Monday, November 3, 2014

New Self Portrait - Proverbs 31:17

My newest self portrait, "Proverbs 31:17 (Self Portrait at 29)," is the inevitable sequel (one of many, no doubt) to "The Wait and the Reward." Like "The Wait," it was a painting that required great patience and even physical endurance. Because of Cecelia's nap schedule, my limited studio lighting, and other responsibilities that took me away from the easel, I only had a few golden moments throughout the day to work on it. It took several weeks to complete. Cecelia is about 5 1/2 months old in this painting, and quite the wiggle worm. Somehow I managed to do most of the painting from life, in a mirror, with a couple of photo references for getting Cece's exact likeness and pose.

This piece is an attempt to convey my sometimes obsessive drive to "do it all." I have a burning desire to be both a great mom and artist. But those are both incredibly draining and time-consuming jobs that demand one's full concentration and effort.

The expressions in my self portraits tend to "just happen". I never overtly choose them; instead, they evolve with the painting.  Most often I end up looking proud and confident, with just a hint of fear and vulnerability (the side of me I try to hide). It's the closest you'll get to a real look at the tumultuous conversations I have inside my head. I might have a dozen different expressions throughout the painting's progress, but ultimately, I must land on one of them.

Or... maybe I don't have to land on one expression. Maybe the final result is a combination of several faces. Maybe that's what makes painting from life so exciting. It's not a snapshot or a single moment. Instead, it's an idea or series of moments which evolve over hours and days. Maybe the expression is supposed to be multi-faceted because really, whether it's a self portrait or a painting of a model, the subject experiences countless thoughts and emotions throughout the sitting.

I'm too busy being a mom to dwell on how I want myself to be conveyed anymore. While I still try to wear nicer clothes (i.e., NOT pajamas) and put on some makeup every day, you can tell that I am tired. However, I chose Proverbs 31:17 for the title because I believe that we mothers are given an extra measure of grace and strength to carry out our tasks.

"She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks." (Prov. 31:17, NIV)

Cecelia is in the spotlight now (literally), as I and my paintings fade into the background. I illustrate this with the use of duller color, darker values, and less contrast, everywhere except on Cece and the arm that's holding her. I love putting her before myself. I love her more than my paintings. But if I can have both her and my art... well, then I am one happy mama.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Painting Little Hands

My almost-six-month-old, Cecelia, is as perfect as perfect can be, and when I paint her, I find myself grasping at that perfection, unattainable and just out of reach. But that is the joy and the challenge of painting, and that is why I decided to rework this little painting, "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep."

"Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" (original version) - 6x6" inches

At only 6 inches square, the piece was a response to some comments on an Instagram photo I posted several days ago. Cece was sound asleep in her car seat, on the way home from an art show. When we stopped for gas, the overhead lights at the gas station illuminated her face and hands perfectly. It was one of those moments I couldn't have reproduced in my studio if I tried.

The little painting was completed alla prima in one day, and when I posted it to Facebook, there was an overwhelmingly positive response. However, something about the hands just wasn't right. I knew when I "finished" it that if it bothered me, it might bother someone else, but I lazily concluded, "Eh, it's fine."

No, it's not.

Cecelia is perfect... and I ought to try my best to capture that perfection.

I decided to bite the bullet and rework those hands. They weren't bad... but they could be so much better. I could make the excuse that a baby's tiny hands are hard to paint (they are!), but excuses are just that - excuses!

I am so glad I changed it. I put Cece in her play gym next to my easel and observed her anatomy very carefully from life. I was able to rework the fingers so that the pinky finger overlapped her bottom ring finger (in the original version, it was the other way around). I also made her hand slightly smaller and brightened some of the highlights. It hurt to take down the painting and re-post the "new one," but I'm a happier artist and mama for it.

The moral of the story: a painting is never truly finished. If something still bothers you about it, FIX IT! Don't just let it slide. I am grateful to those who were kind enough to offer constructive criticism.. you know who you are. Here is the final work.

"Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" (FINAL VERSION) - 6x6" - oil


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Recent Demos and Paintings

I've had the opportunity to work with some really amazing models lately.  Some of them have posed for demos in my fall alla prima painting workshops, and others have posed for independent projects.

Ann modelled for my monochrome workshop in August. I've painted her before in color; either way, she is fantastic.

"Ann in Monochrome" (class demo in titanium white and Rembrandt transparent oxide brown) - 14x11" - oil on linen panel

Varya posed for my color portrait workshop this past weekend. She was born in Moscow, and the fair skin, red hair, and dignified carriage so characteristic of her Russian heritage were a real treat to paint.

"Russian Girl" (class demo) - 16x12" - oil on linen panel

Speaking of visual treats, this recent work, "Fire Dance," was a breath of fresh air and a departure from my usual style and subject matter.  It was an experiment in broken color and energy of brushwork in order to convey the feeling of motion. I particularly enjoyed painting the colorful background and the model's flowing hair. Her jewelry accents were great fun, as well. I took a look at some Sargent paintings before painting these details, as I wanted to make sure I painted them effectively in as few brush strokes as possible!

"Fire Dance" - 50x40" - oil on linen

"Fire Dance" (detail)

"Goddess" (color study for "Fire Dance") - 18x14" - oil on linen - Private Collection

Above is the color study I did from life in preparation for "Fire Dance" (although I ended up pushing the color in "Fire Dance" just a bit more). A wonderful collector took this piece home with them during Fort Worth Gallery Night earlier this month!

Sadly, the fabulous model for this painting moved away shortly after I completed it. This has happened to me at least 4 or 5 times. Too many good models don't stay in Dallas! Well, I'll just have to keep finding new ones! :-)

Some people have commented that my work has gotten better since having Cecelia. I think they are right. My time is much more limited now, and whenever I have a moment at the easel, I paint with a sense of urgency. That urgency can be a hindrance at times, but when I channel it into intense focus, it can be the best thing! You can read a recent online interview about juggling parenting with being an artist on Debby Bird's blog here.

I continue painting my favorite little model, my baby girl. Here is an 8x10 portrait I did for her 4-month birthday. She sat for almost 45 minutes in her Bumbo, enjoying the eye contact and one-on-one attention, and later, when she had reached her limit (!), I finished it from some photos. I think it captures her curiosity and innocence, and it's the first painting I've done of her NOT sleeping!

"Cece at 4 Months Old" - 10x8" - oil on linen panel


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Sharing Secrets" - A Progression

Here is one of my most recent paintings. While I still don't have one particular method that I use for starting and completing a painting, I share here the process I used for this painting. I hope it can be of some benefit to other artists.

Stage 1: I drew some basic shapes for the composition on the white canvas using vine charcoal, and immediately began blocking in the painting using a thin wash of Gamsol and Rembrandt transparent oxide brown. I allowed some of the drips to stay, and dabbed some of the others with a paper towel. I also left some of the white of the canvas showing through (once you lose it, you can't get it back!). I was working for the first time on lead-primed linen (commercially prepared), which I found to be too absorbent for my taste. However, even though I was forced to really load the paint on (and it was hard on my brushes), the plus side was that I had a lot more control over the placement of my brush strokes because the canvas "gripped" them so well.

Stage 2: I began blocking in the big shapes on one of the sisters but tried to get as close to the exact values and colors as I could from the start.

Stage 3: I tried to work the edges of the subjects and the background at the same time in order to keep it looking fresh and atmospheric.

Stage 4: I began to develop the likenesses of both girls and gradually built up more detail in their faces, hands, and head bows, still simultaneously working the edges along the background and negative spaces.

Stage 5: I used a palette knife to load the paint on for the couch, leaving some of it alone, and using a brush to smooth other areas. I also continued working on the background, leaving much of the underpainting showing through, and I worked the soft edges into the girls' tutus.

Stage 6: I blocked in the bottom section of the painting, and pulled some of the edges up and down to create the feeling of softness, as well as to break up that hard line created by the bottom of the couch.

Stage 7: I was unsatisfied with my rendering of the older sister's hands, so I scraped them down and started over with simpler shapes and values. I then took a break from the hands to block in her legs, and finish the younger sister's head bow.

Stage 8: The feet are finished at this point. I tried to keep everything very simple, so that the viewer's eye would go straight to the girls and their giggling faces.

"Sharing Secrets" - 20x16"
oil on linen mounted to board

The finished painting shows the hands and tutus finally resolved and a signature in place. Shortly after this piece was finished, I entered it in the Oil Painters of America Summer Online Showcase, and it won 1st place! Thank you, juror Bryce Liston, and OPA!


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Daily Victories... a Few Square Inches at a Time

I used to work on half a dozen projects and once, and finish at least one painting a week. These days I'm lucky to finish one painting a month. I would like to think I'm pretty good at focusing, even with interruptions, but when the interruptions happen all day long, with only twenty minutes of peace here and there, well... the days go by quickly.

Still, she is worth it.

Cece is three months old today!

Cecelia is my new full-time job. I nurse her, I change her, I burp her, I rock her, I read stories, I sing and dance and act goofy to get her to smile, I carry her around when that's all she wants... next thing I know, the day is gone and I've got nothing to show for it. I realize that motherhood is the most important job in the world, and I am taking mothering very seriously. I also realize I am nurturing a little person, with a soul and a personality of her own. But sometimes it feels so... hard. And it's torture to walk past my easel every day knowing that more often than not, it will have to wait.

Last week I was working on a figurative piece that involves a seated figure outdoors, with a waterfall behind her. One evening, I got a corner of the painting done -- some landscape work on bushes and rocks. I felt very accomplished! The next day, I worked some more on the landscape, but ended up scraping everything off that I had done that day. It was a mess, and I'd much rather repaint it over and over than "finish" an area and never be happy with it. I realized my focus has not quite been the same since I became a mother.

The most difficult challenge in all of this is making a large painting look cohesive - like it was painted all at once and in the same style. With such limited time, I have often found myself working on one small area at a time, per day, trying to make the edges look fresh, while matching the values and colors to the rest of the painting. This is much harder than having 8 or 9 hours to start and finish a painting in one session, because I am in a different place mentally and emotionally every time I come back to the easel. The way I paint today isn't necessarily how I would have done it yesterday, or how I will approach it tomorrow. So, how do I make a painting succeed, if my mindset will be different with every session?

It's important to try to remain objective. I've discovered that I can use the time and space between painting sessions to my advantage. I am able to find small mistakes, nuances, or aesthetic changes that I would not have noticed if I had simply hammered through a painting from start to finish. As a result of this epiphany, I think my work is getting better.  It takes a lot more patience, and the concession that I'll be doing fewer paintings. But those few paintings will be better than ever.

My latest work is a mad dash, but it is also calculated. I squint excessively, try to really nail it, because I don't have time to dawdle or pick at my paintings anymore. Every second of every day counts now. I have to make each brush stroke count! Still, if I'm too tired, or the baby is being fussy, I find that it's impossible to focus, so I put the brushes down and try again the next day.

I'm not going to post the paintings that show my days of struggle (with those, I sometimes wonder if the viewer can tell that the baby was screaming while I tried to paint...). Instead I will post here one of my little victories (or not so little... the canvas size is 36x24"!), "Lydia and Tinker Bear." Though it was not without its difficulties, this painting came together nicely. It took several months, but I tried my best to tie it together seamlessly. I've posted a picture of the first painting session I had with it (from before Cece was born... so I had more time!). From there, it took several months of smaller sessions, but it all worked out. The time away from the canvas was just as beneficial as the time in front of it.

"Lydia and Tinker Bear", first session

"Lydia and Tinker Bear" - 36x24" - oil on linen


Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Wait and the Reward - My [Wide-Eyed] Response to the Response

It's been a week since I put this painting in the public eye, and wow... what a response! I never expected it to go viral, but it has, and hundreds of thousands of people, from all over the world, have seen this painting and responded to it with great emotion. I am so humbled and grateful for all the comments, likes, and shares around the social media universe. :-) While this piece was incredibly personal to me (and I originally considered NOT posting it publicly), I'm glad that it has touched so many. Perhaps there is a young mother out there who was considering an abortion, but saw this painting and decided to choose life for her baby instead... if that is the case, I would love to hear from her! :-)

"The Wait and the Reward" by Anna Rose Bain - 30x30" - oil on linen

I wanted to share just a few of my favorite comments...

Comments from mothers and mothers-to-be:

"I remember feeling like this when I was pregnant both times. I wanted to hold them. I couldn't wait to hold them. I still love their hugs. I tell both my boys that they have my favorite hugs!"

"We may rub our belly's looking like we are uncomfortable (OK we are) but we are imagining our baby in our arms."

"It's absolutely beautiful. What a simple yet profound articulation of the miracle of life, the safe haven the womb is meant to be, and the most gorgeous revelation of femininity -- motherhood!"

Comments that just cracked me up:

"There's nothing more beautiful in the world than a pregnant white woman."

"Now this is a pregnancy portrait that doesn't disgust me."

"That Teddy Bear's like, "Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo..."
Comments from pro-life threads:

"Hang that on the wall at Planned Parenthood. They'll go outa business."
"For women who are afraid they cannot handle motherhood I wish we could create this picture for each of them."

"A baby is a baby whether in or out of the womb. Human and sacred from the moment of conception."

From those who read more into my painting than I did...

(I was very amused by this conversation):
Comment 1: "A painting of a seemingly modern mother, under the age of thirty, who wears a wedding ring. Why is the teddy-bear covering its eyes? Why are the bear's feet coloured differently?"
Comment 2: "I suppose the differently-coloured feet show the unknown future: is it a boy (blue) or a (girl)? As for covering its eyes, it may indicate that we do not know what will be, though the outcome here is fairly obvious. Or perhaps the little bear is simply being modest (though it does look as though he is peeking a little)."
Comment 3: "Or he knows that he will soon be in second place?"

Comments from thoughtful observers:

"Wow... art is supposed to affect you... this piece does just that!"

"My eye was drawn to the way her body is holding her baby in both images without her arms changing positions-the natural capacity for nurturing written into her body."

"The hand on her chest when pregnant like she's holding a baby's head.....Beautiful."

"The first thing to come to mind is how this parallels many images of females with eating disorders, or any other self-conscious issues. Instead of seeing herself as a woman with "big hips" or something negative, the woman is seeing purpose--a purpose which is crucial for many girls and women to realize as they struggle with body issues. Our bodies have been made beautifully with purpose, and to embrace this is to discover deep fibers that make up our being."


Saturday, June 14, 2014

New Self Portrait - "The Wait and the Reward"

"The Miracle of Love"

Before you were conceived I wanted you
Before you were born I loved you
Before you were an hour old I would die for you
This is the miracle of love.

Author: Maureen Hawkins

When I first came up with this idea for a maternity self portrait, I didn't realize how difficult it would be to pull off. In many ways, the patience it took to conceive and execute the painting was a direct reflection of the patience it took to get through pregnancy. Not only did I have to wait to start the portrait until I was "big" enough to look REALLY pregnant, but I had to wait until after my daughter's arrival to complete it. The entire project was a test in skill and patience, two things that every artist spends their lifetime trying to perfect.

How does one capture the anticipation? A mother feels her baby's movement, hears her baby's heartbeat, and counts down the weeks and days till she finally gets to meet this little person face to face. Meanwhile, there is a whole myriad of thoughts and emotions a pregnant woman addresses on a daily basis. What will my baby look like? Will he or she be smart, healthy, happy? Will I be fully able to love and care for this child? What if I'm not a very good mom? What if...? And on it goes.

"The Wait and the Reward" - 30x30" - oil on linen

Well, baby Cecelia arrived in early May, and she has been the sunshine of my life ever since. I could finish the portrait knowing that I had truly received my reward for 9 months of waiting and making my body a temple for growing this sweet little girl. The concept seemed to work really well, and I enjoy the fact that it takes a moment of looking before you realize what's going on in the painting.

Detail shots:

From a technical standpoint, this piece is not alla prima, since it took several months to complete. Aside from the small oil sketches of my daughter (see this post), alla prima painting simply hasn't been practical when there's only an hour or two each day to paint now that I'm a mommy. However, it has been nice to get back to my classical roots with some more detailed, layered works in which I can explore greater textural experiments and more subtle value shifts. These types of paintings are easier to work on for shorter periods at a time. I still want to maintain a feeling of freshness in my paintings, so that they don't end up looking overworked. But occasionally I'll go back and do more than one pass on different areas of the piece, which makes for a more refined look than the spontaneous brushwork associated with alla prima painting. Of course, some areas needed to be finished in one pass to pull off the look I want, such as the dark wood dresser. I wanted it to look transparent, so I used a single thin coat of transparent oxide brown, mixing it with ultramarine blue for the darkest areas. Other places, such as the lavender gown over the skin, had to be painted in thin layers to pull off that particular type of transparency.

Some interesting details about this piece: the little peek-a-boo bear was my husband's when he was a baby. The painting in the background reflection is a still life I did while my husband and I were on our honeymoon. As far as the books in the left hand corner, I didn't include any titles in the painting, but most of them are art books, still sitting on my dresser and night stand, with an occasional parenting book mixed in. :-)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Recent Portrait Commissions

Before you scold me for being a workaholic, let me begin this post with a disclaimer. First of all, I am enjoying every moment with my daughter, but she does sleep quite a bit, so that's when I paint (and I wear her in a sling while doing so). I'm like the artist version of Sacagewea. Second, these commissions were both begun earlier this spring while I was still pregnant, so I had a pretty good head start on them.  In the couple of spare hours I have each day, I've managed to complete these commissions, and even take the time to write about them!

Many of you ask about my process with commissions. I wish I could say that I'm a total purist and only work from life, but that just isn't practical when it comes to working around everyone's busy schedules. While I try to maintain my skills by practicing life drawing and painting on a regular basis, I put those skills to the ultimate test when I do a commissioned portrait, because it requires working, at least in part, from photo references.

Pricing, sizing, and color choices aside (all of that info is readily available on my website)... it's important that I explain the process carefully to each of my portrait clients, so that they understand not only my standards as an artist, but so they also see what a special experience it is to sit for a portrait. 

From a practical standpoint, I usually have to turn down working from someone else's photos, preferring instead to work from life so that I can set up the pose, lighting, and environment in a way that is most flattering to the the sitter. From there I can take my own photos, and use Photoshop to match the color and contrast in the photos to my quick sketches done from life (more on that in a moment). Note, it's NOT the other way around (i.e. matching the painting to the photos).

From an experiential standpoint: most people never get the chance to see themselves as a painted image. It can be a fascinating unveiling of the sitter's inner and outer beauty in a way they've never seen before. My goal is always to capture more than just a moment or a snapshot, which is why I usually insist on meeting the sitter and at least getting the chance to paint a quick color study while talking to them and getting to know them a little better. This step is crucial to the painting. Not only am I taking important notes on the model's hair and skin tones under the current lighting situation, but I'm taking mental notes of their unique facial expressions, gestures, inflections, and body language. I'm also genuinely interested in who they are as people. It's a huge privilege for me to invite them into my studio and get to know these unique individuals who come from all walks of life and boast a wealth of knowledge and experience in all sorts of things. I know a lot about a little (art and music!) and little about a lot ( :-)), so I love learning from other people, and hearing about the things they are passionate about. Of the many portraits I've done, I've had the pleasure of getting to know an Air Force colonel, a classical singer, a lawyer, a former U.S. ambassador, a Burlesque dancer... and many more. Then there are the sweet children who pose for me, who haven't chosen careers yet, but are simply passionate and full of life. What an honor it is to be a portrait artist!

Below is the color study I did for recently finished "Meri in Red." Meri is an Armenian beauty with high cheekbones and exotic features. She was a lot of fun to paint! As you can see from the final painting, the color study was less about likeness and more about capturing my impression of her, with the most accurate color and value I could muster in those 20 minutes or so. My feeling was that she is regal, strong, mysterious, and sexy. I think both the color study and the final painting captured those qualities.

"Meri in Red" - 40x30" - oil on portrait linen - Private Collection

"Meri in Red" (detail)

Below is another portrait commission color study, one which I had more time on (about an hour and a half). I was impressed by Erin's beautiful face, luscious red hair, and sweet spirit, and I hoped to capture that in her image. This one was painted very directly (alla prima) to maintain the feeling of freshness and youth.

"Erin" - 24x20" - oil on linen - Private Collection

Above and below: "Erin" (detail)


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Babies and Blooms - "Diary" of a New Mom

After four wonderful weeks with my newest little family member, it's safe to say that things will never be the same. I am breastfeeding full time, which means there is actually very little time for me to spend doing other things. Thankfully, friends and family have provided us with meals and help during this crazy first month with Cecelia, but many other things have fallen to the wayside as I grasp at spare moments throughout the day to sit at my easel. I've worked on my commissions a little more, but there were a couple of times when I sat down, intending to work... and as soon as I looked down at my sleeping daughter, I knew my plans had to change. I had to paint her instead. The following paintings are an artist mother's diary, I suppose. I can't put these in her baby book, but I wanted to capture this fleeting stage of her life as best as I could, before it's gone. 

"Cece at 2 Weeks Old" - 9x7" (5/20/14)- oil on linen panel - Collection of the Artist

"Cece at 3 Weeks Old" - 6x8"  (5/27/14)- oil on linen panel - Collection of the Artist

One benefit to having a baby: the flowers have come flooding in. :-)  Babies and blooms are two things I have little experience painting alla prima, so I have definitely been challenged!

The pale yellow blooms in the painting below were a gift from an artist friend, and proved to be challenging for me. They are a direct reflection of my state of mind as I painted them: chaotic, but trying desperately to find beauty in my current situation (sleep deprivation, lack of time for self, some recent family turmoil). As a result, they have a feeling of "searching" and movement. They honestly reflect my inability to spend a large chunk of focused time on painting them. They remain a little flat, a little unfinished. But they are still celebration roses. They are one more piece of my artistic diary.

"Celebration Roses" - 10x8" - oil on linen panel


Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Mother and Artist's Heart, Overflowing

I wasn't ready. 

At least, I thought I wasn't. I had commissions to finish, and a myriad of other painting projects that my stubborn mind thought needed to be completed before you would be allowed to enter this world. But, having inherited your mother's tenacity, you decided to do what YOU wanted to do... and that was to arrive twelve days early.

All the anticipation, education, and testimonials from other moms couldn't have prepared me for how I would feel when you, Cecelia Joyce, were placed in my arms. I thought I wasn't ready. But when I finally got to meet you for the first time, there was no looking back. I was completely smitten! That first night in the hospital, they tried to lay you in a cold plastic bassinet. I missed you when I wasn't holding you, and felt complete as soon as I scooped you back up and took you into bed with me. After all, you were a part of me for nine months. I couldn't revert back to my independent old self that quickly. I need you as much as you need me.

I can't stop studying your perfect little features - the abundant head of hair, the button nose, the beautiful little ears, and the world's poutiest lips that Daddy will have to guard from all the boys who will someday try to kiss them. Your fingers and toes are long like your daddy's. Your eyes and nose are shaped like mine, and those eyes are blue. Ultramarine blue with just a touch of white and ivory black. 

Cecelia Joyce Bain, born May 5, 2014 at 9:59 a.m. - 7 lbs, 2 oz.

Cecelia, you have been born to an artist. You might be embarrassed of me someday, but I hope instead you are proud, because your mother taught you how to look at the world. You will not spend your days letting treasures slip by - no, you will crane your neck to watch the flock of mallards flying overhead. You will linger in the woods when the scent of plum blossoms fills your nostrils. You will stop to study the premature bud of a wildflower, and delight in the radiance of one in full bloom. You will savor the cadence of a Beethoven sonata, and smack your lips over a home cooked meal.  You will learn to delight in the finer things: the great books, the best music, the timeless art. Furthermore, you will recognize the God-given beauty in each soul that you encounter, and it will give you the capacity to forgive, empathize, and love. Yes, there are ugly things in this world, and I will do my best to protect you from them all. But I also know that you must recognize ugliness in order to truly SEE beauty in all of its glory.

Your grandpa sent flowers on the occasion of your birth, which happened to coincide nicely with Mother's Day. Someday you'll get to know Grandpa a little better, but here's the thing about him: he is rough on the outside, and a complete softy on the inside. He loves his girls with all his heart, and he already loves you. He has never sent me flowers before. When they arrived and I read the note, I cried. "Have a happy first Mother's Day," he said. "I know you'll be a great mom." Then he honored my mother by saying, "You learned from the best."

Since you sleep a lot, you were very accommodating and allowed me time to paint this bouquet. Someday, Cece, this little painting will hang in your room and it will remind you of your birthday, of Mother's Day, and the family that already loves you very, very much.

"First Mother's Day" - a painting for Cecelia Joyce
12 x 12"
Oil on linen glued to board



Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How to Feel Better: Paint Something!

There was a moment (okay, several moments) of self-pity this past weekend as I perused Facebook and saw most of my artist friends living it up in Washington, D.C. at the annual "Art of the Portrait" conference. I so wanted to be there, taking it all in, talking about art, and learning from the best. But it wasn't meant to be.

So I painted something. Slept in. Walked the dog. Enjoyed the gorgeous weather. Spent time with my husband. Caught up with old friends.

I may not be counting down the days till my due date (the daily baby emails I get are doing that for me!), but I am keenly aware that life is about to change VERY soon. Something tells me I'm not quite ready yet. I still have a couple of paintings to finish. I've enjoyed working on several commissioned portraits, which I will post photos of very soon, but those are still not finished. I've also kept busy with numerous other projects to supplement my need for the challenges of figurative work, and the adrenaline rush of alla prima painting (and also to distract myself from the fact that I'm about to have a baby!).

One of those alla prima portraits happened yesterday at the Society of Figurative Arts. SOFA is the studio of the wonderful Michael Mentler, who is a very dear friend of mine and someone I respect immensely. I used to go there and paint live portraits every week, but since my world has been so crazy lately, I have only had the luxury of going a few times within the last eight months. I had a couple of reasons for wanting to go, of course. First, my energy level was excellent (one can never take that for granted when they are 9 months pregnant)! Second, I hadn't done a live alla prima portrait in quite a few weeks. Third, I wanted to hear all about the Portrait Society conference. Michael and several others from here in Dallas had been able to go, while I begrudgingly stayed behind thanks to airline travel restrictions for pregnant women. It broke my heart to miss it, having been to the last five conferences and knowing that they are often a major highlight of my year. Michael even described the PSOA as a "second church" to me... I think he is right!

I heard that the conference was one of the best they've ever had, if not THE best. I was very happy to hear from Michael that he visited with some of the most remarkable and talented artists alive. While I again felt some of the pangs that had hit me over the weekend, hearing about the conference made me more determined than ever to make it back next year.

Meanwhile, we had an excellent model at the studio (thank you, Ann!), so I let out my pent-up FOMO by painting one of the best 3-hour alla prima heads I've done in quite some time. It was invigorating and fun, and I felt so much better afterwards! The moral of the story... it's always better to keep busy and PAINT SOMETHING than to sit around wishing you were somewhere else. :-)

"Ann" - 16x12" - oil on linen panel (3 hours alla prima)


Thursday, April 10, 2014

For Love of the Demo

March was a busy month for me. With my third trimester well under way, I was a little concerned that I wouldn't have the energy for it all. But the passion and drive didn't wane, and I was able to accomplish a lot in spite of the need for much more sleep and the irritating plague of heartburn that happens when you're carrying high.

Between my two-day portrait workshop and painting at my gallery during Fort Worth Spring Gallery Night, I happened to be working in the public eye a bit more than usual. On Gallery Night (Saturday, March 29), I set up my easel in a corner of the gallery and collectors could come and go, or stay and watch while I worked on a current painting project. Many of them commented, "I don't know how you can stand having people watch you work!" I told them it didn't faze me one bit, and that I actually enjoyed being able to share my process with others. "I find it very fulfilling," I said, "to show someone what actually goes into making a work of art. I love sharing my passion with anyone who is interested!" Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures from that evening, but below are some pictures from past demonstrations.

With the model and finished painting from
Spring Gallery Night 2013

Okay, so here's my confession of the day. I absolutely LOVE to demo. It's no secret that I love painting portraits from life, but when given the added excitement of having a captive audience, I'm imbued with a heightened motivation to really nail it! I always thought my twin sister (the professional musician) was the real performer in the family. Then I realized I like to perform in my own way: when I teach and demonstrate portrait painting. Why is it so exciting? It's a huge responsibility, and I'm screwed if I don't get the likeness. But that hunger for perfection becomes so much more prevalent when I know that people are watching me. Knowing there are other sets of eyes fixated on my canvas makes me keenly aware of every brush stroke I lay down. I am forced to be completely intentional with every mark, completely in the moment. There's no liberty to zone out while giving a demo. It's a challenging and revealing display of one's current skill level--a "test," so to speak. I must be able to explain what I'm doing in detail. I ought to remember the color I pulled from on my palette, and explain why I put down that particular brush stroke in that way. I have to process and problem-solve the visual puzzle before me while explaining my reasoning for every move. Thankfully, my students are quite forgiving when I have a momentary brain lapse. They love it when I make mistakes... because I can demonstrate how to correct them!

A demo from November 2013 for an artist gathering at
Chase Oaks Church in Plano, TX

Below are some demos I've done in the past for some of the private classes in my studio.

Kia - 30-minute demo in white and transparent oxide brown (8x6")

Katherine - 30-minute demo in full color (10x8")

Misty - 3-hour demo in full color (14x11")
In spite of the pressure a live demo can put one under, I am always excited and honored when someone asks me to give one. For years now, I've had a secret (or not so secret) desire to be a featured artist in the "Face-Off" competition held by the Portrait Society at their annual conference. Since I've never won a major award with the organization, I tend to get overlooked because I'm not famous enough yet. But I hope that someday, I get the chance to try it. That would make me VERY happy. :-) 

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