Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Putting Two Photos Together to Create a Better Scene

The gardening projects wane – not that I accomplished everything on my projects list. This year I took a detour from developing new gardens and finishing last year’s paint job on the porch and deck. I like what I accomplished, but I feel I’ve done enough for this year. (At least for now.) The pastel painting muse has returned (maybe with help from all the rain lately), and I’ve been spending time in the studio.

I finished a pastel painting I’d started in March and one I started in June. Every time at the easel is a learning experience and I go from feeling guilty I’ve not “trained” like other artists to being strong in my conviction to do it my way.

It’s not only about the painting but the adventure and discovery. I find it interesting how I might read or hear something a few times, then one day that same comment or tip flashes the light bulb on. Ha, ha, I finally get it!

Maybe it’s because I have to be mentally ready to hear the message. Maybe it’s about repetition finally sinking in. Suddenly the need to paint ignites and I am at it again.

Does that mean it goes easy? No. There is always something to learn, some aspect to experience. I go from the excitement of doing a new piece, to not-liking how it’s going, to feeling discouraged and self-doubting my abilities.

This is why I have multiple easels and paintings in various stages of progress. When I get too frustrated with one, I can work on one of the others. I eventually get back to the one giving me grief and I tackle it with a fresh set of eyes.

So, I finished the two and they are ready to go to the framer. I cleaned up both areas and set new BFK Rives paper on the two easels. I looked through my photos I put aside as possible paintings. The one of a sand-dune was calling, but the more I looked at it, the more I felt the composition wasn’t right. Now what?

The photo was from an area I’d visited before – a spot where my mum had spent her early childhood and where her ashes were released. What if I looked back through previous photos? Maybe there would be something I could put with this sand-dune to make a more complete composition.

Preliminary layout of "Between the Dunes"
working with two photos.
I researched dozens of photos and during a visit in 2016, I had taken a photo of the scene right next to that dune. Wow, how amazing is that! I can “stitch,” or rather, tape, the two photos together to make a beautiful scene. The horizons don’t quite line up as my position wasn’t the same in taking the two photos, but I can make it all work for the painting.

Also, in that same series of photos, I came across four more photos that I can stitch together to make two more wonderful paintings. I printed the photos and made notes. Then I chose two scenes, went in the studio, and soon had the preliminary drawing/layout done in charcoal for two new paintings. I am so excited!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Being Strong in Who I Am as an Artist

I am reading “Painting Brilliant Skies and Water in Pastel” by Liz Haywood-Sullivan. She describes the preliminary steps: cropping, multiple thumbnail sketches, blocking in shapes, figuring out values, and choosing colors, among other comments and tips.

I also researched online (again) articles on types of paper and board for pastel artists. Most prefer surfaces with textures to hold the pastel. I prefer a smooth surface. I do not like the sanded surfaces, either.

Making progress on "Path to the River."
My mind jumped into self-doubt mode. I don’t/can’t work like that! Is this how “real” artists work and if I admit how I work, will those “real” artists look down their noses at me? How can I call myself an artist when I don’t work like that? Maybe … if I was 30 years younger … I could go back to the very basics and start all over again.

Should I force myself to paint on surfaces I don’t like? Do I have to conform? And if I admit how I work, will other artists and art viewers not like me or not see me as a serious artist?

But wait! Haven’t I been working a long time developing my own style of painting? Haven’t I always been proud of myself for not following the norm and discovering my own way of doing things? What makes me think I’m wrong just because I don’t do it like most others? I’m not wrong. I just do it MY way.

My very-good friend, Nan McCarthy, is an amazing photorealist, and her style and technique is totally different than mine. About the only thing we have in common is that we both work with photographs and we like similar subjects. But, she follows all those preliminary steps and spends a lot of time planning her painting even before she picks up her paintbrush. Part of how she works, even after all these years, is to study other artists’ techniques to try better perfect her own style.
Our techniques may be opposite, yet we have the most amazing conversations on art and style. We support each other and have even done shows together.

As for changing how I do things? Part of my painting is about the journey. Each piece offers a unique, challenging adventure (even when doing similar scenes). Every time I think I’ve mastered an aspect, the next painting throws a curve ball. It’s a backwards treasure hunt. Instead of digging through rubble to find the treasure, I build layers to find the gold in the finished painting.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Growing older, changing, adapting in life and art

I don't mind thunder storms from a distance. It's those loud booms and cracks that make you jump (don't like adrenaline rushes) that bother me. It's like I like the deep sound of a Harley (though not when the guy sits there revving), but the sharper sounds from the "rice rockets" are annoying. I still like the old rock ‘n’ roll music, but no longer cranked loud. I don't like loud voices, especially angry voices or those false, loud, excited, pumped-up-trying-to-sell-you-something voices.
"The Hill" still in process; getting close to being finished.

Quieter, softer ... hmmm ... that's even coming through in my painting. Instead of pushing for those sharp photorealistic lines (when I’ve never strived to be a full photorealist), I'm learning that it's OK to have softer lines, more impressionistic backgrounds ... which is something I wasn't conscious of before because I don't really like impressionism. I wanted sharp, clean lines … like my photography.

It’s funny, too, how my art is turning to be more like me. I’ve described myself as being soft, and fuzzy around the edges, and now as my art gets looser, it too, takes on more fuzziness. (Though I still want some sharper lines.)

Maybe I am closer to an impressionist painter instead of a realist, and yet, even those lines blur. I don’t quite have my finger on it, yet. But I’m coming into a greater understanding of life and art.
I still have to do things my way; figure things out my way. I don’t, and never have, fit totally into one category and probably never will.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Treasure Hunt in Painting

I didn’t get in the studio this week. Instead of painting, Nan McCarthy and I went to the Jaffrey Civic Center to see their latest art exhibit. I’m always amazed that artists can work in the same media, and yet, because of different styles and techniques, the paintings can have a totally different feel. Even if another’s style doesn’t appeal to me, I’m still fascinated by the process. I enjoy hearing artists talk about what they do and how they do it.

Peaceful Autumn Waters -- in process
What amazed me was that I didn’t feel any of the paintings were similar to mine. Does that mean my paintings aren’t good enough? Don’t think that! That’s the old, low self-esteem thinking. My paintings are good enough and I’m very pleased with them. (Oh, OK, I can always find fault, but I can’t allow myself to do that.) No, not every one is perfect, and many remain unfinished, but the ones I do finish, mat, and frame fill my heart with joy.

However, I am adamant in not doing things the way others do. I want to find my own way and have my own style. And, as I told someone the other day when she remarked how she can’t wait for the end result, I am fascinated by the process. Don’t get me wrong, I love the finished piece, but there’s something intriguing in the experiences between beginning and end. I learn something new with each painting and that’s exciting! 

I do similar scenes most the time, but each painting has its own obstacles. There are challenges in every picture because not all scenes are exactly the same. Light, shadow, reflections affect leaves, bark, grasses, sky, water … everything! I constantly ask myself questions. Why isn’t it working the same as it did last time? How do I do …? How did I get the perspective off? Why didn’t I notice that aspect before? Why isn’t that shading right or shadow or reflection? Am I leading the viewer in? And it goes on.

I am not a photorealist. I don’t want it to be perfect. I allow changes, and I want to do it all free-hand. That’s not saying there’s anything wrong with using projectors, rulers, T-squares or other means of transferring the exact image. I just choose to be more open to creating something new, something not exact. Plus, I believe the painting itself will lead me to make changes.
It is a discovery, almost a treasure hunt in a way, as I figure out how to recreate the picture from the photograph. The photo is just a guideline and I often use more than one photo to create a scene. I add trees, rocks, and bushes, and I also have to figure out lighting as I usually take photos at the height of the day or on days when the sky is dull.
Another exciting aspect is when I take a photo to post progress. The new photo almost always shows me something else, something I missed, or something I should add. No matter how many times I study the original photo, a progress photo will tell me more. It can be like finding a gold nugget … a sometimes it’s fool’s gold. Still, I love it, even during the ugly stages.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Contemplating Art and Guidelines

An opening reception to the latest art show and busy work weekend are behind me. I am ready to get back into the studio.
I’m a person who makes lists and collects sayings. These days I have to write everything down. (Do I blame age or just too much on my mind?) I get distracted and forget things easily. I’m not complaining. I like my life – except when I get overwhelmed.

Today I was back to thinking about my list of tips to pay attention to when I’m painting. (I mentioned this in the last blog.) I debated about typing them up on a sheet of paper (right now they are handwritten on various scraps) or make them up as labels where I can put around the easels to remind me as I’m working.

Just typing them on a sheet or having them on the computer will mean I’ll seldom read them. So, I can either type them on 2x4 inch label paper or handwrite them on colored index cards. (I’m all about the color!) Big dilemma and sometimes I’m not good about decisions. I often end up putting off the decision and not doing any of it.

Why do I feel I have to do this? Because, as I mentioned last time, the minute I pick up a pastel or brush, I dive right into painting and “forget” the rules. My friend, Nan, who’s an awesome photorealist painter says I am intuitive in my art. And I definitely agree. BUT …

There are those times of self-doubt, and it’s these times when I can also look at the notes and realize that, yes, I did follow most the guidelines. There will always be that aspect, though, in which I follow my own path. There are times when it’s like the painting is moving me to do what it wants. My hand just moves.

I enjoy what I do, even through the “ugly” stages. I know eventually I will pull together a painting that pleases me. Sometimes I’ll pull it from the easel and set it aside. I know I’ll go back to it some day because there’s a reason I was drawn to do that scene. I currently have six of these in the back room and every time I go in there and see one, I want to put it back on the easel and finish it. As of yet, I haven’t because I’m working on the new ones … but I’m tempted …

What I do makes me happy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Losing perspective

How many years have I been painting? I have my lists of reminders: tips, techniques, what to look for, experience, and all that. I even have reminder labels on the wall in front of me. (‘Course, I’d have to look up to read them.) I keep promising myself that this time, I’ll pay attention to the rules.

However, the minute I pick up the pencil, pastel, or brush, all those self-promises fly out the window. I’ll look at the photograph I’m using for a guideline, but once I turn to the easel, and my hand starts moving, everything else disappears from my mind. I work for 10-15 minutes, glancing at the photo every so often. 

Work in process
Then I step back. The perspective of the reflections is off and they’re all leaning to the right. The colors are too dark. The shape is wrong. What was I thinking? Where does my mind go while I’m painting? 

It’s not that I’m not thinking as I paint. I am conscious of blending, shadow, light, colors, and lines. So, where do I go wrong? Somehow, somewhere, I lose myself. But really, is that a problem? I often feel the painting wants to help paint itself, and I let it.

I’m happy with the end results, and that’s what counts!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Finding the Right Descriptive Words

Descriptions are always hard for me. So often I’m in a situation and I don’t know the correct terminology for what I’m seeing, or I don’t know how to make it sound more interesting. How many times can you say, “rolling hills” or “mountainous terrain?” And, when I’m traveling, is what I’d call a rolling hill in New Hampshire, the same as the rolling, hilly farmlands in New York?

And what about buildings and architecture? Even in watching a lot of HGTV with the home renovation shows, I’m still not sure what the difference is between modern, contemporary, and more. What about cities, road structures, and bridges?

I do quite a bit of research before, during and after my travels (mostly after) because I like to provide a little history or information on areas I visit. However, I’m wondering about the amount of time I spend in research. It always sounds like a quick thing. Oh, it’ll just take a moment to look this up online, and next thing I know, an hour or two has gone by. It’s not like writing is all I have to do, ha ha.

One of my goals is to make a general list of types of terrain, architecture, roads, bridges, and more. That way when the time comes, I can choose a word from the list then elaborate more if it’s needed. I’ve already researched types of clouds. But again, here is a time-consuming project that takes me away from writing the actual book. 

Oh, these dilemmas. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Writing and the Carousel

Sometimes I have so many thoughts and ideas running through my head, it’s hard pulling them together for a cohesive writing. My brain starts spinning. Do I follow this thread of thought or do I write about that other? The carousel spins faster, and the ideas get thrown from the horses to be lost in the darkness.

Last night I was asked a series of questions about my travel writing. All great questions which, although I’ve kind of touched on the various subjects, the overall topic is mostly avoided. I wrote the questions down, and later, while meditating, further thoughts on the questions emerged. Once more I have a list of notes that are related, but not written as a complete piece.

I have dozens of these scrap pieces of paper filled with notes to include in the books or other writings. I never seem to fit them in and yet, they would be integral to the story, to better understanding the writer, to further open various topics to readers, and to add helpful suggestions and tips. Too often these insights fall by the wayside because I don’t get them pulled together. I lose the momentum of that in-the-moment thought process, that flow of fiery creative writing.

Sometimes I get stuck trying to figure out where in the book this topic should go. Should I fit it into a chapter? What about the preface, prologue, or epilogue? Should it be its own chapter? I just can’t make up my mind. It just becomes more head-spinning and eventually falls off the carousel horse.

That said, I do make progress, and the ideas will cycle around. However, when the do, they won’t be exactly the same. It will be different time and space. But that’s OK. I continue on. I do the best I can.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Stuckness in Writing

I easily get stuck during the writing process. Oh, not in the subject matter or what I want to write, but with the various thoughts that interfere with the actual writing. What do I mean by “various thoughts that interfere with the actual writing?”

It doesn't take much to distract me.
It’s because I am a multi-thinker. I don’t just think about one thing at a time. I am not that focused on one thing. Even if I’m on one project, various aspects of that project crop up in my mind and I break off the concentration to jot down notes on the newer thoughts. Then I end up with all these side notes, often on multiple pieces of paper. 

And when this happens a lot, I lose my train of thought on what I was focused on, and I get “stuck” on figuring out where I should go next. Do I keep writing the actual chapter or do I stop to pursue the latest side-note line of thinking? My mind spirals and I get confused and frustrated. The creative flow smothers and the spark goes out.

One area I always get stuck on is trying to keep things in chronological order. This is important in most cases, but not necessary for all. So why do I let myself get stuck on chronological order? When isn’t chronological order important, especially as I’m writing a travel book?

Chronological order is not important if the creative flow is shut down; if I worry so much about it that I become confused and frustrated about what I should do next.

For instance, with the latest book, as I’m writing the day by day adventures, an idea will often pop into my head about something that should go in the introduction or epilogue. And once one thought process interrupts the flow, others do. So, do I stop writing the current chapter and add the new introduction thought processes to that chapter? At that point, I’ve lost the spark for the current chapter.

Sometimes, the new thoughts aren’t even about the book, but something else entirely. Too often I’ve started books that never got finished because a new project claimed my attention. There are times when there are so many ideas, I get totally overwhelmed and nothing happens. My brain shuts down and I’m depleted and stuck.

I was in the middle of writing my 2015 adventure to Florida when moving and renovating the new house broke that creative process. I had the first draft done, but before I could get back to that book, my oldest grandson announced his wedding and a trip to Wichita happened. Now I’m trying to get the first draft (after over a year) of the Wichita trip written so I can go back and finish the 2015 story. (And this isn’t even talking about my art work.)

I am determined to get both these books written! When the stuckness holds me back from getting the book completed, I have to look at it from another perspective. I worry about results down the road when I need to focus on getting the first draft written. My head was spinning again.

I took a break from the writing for a couple of days to organize the notes on scrap paper, printed sections of the manuscripts, photos, receipts, and various notebooks written-in during the journey. I looked into differences between preface, foreword, prologue, and introduction. This gave me further clarity on what I need to do.

But the biggie, and what I have to keep demanding of myself is: Get the book written! All that other side stuff can be done later. The organization has helped me gain clarity. I’m ready to buckle down to the chapters again. I will get this book written!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Sasha Perspective on Traveling Writing

Sometimes in my traveling, I can’t find the right words to describe what I see. It’s rather ironic that a person who works with words has such trouble coming up with good descriptions. 

Then again, maybe it’s because I’ve not traveled a lot in my life. I am not familiar with other places. I spend time researching histories of sites visited, but to research types of landscape or architecture adds to time-consuming work when I just want to write.

I am not out to present a text/technical book. I write from a personal perspective with those bits of researched historical facts inserted. My books are not just about sites visited. The trips are not just about physical places. They’re about the total experience of traveling, and that includes all the emotional aspects of the journey, too.

I don’t want to separate myself from my emotions. I spent too many years hiding who I really am. I refuse to live that way now, and that is reinforced in my quest to live whole-heartedly. To share a traveling adventure means my readers get the whole package; the exciting times, the stressful moments, and the downright scared occasions. 

This is me, living whole-heartedly, and being a happier person because of it.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Attempting to get on track

Although I’m not supposed to be thinking about the pictures of the Wichita trip, I never printed them out, so I do think about them. Should I print them all? What’s the sense of having these photos if I don’t have them where I can see them? I put a lot of work into taking the pictures and editing them. Is that all for naught? My mind gets stuck on this stuff.
Black Water, Mo., the day I'm supposed to be writing about
But I have the book to finish writing and that’s what I need to focus on. However, my writing time turned into photo printing, then looking for information I misplaced. My hour to work on the book turned into two hours. 
And of course, there were kitty and gray rat distractions. Now I have to get on with finishing this week’s InterTown work … and I haven’t even had breakfast!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Over Thinking and Stressing

I’m back to working on my book on the Wichita trip from 2016. Sometimes my mind just goes ‘round and ‘round and I can’t get clarity. 

Annette Vogel and I are going to be publishing a few books. We’ll be working with a local printing company. She’s more of a graphic-design person and I’m the writer. She writes, too. We’re working on a book together, plus we’ll both have personal books.

With her help and patience, I’m getting a better understanding of the publishing and printing aspects. I’ve also given up trying to do it all myself. Layout and getting the manuscript print-ready stresses me out. I just want to write and have photos. So, to partner with someone who is good at what I am not, is such a relief!

I kept trying to force the idea that I want lots of pictures in my book and couldn’t understand why, with all this modern technology, I can’t have it that way. A couple friends who’ve been in the printing business had explained it, but the other day with Annette explaining it again, and I finally “got it!” (Sometimes I need to be told something more than once for it to sink in.) 

Basically, it’s about printing plates which may have 16 or 32 pages on each plate and the pages may not necessarily be in order. To have color on one page, would mean paying for color on the other 15 or 31 pages whichever the size of the plate, and that means lots of financial cost. So, even with technology and printers using computers, the plates still retain the way ink is used.

My dream of printing a book with color photos placed where they go in the story is broken.  I’m sad, but I have to face reality. I’ll still be able to do e-books that way, though. 

I am stepping back and returning to basics. The stress over how to fit in all the photos was keeping me from the actual writing of the book. Annette said the pictures is jumping too far ahead. Photos will come later. “Write the book first!” she said.

Right now, my goal is to get the first draft written. I have 11 of the 16 regular chapters done. The obstacle, for me, is that I had almost the entire 12th chapter done, but somehow it got lost. I need to get over the mental hurdle of having to rewrite the entire chapter. Just do it!

Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Upside-Down Ice Cream Cones and Lollipops

Yesterday I talked about my revelation about the roundness of the canopies of deciduous trees versus the pointiness of evergreens. It wasn’t anything new to me, of course, just that it hit me in a new way giving me a moment of little-girl-joy. Seeing it in a different light helped me through a “stuck” part in one of my latest paintings.

Later, when I was telling my friend, Clare, she said, “Evergreens are upside-down ice cream cones.” Once again, the light bulb came on. Yes! I can see that. And if evergreens are upside-down ice cream cones, then deciduous trees are lollipops!

Finessing the trees before moving on to grasses and water
It’s funny, I can read how-tos and art-related articles, and logically understand a process or someone else’s way of doing something, but it’s not until I am at the easel working and finessing my own style and technique that those tips or directions set in. Sometimes it’s a couple months later that something will click in my brain and I’ll remember what I read or heard. Then I’ll work it into my painting style. It’s like I can’t just take someone else’s way of doing it. I have to discover it for myself, in my own way and time. (That reading, or comment probably stews in my brain and at the right time, will come out.)

Since getting into pastels, I’ve been blocking in more when doing the preliminary work, but with natural landscapes, I wasn’t thinking about actual hard shapes, just a roughing in. And, too, maybe it’s the writer in me that just seeing a picture of how someone blocks in didn’t mean much, but now having descriptive words helps me see better.

I believe, too, that the universe (angels, spirit, muse, God) sends messages. It comes through to me sending me into what I call little-girl-joy of new discovery. Yet, often it’s not new, just that my brain processes it in a new way. I get that vision of my little-girl-self running home crying out with joy, “Mama, mama, look what I found!” I’m dancing inside myself with discovery.

This type of joy makes me want to jump up and get right back in the studio. It makes me want to paint or write. It fires my soul. I love that I get the messages this way instead of the old critical, negative way that came across making me feel stupid that I didn’t get it before this.

The work is a continuous journey with each piece giving me a variety of challenges. I am constantly learning, and maybe, as a writer and an artist, somehow the two have to crossover. Sometimes I can’t find the words to describe a scene I’m writing about, and sometimes I can’t really see what I’m painting without words to describe it. I am determined to find my way. 

It can be frustrating, but there’s excitement, too. I love it!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Joy of Discovery While Knowing I’ve Always Known It

This morning while journaling and writing about the progress made on my paintings yesterday, I realized something important. In one photograph, deciduous and evergreen trees were kind of mixed. I realized the deciduous have a more rounded canopy and the evergreens have pointy tops.

The little girl part of me is dancing with the excitement of discovery. This is so exciting! Why didn’t I notice this before? 

The adult logical mind brushes it off sarcastically with, “Of course, I know that about trees!” And I do know that. After all, I’m a nature-lover and I’ve been painting landscapes for years. So, how do I explain this child-like joy of discovery feeling? 

Work in process; getting the trees right is taking time
Maybe the joy is because, for some reason, the tops of those trees jumped out at me from that photo, when normally in a scene like this, I wouldn’t pay that much attention. Maybe it’s because the universe decided I needed a little child-like joy after intense stress the past few days. Maybe it’s telling me that, in this picture, I need to highlight this area as a bit of focal point. Or maybe this is, literally, an instance where my brain just acknowledged seeing “the forest through the trees.” And maybe it’s my logical mind describing in words what my eyes are seeing.

I often “just” paint the trees, especially the trees that are kind of the background landscape. My mind kind of goes numb, and I just dab away. These areas are often the parts of the painting when I say the painting paints itself. 

And maybe I can just sit back and relish in the excitement of a little-girl feeling of discovery and be happy.