Inspiration in Unlikely Places.

An artists’ guide to finding brilliant ideas in a pizza delivery box – or wherever else you least expect it.

Big Night. December 2018. Oil on canvas. 24 x 30″.

This painting, and this post, are inspired by a photo of our three vizslas lined up and waiting for pizza scraps to be shared with them. But let’s back up a little bit. Our dogs are always hungry. They love to eat so much. This association with food and love and nurturing is all tied together in our relationship with them. It’s the basis for nicknames, inside jokes, and showing love.

Teelo dreams of beef.

We take a lot of care in feeding our dogs nutritious and tasty-to-them meals. Each morning they have dog food with a side of berry, spinach, and yogurt smoothie. Maybe some apple slices and peppers thrown in for good measure, leftover from lunch prep. Dinners are usually a variation of dog food with one of their favorites – sweet potato, scrambled eggs, leftover roast beef, steamed carrots. “What’s for dinner?” is a question that applies to the dogs as much as it applies to us when we open the fridge to figure out the evening meal.

Work in progress – December 2018.

That all three dogs are such food fanatics is a little surprising, especially for Teelo, who has reversed course in a huge way. From years one through three, Teelo was so busy, and such a picky eater. He was all dog ribs and long skinny teenager legs. We could not tempt with anything. And he could go days with only a few bites of food. To be honest, it was super annoying. The tides have certainly turned and Teelo has spent many years making up for lost time. We lovingly refer to him as, “The Beef Man,” (pretty self-explanatory – he loves it and looks like a pot roast). That Teelo is able to maintain a healthy weight is really only due to our extreme efforts to save him from himself. Teelo even eats a special “satiety blend” dog food to try to keep him sated – it turns out, he cannot be. He’s so clever and dexterous, that in his older (no filter) age he has taken to unzipping my bag packed with food for work, selecting a few snacks, and popping open the Ziploc bags to enjoy. This past January I came in one morning from cleaning snow off the cars to find Teelo in the middle of the living room, finishing off a peanut butter sandwich and carrot sticks (but not the celery, he left that littered around the carpet for me). There was no shame in his eyes for stealing my lunch. What a guy.

In comparison, our gruesome twosome Clicquot and Riggs are a lot less devious, but certainly are no slouches in the begging department and suffer from significant treat FOMO.

Good behavior is all an illusion.

And pizza – Pizza trumps all (except roast beef). It is king in the vizsla snack world.

Reminiscing about warm deck dinners in July.

This painting was inspired by our vizslas who love pizza so much that we lovingly refer to them as The Crust Dogs. Example of this used in a sentence: “Make sure you save your crust for The Crust Dogs”.

Clicquot.

The Crust Dogs do not discriminate – homemade or delivery. One summer we invested in a pizza oven for our BBQ and literally ate pizza for two months straight. As a hobby my husband set out to perfect his pizza dough-making technique a few years ago and in our house humans and dogs have enjoyed the benefits of this immensely.

At the same time, the dogs have granted the pizza delivery man a stranger-danger exemption – he is not to be scared off, but instead he is a stranger to be trusted, wagged at, toys offered to – and he is welcome to knock on our door in the dark at 10 pm on any random Saturday night – I can’t say that luxury is afforded to anyone else who visits us.

Just a typical Saturday evening in.

The reference for this painting was a picture I took of all three dogs lined up in front of me, good as gold, my three little angels, waiting for their share of my pizza crust one evening. They are never better behaved than when they are waiting for a valuable handout. This is why, “Dogs waiting for food,” is a standard pose for all dog moms. Other fail safes include, “Dogs sleeping,” and, “Dogs sun-tanning,” (the latter of two sometimes being one and the same – there’s often some overlap there).

This was such a great photo and I knew right away that I had to paint it.

Teelo.

Bringing this painting to life took a long time – the reference photo was taken last summer but I waited until I had transitioned to oils and then waited some more to think on this composition of all three dogs.

A single portrait is a big task, multiple figures poses many more challenges and I spent many months working on other paintings while the reference sketch of three vizslas hung in my art room. Sometimes even if I’m not physically working on a project, having it around to think about is like a type of work. And then when I sat down to finally get started – all those months of pondering it made the painting come together really easily. It was also painted against a backdrop of a lot of personal stuff – I was painting this piece when the email invitation to interview for my new job dinged through on my phone, and I completed the painting over the ensuing weeks of huge life decisions, serious conversations with my husband about what we wanted our future to look like, and the resulting upheaval that a big life decision brings. This painting was one of the very last items packed for storage before our move.

My paintings often play double duty – They capture a moment in time on the surface, but they are also closely tied to the time when I created them and everything I was feeling. While begging for pizza was the comical inspiration for this painting (picture me, I’m behind the lens probably with a slice in one hand, camera phone in the other), what is serious about this piece is how accurately it captures each dog. I love portraiture. I love capturing these moments in time and working through my feelings about my subject matter as I paint. In this case studying their sweet features and ruminating on my love for them.

Clicquot.

In this work, each dog looks just like their unique self. Teelo is Big Teelo, standing firm and gazing right at me, looking straight into my soul. Clicquot looks a bit like, hey, how did I end up here? Which is basically her standard. Always late to the party but never left out. The girl with the big, brown eyes. And that is a classic Riggs pose. There he is, with all of his middle-child narrative that we’ve created for him. He’s first in line, continuously inching his bottom forward with his head cocked in a pose that is at once inquisitive, but non-committal, eyes half closed but really fully alert, gaze partially diverted but still totally aware… ready to pounce if pizza is offered (deliberately or by accident).

Clicquot and Riggs.

I love these simple moments with the dogs, with my family. I love remembering them forever through my art. More and more I see my style evolving to remember people, places, memories frozen in time in my work. I find endless inspiration in this idea. A painting is really so much more than what you see. With so much change and uncertainty in my life right now, it’s comforting to reflect on a time and a place when I was at peace. I miss the routine of our quiet Saturday nights with The Crust Dogs. And I look forward to getting that familiar feeling back again. Soon.

Thank you for reading!

What a Difference a Little Time Makes.

In art. And in life.

Wow. It’s been a really long time since I last posted. Every winter, once the New Year’s festivities are over and all the fun of the holidays is behind us, I always start a mental countdown to spring. And my mental countdown always seems to move.so.slowly, punctuated by snowstorm upon icestorm. Not this year. We’ve had the same bad weather but this year I feel like I could use a little (or a lot) more time. I feel like my life has been a blur since January. At first I tried to keep up with everything, but eventually I had to prioritize, and my blog posts took a bit of a hit.

The big news – I have accepted a new job and we are in the midst of packing up our house and moving across the country! We just sold our home this past weekend which was like finding a place for one of the most giant pieces in the entire puzzle. In a few weeks we will load our animals and an overnight bag each into the car and head east. And even though some of the stress over the past few weeks has made me question, “Why am I blowing my life up like this?” I am so excited for this adventure and so grateful for this amazing opportunity.

I had to pack up my art supplies for our home showings, but now that we’ve sold I took a bit of time this weekend to finish up Wiggis on the Green Couch. I think this will be my last large scale painting before the move, and then my stuff will be in storage while we’re looking for a new home. So I may be focusing on my sketchbook for the next little while.

This painting and everything going on lately has me thinking a lot about time – how quickly it passes, how you can never predict quite where you’ll end up. A year ago, I was in a totally different place, with no idea of all the change to come.

At the same time, Wiggis deserved a new portrait since his last painting was this cartoony tryptich acrylic on canvas from 2008:

This painting has been displayed in our last three homes, and it will have a place in our east-coast house too, but it was time for an update. I can honestly say that back then, I think this was the best I could achieve with acrylic paints. I found the heavy-bodied paints really difficult to work with, and they controlled me more than the other way around. And what a difference a little time makes. For his new portrait I used oil paints (of course) and focused on realism. I’m so happy with the results and so proud of my progress.

I painted this over the past two months, with a really long interruption due to our home staging (always a huge life upheaval that I find extremely difficult to deal with). Old Holland Oil Paints, 12 x 24″ gallery-stretched canvas.

Some progress pictures:

And up close:

Altogether now:

I think the next few weeks are going to be really up and down with our to-do lists around here. I have some posts that were intended to be written but in the mayhem from the past few weeks got pushed to the side. So when I have some time I’ll check-in to write, and I’ll focus on sketching and packing up the art room as safely as possible. I’ll miss this space that I’ve built for myself here, but I’m so excited at the possibility of a new home with an even better room for an art studio. And the arts community in our new city is really thriving and inspiring. I’m really looking forward to immersing myself in it and hopefully putting my work “out there”.

Thank you all for reading!

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.

Which Paint to Paint With?

The story of my painting evolution.

Say you want to start painting but you have no idea where to begin. Let me help you.

I am thirty-seven and I started painting when I was twelve years old. Over the years I have worked my way through watercolours, acrylics, and now I am focusing primarily on oil painting for my personal work. But depending on my mood I will jump between mediums. Maybe my personal experiences can help you to decide what’s right for you.

Before I was introduced to painting I had mainly used pencil crayons for my “serious” artworks. I think because it’s so accessible for so many kids (hello, Crayola) pencil crayons get written off as being kind of a juvenile art form. There are artist quality pencil crayons that can be used to create beautiful drawings – same goes for pastels, charcoal, graphite. But ever since I was introduced to watercolours I have considered myself to be primarily a painter.

Oh and save for school-mandated projects I have never wanted to make a sculpture – I express myself through my brush. 

First watercolour, c. 1995.

I started out with watercolours and was taught by a real watercolour artist for a number of years. Over time I transitioned from primarily painting with watercolour to dabbling in acrylic, then primarily acrylic until quite recently (summer 2018) when I decided to take the plunge and take up oil painting for my personal paintings. Because I have a lot of experience, I’m comfortable moving between each medium depending on my mood or my vision for the finished work, but for many years now I have tended to gravitate towards heavier-bodied paints (acrylic, oils) for paintings that I think are important or significant.

Watercolour c. 2003. I used to spend a lot of time painting the flowers in my dad’s garden. It may be a cliché but watercolour is so pretty for flower painting. You can see in this painting that my control really improved over the years.

I still paint with watercolours regularly, but I usually view these sessions as a warm up, or a break from the more serious work I might be focused on with my oils. With my art room set-up as it is, I can just swivel my chair around from my easel and push myself across the room to my watercolours waiting at my art table when I need to switch things up. If you’re open to how the paint behaves and flows, and if you are accepting of some lucky mistakes here and there, watercolour painting can feel very relaxing and just help to loosen you up. 

One of my favourite, but unfinished, watercolour paintings. I should really get this framed. This was done sometime during undergrad.

So how do you choose what type of painter you want to be? There are definitely many,  many artists who identify primarily with one type of paint and don’t really veer off course to dabble in any other mediums. There are definitely practical reasons for this – from a financial and storage perspective it is definitely easier to focus on one type of painting. And if you are new to painting and trying to learn you will probably be well-served to pick one and stick with it for awhile.

For me, I never felt totally comfortable with using watercolours. I have been able to achieve some level of personal success and sense of control over this type of paint, and I do go back to it regularly, but I just hate that you’re always kind of one wrong brush stroke away from ruining your entire painting. That’s a lot of risk and I’m pretty risk-averse. It’s a very clean type of painting. The paints are so beautiful and translucent and luminous and meant to show the beautiful paper underneath. If you do make a mistake, the work to fix it can ruin the delicate surface of the paper (drawing even more attention to your mistake) or any extra unnecessary layers of paint (to try to cover things up) can take away from the spontaneous properties that make it special to begin with.

Watercolour is such a good medium for whimsical, pretty paintings. Vizsla E. Kandinsky, watercolour on paper, 2018.

So even though I have created some watercolours that I really love, and even have framed around our house, I find this to be the exception for me, rather than the rule. I also tend to prefer watercolour and ink paintings (like my east coast series) because using ink to create more detail within the painting is very attractive to me – it is pleasing in a way that I can’t achieve with watercolour alone. I guess that’s my rigid nature coming out but I like when things are defined and under control. It’s not just paint, it extends to the dogs, my hair… I like to be in charge 🙂

From my east coast watercolour series, based on our summer 2018 travels. I love, love, love watercolour and ink paintings of interesting buildings.

When I was in my teens I started getting into acrylic painting. Oils seemed like too much of a jump and I had to transport a lot of art projects back and forth between school and home so drying time was definitely a concern – acrylic (being water-based) was just the natural next step. I now feel that I like a heavier-bodied paint because I like the feeling that I am “sculpting” an image in two-dimensions on my canvas. Maybe I sound a bit weird but I know my brushes and what they can achieve with what pressure at what angle. One brushstroke can really be so powerful or central to the entire work.

One of my first acrylic paintings. A study for OAC art class. I really don’t like this, but I love the colours. I just had no control over this paint. So frustrating.

For a long time now with acrylic (and more recently with oil paints), I have practiced painting with a very conservative number of brush strokes. The fewer the better I feel to convey the essence of the subject. When I get away from this, when it gets to be too fussy, too fiddly, something important is lost. All the planning and thought in the world should go into the painting beforehand so that the actual process of painting is very easy. My best paintings are also usually the ones that take the least time to paint. 

Another early acrylic painting. I remember really disliking this but now looking back… maybe not so bad? Again, love the colours.

Even though I feel very comfortable painting with acrylics now, for many, many years I struggled with acrylic paint because I didn’t know how to use it properly. I was trying to paint with acrylic on canvas like I did with watercolour on paper. As a result the paint just seemed too thick to me, it dried quickly, it seemed plastic-y. I couldn’t achieve the details that I wanted to.

Beesa! Compare this with my recent oil portraits of her. I found it really difficult to achieve any detail with the acrylic paint – I love this painting for nostalgia purposes, but I don’t think this is a very good painting skill-wise. Part of my evolution though!

If I can offer any advice, my top suggestion would be: for any type of paint you use, you should always buy the best that you can afford. As you go up in price point usually you’ll have a greater pigment load to binder ratio which means that your paintings will automatically look better. That alone will feel like an improvement.

Teelo. 2018. A year of huge growth in painting. I am so happy with my progress this year and it’s like something truly clicked for me. For the first time I really felt in control of my acrylic painting. A great feeling.

In the past year or so I’ve really levelled up in a big way with my acrylic painting because I started to work with it rather than against it. My approach became more sculptural. I take more time now to consider every brush stroke before it happens. This has been a huge game changer for me.

Other breakthroughs: I started painting in layers and creating an under-painting. I spent a lot of time getting to know the nature of the paint and then one day it really was like a switch clicked for me. I look back on my old acrylic paintings and I just cringe, but I’ve included them in this post to (hopefully!!) show my progress.

Now I really love using acrylics and I continue to use it for all of my commission-based work.

Oil painting!

I made the switch over to oil painting this year for my personal projects for a number of reasons. Even though I’ve made a lot of progress dealing with the properties of acrylic paints, I still felt limited by the super fast drying time. There’s a stage during painting when literally the entire painting surface is just tacky-sticky and no good can come of that. That’s the time when bad things happen to good paintings. The level of luminosity and realism I have been able to achieve with my oil painting so far has been so rewarding. I also feel like I can achieve more detail with oil than acrylic. It seems to work better for me when thinned down than acrylic paint – it doesn’t seem to lose its structure as quickly.

Detail of Beesa portrait. I think this is my best work of 2018 🙂

So, what do you do if you’re just starting out? What type of paint do you pick if you just want to try painting for the first time and you’re standing in the middle of the paint aisle at your local art store feeling intimidated by all the artsy looking people milling about? What do you do?

For ease of use, watercolour and acrylics are both water-based – water to thin, water for washes on paper and canvas respectively, water for clean-up. Soooooo easy. And actually, oil painting is only slightly less convenient in terms of having to use solvent and painting medium. Really, if I was advising someone on what type of paint to pick if they’d never painted before, I’d ask them to consider their favourite paintings and artists – what medium do they work in?

I put off oil painting for a really long time because I was intimidated. I told myself acrylic painting was basically the same (it’s not!!). The motivation I needed to change came this past summer when I saw the work of Canadian artist Heather Millar at Details Fine Art Gallery in Charlottetown. She is a phenomenal artist, one of my favourite contemporary artists, and such an inspiration to me. I am in awe of her talent and mastery of technique. When I experienced the impact of her beautiful oil paintings in person – I knew I had to try it for myself. I have so much to learn about oil painting, but I am grateful for the change and the opportunity to grow into a medium where I can really express my vision for painting.

Next oil paintings on deck!

No matter what you pick, the progress you make with painting technique and colour theory – it’s pretty transferable to some extent between mediums. If you want to paint, the most important thing to do is to just get started. Like today. Don’t wait. There’s no time like the present. If you want to paint give it a try! And if you do, let me know how it goes in the comments below. Thank you for reading and happy painting!

How to Start an Oil Painting

Freshly primed canvas, full of promise…

It may seem kind of daunting (or is it just me?), but starting your first oil painting is actually pretty straightforward with the right materials, a little know-how, and a bit of a, “What the hell, let’s just give it a try” attitude. Here’s a video to help you lay down your first layer of oil paint and get your drawing transferred to your canvas and ready to go.

***Disclaimer*** Cute dogs make an appearance and cause a little chaos. So sorry for any video awkwardness on my part. Oh, and please excuse Baby Riggs for growling at Teelo around the first minute or so, I don’t know what that was about. Materials listed after the video for your information 🙂

Materials needed:

Canvas (I like the extra thick gallery-stretched canvases)

Oil painting medium (I use 1 part Gamsol: 1 part Galkyd stored in a screw top glass container)

A neutral oil paint colour like burnt umber or Payne’s grey (my favourites :)); I’ve been using burnt umber so much for my cat paintings I’m renaming it Beesa umber 🙂


These Old Holland paints are looking well-loved and well-used already.
Always a Dog Mom 🙂

A soft, flat brush (I use a 3/4″ synthetic bristle watercolour brush – reserved just for this purpose)

Paper towels or rags

Extras:

Acrylic paint in your choice of colour to finish the sides of your canvas (I like Tri-Art charcoal black for the price and the quality);

Saral white transfer paper for transferring your under-drawing to the canvas

Good boy Teelo!!

White Prismacolour pencil crayons – also for drawing on the canvas

And that’s it. Happy painting and thanks for visiting! If this tutorial is helpful at all to you, please let me know in the comments below!