Thursday, August 20, 2015

Indian Paintbrush

The stately Indian Paintbrush are bold and hardy.  The shade of hue can vary from pinks and peaches to fiery red.  They make their home in a wide range of places.  Along the unpaved roads in mountainous areas, they take their share of dust from passing vehicles.  They are found in clusters next to the trails and they seem to love the full sun.  Mountain meadows have these beauties scattered in the lush green like confetti.  I realize not everyone can be so mesmerized by wildflowers...after all, aren't they just weeds?  I still feel like this creation is so awe-inspiring when we stop long enough to take it all in.  We see intricate details we would never realize otherwise.  

I learn something new every time I take on painting a wildflower.  I have painted these little gems before...over ten years ago.  There's usually a part of the composition that will stump me.  Sometimes I am aware of it before I begin; I just think on that challenge as I work my way toward it.  One thing I learned this time is that there are more than one species of this flower.  These three photos show one of them.  Are you wondering how I figured this out and why it really matters?  I am not a botanist or any other type of expert on the subject.  In order to be able to accurately describe what I am presenting as my work, it seems important to be ready to answer basic questions.  One basic question is, "what kind of flower is that?"  I use printed photos and a Motorola Xoom (love its big screen!) to study my reference photos.  The tablet makes it possible to zoom (ha!) in on details so much more closely.  It's just amazing that printed photos are not so necessary anymore.  

I began the sketches in early summer.  The drawings were made directly on tracing paper.  I believe I was working on the crocus drawings at the same time so I set aside the paintbrush flower sketches.  I remember feeling like I was a little glazed over mentally when I finished the stack of sketches.  I was tired and didn't feel very confident that these sketches were complete.  It's hard to say until I actually have paint ready to apply to paper.

I was pushing myself pretty hard not only with art work but in all areas.  I had taken on several other projects and feeling a little over committed.  My dear man has been such a fantastic support and encouragement.  He has gently reminded me when he senses I need to relax.  With the thought of these lofty goals I've made for myself and no real road map on how to accomplish them, it all feels complicated and disorganized.  At this point my goal was three painting in a week and half.  That was only possible under ideal I will have to take it easy on myself and my family when it can't happen that way.
 Once the crocus paintings were completely finished and I'd taken care of everything necessary to have photos in the computer...
I began the process again!

My computer file has a total of 156 reference photos for the Indian Paintbrush at this time.  We are going camping this weekend so that number could grow yet before summer's end.  I chose the three photos for these paintings; Two sketches came from photos on the tablet and the other sketch was a combination of two photos that were only available as printed copies.  Those two photos I did eventually scan in so I have digital copy of them now.  I keep finding myself fighting the urge to panic when I can't locate the reference photo on the tablet right away.  It just takes a little more patience and remembering to relax more.  There is a bit of advice I need to take to apply to my whole entire day.  Can you relate?

I must add that at this season of my life, my kids are now teens.  They don't need me like they used to in their younger years.  Oh, and it was adorably cute but mildly frustrating.  I remember four or five years ago, I had come out to get settled at my art quietly hoping no one would notice where I was.  Everyone was home and busy so I wanted to take some time for myself.

My art room is also the pass through at the back of the house.  To get to the backyard or garage, the quickest route is through the art room/solarium.  It didn't take long for one of my kiddos to come into the room, and observe saying, "oh, mom's painting...I want to paint, too!"  I have never told my children no to joining me.  It may not be what I had in mind but they are welcome, too.  We began unfolding card tables and bringing out their art supplies...and soon one was near me trying to find a ruler.  Then another looking for watercolor pencils.  I was consciously working to keep my patience.  I asked myself how we could make this work for all of us.  It meant my goals had to be adjusted and remember that life would not always be like this.

Frustrated at times?  Oh, and how.  Those times were not forever...very temporary.  This summer has been a huge adjustment for my teens because they need to be more independent.  They need to understand we are working into a new framework of me making a creative career.  Change is never fun.  We've had many little talks and I try to explain how this is the same as yet different than if I had a job outside of the home.  I just cannot resist.  You've got to see this throwback to another time.  I am sharing a photo of our little art project when they were still so young.  Six years ago and time just flies!  They are cuties, I know...but I remember being so tired and wondering where they got all that energy.  Isn't it nap time yet?

Okay, thank you for letting me head off track for a little bit.  So I have my sketch and graphite paper.  I have been using 300 lb. cold pressed Arches and loving it because it buckles much less and it can take the scrubbing to lift out color.  The layers are board support, watercolor paper, graphite paper and tracing paper sketch on top.  It's very important that the sketch stays in place or the process gets more challenging.  I had one sketch move a little in the process and half of the transfer was also off.

Here's the slightly zoomed out view of what's going on at my table.  Reference photos, paint is mixed in the little cups, spray bottle is at the ready...

And here's the reality of it all!  (See below.)  This is a broader view of the work space at this point.  I have more setting up to do because the foam board tent is where I post my color mixing guide.  My glass of iced tea is cold and easily reachable.  There are the books I've been reading; the Wild West series by Lauraine Snelling.  I just love historical fiction.  I know I'd be over the hard work of that life in a heartbeat but I soak it up anyway.  Maybe it makes my life feel easier?  Not sure.  So while it could be much messier, this is typical for how I work.  When it gets to be too much, I break to clean for twenty minutes.

In the photo below, you can see the color mixing guide is up on the foam board.  This was made by choosing the pinks/reds that I might use.  Then I mix each one with a different yellow or blue to visualize what mixes are possible.  This is my quick reference and there's usually one for each set of paintings.  I keep them and refer to them even when working on other paintings.  So much time can be lost with guessing in color mixing while never really hitting on a mix that works.  I pick out of this grid the key mixes that I like most.  The pigments are mixed up in little cups with lids.  I record the pigments on the lid with a fine permanent marker.  

Here is the color mixing guide I used for these paintings.  The red/pink pigments used are down the left, followed by two blue pigments.  The yellow/gold/brown pigments across the top were each mixed with a pigment down the left side.  Alizarin crimson + lemon yellow = color in the box beside the two.  Alizarin crimson + aureolin = the color first row below aureolin.    If I've completely lost you, I am sorry...  It seems that when others are not familiar with this concept, it takes them a bit to work through it mentally and then light bulb!  The facial expression expresses understanding!

I began working on the backgrounds on pretty damp paper.  I wet down the paper in an area of about 3-4 square inches with a larger brush.  I can work between round and flat brushes for this step.  My pigment on the palette is wet and soft.  This means I can work quickly without many speed bumps.   For the backgrounds I chose several mixes and softly laid them in so they could mix on the paper.  The background on the left shows a little of the effects salt on shiny wet paper makes while it dries.  The background at center has little or no extra effects.  The background at right has a much more dramatic effect from both salt and blooms.  Blooms are an effect that occurs when water or wet paint flows back into an area that is more dry.  Usually a bloom is unwanted and viewed as a mistake but I really like them in backgrounds.  These effects show the qualities of watercolor that are unique to this art medium.  They are quite enjoyable to look at and draw positive attention.  I know this is a little small and doesn't give much opportunity to see the detail.  Just hang on...and try not to scroll to the end.  It will be worth the wait.

As work began on the flower petals of the one in the center, I slowly began to realize the differences between it and the other two.  The petals and leaves are different in several ways.  The form of the petals is more rounded and not spiked.  The colors are more toward reds and yellows.  The leaves are more complicated in shape.  The painting process of this flower just flowed so smoothly and effortlessly at times.  There was very little about it that I struggled with from beginning to end.  I felt immersed in the creative process.  I did not switch from one painting to another this time around.  I worked solely on this one until it was done.  

There is a lot of mixing going on at this point and I'm sure it appears to be mind-boggling confusing.  Bear in mind, I have not always worked like this.  The large palette has room for more pigment from the tubes and doesn't have to be refilled so often.  The smaller palette has pigments I use less often and it changes more often.  I spray down both palettes routinely to keep the paint wet enough that the brush never has to scrub out pigment.  With these paintings, it helped to make notes in a steno pad to keep track of what I used and where.  The base color of the leaves, the base of the petals, the stem and so on...I see in my notes that "WOW greenish gray" was made with lemon yellow + cerulean blue + indigo blue + olive green.  Funny how my mind was thinking at the time.

Below there's a shot of the base color going in with yellows and greens.  The reason for this?  The layers yet to come are going to mix ON the paper.  These base layers will be dry when the next layer is painted in but the yellows and greens will tint them.  It really works that way.  The next three photos show the way this painting changed as more areas were worked and built.

The lemon yellow and gamboge and hansa yellow are the base of the petals.  There's a glow given by them being the foundation.  You can just feel the sun warming the petals!  The mixes used the give the petals the vibrant reds; the placement of the deeper hues give them shape.  At this point, I was bringing in darker red mixes but I was beginning to think I needed a glaze of blue or violet in the shadow areas of the red petals.  I was very nervous about this step.  The deep reds were not achieving the effect I was after.  A little dioxanine violet worked great and I was so relieved!  If you study the differences in the darks of the petals between the two following photos, you should be able to see the changes.  It is subtle but necessary to create shadowed areas.

The buds nearest the leaves turned out to look like crepe paper.  They are preparing to unfold and become full of more red petals.  The light source is from the upper right so I work to keep the shadows consistent through out the piece.  

The view of another painting in progress.  The background is more easily seen here.

I somehow neglected to take a mid-process photo of the other one.  Here are the three completed paintings; you can see they have their own unique identity for colors, background, composition and effect.  Without any planning to do so, they each become different in a pleasant way.

This one I titled Indian Paintbrush Delight because the process was so smooth and flowed in an enjoyable way.  It is 8"x 10" on 300 lb. cold pressed Arches.

Indian Paintbrush with Branches, 8" x 10" on 300 lb. cold pressed Arches.  The petals were much more pink with yellows and greens on a few tips that end with curls.  I had lightly sketched in grasses and twigs that were in the photo.  When watercolor is painted over pencil, the pencil lines are nearly impossible to erase so I had to follow through and it did turn out well.

Indian Paintbrush Group of Three, 8" x 10" on 300 lb. cold pressed Arches.  This is the most common appearance of the paintbrush flower.  This one is the favorite from my family's votes.  Mine is the first, as if you couldn't guess.  The effects of salt are unpredictable, depending on paper wetness and pigments used...and even perhaps the dry, warm air speeding up the drying time.

Reflections on My Summer:

On June 25th of this year, I wrote my post, Big New Adventures of Artist Momma.  In it, I described this new challenge I'm giving myself...with the support of my great guy and sometimes my kids.  The blog is slowly evolving into my journal of blending art into a daily habit.  A creative career is the long term goal.  We've talked through the steps and stages with goals along the way.  Etsy is one of them.  If you are intrigued or excited to follow this adventure, use the contact form and I'll send you an email invite to the grand opening of the online shop!  

I'm fed by the creativity in ways that my soul really needs.  I know my kids don't really understand it now.  Someday they will see how important it is and maybe they will be inspired to go after their own soul-driven outlets.  Today I will celebrate week ten!  This is a huge accomplishment.  To not only create this much art in this amount of time but also write about it on a weekly basis is such a huge step for me.  The past two weeks have not been so productive with completed paintings.  I'm feeling the ebb and flow of family schedules.  The kids were gone to my parents' in Austin, TX for ten days and I finished these three paintings during their absence.  It's one week until school begins again and I'll miss the kids being at home.  At the same time, I look forward to having quiet days here at home.  Today has been a day of interruptions, too many to count and I just keep redirecting my steps to the art studio.  

My dear man has helped me in many ways but the one I most appreciate right now... a computer for my use in the art studio.  We've cleaned and rearranged my space to make it function better.  I've got a new work table for card making (covered in my previous post) but I'll share more about that later.  I'm still working on my business card, not quite decided on what it should be yet.  

This week is really crazy with what we've got scheduled and I hate that I'm so limited on my hours in the studio.  I've just got to roll with it!  That's all there is to it.  I've got to be flexible and know that it's all going to come together in time.  Summer won't be here much longer.  Soon it will be keeping up with the football schedule and autumn will be the season to relish.  

So until next for the moments of everyday that are snapshot beautiful, the stuff of Instagram that we can take as a special gift through the hard stuff.


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