Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Without Guile, Daily Paintworks Challenge

'Without Guile'
watercolor 5" x 7"

I talked a little about this before in my post Sunshine, so I won't elaborate too much (or try not to anyway, I'm rather long winded have you noticed? ;)

Last week the challenge for the Daily Paintworks was The Color of Music. I'd been thinking for a while about one of my favorite songs by the Black Keys, 'Everlasting Light', and how it reminded me of my third son. This song could apply to all of my children really, but I associate this song with my youngest.

After he was born I fell into a deep depression. Which seemed so unfair since my heart was full of love for this baby, and all I could think of was that every little thing about him, his soft downy hair, his snuffling sounds against my cheek, his sweet smell that I still can't define filled me with nothing but joy. But still, there was this incredible sadness that I felt weighing me down.

It was the thought of his smiling face waiting for me that got me out of bed every morning. So I let household chores go and sat and rocked him and felt him heal my heart. He's my everlasting light.

Let me be your everlasting light

Sun when there is none

I'm a Shepard for you

And I'll guide you through

I'll hold and never scold

In me you can confide

When no one's by your side

Loneliness is over

Dark days are through

They're through

A train going away from pain

Love is the coal

That makes this train roll

Let me be your everlasting light

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Seven Links Project

My good friend Sandra (who is an amazingly talented artist and an amazingly sweet and funny person) tagged me in the 7 Links Project, which is "To unite bloggers (from all sectors) in a joint endeavor to share lessons learned and create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again."

So, here are my top 7 links in these categories:

Your most beautiful post
Your most popular post
Your most controversial post
Your most helpful post
A post whose success surprised you
A post you feel didn't get the attention it deserved
The post you are most proud of

Then I tag other bloggers and it goes on and on. I think this is a great idea because there are some gems hidden in most bloggers archives so this is a great way to dust them off and let them be seen again.

Here we go!

My most beautiful post - 'Painting With Feeling'  This is one of my favorite paintings because of the memories it brings back to me, and I think that there are few things more beautiful than a newborn baby's tiny hand wrapped around your own.

'Timeless Remedy'
10" x 14" watercolor

My most popular post - 'Motivational Monday - Why Do You Paint?'  This one surprises me with how popular it is, it continues to get more hits than any other post of mine every day I guess because it's a universal question among artists, we're all trying to understand why we feel so compelled to spend time and make sacrifices so we can create. At least I know I am.

'Blue Eyed Innocence'
5" x 7" watercolor

My Most Controversial Post - 'Adventures with Claybord' This was a tough one to pick, I don't write a whole lot of controversial posts, but it was filed under 'ranting and raving' and I sure felt controversial while painting it so there you go.

24" x 24" acrylic on the dread claybord

My most helpful post - Perplexed - a step by step watercolor portrait I think this is the most complete step by step post I have on my blog and I think I was able to get my working process down a little more coherently this time. :) But I also think that any of my posts filed under Motivational Mondays might be helpful when you find yourself ready to strangle your artistic muse, if they'd just show up that is. ;)

10" x 10" watercolor

The post whose success surprised me the most - Ten Things I've Learned From Painting a Self Portrait Lots of comments on this one, which made my day because I was INSANELY nervous to post it. Maybe because we're all a little self conscious, especially when it comes to painting ourselves, or looking at ourselves for extended periiods of time which you kind of have to do when painting yourself. Sheesh!  

8" x 10" watercolor

The Post you feel didn't get the attention it deserved - Valentine This was one of my first successful paintings and I just really like it. And I wrote about my husband, who is awesome and my best friend. :)

10" x 14" watercolor

The Post You Are Most Proud Of - Like No One Is Watching I felt like with this post I was able to write exactly how I felt and that people who read it 'got it', you know? And the painting was a success for me because I was able to put things I'd been studying about edges into practice. Also it's my boy, which I guess is self explanatory. :)

'My Light'
10" x 14" watercolor

This was a lot of fun to look back at my posts and paintings. Now I pass the torch and hereby tag these fellow bloggers. Huzzah!!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Diminutive, and the benefits of working in more than one medium

8" x 8" acrylic on canvas panel

When I was little my parents got me a pony that I just loved. But she, on the other hand, was not too fond of me when we first met. She was very shy and wouldn't let me get too close to her. So I did what any rational ten year old girl would do: I stuffed my pockets full of apple slices and headed out to the pasture to make friends with her.

It took a few days of patiently following after her, and watching her prance away from me, but eventually she let me get closer and closer to her, and soon she was eating the apples out of my hand and following me around.

This painting is not of my childhood pony. The pony in 'Diminutive' belongs to my Facebook friend, Alpha Farm Horses, and when I saw the photo I based this painting on it reminded me so much of my own pony that I had to ask my friend if I could paint her. I can almost feel her warm breath in my palm and the sticky sweet apple slices in my pocket again. Good times. :)

This painting was actually my second attempt. The first painting was a smaller size and MUCH brighter in color. So much in fact that when I finished painting it I stepped back, tilted my head and said to myself:

"Dude. I just painted a My Little Pony."

Pony in Technicolor was not the look I was after. But, being annoyingly persistent, I painted it again, a larger size this time, and really liked the results.

This year I've kind of felt like several different artists crammed into one person. I paint in watercolor, then switch to colored pencil, then back to watercolor, then switch to acrylics, then back to watercolor. . . You get the picture.

Even though sometimes this has made me feel a little, um. . . crazy, it has been really great for me as an artist. Because it requires me to think differently with every medium. Color mixing with acrylics is so much more direct, I can mix brighter colors right off the bat (remember Pony in Technicolor?), and it satisfies that part of me that wants to paint looser and more impressionistic-like.

So, when I go back to painting with watercolors I bring everything that I've learned with acrylics and try to apply it in some way. Which results in more growth, and an appreciation for the familiarity I've gained with watercolors after years and years of work.

And, switching back and forth, always trying something new, is GREAT for keeping artist's block at bay. At least it has been for me, so far. I'll try not to jinx it. :)

How about you guys? Anyone else seen the benefits of working with more than one medium?

Until next week my friends! Huzzah!


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Perplexed" A Step By Step Watercolor Portrait

'Perplexed' 10" x 10"
watercolor by Crystal Cook

Sometimes I just get an itch to paint a simple portrait. I am endlessly fascinated with expression, especially the eyes. I took this photo on a cloudy day, when me and my three boys were at the park a few years ago.  While the two oldest boys ran around the playground, my youngest and I sat under a pavillion where that soft, diffused light bounced off the cement on the ground and back onto his face. 

He was about six months old, and by this point was pretty used to me taking pictures of him a million times a day. But still, he gave me this confused sort of look. Like, why in the world are we sitting in this pavillion taking yet more pictures when we could be out sliding and swinging? Hmmmm?

Suzanne Berry asked me what moves me to paint a specific subject and I guess it's almost always those two things: lighting and expression. Lighting is something I absolutely will not compromise, it has to be inspiring to me or else I will hate the painting process and then the painting will be. . . eh, *shrug*, so-so. Which is really not what I'm going for. ;)

Suzanne also asked me what my feelings are prior to the first instant I put brush to paper. I would say, excited. Because that's when I still have a perfect image in my head of what I want this painting to be, I'm still having all those giddy feelings that prompted me to start the painting in the first place. I can't wait to get started and put all those images, thoughts, and feelings into this piece.

Step One: This is the most important step. I start out by painting the lightest values in the darkest areas. In other words, I start by painting the shadows that give the face shape and contour, but I use a very light value to do it. Here I've used burnt sienna because it has a long range of values that's easy to adjust to just about any skin tone. This is where I flesh out my line drawing and start to develop a likeness.

I go over the burnt sienna with a neutral grey color that I mix out of either burnt sienna, cobalt blue, and permanent red, or brown madder, raw sienna, and french ultramarine. So basically all I'm using to make this grey are three primary colors in varying strengths and intensities. I want this to be a neutral grey, neither warm nor cool, so that later, near the end, I can push the shadows one way or the other.

Then I block in the basic shapes of the lips, eyes, and hair, paying attention to color temperature shifts.

The two main things I'm thinking about right now are: color temperature and facial structure shapes. If I get those two things right then I've already got a head start on the two most difficult aspects of painting a portrait (at least for me).

Step Two: Once I have step one done I tend to relax and play a little bit more. This is probably my favorite part, strengthening the color and picking out areas that I want to exagerate, like the blue on the sides of his nose and between his eyes. Every color that I lay down now will show through in the end (at least to some degree) so this process is a little bit like chess, thinking ahead to my next move and how that will affect the next move and on, and on to the end.

The colors I've used for the skin tones are permanent rose, raw sienna, rose madder, pthalo red, and cobalt blue.

I like to get the eyes finished right away so that I know I've got them right. It motivates me to finish it and to pay attention so I don't mess it up!

Step Three: This is pretty much the same as step two, just taken even further. I'm darkening the values and refining the shapes. I'm being extra careful to just get in and get out when I lay my brush down. So far this has been painted wet on dry paper, softening the edges with clear water just slightly after I lay the color down.

Step Four: The finish! This part takes the most time because there are all those little things that need finishing. And because I set the painting up and step back and look at it about a hundred times to see what else it needs.

I finished the hair with some lifting (I use a stiff oil painting brush that I've cut the ends off of so that it's kind of a little stub) and then some pastel for a few highlights. The colors in the hair are brown madder, burnt sienna, cobalt blue, raw sienna, and sepia.

Something that I'm thinking is important lately is to paint quickly, confidently, and then to not go back in and fuss around. Ok, ok this is something that I've always thought is important, but working with acrylics has helped me understand this even better, and has given me the practice I need to really be able to do it.

So, while there are some things I would have liked to have turned out better I restrained myself from going back in and touching it up because I knew it would lose that sparkle and freshness and I knew that I wouldn't make it any better, possibly worse.

And I like it like this anyway. That's my baby, looking perplexed at something his strange mother is doing. :) I hope you guys aren't getting tired of seeing his portrait, because I'm not going to be stopping anytime soon.

That's my portrait painting process in a nutshell. Hope you liked it. :) 


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Rising Dust, and. . . what's with all the huzzah's?

'Rising Dust' sold
8" x 8" acrylic on canvas panel

So, yeah. I say Huzzah. Kind of a lot. Which got me thinking that I should probably let you guys in on why I say it so much. But first, here are a couple of definitions I found.

huz·zah also huz·za (h-zä)
interj. n.
Used to express joy, encouragement, or triumph.
1. A shout of "huzzah."
2. A cheer.

Huzzah *
Origin: Pirate
Meaning: A term used by pirates meaning "Oh yeah," "Hooray," or "WORD DAWG."
Side Note: Pirates preferred to be called American buccaneers.

*This one is my personal favorite, because I can just picture ye olde American buccaneers shouting "WORD DAWG" while sloshing around their rum. Tee hee. :)

I say huzzah because it makes me happy, just by saying it. It makes me feel like a kid again and as this is the year I turned 30 I need all the help I can get in that area. This word makes me more aware of small victories in my life, when large victories seem hard to find sometimes.

So, when I set down my brush after finishing this painting the other day and saw that it pretty much looked like the painting I was envisioning I whispered a little "huzzah" to myself, even though no one else could hear me.

Until next week my good friends! Huzzah!

Up Next Week: I'm working on a step by step watercolor portrait post for next week, that will talk a little bit more about my process. If anyone has any questions or things they'd like me to talk about in more detail feel free to email them to me (crystal@crystalcookart.com) or leave them in the comments. :D

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