Monday, January 31, 2011

Thursday, January 27, 2011

How to make an artist sweat, just say {{Ektachrome}}

Remember slides?  Calm down, they're gone...

I've just been going through mine, packing them away in fact. I think the days of sending in laboriously labeled slides in plastic sheets may be over, thank goodness. When I think of the boxes of slides I threw away because they came out too reddish, or bluish, or yellow. And I DON'T want to think about all the money I spent.

Here's what I hated about taking slides:


• Finish your work at least a week before the deadline

If taking in natural light....
  • Buy special ektachrome daylight film ($$)
  • Plan the perfect day -  sunny with shade, not too cold. (If in the winter, wait till the weekend since it's dark when you leave for work and return home)
  • Prop the painting somewhere in shade
  • Break off blades of grass that are sticking up in front of the picture
  • Pick it up when the wind blows it over
If taking slides indoors...
  • Buy special ektachrome tungsten film ($$)
  • Find a neutral wall
  • Set up lights and stands
  • Check special color balanced bulbs ($$)
  • Go to store to replace bulb that's burned out. Buy two so they match ($$)
  • Angle lights to eliminate glare (ha!)
  • Set up 35 mm camera on tripod
  • Adjust camera so picture is perfectly square
  • Notice glare on picture
  • Put on polarizing lens
  • Adjust aperture
  • Take several exposures of each image
  • Repeat
The next day...
  • Leave early to take film to 1-day ektachrome lab ($$) before work
  • Fight rush hour traffic to pick up slides after work
  • Look at them on their light table
  • Throw away the box (too-blue, too-yellow, too-dark, too light, too-skewed, too-glarey)
  • Start over
  • Decide a slide is acceptable
  • Mask out background with special silver tape ($$)
  • Take the one perfect slide in to lab to be duped
  • Estimate how many you'll need ($$)
  • Wait 3 days then pick up dups
  • Find out exactly how venue wants you to label slides
  • Print tiny little labels good only for that venue
  • Arrange in slidesheet
  • Put them in a 9x12 envelope with a return postage 9x12 envelope inside
  • Go to the post office to get it weighed
  • Mail 3-4 days before deadline

Things I love about sending jpgs...

  • Finish work up to 1 hour before deadline
  • If it's small enough—scan it. Or...
  • Prop up painting indoors or out (too blue? too yellow? No worries, Photoshop to the rescue! Glare? Take photo on angle, de-skew in Photoshop)
  • Take photo with little digital camera
  • Check it on your computer
  • Adjust as necessary
  • Bring into Photoshop
  • De-skew it, color correct, crop
  • Save original
  • Resize version for venue
  • Name it
  • Attach to application and hit send

I had a whole filing system for my hundreds of slides, sorted by master copies, dups, titles and quality. Endless hours of organizing...but I suppose many of those packets I mailed out did return some great opportunities, so those little square calling cards had their day.

Anyone still using them? Anyone miss them?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Actual vs. digital

It doesn't really seem that long ago that I developed my ideas for paintings by shooting dozens of photos with my heavy SLR, then sending off the rolls of film in little prepaid mailers, then waiting to receive that fat package of 3x5 photos in my mailbox. If I was feeling flush, I might have ordered the 4x6 size. But that must have been long ago, since I had no problem seeing the details in those little photos. But since cameras have gone digital and my eyes have gone south I've been shooting my reference photos with a pocket-sized digital camera and printing out nice big 8x10's on my inkjet printer.

Lately I've somewhat guiltily started skipping the printing process altogether and setting up my laptop next to my work area. I don't know why, but it feels a bit like cheating to me. I like that I don't have to deal with a finicky printer and feed it expensive paper and even more expensive ink.  I can also merge photos and zoom in for detail (sometimes a mixed blessing). And I don't really mind getting paint on my keyboard.

But am I'm heading down the slipperly slope of becoming a {{shudder}} digital artist? I don't think so, my pleasure in the materials is too strong. Give me a 1939 blank canvas and I'm thrilled. A chance to take a woodcut class from an 85 year old master instead of hitting the "print" button? Sign me up.

So I think I'll continue working from printed reference photos and just occasionally supplementing with the laptop for now. I won't let go of the ritual of sorting through stacks of photos easily. There is something contemplative about flipping through the 8x10's and working from them till fingerprints of paint obscure the corners, the information they provide gleaned and translated, and they are dropped to the floor to gather dust and footprints.

Friday, January 21, 2011


It's snowing again, but unfortunately not enough for a snow day. So I'm at work with the consolation that right now the snow is floating like down feathers outside my window, big flakes against the dark buildings and slushy streets, and it's Friday. The snow won't keep me out of my studio this weekend, but two other things probably will. The first is a Saturday class I'm taking with master woodcut artist Walter Feldman  at the AS220 printshop. We have only 3 classes but after the first I'm already thinking it will take a lot more time to learn even part of what he has to teach. I'll post more about his class soon.
Then it's off to the Newport Art Museum to drop off this painting for the annual member's show.

The other thing that will keep me out of my studio this weekend is a frigid forecast for Sunday (high of 18).  I'm usually pretty content in there when I can get the temperature up to around 50, but it will take so much propane ($$$) to get it that "warm" that I'm better off working in my house. Which is ok, I have to work on developing drawings for my new series of paintings, like the study for snails in snow at top.

The sun just broke through but it's still snowing—sunshine on snowflakes, you don't see that too often.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snow day

The gift of a snow day yesterday gave me a chance to explore another gift, the set of pastels I "inherited" from the studio of painter Louise Marianetti. It was a well-used and well-loved set, the hinge broken but the softly worn pastel sticks carefully arranged. Heavy on reds, pinks and light orange it was obviously used for portraits. Not being a portrait painter I needed to rebalance the colors for landscape so sorted through them, adding my own earth colors. It was strange picking up the velvety ovals of color, knowing that the last hands to touch them were Marianetti's adding a stroke to an unknown drawing, and that the next stroke of the pastel would be on mine.

With snow still  falling outside I decided to work on a snow scene using a sheet of Canson paper also from Marianetti's studio.
I haven't worked in pastel for awhile but found it freeing to work quickly and without detail, even though it will take me awhile to get back in stride with it. It's a good winter medium, I just wish they weren't so hard to frame! But that's a problem for another day.

Louise Marianetti's show is now up at the Bert Gallery in Providence until March 19 and I highly recommend it. The work shows the obsessive focus of a real artist. The more you look at her work the stranger and more interesting it becomes, a quality that seems rare today. Don't neglect to look through the rack of unframed paintings by the door, some of the best work is in there. And the exhibit includes some artifacts from her studio, including art supplies and props, beautifully arranged by Cathy Bert.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Drawn to stone and stuffing

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

I was breezing through the RISD museum recently when this sculpture (sadly, I did not write down the label info) raised his stony hand and demanded I STOP.

So I did, and stood mesmerized by the power of that hand.

Today, I went back at lunch to photograph it and then grabbed one of the little folding stools RISD has in the museum and sat down in the peaceful medieval gallery to sketch.

The medieval gallery had been closed for a long time while they expanded the museum and just recently reopened, New and Improved. They even added subtle medieval-style music, which is nice to listen to while drawing. Though the sculptures and paintings only fill two small rooms, I am very glad to have them back on display, since each piece has the potential to suddenly reveal itself, as this one did.

I think I'll spend a more of my lunch breaks drawing in the museum. I don't know why I never thought of it before that sculpture ordered me to STOP.

I also spent an hour earlier in the week in the RISD nature lab drawing a little brown bat. He was pretty cool but a bit (a lot) worse for wear, as are many of the smaller specimens. (I was hoping for some spiders, but most were just little boxes of legs). Of the bats though, my guy was one of the handsomest, a few of the others looked more like roadkill. Who needs taxidermy when you have a speeding Jetta?

But there's lots of cool stuff in the Nature Lab, so that will be a good lunchtime sketching destination too. Maybe if I sit quietly drawing I'll spot the little newt that made a break for it and I can nab it and return it to its nice moist tank.

Hanging out with dead animals is giving me the urge to take some more classes at the Natural History Museum. The specimens there are in better shape since they haven't been checked out like library books by decades of college students.

And if I get sick of dead animals I might just head out to Woonsocket where I hear they have a fine flock of Turkey Vultures.
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