Thursday, June 30, 2011

Schmidt Brewery and the Tracks -- Tiny Sketchbook for 6/29

Schmidt Brewery Smokestack

Scenes from the rails near Schmidt Brewery.
Long shadows move fast -- much faster than we realize unless we're drawing or painting them -- but are so beautiful, and the light is so warm at the end of the day.

Drawing Class: Magic with Toned Paper, at Old Town Artists

Check my Class Schedule for beginner drawing at Bloomington Art Center

My simple beginning Acrylic Painting Classes at Michael's in HarMar are perfect if you just want to play for a couple hours, learn some basics, and go home with a painting. Download a class calendar here!

I teach "Magic with Toned Paper" drawing (beginner to advanced) at Old Town Artists in St. Paul. It's a relaxed, fun place, and I am currently updating my class schedule for spring/summer 2012.

Want to learn to do this? It is so much easier than you'd think!

Upside Down Dog, sketch from life in black and white on brown paper, by Tracie Thompson
This drawing method, using black and white (and various earth colors) on tan or other non-white paper, dates back at least to the Renaissance. Artists commonly used tan, grey, blue, and even pink paper, drew on that in charcoal or other dark media, and then put the highlights in with chalk or white paint.

When I show my students how to do it, they say, "Wow! That's like magic!" -- and it is. It helps even novice artists make sophisticated-looking drawings, and best of all it's a lot of fun.

The class is open to anyone -- beginner to advanced -- and for practice in our first session, we'll start with brown paper from grocery bags. Why? Because they're the perfect color and texture, they're free, they're fun, and you don't have to worry about "wasting" anything while you get the hang of the technique.

We will draw from life, mostly in the studio (though if the weather's good we may play outside), and I promise: no cliche still-life setups with wine bottles and bowls of fruit. We'll bring in unexpected items -- children's toys, tools from the shed, seed pods, shoes and hats, and even your favorite objects from home.

If you already draw and want to learn to paint, this class is a great transition. Drawing this way teaches you to think like a painter and strengthens your ability to make good compositions. 

Advantages of taking classes at Old Town Artists include:

Great location with a beautiful view across the river
Studio has a fridge, microwave, coffeemaker, and water heater for tea; I will provide coffee, tea, sugar and creamer. Students may also bring food or drink (including wine and beer) of their own.
Plenty of free parking
Many other artists' work going on in the space, making it more than an average classroom

SPRING Classes: Saturday mornings, 10 to noon. Three weeks plus the optional fourth week "makeup class" (because life does happen, I allow for the fact that you might have to skip a session), April 7 through 28. Once again, pay for three classes and have the option of taking four.

Tuition: $60

Materials: $20 -- OPTIONAL -- if you already have black/white drawing materials and non-white paper, or wish to buy for yourself, feel free to bring your own. Or, for $20 I can provide a package which includes: 8 sheets of 11 x 15" tan Stonehenge paper; a carbon pencil; kneaded eraser; vine charcoal; white pastel; blade for sharpening pencils. Bring your own drawing board or use one of ours at OTA.

Comment here or email/send a Facebook message to me to sign up. Class is limited to just six students.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Island Station Power Plant, St. Paul

This evening was exploration-time. I was certain this building was a brewery; not until I got home and looked it up did I learn that it was a power plant.  It even has a Wikipedia page.


Minneapolis Alley and a few Phlox -- or why I sometimes hate my scanner

Actual colors. This being a book, though -- I can't lay it truly flat to photograph it.
The scanner flattens the paper nicely -- but look how muddy the colors are. Ugh.

These were done just after I left an appointment in the Southwest Metro. I had a little extra time and the alley and flowers were right there, waiting for me.

I often dislike feeling that I've got to carry a purse, but it helps to have a sketch book in there. :-)

Monday, June 27, 2011

The State Fair, John Waters, and Why Art is Scary

First, a disclaimer: I am aware of John Waters but am not particularly a fan. This is John Waters:

Photo from the New York Times, taken by Stephen Maturen; click here to go to the article.
Waters is a long-time, serious art collector who is mostly famous for making outrageous movies. I've seen Pecker, which I enjoyed, but not Hairspray (yet). I'll probably never bother with Pink Flamingos. And I think he is a creepy-looking dude and that moustache (is it even real? Does he pencil it on with eyeliner?) is one of the most bizarrely discomfiting things I have ever seen.

So why do I plan to go see the exhibit he curated at the Walker Art Center?

For the same reason I liked Pecker: he's poking fun at the Art World, and I'm hardly alone as an artist in feeling that the Art World desperately needs poking.

In the years I've been painting murals on the walls of regular Americans, I've learned that we are afraid of art, and afraid of artists. Or, if "afraid" is too strong a word, we are definitely intimidated.

People thought they had to walk on eggshells around me. I've had self-made millionaires, I mean amazingly astute engineers and entrepreneurs, worry aloud that I'd think their questions were stupid. I came to understand that we have a disconnected culture. We don't teach art in America. And yet -- from somewhere -- we all get this impression that if we know nothing about art, it's because we are somehow deficient. We're to blame.

Two things about this:

1. It's stupid.

2. Most artists don't believe it.

If you "don't know anything about art," guess what? Artists are fine with that. We don't expect that you will, any more than your electrician expects that you'll know anything about wiring your house.

But the You Should Know This Stuff myth persists, mostly not among artists themselves but among the general public and among some people in the non-art-producing segments in the Art World. Every artist I know has walked into certain galleries and instantly felt intimidated and unwelcome. One thing I love about the Twin Cities is that our galleries tend to be so friendly, but there's still that barrier of having to walk through the door, which can be hard to do when the You Should Know This Stuff belief is standing between you and the doorknob.

And that is why I just registered to enter the big art show at the Minnesota State Fair. Chances of getting rejected are about 80%, simply because there's limited space and so many entries, but I adore the whole idea. It's a huge gallery and nobody there is an expert. If you want to have a Pronto Pup and walk around looking at art, and saying just what you think about that art, you know it's okay. The Fair knocks down the barrier, the same way outdoor art fairs do.

Which brings me back to John Waters, who has apparently recorded an entire audio tour of the exhibit, in Pig Latin, which he feels makes just as much sense as most art-speak. He's put up a photograph which squirts water at any viewer who steps over the tape-marked Do Not Come Closer than This line on the museum floor. The Walker probably couldn't let him sell beer and Pronto Pups in there, but you get the feeling that if he could, he would. He's having fun, mocking the impenetrable facade of High Art, and no, I wouldn't call myself a fan, but for this? I think I might kind of love the guy.

St. Paul View from the Window at Old Town Artists

This was last night at the Old Town Artists studio, and I chose to spend a bit of time playing with an 8 x 6" canvas I had on hand. There was already a painting on this canvas, a mockup for a commissioned piece that I didn't get.

To be clear, I had no regrets about not getting that job. You get things or you don't, and it's never personal. Trouble was, that little canvas wasn't a painting I liked much, and I was tired of having to see it all the time. So I just painted over it in something of a loose and haphazard fashion, with the colors I happened to have on the palette at the time. Some days, the required focus for Serious Art simply isn't there -- but I did want to play.

It was an enjoyable process even if I am not sure what I'll ever do with the resulting painting. I'm terribly disappointed in the way the photo appears on this blog, too; something about Blogspot's software seems to dull it down, and I am not sure why.

One thing, at least: I like it better than the one that was on the canvas before.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pit Bulls and a Dachshund at Urbanimal's Adoption Day

Loosely Based on Sheldon

Hazel the Dachshund

Nash Resting
Something must have happened -- life and all that, you know -- because Shannon and Terry the "Itty Bitty Pittie" weren't there today as they'd expected to be.

So I stayed anyway and had a great time sketching dogs and talking to volunteers and fosters. This is like art school for me, learning to capture (more or less accurately) animals in constant motion. Also, Nash, bless his sweet little Pittie heart, was absolutely SURE that my drawing pencil was a nifty new species of chew toy.

Many thanks to Urbanimal and Underdog Rescue for their kindness and hospitality.

Coming Soon: Drawing and Painting Classes at Old Town Artists

This just in!

Old Town Artists has approved my proposal for teaching classes in our studio space there. Schedules and class outlines coming soon. Watch this space, email me to be added to my student contact list, or subscribe to this blog with the links at the top right of the page.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Meet me (and Terry the "Itty Bitty Pittie") at Urbanimal!

My 4" square "Itty Bitty Pittie"

The photo of Terry that made me smile right back until I couldn't resist painting him.
Disclaimer: Terry the Pit Bull is not my dog. He's just a dog whose goofy grin enticed me to make a small painting of him a while back. And he still needs his forever home.

I've been invited to come out and meet him and some of the other dogs of Underdog Rescue, tomorrow at Urbanimal in Minneapolis, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., and I can't wait. Definitely taking my camera and my sketch book.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

One Last Peony

Peony the Fourth, 4" square oil on canvas by Tracie Thompson

I love these ever so much, but this was the last one still alive in the studio today.

Fortunately, I found THISTLES. And cut a half dozen of them -- big, bold, purple fuzzy thistles for me to paint. That should help ease the pain of having another year's peonies fade away.

Old Town Artists. It's studio space, but it's really the people.

This is the blog for Old Town Artists, which has been a Twin Cities tradition for more than fifty years now, and which I had the honor of joining last year. All these recent peony paintings are things I've been doing at OTA, with many more to come.

View from the Window at Old Town Artists, St. Paul. Oil on panel, 9 x 12", by Tracie Thompson
I love this group and want to invite other artists/aspiring artists to come meet us on Wednesday nights for figure drawing. We're friendly, fun, and even have wine and popcorn (another tradition) at the end of the modeling sessions.

My studio is at OTA. It's affordable, gives me a place to focus and really get into the groove as an artist, and most importantly, I get the community -- not only of Old Town Artists itself but the many, many other working artists whose studios are in the same building. ACVR Warehouse is a hidden treasure, an artist beehive that keeps growing all the time.

We have a few spaces open at Old Town, so if you're looking for room to do your thing, contact me and I'll give you a tour. It's a great location with fantastic views, free parking, plenty of food nearby (hey, that's important! We also have a fridge, microwave, coffeemaker, and water heater for tea), and you get to participate in the Saint Paul Art Crawl. If you're wanting to do more figure drawing/painting, membership means that those sessions are free for you.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Peony the Third, and some Questionable Photography Methods

Peony the Third, 4" square oil on canvas by Tracie Thompson
Sadly, the peonies are pretty much gone now, which means I'll be moving on to other flowers. These studies are giving me a lot of joy and sharpening my skills at the same time.

Getting photos of them is a whole other thing. It requires good lighting, but not so bright that there's glare on the painting; and daylight works best because it shows the colors at their truest (no matter what, the colors in a photo are never ever exactly the same as what you see in reality. Never.) Often I end up doing the kind of thing I did this morning, when I set this tiny painting on the front railing of my apartment building in order to get the shot you see here:

See, this was the spot where the painting was well-enough lit but at an angle that didn't cause glare. Creative thinking: it doesn't end when you put down the brush!

Tonight's agenda in the studio is at least one more 4" square study, and finishing the portrait of the black German Shepherd Dog, which needs just another hour or so to complete.

West Water Street in the Tiny Moleskine Sketchbook

Water Street Sketch, 3 x 5.5" pen and watercolor
Did the drawing while on the phone with my friend who has just bought a wild 2-year-old Mustang. I mean the horse, not the car. The color part came later.

Today also saw the creation of a third little peony painting, and a LOT of work on that portrait of a black German Shepherd Dog (I have, I think, just another hour or two of work to do on that one). Sadly can't photograph either of those tonight, so I'll post them sometime tomorrow.

The 30 Days of Creativity Challenge marches on. I'm glad I decided to do it. I've gone from making one thing each day to, on many days, making two or three.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Clematis Flowers outside Espresso Royale at Fairview and Randolph

Coffeehouse Clematis, pastel pencil and carbon pencil, about 9 x 7.5", by Tracie Thompson
These kept moving while I drew them! It was windy yesterday afternoon.

Another case of feeling that I've got to catch summer while I can, before it runs on off into fall and leaves me standing here wondering what happened.

Studio Time! Peony Painting #2

White Peony, 5 x 5" oil on canvas by Tracie Thompson, $40 at my ArtFire Shop
The urgency of spring/early summer has caught me: I want to paint these flowers while they're here. Need more little canvases, though!

More images in a moment; I've been drawing daily and it is doing me tremendous good. Need to pick a theme for July, I think, and challenge myself to another thirty days. Perhaps thirty scenes from around the Twin Cities in that time frame?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Awkward Exits & Gerber Daisies at Anita Sue Kolman Gallery

Anita Sue's Gerbers and Awkward Exit, both 5.5 x 3" ballpoint and watercolor.

Last night I went to see the new exhibit at Anita Sue Kolman Gallery in the Northrup King Building. Very impressive work -- vibrant and bold, well worth the time to go check it out.

Anita had used small pots of bright Gerber daisies for path-markers on the way to her gallery (if you've ever visited Northrup King, you'll know why folks need a guide!), and so I took a few minutes out to draw one. In ballpoint, because that was what I had. Art doesn't always require sophisticated materials.

Later, heading home, I noticed the red door. An awful lot of people look at what I do and lament, "I can't even draw a straight line!" -- and I always wonder what makes them think I can.

The watercolors for both of these, I added this morning.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Wabasha Street Sketch, over lunch with a friend

Wabasha Street, St. Paul, 3 x 5.5" carbon pencil and watercolor by Tracie Thompson
This quick bit of fun happened because I got to the Boca Chica Taco House about ten minutes ahead of the friend I was meeting there. An artist with ten minutes and a few drawing supplies ... hm. I got most of the drawing in before she arrived, sketched the rest while we stood outside a couple minutes, then did the watercolor indoors.

Lacking water, I painted with a few drops of my Coca-Cola, which is surely not archival -- the phosphoric acid, and all -- but did make me smile.

This is another of my Tiny Moleskine Sketchbook pages. I'm liking this little book more and more.

Friday, and an artist whose work I want to share

Wanda Gag, an American. Known mostly as an illustrator of children's books, but I see so many intriguing shadows in her work. This lithograph from 1936 is titled Progress:

Progress, lithograph by Wanda Gag, 1936

Her Wikipedia page is sadly lacking in images, but there are plenty scattered all over the internet on sites such as this one (you'll need to scroll down), and her books, as well as books about her, are on Amazon.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


I want to be good, and write something worth reading. Unfortunately I am too much in need of coffee for that. I'll attempt semi-eloquence again later, I suppose.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Peonies, a Strawberry, and a Field Easel

10 this morning and I set up out in front of La Patisserie, that fabulous little bakery at the corner of Snelling and Randolph in St. Paul.

Pink Peony, 5 x 5" oil on canvas by Tracie Thompson. My prize trophy for the day, just $40 at my shop.
Proper stance is important while painting! Um ... maybe not, but it's a more physical activity than most folks imagine.
Shiny Strawberry, 5 x 5" oil on canvas. One of the $40 "Snack Food" series.
Josephine Geiger (at JA Geiger Studio -- she is an amazing stained glass artist) gave me a bouquet of peonies from her yard. My joy knew no bounds. I love, love, love peonies; I may have a Problem. I do not Care.

Painting them, though! Intimidating, to say the least. That peony was another case of having to keep telling myself, well, why not? The Worst It Can Do Is Suck. 

What I learned: Let go more, trust myself more. I actually made two peony paintings today. The first took about four times longer than the second, and you don't see it here because it isn't half as good. Chances of my destroying it and painting a different, freer picture on that canvas: approximately 100%.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Raw Poppies

A look at the process for these latest flower studies. This is from today around 6 p.m., in the front yard of my friend Josephine Geiger.

The initial sketch is in a reddish colored pastel pencil. Once I mostly have what I want, I draw over it in waterproof pen. That's what you see here. Next, I'll erase the pastel pencil and then apply the watercolors.

Out on Art Safari!

That's how it feels: packing up my supplies and ammo (sketch book, pencil box, watercolors) and venturing forth in search of prey. What will it be today? Another peaceful herd of peonies, before they move on for the summer? An aged building with all the distinctive markings of its rare species? A lone fire hydrant standing vigil, unaware that it is being stalked by a creature armed with Cadmium Red and an eye for detail?

I have no idea, and that is part of the adventure. If all goes well, I'll come home proudly carrying a trophy.

The satisfaction will last an hour or two, and then ... I'll begin thinking of the next hunt. I'm becoming a bolder, more efficient predator with each expedition.

Mini Minnehaha Sketches (or: What's the Worst that Could Happen?)

Okay, so I have this fantastic little Moleskine sketch book, and I mean little -- about 3.5 x 5.5", fits in my purse or the pocket of my coat.

Yesterday evening I took it and a little set of watercolors to Minnehaha Falls, just two miles from home.

I had one brush, one little pen with waterproof ink (a couple bucks at Wet Paint), and about a half cup of water I carried in one of those plastic honey-bear squeeze bottles. So this was a low-tech operation, to say the least.

I'd never attempted a waterfall drawing or painting, outside of doing them occasionally in acrylic as part of the distant landscape in various mural projects. Therefore, this little thing felt like a risk. I hesitated, then asked, what was the worst that could happen?

Answer: It might suck.

This time, it didn't -- you never see it when it does, because I don't post those -- but there is always the chance, and I always fear it at least a little, and I always have to remind myself that if it does suck, that will not in fact kill me.

It may be time to start applying that as a motto to other things in my life, things I've been afraid to try: The Worst It Can Do Is Suck. And really, how bad is that?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Irises Drawing, Highland Park Irises

Highland Park Irises, pen and watercolor, about 11 x 12"
After the overcast day, late afternoon here was beautiful, and I went out to find irises to draw. I was on the sidewalk almost two hours and met a few of my neighbors when they wandered over to see what I was doing. I even got an invitation to go draw in one family's back yard any time I liked.

I really, really like Minnesotans.

Peony Sketch from Highland Park

Pink Peonies, pen and watercolor, 10 x 12", by Tracie Thompson
Stood on the sidewalk yesterday and sketched this; added the watercolor today. I'd had so much fun with the pansies that I wanted to continue.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tiny Railroad Sketch

Rail Cars at Fairview, St. Paul. Colored pencil and watercolor, about 3 x 5.5"
Stood there along the street with a purple Prismacolor pencil (the only thing I had on me at the time) and sketched these cars on the tracks. The watercolor part, I did once I got home.  The sketch book is a little Moleskine with nice heavy paper, so it holds up well to watercolors.

Petunias at Como Conservatory

Petunias at Como Conservatory, sketch in pen and watercolor, 7 x 10", by Tracie Thompson
Okay, this? Was fun. I sat in the Sunken Garden of the Conservatory, and it smelled amazing in there, full of lilies and roses, but I painted the humbler little petunias along the path. Got fast and loose, fudged the colors where I felt like it, talked to all the people who stopped to see what I was doing.

I want to do more of this, simply for how relaxing it is. Also, the Japanese Garden at Como Park is so lovely. I'd never seen it before today.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Terry the "Itty Bitty" Pit Bull model still needs a home!

Once I found out he was still in need of adoption, I added Terry's white chest marking to the painting I did of him. Now he's not just a model for a little piece of art, to me, but a creature I'd like to help.

Terry is available through Underdog Rescue, who report that he is a sweetheart who loves everyone he meets and gets along great with other dogs. I can't take him home, but hope someone else will soon, as his good-natured, goofy face has really captured my heart.

Sunday Sketching at the St. Paul Farmers' Market

Farmers' Market Iris, about 8 x 6.5", pastel pencil, carbon pencil and white pastel on paper

What artists do at the Farmer's Market. The irises were gorgeous, so I stood there and sketched one.
Been out making little sketches again this morning.

Noticing these small things and drawing them is a source of real pleasure for me, and I recommend it even if you think you "can't draw." Nobody has to see what you do, but the joy of recording the moment is something that photography, in my experience, can't provide. There's a whole other connection when I've made a sketch, even if it's a very unfinished or inaccurate sketch.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Itty Bitty Pittie (Pit Bull painting for fun)

Itty Bitty Pittie, 4" square oil on canvas by Tracie Thompson

Based on a photo of Terry, posted by Underdog Rescue on their site.  He was just so charming and goofy I couldn't resist making this little painting of his expression.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pegasus sketch for a ceiling mural

Sketch for the ceiling of a girl's room. I'd have this on my own ceiling if I could.
This is one of the things I'm working on today. One of several. I think it counts toward my 30 Days even though it's my job, right?

What I do is visit the house and take snapshots of the area the owners want painted. I then print those photos onto plain paper, sketch my design ideas right in, and scan the drawing and email it to the client. It really helps them see what I have in mind and give me feedback.

So that's what this is -- a preliminary sketch in pastel pencil and a couple colors of pastel, on a snapshot I took at the house. Colors and other things will be refined and adjusted as I go (the pinks here really shifted toward a dull yellow tone -- not much like what I actually drew; and the red-clay colored lines will be a pretty blue-violet in the actual painting).

Friday, June 3, 2011

"30 Days of Creativity" Challenge

You'd think that, for a professional artist, 30 Days of Creativity would be a piece of cake.

Amazingly, it isn't. Even if you do this for a living, other mundane chores and obligations and distractions tend to drown out your actual creative work.

I've taken this on, for the same reason I've been walking a couple miles most days, of late. It requires effort, feels good, expands my view of the world, makes me feel better than I did.  The Iris from Wednesday and the two little salvage things -- Katie Bar the Door and the Tall Vine House -- from yesterday were done with this challenge in mind.

What I love is seeing what others are doing with it. Some people are trying new recipes, others are sewing, writing poetry or essays, taking photographs, you name it; it's not limited at all to people like myself who are pros, either. So, until the end of June, expect a daily post here with the thing I created the day before. We'll see if I can maintain it for a month, and what the results are if I do.

Salvage Art: Katie Bar the Door, and the Tall Vine House

Katie Bar the Door, left; Tall Vine House, right. Found objects, wax medium and oil paint, by Tracie Thompson

These are 11.5 x 2.5" and 14 x 1.75", made primarily of discarded surveyor's stakes. Similar materials, similar colors, very different ideas (at least for me, while I was making them). Click to enlarge, and if you feel like it, I'd love to know what these bring to mind for you.