Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dare to Fail UP - thoughts on the creative process

Go to My Website

According to the Huffington Post’s third metric, redefining success beyond money and power, truly creative people often “Fail Up”.

What do they mean? Simply stated, truly creative minds often set themselves a goal or a problem, and try multiple solutions. They ruminate and allow their inner voice to be the guide to truly wonderful and some not so wonderful pathways. They fail more than they succeed. But the difference is that they do not translate that failure into a measure of personal failure. They tend to look at periodic and often repeated failures to achieve a goal as simply steps in their process of discovery to what does work. It’s that miles and miles of canvas thing again, rearing its insistent head.  And have you ever heard of WD40? Thirty nine failures? No - thirty nine tries to get to the success.

Lucky for me, a friend once said that the bulldog could use persistence lessons from me. Thanks John.

I often try things that do not work. I often change media just to shake up my unconscious  work habits.  New formats cause me to think in a different way. A rut becomes something to avoid at all costs. So I change supports and their measurement ratio. Changing a comfortable subject for one painted less often becomes a good idea. I might try working with oils more as a watercolor at first application. I might try glazing over an acrylic underpainting. One time I might try drawing with the brush on a canvas, only to use a color block in method the next time or a tonal wipe out on the third piece. An undertone to my painting support might become a raucous color tone of the opposite color on the color wheel, to what I envision the finish to be. I DO envision the finished piece before I start; the better to know when I am done.
Block In - Avoiding trail horses and almost as big ants

I read. I read about how to think of my work differently, to try something new, to critique it for different things. I love Maggie Price’s book on how to work through creative blocks. I read it even when I am not blocked. It keeps the creative juices flowing.
And I am not alone. Meredith Milstead, in her blog Excursions, shows a wiped out attempt at a plein air pastel followed by a lovely desert landscape. She showed the wipeout for crying out loud! Yay Meredith! She worked through it. But she got there by learning that what she tried before wasn’t going to work this time. She failed UP, and she succeeded.

I fail UP, choosing to put the emphasis on the UP part and not on the fail part of that term; because lately I am learning ever so much. A lot of my work lately has been wipers. I tell myself that it is the process. I am still building strength. I am still honing my eye.  I am becoming a critical viewer, a step that is essential to becoming a critical painter.

Painting certain elements in a composition are fraught with frustration. Maybe this time it’s a car, or a truck or a building. I have been known to wipe out an entire rocky beach because it contained, you guessed it , ROCKS. So it is with some trepidation that I show you this painting “Triangle  T Trail”, painted at the Triangle T Ranch in Texas Canyon, just off the I10, East of Benson AZ. It’s of an area known locally as Boulder Cove. I think that might have made a better title, had I known it. It’s between that rock and  a hard place, just south of the  interstate. I recommend stopping by if you need a place to stay and rest. The folks there are super.
Triangle T Trail
Oil 12x16 - Available

So regardless of the pressure to produce works, I find it more of a pressure to produce GOOD works. I paint and sometimes I wipe and paint over. I keep reminding myself to aim for higher than I think I can grasp and to allow the process of ‘failing UP’ to help me fulfill my promise.
Failing UP can be a really good thing, you see.

"Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often," Forbes contributor Steven Kotler wrote in a piece on Einstein's creative genius.

Calling All Artists! 
Please click here to go to Black Range Art for exciting news about an October 2014 opportunity to show your art, win prizes and take part in a new New Mexico Art Event!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Prepping For An Oil Pastel Workshop

Because there are no supports to get the result that I like with oil pastels, I have devised a way to get my preferred surface by making it myself. Soft pastel artists also do this because of the desire to work with a non-commercially prepared support, with predictable evenness of texture. Karen Margulis comes to mind, with her unique homemade supports.

My very first plein air was in oil pastel. I had no idea what they were or how to use them. They simply seemed easy to travel with. After all, my set was in a wooden box with a handle. Now how convenient was that, for trundling through the fields with paper or board under my arm looking for an aesthetic epiphany?  

Nobody told me they melt when left in the car, and we lived in sunny southern California at that time. Nobody said how like lipstick this medium was to work with, all smooshy (technical term) and greasy to use. Nobody warned me how difficult it was to get them to stick on some papers, I guess Bristol was a poor first choice. And there was a real lack of direction on how to go about using these things, and precious little in the way of receptive papers, when I first started working in oil pastel.

I was pretty upset with my first effort. And it did seem curious that everyone in the plein air group came by to remark on what the medium I was using was, and gee, they couldn’t understand why I was using that particular medium. My first piece was not what I would call a rousing success. I was challenged. It was difficult. And yes the oils and watercolors did look easier to use.
Well there were several reasons for the shortcomings of my then chosen medium:
1.      There were no commercially prepared supports available in my city that I knew about.
a.      I had to prepare my own
b.      I still do this
2.      There was little in the way of recipes that I could find on how to prepare a ground
a.      Recipes were available for homemade soft ground pastel supports, not for oil pastel
b.      Soft pastel grounds were not ‘toothy’ enough and filled too quickly with oil pastel
3.      I had to mail order my materials
a.      This is still true as my local art store does not carry what I need, though where I get my materials has changed
4.      I had no work area where I could prep boards and let them lay about until they were dry enough for multiple layers of applied ground
a.      This is the one thing that has massively changed – I now have a HUGE studio where processing supports does not impede my work flow

Thinking about the problem led me to understand that I could use a combined approach, and start by making my own supports. The first time I tried this medium after the plein air foray, I ordered an abrasive additive from a supply house in Washington state. This supplier no longer carries the abrasive, so I now order from Jerry’s online. A material that Matisse Derivan (Australian art supply maker) calls crushed garnet, is similar and yet, still finer than what I used to use. When suspended in diluted gesso and rolled on with a fine foam roller, it leaves a surface that is similar, if not as rough. The rougher version gives more broken color upon application, but I have yet to find a supplier for a rougher grade crushed garnet or crushed marble dust.
Crushed Garnet Abrasive Additive For Oil Pastel Grounds

Start with an MDF board or untempered masonite board no thicker than 1/8 to ¼ in thickness, precut to the desired size. Sand the side you will use, the smooth side. This provides a surface to which the gesso will adhere effectively.
Rough Back Side on Left - Smooth Side on Right

 Then start by applying one coat of gesso, unadulterated from the container, on the reverse side to seal in the board. Seal the edges at this point as well. Let dry. Drying time will vary as to the moisture in the air and the ambient temperature. If it is dry, it should not be cool to the touch.

Using a large, empty Cool Whip container with lid, as the mixing bowl and the storage for unused recipe, I assemble the following:

  • 1 wooden paint stirring stick
  • 1 measuring cup
  • 1 container of crushed garnet
  • 1 bottle or can of white acrylic gesso
  • Cut, sanded boards, my choice of size
Mix the abrasive ground in roughly this manner:
To 3 cups gesso, mix in one cup of water and the entire container of Matisse Derivan crushed garnet. If you prefer a toned support, mix in acrylic color at this point, to the desired color saturation.
Mix thoroughly with a wooden paint mixer stick, suspending the crushed garnet. There will be tiny little dark red dots similar in look to vanilla beans in cream.
One Coat Applied - Wet Area Still Shines
(I use wooden blocks under the boards to forestall sticking to the work table)

With a foam roller, roll this mixture onto the sanded boards. Go in one direction. Go in another direction on the second layer. 

It is not a commercially made product, so do not trouble yourself about evenness as there will not be a uniform deposit of garnet. The unevenness of the materials deposit allows for some serendipitous effects down the road when working with this support. You must wait until it is totally dry to paint on another layer. Failure to wait until the first and any subsequent layers are dry, before over-painting to even things out, will result in picking up with your roller what you have initially laid down. In other words it totally fouls up the works and you will have to do more remedial layers to approximate a semi-even layer deposit.  Keep your gesso thinned and the suspension stirred for the best results.
Finished Board With Uneven Texture
Happy Effects Waiting to Happen!

I keep my little roller in a zip-lock snack bag to limit air exposure between applications to not waste time, water and product washing out my roller, not to mention my hands.
I hope you will try this as it is a really fun support to work with.

I will be doing a free, one day workshop in Silver City on how to proceed from the finished support on June 7th, 2014. Email me if you would like to participate.  For hands on, there is a materials charge for your prepared board.

Calling All Artists! 
Please click here to go to Black Range Art for exciting news about an October 2014 opportunity to show your art, win prizes and take part in a new New Mexico Art Event!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

New Mexico Peppers - A Pastel Workshop

In New Mexico, February is usually cold and blustery, with snow and ice thrown in for good measure. That is why I have my yearly pastel workshop, here, in that month. Also, it’s a really good thing to have something to look forward to after the holiday stuff has been packed away and everyone hits the mid-winter doldrums. So while this is not plein air, there is a setup available for the students to look at.

This year, it was in the mid 60s! What’s up with that? We did have the wind though.

I always ask myself what I can do to make the next workshop better than the one we just completed. Next year, I am going to include how to frame a pastel correctly. We did not even get close to that topic. And perhaps it will be a two day Friday/Saturday workshop with an optional Sunday to finish if a body feels pressed for time.

Julie working away

For this project, I thought that everyone might enjoy a piece of the Southwest. So I took my handmade Indian pots and set them up with some bright red peppers that were available in the market. Below you can see the efforts of the students. A couple of them had never worked this way. 

Ruth - working to done
Diana - almost there

Lyn - almost there
Mary Jo - almost done

Marianne - with her piece close
to finsihed
Julie - almost done

It’s not a scrubby way of working. I usually save that for my landscapes in pastel. Following this deliberate way of working, an artist works out compositional problems at the drawing stage and once that is done, the artist can just immerse themselves in the passion of applying the pigment in a rich saturated way.

Need help with title - suggestions please?
I like that at that stage, I can concentrate on value and temperature to make the piece coherent. Color is then the reward I get for the prior work. And I love the juiciness and satisfaction I get of applying that color.

This is in need of a title…..never did get around to that. So help me out here. What is its name?

An 8x10 print goes to whoever names it.

Favorite quote:
Artists must know what they are doing and how they are going to do it, while allowing room for spirit and intuition to influence the creative experience.    (Donald Demers)

Calling All Artists! 
Please click here to go to Black Range Art for exciting news about an October 2014 opportunity to show your art, win prizes and take part in a new New Mexico Art Event!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

An Art Lesson From the Beatles

This week, in fact in four days, those of us who are old enough will remember the Beatles and the British Invasion of the 1960s.
Why is this important? Well why are the Dutch masters important to Western Civilization’s Art?
Both are important for the very same reason. They were and continue to be seminal influences on the generations of artists that came after them. I heard one commentator say that on February 8th 1964, nobody knew who they were, and that on February 10th, every kid wanted to BE them. Such was the power of the Ed Sullivan Show In those days. Every kid had a garage band and everyone wanted to sound like them.
But the interviewer for CBS had a far more profound observation than “they looked so happy and they were having such fun”. If you are old enough to remember, you hear their music and even today it puts a smile on your face. They were smart, they were energetic, they were happy, and they were fun. And we needed it.
The really smart musicians thought through the imitation and developed their own talents, using the Beatles as their unknowing mentors. But even as they did that, the ones in the know noticed that they no soon as got the sound down, than the Beatles’ sound changed. That’s right they kept reinventing themselves. They even went to India to study and learn Eastern instruments well after their fame and fortune had been insured. They never stopped changing their sound while keeping their focus of producing great and often thought provoking music. They continued to change and redefine themselves even after the group's disbanding and the death of two of their group. I'll never forget the day when one of my girl's asked me if I knew that Paul McCartney had belonged to another group before he was in Wings!!!
I think as a listener and definitely a fan of the four young men who needed a haircut, I knew what they were doing from an artistic standpoint, even though what I know about music is minimal.
They consistently REINVENTED themselves. They learned. They grew. And they took us along for the ride. Whether you like the Beatles or not, you have to admit that John Lennon’s “Imagine” is about as far as you can get from “It’s Been a Hard Day’s Night” and their early sound bites. They evolved.

What better lesson for artist or musician than that?

For a prospectus to take part in a great Plein Air Event in Southern New Mexico, this October 2014, please go to

Favorite quote:
·        People can relate to the musicality of shapes... Painting is 'silent music'... Soft and hard edges are similar to loud and soft notes... Harmony, chords, pitch, rhythm, syncopation and timber can all be translated to the visual arts.
     Clyde Aspevig 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Red And Green Christmas?

There are those who say that heaven and hell are of our own making. If it’s true, I had a glimpse of what heaven can be this past week. I had the absolutely best Christmas gift a person could have, and I did not even have to unwrap it. You couldn’t put it under the tree,  it had no glitter and it didn’t smell of pine. What was it?

I got to go painting with two of my grandkids. One had been with me before and the other had not. They are both teenagers and it was a true gift to be able to spend the morning with them. It was even better that they wanted to go and paint. It took a real effort of will to get one of them to give up a precious morning of sleep on their holiday break. And the other was interested but knew that he was red/green colorblind. So we prepped a bit before we went.
Painting With Grandma 2 days before Christmas
I had read pages 154 through 157 of Al Gury’s book Color For Painters on how to approach painting for those who could not tell the difference between certain colors.  I have not found a great deal of information about teaching painting with this in mind. In fact my grandson told me that his art teacher in high school had just assumed that the students knew what the colors did and how they worked. Seeing a real omission there, I was very thankful to have just read that particular passage of Gury’s book. We found a color wheel, and we talked about how the colors interact when they are mixed and when they are alongside each other.
I know that talking about it is not seeing it. But if on an intellectual level, some understanding is reached, perhaps that, with the color wheel in hand, is better than no help at all. After all, without intensive testing, who is to say how very pronounced or not is a body’s colorblindness? How can you tell, where challenge starts, if you are not challenged in that way?

Granddaughter's painting of Leonesse Winery, Temecula CA
I am proud of the effort that they both made, but in awe of my grandson and his willingness to paint with me. Even Winston Churchill was intimidated by a white canvas, and so are most of us at one time or another.
A not red and green landscape and its creator.

Their paintings were wonderful. Soft and light filled, with wonderful colors and great recession. His painting was not heavily green or red. He did most of this with what he could differentiate without trouble.

Christmas this year was sunlit, hazy, soft and warm. Yeah, Christmas is not always red and green.

Favorite quote:
Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.                                                       (John Quincy Adams)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Broadway Belle - A Beauty Still

Go To Louise Sackett Fine Art

I finally got around to painting a little old lady I met.
She’s a lovely old Victorian house on Broadway, at the top of the hill, below the old County Admin offices in Silver City.  I have wanted to paint her since I first saw her. She is a designated historical building, one that has a for real name. But I call her ‘Broadway Belle”. She’s been on Broadway a long, long time. But she still retains some of her allure.
She has had her porch removed and rebuilt and has survived a whole lot of upgrades since she was first constructed. Right now she is for sale and needs a coat of paint. I was trying to figure out when the light would be most advantageous to her, and finally said ‘to heck with it’, and painted her yesterday morning.

This is the beginning, where I block in the darks, planning
the shapes.
Perfect light is not worth trying to plan. The light never takes a painter’s needs into account. I can paint a location all morning and never have that shaft of light happen that Richard Robinson says is God’s finger saying “PAINT THIS”. So why wait? You might as well do it when you can, and forget the desirable light. In any case this house was fairly well lit, off and on, with a cool light in the early a.m. that made for a lot of interesting angles with that complex Victorian roof line. I learned a lot painting this piece, like why I don’t paint buildings very well. I guess I get lost in the puzzle-like character of the shapes. People like Lori Putnam, Shelby Keefe and Greg LaRock make it look so easy. I wish that it were. It’s not for me. So I trudge on, painting buildings in the hope that they sooner or later will start to look more plausible. At least not look like they are on borrowed time, unless they actually are.

At this stage I am playing with the colors and determining the foreground.
 I was playing with a burnt red oxide and ultramarine violet this time. I actually thought that the ultra violet couldn’t be that far off the mixing properties of ultramarine blue. Man can pre-conceived notions be wrong. I really liked the softening qualities of the violet, how it subdues strident chroma when using it in a mix. It’s very different from the blue. And I tried their crimson. It’s a softer more controllable color than alizarin crimson, yet it has deepening attributes when combined with a Cad red light. It’s actually a lot like a carmine pigment. Actual color matching was not what I was mostly concerned with in this painting. I was actually more into getting the light and architecture right, than the color accuracy. With all the downed leaves, the only real natural color, other than the sky, was the yellowed grass and the evergreen spruce. There were no flowers, and the bushes all had that 1920s dun and beige color thing going on.

Broadway Belle
11x14 Oil on board
The good thing about getting out there to paint regardless of the conditions,  is that sooner or later you will find something that is stunning. Like the alley I ran across at 9a.m., downtown. I mean to go back there and see if I can find that light again. Lots of trashcans, lots of kitties, cars, and lots of light. I need practice with cars too. If I remember correctly, it was just down the street from the Broadway painting site.
Maybe that finger of God was there after all.

Favorite quote:
"Don't be afraid to let a good painting go in the pursuit of a great painting."
Rick Howell

To learn about a plein air competition for the benefit of the Wounded Warrior Project, and to win cash prizes and a chance for a two person show,  click here and go to Downloads. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Changes Are Coming - And Not Just The Weather

Those of you who do follow this blog may have noticed a change in its format. You are correct. The format HAS changed. I did this in response to my blog having issues with the interactivity disappearing and re-appearing at will.  Nothing I did caused it and it was intermittent.  I was frustrated. So I can only imagine what it was like on the reader side. Now people should find it easier to comment and otherwise send me an electronic raspberry if you don’t like what I posted, either verbal or visual.

As anyone who has troubleshot a computer or a program knows, an intermittent problem is the worse kind to find and fix. So I opted to not try and to throw in the towel. I have other things on the burner that are for me more important. I have actually traded in a car rather than try and find a computer/electrical problem in an otherwise just fine car. Life is too short to be frustrated. (And I paint???)

On the painting side, I find I am that way about my problem paintings en plein air too. I will take them in the house, especially if something is hiding about the edges of my consciousness, telling me something needs fixed. Especially if I do not know what the heck that thing is that needs fixing. I live with them a while until the goblin pops out at me. And I do know that goblins were for last month, but they hang around here some times, way beyond their welcome date.

Hillsboro Arroyo
6x5 oil linen on board

That was the case with this little painting. I did it a few weeks ago and something really bothered me about it. So it sat in the living room, a 6x6 itch I couldn’t figure out how to scratch. Every time I turned on the TV, sat down with a cup of coffee, tried to catch up on my phone missives, there it sat, staring back at me.

When I read something said by Harley Brown, in a recent interview, the light went on. Harley said (not quoting here) that you should never put the same amount of detail in the background as in the foreground. Imagine that simple a solution! I had gotten to the point where I knew that it was the background that haunted me. I had painted this tiny thing with smaller brushes. I should have kept the bigger ones handy. Once I simplified the background, a few judicious lights were added and suddenly it bordered on the acceptable. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still in the living room. Is it a still plein air? You betcha. I figure it only needed about 5-10% modifications, so according to my criteria, it’s still a plein air. But those pesky goblins are gone for a bit. They were probably afraid I’d mistake them for the turkey. 


Favorite quote:
·“The painting is finished before the artist knows it is.”
Harley Brown

To learn about a plein air competition for the benefit of the Wounded Warrior Project, and to win cash prizes and a chance for a two person show,  click here and go to Downloads.