I am back from a fun-filled week with eight artists between the age of 5 and 8. I include the paintings below: we also painted wooden boxes, made clay animals, and Kindness rocks. The young artists were good sports and worked hard, but these projects are for the parents. What will the kids remember?
Anime Portraits: One for each young artist by their teacher. The kids took these and colored them in; usually with help from their buddies.
Lava Monster: I was the first Lava Monster on the climbing gym each day. Whomever I tag becomes “IT”, and so on. Each kid will remember the rules: they recited them enough times to other players.
The Broadway: Part of a stage set, two doors beneath a grand arch became a kid magnet. If I stepped out of the room, a kid or two would be behind the doors, giggling.
Morning Run: We started each day with a run around the park; not just any run. Think Simon Says on the run. They had to hop, skip, run, or walk backwards, even skip backwards.
Sea Turtle Watercolor & Pen
Kids had a hard time but stuck with it. This was not a project for wimps. Started with pencil drawing, step by step. Added watercolor: blending and bleeding hues into each other. Once dried, they traced the pencil with pen.
Georgia O’Keeffe Acrylic Painting on Canvas
Like the famous Southwestern Artist, these guys stared at ONE flower and painted from it. I helped them through the process: paintings the background, the center, the petals, the outer petals, the background again, and adding highlights.
Interested in Classes? Sign up through the Bankhead Theater/Bothwell Arts Center. Classes are from 10:00 to 3:30 and run for a week. We have 3 weeks of classes coming up this summer.
I will be running an Art Camp for the week of April 5th to April 9th at the Bothwell Art Center in Livermore!
It has been a couple of years since I led the afterschool classes at Fallon Middle School. These students are a bit younger. So excited to play with paint, rocks, drawing, and stories. The energy, the imagination, the mess: looking forward to it all!
A dream come true! I have moved into a studio space at the Bothwell Art Center in Livermore, CA. I will still be drawing at home, but painting at the Bothwell. Today I moved in my easel and started reworking an old painting. The space is more than adequate, the room comfortable, and the light amazing. These windows look out onto Bothwell Park.
January 21, 2021, I decided to start drawing every day: representational. It is hard to find structure in these endless days where weekends melt into weekdays. I even forgot what season it was one day. So, I began drawing and posting to Instagram to mark time passing as much as to keep my sketching in shape. And yet, there is more. My son is taking an beginning art class in college and his professor and her TA both feel representational art is dying. They call it “Drafting.”
And yet, the Professor continues to show Da Vinci drawings in class. So, I have been thinking a lot about western Art History and the future of Art. Computers, drawing tablets, cameras, and art applications have made drawing like Da Vinci within grasp of most of the population. I’m sure in the next few months a filter will come out to give your selfies the “Da Vinci” effect, if it has not already. Does this mean drawing is dead, though? Are we going to abandon our pencils and pens and sketchbooks for tablets and cameras?
I don’t think so. I am excited about art expanding media, textures, formats, and so on, especially digital media. But I think there is something poetic about a hand drawn, from life. I have a few quick sketches I made of my sons when they were so young. As a mother of 3 boys, 2 years apart from each other, a quick sketch was all I had time for. And yet, those few pages I treasure most. Photos capture a lot, but a personal sketch of a loved one has a deeper meaning.
You can copy a photo but you can’t sketch a loved one quickly without years of experience. I think that really sums it up.
Download jpeg or pdf for free. This is my gift to all my Mom friends (and their friends) to help them through this pandemic. I have had a few blue days, and I find making myself a cup of coffee, tea, or pouring a glass of wine, pulling out the colored pencils, and coloring one of these improves my spirits.
This works for Artists, as well. Shade or color as you wish without concentrating on ratios, perspective, or composition.
More than a month in “Shelter in Place” for us here in Alameda County, California. We now carry masks with us, even on runs or bike rides. Even for an introvert, such as myself, staying in is getting old.
Finding Time for Art
Yup, everyone else seems to have hours of to fill but I am struggling to find time for myself here. While my husband programs on his computer in his office, I am the go-to for three teenage sons on just about every topic. Everything adds up: making masks, making dinners, keeping up on the laundry, overseeing home-schooling, and cleaning the house. I have my three sons helping me every step of the way, but, supervision and guidance take time as well. So what of my art? I am drawing a lot.
I want every drawing to count: an idea for a painting or a color sheet for a friend. Everything matters more these days than it used to. I am very thankful for what we have here and now at this moment. My three sons worry about the future: the 8th grader who may suddenly be going to high school next year; the sophomore concerned about his grades and the SATs, and finally, my Senior who not only won’t have a graduation ceremony, and now it is unclear his college will open in the Fall. I tell my sons we must take it one day at a time. We will face these challenges when they come. In the meantime, let’s color my latest coloring sheet:
Embarrassing how much time has passed since my last posting. I have been busy! Painting, mostly. First on tiny canvases and rocks sprinkled between larger works. As February 2020 rolls in, I present my nearly finished or finished paintings first.
Barbara Linn, Physicist 1941
The San Francisco Women’s Art gallery had a call for artists for their show “Hidden Figures” inspired by the film of the same name. My painting with sirens seemed a natural fit, however, my son, Elliot recalled one of our relatives was a hidden figure.
Barbara Linn, is a pretty distant relative through marriage: she is my Step Father-in-law’s first wife. Her test scores in high school were so high that she received a full scholarship to the New Jersey College for Women. She pursued Physics even though the college did not offer such classes; she took those at Rutgers. She was the only woman in all her classes. When she graduated, she was told there was no career for women in Physics.
Four Days to Paint This Picture
In this painting, an old man looks out over the stormy seas to light breaking through the clouds in the distance, but something is in the water and possibly nearer. This painting is also about texture: added everything to this picture: salt, alcohol, blowing the color around in the clouds. I consider this my best piece yet. I love the balance of nature and the fantasy. I also submitted this piece for the Hidden Figures show.
Work in Progress: Acrylic on Canvas
I usually work on three or four canvases at a time.
The Utility Box on Scarlett Drive and Dublin Boulevard is DONE!
As a gift to myself, I am going to provide pictures and comments on every aspect of the utility box, titled “1953”. I am proud of this artwork and I hope my fellow citizens of Dublin enjoy it.
First, let me say, the location is awesome; my box is actually on the Iron Horse Trail! People bike and walk by it everyday. This is important, because I painted the box as much for the pedestrians as for the car traffic. I also want to thank the folks at Cook’s Collision who re-landscaped the corner this weekend. Gone are the weeds and trash, and now Burnt Umber tan bark to perfectly compliment my box!
This is painting of my father, John Billstrom, when he was in the Army. It just so happens that this utility box is located on the southwestern corner of the Camp Parks Army Base. Although much of the base has been developed into housing recently, there is still a functioning base at the center. The panel with my Dad in uniform and his old car is the picture everyone sees as they drive by.
A passerby asked if the road was the one off the Altamont Pass in Livermore, and he was right! I have sketched and painted out that way and this was my inspiration for the wide open space behind my Dad and his car.
I have to put in people in my paintings and this is my favorite part of the whole utility box. The girls on the swing in the background could stand alone as a picture and I would be happy. The first figure I painted had a dog and looked like she was posing for a school picture. The next day I came back and scrubbed her and the dog out of existence. Then I sketched in the girl in the white dress behind the swing in less than 2 minutes. She just flowed from my brush as if she was meant to be there!
I tell myself little stories in my head while I paint. In this panel, the pretty girl in the white dress came over to play on the swing while her mother is picking something up at the gas station (Her mother is the figure in the doorway on the rear panel). The Mom in the blue dress on this side, (her daughter is swinging and her son is reading a book) has a day off of work and drove out to the country from Oakland. She was low on gas, so they stopped here and the kids spied the tire swing and begged to play on it. She is happy to oblige as it gives her a chance to read her book. Her son quickly bored with the swing and went back to HIS book. His sister and her new found friend are playing make believe on the swing and taking turns. Is this too much information? Sorry!
The box needed a plane. The theme of the utility box this year was “Transportation through the ages”. Air travel in the 1950s seems quaint and classy now. People dressing up to fly, being served meals on real dishes, and walking to the plane on the tarmac. Of course, the planes, especially the propeller ones, where insufferably noisy. Interesting to note, that when I started looking into aircraft from this age, passenger planes became jets around now. So, this will be a propeller plane taking a shorter hop from San Francisco to Boise, ID, say.
I will never stop loving Edward Hopper’s work and his influence is all over this painting. I wonder if he would have painted in acrylic had he been given the chance. Instead of waiting days between washes, he could cover them in minutes. But he might have missed the luminosity oil brings.
More stories here, there is the mother in the classy purple dress, gloves (!) and white handbag coming through the door. The service worker is just visible inside the garage. He is thinking hard about the car he is currently working on. You can just see the outline of the clerk inside the store. Two policemen are in there asking questions regarding a traffic accident the occured the night before.
I had to put in this beauty; it was the 1950s and these majestic giants soared over California then. I am not sure Condors would have chosen Dublin’s fields for their hunting, but this is art and I wanted to put him there. Think of it, he would have dwarfed the two turkey vultures painted on the Right Side Panel with a wing span of 9 feet. Hopefully, the breeding program will continue working well.
I had a lot of fun adding these two turkey vultures! I see them just about every day around our house and the hills of Dublin. It would seem very empty, indeed, without these birds circling overhead.
I added the deer on the nature panel, in part because this is the side that faces the Iron Horse trail. So much wildlife lives along that trail, not just deer. I challenge all Iron Horse travelers to look for the turtles along the water line or the small foxes that dart about at sunset.
The Top Panel
I couldn’t resist inserting the flying saucers for a utility box from the 1950s. Originally, these objects were supposed to be on a side panel, but I moved them onto the top. They are really quite hard to see without a ladder, so that will be OUR secret!
That’s it for now. I am not sure Dublin will be able to support more utility boxes next year, they are short staffed right now. If they do, I will definitely put my brush in for painting another! In the meantime, if you are in the area, check it out!
The end of June rushes in next week and I realize I have not told folks what I am working on! The Utility Box at the corner of Scarlett Drive and Dublin Boulevard or where the Iron Horse trail runs into Dublin Boulevard or across from the Arlen Ness motorcycle dealer.
The box, titled “1953” is a picture of my Dad and his cadillac driving the California back roads. Conceivably, he might have passed through Dublin back when it was just a gas station on the side.
I work most mornings (weekday and weekend) before 1:00. After that the sprinklers come on and the wind picks up. Feel free to stop by! The plan is to finish the box the first week of July.
TEDx Emerald Glen Park is happening this Saturday from 1:00 to 5:00 and I will be there and I am bringing racks, courtesy of the Pleasanton Art League (P.A.L.) P.A.L. supports artists and their communities whenever possible, including loaning their art racks. TEDx Emerald Glen Park is just one of a few events P.A.L. has supported this year.
As for me, I am hoping to display three of my paintings ranging from the classical to the quirky:
“Painting is like walking along a cliff in the fog; At any moment you can be 100% wrong.”
–Paul Rangell, Professor University of California, Santa Cruz
YouTube and the internet are full of videos telling you how an artist makes a “good” painting. I am going to tell you how I made a bad one. I later made it better and I will show you that as well. But this article is really about failing. My mixed media piece did not start out bad, in fact, I think it had potential.
Step 1: Capture the movement
Step 2: Sketch in the forms
Step 3: Lay down the ink!
Step 4: Watercolor washes over entire painting!
Step 5: Paint in deep water with ink… and blow it.
I carefully laid down a wash for the background but did not keep my eye on the left side of the painting while I worked on the right. The ink crept onto my Mosasaur and formed a permanent jagged edge on his once-smooth head. Ugh!
Step 7: Make a bad painting worse
I decide to focus on another part of the painting while I try to figure out what to do with the mess on the mosasaur. I puddled watercolor over the bubbles to see if they will dry with interesting textures. They did not, in fact, the bubbles look nasty.
Disgusted with my painting, I had a glass of wine and watched a movie with my family. Putting some space really helps. But before I dropped the piece in the recycling I figured I had nothing to lose by working on the piece more. The first thing I did was add blood, well painted crimson lake and rose adder onto the lower left side of the painting. I added some cobalt and mineral violet for depth. Whose blood is it in the painting? I do not know; could be another diver, a large fish, or an injured mosasaur. What I do know, is now my primarily green/blue painting has a splash of color and I feel better.
The error becomes the method
Next, I took out my ink again and painted similar shadows on the rest of the mosasaur and as well as his kin on the right side of the painting. The light is more dramatic, the tone is less subtle, but now the picture is becoming more balanced. I almost like the mosasaurs now.
Acrylic and salt for the bubbles
I add titanium acrylic paint, watered down, over and over the bubbles. A little tone added back into the picture, here and there and a subtle sprinkling of salt. Salt attracts the pigment as it dries.
Finish with more patterns
Adding subtle dappled reflections over the tiger-like skin of the mosasaurs helps detract from the clumsy ink shading.
The painting is not finished, but not in the recycling, either. Nor is it the one I envisioned with clean, crisp lines, careful patterns, and subtle gradations. It has merits though, my mistakes freed me to be truly creative.
Seven pieces of my work are hanging in the Firehouse Art Center until March 23. I brought the paintings over on Wednesday and assessed them with curator, Alena Sauzade. There is a clear theme to these paintings: Water. Not just that, but the water line: the different imagery between what is above the water and below.
“Sailing Over the Jellies”, Watercolor/Ink on display on the Pleasanton Art League Member Wall at the Firehouse Art Center
I have been working on this idea for a few years and even started a Graphic Novel on the fear of deep water. When I swim in the ocean, lakes, even a chlorinated pool, I wonder what lurks in its depths. I suspect this fear is pretty common and might even be instinctive. I will be posting completed paintings here.
Reception for Firehouse Art Center
Please come to the reception for both the main exhibit in the Harrington Gallery and my, modest wall upstairs, next Thursday, February 28 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Public welcome, modest refreshments served.
I have not posted in a while, first the Holidays and now painting for my upcoming show at the Firehouse Art Center. My paintings go up on February 20th on the Pleasanton Art League Member space upstairs. There is no entry fee and the hours are noon to 5 during weekdays, until 6 on weekends.
I am still drawing in my sketchbooks in pen (Micron black pens, 05, 005, 01) but that is not what I mean by Ink. 2017-18 I dipped back into watercolor; a sometimes unforgiving medium. Now, I upped the ante and by employing India Ink like watercolor. However, unlike watercolor, there is no scrubbing out errors and even the most subtle shade is permanent. But the darks are so luscious!
Manatee Islands: Ink on watercolor paper. Entirely brush work: no pens!
I love the depth and intensity of the blacks in ink, but not all my ideas work in shades of gray. So I am now creating pieces using both ink and watercolor.
First successful combination of ink and watercolor: The Seis Below
Not to worry, I am still producing works on canvas (while the washes dry). More on that next time.
Wednesday, October 3rd, I learned of Inktober via the Dublin Art Collective. My first thought: 3 days late! Nope, I had drawn each day, although I am not terribly proud of my sketches. What is Inktober? Draw or sketch a picture every day for the month of October. If you are new to drawing, I recommend starting something small: a notecard or post-it note. Personally, I like drawing while playing Dungeons & Dragons with my family or watching TV. This does not have to be a Da Vinci. Also, feel free to use pencil, pen, color pencil, even digital sketch pad.
I have added MORE drawings from Inktober! Just about half way through the month. It is tough to find time every night/day for this.
The Plein-Air painting competition was last weekend. What an experience! Pleasanton is not a sleepy little town; I and other artists had barely time to paint between pods of runners from Fleet Feet, the shoppers from the Farmer’s Market, and weekend lunch crowds. Each site I selected brought new distractions and drama.
At my first site at around noon, a woman took a tumble on the uneven bricks in front me. She had hit her head with quite a knock. I ran over and I donated my clean (they had just been laundered) rags to stop the bleeding. Her daughter (grown) and I tried to keep the injured woman calm. An ambulance was called, and soon a fire truck full of paramedics arrived. Fortunately, she seemed fine; more embarrassed than concerned. Once I saw she was in good hands I packed up my easel and moved to the second site.
The First Site: “Gay Nineties Restaurant, Pleasanton”, 8″ x 10″ canvas, acrylic.
I hauled my easel, paints, and bag up Main Street looking for second site in the afternoon light. Dappled shade covered the west side of Main street and a few buildings stuck out with interesting architectural features. I decided on the tiniest building on the block; Pleasanton Jewelers. I set up my easel across the street and began to paint on my tiny canvas.
Less than a half hour into my painting and I discovered I had an audience. Not just the curious passersby but a mother squirrel and her three adorable babies! Disney lived in the tree next to my easel. The mother was kissing, cleaning, and carrying her brood up and down the tree. I pointed her out to folks stopping by, while I tried to complete my little art.
The Second Site: “Pleasanton’s Little Jewel”, 6″ x 6″ canvas, acrylic.
Late Saturday afternoon the shadows overtook the West side of the street and my feet hurt from standing since early morning. I headed home. I returned Sunday bright and early and worked on Site One painting again, adding details, such as the light, the flag, and the flowers around the side of the canvas. It did not take long and finished too early to start on the Pleasanton Jewelers canvas.
I pulled out another tiny canvas, 6″ x 6″, and began painting the building next door to the Pleasanton Jewelers. This way I could keep an eye on the shadows. I wanted a simple, quick study without too much detail: Starbucks was perfect. Their structure is devoid of architectural detail, signage, paintings, etc. I did take some time to add the people sitting in front. Before I finished, the light in front of the Jewelers returned. I painted without distraction on Sunday, even the mother squirrel was spending the afternoon up in her nest. I headed to the competition with my paintings in hand.
“Starbucks, Pleasanton”, 6″ x 6″ canvas, acrylic
I submitted the “Pleasanton’s Little Jewel” as my piece. I did not win, and was not surprised once I saw the competition. Fifteen artists displayed their work, I posted pictures of the folks who arrived early. What I failed to capture in my facebook posts was the diversity of styles of the artists. That inspired me to paint more. If Pleasanton Art League puts this competition on again next year, I will be there!
I will be painting this weekend in the Pleasanton Art League’s Annual Plein-Air Competition. In this event artists come and paint downtown Pleasanton over the weekend: from life, not photo. The paintings can be done in any medium: acrylic, oil, watercolor, and on canvas, paper, or any other surface the artist chooses. On Sunday afternoon the contenders place their best work on their own easel in front of the Museum on Main for judging. The public can purchase the completed paintings at this time, as well.
This is a great opportunity to see artists work! Most artists will start early in the morning on Saturday and Sunday. Plenty of time to grab a cup of coffee and wander around checking out the talented creators.
Plein-Air Painting of Shadow Cliffs Park, Pleasanton
I have probably told some of you about the Kindness Rocks, if not, you may have seen articles over Facebook and the Internet. There is a video of the founder, Megan Murphy, starting the Kindness Rocks Project. A good, short film, however, I only watch videos on Friday afternoons. Why? No matter how low I set the volume, one or more of my sons will suddenly ask what I am watching from across the house, the yard, possibly the state of California. Of course, this usually happens when they are supposed to be completing their homework. Therefore, I will summarize the concept.
The idea is to spread kindness and compassion through messages on small, handheld, rocks and leave them for friends and strangers to find. Sometimes the right word and the right time can help someone. Right away I liked the idea, but what really grabbed me was who picks up the rocks.
Young parents and their toddlers.
Do you dream of flying? Do rays dream of walking?
Now, I don’t know about you, but my most trying days as a parent, where following the one- to three-year olds on walks around the neighborhood as they investigated every blade of grass, pebble, and flower, as well as, cigarette butt, piece of garbage, and glass shard. They would inspect, touch, and try to pick up anything that caught their eye. I loved my little cherubic boys and was entertained by their discoveries but these strolls could be exceedingly long and boring. Hence, the thought of placing a painted stone here and there, especially around the apartment complexes, appeals to me.
So, on my evening dog stroll last night (easier than toddlers, but same challenges) I placed my first batch of rocks. My first mistake was forgetting to take pictures of the rocks BEFORE I headed out, so I apologize for the lighting, blurring, and general crappiness of the images.
I am already painting more rocks, so I wanted to share some tips.
Pick smooth rocks. The cracks and bumps make it hard to write anything. These came from Lowes gardening department and easily fit in my hand.
Paint the rock first with a base color. I used acrylic paint, student to professional grade. I did not dilute with water.
Keep the base color bright. I began with black, dark green, and dark blue base paint and regretted it. The lettering is hard to read.
Use permanent markers, but NOT with fine tip. A softer, wider pen flows more smoothly across the surface. The fine tip marker just scratched and disappeared.
Keep the message positive. My teenage sons’ suggestions were quickly rejected. Funny, but not appropriate.
Do Snails contemplate the Golden Ratio?
I encourage others to try this. You do not need to be accomplished artists to spread some beauty and kindness. In fact, you could just stick with words. Some rocks posted onto the Kindness Rocks facebook page quoted music or popular books. If it inspires you, it might touch another. Either way, I am looking forward to leaving these little nuggets around Dublin. I hope I find a few, too!
Litho Crayon on stone. One of three images in a series.
I am a painter, first and foremost, but my degree is in Printmaking. Why? Because University of California, Santa Cruz, has one of the most amazing Lithography studios in the world. It took me only minutes in this studio to realize I would never have such an opportunity again.
Lithography Studio at Baskin Arts (Courtesy UCSC)
Lithography Press featured in left image, Etching press in right image.
What is Lithography? The latin roots of the word describe it well: Stone writing. The premise is that oil and water do not mix. But it is not so simple; there are no less than 22 steps to lithography. From preparing the stone, drawing an image, treating the image on the stone, and printing; and that is just for one color. The process must be repeated for each color thereafter. Almost all modern printing is based on Lithography: however they use aluminum sheets instead of stones. I will not go through all the steps, but roughly how we made lithographic prints at UCSC.
Lithography Poster: A plate had to be created for EACH color. I count three: red, yellow, blue.
We used limestones, some weighing hundreds of pounds and requiring a hand truck to move around. First we sanded the blocks to a perfect level. The edges of these stones were rough cut with gauges and chips, but the top and bottom were smooth and flat. We got them that way by pouring metal “sand” on a wet stone and rotating heavy metal discs in circles, evenly over the entire surface. If the stones were slightly uneven, the stone would crack under the weight of the press (very bad: unrepairable).
We could then draw or paint directly on the stone with special materials, greasy ink, pencils, washes, and crayons. If the printmaker was more advanced they could also transfer and image on to the stone. Where we added color/tone is where the ink would be. I say this, because this is not true with etching or woodcut.
Lithographic washes using alcohol for added texture. Love the image, unfortunately, I only have this image on newsprint; hence the buckling and wrinkles.
Lithographic printing using lots of litho wash and a little crayon. Notice the edge of the stone down by the signature line. This is also Chine Colle, pasting a smaller piece of paper under the image.
Lithograph of Horses in Winter Wood: using litho crayon and razor blade.
Once the image is finished, the stone was ready for the acid. Instead of setting the stone in an acid bath, as we would with etching, we brushed a transparent goo (the consistency of ketsup) on the stone for a required amount of time. At the end of the time, we would clean off the goo and remove the greasy surface of the image. Scary for first time printers, for what was left was a ghost image, barely discernible to the eye. Now the block was ready to print.
Excellent picture of printmaker rolling ink on a block. See the uneven edges of the stone. (Image from How Stuff Works)
The block would be placed on the printing press and the surface dampened. Using large, cloth-bound rollers saturated with ink, we would roll the ink onto the stone. The ink would stay only where our image had been “protected” by the greasy pencil/wash/ink and would be repelled by the moist, acid-bitten spaces. Now our image would appear again. We would lay paper down (using guides, if this was a multi-colored print) and run the stone through the press, smoothly.
If the stone became dry during printing, ink would begin sticking to the white areas. If the printmaker paused or jerked the process in the printing press, a dark smudge would mark the image. There were a lot of places to mess up when printing lithographs. But they are more forgiving than woodcuts. Next time: Woodcuts!
A drawing of John in swim goggles, probably 6 or 7 years old.
Many times when my sons were small I would lovingly admire them as they slept. I fantasized about whipping out a sketch pad an rendering a quick, tender portrait like Mary Cassatt. But, with three sons born within 2 years of each other, I took their naps as a chance to get work done or rest myself. The above sketches are pretty much all I have of the years from 1999 to 2007.
You would think an artist would choose to paint their loved ones constantly: Hand them out as presents to doting aunts, uncles, and grandparents for every occasion. Like a pastry chef might hand out goodies on Christmas. No, portraits challenge an artist to the limit. I tried painting from photo, without success, with my first born (when I still had free time). In the picture, Elliot is held by his grandfather when he was just 2-3 months old. The end result was dismal: Elliot looks more like a lump of mashed potatoes than a cherub, Grandpa Peter is stiff and gray, and the entire canvas looks, well, like a scanned photo with paint texture applied. Not what I was going for.
My favorite portrait artists of all time are Franz Hals, Judith Leyster, and John Singer Sargent. I was surprised to see a picture of Sargent’s studio featured photos clipped to his easel while he was painting Madame X (Virginie Amelie Gautreau). Clearly, he did not paint this 7 foot tall painting from his tiny, black and white, 8″ x 10″ photo. I figure he used the photo as a reference, especially when the model shifted around or between sittings. I may try his technique with my sons’ pictures.
Just after we were married, I walked in one night with my husband reading math books on our living room couch. I took the opportunity to set up my easel and paint a small, 14″ x 11″ oil painting. I treasure this picture and will keep it with me, always. While, not a close inspection of his charming face, the entire picture really portrays my husband.
I want to capture each of my sons in a similar way. I succeeded a few years ago, I quickly painted small canvases (6″x6″) of each boy and gave them to my husband’s father as a present. Unfortunately, I did not take pictures before wrapping and shipping the pictures. This year, I asked my sons to sit for a portrait again, this time a much larger piece: 16″x20″ canvases.
Tilden, Age 13
Elliot Huber, Age 16, work in progress
John Huber, age 15
These three paintings are acrylic on canvas and are definitely works in progress. Tilden, my youngest son, is the farthest along. He is the most available for a sitting, it took three, each about 20 minutes long, to get to this point. My greatest challenge is to work quick, because he fidgets. I informed him which part of his anatomy I am attempting to paint on so he can keep THAT part still.
Next is Elliot’s, the least finished, because he had almost no time to sit. Yes, that is a mustache on his face and no, his forehead is not that large. The three-quarter pose (he is not looking directly at me) was proving a challenge (but a good one!). I hope I can get another sitting or two after school is out. This portrait is truly unfair to Elliot, but I include it to show how hard it is to try and capture one’s loved ones in art. If I get it wrong, I feel like I am insulting and disrespecting my son.
Finally, is John’s painting I am having the exact opposite situation. John also has a hard time staying still and I had to use all my concentration on my first sketch with raw umber on this canvas. When I stood back I gasped: it was beautiful. I am still trying to keep the life and energy in the painting, and find myself wondering if I should have left the original sketch alone. But, it is too late for that, better to make the best of what I have before me. As I remind my art students: if you created it once, you can do it again.
Yes, it has been a while since I posted on my blog. Holidays came and went. I did not paint or draw much then, but have been quite productive since. Over the past three months I finished a few acrylic and watercolor paintings. A few themes have emerged and I will share them over the coming months. But first…
My proposal was accepted for the City of Dublin Utility Box Project! I will be painting “Kite Day” on the box located at Dublin Boulevard and Glynnis Rose Drive. This box is situated in the parking lot of the Sutter Health Building and across from the beloved Bagel Street Cafe.
I will begin painting on April 11. I should be out there most weekdays after 11:00 a.m., feel free to stop by.
Horned dragon head, focused on detail, texture, and lighting.
I have assembled almost all the drawings featuring dragons in my recent sketchbooks. After looking at the number, I have to admit that I might have a thing for these mythological creatures. The horned dragon and the carved dragon were completed this past week. Every one of these pieces is pen, Micron size 01 or 02, usually black, but sometimes sepia.
Wyvern soaring over my son, John, and our dog, Mei Mei, with Dublin Hills Park in the background.
Feeding time is awkward in this household.
Two boys rafting in river with dragon swimming under them. This is loosely based off of a rafting trip my son, Elliot, and my nephew, Aidan, took in North Carolina with their Uncle.
My son, Elliot, came up with this idea, of a person transporting cheese unaware there existed a cheese-hunting dragon and it was watching him.
Combining my two favorite subjects: kayaks and dragons, gliding over suburbia. I drew this for the cloud transitions: could I make it look like mist moving in and out of the drawing?
I do not think the dragon is hunting the peculiar pegasus, just moving along over the landscape together. It was another excuse to try out different types of wings. I would change the pegasus’ wings next time.
How I envision dragons would be discovered. I’m sure the techniques pictured are out of date, though.
A dragon attacking an old bi-plane. Also experimenting with fire in a pen drawing.
Dragon exploding from ocean, startling flying fish nearby.
Dragon in the clouds over kayakers in marsh.
Tiny winged serpent in jar.
Dragons descending on San Francisco.
There is a dragon on land and one in the water. I rushed this drawing: not enamored with it.
Dragon flying over suburbia, probably Dublin, CA.
Cute, cuddly dragon curled up in the shade. A little too much going on for my pen and ink drawing: spotted dragon in dappled shade.
Horned dragon carrying a fish. It is hard to distinguish between the wings and the skyline, but I love the texture and pattern on the torso.
Finished this last night, October 19, 2017. A detailed, dragon head. I am happy with the carved and Scandinavian look to it.
A Wyvern in flight. The head might be a touch big. Could be part human, although part of the anatomy was taken from Pterosaurs.
Dragons flying around a balloon.
Tiny dragons around a lighthouse. I cared more about the building than the creatures.
Dragons inspecting a flying ship. Also another excuse to explore patterns on these creatures.
A Wyvern mobbing some poor commuter on Patterson Pass in Livermore, CA. I don’t know what model the car is: drew if from my head.
Dragons carrying away a cellphone, John’s cellphone to be specific. Again, I grew bored with this drawing and did not spend much time on detail or shading, therefore, the images are hard to distinguish.
Horned dragon completed this week of October 20th. I paid special attention to patterns, lighting, and form.
My Kite Day drawing, and later painting, features a dragon in the upper right corner. The only item not a kite.
Large dragon circling a lighthouse.
Mother dragons with her babies. Also an exercise in patterns and shading.
Paranormal scientist with tiny dragon she created.
River dragon. This was hard to photograph, another subtle study in water patterns, light, and creature patterns interacting with each other.
One of my favorite, dramatic fantasy drawings of a sea witch being pulled by two water dragons past a kracken.
Small dragon at tea, the smiling salt shaker was John’s idea.
Hideous, tiny dragon that was meant to be. I flubbed on the initial sketch and decided to work with it instead of tearing it out.
Sea dragon at night. I wish now that I had taken more time on it.
This week I was planning on drawing another self portrait in pencil, finishing current paintings, and start a new canvas. Monday night changed all that. I attended the P.A.L. meeting and Art talk. Artist Clemmie King discussed Chinese Brush painting; history, technique, equipment, and so on.
It made me realize that most artists are really nerds about their work. Contrary to the messy and free-wheeling caricatures of artists perpetuated everywhere (are we all Jackson Pollacks and Vincent Van Goghs?), artists care more for the quality and consistency of brushes or the hue and texture of paint. Ms. King told us Monday night of her journey to find the right brush for her paintings: from Hobby Lobby, to Windsor & Newton, and finally to Japanese brushes. Once she found the right one, she’s used it for 16 years (a Japanese brush). With this brush she created, right before our eyes, a tall bamboo stalk with leaves with only 7 brush strokes: full of detail, light, and texture.
Most of the artists I met that night personally relate to the quest for the perfect brush. I have had the perfect brush before, a sable, Windsor Newton Series 7, number 9. I see now that it is $350 per brush, I paid $150 back then. Does a brush that expensive really matter? Depends on the artist and the media. I am happy with inexpensive, nylon, flat brushes for acrylic painting. I use them down to soft little nubs in about three months. I admit, I scumble my acrylic and oil paints: scrubbing the paint into my canvases. Especially over large areas. I reserve angle brushes and small, round brushes for details and finishing touches. But watercolor is different. My Windsor Newton sable brush can hold a lot of watercolor and yet lay it down smoothly, even to a fine point, if needed. Cheap brushes start with delicate, narrow tips but once you use them a few times, the point widens and become erratic. Also, they hold little watercolor, which means more dips in the palette.
While energized by the talk of brushes, I met artist, Marion Huff, who was seeking more submissions for a Mixed Media Art show in Livermore . The deadline was only two days away but I was overdue for a still life or two and after Ms. King’s demonstration, I had a hankering for watercolor and my beloved brushes.
I paint each glass one at a time. This is at the end of the session; the ice has melted.
I can’t stop fiddling: added a little steam in the mug and touches to the wine glass.
I must explain that I was taught by an old fashion watercolor artist; we never sketched with pencil first, we saved our whites, gradually built up our darks, and layering wash upon wash wash to develop a picture. It is hard for me to break away from this mode and using mixed media felt sinful. I painted two still life settings for this show and they both felt like cheating, like eating donuts while on a diet. I still used the same watercolor techniques, gradually adding color and form. Then I blissfully inked the lines in the still life, bringing a crispness to the soft lines that inevitably occur with 20 pale washes. I also heightened the color and highlights using acrylic paint! I still left whites for highlights but the extra sheen in the water glass, the rim of the wine glass, and the mug were from acrylics. And, finally, I couldn’t resist using coffee for the cup of coffee and wine for the glass of wine.
To paint with the beverages, I brewed extra dark coffee and let it sit for a few hours to give me an even darker blend. Then I painted with Windsor & Newton (but student grade), just as I would watercolor. Same with the wine, but it did not noticeably darken as I waited. Perhaps I should try painting with a port or even balsamic vinegar.
I had so much fun with the three beverages I went to Whole Foods and bought pears. I love painting pears and apples and frequently will sketch them as a warm up to a larger work. This time, I used the same technique as the Water, Coffee, Wine painting but without utilizing beverages. I started with watercolor, then sharpened the lines and darks with ink and finally added acrylic for stronger highlights and brilliant hues (especially on the pomegranate and apple). I include a photo of the set up (now with my computer cord running through it).
In college I painted probably over 10 self portraits. I even made etchings, lithographs, and countless drawings of myself in pencil, charcoal, and pastel. Trust me, it is not because of vanity; I’m just a very cheap model. This week I tried my hand again at a self portrait, this time in acrylic on canvas over a previous still life painting.
It is truly hard. I am still not happy with the result but feel more confident that the next self portrait will come much easier and look better. Meanwhile, I will struggle with this one for a while. At first, I felt I was painting this character from Monsters University, but as my image progressed, it switched. Instead of painting myself, I felt I was painting my sister, Anna Billstrom. To be honest, she would be a better model: I move too much when I paint but I am as familiar with her face as my own.
Other work: I am also trying to finish the Diving into My First Cup of Coffee and Kite Day in Dublin. I am having more success with the latter.
Diving Into My First Cup of the Day (Unfinished)
I am truly frustrated with this painting. The steam looks too uniform, and possibly too much. I will keep painting until I get it right. Fortunately, my sons Elliot and Tilden seem to have excellent suggestions and have been quite helpful.
Kite Day in Dublin
Kite Day in Dublin might be done. I need to put it aside for a while and look at it again with fresh eyes. It could be in danger of being overworked.
I planned this class for adults who are unsure about painting and drawing. I think as adults, we have an increased appreciation for people with skills and talents and are more aware our own short comings. For example, I love soccer but would never jump in on a game with my sons’ coaches. In this lesson the final result looks impressive, but the path is within reach for those with no experience.
Photo of Sunflowers in Mason Jar in my studio.
The technique is definitely “Bob Ross” but it could open doors and possibilities for beginning artists. What do I mean by that? As a classically trained Artist I was taught to paint exactly what I saw; through careful study and practice. Bob Ross taught people to paint representational landscapes that were not before them: by tricks and techniques. To begin, I find one of the easiest items to paint is a glass mason jar. The jar the artist creates will not be photo realistic, but more Impressionistic, but the viewer will recognize the familiar shape. I add large flowers with basic forms and clearly delineated colors, simple repeating patterns that can be easily replicated with a simple brush stroke.
For this painting, I will supply a mason jar filled with sunflowers and some direct light, coming from a studio clip light.
Step 1: Paint the background.
I have the artists paint their entire canvas one or two colors.
So why do we do this? White canvas makes a painting look unfinished. It is also quite difficult to paint a background around your final image. The beauty of Acrylic paint is that it dries quickly. Now is a good time for students to sip coffee, tea, margaritas, Manhattans or wine.
This canvas has been painted twice: First under coat of Burnt Umber and Second, a coat of Raw Umber from top, blending to Burnt Umber on bottom.
Step 2: Map out the painting.
I drew my rectangle for a vase and mapped out the locations of my flowers. This time on an off-white background blending to light blue.
I do not think of the still life as “vase of flowers” but as a map of geometric forms. I mark the top and bottom of where I want the still life to be on the canvas: just dabs of paint, usually dark. Then I mark where the jar stops: about half way up, and then, where the lip of the jar starts (1/6 down from the mid line). From there I draw my rectangle for the vase: because it is a rectangle. Next I use sloppy squares to map out each flower. The exact location is not key. Why? we are not creating a Rachel Ruysch painting, here.
Painting in the stalks.
Step 3: Paint the stalks.
For the next trick, I have the students put about 4 colors of paint on their palette: dark green, dark blue, light green, and yellow. Using a medium to large brush and dab it in 2 colors (do not mix!), they paint long, purposeful stalks INSIDE the jar. Later we do bright colors outside. The stalks don’t even have to match up to the flowers, necessarily. Just keep dark inside the jar and bright outside. The streaking colors create volume and texture. Paint lots of stalks!
Step 4: Paint leaves, green flower backings, and flower centers.
Paint the dark green foliage around the flower, leaves, and finally, the brown centers of each flower.
The next step I have the students do, is paint the greenery holding each flower: notice the green spikes at the end are just like brush strokes. Looking at each flower, they can create a green cup or oval to hold each flower. I also have them add one or two leaves in the bunch. Finally, we take burnt umber, mixed with blue if they want it darker, or orange if they want it lighter, for the center of each flower.
Step 5: Add Petals, Water Line, Jar edges
Now we are getting somewhere with the painting! The yellow/gold petals are just like the green backings: brush stroke size! I noticed I needed to add white to my yellow to make it stand out against the green and blue, so more than one pass, may be needed on these petals: but only those in front. I put down the petal brush strokes in the direction the flower is facing; still only generally referring to the still life. I also add the water line and add dark blue smearing down from the water line. Light blue along the shoulders of the jar and to the rim.
Putting the final highlights and colors on a painting is rewarding. I add a shadow to the bottom of the jar, lighter touches to the petals, a few brilliant green streaks to the stalks and flower backings, and finally, some muted white to the sparkling highlights of the mason jar.
I tried two types of flowers to paint at first. I thought the irises would be easier than the sunflowers, but they turned out to be more difficult. It was the sunflowers that were easier to explain. This is the painting created over the primed canvas in Step 1. That was how sure I was this would be easier for students. You can still see the painting the jar technique, also no shadow.
The paintings below range from my first oil painting back in 1986 to an acrylic painting of my youngest son from 2013/14. I am posting them partially for archival purposes, but also to look at the progression of my work. I cringe at the images clearly from photos. It would have been unwise to stand on a street corner, in the middle of Baltimore, at night with an easel and paint. Also, my young son would not have sat on his grandfather’s lap for the required time for a portrait and it would have been torture to force my father-in-law to sit with baby Elliot for that amount of time. However, the images are stiff and the shading predictable as in any photo. They lack life and spontaneity. The small California landscape in oil captures life. Although, now, I wish I had added more detail, but then I was searching for nice, round forms. This little painting reminds me how wonderful oil paint is, the sheen, pure hue, and texture.
My first oil painting from 1986. Oil on canvas, and I built, stretched, and primed this canvas. Not large, it is roughly 12″ x 18″
A small oil of a friend’s kayaks behind someone’s house. I was mostly interested in the dappled shade in this picture.
Another 8″ x 10″ oil painting of a California scene. Probably Palo Alto foothills, near the Dish.
Oil on canvas, 11″ x 14″ of my father-in-law holding my first son.
A small oil on canvas painting from photo. This is a street corner near Guilford and 33rd during the D.C. Sniper attacks. It turned out the two men where staying nearby (within blocks).
Another small oil painting, 8″ x 10″, of a kayaker heading into a wave. Probably from 2003/2004.
2013/2014, acrylic on canvas of Tilden in the Grass. I love this painting, my son was angry with me and refused to look at me. I painted him quickly as he was. The surface beyond the grass is painted silver.