Saturday, September 13, 2014

Homesick for a Time That Never Was

The past couple of days, we've had the most glorious crisp autumn weather, while the Farmer's Almanac is forecasting a brutal winter, punctuated by the fact that snow is already falling in parts of the country.   The air has been crisp and slightly cool, and it gives sunset a golden nostalgic glow.

I'm not sure whether to attribute that to my polarized sunglasses, necessary because my eyes are far too light- and glare-sensitive, or just my good fortune to exist in something beautiful for a few stolen moments.   I keep hoping to hang onto them, but since I've been an adult, autumn lasts only a week, and then everything is dead and ugly.  

It does make my mind wander back to my childhood, thinking that days like today should be filled by playing in crunchy, colorful leaf piles, collecting brightly hued fallen leaves to wonder at, and smelling the woody scent of a bonfire at night, wrapped in a cozy blanket and roasting marshmallows and hot dogs, drinking spiced cider.

Then I realize that was something I pulled out of a movie, because I do remember being told to throw my beautiful leaves away, and there were never any family bonfires. I remember that Halloween was a night when we would definitely have pizza delivered for dinner, because my sister and I were going out trick-or-treating in the neighborhood.  Yes, of course we were alone, by the time I was seven.  By that time, my dad was working in Memphis, so he stayed in his apartment there all week, and when he occasionally came home on the weekends, he was too tired to do anything other an catch up on his rest. I do remember him reading me "The Devil and Daniel Webster" on one of those weekends, though.  After that he worked a third shift job, eight shifts a week, and he was asleep when we were home from school.  

Still, I catch myself daydreaming of autumn afternoons that never happened. No fresh-baked cookies  for after-school snacks (as a latchkey kid, I always wondered if people really did that outside of 50s sitcoms), no milk drinking allowed other than from breakfast cereal and occasional cookies for a bedtime snack,  though we were allowed saccharin-sweetened iced tea. It was hideous tasting.  I often suspected that was done to discourage us from drinking the tea, too. But then there came the news about saccharin causing cancer and we got to go back to sugar-sweetened iced tea.

I often think of parents making Halloween costumes of their kids, decorating for the holiday.  Walking to all the spookily decorated houses like I did when I was little.  Those were the days when all the kids roamed the neighborhood until ten pm if Halloween fell on a weekend.  My old neighborhood is all but dead now.  

I suppose that what I daydream of is what I'd planned to do if I'd had kids, but that never worked out.  For those in-your-face Christians out there, you can smugly say that was God's plan for me.  Of course I believe in God... I've seen enough of Hell already in my life to know God must exist too.  No, kids aren't part of my life and that doesn't mean I want to babysit other people's kids now that I've gotten that desire out of my heart and filled it with art projects and learning new skills.  Sorry, I guess I'm just not planning on being used as someone's general dogsbody. I decided a few years ago that I because I was the only one concerned about my own happiness, I wouldn't ask anyone's permission to use my own time as I see fit.

Maybe when I have great nieces and great nephews in my life I'll regain an appreciation for snotty, drooling baby faces and stinky diapers during occasional visits.  I'll stick to enjoying the older kids for now, and making strangers' babies laugh at me from a distance. 

Painting Faster Will Be Fun?

I tried a Bob Ross painting yesterday after a horrible Friday afternoon class.  I thought getting something done would be soothing.  The finished painting did not make me happy, for lots of reasons. The problem is, I'm not truly sure where I made the important mistakes, because I was not given enough information on the video.  I'm going to have to ask my painting teacher about thus.  

I am glad I used the paints that came with the set, and not my class oil paints.  For some reason, those plastic tubes just didn't seem professional or serious to me.

I've been saying that I wanted to learn to paint faster.  And I did, though it took me three hours, to Bob's one.  I finished it, and I'm still so highly aggravated that I don't want to even look at that painting for a while.  

My problems started with technique, tools, and supplies.  
1)  At home I have a horrible, cheap table easel that wouldn't hold the canvas securely.  It's not big enough, or sturdy enough, and has a lip blocking the lower part of the canvas.  It's destined to be for small displays only.  If I don't use it to start a bonfire, that is.

2) I had no clue how much liquid base coat to use. It sounded like it would be a lot, from all descriptions, and it turned out that I used way too much, which led me to use too much paint all over, and I had adhesion problems.

3) The sky went too far, and the kit did not provide both colors of blue he specified for it. He painted with Prussian Blue and Pthalo Blue, and by the way, Pthalo Blue  is VERY overpowering.  I couldn't make a deep enough sky without the Prussian so my sky was too flat to make me happy.  It never faded like if was supposed to, due to the overpowering Pthalo.

4) The sky was far too wet, so when I tried to lightly blend my white clouds after painting them in twice, they disappeared.  What you can see is just blue clouds. They're not happy little clouds.  They're blue.  

5). I used the amount of paint specified when painting with the knife, and it wouldn't stick to the canvas.  I just couldn't figure out how to get the paint roll off my knife and onto the canvas.

6) I had one set of brushes.  When I needed to change colors, the cleaner soaked so far into the bristles I couldn't get it all out. It's not good to paint with a brush full of turps.  Bob Ross always had clean brushes waiting under his easel. I believe someone swapped clean brushes for dirty out of view of the camera.  

7) I used about a roll of paper towels trying to clean brushes as I went. I normally use 5 or 6 pieces in class. With all of the Gamsol soaked into my brushes, it took forever to get the paint out.

8) Trying to keep the canvas stable was impossible, and I wound up covered in thick paint up to my elbows.  It got everywhere.

9) I was also soaked in Gamsol, everywhere, and I believe that stuff is carcinogenic.

10). I decided to try a disposable oil palette. It wasn't big enough, and it was too flimsy.  Paint got all over my table and I couldn't get it off, not even when I poured straight rubbing alcohol on it.

11)  The kit I bought "contains everything needed to paint this picture exactly" but good old Bob was using additional colors that weren't in the kit.  Another yellow, another blue, another brown. And it mattered, because I couldn't get the color variations he did, making my picture look flat and dead to me.

12) The paint didn't come off the brushes onto the canvas as it was supposed to, so, thinking I needed more paint on my brush, loaded more, and then, not only would it not stick to the canvas, the blue from the sky mopped up onto the brush .  I couldn't yellow highlight the tree branches with blue.  More cleaning.  More paint wasted. More Gamsol sprayed over me.

13) I used half a tube of green, yellow, and white on this painting.  That paint us so thick in places it may not dry before I'm dead. Somehow, I didn't see good old Bob needing quite as much paint as I did.

14) Bob Ross's voice stops being soothing and turns mocking when things don't work according to his directions.  

15)  This method causes paint to splatter all over.  On me, on my laptop, on my carpet, the table, my phone.  My studio is in a spare bedroom, because I'm a poor teacher and that's all I can afford.

16)  The cleaning jar I usually use for classes is not up to the task of cleaning these brushes adequately.  You really do need a special cleaning bucket, a garbage can, and a mill full of fabric to clean after this fiasco.

I'll probably try painting wet-on-wet again, but I'll stick with You Tube videos.  At least the people making those are still around so you can ask questions of them. :). I really just want to learn more techniques to create my own paintings, and not a copy of someone else's work.  But... Sometimes you have to be willing to throw your first efforts in the trash.  And I did hit the Jo-Ann's Grand Opening for half-priced canvases (with coupons).

Of course, most of my problems here were due to mechanics and misunderstandings, but that didn't help when I was frustrated to the point of screaming.  I beat the 1 inch brush.  Into the table.  I pretty much ruined it. Many lost bristles, the remaining ones splayed horribly.... which made creating leaves a bit easier, after all. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Blue Ribbons :)

I went to the fair last night and discovered that two of the three paintings I entered won blue ribbons.  :). Several people had told me they saw the portrait I entered, but that it didn't win anything, and they hadn't seen the other two at all.  I was a bit worried they might have disappeared someplace.  Stolen or trashed -- who would know?  

Years ago I sewed a vest from dark green polished cotton, covered matching buttons, painted on a pattern of undulating purplish-green ivy, and bordered the vines and leaves in gold foil. Completely my original design and work, other than using a commercial vest pattern, which of course, is allowed.  It was a truly gorgeous item, and I believe it is still in my closet, the worse for wear because it was, after all, a vest I made for my own wardrobe. I received lots of compliments on it during my vest-wearing days. :). I wore it often because I loved the way it looked.  

I think I won a red second place ribbon for it, which annoyed my mother.  She had seen the other clothing entries and said mine was the best of all, and an original handmade design to boot, while others had apparently used commercial iron-ons to complete their designs.  

And it's ok.  :). I was thrilled to win a ribbon at all!  Lol. I suppose the judges didn't realize it was an original free-handed design, or that it wasn't a consideration. 

Because I went to the fair never hearing a mention of seeing ribbons from either my classmates in painting, friends, or students, I figured my work didn't compare to the other entries.  I didn't allow myself to be disappointed.  Well, what did I expect, anyway?  I'm a total newbie at oil painting, and there's quite a learning curve involved.  It's okay to be awful at something when you're learning.  :). Well, other than surgery.  You kinda have to be a great surgeon at all times, I think.  

I went last night and found my paintings, with blue ribbons on them.  (Yes, there WERE other entries In those categories!)  I was pleasantly surprised! Actually, I was a tiny bit giddy, because this meant that I'm not wasting my time. Oh, and there was prize money too!  $9. Lol. (Hey, I never knew about the money from the other ribbon.  I just left that $3.50 there and never knew!). 

I went to the fair office to pick up my money, and the lady at the window acted like 1) I was inconveniencing her to ask, bent double in my modest height to reach the speaking hole in the window, 2) being chintzy for accepting $9 in prize money, 3) lying about having won something in the first place.  She really gave me a snotty attitude about it, so I was extra syrupy sweet and pleasant to her.  Going by the lack of names on the check-signing sheet, there must be a lot of people who don't pick up their prize money.  I didn't even know about it until this year.  

So I went home feeling happy and validated, planning to paint more.  And then there was that annoying dream... Lol

I dreamed I was in an acrylic painting class that was full of people painting different things, and the teacher wouldn't give us the go-ahead to start working.  So I was talking to some friends in the class, telling them about the ribbons from the fair, and the teacher started yelling at me for disrupting class, not working hard enough on my canvas, and not having enough talent to be her student.  I was wasting her time, she said, when she was actually wasting everyone else's time, making us sit there unable to work, while we were paying her by the hour to teach us.  *rolling eyes*

Hahaha! You know where that comes from.  It's just basic insecurity -- a lack of self confidence.  Funny that it came right as I was feeling good about myself.  The great part was that what she said didn't faze me at all.  I just grinned and went back to my seat to paint.  I looked in my toolbox and found a handful of X-acto knives in there, though, and I wondered what kind of painting teacher would require her students to have more craft knives than brushes.  :)  Maybe... not such a good teacher, with her bleached blonde pageboy hairdo and constant shouting.

So the dream didn't quite come from nowhere.  It was relevant, and to the point of what I'd been worrying over for ten months. I just didn't let it get to me. 

And what about the knives? I've been thinking about painting another Leonid Afremov - style painting, which I realized would require me to buy a couple more palette knives. :). And possibly some painting butter.  My gut tells me that's the secret to his thick paint drying in less than a hundred years.  Has to be!  I'm going to play with that stuff, I think.  One thing is for sure - I need a better easel.  My $20 Wal-Mart easel was the best they had, but a piece of junk, as it turns out. Lol. It's totally rickety and too small to hold an 8x10 canvas while I paint anyway.  Now at least I know what to look for when I shop for an easel.  That's all that holding me back from painting at home. 

The painting I was working on in the dream was a tall vase full of flowers, with a pink background.  Nothing particularly meaningful about that, although in the dream I was surprised I'd chosen such a girly looking picture.  I knew that it had been a long time since the teacher had held class, and I'd forgotten a lot.  That was the gist of why I was unhappy with her, I'm sure.  

Painting, I think I'll keep you.  :). It isn't a new thing for me -- I've been painting for over 20 years, if I think about it.  I started with oil paint by numbers at 12 (does that count?), then fabric painting at 18, on to acrylics with One Stroke Painting at 25 (I'm actually a certified instructor, but soon realized there was a lack of support from the higher-ups, and no discounts on materials unless you bought in bulk), and oils again, at 42.