Thursday, February 28, 2008

Value study in purple

Ghostly Waters
9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
Isn't this strange? I decided to do this value study using purple because I love purple, and because I thought I had the greatest value range in that hue. I had no idea that it would end up looking so ghostly. I had a great deal of fun doing this. The reference photo is the Kalihi Stream looking upstream from the bridge. I did have trouble with the middle values, especially on the rocks. The other thing I had trouble with was that the background foliage was really dark. In this case, the photo recorded that part right. My question is how to handle aerial perspective when the distant stuff is darker than the foreground stuff. Then there is the sunlight and shadow thing on the leaves. I will do this scene using local (more or less) color and see how I can capture the values I have done here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Capturing more than a moment

Desert Watch
7 x 10 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
I have been looking at my old photos recently, and I have been visiting photoblogs by some very talented people. One great online source for great photos is Flickr. I am sure there are more, but I haven't stumbled on to them yet. All these photos do one thing very well. They capture a moment in time. They preserve that fleeting thought, wind, snowfall, whatever, for all time, or at least as long as the emulsion lasts on the old kind of photo prints. When you paint from photos, you are looking at a moment in time. Unless you took the photo, and spent some time in the place, that is all you can paint. I think that is part of the richness of plein air paintings. As you are painting, time is moving. The light changes. The mood evolves. A good plein air artist captures this passage of time in the painting. I hear them talk about making sure you have a good value sketch of what first drew you to the chosen spot so these changes won't effect the painting, but it does and that makes the paintings richer. This is, of course, my humble opinion. I paint primarily from photos at the present time. I try and limit myself to reference photos I have taken or my husband took when we were both together so I can bring some of my feeling about the place to the easel. There are times, however, when I use photos taken by my friends or members of my larger family - with permission of course. I don't know if anyone else can see the difference, but I certainly feel a difference when I am doing the painting.
This painting is from a reference photo I took ages ago. I think it was in Eastern Washington state near Potholes Reservoir. The cumulus clouds were much more distinct in the photo, but I have trouble with cumulus puffy shapes floating across the sky. They look great in God's world, but not so much on paper. A least for me.
Tomorrow, I am going to try and tackle value again. I am going to do an entire painting in one hue using all the values I need. I have not done this before except with charcoal or pencil. It will be interesting, I am sure.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Down Stream
7 x 10 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
I really enjoyed working on this painting. I think I was able to show the areas where the sun was showing through the clouds on the trunk and the rocks on the far side of the stream. I learned quite a bit by working from a different perspective on the water. Most of the time, paintings are done with the water coming toward the viewer. Creating a sense of the water moving away from the viewer was quite a challenge. The only thing I am really not happy with is the dark "gash" on the lower root area of the tree trunk. I will have to work on that.
I have photo references looking upstream from the same bridge where I took this. Perhaps I will do a few more of this section of the stream. I smell a series in the works!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Adding green

Kalihi Stream WIP
7 x 10 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
I was on a wonderful retreat this weekend at a place deep in a lush valley. There is a stream that runs along the perimeter of the property that is often full during this, our rainy season. I was not prepared to do any plein air painting, but I did take several reference photos. I also spent some time enjoying this place so that I would be able to paint it in the studio. The day was a peek-a-boo sun day and I caught this tree in one of those moments. Unfortunately, I needed more than my usual morning time to finish. Hopefully, I will get it done tomorrow morning.
Clearly, I need to work on the unpainted areas. I also need to work on the rocks. Currently, they seem to be all one value. I also want to work on the shadow area in the trunk of the tree. There are details in there that I would like to show. This is such a cool tree with the deep curvatures. It almost looks like three trees, but it is one trunk. I also want to make sure that it is clear that the viewer knows they are upstream and the stream is flowing away from them. I think I have a good start on that, but it could be clearer.
I have worked mainly in the "ancient colors" for the rocks, tree, and water. With the addition of green, I am following the chronological trend. At first, green was added in mosaics. It wasn't found in pigments until later. I may have found a resource that talks about the history of pigments, but I have to check it out before I share it with you. I still have more green to add to this painting.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Contempletive Friday

This contempletive photo is from Kaua'i. This is the Hanapepe River taken from the middle of the suspension bridge.
Instead of painting this morning, I took the time to do some reflection and writing about my artistic vision and purpose. This was prompted by many things, but the time presented itself to me because I left my easel at home. One of the things I realized is that there are so many things I want to do and learn. Oh, for more time!
I have discovered a great blog, Virtual Voyage. Give yourself a visual treat and have a good read.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Small spaces - Artichokes

6 x 8 D. Rowney paper
Miki Willa
What a strange little painting, yes? Unfortunately, all the things I wanted to do worked out. They just didn't make the best painting. I wanted to use subtle colors so the flower would pop. I elected to do a very linear fence background to contrast with the curves and undiscliplined lines in the plants. The thing I didn't count on was how hard it is for me to paint artichoke plants. The flowers were okay, but the leaves were so elusive. I also didn't think about how depressing the background and fence colors might be. The really important thing is that I learned quite a bit from doing this painting, and that is what this journey is about.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Painting streams

Iao Stream, Maui
7 x 10 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
The challenge in this painting was getting the water just right. I am happy with parts of it, but the diagonal riffle isn't quite working yet. This is a stream that drains a valley that catches up to 400" of rain annually. I took the reference photo during the fall when the stream was relative low. There are little riffles all down the stream as it tumbles and dances its way to the mouth of the valley. You can see the path below as it drops to the edge of the stream. If you are ever on Maui, a trip to the Iao Valley is well worth your time.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The ancient colors again

Ka hanu aloha
7 x 10 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
I am really enjoying playing with this set of colors. Blues, umbers, and golds. They were perfect for this addition to my small spaces series. This is a vent at Halema'uma'u in Volcano National Park. This is a sacred place that is known as the dwelling place of Pele, the goddess of fire. There are many such vents on the plain above the vast crater. Warm, humid, sulfurous gas escapes constantly, letting everyone know that Pele is in residence. After I finished the painting, my friend looked at it and pointed out that a man's head was coming out of the depths of the vent on the viewers right side. Could it be Lohiau?
Once Pele had settled on the Big Island of Hawaii, she rested. She sent her dream spirit wandering the other islands. On Kauai, she met and fell in love with a young chief named Lohiau. They spent several days professing undying love for each other before Pele returned to her home. She became so lovesick for Lohiau, she sent her sister Hi'iaka to Kauai to bring him to her. Hi'ika was given 40 days to do this. The story of Hi'iaka's journey is very long and complicated, so I will not go into it here. More than 40 days passed. She finally arrived on Kauai only to find Lohiau dead from a broken heart. She brought him back to life, and they returned to Halema'uma'u. In the meantime, Pele had become very angry and jealous because so much time had passed. In her anger, she turned Hi'iaka's best friend into stone. When Hi'iaka saw what her sister had done, she put her arms around Lohiau and kissed him where her sister was sure to see. Pele became so angry that she sent streams of fire and lava to engulf them both. Hi'iaka had magical powers and evaded death, but Lohiau was not so fortunate. It is said that as he was being engulfed in flame, he chanted love poetry to Pele.
The title of the painting means breath of love.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Creating height

Sea Stacks
7 x 10 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa

I have noticed in several paintings from tops of hills or cliffs that creating the illusion of height is pretty difficult. In this painting, the sand is not nearly this yellow so it looks a little further away, but I have still not created the sense of standing on a bluff looking down quite a way. Part of it is the lack of objects on the beach. Part of it is the size of the sea stack, perhaps. This is something I would like to learn to do better. Any suggestions about paintings where this is done well would be appreciated.

The setting for this painting is the Oregon Coast. There are several places along the coast where these grand sentinels stand just off the shore. They are millions of years old, according to the geologists. Some are alone and some in small groups. All of them are quite majestic.

I will be working this weekend, so won't post again until Monday. Thanks for visiting.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Painting Diamond Head

Le'ahi Sunrise
8 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa

One of the most photographed and painted landmarks in Hawaii is Diamond Head Crater, known locally as Le'ahi. I think every local artist has painted it at sunrise or sunset. I try not to paint what has been painted too many times before, but the lure was too great. I see it every day from my school since we are so close. It is ever changing. The morning light is from the back from my location. Only the inside peak of the crater catches the sun. In the afternoon, it takes on a golden glow as the sun sets. When it has been raining, the slopes are many shades of green. During the dry times, it is the ever present reddish brown. It is well worn by the Pacific rain and winds. I do understand why people seek it out.
My camera had a hard time with the colors in the sunrise. I tried adjusting them with Photoshop using levels and curves. Unfortunately, The peach and pink got lost in the photo. If my husband's camera does a better job, I will replace this one.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Interesting colors

Shore Break
9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
I have started doing a bit of research into the history of western painting. One of the things I have discovered is the similarity in pallets from the earliest cave paintings until well into the early middle ages. The predominance of umbers, gold, and blues is evident in the great animal drawings on the cave walls, the Egyption tomb paintings, the great Etruscan murals, and the early paintings of Giotto. The absence of most of the other colors we are used to seeing today give a wonderfully integrated feeling to these ancient works of art.
For today's painting, I decided to try and limit myself primarily to this pallett. I added the dark purple for the cliff to create a contrast. This painting is of a great shore break on the north shore of Moloka'i where the rocky heads create exciting water movement.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Plan is Forming

Water lilies in the style of Monet
7 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa

On Sunday, I was reading Katherine Tyrell's Who's Made a Mark This Week when I saw a link to Maggie Stiefvater's blog talking about style. She wrote in three seperate postings about the importance of developing a style of your own, and she gave good practical advice on how she discovered hers. It has occured to me that I am all over the place in terms of style. I think I have been getting closer to what I keep referring to as my visual voice, but my method for getting there has been a bit haphazard. I keep telling myself it is okay because I am building my skills. There is much to be said for that, but I now believe I can continue to build my skills in a more directed manner. I also subscribe to Artbiz newsletter. Alison has been talking about creating a vision for my artistic future. I think it is all finally beginning to come together.

I am still working on the vision, but I started step one of developing my own style. I started looking at the paintings I have done over the past eight months. I have put aside the ones that I really like on first impression. At this stage, I am not evaluating them beyond that initial impression. That will come later. So far, I am being drawn to the paintings of mountains, water, and flowers. Especially the ones where my strokes are a bit looser. It will be interesting to see what happens after step two, which is evaluating just what it is I like about each of them. I guess I have come to a Y on this path.

Today's painting was something I have wanted to do for a while. I took the photo several years ago at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. I have long been intrigued by Monet's treatment of water lilies and reflections. This is my first attempt to copy the style of a master.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Dragonflys and Crumbled Paper


Crumbled Paper

I didn't finish my painting this morning and didn't want to post this particular work in progress. I did, however, get a couple of sketching breaks during the day. I have had this photo of a dragonfly on a rhododendron for ages. It was on the top of the pile of photos I keep in my portable studio, so I grabbed my pastel pencils and had a go at it. It was great fun to do the gossamer wing thing. I also enjoyed doing the crumbled paper. I was preparing to throw away last months cafeteria menu when I decided I could draw it before I tossed it. Another fun piece.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Beautiful Lehua

Beautiful Lehua
7 x 10 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
The lehua is the blossom on the ohia tree. There is a wonderfull legend about the tree here. These trees grow all around the volcano area on the Big Island.
I was all set to do another painting when a vision tugged at me of the lehua. I started out with the velvety white part, adding the shadows where I saw them. I used several reds and oranges for the rest of the flower. I thought about putting in more distinct leaves, but decided to leave that for another painting. Enjoy the legend and the flower.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Looser Strokes

Undercut by the Sea
7 x 10 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
Waves are still a challenge for me, but I am getting better. But that is not what this painting is about. As I continue on this journey of building my skills and finding my visual voice, I want to explore different ways of making a mark on paper. Last week I tried a piece where I did no blending and used small strokes. I wasn't entirely happy with the result. Since then, I have been doing both. This painting is closest to what I think I like. I put down the colors I wanted by first layering them, then blending. Once I got the base color I wanted, I went back in with bolder strokes to bring out the interesting parts.
Composition was another thing I worked on in this painting. I used the rule of thirds as much as I could. Originally, I was going to "paint the photograph" before I realized that the end of the cliffs was exactly at the half-way point as was the horizon. I used a view finder and am much happier with this composition.
Tomorrow, I will post the latest in my floral creations.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Painting buildings

Ford Island Cottage
7 x 10 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
I really enjoy the challenge of painting buildings. I drew this one in a very draftsman-like way.
When I picked up my pastels, I wanted the overall feeling to be a bit looser, but retain some of the crispness in the house. I wanted it to contrast with its surroundings in a fairly strong way to show the contrast between what we create and the natural world. I have done other plantation style houses in a much less structured way, and I have enjoyed both methods.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Composition challenges

Strange Day
7 x 10 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
Wow! This is my 100th post! I was reading another blog today where the artist explained that she was not blogging as much because it took time away from her family and her art. At this point in my journey, my blog is a big extension of my art. I have a place to look at my daily paintings with a much more objective eye. At this stage, that is very important to me.
The reference photo for this painting was taken on Oahu's north shore. These trees are quite common along the shorelines here. I am sorry I don't know what they are. I was initially intrigued by the negative spaces created by the branches. I thought the focal area would center around the area where the trunks all come together. As I painted, I realized something else was happening.
Thinking about all the "rules" of composition, I was trying to get my lightest whites and darkest darks together. What happened was the lightest whites became much more interesting.
I started working on the small shore break by adding the shadows and highlights. I worked the wet sand next. All of a sudden, I realized the center of interest had
changed to the white water to the left of the trunks. That was fine with me. I worked until I had to open the library, and then some. I finally took some photos. I decided to photograph the detail of the focal area. After I saw the results, I realized that my eye is not as developed as I thought it was. I think this detail is much more interesting than the bigger painting. I am concerned that the water does not lay down but appears to crawl up the picture plain, but I think that if I only painted this area, that would be painted differently.
All this goes to show is that I still have a long way to go. Some day, I will have more paintings that hit the mark and will be able to start marketing them. I am fortunate that some of my better paintings have found good homes. I just have to keep on the journey, keep learning, and apply my faith. It will happen.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Using Warm and Cool Color Complements

7 x 10 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
When I first saw this rusted hulk of a barge, I knew I wanted to paint part of it as part of my small spaces series. The challenge of getting the sense of what I was seeing onto paper kept me from trying for a few weeks. I wanted to capture the sense of long service in a climate harsh on any metal surface. There was little direct sun the day I took the photos, so I didn't have many shadows to worry about. Only the rusts and blues.
When I set out, I decided to limit my pallett to my yellow/oranges/burnt umber and blues. Those were the colors I saw in the barge. I wanted to make sure that greens did not appear as I layered. Unfortunately, the photo shows greens where there are none in the original piece. I started out by making bold strokes (as bold as you can get in this small size) of various colors within the pallett as I saw them. I put the blues next to the rusts and kept building.
I had so much fun doing this painting, I completely lost track of time. I only wish the photo was more accurate.
Tomorrow, look for another in my coastal series. I want to try and apply the techniques I used in this painting to a landscape.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Playing with Color - Cools

10 x 7 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
Before I talk about color, let me explain about hinahina. It is a type of Florida hanging moss that is an air plant. In Hawaii, it is often used to increase the beauty of the plumeria trees, especially when they have lost their leaves. Some people think it is Spanish moss, and I don't know how that is different from Florida moss. It is also locally referred to as Pele's Hair. Our neighbor has many bunches of hinahina hanging from her plumeria and I finally decided I wanted to paint it because I really like the look.
Now the color. Hinahina is light gray in color with a hint of green. I decided to exagerate the greens and see what would happen. That made me want to play with purples in the limbs and trunk of the tree. I put in a very cool green for the grass and a cool beige for the building in back. It was all too cool and looked very flat. I warmed up the greens in the grass and then decided to go with a complementary rust for the wall. Overall, I am happy with the color combination, but it isn't quite what I was going for. I really wanted to punch the color up further beyond reality. I thought this would be a good composition to do that. Somehow, my mind just won't go there. This is about as far as I can push it at this point in time. Most of the time I was painting this, my brain kept a running monologue about how it is okay to experiment this time, but tomorrow we are going with local color. Fear not, tomorrow I am going in a totally different direction.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Wilbur Creek Falls

Wilbur Creek Falls
18 x 14 soft pastels on Wallis
Miki Willa
I think this is finished. I am happy with the way I got the lights and shadows. I also like the feel of the rocks and the falls. The mountain does just what I want it to. I will look at it again in a few days to see what, if anything, I want to adjust.
Today, I took down the studio for a major cleaning. One has to do that now and then. I probably won't have a chance to post tomorrow. I will be back painting in my portable studio at work on Monday morning.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Work in Progress

This morning, I woke up and decided to do a larger painting I began sketching last week from a very old 3" by 5" somewhat faded photograph. This is of Wilbur Creek in Glacier National Park in Montana. I have never forgotten the wonderful little waterfall and how I sat on the bridge over the creek to take the painting. I found a large piece of Wallis paper and did a sketch that will work up to a 14" x 18" finished painting.

I am still rather new at using under-paintings, but decided I would do some complementary colors with some darks in the areas I want to focus on. I used mostly NuPastels in this step, but I have a very lush Terry Ludwig brown I used for the rocks. This stage is pretty scary for me because I am sure I am ruining a perfectly good piece of paper.

Once I had all the colors in place, I took my turpenoid and soft brush to melt the pastels and create a toned surface for my painting. While I don't have a great deal of experience with under-paintings, I have tried water and alcohol, but I really like the surface created with the turpenoid. It seems richer to me. I also get a much more even cover. I really have fought this method for a long time, but the last couple of paintings I have done this way have ended up looking deeper and richer. I just wish the Wallis paper wasn't so expensive.

Once the underpainting completely dried, I started developing the painting. I often start with the sky and that helps me establish the values in the distant plane. When I do the sky later, I almost always have to redo any distant mountains I have included. This time, I worked the mountain next. It is hard to tell in the photo, but I seem to remember it being rather washed out, faded. It was a hot summer day, late in the afternoon, when I was there. The next thing I did was work to really establish the water path and small falls, followed by laying in the tilted rock slabs. I am happy with the depth I established in the river at the bottom of the falls. It was rather shallow and the gravely bottom had tones of gold. I have much to do still before this one is finished, but I like the direction it is taking.