Saturday, April 30, 2011

"Spring Sky" (oil on stretched canvas, 24" x 30")

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Reference photo

Two weeks ago, I came home, parked the car, and happened to look up.  Wow!  I had to take a picture of this sky properly, so it was done in the middle of the street.  No worries, there was no car zipping by me.  I was interested in the sky, however, not in my neighbors' cars.  When I showed the picture to my teacher, Diane Tesler, she suggested that I should include the entire picture in my painting.  She thought it would make a nice social documentary for the posterity--how ordinary suburban people lived in the early 21th century America.  A nice composition, too.  The sky is framed by trees on both sides of the canvas, you see?

The sky is the star of the painting; and the houses, cars, etc. are just a counterpoint to the Nature's wonder and beauty.  As I keep harping on, you really don't have to go any particular place to come across a view worthy of a painter's brush.  The early spring's bare trees have a beauty of their own, but in this case, they allowed me to see the glows in the sky through their delicate traceries.  Because of a warm weather and plenty of spring rain, the leaves sprouted fast and furiously; by the end of the week, the neighborhood had become totally green!  I am glad that I seized the day and took the picture.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Garden Statue" (oil on linen; 12 x 12") sold; "Rose Arbor" (oil on linen; 8" x 10")

"Garden Statue"

"Rose Arbor" (oil on linen, 8" x 10")
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River Farm in Alexandria, VA used to be owned by George Washington; it is now the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society.  It is also beloved by plein air painters who are welcomed to add the artistic touch to the already enchanting landscape.  Sara Linda Poly's plein air class met there yesterday on a perfect spring day.  I painted "Spring at River Farm" at my favorite spot, looking at the stone statue of a young faun (or satyr, as the ancient Greeks would have called it) through the red-brick pergolas.

As you can see, I have already painted the same scene from a different perspective. What was funny is that my friends also painted their favorite scenes they had painted before: Charlotte painted the white manor house as she did the last year and Alice painted the azaleas against trees likewise.  We seemed to be obsessing over the same thing all over again!  This is something on which psychologists can shed light. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"From Spring Garden" (oil on linen, 12" x 12") sold


This still life has three quintessential spring flowers; two of them--hyacinth and lilac--are fragrant and all three are my favorite flowers.  I have tried still life in watercolor in the past, but have found it difficult.  Sometimes I would set up floral arrangements, stare at them for a while and give up even without trying.  Especially, with the flowers with many florets like hyacinth, lilac, and hydrangea, it seemed too daunting. 

So I was being very brave when I sat down to paint "From Spring Garden."  As somebody said, die trying.  And I never heard of anybody dying while painting some flowers.  Guess what!  It wasn't that hard to paint either lilac or hyacinth.  I guess it's because oil is a forgiving medium and, as long as the paints are still wet, you can manipulate them to suggest the gesture and characteristics of different flowers.

Another concern that I had about floral still life was "what happens if the flowers die on me before I am done?".  Although it took two sessions to finish the painting above on two consecutive days, none of the flowers changed too drastically to force me to abandon the project.  I am very much encouraged with my new-found passion of still life painting and am going to go shopping for more fabrics.  Did I tell you that I sew sometimes and love to go to fabric stores?  My art just gave me a good excuse!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Maine Event" (mixed media; 14" x 20")

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Here is an old painting of mine out of which I got a lot of mileage, since it was juried into The Art League American Landscape Show in 2000, and received the second place in the Potomac Valley Watercolorists Invitational Show in 2003.  You will be surprised at how it all got started.

First of all, it is not quite in my usual realistic style.  My foray into a semi-abstract art happened out of my thriftiness.  On a piece of a half-sheet watercolor paper, I had done a drawing of Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.  I didn't like it; instead I decided to paint fishing boats in Maine.  Unfortunately, I must have marred the paper with the pencil line, which became noticeable as I began to drop paints onto the water area.  Oops.  As the painting was going fine so far, I waited until the paper was bone dry, then connected the indented line, changing here and there to make the dark shape interesting.  (As you can sort of tell, I had turned the paper upside down when I started the second project.)

The painting proceeded in the usual watercolor fashion--layers of darks on lighter shapes.  But when it was done, something was missing.  It felt empty and boring.  I brought out my big box of colored pencils and began to add dots--I went pointillist.  After thousands of dots, the painting glowed, partly because of the wax in colored pencils, but mostly thanks to many dots scintillating against the water--light against dark, dark against light, complementary colors, and so on so forth.  The pointillist masters such as Georges Seurat knew all about it.  A friend of mine tells me that she dreams about "Maine Event."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

"Forever Spring" (oil on linen, 12" x 12") sold


To the last session of the oil still life workshop with Robert A. Johnson last weekend, I brought a glass cup and some daffodils from my garden, determined to learn how to paint a glass filled with water.  I was torn between the desire to work on my own painting and the temptation to watch the teacher paint tulips, grapes, Chinese ginger jars, etc.  Somehow I managed to focus on my problem solving, which is what painting a picture is all about, instead of joining in the conviviality of the class watching Robert's masterly mini demos.

He didn't get to my easel until the end of the day, busy helping other students.  To the nearly completed painting of mine, he added his finishing touches.  One vertical stroke on the right side of the glass, it already looked like a glass!  After a bit of simplification, blurring, some palette knife work, the glass was done.  I joked that the painting now needed two signatures.

Among many things I learned in three days, two stand out.  Robert emphasized the importance of figure and portrait painting as the fundamental part of artistic growth.  It doesn't matter whether you are a still life painter or a landscapist.  Another is my own conclusion: find the best teacher you can and learn from him or her--that will save you from a lot of frustrations and bad habits.  So I decided to take a workshop with Robert Liberace soon, a star in today's figure painting, who happens to teach at The Art League in Alexandria, VA.  Step aside.  I am unstoppable!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Misty Morning Lake" (oil on linen, 12" x 12") sold


I painted "Misty Morning Lake" three weeks ago.  I got a lot of positive feedback from my Facebook fans and was feeling pretty good about it until I showed it to my teacher, Diane Tesler.  She said the peachy foreground line was awkwardly handled and would like to see the photo reference I had used.  As a matter of fact, I had brought five paintings and not a single one came out unscathed by her critique.  Boy, I felt deflated. 

There were two options for me at that point.  The option 1: hell with your critique and I like my paintings as they are.  The option 2: swallow my pride and get to work to "fix" the problem areas.  I took the high road of humility--the option 2.  Yesterday I worked on the above painting.  I lessened the incline of the offending line and softened it with dark texture.  I enriched the middle-ground trees on the left as well, so that they look more natural.  A big improvement, I think.  (By the way, if the two paintings' colors look different, it's because I took the photos at different times of the day.  The blue of the sky, that affects the color temperature of a photograph, seems to change during the course of a day.)

You know the moral of today's entry.  A painting is not done until your teacher says so?  NO.  That's not it.  Then we have to take classes for the rest of our lives and will never be artistically independent.  What a scary thought!  The moral is this: we should cultivate humility, honesty, and a capacity to accept criticism as a path to growth.  Feel free to leave comments.  Thank you.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Sunflowers and Daffodils" (oil on linen, 12" x 14") sold


Robert's demo painting

The second day of the oil still life workshop with Robert A. Johnson was all painting and no relaxing by watching the teacher do a long demo.  I was better prepared than the previous day with my own vase and fabric.  I wanted to paint something different from Friday so that I could learn as much as I could in three days, so I chose sunflowers, balancing them with a couple of daffodils and purple flowers whose name I can't remember.

Can you tell which flowers I had the most trouble with?  It was the sunflowers.  Robert said politely that they looked too "petally."  Compare my sunflowers on top with his at the bottom.  A careful observation of shapes, then decisive brushstrokes.  No dubious handling of values, either.  Look at how dark the center of his flower and shadows between petals are.  Not that I am unhappy or upset with my painting.  I am actually proud because I tried hard and did my best.

What pleases him the most about his painting career, Robert said, is that he can honestly say he is painting better than six months ago, that he is not so self-satisfied with his artwork that he will stop growing as a painter.  This is from a master who has been painting for decades!  I have a long way to go and am eager for my artistic journey.

Friday, April 1, 2011

"Three Roses and Copper" (oil on linen, 9" x 12") sold


I thought I would try my hand at still life in oil and signed up for a three-day workshop with Robert A. Johnson at the Art League School in Alexandria, VA this weekend.  Still life painting has been a well-trodden path by many renowned and talented artists for several centuries.  I have no intention of hunting for antique Ming vases, silver vessels and oriental rugs for elaborate and luxurious still life setups.  All I want to achieve is to be able to paint a few stems of garden flowers in a humble glass jar. 

Have you ever seen the French impressionist Edouard Manet's still lifes he painted in the last weeks of his life as he was dying of the untreated syphilis?   His friends would bring bouquets of flowers to cheer him up and he would plop a few sprigs in a simple jar to paint quickly before he ran out of energy.  These small, unassuming still lifes of Manet's touch my heart as no other paintings do.

After Robert's admirable demo in the morning, the students were left to their own devices to set up their own still lifes and paint in the afternoon.  I reminded myself of my goal--simplicity, and nothing fancy.  With the gentle help of Robert, a true southern gentleman, I was able to paint "Three Roses and Copper."  I admit that I have a long way to go, but am, nevertheless, pleased with the result on the first day of the workshop.