An * In My Painting?

Several days ago, while framing a new painting, I put the frame face down on my work table, and carefully put the clean glass in the frame, followed by the mat/painting sandwich. Furnaces are running in this area, and static electricity causes unwanted things to magically appear between freshly cleaned glass and a pristine new mat. So before securing it, I carefully held the glass and everything else in place, turned it over, and inspected it closely. Clear! So I proceded to secure everything in the frame with 12 small nails. But when I was finished and turned it over, I was greatly surprised to see a tiny asterisk in the painting. I had not painted an asterisk. I bent for a closer look, held it to a better light, and finally got out the magnifying glass. Eeeew! It was a small spider that somehow managed to get "into the picture" so to speak. He obviously tried a disastrous shortcut across the painting just as I clamped down on those nails. He obviously tried to become as flat as he possibly could. Alas, he was considerably flatter than he wanted to be. Every tiny little leg was stretched out straight like spokes in a wheel, as if he was saying, "Yikes but that really hurts..." and then....nothing more. Lucky for me he was bloodless, because he was squished on the surface of my painting. So I had to reverse the process, pull all 12 nails, and remove the carnage from the painting. Thank heavens for a watercolor tool called a Fritch scrubber, which I afterward washed thoroughly with soap and hot water. Obviously I can't claim that no animals (insects) were harmed in the making of this product.


Lost Opportunities

This last summer two watercolor friends and I went to a challenging workship in Santa Fe. One of our goals was to learn more about adding texture to our work. Each of us prepared well in advance, finding tools we might use to texture our watercolors, experimenting with how to use them to best advantage. We took photographs and set up a temporary website to share our discoveries. While in Santa Fe, we met a like-minded artist from British Columbia we all enjoyed, and the four of us have since continued sharing ideas and new discoveries via email. It is wonderful to have art friends who rejoice in each other's painting successes or alternatively ask, "What were you thinking?" It seems we can always count on each other for kind, amusing, thoughtful, but above all, honest critiques. Sometimes silence says a lot.

Since our return, I happened to find a texturing tool with wonderful potential. I bought a soft rubber toy with many squiggly legs and googly eyes. Splattering pigment over this silly creature on my watercolor paper left a promising fern or leafy stem design. Voila! Absolutely convinced that my 3 friends would want to share in this, I rushed out and bought 3 more rubbery millipedes, each a different color. My intent was to send each of them a rubbery toy of their own. But when I sent photographs of the worm and the resulting texture I was greeted with....silence. I had the distinct feeling each of them might have been grinning at my folly. Actually, I grinned too. Even the row of four googly eyed bugs seem unperturbed that they were not adopted.

I still see potential in those bug eyed rubber worms. One of these days when my art friends recognize that texture in one of my terrific new paintings, they will realize their lost opportunity. In the meantime, those 4 creatures stare happily at me as I paint, but they too are......silent.





What's in a Name?

Long ago while casually browsing a watercolor "how to" book, I turned a page, and immediately turned back when my eye caught the title of the illustrated painting in small print. The painting was of a weathered barn with the large, high door to the haymow open. A very dark value had been painted to represent the cavernous, empty haymow. The painting was not terribly remarkable in and of itself. But the title, "White Dove," caused me to take a second look. Sure enough, there was a small shape of a flying dove against the large dark shape of the open haymow. This may not seem earthshaking, but it was rather an "AHA" moment for me. A clever or meaningful title can cause a viewer to take a second or third look or touch them emotionally. I realized that a title is very important, and have since tried to find arresting titles for each of my paintings.

This is not always easy, and I'm certainly not always wildly successful in this. Finding titles for a series is particularlarly challenging. I am not at all fond of titles with a single word followed by Roman numerals I, II, III, and IV. Often a subject simply does not suggest a snappy title. Since I prefer to spend more time painting than titling, I look for help. Where is that Thesaurus? Will a Scrabble Dictionary be helpful? Maybe catchy phrases in a newspaper or magazine?

Entire pages in my sketchbook are devoted to catchy titles waiting for a painting, but that is rather backward. Rarely has a title-in-waiting sparked my creativity. 

I tend to favor rather shorter titles. Still, it is fun to assign a pretentious or longer title to very small painting . Rhyming words interest me: Shocking Stockings, Bed Head, Okey Dokey. Or words that start with the same letters: Purple Party Line, Pig in a Poke, Blackbird Buffet. Since I am also a musician, titles that include musical names and terms often appeal to me. Also puns and double entendres.

My dear husband Bob was most supportive of my creative efforts. He had great advice and was helpful in all ways but one - he was not good at titling paintings. Not that he didn't try! What he suggested simply didn't appeal to me. And this was really odd because he was clever, had a great vocabulary, and amused me. I rarely used his suggestions, and when I did, it was only to avoid hurting his feelings by rejecting 100% of his offerings. Afterall, he was trying to help.

My friend Thea, on the other hand was foolproof. I don't remember ever rejecting even one of the titles she suggested. Thea was also a musician, and often included musical terms and song titles in her suggestions for titles. The title she chose for one of my paintings undoubtedly played a part in its sale. The subject of the painting was a stack of wood baskets by an open door at the apple orchard. Thea only glanced at the painting before announcing that the title was "Bushel and a Peck." Perfect. The buyer said she loved the painting, but got tears in her eyes when she told me that her uncle had often sung that song to her as he held her on his lap when she was little. Unfortunately, Thea moved far away. It's awkward to title paintings from a distance.

Another friend, a freelance writer, overheard me talking about titling paintings and offered to help. I had her come to my studio, and I set out the first painting. When I told her the best title I had thus far was "Blue Vase of Flowers," she said, "Sounds to me like you've nailed it!" At that point I served tea and cookies and brought out no more paintings. 

I have another friend who shows great promise at titling. She lives at a distance, but visits me regularly. On a visit to my studio, she asked about a painting in progress. I told her it was turning into a painting of a funky door on a narrow, cobbled street like a historic area of an old city somewhere in Europe. I told her that I intended to title it with the house number and the name of the street, using the word "Strasse" - German for "street." Almost before I had finished speaking, Rebecca said, "Oh NO! This definitely appears to be French!" And so it did. When it was finished I titled it "4 Rue Rutabaga." I have a nice bottle of wine and a stack of new paintings saved for Rebecca's next visit.



One non-creative aspect of being an artist... 

As an artist, it would be terrific to spend all of my time painting. However, one non-creative challenge is to keep adequate records of each painting. Clever and arresting titles are important to me. A title should say something about the image, and bring that particular work to mind after it leaves my studio or long after it has been sold. I jot down all pertinent information on a 3x5 card; title, date finished, size, description, medium, awards, price, date sold, and contact information for a buyer. Each year is represented by a different color of 3x5 cards. Cards for all paintings finished in 2009, for example, are canary yellow. I take several digital photos of each painting. Most competitions now accept or even require digital entries. The same information on the cards is entered into a computer program with the digital image linked to each entry. A catalog number is assigned to each work. The advantage of the computer program is that the records are cross referenced. I can generate helpful reports as well as track where each painting is located at that moment. That is most helpful when my work is displayed concurrently in several galleries, gift shops, and shows. Of course, these records are only useful if I consistently spend the time to keep them current and updated. This chore is not particularly enjoyable, but ultimately saves a lot of time and provides a satisfying overview of a body of work from the last 20 plus years. Fortunately, I have an efficient system for keeping these records. I can "dig in and do it" and soon be back to painting.


Me? A workshop model? 

Painting by Alvaro Castagnet. Click to view.I just returned from a 3-day workshop with Alvaro Castagnet, 2009 Juror and Workshop Instructor for Iowa Watercolor Society.  Alvarro is one of the leading watercolorists of our time, known and respected worldwide. He has won many awards, including the highest award conferred by the prestigious American Watercolor Society several times.

On the last day of the workshop, he commented that a grand piano near a corner window would be a good subject for his last demo if only we had someone to play the piano while he painted. Alvaro didn't know that I had a stack of music I had played several days earlier while members registered for our meeting and brunch. Excited that I might possibly be the subject for his last painting demo, I quickly volunteered to play.

The resulting painting was not meant to be a portrait, but the person playing the piano has my spiked red hairstyle, red reading glasses, and a coral shirt.  The painting will soon be hanging on the wall by my own piano.  What a keepsake!

Alvaro graciously consented to allow me to show a photograph of his painting here.