Monthly Archives: October 2010

Painting the Nitty Gritty

So it has come to the last bit of this painting, and I’m not enjoying the work at this point.  It’s all about precision with letters, and I’ve steered myself into a corner I really would have preferred to avoid.  I believe even now as I write this, that the method I have decided on was the only logical way for me to work in small-scale hand painted letters.  Gouache… yes, I said it.  Technically could I call it watercolor? Yes perhaps, but in the true spirit of the medium I think I’ve committed my first cheat in taking the easy way out.

Having just called myself a cheat for using Gouache over watercolor, I don’t think I could have finished this painting let alone be satisfied with it.  The alternative would have me attempting to preserve the white of the paper by masking the letters out so that I could paint the books as I have.  I pride myself on using transparent watercolor and that alone when I paint.  Perhaps I’m being obtuse as an artist, inflexible, or unwilling to delve into other mediums.  Painting with acrylic or opaque pigments, allows you to work in overlapping layers, covering  mistakes and using white where it’s needed.  Watercolor is a different animal and the white is what you don’t paint, layers are transparent and covering mistakes isn’t possible, all you can do is lift and mask and bring out the Xacto in tough situations. So in a sense there is no going back without consequence.  That makes watercolor more difficult to work with, let alone tame and bend to your will.

War of Jewels Detail

Speaking of gouache over watercolor, lets dive into a section of The Collector.  The War of the Jewels book has been a thorn in my side all the way back when I first put down the initial layers of green.  My taping leaked green pigment under it and spilled into the Naples yellow map.  So I resorted to lifting and scraping and really tore up the paper surface, which will forever distort future washes and layers in those areas.  I managed to hide those small disasters well enough and kept going.   Thirty hours later I decided that the horizontal reflection of light on the binding of this book was not bright enough, so I used a Magic Eraser to lift more and did a decent job not damaging the  paper enough to distort future washes.  I was threatening to turn the area into a greenish-yellow mud, so I gave up and moved onto other sections.  Thirty more hours have thus passed and all the books were done less the lettering.  So I had to return to my nemesis, The War of the Jewels book.

I sat staring at it, and finally busted out a few tubes of Winsor gouache and started in left to right.  Assessing my previous attempt to brighten the sun reflection on the green binding, I found myself wanting.  The book looked good, but I knew it would look better if it was whiter, the problem is the letters are white and the reflection runs right along the top ¼ of most of them, whiting them out.  Decisions… decisions.  I decided with as much time as I’ve committed that I’m just going to put the lettering down and be done with it.  So there I went using white gouache and started painting that thick nasty fast drying crap onto my paper.  It seemed to take forever, like trying to paint with toothpaste.  Water it down too much and it looks like milk, to thick it looks like an oil painters canvas.

@$*%^ it!  I thought to myself, and kept going.  I was pot committed already.  After I finished the letters, I stopped and took the board off the desk and set it up vertical to look at it at some distance.  Too white! God…  This was really giving me a fight but at this juncture my stubbornness and vested time was too great to even consider starting over or walking away.  And yes I have done that before.  Fire & Ice was the 3rd attempt, as was Elizabeth.  Their predecessors were cut into pieces for color testing on the backsides.  I have yet to rip up a painting and not attempt a successor though.  I’m sure it’s bound to happen at some point.

I put the board back down and added in more gouache over the letters to blur them out in the sunlight.  It sort of worked, but after gouache dries it doesn’t look as pleasant to me so I have to fix it again.  I could mask the Jewels book off entirely using tape and hit it with a Magic eraser until I have nothing left in its place but tinged white paper… then I could start from scratch and fix that light reflection as well.  However, I don’t trust the tape or myself enough in isolating the book sufficiently to prevent lifting what is adjacent.  Or, maybe I will get lucky?

The Collector-In Progress

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Chasing Trains

This last weekend was very enjoyable, except the part where I had to wash the entire outside of the house on Sunday. Other than that major choir, I had a great time with my son Robert. We went up to Chicago and spent the evening together. Robert has never ridden on a train, so I decided to drive up to Joliet and take the Chicago Metra up to the city proper and walk to the IWS Members show reception from the train station.

We got a late start out of Bloomington but we still had a spare 30 minutes to get to the Joliet station… until there was a lane closure about ten miles south of our exit. That wiped out the cushion of time we had. After crawling at five miles per hour for what seemed an eternity, we finally broke free of the logjam and had a mere fifteen minutes to get on the train. Unfortunately we were still ten miles away from Joliet. The alternative was to hop back in the car and drive the rest of the way up: dealing with the downtown Chicago traffic and parking.

Lady Luck was with us, that day. I used my phone to GPS us about a block from the train station, which had our train sitting on the overpass as we drove by it. I took the first right after the station and it was a residential street with free parking and space, so I didn’t hesitate. Robert and I flew out of the car as soon as the wheels stopped. I made poor Robert sprint a

bout two and a half blocks. I was ahead of him some trying to get the conductors attention before he got on. Robert and I boarded and sat there out of breath for about twenty minutes as we cooled off from our mad dash.

The rest of the evening was very enjoyable. We pulled into Chicago with a good ten to fifteen minutes before the artists reception started. So we leisurely walked several blocks to the show and spent a few hours mingling about and looking at all the artwork. Several of the paintings I had picked out the week prior won, including on of my favorites by artist Ken Call. His painting won the best of show. I gave Rob the camera and he took quite a few good pictures, including Ken’s so I must include these here. ☺


IWS 2010 Members Best of Show Painting

Deep in thought?

IWS 2010 Members Show Winners




We finally moseyed out and headed to a German restaurant around the block and had a nice dinner at The Berghoff, another first for Robert that night. Finally we boarded the 8:40 train and rolled back to Joliet. It was a bit after ten when we got back to the car and around midnight when I pulled in to the house. It was very difficult to keep awake and I was struggling the closer we got to home.

There is no better way to get to Chicago than a train ride. It takes away all the hassle of traffic and allows you to relax. I just wish there was a better alternative to Amtrak; their prices are not very good, nor is the quality or efficiency of the ride itself. I forgot how much I enjoy the city, and I really would like to spend more time up there, mainly to take pictures for more painting references and to enjoy the plethora of great restaurants and cultural attractions Bloomington seems devoid of. I’d like to close this off with a promise to start talking more about some of the art techniques and processes I have as I work through my paintings.

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Laying the Foundations

It’s lunch now, and I’m sitting here in the studio on a brisk Monday formulating this post in my head.  I just got an email from the Illinois Watercolor Societies’ Tony Armendariz, informing me that my painting ‘Reading Time’ was juried a merchandise award at the 2010 Members Show in Chicago this last Friday.  That is a pretty wonderful thing, but it made me think of how many 1000’s of other artists are competing for attention and recognition just in Illinois alone, let alone the rest of the country.   How can I rise up to be noticed?  I don’t think I have reached far beyond my family and friends as far as my trade name goes in the art world.

Is it luck that some artists become up and coming on the national scene, is it ambition, or perhaps it is pure talent, or could it be knowing the right people at the right time?  I think from where I am standing, looking up from the first rung on the ladder of art success, is that success itself is easy to talk about, difficult to visualize and exceedingly tough to make a reality.  Art has never been a necessity for people, it’s a luxury and in tough economic times, even my art budget suffers.

I believe the ingredients to art success, ought to start with some technical ability first, followed by creativity, discipline, business smarts and last but not least, exposure.  I’m sure there are plenty of ‘closet’ artists out there who are brilliant, yet their work is remains unknown and unappreciated by others because of a lack of exposure.  The art world seems fickle; some artists are embraced by the critics, the masses and even fewer reach fame, all for a variety of reason.  Other artists are overlooked, perhaps undeserving so the question remains why?  I don’t have the answers, so I can only speculate.  There is a wealth of information out there if your willing to look for it, which I have made every attempt to do.  I do think timing as well as knowing the right people along with a bit of luck along the way helps a great deal.

After the twenty year art drought ended for me back four years ago, the notion that I was not good enough began to erode away, but it took four years, a few awards and a lot of compliments from strangers to really break free of that mindset.  Today, on this cool Monday, I no longer think that my work is substandard to my peers, or that I should give up my dreams.  Rather I am beginning to think more positively and pursue opportunities that are sitting there waiting for me.  The AWS and NWS organizations come to mind, as does the plethora of artist magazines who sponsor calls to artists every year.  The watercolor societies I’m already a member of have great shows, which I have been privileged to be part of, at the national and membership levels.  Then there is the festival circuit, which has been a nice revenue generator for me.  Toss in a web site, maybe a good blog, even a studio and the willingness to travel to shows in larger cities and I think I have all the necessary ingredients to continue to grow and take a few more steps up the ladder.  No one is going to promote me other than me, and the notion that some rich patron will sweep me off my feet and carry me to the New York art scene is ridiculous.

Yet, there is still doubt…  When I dropped off my painting to the IWS show Friday, I had the chance to walk the show and view all of the 42 paintings there, and by god many of them were damn good.  I immediately picked out my favorites and knew that ‘winning’ something would be a challenge for anyone in the show.  Yet I felt I was in good company, and had a competitive chance at being noticed.  So when that email from Tony arrived in my inbox, it put a smile on my face.

So now what?  Well I need to paint more as I have already preached about here in the past.  Some paintings come easy, along with the ideas to create them; other times, everything becomes a struggle and it feels as if the work will never get done.  Therein lies the discipline to work through the lulls and keep focused on goals and improving with each piece I paint.  I still remember my New Years resolution to paint one painting a month and read a book a month.  I have failed both, but marginally with the paintings and significantly with the reading.  If by December I can finish another five to six pieces, I will have been successful.  Presently I’m still working on ‘The Collector’, (see below):

In Progress photo of my latest watercolor painting

I’ve considered renaming this to “Lord of the Books’ but it sounds a bit cliché.  What do you think about the names?  Do they matter really?   Post a reply here with your choice of name or if you have another in mind by all means say so.  Wow… that was two posts in two days, what the hell is wrong with me.  >;-]  Maybe I should take a blog break until December!  Just kidding, I’ll be back around here soon.  Cheers.

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Thoughts about the studio

Well it’s been almost a month since my last post here.  I’ve finally opened the studio up to the public.  If I had to guess, I think I’ve had the sign down on the sidewalk half a dozen times and have had two people come up over the course of the last week or two.  I think being up stairs is a big deterrent for people.

Ok, I’m trying to write this while I’m watching the Bears implode… Cutler is out after 9 sacks in the first half and Todd Collins got hit hard too, and is out.  Seems we are doomed to lose to the Giants.

Back to this art stuff.  I had a chance to attend the Itaska Art & Wine Festival, but I opted not to go.  There were some red flags I was concerned about:  the jury fee was waved, and the organizers were taking applicants up to the week of the show and I really didn’t feel like spending ~$500.00 just to get up there and show for three days.  A fine artist I met at the Lincoln show attended and I’m hoping to hear back from her about the show.

I worked on some smaller pieces for a fundraiser a few of my friends organize.  They turned out fair enough; I spent only about two hours on each, including matting them.   I hope they generate some money for the American Cancer Society.  This sort of set me back on resuming work on “The Collector” until today.

Oh I almost forgot, I decided on short notice last Wednesday to enter into the Illinois Watercolor Societies Members show.  That required me to take a painting up to Chicago for hand delivery to the American Academy of Art up on Michigan Ave.  So I grabbed ‘Reading Time’ and took the train up on Friday AM and got back later that evening.  It was nice to meet the President of the IWS, Tony Armendariz.

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