Friday, December 28, 2012

How to Color a Black or White Horse

Today on Ride of the Christmas Ponies, we have #17, Rohan, above, and #16, Rhio, below. Very very different horses, but what they have in common is that, being black and white, they require me to use a lot more colors than they would if they were some variety of brown/red/buckskin/whatever. No, really.

If you've ever tried to paint something that was entirely black or white, you probably realized that just using black or white paint didn't work very well. This is because light bounces all around, all the time, and other colors are always reflected everywhere. Those reflections get most obvious on objects (or animals) whose colors are really neutral in themselves -- black or white. In order to make them feel vibrant and alive, I have to use purples, greens, browns, blues, all kinds of things you'd never expect. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Honey the Appaloosa, Christmas Pony #15

Sweet as Honey, 10 x 8" mixed media on Rives BFK Tan paper
I enjoyed spending time with this kind-hearted girl, even as I knew that the photo I chose to work from was going to make for a challenging job. Correcting distortion is sometimes pretty simple, sometimes (as in this case) not. I knew it would not be an easy thing but I waaaaannnted that expression, so I went for it.

I love her eyeliner and her general feeling of softness.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fixing a Stretchy-Faced Horse

This is a really common thing in horse photos: the dreaded Lens Distortion. This is Honey, the Christmas Pony I'm working on today. I love her expression in the reference photo at top, but I could tell the camera had made her nose too long! I have to correct that, and here's how I do it. 
 I printed two photos of her and measured both, from the poll behind the ears to the bottom point of her eye, and then from that point to the top edge of her nostril. Those distances were close to identical in the side (un-distorted) view, but in the close-up they differed by 50%!
A bit of quick math: 1.45 divided by 1.25, from the side print, gave me 1.16. On my distorted print, the ear-to-eye length is 2", and 2 x 1.16 was 2.32. I have to guess a little here, but I made the dark line at around 2 and 1/3" -- that's where the top of the nostril would be if the lens hadn't distorted Honey's face.

I measure other things, often less precisely; I will also have to account for her muzzle being too wide, for example, and pare that down as I create the sketch.  The side view won't help a lot with that, but I'm experienced enough to figure it out. 

I already did a post of simple tips for better amateur dog photos, and all of those apply to horses, but if I can find a horse-photography tutorial I'll link it here.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Pony the Fourteenth!

Liza. I don't know a lot about her except that she is a warmblood and has this lovely rich bay color. She struck me as a very complex individual -- sensitive and refined but also really bold. I worked to find a balance in her portrait, between the WHOO HOO VIVID and the precision she seemed to want.

Lessons from the Christmas Pony project

First: I am loving this thing and so glad I decided to take the plunge. For those just joining us, here's the link to the Christmas Ponies -- what they are and why I'm doing them.

Me and my "Pony," Twilight, who is kind of large for a pony, but appropriately rounded. 
And since I've never done anything like this before, I am taking notes for myself for next year. Some highlights:

1. Start the project not later than Nov. 1 next year. Christmas animal portrait rush means that not everything will fit on schedule.

2. Remember that when you get inventive and do what each character seems to need? It WORKS.

3. Stock up on coffee. Very good coffee.

4. Did I mention starting early? And coffee? Coffee is vital.

So, yes -- for various reasons involving an unexpected last-minute rush of PLEASE I NEED IT FOR CHRISTMAS and a day job and a blizzard, not to mention my own need to get each portrait Really Really Right, I am behind schedule. That doesn't mean anyone gets bumped off the list. It just means I will be taking submissions next year beginning on Nov. 1 instead of Dec. 1. :-)

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying this so much that I am planning to do other series projects throughout the year. Maybe not one-a-day, since that would leave no time to create other work I need to make, but perhaps a series of ten [insert subject here] every month or two.  Goldfish, birds, trains (now that'd be fun), flowers, I don't even know yet. But I really love how many people have been following this project, talking to me, and having a good time; and I love how productive I am when all that is going on.

If you're enjoying this, then, I hope you'll stay tuned. There'll be more.

Christmas (Dog and) Pony #13

I'm putting the dog sketch up first, so that it will be my "thumbnail" image when I post to Facebook, and thus reduce the risk of ruining the surprise of the horse portrait, which is a gift for someone.

This is Fozzie Bear, the cute fluffy gent with the soulful mismatched eyes. He's just as sweet as he looks here.

And the Surprise Pony is Coach, who sadly passed away about a month ago. The portrait is a stealth job, and will be delivered tomorrow before the person who commissioned it has to go out of town for the holiday.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Ponies 11 & 12: Leif and Boone

Santa's Little Helpers. 9 x 12" pastel pencils, watercolor, carbon pencil, pastels, white acrylic.

This is a special commission, since it's outside the standard scope of the Christmas Pony project. I took it because:

1. FJORDS!!! They are so adorable with their stripey horsey mohawks.

2. I wanted an image for my holiday cards for next year, and this was perfect

3. ... I mentioned FJORDS, right?

I worked from a great photo sent to me by one of the owners. I'll link the farm name later, after I clear it with them.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Pony 10: Flynn!

I went and bought a new pastel color for this horse. The actual name is "English Red" but I think of it as "Feisty Chestnut."

Flynn is known for her can-do attitude and her boldness, which is why she got the energetic rock star treatment in this portrait.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Pony 9: Daman

Today's Pony is Daman. ... wait, did I say "Pony"? Hah.

Some horses can take a while for me to get a handle on, and he's one of those. I've met this horse more than once, and he's a tricky one, and I couldn't quite get a grip on how to tackle his portrait, until it hit me:

I needed to stop just trying to draw a horse, and go for drawing a rock star

Because Daman? Daman is The Horse Your Mother Warned You About. Tall, dark and handsome, charismatic and sexy, a real charmer. If he were a dude, he'd play lead guitar in a very loud band, get all the chicks and break their hearts. He'd ride a Fat Boy with a custom paint job, too fast, and when he got pulled over he'd smile and casually tell the cop where to go.

He's not a bad guy, really. He just knows he's famous.

Christmas Pony Number Eight

Her name is Fiona. I don't know much more about her, but she required a very light and sensitive hand as an artist, so I wonder if that's also how she is to ride. Such a lovely girl. This portrait is watercolor, Pitt Pastel pencils, Wolff's Carbon Pencil, and white acrylic.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas "NO REALLY, I'M A PONY!" Number Seven

Everyone, meet Chi-Chi.

 Chi-Chi lived thirty-plus years and lit up the world of everyone around her that whole time. A bold, kind, impish little girl, she was dearly loved and is still missed daily, all this time after her departure.

I figured, if the Donkey from Shrek could be a Steed for a day, surely Chi-Chi could be a Christmas Pony. She seems to have more than earned the honor.

I left Chi-Chi's portrait slightly rough around the edges, feeling I ought not refine away all the energetic, beautiful chaos I felt was part of her character. Look closely and you'll see some of my sketching lines and stuff I only partially erased. I could have "fixed" all that, but it felt like Cheech didn't want that much restraint, so I let it go.

Friendly Stuff for Beginner Artists

This is one of my favorite books for beginners. I use it in my classes a lot.  Most of the exercises and principles are the same ones you'd get out of a book like Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (another favorite of mine), but I've found this one easier reading and more confidence-building for a lot of my students, with a very welcoming and soothing quality. 

If you've always wondered whether you could learn to draw, this book believably shows how you can. Highly recommended. It's on Amazon here.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Ponies Five and Six

Santos, top, and Wolf, bottom. Acrylics on paper, 9 x 10" each. Designed as a set to hang side by side. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas Pony Number Foal. Um, Four.

Banjo, who is entirely too cute to be legal. Took this shot with a flash because it was five p.m. and dark out (isn't is solstice yet?) when I finished him. So the colors are ... off. But he's at the printer's shop now, being professionally scanned.

The Christmas Pony project gallops on. Haven't done the final tally for today yet! I think I have 21 out of 31. 

Christmas Pony Number Three

Venus (the Wild), 10 x 10" watercolor & mixed media. Third of the Christmas Ponies. She's a more wary and sharp personality than either Kadans or Griffin, so I chose to use sharper pencils and watercolor for her instead of pastels as I did for the other two. To be clear on this, Venus is not mean; like most horses, she's innately kind. She's got this wild-horse alertness about her, though, and a desire to control her domain. Cool mare.

The Christmas Pony Project is a resounding hit so far, with sixteen of the thirty-one slots taken for the month. If you're interested, now's the time to jump, because at this rate I'll be booked up by the end of the week!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Christmas Pony Number Two

This is Griffin, the Christmas Pony for December 2, and he really is that cute. He's an unusually secure kind of horse; he is well aware that he's loved and he seems completely at ease with his place in the world. As a result, he is really curious and playful, and doesn't waste much energy on worry.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Christmas Pony!

This is Kadans, a sweet grey mare who helped a lot of people learn to ride. She has the honor of being my first-ever Christmas Pony.

I corrected for the camera distortion that made her nose look rather longer than it was, in the original photo:

If you'd like to add your own pony to the project, and need to get photos, this post on dog photography can help. Same principles, different species. :-)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Ponies for Christmas!

I am shamelessly ripping off inspired by Kat Corrigan's Thirty Dogs in Thirty Days endeavor, and have decided to have some fun of my own -- with horses.

Most of us, at some point, wanted a pony for Christmas. Some of us are now blessed enough to have them (in all shapes and sizes; my "pony" is a great big Percheron cross) or know people who do.

I've been drawing horses since I was ten. Now I want to expand my portfolio of equine images, and so the challenge begins. A horse a day throughout December. These will be either mixed media drawings or pastels, and sizes 8 x 10" or 9 x 9" (depending on whether the image needs to be horizontal/vertical or square).

If you have a horse (any size or breed) and would like to submit photos for my challenge, I'd love it. Email me your best shots. You will have the first right, but absolutely no obligation, to purchase the resulting piece of art.  I will set the price at a flat $99 for this, my first year of Christmas Ponies. This is a promotional price for the Pony Project only. Once these slots are filled, additional pieces will be available in a general price range from $145 to $300 depending on size and complexity of the drawing.

For some basic photography help, see my post on Getting Dog Portraits that Don't Suck; almost all of it applies to horses, the one difference being that camera distortion is more of a problem with them. I've had pretty good results by standing back a little bit and using my zoom function instead of getting too close to the big horsey nose. :-)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

5 Steps for Dog Photos that Don't Suck

Common occurrence in the life of an animal portrait artist:

Someone emails me a couple images of their beloved dog who has passed away, and wistfully asks if I can make a portrait from these snapshots, because it's all they have. And the snapshots are ... not great. The colors are all blue, the lighting is too dim or too harsh, the image is small and the details of the dog's face can't be seen very well.

Usually, my answer is yes, I can work with what they have; you'd be amazed what I can do with some pretty dismal photos. But it does take longer and I never feel the results are as good as they would be if my reference shots were better. And I'm saddened for the owners, who always wish they had taken better pictures while they still could. Pictures like these of Fozzie, above and below, which I took in a few minutes on a random Wednesday afternoon.

These are not professional-grade photos, but they're good (and for art-making purposes, excellent), and what's more, any yahoo with a digital camera can get the same results. No special training or equipment needed. Here's how:

1. TURN OFF YOUR FLASH.  See all that pretty sunlight, the soft shadows, and the warm color of Fozzie's coat? If you use a flash, all that goes away, replaced by a harsh blue floodlight effect. This is especially true if you're photographing indoors, which I don't recommend unless you have a nice sunlit window (ideal for cat owners!).

2. GET OUTSIDE. If you possibly can, photograph outdoors, preferably in early morning or late afternoon/early evening sunlight. Natural light is bright enough so that you don't need to use the flash to get a sharp picture. Early or late sunlight is perfect -- slanting and golden, it brings out the animal's natural beauty. If your dog is black and shiny, shooting right at sunset or on an overcast or hazy day may work better, so keep the camera around and keep playing.

3. GET CLOSE (and get help from a friend). For dogs, you'll likely need someone to distract them or hold the leash, or else they'll be dogs: "Hey! Whatchya doin'? What is that? Izzit a toy? Huh huh?" If you have a dog, you probably already have the Lens Full of Doggie Nose pictures that result. You just need to be close enough so the head and shoulders fill the frame and you can see all the expressive details.  It will help a lot to be on the dog's eye level, if you can.

4. LEARN TO USE YOUR WHITE BALANCE SETTING. This is in the menu of any digital camera, even the one on my cheap little flip-phone. The symbols for it are "WB" or a little sun, cloud, light bulb, or house casting a shadow for "shade." If you're photographing outside or in that sunny window, set your camera for sunlight. This will keep that warm golden tone in your pictures. If you don't set your camera for sun, your colors may look weirdly blue, like a poster that's been hanging in a shop window too long.

5. TAKE A TON OF SHOTS. This is digital; it's not like you're going to waste film. Have fun! If you've got 20 pictures and only one is good, you still have a good picture.

Oh, one last thing: Once you've got some nice pictures, back them up on a thumb drive, DVD, or somewhere else so that you don't lose your memories if your hard drive conks out.

Happy snapping to all my fellow amateur camera-hounds!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hopkins Honda in progress

This is my fifth holiday season doing painted windows at Luther Hopkins Honda. Still loving it.

The photo above is how it looked after around 7 hours' work -- typically the point at which I run out of steam and have to quit, or I'll later look at it and wish I had quit.

Below, how it looked at around 5 minutes,  while I was figuring out placement of the various elements.

A note for anyone out there who creates stuff, or wants to create stuff, but keeps not doing it because of that terror of "I have no clue how this works" that stops you. That fear is normal. I had it yesterday when I looked at this window, and I'll have it again today when I start the next one. And then it'll be fine. It always is.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Four years old

By the time I was in kindergarten I'd stopped making the blue strip for the sky, so I must have been four when I did this. I remember drawing like this -- vaguely, but it's there. We had a round table with a faux-marble Formica top, and that's where I made things.

Do you think, sometimes, about how much of your young self might still be hidden away, under the knowledge and bills and possessions and losses? I do, and then I make art like an archaeology dig. Not for nostalgia, because I know there's no going back.

The point is to find things I can carry forward.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Troy Horse

Found objects, salvaged electronic components, oil paint, wax medium, polymer clay, antique box. 14.25" h x 10" w x 7" d; horse piece can detach from its box/stand. I really did have fun with this and I think it shows. Found the pulley-wheel about a year ago near the tracks in St. Paul and I am really pleased to have finally put it to use.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Goldfish for Note Cards

These are all "artist trading card" size, 2.5 x 3.5", pen and watercolor. I made them during Art Crawl this weekend. Planning a set of four note/greeting cards from them.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Another of the Crow Series, Sold

292, found sign, salvaged metal, oil paint, wax medium, colored pencil.  8 x 10".
This is the piece I made specifically for the Soap Factory's annual $99 Sale. I had fun with the idea that the crow this time had just flown off, leaving a couple feathers in its wake.

The feathers are cut from salvaged aluminum sheeting, and painted with a wax medium that gives them a realistic-looking texture. I have a great time with these, and will be making more.

Still living less safely: I just finished a submission disk for a show opportunity. I might or might not make the cut, but there's only one way to find out.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Art Crawl Alert! But ... what's Art Crawl?

Click to enlarge the JA Geiger Studio Art Crawl postcard
Saint Paul Art Crawl is a very large twice-yearly open studio event. Basically, a bunch of artists open our studios to the public and put our work on display on the same weekend; it's like an outdoor art fair, but indoors. I'm showing as a guest artist at JA Geiger Studio, where parking is free because we aren't in Lowertown.

An "On the Spot" type portrait. They're approx. 8 x 10" large and ready to fit a standard ready-made 11 x 14" mat and frame; no custom framing required!
Some of us do live demos during Crawl. I do On the Spot Animal Portrait Sketches. Bring me your photo of your dog/cat/horse/bird/lizard/hamster (no, really -- I've drawn hamsters) or whatever you have, and I'll make a sketch in about 20 minutes, while you watch it happen. If you like the results, hand me $20 and take it home. Plan ahead, because it's first come, first served. In Spring, I ran out of time before I ran out of animals!

Consider this your invitation! (Click to enlarge images).

Friday, September 21, 2012

Charlie the Spaniel

Charlie, mixed media on paper, 10 x 8".
Isn't he cuuuute? I love my job.

I'll have animal portrait gift certificates at Art Crawl, by the way. Great for That Person Who Has Everything.

And on that note, I am off to La Patisserie to finish the big canvas. And get one of Deb's amazing little lemon tarts, if she has any left today. Lemon tarts were one of the joys I discovered while studying in Paris, and Deb makes the exact same kind I got there. I have a terrible weakness for them.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dangerously Close to Done

This is a 48 x 60" canvas in progress at La Patisserie bakery, corner of Snelling and Randolph. If you haven't visited, I recommend it; great made-on-site baked wonders and the friendliest people anywhere.

The top image is where I left off today, and below is how it looked when I started. I won't be back there until Friday morning and should be finished by Friday around 5.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Bloomington Theatre & Art Center News

Saturday, this is where I was, at Bloomington Heritage Days with BTAC, doing a drawing demo:

The dog's name is Charlie and he belongs to Gail Weber of Twin Cities TOSCA. I'll post photos when the portrait is fully finished.

MY DRAWING WORKSHOP is on Saturday, Oct. 6th, and you can sign up here. One-day workshops are great if your schedule doesn't allow for a regular class. We'll be doing the same dark/light on tan paper method you see in my animal portraits. A very old technique and easier than you'd imagine.

I was at the event to publicize the BTAC's art classes. There are a lot of them, and we have excellent instructors!  Go check out the catalog

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Motley as a Pup, and the Trouble with Free Art

Motley at Rest, 11 x 11" mixed media on cotton rag paper
So, yeah. It's been a busy, busy few weeks! And now I'm gearing up for Fall Art Crawl at JA Geiger Studio, (note that, as of my writing this, the site hasn't been updated; Fall Crawl is October 12 - 14 and the hours and address are all the same as for Spring).

Meanwhile, there's a discussion I'm following about a well-known musician, Amanda Palmer, who has landed in the middle of a controversy for asking professional musicians to come play in her band, on her tour, for free. Except, she's going to pay the ones in NYC because the show there has to be top-notch.  Some musicians (and visual artists like myself) are deeply bothered by this.

Here's Amanda's blog post defending herself, and another person's take on the situation.

When and why to work for free is a constant question in the lives of professional artists. My experience is that if everything's about the money, about survival, it kills me; and so I do give out of my art to support causes I believe in. I have donated art to:

Enchanted Makeovers
Northern Lights Greyhound Adoption
Arts for ACT
The Bridge for Youth
Home for Life

and there are more, but you get the gist.

But Amanda Palmer is not a charity, and work donated by artists is not "free" for the artists. It is time, materials, and study. It is an opportunity cost.

I've lost track of how many people I have shocked by telling them I had to work for my gift. An innate aptitude for art was only the beginning, and the rest has been decades of study and practice, a constant quest to gain new skills. This shocks people who assume that if you have talent, it all comes easily.

Amanda Palmer, an artist herself, knows how hard it is for artists. She of all people ought to be finding ways to make it better, instead of perpetuating the same old toxic ideas we already have. I totally understand the reasons people will play for her for free, but it breaks my heart that she'd ask them to.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Motley the Yorkie, in his PJs

Motley in his PJs, 11 x 11" mixed media on paper
Yorkies are such little charmers. This one belongs to the owners of the Dream Home for the Fall Parade of Homes here in the Twin Cities. His portrait -- two of them; this is the first -- will be on display there.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Watch it Happen

This is at La Patisserie in St. Paul. A 4 x 5' canvas showing the building as it was in the early 40s. I started it today and this is how far I got; will continue tomorrow afternoon. 

Landscape with Freight Cars

5 x 7" sketch from yesterday, oil on panel. Playing with somewhat more vibrant colors. Available, $50. This will fit right into a standard 5 x 7" photo frame; no custom framing required.

For the "blocking in" stage I used a thin wash of transparent iron oxide and quinacridone gold, intending to cover all of it. Then toward the end, someone remarked that they loved the orange color at the lower right, and I decided I did, too. So I left it, and I am glad I did.

Today I am out the door to La Patisserie, my favorite bakery in the Twin Cities. I'm working on a four-by-five-foot canvas for them, based on a photo of the building taken in the 1940s. I'll post work-in-progress photos tonight.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mounds Boulevard Bridge

Mounds Boulevard Bridge, 6 x 12" oil on canvas

Today was overcast, not unpleasant though. A softly lit day and a grey curve of road that reflected the sky.

I wanted a soft, loose treatment so I painted this almost entirely with a palette knife.