Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tragedy Mirrors Beauty of The Soul

Have you noticed that tragedy either brings out the worst in people or the best? Our nation, in fact the world, has experienced one tragedy after another these past two years: floods, fires, tsunamis, earth quakes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, cancelled plane reservations, power outages, lack of food and water, you name it!

And what has come out of this pain and suffering? Goodness; the strength of human character, the kindness of one person helping another, the humbleness of unspoken prayers and those coming from the heart.

I’ve long wanted to capture these faces and feelings in a painting. A contest sponsored by Fine Art America (FAA), an online web site, is called “Earth Tones.” I love working with earth tones, so I decided to prepare a small submission.

My work in progress will be 11x14 when finished. I wanted to do something different; somewhat experimental. I don’t know if it will work as I expect, but I hope so. I wanted to capture the pain and suffering on the faces of victims who have suffered pain, endured loss, and who feel broken and lost by their experiences.

Every day we hear stories of crimes, of evil actions with disastrous results. We wonder if there is any good in the world. And then disasters of great magnitude come along and the plain and simple people of the earth are lifted to the forefront. Their goodness inspires us and reminds us that basically, most people are good.

We suffer with them. We cheer them on and admire their courage. They become role models in a world where what is taunted and exposed is fame, fortune, glamor, and evil. Our faith in God and in humanity is strengthened as we watch from our safe untouched living rooms. Some of us will pray for the victims; others will donate money and time. Still others will physically leave the safety of what is familiar to lend a helping hand. The best in us comes to the surface, and “all’s right with the world,” once again.

I’m sharing my drawing and preparatory work in this blog. Your comments are always welcome.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Time to Remember

I grew up in the West. I spent some time in the Northwest, the Southwest, and a major part of my life in the Midwest. I’ve always loved reading about these areas and enjoy historical novels about the “Wild West.” Is it any wonder that voices from my past and from those beloved areas call out to me? That may be why my featured painting “Sand Crane Dreams” was in my blood and finally found expression.

"Sand Crane Dreams"

It seems fitting on Memorial Day weekend to remember my past and the family and people I’ve loved.

On his birthday one year, I gave my dad a journal; a bound book with blank pages. I told him if he’d write in the book, I would type up the pages and make a book for his posterity. Several years later, he presented me with the book. I realized the fallacy in giving him a bound book. Holding it open, struggling to transcribe his scrawled handwriting and type at the same time was a challenge. On my lunch breaks at work, I might add. It took me three years to complete the journal.

My first simple portrait was done of him, and I used it as an illustration. My 12 year old son drew his grandpa fishing, and this became part of the book. It was a labor of love. Although there were some typographical errors by the time it went to print, the relatives were pleased and my dad was honored. I copied old photographs into the book and pages of his handwritten script, all the more precious when Parkinson’s disease made it impossible for him to write.

In one of my next blogs, I’ll honor my father, one of the greatest fishermen around, with a piece I wrote about where I grew up and his influence on my life. Take the time this Memorial Day to honor those you love.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Summer is Upon Us

And yes, I have a plan. During the summer months, I try to do more plein air sketching and painting. I try to sharpen my drawing skills, and sometimes I make plans to illustrate a book. Two summer’s ago, I wrote and illustrated “Inez Ibis Flies Again, the Story of a Courageous Ibis Who Never Gave Up.” I published it independently through Blurb, and also created an e-book through Smashwords, but it hasn’t taken off as I’d hoped.

Unfortunately, thoughts of summer make me feel lazy. I remember as a kid spending hours making hollyhock dolls. My friend and I chose the most perfect flowers we could find. Turned upside down they looked like a dancer’s skirt.

The small green stub that secured the petals became a head. Sometimes we’d cap a petal on top securing it with a toothpick. Another toothpick became the arms sticking out just below the head. We made several, and played for hours with our dancing, twirling, array of dolls.

Hollyhocks also make wonderful honey bee traps. My friends and I would wait for a bee “heavy with nectar and slow to fly” and trap him within his pollen den.

We could feel the angry vibrations of his wings against our fingertips. Once we had dropped our flowered trap into a glass jar and popped on the lid, we felt brave and ready to try again. When we grew tired of this game, we opened the jar and watched the bees fly to freedom. Children can spend hours doing this, unless, of course, they’re allergic to bee venom.

People seldom grow Hollyhocks anymore. They’re considered “old fashioned.” I tried it a few summers back in memoriam. It was a disaster. Hollyhocks are disease and insect prone, and somehow the memory of their beauty was flawed by the vermin crawling on them. They are still lovely at a distance.

Tomorrow I’ll be working on my “Sand Crane Dreams” painting and hope to share the completed painting in a few days.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Is my Work Becoming Stagnant?

What prompted me to ask this question?  Some time ago, I was discussing our church web site with a friend. I’m the webmaster, and I’d made a remark that parts of our web site "remained static" because it’s geared for investigators and visitors and not for members per se’.

“Oh, you mean It’s stagnant?” she quipped.

I hated the word the moment she said it. “Is our web page boring,” I thought, “or uninteresting?” The word “stagnant” stayed with me for months.

"Arabesque" 14x18 oil on canvas

I applied it to my artwork. Has my style and technique become stagnant over the years? If someone were to look at my work of twenty years ago and compare it to my artwork today, would they see progress? Would my work look fresh and edgy, or would it just reflect what I’ve produced in the past?

The dictionary defines stagnant as: motionless, dull, inactive, stays the same, not flowing in a current or stream.

Work in Progress -- 20x24 oil on canvas

Motionless applied to a painting might mean there’s no energy or life; either in the brushwork, or in the composition (fails to draw people in or to lead them to the center of interest i.e. not flowing). The colors may seem lifeless and bland (dull).

Those of you who’ve been following me know what I’ve painted over the past two years. For those of you who don’t, please go to my online gallery @

I truly have made an effort to change-up my style and make it a bit more edgy. But is it working?

In this blog, I'm featuring my latest “work in progress.”

As you may remember, I planned on calling this new painting: “Sand Crane Dreams” because when I see sandhill cranes feeding and mating, they remind me of Native American dancers.

Unfortunately, when everyone else sees my canvas or offers critique, they have very different ideas.

The beginnings of "Sand Cranes Dream"

I’m in a quandry as to where to take this painting next? I may try to finish with my own personal sand crane concept and see what happens, or I may think of something else. Your suggestions and comments are always welcome.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What Do I have to Offer?

At one time or another, every person asks themselves the question: "What do I have to offer?" We compare ourselves to the competition and wonder if we’re up to the task. Oftentimes, we allow fear to essentially blow us away. We give up. We quit. We turn our backs on our God-given talent and let the pressures of life interfere with our dreams.

Kathy Davis a well known artist of greeting cards once said that her own self-doubt almost derailed her. A former art teacher with big dreams of designing greeting cards, she’s now one of the biggest names in the business, according to the Ladies’ Home Journal.

“There’s always someone better than you,” Kathy says. “At some point, you just have to say, ‘That’s OK, I still have something to offer.’”

Ain’t it the truth! Like you, I’m sometimes overwhelmed by the talented artists our there. But we can’t let that stop us from throwing our own hat into the ring. Each person has a unique vision of life and the environment. We see things through our own perceptions and experiences. I may not have as much education or experience as someone else, but I may be able to add a new twist or variation on the tried and true methods of the past that will make me stand out. Why not?

An old friend’s mother took up skiing in her sixties. “I looked at everyone else on that slope,” she said, “and I thought, if they can do it – why not me!” Indeed!

You are as as good as anyone else, and you have your own special flare. Why not you or me? If we have the will and the desire, we can make it happen. Dreams give us hope. Hope drives our purpose. Faith in God and in ourselves makes it all possible. Believe!

Today’s painting is from my “With These Hands” series. The young basketball player is hoping her shot will score as her opponents and teammates look on. “With These Hands – Hope” is the title of the painting. If you wish to see others in the series, please link to my online gallery: @

Friday, May 13, 2011

Harmony Happens when Everything is In Sync

Another way to say it: “Ta da” (my painting is finished).

Moody Blues

This painting was a joy in the making. I not only adore this model (I’ve used her before), but she has many sides to her personality and she seems to enjoy showing them off. I was eager to do something different and thought her “moody” pose would allow for experimentation. I hope you enjoy it!

As my title suggests: Harmony happens when everything in a painting and in life are in sync. Too bad this can’t happen every day, but it doesn’t. In a marriage or partnership, one person may be feeling edgy and restless, while the other person is happy and upbeat. If they come together, which they likely will, there is a clash. Sometimes the crashing of symbols may erupt as they vie for space and control. The tempo elevates, the sound increases, and each experiences disharmony.

I’ve had a few paintings like that. Some of the elements may be incongruent with the overall theme. The values may not appear as they should, or the colors may not be in harmony; perhaps intentionally, perhaps not. Painting a picture is not as simple as I once thought. The more I learn, the more complicated it becomes. I have a great respect for those who have paid their dues in the hard knocks of education, practice, and learning.

Life is like that. I’ve told my friends that everything I’ve learned in life, I’ve learned by the seat of my pants. I’m a self educated writer and artist who spent hours slugging through books in the Public Library to gain knowledge reading every magazine and publication in my field. I’ve had many personal problems to overcome. What I lack in skill and talent, I make up for in determination. If that makes me stubborn (I prefer tenacious), so be it.

The point of all of this? Make peace with yourself. You are what you are! Make the most of it. Don’t wait for the perfect time, opportunity, or place to live your life fully. If you do, the chances to grow and succeed may be lost. You can have the life you want. You just have to reach out and grab the brass ring. Go for it!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Patterns of our Lives

Designers and artists are constantly looking for new patterns, shapes, and textures. Some search for patterns already created in hopes of adding a new twist or variation. The local fabric store is one place to look for these designs. Fabrics and textiles are replete with dizzying dots, chunky checks, and sizzling swirls. An artist friend of mine creates beautiful paintings based on these designs or the ideas they produce.

Others look to nature for inspiration. Studying the patterns and variations in nature is vital, especially for painters of realism. Every plant, every tree has a specific design, color and texture. Insects, fish and animal life have stunning differences; their markings, shapes, and colors provide a wide array of patterns and designs. The bark of a southern pine, for instance, is red and rough. The bark of a gumbo limbo is smooth. Leaves vary in size, shape, and color. Nature can povide an endless supply of inspiration for an observant artist.

Even the patterns in our own lives can be a source of inspiration: the everyday traditions that link the past with the present; the habits that form patterns of routine; the way we communicate with each other or show affection; the interactions with others; our sacred and ceremonial celebrations. All of these form patterns that not only make wonderful memories, but may form the basis of a beautiful painting.

Study and observation can arouse your senses and open up a whole new world of possibilities. Notice the differences in grains of wood from one type to another: maple vs. walnut, cherry vs. oak. Try to identify different species of butterlies and moths. Experiment with trying to mimic their color and design. Count the number of petals in a flower, a daisy, a hibiscus, a lily, etc. Study each stamens size and shape and the patterns at the center. Be observant!

If you’re a portrait artist, watch what happens when someone smiles. Where are the crinkles, the dimples, the creases around the eyes and nose? See how different everyone’s ears are, but yet similar in structure. Notice how emotion changes the lines of a face. See how light and shadow can play up these emotions or make someone appear serious.

Capture those observed patterns on canvas in your own unique way and each painting will tell a story. The secret is to pull the viewer in with a “why?” a “what if?” an “I wonder?” or a “wow.”

Friday, May 6, 2011

Painting the Blues – “Moody Blues” that is

The model for my “work in progress” has a delightful personality and more moods than “Carter has pills.” (Boy does that date me!) I’ve used her before, and hope that her mother, and grandmother, will allow me to paint this wonderful child again.

When I saw this photo of her, I knew I wanted to capture her moody countenance on canvas. Cool colors like blue, purple, and gray may capture this mood. And contrasting warm colors, especially complementary colors, will heighten tension and interest.

In this blog are the original photo, the drawing, the first layer of paint on the figure, and some complementary background colors. I will share the completed painting next week after details are finished.

                 (Drawing in blue)
As we all know, if you wait until you’re in the mood to start something, you probably won’t. If your performance depends on mood alone, then your skill and preparation mean nothing.

Discipline requires an artist or any professional to keep going regardless of how you feel.

Performance requires self-confidence and faith in yourself. If you make yourself “go through the motions,” even when you don’t feel like it, your “e-motions” will soon catch up. It’s hard to maintain a negative mood when your body is moving, and your blood is flowing.

(First layer of paint)

When life gets rough (and it usually does), I simply put one foot in front of the other and keep going until the chaos, the trauma, the problem or mood passes. The familiarity of the brush, the sweep of colorful paint on canvas pulls me from my slump and into the world of imagination.

(Warm colors in background)
(Awaiting final layers/details)

Trust in yourself and in your God or higher power. Trust builds strength. Strength overcomes weakness. The present weight that darkens your spirit will fade like clouds on a summer day. The sunshine in your soul will shine again.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Imagination, Vision, Concept, Development

 I admit. I’m strange. When I see sandcranes foraging in the grass, heads bent, knees bending as they walk, tail feathers bobbing, I hear Indian tom toms and Navajo chants. That’s imagination!

In my miind, I take that image and imagine what it would look llike on canvas: colorful darks, browns, oranges and reds in the background, sandcranes foraging as a group with a pair nearby fluttering their wings and jumping in a mating dance. That’s vision (visualization).

But how to incorporate the Native American theme? I need more than color to establish a relationship. I do an internet search with the tags: "sandcrane, legends." Bingo! I find some interesting symbols and designs. Cranes are connected with water and the end of growing season. Water is symbolized with spirals and denotes cycles of life, renewal and springtime. I sketch some rough drawings and experiment on drawing paper: That is concept.

Development is the process of putting these components together on canvas. First a few sketches and preliminaries.

Some photographs for accuracy in form like the cranes above and the Native Americans below (aren't they wonderful!).

Then on to solidify my composition. I will take you through these steps over the next few weeks in their initial stages and on to the final painting.

I’m taking a risk. At this point, I’m not even certain I can turn my vision into reality. But hey, I’m a sucker for a good challenge. I’m willing to risk humiliation for the chance to see if I can turn my concept into something beautiful.

Next blog I’ll share with you the beginnings of another painting that we can follow together. I hope you’ll be back!