Friday, July 28, 2006

I'm Outta Here!

"Flatirons from Chatauqua"
Oil on Canvas

Well, after months of craziness I finally have some time to really relax. On Monday I'll be driving down the Forbes ranch in Southern Colorado to paint and hang out with other artists for over a week (see this post for the backstory). I'm looking forward to having such a big chunk of time devoted to painting without other distractions. The ranch is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so it will be a nice retreat.

I'm a little bit nervous because I lack the credentials of many of the other chosen artists, but I'm looking forward to meeting new people and learning a lot. And since I'll be completely out of touch, I won't have to answer to my day job (yay!).

I'll probably keep a journal while I'm there and post about it when I get back. In the meantime, I'm outta here!!

The painting above is the other that will go to the client who commissioned the Mt. Evans painting that I've been working on recently. He's already seen photos of this one and approved it. Hope he likes the Mt. Evans one too!!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Commission Process - PART II

Well, I spent the last few days trying to finish up the commission that I started to outline in my previous post. This is a painting that has not come easily to me, mainly because there are a number of issues with the subject matter and composition that are dictated by the client. Had I just been told to do a painting of Mt. Evans, I would have painted something completely different that what I have here. I'm okay with that - it's part of the territory of doing commissions - but it makes painting more frustrating than usual.

In my last post, I ended at the underpainting stage (also known as the UGLY stage). At this point, I've just done a quick block-in with acrylics, to give me an idea of how everything will fit together.
As I mentioned before, I could tell looking at the underpainting that the foreground needed to move up a bit and that the shape of the mountain wasn't correct. Items like this are easily fixed when I go in over the underpainting with oils.

My first step was to paint the mountain. This painting is all about the snowcapped peak of Mt. Evans, so I wanted to get the mountain in first and make sure that everything else (values, colors, composition) worked to make the peak stand out. At this point, I have completely painted over the underpainting of the mountain with fairly thick oil paint. Because I use a lot of paint, I work wet into wet and tend to finish each section as I go. I make minor tweaks later, but it's difficult to change anything major once the paint has dried since my brushtrokes are so visible.
At this point, the mountain looks a bit too white. Part of that is due to bad photography (I shot all these under the light in my studio, which isn't as accurate as outdoor light). Part of it is due to the fact that the sky isn't the correct temperature. As a check, I lightly painted over the sky with the correct color to allow me to judge things more accurately.
My preference at this point would be to leave the sky alone, but the client specifically requested clouds, so next I add some clouds. I didn't take progress pictures as I worked on the sky, but I repainted the sky with clouds about five times. I really struggled with finding a pattern of clouds that would direct attention to the mountain peak, rather than compete with it. The following is where I ended up:
Before going to bed, I used some thin paint to sketch in where I wanted to adjust the foreground. Not much to see, but I moved the trees and grassline up about an inch, just to keep the foreground from feeling to cramped.
Of course, I woke up the next morning, took one look at the painting, and decided the clouds had to go (grrr!!!). I didn't like the shapes and felt that they were too distracting. The picture doesn't show this very well, but in real life the clouds were really competing with the mountain for attention.

So - back to the drawing board. I scraped the clouds and worked on the foreground hills and trees, then put in a new sky with more whispy clouds. This was at 11 pm last night, and I was determined to get the painting to an almost finished state, so I slapped some paint on the forground grasses and stream, and called it 95% finished.

Here it is in its current state (fyi - the photograph isn't the best as there is a lot of glare and the foreground looks darker than it is). I can tell looking at this that I need to freshen up the colors in the foreground grasses to make them less dark and muddy looking. There's also a funny line outlining the top of the mountain - not sure if that's just a shadow on a ridge of paint, or actual pigment. I'll have to check it out when I get home. I'm not even going to comment on the sky because I'm so sick of it that I almost refuse to work on it anymore!!
I've really struggled with bringing this painting together, and I can't really see it for what it is quite yet. When I look at it, I see my struggle, and therefore can't judge right now if the painting is really working. It's also tough to do a painting to a client's specifications, and not be able to change things to be the way you'd prefer them. But I thought I might as well post some of the steps that got me to where I am at this point - I'll probably touch this up tonight and send photos to the client for approval.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Coolest Birthday Present Ever

I know I promised my next post would be a followup to what I posted on the commission process the other day, but this is just so much more exciting (not to mention the fact that I haven't made as much progress on the commission as I had planned - oops!).

So, Tuesday was my birthday, and Nate took me out to a fancy restaurant downtown to celebrate. When we were done, he told me we had to stop on the way home and pick up my present. We drove a few blocks and pulled up to someone's garage in an alleyway, and I started to wonder what the heck he got me. We got out and walked in, and there was my NEW EASEL!!!!

I've been needing a new easel for a while now. Nate built mine for me when we were in college, and it's very sturdy and nice, but it doesn't go to full vertical and it isn't big enough to handle a canvas much larger than 24x36". I'd been salivating over the Sorg Easel for about a year now, and apparently Nate picked up on it and decided to be the coolest husband in the world and buy me one.

It just so happens that Nate's Dad works with the wife of the guy who designed these, and he was kind enough to have it shipped to his house and assemble it for us. So we picked it up there and I got custom instructions from the designer himself (who btw, is the nicest man ever).

So, here it is in it's new home in my studio:
I already love it. It's counterweighted, so I can lift and lower big canvases just by pushing with a couple of fingers. No more fiddling with knobs!! And it's big and sturdy and perfect for larger canvases. And I can tilt it to any angle I could possibly want. And it's beautiful - it looks more like a piece of furniture than an easel (well, until I get paint all over it).

My studio is in our unfinished walkout basement, so I currently have about 8.5 feet of ceiling height to work with. When (or if) we finish the basement, I'll probably have to lower the center mast of the easel about 6" to maintain the same range of up and down movement I have now, but even then it should be more than I need.

Here's a wider shot of my studio with the new easel. You can see my old one off to the left - I'll keep it forever just because Nate built it for me (and you can never have too many easels!).
Anyhow, if anyone's looking for a new easel, I'd highly recommend this one. Quality-wise, it's on par with a lot of easels that are in the $2000 price range, and it's a much better deal. I also think it's a lot more functional (I think some of the more expensive, big heavy easels are a pain because of the whole adjustment issue - knobs annoy me). It's even easy to move around on it's casters, and not too bad to transport.

Definitely a cool birthday present. My husband rocks!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Commission Process - PART I

One of the things that has surprised me most this year has been the number of people who have approached me about doing commissioned landscapes. I have information on my website about portrait commissions, but never expected that people would contact me to do landscapes on commission. I guess I just didn’t really think – it does make sense that people might like a particular artist’s style, and want a painting of a certain subject in that style.

Anyhow, I’ve been working (and procrastinating at times) on my first big commission project for a couple of months, and since I’m coming to the end of it, I thought it might be fun to document the process of one of the paintings.

This particular client wanted two paintings done – a 16x20” of the Flatirons (a rock formation in Boulder, CO) and a 24x36” of Mt. Evans (one of the 14,000 ft. peaks that towers over the front range). The painting of the Flatirons was no problem – I had a good reference photo and got to work right away. The painting of Mt. Evans is a completely different story.

Mt. Evans is highly visible from most places in Denver, but it’s nearly impossible to get a good picture of it without buildings or highways filling the foreground. This client wanted a painting of the mountain as seen from Denver, but not as an urban landscape. The best I could do for a reference photo was from a grocery store parking lot up on a hill, and the picture was taken with the 12X zoom of my digital camera.

The result? A reference photo that is definitely not suitable for a 24x36” painting!!

I had an idea of the general composition I wanted to use, and had a sketch approved by the client (below). Now the challenge would be to come up with suitable reference material to allow me to do a large painting.

So, I got creative with Photoshop and started to cut and paste with other foreground and background images. The client wanted a fall scene, with aspens and pine trees, so I put together the following and sent it off for approval.

At this point, the client decided a spring/summer scene with green trees would be a better option. Back to the drawing board!

I went down to the lake by my house and shot some pictures of cottonwoods to use as the foreground, and came up with the following:

This time the client liked the color scheme and concept. We decided to add a small stream in the foreground for interest, add some pine trees, and have more blue sky peeping out between the clouds.

I was finally ready to start, so I started with a loose underpainting in thin acrylic paint on the canvas. This is what I like to refer to as the UGLY stage of my paintings. They all go through it, and my husband is always wondering how I’ll salvage a decent oil painting from the wreckage at this point, but it’s very valuable for me.

Here’s the underpainting for the Mt. Evans commission:

It’s definitely ugly, and the final painting will look much better, but it gives me an idea of how the colors and composition are going to work together. For instance, looking at this, I can see that I want to move the mountain up a smidge so that the foreground isn’t smashed against the bottom of the canvas. I can tell that the tree line needs more interest and that some of the pine trees should be taller to help the eye travel upwards to the snowcapped peak. And the sky is just a mess at this point because I didn’t want to bother getting fancy with clouds. Not to mention that I’ve given Mt. Evans a sharp peak in the middle that it doesn’t really have!

This stage of painting probably takes me anywhere from ½ hour to an hour for a painting this size, and I find it to be very valuable. It allows me to troubleshoot ahead of time, without going to the trouble of doing a separate study.

Now it’s time to lay the oil paint on and let the painting take shape. That will be done over the next few days, so I’ll post my progress as I go and hopefully it will turn out well!!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


"Gore Range Spring"
Oil on Canvas

I just returned home from a fabulous long weekend in Aspen/Snowmass, and I feel like I finally had some time to breathe for the first time in months.

I dropped off a couple of paintings at the gallery on my way out of town on Friday, mainly so that they would have a larger work of mine on display to catch interest during the Cherry Creek Arts Festival. Cherry Creek is a pretty big art event in Denver, and due to location it brings thousands of people through the doors of the gallery during 4th of July weekend. Most aren’t buyers, but some are, and it pays to make an impression. So, I dropped off this larger piece, which I was only about 75% satisfied with. I would have done some further work on it if I had time, but I didn’t have that luxury, so out it went.

One thing that’s frustrating me lately is the fact that I never feel like I have quite enough time to truly finish my paintings. My last three deliveries to the gallery have gone in with wet signatures, typically no more than a week after I finished the paintings. My preference is to finish a painting, then leave it in the corner for a few weeks. When I pull it out after some time has passed, I can see more clearly if there are any areas that need more work. This is when I put on any finishing touches. Unfortunately, I’ve been so swamped the past few months that I’m completely bypassing this step. And although I’m generally satisfied with the paintings that sell, I’m a little bit uneasy that I don’t get to spend any time with them first. I just need some time to get ahead, so that I’m not always delivering paintings on a deadline!

Anyhow, once the paintings were delivered, Nate and I headed up to the mountains and left work behind us for four days. I’ve pretty much been working two full time jobs with my day job and art, and Nate’s been doing the same with his job and being the general contractor for the houses we’re building in Steamboat. We both desperately needed a few days off, so we decided to get away for a few days.

We spent most of the weekend hiking, sleeping, and eating, and I gathered some great reference material for future paintings. I also managed to check out the gallery scene, and see which galleries might be a good fit for my work in the future. Lots of people with lots of money spend time in Aspen, so it’s one of those areas that’s definitely on my list for future representation. Aspen is beautiful this time of year, so it was worth the 3.5 hour drive from home. I’ll probably post more about our trip when I get some of my pictures downloaded – it was great!