April 23, 2011

Little Help - April Art Contest

I hope to have an actual, eggster-appropriate entry ready for you few-but-mighty readers before the end of this weekend, but also to be done before the end of this weekend is the entering of a painting in this month's Faces of Pearl Art Contest on Facebook.  It will be my second time entering and hopefully not my second time not winning, although that seems rather likely.  Like most contests open to public and repeat voting, I am no where near popular enough to win such a thing.  And yet, I carry on, paint on, and enter on... hoping one day to win a $100.00 gift certificate (or even the $50.00 or $25.00 one) for the purpose of refilling my watercolor half pans and perhaps buying some of those really nice brushes, the kind I could never justify buying now or ever before in the past-- unless it's one of those trips where your grandma takes you shopping and tells you that you can pick out anything you want because she's so proud of you and she wants a pretty painting for her kitchen, so you think about getting a few new filberts, and a beautiful fan brush, or maybe some of those super detail bushes with a handle that feels like butter and yet never slips from your hold, but you feel overwhelmed and guilty for what a spoiled grandchild you are, and so you eventually chicken out and just get pocket sketchbook....

What was I talking about?  Oh right, so I need some help choosing a painting.  If any of you, my faithful and cherished readers, have a preference from the small selection below, please drop a comment to help select an entry.  It must be uploaded by 24th, so my apologies for the last minuteness.

Thanks to everyone who offers their input or simply continues to read this thing.

Tea Thief Toad

Bottles on Windowsill

Grackle by Water


Bee on Hyacinth

April 20, 2011

English Cottages and a French Bulldog

One of those excess of brothers I've mentioned in the Violin post (though not the one who needed braces) will occasionally come home from his library job with no-sells from book sales.  I love attending library book sales, but I also love getting library book sale rejects, meaning free books.  According to him, they just toss out the ones that fail to find a buyer-- which seems so criminal in a world of charitable donation outlets, I wonder if it's indeed true.  If so, then this is less about taking free books and more about nobly rising to the call of rescue.  That's something I make a point to do, especially when all it involves is showing up at my parents' house.

There wasn't much of a haul this most recent rescue mission, at least not in my very diverse favor.  Perhaps it's for the best since I currently have more books than I do shelf space, but there are so many books I appreciate for reasons beyond reading.  One of the best examples of this is my attraction to bargain-table, craft store checkout, generalized-to-the-point-of-impractical coffee table books.  This also includes books that pretend to be "how-tos" or "style guides" but they're really just hard-bound home and decor magazines with much higher price tags in place of page after page of advertisement.  Even though my brother talked up books on wine and fairy tale collections with color illustrations, something went amiss with those gems, and instead I received one of those craft store checkout style guides on English country cottage interiors and gardens.

It makes decent sense.  After all, I live in a cottage.  And upon paging through the book, it's confirmed that an essential part of living in a cottage is filling it with more books than shelf space, beat up ancestral kitchenware and furniture, and plentiful tchotchkes that should almost never be dusted.  Not to brag, but I'm quite adept at meeting such criteria.  In addition to confirming how very good I am at living in a cottage, this book expectedly contains many photos.  Photos that could serve as nice painting references, which is the primary reason I'm writing about it.

There is one photo the especially caught my attention-- specifically, one element in the photo.  If you've looked at the title of this post, it's not hard to guess what that element is.

Photo by Brian Harrison

There was something about that little French bulldog-- maybe it's because she's the only animal in the book.  Since I couldn't yank her out of the photo, rub her belly and toss her pieces of matzo with hummus after we'd gone for a stroll through the park, the best I could do was yank her out the photo and paint her portrait, but I wanted to be sure she was the focus.  Photoshop helps for that sort of thing. 

I used the lasso tool to drag her out of the original photo and
onto a new background.  I'm not sure if that's the best, most
efficient Photoshop method for that sort of thing, but it
worked for what I needed.

I liked the idea of isolating a rotund dog with a white coat on a plain white background, but one thing I've come to learn with painting: whites are seldom white.  To determine just how off-white this white little dog is, I decide to adjust the photo a little more.  This gives me a better understanding of shadows and texture.  It helps when trying to add dimension and depth to subjects with even the most consistent colors.

Even though I can do more extensive editing in Photoshop, I
usually do a general adjustment in iPhoto.  It's also nice to
have everything in one window while painting from my
laptop screen.

If this dog was a beagle, a rottweiler, or even an American bulldog, it probably would have been a better rendering for the fact that I'm more familiar, but here she is just the same, and purposely off-center.


April 18, 2011

Ingesting Sunshine and Painting Progression Four - Bee and Grape Hyacinths

I've grown especially fond of bees in recent years.  Since noticing and learning more and more about their declining populations, when I do spot a bee, I gain a small sense of comfort and hope. For me, seeing a bee cross from bloom to bloom has become a little sign-- as if she's saying, "Yeah, things aren't as good as they use to be, but it's not over yet. I'm still here, doing my thing, and I still have lots of it to do."  There are plenty of invertebrates I would and do cheer for, and bees are at the top of that list.

My bee enthusiasm is also due to my honey collecting.  It's not the sort where I gather it from the hive personally.  I mean the sort where I seek out types of honey, anywhere I can get in and in any variety I can afford.  My favorites include a dense, dark multiflora blend from northern Spain and a jar from a local keeper of my hometown.  It has a subtile flavor of apricot and it's one I seldom offer to share when eager tasters visit the cottage. (Perhaps one of the perks of being so reclusive... it's easier to covet your local honey.)

I've always enjoyed honey in general-- the taste, the smell, the color.  I've long thought of it as a way of ingesting sunshine.  Granted you can say that about all edible things that grow thanks to the sun, but there's something especially beautiful about honey.  I now appreciate it the way I appreciate wine, or coffee beans, or new-to-the-market hair conditioner.  Honey is one of those wonderful things that offer a new experience based on everything that went into it.  It's a chance to be surprised with a new and amazing sensory delight, the likes of which your taste buds have never know... but even if it's like something you've had hundreds of times before, it's still good for what it is.  It's honey. And unlike wine or hair conditioner, the makers of it always know what they're doing and they know the best way to do it.  Honey is the result of hours and hours and miles and miles of warm spring days full of open blooms, visited by an incredible, and hopefully still irrepressible, little insect.

That insect is the subject of my latest watercolor, along with a few grape hyacinths.

 The reference shot was taken by a friend at the
Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.  I believe it was the
same day of the 
grackle painting shot.
Now, there's not a lot of technique to talk about here since the photo had to rendered pretty thoroughly before the painting could start.  Since each hyacinth bloom had to be established, I didn't leave much to later to be defined. Once everything was mapped out in watercolor pencil, it was really just about filling in the blanks. This painting was more about the initial drawing than the actual painting. If you're a fan of coloring books or paint-by-number, this method is probably one you'd enjoy, especially if you're confident in your drawing skills.  Scroll on to see how it all came together. 

And here's the scan:

Hope everyone is finding some spring wherever they are.  Remember to give something back to the bees

April 12, 2011

Taking A Painting Break with Polymer Clay Fun

While I have plenty of reference photos and a full list of ideas in the ole moleskine, I'm still not back in the painting groove. So last night, I decided to pull out my tin of polymer clay.  I don't use it very often, but when I do, I use it to give new life to old jars.

Here's the frog I completed last night using a jar from those little
sample jams.  I'm using this one to keep the few marbles I have left
to lose.

Covering jar lids is one of my favorite ways to "upcycle".  I've completed quite a few for storing tea bags, sugar, honey, dried pasta, beans, rice, etc.

"But, Rosa, is that safe?" you may ask. To which, I would answer:  Sculpey's website specifies that the pre-baked clay should not come in contact with food prep-surfaces and tools, which is a rule I tend to follow.  The other rule, which I've interpreted as more as a guideline in this case, is that polymer clay should not be used to make items that are meant to hold or serve food.  Both Sculpey and Fimo are certified as non-toxic, but I'm inclined to agree that making bowls or plates from the stuff isn't the best idea.  Jar lids aren't quite the same, in my opinion.  As long as the clay is kept off the inside of the lid, it's not really coming in contact with the edible contents.  I've been using these jars to hold the edible items I've discussed above for years and I've yet to come down with a case of clay poisoning, but that said, I must include a little disclaimer stating that I do so at my own risk and I cannot be held at all accountable if you happen to come down with a case of clay poisoning, or any resulting ailment for that matter.

After all, there are plenty of non-edibles worth keeping in jars-- swearing fees, lockless keys, marbles one has left to lose, so why not make a few?  Here's how I do it.

They were fine peaches.
I select a nice glass jar with a solid metal lid and make sure it's nice and clean. The jar itself isn't as important as a good lid. Polymer clay has to be baked in an oven to harden, so you want to make sure there's no plastic or other materials that would warp or melt when subject to temperatures of over 200°F. Obviously a mason lid wouldn't work as it's comprised of two separate components. Jared fruits and veggies, tomato sauce, peanut butter, honey, jam-- all good sources of metal, screw-top lids and glass jars that will work for this project.

After the jar is secured, all that's needed is some polymer clay, a conventional or toaster oven, and a few basic tools. You can purchase specified sculpting and clay working tools (usually in the same aisle as polymer clay) but I've found that an old X-acto knife and manicure stick are usually the extent of what I need for this sort of project.  A rolling pin helps too, but I only have one of those and it's exclusively for food use.  Any smooth-surface, cylindrical object does the trick, but if you really love working with polymer clay and want to do some fancier blending and rolling in less time, many people opt for a craft-exclusive pasta maker.

An old reed diffuser bottle works for me.

 I start by putting a thin sheet of clay over the jar lid, which is just going to serve as a base layer.  I like to save all my mixed scraps from previous projects and blend them together for this purpose.  The color isn't too much of a concern as the pretty parts will happen later.

Making sure I have a abundant quantity to cover the top and sides
of the lid.
The clay is rolled fairly thin-- roughly the thickness of a
heavy rubber glove.

The clay is smoothed on tight.  I try to press out any air bubbles.  Stubborn ones can be vented by cutting a small hole with the X-acto and pressing the air out.  The hole can then be smoothed over by hand.

This particular lid has a helpful little rim, so it's easy to press
the clay to the very edge.
Once the clay is smoothed and flush over the surface and sides, I carefully run the X-acto knife around the edge to evenly trim the excess.

Based on the type of lid at hand, sometimes some careful rounding is needed. 

You can see where more careful trimming and smoothing is
needed on those lids that lack a base rim compared to the
photo below.

  Once that's done, the fun stuff can begin.  At this point, I start smoothing cuts from canes I've made to create a patterned surface.  Making polymer clay canes can be a whole other project until itself.  That's not to say it's difficult, there's just a technique to it.  You can even purchase pre-made canes, but I don't think they're really worth the price, especially when you can create something totally unique by making your own. It's pretty much just like making sushi.

Few canes in progress here.
I usually start the covering process by wrapping cane cuts around the lid's side.

They're not the most glamorous cuts, but much of this
edge is going to be overlapped with other patterns.
Adding a few "leaves" to smooth around the edge.
A simple teardrop cane can be used to create flower petals.
After enough petals, some full flowers come into bloom.
If I'm creating a design that's not quite as three dimensional as our frog friend at the top, I usually do a basic rolling technique to flatten the polymer when things really start to stack up.  This also serves to smooth the clay and secure the individual cane cuts.

Gently rolling the lid while it's attached the jar here.
Make sure all clay bits are cleared from the rolling
surface or you will work them into your design--
which can work for or against you.
Once the design is smooth, I usually add additional canes and repeat the process until I'm happy with the design or sick of working on it, which often occur simultaneously.  If there's any overlap on the edge, which is sometimes created as a result of spreading the clay during the rolling technique, simply run around the edge with the X-acto knife and trim the excess again.

A time-consuming butterfly wing cane that came out a bit too
large, but the colors should work with this design so I decide
to add it in.

Once the design is completed, the lid is removed from the jar-- taking care not to smudge. The lid is then baked on a foil covered baking sheet in a 250°F oven for half an hour per quarter inch of polymer.

Our little frog friend seems to be enjoying the heat.

After cooling, the polymer is totally hardened and can be
gently hand washed as needed.
Thanks again to every one who followed along.  I hope you enjoyed this little painting break as much as I did.  It'll be back to painting again soon, but I welcome any questions or comments on this project.