Thursday, February 27, 2014

I saw a bee!

There at my doorstep on Sunday morning, I saw my first bee of the season. It was the buzz of that little honey bee that got me flashing back to steamy hot summer days when my yard is alive with bumbles and honeys and other bee species unknown to me.

And it was then I remembered last year's intent to start up some bee beneficial plants. I had my seeds. Alas, I failed to carry through.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not merciless. I do have quite a few bee friendly species. Flowering crabapple, flowering quince, butterfly bush, lemon balm, holly, sweet pepperbush, goldenrod and jewel weed come to mind.

But it's actions that count, right? Ya, right! :-)

Lavender, Thyme and Rosemary seeds
from Johnny's Selected Seeds in Albion,  Maine.

A small flat, seeded with the above.
There are lots of seeds left over, so I may start up another flat soon. And if something goes wrong, come Spring there's always a trip to the local nursery where I can stock up with ready to plant herbs.

This post is dedicated to my good friend Val Littlewood.

Do spend a bit of time on her Pencil and Leaf blog. At the very least, you have to read this recent post. When you do, I can guarantee with certainty that the next time you see a bee, you will think of Val. And when you do, drop her a line and let her know. She loves a good bee story!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Good Enough Panel Making

What's a panel? To an oil or acrylic painter, it's an alternative to a canvas support. It could be of solid wood, plywood, MDF (medium density fiberboard), copper or even one of the new composites like Dibond. Sometimes canvas is secured to a panel.

A panel, like a canvas, needs a primer base and then a ground to be considered complete. Examples of primers are rabbit skin glue and acrylic dispersion primers (like Golden's GAC 100.) Examples of grounds are gesso, lead paint and acrylic dispersion grounds (like Golden's Gesso.)

Just those two little paragraphs above open to a world full of knowledge, opinions and outright nonsense. I try to wade through it all with the likes of forums within Natural Pigments and AMIEN. I keep up to date with products and research from the web sites of Golden and Gamblin. Museum sites can be tremendous sources of information for art conservation. (See here and here for starters on these stunning resources.)

I've tried linen panels but prefer a smoother surface. I'm not painting on very large supports, the biggest at this time being 16 x 24 inches. These are my surface and size requirements.

Over the past couple of years, I've tried 1/4" "Birch" plywood from the local building supplier, Home Depot. Splits in the veneer surface and localized warping plagued me.

Home Depot also offers MDF and I've been, until recently, working with their 1/8" MDF. I did find slight warping apparent in sizes over 12 inches.

I have settled on 1/4" MDF. No warping over a span of two feet.

To prepare my panels, I first cut to size on my table saw. Then over the course of a week or so, I will apply two coats of Golden GAC 100 to all sides. Then it's a coat or two of Golden's Gesso all around with a couple more layers for the front. I then let the panels sit for a week or so to dry more completely.

This little process is built upon the product information on Golden's site. It can possibly change over time so I visit regularly. My requests for technical support with Golden's products are always well answered. I like 'em!

You see, my goal here has been to establish a process that I'm comfortable working through and that I feel provides good protection for a painting's future. My standardized process feels "good enough" for me. I like that!

I do as some point want to explore MDFs. Are they all the same? Do some fit better with GAC 100? Perhaps I should scuff up the panel first?

I might want to explore grounds as well. Do I want to use a lead ground instead of acrylic? Will rolling acrylic gesso provide a smoother surface than a brush?

One could easily become lost in the technical abyss and never come out. I do have experience with that phenomenon. I think that's why my "good enough" statement is key here. I may be able to make incremental improvements in my panels but certainly don't need to delay painting. It's good enough!

(See my earlier posts on panel making here and here.)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Another gift painting

Here's another little painting I recently gave to a friend. It was my first try at a Luis Melendez copy, just a little bit and rather incomplete at that.

A small piece of a Melendez
MDF panel
8 x 10 inches

I have a second copy that's more complete and a third just getting underway that's a full size version. We'll take  peeks at those later in the contexts of panel making and Old Master copying.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Meet Junior

In December I began this painting of a friend's cat, Junior. At that time, all I had was a picture in that pose on a windowsill. I kind of made up the rest as I went along! So naturally, lots of changes that led to lots of changes. :-)

Junior taught me that planning is important. I've some new work that I'm trying to hold in step by step fashion. It's hard. I want to dwell on the details here, and then there! And then...

So more on that later. For now, here's Junior! He's a very sweet cat! :-)

Linen on panel
8 x 10 inches

Note: This image is somewhat oversaturated and reading too contrasty. Since this photo, I've stopped using my iPhone 5 and gone back to the Canon with raw files for art work photos. But the iPhone was so handy...

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bird Art Books

My current bird art books, for instruction and inspiration. Between these books and my art work I'm developing a greater awareness of birds. I'm now more likely to hear their songs and notice movement in trees.

Does one really need to know anatomy to draw birds? All three books cover basic anatomy--a featherless body, feather groups, beak and eye position, and feet details. Feather groups work for me and I'll present them once I get my "coverts" in order.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Birds with ink

I had an introduction to the dip pen during one of my Cornell courses. At the time, I found no pleasure with that out of control little springy thing. Nib stuck in paper. Nib stuck in floor. Nib stuck in hand. Never mind the ink blotches and spills.

I recently had a real urge to give it another go. I'm using a Hunt 108 crowquill with Higgins Black India ink. It's amazing the range of line width allowed by this nib. The paper is Strathmore Drawing Medium.

My thought was to develop an expressive line, one that could describe a real live bird and hopefully have the sense of not just a bird, but this bird.

Well, it will take practice to modulate the line width and ink flow! What I found so very cool was that I could develop a beak top in a single stroke. The possibilities...

I love this pose taken from a recent photo. There will be more of this little one.

White Breasted Nuthatch

Another favorite! They have the biggest blackest eyes! And that tuft, forever in motion.

Tufted Titmouse

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Bird Art

Seemingly out of nowhere came an interest in drawing birds! Here are a few days of my first sketches. Many are from direct observation at my feeders. A few are copy work from b/w printouts of photos. I like using photos to capture interesting poses and help me practice accuracy.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cleaning brushes

Some days I paint a little, break a little, and repeat. I get used to leaving my brushes out. And then I forget to clean them.

I've put off cleaning the most recent oversight for some time. I tried a soak in Gamsol but nothing doing. Spike oil would cut the dried paint but it's expensive stuff for cleaning brushes.

I heard that Murphy's would work so I put it up against the mighty turpentine, two brushes for each. The turpentine--fast, powerful, and full of toxic warnings--cleared up two brushes in 30 minutes or so. Murphy's took a few hours with its two but achieved the same results as turpentine! I can't find a warning of any kind on this product and its smell reminds me of lemon balm. Its MSDS doesn't seem to show any out of the ordinary cautions.

So unless I'm in a real hurry, and I can't imagine why, it's Murphy's for me! :-)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Inspired by an onion

In a painting from a few months back I found joy and frustration. I liked what I was doing with the light but felt some things were wrong. After repeated deconstructions, it became clear that I failed to show enough details, enough clues, to properly identify the sphere as an onion. Now, I didn't want to take this to photorealism or high botanical accuracy but I did want it to read as a vegetable. (I do have other issues to get to with this painting. We'll just take them one by one.)

I realized that if I couldn't properly draw an onion with good detail, how could I model one in paint with a slightly loose style? I don't think "loose" is about painting quickly and willy-nilly but actually a very controlled effect by an artist who know the details and knows how much detail can be left out.

I'm reading "Drawing From Observation" by Brian Curtis. It's bringing me to ponder what I see versus what I think I see. I think this is a fascinating subject and I'll get into more details in upcoming posts as I work further into the book's exercises.

For now, here are a couple of quotes from Chapter 3, Mechanics, that I find intriguing:
"Fluctuating line is the single most crucial element for establishing the overall level of sensitivity in a drawing."

"Every mark that you make needs to be in constant flux to embody the restless energy and tension that underlie the functioning of our biological organism and, more specifically, our perceptual experience."

So for now I am going to freely play with line. And onions. This won't get my onion properly painted today or even next week. But that's okay. There's no rush.

Here's one with a blunted 2B.  Where is my sandpaper...

"A line is a dot that went for a walk." 
                 Paul Klee  1879-1940

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

After a few months of introspection, I think I'm back. More on the details in upcoming posts but for now I'd like to share inspiration by way of my teacher, my mentor. Some time ago she was standing over me and quoted while I worked through an old master design exercise:

"Begin by adorning yourself with these vestments: Love, Reverence, Obedience, and Constancy."

Cennino d'Andrea Cennini 1370-1440

You know those moments when time disappears and your art is really working? That quote reminds me of this.

Friday, October 5, 2012


I have a few pieces on display at Cornell University's Alfred R. Mann Library. Marcia, my instructor for all three botanical art classes, recently brought this exhibit together. It couldn't have been any easier for artists. All I had to do was was place high resolution images into my public Dropbox!

For details on each course, see the links at the top right on my blog.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


After a few weeks of focusing on my first still life, I felt the vacuum upon calling it done. I did have a couple of limited palette charts that needed wrapping up.

In this first chart the center row contains the starting pigments. Columns 1, 4, and 7 are the tubed colors, others being mixed neighbors. Kind of amazing the color range!

Yellow Ochre, Ercolano Red, Ultramarine Blue
Mixed with Vine Black or Titanium White

This second chart is certainly a more subdued version and seeing that I used Vine Black for blue, I left out darkening with black, going only for tints with Titanium White. It might sound odd but I can stare at these charts for the longest time, imaging the worlds that could be built with such a humble set of pigments.

Lemon Ochre, Burnt Umber Reddish, Vine Black
Mixed with Titanium White

In an effort to keep work ahead of me, I started a couple of studies. This first is based on an painting by Adriaen Coorte. Many of his paintings make use of a table top, mostly of stone. I like his warm/cool methods and I'm trying to apply them here. Next I will straighten my edges (they were hand painted, no tapes or tools) and then paint in some sea shells.

Raw Umber Green Dark, Burnt Umber Cyprus Dark

I'd painted this portion of a Luis Melendez painting some time ago. Now I'm retrying it using a method that I am picking up second hand from an artist friend studying in a local atelier. The surface is first coated with Burnt Umber Cypress Dark thinned with OMS. Form is developed by rubbing out with a rag in my hand, a rag over my finger, and a cotton swab. In some cases I have to pick up the brush and reapply pigment. It's really quite thrilling to see an image begin to appear out of the darkness. I wanted to push this further but by 2 AM I was fading and knew this umber would be dry when I woke.

Rub out technique.
Burnt Umber Cyprus Dark

So now I have two pieces in my queue and I'm working on laying out another Melendez copy piece. By the way, I've jumped away from smooth panels--birch plywood, GAC 100, acrylic gesso--and switched to linen. The charts are on linen pads, the paintings on linen panels. Both products are Centurion OP DLX, deluxe oil primed linen. I enjoy the grab of the canvas against my brush and paint. Additionally, the rub out technique needs the linen's texture.