Archive for July, 2009

Baking My Cake and Painting It Too

Week of July 27

Muffins2-webI bounced out of bed on Sunday morning and applied gesso to a 9 x 12 inch canvas, covering up a two-year old portrait. I had just read Mildred Armstrong Kalish’s description of her mother’s  steaming bread loaves that she served with homemade butter and plum jam, in the book Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression. This only intensified my weeklong craving to produce a scrumptious illustration of a baked good for the family cookbook.

This was my first attempt at producing mouth-watering eye candy and I hoped to capture the comforts of homemade baked goods. The goods in question were three warm chocolate chip muffins from a batch I baked in the early afternoon, that I artfully arranged on a plate on my living room table. They look scrumptious regardless of their surroundings.

Reproducing the textured fissures of the muffins’ caps and the crevices of their blue paper liners was relatively simple. Capturing the rounded items’ perspective from my side view was far more challenging and is inaccurate. I struggled with the contrasting dark values representing the muffins’ shadows on the curved plate beneath, which can easily be mistaken for a flat cake platter viewed from the top.

I often wonder how the food bloggers publish mouth-watering photographs that even do justice to their supposed “flop” experiments. Béatrice Peltre’s tips on food styling and photography are available on La Tartine Gourmande. Photography may be a different form of art, but her tips still apply to painting.  If I had read them before I began and tried to incorporate the crumby interiors of the metal muffin pans, my painting time would have exceeded an hour and a half. There is no race, but I am definitely becoming a faster painter even though this canvas is smaller than my usual. I am on the right track… My muffins symbolize comfort and joy, and I used repetitive shapes in my arrangement.

A quick Google of “painters of baked goods” led me to Nancy Bea Miller – the foremost doughnut painter in Philadelphia. Painting food is fun and I may have to pursue it further. My muffins may appear only halfway delicious but they sure did disappear quickly at a Sunday evening barbecue for which they were intended.


Painting Faces

Week of July 20

A day after returning from my successful climb of Mt. San Luis, a 14er in Colorado’s San Juan range,Bodypainting-web I decided to let my hair down and draw with my paintbrushes.  It took me several months to break this habit which used to constrain my “painterly painting” abilities as I like to call them, but I could never recreate detailed bodypaint patterns with my knives.  Ironically, two years ago letting my hair down involved using a palette knife to loosen up my strokes.  My model’s unnatural “tint” also gave me an excuse to not accurately capture his skin tones.

On June 25 I volunteered for the Colorado Aids Project’s Art for Aids fundraiser.  This was the first time in years the silent auction took place outdoors.  The private garden party’s guests were crammed underneath a large tent for shelter from a torrential downpour.  They made mad dashes to the bar, although the Happy Cakes cupcakes were within easy reach.  A man and woman posing as live entertainment during and after the bodypainting process tried to circulate through the crowds and stay dry.

Capturing the male’s torso from a photograph reminded me of the painting class I took from Michelle Torrez back in March.  The goal was to capture the gestures of models who posed for 5 to 10 minutes.  I initially found the whole process strange but grew to love the unprententious task of not trying to complete a finished product.  This end product is far too busy looking and the colors are too dazzling, even for me.  This guy is a mixture of mismatched textures and obnoxious colors, and unless I knew that the red bands around his neck are an accessory, it would be hard to tell if they were deep bloody gashes.

A few facts about bodypainting before I end.  This form of body art is considered by some as the most ancient form of art.  Makeup artist Max Factor was arrested in the 1930s for public disturbance when he applied body paint to a nude model.  I bet Max Factor could help touch up this model!

Painting Under the Influence

Week of July 13

Canvas-Cocktails-webPainting is a solitary activity for many people, including me.  If spending time alone in a dark studio does not appeal to you, then an evening at Canvas and Cocktails in Cherry Creek North may. Several evenings ago I attended one of the business’s “how to” classes and, surrounded by a full class of people bubbling with enthusiasm, painted the Denver Skyline. The Friday night collection included couples, single friends, and a mother and son pair.

The non-threatening storefront setting of Canvas and Cocktails is perfect for beginners, social gatherings, and anybody who wishes to experiment.  Class participants receive step by step instruction to complete a featured painting and are welcome to bring their drink of choice to add to the fun, or if necessary, spark their creative juices. Paintbrushes, a palette, apron, easel and canvas are included with class registration.

I met owner Brittney Wilson last summer through her role coordinating tennis social activities atMy-Denver-Skyline-web Gates Tennis Center. Now in a different social setting, Brittney began her demonstration by showing us how to apply the first stroke to create Denver’s blue sky. White and grey mountain peaks preceded “planting” the grass and inserting the downtown buildings. Brittney’s enthusiasm was infectious as she directed us to mix certain colors to create periwinkle blue, lime green and mocha brown, and she consistently encouraged creativity outside of her instructions. We were encouraged to liven up the grass in the foreground and background before accenting the buildings, mountains and sky. The funnel cloud in the upper left corner of my painting (right) indicates their unusual frequency this summer. Brittney provided tips for any Type A personalities to let their hair down a little, and occasionally directed us to “retire” a paintbrush before picking up another. View Denver Skyline by Brittney Wilson.

Canvas and Cocktails is a casual setting allowing those who may not have the necessary materials or encouragement to exercise their creativity. Cheers to Brittney for such a fun night!

You Know I Love My Vegetables…

Still-life-webWeek of July 6

A Spaniard Who Liked His Vegetables” is the title of a New York Times article about Luis Meléndez, considered one of the greatest still-life painters of 18th century Spain. After he was rejected from a career as a court artist, Meléndez began painting household objects like fruit, vegetables and kitchenware. His work depicted a folksy lifestyle which still managed to appeal to upper-class clientele. Meléndez’s approach to  still-life pieces was unique. Instead of painting entire compositions he painted each object individually, and it is questionable how he captured such realistic, near-photographic outcomes.

I spent Independence Day morning in my hot and stuffy apartment assembling a cabbage, mason jar of quinoa, half-finished bottle of red wine, and bunch of tomatoes on the vine. Since I began collecting recipes for a family cookbook several variations of “cabbage rolls with sauce,” better known in Poland as “Golabki” (pronounced Gowombki), have flooded in from overseas relatives. Funnily enough I have recently grown fond of my own “cabbage roll” dish.

So despite being out of practice (the last still-life I painted was in college in 2001) and in need of illustrations for the book, I set about capturing the ingredients. The painting process went pretty smoothly although the outcome is far from photographic and lacks some depth. I battled to convey the mason jar’s transparency. Meanwhile plenty of stylish paintings of dishes, jars, bread loaves and seasoning shakers were to await me at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival which I visited later in the afternoon.

I do like my vegetables, but doubt I’ll spend more time trying to perfectly re-produce them!

“Fail at what you want to do, then do what you really can do.”

New York Times Art Review: May 26, 2009

Asian Face Painting

Week of June 29No-3-1-web

I spent several hours last Saturday afternoon in an Art Students League studio that grew hotter by the minute. Not wanting to dive into another involved end product I experimented by painting various Asian faces at slightly different angles, with the help of Charles Reid. I selected Asians to stick with the theme my week had begun in, and I have always been fascinated by their many differing characteristics. Several nights before I had indulged in Korean food for the first time with a group of friends at Seoul Korean BBQ in Aurora. My happy taste buds and the presence of so many Koreans dining alongside us were proof of the quality of the restaurant’s fare.

Q: Who is Charles Reid?

A: Charles Reid is a watercolor painter and author of several “how to” books. For more information please visit

After witnessing my struggle during May’s “Dark Value Boot Camp,” a fellow classmate recommended Reid’s books as great resources for face painting. In Watercolor Solutions from the Denver Public Library, Reid demonstrates how to sketch accurate proportions of facial features from different angles. He also stresses that well-drawn, expressive eyes are the most important feature. An eye’s iris is not a marble, nostrils are not dark holes, and mouths are not linear shapes with “colored in” lips. These tips are not new to me and I simply try to minimize the marbles and holes during each attempt.

I may as well have left this watercolorist’s book and representational ideas at the door since my four faces look like cartoon characters more than anything! At least they resemble faces and are relatively proportionate which means I must be getting the hang of it.