Monday, November 28, 2011

Focussed on New Cards

I have so much enjoyed reading  your comments about the role creativity plays in your lives, and appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts and personal experiences.  Creativity is certainly a powerful force for our physical and emotional well being, and one I'm so glad to have back in my life.  I so 'get' the comments about art being frustrating at times when results don't mesh with expectations and expectations of the result getting in the way of just enjoying the experience. Sounds like a few of us share a common bond!  : )  We sure can get in our own way at times, can't we?  A mental health counsellor I know has business cards that encourage people to  "go beyond expectations".  How true that is in the field of art!?  Only by having the courage to stretch beyond our expectations (or comfort zone) are we really able to connect with the depth of creativity in our souls. (Ok... that was a kind of deep way to start this post... Let's change into a slightly lighter gear here.  lol... )

The past few weeks haven't been quite as creatively productive ones for me as what I was hoping they'd be. (Oops... there are those 'expectations' again!). Unfortunately winter is not being kind to my physical health and is slowing me down. Still, I'm happy to say I finished the forest creek painting - the one that is watercolour painted on gessoed canvas.  Here's how it turned out...

I had originally envisioned a piece with more lighter green areas fading softly into the background but when I painted the water it turned out a fair bit darker than intended and it was such a challenge to paint the water that I didn't have the heart to remove it all and try painting it again.  Joanne, my art teacher, suggested darkening the top part of the painting to balance out the dark water.  The effect was amazing and I am fairly pleased with the piece now.  I say "fairly pleased" because I need to stare at it for a week or two yet to see if there are any last little tweaks that I need to make to it.  I am thinking that a few light/white dots added as highlights in the water might work well.  Hmm...

To protect the fragile bond between watercolour and canvas, the piece will need to be sealed with a varnish-like product (not sure exactly what product... the teacher did tell us but obviously I wasn't paying close enough attention to that part of the class so will have to ask her to tell me again!).  Once it's been sealed no more changes can be made, so I need to be very sure it's really "finished" before  taking that step.  Part of me would love to do this same painting on watercolour paper just to compare how a painting looks on canvas versus paper.  Right now I have more ideas than the energy to execute the ideas, so this may be one of the ideas that has to be put on the back burner for now.

My main creative priority lately has been developing 12 new cards to add to my greeting card line.  I'd like to have them ready for sale in January, so need to get them to the printer as soon as possible.  Tonight I felt like I'd finally reached the point where I was ready to go to print with them.  Yeah!!!  : )  I won't show you all the photos - I'll just tease you with a few. (Gotta leave something for another post!!  lol...)  Here are some of the photos that will be used in the new group of cards.  I'm showing you the photos without text, but will give you an idea of what kind of sentiment will go with the picture.

This card (pink magnolia) will celebrate new beginnings
This thoughtful crow will grace the front of a card about retirement
This photo will be used on a humorous card celebrating the strength we get from relationships.  Ok, I appreciate that at first glance it may not be readily apparent how this picture could celebrate relationships, but you're just going to have to wait until I can show you the final version to see what I mean.  : ) 

In addition to the writing the words for the fronts of the cards, I've written a 'story' for the back of each of them.  The story is only a few sentences long and tells something about the photo, like why it inspired me, what I think of when I see it, or where it was taken.  It takes me much longer to write the words than it ever does to take the pictures and decide which ones I want to use.

As a break from all the writing I did manage to take a few new photos this week.  A neighbour told me about three young racoons huddled in a tree just down the block.  It was late afternoon and the light was fading (in the winter it starts to get dark here around 4:30 p.m.) which made it a challenging shot. Also challenging was the fact that they were completely absorbed in snuggling that they didn't bother looking down at the by-standers often.

Aren't they adorable all snuggled up together?  Later in the evening I went out and saw they had all left the tree.  They were probably busy tipping over garbage cans and generally wrecking havoc in the neighbourhood, as racoon tend to do.  As bothersome as they can be, their little masked faces are just so cute!

I also spent an afternoon at Butterfly Gardens where I thoroughly enjoyed the tropical temperature!

Some of these pictures are begging me to try and capture them in paint.... one day!

To those of you who commented that you used to paint or want to paint, I sincerely hope you will take the plunge and give it a try.  For so long I was very afraid to try drawing and painting again, and am no so grateful that I was able to push myself over that wall.  The benefit of expressing one's self creatively is very worth the effort of breaking through the fear.

Hope you are all doing well and finding time to be creative!
: )  Fern

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Art... Better Than Pills and No Side Effects!!

Thank you all for your wonderfully supportive comments.  : )  This blogging thing isn't quite so scary after all!  Denise - I loved your suggestion about painting a fern and am gathering my fern photos together to use for inspiration.  I'll keep you posted on my progress.

The past few days I've been sorting through magazines and came across info about boosting creativity and the benefits art has on our health.  For instance, the November 2011 Good Housekeeping magazine (page 45) comments on research done in Norway on more than 50,000 people that found that "engaging in arts and culture--watching as well as doing--was linked with higher self-scores of physical and emotional health".  Think about it... not only are we (people who enjoy creating art) benefiting our own physical and emotional health when we engage in our chosen form of art, but we are also contributing to the improved health of our viewing audience!  Wow.  That is, to me, the ultimate of 'win-win' and a strong motivator to keep creating and putting my art out for other people to see.

Creativity, as you've probably already discovered, is at times unpredictable and prone to dry periods and blocks.  So if being creative is so good for us is there anything we can do to keep a consistent flow of it in our lives?  Interestingly the March 21, 2011 edition of Woman's World magazine had two suggestions (on pages 4 and 26).  Regularly spending time with loved ones contributes to people having more creative ideas according to research from the UK's University of Portsmouth lead study author Lorenzo Stafford, Ph.D. The reason given is that socializing raises the brain's level of dopamine--a happiness-triggering chemical that also activates areas of the brain responsible for creative thinking.  Another article discussed other research reported on by study author Ravi Mehta that suggests that gazing at the colour blue contributes to having more innovative ideas. The colour blue reduces tension and lowers stress, and the study states that, "Relaxed people are more open to new ideas."  Hmm... makes me want to repaint the walls of my work area a lovely light blue.

Speaking of colour, I had coffee a few days ago with a friend with whom I have wonderful conversations about the emotional benefit of art.  She is someone who has experienced some very traumatic things early on in life.  She did not think of herself as artistic, but in the past few years someone convinced her to give painting a try.  Long story short, she loved the experience of painting, continues to find it very therapeutic and produces some lovely works in acrylic.  I asked her what painting had done for her life.  Without much hesitation she explained that previously life had felt grey and colourless but painting literally and figuratively brought colour to her life.

For myself, once I got past the fear of putting paint on paper, I found the process of stroking the paint onto the paper (or canvas as the case may be) to be calming and relaxing.  I can get completely absorbed in the process and lose track of time.  Just last week I got so involved with a painting I was two hours late having dinner even though twice I told myself, "I'm hungry... I really have to stop and eat..." I've come to the conclusion that the phrase, "starving artist" may not have been coined strictly to describe artists having a hard time financially.  Rather, it may have become popular to describe artists who got so involved in their work they forget to eat!  (Who would have ever thought I would get so 'into' what I was doing I could forget to eat!!! lol...)  This past week I also discovered a pretty fool proof way of measuring when I've been focussed on my painting long enough and need a break... It's time to stop when I find myself washing out my paintbrush in my cold cup of tea!!  : )

This past week I spent some really enjoyable time with a relative down at the waterfront.  At the time I had not read the articles on boosting creativity, but I intuitively did both of the recommended things--spent time with a loved one and gazed at the colour blue (the ocean), and it was a very uplifting time that sparked some creativity.  How could you not feel creative looking at the beautiful colours of fall...

... observing other people's humorous handiwork...

... and watching a powerful creature like a bald eagle noshing on freshly caught salmon "sushi"!

As for painting, I am still working on the watercolour-on-canvas picture of the forest stream. It has indeed proved to be challenging!  I took it to art class this morning quite convinced that I'd ruined it but the teacher suggested one or two changes and I am now quite a bit happier with the way it is looking.  Once it's finished I'll take a photo and post it here so you can see how it turned out.

I'm curious... What are some of the benefits you personally find from engaging in creating art?  Does it lift your spirits?  Perhaps it helps you escape from stress?  Do you find it brings physical relief from pain or discomfort?  If you'd care to share, I'd love to hear your experience.

I hope all is going well for each of you.  Time for me to sign off... I hear my paint brush calling...  lol!!
: )  Fern

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pushing Forward

What a week!  Things have cycled more widely than usual between bad stress and positive excitement, creativity and fear, good health days and bad ones, and in the end I feel like I haven't managed to be very productive in any area of my life. But at least things haven't been boring!

One of the consistently good things in my life is going to art class each week.  I am learning so much and rediscovering what I thought were long-gone skills.  Two pieces I've done in the last few weeks especially please me:  


The lilies were a complete impulse project. The grocery store had cheery yellow lilies on sale and somehow some of them just jumped into my basket.  I couldn't resist the lively colour and thought I'd try to capture it on paper.  I have been using Arches 140 lb paper, but decided to experiment with another type of paper for this painting. That was a hard lesson learned... (Note to self... stick with Arches paper!! lol...)  Because the paper reacted so differently it was a challenge to make this painting work.  But overall I am pleased.                           

The apples were inspired by some photos I took a few months back of an orchard bordering a local park area.  In particular I wanted to capture the soft blush developing on the apples with an overall bright, airy feel. I think the apple highest up in the grouping is my favourite part of the painting - here it is close up:

The shadows were a bit of a challenge at first but with some coaching from the teacher on using glazes of opposite (complementary) colours to create depth, I'm now rather pleased with those areas, too.

Last week we were challenged to paint a scene from our own travel photos and do it with dry brush technique and pen-and-ink.  Wow.  That is SO not at all my personal style, but I do see the benefit to learning all different styles of painting.  And in the spirit of the "Creative Courage" class I'm taking online, it was an opportunity to feel uncomfortable with something but do it anyway. 

In the end, it became a completely different piece than I first envisioned. The photo that inspired it is a lake scene with mist in the trees - the photo was taken on the Oregon Coast between the cities of Florence and Bandon.

A little hesitantly, I share with you my painting because I'm not all that pleased with the results...  But I want this blog to be totally honest about all stages of my creative growth and rediscovery, so I am going to share the good along with the not so great...

Emotionally I rebel against painting dark and somber pictures.  I've been through so much emotional heaviness and darkness over the past few years I just can't create more darkness and heaviness - and I can't ask others to view dark and somber images, either. So it was intentional that this picture have a brighter colour palette.  The lightness of the palette is something I'm pleased with.  But the overall technique isn't one I'm particularly in love with.  Still, who knows when this kind of dry brush could be very useful. 

This week in class we were introduced us to painting watercolour on canvas. (Did your brain just hiccup like mine did?)  Watercolour paints and gessoed canvas just didn't seem to go together in my mind.  But they really do work!  Having said that, the canvas needs to be prepped with a good quality gesso, and painting happens v-e-r-y slowly as you apply your paint, it puddles up, and you patiently wait for it to dry before you move on.  Down at the art supply store I was told that painting watercolour on canvas was probably not unlike painting on Yupo paper.  I've not tried Yupo paper yet, but from what I read the similarity is that the paint dries on the surface and doesn't soak down in to the support material, like it does on paper.  The good news is, as my teacher informed me, if you don't like how your painting has turned out you stick the canvas in your bathtub, wash all the paint off and begin again.  Fool proof!!  : )

So here's my class project for this week - 'in progress' because the going is s-l-o-w...

I've chosen a westcoast forest scene that will have a creek running through the lower left corner of the picture.  The inspirational photos are very visually busy.  I've mostly shied away from landscapes - even back when I was doing more painting in my teens and 20s - because they are so detailed and feel completely overwhelming to me.  Joanne, our teacher, has a personal painting style that reduces the visual busy-ness down to simple shapes (a link to her style), so I decided to give her style (or my interpretation of her style) a try. Joanne remarked that I'd taken on a somewhat difficult subject for a first attempt at painting on canvas. However jumping in at the deep end, so to speak, tends to be the way I do many things in life. So with the awareness tucked into the corner of my mind that I was really challenging myself on this piece I decided to try painting this subject anyway!  After sketching the picture out I did sit and stare at the canvas for a few paralyzed minutes wondering just where and how to begin.  The teacher rescued me by and talking me through a variety of options - starting in the foreground and working to the back, versus starting with the darker trees and water, etc...  Talking it through was very helpful. And then all that was left to do was stick my brush in the paint... and start! (Come on courage... don't fail me now!! lol!) 

The piece is turning out far differently than I expected, probably because I can't add shading and shadows with a glazing technique - if I try glazing the dried paint layer below is wiped off because it doesn't bond well with the canvas and is just sitting on the surface.  That means trying to add shadows and shading while the paint is wet and it's much harder to control then.  Challenges aren't bad - they just make us stretch out of our comfort zone and create a bit of anxiety.  If you read between the lines right now you'll understand that I feel pretty 'stretched' over this painting but am determined to keep painting in spite of the anxiety as I just might be pleasantly surprised when I'm done.  And if it turns out not so great... oh well, it's been a good learning experience for me and an amusement for you! 

Let's see... what else good happened recently?  I went with a friend and her children to a park where I had the joy of photographing her children as they played in the leaves.  I love watching children when their faces light up with pure emotion - they are so very "in the moment" that I envy them a bit. 

What a lovely bouquet you have, m'lady...


What if I buried myself in leaves...?

What a lot of fun it was!  I came away feeling very energized and uplifted.  (Note to self:  Must make time to play... and/or watch children at play... more often.)

We don't get the truly amazing fall colours here in Victoria that are found in other places.  But I enjoy the golds and rusts of a typical Victoria autumn. I've used a photo of autumn leaves on one of the anniversary cards in my greeting card line.

Well, it's been fun chatting.  I hope your day is going well, that you are doing things that nurture your soul and your creativity.  Time for me to quit procrastinating and go do more work on my watercolour-on-canvas forest scene.  Hope for the best for the outcome of my painting, won't you?