Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Two Minute Sketches Push you to the Brink

If you want to become adept at drawing people or doing portraits, “quick studies” offer a way to focus on what’s important. 
If you’ve never done it, now is the time to start!

Beginning with gesture and motion, focusing on the way a person’s body leans and moves is critical if you want your images to look vibrant and alive rather than just plastic replicas of stick people or flat uninteresting copies. Gesture is what makes each image unique. Exaggerating those gestures makes for a more interesting pose.

Once gesture and movement are identified, then form comes easily. The form makes the figure three-dimensional. Here the weight of the image and the likeness are developed. Completing your gesture sketches with more fully developed drawings of form gives you a foundation on which to build a likeness and imaginative scenes with complex characters.

Practice makes perfect. Some of my sketches are out of proportion. As I become better, the proportions should become more natural. Sometimes I have to slow my drawing hand down to the same level as my brain. I’m hoping my brain will soon catch up to my hand.

C-CURVE (backwards)

S-CURVE Gesture
Portrait studies can be done in the same way. These quick studies force you to see shapes and values before getting into the details. Unless the foundation is solid, the details will still look flat or cubist. If that’s what you want, great! But if likeness and a portrait is your goal, your details need to be placed on accurate solid forms.

Notice the slant of the shoulders
My favorite online teacher is Stan Prokopenko or “Proko.” Here is one of his videos. Practice along with Stan and check out his other videos. If you’re new to portraits or the figure, you need all the help you can get!

TIPS: Use soft vine charcoal for smooth lines. Make certain you have extra sharpened sticks nearby (they dull quickly). Also use inexpensive drawing paper. The perfect size is 9x12. If you use a larger size as I did below, and try to cram more drawings in on one page, your proportions will end up way off and you'll run out of space to draw.

Online Contest Winner -- First Place for "Hearts Afire"

Online Contest Winner Second Place -- Title: "A Joyful Heart"
Pastel 9x12 on Bristol

Saturday, July 27, 2013

What’s your Trade-Off – Tropical Weather or Rain and Snow?

I’ve lived in Florida for almost 10 years and this is the hottest muggiest summer I remember. I’m told it’s not by my husband, who says from his air conditioned chair that they’re all hot! Maybe he’s right.

I spent my day battling traffic to and from the Southwest Florida Cooperative Gallery at Coconut Point. My volunteer day fell on a sweltering Saturday in July. On my lunch break, I did some much needed shopping and became wilted and wet in my travels on foot from store to store.

I am also light sensitive and the sunshine, and the bright gallery lights required two Maxalt pills to get me through the day. In spite of that, I love being at the gallery. I enjoy talking to other artists, and I like being surrounded by high-caliber artwork. I’m honored to have three of my paintings hanging with the best of them.

I hope you enjoy a sampling of the paintings and the 3-D artwork on display. Although not one sale was made, we had about 60 people come through to browse and appreciate our spectacular gallery. About one-third of the visitors were artists new to the area who want to be part of the art scene in Southwest Florida.

Sales are slow in the heat of summer. Even the Farmer’s Market, the Nurseries and side-walk vendors have closed up shop. Our hot summers are the trade-off to our delightful winters. In summer, Floridians spend quiet times at the beach and enjoy their pools for cooling off. We read books in the summer the way Northerners do in winter.

I spent two winters in Seattle a few years ago. Instead of snow they had pouring rain and gray skies for months on end. But their six months of summer were moderate and delightful. Wherever you live there are trade-offs. Choose the one you are most comfortable with and your life will move forward on a pleasant and even keel.

Today at the gallery, two artists worked on their projects which attracted many onlookers. One was gluing mango twigs to prepainted canvases for a natural frame, and the other was using cane strands to create beautiful wood ware vases. The cane was placed over a glass or pottery vase that made them both functional and beautiful.

The gallery serves as a museum of sorts for many people who love to come in and just soak up the culture. Parents love to expose their children to art and are especially pleased when there are demonstrating artists. Ya’all come down and see us sometime. You’ll be glad you did!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Gifts that Keep on Giving

During a difficult period in my life, my friend Alice gave me a prayer plant. “It will remind you of where your strength comes from,” she said. Sure enough, every evening as the sun went down, the prayer plant extended its leaves upward. I was reminded to turn to God more often, and I also remembered my friend.

When a move across country forced me to leave the plant behind, I photographed it. Sometime later, I created an oil painting of the plant sitting beside a garden glove and a trowel. The painting still hangs in my kitchen. Whenever I look at it, I remember my friend and her reminder to reach up in times of need. Her priceless gift of love was simple and inexpensive, but never forgotten.

(A new prayer plant to replace the first)

With the approach of school in August, my thoughts turn once again to the gift-giving season. If you’re like me, you worry about money, and how you’re going to afford gifts? Expectations are high and everyone from the postman, your child’s teacher, your co-workers, your friends and neighbors end up on your shopping list.

(Christmas Cactus, started from one small leaf.)
One low-budget year, I gave my friends and co-workers a small Christmas cactus. The plants were only $1.50 each; some even had blooms. A couple women accepted their plant reluctantly, complaining that they didn’t have any luck with plants; the rest accepted their gift graciously and seemed to be pleased.

Over the next few years, I was surprised by their reactions. Each time I saw one of these women in a social or work setting, she always gave me an update on the status of her plant. When I visited in their homes, I was shown how well their plants were doing. Some struggled to keep their plants growing just for me. Eventually most if not all of the plants bloomed. As the women cared for their plants, they remembered my gift. The perky green cactus became a symbol of our friendship, and a gift of love that kept on giving.

(A lovely Fuschia plant growing outdoors)
But you need to plan early! A plant needs several weeks to “start” (or you can buy starts at your favorite nursery). The same year that I gave the cactus plants away, I purchased one for myself. That plant is now three feet in diameter, and bloomed three times this past year. Plus I started another plant from this one, and the restart is almost as big as its mother. I couldn't help but think of all the women I had given a cactus to over the years, and I hoped their plants had brought them as much joy as mine have brought me.

A Christmas cactus is an easy plant to start. Break off a leaf, soak it in water until small white roots appear and plant it in potting soil. Now is the time to begin your gifts of love. Who knows, you could save some money, and you’re sure to be remembered for a lifetime.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Greatest Painting of your Life is Waiting

"Antelope Island -- Buffalo"  West of the Great Salt Lake
An artist suggested that all paintings begin as puzzles. You have an idea of what you want to do on canvas, but once you start to fill in the shapes and the shadows, the painting takes on a life of its own. The shapes sometimes change, new colors are added, the canvas, the puzzle, is not resolved until the final brush stroke.

I, on the other hand, must do a little more planning or my paintings may end up as muddy globs. I do think there is magic involved when an artist intuitively follows his or her muse to solve the puzzle and is willing to make gut-inspired changes and additions. As an artist matures and becomes more skilled, this “magic” happens more and more.

Our lives are somewhat like a giant painting. We start out with a blank canvas, and we tentatively explore our options as we go along. Our footsteps leave a trail, a pattern of personality and choices; a splash here, a drop there, a wide sweep of self-gratification, timid accents of color as we test the waters of independence and freedom of choice.

Along the way, dark shadows and jagged lines form regrets and pitfalls. Circles of inspiration and poignant highlights show us the way forward and guide our paths into the higher realms of confidence and success.

The finished painting is waiting for us out there in the ethereal chambers of consciousness. We mix and dab continually, trying to make sense of our composition. Life, indeed, is a puzzle. Knowledge and practice sharpen our focus and reveal the things we truly believe and hope for. The final stroke, when it comes, may be a complete surprise or it may be a fulfillment of everything leading up to this point.

As with life, when a painting is finished we will know it. Every act, every thought, every choice will signify its completion. When there is nothing else to change or add to, we lay down our brush. So it is with life. When we have completed what we were born to do, we will slumber.

Featured Artist Robert Hagen from Australia. The images are blurred for copyright protection. View his YouTube video and then visit his web site. Fantastic!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

In the Looking Glass; Vanity at Its Worst

"hand feeding cat fish" on Bear Lake
Society places far too much value on appearances. The attractive, the gorgeous, the svelte or muscular often become the rich and famous. Add to that beauty, charm, wit, and a smooth-talking tongue, and you have an unbeatable combination. If used for good, all is well; if not, it’s a recipe for deception and destruction. This has been true since the beginning of time.

Vanity, and the downfall thereof, has been the topic of scripture, great literature, Legends and Fairy Tales. Remember when the wicked Queen in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" looks in the mirror and asks: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” 

We know she’s an ugly old hag; but the mirror, knowing that it will be broken if it speaks the truth, tells the ruthless queen that she’s “the fairest one of all” in spite of the evidence against it.

Like the queen’s looking glass, there are individuals who fawn over famous people; even becoming “yes” men and women in order to “share the wealth” and stay in good favor. The sin of vanity is not only a preoccupation with one’s physical appearance, but includes pride, greed, dishonesty, and misuse of power.

Some people lean their ladder of vanity on the tree of fame and fortune, only to find that they’ve chosen the wrong tree. In their struggle to climb the ladder of success, they willingly crush others under their feet as they scramble to the top. Their ego and thirst for money and power leaves the person they once were behind and they forget their core values. It becomes “all about me.”

"Another view of Bear Lake from the Wasatch Mountains"
Like "Alice’s adventures in Wonderland," things are not always as they seem. I read a wonderful book titled: “Bonhoeffer” a history and biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer a Christian Pastor in Germany during the rise and fall of Hitler’s Third Reich.

The book chronicles the power struggle between the Christian Church in Germany and the Furor’s ravenous appetite for a perfect society--an Aryan race. Eventually, there is a split in the Christian Church between those who want to support Hitler at all costs, and those who don’t.

"Park City Utah" (on vacation)
People became obsessed with the progressive vision of Hitler’s Germany. They were concerned with seeking approval and gaining professional recognition and advancement. 

If that meant tweaking the Bible here, and removing a few passages of scripture there, so be it. 

If that meant forcing compliance of the government’s new and improved German Christian Church; it was for the good of Germany. Christ’s gospel was far too restrictive, anyway, and much too lenient in its treatment of miscreants, half-breeds and inferior people who would simply limit Germany’s rise to greatness.

The complexities of Hitler’s march into evil and infamy boils down to this: The people were misled by a tyrant with a silver tongue who was expert at disguising his evil intents through lies and manipulation (a "wolf in sheep's clothing"). By the time they discovered the truth, the laws had turned against them and there was nowhere to turn.

"Street scene in Park City, Utah"
One such appeaser was Martin Niemoller. A man Hitler appointed to run the government’s newly created “German Christian Church.”

Niemoller realized too late what he had done—what they had all done! When he began to oppose Hitler, he was placed in a concentration camp for eight years. Later, he shot himself.

During his imprisonment he penned this:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. And then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Who will speak for you? If Beauty and worth are in the eye of the beholder, how will you be perceived by others? In the same token, How will your artwork be viewed by others? Integrity is living what you believe and acting in accordance with your values. First you must define who you are and what you stand for.

"Winston" my sister's hot Westie!  He's sooooo smart!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Shadow-Ghosting -- A Technique that Helps to Create Flawless Line Drawings

"India Rising -- the Found" mixed media on canvas (50% off)
I like to put people in my paintings. When a canvas or landscape doesn't include people, something is missing in my book.  I find that peoples' expressions and body language not only contribute to a scene but “round out" a painting's story.

The more I paint, the more this holds true for me. I find I’m more engaged in the painting and have more passion for doing it when a few lines and shapes form a character and become real before my eyes.

"Fish Market" 18 x 24 acrylic on canvas
Design also fascinates me, although, I’m not very good at it. I like to incorporate unusual background designs that have a subtle impact on the story I’m trying to create. The secret is to make them compliment the subject or center of interest without dominating it. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail.

A painting should also have magnetism; a component that draws the viewer’s eye into the scene and around the composition. Once, I got so carried away with this principle that I led the viewer right off the canvas and into LaLa Land. I didn’t recognize my mistake until someone pointed it out to me.

"Serena Shines" 9 x 12 Pastel on Bristol
I recently took a class on “letting go.” The purpose was to encourage “loose” brush strokes and to allow your imagination to fly. My imagination flew, all right. Right off the page! There’s something to be said for “control,” and knowing what you want to see on canvas.

Portraits especially require a steady hand and even strokes of brush or pencil. Scratchy, broken lines make a drawing look weak and tentative. Lines that give the appearance that they know where they’re going and where they’ve been, are strong and definitive.

"Does this hat make me look fat?"  11 x 14 pencil on bristol
If you’re not sure if a line is accurate, don’t put it down on paper. Wait until you’re sure the placement is correct. Wave or draw a shadow line over the paper to test the distance and the dimensions without making a mark. If your shadow or “ghost” line seems accurate, place your unbroken line with confidence and freedom.

 Learning a new technique or genre takes time and patience. Making mistakes and recognizing them is just as important as being perfect. Sometimes we get lucky the first time, but continued practice is certain to improve your work over time.

"First Daffodil" 16 x 20 acrylic on canvas

Featured Artist:  Dorina Costras is an artist who seems to have mastered the art of drawing and color. Please enjoy her work and explore her web site at the following link:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Do Definitions Restrict an Artist’s Work or Provide Opportunity?

In a marketplace flooded with artists and a decreasing number of buyers, it’s no surprise that style matters. Affordability often moves decisions, but having a unique flare or approach may make the difference between recognition and sales.

Many artists are using other methods to get noticed. Texture and color are the number one drivers. Jewels and gem stones are being placed on paintings to catch the eye and emphasize a theme. Metalics added to the paint draws the viewer and adds a sheen or glint to the finished painting. Because of this, the fine line between arts and crafts is blurring as more artists’ label their work: “mixed media.” When glitter or pizazz is added to a painting, one wonders which genre the canvas falls under?

"Lucky Lady" 11x14 mixed-media, in red frame (a real playing card & glitter is added)
A recent announcement for a juried show stated: “Medium is open (No crafts please). An artist may question what this means? Interpretation of what makes a canvas or a multi-media board cross over the line into crafts is often a subjective call.

Tattoo art is becoming a legitimate art form as more buyers choose to wear their artwork or use it to make a statement. The artists creating and designing in this genre are finally being recognized for their caliber of artwork. Many of their designs and drawings would make stunning paintings, canvases and wall art.

"Shimmy Shake" mixed media in black frame (glitter is added)
Illustrators and cartoonists are equally skilled. Their work is cutting-edge, exciting and flamboyant. Technology is heightening the impact of digital enhancements that combines with original artwork in a way the Old Masters never envisioned nor imagined.

Adjusting to these changes is every artist’s challenge. We can either get left in the dust or accommodate the fluctuating art scene and rise to the occasion. Today’s artists must adapt and grow to meet the ever changing market.

(Parker Harlowe beside his embellished painting of a ram)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

After the Fireworks, a Night of Culture is just the Ticket

Ira Nason's painting done in Epoxy
Friday night was “Art Walk” in downtown Fort Myers. The rain had been beating down over dinner, but we were able to walk around a bit afterward.

Crowds were sparse, so shopping was a snap. The galleries were more inhabited, but far from their usual bustle of buyers and onlookers. A brave artist sat outside and painted a street scene plein air from under a protective awning.

I purchased a pen for my son’s birthday made from a piece of walnut that was once firewood. I had given his brother a pen made from an old fence post. Conversation pieces, I call them; or is it conservation? Polished wood salvaged by an artist and made into something else is a grand idea, at any rate!

In Arts for ACT, a gallery that uses art to raise funds for abused women and children, a storybook theme decorated the plaster walls: princes and princesses, dungeons and dragons, make-believe characters in fanciful scenes, a splash of glitter and pizazz glistening from paint and collage.

Wine and beverages were on sale for $1.00 encouraging customers to linger as they nursed their drinks. Alcohol on the streets is prohibited. Restaurants were filling up as the rain abated. Outdoor tables allowed drinking outside, but only if you stayed within the bounds of the restaurant of purchase. The tipsy require a tug and a pull from friends to keep them in compliance.

I don’t know if any art was sold, but I do know that the people who participated had a good time. The fact that art can bring people together is a good thing. The Art Council of Southwest Florida, a cooperative Art Gallery, had their opening reception for July on the same night. It is not unusual for several paintings to be sold over a glass of wine.

Night Lights
The Fort Myers Art League on Monroe Street is under repair for improvements and updating. They received another two year contract with the City of Fort Myers, and will be ready to roll by the next Art Walk on August 2nd

Southwest Florida is a thriving art community, not just in the winter time (We call winter “Season.”).  Theater, symphony, concerts, and clubs provide a rich array of culture and fun that draws fine restaurants to the area.

I live here year round and find the hot humid summers are a small price to pay for the freedom from ice, snow and blowing cold that requires shoveling. Our winters are the  coup de grâce of Tropical living and deserve the title: “Paradise.”