Driving through the Bighorn Mountains a few years ago, Bob and I came upon the beautiful scene that so clearly shows the changing seasons. It was very late September, a cold, clear, crisp morning. Off to the right far up the hill some horses were playing, chasing and calling out to one another. It was a very memorable moment for both of us.
Then our brakes on our brand new van glazed over and started smoking - another memorable moment!
I'm calling this one a study because I am already thinking of things I'd like to try to play with the image. I also have this on my wall as a large photograph, but have always wanted to do in in some form of art.
I have moved from working in mainly scratchboard for over a year to doing pastels and acrylic or oil miniature paintings. I've been thinking about why that is, and what my goals for each would be.
1. Scratchboard: I love the extreme detail that is possible with scratchboard. A lot of mine are in black and white so the focus is on light, values, and lost edges - not color. On the downside, since it is a very slow process with many layers of diluted ink it takes a long time. Working from life is not much of a reality for most scratchboard artists. Working from photos can be a problem for me. The tendency can be to just copy it instead of interpreting it. Sometimes I feel the need for an alternative to force me out of it.
2. Pastel: That need for an alternative has led me take up pastel again. My #1 goal for pastels is to practice a much more impressionistic way of working. I love the textures and looseness of pastel painting. I also often prefer things other than brushes for my work: scratchboard tools, pencils, pastel sticks, etc. I also enjoy the color possibilities of pastels. With my limited amount of colors in pastel I have to think more about what colors and values I can get to make the image work within those limits. That is a very good thing! Again, it forces me away from copying the photo too literally. My goal for pastel is to gain enough studio skill that I can move into plein air painting. I tried it a bit this summer, but hadn't yet gained enough of the basic skills to succeed. I'm still working towards a more impressionistic look in them - I suspect I'll be fighting that battle for quite a while!
3. Miniature Acrylic/Oil Paintings: Sometimes I just like to paint and I am enchanted by miniature paintings. This is another area that I became aware of within the last year. I have looked at lots of miniature shows online and studied the guidelines for art enough to have an understanding and appreciation for it. (Minatures have the goal of 1/6 scale or lower, a very flat surface - no impasto, are normally quite realistic, and need to hold up well to magnification since they are meant to be held in the hand and looked at through a magnifying glass.) Plus, I don't currently have enough sales or wall space for larger art. Miniatures, for now, will be a bit more in the hobby stage, just working on them occasionally. As I get a few finished and framed I may submit work to some miniature shows. I'll set next year as my goal. It seems a lot of the very good shows run in the fall and winter.
I'm hoping all these things will mesh together to help me grow in expressing myself as an artist.
This one is titled "Fleeting Brilliance" and is 9x12" pastel on sanded paper. I thought it was finished until I looked at it on the computer. It's not for sale yet because I am going to work on it more later today. When I get the final version I'll switch out this image for the new one, keeping it in this same post to keep the days in order.
The river is our local river, the Raisin River in Monroe County, Michigan.
Last of the day's light over the lagoon at Sterling State Park on a warm summer's eve. I really loved the way the water was catching just a few streaks of red as the sun dropped below the horizon. I almost lost the series of photos through a moment of careless deleting on the camera. Fortunately I was able to run a recovery program on the card and get them back. Once gone these moments in time can never be duplicated (except in art!)
The Pictured Rock National Lakeshore is a magical place of color and textures. We were able to take the boat ride along the shoreline quite a few years back and I have always wanted to do some artwork based on my photos. Here is one of the most colorful. The water there is very cold, deep, clear, and colorful. It is a very beautiful place. It also has many miles of hiking trails, but we didn't do that part. I wanted to see the rock formations from up close at waterlevel. Now to be a kayaker...!
We went to Kentucky to visit some friends and got lost down in one of the 'hollers' as we drove to their house. The road was deep in the woods, down a valley, with a stream too deep to drive running across it - no cell phone reception to call the. Fortunately a few local kids were hanging out down there and were able to give us directions. Turned out if we had been able to cross the creek we would have been on their property. As it was we had to take about a half hour driving around the other way.
But is was a really lovely area with some bright yellow summer flowers dotting the hillsides.
For many years I have enjoyed sitting on my patio in the fall as the sun goes down and seeing the edges of the apple leaves turn to gold from the beautiful backlighting. This pastel painting is my impression of the scene.
Leslie Saeta, from Slices of Life hosts a challenge every now and then for artists to join her in doing 30 paintings in 30 days. I tried this early in the year and stopped after a week or so. Now I'm trying it again starting today. The challenge runs through September so I'm catching it on Day 1.
I'm planning on doing mostly pastels because I could use the practice. My goal will be to focus more on large shapes and impressions and less on details.
This one is a sunset from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, one of my own photo references from a few years ago. It is a 5x7" pastel using soft pastel on Ampersand Pastelbord ™. It's not a surface I have used much. I have several pieces of it, but I'm finding I like working on sanded paper better.
Bob and I went on a short trip to Petoskey, Charlevoix, and Harbor Springs a few weeks ago. It was a very pleasant time with good weather. One highlight of the trip for me was photographing a Common Merganser with chicks resting on a rock along Lake Erie. We saw them at Fisherman's Island State Park.
The scenery was very peaceful and the towns very clean and inviting for tourists. The area also boasts many, many miles of biking trails.
I spent a bit of time on a small watercolor study at a roadside park just north of Petoskey.
Last weekend Bob and I went to the state park: him for kayaking and me for a little more plein air practice.
I decided to try pastels this time. I have so many art supplies from my many years of doing a variety of things, so I'm just experimenting with different things outdoors to see what I like. No decision on that yet.
Here is the beginning sketch with the scene in the background.
And here is the point at which I stopped. I consider this another study. It's about 6x9" I had a bit of trouble at one point. I got all set up, just barely started the sketch, and realized I really needed a bathroom break. Bob was already out on the water so I had to pack everything back in the van and drive over to the restrooms. Then go back to my spot and set up to begin again. Well, thank God for bathrooms - and sure sometimes with I had a painting partner!
Bob finally bought a kayak this year after many years of wanting to try it. He decided on this nice inflatable one. This was his first time out with it: He and the kayak both performed very well. No spills and able to maneuver around the lagoons very well. It was a nice calm day on the water.
A few weeks ago we had a really stormy and windy day. I drove out to Sterling State Park to see the waves and ended up staying to do a small watercolor study. I got thoroughly soaked and cold, but it was still fun. The waves were probably at about 5 feet with very strong wind and driving rain. I was able to sit under one of the shelters to do the watercolor. Good thing or I would have had no artwork at all.
Sterling Storm study, watercolor, about 6x8"
Great Egret sheltering on a stormy day.
I also took some of the best egret photos to date: the storm brought a couple of them into a small pond with more shelter and with the gloomy day I was able to get the brilliant white with a dark background. Perfect for scratchboard and with several really nice poses. Then I almost lost them all by accidentally hitting the delete button on my computer. I found a good 'restore' program after a few tries and was able to retrieve them from the camera card. So I learned a new trick and also got the images back. Whew!!
An afternoon at Sterling St. Pk. - Bob brought his bike and rode the trails while I spent an hour or so painting again (6x9 on oil paper). Again, mostly just putting paint on canvas for practice. It went ok until I was visited in the shelter by a mom and 3 kids - the kids were fine, curious but not unpleasant - the mom not so much. She just yelled at her girls nonstop. The kids mostly just tuned her out - I was wishing I had their skill! But all in all a nice afternoon out. I need to get out in the morning or evening for some better lighting conditions.
I post these as more of a Plein Air Journal entry to document my re-entry into plein air painting. This is a small oil study from the hedgerow across the street, just about a mile from that crooked river. I'm testing my supplies, easel, and set-up in anticipation of doing more work in different locations. I probably spent 45 min. to an hour on this. It's really gloppy up close but looks better from several feet back. When it dries I may scumble that back row of trees with a lighter color to push them back a bit. I'll try this scene again with less paint on the oil paper. It always pleases me and I'm so very thankful we don't have houses across the street. We get some beautiful sunrises sometimes.
This says it all for how I feel most days, except I would add that being alone outside gives me time to remember I am 'in Christ' and can be at peace.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
"Misty Morning study"
9x12", acrylic on canvas board
by Sandra LaFaut
along the River Raisin, Veteran's Park,
donated to Monroe Art League
"Life on the River study"
9x12", acrylic on canvas board
by Sandra LaFaut
Tundra Swan and Common Mergansers
along the River Raisin, Veteran's Park,
from my own reference photos
donated to Monroe Art League
I'll be doing these over in some form for my own use at some point. These are on provided canvas board which I normally never use. I prefer gesso board and possibly oil paint instead of acrylic.
So...on to a few pastel paintings. I succumbed to the urge to buy a 72 piece starter set of soft Unison pastels to go with the hard pastels and pastel pencils I already had. I also purchased some UArt sanded papers and a few pieces of Pastelmat, along with some Pastelbord from Ampersand.
I did 5 small pastels of the same scene on different surfaces. These are the 2 that I liked the best. The rest hit the trash.
This scene is a roadside pullout between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Bob and I were there several years ago and I did a small plein air painting at that time.
The first one is about 6x9 and on UArt 320 and the second is 5x7 on pumice primed gessoboard.
For all the colors I have now I still lacked a color to make the mountains the color I thought they should be. That will be my big adjustment to pastels, never enough colors.