Monday, May 31, 2010

Poe, Little Me

It's worth repeating that Houston is a wonderful place to live.

This marvelous mosaic is a relatively new addition to Poe Elementary's campus. With a nod to Edgar Allen Poe, there's a raven in the tree canopy. (That's me sitting on the tree branch.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Somebody Els

Els is a friend from the Netherlands. In one of our recent visits, she mentioned that she had some art supplies that she didn't know how to use. In the last few years as an artist, I've learned enough about oil painting to feel confident sharing that knowledge with others. So yesterday, I went to Els' house, and we had a little art lesson.

Els grabbed some fruit out of the fridge for me to arrange a still life.

An inside out cereal box was used to protect the table under the palette.

Plastic knives were used to mix the paint.

And with just a little instruction in the right direction, Els was on her way to painting her first work in oils. Go Els!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Once More

It's hard to decide when to quit, when to stop working a painting. Maybe this will become a "thing", maybe it won't, but I re-worked the Lindsey painting when Lindsey was not here. Basically, I softened the skin tones, corrected the shape of the eyebrow, and worked on the eyes, hair, nose, and lips. OK, I added background color to the wall and futon, too, but that's it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Gracious Lindsey

Aaaah! Today was the first day EVER a non family member posed for me. It was SO intense an experience...for me, at least. Before kind and gracious Lindsey even got here I was nervous. Nervous excitement is what the Amazing Reese calls it. Whatever, I was about to jump out of my skin.

Gracious Lindsey, even if she wasn't on the inside, seemed super relaxed, and sat as still as an apple. She was the perfect model.

During a particularly quiet moment in the studio, Lindsey calmly asked if, as an artist, I felt the tug between compulsion and inspiration. It's a very good question. Am I inspired to paint? Yes. Am I compelled to paint? Yes. Because I'm compelled, sometimes inspiration follows. Sometimes, it doesn't, but strangely, I'm still compelled to paint. Sometimes, inspiration comes first, and then I'm compelled to do my part until inspiration is satisfied.

For this painting, it wasn't until the background was added in that the painting started to come together. That green wall in the studio bounces colors around, and suddenly, it became apparent that Lindsey had some of the same green in her skin. Not in real life, her skin doesn't have green streaks in it, but when the green was added in certain places on her skin, the painting seemed complete. It was a personal revelation.

Next time, I'll also close the curtain a bit to keep some of the harshness of the sun off the face. Lindsey is naturally softer than I painted her to be. I'm choosing to blame it on the sun.

One thing that keeps going around and around in my mind is how will this project proceed? And how will it end? So far, none of these paintings are the same size. Each portrait subject has demanded different parameters. Not verbally, of course, but each person exudes a different energy if you will, and therefore, up to this point, I've used different canvases according to what seemed appropriate at the time.

Does this portrait project require that all the portraits be painted on the same size canvas for the sake of continuity? Technically, "a series" is all painted with continuity in mind. Should I restrict myself artistically? Should I limit myself based on boundaries of canvas size? It's definitely something to consider.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Beautiful Erin

This afternoon was spent finishing the Erin painting that I started yesterday.

This is also one of those paintings where the eyes look at you no matter where you stand in the room. Try it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

45 Minutes

Daughter Erin was in Houston for a quick visit over the weekend. Before she and boyfriend Andrew went back to Austin, she agreed to pose for me. It would have been helpful (for the painting) if we had had more time...but alas, there was exactly 45 minutes to paint before they needed to hit the road.

It would have been great to paint the both of them. It was charmingly prosaic seeing them sitting together, just relaxing.

Based on the last experience, this time I got out the French easel to prop up the canvas, and a small low end table to use for the palette to my right. It was an easier set-up, but still not perfect. Also, the natural light was rather strong.

It would be great to figure some of this out before asking YOU to pose for me.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Diva Hair

In preparation for the hope that some day soon regular people will want to sit for a portrait session, I've started practicing on family members. Here Hilary poses quietly while I paint a simple, stylized portrait of her.

The work went really quickly. The idea is that if non professional models are to pose for portraits, I need to be able to work faster than I normally do, which also might mean that it will be necessary to perfect a simpler style, hence this portrait.

There are still some kinks to work out as far as studio set up goes. As it was today, Hilary was reclining on the futon in the studio while reading a book. At approximately five feet, I sat across from her. The desk top and palette were to my left which didn't work well, as I am right handed. The desk top was also at an awkward position for seeing and mixing the colors properly.

This was painted on a yellow primed panel, which is out of the ordinary, considering that I normally paint on linen, and sometimes cotton. Because the easel was also to my left, it was easier to paint this while the panel was propped up on my legs, right above the knee.

Even though it was afternoon when we started, the sun kept dodging in and out of the clouds so that I found myself constantly correcting the shadows on Hilary's face. Toward the end, I removed most of the shadows to make the painting simpler.

When Hilary saw it, she said, "I have diva hair."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Here They Are

Our friendship began in November of 2006. It's not normal for me to remember such a specific date, but because of this blog, it's recorded. Last year, because of visas and jobs, our Russian friends moved back to Russia. I honestly thought that we would never see them again on God's green earth. But, as small as the world continually seems to be, and thanks to the brilliancy of instant communication on social networking sites such as facebook, here they are. And here we all are.

This little family is extremely talented.

Alexey is an artist.

Masha (Maria Markina) is an opera singer.

And this cutie pie is already learning to speak and read three languages, Russian, English, and German. She loved the tree house. Over and over she said, "It's beautiful. It's beautiful up here."

Alexey and Masha were interested in the grand tour of the Hazel House of Art. After looking at the garden, patio, pond, mural, and paintings, the only thing left was to play the ukulele for them.

They had never seen an ukulele before. Naturally, I encouraged Reese to join me on guitar for an impromptu performance of That's Amore, our signature crowd pleasing performance piece, at the end of which, the internationally acclaimed opera singer sitting in our living room said, "You are so talented." HA! Flattered, but incredulous, I said, "YOU are an internationally renowned opera singer! You've got to be kidding!" She said, "Yes, but that's my work, my job. You are creative and talented and live that way." Thank you...from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

(What really happened was that she has was "Hazeled," a lingering phenomenon that occurs when people are temporarily confused, overwhelmed, and generally delighted by our extremely normal, yet slightly eccentric excessiveness. Others who have been "Hazeled" coined the phrase on our behalf.)

Until we meet again, Счастливого пути.

Monday, May 10, 2010

No Reason

Even living in a big city like Houston, there are bits of wild along the roads and bayous where one can pick blackberries in season. Fresh blackberries just so happen to be delicious when baked in a pie. Yum.

A few days ago, Houston's Art Car Parade temporarily transformed the roadways just west of downtown on Allen Parkway. Our favorite car year after year?....St Arnold Brewery's tie dyed Bentley. The Amazing Reese and I are posing (St Arnold beer in hand) with friend and owner of the brewery, Brock Wagner. Not only does Brock brew the best tasting beer in the state of Texas, he also makes a mean margarita. I speak from experience.

Anna has become a seasonal worker. Last summer she spent working just outside Denali National Park in Alaska. Over the winter, she worked and lived on a dude ranch in southern Arizona. And in two weeks-ish, she'll be working on another dude ranch in far northern Colorado. It will be a while before we see her again, so I'm taking advantage of every opportunity as an excuse to chronicle her short visit at home in photographs (and paintings.) For this photo, she was only going out with a friend for a couple of hours, but any excuse, right?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Poser

Today, sweet darling Anna posed for me. She relaxed and read a book while I painted. Having never hired an artist model before, in my humble opinion, Anna was the consummate professional.

Every now and then, she would giggle and read aloud a passage from the book that tickled her. It was cute, because often, the giggle was just when the paintbrush was poised just so, and I was adjusting the mouth, or the shadow under her nose, or something.

When posing, she was wearing a different top.

One of my grander plans is to start painting a portrait series of friends, neighbors, and quite possibly strangers. If anyone wants to volunteer an afternoon being still and quiet, and have your portrait painted, please either e-mail me or leave a comment. We can then coordinate our schedules.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

It's Bound to Happen

Interestingly enough, even though I recently made an idea list, today is filled with complete distraction as my brain wanders aimlessly in the studio. Occasionally, I stare at the blank canvas on the easel. What is it supposed to be?

Looking at the list doesn't help. At the very least, the hydrangea is planted in a spot where it can be seen from the kitchen and studio windows. That's good.

I go outside to look for pretty things to paint; flowers, leaves, tree branches....nothing seems acceptable. Hilary tells me not to cut the flowers on the hydrangea. "They're too pretty," she says. She's right, of course.

Back in the studio...for what? I squeeze small amounts from tubes of paint on the palette thinking that seeing the oils of various colors and hues will help inspire. Nothing.

I carelessly flip the pages of an art book on the life of Suzanne Valadon. She, like other artists, painted a lot of self portraits. Maybe it's time to work on a self portrait. In this lackluster mood, it would be a morose painting. Nobody wants to see that.

There are several paintings in a state that need tweeking...not today, though.

I read a book. I pray. I play a game of xmahjongg on the computer, and another, and another. I start dismantling the contents of my desk and make a mess to re-organize. Distracted by memories kept in my desk, I notice the house is quiet. I'm home alone, a perfect afternoon to paint, and yet, I do nothing. I think nothing. I create nothing.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

New Jork

The exact beginning of our friendship is unclear. I think we met at a neighborhood garage sale and bonded over gardening. However it happened, our friendship was an instant connection. Her name is Hope.

One lazy Sunday afternoon, Reese and I were walking around Rice, and curiously, we saw an older gentleman standing in the pathway awaiting our arrival in the distance. After pleasantries, he joined us for the rest of our walk. Derek turned out to be a delightful conversationalist, and another instant friendship formed. By the end of our walk, I had put two and two together, and figured out that Hope and Derek are married.

Well, our dear friends Hope and Derek moved to Austin a few years ago, and consequently the opportunities for random or planned get togethers were greatly diminished.

One night last week, Hope and Derek dropped in for an impromptu visit, (they were in town for medical reasons) and stayed for supper -- a perfectly cooked, fall off the bones, delicious coq au vin. Because the downstairs air conditioner was broken, we ate alfresco, and were especially pleased that it was such a pleasant evening.

In turn, they invited us for supper the following night. Now, I'm not one to answer the phone during a meal with friends, but after three phone calls and one text message in rapid succession, I thought it prudent to answer the phone.

The air conditioner had been slowly dying for a few years. Our a/c guy had been injecting it with the a/c version of steroids -- freon-- for several summers in a row. Every year he would say the same thing, "We need to replace this unit." And I'd say, "How long do you think it will last? Can't we just dose it up with freon?" A dose of freon is a fraction of the cost of replacing an entire three ton unit, so he very graciously complied...until this year. This year, the a/c wasn't just mostly dead, it was all dead. No amount of freon could revive it. And the discounted price for a new unit would be $2500. For some gentle readers this might not seem like a lot of money, but for us it was an insurmountable sum.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book, The Tipping Point, he describes a social network of people called connectors and mavens; people who easily assimilate and willingly distribute information that will be helpful to others. I know a few of these people, and called Bill for a/c advice. Bill passed along the number for Ivan. Ivan's first language is NOT English, so I was uncertain whether or not I had properly conveyed that we wanted to buy a used (or quite possible an used -- the inter web verdict is still out on this one) a/c. I'm pretty sure that Ivan said he had a Jork and would stop by the house the following afternoon at four. Four came and went and no Ivan.

At 8:30pm, the phone calls that interrupted our night out with Hope and Derek were from sweet neighbors trying to contact us because Ivan was at the house with an old York 3 ton a/c unit -- ready to install. This "new" eight year old York air conditioner is more energy efficient, quieter, and is all around a better system than we had before. Houston's heat and humidity skyrocketed the very next day, but graciously, we were spared the heat. It's wonderful and cool inside.

The new old Jork was less than one tenth of the discounted price of a new unit. God bless Ivan.

God bless our dear friends, Hope and Derek, too.