Saturday, January 31, 2009


original acrylic on gessoed board, 6 x 6 inch, unframed
copyright 2009 MaryAnn Cleary

This is an interpretation of a photo that I took while at the conservatory in St. Paul last week. I thought that I would try acrylics with this one. I like how simple and easy they are to use and the quick drying time, but I also found this a hindrance to my style. There definitely will be a learning curve on using them. I definitely think that they would be great for a glazing technique where layers are a bit translucent and built up on one another. For my next attempt, I may give that a dry.

Click to bid.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Trying Out Notan and Orchids at the Conservatory

Using Photoshop Elements "Cutout" Filter
top left: original painting
top center: greyscale
top right: no. of levels=2, edge simplicity=1, edge fidelity=2
bottom left: no. of levels=2, edge simplicity=4, edge fidelity=2
bottom center: no. of levels=2, edge simplicity=1, edge fidelity=2
bottom right: no. of levels=2, edge simplicity=5, edge fidelity=1

After reading Making a Mark's post this morning, I just had to try out this technique in Photoshop. Katherine Tyrrell writes about using the cutout filter in Photoshop Elements to possibly assist with notan and lino-block cutting. The Japanese are the ones who utilized this concept by simplifying shapes into light and dark areas for a two dimensional drawing.Please check out Katherine's site for more a lot more information on doing this and using notan.

Notan can be a powerful tool for the artist to use as a means of simplifying the composition. I first found out about it just a couple of months ago and I am still trying to get my mind around the concept. Thank goodness for technology for assisting the mind and eye with grasping the idea.

I have also been using Photoshop for improving a photo of an orchid that I took while attending the show at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory this past Sunday. The visit definitely helped with the winter doldrums that seem to be plaguing everyone with this long and very cold winter. There were a wide variety of orchids displayed and the conservatory is always warm. What a great place to spend the day! The only problem was that everyone else in the city thought so, too.

original photograph of orchid - (notice the background line and plant support)
copyright 2009 MaryAnn Cleary

White Orchid I
Orchid with background line and plant support removed.
Color adjusted using the "auto" feature in Photoshop Elements.

copyright 2009 MaryAnn Cleary

Orchid II
photograph further manipulated using a Lucis filter, cropping and the bandage tool
copyright 2009 MaryAnn Cleary

The last photograph was manipulated in Photoshop using and added filter called Lucis. It is an add-on that I found over a year or so ago. The same effect can be made though by utilizing the exposure settings and playing with the contrast and brightness, but Lucis just does faster and easier. It is a fun filter.,

Another wonderful thing that I found out about the Conservatory is that they set aside time every month or so to allow photographers and artists in to setup their tripods and easels for photography or for painting. The next day is on February 8th and is from 8:00 am to 10:00 am. There is a nominal cost of $5, but what a place to escape in the winter and paint for a couple of hours. I definitely will try this in February!!

Back to the easel! I am working on some another figure painting and doing some conte drawing. If it looks ok, I will post it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Helping Hand...

Helping Hand
oil on gessoed hardboard, 12 x 12 inch, unframed
copyright 2009 MaryAnn Cleary

This portrait is an oil painting that I did using gessoed untempered Masonite or hardboard. This is my first time actually using it and I must say I love the surface and the slight texture from the brushstrokes from painting the gesso in opposite directions.

This little girl was at the Lions Den Garden in Suzhou, China. We were climbing around rocks and she was right behind me. I just loved her big beautiful eyes and the bright, oversized coat that she had on. She was determined to walk alone, but her grandmother kept a hand on her.

What are other's experiences with painting on a gessoed surface? I would love hearing your comments.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Peeled Clementine ~ Virtual Sketch Date January

Peeled Clementine
conte on toned paper, 8 x 10.5 inch, unframed and unmatted

This is my attempt at the virtual sketch for January 2009. It is done using conte on the smooth side of a toned Canson paper. Check out the others at the Virtual Sketch Date blog as they get posted. Saturday is the deadline for getting to see all the other interpretations. Some of them may be also posted on on our group page so that one can see them all together.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jefferson Memorial at Night, Lights in the Studio

Jefferson Memorial at Night (DSFDF challenge)
original oil on canvas board, 8 x 10 inch
This was the challenge for two week period for the Different Strokes from Different Folks setup by Karin Jurick. To see everyone's interpretation be sure to take a look. This scene was a night one and I did a quick study of it. Typically, I tend to overdo things so I am trying to stop before I overwork it. I did rearrange the photo somewhat to make a more pleasing least, hopefully. I also wanted something done simply with an impressionistic look. I also tried to not only make the Memorial the center of interest, but the yellow light the focal point.

Lights in My Studio

Lights for the Studio

These lights are relatively inexpensive to install and add the much needed lighting that painting late into the evening requires. I bought the fixtures at the local Menards for under $20 each. They come with a chain and are easily plugged into an outlet. They do not come with the lights and the S-hooks or eye screws for hanging them. It took me under ten minutes to put each one up. The fluorecent lights that I use for the fixtures have a high CRI rating.

The CRI rating is the color refractive index. Natural daylight has a rating of 100. It is best to buy bulbs that are as high as possible. However, the higher the rating the higher the cost for the bulb. Many times the two bulbs needed for this light fixture will end up costing more than the fixture. I use a mixture of bulbs - one has a CRI of 95 and the other 90.

Here are some tips for hanging them. First, measure off the length of the light and the distance where the chain is on the light. Next, make marks on the ceiling where the light will go. Make sure that there is a wooden stud where you mark off beneath the drywall or use an alternate method of hanging the eye hooks. The eye hooks that I used were long enough to go through the dry wall and into wooden studs that the drywall is attached to. It is important to make sure that they are secured into either wood or that one uses those little blue expansion screws made for securing to drywall. You don't want the light to fall down onto your head.

Once the eye screws are in place it is a matter of putting the s-hooks in them and hanging the chain with the light onto the s-hook. TIP: put the lights into the fixtures prior to hanging them and make sure the lamps are secure in the fixture! With my first attempt, I put the fixture up and then put the lamps into the fixture. I thought everything was peachy, stood back to take a look at my new lights and "CRASH", one of the lights fell out and onto the floor and broke into a million tiny pieces all over the entire studio. I am still picking up pieces of glass. Unfortunately, it was a bulb that was a pricey one. It wasn't one of my better moments.

Also, I used to have just one fixture over my easel, but I opted to add another one for more light. Another benefit is that I can easily photograph my paintings right at the easel without worrying about glare. The overhead lights typically do not glare onto the painting and the photograph is typically the right color with only slight adjustment needed.

If you are looking for more light in your studio, this is an easy and inexpensive way to get it. I also mounted one of those extension plug-in strips onto my wall. It makes it easy for plugging in a variety of accessories, including the lights. By the way, the lights are easily turned off and on with a pull-chain.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Girl in the Red Coat

Girl in the Red Coat
conte on a toned paper, approx. 8.5 x 11 inch, no mat or frame
copyright 2009 MaryAnn Cleary

Yesterday, I decided to start a series of charcoal drawings on paper of portraits. They will be portraits of folks that I have met in my travels or portraits of flowers, pets, or other things that move me. I typically use two to three different colors of conte, but I am trying to limit myself just to one and maybe one for accent.

This portrait is of a little girl that was walking behind me in one of the Suzhou parks. She had an oversized red coat on and had that expressive face of a child. Being a foreigner in China, always brings strong stares. I grabbe a photo of her as we climbed the rocks in one of the parks.

Later today, I will grab some photos of my cheap, studio lights that I put up. My studio gets indirect light, but I typically paint when it is also dark and I needed some lights that did not make the colors off. Check back for my solution.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Three is Company

Three Is Company
original oil on canvas board, 9 x 12 inch, unframed
copyright 2009 MaryAnn Cleary

This painting was done plein aire this past summer. It still needed a little finishing work so after installing another hanging light in my studio, I added the shadows in the chair for the slats. This was done for a summer workshop on the final day. I stood under a huge tree and the morning sun continued to pop out on the grass and chairs.

The past few days I have been reading about art techniques and methods as well as looking at different might say I am absorbing. I am also trying to survive the wicked, icy, tundra weather that seems to have hit the Midwest. My pipes froze to the shower/tub in my bathroom and I finally managed to get them working again this morning. I love the crispness and the atmosphere of the cold weather...there really is no way to photograph it and to paint outside right now is next to impossible or very difficult. I am opting to stay indoors, crank the little heater up in my studio and paint.

Tomorrow I hope to work on a new painting...another one in my Chinese series. I also plan on writing up a little info on adding light to the studio. It is really very easy.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Portrait Exchange

Portrait Exchange
oil painting, 10 x 8 inch, unframed
done from a photograph for a portrait exchange

This my final version of a portrait that I did for a portrait exchange for Different Strokes for Different Folks. The blog is sponsored by Karin Jurick. There were 130 folks that committed to doing a portrait of another person using the photograph of themself that was submitted to Karin. Karin put all the names in a hat and drew them with two people exchanging photos of one another. I have no idea who my photo belonged to, but it was a tough one due to it being a flash no contrast to help define features or a directed light source, except for straight on. This was a real challenge. Hopefully, I was able to capture some of the essence of the person. However, this challenge was not about capturing a likeness, but what our interpretation was of the photo.

Here is the progress of the portrait that I did from start to finish. The final version is above.

While doing the portrait, a few basic tips from portrait classes many years ago from a community college in Arizona, began to resurrect themselves. The first being is to not use a photograph that has been taken with flash unless that is the only option, and of course, paint from a live model if possible. Most folks these days do not have the time to model for a portrait so a photo is the next best way to try to capture their essence and then use it for reference. Having a photo with some contrasting light that is taken in natural light is easier to paint than a flash photo.

The second tip that I remember the teacher remarking on was to try to have a view that is not straight on, but slightly to one side. These are not rules, but just some guidelines for making the life easier on the artist. Catching a person in their environment and knowing a bit of their personality helps, too. If I plan on doing a commission piece, I would actual do a photograph of the person and then try to get a good feel for what their personality is all about.

This was a fun challenge and really pushed me to be creative!

Check out the other portraits at DSFDFs. What fun to see all the interpretations!

P.S. I did not use the limited palette with just 2-3 colors for this one. This was tough as it was without putting more obstacles in my path.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

My Old Color Book and Rembrandt

Two Rembrandt Portraits

"An Old Man in Thought" done by a Rembrandt follower

Rembrandt’s Limited Palette

Today while doing some research on the palette referenced in the book The History of Color in Painting by Faber Buren, a colored plate is referenced as being a Rembrandt. It is titled “An Old Man in Thought” in the book. After trying to find a reference to the painting and Rembrandt on the internet, I found that the painting was NOT a Rembrandt, but probably done by one of his followers. The painting is signed and dated as a Rembrandt. The National Gallery in London is the owner of the painting and has some great information regarding it. The painting was acquired by the NG of London in 1957 from the Duke of Devonshire.

Using the "zoom" feature on the NG website, I definitely could see the difference between a "real" Rembrandt and the want-to-be follower. There is a richness and luminosity that just is not there with the follower. Also, the hands do not seem to have the same quality as the Rembrandt. However, the painting is still a nice portrait.

In an earlier post, I had shown a picture of the colors typically used in Rembrandt's palette. Since the painting referenced in the book is not a Rembrandt, but a follower, hopefully the color palette still holds to be true.

It sounds like Rembrandt not only used a full palette, but he also used a limited palette for a great majority of his paintings. Most of these do not have blue and are of a golden quality and a palette limited to a warm white, golden yellow, red, brown, and an olive green. Rembrandt seldom used any pastel tones and no grays. He kept the warm white pure and did not mix it with any of the other colors. However, the other colors were mixed with one another as well as black. The dark areas of the painting remained very rich providing a major area to emphasize against the light, pure and small areas.

Now off to work on the portrait that I need to do for Karin Jurick's blog Different Strokes for Different Folks. We are all working from photos that we took of ourselves and then Karin exchanged our photo with someone else. All together she has 130 participants. The photo that I received is a tough one as the photo was taken from a straight on flash and not natural light. That means there are no shadows, no contrast and a white flash in the eyes. Now my artistic creativity must take over and try to pull something off that does not look like a pose of a deer stuck in headlights for my exchanged to the studio. I definitely am being pushed out of my comfort zone for this one!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Street Cook in Shanghai...WIP and Happy New Year

Street Cook in China (this is a work in progress)

Street Cook in China
oil on board on canvas, 14 x 11 inch, unframed
copyright 2009 MaryAnn Cleary

Happy New Year Everyone!!

The above painting is one that I am currently working on. I am doing a figurative series and I am trying to use the limited palette that I started a couple of weeks ago. However, there are some places where I would love to pop in a bright color, but I am controlling myself so far. This is forcing me to have a more uniform painting in color as well as mixing up the colors - or close to - what I am trying to achieve. This painting is about half way finished in the first pic...the left side more complete than the right. The background still needs jars and stuff on the shelves and the figure itself still needs work. The bottom one is where I am at now. I will leave this one for a couple of days and then see how I like it.

This is being done from a photo that I took during my stay in China....yes, I did eat the street food there. It was usually the spicey stuff on a, chicken and beef (well, that is what they said it was, but sometimes it is better to not ask). My favorite food while living there were the fried dumplings with a little vinegar and soy sauce. I also enjoyed lotus root (another favorite) stir fried with a little ginger or sometimes stuffed with sticky rice.

Today I long for some good Chinese food, but finding a GOOD restaurant is about as easy as finding good Mexican food in Minnesota (although I did find a good one in Rogers, MN). Not easy and the things that I do find are the typical American type.

Happy New Year everyone! Now to get to that list of resolutions.......