For decades I have been creating art in circles surrounded by squared edges. When I first made this type of work it was in the mid-1970’s. The circle was most often represented by an apple inside a square or cube. At that time it represented to me the yin and yang, female and male complements to our lives and our characters. The apple was an Eve figure, soft, female, curious, playful and seductive. The boxes were the rules, the male, the limitations, the protection and the containment of her attributes.
Apples in Boxes – A pointillist drawing in ink on paper. c1970’s
I have recently returned to this theme but using flowers from my garden as the subjects rather than apples. It feels so calming to me when I create these voluptuous rounded floral paintings. This peony was the first in a series of exploring again the circle in a square imagery so I named it “Centering” because that is how I feel towards these works. I find my centering in two places, in my studio and in my garden. They completely complement each other, one provided by nature and one in interpreting that vision.
There is a difference between the imagery of then and now. These flowers, though they are encompassed in a square format canvas, they are not contained. They are bursting through the limitations of frame, of edges, of inhibition. They are positive and empowered by their form and by their explosive color. They are neither shy nor retiring. They declare themselves as having established their own space. They are declaring themselves as individuals.
Although my stretched store-bought cotton canvas is already prepared with gesso, I add 3 more layers with a light sanding in between each. This makes the canvas less absorbent in my opinion. Everyone has their own recipe and this is mine. I apply the gesso with a roller if the canvas is big or a large brush if it is smaller.
Once the gesso is dry, which is within the hour of the last coating, I use vine charcoal to outline my composition. Because the charcoal is rather dusty, I blow the excess off using either my breath or an aerosol can of dust remover depending on the size of the canvas.
Next, I then use a thin wash of burnt umber paint and a thinner medium to cover the rough charcoal drawing and begin the shading process. This also fixes the drawing to the canvas & prevents the charcoal from blending further. That layer will dry, depending on the medium you choose, in an hour or a day. I then begin another coat of underpainting using either a warm or cool brown or gray base color. This can either be considered an underpainting or if more detailed and finished it would be called a grisaille. Over an underpainting, I would paint using opaque pigments and over a grisaille, I would be using transparent pigments for glazing.
Once this is dry in 1-4 days depending on the mediums used, I then begin painting with color. This is the very classical beginning to an oil painting that I was taught by my professors during my college years in another place and another time. I’ve always been glad that I was able to receive a formal Art education and it has been the basis of all my work over the years.
One of the methods I use to visualize my Art is to take snapshots of my models and modify them on my computer. Since I’m not a photographer I only have a small point and shoot camera that I use to take photos in my garden or in my studio.
I took this snapshot of these orange tulips using natural light in my studio
I import these snapshots onto my computer and using Photoshop I delete the backgrounds, modify the colors and otherwise play around with the image. I print the images from my Epson printers onto matte cardstock papers.
Using Photoshop on my Mac, I play around with colors and composition
Then, using Winsor Newton watercolors, I put down my first layer of paint. Once dry I used my set of Prismacolor colored pencils to draw over the watercolor.
In this Mixed Media Art work I used colored pencil over watercolor
For some reason I find this process to be very relaxing and meditative for me. If I need some calmness in my life, I can go to my studio at any time and pick up right where I left off. No fuss, no muss, no bother.
There are so many ways to create paintings. As an Artist who has been creating for over 35 years I have developed a variety of methods to arrive at my finished work. Sometimes it is interesting to get a peek behind the process, so here is one style I enjoy.
Snapshot of some Orange Tulips I used as the basis of this series of Art works
Since I’m not a photographer, I take snapshot of flowers I either buy or grow. I usually select them for color or just for form. I find myself attracted to large bold shapes rather than the more frilly inflorescences. I then decide what mediums I will work in and whether there will be one finished Art work in one or more mediums or whether the work will be part of a series.
I love creating tonal drawings so I often do a finished piece in graphite before I start a painting just because I like the feel of drawing. It also is a great way to work out values of highlights and shading.
Tonal drawing of a tulip. I use a pair of magnifying lenses which I hook onto my bifocals to help me see the details
If the work is part of a series, I need to imagine the size of each piece and the total overall impression I’m looking for. This ups the level of complexity considerably and actually makes for quite a nice challenge to my visual imagination and my technical consistency.
For a series of work I need to choose the size of each work and the size of the overall series.
I also need to create a composition that stands alone as well as works for the series.
I used my altered snapshots to help me come up with my composition in this series
My work must not only be accomplished to my own standards for each piece but it must be consistent across all the work. This can be tricky if you don’t create all the work during the same or close to the same period of time.
Now that I make my living by creating Botanical Fine Art, image my surprise when I stumbled upon my first botanical drawings, dating from 1976. In an effort to document my classical art education I have gone to the attic to retrieve my early drawings and paintings along with the schoolwork I saved from the excellent Art Education curriculums I attended at York College and Queens College, (CUNY), City University of New York during the 1970’s.
Branch with details, an early horticultural drawing
Without any historical background regarding the long tradition of botanical drawing, I documented the branch structure, flower and leaf as well as the knothole of a branch, which I more than likely retrieved from my garden in Queens Village, NY. I was an avid, but highly amateur gardener, tending to a huge cherry tree, a multi-stemmed white birch and three peach bearing trees in my tiny garden.
Drawing of a dead branch
Drawing of a dead branch
The drawing of my houseplant has been badly damaged by mold but it describes nicely a succulent houseplant I nurtured for years without realizing that it would ever flower. When the plant finally graced me with a huge, star shaped hairy flower, the stench it emitted attracted an abundance of houseflies much to my dismay. The flower itself was stunning. Very large in proportion to the plant itself with reflexed petals and patterned markings. I, many years later, found that the common name of my trophy was, the Carrion Plant, and the Latin name is: Stapelia Gigantia, from the Family of Asclepiadaceae.
Considering the amount of flies that I remember finding their way into my home I am not surprised to have discovered that it was known to attract pollinators by emitting the horrendous odor of dead meat. I don’t remember exactly what happened to the plant but I think that it failed to flourish after blooming that year. That may either have been because the effort it took to produce that huge flower weakened the plant or it may be because I was so offended at the smell that I was not longer enamored enough with it to tend it with care.
I actually enjoy drawing the folds in fabric more than drawing the nude figure. The anatomy of bone and muscle structure is so compelling in studying the nude but the intricacies of fabric on the figure adds another dimension of complexity. I love the pull of a belt on a waistline or the cinching of the fabric at the bend of an elbow or knee.
Life drawing with clothed figure in pencil on newsprint paper
I enjoy contemplating the lighting as it casts over and under the folds. Where is the source of lighting? I stare at the shadow type underneath to determine if it is soft and diffused or hard and linear. Now, thirty years later, I still am fascinated by the curves and shadow of figures and lighting though now I don’t draw the figure. I concentrate instead on my favorite subject matter, flowers. These life drawing were the beginning of the process of learning to see.
In most cases in the classes I attended at York College, CUNY, Queens, NY in 1976 when these drawings were created, the lighting was not dramatic or controlled. The classroom lighting was positioned from the surrounding windows and the overhead fluorescents to provide enough light for the students. The emphasis was not to create distinct lighting on the models. These drawings were from my second semester in college so are my first attempts at figures and folds.
Life drawing classes are the traditional method for teaching the drawing of the human figure. Live models are used so that students can study the muscles and anatomy of the figure in order to render the volume and dimensionality of the human body. Using photographs instead of models can often cause students to render the figure in too flat a manner.
Life drawing in pencil
Drawing classes that I attended at York College, CUNY, in Queens NY in the 1970’s, were held in 4-hour segments. Poses were held for short bursts of sketching time such as 5 or 15 minutes in the early part of a class to allow the artists time to warm up their drawing arm and eye. As the class progressed, poses often were held for longer periods and were in fact upon many occasions maintained for the entire remainder of the session. When the model took a break they would then return to their position in the center of the class so the students could continue to work on the drawing of that pose.
Seated figure in pencil on newsprint paper
Life drawing is such an fundamental part of the curriculum of any art school that it is hard to believe that in the not so distant past these classes were taboo for women. Throughout history women were banned from traditional art school under the guise of protecting their delicate sensibilities. In order to pursue their art many women took a separate path towards expressing themselves and gravitated to watercolor paintings of flowers and gardens. These were considered acceptable mediums and subjects for a well-protected and well brought up middle class woman.
Leaning figure seated on stool drawing
And then along came Georgia O’Keeffe and everyone saw flowers in a very different way. She helped to forge an acceptance of woman as artist and the doors of art schools flew open.
Pencil drawing on newsprint paper from life drawing class