Thursday, January 26, 2012

A New Miniature

Horns of Plenty
6.75" X 4.25"
Original Oil

Even though small paintings take me longer per square inch to complete, I still like to do them. First I try and find a subject and composition which can carry such a limited size.

When I started painting this piece, I had mountains in the background and they weren't working. The mountains were muddy-ing the focus. I grabbed my blending brush and away they went. What I was left with was this mottled background. Next I worked on the darks of the Bighorns moving then to their bodies and saving the horns for last.

You are actually seeing more of the painting than will be seen when it is in its frame. About 1/4" from the top and left side will be covered. I plan for that when I am working out the composition.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Last minute changes

Beneath the White Mountain
Original Oil
11.5" x 28"

This is one of those paintings I thought was done when an idea burst into my head. I had painted all the trees, the cattle, the Masai, the sky and the clouds. When I stood back, the slight change of colors I had painted in the sky suggested something back there. That is when it hit me. What if I painted Kilimanjaro in the background?  I had been in the vicinity of the mountain when I saw the cattle but I didn't see the mountain until the next day.

Here comes the tricky part. I was happy with what I had already painted. Do I risk painting in the mountain, something which was not part of the plan? Will it make a difference to the painting? The photos I took of the mountain had that faint (and maybe mystical) feel. Could I pull off a subtle mountain for the highest peak on the continent?
I decided to go for it and am glad I did. For me it gives the painting the extra flavor it needed.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Tom Tom
12" X 16"
Original Oil

The temperature here is in the teens during the day so it seems appropriate that I have finished this piece. The inspiration for the painting is from my backyard.

After a particularly big snow storm several years ago I wanted to take photos of the heavy snow-laden branches. In my traipsing around the property I ran into a flock of turkeys. There were hens but it was the toms in which I was most interested. They seemed to have a certain swagger to their walks as if to say, "Yeah, snow, so what. Nothing we can't handle."

I first drew this painting in August. One of the questions we artists often are asked is, "How long did it take you to paint this?"  The answer is difficult. From when do you want me to count? This painting is a good illustration of that difficult answer. I have been taking photos of snow and turkeys around my property for years. The reference I used for this piece were from 2008. I've been thinking about this concept in particular since then. Once I worked out the composition this summer, I set the board aside. The end of November I painted the background and some of the left turkey. At the Grand Opening week of Pacific Flyway Gallery in December, I demonstrated how I paint by finishing the breast of the left turkey. Now I have finished the right turkey and the foreground sticks to complete the painting.

Did I start this piece in August? yes. Did I start it in 2008? yes.  Did I start it before then when I spent hours watching turkeys around our place? yes.
My time holding the brush and applying paint is a small percentage of the time I spend to create a piece.
A number of years ago, a photographer asked me how long it took me to paint a piece. When I asked her did she mean putting the brush on the canvas, she said yes. My answer surprised her. She must have thought (after dividing my price by my hours) that my "price per hour" was high. I did not point out to her that her professional photographs took less than 1 second to shoot. I know the time investment required to get that perfect shot.

I know I will continue to get asked this question at shows. That's OK. People are curious how this process works. Maybe some who ask have started painting themselves and think if I can paint something like this in that amount of time, they can too. Maybe they can. Maybe they can paint a better piece. Or, maybe the person asking has never lifted a brush but wants a peak into how my day unfolds. I figure if someone asks, they like what they see. (If they didn't they wouldn't care how long it took me!) I may not have a definitive answer, but I thank them for their interest.

By the way, in case you are wondering where the title for the turkey painting came from, not me. I was struggling with what to call the painting and throwing around ideas with my husband, when he threw out Tom Tom. He says he meant it as a joke, but once I heard it, that was it. Tom Tom it was!

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Special Treat

For three years I have given my nephew and 3 oldest nieces (visiting from Texas and Colorado) a paint-by-number for Christmas as one of their presents. Over Christmas, they would work on their paint-by-numbers in my studio while I painted. This year my 11-year old niece from Texas asked for something harder and more challenging. She wanted to do her own painting and get some painting lessons. As soon as her 11-year old cousin in Colorado heard about this, she wanted to do it too. And once she was going to do a "from scratch" painting, her 12-year old sister signed on.
So, I had 3 girls ready to learn.

My niece Audrey from Texas arrived here with her family on Dec 20th. The next day we were in Michael's picking out her brushes, palette knife, and extra turpentine. I also bought duplicates for her cousins set to arrive on the 23rd.

Now to decide what to paint. Weeks earlier I thought encouraging them to do an animal portrait focusing on the eye would prove to be the most satisfying for them. Audrey and I spent time going through hundreds of my reference and she selected a cougar cub. We worked together to decide on the cropping and Audrey decided to paint it on a 6" X 6" gessobord I had. Her cousins followed suit a few days later.

Each of the girls worked from a grid system to free-hand draw their animal. They had a 1" grid on their board using 2B graphite pencil. Once they finished their drawings with the 2B pencil (and they were marvelous), the girls went over the outlines with a 4H pencil and then erased the 2B grid. Just like I use a raw sienna-burnt sienna wash to make a sepia study, they did also.

On to painting! Each of the girls used my Rembrandt oil paints. Knowing mixing can be a challenge, I helped them see and create the colors they would use. Once they started, they were often mixing on their own.

When each girl felt their animal was finished, she chose her background color.

Audrey's cougar cub in progress


Katie's blue jay in progress


Amanda's kestrel in progress

Finished paintings!!!
Cougar Cub
Original oil painting by Audrey Besse (age 11)

Blue Jay
Original oil painting by Katie Susman (age 12)


Original oil painting by Amanda Susman (age 11)

Not only do I think they did a wonderful job, but I am proud of the dedication each showed in working on their paintings. They could have taken short cuts but they didn't. They carefully selected their subject (rather than have me pick it for them), they hand drew it and spent many hours carefully painting the details.
Thank you Audrey, Katie, and Amanda for making my Christmas very special this year.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Happy New Year

I hope you are having a wonderful start to the New Year!

O Canada
Original Oil
32" X 44"

With all the holiday festivities, I still was able to find time to complete this polar bear painting. While working on it, the title popped into my head. Titles can be a challenge. I have seen titles ranging from the lame Untitled #7 or Dog III to titles that leave you scratching your head with their verbage, Existential Denial of Karmic Hubris. (well, I made up that last one but you get the idea.)

The title of this piece is a nod to Canada's National Anthem. The painting's location is the iconic Canadian Shield rocks around Churchill, Manitoba. I saw the polar bear 60 km north in a remote camp, but I asked him nicely if he wouldn't mind moving south to be in the piece.

Stay tuned for a very special post on Friday!