Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Pink Rose Glow" (oil on canvas; 8" x 8") sold


I painted "Rosy Glow" (oil, 8 x 8") from a photo last night.  What do you think?  I had painted the same flower last summer at a rose garden.  It was a very hot day, but I sweated like a pig for a different reason.  Who knew painting a single rose would be that hard?  Let's face it.  It is sometimes easier to paint from a photograph.  The flower didn't move by the breeze.  The sun didn't rise higher as time went by, changing all the shadow shapes.  And no pestering enthusiast wanted to take a picture of me painting!

Do you know what the biggest problem in painting the rose on location was?  I saw too many colors!  Let's see. Many shades of pink--warm (warmed by the sun) and cool (cooled by the blue sky) to start.  Then there was reflected light in the shadows.  Oh my god!  I had to simplify, simplify, and simplify.  Still the plein-air painting didn't work.  I threw it out.

In my studio version, I did simplify the colors in the photo, which unfortunately I couldn't find to show you (I must have deleted it in disgust).  There are just enough subtle changes in the color temperature to make each petal turn.  A rose, or any flower, should look fresh, not bruised with over handling.  I hope you agree with my sentiment that I pulled it off this time.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Brilliant Lotus" (oil on canvas; 24" x 18") sold

"Brilliant Lotus"

"Lotus and Dragonfly" (oil, 12" x 9")

Reference photo

The lotus is one of my favorite flowers and I never get tired of painting them.  Over the years I've painted them in watercolor, acrylic, and oil.  The sculptural flower with the Buddhist association looks great in all mediums.

Last year in early June, the plein-air-painting class with Sara Linda Poly went to the waterlily pond at Green Spring Gardens Park.  My first attempt at painting the lotus from life was a disaster.  The lighting condition, however, was ideal and I came home with several terrific pictures.  The following day, still smarting from the failure, I made another stab at the lotus.  "Lotus and Dragonfly" was the result of my persistence.  Since then, I've painted several more lotus paintings, small and large, and sold them all.

When a favorite client of mine asked me to do a larger version of "Lotus and Dragonfly," I wasn't sure whether it would work.  I tried as he "begged" for it.  And, boy, am I glad I listened!  My initial fear was that the lone lotus flower and yellow green undersides of several lily pads will dominate the painting.  As it turned out, there were enough details in the shadow areas to add depth and nuance to the bold composition. 

In the small version, there was no room for playing; most subtleties had to be sacrificed for the clarity.  Not so for "Brilliant Lotus."  You can look at it for a long time and still find hidden "secrets."  My client didn't want the dragonfly (there are actually three of them in the picture).  So they went, as his wish was my command.  I don't think they would have added much to the abstract beauty of the painting anyway.  It is fun to paint big, using large brushes.  It is also great to have a client with the sophisticated eye who appreciates and is willing to pay for original artwork.  Thank you!

Friday, February 24, 2012

"Watermelon, Carrots, and Red Onions" (oil on linen; 11" x 14")

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Still life setup

My teacher, John Murray, decided to shake things up this week.  He apparently thought we were becoming lazy!  He put the table in the middle of the room and began to pull out one thing after another from a grocery bag until he came up with the above setup.  He asked us whether we would like to have a cut honey dew as well.  We said no!  We were looking down at the whole mess of things against whatever happened to be across the room from where we were standing.  Some students couldn't even see the beautiful red onions; others had a lot of the crumpled kitchen towel to deal with.

As you can see in my painting, I cut much of the towel.  Clever me!  I had other problems, such as the delicate leafage of the carrots and the papery skins of the onions.  What stumped me the most, however, was the color temperature.  Somehow I painted it too warm as if I was painting in sunset.  I had to cool it down and more. 

Although the setup was mainly illuminated by the artificial yellow light, there was also the cool natural light filtering through the blinds from the windows.  Because of the double light sources, some highlights were warm and others, cool.  Fascinating.  I don't know for sure what caused the cast shadows of the onions to turn green, but I painted it as I saw.  The more I paint, the more I realize that painting is really an exercise in seeing.  The weekly still life painting class has been one of the most valuable learning experiences.  More to come next week.  Yeah!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"Golden Gate Bridge in Fog" (oil on linen; 12" x 9") sold


The idea for "Golden Gate Bridge in Fog" occurred while I was helping my daughter build four model bridges for her school science project.  She and her team were testing how much weight different types of bridges could bear.  Tying up the string for the cute suspension bridge below required a considerable amount of dexterity, which none of the girls didn't possess; so I came to the rescue!  Am I bad?

A model suspension bridge (balsa wood and embroidery thread)

One famous suspension bridge came to my mind--Golden Gate Bridge!  I had to paint it.  The reference photo I used showed the bridge shrouded in fog.  So, today's big challenge was this: how do I paint the vaporous nothingness, which covers about one half of the painting?  The initial sky color was too cool and monotonous; I warmed it up and introduced more colors.  You are probably wondering what colors!  Well, look very closely.  They are there.  Probably the most important thing in painting fog is the treatment of edges.  I deployed a lot of lost and broken edges to suggest the mystery of fog.

"Golden Gate Bridge in Fog" posed a bit of a drawing challenge as well.  Do you know what I do when I have trouble with drawing?  I paint upside down.  Most of the bridge and the distant landscape were painted in that way.  Funny, I am sure, but it works every time.  It forces my mind to see shapes, not things.  You can paint anything  if you switch your mind to see shapes.

By the way, I love San Francisco.  I think it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  It was this city to which I flew when I came to the USA to study 28 years ago.  Since then, I visited it a few more times, and every visit has been memorable.  My favorite spot is Lombard Street, the crookedest street ever!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Walk in Winter Woods" (oil on linen; 9" x 12") sold

"Walk in Winter Woods"

"Winter Morning" (oil, 9" x 12")
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"Winter Afternoon" (oil, 12" x 9")

"Fresh Snow" (oil, 9" x 12")

"Snowfall" (oil, 8" x 10")

"Central Park Snowed In" (oil, 10" x 12")

I painted lots of snow scenes this winter, which required hard work.  It  was not because snowscapes were particularly difficult to paint.  It had everything to do with the snowless winter in northern Virginia!  I don't ski or snowboard, or didn't travel to snowy places to visit relatives this year. Alas, my plein-air painting friends and I waited for snowfalls in vain, with our new snow boots still in their boxes.  It is practically spring here.  I've spotted crocuses, snowdrops, lenten roses, daffodils, dwarf irises, cherry blossoms, and forsythia, so far.  Somebody told me that her tulips are blooming too!  We may still get a blizzard in March, but I doubt it.

Yesterday I reached the very bottom of my pile and completely exhausted the reference material for my favorite subject by painting "Walk in Winter Woods."  All the things I've learned by painting in a series went into it.  It is the grand finale, so to speak, and I am proud of it.

I've included in today's entry some of my favorite snowscapes for your enjoyment.  Until next winter, good bye, snow paintings.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Kilauea Lighthouse on the Cliff" (oil on linen; 14" x 11") sold


The reference photo for "Lighthouse on the Cliff," taken during the second visit

The second visit to Kilauea Lighthouse; Can you see the rainbow?

When I am at my home base, I choose a plein-air painting location from my previous experiences. There are several favorite places, to which I keep going back for better or worse. No big surprises. I know exactly what scenery will greet me when I get there.  However, I have never been to Kauai, so I didn't know what to expect. There has been hardly any snow in this exceptionally warm winter. Kauai was about 20, not 50, degrees warmer than northern Virginia, so the thrill in landing suddenly at a tropical island was somewhat diminished, temperature-wise. Still, the island was breathtakingly beautiful in any angle, altitude, and weather.

The first time when I saw Kilauea Lighthouse on North Shore, I wished I could paint the awe-inspiring sight then and there. But it was raining heavily (do you know that Kauai is one of the wettest places in the world?), which forced us to wait in the car for half an hour until the rain let up a little for picture taking. Later that day, we stopped by at the lighthouse for the second time. The rain had stopped and a rainbow was draped over in the sky! The lighthouse itself glowed as if it was spotlit magically. It was getting late, however. I vowed to return to paint it another day.

Red-footed boobies

On the third and final visit to the lighthouse and Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on a windy, but sunny day, we saw red-footed boobies, Laysan Albatross and other birds, which nested at the Refuge cliffs. My heart swelled with an unusual, I-am-lord-of-the-world, kind of emotion, as I was standing high at the lookout, looking down at the soaring birds!

"Kilauea Lighthouse, Kauai" (opaque watercolor, 15" x 11")

Sketching the lighthouse

I found a relatively sheltered spot at the lookout and painted "Kilauea Lighthouse, Kauai" in opaque watercolor, clutching the paper in fear of losing it to the Pacific Ocean.  The lighthouse was painted in last over the blues of the ocean.  You can do that in opaque watercolor!  Of course, I wasn't "done" with this place.  "Lighthouse on the Cliff" was painted in the controlled environment of my studio, away from the ocean breeze, crashing waves, and swooshing birds.  One can't have everything, can she?

Monday, February 20, 2012

After Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring" (colored pencil; 8" x 6")

After Vermeer's" Girl with a Pearl Earring"

Vermeer by Pierre Cabanne; Prismacolor pencils; and my Canson Mi-teintes sketchbook

After Vermeer's "The Milkmaid" (detail)

After Vermeer's "Girl with a Red Hat"

After Vermeer's "Girl with a Flute"

I can't sleep on the airplanes.  Unable to settle into a comfortable position, I keep shifting my body.  My neck, shoulders, and lower back become all knotted up and achy.  I get myself caffeined up to compensate the increasing fatigue.  Both flights for my recent trip to Kauai were long and tedious.  I usually bring a book or two to read.  For this trip, I had something better to while away the time as a captive in a tight space on a noisy plane.

In Lisa Semerad's portrait class last summer, I learned a time-honored technique of using black drawing tools with a white chalk on a toned ground for figure drawing.  Many great masters, such as Da Vinci, Rubens, Watteau, and Degas, had used it in their studies for paintings.  I learn at their feet with reverence, and had spent many hours copying their drawings in the past. 

My teacher for the trip was the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, whose exquisite, domestic interior scenes of the 17th-century-middle-class Delft have captivated art lovers for centuries.  I love his exceptional sense of light and quietude.  A small book by Pierre Cabanne with lots of reproductions of his paintings was the first item I packed for my art survival kit.  I made a small sketchbook with Canson Mi-teintes paper and also equipped myself with several Prismacolor pencils (white, three shades of grays, black and burnt ochre).  These colored pencils are waxy, dust-free, and don't smear. 

Although one can never have loads of fun during an air travel, I still managed to spend several enjoyable hours until I couldn't see anymore with my watery eyes.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Mums, Carnations, and Cherries" (oil on linen; 14" x 11") sold


The still life setup for the painting

I was just getting used to painting fruits and vegetables in John Murray's still life class.  When I saw the above setup last Wednesday, my jaw dropped.  Oy!  How was I supposed to paint spider chrysanthemums (I have drawn them before with a great difficulty), carnations, cherries, a demitasse with saucer (another drawing challenge), and a clear carafe with stems showing through, for a good measure!  The composition was awkward too.  The mums were pretty much stacked together where I was standing.  I had to persuade a classmate to swap the easel spots with me. 

As you can see from the photo, I still didn't like the position of the demitasse, but couldn't possibly move it to my liking without getting thrown out by other classmates.  So I took an artistic license by moving it slightly to the left in my painting.  I did consider painting only the flowers, but rejected the idea.  Why?

John is an experienced still life painter, who knows what he is doing.  He brought three primary-colored objects (yellow carnations, blue cup and saucer, and red cherries) for this complicated setup.  I didn't understand his rationale behind the purple mums, which nonetheless contrasted with the light, yellowish neutral drapery.  There had to be a good reason for them.  I did get the dark blue kitchen towel on the table; it anchored the whole thing.  Look at the beautiful shadows and reflected light on the pale drapery--greens, violets, and even oranges.  Wow!  I would have never come up with the combination.  I had to paint the entire setup, not a portion of it, to do justice to John's vision.

John doing a long demo for the attentive class

Do you know what the biggest challenge was after I settled on the composition?  It was the colors of the mums.  I saw and painted them too cool; so did some other students.  The mums in John's demo painting were much warmer in temperature.  I had to steer them toward warm pinks, purples, and muted oranges.  I am constantly fascinated by how people perceive colors differently.  Perhaps, John's is right.  I have the violet tendency!

Friday, February 17, 2012

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

"Tropical Sunset"

The photo reference for "Tropical Sunset"

I am still high from my recent trip to Kauai and was dying to do a painting from one of many pictures of glorious sunsets that I took day after day. Each sunset was different from the day before and equally spectacular!  It would have been a daunting endeavor to paint a sunset scene from life, as it only lasted for about ten minutes. I didn't even bother to bring my oil painting gear on this trip.

However, I was well prepared to do some watercolor sketches. As some of you may recall, I took the opaque watercolor workshop with Rick Weaver back in December. This well-earned vacation--celebration of our 20th and 21th wedding anniversaries, and my birthday all rolled into one big treat--was a great opportunity to hone my skills at opaque watercolor.

"Poipu Beach, Kauai" (opaque watercolor, 11" x 15")

The view of Poipu Beach

Combining family vacations with plein-air painting outings is always a complicated business.  One feels guilty at taking advantage of her suffering family's patience for her own pleasure.  Speed is the key thing.  Get in and get out within a hour.  Fortunately, my husband and daughter were otherwise occupied one afternoon, so I didn't have to feel rushed.  I sat in the patio of our hotel room, away from nosy onlookers, and painted the palm trees.  I don't know about you, but I love these tropical trees with graceful fronds.

The time spent observing and sketching the big palm tree in the middle ground came in really handy when I painted "Tropical Sunset," whose vantage point was not far from the above view.  When the sky, ocean, and dark foreground were painted to my satisfaction, I took a deep breath and painted in the tree.  One shot, no messing around.  Wow!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"Crashing Waves" (oil on linen; 8" x 10") sold


Reference photo for "Crashing Waves"

My teacher, John Murray, believes that a viewer can tell whether a painting was painted with joy and fun or with anguish and frustration.  I absolutely agree with him.  Sometimes I work on a painting to death and it shows.  Maybe it's the complicated drawing or muddled value scheme.  I work at it with a sheer determination, but without joy. 

Not "Crashing Waves."  I spent many hours staring at waves during my recent trip to Kauai.  You can, of course, try to analyze the way waves are formed from the physics point of view, as my husband did.  For me, it's the colors of the ocean, waves, their shadows, etc. that are spellbinding.  I took many pictures; while going through them on computer screen, the above photo caught my eye.  I loved the aquamarine sea, white foams, and dark, moss-covered rock.  Look at the wonderful shadows of the rock!

Although I was still tired and didn't quite feel up to painting, the creative juice started pulsing through my artistc veins.  I painted fast and furiously with joy.  After the multi-colored rock and waves were laid down, I lathered thick white paint to mimic sea foam.  What fun!

Friday, February 3, 2012

"Three Oranges and White Tureen" (oil on linen; 11" x 14") sold

"Three Oranges and White Tureen"

"Yellow and Violet Still Life" (oil, 11" x 14")

"Two Red Peppers" (oil, 11" x 14")

"Red and Green Apples" (oil, 11" x 14")

I am beginning to see the pattern in the still life setups by my teacher John Murray--the harmony created by complementary colors.  In the first class he gave us red and green apples with neutral draperies.  In the second week, he challenged us with the intensity of red bell peppers against two different shades of green cloths.  The third week's setup was all about the yellow/violet vibrations.  This week he not only baffled us with the orange/blue juxtaposition but also with the octagonal planes of the white tureen! 

His choice of draperies is deliberate.  They may someday come with stripes and all sorts of patterns and textures.  The white bowls, which are clearly included for their reflective qualities, are becoming more complex in their shapes; one even flaunts floral patterns. In the midst of the ever-mounting challenges of painting fruits, vegetables, and fabrics, we are also constantly reminded of the crucial importance of composition and paint application. 

We struggle valiantly to mix the right reds, blues, greens, oranges, violets, and yellows we see in the setups, and often end up with disgusting colors.  The prominent colors in "Three Oranges and White Tureen" are blues and oranges.  For whatever reason, my original color notes were oranges and violets.  John's comment was that I have the violet tendency!  I had to work hard to depurplize the violets and steer them toward blues.  We can, of course, ignore what we see and paint the way we like, as one student was doing with the extremely limited palette of only three colors, plus white.  Or, we can try to mix colors correctly.  Argh.  The vexing still lifes!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"First Snowdrops" (oil on linen; 8" x 10") sold


Reference photo

I did it!  Instead of sitting on a nice photo forever, I made a painting out of it right away.  Aren't you proud of me?  As I mentioned in an earlier entry, I took the above picture last Sunday.  The first sighting of these delicate white flowers always signals the imminent arrival of spring.  However, the joy has been considerably marred by the unseasonably warm weather we've been "blessed" with this winter.  Today's forecast in northern Virginia is in the upper 60's! 

Some people are basking in the warmth; others hate it, sad at the want of the fluffy snow.  I happen to live with two of the latter.  I don't mind the spring-like temperature.  But I am sore at the missed opportunity to paint snow on location as my plein-air friends had vowed to do so this winter.  Oh, well.