In The Studio

In the Studio With Dana

March 9, 2020:  January and February are typically mild months in South Louisiana. The weather is comfortable enough to paint outdoors, but this year was different. If it was not raining, the wind was gusting. The skies were gloomy. My resolution this year was to paint outdoors at least once per week, but I failed. Failing is the easiest thing to do.

I spent more time in the studio painting portraits of pets, enlarging plein air studies, and working from photos. I find it challenging to paint from photographs, but since I have a bit of outdoor painting experience, it’s become easier and the paintings look better.

Enlarging a painting made on location at the LSU lakes was a challenge.

At least I think they do. I have also taken on a few students. Teaching is good for me because I have to think more carefully about my approach to painting. There can be no failed paintings in class!

As spring takes hold in SoLA, the lure of the outdoors is difficult to resist. The beautiful azaleas and Japanese magnolias have already faded, but soon there will be plenty of daylilies and hibiscus to paint. And lots of GREEN.

I carry way too much stuff when painting on location!

And then it will be summer, when painting outdoors in the heat and humidity makes one wish for the months of January and February, and painting in the studio is the only way to go.

March 31, 2020: Talk about this year being different!

And then our world changed…

Following the order to stay home to slow the Coronavirus spread means less outdoor painting and more home studio time. At least I can stay in the air conditioned house and don’t have to pack my gear!

For the Love of Dogs

Maggie Mae was a beloved member of her family.

The love a dog has for his/her human is second only to that of a mother for her child. Even though I don’t consider myself a dog person, I know this is true. Growing up, we had several dogs and cats, but we were not really a pet family. One of my sisters loved horses and dogs, and  since we could house a dog more easily than a horse, we had dogs. My sister also likes cats but is highly allergic to them, which is sad, because her name is Cat. But I digress.

Dogs are loyal friends who think their owners are the Best Person Ever. “Be the person your dog thinks you are” is a great mantra. When  a dog passes, a part of the owner’s  heart is lost as well. I came to better understand this as several of my friends’ dogs crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I felt their sadness as well.

The first painting I ever did of a dog was part of a family portrait. Unfortunately, the person who commissioned  the portrait thought the dog looked better than her children. I still have that painting. One day the children in the painting will look like her sons. Anyway, I found painting pets to be extremely satisfying, especially when the picture filled a space in the owner’s heart.

Baby was always happy to see me because I played fetch with her.

I commented to my husband that it seemed odd  people would commission a portrait when there were probably hundreds of photos of their pet on their phone. He said (wisely) that having a painting was a memorial. A memorial to love second only to that of a mother for her child.

Crazy Cat Lady

I did not know I was a cat person. Or a crazy cat lady.

The blue eyes of this Siamese beauty are mesmerizing.

One summer morning nearly fourteen years ago I returned from my daily walk to find a Siamese kitten in my garage.  I did not know how much I needed a kitten. I resisted for weeks but when it was time to give her away, I just could not let her go. Her name is Curio because she investigated everything. Curio reigns as the princess of the house. My role is now that of lady in waiting.

 

This gorgeous boy is quite a pistol!

 

 

Our cat family grew when we found a tiny Tuxedo kitten dodging morning traffic on a busy highway. My husband was going out of town and I had a meeting to attend that morning, so I dropped him at our veterinarian’s office with a promise that I would return later to get him. I did not know much about introducing a new cat to the family; Roberto (because he is so elegant) and Curio did not get along but soon learned to tolerate each other.

This beautiful cat is a purring machine!

 

One frigid morning I saw a tiny kitten eating bread crumbs thrown for the birds. We could not bear to watch this, so of course we began feeding him.  I guess this is where “crazy” happens. Topaz is a tabby with golden eyes and a great personality. Curio and Roberto ignored Topaz until he began taking over their treats and sleeping areas. He is now the largest of the three and most vocal.

Cats often show up at our house. Sorry, we are full.

 

I did not know how intelligent cats are. They work their way into your heart and never leave. They know exactly what they are doing.

A little Photoshop was necessary to make a reference photo of  this trio of felines.

If Curio had not wandered into my world, if Roberto did not love the camera, and if Topaz did not have that sweet expression, I would have never painted a cat. My feline family is the subject of many paintings that became Christmas cards.  When my friends and I are painting in different neighborhoods, the cats find me; I often include a small cat in my landscapes.

Yes, I have become the crazy cat lady who also paints them.

DIN

My friend, Marylyn, and I are working through Larry Moore’s Fishing for Elephants  Insights and Exercises to Inspire Authentic Creativity. We heard him speak and demonstrate at Plein Air South in May, 2019 and thought if we read and discussed it together, we would get more from it. I have begun quite a few self-help books without completing them (sound familiar?), so this would hold me accountable. At least it would provide opportunities to have lunch once a week and talk about it.

So after painting and having our chicken salad  (the quintessential Southern Ladies’ lunch ), we were discussing Chapter Five, Resistance, when we both mentioned how “Do It Now!” truly resonated with us. Both Marylyn and I spent years not making art because Life was happening (raising a family, working a job); we both realized making art was our priority and we need to Do It Now or it may not get done.

My studio. Do something new every day. Using a plein air pastel painting as the basis for a much larger oil was new for me (and a lot of fun).

I recently wrote about using your good things because life is short. Time is short and there is none to be wasted.  Whatever your passion, don’t wait. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. DIN!

Use Your Good Things

My sisters and I were compiling a list of the comments our mother repeated to us during the years. I remember Mother stating many times, “Life is not fair,” but that did not make the cut. Some bits of wisdom which did make it are as follows:

  • Stand up straight
  • Make the best of what you have
  • Ask people their names and use them
  • Always notice something nice about people
  • Wear sunscreen 
  • Wear your pretty things

Wear your pretty things. I remember Mother also saying:

  • Use your good things
Beautiful crystal, china, and silver should not be reserved for special occasions. Enjoy nice things daily.

For people of a certain age, that may mean using the silverware, china, and crystal received as wedding gifts. I try to do that, even though it must be washed by hand.

For a long time, I tried to save money on art materials and equipment. After painting for a while,  I eventually splurged on a plein air easel, began using professional grade paints, and discover how much easier it is to paint on a quality substrate. But I was slacking on my brushes.

A year ago, I had an opportunity to purchase Rosemary brushes at a convention. Everyone in my studio had them and talked about how great they were. So I bought some. Took them home. Put them in a nice container and looked at them, thinking I would save them for a “good” painting.

What was I thinking?

Brushes (as well as jewelry) make great Christmas and birthday gifts.

How was I to know when the “good” painting was about to happen?

What if they were lost during a plein air event?

It took six months to get the courage to use them, and that was only because a workshop instructor used them almost exclusively. Hey, if I want to make great paintings too, shouldn’t I use the same brushes? So I dipped those Rosemarys in paint, put them to canvas, and was hugely surprised at what a joy they were to use and how much easier it was to paint with them. Why had I waited so long?

Life is short.

Use your good things.

Pace, The Service Dog

My painting, Faith, portrays Fr. Pat Mascarella seated at St. Joseph’s Cathedral with his service dog, Pace. I used a photo taken by a friend attending a service in the cathedral. A collector purchased the original at an exhibit at Louisiana’s Old State Capitol and contacted me to see if I would have prints available (yes!) because a family member was interested in purchasing several.

Pace served Fr. Mascarella for many years, recently retired, and lives with a family member.

After a few weeks of missed connections, I was finally able to deliver the prints and meet Pace.  He is a large dog who had completed ten years of service and was about to retire when he was adopted by a member of Fr. Pat’s family. Pace allowed me to pet him even though I am sure he could smell my three cats.

A photo my friend, Paula W., took of Fr. Mascarella with Pace at St. Joseph’s Cathedral

 

 

 

Later in the day, my friend who took the picture I used  stopped by my studio. I told her about meeting the service dog, and she told me about attending the anointing of the sick service with a friend who had been ill. Fr. Pat came in, sat in the front pew, and in the aisle was Pace,  so calm and peaceful. She thought it was a great photo opportunity.

What a coincidence these two meetings took place on the same day. Making this painting was an emotional experience; it was hard to hold back the tears when painting Pace. I was worried he did not understand where his companion was. After meeting Pace, I felt that he knew exactly where Fr. Pat was, in heaven.

Fr. Mascarella’s service dog, Pace, patiently waits.

Faith

Inspire: To fill with the urge to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

Fr. Mascarella’s service dog, Pace, patiently waits.

Louisiana,You Inspire Me was the theme of Associated Women in the Arts’ Spring Exhibition at Louisiana’s Old State Capitol. While many things about my adopted state motivate me to paint, I had difficulty pinpointing what truly inspires me.  I only saw Fr. Mascarella once when he said Mass at the church I attended. This retired priest, who was blind, often substituted in different parishes throughout the diocese.  Considering the logistics of his traveling anywhere, I was impressed that he got around as much as he did.  The faith he had in his service dog, Pace, was in a word, inspiring.

In January, Urban Sketchers Baton Rouge sketched in St. Josephs Cathedral.

I joined a group of artists sketching at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in downtown Baton Rouge several days after Fr. Mascarella passed away. Sitting at the rear of the church (because that’s where I always sit) my perspective included stained glass windows between the arches. It was pretty dark but the watercolor sketch was all right.

Several days later, my husband came home with a photo his friend, Paula,  took of Fr. Mascarella with Pace, sitting in the area of the cathedral I had drawn the weekend before. I knew then that would be my painting.  He persevered when he could have easily given up, continued to serve his community in retirement, and even took art classes at LSU though he could could not see. Thank you, Fr. Mascarella, for being an inspiration not only to me, but hundreds of others.

Yellow=Happiness

“Let there be Light,” said the Creator, and there was Light. After seeing the Light was good, He broke it down into the Spectrum and there was Yellow. He thought Yellow joyful and made it the color of the sunflower, which brings happiness to all who see it. Positive energy, cheerfulness, and optimism are a few of this hue’s emotional properties. Because it is such a warm color, there is no wonder so many of my artist friends have been making paintings with lots of yellow during these cold winter days. I love bright colors.

This yellow Craftsman style house with green shutters was fun to paint, even though it was a very cold morning.

Maybe that is why I enjoy painting flowers so much, whether they are in a landscape or a still life. To me, painting flowers is far easier (and enjoyable) than planting them. Yellow flowers and foliage are so much fun because I can use pure pigment and not worry too much about toning down the color (I’m kind of lazy like that). So when I was commissioned to paint a bridal bouquet with sunflowers contrasted with darker colors, I was pretty close to being in Yellow Heaven.

Sunflowers = Happiness

Yes, I exaggerated the color of every blossom in the bouquet, but painting it was like listening to great jazz. With every stroke of brilliant color I found another note in the spectrum that added joy to the composition. Light is good, and yellow = happiness.

New Year, Blank Book

 

New Year, Blank Book. The dining room table serves as a desk as I try to catch up on correspondence and daily writing. At least I am out of the kitchen.

Several years ago I received a weekly planner as a Christmas gift. I liked that each date had lines to write on (I don’t like writing on blank paper–my lines start sloping downwards with the the first sentence) and began keeping a Happiness Journal at the first of the year. I have had three of these books (thanks, Barnes & Noble for keeping them in stock).  I enjoy looking through them, remembering what the weather was like each day (because it often affects my happiness) and one thing that made me happy. Sometimes it’s just seeing a tree in autumn decked in glorious golds and reds or a delightful meal at a favorite restaurant. Funny how the same event or weather condition repeats on or near the same date from year to year. Painting with my friends is a frequent note in my Happiness Journal.

Here is to filling my blank book for 2019 with many entries of happy painting occasions, documentation of gorgeous weather, and notes of time spent with good friends. Happy New Year!

December Light en Plein Air

Light is twinkling everywhere, now that the Christmas season is upon us. Retailers have had decorations up since the beginning of November, and neighbors try to out-light each other with displays in the yards and on their houses. 

The view across the lake at City Park. The foliage was stunning.

At the end of November and beginning of December here in South Louisiana the leaves finally turned to yellow, orange, and scarlet, and their contrast against the blue sky was amazing. The light reflecting on the foliage resembled sparkling jewels; the display lasted about ten days before fading.

A grey day will not keep me from jazzing up the color of the foliage. This is the initial block in.

It’s been a few weeks since I have been out in the field painting, and it was not hard to see I was sorely out of practice. I am not an outdoor person, but there is something about being in nature trying to capture a feeling or image that makes putting up with the cold/heat/damp/maybe rain/once snowflakes a pleasure. For me, painting en plein air is not so much about the product but the process. Of course, getting a good painting every now and then is pretty cool.