project – portrait of avery

avery’s my oldest grandkid, and so i tried a portrait of him for his great-grandmother, name of granny.  i took about 50 photos of him, and wouldn’t you know it but the first couple of photos were the best, so i used this one.  he’s 9.


because my daughter allison has been doing portraits of people starting with a tracing, i thought i would try it myself.  it’s much more accurate than drawing by eye, but of course, when you draw something by eye it reflects how you see and how your brain and muscles translate what you see to the paper.  when you trace something, on the other hand, you’re making not exactly a contour drawing, but a drawing of the values in your picture.

i used to do this in my schoolbooks as a kid.  they were all black and white photos in those days, and i would draw lines around all the masses of different tones in the photos.  drawing avery on a light box wasn’t all that difficult, but there are many details that just didn’t come thru the thickness of the watercolor paper, and i also had to guess at many contours that were in shadow.  this is what i ended up with once i’d finished tracing out what i could see onto the paper:


the next step is always intimidating.  in a portrait, one wrong eyelash and it doesn’t look like the person anymore.  and tho i can’t rely on true accuracy in my paintings (my eyes are wonky, so is my brain and my hand), i do try for a likeness – but it doesn’t really matter because in ten years they won’t look anything like they do now, no matter what age they are when you take the likeness.

i used the traditional watercolor method of working light to dark.  usually i don’t, but in this case, with the likeness so important, working light to dark means not making (too many) mistakes i can’t back down from.  so, skin tones first, lightest hair colors, underlying shadows of drapery. (i believe i’m missing the photo of the very first session, with just the barest color.  what’s here is several layers of skin tone, some freckles, some shadows, and the second layer of hair details.


and tho it’s really hard to tell the next photo from the last, i’ve actually done a bit of work on the skin tones.  it started out way too yellow, so i had to add a great deal of red, and orange.  this risks being too dark, and almost muddy in the ears, but i know i’m going to have a dark background, and this means the lights have to be rather garish in order to stand up.


then more hair stuff, including some blue and a great deal of burnt sienna, even tho his hair isn’t really red.  shadows on the face, details of the ears, neck and mouth, work on the eyes.  these are the most delicate things to get right – eyes and mouth.  it’s really easy to overdo it, or put things in the wrong place, and then the painting is ruined.  but this one continued to do just fine.  i was pleased and surprised it went so easily.


a few final touches on the face and head.  i swear the fairies painted this for me because i don’t know how i did it, and couldn’t tell you if a had to.


then a bold declaration of background, hookers green and ultramarine.  and then i stopped because i was afraid of making it muddy.


but once i’d put the camo patterns on his shirt, i realized i needed to hit the background again.  it was not too much, and i was pleased with it.


after a few more things than you see here, like a signature, i tripped it down to the same size as the photo reference, matted it and framed it behind glass.  and of course i didn’t get a photo of the finished product.  but if i remember to take my phone in with me next time i go see granny, i can get a photo of it on her wall.

merry xmas, granny.


project – lava silk painting

holuhraun, or nornahar as they’re calling it in iceland, the new lava on top of holuhraun, which is actually old lava.  from bardarbunga, a volcano that erupted JUST AFTER i left iceland this summer.  waaah.  i’ve been watching it on the web, tracking its progress.  and one day i came upon this picture:


and couldn’t wait to put it down on silk.  it’s going to be one of my icelandic series of silk paintings, and by far the most difficult of them all.  i had to make three test scarves before i could be sure of the process.  and the next thing to do is make a production run of four.  but here is a sample of the irritations involved in creating a scarf way out of your own league.

the big technical deal about this scarf is that the warmest, most glowing and purest colors are right next to the most murky black, and the texture is something i can only consider sugar syrup for.  fine water-soluble resist on most of the other details, fine.  but for lava, only a smear of syrup over color is going to work.  but how?


the first thing is always a template, unless i’m feeling bold, and if it’s a successful first try i’ll still transfer it to paper for a proper template.  once a scarf design is down and proven to be good, i roll it up and use it over and over for as many scarves as i feel the need to make.  usually i go for multiples of two, because i steam them side by side in a tall steamer.  in this case i’m trying to make a bunch of scarves for the giftshop in olafsfjordur (ugla (owl) gallery), so i’ll try for 4 of them.  but first i have to get it right.


this is the first step of the first test scarf – put on the boldest orange where the lava will go.  and while i was at it, i put in the flames of the lava fountain above the growing cinder ridge of new lava.  the dark, gummy stuff on top is sugar syrup, squeezed from a bottle in rings, and then mushed and spread with my finger.  you can see a fingerprint in the middle.  i have already drawn in the resist lines – you can see this in the white of the bottom of the scarf.  and i have put syrup on top of the resist line for the lava, but i still drew it.


here’s a closeup.  the purple is one of the streams of water that the lava is encroaching upon, which accounts for much of the smoke.  you can see the lava’s upper resist line well in this photo, with the flames above.


this is how the first scarf turned out.  the good part is to find that the dye formula i’m using is washfast.  the bad thing is that i got the lava too black, and the black washed right into the lava color when it was wet, and ruined the effect.  because i made everything run after painting it all in, as i usually do.  the runs look cool everywhere else but the lava.  so i’m on the right track.


the second scarf should have turned out beautifully, except i was experimenting with the steaming method.  i want to switch to my little steamer for travelling, and i also want to use fabric to steam, rather than paper.  but fabric is way too absorbent, and paper is less so.  the fabric (an old sheet) got wet, the scarf got wet instead of steamed, and ran all over my fabric.  so very little of the dye was retained on the silk.  it’s cool looking, but not what i need.  but i can see i was on the right track with the lava.


so, third try is the charm.  this time i put in a bunch of colors before bothering with the sugar syrup.


then when i stuck the syrup on i used a palette knife to smear it, and put it on rather more thickly in spots where i wanted more lava to shine thru.


the black only went on where i didn’t want to have burning lava, and i had to make sure i was seeing the negative space when i put it on.  i will be careful not to let this part get wet so it doesn’t bleed.  usually when i use sugar syrup i want it to bleed later, for that ferny mixing effect of the colors.  but in this case, i’m using syrup because of its resistive properties, and don’t want to mess with it and dilute the color balance.


okay, here i’m getting a little dark for my tastes with the surrounding night and reflections on the river.  to tell the truth, the dyes i mixed up were very strong, and didn’t flow the way i’m used to, so they streaked and i had to scrub the colors in while the surface was wet.


then lots of red and everything finished and ready for water.


and this is what heppened.  the blue bled the red and everything but those awful red lines in the foreground blended right down to atmospheric.


but, this is the finished test scarf, all washed out and ironed.  it turned out fine.  i want to make the lava more orange, rather than yellow, but the techniques are solid, and i can start into production with the assurance that i have a viable design.

i think it’s lovely.

finishing my first exterior wall mural


here we come to the last in many posts detailing my progress on this mural.  at this point i only had a couple of days left to work on the mural, and a combination of rain, a fall off a bike, last minute parties and trips and odds and ends before leaving town.  so the very last part of the mural was done between 5 and 6 in the morning, on a very cold day when my hands would start to freeze up after ten minutes of work.  so the timelapse clips are going to be shorter than usual…


mainly what i have done on the outside was to put on a very thin coat of the truest of the blues i used on the ocean around the figure.  i needed to obscure the lines between colors, and also make the sea lighter.  the other thing i had to do was make his eye blue, and finalize the colors in the beard.  there is black, a very strong green, and a very light green used here, and i took some even lighter green, approaching white, as highlights on the ‘gray’ parts of the beard.  i wanted to make him old, but ageing is fine, too.


next was the lettering.  i started by using my krink marker, and it’s the same problem with using rollers.  i can’t control them well enough, and prefer a brush.  tho i took pains to mark out the level baselines of the letters, i ended up putting the letters in all wonky.  the baseline isn’t level at this point, and the round letters like o,s,a and d were ungainly.  of course, talking to someone who stopped by to have a look while i was putting in the lettering remarked that trolls can’t write straight either, and that made me feel better.  but the letters are still all wrong.


so at 5 in the morning on the day i left town, i came out with the greenish white paint, and restated the lettering.  it’s now much thicker, and shadowed by a line of black.  i kept getting off the ladder and moving back to take a look, and then going back in for some more work.  and of course, at the end, i still wanted to put a raven at the bottom corner.  i had some good experiences with the ravens of the town, and ravens are associated with trolls, so if i couldn’t talk to the trolls, i could explain myself to the ravens, and i did so.  now they are my totem animal.

and this is the completed mural.  i am going to copyright the image and give a permanent license to the town of fjallabyggd to use for promotion.  and it’s part of a much larger project that i’m going to be giving a lot effort to. so stay tuned.

wall mural more

it’s been awhile; i apologize.  things have been a little busy, which you can see over on my travel blog.

so when we last did anything about this mural, it was to continue adding white to the blue paint and go around the figure making oceanlike lines.  pretty boring, as the timelapses will show.  and i’m  not even done with that in the picture below.


but finally i am finished.  then i took the flesh tone and went around making the nose especially a little fatter, and then i took the green and made sure to get every little fjord, and the same with the red.  i find i had originally drawn it all in pretty sloppily, and wanted it to be an exact map.


at that point it was time to stop messing around and commit myself to the facial features.  so i got out a thin brush and some black paint, and transferred the markings from my gridded drawing.  and suddenly the locals were paying a lot more attention to the mural.


the eyebrows and forehead hair was left to last because i didn’t feel like getting up on the ladder at that point.


i began lightening the antler headdress with whitened red-black paint, meaning to keep adding white and keep building up the lights in the middle of the antlers.  and while i was at it, i gave the figure red lips, red nose, cheeks, and ears.  just because i can’t stand to have a loaded brush and not make marks.


and when that was done, i decided i had to put color on the beard, so i got out the yukky green and slapped it up as thinly as i could, partly because i hate the color, adn partly because i only had a little green paint.  at this point one of the little kids who ride their bikes all day long in this area (because they’ve made several jumps in the back), decided to come up and make some remarks on my work, which of course i couldn’t understand, as neither of us speak the same language.  but everybody speaks art, so i handed him the paintbrush and he put in a considerable part of the lower beard, and then rode away.  i wonder if he told his mom or his friends that he helped.  i’ll be he will later.  if i see him again i’ll get him to put his name on it somewhere.


after the green was up, i toned it back down with the light green i used as a base.  and then restated the black lines.


and then i went around the frame of the picture with primer, having scraped it when i decided the picture needs a frame.  i’m not sure what i will paint it when i’m finished with the mural, but i will decide when i’m done.


at this point i still need to lighten up the antlers.  then i need to make the first few rings of blue ocean a little lighter, so that it reads from a distance, and while i’m at it i will smooth out the transitions in the blue.  and then there’s the raven, and the frame, and the title and labels (i’m going to put the cities in).  and then it’ll be done.  yay.

here are the relevant timelapses, 23, 24, 25, 25a, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30

silk painting workshop day 2

this is the result of two days of silk painting workshop.  i told the students it was the shortest 6 week class i’d ever taught.  because usually my silk painting classes are that long, but i showed them most of the content in only 2 days.  and it wasn’t even gruelling.  below is a sample of the range of scarves they produced: fran’s on the left, lara’s in the middle, alice’s on the right.  these haven’t been steamed yet, and your results may vary.  btw, most of these pictures came from the students, because i didn’t have time to take any photos during the class.


this is only the paper towel that metta was using to see what colors she had mixed, along with part of the egg cup palette she used.


and this is ida’s first scarf.


that’s a demo of some advanced techniques, namely the use of salt.  the idea on something with that little resist on it is to work quickly so the scarf doesn’t have time to dry before the area is covered.  drying would mean edges.


we were able to steam only two scarves during the class, and i had to do the rest of the steaming at home.  fran bundled up 4 scarves into one roll, stacking them in two layers, and another 4 scarves into another roll, and it took me all afternoon to steam them in our homemade steamer.  the stovepipe was made of plastic, and the longer it was heated the more warped it got.  it’s still usable after this, but it’s not round anymore.  there was an accident at one point, and again the steamer fell over with the scarf bundle inside.  but the reason it fell over was because all the water boiled away, adn the last little bit of water must have popped and exploded, and knocked the pipe off balance.  luckily there was no water to spill down the pipe, and so it only fell over, and the bundle did not get wet.  i put more water into the steamer once i’d set it upright again, and gave it another hour.  all told, the scarves steamed for about 2 hours each bundle.

the problem with this was that there were 2 layers.  the outer layer steamed just fine, as you can see by the marks left on the paper.  when the scarf bleeds onto the paper, it means that the steam has reached the scarf, and that means it’s set.  the inner layer of each bundle was still unmarked, which means i had to go to plan b.


plan be was to get a towel wet and lay it over the scarf which was still sandwiched between paper, put the hottest possible iron on the wet towel, and steam it as well as i could.  after ten minutes of this over an 18″ section, i lifted the towel and saw the dye transfer, and then satisfied, i moved to the next section of scarf, rewet the towel in the sink, wrung it out and started again.  this took several hours because i had to do 5 scarves.  but i’ll be damned if i’ll see the scarves just wash out and fade away after all the effort the students made to make scarves they liked.

you can see all the marked up paper on the floor, the ironed scarves laid out over the transom, and the scarves i was still ironing on the table.  the steamer is the red tube sitting in the cooking pot and standing on top of a hot plate in the corner.  oh and there’s the iron in front of hte red tube.


and this is the towel i used to steam the scarves with.  and this is early in the game, as well.  it got much more stained.  it will probably wash out, since these are unset dyes on cotton.  we’ll see, however.  i might just turn into tie dye over the next few days…


these are the lengths of cotton that lara and i dyed after the students went home on saturday.  i’m not sure if i can identify the techniques at this point, but the leftmost is scrunch dyeing, or low water immersion dyeing, the one with the circles was tie dyed with rubber bands.  the next one looks to have been stretched and painted, and the right one was folded and dipped.  the colors turned out very nicely.


and then lara made pillows out of them right away.  very fast, lara.


and that’s all she wrote on the class.  i have still to wash out all the scarves i was responsible for steaming, and iron them so they’re pretty, and then i may well include them in the group exhibition we’re holding on friday, of the work all of us have done at the residency.  if the students don’t object.


silk painting workshop, day 1

i had five students for the silk class i’m teaching in olafsfjordur, iceland this weekend.  three of them have come out as artists, two are still hiding under a veneer of respectability, but i proved them wrong.  and it was very international, with one participant from china, one from the phillipines, one from denmark, two icelanders, and me, a yank.

based on the work i’d done preparing for this workshop, which involved taking notes (oh no) and experimenting with dye concentrations and methods of fixing the dye (see earlier posts), i had come up with this simple (hahaha) color chart idea involving 12 circles.  the idea was to mix up a range of colors using red, yellow, and blue, put the 12 colors into an egg carton, transfer the colors to the scarf in order, and painting something contrasting or whatever on the margins, meaning the top and bottom widths of the scarf you can see below, if that makes sense.

teaching a course in iceland is super easy because everybody speaks english except to themselves, and some of what they say i can understand.  “this is going to be a long day” sounds the same in danish as it does in english, funnily enough.

what distinguishes artists from, say, bored housewives that i sometimes teach, is that real artists never pay attention to the rules.  i set out to have them all do the same scarf, and made them distinguish one from the other right at the beginning by putting their names or some other identifying mark on the scarf.  but i needn’t have bothered, because every single one of them deviated from the sample scarf my studio assistant (thanks fran) and i had worked on the previous week as a trial run.

even tho i had done a dry run, mixing up the dyes and chemicals, making a scarf, steaming it, finding out that the blue washed mostly out and correcting it with another application and steaming with an iron, i was kind of unprepared for even more to go wrong.  first off, i hadn’t made up enough sodium alginate resist, so we had to switch to sugar syrup right in the middle of one of the scarves.  and the resist i had made up was just that much too thick to actually apply without making several people’s hands cramp with the pressure of forcing it out of its squeeze bottle.  also, i used up all my dye powder making up enough dye for the class, and i’m really glad we didn’t get to the end of the actual mixed dye, tho we ran really close to out with the yellow.  i’m fearful for how well the scarves will set now.


so this is alice’s scarf.  she mixed up the proper range of colors and then put them on the scarf the way she wanted, and shook off my offers of advice.  she wasn’t happy with a neat order of colors, either, and did her best to alter it using water and finally sprinkled-on dye.  anything to disrupt a neat, careful ordering of colors.  color charts are so boring.


fran, who had to suffer thru the scarf we did together as a dry run, decided she wanted psychedelic, or stained glass, and went nuts with her scarf.  she had to stop herself in the end, as it was getting too blended.


mette was the one who insisted she wasn’t an artist, but who then refused to go along with even the scheme for color mixing that i had worked out.  i don’t like that yellow, she insisted, and then used black, and made earth tones, and then made her scarf run, and then quickly did another scarf.  she worked quickly but carefully, and really knew what she wanted.  i was in awe of her ability to just take it and run like that.  turns out her dad is an artist, so it’s in her genes.  hah.


and here’s ida’s scarf.  she too declared she wasn’t an artist, and of all of them she was the one who followed the plan i had laid out.  unfortunately i saddled her with the range of colors i had mixed up as a demo, so i’m not surprised.  she was terribly unhappy with the resultant color chart, and was encouraged to go over the colors she didn’t like (those horribly acid yellows and greens) with colors she liked better, and tomorrow she will be making a scarf all on her own with no help from me.  those who know her insisted that the scarf she did today was nothing like she is capable of, so i’ll be really excited to see what she does in teh morning.


then there was lara, who also took no mind of the way i was planning to go.  she even voiced her dislike of the pattern i made them all draw, and after a very few minutes gave up on the colors she had mixed into her egg carton.  which is great.  and when it was still wet, she took it off the stretchers and hung it, so that it dripped and ran all over the place.  in the end she was very happy with it.


here is lara’s second scarf.  she took the sugar syrup resist and made her usual doodles, then slapped all sorts of blue and black dye on it, was surprised when the sugar syrup ran, which it’s supposed to do, ruining her design but giving her another design that she was just as happy with.  i like it when students are happy with their work.  it’s a good sign of a well adjusted personality.  me, i’m never happy with my work, but that’s something else again.

i’m afraid i don’t have a picture of my sample scarf.  but we’ll be steaming these scarves tomorrow, and depending on the results, we plan to exhibit them at the group show we’re having next week.  i’ll put up another post tomorrow about how it all came out.

in the end, the students ran right thru the scarves i had intended to take a full day to make, and half of them did two scarves.  the other half, ida i’m talking about you, need to make their second one tomorrow, and then i’ll do a demo of the advanced techniques, simply because we’ve run out of scarves.  they all left after a long morning session, and will be back tomorrow for the steaming, which i’m praying goes right for once.  often the colors wash right out, and i really don’t want that to happen because these scarves turned out so nice.

when the rest of them had gone and i’d had a little lunch and a wee short nap, i went back with my soda ash, and lara and i dyed a bunch of cotton fabric using as many techniques as i could figure out.  there’s the soda soak method, there’s the low-water immersion method, there’s the fold and dip method, there’s tie-dye, there’s adding the soda ash to the dye mix, and direct painting onto soda-soaked fabric.  when we’d done, we had one jar and 4 plastic bags to go downstairs and sit next to the hot water pipes all night, and one rolled up into plastic that we forgot to take downstairs and will therefore batch at room temperature all night.  we will unwrap and wash them tomorrow after everyone else is gone, jsut so they have a chance to batch (cure and set) the longest so the colors have the best chance to develop.

wall mural 9

yesterday, or was it the day before, i took the pot of blue that i’ve been mixing things into, and put it on the wall straight.  it’s quite blue.  i was careful to blend it over the blue black to

obscure the edge, feathering it with the side of the brush both onto the previous color and onto the white wall, tho that doesn’t seem to make any difference, as the next color goes on and obscures whatever is underneath.  a sense of closure, i suppose.  the blue black layer now appears more like a shadow than anything else, and that’s okay with me.


today was nice when i started…i took the blue from the can and added white this time.  not a whole bunch of white, about half and half.  and of course it’s too light, so i’m thinking i’ll be going over it with the straight blue once i’m done, to tone down the line.  the feathering didn’t make much difference in this case.  there was too much contrast.


this afternoon i went out again, in a slight drizzle, and painted it an even lighter blue, made by taking half of what i had and adding more white.  i now have lots of different pots of blue, just in case i have to resort to them before i’m finished.  i think that’s wise.


i’m going to keep adding white to the blue until i run out of room.  i’m getting it on the wood surrounding the picture, and i’ll have to decide what to do with the ‘frame’ when i’m finished.  maybe white housepaint, maybe a color.  maybe black.  i am planning on putting a raven at the lower right corner, where my signature should go.  we’ll see about signing it, but i’m positive about the raven.  ravens and trolls go together.

here are the relevant time lapses, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21.