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Saratoga Car Show… The car I had hoped to paint, making the turn.

A vintage car festival at Saratoga State Park- a win-win, or so I thought! It was Saturday morning and I had the whole weekend ahead. After weighing my options for places to paint, I decided the car fest would be an ideal place to plein air paint. Stately brick buildings  provided the ideal backdrop for cars from the early 1900’s through my favorite decades, the 1960’s-1970’s. I was so excited to paint a few of the cars. The park was buzzing with action. Skidmore College was holding its graduation. It was the first seriously nice weekend. Luckily, I found an ideal parking spot and schlepped my gear to the show. Of course, before setting up, I had to walk around and gawk at some of the cars.  They were offering Ford Model-T car rides around the reflecting pool.  the old Model-T chugged along its course with happy passengers being transported back in time. I set up my easel so I could paint the car as it made its way around a turn in the gravel road. There was a big tree on its left as it turned. Perfect, I thought! Confident, I decided to paint a 12″ x 16″, a big change from the 6″x 8″ I had been doing. I got this! So, I thought. First mistake: my umbrella wouldn’t work. The sun was beating down on me and I couldn’t figure out how it attached to the easel. My second mistake was skipping breakfast and only having a granola bar and one warm water bottle with me.  My third mistake was attempting to paint on a panel primed only with Zinsser. I have decided to prime with gesso, but that’s a story for another day. Needless to say, my paint was sliding all over the panel which was extremely frustrating. And lastly, and the biggest irritation: people! Now normally, I don’t mind one or two random people stopping to peek at my painting. It’s actually sort of fun. But there was an onslaught of people. Person after person had to tell me their story about painting, cars, Saratoga. I just wanted to paint. It really got me thinking about plein air painting. I have been juried into a few plein air shows this summer. They will be my first competitive plein air events. The problem is, while I teach and love presenting material I am familiar with, when I am plein air painting, I just want to be left alone. Is this the norm? I couldn’t take it anymore. Tired, hungry and hot, I packed up my gear with a painting half done. I didn’t even include a car in the painting!

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My half done painting…missing the car.

After downing an extra-large ice water when I got home, I decided to venture back out in the afternoon to a more remote area. Ah….time for redemption. I painted a smaller panel, just a 6″ x 8″. Only a handful of people stopped by

with friendly dogs for me to pet! that was a win-win. Dogs, painting in solitude with the sound of the birds chirping. Two hours later, I was pleased with my plein air postcard. Life was good again!

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Plein Air postcard sketch.

When life gives you lemons, paint them.

lisa david artist blog painting lemon brushtrokes

L’il Lemon, 6″ x 6″ Oil on panel. A very special, but not-so-good painting.

We all have them. Bad days, bad weekends. Lemons. This past weekend was definitely subpar, a lemon. There was no one thing that happened; nothing disastrous. Just a typical weekend, some cleaning and bill paying Saturday morning that took too long.  My whole house seemed to need spring cleaning. Before I knew it, I was putting away the winter coats, arranging lemons and rummaging around for a spring candle. Next, the bills needed to be paid.  That’s enough to put anyone in a down mood. Then, time for errands. I stopped by my Dad’s to pick up a new plein air system he custom designed for me. Quite deluxe (will post pics soon!). Of course, I wanted to test it out, but I wasted 2 hours aimlessly driving looking for just the right spot. Snow banks and trespassing laws prohibited me from most of the places I would have painted. I finally got set up, ready to paint a nice barn and thought: boring- it’s just a nice barn. Nothing interesting, old or vintage about it.  I went back to a place I had painted before but within 5 minutes, my hands start to go numb. What now? It was already 4:00 and the day felt like a waste. I was furious at myself for sleeping late, taking too long to clean, paying bills on a Saturday and wasting precious weekend time driving. I needed to do something to snap me out of my self-imposed “Looserville” syndrome.

Lisa David artist blog lemon

46 brush strokes (plus or minus one!)

Lemons. I had just read about an artist who challenged her students to complete a painting in a limited number of brushstrokes, like 40. The object of the exercise is to be aware of color mixing, brush strokes and brush selection, not to mention accurately reading color and value. Lemons! I had all those lemons in my clean kitchen!  Within minutes, my bitter mood turned sweet. I used a limited palette: White, Cad Yellow Pale, Cad Yellow Deep, Alizarin Crimson, Cad Red, Ultramarine Blue. I had a piece of canvas taped under the painting. Each time I made a brush stroke, I made a tally mark. I used a size 8 Rosemary Ivory flat brush. I started with the darkest value, then mid tones, and then highlights. I added the background last. The little lemon taught me a few things: One, that I need to slow down (in life and in painting) and have more gratitude.  I need to isolate shapes to really see accurate colors. I used my view catcher for this. Big brushes are awesome. Powerful, bold and confident. I typically would have used a small brush fussing with all the details. Brush strokes matter. I learned to not squander them, rather consider each stroke, it’s direction and length. I reached my 40 stokes and ended up using about 6 more to complete the background. Is it a great painting? No, but it’s an important painting; a reminder that when life gives you lemons, instead of making lemonade, paint them instead!

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?

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

Tub O’ Soda

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Tub O’ Soda, 10″ x 10″ Oil on gessobord

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Original page from Michne Camping Log, 1971

My father kept our camping log all the years we camped. This page has the story of the day I won the “floating mattress!”

It was July 16, 1971. The perfect summer day as I recall. My father was hosting the annual work picnic. I won a green raft that day for my athletic ability in the egg race! It was my biggest claim to fame as a 9 year old. I remember reaching into a tub of iced cold soda with what seemed like every variety ever invented. It was sheer heaven- all the FREE SODA I could drink! Pull the ring tab- wear it on your finger for a bit before carelessly dropping it somewhere in the grass. Take that long first sip…..ahhhhhhhhhh. Life was good.

 

Who’s Thirsty?

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Who’s Thirsty? 10″ x 10″ Oil on Gessobord

We didn’t have water bottles- there was no sippy box, pouch or fancy energy drink. If you were outside playing, and you were thirsty, you would simply turn on the spigot, bend down a bit, wait for about 10 seconds until the cold water reached the end of the hose, then take a long, long gulp swallowing, swallowing and swallowing. Of course, you would then offer the hose to the next sweaty, out of breath neighborhood friend. If you were on your game that day, you might remember to turn off the hose. Or, your father might step in  huge puddle and yell out ” Who left the dam hose on?”

Cherry Kool-Aid

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Cherry Kool-Aid, 10″ x 10″ Oil on Gessobord

Making Kool-Aid was hit-or-miss. First, you had to have packet. Chances are, we didn’t have enough sugar to fill the measuring cup. Next, to find the pitcher- (dump out whatever old drink was brewing in that!) After accidentally snorting the unsweetened powder when you opened it, get your spoon, add sugar, stir, then pray that you would have ice in the ice-cube maker! If all was right with the world, you would have the perfect sugary cup of cherry Kool-Aid. All in a summer’s days work!

Saratoga Ginger

Saratoga GInger

Saratoga Ginger

Remember Saratoga Vichy Water? Well, they also made Saratoga Ginger Ale! Of course, everyone had the Vichy water. My mother had it for every “adult” party. Each time there was a spill, it was “Grab the Vichy water!!” Not gonna lie, we usually had Canada Dry Ginger Ale. I resurrected this bottle from the Round Lake Antique Fest and thought I’d put the little sister of Vichy in the spotlight. What is Vichy water, anyway?

Frozen Pink Lemonade

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Frozen Pink Lemonade

After  ripping  the plastic strip off the can, removing the aluminum disk from  the end, I would hold that can for a few seconds then wait for the “scccuuuupppppp” sound as the plop of pink creamy ice fell into the pitcher. I remember being in such a hurry to make it that filling 3 whole cans of water seemed like an eternity. The sticky, gooey mess would be left on the counter, along with whatever utensil could find to make it. Then, after selecting a glass as impressive as this pink drink, I would find the perfect spot to enjoy it. The ritual involved with pink lemonade hasn’t changed much and while buying a carton may seem easier, there is something about the canned frozen pink lemonade that remains  my prefered method of classic, summer-must enjoyment.

Coke and a smile.

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Coke and a Smile. 10″ x 10″ Oil on Gessobord

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Detail: Coke and a Smile.

I feel for this generation that didn’t get to experience the Real Thing. The commercial- apple trees, honey bees and snow white turtle doves. Everyone knows things go better with Coke. Especially the mountains! Taking a freezing cold Coke out of a galvanized bucket of ice- there is nothing more refreshing on a hot summer’s day. It adds life!  It’s a natural! This video clip says it all! Classic Coke Commercial- Thank you Don Draper!