Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pictures at an Exhibition

There are two art related things that I'm looking forward to at this moment. The first is getting a new camera. After a fair bit of research, my husband and I have pretty much decided on what kind of camera to purchase. We have our eyes on the Canon EOS Rebel T1i 15.1 MP DSLR Camera with 18-55mm IS Lens Ki. Wowsers, reading that description brings me pretty close to having heart palpitations. Which is to say, I'm excited at the prospect of a new camera. Not only will I be able to immortalize my toddler's cuteness with greater ease, but I'll be able to get way better photographs of things I'd like to draw or paint (besides my adorable toddler!) and I'll be able to better document my work. My simple point and shoot camera has let me down on innumerable occasions so I'm very eager to find out what's possible with a good camera. If you have any reason why I should not get the Canon EOS REbel T1i, speak now or forever hold your peace.

So what's the other anticipated art 'thing'? An exhibit that includes three of my paintings is opening tomorrow afternoon. The paintings I'm showing are three original watercolours that I've posted down below. The exhibit is called Art in the Workplace and the opening reception is from 4:30 - 7:30 pm. The event is happening at the McMaster Innovation Park on 175 Longwood Road South, Hamilton, Ontario. The McMaster Innovation Park (MIP) is a research and development branch of  McMaster University. Even if you're not from Ontario, it's possible you've heard of McMaster University because the school has been the source of several advances in Health Sciences.

The Art in the Workplace exhibit brings work from local artists into the atrium of MIP's beautifully renovated  building. In it's previous life, the MIP building housed the Hamilton offices of Camco Inc, an appliance manufacturer. Camco's factory was torn down a number of years ago. The factory building came almost right to the edge of  Longwood Road and was separated from the road by a barbed wire fence. Whenever I drove by I would see workers sitting against the factory wall, looking past the fence into traffic, and smoking. Seeing those workers behind that high chain-linked fence topped with barbed wire always made me feel free, and feel bad. If they had any art in the workplace, it was probably a lot harder to see than what's showing at MIP.

p.s. sorry Mussorgsky; it's late, I couldn't think of another title.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Stretching out the Fun

It had to happen some time. March Break has come to an end. This past week's adventures included going golfing. In case you don't know what Ontario weather is like in mid-March, it's not conducive to golfing. But that's no reason not to go golfing! You just have to use a brightly coloured ball so that you can still see the ball when it lands on an unmelted swath of snow. Lest I misrepresent myself, I'm by no means an 'avid golfer.' It was my husband's idea and any excuse to walk around out of doors is good with me. Highlights of the game included seeing a turkey vulture eating a piece of carrion on the green (tone is sometimes tough to convey in writing so let me reassure you that I'm not being sarcastic--turkey vultures are really a sight to behold). We had a lot of fun, even though one of my errant shots did eventually scare away the vulture .

Anyways, this is all to say that the return of school has put me in the mind to follow up on the suggestion to explain how I stretch my watercolour paper. Thank you, Meghan, for that idea. For anyone not familiar with the process of watercolour painting, it's a good idea to stretch your paper before applying a wet medium because the stretching is what prevents the paper from buckling. I use a lot of water when I paint so that means I have to really stretch my paper if I want it to lay flat when the painting is finished.

To start out with my list of tools is:
1. spray bottle
2. staple gun
3. Arches watercolour paper (I like to use cold press 140lb.)
4. 32 x 42 inch plywood board.
5. Exacto knife
6. drawing board

I take a sheet of 22 x 30 inch watercolour paper, lay it flat on the plywood board and then mist it heavily on both sides with water from the spray bottle. It's good to use the spray bottle's mist setting because you want to wet the paper evenly without any puddles of water forming on the paper's surface. I make the paper very wet but I don't totally saturate it.

Immediately after I've soaked the paper using the spray bottle, I staple the paper to my plywood board using the staple gun. I use 1/4 inch staples so that they're easier to remove from the board once I'm all done. I staple around the very edge of the paper and place the staples roughly an inch apart. At this point the paper will look buckled and unpromising, but once it's dry in a couple hours it should be totally flat. If the paper is  still buckled after it's dried, try placing your staples closer together or not making the paper as wet.

Once the large sheet of watercolour paper is dry, I use an exacto knife to cut out a piece of paper that's the size I want to work with. Then I take that smaller piece of paper and staple it to my drawing board, placing the staples about an inch apart. Presto, I'm ready to start a final painting that will come out flat even after I've drenched it with water.

At this point, I'm hoping nobody reading this is either bored or confused. I've included pictures to help with any confusion. If your problem is boredom, then yes, you're right, stretching paper isn't as fun as golfing in the snow. Please feel free to ask me any questions about this-- I'm not sure how clear my description of the process is.

What I'm currently working on.

Trusty staplegun

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

One Suggestion for Conquering Procrastination

I'd like to say thank you for the really positive and encouraging feedback I received about Adam's portrait. On Facebook especially there were a lot of lovely comments and I noticed that many of them were from people who attended high school with Adam.

When I finish something I've been working on for a while, I find I often have to build up steam for the next project. It's not that I don't want to start something new, it's more like a latent sense of disbelief, as in, "Really? I get to start another painting and finish it?" Admittedly, it's a silly thought to have but on the other hand, it's a reassurance that making pictures hasn't become blase.  

As part of the process of getting geared up for starting something new, I was thinking about ways to encourage myself to get going and it occurred to me that one of the biggest things I can do is clean up my work space. Cleaning up seems to be a fairly common suggestion for improving work habits and is often connected to the adage that a cluttered space makes for a cluttered mind. Hogwash, I say! Personally, I don't buy that particular piece of folk wisdom because once my work space is clean and I'm working on something, the area very quickly becomes messy again and it doesn't stop me from optimizing my painting time (or if it does, I'm wonderfully oblivious).

So, why bother cleaning up my work space? Because otherwise organizing my desk becomes a prime source of procrastination. I tell myself that I'll start my next project after I clean up my work space. Once my desk is all cleaned up, I have nothing to stop me from starting that next painting. But until that time? Well, I can't start painting, my desk is too messy and now just isn't a good time to tidy up. Plus, the fact that I can't find the staple-gun that I need to attach the watercolour paper to the drawing board might also be a good reason to get organized.

Here's the preliminary watercolour of Cady the canine, and now that I've found my staple-gun, I can begin the final.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Portait of and for Adam

Back in January I made mention of a project that I'd wanted to do for some time but had been putting off because it was hard. What made it hard was that it was a portrait of my friend, Adam, who passed away in 2008. I wanted to make the painting as a gift to his family but after a false start a while back I came to the conclusion I should just wait until the time felt right. Well, that time came and I was able to give the painting to Adam's family a few days ago. They were very happy to see it, which in turn made me feel happy. And that's all I'll say about that because I don't want to cry.

Something I really enjoyed about painting Adam's portrait was rendering his hair. I find painting or drawing hair is a little like doing a whole lot of mazes at once: you follow a strand or lock of hair through a tangle of other stands and locks to see where it ends up, and if you do that with enough pieces of hair, enough times, eventually you have a layered and hopefully three dimensional looking head of hair. In the photograph that I used, Adam's hair is such a beautiful rich colour that looking closely at it is rewarding because you start to see the incredible variety of hues and tones. I find photographing watercolour paintings really tricky because when I do it, the colouring and layering never quite comes out the same as in the original, but as I hope you can see, Adam had some seriously vibrant hair-- and for those who knew him, the personality to match.