Thursday, May 31, 2012

Summer Hiatus

carrot sketch
approx 7" x 12" gouache on colored paper
©2012 Stacy L. Rowan

Hot humid days are upon us, school is winding down and the farmers' market is in full swing. That means it must be nearly summer.

Every year I look forward to summer. The pace of our days is slower. We have more time together as a family. Days often start with breakfast on the screen porch. It feels like a special time.

As has been my tradition for the last few years, I am planning on taking a hiatus from my blog over the summer months. This will be my last regular post until the beginning of September.

The good news this year is that I will still be sending out my monthly email newsletter over the summer months. If you want to stay in touch all you need to do is subscribe. You can do that here. If you hurry, you can sign up in time to receive the June edition which is scheduled to be emailed next week.

Besides squeezing in some time to relax on the porch and have fun with the kids, I hope to make progress on a few art projects which I have been contemplating. So when I return to my regular posting schedule in September I should have a lot of new things to share.

In addition to publishing my newsletter, during this recess I will probably also be popping into Facebook with short updates, so you might want to "Like" my art page there if you haven't already.

I hope your summer is filled with all the best that summer can bring. I look forward to coming back together here in the fall and reminiscing about catching fireflies, eating ice cream and jumping waves. In the meantime, I'll see you in your inbox!

About the sketch: I am ridiculously pleased with this sketch of carrots. It is one of those instances where the process just flowed and the outcome matched the image that I started with in my head. I love when that happens! I am hoping that my summer schedule also provides me more time to play with these gouache paints and all my other sketching materials.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Importance of Play

iris sketch
approx. 9" x 5"
gouache on colored paper
©2012 Stacy L. Rowan

In last week's post I talked about how I would like to work toward a more painterly style and give up a little bit of control over the paint in order to leave room for some of the watercolor magic to happen.

This week I decided to really throw caution to the wind and give myself permission to just play.

I think as an artist it is very important to allow time for play. Playing with your art materials without expectation can really get the creative juices flowing. And I believe it can help keep the dreaded artist slump away.

So for my sketching play time this week I set aside my comfortable favorites and gathered together new paints and new paper. Talk about walking the tightrope without a net!

Last week, for some reason, I found myself thinking about painting on colored paper. It is not something that I have considered before, but I saw some Canson Mi-Teintes paper that I have used with charcoal, and I was curious how it would take watercolors.

Later in the week I received an unexpected gift of a small set of gouache paints.

(An interesting aside... When I first started using watercolors I turned my nose up at gouache because I couldn't imagine liking an opaque paint. But the work of this artist changed my mind. He creates stunning watercolor paintings and charcoal drawings too.)

When I saw the gift, I immediately thought that I couldn't wait to try sketching with these paints. And since gouache is opaque it seemed a good choice for the colored paper.

Feeling brave, I decided to take the leap. I gathered up the Mi-Teintes paper, the set of paints and my trusty water brush and went outside with the goal of sketching an iris or two. I love the shapes of the iris petals with their wavy edges and graceful curves.

My plan was to work from life and try out a few different approaches with my new paints. But the session didn't quite go according to plan.

Before I had even made the first brush stroke I heard the rumble of thunder. Let me tell you, if you want to practice sketching fast and loosening up, let your time limit for sketching be set by an approaching storm!

I made the quick decision to capture the form with white paint and then add color when I was safely inside. A few passes with the water brush and I had this...

iris sketch in process
approx. 9" x 5"
white gouache on colored paper
©2012 Stacy L. Rowan

I decided that was good enough and hustled inside to deposit my materials on the kitchen table. I then grabbed my little camera and raced outside to snap a quick photo to use as a color reference.

Back inside once again, and away from the threat of being struck by lightening, I finished the sketch. You can see the results at the very top of this post.

I have to say that this time spent playing was an exhilarating experience. I'm just not sure if the excitement was from the lack of expectations, the new materials or the approaching thunderstorm!

I'd love to hear your best sketching stories. Please feel free to share them in the comments below.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Evolution of Painting Style

another azalea sketch
approx 4" x 6"
ink and watercolor on paper
©2012 Stacy L. Rowan

I am having a bit of a style crisis. I think it is a natural part of artistic growth.

In the beginning most artists just want the skills to be able to draw something recognizable. If a new artist draws or paints an apple and people say "Wow! That is a great apple!" they are thrilled. Mainly because the people who commented didn't think it was a plum or a pepper.

However, as their skills improve they start wanting more.

For me, I am finding that I want to paint in a more "painterly" fashion - still realistic, but a little looser.

However, when I sit down with a brush, what comes out is very controlled. The part of my brain that controls the brush just can't help it.

Alright, if I am totally honest, this style crisis effects more than just my painting style. I hold the misguided belief that if I am in control of everything nothing bad will ever happen, life will be made up of rainbows and butterflies and the whole world will be happy.

At least I recognize that it is a misguided belief.

And I am working on being comfortable with relinquishing control - in my paintings and in life.

Typically in my watercolor paintings I have worked a lot on dry paper. When I apply the paint on dry paper it is easier to control where the paint goes.

I also mix my colors on the palette so I make sure I get the exact color and value I want before brushing it on the paper.

While this method of controlled application is very effective for painting realistic and detailed works, there is a trade off. Pre-mixing colors on palette and applying them to the dry paper means I lose some of the magic of watercolor.

One of the things I love most about watercolor is the way the paints mix on wet paper. Beautiful things can happen when an artist "lets the paints do the work for her".

But letting the paints do the work requires that I give up some of the control and take on a certain amount of courage.

Since courage can be harder to come by on large studio pieces, I decided to start with baby steps, also known as sketches.

After completing the azalea sketch last week, I knew I wanted to try it again only this time working more "wet on wet." Working "wet on wet" mean working on wet paper so the pigment can move and spread on its own.

Using last week's sketch as a reference, I started by creating an ink sketch of the outlines of the flowers and leaves.

Once that was complete, I applied yellow to all of the leaves. While it was still wet, I brushed in greens and blues and let the paint do its thing.

Once I was happy with the leaves I moved on to the flowers. Again I started with a light yellow wash and worked in with different yellows, yellow-oranges and oranges while the paper was still wet.

Although the outcome of the sketch might not look all that different, I was happy with the process of how I applied the paint. And I love the places where you can really tell that the watercolor pigments mixed and blended on their own.

Best of all, I gave up a little of my control and nothing horrible happened. In fact, it was fun to try a new technique.

Having fun builds courage, so I will definitely be trying more wet-on-wet experiments. I'm looking forward to seeing how these exercises influence my style.

One of the things I love about art is that there are always new things to try and always room for growth. Life in the studio is never boring!!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Spring Reward

sketch of yellow azalea flowers
Schminke pan watercolors on Fabriano CP paper
©2012 Stacy L. Rowan

When we hired someone to plant landscaping across the front of our house, one of my requests was for flowering bushes, especially ones with yellow flowers. Yellow flowers are my favorite, perhaps because they remind me of the sun and are a spot of brightness even on a cloudy day.

Our landscaper included four azalea bushes in his plan. Along the edge of the front porch are three that get bright, pink flowers and in the corner by the garage is one that gets yellow flowers.

I remember him telling us that the plant in the corner would "reward us with magnificent yellow blooms in the spring." He made no claims about the pink bushes.

To this day, fourteen springs later, when we see the buds form on the yellow azalea, we talk about how we are soon going to be "rewarded".

Sure the talk is mostly in jest, one of those family jokes that gets carried on year-to-year like a tradition, but in truth, I always look forward to seeing the yellow azalea bloom. For the pink azaleas there is no sense of anticipation. More often I am surprised when I notice they are covered in flowers, because I didn't notice the buds at all.

For the few days that the yellow flowers are at their peak, I take time to stop and appreciate them. And this isn't just because I love yellow flowers. It is also because our family "joke" has programmed me to think of the flowers as a reward. A reward that appears for a short time every spring and then disappears again until the next year.

I have no such programming with the other azaleas. Or with most of the other flowering plants that are in our yard.

The difference in my reaction is the mindset that the landscaper provided back on the day he shared his plans. This bush was special. It would reward me every year. Easy as that.

It kind of makes me wonder about how easy it would be to have a life full of rewards.

Or how simple it would be to change something we anticipate with dread into something less unpleasant.

Food for thought as I enjoy my annual gift of magnificent yellow flowers.

Is there anything in your life that could benefit from a mindset shift?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Changing the Mood of a Painting

Promise of Spring
approx. 4" x 3" watercolor on paper
©2012 Stacy L. Rowan

Last week I did a sketch of snowdrops for my newsletter. I love snowdrops because they are the first flower of the new growing season to bloom.

As soon as I notice the winter sun feeling a little warmer, I go out into my yard and see if any snowdrops are peeking up out of the ground.

To me these flowers represent hope. Hope that winter is coming to an end and that the warmer, brighter days of spring are on their way.

Not being a big fan of the cold, gray weather, come the end of February I am normally desperate for some sign that winter is going to retreat and allow the sun to return.

This year we had an uncharacteristically sunny and dry winter. When the snowdrops bloomed we already were enjoying the clear blue skies that I am normally pining for.

As I painted my sketch for the newsletter I was thinking of the type of weather we had this year when I found the first flowers, and I painted the snowdrops on a backdrop of cheerful blue. You can see that sketch (and this months newsletter) here.

As I thought about my painting and how it was representative of this year's winter experience, I had the urge to create something that would be a better representation of the typical winter.

On a typical March day the snowdrops are a bright spot of hope on a landscape of gray. Their white flowers stand out against the bleakness and whisper the promise that soon color will flood the world.

With these feelings held firmly in heart and mind I created a new version of the snowdrops . This time I chose complimentary colors, applied them wet to the background and allowed them to mix to grayish-blue hue which better represents the cloud cover of our winter months.

By changing the colors, I changed the mood and created an image that reflects my feelings of finding these little white blooms after a long, cold winter.