Isn’t the internet great? Just to name a few things, you can find information on almost anything you search for, watch video tutorials of all kinds, find old friends or others with like interests, easily keep in touch with almost anyone and join online art groups of all kinds! When I start a search, I’m looking for one specific thing, but often I see something that leads me somewhere else. I did that early last week. I read an article regarding the “Clandestine Cake Club” which began in the UK and has spread to many other countries. As I understand it, it started as a type of “underground” group of people who love to bake (and eat) cakes; they meet monthly in a pub or somewhere else, each bringing a homemade cake. It intrigued me – I LOVE cake and baking! Hmmm-I wondered if there are any such groups in Washington state, and maybe even near me… So, I “Googled” it and, while I didn’t find any such group locally (darn!), what I did find was almost as interesting. It was a listing for “Meetup” which is basically all types of groups formed for all types of interests-and something I was totally unaware of. I found there seems to be quite a Meetup movement here and I just had to look into it further. There were quite a lot of rather oddball-seeming groups, but also a few groups that caught my attention, including a photography group (not just for professionals) and one called “Stitch ‘n Bitch” for hand-crafters. But, not wanting to join more groups than I have time for, I chose the one that seemed perfect for me – the one art related, Spokane Sketch Club – and joined. At this point, I must mention that, in my opinion, one of the greatest things about the Spokane area is our abundance of beautiful public parks. The first meeting was Saturday at the one that I feel is the best of them all-Manito Park. I went and met up with two other members in the Duncan Gardens (a very formal garden in the park) – Don (the founder of the group) and his friend Kenny. It was a small turnout, or maybe others were there and didn’t find us, but a beautiful day in a beautiful setting. We visited and sketched from the back of that garden. Of course I didn’t create a great work of art-or even one I like very much. But the whole point is meeting more local fellow artists, learning and sharing with other members and simply drawing more. In my case, practice may not make perfect, but it most certainly does make improvement, which is what I am always after-improving my eye for perspective and composition, my drawing ability, my techniques, my art in general! I am a watercolor artist, but in order to paint in watercolor, I must be able to compose and draw the picture first. Only time will tell, but I am intrigued by this group I joined and look forward to more “meetups” and to meeting more members. Maybe the best thing about it is that it will force me to get out in my own community and appreciate all of the artistic opportunities right here in my “own backyard!” So, whether or not you join a group, get out there with your sketching materials, paints or your camera and enjoy what your city has to offer!
Busy days go by and sometimes I don’t even get into my studio. That bothers me because I know that the surest way to be a better artist is to work at it every day. As anyone who has taken a class or workshop from Stan Miller knows, he always tells you how many hours he works at his art each day and and makes it clear that it’s the only way to improve. Here’s a quote copied from an interview with him (published in: http://www.watercolourfanatic.blogspot.co.uk/) “If one wants to be really good at something one has to desire to be good more than nearly everyone else, but this means you have to work harder than nearly everyone else!” I really try to practice that myself – although usually not the 8 hour days Stan puts in – but life just seems too often to get in the way. I know I’m not alone in that. But I do have a real desire to practice, learn and improve and there simply are no shortcuts.
While I was dismayed to realize just how long it has been since I added a new post, I have had numerous ideas for paintings and have filled many pages in my favorite sketchbook with preliminary drawings of those ideas. One is in process – another floral – and another is drawn on my watercolor paper waiting for me to get past the “scared” I feel at trying yet another something new. But I needed to just finish something now, even a quick painting. And again I found inspiration online. This time it was a Facebook group page called “Paint Colorful Birds for Fun” that I just ran across a few days ago. Each week a new bird photo is posted and you can paint and post it – just for fun. Last week’s photo was of a “Lilac Breasted Roller”, a beautifully colorful bird that I had never heard of. I have been afraid to even try to paint birds in the past and now here’s my second one in less than a month. Not that they’re masterpieces, but it’s practice and I’m challenging myself to try something different! To do something quick, I resorted to my trading card size again, but this time I tried out my Derwent Inktense pencils on the bird, touched it up a little with gouache and painted the background with watercolor. And it was fun.
Busy, busy, busy… But after missing a couple of days, I’m in my studio today and was inspired to finally finish a clematis painting I started several months ago! I have looked and looked at that partial painting and wasn’t sure where to go with the unfinished section. Suddenly today I knew-so I finished it! It is another small painting at just 6.5″x 9.5″. It was so sad just sitting there waiting for me to figure it out Now it’s a happy painting because it finally got the attention it deserved. So, here is the better late than never “Clematis Twist.” So if you’re feeling uninspired, just take a look at those unfinished paintings and maybe you’ll suddenly know too!
Another installment from Wetcanvas. I can virtually always find something to inspire me there! This is from the March 2013 Watercolor Challenge (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1309534), a simple picture of red tulips. The reference photo quality isn’t as good as normal, but it’s still something workable. I have had such “spring fever” for weeks now and this beautiful spring tulip was irresistible to me. I’m pretty happy with this floral and I think it came out better than the lily painting-mostly the simple background.
When I miss posting for a day or two, you might think I’m having a problem with inspiration myself. The contrary is really true. Since I began this blog, I’m almost overly inspired-if there is such a thing. It really does seem like everywhere I look something inspires me for some type of painting-and I’m following through and actually painting many of them! A while ago, I saw a YouTube video by artist Susan Crouch where she mentioned that she always carries a small notebook to write down her ideas when something comes to her. This is not a sketchbook; it’s just a simple little lined book to make notes in when inspiration strikes. It’s a great idea and I have begun doing that because I have been getting so many ideas for using sketches I’ve already made or photos I’ve taken. I used to just scribble something down on a scrap of paper and then lose track of it. I certainly could make a quick sketch in that little book if time allows, but that’s not the actual point of carrying it. So, I may not post every day, but it doesn’t mean I’m not working on (usually) several paintings. The other thing I find always find inspiring is the arrival of spring, my favorite season. I love seeing all the birds that have returned, the flowers beginning to grow and bloom, the sunny sky-just everything about it! Since I also like painting flowers, I’ve been focusing more on that subject. The “Plant Parade Project for February 2013” on Wetcanvas subject was lilies. I planned to paint something from their references last month for that challenge, but I didn’t get to it until this week. I made a quick lily drawing in that same 6×9 sketchbook several days ago; yesterday I began a watercolor of that sketch. It’s a small painting, about 7 x 10 on Arches 140# cold press, again painted with various artist quality paints. I think my background needs some work-too busy-but I’m sharing it with you anyway; not every painting is as good as I would like.
I have been working on a painting based on a tutorial I received from www.painters-online.co.uk. That is the website for a magazine printed in Great Britain, The Artist. I love the articles, examples and tutorials that come in the magazine or on their website. Frequently the watercolor paintings are softer and more muted and that style appeals to me very much. I understand that comes from the light being softer there, the atmospheric conditions, etc., but the overall effect is just beautiful to me. So, I practice that style of painting sometimes too. My art education here has emphasized stronger colors and contrasts for the most part. I understand the reasons and do not disagree with that style, but my brain seems to gravitate to something softer. This is somewhat a combination since there is some strong contrast, but it still has that very soft-light effect that I love. I have just placed a narrow mat scrap around it to show where I thought the painting should be cropped. But I ask you-is it done yet?
March 11 – Having no responses to my question and having stared at this painting every time I’m on the blog and every time I walk into my studio, I declare this painting finished. I love it just as it is!
I logged into Wetcanvas again yesterday just to see what the new March challenges are. I happened across one in Southwest and Western Art, which is an area I had not explored, so I had obviously not seen the challenge previously. Here’s the link if anyone wants to check it out: http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1309531. In looking through the reference photos, a pine cone at the base of a tree grabbed my interest. I cropped it close, drew it in a 6″x9″ Bee Paper Super Deluxe sketchbook and shaded it with graphite. It was messy and fun to do and certainly not what I would have thought my next drawing would be. But have you ever really looked at a pine cone? I don’t mean when you’re in the yard picking up those endless pine cones from your (or your neighbor’s) pine tree. I mean really studied the structure. They are beautiful and fascinating and a real challenge to draw. I hope I did it some justice
I find inspiration through many other methods too. I love to cook, garden, knit and crochet. To me, it is all creative and being inspired in one area often leads to inspiration in others. One thing I do when I feel blocked and “fearful” of that plain white paper is to repeat in my head what my first watercolor instructor frequently said, “It’s just a piece of paper. Walk up to it and paint it!” Another great method I use is to look through photos I have taken over the years on various trips-and I have hundreds of digital photos on my computer like that. You don’t have to go somewhere exotic to find beautiful and wonderful subjects. In fact often all I need to do is go into my own back yard. Roses or petunias blooming, a hummingbird stopping by for some nectar; I find nature in abundance there and it’s beautiful and inspiring to me. I have been inspired driving home a different route and seeing something totally unexpected-like the authentic Victorian house I saw and photographed when I had no idea there was any such thing within a mile or two of my home! Take a walk through your neighborhood with your camera; go to one of the parks in your city with your sketchbook. There are never-ending sources of subject matter if only you pay attention and see things through your “artist’s eyes”!
The references for these two paintings are photos I took last summer. “Petunia and Friends” was based on one of my planters and “Mirabeau Springs Waterfall” from a walk through a local park. See-beauty and inspiration everywhere you look!
I was writing about “getting my creative juices flowing” by working from Lian Zhen’s video. For the first few projects, I pretty much followed along as best I could with the splattering, blowing and then trying to make that look like something – hopefully like what I was supposed to be painting. As I progressed through the lessons, I used my own references with freehand drawing. Here are two more of my paintings from that video session done in that manner, although the reference for this owl practice is his. The owl painting is in a Bee Paper Super Deluxe 9″x12″ sketchbook while the bison is done on 140# Saunders Waterford cold press watercolor paper, 11″x15″. As do most watercolor artists, I have a large collection of paints in a variety of brands, all of which are artist’s quality paints. The best paintings I’ve done? Hardly! But by this time I was having fun with the processes and, after all, it’s all about practice, practice, practice… How else do we improve?
You just never know what your source of inspiration might be on any given day. Today is a perfect example. I had a post almost ready to upload and then I saw a Facebook post by my close friend, Jeanne. She had changed her profile picture to her beautiful painting of her beloved cat, Blue, who they lost this week. While I am heartbroken for Jeanne because she’s my friend and because I know how painful losing a four-legged family member is, her loss inspired me to get into my studio and start a painting of my cat, Reenie. She (Reenie) was recently very ill with a liver ailment and has apparently, with a lot of work, money and prayer, recovered fully, for which I am very thankful. So why not honor my beautiful, now healthy cat in the same way? I’ve meant to do a painting of her since I got her two years ago. What better time than now?! While you’re reading about my inspiration, I’ll be in my studio setting aside everything else to do exactly that. And, with Jeanne’s kind permission, I am sharing her story and her painting of Blue.
“Blue” by Jeanne Wallace
Inspiration – a subject that is as varied as the methods and minds of artists. So, beyond logging on to Wetcanvas, I have many other ways to find my “muse” after not being actively involved in my art for a time.
I have a nice library of art books, both instruction books and inspiration books. Lian Zhen’s books are some of my favorites. While I have not been fortunate enough to attend one of his workshops, any of his books or videos are wonderful. I love his style; I am pretty much challenged by the methods that he uses with such ease. But challenge is good, as is learning new styles, media or methods.
I have worked from a couple of his videos on www.artistsnetwork.tv, the most recent one is “Watercolor with Lian Quan Zhen: Splashing & Blowing.” This particular video does not incorporate any Chinese painting techniques, just own his watercolor style. He covers several subjects on this video, moving along fairly quickly, so I grabbed sketchbooks, odd pieces of watercolor paper, whatever was handy to try out some of his lessons. Here is my quickly done attempt at his crab painting, painted in a watercolor pad that isn’t really top quality. Not the best result, but the more I worked from the video, the more comfortable I was with the methods. In addition to being challenging, I think it’s a lot of fun to try new styles and I also find it very inspiring!
After a brief absence from my studio, foremost on my mind right now is exactly that – finding inspiration. Some days it is as simple as a quick glimpse at one of my pets or looking out the window at a beautiful flower or bird. That isn’t always the case, but I find that the more time I spend drawing/painting, the more inspired I become. So after that hiatus, now what? Usually one of the first things that comes to mind is to log on to Wetcanvas, which is free-to-join worldwide online art community ( www.wetcanvas.com ). There’s not much you can’t find there: tutorials, a royalty-free image reference library with over 10 million photos, monthly or weekly challenges in pretty much any/all mediums, art by other members that will inspire you and that you can enjoy and critique-basically, something for everyone regardless of your medium!
So, of course, that is where I turned first. And what I ran across was a huge challenge to me – a self-portrait challenge! First, I don’t often do portraits anymore and second, a portrait of me? Well, I decided to try my hand at it for the first time, just a quick pencil sketch of myself from a photo that I like. So here it is, my first self-portrait (and perhaps my last) done in about 15 minutes with the mechanical pencil I had at hand, too little shading and in a 6”x9” sketchbook. Sharing it makes me feel a little like I’m walking naked through the mall!