HOW I PAINT
April 2007 I was invited to participate in a show called "PEACEABLE QUEENDOM" so I had that thought in the back of my mind when I picked up a blank canvas that I had blotted against two flower paintings.
Sitting at an easel in my kitchen, I started "connecting the dots" of the blots in the painting, after I "saw" an image of myself as a queen, kind of like finding a picture in a rock, or in a puddle, or in the clouds.
I was very happy painting at this stage of the painting. I am very supportive of myself when I work, without even trying. I liked the expression. It felt like me, and I made the crown look a little like a jester's cap, or more like Jughead's cap in Archie comics.
I started painting in the face and hands. Any color will do... I have many layers before a painting is finished and green is a good way to start because it is the opposite of pink, my favorite face color.
As I said before, I am usually very happy when I am painting; that's why I paint I guess. Being happy, everything I do looks good to me. I particularly liked the shape of my hands in this stage of the painting, but the queen needed to be holding something. A cat would fit perfectly....only I no longer own a cat. So what. I put in a cat, a lovely little happy cat.
"Never show an unfinished painting to a fool" is an expression that runs through my head from time to time, but when I get excited about the start of a painting I usually can't resist emailing it to a few friends. I am the fool because I sometimes get criticism in return and even though I tell myself it will not influence me, it does!
A friend told me that the queen had a very silly expression, quite unlike my own, so how could it be a self portrait. I wrote back that it felt like me even if it did not look like me, and I continued painting.
I started simplifying the shapes by grouping the colors-- red for the queen and blue for the background and cat, just to see what I had. But in the back of my head I started doubting myself. Did the queen really look silly? Did she really not look like me?
I did not feel so happy about this painting any more. I reached for a hand mirror and hung it on the easel next to the canvas.
Looking in the mirror, I saw how right my friend was. My face looked VERY DIFFERENT from the sketch I had made. How silly of me to think of drawing myself without looking in a mirror!
I started to get interested in looking at my face and started to get happy again, especially when I added the green to one side of my face.
I tried to address the composition and the colors so they would be interesting. I am not a planner; painting is all trial and error with me, so I was just laying color next to color, having fun.
My experiments with colors, with light and dark were interesting because painting from life I could watch the light from my kitchen window and how it lit one side of my face more than the other.
But now the hands that I had loved so much in the earlier version, they looked kind of clumsy and small, not appropriate to the head. And the cat, it looked kind of cartoony also! I realized what I knew all along. Once I started changing one thing, EVERYTHING would have to be changed.
I held my hand up to the little hand mirror and tried to figure out the position, starting from scratch, but it was hard to get the whole thing together. Maybe I needed a bigger mirror, and maybe I needed a real live cat! But those were too much to ask. I took photos of my hands with my digital camera but it was hard to get them looking right. I searched the internet for photos of cute cats so that would also have a more realistic look. I was starting to wonder if I had done the right thing, changing my imaginary queen into one that I would paint from real life.
I can tell from the colors that I got happy again at this stage of the painting, even though my hands look a little meaty they are believable and seem to match the face pretty well, and I have lined up my eyes and the cat is taking shape... I have wisely refrained from showing this stage of the painting to anybody... but the crown is now not fitting in with the rest of the painting. And the collar. What is going on with the collar? Is she a queen? or a clown? I don't mind either, but I must make up my mind.
Searching the internet for a crown, I discover of course Lucien Freud's brilliant painting of Queen Elizabeth II, which I adore. I also find some cute cats, so I have enugh to go by to get this show on the road. The queen's collar starts to take shape with little white dots.
The queen looks enough like me to make me laugh because I always envisioned my mother as a queen and my grandmother too. Some women were born to be served, and now it's time to realize that I am just like them. (I'm still waiting for someone to come and clean my house for me, sigh.)
Here is the (almost) final result of my self portrait as queen with cat. When the show is over I'll maybe work some more on this painting, but it will do for now. It ended up being successful in that I succeeded in doing a self portrait as queen, but the painting took me on an unexpected journey and I ended up with a realistic instead of imaginary image. Which is just fine. I like it...but in the back of my mind I'm wondering what the first version, the cartoony version of a queen, what would she have turned out to be? Ah well. We'll never know because paintings from rocks or puddles or blots are different every time. So I'll just go on to the next one.
March 2005, I just finished a painting of a toddler pushing a stroller and thought you would enjoy seeing all the stages of the painting.
I started with a b/w photo of my mother, Katharine Hubler, taken July 1909 on Monroe Ave in Dunmore Pa.
Over the next month, I worked on the canvas, size 18x24, and here are the results:
I am working in a class at the Old Church Cultural Center School of Art in Demarest, NJ. I take painting classes from a favorite teacher because I get energy from the room and I enjoy hearing her learned comments as I work away in my little corner.
I never ask for help or criticism from the teacher, but working in a class means that I will work without interruption for three hours straight. I get a lot more work done when I work with others than when I'm home alone.
One big drawback that comes from working with others in a class is that my teacher refers to me (and everyone in the class) as a "beginner."
I have this fantasy of digging up the (almost 100) ribbons I have won at art shows over the past 35 years, and dumping them in her lap the next time she calls me that, but that would prove only that I'm proud.
When I paint, I first put some of each of my oil colors on a pallet. I use finger painting paper from the dollar store for a pallet, putting the paints on one half of the paper only, so that when I fold it up after the painting session, the paints dont get mucked up with each other.
My brushes also come from the dollar store. I get five long handled bristle brushes for a dollar. Wal-Mart also has nice brushes that are inexpensive.
I don't believe in spending a lot of money on art supplies, with one exception and that is paint. I love expensive oil paint and have a lot of it. Schmincke is my favorite brand.
You may notice that this painting looks quite awkward in the beginning stages. That is because I make a lot of mistakes. That is part of my painting process. I do not expect to get things right all at once. I think that's why I dont want or ask for criticism while I am working. It annoys me when people point out things that I know will be corrected very soon. The time for criticism is when the painting is almost finished.
Working from a photograph is a lot different from making up a painting out of my head, which I have an example of further down this section.
I don't really "think" when I am painting. Whatever part of the brain I am using seems independent of speech so I can talk on the phone while I paint with little effort. Painting from a photo is like doing a jigsaw puzzle. I just look at shapes and tones of light and dark and try and fit them together. I look at all shapes, especially negative spaces. That's why it takes such a long time before I get everything straight.
There are so many things to notice in a photograph. For example, in this one, I did not know what was holding up the umbrella over the stroller until I noticed it is attached to the handle by a white metal stick that bends over the top. Of course I can't see the top, but I can imagine it.
I also noticed that the carriage is filled with dolls, mostly teddy bears. Back in 1909, there were very few cars and the street was probably not paved. It looks like it was an idyllic time to me, but of course life must have had its ups and downs back then as we do now.
As we go to the last stages of the painting, it is probably difficult to see any changes. One of the last things I did was change the location of the baby's feet, and also the location of her eyes. I raised her right eye and moved her feet closer to the carriage. That made a big difference.
By the way, the color of this painting is not adjusted in this photograph. In the next photo, I used "automatic" adjustments in the computer. I think the ACTUAL color of the painting is somewhere in between the two photos.
When I finally get all the parts in place, when the picture elements look right, that is the time when i think about colors. That is when the "painting" takes shape. I look and try and make a dance of blues, or reds, or golds, moving over the canvas, and when it pleases me, it's done.
I sold this painting to a very nice woman in Virginia. It was fun painting it, and I believe it will have a happy life in her home.
Here is how i started, using a "dirty" brush that was all yukked up w/ turpentine and various paints. the original idea was to have the canvas vertically, and the tub shape was supposed to be something else. i forget what. a tree? a bride? who remembers. but suddenly it looked like a bathtub so i put it sideways and started in right there. i was very excited by this composition, as one should be when starting out a new canvas. that is the key thing. to feel excited when beginning. i keep pushing paint around until i get that feeling.
ok here is stage two. i have switched to paint sticks and am sketching things in a little more: the nude in the tub, the toilet, the dog on the rug. the teacher is droning on in the background on how painting is made up of STROKES. it is not an object; if you want an object, take a photo of something; it is strokes of paint. i really like the philosophy of the teacher, carol stronghilos, and that is why i take the class. i like hearing her talk in the background. she makes a lot of sense. i am still excited about the painting. i have the shower curtain in now also.
here is where i run into trouble. i stopped doing strokes and started filling in with turpentine and other colors.. i am not so excited any more, but of course i persist. i am not one to give up. things like this happen all the time. i am trying to fill in the entire canvas so i know where i stand, but maybe i have rushed things with the flesh colors...who knows. i dont judge myself, but i notice that i'm not so excited as before. oh well. i continue.
here i am, still adding colors, trying to get a grip, but the excitement is gone. i try putting the nude's arms behind her head but it just is not clicking. ok. it's ok. i will let it dry now for about a week, and then start in again, remembering that painting is STROKES....