Vizsla and the Sun in an Empty Room.

Vizsla and the Sun in an Empty Room. May 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 20″.

Today I wanted to tell you the story of this painting, Viszla and the Sun in an Empty Room. It’s from the spring of 2018 and while I like the actual painting just fine, it’s the title that makes it one of my favourites. I posted this on Instagram back when I finished it, but I’m not sure that everyone (anyone???) picked up on the reference so I thought I would explain. Did you get it? It’s a big time nod to Edward Hopper, my favourite artist, and his painting, Sun in an Empty Room. Actually, it’s entirely inspired by that painting (and of course Riggs who loves to stretch so gracefully).

I love Edward Hopper’s art. Everything. Not just Nighthawks – I know you know this painting, everyone knows it. Corner view of three people sitting in the nearly empty diner, scene from outside looking in? So famous it’s been parodied in multiple episodes of The Simpson’s? It’s a good one. I like it so much I did my own little parody last year, featuring Clicquot (this was during my Clicquot-as-a-muse phase last winter):

Clicquot and the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. 2018. Ink on paper. From sketchbook.

I like all Edward Hopper paintings. Chop Suey,  Pensive Lady in Red,  Summer Evening. For my birthday one year, my husband surprised me with a print of Summer Evening printed on a gallery-wrapped canvas. I see it everyday and I always think, What on earth is going on here? How can something so simple be so narrative? It’s awesome! (yes, that’s my technical art critique :)).

Edward Hopper, Summer Evening, 1947 courtesy of http://www.edwardhopper.net

My interest in Edward Hopper goes way back to high school. I discovered his work when I was doing research for my OAC art thesis which focused on realism and architecture (and considering my subject matter it’s not really a surprise that I discovered him). Along with favourites like Lawren Harris and Andrew Wyeth, there stood out the work of Edward Hopper – quiet scenes of post-WWII American suburbanism, people lost in thought or just not talking on purpose (what were they thinking? what??), the contrast of lightest lights and darkest darks, the play of colours, and shadows cast with absolute geometrical precision. He had me at geometric precision.

My Grade 13 art journal:

I love reading what 17-year-old me had to say. There is some pretty angst-y stuff in here.
Edward Hopper journal entry.  He’s been inspiring my art for 20 yeras!

So as I said, MY painting is inspired by Sun in an Empty Room, another classic Hopper work. This is one of his later paintings and he totally forgoes any lonely-looking people in favour of just a totally empty, lonely room. Note the shadows – so, so, so great. And note the view outside the window – anyone else think that those trees look totally foreboding in spite of the sunshine? This is a great one – really begs the question, What is going on here? 

Edward Hopper, Sun in an Empty Room, 1963 courtesy of http://www.edwardhopper.net

Back to my painting – The vizsla is not any old vizsla – it’s sweet Baby Riggs and if you knew him you would know this is Riggs, because THAT is a Baby Riggs classic stretch pose and he is always stretching :). The house is our house, I took a ton of reference photos, and the shadows and highlights are all done in the style of Hopper.

The painting is on a 16 x 20″ gallery-wrapped canvas. I completed it in May 2018. It was painted with acrylics – a mix of TriArt and Golden paints.

Some progress pictures (always my favourite!):

Why, why, WHY did I used to do my acrylic under-drawing in black Sharpie marker???
Reference picture.

This painting took me forever to finish. I think I started it in March and I finished it in mid-May. Yikes. That doesn’t happen too often anymore. I swear I listened to The Weakerthans song, Sun in an Empty Room (so cool!) the entire time. If there was a way to infuse this blog post with that song – oh who am I kidding, there probably is, but I’m so technically-challenged I feel lucky that I was even able to create this website in the first place. Anyway, if I could embed that beautiful song to play over this post, it would really set the tone of this painting for you. I’ve given you the link instead ;).

I went through a real Edward Hopper phase from March 2018 onwards. I painted Vizsla and the Sun in an Empty Room, and then I painted sweet Clicquot in Pensive Vizsla in Red (yet another cheeky Hopper reference):

Pensive Vizsla in Red. June 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 20″.
Clicquot critiquing her portrait. Serious stuff.

And some more Hopper-esque sketches from the same time period:

Riggs and Clicquot, on the couch. Riggs is the one looking out the windows. It’s always Riggs. Ultimately I decided one vizsla and the sun in an empty room was enough. 2018. From my sketchbook.

My intention for this post was just to discuss the one painting. But in so doing I have summarized a nice little period in my personal art history – the time represented by these drawings and paintings has a really positive feeling around it. When I think back to it, it’s kind of cast in a warm and sunshine-y glow of late spring-early summer (as seen through the rose-coloured glasses of my mid-January perspective :)).

These paintings and sketches were completed at a time when I had just started painting again after the longest dry spell ever. For these months I felt super inspired to just study my favourite Edward Hopper paintings and allowed myself to kind of learn from him. It was a really freeing little art experiment. It seems kind of counter-intuitive because it was the opposite of easy-going, laissez-faire, let’s just see what happens! kind of painting. I learned a lot and that was really motivating.

I made some significant changes to my style and brushwork that have really stayed with me. Specifically, I simplified the forms in my sketches and paintings, and I tried as much as possible to keep.it.simple. Nothing fussy. I learned restraint. I learned to plan more in advance – especially my treatment of my light source. And that has kind of followed me through up to now, where I’m in a place where I’m becoming happier and happier with my painting.

Looking out my backdoor. March 2018. From my sketchbook.

I always loved the sketch shown above. It was inspired by a photo of my husband and Teelo and Riggs barbecuing in late winter. On the one hand it unfortunately led to my largest unfinished painting ever. I could never get it right. In fact, I’m looking at all 30 x 40″ of its unfinished glory leaning against the wall by my desk as I write this. But on the other hand, this sketch led to this portrait of Teelo, which was a real game-changer for me in terms of how I approach acrylic painting, and marked the start of my most prolific and productive period of 2018.

I once read that Edward Hopper spent a really long time working out each painting. I think it’s important to practice your craft a lot. But I also think it’s important to take a step back and really think about what you’re doing. I always see my productivity as kind of a wave function (yes, I’m referring to math :)). It goes up, it goes down. I feel inspired and invincible, then I’ll have a week (or two, or more) when I wonder if I’ve forgotten how to “do art.” But every time there’s a down, there seems to be an up that is better than ever before. And it’s neat to look back and link everything together in a post like this. It’s important for me to follow the process, take the time to work everything out in my brain, and think about what inspires me most 🙂

Who’s your favourite artist? What inspires you?

Thanks for reading everyone!

Charlee.

My FIRST niece also happens to be a dog. How I painted her, from start to finish. 

Charlee. August 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 16×20″.

Charlee, aka the cookie monster, is dog “cousin” to Teelo, Riggs, and Clicquot. Charlee is a Portuguese water dog. She was supposed to be a boy, but then my sister was handed a girl puppy on the day they went to pick “him” up from the breeder. True to form, my sister already had her mind made up that her dog would be named Charlee, so Charlee she stayed. Charlee and Teelo are both eight years old and a bit, born one month apart (Teelo is the older, more mature pup, obviously). They spent a lot of time together when they were little, especially before Riggs and then Miss Monkey Bananas Clicquot appeared on the scene. Nowadays, special planning has to take place to manage get-togethers of this four-dog gong show, but the cousins always remember each other (in one way or another).

Charlee is pretty quirky (aren’t all dogs weird in their own way?). She can’t be trusted around cats, Wiggis can attest to that. You can often catch her rocking a bandanna like a supermodel (or hot mess, depends when you catch her). Charlee also likes long walks with her grandpa, eating off of countertops, and being a big sister to my sweet nephew (although I’m quite sure she preferred being an only child, sorry sis).  

Teelo and Charlee sharing a laugh. 

I painted Charlee over a few days in August 2018. I always take a lot of pics to document my work as a reference for myself. Mainly I do this so that if things really go off the rails I have a breadcrumb trail to try to get back to when things were “good”. It’s also a great way to tell the story of a painting.

This work was done in artist quality acrylics (Tri-Art and Golden – if you asked me to choose I would say that I prefer Golden but they are hard to come by in-store where I live). The main palette was burnt umber, Payne’s grey, burnt sienna, cobalt blue (!), and titanium white. There was also some failed experimentation with naphthol red which I’ll get to. I painted on gallery stretched canvas, size 16×20″. As an alternative to black, mixing burnt umber and Payne’s grey will give you a beautiful nearly black colour that is so rich- I think it really captures the inky darkness of blue-black shadows and I used it extensively for C’s portrait. 

I started with this print-out of a photo my sister took of Charlee. I’ll often fiddle with filters and lighting of a photo before printing it out to sketch. Especially for… hirsute… canines like Charlee it really helps me to identify the dominant lines for my drawing. I always create a sketch, sometimes more than one if the first doesn’t suffice. The goal is not to have a perfectly detailed, shaded drawing, but quite literally a map of the most important lines and placement of anatomy. The sketch needs to capture the essence of the subject or it won’t be useful as a reference for the painting. It has to be pretty perfect. The more accurate I am here, the better for the painting. The Charlee sketch was pretty easy – maybe because I know her so well, but also I was really looking forward to sketching from that photo, the angle of her nose struck me as being really cute. I should say I did have to add in a body for Charlee based on another photo for reference of her. 

Once I was happy with the sketch I transferred it to the canvas. First using graphite transfer paper (my old standby) and then apparently I decided to go over those lines with a Sharpie? I am a huge Sharpie fan for watercolour and ink paintings, but I don’t normally use it for an under-drawing. I must have been feeling especially committed to this sketch? 

Nowadays, I prefer to tint the entire canvas with a uniform, neutral colour, prior to beginning a painting – for oil and acrylic. I find it kind of jarring to paint directly on to bright white gesso. I also prefer to have a neutral first layer so that if there is any unpainted canvas showing through it’s complimentary to the final painting.

Evidently, I didn’t start Charlee that way. I started with Payne’s grey and burnt umber for the darkest areas and slowly built that up in layers, then started working my way up to the highlights. Charlee has black fur, but within the highlights there are blues, and browns, and earthy yellows. When you paint from life, it’s so important to look closely and consider what colours you can see – sort of like that forest for the trees expression. Always look closely. What do you see? 😉

I kept layering in the highlights on top of the dark base.. I had to be careful to paint quickly and not let it dry too much between layers. I used a round, soft #6 brush which really worked to give the illusion of individual hairs. I use soft round and filbert (sizes #6 and #8) synthetic watercolour brushes for all of my paintings, regardless of the medium, usually short handle even if working at my easel.

I also always like to paint the eyes and nose right away because as soon as those are done, I will have a better feeling for the painting and how it’s going to turn out. In this case I loved Charlee’s little nose and the highlight detail right away. It’s the focal point.

Once Charlee was good to go, this is where it got a little bit tricky. I thought since Charlee is so dark, that a light background would really help to contrast with that. I really prefer to paint the background as I’m painting my subject now, otherwise you risk having the two look disassociated somehow. Anyway, once I had this light background in place, the whole painting seemed really washed out to me. And too streaky. I hated it. 

Fail!

Then I felt like I had a stroke of genius and decided that RED, pure naphthol red, would be the most striking background. So off I went. 

I was so sure of it, I signed the painting. Done. then I realized that actually I hated it too.

Double fail!

And so, that is the roundabout way I came to choose a dark background for Charlee. I decided to use the darkest shade in Charlee’s colouring, and the highlights of her fur provided the contrast. I decided I loved it. After all that. 

Charlee took about three days to complete including the background fails. I would paint after work and after the gym and whenever I had time between dog walks. There are always many dog walks. Day one was for sketching, transferring the drawing to the canvas, and underpainting. Day two was when the bulk of the painting took place, adding in details and working out Charlee’s features (I feel like every portrait is a bit of a problem to solve). Day three was final details, choosing the background colour, and sending pics to my sister to approve. 

I always use acrylics for commissions because of the fast drying time. And in Charlee’s case I was able to really exploit the fast drying to use a drybrush technique and add a lot of detail in her fur. In other paintings I have really struggled with acrylic paint drying too quickly regardless of using retarding medium. This has been a big motivation for me switching over to oils for my personal works recently where I can work all prima (and sound fancy doing so!). 😛 

It’s always easiest to paint dogs that you love because you know their personalities and you can kind of weave that into the painting as you go.

Charlee, the painting, now hangs proudly in my sister’s main floor washroom, because (according to her logic) that room receives the most traffic in the house. Also, according to my sweet sister, the painting receives many compliments from all of the visitors who happen to cross paths with it in the course of their business there. 

And that’s the story of Charlee and her portrait. Thanks for reading! 🙂

Welcome to my art room.

I love my art room. I just love it. It is my favorite room. One of the very first things I did when we moved into this house was to claim one of the bedrooms for my new art room. The animals usually move freely around in here and while I’m painting I usually have one to three dogs sleeping around my feet. Riggs is sleeping on the floor beside my desk as I type this. There is a permanent dog bed that gets moved around depending on where I’m working and a few blankets too now that it’s getting cold (vizslas like to be covered at all times).

We lived in a one bedroom condo for ten years and even if I wanted to paint, nothing really made me feel more lazy than the idea of having to dig out my art supplies from our storage locker in the basement. And the cats. Oh the cats. Two wild bengals with a magnetic-like attraction to batting paintbrushes and pencils off the table. And then painting at the dining room table where we threw our mail and winter coats? No, the mood to paint didn’t strike often. 

Vizsla chilling in the art room. 

My art room is one of the key factors in my productivity. I have all of my art stuff organized, in one location, and I can close the door if needed (keep cats away from drinking paint water, keep dogs away from licking delicious-to-them oil paintings). And I can literally be in the middle of a project and get up and walk away and know that everything will be there when I return, ready to go.

I have two easels. Once I started oil painting I realized I really needed one easel for oil paintings, and a second for acrylic. The reason? If I have a few acrylic paintings on the go I’ll regularly prop one on the floor against a wall to dry while I work on another. Not really a feasible option for oil paintings which dry markedly slower. I started having nightmares about Beesa and Wiggis (the cats) marking the paintings by rubbing right up against them. So two easels it was. I set up a caddie in between that houses all of my oil paints and mediums, brushes for oils and acrylics, and odds and ends like transfer paper (white saral paper! just the best recent discovery!), masking tape, coffee filters (for filtering used paint thinner), paper towels, and some other odds and ends. I try to really maintain a minimalist working area – the caddie only houses supplies that I use all the time. 

I have a big dining room table opposite from the easels. This was a great purchase. This is my multipurpose work area. There’s so much space. I use it for paperwork, writing, watercolour painting, everything. The desk light is an LED TaoTronics lamp, another great find. It has five different light colour settings and ten brightness settings. I never turn it off. At night I just put it on its dimmest setting and that way if I walk past my art room in the middle of the night for water or to let a dog outside I can peak in to check on everything 🙂 I have projects everywhere. On the floors, on the walls, everything in varying stages of completeness. I find it really inspiring and motivating to surround myself with my work in progress like this. 

Between my easels and my dining room table I have a wood drafting table that I only use for drawing. All of my acrylic paints live in a big tupperware container underneath the drafting table. And all of my paintbrushes and pencils and pastels are housed on my wooden bookcase in the corner. You can see more projects scattered about here, ready to go. And you can also see my acrylic palette propped against my easel. I found that scrap of wood in my dad’s workroom in grade 12 in a pinch and I have used it for every acrylic painting ever since. It’s getting kind of heavy with old paint but it’s also kind of neat to see it changing colour depending on what I’m painting. I think about retiring it and hanging it up in the art room like a my own Jackson Pollock-inspired acrylic splatter on wood… but then I wouldn’t have a palette so I don’t. 

I have art hanging up everywhere. I used to be really afraid to hang anything up permanently but I have a hammer and a jar of picture nails in the art room closet and I just hang paintings now as I please. If I make a mistake I just pull the nail out and try again and don’t tell my husband :). I like being surrounded by my old paintings. Even the ones that I used to cringe about. There’s a bunch of those. It’s kind of nice to be surrounded by where I’ve been while moving forward into new directions with my art. 

So that’s my art room. Welcome! I’m really looking forward to letting you in on some of my upcoming projects really soon. Stay tuned! 

Thanks for visiting!

My first post.

Hello world! Welcome to my website. In the days that I have spent working on evachristensenart.com… and then reworking and then deleting it all in frustration (thank you to the wonderful people at WordPress – the premium support package has definitely paid for itself in dividends) – I kept thinking about what I would talk about in my first post. So many thoughts and now here I am, sitting down to type and it’s a little tricky to get started.

First watercolour. February 1995. 

I “did art” my entire life up until university and then I took a break so long it seemed like all of those memories were part of a different person’s life. School – biology, chemistry, physics – wasn’t conducive to artistic inspiration, and once I started working neither was the one bedroom condo where we lived for ten years with two cats hell bent on knocking paintbrushes off tables and drinking paint water. When my husband and I finally moved into our house four years ago I declared one of the bedrooms to be my art room, set it up with a brand new drawing table and easel and then… let it sit dormant for a few more years.

It’s not that I haven’t had any inspiration or any urge to create in that time. An idea would come and I’d think oh that’s a good one, too bad I don’t know where any of my art stuff is. I even managed to complete a few paintings here and there from sheer force of will, but I wasn’t too thrilled with them.

Killarney. January 2018. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. 16×20″

This really changed for me this past January. I completed a painting of our view from the top of the La Cloche mountains from our epic backcountry hike at Killarney park in the summer of 2017. When it was complete I posted it a photo of it on Facebook for the first time. Two things happened. One, I got a lot of positive feedback and I was somehow able to shake the feeling that unless my painting looked just like reality, it was a fail. Instead, the Killarney painting captured all the good feelings from our trip. Two, since I had finally gone to the effort of getting my paints and brushes out of retirement and literally dusting them off, I quickly completed another painting of our sweet vizsla Clicquot at Algonquin park the summer before.

Clicquot at Heart Lake. February 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 18×24″
Clicquot checking on the progress of her painting. 

And then everything snowballed. I found myself making more and more time for painting on weekends and in the evening after work, I decided to make a real effort to conquer acrylic paints, and I also made the decision to only paint the things that matter to me. I started an Instagram account to share my artwork (@evachristensenart). And I realized that as much as I enjoyed painting in high school, when there was a grade attached to creativity, I always felt like I had to make my artistic decisions based on getting the best mark possible.

What does it mean to paint for myself? I paint when inspiration strikes me, and when I need a break I take one. I like to paint what I see, what is real, but I am inspired by the things I love – our three dogs and two cats (Teelo, Riggs, Clicquot, Beesa, and Wiggis), experiences captured in photos I have taken, paintings that tell a story, my favourite artists. I like to paint big, and I love colour. I started painting with oils. As it turns out, inspiration begets inspiration. I now have a long running of list of projects – personal and commissions – and I was outgrowing the confines of my Instagram account.

Vizsla E. Kandinsky/Three vizslas on a Wednesday afternoon. March 2018. Watercolour and ink on paper. 12×16″ 

I really want to share my art with the world, and to connect with people through my painting. So without a single technological bone in my body, I signed up for a website on a whim and here we are. I would really like to explore my relationship with art through my blog posts, share a little technical know how for those who are interested, and have a space to really discuss the evolution and inspiration of my work, now that I have finally found my way back to it. 

Thank you for reading!

What inspires you?