Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sketchbook Saturday and Link Love

I've been neglecting my sketchbook lately. I've kept with my goal to draw from life once a week (this week it was my dog's bone, last week the guy speaking in church), but haven't been doing much else, so I thought it was time to dive in and sharpen up my skills a little.

This sketch is of my middle child from a photo I took about two years ago. I really love to look through older pictures of my kids and see how much they've grown. But then it makes me sad to see that they've left certain stages behind and the only thing I have to remind me of that time is a photo and a memory that grows fainter every day.

But then when I draw or paint them I feel all those same emotions again and the memory is a little more fresh in my mind. I love that. :) That's one of the main reasons I paint, to celebrate my beautiful life with my family. Especially when I'm experiencing one of those not so beautiful moments. Like trying to get permanent marker off the wall.

Don't even ask. Seriously.

This week I have some really awesome links to share with you guys. Some beautiful, inspiring work and some great posts too.

Dave Malan posted this amazing sketch of his daughter and this was actually what inspired me to sketch my son this morning. All of his work is incredible, prepare to spend some time at his site. Wowee!

Ali Cavanaugh is an artist that I go completely fan girl for. Her work (and her story of how she became an artist) is SO inspiring. I never fail to leave her site without being completely in awe. Double wowee.

Ann Buckner posted this amazing watercolor of an older man that I just completely love. Ann's work is always loose and fresh but also gives the feeling that a lot of thought went into the planning behind the finished work.

Vinayak Deshmuk paints some beautiful work. I especially love his boats. There's an old-world-masterish feeling too them that I really, really like.

Karen Martin Sampson is a figure artist that I really admire. Her work is full of sensitivity and insanely good technical skill. I've linked to her full blog so you can look through all her posts of the current painting she's working on. I love to see her work in progress.

Enjoy! If you need inspiration I've just given you a ton of places to go and look for it. :) Next week there will be more link love! It could be you. . .

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Landscape! Work in Progress

the promised landscape poll result painting
10" x 14" watercolor (detail)

Finally, here is the landscape that won the 'what should I paint next?' poll a few months ago. Still a work in progress at this point, but coming along.

I've only ever painted one other landscape and it was a big, huge, ugly disaster. So I approached this one with more than a little fear.

But, once I started painting, the fear left and I realized that it's not the subject that was scary, but the idea in my heart that I would fail. Again.

It reminded me that it doesn't really matter what your subject is, a portrait, flower, horse, or even a landscape, what matters is how you see your subject.

Harley Brown said, "I don't know the first thing about a horse's hind end, but I can draw it. A cowboy, or an artist, or anyone, can look at my drawing and say, 'That Harley really knows his horses!'

I don't know horses. I just know how to observe a horse.'"

The man is truly a genius. :)

This is what I tell myself when I'm trying to think myself out of the fear of failure at the easel:

All it takes to remove the fear when you approach your next work is your ability to observe. You are an artist! You know how to observe! You've done it millions of times.

Stop overthinking it.

Stop worrying about that barn and field and just paint what you see. It's really just a rectangle and some abstract shapes.

You can paint that. Because you are an ARTIST.

Now, dear friends, you must tell me. . .

Am I the only one that gives themselves motivational pep talks?

Sure hope not.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Planner or Pantser? And more work on the WIP

more work on the WIP (still untitled)
15" x 20" watercolor

Things are coming along on this painting, even if it is a little slower than I'd like.

It's funny, when I mess up on a painting I usually approach my next one with a little more. . . caution? I guess you could say. Not timidity, just approaching the painting with more of a plan in my head of what colors to use and in what order, more careful looking at shapes and placement.

Which really is a pretty good thing, because I've realized (and I seem to be forced to make this realization every couple of months) that when I think I've nailed my process and I know exactly what to do and I'm basking in my own awesomeness of painting skills (totally kidding, I never bask, sheesh how prideful would that be? ;), that's when I mess up.

I think I have it all figured out, and I'm rushing to get it finished, and then I make that fateful error that I cannot fix and the painting's ruined.

Sometimes that really sucks. I hate having to learn things the hard way, but it seems like I always get to anyways. :)

So, at this point in the painting I'm laying down the skeleton, making sure that my framework is accurate and all set for the big splashy finish. I once heard an artist say, "first make it strong, then make it pretty." I've always remembered that. Sometimes I think I'm a little too anxious to get to the pretty making part.

So far I'm using light value colors so I can still make slight adjustments to his face and proportions that are so dang important with portraits. I'm making it strong right now so that at the end I can come back and make it vivid and beautiful (hopefully, that's the goal anyway).

In other words, I've been planning. No winging it this time around.

So, fellow artists and creative types, here's my question for you: Are you a planner or a pantser (pantser= fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pantser)?

As much as I'd like to be a pantser, I'm pretty sure that I'm a planner.  

Friday, January 21, 2011

Failure, New Work in Progress, and Link Love

15 x 20 watercolor - untitled (for now)

This has been a pretty unproductive week for me as far as artwork goes. I started a painting last week that I planned on finishing Wednesday, but it just didn't work. I don't know what it was that I didn't like about it, but I just had this feeling that it was a failure.

This was Discouraging. With a capital D. 

Ah well, life goes on. There's always next time right?

So I put it aside and started in on this one of my oldest son doing his newfound favorite thing. Archery. I think there are few things as satisfying to a parent than seeing your child passionate about something and then work hard at it. 

And he is WAY excited to see the finished painting. He thinks it's going to be cool. Which makes me cool by association. I like that my kids are still young enough to think that their Mom is cool because she paints pictures of them being Robin Hood, or because I know all the words to the Despicable Me theme song, or because I say things like "chillax."

What? It's a word. . . kinda.

And while I was painting my "failure-of-the-week" I had a little company. Look at my sweet girl all settled down and behaving at my feet. (This is kind of a rare occurence, she is a pretty bouncy dog)

Meet Heart, our one year old Giant Schnauzer.

It's nice to have painting company. Especially when they stay silent while you're ranting about the giant blunder you just made on your latest work of art. 

And I thought it might be fun to post links to blogs or sites that I've seen throughout the week with work that inspired me or spoke to me in some way. So, here ya go. You'll for sure want to check these out. Trust me.

The Twirling Dragon Kim Kincaid posted an incredibly lovely sketch of a dog that I just fell in love with. It's a gorgeous and strong drawing.

Suzanne Berry posted this stunning portrait. I pretty much love everything about it, the palette, her expression, the way her dark hair contrasts with her fair skin. I could go on. It is beautiful.

Carrie Waller painted this stunning still life. SO much dramatic lighting and rich, deep colors. I could just die. It's gorgeous!

Sandra from Sandraws posted this lively and fresh sketch that is fabulous, but I also really admire Sandra's courage. Read her post, you'll see why. :)

Prabal Mallick painted this gorgeous piece that really struck me with the variety of neutral greys contrasted with those few, well chosen, bright spots of color. Beautiful!

I plan on doing this 'Link Love' type of post once a week, so I may just be featuring you next! :)

Well, I think I've rambled enough for one day, have a great weekend everyone!

UPCOMING WORK UPDATE: I know, I know I said I was done. But I forgot one thing. I promised you a landscape and a landscape you shall have! I think I'm done staring at it and wondering what the heck I'm going to do. Next week you will see the first stage!

And the horse drawing I posted on Tuesday is all set for an acrylic painting. But I may do a watercolor one too. It would be cool to see her in two different styles. Thanks so much for all your feedback!

Okay, now I'm really going.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Beauty, a more finished version of Sketchbook Tuesday

8" x 10" colored pencil on bristol

So, originally I had planned to just have a rough sketch of this horse. But then the more I worked on it the more I realized that it didn't really suit her. She was so elegant and refined, like an equine Audrey Hepburn, that I kind of felt like she deserved a more finished piece.

And I'm pretty sure that I used up an entire colored pencil in this process. Those big, dark shapes on her shiny coat and pretty face from the sun made this drawing go pretty quickly, even if it did wear my pencil down to a little, tiny stub.

I think I'm going to use this drawing as my reference for an acrylic painting. I'd love to experiment with some different colors in her black coat. And I think the simple shapes on her body would leave a lot of room for some nice, expressive brushwork.

What do you think? Acrylic or watercolor for this girl?

And thanks for all the blogoversary well wishes. You guys made me smile. :)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Long Lashes and Soft Cheeks, and one year blogoversary

Long Lashes and Soft Cheeks
6" x 8" acrylic on canvas

This is my second acrylic portrait (if you're not counting the two or three disasters that I scraped off on my first try, which I am not) and it went much better than the first. I felt like I had a better understanding of how acrylics worked and also I was able to mix colors that are close to what I use with my watercolor portraits, which for some reason seemed impossible with my first one (which explains the monochromaticness of Emerge).  My favorite part are his lips, they were so fun.

And. . . . tomorrow is my one year blogoversary!


I never imagined all of the benefits that would come into my life from starting this blog. I've found motivation to paint more often, I think I've really figured out a lot of things about why I paint and how I like to paint and what it means to me in my life right now. And probably most importantly, I've made friends and found support from so many amazing people that I never would have even known existed without starting this blog.

It's been a crazy fun ride, that's for sure.

Thank you so, so much to all of you for following along with me. I hope you feel welcome and appreciated here, because my good friends, you truly are. :)

I thought I'd leave you with my first ever blog post, just for kicks. (And talk about a wierd coincidence that this piece is SO similar to the piece I've posted today.)

January 14, 2010
Beautiful to Me
20" x 24" pastel on toned paper

Hello, I'm Crystal Cook welcome to my blog! I'm a full time mother of three and part time artist, whenever I can fit it in. I specialize in portraits of children in watercolor, but also use pastel, charcoal and colored pencil. I just finished this pastel in black and white and was pretty pleased with how it turned out. I was very drawn to the child's concentrated expression along with those full cheeks and lashes. But the thing that inspired me the most was the strong back light that framed that sweet face and caught the soft hair that only babies have. This was a fun piece to do, usually I work in watercolor which requires me to plan more in advance and usually takes me a while to finish. But this time I just sketched it out fairly quickly and tried to be as expressive as I could with my marks while still capturing a likeness. I think I need to break out the pastels more often it helped me get out of a rut I was in and inspired more creativity in me. Who knew a few little sticks of powdered pigment could bring such a change in my perspective?

Note to self: I've learned so many things since January 14, 2010. Including that it pays to break up your text a little bit. Paragraphs are your friends. Oh, oh and maybe think about titling your blog posts Crystal. Just an idea.

Have a great day everyone!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sparkle, a new portrait of my baby

7" x 9" watercolor portrait by Crystal Cook

Well, it's good to be back to my 'routine' watercolors. I love experimenting and trying new things, but close-up portraits are kind of like my artistic comfort food. They make me happy. They make me  feel at home.

This is yet another portrait of my youngest son when he was about six months old. That seemed to be the golden age where I could take a bazillion photos of him and he would always give me this soulful, melt-my-heart look.

Which means that I'll most likely never run out of subject matter for baby paintings.

I've also been thinking more about edges in my paintings and looking for ways to incorporate more lost, found and soft edges. I like the idea of having the eyes in the most focus and then the rest of the portrait painted a little more expressively.

This is of course more influence from dear Mr. Harley Brown. I feel like I've just went to the best workshop in the world since I started reading that book.

Have a great day everyone!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

In which I go fangirl for Harley Brown

Headed In
10" x 14" watercolor (with just a smidge of pastel)

I know.

You're probably thinking what has happened to all the watercolor portraits? And what about that landscape we were promised? Hmmmm???

They're next in line folks, promise. Or, at least close to next in line. :)

So. Changes. My first two paintings of the new year are verrrry different from what I did last year. And both of them are a little more expressive.

That's one of my goals for the year. To paint with more expression. More freedom. More joy.

And I'm blaming Harley Brown for this.

I've been reading his book 'Eternal Truths for Every Artist' (which I think should be required reading for every artist) for the second time (okay, okay if you want to get picky about it I guess this is the first time, since I just skimmed it before) and I'm feeling SO inspired.

Seriously, if you haven't read it you must go find it. The man is a genius. And he's pretty hilarious too.

This book is all about being confident with your work and painting with passion. And he places a big emphasis on drawing from life. Which is another of my goals for the year. To draw at least once a week from life. 

So, instead of having a list of goals to check off one by one throughout the year, my focus is going to be on stretching my artistic skills. Drawing from life. Painting with lively brushwork and colors. Believing in myself. 


Dear friends.

What say you???

Are you with me? 

This is our year.

Let's challenge ourselves.

2011 has just begun. Anything can happen.


I leave you with these inspired words from dear Mr. Harley Brown:

"The art world is littered with the spirits of people who gave up, just didn't see the fun and the inspiration of being part of the artist's wonderful world.

But you, dear friend, are made of sterner stuff. Right?

So I say to you:

Never, never, never, under any circumstances, give up faith in your ability!

On paper or on canvas, you really do have something to say. Trust whatever is inside of you.

Stick with it!" Harley Brown

I said it before but I gotta say it again.


Now. Go paint. :)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Adventures with Claybord

24" x 24" acrylic on claybord

So, here is my LARGE work. Let me just tell you that it did not turn out at all like I thought it would. Here's a run down of my last week and my battle with this denizen of Hades known as claybord.

Monday, December 27 : I stare at the claybord and the drawing I've just made and fight the urge to run and flee when I run my hand over the completely smooth surface. We're talking smooth as glass. Insanely smooth. How in the world am I supposed to paint with watercolors on that???

I lay the first wash down and watch it get completely absorbed into the clay surface.

There's no time to pull it into place, or diffuse it for a soft edge. It. Just. Sinks. And stays like that. Forever. Wonky brushwork and all.

Huh. That's not what I expected.

Tuesday, December 28 : I keep hoping that with more layers of color I'll figure out the trick to master this bleeping claybord. But so far, no success. 

It's hideous. And I don't throw that word around lightly. 

I seriously begin to contemplate washing it all off and starting over. But I'm working under a deadline and I'm worried of running out of time. So I suck it up and go back in for round two.

Wednesday, December 29 : By now I'm starting to panic. This isn't working, I can't do this. I am a no-talent-lame-o and this is the worst piece of art ever created. Ever.

I go spray it off and think of what I can possibly do to make this work.

Thursday, December 30 : I give up on watercolors with this board. It just isn't happening. I go to the art supply store and check out the prices for acrylic paints and come home with a bag full of new paints and brushes.

I'm so excited with this clever answer I've come up with, and my bag full of artsy treats, that I have to resist the urge to skip my way out the store and to the car.

Though I confess I may have swagered a little bit. Just a little.

Friday, December 31 : Two attempts at an acrylic portrait later and I'm about ready to throw my shiny new art supplies out the window. They dry SO fast and I'm SO not used to this, and I'm starting to think that I may have developed an ulcer in the last five days.

That's not possible is it?

I go eat some antacids and try not to cry.

Saturday, January 1 : Who knew that you needed so much white paint when you use a medium other than watercolor? I mean what happened to all that pretty white paper I'd gotten so used to saving and protecting? I miss that pretty white paper.

I go to the art supply store and buy more white paint. This time I feel no urge to skip, I don't even swager. Not even a little bit.

Sunday, January 2 : Typically I don't paint on Sundays, but I make an exception today.

This is it, the last day.

This has to work.

I pray. Hard.

I wake up all of a sudden at 5:00 AM with a very clear idea of what I should do to make this work.

I run downstairs and spend the day working on my brilliant plan.


It works. :) All is well.

I take a break, but only for a little while.

Because you see, I'm DYING to get started on a watercolor portrait. I need to feel at home again. I've missed you, my little aquatic friends.

This is my piece for the International Women Celebrate exhibition. The deadline is today, and I finished with hardly a minute to spare.

Now I think I'll go take a nap. Or play the Wii with my boys. Or eat some chocolate. Or possibly all three. 

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