Week in Review

December 3 – 9.

Good morning!

Hi everyone, happy Sunday! This past week was the best yet for evachristensenart – thank you so much for reading! I love writing, and I love having a forum to share my thoughts, but I get even more satisfaction from knowing that people are actually taking the time to visit and see what I’ve been up to. I feel like I’m getting into a routine as far as the writing, and trying to stick to a schedule of sorts for creating and publishing and being consistent and productive. In case you missed it, check out what I painted this week, my post about my first art teacher, and a day in the life post. 

Last weekend and early this week our house came down with a cold and it was pretty cold outside too. I was surprised I didn’t feel lazier than I did. If dog walks can be a bit of a bar we still got out for six out of seven days this week, so my dog guilt was pretty low (more like a steady 3/10 – I mean, it’s always there even at low levels). I find my energy and output comes in waves… I’ll often have a few really good weeks – checking all the boxes: going to the gym, meal planning, meeting all the animals’ needs, waking up early on weekdays to curl my hair before work, making time for art. And then I’ll often crash into a standalone week where it all seems to fall apart and I just feel defeated by it all and it’s hair back and glasses and chips on the couch in the evening for way too many days. Luckily, that was not this week!  

Happily, I worked on Big Beesa way more than I expected this week. When I was in the middle of painting her this past Thursday I was full of doubt for quite a bit worrying that her pattern wasn’t defined enough and that I was veering off course. I find that taking a step back and even taking a picture midway through and looking at that instead of directly at the canvas can help to kind of change my perspective. I love the direction that the painting is going in now, but I’m a little nervous that there is still room to screw it up. I probably won’t be feeling secure until I have a little more of her fur and pattern done. It’s a little tricky. 

I did not paint Wiggis even though I intended to. Something is bothering me about this painting. It may very well be that I simply haven’t spent the time to get over those initial feelings of doubt and awkwardness but I can’t shake that there is something wrong with it. Sometimes there may be a design flaw that is simple enough to fix (and which makes all the difference in the world) but I haven’t really solved it yet. Stay tuned. 

Screaming Beesa

I don’t think I’ll be going back to Wiggis for a bit anyway. I took this great photo of Beesa (demanding food) on the weekend and I think this will be the final painting in the Beesa series. I just love the idea of making this a triptych. I can’t wait to create the sketch this week (maybe today!) and get started. It will be 24 x 24″ just like “This is a cat” and “Big Beesa” will go in the middle at 24 x 30″ so everything will be balanced really nicely. 

On Friday my husband and I helped out with a fight night our gym was promoting at a club downtown. I was completely destroyed on Saturday morning. I lost my voice from cheering on our gym fighters and I felt like I was so slow all day. I got into kickboxing for fitness quite a few years ago now, and had a (very!) brief career as an amateur fighter in 2017 lol.

April 2017. I still can’t believe this happened. My first of three Thai kickboxing fights in 2017. I have since retired. 

It still gives me a lot of personal satisfaction to train with our competition team, help out with the events, and cheer our friends on. We ordered pizza when we got home close to 1 am, and shared the crusts with the dogs. I ate waaaaaay too much, felt guilty, and combined with waaaaaay too little sleep I was a walking zombie yesterday. 

So, we had a quiet Christmas Saturday. Finally got our tree from the Sobey’s parking lot tree lot. We had the experience of cutting down a tree at a farm our first year in this house. We drove there and back in a snowstorm, took Clicquot who was shivering and crying the whole time, and it was cold and honestly a miserable experience. We also got a Clark Griswold tree – it was way too big, we totally overestimated how tall our living room ceiling is and underestimated the size of the tree itself, and we had no room for a star. So, not a very authentic experience buying a tree in a parking lot, but honestly this is our best one yet – perfect size, and it finally looks like we have enough decorations for the tree. And surprisingly enough – the cats have no interest in the tree whatsoever which is nothing short of a Christmas miracle given their love of destroying everything else in the house. 


Teelo and Riggs busy inspecting, Clicquot is the lump in the cozy cave behind.Β 

Plan for this week: More work on Big Beesa, sketch screaming Beesa, wrap presents, and lots of dog walks. I’ll be checking in on Thursday with more about my week. Watch out for posts all week long. 

Clicquot is still the lump in the cozy cave. 

Thanks for reading everyone! Have a great week πŸ™‚

Day in the life.

Or, how I try to fit a day’s worth of art work around everything else going on in my life!

I thought this would be a fun post, so here we go, here’s my Thursday:

4:50 am – Night table alarm goes off for first time, followed by phone alarm 5 minutes later. Alternate snooze between the two alarms so that they go off approximately every 2-8 minutes for the next twenty minutes. 

Teelo says “Go Away MOM”!

5:10 am – I’m awake! The dogs look at me like I’m crazy and go back to sleep, taking over my spot in the bed. I clean the house from top to bottom, laundry, Dyson for a bit (there’s no better way to start my morning), pack our breakfasts and lunches, shower and get ready for work. 

Wake the dogs up and force them outside to take care of business. Feed the dogs. 

Out the door! Oh yeah, it snowed. Clean the car then off I go. Wait, I forgot my coffee. Now I’m off. 

7 am – Work! 

10 am – Take a break. Yesterday I was messaging with my Swedish cousin about creating a painting of her house. Doodle her house on the back of a scrap paper while I eat an apple and a banana. Excited to start this project – something different. Check my blog and I’m shocked to discover today’s post is my most popular yet – thanks for reading everyone! I feel motivated. Reapply lipstick. Back to work.

3 pm – Done work. Get home and Dyson the house again in an ongoing battle against dust and dog and cat hair. I vacuum constantly. I will prevail!

3:30 pm – Take dogs for a run. It’s really cold. It starts to snow. I feel crazy. The dogs get spooked by a little kid walking by with his fur-trimmed hood pulled up. Much barking ensues. We continue on our way. 

Clicquot warms herself by the fire.

4:30 pm – Vet appointment to check on Teelo after his procedures last week. He hides under the chair and the vet sits down on the floor to examine him. I join her on the floor. We love our vet office, they are so kind. Teeth are pearly white, stitches need a little more time before removal.

5:00 pm – I’m home, and I have the whole evening to myself. I debate going to kick-boxing but ultimately decide that an evening like this, with a clean house (even *most* of the laundry is put away!) and tired dogs hiding and resting, is too good not to paint. I feed the dogs because now Riggs is crying. He cries a lot.

She’s outta here!

I grab some coffee and head to the art room. Clicquot joins me in her moose sweater. There are antlers on the hood. She gives me side eye when I take her picture.  

I got to this point with Big Beesa on Monday night:

The painting is 24 x 30″. I drink some coffee and consider my next steps. I get myself set up with all of my references images and sketches. In addition to the sketches I always keep my iPAD with my reference photo nearby. As I paint, I constantly look back and forth between painting and references. Like when you’re driving and you’re supposed to check your side and rear-view mirrors every 3-5 seconds or something like that. It’s really important for staying on track. In art and on the road. πŸ™‚

Reference photo of little Beesa.

My palette for this painting leans heavily on burnt umber, yellow ochre burnt, transparent oxide yellow lake, gold ochre, and titanium white. So much titanium white. Red gold lake and Payne’s grey for some of the details, and Scheveningen black for the darkest areas of Beesa and background. All Old Holland Oils. I love this paint. Great investment.

I work for nearly two hours and take another reference pic:

6:45 pm – Take a break to bring my husband a coffee at work. It’s difficult to bring my car window back up after the drive-thru. Worry for a bit that this means the entire driver-side door will have to be replaced. Remind myself to Google this problem later. 

7:30 pm- Home! I let the dogs out again. Clicquot gives the dog next door a warning bark. Back to painting Big Beesa. I didn’t intend to work on Beesa again tonight, but her left eye is really irritating me and was on my mind the whole time I was out. I have to address it. I can’t live like this. 

I trace Beesa’s eye from the same-sized transfer sketch onto an acetate transparency. I hover it above the painting and can see the issue with her eye loud and clear. I decide to finish painting her eyes even though I vowed I wouldn’t bring out the green until the very end. The pigments to make green are so potent they can infect the whole palette like an illness if you’re not careful, casting everything in a queasy green hue – I am very careful and use a totally separate brush for her eyes. I avoid turning Big Beesa into Big Sick Beesa. For this painting “cat eye green” was mixed with Scheveningen blue, Scheveningen yellow medium, burnt umber (this may be the most used colour in my palette ever), and varying amounts of titanium white for highlights. 

My workspace. Just call me the crazy cat lady…

8:30 pm – iPad with reference image dies. I write this blog post until it gets to 10% charge – just enough time to use up the paint remaining on my palette. I’m not usually so economical with paint, but for the price, I don’t want to waste any Old Holland paint. 

Using up my leftover paint takes all of five minutes. I decide this is a good place to stop anyway. I probably won’t be able to visit Big Beesa again until this weekend, but maybe it’s good to have some time to think and give the painting some time to dry. I will miss her in the meantime. 

9:30 pm – Clean up. Walk around putting things away around the house. I have half an hour before my husband gets home from work. I sketch some ideas for our Christmas card. I realize I am quickly running out of time for Christmas 2018. 

Christmas Clicquot.

By now Riggs is in the art room crying because Clicquot won’t share the bed with him. I call it a day. 

10:15 pm – My husband is home from work. The dogs go nuts. I let them out for their bedtime business. It’s cold and I have to force them down the deck stairs. I realize I didn’t eat dinner because I was busy painting. We make a snack and talk about our days. We watch a few episodes of Season 1 of Friends on Netflix. We’ve had it on a loop for the past few weeks. I like to listen while i paint. I write the rest of this blog post, tidy up, and get organized for tomorrow. 

12 am – Bedtime.

Thanks for reading everyone πŸ™‚ Happy Friday! I will be back on Sunday with a recap of the week. Have a great weekend.

Learning to Paint

My first serious art teacher lived four houses down from my childhood home. Who I am as an artist will always be a product of everything I learned from her.  

I don’t remember learning to draw. Drawing came before painting. At the same time, I can’t remember ever not doing it. I remember when I was younger I would get fixated on drawing something and then draw it on repeat until I sort of levelled up and felt that I had mastered that subject or shape or technique and then move on to the next challenge, always incorporating what I had learned previously. I didn’t realize that I was following any process back then but it was very methodical. 

I loved art so much. Even though I don’t remember much discussion about it taking place, I was signed up somewhat regularly for art classes (in addition to swimming and baseball in those early days – my family still calls me The Slugger). My parents seemed to abide by the same approach that I apply to my fur babies – tired kids (and dogs) are the best kind of kids (and dogs) πŸ˜‰

My earliest memory of any art lessons was on Saturday mornings one spring when I was still single-digits years old. It was in an old white church near the now University of Toronto, Mississauga campus. My one memory from that class is that we learned to draw three-dimensional cylinders, circles, and squares. I became obsessed. Even now, more than thirty years later, whenever I am bored and armed with pen and paper, I will doodle the same shapes on repeat, always the same way. It’s like a reflex. I literally remember nothing else from that class, except this one deeply ingrained habit which can be found on all of my notes through university undergrad right up to my latest property tax bill.

My most significant art instruction came from a real-life artist who lived four houses down from my childhood home. She was friends with my mom. When I was in Grade 6, she started offering classes to neighborhood kids at her home. So every Wednesday at 4pm I would head to her house with my little art tool box and that’s when I really started to learn – painting at Ann Fullerton’s dining room table. I had no idea back then how lucky I was and what an amazing opportunity I had been handed.

Up until then my experience with painting had been with school-grade tempera paints (does anyone other than every board of education ever buy that stuff??) and paintbrushes that clearly showed the care of tens of hundreds of grade schoolers and their penchant for glue-based arts and crafts. Shudder. 

Mrs. Fullerton gave us a list of supplies to buy for her classes. For the first time I went to a real art store (Curry’s! which would become a big part of my life as my first employer in high school a few years later) and I bought real (watercolour) paints and real brushes (soft bristle round #6 – still my go-to) and real watercolour paper (Strathmore 9×12″ student quality block). Lesson number one: Watercolour paints don’t just come as dehydrated bright primary colour discs a la Crayola. It also comes in tubes! In fact, if you’re serious about your painting at all you probably want to stick with paint that starts out in a tube. Amazing. And there was no tube of “red” or “blue” or “green” – they were replaced with alizarin crimson, cadmium red, and ultramarine blue, and green – there was nothing that looked like green at all. It was confusing…

Mrs. Fullerton spent that first class in February 1993 showing us how to squeeze out a small amount of paint onto our palettes, how to mix colours (hello green!), how to hold our brushes (life-changing). And then we painted and followed along with Mrs. Fullerton to create this, my first watercolour:

My first real painting.

Everything started to change for me then. Prior to these weekly art classes I would draw all.thetime, but kind of without any direction. Now I had moved on from the doodles of cylinders and cubes and was learning about composition, painting with a reference image, painting from the world around me, painting regularly for the very first time, and being inspired by a real artist. Truly, my dream was that I would one day be as “good” as Mrs. Fullerton. I had levelled up in a big way but her talent and skill – back then it just seemed impossible that I could ever hope to paint so well. Even now, my memories of her unbelievable artistic talent seem like a carrot kind of dangling in front of me. A higher level to achieve, still unattainable. From her I gained my lifelong love of realism, design, painting technique, and painting subject matter close to my heart.Β 

By Grade 8, I had been visiting Mrs. Fullerton for art lessons for two years. I had amassed quite a collection of paintings by then. Just like the circles and cubes years before I got on a big portraiture kick and would paint portraits of people I knew and also the models from Seventeen magazine (which also addressed my love of fashion and makeup).

Mrs. Fullerton helped me to prepare my portfolio for my high school audition and portfolio review. She showed me how to mount my paintings on black cardstock, and to use an x-acto knife (not scissors!) to make sure I was cutting straight lines. I stopped going to see her when I started art school in Grade 9. I learned a lot at Cawthra Park S.S. but I owe all of my fundamental art skills and sensibilities and even my very definition of art to Mrs. Fullerton and the Wednesday afternoons I spent at her house, learning to paint.  

Charlee.

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

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). Β 

Teelo and Charlee sharing a laugh.Β 

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.Β 

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.Β 

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?Β 

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? πŸ˜‰

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.Β 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.Β 

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.Β 

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.Β 

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.Β 

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!). πŸ˜›Β 

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.Β 

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

Week in Review

Hello everyone and happy December! The countdown to Christmas has begun in our house. No tree yet but my not terribly secret hiding places are filling up with presents… In the spirit of consistency I thought it would be nice to introduce a weekly round up of my life and posts and projects on Sundays. I did a little redesigning on Saturday night to make the blog posts more prominently featured on my homepage and added separate pages for galleries of my personal and commission art work and also a page for my soon to grow video collection. If you missed it, you can check out Pardon Me? here

An Apple a Day…

Speaking of videos I filmed my first full length time-lapse video this week which you can watch here (look at me learning to set up links, lol). I find it really addictive when other artists post videos of themselves painting and I wanted to give it a try. I think it’s a really cool way to let you in on my process and also for me to get in more quick freestyle painting time. Consistency (in painting, blogging, life in general) is the key. I’d like to make this a weekly feature on Tuesday’s – so come back for more of the “What I Painted” series to be updated weekly. 

Now I know that special gadgets exist for clipping your phone to your easel or desk and positioning it up above you with lights and lots of cool bells and whistles (and stability, safety) but I’ve been able to MacGyer a pretty good set up for the time being (yes those are children’s letter blocks and my acrylic palette propped on top – that’s where my phone goes so it can hang above me as I paint)… Christmas is coming… but in the meantime it works. 

Precarious… but it will do.

And speaking of Christmas – I finished up the last of my Christmas commissions this weekend. They will get a few more coats of varnish and will be shipped this week to their new homes. Since these projects are secret right now I haven’t been able to share. I’ve been photographing and cataloguing every thing since September and will write a post about my experiences and update my commissions after Christmas. Like, immediately after. I can’t wait. 

This week was a mixed bag.  Kickboxing is a big part of my life, and has been for many years now. We’ve been trying to make it out to more training sessions so I was happy for that but pretty sore and rundown by the end of the week. It’s been dry here and the snow has melted for the most part so I was able to make it out for a few runs with the little monsters – I always found it so pointless to watch them run around a field and just do nothing myself – I run, they run, we all run and it’s good for all of us and I feel real out of sorts when we can’t go due to weather (mainly ice is a huge problem when running with three dogs). We finished our Christmas shopping and I was gifted a new surprise Dyson Animal (for all the animals in our family zoo that shed constantly) – to know me is to know my love of vacuuming, and this vacuum is a life-changer. We took Teelo for a Teelo tune-up at the vet and he got his teeth cleaned and some bumps removed. Nothing serious but I still cried. Some weeks I feel full of energy but this week was pretty low key. I felt pretty tired most of the week and no surprise I got a cold by the weekend – the couch and a blanket were much more appealing than sitting upright to paint but I’m hoping I’ll feel back on track and ready to tackle the world next week. 

Happy Black Friday, ya filthy animal. 

Lastly, speaking of next week – The plan is to start working on my Wiggis painting (which I’m not entirely thrilled with yet but sometimes that’s how I feel right at the start). I’ll also transfer another Beesa sketch over to a larger canvas that I prepped weeks ago. Once done that will complete my cat trifecta. My schedule has opened up a bit with commissions done and some other projects finishing up so I’ll be focusing on my personal work for the next little while and sharing it with all of you.

The good and the bad lol. 

What I painted

An apple a day…

Tonight’s warm-up painting!

In my perfect world, I would be a full-time artist. I would wake up every morning, clean the house from top to bottom (a clean house is a happy house), take the dogs for a long run (in my perfect world it’s also always summer), and then I’d make a coffee and head to my art room for the rest of the day. In my real world, I wake up every morning at 5 am (my alarm is set for 4:45), run around to clean/make breakfasts and lunches/work a full day in health care/take the dogs out/workout/dinner/dishes/and THEN if I’m lucky I can carve out an hour or two of painting before bed (if I don’t fall asleep on the couch first) and then it starts all over again. Just like Ground Hog Day. 

Painting and artistic skill is definitely like a muscle – the only way to get better is to do it consistently – in some small way everyday. Even if you’re tired πŸ™‚ I’ve been really busy lately finishing up some Christmas commissions that I can’t share just yet. However, I really wanted to let you in on my painting process so I created this time-lapse video of a little warm-up painting I created tonight before diving into my commission work. For those interested, details about the materials used are posted below the video. Enjoy! 

For the painting, I used my new favourite watercolour paper – Canson Mix Media Artboards – it has replaced Arches for me as my go-to watercolour paper. The board is so thick you don’t have to worry about it bending when it gets wet and the surface texture is half-way between hot and cold press so you can use ink easily which I love. 

Sharpie markers (another product I love – they don’t skip and they create really sharp, dark lines – I have gone through so many dud markers), Winsor & Newton Artists’ Water Colour paints, and Robert Simmons round brushes #6 and 8. 

I love your feedback! Be sure to leave a comment below. Thanks for visiting!

πŸ™‚

Pardon me?

On taking criticism, and the paradox of painting for yourself, but also (hopefully) that someone out there will like what you are doing… 

“Ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself” – wise words sung by Ricky Nelson. So catchy, but the reality is, I care very deeply about pleasing everyone. If it’s not perfect, then really, what.is.the.point? Visual art is one of those things where, if you choose to display your work in any capacity, it will invite comments, critiques, helpful suggestions πŸ˜‰ so you have to be prepared for feedback and how that will make you feel. Sometimes good, sometimes rotten.

I found an old high school painting the other day. I had forgotten that it even existed so it was a happy surprise. I thought, how could I have ever forgotten about this?

I painted this watercolour back in OAC art (grade 13 for all of you educated post-double cohort in Ontario, Canada). It was based on an old photo from the 70s when my parents were visiting Denmark – you can see my 1970s mom in the photo reference below πŸ™‚ When I found it I posted it on Instagram and it appeared to be accepted favorably – some likes and nice comments. We can call it hit in 2018! 

Unfortunately, I also found the peer evaluation for this work hidden in the same portfolio. It appears that I had forgotten that this painting was not well received back in high school – by one student critic in particular. Actually it’s a little soul-crushing to read this even now: 

“I DON’T MEAN TO BE OFFENSIVE, I REALLY DON’T, BUT MY MOTHER PAINTS THINGS LIKE THIS. YOUR CONTROL IS EXCELLENT AND ITS TECHNICALLY VERY NICE, BUT ITS DEFINITELY SOMETHING I’VE SEEN PLENTY OF.” 

There are some really nice comments on the same page. But this is the only one I can see. I mean, it’s kind of funny because I think I know who this was and I happened to know his mom, and I thought she was a very good painter! She liked to paint watercolor flowers πŸ™‚ The same person went on to write, in response to the question: “What does this [image] imply?”

A quiet peaceful community in Europe. A place for retired seniors.

Seniors? Wait, what? And: “What does this work mean to you?”

Nothing.

Fair enough… And finally: “Comment on the quality of construction, technique”:

A beautiful painting. I expect to see a similar print in at least 5-10 seniors’ homes.

Again with the seniors. Sooooo, fair to say it wasn’t well-received. Or maybe he really, truly felt like people over sixty-five should be my target audience? But honestly, pardon me? It really hurt my feelings because 1. I am really, really sensitive and 2. In just a few lines he trivialized something I had spent a lot of time working on. It meant something to me.

I mean, I know what he’s saying. A street is a street. Is a street. It’s not really screaming teenage angst or even the suggestion of it. We were teenagers reviewing each other’s art. My painting is not that interesting, it’s not very exciting, it’s not modern. But… I’m not trying to be an exciting person, I don’t really take chances. I just am who I am. I feel pretty ok with owning that now… and isn’t it ok for my art to reflect how I feel and what’s important to me? Because I really like my life. I’m pretty happy. I love playing with colours. That painting was based on a picture of my parents travelling through Denmark, where my father was born, back when they were young. It has sentimental value for me times a million. It’s personalized. It does mean something, it is important. 

I had a lot of artist’s block for many years. After I finished high school art maybe some of that self-doubt and lack of confidence in my work and my ideas and my subject matter continued to haunt me for a bit…

In my last year of high school art everyone had to pick a thesis – a topic of focus for the year. I was obsessed with my grades at this point and knew I would be applying to science programs at university. So the art school “game” was a little (a lot) tricky because I was really aware that every painting I was making would be attached to a grade. For me – if you want to turn something you love into an utter chore just attach a grade to it. I was literally frozen creatively by the opposing goals of wanting to create beautiful paintings and take a few chances, while trying to maximize my grades in art as well as have time for physics, chemistry, bio, calculus and algebra. I didn’t know it then but conditions were not favorable for painting my masterpiece.

It’s funny because going through my old diaries from grade 13 art, I have realized that the essence of myself has really not changed at all… Thirty seven year old me is still the same seventeen year old girl with a lot of the same worries, and concerns, and also the same things are still important to me. What makes us who we are is not something that we can change. It really stays with us. Seventeen year old me really wanted to paint beautiful, real things from the world around me, things that meant something to me. I was just lacking the attitude then to really own it.

I guess that’s why it took me twenty years to have the confidence to paint a 24″ x 24″ enormous painting of my micro cat and title it, “This is a Cat”. Because sometimes a cat is just a cat… is just a cat. It just took me awhile to get here.

So… kind of a personal post. To answer the question, how do you take feedback and accept criticism? I have no idea, I’m still super sensitive πŸ˜‰ I’m still figuring it out. I think you need to just try to take what you need and then filter out the rest. I’m just going to paint what I like because that seems to be working for me – finally – and keep the wise words of my favorite high school art teacher in mind (he probably knew I was freaking out all the time, lol):


Thanks for reading!

πŸ™‚

Four-legged inspiration.

Teelo, Clicquot, and Riggs, aka my little monsters.Β 

Now that I’ve ripped off the proverbial Band-Aid by publishing my first few posts, I feel like it would be a good time to let you know a little more about myself. I think if you asked someone who knows me to describe me, they’d say I’m the lady with all the dogs. This past Halloween one parent remarked (as I handed out candy with one foot hooked on the back of our front door, bracing the world against my curious gaggle of barking dogs): “So this is the dog house!” But I would have to correct them and tell you that I’m also the lady with some cats too-and they aren’t wallflowers πŸ™‚

We have three dogs and two cats – Teelo, Riggs, Clicquot, Beesa, and Wiggis. They are the center of our little family and we kind of orbit around them making sure that everyone is healthy and happy (and for the dogs we also make sure they are tired so they will be extra good). They all have very specific likes and dislikes and wants and needs. To give you a taste: Beesa likes her senior cat citizen appetite-stimulating kibbles to be served 1 tbsp at a time with warm water (she’ll let you know when she’s ready for more). Clicquot likes to go to bed every night at 9pm. Wiggis likes to sit with my husband in the evening on the green couch. Teelo is scared of rolling dice and shuffling cards. Riggs will growl at you if you try to move him when he’s napping.

Our animals have really been the basis for a lot of my painting inspiration, especially over the last year. I take so many pictures of our pets, I love action shots (usually napping shots work best however) and there will be one in a million that I will look at and think – that really captures the entirety of their personality in that one photo… That would be a cool painting… And then I let that kind of park in my semi-subconscious while I mull it over and when I’m ready… TADA! Well, it’s not always that easy but I do find that some of my best paintings (and sketches!) come about from months of thinking about a particular image and how I would work that out in a painting and then when I finally put brush to canvas all the work of thinking is done and the painting just flows…

The Persistence of Clicquot πŸ˜‰ Ink on paper. 2018.
Vizsla E. Kandinsky/Three Vizslas on a Wednesday Afternoon. Watercolour on Paper. 2018.
Riggs slinking away from his portrait.

When I draw or paint or spend time in my art room focused on my art, I really find that’s a form of meditation. I never really understood that part of yoga – being still and focusing inward. I was always more likely to fall asleep on my yoga mat than achieve a higher level of personal awareness. I’ve realized that when I’m painting, all I’m doing is being absolutely focused on my work. And when I am painting something that I love it’s a way to meditate on something that makes me very happy. I have found that to be incredibly fulfilling and I also find that it has resulted in me creating the very best work of my life. I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves over the coming months and years and what subject matter I may turn to next and how this will all develop.Β I hope you will enjoy following me as I doΒ :).

What inspires you to paint? Leave a message in the comments below πŸ™‚Β