Ever a story... waiting to be told

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, June 5, 2014

Not Just Another House....

They're all special, every one of these houses has a story that makes it special. A family was raised in this home, and when the children were grown, and the parents moved elsewhere, my client wanted to give them this drawing of the house to help preserve those precious memories.
This is probably the twentieth house portrait I've drawn for somebody... but it's only the third one drawn on smooth white paper, rather than an antique envelope. The size is twice as big, which is easier to draw in good detail... but takes twice as much time, too. I did some new things with this one, and they turned out pretty well.
The angle of the photo is looking upward at the house, making it seem a little bit ominous, so I changed the horizon line, and made us looking straight into the house. I also raised the roof a little bit higher and broadened the front entryway. Not so much as to be noticeable, but enough to really draw attention to the front door area. The client expressed concern about the placement of the two evergreens, so I transplanted those to more aesthetically pleasing spots. I've just now realized that I forgot the chimney, and I'm debating whether or not to draw attention to that fact, or wait and see if that seems important to the client.  I can draw it in pretty quickly, if I need to... (Rats!)

I made an 11 x 14 graphite drawing, with just enough detail to get me started. I transferred the drawing onto 11x14 smooth bristol, using the micron pen. From there, it was just a matter of measuring carefully for each row of bricks, always checking each new line against the vertical AND horizontal lines within the house. Measure twice... draw once. 
Oh, but before I got too detailed with the pen, I used frisket film to mask off the house and landscaping areas, then applied two layers of colored pencil to the sky (cloud blue and blue slate), and one thick layer to the grass (kelp green), and blended both with a cotton round dampened with solvent. Viola! Sky and grass areas finished! 

For the color tinting I only applied about three different colors to the bricks, and three or four different colors to the landscaping, lightly shading and keeping the color very transparent to allow the ink marks to show through.

When all was finished, I matted the piece to fit a standard 16 x 20 frame. It took about four solid days of work, totaling about 25 hours.
That was a nice little project to launch into right after finishing that big colored pencil piece a week ago. It gave me time to think about what I want to do next for a big project... I have two ideas jostling for top billing in my mind. I might start them both, and see which one consumes me! (Or I might sit outside in the sunshine and read a book. I just finished "She Who Remembers", which was the first in a series, and loved it!) OR I might paint the walls in my house, which I've put off for way too long...  I also really want to do some plein air drawing, studying the forms of trees and stones up close and in person. It's time to take advantage of these long summer days!

PS - I went back and added the chimney, AND darkened the bricks quite a bit. They liked it very much!

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 15, 2014

Show and Tell

Graphite Drawing "Detention" SOLD
My very first outdoor art show has come and gone... THANK GOODNESS! I'm not saying that I'll never do an outdoor show again, but it's going to be a very long time before I do! I was way out of my league last Sunday. 
My studiomates had assured me that I didn't need to purchase the big fancy canopy top or the nice white side walls, leading me to believe that it was going to be a low-key type of show. They said that my little 5-ft. portable wall would be just fine, and maybe a few easels to fill my allotted space.  
A few days before the show, I drove down to the gallery and disassembled the 'portable' wall (I use that term loosely) and loaded it into my little Jetta, as well as 17 framed artworks, my little pricing books and sample books, a card table, and a foldable soccer-mom chair.  
On Saturday... my rosy outlook soured considerably... it rained. And rained. And rained. The forecast called for more rain on Sunday morning. I panicked and hustled down to Home Depot for a cheap canopy top ($89). It barely fit in the car.
At 8:30 Sunday morning I was ready to go, dressed in a sweatshirt, jeans, and warm shoes. My daughter/assistant came bouncing down the stairs wearing flipflops, cut-off shorts, a peasant top, and braids. She shook her head at me and said, "Mom. You gotta look the part better than THAT." She was right. It was an art show, after all... So I put on a peasant top, and threw a pair of canvas sneakers into the car. I would soon regret not opting for the braids, because it turned out to be a very bad hair day. 
We arrived at the park in the pouring rain, and were told we had spot #32. There were supposed to be 60 spots, carefully marked out in ten-foot intervals. However, the rain had washed all the numbers away! I looked in the direction the nice lady was pointing, and saw several fancy white display shelters with side walls and the whole shebang. I also saw a jumble of vans filling the little street, and people lugging stuff every which way. Brittany and I had to carry everything to our spot from a block away, IN THE RAIN, and try to erect that #$%@ canopy between the two of us. We got yelled at twice, by hardcore art show folks, telling us to move the car, and another who told us we had the wrong spot (but we didn't). Once we got the canopy over our heads..... it stopped raining. But the grass was soaked, and there were huge, squishy bean pods all over, that stuck to our shoes like mashed bananas. My little Home Depot canopy was an ugly greenish beige hue, and cast a dark light over my artwork, in contrast to the big white palaces that everybody else had. 
Pen Drawing "Brewery District" SOLD
Once the show opened, it was more fun. We probably moved the little display wall six times, trying to make it look as appealing as possible, but once we realized that people were not going to step off the pavement and get their feet wet, we moved the wall to the very front of the booth, along the street. I met lots of very nice people who had very nice comments about my work. I even sold two pieces! 
It was only a five hour show, but I was exhausted when it ended. Promptly at 5:00, those big old vans came barreling down the street, and blocked the road in all directions, and all the craziness of the morning was repeated as everybody tore down their booths. My assistant had taken off for home a few hours earlier, but I got everything taken down, brought my car to within a block away, and hauled everything back into it. There was a very nice artists' reception on the terrace above the park, with free wine and hors d'oeuvres, but I just grabbed a Diet Coke and headed for home. I'd had enough art show for one day. 
There were some parts of the day that were very enjoyable and rewarding, but If I ever show my work outdoors again... I will stick with little farmer's markets and sidewalk shows, and only on the sunniest of days! 
Here's a link to the news article after the show. My little booth is the fifth slide.

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?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Wellsprings

12x24
I donated this piece to an auction event, to benefit children with Angelman Syndrome (AFXA) It's colored pencil and pastel mounted on a cradled clayboard and sealed with several coats of varnish. I'm just hoping somebody steps up to bid on it! 
The event is called "Voices of Angels" and will be held at the Rhinegeist in Cincinnati, on May 17.  It's my first time putting an artwork into an auction, and I'm a little nervous at the thought that nobody will bid on it, and there it will sit, while all the other paintings get happily taken to new homes. I guess it's that age-old fear we have of being the wallflower, huh? 
I'm really getting attached to this old cafe that I'm drawing. I just love those old brick structures downtown! This week at the drawing board I completed the bricklaying task on the main building. There are about 1500 bricks there, give or take a few. I still need to add some subtleties, but those will come later. As the piece progresses, I'll go back and add little stains, and cracks, and shadows where they seem necessary. If you ever find yourself drawing architecture, trust me... you will be very grateful for your trusty triangle tool, and will reach for it again and again to measure, remeasure, and double-check your lines and angles!
(on my own wall here in US)
Apparently I'm not the only one who finds the history of this city and country so compelling. Last week at the gallery, I sold an antique envelope drawing to a woman from England who was visiting her daughter here. The envelope was postmarked in Cincinnati 1942, and depicted the American flag on a school desk. She promised to email a photo of the piece hanging on her wall in England!
I have to say that Cincinnati has been a wellspring of inspiration and exciting art opportunities for me. Especially those beautiful old buildings and the unique style of architecture here. But I have other wellsprings that  nourish my creative thoughts just as strongly... those subjects that I find myself studying every time I go out somewhere. For me, I find that inspiration in trees and stones, and time-worn objects. Other artists might study flowers, or people, or cars. We each have those things that pull us to them like magnets and something inside of us demands we paint them.
What are your wellsprings, and how do they influence your art?