Monday, March 29, 2010

"Jack's Roses" In Progress

My friend Jack has a lovely rose garden. A spectacular feat when you live in Florida. I fell in love with a bouquet that graced their family table at a church dinner. Jack's wife took some photos for me, and an idea was born. I admit, I've never painted roses before. I've painted flowers, but never roses. I'm going to transform them right before your eyes; from the first photos of these elegant beauties, right down to the finished painting.

I'm using my favorite technique: oil on acrylic. First I coat the canvas with gesso and acrylic paint. I wanted a grayish green color, but I never quite got there. I settled on the resultant bluish gray coat. That's how it is with art and artists. Sometimes you get what you want and sometimes you don't, and sometimes you get even better than you expected. Other times you settle for something else, and hope the final product will achieve the same ends. My photos do not show the colors accurately, so please forgive!

Next I sketch my design on canvas, choosing a combination of flower groupings from the photos. My drawing is not overly detailed. I am more concerned with the overall shapes at this point in time. After my sketch is complete, I use acrylic paint to define the shapes. This gives me a darker base color to work from. I want the outer petals of the roses to grow out of that dark center.

The next step is to rub a coat of linseed oil over the canvas. I use paper towel to make the coat even and not too heavy. There should be no drips or runs. You want your canvas to be smooth, yet wet enough for your first coat of oil to glide on smoothly.

Now the fun begins. Adding oil paint over the acrylic. I almost always start at the top and work my way down the canvas. This prevents me from smearing or getting my hand in the wet paint.

The photo shows the results of the first coat of oil over acrylic on the two pink roses. I discovered it was more difficult than I expected, and I'm disappointed with my first attempts.

With oil paints,I define shape in more detail. Rose petals curl and unfold, adding color and clarity. Thorns and leaves will be accentuated; their values defining light source and contrast. The oil paint seems to "pop" off the canvas, giving my paintings a vibrancy that oil alone doesn't always achieve.

This exercise proves that I need a lot more practice in order to paint roses well. My first efforts are somewhat disappointing, but maybe we've all learned something in the process. In my next blog, I'll show you further progress and the final painting: "Jack's Roses." (To be continued...) Your suggestions are welcome!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Stress Busters

In the real world, stress is real. We battle traffic. We quarrel with a spouse or a teenager. We juggle schedules. We face deadlines, and we fight our own demons all at the same time. How do you keep all the balls in the air without losing your grip? How do you keep "The House that Jack Built" from tumbling down?

If I had "the" answer, we'd all be cured. The fact is that none of these outside forces are ever going to change. The only permanent change comes from within. For believers, faith in God gives them the determination and the strength to carry on. For some people, physical activity helps them let off steam. For others, various relaxation techniques can take the edge off.

As a child, I had my own special escape plan; a world of my own created in a wooded area not far from my house. I lived in Bremerton, Washington where the Hemlock and Cedar trees climbed like "Jack's Beanstalk" far into the heavens. My friends and I made our own "hide-out" hidden within the bushy undergrowth. We used leftover linoleum slabs for the floor, and the rest was left to our imaginations.

In my mind, this glorious quiet place was a wondrous castle where anything was possible. I became brave and daring within its walls. I had super powers and super human strength. The older kids dared me to jump on the thick rope swing and sail across the deep gully to the other side. I sat on the twisted knot as they pulled the rope back , and back, and back again.

When they let go, I sailed into space. I was conquering new worlds; on the brink of discovery. The wind whistled in my ears. The gully beneath was dark and forbidding, but I was unafraid. Clutching the rope, I felt an incredible sense of freedom. My mother came in time to see me leave the safety of the ledge. Her shouts and her fears diminished my fun, but the thrill lingered on long after I'd had my bottom spanked for taking such a risk.

What can I say? I've always been a risk taker. When fears engulf me, I return to that special place where I first experienced freedom and clarity. I take myself there when I'm stuck in a rut or I need a kick in the pants to get creating again. Too much stress is a bad thing, but just enough keeps me on the edge of creating something wonderful!

To see Carol's special creations, go to:

The Basics

Cleaning brushes is a real pain, but believe me it's necessary. I pride myself on doing a good job, but not long ago I had to throw a couple of hardened brushes away. Some cleaners make you think the paint is washed out when it isn't.

I've purchased fancy cleaners. I've used dish detergent. I've soaked brushes in turpenoid. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. The best cleaner I've found is used by teachers in art schools. It's plain old Lava soap. After going back to Lava, I've discovered that even after you think you've cleaned your brushes, Lava will still remove more paint.

I follow the Lava wash with a conditioner; there are many on the market. An art store recommended baby oil, but I wasn't too impressed. Saddle soap was also recommended; it has built-in conditioners. Love to hear your tips here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Artist's and Writer's Block

If you're a creative person, it's inevitable that at some point in your career (or hobby) you're going to bump up against a blank wall. The feeling can be frightening, even devastating, but it doesn't have to keep you down.

Over the years I've discovered a few things that may trigger these events. I'll share some of my thoughts with you, knowing that your trigger's may also be different from mine. For whatever it's worth, here are my top four:

1. Fatigue and lack of sleep. I know, it sounds simplistic, but you can't create in a sleepless fog. When your tail is draggin' so is your mind. Your perspective gets out of whack, and life seems sadder, badder, and meaner. When you wake up refreshed, you're ready to tackle almost anything. Get your Zzzzzs.

2. Depression. This is a real deep-down feeling of helplessness and worthlessness. This baby will pull you into a downward spiral that has no end. Mild depression is a part of life's ups and downs, but clinical depression can drag you into a dark abyss where life has no meaning. Get help! If the cause is a bad marriage or an abusive relationship, get out!

3. Low self-esteem. Negative words or harsh criticism can throw you for a loop. People can say "sticks and stones," and believe that words can never hurt you, but they do. Bullies can knock the wind out of your creative sails. Failure can push you flat on your back. The only answer is to grab hold of a power bigger than yourself and get up again. Quit worrying about what other people think. Your opinion of yourself is the only one that matters.

4. Lack of exposure. Sometimes you need to shake things up a little. Get out and experience life. Change the scene. Surprise yourself -- do something new. Try something you've never done before. I'm not suggesting going overboard and getting yourself into trouble. I'm only saying get out of the house. Go somewhere different. Try to see the world with a new perspective. Get some fresh air!

I remember my first art show after letting my skills and brushes lie dormant for many years. I was terrified. How would people react to my artwork? How would they view my lame attempts to restore those lost years when my own self-esteem was dragging?

I muttered a prayer, something like "Oh, Lord what am I doing? What if I look like a fool?" A warm feeling and an encouraging thought came to me: "Give it a try--you might be surprised."

On that simple note, I displayed my paintings. I know some of them were pretty awful, but not all. Two women, I swear they were angels in disguise, bought one of my paintings right off. That sale gave me the confidence and the courage I needed to keep on keeping on.

And there you have it! My secret formulae for getting out of a "funk." Next time you can't think and your mind's a blank, start writing, start painting anyway; anything--anything at all. Pretty soon the blood will get moving and you'll push right past that blank wall. Of course, a little prayer never hurts!

Thank you to my friend Kelly who gave me the idea for this article, and for my friend Inez Ibis who was the inspiration behind my picture book: "Inez Ibis Flies Again, The Story of a Courageous Ibis Who Never Gave Up."  Celebrate E-Book week by checking it out:  or a FREE sneak preview of the book at Better yet, use the link on my Facebook page: Carol Allen Anfinsen.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Beauty Is in The Eye

(Note that this painting was "cropped" and the sunflowers became my masthead. The article below discusses why this can be a good thing.)

We've heard it all our lives--"beauty is in the eye of the beholder." This saying was never more true than when I discovered a petrified cactus on the desert floor in Phoenix, Arizona where I lived for several years.

During the winter, I liked to take long walks in the desert. If you've never seen the desert in January and February, you're missing an incredible sight. In the milder winter temperatures, the desert comes to life. The sandy terrain sprouts into a thick carpet of grassy clover and turns the normally drab browns into radiant greens. The cacti begin blooming, dotting the burgeoning scene with splashes of pinks, yellows, reds, and blues; breathtaking!

In the midst of this color, a dead cactus, brown and forlorn, caught my attention. It's arms were arranged in graceful twists and turns, as beautiful as any marble sculpture I could imagine. "God's handiwork," I quipped; and decided to bring the orphaned cactus home to grace my flower garden.

I mentioned my unusual sculpture a few times to friends, family, and neighbors. I must have described my find in such detail and with such embellishment that soon I had visitors who came just to see my "heavenly" sculpture. I chuckle now, as I remember their disappointment at seeing this dried up piece of wood that once was an elegant cactus. To me it was still beautiful, but to those who saw through a prism of their own experience, it was a disappointment.

Today I get that same reaction with some of my favorite paintings, especially the ones that I cherish because of the blood, sweat, and tears, that went into them. My favorites are the paintings that sometime draw this reaction: "Eh!," and a shrug as the viewer walks away. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

My grandfather cut his thumb off long before I was born. He tangled with a paper cutter during his years as a school teacher. Although he showed his granddaughters the missing thumb, and warned us about the dangers of paper cutters and knives, we never looked on it as a disability. It was simply our Grandpa's hand. The lack of a thumb made him unique and adoring. Whether he had a thumb or not didn't make one whit of difference. To us he was beautiful.

Artists frequently fret about whether their work is acceptable or compliant with the constraints of accepted color and composition norms. And yet, those artists who achieve acclaim are the very ones who dare to cross the line; the ones who boldly walk from the cutting edge and into the limelight. In the end, their experimentation and creativity triumph.

So to you artists out there--take a deep breath, and dare to be different. Some people will love your work, others will criticize it. Beautify is indeed subjective; enjoy the moment, create while you can!

"Waste Not Want Not"
Next time you damage a wonderful watercolor painting by creating a dark removable smudge, or by blending a color that ends up looking like mud, don't throw it away! Take a small 4x6 or 8x10 mat and place it over different parts of your painting. Sometimes a beautiful mini-picture emerges. Cut it out and turn it into a print or a greeting card. If nothing else, tear your painting into strips and give the strips away at art shows as original book marks. People will be impressed, and everyone loves a free give-away!

Acrylic and oil paintings can be salvaged in this same way by using online photo programs. Crop the good parts and turn them into prints or greeting cards. Don't let anything go to waste. If worse comes to worse, sand off and repaint an old canvas that didn't sell and start over again.

Monday, March 15, 2010

It's all about the brush, baby!

Beginning artists usually buy a wide array of brushes; one of each from a catalog or store. After their skills are more developed, artists frequently pare their selection down to three or four brushes that they use over and over for many different techniques.

My flower paintings: "Hibiscus Glory" and "Flash Dance" were painted almost entirely with flat brushes in varying sizes. Perfect for making petals and leaves, flats are my favorite brush. I use several different sizes. Flats make wonderful grass strokes when used in an up and down motion. If used properly, they are great for detail work and highlights using only a corner of the brush.

Filbert brushes make great leaves or round shapes for pollen and highlights. Liner brushes make great branches on trees or masts on sail boats. Experimenting with what each brush can do is a great way to hone your skills. When push comes to shove, most artists end up using only a few favorite brushes for every painting.

There are other techniques that can add depth and character to your artwork. An artist friend used a tiny squeeze bottle filled with paint to make intricate scroll work on a painting. He has created some interesting backgrounds using lace doilies or trellises and spray painting over them. Other see-through materials and shapes can create interesting patterns that add depth.

Be creative! Experiment with each technique and each brush until you find your own unique rhythm--your own favorite brushes.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Creative Mind at Work

Artists and writers are complicated people, albeit strange. They see and hear things that others sometimes miss; hence they enlighten and uplift society in countless ways. Being both a writer and an artist makes me a little weird, I guess. I can see the darn'dest things from almost nothing.

Take this morning. I was thinking while staring at a shag carpet, and bingo--the head of a fox emerged through the shag; the loops turned into wildflowers. A fox sniffing flowers--now that would make a great illustration!

When my tile floor gets all smudgie, reminding me it's time to mop, I see all kinds of freakish characters, both man and beast. I tell myself I'm going to draw these illusive characters before they melt away, but I never do. Some of these figures are nothing more than illusion. If you take your eyes off of them for a second, they vanish or are replaced by other shadowy characters.

If this makes you nervous, don't worry; When the imaginary critters start talking to me, I'll let you know. Until then, what I've described is a perfectly normal occurrence in creative minds. It's also a result of changing light patterns and shifting shadows.

Cloud formations are another means of creation. I can see things that most people ignore. And yes, as a child I spent hours looking for dragons and sea monsters in the billowing sky above.

A towering pine tree in my front yard also caught my attention. The branches spread out over a sea of dead grass, and I wondered who might inhabit its dark recesses. How did they live? What did they look like, and especially, were they evil or friendly?

The cartoon illustrations on my web site are a good example of my most recent "flights of fancy." I hope you'll take a look at

A Word about Color

Many artists use pure color straight from the tube: reds, yellows, blues, greens, etc.. I'm not knocking it. There are appropriate uses for pure color, and they do serve a purpose, depending on composition and style. But sometimes a blended color can do the job better.

Blended colors add a certain vibrancy by complimenting or enhancing similar colors and values in the painting. Monochromatic paintings that use one main color such as raw umber, burnt sienna, or venetian red are enlivened when blends of that color are mixed and used.

The color gray is a good example. Gray can be a depressing color, but it's also one of the most valuable colors on the palette; especially for dealing with subtlety, or changing values, as in a landscape. Paynes gray is a favorite for many artists. But you can add vitality and subtle changes by mixing your own gray combinations. Here are some of mine:

• Blue and orange make a "greenish gray;" add a mixing white to change shade or value.

• Alizarin Crimson and black make a "lavender gray;" add a mixing white to change shade or value.

• Using Pthalo, or cobalt, or cerulean, or ultramarine blue and black with mixing white can make a lovely blue-gray shade.

Green is another example of how to get variation in your artwork. Sure you can buy many hues and shades of green, but what's the fun in that?. Here are some of my favorite combinations:

• Cobalt blue and yellow make a brilliant spring-time green that can be toned down with mixing white.

• Turquoise and a snitch of yellow make a wonderful lime green that can be changed in value with mixing white or by adding a smidgen of Hookers green.

• Sap green and yellow ochre make a golden green for fields and older grass and weeds. Again, mixing white changes the value.

So there you have it -- some of my favorite blends (the list could go on and on). The point is this: mix colors, try different combinations, be brave. Your paintings will literally "pop" off the page. Have fun--experiment!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

With These Hands--Wonder

My little cowgirl is complete! I had such fun painting her, which just goes to show ya--passion is everything! When you love your subject, the painting comes easy.

That isn't to say I don't love a challenge; I do. The struggle itself can be rewarding, especially if you prove that you can do it. Sometimes that's a big "if," and some of those struggles are scraped off, painted over, sanded down.

It's not always easy trying to capture what your imagination dreams up. The clearer the image in your head, the easier it is to get it on canvas. "Wonder" is the first painting in my "With These Hands" series. With the help of my good friends, I've decided to keep this first series about children: discovering, learning, playing, etc.

The second "With These Hands" series will be about adults, especially aging adults who I adore drawing and painting; there's so much character and soul portrayed in each and every line and wrinkle. The adult series will feature: working hands, comforting hands, helping hands, praying hands, etc. I'm really excited about the whole project.

Of course, my first love is animals and birds. People are more difficult for me, but the results are rewarding. I'm excited about life and this beautiful world that God has created for us. If I can illustrate or portray even a portion of this wonder I'm gratified.

This painting is now on display in my art gallery at

Prints Now Available on Etsy

In addition to cards on my Etsy site, I am adding 8x10 and 11x14 prints of my drawings. I hope you will take a look at the items for sale:
Note Cards, Beach Bum and Wild Things cards.

Special requests are always welcome and prices are negotiable. I hope you will check out my wares at

Friday, March 5, 2010

Art Walk Fort Myers -- February and March

Here are some shots of the gallery where our art league has paintings on display from February through March. The glare of the windows made it difficult to get a good picture, but you get the idea. Several paintings have been sold from this location. A 15 year old artist who won a U.S. stamp wildlife competition sold his duck painting, and we were cheering him on. He started taking lessons when he was only eleven. It's never too early, never too late!

My newest painting from my "With These Hands" series titled: "Wonder" will be displayed through the month of March. We all have had a great time and made many new friends. If you're in Fort Myers, check us out at the building on the corner of Hendry and Ponce de' Leon Plaza.

Wild, wild weather

This has been the worst winter since we moved to Florida over six years ago. The wind has been wilder, the temperatures cooler, and our furnace growls and roars, but does little good. The homes down here are simply not built for cold weather.

I feel guilty complaining as I watch the swirling blizzards up North from the comfort of my living room. I feel sheepish knowing that we've come through February without suffering a severe freeze. Only a few summer loving plants were frost-bitten and now stand naked; their brown leaves scattered to the winds.

We wonder how we became such cold-weather panty waists? The locals walk around wearing jackets, scarves and hats, while the tourists jog and play in T-shirts and shorts. Didn't we survive three hurricanes: Charlie, Wilma, and Rita? Weren't trees uprooted around us? Didn't sheets of rain wall us in and blind us to the howling winds outside?

The aftermath looked like a war zone. Our squirrel-nesting cabbage palm was almost topless. Our neighbors lost pool cages and roofs. Some in the county lost homes. Stores and businesses were damaged. Insurance rates in Southwest Florida skyrocketed. So what's a little cold weather? In another month, we'll be complaining about the heat. And so it goes.

How's the weather where you are? I'd love to hear from you.