Ever a story... waiting to be told

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Let's Play a Game!

One might argue that there is very little creativity involved in drawing house portraits. Some will say that it is merely a matter of reproducing, onto the paper, what you see in a photo.  However, after about 30 house portraits, I can tell you that it has never been simply a matter of reproducing what I see in the photo. Creating a house portrait for somebody is about being a magician of sorts. 
You must shift time, to other years and other seasons.
You must redesign architecture.
You must rearrange landscaping.
You must create new elements out of thin air.
And most of all, you must listen to what your client tells you about their home and why they love it enough to want a portrait drawn. 
The client asked that I draw the side and back of the house. The house is tucked into a grove of trees and very difficult to even see from the road, but that's the view they most often see when coming down the road. Also, the family usually gathered on the back deck and spent most of their family time in the back yard. 
They loved the first drawing I sent them, but they had a few things that they hoped I might be able to change. I made six changes and they approved the second draft. 
Here's the game: 
Can you see what I changed? 
First draft
Second Draft
The client loved the style and mood of the first drawing... but it wasn't quite 'home' to them yet, I could tell. They were hoping to see more of the back patio, where they had shared such good memories.  And they were hoping that the apple tree, which had been cut down years ago, might still be in the picture.  They told me a story about the little parking area, marked off with railroad ties, at the right of the house. Their father had widened the area one year, to make room for all the kids and their growing families when they came to visit. That told me how important those gatherings were! If this drawing was to reflect the true character of this "Home", then it was going to have to feature the patio and the parking area more prominently. 
I've studied plenty of books on perspective and architectural drawing, and I was able to pull off those changes pretty easily. An architect would shake his or her head at the way I so boldly extended the end of the house to show the patio doors, and the way that I moved the chimney to a more visible spot, and the way I widened the windows and raised the roof pitch... but those things make it a prettier home, and in the homeowner's eyes... that's how it really seems every time they remember this house.
Ink Version
Today I'm working on tinting with colored pencil. This piece must be shipped next week, then two more portraits to draw before you-know-what! 
Not biting my nails.... not just yet...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Couple of Milestones

"Best of Show" Award - Arts Council of West Chester Liberty
This has been a week of milestones for me:
1. The biggest milestone this week/month/year/life....
I won the Best of Show Award for my piece "Adagio" (the ballet shoes).
I was really surprised to hear my name announced, and didn't quite know what to do. I hope I didn't make too much a fool of myself! I was kind of dazed, and just gushed thank-you's to everybody within earshot. What is the proper follow-up when you receive an award at an exhibition? Should I mail thank-yous to the show coordinators for putting on such a beautiful exhibition, and say how honored I am? I want to make sure they know how grateful I am!
The show is up until the end of January, at the Miami University branch campus in West Chester, Ohio, sponsored by The Arts Council of West Chester Liberty.
11x14 Pen Drawing, tinted with CP
2. Here's another milestone of a sort: I drew my first farm scene!
It's a commission piece for a young woman in New York state, to give to her boyfriend as a Christmas gift. It's his family's farm, and he is graduating from college and moving elsewhere. I had only separate photos of the house, the truck, the sign, and the barns. It was a challenge to pull them all together into one composition. (I had to use my artistic license to rearrange their farm just a bit.)
I spent a lot of time researching Ford pickup trucks, too! The funny thing is... now I'm getting Ford ads in all those social media sidebars, where I used to get ads for cute clothes and art supplies! And just this morning, I had two spam emails from Ford waiting in my inbox.
Also (this alarms me) I'm suddenly noticing pickup trucks on the road, everywhere I go, and I can recognize a 1996 F150 at a glance. (Rest assured, I will not be buying a pickup truck any time soon)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Out Of Season



WIP 18x18 Colored Pencil 
I really feel like I'm making progress on this piece now, and I'm getting more and more excited about it! The corn husks are right up my alley, with their bends and ridges and earthy colors. And then there is the irresistible challenge of those silky strands and the fluffy brown tassels. Just my kind of subject!
 But there is a deeper reason why I like drawing the corn (you guessed that, didn't you?)
Corn is one of those things that gets prettier when it gets older. I kind of like that concept more and more these days.... Also, corn is a natural resource, a basic staple, necessary for humanity's well-being and our very survival on the earth. People have been planting and harvesting corn since ancient times. I want to honor and celebrate that. 
Same goes for the beautifully crafted, brick house, as it bows to the passage of time and gracefully erodes into the earth from which it came. So the decaying house and the unharvested corn are kindred spirits, each bringing comfort and companionship to the other. 

P.S. - In case you're wondering...
YES! I've started writing a book, and NO! I won't disclose anything about it.
Not to a single soul. Not until the last page has been completed.
(...it's not that I'm being territorial, it's just that every time I share my book ideas, I end up not following through. And I really, really want to complete this one!)

Now back to those commission house portraits for a few days. The colder weather is reminding me that I've got to get those out to the clients pretty soon.
Fall is winding down already. Are we ready for another winter? 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Countdown: Starting Now!

Custom House Portrait 11 x14
Is seven too many house portraits to complete before Christmas? 
Let me think.... YES! 
I have been inundated with house portrait requests, all of them through my Etsy shop. I think the turning of the calendar to November has set people to thinking about Christmas gifts suddenly. I had to turn down the last two people. I'm just hoping that five is not too many to undertake! 
Funny thing about these house portraits...
When I first started doing house portraits, I was more concerned about getting the perspective right, and controlling the ink pen. But all of that is getting easier... and I find that I'm starting to think more about the people who live in each house, and the things that they have told me about their home. I find myself making up stories in my mind about these houses and their inhabitants. I try to give each house a personality that's different from all the other house portraits. I've turned what might be a dry, mechanical rendering into an imaginative experience for myself. 
Some day I want to put them all into a book, with a little story about each house, maybe fictional, maybe purely factual, maybe a little of both. I've drawn almost 30 house portraits, I think, but I don't know if I have high resolution images of every one.  I'll have to start being more conscientious about that, I guess.
And of course, there is this question... Would I need to get permission from each client to include their house in the book, if I don't publish their name, or the location of the home? 
(They can never be easy, these grand ideas of mine.... can they?)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Just Me and My Pencils

I have that whole set of brand new Caran D'Ache Luminance pencils, and I've barely touched them. I know my good old Prismacolor pencils like the back of my hand, literally, and I feel most comfortable with them. But I've been getting to know the Luminance pencils over the past couple days. I think they'll come in handy. (no pun)
Here's what I've discovered so far:
Unique Colors: The Luminance set has an incredible array of earthy colors, and beautiful gradation of values for some colors. I especially like the Olive Browns, so far.
Blendability: The Luminance blends nicely, very smooth and creamy, but not in the same class as Prismacolor. I think the binding agents in Luminance are a little bit harder than Prismacolors. With Luminance, It takes more layers to get to the point where I could push the wax around to blend.  
Coverage: A base layer with Luminance doesn't seem to go down as evenly as Prismacolor, and the sound of the Luminance pencil against the paper is very scratchy, compared with the silky swish of Prismacolor.
Combining the Two Brands: I like to lay down the base layer with a Prismacolor pencil, then use the Luminance colors for the layers on top. 
I think that each brand has special qualities that the other doesn't have, and bringing them both together is giving me a richness and depth that I'm really excited about! 
Casing: This is the biggest deterrent for me, and the reason I don't like to reach for the Luminance pencils! The natural cedar casing is pretty, yes, but it has a little bit rougher, fatter feel in my hand, compared to the sleek, shiny Prismacolors. Also, every Luminance pencil looks the same, so you have to look at the end of the pencil to know what color it is. 
So far, I'm using about ten Luminance colors for this piece, along with my usual palette of about twenty Prismacolors and a handful of Pablo pencils (also made by Caran D'Ache). 
I used an OMS solvent to blend the background, in deep rich purples and cool grays. 
The electric eraser is getting used as a drawing tool, just as much as the pencils, on this piece. I'm using it create the soft fluff of the silky corn hairs, and also to accentuate the ridges along the husks. Don't ever think that erasers are for removing mistakes... In my way of thinking, erasers are for adding texture and character to one's work! 
I'm giving myself a couple more days of pure, just-for-me drawing, then I've got two house portraits waiting with deadlines at the end of November.  

*House Portraits are fun too, in a different sort of way, and I can finish one within about a week, nowadays (I'm getting more streamlined and efficient with that whole process).

Friday, October 10, 2014

I Imagine So...

Graphite Study for current CP piece
“Where do you get your ideas for your artwork?”

I get asked that question often.
The easy answer is that I was driving by this abandoned house one day, found it to be very appealing and intriguing, snapped a few pictures, then decided to draw it. I didn’t like it’s real-world surroundings, so I placed it into a scene that I liked.
But that’s not really true. That’s not even a fraction of the story of where I get my ideas…
The idea to draw that house, in that particular way, at this particular time… probably started the day that I was born.
My “ideas” for drawings don’t come from a single spark of inspiration. Every experience, every thought, every flicker of emotion that has ever entered my mind, has impacted the ‘idea’ for that drawing. It’s an ongoing process, ever-growing and ever-changing, if we let it take it’s natural course. Like the water cycle on the earth: in the way that each tiny stream and rivulet leads to another and another… coming together into larger tributaries, and finally into an ocean of ebbing and flowing energy.  So do our thoughts. Each notion that crosses our mind has infinite possibilities. If we give our mind freedom to let those thoughts move around and blend with others in different ways… that’s where creativity occurs.
"Back To The Wood" 6x8 graphite in Moleskine journal
It’s a scary type of letting-go. It requires a degree of courage,  to allow incoming information to roam around freely in our mind, each new thought finding it’s own way among the many beliefs and convictions that we’ve formed over the years.  If we try to simplify, label and categorize too much of what we see and hear, we quickly eliminate any potential for insightful ideas to thrive. We wonder why children have so much imagination… it’s because they haven’t yet learned to put judgments and boundaries on the thoughts that come in to their minds. 
Creativity comes from acknowledging all that’s inside of you, every bit of knowledge, every emotion, every memory…  and allowing them all to come together and express themselves when they are ready. And they will, if you let them.
Too often we are focused solely on the final product: The score of the game, the end result, the degree conferred. But the most important part was the process that occurred along the way.  Every step we’ve taken along the way, every path we’ve explored, those are the treasures and rewards.

Each one of my finished pieces could serve as a journal of a particular span of time in my life.  When I begin a new drawing, I enter into the project with the understanding that it will be many hours, days, weeks, and months before that piece will be finished. And I like that. I like the process. I like watching the shapes and forms and colors slowly evolve and take on a life of their own… an essence that is so closely intertwined with my own.

Footnote: The "Back To The Wood" drawing started out with an ancient symbol as the basis for the composition. Let me know if you see it! 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Special House

 It's a nice old house in Rochester, New York, built in 1908 and still used today!
Micron Pen drawing on 1900 envelope
And my Dad grew up in this house!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

New Tutorial

"Merriment" 7" x 6" Colored Pencil

 No, I'm not one of those people who starts playing Christmas music on the day after Halloween, I swear. I'm actually the person who waits until after Thanksgiving to listen to the first carol of the season, and I never put the tree up, or do any decorating, until at least the second week of December. This little drawing is a new tutorial that I made for my students. 
The more I work with them, the more I realize what kind of learning experiences they need next.  Sometimes I misjudge whether or not a particular activity is going to be successful. I want every session to make them feel like they've grown in their confidence and skill as colored pencil artists. So far, some of my lessons have worked beautifully, but there have been some activities that caused them a little bit of frustration, I think.  The only thing I can do afterward is to reflect on what did and did not work well, and adjust the following week's lesson accordingly. 
The little tutorials that I'm making now, are going to be small-sized projects that the students can get a good start on during class time, and then finish at home, or bring back to finish the next week. I thought they could use this holly drawing for their family Christmas card, if they wanted to. 
I'm not going to post the whole tutorial, but here are a couple of pages.
(Page 1 of 6) Listing the pencils needed and the skills learned in this drawing: Blending values from light to dark, spherical shapes, shiny surfaces, burnishing with white, creating highlights, exploring greens and reds. 

Page 3 of 6, showing some helpful tips and tricks.
I'll see how this lesson goes and then I'll design the next tutorial so that it builds on the skills learned here. My only fear is that I won't be able to turn out new lessons fast enough. I don't want to spend all my time writing tutorials. If I do run out of my own original tutorials I could bring in some from other colored pencil artists, I suppose, but I really don't want to do that. This is my class, under my instruction, and I want to be the one to plan each lesson for them.  
I suppose if I needed to, we could have a session where we create random objects from our imaginations... I kind of like that idea, now that I think of it! 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Depends On How You Look At Things

This piece was a complete joy to draw. It's a cute house, with pretty landscaping, AND the client sent me her own envelope to draw on. It's from 1969, with a postage stamp depicting the first moon walk, and an ink stamp declaring, "First Day of Issue". How cool is that?

It's hard for you to really get the sense that this is an old envelope, with frayed edges and a real postage stamp in the corner, because you're viewing it secondhand, through your computer screen. It's not even appearing in it's true size for you. I love being able to share my artwork online, but I do regret that we never really see each other's work as it truly is. The experience of standing in the same room with that very piece of artwork just can't be replaced by any type of online image.  
I was in San Francisco this summer and happened to wander into an art gallery featuring a special exhibition of Salvador Dali originals. I have looked at his work often, on websites, but to stand in that gallery, surrounded by Dali's creative outpourings, drawn with his own hand, seeing them large as life... was an incredibly moving moment for me. I had a similar experience a few days later, when I stumbled into Daniel Merriam's gallery in Sausalito.  
Adagio hanging in the ADC gallery, Cincinnati
I guess that why I like to enter shows and exhibitions as much as possible: for the opportunity to have my work viewed in person, and also for the opportunity to go see other artists' work in person. I was particularly impressed with the artwork at the Viewpoint show in Cincinnati this year. It's my first time being part of this exhibition, and I was so humbled and a wee bit intimidated to have my Adagio hanging there amidst all that amazing artwork. It was also very gratifying to send Understudy all the way to Quebec for the Pencil Art Society Exhibition, although I didn't get to go see the show in person. 
There is a downside to sending your work to all these exhibitions, however. Shipping artwork is outrageously expensive, and there is sometimes damage to the work, like chips in the frame, or tears in the paper backing. And there is the anxiety of waiting for your babies to come safely back home again.
Pencil Art Society Exhibition in Quebec
My piece from this last CPSA show came back with a four-inch label right on the glass (museum acrylic), leaving residue that took me almost an hour to remove. The other drawback to having one's work hanging in a lengthy exhibition, is that you can't display it yourself. I had somebody ask me when they might be able to see the original Adagio, because every time they visited the gallery, it was away at a show!  
But I still think the pros outweigh the cons, and I'll continue to send work to as many shows as I can manage. 
Of course, the giant redwood forest was like stepping INSIDE a painting!
Absolutely Breathtaking!
How about yourself? What are your feelings about entering exhibitions? Why do you do it? 
And what have  your experiences been with viewing artwork in person, rather than online?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Flights of Fancy

Strollin'
6 x 8 Graphite in Journal
"The key to creativity is to identify your own peculiar talent, 
and then to settle down to work with it for a good long time."
-D. Shekerjian

I've been doing more traveling this summer than I ever have before... lots of airplane rides, and lots of airport sitting, but lots of great experiences too!  I've been to both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans within the span of a couple months. That's quite a feat for an Ohioan! 
The only drawing materials I brought along were a 6 x 8 moleskine journal and a few pencils. Now I'm hooked on that little journal. It's going to replace my field book and go with me everywhere I go. It even fits in my purse. I'm also determined that every drawing in this journal is going to be an exploration of some sort. It will be a 'safe' place where I can let my imagination go where it will, not caring what the final results will be, or whether the drawing will ever serve any other purpose than an enjoyable way to spend my time. 
When I started this drawing, I was thinking it would be an abstract study of forms and shapes, with a basic composition comprised of large areas of dark, medium, and light. I started with a few basic lines as a plan, and began to let the pencil wander at will. The image that developed began to look suspiciously like a bird, so I went with it, but not too seriously. If it didn't turn into a bird, that was okay too. But it DID turn into a bird, and the expression on it's face just begged to be parading down the avenue, so I complied with it's request. 
I don't know how to explain what sometimes happens when I begin to draw with that kind of mindset. I just let it flow, and watch what emerges, and then build on what's already there. 
For the next drawing, I was intent on creating some extreme 3D effects, where one object is way below another. There was no conscious decision to make any particular object that one could actually identify by name. Yet, it seems to tell a story of some sort Perhaps several different stories, depending on the viewer?
Traversal
6 x 8 Graphite in Journal
My Flights of Fancy notebook is closed up and tucked away for the moment, however. I have a really cute house portrait to draw on an antique envelope, which I've promised the client to have finished by the end of the month, and I also have my new CP piece that I want to get going on. Besides those two projects, I need to make a new lesson for my students before Monday night!
No Flights of Fancy for a few days, at least! (Unless the urge is just too irresistible...)

"A true artist takes no notice whatsoever of the public.  
The public are to him nonexistent."
Oscar Wilde

Sunday, August 31, 2014

On The Rocks

Ink Drawing on 5" River Stone
I defaced another beautiful river stone last week... and decided to do an experiment. 
I made a little display at the gallery to see what kind of reaction they might get. It turns out they were a big hit! I invited people to go ahead and pick them up, feel the cool, smooth weight of the stone in their hands, and turn them round to see how the designs flow around the shape of the rock. 
Their comments were so interesting to hear!
"How did you do this?"
"At first, I thought that's what the rock was like when you found it."
"It looks so natural."
"I love the patches of giraffe skin."
"Oh Wow! Look Honey!"
"It feels so good to just hold in your hand."
"HOW did you do this?"
"Will these stand up to rain and weather outside?"
"What ARE they?"
"These would be so pretty as a centerpiece with some candlesticks."
"How much are these?"
"How did you DO this?"
"It looks like a snake... sort of..."
"My mom would love one of these."
"It reminds me of The Hobbit."
"I like how the design follows the shape of the rock."
"This would be so nice to have on my desk at work."
"How DID you do this?"
"Will you make more? You should make more."

Of course, nobody actually bought one... 
But I didn't have them priced yet, either. I asked a few people what price they would expect to see on such an item, and I got a range of answers between $30 and $75. The whole game of pricing artwork has always baffled me, and always will. They are original works, one-of-a-kind, and each took about eight hours to complete. But they aren't viewed in the same way as a painting on canvas, for some reason. They are seen as more of a craft item, per se. Isn't that funny how we seem to label and categorize things in our minds that way?  
How would you price them? I'm curious to hear your thoughts!
I will keep drawing my rocks from time to time, when the mood strikes me, mostly because they are an enticing diversion from drawing at my desk. When I make my rocks, I have to be sitting out back on the porch, in a soft, cushioned chair, and listening to music. It's the whole mood and atmosphere of the experience that makes them special to me. Hopefully September will provide several beautiful days for doing just that!