Art Discussion, Exhibitions and Other News

Women’s Centennial Celebration Exhibit At Art Reach

Amidst a lot of bad news on a worldwide scale lately, I was blessed to receive some good news: One of my pieces shown in Art Reach’s Women’s Centennial Celebration Exhibit, July: She Is Free In Mind and Spirit, was awarded Best Of Show. This piece received a 2nd place award previously in 2018’s Midland Artists Guild Annual Juried Exhibition, and was a part of my Unlimited series shown in ArtPrize 9 in Grand Rapids. I wanted to use this as an opportunity to delve into this work deeper.

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July: She Is Free

A vital part of my Unlimited series was being sure I represented a variety of ages, races, and also abilities in my portraits. Though varying abilities can mean many things and a lot of disabilities are invisible, I wanted to represent an easily recognizable visible disability that is not often seen represented in art. I chose to depict a young woman with down syndrome.

When people think of the lives of individuals with disabilities, often all they can see is the struggles. Yes, we need to be aware of the struggles and be sure that we stand up for the rights of individuals with disabilities, make sure they have access to the healthcare they need and tools to help them live as independently as possible in their communities. But, like all people, individuals with disabilities are multifaceted beings. People with disabilities are rarely seen depicted in art, and are seldom shown in any media as empowered beings with their own unique personality beyond having a disability. I wanted to depict a woman who was confident in her own skin, and believed in her own unlimited potential.

The symbolism in this piece can mean different things to different viewers, and I love the fact that art is open to interpretation. That being said, I wanted to share what I was thinking when I created this piece. But remember, even as the artist, my interpretation is by no means the only interpretation :). I drew the face in prismacolor pencil. I wanted a scene around the head(mind) that exuded peace, so I filled in the hair with a watercolor landscape scene. Along with inner peace I wanted to depict the idea of freedom, of this woman not being limited by anything despite what others may assume. Birds taking flight have always been one of the biggest symbols of freedom to me, so I used prismacolor markers to draw birds in the same colors as the landscape circling around her. I reinforced the bird imagery with metallic gold prismacolor pencil in a radial flying bird pattern on her shirt, with an empty birdcage in the center of her chest. I wanted the figure and background to be seamless and flow into each other, but also wanted something to set off the figure so that she was the main focus. I wanted her face especially with its welcoming, content, confident expression to stand out. Using a black base created contrast, and I filled in this galaxy background with stars in the same pastel colors used throughout the rest of the piece. In most of my portraits I use the background to speak to the content of the figure’s mind and soul, and a galaxy fit perfectly to me as something vast and unlimited. 

“July” is very close to my heart, and the meaning behind it signifies why I am involved in the arts to begin with. In running an arts program for adults with disabilities, I feel I have found my purpose. I am excited to continue using art to form connections between all different types of people, help others tap into their unexplored potential, give a voice to those that often go unseen, and challenge ideas of what beauty is in art.

Art prints are available in my ebay shop!

There will be virtual tours of the show available through Art Reach soon. I can’t wait to see all the other work up close!

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Techniques and Tutorials

Jellyfish Watercolor Tutorial

Another day, another tutorial! I’m making my way through my favorite animals first, with yesterday’s owl and now today a colorful jellyfish. Let’s paint!

You will need:

  • Watercolor paper (I used a 6×6″ piece, but you can work bigger if you’d like as well)
  • 3 Paint colors: A blue of your choice, and 2 accent colors. I chose magenta and lime green. You could also use 3 different shades of blue if you want. Jellyfish come in many colors!
  • A large (I used size 8), medium (I used size 5), and detail (I used size 0) round brush (The brushes that come to a point at the end).
  • A large flat brush (The brushes with rectangular bristles, flat on the end).

Start by adding a good amount of water to your main blue color choice to dilute it down to a light wash. Use your large flat brush to fill in the entire paper pale blue. Use long back and forth strokes, brushing in the same direction horizontally across your paper. There may be some streaks and this is ok as we are trying to create our water :). If you want to even anything out a bit more, you can brush over darker areas with plain water using the same brush to blend. Let this dry. Once the background is dry, grab your medium round brush. Dip the brush in some of the same blue color, but with less water so it goes on a bit darker. Outline a shape that looks like the top of a cupcake in the upper right corner.

Rinse off your brush, and with just water run your brush along the inside edge of that outline to blend it inward. Grab some more blue, and make 3 squiggly lines coming down from your cupcake shape. Curving them on the end makes it look more natural, like how they would be flowing as the jellyfish swims through the water. Using the same brush, grab some more of that same blue and add a paint streak along each side of your jellyfish top, and make some short strokes also along the bottom edge.

Rinse off your brush, then go over these blue streaks you just added with water to blend. Using the same brush, take your chosen accent color and make some squiggly lines over your blue ones in that new color. Next, we are going to use our small detail brush. Take your other accent color and make a curved bridge shape near the top of your jellyfish body. Streak some lines coming down from that bridge. Use your detail brush to make some thin tentacles flowing out from the body as well. Use the tip of your brush and drag it across with a light touch, hardly putting any pressure on the paper to get thin, flowing lines. If you are having trouble making a continuous stroke, just add more water. Your tentacles can flow in all different directions as they float through the water.

Rinse off your detail brush, and grab some of your first accent color that you used on the squiggly center tentacles. Make a broken scalloped outline along the bottom of the jellyfish body. You can also add an oval up top with some short, radial streaks coming down from the circle, like a simple sun shape. For a finishing touch, take your large round brush now and dip it in some watered down paint in the original color you used for the background – You don’t want this to be too dark. Make some bubbly, cloud-like texture in a portion of the blank space around your jellyfish by filling in the areas using a circular motion with your brush. Your brush should be laying at an angle as you do this.

These are so fun to make in different colors – You could create a whole jellyfish army!

Be sure to follow for more art fun to keep your mind and hands busy :).

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Techniques and Tutorials

Barn Owl Watercolor Tutorial

In light of social distancing precautions, we all are ending up with some unexpected downtime. It can certainly be discouraging and frustrating, but we can also use this time to our advantage to bring something positive out of a negative situation. I will be posting some simple tutorials on a regular basis over the next couple weeks. The best thing to do when things are uncertain is to occupy your mind, especially with something creative. Let’s have some fun!

To create this owl, you will need:

  • Watercolor paper (I used a 6×6″ piece, but you can work bigger if you’d like as well)
  • 3 Paint colors: Grey (or if using black add a lot more water to lighten it), Burnt Umber (or any dark brown), and Raw Sienna (or any bright, warm brown)
  • A large (I used size 8), medium (I used size 5), and detail (I used size 0) round brush (The brushes that come to a point at the end).
  • A medium size flat brush (The brushes with rectangular bristles, flat on the end).
  • A pencil
  • Optional: Black liner pen (Like a fine point Sharpie!)

Start with a light pencil outline made from basic shapes to guide your painting. Draw a circle for the head, a teardrop shape coming diagonally out from that circle for the body, and another smaller teardrop shape sticking out from the bottom center of the body for the tail feathers.

Using your large round brush, water down your raw sienna paint – you do not want this first layer too dark. Following the shape of the body keeping all your brushstrokes in the same direction flowing downward, fill in the wings, leaving the head and the chest white for now.

Using your detail brush, make some jagged up-and-down strokes with a watered down grey along the front of the chest, underneath the head, and along the back of the neck.

Rinse off your detail brush, and using the same brush strokes go over your grey you just added to the chest and neck with water. This will help blend the grey so your transition from grey to white is more gradual, and you end up with a soft, feathery look. Next, using your detail brush and watered down grey, outline a pointed “U” shape in the center of the face. Make some radial brush strokes sticking out from the top of the U where the eyes will be using your detail brush.

Still using your detail brush, add some radial strokes along the outside edge of the head, including one ray down the center from the top pointing to the beak. Add some grey to fill in the end of the beak. Rinse off your brush, and lightly brush over what you just added with a damp brush to blend it.

Continuing to use your detail brush, add a border around the head with raw sienna using short, radial strokes pointing inwards towards the face. Don’t forget the widow’s peak up top :)! Water down your raw sienna a bit more, and add some of this pale warm brown to the area where the eyes will be, using radial brush strokes again pointing outward from the top of the U shape.

Next, we are going to start adding texture to the feathers. Dip your medium round brush in some raw sienna with a little less water so the coverage is a bit darker than the base underneath. Stamp up and down over the entire area to create blots of color (This is called stippling.).

Do the same thing overtop while the raw sienna is still wet with the burnt umber on the top section of the wings. Add a bit of water to your umber first, but you still want it to be pretty dark.

Then, use your detail brush to create some thin outlines in burnt umber. Hold your brush at a 90 degree angle to your paper and use a light touch, hardly pressing down at all as you drag your brush to create thin lines. Create a darker outline around the inner edge of the raw sienna outline around the face. Outline the wing, and add some lines to the bottom section of the wing and tail feathers following the direction of the shape.

Still using your detail brush and burnt umber, make some groupings of short, vertical brush strokes to create striping in the wing and tail feathers in between the lines. Make them jagged and uneven for a more realistic feathery look.

Next, using your flat brush add some more water to your burnt umber. Using the width of your brush, drag a diagonal line underneath the owl starting at the bottom of the chest.

Go back to your detail brush, and grab some burnt umber with a little less water mixed in so you get a darker color. Add some short streaks of this darker shade over the post while it is still wet. Then, using the very tip of your brush, lightly add some speckled dots over the chest. Less is more! You still want to see mostly white.

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Now for the finishing touches! Use your detail brush to create a hooked shape with the burnt umber for the talon. Use your medium round brush to add a dark burnt umber feather shape visible from behind, between the tail feathers and the post. The last step is the eyes. Create a downward slanted football shape in the area we shaded for the eyes. You may use your detail brush to fill in the eye in grey or black, but you can also use a black liner pen for a little extra control. Be sure to leave a small circle open near the top of each eye for the reflection – This is what really makes your owl look alive!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial! If it didn’t come out exactly how you expected the first time, remember it just takes practice and the goal is experimenting and fun. No matter the outcome, you know more than before you started!

You don’t have to use natural colors for this project either. I think it would be fun to try a whimsical, fantasy owl in wild colors like purples, oranges, magenta, lime green … There are no rules! If you feel like sharing, post a picture in the comments of how yours turned out and as always, if you have questions don’t hesitate to ask! Stay safe everyone!

 

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New Work

New Work Inspired By Spring (and Stress)

I’ve taken a short break from my new series to work on a stand alone project for a competition coming up. I always have a couple sketchbooks going filled with any ideas for art projects that I’ve thought up over the past 10+ years, some I’ve gotten to and some I haven’t. I think it’s the fact that I live in Michigan and the winter has been never ending that made me want to work on something inspired by plants, insects, and basically signs of life. When I began this project, I had also been having a bit of a rough patch emotionally with some minor life trials, nothing vast on their own but when all occurring at the same time… yikes. I had done a watercolor sketch way back in 2008 of a crying woman with ladybugs crawling our of her eyes, but it ended up looking way too gross which took away from the original intent. Another previous piece (Seriously, check it out if you haven’t already – it has a fun story.) from more recently incorporating butterfly designs into the human form had been well received when showed at a curated exhibit and to my surprise actually ended up selling right away. With this in the back of my mind, I decided torn butterfly wings were the perfect vehicle for melancholia – not so creepy crawly.

From this creative soup came my newest piece, Torn, on 18×24 mixed media paper.

torn

One of the biggest challenges with this piece was maintaining a balance of light and dark and achieving the bold contrast I knew I wanted without the figure looking disjointed. The white outlined pattern taken from both the background’s ginkgo leaves and butterfly designs layered overtop the black watercolor drip of her torso helped to blend the dark areas into the light and remove some of the heaviness. I included pieces of stark black scattered throughout the piece to balance everything out, from the hair and parts of the wings to the thin branches in the background.

butterfly shirtAn additional challenge – my two loves are watercolor and colored pencil, and I especially love to utilize these two vastly different mediums together. What paper to use, though? Colored pencils just cannot blend on watercolor paper with the strongly textured, bumpy surface so I tend to opt for mixed media paper when using wet and dry mediums together. However, watercolor does not  act the same way on mixed media paper as on traditional watercolor paper. Doing wet-on-wet color application leads to some really blotchy, unpleasant results so I had to be patient and do a lot more light layering to build up to the look I wanted.

All in all, I am happy with the result and enjoyed turning one of my concepts in idea purgatory into a reality :). Prints of all types are available in both my Redbubble Shop and Ebay Store.

 

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New Work

New Series and The Symbolism of Color

I’ve always been interested in the social significance of color, both in cultural symbolism and in the psychology of how color can affect our emotions. Showing solidarity for a specific cause through a group of people all wearing the same color on a certain day or for the attendance of a specific event has become a common practice. My partner has a viscerally negative reaction to the color yellow, and will be caused agitation if surrounded by a bright yellow environment (so basically he just loves the bright yellow flower print wallpaper that was complimentary with the bathroom in our home upon move-in). I have received shocked reactions even from people in my own young-adult age bracket at the mention that if I ever get married at some point, I probably wouldn’t choose a white wedding dress. These are just a couple of examples of the strong reactions people have to color as a form of communication, tradition, and emotional influence in both our exterior environment and more personally in how we choose to adorn ourselves and present our bodies to the world.

Of course, I will be working on other separate projects in between but my main focus going forward will be on a new series exploring the symbolism of different colors worldwide, taking the significance of specific colors from regions all over the world and integrating these often opposing meanings into a single story about that color. I will be focusing on 5 main colors, the 3 primaries of red, yellow, and blue and then black and white. The first color I have represented is white.

Depending where you are, white can symbolize new beginnings and a clean slate, or endings and mourning making it very much a bookend sort of color. It symbolizes traits that are considered more docile like purity, innocence and virtue, but also more courageous sentiments like protection and sacrifice. White is also a color that across cultures is often associated with femininity.

white final

For “The End Is Also The Beginning” I used a mixed media approach, choosing the mediums that would lend themselves best to the look I wanted to achieve for different parts of the piece. I used watercolor for the ice figures, snow, clouds, and water. I used prismacolor pencil (including metallic silver accents) for the figure, rabbit, and areas of fine detail like the blossom trees and patterns in the sky. I used scrap fabric for the pattern on the dress (actually left over from the hemmed curtains hanging in my art room. This is why you never toss scraps!), and flat-back acrylic pearls and beads for the decoration on the neckline of her gown, and her earrings.

I have a couple of juried shows coming up, and this will be one of the pieces getting sent off, so wish me luck!

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Artsnacks Unboxing

March Artsnacks Unboxing

Hello all! Obviously I’m a little late, but it’s been a weird month. I told myself I had to at least have this posted before March was over, so here I am!

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In this box, I received:

The Artsnacks gods must really want me to start using more green in my artwork, because I overwhelmingly receive green products where random color selection is concerned … And to be honest, I can only think of one other green artwork I have done in the last 10 years! That’s what I love about Artsnacks though, it gets you out of your box!

Now, for reviews! As a watercolor enthusiast, I was interested to try Ecoline’s liquid watercolor. It’s so runny compared to what I am used to using that it was a little hard to get used to at first, but it is definitely a quality product with rich color, just a different experience with a bit of a learning curve. I would be interested to try darker colors which are usually what I gravitate towards with watercolor, and also to experiment with how multiple colors blend or layer. I found it more difficult to get as wide a range of values with this product as I can with tube watercolors. To me it seems like these watercolors would be better suited to filling in concept sketches or more graphic illustrations like comics. Prognosis: Good product, uncertain operator!

Now on to the brush pen! It was really great to get to try out multiple Ecoline products being that this was a line I’d never tried before. I cannot get enough brush pens. I’ve mentioned before how my favorite have been Tombow’s water soluble brush markers, but what is great about these Ecoline pens is that they can be used in conjunction with Ecoline’s other products. Their brush pens, like Tombow’s, are water soluble and can be re-wet to blend even after they’ve dried. These Ecoline brush pens can be dipped in Ecoline’s watercolors or inks to mix colors and produce ombre and other blended effects which is a fantastic bonus. These products do seem to focus on the more pastel/tropical/ultra neon color spectrum which is not at all the palette I usually work in, but it is great for projects that call for a bright pop of color.

As someone who really enjoys using watercolor and ink pens together, I’m glad this box came with a pen to try as well. Drawing will always be my first love, and the bright colors available from the KINGART fine liners pair well with the Ecoline watercolors for seamless outlines. With a super thin, smooth line quality and no bleeding, I am definitely considering getting some of these as right now the only liners I have are black. They are also waterproof which make them a perfect fit for watercolor work.

Lastly, I will talk about the incredibly aesthetically pleasing pencils. I didn’t really get the brown sugar scent from the wood that was described on the information card I got with these products, but I also have had a habitually stuffy nose for the past 3 weeks so you can’t go by me! From a design perspective, these pencils are obviously gorgeous, and I can see them sitting on a side table next to a moleskin notebook in my soon-to-be mid-century-modern /slash/ industrial basement library that is right now just grey cement and a pile of wood scraps, but hey, we’ll get there ;). I’m a mechanical pencil girl for the most part, but I do get commissions for solely graphite works fairly often in which I use traditional pencils. It makes me happy to work with materials that are pretty, so these get a vote from me!

Another month, another great box! Until next time!

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Techniques and Tutorials

Blending With Watercolors – Stained Glass Ocean Project

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Hello! Today I want to show you a fun beginner project you can do to practice blending colors with watercolor paints and markers. If you are a complete beginner to color mixing, it is easiest to stick to either all warm colors (red, yellow, pink, orange …) or all cool colors like I did (blue, green, violet …). Some colors when blended together turn into “mud”, making a neutral like brown or gray. This is where understanding the color wheel comes in handy! For more about the color wheel, visit my earlier post Colors Aren’t Scary :). For this project, we will try out both flat brushes and round brushes. Round brushes have a teardrop shaped bristle that comes to a point at the end, and flat brushes have rectangular shaped bristles that are, well, flat on the end. Pretty easy to remember! It’s good to have a variety of sizes of each. Your brush size depends on the size of the area you are filling in. If your brush is too big, you risk getting paint where you don’t want it  but if your brush is too small, you will see all the little strokes and the paint won’t cover evenly.

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I started first with an outline, drawing my design in pencil on watercolor paper and then tracing over it with a waterproof black fine-liner pen (Sharpie fine points will work – You do not necessarily need a fancy art pen, though my preference when I do watercolor and ink work are these bad boys by Staedler.). You can draw your design however you want, or if you want to practice this technique without the added pressure of drawing, feel free to print this outline out and use graphite paper to transfer it right onto a piece of watercolor paper (Don’t have graphite paper on hand? Just shade over the back of your printout with a pencil, lay it on top of your watercolor paper, and trace over the lines and it will work the same way, though a bit more labor intensive.).

 

With watercolor, you want to start with the background and move to the foreground, and you always want to work lightest to darkest. It’s all about layering and building up colors since the paints themselves are translucent. In this more simplified project, we will be focusing just on blending this time, not layering. Still, working with the background first ensures that if any background color does find its way into the waves, which it inevitably will, we can just work right over it later and you won’t even notice by the end. Starting with the background, you want to choose a couple of colors (I used a cornflower blue and a cerulean blue.) and water them down so that they are consisting of mainly water with a small amount of pigment. Then you want to use a larger round brush and start filling in the space using circular motions. This will give our background wash a bit of texture, so that it has a hazy, cloud-like appearance rather than just flat streaks. I applied the cornflower blue on the bottom half of my sky and the cerulean on the top. Because both colors are wet, they should bleed into each other and blend together in a pretty seamless gradation. Be sure to overlap the two colors slightly where they meet. If they aren’t blending enough, you may also rinse off your brush and using the same circular motion run over the line where they touch with your damp brush to work them together further.

Color blending is one of the foundation skills of painting with watercolors, but it takes a lot of practice. Good thing you are about to get a lot of it! We did a textured blend for the background, but within an individual space inside our waves, we are now going to practice some flat blending with the goal of getting our colors to merge into as smooth of a gradation as possible. Now we are going to use a medium sized flat brush. A flat brush will be perfect for the smooth effect we need and will also be easier to keep inside the edges of our geometric shapes. You can tilt the brush so you are only using the tip rather than the whole side for narrower areas. Pick 2 different colors, and start painting one color on one end until you’ve gotten to about halfway across. Rinse your brush, and paint in another color starting on the opposite end, overlapping in the middle. A unique quality watercolor has is that when one color touches another while it is still wet, they WILL bleed into each other. In this case, that is a good thing as using wet-on-wet color with watercolors makes for some pretty low-effort, seamless blending. Still, watercolor can be finicky and things don’t always go as planned. I purposely filled the shape in so that there are darker, patchy areas and a harsh transition between the two colors. This happens sometimes, but can be easily rectified by going back over the uneven area with a damp brush. Be sure to always paint in the same direction, following the length of your shape.

Blending with watercolor markers is a similar process, but you need to be a bit more controlled with your water application so that you don’t completely lose the effect of the ink. I love watercolor markers because you can get such bold contrast, but a little bit of ink goes a long way, and with too much water your separate colors will just swim all together into one mass.  I cannot emphasize enough, quality also matters. If you get cheap markers, chances are they won’t blend nicely no matter how skillful the artist. They don’t need to be officially called “watercolor markers”, they just need to be water soluble so they will run when wet. I love using Tombow’s water soluble brush markers. You also need to think about the values of the markers you are using. Deeper colors will spread a lot farther than paler colors, and can overpower. I have started with a darker color, a royal blue, and a lighter more muted color, a sage green. Start by scribbling a bit of each color on opposite ends of your shape. You do NOT want to shade the entire area in. Again, a little bit of ink goes a long way when water is added. Then, still using a flat brush you want to dip your brush in some water, tapping off the extra on a nearby paper towel. Wet the ink on one side and work it into the middle of the shape. Rinse off your brush, and wet the ink on the other side, again working towards the middle where they will meet. The wet colors will again, flow together and seamlessly blend pretty much on their own once they meet, staying darkest where you first laid down the ink. You can see above that a gradation is apparent, but the blue has pretty much taken over as the main color you see.

Trying the process again using the same 2 colors, but shading in only a tiny bit of blue and more of the green, you can see we get a more balanced effect where the pure green color is still highly visible.

 

You can also create a gradation with only one color. The beauty of watercolor is the depth of value that can be captured from one single hue, simply by adjusting the amount of water added. To do this you would apply a bit of the same color on each end in a darker or medium value (mixing less water with your paint). Then, rinsing off your brush, add some water to the edge of the area of color on each side, again spreading towards the center from each end. The color will remain most saturated at the ends, and will be the lightest (most watered down) in the center.

If at any point you add too much water, your gradation is in danger of all just running together into one flat tone. If this happens, you can blot the area with a paper towel to lift the excess water (and some of the pigment), and then blend right over again. You don’t want to see any “puddles” pooling on your paper … that is a sign there is too much water being used. Also keep in mind damp is ok, but if you are filling in a new area next to an old one that is still very wet, the colors will bleed together over your lines. Sometimes it helps to use a blow-dryer to speed along the drying process. Or, you could just work on filling in areas that aren’t touching each other until each spot dries. The paint air dries pretty quick.

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Here is a reminder of the final image! It is the same blending process for each section, which is what makes it good practice. I filled in some spaces using the markers, and some with paint. I kept lighter colors on the crests of the waves, and alternated medium and dark tones throughout the body of water, making sure not to fill in too many of the same colors right next to each other. It always feels good to still have some sort of finished product after practicing techniques, and I guarantee you will start to see a difference in the first couple spaces you fill in versus the last! Remember, it’s all about playing with color. Have fun!

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