In my Art Snacks box this month, among the items I received were phthalo green watercolour paint and a red watercolour pencil.  I was utterly stumped for a couple of days because the colour combination was just so horribly Christmassy.  All I could think of was Christmas trees and magical elves.  Aside from the fact it is only September, it is also utterly sweltering here.  It is so hot here that my kids were sent home early on their second and third days of the school year.  Am was, therefore, definitely and absolutely not feeling the Christmas vibe.  I then remembered that I had a bunch of Art Journal Adventure prompts I hadn’t used and one of those was P.  P for Poppies.  Poppies are red and their stems and leaves are green.  I had an idea!  But, as long term readers will know, I do not do botanical illustrations.  I suck big time at drawing flowers.  Not my thing at all.  My solution was an obvious one because it’s a subject I resort to all the time in my art journal: throw a female figure in there.

I went way too heavy with my first layer of phthalo green watercolour which meant the subsequent layers just got darker and darker.  The clothed portion of the figure is way too dark and opaque.  I dislike it.  Also, that arm is way too long.  She would have orangutan proportioned arms if that arm was straighter.  I think, however, that I just about get away with it.  Maybe.  I chose to stylise the poppies because I knew I would never be able to pull off more realistic poppies.  I quite like those.  So I feel rather meh about this art journal page but I am glad I did the Art Snacks box challenge because it was the shove I needed in a hectic, busy, difficult week to eke out some much-needed art time.  The value of that can never be underestimated.

35 - Poppies - Art Journal Page

Flowers and Freedom

On Saturday, I went with a friend to the Philadelphia Flower Show.  On my own.  Child-free.  No clock-watching or pressure of time.  It was an absolute luxury.  I really know very little about flowers and gardening.  My friend knows a bit more than I do but is no expert.  I think it is safe to say, therefore, that attending the Flower Show was an opportunity to just be grown ups together and enjoy each other’s company more than it was about indulging any horticultural interest or ability.

This was also my first time attending an event in the Convention Centre.  My husband and two of my children have attended Philly Comic Con annually since we emigrated to America so they are veterans of the Convention Centre but I have had no reason to go before.  The Flower Show is run by the Philadelphia Horticultural Society and is apparently America’s longest running and oldest flower show, dating as it does from 1829.  I imagine that people attend in order to be inspired by new plant varieties, by landscape design, to participate in competitions, and to meet with other flower enthusiasts.  Aside from the opportunity for a day of unfettered freedom, the appeal for me lay in seeing a riot of colour and vibrant life given how much I have been loathing Winter and craving Spring.

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Given my degree of ignorance, this will not be a long blog post.  I did, however, enjoy wandering among the displays and showcases.  Most impressive was a tropical jungle built around scaffolding poles that had been painted to mimic bamboo and which were festooned with stunning flowers in bold colours, including cascades of orchids and swirling leaves, and incorporating various water features including a series of waterfalls and the occasional shower of rain.  I was also very taken with a desert area filled with an incredible variety of cacti and succulents.  My friend and I became a tad obsessed with one colloquially named “dinosaur back” because of all of its folds and ridges.  Had one been available for purchase, I might have brought that home with me.  I am not very good at keeping houseplants alive but cacti do somehow manage to survive in my care despite my negligence and evil eye.

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The theme of the flower show was apparently water.  That seemed like a very easy challenge to me since almost all plants require water for sustenance and many garden designs incorporate water.  Still, I do enjoy a good water feature so I liked seeing the variety of ways in which water had been built into the landscaping.  Aside from the water, we noticed some other repetitions of design: glass orbs and copper.  We congratulated ourselves on spotting what might be a gardening “trend”.  There was. for instance, a visually appealing display involving a mirrored table (imagine keeping that clean of smears and finger smudges?) with glass orbs hanging above it like a chandelier, each orb containing a plant.  I thought it would make for a pretty wedding table whereas in my home it would make for megatons of stress and fingers being cut on shards of smashed glass.  On the subject of weddings, I did love an outdoor wedding table, all wood and soft moss, including what looked like a tiered cake made from slices of log.  I could imagine Oberon and Titania dining in just such a setting.

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The competition areas were befuddling to me.  My lack of expertise meant that I could not possibly figure out why one plant or arrangement had been awarded first place while another was an honorable mention.  It was another opportunity to see a diverse selection of plants I had never encountered before.  There was a miniature citrus tree with blossoms and fruit, venus fly traps and pitcher plants inside humid terrariums, arrangements inside tea cups (I liked those a lot!), lots of breathtaking orchids, and blooms in every shape and colour.  I was drawn to the weirdo plants, the non-conformists, and the ones that looked like me if I was a plant.  I got more excited than a grown woman ought to when I spotted some chubby tuberous plants that looked just like mandrakes from ‘Harry Potter’.

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In truth, I cannot say I learned much after a day at the Flower Show and any sense of inspiration was tempered by the reality of my green-finger skills (which are brown-thumbed to be honest).  I did, however, very much enjoy a pleasant day out without the responsibility of keeping children engaged.

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Layered Blooms

This month’s Life Book theme of Growth has meant lots of flower paintings.  I am not remotely competent at drawing flowers let alone painting them.  While this means I should probably just challenge myself to practice them, I don’t have time for all of the things I want to draw and paint so I just steer clear of the subjects that don’t particularly engage or inspire me creatively.  Recognising, however, that I have now skipped a few Life Book lessons, I decided to push myself to completing last week’s lesson.

It was taken by Roben-Marie Smith and was all about creating an abstract flower painting through layering collage and paint.  When I started experimenting with mixed media, layering was something I really struggled with.  I made a lot of mud, a lot of mess, and found it difficult to make everything cohere into one complete piece.  In recent months, however, I have found myself actually quite enjoying layering and especially if what I am aiming to achieve is a more grungy and abstract look.  I, therefore, did not struggle with the layering aspect of this piece but again the flower element defeated me.  I honestly think my 7 year old son could have done a better job of painting these flowers.  Sure, I was aiming for an abstract, non-realistic flower look but these bright blooms just look daft.  Well the lesson was worth doing if only to reinforce that I am getting better at layering and that flowers are still very much not within my wheelhouse.

Week 34 - Layered Flowers


Flowers in her Hair

The subject of this week’s Let’s Face It lesson was a flower goddess.  The lesson was taken by Ady Almanza who had also taught the lesson on drawing an older face.  We are still working on full profiles on the course and I am finding it to be the most challenging so far.  Somehow I throw out all the proportions and angles when I draw a face in full profile.  I did not make any progress in that regard with this painting.  Profiles continue to be my portrait nemesis.  Almanza demonstrated a nifty way to use gesso to create the texture of the hair.  While it was a technique I found effective, I think the rest of my painting is a bit flat by comparison so there was a bit of a disconnect there.  If profiles are one art nemesis, painting flowers are another.  As per the spirit of the lesson, I painted flowers and leafy vines into the hair – and instantly hated them.  I think I actually might paint right over the top of them.

Week 22 Profile with Flowers in Hair

Forget Me Not

This week’s Life Book lesson was all about keeping things simple.  Taken by Angela Kennedy, the tutorial was all about creating a monochrome line drawing with just a few splashes of colour.  I really like Kennedy’s style because she works with mixed media in a more illustrative way and, of course, what I am striving to do is develop my skills with paint and mixed media but apply them to my usual illustrative style.

My favourite flowers are Forget Me Nots so I decided to reference those in my piece.  I really like the smudgy dark lines of the drawing and the way the starkness of the figure contrasts with the small areas of colour.  Compositionally, however, I have ended up with all of the colour being in the left and lower diagonal of the piece whereas the upper right diagonal is more spare and monochromatic.  I am not convinced that it being off kilter to that degree works.  I am still labelling this one an overall success, however.

Week 12 - Monochrome with pop of Colour - Forget Me Not

Girl with Flowers in her Hair

Feeling like my mixed media mojo might be returning after creating the painting for this week’s Life Book lesson, I decided to jump right into this week’s painting for Let’s Face It.  I had a free morning with no commitments or obligations so I thought I would just leap right in and try my best.

The lesson was taken by Kara Bullock and was the last lesson on the theme of front facing portraits. My favourite part of the painting is the grungy background.  I like messy, textured backgrounds – which is why I often dribble and spatter paint – so that is a technique I will definitely use again.  I also like the way the aqua colour works against the umber and unbleached titanium to create an almost verdigris effect.  The juxtaposition of the somewhat sickly flesh tones against the bright diadem of alizarin crimson flowers is very weird, almost disconcerting, but also oddly pleasing.  Again, I can see many flaws in this painting but at least I feel like I am headed in a forward motion with my mixed media learning once more.

Week 10 - Girl with Flowers in her Hair


Face in Watercolour and Graphite

This week’s Let’s Face It lesson was taken by Kylie Fowler.  The lesson was about using watercolour and graphite to create a front facing portrait.  It was funny that this lesson should turn up so soon after I had tackled the Freya painting in graphite pencil and watercolour when I had previously not used those materials together in a long time.  I think this piece turned out better than the Freya piece.  As per usual, I drifted quite far from the painting demonstrated in the tutorial.  I went my own way with it.  I chose to work in colours that to me connote Spring because I am desperately waiting for Winter to properly depart.

Week 8 - Watercolour and Graphite 1

Week 8 - Watercolour and Graphite 2

History of Art #28 – O’Keeffe

This weekend we found some time to continue with our History of Art project which is finally nearing its conclusion – thankfully, given I had only intended for it to be a summer project.  Next up was Georgia O’Keeffe – a female artist at last!

We looked at her flower paintings and discussed their focus on colour and shape, the fluid lines, the idea of focusing on tiny details and transforming them into huge images.  The boys are not ready for Freudian interpretations so we didn’t touch that topic.  We also looked at her desert landscapes, her recreation of the colours of the geology of the region, the quality of light, the desert plants and the bleached skulls of animals.  That led to a brief conversation about painting both life and death.

It was inevitable that the boys would all plump for drawing skulls as soon as they saw O’Keeffe’s paintings of animal skulls in the desert.  There I was talking to them about using large brushes for painting flowers and mixing the sort of colours O’Keeffe used for her flower paintings and all the while I probably knew the boys were just thinking, “Bring on the skulls, mother!”  If we ever stumbled across a skeleton when out on a woodland walk we would react as if we had just found treasure.  Impromptu lessons on animal biology and adaptations would take place but so would a lot of poking with sticks.  Confession: we have a roe deer and a badger skull on a shelf in our basement.  So, yes, the drawing of skulls was inevitable.

My 6 year old immediately scurried off to the basement to grab the deer skull.  It was a great opportunity for me to teach him about observational skills and drawing while looking and the use of contour lines to build up a drawing.  I think he did a wonderful job.

28 - O'Keeffe - AR1

28 - O'Keeffe - AR2

My 10 year old drew a skull, part of a spine and arm bones forming part of a desert landscape.  He had intended to colour it in but then decided to go and play on the PS3 instead.  There is something about his drawing that makes me think of the skeletised dragon in the desert of Tatooine in ‘Star Wars’.

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My 12 year old, in keeping with his determination that every drawing has to be either Minecraft or penguin inspired, decided to draw a penguin skull.  He googled to find a photo of a penguin skull and drew from that.  He then added a little penguin angel floating in the sky, a happy sun, and a smiling narwhal.  A pretty peculiar wake.

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My 8 year old has a minor obsession with raccoons so he decided that the subject of his drawing would be a raccoon skull.  We don’t own one of those so he pulled a photo of one up on my phone and then set about drawing.  I think his drawing of the skull has incredible detail in it and I am very impressed with it.  He plays electric guitar and had been listening to Guns ‘n’ Roses for inspiration so the motif from that band also found its way into his drawing.

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28 - O'Keeffe - E2

I too succumbed to the lure of the skull.  When I was in High School, my art teacher had shelves filled with interesting objects we could draw or take inspiration from and among the items were several skulls.  I used to draw them quite often – but not as often as I drew his collection of battered old leather footwear.  My skull drawing skills are pretty rusty.  I started, however, with a floral doodle in watercolour.  It is the same flower doodle I have been drawing for almost my entire life.  I then did the same as my 8 year old and brought up a photo of a skull on my phone but I challenged myself to draw in India ink, with no pencil under drawing, so that I had to work with any errors or flaws, no erasing possible.  That explains the lack of symmetry.  The horns are ridiculously imbalanced.  I am quite happy with the quality of the drawing, however.

28 - O'Keeffe - Laura