Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Stir Crazy

The snow envelopes our house like a huge silent blanket, the stillness broken only by the rumble of the snow plow as it scrapes and scratches its way through the slush and ice.

I suppose I try to make the best of it. I have been painting still life, trying to improve my techniques. I go to work but the church is dark and empty because the preschool classes and the adult day care program are cancelled due to the cold and snow. This is January in Northwest Ohio and we haven't had one this cold and snowy in a long time.

Here is a 9" x 12" painting I did Sunday. I am a bit behind on posting because I've been trying to organize my art business for the new year and it's a bigger job than I thought. I'm taking this one to work because I like it a lot and I just sold one that is hanging in my office.

Grapes with Green Pot

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


I always tell the client to send me more than one picture of their pet when they commission a painting. Often one photo will present a better view or angle than another. I like to have choices. I think that after all these years of creating paintings I may have a better idea of what will make a painting work. Sure, I can reproduce a photograph exactly and make the painting look like the picture, but where's the fun in that? I want to leave my own imprint on it.

Fran gave me three pictures and while the little dog's head is half-buried in the blanket here and is showing clearly in the other two, I still felt drawn to this one. There is emotion here. The little dog seems to be tucked in for the night with his blanket and his favorite toy.

So I changed the angle of the bed a little and I moved the eyes of his "baby" so it appears to be looking at him and the painting immediately became more compelling. Now he is looking at us and his doggy doll is looking at him. It's a fun painting now, not just a painting of a dog lying down on a bed.

11" x 14" Oil on Canvas

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Portrait from a photo

It's always more difficult painting a person from a photo if you haven't painted that individual from life. When the subject is right there in front of you the guesswork is eliminated. I had this photo from our portrait group that really captured the young man's attitude so I wanted to try to paint it.

It's even more difficult when you go to a smaller canvas. This piece is 9" x 12" so the margin of error when painting features that size is smaller than usual. I enjoyed abstracting the background.

9" x 12" oil on canvas

Monday, January 13, 2014

Green Pots with Orange

I am trying to put a bit more thought into my still life paintings by adding different textures and surfaces, varying the light, the colors, the materials and the fabric etc. The contrast between complements is the focus here. The orange seems even more orange than it actually is because the post are blueish green. The dark battle is there for balance and to stabilize. The grapes just nag out because I like the way they look against the white fabric. I am focusing on improving my edges and my compositions this year to create more unified pieces. So my New Year's resolution in the studio is 'think before you brush', very similar to the one I have made for my personal life: think before you speak. This doesn't always equate to the fastest paintings but it's not really about speed when you're in the studio.

So far, I like the way things are going. Now if I can only maintain. That's the difficult part.

9" x 12" Green Post with Orange

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Tennessee Cabin

Another one of my "house portraits", this one is actually a cabin up on a mountain somewhere in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. The owner's daughter commissioned it as a birthday gift for her mother. I have stayed in a cabin in a similar place in North Carolina so I was familiar with how 'smokey' those mountains actually are.

11" x 14" oil on canvas

Friday, January 10, 2014

Using Black and White Photos to Create Oil Paintings

I loved this old black and white photograph. Something about the man's expression and his sheer presence appealed to me. I used the Zorn palette to colorize it. The Zorn palette is a very limited one with few choices so it's ideal to use in a situation like this.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Chromium-- It's Not Silver But It Sure Looks Like It

The area I live in had a "snow day" yesterday. In case you've been out of school too long to recall what that is I will refresh your memory. A snow day happens when there is so much snow the road crews can't keep up with the salting and plowing. I think we have about 20 inches total now and the wind chill is -44 degrees so the salt is not melting the ice on the roads. We are effectively trapped in our homes until it warms up a bit. I would be trapped here for a week if I didn't have a husband who was willing to go outside and shovel the drifts that are accumulating in our driveway.

I know I could have cleaned the house yesterday but I really felt more like painting, so I set up an eclectic still life using some of my favorite colors. I bought a chromium teapot, sugar bowl and creamer set off eBay a few months ago for the express purpose of using them for my still life set ups. I did a little research before I made my purchase. Whatever did people do before the internet? I'll tell you what they did, because I am old enough to remember! We used our encyclopedias or we went to the library, looked through the card catalogs, wrote down the reference number and found our reference material. Sometimes the reference material was in the library's basement and the librarian would purse her lips and glare at me before she tromped down the stairs thirty minutes later to locate it. Today I type the word into Google and get eight million hits in less than a second. Is it just me, or is the world speeding up exponentially?

Chromium, unlike silver, never needs polishing, and I immediately decided this was the kind of tea service I wanted  (since I couldn't afford silver and didn't really want to polish silver anyway). My research yielded some fascinating facts about chromium: Chromium oxide was used by the Chinese in the Qin dynasty over 2,000 years ago to coat metal weapons found with the Terracotta Army. Chromium was discovered as an element after it came to the attention of the western world in the red crystalline mineral crocoite (lead(II) chromate), discovered in 1761 and initially used as a pigment. Louis Nicolas Vauquelin first isolated chromium metal from this mineral in 1797. Since Vauquelin's first production of metallic chromium, small amounts of native (free) chromium metal have been discovered in rare minerals, but these are not used commercially. Instead, nearly all chromium is commercially extracted from the single commercially viable ore chromite, which is iron chromium oxide (FeCr2O4). Chromite is also now the chief source of chromium for chromium pigments.

Chromium metal and ferrochromium alloy are commercially produced from chromite by silicothermic or aluminothermic reactions, or by roasting and leaching processes. Chromium metal has proven of high value due to its high corrosion resistance and hardness. A major development was the discovery that steel could be made highly resistant to corrosion and discoloration by adding metallic chromium to form stainless steel. This application, along with chrome plating (electroplating with chromium) currently comprise 85% of the commercial use for the element, with applications for chromium compounds forming the remainder. In other words, the chromium steel coating on this tea set requires little care and will look good indefinitely. My kind of appliance.

Another interesting tidbit I gleaned from my searching: Chromium is the open source web browser project from which Google Chrome draws its source code. Hmmm...I love Chrome- it is my browser of choice unless I am using my iPad.

It's a wonder I ever get anything done. I am unnaturally curious and enjoy researching and learning new things. I could easily spend all day looking for more information about the curious magnetic properties of Chromium.

Back to the painting: I wanted it to be colorful and I wanted a general loose feeling, so I used big brushes for everything. I did not want too many sharp edges. I tried to manufacture a soft and dreamy feel. There is an interesting occurrence in the reflections on the teapot, with a beautiful juxtaposition of color reflecting from the fruit and the teal colored pot. The roundness of the teapot allows it to reflect more objects. The glass bottle in the background adds another dimension  and makes the orange clementines that much brighter. Accidental complementary colors resonate in the orange/aqua and violet/green of the subjects.

I'm happier with this painting than I am with the one I did last week of the silver creamer.  I know it's chromium plated but silver just sounds richer. I think every time we paint something it opens up new possibilities of seeing, no matter how many times we paint it. That's why I keep returning to the same landscapes. They are always a bit different and I know a little more each time I attempt it.

12" x 16" Oil on linen   Silver Teapot No. 1

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Still Life Painting with Pears and Grapes

I love painting still life: the way the light falls over the forms is always interesting and when you throw a reflective object into the mix, like this silver sugar bowl, it really takes the painting up to another level.

Silver with Pears
11" x 14"

Friday, January 03, 2014


Here is the final version of Lauryn, my 14 year old model. She has wonderful dark eyes and I am pleased with the way it turned out.
Lauryn 11" x 14" oil on linen

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Old, Ugly Landscape, Reborn

Many of my plein air paintings are unsuccessful. Okay, if I'm going to be honest, they are downright ugly. Subjects that are quickly chosen because of fading light are usually among the worst. This landscape was dominated by too much green and had no decipherable design or focal point. I still remember driving around with my friend late in the afternoon searching for a public place to set up our easels and finally settling on a park because we were running out of time. I really hate to throw away canvas so I try to re-use them whenever possible. I scraped off some of the thick texture but allowed quite a bit to remain. I think it adds character and interest to the top painting, as long as I'm not trying to do a portrait. 

The dominant greens in the bottom layer of this newly created still life still affect the top layer of paint in some areas, notably the background. I decided to leave the background green at the top, modifying it with some grayed down color.

Bosc pears are my favorite fruit to eat, so I usually have some on hand. They're a nice warm, orangish hue that will provide a bit of complimentary resonance to the greens on the canvas. I painted the fruit tonally, without a direct light source, and somewhat larger than life. I had fun with the palette knife, using it to scrape and swirl and pile on the paint.

11"x14" Fantasy Pear