Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wow! Great new tool for gear-heads!

I just learned about a new online tool for making photo collages. It's at this site: It's a great way to showcase a series of paintings. Thanks, Kara K. Bigda, for sharing on your blog the information about this tool.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A great design company -- Wakefly, Inc.

This short video tells you about the creative director of Wakefly, Inc.  (He just happens to be my son...) Wakefly is located in Westborough, MA.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Copies, reference photos, and things that go bump in the night...

Today, I thought I'd share a few paintings alongside the reference photos that inspired them. I've posted these images, and their corresponding reference photos, to introduce a (testy) commentary on an issue that just doesn't quit... 

"A Sunflower for Jane"

Reference photo, 6/2013
Reference photo, 12/2012
"Winter Day Dinner"
Available for purchase
Reference photo, 8/2012

"White Hibiscus"
Reference photo, 9/2012
"Patience I"
When I attend local art shows and exhibits, particularly those showing non-juried work, I'm sometimes surprised to see 'knock-offs' of paintings by other artists. Traditionally, art students have been encouraged to refine their skills and techniques by copying "Old Masters" (why don't we refer to artists like Judith Leyster, Berthe Morisot, or Rosa Bonheur as "Old Mistresses" ?). 

I remember that such copying sessions were part of our assigned 'homework' by my instructors at the Vesper George School of Art in Boston. Yet even as we copied, we labored under certain guidelines –– chiefly, never, ever copy someone else's work and pass it off as your creation.  U.S. copyright law is clear on this topic: 

"Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed."

For this reason, I'm taken aback when I see that an artist has reproduced, almost stroke-for-stroke, another artist's painting. It's fine to practice by making copies. It's a good way to learn new techniques, how to mix colors, etc. But what we paint in our studio is not always worthy of being sold (for lots of reasons...).

I display and sell my paintings in a professionally managed, online gallery. Recently I saw that a painting of mine had been copied so closely that it seemed inappropriate to have been passed off as someone else's. I've also seen other artists' work copied and being sold by a third-party 'artist.' Although intent is often difficult to document, in cases like this I disagree with the sentiment  "...imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." 

Those who exhibit or sell their work to the public are remiss in doing so when theirs is a near-copy of another artist's creation. Reference photos deserve similar consideration. As a studio artist, I was instructed long ago only to work from reference photographs that I have taken if I plan to exhibit or sell my painting. Photographers are sensitive about their work being copied without permission, just as most painters are.

Perhaps I sound cranky –– but I am not alone. Similar comments about 'creative plagiarism' appear on other painters' blogs and websites, and I've had conversations about this with other painters. We all agree: no one likes a copy-cat.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Painting dilemma

Reference photo, 3/2012
Sometimes I get in a rut with a painting. For several months, I've been working on a scene based on some photos I took in Puerto Rico last year. I did a small study first, then decided I'd work on a larger version (22" x 15").

Everything was going well, but then I had to set the painting aside and devote my attention elsewhere. When I finally returned to it, my enthusiasm, or my focus, or something was out of whack.  In particular, wasn't happy with the effect of shadows on the white plaster.

I set the painting aside for a few days, hoping for inspiration the next time I went into my studio. When I did, I decided to work more loosely and allow the paint and water to mingle freely on the paper. The finished painting measures 13" x 18", and is available via my DPW auction.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Do Your Best

Reference photo, 5/2010
Sometimes I like to paint in a realistic style. This photo I took, of a Cub Scout marching in a Memorial Day parade, challenged me in several ways. I wanted to render the figure carefully, and also be faithful to the areas of skin-tone, sunlight and shadow. Doing close-up work was another aspect of this challenge. Adding hair, and the stitches on the fabric, meant using a very small brush and painting by 'suggestion' rather than an emphatic statement.

After determining which details to keep (e.g. the little boys in the background) and which to eliminate (e.g. the brick paving, because it distracted from the red stripes in the flag), I penciled in basic shapes. I used a photo-copy overlay with graphite paper underneath to trace the large shapes and maintain their general proportion and positioning. I then began to add color –– a mix of indigo and cobalt –– working from top to bottom. (Sometimes I work from right to left, because I'm left-handed.)  I chose to complete the figures in foreground and background prior to adding the flag in the middle-ground. After the blue areas were completely dry, I floated in the beginning of pale skin tones, then allowed them to dry fully, as well. (There is nothing more frustrating than watching colors bleed into each other when you don't want them to!) Again dampening the paper in specific areas, I dropped blues into the cap and sleeve.

The wet-in-wet technique created the beginning of shadows and highlights and suggested soft, fabric texture. I moved slowly to the bottom of the painting, completing the first pass of blue in the foreground figure. I left white space in areas that would later be multi-colored Cub Scout insignia. 

I used a second primary color –– yellow –– for the kerchief and just-visible emblem on the boy's cap. This was done using a light wash, wet-in-wet, of new gamboge, yellow ochre, and cadmium yellow light. This color mix was allowed to dry thoroughly, before I worked further on the figure. For shadows on the skin, including the arms, I used multiple pale washes of winsor violet mingled with burnt sienna. The latter, in richer intensity, was used for the hair at the nape of the boy's neck. I painted darker shadows on the ear using sepia, and a dark mix of indigo and cobalt suggested the shadow on the the underside of the bill of the cap. I finished adding the hair, and then painted the Scout insignia, using several colors.

For the badges, my goal was to give an impression rather than an accurate rendition of each detail. Next, came the kerchief. I made certain that the shadowy folds were not too dark. For the latter, I used several washes of quinacridone gold, with a touch of burnt sienna for the darkest shadows. 

The red troop number badge was done in cadmium red, which I also used as I began painting the stripes in the flag. Having finished both the foreground figure and the flag, I was ready to add background figures. 
I questioned whether to render significant amounts of detail. In the end, I chose to paint the figures without worrying about details –– insignia, buttons, etc. –– the three boys in the background were supporting players, not stars of the painting! My final steps were to add black-top pavement, and the white traffic lines. To do this, I first masked off the completed portions of the picture, using tracing vellum and painter's tape, making certain that everything was stuck down tight. Then I mixed a medium-cool gray (sepia and French ultramarine blue) and with a toothbrush, I spattered on multiple layers of paint. I allowed each layer to dry in between spattering. 

When I was satisfied with the depth and intensity of color, I let everything to dry overnight. I removed the masking and completed the pavement by painting in opaque white traffic lines with gouache (which I rarely use, but knew it was necessary here). This painting took about 8 days to complete (including drying times). It's one of my favorites because it tells the story of a young boy, so obviously intent on living up to the Cub Scout motto:  Do Your Best

"Memorial Day Parade"    20" x 16"  matted and framed

Available at Creative Hands Gallery
812 Main Street, Unit 2
Osterville, Massachusetts 
(774) 521-4304

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Just a bowl of cherries

"Like Life"   sold
Two years ago, I was on a sabbatical leave from my position as a parish priest. My goal during that leave was to devote more time to creative pursuits. 

I came across this entry from a blog that I kept during my sabbatical, and thought it would be of interest if I posted it here, since it shows the way one of my paintings took shape.  

"First Week of June, 2011"
My painting is going well... the bright, sunny days definitely make a difference for me, as I can see light and shadows in ways that  translate to the process of putting paint on paper. Yesterday I resumed work on a painting I'd sketched out more than a year ago. It's from a photo I took in 2009, when Robin and I vacationed at Maryland's Eastern Shore, in a cottage on the Chesapeake Bay.

Work-in-progress:  "Like Life"
Many images that appeal to me are of places, people, or objects I've photographed some time ago. It seems that memory gives these images an appeal and resonance lacking in more immediate views -- almost as if the pictures need to sit in my mind, where they become familiar entities with fond attachments to something/someone in the past. Yesterday evening, I was re-reading "Beauty: The Invisible Embrace," by the late John O'Donohue. He writes: "Memory is the place where our vanished days secretly gather." 

This may be what's working in me as I latch onto an idea of what to paint next. In the case of the bowl of cherries, my cherished recollection is of a leisurely summer afternoon, fresh fruit, sun-light bouncing off the water -- truly a memory to savor. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Loose, relaxed brushwork II

Alstadt - Salzburg, Austria  SOLD
A few summers ago my husband and I spent time traveling by train and car through Germany and Austria. Driving through a portion of the Alps was not as hair-raising as I'd worried it would be (I'm not fond of heights!)... and our destination, Salzburg, was one of the most beautiful cities I've ever visited.

We were there during the Festival -- music was EVERYWHERE.

This painting is from a photo I took as we walked to an afternoon performance of Mozart quintets.

While it may look a bit more structured than some of my other 'loose' paintings, I did this without any preliminary drawing or pencil guidelines.

I find that it helps to have a good brush that has a nice, responsive 'spring' to it.

Loose, relaxed brushwork I

There is such a temptation to over-work a watercolor painting. The inclination to make it 'perfect,' or to work towards something approaching photo-realism, is difficult for me to resist.  I've tried everything to break these habits -- including holding my brush in the 'other' hand (for me, a lefty, that would be my right hand...) -- but I still find that I drift unwittingly in the direction of too much control.

I have always liked to draw, and yet I find that attempting to render, realistically, with watercolor, is a perhaps one reason my work can look over-done and stiff.

One solution is to stop drawing and simply paint -- no pencilled-in guidelines, just water and lot's of juicy color. In the case of this floral painting, I gave free reign to the pinks and yellows, hoping they would mingle on the paper and create interesting depth and shadows.
Boston Winter   SOLD
I sometimes carry a tiny travel box of watercolors with me when I know I might have some time to sketch. This view of the Christian Science Church in Back Bay was done quickly one Friday when I was on my way to Symphony Hall. I hope that what it lacks architecturally is made up for by its lively colors and the chilly feel of all that snow covering the reflecting pool.

Resting Swan    SOLD
This painting done from a photo taken at the Public Garden in Boston last summer, was an enjoyable challenge. Because I didn't draw the shape of the swan, but relied instead on the water surrounding her to make a 'swan' shape. The addition of shadows and a bit of reflection made it complete.

Think Spring!
After the winter we've been having, how could anyone NOT want to think about Spring?? I hoped that juxtaposing bright colors would be effective and not too weird. I think it worked, because I sold this painting a few weeks ago.

Jack, study
My brother-in-law, Jack, is an avid hunter and fisherman. Each autumn he heads north to Maine to enjoy all that the North Country has to offer. My sister sometimes joins him, and took the photo from which I did this quick little sketch of him standing in front of some blazing orange maples.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Painting watercolor portraits...

Reference photo, 8/2013
In recent months, I've been experimenting with watercolor portraits and thought I'd show several stages in the development of a study I painted of my brother, Scott. I worked from a few digital photos I had taken this summer. Although they basically outdoor snapshots, not done with special lighting, etc., they provided a good jumping-off point for this watercolor sketch. 
Step 1
One of my goals was to keep the painting style loose. So, I purposely avoided using masking fluid or penciled-in guidelines. I think that because my brother's face is relatively familiar, it was easier for me to work quickly, without a preliminary drawing.

To approximate the color of his face (which is deeply sun-tanned), I started off (Step 1) with a very pale wash of burnt sienna, using some Winsor violet to tone it down a bit in places where darker shadow would later be laid on. I used a slightly less dilute combination of Winsor violet and burnt sienna in the first steps of suggesting placement of the eyes and nose.
Step 2
For the background, I used a wet-on-wet application, mostly permanent sap green and new gamboge, with a little shadow green here and there. To suggest foliage in the background, I used a large brush (a #16 pointed round), loaded with paint, to apply the background. I wanted to suggest rather than to make a detailed statement. As I painted around the hair, I did so in a way that allowed the white of the paper to stand in for my brother's wild and curly mane!

I then began deepening the shadows, adding richer mixes of the same sienna-violet combination I'd started with. For the deeper shadows at the lips (Step 2) I add some brown madder -- a rich, ruddy red that I just love working with. 

My goal was to preserve the effect of sunshine on my brother's tan face. Rather than using a thick layer of wash to deepen the color, I used multiple layers of thinner wash to build the planes of his face, paying particular attention to the creases around the nose. 
Step 3
The shadowy areas around the hairline, beard, and eyebrows (Step 3) were painted in with a pale wash combo of French ultramarine blue and sepia. I deepened this wash a bit, intensifying the blue, when adding color to the pupil and iris in the eyes.
"My Brother Scott"
Click here to buy
It was important to get the shape of the 'bulb' of the nose painted in correctly, so I again tried to limit deepening the pigment, opting for several layers of light wash instead of just one. Once I felt satisfied with that, I then added more brown madder and burnt sienna to the wash (Step 3) and began to add more layers of shadow. 

Although the reference photo shows my brother wearing a black shirt, I decided to paint it deep blue (Cobalt, with sepia shadows) to provide even more contrast with the skin tone, and to bring out the blue of his eyes.  I had a lot of fun with this study -- and I believe it was more enjoyable because I didn't feel constrained by pencil guidelines. I hope this painting captures my brother's free spirit! 
Update, July 1, 2015: The painting placed in the "Special Merit Category" for the 5th annual "Figurative" art competition held by the LightSpaceTime online gallery.  Read about the award here and see all winners in this grouping:

Moving ahead...

Like so many other people during these early days of 2014, I've been fairly occupied with lots of things that have kept me away from my studio (except for short bursts of painting every now and then). Nonetheless, I've felt productive -- especially since I have started to loosen up even more with brushwork, color, form, etc. 

"Seasons: Summer-Autumn"
All this sub-zero weather we've been experiencing has fueled my desire to paint flowers in all their luscious variety of form and color.

"Hydrangea, small study"