“Survival” Exhibition

In case you haven’t heard, I have an exhibition at Pump House Regional Arts Center until August 27th! I have seven paintings on canvas in the exhibition and they are all centered around the theme of “Survival.” All of my murals are painted to suit what my customers want, so with this exhibit I was able to paint exactly what I want and put some of my unusual ideas out there for the world to see. In this exhibit, I use elements of trompe l’oeil to bring viewers in to take a closer look at what is trying to survive, what the cost of survival might be, and to invoke empathy for those facing these struggles.

My largest painting seemed quite popular during my reception in July, so today I will show you some of my in-progress photos while I was painting it last winter. This canvas is 24″ x 30″ and I started with painting the background to look like wood. I left the center open because I knew I’d be adding something else there but didn’t know exactly what size it would be. My goal was to make it look like a wooden easel. The sides are also painted in wood grain. Most easels aren’t 1.5 inches thick, but that’s beside the point.
Background layer to look like wood. Light brown layer covered with darker wood grain in an oak pattern.

 

I continued working with the wood grain and adding texture to the edges, and then determined what size of “paper” would look best in the center of the easel for a painting within a painting. I also enhanced the wood grain on the small bottom ledge and added highlights and shadows to give it some depth.
Center piece of paper is in place and shadows are added to the small ledge at the bottom.

 

The next step was quite enjoyable because I got to splatter numerous colors of paint on it. I did take time to cover up the center to protect that section, because I didn’t want any random splatter texture to show up in that area of the painting when I was done. If I had my own studio, even just a room all to myself, it would be awesome to splatter away at any time, but that doesn’t work so well in the corner of my living room, next to our beloved TV. So on a windy, freezing day in November, I did it as quickly as possible outside and called it good enough. I added more random brushstrokes once I got back inside and I also started experimenting with some shadows around the bottom of the paper.Background splatters on the easel with a variety of colors including reds, greens, blues, yellows and everything in between.

 

At one point I made a trip to Goodwill to find a glass that might be small enough to fit on that ledge and that an artist would actually use to rinse their brushes. I was happy with this one, and not only was it about a dollar, but the tag happened to be the color of the week so I got it for half off! Have I mentioned that I tend to be frugal at times? You kind of need to be to survive in this business sometimes. 🙂 I’ve never painted a glass with liquid before, so it took some time to get the perspective and colors right. Here it is in the early stages.Small juice glass with curved bottom filled with red liquid. Glass is painted to look like it is sitting on a small ledge. Actual glass with red paint water and brush sits nearby for reference.

 

Voila ~ the glass is finished! And my paintbrush is resting in it. And someone was hungry so they stopped by to take a drink of that sweet red nectar. Please don’t take a drink, darling little hummingbird, that is not nectar. I love hummingbirds ~ they are so cute and just amaze me! But did you know they also have a predator of the six-legged variety as well? A praying mantis needs to survive somehow too, right? And he’ll need some camouflage of his own to stay hidden…Ruby throated hummingbird is sitting on ledge of glass that is filled with red liquid and has paintbrush resting in the glass. The start of a praying mantis is on the ledge approaching the hummingbird and the outlines of gladiolus flowers is resting on the ledge in front of the praying mantis.

 

Which brings me to the gladiolus that is wilting on the ledge. Here I’ve just started blocking in leaf and flower shapes.Green stems of the glads are painted and where the petals will be is painted white to remove any variations in background colors. Praying mantis is completely painted.

 

Now you can see the wilting flowers. I’ve also added more outlines of paint that you might see if other sizes of paper had previously been taped into place while painting on this easel. I wonder if those paintings survived or where they might be now. Or if the artist was able to sell them.Gladiolus flowers are completed with red flowers that are rather pale and wilted and no longer a vibrant red.

 

Speaking of tape, here comes the main trompe l’oeil aspect of this painting! I wanted the inner painting to appear to be held on with painters tape, so what better reference to use than actual painters tape? When painting murals, I’ve had a lot of practice using a straight edge and brush to make nice straight lines without tape, but they aren’t always perfect. This one had to be perfectly straight to really fool your eye, so I used tape on both sides to get a straight edge.  Then I ripped some tape and used the ragged ends for the ends of my faux tape. I mixed up a yellow that looked right and thinned it out with matte medium and put on a few very thin coats until it looked right to me. Vertical strips of painters tape surrounds a faux piece of paper to create the faux tape.

 

Then I got to peel the real tape off, leaving my painted tape behind with a nice, crisp edge! Using the thin glaze of paint allowed the whiteness of the paper and darkness of the easel to show through just like the actual tape does, as you can see below with the real tape.Tape on right hand side of painting has been removed. Artist is pulling off two pieces of vertical tape on the left side toward the viewer in order to see the painted version of tape between them.

 

Once that paint was completely dry, I came back and did the same thing with the top of the painting. Here I’m pulling off the last piece of tape while the paint is still wet. When the real tape overlaps itself, you can see both tape layers plus the paper and easel. So if I wanted to fool someone, I had to make sure my faux tape did the same thing.Artist is removing one piece of horizontal tape along the top edge of the faux paper.

 

Okay, so this bottom section of tape I just did freehand because it was so small. I used an actual piece of tape nearby as a reference so I could paint it as accurately as I could see it. The main thing was to see how the shadows behaved with my light source and duplicate that to the best of my ability.Small portion of tape on the bottom left of the faux paper is painted horizontally with a portion on the right that is curling toward the viewer as if it has been ripped off and the remnant is dangling there.

 

Time to paint the painting in the painting! We had some gorgeous glads in our flower garden a few years back so I was able to hand pick one of my own reference photos. I didn’t take many in-progress photos because time slipped away from me, as often happens when one paints. I wanted the background to have a watercolor feel to it so there are many layers of colors when you see it in person. I used tape on the lower right corner of the painting to protect the white edge while I was painting it. Then another important step ~ when I was painting the background for these flowers, I made sure to brush some of that onto my faux tape as you would see for any real painting.Red gladiolus is painted to give a watercolor type feeling. At least five large, open flowers are depicted, along with four buds that have emerged but not yet fully opened. Flowers angle from lower right to upper left. Background colors in this faux painting are a variety of blues, grays and violets/pinks.

 

Removing the tape pieces off the corner reveals the crisp white paper edge, as well as the ripped area of the painting. I added some slight texture to the ripped paper to show that some layers of paper were peeled off when it was ripped.View of overall painting with white portions of faux paper painted crisply to make you think the lower right hand corner has been ripped off and some of the tape has been ripped off as well.

 

Then I went to work finishing up the details on the flowers and working with the shadow under the faux paper. Time for my signature and it is complete! I titled this painting “Archilochus colubris” which is the scientific name for the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.Another overall view of painting. The fine details of the gladiolus are completed, including the stamens and anthers of the flowers and deeper shadows and highlights within the painting.

 

I had an incredible time at the artist reception for this exhibit and was so grateful to everyone who showed their support in presence and in thought. This series features many critters trying to survive including the following: spider, ants, millipede, snake, goldfish, monarchs, owl, bunny, and a wasp. There are also inanimate objects trying to survive. And abstract thoughts. I hope that in viewing my artwork, you take time to really see what is surviving and start to think about what their lives might be like through their experiences and struggles.

As I’ve mentioned to families who visited, I have also painted a ladybug on one of these paintings and you can ask your little ones to try to find it!Photograph of five paintings on display at the Pump House. These are all displayed on a black wall with spotlights on each canvas artwork. The largest painting and the one this blog post describes is on the left hand side.

During the artist reception I had the pleasure to meet the other artists who also have exhibitions at this time, Tim Pahs and CathyJean Clark. If you have some time in the next two weeks, stop in at Pump House Regional Arts Center and check out all of our artwork in person! Hours are listed on the website and they recommend you call first to be sure they are open (608-785-1434.) Admission is always free. Thank you for your support!

Fairy Play Room Mural

Phew! I completed another mural and the kids can’t wait to start playing in their new fairy room! There are a lot of different things going on in this room, so this post might get a little lengthy. As a reminder, here is what the room looked like before I started painting. Keep in mind that the room is about 12 feet long and the ceiling is about five feet high, so these are miniature french doors (love them!!)Looking through the 3-1/2 foot high french doors into the fairy playroom.

 

Here is one of the sketches that I drew to scale and my client approved before we signed the commission agreement. Part of my mural prep is to add a grid so I can paint everything in the right proportions on the wall. Some muralists just paint as they go and don’t bother with a grid, but for me it is a lifesaver. It does take time to put grid points on the actual wall, but it is so worth it. Sketches quickly get out of whack on a wall when I try to eyeball them! Once I get the main elements in the right places, I can make necessary tweaks while I’m painting.Waterfall Sketch

 

Here is the finished mural. You can see that there are a lot of things going on in this room, which is perfect because I discovered rather quickly that the kids have incredible imaginations and they can pretend to be big or small or whatever they want to be! The front of the cabinet has two tiny, real doors, so that is where I painted two of the 3-4″ fairies to resemble the children. It was handy that they came to visit me often because they got to hand-pick the exact color they wanted for the trim on their doors, and the oldest chose the color of her clothing, wings, and basket of flowers, too! The little boy was pleased to get dragonfly wings instead of the typical butterfly fairy wings. :)A big waterfall cascades in the distant mountains. In the foreground we see a small hill with colorful mushrooms and a crumbling brick wall. A secondary waterfall rushes over a broken stone and appears to pour into the top of the cabinet. The front of the cabinet is a different scene entirely. Distant waterfalls flower into a lake and that stream flows into the foreground. A fairy is painted to resemble each child, and weeping willow trees fill the landscape.

 

Now let’s get to the fun trompe l’oeil aspect of this mural ~ the top of the cabinet! Here is what it looked like before…Top of cabinet before painting began.

 

…and here is what it looks like now. My client knew she wanted a water feature of some sort on the top, and I came up with a design that would incorporate their name into a stream. The waterfall in the distance flows into a large lake (which is barely visible) and some of that water flows around the nearby hill, over this crumbling wall and “into” the top of this cabinet. These kids have several toy fairy homes so I left plenty of green space around the stream where they can place them down and play. The sun was shining and creating quite a reflection on the top of the cabinet so unfortunately part of this photo is washed out.Top of cabinet appears to be recessed about 2-3 inches. Grass fills the top with a meandering stream in the shape of letters. Lily pads fill in the center of the letters "D" and "A".

 

Here is the other end of the stream. I figured the water had to go somewhere otherwise it would all flood the top of the cabinet, the fairy homes would be destroyed, the paint would eventually wear away, and then I’d have to come back and paint tiny boats or something.

Hmm, that would mean repeat business…

But I digress. Anyway, I figured, why not use a little surrealism to make the water flow into a hole in the side of the “wall?” Where does it go? Beats me. I’ll let the kids figure that one out.Right hand side of cabinet, where the stream seems to disappear into a hole in the recessed top. A robin's nest with three eggs is placed near the letter "L" , and a small exotic snail is near the letter "H"

 

Enough of that area. Turn around after you enter the room, and there are those adorable french doors again!Inside the small playroom, looking back at the entrance.

 

Here is the sketch for this wall with the approved design, and again I added a grid so I can get the layout accurate. They decided that they’d love to have a dragon, and I thought this would be the best wall for one since the angled walls really mess with perspective depending on the height and angle in which they are viewed. Dragon Sketch

 

Here is the completed mural, with just a few slight modifications.A purple and blue dragon with orange horns peeks into the room above a faux crumbling brick wall. Mountains are seen in the distance and pink roses are growing near her tail. Angled side walls reveal a 3' long ruby-throated hummingbird.

 

Initially I painted the dragon’s pupils as vertical slits, but I thought that made her a little too scary. My fear was confirmed when one of the kids asked if I could “give her a smile so she doesn’t look so freaky.” I wasn’t able to give her a smile, but changing her eyes definitely took away a big portion of the “freaky” factor.Kid friendly dragon peeking over a faux brick wall with a tiny mouse nearby. The artist sits in front of the door. The dragon has purple scales on her body with blue scales down her chest. She has four orange horns on her head and her three fingers reach over the wall. Her fingers have orange claws. She has long black eyelashes and yellow eyes.

 

By the way, did you notice the little mouse near the corner?Life sized, realistic mouse in front of the faux block wall.

 

So now lets move on to those big side walls. This time I created a bizarre looking sketch since parts of the mushroom and fern cross over onto the opposite walls. This sketch is meant to be viewed by folding it in half, keeping it open a bit like an a-frame, and staring at it while looking up at the ceiling. It is best to do this in a public setting like a coffee shop or something.Both walls shown in one sketch.

 

It is virtually impossible to get good photos of these walls without a wide-angle lens. If anyone wants to buy me one, that would be awesome. These things are big.
Acorn about 5 feet tall with artist lying on the carpet in front of it. It has a door with a small awning to match the acorn cap. A variety of green curly grasses fill the background.

 

This large fluffy squirrel is eating a colorful mushroom and sitting under a large mushroom. A fern is behind him and behind the over-sized acorn.

 

A mushroom with a yellow-orange stem and orange-red underparts and blue cap spans from the floor to the ceiling. The cap of the mushroom crosses onto the opposite wall so you feel like you are below it. A fairy door is at the bottom with a fluted awning to match the mushroom. A smaller mushroom with blue cap and orange spots is behind the large mushroom. Many fantasy curly grasses fill the background and get lighter and lighter in the distance.

 

When the oldest child first walked under this mushroom, she exclaimed, “I feel like I’m a fairy!” Perfect. That was the goal.  =)
View of large mushroom when lying on the carpet and looking up at the ceiling.

 

One of the kids was concerned and asked me if hummingbirds eat fairies. Luckily, with my extensive fairy research, I was able to indicate that not only do they not eat fairies, but fairies actually get to ride on them sometimes while they are flying. By the way, the woolly bear caterpillar is three feet long.This three foot tall ruby throated hummingbird is sitting on a fantasy curly grass with more curly grasses fading away in the distance. A three foot long woolly bear caterpillar is along the baseboard and a large purple pansy is in the foreground. The end of the fern from the opposite wall curls onto this wall just above the hummingbird.

 

Hummingbird size comparison

 

I want to be a kid again.View of one wall with ruby throated hummingbird, pansy, huge mushroom, and woolly bear caterpillar.