Sunday, March 30, 2008

Pastels and Purple Cone Flowers

Purple Cone Flowers
9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
I have been thinking about these flowers for months now. They may not be the most showy flower in the garden, but they are one of my favorites. On my trip across the U.S. several years ago, we stopped at a garden with fields of cone flowers. There were butterflies everywhere, enjoying all that nectar. I liked the flowers so much, I planted some in my garden in Washington.
For this painting, I started with the darkest green first in the background, after I did a pretty detailed sketch in charcoal. Then I built up the greens until I had the effect I was looking for. Next, I did the cones. I think there is more detail in the cones than I usually do, but I like the way they turned out. The petals were last. Overall, I am glad I finally decided to do this. Flowers often intimidate me, but I think I am getting better with them.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Pastel Stream Series

Stream Race
9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Coloufix
Miki Willa
Hello again. I am back from my trip to Washington state. We had a great time visiting family and house hunting. It was very cold. We were even entertained by a few snow flurries. Not good painting weather. It is still very beautiful there, however, and I am looking forward to moving back in June.
The painting is the newest in the Kalihi Stream series. I am so amazed that I can get so many different views and moods from a short stretch of a stream. I realized today that I have no reference photos of the bridge over the stream at the entrance to the retreat center. I may have to drive up there this weekend and check it out.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Still life in the Ancient Colors

Tea for Two or Block Party (can't decide on a name)
9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
Hooray! My paper order from Dakota Art arrived. I even ordered some Wallis paper so I could do some more pastel and turpenoid underpaintings. I can't wait to open the box. It is like Christmas when our paper orders arrive. I will be so happy to get back to Washington state when I can just drive to the Dakota store if I am getting low.
When I first set up this still life on the dining room table, it was quite big. There was another teapot on top of the concrete block, a tea cup sitting on one of the openings, and a blue on white serving dish leaning against the block. Of course, I never got around to painting it, although I did make sketches. I took several photos, however. This morning, when I was looking for something I wanted to paint, I came across a photo of the setup. I started cropping and found something I liked. I am still playing with the four walls. I decided I needed to leave out the cup in the hole and he teapot on top of the block. I am quite happy with the results. (My husband made me write that, but I really am.) The reason the concrete block is that color is because it had been outside with our local red dirt. Red dirt dyed t-shirts are big business on Kaua'i.
I will be off-island (local term meaning I am going to another island or to the mainland) for the next week. I will be visiting family in Seattle, Washington. I am not sure how often I will be able to post, so plan on me being back on Friday, the 28th. For my Christian readers, have a joyous Easter.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Painting from photographs

A Day at the Shore
9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa

There have been several posts of late about painting from photographs. I thought I would weigh in on the subject. As you know if you are a regular reader, I use photographs for almost all my paintings at the present time. I paint at 5:30 in the morning, long before there is any light here, in my portable desktop studio. If I didn't use my reference photographs, I would be posting daily sketches of my desk top. Believe me, you don't want to see that on a regular basis. I probably wouldn't be painting at all on a daily basis. So, I have a strong prejudice for using photographs as a viable reference for painting.
That being said, I would also like to state that I think that using someone elses photograph without their permission should be avoided. It is like copying someone elses painting, as far as I am concerned. We have a big swap meet here three times a week that is big business. Tourists come from Waikiki by the busload. Newly arrived go there to buy local souvenirs to send back to mainland family. I have gone several times. There is an artist there on Saturdays who does acrylic copies of oil paintings by well known local artists. For some reason, he keeps getting away with it. He sells his paintings at a very low price. They are pretty well executed, but I am bothered by it for several reasons. First, it devalues the original - I think. Second, I feel like this guy is stealing artistic property. I feel that way about painting from someone elses photographs and then making a profit on it.
On a different level, if you are painting from someone elses photograph, you are using someone elses artistic vision. Don't get me wrong, I have done several paintings based on photographs in the WetCanvas photo archives. Sometimes, I just long to paint something that is not tropical. I would, however, never enter them into a show or attempt to sell them. They are purely for my practice and pleasure. I post them here to share where I am on my journey. I always try and remember to state that the reference is not mine. I have seen some fantastic photographs on several blogs I look at, and been tempted to try and paint from them because they are so wonderful, but I wouldn't do it.
I have several friends who have sent me photos with permission to paint from them. I am very grateful to them for sending me scenes I love and want to paint. I treat them the same way I do the WetCanvas photos. The reason is that I haven't been there. I didn't smell the smells, feel the breezes, look into the shadows, hear the sounds. I am much more comfortable painting from photos I have taken myself, or my husband has taken when we were together. Then I feel like I know the place. I understand all the drawbacks, or things one has to remember when working from photos. Photos lie, especially about value, but if I have been there, I can sometimes remember the place.
One thing I have learned, from practice, is to not be a slave to the photograph. The woman I took classes from gives out Artistic Licenses to her students and urges them to think about how to make a painting better. I am not one who can come up with a scene from no reference. Perhaps that is why I have so much trouble with non-representational art. I have slowly come to understand that I don't need to leave everything in, especially if it detracts from what I am trying to say. That has been a long time coming. I hope I can translate that to plein air painting, which I hope to do more of this summer.
I know there are purists out there who think that unless you are painting plein air, or from life, you are not really an artist. In my recent delvings into the history of Western Art, I have discovered that plein air painting is a rather recent technique. I want to stay open to all the possibilities. That does not mean I am ready to leave my pastels, however.
This painting was done from a reference photo my husband took at a beach on the North Shore of Oahu. I made changes as I went along. I also added very small people. Can you see them in the background?

Monday, March 17, 2008

A sketchbook day

And a happy St. Paddie's day to you all. My wonderful husband found two pieces of paper for me over the weekend. I put them in the car last night, then promptly forgot to bring them in this morning. Because of new temporary duties at work, that was probably a good thing. So, instead of doing a pastel painting, I decided to work in my sketch book. These are the very different results.

One of our students came in with a shamrock sticker next to her eye so I decided I needed to sketch her. I have such a hard time with whole faces, I decided to crop her pretty severely. I didn't realize until I posted the picture that her left eye is much lighter than her right. I will have to fix that tomorrow. Otherwise, I am pretty happy with this one. I am most pleased that you can tell it is a child. I think that is very hard to achieve.

The second sketch is from a WetCanvas reference photo. It is a farm building in the snow. I cropped it pretty severely because I wanted the building to go off the page. I am playing with composition, especially edges, these days. I am trying to learn to see in a different, more interesting way.

The last is something very different. I decided I would try a pastel pencil sketch in the sketch book. I really don't like dealing with white paper when I am working with pastels, so I looked around for something to help. First of all, this was my sketch book so no liquid blending would work. I tried watercolor in the book before and it was not pretty. Second, I didn't have any blending brush anyway. So, I decided to try markers. Don't try this at home unless you are very adventurous. If you do, make sure the base color is completely dry. The other major problem was I was using pencils instead of sticks, which give better coverage. I thought about not posting this one, but it is a journey of learning and discovery that I am sharing here.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Autumn leaves in spring

Autumn Walk
9 x 12 soft pastels on Canson Mi Teintes pink paper
Miki Willa
I am officially done with the pink paper. My Dakota Pastel paper order should be here by Wednesday. All is right in the world.
I checked in with the March WetCanvas landscape challenge the other day and found three really great photos. I decided to do this one because I have never really done autumn leaves. I don't think this is a finished painting yet, but I will let it sit over the weekend. I didn't post it on WetCanvas.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Juried Art Contests

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, Maine
7 x 10 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix (the last piece in the house)
Miki Willa
I just got my April issue of Pastel Journal with the winners of the annual Pastel 100 contest. I always look forward to this issue to see what the judges liked this year. I was quite amazed to see how many photo-realistic paintings were honored. Is this style coming back? Has anyone told the art schools? I did like almost all the winning paintings this year. I especially liked the landscapes. The still lifes very interesting, as always. There was a non-representational piece that surprised me. The artist used soft pastels to create a Jackson Pollock style painting. It is hard to believe it is not poured oil paints. The one thing I thought was lacking in many of the paintings was emotion. I totally appreciate the skill, patience, and dedication it takes to do photo-realism. That is what I aspired to when I first started painting. I guess that I am more interested in showing how I feel about something these days. I don't always achieve it, but I am working on it.
Now that I have said all that, I want to address my feelings about juried shows. This is just how I feel, so if you think juried shows are fantastic, you don't have to read any further. I am an educator and I loathe standardized testing, and especially teaching to the test. They are a "snapshot" of a moment in time of a student. They don't take into account the whole student. I feel the same way about juried shows, but for different reasons. First, I don't think it is good to compare yourself to others in that way. Especially if you have been painting for five years, and the others have been painting for 40. But the juror does, so the same people win over and over again and the newer artists are only discouraged. Next is the idea that someone who is not your teacher makes judgements about your work based on their own prejudices. I have always thought that art classes should be credit/non-credit. Who really has the right to grade/judge someone else's creativity? I have seen paintings I thought were so terrible win big prizes in juried shows. I have entered the local pastel societies shows, to support the society, had paintings accepted and rejected. I have celebrated with the winners, and consoled the rejectees. Have I grown as an artist from the experience? No. Not at all. Especially when I see paintings honored that I think are really poorly executed. ( I would love to be able to post this picture and see what you think, but I can't.) Okay. I think I have said my piece.
I have read that painting lighthouses can be so cliche. I have been looking at the reference photo for my painting for a long time. I have a friend who is in Iraq. He loves lighthouse paintings. I was thinking of him this morning so I decided to finally do this painting. I used the last piece of Colourfix in the house. It is not finished, but I wanted to post it anyway.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hokusai - Japanese Master Artist

Pine Tree in Front of the Mountains
In the style of ukiyo-e
9 x 12 soft pastels on Canson Mi Teintes pink paper
Miki Willa
This is a long post, but it is by no means a complete biography of Hokusai. It is meant to whet your appetite. There are no images of his prints here because I am not sure about violating copyright laws in this area, and didn't know where to find copyright free images. If you hop over to Making a Mark (link below), you will find good examples of his and other artists in this style.
The artist we know as Hokusai was one of Japan's best known artists. He was born in 1760 in the Honjo quarter of the Katsushika district of Edo (present day Tokyo). This was a very poor district and Hokusai was born to a poor woman who named him Tokitaro. Although he took at least 26 different names during his life, I will refer to him as Hokusai as that is the name he is most well know by.
By six years old, Hokusai was already drawing the distant Mt. Fuji he could see on a clear day. His tools were bamboo sticks on a dirt canvas. He dreamed of on day walking among the flowering cherry trees at the base of the mountain with his mother. Unfortunately, his mother died when he was very young. He was sent to live with his uncle, Ise, who made and polished mirrors for the shogun's court. Hokusai was put to work polishing mirrors, which he loathed. He was more interested in the designs on the backs of the mirrors. Fortunately, since his uncle worked for the shogun, the children of the household were sent to be schooled by the Buddhist monks. Hokusai loved this part of his day. He excelled in anything having to do with a brush. When he was 12, his formal schooling ended, but his life as an artist began.
Hokusai wanted to study the great artists of the day so he talked his way into a job at a nearby lending library. At night, he would study and copy illustrations made by famous artists. By the time he was 15, one of his costumers had become pleased enough with his talent and Hokusai was offered an apprenticeship as a woodblock engraver in a print shop. He spent the next three years practicing the art of ukiyo-e. For a very informative post on the how-to of this art form, see this post at Kuniyoshicat. For information on the style of ukiyo-e, see these posts at Making A Mark. Katherine has a project on this subject going this month.
Hokusai mastered the art of engraving the delicate drawings into the wood that the Master Artist Shunsho would not let anyone else work with his drawings. By the time Hokusai was 18, Shunsho offered to be come his teacher. To honor his teacher, Hokusai took the name of Shunro. For many years, he was kept busy painting images of the Floating World - the world of tea houses, Kabuki theaters, and geisha. The art world at that time had very strict rules and Hokusai worked within them for a while.
Hokusai grew tired of painting the floating world. He came from the working class, and that is what he wanted to depict in his paintings. That and the natural world. The two subjects were not acceptable to the wealthy patrons who bought his art. After 14 years, and many fights, Hokusai left Shunsho's studio to follow his dream.
During that time in Japan, the ports were shut to the outside world. Nevertheless, Hokusai obtained copies of landscape engravings by Dutch artists. When he applied the values and perspectives of these engravings to his own landscapes, he was shunned and scoffed at by his fellow artists. Fortunately for us, he continued refining his art.
Hokusai was contracted to illustrate many books of both poetry and prose during his life. One of the best known is One hundred Poems as Explained by the Nurse. Another was about the art of crafting with bamboo. He also illustrated and published several books of his own work, the best known being Thirty six Views of Mount Fuji. Others include Fifty three stages of the Tokaido, Large flower, and his 15 volume Manga which he described as an art instruction book.
Hokusai died in 1849 at 89 years. For much of his life, he lived in poverty. He sometimes sold peppers and calendars to pay for his art supplies. He lived in 93 different places, created more than 30,000 print designs. When he was in his early seventies, he wrote a reflection on his work as an artist. There have been many translations. This one comes from the Ray book listed below.
From the age of five, I have needed to sketch the form of
things. Yet of all I drew prior to the age of seventy, there is truly
nothing of great note. At the age of 72, I finally understood something of
the quality of birds, animals, insects, fish, and the nature of grass and
trees. Therefore at eighty, I shall have made some progress. At
ninety, I shall have penetrated even further the meaning of things. At one
hundred, I shall have become truly marvelous, and at one hundred and ten, each
dot and every line will surely possess a life of its own.
For further reading:

Hokusai: The Man Who Painted A Mountain by Deborah Kogan Ray
Hokusai: A Biography by Elizabeth Ripley

My attempt at ukiyo-e design is from a reference photo of the Grand Teton mountains in Wyoming.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

End of the Day
9 x 12 soft pastels on Canson Mi Teintes pink paper
Miki Willa
I did two very different projects today. I had another piece of the pink paper so wondered what it would do for a sunset. We have seen so many beautiful sunsets here. This one was on the North Shore. When we first moved to Hawaii, we would take drives around the island just to look at the water. Sometimes we sketched, but most of the time we took photographs. I am so glad we have all these reference photos. For a long time, I didn't try to paint sunrises or sunsets. I was sure I couldn't begin to express my feelings about them. I was also unsure about my ability to "get them right." For me, this one really captures the awe of seeing the sun setting slowly into the sea. I am really pleased about getting the highlights in the water. The horizon line is a bit skewed, but it works for me. It is really fun to have my paintings sit where I can look at them throughout the day. I was not sure about this at 6:30 this morning, but by 3:00, I really liked it.
On a completely different note, I also decided to do a quick sketch based on one of the 36 views of Mt. Fuji that Hokusai did. Tomorrow, I will do a post about his life and his art. Think of this as a teaser. I was limited to my school set of Crayola colored pencils, so I don't have the colors all right. I think I captured the feeling, however. He was a very interesting character. Come back tomorrow to learn more.

In the style of Hokusai
Crayola colored pencils in sketch book
Miki Willa
This is a very shameless advertisement. We are leaving Hawai'i, so we have a wonderful house for sale. I know someone out there is planning/desiring to move to Paradise. Please contact me and I will get you all the information.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Painting on Mi Teintes

Private Haven
7 x 10 soft pastels on Canson Mi Teintes pink paper
Miki Willa
I thought we had another sheet of Colourfix, but we have run out. We can't get it in the islands, so that means I have to make an order. It also means I have to paint on what is available and that is Canson Mi Teintes. I have a love/hate relationship with this paper. I love all the colors, I hate the texture - even the smooth side. I have to work harder to get coverage, except with my Sennies. They will cover any surface, I think. Then, of course, at 4:30 this morning, I selected the pink sheet. That was an adventure that I think worked with this painting. I had just read on Gurney's Journey that using a warm undertone was great for cooler colors like green and blue. It also worked to really warm up my sand. Casey Klahn says you should try as many surfaces as you can, so I guess I will be playing with pink Mi Teintes this week.
In Hawaii, there are not supposed to be any private beaches. This beach is tucked behind chain fencing near a beach park. All the signs say No Trespassing!! Of course, my friend and I squeezed through a narrow place near the gate and got great views of a perfect beach. I still have not learned who owns it and how they get away with keeping it private. We were all set to do some plein air painting that day, but decided to take photos of this beach and find a more public place to do our painting that day.
The photo below is for Julie at Virtual Voyage. She put up some dynamite cloud photos this morning. I took this one on the way home from work. Fortunately, I caught a red light. I have been known to take pictures while driving on the freeway. Never a good thing, but sometimes it is the only way to get the picture.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The figure in landscape

Dressing for the Dance WIP
9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa

I am very uncomfortable when drawing or painting people. I have had limited instruction, and that was in Korea where I attended a women's university for a semester. My figure drawing teacher did not speak any English. My Korean was very limited. I took art classes because I thought it would be easier with the language barrier. I was very wrong about this class. I struggled daily. Finally, the teacher got so frustrated with my less than steller work and took my brush, dipped it in black ink, and put a big black X across my drawing. That may be why I shy away from this very important part of my art endeavors. It is funny to me now, but it wasn't back then.

This is my second attempt at this painting. Amazingly enough, I put the first one aside because of the background. I made it way to dark and strange. I tried to fix it, but it never looked right. When I decided to do it again, I used several reference photos taken at the event and selected the foliage I thought best stayed in the background. I like the triangle the three dancers form. I like the placement of the hula instruments. I think I will bring a branch of the pink/white foliage across to the other side for better balance. This is a work in progress so there is still much left to do. Faces, for instance.

Hula is a very beautiful dance. When I first visited the Hawaiian Islands, I thought it was done for the tourists. I had no idea about the rich heritage of this art form. I have learned so much from my kumu (teacher) since those days. This painting is of the beginning of a ceremony where a dancer earns the right to become a kumu. It is called uniki. I was privileged and humbled to be invited to my kumu's uniki a couple of years ago. It was a very hot day and the ceremony began during the hottest part of the day. All the candidates came out carrying the greens they would put on before they began. In this picture, they are tying the greens around their ankles. I like this scene because my kumu is in the middle, the apex of the triangle. I want to do this well for her.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Playing with red - tulip fields

Spring in Skagit Valley, Washington
7 x 10 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
I decided to try red again. For some reason, my reds stay in my box, largely unused. I think I may be intimidated by them. My friend sent me a wonderful photo of this red tulip field in the Skagit Valley last spring. I have avoided it for a long time. This morning, with paper in hand, I decided to give it a try. I boldly picked up my darkest red to lay in the foreground. That went well, so I moved on. Once the reds were down, I quickly got into my color comfort zone and did the background and the sky. Once that was under control, I started looking at the red field again. I didn't want to draw each individual tulip because that violates my sense of what I want to show. I used my brightest red to indicate flowers in close foreground. Then I added some stray golden tulips to create interest. I am pretty happy with most of the painting.
As I looked at this during the day, I saw a few compositional things that need fixing. First, the golden tulips need to move over to the other side. Having them and the barn structures on the same side makes that side too heavy, I think. Second, I really need to reshape the furthest mountain. It is much too high, and too dark. Finally, I realize I violated the rule of no two intersections alike, but I am not sure how to fix that.
I love it when I learn many things from a painting. Hokusai started drawing as a child. He apprenticed to an artist at 18. He was one of Japan's best known artists. When he was in his 70's, he declared that he still wasn't good enough. If he lived to 100, he might have figured it out, he thought. I have not been painting nearly that long, so I have to learn much from everything I do. This artistic journey, however, is great and I wouldn't trade it.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Strange Cloud Photo

I left the house without any paper to paint on this morning. I decided to share this photo with you instead. This was taken from my driveway one morning last summer. Tom and I were amazed at the patterns made by the clouds. If anyone knows what kind of clouds these are, please let me know.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A portrait in pencil

A Friend
graphite in sketch book
Miki Willa
There was no studio time this morning, but I was able to grab some sketching time this afternoon. I rarely do portrait work, so this was quite a bit outside my comfort zone. This is a friend of mine who died quite suddenly a couple of weeks ago. I tried to capture the gleam in his eye and his warm inviting smile. I am not happy with the mouth, but it is better than it was. I think I should learn how to do portraits in the style of the Japanese artists of the Edo era (early 1600s to mid-1800). They weren't so fussy looking.
Speaking of Japanese artists, one of the best known from that era is Hokusai. This is just one of the many names he adopted during his long life and career. Take a look at his 36 Views of Mt. Fuji. They are quite wonderful. I will have more to say about the life of Hokusai and some of the artists he learned from as I learn more.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Kalihi Stream Series No. 3

Tropical Stream WIP
12 x 9 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
I know I have shown you my portable studio before, but I just really like it so I decided to show this WIP on the easel. I have a closer photo of the painting below. I have a painting hanging in one bedroom that keeps reminding me of how I want my paintings to look. I looked at it over the weekend so I had it fresh in my mind this morning. This painting is very different, but I used many of the same techniques in stroke and approach. I was also very happy to be working with my own palette on this one. The rocks are going to be so much better.
I was hoping to finish this one this morning, but ran out of time. I started out thinking that the palm leaves would be the focal area, but realized I wanted the area where the branch comes out into the stream to stand out more. I think the branch really makes a statement. It is forked on the bank with one side staying in the shadow and the other coming out into the middle of the stream. I need to work both sides of the branch to make that stronger. I did this on a strange brownish ground that Art Spectrum creates. I don't really like the color, but it makes a fantastic ground for these tropical paintings.
I have decided to join in Katherine Tyrrell's study of Japanese art from the period that influenced the art world in the mid-1800's in Europe. Look for posts from time to time. I grew up surrounded by this art, Japanese wood bock prints and paintings on silk. It will be fun to really study the masters and share what I learn.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Streams and pastels

8 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
It was strange painting at home today. I was using my husband's palette because I left mine at work. He doesn't have all the warm grays I am used to using. It was also strange to not have a short time limit to work. We also have a new studio space because we are getting ready to sell our house and had to move the studio out of the middle of the living area. The light in here is definitely much better than my space at work.
This is another from the photo references I took when I was on retreat. The back wall was so bright, I really had to tone it down. Because it has some yellow in it, and my camera loves yellow, it appears brighter in the photo. I also cropped it poorly. The stream does not go off the page at the corner. I intentionally let the rocks fade into the distance by reducing the details. I rather like the effect. I also like the softness of this painting. I guess this is number 2 in my Kalihi Stream series.