Saturday, June 30, 2012

Networking Plus Collaboration Equals Recognition

(Front Cover)

My oldest daughter, Pamela Torres, has written a middle-grade book. When she asked me to illustrate it, I was thrilled. Since she has given a sneak preview on her blog of the cover, I wanted to provide a link where you can view her description of the book:

(Back Cover)

Pam also writes book reviews for middle-grade authors, and has a following of writers, authors and publishers. Please follow the progress of her book on her blog and the links she provides.

Collaboration adds another network of viewers and is a wonderful way to gain recognition and make connections. I have recently been asked for permission to use my painting: “With These Hands – Wonder” on the cover of “Natural Awakenings Magazine” in August. I’ll keep you posted on this opportunity.

"With These Hands--Wonder" 16x20 oil on canvas

In September, I’ll be one of the artists featured at Art for Acts Gallery in downtown Fort Myers. Part of the money from any sales goes to help abused women in the area by providing a safe harbor for wives, mothers and children. I’m proud to be a member of this Gallery.

I joined the “Pan American Alliance for Art, Culture, and Industry, Inc.”, and automatically became a member of the Art Council of Southwest Florida and connected with its associated members. This has opened doorways for shows, features, and juried contests. The greatest benefit is exposure to the community and networking opportunities with other artists.

Don’t be afraid to “put yourself out there.” After the first time jitters wear off, the excitement of participation and sales will boost your confidence. Instead of thinking “I’m not sure if I’m good enough,” say: “I think I can; I know I can” like “The Little Engine that could!”

You are capable of fulfilling your dreams. One step at a time, take each opportunity as it comes and prove to yourself that you’re competent, dependable, and capable. Like any good salesman, a person in the business of selling himself and his products or services soon learns that the word “no” isn’t so bad, after all. If that’s the worst thing that can happen to you, be mature enough to take it.

"Broken" 9x12 mixed media -- SOLD at a neighborhood Art Walk

Getting beyond “no” and realizing that you’re strong and capable is half the battle. From there, things can only get better! 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Don’t Promise What You Cannot Deliver

If you’re in business, and art is a business, you must stand by your product, your word, and your promise.

A neighbor was interested in having a dog portrait done of her Schnauzer. Some years ago, she had sent a photo of her dog and the cost for a 9x12 painting to a T.V. artist. His prices were right, the timing was right, but the artist was clearly immature and unprofessional.

She waited, and waited. When she did not hear back, she called the station. Turns out, the artist had received so many orders, he felt overwhelmed. Rather than focusing on getting the job done, he chose to take the money and run. What could have been a profitable and successful endeavor, turned out to be a failure and a loss for everyone.

The artist became a criminal because he cheated his customers and failed to return their money. Building a profitable business requires integrity, follow through, and honesty with your customers. Giving back more than you give is sometimes necessary

.My husband recently transferred a family heirloom to his oldest son, who carries his name as a Jr. A wood carving done in the 1800’s by his great great Norwegian grandfather was passed on from father to son, father to son, and now to my husband’s son. The wood carving is titled “David’s Anointing.”

The family has a history of serving in the ministry. Wherever they have lived, they have enriched the community by starting churches, ministering to the poor and needy, passing out Gideon Bibles, and serving in community outreach programs. This carving illustrates a rich heritage of faith.

When my husband received the carving from his father, he promised it to his oldest son when his children were grown. A bout with cancer gave my husband a sense of urgency in keeping this promise. The carving will be passed on to a grandson by the same name when he is older

What a rich family history and treasure this great great grandfather has provided for his family.

Promises are important. When we accept a commission or a project, we should seek to fulfill it. Customer satisfaction should be uppermost in our minds. We should go beyond what is expected and offer our customers some additional incentives for buying from us; free cards, a copy of preliminary sketches of the painting, or other gifts of appreciation.

There are enough scammers in the world and plenty of illegitimate businesses. Don’t be one of them!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

When Opportunity Knocks, Don’t Let it Knock You!

"Kayla" wrapped in the Stars & Stripes

We recently drove through what other people had described as a “bad neighborhood.” According to them, crime had skyrocketed in “that part of town,” and it wasn’t a place you wanted to stay for long. Since we couldn’t avoid it in order to get to our destination, we forged ahead.

What makes one neighborhood welcoming and pleasing and another one not? Why did people here look for opportunities to commit acts of violence and lawlessness while other communities worked together to improve their lot?

In one community, people preyed on one another and looked for victims they could overpower or subdue. In the other, people found ways to work together to make everyone’s life better. By all outward appearance, I could not tell the difference between them. The houses were similar, the lawns were green; older neighborhoods can be deceiving.

"Welcoming a Newborn"

It reminded me of long ago when I sold Avon products. All the houses were similar. All the doors I knocked on were in essentially good neighborhoods. When the doors were opened, it was another story.

The interiors of many homes were almost empty. People were literally sleeping on the floor. They had scraped money together to buy a house, but they could barely afford to keep it. Some people were rude and indifferent, others polite and welcoming. I hated lifting my hand to ring a bell or knock on a door. I never knew if I’d be greeted by an angry face, a snarling dog, or a slammed door.

Thank goodness we don’t have to go door to door today. The world has become far too dangerous and unpredictable. Why, I wonder? Is poverty too simple an answer? Does ethnic diversity put people at odds with their neighbors or does it encourage cooperation? Does lack of character and integrity influence people’s behavior more than believed?

"Happy Birthday, Quinn" (one year old!)

We all have choices. One person works to improve his or her lot in life, and another seeks to get as much as he can without regard for the overall good. A freelance writer and friend chose to work under her hair dryer so her young children wouldn’t disturb her concentration. I chose to be available for my children and allowed frequent interruptions or I worked into the night.

When the children’s market went from fantasy to realism, I was like a fish out of water. The sleaze market became hot and romance novels were on the cutting edge. I stuck it out in education and because of it, also became an artist. I made less money, but I stuck by my principles.

Pastor Joe Stowell wrote: “I discovered early in my ministry that my children were not impressed with the books I wrote, titles I had, or places I spoke. They craved my time and attention, the provision for basic needs, a love that patiently forgave, and the creation of a safe place for them to grow and mature.”

"Does this hat make me look fat?" (Zoe, 1 yr.)

We all look to others when our neighborhoods are bad, when our schools fail to teach our children, and when our government runs rampant with corruption and crime. We must ask ourselves: What did I contribute to the current problem or situation? 

Have I done all that I could do to change the present and the future? Have I believed everything I’ve been told or did I do my own homework and get the facts? Am I capable of making wise choices or have I allowed my moral compass to slip and my integrity to bend with popular opinion? Am I indifferent?

Are we providing a spiritual foundation for our children to anchor their lives to or are we letting them swim in the polluted waters of self-gratification and an attitude that if it feels good or looks good, it must be all right.

"Emma's 94th Birthday"

Character is formed through the choices we make. Like those empty houses and the doors I knocked on as an Avon representative, our bodies become like empty shells devoid of conscience and discernment . Our nation, our world needs people willing to stand up for truth and goodness. The time is now.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Facing the Wind in Times of Trouble

"Sand Crane Dreams" (Some cranes think they are Indians)

I visited my daughter in Texas recently. Her husband is stationed at Fort Hood and is now in Afghanistan. I had visited them before; but on this trip, I focused my artist’s eye on the lookout for possible paintings.

The Lone Star State is all they say it is: “Big!” You can drive for hundreds of miles; thousands, and still be in Texas. My son-in-law’s jeep has a silver star on each hub cap. He’s a Texas boy, born and bred, but with Irish heritage. He’s the only blue-eyed, red haired Irishman I know with a Texas drawl.

There’s so much history in Texas. I wanted to stop and snap photos of antiquated windmills, dilapidated barns, museums, oil pumps, bayous, bogs, cowboys, cattle ranches and the “piney woods,” but we had a timetable. Our radio station blared cowboy music 24/7. My favorite refrain: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

A story in the “Daily Word” last month talked about the old Texas windmills; how in order to pump water, they had “to face into the wind.” This is a lesson many people have yet to learn. When problems come, they run away; either literally or by escape losing themselves to drugs, sex, or food addictions.

"Americana" (part of America's past)

If we could face the wind like these stalwart prairie soldiers do when troubles come, we’d all be better off. If we met our problems head on instead of running away, or drowning them in more sorrow and pain, we would endure. Of course, a little faith in a higher power never hurts.

Some of these windmills have been standing for hundreds of years. They have weathered tornadoes, droughts, blistering sun and abuse, yet still they stand.

A motel where we stayed in Oklahoma had a storm with straight line winds that put the fear of death in our bellies. The whistling of the windows sounded like the proverbial oncoming train, and we covered our heads and prayed. The next day as the storms moved northeast, the sky was filled with rolling clouds and spectacular form and color. The highway didn’t allow for camera stops, and I hoped my brain could remember the sights I witnessed.

At one point, I remember thinking “horses of the apocalypse.” Surrounded by a ring of swirling and fantastic clouds, my imagination could see horses rearing on their back hooves, and others standing their ground. Oh, how I longed to stop and take out my camera!

The Chickasaw Indians and the Shawnees have casinos in the area. I thought of their ancestors circling the white men and soldiers on horseback from the rims of the surrounding red cliffs. An abstract painting began to form composed of cloud patterns, Indian motifs, feathers from their headdresses and from the hawks that awaited their prey.

Titles swirled in my head: “Sky Lights” or “Prairie Skies.” I created not on canvas but in my head. Scenes flew before my eyes. Whether they will stay in memory long enough for me to capture them on paper is another matter.

Getting out of our own environment once in awhile can jar us from our complacency. It can open up new worlds of inspiration. Whether I actually capture and paint these memories or use my notes is inconsequential. I will never be the same again!

Monday, June 11, 2012

How you work tells a lot about your personality

"Window on Pine Island" 16x20 on wrapped canvas

I took a portrait painting class in oils. The technique was classic. Using a live model, we first coated the canvas with a film of oil and burnt umber. Then we proceeded to wipe out form and light.

Before I knew it, I had “wiped out” a head, a body, arms, and the light areas on the model’s skirt. It was a marvelous experience except for one thing. The teacher used her own method for getting inspired and to ramp up her energy.

"Wipe Out" of model

I don’t know about the other students, but I found it difficult to focus on this new and difficult experience. The teacher’s loud, blaring music distracted me and made it hard to concentrate. What I learned that day is that one person’s method of working is another one’s madness.

On day two, another problem occurred. We came back to finish our portraits, but other people had used the same classroom, and our easel’s had been moved. Only one student had thoughtfully marked the place and the angle of her easel with blue painter’s tape. The rest of us fought to find and duplicate our same vantage point.

Model on first day                                      Model on second day

The live model was also in a new position and the lighting had changed. As a result, we had to start over wiping out afresh and delaying the process of our work. The only thing that hadn’t changed when we came back was the music. My irritation turned into anger as the music ragged on my already raw nerves. The only thing I had to show for the class was an unfinished painting that never got finished, and a complete distaste for trying the wipe out method again.

We all have our own unique ways of working. Some artists enjoy listening to classical music while they work; others like jazz or soft rock. I turn on talk radio which turns into “white noise” as I lose myself in the painting. For me, classical music which I love is to absorbing and interesting and forces me to listen to it instead of painting.

"Winston" 12x16 oil on canvas

One artist likes to paint in the nude. She finds it freeing, leaving her unencumbered; there are no spotted paint clothes; no need to sweat or have a sleeve mess up a fresh brushstroke. Creative work is tedious and personal. The more you recognize what “turns you on” or what unleashes your wild muse the better.

Choosing the right approach or piece of music that fits the painting adds to its authenticity. Does the painting require a soft touch and a delicate balance? Background music that influences these emotions and feelings could make a difference in the outcome. Does the painting demand looseness and bold energetic brushwork? Listening to a Russian composer may give you the push you need.

Find out what works for you, and once you’ve found it, stick to it; whether it’s listening to the blues, the news, or working in unadorned silence.

"Raccoons at Sunrise" 16x20 acrylic

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Lesson on Portraits, Skin Color, and Mixing Paints

"Vikeholmen Lighthouse" Skudeneshavn, Norway 16x20 Acrylic

I received a call today, from a fellow artist. She was painting from a photo and was concerned because her grandson’s portrait made him “look so old for his age.” I had just read an article from “the Artist’s Magazine,” and felt fully prepared for her questions. A few months ago, I had painted my own grandchildren from photographs and had learned the hard way what works and what doesn’t.

I explained to her that photographs generally appear darker. Laugh lines and creases show up darker making a child or an adult appear older. In sunlight, these same lines would all but disappear.

"Day Dreams" 11x14 oil on canvas

The fix? Use a lighter color to paint lines and shadows. Take the base skin color and lighten it. Try using a light red mixed with medium to lighten it even more. The Artist’s Magazine article suggested painting the areas on either side of the crease or wrinkle instead to decrease the need for detailing.

The fold of skin at the side of the nose and down the cheek is usually highlighted. Against this lighter value, the wrinkle or crease automatically becomes darker without having to paint them in. The skin on the upper lip, next to the smile fold, has a different color and value. When this upper lip color or shadow is painted next to the wrinkle or crease, our minds fill in a line without having to paint in a darker color, or value.

"With These Hands -- Love" 24x18 oil on canvas

These subtleties make the skin look more natural. My favorite skin tones were learned from Richard Kirk at the Bonita Springs Center for the Arts.

Basic Formula (oils):
1 part Cadmium Red
3 parts Raw Sienna (Grumbacher or Gamblin)

The basic formula is only a beginning. It must be mixed with Titanium White to lighten, or mixed with Ultramarine Blue or Burnt Umber for shadow. Different values of the basic formula may be made by adding 3 parts formula to 1 part Titanium White; 1 part formula to 1 part titanium white; 1 part formula to 3 parts titanium white; 1 part formula to 5 parts titanium white.

Darker skin has a somewhat different formula:  3 parts formula to 1 part Burnt Umber; 1 part formula to 1 part Burnt Umber or use straight Burnt Umber.

Another dark skinned formula: 2 parts formula to 1 part Burnt Umber and 1 part Magenta. I discovered richness in the skin tones with this last color. Another reason I like using magenta in shadow is that "overly brown portraits" according to Kirk, may appear dull and lifeless.

Experiment! It is great fun to test how many variations you can achieve with this one basic formula.

Weak tinting strength colors can adjust the formula as needed: Terre Verte, Ultramarine Violet, Permanent Rose, Thalo Red Rose, Indian Yellow or Raw Sienna.

Kirk stressed there are colors to avoid: Naples Yellow, Buff Titanium, Unbleached Titanium or any color that has white in it. What you’re doing is adding more white into the basic formula changing its color. Strong tinting colors should also be avoided.

I have seen many variations on skin tone formulas, but I continue to go back to Kirk’s formula again and again for the glow it gives to skin and by how easy it is to obtain the right value for any given skin color. The mixture that is closest to your model's skin color becomes the "key" color. This formula easily adapts to acrylics.

"Fish Market" 18X24 Acrylic

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Final Details – Key to a Memorable Painting

"Americana" 16x20 mixed media

When I first started painting, I’d get so excited once the drawing and under painting were finished. Even more excited when the first real coat of paint; the sky, the background items filled the canvas. “Why, I’m almost done:” I foolishly replied.

What I’ve learned since is that after the canvas is covered, the “real work” begins. Artwork isn’t a flash in the pan. You don’t slather a few coats of paint on and call it a day. Professionalism appears near the end, at the point when a novice thinks his painting is finished. Most artists will attest: “It’s all in the details.”

The difficult part of any painting is the small and subtle brushwork that makes a canvas zing. It may be added coats of glaze that deepen color or thin films of paint to get smoothness. Chosen wisely, these areas create more depth, more value, and selected highlights. Like the polish on an apple, the final details add sheen and realism.

"Playing Dress Up" 16x20 mixed media

Sometimes artists have clever ways to accomplish some of these tasks. In researching how to paint fish scales, I found that many sculptors of decoy fish actually use wedding veil fabric and spray paint color through it to spot the fish. They use another piece of veil, moving it a fraction, to spray another area with silver or gold. The detailing is incredible.

Other fish painters may independently paint the scales, either dotting or using semi-circles of overlapping paint. An artist can gain knowledge by researching online or through practice, determination, and experimentation. 

Visiting a real fish market is a plus. Better yet, buying a real fish and studying it, painting it makes a remarkable difference. One artist did just that. When the fish she bought started to stink, she’d buy another until she had the effect and detail she wanted in her painting.

"Robin Hood" 16x20 acrylic / barnwood frame

Depending on the desire and style of the artist, the lighter the touch of the brush and the more spontaneous, the fresher and more energetic a painting appears. To achieve both detail and freshness requires forethought and practice.

The first water droplets I painted took me several tries to get them right. Luckily, I was using oil. Each time I made a mistake; I’d swipe off the droplet and start again. I soon learned to use less paint, outline the droplet first, shadow second, and then add the highlights as a final touch.

It is so much fun that the real skill comes in knowing when to stop. If you’re not careful, the whole canvas could be filled with droplets. The kicker is that a few well placed droplets make a stunning statement. Too many, and the painting shouts with noise and the droplets become distraction.

"Sandhill Cranes at Twilight" 24x30 mixed media

It’s the subtle additions that make all the difference: increased contrast to make the center of interest “pop;” a few well placed highlights; color intensity in areas to guide the eye through the painting. At the point when you think you may be finished, it just may be the beginning of a long and thoughtful process that in the end will make your artwork memorable.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Are You a Neat Freak or do You Thrive in Organized Clutter?

"Kelly's Rose" oil on board 12x16

I used to pride myself on being organized. I had to be with six children! I prepared meal plans so I wouldn’t have to think about “what’s for dinner?” A monthly meal plan gave me an edge. Shopping smart and planning ahead kept our meals on time and within budget.

Over time, I did give up on having our home look like “Better Homes and Gardens.” I learned to tolerate a lived in look; cleaning only once a week. I ignored what happened in between because I valued my time, and it was impossible for me to do anything more.

I became an avid list maker. I found that once I put it on a list, I could forget about it. The worry and the guilt were “out of sight and out of mind.” It cleared my head. I looked at my list at the start of each day and checked off my priorities. No worry. No fuss.

"Hibiscus Glory" Oil on 16x20 canvas  SOLD

Of course, there was always the unexpected pushing some items to another day. For the most part, these lists kept me in line. I took classes, I was a free-lance writer, and I was active in my church and community. I have found over the years that too much neatness can kill creativity
I’m not knocking organization. I’m just saying that organized clutter, for me, is the best way to manage stress and to meet deadlines. Take my desk. It’s never clean. There are small piles (organized piles) everywhere. Each one represents a different project. When someone comes to visit, I arrange the piles in orderly fashion, but they stay! Like fingertip files, I know where to look when I need something.

"Jack's Roses" oil on canvas  SOLD

My guest room/art room is the same way. I have organized piles on the bed, in the closet, and behind the door. The difference between the desk and my art room is that everything disappears and is moved to another area for the duration of guests when necessary.

My palette is no different. To another painter, it may seem sloppy and disorganized. But to me, I know exactly what I need and want at any given moment. When I use acrylics, I put out only the paint I think I’ll need for a specific purpose or it dries out. With oils, I’ll put out more paint. I don’t organize my palette as well as some artists do. I place light colors on one side and medium to dark on the other; that's it.

By the time I’m through painting for the day, there is no definition left, anyway.  I mix and match. I take swipes of different colors, mixing on the canvas when appropriate. I have watched other artists paint; their “neatness” is amazing. Their clothing or cover-ups, their arms and faces are clean. During their painting session, they wipe their palette of residue and to separate piles of paint. Neat. Neat. Neat.

"He Lives"  oil on 16x20 wrapped canvas

When I’m through painting, I may have splotches of color on my nose, my arm, and my clothes.  I lose myself in painting. My imagination soars when I’m unfettered by rules and restrictions from the “how to” experts.

Some people may see a big mess, a desk in disarray or an unworkable palette. I see organized clutter ready to be turned into something magnificent and memorable.