16 November 2013

Picturing the characters in a book

Today I "worked" from home--I read the book club book for my 6+7 Book Club on Tuesday night. We are reading Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City, by Kirsten Miller, about a group of "butt-kicking girl superspies out to save Manhattan" from an evil conspiracy. The description of the main character includes pale, ice-blue eyes and distinctive white hair, and every time I looked at the cover of the paperback version, I winced at the photo of the admittedly pretty but decidedly regular blonde girl the publisher / cover designer chose to depict Kiki. To me, the author's description indicated Kiki was albino, or lacking any melanin in her skin and hair, something like model Nastya Zhidkova . . .

only of course tougher and way less pouty. So tonight I decided to do my own version. Here it is--"Kiki Strike in Central Park," in the snow, wearing her black hoodie, hands on hips, displaying her slightly challenging stare . . .

Here are the two book covers--the hardcover version (left) with the cartoon Kiki obviously more true to the book than the paperback one (right).

11 November 2013

Watercolor West through my eyes, Part 1

As I mentioned yesterday, I was thrilled to attend the Watercolor West exhibit at the City of Brea Art Gallery. The exhibit included entries from all over the United States, Canada, Israel, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Norway. The show's juror, Ratindra Das, AWS(DF), NWS, TSWA master, selected 100 paintings to represent a variety of styles and techniques, and they surely are diverse. Das said in the catalog that his final criteria was that each painting had "that magnetic quality," and you could certainly feel that in the room(s) as you viewed his choices.

There were quite a few awards in this show, starting with a top award of $1,750, and going down to a $225 "Merchandise Award." While I agreed with many of the choices, there were also pictures that won no award but that drew me for various reasons, so I'm going to post some of both here. (I'm not going to mention which were the award-winners.)

Please note that I am crediting them to the artists, and I hope that none of the readers of this blog will abuse these artists' trust by using their art in any way. My grouping of them here is purely as an additional homage, and for the benefit of those who don't live in California to view them in person, because they're just too good to miss. (If you want to see the whole lot, you can order the catalog afterwards, I think. It's quite good quality reproduction and represents them well.)

I also apologize for the quality and cropping of some of the photos, which I had to shoot to accommodate others' viewing of the exhibit. Some contain unfortunate reflections of the room behind me in their glass.

These first two I liked because they reminded me of the works of members of the California Watercolor Society in the 1940s, such as Millard Sheets, Emile Kosa, Phil Dike, Jade Fon, and Dong Kingman, because of the choice of subject matter, the methodology, and the palettes.

Bill Doyle, Toledo Street Scene, 15x11

Eileen McCullough, Walking Through the Wetlands, 21x13

I loved this one because of the intensity of the color, and the light patterns...

Robin St. Louis, Heart to Heart, 30x22

...while this one is the same, but also for the ultra-smooth technique and almost graphic quality of the figures vs. the background. Unfortunately, reflections marred the faces in this one.

Ruth Ellen Hoag, Hangin' Out, 29x21

These next two are all about the characterizations. While the ultra-realism of the horse picture is amazing, it is completely subordinate to the captured moment; on the other hand, the blown paint and spatters are so appropriate to their subject matter, the crows!

Israel Holloway, Resting at the Gates, 20x20
Denise McFadden, Yes, Dear!, 22x15

Watercolor West, Part 2

If you add too many photos into Blogspot, sometimes it freaks out and starts rearranging both photos and captions willy nilly. After struggling for awhile and losing about a third of my post, I decided to put up this Watercolor West piece in two parts! So on to Part 2.

The atmosphere was what drew me to these next four, which are all very different.

Patricia M. Dispenziere, Play of Light II, 18x24

Look at the reflection on that tabletop, and the light that is so blinding you almost want to squint. The back-lighting of the sewing machine is beautiful.

Fealing Lin, On the Road Again, 15x21
I don't know whether to rave about light, technique, or story in this one, so...all three!

Marilyn Miller, Printemps, 30x22
The color. The color! Wow, the color.

John Salminen, One Way, 36x24
The wealth of detail, the night-time palette, the storytelling...

This portrait blew me away:

Phyllis Tseng, Maybe, Just Maybe, 12x16
The combination of the smooth, subtle tonal transitions in the background with the almost splashy delineation of features with vibrant color in the foreground was delicious, and add to that the accuracy and detail of the features themselves...really impressive.

This next picture grabbed me because of its colors and simplicity that felt almost like a fairy tale illustration. There was also a technique evident that I would love to know how to do--I wish I could have tea with the artist and ferret out her secret! Around the edges of things, there are little tiny outlines of different colors, almost like there are multiple underwashes--yellow under the blue, orange under the yellow, green under the orange--that she very carefully left to peek through. It's really hard to see in a photo, but it gives an enchanting quirkiness to this picture.

Joyce Hicks, Depot by the River, 24x18

And my final choice had that "magnetic quality" the juror talked about, from the flow of light to the beautiful color transitions to the wealth of story. If I absolutely had to pick a favorite, I think this would be it.

Htun Tin, Serene Village, 21x29

So there you have it--my top 16 out of 100 watercolors. But honestly, there were another half dozen I could have put here in their places with equal satisfaction and pleasure, and who knows? If I saw the exhibit again next week, I might choose a completely different set to share.

This exhibit daunted and awed me, but it also inspired me. There were a few paintings I could imagine myself maybe being able to paint, a few I could aspire to soon (with hard work), a few I could maybe master with another couple of years (or maybe a decade!) of study, and some to which I will never presume. But it definitely made me see what vision, perseverance, and talent can produce!

Watercolor West, Part 2.5

Blogger strikes again, or else I am just not properly educated in its use. Anyway, three photos got dropped when I was trying to distinguish between captions and text, so I'm reposting to include all of my original 16 picks.

I liked these two because of their color palettes and all those confetti-like bits of color and white left to sparkle through. Also, in both, a really nice use of shadow and color together.

Judi Betts, Sea Prince, 30x22

Dan Burt, Piazza del Mercato, 22x30

This one was also all about the color. (Also, I like sheep. They're just such ridiculous-looking critters.) But it wasn't enough for the artist to make those sheep and their landscape improbable colors--she also did this interesting stripes-of-color overlay that gave the picture added dimension and interest.

Ellen Jean Diederich, Wool Patterns, 22x14

Since I'm adding photos anyway, I decided to throw this one in as well. There were several paintings in this show that were amazingly über-realistic--you could reach out and pick the flower or bite the piece of fruit or be stung by the bee! I have to say that realism in watercolor isn't so much my thing--while I have great respect for it, I have always liked a more expressive, interpretive style better. But props to this artist--I would never attempt this in a million years and frankly don't see how he/she did it! (Look at that fabric! the shine on the fruit! the shadows and folds! Wow.)

Chris Krupinski, Plums, Apples and a Yellow Rose, 22x30

10 November 2013

Watercolor West and Thomas Schaller

Yesterday I was privileged to see the 45th Annual Juried International Exhibition of Watercolor West, "An International Transparent Watercolor Society." Anyone can be a general member of this society, but in order to be a "juried member," you have to have had a painting accepted/exhibited by Watercolor West, and that's a pretty exclusive group that includes some amazing artists.

My cousin Kirsten and I first happened upon Watercolor West purely by chance. Even though I had been a watercolor student for several years, I hadn't sought out groups or attended many exhibits. One weekend when my parents were still living, Kirsten and I went to visit them in Riverside. We ran an errand downtown for them (I think we returned books to the library?) and stopped into the small Riverside Art Museum to see what they had on display, since it's practically next door. We walked into the exhibit hall and were dumbfounded by the bright and stunning array of watercolors--it was the annual Watercolor West show. They have also exhibited at the San Bernardino County Museum and at the Brand Library in Glendale, and this year's show is at the Brea Cultural Center Gallery. It runs through December 15th, so if you are local, be sure to make a point to see it in the next five weeks--definitely worth the trip.

Yesterday I went on purpose to sit in on Thomas W. Schaller's artwork demonstration. Really, because they gave him from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (with a lunch break), it was half lecture/slide show and half demo, and full of wonderful hints, tips, details, and demonstrations.

Schaller had a 20-year career as an architect and architectural artist in New York City, and now lives and works in Los Angeles as a fine artist. His artwork shows a definite preference for architectural subjects, yet he has weaned himself from the "rendering" style used for architectural illustration to create a looser, wet-in-wet methodology that is all about story-telling with light.

A few random words of wisdom from his demo:

Find the lightest light, the darkest dark, and the midtones and let those tell your story--the eye follows the light. What advances your story? What do you put in, what do you leave out to best tell it? Identify your center of interest and don't get stuck in the details.

Paint beyond your canvas--ask questions by not containing your image within the arbitrary page. Envision your scene beyond the boundaries, and then paint just the part that interests you while keeping your eye/mind on the rest as well.

Remember what you see or photograph, but then when you start to paint, toss it out. The paper becomes your world, and the actuality was just a suggestion to inform your painting's reality.

When working on the final painting, don't overdraw first. It slows down your brush and your brain once you start to paint.

The most important elements of a painting, in order:
1. Story
2. Design (composition) -- arrangement of lights and darks
3. Values
4. Color--complementaries and how they meet--warm/cool, what dominates

Decide on your focal point for the painting. Whatever it is should have the most detail, precision and interest.

ON COLOR: Don't over-buy or you will be overwhelmed by "over-choice."

Schaller prefers sedimentary rather than staining colors--grainy and neutral, lightfast, transparent. His favorite color palette is complementaries -- gold and violet, blue and orange. There is a danger of going to mud, since complementaries mixed make gray, but if you can maintain their integrity in parts of the piece, the contrasts are wonderful.

ON BRUSHES: He owns many, but finds that he uses only a few--squirrel mops, because they hold a lot of water and are not as floppy as sable. Synthetics because they hold a nice point, but they don't hold water. He doesn't use flat brushes much, because they don't hold enough water for his style. He sometimes uses a filbert brush for linework, railings, detail, and a "rigger" for things like high wires.

PAPER: He uses rough, toothy paper to give a "sparkle." Also, both wet and dry-brush work well on it. He prefers 140-lb. to anything heavier because the heavier papers (like 300-lb.) soak up both water and pigment. (He doesn't like it when he paints something and comes back to discover it has dried three shades lighter than he thought it would!)

There was a lot more, but I don't want to bogart all his best material! (He does teach workshops too!) You can see his portfolio here, broken down by location.

Here is Thomas with the demo painting he did for us in the afternoon (I wish I had gotten a better shot of both of them--the beautiful sky is almost completely lost in this--but with 50 other people and their cell phones gathered around, I was lucky to get this one!):

A few notes on his process for this painting:

He turned the painting upside down to do the sky first, because the light in the sky and its reflections onto the water and beach were the focal point, and also so he could maintain the horizon line. He starts with the horizon and then works up and down from there. He paints clear water into the sections where he wants to maintain the white/light, and then paints around it and slightly into it.

He reminded us that gravity is just another tool--tip it up, tip it down! Move your paper to help your painting. (Someone in the audience quoted Sargent as saying that "watercolor is making the best of an emergency.")

He paints in the reflections (i.e., those reflections of the stanchions holding up the pier) before he paints in what they're reflecting, because he needs the reflections to be painted wet in wet to give them that blurry look. It seems counterintuitive, but it works!

Remember that the focal point you have chosen for the painting stays the focus because you have given it the most detail and precision--everything else fades back and is painted less carefully and with more neutrals--the "number two" values.

You can spatter clear water into a damp wash to get sparkles in the water.

Don't forget about reflected light (for instance, under the pier).

What a great experience this was! Tomorrow, I will share my favorite paintings from the exhibit and why I liked them. But if you can, go see it for yourself!