Thursday, May 23, 2013

Painting at the Dallas Heritage Village

The Dallas Heritage Village (which I had never heard of until about a week ago) is a collection of Victorian and pioneer homes, located on the south side of Dallas. This fall, the village will be hosting a plein air painting exhibition and competition, so today I decided to join up with some other painters and check this place out. Entry is free for artists (I guess we make them look good!), so I was able to walk right in, find a spot, and get to work. It would have felt like I was stepping into another time and place, were it not for the Dallas skyline peering over the little village. And with the droves of schoolchildren there, and the muggy post-thunderstorm humity, I wouldn't exactly call the setting "peaceful." Still, I enjoyed every minute of it. We don't have many homes like this anywhere else in the city, so I think I'll be back again as soon as I'm able to.

My subject of choice was the Sullivan House, and the little white fence nearby. Here's my painting after the first hour or so...

Curious schoolchildren came by in packs. One kid, with a very straight face, offered to buy my painting for a dollar. I was tempted to use that opportunity to educate the next generation of future collectors on the value of fine art... but instead, I filled them in on how before the invention of metal paint tubes, artists used to store their paints in pig bladders. That thoroughly grossed out - and delighted - the school kids. :-)

Here's a picture of my painting as it neared completion. The clouds and muggy air hung around long enough for me to work a little longer than usual (almost three hours). I just have a little bit of tweaking to do on it still; will post a final pic soon.


Monday, May 20, 2013

An Artist's Signature

What's in a signature? I had some interesting discussions over the past couple of months with several different artists, on the topic of signatures. The doctor's signature is stereotypically illegible; the teenage girl might sign all of her 'i's with hearts instead of dots (a running joke from an artist's panel I attended last month), and the size of the signature could have a lot to do with that person's own feelings of importance or self-worth (e.g., "John Hancock"). But what about artists? Why is an artist's signature so important?

Over the years, I've carefully observed how artists sign their paintings. Some of them take care to scratch their name deeply into the wet paint, so that it can never be forged or scraped off. Others line up their letters meticulously, each one at a graceful slant and widely spaced for drama. Some sign their whole name, others just their last. Some only put in their initials and have striven to "brand" their work with a signature that looks like a seal or logo. If you're curious as to why I sign my name, "Anna Rose," I wrote this blog post on it several years ago. I wonder, how much value does a signature have in affirming the artist's identity or style?

I'm still working on figuring this out. I've gotten teased for my "pretty" signature, told that it looks like it was signed by a little old lady. Others have complimented it and said, "It's nice to see a signature I can read!" But when I think about the life experiences that have led up to my current artistic identity, I don't really care what anyone thinks.

When I was very young, my mother took great care to ensure that I learned how to write well. We covered every aspect of writing - not just spelling, form, and grammar - but also, the aesthetic side of writing: calligraphy, cursive, italics. I took every possible visual art form related to writing that I could think of, even playing around with hieroglyphics, Medieval illumination, Greek symbols, and the Hebrew alphabet. I loved the way I could turn a pen to different angles to create subtle changes in the width of a stroke or flourish of a curve. It was all preparation for becoming a painter, of course.

Then, as I grew up, went to art school, and was told that drawings and paintings would be stronger if one worked in angles instead of curves, I bit my lip and did as I was told, but I was still inexplicably attracted to curves. I found them to be softer and more appealing, so I signed my name with them and continued to "fill in" all the gaps in my paintings that were left by the harsh and unfeeling angles. I've since learned a bit more self-control, embracing the power of angles and learning to use them to maintain structure and presence. And, as my friend Matt Taylor has said in this brilliant blog post about curves and angles, "Ambition creates angular shapes. An angle is a challenge to the forces of the universe to break it." I am terribly ambitious, so my nature does not come without its angles. But I still paint with sensitivity, and I hope that never stops. I also like to "hide" my signature at times, within the pattern of a carpet (as you see below, in "Twin Arts") or the texture of a grassy field. It's not about the artist, the "John Hancock" - it's about the work, speaking for itself.

So, could it be true that the style of a signature is related to the very soul of the artist, based on its lines and curves? Food for thought. I'd love to hear your opinions on this!


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Staring at the Paintings on the Walls

Still no A/C.

Our air conditioner has been out for almost a week now. And if you've ever been to Texas in late May, you would know just how miserably hot it can get this time of year. We have someone coming on Monday to fix it, but until then, my engineer-husband's temporary solution has been to put a window unit in my studio. He could have put it anywhere else in the house (the heat affects him way more than it does me!), but since I'm the one who spends most of my time at home, he was kind enough to put it in "my room." Still, my legs stick to my office chair, I wear the lightest clothing I can find, I drink iced coffee instead of hot, and it's a relief to go to the grocery store and hang around the refrigerated foods section.

But there's actually been something kind of cool about the A/C quitting on us. Since the bedroom is an inferno, we decided to drag a mattress into my studio and camp out in there last night. I woke up this morning and looked up, and my paintings were everywhere, all around me, lit up beautifully by the morning light that comes in through the east-facing windows.

I laid there for quite some time looking at each painting, stacked high on the walls and easels, remembering things about each one of them from their inception to completion. I realized that, in the five years I've lived here, this space has undergone an enormous transformation. It went from big white empty walls with a tiny, cheap easel in the corner--and a young woman sitting in front of the blank canvas, her head filled with dreams--to a working studio that evolves constantly as paintings are created and sold, or created and kept and cherished on these walls.

I hardly ever take the time to ponder my achievements; I am always moving forward, never looking back. These paintings hang like quiet reminders of how far I've come, holding sweet memories of happy brush strokes, fellowship with other artists, problems resolved, and eureka moments. See that brush stroke? I remember feeling thrilled about saying something simply with that one mark. See that hand? I remember discovering that I didn't have to paint an edge around every finger to show its beauty and form. Notice that background? It wasn't a piece of fabric, it was a scarf. Then there are so many little secrets that no one will ever know but me, or me and my wonderful models. What book was she reading? What song was he playing? What was I thinking about in that exact moment when I painted this or that?

Each painting has a story and a soul of its own. They are pieces of the puzzle of my life as an artist, and each of them has a place of importance.

I am thankful that the A/C went out. It gave me a chance to meditate and step back from the craziness just for a little while, so that I could be truly grateful for where I've been and where I am going. Artist friends, I hope you will do the same. Reflect on your accomplishments, re-affirm your goals, and above all, be thankful that you get to create... this is truly a wonderful life!


Friday, May 3, 2013

All About Blonde

"Self Portrait in Profile" (painted from life using two mirrors)
8 x 8" - oil on linen panel

It has taken me a long time to figure out the nature of hair, particularly, blonde hair. I paint self portraits regularly in an attempt to experiment and learn more about it. Here are some things I've learned so far:
(image source:

  • Hair is transparent, so individual strands do not cast shadows, but locks (masses) of hair do.
  • Blonde hair is usually very fine and must be painted delicately.
  • There is usually a lot more green in blonde than yellow (unless the model looks like Lady Gaga here! This is no!).
  • The shadows in blonde hair are much darker than you think they are. Get the values right and you'll still be able to create the illusion of "blonde", even if it's very dark.
  • The fine hairs at the top of the forehead, framing the face (where the hair meets the scalp), are quite often the same value as the skin itself. Paint them SOFTLY.
  • Hair responds to light the same way other forms do - everything must be painted in relationship to the light source! That means both value and color temperature are influenced by the surrounding environment!
  • Paint colors you will always find on my palette for blonde hair include: titanium white, lemon yellow, yellow ochre pale, transparent oxide red and brown, ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, ivory black (never straight from the tube, but used as a cool to mix with other colors), and my absolute go-to: viridian green. 

 Remember, blondes are only "dumb" if they are painted badly! 

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