Do you pick favorites?

Remember having a favorite everything as a kid? Favorite TV show, favorite cereal, favorite game, and the quintessential favorite color. As an adult, it may seem silly to have a favorite color. But as an artist, I must admit, I have a favorite color. I know, I am breaking all the rules. But there is one color I sneak into practically every painting. I don’t even do it to create color harmony.  I just use it because I have a great association with it, and it makes me happy.  My secret color? Winsor Newton’s Cobalt Turquoise Light. I even like the word turquoise.  To me, the color dances! It’s light, peppy, optimistic, cheerful yet doesn’t demand too much attention when used sparingly.

I have not seen this color on any recommended color palette by any artist. It is a color you can mix using variations of cerulean, but there is something about seeing the tube and the tiny squirt on my palette that makes me happy! It’s ready to get mixed, ready to do its job. My palette feels naked without it!

I remember as a kid, going to Lake George Village in the Adirondacks in New York State.  My sister and I would go into souvenir shops and handle all the merchandise. We would smell the insides of the cedar boxes. We would pick out patches for our jeans and would buy a piece of turquoise jewelry. I never knew where it came from or how the gems were made, I just loved the color and besides, cool people had turquoise. Stevie Nicks wore turquoise.  I have seen turquoise waters off the island of Puerto Rico, Culebra. I have swum in the turquoise waters off Key West & Miami. They are as pleasing to be in as a preheated bed.

Flaminco Beach, Puerto Rico

While Cobalt Turquoise Light takes the spotlight, the real star is light!  Our colors get all the fame and attention “oh, the colors!”, but the reason we love color is because of light.  Light shines on color. Light gives us memories. Light gives us feelings, emotions. It gives us life and miraculous possibilities. Light gives us rich reds and bright blues. It reveals the crimson of a rich ripe strawberry or the cerulean blue of the sky on a dry summer’s day. Light is what makes the waters blue. Without light, colors would just be bumping into each other fumbling in the dark. Thank you, light, for giving me my favorite color. Okay, I must ask, what’s your favorite color?

Are you getting better?

Lisa David oil painting blog plein air photos

Looking through my work, deciding what is working, and what is not!

I played the viola in the 5th grade. I probably ended up with the viola because I returned the permission slip late. I remember the screeching as the bow scraped across the strings. I could play Hot Cross Buns. The red velvet case, with the block of rosin, was all mine. I loved the smell of rosin. I was so cool. I was not so good. But I remember my Mom saying “Lee, you’re getting better!” As a high school drawing and painting teacher, I rarely say “you’re so good” because what is “good” anyway? I want my students to improve, to get better. As hard as we try to “get good” at something, the bar keeps moving and who determines what good is, anyway? Good is an arbitrary, subjective term. It’s a preference. My dog George is good. Pizza is good. Why not try to get better? Be better?
piles of paintings

Piles of “Never minds” painting.

I lined up my art in chronological order. After getting past my giant pile of “neverminds,” it was time to get serious. There are countless areas of improvements I could tackle. Composition, value structure, brushwork, color, edges, to name a few. I realized I am making the same error over and over. I decided deliberate brushwork is something I want to be better at. I tend to over-work and over-paint. I lay in too many colors (that sounds weird, but you know what I mean!) In order to improve, I need knowledge. We artists are nuts for information, googling everything until we are experts. So, I have started to read selected books, blog posts, articles about brushwork and actual paint application. I am watching videos, looking at details of master’s art on Google Art Project. With each painting, I am attempting to be more deliberate and focus on this one area of improvement. Why does it matter? Couldn’t I just keep on painting, throwing caution to the wind, content in the pieces I paint? Sure, I guess. It’s not like the painting police will take away my brushes. But I want to get better. And if you’re reading this, you want to get better, too. True story: Today, after two weeks of intense figure drawing lessons, I overheard my students say they finally “get it”. They said how after a few years of drawing people, they finally understand the steps. As they were filing out of my classroom, one student left her drawing face up on the pile. For a second, she just looked at it, pausing. In that moment, she was on top of the world. It’s a tiny gesture, but as a teacher, it meant the world to me. She was proud; confident. A minute later, another student asked for charcoal for more practice. Is she “good” at drawing? It doesn’t matter. She is better. She is on the path to improvement, where proud moments happen along the way.

Don’t wait for the lights to change!

Plein air painter in winter
Norwegian artist Frits Thaulow painting “En plein air” circa 1900

Last summer, I caught the bug. Bad. Everything changed for me. I was asked to teach a plein air workshop in our town. How hard can it be, I thought? I’m a studio painter and art teacher so I felt pretty good in my ability to teach a handful of adults. The workshop was in September. In June, I thought I should see what plein air painting was all about. I had painted outside once or twice before. I even owned a French easel. So, I packed up my supplies and headed out. The first painting I did was a hot mess. Working alla prima (all at once) in the studio was hard enough, but outdoors is an entirely different mindset. Changing weather, bugs, people and remembering everything were only a few of the challenges. But soon, I became addicted. I caught the plein air bug. It’s going around! More and more artists are finding painting from life is exhilarating and adrenaline-making. Fast forward to today, just a few months later. I now struggle painting from a photograph. While the numbers decrease, many hardcore plein air painters paint outside in winter.

Lisa David painting plein air outside in snow. I brought WAY too much.
The lovely birch tree in the sun with amber and violet tones.

Yesterday, I ventured outside to paint. It was about 25 degrees in upstate NY. I live near the Saratoga Spa State Park. The sun was out. I schlepped my gear (including hot chocolate) and found an old gnarly birch tree. It was blackened in a few areas and its shadow provided a strong compositional element. Two minutes after setting up, clouds rolled in and I lost the sun. It was almost immediate. My colorful violet shadows turned to drab shades of gray. The tree with its lovely highlights turned gray. It reminded me of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry sees his girlfriend in bad lighting and realizes she’s not that attractive! I stuck it out and did my best to paint the tree. I really wanted to use color and there just wasn’t much. Believe me, I looked. My hands started to get really cold despite using hand warmers in my mittens and boots. You may be asking, so why? Why do I feel compelled to paint outside in winter? Unless you have tried it, it’s hard to understand. Being outside, drawing, seeing and recording is supremely satisfying. It improves my skills and while yesterday’s painting is definitely not a favorite it will serve as a memory and a reminder. Lesson learned? Be ready because the lights sometimes change.

Best I could pull color from tree after grey clouds rolled in. Not much to see here….move on…..!

What’s your story?… and why it matters!

leisuretime

Leisure Time. 6″ x 6″ Oil on panel. Fond memories in this camper circa 1971.

Recently, I have noticed books, websites and podcasts for creative people about finding your authentic self – your true self.  Reason being, if you can tap into that, your art-making will be inspired from within, thus you’ll create more authentic and genuine pieces.  Why is this an important and necessary process?  Your art needs to have integrity. For you to defend your art as the “real thing” it needs your truth. When the art you make comes from within, you will see it on the canvas.  It has a ring of truth.  Your art will stand out and bring you peace. You will look forward to creating and sharing.

So how do know how to find your truth? Your story? We all have a story, a point of view. I wanted to find my truth. Should I read books, take personality tests, Google and listen to podcasts? My discovery of my story was relatively simple. I stopped looking outside to find out who I am.  No one knows me better than myself. My experiences, likes, dislikes, memories, ideas are only mine. I thought about it for a bit and looked at the work I most enjoy making and sharing. Then my story revealed itself. I’ll share it with you!

I’m a girl who loves the 60’s who was raised by a genius scientist and an alcoholic mother with a heart of gold. While she attempted domestic life, our suburban development house overwhelmed my mother. Four kids kept her busy. Erma Bombeck was her idol and voice of sanity. Someday, I’ll share the whole story. For now, let’s just say I watched a lot of TV to show me what normal life was. I yearned to live in the Brady Bunch house.  One fond memory I had growing up was camping at state campsites in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. We were all crammed in a popup camper. It felt so great to be with other kids and families doing this “normal” activity.  So, camping has a strong hold on me. I have a log cabin in the Adirondack mountains which I use as a studio for summer painting.  I love pine trees and the color of pine needles. That’s who I am. I love vintage and the Adirondack landscapes. A lot has happened in my life along the way, but I can honestly say my love for life in the 60’s and the mountains pretty much consumes my thoughts. Simple? Sure.  And for now, that’s just fine for me. What’s your story? Listen to your inner voice….shhhhhh. Hear it?

Michne Family in our Leisure Time Camper

Staying cozy in the Leisure Time Camper, 1972. I’m the happy one in the back.

P.S. Timing is everything. I just started reading Larry Moore’s book, Fishing for Elephants. If you are struggling with finding your authentic self and your inner voice isn’t screaming at you to get your attention, Larry can do it for you! It’s a great read so far. Good luck in your journey, may you be at peace with your story.

Selecting a format: Square or horizontal

Lisa David Art square paintings

Four square paintings. Each with their own compositional challenges, but when 4 small squares make a new square, it’s kinda fun!

 

Square panel paintings have become all the rage.  I started a few years ago when I was doing daily paintings.  Art history is filled with horizontal rectangular landscapes.  It’s the most popular format when painting a landscape.  Oddly, most windows in houses are vertical!  Portrait painters will typically use a vertical rectangle, as a body when sitting is typically taller than it is wide.  And now, with computers, we select landscape format for horizontal and portrait format for vertical. But what if you decide a square? Will you be a square? No, quite the opposite because as Huey Lewis says, “It’s hip to be square”! All kidding aside, let’s consider the square format, pros and cons.

Cons: There are composition challenges to a square format. It is tempting to put your subject right in the middle of a square. Often, people who work from photos use the 3:2 format as that is what a traditional 35 mm ratio is.  Apple phones provides the photographer a few options. If you know you will be painting from a photo (although not recommended), then select the format first. It will eliminate decision making and get you comfortable with the format.

Frames are sometimes difficult to find. We live in a rectangular world where walls and windows are usually rectangular.  I needed a 6″ x 6″ frame quickly and had a really hard time finding one, except online.

A square painting hung alone alone sometimes begs to have a partner. Paired paintings or groupings of square paintings create a nice decor element.

Pros: Personally, I like how the eye travels through a square format. Almost like a Pac-man hitting one side, traveling up to the other and down again. The square feels tight, visually. For still lifes, I think it is almost easier to create a sense of balance in a square format.

Decorators seem to love squares. It is a very common motif used in home design. A single square painting seems to bring a calmness and stability to a place.

I once read that the square is a man-made shape, that not much in nature is square. That’s pretty true. Squares combine to make bigger squares. They have a sense of order and completeness.  How about painting on a square format?  I usually employ the rule of thirds, keeping my focal point at one of the intersections if we drew a tic-tac-toe inside the square. Or, I will keep sky or land in upper or lower third. Unless, I don’t! Sometimes, an image lends itself to a square, like the grouping of trees above. They create a vignette aided by the square format, forcing the viewers eye up to the sky.

Apparently, social media LOVES squares! Instagram-square. Apple icons-square.  We like squares. Squares seem to be very hip at the moment! Who knows what’s next? Circle, get ready…..!

What are your thoughts? Are you a square painter?

Pulp FIction

Instagram became my mother.

giphy-2With social media being the arbiter of all things these days, I have recently wondered if posting art really matters?  Imagine if NO ONE ever saw your art. I recently heard about an artist in Paris who painted his whole life and never showed his art. He was quite good according to one person who saw his amazing artwork. He agreed to meet with one gallery owner. When the gallery owner arrived, he decided not to meet. He changed his mind. His work was never seen. Ugh. No thumbs up, smiley faces or hearts for that poor artist.

Remember when you were little, drawing for the fun of it?  Wait…. did you? I didn’t. Almost every piece of art I made, I had to show my Mom. I was an avid card-maker, drawing illustrations with silly sentiments made to cheer people up. I couldn’t believe there was a job that combined drawing and making people feel good! My mother was my biggest fan. She told me a million times that one day, I would work for Hallmark! Oh, Mom. She gave me thumbs up and hearts on all my artwork (not really, but if she was alive today, she would).

Apparently, I make art to feel validated. To have someone say “good job” or “you did it!” But I also make art to relive a childhood memory, to connect somehow to my past. Do we make art because of a NEED to express our ideas and thoughts or do we make it because on some level, to be validated, or both? Did the cavemen make art to show their other cavemen friends?  Maybe some people are perfectly content making art for themselves. I often wonder about Grandma Moses. When she first started painting at age 70, did she want validation? Money? Fame? I doubt it. I know, in fact, she related her imagery to her childhood memories and just wanted to take up a hobby.

Art-making used to be a private experience. Today we need to be “liked”. We want the world to say “Good job! You did it!” With so many people bashing social media these days, I guess I want to say thank you. Thank you, Instagram. My mother isn’t here to give me those thumbs up and red hearts, but thanks to you, some person 500 miles away from me is saying “Good job! You did it!”

mom

That’s Mom. She was the best!❤️

Decisions, decisions…how to get stuff done!

 

giphy-1Being an artist requires superior decision-making skills. What should I make? How do I spend my time? Getting from idea to finished work is very rewarding. Ask any artist, and they will have at least 5 ideas ready to explore. For example, I am currently “exploring” figure drawing, writing and plein air painting. It can be overwhelming deciding how to spend our time. Not only do artists create; if your goal is to sell artists must relate. We have to “find our audience”, maintain a social media presence, etc., oh and for many, work a full-time job! I have found 3 tricks to get from idea to finished work.

Be honest with yourself. It’s not easy. We live in our comfort zone. But you have to identify your weakness as an artist. What is that one thing that makes you uneasy, cringe or avoid? Whatever it is, decide that THIS will be incorporated into your next project.  For me, it was figure drawing. While I have been an artist all my life, I never honed my figure drawing skills. So, I enrolled at a local arts center and decided to tackle this weakness. Now, Monday nights, I partake in the open studio sessions. While I knew that good drawing is the crux of all successful realism, it wasn’t until I put into practice that I saw my paintings improve. Newly acquired skills translate to confidence which brings drive.

Tell everyone what you are doing. When we “put it out there” that we are going to do something, we generally commit. Some entity like Facebook or Instagram also holds us accountable.  At some point, an idea spoke to you. When you tell someone, you are liberated, free and inspired. Don’t stop at just one person, tell everyone! Next, imagine the project done and before you know it that thing you were putting off is finished. In my life, I have found this works wonderfully. I remember waking up one day and telling my husband “I’m going to be a teacher” and I did. Or once I said “I’m going to open a store” and I did. Once, I entered an art show without even having made one piece. It motivated me to produce and eventually propelled a my production pottery company (Picket Pottery).  I’m currently working on writing and illustrating a children’s book. Yup! So now, I have told you-not a secret anymore!

Give yourself homework. Yup! Remember high school? Well, set yourself a goal. One summer, I painted a painting day, the next I painted one a week, the next were 28 paintings inspired by a family vacation. These projects were the result of both working on my weaknesses AND announcing to the world what I was going to do. If your idea is exploring shadows, perhaps produce a body of work with 10 or 12 landscape paintings incorporating strong shadows. Decide when you want them done. Give yourself a deadline, just like homework. Break it down into daily goals and stick to it. Time will come and go and (hopefully) in the end, you will have tangible results showing how you spent your precious time.

Now, off to write that book….!