Day 12. Ballet vs. Power Lifting

For today’s painting I referenced the photo I had taken at the Audubon zoo that has been the basis for nearly all my oil flamingo paintings. I wanted to see how the image translated into watercolor. 

I realize I rely so much on texture. Big globs of paint can cover any less-than confident stroke, convey energy and spirit without subtlety. The watercolor forces me to be more intentional with my strokes, more dependent on my own thoughtfulness rather than just sheer power. If oil painting with a palette knife is power lifting, watercolor is ballet. 

Solely because of this 31 day challenge, I have been asked to teach a watercolor workshop at the St. Tammany Art Association in Covington this February. The same day, a former student of mine reached out about a private lesson. I taught my way through college, graduate school, and then six years after. It’s the only thing I ever thought I’d do. But now, so far removed from it, it feels a new thing entirely. And funny too, because I don’t really know what I’m doing. That’s the secret though, isn’t it? To not know. To go into the endeavor open minded, armed with some fundamental principles but devoid of any superfluous and rigid “shoulds”. Art is discovery, action, delight. 

I said yes to the workshop mostly so I could knock the dust off my teaching boots. Just like watercolor, we will see where this goes. 


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Day 11. Baby Bird

Well, it was bound to happen– I couldn’t quite find a way to sneak a bird into this one, but this little guy is my baby bird (don’t tell him, he despises the word baby).

He is adventurous and smart, out-spoken, assertive, unafraid to tell you what he thinks. He asked Santa for a minivan (because he knows I’m on the hunt) and takes at least ten minutes to put on his shoes in the morning because there are so many other interesting things and ideas to discuss on the journey to the shoes.

Hands down, his freckles are the cutest (and I know a thing or two about freckles). He wants to be an marine biologist and an artist when he grows up and would watch Planet Earth all day if I let him. This morning on our walk to school he said, “I feel happy when I draw.”

Every day feels like he’s learning to fly a bit more, like he’s inching out of the nest towards his own independence. Last week, when I let go from the back of his training wheel-less bike and sprinted to keep pace with him, I knew that moment was the stuff of a memories that will last well into his adulthood.

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Day 10. My lost art— drawing

Just before Christmas I splurged and impulse bought myself an iPad with one of those little drawing pens. I’ve not much used it (though I am typing this post on it now despite the fact that even my tiny fingers find the keyboard I’ve attached a bit too small).

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to get back into portraits. I enjoyed my day 1 of this challenge so much, I thought for certain I’d be doing more. The problem is references. I need models. And all my photographs tend to be those super posed, smiley faces that I love to put in frames around the house, but don’t really want to make art from. One can only paint oneself from a mirror so many times before it becomes narcissistic.

Last night I started pinning face references for artists on Pinterest— more resources online than I could have dreamed existed. I used my iPad to sketch a bit. The first drawing is based on one of those references, the second I just made up. The ipad is crazy. It works just like a pen or a pencil or whatever tool you choose– pressing harder makes lines darker, hold it on its side and it creates soft shadows. 










One of the biggest benefits from doing watercolor this month is that I’ve had to return to drawing in a way I don’t with oils. My sketches for oils are just general guidelines with little to no detail. With watercolor, I actually use a pencil (imagine that!) and draw, really draw, something before I add the color. I’m not going to abandon pen and paper, but I think this iPad might help get me back into drawing, you know, like, just for fun.

What does any of this have to do with today’s painting? Well not much. But I did begin a little watercolor painting after today’s of my own little chickadee, Ezra. I used a candid photo I had taken of him last summer on our beach vacation. His eyes are wide, his cheeks sun-kissed, freckles prominent. The photograph is a bad one— so poorly cropped I think it may have even been an accidental shot. But with my watercolors, I want what is left out to be as important as what is there, so the fact that the photo is not even of his entire face was actually appealing. Even with today’s— it’s the details I didn’t add, the simplicity, the editing out before the brush ever hits the paper, that I think makes it all work. I’ve got a handful of these watercolor paintings that aren’t working, that try to do too much or just edit out the wrong things. I don’t know if I’ll eventually have to reveal them so as not to miss a day, but I’m hoping I can let them sit in the “discard” pile while my “keeps” pile continues to build.

Not sure when, but a few portraits will be coming soonish. Not that I’m suggesting that there is any possibility that you might be tired of birds.

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Day 9. Adding Square Footage to that Comfort Zone

Last Saturday I painted at my first wedding of the new year. The bride contacted me over a year ago to set it up. She told me that her grandmother, who lived in a French Quarter apartment, would not be able to attend the reception. She asked if I would be able to paint their second line which went from St. Louis Cathedral to Pat O’s on the River instead of the reception. She wanted her grandmother’s building to be the backdrop of the painting.

I am always hesitant and nervous to do something new, but the more I practice it the better I get at saying yes to things hovering somewhere just outside my comfort zone.

Sadly, the bride’s grandmother passed away before the wedding, but she asked if I would still place her on the balcony of the building.

The whole event was probably my best wedding experience to date. The process was different. I pre-sketched the street scene at home, set up at Pat O’s, then walked the couple blocks to the Cathedral to take photos of the second line. The weather was perfect— more like a Spring day than January, and I followed the parade throughout the quarter snapping photos, which I then used once we made it back to the reception venue. As people danced at the reception, I quickly painted them into the second line scene that I’d created from the photos. It was joyful, different. I had more fun painting than I have had in a while.

Today’s watercolor painting is based on one of the photos I took that day of the brass band. Like that wedding painting, this whole watercolor thing has been a change in my process, a step outside my routine, a small break with my (pretty small) comfort zone. And wouldn’t you know, because of it, my comfort zone is getting a little bit bigger.

Risks are worth taking. I am almost sure of it.

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Day 8. The other one

As promised, here’s the second whooping crane from the original painting (see day 7). I imagine the two being displayed together once they are framed, but I’m open to them going their separate ways. I like today’s painting better than yesterday’s. I was tempted to skip yesterday’s all together and go straight to this one, but I held off so as not to sabotage myself. And yesterday’s, given some space, is definitely growing on me. I’ll need to use all my paintings if I’m going to make it to 31.

Yesterday’s painting

Speaking of lots of paintings (how’s that for a transition?) I made hundreds in 2018. It was my most productive year to date, and I’m ready to take its lessons into the new year. If you’ve enjoyed my work lately or just feel like lending a helping hand, would you consider voting in the Northshore’s Best survey? It takes about two minutes. You just click this link, scroll down to the “People” category and type my name under “artist”.

If you’re able, thanks so much! And if not, no big. I’m most grateful just that you are reading this blog, following along as I navigate this art stuff.

Until tomorrow!

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