Here are a few small pieces that I recently completed. The first two street-vendor paintings will be on display at Randy Higbee's annual 6x6" show, at 102 Kalmus Drive in Costa Mesa. The opening reception is tomorrow night, December 3rd, from 6 - 9 pm. Unfortunately, the pictures somehow got dulled-down and darkened when they were uploaded to their show website...they are much more colorful in person!
So for my last painting class with Tom Balderas, I decided to do a larger color-study for a small painting I’m starting this week. The lady painting at the easel next to me solemnly explained to another student that I was working on a portrait of my husband. I hastily corrected - oh no, that’s the man who pushes his cart by our house every day! Then I realized she had been teasing me. For the rest of the day, we joked about how I was painting a picture of my husband, my love, who was bringing me my ice cream breakfast-in-bed.
The background of my photo looked like one dark blob to me, so I asked the teacher how to approach it. He pointed out to me that it went from warm to cool colors - a dark reddish-green on the left, cerulean in the center, and more of a pure green to the right. I’m still struggling to see the variations in color that he does, but it really did seem to break up the monotony of that large dark area.
Towards the end of class, the instructor did a demo for us; a quick study from an old photo of his son in a boat. I was able to film the demonstration, and it turned into a priceless souvenir of that class. At the beginning, one of the students was crunching an apple behind me. She suddenly realized that my recording device was picking up sound as well, oops!…and it devolved into chaos from there. For the rest of the video, you can hear the other students cracking jokes, giggling, and making ribald comments.
Tom started by painting on some canvas paper, but complained that it “gripped” his brush too much, hindering his brushwork. So, he asked if he could paint on my waxed paper palette instead, and I brought it to him. That turned into a brief discussion of “archival” supplies, and whether they’re important or not, and who cares? In the mean time, one of the ladies was loudly wailing in mock anguish because Tom had given his first unfinished study to another student.
At one point during the video, another student popped in to say hi, bringing her new puppy with her. So that meant we had three dogs milling around the studio! The teacher gamely kept on with his demo, as furry canine bodies were weaving in and out of the legs of his easel.
One of the regular students had brought our instructor a gift: a blank book that read, “Creative Ramblings of a Restless Mind” on the cover. Tom had said he likes to write in his blank books - stories, poems, whatever - and he has to get out of the house every morning and go to a coffee shop or someplace to write; it’s become a daily habit. That was neat…I was an English major in college, but never write because I feel like I should be painting, instead…but writing and sketching over coffee every day sounds so arty, doesn’t it? This class was so inspiring to me!
Well, I was going to write a blog post last week in which I’d mention how my painting production has been hindered over the last few years due to never-ending family issues…but, ironically, I had no time to do so!
Anyway, I’ve just finished up my third in a series of four once-a-week classes with Tom Balderas, who taught that second workshop I took this past summer. I received his email advertising this class on a day that was particularly stressful, so I took it as a “sign” of some sort and immediately enrolled. Tom had looked so free-and-easy in his workshop, and yet at the same time so passionately-committed to his art, that I suddenly decided to play hooky from the exhausting dilemmas in my life and just go for it.
The class is held at the Godbey School of Art in Newport Beach, which is actually close to Randy Higbee’s. It wasn’t at all what I expected: just a small group of a few other students, who all knew each other and seem to have been taking lessons from Tom for a while. The class was so casual that two of them even brought their dogs with them! I was startled at first, until I saw how well-behaved and friendly those canines were, unlike my own two little undisciplined mutts.
So far, we’ve been focusing on “starts” - working on emphasizing values, varying colors around the painting, and applying paint in a loose, gestural way. Tom’s not concerned with having us finish a painting in class, just doing studies to work on basic concepts of how to bring more life and pop to a picture. It’s been a real challenge for me, especially the part about “varying color.” Normally I mix up a pile of paint and try to use it all over the canvas wherever I can, but he advises to avoid using the same color twice, if possible. Also, it’s a struggle for me to make my values more extreme. All of this has had me straining over the easel in a way I’ve never done before. But at least I’m painting!
My husband once got me a collectible copy of “The King in Yellow” as an anniversary gift. It contains a spooky story about a tormented artist…and the author has the same birthday I do, naturally. The crowned crow I found recently in a Big Lots store, and I had to have him. While rapidly collecting objects for this week’s still life, I suddenly realized they went together!
So, last month I took my first-ever painting workshop. It was a decided step out of my comfort zone, as I'd always been convinced that the other students would be way more competent, and the teacher would bark out, "You don't belong here!" and everyone would stare at me as I slunk away in shame.
But last month when I found out Michael Obermeyer would be teaching a workshop at the Randy Higbee gallery, I immediately signed up. I'd always admired his work, and he promised to show how to "complete a painting in a limited amount of time," which was intriguing to someone who can agonize over a canvas for months without even finishing it. True to his word, Michael whacked out a beautiful landscape demo in 2 hours flat, and I spent that afternoon rapidly painting an ivy-covered Parisian building. I had pain-stakingly done the same scene once before - never quite finishing it - so it was a revelation to see the "limited time" version actually wasn't too bad at all.
This past weekend, there was another set of workshops at Randy Higbee's. I signed up for Scott Prior's "Painting the Urban Landscape," and arrived on Saturday morning loaded down with my painting gear. Was I taken aback to discover it had been cancelled! Randy was apologetic, and offered me the Tom Balderas still-life class instead, at a discount; I could just sit and watch for a while and see if I liked it. I called my husband and dithered for a bit. Tom's style is VERY different from my own, extremely loose and expressive, and I'm not really a still-life painter, so I didn't know if the class would be of any use.
But then, Eduardo's encouraging comment on my first blog post had brought me to tears, and I had vowed it was time to stop moping around and start posting things again, so my collectors will know I'm still here. If I skipped this workshop, the whole weekend would be eaten away by chores, and then what would I write about? So I joined the class, eyeing the instructor warily, telling myself I could always leave at the break.
When Tom started doing his demo, I was amazed: he took a Zorro stance, and jabbed at the painting board with his brush like he was jousting with it, dancing back and forth! At times he scrubbed, rolled, and dragged his brush so hard that I could hear the metal ferrule scraping on the surface. He was talking the whole time about focusing on the "big shapes" and comparing the "relationships" - is this color warmer or cooler than this other one?
My favorite bit of advice he kept repeating was to "exaggerate" the colors, even using color straight out of the tube. He said you can always tone it down, but it's harder to bring the brightness back up. (He also emphasized the importance of keeping your brushes and palette clean, so as not to muddy the colors.)
This "exaggerate it" advice didn't just apply to paint colors. He said that when he first was looking for a gallery, an artist friend of his advised him to start at the TOP - apply to the Whitney Museum - and work your way down the list. The Gagosian won't return your calls, but you'll expect that. And somewhere down the list, you'll probably click with a place that likes your work. But if you start at the BOTTOM - trying to sell your work at garage sales, for example - you could easily spend 4 years selling paintings on your lawn, not realizing that you could be doing much better. I thought that was an awesome concept! His lecture was so inspiring that I was scribbling notes like mad.
By the end of the afternoon, I had a mostly-completed piece which just needed some adjustments, and a happy sense of accomplishment. It was actually fun! Both workshops forced me to work fast and freely, and I was relieved to discover that there was actually nothing to fear at all.
There have been some complications. Mainly, my old website program became obsolete, which meant that my site was frozen in time, and it looked as if I had dropped off the planet. Alas, that is not the case - we have finally cobbled together a new site, and I'm back once again, like a bad penny.
Speaking of Complications, it appears that this waiter has interrupted a rather intense discussion between this couple. The reference photo for this painting was taken during a stroll down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, as we passed by a picturesque open-air restaurant. I've often wondered what was the outcome of their conversation!