Monday, March 25, 2013

The Mystery Orchid Blooms

The most recent of my orchids to put out a flowering spike, which I'd been referring to as the "mystery orchid," finally opened! It has very curious flowers, the sepals and laterals petals are a greenish yellow speckled with red-purplish brown spots. The labellum is creamy white, also speckled, sporting the classic mimic bee to attract pollinators.

I wonder what its parentage could be? Odontoglossum seems the most likely, at least from the flower's shape and markings, although it could be a hybrid with perhaps Oncidium. Whatever the hybrid or species may be, I am having a good time sketching it with an eye to doing a finished work later on.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Diane Tesler Workshop

Diane corrects proportions on a student's painting.

Recently I had the privilege of spending a long weekend focused on art. On Saturday I had signed up for Brookside Gardens' colored pencil class. Much as I would have liked to, I was not able to be at Diane Tesler's workshop at VECCA on the first day. I joined the group for the other two days and had an epiphany.

Over the years, other artists have recommended Diane Tesler as a truly accomplished artist and teacher, but I had not had the opportunity to take one of her workshops before. She still teaches classes at the Art League School at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, though she now lives full-time in Kewanna, Indiana. This weekend was my first chance to work with her, and so conveniently close to my new home.

Diane and students at 7 East Gallery VECCA space.

This workshop has been held for the past 27 years in various locations around Woodstock, VA; some of the students have attended regularly since then. VECCA's 7 East Gallery space has been used for the past 8 years or so. There were 14 of us participating, working mostly in oils, but also in pastel, and space in the gallery was tight; two back rooms absorbed the overflow.

Betty Weathers concentrating on her painting.

Elaine Boomer with her lovely still life.

Diane travels with wonderful props she has collected over the years. She comes in the day before to set up the still lives that the students will work from and the set-ups all seem to evoke something beyond mere objects piled up together... all of her assemblages seem to imply a story, a mood, or theme. Some students prefer to bring in photos of what they want to work on; the workshop format allows for a loose structure.

Donna Patton working on her wine festival still life.

Jane McElvany's fabulous crab feast

 By the time I joined the group on Sunday morning, most of the others were far along on their paintings, and I could see from their work that they were all experienced, talented artists. Some of the still life set-ups were quite elaborate and would take a lot of work to finish. Some artists were already working on a second painting of the several canvases they had brought.

There was only one set-up that had had no takers--a pair of old, weather-beaten work boots on a paint-stained cardboard backdrop sitting in a corner of the last room. Not a very appealing subject, but this was the only one available for me to paint. There was nothing to do but embrace the challenge and try to have fun with it, to love the subject as a mother loves her ugly child.

I was going to sketch directly on my small canvas panel, but Diane instructed me to sketch it on paper first, and, of course, she was right--this saves a lot of wasted effort. I borrowed some sketch paper from another artist, and saw right away that my panel was too small for what I had drawn. But I hadn't brought anything else larger, so I was stuck with either having to drive home to bring another panel, or trying to find a place nearby where I could buy a larger canvas (good luck with that on a Sunday morning!). Providentially, another artist, Betty, offered me one of the extra canvases she had brought along--she had one that was just the right size--but it was toned with a deep brick-red gesso! (I prefer neutral toning like cool or warm gray, Burnt Sienna at most). We negotiated a price.

Putting the first strokes on that dark red background was intimidating. What was there to be afraid of? Nobody here was going to beat me or laugh at me if my painting didn't happen to turn out well. As the day wore on, the bright sun coming through the window behind my canvas didn't exactly help, but I slogged on, enjoying the conversations of my fellow artists.

Diane made her rounds, offering helpful suggestions and comments to each student, sitting down at an easel here and there to demonstrate, or make a correction if the student asked. After lunch break, she asked us to bring our paintings over to the main room for a critique.

Suzanne Arthur 's ironing board painting

The crits were thoughtful as well as constructive--Diane found something noteworthy in each piece and commented on aspects of mood and feeling that would enhance each painting, pointing out problems with composition, or areas that could be confusing or mislead the eye. Every student took away something of value, not just about their own painting, but in viewing the others' work we were training our eyes to see what worked and what didn't, and apply those lessons to our own work as well.

Lewis Anderson's pastel of peppers with pot & vase.

Workshop organizer Barbara Randel had made reservations for dinner for our group at Sal's Italian Bistro in nearby Edinburg on the weekend's two evenings--an opportunity to get to know each other better. Dinner at Sal's on Sunday evening was great fun--we had the place pretty much to ourselves (I can't speak about Saturday night) and that was a good thing--I was afraid we'd drive our waitress nuts, but she took it in stride.

I'd arranged for a day off on Monday so I could continue painting the next day. Monday was cloudy and the lack of direct sun worked for me. On the second day I managed to see more and get down the details of the shapes better.  The longer I looked at those boots, the more Attitude they seemed to have. Something about the way the empty boots stood there suggested the classic contraposto stance, as if the wearer had stood in such a pose habitually for so long, that the boots had frozen in that stance. Now that I could see the attitude, the painting became much more fun. Or was it that had begun to identify and project my own personality into the boots? Whatever it was, I felt myself becoming emboldened by this realization, and confident enough to add bits of cadmium red light straight from the tube into the reflected lights, and leave a few areas of the dark red background showing through in places. Diane reminded me to put in the shadows of the shoelaces for a final touch.

The result is so striking, all I can say is I've never done a painting like this before--I'm really pleased with it. I would never have thought of this on my own. Thank you, Diane, for being such an inspiration! I am really looking forward to the next workshop in the fall.

The Painter's Boots, 20" x 16" oil.