Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Whiff of Spring" (watercolor, 20" x 14") sold


In northern Virginia, where I live, the magnolia trees are budding now; by the next week, they will dot the sky with their noble flowers.  Whereas cherry blossoms are dainty and flirty, magnolia flowers are elegant and proper.  Magnolias are very popular in Korea; we even have a beautiful song about them.

This still life setup posed a major challenge.  All the props were white (or transparent); so was the backdrop.  The only colors were found in the branches and the faint pink magnolia buds.  The shadows lacked colors as well.  All purity and Oriental.  So I had to make up colors.  Nothing overpowering, but subtle grays and mauves--just like an early spring day.  But there is a whiff of spring in the air.  It shows that although I am a colorist, I can also exercise restraint in my color choices when the occasion calls for.

Monday, March 28, 2011

"Dogwood Sky" (oil on linen, 11" x 14") sold


Do you remember the old days when we used films for the cameras and brought them for development to grocery stores and drugstores?  I am sure you have stacks of shoe boxes full of pictures that never made to the album we were supposed to work on rainy days.  They got forgotten and became history.  These days, we have megabytes of photos eating up our computer spaces and collecting virtual dust.  Facebook helps somewhat, but do you really look at your friends' album postings with care?

The other day I found a photo of my neighbor's dogwood flowering in an old box and decided put it to a good use.  Dogwoods are common where I live.  They are not yet blooming, but when they do, boy, they brighten up neighborhoods with their white and pink flowers.  I remember reading somewhere that they are a very old specie that was around the times of dinosaurs. 

Dogwood flowers, despite their prehistoric pedigree, have a contemporary sculptural look, which I like.  Against a cloudless blue sky, they are simply stunning.

Friday, March 25, 2011

"Orange Sail" (oil on stretched linen, 14" x 11") sold


It is chilly today; the weather forecast is threatening snow tonight.  Time to look at a summery painting to cheer up.  A photo I took years ago became a reference for this studio painting.  It must have been a perfect day for the couple who sailed on the Potomac that day.  The river never looks this blue; its colors are a range of grays, to put it politely.  The sails were really those bright oranges--one of my favorite colors.  Orange and blue are complementary colors, so together they vibrate.

Monday, March 21, 2011

"Black Tulip Dress" (oil pastel on paper; 20" x 14") sold


An unused box of oil pastels I had bought several years ago bugged the miser in me to do something about it, so this weekend I took a workshop with Lisa Semerad at the Art League School in Alexandria, VA.  Oil pastel is waxy pastel that doesn't behave like the traditional chalk pastel at all.  It doesn't produce dust for one thing.  Art is great, but with cadmiums in some paints, who wants to breathe in toxic stuff and die young? 

It's gooey, tactile, and versatile.  You can combine this nifty medium with oil, acrylic, watercolor, and colored pencil; you can paint on paper, canvas, metal, glass, plastic, or whatever!  If Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec had had these babies, he would have created an even wilder oeuvre.

There were ten students in the workshop, and we shared the attitude of fun, experiment, and childlike fearlessness.  Since we didn't have much experience with the medium and didn't burden ourselves with the expectation to create masterpieces at the end of the day, we didn't get frustrated and remained thoroughly cheerful.  Guess what!  We did make some good art!  Look at "Black Tulip Dress".  Does it look like my usual artwork?  When I thought I had been really brave, Lisa came around to ask if I was ready for some crazy stuff.  Gasp.  I said "sure."  She began to scratch with a couple of colored pencils all  over the paper!  I continued the wild act and signed my name.  What a weekend!

Monday, March 7, 2011

"Sun-Kissed Iris" (oil on linen; 10" x 8") sold


Lately I have been re-reading Mark Christopher Weber's Bold Strokes: Dynamic Brushwork for Oils and Acrylics, which had got me into water-mixible oils in the first place a couple of years ago.  I thought I could use a reminder from him that I should be more decisive and energetic in my brushstrokes instead of being timid and overworked.  I did a preparatory value drawing, got the board ready, and generally diddled.  Afraid to be bold and decisive.  You've been there.

Eventually--about two hours later--I started painting.  Calculating that it might turn out to be a total flop, I was using a linen piece with another drawing on it; I covered it up with a burnt sienna wash.  Thanks to Weber, I even used, for the background mixture, raw umber--a color so reminiscent of the product of a certain bodily function that I avoid like plague.  I didn't fiddle; I really tried to be economical in brushstrokes. 

Once I got going, it took an hour from the start to the finish!  Wow.  The painting glows.  Is it because of the burnt sienna wash (who would have thought it would work for a purple flower)?  Or is it the strong value contrast?  I even like the raw umber/ultramarine background color.  There is really something to trying new things, pushing oneself beyond a comfort zone.  I am also happy to be back to daily paintings.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"Fall Patterns" (acrylic on paper; 15" x 11") sold


Do you like Wolf Kahn, a great colorist?  His calendar hanging in my office claims on the back that he is "probably the foremost American colorist."  Whether you agree with it or not, I surely love his semi-abstract art.  But I don't have the courage to paint with his bright yellows, mauves, aquamarines, pinks, and scarlets.  If I dare, my teachers would probably admonish me to tone them down to more "natural" colors.  Perhaps only masters, such as Kahn, can truly follow their aesthetic choices.

In "Fall Patterns", however, I hear the echos of Wolf Kahn.  Have you ever seen the violet fall foliage?  Why is the ground under the tall trees burgundy, or the sky so chalky Naples yellow?  But the painting works, and one feels that it is fall and the leaves are changing colors.  I don't know what got into me to paint like that, but surely like to do it again.