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.

Stop Painting! For a little while, anyway.

Stop painting…for a little while, anyway!

Plein Air Painting by artist Lisa David

Saturday in the Park, 8″ x 10″ Oil on Panel Plein air painting by Lisa David. Painted outside on a cold (18 degrees) day in Saratoga State Park, upstate, New York.

Do a painting, post a painting, do a painting, post a painting, update website, send emails, order supplies, look through photo references, paint another painting, post another painting. See the problem? I do. I’m not stopping for reflection and honest critique. No learning, no reading. My rhythm is all about making. I mistakenly think, if I don’t paint, I will get out of the groove. Does this sound familiar?

I am realizing it’s okay to stop.  Artists need to pause and reflect. The paint will be there waiting. We need to evaluate what we did so we don’t keep making the same mistakes. This may mean reading a book. I have about a dozen that have been waiting for me. It may mean spending money on a workshop or a class. It might mean sitting and watching videos. Or it might mean getting a mentor. If all we do is paint and post, there may not be growth. Mistakes are good. Honest criticism is healthy. Learning feels good. As an art teacher, after every project, my students have a critique. We talk about what worked, what didn’t. We discuss what they would do differently next time? I need to apply this critique to my own work. SLOW DOWN. It’s okay to spend time relaxing with a good book about composition or color.  So instead of going into my studio, I’m going to critique a painting I just finished. Here it is. A plein air painting I did in a park. It was a mere 18 degrees. Speed was necessary. I did not work on it back in the studio.

Plein Air Painting by artist Lisa David

Saturday in the Park, 8″ x 10″ Oil on Panel Plein air painting by Lisa David. Painted outside on a cold (18 degrees) day in Saratoga State Park, upstate, New York.

I like the looseness. Trees in the back are a bit boring- too much the same. Figures are good, lose- a bit clumsy. Tone of yellow seems too green. Texture of weeds could have more tooth. Birch trees okay- like that there are 3. Next time, vary tree line, work on the yellow tones, etc. What did I learn? Maybe premix colors when it’s too cold. Also, stop while painting and clean palette at each interval (foreground, middle ground and background). I’m sure there is much more I could learn and improve on this plein air study, but I’ll spare you, you get the point. Now, to go read!

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

Wait, I’m an artist?

After attempting to set some goals for 2019 I realized one thing: Goals are scary! They look great on paper and I’m all like “I GOT THIS”…until I look at my schedule and time is up, onto the next thing. If you know me, I am obsessed with schedules. I make lists, then rewrite the lists according to priority, then I prescribe a time for each item until literally EVERY minute of my day is scheduled. RARELY do I not make  a schedule. As I type, I have 7 minutes left until I have to go on to the next thing (returning items to Target and Marshalls). So in these last minutes, I’ll let you in on a little secret…my goals for 2019 include me writing a picture book for kids! Yup! Gonna do it, along with more plein air painting, figure drawing, illustrating and blogging. It’s going to be a busy year- oh yeah…I’m going to be a grandmother in May and my baby girl is getting married in September! How did I get here? Life over 50 feels busier than in my 30’s. Time is precious people- I still have 4 minutes left on my schedule! Time to insert a pic and…..img_8855