Still life. Why do I paint it? First, as someone who enjoys the juxtaposition of one item to another, texture against non, play of colors and values, the still life genre satisfies the designer in me. I can get lost in the choosing of subjects and their relationship in my setup.
A treasure trove awaits my choice in nature, found objects, garage sale finds and meaningful mementos of my life and those of others. In a way, I become an explorer in search of the perfect piece that makes my heart race. I become the “Indiana Jones” of still life excavation. The perfect combination may portray a moment in time, elegance, or a story told. The possibilities are endless!
Or maybe I just like being the boss. Yes, I am the boss of each setup from idea to completion.
More importantly, I can appreciate God’s creations in natural items, or the handiwork of humanity in some beautiful pieces. Speaking of a higher power, in the stillness we may connect with who we really art. This is what I experience when I paint these “slices of life.”
In the contemplative still life process of connecting with what I really see, I find myself. I find the higher power. I find God.
~ Lisa Zaccour
Keeping a Sketchbook
Many artists will tell you they’ve doodled-drawn-sketched ever since they can remember. I am no different. I always had pads scattered about with drawings I worked on, especially when I was idle. My sketching came in bursts, but there was no real method to my madness.
I recently attended two programs about “Keeping a Sketch Book.” One by Carol Siracuse of Buffalo, and the other by Bill Mancuso of Ohio. They both came with multiple sketchbooks and numerous materials. Carol makes extraordinary sketches of her world travels. Bill predominately sketches the ordinary in everyday life. Bill remarked that he sketches every day, no matter how late, or how little energy he has at the end of a teaching day. He always gets one drawing in.
As the new year unfolded, I purchased a few supplies and committed to completing at least one sketch a day, no matter how simple or rough. I am on day 43 and so far have sketched my dog, a banana, a cup, a pencil, the TV, etc. Surprisingly, this is what I’ve learned so far:
1.How to simplify my materials.I am an art-materials junkie. I love trying new brushes, colors, papers and mediums. With sketching, I don’t need expensive supplies. I purposely tried to limit my materials so as not to distract myself or to complicate the process.
2.Practicing discipline.No matter what, I manage to get a sketch on a page before I go to bed. It’s an awesome feeling of accomplishment, even after a trying day.
3.My skills are improving.I am beginning to see what is actually in front of me, not what I “think” is in front of me. I see the blemish in the banana, the beautiful colors in a mushroom.
4.How to keep a journal.Bill Mancuso used his sketchbooks similar to keeping a journal. He included ticket stubs, stickers, and weather reports. I’ve never kept an ongoing journal, but now I have my sketchbooks.
5.Living in the moment.My mind has always traveled in many directions at the speed of light. Not surprisingly, meditation has never been my strong suit. When I’m sketching, I stay in the present. I focus on that one item or place and feel incredibly relaxed. I get into an almost meditative state.
6. Learning that life is not a competition.There is a quote from the 1920s poem Desiderataby Max Ehrmann that my grandmother would read to me; “Do not compare yourself to others for you will become vain or bitter.” I am my own worst critic. I can beat myself to a pulp comparing myself to others or worse, to try be perfect. Through sketching I’m learning not to judge but to create. I don’t expect a masterpiece every time, or anytime. I don’t feel any high stakes: I’m not comparing myself to others. I’m not listening to my inner critic. I’m just enjoying myself.
7. Hold on to a memory.One of my favorite Georgia O’Keefe quotes is, “God told me if I painted a mountain enough, I could have it.” Once I sketch something, I can look at it years later and remember the day, how I felt, and what my senses were experiencing.
My sketchbook has become my way of communing with my higher power. I am feeling present, appreciating the beauty in the ordinary, and feeling gratitude for another day. Most of all, I know that there is something greater than myself.
-- Cris Metcalf
As the new year begins it’s always a good time to take stock and gauge our progress, forward or backward. We never stay in one spot. Sometimes it’s necessary to step back before we can move ahead. Though painful at the time, stagnation can provide the catalyst to move forward. This especially applies to creating art.
Last year at this time I felt stuck artistically. Sure, I had taken a few classes in abstract and oil painting, but still clinged to the safety of my acrylic landscapes. But two fortuitous opportunities arose in 2018 that compelled me to step outside the safety of my upstairs studio. The first was an opening at the Main Street Artists & Gallery. The MSA, located in the Hungerford Building in Rochester NY, consists of 17 artists who create art in all mediums and showcase their art in two adjoining studios. It is a wonderfully supportive group—a place not only to do one’s art, but a place where an artist can get feedback on a regular basis, express her frustrations, and feel secure in the knowledge she is among friends who know first-hand the struggles all artists wrestle with. Since joining last February, my life and my art have changed considerably.
The second opportunity was becoming a student of artist Brian O’Neill. Brian’s method focuses on the basics of drawing, which demands repetitive exercises dealing with value and shape, and evolves into more complex renderings. Not only have these classes improved my drawing, they also have brought my painting to a higher level. I’ve learned that there is no substitute for practice and perseverance. Finally, my stubborn nature has become an asset!
To those artists who feel their craft is stagnant or feel stuck in a rut: Seek out a class you can join or a group of fellow artists with whom you can create and discuss your art. We all have knowledge we can transmit to others, and there is so much we can learn from others. Being with artists who share your passion and understand your struggles has brought me immense satisfaction and the desire to continue my art with renewed focus.
The Wonders of Pastel
Do you know what pastels are? They are basically pigment combined with filler and a binder. The amount of filler used controls the hue (the color and shade of that color). Pastels have been in existence since the 15century and the word ‘pastel’ was first used in 1662. In the early 1700’s Parisian’s would commission portraits of themselves in pastel. The invention of cast plate glass made it possible for larger pastels to be created and protected from the environment. Pastels were praised because of their lifelike quality and the way the medium reflects light due to the absence of varnish.
The medium was held in high regard. The number of pastel makers, fewer sittings required by the subject, no drying time, less equipment and lower costs helped to give the medium notoriety. Pastels lost their appeal later in the 1700’s and early to mid 1800’s and were typically used as studies at that time but then regained appeal in the late 1800’s.
Contemporary pastelists are working hard to prove to collectors that the pastel medium is just as valuable and archival as oil paint.
Personally I love to use pastel when painting animals. I find I can create the look of fur more effortlessly. I work on sanded paper called UArt. The UArt is manufactured with a number of different grits but my favorite is 400 grit. It is just coarse enough to hold many layers of pastel. My pastels of choice are mostly Girault and Terry Ludwigs with Caran d’ache pastel pencils. I work from photo reference of images I take myself when visiting zoos or other places like animal sanctuaries.
Yes, pastels are messy. Latex or vinyl gloves help. If you don’t like wearing gloves while working you can use a barrier cream like Gloves in a Bottle, prior to working. Creating a tray made of aluminum foil under your support helps collect stray pastel dust that may fall while you are working.
To spray fix your work is your decision. I personally do not spray fix mine as it tends to darken and dull the pastel. Instead I tap my work over a trashcan to get rid of any loose pastel particles sitting on the surface of the piece. Be sure your framer uses spacers to keep the glass away from the surface of your work.
I know, framed properly and handled with care my pastel paintings will survive a very long time. I also know that they are just as valuable as oil paintings.
Collection of the Artist
Did You Take My Ball?
30" wide x 20" high framed
Contact artist at firstname.lastname@example.org
Little Miss Furia
14 3/8" wide x 20 1/4" high framed
Contact artist at email@example.com
A frog house, and frog paintings, serious and whimsical
Image No. 1 shown here is the final version of a still life that was started in a class. Rochester Art Club show entry rules prohibit class paintings, so I did the scene again (Image No. 2) with the sea and clouds as background.
A young man in Jamaica who calls me regularly often tends to be sad and frustrated because he is brilliant, has Asperger’s syndrome, and is very much underemployed. I sent him the photo of the second painting and he wrote back “I see serenity, that painting inspires comfort.”
Of course, I was happy that the painting fulfilled its intention. Still, I wanted to finish the first version.
The background originally was all black. First I changed this into a stone wall with an arch, then turned that into a Venetian bridge with a canal and boats and the frogs in the dish floating downstream, then tried them in a tornado, and finally, about 11 p.m., I decided to place the face of the painting on my wet palate. The result wasn’t too bad, so I turned it 180 degrees and did it again. With a few more blobs, by 11:30 p.m. it had evolved into Painting No. 1 that you see here and I was done!
There is no end of subjects for an artist to paint. Even limiting oneself to frogs, there are infinite possibilities. My NIA dance teacher and friend Jane Pagano took a photo of frog on her window (Image No. 3), and I decided to make one realistic (Image No. 4) and one free-association (Image No. 5) painting from her image. Both are 6 x 6 inches.
Somehow, I find it especially fun to paint from photos that friends have taken and given to me. A friend gave me a picture of a green pumpkin frog, and it seemed seasonal to combine that image with our new Pittsford canal-side Frog House for our opening on Oc 21.
If you missed it, A Frog House (www.facebook.com/A-Frog-House-244426619570950/?ref=br_rs)
at 65 State Street in Pittsford Village (third house on the left after the bridge walking east on the Towpath from Schoen Place) is open every Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. through Dec. 23. You are invited to visit, where you can donate cash in exchange for my children’s picture book, Froggy Family’s First Frolic
, froggy art work, and frogabilia. All donations go toward helping endangered and threatened frogs through education, including designing and publishing my second book, Froggy Family’s Fine Feelings
, and visits to school classrooms, scout troops, and other children’s groups. Or, please help directly with a cash donation to GoFundMe Froggy Family Fabulous Foundation (www.gofundme.com/froggy-family039s-fabulous-foundation?member=935486
where we already have reached 70 percent of our current goal.
~ Margot Fass