Snowshoes and Chickens

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Finished one I started a while back, inspired by a trip to Donner Lake near Tahoe. The area has a gruesome history, but it sure is beautiful. And scary, too–my daughter did not want to go on the trails behind the cabin we stayed at. Just a little too close to complete remoteness for her, I think.

I just finished reading an essay in Wendell Berry’s collection Home Economics about this very subject: it’s natural to feel wary and apprehensive about pristine nature, even while being in rapturous awe of it at the same time.

He believes we feel most comfortable living with nature, not in it, and I have to agree. He mentions the ecological phenomenon ofย  “edge effect.” I live on those special margins that seem to bring out and nourish the health of the wildlife in the area–my garden and little orchard and “developed” land abut a big track of oak forest that covers the side of the canyon we live atop. I’ve seen more birds, animals, insects, etc. than I ever have immersed deep in the woods (fox, moles, squirrels, red-shouldered hawks, turkey vultures, crows, wild pigs, deer, swallowtails, western jays, finches, doves, owls, praying mantises, skinks, fence lizards, garter snakes, to name some).

That being said, Berry also talks about how we “need” wilderness, as much as a physical reality as an idea in our collective mind. I, for one, definitely feel that necessity to know that there are still wild, scary places out there, with creatures that could, in fact, kill us.

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Also finished another drawing, inspired by my girls feeding the chickens. They love to dig for worms in the compost pile and feed them to the chicks!

And I’ve been featured on the Doodlewash watercolor blog and community…thank you so much!

Creating Compositions: Organizing Principles of Design

I sometimes get questions about how I come up with my compositions for my watercolor paintings, many times I think because people see progress pictures and they assume (rightly) that I don’t have everything all drawn out before I start putting the brush to the paper. But, it should be said, that I do have a general picture (usually) in my head before I begin, and I try to apply a variety of design principles to each painting as I add layer upon layer. I learned a lot about this subject from a book that was required reading for my art history curriculum in college: The Art of Seeing.

In this post, I’m going to explore some of the elements of design that I frequently manipulate in my work. I’ll create another post about composition later for further exploration.

Repetition. I repeat a single design element: line, shape, form, value, color–any will work! In my deer painting above, the same heart shape of the ginger leaf is painted over and over again, in a variety of different positions and values, and this holds the overall composition together, unifying fore-, middle-, and background.

In the evergreen forest scenes, I repeat triangular shapes in different colors and values, with the relatively horizontal layering of those shapes contributing the feel of tranquility; if there was a diagonal positioning of shapes, the composition would suggest movement and dynamism. Lots of times, the repetition in my paintings builds up to the point of pattern, and shapes are more orderly than not, and these patterns of elements can create a rhythm, like in music, satisfying our desire for harmony and structure.

Contrast. In hues and colors, values, implied lines (like to figures pulling away from one another and creating mirror arcs with their bodies–opposing gestures)…any abrupt change. This contributes to variety. In the snail painting, I go from green to red hues, and this switch between complimentary colors enhances our appreciation of each. The same happens in the sleeping princess painting: the purplish pinks alternates with golds and yellows, and the complimentary quality of opposites creates unity.

In most of my paintings, I try to make sure that there is a high contrast in values somewhere in the composition. In the Seven Sisters/cave horse painting, the minimalist/gestural figures are painted all black, with many of the stars painted all white. These extreme contrasts are found only a few places in the composition, to provide variety and draw the eye.ย (The three black figures are also arranged in triangular formation, a very visually pleasing and stable shape–more on that later!)

Balance. Distributing visual weights so that they offset one another. I mostly apply formal or symmetrical balance in my paintings, as in the sailboat scene where the vertical composition is divided into three horizontal parts (on odd, and therefore dynamic number) and there is a central point of focus. In the unicorn painting, the unicorn is the central focus and also holds the lightest value; all other elements in the painting contrast and compliment this central figure.

A painting can also be asymmetrical and exhibit an informal balance (for instance, a large light-colored shape can be offset by a small, dark-colored shape, with the focal point somewhat off center).

Steppe Horse Revisited

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Drawing and drawing colored in with Photoshop of Steppe Horse. The horse was inspired by the Land of the Midnight Sun painting by Eyvind Earle, and this has always been one of my favorite drawings I’ve done. Not just because of the subject matter (though I do really love horses and the steppes), but because I feel like my style really came into its own with this one. I always knew I would revisit it in watercolor, and I’m excited to be working on that piece now.

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I like stylizing horses this way because I think it compliments the expression of their movements and personalities. It’s easy to focus on line when depicting horses because, for me, that’s really what makes a horse a horse. I like making them a little stockier (like Mongol and Icelandic horses) too because I find that shape more aesthetically pleasing.

I’ve been collecting images of the Mongolian Steppes with mountains and hills in the background, but I need to do a little more research to find some steppe plants I’d like to depict in the painting…I feel really good about this one ๐Ÿ™‚

New Works and New Domain Name!

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Finished a new painting for my sister-in-law’s engagement party invitation! Also works for Doodlewash’s May Challenge and sailboat prompt! Ocean/bay/sailboat themed! I completely winged this one, and I like how it turned out–I especially like the minimalist pelican and fish in there. And I love painting boats; I think it’s because of the lines–sleek and following the wind, beautifully shaped. The same reason I love drawing and painting horses. Here’s one I’m working on in acrylic, for a change:

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This is just the underpainting, plus a few layers here and there, but I really like the way it’s going. The plan is to do two more horse-themed acrylics and hang them up in the house somewhere. Also working on a little pencil drawing inspired by our chickens! Need to blacken some of the chickens, add some more detail to the ground and color in Photoshop.

And I finally got a personal domain name!! Instead of my name, which is hard to spell for some people on hearing it, I decided to go with wildcountryart.com–using some of the descriptor words in my blog subheading ๐Ÿ™‚

Work and Leisure…

…pretty much the same thing for me ๐Ÿ™‚

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Working on a snowshoer. This one is inspired by Eyvind Earle, one of my absolute favorite artists. Our family recently went to Truckee around Donner Lake, and we did a bit of cross-country skiing. I hadn’t been skiing in 20 years, so I fell a lot in the beginning…but by the end, I had the hang of it!

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Don’t my kids look thrilled?

Also went hiking in Sunol, probably my favorite nearby park. And lucky for us, the Wildflower Festival was going on, so we brought home a mason bee house, some seed bombs, and some pressed flower bookmarks. I have a lot of pictures, a few of which I’m going to post later when they get uploaded, and many of these pictures are going to be interpreted into paintings. I’ve found that I really enjoy painting landscapes in the style I’ve developed.

I tend to get distracted by things and have been doing a lot of late night reading recently instead of more painting (which I want to do). I’m finishing up Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, after just reading Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy: the Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. I’m also getting into David Orr’s Earth in Mind…and I have to say, all of these books, while having Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society, Merchants of Doubt, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Manufacturing Consent, and The Overspent American under my belt to name just a few, are not making me feel too optimistic about the future. But, these books are also getting me pretty fired up about teaching, and I hope after completing my credential program I’ll land an Environmental Science job.

Paradise Country Progress Pics

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A work that has been picked up again and again over the past few weeks and finally finished today! I always start with a rough picture in mind, but I never sketch it out. The foreground and focal points are the first to be paint-sketched in.

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Next comes the broad strokes and general shapes of the middle ground. I gradually build on these, adding more and more detail. I always take a step back and look at the painting after each layer I do.

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More detail and more interesting shapes are added. I wanted to add one deciduous tree for a load of OCD-like detail, just because it’s like therapy for me–when I can get lost for a few hours. I was going to put in a windmill to the right of the house, but the tree overtook the space a bit.

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Next I add the tree-topped mountains in the back, along with the night sky. The darker value of the sky really sets of the shapes set against it.

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And…finish up with the details of the details: chicken feather colors and patterns, greenish-gray rock foreground and middle ground, ground cover next to the house, and all the little details of the house itself (which I LOVE). AND I add the stars: first I just dot the already-colored sky with plain water, let it dry and bleed to make a very shimmery, translucent area. Then, I dot some of those spots with white acrylic, to really make a glowing effect.

I’ve really been rediscovering the differences between liquid watercolors, like Dr. Ph Martin’s, and tube watercolors, like Grumbacher or Daniel Smith or Da Vinci. Also, the quality of watercolor PAPER really makes a difference too!

Genius–Guiding Spirit

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Finished a painting I started a while ago! This color palette was one of my favorites when I first began the piece. Using middle-grade cold-pressed watercolor paper, and I can definitely tell the difference between this and my normal Arches (the best!). But it still works pretty well with the tube watercolor pigments.

I notice that when I’m working with the mid-grade paper and Dr. Ph Martin’s liquid watercolors that the paint tends to bleed a lot more into the individual fibers of the paper. I’m working on a bigger painting where I only used the liquid watercolors and will post about that later–how the qualities of those differ from tube watercolor pigments.

I decided to name this one “Genius,” and the animal is supposed to be that–a guiding spirit. Potentially part of my oracle deck…still a long way to go with that project! And I still have a whole backlog of paintings I have to finish and a picture book I’d like to complete. Just need to take it day by day…

Inspired to Draw…

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…after I majorly cleaned and reorganized my studio. I’ve been writing recently, and that’s been taking up most of my time, along with preparation for going back to school this coming summer.

This drawing is part of the series of the couple that came before it. I hope to complete between 40 and 48 for this personal project. It’s difficult keeping with it, with everything else that goes on in life–I’m sure everyone has a similar experience/story. But I’ve also processed this POV to its logical end, and came to the conclusion–well, what the hell else am I going to do?

So, how much time passes between drawings is irrelevant–there will always be another drawing. Or painting. Or novel. There will always be a work in progress.

Seeking Warmth

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Drawing number 2 “Seeking Warmth” is finished. This is a drawing of winter, when the cold in the air outside has a bite and keeps everything still and quiet. When the sound of falling snow makes you think of wood fires and yellow light and mulled wine and reading books for hours. The animals are in the burrows and dens, huddling into their coats and snuggling up to each other.

I grew up in an underground house and loved coming in out from the dark cold into the bright warmth inside of our little hobbit hole. The dog would curl right up under the wood stove, loving the blast of heat; in fact, she still does that. You could smell biscuits or bread baking in the oven; the tea kettle would be whistling; the radio would be playing softly in the background. The blue of the outside through the window contrasted so well with the cozy yellow of the kitchen and living room.