Saturday, February 26, 2011

reflections in watercolor

I am what I am, and I'd probably prefer not to think of myself as what I'm not.
That being said, sometimes I do think about the things that I don't do versus the things that I do happen to do. For instance, I'm not a "painting a day" adherent. I paint when I want to paint, and I don't when I don't. And generally, when I do paint, I tend to make like multiple paintings in a sitting. There's something about making art that needs to be inherent to me, not routine. It's not a this versus that kind of thing, it's just a who I am as a person kind of thing.

So, the thing I like about watercolors isn't so much painting "things" as it is playing with color and being pleasantly surprised. Watercolor (not unlike certain glazing techniques in ceramics) can be a semi-random process. Now, when I get out the paint and the brushes and the water and the salt and sit down, I usually sort of have an idea of what I was maybe thinking about doing, but then it depends on the colors that are already on the palette and then, well, I just sit there and paint and add more color or change colors or get into a mood or a movement and just go with it until there's no more paper or spots on the floor to put paintings to dry...

And it kind of happens like that last sentence - it just goes on until it stops.

I have a good gauge of color, and a reasonable idea of how the colors I have combined are going to look together, and yet, with my watercolor paintings there is always an element of surprise. And that's kind of the kismet of the thing: making something and being certain in knowing that the outcome isn't exact and yet it will probably be fantastically interesting.

With every batch of paintings I do, I always have favorites, this is one of them:

raspberry misty morning rain

Now, for the person who asked on the comments of my last entry:
"...wonder if you would tell me what you use salt for and what it does?"
When you apply salt to wet watercolor pigment it creates the 'fractal' effect you can see in the bottom half of that painting. See this detail. Basically, the salt crystals play with the pigment and the water and leave little 'star' patterns. For a matter of amusement, you may also notice that rock salt when dried on a sidewalk will also leave a similar pattern.

Now, if you look this up on watercolor painting tutorials it will tell you about creating stars or snowflakes or lichen or something. Let's just say I have a heavy hand with the salt and a heavy hand with the pigment — because I scrape my salt off with an old gift card, and always either wear sunglasses or avert my eyes when I do it. Safety first; that and my eyes are important.

There's a semi-amusing thing about this series of paintings (at least, to me there is) because when I had started painting I had the fleeting thought that I wasn't going to end up going full bore with the salt and that I was going to try to do something more oriented with droplets of pigment.... that didn't happen. I mean, the next painting I did was mostly based in white pigment, but by the time I had finished the rest of the paintings the next morning - everything was salted. This is probably why I don't "plan" things.

I suppose not planning in some respects can be construed as lowering the bar; so as to not have to suffer the indignity of not meeting expectations... but, I mean, as conceited as maybe this sounds, when I sit down to make something I do always expect it to be damned awesome. You know, it's not like I'm thinking "oh, this is going to suck." But really, when I sit down to do watercolors, I did kind of already know what I was going to do, I just like to let things take their course. As it turns out, I made 15 paintings that got progressively more salty as I went along. And I'm pretty happy with how all of them turned out.

Slowly, but surely, my new paintings will pop up here... (except for a couple of my favorites, which I just can't part with)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

weekend watercolors

I came home from work this weekend, and maybe in my mind I had constructed elaborate plans (well, I "planned" to work on a project). But then, I started vacuuming instead. I even went so far as to clean the bathroom. So, apparently, there was a part of my brain that decided against working on the project — because the project was certainly not house work...

So, I watched some tv and did some painting instead - watercolors. Now, I have this project floating around in my imagination that involves combing watercolors with prints, and I have a mental fascination with a certain technique with gouache... but neither of those were on the itinerary. Nope, this was straight up salt on watercolor.

I had watercolor sets when I was a kid - the kind with the little circles filled with paint in a neat little container. But I remember using markers more. To fulfill some sort of "painting" requirement for my BFA - I took "Aqueous Media" (2 semesters, no less). So, somewhere in my portfolio there are watercolors of pumpkins and nude people (although, oddly, no pumpkins with nude people, heh). And while I could do minimal color combinations just fine (only orange & blue, or purple & yellow, or red & green) well, I don't see the world in terms of "complimentary colors" and I never have. I see the idea of complimentary colors as being arbitrary. So, yeah, it was an exercise in aqueous media (which, btw, could have just been called "watercolors", it wasn't exactly like we did anything with gouache).

What I do distinctly remember was being told that we should avoid using the color black. when rendering shadows, and to just kind of avoid using black in general. I also remember thinking that "don't use black" thing was both stupid and absurd. I took "Aqueous Media" to fulfill a painting requirement in college, specifically because I didn't want to take "Painting" which, if I recall correctly, was mostly oil painting, which is something that has never held any charm for me. I really do think that portraiture in museums, particularly anything meant to be realistically representational is duller than absolute boredom. I didn't take Aqueous Media because I wanted to learn how to make watercolor paintings that looked like I had mastered "watercolor techniques" — I took it to avoid taking another class & to fulfill a requirement. Plus, watercolor paint & supplies were cheaper than oil painting supplies...

I've been drawing since I was 2 (or so says my Mother). Art is something that came inherently (unlike playing the piano or poker). So, my approach has always been to do it like a savant, not to grab a book and read a tutorial. Although I went to college where my actual skills were refined (which doesn't mean that I refused to learn anything or anything new there) - I didn't take Aqueous Media to learn how to make watercolors that are supposed to look like "watercolors." So, when I read things like this on wikipedia, I laugh; particularly the last paragraph.

While I did the exercises in Aqueous Media, they were just that: exercises.

Anyway, every time I pull out the watercolors and inevitably squeeze some black pigment out of the tube - I think of being told that I shouldn't and just inwardly chuckle. Rules, schmules.

So, I got out the tray (purchased on the basis of the supply list for Aqueous Media) which is always covered with dried paint. I filled up a faux tupperware bowl with some tap water (because it's not like I see the act of painting in ceremonial terms - any bowl that holds enough water will do). Got out the kleenex box full out paintbrushes which hangs around in various places. Put a fresh sheet of newsprint down on the paper cutter. Got the elaborate bowl I made in one of many semesters of ceramics which holds my salt (regular table salt mixed with sea salt mixed with used salt scraped off of previous paintings). And, of course, got out the paints, and sat down on the floor and commenced with the painting while watching the Simpsons on hulu & CSI reruns from onDemand.

The paintings sit on the floor to dry. And then I wait impatiently for paint to dry, and chuckle inwardly at the idea of waiting for paint to dry... And when they are finally dry, then I take an old gift card and scrape the salt off them (and then collect the salt debris and add it back to the bowl; the bowl sits on a shelf in front of a pile of art theory books along with a decorative resin turtle).

Watercolors - particularly the abstract nature of salt on watercolor - are always an interesting surprise, which is part of the appeal. There is a difference between the way the piece looks when the paint is still wet and how it appear when it's dry (particularly because I use a lot of color and I always use the "white" watercolor, which alters the opacity of the colors). As a general rule (and this isn't like the don't use black) - watercolors will dry darker and duller.

I suppose the paintings I make are perhaps an acquired taste or a specific taste, because, in all likelihood, I am never going to be one of those people who is compelled to make intricate photo realistic paintings with watercolor. And yet, through medium and technique, my paintings are intricate and meticulous even with all the factors of chance and happenstance. There is the combination of what is inherent and entropy.

There is no other painting medium (or pastels or colored pencils) that is going to produce this visual. In the end the painting is a painting, it is a visual thing.

You can check out some of my watercolors on my "sarahknight" shop on etsy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

yes, it's a bird feeder

It's February in Michigan. And while the weather has temporarily calmed down — you know, it was a balmy 39˚F out yesterday — the scenery is still maybe a little bleak, or maybe I'm a little short on time to go wander around and take better photos.

There is a project that I started on 10 years ago that I never finished, and I'm engrossed in it at the moment. Every couple of years I return to this project, so time will tell if this is the time I actually just do it — finish it.

In the mean time, because I am a professional procrastinator, I finally put out some bird food. Well, that and as I said: t was a balmy 39˚F outside. Sorry birds, but when it's freezing it's just too damned cold for me to feed you — fly South.

Anyway, the crop of regulars showed up. There is a lone black-capped chickadee, the house finches, the gold finches, assorted sparrows, and the juncos.

Juncos are amusing birds. I've heard that they don't eat off of feeders - but that they scrounge around on the ground under the feeder. That was exactly what I saw when a small flock of them showed up yesterday. But they're making progress, at least one of them is. If the goldfinches and house finches can do it, then the juncos can learn it too (as evidenced by the last photo).

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I like stuff

Wikipedia could probably tell you all about the history of Valentines Day... and Google probably could point you in the direction. Admittedly, I'm not really a history buff. That doesn't mean that I hate facts, I'm just indifferent to some things.

Valentine's Day is about that heart shaped box of chocolates, and seeing pink and red and white and hearts everywhere. It's trying to remember expressions of love... it's not quite as much of an "invented" holiday as "Sweetest Day," but it's about consumerism nonetheless.

I'm a participating consumer; otherwise I'm indifferent to the concept of consumerism, because it's just not something I spend a lot of time thinking about. I buy groceries, I buy stuff, hell, I even like stuff. I distinctly remember my seventh grade English teacher telling us that "stuff" is a dead word. But well, *eyeroll,* that hasn't ever stopped me from using it.

I like stuff. Yes, I said it: I like stuff. I mean, you know, if you've looked at any of my previous entries then you may have noticed that I happen to make stuff. So, it's not out of the question that I like stuff. Plus this is a blog, so I need to write about stuff or post some pictures or something... and it's Valentine's Day time, so I guess it's time to talk about love or stuff like it.

I'm not terribly obsessed with Valentine's Day. I buy a heart-shaped box of chocolates, I get a box of heart-shaped chocolates, and if I'm feeling frisky, then maybe I remember to make a couple of greeting cards. BTW, I like eating chocolate.

So, this is a post about stuff I like. Particularly some stuff that I like that happens to be in my "office."

I enjoy knick knacks, or inappropriately appropriating objects as knick knacks. Many of my knick knacks are toys or things that are apparently supposed to be left out in your garden (where presumably the birds would do their business on them and the insects would crawl all over them). I have an infinite collection of lizards, turtles, and frogs (and the occasional bird). A few of them are legitimate knick knacks, the rest were apparently intended for the garden. The more realistic the replica animal - the better. So, these are some shots of my menagerie.

I like books by Hunter S. Thompson.
I like the music of Warren Zevon, Pink Floyd, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Everclear, John Denver, Rush, Jethro Tull, Bob Dylan...
I like listening to music I like.
I like watching tv.
I like doing nothing and imagining stories (which I believe they call day dreaming).
I like the color violet, and buying violet-colored things.
I like irises.
I like Coca Cola; regular Coke & Cherry Coke.
I like Mary Janes and striped socks.
I like those ridiculous and often gaudy patterned sheets from the seventies.
I like chocolate, particularly those Lindor bars.
I like coconut.
I like pleasantly warm weather.

I like a lot of things, as I imagine we all do, so listing them might get a little frivolous, but this was my "Valentines" theme post, so, I hope you take a moment to think about the stuff you like, and maybe remember why.

Friday, February 11, 2011

sale at sarahkdesigns

8X10 Print Sale!
2-11-2011 to 2-13-2011
All orders placed during the sale will be shipped on Monday 2-14-2011.
come to SARAHKDESIGNS to view the inventory

Yes, I'm having a sale. It's been one of those weeks. I blame the weather. It's been miserably cold here. So basically, every day was: get up just in time to eat dinner, eat dinner, feed the fish, get dressed, drive to work, work 8 hours, drive home, feed the fish, somehow spend 4 hours in front of the computer whilst 'watching' CSI reruns, feed the fish (they're well fed), get to bed an hour late in spite of not really doing anything... and get up to do it all over again... Lather, rinse, repeat.

Yes, it was one of those weeks.
This is my fish Ozzy essentially expressing the word "Meh." He's ready for the warm weather to commence as well...

Hopefully you had a busy (and yet well rested) & accomplishment-filled week.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

snow pictorial

So, yeah, it snowed... again.

I tried to have a sense of humor about it, I suppose. But really, now I hate snow. I've had enough. I don't want to spend any more time shoveling the driveway or that part in front of the mail box... or an extra half an hour driving to work, and another extra half an hour driving home. I really just want it to stop.

In the mean time, I suppose, I have hot chocolate and animal crackers. But really, I'm just ready for spring. (as recent additions to my "sarahknight" etsy shop can attest)

Oh, but on a non-snow related note: I now have a Tumblr
You can find me at:

I'm still a technophobe, so honestly, I'm not quite sure what exactly the point of tumblr is. It seems like a middle point between twitter and a blog. Still, don't expect to find any nude photos there or anything.
On an optimistic note:
  • new episode of "Supernatural" this week (a + that it wasn't pre-empted)
  • FX reruns "Archer" at 11pm on Saturdays - so I can actually watch it
  • my socks are all folded (so now I don't have to pick through the pile to find 2 that match)
  • Brett Dennen has a catchy new song which I keep getting stuck in my head.
  • Found Zachary mellowcreme "valentine mix" when I was browsing the Holiday candy aisle - yum

Friday, February 4, 2011

Picture Story: violet night

It occurred to me when I was scanning my 11X14 acrylic paintings that I was inevitably going to be making new scans of paintings that I have used as backgrounds for my illustrations. Yes, that's part of the magic of photoshop — the painting I used as the background of an illustration is actually completely separate from the illustration. Mostly because while I render the vast majority of the 'parts' of my illustrations by hand - ultimately they are digital collages and assembled on the computer.

So, it took me a ponderous moment of searching, but I found the "violet night" background.

It is via the magic of photoshop that this painting became part of the background of this illustration:

"violet night"

"violet night" was created mostly out of the parts of other illustrations. It's just one of those compositions I assembled for the fun of it.

The irises are something I created for "purple martins & purple irises" which is an image I originally made for one of my calendars (it was for June, since that's when my irises bloom). Anyhow, the irises were originally a pen & ink drawing, which I 'filled' in photoshop — the petals were created from parts of a scan of a salt on watercolor painting and the leaves were created from a scan of an acrylic painting.

The luna moths came from a graphite pencil drawing that I had done as a teenager for the county fair. I scanned them into the computer, colorized them, printed that file, and then colored over it with prismacolors, and scanned that back into the computer. The luna moths are kind of the only part I formatted specifically for this illustration, even though they originated with another composition.

The starry sky came from the background I made for "deer in the winter woods." This illustration was the January picture for one of my calendars. I'm pretty sure the star is a vector graphic, which I spent many hours rotating and layering in a file. For violet night - I used the graphic as a layer over the scan of the painting, and then literally faded out half the graphic with the eraser tool.

Obviously, I color adjusted the scan of the painting that I inevitably used as a background, because, well, I wanted it to be a cooler and bluer shade of violet.

I admit, there are some illustrations that I like just a little bit more, and "violet night" is one of them. Probably mostly because that's my favorite shade of violet — that sort of milky bluish violet color.