Geeking out on Arthur Rackham

The thing that made me want to be an artist were the illustrations in books. No one I knew had paintings on their walls when I was a kid, but the pictures in the Sunday school books were amazing. I wanted to make drawings just like that.

Fast forward to university, where “illustrations” were not a part of my fine art studies. I learned to disregard this kind of work as not serious.

I’m past wanting to be considered a serious artist, and I can finally look again at the story illustrations that enthralled me as a kid. I still love them, especially the older, complicated, many-mark kind. Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) pushes all my delight buttons. Above is a drawing I did based on one of his (mine has a rat with a crow, rather than a baby) and then I painted it in gouache, a wonderful medium that sometimes rewards you by creating a glow in your work.

Here’s another gouache painting, with more than a few problems, but some of that glow is there.

Everything is Possible

E. Barbeau, Celebration, c2017, Encaustic on panel

The very best to all of you in 2020!

I thought of listing some of the things I accomplished this year, but depending on how you look at it, it either sounded like a brag, or not a big deal.

One brilliant thing that happened this year was that I began to get used to being unemployed. My identity of being a competent and useful worker bee took a serious hit when I first left work, and it began to feel too late to accomplish anything with my creative work.

It was brilliant, when bit by bit, I began to realize there were positives. I didn’t have to stick to what I had been doing. I could look at things I really wanted to do when I ten, or 20, or 30. I love making abstract paintings, but when I was a kid, I really wanted to make realistic drawings in intense detail. I went back to my sketchbook, and forward to digital work. I didn’t stick to any one medium or any one style. I explored it all and my plan is to continue doing so.

I spent the whole of 2019 in revision hell. Some writers love to revise, but I don’t—didn’t. I like it a whole lot better now. I revised two novels and a novella and managed only one short story of new material.

I found a little book called Writing into the Dark, by Dean Wesley Smith, and man, that book made a difference to my confidence as a writer. It felt so good to hear that someone else writes as I do. As though they are reading a story. I’d never heard anyone else describe how it was for me, and I’ve read a zillion writing books.  My first drafts were what is usually called ‘shitty’. Which is what made the revision so trying. I have some new tools to deal with that now. It’s called cycling. Write about 500 words, revise, continue. How is it I didn’t know that many writers do that?

I’m contented. For me it was a very good year. It was best when I didn’t listen to the news too much, though even that eventually boiled down to a bit of perspective.

Take the long views, my dears, and go forth with courage. Happy 2020.

Keep Making

I’m working on all fronts: Digital work, sketchbook work, and egg tempera painting as well as writing.

This whole year has been a year of revision. I’ve revised The Spell (YA fantasy)for the umpteenth time. I revised Hannah’s Hearing (a comedic novella about a woman’s struggle with aging). And I’m still revising The Chronos Project ( a time travel novel set in 2067 and 1940 Berlin). I also wrote and revised a short story I’m calling An Intercession.

NOTE to self. Do not spend a whole year revising. I’m getting better at it, but I much prefer writing first draft and it was hard for me to spend a whole year fixing, rather than making.

I like egg tempera, but its a fragile medium, and recently I put a four panel piece on the floor to photograph. I took the shots, and walked away. Big mistake. I have a dog and a cat and they licked off much of the work I’d done. I’m thinking I may change mediums in the new year. No problem. It’ll be fun to learn something new.

I hope you are all beavering away at your special projects. May they go well! Keep making.

Buckle-down Time

Summer hasn’t been all fun and games, though happily there was enough of that to make it feel like summer, but now it’s time to push forward on the creative front. 

Above are two digital pieces, the top not yet complete. I found some movie stills as reference material because they help me think about the whole scene, rather than just the characters. And figures in movie stills do more natural looking things than when you are working from a model, or from most photographs. 

Happy autumn everyone. Another time for growth, but of a different kind.

Happy Canada Day!

Dessert

I’ve been away on family visits, and I’m deep into gardening catch-up and preparation for more family visits.

I have less time in the studio but I’m continuing my study of digital illustration. I struggle with two different things:

  • I have trouble thinking of things to illustrate and,
  • When I do create something, it looks stiff and self-conscious

In this little mouse painting, I used my brushes more like I would if I were creating with analog mediums like watercolour or oil paint and I think it has helped.

Are mice fond of blackberries for dessert? I have no idea, but dessert is good. Go ahead and have an extra helping of Canada Day cake!

Krita 4.2.1 is here.

My son taught me how to use computers. I think the first oneI tried was an an IBM XT. It had two floppy drives. One held the WordPerfect software I was hoping to use, and the other held your documents. It was a terrible exercise in frustration for me–all those arcane keystrokes, I could never remember–but I was hooked.

My education in computers took a long time. As a single mom, of two, just finishing my degree in fine art, I didn’t have money to buy computers and operating systems, but there were enough of them around to find old computers whose hardware you could scavenge to build something for yourself. By the mid-nineties, my son taught me about open-source operating systems and software. He taught me about Linux. (I use Ubuntu)

I fell in love with the co-operative way Linux was built, and how it offered opportunity to people who couldn’t pop out and buy computers at a whim. My son ended up becoming a software engineer. And I’m still a fan of computers and the ideals behind open-source software.

Krita is one such software. It’s an amazing drawing program that rivals and exceeds the ability of expensive digital editing software like Adobe Photoshop. It’s both robust enough for production artwork and cost friendly enough for beginners who don’t have the money to buy visual artmaking software.

According to Wikipedia, Krita is the Swedish word for crayon and rita is Swedish word for ‘to draw’.

The newest version of Krita just came out, and I spent the tail end of last week and all weekend, trying new brush sets (offered for free by many) and the colourize mask that allows you to colour your work quickly and easily.

Above is a composition of my own that is a little Handmaid’s Tale and a little Mother of Dragon’s, and mostly neither. My very quick granddaughter noted that the expression on the woman’s face is all wrong given the miracle of a dragon hatching in your hands. She’s so right.

The other drawing is a portrait of Dominique Tipper who plays Naomi Nagata in the TV series The Expanse.

Making Lemonade

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Old Woman #1, 2019, oil on paper, 5 x 5″

Some time ago, someone gave me sheets and sheets of fabulous d’Arches watercolour paper. This is seriously expensive paper: deckled edges, cold pressed texture, and thick. It has to be at least a 250-pound paper. Bond paper, the kind you use in your printer, weighs about five pounds per ream (500 sheets). This paper is 56 x 72 centimetres. If paper weight is measured is the same with all papers, 500 sheets of this paper would weight 250 pounds or more. The paper does not buckle or wrinkle when you get it wet.

And did I mention, that it is very expensive?

The thing is, I don’t like it. I don’t like how it takes water mediums. And I don’t like its rough texture. It’s been kicking around for ages. I’ve moved it from one studio to another and used very little of it. It occurred to me, recently, that if I gave it a good coat of gesso I could practice oil painting on it.

Years ago I painted in oils—when I was a kid really—and I didn’t have much of a clue on how to use oils. It seemed like a good time to learn.

The gessoed paper works well for this purpose.

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Old Woman, #2, 2019, oil on paper, 10 x 8″

I’m continuing with a foliage motif in my egg-tempera paintings, but on this paper, I decided to do portraits of old women. Above you have portraits of two colourful ladies whose photos I found on Pinterest.