Sunday, August 21, 2016

When Your Painting Fights Back

What no one sees when they look at a painting is the battle that occurred in order for it to turn out well enough for the artist to want to show it to anyone.

You wouldn't know it but this painting, which was a commission for the ACE Hotel in New Orleans, survived a war. In spite of careful planning doing pencil sketches and color studies this painting went through a big evolution.

It began with the tree trunk. In the first pass is was too wide and too straight. After narrowing it I began shading it to give it the 3D effect of a tree trunk. Every time I thought I had the trunk looking like a cylinder the colors would sink in (get darker) overnight. I'd return to the studio in the morning and face the fact that I needed to push the lights and darks even farther than I had during the previous painting session.

Just when I was at my wits end a couple of artist friends stopped over for coffee (Chai tea for me) and offered their thoughts. The shading still wasn't bold enough, the trunk didn't look like it had a twist (a hallmark of bayou trees) and the base of the tree was way too narrow.

After my friends left I attacked the trunk for the final time and managed to make all the adjustments needed.

Second pass on the awful clumps of Spanish Moss
Battle won? Ha, I wish!

You know what? As a native of California I've never seen Spanish moss in real life. I've seen it on T.V. and in photos but, I've never been to the parts of the south where it grows much less painted it. My first pass was a complete disaster. The moss looked like heavy ropes of brownish hair. I had no idea what I was doing, no idea at all.  It was a humbling experience.

Once again I reached out and texted a friend from the south some photos of my moss and proceeded to Google "paintings of Spanish moss." Seeing how other artists handled it helped. Then my southern friend got back to me and put her 2 cents in. She informed me that it must be silver/gray and stringy with movement to it.

Final version of the Spanish moss
I tried again and again, each time was closer but it still didn't have the movement it needed. Finally, I decided to run my paintbrush through it using big bold arm movements and contrasting grays letting it get messy. Amazingly it worked. It looked like Spanish moss!

All that was left was to paint in some of the smaller branches and I was done.
The finished painting installed in the ACE Hotel

Reading this it all sounds pretty simple after the fact, but resolving these problems required many hours over the course of two weeks. There were plenty of moments where I wasn't sure if I could pull it off at all. Thankfully, I have good friends with great insights who are happy to share and cheer me on. I'm grateful because in the painting war everyone needs allies. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

What to Do When a Painting Won't Dry and You Have a Deadline

Double Panel Painting for the ACE Hotel
Call Gamblin Artist Colors helpline. Too simple an answer, right?

If you've been reading my blog then I've been talking about a recent commission I completed for an interior design firm. The commission was to paint 4 double panel paintings for the new ACE Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was a dream job except for one thing - the deadline ... a really, really tight deadline.

I paint in oils and the beauty of working with oils is that they dry slowly which allows me to make lots of changes if I need to. That's usually a plus except for when there's a deadline - a tight deadline.

Solution - add a speed dryer to the paint. Which one though? There are plenty to choose from. I chose to use Gamblin's Galkyd Lite because it would speed the drying time to 24-30 hours and retain brushstrokes. Sounds ideal, right?

What I didn't plan on happening was a change in our normal dry, sunny Southern California weather. The month I was working on two sets of panels we experienced a cold snap accompanied by rain. We really need to rain and I was happy to see it however, I knew it would slow the drying time of the paintings. I just didn't know how much it would slow their drying time.
Double Panel Painting Installed in the ACE Hotel

Answer - a lot. Both sets of panels weren't dry at all in 24-30 hours or 36, 48 or 72. Panic.

Now if I was at a plein air event and the panels actually fit inside my car I would "car bake" them. Something many artists do that work the plein air circuit (Can you believe there is such a thing? Well, there is.) What they do is put a wet painting into a hot, sunny car to "bake" it dry. Heck, I've see a buddy of mine line up paintings on his dashboard and "bake" a whole batch!

But these panels I worked on were approx. 60" x 24" each. I do have a big "soccer mom" car but it's not big enough to hold all the panels I finished.

I decided to do the next best thing I could think of. I borrowed two space heaters from my brother-in-law, cleared out my kids bathroom (They don't really need a bathroom, do they?), put the panels inside the room, cracked a window and closed the door. After a few days when they still weren't dry and the deadline was looming I called Gamblin's helpline. Yup, they have a helpline and it rocks!
Panel Packed and Ready to Ship

The gentleman I spoke to was a wealth of knowledge about paint and painting materials. He asked me a lot of questions about what paint colors I used, how much medium I used, what surface I was working on and what the weather was like. After learning which colors dry more slowly than others (turns out titanium white is the slowest) he confirmed that I was doing the right thing. He said keep the air circulating in the room, heat it up, wait and in another day or two they would turn the corner and be dry enough to varnish (which I need to do before shipping them). I also learned that silicone parchment paper won't stick to oil paint - in case I needed to wrap slightly tacky paintings in paper and then ship them, which thankfully, I didn't have to do. He did suggest that next time I use straight Galkyd just to be safe.

Did I meet my deadline? Yes, I did and just in the nick of time too.

What about you, have you ever had to speed dry a painting? how did you do it? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Want Your Own Art Studio? Here's How I Got Mine

ACE Hotel Double Panel Painting
In my last post I talked about the commission I did for an interior design firm. The commission was to paint 4 double panel paintings for the new ACE Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana. Great job, right? I certainly though so until the box arrived.

Looks big enough to hold a coffin doesn't it? The nice folks I was working for shipped the panels to me that I had to use for the paintings. They arrived in this giant box. The panels measured approx. 59" x 12" each. Cool, I thought. Except how were they supposed to fit on my easel that sat in the corner of an office I shared with my husband?

The answer - they didn't. Even if they did they were so narrow that the two panels on the easel at the same time weren't stable enough to paint on. Why two at the same time, because the commission was for one painting across two panels, in other words, a diptic. The paintings were going to be mounted on the front of armiores in the hotel's guest rooms.
ACE Hotel Shipping Crate

The only solution I could come up with was to move them into the garage, prop them up on 2'x4's and lean them against the wall. The giant crate they arrived in also needed to be stored in the garage because once finished, the panels would be shipped to the hotel in the crate.

After a week of working in the garage in my makeshift studio I found I loved it. I didn't have to worry about making a mess or dripping paint onto the carpet in the house. I could step back - way, way back to get a good look at the painting. All the never-ending household chores I always need to get done were behind the closed garage door and completely out of mind, eliminating a major distraction.

Double Panel Painting Installed on an Armiore

I knew I needed to move my indoor studio to the garage. Enlisting my husband and brother-in-laws help we managed to clear enough space for my art supplies and easel. They even installed lights and outlets.

My studio might not be an epic, beautiful shabby chic space with wood floors and north light but, it's mine and I love it. Now that I've been working there for a while I realized that when my studio was in the house I would avoid painting. The space was cramped, there was carpet underfoot, an overwhelming number of chores to finish nearby and my husband and I never agreed on whether the windows should be open or shut.

My Studio

Now I need to figure out a new storage solution for all the large paintings I've been working on. Do you have a studio storage tip you'd like to share? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Ten Tips for Working on Commission

Double Panel Painting for ACE Hotel

In November 2015 I received an email that I didn't believe was real at first. It was from an interior designer looking for an artist to create paintings for a new hotel. I only responded because I thought there was a slight chance it was a legitimate email. The reply I received included a detailed brief, a budget and a deadline ... a really, really tight deadline. 

Did I mention it arrived in November, right before the holidays?

Um yeah, those two kids I have that are in elementary school - they are still small enough to count on me for just about everything plus they are out of school for three weeks during the holidays and they still believe in the big man from the North Pole so, you could say I'm a little busy during that time of year. But I just couldn't pass up this art commission in spite of how crazy my life gets around the holidays.

Why? The project manager said the magic words, "We have several things you need to do when working on this project..." (I won't list the boring details, I'll just say the list was easy). "If you can meet those criteria then just do what you do. We love what you do."

And the clouds parted and the sun shone down on my face - or at least it felt that way. Those words, "just do what you do. We love what you do," took so much pressure off.

Commissions are stressful. They are stressful because I care and want to do a good job. It is all too easy to forget that a collector or interior designer has hired me because they love what I do. The reminder was music to my ears (or eyes since it was in an email - but then again, eyes can't hear).

Anyway, I dove in and worked on the largest paintings I've created so far, two panels side by side 63" x 24" approx. to be mounted on armiores in the guest rooms of the new ACE Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana. Ever been to an ACE Hotel? They are uber cool - seriously. 

It was a great job, a dream job and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. If you're interested I've got some advice.

Here are some tips for working on a commission -

1) Make sure you fully understand exactly what the client expects and carefully read the contract.

2) Make sure you have enough time to meet their deadline.

3) Don't paint something you have no interest in painting. Your lack of passion will show in the finished piece.

4) Draw out your ideas first. When was the last time an artist said that creating an initial sketch ruined their finished painting?
Panels installed in a guest room

5) Color sketches are also a good idea. Resolve the potential problems on a small scale when they are easy to fix.

6) Treat this like a real job because it is. Be professional, put in the hours necessary, keep records, don't send casual emails that start with "Hey!"

7) Keep your client up to date. Send progress reports so they know you are working and are reassured you will meet their deadline.

8) Take a deep breath if a problem arises and refer to #7.

9) When using artist materials made by Gamblin Artist Colors call their help line if you have a question. Their knowledge about painting materials is outstanding!

10) Remember, the interior designer/art collector hired you because they like your work so, just do what you do and enjoy that sunshine on your face.

I'll post more photos of the other paintings I completed for the ACE Hotel in the next few weeks. 

Do you have any tips for working on commissions? Or are have you hired an artist to do a commission and have some tips? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Ten Tips for Painting Without Fear

"In Absence" 24"x18" oil and pencil on panel
Avaliable at

Control. We all want it. We all believe we have it.

So many aspects of painting are about control because we artists are trying really hard to create a decent painting. Control is difficult to let go of.

As a teacher I see control ruin a lot of good paintings. I've seen control ruin a lot of my own paintings.

Where does it come from and why is it difficult to let go of? The short answer - fear. Fear of ruining a good area in a painting, fear of completely failing and creating something that will go straight into the trash. Fear of negative comments about the painting (or a lack of "likes" on social media). Fear of rejection.

Fear ruins paintings too. Fear is always there whispering in my ear. I believe it shouts in my student's ears when they are in my class.

My 6 year old daughter is fearless. She creates anything she thinks of with complete abandon and has absolutely no regard for what anyone else thinks about her creation. She creates to please herself.

Here are a few tips I use to shut the fear up -

1) Remember, it's just a painting. No ones life hangs in the balance if it doesn't turn out well.

2) You paint because you enjoy it. If it isn't fun find another profession that you enjoy because it will probably have a better health plan and a 401k.

3) Start your painting with a plan and then be open to things that happen spontaneously. They might just be the best part of the whole piece.

4) Listen to your instinct. If your gut says, "add blue," then add blue!

5) Remember, you're not working in permanent marker, you can always make changes.

6) Intentionally ruin an area you like (I bet the fear just screamed, "NO!").  Sometimes the most interesting things happen when you destroy an area you really like.

7) If the painting sucks, no one ever has to know.

8) Paint another one. Stop beating yourself up about the failed painting and paint something else. The next one could be the best painting you've ever created because of what you learned from the failed piece.

9) Break the rules. We are artists, it's our job to break the rules, even our own rules. Isn't it written in the handbook somewhere?

10) Paint what you feel like painting. Want to paint a chair because it speaks to you? Don't overthink it and worry if anyone will like it or buy it. Paint the chair.

That said - this is one in a series of chair paintings I've been working one lately. In this group of work I've experimented with different color palettes, edge treatments, texture and larger panels (at least for me). You can see I even scratched into the paint with a pencil to indicate the shapes on the ground. I've been using photo references only as a starting point in the painting process. At a certain stage it's best to put the reference away and only respond to the needs of the painting or what my instincts tell me to do.

There are more in this series of chairs. I find the implied meaning about waiting, loss and potential in an empty chair interesting.

I hope you are out there fearlessly doing what you love!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Crimson Clouds - Sunset Painting - Cloud Painting - Art with Red - Painting with Red - Art for the Home

"Crimson Clouds" 9" x 12" Oil & Pencil on Arches Oil Paper
Available at

Sometimes you just want to paint a moody sunset.

These works on paper are all very affordable. Click the link above for pricing info.

Here's a detail shot showing some of the brushwork and pencil.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Twilight Drift - Oil Painting - Art for the Home - Wall Decor - Home Decor

"Twilight Drift" 9" x 12" Oil & Pencil on Arches Oil Paper
Available at

Recently, I asked my students to study and paint clouds in class. Even though I'd painted several demos. I was so inspired by watching them work that I stayed late to paint this twilight cloud scene just for my own enjoyment.

These works on paper are all very affordable. Click the link above for pricing information.

Here's a detail shot showing some of the brushwork and pencil.