Archive for February, 2008

Budda's Ordeal

Budda recovering after surgeryMy poor little man just got back from the vet clinic. He has been declawed and dejeweled. (meaning neutered) Upon returning to the gallery, he wandered around for half an hour, bemoaning his fate and telling me of all the atrocities he had witnessed in the past 24 hours. Both Mike and I, gave him loads of cuddles and love. Then he promptly passed out and slept most of the day away.

I thought we might get lucky and not have to declaw him. He started out being so good. If I caught him sharpening his claws a firm Budda No! was enough to get him to quit. Unfortunately as he got older instead of stopping, he would just pause, then continue on in double time. As I would reach threateningly for the spray bottle, he would scamper off quickly, chuckling to himself at what a clever kitten he had become. So alas, to the vets we went.

Personally, I can barely tolerate the thought of the whole declawing thing. As a vet tech, I assisted on all sorts of procedures. Nothing turned my stomach, and I do mean nothing. This was a skill that was learned early in college. I had dissection class before lunch. Trust me, you do that for a few weeks and pretty soon, very little grosses you out. Except that is, to watch a declawing. Blah! But in the end, I think he would consider it a good trade off. A life of leisure and luxury. A perpetually full food bowl, a large basket chocked full of toys, A sunny spot on the couch for napping, and loads of people to attend to his every need. Far better than the barn cat life, that was to be his destiny.

Oh, and he has just signed on a second person for his fan club. (Thats two besides Mike and I, that is.) The assistant at the clinic, loved him. I had a hard time getting her to hand him over. As she cuddled him, she told me all about how wonderful he is. Like his super soft fur, his brave little attitude, and his cuddly playful nature. As I pried him loose from her steely grip, (tiny exaggeration) I thought, “Hey lady, you’re preaching to the choir.”

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About Watercolor Pencils

My table full of watercolor pencils Watercolor pencils look pretty much like colored pencils. The main difference being the water-soluble nature of the lead. They can, in theory, be used multiple ways. I say in theory because I have only found the first three ways as being really useful. I’ve included the others because in certain situations, they may be the way to go.

  • Use them like colored pencils
  • Color or draw, then add water for watercolor effect. (My primary way of working.)
  • wet brush, then lift color off the pencil. (Occasionally, I do this, especially for putting in long hairs or signing my name.)
  • wet pencil then draw. (I use this for putting in white highlights, such as in the eye.)
  • wet paper then draw. (Not recommended for most situations. This puts far too much pigment down, and will hinder any blending.)
  • Color on separate paper, then lift color with wet brush. (Never tried it.)

Watercolor paper
I thought I would take a moment to mention watercolor paper, as it goes hand in hand with watercolor pencils.

There are three types (surfaces) in watercolor paper, and what I use exclusively with watercolor pencils is Hot Press. The smooth surface allows for smooth blending and getting in all the little hairs. The rougher texture tends to grab more pigment off the pencil and deposit it in the divets on the paper. I could see this being a fun effect for some, but I am a woman who is set in my ways. Hot Press only for me.

  • Hot Press. This is the smoothest texture
  • Cold Press. This has more texture and is quite commonly used by watercolorists.
  • Rough. This has the most texture with a very dimensional surface.

Watercolor paper also comes in varying weights. I have not experimented with a lot of different weights. Since I tend to work my pencils quite dry, I generally use #140 weight. Papers can vary between 90# to 300# and more.

I would suggest using a heavier weight paper if you are fond of using a lot of water, or if your finished pieces are buckling. Another option would be to stretch your lighter weight paper while painting, by taping or stapling it to a board. This will allow the paper to dry flat.

Closeup of watercolor pencils
Faber Castell Derwent Rexell

Watercolor Pencils: What I Use
I have primarily two brands that I use. Rexel Derwent and Faber Castell. I haven’t been working with watercolor pencils for some time now, so I am sure there are loads of new high quality pencils on the market. Since these two brands are the ones I have the most experience with, they will be the topic of this post.

If anyone out there has any brands that they prefer, I would love to hear about them and why you like them.

Rexel Derwent
This was the first set I bought myself. They are a mid-range brand of professional pencil. Personally, I feel the colors are a little more flat looking compared to the Faber Castells. Other than that, I really like these pencils.

Derwent has recently added a new line of watercolor pencils called Signature. They are all made to the highest standards and all have the highest lightfast rating possible. There are only 40 colors available currently. If I continue to work regularly in watercolor pencil again, I will definitely be getting a set.

  • Common in most art supply stores, so they are easy to get open stock replacement pencils.
  • Dense lead offers a fine point with minimal breakage
  • Pencil can be sharpened with most standard pencil sharpeners. (Note: Faber Castell have a bigger barrel and require a larger sharpener.)
  • Large assortment of colors. (72)
  • You can download a lightfastness chart off their website
  • hexagonal shape minimizes rolling.

Faber Castell
My favorite brand because of their luminous color. They are a little more spendy than most, but they are of the highest quality. And the way I see it is, you get what you pay for.

  • Dense high quality pigment with the lightfast indicator on each pencil.
  • Extensive color range (120 colors)
  • Large hexagonal shape keeps them from constantly rolling off my drafting table.
  • Lead is SV bonded, meaning the color is glued to the wood the full length of the pencil. for added strength and less breakage. (Note: These are still more prone to breakage than my Rexel Derwent pencils.)
  • All non-toxic and acid free (ph neutral.)

About Lightfastness
Both of these brands are tested for lightfastness using the Blue Wool (BW) Scale. The highest BW value is 8. Values of BW6 or higher are considered lightfast.

The Faber Castell system uses a star rating. This is printed on each pencil so you can tell at a glance just how lightfast the color is.

***maximum light fastness BW7,BW8 (100+ years)
**very good light fastness BW5,BW6 (25+ years)
*good light fastness BW3,BW4 (5+ years)

Again, to see Derwent lightfastness ratings for their pencils, you must visit their website.

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Horse Portrait

Current state of portrait of Catch I had big plans on doing a proper post today, about watercolor pencils. But as I am feeling a bit under the weather it will have to wait until tomorrow. I did however, get the go-ahead on my new horse painting, a portrait of Catch. The painting is currently 15″ x 22.” This size may change because my compositions usually expand and contract as I work.

Detail of Catch portraitI had completely forgotten (or blocked from my memory perhaps?) The amount of effort required in layering in the color. This represents about 8 hours of work, and the face is not yet completed. However, I am having a blast working with the pencils again. I love the effects that they provide. And apparently, I also forgot how much fun, being anal about all the tiny little hairs was. (Sigh, its like coming home.)

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A New Horse Painting

Preliminary drawing for a portrait of Catch

Here is the outline drawing for my next painting, if it gets approved that is. I rarely (pretty much almost never) do much for commission artwork, though I get asked all the time. I think a horse artist could make a good living, just painting for hire. I . . . alas, don’t have the stones to paint portraits on an on-going basis. Frankly, I barely get the time to paint, what I want to paint, without scheduling it in. Let alone, work on stuff for others, and under their parameters. Kinda kills the creative juices for me. I sure respect those who can, though.

So, what is it that will get me to agree to do your horse’s portrait you ask? Well . . . in a nutshell, flexibility. You must have a willingness to let me do what I want and the fortitude to let me do it in my own time frame. (Yup, I’m not asking much huh? No siree, not much at all.)

Carol Eilers feeding her horse Catch an Apple

The saint who requested this painting, is my editor Carol Eilers. She has been waiting patiently for almost a year. (Umm … maybe it has been a little over a year. I’ll have to check.) I think what has held me off for so long, (besides wanting to give it my undivided attention that only the off-season months can provide) is, I just couldn’t get excited about doing the traditional head shot. But once I let go of the idea of a head shot portrait. I got inspired by all the possibilities. If she doesn’t like this composition, I do have a backup plan. Something slightly more portrait like where the horse is in profile. But I love this composition, as well as the wistful look in his eye. I will probably go ahead and do this piece regardless.

Closeup of Carol Eilers horse Catch

This painting is to be done in watercolor pencil. I am kinda jazzed about this because it has been years (literally) since I have worked in watercolor pencil. I am curious to see how, what I have learned with oil pastels, translates over in the pencil artwork. We shall see. I will be posting work in progress (WIP) shots, so you can follow along and judge for yourselves.

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Kick-Starting Creativity

This month in the gallery, it has been uncharacteristically busy for a February. This is a good thing. (A really good thing.) But it has left me very little time for painting. I did manage to finish up my Earthmovers painting today. Whoohoo! I will post it, just a soon as it gets scanned for the print making process.

Last week, I had some small snippets of time in which I wanted to create. But, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have enough time to offer my full attention to the Earthmovers piece. So I decided to do a small, brightly colored painting of Budda. My creativity muse was seemingly out sick that day. So I decided to try something that I had been planning on doing for years, but just never got around to trying. That is, taking some photos and playing around with them in Photoshop.

Original Photo
This first photo is an untouched image.

The following photos only had minor adjustments. It wasn’t so much that I wanted something to copy. As it was, a desire to spark a new way of looking at the image.

Increased Saturation
When I printed this out, I thought…”Well thats interesting, but it really doesn’t do me any good.” And I tossed it aside.

The next day I had my art group, so I took the painting along with me to work on, while we all sat around and talked. I also took the original photos (not the Photoshop’d versions) for my reference. It wasn’t until I got home that, (to my complete surprise) I noticed how much my finished painting resembled the color saturated image. Apparently on some level, I had soaked it in. (osmosis perhaps?)

I don’t think I used this posterised image at all. (not even by osmosis.) But I included it, as one of the two adjustments that I did. I really like the look that posterising creates and may try it again on another project.

Cropped and Rotated
This photo has not been digitally manipulated and was my main reference image. It was cropped and the image was rotated by about 45 degrees. (I did this by hand, by laying strips of white paper over the photo until I got a composition that I liked. No computers necessary.) I really wanted to keep it a small, easy, and fun painting. So I elimated all the extras in the background and simplified the whole thing with cropping.

Bright Eyes - Fun painting of Budda
Bright Eyes – Oil Pastel 8×8
Copyright by Mona Majorowicz

Finished Painting
It is quite a bit darker here than in real life. But you get the idea. The painting’s greens. blues and purples are quite vibrant, and is actually what makes the painting. This isn’t great art. But it was a good way to loosen up a bit and have fun with color.

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Since I posted yesterday about the importance my neighbors horses played in their lives. I thought today, I would show a couple of paintings that I have done, that were specifically inspired by those same horses. I have done at least five paintings based on their animals. But I have included only one, of each of the media that I work most commonly in. My neighbors are Percheron people. They occasionally have other breeds but they have always had Percherons.

The Greys - Percheron Draft Horses - click for larger image
The Greys – Water soluble pencil 16 x 24
Copyright by Mona Majorowicz

The Greys
This is an earlier painting and the first that I did that was inspired by their horses. I was walking one winter with the snow gently falling. The mares and yearlings were all out along the fence row watching me (I think they were in hoping of goodies.) That really is all there was to the inspiration. By the time I got back from my walk, I had it all planned out in my head. The bells in the painting are also my neighbor’s. I sketched them a few weeks later, as they hung by their door, for a Christmas decoration.

Kindred Spirits - Horse Herd - click for larger image
Kindred Spirits – Oil Pastel 10 3/4 x 30 1/2
Copyright by Mona Majorowicz

Kindred Spririts
This painting came from several photos I took just a summer or two ago. I always carried my camera in my van. So, when I drove past their pasture, on my way to the gallery, I was ready if something photo worthy was happening. This day was late into summer and the black horses were bleached bay by the sun. The herd had been mingling under the big shade tree, when the boss mare decided it was time to go cool off in the soothing waters of the creek. At first one or two straggled after her. Then the rest followed as a group packed tightly together. I am always fascinated by repeating patterns. And their arching necks and sloping backs were intrigueing. So tah-dah! a painting is born. You can read a more complete story of the creation of Kindred Spirits in my Apples ‘N Oats article on my website.

As an artist, having upwards of 30 draft horses, within view of our farm has proved to be quite inspirational. Currently all the horses are gone. I’m not sure if they will be bringing any horses back with the loss of the barn. This too, is something that I am really going to miss.

My favorite Story About The Neighbor’s Horses.
Several winters back, in the dark of the night I would hear noises coming from outside. Just thumping and rubbing type sounds. In the morning light, their tell-tale platter sized footprints and poo piles, were everywhere. So I called over to the neighbor and said “I think your horses are out.” She takes a moment to look and says “No, they are all in the yard pen.” (Hmmm.) So this happens for a couple of nights. Until finally she calls us up and says, “We caught them!” Apparently, they were just stepping over a low spot in the fence coming over to our place to check things out and play. (I bet they also touted their new found freedoms, to Chicory as well.) Then, when morning came around, they just headed back up our lane and stepped back over the fence for their morning grain ration, thinking no one was the wiser.

Clever girls!

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How Your Life Can Change In A Moment

Example #1
Today, I was cleaning the kitchen cupboards when the phone rang. It was a neighbor, asking me if I could see smoke coming from our other neighbor’s farm. I looked out the door to see the gravel road that runs between us, was packed with cars, several fire trucks and an ambulance.

Our neighbor is a woman in her 80’s, who lives alone, but has family living close by. She is like a grandma to Mike and I. You can imagine what was running through my mind. As it turns out, it was her barn that burned down. She is shaken but unharmed. Her house is undamaged and the horses that were both inside and out, are all okay. It was just the barn.

But the barn, was not just a barn. It was a symbol of a way of life. When she and her husband had the barn-raising in 1965, many of the neighbors helped to build it. And when it was completed, there was a celebration in the mow, complete with a band for a dance and a banquet. I have a 25 gallon crock at my gallery, that had been hoisted up into the mow, for use as a punch bowl. Until recently, she had a newspaper clipping on her fridge, with the story of the barn-raising from the year it was built. The article included a photo of her family, standing proudly in front of their new barn.

They are a draft horse family. Her late husband worked the ground with his horses regularly. They hosted bonfires with hayrides in the winter. They showed their horses as well as particpated in Thresher events. When family members die or get married, their horses are present. The horses and the barn are a big part of who they are.

Though it was just the barn, it is still a loss that many of us feel.

Example #2
Yesterday, I was off with my art group. We went to a local gallery. (Out here in the wide expanse of Iowa, that means within 1-2 hour drive.) It was the last day of an exhibit. The husband and wife team, whose work was on display, gave us a personal tour and talk of their show, just before it was to be taken down. It was a wonderful way to spend the day.

I get home later to find out my husband had been hurt. He had been loading hay to sell. He had finished up and went to close the machine shed doors, when a large chunk of ice was knocked loose from the roof and hit him on the head. He said, he swore and hopped around. But then got in the tractor to come home. About a quarter mile down the road he felt some warmth on his forehead and reached up to find blood. A lot of blood. Since I was gone he went over to out aforementioned neighbor and she patched him up. It was fortunate that he was wearing a thick wool hat because I believe, he could have been seriously hurt, had he not. And since I didn’t return home until 6pm, he could have been knocked out in the snow all day. Scarey.

It’s A Cup Is Half Full Thing
In general, most days I think I got it all planned out. And then something random pops up and reminds me that every day is precious and needs to be treated like the gift it is.

A person can look at these events and say “Woe is me. Why are these bad thing happening to me. I don’t deserve this.” Or you can look at it as a blessing. It could have been really serious. Someone could have died. There are so many things to be grateful for. Maybe, it just takes a knock on the head to remember it.

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