Things have been busy around here for the last couple of months, and not just in the studio. It being summer, all those pesky outdoors maintenance projects like deck painting have impinged on my studio time. But I have gotten a few portraits done, managed to get out for some plein air painting, spent a fair bit of time on figure drawing self-study, attended some life drawing sessions, taught a couple of workshops, undertook to edit and publish the first newsletter for Firnew Farm Artists’ Circle, had two pieces juried into the Second Annual Piedmont Virginian Artist Showcase, and filled a few more pages in my sketchbooks. The little gallery below shows some of this recent work.
Posh | 14″ x 11″, watercolor
Smoke | 11″ x 14″, watercolor (in progress)
Plein Air Study in Sketchbook | Watercolor
Hound Sketch in Sketchbook | Ink and Watercolor
Plein Air at Lake Louisa, Virginia | 5″ x 7″, oils
Plein air in my pasture | 5″ x 7″, oils
There are several commissions/commitments in my queue, a workshop coming up in early August, and still many square feet of deck boards to paint so the rest of the summer will be just as busy!
Sometime last year, I decided to create a nice big sketchbook with fabric covers, pretty end papers, and filled with Bockingford 200 lb cold press watercolor paper. I settled on the size (12″ square), pulled supplies from the ridiculous stacks of fabric, paper, and other things hoarded in my studio over the years, cut the cover boards and paper, stitched the signatures together using coptic stitching (which I’m not very good at), glued fabric on the cover boards, applied end papers, did some decorative stamping, added an envelope on the inside back cover, and voilà: richly-appointed, custom-made sketchbook! All in all, it took me about four hours–a pleasant but very focused evening of creative effort.
It turned out beautifully. So beautifully that I didn’t want to paint in it for fear I’d “ruin” it. So on the shelf it sat for months. But finally I decided I just needed to treat it like any other sketchbook and not be afraid to play in it. So I took it with me to an event and sat all day sketching.
Once I started putting some sketches in there, the fear of messing it up dissipated and now it is my favorite sketchbook to work in. One of the reasons is the paper. Bockingford is a cellulose based paper with (I believe) some rag content, so it is quite affordable and (unlike many cellulose papers) a true pleasure to work on. It is heavily sized so the paint just flows on and sits there dancing around on the surface. Because I used 200 lb weight, it can take a lot of very wet washes with no buckling. It’s especially fun to work on when using granulating pigments because the cold press surface has quite a toothy texture. Granulated pigments settle out beautifully. The only trick to it is that paint lifts *very* easily so glazes have to be done with care. In my opinion, this paper is more suitable for wet-in-wet work rather than lots of glazing, although if you were using staining colors they might not lift so readily.
Here are some of the sketches so far. Have you ever heard how you’re not supposed to wear bright colored clothing when painting because it can reflect on the paper and affect your sense of color? Same is true when taking photos! The pinkish tones visible in the lower half of some of the sketches below are the result of color reflected from my neon pink t-shirt. Oops!
Now that the curse of the unsullied page is broken, I’m looking forward to filling this sketchbook. After which I will make another one similar to it. I recently rediscovered some beautiful fabric I forgot I had that I’ve set aside for the cover. Eventually, I WILL use up all this stuff I have hoarded in my studio over the years! I just need to sketch faster…
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Yesterday my husband and I attended the charity dinner and silent auction for the Project Healing Waters 8th Annual 2-Fly Tournament at Rose River Farm in Madison County, Virginia. PHW is a fantastic program which aids in the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active and retired military personnel through fly fishing and associated activities. I was thrilled to donate a painting to the silent auction (and pleased that it received several bids and went to a new home with a very happy winning bidder).
Image inspired by a photograph from blogger SwittersB and used with permission via Creative Commons licensing.
Although I have donated artwork to past events, this was my first time attending. It was such an enjoyable event–inspiring people, beautiful location, amazingly positive good being done. It is one thing to read about and appreciate the work of this organization. Actually meeting the people involved and hearing the testimonials of the men and women who have been helped and even saved by it puts everything on a whole new level of understanding how it positively impacts the lives of so many. More than once, the speakers of the evening brought tears to my eyes with their testimonials. You can read more about Project Healing Waters here, but I suggest you start with the Testimonials.
About Donating Artwork: Artists are constantly called upon to donate work to support causes. I know many artists who have stopped donating work for various reasons. I like offering a reasonable amount of charity support through my artwork but it’s something that must be limited lest it become all-consuming and burdensome. The way I manage it is to “adopt” groups whose work coincides with my interests and then support only them. Currently, my two “adoptees” are Rappahannock Animal Welfare League (RAWL) and Project Healing Waters. I contribute work when I can for their fund-raising efforts. This approach allows my artwork to benefit the community yet keep the right balance of time spent producing donated vs. paid work. And although my contributions to both groups are modest in the bigger picture, I am a firm believer in that many trickles and streams add up to a big river of support from lots of sources. As they say, many hands make work light.
A year ago, I submitted several portraits to a book project that was to feature 1,000 portraits of dogs of various breeds and created in widely varying art styles. Yesterday, I received notice that the book will be released this month and that three of my pieces are included! They are all portraits of dogs that originally appeared in Doggitude: Lily, Skeeter, and Gnocchi.
The book’s title is 1,000 Dog Portraits: From the People Who Love Them by Robynne Raye. I am excited to see my work included because I believe this beautifully designed, full-color book will appeal strongly to dog lovers. It’s priced perfectly to give as a gift or buy for oneself and I expect it will be promoted widely by the author to showcase her graphic design skills (that being her profession). Hopefully that translates into a lot more exposure for my work and more traffic to my Web site (the author included links to contributors’ sites in an alphabetized Contributor’s List at the back of the book).
Many thanks to Robynne Raye of Modern Dog Design for including my work in this book, which will be available April 15. You can get a preview and pre-order it on Amazon at a special pre-order price. You can also purchase it directly from the publisher, Quarto Publishing Group USA. I’ve ordered a few copies for myself and can’t wait to spend an evening browsing through this delightful book!
You might notice a new link in this site’s menu bar: Workshops.
I’m excited to report that I am scheduled to teach several workshops at MadArts (in Rochelle, VA just south of Madison, VA) in May and June, with more to come. I have taught classes and mini-workshops at my studio and other venues in the past and it’s something I really enjoy doing. Here’s what is on the schedule at this time:
May 7, Sketch Portraits in Ink and Watercolor (Dogs and Cats)
May 25, Sketch Portraits in Ink and Watercolor (Equines)
June 11, Sketch Portraits in Ink and Watercolor (Farm Animals)
Click the Workshops link to get all the details, links to supply lists, and so forth.
These workshops focus strongly on process rather than technique, although I will discuss techniques during my demos (because it’s not like you can paint without using some of the more standard watercolor techniques such as washes, glazing, edge softening, etc.!). Employing a consistent process is one of the most important factors–along with careful observation–in producing consistently good portraits that achieve an accurate likeness. And yet, I get the sense that many watercolorists–especially those with less experience–tend to rely on hope more than a clear plan when painting. By teaching process, I hope that I can help people be more confident in their work and find solid footing from which to develop their skills.
Going forward, I plan to schedule workshops at other regional venues in addition to MadArts. You can get email updates on not just my workshops but other Virginia workshops that I am organizing by subscribing to my Virginia Visual Arts Workshops mailing. Based on subscriber feedback, I may expand the scope to include workshops organized and offered by others as well. The more, the merrier, right? You can subscribe using the form in the sidebar or by clicking here.
Thanks for your continued interest in my art and related activities. Please share this post on social media and elsewhere with friends who may also be interested in taking these workshops or subscribing to the workshop updates list. Happy painting!
I am a big fan of Iain Stewart‘s work and style and therefore have been wanting to take one of his workshops. However, he wasn’t scheduled for a stop in Virginia and I couldn’t afford to travel to the places where he was scheduled to teach. So I thought, why not organize a workshop for him here in my neck of the woods?! I contacted him about this and much to my delight, he enthusiastically agreed. After lots of planning, stressing about venues (adequate ones are in short supply around here), promoting, and fretting about getting at least minimum participation, it all came together last weekend in the quaint village of Washington, Virginia at the Washington Fire & Rescue’s well-lit, comfortably-equipped Hall.
The venue was perfect and we had a nice-sized group: eleven participants including myself. Iain’s max is 20 participants, so I would have liked a few more for his sake but as a small group, we got a lot of individual attention. I just can’t find the downside in that!
Each day was similarly structured. First, an overview and mini demos/sketches from Iain to present key concepts relevant to the day’s work, then the start of a quarter sheet demo painting from his reference photo. After each stage of the demo was completed, we participants worked on our own paintings based on that same reference photo. As we painted, Iain worked his way around the room helping each student individually, offering guidance, advice, and encouragement…and sometimes putting a brushstroke or two on their painting to support his explanations. Some people might not care for that, but I find it helpful in moderation. For example, I was shocked at how much more pigment I needed to use in one case to get to the necessary dark value. When Iain mixed up some color and showed me in a few deft strokes on my painting, it really made the point.
The first day we painted a fairly simple scene of a boat on the water with other boats and buildings on the distant shore. I was pretty happy with my work but getting used to working so wet takes some doing!
The second day, the reference photo was of a few sheep in the rolling hills of Scotland under a blah sky. We changed that up with a plowed field and sunlight that reflected strongly off the sheeps’ backs. What a difference–it was a great lesson in how to go boldly into a creative departure from a rather uninspiring reference photo. My work on this day was my best, I feel.
The third day our reference photo was of a dock in the harbor of a Scottish village. It was an ambitious composition for us, including a winding stone wall, several levels of elevation, buildings, boats, people, and water. Again, Iain demonstrated with his sketch of the scene how to add interesting details that aren’t present in the reference photo. Iain made painting his demo look effortless, but I got a less than stellar start on this so it was my least favorite for the workshop. Even so, I got a good lesson about proper paint consistency and keeping a large area wet and alive.
Kudos to Iain for a well-structured and professionally presented workshop. The pace felt relaxed but we did a lot of thinking, observing, and painting every day. Each day’s subject presented specific challenges which built on what was covered the previous day. We got to observe Iain doing a lot of painting and sketching and got plenty of one-on-one guidance geared to our skill level (which varied widely within the group). Everyone agreed that Iain challenged them to grow as artists.
Iain is a fantastic instructor: friendly, funny, straightforward, and personable. His love of watercolor is so evident. He paints effortlessly, with confidence and good humor. Even when unexpectedly challenged by one participant to show us how he’d paint the mountain mist in a photo she supplied, he rose to the occasion and made it a great teaching opportunity. Watching him tackle that challenge and the other demos, I was continuously amazed at how deftly he handles a brush, how wet he works, how skillfully he manages the bead as he pulls a wash down the page and around saved whites, how he achieves fantastic value range in 3-5 layers, and how he is able to suggest a crazy amount of detail with just a few carefully placed marks. More remarkably, while doing all of that he is still able to talk in depth about his process and offer how-to’s for the techniques he uses. As a bonus, we got to look through a few of his sketchbooks…studying his pencil sketches and quick little paintings is plenty instructive just by itself.
By the end of the third day, we were all mentally tired but very jazzed up by how much we’d learned. Many participants expressed to me that it was one of the best–if not THE best–workshops they’d ever taken. Without reservation, I can say that this was one of the most helpful workshops I’ve taken. It allowed me to experience a couple of important breakthroughs in understanding the process for achieving a more painterly style and preserving freshness and light (which will hopefully be more present in my work going forward). After the workshop, Iain sent a lengthy email of excellent suggestions and tips for advancing our work based on what we learned in his workshop. That was really unexpected and truly appreciated!
So, all in all, a great workshop: much was learned and many new art friends were made! My heartfelt thanks to Iain for agreeing to come to Virginia. Luckily, the natural beauty of this area caught his eye so we are already plotting his return next year for a “Plein Air to Studio” watercolor workshop, probably in the May/June timeframe. If you’d like to get email updates about that workshop or others I am organizing (including the one with Paul Jackson in May, 2014), you can subscribe to my Virginia Art Workshops mailing list here.
I have finally gotten a corner of my studio set up for oil painting, complete with small H-frame easel, glass palette, and all the stuff one needs. Here is a study I did yesterday of Maggie Pickle (1990-2005), my favorite dog ever and constant companion for 15 years.
Maggie was quite a pistol and much bigger on the inside than her 10″ height would lead you to believe. She had several unpleasant and bloody encounters with groundhogs…she never did figure out that she might be outmatched by a creature that was twice her weight and well-armed with sharp incisors and powerful claws. This is a common trait among Jack Russells. Fortunately in her old age, she lived a more quiet life and spent long summer days basking in the hot sun on the deck. When the frailties of old age caught up with her, we made that sad final decision and buried her in a place of honor in the back yard, planted with tulips and daffodils. I still think about her nearly every day. No dog I have had since has quite measured up to the “Maggie Standard” of excellence…I don’t know if any ever will.
As for the study, I am still getting a feel for how to mix colors and handle oil paint. It requires a different way of thinking than watercolor. For example, I never realized how much I rely on watercolor to move and mingle, and how its transparency almost automagically creates light-struck surfaces when you glaze adjacent areas! With oils, that all feels much more manual. It took me a long time of self-study in watercolors to get where I am now. I’ve decided to shorten the learning curve with oils by taking occasional lessons with a very accomplished local artist. The first one is Thursday…in anticipation, I’m both excited and a little nervous.
If you’re a watercolor artist in or near Virginia, I’d love to see you at one or both watercolor workshops I am organizing this year. Both Iain Stewart and Paul Jackson will be teaching in the lovely village of Washington VA…I am so excited to be able to paint with both of these masters of the medium! Click on each image to learn more about the focus of each workshop, the accomplishments of each instructor, location, accommodations, and more. If you have questions, I am happy to answer by either phone or email!
I haven’t done a “real” blog post in awhile here because I have been posting stuff on my Tumblr blog. But New Year, new plans so I’ll post here from time to time when it makes sense. Or I feel like it. You know how fickle us artists are! This post is a collection of bits and bobs, none worthy of their own blog post but which I wanted to share. I stole the idea for the title from a friend of mine who blogs about gaming Thanks, Jester.
Out With Acrylics, In With Oils. Back in October I posted about my exploration of acrylic paints for plein air and studio work. I was quite enthusiastic at the start but over time, the plastic feel and fast drying (despite the use of various retarding mediums, water spritzers, Stay-Wet Palette, etc.) became more frustrating. Then a friend loaned me some oil paints to try and everything I had come to hate about acrylics was no longer a problem with oils. My only concern was drying time since I don’t have a lot of room to store drying paintings in my studio space or home. Enter mediums which as I discovered can allow oil paintings to be dry to the touch within a few days to a week. I can live with that. Also, reading James Gurney‘s book Imaginative Realism: How To Paint What Doesn’t Exist (fabulous book by one of my favorite artists), I saw a photo of a slanted wall with small ledges that he uses to store drying or in-process works. I can install something similar in the spare bedroom next to the studio will address the wet works storage issue nicely! So, I sold all of my acrylics stuff on ebay and reinvested that money (and more, isn’t it always MORE?!) in oils. Having painted a few studies with the oils to get used to them, I can say that I really do love the feel and working qualities so look for more work in that medium from me this year. Below is one of the studies I painted in oils.
Plein Air Ready. I’ve been tinkering with plein air oil painting gear over the last couple of months and finally have a good “grab and go” setup. Everything revolves around a Craftech Sienna medium pochade box with glass palette. That, the tripod, paint, wet panel carrier (which I made from foam core, duct tape, and square dowels) and all other gear fit nicely into a Creativo backpack. It’s not exactly light — maybe 25 lbs — but the pack distributes the weight well and is comfortable enough that I am sure it will do fine for short hikes (especially as I get fitter which is also part of this year’s Big Plan). Most importantly, it’s easy to set up and break down, and with everything in one pack it is also easy to transport. I’m looking forward to doing a lot of plein air painting this year.
2014 Goals. My art goals this year are to produce a DVD on painting dog portraits in watercolor, paint 150 oil studies (both plein air and in the studio), continue to do portrait commissions, and exhibit works in 3 or 4 local shows. I have other painting goals as well but those mainly involve kitchen cabinets, interior stairs, pasture fencing and over 1,000 square feet of decking around the house On a personal level, I am highly focused on weight loss and fitness this year (no more excuses!) as well as aiming to ride several days a week once the weather turns the corner enough that it will actually be enjoyable (I do not enjoy being outside in frigid weather). I have that beautiful, wonderfully trained mule standing in my pasture and it’s time we renewed our partnership and went on some trail adventures together again.
Branding and Career Musings. I’ve been catching up on episodes of Leslie Saeta’s wonderful Artists Helping Artists podcast and thinking a lot about branding, image, community building, and selling my work online. I revamped this Web site late last year but there is much more to be done to address my artistic growth and interests…which is not ALL about dogs all the time because my interests are much more varied than that. So I will be pecking away at refining my “brand” and presence this year. Yet, while I take my art seriously, this IS a retirement career of sorts and is just one income stream that does not have to pay a mortgage or put food on the table. That is a double-edged sword, though…it’s nice not to be pressured but on the other hand it’s easy to slack off when there is no pressure. I DO feel pressure of a sort though, and that is time pressure. As a late starter, I feel that my window for achieving some measure of success and recognition (the definition of which I’m not exactly sure of) is somewhat narrow and that I better not be burning daylight while trying to achieve my goals! So while I may seem driven, it is not the same kind of driven that a serious artist in their 20’s or 30’s would (or should) be engaged in.
New Studio Assistants. I asked for a parakeet for Christmas to live in the studio and keep me company. Enter Pickle, a sweet little green and blue ‘keet. My husband bought another for himself also but since he’s at work all day long, his bird Killer seemed lonely. So we agreed the two birds should live together. While this somewhat complicates their taming, they are happy and are fun to have in the studio with their chatter and play all day long. When I’m sitting at my desk for long periods, they are allowed out of the cage onto their DIY playground, shown below. Of course, now I have to vacuum in the studio every day because boy are they messy! But that’s okay…it’s worth it for the entertainment value and company they provide.
That’s it for this month’s junk drawer. There’s probably stuff I forgot but I’ll leave it for the next junk drawer post. Meanwhile, sign up for my newsletter which shares new work and announces happenings related to my art life. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the signup form.
Recently I decided to explore acrylics as a painting medium. After consuming an overdose of information and watching instructional videos (how did anyone do thorough research before the Internet?!), I decided to go with heavy body (vs. open, which got some reviews from artists I respect that made me decide they weren’t for me).
After purchasing a few tubes of basic colors, some glazing liquid, regular gel medium, a few brushes, some palette knives, a small stay-wet palette and a few other odds and ends, I began exploring. I’m finding that I very much enjoy working in acrylics but it will never take the place of what I love so much about watercolor…that luminosity and serendipity! But I will continue to work in acrylics because I enjoy a lot of what the medium has to offer.
I’m mainly hoping to use acrylics for plein air landscape painting but obviously dogs have a stranglehold on my creative heart! My third ever acrylic painting is this foxhound:
This was painted from a photo I took of a Bull Run Hunt hound at a recent meet, anxiously waiting be let out of the hound trailer so that the hunting day can begin. If you’re interested in purchasing this painting, visit my gallery on Daily Paintworks to buy it with a credit card via PayPal. If you prefer to pay by another method, please give me a shout.
Art and wine make a fine pairing…I guess that’s why my second trip as a vendor to Three Fox Vineyards in Delaplane, Virginia yesterday was just as much fun as the first! This time, the winery was hosting their annual San Genarro Festival, which included food by the local Knights of Columbus group, great music by the Exaggerations, a harvest blessing, and of course lots of people and their dogs.
This time, my husband Mike shared the tent with me, selling his bowls. We had a good day in sales but also a fantastic time! And I purchased the most exquisite raspberry chocolate balsamic vinegar from Olio, another vendor there. It may sound weird, but trust me when I say it is MAGICALLY DELICIOUS!
My thanks again to vineyard owners Holli and John Todhunter and marketing director Susan Rogers for inviting us and making us feel so welcome. If you’re heading out to explore Virginia wineries, be sure that Three Fox is on your list–their events calendar is chock-full of stuff to do and has things scheduled well into December!
Other News: The Iain Stewart workshop I am organizing has been moved to late February 2014 so that we can have it on a weekend in hopes of better participation. Paul Jackson also contacted me about organizing a workshop for him so it’s on the schedule for May 1-3, 2014. I hope you can join us! Both of these guys are fantastic artists and workshop instructors who have a lot to offer in terms of helping artists develop their skills.
On the Easel: I have several portraits in my queue that will keep me busy for a few weeks. Once they are done, I plan to film my “Lifelike Dog Portraits in Watercolor” DVD. This DVD will share my painting process and offer lots of useful information for anyone who would like to paint dogs and other animals in a lifelike manner. Once that’s in the can, I will spend the rest of the winter working on two series of paintings for exhibits in 2014.
Yesterday I got to be part of a great story involving hero husbands, unsuspecting brides, their dogs, and my artwork.
Some time ago, I was contacted by a nice fellow who saw my work and decided he wanted to surprise his wife with a portrait of their dog, a lovely Goldendoodle named Shelby. But he wanted to make the surprise extra special. He suggested that I hang the finished and framed piece in my public studio and he would orchestrate a trip to bring his wife in so that she could “discover” the painting. What a great idea!
Meanwhile, he told a friend about this little plan, and the friend decided he wanted to do the same thing for his wife. They would spring the dual surprise on the ladies at the same time. Seriously, are these guys romantic or what?! Suddenly, I had two portraits to paint and frame, not one!
So I did some quick estimates based on my queue and we set a date. I got to work, staying in touch with the guys by email to report progress as is my usual practice. On the morning of the big day, I hung the paintings. Next to each, I put a small name card in light blue lettering so that they weren’t very noticeable unless you really looked. Here’s how the paintings looked hanging in the studio, on a wall that isn’t visible until you actually come into the studio (the name aren’t visible because I hadn’t made them yet when I took this shot):
I sat in the studio sketching, waiting for the couples to arrive. Fortunately, I looked up just as they arrived at the studio next door. When they wandered into my space, I greeted them all in my usual way. The first thing Wife #1 noticed was my husband’s turned wooden bowls on the counter just below the portraits. As she went over for a look, she noticed the black dog’s portrait. She stared at it for a few seconds.
“That looks just like Boomer!” she said disbelievingly, turning to her husband. His response was a non-committal shrug and nod. (I have to hand it to the husbands…they played it so cool throughout the whole thing whereas I could barely keep from cracking up!) She leaned in for a closer look at the painting and noticed the name plate.
“OH MY GOD, his name is Boomer, too! How weird is that? That is just so weird!” she exclaimed, looking at Wife #2 for confirmation of the weirdness. Wife #2 nodded, kind of confused about how that could happen. Then she noticed the white dog’s painting.
“That looks just like Shelby, too” she said, not quite clear on how there could be a second equally strange coincidence. She looked at the painting for a few seconds then noticed the name cards. “And the name is Shelby too. That is just CRAZY! How could that be?!”
The two women were utterly confused and looked at me, as if for some explanation. “I know,” I said. “Isn’t that crazy?!” It was SO hard not to burst out laughing at that point! Then Wife #2 looked at me, looked at her husband, and looked at the painting, then literally jumped back a foot in shock as the reality dawned on her.
“That IS Shelby, OH MY GOD!” she said in an excited voice, pointing to her arms where all the hair was standing up. Hee hee!
“And that’s really our Boomer, isn’t it?! OH MY GOD!” said Wife #1, looking at her husband questioningly. Of course, he nodded. Then the original conspirator, Wife #2’s husband, finally spoke up and said, “Well it’s about time you figured it out! It’s been weeks of work to make this happen!”
We all had a great laugh while we filled them in on the details of our little conspiracy. Needless to say, the ladies were utterly charmed and thrilled.
I was thrilled, too…how many artists get to participate in something as cool as this where their art features center stage in a fantastic romantic surprise? Not many, I bet! I feel privileged that these two fellows chose me to help them surprise their delighted wives with portraits of their dogs. What an honor! The guys expressed great appreciation for my efforts and I could hear the gleeful comments of the women as they explored the rest of the gallery. A success by any measure!
The whole thing was simply awesome and I was on a high the rest of the day, so thanks for letting me be part of this wonderful thing you did for your wives, Mark and Mike! You guys rock!
And last but not least, here are the two REAL stars of the show, Shelby (top) and Boomer (below):
It was really cute to hear the comments of the couples as they examined the portraits more closely, pointing out the little details that they recognized as being their dogs’ features and appreciating the work. This was a truly special day with truly special clients. It sure is one I will remember forever!
And meanwhile as this was ongoing, my portrait queue was filling up so I had better get back to it…I have a lot of work to do!