I’m holding a RAFFLE for newsletter subscribers only, details below. I also talk about a new painting, two people who inspired me this month (a celebrity and an artist), and my Artist’s Vision. Next, I share a joyous plea to be the artist I always wanted; a muse-poem; and three of my articles about pastel techniques.
It has been a very busy month. The creative breakthrough I wrote about last time has not abated. Motivated, I’m in the studio almost every day for several hours. It’s become my new favorite room in the house.
Therefore, I have finished a new painting! It started as a larger study for a multimedia piece using the same source photo, but became a completed work in its own right.
Enter the raffle: give this painting a title! (Soft pastel on archival paper, roughly 45 cm x 60 cm / 18×24″)
This mountain is at one end of Italy’s Piano Grande. Here, the valley is full of yellow lentil blossoms, and a fissure caused by tectonic activity—it’s not a river.
Enter a raffle to win a print of my latest painting! It needs a title, so I’m open to your ideas. To enter, reply to this email with your title suggestion(s). If I pick yours, you win a print! (If you don’t have a title idea, you can also enter; just reply with the word “raffle” and I’ll add your email to the hat. If I don’t pick anyone’s title, I’ll randomly draw a winner from all entries.) Deadline to enter: Monday, September 4, 2023. The winner will be notified by email on September 6.
Put my creations on your desktop, tablet or phone. Download wallpapers by clicking on the images below (fits screens up to 2560 wide). [This is a benefit for people who’ve signed up for my artist updates. I invite you to sign up, too! Learn more here.]
Yes, the bodybuilder / actor / politician.
I’ll let you in on a secret: I’ve been grappling with my determination to succeed as an artist, coupled with my age. Since I have a long history exploring personal productivity, I came to the realization that I need to create a clear vision. Coincidentally, that same day I sat down and watched the first episode of the current mini-docuseries “Arnold,” which turned out to be just what I needed for inspiration.
I know enough about success to know Arnold Schwarzenegger is an outlier. Not only was he talented and determined at a very young age, but he was also incredibly lucky. That said, none of his success would have come about if he hadn’t started with his vision:
“My confidence came from my vision. . . . I am a big believer that if you have a very clear vision of where you want to go, then the rest of it is much easier. Because you always know why you are … pushing and going through the pain barrier, and … why you have to struggle more, and why you have to be more disciplined … I felt that I could win it, and that was what I was there for. I wasn’t there to compete. I was there to win.”
— Arnold Schwarzenegger, on the Tim Ferriss Show Podcast
I am also here to win. Therefore, I wrote the following audacious and determined vision statement:
My Artist’s Vision
To be an exceptional, remarkably successful ARTIST. I will dominate with grace. Nothing will interfere! Nothing will dissuade me. I will not compromise. I will revel in the process. I will see defeats as momentary, and turn them into wins. I will only perform my best. I will make my way and I will meet my goal!
Note: When I shared this with friends, one asked, “what about making money?” Rest assured, when I say successful, that includes making a living creating art. I do not shy away from the business side of my chosen profession.
With my clear vision written, I have begun to speak it aloud to myself, on a daily basis.
Two weeks ago, I discovered the late surrealist painter Remedios Varo (Wikipedia). Originally from Spain, she spent time in France, and the last 20 years of her life in Mexico, where she is well known.
This article on Varo piqued my curiosity with its discussion about her varied techniques, three I’d not heard of—decalcomania, grattage, and soufflage—but also inlay and (ta da!) textured gesso.
Since I’ve been playing with textured gesso, I am curious about other less-common ways I can affect the surface and texture of my artworks. Therefore, I have already received and started devouring the companion book, from the current show at the Art Institute of Chicago.
“There are two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say “It is more difficult than you thought.” This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction. When we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
― Wendell Berry
Truly, I don’t know which way to go, next. My journey has begun.
Blog posts in the last month:
You Always Wanted to Be an Artist – During this process of unlocking myself as an artist, I wrote the following joyous plea to myself. In it, I remember how good it felt to be a creative child, and to be spellbound by both seeing and creating art.
Memento, a Poem – This short poem was inspired by something remarkable. Written in response to a creative writing prompt—anything in 50 words, using the term “gossamer”—I include the back-story, too.
Working Safely with Pastels – A no-nonsense, straightforward guide to working safely with soft (chalk) pastels. I cut through conflicting information, draw on safety data from several pastel brands, and offer an inexpensive, highly effective solution for airborne pastel dust.
Make Pastel Sticks from Broken Pastels – Artist Tip! Did you know you can collect pastel dust and broken bits, and easily re-form sticks with it? Here’s a quick DIY guide on how to make pastel sticks from broken pastels.
Experimenting with Painting on Photos: Pt. 4 – In my fourth set of experiments with painting over fine art photographs, I had fun applying pastels to layers of gesso, textured in interesting ways with a heat gun. Learn about the process and my key takeaways.
I Appreciate You!
Thanks for reading. Feel free to reply to this email with questions or comments. It’s great that you let me keep in touch with you!
Don’t forget to reply with your painting title idea(s), or simply the word “raffle” to enter!
Writer Ray Bradbury titled one of his short stories, “The Golden Apples of the Sun,” a lyrical line that has danced in my head for as long as I can remember. It comes from William Butler Yeats’ poem The Song of Wandering Aengus. Yeats composed three beautiful, short stanzas to describe a life of yearning, striving, and searching, all for an elusive desire.
Like the character Aengus, I’ve carried a lifetime of longing for a single thing: I’ve always wanted to be an artist.
During this process of unlocking myself as an artist, last November I wrote the following joyous plea to myself. In it, I remember how good it felt to be a creative child, and to be spellbound by both seeing and creating art.
You Always Wanted to Be an Artist
Right? So why aren’t you being one? Photography is great, it’s an art, you love it, you’re good at it … But I expect more from you.
Painting, love you long time.
Since your youth, you’ve admired painters. As a teen, you read their diaries and writings, And spent your weekends—not at parties—but at Art museums and galleries, looking at paintings. On your wall, you hung posters and post cards of, yes, paintings.
Then, you stole a book. Sort of. It was the first library book about the Impressionists you saw, And you didn’t return it. (Paying for it later, it still sits on your shelf.) When new exhibits came around, you were there, Eating all the beauty and wonder with your eyes. You looked at every single piece of art In every single museum Available to you, Repeatedly. You made an effort to understand modern art, Even when you couldn’t.
You have always wanted to be an artist. (Also, a poet, a writer, a dancer, even an actor.) But you’ve always wanted to use your hands To make art. To lose yourself in making art. You used to do that, remember? Remember that feeling of being lost in creating. Before judgement, And before insecure people visited their shortcomings on you. (Before the jealous friend made you hide your light, And an ex told you weren’t being an artist the right way—as if! Before you learned how little most artists make, And before, before …) Forget all that!
Remember these instead: Being a child lost in drawing, coloring books, paint-by-numbers, And book-corner animations. Those times when You copied drawings, drew animals from photos; Drew what you saw at church, instead of listening. Drew from sculptures and paintings. Painted from paintings. Photographed paintings…
Set aside persecution, cast off doubt. Step away from the experiences and people That drove you away from something you loved —And still love— Though it might seem hard to find that love Without shame and fear of judgement. But! The creative person inside loves you, and is smiling. She remembers that pleasure of losing yourself By immersing yourself in art.
Remember, too, what you mused over as a child? The things your mind and imagination touched on, Ruminated over, wondered about?
It’s time to touch base with that musing nature again. To be free to meander and Look and muse, explore and muse, Walk and muse, read and muse, Just to look at things, Look look look and muse. Find your muse. To rediscover your many muses, work with them, Let them stir you, rouse you.
After all, you’ve always wanted to be an artist.
I know you can remember that feeling, Finding wonder in the things surrounding you. Light bouncing golden off the pavement, And how it glowed on a wall. The sound of rustling leaves, and wondering, What does the source of the wind looked like? A turn of phrase in a book that carried you, Inspired, into a daydream. That is what it was like, To be lost in creating. It was sensual, magical, mystical, delightful. Remember that feeling. Nurture it. Imagine it! FEEL IT!
You loved it. While creating, time was timeless. You were in the moment, Not in any story Other than the story of the moment.
That moment was golden, innocent, Connected to nothing but self and doing, Doing and ether, ether and mystery, the mystery of how. How the ability came, how the inspiration arrived, How the marks made the results.
Because it is a mystery, it’s a knowing without knowing how. You’ve known it was born in you, never to be taken away, Something that will live in you for as long as you live. And because of your knowledge now, you know it’s Part of ancestry, a thread that goes back beyond history.
No wonder you always wanted to be an artist! So now that you can remember, It’s nearing the time to work through what’s happened, One way or another. To pull that thread through the eye, Unravel the knot that blocks its passage, Do what it takes to see your imagination and creation come forth. And, soon enough, it will be time to do the work. So…
Then work through.
Then do the work.
One step at a time, though.
Right now, let’s just remember that ART FEELS GOOD.
After Being Reminded that I Always Wanted to Be an Artist
The night I wrote that, I slept like a baby.
Subsequently, I’ve done a lot more writing, which has taken me back to good memories, times I felt connected, safe, and loved. Conversely, I’ve recalled difficulties, explored why I’ve been stuck, and scribbled or typed raw expressions of frustration. Sometimes I’ve ruminated on the quizzical nature of other people, and their impacts on me.
These forays into the past have often been streams of consciousness, letting whatever-it-is pour out of me, going wherever it will, and carrying me along.
Surprisingly, expressing myself to myself has proven to be less emotionally heavy than I had feared. For years, decades, I’d shy away because I thought something dark would come out.
Instead, I’m finding light. Often I feel energized rather than dragged down, even in the midst of revisiting negative experiences. Within, there is a sense of fortitude and healing.
Best of all, I feel movement, and that movement is forward.
Here’s my poem, followed by the backstory and inspiration:
She lay headfirst on the table before me, A slight and youthful beauty, Gossamer hair fittingly pale blonde, To match her translucent skin. In 15 years, I never saw another With hair so impossibly fine, Floating into my oiled hands, Unbidden, undesired, and yet … A cherished memory; a muse.
For 15 years, I was in (mostly) private practice as a medical massage therapist. Some clients came simply for relaxation, many others for my specialty in pain management. However, my super-rare, very special specialty was in vocal massage therapy. As such, I saw clients with vocal pathologies, resulting from birth disorders, trauma, surgeries, brain tumors, cancers, radiation treatment, and other medical conditions. Further, I worked with professional singers, and folks with speech-heavy professions, like trial lawyers. I did a lot of work around the head and neck.
Now, being a particularly conscientious massage therapist, I was always hyper-aware of getting oil in people’s hair (assuming I was using oil, which wasn’t always the case). This was, unsurprisingly, due to my own experiences. When I went for massages, I’d repeatedly had my freshly-washed hair oiled up by other therapists. Many of them, in fact. I hated it, and could never understand how so many could be so thoughtless. Some of them weren’t just careless around my neck, but they’d purposefully run their heavily oiled fingers through my hair. Subsequently, instead of allowing the oils to condition my body until the evening, I’d have to shower immediately upon returning home, simply because my hair was now an unsightly mess.
Inspiration for the Memento Poem
Fairly early in my career, I practiced medical massage in Georgetown, in Washington, D.C. One day a client came in, and she had the finest, most wispy hair that I have seen, before or since. It wasn’t sparse, just ultra fine and soft. I didn’t know individual strands of hair could actually be so thin. Her hair was shoulder-length, and I wondered if she could grow it any longer, before it succumbed to stress and broke.
Naturally, when this client lay down on my massage table, I was acutely aware of just how fine her hair was. In fact, gossamer was exactly the word that then came to mind. And, indeed, her hair practically floated into my oiled hands, despite my careful attempts to avoid such a fate. Oh, well. I apologized to her, and she said it didn’t matter.
But apparently it did, at least in my memory. Her hair was so remarkable, I’ve never forgotten it. She reminded me of so many beautiful, pensive, even sad paintings of lovely young women, like the one of Ophelia I include above.
And now she’s inspired my little poem, Memento. It’s short, but I hope you enjoyed it!
Welcome to my artist’s newsletter #2, I’m delighted you’re reading this. Let’s start with…
A Breakthrough! The last month, I’ve been reflecting, writing, researching, and experimenting. In doing so, I’ve found the key to unlocking a creative block I’ve combated for 30+ years! I’ve never had any problems with photography, but I’ve had decades of struggle with painting, and with my identity as an artist. Combining photography and painting, is proving to be the answer. The outcome is that I’m motivated, feeling very positive and possibility-minded, and have been immersed in creative action. I’ve also been blogging like wildfire, as you’ll see below.
Wallpaper for your desktop or tablet.Download three wallpapers at the web version of this newsletter (fits screens up to 2560 wide). [This is a benefit for people who’ve signed up for my artist updates. I invite you to sign up, too! Learn more here.]
Mentors. Since 2020, I’ve had an informal mentor in the wonderfully thoughtful and brilliant Edo Amin. Now, I have a second mentor, a professional photographer who I’ve become acquainted with online. I am so thankful! If you’re considering finding a mentor (multiple mentors are recommended):
Interact with more with people you look up to, in-person or online. A casual mentor is likely to appear.
Thoughts on Copyright Protection — I am concerned about art theft. Here, I discuss types of copyright, intellectual property rights and protection, as well as infringement and enforcement, with pointers to helpful resources. (This blog post got a thumbs up from a copyright lawyer.) Read more.
In my newsletter last month, I mentioned plans to experiment with painting on photos. How has it gone so far? The short answer is: slowly, but I’ve learned a lot already!
Getting Photo Prints
The first hurdle was deciding where to get my photographs printed. I got help from a professional photographer, who has become a casual mentor. [Note: If you’re considering looking for a mentor or mentee, check out this excellent podcast “The Photo Mentor and Mentorship.”] When I mentioned wanting to find a high-quality photo printing company, he recommended White Wall. A superlative suggestion, White Wall has won numerous TIPA awards, are considered a global leader, and conveniently for me, have operations in Germany.
White Wall offers photo printing on a myriad of paper and canvas surfaces. They also print photos on aluminum and wood substrates, among other things.
For my paintings, I am interested in working on larger, fine art giclée photo prints, mounted on a hard and durable surface, that I can frame directly. I ordered samples from White Wall to play with: the “Prints and Photo Sample Set,” and the “Aluminum Sample Set.” Further, since I’m also going to sell straight-up photo prints, I ordered a large, glossy test print, using their “UltraHD Photo Print” method.
The order has arrived. I am deeply impressed. The samples are so gorgeous, I don’t even want to spoil them by experimenting on them! But I will…
These images are too compressed to do the big, UltraHD test photo print justice—it is AMAZINGLY SHARP.
Choosing Surfaces Suitable for Painting on Photos
While I was waiting for those to arrive, I sent emails to White Wall and Hahnemühle, inquiring about surfaces.
I asked for confirmation on White Wall’s most durable paper/aluminum surface combinations, for painting on photos. After describing my intentions, I wrote:
Might any of these surfaces be more suitable? I have selected these because they appear to be coated with a UV protective laminate, or are water-resistant (aluminum) and hangable in bathrooms and rain-sheltered areas.
Fine Art Print On Aluminum Dibond
Direct Print On Aluminum Dibond
ChromaLuxe HD Metal Print (I would rough up the glossy surface, or coat it with a medium, to create a surface that will take pastels)
Photo Print On Aluminum Backing (Fuji Crystal DP Matte)
Photo Print On Wood
They promptly replied:
As far as I understand the process correctly, the materials you have chosen are already a very good choice. Especially the Fine Art on Alu Dibond offers you a clean surface to apply colour etc. to the picture afterwards. We use Hahnemühle and Canson papers for the Fine Art print on Alu Dibond. With direct printing on Alu Dibond, you also have a rough surface that can be easily processed with colours. HD Metal is a very smooth surface, as you correctly say. To be honest, we have hardly any experience with post-processing by artists here, which is why an experiment on your part would be appropriate. Feel free to share your results with us, we are curious about the reactions of our products. Here’s a discount code. [Yay!]
Since I’ve used their papers in the past, I decided to focus on…
I wrote to Hahnemühle, describing how I historically work with pastels. Then, I inquired which of the Hahnemühle papers, used by White Wall, might work best for wet and dry media over printed photographs. They also promptly replied:
Everything that White Wall has recommended are Digital Fine Art ink jet papers. All are suitable for your prints, but I would recommend choosing Fine Art Baryta for really dark/black prints, because of the whiteness. Regarding the matte papers, it is more likely a sense of your own taste. The William Turner has a unique structure, the Torchon has much less structure, and the Photo Rag® is a smooth paper. Nevertheless, we do not have any experience with painting on prints, so we are not able to give any recommendations here. Also take a look at our brand new Hahnemühle App with a large knowledge database about fine art printing with Hahnemühle paper.
Methods for Painting on Photos
Curious about how to approach my experiments, I investigated methods for painting on photos using soft pastels, my preferred medium. (I may eventually also try oil pastels, wax encaustic, acrylic paints, oil paints, and/or inks and stains.)
Like everything, soft (chalk) pastel has its pluses and minuses. Pastels consist of pigment, combined with the minimal amount of binder needed to hold the pigment together. Since there is no “carrier” medium (oil, acrylic, wax, etc.), pastels provide rich, bright colors, which is one reason why I prefer them. Painting with pastels avoids problems like cracked surfaces (oils, especially if you don’t paint fat over lean), yellowing (oils, waxes), or the uncertainty of colors drying darker (acrylics). The downside is that with most pastel techniques, the final work needs to be framed under glass to avoid smudging, usually even when it is sprayed with fixative.
Unfortunately, I found a lot of information about using everything except pastels to paint on photographs. But two helpful articles finally surfaced. [NOTE: I often save offline copies of the most useful reference articles I find on the web. This is because over time they tend to disappear. You might consider doing the same.]
Pastels and Gesso
First, I came across this interesting post, a Soft Pastel and Clear Gesso Technique, by Cory Goulet. An abstract pastel and mixed media artist, Goulet describes using clear gesso with a heat gun, to create a textured and toothy surface that accepts layers of pastels nicely. You can layer more gesso, pastel and fixative, and end up with a pigment-holding surface that may not need glass. I have to try it.
A Chapter on Hand-coloring Digital Prints
Second, I found an entire chapter on Handcoloring using water, oil or chalk as a base, from the book New Dimensions in Photo Processes. The section on “Chalk-based methods for hand-coloring digital prints” includes information on safety, materials and methods. Safety is a consideration with any media, and pastels are no exception. Pastel dust has what can be described as little barbs (like a fishhook), and once it lodges in your lungs, it’s probably not coming out.
I should also mention discovering the art of Stev’nn Hall, whose web site unfortunately doesn’t seem to be working. However, I did find this article, which said:
“To create these works, Hall begins by taking photographs, combining upwards of 40 digital images per piece into a single, comprehensive panoramic view, anchored by a definitive horizon line. Once the image is created in the computer, he prints it and mounts it on birch panel. That’s when the piece really begins to come alive: Hall embellishes the image, painting, scratching, and applying stains, oil paint, pastel, and ink.”
That’s all I’ve learned about his methods for painting on photos. Nonetheless, it’s food for thought.
Selecting a Clear Gesso
Next was determining the best gesso; neither too thick, glossy, or cloudy. Cory Goulet prefers Liquitex, but I wasn’t happy with its apparent milky tone, judging by her in-process photos (I could be wrong). Since I am going to be using the gesso over photographs that I still want partly visible, I need a medium that will be as clear as possible. After reading about several of the better known brands, and their “clear” or “transparent” gessoes, I narrowed my options down to three:
Winsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylic Clear Gesso
Art Spectrum Supertooth Colourfix Pastel Primer
Liquitex Clear Gesso
In the end, I settled on Winsor and Newton’s Artists’ Acrylic Clear Gesso, which they describe as, “completely clear when dry.” Jerry’s Artarama had this to say about it:
Offers excellent tooth for great paint adhesion, fast drying, with a balanced absorbency. The Clear Gesso is exactly that: clear, not milky like some other “clear” gessoes. It can be tinted with acrylics to add some color to your primer or used alone to allow the qualities of your canvas or board to show through. Non-yellowing, flexible, and with all the tooth, absorbency, and fast-drying properties you need. The unpigmented Artists’ Acrylic resin base dries absolutely transparent. Perfect for acrylics, oils, and alkyds, it also makes an excellent ground for charcoals or pastels.
Other Supplies for Painting on Photos
Then came investigating and deciding on a good, large brush for smooth gesso application (hopefully with no lost hairs left behind), procuring the right sandpaper grits to scuff surfaces, and selecting an appropriate heat gun with variable temperatures. Here’s what I ended up getting:
Sandpaper in grits 120, 180 and 240, for sanding surfaces to various smoothnesses
A Makita HG6031VK Variable Temperature Heat Gun
A da Vinci Top Acrylic, Series 5040, wide synthetic brush, 80 mm (a little over 3″)
Unfortunately, I had to order everything, since our local, tiny craft store doesn’t carry serious art supplies.
How it All Looks
At this point, everything has finally arrived. I’m both excited, and intimidated, to start my experiments.
Each of the white-bordered prints shown below is on a different, gorgeous paper. The aluminum sample group is in the upper left, and includes three metallic surfaces that show through the prints, we well as four other surfaces.
My First Experiment Towards Painting on Photos
I have decided to test with the Hahnemühle fine art giclée prints first, then move on to the AluDibond.
My first experiment was taking two types of tape—”Pro” brand Artist Tape, and a Tesa tape that’s either masking or painter’s—and seeing how they behave on the prints and paper.
The Results Weren’t Great
I pressed the tapes on firmly in each test. The “Pro Artist Tape” left a very gummy adhesive residue on the Hahnemühle Baryta. It was impossible to remove. However, it didn’t pull up pigment or paper after firmly sticking for a short time, though I had to peel it off very carefully. Similarly, the Tesa tape left residue too, but less, and still unremovable. Neither pulled up pigment or the paper’s surface, which I am guessing is due to the printed surface.
I tried the Pro on the Hahnemühle Pearl, and it pulled up the paper so badly, it ripped into the image.
After giving up on the Pro tape, the Tesa tape pulled up pigment on all the matte Hahnemühle papers: the Torchon, Photo Rag, and William Turner. (Paper fibers too, in varying degrees.)
Therefore, if I want to mask portions of photos when applying gesso, I will need to find a different tape. Maybe mine were old or cheap, I’ve had them a while. It’s also possible that all tapes will pull pigment off matte fine art photographic prints.
Bottom Line Regarding Tape
The three matte papers—Torchon, Photo Rag, and William Turner—probably shouldn’t be used with tape. This is not a condemnation of them, though, it’s just tape!
Only the gently glossy Hahnemühle Baryta didn’t lose paper or pigment with either tape, but both tapes left adhesive residue on the unprinted paper border.
The second most durable print surface, tape-wise, appears to be the Hahnemühle Pearl. With its pearlescent coating, it didn’t lose pigment with the Tesa, but did retain adhesive on the border, and some of the border paper pulled up.
During this process of unlocking myself as an artist, I wrote the following joyous plea to myself. In it, I remember how good it felt to be a creative child, and to be spellbound by both seeing and creating art.
A no-nonsense, straightforward guide to working safely with soft (chalk) pastels. I cut through conflicting information, draw on safety data from several pastel brands, and offer an inexpensive, highly effective solution for airborne pastel dust.