Back to the Grind.

Teelo stole Riggs’ Christmas toy and is so proud.

Hi everyone! Happy Wednesday. Missed any holiday posts? You can catch up here:

Running Free in Rusagonis

The Story of Downtown Brown

Christmas Commissions Round-Up

and Unpacking Boxing Day

I’m back to work, back to the gym, and back to regular life. Thank you to everyone who reached out about my New Year’s goals. It’s exciting to put myself out there!

I spent New Year’s morning watching Tidying Up With Marie Kondo and taking down our Christmas tree. Relief at last! Totally random fact: I discovered the KonMarie method for folding clothes a few years ago and for anyone with 2019 home organization resolutions let me tell you it.was.a.life-changer. I think I spent like a week re-folding all of our clothing when I discovered this, and I still use this method now.

Another random thought: Today I learned that if you delete images from your WordPress media library that are linked to a post – you will also delete the linked images in your post! Oops! Well that was a giant fail!

I have This is a Cat, Big Beesa, and Downtown Brown drying around the art room now. I’m looking forward to varnishing these soon! I’ve read so much that varnishing really brings out the colours of your oil painting and I’m really excited to see this. I’ve noticed that the Old Holland Scheveningen black that I use dries pretty matte. This has the effect of making my deep, dark, black backgrounds on the Beesa paintings appear kind of dull. I have the Gamvar High Gloss Varnish and just need to pick up a new, clean flat paintbrush before I give it a try.

Also, kind of out of nowhere but I wanted to share: I’ve been painting a lot and losing a record number of paintbrushes. I was finding that even with careful cleaning, my brushes must have had a film of oil paint that hardened when dry. It rendered a few brushes totally useless. I picked up some Master’s Brush Cleaner on a recent trip to my local art store. We also used to sell this when I worked at Curry’s Art Store and I always thought it looked like some old-timey weird product from the packaging. But given the number of paintbrushes that had been lost (and the cost to replace) I thought, oh just add it to the pile. Well, it works great!

For my brush clean-up I follow these steps: 1. Use a paper towel to remove any excess paint. 2. Swish my paintbrushes around in my jar of Gamsol. 3. Run the brush under warm water. 4. Lather up the brushes with the Masters Brush Cleaner Soap (you just rub the brush against the hardened soap bar in the container. 5. Rinse the brushes. 6. Reshape bristles and lay flat to dry… And, voila!

Totally clean brushes, no more film! And I was actually able to restore a few paintbrushes that I thought were garbage. This method works great so I really wanted to share!

I started working on some more east coast pen and watercolor paintings yesterday which carried over into today. I got a few rough sketches done last night and started painting today. I started this project last summer when we got back from a trip to the east coast and I just loved those little paintings. The first set focused a lot on Prince Edward Island. I’m really looking forward to working on these new ones more this week. This particular series is focused on Halifax at night and I’m hoping to play with my gouache paints for these.

And just to keep up the productivity moving along because I’ve been feeling so motivated art-wise, tonight I set up Wiggis on one easel and prepped a second canvas on my other easel for tomorrow night. Now I can kind of travel back and forth between easels on my rolling chair (Ha! if only I were so efficient!). Both of these paintings have kind of been queued in my brain for awhile now. I’ve kind of moved ahead of these paintings with some other ideas but I think it’s important to finish these – have to practice a little bit of diligence in 2019.

I’m looking forward to Thursday evening – long dog run with my spiky shoes and then an evening of painting with sleeping dogs lying around my feet.

Thank you for reading everyone! Time to watch Friends (turns out it’s still good!) and eat homemade oatmeal cookies. We’re almost to the weekend 🙂

January 1, 2019.

Happy New Year everyone!

From Teelo!

I didn’t have much time off for the Christmas holidays but I’m definitely ready to get back to normal. I’ve single-handedly eaten my way through nearly two bags of my sister-in-law’s famous peanut butter balls while binge-watching the entire series of Friends on Netflix (again). I can tolerate the Christmas tree for about two weeks but it will be thrown to the curb later this morning. I’ve definitely had enough bonding time with the tree but I know it’s not totally gone – I’ll be finding needles until June I’m sure. And even though I always start December loving all the holiday treats I’ve been living in stretch pants for a little too long now. There’s nothing I love more this time of year than throwing out all of the leftover excess and moving on – literally and figuratively.   

Riggs!

I love the spirit of New Year. I love the idea of starting over. I love packing up everything after Christmas, and getting back to a routine. My goals for 2019 involve all of the usual: Eat better, exercise more, be a nicer person. But I’m also hoping 2019 will be a year of big change, especially artistically.

and… our New Year’s Eve Birthday Girl 🙂

Here’s what I’m thinking:

Paint more.

I would really like to focus on my personal artwork in 2019. I have a mental list of paintings that need to be completed. I started painting for the first time in a million years in January 2018 and since then I have just felt so much pent up creative energy, ideas, and a desire to make something. It hasn’t really let up, and if anything, the more I paint the more I want to paint. I’ve seen so much growth in the past year and I’m crossing my fingers this continues into 2019. Just like exercise and training, I need to make space for creating everyday. I do believe that the most growth happens when I’m drawing and painting a lot so I’m really excited to produce a lot of finished work this year. Do I have a theme? Yes, I can see one emerging, and I’ll talk about that more in an upcoming post as my ideas around it sort of crystallize. This unifying theme for my painting is something I’d really like to use to work towards…

First painting of 2018.

My first art show.

I would really like to mount my own art exhibition in 2019. I would like to rent a space and send out invites and create a program and display my work for the public and serve champagne in chic champagne flutes and buy a new dress for the occasion (of course!). Not a lot to say about this yet except that I think it’s really important to work towards publicly displaying my art and I need to make that happen. I’m aiming for September/October of 2019.

And last but certainly not least…

Grow my blog!

I want to spend as much time as I can on evachristensenart.com. I have been loving all of the work I do for my little website and I would love to be able to grow it as much as possible and reach as many people as I possibly can with my work. I wish this could be a job! I love writing and planning posts and telling the story behind each painting that I do and exploring how that makes me feel – and then hearing how it makes other people feel. I see this site as a mix of art diary, art teaching, and personal art gallery. I love, love, love getting feedback from my readers, and having conversations. That has been such a great, unanticipated bonus of starting my site – getting to know the online artistic community and discovering other artists and their work. Blogging has been such a valuable way to feel connected with other artists who I can identify with! I work alone but I love to know that my art has touched others, and to be able to speak with other artists and also be inspired by them. I absolutely loved Judith’s post to mark her milestone of 1,000 followers!! – She drew a pile of rocks like a trail-marker to mark the occasion, which I thought was so simple and so clever. It got me thinking about my own blog goals and I really hope that I too will be able to mark some milestone(s) in the year(s) ahead.

I would love feedback from any art bloggers reading! In the meantime, I’ll keep posting regularly and we will see where it goes!

Last painting of 2018.

And those are my 2019 goals. I am hoping 2019 will be a year of big change. Mostly I want to be happy, and I want my family and my fur babies to be happy, and I also want to see where I can take my art. Looking forward to revisiting this post 365 days from now 🙂

Thanks for reading everyone! Any goals you’d care to share?

Running Free in Rusagonis

My dogs grew up running with a pack of labs on our annual trip to New Brunswick. Painting two of these boys, Guinness and Ronan, was a labor of love for me.

It’s been difficult but I’ve had to keep my Christmas commissions under wraps until now. Today I wanted to share with you a project that was especially close to my heart.

My sister-in-law asked me to paint two labs, Guinness and Ronan, for her husband’s family. They passed over the Rainbow Bridge earlier this year. Even though winter officially started on December 21st, thinking about these sweet boys reminds me of summer trips to New Brunswick with our own dogs.

Whenever we take the dogs on the crazy long drive out east, one of our first stops upon reaching Fredericton has always been to meet up in Rusagonis. Every time we pass through Woodstock on the last leg of our journey I can feel myself gripping the wheel a little tighter and speeding up towards Fredericton, trying to ignore the whines of the bored dogs about to lose their marbles on the backseat. Once in, “The Gornish” the vizslas would run through the woods and burn off all their pent-up energy with an enormous pack of labs owned and loved by my brother-in-law’s various family members. After navigating through big city traffic and driving for sixteen plus hours, arriving to the peace and solitude of the New Brunswick wilderness for this rejuvenating walk has always been such an amazing feeling. Freedom.

First it was just single child Teelo joining us on these hikes, then a few years later we were a two-dog family and we introduced Baby Riggs to the crew. Every year the same – once reacquainted with bums sniffed, growls exchanged, and alpha-status re-established, we would head out with this motley dog troop. We picked our way through a long field before entering the woods and zig-zagging down to the river’s edge than runs through the property. Teelo, being the kind-of jerk dog that he can be would always grab the biggest stick that he could find and taunt all of the other dogs with it, despite being the smallest dog there. You’d want to tell him, dude, read the room! What a guy. And Riggs, always scared to swim would bark at all the other dogs from the shore, all the while leaning precipitously close to the water, but never allowing himself to touch it. There would always be a ton of east coast mosquitoes and I’d complain and run around because they always attacked me – not the native New Brunswickers who seem to have some sort of genetic repellent against them in their blood. It was fun. It was funny. It was a relief. These memories are all wrapped up for me in the misty rose-coloured hue of nostalgia.

I knew these portraits of Guinness and Ronan had to be perfect to be a perfect tribute to their memories. But, the process was a bit of a challenge from the start because my sister-in-law only had one picture of Guinness and Ronan, shown below. She also asked that I create two separate portraits of them. As you can see, the dogs are fairly far away in this candid reference picture, and as a result their features aren’t very detailed. They are also a bit cut-off. Since the dogs have passed and this was meant to be a surprise for Christmas I had to make this work and I assured my SIL that I could. And then my work began.

I have developed a little bit of a trick for working with photos that do not have a lot of detail. Here’s my little method. I took the reference picture and cropped it separately around Guinness and Ronan because they were meant to be separate portraits. Then I edited both photos – I maximized the structure, and sharpening, and also increased the brightness while decreasing the shadows as much as possible. This results in edited pictures where the major lines are most predominant and it makes it easier to sketch the likeness and capture the most important qualities:

And the resulting sketches sent to my sister-in-law for her approval:

Another “trick” that I employed for these paintings – just like I’ve been doing for my oil paintings, I under-painted both canvases with the colour the was to be predominantly featured in each final portrait – burnt umber for Guinness, and Payne’s grey for Ronan.

With both drawings enlarged and sized about equally, I transferred the reference sketches with Saral white transfer paper to the prepared canvases. After finishing some larger commissions and working in larger sizes for my personal works, the 12 x 12″ canvases did seem a little cramped. Heck, my current 18 x 24″ streetcar painting has been challenging for this reason – I feel like I’m moving towards only working on gigantic canvases which is going to fill our walls at home up way too fast.

Progress pics:

And the finished paintings (both completed with Tri-Art and Golden Acrylic paints):

I worked on these paintings over the course of about two weeks in November. I had to balance my time with finishing up some other Christmas commissions and my Beesa projects. I really like the minimalist quality of these paintings – no erroneous brushstrokes, everything is kind of pared down and is important to the final works.

Working on these paintings and knowing that Guinness and Ronan have passed on really made me reflect on my bond with my own dogs, all of our animals actually, and all of our happy memories.

When I look at these photos it feels like yesterday we were in the woods together, hiking with all.the.dogs. In some ways, these old pics remind me of simpler times. We were all on the cusp of being real adults with real jobs and real responsibilities.

Clicquot hasn’t hiked with the Rusagonis crew. Our own little family is a little less mobile now. It’s hard to road trip with three dogs but I hope we will be able to initiate her into this little group one day. It would be funny to watch our little queen push and shove her way to the top of the pack. She has no shame.

These beautiful animals come into our lives and enrich us a million-fold. They all have a piece of my heart. I wish I could freeze time, just like in these pictures, and keep them young forever. I wish they could stay with us longer. Forever. It will never be enough. In the very least, I hope my paintings can capture a moment that lets them live on in our hearts, always happy and healthy, and always here with us. xoxo.

Thanks for reading everyone.

Unpacking Boxing Day

I like Christmastime but I’m happy to be getting our lives back in order. I spent many hours this morning cleaning our house out and packing away boxes in the garage – celebrating Boxing Day in its most literal sense. I got a lot of great art-related presents this year and I can’t wait to get back to painting regularly. Along with taking a (short) break from the site, I just found it really hard to escape to my art room over the past few days. So, just like my (unintended) little Christmas break from the gym, I took some time away from art to recharge.

New toddler-inspired friend for the art room from my sister 🙂

When we last left off, I had just started working on a portrait of my husband and Baby Teelo on a TTC streetcar. I love the reference photo for this painting, and I had been kind of mulling over this work for so long. Usually that kind of mental prep goes hand-in-hand with an easy painting experience aka, it just painted itself! I definitely wasn’t feeling like this was an easy painting after my first evening working on this. I think because I’m painting my husband, there’s just a higher bar for getting it right, I haven’t done a human portrait in a long time, but also the painting is small compared to the sizes I’ve been working with lately. This is definitely something to keep in mind for future works. I went back to this painting over and over for a few days and kept tweaking my husband’s portrait.

Today’s “before”

I grew so frustrated that I finally decided to let the painting really dry for a few days so that I could check the portrait proportions with a transparency overtop. This is such a valuable check. It let me identify the issues I wasn’t seeing but which were causing my neck to cramp. The painting was dry enough that I slipped a piece of Saral transfer paper under the transparency and drew some white lines overtop the painting to guide my next layer of paint. I worked for a few hours today (seriously, where does the time go???) and I finished up with this:

And I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief. This is much better.

There were no huge mistakes, but many little things that were all off, and all amounting to a really awkward portrait. Once I carefully worked through the changes, I instantly felt a lot more positive about the whole thing. I will let the portrait dry to touch and check it one more time with the transparency for accuracy.

And a little closer:

The next big challenge will be nailing puppy Teelo which I will get to tomorrow night 🙂 Hopefully. I am loving the details in this painting. It may sound strange but I really love the colours and reflections and shadows on the backs of the seats behind my husband. And I think it’s going to be so much fun to finish Teelo’s face and move on to the city view through the streetcar windows. I’d like to replicate the view from the photo. A nostalgic picture of my husband, Teelo, and College St in Toronto. I’m really looking forward to getting back to it tomorrow night.

My “before” painting setup this afternoon, complete with transparency overtop of painting for checking proportions.

One of my big Christmas surprises was a Neewer 18″ Dimmable light and light-stand kit from my husband. I had wished for a simple cell phone “holder” for filming. I had imagined some sort of clamp that attaches to a tabletop with a bendy arm so that I could position my phone how I like for filming (“bendy” – really technical, I know :)). My husband just went totally above and beyond and got me this amazing set-up – I still have to figure out how everything works but there is even a Bluetooth-enabled remote that will let me take hands-free pics with my phone mounted on the light-stand. Not only that, the light has drastically improved the quality of light in the art room but it’s LED so it doesn’t heat up.

My new light-stand!!! So professional!!! Note, new brushes and mediums on my art table, also sweet stocking stuffers 🙂

This gift is such a game changer. I feel like I’m going to really level up in terms of video production and just being able to see what I’m doing with proper lighting at night. It’s amazing. He set it up for me last night right away. I’m so lucky to have his unwavering support.

One more view of my pretty light-kit 🙂

Some other Christmas art presents:

More Canson Artboards! I’ve written before about how impressed I was with the Canson Mixed Media Artboards that I bought on a whim during my October trip to Curry’s Art Store. I love pen and watercolour and the mixed media boards have been a dream for this. They don’t warp, they are a beautiful, clean white. I have some sketches from a cute Clicquot series I was working on last winter. They were intended to be finished in pen and ink and I think the hot-press illustration board will be perfect.

I also got these watercolour artboards and I’m really interested to see how they work in comparison with my Arches watercolour block. They are textured, but less so than the Arches, so I think they will be better for using mixed media.

I’m also really excited to see how the watercolour artboards work with my new Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache set! I have white and black gouache that I use routinely with my watercolour paints but I’m really curious to try gouache on its own. I’m kind of intending to approach it similarly to how I use acrylic and oil… so stay tuned for that. Thank you to my generous in-laws for these sweet gifts.

Finally, I know I’ve mentioned before my love of black Sharpie markers so this was a really exciting gift for me – ALL the Sharpies!!

Lastly, totally unrelated to art but exciting for my daily life – My husband also surprised me with these Salomon winter running shoes:

They are the Salomon Speedspike CS. Another big surprise for me. Do NOT wear these in the house!!! You will damage your floors. They have little metal spikes all over the soles that dig right into the ground.

The story behind this gift is that I never risk running outside with the dogs when there is any ice on the ground. Even if it’s pretty clear it’s just too risky to run with three dogs in case there’s black ice that I can’t see – I had a bad fall with Teelo trail-running one year which included a trip to the ER and ever since then I’ve had some strict safety rules. I just don’t see the point of running without my sweet dogs – it’s just not the same – so my winter running really takes a hit every year. I took these shoes out for a test-run with the dogs this afternoon and they were amazing. We covered 4 km and the sidewalks were half-covered with ice and a light dusting of snow, perfect spikey-shoe conditions.

The dogs were a little alarmed for the first block or so because it sounded like I was wearing tap shoes. Once they got over that it was an awesome run – these shoes are like super sidewalk Velcro. I was still careful but oh my goodness – ice storms won’t get me down this winter! These will be my go-to dog running and walking shoes for the winter, as long as the snow isn’t deep.

It’s been a hectic few days. Looking forward to some time with my little family this weekend and getting back to my art work. I feel like I have so many ideas for painting and writing it’s hard to keep up right now. With the new year coming up I’ve been reflecting on where I want to take my art and evachristensenart.com in 2019. Stay tuned for regular posts once again. And of course, thank you so much for reading.

Not Always Perfect.

A little bit of day-in-the-life and a few thoughts from this Thursday.

5:15 am – A bit of a sleep-in today (I’m serious) but now I’m up. The Winter Solstice has really been doing a number on my energy. Beesa is “Heeeeee-ing” for her first meal, pretty aggressively. I feed her ten kibbles. She eats three and screams for fresh kibbles. I oblige her. We repeat this a few times.

5:15-6:00 – I didn’t clean the kitchen before bed last night so I do a full kitchen clean-up, wash some dishes that don’t fit in the dishwasher, Dyson the main floor trying not to wake my sleeping husband, fold some towels, Windex all the shiny surfaces. That’s better, I can relax. Teelo is up now and not to be outdone by Grandma Beesa he is waiting to be fed. I shoo him outside and down the deck steps for his morning consitution. I shoo Riggs out too. Feed the boys, now Clicquot is up. Of course she is. Shoo her outside with a pat on her bottom before feeding her. Alright, now all animals appear to be happy… except for Wiggis… since I haven’t seen him yet I start to wonder if he’s locked himself in a closet again (this is a daily occurrence). Remind myself to look for him later.

6:00-6:40 – Finish prepping lunches. With the way our schedules work out, Thursday is always my easy meal prep day which gives me more time for cleaning 🙂 Peak into art room to make sure everything is ok. Makeup, hair, outfit. Find Wiggis in my shoe closet when I go to grab a pair of boots. Shoo Wiggis out of the shoe closet, it’s supposed to be off-limits to cats.

7:00-3:00 – Work!

3:00-3:45 – House-cleaning, life-organizing.

3:45-4:45 – Dog walk. They need it. I need it. We’re supposed to get a lot of rain for the next few days and I really want to get some art work done tonight so I want my sweeties tired and ready to keep me company in the art room (by napping not whining baby Riggs). It’s cloudy but warm for December. It’s my favourite type of dog walking weather. I tweaked my knee in kickboxing this week so we just walk. I hurt the same knee pretty badly two summers ago so I’m fine to take the warning pain and rest for a few days versus being out of commission for the next two months. I rationalize that I could use a bit of a Christmas vacation anyway 🙂

5:00-6:30 – Art time. Last night I transferred my sketch of Chris and baby Teelo on a TTC streetcar circa 2010, College Street to a canvas I tinted weeks and weeks ago. I silently thank “weeks and weeks ago” me for thinking ahead. Because of all the metals and shadows in the reference photo I used Payne’s grey for the tinting colour. It’s not very even. I’ve had more practice since then and I can do better than this now.

There’s a lot going on here and I do want to include a lot of the detail in the painting. I decide that I’ll start with the darkest areas of the reference photo. All of them. I use a mixture of Old Holland Scheveningen black, Payne’s grey, and burnt umber. My old standbys. My neck starts to hurt from the detail work. This doesn’t feel relaxing.

6:30-7:30 – Errands! I bring my husband a coffee at work then hit the bank, Sobey’s (my favourite grocery store), and Canadian Tire. Home and I’m starving so I have toast and Cheese Whiz for dinner (I have been on a Cheese Whiz kick recently).

7:30 – 10 – Back to work on my streetcar painting! I try to practice as much restraint as I can. This is my first human portrait in a really.long.time. It’s really challenging. I was going to call it a night with the black areas done, give them time to dry, but I decide to tackle the skin tones tonight. I couldn’t resist. I use a mixture of titanium white, burnt umber, gold ochre, and Scheveningen red medium. Emphasis on the titanium white. I try to see the skin as very distinct areas of shadow and highlight and in-between. No ombre blending nightmares here. I think I need to make a bulk purchase of new brushes because they are all irritating me, getting gummy and not holding a point. I wonder whether you should just always use new brushes for new paintings? Does money grow on trees? Sigh.

10:15 – My husband is home. The dogs go crazy. We make a snack and chat about our days. Talk about Christmas plans a little. I go and check on my painting, decide I should leave well enough alone and go back with a transparency outline when it’s dry to check for mistakes in the painting, which I will surely find. The reference sketch is really solid so if the painting deviates from that at all it’s a problem. I’m pretty sure it does. Probably won’t be able to get back to this until later this weekend. Let the dogs out one more time for bedtime business. Cuddle with the dogs. Give Clicquot some ear medicine. Time to call it a night.

Thoughts

It occurred to me as I was making my way through my painting tonight that I had the feeling that I was starting to tilt my head weirdly as I was working. I often have this sensation if I feel that something doesn’t look right. As I’ve discussed before I find it really difficult to assess the appearance of a painting when I’m seated right in front of the wet canvas. Taking a step back and taking a pic really helps. But that head-tilting sensation is usually a sign to me that something is wrong and I’m turning my head to get a viewpoint that will make it look better. I will definitely use my transparency check on this painting once it is dry.

I think the painting doesn’t look very good right now, as I’m working I start to think about ditching it. I wish that past me had chosen a larger canvas size. This is 18 by 24 inches which isn’t small but it feels cramped with all the detail and the size of my husband and Teelo. I’m considering making this a study for a larger final work. The Beesa paintings have been such a pleasure to paint and one reason is the size – so much room to work.

It’s important for my animal portraits to look real, but I feel like it’s even more important for this painting to be perfect. I don’t want my husband to cringe every time he walks past it hanging in a hallway, lol.

I actually toyed with the idea of not showing anyone my work tonight, including just forgetting about this Thursday post. I realized that I really only want to show my current art that I think is close to perfect. Then I realized that’s pretty dishonest and not really in the spirit of what I’m trying to achieve with this blog. Showing my artistic process is important. Isn’t that why I’m doing this? This being this art, this website, this trying to connect with fellow artists in the community at large….

Another angle.

I text my mom and sister the painting and show my husband, nobody seems as bothered as me. I think I need to just step away for a few days. I usually experience a really awkward point at some time in every painting and I just need to figure out the solution. When I work through that I’m usually happy with the results. I’ve only permanently ditched one painting in 2018… Maybe I just need to have a little more confidence in this process? Or maybe it’s terrible but I guess we will see…

Closing thought for today: Art isn’t just effortlessly easy. I really wish it was. I look at the work of my favourite artists and I just can’t imagine them struggling like I feel that I do, and pretty often. I’ve been on such a good run with my painting recently I feel out of sorts to have these doubts about my work. I just want everyone to say oh I love that so much! What I know is that it’s not effortless, it’s not just natural raw talent making beautiful art. It’s a lot of work, and thought, and problem-solving.

I will come back to this piece another day.

Thanks for reading everyone.


Big Beesa

While I may be at risk of becoming the crazy cat lady of the art blogging world, today I’m here to tell you the story of Beesa painting number two… aka “Grandma”.

Grandma. December 2018. Oil on canvas. 24 x 30″

Grandma, unofficially titled Big Beesa, is a big portrait of our beloved little teensy tiny micro cat Beesa. Because Beesa is our oldest and wisest pet, for a long time she has simply been referred to as “Grandma”. As in, “Dogs, leave Grandma alone!” This is my second (and last?) oil painting of 2018, and also the second (of three planned) in the Beesa series, and I just love it. I am so thrilled with how it has turned out. Well, there is good and bad. The more I wait on publishing this post and the more I look at the painting and think about it the more negative I am noticing but I’ll get to that in my totally unbiased review later on here…

I decided to talk about the painting process in this post now, as opposed to waiting until the painting is varnished, because all of my feelings are still fresh and on my mind. The Beesa project has taken on a bit of a feeling of urgency. Beesa is a little old lady, I think she’s 16?!?!? She has always been in absolutely perfect health, but in the last month or so she has stopped eating consistently and this has been very upsetting.

Beesa poses with her first portrait. c. 2008.

We have gone through many (many!) senior cat foods trying to appease Beesa. She is now accepting a Royal Canin appetite stimulator formula, but the process for delivering it to her has become incredibly specific. She eats every two hours or so starting around 5 am when I wake up. She sleeps on my chest and starts caterwauling to wake me up around 4:45. Once I’m walking towards the kitchen she runs ahead of me, squealing “Heeeeeeeeeee” the whole way (it’s the special noise she makes) and jumps up on Teelo’s dog crate (it has a solid plastic roof and she is still incredibly agile). It’s from the roof of the dog crate she demands her meals. She gets ten or so cat kibbles at a time, served whole, in a tiny dish, covered with warm water – any more than this and she will.not.eat.it. She eats these. Spends some time grooming. And then repeats the process. Over and over. All day everyday.

We used to worry that Beesa was gaining weight, but that’s because kitten Wiggis was so little. The tables have really turned…

It’s been hard for us because this is just the first time we have ever considered Beesa’s age, and that she may not always be feeling well… and… her mortality (for lack of a happier word). And even though I truly believe she will live forever because I can’t remember or imagine my life without her… it makes my heart sad so I don’t dwell on it.

Beesa’s first Christmas, and first Christmas photoshoot. She hated it!

Beesa has been part of our family since we became a little family. She’s the OG Beesa, the first little animal. When we got our very first apartment in the big city Beesa joined us about a week later. We couldn’t bring her home in a cat carrier like a normal cat because we learned (extremely quickly) that Beesa absolutely hates the car. Instead the breeder recommended we bring a laundry basket lined with old towels and newspaper for the trip. Beesa may be a little micro cat but her bladder must take up most of her anatomy and she must’ve saved up for that car ride home. Suffice it to say, she doesn’t leave the house very often. It is a miracle she made it up the highway to join our new house four years ago. She hasn’t left since. Beesa is like a large, awkward couch – not really moveable once delivered.

So I’ve definitely been feeling some mental and emotional pressure from myself to get on with this Beesa series. It’s a way to meditate on how I feel about her, and study her sweet little face. Of course all of this painting continues to be interrupted every 45-60 minutes by her cat screams from the kitchen to let me know she is hungry, again.

Since Beesa is the Queen of this house it was only fitting that she have a series of commemorative portraits, just like real royalty. The first sketch for this painting (I always, always start with a sketch) was completed on Nov 1. This is just 2B Staedtler (my favourite pencil) in my sketchpad. Some things I really paid attention to in the sketch include – the angle of Beesa’s chin, her “lips”, and the tuck of her little cat arm. Those are all pretty distinctive features that I wanted to make sure came across in the final painting.

Beesa sketch. Graphite on paper.

While I was still in the middle of This is a Cat I tinted the canvas for Big Beesa because I know that I will need at least a week of lead time to allow this layer to really dry before transferring my drawing. I followed my method outlined here to prepare the canvas (there’s a video and everything!). I used burnt umber diluted with oil painting medium (1 part Gamsol : 1 part Galkyd). Despite using it as sparingly as possible, my Old Holland burnt umber is quickly being used up (in addition to Payne’s grey, titanium white, and Scheveningen black – those are definitely my top four colours).

Before.
After.

I enlarged my Big Beesa sketch and hung it on the wall behind my easel so I could kind of subconsciously think about it while I was working on This is a Cat. I do this a lot – hang up a sketch for a future work even if I’m not in a position to get started yet – I find it’s a really helpful way for me to start thinking about a project to have it there in the background.

I always start by laying down some of the darkest areas of the painting. I also find it really helpful to get the main features of the face done right away – if those look ok it gives me a lot more confidence for the rest of the work. I find this provides an “anchor” for the rest of the work. I am a realist at heart and I like to feel in control of my work, I don’t like to leave these beginning steps to chance because my vision is very clear.

And so it begins.

I love taking pictures of my progress. I love to watch the painting evolve through the pictures. One of my favourite things is to flip through successive photos of the same painting – kind of like a little time-lapse video which you know I enjoy making :). And I also find it really, really difficult to objectively evaluate my work when I’m sitting right in front of it. More and more I depend on a photograph as the means through which to view my paintings. It provides a valuable point-of-view. I find that if I’m being hard on myself or feeling doubtful, I will usually be pleasantly surprised by the photo. I also find that any errors or issues, will really jump out at me even if I had been ignoring these problems while sitting in front of the canvas. These issues are unavoidable in a picture. It’s a great way to get another perspective.


After painting in the burnt umber and black mixture for the darkest areas, I went on to paint the lightest areas right away. Usually you would work from dark to successively lighter but Beesa has such prominent areas of light I felt disjointed until these were in place. At this point I felt like she was really starting to take shape on the canvas.

Riggs and Clicquot, the art room dogs. They are always so helpful.

Once the darkest and lightest areas were down, I turned to the extremely difficult-for-me process of interpreting and laying down Beesa’s leopard pattern. Oh my god was this ever hard. It is really easy to lose yourself in a pattern like this. I find it’s so important to have a plan and to take frequent steps back. I try to compartmentalize all the different colours and not mix them on the canvas too much. I feel like blending is really the enemy. I want everything to remain separate, almost like a cartoon-like in its contrast, and of course resist the urge to blend. This is one example of how oil painting really feels sculptural to me. Add a little here, take away something there. Always controlled, always with an eye to the finished product.

Close up of Beesa pattern. Starting to take shape.

The palette for this painting focused primarily on these Old Holland colours:

Can you tell which tube of paint is the most loved?

I still can’t stop raving about these paints. In terms of pigment load, handling, depth of colour, luminosity – I am so impressed. The paints are so incredibly rich. They are very expensive but they are really worth the investment because I think this really comes across in the art work. I truly believe investing in these paints means investing in my art.

Close-up of Beesa with palette.
Welcome to Cat Town.
Beesa’s big ears and pattern taking shape.

I worked on this painting all this past weekend on and off and nearly finished but the appearance of the (nearly complete) painting below irritated me so much I almost quit. I loved it, loved it, loved it, and then suddenly I just couldn’t stand it. I absolutely hated how “out of control” the edge of Beesa’s coat had started to look. Kind of raggedy but also kind of like the portrait had gotten away from me.

Something about this pic really made me turn my head to the side, it just didn’t look right.

I don’t know if I am just too particular or if someone out there will appreciate this, but I thought about this issue for twelve hours straight and decided the solution was to go back in with another layer of black background and cut in close to Beesa’s fur. So instead of dry brush strokes kind of fanning out into the background haphazardly, the black background creates a very strong, confident outline that defines Beesa. I absolutely loved the subtle but important difference. When I made this change I knew the painting was working and that the final painting would be good. It’s all about control people, lol.

That’s better. Detail of black background. I love this contrast of light and dark.

So what do I love about this painting? I think all of the elements came together really nicely. I absolutely love Beesa’s eyes. The little details of eyelashes, the darkest black of her pupils against the pop of green. I think that works very well. I love her nose and mouth, and the detail suggested by the shadows. I practiced a lot of restraint, I didn’t rush and I think that really paid off. I was able to correct any issues before they were permanently incorporated. The painting is very realistic – my husband will attest to this. This is Grandma Beesa. I am still surprised by the high level of realism achievable with oil paints. It looks like sweet Beesa and it is very close to what I originally visualized.

What’s bothering me?

The black background was so vibrant when I first applied it but it’s drying kind of splotchy. I know this will be fixed when I varnish the painting (Gamvar gloss varnish – I cannot wait for this last step). Stay tuned for an update.

I (really!!) wish that I had positioned Beesa a little offset from centre. So that her right ear was slightly cut off by the edge of the canvas. A little more interesting in terms of design, a little less traditional than a standard, centred subject. As a consolation prize of sorts I’m happy that her whiskers stretch right across the canvas but I would definitely pay more attention to the composition going forward. Similarly, I also wish that Beesa was also ever so slightly tilted, like in my original sketch, versus sitting bolt-upright like she is in the finished painting. Lastly, I wish I had planned and segregated the patterning a little more deliberately ahead of time. The pattern of her coat was not totally under my control and my goal for the last Beesa painting is to master this a little more. To have it totally planned before the brush hits the palette.

Honestly, going back to painting the mono-red smooth-haired vizslas will seem so simple in comparison with these crazy, complicated Bengal coats.

So, that’s the story of our Grandma – in real life and in this painting. If you read this far, I thank you very much! The third, and last, painting in the Beesa series is unofficially titled The Scream 🙂 but I’m sure that will change.

!!

Before then, I have a Wiggis piece that needs some love, and maybe even a human portrait that has been on deck for far too long. A break from cat painting may not be a bad thing… In the meantime, I’ll hang this sketch of screaming Beesa behind my easel so my brain can get to work on it now.

Anyone with feedback?? I love to hear from you. Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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! 🙂

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?