July 29, 2011 - How to Paint Clouds (Finally)

Believe one who has proved it.
-- Virgil, Aeneid

I thought I could live with my previous clouds, but I could not. Ergo, I set off on a cloud-chasing mission.

A lot of folks will tell you how to paint clouds. But Tim Gagnon will tell you how to do it right. This generous soul has posted fabulous YouTube lessons on the art of cloud-painting. I tried to be an apt pupil. Here's what I've concluded:

1. A square brush makes bad clouds.
2. A round brush is a Very Good Thing: see further Tim Gagnon commentary on this issue.
3. Clouds are three-dimensional and must be modeled accordingly.
4. To beat the acrylics clock, you need to pre-mix three or four shades of grey.

Thus armed, off we go.

First, I pre-mixed several shades of grey and kept handy a big blob of unsullied white gesso. I also trimmed off a sponge brush for dabbing:

I next applied the shades of grey in layers (darkest to lightest), blending each layer out with a dry filbert brush:

On the final layer, I preserved a few hard edges:

What a beautiful difference.  At this point, much emboldened, I set down my practice canvas and again attacked the poor tragic clouds in my actual workpiece.

Workpiece before:

Ew. Workpiece after:

Ah-ha!  These were vastly improved but still a bit harsh, so for the next 24 hours I slapped on a gesso glaze every time I walked by the dining room table. The final product:

Splendiferous. Float me away on a fleecy cloud o' bliss. Now I must go write a thank-you note to Mr. Gagnon.

July 23, 2011 - Wrestling with Clouds

"What do I look like?"
"You look like a bear holding on to a balloon," you said.
"Not," said Pooh anxiously, "not like a small black cloud in a blue sky?"
"Not very much."

- A.A. Milne

Today I have been wrestling with clouds, which is neither as biblical nor as romantic as it sounds.

At yesterday's Open Studio, I began two paintings side-by-side. On the left-hand painting, the clouds were lovely, wispy, atmospheric, and everything you would want from a cloud. Witness:

On the right-hand painting, the clouds were . . . not. And they stubbornly have remained so. I've tried regular brushes, sponge brushes, paper towels, fingers, re-glazing, lifting, and even gesso-everything-and-start-overing. Here's where they stand, and they are still utterly, utterly tragic:

I am going to sleep on this problem, and perhaps I will reach for my cure-all collage papers tomorrow. In the meantime, however, the below floated by 'round sunset time:

I think Somebody up there has a wicked sense of humor.

... twenty minutes later . . .

Those tragic clouds were so embarassing that -- admittedly in a fit of pique -- I slashed a glaze of gesso over the whole sky and tackled them again. My weapon of choice for this round was a wet paper towel. It took three additional tries, but now I think can live with them:

My wise sculptor brother-in-law says that all art is a series of experiments. I repeat that to myself like a mantra. It's saving me a bucket in therapy bills.

July 2, 2011 - Loving: Rose Fredrick / Draw 365

“Oh, you mean draw you a cow that looks like a cow?” she said with a poisonous and knowing smile.

“Go ahead. Funny, but everybody I can think of right off the top of the head could sure God draw a fat realistic cow if they ever happened to want to. Hans Hoffman, Kline, Marca-Relli, Guston, Solomon, Rivers, Picasso, Kandinsky Motherwell, Pollock. And you know it, baby. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. You dabblers bug me. You want the applause without all the thousands of hours of labor learning how to draw, how to make brush strokes, learning all the things that give painting some bite and bones even when you don’t use any part of it.  Go ahead, draw the lamp. Quick sketch. Prove I’m a jackass.”

- John D. MacDonald, One Fearful Yellow Eye

This morning, I am 10% chagrined and 90% determined.

I'm chagrined because I've known for years that I should do more heavy lifting, i.e., drawing classes, composition work, value studies, color studies, figure studies, and all the other "business of art" things that - in dear Travis McGee's words - create "bite and bones."

I'm determined because a) I've always enjoyed heavy lifting, and b) I now have opportunity and motivation for it.

At yesterday's Open Studio, we were treated to a guest appearance and critique from author, consultant, and professional curator, Rose Fredrick.

Ms. Fredrick not only has serious art chops, but an energetic style that is simultaneously warm and fearless.  She was sensitive but clear with her critiques and beautifully - mesmerizing-ly - articulate about how to take each person's art to the next level.

Note:  in that last sentence, I said "art," not "paintings." She did give wonderful advice for individual paintings. But she also identified skill-sets specific to each artist's style and medium; shared a basic how-to for plein aire (I needed this so much); suggested artists to contact for further training; and generously dished about what she looks for when curating a exhibit or exhibit/sale.

For hours, literally, Ms. Fredrick unflaggingly discussed our work and the larger creative process.  She vivified concepts that previously were just words to me: "art is a conversation," for example. She gave extensive research and reading take-aways.  I came away clutching pages of notes and reeling from new ideas.  If you ever, ever have a chance to hear this amazing woman speak, you must attend.

In the meantime, please enjoy this interview, Talking with Thiebaud, on Ms. Fredrick's website. Fair warning: you'll want to curl up with your favorite adult beverage and allow plenty of time to digest the delights herein.

Now, from the mountaintop to the laundry: on Ms. Fredrick's advice, I am determined to draw something, anything, from life, every day. No matter what my schedule, surely I can find a pencil and a scrap of lunchbag somewhere in this house.

Thus: Draw 365. I started yesterday while my toddler was creating her own masterpieces:

And today I found a moment - albeit one not quite long enough - while the dog was eating her breakfast:

I don't plan to post 365 pieces of litter from my kitchen counter, but I'll keep you updated on the project. Now go read that interview!