Uh-oh ... I've been dropping the blog ball again. With the new year comes not much blogging inspiration (damn you Facebook!) so I'll go with plan B: the work in progress! Blogging a painting's progress takes little effort but results in multiple posts (sweet).
I'm back to using acrylic paint to do a house portrait to commemorate Angela and Wade's 15th anniversary and first house! It's 12" x 12" and I'm painting on linen, primed with clear gesso. I did the underpainting in alizarin crimson mixed with burnt sienna. The light conte drawing has almost been obliterated already by my efforts in painting the handsome Marlowe with a teeny-tiny brush. Stay tuned as there's so much more to come!
It was my birthday last week and one of my best presents came by post. Michelle is one of my oldest and closest friends and we talk several times a week, even though we live over 1000 km apart. (She has a great phone plan.) She knew I was itching to try M Graham paints but my art supply store doesn't carry them. Her boyfriend's store does, though! You know the rest. A handful of tubes of colours I'd mostly never tried and three of Michelle's favourite oil brushes (well, not her oil brushes...) were in the box. The first thing I did was open the tubes to smell them since they're made with walnut rather than linseed oil.
My first attempts to paint with my new paints were duds. The garbage guys picked up the offending panels (carefully concealed in the kitchen trash) today in fact. See, while painting, I discovered an obvious truth that I hadn't consciously considered for ages: the importance of knowing colour properties/interactions. When I went shopping for oil paints in the fall I mostly stuck to the palette I'd been using for my acrylic paintings (the devil you know, etc.) ~ a pragmatic choice as learning a new medium is hard enough. But Michelle chose colours that she likes to use, and since she's a very different sort of painter than I am, I am totally unfamiliar with colours like Viridian Green and Transparent Iron Oxide. After painting one small panel and walking away, the first thing that struck me when I returned was how amateurish the use of colour was. But in spite of my frustration with my failures I was thanking Michelle more for the push. It's really easy to get stuck into a safe groove with any practice that requires skill and patience to master. I love trying the new colours in spite of the inevitable washouts and am glad I'm being challenged to learn new things.
So, yesterday on Facebook, I noticed that Michelle had posted a couple of quickie paintings that the same art-supply-store-slash-instructor-slash-mentor boyfriend had urged her to try doing. This is a really good exercise to help you loosen up if you're feeling stuck and stale. You can see from the great results that it worked for her. So I decided to do the same. Mine (above) took longer than hers (two hours rather than her hour and 20 minutes) but I'm hiding behind the excuse of being unfamiliar with the medium! From the painting in the last post and this one I can already see that oil painting is a whole different ball game for me than acrylic painting, both in my use of colour and the way I apply the paint. And, unlike with acrylic paintings, I love to take the finished product and hold it up to the light at different angles so I can see the luscious, luminous surface quality. I almost want to taste it.
Thank you again, Michelle, for the wonderful paint (and the toxic snack)! And thank you, Angela, for this appropriate quote:
Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself. ~ Miles Davis
My first foray into experimenting with oil paint is complete! I played it safe with this smallish painting, but I'm not beating myself up about it. There's plenty of room for self-flagellation with future paintings! I took the photo at my kids' school on a foggy day in November and didn't stray from the original subject matter or play with style as I wanted to concentrate more on technique. I painted the foreground much like it was an acrylic painting, with hard edges, minimal fussing and a little of the underpainting showing through. The background was more experimental as I played with brushstrokes and blending to create a softer effect (click to enlarge). Such fun and such a departure for me! And with virtually no colour in the composition even my kids weren't sure that I was the artist.
While painting I thought about the power of self confidence in any kind of creative endeavour. It's easy to identify work done by artists who paint with ego and conviction. It's really hard to define but there's an unmistakable dynamic quality. I want to paint in oil with the same kind of sure-footedness I bring to my acrylic paintings. One day maybe.
Those of you who know me or who have read this blog for awhile will remember Jesse, the funny, enthusiastic service-dog trainee we puppy-raised for Pacific Assistance Dogs. As dogs with character go, he has more than a heaping helping, but along with clowns come sad faces ... or so they say.
Just before Christmas we discovered that Jesse had flunked out of the service dog training program, which he'd been accepted into on a probationary basis. Smart as a whip, supremely self-confident and physically far more capable than your average Lab, he nonetheless has obedience issues (the kind where you have to chill out and hold a command) and getting-along-with-other-male-dogs issues. Not such a good temperament for placidly and consistently serving disabled people.
But wait! No sad faces here! I always suspected that with his energy, drive and super sniffer he might make a good narcotics detection dog, so I wasn't surprised to hear he'd gone to a training facility in Washington state after he was excused from the program. We were really looking forward to having him home for Christmas, but that was not to be. And then today I recieved this note:
Jesse travelled to Florida last week and is training with a company down there as a new type of detection dog for Florida prisons - a cell phone detection dog! Apparently the biggest contraband problem they're having in the prisons now is people smuggling in cell phones which prisoners use to keep in touch with their gangs on the outside and also to coordinate illicit activities on the inside, such as keeping tabs on where in the prison guards are positioned. The dogs search cells and inmates looking for these phones.There are currently only 2 trained dogs in Florida but the department of corrections is looking for more.
Remember: you heard it here first. I'm so proud of my tough guy! Fingers crossed.
I'm enjoying reading the year-in-review posts by my favourite bloggers. As for me, I'm more apt to measure time by the places I've lived. Today I suddenly realized that the so-called dawn of the new millennium was already a decade ago (!) and that we have lived in this house for almost twelve years. In the nineteen years previous to moving here I actually moved twenty times and lived in five different cities or towns. Knowing where I was at what time made it easier to keep track of what happened when, but this past decade is a bit of a blur. Given my history, it has often been harder not to move than to move, but I really wanted my kids to have a stable upbringing.
Ten years ago today I was still teaching, with no conscious plans to ever pick up a paintbrush again. Little did I know that a year later I would quit my job and take a crucial step forward. It's been a good ten years; I have exorcised all kinds of demons that had been plaguing me my entire adult life. I guess all that moving around was how I dealt with them before. Now, with the responsibilities of family being top priority and nowhere to run, it was time to fight back. I'd been fighting against the wrong things up to that point -- the need to make art (and be myself) -- and it was time to let that one win and face all the other crap I'd been avoiding. So far so good.
Today is another kind of anniversary for me, too.Two years ago today I suddenly and unexpectedly lost my best buddy. The first anniversary of his death was hard. Today was a lot easier because of Coco (photo taken on Tuesday). 2009 was good to me.