Thursday, December 27, 2012

A New Perspective on Snow

Steve and I weren't home to enjoy the white Christmas that Dallas received, but we were still blessed with abundant snow during our visit to family in Wisconsin. There was nearly a foot of snow, draping homes and fences and evergreens more beautifully than I had seen in years. We woke up each morning with a breathtaking view of perfect white, and I couldn't help but feel more at home than ever.

I didn't always associate snow with good things. I grew up with the expectation that a snowy winter simply meant lots of "hard physical labor." One year as a joke, my dad gave us snow shovels as Christmas presents and said, "Take these for a spin!" (He wasn't really joking) I can remember many winters during my childhood and teenage years where it was bitterly cold, and we had to start our car half an hour before going anywhere, just to make sure the engine was warm enough not to stall. And oh - the shovelling! It never ended.

There were some winters though, where I just got to be a kid. I loved sledding down our trails in the woods, but was sometimes crazy enough to try sledding down the bluff, too. That took some skill, dodging boulders and trees! I also loved ice skating on rare occasions when we had a mid-winter thaw, and a pond would develop in the low ground of neighboring fields. When it froze over, it turned into the perfect ice rink. The best times, however, were when the snow was wet and heavy - perfect for making snow sculptures and forts. My sister and I tried to outdo each other with our elaborate sculptures. We never made a generic snowman - it was always a horse, a dragon, or something challenging.

The longer I live in Dallas, the more I appreciate my once-home in the Midwest. I realize how much more glorious and pronounced each of the seasons are, in turn. One would never appreciate spring so much, if it weren't for the bitter cold of winter. My perspective has changed.

Knowing my time in Wisconsin was limited, I braved the cold to do a painting. Here are my efforts from several days ago.  These pictures give you an idea of just how much snow there was.

The finished painting, "Winter Adornments" (10x8, oil on linen panel), is just awaiting a signature, and a new home. :-) I can honestly say that along with much-needed fellowship with family and friends, the cold air and snow were a welcome break from everyday life. Perhaps someday Steve and I will move back to the Midwest and it will be our "normal" once again...


Friday, December 7, 2012

Impressionism and the Seeds of Modern Art - The Musee d'Orsay

While in Paris last month, I got to visit the Musee d'Orsay for the very first time. I was a little bummed that photography was not allowed, but it forced me to really take note of the paintings that stood out to me, and actually helped me enjoy the viewing experience even more. Here is the one picture we got from inside the museum:

View of the Musee d'Orsay

I enjoyed this collection very much, as many of the pieces I've become familiar with over the years could be found here, one after another! To name just a few: Whistler's "Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1" (no, it wasn't destroyed by Mr. Bean!), Van Gogh's "Bedroom," Manet's controversial "Luncheon on the Grass" and "Olympia" (who I wrote about here), Coubet's "Origin of the World" and "Burial at Ornans," numerous works by Degas, Renoir, Monet, Seurat, and Toulous-Lautrec, and even a handful of breathtaking Bouguereaus. I found out later that five of the Bouguereau paintings were just acquired by the museum in 2010 (see article here), including this one:

'L'ssaut (The Assault)', 1898, 60 in x 41 in by William Bouguereau

As I stood before works by the artists who birthed Impressionism and sowed the seeds for Modernism, I was left with a very different feeling than what I had at the Louvre. In many ways, my conservative values and loyalty towards traditionalism had me butting heads with these artists who deliberately sparked controversy. "Olympia" looked brazenly out at me and I tried to stare her down, but she won that fight. :-) "The Origin of the World" still made me look away in embarrassment, yet I couldn't help looking. These artists, particularly Van Gogh, were taking the next step--er, a giant leap--towards art becoming more about the artist than the subject.

But something took me by surprise.

I realized that I still had more in common with these artists than I did with the ones in the Louvre. I thought I was a classical painter, but in fact, I'm not. Like the Impressionists, I am trying to speak truth instead of lies, trying to paint the world that I know and experience, trying to capture what's actually going on around me rather than what happened in the past. David's Neoclassicism left me cold - I felt nothing when I looked at his grand-scale battle scenes and calls to arms. But when I looked at Degas' "Absinthe Drinker at a Cafe," I felt lonely alongside that woman, who sits lost in her own world. When I looked at Monet's series of the Rouen Cathedral - glorious in its variety of mood and color - I felt transported to that place and wanted to stand in that exact light, glowing in the orange and pink, or lost in the shadow blue. I wanted to zip up my boots and jump in the snow piles of Alfred Sisley's "Snow at the Louveciennes."

'Snow at the Louveciennes', 1878, 61x50.5 cm by Alfred Sisley

'The Portal of Rouen Cathedral (soleil), harmony in blue and gold', 1893, by Claude Monet

'The Absinth Drinker', 1876, 36.2 in x 26.8 in by Edgar Degas 

I spent a lot of time in front of wintry scenes, for some reason. Perhaps I was missing fall and winter in the Midwest... I don't know. Maybe winter just lends itself perfectly to Impressionism.

'The Magpie', 1868-69, 35 in x 51 in, by Claude Monet

I was in awe of Impressionism all over again - the way it looks so real from far away, but breaks apart with every step you take towards it. At the end of the day, though, I kept coming back to portraits and figurative works. Those were, hands down, the paintings I was most drawn to. The luminous, translucent skin tones of Bouguereau's nudes simply took my breath away. Overall, my experience at the Musee d'Orsay was just that: an experience. I felt all of my senses at work in response to these magnificent works of art, and I'd go back in a heartbeat, next time I'm in Paris... :-)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Art that Draws You In: A Visit to the Louvre

Having just returned from five days in Paris over Thanksgiving, and feeling fully recovered from the jet lag, I figure it's finally time to post something. I apologize for being absent this month... my travels in November have taken me all over the place - Wisconsin, Florida, and now France! I have much that I could write about, but for today I thought I'd talk about the Louvre.

Ah, the Louvre.

I first visited the Louvre when I was sixteen, during a whirlwind tour of Europe with a group of high school student ambassadors. I wouldn't really consider us "ambassadors" at that age. We were loud and obnoxious, like all teenagers are, except that we were also American, which made it ten times worse. But for me, it was different. While the other kids laughed and made fun of art they couldn't understand, I stood before the masterpieces in silent reverence and waited for the art to speak to me. These were some of history's finest examples of human creativity. I may not have understood them (and I wasn't convinced yet I wanted to be an artist), but they still resonated with me. The paintings, especially, filled me with both an inexplicable joy and a painful desire that I could not explain at the time. I know now what I was feeling. It was the call. You see, we are all called to do something with our lives, using the talents God has given us. The great artists of the past were inviting me to join them in their blessed vocation... maybe even join them someday on those walls. I don't know if I'll ever be great, like them. I just know it's my life's work to try.

That tour group long ago never led us through the longest passageways or most obscure corners of the Louvre. But last week, my husband and I flew to Paris together and spent our first two days there exploring this wonderful museum. We walked until our feet ached, but I didn't take a second of it for granted.

One of the things I enjoy most about visiting art museums is that you can use it as a chance to affirm and re-evaluate your personal taste in art. My husband and I were both drawn to different works, because we have different reasons why we like a particular piece. I found that my taste has shifted a little over the past several years, mostly because my painting style has changed from something very classical and laborious to more of an alla prima method. I like art that "breathes" without looking forced, contrived, or overworked. I also love when it looks as though a painting could have been done in one sitting (though most of the pieces in the Louvre took much longer than that, considering the monumental sizes of some of them!). Yet, Bouguereau still takes my breath away, as do Ingres, Gericault, and Caravaggio. Most of all, I love portraits. I am drawn to a portrait from the other side of a room, and will go there first before taking a look at nearby still lives or landscapes. People are what captivate me most. Fashion, landscape, architecture and decor... all these things change and tell a lot about the time period in which a work of art was created, but human beings remain essentially the same. Ah, what an amazing calling it is, to paint portraits!

Below is just a small sampling of artworks we enjoyed seeing at the Louvre. In my next post, I'll talk about the Musee d'Orsay and the Rodin Museum. :-)

Ingres: "The Bather of Valpincon"

Sir Henry Raeburn: "Little Girl with Flowers"
or "Innocence, Portrait of Nancy Graham" 

In front of Vermeer's "Astronomer"

 Gericault: "Portrait of Colin Alexander, Painter"

Vigee LeBrun: "Self Portrait with Daughter"

Joos van Craesbeek: "The Smoker"

In front of one of the most
magnificent sculptures ever:
The Winged Victory


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Afternoon Excursion to the Nature Preserve

Today I thought I'd walk the dog, and get in some plein air painting, all in one shot. The weather here has been absolutely beautiful lately, and even some of the trees are changing color! I went to the nearby nature preserve to see if I could capture some of the beauty.

I painted for about an hour, trying to get the late afternoon light (somewhere between 3:45 and 5 p.m.). I love how the shadows slowly climb down trees and hills, and wanted to capture that in my painting.

Although I slipped in the mud a few times -- and got scraped up pushing through untrimmed thickets to get to my vantage point -- I think it was worth it. Not only did I get some wonderful fresh air and time outside, but my painting turned out all right too... and Bella had a great time dashing through the shallow creek! She needed a bath when we got home, but hey... it was fun. :-)

Below: Bella enjoying the water.

Below: the almost finished painting. I'm going to give it a rest and then maybe come back and tweak some edges and values here and there. Oh - and sign it! :-)

"Around the Bend" - 12x9" - oil on linen panel


Monday, October 15, 2012

Gaga for Green and Outdoor Light

Wow... I would like to try and post on this blog more than once a month, but it seems that's all I have time for! SOOOO much has happened since Weekend with the Masters!

First of all, as happens every time I return from an amazing workshop, my work begins to evolve rapidly. I'm finally starting to loosen up a little bit, have more fun with my brushwork, and incorporate more complimentary colors in skin and hair. And lately I've been a little bit obsessed with green.

For example, in this recent self portrait, I got a little bit "crazy" (for me!) in the hair. If you look closely, there is a weaving back and forth between hard and soft edges along the outside contour of the hair. There is even some wild color going across the form (going the opposite direction that the hair falls) to loosely indicate the planes of the head. I'm always amazed at how much green I have to use when painting blonde hair. This time it was an eclectic mix, in the appropriate values, of white, lemon yellow, yellow ochre, raw sienna, viridian, radiant green, transparent oxide brown, and cadmium orange. That's a lot of variety, for a generic hair color that we're always told to fill in with the yellow crayon when we're kids!

"Self Portrait" - 20x16" - oil on linen - Private Collection
Painted in afternoon window light (south facing)

The painting below is one that I JUST finished, and I think it's one of my best nudes to date! Thanks to my very talented artist friend, Carol, who volunteered her beautiful (and private!) backyard, I had the amazing opportunity to work with a live model out of doors. I suppose that if I had a north light window, that would be the next best thing, but as it stands, I have very little experience with painting the entire figure in natural daylight. There is something completely different about it, especially when the light is diffused by clouds. Fortunately for us, we still have relatively warm weather here in Dallas! We kept the model comfortable by having a space heater on hand, and Carol's cat, Sadie, kept her company. :-) If I had just an extra inch or so of canvas on the left, I would have put the cat in!

 "Garden Nude" - 18x14" - oil on linen panel - Available

Sadie "modelling" next to the model :-)

We worked from about 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and had cloud coverage the entire time, which kept the lighting pretty consistent. I was continually amazed at how much surrounding color (greens from the surrounding ferns and trees, yellows from the cloth she was sitting on) found its way onto the model's skin. I had to get used to pulling from colors I wouldn't normally use in my studio. The result was a painting with LOTS of Gamblin's Radiant Violet and Radiant Green in areas such as the highlights on the breast and hip bone, the reflected light on her right side, and the blonde hair. There was also very little contrast, so it was a great exercise in turning form using subtle changes in color temperature, rather than value shifts. In the detail below, you can see just how much color I could get away with in the hair and face. I think I could have pushed it even MORE than I did...

 Detail of the legs: I tried my best to work across / around the form rather than along it. This makes for a more solid looking figure and enhances the illusion of three-dimensionality.

I have another new painting I've been dying to talk about, but I'll save that for a later post. Till then, happy painting, everyone!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Recap: Weekend with the Masters

I've had to postpone almost all productivity for the last few days since getting back from San Diego, because I am sick with a cold. I haven't been ill in over a year, so it has been somewhat alarming to get up out of a chair and feel dizzy, or pass out on my bed for three hours at a time. I am usually on the go from the moment I get up to the moment I go to sleep. This inconvenience has probably been a good thing, though. It has forced me to slow down, and truly digest what I've learned over the last few days.

Anyway, here is my recap from last week, September 5-9. I had the wonderful privilege of attending "Weekend with the Masters" at the Rancho Bernardo Inn near San Diego, CA. This was the first time I had gotten to attend this event, and I was pleasantly surprised at how accessible the master artists and instructors were all weekend. I often found myself standing in line for lunch or coffee with one of my idols, or strolling down the hill to the main conference hall with some famous artist. I could ask as many questions as I wanted, and have real conversations with them. This was an artist's paradise!

Day 1: Rose Frantzen - "Finding Your Color Anchor"

Okay, who doesn't love Rose Frantzen?! Not only is she incredibly fun to watch when she paints, but she is honest, articulate, and informative. She is passionate about painting, but also passionate about her subjects. She draws something out from each and every one of her sitters, while leaving part of herself out there on the canvas. I feel truly honored to have been in her class, albeit for one day. I hope to study with her again sometime for a longer period!

She didn't have much time to finish her demo, but it still looked awesome. I took pages of notes, but perhaps one of the best things I took away from the class was Rose's statement, "Don't judge yourself prematurely. Every canvas is new and you have to work your way into it." I am often way too hard on myself, thinking I have to get it perfect every time, so this was encouraging to hear.

Below is my effort from the three-hour block we had in the afternoon. I didn't get to finish the ear because Rose wiped it out (I had it in the wrong spot because I had gotten sloppy in my drawing. I was more focused on color, which was the point of today's class...). But I think I'll finish it in my studio. I had a great vantage point to practice turning form with color, rather than value. The light was pretty much flat on the model's profile! Still, it made for a striking image.

Day 2: Daniel Gerhartz - "Training Your Eye to See"

I've been a Daniel Gerhartz fan for a very long time. Not only are his paintings breathtakingly beautiful, but he is also quite open about his Christian faith, which makes him a winner (and a brother!) in my book. And this weekend, I finally got to meet him!

I got some good progress shots of his demo, but somehow missed getting a picture of the final image. I guess I was too busy taking notes!

I was especially interested in how Dan kept his shadows warm and translucent, never going to the darkest dark in small pockets of shadow such as the holes in the nose or the corners of the mouth. For this reason, the darks had a wonderful feeling of luminosity and "air".  "Air," as I've discovered, is a popular word among Richard Schmid's circle, for describing luminous darks.

Below: my painting from the afternoon session. I really enjoyed working with our gorgeous model, Chelsey. She has been the muse for several of Jeremy Lipking and Alexey Steele's paintings, and I never thought I'd get to paint her! Dan suggested that I set up on the sidelines for a profile view. At first I resisted, having done a profile the day before. But when I saw how beautiful the light was on Chelsey, I immediately set up there and started working. I painted with more freedom and panache than usual on this one, thanks to Dan's inspiring demo. What fun!!

Day 2 - Evening Session - Rose Frantzen and Sherrie McGraw each painted a portrait of the same subject, which happened to be my good friend, Michael Mentler! The two women have very different personalities and painting styles, and they were quite entertaining.

Day 3: Stephen Early - "Form Painting the Figure"

Stephen Early is an instructor at Nelson Shanks' school, Studio Incamminati. I have enjoyed seeing his figure work for the past few years and so I hoped to gain some fresh insight from him. I related quite well with his method for blocking in light and shadow. He uses the light and shadow values to "chisel" out form, back and forth. The best part about this method is that it takes pressure off from feeling like you've got to get it right from the start. Here are a couple of progress pictures from his demo. Beautiful and simply stated!

And below, my afternoon efforts at form painting... I really wish they gave us six hours to paint instead of three!

Day 4: Robert Liberace - "The Classical Figure: A Modern Approach"

By day 4, I was pretty wiped out, but I still enjoyed watching master figure painter Robert Liberace paint his morning demo.

I debated about painting in the afternoon, since I was so tired... but painting won out! Here is my sketch from Rob's class. He had some helpful pointers... however, since I wasn't particularly happy with my vantage point (the light fell off at the legs, making them look very dark - almost like she was wearing pantyhose), I ended up wiping it all off when I got back to my hotel room. But I have this picture of it as evidence that I did, in fact, put in the work! :-)

Other highlights of the event were demos in between sessions, as well as evening events. Below: Michael Mentler did a beautiful drawing demo of the Three Graces.

Michelle Dunaway and Ryan Brown painting Chelsey on the last night, during the silent auction fundraiser for the California Art Club.

All in all, it was a wonderful event and I learned a lot, coming back with some wet paintings, some cool new art supplies to try, and pages of notes! I'm looking forward to seeing my art heroes again next time and showing them how much I've learned.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Another Summer in Wisconsin

It's crazy how fast the summer has gone, since Steve and I have been travelling so much. We recently returned from two whole weeks in our home state of Wisconsin, where I didn't do as much painting as I hoped, but had some wonderful visits with family and friends (much needed time away from the easel, actually!). I have come back refreshed; there was, in fact, one whole day on our trip that I got to sit around, lazing in the sun with a good book, doing absolutely nothing productive. For those of you who know me... that is a rare thing, indeed!

Much of our time was spent at Steve's family cabin. We hadn't been there in two years and it was wonderful to breathe the fresh air and relax a little bit. The dog had a great time too, as you can see...

 Throwing the stick in the water - this is the only way Bella will really fetch anything!

Below are some pictures from the few days that I did get to paint.

Above: I hadn't painted in several days and started getting the itch... so I did this simple 5x7 and felt better afterwards. :-) It turned out all right in spite of the cloudy weather.

Below: Here is Tom Sweeney Sr., of Shady Nook Resort (they are lake front neighbors of ours). He and his family have owned and operated the resort for years. I thought he would make a fantastic portrait subject, so he kindly sat for me and shared stories of life in the north woods.

I finished the portrait later in my studio:

My sister Emily and her husband Blake joined us for a couple of days at the cabin. We had a great time fishing together, going out on the boat, and making s'mores over a campfire. Good times indeed!

Watching the sunset while fishing out on the boat. You can't really tell who I'm with in the picture below, but that's my twin sister and I sharing a blanket. We've gotten used to the 100-degree weather in Dallas, so northern Wisconsin felt pretty cold!


The only person I've ever been competitive with in my entire life is my twin sister, Emily. We decided to play with fire, so to speak, and have a contest to see who could draw the best outline of a horse in the air with a burning stick. Each "drawing" had to be done in just a matter of seconds. Steve took pictures of each one with a slow shutter speed, and that's how we got these shots. Above: Emily's first crack it a horse was incredible! I tried and failed several times before finally getting this one (below).

Maybe I'll just stick to portraits...

My last painting of the trip: an attempt at capturing water lilies and woodland reflections, with the old canoe.

This is as far as I got. I plan on refining it in the studio, and possibly adding some blooms to those water lilies. I like the mood though - it captures the essence of calm and relaxation that is here at the cabin.

Below: I started a portrait of my beautiful sister-in-law, Lindsay. A mother of four, she enjoyed the excuse to sit and do nothing for several hours!

Below: painting something else... my niece's nails. :-)

Below: For the first time in three years, my ENTIRE family was together... all 15 of us!

I'll post pictures of more finished paintings as I go. In one week, I'll be heading off to San Diego for American Artist's Weekend with the Masters. Until then, I'm scrambling to get some serious studio time in here at home. Keep watching for new work!
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