Secret Garden Series – #3 RABBIT

Secret Garden Series -Rabbit, watercolor 18″ x 24″

I am totally celebrating the completion of this painting!  I don’t know if it’s the hundred little details within the painting which are all mini paintings in themselves, the pandemic, going out to protest or helping my kids finish up school, but this painting was so hard to complete!

I think many people look at painters and think “I just don’t get it?  Why are you so obsessed with throwing paint down?”   I have family members that are bewildered.  They wonder how I can complete a painting and within hours I am starting another one.  Well, of course the first answer to this is passion.  When a person is lucky enough to find something they feel passionate about, it’s not work.  It’s pure joy which means most likely you will want to do it over and over again.  But the second answer is more specific to my passion.  I think my giddiness and excitement comes from the idea of a blank slate.

Staring at a blank canvas is exhilarating.  Actually, it feels a little more like a panic, but in a good kind of way.  There is nothing there.  It’s very personal, because from nothing comes something.  I liken it to forcing yourself to jump off the high-diving board.  I take the same deep breathe, pick up the pencil, and I don’t allow myself to turn back.  Now if I am being honest, sometimes it takes me a few days.  Sometimes I walk around the desk.  Sometimes I sharpen over 30 pencils.  I organize my paints.  Maybe pay some bills.  Find weeding that is absolutely essential…

At first I felt really bad about this.  Guilty actually.  I felt like I was wasting valuable time and procrastinating.  But slowly, I am finally getting it.  It is part of the process.  Because if I look at those uneventful days a little more closely, I am actually working.  I am envisioning and dreaming up what will be in the foreground, background, left, right and center.  I am thinking about the mood, the color scheme and slowly collecting reference materials.  This process isn’t tangible.  It’s just me being silent doing what most likely looks like day dreaming. But eventually it manifests.  Like an exercise routine that I appreciate only after I can see it’s effects, I have to force myself to show up, paint and push on.

So the blank canvas is exhilarating, but the other high-point is the completion.  I think that’s why I love photographing the progression of a painting.  Because I get to sit there for a moment and take it in.  There was nothing there and now there is something there; Creation in it’s purest form.  From nothing comes something.  It’s what I love about gardening to.  I dig, cut and push around the earth and then from a baron space, comes life.  It could also be said for parenting too.  They all give me intense satisfaction from creating.

I can already see that working on this series is going to bring me to a different series of work.  For within each of these paintings, I am falling in love with smaller simpler studies.  I wouldn’t have ever found them unless they were part of something bigger, so I am incredibly thankful for all I am learning in every moment.  Needless to say, this little bird is my favorite part of the painting.

Oh boy, I’ve been going on and on and I haven’t discussed all the things I hid throughout the painting!

If you recall, months ago I thought up hundreds of small objects and symbols I wanted to hide within my secret garden. I had tiny pieces of paper everywhere.  I blindly divvied them up into 8 bundles and as I am sketching the painting, I task myself with figuring out where to put the objects.  It’s definitely the child in me.  I feel like the secrets are what keep someone coming back to look again.  And then, there’s always the why.  Why is that there?  To me, it fuels the imagination.

I wanted to strangle myself when I pulled out one of the pieces of paper and I had written Excalibur’s Sword.  Really Mary?  Do I know anything about swords? and where am I putting said sword without ruining my painting?  It’s kind of where it gets fun, because that in itself, is a puzzle I get to solve.  So  first thing to find is Excalibur’s Sword!

Here are some other things to find:  A Swallowtail caterpillar, a House Wren, a compass, snake-eyed dice, a snail, a key , a toy truck, a lock, a White Ermine Moth, a Scottish Thistle, a red apple, a Rumi book, and the Eye of Horus.

I also mentioned I am adding a Latin phrase to each painting.  The phrase for the rabbit painting is  “Non ducor duco”.  Which means I am not led, I lead.  I love this quote.  But  for laughs, I juxtaposed it with a pointing hand plaque which suggests leading one in a certain direction.  funny right?  Geek humor.

For the first time, I am really feeling good about my work.  I am feeling personally connected to the subject matter which gives me sense of purpose.  I can also see a path forward which makes me feel at ease.  I guess I could equate it to becoming comfortable in my own skin and owning my voice and vision.  Long time coming….Can I get an AMEN!!!

Secret Garden Series – #1 Raccoon

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Secret Garden Series – #1 Raccoon  watercolor 18″ x 24″

It feels so darn good to finish a painting!

Not to mention, it sort ended up how I imagined.  I finally got enough “garden” in there to feel “Secret Gardeny”.

Here’s a good visual of how I started with the small studies and now I am continuing with large paintings.  The small studies allowed me to work out a bunch of ideas:

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So now that I have completed the first large painting, I can better explain what I envisioned.

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Months ago, I had the idea to try and create artwork that marries all the things I am passionate about.  It’s taken years to figure that out, but here they are:  Color, Animals, Gardening, Flowers & Fabric.  Then, I had another idea.  What if I created my own secret garden where I could hide objects for people to find?  That to me, would make it more fun and “secret”.  The photo above shows tons of little pieces of paper where I worked out what objects I’d like to hide. I’m using them now as cues for each painting.

So take a look again, the painting has a bunch of things to look for.

 

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Find:  A puzzle piece, a dragon fly, a feather, a skull, blue berries, a teacup, a spider, a seashell, mushrooms and a lock.  I also decided I am going to place a Latin phrase in each image.  For this one, I selected “Memento Vivere” which translates to “Remember to Live”.  You know, like life is short so your really ought to go for it :)

I’ve heard twice now that this would make a great puzzle.  …Oh man.  Why hadn’t I thought of that?  It really would!  When I’m done with the series, I am going to have to search for how to submit my images to puzzle companies. That would be awesome.

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This is my favorite part of the image. If and when I ever find time, I’d like to go back and try this as it’s own painting:

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So that’s it.  File this one away and get cracking on #2 which is The Owl.  Off I go!

A Bevy of Birds

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A Bevy of Birds  –watercolor 22″ x 30

Can you tell I had fun painting this painting?  Like I just couldn’t stop?  Well, why not add just one more itty-bitty thing?  lol.

This is my first large painting since I started working on my Secret Garden series.  What’s funny, is I am pretty sure I will not include this painting in the series.  I initially thought pottery would be a great perch for the birds I wanted to paint, but now that it is completed, I realize the painting has nothing to do with a secret garden and overall, it’s a BIT BUSY!

On the flip side, it’s a fun painting.  All the birds came out “cute” which wasn’t the plan, yet whimsy is my overall take-a-way.  I just couldn’t help it.  Pick one bird?  I  can’t pick, I love them all!  I also played with symbols of good luck which are hidden throughout the painting.  There is a #7, a shamrock, a silver spoon, a robin’s egg, a heart, a wishbone, a red apple and a lady bug.  There’s also a bumble bee and fuzzy caterpillar because why stop there???

bird painting

Yeah,  I think I went a little crazy adding as much as I did.  I should have added a kitchen sink for an extra chuckle.

Ultimately, I think I have a better idea for what to do with this image.  I should isolate the images within the image.

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See, like this. I made a mock up of note cards.  This allows your eye to take a break and focus on each object.

Like the rest of my life, I think I’m in control and going in the direction I choose.  If I have learned anything in my brief forty-something years, I AM NEVER IN CONTROL.  I just enjoy the detours and try getting back on the course I’ve selected.  Who’s to say I know what’s better for me than the universe does? 

I have NO CONTROL over the deadline, but one day I will finish what I set out to do and until then I will have a lot of cool things I encounter along the way.

Like the medium of watercolor.  I  have to laugh and just go with the flow :)

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2nd Set of Secret Garden: Birds

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5×7″ watercolor study for Secret Garden Series

This is the final 8th concept.  Birds. Birds. Birds.  My favorite!  At any given moment, I can stare out the window and be brought back to nature.

The challenge for me, is that birds are rather small and generally far apart.  How do you wrap them all into a strong composition? Here are a few attempts, but I have to say I haven’t found a concept I’m truly content with …

birds

Right now I am beginning another concept for birds.  I’m sketching a layout of pottery and then adding birds into the composition.  I’m hoping this is the winning idea.  It will be personal because I adore pottery making.  Now, to figure out how to add the Secret Garden element.  hmm…

 

2nd Set of Secret Garden: Owl & Snake

 

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3rd attempt – 5×7″

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2nd attempt- 5×7″

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1st attempt 8×10″

The Owl concept has not changed too much from it’s original conception.  However, there were some things I wanted to work out.  In the second attempt, I was focusing on enlarging the owl and trying out a different color scheme.  In the third attempt I wanted to see how it would look with old cedar shakes.

Overall, as I go forward, I am going to take this learning curve with me.  I am leaning towards keeping the building monochromatic so as to have the animals and flowers be the things that stand out and I will most likely enlarge the Owl.  Because I was working so small, I didn’t do much foliage, so I will beef that up in the next attempts as well.

As I get larger it is going to be fun to hide things within the painting.  I’m looking forward to that.

…onward and upwards!

 

2nd Set of Secret Garden: Peacock

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5×7″ study for Secret Garden Series

You simply can’t have an imaginary garden without a peacock. You just can’t!  One of our local farms has peacocks roaming freely.  I can’t help but follow them around. They intrigue me to no end. Gosh darn it, they are exotic looking and so much fun to paint!

Below are two different studies I have completed.  Newest to the left.

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I like the change of venue for the peacock,  but the Egyptian scarab is just too blatant.  I have started a third series of sketches and wound up changing it entirely.  I do like the blue and white wall painting though. Something like that will resurface in the new one.  That, and I’m adding a Siamese cat. Because let’s face it, I kind of have an Asian animal theme going on, so why not!

2nd Set of Secret Garden : Foxes

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For those of you not following my story, here it is.  As an artist, I decided to take on a year long project.  I’m titling it My Secret Garden Series.  Reason being, I’ve slowly deduced over many months and years that I have a great love of nature, gardening, animals, the mystical, the symbolic, color and fabric design.  How could I wrap them all into one project?  I came up with the concept of a secret garden where nothing has to necessarily be real. I could use my imagination.

For the past decade I have been painting still lives and landscapes based on real life. So this is a big leap for me.  I’m “making stuff up”.  The challenge is that the options are limitless.  I’m staring at a blank piece of paper.  What animals will I choose?  What flowers?  What architecture is in the background? Can I find a way to incorporate patterns?  What’s the story behind the image? 

The answer is I don’t know.  So I am slowing down and taking the time to answer the questions.

I like to paint large.  Generally no smaller than 24 x 36 inches.  This is because with watercolor, it allows each subject some space for me to really play with the water and paint.  You get more of those “happy accidents”.  So another challenge for me is that I am creating small thumbnail paintings.  My first painting attempts were 8×10 inches and now my second attempts are even smaller, 5×7 inches.  I could just do a ton of fast sketches in a sketchbook, but instead, I am taking my time, thinking things through and completing each little painting start to finish.

My thought is that it may be fun to sell them on Etsy when I’m done. The other idea I love is that they are telling a story.  With each attempt, I can see my thoughts and the changes occurring which will eventually lead me to my final paintings.  I’m creating a history.

OK. With all that out of the way, let’s start talking about my new secret garden studies and the changes I have made from the initial studies.  The picture below has my new sketch on the top and the initial sketch down below.

foxes

I had absolutely no idea what to draw initially, so what came out – is what came out.  But after analyzing my original painting I thought to myself Mailboxes?  That isn’t too mysterious or secret-garden like.  I need to change the background.

For my second attempt I was very focused on changing the background.  And so I did.  What I see though, is in focusing so hard on changing that, I  completely forgot about the garden part.  So when I attempt a third round of sketches, I would like to have way more wild-life and vegetation and not so much focus on the “where”.  I feel like I got really “tight” in the second renderings, so I also need to focus in on loosening up my style for the third time around.

I wanted to address my self-critiquing.

  I hear from a lot of people that it makes them feel uncomfortable.  I guess the feeling is that I am being hard on myself and not appreciating the good that has come from my hands?  The word would be self-deprecation.  I just wanted to argue this is not my intention.  In art school we’d start every session over-analyzing each other’s work.  Artists thankfully are not robots, so nothing is perfect.  Considerations about line, composition, color and style are vital to improvement.  If my vase is lop-sided and that’s not on purpose, I’d thank some one for telling me.  Some days you just don’t see it.

Anyways, the reason I am blogging about my own analysis is not to throw a pity-party.  I want to share my thought process.  There are a hundred thoughts.  A hundred considerations.  Each artist comes at art making with different perspectives.  I’m simply trying to push myself harder and further.  You’d expect that from an athlete, so let it be ok for an artist too.  (It’s OK. I’m pretty tough.  I can take it ;)

For the next few days I will post my second attempts.  So stay tuned… Thanks!

Rabbit and Snail

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This rabbit study is one of my favorites.  I think I was able to conjure up a little bit of moodiness and mystery.

This is one of the 8 x 10 inch preliminary drawings for me Secret Garden series.

It’s also a great example of how the image changes each time I draw it.  The bottom drawing was the initial sketch and the top a second rendering.  You get to try different things out yet, improve on the areas you like.

This concept moves forward to the next stage…

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Chickadee

This is one of the little 8×10″ watercolor studies that is getting scrapped.

For me, I guess it’s because it just doesn’t tell enough of a story.  I couldn’t answer the questions why are they there and why does it matter?  

I do LOVE chickadees and house wrens though. I love that I can look out on my lawn and not see them, but if I look just a little bit longer than usual, I realize they were there all along.  They blend in so well it’s hard to believe they are scattered throughout the yard!  For this reason, it sort of makes them difficult to paint.  If an animal camouflages itself in the real world how do you make it stand out in your fantasy world?

Here were two ideas for cropping to make a stronger composition:

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But alas, in the end, it was not enough to make it to the next round.  I will sneak the birds into a future study, but this scenario is a -no.

Candle extinguished. Voted off the island. Do not pass go and do not collect $200 dollars.

next!

 

 

Into the Woods

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I am constantly hunting on Pinterest for lesson ideas for both my watercolor and acrylic paint classes. I found this lovely little watercolor of the woods and thought boy is this a great way to show students how to paint a subject matter that is visually chaotic.  When looking at the woods, I think most of us would not know where to begin.  Now I want to give credit to this artist, but the website is not in English. So this is what I found:

​[남일 풍경수채화 시범작품]

숲길 – 수채화 과정.

 watercolor on Arches (rough)

by NAMIL

* 그림과 영상이 마음에 드시면… 공감, 댓글 남겨주세요~

시청해주셔서 감사합니다~

This was a blog and there was a wonderful  progression showing how the artist tackled the subject matter.

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Guess what?  This progression works!  Some ideas to keep in mind are to paint the background lighter and the foreground deeper in color and have less detail in objects that are supposed to be far away and more detail in the objects closest to the viewer.

Here were two paintings I did while teaching the class:

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Thank you to Namil.  His demo made it possible to teach a whole class of students how to paint the woods.