Thursday, January 29, 2009

a new way of working...

Here is my Swiss Chard piece on my drafting table. As you can see, I have put in a background and the rest of the piece is still looking quite bright! :-) I am on the home stretch now and at this stage I am just going in to deepen some of the dark green values. The next time you see the chard it will be finished.

You can also see my laptop on my drafting table. Yup, perched on an angle and everything. This is the first time I have worked this way. Normally, if I am working from photos, I print off some references. I needed to see lots of detail and as the image I wanted to work from is quite wide, I decided to work directly from my Photoshoped images. I can click back and forth between pictures and zoom in when needed.

I have seen photos of some artists working directly from images on their computers but in these cases they were working next to their computer desk. I really like to colour with my work on an angle so leaving my drafting table wasn't an option. Fortunately with a laptop, my computer could come to the drafting table. The down side is that it takes a bit of self control not to check email or surf the net!

So how do you work, do you work from images on a computer screen?

Yesterday we received another eight inches (at least) of snow. Here is how my front yard looks today...

Drifts and drifts of the stuff. Fortunately I love winter and I love snow. I am not keen on the really cold temperatures but it has warmed up considerably so it is wonderful to be outside now. This morning I went snowshoeing with my dog and afterwards I filled the bird feeders (we have eleven feeders and three feeding platforms). I put out cracked corn, a millet mixture, sunflower seeds and suet. The birds and squirrels are happy and so am I. Sure beats driving a morning commute to work.

It is hard to believe that the Forsythia bush below will turn into the bottom picture in about nine or ten weeks.

Okay, I'm heading back to the studio...oh and the February newsletter is just about ready to post so watch for it this weekend.

Monday, January 26, 2009

critiquing your work

Do you ever wonder what people on a art jury look for in a painting? Have you ever wished you could listen in on their conversations? I recently had the opportunity to hear someone critique quite a few paintings over the course of a couple of hours. I took pages of notes. I am sharing some of the main points here in the hope that you will find this information useful in critiquing your own work.

So how did this come about? I am a member of an art club here in Ottawa that holds monthly meetings on the west end of the city. The guest this month was Claude Depuis from the National Gallery of Canada. Mr Depuis was invited to spend the evening critiquing the work done by the club members. Many members were interested in having their work critiqued so I didn't bother taking anything of mine. It was very interesting to hear what his observations were so lets get to it:
  • Overall, he found the work presented for critiquing to be "too deadly serious". He was looking to see if a painting was "slightly playful". Paintings tend to become 'too deadly serious' when we are too focused on our work.

  • In general, he felt that the members exhibited a "fear of wasting material". The paintings were too "tight" and he felt that the artists would naturally loosen up their work if they didn't fear wasting paint and paper. His advice was to start buying cheap paint and to play versus trying to complete a finished work every time. "It's only a painting! Risk ruining it."

  • He had a real problem with artists using paint colours straight from the tube. He could spot this easily. Colours weren't subtle enough or complex enough. For more interesting art, one needs to creating colours by mixing colour. Some artists had used grey paint for shadows and his advice here was to always make your greys and to add colour to you shadows. Overall, he found that people didn't use exciting enough colour in their dark areas.

  • I think almost everyone has heard about not using black paint, but someone obviously hadn't. One painter had used pure black in a large area of their painting and it deadened the piece. His advice was to throw out black and to create your darks. At least mix the black with other colours. This of course applies to coloured pencil too.

  • For painters, his advice was to loosen up their work by using large brushes. He disliked repetitive brush strokes (this was boring). He observed hesitancy in brush strokes which he said allowed the viewer to sense the artist's fear. He urged painters to work from a toned ground instead of starting right on top of a white canvas.

  • Values often needed to be darkened and enhanced more. He was looking for dynamic light and shade. He suggested going from black to white, the full range of values, in each painting.

  • He recommended that people go beyond real life to intensify colour.

  • Overall, he felt that the painters needed to draw more. Over the course of the evening, he continued to stress the importance of a strong foundation in drawing. "You can never do enough drawing."

  • After looking at all of the paintings, he asked the audience if they wanted hundreds and hundreds of paintings. His point? He felt that the paintings he saw revealed a desire to do quick paintings. People put only so much into a painting and then called it quits to presumably go on the next piece. He recommended that the artists spend much more time on each piece. He wanted the artists to challenge themselves and to strive to master skills and techniques. The work exhibited could have been better if the artists had stayed with the paintings longer.

  • Following this comment was the advice that preparation at the beginning is critical. The decisions we make in a few critical areas at the beginning can make all the difference in a piece. Here is something he said that I say to my students: Ask yourself, "Why am I painting this?"

  • He checked each painting to see if it had enough contrast.

So what do you think? Is your work lacking something? Perhaps you would like to take your art to the next level. Why not set aside a bit of time to do your own analysis? Clear an area and get out your paintings. Really look at them and ask yourself if your values could be punched up a bit. Ask if your work is fresh and slightly playful (or does it fall under the deadly serious category). Do you have enough contrast? Are you drawing skills strong? How about your use of colour? Upon examination, would you say that you took your paintings far enough or did you move on too quickly? After having suggested this activity, I must also say that while an honest assessment is valuable, getting too critical and down on your work or yourself won't serve you at all. Please also take the time to note what you do well and what you got right in your paintings! Jot down your thoughts and then refer to them the next time you paint. Learning to look at your work critically takes practice but the more you develop this skill, the more your art will improve.

On the filing front, well yippee and woo-hoo...the mountain has been reduced to nothing but a wee molehill. You know how you dread a job and it turns out to not be as bad as you expected? Well, this wasn't one of those times. :-) I dreaded it and with good reason! I spent at least eight hours on the weekend doing nothing but sorting computer files. I had art images in JPEGs, PowerPoint and bitmaps. I had text files, pdfs, files and images for my website, teaching exercises in a variety of versions, kit images, photos scanned and manipulated, on and on. Three computers down to one. I have created many, many file folders and renamed oodles of files (hopefully for clarity). My next challenge is being able to locate stuff under my new system!

At least it was very cold here this weekend - it was -30 degrees C (-22F) here Saturday afternoon (including a wind chill) so I guess it was a perfect time to be stuck in a chair doing this dastardly deed. Ugh...I have learned my lesson though. I will never let my files get so unruly ever again!! Never!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

coloured pencil chard continues...

Swiss Chard work in progress, 17" x 7"
Coloured Pencil on Colorfix Paper
Copyright Teresa Mallen

Here is how the chard piece looks now. I am having a great time working on it. At this stage, most of what I am doing is drawing in the detail, making sure I get all the bits and pieces in where they are supposed to go. I love doing detailed drawing work and I must say doing all the veins is very satisfying!

After sticking with my Colorsoft pencils in this piece, I am starting to appreciate them more. I am getting used to their thicker diameter (I know, picky picky) and as I mentioned before, I do like how they don't flake off much (as this is a sanded surface). Most of the paper has now been covered by pigment. The subsequent layers are going on with less flaking because the grit of the paper has been reduced somewhat by the initial colour. So even the Prismacolors are holding their own. I do find that the pencils in the Lightfast line are a little 'dryer' than the Premier line and this is an advantage on a sanded surface.

Besides working on the chard, I have been busy doing January things - you know, the stuff we feel compelled to do because it is the beginning of a new year, a fresh start and all that. So, I have been tidying up my accounts for 2008. My income and expenses are all up to date! I have been sorting my email into files and I have also sorted 250 photo references into their files. Now I am filing the papers that have accumulated on my desk and after that I am determined to sort my computer files. I bought a new computer some months ago and of course I now have files on it. My old computer was probably over 10 years old and it had limited functionality. I ended up using my husband's computer for manipulating images, preparing course exercises, etc. I really do need to take a chunk of time to compile the files that were on my husband's computer, the files that were all over the place on my old computer and now my new files. I have been procrastinating this job but now I am looking forward to it. It feels so good to get the stuff sorted that I have already tackled that I am motivated by how great it will feel to finally have the computer filing behind me. Guess what I am doing this weekend? :-)

Monday, January 19, 2009

coloured pencil chard WIP and following the rules...

Swiss Chard work in progress, 17" x 7"
Coloured Pencil on Colorfix Paper
Copyright Teresa Mallen

This is how it looks now. Since the last post, my goals have been to get down more colour, to start focusing on values and to start putting down some detail.

Most cp artists end up liking certain pencil brands over others. I am no exception. I am not a fan of Derwent Coloursoft pencils but I must admit that I have liked using them on this sanded pastel paper. Normally I don't like their larger diameter. The pencil feels too chunky in my hand and they don't fit into my electric sharpener opening. But, they are holding up well on the sanded paper - they hold their point longer and there is less pigment coming off during application (compared to Prismacolors). As a result, I don't have to sharpen my pencil or brush my paper as often. I will definitely turn to them again for future sanded paper projects.

I have had a couple of emails from people curious for more info as to why readers are not to leave critical comments on this work. I thought I would take a minute to explain where this comes from...

As I mentioned initially, if all goes well with this piece, I may enter it in competitions or juried shows. If you have never done this sort of thing, you should be aware that there are rules and regulations that you need to follow. Depending on the show or the competition, there will be various restrictions on your entry.

To start with your entry will usually only be considered if it is available for viewing in a slide format or available as a digital image (and the specifications for slides and digital images get quite specific so you need to check out this information carefully).

Your work may be required to meet certain size limitations. Your choice of mats and frames can be limited too. The CPSA requires that all entries accepted into their annual exhibition be framed with acrylic instead of glass.

As well, your artwork may have to meet 'originality' requirements. For example exhibitions and shows will often require you to declare something like the following: "That the artwork submitted is the original work of the submitting artist from concept, through design, to completion." Or you may encounter this sort of requirement: "All work must be original from the artist's own inspiration and reference material. They can not be done in a class, a workshop or under an instructor's influence, not critiqued, photomechanically reproduced, computer enhanced or from kits."

The Colored Pencil Society of America states the following in their exhibition prospectus: "Concept, design and execution of the artwork shall be solely that of the artist. No work copied from copyrighted or published materials. No imaged produced by drawing over a digital reproduction allowed. No prints. No collaborations."

So what does all this mean for the artist? Well, depending on the particular exhibition's requirements, your work may not qualify. You may need to change how you work on pieces that are destined for shows. For example, if you use photo references, they may have to be your own. Please note that even if you have obtained permission to use a photo this would not meet the requirement of being something from your own concept, solely your own work and design. Last year, when the UK Coloured Pencil Society changed their rules for entry submission, some wildlife artists were left rather frustrated. Now, in order to work from a photo of an elephant or leopard for example, you will have had to take the photo yourself. So, you may be required to work from your own source material. You may also be required to have created the drawing yourself - no projectors or drawing over a photo, etc.

The requirement of no critiques and no influence from others really comes into play for those of us who post our art as works in progress. Many people also post work on various on-line forums where their work is commented on. To get around this we either have to stop posting WIPs or we have to do what I am doing - asking people to refrain from giving any helpful feedback that could be construed as influencing me.

Bottom line, if you are thinking of entering your work into juried exhibitions and shows, do your homework first. Get a copy of the exhibition prospectus to determine the rules and regulations.

Thanks for the emails. I hope this info helps to clarify why I am asking for no critiques. If you are a reader who would like to ask me something or you would like to comment on a blog post, (but you are not registered or not a blogger) please feel free to contact me. I would love to hear from you!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My colourful chunk of chard continues...

Chard WIP, 17" x 7"
Coloured Pencil on Colorfix Paper
copyright Teresa Mallen

Kind of need sunglasses to look at it now! Rather bright isn't it? :-)

Ah, but it is intentional. I like to work rather bright at the beginning of a piece. When I add further layers of colour, I can tone things down. This prevents a work from becoming 'dull' and when you work in coloured pencil, it is difficult to brighten up an area that is dull. Having said that, it would be easier on coloured paper as you can add light over dark on these surfaces.

Another reason for going so bright at the beginning, is that I want to capture the glow that is happening due to the backlighting. Going bright also gives energy to the final colour as the lower layers of pigment affect what we see. Here is an example: (and I know this is difficult to see in this small picture) for the stem of the chard I first put down a layer of a yellowish orange colour. I followed this with a deep pink (think fuchsia) and then I added an orange-ish red. Of course this will be more effective once all of the surrounding green gets established.

At this stage I have been mostly concerned with getting my shapes in where they need to be and I wanted to get a layer of colour down over most of the piece. Next I will work to build up colour and I will start being more mindful of the value changes. I rather like the chard at this stage so who knows how much this will get toned down!

So, back to the studio and again, thanks in advance for not giving me helpful hints in the comments section on this piece.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Swiss Chard WIP continues...

Swiss Chard WIP
Coloured Pencil on Colorfix Paper

After my planning and sketching, I have moved to working on the paper! Yippee!! As you can see, I did end up choosing the reddish brown Colorfix paper. I have transferred the line drawing and I am now starting to work on getting some pigment down.

To get started, I pick out large shapes and I define them with an initial layer of colour. This serves as a road map as I work. These shapes help orient me as to where about I am on the drawing. Of course I went for some immediate gratification. Now that I have the pencils in my hand I must get to some juicy stuff - so in went the backlit shapes. Ah, very satisfying. The oodles and oodles of green in this piece can wait.

As far as technique goes, my first layer is applied with a rather dull pencil. Once this layer is in place, I go over the shapes with the same colour, this time with a sharper pencil. With this step I am filling in more of the textured surface. Colorfix paper is a sanded paper intended primarily for pastel artists. I know that some artists wish to fill in the tooth of the paper, even when working on gritty paper (often they apply an underpainting). I like the paper showing through a bit so I will not be attempting to completely cover and fill in the textured surface. Having said that, I don't want so much paper to show through that the work looks blotchy or unfinished. Even when using a coloured surface, I create my colour by applying layers of pigment. I personally find that just using one or two layers tends to make a work look incomplete and hastily done. While many people use coloured paper to speed things up a bit and it does help you get darker values faster, I don't think this should be a reason to skimp on putting down pigment.

As you can see from the photo, I work all over the place. This piece is no longer a stalk of chard but rather a beautiful, richly coloured puzzle of connecting shapes and lines that I get to explore with my eyes and my pencils.

As mentioned before, this piece may be entered into competitions so please, no helpful suggestions in the comments. Thanks. And yippee, this is my 100th post!! Woo hoo!! I can't think of a better way to celebrate than to head back to the studio...

Friday, January 9, 2009

my journey to a painting continues...

One week ago, I posted an entry on my latest piece - how I was inspired to create a painting of Swiss chard, how I went about the photo shoot and how this led me to sifting through my photos for an image that captivated me.

After playing about with my photos in Photoshop, I found an image that worked for me. It is a close up of one of the stalks and it looks like this.

So why did I choose this image? Why do I want to paint/draw it? Mainly for the beautiful shapes created by the backlighting. When I focus on these shapes, the image takes on an abstract quality. It becomes more than just a picture of a chard stalk. I also love the hills and valleys in the darker sections and the wonderful colours in the veins and in the shadows. I know it is hard to see all of this in such a small image but trust me, they are there. :-)

My next step was to create the drawing. I have finished a line drawing. I have placed the major shapes and curves in the stalk in my initial drawing. From there, once I start using my coloured pencils I will continue to draw as I work. Right now, the size of the drawing is something like 14" w and 5 or 6" h.

After that came the decision as to what sort of support I would use. When I was first inspired by the chard a few months ago, I made a point of grabbing some extra sheets of Colorfix paper the next time I was at my local art supply store. So, in the running are a 400 sheet of UART, an 800 sheet, Stonehenge of course and three different colours of Colorfix - a green sheet, a reddish one and a sheet that is a sort of mustard color. I took some pencils out and I worked on some scrap bits of paper to see which sheet gave me the look I am after. This is what the picture at the top of the post shows. I have my transfer paper out and ready to go as I think the final yes is going to a coloured sheet. Probably the reddish one...

Having invested so much time on this piece already, (I'm thinking back to my trip to a specialty supermarket to find Rhubarb chard) I was encouraged to read a statement yesterday by Vera Curnow (founder of the CPSA): "But, we all know that the conceptual stage of artwork often takes longer than the execution." Whew! I'm not the only one!! :-)

But hey, all I need to do now is transfer that drawing and then the cps come out. Yippee!

Finally, I would like to say that this piece, should it turn out favourably, will be a piece that I will consider entering into exhibitions and/or shows. That means that I need to ask readers to not give me critical feedback. This must be solely my work and I am not to be influenced to make changes etc. So in order to post this as a WIP, I ask that you refrain from giving me suggestions for improvement. I'm not trying to scare you off from posting a comment, I think saying my work is fabulous is allowed, :-) just no helpful hints. Thank you.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

new issue of coloured pencil newsletter is ready...

Yes, the January issue of my coloured pencil newsletter is ready to read. Do check it out - I wouldn't want you to miss the amazing portrait that Carol Edwards shared with us.

If you are new to my blog, I put together a newsletter (usually every month) and in it you will find helpful cp tips, answered questions, artwork shared, great websites and blogs to check out, etc. And the newsletters are free!

My newsletters are posted on my website. To have a look at the newsletter, click here. Why not grab a coffee and browse through previous issues? There is lots of good stuff to look at and to read.

If you would like to subscribe and become a Newsletter Group Member, contact me by clicking here.

Enjoy! Comments and feedback on the newsletter are welcome.

I have finally uploaded the 'follower' widget. If you haven't noticed it, look for it in the side bar on the right. A big thank you goes out to those who are already followers. I appreciate your readership!

Wondering where the Swiss chard is these days? Me too! :-) Well, I have been working on it. I am messing about with various compositions and croppings. I get to spend the day in the studio today so there will be progress. The wind is blowing and the snow is flying, beautifully elemental. A great day to be cocooned in the studio.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

fresh starts and chasing dreams...

Easter Lilies
8"w x 7"h, coloured pencil on Stonehenge
copyright Teresa Mallen

For me Easter lilies are a sign of spring, new beginnings and a symbol of hope. I think we can all use a new beginning, a fresh start now and again. What better time than on the threshold of a brand new year?

I love new beginnings. In fact I look on the beginning of each month, the start of a new week or even the morning of a brand new day as an opportunity to have a fresh new chance at things.

So as we enter this new year let me ask you this: What do you want for your life? I'm not talking about winning the lottery but something deeper...are you happy with your life? If twelve months from now your life were to be exactly as it is now, would that be okay? Or do you long for more? Again, I ask, what do you want for your life? At first this may seem simple, but actually a lot of people don't know what they want. They go through life getting up everyday, going through the motions, dealing with all the stuff that comes up and then they go to bed to crash, so they can get up the next day and do it all over again. Survival. Yes, we have all been there, but life can be so much more! But first you have to determine what it is you want.

To define what it is you want, start by looking at what your dreams are, your daydreams, the if onlys. What are you passionate about?

As someone who is reading an art journal blog, I would guess that your dream might include being an artist or perhaps being a better artist. The great news is that you can! All you need some forward momentum...

Perhaps you don't believe me...well hopefully my own art journey will inspire you. I didn't do any art as a child. I didn't draw all my waking moments, in fact I didn't draw at all. I had no desire or ability. I coloured in colouring books and I painted some paint by number kits. That was it. By the time I was a young adult, I started going to art galleries, museums and shows. I became aware of a longing. An 'if only' I started to try. I quickly discovered that oil paints were difficult for someone who didn't have a clue what she was doing. I read books, I tried acrylics. I was frustrated so I eventually gave up. But the desire didn't go away. By now I realized I had no talent or natural ability but I gave myself permission to try drawing just for fun. One Christmas holiday I picked up a pencil and did a sketch on a piece of scrap paper of a candle centerpiece on my coffee table. I erased a lot but at the end of the evening it looked like a candle in a centerpiece and most importantly, I had enjoyed myself. The next morning I tackled drawing my coffee cup. Lots more erasing but in the end it looked somewhat like my mug. Then I drew another cup and then a rose that I went out and bought. Yikes, that one took a while. But I was captivated. I was enjoying this. I bought a sketchbook and I started filling it with one image after another. That is how I got here!

I never started following my passion in order to sell originals, or to develop and teach classes or to have a website and an art blog. I did it because it gave me pleasure.

Perhaps I am a good example of a late bloomer. I hope that my life's journey will inspire you to start chasing your dreams. I know you will be surprised where following your passion leads you.

Dare to dream a bigger dream.
Allow for incredible possibilites. Stop thinking about it, talking about it and just do it - whatever your 'it' is.

Will it all be smooth sailing? Probably not...I had to work quite a while to get my coloured pencil work to look decent. Be tenacious. Don't quit and give up.

So, do you know what you want? Why not make 2009 the year you start going for it? Set yourself a goal. For me, I grew tired of just filling a sketchbook. I decided that I would go for a really BIG dream - having something I thought was good enough to frame and hang on my wall. I looked at a calendar. My birthday was nine months away. It looked like a good deadline. I coloured and coloured. I studied books and I practiced and practiced. It was close but I made it. By my birthday, I had created a small coloured pencil picture that I was satisfied with. I stuck it in a store bought frame (I even painted the frame) and I put it on the wall in my dining room. Talk about gratifying. I was tickled...and now I was unstoppable. Less than two years later I was juried into my first big show. Don't be afraid to start small! Just start!

It is never too late to start living your dreams
...please feel free to write me and let me know what you have decided to chase. I will happily cheer you on.