And Now for Something Completely Different

This week I read a great column in Writer Unboxed by Sarah Callender about navigating between hope and despair, and the part writers have in “disturbing the universe.” She used a line from T. S. Eliot‘s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, “Do I dare disturb the universe?” as a provocative jumping-off point, which reminded me how much I love that poem.

I was going to write that inspiring line down on a post it and stick it to my computer monitor. But that didn’t seem enough. So I thought I’d type it out in some interesting font, print it, and tape it up somewhere. But then that didn’t seem enough. So I concocted a little plan to do a painting. This is the result.

I’m not sure if it’s actually done yet. I may add another layer after this one is dry. But here is how I went about painting it.

First I typed up the line, chose fonts and sizes, and then printed it. I cut the words apart and arranged them how I thought they would fit on the canvas. Then I taped the pieces together and taped them to the back of the canvas so that, when a very bright light was positioned at the back, the black letters would show through.

Next, I painted over the letters with black gesso, which is a fast-drying acrylic medium.

Once I had all the letters in place, I let them dry.

I knew I wanted the corners to be very dark, so I sponged black gesso all around the outside, almost like a vignette.

I let it dry overnight, though I probably didn’t have to. When I was ready to paint today, I covered the whole thing with a coat of liquid clear.

Then I started to lay in the color. I chose only transparent or semi-transparent paints so that the black text would show through and I started with the brightest (indian yellow).

Now, as I tend to do, I forgot about taking any more photos as I laid in all the rest of the colors. But after they were on the canvas, I didn’t exactly like how they came together. So instead of trying to blend them together and hide the brush strokes, I swirled them all with a 2″ brush so that the brushstrokes would be part of the effect.

As I said, I’m not sure that I would consider this done at this point, but I think I need to let this layer of pain dry before making any further decisions about it.

This was a nice change of pace from landscapes and I got to use some very bright colors, which was fun. Of course, it doesn’t match any room in the house, so who knows what I’ll end up doing with it!

Today’s Painting: Rocky Mountain Spring

A couple Aprils ago, I had the great fortune to be able to spend a few days in Colorado with my childhood best friend. We went to Rocky Mountain National Park. It was amazingly beautiful. This painting is based off a photo I took there. It makes me want to go back.

A Two Painting Day

I hope you’re not getting sick of looking at oil paintings, because I am having a blast making them. Today I executed two paintings based on photos I took while visiting a dear friend in Colorado.

PAINTING 1:

First the photo reference…

Then the painting…

I was quite happy with how this one turned out. I feel like the snow on the top gives these foothills to the Rocky Mountains a sense of dimension.

 

PAINTING 2:

First the photo reference…

Then the painting…

The angles on the hills could have been less extreme, I think. And the sky didn’t turn out exactly as I envisioned. But it’s all part of learning. I do like the foreground quite a bit.

The big problem I have now is that I have four still-wet paintings and nowhere else to put them to dry!

Today’s Painting: Spring Is Coming

Today I painted snowy mountains. It was a relaxing afternoon after two days of intensive learning, coaching, and teaching at Write on the Red Cedar 2017 (which was awesome, BTW). I did manage this time to remember to take pictures after each major stage, so here’s how this painting came together…

You start with the bottom covered with black gesso (let dry completely) then cover the whole thing with a thin coat of liquid clear. Then you put some black oil paint at the bottom as well.

The sky is next: prussian blue, a bit of black, and a bit of alizarin crimson, then fluffy white clouds with tinges of pink and yellow ochre.

Mountains are next, put in with the knife.

Highlight and shadow colors are mixed and laid on with the knife, and then comes the snow. Keeping the angles making sense took a lot of brainpower for me.

Then I added in a couple closer, shorter protrusions, which push the big mountain back a bit.

Next come distant pine trees and more snow.

Each layer pushes the last one back in your perception, and the fields of snow between help to keep them separated.

Next come Bob Ross’s happy trees. These are a little fuller than I wanted to make them, but I’m still getting the hang of it.

Add in snow beneath the trees, then pull it down with a dry 2-inch brush to make reflections. Voila! Instant water.

I ended up adding some bare trunks to make the trees less full, plus a couple more rock outcroppings because I thought there was just too much white snow all in the middle of the painting.

This one was definitely challenging, but fun!

Today’s Painting: Round Island Lighthouse

You’ll find this little lighthouse just off the coast of Mackinac Island, nestled between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas.

I based this painting off an old photo I took back in film days.

Lots of knife work gives the flat scene a little dimension.

This is my first oil from a photo with no instructions. Had to figure out the color mixes and the execution on my own. The hardest part was trying to do the lighthouse because it’s so tiny and even with the small knife it was awkward. But for just my third time out, and my first time not following a teacher, I’m pretty happy with it.

My Second Oil Painting: A Sepia-Toned Waterfall

This evening I executed my second oil painting.

I’m largely happy with it, though next time I do a shape with contact paper I will get some that is a bit stronger as a few little gaps let out some paint and I had to take it off the canvas as best I could with paint thinner. And once I’m at the stage where I think I’m getting good enough to give anything away, I’ll have to get some professional grade canvases because, as you can see, this one was not stretched tight enough.

For this painting I followed one of Bob Ross’s videos, one I got on DVD for my birthday. It started with contact paper and black gesso (which is an acrylic paint and allowed to dry completely.

Next you cover the whole canvas with a very thin coat of liquid clear, followed up by a thin coat of a brown color created from equal parts alizarin crimson and sap green.

And after this point I totally forgot to stop between each stage to take pictures! But you start from what is in the very background in your mind and work forward, each layer of tree shapes getting darker and darker as they get closer to you. Add the waterfall, a cliff face, and water at the bottom, plus some highlights and water lines and you’re nearly done.

Then you get to take that ugly contact paper off.

I definitely made some mistakes in this one, and it’s harder than it looks when Bob does it to make tree trunks and branches that look decent (more practice with the liner brush is needed). But it’s also a lot easier than you think it will be, especially if you already have some experience with a brush.

I hope to do a new painting every Sunday, so you’re likely to see more of these soon. I hope you like seeing them, and seriously, it’s less complicated than you think. If you can make the investment (getting started can be pricey) you can absolutely have some fun painting in oils.

It’s My Birthday and I’ll Paint If I Want To

Today is my 37th birthday, and this is what I did.

First Oil Painting

For Christmas and my birthday I asked for oil painting supplies. I’ve never painted with oils before, but I’ve been immersing myself in Bob Ross on Netflix and I really wanted to try it out.

It’s completely backwards in some ways to watercolors, which is the medium I’m more familiar with. Highlights go on last in oils, whereas if you want something light in watercolors you have to do it first, then mask it or avoid painting over it, which is why a lot of people prefer oils to watercolors.

The only drawback to oils that I can see at the moment is the strong smell and the days-long drying time. I’m looking forward to developing my technique and rendering some favorite photographs in oils during the next year. If you’re a person I see regularly, you’ll probably end up with a painting of your own by the end of the year — I certainly won’t have a place for everything I intend to paint!

So, I’ve Been Watching a Lot of Bob Ross Lately…

Reader, if you were watching PBS in the 1980s and early 1990s, you no doubt know of the phenomenon that is Bob Ross‘s The Joy of Painting. What you may not know is that there are seasons now available on Netflix. And further, that they are most excellent viewing material when you’re doing laundry or lying in bed at night, drifting off to sleep.

You also may not realize that watching The Joy of Painting nearly every day will make you want to paint some big ol’ mountains, happy trees, and happy clouds that live up there in the sky. Now, I’ve never painted with oils before, but Bob Ross says I can do it, and I don’t think you’ll find a more sincere and encouraging teacher. So I’m pretty sure that my Christmas list this year will include a number of items that will get me painting in oils come 2017.

In the meantime, it’s summer, and I have places to go and photos to take, which I hope to share with you soon.

 

Upon Rediscovering a Childhood Favorite

By far, I buy and read real, physical, printed books over and above ebooks. And I love buying them at real, physical, brick-and-mortar stores. I especially love finding old used books at cramped and charming used bookstores.

Now, with all those caveats out of the way, here’s what I love about Amazon.com:

Way back when I was kid, I checked this book out of the old Bay City Library on Center Road about a hundred times.

I loved, loved, loved this book.

It kept me entertained for hours.

It taught me how to draw dogs.

It helped develop in me a love of the simple things — long walks, the seasons, and dumb (in the King James sense of the word) creatures.

It made me want to be an artist.

The only problem was, I couldn’t remember the name of the book (could it really be as simple as Dogs???) or the author/illustrator. When I checked it out of the library, I just knew where on the shelves it was. I never looked it up. And now that gorgeous, quaint library branch has been replaced by a much larger (and much more personality-less) new building. So though I’d been thinking about this book for years, wishing I could remember what it was called so I might find it again, somewhere, I wasn’t sure where to start. There are a lot of books on dogs and it was kind of difficult to describe.

It’s essentially the artist’s story of wanting to find his family’s next dog as his oldest hunting got so feeble he couldn’t do much anymore. As he considers which breed might be best, he paints them and mentions their merits and tells amusing stories.

Then suddenly I thought to myself, if I just had enough patience, I could click through every page of dog books on Amazon and somehow I would have to find it sooner or later. So I searched for “dogs, painting” in Books on Amazon. Then I clicked on the subcategory Dogs. And guess what I saw:

It was the second result in nearly 200!

Apparently I’m not the only fan of Poortvliet’s work (aside: no wonder I couldn’t remember the artist’s name) as the book enjoys 100% five-star reviews, and his other books are equally well-loved. I was surprised to see a publication date of 1996, a full ten years after my guess, as I was sure I’d been obsessed with it long before I was 16. But a look inside confirmed I had been more right than wrong. The edition on Amazon was a 1996 reprinting. The original had been published in 1983, just in time for it to settle comfortably into its spot on the shelf in the East Branch of the Bay City Library system and wait for me to get about as old as my son is now, venture up to the grown-up nonfiction shelves, and discover it.

I ordered a copy immediately and waited with great anticipation for it to arrive, which it did today. (Sunday delivery, what is the world coming to?)

When we got home from church I started flipping through it with my son, who wanted me to read him the notes on every page. (I think he asked me to do it because they are in cursive?) I immediately recognized every page, including some drawings and paintings I had outright copied as a child as I was practicing.

There was and is something about Poorvliet’s representation of the world — realistic, gentle, and with a sense of humor that doesn’t overwhelm — that I find irresistible. I like that in a time when modern art was being touted he continued to focus on realism and sweet illustrations. In fact, I was surprised (though perhaps I shouldn’t have been) to find that his most famous work, The Gnomes, was the basis for an animated series I also loved around the same time as I was checking Dogs out of the library: The World of David the Gnome. Does anyone else remember this?

I was sorry when I looked Poorvliet up for this post to find that he died in his early sixties in 1995, which I suppose is why they reissued the book in 1996.

At any rate, I’m happy as can be to have it now (and to not have to return it to the library in a month). It’s a volume I’ll keep at the ready for relaxed perusal with a cup of tea.