Agecroft Hall and Sunken Garden / oil

My palette knife is in my hand as much time as my paintbrush.

My palette knife is in my hand as much time as my paintbrush.

When I get to my location, it always takes me 1/2 hour or 45 min, to mix up my colors for the day.  I decide what area to work on, then mix light medium and dark values of the colors I want to use. By mixing my colors on my palette with my palette knife, I get them closer to what you see with the naked eye, and avoid the problem of the colors mixing too much on the canvas and coming out muddy.

But one thing I really enjoy a lot, is making thin lines with my palette knife. It’s easier to scratch a skinny line than it is to paint one. If you can get a clear enlargement of this photo on your computer, maybe you can see where I scratched all around this painting to make lines and give it texture.

The way I did the brick wall, for example, was to paint the colors of the mortar first. I painted the wall with two shades of gray in the places I wanted there to be light and shadow. So, the whole wall was gray. Then, when that dried, I blobbed in brick colors on top of the gray and scratched through the wet layer to show the gray mortar color coming though as lines. You get bricks without painting every brick. But people see the detail, and might imagine I painted every brick. It works if you paint in the couch with Maroger Medium and glazes.

I also like to scratch through my brushstrokes to feather the edges, and add texture. For the trees behind the house, I blobbed in three shades of green and scratched through the wet paint so the edges of my brush strokes wouldn’t be sharp, but a little blended. Visually, that helps the background trees recede a little. The trees in front of the house got scratched on the trunks but not the foliage.

It took a long time to finish, and I could still keep on working on it, but I’m not going to. It looks like I painted a lot of detail, but I left out the detail I didn’t want to paint, gutters and downspouts, a planter with nothing blooming, and whatever else you might notice is missing, if you have a photo to compare it to.

It seems like I worked on this painting at home as much as I worked on it at Agecroft. A lot of times, I can mix up some colors there, and paint at home on the more time consuming parts of the painting.


Draft Horse after Haseltine / graphite and chalk

It's not exactly right in proportion, but not too far off. See the photo below.

It’s not exactly right in proportion, but not too far off. See the photo below.

This is my 3rd try drawing the sculpture. I went to the VMFA on 3 different rainy days and worked on it about 2 hours each time.

Sometimes when I stand there in front of a sculpture for a few hours, I get the feeling I know what the subject is thinking.

Sometimes when I stand there in front of a sculpture for a few hours, I get the feeling I know what the subject is thinking.

His eyes are so realistic, it seemed like he was looking at me. The eyes are made of lapis lazuli, ivory and onyx. The horse is made of bronze and gold plated.

It seems like he’s flaring his nostrils. This is what I imagined he would be thinking. He knows he’s the strongest. He’s a hard worker too, and proud of what he can do that weaker horses can’t. He knows he won the prize at the fair because so many people are making a fuss over him. Someone spent hours doing his hair. Then they showed him his reflection and he’s saying, “RIBBONS?!!! You put RIBBONS in my hair?!!!” (snort)

Secretly he likes the ribbons though. hahahahahahah

I know this because I spent the time looking. If you take a photo then trace it, you don’t get that kind of intuition about the subject.

At the museum, the rule is graphite only.

At the museum, the rule is graphite only.

The plaque at the VMFA says he’s a Suffolk Punch Stallion.

I could ask for a permission slip to bring in charcoal, but I probably won’t. The whole permission slip thing just bugs me as an artist. I’m saying this because if I could use charcoal it would be easier to draw. With pencil it takes longer to block in an area and you end up making outlines more often which is less accurate for getting the proportions correct.

It’s difficult to measure the proportions of a horse, and every breed is different. When I got home and looked at this sketch, I knew it wasn’t right. I transferred it to another paper and did some correcting, but it still wasn’t right. I’m showing this bad sketch so you can see that it doesn’t have to be right the 1st try. You can keep trying until you get something better.

If I continue to draw horse sculptures, when the time comes that I can draw live horses, it will be a little easier because of this practice.

yeah, that's me. I'm much more attractive in real life. hahahahahaha

yeah, that’s me. I’m much more attractive in real life. hahahahahaha

This is the way to learn to draw.

Rest your sketchbook against your body. Hold out your pencil at an arms length resting your arm on the sketchbook. Close one eye. Hold the pencil up so you can use it to measure the head of the subject by putting your finger on the pencil at the length of the head. Then use the head as a measure to get the proportions. Compare the length of the head to the length of the body and make marks on the paper in those proportions. Measure in all directions. Measure the length of the legs compared to the head. You can use the pencil in this way to see more easily the angles of the legs or any other angle you want to draw. Measure, draw, measure, draw. Don’t be shy.

Why don’t the art teachers teach their students to draw like this? Is it because it’s no fun? Are they self conscious about others seeing them make a face by closing an eye and squinting? Is it because it’s a slow process and they can trace a photo so much faster?

I see classes coming through sometimes, when I’m drawing, and the students seem interested in how to do what I’m doing, but the teacher doesn’t explain it to them. It seems like the teacher rushed the last group through before I had a chance to give  them the art lesson they wanted to hear. Maybe the teachers don’t know how to draw, so they can’t teach it. I’d like to teach. I’m just not keen on making it into a JOB! So it goes on the drawing

It’s easier to stand up to draw. Sometimes, at places like the museum, where taking an easel is a problem, you need to be able to hold the sketchbook in one hand and draw with the other hand. That way, you can look from the subject to your sketch so much easier because you don’t have to keep looking up down, up down. You hold the paper up and compare what you drew to the subject.

Also, if you can draw without an easel, standing up, you can exit the scene faster when it gets crowded, or not block other people from the spot.

Here endeth the lesson. hahahahahahah



James River with 295 Bridge / oil paint and photo

One day in the swamp / a plein air story

One day in the swamp / a plein air story

Does Realism show reality? Is my work Realism?

Does Realism show reality? Is my work Realism?

I wish I could answer yes or no but I can’t decide.

On one hand I’d say no because reality changes so fast and I work slowly. I think of a photo of being closer to reality than my painting but the camera lies. My naked eyes lie too. The camera can’t show depth as well as my naked eye sees it and flattens the colors too. Then on the other hand, as I’m trying to paint what I see, I’m making decisions and changes every step of the way that take the painting away from reality.

When weather permits, I go to the same place at the same time of day and work on my painting for a few hours. Some times the tide is out at noon and some times it’s in at noon. I have to decide which tide I want to paint. I wind up painting over what I did the time before, or faking the water when it’s all different. It’s an experiment. If it looks convincing I’ll try to do that again and if it’s not good I give up on that one and try something else.

ok, here’s the story.

I was walking down the trail towing my art supplies and a man who was walking back out stopped and said to me, “It’s not a good day for painting down there. The tide is out. Way out. I’ve never seen it so low. It’s a mud flat.” He wondered what phase the moon was in. I didn’t know about the moon. I said, “That’s ok. I’m not working on the water today. I have to do the background trees first.”

It was windy and cold that day and I had to mix some colors before painting. I took the lid off my palette and put it on the ground. Right away the wind blew the lid down on the mud about 10 ft. out. I had to climb down a steep slippery muddy hill about 5 ft. then step on two logs that are usually submerged to reach the lid. I was glad I was wearing my hiking boots. I didn’t fall into the muck. Then I used vines to pull myself up the hill again.

We had a lot of wind and that makes it difficult, but if the sun’s out I want to try to make some progress on the painting. It’s not only that the wind blows your supplies away, it knocks down your easel and painting if you forget to hold on. It blows all kinds of debris into your paint and onto your wet painting. Most of it comes off easily when the paint dries. Mother Nature doesn’t make it easy for the plein air painter.

What is Essential to You?

Hans Richter's Dada XYZ

Hans Richter’s  Dada XYZ 1948

As a creative person, what is essential to you?  “XYZ”, an Artist Trading Card call from the Carlisle Arts Learning Center in Carlisle, PA. had me thinking. My Muse was on hiatus. I felt stranded when I opened my book on the Dada Movement, and received inspiration from Hugo Ball’s Sound Poems.

It was what I needed to kick-start me into action. So it felt natural to explore the world of Dada through the eyes of other members. And what could be more appropriate than to read Hans Richter’s “Dada XYZ”.  The piece opens with “I never understood Hugo Ball very well.”

I photocopied the photo of Hans Richter and attached it to illustration board. The text in the background is Richter’s thoughts written in 1948. It is published in Robert Motherwell’s anthology of Dada writings, The Dada Painters and Poets. I finished the card with sponged metallic acrylic paint. At the end of the exhibit this card will also be traded.

Inspired by the Dadaists, not understanding is the essential quality I look for in Art and in Life. Not understanding keeps me thinking…keeps me investigating…keeps my lines to my Muse open. And when I do finally understand, even if not fully, it can lead me to some very interesting, unexpected and inspiring places.

My question to you is…what is Essential to You?

I slipcovered my sofa.

sofa cover
This was a big job. I took my time so I wouldn’t get burned out on sewing.
I bought the fabric about 6 weeks ago and a few days later I cut all the pieces to be sure I had enough yardage. That was a big part of the job and I worked on it over a couple days because it’s tiring. Then over the past weeks every time we had days of bad weather I made a little progress on it.
That’s my new pillow which I had fun making. I’m getting creative here with the pillow design, because I can’t remember where I learned to sew this type ruffle, so maybe I thought it up on my own. Does anyone else know this ruffle design?
It’s so much cheerier in my apt with the new slipcovers. Sewing is a great way to beat the bad weather blues. And I have a few more smaller projects in mind in case we have too much rain this spring.

slipcovers the Jackie Hill way

this photo shows all my cuts and a start on pinning.

this photo shows all my cuts and a start on pinning.

You need an industrial sewing machine. It doesn’t have to be a walking foot machine unless you want to sew leather. I have a Singer 191 that I bought new 20 years ago and it never dropped a stitch.

Jackie told me if there’s any doubt in your mind about how to cut, follow the upholstery. That’s why I decided to cut the front arm pieces in 2 sections and put ribbon on the edges that have upholstery tacks on the chair.

To cut you have to unroll the bolt of fabric right side out over the chair, smooth it down and pin it to the upholstery with 2″ T pins. Places where the upholstery goes back in a tight crack, ( around the deck, inside arms and inside back) you have to push the fabric back in the crack as far as you can. Jackie used a smooth stick, I used my fingers. Then stick a 6B carpenters pencil in the crack and draw a line. Pull the fabric out of the crack, cut on the line and put it back in to pin it as shown in this photo. I hope you can see my pins all along the deck. Seams that don’t go inside can be marked with a piece of chalk. Feel the cord on the upholstery through your slipcover fabric. Then cut 1/2″ outside the chalk line. I hope our sewing friends can visualize it.

On the outside seams of the chair you have to turn back the seam allowance and draw pencil marks across to the piece it joins. Patterns have triangles to go by. This solves the problem of looking at a piece and wondering where it goes. Line up the marks and it will be in the right place.

Marking and pinning are 2 important steps before you take the cut pieces off the chair.

the chair before photo

the chair before photoWhen Jackie taught me how to make slipcovers I had a friend from work who wanted to learn too, so I invited her over. She asked Jackie, “Why don’t you cut it wrong side out so you can pin it together on the chair?” Jackie said , “Chairs get rumpsprung.” That means when they get some wear on the chair it’s not symmetrical anymore. The object is to get an exact fit. 1/2″ makes a difference. Then my friend asked Jackie , “Why don’t you cut it on the half so you can work on a table instead of pinning each piece to the upholstery?” Jackie lost her patience with my friend and asked her, “Do you want it to fit or not?”

This friend also had her own sewing at home business and I worked with her on and off for years then we lost touch. We met again at a store and she talked about needing a slipcover. I could see my friend was in no shape physically to cut the slipcover so I told her I’d help. We talked about making a video for Utube with slipcover lessons.

My friend sewed her slipcover that I cut for her but I didn’t get invited over to see it. Finally after months I got an invite back to her house and she had a sheet over the sofa. I took the sheet off and saw those difficult front arm pieces were twisted. I told her to rip it and fix it. I knew she didn’t follow my instructions on doing a fitting for those pieces.

It’s difficult, physically tiring and time consuming. For me it’s worth the effort because it looks like I have new furniture at a fraction of the cost. But not many people will go through the hard work of making it fit as closely as possible. Plus it’s too complicated to write down instructions. So I don’t know if I’ll ever get the opportunity to pass on the Jackie Hill method.

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