Shortly after the last blog I wrote, my Opa passed away. He was such a pillar in our family, and so it was a great loss to lose him. It's hard to express in words the feelings this stirred up in me. Losing him meant losing not just a special family member, but also losing a connection to my heritage. It's that feeling that life will never be the same again. Who will tell us the stories of adventures growing up in Paraguay? What it felt like escaping persecution in Russia? How to grow sweet potatoes from a ring of vines? Who else will be as impressed with me when I try to play the mandolin?
As I was sorting through photos to put together the slide show for the funeral, I instantly fell in love with two photos of my family from the 1950's having a picnic in Niagara - a year after they all immigrated from Paraguay. It features my Opa, Oma, my mom, my uncle, a few of my great Uncles and Aunts, and my great Opa and Oma. It shows the classiness of that era - wearing sunday best out for a picnic. They brought out their good china, and their wooden chairs. What a beautiful time to live. What a challenging time to live also. I felt the appreciation for what they all did for us... the sacrifices and adventures they lived so that their (our) future generations would be able to live this 'privileged' life.
I found that the best way to remember my Opa and this special heritage was to devote my creative energy to capturing this moment in time. I felt such an instant passion for this art project... the passion I had been waiting for! I began by sketching out the 'characters' with watercolour:
Next I drew out in detail the image on a large wood panel - which I husband built for me. It's approximately 3x4 feet. He painted about four coats of primer on it first.
For this painting I wanted to experiment with a different method... which was perhaps 'risky' (trying something new on a beloved project). I used acrylic paint - which I haven't used since high school. I did a combination of watering it down, and mixing it with a glazing medium. When watered down acrylic paint acts much like watercolour paint. I love this look! As for the glazing, I did multiple thin layers of colour. With the exception of fixing areas, I didn't use white at all. For example - for the flesh tones, I did layers of blue, yellow, red, umber... in this way I approached the painting like I would a watercolour painting.
In the next photo it shows how I first established the tones with pure raw umber paint:
Because this was a whole new method of painting for me, I had to re-do many areas... sometimes as many as 3 or 4 times. Acrylic paint is so tricky! And especially when mixed with a polymer medium... it dries almost as soon as it touches the panel. And so if I wasn't happy with an area, I re-gesso'd it over and over again will I got it 'right'. I eventually embraced the 'rustic' feel of it, with all of its imperfections. I loved the challenge. The background took me 3 tries to get it right:
I ended up combining elements of the two original family photos I found... plus added in a personal detail that the family will appreciate. I'm happy with how it turned out. I'm excited to be working on the next painting in the similar style... another family portrait from the 50's. Stay tuned for updates on the next project!
Last week I spent time with the Grade 2 Class in the local public school. The teacher had shared with me her interest in having the students do colourful artwork based on a sunset.
I began the lesson with the students gathered together on the carpet. With some paint chips as props, we discussed the colour wheel, and warm vs. cool colours. Together we separated the paint chips into two piles (warm and cool colours). I showed them how the temperature of colours are very much 'relative'; they 'change' according to the colours they are paired up with. For example, purple is generally considered a 'cooler' colour. Especially when set beside red (because purple has blue in it - a cool colour). When purple, though, is set beside blue, purple becomes then the warmer colour of the two (because of the red in it).
The children were to begin their project by separating their crayons (or pencil crayons, or markers) into two piles: the warm or cool colours. Then they divided their paper into half - the top half for the warm sunset, the bottom half for the cool ground. Using a pencil they drew line designs that they then filled with colour.
Last week I spent some time with the students in the Grade One class in the local public school. The art lesson was based on the art of the Russian 19th century abstract artist Wassily Kadinsky. From past experience with the grade one class, children of that age love experimenting with paint mixing. Some children at that age haven't had too much experience yet with mixing paint. The teacher had also been recently teaching the students about 'lines', and primary and secondary colours. So considering all of these things, I was lead to have the children 'copy' one of Kadinsky's familiar abstract paintings.
The children began by dividing their paper into 8 squares (which was a true feat for many of them!). Then they each had the primary colours to start with. As I saw the children progressing with their paintings, I added white, and then eventually black, to their palette. I didn't want to add white and black too soon for fear that their paintings would be dominated by those colours.
The instructions were for them to simply have fun mixing colours - but to do so 'strategically'. They weren't to just mix all 3 colours together right away to make a 'sludge' colour, but to consider how the different colours mix individually with each other. They were to paint the rings of the circles each separately.
Today was week one of the art camp I am holding at my studio for children. I have 11 children involved, between the ages of 7-9. Today we talked about colour - and painted a group colour wheel to go along with that. We began a mixed media project, one that we will be further working on over the next couple weeks (today they glued ripped up pages from an old book onto a masonite board). We also did a little drawing study. And I also taught them about 'non-representational art', or 'non-objective art'. I played four very different sounding songs, and had the children paint whatever colour in whatever non-objective form they felt led to paint based on the way the music made them feel. Lastly, the afternoon class had a few spare minutes, so they created a shadow image of a city-line. One of the boys had fun making a ufo shadow overtop :)
This weekend I experimented with making my own 'watercolour' paint using nothing but flower petals/leaves which I found around my yard... and water. My daughter and I collected various flowers/leaves - such as dandelions, pansies, geraniums. We ripped them up with our fingers, and then them them steep in some hot tap water all morning under the sun. After a few hours, the water had mostly evaporated leaving behind a lovely natural tinted sort of paint. I had fun later painting with this all organic natural paint. It certainly behaves differently than the typical store-bought paint.
Yesterday I joined the Grade One class again for a simple art lesson utilizing drawing skills, and watercolour painting skills. I drew a simple bunny based on the idea from http://www.thebeeskneescousin.com/blog/watercolor-value-study-for-spring. I had the children draw a bunny based on this idea; then I had them draw with white crayon wherever they wanted white to show on their picture.
Next the kids all used watercolour paint to paint their bunny. I gave them the choice of what colours to use. They had fun experimenting with mixing colours.
I love how different each painting turned out! I love them all so much, I wanted to share images of all of them with you:
March 2 is the birthday of Dr. Seuss; and so with that in mind, since the class will be celebrating his birthday for the month of March, I chose a Dr. Seuss themed art lesson for the Grade One's today. I also wanted to mix in some colour theory. With a review of the colour wheel, I introduced them to the idea of opposite colours. Then I had them draw out their own fish.
Once they had finished their fish and cut them out, they drew a line design of their choice on the paper. And then I had them choose two opposite colours of their choice; blue/orange, red/green, or yellow/purple. They painted their background with these two colours:
The last step was to glue on their fish drawing. They look great!
This week I had fun volunteering in the grade one and grade four class (separately) in the local public school. Of course I was in those specific classes because of my daughters being in those classes :) I wanted to teach them something new, but also incorporate a Christmas theme to the project. So I was thrilled when I found a great idea from: http://www.deepspacesparkle.com/2013/12/13/hear-near-far-winter-trees/. I began by introducing the students to the term Atmospheric Perspective. I explained this in simpler terms - "Near, Here, and Far". I showed them examples from other artwork showing how the artists captured atmospheric perspective in their paintings. We made a chart - trees that were near the viewer are typically bigger, brighter, and more colourful. Trees that are further away are smaller, duller, and generally lighter in colour. I explained how the layering of condensation in the air causes items further away to look lighter and hazier. Then came the fun part. The students began by cutting out three different Christmas trees, using three different sizes and three different colours of paper. They added decorations, etc., on the trees.
Then the students painted the snowy backdrop; they drew two horizontal lines across their paper, dividing the paper into thirds (I managed to work a small math lesson into it …). I dapped blue tempera paint on the bottom third. They spread that around with their brush, then I added white paint to the middle third. The remaining blue paint on their brush blended nicely with the fresh white paint to make it a lighter blue tone. We repeated the same step for the top third. Then they added their trees, remembering that the larger and brighter looking trees are in the foreground, and near the bottom of the page. The smaller, further away trees, are closer to the horizon line which is near the top of the page.
The kids finished their artwork by added lovely snowflakes.
The completed grade four artwork:
The completed grade one artwork:
For the past several lessons, Amy has been working on this painting. The photo was taken by her Uncle Bert Reimer, who is a great photographer. Amy seemed to enjoy playing around with the different colours. I love how she captured the effect of the glowing lightening bolt in the centre.
I live in Southern Ontario on a farm with my husband, Dennis, and our two daughters. Painting out of my studio on our farm allows me to stay close to my family and to be surrounded by the natural landscape that continues to influence my work.