Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Stealth Cows

What’s Your Beef? © 2011 Karen Mathison Schmidt
6 x 6 inches • oil on 1/8" Gessobord
gloss varnish for UV protection and easy cleaning

Auction ends June 5

The difference between horses and cows is: when you walk toward them with the camera, horses walk toward you, thinking “Hey, this creature might have a carrot or an apple or something else crunchy and yummy in her pocket.” When you walk toward the cows, however, they think ... well, think is a pretty strong word, so ... well ... who knows what they’re “thinking” but they invariably turn and trot in the opposite direction.

Twice in the past few weeks this has happened to me: I’ll walk out on the front porch and see that the pasture is chock full o’ cows (and I’m talkin’ a BUNCH of cows), all pastoral and picturesque-like, so I quietly run back in the house to fetch my camera, which takes me maybe a minute and ten seconds, tops. I get back out to the yard only to find the pasture udderly (pun TOTALLY intended) devoid of bovine presence. Completely cowless:

Who knew cows could evacuate so fast? All this to say that it’s mighty difficult to get a close-up reference shot of a cow without a pretty powerful zoom lens, and even then you have to kind of sneak up on ’em. That’s what I had to do to get this reference photo. Today when I looked out the window and saw them, before they suspected a thing, I walked out into the yard very quietly, focused my camera on these two grazing out in the pasture, and called out, “hey, you cows!” Not a very imaginative phrase to call out, I know, but it did the trick. They looked up, I snapped the photo, they stared at me for about 8 more seconds, then turned and trotted off in the opposite direction and in less than a minute were nowhere to be seen.

I really like the chunkiness of cows when I’m painting them. And their heads are kind of lumpy looking. And have you ever noticed how big their ears are compared to their heads? I wanted to keep this painting loose and chunky, like the cows.

Here are the work-in-progress photos, starting with a red underpainting:

At this point, the mouths were completely wrong (I think because I’ve been doing so many cat paintings lately ... they looked like cat mouths!) so I decided to wipe them and start over.

They were much more cow-esque the second time around!

Lesson one:
Impressionism means impressionism.
Lesson two: Embrace the wildness!

Evening Reflections © 2011 Karen Mathison Schmidt
11 x 14 x 3/4 inches • oil on 3/4" cradled Gessobord
gloss varnish for UV protection • sides painted dark umber
can be beautifully displayed with or without a frame

Auction ends June 4

I hope everyone had a wonderful and safe Memorial Day holiday yesterday. We had a quiet time around the house, and so I had a good, long stretch of time at the easel. Wonderful!

I don’t know if it was the leisurely big breakfast, or maybe the four-plus cups of coffee, but I managed to finish this one (which I had already made a start on) and another little one of the pear tree yesterday.

This painting is a late spring, just-before-sunset landscape painting of the pond just down the road from us. I used a painting knife on the foreground grasses, and brushwork on the tree and sky ... lots of color layers and fun texture ... and somewhat different from the way I started out to make this painting!

Here were the work-in-progress photos as of the beginning of yesterday’s work:

First, the acrylic underpainting, consisting of the initial sketch in indigo, and glazes of color in the different areas. Then, more glazes: yellow in the sky, red and fuschia over the horizon trees and their reflection, and the foreground grasses:

Now I started adding the oil colors, starting with the sky and its reflection:

I kept adding oil colors; what I didn't realize at this point was I was getting far too attached to my initial sketch, not allowing for any spontaneity at all ...

... so by the time I ended up with this, at the end of the day ...

... I did not like the way it was turning out AT ALL! As a result, I was in kind of a grumpy mood at dinner time. I said, “Well, it’s over. I’m a TERRIBLE artist. I’m going to have to figure out something ELSE to do.” At which point Paul just started laughing, and kidded me out of my crummy mood.

So the next day before I sat down at the easel, I took two of my art books, which I often use to get “unstuck,” off the shelf: California Impressionism by William H. Gerdts and Will South, and Painting the Impressionist Landscape by Lois Griffel. I browsed through these for about half an hour while I finished my morning coffee, studying the paintings in detail and coming to the realization that I had been trying to be too controlling in my approach, instead of balancing that control with some spontaneity, a MUST when trying to capture the untamed wildness of the landscape around here.

I don’t have any work-in-progress photos from today, because once I picked up the painting knife I just went to work and got lost in the process. I did stop once for a lunch break, at which time I studied what I had done so far and made a few changes in my head. Paul always laughs at me when I do this ... just staring trance-like at the painting propped up on the mantle while munching on my sandwich. Then after we finished our lunch I couldn’t wait to get right back to it until I finished an hour or so later. It was kind of funny, a whirlwind of painting right there at the end, and then, quite suddenly, I stopped and looked at the painting, put my knives and brushes down, wiped my hands, threw my arms up in the air like a rodeo contestant just finishing up roping a calf, and said aloud: "DONE!”

Which made me laugh.

Then, because I wasn’t quite ready to stop for the day ... those creative juices were still flowing ... I did another little one, of a couple of ripe pears on the pear tree out back (no, it’s not quite harvest time; I used a reference photo of last year’s pears.)

Anyway, my two lessons that I already knew but were reinforced during the execution of this painting are:

1) The root word of impressionism is impression. Keep it LOOSE! Let the viewer’s brain complete the work of seeing.

2) Especially when it comes to attempting to depict the rural landscape of Louisiana, don't try to tame the untameable (we already get enough of that trying to keep our yard in shape)!

Oh, by the way, below is a photo of the actual scene of this painting. As you can see, although we do have plenty of irises growing wild around here, there are no waterside lilies beside this pond in real life; those just sort of appeared during the painting process, like a little gift, and I went with it.

Now who would want to tame this?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Looking forward to pickin’ time ...

In a Pear Tree © 2011 Karen Mathison Schmidt
5 x 7 inches • oil on Gessobord
gloss varnish for UV protection

Click here to bid
Auction ends June 4

The pear tree in our back yard will be heavy laden with these ripe golden pears by summer’s end. They’re always so sweet and juicy; I can hardly wait ’til pickin’ time!

This afternoon when I finished the pond landscape I was working on, I wasn’t quite ready to wrap things up, painting-wise, so I did this little one, using the same color palette as the landscape. Fun to do some quick, loose brushwork after working on the color layering of the landscape.

Sorry, no work-in-progress photos on this, but I will divulge that I started with a bright red underpainting. You probably could have guessed that by looking closely at the edges of the pears and leaves!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ever singing, march we onward

Joyful, joyful, we adore thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
hearts unfold like flowers before thee,
opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
drive the dark of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness,
fill us with the light of day!

Joyful, Joyful © 2011 Karen Mathison Schmidt
6 x 6 • oil on 1/8" Gessobord

SOLD • private collection, Georgetown, South Carolina

Late spring is the heyday for these red Asian lilies around here. I love these that are growing in big pots on our front patio, blooming to beat the band before their time on center stage is up and it’s time for them to take a back seat to the daisies, roses and marigolds that thrive in the summer months.

The title of today’s painting was inspired by the first verse of one of my all-time favorite hymns, which the author wrote to be set to the melody of Ode to Joy, from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Here’s the complete hymn:

(Click here to hear a contemporary version by Casting Crowns)

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!

All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heaven reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
Chanting bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.

Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blessed,
Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.

Mortals, join the happy chorus, which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us, brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward in the triumph song of life.

- HENRY VAN DYKE, 1852-1933

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Well-Read Cat

The Literary Cat © 2011 Karen Mathison Schmidt
5 x 7 • oil on Gessobord

SOLD • private collection, Jacksonville, Florida

Here’s Ray, relaxing amongst a few of his favorite volumes: A Tale of Two Kitties, To Eat a Mockingbird, The Sound and the Furry, The Cat Is a Lonely Hunter, Tuna Lighthouse, and, of course, his favorite of all time ... *ahem* ... The Great Catsby.

(If these punny titles evoked a good-natured groan from you, my goal has been achieved. Maybe you all can come up with some more feline-friendly titles in the comments section.)

Hey, I just learned that Ray, although he is a bicolor cat, is technically not a tuxedo cat. He’s what is called a “cap-and-saddle” cat; his dark color is a cap on his head and a saddle across his back and tail. Well, I guess you DO learn something new every day. At least I do. Not only does Ray have a saddle, he has chaps, too, as you can see in this photo. He’s ready to ride!

And now, some work-in-progress photos:

First, the sketch in purple & burnt sienna acrylic, followed by an overall glaze of indigo blue.

Now, a yellow glaze on his eyes and the bookcase:

After the underapainting is dry, I start adding the oil colors. I know this is backwards or upside-down from the way we artists have been taught, but in a portrait, whether person or pet, I always start with the eyes, and get that detail completely done right off the bat, because if you get the eyes right, that’s a big chunk of the work already done. And this might sound kind of weird, but with the eyes bringing the painting to life at the start, it’s more fun for me to work on the rest of it.

Notice also that the eyes are almost never just mirror images of each other. Everyone’s right eye is different, even if only slightly, from their left. And because the eyeball is wet, it’s always going to have several different color reflections in it, and sometimes more than one highlight.

Now I paint the bookcase, leaving some of the greenish underpainting showing through to suggest the grain of the wood:

In the finished painting, below, you can see I’ve added a suggestion of highlights on the top front edge of each shelf, I painted the books and added color in the surface of the top shelf to suggest the reflection of the books. In the previous photo, notice how incomplete his face looks without any suggestion of whiskers or ear hair.

Now there’s the Ray I know and love!

Work-in-progress photos
plus Bailey and the Pears,
a comedy in three acts

I almost forgot I was going to show the work-in-progress photos for this Pears on Stairs painting. Pears on Stairs ... sounds kinda like a Dr. Seuss book!

First I did a pencil sketch right on the Gessobord:

Next, I went over the sketch in purple acrylic, 
and added some yellow in the pears ...

and more yellow in the lightest areas of the stairs.

Now, I add a red glaze over the whole painting, 
turning the yellow areas orange-y.

After the underpainting is dry, 
I start adding the oil colors on Bailey’s head:

... and now start adding in the lightest areas of the stairs:

I add detail to the pears and start developing
the reflections in the surface of the stair:

I think the painting is just about finished ...

... but wait, something’s missing.

I add whiskers, and NOW it’s finished!

And now, an extra added bonus:
Bailey and the Pears, a comedy in three acts





Any of you other yahoos wanna mess with me?


Okay then. That’s what I thought.

I guess they know when they’ve met their match.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Another New Day

PSALM 72:19 
Praise be to his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.
Another New Day © 2011 Karen Mathison Schmidt
6 x 6 • oil on Gessobord

SOLD • private collection, Puyallup, Washington

No work-in-progress photos today, but I thought you might like to see my photo of the scene:

The title of today’s painting was inspired by an Eden’s Bridge song called Whole Earth, from their Celtic Praise CD. Because of some recent heavy rain, the pond in the pasture down the road from our house was filled to overflowing, splendidly reflecting the glorious colors of this late spring morning. It reminded me of this song.

You can listen to it here.
Whole Earth by Eden’s Bridge

Mist slowly rising,
The veil gently lifted
Revealing the splendour
Of another new day.
The valleys and hillsides
Are the prints of your fingers,
All lifting their faces
To the call of your name.

And I hear it beginning,
A feeling arising,
And a sense of your presence
In all I survey.

And the mountains and the hills
Shall break forth before you
With shouts of joy
And words of praise,
And the sunlight that glistens
Upon the waters
Will lift my heart
Once again,
And the whole earth,
The whole earth shall praise your name.

Flashes of scarlet
And glimpses of purple,
Echoes of birdsong
And the whisper of rain.
So intense an outpouring
Is bemusing my senses,
Creation responding
To the call of your name.

And I hear it beginning...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Improving on the ordinary

Pears on Stairs -- oh, and a cat, too © 2011 Karen Mathison Schmidt
6 x 6 inches • oil on 1/8" Gessobord
gloss varnish for UV protection and easy cleaning

Auction ends May 27

I was setting up a little still life on the stairs and Bailey decided to join the action.

According to her, three pears and a cat beat three pears any day.

I’ll post work-in-progress photos maƱana.

Have a good night, all!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Iris beginnings ... plus wall surfin’

untitled iris painting work in progress
24 x 30 inches • oil on 2" cradled Gessobord

Man-boyhowdy, it’s been a while since I tackled a painting this large and a subject this intricate! My first idea for these irises was to do an 8 x 10 or so. But while I was doing a pencil sketch I suddenly flashed on how striking these flowers could be as a LARGE painting. I know 24 x 30 isn’t large for some artists, but it is for me. This one is taking some patience -- I’ve been working on this underpainting all day! -- but I’m hopeful it will turn out like I’m seeing it in my imagination. We’ll see!

Meanwhile, I thought I’d show you all how Andy likes to nap on a summery day like today.

In case you can’t quite make out what you’re seeing, his back legs are straight up in the air, and his front half is twisted around so that his front legs are flat against the wall.

We call this pose of his wall surfin’. The beadboard wainscoting must feel cool on his belly. Or maybe he’s just weird.

Probably a little of both.