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A Virtual Exposition

Well, we are packed up, folks….shipping out of France and back to the States. All fall and a touch of summer I had the incredible privilege and blessing of working in a studio in Toulouse under the coaching of Professeur Mireille Racine, retired from teaching art in a Paris university. It was sort of like having a stage, or internship, as a graying woman instead of as a college youth. I wish I could continue! But, since I can’t, I have decided to host myself a little exposition, all virtual of course, of just those artworks that were done under the influence of Prof Mireille. Most of the paintings have already been individually posted, but I like the contrast and the growth evident with them gathered together.

She asked for my goal for my art, and I told her that I wanted to loosen up, to be able to be more expressive and playful, even as I continue to develop in my basic skills. I apologize for the poor lighting of this exposition. My indoor lights were mostly sold for the move, and sunny Southwest France isn’t so sunny at the end of November.

Sort of beginning and ending.

Sort of beginning and ending.

The first is my pears painted with palette knives, a first for me. It really did make me a little looser to work with something that wasn’t a brush. She pushed me to incorporate my pear colors into my background for unity. In November Stoney and I visited Van Gogh’s museum in Amsterdam (I should probably post photos, eh?), and when I returned, Mireille pushed me to take my fall still life and overcome my intimidation of Van Gogh’s brilliant style and attempt it myself. The results rather surprised me. It was fun, and one of my last paintings.

Impressionism, take 1; and impressionism, take 2.

Impressionism, take 1; and impressionism, take 2.

My composition (or lack thereof) has been a point of repetition for Mireille. I tend to paint in bands and leave things looking too separated and linear. The landscape on the left, a Texas oak tree standing before an oncoming evening storm, was a fight for me. We did a lot of repair rework to get the light effects of French impressionism. To work the whole canvas quickly is just not my habit, but it is necessary for this sort of painting. The second landscape is a garden in Lyon, and it came noticeably more easily. I worked around the canvas as I had been coached, trying for a spiral composition. Big improvement!

Going abstract.

Going abstract.

To some extent, these are both studies, not really finished works. In fact, I began the one on the right first, trying to improve my palette knife skills. They actually have these wild cedar trees here in France, all twisted and agonizing. I started it before the Cezanne-inspired tree on the left, but didn’t really feel comfortable with it, so moved on. Mireille helped me see how to keep the visual lines clean so your eyes aren’t arrested or derailed, and its rework shows improvement. The other is clearly (to me, anyway) another iteration of the Texas oak tree. The goal was broken color that is incorporated throughout, like Cezanne, but clearly…NOT. Definitely a different feel than the impressionist version. It was fun, though difficult, and prepared me more than I knew for my pumpkins.

My favorite acrylic is still probably The View of the Sea from Sts Maries de la Mer (shown at the bottom).

We also tried to branch out some in my media as well as my technique, and so worked some in watercolor. One thing I learned is that I don’t just dislike working in watercolor because it is difficult and uncooperative with a mind of its own; I actually don’t like watercolor because I just don’t much have fun with it. I enjoy a lightness and sense of being out of time with acrylic; watercolor is labor and a fun-sucker. I don’t know why this would be for me, because it is true even when the results are to my liking. I worked some en plein air, in the studio garden.

DSCN1173

Some other kind of tree.

 

DSCN1171

A rose tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A window in the countryside near me.

A window in the countryside near me.

I still prefer using my acrylics for something more like a watercolor effect. I’m still not sure I got the lighting effect right on this one, but not for lack of her trying to help me see it correctly! Still watercolor-y, but fun. I gave watercolor one last chance, though. I thought maybe if the usage was abstract enough I would quit trying to make it do what I want, and just how it turned out, no angst. I tried it with a portrait of my cat, inspired by a cat portrait on pinterest.

Cat 1 and Cat 2.

Cat 1 and Cat 2.

The first attempt was on the left, which didn’t quite do what I was looking for, but came close. So I tried again, using more water. Bad idea! Mireille gave me the confidence to try to salvage it, the cat on the right is inferior in many ways, even after her help.

So that’s my exposition. Prof Mireille pronounced my stage a success. I do think what I gleaned has been quite effective. What do you think of my progress? Is my work showing more life and vibrancy than before?

 

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Provence and Painting

Today I am going to try to satisfy two itches with one scratch: I am posting travel photos AND a painting. So there. A couple of weeks ago, Stoney and I took a weekend in Provence. Ish. We revisited the Pont du Gard, the highest and one of the best preserved Roman aquaducts surviving.

The water was too high and swift to permit playing in it, thus squashing all hopes of canoeing under a Romant artifact.

The water was too high and swift to permit playing in it, thus squashing all hopes of canoeing under a Roman artifact.

We stayed in a truly lovely little hotel north of Arles, between the Pont du Gard and St. Remy, our other destination. I can recommend the Hotel Mistral. Although the proprietor spoke English, he willingly conversed with me in French when I asked for help practicing. Very lovely location.

The only availability on short notice was two twins.

The only availability on short notice was two twins.

My goal was a pilgrimage to St Remy and the steps of Van Gogh, sort of a completion of the one begun with Sherry in Arles. The difference here was a cleaner, prettier, more touristy town, with a LOT less connection between the photos and the actual scenes. To some extent this is the fault of much growth for St Remy, but some is just that they little placards were placed to lead you up to the sanitarium where Van Gogh convalesced more than to inform his paintings.

This one is actually more connected than most.

This one is actually more connected than most.

The St. Paul Asylum/monastery was well worth the trek up the hill on this trail, though. It is still a working art therapy center, and had not only giant tableaus of Van Gogh’s paintings on the garden walls and elsewhere, but also paintings and other artwork by modern patients. We were greeted by a bronze statue of Van Gogh titled “The Sunflower Thief.”

Cool, isn't he? And somehow sort of tortured-looking.

Cool, isn’t he? And somehow sort of tortured-looking.

Stoney posing with the gentlemen at the hospital.

Stoney posing with the gentlemen at the hospital.

Me, attempting the pensive intensity of Van Gogh.

Me, attempting the pensive intensity of Van Gogh.

We also got to see, supposedly, Van Gogh’s room at the asylum, or at least one made up to be. It very well could have been, as the views of the gardens from the windows on that floor seemed kind of familiar.

The picture on the easel is clearly a Van Gogh, while the one on the wall is a portrait by a modern patient.

The picture on the easel is clearly a Van Gogh, while the one on the wall is a portrait by a modern patient.

We had a lovely time, bought interesting chocolates at a renown shop that still couldn’t compare with Cocoa Dolce back home, and was only spoiled a little by the girl who didn’t understand or care that I really CAN’T eat wheat flour in my sarrasin crepe galette. I only ate the insides, but was still sick enough the next day that I almost lost my breakfast in the car on the drive back.

And speaking of the drive back, we made a detour to see the famous Camargue wetlands. What we saw were a LOT of horses and lovely salt-grasses, and rice fields, but no flamingoes. A little disappointing. But we walked the beach at Saintes Maries de la Mer, where the sun was risen but low, and the clouds were low, toying with the sun, wispy and kind of like cheeks filling and emptying, blowing long and softly. The sun sparkled on the sea like diamonds that were floating above the water, just out of reach. And the rocks and sand were so solid, anchoring us to the ground, very different in feeling. I tried to paint this scene, but all the greys turned purple and blue for me, and the dark, dirty sand turned almost golden for me, and I love the painting. It is really reflective of the way the morning made me feel.

"Sparkling Sea from Saintes Maries de la Mer"

“Sparkling Sea from Saintes Maries de la Mer”

And there you go. I had fun with this. I hope you like it, too.

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Learning to Loosen Up

Clearly, I am having more fun traveling and living in France than I am publishing blog posts about it. However, one new thing this fall is a workshop in a Toulouse art studio with a retired art professor. A French art professor, who taught at a university in Paris. Can I say how over-the-moon I am about this lady? She is so kind, and speaks French slowly and clearly for me, the foreigner in the room, and every little tip she gives me seems to REALLY help! Having never had much formal training, this is like heaven for me.

This is the last thing I painted sans aide:

Des artichauts, des oignons, et la laitue...yes, that's right, in French. After all, it IS French produce; it seems more boring in English.

Des artichauts, des oignons, et une laitue…yes, that’s right, in French. After all, it IS French produce; it seems more boring in English.

This was actually rather challenging for me, in part because how could I capture this amazing lettuce? It is dark and opaque, yet light and fluffy. More importantly, I committed my most frequent painting problem here: I overworked the piece. Trying to get the colors right, the background right, the reflections in the pitcher, and the fluff of the lettuce…it could actually knot up my muscles, because I couldn’t loosen up and play with it.

This was one of my two sample pieces I took to the art studio. I told her I’m concerned with how uptight my painting is…that I struggle with actually playing with my art. The more abstract dandelion/stars piece was my example of “fun.” It is also entirely ME. I have no real style, and my art needs to express ME, not just be a poor camera. So, the first product of Mdm Mierelle’s help is the result of trying to paint something without using a brush.

Pears by knife.

Pears by knife.

So I washed in a gray background originally, but then changed to palette knife for these pears I had found at the market. I’ve never really painted anything entirely with my knife, although I have wanted to for, well, years. Yes, I am a total fraidy-cat. I just couldn’t really commit, and then someone else pushed me to it. I LOVE them! I mean, sure, anyone who knows me and my painting knows I love pears anyway, but I REALLY love these pears! However, Mdm Mierelle didn’t let me keep my background, though. She insisted that an artwork needs bridges for the color for unity. So I tried again, and it took me quite awhile to get a background that felt right. More work than the gray, but it feels soft, more real.

So next, we explored a more impressionist style. The goal is to succeed at recording less visually, while revealing more of how the scene affects me. My model was a photo of a Texas wildflower scene as a storm approaches. Another stretch for me. And we followed this by playing with the same scene, more in the style of a late Cezanne landscape. Both are the first time I have ever tried that sort of style.

An impression of spring in the Texas hillcountry

An impression of spring in the Texas hillcountry

A Bolder splash of color

A Bolder splash of color

Any of these you can check out more closely by clicking on the photo, then clicking again to magnify. I LOVE looking at the knife strokes on the pears.

So this is how I start my workshop with a French art professor. Whatever comes out of it, I am having a blast! I paint three hours alongside 4 or 5 other artists, each pursuing their own dream. I don’t think we have anyone using the same media even at the moment! I am living my dream. Thank you, Father God!

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A Painting for Me

A couple of weeks ago, during a sermon, this painting came to me.

The transforming breath of God.

The transforming breath of God.

This one just really made me happy, and speaks to me on so many levels. We, as carriers of the Word, are sown throughout the world; and as our hearts respond to that Breath in thanksgiving, rather than complaint, we are transformed. We shine with His indwelling light, and illuminate the way for others. I am always grateful when God gives me an artwork of my own.

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…And the first painting of 2014

I actually need to post Thanksgiving and Christmas, wonderful in part due to the presence of my older daughter, but I first want to put up this most recent painting. My daughter requested it in order to make some lacy felt pieces she was given into fairy wings, and I JUST got it finished in time for her to take it on the plane with her as she returns to the States tomorrow.

All color blocked in with the underpainting.

All color blocked in with the underpainting.

My daughter agreed to pose for me, as I really am not one of those artists that can work from imagination alone. Besides, I have never actually painted a human figure before, so this was a first.

Must. Hurry!

Must. Hurry!

I placed the braid too far right for the felt wings to place properly, so I had to go in and move it. Have I mentioned how much I love painting with the very forgiving acrylics?

The final painting, but not the final product.

The final painting, but not the final product.

I really took this one down to the wire. It is the only thing still waiting to be packed, so I knew I didn’t have time to attach the wings myself. Myriah will have to do it herself when she gets it home, but we have modeled the final fairy, complete with wings, although the photo isn’t too good.

Some day she will earn her wings!

Some day she will earn her wings!

I was glad to have something personal to send with her!

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The Last Painting Projects of 2013

I am pretty sure I never posted my acrylic interpretation of the Swiss lake that I did in watercolor. Here she is…

I still see things I could improve, but I am trying not to mess with it.

I still see things I could improve, but I am trying not to mess with it. Mostly I learned how to make the water look more like the dense pool of color I saw while there.

I also painted a Christmas gift for my secret prayer sister here, which they call a Sonflower. She is a lovely French lady who has a real heart for Michigan, an area of the States she has visited in the past and where she has friends. I also have visited Michigan, so I chose a lighthouse I have actually been up in! (I am pretty sure I have photos here somewhere. I’ll have to see.)

first layer

first layer

A lot of my paintings I seem to work in circles. I’ll rough in some color, highlights and shadows of the background, then move to my subject and do the same. I’ll return to the background, moving around the composition, and bring up more detail and mostly finish it before focusing on my subject more completely, and then clean up the background again. For most of my projects, even landscapes, that results in these spiraling circles from out to in and back out then in again.

Not here. This painting firmly declared it would be worked in layers. I pretty much completed the background here first, and did most of my subject, the lighthouse, as well. Then I moved to midground and pretty much worked it up, too.

Other than touchup in lighting, what you see is mostly what you get in the end in the midground.

Other than touchup in lighting, what you see is mostly what you get in the end in the midground.

This the final painting, although I added a short verse along the snow, bottom right. I enjoyed this one, too, and might even make myself a print of my photo of it for myself someday, if the photo holds up. I didn’t really shoot it for printing.

My final painting with its reference image.

My final painting with its reference image.

I found a photo from that 2009 vacation, in a rather odd spot, but for proof that I have been in this lighthouse, check here.

Lastly, I wanted a gift for the lady who had been praying for me, but I had very little time. Both of these paintings really did need to be done before Thanksgiving. So, I took my waterfall study from years earlier, cut it free from all the positioning work I had done with text playing around with it, and attached it to a canvas board. I printed the verse it had been inspired by (chosen by my Kansas friend) and attached it as well. I then painted a unifying color and texture around them. It doesn’t have the elegance of the original, but for a quickie, I think it works.

Well, actually, looking over the digital image I’ve changed my mind. *sigh* It’s amazing what looks ok when you are rushed compared to what you like when you can really examine something. C’est la vie. I don’t think I’ll even post it.

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Sometimes Experiments Fail

But it’s the experience that matters, I remind myself. I am always telling my students (and their parents) that what we learn in experiencing art is as important as the product, if not more so. I hope so here, as I don’t think much of the product this time.

It all began with a striking photo I saw on a “flyfishing in Ireland” website. It was a river tumbling down a bit of a cascade with gray rocky outcrops and green and yellow moss and shrubs. The water in the photo was almost entirely white with the flow; it looked almost ethereal.I’ve done paintings with flowing water before, to good effect, using white ink.

A non-experimental study for a painting I did for a friend.

A non-experimental study for a painting I did for a friend. Even as just a study, better than the new one.

And then I wondered, with the yellow in the plants and moss, what if the stones had more purple? So I undertook an experiment, trying to add more drama with the high contrast. And then I found that I, apparently, didn’t bring my ink. I have watercolor; I have acrylic. No ink. Could I make it work with what I have?

Not working, for so many reasons.

Not working, for so many reasons.

Well…I am going to say “no.” It’s interesting, but no, it is not what I was looking for. The actual river in Cork is much more compelling. I might try again, returning to the gray stone, once I return to the States and find my white ink. But oh well.

By the way, the photos are with a new camera my sweetie bought me. No shadow marks and spots! Thank you, Love!

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The Importance of Play

Theo and I recently watched a TEDtalk on the vital importance of play, not only in brain development, but in daily thinking and problem solving. The speaker, in part, was encouraging adults to continue to play, and at first I felt a little frustrated, because I don’t play much here. I recreate, but that isn’t the same as play. And then I realized where I do most of my playing: art. It is where I experiment and take chances; try new things, and put substance to my imagination. So in that spirit, here is where I have been playing lately.

I posted the geraniums I had painted for a neighbor already, which you can see here. I think they began to catch a sense of play in my painting. My next was a painting for myself, also of geraniums. I had a photo of geraniums on a window with French blue shutters, a very common sight here. I am trying NOT to paint all the details of real life, and yet capture the feeling the image originally gave me. I also confess to doing very little architectural painting because line and precision seems rather important to making buildings look “right.” However, I wanted this window for myself, because it felt very French to me, a memento of sorts. The results initially had a sort of mind-bending quality, a sense of M.C. Escher really. The top of the window seemed quite shallow and close, while the bottom was obviously deep enough for potted flowers. I just couldn’t keep that, but I didn’t want to repaint the whole thing. So I played with it.

These begonias have been played with, but still look "off."

These geraniums have been played with, but still look “off.”

These have had more depth and shading added. It's better, but I am still pondering.

These have had more depth and shading added. It’s better, but I am still pondering.

So, I am still thinking about altering it, but it is only for me, which means I am much more willing to forgo the work when it stops feeling like playing and just live with the imperfection. Someday it may feel like playing again, though, who knows. Regardless, I am satisfied to know that my mind is no longer twisting over the truly impossible dimensions!

The other subject that has captured my imagination is the mountain-ringed Lake Brienz. Stoney and I have so many photos, and yet my mind still swirls with how I might better capture the magical qualities of that atmosphere and area. I already showed my little watercolor pencil sketches, where I just felt I had to try to catch, with whatever pale means I had, some of what lay before me. I need a teacher in plein air painting, seriously! Well, watercolor is not one of my better mediums, but I certainly use it better than I do the watercolor pencil, and something about the mountains really suggested an effort in watercolor. The mountains were fun to play with, and not too hard to give a sense of them. I played with the sky until I felt like it was sort of what I was imagining. But the water had me stumped.

Struggling with the problem of water in watercolor?

Struggling with the problem of water in watercolor?

As I’ve mentioned in a few of my posts about visiting Switzerland, the water in the lakes is really remarkable. They are a dense turquoise I had previously only seen in pit mines. There must be some sort of constant breeze over the water that keeps it rippling and moving like it is almost at simmer. And the skies are often at least partially overcast, with a mist or at least haze over the valley. The result is a brightly colored water that usually has very little reflection. I could paint this in acrylics, but how to capitalize on the translucent quality of watercolor and still show this amazing water? I could find no online tutorial or anything with water like my memories and photos were showing me. So I got out my paints and scrap papers and played. What I ended up with is very similar to what I would do in acrylic regarding line, but with a delicate application of wet on dry, and even some lifting to keep the contrast from being too strong. I think it works fairly well.

Lake Brienz completed, probably. Maybe.

Lake Brienz completed, probably. Maybe.

I’m still toying with the possibility of bringing the rose a little more left. And the lower shadows on the fading mountains are really bugging me, so I may do something a tad drastic there, but we’ll see. That’s the fun, isn’t it?

My next attempt to exorcise the swirling images of Lake Brienz from my head will be acrylic, and probably a tad abstract. I don’t play in the abstract often, but it can be a lot of fun. After all, it truly IS play!

Do you do anything, as an adult, for playtime?

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Scenes of Brienz

This post is just to give a feel for the lovely city of Brienz, including the much-preserved art of woodcarving. It’s a big deal in this area, and in Brienz was featured not only in two major studios, but in a museum dedicated to the craft. But you couldn’t turn a corner without encountering examples.

A column near the outdoor dining area of our hotel. And if you go back to first shots of the hotel, you can see the carved lintel on the building across the back garden.

A column near the outdoor dining area of our hotel. And if you go back to first shots of the hotel, you can see the carved lintel on the building across the back garden.

An ode to tourists? I am trying to remember where I captured this fellow; I think either outside the museum or the office of tourism.

An ode to tourists? I am trying to remember where I captured this fellow; I think either outside the museum or the office of tourism.

It's not Swiss without a cow, right?

It’s not Swiss without a cow, right?

He we are, heading down to the lake. It's not a long walk, really; but it is a steep descent.

Here we are, heading down to the lake. It’s not a long walk, really; but it is a steep descent. Follow us lakeside!

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Finally! Getting to paint in France

And no, the big cardboard O’Keefe-ish flowers don’t really count. They seriously are wall insulation. (I’ll return to Swiss posts shortly.)

First up, I have been slowly working on a gift for the wonderful couple who kept Theo for a weekend and help us out in more ways than I can count. They literally live beautiful, Christ-honoring lives of blessing others. Their wedding anniversary is this month, too. This one took awhile, mostly because we were still homeschooling, and grabbing two uninterrupted hours (a minimum, really) is challenging. Not to mention all the rain this spring; I really prefer painting in good light. It’s hard to be sure of my colors in gloom. So here it is, before I added their names to the bottom left:

A gift of love. :-)

A gift of love. 🙂

The rose in my photo was positively luminous, and I had hoped to capture that quality, but no success this time. I will have to play with it again and try another idea or two I’ve had. However, the rose did have that velvety look of a romantic rose, so it actually worked pretty well for an anniversary present. And while this adorable couple still love each other quite obviously, they both love the Lover of their Souls far more, and He will truly make their love as unfailing as His!

One of the things I have longed to incorporate into my painting (an ongoing theme, in fact, if you have read old art-lady posts) is more energy and looseness. Less depiction and more Life! Unfortunately, this would seem to go right against my nature, as most of my paintings come out looking restrained, if not overworked, however I may try. So this summer, I really want to mess around and see if I can’t loosen up! Ironically, I began with another study from a book, on an uninspiring subject–radishes.

The French radishes in the marche are just like these.

The French radishes in the marche are just like these, all long and rooty.

The goal was to not get too worried about actually capturing the veg as to capture color and texture, and use the gel medium. To be honest, I felt like radishes didn’t lend themselves too well to this exercise. So, with all these lovely colors mixed, I decided to try for GERANIUMS!

I do think geraniums are energetic. They aren’t so delicate that they cry out for watercolor, but they aren’t too complicated, like roses, either. The leaves have great texture, and the colors are vibrant. I was going to go out and buy a perfect painting subject at the jardinerie, but although a month ago they were everywhere, I am guessing geraniums are reaching the end of prime season, because there were not many out there. And what there was, was just sad. Two pitiful-blooms-and-some-buds sad. My thinking was, if it turns out nicely, I’ll give the plant and the painting to my geranium-loving French neighbor! Oh well. I bet I could have found one in Switzerland! So….a photo instead.

Geraniums in terra cotta.

Geraniums in terra cotta.

The radishes did not work as a finished painting, but I learned a few things. While this painting certainly has its flaws, I think it is the first I have ever done with a loose impasto technique that actually works. The terra cotta is actually done as a watercolor wash, and frankly, parts of it bug me, but hopefully I’m one of the few who will notice. The effect of letting the otherwise heavy pot impart a sense of texture rather than building up true texture allows it to recede beneath the plant visually and in importance. I really tried to discipline myself to use brush direction to suggest the leaves rather than actually painting out leaves, and mostly I think that worked. There are a couple of dead spots, but I feared overworking yet another painting. I am mostly happy with my fluffy geraniums as well. I think the composition turned out ok, although I wonder if I overdid the red in it just a tad. With red, less is often more.

But, voila! I have finally gotten to play in my paint. There are holidays here where you stay at a B&B and use an in-house studio’s supplies and instructor along with other like-minded people, and I want to go SO BAD! Someday….

I have another try at geraniums on a  French window I want to tackle, and maybe Lake Brienz in Switzerland. I still have plenty of canvasses and canvas board to play with!

(A clarification: it doesn’t take me two hours to do a painting; I just need two hours to do any step or layer. Most paintings are at least 6-8 hours, thanks to fast-drying acrylic.)

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