Coming Back to the Light

What a week. Enough flu for everyone.

Thankfully there have been flowers as well, both inside…

…and out.

The earliest blooms are out in the back yard gardens. The Lenten Rose (hellebores)…

…and the Siberian Squill (scilla)…

…and these tiny little guys, who have made themselves quite at home in one of my beds…

They’re a weed called Veronica Speedwell I’ve decided to let stay because I need groundcover in that spot anyway and have had limited success with the plants I actually planted in this very sunny, dry area. We’ll see what they do the rest of the year. If they behave nicely, I may keep them. They can be invasive, though, so I may regret it later.

At any rate, I’m still in no shape to deal with getting the garden cleaned up for spring. It’s on its own for a few more days at least as I recover fully from the flu. It’s a shame to have wasted some perfect gardening days sitting in a stupor inside, but there it is. Nothing can be done about it.

While recovering, I was lucid enough to enjoy two literary moments of significance. First, I got my latest manuscript back from the German translator who was helping me translate certain lines of dialogue into correct German, and also helping me with the elements of the plot which touch on translation issues between English and German. She had some very nice things to say about the manuscript and encouraged me to let her know when it found a publisher so she could tell her editors to be on the lookout for the translation rights. It was a wonderful boost of confidence for me as she is the first person who has actually read it in full.

The second moment came the next day, Sunday, when I received an email from one of the editors of The Lyric poetry magazine accepting one of my poems for a future issue. I don’t have any details yet, but I’ll be sure to share more when I know more.

And then Sunday night I felt normal enough to paint.

I based this painting on a photo I took years ago over a field in the Grand Ledge area before sunrise back when I was occasionally picking up a friend early in the morning to carpool to Grand Rapids. There was that glow in the sky that just precedes the sun, and a fine mist among the distant trees. One of those moments that is so fleeting and that you rarely get to experience when your house is smack dab in the city like ours.

So, I’m basically feeling normal now. I’m back to work (at home, as always) and though it is the beginning of Spring Break, the house is finally empty after our week of sickness. My husband has taken our son and the neighbor boy off on an adventure and my only companion is my canary, Alistair. I have a full inbox to deal with and some laundry that needs a kickstart. Time to brew a cup of coffee and see if I really am indeed back to normal — the worst part of the flu has been that my taste buds (we actually call them taste bites in this family) seem to be confused and coffee is the most dire casualty. Good, dark roast coffee has tasted like diner coffee with almost-turned cream. I’m hoping today might be the day everything gets back to normal…

Oil Painting: August Sunrise

I haven’t painted in a week, as I have just been too busy with work, freelance, and some very pleasant obligations to friends. But sometime last week, I did manage to paint this scene of a misty August sunrise.

It, along with six other oil paintings, is available in my newly revamped Etsy shop, Erin’s Artful Life.

Once upon a time I sold vintage teacups, handmade jewelry, and at least one handmade scarf on the site. But I’ve renamed and rebranded it as my virtual gallery. I invite you to stop in there and look around, even if you’re not in the market yourself. Perhaps you’ll find a gift for someone else.

I’ll keep stocking the shop as I finish paintings, and I hope to find time later this spring to develop a cost-effective system for making prints of some of my watercolors so that more than one of each will be available.

If the painting above has caught your fancy, just be aware that it is still drying and shipping would be delayed, possibly a few weeks, in order to allow it to dry completely.

Home from Orlando, Dreaming of Albuquerque

Last week my husband and I took our eight-year-old son on our first big out-of-state family vacation. When the boy was five and just starting his martial arts training, we promised him that when he earned his black belt, we would take him to Disneyworld. Three years flew by and lo and behold, it was time to go.

Our little man took his first airplane ride.

We went to the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Disney Hollywood Studios…

Plus Legoland…

We swam in the outdoor pool, watched the palm trees sway in the breeze, enjoyed many interesting conversations with Uber drivers, and generally enjoyed watching our son have so much fun.

We came home to unseasonably warm weather in Michigan, though we know better than to hope it will last. And we’re getting back into the swing of things at work, church, and school.

But I find myself already looking ahead to the rest of the year’s travel. Zach to Israel, the boy and I to the Upper Peninsula, all of us to camp. And once more, in September, I get to head out to Albuquerque for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association annual retreat. The secret Facebook group for attendees has been opened and everyone is already abuzz with excitement! So I thought it would be a perfect time to work on the painting for the cover of this year’s retreat notebook.

Last year, I was flattered when our retreat coordinator and WFWA founding president, Orly Konig, asked to use the painting I did when I came home from the 2015 retreat as the image for the 2016 retreat notebook:

This year she asked me to do another. So this is what I painted today…

It’s the same lovely fountain, but much closer and from a different angle, and I composed the shot such that the background was easy to put text over and it is a portrait orientation. I’m very happy with how it turned out!

I believe I’ll get some good, professional scans done on both of these paintings so that I can make prints later, but I’m thinking about putting both of the originals in the retreat raffle. I’m also cooking up a new Etsy shop in which I can make my paintings available for purchase. They’re piling up in the house and I need to find them homes! Watch this space for more information about that in the coming months.

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 paint 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!