Monday, April 20, 2015

Abstract Monday #5

I had to take a little break from Abstract Monday last week because although I had started this piece, it just didn't have the depth I was hoping to get by the time midnight rolled around.

I chose the palette from a scene I see pretty regularly -- the busy street near my house -- the gray of the street, the new greens of early Spring, the red of a stoplight, the mauve color of the median, and the yellow stripe in the road.

I did a bunch of macro photography that week, inspired by the new spring buds and blossoms in various places, and so I decided to apply the palette to one of the photographs I took. I am enjoying doing this exercise on my tablet as I can take it with me and work on it without having to drag a bunch of supplies with me. The last two weeks were pretty busy and so the tablet came in very handy. I used the pen and watercolor tools in ArtRage for Android this time.

Abstract #5, Digital Art by Amy Lewark
Can you tell what gave me the inspiration for the line and shape?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sketchuary: Making Sketch Art on the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2

Before I started drawing and painting again, my childhood art instructor Sally Bartalot published a book on her teaching methodology called Art Alive: A Fresh Approach to the Basics. She had contacted me to get my permission to share some of my work in the book, and at the same time, she encouraged me to get back into art. At the very least, she wanted me to throw a sketchbook in my purse and sketch during my kiddie chauffeuring gig. I did part of it -- I made a bag with some sketching supplies and carried it around with me for a year, never once putting pen or pencil to the paper therein.

I think one of the hurdles I had in even starting to make art again is that my hands were just plain out of shape. Nearly all language communication I had done was either by speaking or typing for quite a few years. If I wrote anything at all, it was just signing my name on a credit card receipt or writing the occasional check. I couldn't imagine using my hands to create images. But sketching could be the start of the "Couch Potato to 5k" for my hands.

Sketching isn't how I got started again, though it would have been an effective approach. A few years after Sally's book was published, I saw a group called "Sketchuary" on Facebook which is active every February. A friend on Facebook participated for a few years, and I immediately recognized how useful it would be to make a daily sketch. It wasn't until this February that I was courageous enough to try it. For every day of February, participants post a sketch to the group.

On the first day, I sketched a glass bottle with a stem of orchids sitting on a magazine on a piece of sketch paper using a 2B pencil. It took quite a while. I was interested in some of the digital work some of the other participants had uploaded, so I decided to revisit trying to make art on my Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 Digital Tablet.

On the second day, I opened up my tablet and was immediately reminded that the last time I had attempted to create art, I was using Sketchbook Express, and had made it pretty far into an airbrushed Columbine flower when the program crashed. I wasn't even able to open the art in anything except a preview pane to save it or edit it, so I took a screen shot of the preview pane and then decided to go back to the Google Play store to see if there were any other programs to try.

I saw in the Google Play store that one of the better rated programs was still Infinite Painter, which I had also tried in 2014, and which also had the same problem of locking up and losing the artwork. I actually paid for that app, so when I saw that others were still experiencing problems like that, I decided to keep looking.

For my first digital sketch for Sketchuary, I settled on Autodesk Sketchbook. For the first sixteen days of February I used either traditional media or Autodesk Sketchbook to satisfy my sketch challenge for the day. In the beginning, it was really hard to get used to the slipperiness of the pen on the screen of the tablet, but after a few days, I really enjoyed it. I found it helpful to not choke down on the stylus, but use a light loose touch, which is something I had to relearn with traditional media, as well. My favorite sketch from the first part of Sketchuary is the one I did of my dog Ollie, snoozing at the end of the sofa, illuminated in lamplight.

Dog on Sofa, Digital Sketch by Amy Lewark

On the sixteenth, I decided to try another program, ArtFlow (Free Version). I can't accurately remember why I decided to switch, but I think it was something to do with the controls. I indicated on Facebook that I liked ArtFlow a lot better than Autodesk Sketchbook, even though I was only using the free version.

The next day, I decided to try ArtRage. I had tried it before on my daughter's desktop computer, and found it to be quite enjoyable. I knew ArtRage would enable the use of digital versions of many media, including oil. I figured a good challenge might be to try to reproduce the work of a master, so I chose the first one who popped in my head -- Toulouse Lautrec -- and his Portrait of Helen.

Digital Study of Toulouse-Lautrec's Portrait of Helen by Amy Lewark

For a few days I played around with the line smoothing tools and "pen and ink" on ArtRage, producing some very quick sketches of my dog sleeping, a rooster, some lillies I had on my kitchen table, and a reproduction of William Bouguereau's Baigneuse (1864). What I had to learn very quickly is to kind of anticipate what the line-smoothing algorithm would do to the path of my line. I was hitting "undo" quite a bit until I was satisfied with the result of each line.

Sleeping Dog, Digital Sketch by Amy Lewark

Lilies, Digital Sketch by Amy Lewark

Rooster, Digital Sketch by Amy Lewark

Digital Study of William Bouguereau's "Baigneuse" by Amy Lewark

After getting comfortable with the interface, over the next few days I decided to try some different tools within ArtRage. First I tried the watercolor brush on an otter. It ended up being more of a sketch (in line with the theme of Sketchuary) than a painting, but it made me want to investigate how to achieve results more in line with traditional watercolor (no line smoothing).

Digital Watercolor Sketch of an Otter by Amy Lewark
I had not tried pencil sketching yet, so I tried that the next day on a cat.

Digital Pencil Sketch of a Cat by Amy Lewark

And, finally, I decided I wanted to draw something that would really capitalize on lots of line movement, so I sketched this owl. Toward the end I changed the color of the pen to white to get some marks in there that would be difficult to get with traditional media such as ink.

Digital Sketch of an Owl by Amy Lewark
Working on my Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 tablet was a lot of fun. During the month of February, I really was just getting comfortable with the different tools and media available, and also learning how to control my stylus on the slippery screen. I enjoyed experimenting each day and learning the different effects I could get through a traditional drawing methodology using an unconventional approach. It sure did make me want to explore some more, which I have done extensively over the last few months.

Artist and Blogger Ellie Taylor has posted about using Android Tablets to make digital art, and has also reviewed her experiences with several of the apps available for Android.

Regarding the new title of my blog -- It used to be called "Fat 4 Thought" which served a few purposes for me -- it was, due to my background in Neurobiology, an homage to the idea that brains are made of fatty acids and that the idea that we should avoid dietary fat (particularly the saturated type) at all costs was nonsensical. Then, even though I felt less and less attached to dietary dogma, I still felt it important to note that brains are made of fat (because even among those who have embraced dietary fat, the idea that some fat might be a normal component of a healthy body still seems terrible). Well, whatever. Whether I'm studying science or art, what I feel passionate about is the idea that learning should not be owned by anyone but the learner, no matter the subject.

I realize "Nonproprietary Learning" is a mouthful, but things like "Always Learning" and even "Learning Unleashed" were generally taken and I really did want to give a nod to the idea that each of us owns our own learning.

I'll try to share my learning process here to do the new name justice.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Abstract Monday #4

This week, I wanted to make a more sincere effort at abstraction. A few weeks ago, I had selected a palette while sitting in a physical therapy waiting room. Perhaps had I applied that palette to the begonia leaves I painted last week, I would have ended up with an abstraction.

This week's color palette

We were lucky enough to have some time to explore one of the many natural areas in Northern Colorado this Wednesday, just before a cold front moved in. I actually painted at this natural area last summer during the Paint the Poudre Plein Air event, but didn't explore very much as we were under the time crunch of very warm weather. The area has a very diverse landscapes consisting of quite a few ponds and wetlands. Initially upon arriving, I was attracted to the dried rabbit brush and grasses. The water there is quite still and reflected the sky and the surrounding plant life almost perfectly. There was a downed tree with a beautiful swirling pattern in its trunk. There were also the first spring flower blossoms and various dried seed pods. Remnants of last year's flooding and patterns in the sand along the river were also intriguing. Ultimately, when I came home and examined my photographs, I settled on some river rocks I captured right on the banks of the Cache La Poudre River.

Cache La Poudre River Rocks

What attracted me to the rocks while at the river were the interesting colors and shapes, but when I started the work on the abstraction exercise on my tablet (again using ArtRage 4), I decided just to create a line drawing and then disregard the original photo reference entirely. I gave myself a head start with the palette by choosing a harmonizing color for the background. I thought maybe if I wasn't painting on a white background, I would have some sort of direction or that instinct would take over.

Once I had the line drawing on the turquoise background, I had to start getting some color down. I think maybe I was trying to avoid the topic of the stones all together and so I concentrated on the negative space between them, with the warmest colors in the palette to ground the cool turquoise with which I had begun.

Then, I kind of just kept painting until I couldn't find anymore to do with it. I tried to channel my inner child, not thinking too much about meaning or anything like that, just making the shapes, color and texture pleasing to me.

Abstract #4

Monday, March 30, 2015

Abstract Monday #3

As promised last week, I have completed the abstract work I began for Abstract Monday #2.

I had picked out a palette inspired by some art in the waiting room at the physical therapy office, but I had saved that palette on my tablet. In an attempt to try to make some art that would print well larger than 5"x7" or 8"x10" I decided to make this piece on my laptop. I didn't transfer the palette over.

So, I've already broken rules 1-3 (which were just guidelines anyway).

I sat in the gallery a few days in March, and in the gallery is this enormous begonia plant. I found the colors on the stems and leaves really entrancing, and so I snapped some reference photos of it, thinking it might make a fun abstraction sometime down the road.

But, as the busy weekend progressed, I hadn't been lured by other shapes. I'm sure they were there, it's just that I was too busy to notice. So when Monday rolled around, I was playing catch-up on a number of fronts, leaving my abstraction exercise for the late hours of the day. And that begonia was still on my mind.

I found the version of ArtRage that was on my Samsung tablet to be very intuitive. Most of the settings carry over to the laptop version, so I didn't have to learn too much to get started. However, I found that the palette knife was kind of difficult to control on the laptop version. Palette knives, in real life, have an edge, and on the laptop version of ArtRage, using my Wacom Intuos Tablet, I found it difficult to control the directionality of the knife edge starting out with every stroke. Ultimately, I discovered that it mattered a lot less if I used a smaller palette knife. Using smaller tools, of course, on a larger canvas, means that getting to the end takes a lot more time.

Generally when I am painting in either oil or watercolor, I like to start with a big brush and work to a smaller brush. So, that's how I started Begonia. What I posted last week was essentially a small view of blocking in the large shapes of color with a big brush and big palette knife. So, this weekend I shrank down my tools and got to work on the details.

Here is the result I got using ArtRage 4 on my laptop. The final dimensions of the work are 4800x3047 pixels, so at 300 dpi that would print 16x10". My art reproduction guy likes to print from 200-300 dpi, so depending on the art, it might print up to 24x15" decently.

Begonia, Digital Art by Amy Lewark
One of my artist friends has proposed that we do a weekly digital art challenge, as he would also like to increase his skills in the digital realm. I have a lot of art in the hopper right now, so I told him it's likely mine will either be abstract or figurative (I have been taking my tablet to Tuesday night figure sessions). Each week I am doing this abstract challenge, I go to a figure study session, I work on a studio oil painting (I have two in the works right now), and I try to paint with a local plein air group on Fridays. That's usually the one that takes the hit, depending on the location they have selected, the weather, if I am scheduled to sit in the gallery, or how busy I have been earlier in the week. But I think I can commit to making one piece of art each week on the computer. So far, I'm ahead on the digital front, and behind on everything else.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

My Digital Tablet Journey

Back in April 2014, our clients had given an iPad mini to the husband, and when he went on a trip to Malaysia to visit them, he brought it with him and did not haul along a heavy laptop. I was a little nervous that we would have no way to communicate for the two weeks he was gone, but while he was over there, he found that he used it for everything. One night, about halfway through his trip, he admitted he loved the iPad mini, except for its size. He had always said he wanted a tablet computer, but was not really into the whole iCraze. This is a fellow who has always built his own computers, and was frustrated by the proprietary connectors Apple used and the inability to expand memory easily (in the case of the iPad, one has to purchase an entirely new device to get more memory). So, imagine my surprise when he said, "Get me a new iPad. I'd like it to be there when I return home. Oh, and get yourself a new one, too."

I had an iPad 2. It was the first honest-to-goodness tablet computer we had in our house, and I rationalized the purchase by thinking we could use it to view iTunes University. Somehow, having that tablet in my house was going to make all of my Nonproprietary Learning dreams come true. After all, Nicholas Negroponte and Sugata Mitra were surreptitiously placing iPads, laptops and like devices in the hands of children all over the world, and they were learning first world skills without a curriculum.

In reality, what the kids did with the laptop was make art using various drawing programs and play various games like Minecraft Pocket Edition, Cut the Rope, and Angry Birds. I used it to keep up with various blogs, read things on Pubmed, and apparently a lot of different things, as the 16GB version I had was, by 2014, nearly crippled by the number of apps and other things I had saved on the device. I was having difficulty cleaning off enough space just to be able to install the newest OS update. It was definitely time to upgrade. My father had just gotten a new iPad for my mother at Christmas and assigned me the task of getting it ready for her use, so I knew what I was missing.

Dog, Digital Art, graphicotter
I went over to our local consumer electronics store to procure said iPad, but while I was there, I decided to revisit the idea of moving away from the iPad. After all, our phones were Samsung products and we were quite happy with them. I had hacked a Barnes and Noble Nook and added an Android Operating system to it before I even got my iPad2.

I asked the salesperson what Android tablets were available, and while he was talking to me, I noticed a great big one on a display about 10 feet away. "What is that?!" I inquired. He explained it was the brand new Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2. At the time, it was just about the same price as the latest iPad Air (for the same amount of memory), except it had the ability to expand the memory, AND, it had a pressure-sensitive stylus. Pressure. Sensitive. Stylus! I had been trying to make art with finger on the iPad and was fairly frustrated, and so these words were music to my ears.

That was all I needed to know. I walked out of the store with the one iPad whatever for the husband, and a black Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 for me. The kids would get the iPad hand-me-downs and my conscience would be assuaged by knowing they would have unlimited access to MIT and Stanford's free courses via iTunes (which are now here and here on YouTube, anyway).

I got home and made friends with my new toy. I made it do all sorts of things like open by voice command and play pretty songs to wake me up, and display my artwork in the background. It wouldn't be until a few months later when winter set in that I would try to use it for sketching, and at that time, it would be a horrible disappointment. I tried several apps, including one provided with the tablet, and each one of them would have the same bug -- after getting not very far into a drawing, the program would seize up and lose the artwork. So, I gave up trying to make art on my tablet for the interim.

Oh, and the husband had me return the iPad Whatever and get him a Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 as well.

It wouldn't be until February 2015 that I would finally get to a place where I could make progress with art on my computer tablet. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Abstract Monday #2

This week, I really wanted to figure out how to get the kind of result I got on my Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 tablet last week at higher resolution. I had the evenings for the last few nights to play around with the Wacom tablet I have that is attached to my laptop. The Wacom tablet came with a few different software packages, including an older version of ArtRage which didn't have some of the capabilities of the Android version I had been using on my Samsung Tablet for the last month or so.

A new version of ArtRage (ArtRage 4) had been released in November 2014, which has even more capabilities, so I decided to upgrade. ArtRage 4 will allow printing up to 58 x 48 cm at 300dpi,* whereas the maximum resolution of the Android version is 2048x2048 pixels.

I got kind of a late start on my art last night and today, and wanted to take full advantage of the increased resolution with ArtRage 4.0, so my piece is still not finished. It's a challenge working on a bigger "canvas" with nearly four times the size; filling up the screen on the Samsung tablet took less time. But, I figured I could post a sneak peak of a part of the painting (and the sneak peak is definitely abstract).

*Just now I tried putting in 7200 x 7200 pixels at 300 dpi for a new canvas on ArtRage 4, which it let me create. That would make a 24 x 24 in print. The painting I started here is around 4000 x 3000 pixels, which would make a 13.3 x 10 inch print at 300 dpi.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Featured Artist at the Lincoln Gallery in Loveland, CO

It has been about two years since I picked up my brushes and pencils again. In that two years, I have created over fifty framed pieces of art which have been shown in galleries in Northern Colorado and now Wyoming.

As much as I enjoy autonomy, much of my motivation has come through meeting other artists and joining art organizations like the Artists' Association of Northern Colorado (AANC) and the Thompson Valley Art League (TVAL). The organizations provide regular hanging opportunities for Artists all over Northern Colorado and their members have come from as far south as Longmont, north to Cheyenne, WY, as far East as Sterling, CO, and as far West as Red Feather Lakes and Estes Park.

The Artists' Association is celebrating its 60th year this year, having started out as the Poudre Valley Art League. For quite a few years it has held a National Show which drew entries from much of the Western United States. Last April, I was honored to be selected as the Featured Artist for its June Go Figure! Show, a display of figurative works created by participants in the open studios it provides for both figure and portrait studies each week. Participating in these figure sessions as well as some with The Loveland Wild Life Sessions were instrumental for me "getting a start" in the professional art world. Had it not been for the encouragement of the other artists in the studio, I am not sure I would have had the courage to hang my work in a gallery.

Early in 2014, my friend Mary Giacomini encouraged me to go through the jury process at the Thompson Valley Art League. TVAL has existed for 50 years, and members are juried into the organization by the Board of Directors on each medium the member wishes to display in their Lincoln Gallery. I brought examples of my watercolor, pastel and oil painting and am able to display all three media. In addition to these traditional 2D media (and more), the gallery has juried photographers, sculptors, potters, and innovative mixed-media artists in its membership. Each year it holds an art fair concurrent with the Sculpture In the Park Festival called Art In the Park. The event is well attended by people from all over the country, due to Loveland's firm place in the United States Arts Community which was secured by the sculptors here so long ago. Sculpture in the Park is America's Largest Outdoor Juried Sculpture Show and Sale.

Thus, I am extremely honored to have been invited by TVAL to be their March 2015 Featured Artist in the Lincoln Gallery. Right now they have a large selection of my work and prints of my work available for sale. So, if you're in the area between now and April 1st, stop by and you can see them in person. The gallery is open from 11-5 Tuesday-Friday and 11-4 on Saturday.