Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Watering Weeds

I'm a gardener.  Every year, beginning in the earliest months of spring, the war on weeds begins.  Weeds are hardy little buggers.  Among the first things to emerge from the frozen earth, weeds signal the end of winter - long before the more desirable perennial and food offerings I've planted make their appearance.  Does a weed think "Gee, if I get a head start I have a good chance of holding this piece of earth over that pampered cultivated crap that human plants!  Can't she see the beauty I bring to the landscape?"  I'm very sure it does think that.  If weeds had brains.

But weeds don't have brains, they have a millennia of natural selection on their side. Weeds have something better than brains.  Weeds have  (millions?) of years of practice being weeds.  Adapting and multiplying.  Leaving seed that may be buried for eons only to be unearthed by some act of God (or my hoe) to rise again.  Sound a little like a horror movie?  Ah, "Return of the Weed".

Weeds are tough.  They tolerate very little water or too much.  They thrive on neglect and despise rich soil.  And weeds...well, weeds also propagate.  They are so efficient at seeding themselves that it boggles the mind of the humble gardener who just wants to grow some food, for Pete's sake!   

As you can guess, I've been weeding.  And weeding.  And even weeding some more.  I'm not a fan of weeding. But I find a satisfaction from ridding the soil of those nasty weeds, leaving tidy garden beds.  For a week.  Tops.  Leave weeding for two weeks and you have a problem of epic proportion.Why despise the weed?  They are just trying to survive after all!  But weeds crowd out desirable plants by multiplying magically somehow, so well that they actually take over the space and choke the garden plant.  A weeds roots greedily take up the nutrients in the soil meant for the plants that we grow to nourish us.  Essentially weeds rob other plants of the things necessary to grow and thrive.   

To help the plants I have planted reach their flowering glory, or my table as nourishment, I wage my war on the weed.  And I ALWAYS weed before I water.  I just can not water in good conscience, the weed.   Watering weeds is encouraging them to stay--and bring others. Watering weeds doubles your work load. "Oh, just this week?"  I might hear myself say.  "Those few small little weeds will not cause much trouble."  I can water them just this once and pull them next week.  Well,  I'm here to say that I have gone back out the very next day after watering only to find I need a machete and flame thrower to destroy what was a mere day ago just a tiny little weed!  NO! No watering weeds.  My mother always said "if a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing well" or, don't water your weeds.  

As I was weeding yesterday I was thinking about a few comments in some social media threads I had read.  The general idea was that practice makes perfect.  We all know that saying and I'm sure we all understand its truth.  But what struck me as I was weeding out invasive plants that thrive in the fertile soil I cultivate, was that bad habits are like weeds.  Eager to fill the empty spaces and take over my carefully tended plot, bad habits can crowd out good intentions or lessons learned.  And once planted and heaven forbid, watered, they become monsters that are not easily dealt with.  

It is not enough to just fill a canvas.  While practice makes perfect and Malcolm Gladwells idea of 10,000 hours is admirable, this is only true if you practice good technique. 10,000 hours of practicing incorrectly means you have become very good at doing it wrong! So my thoughts are as simple as my vow to weed before I water.  If you are working hard at your art remember that you will not get better practicing the wrong things.  No, practicing your skills correctly will make your work better.  Doing the same wrong thing over and over will only water the weed.  

But if you are a novice gardener, how do you identify a weed?  How does the budding artist know if they are doing it right?  Well, good teachers can help with that. (wink, wink). But so can a book, video, or another artist whose work you admire.  The great thing about art is that you never arrive.  You are always on a journey to learn.  Your work is never finished and your painting never perfect.  There is always something to learn. And just like the garden, you must continually work to keep the weeds at bay. Keep your practice free of the things that want to crowd it out.  And remember, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

How Is Art Like Riding A Bike?

Last summer I bought a bike.  I haven't really ridden much since I got rid of my old bike.  No time, other things to do.  But I've always loved to ride.  There is something about riding a bike.  (and swinging on a swing--)  I love being outdoors riding with the wind in my face.  So what does riding a bike have to do with art?  

Well, I hadn't ridden in quite a while.  But I was never worried that I couldn't ride again.  You know the expression "its like riding a bike-once you learn, you never forget."  So I hopped on and off I went.  Have you ever taken a few months or maybe a year (or many ) off from doing art?  Did you forget how to do art?  No, it's like riding a bike!  You might be rusty and a little wobbly, but it all comes back to you.  You might need to ease in by exercising those creative muscles slowly back to their former strength.  Your physical muscles have memory and so do your art muscles.  They will return with some work.

And what happens if you take a fall?  I recently took a spill that hurt my ego much more than my body. Joggers and traffic all witnessed as I stopped short and went over the handlebars.  I have a nice imprint of the skid resist sidewalk on my thigh, a sore hand and other minor injuries.  But what hurt more was being witnessed!  I haven't talked to a biker yet who hasn't had an accident.  Get back on the bike!   Staying in a safe gym on a stationary bike takes me nowhere.  I may get exercise, but there is no scenery!  No sunshine and blue skies.  

The same goes for your art.  Do you fear being witnessed?  Afraid to paint in public or show your work?  Afraid to fail or hear critical comments?  Just as every biker will experience an accident, every artist will have a critic and a painting (or many) fail.  Just understand and accept that it's going to happen.  Knowing this takes some of the sting out of it.  Others have gone before and done the same.  Get back to the art!  There are experiences out there you won't know until you get out of the studio! 

What are your goals?  At first, I wanted something to get me out of the house, give me some exercise and relieve some stress.  After that initial period, my goal was leisure and pleasure.  Soon, I amped it up for cardio.  Now, I'm riding with others and it is a lifestyle change I hope carries into retirement since you can ride at almost any age.  Biking is an activity many take up as they get older.  It's much easier on the knees but can still give the benefits of other forms of exercise.  

When I look back on my growth as an artist, I noticed those goals changed over time also.  I took classes to get out of the house and away from a toddler.  Mental health was the key here!  I enjoyed it and did well.  Then I amped it up and began to show and join art groups.  I began to teach and win awards.  Today, I'm finding other artists to interact with and have realized that my art can be taken anywhere I go in life and during any stage and any age. I may not be doing my art for the same reasons today, but it is something that enriches my life.  

Exercise helps us with balance, which we lose as we age.  Riding a bike is great for this since you literally balance the whole time.  Excercise helps relieve stress and gives us a feeling of well being.  I notice my art balances me too.  I sometimes don't realize how much balance art brings to my life.  Art is an outlet for me and if I neglect doing it for myself, for fun, I become unbalanced.  Exercise and art balance you mentally and physically.  But your Art can become unbalanced as well.  When our focus becomes the finished product and not the process.  Or when we paint for sales or ribbons. Maybe we get in a rut and don't challenge oursleves.  By exercising our creative selves and getting out of our comfort zone, we find balance.

Equipment.  Enough said?  Do we need another reason to shop?  First it was the bike. Then came the  stuff.  My husband teases me about my biking gear.  I have the helmet, gloves, glasses, clothes and heart rate monitor.  I didn't get it all at once.  I added to it as I found the need.  But I'll tell you what, I'm glad I had that helmet and those gloves the other day!  My glove looks a little mangled and while I didn't hit my head, it reminded me how quick accidents happen.  You need to be prepared with the right equipment!

If you are just starting to make art, take a class and invest in some good materials.  It certainly makes the job easier and art making is hard work!  You need the right equipment.  Why make it harder with limited skills and sub standard tools?  You don't have to buy the best.  But you are making ART, you are an artist!  It is important.  Whether for your mental health, personal enjoyment or to show, make the best art you can with the best materials you can afford.  Having said that, a standard 2B pencil and a sketch pad is really all you need to make art.  But you can make a lot of different marks with a lot of different pencils!  

Give yourself the gift of making art.  I started riding again for the reasons I stated above.  But right away I noticed when I rode my bike I left the responsibilities and care of others behind.  For a time, I was alone and in my own world.  I was enjoying this time carved out of a busy life, just for me.  That's the mental health.  I was relieving stress but also getting much needed exercise.  I don't need to go into the health benefits of regular exercise.  I'm sure, unless you live on another planet you've heard.  Physically and mentally, it is a win, win activity.  

Making art is another win, win activity.  Have you ever noticed that you lose track of time and go into a "zone" when you are creating.  Studies show that making art improves cognitive function and memory and reduces common symptoms of dementia.  It strengthens problem solving and critical thinking skills. Creative activities reduce stress and depression.  Creating increased blood flow to the brain by 10%, especially to the pleasure centers, similar to falling in love. Studies on people with chronic illness show that helps balance their loss and gives them relief from the illness for a time.  Making art produces a meditative effect.  Heck, making art is just good for you! 

So, I hope you either get your bike down out of storage or dust off those old art supplies.  Preferably both.  If you are already actively making art, think about how you can change it up and exercise a different muscle group by joining a group, having a paint date with a friend, taking a class, buying that new easel.  Keep it fresh and fun.  But above all, do it for you!  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Learning to Draw and Paint Flowers

I'm starting my series on Flowers in Watercolor.  This is the first one explaining how to draw a cup and bowl shaped flower.  You can read it at Empty Easel.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Time With Dad


So, along the lines of the Bloom Where You're Planted post, I've found a few new blooms on the bush.  Some time with an old friend painting in the park was just the ticket last week.  Angela and I have been painting together for many years, since I moved here almost thirteen years ago.  She, a speedy oil painter alongside me, a slow watercolorist.  We both like to paint the same things and always enjoy each other's company.  But these last few years we haven't gotten to do it much at all.  Hopefully we can do this with some frequency since we both found a little time in our busy schedules.

It's funny, I had almost decided to just give art up entirely.  Gasp! Art for me has always been a joy and an outlet. Other times when I had a rough patch I may have quit painting for a time, but I never felt as though the artistic spirit had left.  Maybe it took a backseat, but I knew it would return, front and center.  And it always did.  Before.  It's hard to explain.  But as time dragged on and I just didn't enjoy it, I figured maybe it had run it's course.  That happens, right?  There are other things.  Pursuits and interests I haven't gotten to yet.  Maybe I would find a new passion?

So I resolved to just give it a year.  If, after a year (plus the past year) my attitude had not changed, I would just move on.  In the meantime, I didn't force it.  I left it alone almost entirely.  I have never done that in 25 or more years!  But I guess I needed a break.  And time. Time to give priority to other things. 

The second bloom to open was this recent nagging thought that I need to sketch and paint my dad.  One of the things I tell students is to paint what is around them.  Anything and everything!  Still, I really was in no mood to paint or sketch beyond my obligations until the last few months anyway. But time, that measurement of minutes, hours, days, months and years.  It changes things.  Time moves on and you can't stop it.  Once it's gone, it's gone.  I realized I had an opportunity in time.  Time with my dad.  How could I best use that time with my dad?  As I thought about that, it was pretty obvious what one of the opportunities here is!  Bingo! 

And so, as time marches on, I have so many opportunities.  Small gems hidden, barely visible.   The task is to mine these gems each and every day.  The other night, it was fishing.  I sketched him and painted as he watched my husband fish.  The painting was awful because of the paper in the journal I used, but what a time we had!  We roared with laughter while my husband "fished" his lure from a bush!  The other was a sketch done from a photo I snapped the other day because I loved the light against a dark window.  

So, as I think about fathers day I realize I've been given a gift. It's not the new inspiration or the art spirit come back that is the gift.  It is this time with my dad. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

How to Paint an Orange Using the Color Wheel Method

Have a fantastic Memorial Day Weekend.  Paint some fruit!  

New on Empty Easel:   Learning to paint an orange using the color wheel method.  This is the latest in my tutorials on the online art magazine Empty Easel.   Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

I Lied or Bloom Where You're Planted

Late Jonquils and Blue Bells-detail of a failed painting!  
A failed painting.  I had a teacher who, during critiques would come around with two right angles of a matt and find the one place your painting worked!!  It was humbling, but it did teach me that there is some good in every effort!  

It was an honest lie.  When I said I gave up teaching, I was telling the truth.  Then a few days later I sat down to write another watercolor tutorial for Empty Easel, when I realized--I'm still teaching!!  (Empty Easel is an online art magazine I write watercolor articles and occasionally motivational pieces for. I will have another article here this week--do check it out!) I guess you can take the teacher out of the classroom, but where there's a will, there's a way??  How do you like that for mixing up proverbs?! So I guess I'm still doing what I love, just in a different way.

Another thing I realized is that by writing for E.E., I have begun to bloom where I'm planted.  I'm sure you've heard that expression before.  Sometimes we can't always control our situation, but we can always use the talents we have in the situation we find ourselves.  Sometimes it take some creative thinking to figure it out and sometimes we just naturally fall into it, like I did with E.E.  I love to write.  I love to teach.  I began writing for E.E. several years ago as a guest writer, which then turned into a regular thing.  So when I decided to give up teaching in a classroom, this was already in place. It combines three things I love: art, teaching and writing--and I didn't even realize it!

My intent for this blog has always been both to teach and encourage.  So I lied twice!  I haven't really used this blog to teach as much as I could.  My focus has always been more to encourage the creative spirit.  Yet a lot of what I do as a teacher is to encouraging people in their art.  Helping them get over the:  "the work must be perfect before I can value it" and the "I will never get the hang of this skill, so why am I doing it?"  And I share my personal artistic struggles here, not to complain, but to possibly come along side someone else out there who may be struggling as well.  It helps to walk the road together or to know others have the same experience.

The wonderful thing about the internet, like this blog, is its ability to reach so many. I have heard from people all over the world through it's reach.  The downside for me is the lack of personal interaction.  I'm a huge "people person" and I love to communicate face to face and look you in the eyes! The internet is a much larger audience. In fact my readership has tripled the last year alone.  I have people in the US, Canada, Australia, France, the UK, Bulgaria, Ireland, Germany, China and Mexico reading this blog! (hello to each and every one of you out there!) Just this week I received a response from someone in Bangalore--how fun to have friends and fellow artists from all over the globe!

That means I can encourage a larger audience to live a more creative life as well as teach in a huge classroom!  Really, the sky's the limit for what you can find and learn online anymore. I'm not sure I even really grasp its reach or potential.  That's an exciting thought for a creative person --unlimited potential to help people make art!!

So thank you for joining me on this journey.  In the articles on Empty Easel are some basic "how to" watercolor lessons that are part of a series I've been doing.  (you can search my name on E.E. for back articles) Coming up I am doing a series on painting flowers in watercolor.  This combines two things I love-- the fluid nature and vibrant color of watercolors with the delicate beauty of flowers!  

I hope you continue to learn and be encouraged by this blog.  Thank you for reading and do let me know when something I write helps you as you make your art.  Remember, each of you has something unique to say.  And it's your job to say it as no one else can.  Lets live a more creative life!   


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Color and the Split Primary Palette

In a new tutorial for Empty Easel coming out this Thursday, I recommend making a color wheel and chart to help learn and understand the colors in your palette.  Here is an explanation of my personal color palette (tho I use professional grade paints) with a little more detail on color theory.  Enjoy!

The Language of Color
Let’s begin with some basic color “language”.  Color has a vocabulary all its own and we will use these terms as we go forward, so let’s get familiar with them.
Primary Colors: Red, Yellow and Blue.  These colors cannot be mixed from any others and are the primary colors that all others are mixed from. 
Secondary Colors: Violet (purple), Green and Orange.  These colors are mixed from two primaries. Red and Blue = Violet.  Blue and Yellow = Green.  Yellow and Red = Orange.  That’s simple enough, right? Now let’s get a bit more complicated.
Tertiary Colors: Red Orange, Yellow Orange, Blue Violet, Red violet, Blue Green and Yellow Green.  These colors are just secondary colors with a little more of one primary color than the other. 
The twelve mixtures above, or shades, or “hues”, are what you will find on a common color wheel.  Color mixes can go on forever, but these are basic hues that all others are derived from.
Split Primary Color Palette
The six colors on my supply list make up a split primary color palette, meaning they have a “warm” and “cool” of each primary.  Yes, color has a temperature! A “warm” color is one that is a mix of warm hues—red, orange, yellow.  A “cool” color is one with a mixture of cool hues—blue, violet, green.  So while you may think of all reds as “warm”, (and it is in general), different hues of red may be “cool”, depending on their color “properties” or mixtures. (It is hard to find a tube paint that is a “pure” primary color.  Most are a mixture of colors that give them their specific shade or “hue”.)     
Let’s look more closely at what I mean.  The reds we will be using are Cadmium Red and Alizarin Crimson.  (these are the names for Winsor Newton student grade paint.  (The paint list, with their temperature, are in my previous article on Empty Easel “Watercolor Paint 101”) Cadmium Red light is a bright orange/red color.  When placed beside Alizarin Crimson, you can see it has a bit more yellow in its mixture.  Cadmium Red is a “warm” red.  Alizarin Crimson has a more violet color, meaning there is blue in its mix.  Alizarin Crimson is a “cool” red. 
In Yellow we have Cadmium Yellow Pale and Cadmium Yellow Hue.  Now place those colors side by side and Cad Pale has more green and is therefore a “cool” yellow, while Cad Yellow is clearly a little more orange and therefore a “warm” yellow.  (Yellow may be the hardest to distinguish because it is so light)
And last, the blues.  Ultramarine Blue leans to violet, while cerulean leans to green.  Ultramarine is “warm” and Cerulean is a “cool”. 
Why Use a Split Primary Color Palette?
That’s a good question, and the answer is complicated.  For now let’s keep it simple!  The simple answer is:  it helps simplify mixing color, keeps color mixes vibrant, and mixing color helps us learn about color relationships.  A limited palette also helps keep color harmony in our paintings.   
With this color palette you can mix any color without making “mud”.  “Mud” is a term for cloudy colors that lack vibrancy.  Mud happens when all three primary colors are present in the mix. Basically, by keeping colors in the same family, we mix the color with two, not all three primary colors. (this is the part where most students eyes glaze over and things get a little muddy!  No worries!  Just remember the color mixtures and it will click later!)       
Color Charts and Wheels
Below is a color wheel I made using the split primary color palette.  I labeled the “temperature” and the divided the wheel to show the divisions (color family) used to mix clean, vibrant secondary and tertiary colors. 

The next example is a color chart of the mixtures you can make with these six colors.  I suggest you make a color wheel and a color chart.  By making a wheel, you will see how to mix your secondary and tertiary colors and will have a color wheel to refer to.  Making the color chart will show you which color combinations create the color you are looking for.  Notice how the colors are uneven on the chart?  This is because I mixed the color on the paper.  I find mixing on the paper helps me see the possibilities of a mix.  You can also see which colors don’t work together and avoid making those mistakes on your painting.  There are times when you need a muted color and times you want bold, clean, vibrant color.  With your reference charts you will be able to see what color you want and how to get it.  Both the chart and the wheel are useful when learning to mix color and as tools for future reference.

As you can see, you can make any color of the rainbow with just these six tubes of paint.  By limiting your colors, you will understand color better by mixing and eliminate the need for tons of tubes of paint!  While you may want to add a few tubes as you learn, for the most part, my palette has remained the same for over 15 years!  The more paints you use, the more likely you are to make that mud.