Afraid of Life?

(This made a really good, attention grabbing title, I think!) Of course, what I mean is, are you afraid of drawing from life? Many artists do find it an experience that ranges from  intimidating to frustrating to really overwhelming.  The practice of taking a three-dimensional object and converting it into a flat image on paper is indeed an exercise that engages many different skills and parts of our brain. Aside from carefully posed still life, buildings and landscapes, many subjects will not hold still and allow themselves to be drawn!   Many students of the human form have the additional issue of how to go about  obtaining a willing model and consequently spend a great deal of their practice time using photographic resources or else have to deal with the prospect of studying themselves in the mirror.

What are we all to do? Well, many modern-day artists resort to photographic references, something that has never been so available as a resource to us as it is today. Even 20 years ago we would not have the ability to take our own photos and upload them to enlarge on a computer screen, to instantaneously have the reference of our choosing. Nor would we have the option of going to a copywrite free website, such as Pixabay and picking through hundreds and thousands of images for the one that fits our idea, inspiration or whim.

Since the advent of the readily available photographic reference, the art world seems to have become somewhat divided about whether the reality of this is actually a good thing. Some argue that a slavish reproduction of a photograph in the style known as photorealism barely qualifies as art and is rather, a mechanical skill. Others argue that it is an available tool that everyone should use as they like. The term “Art” means so many different things to so many, so, why shouldn’t what constitutes the doing of art be whatever they want it to mean also?  Still others are deeply concerned with the aspect of copywrite and stealing of ideas or a composition without permission. We live in a complicated world and personally, I think every artist who deals with photographic references must make their own decisions and choices, based on what they personally believe to be the truth of the issue and what they are ultimately comfortable with in their practice of art.

For myself, I have lately begun to feel that I have been spending too much time using photographic references for people and that it was making me a little afraid of life drawing. I don’t know about you, but when a tool starts to feel too much like a crutch it makes me kind of uneasy. Photographic distortion and the misrepresentation of color are two real issues that life study will help raise awareness of.  I have drawn from life, rather spasmodically, for most of my adult life and I would love to become more confident about it!  So, with this thought in mind and a little encouragement from a fellow blogger (Thanks Flora Doehler!) I have decided to embark on some life drawing practice. My youngest daughter and fellow artist has volunteered to be my on call model and I have (sort of) made a committment to attempt a shortish life drawing session about 3 times a week for as much of the summer as I can manage. (It’s the summer, I have to allow myself room to be a bit flexible or else I will miss a session and just give up -probably!)

Above are a couple of my attempts from this week ~ It felt really good to be doing this and getting back to basics with a charcoal pencil and some white paper. I shall be reporting back on how this is going throughout the summer! I am hopeful that I will be up for some plein aire modeling sessions by the time my vacation rolls around – but, we shall have to wait and see!

How about YOU? – do you have any thoughts and comments on this topic? Have YOU set yourself any specific challenges for the summer? 🙂


Everyone Should Play!

This is something I firmly believe applies to art and the doing thereof.  “They” say that kids should be allowed to play because that is how they learn….well, so should adults, but we don’t necessarily like to call it ‘play’, do we? And, so to do adults learn whilst they play.  The term ‘play’ could be used synonymously with the term, ‘experiencing enjoyment’. We all need to experience enjoyment doing the things we love, we all need to play!

This week, after a short spell of non-art doing (which often follows a period of rather intense challenge, for me) I cleaned up my art room and then I set about playing with some of the new art supplies I ordered from the Dick Blick catalog.

The picture above is the result of me playing with Panpastels – These rather unique pressed powder pastels are made in Kutztown, Pennsylvania – just 1 1/2 hours drive from my house just North of Philly. I got myself a basic starter set of 5 colors, which comes with a couple of ‘tools’ one of which is a finger shaped piece of rubbery stuff and the other is like an eye shadow applicator. That’s what it is like – painting with eye shadow! The colors are highly saturated and there is very little dust AND the other thing that is very interesting to me is that you can erase them, completely and entirely, with a vinyl eraser. Very fun indeed and it looks like they could be very useful for clouds and anything really that requires no huge amount of detail and some very soft blending….I shall continue to explore and have FUN and report back later!

Don’t forget to play and have fun with your art!

Face a Day May: Final Episode

Wednesday was the end of May and the conclusion of my self-imposed challenge – to draw or paint a face, every day for the entire month of May.

As I promised in my last post, here are the remaining faces – 13 in all – Yes, I DID IT!!!! That girl in the bottom right hand corner just about sums up how I feel about that…pretty joyful!!

This has been a tough challenge for me – May is not traditionally a month where I get a lot of artwork done. My garden is screaming for my attention, Summer is poking its head around the corner and my kids and the end of their (Cyber) School year are demanding my attention left and right in ways that are, well, actually pretty exhausting!

Showing up to do it has been the hard part. Choosing a subject was also sometimes really challenging, because the discombobulating effect of a day swapping around in my various home schooling duties, tends to leave me feeling incapable of deciding anything else for that day! But, the overruling thing, for me, has been that, once I got started, Every single time, I would descend blissfully into the zone and all the stress, angst and whirling thoughts of the day would just drop away – just me and whatever lovely face I had before me and the challenge of doing it justice on the paper in front of me.

So now I am sat here pontificating about what this whole challenge has done for me? Here are a few thoughts that I have had on the subject ~

I have always been someone who can’t stand to show my art to anyone else unless I deem it to be the most perfect effort I can make it. So first and foremost this challenge has been something that has forced me outside my comfort zone and made me show in public, on Facebook especially, pieces of work that are technically on the low side of what I consider my ‘best effort’. Why is this a good thing? Because it helps me get my head around the fact that others don’t see my work as I do and just enjoy it for what it is and often don’t even notice those things that to me, stand out like beacons that scream. “Mistake, Mistake, oh look, she MADE A MISTAKE!!”

I specifically chose faces of random strangers, from, because that way, people viewing them wouldn’t be caught up in the deal of ‘oh that is a good likeness of so and so’ and trying to figure out if this or that relative or friend of mine was an accurate depiction.

I tried to pick a variety of faces, different ages and cultures, boys and girls – To be honest I love all faces, to draw or paint and the main thing that prejudiced me against one picture over another was the lighting of the subject – when you do this many faces in a row, you become hyper aware of what is going to be an easier deal to draw and what isn’t – flat contrast is not my friend and it is true what they say, the best subjects are always those that are well-lit with some good interesting shadow on part of their face. A face is composed of a number of rounded masses and it all becomes very flat in the absence of light and darkness.

I am surprised at how many of these I did in watercolor. I am not really a big watercolor artist, but this medium is relatively quick and easy to get effective results with my tiny paintbox of 12 half pans.  I do have it set up to favor portraits  and it was an excellent opportunity to hone my skills with this medium before vacation season hits and I am off on my travels with nothing but a handful of sketching supplies and the aforementioned paintbox , a pad of paper and a couple of waterbrushes.

I was also surprised by how well that first face I did with white chalk on black paper turned out – I was just messing about and trying for variety of media and that was the only black piece of Shizen Pastel paper that I had. I have ordered some more now as I liked that better than the later ones I did on the pad of black Canson paper I got.

This challenge has given me a chance to try out a lot of different things in a short time and to compare and learn about what works and what doesn’t – I think it would have been really boring if I had just stuck with one medium and a narrow range of subjects. It even gave me practice at taking ok photos of a broad range of mediums and not always under perfect conditions and often in a hurry!

All in all I am pretty pleased with how this went and I heartily recommend this kind of thing for anyone who wants to try and stretch themselves and find out more about themselves in relation to the thing they love to do ~ Go for it, make your own personal challenge and give it all you’ve got and be prepared for some surprises along the way! 🙂



Artistic Collaboration

The girl on the left is one of last weeks faces from my Face a Day May challenge. I am still going with that challenge, but decided not to post about it this week and instead wait until the end of the month, which is only in 5 days time!!

Anyway, this girl’s story is that she began as an experimentation with my recently acquired Sennelier Pastels a’l’Ecu. I left her sitting around in my art studio, looking a bit forlorn…..and then…a couple of days ago, my 15 year old daughter told me she’d been looking at this girl and felt sorry for ‘her doinky face’ and was it ok, Mum, if she had a go at fixing her?! Having no particular attachment to this piece, I said, ‘sure’.  My dear daughter is well known for her on and off doing of art and I tend to jump on any opportunity to encourage her to DO some.

So, she picked up those dusty little sticks and set to and out came this cute face!! She shaded the hair as a brown, single tone, lump, so then, of course, I just HAD to have a go at the hair myself.

Now we both feel that girl is doing a whole lot better! I think we should BOTH sign it, don’t you??

Short post today, it IS Memorial Day Weekend, here in the US, after all – Happy Weekend, to you, folks, Memorial Day and otherwise! 🙂

Face a Day May: Episode 3

I’m still going with my challenge to draw or paint a portrait a day for the whole of this month! Still going….somehow!

This week was a busy one in other areas of my life. Doctors appointments, Orthodontist, a Keystone Exam for my daughter (Algebra 1, two mornings in a row….YIKES!) I have three kids who are home schooling – Cyber Schooling, to be exact. I like to call myself a “home school facilitator”, because that’s what I do – everything that allows it to happen and be successful.  Let’s just say that doing art is a part of keeping my sanity.  I have been really grateful for this sort of self-created reason to show up and do art, every single day, this week.

I often find the hardest part is choosing the subject, especially when I am tired. Tiredness makes me super picky.  Some faces are much more challenging than others and so I am on the look out for something that will suit the time I think I have to dedicate to the task that day. I always look for good lighting, a flattering angle and yes, variety, in my subjects.

A quick summary of this weeks efforts.

Saturday was the cute little girl with the hat and dark hair. Water color with a pencil under-drawing. I really had fun with the loose flowers and grasses in the background.

Sunday; a sleeping baby’s face. I am so drawn to newborns and young babies. Some artists would rather run a mile than try to get a likeness of a newborn, but I am a mother of three and part of me wishes I had some really rocking photos of my own offspring to work from – but I was only drawing faces with my eyes, back then and not really responsible for the photography, either!

Monday and Tuesday; a two in one picture, a bride on Monday, followed by her new hubby, in Sepia. White chalk and Sepia on toned tan paper. This one was a first because I have never attempted to work from a vintage photo before. Don’t know who they are – random people on . It turned out quite well, I think. There is a certain smoothness to the skin on these antique photos that is very flattering to their subjects but takes a certain amount of very delicate blending with a paper stump to replicate.

Wednesday is a self-portrait – just a short session in charcoal in front of the mirror. I am trying to psyche myself up to do a longer version, maybe a painting, even.

Thursday, I picked the older guy with the moustache. He was beautifully lit, with an interesting face – lines and wrinkles, weathered and deeply thoughtful expression. I started in pencil as the under-drawing and then water colours….This one was hard to put down and I spent a whopping two hours completely engrossed and in ‘the zone’.

Finally, today, Friday….just a quickie! 30 minutes of watercolor.I think I got the gist of this little girl, though I managed to age her quite a bit. It is hard to get more than the gist of anything in 30 minutes and I kind of wanted to keep going, but, I had to go out to the supermarket and do some Friday afternoon kind of errands.

That’s it folks!

Happy Friday! I don’t know about you, but I’m REALLY looking forward to doing some ART tomorrow!!!

Teeny Tiny Works of Art.

Near the end of last year, a friend of mine on the Art Forum I belong too, introduced our membership to the concept of Artist Trading Cards.  These tiny pictures are made and traded by artists of all ages and abilities, all over the world.  There are few rules, but each must be 3.5 inches by 2.5 inches and they are usually traded in an agreed way often between two artists, but sometimes in groups or on special websites and never for cash…that would make them ACEO’s and not ATC’s. ACEO stands for “Art Card Originals and Editions”.

These modern day minatures are fun to do. Especially if you are like me and a huge lover of fine detail. I like to paint mine, in Acrylic and I often use brushes as small as “000”!  Sometimes I even use a magnifying glass. The real beauty of these things is that you can produce a completed piece of work in a really short time and feel super productive. How else can a slow poke such as me ever complete 3 pictures in an afternoon?

Because of the size, it can be a challenge to choose an effective subject for your composition.  Not everything works well in such a small size. I know that in the old days artists would paint a portrait of someone small enough to fit in a locket around their neck, but, personally, I would have a tough time doing a portrait that had any real resemblance to the subject in such a small scale! Flowers, insects, landscapes and individual still life type items (a cup of tea?) all make great subjects. I recently found out that the Philadelphia Museum of Art has a HUGE collection of people’s left eyes, as minatures……what’s that all about?! An eye would make a great ATC too!

Here are the links to a couple of ATC card trading sites that I like the look of, though sadly, I do not really have the time to take this on as a way of life! (which is a juried site, you have to submit some kind of portfolio of your work to join) and also  a more general site, for all skill levels. Maybe this is something that piques YOUR interest? Are there any other casual and intermittent ATC makers out there?? Drop me a line and tell me YOUR ATC or ACEO story!

Above are some examples of ATC’s that I have painted – don’t be fooled by the collage effect, they are all the same size in reality. Some have been traded, many have not. When I make an ATC for someone specific, I often make 2 or three and then decide which one I want to send them! – I also have a small but growing collection of cards I have received from my JWJ Artforum friends ( ) . It’s like Christmas when one of those shows up in the mail for me…I love it!



Face a Day May ~ Episode 2

So here we are: Friday again.  I have been diligently showing up and doing my face a day for 12 days now.  The collage at the top of the page is the total of what I have produced this week. I reported on the first 5 days last week.

If you are mathematically sensitive you might be aware of a niggling feeling in your brain at this point – why?- Well, yes, actually the collage contains EIGHT pictures and not seven.  That’s because I was feeling especially motivated, last Saturday and I actually produced two faces for that day – the mans face, top left and the woman with the scary expression (she sort of fascinated me and only took 5 minutes, so I let her join in!) Those two were from an hours gesture drawing session, courtesy of  a website that provides gesture drawing practice, on demand. I suppose I could have included the other 11 or so gestures….but, they are mostly 30 second of 1 minute efforts and not much to look at.

Then there is the girl with the cute, short hair and the warmly lit face.  I painted her after a long, crowded, visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Sunday. Her inspiration was not directly from the Art Museum but, tangentially so, instead. The special exhibit at the Art museum, until May 15th, contains a number of (mostly water-color) works by Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent. It was Singer Sargents awesome work that I mainly went to see (sorry, Winslow, your work is cool too, but Singer Sargent is truly the master of light AND PEOPLE) …..Anyway, long story short, I looked at Singer Sargents work and came home wishing that I could’ve also seen the one piece of his that I love over all the others, “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” (which resides in the Tate in London) and THAT is where the girl comes from.  She is actually one of the daughters of an illustrator friend of his  engrossed in painting paper lanterns, at twilight.

The next face, is from Pixabay. Something about this young boys liquid brown eyes and soulful expression caught my eye and got me busy with the old water colours, that night! I will say, I did not really expect to be using water colours all that much, in this challenge. I really didn’t – But, they’re a quick and effective way to add colour into the mix!

Tuesday I was really tired, so it was a quick, 20 minute, baby-face. Chalk and charcoal on toned grey paper.  I notice that when I am tired, my judgement is usually off and things go awry, faces are very sensitive to such things and a small inaccuracy can make huge changes to how a person is perceived.

Wednesdays face is the biggest picture. The one I feel most pleased with, this week – you can tell I was feeling much more peppy and this was 50 minutes of intense “zone” time! Chalk pencil on black Shizen Pastel paper was just super effective for this boy with his wistful look. It is an odd sensation when you reach a certain point in doing a face and you look at it in its entirety and it seems to be almost moulded out of the paper, rather than a flat representation of a face.

I finished up the week with a quick 10 minute effort in Sepia and white chalk and a more leisurely old man face in pastel pencil of about an hour.

Phew! Part of me is really surprised that I have managed to do a face a day for 12 days in a row, so far.  I have never done anything like this before! Though I have painted a drawn more than a couple of hundred faces, over the last few years.  It makes me feel mostly really productive, happy, zoney, and sometimes tired and ready to give up! But, most of all it teaches me that even if I am tired, if I can show up and get started, something worthwhile will come out of it, even if it is only 10 minutes and when I say,”worthwhile”, I am not necessarily taking about the visual result on the paper, either 😉

Face a Day May

Seems to be a bit of a ‘thing’ with us arty folks….doing challenges. I couldn’t find one that I fancied, so, I invented my own – “Face a Day May”. The object of the game is to show up each day and draw or paint a face, any face at all, any medium, any time span taken to do it and then post it up somewhere on social media.  I have been posting each one, the day after it was done, on Facebook.

So, for blogging purposes, I decided to post my pictures in chunks, as they are done. I do not want to post on Facebook, the art forum I belong to and here on my blog….Every Day!!! That would probably kill me!

The point is to get myself to do more art and especially faces, which are one of my favourite themes, and to have fun with it! (and of course, give myself a good regular dose of time in “The Zone”!

As you can see above, I have, so far, managed to do one a day for the 5 days of May that we have had. I am trying to not be too ‘samey’ about it, and try different mediums, different types of faces.

So far I have done two in water-colour – a medium which I mostly only use when I am on vacation. It’s quick and effective and clean up is minimal. I only have a tiny plein aire box with 12 colors and two brushes, one of which is one of those ones that hold their own water in the barrel.

A couple of the faces were more like the type I do in gesture practice, chalk and charcoal on toned pastel paper. One was on a putrid pink paper…..just to use it up!!

Four faces used references from Pixabay, the site I like to go to for copywrite free references.  I just go there and punch in a fairly off the cuff, random search word, like “Kids faces”, “Pensive”, “Laughing face”. It’s fun to see what shows up and I have to watch myself not to become too picky when choosing as that wastes my precious art time!

One face I did direct from my imagination – just to see what came out and well, all I can say is that it was, weird, gender neutral, sort of ageless and not very convincingly real….Is this the sum of my memorized technical knowledge I wonder??

Anyway, I’m having FUN with this challenge, so far! It doesn’t feel like a chore, though sometimes I’m not all that willing to show the results to other people! Will I be so happy about this particular challenge by this time next week? Hmm, we shall see! I do really like how productive it makes me feel, too – that aspect is AWESOME!

What challenges have you given yourself lately, and how was it? Did you manage to complete the whole thing? Did you learn and improve from it? Do you think popular challenges are more fun because they are, well, popular? Or are you someone who likes to taylor make your challenges to suit yourself??

As always, your thoughts and comments are most welcome!


The Zone ~ Is it an Antidote??

Lately I have been pondering the whole thing about the experience of “Flow” or “The Zone”, and how come it makes us feel so wonderful and awesome and might it in fact be the diametric opposite of the zombie like state that many hours of vacuous staring at a screen can induce?

Pretty early on in my journey of art I discovered that although there are times when I have to make a huge effort just to get myself to show up and DO the work or art, there are also other times when I can’t wait to get down to it and I can immerse myself for hours and it feels effortless, timeless, and well, as if some kind of power were just flowing through me and onto the paper or canvas.  After such a session I am left with a huge sense of well-being, relaxation, fulfilment and peace. This, I have discovered from poking about on the internet, is the experience of what artists (and also musicians, writers, sportsmen, dancers and many others who love what they do) call the experience of “Flow” or being “In the Zone”.  Flow is not necessarily something that a person can just conjure up whenever they feel like, it is more a case of something that happens when the conditions are right for a particular person at a particular time.  Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, a Hungarian psychologist, theorized that it is necessary for the level of challenge and the level of interest in the task to have to be balanced in order for one to experience ‘the zone’   According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.

In other words you have to really WANT to be able to do a particular aspect of art and then you have to go at it at the point where you are stretching your ability and in an area that is interesting to you.  This could well explain why many artists tend to reach a plateau in their work from time to time….it’s either because they are not pushing the envelope enough so something has become boring or old hat to them, or else because they are trying to force themselves to do something that is too far out of reach of their current skill levels. There are two solutions to this, either back off and regroup and try a different way of doing it (a way that is more FUN!) or, push on and keep showing up, until, one day…there you are, in the zone, your 20+ hours of practice got you there!

Well, maybe some of that is a bit over simplified – But the overruling point is that we need to be challenged and engaged at exactly the right levels in order to gain satisfaction from what we are doing.

So much in modern life does not do this, so many of us are ruled by time and the demands of modern society – you need to have this (buy it, buy it NOW, not next week!!)or earn this much,or do this to be happy…..We are bombarded with opinions, trivia, emotional blackmail and the general fabulousness of the lives of people we only know in the most superficial of ways on social media or wherever we are seeking human contact. Our perception of reality has become, unreal.  What do we do? Well, there’s a reason so many people take up a hobby to deal with the stresses and strains of modern life….GET IN THE ZONE, my friends! 🙂

What’s YOUR opinion on this? Have you experienced ‘The Zone”? If you have, do you experience it regularly and does it act as an antidote to the other things you have to do in life? Do you have any tricks or ways of getting in “The Zone” that you’d like to mention? Do you think it is possible to get addicted to being in “The Zone”

If you read this far – Well done! and thanks for reading this! Comments are, as always, most welcome!

(The picture above is a water-color painting…painted mostly “plein aire” one very Zoney  afternoon at my in-laws old house – It’s called “Peggy’s Pond”.)

Is It Done?

With this piece there was a definite feeling that it was finished.  The paint on the Sta-Wet Palette was a combination of too sloppy or sort of crusty, with bits in and therefore, no longer viable.  Sometimes I can keep the paint in an ok state for almost 3 weeks, but I did not try all that hard, this time and so it reached this state at about 10 days of sitting and I was sort of glad, because, well, it just nudged me that little bit more to put the brush down and step away from the picture!

The other thing that prompted me to stop was that I actually had a very distinct feeling that if I did another brush stroke it would make things worse and not better.  I even did a couple of things and wiped them off again, immediately! Acrylic can be removed like that, if you are quick!

The final sign was that I was starting to nit-pick….when I start to worry about this hair and that eyelash and the detail of the earrings….it’s time to call it quits. It’s easy to lose the freshness and spontaneity of a painting by working and working it….I hope I didn’t do that this time! The desire for photo-realism is still strong in me and I need to remind myself constantly that I am actually aiming more in the area of convincing realism and that something else to do with atmosphere, character and likeness.

My daughter looked at the finished result ~ she’s 13 and a pretty accomplished artist, for her age.  She went extremely quiet, even for her, and I could see she was torn and conflicted about what to tell me about this alternate version of herself. This piece of art.  Finally she spoke, “Thanks for letting me see it, Mum, I only show MY work to people I trust”.  This really means that it yucked her out and that is not how she sees herself, at all! Probably she would rather be portrayed as a mysterious elven girl with a lantern!  I will keep it and see what she has to say about it when she is 26 or maybe 39.  At her age I would have been super yucked out too! To me, though, she is beautiful!