This time of year

This special time of year

Now that the main holiday is behind us, I can finally sit with a cup of ginger green tea and regroup - for the next wave that is.  This Christmas was quieter that usual with most of our family unable to be here.  We still put up the biggest tree we could find and lit the house up beautifully.  And, as I sit here writing this post, we have family travelling from afar to see us. Ringing in the New Year will be full of family fun.

Somehow I was better prepared for the holidays this year.  I had my list of shopping prepared.  Actually dedicated one day two days to shop.  Had our packages ready to be mailed with enough time for them to reach there destination - except for Bermuda- but who knew about their postal service - the package is still not there!  Rest of the gifts were wrapped with plenty of time to spare.  All-in-all I felt really good about my holiday preparedness.  

WIP Tender Blue by Helen Shideler

Then there is my painting

Commissions looked after on time. Hoped to finally complete the painting of the blue hydrangea.  Planned to have a good start on planning ideas for my blog and maybe even start a newsletter. Not entirely sure how I let this part of my life and planning get away from me.  These is still 4 days left in December for me to pull this off right?  Along with hosting a baby shower day after tomorrow! And playing with two grandkids! Right? Oh yes, and another commission due the first week of January.  No stress. 

Planning travel

Rather, planning time to plan to travel. And 2018 will require a lot of planning and juggling. So looking forward to all these exciting experiences. A new grand baby in March,  a wedding in Africa in December, plein air conference in Santa Fe in April, annual late August visit to Vancouver with my daughter and her wonderful family. I am so grateful we have the opportunity and means to go where we plan to go this coming year.

Setting intentions

I am planning to set my intentions and goals for 2018. I really love to do this. I put in a lot of time thinking this through and being intentional with what I focus on.  Hmmm, is that why we call them intentions? I write them down at the back of my journal.  The really important intentions may be written down multiple times.  Over and over and then reread multiple times during the year.  Helps me to stay focused on my goals and dreams. 

Keeping grounded

Of of my intentions for a long time was to participate in a drum making workshop. The stars lined up for me this year and I was able to join in a Grandmother Spirit drum making session at Lifestyles Health and Fitness in Hampton.  I totally loved this experience.  The cultural and spiritual journey was exactly what I needed in my life to remember to try to be grounded.  Being “busy" is not good for us.  This workshop helped me to remember to be focused, to be thankful, to be joyful and to be in the moment.  The journey is then celebrated during full moon drumming circles.  

Life is good  

Wishing you and yours the most wonderful of holidays and may your new year be full of happiness and blessings.

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On Watch

It is that time of year when I feel like I disappear.  I have secret commissions that I am working on and of course, am unable to share.  I can share my most recent acrylic painting of a crow - On Watch

Observation Perch by Helen Shideler

From how do I do this - to I got this

When travelling around Arizona last year, I happened upon this crow perched on a rock framed by two tree trunks.  I knew instantly that I planned on painting this scene.  I took a few reference photos... until my subject flew away.   Only the tree trunks that  drew me in felt like brackets and I decided the painting would be stronger without them.

Rocks make me think.  Sometimes too much.  I found I was fretting over them and then realized, jeepers I can do this  and instantly I knew how to approach them.  I know eh? Although I had to take a drive to Michael's Art Supplies first.

All in the technique

I purchased a little bag of sea sponges and formed the underpainting with various shades of grays.  Once I had the rock blocked in, I could see lichen shapes emerging.  I then added shadows to lift the lichens and highlights to make them convincing.  And oh what fun, the subtle shades of mauve, blues and greens brought  the rock to life - so to speak.  

It's healthy to be nervous

I think it is healthy to be nervous when painting.  It really makes you think before you apply paint. And I believe nervous anticipation...preoccupation, obsession, makes you pull from different places and come up with approaches you may not have thought of otherwise. 

My dang easel

And in the middle of everything like deadlines, my dang easel came crashing down once again.  I love that stupid crank easel but i think it is in line to be replaced.  This is the third time it came crashing down sending the ball bearings heaven knows where.  This time the little housing for the ball bearings dented.  I am investigating replacement parts.  But am feeling uncertain. The place where I purchased it did not instill any confidence - fingers crossed.

missing ball bearings

Notice the missing ball bearings? Any recommendations for a good studio easel?

 

 

WIP Amethyst Blues

Earlier in the year, I set out to paint my blue hydrangea in both watercolour and also in acrylics.  Amethyst Blues is the acrylic version.  And it is seemingly taking forever.

WIP Amethyst Blues by Helen Shideler

Honestly, I do not know what I was thinking

Painting the same image twice?? What on earth was I thinking??? This is a rather large painting 30"x30" and I have finally spanned the paint to both side edges.  This feels like quite the accomplishment.  Now, not all the petals in that span are complete but they do have colour on them.  It's interesting, but I find working with acrylic paint more challenging than watercolour.  I can't explain it.  But I find acrylic can be stressful.

The good news? It is really starting to take shape. And another observation?  No matter what medium I work in it is recognizable as my style.  I think it is all about the detail work and colour intensity.

Self doubt for a good reason

I always have more than one painting on the go. Because I love the effect of the pouring process, I have been trying to work out in my head how to replicate or emulate the poured painting process that I use in watercolour in acrylics.  I thought about this at great length. I even dreamt about it.  And then i decided to go in.  After the first pour.  I thought this is pretty ridiculous. Why not just paint it?  

I set it aside and thought what can I lose with one more pour.  Somewhat determined I went through another painstaking masking application. When I started to pour the next layer, well it started to lift and run.  You see the first layer of paint was applied pretty thin.  With acrylics if the paint is not applied thick enough on the base layer it will lift.  Crap. So I let it dry.  Then I decided to apply the paint with a big brush.  Better.  But I came back to my original thought...just paint it.  Forget about the masking compound.

WIP Helen Shideler

And yet again I wondered what I am doing

I removed the masking compound - some of the paint came off with it.  I like that you can see it is the gates at the entrance to the Loyalist Burial Ground in the winter.  I think I "see" this subject as a rich, juicy oil painting.  Not a washed out acrylic.

Lesson Learned

I think the universe was trying to tell me something.  The very first article I read today was "5 unusual habits to keep you growing artistically" by Christopher Gallego. Really good read suggesting things like "Paint some crap" and "do the impossible" such as paint huge and get out of your comfort zone.  Pretty much checked off a few of the boxes with this experiment.  Happy I tried.  I will be gessoing over this one soon and will have a pristine new blank canvas!

 

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Country Garden Favourite

Country Garden Favourite is a traditionally painted watercolour of hollyhocks

Hollyhocks and mallow were a couple of my mothers favourite flowers. And I guess, seeing them through her eyes as a child helped me to gain an appreciation for them as well. I always associate them with an old fashioned country garden.  I truly love these blooms for their beauty and the nostalgia.  No wonder I love to paint them.

Country Garden Favourite hollyhock painting by Helen Shideler

They bring me back to Cape Breton

Good memories.  Salty air. Sunshine.  Wonderful memories of a place that was truly wonderful to be a child in. There is another flower that takes me back there  as well - wild blue flax.  This past summer, I saw it growing in PEI.  I was so happy to see them.  The colour is amazing.

 Speaking of blue

I knew when I started this painting that I wanted to paint the background as sky blue, rather than the background in my reference photos.  The background in the photos was rather dull and I wanted this painting to be crisp and to feel like a warm summer's day.  For fun I googled "Blue Sky” colour.  This really cool page came up in Wikipedia.  So many shades of blue.  So many shades of sky.  

Originally my plan was to do this painting as a poured watercolour.  I changed my mind for a few reasons.  One I was running out of masking compound and two, I wanted to keep the petals delicate and soft.  Pouring can give you hard edges.  There is a way around that, but it requires applying the mask on damp paper.  And maybe three, I often like to draw as I go.  When you pour it is much easier to have your drawing mapped out.  It is really easy to get lost without a careful rendering.

Hope you enjoy this painting as much as I enjoyed working on it.

Social Climber poured watercolour

Poured watercolour of a clematis.  I just had to call this painting Social Climber as there are so many blossoms growing over top of one another.  So many rich shades of blues, pinks and purples.

Social Climber poured watercolour by Helen Shideler

When to say when

There are times when I am unsure to call a painting complete or not.  I find this challenges me more with poured watercolours than traditional painting styles. The paint stains the paper quite heavily when you pour, often creating sharper edges than you can tell during the process.  It is harder to edit the painting while balancing the tone and maintaining transparency of colour. 

When I remove the masking compound, I think the underpainting looks washed out as the mask holds pigment on top.  When you take off the mask this layer of pigment is also removed.  Was never intended to stay, but it is usually quite bold. You sure miss it when it has been removed.

I use my reserved paint from the pouring process to go back in and enhance the underpainting.  This one is a bit different in that I did not pour green just applied a bit with my brush.

Step away from the painting

FIrst is knowing when to say when.  Put the brushes down.  Step away from the painting.   And, really poured watercolours need to be viewed from across the room.  You see the illusion better and not each individual mask or paint application.  All kidding aside,  the further back you are the more dimensional the work appears to be! Pretty cool actually.

A few steps of my painting process in slideshow below

Click to scroll through

This clematis grows in my sister-in-law Teri's magical garden in PEI.  

Magenta Magic

Magenta Magic

is a poured watercolour painting of colour rich hollyhocks. Every time I do a poured watercolour I learn something new. Or re-learn something over and over.  When you remove the masking compound, it changes the colours beneath it.  For some reason the colours dull down.  So weird.  I would have said it was just yellow.  But no, it is that way with most colours. And I really do know this and yet keep getting surprised by it. And that is why I call pouring process underpainting.  Although the finishing brushwork is minimal.

Magenta Magic by Helen Shideler

Magenta or fuschia?

That is the question of the day. These two colours are often used interchangeably and incorrectly. Magenta is somewhat redder and fuscia is more on the wine-ish side.  Just like the plant it is names after. The interesting thing is that when I was trying to photograph this painting, it would change colour depending on the sun shade factor.  In the sun it was fuschia.  No doubt.  But away from direct sun it is definitely magenta.  Had me fascinated and quite dissatisfied with my photography efforts and the effects of warm and cool lighting.

Fun fact.  The same colours go into the mixing of magenta and fuschia 

Work in progress

Below illustrated just a few of the steps in this process.  There are many more steps involved.  But this will give you a sense of how it progresses.  What I think I like most about this process is really two things.  The first is that it gets me into the studio every day.  But mostly it is how dimensional the completed painting is. They quite literally pop off the paper! From a distance they appear quite photographic and yet up close you can see the "legs", dribbles and splatters of the paint.  

I always have to tell my husband to stand back about ten feet.  He is one of my trusted advisors to the question is it done yet.  He will get up close for his inspection and i know the dribbles confuse him.  He'll point them out and I say they are supposed to be there.   HE says oh with a really confused expression.

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Sunshine and Shadows floral painting

This sunshine filled floral painting makes me happy.  It's funny, whenever I think I am finished a painting I will often have self doubt.  That was the case with this one.  I decided to set it aside for awhile and went upstairs to start supper.  When I went back into the studio it stopped me in my tracks.  It was as luminous as I had hoped to capture! And the yellows so sunny. 

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Poured or sprayed paintings

I approached this painting slightly differently by spraying the paint onto the wet surface.  I actually thought that it may be less messy. Boy, was I wrong.  The coloured mist went everywhere. All over my drafting table, the floor and my hands were unbelievable!  I went pack to pouring quite quickly.  The colour saturation seemed to be diffused as well - not at all the look I was going for.  I may say the spray bottles for a misty day painting another time.

Getting the gunk off

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The underpainting revealed

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When you remove the masking compound you also remove a certain amount of the paint you applied.  Sometimes the underpainting is filled with drama at the reveal stage.  Most of the time you have to go back in with some strategic brushwork to make the painting come alive.  Once the centre of the flowers were painting in it really started to take shape.  

Yellow is an interesting colour to pour.  It behaves differently than expected.  Or maybe if was because it was the layer of paint that I sprayed on?  The luminous quality I was trying to achieve was flat.  Some very quick brushwork brought it back to life.

Helpful hint

I use a rubber cement pick up to remove the mask picture to the side.  Shown in the wrapper, before use and after use.

 

Swirls and Ripples Poured Painting

Swirls and Ripples is a poured painting of the koi fish we once had in our pond.  They were always delightful and entertaining.  Some of the fish had individual personalities, well sort of.  Really it was the biggest who would surface first for the food offering.

Swirls and Ripples poured painting by Helen Shideler

I really enjoy the process of producing a poured painting.  You really need to start with a fairly good drawing as the lines and details will soon get lost in the masking compound and puddling paint.

WIP Swirls and Ripples by Helen Shideler

After i have the drawing where you want it, you carefully start to apply the mask to the places where you want to preserve the whites.  Once dry, I will typically spray the painting with a good mist of water before I apply the paint.  Sometimes I will pour on only one colour at a time.  But I do like the way the paint mixes wet in wet.  I make that decision based on the image and what I am looking to accomplish with the pour.

WIP Swirls and Ripples

And after a few pours it starts to look like this

WIP Swirls and Ripples

Helpful hint

Use a rubber cement pick up rubber to remove the masking compound.  Makes a huge difference.

With the masking compound removed the under painting is complete.  TIme to refresh some of the colours, add in some brushwork to sharpen the details and then sign it!

WIP Swirls and Ripples

Amethyst Shades of Blue completed

Being curious means more work

After what seems like an eternity, I have finally completed one of the blue hydrangea paintings! You may remember awhile back I decided to challenge myself to paint the same subject in two mediums. Why, you ask? Because I had an interesting moment of indecisiveness. And I was curious. Normally I know exactly what I want to do, accomplish with a painting.  With the blue hydrangea I was pretty sure it would work best in watercolour.  No wait in acrylic... no wait - what about oils?

Amethyst Shades of Blue by Helen Shideler

It takes two

While working on two different versions of the same subject in two different mediums was an interesting exercise, I found I was growing eager to actually complete one of them.  At first I thought the watercolour painting was the medium to accomplish what I envisioned.  I absolutely love the medium.  It's versatility.  It's depth and the ability to blend in softness.  Love it. And am pretty happy with the result.

More to follow in a few weeks on the acrylic version and why I love painting it as well.

WIP Blue hydrangea in watercolour by Helen Shideler

A bit of trouble in the studio

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This crow can wait

Ok, so I squeezed out all of my paint for this session.  Got out my water mixable medium and proceeded to paint. So freaking weird. The paint was not mixing right. Was not sticking to the surface and "pulled " away, almost receding. I tried and I tried to make it work.  There is a lesson learned folks. Always. Always keep your acrylics separated from your oils.  Just one colour can ruin your day. In this case white.

Doh!!!!!

WIP Amethyst Blues Update 3

Amethyst Blues

I realized that showing a little corner of this painting at a time would not show the full picture of the work in progress (WIP).  This is a rather large painting 30"x30" and the progress feels slow to me. Showing the whole canvas will give you a better idea of the scale and detail. So many shades of blue.

I normally loosely draw my subject and refine it as I go. Interestingly enough, I really think if I spent more time on the initial drawing it may be a bit quicker.  But I am always too impatient and want to dive in.  I try to adjust my approach.  But, you know, after all these years, i guess it is my approach.

WIP Amethyst Blues by Helen Shideler

The humour of Mother Nature

I am sitting on my deck writing this blog post.  One leg in the beautiful sun and one leg in the rain. Literally!  Mother Nature is not quite sure what to serve up today. I must go look for the rainbow.  I am certain there must be one. This is quite freaky, really! 

I have been away much of the summer, as a result, I have not had a lot of time in the studio.  Lets be honest, if the sun is out...I am out.  So being away is really an excuse.  I was so happy to get back at it albeit a little discombobulated.  Smooth was not on my agenda for the day. 

This is how I roll

Lets face it - i am a born klutz. Everything I touched I either dropped or misplaced.  My particular favourite mis-adventure was my brush cleaner.  It is some kind of thick oily soap. So as I was getting ready to clean my favourite Rosemary brush, my elbow hit the open bottle of the soapy stuff. Well it went flying. Upside down.  Which means I had an oily, soapy trail across the floor, over the garbage can and on the counter.  Not a bad word did I say.

What I will say is that it took me 20 minutes to clean it all up.  I hope to heavens I got it all and no one slips on it (most likely me).

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Monthly crow paintings

Awhile back I decided to start an 8"x10" oil painting each week. Just because.  I am actually thinking of taking oils with me to Santa Fe next April and I want to be practiced up .  I decided that one of the painting should be a crow, another should be "Beachy People" and the other two up to whatever I feel like in the moment.  With this plan, the pressure of coming up with ideas diminished somewhat.

I really like this strutting fella.  He wa strutting through our lawn towards a piece of bread I tossed to him.  He was both focused and watchful. Not completely sure it is finished .....