I should give that a shot too.
Painting is so relaxing. The materials are a bit expensive but once I have the paints they last a while, except for black and white which I use up pretty quickly. I use Winsor and Newton Paints, Artist’s line, linseed oil and Dammar Varnish. I’ve been using the Winsor Winton Titanium White from Amazon because I use so much. It’s a little thicker but the oil thins is nicely.
I’ve got shelves full of tile and need to get back to mosaics one of these days. The only reason I’ve slowed down, okay two reasons, are the mosquitos that are STILL HERE even though it’s October 31st. Happy Halloween by the way. And second, I used up all the wall I can easily get to that’s not obstructed by plants. Any new work I do will need to be on the hill and it’s a lot harder to tile, lugging up heavy tile, water, and grout.
I hope you enjoy the paintings and feel a bit inspired.
I’m being optimistic and very driven to entitle the blog entry this way, inferring that eventually I’ll look back and say, “Wow, look at the stuff I did when I was just starting out,” and we’ll all have a good laugh. But I’m nothing if not optimistic.
This, like all of them, has been a hot summer so I took a break from mosaics for a few months. There were two other main drivers in this decision. The first is that I can’t find green tile anywhere, not cheap at least. A couple of Christmases ago I bought out all the dark green plates I could find at Dollar Tree and the 99 Cent Only store. Since then, I have searched high and low and can find nothing without spending a fortune on upscale designer tile online. I made one small cactus on the wall and now am completely out except for anything but the lightest green.
The second driver (because lack of green doesn’t preclude me from making a red and white mushroom on the back wall) is the new mosquito infestation in Southern California. I’ve lived here seven years and have never gotten a bite. And now not only are there mosquitos everywhere, a reminder of home I didn’t want, but we have “day biters.” At least in New England we’d be safe until dusk when we could hide inside as if avoiding zombies or vampires. But here? Any time of the day or night is fair game. I sincerely hope the cooler weather will come soon and they will go away.
So back to the point of this blog. I saw a Groupon for a painting class so dragged my husband along. We were told ahead of time this would not be a relaxed paint and drink night, but serious painting. And it was. That first night we learned the art of mixing colors by instinct and judgement and not to rely on “red and yellow makes orange” though that’s part of it. We learned that anything but primary colors can have many other colors within. I used exclusively Windsor Oil Paints, Artists line though I picked up some Winton ones in that brand and they work pretty well too in a pinch but aren’t as glossy.
I was hooked and for two months took classes four hours every Wednesday night. It was brutal as I had a master artist instructor whose art hanging in our workspace was breathtaking, intimidating, and inspiring. I learned what Realism was and wasn’t but went into it blind, knowing very little outside of maybe ten famous artists and the difference between water colors, oils, acrylics, and crayons. Every stroke was a lesson. If time and money permitted I would have stayed in the class for years, as many of the students did. But some work and life changes so I had to drop.
This first picture is the one I completed after a month with the teacher’s instruction. I’ll note that most of it was his work. As much as I’d like to take credit for it, and the fact that I had more paint on the canvas than he did, his touches and final layers made the painting beautiful. Each time I’d paint for an hour and he’d walk over, dip a brush in linseed oil and smear away everything I did and do a section “right.” Then he’d repeat that over and over until I was close to tears. But I learned. I learned a LOT of what not to do.
But I also learned that all painting isn’t Realism, and that painting to paint because it’s a peaceful activity is also okay. Since I’m not painting to become famous and get my work into a gallery, I took everything I learned in those two months, plus what I absorbed from at least 100 YouTube Videos, mostly Draw Mix Paint, and have been painting away. I’m getting better for sure but have a long way to go. One thing I love about working with oils though is that you can paint over and over the errors, and keep adding layers until you get it right.
One thing I realized early on is that I have a REALLY hard time with perspective, and everything is always crooked. My gas pump looks like it’s melting. Mr. Peanut is leaning though not as much in the early drafts. My crayons started off fat and different sizes. With a little more work they got skinner. The blue one on its side looked more like a crayon. And then I painted in the brush I was using because I kept seeing it. I painted a picture of the rolling hay fields in Prince Edward Island but also wanted to feature the little straw man in my living room. This painting didn’t get finished because of a canvas issue I’ll discuss in a few paragraphs.
The bottle painting below is the last one I finished. One thing I learned along the way that varied from what I learned in class, is that I can use my imagination to change the colors or backgrounds or anything else. In the one below, in real life there were some bottles on my kitchen window next to an old coffee grinder. Behind it was a dirty window looking into my driveway. There’s a screen and part of a tire that appears to be floating because of the lighting. If I painted that it would look ridiculous. Pus when I painted the grinder I just could not make it look three dimensional. Yes I could have spent a month on it, and studied perspective and repainted that object over and over. But I’m not trying to achieve photographic realism. I just want to paint because it’s calming.
I painted over the coffee grinder, changed the bottles a little, and changed the real white metal panes for chipped green wooden ones. I updated the real background of screen and sun, floating tires and palm trees, for a snowy winter scene. In the end, the bottles were merely inspiration, much like the subjects in my fiction stories. For me, this is good fit.
One thing I learned the hard way is that when you use canvas paper it’s hard to frame. I’d bought it in pads for practice rationalizing that it was easier to throw away a piece of cloth I’d practiced the heck out of than bulky canvases. When my painting improved and I wanted to frame some of these, like the bottles, the bear, and Mr. Peanut, the canvas pulled in on itself when it started to dry. I finally understood why it’s normally stretched over wood. Live and learn. I set the pads aside for true practice work and picked up some 9X12 boards to use at Five Below. These are solid and not springy like a true stretched canvas and easy to work with. Plus I don’t want a trash bin full of bulky canvases.
For now this will be my thing. I have urges to write sometimes, characters barking at me to write their stories, but I am not ready to delve back into that overwhelming abyss of fiction writing again. Playing my dulcimer calms me, mosaics calm me. Painting calms me. Writing revs me up and takes over, obsesses me, makes me cranky and dismissive of all the real life stuff around me. Sorry Fiction, you’ll have to wait in the sidelines a bit longer.