Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Third Time's a Charm

When I started working on this portrait commission four or five months ago, it became quickly apparent that whatever I was doing at the time wasn't working. So, the painting got put aside. Occasionally, I would put the unfinished portrait back on the easel and work on it to no avail. In the meantime, I had started work on a second canvas with similar lackluster results.

In order to give the patron the absolute best service, I began work on a third pose and third portrait. After the third try was successful, and with confidence somewhat restored, I re-started work on the first two attempts at painting this sweet little girl. To my delight, all three paintings are now finished to my satisfaction, this one being the first one started and the last one finished.

My intent all along was to give the patron my very best talent and ability. I never expected this result (three paintings) and hope that this little girl's grandmother will regard it as part of my artistic expression and creativity combined with diligent hard work. To be fair, the patron is free to choose from all three portraits which one she would like as per our original contract. She is under no obligation to buy all three, though of course, she may, if she so chooses.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Two Down....

In 1892, Renoir was commissioned by the French government to produce a painting for the newly established "Museum of Living Artists" at the Luxembourg Palace. Author Francesca Castellani says that Renoir then went through a period of stylistic indecision, executing no fewer that seven versions of "Girls at the Piano." The very idea of a commission paralyzed him and made him lose his self confidence.

In a much smaller way, I also experienced a crisis of self doubt while working on my most recent portrait commission. Unlike Renoir's seven canvases, I only produced three. And though mine were all of the same little girl, they were three different poses. What to do with the other two canvases now that the "Young Girl in Red Cowboy Hat" is finished? Well, re-work them....again. Yesterday and today I worked on this painting for the gazillionth time.

There's just a little more work to do before the third painting is finished. Or, it may never be finished. Time will tell.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

This Old Garage Apartment

This garage apartment had been used as an artist studio years ago, with the artist creating in and on every square inch of the space; walls, floor, and ceiling, as seen in the photo. My generous neighbor, Fran owns it. Fran and her husband, Larry were some of the first friends we made when we moved to this neighborhood 12-ish years ago. Fran has a swimming pool, and with proper supervision, repeatedly invited our four daughters over to swim. I fully credit any skill our daughters have in the water to Fran's unfailing generosity.

Fran and I, and a few other neighbors, have been slowly renovating the space with the idea that Fran will be able to rent it out when we're finished. (By slowly, I mean that because of everyone's busy schedules, we only work on Thursday mornings.) It's got loads of potential. So far, in addition to moving old furniture and things out, we've been scraping layers of paint from the wood trim, and have been removing old sheetrock and the wallpaper and cheesecloth underneath that. We're debating whether or not to keep the ceiling as an homage to the former artist, as well as one of the more creative walls.

It's incredibly satisfying to see the work start to take shape.

Believe it or not, there's a possibility (probability?) that I may have an art show in this space in the future (before Fran rents it). Maybe.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Idyllic Reality

In an idyllic world, I have equal time and attention to give to all friends. But reality is not so gracious.

This morning, an unexpected message on our answering machine left me emotionally gasping for air. In order to respond to it effectively would mean cancelling a prior commitment with a friend. I called her at the very last minute to cancel. Ouch.

Did I feel terrible about cancelling? Yes. Was that friend gracious and understanding? Yes. Was I available for everyone today? No.

Momentum and emotion propelled me further into the day; that and a quick prayer. One thing led to another, and another, and it ended up that people and situations just fell into the hours -- in a good way. Inch by inch, row by row, everything was truly coming up roses.

The timing for all of these little details to fall into place moment after moment was nothing short of mind blowing to be a part of -- it felt like I was a bystander in my own life. I couldn't have possibly planned it. I'm not that organized.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Maybe I'm Just Hungry

It's hard to write a good beginning, especially when the one doing the writing doesn't really have anything of value to say. It doesn't seem to stop some people, though. They keep writing and writing. And me? I keep reading and reading....hoping, just hoping that something important will be said; something inspiring or challenging or intellectually stimulating. Alas, there's nothing. Absolutely nothing. The supposed charmed life one is attempting to read about is both full and vacuously empty at the same time.

Some writings I devour, being fed morsel after tasty morsel, a carefully selected turn of phrase here and there like the the meal I occasionally dream about from Brennan's -- turtle soup spiked with sherry, pecan crusted trout, maque choux, and green beans, finished with a handful of pralines stuffed in my pocket on the way out the door as, by then, I'm usually too full to eat another bite. The authors who offer a full course meal like that -- those are the authors I want to read.

Other writings taste like a mouthful of dry plaster, not that I'm speaking from experience or anything. I'm just imagining. Because try as I might, there are just some writings that I can't even chew, much less swallow. Self centered self righteous whiny writers are the worst sort -- and they are everywhere these days. In fact, the very nature of keeping a blog, regardless of content, lends itself to self introspection with a glass of whine. And though this is designed to be a blog about the artistic process with regards to my life, and a seemingly innocuous way to promote myself, that's just it. I am promoting myself. Which hopefully, if anyone is still reading by this point, doesn't ALWAYS taste like a mouthful of plaster, though I really don't know what that tastes like. Honest.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sweet Caroline

This precious little girl is as delightful and effervescent as she is beautiful. This is the (almost) final rendition of her portrait which her grandmother commissioned me to paint four months ago.

Regular readers know that this portrait commission has been quite a struggle over these last few months. Hours and hours have gone into this commission -- too many to count. But with determination, and armed with a preponderance of time and quiet this past week, I spent several more full days working and re-working this portrait. It's basically done, but at this point, I'll let it dry for several weeks and tweak small things here and there. (The red paints always take longer to fully dry.) After the surface is dry, I'll sign it.

It's with a grateful and contented heart that I'm happy to report being very pleased with the mostly finished result. The Amazing Reese likes it, too.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Deep in the Heart

Last night, after a full day of focused work, I took time out to go to the opening of Patrick Palmer's Works on Paper exhibit at Houston Community College. Patrick taught the one class I've ever taken at Glassell, a life drawing class. Patrick patiently and graciously explained, for a whole semester, things about art I had never before heard.

The earrings and necklace I'm wearing in the photo were designed by Karen Olds, who donated them to a fundraiser for a mutual friend of ours, Sam VanBibber, who has breast cancer. Sam can't work for a while, so a bunch of her friends got together to raise money for her living expenses.

The pearls in the necklace and earrings set are spaced such that when wearing them, it feels like I'm wearing a constellation.

So I meet this guy at the opening reception, who did a double take on my name, and said, "Sarah Hazel? Like the color of my eyes - hazel?" (while pulling down his lower eyelid and leaning in so that I could see.) "How'd you get a name like that?" "Well," I said, "I married into it." At which point he reaches down and holds up my left hand to survey that yes, indeed, my ring finger is occupied. He then asks, "Are ya happy with him?" At my "Yes, very happy. You would like him, too" answer, he kicks an imaginary rock and asks, "Are ya sure?"

Later in our conversation, when I found out that he teaches art appreciation at HCC, I immediately said, "Oh! You taught my daughter, Hilary Hazel, last semester." He then pauses, and takes a long, studied look from the top of my gray head to the tip of cowboy boots and back, and then says, "It figures. You would be Red's mom." Then, bless his heart, he tried one more time, "Are ya sure you're happy with this fella?" (while pointing at my ring finger.) To which I replied, "Yes, and once you meet him you'll understand why. Everybody loves the Amazing Reese."

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Flop Flip

Though there are no photos of my recent portrait commission painting flops for you, the gentle reader to see, they stare at me every time I go in the studio. It's been so frustrating to not be able to figure out how to make the "flops" right -- even to the point of wondering if I even know how to paint AT ALL. I'm this close to apologising profusely and giving the patron back her down payment. Only a huge chunk of it has already been spent on supplies for the flops so I would have to come up with some cash to make up the difference. Not cool.

But Hilary agreed to pose for me, God bless her. Not quite remembering how to begin, it was a shaky start. Hilary was patient, even encouraging.

When I paint from a photograph, my technique is different. It's easier to take more time sketching and measuring to make sure that the proportions are correct, and noses, lips and eyes are in the right place. So far, when painting people from life, I have to find the person's space first. And then sketch a loose outline.

And when that's mostly well adjusted, start adding color and re-define the outline, shadows, highlights over and over and over.

Without a doubt, the portrait commission has been whipping my tail - very discouraging, but painting today was a different story.

It was at about this point in the painting process this afternoon, that I thanked Hilary for the 45th time, and realized that TODAY - RIGHT NOW - was a wonderful, even fantastic experience. With a heart full of emotion, I burst into tears right in the middle of painting.

Hilary tried hard not to laugh, but I didn't care. My whole mind, body, soul, and spirit was filled to the brim with gratitude.

And this is it. This is beyond my understanding. Painting today was a true gift from the Creator. There's no other way to explain it.

I'll adjust some things over the next few days. The background is still in an incomplete state. Her nose and skin tones here and there might need some re-adjustment, but for the most part, this is it.