Art in Progress

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mitzuk-turn-it-to-the-wallHow do you know when something is done? The deadline can be a big help but what if there's no real deadline?

My most recent personal painting seemed to drag on. Part of the reason why was life events taking priority, part of it was perfectionism, part of it was trying to figure out unfamiliar territory for solving the picture. There came a point where I had run out of steam and was having difficulty figuring out what to do next.

I tried my usual tool of thinking back to the initial spark of the idea to energize the project. That didn't quite work this time. I was run down and worn out. I needed to move on to other projects.

My mentor suggested turning the painting to the wall. Don't look at it all the time. Don't think about it all the time. Do something else. I also decided that it (the painting) will be what it will be and that's plenty good. This blog post about Perfection by Lauren Panepinto was also a helpful reminder. I think perfectionism can be harnessed and turned into a helpful tool for good draftsmanship, but when it takes over and doesn't allow me to call something "done" then it's definitely a major hindrance and at that point I need to tell perfectionism to take a back seat. I love the last few sentences from her post:

"As writer Rebecca Solnit says: “The perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun.”

If you are a perfectionist, then this is your new mantra: “Done is better than perfect.”"

Ignoring the painting and letting go of "perfect" did the trick. I only peeked at the painting a little bit for a few days and then had my answers. I needed to tone down some lights, found some crisp edges that needed softening, and resolved the anatomy issue. I am pleased with how she turned out and I can't wait to show you!

My interpretation of the May Queen is a companion piece to Jack in the Green. Their world is bleeding through to our own.

I'll show more of the process some time after I finish the painting. For now, here's a shot of the drawing. I hope you enjoy it.

drawing of woman as the May Queen  wearing flowing gown turning into flowers, and a butterfly wing corset walking down a gray city street
May Queen, 9"x12" drawing on Dura-Lar

Nature is one of the best places from which to gather reference. I've been working on a piece that is set during twilight. Using my memory, I made several attempts at a twilight color and value scheme in color studies but the look and feel just wasn't coming across. I was trying to get that feeling of the gauzy, dusty, purplish-blue light that seems to cover everything in certain twilight situations I've seen here in Minnesota.

I needed more information. I needed to do some studies from life.

oil paint studies of a creature in twilightA toy dinosaur of similar color to the creature in my painting made a great stand-in set up outside at twilight. The three attempts all happened on different nights with relatively clear sky because there's only about 30-45 minutes to study the general twilight lighting I wanted.
First attempt: Painted all in natural light outside. Toy, canvas, and paint all under the same natural light. When I brought everything inside, the painted study looked like the toy in regular light.
Second attempt: Painted from memory, and using the first study as a guide for shapes. I thought dusty purple was the way to go for the light parts but it still didn't look right.
Third attempt: I set up outside again. The toy was in natural light. I purchased a two-headed LED music stand clip-on light to shine on my canvas and palette. The packaging doesn't list the Kelvin temperature of the light. To me it seems to be a fairly neutral "white light" if not maybe shifted a little cool. Either way, this made a huge difference for my twilight study. I was able to separate what I was seeing on the toy from what I was painting. I like this third attempt the best and will be using the information I gathered about values and colors in my imaginative piece.

Colors used: Permalba White, Winsor Yellow (PY4), Gamblin Quinacridone Magenta (PR122), Gamblin Manganese Blue Hue (PB 15:4), Gamblin Napthol Scarlet (PR 188), Winsor & Newton Permanent Green (PY 138, PG7, PW6), Utrecht Ultramarine Blue (PB29). The first two studies I used pretty much all these colors. The third attempt I used primarily the white, yellow, magenta, and manganese blue hue.

While searching the internet for tips on plein air painting at night, or nocturnes, or plein air at twilight, I found James Gurney's post about painting at night Thanks Mr. Gurney! He lists several different little lights. I ended up going to my local music store and purchased a portable, battery operated, dual-head gooseneck music stand light.

oil painting plein air box with canvas on board and light shining on it
My plein air set up with the clip-on dual-head gooseneck led light


random oil paint textures on prepared birch plywood
The random textures I started with. Oil paint on prepared birch plywood.

In my efforts to loosen up and trust my imagination more, I decided I need to strengthen my creative intuition, trusting my gut and follow where my imagination takes me instead of putting on the brakes too soon and following the "rules". I think it's important for me to have a blend of the judge and the playful art monkey. A blend of rule following and exploration.

Inspired by a landscape I saw at the Minneapolis Institute of Art by Max Ernst titled "Landscape with Lake and Chimeras" c1940 (I think it was this one). The description next to the painting pointed out that it was "created by putting paint down, sticking a sheet of glass or paper to it and then removing the sheet to make 'unexpected textures' ". Surrealism and Dadaism were two of my first artistic loves so rediscovering an artist from that era feels lovely. Being at MiniCon this weekend and seeing Jon Arfstrom's work again, I realize that some of his imaginative works also had a hand in inspiring me to do this. Hopefully I'll have more on Jon Artstrom at a later date. If you haven't seen his work you're in for a real treat.

A few weeks back I had leftover paint on my palette and was feeling adventurous so I put some paint on some prepared boards, added a little solvent, and then stuck a sheet of glass on top. I decided to make them color themes (reds, yellow+green, and blue+black+white). I smushed, tipped, and twisted the glass-board-paint stack. What I ended up with were some very interesting textures.

This week I took some time to explore and follow my intuition instead of going through the planning phases. Here's what happened. I'm calling them Foundlings. These three will be with me for sale at Spectrum Live next weekend in Kansas City, MO (hopefully dry). I will be set up at Artist Table #14. Stop by and meet the Foundlings.

Edit: these and a few more will be with me at the IlluXCon Showcase 2017.

oil painting of a blue and black winged lynx-like beastoil painting of a strange caterpillar monster belching flamesoil painting of a smoke puffing red demon dragon monster watching and waiting





Drawing on the polyester film was like running my hands across a length of satin fabric. This was the first time I've used it. For the most part I was able to build up fairly rich values, and erase back to a pretty clean surface. However I did manage to create a permanent mark. I think I used too hard of a pencil and pressed too firmly.

value study of digital black and white color over pencil drawing
Digital "paint" over a scan of an early version of the pencil drawing.

As usual, I did value studies before developing the drawing. Here's the one I liked best.









pencil drawing on matte polyester film
Pencil drawing on matte polyester film. I drew the lines on one side and built up the values on the opposite side. Doing this gives me the feeling of more freedom to experiment with the values and mark making without losing my line drawing.

Meet "Jack in the Green". I tried to keep the spirit of the study, the mood, as I worked on the pencil drawing. Here's a shot of the completed drawing. As the project progresses, my plan is to experiment with loosening up and explain less visually.

For my most recent project I've been drawing on Dura-Lar. It was suggested by another artist who has had excellent results with the stuff.

sneak peekI'm using the .005 matte film. Like with the vellum I used for previous projects, I drew my lines on one side and am building up values on the other. I like doing this because I can preserve my lines while adding values, and then obliterate the lines if and when I choose. It gives me more freedom to experiment with values.

various pencils, eraser, blending stump, paper towel, lead pointerThis particular piece has a foggy setting so I've been doing a lot of smearing and blending.

First I sprinkled the graphite dust from the Staedtler lead pointer (#1) onto the surface. (I figure the dust is there from sharpening my leads so why not use it for something fun).
Then I smeared it around with a paper towel (#2). This brand of towel has some texture so the smearing gave me interesting stripes and streaks. Totally a "happy accident". I also have been using the blending stump (#4) to move the graphite around.

#3 in the image is a B 2mm lead in a lead holder. I used that and an HB 2mm lead to do the line work.

#5 is an HB graphite stick. I hadn't been using it because on the paper I draw on this graphite stick leaves a light mark and I feel like I have to fight with it to build up values. For some reason I decided to give it a shot on the film and was pleasantly surprised by the lovely mid-value tone it left. I've sanded this one down to a chisel tip which is now rounded out from use.

#6 is a Creatacolor Nero etrasoft pencil. I'm using it for the deep accents of dark.

#7 is a General's Layout Extra Black No. 555. I'm using it for enhancing some of the darker values.

I've also tried the Derwent Drawing Ivory Black pencil. It leaves a lovely rich black on the Dura-Lar but the mark looks matte. The other tools leave shiny marks. I'll decide if I like that or not later. It not, I'll need to figure out how to make it look matte.

#8 is my well used nubbin of a kneaded eraser. I've also been using vinyl erasers. The other quality I'm liking about the Dura-Lar is that I can erase repeatedly and I haven't damaged the surface or creased the sheet.

Because of it's durability, I suspect if I create a real dud of a picture, I'm betting I could wipe it down and use it as a starting point for a new picture. That would be an interesting experiment.

I'm not saying this polyester film is the best thing ever. There are a lot of characteristics I'm liking such as that lovely surface that feels like I'm drawing on satin, and there are some things I'm not sure about because I don't have enough information (the environmental aspects of polyester vs. paper). You can make up your own mind. Here's a link to the Dura-Lar product page I purchased my pad from Wet Paint over in St. Paul.

Happy creating

Sneak Peek of Work in ProgressThe piece is almost done. It just needs that something more to finish it up but I'm losing steam. Here are a few things that have helped me reinvigorate myself to finish a project.

Try and go back mentally and emotionally to that initial seed idea, or nugget that I got excited about in the first place. This doesn't mean redraw or repaint anything. It just means I'm trying to regain that initial excitement.

Try to image myself as the character, maybe act out what they're doing or ask myself what they might be feeling.

Try to imagine and experience the scene with my senses (touch, taste or smell, sight, sound) either as the character or an onlooker

Is the environment hot, cold, temperate, wet, dry, damp, etc?
What do I feel on my skin, the hot sun, a gentle breeze, the spray from a waterfall?
Do I feel anything in my hands?

taste or smell
Is there a scent or something to taste in the environment? Is it pleasant or something else?

Is it dark, light, dusk. Can I see? What do I see?

What, if anything, can I hear? Is it loud or quiet, near or far, jarring or pleasant, or something else?

Snap shot of oil painting in progress.
Snap shot of oil painting in progress.

Finding a balance between imagination and realism. After the lay-in (getting a first layer to start setting up value and color relationships) this time I decided to tackle the flesh tones in the face first before developing other areas. I'm trying for a dusk or night time look so I mixed a "flesh" color first and then added some different blues and maybe a little Raw Umber to shift the color to look like a moonlit situation. Trial and error, experimentation. I like what I found.

Blues I experimented with: Prussian Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Blue.

Time to transfer the drawing to the canvas and then paint! Here's a quick run through how I transfer to canvas. I hope you find it useful.

I stretched oil primed, portrait grade linen over stretcher bars. To transfer the drawing I'm using:

Step 1

Support the Canvas

I place a book or a stack of magazines under the stretched canvas. Choose something that will fit within the cavity created by the stretcher bars. This gives me something to press against while transferring the drawing. I suggest using something you're not worried about because when you press with the pen to transfer, it's possible you can put grooves into the underlying support (the book or magazines) so I don't press too hard. Plus the transfer paper I use is nice and dark and doesn't require much pressure.

Step 2

Tape an Edge

I trim the tiled, print of the drawing to match the canvas size. Tape one edge of the tiled drawing to an edge of the canvas (a long edge seems to work best).

Step 3

Sandwich of Canvas, Transfer Paper, and Drawing

Make a sandwich. Place the graphite paper between the drawing and the canvas with the dark side facing the canvas. I use the store bought graphite paper because it doesn't smear when I paint.

Step 4

Tracing with a Pen

Using the ball point pen, I trace the printed lines. Here's where taping the drawing to the canvas on one edge comes in handy. It makes it a bit easier to check where you are with the tracing and transferring.

Step 5

Transferred Drawing

I'm now ready to paint. When I use the store bought transfer paper I find that I don't need to seal the lines. They don't seem to smear when I paint in oils over the top.


You need to enlarge and transfer a drawing to your canvas but your usual printing service is currently unavailable. Not a problem. My solution: tiling.

I scan my drawing and resize it to the desired painting size in Photoshop, keeping the resolution somewhere between 150 - 250 ppi. This resolution works just fine on my home office printer. My goal being I want to have a fairly clean, not fuzzy print of the art.

Next I chop up the image in Photoshop, leaving about 1" of overlap where the sections will be joined together.

Here's a screen shot of the image in Photoshop. The blue lines are guides so I can see the 1" overlap and keep it consistent when I cut up the image to make 4 separate images.

Then I print each section out on regular 8.5"x11" 20 lb printer paper. Some programs and printers can do this for you but my printer doesn't have that feature so this solution works great for me.


(Edit: a friend pointed out that there's another way to print the image in pieces. She wrote: Save as a .pdf in the size you want to print and open in Acrobat [I tried it out in Acrobat Reader]. When you select print it will give you the option to print as a poster on multiply sheets including asking about how much overlap you want. Also, if you need to drop a grid overlay on an image, Gimp makes it easy and free. Go to Filters>Render>Pattern>Grid. You can adjust the thickness of the lines and the size of the grid squares. The grid makes lining up pages easier, too.)

Next: tiling.

Don't have a light box, or your light box isn't big enough? No problem, use a window. I tape up the first piece (top right portion of the full picture) onto the window, then with the paper back lit from the window I can align the drawing as I place the additional pieces. I'm using the cheap blue house painters tape but I suspect you could use masking tape. Clear plastic tape might pose a problem when transferring because it's a little too rigid. I want something that won't resist my hard pencil or pen.

I cut away excess white paper where a sheet is placed on top of the previous sheet of paper. This helps align the drawing.



I trim the upper and right edges of the final piece so there's clean overlap.

The last piece. I trim away the excess paper on the upper and right edges so I have clean alignment with the pieces it will lay over.
I put tape on the back of the connection piece, hanging over the edge a bit so the final piece can be stuck to it.

I tape both the front side along the overlap seams, as well as behind. In this way I overlap and connect the 4 sections without leaving too much flapping around. I don't put a long strip of tape along the seams because it interferes too much when I transfer. I'm going to move a few of the pieces of tape on the back into areas where there aren't any lines, or at the very least reduce the size of the tape.

Front of the tiled image still taped to the window.

Now I have a full image ready to transfer to my painting surface. I'm really looking forward to painting this one!

The full image tiled.