Monday, September 19, 2016

Between Fences and Freedom - New Self Portrait

This summer was one of dramatic highs and lows. It was a summer of scrapping entire projects after hours of time invested, and of learning from my mistakes the hardest way... by having to start over completely (more than once!). It was one of very little productivity and a lot of self doubt and thwarted efforts to paint something of significance. It was one of discovering my own limits and realizing I had imposed those limits on myself. It was a season of learning and growth - the painful kind - with no real breakthroughs except small victories here and there, and a whole lot of realization that sheer willpower and gritting one's teeth doesn't necessarily make your art and life better.

Before I go further... let me clarify something. The struggles mentioned above are not entirely because I'm a mother of a two year old! Cecelia is wonderful and ever the joy and sunshine in my life. But as I reflect back on the last two years and look at where I am now, I can see that I've become a different person, someone who is more self aware, both physically (hello, clean and press! That is one thing I've gotten right... a regular gym routine) and emotionally (learning to set boundaries... more on that later).

My whole life I've been a "yes" person and a people-pleaser. I would constantly strive to keep the peace in all of my relationships, even if it meant giving up my own needs and wants in order to accomplish this. I grew up hearing the golden rule repeated over and over: "Love others as yourself." But somehow I began to believe that meant, "Love others MORE than yourself." I saw it played out in the lives of women I looked up to, who constantly met everyone else's needs before their own... like the mom from "A Christmas Story" who "hadn't had a hot meal for herself in 15 years."

But eventually this kind of life just wears you out and makes you bitter. I think this summer I hit a new kind of tired - one that was very different from the exhausted fog of pregnancy, the sleepless nights with a newborn, or the physical exhaustion from a 10-mile hike.

In short, I realized I couldn't be a great wife and mother (or daughter, sister, friend, etc.), maintain the house, make and sell great art, stay in shape, and juggle everything... by myself.  I needed to break free of my self-imposed chains and allow God and others to work in my life. He did so using a number of invaluable outside sources.

Two of those sources were my dear friends Linda and Laura, who simultaneously recommended I read a book called "Boundaries" by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. This book has changed my life (and is continuing to do so), as I'm learning to build safe boundaries in all applicable areas, including... surprise surprise... my art. I already knew this about myself, that if I had a good painting day, I was elated and on top of the world... but a bad painting day would put me down in the dumps and I'd take everyone I loved down with me.

Additionally, I was relieved of some "mommy duty" when Steve and I agreed to start sending Cece to a Montessori preschool two days a week. Cece absolutely loves it, and it allows me to have some solid working time. The first few weeks felt like a waste, because I was struggling so much with painting anything "good," as I had completely fallen out of a rhythm, and every time I sat down to paint it felt contrived - like I had forgotten how to do it. But gradually I got my 'groove" back, and I'm starting to hit my stride once more.

During my lowest point this summer, I began a self portrait that encompassed the conflicting emotions I was trying to sort through. Ironically (though it was NOT funny at the time!), I made a grave technical mistake on the portrait and ended up having to scrap the whole thing, even after posting a detail of it on social media and getting a lot of positive feedback. However, some of my closest friends saw what was really going on when they noticed the sadness in the painted likeness.

As my creative energy has returned, I have moved the portrait in a different direction from when I started. It's actually a good thing that the first one didn't turn out. I've taken this painting to a better place - one that looks outward with fresh confidence and drive, instead of within towards a grave vulnerability that teeters on the edge of depression.

"Between Fences and Freedom" - 48x22 inches - oil on linen mounted to board

So I think the narrative is fairly straightforward, and most people (women especially) can take away whatever meaning from it they want. But here are some of the things that I wanted to say in this painting.

1) The corset. A splurge of mine while strolling about at the Colorado Renaissance Faire has now become the item of controversy in this new painting. Does the corset represent a thirty-something woman's attempt to hold on to her youth and sensuality, in spite of the utter lack of glamour in everyday life? Or does it represent the impossible standard that women have been held to for centuries? We have been deprived of oxygen and freedom, but I can't emphasize enough that many of those chains are ones that we have placed upon ourselves! This indeed has been my biggest light bulb moment through all of this. It is up to me whether I choose to be free of that which steals my life and breath. Gal. 5:1

2) The vines. Those tangled brambles share a similar purpose to the corset - they attempt to choke and take away from the fullness of one's life. What are the vines in your life? I know what mine are, one of them being those self-imposed limitations I mentioned earlier.

3) The fence. Boundaries, represented by the fence, can be healthy and good, or they can cause us to become jaded when we allow nothing good to come in or out. In my case, I would often allow people and/or things to knock down my fences and walk all over me... I am slowly learning to have a healthier respect for my property.

4) The flock of geese. Symbolically, geese represent journeys and wanderlust, but also faithfulness and family devotion. In former days I traveled the world and left the house whenever I wanted. I loved being able to come and go as I pleased. Now I don't have that freedom, but I know it's only for a time. Right now I'm embracing the second part of that symbol: family.

I'm stoically preparing myself for mixed reviews of this painting. I have already gotten comments from people saying they'd like it better if I looked "happier" or wore a smile, because that's more "becoming". Anyone who knows me, knows that I love to smile and laugh. But that's not what this painting is about - there is more to me than that.

Upon seeing a detail of the face, before she even saw the rest of the setting, one of my artist friends made an incredibly insightful comment that I thought I'd share with the rest of you. She said, "So often, women are told to be sweet, be gentle, be nice. To 'smile!' To bite our tongues, else be called some unfortunate term. Thank you for capturing the steadfast spirit, pushing against the corset and encroaching vines, not softening to society. There are important messages to share - this painting seems to be toeing the edge of something that society might find uncomfortable ("stern," "mad," "ticked"), but that must be said. Keep going!"

Thank you, Erica... for that comment. I have kept going and now I think this painting is ready for the world to see. I haven't done anything this personal since "The Wait and the Reward." But as I discover more and more who I am as an artist, I am coming to to terms with the fact that, like it or not, my work will always be deeply personal. I just hope the message is worth sharing.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Filming a NEW Instructional DVD: "Creating Vibrant Skin Tones"

During the last weekend of July, I made the trek to Salt Lake City, UT to film a new instructional DVD with Bella Muse Productions. This production company is incredibly professional and they did a wonderful job! I'm looking forward to seeing the final result. You can sign up for their emails on their website to get updates on the DVD's release date.

Meanwhile, here are a few fun pics from filming.

A huge thanks to my beautiful model, Caitlin! She was absolutely wonderful to paint!

I so enjoyed working with Elizabeth Robbins, producer and artist extraordinaire. Here we are in front of her gallery in Ogden, UT.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Beauty in the Midst of Chaos

Lately my heart has been heavy. Everywhere I look, families, marriages, and nations -- are becoming divided and falling apart. I feel burdened with a weight I can't possibly bear, because it feels like there is nothing I can do to ease the pain or mend what is torn.

Through the pain I just keep painting. I paint because there is nothing else I can do, at this moment, besides pray. I remember why I am a painter, and most especially a portrait painter: because PEOPLE are what matter. Human beings, with all their flaws, selfish urges, and imperfections... and human beings, with all their strength, passion, beauty, and divine spirit. If only we could show each other unconditional love and respect... the true reflection of the Good and the Beautiful.

But we are flawed. I see it in myself every single day and I just paint on through, as if by painting I'll see the world (and myself) more objectively and somehow rise above the chaos. What is there to lose? It's just paint, and canvas, and time. Not time spent solving the world's problems, but solving little problems, one by one, in order to bring something of beauty to the table.

Enough rambling, though. Here are a few of my latest offerings.

"Study in Yellow," 6x6" - oil on linen panel

"Aspen Grove" (plein air, completed on the Deer Mountain Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park) - 12x9" - oil on linen panel 

"North Light Peonies," 9x12" - oil on linen panel


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Oh Whatever... Just Paint What You Love

I had grand plans of hiking in the mountains over Fourth of July weekend, but instead my daughter came down with a cold and consequently, so did I. Thankfully, I still got some time to paint. So here were my holiday "fireworks," a sketch of some day lilies from our back yard.

"Day Lilies" - 10"x10" oil on gallery wrap linen

I painted these freely and without worrying whether or not they would turn out. I've been slowly learning that the best paintings are done with a positive assumption that they will turn out, no matter what bumps or hiccups they meet along the way.

I've also been re-learning to paint with my canvas and reference photo upside down when I'm doing studio work. Over the weekend I also finished this 12x16 studio piece of my sister in law sitting at her cherry grand piano. Lindsay has such a perfect face that sometimes it's hard to capture her likeness. By flipping the painting sideways and/or upside down, I was able to see her proportions more objectively and therefore get it right.

"Composing Thoughts" - 12x16" - oil on linen

These two paintings are both direct manifestations of subject matter/people/colors/etc. that I love. As hard as I try to objectively separate design from subject matter (see my last post), I simply can't. Perhaps that will still happen eventually, but I have an emotional connection to my paintings, and that's why I create them.

I'm just throwing this out there... but could this emotional connection be because I'm a woman? Take for instance the works of Richard Schmid and his wife Nancy Guzik. Both are world-class painters, whose styles are similar... but different. Richard is one of the people I credit with my choice to become a professional artist. But upon seeing Nancy's work, I happened to relate more to her paintings than Richard's. Why is that? Someone once told me, "Richard loves to paint, Nancy loves what she paints." There is a very important difference there, one which I relate to as a deeply emotional and relational being. Richard's paintings sing with panache and bravado - they test the very limits of what paint is capable of. Nancy's take you to a quieter place and render you breathless with their mastery of color and their sensitivity towards the subject. I relate more to Nancy. Neither are right or wrong... just different.

So as I've been trying to come to terms with what I'm learning from Quang Ho and the many powerful contemporary painters I've been fortunate enough to meet... I realize that I've forgotten what I have to bring to the table.

I don't want to paint like anyone else. I didn't choose this job for the money, fame, or to be in grand museums and written about in art books. I chose art because it's what I was meant to do, and I have a voice of my own... one that is unlike any other's and one that is only mine to share.

Yes, perhaps my work has a feminine touch to it that at its worst might be called indulgent and overly sentimental. But at its best it is sensitive, honest, and relatable... and don't human beings--especially during these trying times--need to relate to one another?

So, I continue the quest to make my artworks powerful and meaningful... while being true to the voice God gave me.  Fellow artists, consider this my encouragement to do the same. :-)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

On Plateaus, Abstraction, and Light Bulb Moments

Last month I participated in the Oil Painters of America national exhibition and convention. The fact that the OPA is celebrating their 25th anniversary made it even more of an honor to be on faculty. I felt like a bit of a hotshot, having taught a workshop that week and then painting in a group demo for the OPA... until I sat in on a landscape demo by master artist Kevin McPherson, and I realized anew that I know nothing! His demo was so abstract, my brain couldn't wrap itself around the idea of what he was doing. He started with an informal grid (based on the ideas of Andrew Loomis), then started dropping pieces/shapes of color into the grid. He had a photo reference, but was composing his painting based on the grid, rather than by copying the photo. It took a long time before it started looking like anything, which would drive me absolutely insane if I were to try such a method. Still, he insisted the grid could be used for anything, even portraits! (Okay, Kevin...)

Kevin McPherson starting his demo at the OPA

When I got home, I tried starting a painting this way, and quickly realized I was not up to the task. There is something about my way of thinking that is just not able to grasp abstraction just yet. But I'm fiercely determined to learn!

Andrew Loomis' "Informal Subdivision"

Thus started my month-long (and still going) artist's block. Yes, I admit it. I'm in the middle of a plateau.  And it's because I've been challenged to take my art to the next level by thinking in the abstract.

Back in college, freshman year, I was assigned to do an "abstract painting" inspired by a representational subject. I balked at the project and told my professor outright that I disliked abstract art. "It just isn't my style!" I said.

"How old are you?" he asked.

I hung my head. "18."

"You HAVE no style!"

Begrudgingly I completed the assignment and it was quite clear that I hated every second of it. In fact, it ended up in the dumpster at the end of the semester. To be fair, we weren't given very clear directions as to what "abstract" meant within the confines of this assignment. I had no idea what "abstract" meant besides the fact that most abstract art, by my limited knowledge, was stuff I disliked... i.e., it "didn't look like anything."

Later, my graphic design professor (though he still gave me an A in the class) told me my weakness was design... I was too simple and straightforward most of the time and had trouble thinking outside the box. I brushed him off, thinking my intuition would become stronger and carry me through. Fallacies of youth, my friends. That attitude has been my downfall ever since. I am finally seeing it now... 13 years after beginning my career as a serious artist.

What I didn't understand was that even the most representational works of art start with an abstract foundation, that is, the abstract value pattern. I've talked about this before, but I'm still learning to wrap my head around it completely and own it in my work.

And now that I'm a Denverite (Denvertonian? Denverer? oh, forget it), I have the amazing privilege of painting alongside a new friend and mentor, Quang Ho. He is leagues ahead of me in knowledge, experience, and skill. Quang has challenged me to break things down to their most basic visual elements: light and dark. Let go of subject matter, let go of sentiment, let go of ideas for new paintings. Just be OPEN to whatever I find interesting, and run with it. Don't care what anyone else thinks. Just play with paint and capture a good design first and foremost. Some of the things he's told me I'll be chewing on for a while: "There is no incomplete shape. You can play with expressive edges and lost and found, but nothing should be incomplete." Another thing that seems so simple, yet is something I have neglected in my work: "Find the pattern of light and dark. Stay true to the pattern." The pattern should be interesting and strong - in the hierarchy of painting, that comes first - that is what draws the viewer in. Not the subject matter, not even the colors or the edges. The light/shadow pattern. I don't know why it's been taking me this long to see it.

I haven't had this feeling in over five years, when I took a workshop with Clayton J. Beck, III that changed my perspective on painting forever. It's that feeling like my whole world is being overturned and every notion I ever had about painting is false and needs to get thrown out the window. It is terrifying and exhilarating, and it needs to happen every once in a while in order to grow. I know I can be a better painter, and it's driving me bonkers!

I haven't been creating as much in 2016. I could blame it on my two year old and the fact that she is more demanding now (this is VERY true!), or on my husband's time-consuming job and the fact that I don't get much time to paint even on weekends. But when I look within, and am really honest with myself, I can see that it's because I've hit a plateau. I know when my art is "on" , and when I'm making progress because of things I've learned. I can tell when the light bulb turns on and I hit my stride. I haven't had that for months. I've been so busy trying to "finish" paintings that I haven't allowed room for growth. Growth is painful and no fun, and because my painting time has been so limited, I've been mentally restrained by a preconceived notion that I have to finish a painting and make it pretty, every time. I've also not allowed myself the freedom of thinking completely abstract when it comes to design, without regard to subject matter.

So when will my light bulb come on? When will I have my breakthrough? I feel like I'm such a slow learner, even though I know I have what it takes. Well, maybe it's not going to happen in an instant. Maybe it's already started with the loss of my sketchbook and all the old idealogies that are in there. I want to be an open book, an empty sponge, and doggedly persistent even when I fail. I want to absorb everything the great artists are saying and manifest it in my work. In short, I need to heed good advice, and stay hungry. :-)

It sure would be nice to become successful really quickly, to be winning awards left and right, and to be making more money. But what my art needs right now is a reset button. I was getting over-confident, sloppy, haphazard with trying to finish paintings in time for competitions or to sell. I lost a pure objective. Now it's about the art again - making work that is truly excellent. Thank you, Quang, for being kind enough to tell me what I needed to hear!

Above: Crazed notans I did based on the setting below, one day after a deep discussion with Quang on the meat and bones of painting. Just trying to see the light/shadow pattern regardless of the cute kiddo in the bottom left hand corner! (Also, note the dirty dishes. These days, it's art or housework. Not both!)

Below: I highly recommend these two videos by Quang Ho. He is a great artist and teacher!


Monday, June 20, 2016

Intro to Finishing a Studio Painting (part 1 of 3) with Anna Rose Bain

So... ever since painting that demo of Jessie at my workshop last month, I've been chipping away at a large studio painting (42x24") of that same pose and setting. Here's an informal clip on the inspiration behind this piece. I'll have a couple more videos after this highlighting the finishing touches!


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Week in Dallas, May 9-16

This past month has been a bit crazy, but I thought I'd share about my trip to Dallas last week for a two-day portrait workshop and the Oil Painters of America 25th anniversary convention and exhibition. Since Dallas is my former home, I jumped at the chance to go back. It was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with old friends and painting students; I was pleasantly surprised to make lots of new friends, too.

Steve, Cece and I all piled in the car and drove the 12 hours from Denver to Dallas. We broke it up over two days, of course, and were relieved to discover that Elmo apps on the iPad were the perfect distraction for our car seat-imprisoned toddler. She is such a good kid - she really did great on the road trip and did even better all week as Steve whisked her off to the zoo and other fun adventures. 

My workshop was from May 10-11 and focused on alla prima portraits. The second day was especially fun, as my longtime friend and art muse, Jessica Dahl, posed in a purple wig adorned with flowers. I found that Gamblin's Radiant Violet straight out of the tube worked perfectly for those bright purple highlights in the hair! Great fun was had by all, although probably moreso by me... my students looked a little shell shocked by the end of the workshop, but they always do, because I can't stop myself from overloading them with information. Painting is such a difficult but rewarding thing - I hope I managed to empower my students rather than overwhelm them! :-) 

With the lovely Jessica Dahl and my finished demo of her. I hope to do a larger painting of her soon, featuring this delightful costume.

For those of you who have wanted to study with me but couldn't make it to a workshop, I should give you the heads up: I have two instructional DVDs coming out soon. One will be released later this month ("Portrait of Kia"), and the second will be professionally filmed in Ogden, UT, at the end of July with Bella Muse Productions. I'm thrilled to be working with them and am excited to say that this particular DVD will focus entirely on creating beautiful skin tones. That's what all my students want, so that's what I'm going to teach. Stay tuned!

My awesome workshop group! Thanks for the warm welcome back to Dallas, everyone! Hopefully we'll do this again next year. :-)

After the workshop ended, OPA events commenced! Here is where my week got interesting. On Thursday, OPA attendees had the opportunity to paint together at White Rock Lake for a plein air competition. I didn't compete, but I decided to paint there along with everyone else and enjoy some comradery and fresh air.

However, once I'd had some time to visit with friends and finally get down to the lake to choose a painting spot, I happened to be a bit isolated from everyone else. I set up in front of the local gang of ducks and geese, who are moving models but do tend to stay in one general area (so a fun challenge!). They were quite entertaining as they honked and bellowed at each other and sometimes wrung each other's necks. I was so immersed in my painting that I did not realize I was becoming a victim. One of my artist friends came over to me and expressed concern that my car may have just been broken into; she had heard glass shattering and witnessed a bright red SUV take off fast from the scene. I hurried over to my car, which was only about 100 yards from where I had been sitting. Yes indeed, some local thug smashed in the back window of my car and stole my purse. I had hidden it on the floor under a bunch of stuff, but the thief must have (a) been drawn to my out of state plates and (b) been peering in for a while to see what he could take. It took me a moment to realize what had happened, but there it was - shattered glass everywhere, my purse gone. I had spent seven years in Dallas without an incident, parked at and walked around White Rock Lake with my best friend dozens of times, and now... this. ID, credit cards, lots of miscellaneous items -- gone, but what made me tear up as I came to the realization that it was probably gone forever, was my sketch diary. That little book contains sketches, notes, and painting ideas that go back at least five years.

I spent the better part of that day dealing with glass repair, cancelling credit cards, and filing a police report, but I have been able to see this entire thing in a positive light from the beginning, and I'll tell you why.
- Cecelia was safe with her grandparents. Her car seat wasn't even in the car, so no shattered glass to clean up there.
- My husband was in town and was able to come to my aid immediately (he had a rental car, another blessing that we didn't expect).
- I was surrounded by friends. I am so thankful to my friend Andrea for telling me about the incident and sharing what she saw to the police, who will hopefully catch this guy.
- I didn't have anywhere else I had to be that day.
- The glass company estimated it would take 24 hours to fix the window; they got it done within one hour, during which time Steve and I went and got a beer. :-)
- My expensive DSLR camera was sitting right next to my purse on the floor. The thief did not take it. Also, the thief did not attempt to open the trunk, which contained expensive lighting equipment and many of my paintings.

Since the thief has my ID and my business cards, by now they ought to know who I am. If you (yes you, the person who broke into my car) happen to read this, please know this: I forgive you. What you did was wrong and inexcusable, but I forgive you. Your life is a series of events, defined by choices that you make. I don't know anything about you except that your choices have led to crime. I hope that you choose a different path. I don't care about the purse (as pretty as it was! :-( ) or the money, or the stuff. But if you have any kindness in your heart at all, I hope you'll return my sketchbook to me.

And if I never see that sketchbook again, well... this is a great opportunity to start fresh. Out with the old ideas, opinions, and "rules" that have worked their way into my psyche. My heart and mind are open to whatever inspiration comes my way.

That being said, the rest of the weekend was wonderful.

The OPA National Exhibition opened on Friday night at Southwest Gallery with a packed house. I enjoyed visiting with artists and collectors, and viewing all the wonderful paintings in person.

 My painting "Among the Hydrangeas" in the OPA National Show at Southwest Gallery, hanging below a gorgeous piece by TJ Cunningham (Photo courtesy of Pamela Nichols)

Visiting with my good friend Michael Mentler, who shows his work at Southwest Gallery, and conveniently lives in Addison (where all the events were taking place this weekend)
Erica, one of my best friends in the whole world, parted with her sweet newborn baby for a couple of hours to come see the show! :-)

On Saturday, I had the honor of participating in "Art in Motion," a two-hour portrait demo, alongside Aimee Erickson and Suzie Baker. I greatly admire and look up to both of these artists, and we had a great time painting together. Our model, Dave Malin, was also an absolute joy to paint.

Photo courtesy of the Oil Painters of America FB page

Photo courtesy of the Oil Painters of America FB page

Photo courtesy of the Oil Painters of America FB page

Photo courtesy of Marc R. Hanson

I'll have a better picture of the finished demo on my website soon; meanwhile, here is a close-up show of the painting with a fun color I tried for the first time: Cobalt Teal by Michael Harding. It was very highly pigmented but mixed beautifully with all the other colors, including alizarin crimson for some gorgeous purples in the skin tones. Give it a try! 

So... after a long road trip home, I am back in the studio and excited to get some real time at the easel. I'd better get to work.

But before I go, here are a couple pictures from Cece's birthday. She turned 2 on May 5, and is obsessed with all things Elmo. :-)

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