Friday, July 25, 2014

no more boring art, get personal

It is Friday and my Friday newsletter has been published to my Newsletter Subscription usual, here is an excerpt...

(If you wonder what is in the newsletter that doesn't appear here, well there is some personal chat and this week I answer a question about my 2015 teaching schedule plus I also posted about my poppy project. I don't want to overwhelm blog readers with a lot of text so I just post the main article. If you would like to recieve the complete newsletter in your in-box each week, visit this link: newsletter)

This week I am going to chat about how as artists we can sometimes start to lose a sense of freshness with our work.

Let me ask you this, is your art feeling a little stale? Are feeling connected to it or do you sometimes feel you are just making ‘pretty’ pictures?

Today’s newsletter has a remedy. I shall give you one way you can really ramp up your connection and your enthusiasm for your art work.

Here is the cover of the latest issue of American Art Collector Magazine:
The artist who did the cover art is Heather Neill:  

(Her work is gorgeous; do take the time to check out her website. I especially like her room interiors.)

Heather’s work caught my attention from the moment I saw the magazine. I immediately wanted to know why she chose this subject.

Why did she choose to paint two older fellows, looking out to sea? I doubted she was enraptured by their um, buttocks! J

I suspected there was a story and I love art that tells a story or captures a mood; art that conveys something.

I quickly flipped through the magazine to read her story. Heather stated that she painted these two gentlemen just for herself and she said that these portraits were “very personal and straight from the heart”.

  She went on to say that “these portraits are all about love at the deepest part of my soul.” Woo-hoo. That is something to aspire to in our art!

One of the fellows in the painting was 97 yrs old and a long time friend. He died last year and his friend Pete, also in the painting, died shortly after. “I needed to see the two of them together – relating to each other but really relating to the ocean. They would sit together and wouldn’t look at each other and would exchange maybe five words in the three hours.”

So, there was a story and what she was painting was meaningful and personal for her.

So what does this have to do with you?    Well, I ask you, is your work personal?

Or are you just going through the motions, doing another still life, floral, or landscape even though you feel rather bored by it all? Maybe folks like these paintings, they expect this from you. Or perhaps you have done them so often you are comfortable, (and therefore safe, no risk involved if you do what you have already mastered). Maybe they sell well and you don’t want to rock the boat.

If your answer is yes, and you feel like your work has gone a bit stale and become a bit ho-hum why not try my fix:

My remedy is for you to examine your motives and put yourself back into the art making process.

Decide to do work that is personal, meaningful. Choose passion.

Even if you are a beginner, the best way to ensure that you will hang in there, doing what it takes to get better, is to do art that you want to do.

I occasionally hear people say that they took a drawing class and it wasn’t for them. When I start asking questions, I find out that they were drawing something that bored them to tears. Imagine spending every Monday night for 12 weeks drawing the same fruit basket arrangement. And yes, drawing classes like that do exist.

Why not draw and paint what you are passionate about?

If you want to draw dogs instead of still lifes, draw dogs! Simple, no?

(I took piano lessons as an adult and I couldn’t get into the kiddie stuff. I asked my teacher for something meaningful and she found me beginner classical stuff. I was soon learning a watered down version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and it was a darn site better than plunking along with train songs and froggie stories.)

Bottom line, your art supplies are at risk of getting covered in dust, if at some point your art doesn’t make your heart sing.

The next time you choose a subject, before you grab your paint brushes or pencils, ask yourself why you would spend time on this.

Is the subject meaningful to you, is there a story (and it is okay if only you know the story), does this ‘float your boat’, is there a flicker of love for the subject, some passion?  If the answer is yes, proceed with joy and enthusiasm. If not, I suggest you pass.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

supernovas and leading edges

day lily, coloured pencil on Stonehenge, copyright Teresa Mallen

Lovely lilies are opening all over the place, yellow ones, deep burgundy ones and of course orange ones - as in the Day Lily above. Lilies are super low maintenance as well as pretty, which is fabulous.
I have several books on the go right now and one is by Danielle Laporte called the Fire Starter Sessions. Session 1 has us declaring our super-powers - as in "competency is for suckers". :-)
Danielle asks:
  • "Would you rather be sufficient or masterful?"
  • "Would you rather be bright or a freaking supernova?
  • "Would you rather be well-rounded or on your own leading edge?"
Well gee, I'll go with masterful, hum, a leading edge sounds kind of scary (makes me think of a ledge not an edge and I have a fear of falling) and I would have settled for bright cause that sounds rather perky and shiny but wait...
I can choose to be a freaking supernova?
Well sign me up for that! That sounds super juicy (and a bit blinding and explosive!)
Now what sort of art does a supernova create? :-)
How about you, are you well rounded, bright and sufficient or are you the super-power options?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Coloured Pencil Basics - register now

I am teaching a two day, Coloured Pencil Basics course, in my studio (Ottawa, Canada) on September 20 and 27th. If you have always wanted to give cps a try (and you live close enough to attend), now is your chance.

The picture above shows the lower half of my studio with some lovely ladies busy working on a project. Connecting with other art loving, cp newbies is all part of the fun we have.

You will get all of the instruction and support you need, everything presented step-by-step, to get the results you are dreaming of! AND there is a super duper BONUS PACKAGE included.

To check out all of the details click here. You can conveniently register on-line as well. I can't wait to meet you! (Only three spots remain available, so don't wait or you might miss out. Space is limited in my studio and I therefore have to limit the number of students.)

If you don't live in the Ottawa area and you would love to take this course, I have great news for you - an on-line version will be offered early in 2015! I am working on it now. :-)

Friday, July 18, 2014

creating gorgeous skies, Friday Newsletter

(Newsletter excerpt for Friday July 18th)

One of my favourite things to do on a summer’s day is to sit on our front verandah and watch the sky – especially on days when there are lots of fast moving clouds.
I mention this because rendering skies – specifically clouds, is the topic of this week’s newsletter.

 A reader, Karen from Ohio, is also a huge fan of cloud watching. She wrote and asked for some tips on capturing clouds in her art. Here is an excerpt from her email,
“I have been reading your blog for a long time and I remember how you once posted about the cloud watching you were enjoying. I also love watching clouds and I was wondering if you could give me some ideas on things to consider when sketching and colouring clouds. Oh and I really like sunsets.”
This is a great question, thanks Karen (and I am delighted you have been a blog reader over the years).

 (This is a view from our verandah looking left. The roof top you can see in the lower left corner is the roof of our small log barn)
First up, let’s acknowledge that the sky can be a significant part of the drama of a landscape. A lot of artists focus so much on the scene they are depicting, whether rural buildings, a forest, or cityscape, that it seems as if the sky is kind of thrown in at the end, almost as an afterthought.

In terms of composition, there are various options to consider when painting skies. If you really want to make the sky the ‘star’ of the painting, I suggest you use a low horizon line. This would make the majority of your piece composed of sky. In this approach, with the sky as the center of interest, consider the foreground plane simply as comparatively dark shapes.

Position the line of the foreground as low as you dare. I would still create interesting darks, in those dark shapes. I am not suggesting flat, dark blobs. J

Of course clouds move along in a state of constant change so be prepared to work fast or snap some pictures to freeze the action.

If you are working in coloured pencil, a way to work faster would be to use coloured paper. Depending on your colour selection, you could have a mid-tone or darker value to work up from.

You could also use sketching paper and quickly note down the shapes and colours and then use these ideas to complete the work once the sky show is finished.

When composing your picture, take note of the interesting shapes that appear as the clouds roll, billow and form new shapes. Which shapes do you want to highlight or feature? Simply compose your sky the same way you would any other subject. Find areas of interest to draw attention to, choose a focal point.

Ask yourself what your goal is in depicting the clouds. Perhaps you wish to convey a mood. Skies can be calming and peaceful and they can also make us ponder the largeness of life.

Watching storm clouds approach can give us a sense of anticipation, as we await rain or wind. In the case of a particularly menacing sky, dark clouds can even evoke dread or fear.
another verandah view

 The key to a dramatic, powerful sky is to use lots of rich colour. Really look at those clouds and ask yourself what colours you see - what gray greens do you see, what shades of purple? Think way beyond blue sky and white clouds. Exaggerate these colours, the way you would when drawing a white flower or when colouring shadows.

Sunsets: sunsets are fleeting so the challenge is to get set up well in advance of the big show. Perhaps try working small, (at least at first, while you get your bearings in doing skyscapes) say 8x10 inches or 9x 12 in order to get what you want down, in the limited time you have.

Sunset Tip: When you are looking west, you are looking at cloud formations that are covering the lowering of the sun. The brightest colours – yellow, oranges, reds and purples – are usually on the underlying plane of the clouds. Use bright intense colours to paint sunsets, don’t hold back.

 another view of sky, barn roof and tree tops J

 Finally, I suggest viewing the work of artists that do clouds really well. Examine how they approach the subject. What is it about their work that you like? In your opinion, what are they doing well?

I really like the work of coloured pencil artist Priscilla Humay. Her website is and if you click here, you will go directly to a gallery page that shows her clouds. Her soft edges are dreamy and luscious.

I am also huge fan of Louisa McElwain’s work. Her landscapes have such intriguing skies. If you like palette knife painting and thick smears of oil paint, you should check out her work by clicking here.
Thanks Karen for a great question. If anyone else has a question they would like to see answered, please email me. I won’t use your full name so you can remain anonymous if you wish.

Monday, July 14, 2014

my Monday morning slap up the side of the head

My Monday morning started like any other. I grabbed a coffee and headed to my studio to do my scheduling. Every Monday morning I tear off huge sheets of paper and tape them to my studio walls and on these pages I write out all of my to-dos for the week, nice and big, in colourful markers. I function much more effectively with these large in your face lists as opposed to small desk planners.

After I had my mind and activities sorted for the days ahead, I decided to linger over my coffee, before walking the dog. My task would be to proof read my newsletter. I won't be publishing it until Friday but I wrote it yesterday and I wanted to have another look.

The topic of the article in the newsletter is tips on drawing/painting clouds (my response to a question from a newsletter reader). At the end of the article I wanted to share the art of one of my favourite landscape artists - who does clouds and skys that I love.

So la-di-dah, I go googling for a link to her art to place in the newsletter. Louisa has never done social media, no blogs, no website, no Facebook biz page so I knew I had to find something else. The galleries that carry her work always have some sort of press going on about her.

I wasn't prepared for what I discovered. My artist died last year. I stared at the screen in disbelief. It wasn't another woman with the same name, it was her. An obituary and posthumous praise from various galleries, all of it telling the horrible truth - this amazing artist was dead at 60.

I have been a fan of this woman's work for 23 years. I stumbled upon her art back in 1991, when she was a young wife and mother, still in her 30s. She was carving out a live for herself as a landscape painter based in Santa Fe New Mexico. Her work was just as powerful back then and over the years I would see her work in art magazines (the ones in which galleries post big ads featuring some of their best artists). I did try to 'follow her' but one would think she didn't own a computer as she remained silent. She lived the 'artist dream' of painting everyday, living well off the sale of her art and she didn't have to keep up with Facebook changes or html glitches on her website. Okay, maybe that is just my dream... :-)

I don't know how she died, whether it was a sudden, perhaps accidental death or a terminal illness. In the end, it doesn't matter. This incredibly talented person's artistic gifts to the world shall be no more.

I was not only a fan of her work but of her philosophies and her lifestyle. Her marriage ended and her two daughters grew up. Louisa realized her passion for the land not only through her painting but through farming. She raised Dexter cattle, had Norwegian horses, chickens and dogs, gorgeous gardens...simply my kind of peep.

I think we all need to find someone that we can relate to and boy, when I find an artist that also does the 'back to the land' thing, well let's just say I breathe a big sigh of delight and I feel like I am okay, normal, it validates my choices, which I am very well aware are not mainstream choices. Let's face it not everyone chooses to tie themselves down with livestock nor do they choose to muck stalls on a Sunday afternoon. (what I did yesterday :-) )

So what about my slap up the side of the head? (back to the title of the post in case I lost you)...well as I tried to wrap my mind around the reality that this wonderful woman had died so young, at the height of her game, at that moment, it seemed as if the grim reaper strolled through the studio and whispered to me, "So what are you waiting for?"

Okay, I admit, a big melodramatic but that is how I described the moment to my husband. Maybe it was the voice of my higher self, guiding angels, the Universe or my intuition...I don't care what label the Source has, I just got the message.

Now what do I do with it? Well, that is going to take some thinking. I have created a pretty dreamy life for myself and I thought all things were on track but still, this question, "So, what are you waiting for?" gave me chills. What if I were to die at 60? (insert sudden cuff to the side of my head). Is there something I am holding back from doing? Is there some big, grand art I need to get creating?

I did think of a possible fun tribute to Louisa.

I was putting feed in a goat manger later in the morning and I was thinking of all of this and I got the idea to go buy a large canvas, to dig out my ancient tubes of oil paint and some palette knives, load everything in my vehicle and head off to a favourite spot nearby to do a plein air landscape, big sky and all.  Louisa style...probably not something the public would ever see but hey... :-)

So why do I write all of this? Well, I believe we all inspire one another and I want to shake you up today. I want to rock your world with this question,

"So what are you waiting for?"

(and we can thank the grim reaper for that one, ha)

Last but definitely not least, here are three links to the incredible Louisa McElwain:

Friday, July 11, 2014

your summer reading list and your stash

My Friday newsletter just went out to my subscribers. Here is an excerpt that continues with my theme of how we can add art to our summer holidays...

What is on your summer reading list?

Have you noticed the book reviews that come up in early summer, citing all the hot picks and the recommended best sellers to take to the beach?

Well forget those lists.

Who needs the latest who-done-it or romantic drama? Not you – you have your own mysteries to solve and your own romance to immerse yourself in – and yes I shall explain...

But first up, I am going to get you rooting around in your stash again. And by the way, turns out many of you found some fun things in your stash exploration two weeks ago (thanks for the emails). I posted one of my own stash finds on my FB biz page. (in case you missed it:  Facebook )

This time though, we are not exploring your stash of unfinished work, we are exploring your stash of art books. Yes, those piles of books that normally gather dust in the various corners of your house are now going to get your attention.

You are an art lover – which inevitably means that over the years you have acquired books - probably lots of them – everything from how to books, to coffee table sized art picture books, to biographies. Oh and let’s not forget about art magazines, maybe you have a few of those. (I have way more than a few.)

You assignment is to go find those books and magazines.

Forget the book store’s who-done-it, go solve your own mystery – pick up that book on colour theory (or whatever topic you have wanted to know more about), perhaps that beginners book on oil or pastel or whatever medium you thought you wanted to learn about. Seek to solve the mystery this summer by examining these books closely.

Romance – hum, well a lot of us eventually end up taking art for granted, it is just this ‘thing’ in our lives. Now is the perfect time to fan those flames of interest and to fall back in love with everything about art.

A fabulous way to do this is to gaze upon the gorgeous art in your books. How can you not get stirred up when viewing such delights? Seriously folks, this works. You will find yourself stirred up, suddenly feeling the urge to grab that sketch pad or the canvas or perhaps even motivated to sign up for a course.

(And guess who has just a few spots left in two coloured pencil courses this fall? Click here for details: classes)

Besides your stash, your local library is another great resource for some free reading to take to the deck or the cottage. Take out a book on a medium or a style of art that you thought you didn’t like (dare to get reacquainted), grab a biography on a famous artist (turns out they struggled with the same stuff you do) or explore your favourite time in art history.  Your library will have some of those gorgeous coffee table books too but be warned, they can make that beach bag pretty heavy to carry!

So here is your call to action, finish this newsletter, then leave your computer and go find those art books. It will be like hearing from a friend that you haven’t heard from in ages...relish the delights of reconnecting.

I would love to hear what you found to read this summer. You can leave a comment on my FB page, on my blog or you can write me an email.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

poppy updates

Poppy Project Stage 3, copyright Teresa Mallen

Poppy Project Stage 4, copyright Teresa Mallen

I haven't spent too much time on this but I have progressed from the 'looking purple' stage - in most spots anyway. I really love work-in-progress pictures. I find it fun to see a work develop.
This will look so much better when I have coloured the stem, added the border I plan on framing it with and of course the petals need more work. I shall post more as soon as I get the chance to work on it.
Please note that the paper is white, despite how the background is looking on your computer screen.