Aug 29, 2010

Electric Butterfly

I came across this fun little contest between Adobe Max and Threadless in my Adobe newsletter. Being an illustrator, I thought it would be a great opportunity to exercise my digital creative muscles. The theme is "nature and technology" for the Adobe Max conference. Check out my schnazzy work!

Yes, I am a digital design goddess. And I really like that blue butterfly.
Here's the official design submission page on Threadless. Assuming I have all the artwork set up correctly for printing, it will be added to the queue for the judges. I hope they likey, because this would make a badass T-shirt. I know you want one!

Well I just got the official OK on the design! So now there's a one in 233 chance that I'll win big. :-) Let's hope the Adobe MAX judges are not turned off by the girly influence. Hey, chicks are smart too - and we all like a fancy T-shirt. If you agree, throw a nice rating my way!


Aug 25, 2010

Serena's Art Heart

Serena  10" x 10" mixed-media

Happily, I have another Art Heart created for the exhibit coming up this February with Olivia's Heart Fund. This heart depicts Serena's story. 

Serena's parents learned about her heart defect during pregnancy after her 20 week ultrasound. After having a healthy first child, the news that there was a problem with this pregnancy came as a shock. Their daughter was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome, a condition in which virtually the right side of her heart didn't grow. Serena would need three stage surgeries before she was eight years old. Though she has her limits, she is adjusting to situation and having as close to a normal life as possible. Her mother describes her as full of spunk and a diva in her own right.

Since having Serena, her parents had another daughter who is heart healthy. With three children and the emotional toll of a child with CHD (congential heart defect), stress took its toll on the marriage. Serena's mother now raises the three children as a single mother, but her focus is on living each day in happiness. The family chooses to be grateful and have fun with each other.

Now for me, every Heart story is about the family as well as the child, but this was really an example for me of how hard it is to keep it together with the stress of CHD. I pictured the home, the nest, a place of shelter and family, and wanted to incorporate that symbolism in the piece. After some research on birds I found that the heron is symbolic of aggressive self-determination, self-reliance, balance and wisdom. This seemed perfect to me  for Serena's mother. I played around a bit with some thumbnail sketches before settling in a great blue heron looking over the nest with one wing spread in a very human "embrace" around the nest. The three eggs within are for the three children, the second of which would be gold leaf. I hope Serena would like her solid gold status (very Divaliscious)!

The sketch

Once the sketch was finalized I transferred it to watercolor paper. Though it's different than in the other hearts, I allowed the feathers on the crown of the heron to break the frame and overlap the heart edge. Since the nest would be many intertwined sticks, I just left that area open.

Working out the texture of the nest by painting one stick at a time

I dropped in a watercolor underpainting so that the pastel wouldn't have to be ground in too deeply to fill the tooth of the paper. During this step I could work out the texture of the nest, overlapping many branches around the eggs.
The heart center is complete
I also was able to work out some of the details in the wing feathers during this step. Most of the watercolor would get hidden underneath the pastel layer later on, but it still helped me to refine the shapes.

A little runny on the outside edge, but that won't hurt

Working from the center out, I completed the color in the heart, then around the outside edge. When I completed the underpainting I taped the paper to my artboard to dry flat.

Here's where the magic begins!

Now for the pastel layer! I started with the head of the heron, working gently to keep the detail. Sometimes I like the watercolor step so much that it's a bit nerve wracking to cover it up with pastel, but then you can see how much more saturated and velvety the color is as you go. 

Some of  the feather detail is coming out

I filled in a much darker color on the wing, to have a greater contrast with the beautiful head and neck. To really embed the paper with pigment I had to wet down the first layer of pastel, "painting" with it using a watercolor brush. Then I went over the dried surface with lighter pastels for the texture of the feathers. Pastel pencils came in handy for the smallest areas between feathers.

Gotta wear shades with the blinding reflection off that egg!

The nest was much easier to add detail into with pastel pencils since the watercolor underneath was somewhat dark. I added texture to the branches and further defined them as intertwined. I added gold leaf to Serena's egg before completing the other eggs with a bright blue pastel.

Adding the glowy edge around the heart - several colors are blended

I flipped the painting to complete the green background area so that I would not smudge out the previous work. Once that was done I continued rotating the painting as I added the outer blue edge and transitioned the glowing color from bright to dark all around.

The finished painting

This is a very illustrative painting - I really love the finished effect. It tells a story, and I like that it asks the viewer to find out more. Still, even if you didn't know the story, I think you can feel the emotion there.

To see the other Art Hearts, check out the Olivias's Heart Fund tag below. If you are so inspired, please consider making a donation. Eventually prints of these artworks will be up for sale to help OHF in its mission.


Aug 12, 2010

Portsmouth Light pastel painting

Portsmouth Light   10" x 4" pastel over watercolor

I just finished another small pastel painting - this one on watercolor paper. As I am heading out to visit some family in NH, I was inspired to paint Portsmouth Light.

pencil sketch on watercolor paper

I have a panoramic frame I'd like to use for this one, so I am starting with a 10" by 4" layout. The sketch is based on several photos of the lighthouse, and I eliminated some elements to make the design a little cleaner. Now that I like the composition, I can start painting in a first layer to dim down the whiteness of the paper and give it more tooth for the pastel.

details added in the underpainting

I decided to change the color palette to include more vibrant hues, so I added more blues and purples to the underpainting. I like using watercolor as an underpainting, and can work out some of the details during this step.
watercolor taped to my artboard to get rid of those ripples!

After I finished the watercolor step, I misted the back of the paper with water and taped it to my artboard to dry so that it would flatten out a bit.

layers of pastel in the sky - you can never have enough shades of purple

Once everything was dry, I started the pastel layer. The sky had a lot of blending, so I got that out of the way first, adding in the land on the horizon to clean up the edges. I also added some base color to the lighthouse, mostly with pastel pencils to not lose the details in the underpainting.

sea and sky are coming together

When I got the blending in the sky and clouds where I liked it, I started on the water, pulling in some of the same colors as I used in the sky. The foreground elements I painted last - the rocks on the beach and then more detail on the lighthouse. By this point the walkway and railing were obscured a bit from the blending of the sea and sky, so I drew them back in with a pastel pencil I sharpened with a knife.

painting in the rocky beach in the foreground

All in all this painting cam along pretty quickly, and I like the vibrant sunset color. Enjoy!

Aug 10, 2010

Mytoi Gardens, Martha's Vineyard

Mytoi Bridge  5" x 7" pastel on sanded board

Just recently my husband and I took our annual trip to Martha's Vineyard with some friends. The Vineyard is special to me because we went there early in the season for our first wedding anniversary by prop plane compliments of a friend and pilot. At the time I was suffering from some anxiety in planes and yet in the tiny 4-person aircraft I had no trouble at all. Maybe because the trip from Lincoln RI to the Vineyard was just high up enough to see the island the whole way, and still make out many familiar landmarks below us as we flew. In any case, it was a magical flight with some friends and that began a great weekend. For our first trip there together we toured the island in early May before the crowds, and I took loads of photos of the landscape.

Now we generally make it back in early summer, and meet up with a larger group of friends there for the solstice. This year we rented a Jeep and tried to find some out of the way places that we hadn't seen last time while on the bus circuit.

One new attraction for us was Mytoi Gardens. Located on Chappaquiddick, to the East side of the island is the Japanese garden included as a refuge protected by the Trustees of the Reservations. It's a meandering walk through a beautifully cultivated landscape, over bridges and a pond. Very peaceful (except for the horseflies that favored  my husband).

Well I am just now getting a chance to paint from some of my new photos taken there. I thought this time I would try a out a sample of Pastelbord that I picked up a few weeks back. The board is thick enough to not bend when worked (like a thin masonite) but coated with a sanded white layer. You can also paint on the board, so I tried a watercolor underpainting to get a feel for what it can do.

no - not painted by a two-year-old!

I have to say, the surface was AWESOME to work with. My underpainting was a bit sloppy (OK - I rushed through that step a bit) but the paint still went on the surface evenly and dried pretty quickly. The surface really gets exciting with the pastel - because there is so much texture, I was able to lay a thicker coat of pastel and blend heartily into the board. I didn't get a lot of messy dust, and was able to layer nicely. Also I was able to use some finer pastel pencils on top without just burnishing out the surface. This allowed me some leeway to correct the painting in the finer detailed areas around the bridge.

If I can afford to purchase larger sheets of Pastelbord or a similar sanded surface, I will be getting more soon. I'm not sure how difficult it will be to frame one of these (with a mat) because the  board has some thickness and weight to it. It should probably be set into a larger sheet of hardboard or just framed without a mat (and use spacers instead). I have two more sample pieces which will likely end up as a series of landscapes from Mytoi Gardens soon.

Aha! Just looking through the Ampersand website and they have tips right there on framing with this material. Pretty much the process I expected - adding foam board to build up around the Pastelbord and hold it in place. Neat!

Aug 4, 2010

Lace and Clover painting

One of my reference photos
I've been taking pictures of wildflowers wherever I go lately. One I see everywhere is Queen Anne's Lace, which is just a lovely lacey flower that grows in groupings, about 2-3 feet tall. I've done a few pastels of this flower with other grasses and wildflowers. I really enjoy drawing them out on black charcoal paper - the texture of the paper is great to work with and the contrast of the bright flowers has a nice look.

The flowers that will be the focal point are roughed out
So I was asked to create another painting of these flowers in a larger size. The reference photos I used actually have a lot more green to them. Also a lot more vegetation - I usually make a series of thumbnails to settle on a composition that's simpler and more focused on the flowers.

Grasses, background plants and wildflowers are added
After the thumbnails I sketched out the flowers on black paper, cut to 11" x 14" with a little extra wiggle room. The flowers have pattern with clusters that spiral around, so I usually work them from the outside in, alternating the clusters. After the basic flowers are drawn, I add in some grasses and background plants to introduce some texture. As the painting gets filled in all over, I go back and add more bright whites to the Queen Anne's Lace and clover or other wildflowers for some color. I also go back with more darks to define edges of stems or leaves and add depth. I might let this painting sit on the artboard and take another look at it, but I think it's about at the point where there is enough movement and detail with some negative space to balance it out.

So that's it! I'll be painting more wildflowers this summer and posting the results. Enjoy!

Aug 2, 2010

Fuller Craft Museum

Last Friday I took a field trip out to Brockton, MA to the Fuller Museum of Craft with a dear friend. I have been to the museum, but not lately - last time I was there it was named the Fuller Art Museum, and I have some great memories of life drawing and portraiture classes I took before I started at Massachusetts College of Art. Actually, nowadays MassArt is named "Massachusetts College of Art and Design", so I guess everything I experienced in my teens has gone through some form of rebranding.

Migration  installation by Nancy Train Smith
The new name of the Fuller Museum is appropriate for the work featured there - though the museum is small, there were plenty of handcrafted pieces grouped in several exhibits representing global and local artisans. Rather than featuring traditional paintings or sculpture, the works are contemporary, intriguing, and thought-provoking handcrafted works.

Memories of Reading series by Tim Tate

The first exhibit we saw, The New Materiality: Digital Dialogues at the Boundaries of Contemporary Craft,  explored new media such as digital audio and video in concert with traditional materials. I was especially taken with Tim Tate's blown glass globes containing small video of pages turning and books burning - part of his series Memories of Reading. The way the glass contained the digital elements made the new technology seem old and treasured, scientific.

Sounding by Donald Fortescue and Lawrence LaBianca

The whole exhibit made me feel very open to new possibilities within art - being experimental. Also a bit whimsical, as you can see by our shots of the megaphone (playing actual undersea recordings!).

Megaplanet with Double Spiral  Josh Simpson

We stepped over to the glass exhibit next, Josh Simpson: a Visionary Journey in Glass. A Massachusetts glass artisan, Simpson's work is just breathtaking. The photos here cannot do the pieces justice - if you are reading this and are in the area, I hope you go see the exhibit firsthand. The pieces Simpson has created are layered with minute pieces of glass within larger glass globes that have the effect of ecosystems teeming with life. As you look through the surface you just see through multiple levels of abstracted glass shapes resembling corals, anenomies and other sea creatures. Simpson calls the globes planets, and the organic shapes are open to interpretation. I see floating underwater life, other might see spaceships over a landscape.

a piece from the Tektites series

Other pieces included are more utilitarian - goblets, vases, platters molded from glass, but all incorporate organic textures. Several of the pieces are cast glass with a rough exterior modeled after meteorites. The museum also presented a film of the artist working with other masters in creating a 100 plus pound layered planet. The technical difficulties in making the piece were scary - but really fascinating.

The exhibit upstairs for Mariko Kusumoto: Unfolding Stories was another remarkable series. Kusumoto is a Japanese artist working in metals incorporating etching, printing, enameling and compositing of intricate metal sculptures that open, fold, and transform. The pieces are heavily detailed, ranging from folded dioramas to boxes filled with smaller sculptures. Photos were not allowed for this exhibit, so I would encourage you to go see the work before the show concludes on August 8th. 

After my visit to the Museum I feel inspired to incorporate more diverse materials and methods into my work. Also it reassures me that there is value in being a creative even in this economy. Sometimes in struggling to recreate my life to include more artistic work, I feel so much doubt that it's hard to breathe. Experiencing these works of art and the artists freedom of expression is like getting a blast of oxygen. This is my reminder to breathe deep and have faith in the creative spirit.