I’ve been wanting to do a picture of Lucy for quite a while. She’s the faithful sidekick who nestles under my desk chair when I’m blogging. While most of February was warm, we did have one snowy morning where I sat in my rocker reading and drinking tea while Lucy watched robins in the snow. She’s pretty vigilant about any activity outside that door. I didn’t get any good pictures of the robins, but I did get a few of Lucy.
I’ve found that my oils and pastels turn out much better if I do a detailed pencil sketch to really study the composition and work out the shapes and values. Overall I liked the sketch but there was too much foreground. I was going for a feeling of coziness with snow and cold outside the door, so I decided to leave in the rocking chair and granny square afghan (made by my granny, better known as Baba). I let those details sink into the shadows so that Lucy could remain the starring attraction.
I had just watched a DVD by Richard McKinley about the stages in creating a pastel. I wanted to experiment with Pastelmat but wasn’t sure if I could do a watercolor underpainting like McKinley sometimes does. Some pastel paper will buckle or get too soggy if you wet it. My ace advisor, Nancy Vance, said she thought it would work but backed up her advice with a reference to Karen Margulis’s blog.
(Sometimes I need a village to get the job done.)
So I transferred the basics from the sketch to the Pastelmat and did the watercolor underpainting. The paper reacted differently than the UART paper that I’m used to, just as Karen said it would.
With a solid underpainting it seemed like the pastel painted itself. I started with the darks and worked from large areas to smaller ones. Usually I’m in too big of a hurry, but I did this painting in increments over several days, taking my time and leaving details until the end. Here’s “Lucy on the Lookout” or “Watching Robins in the Snow”.
You can vote for your favorite title in the comment section below!
This pencil sketch is copied from a photo of my great-great grandparents on my dad’s side of the family. I don’t know much about them or the picture. It seems to have been taken in a farmyard, so maybe it was done by an itinerant photographer. Great-great grandpap (GGP) appears to be quite a character with his elaborate mutton chops, dapper outfit and cigar. Great-great grandma (GGM) on the other hand has a more homespun look with a skirt made of a sturdy fabric and a scarf on her head.
What we don’t know about their life we can infer from history and tradition. I’m not sure exactly when they came to America but it would have been during the wave of immigration from eastern Europe. Given the clothing and the setting we can conclude that they weren’t among the rich or privileged. I don’t know if the farm was their main source of income or if GGP worked in a coal mine like so many other immigrants.
GGM and GGP were undoubtedly Catholic, given that their offspring for generations to come were devout members of the local parishes. GGM would have worn her babushka to church in keeping with the requirements for female head covering in the Catholic Church at that time.
In the 1800’s Catholic immigrants were held in contempt by the Protestant majority. They were suspected of trying to undermine the government with their loyalty to the Vatican. It wasn’t until after World War II and the election of John F. Kennedy as president in 1960 that the prejudice and violence began to diminish.
As I sketched I began to think about a photo I had taken of a Somali immigrant in a scarf shop at the Global Mall in Columbus as I was working on a project for the Columbus Council of World Affairs. There was a young immigrant girl in, not a babushka, but a hijab. How different was her situation? Not much. Getting by, not prospering. Enduring prejudice for her religion from those who don’t know very much about it.
I wanted to make that point so I created this pastel painting juxtaposing GGM with the Somali girl to enter into a show about peace at the Martin de Porres Center. I realize I won’t win a debate with anyone who has already decided that Muslims are a threat but I would at least like them to think about their own immigrant roots and the prejudice that our ancestors endured.
Ever since my burst of plein air painting this fall I have been a slacker – distracted by other projects and the holidays. I knew I’d welcome a change of scenery in January so when a friend invited a couple of painters to meet her in a warm locale I didn’t think twice. I am sworn to secrecy about the exact location because it hasn’t been developed to death and it would be good if it stayed that way. Nary a McDonalds or t-shirt shop in site!
It seems I’m packing lighter and lighter for each painting trip. This time I took pencils, a mini watercolor set with just a few brushes and a tiny suitcase with a few pastels. The goal was sketching, not necessarily completing paintings.
My first pencil sketch was from our patio looking at the grasses blowing in the breeze. Just a little something to get going.
The little gull below was done with pencils and my electric eraser from a photo I took on the beach one morning .
I only took a few small sheets of pastel paper. When we visited a state park I wanted to get the feel of the live oaks and the house on the property without having to get into too much architecture. I think this little piece gets the essence of the place.
At another park I did a pastel sketch of the dunes.
This mini sketch was done at an old house the had become a shop for a designer of some very unique clothing. The front of the building was draped with vines. Out back there was a kumquat tree so we picked a few for a still life later.
I like my little watercolor set but watercolor is not my best media. It’s handy but challenging.
As I was finishing up at this spot, a paddle-boarder pulled his gear out of the water and stopped to chat. The scenery improved greatly at that point but including him was beyond my skill level.
In spite of my challenges with watercolor this little sketch at an open air market was my favorite piece of the trip. It might be revisited as an oil painting or pastel.
This trip was just what I needed. I’m already at work on some pieces from the photos I took. I feel like I bottled up some sunshine and brought it back to gloomy Ohio!