Saturday, December 31, 2011

"Winter Sunset at Sea" (oil on linen; 8" x 12") sold


Thank you for taking time to read my blog in 2011. I will be back with more (and, hopefully, better) paintings and stories next year!


Thursday, December 29, 2011

"Snow Trees" (oil on linen; 8" x 12") sold


I had a photograph which was so underexposed that it almost looked black and white.  But it had an intriguing design I wanted to explore--a line of snow-coated trees along a dark band of a creek flowing through snow fields.  I photoshoped it to lighten the darks.  It looked better; but it still had hardly any colors, which wasn't a disaster.  I could "make up" colors easily, you see.  Browns for the trees, dark blues for the creek, and various whites for the snow.  The painting isn't really about color.  It's about design.

The photo's picture plane was originally divided into two by the biggest tree, which I moved a little to the left.  Other trees were also moved a bit this way and that way, so that the painting has three groupings of trees: the papa group in the middle, the mama group on the right, and the lone tree (baby!) on the left.  The snow field across the creek is sunlit; the snow bank in the foreground is in the shadow.  So are all the trees.  I had a lot of fun painting wet snow clinging to the trees--trunks, branches, twigs, and all.  Oh, I wish it would snow!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"His Best Friend" (oil on linen; 9" x 12") sold


The reference photo for "His Best Friend" was black and white.  In the picture, the man was walking two dogs.  I got rid of one dog with an awkward posture, and kept just one.  The title obviously comes from the phrase that a dog is a man's best friend.  The rest was up to my imagination. 

I decided that it is to be an autumnal scene in late afternoon light.  The distant trees on the far right was painted in dull violets, whereas the sun-struck area of the tall trees in the center is bright yellow organge.  The man and his dog are rather far away in the middle ground from the viewer, so they are painted small and gesturally.  Even so, the eye goes straight to them, doesn't it?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Kids at Sunset Beach" (oil on linen; 11" x 14") sold

"Kids at Sunset Beach"
"Moonrise" (oil, 8" x 10")
"Central Park Reflections" (oil, 12" x 9")

I am fascinated by water's ability for reflecting things above and around it.  Especially when there is no strong breeze, water acts as a lovely mirror.  At sunrise and sunset, when the sky takes on those ineffable hues of pale yellows, oranges, pinks, mauves, subtle blues and violets, water becomes the enchanting bridesmaid who accompanies the beautiful bride--the sky.  Throw in some magnificent clouds to the mix, we are in heaven on earth!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

"Springtime at Central Park" (oil on linen; 9" x 12") sold


Reference photo

I love New York, NY.  I don't want to live there, but would drop everything to visit the city anytime.  So much energy and cultural diversity!  The above picture was taken a few years ago on a family mini-vacation.  It was a mild, overcast spring day.  We had walked for I don't know how many blocks from our hotel at Times Square, stopping at many landmarks.  Our destination was the Metropolitan Museum of Art for an afternoon of Ancient Egyptian history and culture.  (I would have spent the time looking at paintings, but my daughter would have none of that and wanted to visit the world-famous Egyptian collection.  Sigh.) 

Central Park was crowded as it was a weekend day.  I don't know how New Yorkers would manage without this green haven.  Thank goodness, we had Frederick Law Olmsted, who had the vision to design this beautiful park!  Do you recognize the famous bridge, which had been featured in countless movies?

I wanted to paint the scene for a long time.  But something held me back.  Do you know that made me hesitate?  It was the tyranny of the color green.  It's green in the foreground, middle ground, and background.  I might as well pour a bucket of diluted green on the canvas and call it quits!

I thought long and hard about the problem and decided to take an artistic license.  I made the foreground greens warm (with the various mixtures of cobalt blue, cadminum yellow medium, and some reds), while keeping the middle ground greens pale and cool (with cerulean blue, cadmium yellow light, some reds, and lots of titanium white).  The background greens just above and below the bridge are muted violets.  I edited out the tiny figures to enhance the serene mood I was going after.  What do you think of the result of my efforts?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Walk along Autumn Canal" (oil on linen; 9" x 12") sold

"Walk along Autumn Canal"
"Autumn Bliss" (oil, 9" x 12")
"Autumn Canal" (oil, 12" x 12")

"Autumn Day along the Canal" (oil, 9" x 12")

Canal is not really one of my series, although it surely looks that way.  The reason has to do with the beauty of Wide Water on the C & O Canal along the Potomac. Some places are like a painter's heaven, a gold mine, a jackpot. You can go there over and over and still find things to paint.  The C & O Canal is one of them. I had a good fortune to discover the place, thanks to the Art League Plein Air Painters, who went there several times this fall. It's always a good idea to paint with friends for safety and conviviality. I joined them twice. Each time, the weather obliged. I still have more pictures to work from. Yippee!

"Autumn Bliss" was the third painting from my "mini" series.  Can you tell whether it was done on location or in studio?  Surprisingly, "Autumn Canal," with all those details, was painted en plein air, whereas "Autumn Bliss," with a bolder design, was painted at home.  You can tell, however, that both have the similar feel in terms of the time of the season.

"Walk along Autumn Canal" (I am running out of titles!) is the latest canal painting.  The vantage point is just a short distance from the one in "Autumn Bliss."  It feels more painterly than "Autumn Bliss."  Perhaps I have finally gotten in touch with the painterly arist's zen.

Monday, December 12, 2011

"Silent Night" (oil on linen; 10" x 12") sold

"Silent Night"
"Snow Valley" (oil; 10" x 15")

Snowscape is another favorite subject of mine.  So much so that, I am in danger of running out of my reference material for snow paintings, as I live in an area that doesn't get much snow.  Of the two latest snowscapes, I like "Silent Night" better.  Snow is inherently a cold matter.  Unless much care is taken, a snow painting will be too cold to look at.  I thought that the warm-toned clouds in "Snow Valley" will balance out the cool colors in the rest of the painting.  But, over all, it feels too icy for comfort.

So I am going back to painting snow scenes in early morning or late afternoon light.  Sunset is even better.  Snow reflects everything around it and, of course, the ambient light. The brilliant colors in the sunset sky seem to bring out the best in snow.  If only it would snow!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Sunset Clouds" (oil on linen; 9" x 12") sold

"Sunset Clouds"
"Lighthouse at Sunset" (oil; 9" x 12")

It is a great idea to work in a series.  To get to the bottom of things, so to speak.  Sunset sky is one of my such on-going series.  I am perhaps inspired by my mentor, Sara Linda Poly.  She is my first oil painting teacher, whose luminous skyscapes never fail to take my breath away.  As a veteran plein air painter, she paints on location these "golden moments," which don't last very long.  Half an hour, tops, if you are lucky. 

Sara draws the landscape parts--trees and so on--on a toned ground first and waits for the sunset to work its glorious, spectacular magic.  It is, of course, hard to paint looking at the sun in rapidly fading light, and I don't know how she does it so well.  As a newbie to plein air painting, I prefer to paint these sunset scenes in my studio.  "Sunset Clouds" and "Lighthouse at Sunset" are my two latest attempts at sunset sky.  I am pleased with them, for now.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"At Founders Park" (watercolor with white gouache; 9" x 9")

"At Founders Park" on my sketchbook page

Rick's demo of a "poster" figure study

My attempts at "poster" figure studies

Sunday's schedule was even more rigorous. For three hours, we had a model for our "poster" figure studies. Rick Weaver's main concern was most students' obsession with line drawing. We try to draw as precisely as we are capable of, then "color in." He would rather have us think in terms of color shapes. Color has four properties: hue (red, blue, yellow, etc.), chroma (color intensity), value (light and dark), and temperature (warm and cool). And the same color will appear differently, like a chameleon, depending on what surrounds it.  To paint in color is to play with fire.

Rick's answer was to do a series of "poster" figure studies.  The more, the better.  If you look at Rick's demo carefully, you will find eight color shapes: light and dark shapes for the head, hair, shirt, and background fabric.  We were told to "match" the overall color for each shape, being mindful of hue, chroma, value, and temperature.  Within each shape, there is a myriad of nuanced colors.  Forget those and come up with one color that describes the shape.  One should be able to tell the picture across the room as a woman with brown hair wearing a green shirt against an orange backdrop with a strong yellow light.  We did three of these quick studies.  The model came prepared with changes of clothes.

Rick doing a demo at Founders Park in Alexandria, VA

Rick's unfinished landscape demo

The view of winter bushes I chose to paint

After a quick lunch break, we went outside for a landscape exercise.  This is what I was hoping for, but didn't expect to happen.  How often do you get a perfect weather for outdoor painting in early December?  The fortune, however, favored us.  The warm late afternoon sun cast long cool shadows.  After watching Rick do a quick demo, we were given 45 minutes to do a plein-air landscape sketch.  Yes, really.  I painted the above scene, sitting on a small sketchbook, as the grass was wet and I didn't come prepared with a stool.  It took three minutes to set up the gear.  It would have taken 30 minutes to settle down to paint in oil! 

We returned to the classroom for the final parting words from Rick and goodbyes.  He said: do "poster" studies like a musician practices scales.  I took the workshop to learn to use watercolors like oils.  I learned that, and much more.  Thank you, Rick.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"Blue and Green Still Life" (watercolor with white gouache; 13" x 11") sold

"Blue and Green Still Life"

Still Life setup with Rick Weaver

Rick starts blocking in

Rick's compact travel watercolor palette

Rick's demo painting--loose and free!

Last weekend I took a fabulous workshop--"Opaque Watercolors"--with Rick Weaver at the Art League School in Alexandria, VA.  I was excited to see him in person, as he had the reputation of being brutally honest to students in what he says about their artwork.  I have heard of students ending up in the bathroom to cry after his critique!  Another reason for the anxiety was that, because of a low enrollment, there was an imminent danger of the workshop getting cancelled.  Dang!  I really wanted to learn how to use watercolors opaquely like oils for painting during vacations.

I am a dedicated plein-air painter and have dragged my painting gear around in my enthusiasm to all sorts of places, including national parks in the Southwest.  But there is the bulk issue of the art gear necessary for outdoor painting in oil.  An even bigger problem is traveling with oil paints and mediums.  One has to take numerous precautions not to get your stuff thrown out of your luggage.  These days, a traveling oil painter is treated worse than a terrorist with a bomb on the airplane!

I was tired of it all.  I needed an intervention.  I had to find out whether Rick's promise would deliver: the promise of maximizing the watercolor paints' potentials with one additional paint--a white gouache--to make them behave opaquely, but retaining transparency when appropriate.  Fortunately, six additional students signed up for the workshop at the last moment.  Thank goodness!  And Rick did more than deliver.  His reputation turned out to be false as well.  He was a fun, gentle, encouraging, and phenomenal teacher!

On Saturday, we tackled still life to get the hang of the new medium.  Even a veteran watercolorist such as myself found that adding a white gouache to watercolor paints transformed them into a totally different animal.  Traditional transparent watercolors dry a little lighter; but opaque watercolor paints dry darker, just like acrylic paints.  Strange.  I also had to figure out the right water/paint ratio to make the paints flow.  Tricky.

My still life value study (watercolor with white gouache; 9" x 9")

In other words, it was hard!  For a particularly struggling student, Rick did another quick demo of a value study with just one color of burnt umber.  As we had only half an hour left by that time, several of us decided to do the same instead of starting a new still life as Rick made us switch to another setup.  A slave driver!  I didn't have the right color, so, instead, used Daniel Smith's "Moonglow".  The above value study is pretty much a trasparent watercolor, with one exception.  I restored lights with a white gouache here and there. 

You see, that is precisely the point.  In traditional watercolors, lights once lost are lost forever, just like Fitzwilliam Darcy's opinion once lost is lost forever in Pride and Prejudice.  In traditional watercolors, a white paint is death, anathema.  One must preserve white and lights with life.  But, honestly, who gives a darn!  With a white added to your watercolor paints, you can go either way--darker or lighter.  There is freedom.  Hallelujah!

Friday, December 2, 2011

"Cardinal in the Snow" (oil on linen; 8" x 10") sold

Original image

Speaking of Photoshop, I learned something very valuable during the workshop with Bobbi Pratte on Monday.  I have lots of paintings with a white background.  For instance, in "Cardinal in the Snow," much of the painting is the snow-covered ground.  Sure, it is about the red cardinal looking for food on a winter day, but if the bird had been standing on a dark ground, the painting's impact would have been completely lost. 

So it is imperative to show in the photographic image what I had captured with paints.  Unfortunately, whenever I take pictures of paintings with a white background, they come out looking drab.  Whites just are not white enough.  They might reflect too much of the blue sky, turning bluish; or they turn out dull, dirty-looking.  Sigh.

Hoping that Bobbi must know what to do, I asked her.  She did indeed know how to correct the problem with Photoshop.  Go to "Enhance," "Adjust Lighting," then "Levels."  In the dialog box, you will see the Input Levels in the top half.  There are three buttons.  The far right button controls the highest values.  Drag it to the left until you find the satisfactory light value.  That's it!

I could have done some more cool stuff even before I started painting "Cardinal in the Snow," too.  I had to use two different photos while painting: one for the pine tree in the background, the other for the bird's pose.  If I had taken the workshop before, I would have combined the two pictures with Photoshop and worked with just one printout.  If I had wished so, I could have flipped the bird's direction, so that it would look the other way.  You get the idea.  I have just entered the wondrous world of Photoshop!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Scandinavian House" (oil on stretched linen; 14" x 18") sold


Composition drawing for "Scandinavian House"

I was busy during the Thanksgiving holiday, not visiting with family, but working.  It was my sweet husband who cooked on Thanksgiving!  Why?  I had to finish two commission paintings that need to be shipped by early December.  One of them--"Waterlily Dreams"--I already shared with my readers.  "Scandinavian House" was the second painting I worked on during the holiday.

This  portrait of a house was commissioned by my dear sister-in-law for her husband.  She is probably the only client who didn't negotiate the price; she told me she didn't want a discount.  Bless her heart!  She and husband had raised their four sons in this house.  After their children left, they decided to stay instead of moving somewhere else.  They recently made some additions, and that is why my sister-in-law decided it would be a fun "addition" to their new additions.

I worked with a couple of pictures she took in the afternoon.  She worried about the "artistic" quality of the pictures, but I told her that I liked them just fine.  The late afternoon sun casts long tree shadows on the driveway, lawn, and house itself.  You can tell that the property is surrounded by the tall, slender pine trees.  They are very important in the composition as much as the house itself.  I felt that the two tall trees in front of the house were like the father and mother of the family.  I made sure that they didn't bisect the painting perfectly.

I first did a value drawing on a piece of paper in the same size as the painting itself to work out the composition.  This is something I rarely do as I usually compose in my head and jump right into the painting process.  But, for this important project, I didn't want to waste time and spoil the fresh brushwork by messing around with the elaborate architectural drawing on the canvas itself. 

After my client approved the composition, the rest was a breeze, as I had already decided on the palette: blues for the sky, warm yellow oranges for the house, greeens for the pine trees, and blue violets for the shadows in the driveway.  She wanted the driveway a little less prominent while I was working on the painting, so I obliged by making the lawn a little bigger.  I felt such affection for the family that I think it shows in the final painting.  Doesn't "Scandinavian House" look like a happy house?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Central Park Reflections" (oil on linen; 12" x 9") sold


Original reference photo

Hue/Saturation adjusted photo

Last Monday I took an interesting workshop with Bobbi Pratte at the Art League School in Alexandria, VA.  It was about how to use Photoshop to improve paintings.  I use Photoshop to crop, rotate, lighten/darken the photographic images.  The basic stuff.  I am not a techie; I dread the whole esoteric, mysterious universe of technology.  So it was with some reservation that I signed up for the workshop, mainly because a good friend of mine talked me into it and some other good friends were taking it.  Why not?

I must say that I did see some interesting "tricks" one could do with Photoshop Elements.  My head spinned at the end of the three-hour workshop.  Bobbi covered such an impressive amount of information in one afternoon that, in the evening, when I picked up my long-abandoned copy of Photoshop Elements 8 for Dummies, I could almost understand what the 600-page-long book was explaining--selections, tools, layers, opacity, etc., etc. 

OK, let's talk about "Central Park Reflections."  The original reference photo was taken on an overcast spring day a couple of years ago during a mini family vacation to New York City.  I loved the way the Manhattan skyline was reflected in the pond water at Central Park.  But I decided to change the time of the day to dusk to make the painting "romantic." 

On the morning of the workshop, I tried to paint with the original printout, which was green all over with a colorless sky.  It was hard.  During the workshop, it occurred to me that I should adjust hue/saturation of the photo, so that it would be easier to visualize the mood I was going after.  I did just that this morning and reworked the painting with the adjusted printout.  It was much easier as I hoped. 

I had known how to adjust Hue/Saturation all along, but have never manipulated a reference photo to suit my particular project, only relying on my power of visual imagination.  I honestly don't know which way is better for an artist.  But I suspect that I will be using Photoshop more often to make my life easier.

Friday, November 25, 2011

"Waterlily Dreams" (oil on stretched canvas; 24" x 18") sold

"Waterlily Dreams"
"Where Dragonflies Play" (oil, 12" x 9")

At the request of a client, I did a much larger version of the same painting.  When a painting is blown up, I often feel that something gets lost in the translation.  The charm and suggestiveness of a small painting become sacrificed in favor of details.  I was determined that it should not happen with this commission work.  I came up with the title first and stuck to it, keeping it "dreamy" and "soft-edged."  What do you think of the new painting?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Winter Afternoon" (oil on linen; 12" x 9") sold


I've said this before, and I will say it again and again.  You don't have to go far for beautiful sceneries.  Beauty--Nature and man-made--exists everywhere.  It's all around us.  We just have to keep our eyes open.  Take a walk in your neighborhood after snow.  Do it when the sun comes out.  An early morning or late afternoon light will transform your neighbor's driveway into a winter wonderland. 

Just leave your phone or iPod home.  Talking on the phone or listening to a loud music doesn't mix well with the quiet appreciation of sight, sound, and smell that one is supposed to be engaged in while taking a stroll.  We've taken the idea of multi-tasking to the ludicrous level.  We don't feel any more sense of accomplishment with all that multi-tasking of doing several things at the same time.  Instead, we are simply stressed out.  Let's take a time out.


Friday, November 18, 2011

"Orchid Love" (oil on linen; 12" x 8") sold

Reference photo

Do you like orchids?  I do.  Some people have the enviable green thumb with these exotic tropical flowers and have them flower year after year.  No, me.  All I can hope for is to enjoy them for a few weeks, then buy another plant in the following year.  Or, take pictures at a florist shop like I did back in September.  Of course, working from a photo is a big challenge.  I can hardly see what's going on in the dark shadowed areas.  But I liked the design of several long terracotta pots arranged at different levels and the idea of not having to pay for several pots to paint from life.  Cheap I am.

"Orchid Smiles" (watercolor, 14" x 10")

"Orchid Smiles" was painted in watercolor in 2004.  Which do you like better?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Sarah" (graphite and chalk; 16" x 12")

Today was the last session of Lisa Semerad's figure drawing (short pose) class at the Art League School in Alexandria, VA.  To top off our nine-week forays into the fascinating world of figure drawing, we were assigned to a two-hour-long pose with just a bit of instruction about different kinds of paper and drawing tools.

I chose a warm, mid-toned Canson Mi-teintes paper, since it seemed to match her skin tone fairly closely.  Getting the pose down wasn't hard.  The challenge for me was to get hatching right.  Last week, Lisa showed the different types of hatching--simple, contour, planar, and cross--and told us to practice at home.  Have I done that?  Of course, not. 

And working with white chalk as well as graphite made things really exciting (i.e., confusing).  The paper provides the mid tone; graphite pencils, darks; and white chalk, the highlights.  If you mix graphite and white chalk, you get a disgusting blue gray!  They don't come into contact, excpet where there is an abrupt change of planes from dark to light.

Two hours was a long time for us, a luxury--enough time to get the drawing right, add values, work the environment which the model occupied into the composition, and fiddle.  The model's right knee got a whole lot of white highlights, for instance.  It comes forward too much.  Oh, well.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Southwestern Wildflower Meadow" (oil on linen; 11" x 14") sold

"Southwestern Wildflower Meadow"
"Mule Deer in the Meadow" (oil, 9" x 12")

Bobbi Pratte's landscape class is winding down, with just a few more classes to go.  She suggested that we should all do some field exercises, that is, paint fields.  I chose a southwestern theme.  "Mule Deer in the Meadow" was the first one I did, based on a picture I took on the way to the Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah during my family vacation in the Southwest last year.  I didn't know why the deer's ears were so big until a friend of mine told me that they were not ordinary deer, but mule deer.

I like the second "field" painting better.  It started raining by the time we got to Cedar Breaks National Monument.  At the altitude of over 10,000 feet, it was chilly although it was late July.  At one stop, we saw a breathtaking view of a wildflower meadow sloping down to the valley of spruces and firs.  The red flowers in the foreground are Indian paintbrushes.  There were also Queen Anne's laces and many other species in the meadow.

In my opinion, the biggest challenge in painting a field is to create the sense of depth.  What's in the background should stay there and don't come forward, no matter how interesting and beautiful they are.   On the other hand, it was really hard to keep balance between enough details and fuss in the foreground.  For instance, how do I not trap the viewer's eye in the foreground with brilliant red flowers in "Southwestern Wildflower Meadow"?

Making sense of the terrain is also a must, I think.  In "Southwestern Wildflower Meadow," it is clear that the meadow goes downhill, whereas everything is more or less flat in "Mule Deer."  I can imagine myself painting fields and meadows over and over again in the future to get to the bottom of it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"Autumn Brook" (oil on linen; 9" x 12") sold


Reference photo

It was a picture-perfect autumn day when several members of the Art League Plein Air Painters went to Green Spring Gardens Park in Alexandria, VA.  It had been a busy, exciting week, and I was tired.  I walked around, taking numerous pictures of last roses, trees with their fall colors, etc.  But I couldn't settle on any particular view to paint.  So I continued walking down the trail in the woods until I came across the above scene.  This was it!  Except that I had left my painting gear back on the main lawn.  The thought of having to go back to fetch the stuff, drag it down by the brook, set up the gear, and actually paint the scene tired me out even more.

Among my artist friends I am known for my workaholic (or shall I say, artaholic) habit of painting fast and furiously every day.  Not that day.  I decided to give myself a break.  Gasp!  I sat by my teacher and friend, Bobbi Pratte, and watched her paint an overgrown garden.  We kept company, got to know each other better, and had a great time.  It's sometimes good to kick back and relax.

I painted "Autumn Brook" from the photo yesterday.  The background trees with their fall colors are brilliantly backlit.  Tree shadows caress the foreground and middle ground forest floors.  And there it is--a tiny waterfall in the center of the painting.  It was a glorious day to take a walk in the woods.

Friday, November 11, 2011

"After Storm Glow" (oil on linen; 6" x 8") sold


Myself standing next to "After Storm Glow" at the reception

"Foxy Foxglove" (Japanese beads)

Last Tuesday turned out to be a super auspicious day for me.  Not only did I vote for the first time since I became a US citizen in the spring, I also got two honorable mentions in the concurrent shows at The Art League in Alexandria, VA! 

It was a picture perfect, gorgeous autumn day.  I am usually edgy, anxious on receiving days at The Art League's monthly shows, as they are very competitive and hard to get into.  Not that day.  I was calm and cheerful.  I felt invincible.  After entering several pieces in the shows, I went over to River Farm to enjoy the weather and take some pictures.  Then I visited with a dear friend fighting breast cancer.  When I called the gallery later to see whether I had any luck this month (I haven't gotten into the shows since June!), I wasn't nervous at all.  I was ecstatic after I learned that one painting made the Small Works Show and two jewelry pieces the What Art to Wear Show.

On the following day, the gallery called me twice to say that I received two honorable mentions!  The funny thing is that I don't make jewelries to sell; it's just one of my many creative hobbies.  The reason why I entered two necklaces is that I was desperate.  I feel like I have been barking at the wrong tree.  Perhaps I should become a jewelry artist, then I will have more luck!