Monday, November 30, 2009

Dancing in the Streets

"Dancing in the Streets"
Buenos Aires, Argentina
8" x 10"
Acrylic on canvas

We spent 8 days in Buenos Aires at the end of a trip around Cape Hope by cruise ship in February. While there, we visited San Telmo where we saw people doing wonderful Argentine Tango in the streets. We were inspired to take two private lessons from a professional couple who rented studio time to give them to us. When we returned home, we added Argentine Tango to our weekly ballroom dance lessons.

We learned that the tango got its start in the brothels where the men would dance with each other to pass the time while waiting. The upper class did not embrace the tango until it became popular in France and other European countries, which gave it respectability. The dance is now a very important part the Argentine social scene. A Milonga is the venue where people dance the tango, and we had hoped to go to a Milonga while in Buenos Aires. However, we are definitely Americanos who tend towards an early bedtime, so we never managed to stay up until 2:00 a.m. to attend a Milonga. How do folks get up the next morning and go to work?

I wanted to do a very simple rendering of dancers doing the corte step without a lot of detail. I covered the canvas with an orange mother color and then proceeded to paint the scene with little detail. I finished the buildings by adding some black line using liquid gesso. I have much to learn about working with acrylics. Near the end of the process, I used some gloss medium and I rather liked the smooth coverage I got from doing that. More experimenting is in order.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

"Mother's Table"
14" x 11"

Having grown up in New England and tracing ancestors to the Pilgrims on the Mayflower, I am steeped in Thanksgiving traditions. The day was filled with family and a lovely turkey dinner. When I moved with my young family to California, this was the day that I missed our extended family the very most. Eventually, after fits and starts, we developed our own Thanksgiving traditions in sunny California.

The boys grew up and moved back to my home state of Vermont. My husband passed away 11 years ago and a few years later Bob and his girls came into my life. Time for new traditions. A few years passed and with daughters and sons spread out across the USA, it was time to build new celebrations. For the past half dozen years, Bob and I have gone to the coast to have dinner at a Capitola institution, the Shadowbrook Restaurant. We don't even order turkey dinners, but rather enjoy other specialties offered -- baked brie with jalapeno sauce, creamy artichoke soup, roast beef, and mud pie were my choices this year. Needless to say, we had to walk for a bit before settling back into the car for the drive home over the mountains on a spectacular sunny day.

Tonight I grabbed my watercolors and painted the centerpiece on our dining table. The candle holder that friend Pam gave me one year, a real favorite, and gourds from Spina's Farm Stand two miles down the road are festive at this time of year. After struggling to master other mediums -- pastels and acrylics -- watercolors are home to me. A nice simple still life from a high eye level and my delicious watercolors and brushes made for a lovely few hours as Bob practiced his flute music for the advent season.

Here's to your special Thanksgiving traditions.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Very French

Fruit and Wine
17" x 14"
My apologies to anyone receiving posts that were empty or looked strange. I was having some problems that I believe I have now corrected.

Today I finished this still life in drawing class. Bob had to coach me along, and he even worked on the right persimmon and some of the wine bottle to show me how to achieve the appropriate values, chroma, solidity, and transparency. Difficult but an excellent learning experience. This one reminds me of several wonderful trips to France, where we enjoyed the fresh fuits and French wines.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Experimental Acrylics

" Plymouth Covered Bridge"
New Hampshire
7" x 5" acrylic

"A Rose Is a Rose"
7" x 5" acrylic

" Sunset over Long Lake"
Adirondacks, New York
7" x 5" acrylic

After my two private lessons on acrylic, I wanted to try some different genres with acrylic. Using the paints we had left over after the lessons (they kept well on styrofoam trays in a plastic ziplock bag), I did these three small studies.

The first and third are memories of our cross-USA tandem trip in 2008. We saw the covered bridge just three days before we completed the trip in Portland, Maine. As I am a native New Englander, these old relics are dear to my heart. The Long Lake picture was taken from a boat after we were treated to dinner with an extended family by people we met on the street. One of those great experiences that we will never forget. The roses are done from memory.

In each, I tried to get passages of transparent, translucent, and opaque paint. Some I succeeded in my goal better than others. The roses have a lot of opaque and translucent paint. The bridge piece has quite a bit of transparent and some translucent (far mountain) and opaque (green trees). The lake started with transparent rose washes that show through the translucent and opaque paint.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sunflower Fields at Petit Rousset

"Sunflower Fields at Petit Rousset"
Dordogne region of France
11" x 14"
Welcome to several people who recently became followers of this blog: Benjamin Rowan from Australia, Marie Theron of South Africa, Mary Lou Arnold, and Chris Casey from Tasmania. What an international group of artists!

Today was my second and final private lesson on acrylics with Joyce Barron Leopardo. I learned about using acrylics as watermedia. I had watched Stephen Quiller's DVD on the same subject, loaned to me by Joyce last week, so I had an idea of what can be done with acrylics. Joyce selected a subject dear to our hearts, our 2007 trip to France with master artist Mike Bailey. We stayed at a beautiful old farm house used for educational vacations. We lucked out with weather -- we got the only two good weeks that summer in France, and the sunflowers were in full bloom behind the house. We could see a farm across the sunflowers and the rolling hills of the Dordogne region.

Joyce had already done our sketches to save us time, as I was there to learn acrylics, not sketching. We painted together. She limited our palette to a triad, a frequently used Quiller method, and I selected Azo yellow, cobalt blue, and cadmium red medium. However, I ended up also using just a bit of a deeper yellow that Joyce was using. We wanted to suggest the warm haze over the countryside. We developed the painting by first laying in color on the barn and then glazing the paper with an underpainting of yellow. Everytime we added a layer of paint and allowed the mingling that we wanted, we would use a hairdryer to completely dry the surface. The major difference between acrylics and watercolor at this point was the fact that acylics, once dry, don't lift, so it's easy to glaze over the underlayers. One has to remember that they dry very quickly so you must work fast.

We wanted the sunflowers on the left to predominate, so those I painted more distinctly. The remainder are very subtley suggested. At one point, we glazed some yellow on a diagonal from the upper right corner to the lower left corner. After darkening the barn, and major trees left and right, I added the hint of trees in the receding background by wetting the paper and letting the colors mingle and drip. Finally, we glazed the sky with the red and yellow and spritzed it with water to allow the color to flow over the countryside, unifying the painting. Joyce finished the piece by matting it and putting it in a glacine bag. Joyce is such a wonderful teacher and she kept talking design and value throughout the lesson.

When I finished this painting and showed it to Bob, he asked if it was acrylics as it looks like watercolor. Joyce loaned me a Quiller book (I have one, but not this one), and I want to try his techniques where he creates transparent, translucent, and opaque areas for maximum glow. The painting we did today is mostly transparent with small passage of opaque color. I did not use any translucent paints, which you make by mixing color with white before applying it to the paper. I found the acrylic colors to be more saturated than watercolor.

I received word that the owner of the commissioned painting, "Autumn at the Paquet Family Farm," received the painting in Connecticut, and she and her family are very pleased with the piece.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Gaucho Dancer

"Gaucho Dancer"
Ushuia, Argentina

This is what happens when Mary meets Betsy Dillard Stroud - new experiments! I will experiment more with complex surfaces. Taking a page out of "Everything but the Kitchen Sink" day, I used stamping, gouche with watercolor, and layering to achieve an exciting surface. I did not throw acrylic or collage into the mix, which Betsy did. The young man is from a photo I took while watching young people do a gaucho show in Ushuai, Argentina, in February. I love to paint dancers. I would like to abstract the background more than I did here -- a step at a time towards the ideal.

Today I am off to an Acrylic Party sponsored by the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society this afternoon. The company supplies the materials and we bring our paper and brushes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Private Acrylic Lesson

Acrylic on paper

In April I will take a workshop with Stephen Quiller, a master watercolorist and acrylic artist. I wanted to jump start myself with acrylics, so I arranged for two private lessons with a friend, Joyce Barron Leopardo, SWA, an award-winning artist. Joyce is a wonderful teacher who does workshops for children at the Ronald McDonald House, nuns at a cloistered convent, and Bay area artists. She began my session by showing me many examples of her work in acrylic and mixed media - very inspiring.

We sat out on her beautiful deck in the hills overlooking the Bay and painted for thee hours. We had a great time. Joyce planned an exercise using a pear because of the simple shapes. I was to learn how to apply opaque acrylic paint similar to doing an oil painting. Joyce would emphasize placing lights next to darks and texturing the surface. We started with 2 full sheets of Arches watercolor paper, one coated with a layer of orange acrylic, and the other coated with a layer of Aso yellow acrylic. We cut the sheets into pieces measuring 5" x 7 ." We then taped three of the pieces together with a quarter-inch separation. The acrylic mother color sealed the watercolor paper so the paint moves lusciously upon the surface and is easy to manipulate.

Joyce matted two of the finished pieces and placed them in plastic protectors. The top piece above was my first effort, and really my favorite of the six I completed. As I painted with Joyce, I learned to achieve different effects. I used a palette knife to manipulate paint in the upper left corner, a piece of ridged cardboard for the table top texture, and scraped down to the orange in the highlight area of the pear with a piece of Starbucks gift card.

The second piece also employs my new favorite mother color, orange. I used crumbled plastic wrap to achieve the textured background, and stamped into the wet paint on the bottom with waffled rubber. I also scraped out some of the highlights on the pear with a palette knife. This manipulation exposed some of the mother color.

The third piece was also done on orange. Here I used lots of texture, layering paint and scraping with a palette knife. Joyce suggested adding a highlight with some contrasting paint. I selected hot pink and placed some on the left of the pear and on the stem and leaf. I tried playing around with some white paint and some purple to add lights and darks.

The fourth pear was created on the yellow mother color and I found it more difficult to select my colors for pleasing results; however, I am satisfied with all three pieces. Joyce had to do a touch of scraping in the pear highlight and add bit of paint for asymmetrical leaves to add some excitement. Then she suggested I drizzle some "tar gel" on the surface for some very interesting results. The gel makes loopy, organic lines that dry clear to reflect light at interesting angles and please the eye.

After matting and bagging the two pieces, Joyce loaned me a Stephen Quiller CD for the week, gave me leftover paints, showed me how she and Myrna Wacknov make a little travel kit of watercolors using an Altoids box and bottle caps and the resulting original gift cards she created while sitting for two hours in a plane on the tarmac. Joyce and I finished the day at a sweet Mexican cafe with delicious prawn tacos. I had a lovely time and look forward to our final session next Wednesday.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pastels in Drawing class

"Fall Arrangement"
15" x 10"

I worked on this piece for two classes. I like the pitcher. I'm still missing it on the gourds. Bob gave a great demo after he saw that we were struggling with them. He says to start by establishing the dark shadow so you can key values from the shadow. Do not create a hard edge; bring the shadow pastel up into the gourd. Establish the surrounding value. Work from the middle of the gourd outward, being especially gentle as you approach the shadow area. Carefully place the highlights.

Strangely, the pastel paper has vertical lines in it. I bought the paper at University Arts where we have class and didn't notice the lines until I started doing the pastel. I believe they had some oddball sheets mixed in with the Canson Mi Tientes paper. I will check carefully in the future.