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‘Gifting’ has several different meanings these days, the way I’m using it is simply the making and giving of gifts. People have been especially appreciating my packages lately, calling them, ‘a typical Sarah’ gift. I receive so much pleasure in making and presenting them that I thought I’d spread the wealth.

The last gifts I made were small thank yous for the volunteers who aided our traffic action group, Line 30. They helped make the children’s day we organized a huge success. Rende had taken beautiful photos of all the activities and I organized them into a tiny book in InDesign. I printed them and cut them out, then Karin and Els came over to help fold and glue. I can show the process sometime, for now I want to focus on how a simple strip of paper with photos was made into a lovely object to give and receive.

My main tip on making even simple gifts special is to have lots of decorative material at hand. Start collecting stickers, washi tapes, papers, gift tags. I’ll list my sources below. I notice that having all these things within hand’s reach in a plastic basket makes it easy to wrap just about anything in no time at all. Here is a collection of some of the things I always have in my studio.

 

So basically, you can put your little gift into a transparent or translucent envelope, letter the tag,  seal the envelope and attach the tag with a piece of washi tape. I use the stickers for address labels when posting gifts, or occasionally to decorate the envelopes or an enclosed card.

Gift tags  This Etsy shop sells a huge selection of tags at reasonable prices

Glitter stickers   Papaya art is a scrumptious site to browse, I love their stuff.

Washi tape- I buy locally, most craft and hobby stores have it.

Waxed envelopes- office supply shops stock them in different sizes

A future post, Gifting strangers- Spontaneous gift giving on the street, in buses, and public toilets!

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Tulips and fruit

Tulips and fruit, oil on canvas,  40 x 50cm  (16’x 20″)

This one was a challenge with the various subjects and the rivers of cloth, but I am basically happy with the result. I’ve been working on two in this series simultaneously and this is the second one. The first one is much larger and at the moment is getting a bit too stiff and caught up in details. That’s the challenge when working with patterned cloths- how to indicate the richness of colour and texture as well as the movement of the folds without becoming stuck in rendering just the surfaces.

I liked the boldness with which the cloth in the foreground is painted.  I took some tips from my 37 minute paintings (an exercise from Robert Genn’s workshops) and just got on with painting what I saw in a general way without going back much to smooth and model. I am learning through doing that the trick lies in suggesting, not drawing with the brush as if it were a pencil. Personally I am not at all attracted to super realism, I love seeing the breathing in the painting.

I am happiest about the luminosity of the whites on the right hand part of the painting, and the general glow. My work is getting much closer now to what I sense it wants to be, which is saying that the technique is finally catching up with everything else. I am starting to feel a more natural rhythm to the brushstrokes and am understanding which brushes to use when. Also I am discovering the infinite colours that can be mixed  for shadows. For example, for warm shadows, raw sienna and permanent rose with just a touch of turquoise to cool down the orange. And to warm it up again for ares catching a bit more light, some cadmium red light.(See the shadows on the cloth near the vases).

I mentioned when I posted the underpainting that I wanted the darks to lead into the painting. This was kept in mind.

 

Tulip time

April 18, 2014

third stage of acrylic underpainting

halfway through the third stage of acrylic underpainting, showing the neutral background and grey values

At the moment I’m working on two paintings at the same time. I have another one of the same subject as above at a further stage of development, but I just started this one today and wanted to record this part of the process in case it is of any help to other painters.

The subject is deliciously complex, with two patterned fabrics intertwining on a background cloth, with 3 vases of tulips. In the above picture, there are actually 3 stages of underpainting shown.

  1. First is a neutral light blue coat, (ultramarine and white with a good amount of heavy gel mixed in). I chose this colour carefully having learned from my work in oil pastels that the background colour can make certain colours glow and kill others dead. See in the example below, how the pinks and oranges come to life on the blue paper. In the painting I’m working on, there are some hot greens and vibrating turquoises that I want to keep alive, as well as the oranges and pinks of the tulips, so the neutral greyish blue undercoat will allow that.Tulip and lily fantasy
  2. The folds of cloth with the pattern following them is so complex that I needed to establish values and contours before I started in with the oil colours. So I mixed some cobalt blue and burnt sienna into a dark grey and sketched in shadows and folds.
  3. After that, I mixed some bright colours with gel to form transparent glazes (so I didn’t cover up all my previous work getting the contours!!), and painted in fun colours, keeping complements in mind. Oranges layered over that acid green will make the tulips dance off the canvas. And the purply pinks will glow here and there through the green leaves, giving them depth.

    Acrylic layer ready for the first coat of oils

    Acrylic layer ready for the first coat of oils

I enjoy painting the oils over a supportive layer of acrylic colour, unexpected things happen, happy accidents of one colour against another, or letting the background colour show as a contour to give a subtle painterly effect. From previous paintings, I’ve learned to put the darkest colours where my lightest values are going to come. So that dark browny purple behind the middle tulip vase is actually waiting to receive a beautiful honeyed orange light. The blue cloth on the left will, in the end, be hot pink, gold and blue. It takes patience to work this way, but doing it like this is also a way to familiarise myself with the subject before I start applying the oil paint, so that stage proceeds with more confidence.

I will be following the dark values on this painting, something I haven’t done before, usually I let the lightest point lead the eye into and around the composition. But it happens that in this one, the darkest areas lead into the painting in a nice curving path that the eye can follow easely (pun intended, sorry). 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections in oils

April 8, 2014

 

Reflections

Reflections

And now for something completely different.

This painting is done from a photo of Rende’s. Normally I avoid working from his beautiful photos, since he has already made all the aesthetic decisions, there doesn’t seem to be any challenge in just copying them.  But I needed a break from fruit (!) and the rippling water with reflections and that lovely red edge of the boat fascinated me.

I used oils but first painted an acrylic ground of that heightened turquoise which shines through most of the painting. My broad, synthetic brushes worked really well getting the large areas of water down, and frankly, this went quickly and more easily than my still lifes. I left a lot of it just as I first sketched it in, and am happy not to have overworked this one.

For more of Rende’s reflection photos, see this book.

 

Colour beyond vision

March 14, 2014

Purple apple

Purple apple,   oil on canvas board

This is the painting started in February. It features a beautiful CD cupboard Rende made. Plus, to the left,  the arm of a couch he made for us a long time ago.

The challenge for me in this painting was to keep the spirit of the first inspiration. There are some unresolved areas in it still, but in all the painters I admire, this is true. If you try to get everything too ‘finished’, or ‘right’, the life goes right out of it. It is a balance of honouring the first moment of vision, and working on it to enhance that rather than take it over with what the mind thinks it should be. That is why there is a magical element in creating. It is a letting go so that something unexpected and uncontrolled may enter, just as much as a skilful manipulation of technique.

No way was I going to lose that cocky little purple apple. The other fruits gained more conventional colouring, but I left this as a reminder of the worlds of colour just beyond vision. And that a painting can be anything you want it to be.

Here are the first stages of this painting:

Monsieur Cezanne

January 17, 2014

It is good to be painting again and at the same time studying Cezanne’s life and work. The book I’m reading is coffee table format from Taschen publishers, it was originally German and I’ve got the Dutch translation from the library.

First stage, roughing in the colours

First stage, roughing in the colours

So much to say, where to start.

This stage of a painting is my favourite, everything is still open.  The composition is solid enough to hold it, and the subject familiar enough not to pose too many technical problems. I love it as it is, it hardly needs anything more in some ways. The eternal dilemma, how to work on anyway, and keep the original freshness.

All the while, I’m thinking about Cezanne on 2 levels- personally, how it was for him as an artist, and technically, how did he solve this, what brush strokes did he use and when, how did he apply paint, how did he use colour?

It was really tough for Cezanne as an artist. His father wanted him to work in the family banking business, his home life in general pulled him emotionally this way and that. He made some truly awful paintings in the beginning! We rarely see those! It wasn’t that they were just immature, (they according to his biographers are packed with symbols representing his inner conflicts), they are dark, and not particularly well painted.

Early work of Cezanne

Early work of Cezanne    Source   

What is so inspiring about his life is the gradual inner transformation he underwent which enabled him to gain the discipline to really work at getting his emotions under control, and to finally devote himself to his art despite huge lack of self confidence.  All this was reflected in the growing stability and harmony of his  images.

His relation to the Impressionists is a whole other story, and just as riveting from the point of personal transformation, individuation and art. Mostly he was a loner, following his heart, weathering rejection and ridicule, carving out his own path with very little respect or support from all but a few of his peers. His brush strokes are born out of this, forming the beautiful, strong and rhythmic surfaces of his mature paintings. Everything works, the compositions, unity of colour, application of paint- and he had to fight for all of it, most often working alone in uncertainty.

Chateau de Medan, Cezanne

Chateau de Medan, Cezanne   Source

So back to me, one of Cezanne’s countless students from afar, more than a century separating us, but still feeling his presence close. How do you apply paint, how do you handle a patterned cloth, indicate the pattern but not lose the light and dark movements of the folds? How do you define an edge, how do you apply the paint and keep the stroke fresh and separate yet have it harmonise with the strokes next to it and the painting as a whole? Monsieur?

And this is a difficult stage of a painting, the part where by making a few decisions you instantly eradicate the infinite futures of your painting and limit it to one outcome. My heart always sinks a bit when  I start to apply thicker paint, my own limitations are more evident, and the lofty hopes I had at the beginning start to come down to earth more. Oh well, the way to get to your work, the bright, soaring, uniquely own work you were born to do, is simply to do the next painting.

Stage 2, starting to apply thicker paint

Stage 2, starting to apply thicker paint

flock of felt birdies

flock of felt birdies

Crafty corner time! (Goodness, however will I keep up my image as a professional designer and serious painter by showing my small handmades?) Well, not my problem, I don’t see them as separate from my other work.

This group is sold out. I’ve found that selling works for me if it is to my immediate friends and other small local circles, like classes etc.

I wanted to share part of the process of making these little sweeties because it is something that evolved while working on these and might be fun or helpful for others.

During all my hand work projects I always felt bad about the waste of little bits of pure wool felt, silken embroidery threads and snippets of wool and acrylic yarns. I kept as many scraps as possible, but inevitably the tiniest pieces would get thrown away. Well, I just started putting them in a jar because the colours made me feel happy. And when they accumulated, the penny dropped, and whoopee, I discovered I  had ready-made stuffing for my brooches.

Here is my worktable surface, it pleases me how harmonious the colours of the washi tapes, scraps and Papaya mailing stickers are, oh and the crochet work in the background. I tend to stick to these kinds of warm pastels. Far left you can see my scrap collection jar.

tabletop

tabletop

work surface

Here is bluebird in the process of getting his innards.

getting filled

getting filled

And here he is ready to send to Sandy, my dear friend in Canada who will be his new mom.

‘Tweet’ (remember when that used to mean, bird word)!?

Bluebird with fancy toes

Bluebird with fancy toes