Categories
Animals Drawing photoshop Sketchbook Pages Watercolor

Happy Bird-Day to Me

Happy Bird-Day to Me, pencil, ink & wc 9x12
Happy Bird-Day to Me, pencil, ink & wc 9x12

This morning I made my annual birthday pilgrimage to Fat Apples for a Baked Apple Pancake along with dear friends and family. Then I sketched this little family of California Towhees [update: not robins!] who are living in the small tree outside my bedroom window.

Mom and Pop Towhee take turns guarding the nest,  feeding the babies and shopping for groceries. When one returns with a juicy white worm to feed the babies, the other flies away to gather the next round of grub (literally?). The robins enter the tree from the house side where the branches are more open, which gives me a great view from my bedroom window (except that it’s too shadey in the tree to see their features clearly).

My cats sit on the bed and watch the constant activity all day: the best Kittie TV ever. Sometimes I join them and have been amazed how hard these little birds are working to keep their babies fed.

Fabriano Venezia Sketchbook & Photoshop CS4

This sketch is in the Fabriano 9×6  sketchbook that has been giving me such pleasure when sketching and such pain when scanning. But now I have a solution. I just got the fantastic, super fast, hugely improved new version of Photoshop CS4. After scanning each page of a spread separately, Photoshop will automatically assemble the pages perfectly together as layers/masks in one file, getting rid of the bad stuff,  while lining them up perfectly. For other adjustments, Auto Levels does a great job now, better than all the manual tweaking I’ve done in the past. And a bit of the Dodge tool cleans up any remaining shadows. The new streamlined user interface and adjustment panel are huge timesavers and make image adjustments so much easier and faster.

It was a bit of a splurge, but at $199 (after the $100 off Adobe offers on on any version of Photoshop CS through August) it was so worth it. A happy birthday to me present!

Apple Pancake
Baked Apple Pancake
Categories
Art supplies Drawing Flower Art Ink and watercolor wash Painting Photos photoshop Sketchbook Pages Still Life Watercolor

Hydrangeas: More Testing Fabriano Venezia Sketchbook

Hydrangeas in Pitcher, 9x11", ink & watercolor
Hydrangeas in Pitcher, 9x11", ink & watercolor

The first hydrangeas of the season provided an opportunity to try out ink and watercolor in the Fabriano Venezzia sketchbook I posted about yesterday. First I drew directly in ink and then tried painting the flower on the right by wetting the paper there, and painting into it.  I didn’t like the results and tried lifting off the paint with a tissue and was pleased and surprised that it came right off, leaving only a slight stain.  Then I painted back into the damp area and got the results I wanted and completed the rest of the painting working very loosely.

The painting was easy compared to trying to get the image in the sketchbook scanned or photographed for posting. The image above was the result of clamping the edges of the sketchbook to photograph it (see below) and then using Photoshop’s Clone Stamp tool to “erase” the clamps and then using the Levels and Dodge tools to clean up the shadows caused by the paper buckling and some reflections from the light source.

Ready to photograph

I also tried scanning the page in the sketchbook but encountered the same problems I had yesterday with severe blurring plus shadow from the seam. I (want to) like this sketchbook, but preparing the images for posting is really a hassle. Even if I wasn’t working across the spread and just painted on one page I’d still have the problem with the shadow and blurring since it happens on the righthand page.

Scanned version, after touch-up
Scanned version, after major touch-up

Have you had this problem and solved it? I’d be so grateful for suggestions!

Hydrangeas and sketchbook
Hydrangeas and sketchbook
Categories
Animals Art supplies Gouache Illustration Painting photoshop

How Maira Kalman (and I) Create Gouache Paintings with Ink Lettering

Why Are Flamingoes Pink? Gouache on hot press paper, 5.5x7.5"
Why Are Flamingoes Pink? Gouache on hot press paper, 5.5x7.5"

Why Flamingoes Are Pink (Hint: You Are What You Eat!)

Why Are Flamingoes Pink? Gouache & Ink, 5.5x7.5"
Why Are Flamingoes Pink? Gouache & Ink, 5.5x7.5"

I adore Maira Kalman‘s wonderfully quirky gouache and ink illustrations. When I’ve tried to use ink on my own gouache paintings, the ink always got sucked into the paint and blurred, or the pen clogged immediately (or both). I searched every way I could on the internet and finally found this link to India Amos’s blog. India, as Art Director, was responsible for preparing some of Maira’s artwork for print. In the post she wrote that Maira creates the painting and lettering separately. Then they’re scanned and layered together electronically using Photoshop.

So yesterday I investigated this approach. I painted the flamingoes above from a photo I took at Six Flags last month. Then I tried various pens and tracing papers. I also sent a message to India asking if she’d be willing to provide more information about the process.

Categories
Oil Painting Painting Photos photoshop Still Life Studio

Artichokes in Oil (paint) & Color correcting in Photoshop

Artichokes, Oil painting on 8x8" Gessobord
Artichokes, Oil painting on 8x8" Gessobord

After deconstructing one artichoke to paint in watercolor (previous post) I decided they were too old and worn out to bother cooking them, so why not paint them instead. I’m finding how important it is to take breaks when I’m painting. Each time I took one (because someone came to the door, I had to go to sleep or have lunch) I was surprised at seeing the painting with fresh eyes. It gave me a chance to strategize, stop futzing around in one area that wasn’t working and just needed to be scraped off and started over, notice that the values needed strengthening, etc.

At a certain point I recognized that this is as good as I can do for now. I’ll learn a little more and be able to a better on the next piece. That is so much more satisfying than trying to bring the piece to the level of the bar I keep raising or trying to make it as  good as the painting of other artists’ work I admire.  As a good friend said to me yesterday, “Compare…and despair!” and he was so right. Another friend pointed me to this from Desiderata:

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Artichokes, easel & palette in the studio
Artichokes, easel & palette in the studio

The multi-colored card on my easel is a Gretagmacbeth ColorChecker that I use when I photograph art work. Sometimes I use the white square to set my cameras “white balance. I always include some or all of the card when I take the photograph so I can compare the colors on the card to the colors on my monitor to see if I’ve got it right.

With the card included in the photo, I can correct the colors in the photo using the Levels tool in Photoshop:

  1. Select the “white” eyedropper in the Levels menu and click it on the white square. This sets the white level so that white in the photo is pure white, not greyish. Sometimes this is all that’s needed.
  2. If the black square doesn’t look black enough, I do the same with the black eyedropper in the black square. Setting this range of black to white really helps, especially when there is no black or white in the painting.
  3. To remove a color cast (e.g. when the gray square looks greenish pinkish) I use the grey eyedropper on various spots on any of the gray squares until the color cast is gone and gray is gray.
Categories
Drawing Faces Oil Painting Other Art Blogs I Read Painting People Portrait

Self Portrait in Pigtails

Self portrait in pigtails, 16x12", oil
Self portrait in pigtails, 16x12", Oil on canvas

I met a very quirky 76 year-old woman artist who has made her home, her car and her self into a wonderful, crazy work of art. I’ll share more about her next time, but today wanted to post this self-portrat she inspired.

I’d been feeling discouraged about oil painting after doing a terrible plein air painting on Saturday but meeting that woman on my walk today, I was inspired to braid my hair and decorate myself with make up and do a self portrait in oils.

I started by setting up a mirror but found it awkward to paint while having to keep looking in a mirror to my right and making the same face.  So I took photos, shooting into the mirror, and then displayed the best one on my computer monitor and worked from that. Here’s the photo I used:

Reference photo of me
Reference photo of me

I started by drawing with white pastel pencil on an already toned canvas (actually a reused canvas: the first painting I did when I picked up oils a year or so ago — a portrait of my sister that was so terrible that I scraped it and covered it in a warm brown oil paint to be used again). I like sketching with a pastel pencil because it rubs off easily from a primed canvas and disappears into the oil paint without streaking or smearing.

Pastel drawing on toned canvas
Pastel drawing on toned canvas

Then I photographed the drawing bove and pasted the image as another layer in Photoshop on top of the reference photo, adjusting the new layer to 60% opacity. That allowed me to see where my drawing was off and make the adjustments on my canvas. You can see in the overlay below that I’d missed in many places, despite my attempt at accuracy.

Drawing overlapping photo
Drawing overlapping photo

I’ve learned the hard way that an incorrect drawing just leads to a bad painting.  I could have just enlarged the photo and traced it right onto my canvas, but I love drawing and wanted the challenge of drawing myself somewhat accurately. I think the final painting does look a bit like me and it was definitely fun to do.

I’m going to wear my hair like this to work tomorrow. And I’m not going to give up oils.