Category Archives: flowers

Lotuses / oil / some tips on composition I remember from art school

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They said the mind seeks balance but we shouldn’t make a balanced composition because when the viewer’s eye sees balance it’s instantly bored and moves on to the next thing.

The way to create imbalance is with focal points. An odd number of focal points is more interesting than an even number because the viewer’s eye will keep going around the canvas. If there’s only one focal point the viewer’s eye will go to it and stop right there. Also, don’t put a focal point dead center on the canvas. That makes a static composition.

Focal points can be created in different ways by using contrast such as complimentary colors or value contrasts, or by making sharp detail on an otherwise blurry painting.

I find composition to be a difficult part of painting and cutting my shapes out of paper and arranging them like Matisse helped me plan this painting. I’m getting a lot of inspiring ideas from Matisse this summer.

About this painting : The path through the Japanese garden is too narrow for me to stand up my easel. I’d have been blocking the other visitors so I took a few pastels and did my sketches on my small sketchbook because I don’t need my easel to hold it and I can easily back out of the way if people want to walk through. I did the painting at home using Matisse’s method of taping my paintbrush onto a yardstick and standing back from the canvas to paint. I’ve tried the brush on a stick method a few times and it still seems awkward. It’s hard to control the brush. I have to hover the brush over the canvas and when I make contact with the canvas in the right general area I want to paint, I kind of roll it. After I get the general shape I’m trying to do, I can get some brush strokes on it. I want to keep practicing this brush on a stick thing. Maybe it will get easier if I practice.

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background for painting of lotuses / stealing ideas from Matisse

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The paint is thick so I’ll have to wait till later this week to paint the flowers. I’m not sure what Matisse’s oil painting technique was. He liked to put his paintbrush on the end of a long pole and stand way back from his canvas so I’m practicing that. It’s hard to control the brush. I think the practice is supposed to make the artist “loosen up”.

The other times I tried to paint with my brush on a yardstick I didn’t use medium. I painted on a dry tinted canvas and I’m not used to the brush having so much drag on the canvas. That, plus the brush on a stick made it a strange experience. I guessed Matisse probably didn’t paint in the couch like I was taught to do, so I didn’t use my Maroget medium. Painting in the couch is when you paint a thin layer of medium on the dry canvas and paint your colors on top of the medium. It makes a slick surface for your brush and it’s easy to use glazes or paint with thick texture. This time I decided to use my Maroget medium and paint in the couch to make it a little easier to control my brush on a stick. To use medium or not to use medium, that is the question.

I doubt if I’ll be able to stay true to any one style. There’s so many that I like and I only steal the good ideas. Plus, I don’t have all the info on Matisse’s technique. It doesn’t matter. Rules don’t apply to me.IMG_2090

These are my sketches for the lotus painting. The eight smaller papers are my pastel sketches from the Japanese garden at Norfolk botanical where I hung around on eight different days for a couple hours. The three larger papers are my enlargements of my leaf sketches done by taping a sharpie on a yardstick like Matisse. You can see my scribbles where the sharpie went off on it’s own.

Then I cut out the leaf shapes and arranged them on my canvas different ways to decide the composition. That’s something Matisse enjoyed doing. He cut shapes out of colored paper and arranged them. The arranging part is where I got hung up for a while.

I have to sketch my flowers again on tracing paper and figure out how many I can fit on the painting. I don’t want to crowd them because they’re not crowded in nature. Maybe only three on my 18 x 24 canvas. I did a lot of sketches I won’t use and will never frame but that’s ok. It isn’t about the finished piece, it’s about the process. The questions answered, the new experience, the practice. Know what I mean?

pastel studies of lotus flowers

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The weather was so nice this morning. I stayed in the garden for a couple hours and wasn’t even hot!

I want to do one more sketch in plein air then I can paint at home. I’m getting set up to try again painting with my brush taped to a yardstick like Matisse. First I need to do charcoal sketches of my flowers and leaves larger with my charcoal on a stick. After I get some larger looser sketches I’ll be able to plan a composition of flowers, buds and leaves.IMG_2088

This lotus is wilting. They move a lot in the wind and sun. They’re never the same from one day to the next.

Lotus flower / pastel

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This is the tall kind of lotus with the big leaves. I should make this leaf twice this size if I do it in oil paint. I didn’t take the right color pastels. It’s a narrow path and I took some pastels in a baggie instead of my whole pastel collection.

It’s getting too hot for me to enjoy standing around outside to draw. I have to get to the botanical garden when they open at 9 or forget about it because I’m not going out to draw when it’s over 85. At least I can get the zen vibe of drawing in for an hour or so in the morning if I get out early enough. Today the heat didn’t get to me until I was ready to do the leaf. It becomes impossible to concentrate when you get too hot.

I’d like to do more lotus studies and try to paint like Matisse again with the paintbrush on a yardstick. That was fun.

unfinished flowers / trying to paint like Matisse

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This is a strange experience, trying to paint like Matisse. Picture my paint brush taped to a yardstick and I’m standing back. My brush is out of control weaving around in the general area of my canvas. Finally I get it close to where I want it and roll it a little. I’m making blips and leaving them there. It’s an experiment and I don’t know if I’m getting it or not. But it’s a challenge too and after I finish this painting I want to try again. Have you ever tried painting with an extended brush? And if you have, do you have any tips or insights about it?

I’m breaking my training. No medium so far but I might use it on the next step. I used cadmium red and cadmium yellow for the first coat on the flowers because they’re more opaque colors. Normally I’d have started with a darker red. The paint went on thick and I usually do glazes. I’ll have to wait a few days for this to dry because I want to go over it one more time and try to do some shading and detail. The detail, if I can do it, will probably not hit the flowers where I want it to, so that will be a different thing for me.IMG_2076

This book by Time Life says Matisse has a piece of charcoal taped to bamboo. I’d like to use bamboo too. I wonder if they sell it or maybe I could find something else so I can get even farther back from my painting. I’m afraid to go out and pick some bamboo because there might be a spider in it! IMG_2074

This photo shows my sketches taped up next to my painting. I traced my sketches and rearranged them on the canvas a few times to try to make a n interesting composition. Now I need them on the wall so I can see the flowers separately.

another pastel study of ruby spider lilies and some advice on mental health for artists

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Art. It can be sublime. It can be transcendental. This sketch might not show it, but to me this is an example of my attempts to rise above the things in life that had me whipped. It’s not about the finished artwork. It’s about keeping at it and going through a process.IMG_2069

I’m not an expert on mental health. I can only talk about my own life and I try not to focus on the negative. I can’t talk specifically about how bad it was for me. You’ll have to take my word for it when I say I slogged through that black tunnel with no light in sight for years. I don’t trust doctors so I didn’t take drugs for it which only mask the symptoms but don’t solve the problem. That’s not to say I didn’t self medicate, because I did. These days I feel ok. I still get bummed some days but not as bad and not as often which makes me feel like it might be over and now I might be immune to anymore depression.

Why are so many artists depressed? We can blame it on hormones, genetics, modern life, I don’t know. But if you’re a girl and your Dad was depressed then hormones isn’t the reason. I’m one of the younger baby boomers. Now I’m retired and it’s good. I think about the talented people who commit suicide and it’s a shame that those people don’t get to enjoy life’s rewards because they killed themselves. If you knew in advance that your depression would last fifty years and in all those years happiness would be fleeting but depression would last, would you hang in there for peace of mind in your old age? Don’t you deserve peace of mind even if you have to wait so long for it?

It’s possible that depression is part of the human experience for the reason that if we were all happy and satisfied with our lives we wouldn’t be motivated to improve our situation. The world today is better than it was throughout history. We live longer than out ancestors. Why? Because they were unhappy about disease and did something about it. We need to carry on for the next generation because, as I see it, there is no purpose to life except to continue. Yes. Life’s only purpose is to continue. There is no meaning.

There’s something we can do as artists that non artists can’t do. We can leave the world with our best artwork when we die. Making art will cause your brain to temporarily click over to a different frequency from your depressed state. You can get into the art zone every day for a few hours which is a relief, and then later look at the progress you made. If you do that over the course of years you see an improvement and that can be encouraging even though in the real world you’re still a loser. You can be a lonely social outcast and you can give beauty to the world. If an artist has an easy life their work is just so much fluff. If you suffered you don’t have to continue to suffer for your work to show your soul. you’re work will always have that because it was a part of your life and it will come through.

If I can do it you can too. Stay alive. Do the best you can. Stop being so hard on yourself. Distract your sad brain with art, music, literature, travel, games, anything you like, until you feel better. You’re not the problem. It’s the world. It’s not you, it’s those people. Living better without them is the best revenge. When you get older and have time to examine your life you might find it easier to understand and accept.

And when you do find something that gives your mind a break, savor it like fine chocolate. Go back to the good thing every day for a little while. Take your time there.

That’s all for now.

Ruby Spider and Yellow Day Lilies / pastel studies

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I think I’m getting the hang of drawing these flowers. This piece of paper didn’t even get smudged with suntan lotion or sweat. Hell, I didn’t even bend the paper! It must be getting easier for me. 😉

It is getting hot and humid out there today. In fact I broke a sweat standing still but I was in the sun. These are some of the problems of your plain air artist. Nice life, huh? Yes it is if that’s the kind of problems I’m facing.IMG_2063

The thing about pastels is that no matter how many you have you’ll never have the exact color you need so you have to blend a couple  colors together and just try to get the right value if you can’t get the exact color you want. The first few times I take my pastels out to sketch I want to take all of them. I load up my beach cart because if I leave any at home, those will be the ones I need. Then after I’ve sketched it a couple times I can narrow the colors down to fifteen or twenty and I put them in a baggie in my backpack with my water bottle instead of lugging the whole heavy box of pastels, but the beach cart makes it possible for me to take them all out if I want to. I like to spread them out on the grass to pick the ones I need comparing the colors to the real flowers.

I’m not happy with these colors for the yellow flowers and I won’t be able to use this sketch for my painting but I don’t mind showing you my not so great sketches. It’s another step to planning my painting. If any step of the process doesn’t look good, scrap it and try something else.

Mistakes help me find my way. Being lost on the roads in my newly adopted city helps me learn my way around without using the GPS in my car. I don’t want the car telling me what to do. I don’t like a talking car. The same thing is going on in my head when I’m working on sketches. Some work and some don’t. When I’m drawing I’m making a file in my mind of what works. When I’m ready to paint I’ll have already made the hard decisions. Eventually I’ll be able to find anything I’m looking for in the Virginia Beach / Norfolk area without a map and won’t need the GPS. When you depend on technology to remember things for you your brain gets lazy and you forget. If you burn a path in your brain for drawing or driving you never need the technology to answer questions for you. But, I’m PA Dutch, so, I’m kind of old fashioned anyway. Hey, I have a car and a computer, air conditioning etc. Just so you know I’m not living in the dark ages, I just prefer the old natural ways.

Ruby Spider Lilies / pastel study

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Today I went back to the garden thinking I’d do more sketches of Chicks Dig It, but when I saw these spider lilies I was no longer in love with Chicks Dig It. I’m fickle like that.

That means I’ll have to sketch these a couple more times for my painting because each variety of lily has different shaped petals. Good thing I didn’t start transferring my sketch of Chicks Dig It to the canvas. I like to take my sweet time doing a painting, actually. Sometimes I wish I could just go there and go home with a painting but I never learned exactly how to go about painting in the fast way. Then sometimes I’m glad I’m slow to decide simple things like which variety of lilies to paint because I’d rather have a dozen sketches that I can throw into a flat file and one finished painting, even if it takes me weeks to do it. There’s not enough room in my small apartment for hundreds of canvases but I could find a place for hundreds of sketches. And every time I move, which has been frequently in the past fifteen years or so, I throw away a lot of paintings and give them away.

It seems like in the art world oil paintings are looked at with more respect than other media, but to me the sketching and drawing that leads up to an oil painting is necessary and just as important. And drawings or dry media of any type should be valued equally to an oil painting. But that will never happen.

Chicks Dig It / pastel study

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The name of this variety of lilies is Chicks Dig It. Isn’t that a fun name?! I scouted the garden for lilies budding a couple weeks ago and saw the plaque with this name on it and thought it would be real pretty. Every day or so I’d check on it to see if it was blooming and today it is! My sketch has a few smears, it doesn’t matter. These flowers are only my reference for a painting.

I had to stand in the sun to sketch but that’s ok, I got there earlier and took breaks to sit in the shade. This is the lily I want to do in my painting. Now I have to sketch leaves and buds and a few more flowers but I’m almost ready to plan my flower layout. Finally making a decision on the type of lily is a big step in the project. I can fit maybe 7 or 9 flowers on the canvas that I have tinted and I want to put in a lot of buds too.

I like the wilted flowers they call “deadheads”. Gardeners are so quick to pull off deadheads. They probably don’t like me to paint them but I like the shapes they make so if there’s any for me to sketch I’ll try to get them in my painting too. I feel like if I’m going to paint flowers, leaves and buds why not paint the deadheads too?

orange lilies / pastel

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I love my kneeded erasers. I have one in my hand all the time when I’m sketching with charcoal or pastel. It makes blending less tiring on my hand than a blending stump. To start with, I blob in a color in the general place and size I want my flower to be. Then I use my eraser to push that first layer of color into the paper. As I’m working on the general shape of the flower I’m erasing the extra pastel to define the edges of the petals and adding more color where the petals need to be larger, continuing to blend it down with my eraser. Then I go over the flower with a darker color to put in some shading. Then go back with a lighter color to add the light sides of the petals.

Yesterday it wasn’t supposed to rain until afternoon and I went over to the garden to draw. The sun came out for a little while and I thought I had enough time to finish a sketch before it rained. I didn’t get this sketch finished because it started raining before 11.

That’s ok. This is only flower drawing practice, like a color rough. When I do a finished piece I’ll have to do my background first and put the flowers on top of leaves. Since these flowers don’t look the same two days in a row I might have to work on the painting at home. If I do a painting at home the more sketches of flowers I have the better.

I still haven’t decided which variety of lilies I want to use for my painting so I need to do more sketches first. The more the better so I can get a plan worked out and arrange them for a good composition.