Last May while visiting Stone Harbor, I took an iPhone picture of the salt marshes along the causeway leading to Seven Mile Island, a barrier island along the southern end of the New Jersey shoreline. The marsh grasses were a spring green with some winter browns mixed in at that point.
Last summer, I took a charcoal drawing course and drew the scene of the salt marshes in black and white, with soft vine charcoal on watercolor paper:
Today, I revisited the scene in pastel: 12×18, Canson pastel paper:
This part of New Jersey is so beautiful. I enjoy revisiting it, in person, and in different art mediums. Next, sometime this winter, I will paint the scene in watercolor then oils. By then, it will be time to drive ‘down the shore’ again, as we supposedly say in New Jersey.
What can you learn from a painting with problems? I knew the glass bottle I picked for my still life would be challenging with its transparency and reflections, but I decided to face the challenge with the help of my teacher. I did not anticipate that the folds of the black cloth and the elliptical shapes of the plate and bottle would also be tricky. I felt that the gourd would be forgiving – what’s a bump or curve here or there going to matter? You can draw a gourd that looks gourd-like even if it doesn’t look like that specific gourd in front of you and no one will be the wiser. But if you draw the perspective of a cylindrical bottle or round plate inaccurately, the drawing will look amateurish.
The photo collage shows (clockwise from bottom left) the still life in the studio, an early version of the drawing and a later version after two 2 1/2 hour classes and quite a lot of work at home. The drapery is toned down and blended, the black drape shows through the bottle and the sky is darkened. The whole drawing reminds me of some artists I like: Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley and Charles Burchfield, but I can’t claim that was intentional.
I learned that I need a lot more practice with basic drawing. I learned that folds of drapery are really tricky and that’s why all those Renaissance painters went wild with their virtuoso renderings of draped figures. I learned that using black is worth a whole study of artists like Whistler and Manet. I realized I was right about the gourd. Gourds are forgiving. Just don’t put them on a reflective, white plate seen at a foreshortened angle. Oh, the ellipses!
After you finish your work of art, you have to make some finishing touches. Just Google any of these phrases and you will see that artists think about these issues a lot. Before you see a work of art displayed in a gallery or on a website or in someone’s home, all these things should have happened:
Don’t forget to sign your work (search for ‘artist signature’ posts on the web)
(Seriously it’s easy to forget to do this!)
Don’t forget to use fixative, varnish or other preservative appropriate to the medium
Did you photograph it for your website or records?
Store it somewhere safe until you frame it for exhibit or sale
I am at the ‘store it somewhere safe’ step. The photo collage shows that I have safely ‘stored’ and (Bonus at No Extra Cost to me !) displayed, my two latest charcoal sketches by thumbtacking them to the walls of my studio space. One small pastel still sits on a tabletop easel taunting me: are you done or not? And my biggest recent work, a pastel of Verona, Italy, is clipped to a drawing board, covered with glassine and resting on top of the old wardrobe filled with crafts supplies. That’s me with my iPad snapping the pic of the resting pastel. The wardrobe itself is decorated with oil pastels, paper collage and acrylic sketches, so that’s another way to find storage space for your artistic efforts. Just paint on your furniture.
So anyway, to my friends and family who are super supportive and kind about my late-blooming artistic journey, this is what’s going on. It seems like a long way to get these works framed, exhibited, sold, gifted, turned into cards or pillows or even a proper website. But I am learning a lot and slowly producing work. And enjoying the process. And liking some of the results enough to thumbtack them to the walls without cringing or climbing up to change one more little detail. Progress!
I started a pastel landscape of the Passaic River which runs along the edge of my town as it loops around northern New Jersey. I decided to take a break from the landscape of the Adige River in Verona, Italy which was at the stage where it was driving me crazy. So I thought, just grab the small pastel pad and do a relaxing little sketch based on some pictures and sketches I made last spring. Of course, paintings have a way of taking on an ornery life of their own. Despite its small scale and my promise to myself to just relax, I struggled through a number of issues. I worked on this at home without the guidance of my art teacher. I have reached a stopping point and ‘The Passaic’ was photographed this afternoon in my makeshift kitchen photo ‘studio’ (ha ha, see my previous post about photographing my work for this blog.) ‘The Passaic’ will be wrapped in glassine and put out of reach and sight for now. So here it is, pastel on 9×12 tinted Canson pastel paper.