Sunday, July 17, 2016

Revisiting how to sign my artwork

As of right now, I have an "MC" on each of the paintings I've finished.  However, the more I look at the paintings, the more I think that maybe I'll switch to "Mary Carol."  The "MC" looks a little chopped off and incomplete.  I don't want the "Johnston" part of my name to be on my art because it isn't mine.  It's just the result of a cultural expectation.  Although the "Shaw" part of my name was mine at birth, it is not uniquely mine either.  "Mary Carol" is the only part of my name that is truly "me."  I feel a little silly, at the age of 66, to still be going round and round with my name. But it is what it is.  So my signature will be "Mary Carol" with a long curved line leading up to the "M" and a long curved line after the "L".  The beginning and ending curved lines will give it some symmetry - and a little flourish.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Sophie-Grandma Carol Paint Party

Sophie (13-years old) spent the day and night with us on Thursday.  We decided to do some painting.  So we both got online and found a painting that we would try to duplicate. We used acrylic paints since those are so much easier to work with, in my opinion.  I'm still struggling with using oils!

Ron took some photos of us as we were painting:

Here's Sophie's painting.  She had the center yellow for awhile, but she didn't like the way it looked.  The colors are more vibrant in person.  I like the way she gave both the background and the petals of the flower texture with varying shades of color.  And I like the highlight in the center of the flower, too.  She has a good eye for color and detail.  This is not the finished painting, by the way.  She outlined the petals with a dark blue.  I didn't get a photograph of the finished flower before she left, and of course she took the finished painting home with her.

And here's mine.  Making a nest look realistic is hard, and the flowering tree was also difficult.  The bird is a "song thrush."  I basically did the painting and THEN looked up which brown-feathered birds have blue eggs.  Once I found information on the song thrush, I went back and added brown spots to the eggs and brown spots on the bird's breast.  The painting is fairly closely painted from looking at another painting.  Different tree - different bird - but generally the same.  Making a realistic looking nest was my biggest challenge. Painting by looking at another painting, of course, makes me feel that it isn't really "mine."  So I consider this a practice painting. I got the general proportions right, at least.

"Song Thrush Nest" - Acrylic on canvas

So my next project will likely be another bird and nest.  I think I will use a 12x24 canvas turned horizontally.  I will look through photos of birds and nests and their eggs and make the painting look true to whichever bird I choose.  The song thrush in the painting above looks like a real song thrush in only very general terms - the speckled chest and general colors.  So I want to make my next bird and nest painting to be more realistic.  I think I may do a rose-breasted grosbeak, a gold finch, or a black-capped chickadee since we have those come to the bird feeders in our back yard.

Sophie and I had such a good time together - talking and laughing as we painted.  Before the past few months, I never would have imagined that painting would be a fun social activity, but it is!  I have had so much fun with the various "painting parties" I've attended with members of my family.  Sophie and I really did a lot of laughing as we talked about our paintings - and life in general - as we painted.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Birthday List - Set up for Plein Air Painting

The idea of plein air painting really intrigues me.  I would like to do that.  It's a little pricey (several hundred dollars, at least) to get all the materials to do it well.  I would need a lightweight and portable easel with a box for holding paints, brushes, etc.  A stool since I would be unable to stand for a long time painting.  So I think that's what I will ask for my birthday next month.  Then when Ron and I travel, I will take my plein air materials.  He can go shooting, and I can plein art paint.  Sounds like a win-win situation.  IF I'm any good at it.  Maybe I should try "plein air sketching" to begin with to see if there's any hope.

I still sincerely doubt my talent for painting - regardless of how much I enjoy it.  I look at what I've done and think I'm too guarded and stilted.  Ron told me today that I should just PAINT - be creative and just paint.  I don't know that I can do that.  I need an idea, a plan.  I wonder if I'm too guarded and stilted to ever be truly creative.

So since Ron said to "just paint," I decided to do that - and I ended up with a canvas with nothing in particular - just a canvas covered with paint.  LOL!  I need a little more structure and a better plan than "just paint."  

Dirt Path Barn

I'm starting over with the Dirt Road Barn.  And first of all, I'm re-naming it "Dirt Path Barn."  This first photo was taken from across the room and so it is a little distorted.  It really doesn't lean to the left.  LOL!  I put in some lines on the roof and a little texture on the road and the grass - and doors on the barn.  

After doing a little of this and a little of that with it for awhile, here is what it looks like:

I'm not sure where to go with it.  I'd like to put in a fence.  I tried a fence on the right side of the painting, and I ended up taking it out.  Maybe I'll put a fence along the left side leading up to the barn and then one in the background on the right.  

As with anything in life, you don't become competent at something until you work with it for awhile. As I work with the oil paints, the process is slowly becoming not quite so complicated and difficult.  Even with wearing latex gloves, I'm getting paint on my hands and arms.  There's a definite learning curve.  At the rate I'm going, I should invest in some Bounty paper towel stock because I'm going through lots of them!

I'm uncertain how to make this particular painting better.  It all comes down to the fact that I probably should've had a definite plan in mind before starting on it.  
Issues I see right now:
(1)  The dirt road looks wrong.  I think a solid dirt road without the grass strip down the middle would look better.  Just an old dirt path, really.

(2)  There needs to be "more" to the painting.  Perhaps I'll put some "impressions" of flowers in the foreground, and some cattle in the background.  Hay bales, maybe?  No - no cattle!  I have no idea how to do that. I'll stick to hay bales instead.

(3) I tried to get my colors from the three primary colors, plus white and black - and I'm having a hard time getting the colors I want.  Kay has talked about getting together a color-mixing class, and I definitely need to take that class!  One of the video lessons I watched was on mixing colors.  It's how to get the various shades of colors that has me stumped.  I want a deep rich grassy green - and the greens I've mixed just aren't getting where I want them, and I don't know what to do to get the colors I want.  I think I'll run by Hobby Lobby tomorrow and buy some greens and browns.  I'd rather have a tube of the colors I want rather than trying to mix up colors.  Once I have a color in the general range that I want, I can add other colors to it to get exact shades. 

(Later)  I went back upstairs to my studio and worked on the painting some more:

I took out the green strip in the middle of the dirt road, and I added some shading to the road.  I put a fence in the background on the right and added the shapes for two round hay bales.  I need to clean up the fence line.  I will probably go back up to the studio in a little while and take out the fence, re-paint the grass, and then re-do the fence.  I can see that if I shape the fence line with a curve, it will give the appearance of a hill in the background - which is good.   I also put in some wispy clouds. 

I'm thinking that maybe a line of trees beyond the fence might look good.  I'll play around with it later and see what works.  So far the road doesn't look very realistic.  I need to get online and look up "dirt roads" and see how artists make them realistic.

I need to let the paint dry a little bit before I fill in the details for the round hay bales.  The little "eraser" tool has come in handy to scrap off paint when I want to add a different color.   The front bale should be bigger, too.    Do you see the "hint" of yellow flowers in the right foreground?  

Overall, at least I'm not as discouraged with it as I was earlier.  It's getting better as I work on it.  The metal gates across the doors of the barn are a little sloppy.  I may re-do them, too.  

(Even later)
I went back to my studio and took out the fence - added some trees. Then I decided that instead of putting the fence back in, I would add a pond.  Right now the pond is a little green because I was unable to remove all the green from the grass.  So I guess I have to let it dry and then repaint it with the light blue.  Or maybe I can just "lay" the blue on it without brushing so it won't mix with the green.  That's one of the techniques that I've got to learn in order to work in oils.   I enlarged the hay bale in the foreground - although it could still be even a little larger.  I'd really like to add some cows grazing down near the pond.  I may look into that tomorrow.  For that distance, they wouldn't have to be very exact - so it shouldn't be too difficult.  Ha!  I've learned already that things that "look" simple to paint, seldom are!  

One thing I learned well today is that I need to clean the handles of my brushes in addition to cleaning the brush part.  I didn't put on gloves when I made the latest changes because it was late and I knew I'd only work on it for a few minutes before going to bed.  Still, just from touching the handles of a couple of brushes, my hands had paint all over them. I had to scrub with soap for a couple minutes to get all the paint off my hands.  So I will have to work more on keeping the entire length of my brushes clean.  Basically it means constantly wiping them down as I use them.  I may as well buy a large package of paper towels to keep in my studio.  I have a feeling I'll be going through them quickly until I get more into the hang of things.

Monday, July 4, 2016
After walking at Pinkerton Park this morning, I went by Hobby Lobby and bought some small tubes of different greens and browns.  I came back and worked a bit on the "Dirt Path Barn."  I added another tree by the barn, put a vine growing up on the front, re-did the water in the pond, and added more definition to the hay bales and the foreground flowers.  

(Later on 7/4/2016)
I'm done with this for now.  I put more detail on the road, the hay bales, added a tree to the front side of the pond, and put in a fence.  I worked on highlighting the front of the barn and the path to lighten it up a little bit.  I'm satisfied with it for now.  I think it still looks too plain.  I'm thinking of possibly taking out the dirt part in front of the barn and just have grass around the barn with the dirt path going around to the back.  I'm not sure.  I took it off the easel and set it up across the room so I could look at it.  I cleaned off my palette and put a new canvas on the easel.  So I'm ready now to work on something else until I get some inspiration to work on this painting again.  It's my first completed oil painting - although I'm not really finished with it yet.  

Things I will probably do in a day or two:
(1) Highlight the roof of the barn
(2) More definition to the hay bale on the right.
(3) The trees behind the pond look too uniform.  I need to either make one taller or add some shorter ones - or something to make it not look like a row of identical trees.

I emailed the above photo to my art teacher, Kay, and asked if she had any suggestions.  She said I could take some of the gray that is in the barn and "drag" it over the surface of the path so that it lays over the top of the rust color.  That's to give the path some variance so that it recedes behind the barn.  Right now it is too much the same color.  So I will probably go work on that for awhile tonight before I go to bed. 

And yes - I DID work on it more.  I took out the path from the barn to the dirt road, and I added some gray highlights and texture to the road.  I didn't match the green colors very well where I put grass back into the painting.  So I will work on that more tomorrow.  Oh, and I added a couple of birds earlier today - I had almost forgotten about them.  I got online this evening and Googled "paintings with dirt roads" and looked at how other artists painted dirt roads.  I need to make the grass look like grass - or weeds anyway.  Then the road needs to have little rocks and gravel in it - maybe a mud puddle even.  And highlights need to be added to the dirt area outside each of the gates of the barn.  It is interesting seeing how the gray I added to the road makes it look like a hill.  I'll work on it more tomorrow.  It's already back on the easel.  It had about a two hour "done" phase before I started working on it again.  Ha ha!

(July 5, 2016) And the solution to when you work and work and work on trying to make a road look realistic, and it doesn't.  Just take it out!  

Now that the road/path is gone, I feel I need to put something in the foreground.  Not sure what.  Perhaps I will leave it as is.  I'll think about it.  :-)  I also need to rename it since there is no longer a dirt road or path.  I'm a little weary of this painting.  From now on, I will have a plan BEFORE I start painting.  Then I won't have all this "should I do this, or should I do that" the whole time.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Dirt Road Barn - Take 2

I spent a couple hours re-doing "Dirt Road Barn" tonight in oils.  I changed the painting to make it my own.  The new painting has a barn and a dirt road in it, but, except for that, it's nothing like the painting I first looked at and tried to imitate.   After tonight's experience, I find that I think I might like acrylic painting better than oil painting.

I blocked out the new version of "Dirt Road Barn."  I put the barn on the opposite side of the page and gave the dirt road a new path.  So I guess, really, it is no longer "Dirt Road Barn."  I blocked it out like I did with acrylics, and I'm afraid that might be the wrong way to do it.  I painted a solid gray barn with a solid red roof, solid yellow/brown road, solid green grass, and solid blue sky.  No shading, highlighting, low lighting done yet - just the basic shapes.  I have no idea if I'll be able to add the shading, etc. and make it look right.

I did NOT do it the way the video series did it.  The woman who did the series did a dark sketching on the canvas, and her paintings ended up being more impressionistic.  I'm more of a realistic artist.  I simply don't have the "eye" to do impressionistic or abstract art.

I guess tomorrow after church I will see if I can add shading, highlighting and low lighting and give it depth, shape and distance with oil paints.  I should've taken a photo before I came downstairs.  I will take one tomorrow before I do anything else to it - and then I'll remember to take regular photos as I work on it.  I like to see the progression of my painting.

I drew the barn on a sheet of graph paper, then cut it out, held it up to the canvas and traced around it with a neutral shade of paint.  Once I had the basic shape, I was able to fill in the lines for the roof, etc.

I'm feeling a little discouraged right now.  I will be sad if tomorrow turns out to be a bust as far as making the painting look the way I want it to.

I have one main concern about using oil paints - and that's the toxicity of the materials.  I have to wear latex gloves since the chemicals in the paints and solvents can be damaging.  One of the materials even had a "possibly associated with cancer" warning on it.  One good thing about acrylic paints is that it's all water soluble and no cancer-associated substances in it.  With oil paints, you have to be concerned with ventilation.  In one of the videos yesterday, there was even a warning about spontaneous combustion - and how some artists have burned down their homes and/or studios with the chemicals catching on fire. Sigh.  Don't have those issues with acrylic paints.  

Oil Painting - Plein Air Painting - watching two entire series of lessons in one day

When I had my first art lesson (I've only had two), the teacher, Kay, mentioned plein air painting.  I had never heard of it.  I asked what it meant.  It simply means painting outdoors - taking your paint, easel and brushes outside to paint scenes from whatever you find outside.  I guess it's usually something in nature, but it could also be city or small town scenes.   Kay had a magazine she showed me that was titled "Plein Air."  Being the absolute obsessive personality that I am, as soon as I got home, I looked it up.  I placed a 2-year subscription to the magazine that included use of the magazine's website which is

The website has a series of introductory video lessons.  The first series is an introduction to oil painting.  The second series is a introduction to plein air painting.  I've watched every video in both series.  HOURS of instruction, information and demonstration.  And it has helped.  I understand now what it means to "tone" the canvas before painting.  I know that I need to purchase some refined linseed oil.  Other than that, I've got what I need to paint - and the linseed oil isn't an immediate necessity.

I understand better how oil painting is different from acrylic paint.  I will have to start over with my painting of the girls sitting on the rock in Alaska.  I thought it was funny that the video instructor, Laurel Daniel, kept mentioning how squinting is so important to plein air painting.  My family teases me every year at Christmas because I like to squint at the Christmas tree so that I can see just the colors of the lights.  In the past (before pre-lit trees), it helped me see if the light strands were evenly distributed.  Now I squint at the Christmas tree because I just like the way the tree looks when I squint at it.

In plein air painting, squinting helps the artist see VALUE.  That's another big word in painting that I didn't understand  until I watched the videos.  It's all about light and dark - which is ultimately what art is all about.  Light and dark is how we show distance and shape and depth.

So it isn't quite 9:00 p.m. tonight, and I think I'll go up to my studio and do an oil painting.  Maybe I'll re-do the "Dirt Road Barn" painting.  I like the overall look of it, but since I had done it in acrylics, I couldn't make the changes that I needed to make.  So if I do it over in oils, I can make it more "mine" and also make the improvements I want to make.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Painting with oils - first experience

Yesterday, I gathered all my acrylic paints and brushes and put them in plastic tubs and put them away.  I cleaned off the table where I paint, put out new paper towels and settled down to try my hand at oil painting.  I wanted to re-create this acrylic painting that I did last week - but I want to use oils instead.

As I painted, I learned that oil paints handle much differently than acrylic paints.  There will be a learning curve to this endeavor.   As I struggled to get the right look, I realized that I probably should have started off with some small, fairly easy paintings.  First, it takes MUCH less oil paint to do the job.  However, the fact that it doesn't dry quickly means that it's easy to smear.   A major advantage is that when I didn't like the shape of the rocks in the foreground, I was able to put a little of the Gamsol on a paper towel and just wipe away the tops of the rocks and re-do them.

It is interesting to me that it was hard to get the basic shapes/proportions to look as good as in the painting above.  When I left it, I had only blocked in the rocks, water, and two far mountain lines.

And I don't like it.   I don't like the general shapes of the snow-capped mountains.  So today I didn't work on it.  I met up with my art teacher, Kay, who had ordered some supplies for me.  I showed her the photograph above and asked what she'd advise me. She said that if the paint was still wet (it was), I should use the shaping tool and scrap away the paint where the girls will be.  So I did that earlier.  Then I stopped.  I decided I needed to learn more about oil painting before I did anymore.

I started researching "oil painting" online and on Youtube.  I watched some videos, and I believe I need to start over and handle the painting differently.   I must think more about it, and decide how to proceed.

Pandemic Painting

The Coronavirus pandemic is in full swing, and people across the world are self-isolating in their homes. Quarantines are wide-spread, and s...