gouache portraits

Lake Cushman

So many people I’ve met in California have vacationed in the Pacific Northwest. Aside from a trip to Seattle with Ben to look at UW when he was applying for college, I was not one of them. So when my friend Brigitte heard I was moving to Olympia she said, “oh, Hood Canal!” like I should know. But since then I have tried to learn some local geography and Hood Canal is not far, and it’s supposed to be a kayaker’s paradise.

So Andrew and I set off this week, with the tandem inflatable kayak, to explore Hood Canal, an easy 45 min. drive. And ended up, after a lunch of local fried oyster sandwich, at Lake Cushman. We were not disappointed. 

Lake Cushman at the foot of the Olympics

The water was crystal clear and the breeze significant enough to be cooling but also to create some wave motion to keep the paddlers busy! We were right at the foot of the Olympic mountain range, Mount Ellinor straight ahead! We ventured up a narrow inlet, through a narrow tunnel and into an enchanted grotto. Hood Canal another time! There’s always another body of water to explore in this neck of the woods.

Still playing around with gouache portraits on toned paper. 

There’s still so little time for art-ing these days, which seem taken up with chores related to getting our new home organized and outfitted. Yes, there’s time for exploring, for meeting some really nice neighbors, but there’s so many things to fix or figure out. Like that loud hiss that comes from the direction of the water heater, or the door that locked me into the room and I didn’t have my cell phone and my pleas for help went unheard (for 20 minutes)!

Crazy stuff. It’s fixed now, but there’s always the next thing. I guess houses have to get used to us as much as we have to get used to them. 

And I think I need some new clothes. Andrew says my boat hat is not very cool and somehow the color seems all wrong here. I mean lavender? Really? Gray maybe, or khaki, or dull green, but not lavender.

The Mothers of Bears Ears Monument

Bears Ears in southeastern Utah is the first national monument ever created at the request of a coalition of Indigenous tribes and is one of the most extensive archaeological areas on Earth. But it is being threatened by fossil fuel development and other uses which do not acknowledge the sacred status of these lands to the indigenous peoples who are fighting to protect these lands. These peoples recognize the authority of their matriarchs and it is these tribal women who are leading the way. 

As I painted them I realized that I am envious of their relationship to the land where they live. Especially perhaps now that I am leaving the home where I have lived the longest (a paltry 21 years!) As a child my family moved every year or more until I was eight and then only somewhat less frequently. Although we always made friends, we never lived near relatives, the people we “belonged” with. And there was no ancestral land I was aware of.

So no wonder I have been so drawn to the words and pictures of these indigenous women and their lands, which I have never visited.  

Mary R. Benally: gouache on beige toned paper

We have been birthed into these lands. The umbilical cords of our ancestors are buried here. Our genealogies are intertwined.”

Cynthia Wilson

“Our histories run deep. We relate to these lands who are alive. We know the names of the mountains, plants and animals who teach us everything we need to know to survive. We have within our cultures a familial bond. We know these lands as a mother knows her child, as a child knows her mother.”

Ahjani Yepa

“We are praying for Bears Ears National Monument and our nonhuman relatives. It’s not just Bears Ears we are praying for. Every tribal nation relates to these sacred mountains and their own ancestral lands. We are praying for them, too.

Please pray with us.

Please pray for us.

The mountains are reaching out to us.

The plants and animals are trying to reach us.”

Elouise Wilson

For more information about the Bears Ears inter-tribal Coalition visit the website. Indigenous peoples have so much to teach about how we may be able to heal our earth by relating to it in a more “familial” way.

Caterpillar Time

Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar

My orange spiked beauties are munching their way through the pipevine which carpets the upper studio garden. Their exponential growth is a sobering reminder that my own remaining time here is rapidly dwindling. They are already making their way down the path to their hidden places where they will transform into their paper-like cocoons to sleep until next season.  Meanwhile I am supposed to be packing for my own transition to a new (cocoon)home. 

But there are so many other things to do first! Travel arrangements, insurance, health care, moving boxes and schedules, consultations with owners and buyers and decisions about what furniture to bring/not bring/leave, and more. And then there’s the precious time to sit with friends who I won’t see for a while. 

Sylvester

And time to spend with Sylvester, who seems to know something’s going on, and plops down in my path throughout the day, purring and baring his irresistible tummy, while never allowing me to touch it! This takes time . . . to slow down and talk sweetly to him and not startle him away in my impatience to “get things done”!

Caterpillars, human friends and Sylvester. . .These feel like stolen moments, and maybe that’s the appeal. Like cutting extra thin slivers off the chocolate cake when you’ve already had “enough”.  And then there’s the stolen minutes after dinner, painting portraits.

White pencil and white gouache on black toned paper
White gouache and a touch of watercolor on black toned paper

The more playful I get with gouache, the more I like it! Like what happens with the dry brush in the hair. I’m learning to not smooth everything down.

gouache on beige toned paper

This woman is one of the indigenous Clan Mothers of the Bears Ears southwestern lands that are being threatened by fossil fuel development. You can read about them here. Their voices are powerfully moving. . .

When the land calls — you answer.

When your mother calls — you answer.

I’ll be doing some more portraits of these matriarchs who can inspire us all! 

And now, back to the packing (which I haven’t really started yet!)

Loving Gouache on Toned Paper

Catching up on posting some more recent portraits here before I head off for house hunting in Washington on Saturday! I’m taking my toned paper sketchbooks with me to continue Portrait Art for Sanity Sake 

gouache on black toned paper, Stillman and Birn NOVA Trio sketchbook

I never pursued oil painting due to the smell, which I loved but couldn’t tolerate. But gouache is similar to oil in many ways, the viscosity and opacity, so it’s a great way for a watermedia artist to play around with challenging new techniques. While I’m painting with it, it tends to feel wrong, due to so many years now working with transparent pigments, but by the end I’m usually happy I tried.

gouache on black toned paper

Pretty intense looking guy, huh. Pure soul in those eyes. I’m getting these wonderful poses courtesy of members of the Sktchy app who are artists sharing pictures of themselves or others for the purpose of creative portraiture. The most recent 30faces30days challenge/course is finished but there are always new courses coming up, if you want to check it out.

watercolor on grey toned paper finished with w/c pencil

My efforts at this pose were a reminder that, when you’re painting children, you need a lighter hand. This girl is at least five years younger than my portrait! Something to practice. . .

w/c and white gouache on grey toned paper

It would be hard to go back to painting on white paper! So I ordered another NOVA trio book to take on my trip.

When I come back in about a month, the garden will look different, so I’m taking new pictures every day of the garden as it explodes into blooms, each one of which is occupied by a butterfly at least once each day.

a busy spring palette!

Andrew here, holding a Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, drying its wings after newly emerging from its chrysalid. Now they are fluttering in dizzy mating pairs and laying eggs in the vine. I hope to see legions of those munching polka dotted caterpillars before we’re gone! 

Portrait Art for Sanity Sake

watercolor on beige toned paper in Stillman + Birn NOVA TRIO sketchbook

I always learn a thing or two from Canadian artist Margriet Aasman on Sktchy. In the demo that inspired this portrait of mine she used red and blue pencils for some strategic lines and then proceeded with watercolor. It just really perked things up! along with some white accents on the toned paper. The hard part, as always, was getting the nose in the right place in this slightly off center pose.

It was easier to draw the second time. Figured I’d try it again, this time with gouache, for me a more difficult medium.

gouache on white paper

Honestly I almost gave up on gouache again, enough to throw caution to the wind with the hair. And that turned out to be my favorite part! The lesson in this, as always, is relax, take a chill pill. Painting is not meant to be torture.

watercolor on white w/c paper

Another of the Sktchy lessons in the 30faces30days March series was with a Russian artist Michael Solovyev. He uses the strangest scraggly looking brushes and makes it look like magic. He kept saying you don’t paint the figure, you paint the light!  By the end I was ready to give it a try. He’s right of course. The other brilliant thing he said was to keep the contrast down in the shadow areas. 

colored pencil, watercolor on gray toned paper

Then Andrew posted a picture on Sktchy and I couldn’t resist painting it. I got this far and it was really looking like him and that scared me. So instead of adding more paint and possibly ruining it, I stopped and photographed it. The look is androgenous and angelic, neither of which I would use as adjectives to describe my son. 

So I kept going, and then stopped again. The values weren’t right. 

So I added darker value to the side of his face and called it quits. It’s always an arbitrary stopping point. I run out of patience, time, skill, whatever and it’s time to move on!

gouache on black toned paper

The NOVA Trio toned paper sketchbook has three tones: Grey, Black, and Beige. For a while the beige was my favorite, then grey, and now black!! I love the drama of it, and by the time I finished this one, I’d decided to go over to the gouache side for a while.

Gouache on black toned paper

And today Andrew and I both decided that gouache is where it’s at. It’s F’in lit! (Can you tell I’ve been hanging out with a 28 year old?) I mean, so much drama at your finger and brush tips! especially on black toned paper.

Meanwhile we’re showing our house for sale, which means vacating the house a bit each day after making everything shipshape. Even a bit of art making helps keep us sane.

FaCeS

I have been an art store junky for many, many years. And so I am quite well equipped to tackle new materials whenever the fancy seizes me. I recently purchased a Stillman + Birn’s Nova Series toned paper sketchbook with beige, black and gray pages. 

I’ve been loving the beige paper for my portraits, after a long run of doing them on the gray, with pen, watercolor and a few touches of pastel pencil. The Sktchy app supplies me with the most wonderful subjects, which they call “muses”. Like this adorable guy Zel.

But in order to break into the black paper section of the sketchbook, I got out my gouache paints with the pastel pencils.

This may be the dawn of the up-in-your-face faces! All my fine watercolor skills flew out the window. How liberating. Gotta do more of these.

Meanwhile my in-person model is available and I’m taking advantage, in yet another, more familiar style of watercolor-what-you-can-before-it-moves.

We actually had breathable air today and a sun we could see and even a blue sky!