What I Did On My Summer Vacation

For the past fifteen years or so, on the last day of summer vacation I compiled a list of everything I did. There is something about making a list. It’s easy to understand, and somewhat satisfying when it’s long. This year, the last day of summer vacation was on a Wednesday, so I could not do it.

Several years ago I joined a group of women who wanted to paint together once a week. It was decided the day would be Wednesday. We started in June of that year and worked at each other’s homes. I changed a few appointments so I could make the Wednesday painting meeting. Sadly, I had to stop attending when school started and was a little jealous seeing the work my friends were producing while I taught. Occasionally I joined them during the holidays.

The next summer we added another friend and took a painting trip together, which was a great experience. I was excited about getting back to the routine of Wednesday painting for another summer.

The best thing about the Wednesday painting group is the schedule. Paint on Wednesday morning. It’s what you do, no excuses. There were plenty of times when I would much rather not pack all my gear, get in the intense Louisiana heat, and stay home, but knowing I had someplace to be and people to meet was a huge motivator.

It was really hot on this Wednesday.
It was really hot on this Wednesday.

This summer a few of the original members of the group, as well as some new friends, continued to paint regularly on Wednesdays. I missed one day when I was on vacation (but I did a painting by myself) and took photos on another.IMG_1090

Someone said, “I see your paintings on Facebook. You have gotten so much better!” That’s what happens with consistent practice. On Wednesday mornings. And that’s what I did on my summer vacation.

Rainy days are great for still life painting.
Rainy days are great for still life painting.

Sew It Goes

Before I decided to become a painter, I sewed clothes. A lot of them. I was about nine years old when my mother taught me to use a sewing machine. I started with simple things like pillows. Since Mother sewed for herself and my three sisters, she was more than happy that I wanted to make my own clothes, and so I did for the next thirty years.

Sewing and painting are similar endeavors. Both require a some creativity (choose fabric that fits the dress design, choose an appropriate composition for the subject), ability to handle tools (needles, scissors, machine, brushes, support and medium), and lots of problem solving, practice and patience. I learned to match plaids and stripes, make professional buttonholes, and used Vogue patterns, which at the time were some of the trendiest but most challenging dressmakers’ patterns. I was a pretty good seamstress. The last time I sewed an article of clothing may have been twenty years ago. Even after measuring carefully and altering the pattern, the pants I made did not fit, and I quit sewing for myself. It was cheaper to buy pants than the fabric and time it took to make them.

IMG_1664At one time I lived about a half mile from Hancock’s Fabrics and probably went there once a week. I loved looking at the possibilities in the store. All that fabric, all those notions, all those neat gadgets! It was a candy store! The clerks knew their stuff and were extremely helpful. Later, I occasionally shopped there when I needed notions or something for home decorating. I noticed the transition from dressmaking fabrics to more crafting materials. Still, it was the place I could go get something to make a window treatment or pillow.

A few weeks ago there was a story in the local newspaper about the closing of all Hancock’s stores. Apparently the news took a lot of people by surprise. My mother and I went to there and found a sad scene. There was very little left in the store for the large number of customers still shopping. The clerks were still there, helpful as always, knowing that soon they would be looking for a new job. I was worried about finding lining fabric for my window treatments.IMG_1681

Hancock’s Fabrics, you will be missed by many.

Art “Work”

After watching a video by artist Robert BurridgeI decided it would be a great exercise for my students. His paintings are very loose and have lots of vibrant colors, layers and texture. Most of my students could stand to do some loosening up in their own paintings. So, as any good art teacher should do, I experimented with his process myself.

I set up an easel with a medium-sized canvas and palette in the hallway of my office. Now there are many educational professionals in my office, and most of them have jobs doing things that I do not understand, but everything requires lots of paperwork. So as they went in and out of their offices, everyone stopped to take a look at my painting and make comments.

The hallway of the office was my studio for the day.
The hallway of the office was my studio for the day.

“Wow! That is so good!” (It really wasn’t.) “Love your colors!” “I wish I could paint/draw! I can’t even draw a straight line with a ruler!” And the number one comment: “That looks like so much FUN!”

Well, it was fun, but creating art is also work. Although the process I borrowed from Bob Burridge was about using color to create a pleasing composition, it required thought, knowledge of design, and practice. A viewer sees only the finished piece and does not realize the hours of preparation and study it took to make that one painting. The audience listens to a guitarist who makes it look so easy, not thinking about the number of hours spent practicing. Athletes “play” only after years of training.

The painting was fun to make, certainly not great.
The painting was fun to make, certainly not great.

And that’s why it’s called artwork. It takes a lot of work to make that one painting.

The Fine Art of Christmas Tree Decoration

As a child, decorating the Christmas tree was a joy. It was the one time we were happily working together with no sibling rivalry to interfere. There was a procedure: garland around the tree, round glass ornaments, special ornaments we made in school, and finally the icicles which had to be placed one by one on the branches. Of course, before any of the decorating could begin, the lights had to be carefully placed on the tree.

We rarely decorated the tree more than a week before Christmas. I think we used to take the station wagon to the A & P or Kroger and buy it. The tree sat outside for a few days so it could “fall out.” Once the tree was in the house, I think we all tried to get lost while Daddy put the lights on the tree. This was because every year he spent hours untangling them. I am sure there were some choice words uttered, but we were hiding out and did not hear them. After getting the mess of lights straightened out, Daddy spent hours placing each light just so. Then we were allowed to put the ornaments on. I loved it.

In the late 60’s my parents purchased an older home that had twelve foot ceilings. The tree was placed in the front window of the living room, which was decorated in a light blue. My parents decided to buy tiny light blue lights to match things (or maybe it was that Elvis song that made them do it). Anyway, there were 400 hundred tiny lights on that tree, and we thought it was spectacular.

For the past thirty-five years I have been decorating my own trees. It’s not the joyful chore it once was. But I get the light thing from my father. More lights=awesome. Each year I started out with my carefully stored strings of lights thinking there were enough, and about half way up the tree my husband had to go out for more. Last year I think there were 2300 mini lights on the tree and at least a hundred ornaments. Overwhelming.

This year was different. I just did not have it in me, so there are only 1300 or so. The amazing thing is that the ornaments show up so much better than before. Maybe less is more.

Christmas Tree 2015
Christmas Tree 2015

Shopping at Mo’s

The Covington Three Rivers Art Festival is one of the best arts and crafts shows in Louisiana. On the second Saturday of November my friends and I make a day of shopping, having lunch at the Tap Room, and stopping by Acquistapace’s Covington Supermarket to check out the wine selection on the way home. We park in the same place, eat the same meal, and look for the same vendors each year. It’s fun to discover new artists and disappointing when old favorites are not attending. Seeing what other artists have to offer is one reason I enjoy the festival, but there is an even greater draw. Going to Mo’s.

Mo’s is an art supply and framing shop in Covington, LA. The selection in this small store is extensive, spanning the typical oil/acrylic/watercolor paint selection to beautiful handmade papers for collaging to clever gifts for the artist in one’s life. Customers are allowed to check the snap of brushes and feel the texture of papers. Classes are offered. Purchases are placed in cute hand stamped bags. It’s like candy land for artists.

Mo's shopping bags have a hand-stamped image of Mona Lisa with a palette.
Mo’s shopping bags have a hand-stamped image of Mona Lisa with a palette.

So last weekend while all my friends were purchasing gifts for Christmas, I was in Mo’s looking for a new brush, calligraphy ink, and maybe a stray piece of Wallis pastel paper. I found Egbert brushes that one of my painting buddies was raving about, so I bought two. Higgins Eternal Ink, the one my calligraphy instructor in college had us use, was not offered in my big art supply catalogue, but there was one bottle at Mo’s. Who knows, it may be the last on the planet. And I think my search for Wallis paper is hopeless…I have one large piece left and need to make the best of it.

When we met to go home, my friends had lots of interesting purchases for show and tell. I had some new paintbrushes, ink  and no pastel paper to show my friends. Remember, if someone tells you that you have enough art supplies and you don’t need anymore, stop talking to them. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life (source unknown).

Giving Thanks

In November we seem to think just a little bit more about those things for which was are thankful, even though we should be grateful every day of the year. I guess it’s good to have one day of the year designated as that day of thanksgiving so we will actually do it.

I have so much for which to be thankful: my husband who supports me in all that I do, my siblings who are always there for me, some very good friends, and of course, my parents, who gave me everything.

I am thankful they gave me the essentials for life and so much more. My parents taught me how to make do with what I had. They sent me to a Catholic school, where I received an outstanding education, and made it easy for me to attend college. I was even allowed to make mistakes, and my parents were there to help me overcome them. Mother and Daddy supported my decision to major in art, even though I was not the best artist or most creative person. They wanted me to be happy.

One of the best moments for me was when I overheard my father tell someone his daughter, Dana, was an ARTIST. That was the best validation I have ever had.

Daddy, I hope I still make you proud!

I painted this portrait of my father, Dan Sisson, about 2000.
I painted this portrait of my father, Dan Sisson, about 2000.

Workshopping

Workshopping

I recently took a painting workshop with artist Dreama Tolle Perry, whose work I admire enough to pay tuition, airfare, hotel, and car rental to attend. I went with two friends whom I consider seasoned workshoppers. They have studied with many, many artists around the country and know how to make the most of their time. I am glad I was able to go with them and learn the ropes.

One thing I learned on my own long ago was that most of the paintings made in a workshop are not always good, nor are they complete. Once I was past all that, my workshop experiences were better.

There is a reason it’s called a “WORKSHOP.” First, one goes to learn something new, which I did, and WORK. A lot. The first day was full of new information, techniques, a demonstration, and I was pumped.

First workshop painting
First workshop painting

I thought my painting looked pretty good, and it was actually complete. So much for my previous thoughts on workshops. The three of us were so energized that we went to the hotel and PRACTICED what we learned.
The next day I struggled, and my friends explained it this way: After a successful opener, the second day is going to be a let down. Not only was my painting disappointing, I was TIRED.

All of us were worn out, so after supper we did not practice. On the final day we were able to paint from our own resources. Although I liked my results, it was not complete. Dreama was extremely helpful, and the other participants were complimentary.

This is a study for a painting I plan to make of my tuxedo cat, Roberto.
This is a study for a painting I plan to make of my tuxedo cat, Roberto.

My friends also explained to me: On the third day, take a few hours off. Go SHOPPING! They went shopping on the town square, then came back to shop more at the workshop, where they could purchase calendars, notebooks, aprons, and more.

That’s why it’s called a “WORKSHOP.” You go to Work, then Shop. And hopefully learn and make something to take home with you.

No trip to Paris, Kentucky would be complete without a photo at the Eiffel Tower.
No trip to Paris, Kentucky would be complete without a photo at the Eiffel Tower.

Painted on a Theme

Painted on a Theme

 

Each summer the members of Associated Women in the Arts are invited to participate in a group exhibition at the Elizabethan Gallery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The owner of the gallery sets a theme so the show will be cohesive, and the theme is broad enough that all members, regardless of their style and subject preference, can participate. The theme this year is “Hot Southern Summers and Fantasies” which can be interpreted in a lot of ways, not all of them rated “PG.”

So, in my usual fashion, I waited to begin my oil painting about a week before leaving town for a few days. The framed artwork is due the day after my return. And, of course, I had no idea what I could put on canvas that represented a hot southern summer and a fantasy that did not appear risqué or trite.

I went through a backlog of reference photos on my computer and saw the photo I made a few months ago while visiting a little place in Gulf Shores, Alabama called “The Flying Harpoon.” It’s a place where the locals come in for an adult beverage and some good bar food, tourists stop in to check it out, and everybody knows your name, sort of. There is live music a couple of days a week. The staff is very friendly and professional. But the biggest draw for me is the awesome view of the marsh from the deck. I was able to photograph the reflection of the sinking sun just before a rain shower one afternoon and have wanted to paint the view since then.

<View from the Flying HarpoonThe artwork is a vision of my fantasy place…a place where the golden sun sends those pinky-orange rays reflecting in the water broken by the lavender and violet marsh grass. Of course, the painting in my brain looks nothing like the one I created. That is the great thing about being a painter…I made one and I can do it again!

Working on Commission

Working on Commission

Painting commissions has its pros and cons. On the positive side, receiving a commission is a supreme compliment. That a client appreciates and values my work enough to ask (and pay) for a rendering of a specific image is an affirmation of my artistic ability. I am also fairly certain of being paid for my efforts. On the downside, however, I am painting for someone else, not myself. My standards are fairly high, but when I am painting for another person, I want my work has to be amazing, worth what I am earning. And that’s when I am really challenged.

For the most part, I have been successful doing commissions. I started decades ago making watercolor “portraits” of the homes of friends. These were tightly rendered pieces that took months to complete. I moved on to portraits of my relatives’ children, then to pets. Over the years I started using different media and my style became looser. There have been some disappointments (The dog looks great, but my children don’t look like that!) but I have gotten over that, realizing that every piece is part of my development. Some clients have purchased the work, even though it did not meet their expectations, only to decide years later that the painting actually does look like the sitter. Sound familiar?

This is my "studio" which is in the butler's pantry and bar of my home. Convenient if I need a plate or a glass of wine.
This is my “studio” which is in the butler’s pantry and bar of my home. Convenient if I need a plate or a glass of wine.

A friend asked me to make a watercolor of her family’s barn before it was no longer standing. We went and took photographs one stunningly brilliant October morning in 2014. After months I finally sketched it, then decided I had better get busy before a year passed and the barn really did fall down. It was challenging but fun, and I was able to try a different approach, since I am sure she will love the painting. I hope.

Teacher Appreciation

As an itinerant art teacher, my "classroom" is where ever there are tables and chairs available.
As an itinerant art teacher, my “classroom” is where ever there are tables and chairs available.

This is the week students (and former students) show appreciation toward their teachers. It never occurred to me what a challenge being a professional educator was. All I saw was what happened in the classroom. Not the Sunday afternoons of catching up on grading and planning. Not dealing with the difficult student who irritated everyone, both teacher and classmates (and probably parents, not that they would admit it!). Not the frustration of teaching students who did not work to their full potential (me). So when I see former teachers and professors, I tell them that I now realize what a privilege it was to have been their student. I have also been able to tell several of them how much I learned from their lessons and how I am passing it on to my students. I think they appreciate the acknowledgements.
One of the reasons I became an art teacher was to have the opportunity to make art without having to worry about selling it to make a living. This has worked pretty well for me. Nearly every day allows me a chance to draw or paint with my students without worrying about the laundry, what’s for dinner, or other daily routines that steal time and life out of me. Student artists do not realize how lucky they are to have a specific block of time reserved for the to draw, paint, or create something from nothing. “Enjoy it now,” I tell them, “because it won’t be long before reality will hit you hard with more obligations than you can ever imagine.” Except I don’t say it like that.

Playtime! As the students used oil pastel to make a fauvist style landscape, I played along with them.
Playtime! As the students used oil pastel to make a fauvist style landscape, I played along with them.

I am thankful for my daily playtime in the classroom. I hope those who will become my “former students” will remember the good things they accomplished in my class. Or at least that they received some good advice, like “Enjoy it now, because reality is coming and will hit you like a truckload of bricks!” Except I don’t say it like that.