Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Long Way, Baby

(If you cannot view the slideshow in Flash, please click HERE to go to the gallery)
This week - and today in particular - is very special to me. Today I begin celebrating my last year as an "early" 50-something. But more than that, 18 months ago this week I first dipped my toe into the wild and wonderful world of Art. From that very first tentative brush stroke with a cheapie watercolor set, I felt like I'd found a part of me I'd been missing my entire life.

Three months later (15 months ago for those of you who, like me, tend to be mathematically challenged), I picked up my first pastel - a scratchy, student grade stick - and although it certainly was not love at first sight to say the least, I was guided by some very kind pastelists toward the high quality artist grade pastels. Along the way, I also discovered the joys of sanded and textured surfaces, and eventually fell in love with the medium (although I do continue to paint in watercolor, acrylics, oil pastels and other media from time to time as well).

I have, of course, only begun to scratch the surface (no pun intended) when it comes to being an artist, but I feel comfortable saying I've come a long way in a fairly short time: I've participated in a few group shows, one solo show, done live demos, and even brought home a blue ribbon from the State Fair in Amateur Pastels! I've filled multiple sketchbooks, painted and sketched plein air (outside on location), taken online and in-person art classes and workshops, and painted over 400 little works so far. I've given several paintings away to friends and family, donated some to charity and even sold a few. I have no plans to quit my day job or become a professional artist, but painting fills my life with such happiness, and I never plan to stop painting what I love and loving what I paint. And if what I create brings a little joy to a sometimes too sad world, then that is all the success I could ever want.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Old Dog, New Trick

Helping Steve work on my plein air setup got me into the learning new things mode. So I've started learning how to cut mats and have discovered that apparently this old dog CAN learn a new trick! It's been a lot of fun, and I feel feel like my unframed pastels look nicer safely stored in archival quality mats backed with acid-free foamcore and sealed in protective bags. This also frees me up to paint nonstandard size paintings if I wish, which I often like to do. Right now I'm just doing simple single mats, but who knows? Maybe some day I'll move on up to double and triple matting too! The bags do create glare for photos, but hopefully you get the general idea...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Great Outdoors Test Run

Steve finished working on my test plein air setup today by making a wooden shelf for my pastel box and converting a cheapie tabletop easel to fit on the tripod. Today was quite overcast, so not perfect for plein air painting, but we decided to head out for a test run this afternoon anyway. The little easel actually did okay despite being very lightweight and simplistic, and the tripod seemed quite stable using my backpack as a weighted support on the center post. We still need to arrange a small shelf to hang on the side of the box for all the little extras, like pencils, shapers, erasers, blenders and such, but for the test run today, the bare-bones were fine, and I just grabbed accessories from the backpack as I needed them. Having a shelf will definitely help with comfort and convenience, though, making those items more readily accessible without the constant bending and rummaging.
DIY Plein Air Pastel Setup
Fry enjoyed the views from the river rocks while I got started on the preliminary sketch.
Fry and Me
And he came over to supervise while the painting was being blocked in.
Fry Supervising the Painting Block-In
We still need a few more tweaks to get things exactly like I want them, but so far, I have to say I'm pretty impressed with Steve's handiwork making me a DIY plein air setup!
DIY Plein Air Setup in Action

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Ready for the Great Outdoors

Steve and I have been busy this past week, working on making a do-it-yourself plein air pastel box to replace my old makeshift one that finally gave out, and we finished it up this evening. Steve picked up some wood and made the basic box along with the wood dividers to create the pastel compartments, and put a nice brass latch on as well. We took the leather carry strap off my old half-French easel that I no longer use in the field and used it for this box.
DIY Pastel Box Closed
A piano hinge holds the box sides together and allows the box to open flat for resting on the easel shelf. Steve made thin wood panels lined with foam to cover and cushion the pastels during transport, while I fastened canvas offset clips to  hold the panels in place when the box is closed. A divot was cut out of each panel for easier removal. I also attached screw eyes to the back of the box which hook onto locking levers attached to my French easel, keeping the box secure while painting. We used extra-thick cushiony drawer liner for the pastels to rest on in their respective compartments, and the cushioning, foam and divider strips were all glued down securely.
DIY Pastel Box Open, Panels in Place
My pastels are generally arranged more or less according to value, although I unfortunately am not strict about maintaining that and frequently find the different values "visiting" each others' compartments...
DIY Pastel Box Open; Panels Removed
The photo below shows the foam cushions glued to the panels, with spaces between them matching up to the pastel compartment dividers, to provide the panels a snug fit over the pastel compartments on each side of the box.
DIY Pastel Box Open; Panels Removed, Showing Foam Liners
Looking forward to taking the new box out for a test run!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Nature Shared

"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." ~ Albert Einstein
There's something about painting outdoors - "en plein air" - that renews the spirit like nothing else.
And it's all the better with the companionship of my best little plein air buddy, Fry.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Caught by Surprise

"Things never go the way you expect them to. That's both the joy and frustration in life. I'm finding as I get older that I don't mind, though. It's the surprises that tickle me the most, the things you don't see coming." ~ Michael Stuhlbarg

This quote precisely described me this morning upon learning that my pastel painting, "Kaleidoscope Myst" had received First Place (out of 29 entries) at the North Carolina State Fair in the Amateur Pastel/Drawing/Printmaking category of their Arts and Photography competition. I've spent so much time over the past couple of weeks trying to prepare myself for disappointment that I was really caught off-guard with the win (you know, that whole "hope for the best but expect the worst" thing). But I have to admit, I'm absolutely and utterly thrilled; it almost feels surreal to me. In the words of George Costanza from Seinfeld, "I'm busting!" with excitement.  :-)
© 2014 Tammy Kaufman - Kaleidoscope Myst - pastels on PastelMat 7" x 7"

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Yellow Brick Road

Yesterday  Steve and I took a day-trip up to Beech Mountain, him to mountain bike on the downhill course and myself to paint and try out my new homemade pastel pochade box that we made from a small cigar box. I had considered taking a full set of pastels along with my easel as that is the setup with which I'm most familiar and comfortable. However, the prospect of hauling a French easel and full backpack with me on the ski lift - when I'm already quite fearful of heights - just didn't sound very appealing. And if you've ever hiked at Beech, well, there was just no way I was carrying all that stuff on my back along the trail to the top!
So I carefully packed a very limited selection of pastels into the pochade box and put the remaining plein air necessities into the backpack, and up to the Land of Oz we went. We arrived around midday which would normally have meant poor shadows and lighting, but the cloud cover provided some nice patterns on the landscape from 5500-plus feet of elevation, so I found a nice flat rock to sit on, got out my mini watercolor book and did a very quick field sketch in grey markers, as the clouds were moving rapidly and I wanted to at least get an idea of what I wanted to paint. Once the sketch was done, I opened up the pochade box, got my paper taped down and lightly sketched in my composition. 

All was going okay until I started to work on the closer mountains when I realized I had failed to pack my greens other than just a couple of mid value garish ones! Oh well, necessity is the mother of invention, right? So I set to work using my inadvertently extremely limited palette. I'll admit it was a little frustrating, to say the least, especially combined with using a setup that is new and totally unfamiliar to me - trying to paint a fairly vast scene on a small 5x7 surface with just my right hand, while holding the pochade box and my painting surface on my lap with my left hand. In attempting to "fake" the greens, I did ultimately use up the tooth on the paper but luckily for me, at about the same time as I lost the tooth, I figured the field painting was close enough to done. So I smacked any loose particles away and sealed the little landscape on some foamcore snugly into a clear bag and headed back down the mountain. 

I named this one "Where Troubles Melt Like Lemon Drops", after a line from Somewhere Over the Rainbow, since I was sitting at the entrance to the Land of Oz at Beech Mountain while painting it. :-)

"Where Troubles Melt Like Lemon Drops" ~ © 2014 Tammy Kaufman
I had quite a few visitors stop by while I was painting, which was a bit of a surprise to me as there was hardly anyone around when I first set up. Some people just watched quietly for a few minutes, while several very kindly made nice comments about my work. A few folks asked if I was comfortable sitting on a rock (not especially, but it gave me the view I wanted) and a handful expressed surprise that I was "painting with chalk" - I hear this comment from time to time when I'm plein air painting and it often amuses me, but in all reality it is understandable since pastels kind of do look like children's sidewalk chalk in a way (especially to someone not familiar with them), and I was, after all, working on a tiny little piece of paper taped inside a cigar box lid!

At any rate, I did learn a few things from yesterday's outing:
  • The North Carolina mountains are stunningly beautiful.
  • I think I'll keep the pochade box painting for those times when I have a nice comfy chair and use the easel most other times since I generally prefer to stand to paint anyway.
  • Be sure and check to make sure I have at least the minimum colors I'll likely need before finishing the packing. (Note to self - a good variety of greens in varying values and temperatures are generally useful for the local landscape!)
  • Plein air painting is fun even when I have to sit on a rock, paint on a tiny support that I'm holding on my lap with the non-painting hand, and making do with less than optimal pastel color selections.
  • Did I mention the North Carolina mountains are stunningly beautiful?!

Pastel Society of NC Member Show

Pastel Society member, Pamela Poole, was kind enough to create this lovely slideshow of the Pastel Society of North Carolina's Member Show. The show is on exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Nature Art Gallery and will run through September 28.