Sunday, December 8, 2013

Back to the Drawing Board

These days I seem to be in a scramble of chalk pastels, family, watercolors, clorox cleaner,  driving, laundry detergent, and violin music.  Odd combo, I know...

I used to think that once my kids were grown I would be able to just sail, but I have determined that the juggling act between family, work, and personal health/growth is like a video game. Just when you feel like you're all that, you are in the next skill level and the bullets are coming a LOT faster and your life is on the line. I have yet to figure out how to stay healthy and get it all done. Missed two art shows this past weekend to ward off illness, but I'm glad I did, as I recovered quickly. (Thanks to my Walgreens pharmacist suggesting megadoses of zinc, only a lingering cough instead of the usual bronchitis.) Hopefully another chance will come at the right time. All I can say is that I hope I'm staying at this skill level for quite awhile and get a lot of practice. Geesh.

The works I have now on my drawing board (other than commissions which I can't share yet) are chalk pastel. I thought I'd talk a bit about the range of process again with this medium, as it really does depend on the subject. This first piece was created from a photo my dad took up in Maine somewhere. I think I might title it "Coming Home", not because it's my home, but because I have been so nostalgic about my hometown in Massachusetts, and really reconnecting these days with family. I want more than anything to visit them. I guess you might say I'm "dreaming of a white Christmas", which was the genesis for this piece.

A new snow fall is so incredibly gorgeous. You can see that in a photo. But unless you have actually experienced it, the divine beauty of how everything turns white, twinkles in the sun, and becomes SO SILENT, except for the squeaking as you walk, you really don't know what I mean. Agreed, I am an idealist and I only lived there as a kid, but I would never turn down winter if it was given to me.

Some of the technique involved in this kind of piece is very similar to oil painting.... Basic, overall shapes and tones were laid down on a paper background that was already a color that would be a good undertone for the colors in the palette. (cool grey) The landscape was laid in with the background colors getting more muted and grey as they got further away.

Then, I used a 'workable fixative' layer to partly fix that bottom layer in, kind of like letting a layer of oil dry, and finally went over it with details and more contrast from the snow, trees, and shadows, especially in the foreground.

The next piece I'm working on is a different animal entirely. In this case, I am working with a very detailed, precise subject. The photo I am working from was one I took in the workshop of Saul Cornell, a wonderful luthier and very precious man who has been a friend and taken care of my instrument and those of my kids and students for years.  For those of you who have never been in a luthier's shop, this video of Saul at work may be delightful to you. I could spend hours in there; it is such a peaceful place of order and passionate focus. I truly admire his patience, grace and care. You will see the small room within his shop where I took the photo below in the video- look for the red walls...

So, here is the photo I took that I mentioned which I fell in love with, and decided to draw...I think it may be like the time I lost my mind and decided to learn how to play the violin. Because it is going to be a bear...

As you can see, there is a LOT of detail, and really no way around it. But, I'm in the mood to hunker down and get myself into some detail these days, so I've at least got a start. In this case, for the pastel work, I used charcoal pencils to lay out the work rather than going straight to the less-detail-oriented pastels, which I did in the previous piece. Instead of laying in large, toned shapes, this piece needs to be treated more as a drawing would be...I worked with the white charcoal first, loosely and lightly, trying to get the basic proportions down, which wasn't the easiest thing I ever did, both with the fact that I'm working with a violin, and also all of those blasted tools in the background! Then, to further define my lines I went over them with a sepia charcoal pencil. Proportion was important here, and I worked by eye, though as I was doing it I was thinking that using a grid may have actually helped. Suffice it to say I did a lot of closing one eye and extending the arm with the pencil and the thumb...and of course there is a lot more of that to go as I go along.

My next step will be to go ahead and lay in the larger areas of tone, like the red wall, the wood table, and the vice and violin. I will need to go back as I do this and double-check the proportions again with everything. Each of those little tools will get defined little by little, first with a base tone and then highlights and shadows. Finally will come the details.

I am thinking of titling this one "Nel Cuore del Maestro", or "Within the Master's Heart" in Italian. Italian, because everything on violin music is in that language, and the meaning is many-fold, which stems from the literal meaning of the instrument being both within the luthier's 'inner sanctum' or shop, and within his heart , (especially fun with the red walls)...Also metaphorically as the violin as having a spirit, or soul. This is also a reference to "The Red Violin"movie, as I mentioned before in my "Transfiguration" post, and that piece. It also has a meaning to me as the violin relating to a person, and the 'master' relating to the divine master, or God, as he works on us in his shop.

So, wish me luck!

News of note- I am still taking commissions for Christmas presents (paintings, packs of cards, etc.)
Pet portraits are a fun gift! Please email me at or call 407-620-1618 to set something up!