Ellie, shortly after her arrival. She sure looks cute, but........
Several of you are aware that last winter we sadly lost both of our golden retrievers, less than three months apart. First, fifteen-year-old Gus who simply lost his battle with old age, then thirteen-year-old Clare who suffered from recurring cancer. As goldens tend to be, they were wonderful dogs: Clare was my relentless running partner for many years, and Gus was the kindest and noblest animal I have ever known. Life without them underfoot just didn't seem complete.
When I began to make murmurings about getting another golden early last summer, the males of the house tried to dissuade me: my son lobbied for a Rhodesian Ridgeback, and my husband requested I consider a Clumber Spaniel. As I read about both of these breeds online, I wanted to think I was being open-minded -- but really, I was having none of it. I mean, if it works......why fix it? (And you know, what Mom wants................) So, after researching several golden retriever breeders in southern Michigan through the summer, "Ellie" came home to us in September.
It did not take long for me to begin to wonder if, a) I had been tremendously naive, or b) I had simply forgotten what cute, little puppies are really like -- though I'm quite sure my memory serves me correctly in that I'd never experienced anything quite like Ellie. I'd envisioned walking through the fields with my beloved golden puppy at a perfect 'heel' by my left knee, (okay, okay.......that was naive), and suffered from delusions of me working at my drawing table with Ellie quietly napping on her fleece mat at my feet.
This was not to be. Actually workingfor any length of time, soon seemed like a distant memory. Ellie seemed much less like a sweet little puppy, and more like the whirling Tasmanian devil I recall from cartoons as a child. Even my husband, more dog-savvy and tolerant of puppy foibles than I, was heard to mutter on several occasions, "I think there is something wrong with her." Listening was clearly a totally foreign (or selective) skill on her part for many weeks, and there seemed to be a great deal of confusion as to who was actually the pack leader around here. Averaging about every forty-five seconds, I was either taking something out of her mouth that didn't belong there, saving my elderly cat from her puppy exuberance, or removing her from somewhere or something that is off-limits. (And I'll spare you the potty-training details.) My life was quickly reduced to a pocketful of "cookies" (food being the only thing that motivated Ellie toward anything that even remotely resembled good behavior), and a vocabulary consisting of, "no", "leave it", "sit", "stay", "STAAAYYY", "off", "leave the cat alone!"...............and the occasional, "goodgirl".
I knew (hoped) things would get better; I just did not realize it would take so long! Over the past two to three weeks and as she approaches five months old, Ellie is maturing and showing signs of the great dog she is going to be. (Big sigh of relief). I no longer find myself in the throes of, "What was I thinking?", my old cat seems to be no worse for wear, and life is gradually resuming some normalcy. So you see?........I didn't fall in a horse trough as some of you may have suspected.
Below are the two small equine works that I have had in progress. I will be assessing what finish work is needed on the bay horse; the grey requires significantly more layering before it is close to finished.
Tomorrow my son returns home from college, and we will put up the Christmas tree. I'm doing this with some trepidation..........somehow visions of the cat running under the tree with Ellie in hot pursuit followed by the tree crashing to the floor keep creeping in. Call me crazy.
Have a wonderful, joy-filled Christmas.........and if you made it through my lengthy 'Ellie-vent', well, thanks for reading. : )
On the drawing board currently is a small piece similar to Wyoming Grey, which was sold at the silent auction for the Colored Pencil Society of America last month. This piece is the first of two or three works of this type that I am doing for an area gallery. I have just begun to put down the layers of detail, and have yet to punch up the darkest values.
I can barely believe that the summer is winding down already. The barn swallows' final broods of the season are about to fledge, and the sand hill cranes are frequently found snacking in the fields as they approach time for their migration. In another week my son -- who has been here all summer diligently attending to his part-time job and full-time social life -- will return several hours north for his second year of college. Sniff. Life holds few guarantees, but change is certainly one of them.
The results of the cowboy boot search, from left to right; Kendra Ferreira, Elizabeth Patterson (CA), myself, Debbi Friedman, and Dianna Soisson ..............and I can't help but wonder -- what does one's choice of cowboy boots say about one? : )))
As is sometimes the case, it has taken me several days to recuperate from my recent trip to Dallas, Texas, for the CPSA 19th International Exhibition. Too much fun tends to have that effect on me. Each year the event features workshops, a silent auction, awards banquet, and opening reception, to name a few of its highlights. In addition to the convention activities (and despite the excessive heat), several of us took the train into downtown Dallas and visited the John F. Kennedy museum: a fascinating slice of history set up in the book depository itself, the location that JFK was assassinated from.
The Charles W. Eisemann Center will host the exhibition until July 31, 2011. CJ Worlein of Oregon took home the CIPPY Best of Show for her piece, "The Sisters", and good friend Debbi Friedman of Massachusetts garnered an Award for Outstanding Achievement for her still life, "Counterpoint in Green". All of this year's award winners can be seen at http://www.cpsa.org/. The following photos are from convention week.
Myself with Dianna Soisson, and Kendra Ferreira
Debbi Friedman, moi', Gemma Gylling, and Dianna Soisson
Debbi Friedman shows off her boot choice
top - "Sea Foam" by Kendra Ferreira
bottom - "Flowers on Tuesday" by Dean Rogers
Dianna Soisson of Michigan with her piece, "Beyond All Boundaries"
With Jeffrey Baisden and Elizabeth Patterson
Ester Roi.......who laughs like this a lot : )
Now time to refocus, and get to work. Thanks for stopping in.
Tomorrow I will be leaving for the Colored Pencil Society of America's International Exhibition and convention week near Dallas, Texas. This event always proves to be five days of great fun and lots of laughter with good friends, as well as a tremendous source of inspiration. A cowboy boot shopping expedition planned originally by several members, seems to have morphed into a virtual CPSA field trip -- so much so that we may do well to rent a bus. (And grant me a 'whine' for a moment: I think I broke a toe yesterday, who's swelling could prohibit me from being able to properly try on boots this week. This could be a catastrophe.) So stay tuned for photos of wild, middle-aged women. Okay, well............ maybe not so wild. : )
My piece Dust and Thunder has been juried into the American Plains Artists 27th Annual Exhibit. The show will be on display in Las Cruces, New Mexico, from September 9 - October 30, 2011, at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. The exhibit can also be viewed on the American Plains Artists website.
Finally, the entire grisaille is completed on my current work-in-progress -- (except for that pesky ear area near the right-hand margin that I decline to show in its entirety at present, and which I have redrawn three times ..........it is a little irritating when I find myself stuck on something in that way, but occasionally it seems simply the nature of the beast) -- and I have begun to put down the heavier layers upon which I will build the details later. After I return from Dallas, I may set this piece aside for awhile in order to work on a couple of smaller equine pieces that need to be completed first.
So, see you on the other side of the convention -- and thanks so much for reading.
This current work-in-progress will eventually depict two black horses, and is once again inspired by the wild horses of Wyoming. The image shows the early stages of my layering with colored pencil. As with my most recent equine drawing, I am putting down a grisaille using the range of Prismacolor french greys (except for the muzzle), in order to establish the shapes and some of the values. There is much ground to cover yet: for perspective, this horse head is nearly 20 inches high.
With this piece, one of my goals is to retain and lead the viewer's eye through the particular -- though subtle -- use of color. As the work progresses, I will be able to explain more specifically what I mean by this - and what it is I am attempting to accomplish.
Each year the Colored Pencil Society of America invites a group of artists to donate a piece to their silent auction, "Small Works of Great Magnitude". This year, Wyoming Grey will be among 36 small colored pencil works auctioned off during the convention week of the 19th Annual CPSA International Exhibition. In addition, my piece Canadian Cowgirl has been accepted into the exhibition. The show will take place from June 29 to July 31, 2011, at the Charles W. Eisemann Center in Richardson, Texas, near Dallas. (I think I foresee a Dallas shopping excursion for more cowboy boots in my near future.) More information, as well as the list of accepted artists, can be found at the CPSA website.
So now, it is back to the drawing board. I have two or three potential ideas swirling around up there, and will probably take a couple of days deciding upon and working on the layout of my next project. Though I would like to develop a portrait or figurative piece of my nineteen-year-old son, he is a rather uncooperative 'model'. It may be necessary to resort to bribery. : )
This image shows the current progress on the Wyoming wild horse drawing. I have been applying layers of colored pencil over the grisaille I discussed in the previous post: various values of grays and beige, black, ochres, and grape. Currently I am laying in the details of the facial fur, starting on the forehead and working my way down -- much to do there still! Though most of the mane, forelock, and eyes are completed, I will return to them to do the finish work. Next post..........it will be done!
The 'model' for my current work-in-progress is a wild horse that was photographed in Wyoming a number of years ago. It will be a small colored pencil piece, just 8" x 12", and as usual I am working on Uart sanded pastel paper.
The image above shows my work to present, and currently looks much more like a graphite drawing than a work in colored pencil. By building a grisaille using the range of Prismacolor french greys, I am developing the general values and their placement. As the subject is a grey horse and other colors in the drawing will be subtle, this technique should lend itself well to the piece. It has been quite some time since I have laid in my base coat in this way , and I am enjoying it. Next I will begin building the details and colors on top of the grisaille.
Oh, and to divert............the barn swallows are back. There are only a few right now, but soon (as I'm sure I wrote at this time last year) there will be dozens of swooping, happy barn swallows in the barn and surrounding sky. Their return always does my heart good, though it feels a little different this year than it usually does. I suspect that this is due to the fact that this past winter has been a most difficult one, what with its losses. There are simply those things that life brings, that change one -- so the little things that have always brought me such joy with the return of each spring season are now measured against the backdrop of the past few months. Its a process.
Upon completion of Dust and Thunder yesterday, I couldn't help but think about how much I have learned from this drawing. Much of it's process has been an exercise in managing discomfort -- a frequent and nagging sensation that what I was attempting to do each step of the way may not get the result I was going for. In retrospect, this feeling was probably born primarily from approaching a subject in ways quite foreign to me..........the dreaded unknown.
During a previous blog post I discussed how controlling contrast can impact composition. Effective handling of contrast can help to lead a viewer's eye through a painting or drawing, and ideally the focal point should have the strongest contrast of edges. With Dust and Thunder, I attempted to impact the contrast through color and edge control. My previous assertion that my goal would be to make the appaloosa horse the focal point, may have been unrealistic -- given the prominence of the two largest dark horses. However, I attempted to draw attention to the appaloosa in a couple of ways. First, in my reference photographs the brightly lit area behind the horses did not extend as far left as it does in my drawing: I extended the brightness behind the appaloosa, to create contrast through both the use of values and color. Secondly, I attempted to keep the edges of this horse's neck and head fairly sharp, as hard edges also increase contrast thereby drawing the onlooker's eye. For similar reasons, I had to work very hard to keep most of the foreground foliage very loose and soft: too much detail there (hard edges) would have distracted from where the areas of interest needed to be. As it is my tendency to feel as if I must place every little detail (okay....yes....I have control issues), this was quite an undertaking for me. Finally, because colors of high contrast or intensity at the margins can pull a viewer's eye out of the image, I attempted to slightly darken the values of the sunlit dust on both the left and right-hand margins.
I have the distinct feeling that the process of this piece and the many things I have learned, of which the above is just a sampling, will change my future artwork: how and to what degree, I do not know. Clearly in both life, and art, there is a lot to be said for pushing oneself beyond one's comfort level.
I certainly don't need to tell any of you from the midwest or the east coast (or the plains, west, and parts of the south for that matter) what a difficult winter it has been. Here in southern Michigan our longing for spring has been encouraged by a couple of days with temperatures in the sixties. I even felt compelled to turn my horses out onto their summer pasture for the first time this season, which was cause for much kicking up of heels. And always a sure sign of spring, my lovely neighbors returned from their annual five-month stay in Florida. Add to this factors such as the sudden appearance of the sandhill cranes for their migratory stop-over, and you'd think that milder weather is a shoe-in......right? But alas; it is not to be, at least not in the immediate future. True to Michigan in March form, we are under a winter weather (what?) watch, and slightly further north is expected to get up to eight inches of snow and up to a quarter inch of ice. I'm. So. Excited.
But enough weather-whining, and on to art-related matters. I'm considering making some changes to the lighting in my drawing room. Currently I have natural light from both a north-facing and east-facing window, and am flanked by true-color lamps with an incandescent overhead -- but I often find that by early to mid-afternoon, depending on the sky conditions outside, I begin to have trouble seeing colors correctly. Upon the recommendation of a friend I've considered investing in one of the lamps that contains both florescent and incandescent bulbs, thereby providing both cool and warm light simultaneously, and am interested in knowing what others may think of that type of lamp. Any comments you could provide about what forms of lighting work best for you and why would be greatly appreciated.
Finally, I have been asked by a couple of artists and friends about the status of Dust and Thunder. Following its most recent update, I promised myself I would not write a post regarding it again until it was completed. Over the next couple of days I am doing little more than the tweaking, and making some value adjustments -- so it is very close. (Phew!)
Thanks for reading, and wherever you are.......I hope it is spring.
Have I mentioned that I don't do foliage? Well, practically. Developing the foreground and foliage under these horses' hooves caused me to wonder..........when did I last execute any form of plant life? After some deliberation (and the 20+ years I quit drawing altogether don't count), I recall it was in a pen and ink drawing in or around 1978. So clearly, I don't do foliage.
Despite this fact, I recently completed laying in the foreground and foliage in "Dust and Thunder". One of my goals with this piece has been to begin to develop a looser technique -- to successfully suggest detail, rather than attempting to draw every detail. Though I'd probably be embarrassed if I knew how many hours it actually took me to develop the foreground, I'm pleased that I seem to have managed to clutch the reins a little less tightly -- in other words, hopefully I am relinquishing some artistic 'control issues' just a bit. (Moi'?)
Presently I am tweaking the darkest values on the horses themselves, then will move on to continuing the development of the dust around the horses' legs -- something I look forward to. With that, as well as the placement of the light source and landscape behind the horses, I will be able to address the contrast issues I discussed in my last post.
While recently developing a couple of preliminary layouts for future drawings, I've continued to work on Dust and Thunder. Below is a photograph taken late this week, during one of its many (smile) "ugly phases".
During my recent research and readings about composition both online and in books, I am increasingly intrigued by the many ways in which an artist can create a dynamic composition by the handling of certain aspects of a drawing / painting -- color, contrast, edge control, and temperature, to name but a few. More specifically as applied to this current drawing, I have been giving a great deal of consideration to how controlling contrast can help to define my focal point. The focal point of a drawing / painting should have the strongest contrast of edges. This can be achieved not only through the use of color and / or value, but also through edge control, with hard edges providing the greatest contrast. Areas of high contrast other than the focal point, can actually pull the viewer's eye away from the focal point. For this reason hard edges throughout an image (guilty!) can be problematic.
In Dust and Thunder my plan is for the area of the appaloosa (spotted) horse to be the focal point. As I develop the background colors and foreground foliage, as well as continue to define some edges and soften others, it should become more clear as to how I am attempting to use the above information to do this. I'm interested to see how the conscious application of the principles pertaining to contrast may effect my drawing, both on this piece and in the future.
Now that the holidays are in the rear view mirror and my son has recently gone back to college, I have returned to the herd of galloping horses that generated so much angst for me when I last worked on them. This work-in-progress has been given the working title, and possibly the final title, of Dust and Thunder.
In a past post I've mentioned that I continue to learn to draw, simply by drawing -- and this piece has given that fact new meaning. You may recall the tremendous anxiety I experienced early in this drawing's process, given the differences from my usual style. I have tended to feel more comfortable with subject matter that is viewed from a close-up perspective, and has clearly defined details and textures. Dust and Thunder on the other hand, is about ambiguous shapes and values, soft edges, a rather tricky source of back-lighting, and lots of dust!......(which is yet to be revealed, as most of it will be laid in after the entire drawing is completed.) In addition, the viewpoint is that of a landscape -- a first for me.
There have been many times I felt lost trying to navigate my way through this drawing: it seemed as if I simply did not know how to put one foot in front of the other. More than once I wondered if I would have to give up on it. But when I returned several days ago to finishing off the values of the two greys in the image, I no longer seemed plagued by the difficulties I was previously having with it. Maybe I just stuck with it long enough.........or maybe I simply needed the break from it that I took out of necessity after the loss of my mother............or maybe recent events have helped to lend a degree of perspective of sorts, about what really is problematic in life -- and what is not. Or maybe.............
Whatever the reason(s), I'm grateful for the learning -- and it feels good to be back in the saddle again, so to speak. A happy, productive New Year to everyone. Thanks for reading.