Painting on Location

I am not an outdoor person. My favorite outdoor activity was tanning until I discovered plein air painting. Now it is my passion.

Own the Original

Recently, the studio where I have space had an open house. The front gallery was filled with artwork by all of the members, and in the studio spaces each artist had even more to show. It was our effort to show work accumulated over the years (and hopefully sell some as well).

My wall in the studio gallery.

I repeatedly heard this comment, “I want to buy only original art.” I appreciate those who make an effort to purchase original work and especially those who also want to know something about the art and the person who created it. That information adds such value to the work.

One of the paintings I sold had a bit of a story. One morning my painting friends and I had to forego our plein air date and stay inside due to a thunderstorm. We had some flowers from the garden, an old pitcher that was my first purchase when I moved out on my own, and a Tuxedo cat. After setting up the still life in my kitchen, we each made a painting, and took photos of the cat for future reference. I explained the setting of the composition to my client and wrote it on the back of the panel with a Sharpie. It gave a special meaning to the work that will not be forgotten.

Thank you, Madeline B., for making my day!

As you think of gifts for others, or even yourself, consider original artwork. There is so much good work available, and much of it is very reasonably priced. By purchasing something from an artist, you not only receive a piece of beauty, but hours of practice, education, angst, and a few moments of joy. You also enable that person to continue pursuing a passion. 

Thank you for purchasing original art!

The Appearance of the Teacher

For much of my art education and career, I thought I knew enough and all I really needed to do was practice. Which may explain why my years working on a degree in art and the decade afterwards was so lackluster. I failed to appreciate what was being imparted to me by highly respected teachers. After finally graduating with a BFA in Commercial Art (pre-Graphic Design), I did not take a workshop for at least ten years. But I didn’t practice my art either. Because, I thought, I was a good artist and already knew enough, right?

Watercolor was the medium I started using when I decided I just might have something more to learn. The supplies were left from college days, so it was inexpensive to start again. I began to read articles in books and art magazines. Back in those days most of the photos were black and white, but I could tell the work possessed qualities that mine did not. So I started looking into local art associations and workshops.

Walking into a meeting of people one doesn’t know is challenging, but fortunately the members of the local art guild were welcoming. Several of the members were nationally known artists who taught in the area.

Mary Jane Cox was a watercolor painter and teacher. When I first met her, I was a bit intimidated. She was a well known artist who taught in different parts of the country, wrote and self-published books, painted prolifically, and was accepted into many, many juried shows. She was such a good painter I found it hard to believe that she took workshops too! I signed up to take one of her workshops, thinking I would be lost in the class. I was surprised that she reached out to me and offered to pick me up to go to the workshop site. It was the beginning of a good relationship.

After working with her I realized how approachable she was. Mary Jane had much to offer and gave willingly. I learned more about composing a painting from her than in my years of design classes. I became one of her “girls” because I respected her artistic ability and generosity with her gifts. So why did Mary Jane Cox make such a difference? After all, I was the same person I was ten years earlier.

Because the student was ready and the teacher appeared.

It has been ten years since Mary Jane Cox passed away after a long battle with cancer. Every day I go into my study I look at the watercolor of the Madison County, Mississippi courthouse that she painted and see something different. I use many of her phrases and call them “Mary Jane-isms.” She opened my eyes to the knowledge that we are all students who should never stop learning.

I am eternally grateful the teacher, Mary Jane, appeared. I am glad I was ready! I hope one day someone will feel the same about me.

Watercolor

My first experience with watercolor was like that of many other students, using the Prang eight pan box with a brush that dropped hairs on 20 lb paper taken out of the ditto machine or large 80 lb drawing paper if we were lucky. We didn’t get a whole lot of direction and maybe fifteen minutes to paint something that always turned out sort of pale and wrinkled. That was enough to turn me off.

One of my degree requirements was three hours of watercolor. I had a highly respected professor who showed a few basic techniques, but his preferred method of teaching was to let students figure it out ourselves. On location, away from the campus. Hope you have transportation! And sunscreen and insect repellant! That experience kept me from taking further watercolor instruction in college. Not to mention that I made a “D” in the class as well.

When I decided to become an art instructor, I realized I would have to teach some sort of painting and that watercolor would probably be the easiest and least expensive medium. I also knew I had to practice myself. So I took my tubes of paint from college days, my two or three brushes (one of which I still have…Big Bertha), the old palette, bought some paper, and started trying. And it was not fun because I was so impatient to be good. But I persevered. I was going to overcome that “D” in Watercolor 101!

I took workshops, read, and practiced occasionally. One workshop instructor pointed out a great piece by a member of the class, stating that she must have a huge stack of paintings at home because her watercolor was so good. Still, I didn’t get it. But after years of piddling I finally started turning out some decent watercolors and getting a few commissions. Now, I love telling the story of my “D” in watercolor. (I also made a “D” in fifth grade religion, but that is another blog.) Half of the work I do for others is in watercolor.

Many believe that watercolor is a challenging medium to master, partly because corrections can be difficult. Some think that works on paper are not as permanent and less valuable.

And then others absolutely love them.

Thank you to my clients who are in love with watercolor paintings.

And to my watercolor professor, I think I did just fine.

Career Change

When I mentioned I planned to retire at the end of the school year, a lot of people said, “Congratulations! What are you going to do?”

“Not wake up at 5:15 in the morning,” was my usual reply. I did not understand the question. After all, I was an art teacher for thirty-six years. I just may do some art of my own for a change.

Since my last day of teaching about a month ago, I really don’t have that retirement feeling. My friends tell me that will happen when school begins in August. However, I do have the challenge of changing careers and becoming, finally, a full time (sort of) artist.  Painting in my new studio space is like going to work, except I don’t have to be there at a particular time and stay a certain number of hours. I don’t even have to go every day.  I get to work with great artists and learn from them. I do not have to put my supplies away at the end of the day and can wear jeans every day of my life if I choose.

Friends took my comment that I may become a painter seriously and gave me this "uniform."

But somehow, I cannot let go of the structure of my educational career. Each afternoon I write my goals for the next day. I like to schedule days for plein air painting with my friends and times for keeping up with the business side of things. I still pack a lunch to take to the studio, just as I did when I taught school. All the years in the classroom prepared me for this new phase.

Will I miss teaching? Yes and no. I will always be a teacher. I will miss many of the students and other professionals with whom I worked. I enjoy helping people reach their potential. But no, I will not miss waking up at 5:15 in the morning.

The Fine (and Disappearing) Art of Calligraphy

 

The first project in a middle school art room is usually a portfolio for the students’ artwork. In Mrs. Strong’s  eighth grade class, we decorated ours with a cute little doodle made from our name written in cursive. Then we wrote our names in uppercase Roman letters. With serifs. Made with a Speedball C1 nib. Dipped in India ink. I cannot even imagine how much ink was spilled while learning the alphabet. I am pretty sure there was a lot on my fingers.

I learned Italic in high school, mastered the alphabet in college, and taught it for many years. Many of my former students tell me they still use their lettering skills. With so many fonts available on computers, hand lettering is becoming a lost art. Students no longer learn cursive, so when several of my high schoolers  said they were interested in learning to write Italic, I was excited to teach the alphabet. To me, it is a bridge between printing and cursive, which many young people cannot read. 

I don’t think the students realized how much practice was involved. They spent weeks mastering the letters before choosing a quotation for final pieces that had personal meaning. At one point, one of the sophomores almost gave up because she had several spelling errors, but with patience and a double edge razor blade, they were “erased.”

Today I read in the old school print newspaper, that “writing by hand is making a comeback” and “the humble notebook has become trendy again.” (I keep my old notebooks so I can look back and see what I purchased at the grocery two years ago. A little eccentric, I suppose.) I tell my students repeatedly that they will remember what is written by hand. Hopefully their beautiful Italic will be used to make notes that will not be forgotten.

Co-op Bookstore

A couple weeks ago I was painting with my friend. It was on a Wednesday morning, of course. When we get together we talk about many things, but mostly about making art. I’ve probably learned more about painting from my friends then I ever did a college class (maybe because I skipped a couple of classes…OK, a lot). I asked my friend what she did about working over a dried painting. She recommended using retouch varnish spray. So I said, “Well, I’ll go down to the Co-op Bookstore and get a  can on the way home.”
“ Oh!” she said.  “Didn’t you know Co-op’s  going out of business?”

I was stunned!  Yet another of my “happy place” stores was shutting their doors.

Back when I first moved to Baton Rouge there were no national chain stores where one could buy art supplies. There were local stores such as Yarberry’s,  Baton Rouge Blueprint, and Co-op Bookstore. When I first started going to Co-op, it was on State Street by LSU, and it was like a candy store for artists. Nearly anything an artist could possibly need was on the shelves. As any artist can tell you, it’s important to feel the texture of paper and feel the snap of a brush, something you cannot do when ordering online. I often found treasures I didn’t know I needed.

The best thing about the store was the service. Billy, whose family started the Co-op in the 1930’s on the LSU campus, was extremely knowledgeable about everything in the art department.

Billy and me.
Billy and me.

He personally filled my school purchase orders and gave advice on my own art materials. When I purchased paper, a gentleman wrapped it in brown paper so it would not get damaged.

The State Street store was razed for an apartment complex some time ago, and while the new store was pristine, I have to say, the art department still had a bit of the character found in the old location.  Ordering of books and, yes, art supplies, online has taken a toll on Co-op. I went to shop a couple of times after learning the store was having “One ‘L’ of a Sale”  (that’s what was written on the entrance) with the guilty knowledge that my purchases at Dick Blick and Jerry’s Artarama were partly to blame for the closure.  IMG_1151The paper purchase I made was wrapped in brown paper. Billy and his core group of employees were there.

I purchased these brushes for my first workshop in the early 90's.
I purchased these brushes for my first workshop in the early 90’s.

And I will always have memories of touching my paper purchases and snapping my brushes.

Teaching Art. Again

For the past thirty-five years I have been an art educator. Twenty-five of those years were spent at the same school in the same classroom (a converted library—lots of storage!) teaching art to the masses. I had students early in my career and later I had their children. Some of them were far better artists than I was at their age. There were students whose sole purpose in life was to aggravate me (or so it seemed). I taught special needs children who sat next to the academically gifted. Many students were in my art class because there were few electives from which to choose. Hopefully they learned a little something about the arts and will remember the experience as a positive one. My guess is that I probably taught a thousand students during that time.

I occasionally run into former students who made careers in the arts. Sometimes I see students who tell me they still use the calligraphy skills learned in my class. Another student purchased a painting I made just because it was mine. When a former student who works in acrylic contacted me about learning to work in oil, I thought, “Finally! One of my students wants to do what I do!”

Working on a still life in my kitchen/studio.
Working on a still life in my kitchen/studio.

She was accomplished in acrylic but wanted to get out of her comfort zone. We began a simple still life and went from the initial drawing, getting values established, a period of “the uglies,” and on to completion. She was pleased with the results and very excited about shopping for new art supplies.

I was just thrilled that a former student felt she still could learn something from me!

Her first painting in oil. I was pleased with her work.
Her first painting in oil. I was pleased with her work.