Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The "Why" to Being an Artist

watercolor thumbnail 3" x 2"
copyright 2007 Stacy L. Rowan

I was having a discussion with my husband about different jobs that he thinks would be interesting. I have to tell you that I envy him a bit. There are at least 5 different careers that he thinks would work for him. For myself I can only think of one – artist.

There are some benefits to knowing what I want to do. In fact, before I figured out that I wanted to be an artist, I was stressed because I couldn’t think of a career that I was passionate about. I’m thankful to be through that phase!

The downside of knowing what I want to do is the knowledge that being a successful artist is HARD. It requires the obvious creativity and technical skills (drawing, painting, etc.) but also requires skills necessary to run your own business. An artist who is just starting out must wear many hats – artist, salesperson, accountant, purchaser, marketer, PR rep. Being a successful artist requires dedication, persistence, a clear vision, hard work and lots of time. I’m not sure if I know any artist who hasn’t wondered once or twice whether they are cut out for the job.

In Robert Genn’s newsletter from July 24th, he comments on being an “artist for life” and gives some ideas that he thinks will increase a persons odds for success. His newsletter got me thinking.

I’ve thought a lot about why I want to be an artist. I mentioned my main motives in my first post on this blog and recently I expanded my own understanding of this desire.

I do not have a good memory for events and experiential things. One improvement I am trying to make in my life is to live in the moment, appreciate the blessings found in that moment and somehow commit it all to memory. There are many things in my life that I don’t remember clearly. Most of my memories have to do with how I was feeling during an event instead of exactly what happened, who was there or what things looked like.

Should my self improvement plan not work, I have a plan B. That plan is to use my art to record things as they are happening and capture the feeling and the details all at once. For example, someday I want to travel to Italy, visit the museums, taste true Italian food, travel around the countryside, meet and befriend locals, drink in the scenery, experience all of the good things Italy has to offer. I want to capture it all, all of the experiences and sights and feelings. Then I want to pour it all out into sketches and paintings and drawings so I never have to worry about forgetting anything. Through my art I can share my experiences with people who have had similar experiences, or who wish to have them but for some reason can not.

Thinking of this goal makes me feel excited. Thinking of living this goal makes me feel happy. It makes me itch to get back to my drawing table, to improve my skills, to make progress. These feelings are just what I need to transition out of vacation mode and back into being productive.

My husband recently pointed out to me that I have been creating art and pursuing my dream of becoming a successful artist for longer than I was an engineer, longer than I have been a mother, longer than I have taken dance lessons as a hobby, and almost as long as I spent in school. Maybe I am a “lifer” after all.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Beach People

copyright 2007 Stacy L. Rowan

I’m back from my second and final vacation of the summer - another trip to the shore. Days spent on the beach relaxing in the sun while the kids entertained themselves by digging holes, practicing with their skim boards and riding waves on their boogie boards. It is so nice seeing my own kids enjoy similar pleasures as I did when I was their age. I know we are creating memories that they will have for a lifetime. We are passing along experiences and traditions that I hope they pass along to their own kids when the time comes.

Vacation is of course a perfect time to get caught up on reading. I admit that I bought the last Harry Potter book the day we left town and read all 759 pages of it while I was gone. What a great series! I really enjoyed the characters and places that J.K. Rowling created and know I will reread the series at some point.
copyright 2007 Stacy L. Rowan

I also took my sketchbook to the beach with the intention of creating many quick sketches. However, I found that I had little interest in buckets and shovels and things that stayed still, so instead challenged myself to sketch beach people. And what a challenge it was! Even people who looked like they were comfortably settled in seemed to start moving as soon as I started sketching. I ended up with many half drawn subjects. But I did manage to finish the two people pictured above. Even though they were also moving targets, they helped me out by frequently returning to a common stance. I have to say that I am pleased with these sketches since I don’t often draw people.

Now we are back from vacation and I am trying to get settled into routine life. One thing that I am learning as I get older is that transitions are not a strength for me. I’m working on that and at least managed to get all of our bags unpacked the day we arrived home.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Interesting Reads

copyright 2007 Stacy L. Rowan

My archives list in the right column shows me that my postings for July have been few and far between. What can I say? Summer has a way of pulling me away from both the computer and the studio. I want to be at the pool and the farmers market and enjoying the outdoors. I want to go swimming and get lost in a book and ride bikes and go on walks with my kids. Of course, come the end of next month when my shows start I will be paying for my fun in the sun, but right now it seems like a decent trade.

Although I haven't been writing much, I have read some good blog posts lately. I thought I would share them with you just in case you missed them.

Maggie over at Greywaren Art wrote two posts on the topic of being consistent in style. They can be found here and here. I'll be pondering her words as I soak up the sun. Hopefully the sun's bright rays will help me see clearly what my "cookies" should be.

Katherine on Making a Mark has also been putting up some thought provoking posts. This week she started reviewing Imagekind, an online print on demand service. Her first post was a brief introduction to Imagekind, and in the second post she really starts to delve into the details.

Now, just to prove that I've been doing more than just reading...

Earlier this month, Katherine also posted information on how to make a light box for still life photography. The information originally came from the knowledgeable folks at Strobist. I followed Katherine's link to the original directions and I am happy to say that I now have my very own light box!! It was so easy to make and fun to play with. The picture above of the pepper was the first picture I took in my new light box. (Isn't that a beautiful pepper? I didn't even know purple peppers existed until my trip to the farmer's market last week. It tastes like a regular green bell pepper, but looks so pretty in a salad. I'm planning on buying more, so watch for them to turn up in my salads and my artwork!)

After testing the light box in the set-up that Strobist had described, I decided to play with different colored lighting. I had some sheets of colored translucent paper that I bought in the scrapbooking section of the local craft store. They cost about 80 cents each and worked well for this experiment. For this picture of the teacup, I slipped a light blue sheet between the light source and the box. I also put an orange sheet standing up inside the box on the shadow side of the cup. Can you see the two colors reflected in the cup?

2007 copyright Stacy L. Rowan

I also tried the opposite set up with the orange between the light source and the cup and the blue on the shadow side. Unfortunately the orange is a little dark, so that picture didn't work as well. I plan to go back and buy a yellow sheet and try again.

So you see, I am doing some things. Sure they may seem more like playing than work, but isn't that what summer is all about?

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Game or an Intervention?

watercolor study
2 3/4" x 2"
2007 cpoyright Stacy L. Rowan

Last weekend I sat down with my family to play a game that my kids learned at school. The rules of the game are simple. Every player gets a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. One person is the time keeper for the group. When the timekeeper says go, everyone starts writing a story on their piece of paper. When the timekeeper says stop, everyone stops writing and passes their paper to the left. Typically players are allowed to write for one or two minutes. When you receive your neighbor's paper you add to their story, stopping and starting per the timekeeper. The papers continue to pass around the group until they return to the player who started the story.

Now is where the fun really begins... Everyone takes a turn reading their story out loud. It is interesting to see where your story was taken, especially when it is not at all the direction you intended it to go!

I started a nice story about an artist. This is what my family did to it... (The color changes indicate different writers)

Once upon a time there was an artist who loved to draw. She wanted to draw all day and all night, but after a while she started to get hungry and stinky because she didn't take breaks to eat or take a shower. So she decided to take a break. Her break was two days long. She wasn't stinky or hungry any more, but at the beginning of her break, people threw her in the lake because she made the air stink when she went outside. The End

Do you think they were trying to tell me something??!?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

How to Draw Roses

The most common search term that leads people to my blog is “How to Draw Roses”. Whenever I get traffic from that search I feel bad, because I’ve never written instructions for drawing roses. I can imagine their disappointment when they get here. So this post is for them.

Of course my knee-jerk answer to, “How do you draw roses?” is, “The same way I draw anything else.” I know that’s not what these people are looking for, but it’s true. The approach to drawing any subject is basically same.

I think the most important skill required for good drawing is learning how to see. And the second most important skill is drawing what you actually see, and not a picture that is a symbol for what you see. Everyone has seen a child’s drawing of a tree. It looks something like this…

And we all know it is meant to be a tree. It has all the important tree parts - a trunk, branches, the leaf canopy. It’s a tree! Except I’ve never seen a tree that looks exactly like this. In fact I’ve noticed that every tree looks different, even trees of the same species. As a child I learned to draw roses like this...

I thought I was pretty clever. But this is what a rose actually looks like…

copyright 2007 Stacy L. Rowan

So how do you get from a drawing a symbol of a rose to drawing an actual rose? Start by looking closely at a rose. Really look at it. Look at the shapes of the individual petals, how the petals relate to each other, how the petals sometimes fold over, all the details that make a rose a rose. Don’t try to draw anything until you have spent time really looking at it. And when you draw a subject, for heavens sake, make it easy on yourself and have the subject in front of you. Or at least have a reference photo of a subject. (Make sure it is your own photo, or one you have permission to use, so you are not in danger of breaking any copyright laws!) Most artists don’t draw without references.

So how would I draw a rose? I’d start out by drawing a simple shape that the rose can fit inside. By simple shape I mean square, rectangle, oval – you know, those shapes you learned in kindergarten.

copyright 2007 Stacy L. Rowan

Then I start drawing the outside petals because they are easiest to relate to the shape. After the outside petals are drawn I start thinking about simplifying. I don’t try to draw every single petal. I just draw enough petals to get the essence of the rose. There are artists who draw every petal, I am sure. But I tend to lose my place in the complex center portions of the rose. So I fudge it. And I have yet to have anyone say, “Hey, you missed a few petals there.”

copyright 2007 Stacy L. Rowan

Of course, for anyone starting out with drawing, there are tools you can use until you are comfortable drawing freehand. Some people start out tracing their reference. Or you can use a grid to help you transfer the drawing to your paper. Sighting or using a pencil to measure lines might also help. Ultimately, drawing is like any other skill. It takes lots of practice. If you are interested in seeing more in depth information about learning how to draw, I recommend you check out Katherine Tyrrell's Squidoo lens "Drawing and Sketching - Resources for Artists".

So that is my lesson in “How to Draw Roses”. I hope people searching for that information find this post useful. At least now I can stop feeling like I am letting these searchers down.