Sunday, 28 July 2013

Bits and pieces

I should really post more often, with deviantart and facebook I tend to forget that I've got a website too.
A few little snippets of bits and pieces to show you this time. Having recovered from my acrylic brain fog I completed a new painting in watercolor just to get myself back into the idea of not failing :). It's called The Shaman's Child and is a combination of two sketches. I just love painting rocks!

The Shaman's Child © Shona M MacDonald 2013
All Rights Reserved

Next up is a little bit of scupley-ing and fimo-ing. I bought a big chunk of flesh-colored fimo, hoping to avoid the 15 minutes per quarter inch sculpey complications I had with my troll. But I've found I'm not so keen on sculpting with it. It has a springy-ness to it that makes it harder to shape tiny details so I went back to the sculpey in the end. I'm wondering if a combination of the two blended together might work - that's an experiment for another time. So, anyway, I made a bunch of heads, just for practise really and to try a different painting technique to the 'cover it all in thick paint' method I ended up using on Troll. Using a very watery mix of acrylic and wiping most of it off between layers I managed to keep some of the translucency of the sculpey's flesh tones which made me very happy. I did complete a couple of fimo heads too but I haven't baked those yet


Other things I'm working on include a companion piece to the 3 Hares Yuletide painting I did in December. This one is for Lughnassadh (or Lammas) and celebrates the first grain and fruit harvest of the year. I've sketched out a further three 3 Hares pieces and intend to create 8 in total for the eight festivals of the wheel of the year. Or perhaps 12 and make it into a calender, I guess it depends on whether I can cope with painting 36 hares :D

And finally, the thing that's been occupying my brain for the last week, was the sudden urge to paint some ACEOs (an excuse not to paint another hare, I think. At first anyway.) It started innocently enough. A little 2.5 x 3.5 inch bear on an off-cut of watercolor paper. I tried out some new white gel pens I bought, and dusted off a tube of metallic gouache tempera I'd forgotten I had. One became six and now I'm seriously considering the idea of making an oracle deck - bigger paintings, more details, but based on these little ACEOs at least in part. It's another mad idea that will probably never get finished (I know what I'm like with things like thing only too well), but I always think, with things like this, that while it may start off as a grand 'big' idea, even if I don't finish it, at least I'll probably get a couple of decent paintings out of it...

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

I'm an idiot!

You might have noticed that I haven't written a blog post for quite a while. I took a long break from the web starting in February because I was feeling directionless and overwhelmed by too much imagery and information, unable to concentrate. I wanted to spend some quiet time, to think about my art and what I wanted to do with it. I had also decided, for a lot of stupid reasons as it turns out, that I was going to learn to paint with oils.

But, y'see, I have a watercolor brain. Years and years of working with my W&N paints and I know every pigment in my palette like the back of my hand - which ones stain and which can be lifted out; which ones granulate, which ones streak; the opaque; the transparent; the best mixes. I know just how much water to hold in each brush. And I know which brush strokes to use to create the effects I want. When I look at one of my drawings on the paper I know how to start painting it. I'm by no means a master of my craft but I'm fairly proficient, I think.

When it comes to oil painting however I know very little. I did a couple of oil paintings when I was in high school - they were terrible - and in the following twenty-odd years I've never used them again. But, undaunted, driven by all the wrong reasons, I started finding out about oil painting. It has RULES that I didn't know about before, rules you can't really ignore unless you want your paintings to crack, dull and yellow in a few years time. And you have to plan your work. Oil paintings take a long time to dry. You can't just keep noodling away at them or you'll end up with a smeary mush of color. Which means waiting for days for layers to dry before moving on. My watercolor brain isn't used to that. It isn't used to any of it.

But despite returning to Deviant Art and announcing (rather prematurely as I since realised) that I had found my focus again, I was determined to perservere with this new oil painting thing. I cut and primed some boards and began a series of four little paintings. But I had to let the backgrounds dry before continuing. 2-12 days it says in the books, depending on the pigments used. So what to do in the meantime? I turned to the acrylic paints I have stored away, thinking they would be good practice for me in blending, getting used to the consistency of the paint, working with white as a pigment. For a week I worked and worked every spare moment I had. I must've painted the sky six or seven times. Once or twice I thought I might be getting somewhere, most of the time I just despaired of ever figuring it out.

Then late one night, trawling the web for tutorials, I found another artist's blog, an artist who does the most exquisite acrylic paintings, and began reading. But it wasn't advice on technique that I found. Instead I read her story of dreaming of being a successful artist, her struggle to find her way and the advice given to her by one of her friends. That advice was quite simple - learn one thing well. Those four words got stored away in my brain as I went back to the painting, to work on that damn sky for the eighth time. They took a few days to really sink in but then the full force of them hit me.

So you see, good people of the blogosphere, I am an idiot. I mean, seriously, WHAT was I thinking. I've invested years in learning to paint with watercolors and I was going to put it all aside to start at the beginning again for no other reason than because I'd seen some artworks in oils that were so enchanting and beautiful, created by artists who no doubt spent at least as long as I have learning their craft. The little trickster voice that lives in my head had whispered to me, "You could do that. You could learn to oil paint." This is the same voice that is now laughing at me. "It was only a suggestion," it tells me. "I didn't mean for you to get in such a mess with it. You didn't have to listen."

The acrylics have now been consigned to a drawer, where they belong. The oil paintings are still unfinished and drying. I haven't decided what I'll do with them yet. Perhaps I'll photograph and post them one day so you can have a good laugh. And if you ever see me threatening to divert from my beloved watercolors again you have my permission to yell at me and call me an idiot.

Because that is what I've been.

As a result of all of this stupidity I have no finished pieces to show you so instead I urge you to visit Ravynne Phelan's website and emmerse yourself in her beautiful art and wise words.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

So here comes 2013. Where did last year go? I think I said that already, didn't I? I had to wait until the cats had worn themselves out battering fabric baubles up and down the hallway to get some peace to finish the Three Hares but here it is with it's digital background - the original, in white looked okay but I prefer this one:

3 Hares - © Shona M MacDonald 2012. All Rights Reserved

There are lots of 'how to' books and tutorials out there in book and on the net full of great information and techniques for artists, but few people write about the thought processes behind creating a painting. So I  thought for the next couple of posts I'd talk a bit about what goes on in my head when I'm starting to work on a new painting. The inside of my head isn't always a good place to be but I'll try to keep to the stuff that might be useful :)

Sometimes ideas, usually the simpler ones, arrive in my head fully formed, sparked by something I've seen, a few lines in a story or a poem. But at other times an idea will grow more slowly, building up from a sketch, to become something I had never imagined when I started doodling. That's the kind of painting I've just started working on so I thought I'd take you through the thinking process I went through to get to the final drawing stage before I began painting.

When I set out to start my (less than successful) August Sketchbook Project last year I'd gathered together a bunch of images I thought might be helpful - stock photos, magazine clipping that might be starting points for drawings. I picked a stock photo by kebehut-stock that seemed to suggest some possibilities but with no real idea of what I was going to do with it. I just liked the pose:

After quickly drawing the outline of the basic pose I began changing some of the facial features. Although I didn't quite know where I was going with it I at least knew I wanted it to be some kind of faery creature. As often happens I hit a point of a sort of auto-pilot while I was scribbling away. I LOVE auto-pilot. I do my best stuff when my conscious brain is worrying about other stuff and lets my sub-conscious have a go with the pencil. So it wasn't an entirely conscious decision to make it a woodland spirit but that tends to be where my brain veers off to when I'm not concentrating. I love the intricacies of branches and twigs tangled together. As I was drawing I was already looking forward to the pleasure of painting those strands of twisted bark.

The one entirely conscious decision I did make was in choosing which type of tree she would be. This wasn't, at this point at least, anything to do with the pose but more because  I love painting those little berries, so she became a Hawthorn. I noodled away a bit longer on the drawing, shading, adding detail and filling it out. As I was doing this the lines of Kipling's poem from Puck of Pook's Hill came into my head:

Of all the trees that grow so fair,
Old England to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the Sun,
Than Oak and Ash and Thorn.
Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn, good Sirs
(All of a Midsummer morn)!
Surely we sing no little thing,
In Oak and Ash and Thorn!

And that was when the idea for a much larger painting started to form.

Next post I'll go through the next phase of the process - working out the other elements, lots of staring into space and the drawing of a hundred leaves... 

 Snippets - bits of things I'm working on