A Year Like No Other

Compass School Vision Board 2020

I’m a proud parent of two Compass School kids. It’s a little charter school in Rhode Island. The school has two missions that attracted me to the place, environmental protection and social responsibility. Teaching kids to care about their planet and how to respect other people’s humanity. At Compass there’s a place at the table for everyone. This charter is no easy task. I believe, like our country, there are a few steps forward and a couple steps back, but always there is the hope to be better.

I’ve been a parent of the school for ten years. My youngest little cherub will graduate this year and with that, will come the end of my tenure at compass. My take away will be the profoundly wonderful parents and staff I’ve met along the way and a true involvement in volunteerism. Volunteering for a school is volunteering for your community. When I began at the school, there was literally a patch of dirt with some trailers for classrooms. When we’d go to the principal with an idea, he’d say go do it. That was always the answer. There was no funding and there wasn’t anyone to take up a task. If you wanted to see something happen at this school, you’d better roll up your sleeves. Finding the other parents with the same passion sincerely changed me. There were about ten of us and we got stuff done. It could be literally painting the exterior of buildings, creating a fair to earn a couple dollars to introduce after school electives, creating a playground, erecting greenhouses, doing yardwork on weekends, manifesting a biodiversity garden and finally real buildings that will stay firmly put on Compass soil for decades to come. There are many of us who feel connected to this place through true sweat equity.

There have been 4 principals in my ten year stay. Think about that. That is not stable. It made for some seriously rocky years, but while that worked itself out, the teachers carried on as if nothing had ever happened. God bless ’em. Six years ago we got a new principal and she is in it for the long haul. You can trust that when the principal is willing to send their own kids to the school. I think of her as a golden retriever pit bull. Most people see the retriever, but look under the hood. She is all pit bull :) I mean this in a good way. She has faced a school system that hates charter schools and a school without buildings. It doesn’t sound too much like a school, but under her administration we have truly flourished.

Six years ago this brand new principal called me into her office and said “I hear you might be able to help me make a vision board”. What? I said. The principal wanted to have a vision board at a vision night where she could guide the parents from where we are to where we want to go. The idea was to have a pen and ask each parent to write a wish for the school and over the years we could see which wishes came true. Talk about the power of some positive thinking, I have seen some amazing accomplishes come to pass.

Here are the past 6 years of visions of the school. Ms. Brandee the principal sends me an email every year “Can you draw the addition of new lockers? How about a couple acres of walking paths? A soccer field? Swing set? Farm stand? Gaga ball court? Lavender labyrinth? Financial funding for a new building? A family dance? Goats? Sheep? Cows? Basketball? Excavating machinery? Cement mixers??? That all sounds well and good, but how in the heck do you incorporate such large ideas into a small piece of paper? Dear me, it’s enough to send an artist to the looney bin. Based on my anxiety alone! But slowly over the last few years, I’ve figured it out. Slowly. I bet if you gave me another ten years I might nail it ;)

2020.

Do I need to say anything more? Forget any real accomplishments like renovating a giant barn which now fits a middle school. None of us have even seen it because of the pandemic. I got the phone call to make a vision board for a vision event that won’t even happen this year. “Could I add some sails that we are using for outdoor classrooms? How about a laptop showing our virtual school? The kids have really enjoyed harvesting the gourds this year…”

Gourds? Gourds? Ahhhhhhh!!!!!!!!

Yes. I have been visually tasked with summing up school during the COVID 19 pandemic. Can I go back to bed? I say that a lot these days. Can I go back to bed and hopefully wake up a year from now? And would it be too much to ask that all my loved ones still be alive with me? …….GOSH!

Well, my solution to any problem I’d like to avoid is humor. I always start there. So for this painting. I started with our good ole Rhode Island Red chickens. They are the only animals left on campus due to the pandemic. Instantly I could envision the chickens running by with masks.

Now… A steaming comet of Covid hitting the school? That might be memorable? How can I leave a reminder of all the crazy rules? A building sized sanitizer bottle? I’m sorry. As much as we’d all like to forget the terrible political season of 2020. I’m pretty sure we will be talking about this one for decades. In fact the school had to double-down on “social responsibility” to remind kids that every person and every family are entitled to their thoughts and beliefs and we all need to work on respect and acceptance… what a nightmare and “great teachable moment” of course :) Some other chuckles are a 6ft tape measure and gourds. You have to love kids. During all this mayhem, they still love the GOURDS!!!!

I’m not sure I needed to create a visual reminder of 2020. I’m pretty sure this year, for anyone who lived it, both young and old, has been unforgettable. But for the kindergarten class that will be graduating 9 years from now, who will be standing exactly where my family stands this year, hopefully they can look back and chuckle.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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HB4116

Autumn is in full throttle.  I have been teaching, sketching, and painting away.  In the next week I will begin to share my more personal artwork, but in honor of Thanksgiving I thought I’d share this lesson plan from my watercolor class.

pumpkin tutorial

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I had some requests for painting pumpkins in my art class, so I devised a lesson that worked solely on glazing techniques.  If you read the tutorial it will walk you through the painting start to finish.

As I sit here, I am nibbling on a piece of pumpkin bread my neighbor gifted me.  It is a wonderful time of year to share such things.  I very much look forward to spending time with my family this Thursday and let’s face it, I can’t wait to eat :)

Enjoy the holiday. I hope you all find wonderful ways to make it your own.

Cheers! or as the Italians in my family say, Salute.

Reflections in Painting

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I found this lovely painting on  the internet and thought it a perfect lesson in painting water reflection.  You get two opportunities to practice water reflection.  One in the background and one in the foreground. So I made a tutorial of how to tackle this painting.

reflection lesson

As usual, my watercolor class nailed it.  I throw all sorts of things at them and they not only execute the concept, but they deliver it in their own beautiful way.  Here were some of the interpretations of the lesson:

CLASS PHOTOS

Ok. You’re turn. Now you give it a try!

Watercolor Techniques: Glazing

Glazing 101 (9)b

For weeks and weeks I have been drilling my students “More water! More water!  Drop the paint into the water and let it ooze, swirl and flow….”   

Well this project is the complete opposite of that.

 

glazing

In order to get those thin washes of color, you have to work very quickly and with very little water in order to not disturb the layer of paint below it.

So, I called this class the “STICK IT TO MARY CLASS”.  Because everyone would not have to hear my water nagging and they could possibly provide proof that you could create a watercolor painting not using the wet-on-wet painting method.  I so wanted to prove my class wrong!

Guess what?  Doing a painting fairly dry with quick layering strokes or glazing – works (however,  I am not admitting that to my students!).

So here is how I laid out this project:

glazing 101b

First you lay-out a very loose sketch. Pretty much, make shapes for where different colors or subject-matter will be.

Second is color-blocking. This very much reminds me of old fashioned paint-by-numbers.   You block your entire image with very simple, very light areas of color. For instance, the yellow flower has shadows in it, but for color-blocking purposes you would simply add a light shade of yellow.  All those details will be GLAZED in later. Another example of this is the splotch of light purple in the upper left quadrant. It is flat and light.  It marks the space where I will later add purple painted details.

Third, you begin to move around the painting adding quick layers of color.  For me, I like to move around and apply the darkest shadows.  The color-blocking step already established my lights.  So, if I then add the darkest darks, I can easily establish the medium tones later.  In the top right corner in the left-hand picture you can see a block of orange.  In the right-hand photo, you can see how I added the shadows between the flower petals to make that part of the image come alive. It went from orange splotch to orange flower petals.

Pretty much, you keep adding layer upon layer, detail upon detail, until you feel like the image is complete in your eyes.

Here’s another example:

glazing 101 c

Can you see how the left-side image looks flat, blocked and like a paint-by number? Do you see how much dimension you can create by adding more and more layers of color?

Here are some of my students. They are at the color-blocking paint-by-number-looking stage…

Glazing students

I can’t wait to see how their paintings come out.

I hate to admit this, but as soon as our classes were over, I rushed home to finish my demos.  I felt like a kid in a candy store.  I just couldn’t resist adding more and more layers.  I didn’t get up from my seat until I had finished both paintings.  Secretly, I found this glazing method extremely addicting :)

In a nutshell, this is not how I normally paint.  I like to use tons of water on my paper so that I get chemistry experiments of paint combining in strange watery ways.  However, I am TOTALLY going to incorporate more of this glazing into my work.  I think the quick movement provided me amazing opportunities to add way more colors than I ever would have, the normal way I paint.  I will definitely be chasing this freedom in future paintings.

In fact, I’ve just started another painting today :)

Understanding Grayscale in Painting

 

I have a student who complains that she never makes her darks dark enough in a painting. It’s a fair complaint. Without intense lights and darks, a painting can look very flat. With this in mind, I created this lesson.

Almost any art store will have a copy of this tool. An artist can place this gadget on top of their artwork and see if they have high contrast which is created by using colors at opposite sides of the value scale.

When we placed the grayscale/value finder on my students work, her work fell in the value 5,6,7,8. Pretty much there was no contrast.

This photo is perfect for studying value and grayscale. Do you notice the intense lights in the center of the image and the intense darks towards the edges? Do you notice that each leaf goes from light to dark but in different ranges?

Every leaf in this image provides a valuable lesson.

Doing this project in only black and white is a terrific way to understand the range of lights and darks in an image. The next level is to try to provide the same range of lights and darks using colors. Icey pink is going to present on the lighter range of the spectrum while eggplant purple will be on the dark. Greens with yellow in them will present lighter than a green with brown in it. It takes a bit of practice and observation, but like blacks and whites, artists need to consider the value of colors.

For this painting demo I created an under painting. If you look at the unfinished painting above, you can see what looks like a blended bulls-eye with yellows towards the center and purples towards the edges. Already, I am setting up my painting to incorporate lights and darks. In the same painting demo you can see particular leaves. Each leaf has darks toward the stem and lights toward the leaf’s edges. Because of the under-painting, the lights and darks of the outside of the painting will not be the same as the lights and darks of the center of the painting.

Towards the end of the class we started to play even more. Using warm colors like yellow, orange and red will make the area come forward while using cool colors like blues and purples will visually make that area of the image recede back. Ever so slightly we added a bit of warm colors to the center of the succulent and put the cool colors towards the outskirts.

Adding warm and cool colors to an image that you might not have attributed to the subject matter is great way to create visual interest.

Ah, there is so much to think about while painting. I hope I’ve shed a little light on the subject (and darks too! :)

Teaching Glazing Watercolor Techniques

Each week I try to find a particular concept to cover during my painting class that I teach. For this particular week I wanted to explore watercolor glazing. There are two different ways to apply watercolor paint. One way is to apply clean water from a brush onto the paper and then drop pigment into the water. The colors bleed and mix together creating unpredictable color patterns and combinations. This technique is called the wet-on-wet technique (wet paper and wet paint).

The other technique popular with watercolor painting is called glazing. Glazing is a fairly dry painting technique. It is a method of applying a coat of watercolor paint on top of an already dry layer of watercolor paint. Because the paper isn’t wet, the paint only goes exactly where you paint it. The beauty of this is that you can color mix the bottom and top layer. So if there was already yellow paint on the dry paper, a quick brush of red paint over it would create orange when the paper dried and a brush of blue would create a shade of green. You can transform an existing image quite quickly and easily.

The artist has to decide when to use each technique. The rooster photograph I provided to my students offers the perfect opportunity to use both techniques.

First,each student fills the entire rooster image with clean water and drops in watercolor in different places. Where the pigments meet, you get beautiful what I call “happy accidents”. It is unpredictable but it’s what makes watercolor so pretty. That’s the wet-on-wet technique.

Next, the students are going to add the detail. Think of all of the feathers and the head. The details are applied sparingly and with very little water. This is when you use the glazing technique.

Below is the Rhode Island Red rooster photo I provided and two paint demos I did during the class. See if you can pick out the two different painting application techniques.

The rooster image truly allows for so many variations of glazing. In total, I painted the chicken 3 times and each painting is completely different!

Here are some of the paintings from my students. You’d think we had 15 different chickens running around in the class!

 

By far, my favorite thing about art making

is that no matter what, each artist provides their own unique expression.

Translucent vs Opaque Painting

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My painting II class has resumed in the new year and our first lesson is a loose abstract play on translucency vs. opacity. Here is a little write-up I did on the project:

translucent vs. opaque

 

Where I find playing with loose shapes and a ton of water free and fun, a lot of my students panick at the idea.  Too funny.  I think the idea of having no control freaks us adults out, but very quickly it is a reminder that you can adjust and work with whatever comes your way.

Gosh, sometimes art is such a great metaphor for life isn’t it?  lol

So we got going.  In essence – “playing”.  Allowing the watercolor paint to flow where it wanted… and seeing what we could find to “pull out” of the painting.

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I started to hear comments about how it truly is easier to draw the negative space or contour of an image.  The focus is on the space between objects as opposed to the objects themselves. You use a different part of your brain which I’d imagine is the special part of the brain.  It feels different and is a great way to exercise that part which we don’t always use.

It was great to see how very different everyone’s artwork turned out.  Isn’t that another great thing about art?  You can all begin in the same place, but wind up in vastly different places.

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It was a successful class.  I could see I had challenged some people and took them out of their comfort zone.

We also discussed changing the opaque color.  What if it was white, taupe or green?  The different look you would get. Also, you could loosely paint with watercolor and after it dried, do another coat of watercolor as opposed to changing to acrylic.  The project is a great stepping stone into experimenting with mediums. How about gouache?

So if in these winter months you are looking for something to do, try it.  And send me a photo of what you come up with!

 

Nothing But Blue Skies

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Back in the US and back to work :)

Below you will find the tutorials on clouds that I provided for my watercolor classes.

The interesting technique I found worth sharing is to add a little pink and yellow to the whites of your clouds as opposed to simply white and grey.  The difference is a wealth of warmth in your painting.

make cloudscloud kindscloud kinds1

These were the demos of the different types of clouds I painted in class that week:

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It’s funny, you spend a week really focusing on something and your awareness becomes tenfold.

Ever since these classes I constantly find myself looking up :)

Painting People

 

I don’t know about you, but I find painting images of people scary and intimidating.  One wrong stroke and whoever you were trying to represent is instead someone no one can recognize.  It could be the smirk in a smile.  An eye being 1/16″ of an inch off… you name it, it’s hard.

As an artist trying to sell work, here’s another dilemma.  No one wants pictures of your kids, aunts or even your dog!  They are highly personal.  I hate to say it, but with images of people who someone doesn’t know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  There’s a good chance you think you have the most beautiful grandchild in the world.  But that can’t be, because the woman right next to you has the most beautiful grandchild in the world.  You catch my drift?

So in my watercolor class I wanted to address adding people to a painting.  However, I wanted to add the “essence” of people without getting too specific.  Here in RI, we are also very familiar with the beach. So why not do an impressionistic painting of people on the beach?

Before each class, I scour the internet finding more than one way to do a painting technique.  I know how I would do it, but is there another way?  A better way?  I came across this tutorial and fell in love with the technique.  If you are at all interested in painting people, give this a view:

Here’s another thing.  If I have learned anything about painting, it’s that there are tricks to everything.  And I want to know what they are!  When you have 50 people in an image, it would take a month to draw each person to scale like in the diagram above.  The diagram above is how a masterpiece should be created, but a quick watercolor study?  There has to be an easier way…

I found this tutorial and I love its simple concept (click on the image above).

RECTANGLE CARROT

In an impressionistic image, you can create a human by first creating a rectangle for the torso and then making a carrot shape for the legs.  A head of course is round, but either way it works!

In my class, we sketched some quick human figures and then got to painting.  The video tutorial I included above teaches how to create human figures using blue watercolor paint that you drop human skin tones into. So you in essence start with a blue man.  We worked on all spectra of skin color, how to add clothing and how to allow the drops of pigment to bleed together giving you simply the “impression” of a person.  While all of this is happening, the blue paint that you begin with, gets pushed to the exterior of the figure.  Can you see the essence of blue as a halo around the figure?  It makes for a more colorful and in-depth image.

I’m not going to lie, painting people is just as difficult as I thought it would be.  But that’s all the more reason to push through the fear and give it a try.  I’m the teacher, and I learned a lot!  I am going to continue practicing.  and maybe next time, I won’t be so afraid to put a person in my painting (and maybe my pet in hope that no one is noticing ;)

Water Color Teacher

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Did I mention I have been teaching adult art classes?

This is new to me.  I have taught art to kids for over twenty years, but adults,  I always kind of shied away from.

The painting teacher at my local guild was retiring after twenty years and they needed someone to take over.  Now seemed like as good a time as any.

This past semester I taught a beginners watercolor class in the evening and an Intermediate all-media painting class Thursday mornings.

It was a bit scary because I had to fill someone else’s shoes. But I am slowly making my way and trying to figure out how to best serve this community.

In the next couple days I will share some of our class lessons.

The class sessions are only two hours.  This means we can’t spend the class drawing, because the point of the class is painting.  So I provide basic break-downs of the shapes of the images. This way we can get right down to it.

The flower shapes here, provide a great opportunity for practicing shadow and depth.  You really have to load the color in to create the illusion.

My lessons on watercolor focus on using tons of water to allow the pigments to bleed together (wet-on-wet technique).  The rest of the time you are lifting paint out to make things lighter and translucent while simultaneously adding more pigment to other areas to darken them.  It’s a dance between adding and removing paint.

Thus far, I have found a few differences between adult and kid students.  Kids just dive in with no concerns, while adults tend to be afraid of two things:  Using too much water and using too much paint.  The water is easy, it’s a fear of losing control.  As adults we cannot predict where that water will go and what it will do which is scary.  The paint on the other hand, is maybe a money thing?  Us adults pay for these expensive high quality paints.  Kids could care less how the paint got there and who paid for it.  I find a lot of adults afraid to really load up their brushes and use a lot of paint.   Where one would want to use a smudge of paint the size of a quarter, some will use the size of a popcorn kernel!  It cracks me up.  I can remember these similar sensations.  It’s hard to be an adult.  We work so hard to not screw up all day, that trying something new can be hard.  Failed experiments can simply feel like a fail, yet it’s the only way to learn.   So this will be my focus.  Loosening people up and helping them to see failed attempts as experiments, not failed works of art.  This will be good for me, because even though I have been painting longer than many. I too am super afraid of failure.  I think showing I am not perfect and am constantly still learning myself is a good thing to share.

I have been researching a different topic for each week.  That usually entails scouring books and web pages for theories.  Boy, there really are all different ways to reach the same conclusion.  I find my own practices have been different from other painters.  This has been great.  I am obtaining a tremendous amount of knowledge on painting simply for myself.  I can now say “here are three different ways of tackling this problem” as opposed to only having “this is what I would do”.  So I am trying new things myself.  New applications keep me young and fresh and excited to continue painting. I’ll pass on some of what I’ve learned in up coming posts.

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I do demos during the classes.  So I have been coming out with two paintings of the same subject.  I thought I’d share, because they never come out the same twice.  That’s the human aspect of art.  The best part.  Being human.

OK.  I have to run… this week we will be learning glazing techniques while painting images of roosters.

  I’ll let you know how it turns out!