Sunday, December 30, 2007

Another Year Gone

"Sunlight and Shadow"
Oil on Panel

Wow - I can't believe it's already the end of 2007! As usual, this year has flown by. The nice thing is that I can say that without feeling bad because it flew by while I was spending my time doing what I wanted to be doing, FINALLY!

Anyhow, I'm a goal person, and last January I posted what turned out to be somewhat ambitious 2007 goals for this first-time mom. Here's how I did:

Art Goals:

1. Expand gallery representation for my landscapes outside of the Denver area. Specifically, obtain representation in at least 3 of the following art markets: Scottsdale, Santa Fe, Jackson, Aspen, Breckenridge.

Um, no.

This was a bit ambitious considering that my main accomplishment for the year was to figure out how to still paint while taking care of a baby. However, I do have representation outside of the Denver area now, so I guess I made the first part of this goal. In addition to showing at Angler Art in Denver, I've got paintings at Elkhorn Art Gallery in Winter Park now. This works out well since they're just up the road from where Nate is building houses - if we end up moving up there in 2008, I'll have a local gallery! I haven't even tried to find representation out of state - that'll have to be a goal for 2008.

2. Double my 2006 revenue from painting sales.

I haven't crunched the numbers yet, but I'm going to say that this didn't happen either. I definitely increased my revenue over 2006, but I know I didn't double it.

3. Enter at least two of the following juried shows: OPA National Exhibition, OPA Central Regional Exhibition, Arts for the Parks, Salon International.

DONE! I entered the OPA National and the Salon International. I got into the OPA show and won an Award of Excellence, which more than made up for the fact that I was rejected by the Salon show!

4. Enter and participate in at least one plein air event.

DONE! I participated in Estes Park Plein Air in August. Overall, I'm a little lukewarm about the experience. I think that if I do a plein air event in the future, it will have to have fewer artists and be in a better art market. I like to paint on location, but I don't think I'll ever be spending my summers participating in one event after another - these events are a lot of effort!

Personal Goals:

1. Get back into shape post-pregnancy - specifically, be fit enough to complete either the Steamboat Springs 1/2 Marathon or 5430 Sprint Triathlon in June.

Ha! Yeah right. Actually, I made some decent progress until I got a nasty IT band injury in July, which made it painful to even hike for the rest of the summer. It's finally better, so I'm starting slowly, AGAIN.

2. Have fun and enjoy being a mom!

DONE! I did have fun this year, and being a mom has been such a blessing. I can't even begin to express how nice it is to finally be living the life I want to lead. It more than makes up for the fact that I barely met any of my goals for the year!

Anyhow, normally I'd be a bit peeved about not meeting so many goals, but this year has been full of new experiences for me, and I had no way to know how I was going to handle everything. Alyson Stanfield always suggests taking stock of one's successes at the end of the year, and I think this year is as good as any to start that habit. In no particular order (and mostly just to remind myself that I made some progress this year) here are my 2007 accomplishments:

  • Had work published in March '07 issue of American Artist
  • In conjunction with the article, participated in group show at the Forbes Galleries in NYC
  • Sold all of my paintings in the show before the opening
  • Had the painting "First Light" accepted into the OPA National show
  • Attended the OPA show which was probably the most useful art event I've ever attended
  • Received the Utrecht Award of Excellence at the OPA show, which effectively paid for my art supplies for the rest of the year (definitely a bonus!)
  • Held my first solo show at Angler Art in Denver
  • Officially quit my engineering job at Washington Group
  • Visited New York City, Houston, Fredericksburg, Aspen, Steamboat Springs, Estes Park, and Telluride
  • Maintained my sanity when we decided that 2007 was the year to quit both of our jobs and move, all while adjusting to being parents for the first time

Overall, it was a good year and I've learned a lot that I'll take with me into 2008. Guess it's time to start thinking of my goals for next year...

Friday, December 21, 2007

'Tis the Season

"Forest Canyon"
Oil on Canvas

'Tis the season to be busy!!

Aspen and I both caught a nasty cold last week, so between taking care of a boogery toddler and taking care of myself, there hasn't been much time for the blog. Luckily, I did manage to finish all of my Christmas shopping, wrap presents, and squeeze in a short trip to the mountains. For the record, Christmas shopping is so much more fun when I don't have a 9-5 office job to keep me tied up during the daylight hours!

I did manage to paint most of the day on Tuesday, and started a couple of larger paintings. I don't enter a lot of juried shows, but the few that I do enter all seem to be at the same time of year, so I'm trying to come up with some good paintings to have for various show entries in January. While I was up at Nate's parents' house in the mountains, I finished up three 6x8" studies for the Pay It Forward thing - hopefully I'll get them packed up and mailed out before the New Year. Nate's currently taking a few days off of his building work, so I'm also taking advantage of having him around and keeping the schedule clear so we can just relax.

Anyhow, I hope you all have a Merry Christmas! This is such a busy time of year for so many people, that I think it's hard for people to slow down and really enjoy the holiday. My favorite moment every Christmas is when they turn the lights down at church and we hold up our candles and sing "Silent Night" - all my worries and plans and goals fall away and I remember what's important, and that's priceless.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Pay It Forward

Oil on Panel

Yesterday was my lucky day! I managed to stumble across Lisa Call's blog right after she posted her Pay It Forward post, and was able to be one of the lucky commenters to receive a piece of artwork from Lisa. In return, I agreed to do the same on my blog. This is one of my favorite things that is circulating around the blogosphere right now, and the rules are as follow:

I will send a handmade gift to the first 3 people who leave a comment on my blog requesting to join this PIF exchange. I don’t know what that gift will be yet and you may not receive it tomorrow or next week, but you will receive it within 365 days, that is my promise! The only thing you have to do in return is pay it forward by making the same promise on your blog.

When you leave your comment, please also do one of two things: leave your post address or e-mail it to me.

So, I promise to send a small painting to the first three who comment here wanting to join in on the fun. In return, you just have to pay it forward!

Thursday, December 13, 2007


I've been enjoying the freedom to do some smaller work the past couple of days. The nice thing about working small is that I can finish an 8x10" or 9x12" study while Aspen takes her afternoon nap, which means I can paint on days when I don't have a babysitter! Also, working on small paintings is more fun and less pressure, since I don't really mind if I have to trash a small panel or scrape an hour's work.

As I was working on a couple of these smaller paintings, I took some progress shots just to prove that I'm not always as analytical and methodical about my painting process as I am when I work large.

This first study is a 10x8" of some aspens in the fall. First step is a rough sketch in thinned paint. This study is mostly about color, so I'm not too concerned with the drawing.

Next I block in the general area of the yellow aspen leaves. This is probably the only time I'll ever paint something other than the sky first! I just did this to make sure my yellow stays nice and clean.

Next, I block in the sky with thinned paint.

Then, the rest of the foreground.

And finally, I go back in with thicker paint and add texture and refine everything.

About an hour and I'm finished. This is just a study to see if it's a subject I might want to do slightly larger, so I won't do any more work on this one. I think it might work better in a slightly taller format so that I can exaggerate the height of the taller tree - maybe a 16x12"?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Large Landscape Demo - DONE (for now...)

Well, I went in and tweaked some things this morning, most noticeably the foreground, which is a bit improved I think. At this point, I've spent way too much time with this painting, and I need a break. So, here's a better image of it - about 98% finished. I'll go back in and do the remaining 2% with fresh eyes in a few weeks.

I wanted to put this painting in the Governor's Art Show in the spring and use the image in the catalog, but I'm not sure it's good enough. I might still keep it for the show (I can have two large and two small paintings in the show), but I just don't know if I want it in the catalog. The painting in the catalog needs to be eye-catching, and I'm so tired of this painting that I'm not sure whether it is or not. Decisions...

Now I'm going to hide this somewhere so I don't have to look at it, and get to work on some small paintings. An 8x10" is going to seem like nothing after slaving away at this thing all week!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Large Landscape Demo - PART INFINITY

Ugh. Are you all as sick of this painting as I am? Because I am just dying to paint something else right now!!!

Oh well, that'll be tomorrow. For now, more progress shots of the neverending landscape painting!

For starters, I finally got around to blocking in the trees and dark accents on the hillside. I was having a hard time judging the composition without those trees there.

Next I work some different colors and values into the trees, paint the grass and bushes on the foreground hillside, and add in the rocks that are out in the lake.

At this point, things aren't quite right. The light on the mountain just isn't "popping" like I'd like it to, and there is no center of interest as a result. Sometimes at this stage, I like to detach myself from the "what" that I'm painting, and just work on the forms and composition - the best way to do this is to turn the painting upside down. I actually can't remember the last time I did this with a landscape, but I used to do it all the time when I was painting portraits. It helps me to stop thinking about what I think things should look like. So here it is upside down.

Looking at it upside down, it's clear that there isn't enough contrast on the middle part of the mountain, and that there isn't quite enough detail on the shaded part of the mountain. Also, the rocks on the hillside below the mountain are too fragmented - they need to be simplified. So, keeping it upside down, I go to work on refining these areas, trying to give the mountains a bit more punch.

Turning it right side up again, I'm happier with the contrast on the mountain and the way things read.

Then again, I'm not loving those rocks out in the middle of the lake. I decide to see what things look like without them, and then I stop for the day.

I'm almost done, but I really don't like the rocks along the top of the foreground hillside - they seem to keep the eye down in the lower part of the painting, and I want the eye to travel up to the mountains. Looks like I might have to do some editing tomorrow.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Large Landscape Demo - PART IV

Well, I didn't get as much done this weekend as I had hoped, but I made a bit of progress so I'm happy. Saturday we decorated the Christmas tree and took Aspen to a Christmas party, so I didn't set foot in the studio. Luckily Nate offered to watch Aspen for a while today so that I could get a bit of painting done.

When I stopped on Friday, I had pretty much finished the mountain and hillside, so I was ready to start on the water today. The first step was to block in the main shape of dark color, so that I could work reflections down into it.

Once I had the main color/value blocked in, I started to go in and add reflections. I probably repainted this section three times before I finally decided to scrape it and start over. At the OPA show this spring, Quang Ho was doing a demo and scraped the entire eye off of the portrait after painting it in - as he scraped it he quipped that you "gotta practice non-attachment," and, "you won't learn and grow if you get attached." At this point, I had been painting for about two hours, so it was hard to scrape what I had done and start over, but that's what had to be done. This picture is right after I had scraped everything. Sorry I didn't take a picture of what it looked like before I scraped - rest assured that it wasn't working!

This time I decided to keep things simple and loose, and just barely indicate reflections where necessary so that the water wouldn't be the center of attention. I got the water to a point that I felt was working, and then went back in and fixed the shoreline, which I had previously painted too light and too prominent.

Looking at the photo above, I think that the ripples across the surface of the top of the lake are a bit too bright, and might need to be toned down a bit. They don't jump out that much in real life, but sometimes the camera points out things that need to be fixed, and I think this is one of them.

Moving on, I started to block in some of the grass and the shape of the rocks on the foreground hillside.

Before finishing for the day, I blocked in a midvalue as a base for the foregound rocks. I've only just started on the grasses, and haven't touched the trees, so things look a bit weird.

I'm hoping to finish this tomorrow. I need to refine the foreground rocks, finish the grass on the hillside, and paint the pine trees and some rocks that are out in the lake. There are also some spots on the mountain and hillside that need correcting once I'm done with everything else, and I'll probably do some work on the water too.

Today was one of those days where I managed a good 4-5 hours in the studio, and feel like the outcome only looks like an hour or so of work. I'm still not 100% happy with the water, but it's salvageable at this point. All in all a sort of frustrating day, but at least I'm set up to move on tomorrow.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Large Landscape Demo - PART III

Yesterday I finished with the middle and left hand side of the mountain, so first up today was to finish up the right hand side of the mountain (the rocky hillside coming down from the upper right). Aspen went down for her morning nap and I spent the next couple of hours struggling with this part of the painting. This particular part of the mountain is more like a big pile of rocks, and the light on it doesn't define much form, so I spent a lot of time going back and forth between the shadows and lights, trying to come up with something acceptable. I finally stopped here - the forms are a bit geometric, but the baby was awake and it was time to drive her over to my mom's house for the afternoon. Besides, it's always nice to take a break and get some fresh air when I'm struggling with something.

I returned from my mom's house and noticed that things were looking a bit dark, so I added a few light accents on the mountain. Once things are dry, I might go back and do a bit more of this, but I don't want to take it too far right now. Sometimes I think a certain part of a painting needs more contrast, but once I've finished all of the other parts, it looks fine. So I'll leave the mountains like this for now.

Next I start to fill in the shadows on the hillside below the mountains. The rocks in this area are small and scattered down the hillside, so I know it's going to be a challenge to simplify. For that reason, I start with a large brush and one value.

Once the shadows are in, it's time to block in the grass and rocks on the hillside. This takes me forever. I always struggle with the bright green color of summer grass above treeline - I get carried away with it and make it too bright. So while I'm painting this section, I probably repaint the grass five times. It's not perfect, but sometimes you gotta pick your battles, and I don't want to battle with it anymore. Besides, at this point I'm having trouble with the rocks!

So, this is the moment that Nate comes home from working in the mountains. He walks into my studio for the first time in days and says, "Cool painting. Have you done the rocks on the left hand side yet?"

Um. YES. But apparently I haven't done them well enough!


Of course, I get all sensitive and tell him to leave if he can't say anything nice about my painting.

Then I work on the rocks for another hour because he's right. Poor guy - must be a pain to be married to a painter.

Anyhow, so here's where I ended up for the day after all that. The photo here is making it painfully obvious that the hillside rocks still aren't quite right - the color temperature of the highlights is too warm, and the shoreline is too uniform now. Gotta fix that tomorrow.

Since the pictures I've posted so far aren't too fabulous, and it's tough to see the brushstrokes, here are a couple of closeups.

I try to make sure that the abstract shapes and colors work in each area. When I paint large, I step back a lot to make sure that everything reads well from a viewing distance of about 10 feet. But even when things read well from far away, they also need to be interesting up close.

Last, here's a picture of my setup (ignore the painting - I took this right after I had blocked in the darks on the hillside, and it looks bizarre). I always paint standing up. When I was pregnant, I had to sit to paint the last few months and it drove me nuts (I even think it made my paintings worse). So, the stool is just there to keep me from getting too close to the canvas. Prevents noodling and keeps things loose. Scott Christensen and a lot of artists with fancy studio furniture put their taboret directly in front of their easels, but I use a huge workbench so that's not possible. The stool works though!

Anyhow, I think I've only got a couple days work left on this one. Hopefully I can get some more work done on it this weekend (no rest for the self-employed!).

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Large Landscape Demo - PART II

So, when I stopped for the day yesterday, I was about a third of the way done with my acrylic underpainting and ready to continue on. First step today was to block in the dark accents on the rocky hillside and shoreline.

Continuing down the canvas, I block in the grass on the hillside and the surface of the lake. At this point I'm still keeping things simple. I use two values/colors for the grass, and block in the water as two large shapes without worrying about reflections.

Last, I indicate the foreground rocks, trees, and grass to finish the underpainting. This is offficially what I refer to as "the ugly stage" of my painting - the colors are a bit too bright and nothing is too refined. It's just enough for me to see where I need to go with the oils.

At this point, I had to take a break to go to the store and buy some Viva paper towels. I ran out, and the cheap kitchen paper towels just won't do for painting - I HAVE to use Viva in the studio. Actually, I really wish someone would invent a recycled paper towel that works as well as Viva - then I wouldn't have to feel so guilty about the volume of paper towels I throw away each week. Seriously.

Anyhow, now that the underpainting is done, I get to move on to the real fun! Here's my messy palette - this is about as clean as it gets. Also note my brushes that have been carelessly left in a can of mineral spirits - typical. I've been using Utrecht artist grade paints recently, and I love them. From left to right, the colors I have out are titanium white, cad yellow light, cad yellow lemon, cad orange, alizarin crimson, quinacridone red, burnt sienna, ultramarine blue, a teensy tiny dot of pthalo green, and a big blob of Weber res-n-gel. I only put out a tiny dot of the pthalo green becuase I only use it when I'm painting skies. I stay far away from it when painting grass or anything green - it's way too obnoxious. The res-n-gel is an addiction of mine - it turns paint into butter. Actually, I don't use too much of it, but I like to mix it with sitffer colors to make them flow better.

So, on to the oil painting. I start with the sky as usual, and work downward. In the picture below, I've painted in the sky, and started to block in the shadows on the mountain in the middle. At this point, I'm concerned mostly with shapes. I'm using a number 9 bristle flat and working to keep things simple (as usual).

Next, I start to refine the shadows a little bit, adding in darker accents and a bit more color (sorry - these pictures aren't really good enough to show what's going on).

The next step is to fill in some of the lighter shapes on the mountain. In the picture below, I've inadvertently covered up some of the shadows, and have yet to refine the lighter areas.

Now I work back and forth at the edge of the major shapes, making them work to define the form of the mountain, and refine the color and light.

I follow the same steps as I continue downward, painting in the shadowed ridge that comes down from the upper left corner. You can see here that I'm completely covering the underpainting as I go. It may seem like an unnecessary step, but having it there provides me with a framework to build on as I refine my colors and values.

So this is where I stopped today, after about an hour's work finishing the underpainting, and 4-5 hours spent working on the sky and mountain. Unfortunately, the more oil I put on the canvas, the more glare there is in the photos - I apologize that the final picture isn't the best. I'll try to get better pictures as I work tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Large Landscape Demo - PART I

So much for my great idea of doing some smaller painting studies - I have a stack of large canvases ready to go in the studio, and they've been calling my name recently. I just started a 30x40" landscape today, and it's going to take a while, so I figured I'd post it as a detailed demo as I go along. I apologize in advance for the bad quality photos - the light in my studio isn't optimal for photographing paintings, and I was too lazy to square them all up in photoshop.

Anyhow, the first step in doing a large painting? Finding inspiration, of course! The subject of this painting is Lake Isabelle, which is in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area near Boulder, Colorado. This is a popular Boulder area hike because it's short (2 miles one way) and beautiful, so the trail is always packed with hikers. Nate and I hiked up with Aspen back in August. Nate's back was hurting so I carried Aspen in her backpack the whole way - it was a good workout!

I'm working directly from a photo reference for this painting - I've spent a lot of time hiking in this area, so my memory serves me pretty well for the color and feel of the place.

The first step is getting the drawing down on canvas. I usually draw directly onto the canvas with thinned paint, blocking in the major shapes and refining from there; however, since this is a large painting and a popular scene, I wanted to get the drawing just right. I have a hard time eyeballing a drawing on a canvas this large, so I sketched in a grid and transferred the main shapes on to the canvas in charcoal. As I paint, I'll move things around a bit to improve the composition, but I want to make sure I have the mountains drawn correctly to begin with. I'm not normally this anal with my initial drawing, but when I work large I like to make sure things are correct right from the start - a stupid mistake in the beginning can result in trashing an expensive canvas, not to mention wasting days of precious painting time.

Once I've finished the drawing, I start in on the underpainting. When I paint larger paintings in the studio, I do a full underpainting in thinned paint prior to finishing the piece with thick oil paint. The initial underpainting allows me to put down the major shapes and colors quickly so that I can judge how the composition and color is working as I go along. It also serves to cover the white canvas - even when I paint plein air, I do a quick block in of the major shapes in thin paint, just to cover the canvas.

I normally do my underpainting in oil paint thinned with mineral spirits, but I'm using acrylics for this one because I'm in a hurry to get in done and I want the underpainting to dry by tomorrow. I also used acrylics to do my underpaintings when I was pregnant and didn't have solvents in the studio, but that's another story. Anyhow, I use super cheap acrylics, and an even cheaper palette. They get covered up in the end, so I'm not too concerned about the quality of the pigments. Here I'm using white, cad yellow hue, cad orange hue, ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, alizarin, and some sort of obnoxious green. These paints are really bright - I do a lot of mixing of compliments to grey things down.

I start by painting in the sky. I don't know why, but I ALWAYS paint the sky first in every painting I do. Honestly, if someone made me start by painting some other part of the painting, I'm sure I would have a nervous breakdown on the spot. I'm a little bit obsessive about using the sky to judge everything else in the painting (color temperatures, etc.).

Once the sky is in, I start to block in the shadow shapes on the mountains.

I try to keep things simple, and I don't bother with variations in color temperature at this point. I only mix up a new color/value when I move to a different plane in the picture (in the case below, the mountains that are closer to the viewer).

The shadows really define the form of the mountains. Once they're done, I go in with a mid-tone to fill in the lighter shapes in the part of the mountain that is in the shade.

Next up is filling in the lighter shapes on the main part of the mountain that is in the sunlight.

Last, I fill in the lighter shapes on the sunlit hillside to the right, keeping things fairly loose and making sure the paint is thin and leaves no texture. At this point, the basic form of the mountain is blocked in, and I can see where I'm going to need to adjust my color temperature and value. For instance, the shadowed part of the mountain is a bit dark, the sunlit planes aren't bright enough, and the right hand side of the mountain needs work to define the rock forms.

And that's where I stopped for today. This is only about an hour's worth of painting, but I had finished another painting prior to starting in on this one, and I was getting tired. I've learned that once I start to get tired, it's time to put the paint brush down and take a rest. When I'm tired, I make bad decisions, and bad decisions just result in rework.

Nate's mom is watching Aspen tomorrow, so I'm planning to finish this underpainting and start in on the fun part - thick, buttery oil paint!