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.

Scarlet Globemallow

A few years ago, the husband got instructions to go on a business trip to Boise, ID. The kids were pretty young then, but old enough to stay with their grandparents for a few days, so I decided to tag along, too. At the time I had never been northwest of Cheyenne, Wyoming, and I figured Boise would be a safe place for me to putter around while Mr. Lewark was helping our customer.

Back then I was very particular about everything I ate. Looking back on it, I am surprised I was willing to travel. Anyway, we were staying at one of those extended-stay hotels, so I had cooking facilities available to me... which meant that I needed to head out the first day to find some food that would pass muster. To my delight, I found that Boise had a fantastic Food Co-Op, and so I hopped into the rental car and sojourned across town to find it. And, what do you know? Right in front of the Food Co-Op was the American Red Cross Bloodmobile!

When I was a young child my parents donated blood regularly. They were both avid volunteers in many respects, and still are -- always looking for a way to "give back." A person in our family had recently needed 7 units of blood after giving birth to her first child, so seeing the Bloodmobile sitting there in front of the Co-Op felt like a sign. My kids were too young for me to do regular volunteer work at the time, but I could slip away long enough to donate some blood, for sure.

So, it was in Boise, ID that I became a blood donor.

After donating blood, I felt amazingly full of energy, but also quite hungry, so I got quite a few delicious treats (including a duck and two bottles of red wine, because that's how I was at the time).

Downtown Boise was an adventure as well. The Boise Art Museum had a great exhibit of John James Audubon's work. Having been trained in science and art and also having lived in New Orleans, I had my first experience of seduction by art, compliments of Mr. Audubon. I would have come out of the museum store with the tome of his works, but decided against it (a few years later I would purchase this book as a birthday present for a young friend who is teaching herself art and who also loves birds).

Audubon by John Syme, 1826
Next, I saw that a nearby Dunkley Music store was having a sale on sheet music. If you've known me for a while, you know that during childhood I learned to play the piano, flute, clarinet and trumpet (sort of). While I did take classes in the art department in college, I also made sure to take private flute lessons at Tulane University and studied many of the contest pieces from the French Conservatory. But I was tired of those pieces after playing them for years, and eager to get my hands on some new tunes. The sale did not disappoint! I walked out with a stack much larger than the thickness of Audubon's collection, which included Celtic and Jazz music. Playing the Celtic music was a favorite stress-buster for me for the few years until I picked up my paint brushes again.

You'd think that would be enough for one trip! But no... the husband unit satisfied the clients early on in the trip so we had a day or two (I can't remember exactly) to explore together.

At the time we were running regularly, and I had a desire to have my gait analyzed and purchase a properly-fitted pair of running shoes. Downtown Boise sported a Lululemon store, as well as a high-end athletic shoe store, so I got my wish... a new pair of Brooks neutral-balance running shoes, which remained my favorite shoes until I replaced them with the newer model just two months ago!

The recommendation on the internet was to visit the Old Idaho State Penitentiary and Idaho Botanical Garden, so that's what we did on our last day of the trip. The tour of the penitentiary was fascinating; I highly recommend it if you find yourself in Boise. It's definitely a piece of Old West history. On the grounds of the penitentiary, interestingly juxtaposed, is a rose garden which is next to death row and where six executions by hanging took place. After an interesting and morbid experience like that, it only made sense to decompress with a walk through the neighboring Botanical Garden.

I took quite a few pictures in the Garden, but one of my favorite was of a Scarlet Globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinia) in the Lewis and Clark Native Plant Garden.

Recently, I translated this image into this large (15"x22") watercolor painting.

Scarlet Globemallow, 15"x22" Watercolor by Amy Lewark

The original is currently available for sale as part of the Western Spirit Art Show and Sale at the Old West Museum in Cheyenne, WY, and prints are available in many sizes either through me or through Fine Art America.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Abstract Monday #1

For the last year I have concentrated a lot more on making art. I participate in weekly figurative study sessions, and with some regularity I do plein air painting with other artists. During a local group's plein air session last Friday, I was invited to participate in an "Abstract Challenge" by artists Nelia Harper and Alisha Lee Jeffers. Here are the rules, according to Nelia:

Right now, the only 'rule' is post your creation by the end of Monday.

Some guidelines - should you choose to use them:

1. Keep it small
2. Pick a color palette before you start - can be based on anything you want
3. Keep it simple and don't spend much time on it (1-2 hours?) think of it as a warm-up/exercise
4. Post your painting and color inspiration on your blog

My two favorite exercises during my college painting class were on abstraction and choosing color palettes, so on Friday, I agreed to participate with no hesitation. At the time, I knew I would be sitting in the gallery on Saturday so I was hoping to think about it some while there. But, alas, the gallery was very busy, so I had to postpone my thinking on the subject to Sunday.

I knew right away where I would get my palette. I took an abstract photo at a museum on a visit to Southern California, and I've always loved the colors that were reflected on the thousands of hanging metal discs in that photo.

I brought the photo into my tablet version of ArtRage Studio, and used the color picker to make a palette for my piece of art. At this point, I still wasn't sure if I was going to head down to the studio and create something physically, or if I was going to try my hand at digital abstraction.

Once I had the palette, I still needed inspiration for some shapes.

I had just a few hours on Sunday after the kids finally stumbled out of bed to head over to the Loveland Museum/Gallery with my son to enjoy the Xylem exhibit before it closed. To my delight, there were plenty of examples of abstraction in the exhibit, and I found my metal-inspired palette in several pieces in the exhibit. (As an aside, I really loved that exhibit... it may be my favorite of all the ones I have seen at the Museum).

Upon returning home, I knew I needed to start getting some shapes onto paper or... something. I was headed down to the studio when I noticed the roses my husband bought last week catching the sunlight coming in through the bay window. I like to get a lot of my photographic references for botanicals at dusk or dawn when the petals have an ethereal glow. The roses had opened nicely, and I didn't want to miss the chance. I pushed the vase over into the window and started snapping photos. I had the stems jammed down into some glass rocks to help keep the arrangement in place, and the sunlight was illuminating the rocks and stems in an interesting way, so I captured a few photos of that as well, figuring I would quickly upload the photos and see if any of them were worthy of this abstraction exercise.

I took about a dozen photos of the bottom part of the vase, and decided two of them had an interesting enough composition they might work out as an abstraction... but with the palette I had selected? I wasn't sure. I decided to import the photo into ArtRage, make a sketch on a toned canvas, and do a proof of concept... on the sofa.

First I tried using the "wax pastels," and I really didn't like the result. My intention was to use the oils as I had been playing around with them during the figure study session a few weeks ago, and it was pretty fun. So, I started anew with my rust-colored toned "canvas" and went to work with the "oil paint." I futzed around with it for quite a while before deciding to go to bed.

For some reason on Mondays I freak out about all the stuff I didn't accomplish over the weekend. So, I spent most of the day doing laundry, making doctor's appointments, paying bills, and doing other paperwork I had been putting off for some time. And, I also read about time management in a book I have about making a business as a professional artist. I really know how to procrastinate, don't I?

In the evening I went with my son to a painting demo which was given by Lani Vlaanderen, a local artist. She spoke a lot about composition, and what she had learned from reading Juliette Aristides' book Classical Painting Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice. I learned some things I didn't know (or maybe I knew them subconsciously, but now I understand in a more concrete fashion). I planned to go home and check my experimental abstraction against the "rules" Lani mentioned in her talk, but when I got home I opened up my tablet, looked at it, and felt pleased enough to take it to the end zone.

And, here's the result... Abstract #1:

Maybe next week's abstraction will be checked against the compositional "rules."

Alisha and Nelia are planning to auction off their creations on I'm not sure how that will work for this digital work, so I guess I have something else to learn! That's how I like it.

So, a big thanks to Nelia and Alisha for inviting me to participate in this challenge.