Tuesday, May 31, 2011

'White Picket Fence" (oil on linen, 11" x 14") sold


Sara during the group critique session

A hot day!  Today Sara Poly's plein-air class went to Green Spring Gardens Park in Alexandria, VA.  I knew exactly what I was going to paint--hydrangeas against the white picket fence.  I had unsuccessfully tried the same subject twice last year, and was smarting from my failures.  I had scores to settle, so to speak.  I settled comfortably in the gazebo, which you can see from the above photo (say hi to my teacher, Sara, who is holding my painting during the lunch/critique session).  Everything was going swimmingly until I was mobbed.

I can't say I am a veteran plein-air painter--I have been at it only for two years.  Still, I had experienced my share of the usual difficulties, such as bugs, winds, heat, coldness, noise, crowds, etc.  An entire class of second-graders on a field trip decided to take shade and have lunch in the gazebo!  This was new.  My things got knocked over; I was pushed over; and several children became art critics.  What could I do?  I turned into a painting stone, completely ignoring the goings-on around me.  My art class had to wait for our turn until the kids left, and saw everything.  They shook their heads; some chuckled.

Considering the duress under which I had to work, I think the painting turned out well.  The class--my class--who have become good, fair critics, gave me an excellent advice about the big, trapezoid-shaped brick patio.  It had to lie flat and be broken up somehow.  So I introduced the wooden board leading into the picture on the far right and cooled the top portion so that it would recede.  What a day!

Monday, May 30, 2011

"Dangers of the Sun Block" (comic strip; marker)

"I don't know where you are going with this," my husband said about my cartooning adventure.  I don't intend to become a cartoonist.  The field seems already crowded enough.  It's about thinking outside of the box, as the popular saying goes.  My "box" has always been drawing what I see as best as I possibly can.  Drawing from imagination, out of my head, was impossible, not alone desirable. 

As I become older (past 50, gulp!), I find myself less and less adventurous.  In my 20's, I used to be absolutely fearless, perhaps too fearless.  Now it's becoming harder to try new things.  The comfort zone is so well-defined, the calculating mind always busily figuring out what's doable without much risk to my self-esteem and public reputation.

So I decided to do something about it by taking a cartooning class.  I was in a mild state of shock when I first found myself surrounded by a bunch of kids (mostly boys), aged between eight and thirteen.  The teacher, Dana Yang, at The Art League School, is young enough to be my daughter.

The two-page comic strip I am sharing today is the most ambitious project I have ever done.  I even colored them with markers.  The T-Rex motif came from my recent discovery of James Gurney's Dinotopia series.  By the way, this amazing illustrator/writer is also a terrific fine artist.  Check out his latest book--Color and Light--as well as his blog, which is rated one of the top ten art blogs in the world.  I had a hard time getting some of the T-Rex poses right.  I can't get over the mind block of thinking as a realist painter, worrying about the anatomy.  Your getting a small laugh out of my first serious attempt at cartooning is my sincere hope.

Have a great Memorial Day!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

"Victorian House" (oil on linen, 11" x 14") sold


Bobbi Pratte's workshop was coming to an end.  On Sunday afternoon, we went to Solomons Island Road--downtown, so to speak--to paint.  I have spotted this charming Victorian house on the previous day and was determined to paint it.  The clouds were gathering, however.  It got so breezy for my friends who were painting a tackle shop across the bay that they had to quit early.  Some workshop participants had already left for home.  Not me!

I was only aware of the clear shadow patterns disappearing and the thunderous noise of bikers who zipped by.  When you are focused on painting, the world around you disappear.  Friendly neighbors stopped by and talked about the house owners.  A bicyclist pulled over to watch me paint.  None of these bothered me.

Bobbi stopped by twice to check upon me.  She had a note pad to draw the designs of students' paintings to discuss the main compositional problems.  I was impressed.  She said that the left side of the house (it was painted as in the shade at that time) needed more interest--too big a shape to just sit there doing nothing of interest.  Following her suggestions, I moved an azalea bush, replacing a much smaller hosta, and made it spread over the stoop.  Two links of fancy ironwork fence were introduced at the bottom left of the picture, so that it would have a definite foreground.

One idea of hers I decided not to follow is flipping the flag to face the other way.  When I came home and printed out the above photo, I noticed the interesting diagonal shadow patterns on the sidings.  They weren't there when I was painting because it had become overcast.  Much of the happy, sunny look, which was the subject in the first place, I was painting from the memory.  So I painted in those shadows and that seemed to suffice to make the troubled area interesting.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Turquoise Time" (oil on linen, 12" x 9") sold


On Sunday morning, Bobbi Pratte had her plein-air workshop students do a black-and-white value study prior to a full-fledged color painting.  I thought I would take it easy and paint just one boat after Saturday's challenge.  I sat down on my stool to do a study of the boat with a turquoise cover.  If you click the photo above, you can see my attempt better.  It didn't take a whole lot of time and actually looked nice, although I later ruined it by accidentally putting a plastic bag for soiled paper towels on top.

By the time I got to colors, the boat on the far right had left.  Bobbie thought I would be better off without it anyway.  She asked me what I was going to do with the top portion of the painting, which was not like what you see in my painting (there was a lot going on in that area).  I said I was going to simplify and treat it as one big shape of dark-toned reflections; she was fine with that.

One very important thing I learned from Bobbi is this: a boat sits in water, not on water.  The line created where it meets water is crucial.  Painting a simple boat was a good idea.  What I like about "Turquoise Time" is that it has a clear, strong message.  I often try to put too many things into a painting and end up with a fussy picture.  As the popular saying goes, less is often more.

"Peaceful Marina" (oil on linen, 9" x 12") sold


On Saturday afternoon, Bobbi Pratte's plein-air workshop students painted a marina at Solomons Island, MD.  Water is hard to paint; boats are even harder to paint.  Two of them combined make a fabulous, but challenging subject for a plein-air painter. 

The reason why water is difficult to paint is that it's hard to tell what colors a body of water happens to be at a particular moment because it reflects sky and many other things all around.  Added to that are the currents, breeze, and the ripples caused by boats going by, which keep shifting the shapes of reflections.  Boats come in so many different shapes and sizes that drawing them in perspective is always a big headache.  I tried them last year en plein air and was not happy with what I produced.  So I challenged myself again this year.

As you can see from the photo above, I moved the boat on the right so that it would be within my picture to balance what's going on on the left side of the painting.  You cannot see in the photo the colors inside the boat shed.  There was a lot of reflected light bouncing into the wall, poles, and the boat.  That's why we paint outside, to really see.  It was chilly in the shade; the ducks in their mating season made quite a bit of noise; and sea gulls hovered in the air as the fishing boats returned.  Whenever I look at the painting, I will always remember these things.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Drum Point Lighthouse" (oil on linen, 10" x 8") sold


Hi, I am back.  Having lived in this country for 27 years, last week I took a solemn oath to become a citizen.  The event called for a major celebration, so I took a weekend plein-air workshop with Bobbi Pratte in  Solomons Island, MD, about 90 minutes of driving from where I live.  This was my first out-of-town workshop.

The weather forecast was grim.  The teacher emailed us about the rain jacket, umbrella, duck tape, etc.  Why duck tape?  To strap the umbrella onto the easel since not everybody has a plein-air umbrella.  It rained all week, but the sky began to clear by Friday.  By Saturday it was the most glorious late spring weather one could hope for in the mid-Atlantic region!

We stayed at Comfort Inn that owns a marina and also happens to be right next door to the Calvert Marine Museum, home to the picturesque Drum Point Lighthouse.  My memory isn't what it used to be; Solomons Island sounds so exotic that I didn't know I've been to the place many years ago until I saw the famous lighthouse.  Many artists had painted this iconic regional landmark.  Now I got to try my hand.  For next few days, I will share more of my paintings from the workshop.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Rainy Day Garden" (oil on linen, 8" x 10") sold


I woke up feeling tired; the weather forecast was 100% chance of rain.  I was really tempted to stay home and rest.  Being a good student that I am, I reluctantly packed my art gear and went to Sara Linda Poly's plein-air class, which met again at River Farm.  The place hosts many outdoor functions like weddings, so has a big tent, under which we can still paint and stay dry.

I wasn't motivated to paint at all today.  As I intend to go professional with my art, I remind myself when I am in one of these funky moods that you don't go to work because you don't feel like it.  I eventually settled down to paint the above scene.  It rained--it actually poured--in the middle of the painting session.  It was chilly and windy.  At one point, I had to go retrieve paper towels that had blown away. 

Then the sun came out.  By that time, the class, which was sparsely attended to begin with, was mostly gone.  Those few remaining, hardy souls had a beautiful, lush garden to all ourselves.  What fun it was!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Fruits and Vegetables Journal (pen and watercolor; 9" x 4")

Today I am sharing the first page of my new journal--"Fruits and Vegetables."  A great thing about doing a journal on the produce is that I can eat my models after I am done with them.  I couldn't do that with flowers, although I once tried to eat a rose when I was a child.  It smelled so good, but tasted funny!

I took a picture of my simple supplies for the project--a watercolor box with gazillion colors, a brush, a Micron pen, a mechanical pencil, an eraser, plus a 9 x 4" piece of watercolor paper.  Do I need all those colors?  No.  I once bought and tried many unusual colors, whose names I don't even remember, so I might as well use them.  The brush comes with a reservoir that you can fill with water--quite handy when you are travelling.  I sometimes draw first with a pencil when the subject is complicated.  Pineapples qualifies as such, as anybody who had tried to draw them would testify.  I have never drawn a pineapple before; it was a fascinating exercise. 

After I inked over the pencil lines, they were erased.  Then I finished with several layers of watercolor wash to achieve the three-dimensionality of the fruit.  When I have a few more pages done as well as the cover designed, I will bring the whole thing (30 sheets altogether) to a local "Staples" for binding.

Now every time I go to a grocery store, I find myself lingering at the produce section.  Wow!  Look at the form of an artichoke!  Radishes!  Carrots with their delicate foliage!  Have you seen the Brussels sprout stalk?  There are so many wondrous things in Nature.  To really see something, one has to draw it. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

"White Peonies" (oil on linen, 12" x 9") sold


Yesterday I went to Green Spring Gardens Park to paint, taking advantage of the fourth-straight beautiful day.  I was drawn to these delicate white peonies that just started blooming.  Most of the flowers were in the shadow, only the top right parts being sun-struck.  Normally I would have painted the shadowed areas much darker.  But with so much reflected light bouncing off the paved path to the flowers, it would have destroyed the fresh sunny feeling completely if I had done so. 

I wish you had been there with me to enjoy a perfect weather.  You would also have seen all those delicate colors in the white flowers--pinks, mauves, blues, pale yellows, olives, etc.  It was unbelievable.  So much so that, it was actually hard to organize the dark/light masses.  When you see so many colors, you become seduced by them.  But without the form, all the colors in the rainbow wouldn't do you any good.  For "White Peonies," I kept the background of foliage in the medium dark tone.  I think I like this way better.  What do you think?

Monday, May 9, 2011

"Spring Bouquet with Azaleas" (oil on linen, 14" x 11") sold


I thought I would paint some azaleas before they die out.  What other flowers would complement them?  I found chives, sweet williams and blue pincushion flowers.  After the latest still life project, I learned my lesson, so this painting is smaller, the vase a simple blue mug, and the cloth just a backdrop.  As the azaleas were already showing signs of stress, I also took a picture as a backup.

I zoomed in to fill the canvas with the setup.  The design employs a classic cross shape.  The white azaleas in the shadow had to be repainted a couple of times so that they were keyed correctly.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Garden Flower Journal (pen and watercolor, 9" x 4" ea)

As some of you may remember, I make my own journal books with good watercolor paper.  With a full sheet (22 x 30"), I come up with six 9 x 9" pages for my journals, plus three 4 x 9" cards.  I didn't know what to do with them until I came up with a brilliant idea of making slender journals for whatever projects I felt like.  Thus was born the "Garden Flower Journal," from which I am sharing some pages today.

The idea was to keep track of the flowers growing in my garden and a nearby park through the spring (2009).  I drew directly with a Micron pen, which is waterproof, then loosely added a watercolor wash.  With the same pen, I also did the lettering and jotted down notations.  The unusual format of the paper made me work hard on the design of each page.

As I was looking through the pages of this journal the other day, an inspiration came to me.  Why not start a "Fruits and Vegetables Journal"?  Many vegetables and fruits are elongated.  Think bananas, cucumbers, green onions, leeks, zucchinis, bokchoy, etc.  As for fruits, I can line up strawberries, cherries, and so on.  For large, globular fruits like watermelons, I can slice them up.  How fun!  I will keep you posted.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

"Pink Parrot Tulips" (oil on canvas, 20" x 16")

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Still life setup

I don't know what I was thinking when I started this ambitious still life project in the middle of a busy week.  It took four days to finish, and every time when I sat down to paint, there was a different setup in front of me.  By Friday, the tulips were dead; the yellow-orange spray of flowers prone on the fabric was long gone.  it's good that I had taken the photo as a backup.  A friend of mine told me the other day that she was "done" with photos, and I am sure they are an anathema to the purists.  But I don't know how I would have completed the painting without the photographic aid.  You tell me.

There were two challenges that I had to face in painting "Stilll Life with Pink Parrot Tulips."  I chose the brocade-looking fabric, thinking that it complemented the curvy, sensuous feel of the setup.  Deciding how developed it should be a puzzle though.  In the end I left it at a vague and suggestive stage so that it didn't compete with the main show. 

The gerbera daisy vase was another big headache; the fancy bas-relief design was really tricky to render.  When I started painting still lifes a month ago, I mentioned something about a simple glass vase wtih a few sprigs of flowers being the extent of my ambition.  I should have stuck to my words.  On the other hand, how would I grow as an artist if I don't continually challenge myself?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"Azalea Garden" (oil on linen, 9" x 12") sold


Back to River Farm in Alexandria, VA.  It was supposed to be in the 80's with scattered thunderstorms today.  As you can see above, it turned out to be a breezy, but gorgeous spring day.  I sat on the ground in the dappled shade and painted what I saw--lovely azaleas against a low red-brick wall.  A rather shallow space.  Hmmm.

Originally, I had painted in a fake blue sky behind the wall.  Sara Linda Poly, my plein-air painting teacher, suggested grayed woods instead.  During the lunch/critique, a friend of mine protested against the brick wall.  After a heated debate (I saying that the wall was there, he saying that it detracted from the beauty of azaleas), Sara mediated with the idea of introducing the blues and greens to the wall and adding a bit of sky to the background.  I went back to the azalea bed and modified the painting as suggested.

The moral of today's painting session, I think, is humility.  I was pleased with my painting and even thought about skipping the critique.  Although I was a bit annoyed at my friend's critique, I listened and tried to look at my work with an open mind.  He did have a point.  There was a lot of reflected light on the wall from the mulched bed and light greens of the plants.  It was practically glowing--something you cannot see in the photo.  The wall was not a red-brick color as I had painted.  Smug self-satisfaction is something we artists should watch out for.