Sunday, June 29, 2008

latest coloured pencil piece WIP

Tree fungi WIP
approx 14" x10" coloured pencil on Stonehenge
copyright Teresa Mallen

I didn't post an entry this week as I have been out of town, staying with my Father. His health isn't good right now. He doesn't have internet access so I am unable to do any blogging when I am there.

This is as far as I have got on the fungi picture. As you can see, the drawing isn't finished yet but I have started adding colour. I am not sure I am in the mood for such an intense picture. Yesterday I took a break from it and I got out some tubes of acrylic paint and painted a small piece that featured two glasses of wine, one red - one white. I had fun with my escapism. I might start a smaller, less complicated piece in coloured pencil so I have something to work on when this one drives me nuts. Perhaps there is such a thing as a subject with too much detail :-) !!!

I shall be returning to my Father's home later this week. I hope to get the July newsletter written before then. If you are trying to contact me via email, please understand that circumstances may not allow me to read or respond to emails. I promise I will reply to any emails as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.

Monday, June 23, 2008

the passing of time

I was working in my garden yesterday and I reflected on the passing of time. We are here for such a short while. A few things triggered my musings.

I was planting some flowers along the edge of an old wall. This wall is actually the foundation of an old stable that was once on our property. The old stable is gone now and all that remains is this lovely foundation. The former owners planted a perennial garden inside and around this foundation wall. I found myself thinking of the original settlers of this land. They cut trees to carve out pasture land for their animals and fields to grow crops. The stable was a necessity - housing the farm animals that they needed for food or in the case of horses, animals they needed for transportation or farm labour. These people worked hard to establish a farm and now they are gone. All we have left is a glimpse of what their lives were like.

I am planting dahlias. These plants are from my Mother's garden. She too has passed away. I think of the life she and my Dad carved out. They too were farmers, but in a different era. Before I was born, they bought a farm that had the potential to be what they dreamed. Over the years they built a barn, bought machinery, built up a herd of dairy cattle and renovated an 1850's stone house. My Father still lives there. The cattle are gone, and the house and barn need repairs. Time marches on and we struggle to keep up.

So where do I fit in? What will I leave behind? My husband and I wish to be good stewards of this place. We shall look after the fields and not let them grow up into brush. I shall take care of the gardens I have inherited from the previous owners. We too will put our stamp on things with the trees and plants we will plant and the changes to the house that we are going to make.

Nature reminds me of how brief my life is. We have some maple trees on our property that are probably two hundred years old, perhaps older. Humbling really.

Time does pass so quickly. We must savour every moment of our lives.

Friday, June 20, 2008

my coloured pencil painting process continued

Okay, what happens once I have chosen a subject? Well, I either have to create a drawing from life, from my memory or imagination, or from reference photos. As I have chosen fungi that I saw on some logs as my subject, I need to decide if I am going to work in the forest (too many mosquitoes for that option), take the subject to the studio (would require a chainsaw) or take photos. Yup, I took photos... :-) My memory and imagination are not really options for me!

I use my camera as a compositional tool. Up until a few months ago, I used a 35 mm SLR camera with a couple of macro lenses. Now I use an SLR digital camera that can also use my macro lenses. I know that a lot of artists use Photoshop to play around with their photos. I have never worked this way as I worked on an ancient computer and I didn't have the software (didn't have a digital camera either - what can I say, I am a bit of a Luddite). I have had to replace my ancient computer and I now have the option to tweak my photos in Photoshop. Preparing to do this fungi piece is the first time that I have tried to manipulate my photos. I confess I didn't spend too long at it. Spending years taking photos with a manual camera was great experience. I have become a much better photographer and as such I don't feel my pictures need much editing. Having said that, I did try some zooming in techniques and I did some lighting corrections (the forest was rather dark for taking good pictures).

The above photo shows a few of the edited photos that I printed off. I am using a few of them as references for my drawing.

The next decision is what will my surface be. Of course I already know that my medium is coloured pencil! For this piece, I am choosing to work on white Stonehenge paper.

The next step is to create a drawing. If my photos were not what I wanted compositionally, I would work this out in thumb nail sketches. As I said, I use my camera's view finder as a compositional tool so I don't usually need to do any preliminary sketches. I usually have a photo that is the image I am after. Referring to my photo, I create a line drawing that I then transfer to my good paper.

This particular line drawing had just the outline of the major shapes. I am drawing the rest of the lines directly onto the Stonehenge. I am using a coloured pencil to create a grisaille underpainting. You might be able to tell from the photo that I don't have all the drawing done and yet I have already started to add colour. I couldn't resist. I had to get some colour in there :-) !

These blog entries are supposed to be detailing my process. I should say then that my process doesn't always involve a grisaille underpainting. Usually I am not so formal in my approach. I usually just start working on my darks using whatever colours I see in the subject. For this piece I need a good road map and as there are so many lines visible in the logs and the fungi, I decided to create a monochromatic underpainting first.

I shall keep you posted on my progress!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

my coloured pencil painting process

The first photo includes a few sources of inspiration for my current piece. Several years ago, I clipped out the photo of the fungi from a conservation magazine. I have always thought that tree fungus would be a great subject for a painting. This photo stashed away in an ideas file, helped me to remember this. I also collected a couple of fungus bits because I wanted to have them in my studio. Further inspiration.

I recently found some lovely fungi on some logs in our forest. The lower photos are just a couple of pictures that I took one afternoon.
With regards to Karen's question regarding the artistic process, I have now gone from images from a photo, to live fungi in my forest, to a decision on what my subject matter is.

Tomorrow I shall talk about what comes next now that I have decided on my subject.

Friday, June 13, 2008

the process of painting

photos and pictures from my ideas file

As you probably know, I write a coloured pencil newsletter each month (which you can read from my website). I recently received an email from someone who is a Newsletter Group Member. She was putting forth a question for the July newsletter. After thinking about my response, I decided that it might be best to answer her question in a series of blog posts.

What Karen L. is asking is this: "Could you please describe the process you go through when doing a painting? I seem to flounder about. I thought if I could understand your approach, it might help me."

What an interesting request! So here we go. I have just started a new piece. I shall write about the steps I take to get my painting from start to finish - my 'process'. Karen, I hope this helps. Please keep in mind though that there are no rules in art. This is just how I work. :-)

First of all, I think the act of creating a painting is simply a process of making decisions.

To get started, I need an idea. Where do I get my ideas? For me it is from something I have seen. I am not the sort of person that gets my ideas from a song, or a line of poetry, etc. I am a visual sort of gal when it comes to this.

I am often inspired by what I see in nature. It can be flowers in the garden or items picked up on a forest walk. My inspiration often leads me to capture the object, the moment or the setting with my camera. When I am ready to start thinking about a new piece, I always review the large collection of photos that I have taken over the years.

I also am inspired by my 'idea files'. These idea files are simply file folders that contain images that I have gathered over the years. The sources for these pictures are often various magazines, catalouges, as well as art magazines. I cut out and collect images that I find interesting - it could be because of a colour combination, a uniquely shot photo, or an interesting composition of objects. Anything goes. The picture at the top of this post contains a small sample of the types of pictures found in my idea files as well as a few of my photos. Please note that I only work from my own photos. The images from the idea files are just for ideas.

Once I have some ideas for the next piece, I need to make a decision as to what exactly I am going to focus on. Remember I said that creating a painting was about making a series of decisions? At some point I have to move from having ideas to actually commiting to a subject.

In the next post I will show you how I came to be working on my current piece.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

supermarket wisdom

Words of wisdom often come along unexpectedly and from odd sources. Today I was standing at a self serve counter at a supermarket. I was spooning olives into a container when I overheard a snippet of conversation.

The scenario is this: There is a young man questioning his future. Should he return to University to work on a Masters Degree? He was voicing his fears about money and about whether or not it would pay off down the road. The woman he was confiding with had some simple, great advice. She said, "If you know this is what you want, then take the risk. You have to take risks to get what you want. Take the risk." It was obvious that this man did want to fulfill this dream and he did want to take the risk. He just needed someone to give him a bit of encouragement. As I wheeled my cart away, the discussion had moved on to where he would live and how he could finance this. Sounds like he had a person he could room with as well as some ways to get the needed funds. He was getting more excited by his decision by the minute.

So perhaps you are reading this blog and you have a dream you are questioning pursuing. Allow me to pass on today's supermarket wisdom. "If you know this is what you want, then take the risk. You have to take risks to get what you want. Take the risk."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

You are going to do what with your life?

Did you ever consider a career in the arts? Do you think it is impossible? Did you ever think you might like to be a singing quilter? Let me just hazard a guess here to say that I bet that career option has never come to your mind. I'll also bet a highschool guidance counsellor has never recommended it either. This blog entry is all about possibilities!

Guess what? I have met someone who actually has a career as a singing quilter. Honestly. Incredible right?! And you thought your ideas were 'out there'!

My husband and I are new to this area of rural Ottawa. We moved in about six months ago. Since then we have been warmly welcomed by our neighbours. Like most rural areas there is a very interesting mix of folks. From farmers, to independent back to the land types, to brilliant eccentrics that engage in 'interesting' past times. We recently attended a house party hosted by one of the local 'characters'. His brother was visiting from B.C. and his wife is the singing quilter. I kid you not. She has been a singer/songwriter all her adult life. She has written for theatre productions, recorded CDs, toured the folk festival circuit, and taught singing lessons. She took up quilting and a whole new chapter of her life opened up. She met the man who is now her husband and they have embarked on a life of traveling all over the world singing to quilters! For the last seven years she has only written songs that involve quilting stories and she also sells her quilts and now teaches various quilting techniques.

Her name is Cathy Miller (that's her picture at top of this entry) and her husband is John Bunge. They put on a very entertaining concert at this house party. After a couple of glasses of wine, I whispered to my husband that this is what we are going to do when we retire...that's me the party animal.

I urge you to go to Cathy's website, just click here. You will see that I am not making this up.

So what do you want to do when you grow up? What's stopping you? Obviously anything is possible!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

June Newsletter is ready!

Yippee, the June issue of my coloured pencil newsletter is finished and ready to read. I am delighted to feature the art of a talented former student, Zainab Hussain. You can click on over to my website to check it out. The newsletters are free!

If you wish to become a Newsletter Group Member, just contact me. Newsletter Group members receive an email notifying them when the newsletter has been published onto my website.

Newsletter Group Members can participate in the newsletter by asking questions. I encourage members to send in any images of their art that they would like to share or that they would like help with. I also am happy to report on a business they may have. Anything goes, this newsletter is for the members and exists due to their participation. Why not get involved too?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Tulip on Pastelbord

tulip, copyright Teresa Mallen
Coloured pencil on Pastelbord

This is a small tulip piece that I did last week. It is 5 x 7 inches on a panel of tan coloured Pastelbord. The lower picture is obviously from when it was a work in progress.

This sort of work is great for sales. I don't know why, but tulips are my best seller. People also usually like the smaller format because these pieces are less expensive and they can fit anywhere in the home.

I have enjoyed working on these small Pastelbord panels but now it is time to work on something different. For my next painting I shall return to white Stonehenge paper and something not quite so small.

I haven't had too much studio time as I have been busy on the business end of things. I have been doing up some advertising as well as refreshing my inventory list. Yes, I took my own advice. I realized as I wrote the post on inventory lists that it had been quite a while since I had worked on mine. I also have started a rough draft of a press release.

Now I need to get back to writing my June newsletter. I hope to have it finished in the next 24 hours. I have to get my studio cleaned up and set up for teaching this weekend and I have some material to get ready for the students.

And yippee the new frig did arrive and it is purring away as I type. Guess that means I have some grocery shopping to do! Our kitchen is now a cooler free zone!!

Monday, June 2, 2008

A dead bird and fresh starts...

Yes, I really did mean a dead bird. I was driving down a country road this morning and I spotted this red winged black bird by the side of the road. It had obviously just been hit by a car. I pulled over and popped him into the trunk. Why you wonder? Well for reference photos of course. While I don't have any of my bird pics on my website, I have enjoyed drawing birds in the past. My biggest problem is obtaining good reference photos to work from. Birds just don't stay still too long. The picture of his feet is worth a lot to me. Enlarged, this photo has a lot of detail. Capturing a true likeness of a particular bird depends on getting the beak right, the thickness of the neck, feather features etc. (Lest you think I have completely lost my sense of propriety, I did take the pics outside on the deck. Yes it is on a scrap of old carpet - for the sake of the photo - but I did not have him on my best carpet inside the house!)

If you haven't heard of such macabre activities before, let me assure you that many artists have resorted to such measures. According to Harry Davis, in his book entitled The Art of Tasha Tudor, the famed illustrator used carefully preserved dead animals as models. They were kept in a basement freezer. She apparently had a mouse 'morgue' with as many as a dozen occupants. When partially thawed, she could pose them in various positions. In addition to mice, the freezer contained a variety of frozen birds, including an owl that she kept for years. Mr. Davis also tells of how when Tasha was illustrating The Great Corgiville Kidnapping she was reluctant to work on the villains of the book as it had been many years since she had painted a raccoon. As fate would have it, Tasha discovered that the nightly intruder to her garden was indeed a raccoon. She borrowed a trap, set it and managed to capture one. She put this very much alive wild raccoon on her table and proceeded to paint her model for the next day and a half! Another famous illustrator, Beatrix Potter also kept many animals such as mice and rabbits. She would spend hours observing them, studying their behaviour and sketching them. I don't know if she had a stash of dead ones.

I spared you the rest of the photos. I hope you like seeing the first poppy to open here this spring.

So, June 2nd...does the start of a new month give you a sense of a fresh start? It does me. I love the notion of a fresh slate, and a new start. I feel this way at the start of a new month, at the start of a new week, as the seasons change, when a new year begins, in September as we mark the end of summer and the start of new activities, etc.

Yes, I love new beginnings and I use lots of opportunities to celebrate them. Why do I love them? Well, I guess it is the whole notion of getting a chance to start afresh. I am an organized person and I love making lists. Each week I take stock of what I have accomplished and what yet needs to be done. I make my notes and my plans. Ultimately this helps me have a sense of direction with regards to my career and my other responsibilities. When I have a sense of some sort of control over my life, I gain a sense of peace. I may not be getting everything done that I would like but I have it down for some time in the future!

Of course, life does throw us those interesting curve balls. Like a week and a half ago when our elderly frig stopped working. We scrambled to find friends who had a freezer with enough room for our stuff. We borrowed additional coolers. We spent six hours on a Sunday (not how I planned or hoped to be spending my weekend) shopping all over the city of Ottawa for a frig that we liked (and that was in stock, ready to be shipped). I guess the start of June is a busy time in real estate. This is when many people get possession of their new homes and they need appliances. We have had to wait for delivery. 'Camping' with coolers and buying ice for the past nine days is getting real old. Good news though, the new frig is to be delivered tomorrow morning. Yippee. Then there was the unexpected frost a week ago that snuffed my newly planted tomato and pepper plants. I had to take the time to buy new plants and now I get to do some replanting. Just when you thought a job was off the to-do list! Oh and how about a few weeks ago when my old printer stopped working just as I was preparing for a presentation I was to give. You know how it goes...sometimes life is just like this.

I don't let this stuff bother me too much though because it really isn't important in the big scheme of things. I recently heard of a very young wife and mother who is about to graduate from her nursing program and who has a job waiting for her...but her cancer is back and now the horrible treatments are completely derailing her plans - not to mention that she fighting for her life. Yup, a frig conking out and the loss of some perishable food is really not important.

Yes the month of May had some interesting surprises, some wonderful, some not so wonderful. I wonder what this fabulous fresh month of June will hold?