Ever a story... waiting to be told

Monday, August 18, 2014

Little Gray House


I've missed drawing on my little envelopes! For some reason, it's more fun to draw a house portrait on one of these, than it is to draw it on plain old paper. I love to nestle the home into the markings on the envelope as if it belonged there all along. And this little house really does seem to belong there! The client didn't want a lot of background trees, or foreground drawing. He wanted the original envelope markings to show through. I do like the effect that it creates this way, and how the house really emerges from the few little trees in the background.  
My invention for when the vanishing point is way over there.
A lot of people ask me how I can tolerate drawing all those lines and getting them all lined up with proper perspective... and honestly, I find that to be the easiest part about drawing! It's just a matter of measuring carefully, checking and rechecking your numbers, and aligning each little line with every other line on the paper. I like doing that, and knowing that when it's right, it's right. Period.
But the other part that I enjoy is the free, creative part when I draw the trees and landscaping around the houses in my portraits. It's more daring and requires a different kind of thinking, to let your pen render what you see in your mind's eye. There is no definitive point to arrive at. You have to make your own decision as to whether it seems 'right' or not. I like compositions that allow me to use both types of thinking, the very analytical as well as the freely improvisational. 
When I started this post an hour ago, I had just sent the photo to my client for approval.  I've been chewing my fingernails ever since... and I'm suddenly very aware of all the weak areas in this drawing, where I could have, should have, done a better job. (Please tell me that you do that too, it's not just me?)  
Much to my relief,  I just now got a message saying how much they like it, and arranging for delivery.  
Oh, but now that the project is complete,  I'm going to need a new excuse to get out of helping with the painting-of-the-basement project this afternoon...
This house is sparking my imagination now. I'm thinking I might draw it again, on another envelope, and 'experiment' with it a little bit.  Not for the client, but just for a new piece to hang in the gallery.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wait-Listed


What do you do when you have a wait-list full of intriguing projects that you want to dig in to? How do you decide which to focus on? While I've been drawing my house portraits for people, I've been planning a few other projects in my mind that I might want to do next. This latest house portrait is the third home that I've drawn for this family. It's my largest, most complicated house portrait up to this point, and it took much longer than usual, to figure out the angles and roof lines.
The trees in front are actually twice the size shown here, and they block much of the house, so the client and I agreed to shrink them to a younger day, so that the beautiful architecture of their home could be seen. Finding out what was behind those trees required lots of communication with the client and lots of extra photos to be sent. But it all turned out, and hopefully will arrive at their home in time for his wife's birthday! In the meantime, I'm cleaning off my drawing desk and preparing to draw a new commissioned house portrait, from a client here in Cincinnati, that I had to put on my 'Wait List' for a while. They were very understanding about that, luckily. It's the first time I've had to Wait-List somebody! They have a vintage Cincinnati home, and I'm excited to be drawing it on one of the antique envelopes!
But after that... I have a wait-list of my own! My inspirations and ideas for new pieces are piling up in my head, and in my field book, and on my dining room table! What do you do when you have a wait-list full of intriguing projects that you want to dig in to? How do you decide which to focus on?
Possibility #1: I want to finish this rock drawing. (The sides and bottom are still blank) I'm using the Pitt brush tip markers on a smooth 5" river stone.  I don't know what I'll do with these rock art pieces, but I love creating them. I love the abstractness, and the fluidity of the pens against the earthy cool feel of the stone. There is just a great sense of contentment and satisfaction in them. 
Possibility #2: I started this while sitting at the gallery, but haven't finished. The man has been into the gallery a few times. I happened to see him sitting in the main hallway on a bench, with a folded newspaper and coffee cup at his feet, with such a pensive expression... I asked if I could take his picture and he seemed pleased to agree. I want to do something with this cowboy... but not sure if the brick wall fading into the storm clouds, with bare desert trees off in the distance, is quite what I want to express. I had something else in mind for his story, but haven't put it to paper yet. 
Possibility #3: I've had this idea gnawing at me for a while now, and it won't let up... It's a colored pencil piece, involving ears of corn, a handkerchief, and an old brick building. And that's all I'm gonna say about it right now, because if I tried to explain it further, you would think I had gone off the deep end (again). But I've already taken several reference photos in preparation, and have the idea pretty clear in my mind, just not set to paper yet.
Tell me what you do when you have more than one enticing new project begging your undivided attention.  I'm thinking of flipping a coin! 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Conventionality

I attended the Colored Pencil Society's annual convention and exhibition for four days last week. It was in Daytona Beach, and it was actually sunny... and hot! That's especially noteworthy, because all the other times I've even been to Florida, it's been cold and rainy the whole time. On this trip, I actually spent several glorious hours on the beach! I rented one of the big umbrella stations, with a lounge chair, for a couple hours each day, and just watched the waves. 
A few times I ventured into the surf, and I was quite impressed with the power that a single wave can have! I never went any deeper than mid-thighs... but one day, they were so high that I was literally knocked down, no matter how hard I tried to stay standing.  Even the undertow coming back off the beach was fast and strong. 
I didn't take many pictures, because they just didn't capture what my senses were experiencing.  Instead I observed and made mental notes. However, I did take several shots of the patterns that the waves left in the sand! It looked like the exact pattern you see in woodgrain, and probably in many other organic structures. 
Graphite, 5x7 Moleskine Journal
The only drawing tools I brought along were a mechanical pencil and a moleskin journal. I started a drawing Thursday morning, on the airplane, worked on it while lounging on the beach, and finished it on the airplane, around midnight Sunday night, right before I landed back home. It's just a study, really, so don't attach any significant meaning to what I drew. I was practicing drawing my own fingers, and that got me thinking about how a finger coincides with the Golden Ratio (3:5:8).  So then I tried to build the Golden Curve, using rectangles and squares and bisecting lines, all with that same ratio. It worked! I decided to build a composition around it, following the shape of the spiral. I was also experimenting with forms and shapes and areas of contrasting values at the same time.  There is no particular meaning or story to this drawing, it was just an exercise. However, if I do decide to title it... I'm thinking "Emergence" is befitting for some reason?
I met so many fantastic artists at the convention, I laughed a lot, and learned a lot.
I also was able to test all different brands and types of pencils, both CP and graphite, and I think I tested every pencil in the place! I exercised great restraint in not buying everything I liked... but I just HAD to come home with a full set of Caran D'Ache Luminance Pencils!! They are so rich and creamy, and the rep from the company explained to me how they're made. A single pencil costs twice as much as a Prismacolor pencil, but I really do think the quality is far better. (I haven't used them very much yet, so I'm reserving final judgement.)
But today, we're back to the reality of completing a house portrait, with a deadline looming in... (gulp)... 10 days! And two more house portraits waiting their turn.
Daytona was a wonderful experience all the way round. But you know what? It feels good to be back at my desk, doing my thing. :)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

New Work!

"Detention" 14 x 19 Colored Pencil
It's always been said that every artist must paint her own self-portrait, as a rite of passage, I suppose.  I have never painted my own likeness. But I think that every piece I create is my self-portrait, in  a way. This one especially reflects "me."  Probably more so than if I'd painted a posed image of my own face and called it a self-portrait. 
The boy in the drawing was my student in the last year I taught third grade. He's a lot like me in many ways. 
I was that creative little kid that people would look at and scratch their heads about. I wasn't disruptive, I wasn't outwardly rebellious... but I had my own ideas about things, and sometimes pushed the limits of what was customary and expected. In kindergarten, when everybody else brought their seashells and Slinkies for Show-and-Tell, I had to bring my great big wooden dollhouse, or my goldfish bowl. (I hope I remembered to thank my mom for hauling all that stuff to school for me). I would also have bouts of homesickness and start to cry just a little, whereupon I would be invited to sit under the teachers desk, staring at her knees until I felt better. Why that should make a child feel better, I don't know. But it worked. I taught myself to read in kindergarten, and each year after that, I was the only kid in class who had to go up to the next grade for reading time, which I didn't like at all. I was just a little bit different from everybody else, and "fitting in" was always difficult for me.  
The school days that I liked best were those when I could express myself in some way. Be it in the choir, band, art, writing, or any special assignments where I could let my imagination have free reign. I think most of you reading this blog can say the same about your own school days. That's why we find such fulfillment in our art, and why we feel the need to lose ourselves for a while each day, into some type of expressive, creative activity. We have a strong affiliation with all of the arts. We sing, we play instruments, we dance, we write...  and we need to do those things as much as we need to breathe. 
I like this line from the novel Mother Earth, Father Sky. It was spoken by a wise old man who carved mystical animals and people out of whale bones. 

"I felt my head and heart would burst, if I could not release with my hands what my eyes had stored".

Monday, July 7, 2014

Metamorphink

"Metamorphink"
Pen and Ink on 3" Riverstone
"Time is a great circle. There is no beginning and no end." 
Quote from Voice of the Eagle 
I find drawing on rocks to be very soothing and satisfying in many ways. It's soothing to hold the cool, heavy stone right in my hand as I draw, and I can easily work anywhere. I sat on my back porch one afternoon, and completed this stone in about four hours. Of course, I had to tweak it the next day. I wouldn't be me if I didn't do that! 
River stones are unique, in that they are formed by the natural flow of the waters around them, and it takes hundreds and thousands of years for them to become so perfectly rounded and smooth.  
I wanted to enhance that slow, continual evolution of the rock with my drawing, too, shaping the design around the stone so that it connects on all sides and flows into itself again and again.
Most of the natural textures I draw have similar characteristics. Trees, branches, leaves, wood grain, stones, bricks, flowers, grasses, or even human hair... there is a randomness of pattern that must be allowed to flourish. In drawing organic textures, I've found that the most beautifully realistic results come about when I yield my own will to what my tools, and the drawing surface, want to do together.  The longer I work, the more I see the subtle dips and peaks and angles and curves that need to be enhanced.
Every pencil, pen and brush has a unique way of performing. Just as every surface has unique properties. Be mindful of the how they are interacting... let them take you along, flowing like a river.  Don't try to change it's course, but add your own voice to the song as you go along together. 
It's sometimes hard to explain why I find certain types of abstract art so appealing... it's the collaboration between the artist and his instruments, expressing something that had never before existed in just that way, and could never be recreated in just that way again. Those stones in the river won't look the same tomorrow... they will have moved, they will be worn just a little smoother on the edges, and they will reflect the day's light in new ways. That's what I find so beautiful about drawing on them and telling their story. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Twisted

WIP - Zoomed in on the trees...
A funny thing happened on the way to the forest...
Although I had a very clear idea of the color scheme on the bookshelf, I really had no prior plan for the colors of the trees and sky. But I wanted to start working on that area to establish the areas of light spaces are dark spaces in the piece. I knew that I wanted the trees to be very magical, and very different from the bookshelf, not only using different colors, but different types of lines, shapes and forms. It's a whole different world back there beyond the familiarity of the classroom, after all... Maybe that's why it seemed to a good idea to use a soft buttery cream for the sky, and a collection of blues and grays for the trees.
The decision to twist the trees was probably a subconscious thing, for a couple of different reasons.
1) I'm still trying to come to grips with a comment I overheard at the gallery last month, suggesting that my work was "dark and twisted".  Maybe the wrapping of vines around the tree trunk is my defiant response to that comment, as if to prove that "dark and twisted" does not necessarily convey a macabre surrealism.  And a little bit of fantasy or surrealism does not necessarily constitute a frightening, unwholesome experience.
2) The other subconscious reason might be because twists are formed in a spiral shape, and spirals are one of those natural fractals that adhere to the golden ratio. I love that mathematical element in my art, and I include those little patterns without even being aware of it.
The twists are taking a long time, of course... but that's how I do things! I'm finding it totally satisfying and rewarding to spend a good half hour on a single strand of the vine. Each twisted strand has a slightly different combination of colors and markings. Yet, each tree needs to have uniform contour shading, too. (I'm still working on shaping them)

I've also added a new twist to my work week; I'm teaching a drawing class one evening per week. This is the little puppy we've been working on together for the past two sessions. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Getting Out of Those Old Ruts


Don't get me wrong... I am all about adhering to good habits, not just in art making, but in every aspect of our lives. However sometimes we have to stop and examine our habits, and decide whether or not they are helping us in the long run, or holding us back. There is a fine line between a habit... and a rut.
I want to break a particularly deep rut that I've been in with my artwork. I'm determined to finally develop a composition that has large areas of deeply contrasting values. I have such admiration for that type of composition when I see it in other artists' work. I'm pretty confident that I can use line, shape, color and form to establish a fairly strong composition, but my use of value contrast is still too weak and ineffective. Therefore, my mantra while I worked on drawing the lower bookshelf here, has been, "darker... darker... darker..." 
However, it hasn't been easy for me. Dark colors can be scary! I had to come up with a slight variation in my technique, which seems to help. Instead of starting each item with a layer of the lightest value, and then gradually layering on different pencils of darker and darker values.... I STARTED with a middle value, but still applied just as many different layers of pigment as I always do, which brought me to the darkest pencils very quickly, and I found myself applying layer upon layer of the darkest darks. That's unusual for me, but I like the effects so far! 
Another old habit that had become a rut for me, was the habit of always saving the most important part for last. That's not a good practice, and I know that... but I keep doing it! I delay tackling that final focal point, which is usually the person's face, or an intricate little area that pulls the whole composition together.  If I do those crucial spots first, I can look back at what I've done, and tweak it again and again, as the rest of the piece progresses. That's probably a good strategy, huh?
I went ahead and drew the boy first this time. Doing that led to some other changes in my approach that I hadn't anticipated. I didn't plan my palette colors ahead of time! Instead, I used the same pencils from the boy's skin, hair and shirt, to create the rest of the drawing! I brought in a few new colors, but  not too many! I'm letting the main subject dictate the surrounding colors. And I've already gone back and added more depth and layers to his skin and hair, which is what I was hoping would happen. He is going to be more a part of the scene, rather than being stuck on separately at the end.
If you are actually reading what I wrote today, and not just looking at the artwork then quickly moving on... you are in luck! I'm going to reveal a well-guarded secret: my favorite colors that I use in every piece I draw! The Katherine Thomas signature palette! Shhh.... don't tell everybody....
Cream, Sand, Jasmine, yellow ochre, goldenrod, eggshell, venetian red, green ochre, bronze, artichoke, orangish yellow, mineral orange, light peach, beige, beige sienna, blush pink, nectar, henna, rosy beige, pink rose, deco pink, peach, mahogany red, chestnut, cloud blue, indigo, periwinkle, cloud blue, blue slate, indanthrone blue, black grape, , jade, celadon, dark green, lime peel, prussian green, kelp green, crimson lake, tuscan, sienna brown, dark brown, light umber, dark umber, chocolate, terra cotta, burnt ochre, and all the french grays and cool grays.
Okay... I shared mine, now YOU have to share yours with me! 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Daydreamers

I'm just getting started on the 14x19 colored pencil version of a graphite drawing "Detention" that I did last year. The boy in the drawing was one of my third graders... a creative little fellow, who didn't particularly relish sitting at a desk... UNLESS the task at hand was completely of his own choosing. If I told him to write a response to a question, or practice his spelling words, or write about his summer vacation... he would balk and find a million ways to avoid the task. But if he were allowed to  do whatever moved him at the moment, he would produce long, exciting stories, and wonderfully expressive, accurate drawings.  I had several students just like that, over the years. I understood them better than most teachers did, I think. And I appreciated their uniqueness (most of the time).  When I really think back and look deeply into my own personality... I identified with those kids! 
Much as I love to draw portraits for people, it sometimes begins to feel so constrictive, and I find that mood carrying over into my whole outlook as I go about my day. I feel very unsettled and catch myself frowning a lot in discontent. Those are the times when I just have to sit down at my desk for a few hours and draw from my own inspirations, expressing them in my own way, without interruption. It's like a magic potion, then, and everything comes back into balance for me, like taking a deep breath finally. In this colored version of "Detention" I want to pay tribute to those wonderful imaginings that children daydream about when they're supposed to be doing other tasks that the adults consider to be more important.  I'm hoping that I'll be able to really darken the bookshelf area, with a spotlight effect on the boy and his paper, and then create a glowing, ethereal forest beyond.  Of course, what I'm envisioning doesn't always come out that way on the paper... but I'm going to try! 
This is the graphite version, which I sold last month at the outdoor art show. Ironically, a boy and his parents stopped by the gallery recently to look for that very same drawing. The boy had seen it a few months earlier and couldn't seem to tear himself away from it. When he came back the second time, he had come to buy it, but saw that it had been sold. I felt so bad! I don't even have a high resolution image of that drawing, so I can't make a print for him. But if the color version turns out well, I will most definitely have a small print made right away, and I'll just give it to him, if he stops by again! I have a feeling he identifies with it too! 
There's a really beautiful song, sung by Sarah Brightman that speaks to the daydreamer in all of us. It's called Dreamers, if you feel like listening. (You'll like it)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

New Work!

Cornerstones
18 x 24 Colored Pencil
I don't know about anybody else, but I always go through a period of lostness as soon as  I finish a piece.  It starts during that final stage, when I'm trying to  decide whether or not it's truly finished. I start to doubt everything about it, from the composition, to the subject matter, to the color of the third brick in the tenth row. Sometimes, I have this overwhelming urge to just throw it in the trash and start over.  I can do better, I think to myself, I SHOULD have done it better.
I'm not one of those artists who can put a piece away for a few weeks, or even days, and then come back to work on it again. Once it's declared finished, that's the end of that particular mental journey. I can't go back.  
 I know that in a few months I'll be able to look at the piece more objectively, without seeing all the little areas that I have misgivings about today.  And even if I come to the conclusion that I'm really not happy with it... I will already be engrossed in a new drawing, with the hope and anticipation that maybe THIS one will be the piece that I'd always hoped to create. 
For me, it's the Working-Toward-A-Goal part that I like best of all, not the I'm-All-Finished-Everybody-Look part.  It's the process, not the presentation, that is most gratifying to me.  I think that Poohbear had it right: "Although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called." (AA Milne) 
Luckily, my lostness is going to dissipate quickly, as I have a commission to draw a pen and ink house portrait. I've already started the rough draft, and it's going pretty well...
The process... I'm savoring the process!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

With Pen In Hand

Nothing is safe when I have a pen in my hand!
Pitt artist pens on 3" river stone.
When I shipped my artwork to the CPSA show a few days ago, I had to include my Artist's Statement and Bio.  I realized that the last time I'd edited my statement was a year ago, and now it didn't really say what I wanted it to say about my art.  So I've been thinking a lot about what I want to write in that little artist's statement. It finally came to me as I was working on my latest Colored Pencil drawing.
I was about halfway finished with the the piece, when I found myself once again straying from what I had planned on the rough draft.  That seems to happen with every piece I draw. There comes a point in the process, usually about halfway through, when I've thoroughly immersed myself in the piece, when my intuition takes over and guides my creative decisions. The other realization I had was that once my intuition does take over, I make changes to the piece that give it a greater feel of balance and contrast, in both visual and subliminal ways. I also realized that in order to feel 'right' to me, the balance can never be exactly 50/50, nor is it the stereotypical rule of thirds. The most natural balance, to me, is about 60/40.  I don't know if what I wrote down makes any sense, or if it accurately communicates what I want it to say. I'll probably tweak it during the next few weeks, months, and years. But this is what I came up with for my artists statement, and it's already in the box, trucking it's way to Florida with my Souvenirs piece!
Artist’s Statement - Katherine Thomas
My work conveys an illusion of realism manifested through fantasy. To produce this fusion of genres, I create a balance between perceived extremes:  I portray straight lines and angles alongside fluid curves and bends. I blend the old with the new. I transpose manmade objects into organic environments.  Beyond the visual contrasts, there are strong currents of philosophical and emotional contrasts in my work; the counterbalance of sorrow with joy, pain with comfort, confidence with doubt, and longing with contentment. The ballet reference in several of my pieces is one of my most powerful juxtapositions. It symbolizes rigid discipline and restraint yielding to a graceful, flowing expression of emotion.  Perhaps delving deeper into the psyche, there is also a melding of the conscious with the subconscious. It may seem as though the balances I portray are complete polar opposites... a collision of two extremes occupying the same space... but I find that is not the case at all. They are each necessary for the other's existence.  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Fine Art of Taking A Workshop

Study of a new skin tone palette, using the subject from my graphite piece 
For a long time, I've had a mental block about drawing people's faces with colored pencil, because I've never been happy with how my skin tones look. When I saw that Dean Rogers was presenting a 3-day workshop last weekend, I decided to go. I wanted to learn his secrets for creating beautiful, glowing skin tones. 
1. Choose Your Workshops Wisely
The best advice I ever got from a workshop was, "Don't take too many workshops." I think an artist can actually hinder their own progress by trying to do too many new and different techniques. New and different doesn't always mean it's better for you.  I only go to workshops when there is a specific subject that I really want to know more about. I wait for the need to arise first, and then I keep my eyes open for a workshop that might address that need. 
2. Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone
I like to go to workshops that require me to drive a long distance and stay more than one day, because those are the times when my mind becomes totally immersed in the purpose of the trip. During the workshop, I try to remain open to trying every new technique. Dean had a very different approach for applying the layers of color: his technique was much faster and produced beautiful effects more quickly than I ever could. He was a good instructor, and very generous about sharing all his tips and tricks with the group. For those three days, I put aside my usual way of doing things and tried to emulate everything that he demonstrated. 
3. Don't Expect To Bring Home A Finished Piece Of Art
(A workshop is not Arts-n-Craft camp)
At a really good workshop, the instructor will spend long periods of time demonstrating his technique while the group gathers around to watch. That's what Dean did for most of the third day. Some of the people eventually started to drift away, back to their own tables to work on their projects, instead of watching the demonstration. I understood their creative urge to do that... but I reminded myself that I only had access to this artists' expertise for a short time, and I wanted to garner every bit of information that I possibly could from him. I watched closely, I snapped pictures, I asked questions, and took notes.
I listened to the conversations of other artists around me, too. I wanted to go back home with a wealth of ideas; it didn't matter that I had very little time to produce any real artwork of my own. When I did get back to my table, I spent the time applying Dean's techniques to one of my own drawings that I had brought with me.
4. Be A Learner. 
One of the side effects of attending a workshop, is that it sets your mind to thinking about all kinds of ideas, beyond the specific content of the workshop. Because of the focused environment and the creative experiences in the workshop, I found that all kinds of thoughts and inspirations were coming together in ways that they never had before. At the end of the day, I always retreated to my hotel room and went through my notes and processed what I had learned, to think about how I might improve my own art when I got back home.
Now that I AM back home, I'm working on my streetscape again,  and I find that I'm working just a little bit differently than I was before the workshop. I feel a little bit stronger as an artist in general, and MUCH more confident about rendering skin tones if and when the time comes. I'm really eager to try a portrait project very soon!
What is your own approach to the world of workshops?