First up, a Beagle. I had a Beagle when I was a child. We brought Buddy home when he was seven weeks old, and I was seven years. He quickly became quite a little rascal, and my best friend. This Beagle doesn’t look like Buddy, but it reminded me of him. Buddy passed away in the early 1980s when photography wasn’t as advanced as is it now, for regular 110 home cameras, so I don’t have any sharp, clear pictures to use as reference. It was a nice memory to paint this dog’s portrait and reminded me how expressive Beagle faces can be.
Next up, a black Labrador puppy because who doesn’t love the adorable face of a little lab?
This last piece was the hardest so far. I was attempting to paint a photo I have of Travis and baby Travie. I don’t have as much experience with humans so, as you’ll see in the photos, this was really a struggle. I still have a little work to do on this one, but it’s just about done.
For the Father Son picture, I used a pallet knife for the first time. The lines on their shirts were too precise, the edges of their faces too crisp. Hoping it was a good idea, I followed my old instructor’s advice and deconstructed the painting. I took a piece that was almost done and smeared thick paint all over it. Thankfully, it worked! The baby’s nostrils and mouth need a little more work but that should be an easy fix.
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.