Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Do You Tie Yourself in Knots?

I do it all the time. I stress over a project or painting and feel I’m not up to the task. Before I know it, I’ve tied myself into a bundle of nervous insecurity.

Oh, I know the drill. I’ve read all the self-help books, spouted the mantras and prayers, and given myself the countless pep talks geared to pull you from a tail spin. But I’m also an expert on dismissing them.

Take my latest painting. Remember the little girl playing dress-up in her mother’s clothes? I’ve been avoiding it like the plague. I had so much going on in my mind that I wanted to do with the painting that I became overwhelmed with the details. So I took it to my art league last week; truly feeling inadequate for the job.

Work in Progress -- Playing Dress Up

Thanks to a team of like-minded artists who gave me a pep talk and an intellectual kick in the butt, I regained the necessary “spunk,” if you will, to continue this enormous task.

One of my favorite artists on facebook is Suzi Kahler of “It’s all in the details.” She thrives on painting and detailing even the smallest items. When she’s finished, her paintings never look too busy because she skillfully weaves every detail into her plan. Aha! My first clue: taking time to relax, reassess and plan.

Sometimes pressures of time and urgency drive us into forging ahead when we’re not ready. A painting is like fine wine. It needs to age and mellow for awhile in our mind’s eye before we can see our image clearly enough to define it on canvas.

I’m not knocking “going with the flow” and the feeling of the moment. But before that happens, we need to have a sense of what it is we want to accomplish. Sure it’s vital to open ourselves up to surprises and inspiration, but we must stay grounded in the things we’ve already learned. Knowledge and experience are the foundation that allow your brush and your imagination to soar.

I found some old drawings and sketches I had tucked away. I was amazed at how good they were for such quick studies. I decided to upload the one you see above to my online gallery. Much to my surprise, the charcoal sketch titled “Through Her Eyes” was featured in one of the groups.

The elderly woman is looking forward as she must, but her alter-ego is also looking backward at where’s she been and what she’s accomplished (good advice when you’re feeling insecure). It’s not a perfect sketch by any means; but it shows that with a little knowledge and experience under your belt, your mind, heart, and hand can work together to achieve much more than you think.

So next time you tie yourself in unrealistic knots. Step back and re-evaluate where you’ve been and what you’ve achieved before pressing forward. You might be surprised at the end result!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Photograph – A Critical Component

My friend and photographer, Kelly Bell, author of The Sorry Gardner @ suggested I write a blog about photographing artwork since many artists consider this a challenge.

The “Catch 22” is knowing when and where to get a good photographer at reasonable rates, or choosing to do it yourself and learning how the hard way. I chose the latter, so I’ll share with you some things I’ve learned along the way. I'll start with a photo of my completed Easter painting.

"He Lives"

You may be a professional artist, an amazing painter, but if you don’t know how to photograph your paintings, no one will know it but you. To make prints or giclees from your artwork requires the utmost care in taking, uploading, and using a digital image of your painting. Here are some basic necessities:

1. Have a good high-resolution camera. If you don’t, you’re better off hiring a professional photographer. Without high-resolution images, the fine details of your painting get lost, and the ability to reproduce quality prints or giclees is next to nil.
     a.  Do your homework, do your shopping. There are many medium priced cameras that will do the job.
     b. Explain to the salesperson what you need in the way of a camera and why you need it. They will help you find one in your price range.
     c. If you take a low-resolution picture and try to increase the resolution and enlarge it to uploaded, your image will be blurred and your print unsalable.
     d. Avoid photographing your painting in its frame. Even when you’re trying to be careful, a part of the frame always shows up and makes your image unusable for making prints.

2. Buy a tripod. Don’t fudge! Everyone shakes a little when they point and shoot. Even a tiny tremor can blur the image, tilt the camera, or produce poor quality results.
     a. By steadying your camera on a tripod, and checking the image in your viewer, you can usually get a fairly good picture.
     b. I take several pictures once I’m certain my tripod is placed in the right spot.

3. Good lighting is a must! We can’t all go out and buy the kind of lighting professional photographers use, but we should make certain we have at least “adequate” lighting.
     a. I take my pictures early in the morning when light is streaming in through the windows.
     b. I use a table to make certain my painting is level. I use overhead lights and table lighting in addition to the daylight.
     c. I enhance my lighting with the picture software on my computer. I simply use an automatic adjust, nothing more. I don’t want to change the tone or hue of my original painting.

4. Yes, you need some kind of photo software on your computer. Most computers come with a basic program.
     a. You may want to re-size your image, enhance color, if necessary, or at least make certain it has enough lighting to look its best.
     b. You may need to “crop” your image, especially if you haven’t placed your tripod close enough to avoid background images.
     c. You may need to “straighten” your image. If that doesn’t work, go back and adjust your tripod and take another photo.
     d. I usually make my image the same size as my painting i.e. 16x20, etc. That way, when I make prints the image is clear and beautiful.

5. When uploading, follow the directions of your server host. I upload to my blog, my online gallery, and to several other sites. I store my images in one place on my computer, so I know where to get the photos that have been edited and prepared beforehand.

"Work in Progress" some weeks ago.

Why are these steps so important? To avoid some of the errors I’ve seen on online galleries:  too small an image, parts of frames showing distracting background objects, crooked pictures; a result of a “point-and-shoot” camera and no tripod; faded, lifeless color that has not been lighted or enhanced.

If you want to sell paintings, cards or prints, you need the proper tools to show-off your talents. I invite you to ask questions or offer your own self-discovered tips in your comments. Thanks!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Most Artists are Environmentalists at Heart

Like many artists, I love this beautiful world that has been created for us. I believe we should be good stewards of the earth. Most of my artwork represents this love in my depiction of flowers, birds and animals. I learned as a child from my grandfather who was also my school teacher. He taught me respect for human life and animal life, and he lived what he taught.

In my blog today, I'm sharing a personal story about a plant that is destroying Florida's natural vegetation along with many other encroaching species.

The Brazilian-pepper tree, alias Christmas-berry tree or Florida Holly, is an attractive shrub that sprouts red berries part of the year, grows tall, and spreads wide. When I first moved to Florida, I enjoyed watching the wide variety of birds that fluttered in their branches. So when the landscape crew attacked them with machetes and axes, I was enraged. Had we come to this in our obsession for perfectly trimmed hedges and weed free lawns, I thought?

Yes, I would later acknowledge, the Brazilian-pepper bushes were beginning to take over the hedgerow, and their absence meant that I could now see the field behind where cows grazed with cattle egret; but what about the birds? Hadn’t the pepper's branches been food and refuge for the brown thrashers, the cardinals, the northern bobwhites and robins, the local mocking birds?

Before I launched into assault mode, I did some reading and investigating; turns out, that attractive Brazilian pepper is considered “one of the worst exotic pest plants” in the State of Florida. Wouldn’t you know!

Brought here from Brazil in the 1800s, the plant was used as an ornamental for its beautiful red berries and shiny green leaves. Deceivingly charming, the plant is part of the poison ivy, oak and sumac family that many people are allergic to. When crushed, the leaves smell like turpentine and can irritate the skin, nose and lungs. No wonder my allergies had flared up in Florida.

Why is the plant so prolific, I wondered? Bingo: “the pepper grows well in poor soil and shade,” and spreads wildly when the conditions for growth are optimum – plenty of sunshine, plenty of rain. Birds and raccoons find the berries delicious and spread the seeds through their guano and scat.

How is that a threat to Florida?

• The pepper tree shades out native plants

• The pepper destroys foraging areas for herons, egrets and other water birds

• The pepper’s roots get so thoroughly tangled up with mangrove roots that it’s impossible to uproot them

The beautiful Brazilian-pepper is on Florida’s “do not plant” list, and its “sale is against the law.” And I thought it was a harmless shrub; if looks could kill.

Today I smile as I walk past the hedgerow. Young leaves are sprouting, filling in naked branches replenished by sun and space. The peppers are sprawled out behind them; roots exposed, leaves withering, on their last gasp. Sadly, a few yards south, a fence with a stand of pepper trees grows rampant; the property of another developer who will eventually face the removal of this encroaching invader.

See other bird art, including egrets, herons, pelicans and ibis at Carol's online gallery:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

GUEST BLOGGER: Judy Adamson -- "Go with the Flow" Continued. . .

Get all of your thinking out of the way before you start. (Continued)

Before I give you a few suggestions as to how you can get into ‘flow’, switching off your mind, so that you make way for ‘something else’ to take over, I must tell you that you will probably need to do some thinking about the practicalities of your painting in advance, so that once you get started, there’s no more need to think about what you’re doing. I nearly always paint from photographs, and I do think about how much to crop and edit them.

Hone your practical skills, such as drawing or colour mixing so that they become automatic, ready to use once you are in a ‘state of flow’. Celebrated performers in all fields, top athletes who regularly experience ‘flow’ or ‘being in the zone’ may appear to perform effortlessly but they will have previously put in many hours of practice of their basic skills. Your skills are the tools you will need to carry out your work of art, and you don’t want to have to think about them while you’re working!

I find that working in soft pastels is ideal as there’s no colour-mixing or brush-washing to interrupt the flow, but I need to be confident in my ability to draw and that has come with practice.

It’s important not to have a preconceived idea of how your painting will turn out. Enjoy the excitement of letting go of the controls and allowing the painting to guide you towards its destination! If you begin to sense that things are getting in a muddle, just keep going. Worrying will just switch on your ‘left-brain’, which is quite unnecessary as you can rest assured that your ‘right-brain’ will know the way through and out of your difficulties.

So, how can we switch off our limiting, judgemental minds and confidently allow our Inner Artist to take over, in the way that a small child approaches drawing and painting?

One thing that doesn’t work is to decide to stop thinking - our minds are more persistent and clever than that. So it’s generally best to give your mind something else to occupy it!

Here are the three ways that help me: while I am working I am also:

• Listening to music – Rachmaninov and other ‘Romantic composers work well for me.

• ‘Watching’ television – or rather ‘half-watching’.

• Talking to a friend on the phone! On several occasions a friend has called me while I was drawing or painting and by the end of the conversation I’d somehow solved problems that were arising in my painting, without giving them a moment’s thought!

You will probably find some other ways to switch from your logical, reasoning brain to your intuitive one and maybe you’d like to share them here?

Finally, a couple of words of warning!

Everything can seem effortless when you’re ‘in flow’ but expect to be pleasantly exhausted afterwards! And you’ll probably find it better to work alone – I was told by fellow artists in a class that I pace about and sigh and huff and puff very noisily when I’m painting, none of which I was aware of!

Good luck – and be prepared to be astonished at what you can produce!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Guest Blogger: Judy Adamson -- "It's all about Flow"

“All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of
no-mind, from inner stillness.” Eckhart Tolle

Carol kindly asked me to write about something I’m passionate about, and since I’ve been in touch with so many artists through the Internet over the past year, I’ve come to realize that one of the things I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to experience, without even knowing it, is painting from ‘a place of no-mind’, of experiencing ‘flow’. And it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s such an ecstatic feeling that I’d like to try to give others some pointers towards experiencing it for themselves.

“Only when he no longer knows what he’s doing does the painter do good things” Degas

I first realized that the way I paint is different from other artists when I was asked by local art organizations to give talks, with demonstrations, of my pastel painting ‘technique’ and had to refuse. Once I start blocking in the colour on the paper, I am totally unaware of what I’m doing, so how could I possibly demonstrate it to others? And in any case, I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t enter into ‘flow’ in the presence of other people! By its very nature, it’s not something that can be demonstrated!

There’s a wonderful description of ‘flow’ in Daniel Goleman’s book, ‘Emotional Intelligence’, which is well worth reading. But in essence, all it boils down to is letting go of ‘thinking’, of making conscious decisions about what we’re doing and, instead, allowing ourselves to be guided by something more intuitive than our minds.

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. You can’t try to do a thing. You must simply do things.” Ray Bradbury.

Perhaps you are thinking ‘Easier said than done!’ and that’s how I would probably have reacted if someone had suggested this to me before I wandered (temporarily!) into this almost ‘altered state of consciousness’ myself! It all began with me working on a piece late one night whilst watching television, then coming back to it the following morning and being astounded at what I had done!

Nowadays that’s quite a ‘normal’ experience for me; I’ll look at a painting I did a few years back and wonder how on earth I caught the light on the tree trunk, almost questioning whether I was in fact the one who had done it – or was it those same Elves who came in overnight and did the Shoemaker’s work for him?

Get all your thinking out of the way before you start.

When I work, I work very fast; but preparing to work can take any length of time” Cy Twombly

Before I give you a few suggestions as to how you can get into ‘flow’, switching off your mind, so that you make way for ‘something else’ to take over, I must tell you that you will probably need to do some thinking about the practicalities of your painting in advance, so that once you get started, there’s no more need to think about what you’re doing. I nearly always paint from photographs and I do think about how much to crop and edit them.

Join us next week to continue Judy's blog on the process of "thinking" things through before the big "flow."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

“If I Could Put Time in a Bottle”

We’d all like to capture time and dispense it when and where we choose. As the song says: “There never seems to be enough time to do the things we want to do…”

I live in Florida. What that means, especially in “season,” is that over night guests are part of our lives from Jan. through April. The current economy and gas prices have made this season an exception. None-the-less, when it happens, I must hide, store, and box my art supplies and painting messes for the duration.

Of course, this makes preparing for my blog a real challenge. I can’t leave wet paintings laying around. My art room is turned back into a guest bedroom. The kitchen table has been cleared off for actual meals. The dining room table where I perform my photo shoots with tripod is cleared off. My comfy T.V. lounging spot is devoid of crossword puzzles, notebooks, magazines, and the Kindle I use to read books during commercials.

If I sound like a pig, I apologize. I happen to be one of those people who likes to keep everything nearby so I can nail down ideas before they get away. I can’t function with an organized desk top or everything in its place. I’ve tried that. The result was an inability to stay on task or remember what I was into. When I needed something, I couldn’t recall where I put it, let alone find it!

I call my “stuff” organized clutter. It helps me stay focused, and keeps me productive with all my wheels in gear, even when I’m resting. I’d like to strangle time, if I could, especially when it gets away from me. I want to shove the time genie’s engorged head back into its bottle until I’m good and ready to end my day. But when all is said and done, we spend time doing the things we love, the things we must, and the things we feel we should do. If we’re able to produce a magnificent painting or a best-selling novel in between, it’s a miracle.

If we’ve cheered someone up, helped a fellow human being, or created strong family ties along the way our priorities are in place. Who can ask for more?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Wildlife -- How to Tame it on Canvas

Most of my wildlife paintings and drawings come from real-life scenes I’ve photographed. I usually make a quick sketch or a more developed one before I incorporate it into a painting. I also study the birds and wildlife and get more information online about their living habits and behaviors.

I’ve seen some people plop a bird or the hint of an animal into a scene as an afterthought, and sometimes it either looks out of place or out of proportion.

I heard one artist comment that a former instructor told her that people in the distance of a painting could be made lifelike by turning their torsos into small carrots. Sounds like a winning idea since too much detail brings the figures closer. The focus of people or wildlife should be on the outward shape not the details, depending on where they are placed on the canvas.

I try to get photos that cover a particular animals seasonal colors, feathers or fur. It adds to the realism. If you’re going to feature a heron or egret in spring, then you’d better add the extra feathers and plumes of the mating season. In fall and winter, backdrops would be more drab, the plumage or fur more ordinary.

Unless the artist is doing an edgy or unconventional piece, placing a bird or animal in its natural environment is vital. Research and personal experience is the key. Taking an animal and putting it into the wrong environment or background is like painting a fish out of water. Again, there’s a time and a place, depending on the purpose of your painting. Abstracts, whimsey, or fantasy are a whole different subject.

Practice, practice, practice makes perfect! Sketching and drawing frequently makes you aware of the subtle nuances that create character and believabilty. It’s a lifelong habit that enriches credibility, and keeps your paintings and drawings fresh and alive.

Even drawing and sketchiing charicatures is not only fun, but it can help you define all the details that make an animal unique.

 The drawings and illustrations in my blog are good examples of how I use all of these principles in creating a painting.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Religion in Art and Why it Endures

I recently read two disparate articles on the subject of religion and art. One author said the only reason religion became part of art history is because it was forced upon artists by the Popes and Kings of former generations in order to decorate their cathedrals and sanctuaries. He contended that Leonardo DeVinci, Michael Angelo and others would have painted other subjects if it were not for the money and the power of the ruling class at the time.

Insett Kirke -- Norway

The author went on to say that if religion were such a driving force in the world, why don’t we see it in the cave drawings of ancient times? Because cave men, he said, used art for practical reasons: as communication to record what they saw and felt, to indicate danger, the cycles of the seasons, and the experiences and movements of their nomadic society.

Although, this may be true to a point, others contend that emotions such as joy, beauty, and hope are also recorded on cave walls, and comprise people’s spiritual hunger and nature. The second author believes this to be true. He links anything of beauty and inspiration to the fabric of a communities' religious and spiritual life expressed through art. The first author is obviously a skeptic or unbeliever, the second a believer. Which illustrates once again that religion and art are subjective and that there is truth in both points of view.

I have never painted a religious scene, or so I thought; but by the second author’s definition, several of my colorful and joyful paintings probably express my deep spiritual roots even though there is no iconic or obvious religious symbols. This may be the year to change all that.

I’ve noticed that religious art seems to sell well and at a steady pace. With Easter coming, I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring. The obvious starting point for me, is the Easter Lily. I’ve always loved their white symbolic purity. Why not?

The last time I had an Easter Lily in my house, its overpowering perfume made my allergies flare into a rage. I finally had to place the plant outside, but not before snapping some wonderful photos. I’ve wanted to paint a lily ever since. This may be the year of the lily. Today, I share my “work in progress,” and its first layers of paint.

At first I planned on naming the painting “The Atonement,” but decided on a more subtle title: “Fulness of Joy,” a passage taken from Psalms 16:11. I’ll share the completed painting with you in a few short weeks.