Friday, January 20, 2012

WAY Out of My Comfort Zone

Posted by Maggie

I love flowers. In the summer, I have containers and hanging baskets of flowers all over the patio, and there are rosebushes and hollyhocks, wisteria and trumpet vines. I take pictures of flowers when traveling, and never miss a chance to visit a botanic garden.

But I almost never paint them, at least not up close. I've done a few pastel paintings where flowers were incorporated, but I've never painted a vase of flowers. Until now.

One of the other instructors who teaches at the New Mexico Art League, Cynthia Rowland, paints wonderful flowers (and portraits, but I'm not going there yet!) in oils. Yesterday, she gave me a long lesson. I spent the day working on my painting, and could hardly sleep last night because I was eager to get back to it. Of course, since I had to wait for the sun to shine again, as I was using only natural light, it was pretty silly to lie awake thinking about it. But I was excited about the first day's work and looking forward to the next.

While painting in oils is not unfamiliar, changing both the subject and the medium was a push. It was just what I wanted, though, in order to break out of my normal patterns of painting.

Painting flowers from life had its challenges—when I went back to the studio this morning, one of the sunflowers had wilted and could not be coaxed back into position, so I had to revise the composition. I'm used to revising compositions in pastel, and was pleasantly surprised that I could make major changes in oil almost as easily. Next time, I'll remember to take a photo of my set-up in case I have a similar problem.

It's not perfect—I see quite a few things I'd like to change or would do differently if I started over—but in general, I'm very happy with my first attempt at a painting of flowers in oils. I can hardly wait until I can go buy more flowers and try another arrangement.

Sunflowers in Blue Vase, 14x11, oil, ©Maggie Price.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Painting Summer in Winter

Posted by Maggie

It's been cold here in New Mexico, though lacking in snow or rain. Still, one day I decided to warm up a little by painting from a photograph I took in Colorado last summer.

I decided to do something experimental, using the Pastelmat surface. I like this surface, though I'm still getting used to it. I began with a block-in, using only the sides of my pastels, and using very soft pastels throughout.  While I often exaggerate or change colors for an underpainting, in this case I stayed fairly close to the local colors, going a bit darker in some areas than what I intended for the final.

Then I washed over each area of color with alcohol. (In this case, I used ordinary rubbing alcohol. Denatured alcohol is a different thing, and I'll write about that later.)

Moving towards realistic color, I developed the painting, still using only the sides of the pastels, and working until I had covered every part of the painting surface with fresh pastel.

My goal for this painting was to keep it loose and lively, so I tried very hard to limit how much detail I added. It was difficult to define the edges of the trees without going to small strokes, but I continued to use fat soft pastels, hoping that would keep me from getting too detailed.

When I got to this point (above right), I wasn't happy with it. So I took the alcohol and brush and washed the whole thing again. I was careful to keep my colors clean and separate, starting with the lighter values and moving towards the dark at the end. The wash softened edges and mingled color (in spite of my best efforts to keep the colors separated). I liked it better, but felt it needed a fresh layer of pastel to liven it up and remove the muddiness created by the second wash of alcohol. (Left, the painting after the second alcohol wash.)

In the end, I still felt it could be looser, but I liked it. I think it was interesting to use a second wash halfway through the painting, and I may do that again with other paintings in the future.

The final painting, below: Summer Solstice, 12x12, pastel, ©Maggie Price.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Finding Time to Paint

Posted by Maggie

It's embarrassing to start every blog with the admission that it's been too long since I blogged last. So I'm going to skip that and move on.

Since I posted last, we have been away from home more than we've been home. We taught workshops in Scotland (with an extra week there for a vacation, which is pretty rare, since most of our travel involves teaching), in Arkansas, in Spain, in New York City, and in Georgia. We spent Thanksgiving with family in Massachusetts. There were some occasions when we had as few as three days home between trips. It was crazy, hectic, and mostly fun.

Scotland is one of our favorite places in the world. Painting there is wonderful; there are so many subjects everywhere you look. For this workshop we were on the eastern coast, and I fell in love with the harbors and fishing villages. My favorites were Crail and Pittenweem. As always in Scotland, painting outdoors is a challenge. It's often wet, usually cold, and then there are all the usual problems of plein air painting. But it remains one of the places I love most, and love painting.  At left, my partially-completed field study of the harbor at Pittenweem.

At our Georgia workshop, I did one of the demonstrations in oil. As readers of this blog know, I've recently returned to painting in oils, though pastel remains my primary medium.

I chose for my subject one of my favorite spots in Scotland, the village of St. Abbs. Bill and I spent a couple of days there before heading to Anstruther for the workshop. It's a place I hope to return to again and again. I have dozens of photos from this wonderful village and from along the seacoast on the walk we took to St. Abbs Head, and hope to paint many of them, soon!  
Above, St. Abbs Afternoon, 11x14, oil on canvas, ©Maggie Price.

After a whirlwind of activity, we arrived in Spain in October for the workshop there. We've held five previous workshops in the tiny village of Juzcar, which until just a few months ago was an unspoiled, undiscovered white village in the Genal Valley of Andalucia. Shortly before we arrived in 2011, though, Sony Pictures chose Juzcar as the "home of the Smurfs" to promote the smurf movie. With the agreement of the village, they painted the entire village, every single white structure, smurf blue. The village was overrun with overexcited children most days, and we took more day trips to quieter, white villages, to paint. The village was scheduled to be repainted white, but as of this posting, the villagers have voted to remain blue. So in 2012, instead of going to Spain once more, we're offering a workshop in Italy in October. If you'd like to join us, I believe I can promise a smurf-free zone.

I'd like to close by promising to post more often, but the reality is I'm on deadline for my third art instruction book, so who knows how the next couple of months will go. I thank you for reading, though, and wish everyone a wonderful 2012.