A Day in the Life…

This post is inspired from one of my co-workers, Jenny, who asks me questions on how I organize myself and how I start my day.  Believe me, I take my creative time very seriously.  Let me give you a quick weekly briefing:  Five days out of the week I work at University Art Center in San Jose and factoring in commute time I’m out of the house for about 11 hours.  Usually one of the remaining two days of the week is spent teaching.  Time is precious and here is an example of how I spend my day “off”.  Enjoy!

angel-breakfast6:30 – Wake up.  If I treat myself I’ll lay in bed and cuddle with my girls until 7 .  Let the girls out of the bedroom and into the backyard.  Turn on the classical station, make coffee, slice up strawberries into some cereal, turn on computer.  Have breakfast with my umbrella cockatoo, Angel, while reading e-mails.  I have included a photo for those who are unfamiliar of what it’s like to eat breakfast with a bird while trying to type on your computer.  Spend a couple hours getting computer stuff out of the way, this includes reading about upcoming competitions, checking out any interesting art articles, social networking, and updating my website.  Angel sits on my lap and I give her scratches with one hand and type with the other.  She talks to me with her limited vocabulary:  “Apples, Happy, Angel, Hi” and I repeat what she says back to her (I am very well-trained).

9:00 – Let girls back into the house because they are standing by the back door.  Head out to the field to say hello to the boys.  Throw some hay into the feeders, change the water, put on fly masks, rake up manure.

9:30 – Let girls back outside, make a chores to-do list.    I allocate one singe solitary hour of my day to household chores and one hour to studio chores.  My list might look something like this:

Clean floors
1 hour studio
Sweep back patio
Water plants
Organize desk
Clean kitchen counters/stove
E-mail Joe Blow
Organize studio

The trick with the to-do list is to be ok if you don’t get everything done on the list.  I start some laundry and spend exactly 1 hour house cleaning.

girls-roosting10:30 – I repeat this practice with my studio.  There is always something that can make my studio more efficient.  Whether it’s straightening, organizing, building a fixture, going through some old canvases, or just plain cleaning the windows, I spend one hour making that room better.  I let the girls into studio and they roost on my area rug.  While in the studio I think of my art project for the day.  Do I work on a commission?  Do I practice encaustic?  Do I prepare a sample painting for an upcoming class?  Do I paint something for myself?  I figure out what I want to do and begin to gather materials.

11:30 – NOW MY DAY BEGINS!  Since it’s gorgeous outside in the fall I arrange my workspace on the back patio.  I put a chair near my easel and Angel perches on top of it.  Maybe I’ll set up my IPad camera to record what I’m working on, I might have a notepad nearby to take notes on my process.  Now I start to play.  The afternoon is devoted to art and I delight in having my animals around me while I paint.  In between paint layers I’ll give Angel a scratch and discuss the apple situation with her:

“Oh good, I’m glad there are apples.”
“Yes, thank you for letting me know about the apples.”
“Really?  I had no idea about the apples!”

1:00 – Figure out a quick lunch and continue to work.  If I’m lucky my husband is at home and puts a plate of food next to my palette. If my husband is not at home I stroll down the road to the little taco truck on the corner.  The girls roost around the yard.  I throw them some tidbits from my lunch.  Angel watches them gobble up the treats.

2:00 – Check on boys, refill their water buckets.  If it’s hot I’ll spray them down.watering-Romps

2:30 – Put Angel  back on her cage so she can have some food and water if she likes.  She promptly climbs down to sit with my husband on the couch. Continue working.  If I’m outside I adjust my easel periodically because the light changes.  Change my water, refresh my palette.

5:30 – Head back out to the field and tuck the boys in for the night.  Hay, water, take off fly masks and apply scratches.

6:00 -The light is fading and the wind is picking up so I begin to close up shop.  I find that if I try to color match this late in the day to something I mixed earlier in the afternoon I end up with an off color.  If I plow through this (knowing full well that the light is completely different) I make color errors and I am fixing rather than paining.  This only applies when I’m working outside in the natural light.  I dump my water, put my paint tubes back in their bucket and bring the painting into the studio.  I thoroughly clean my brushes in the sink with my favorite brush cleaner:  Master’s Brush Cleaner.

The rest of the evening – Have dinner with all life-forms in the house, usually while watching a cooking show.  I can paint ’till the cows come home but put me in a kitchen and you’ll end up with cereal or PB&J if you’re lucky.  So I live vicariously through the cooking channel.  Everyone’s ready to go to bed so I cover Angel’s cage with her blanket and turn out the lights.  By this time the girls are already roosting on their towel behind my pillow.  As I drift off to sleep I think of how I’m going to continue on the art project I worked on today.  Or what color I’m running out of.  Or that I still need to move those boxes out of my studio.  Or that I should really build those wood panels.  Or…

I’m a Sore Loser

Salsa Caliente

So you paint your heart out.  Blood, sweat and tears go into your masterpiece.  You feel good, you feel creative, positive energy is oozing out of your pores.  This is awesome, this is the best piece I’ve ever painted, this is a winner; this is the golden ticket!

When you run a race, you’re going for the gold.  You’re not thinking, “That silver medal has my name on it!”  You train, you get inspired, you focus. You line up at the starting line alongside your fellow competitors and firmly plant your feet in the starting blocks.  With the finish line in sight, you visualize yourself breaking through that tape.  The gun goes off and you shoot out of the blocks like a rocket.  You submit to a show.

Time seems to stand still and the waiting game begins.  The notification date arrives and you check your inbox.  You think, “Maybe I missed the e-mail?  Maybe I wrote my e-mail down wrong (double check entry form).” When the sun sets on the notification date you really start to get creative.  “Maybe it’s going into my spam folder (double check e-mail settings).  Maybe they’re sending me a special letter instead – did I write my address down correctly (double check entry form)?  Yeah, that’s it!  A secret, special letter written especially to me about how especially special my painting is!  (double check mail box).” Then you get it,  “Thank you for submitting, unfortunately…blah blah blah.”  REALLY?!  It is at this point you still see the finish line tape, only it’s wrapped around someone else running down the track with their arms in the air.  You didn’t win, you didn’t even place – you’re one of the chumps wheezing their way trying to catch up with a cramp in their side.

Your mind begins to swim with questions and you ask yourself “Where did I go ‘wrong’?  Maybe it’s her head, maybe it DOES look like a lima bean.  Was the piece too small?  Was the piece too blue?  How dare you call my kid ‘ugly’! Maybe I should just focus on teaching, why do I even bother painting?”  So you catch your  breath and begin to do the only thing you can: mope.

Moping is a wonderful self-pitying action that draws attention to yourself because that’s what you really want, right?  So you do your best impression of a corpse lying face down, spread eagle on the bed with her head buried in a pillow.  You’ve gotten into juried competitions before – what gives?   What was their criteria?  “What do I need to do – create a vision board?!”  Note to self: buy poster board, magazines and glue sticks.  Who the hell got in anyway?  Of course your friends get accepted and you make plans to go to the opening reception.

So you go to the opening to support your friends because they crossed the finish line before you, but really you go see who the heck got in, what it took to get accepted, and of course, who won the grand prize.   You congratulate them, put on a good face, and act like it you’re not bothered what-so-ever when people ask you “Where’s your piece?”  You most definitely do NOT show people your painting on your phone and ask why the h-e-double hockey sticks am I not in the show?  By the end of the evening you’ve given yourself TMJ from saying “congratulations” every fifteen seconds.   Sound familiar?

Ok, cry baby, pull your big-girl panties up…you’re better than this!

Alright, let’s take a closer look.  I’ll break this part of the post up a little differently to emphasize these points.

1.  So you paint your heart out Good start.  You should ALWAYS paint your heart out.  There are two sides to the coin when you think of your piece as a “winning” piece.  A) You value your piece and see it as achieving greatness (more on this in future posts…) B) You’re painting for the competition instead of for painting’s sake.  Finding the balance and maintaining it between these two sides is key.

2.  You’ve gotten into juried competitions before – what gives? Ahhh…complacency.  I looked it up.
[kuh m-pley-suh n-see] A feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like; self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation, condition, etc.
When you believe that certain competitions are a no-brainer boy do you deserve to get smacked upside the head.  You can’t be passionate and complacent at the same time.  Which do you think the jurying panel is looking for?

3.  “Where did I go ‘wrong’? Why do I even bother painting?”  Well that’s a good question, why DO you bother painting?  Is the sole purpose of putting paint to canvas to win the blue ribbon?  “Where did I go ‘wrong’?” can be flipped to “Where can I ‘improve’?”  See the difference?

4. Moping.  Get over it and get over it fast.  The people that do not get past the moping stage will never be great artists.  Moping is an attention-getting scheme and it is not artistic at all.  Can you imagine Robert De Niro thinking to himself, “How come I wasn’t offered that part?  Don’t they know who I am?  I mean come ON!  If anyone wants me I’ll be sulking in my bedroom eating a quart of Ben & Jerry’s!”  MOVE ON, PICK UP THE BRUSH, WHAT’S THE NEXT PIECE, WHAT’S THE NEXT COMPETITON?  Even if you got the grand poobah prize you should be thinking “What’s the next step?”

5.  Vision boards.  I might jest, but an important part of personal growth is positive visualization.  Yeah, sounds a little bit new age but think of it this way:  do whatever it takes to get you pumped up to do what you are passionate about.  If this means pinning up magazine clippings, photos, famous quotes, rejection letters or a postcard of a cat dangling from a branch telling you to “Hang in there!” then DO IT.

6.  Who the heck got in anyway?!   Oh this one’s a peach!  With this attitude you’re going nowhere fast.  Resentment is a big piece of baggage that’s so heavy you need both arms to carry it.  By resenting other’s success you don’t have the open arms to welcome your own triumphs.   Support your friends and when they ask, “Where’s your piece?” just tell them it didn’t get accepted, it didn’t get invited to the party, it’s at home washing it’s hair, whatever floats your boat.  Your friends believe in you and you should believe in them.

7.   What’s next?  This is just one competition, it’s not the only competition, it’s not like you didn’t get picked to get on the space shuttle to continue the human race on some distant planet.  Use rejection as a form of self-evaluation instead of self-deprecation.  Keep submitting.  Keep improving.  Keep painting.

I really enjoyed writing this post and if you found it helpful, interesting, or even infuriating I would love to hear your comments.  Follow my blog “The Fearless Painter” for more of my art process insights.

"Possibilities About" by Holly Van Hart
“Possibilities About” by Holly Van Hart

Come check out the inspiration behind this blog post!
2 shows / 1 reception date “Salon at the Triton.  A 2D Art Competition & Exhibition”
& Holly Van Hart “Possibilities Abound
at the Triton Museum of Art
“Salon” runs from: December 6, 2014 – February 8, 2015
“Possibilities” runs from: November 23, 2014 – February 14, 2015

Reception for both: Friday, December 12, 2014, 6:00-8:00 p.m.

Face to Face With My Comfort Zone (part 2)


Now that I’ve got the itch to get back in the classroom I signed up for another workshop: “Making Faces with Charlie Levin”.

The months passed and boy was I excited!  As the weekend drew nearer I began researching Charlie’s work and chatted anyone’s ear off who’d listen about my upcoming adventure.  I had prepared extra boards to bring because I just knew I’d blow through them like popcorn.  The day before the workshop I began researching portrait work that I found inspiring. For my reference material I had printed out a small collection of Francis Bacon’s self-portraits as well as one of my favorite paintings by Johannes Vermeer, “Girl With a Pearl Earring”.  My proverbial bags were packed.

The next day driving to Wax Works West I had my radio on full blast, “I’M WALKIN’ ON SUNSHINE! WO-OAH!” When I arrived and smelled the delightful aroma of melted beeswax the butterflies in my stomach were flitting every which way. Man, I was pumped! After the usual meet and greet we were able to watch Charlie in action. She spoke about line work, seeing the face sculpturally in terms of facial planes, shading techniques, proportions, and how to use this information to define a specific face. After watching her translate this information into an encaustic painting I was chomping at the bit to get my hand in some wax (figuratively speaking of course). We were allowed to begin practicing the demonstrated techniques and loosen up.  The picture above was my first piece of the day where I practiced integrating each technique.  Yeah!  Point for Jaya!webBLOG-6-sketches

I also enjoyed working on thumbnail sketches.  Multiple renderings of the same face helps you become very familiar with facial features, shapes, planes, shadows, etc…I easily forget how much I enjoy just sketching (note to self: do more of that).  Initially we worked from high-contrast photos with dramatic lighting but eventually we sketched from very flat-looking, blurry photos as well.  She touched on a point that I thought was very important: draw what you’re seeing verses what you think you see.  I appreciated the challenge and was instructed to stick with the soft, blurry photos for my reference.  Charlie handed me a very alien-looking out of focus photo of a child, “Try this one out!”  I wasn’t fond of the image so I put it aside and found a soft-looking black and white image of a geisha.  This one was also blurry and flat so I decided to practice from her.

webBLOG-6-geisha-1I felt I was quite familiar with this geisha by the time we jumped into the wax.  We continued with the thumbnail theme and worked on 3″x3″ Bristol paper.  This was a challenge in of itself – I had never really sketched with wax before and I was using an Enkaustiko’s slanted bristle brush which was quickly becoming my new best friend.  Working so small forced you to not get lost in the details.  And don’t even think about fusing!  I am the fuse queen – smooth seamless wax surfaces?  Fuget about it!  Charlie’s work is super textured with dynamic brushstrokes and she doesn’t worry about fusing her pieces.  So for two days I put the torch on the back burner (pun intended) and embraced the textured brushstroke.  What I learned from the geisha was that I was working too opaquely.  I could build up layers of un-pigmented wax medium instead of just laying down WHITE.  This was an eye-opening revelation.  Take a closer look at the 3 geisha thumbnails.  (left) My first attempt (middle) Charlie’s example (right) my second attempt.  There are two sides to the coin with this type of layering.  On the one side you can build up beautifully transparent layered highlights.  On the flip side the build up creates a 3D effect.  Did I mention how I covet the flat encaustic surface?  By building up these layers I totally had to release the flat surface.  Tough to do, but hey, I came here to learn so flat surface OUT THE WINDOW!  Smooth brushstrokes OUT THE WINDOW!  Fusing OUT THE WINDOW!  Charlie came by and gave me some advice and instruction, “Why don’t you give this one a whirl?”  Out comes the blurry alien child and once again I feel my blood pressure rising.  I thought to myself, “I don’t like this picture.  I don’t like babies.  It’s not that I couldn’t paint this picture – I could paint it if I wanted to.  I just don’t want to.  I hate this picture!”  Once again I put it aside.

“Sweet Little Bullet” detail. Gouache on panel. In my comfort zone.
Encaustic studies. Out of my comfort zone.

Day 2:  By this time I realized that my masterpiece study of “Girl With a Pearl Earring” wasn’t going to happen.   I was also secretly disappointed that I hadn’t painted anything “pretty”, especially because I’m darn good at painting portraits and I know my way around encaustics!  I can paint a rockin’ portrait!  I teach encaustics – I should know how to do this stuff!  What are the other students thinking when they look at my pieces?  How come this is so hard?!

Ahhh there it is…My comfort zone!

Oh internal dialog how ridiculous you are, but thank you for being there to remind me that I need to get back on track.  Let me summarize the above paragraph:  I don’t know about you but artistically speaking I hold myself to a very high standard.  I teach art so I should know what the heck I’m doing.  This means I must produce “good” pieces.  What does a good piece of art look like?  Something produced with skill.  What I had been working on was not skillful therefore it was “bad”.  My encaustic comfort zone is creating smooth surfaces with calculated brushstrokes.  When you are in your comfort zone there is no room to grow, I mean, why would you need to?  You are already good at whatever it is that you’re doing.  In your comfort zone you can paint pretty pictures ’till the cows come home.  When you are out of your comfort zone it feels uncomfortable, unnatural, and awkward because you are in unfamiliar territory.  Only then when you are faced with a challenge do you have the opportunity for personal growth, to learn new skills.  It was at the beginning of day 2 that I realized I was way out of my comfort zone.  Well about time – now I can get down to business!

My frame of mind changed instantly.  I am in Charlie’s class and I am going to learn what Charlie has to teach how Charlie’s going to teach it.  Where’s that alien baby head?  I spent the remainder of the class practicing the same techniques, only this time I didn’t care if the final product looked “good”.  I was really able to let loose.  During the rest of the day I thought about the many parallels between taking this class and my own students.  It was like a spotlight was flipped on:   practice what you preach.  A common quote of mine is “We are not here to re-create the Mona Lisa”.  At the beginning of each of my classes or workshops I make it very clear that I could care less if you paint a beautiful picture.  All that matters is that you understand the techniques.  Mastering the techniques will allow you to paint a hundred beautiful paintings on your own outside of the classroom.  This, of course, does not stop the attempt of painting something pretty.  Soon the “frame-worthy” painting attempt takes over and technique takes a backseat.  Some students come into class with an agenda (to paint a pretty picture to hang on the wall) and these students will have the toughest time.  Here I am coming into this workshop with my Vermeer print out and my multitude of extra panels.  Talk about an agenda!  me-and-charlie

Once I came face-to-face with my comfort zone I was able to recognize it and change my frame of mine, thus totally shifting my classroom experience.  Something I wasn’t expecting to gain from this workshop was a renewed appreciation for my own students.  Every class they come to I take it as my responsibility as a teacher to challenge them and in doing so provide them with room to grow.  And they keep coming back!  That says a lot about their bravery to face their own comfort zones.  By the end of the “Making Faces” workshop I felt honored that my students keep coming back to paint un-pretty pictures.  I can only hope that I am brave enough in my future learning experiences to continue to face my own comfort zone.  Only in this way will I breakthrough to new artistic heights.

Thank you Charlie Levin!

Face to Face With My Comfort Zone (part 1)

Thanks for tuning in!    Before I jump into my own personal experience I thought I’d first build a little foundation.  I decided to break the subject of the “comfort zone” into two parts to really emphasize the importance of this phenomenon.

I taught a watercolor workshop over the summer called “Kick Start Your Creativity”. It was a fairly intense 3 days. Aside from watercolor technique the underlying focus of the workshop was breaking through creative roadblocks and reconnecting to inner creative impulses. It was a very personal workshop where each student was confronted with their “comfort zones” and worked to overcome them. I’ll tell ya, these gals followed me down the rabbit hole and out the other side. It was an awesome and emotional experience and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

The COMFORT ZONE is a cozy word for “trap”. It is a very alluring place to be. It’s a safety blanket. It’s “pretty”. It’s also a cage with golden bars. Everybody has their own comfy, toasty, delicious little comfort zones. An ongoing exercise in the workshop was learning how to recognize them. This is the first step to breaking through them.

me-paintingArtistically speaking let me give you an example: The painter sits down to her canvas and paints a beautiful bouquet of flowers. I mean it’s breathtaking. Perfectly composed with masterfully rendered petals, soft light, thoughtful colors, the works. She looks at the painting and decides it’s finished. She places the canvas on a stack of other beautiful floral paintings and decides to make herself a cup of coffee. In the kitchen she stirs in her sugar as she looks at her other lovely bouquets hanging on the wall and sighs. She decides to take a walk so she grabs her coat from the closet; she needs to move a few more of those gorgeous paintings out of the way to reach her jacket. Outside she strolls down the street to a café and orders a sandwich. There is some local art and photos hanging on the wall so while she waits for her turkey club she looks at them. They’re not finessed gallery-quality pieces but she is drawn in nonetheless. The black and white photos are simple and the paintings are bold. She is mesmerized by the different-ness of the art and is inspired. She takes her sandwich back home and brings it into her studio. Rejuvenated from her outing she decides to try something new, pulls out a blank canvas and begins to paint. BAM! Bold colors. BAM! Big brush strokes. BAM! She shoots from the hip. A couple hours into the painting she’s feeling pretty good so she stands back to assess her progress. After a few moments in front of the canvas her thoughts wander…“Will people like this? Will this sell? What if this doesn’t work? Hmmm…I’m not too sure about this.” She begins to tighten up a few of the brushstrokes here and there. Soon her abstract brush strokes begin to resemble petals. “OK, this is more like it.” This feels a little more familiar so she continues. The initial bold brush strokes are eventually whittled down and the raw colors become over-thought. After another hour she steps back to look at her work and she sighs. She takes the canvas off the easel and leans it on the wall next to her other pretty paintings.

Yes, this piece was different from her usual work but it lost the initial energy she felt when she first sat down. The sense of adventure, the new-ness, got too scary and she fell back into a safe place. She knows she can paint a successful floral so she began using those tools to get her back on track. There’s nothing wrong with using the tools you have, but when they become your default you can be stunted by “what you do well”. Of course this example goes beyond the floral painter who wants to loosen up, beyond the abstract artist who wants to try photorealism, or the classical violinist who has always wanted to experiment with jazz. I most certainly have my own comfort zones, heck I even have comfort colors! Never fear, Jaya – Green Gold to the rescue! I work on recognizing my little “safety nets” and then I confront them head on. If you never challenge yourself, how do you grow? How do you reach your full potential? I mean, it’s your own personal glass ceiling and the funny thing is the more you work on your craft the clearer it becomes. You’re on the inside looking out and it’s a beautiful day outside.

PART 2 of “Face to Face With My Comfort Zone” continues next week with my adventure in Charlie Levin’s encaustic class…


Class Act

In every class there is a dynamic. You see, I am usually the loud funny one. This is my natural group role – I am funny, hence people will like me and I will fit in. I am loud so people will pay attention to me and I can dominate the conversation. I am a good student so the teacher will like me, ergo, I win. These are roles we learn during childhood and we play them to some extent during our whole lives. Well this time I decided to leave the stereotypical Jaya at home, shut up, and absorb everything like a sponge…

A garden view of Wax Works West

At the beginning of this year I had the opportunity to take an advanced encaustic course through R&F Paints. This week-long workshop helped me to focus my teaching style and direction. It also gave me something else that I wasn’t expecting: the itch to take another class! I never really thought about it before but I had become used to being the instructor in front of the class, and of course being “ON” for x amount of hours. If I had the desire to learn a new technique or try a new product I would do it on my own (that’s how I got into encaustic in the first place, scanning the pages of Joanne Mattera’s “The Art of Encaustic Painting” in the bookstore changed my life). I’ve got a decent mini-library in my studio and if I was missing the proper book or tools I didn’t have a problem investing in something new. The way I see it is that I am developing my skills which rounds me out as a teacher. The thought of actually TAKING a class hadn’t really crossed my mind. However, this encaustic course flipped on the floodlight.

Art is where you create, create where there’s art

The class was held at  Wax Works West, a magical state-of-the-art encaustic facility. I had been wanting to take a class there for months and it was even more inspiring than I had dreamed. Everywhere you turned there was art, art, and more art. I couldn’t take pictures fast enough. Walking into the workspace opened my eyes to what was possible in an encaustic studio, I mean, the bar was SET. I was introduced to my instructor, Laura Moriarty, and I found a workstation where I could set myself up. While organizing my tools I quietly looked around at the other students, some knew each other, some were quietly looking around just like me. We were summoned to “gather round” so I grabbed my notebook and the butterflies in my stomach. Now here’s the interesting part. I walked into the workshop expecting to learn a few new techniques and make some awesome sample boards. Well I got something way more valuable than that. Not only was the class extremely informative but being able to objectively take in the class dynamics was amazing. Watching my instructor, Laura Moriarty, INSTRUCT was helpful beyond measure. You see, I am used to how I teach, how I answer questions, how I troubleshoot, and how I demonstrate. Observing someone else in this role was better than cable.

Downstairs gallery at Wax Works West

I kept my nose down and ears open during the week.    I didn’t chat much with the other students which is unusual for me because I am the social butterfly.  I ate lunch quickly so I could jump back into the classroom to perfect another sample board.  Finding an environment that fuels your creativity to the point of boiling over is an adrenaline rush.  Working in the Wax Works West facility solidified my goal to be an awesome teacher as well as a masterful encaustic artist.

After the last day of class I spoke to Laura asking her advise on how I could get my foot in the door. I’m so glad that she took a few minutes to give me some suggestions. The weeks passed, lesson plans were fine tuned, and emails with the ladies of  Wax Works West were exchanged. In a meeting with owners Wendy Aikin and Judy Stabile my dream came true: I was officially invited to teach the workshop I had developed called “Wax with Whimsy”. I think the only thing keeping me from floating away into the Corralitos sunset was my giant encaustic notebook I carry around with me. They suggested that I audit one of their encaustic basics classes to get the feel of how their workshops ran. Once again, I was on cloud nine. It took all my strength not to jump into the ring and begin offering encaustic pearls of wisdom – I had to keep silently reminding myself that I was there to observe. Being able to watch Wendy and Judy in action was beneficial because I was able to resonate with their teaching style. I could visualize myself teaching and see the areas where I can improve. I learned so much just by watching their interactions with the students. That’s it, I was hooked: I promised myself that I would sign up for as many classes that I could afford in order to learn how to be a better teacher. So that day I registered for “Making Faces” with Charlie Levin

Tune in for my next post: “Face to Face with my Comfort Zone”!


Artistic Process: The Wedding Present

Part 2

To re-cap from my last post “So You Think You Want to Start a Painting?” – My cousin is getting married next week and for a wedding present I decided against a gravy boat and figured I would create a painting.  I am using her and her fiancé’s favorite colors (deep fuchsia and black) as the color palette.  Today’s post is a step-by-step walkthrough of my artistic process .  Here I’ll share with you my thoughts as well as more technical information on how I created this painting.  The materials I used are highlighted in fuchsia in honor of my cousin.  Buckle your seatbelts…

I start with light collage and tone the canvas with Quinacridone Magenta & Quinacridone Burnt Orange. While the canvas is drying I prep my collage papers.

Before I lay down any paint the question I ask myself is “Where do I want to lead the eye?” I throw down some loose brush strokes with Titanium White  in an S-shape composition.  I play with the positioning of the collage papers then glue them in place with Matte Medium.  Without the following glaze the white lines and paper look garish.  With the glaze they recess into the background.

I hear suspicious noises coming from the horse’s stall. Peeking over the fence I see Rommel playing with his water bucket.  Perfect timing to allow my canvas to “rest”.  I go and change the horse’s water and apply scratches where necessary.

Elayne present - 3 detailI mix a fair amount of Quin. Burnt Orange into my favorite black (Mars black) and follow my S-shape composition. I counter with more Titanium White and begin layering in the background colors again.  This gives me the clean white pinstripes.  I start to think about the next layers and what kind of depth I want to achieve.  I know that if I jump into my gel or pouring mediums now I will need to retire this piece until another day to give it time to dry.  Nope, not ready to call it a day yet…

I know that I’m still avoiding the “blackness” so I re-assert it back into the piece and add some black & gold origami paper. Better.  I switch over the laundry, check on the animals, and have a snack.  While munching on some chips I look at my piece and think of the various directions it could go from here.  I debate leaving the background as is or lightening it.  I decide I should play with the gold leaf before going further with the background, that way the gold will peek through.  Maybe the gold leaf will tell me what to do…

Elayne present - mistake dotsHa!  So a good topic comes up during the gold leafing process: How does one “fix” a painting?  I don’t know about everybody else but once in a while I mess up.  The first step in this process is to stop looking up gravy boats.  After an initial panic I take a breath and assess the situation.  I didn’t like how my gold leaf dots turned out – I felt they were a little “static” and for some reason I was reminded of the 80’s.  This just wouldn’t do so I ripped them off, and with them, the paint and collage paper beneath.   Breathe.  I’ll need to get that background color back in so I re-mix my Quin. Magenta, Quin. Burnt Orange and just a hint of Titanium White (I need that covering power).  I re-apply the background color in full brush strokes over the dots.  To make it look seamless I know I also need to cover some of the undamaged painting.  This made the painting darker in these particular areas.  Not to worry.  Once this layer dried I went back in with some of my white to regain my pinstripes.  I threw in a little more collage paper for good measure.

Needing to clear my head after the slight argument with my painting I do some horse chores. Nothing like a little stall mucking while you’re waiting for paint to dry.  Manure dumped, horses fed, time to head back.

With the sun setting I’m about ready to call it a day. I heavily apply Extra Heavy Gloss Gel Gloss all over the piece with my palette knife.  I want there to be some fun surface texture and by tomorrow this will be ready to begin the final steps.

Elayne present - pouring mediumPouring Medium is something I don’t work with too often so I thought it would be fun to incorporate it into this piece. I have some pre-mixed pouring medium/color combo’s ready to go and drip them on the canvas.  I do this before I head off to work and by the time I get home my medium has set.

Elayne present - finishA week passes and I think about the direction of the painting. I have a pretty good idea where it needs to go but it’s a dangerous road.  Since “The Fearless Painter” is the title of my blog I decided to man-up.  No turning back now!  I layer in Titanium White with glazes of Yellow Ochre to create a visual “bang”.  Phew!  Now that THAT’S over with I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

For the final touches I add more of the Extra Heavy Gloss Gel and the Pouring Medium. Bringing those textures back to the fore-front is the icing on the cake.

This was an exciting exercise out of my color comfort zone and I learned how to make an impact using black and red as the predominant colors. Throughout the painting process I thought fondly of my cousin and her upcoming wedding.  You know, marriage can be a challenging balance and both parties must learn how to integrate their lives together, just like 2 wild colors on a canvas.  Congratulations Elayne and Jason!

So you think you want to start a painting?

Part 1

My cousin is getting married later this month and smart me thought, “I’ll make her a painting!” Nothing like a personal from-the-heart gift to celebrate that once in a lifetime union to your soul mate. It’s either that or a gravy boat. So I asked her what their favorite colors are. I got back fuchsia or a burnt red for her (that’ll work! I like red) and…black. Really?! It’s just like a boy to like BLACK. Couldn’t you be a little more creative? So here I go thinking to myself, maybe by “black” he really means “aqua” or a lovely “spring green”. Who’ll notice? No more fooling myself – I’ve got to work with red and black and NOT make it look like the apocalypse. The gravy boat’s not looking so bad now…

While writing this post I began thinking about artist’s processes. I realize that I am very methodical in how I prepare to paint. Whatever the subject matter, style, size, or medium I always start the same way. To embark on my red and black challenge I begin by organizing myself.


GATHER MATERIALS: I pick out a canvas. I have a plethora of unfinished paintings that I look through. I know I want an elongated canvas and I find a half-finished 10 x 30 with owls on a blue background. Remember when the owl craze started? I’m a little late to that party now so no problem, I gesso over the owls with my favorite Golden brand gesso. Next I look through my black & white collage papers (ok, now the juices are flowing – maybe black’s not SO bad…), I choose a limited paint selection, a few brushes, and some mixed media accents (water-soluble crayons, gold leaf, gel & pouring mediums).

PREPARE MY WORKSPACE: Set up my easel and supplies. I position my easel to the correct height and since I’m right handed I put my palette and water bucket on my right (I see so many artists struggle with their workspaces – they’ll reach over themselves to mix paint, the easel will be too low or too high. Make it easy on yourself and really look at how you have your space set up!)

TAKE CARE OF MYSELF: I eat a quick lunch, put the animals outside, get some laundry going (for some reason I feel more productive if I have some clothes in the wash), and finally use the restroom. This sets me up for the least amount of interruptions (at least the ones that are under my control).

Preparing to paint is also a creative process. Looking through your paints and tools should be inspiring. It should make you think about where you want to go with your piece, and perhaps a new possibility that you hadn’t thought of before. Workspace is equally important. Even if you only have a corner of a studio apartment – you can transform it into an inspiring area. Turn it into a place where you want to create, not only that, a place where you can create effectively and easily. Clear away anything that does not get your juices flowing. “Only creative stuff is allowed in this 3 foot square corner of the room.” When you sit down to paint, draw, write, sing, whittle, design cat outfits, do so without any excuse to stop. An innocent trip to the restroom can easily be sidetracked and you end up cleaning the entire bathroom. So take care of yourself first!

Part 2 “The Creative Process” to follow next week!


Happy Birthday to “The Fearless Painter”

To be honest,  I don’t follow anyone’s blog.  Ok, that’s not true,   let’s be REALLY honest – when I decided to start my OWN blog I researched “Successful Blogging” and found someone who sounded pretty smart so I figured I’d “follow” him.  Maybe it’s the submissive stigma of “following” in lieu of “leading” and I think, “Well, why should I follow anybody?  I should be leading the pack!  I know what the f*** I’m talking about!  Why should I ‘follow’ anyone else?”  Well, geez, maybe I should get my ego in check…hence I began ‘following’ someone who sounded somewhat interesting and maybe I could learn something.   I can only imagine that I’m not the only visual artist who was pulled kicking and screaming into social media.  I’d rather spend my days creating art rather than taking selfies in front of what I ate for breakfast.  I mean really, who needs to know that I like to mix my Special K Protein flakes with my Special K red berries cereal? I’m still unsure of what “Twittering” is (or is it “twerking”?).  I like birds so maybe it’s up my alley.   In the blog I began following it was suggested that I limit my writing time to no more than 2 hours so I figured I’d test the waters and begin by typing for just 1.  Over the past few months I’ve been fleshing out my blog in my mind, because lord knows I’ve got to be prepared before baring my soul in front of the world wide web.  What should I title my blog?  What should be my focus?  How often should I post and how long should my posts be?  How on earth can I be committed to such an undertaking?  There’s a responsibility to blogging and good grief are my standards high.

To give you a little background:  I work at an art store pretty much full time.  On my days off I teach art workshops and classes.  When I’m not teaching an art class I’m preparing for the class by testing out techniques and making what I like to call “sample boards”.  When I’m not doing any of the above I get to truly explore what I love, live and breathe:  art.  A few weeks ago I taught a workshop at the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society and the undercurrent of the workshop was fear in the face of creating art or vice versa:  creating art in the face of fear. Potato potAto.   It was intense and amazing and I was honored to lead the students through uncertain waters.  I mentioned to the group that I was going to begin a blog.  The only thing stopping me from beginning this venture was the lack of a name.  For some reason I thought it important for my blog to have a proper name.  I couldn’t possibly start this project without a name.  Plus, it has to be the right name, the “correct” name, a name bestowed upon it from the heavens above.  Without this PERFECT name the blog cannot be in existence.  That was when I caught the tiger by the toe.  There it is again, my buddy that puts up the all-familiar roadblock to something potentially exciting and personal and quite possibly life-changing:  perfection.  So if perfection is the only thing that’s stopping me from writing this blog – screw that and here goes…

This is my art blog that focuses on painting as “survival” vs. art as “inspiration”.  We can simplify this further: painting vs. art.  Painting in the face of fear, perfection, selling, john-Q-public and ego is a different game than art for creation’s sake.  Learning from your pieces, painting for the hell of it and loving the process more than the outcome is by far more rewarding and what I consider ART.  I decided to draw up a little contract (mostly for myself) to put my intentions out into the world:  In my future writings I will:

  • cover my personal art processes, inspirations, and road-blocks through the painting media that “suits my fancy”.
  • Post on average once a week.
  • Type for no more than 2 hours.
  • Post pictures and videos.
  • Give myself permission to misspell words.
  • Veer off topic from time to time.
  • Not beat myself up.

That being said, Happy birthday to “The Fearless Painter”!