Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Demitasse & Orchids" -- oil on canvas -- 36x48"

I've been having fun with this one all week. Newly retired from the assembly line at Ford, I love having the daylight hours free to paint! This one is probably the most difficult one I've tackled so far. The cylindrical shapes of the demitasse cups with their spiraling stripes and reflections were quite a puzzle. And the problem of drawing in the obelisks of the plates (with their swirling stripe patterns) took me a while. A lot of artists take slides and project and trace, which is great for accuracy, but I'm just too impatient to wait for slide processing. I think it's quicker to just knuckle down and draw the thing in.

Last year a friend gave me this orchid before she moved to California. It's a moth orchid, the type which seems to like it at my house. It started blooming over a month ago and still is going strong. I used it in the last still life painting and wanted to use it again, it's just so spectacular.

Did the strawberries rot while I painted, you ask? Waste not, want not! I set up the empty bowl and the day when I decided to paint the strawberries, I set them into the bowl, painted them, then took them downstairs & ate them on my break.

The cookies: it's been too hot to bother baking, so I bought these. And they were expensive! My grandmother's probably turning over in her grave at the price I paid for these suckers. I put them on the plate during the setup and they sat there 4 or 5 days before I got around to painting them. When finished, I carefully gathered them up and took them down to the patio to enjoy with tea.

This beautiful fabric came from JoAnn Fabrics, at Livonia Mall. I'm amazed they're open yet. With the horrible economy in SE Michigan, it seems like half the stores have gone out of business. The seafoam-green napkins I found at a garage sale a couple years ago. I'd always meant to try to sell them on eBay but never got around to it. Glad I didn't sell them -- they're really pretty to use in a still life.

The other "toughie" that I struggled with was the curved plant stand (under the orchid). I realized that while looking at it and drawing it, I continually moved to a slightly different vantage point. This would throw the drawing off. Kind of like trying to fit together a picture puzzle on a spinning roulette wheel! To me, painting is like taking an algebra test: if you can't solve a problem right away, move on and find something you CAN do. If you can control your panic, you will figure things out.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

"Corral" -- plein air field study -- oil on birch panel -- 9x12"

This was painted from a rooftop-level deck in Milford, Michigan. Yesterday was their annual garden walk and some of us were invited to paint at the various gardens. Given the chance to pick my garden, I chose this one because the prospectus said it was on 10 acres. I figured that with 10 acres, I'd have a better chance of finding something of interest to paint. That isn't always the case on garden walks! Sure, you can always find pretty little plants, but they don't necessarily make a good painting.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived was the deck. What a great place to sit and watch for meteorites! The woman told me that as soon as it was finished, she went out to sunbathe nude. There are no close neighbors, so she thought she was safe. Within 5 minutes a helicopter flew over! The view from this deck is spectacular. Seemed like you could see halfway to Alaska from that height. I liked the view of the horse corral below, with the pines and morning shadows. And I thought the far horizon (the blue line right below the sky in this painting) was beautiful.

Another surprise: there were yellow-billed cuckoos singing! I didn't know they were here in SE Michigan. I hadn't heard one singing since I'd left Iowa, back in 1977. They have a very unusual song, more like some kind of synthetic-electric drum. You just don't get these kind of neat little surprises if you only paint inside a studio.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"Claudette" -- plein air field study -- oil on birch panel -- 12x9"

My painting buddies and I finally had our first "potluck paintout party" last Saturday. For fun, I asked my neighbor Ann if she would try to get Claudette, a friend who does Civil War reinactments to come and model for us. We always paint landscapes, but some of us thought it would be fun to try doing a "figure in the landscape". Claudette has several authentic-looking Civil War outfits that she sewed herself. It was about 90 degrees, yet she was most happy to pose for us in this WOOL outfit. She even had her bluejeans on underneath! I'd have been dead in 15 minutes with all that heavy stuff on.

Painting the features (eyes, mouth, etc) was challenging, as I had no brushes small and delicate enough. (Excuses, excuses!) The skirt came out pretty good. I used dry-brush technique on that to create the plaid effect. We parked Claudette on a little cast-iron seat under a big tree, thinking the shade would be constant. But ha ha -- there was a gap in the branches and we had the dilemma of ever-changing sunlight and shadows.

Plenty of laughing going on during painting. Hearing laughter, coming from artists who are painting you, might be an unsettling feeling for a model. But we were all laughing (and mumbling to ourselves) about our OURSELVES. Painting figures and faces ain't easy! You can smoosh paint around and get it to look like a tree, but you can't expect to smoosh paint around and still get it to look like a person. Much less a recognizeable person. Still, it was a welcome break from the monotonous green of summer. Ironic -- for months we bitched about the endless "sour owlshit brown" of winter and here we were, barely into June, looking for a break from green!

Before Claudette showed up to model, a bunch of us painted in Tammy's backyard, concentrating on an old boat lying upside down at the water's edge. The ground was pretty spongy. Actually, the backyard IS a bog. Mosquitoes were plentiful. And there were a few little "doggie presents" to detour around in the grass. If a person stepped into the water, as inviting as it looked on such a hot, muggy day, they would instantly sink up to their chest in slimy mud. And if the quicksand didn't get ya, the snapping turtles would.

Some of my buddies painted down the road, standing on a little bridge. Others set up on the beach at the lake, about 1 block down the road. Everybody managed to finish a couple paintings.

We all had a wonderful time. The food was fabulous. There was everything from brats on the grill to sushi rolls. Strawberry pie to peanut butter cookies. This club eats good! We're thinking of having a second "potluck paintout party" this fall.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"Turtle & Dragon" -- oil on canvas -- 48x48"

This was a fun one to do. Hard, of course, but fun. The turtle is a little painted sculpture I bought from a crafter during the recent Heron Festival out at Kensington Metropark Nature Center. That young man did wonderful work! I would have loved to have been able to afford more of his pieces.

The orchid plant on the left came from Meijer's. The white orchid was a gift from my friend Nancy. The paper umbrella with the dragons on is probably pretty old. It was very rickety and I was surprised it would open without ripping apart. That came from a garage sale down the street.

And what would a painting be without conchs! I just love painting them. Love their weird shapes, lurid colors! The black dragon figurine on the right was another find at Target. I could just go broke in that store.

This painting was challenging to do. I'd just set it up and had it drawn in when I got a call from one of my old bosses at work. He told me I had to come in to work last week, driving cars. I was supposed to be on layoff during June. July 1st I go to what they're calling "Pre-Retirement Leave". Sounds like a cushy job, driving cars (especially Lincoln Town Cars), but it's actually an exhausting deal. We had 2000 Town Cars that had to be put up on repair hoists, the front wheels removed and inspected for faulty wheel bearings. It was my job to then drive them off the hoists, through the building and out into the parking lot, about 1 block away. Then I'd walk back and get another one. Just try doing this nonstop for 10 hours out in the 92 degrees, with dusty wind! We'd go from 6 AM to 4:30 PM. I'd come home, too exhausted to touch my painting.

So you could call this a "paintus interruptus". I'm back on layoff this week and finished this today. The other difficult aspect to painting this one was that I was using north light. The sun would come in through the west window in the afternoon and I'd have to close the shade. Which would then make the room so dark I could barely see what colors I was using. One of my old teachers, Clyde Aspevig, always had us arrange our colors on the palette in a particular order. "This way you can automatically reach for it -- and not be stumbling around, hunting for a color." I found it's helpful for when you're painting in near-dark conditions.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

"Shady Lane" -- plein air field study -- oil on canvas -- 9x12"

It's been a wild and crazy month. I'd flown out to Vermont to attend a friend's wedding and to meet a long-lost niece. And the place I've worked the past 28+ years, Ford Wixom Assembly, closed down for good. Last week they called me in to help out in a repair campaign and I had to drive Lincoln Town Cars off the hoist and out into the parking lot about a block or two away, then walk back. One day we got rained on. Another day it was very chilly. Most days it was hot (92 on Wednesday), with strong winds blowing dust & pollen. You may think that driving cars sounds like a gravy job, but it is exhausting when you do it for 10 hours at a time. Now I'm officially on layoff for the month of June. July 1 is the start of my "pre-retirement leave", so I'll be having more time to paint.

My buddies and I went out to the camping area of Kensington Metropark yesterday. It was filled with Boy Scouts. There were about 150 of them with their tents. There is a small river running along this stretch, and as soon as we parked, we painters bee-lined down to the water with our easels. The water reflections were gorgeous! Everybody lined up practically elbow to elbow, wanting to paint the same scene.

The river bank was a bit slippery and I nearly fell into the water. Accidentally dumped nearly all my container of turpentine into the water. So all I had to use was sludge for mixing colors and cleaning brushes! It was tough.

Soon the Boy Scouts came rushing down to the river with their kayaks. The littler boys went swimming. Trying to paint the water reflections with dozens of squealing, frolicking kids splashing around was impossible. I gave up on that painting, wiped it out, and walked across the road to see this delightful scene of tree shadows on the dirt road. I did the best I could, considering the sludgey turpentine.

When I went to photograph this painting, I dropped it, face-down of course, in the driveway. It's still very wet and there were little bits of "things" imbedded in it. I Photoshopped it out as best I could. After it dries, the foreign objects will fall off. Or so they say! Sometimes dropping a painting improves it.