Friday, July 29, 2011

Painting, drawing and a lizard

The weekend approaches with high humidity and the promise of rain.  The desert holds its breath, waiting to see if drops will fall.  If they do, you can be assured that I will be out in the rain, soaking it in.  I am reluctant to get my hopes up, but there are clouds... 

I didn't get too much feedback on the first painting I posted of the new series.  So maybe most of you didn't like it, or maybe you just didn't want to leave a comment.  If you'd rather email, like many of you often do, that's okay too.  But if you don't want to give feedback, that's completely fine.  I will still love you, just because you read my blog.  Here is the first painting I did in the new series.  I posted a sideways photo of it last week, still in progress on the easel.  I have changed it only slightly, and it may not even be finished.  But here it is.  I was hoping the next paintings would be more like this one, but so far, each one has its own idea of how it will look.  I am not in charge, apparently.
"Consolation."  Oil on linen.  40 x 40 inches.  ©Karine Swenson 2011
I have also been making an effort to draw more, since it fuels all of my other work.  I didn't draw as a kid - what I loved was to color.  I don't know if Crayola still makes that giant box of 64 crayons with the built in sharpener in the back, but for me, that was one of the most beautiful things ever made.  Seeing all of those colors, lined up with their perfectly formed tips, slightly flattened on top - that was about as close to heaven as I could imagine at the age of 6.  Then, in Junior High, I decided I wanted to be a gymnast, just like Nadia Comaneci.  The crayons fell by the wayside.  It wasn't until college that I visited a friend taking an oil painting class.  I took one sniff of the fumes, saw the paintings and then, all of a sudden, I knew what I wanted.  TO COLOR!!!!  Paint, that is.  Since I didn't consider myself an artist, I decided to learn how to draw, because then, THEN I would feel like a real artist.  That was the ticket to the world of art, in my mind.  I have worked really hard at my drawing skills, and I still have a long way to go.  Drawing is now an integral part of my art practice.  It is the strand that holds all the parts of my work together.  It is also the part that makes me think that maybe, just maybe, I can be a real artist.  (If only I could get the proportions right...)
"Seated Jack."  Charcoal on paper, 14 x 11 inches.  ©Karine Swenson 2011
  I leave you with some photos of the desert iguana that I often see cruising around outside the house.  I see him so often, that I have decided to name him "Iggy."  (after Iggy Pop.)  Let's just hope the roadrunner doesn't see him.  (Well, Iggy might be a female, but I think it's okay to call her Iggy too.) 
Iggy is about a foot and a half long, with tail.

My dear blog readers, I thank you for reading my ramblings, such as they are.  Have a gorgeous weekend!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Direction

I have headed in a new direction with my abstract paintings, as I mentioned last week.  I can't seem to determine what I think of this work, or whether or not I even like the paintings.  However, I have decided to begin sharing them here on the blog.
"Subterranean."  Oil on canvas, 48 x 48 inches.  ©Karine Swenson2011
As you can see, this painting is big!  I have been focusing on smaller works for so long, that I finally needed to break free.  I cannot tell you how much I am enjoying these larger canvases!  I don't think I ever want to work small again.  (But I probably will.)   If you have comments about this painting, I'd love to hear them.  Leave them in the comments section at the bottom, if you would.  Thanks.

I have a long "to do" list this week, so I must keep this short and sweet. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mystery Birds

Today as I was cleaning up the house, I happened to glance out the window, only to notice a flock of birds unlike any I have seen since moving to Joshua Tree.  I quickly went to get my camera, and followed them around from window to window as they circled the house.  They definitely preferred the shade, and would run pretty fast when crossing through the sunny areas of the yard.  I wonder if they are Sage Grouse?  They don't exactly fit the description of Sage Grouse, so then I thought maybe they were Chukar?  Does anyone know what they might be? 

There were about fourteen of them.  They most definitely are not the Gambel's Quail.  I am familiar with them, since they visit almost daily.   These mystery birds were bigger than the Quail, and they had longer legs.  They almost seemed turkey like.  ???  If anyone has an idea of what kind of birds they are, I am interested!

Gambel's Quail

Blurry Gambel's Quail photo.
In other, art-related news, Lucien Freud, the figure painter, died Wednesday night.  You can read the New York Times article here.  (Thanks to Marjorie for sending me the link!) 

Stay cool, my blog reading friends!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Dust Devil

One of my favorite desert birds - the cactus wren.
 I was in the studio yesterday, painting, when all of a sudden I heard a loud sound outside.  It was loud enough that I put my brush down to go see what was the matter.  I went to the dining room window, and there I saw nearly the entire contents of my recycle bin, along with a great quantity of dust and other desert debris blowing around and around in the backyard.  It was such a strong wind that I was glued to the window in amazement.  A large piece of cardboard had been picked up, and I watched it swirl upwards.  It rose higher than the nearby power lines before coming to rest near my neighbor's house.  (There are two empty 1.25 acre lots between her house and ours.)  This was by far the largest dust devil I have witnessed since moving to the desert.  I was so mesmerized by the swirling dust and debris that it did not occur to me to take a photo or video.   There are some pretty impressive photos of dust devils on the internet, if you do a simple google search.  You can also read more about dust devils here.  (a fascinating wikipedia article, where I discovered that Mars also has dust devils.  The reason I mention this is because when we first moved to the desert from Colorado, there were times when I felt like we had moved to Mars.  And so you see?  There are some similarities!)

I waited until the dust had (literally) settled before going outside to assess the damage.  The devil had taken out both the trash can and the recycle bin, and there was recycling EVERYWHERE.  While walking around the desert, picking up my scattered recycling, I accidentally turned my flip-flop encased foot sideways, right into a prickly cholla.   Ow.  This isn't the first time I have gotten a cholla spine embedded in my foot, but this time it had gone into my foot far enough that I actually had to limp inside, get a pair of pliers, shut my eyes and grit my teeth in order to pull it out.  Okay.  So I did have one little tear slip down my cheek from the pain, but I am fine now.  Just another ordinary day in the desert.
Cholla cactus.  I am sure you can see how this would hurt a bit.

I have been busy working on a brand new series of abstract paintings that is so new and different that I don't feel comfortable sharing the photos yet.  I know that seems unfair of me, but I haven't quite figured out what these paintings are about, nor have they begun to form a cohesive group.  So until I find the thread that ties them together, I need to keep them to myself.  Please don't be upset.

I will make it up to you by sharing some new jackrabbit photos.   I promise you will get to see photos of the new paintings as soon as I figure them out.
Another week begins!

Friday, July 15, 2011

In the studio

I spent a good part of the week stretching and priming linen.  The first step is to roll out the linen to fit with about 4 inches on either side of the wooden stretcher bars.  Even though you can make your own stretchers, I didn't make them this time.  These were from the art supply store.  I must confess that I don't really like to make stretchers.  I am not even that fond of stretching my own linen or canvas.  However, the finished product is so much better than anything you can buy pre-made.  I have had this roll of linen, sitting in the corner of my studio for AGES.  It was time I put it to good use.

The staple gun and canvas pliers are in the bottom of the photo.
 Once you have cut the linen out, you use the trusty canvas pliers, and starting in the middle of one side (the longest side, if you are using a rectangular frame), you staple the linen to the edge of the stretcher bar.  You then move to the opposite side and pull the linen taut directly opposite your first staple.  Staple that tight piece to the frame.  Then, you move to the next side, pulling and putting a staple in the middle.  Proceed to the opposite side, pull taut (with the pliers) and put another staple in the opposite side.  Once all four sides are tacked on, you can go to the first side, move about 3 inches from the first staple, pull and put another staple in.  Do the same thing to the other side of that first staple.  Basically, you want to move from the middle out, pulling tight each time.  When you get to the edges, you tuck the corners in and staple those down too.  The main focus is to avoid any wrinkles in the linen.  Wrinkles are bad, my friends.

You can click on the image to enlarge it.
The raw linen is such a beautiful color.  I have used a clear acrylic primer on it before, but for these bigger stretchers I wanted to use oil primer.   Before priming with oil primer, however, a coat of hide glue must be applied.  I use rabbit skin glue, and no, I am not killing rabbits and making it myself.  I buy it in bags, and it looks like large, golden sugar granules.  It has to soak in water overnight and then more water is added before it gets melted in a double boiler or glue pot on the stove.  Once it cools a bit, you can brush it onto the stretched linen.  The hide glue prevents moisture from penetrating the linen from the back of the painting, and it also serves as a barrier between the linen fibers and the oil paint.  (oil paint will eat the fibers away over time without this layer of glue.)  What I like about the glue is that the linen will become REALLY tight once the glue dries.  For some reason, I find this drum-like tightness really satisfying.

The part that complicated matters for me this week was that the glass mason jar I used to heat my glue in cracked, and when I lifted the glass jar out of my water bath, all I got was the top part of my jar.  The glue and the remaining part of the jar remained in the water bath.  I had to start all over again!!!!  (yes, there was cursing.)

Once the hide glue is dry, the oil primer can FINALLY be applied.  I am experimenting with only one coat of oil primer on these.  I am hoping to keep some of the texture of the canvas this way.  (I am also nearly out of my oil primer.)  I applied the oil primer yesterday, and I am still waiting for it to be dry.  So you can see this is a rather labor intensive process.  Now you know how it's done.
I leave you with a sneak peak at a work in progress - a brand new series!  Have a great weekend, everyone!!!
This is painted on oil primed linen, from a previous session of stretching and priming.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Circles and Parry's Nolina

I have a new favorite place where I like to hike with Pono.  It is a steep enough trail that it makes me breathe hard without running.  Besides that, I never see anyone else when I hike there.  I love that quiet solitude in the morning.  These photos are all taken while hiking our "new" trail.  First, I thought you might like to see how the wind is just like me - it draws circles too!

(Taken with my teeny camera, not the big fancy one.)

Next, we have some shots of the Parry's Nolina in bloom.  They were outrageous this year!!!  I became enamored of the way the sunlight came through the clusters of straw yellow blooms.  Kinda wish I had taken my big camera with me, but I was moving fast.  At least I have these...

Tomorrow I am heading to Metro Galleries in Bakersfield with some of my larger oil paintings.  The car is already loaded and I've planned my route.  Now it's just a matter of getting some rest so I am fresh for a big day. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Some Fun on Friday

Hot, humid days have made us hope for rain.  The rain fell on either side of us, but no rain here on the dusty dirt road.  Just enough thunder to make the dog retreat to the safety of the bathroom.  (Who thought the bathroom would be a safe place?)  I wish I could explain to Pono that thunder is not going to hurt.  I've tried.  He just curls into a little ball and shivers.  I am grateful for Rescue Remedy.  A little bit of that on a treat does seem to calm Pono down.  He's been afraid of thunder and other loud noises (fireworks, gunshots, bombing at the Marine Base in 29 Palms, etc.) ever since he was a puppy. 

I have been stretching linen this week, and I will have some photos to show you of the process next week.  But today is my birthday, so I only want to have a fun post.  Therefore, you get to see Pono and the hula hoop.  (for those of you who missed something similar on facebook.)

I am developing my technique for shooting a video WHILE hula hooping.  Multi-tasking at its finest.
One more.

Have a fantastic weekend, dear blog readers!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Happy Horned Lizard

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011.  Southern California Desert.  104 degrees Fahrenheit, 4:22 pm.
Desert Horned Lizard
 The morning run with Pono three days ago was rewarded by an encounter with Phrynosoma Platyrhinos, or the Desert Horned Lizard.  It has been over a year since I have seen one of these amazing creatures.  I saw it scurrying out of the dirt road, and I stopped the car to take some photos.  Horned lizards are different from other lizards for several reasons.  First of all, horned lizards mostly eat ants.  According to this article, the small body of an ant is made up of a lot of indigestible material, so the lizard needs to eat a lot of ants.  This accounts for the horned lizard's large stomach.  Because of the large stomach, these lizards aren't as sleek and fast as other lizards.  They rely more on their horny bodies and their ability to change color to blend in with their environment for protection.  (notice in these photos how difficult it is to distinguish the horned lizard from the ground.) 

When a predator approaches, a horned lizard is most likely to freeze, relying on its coloring to hide it.  It will also blow its body up, to make its horns more obvious and to make itself look too big to swallow.  It may run in short bursts, as I saw this one do, and then freeze, to confuse the predator.  There are even a few species of the horned lizard that will squirt blood from its eyes to repel canine and feline predators.  (The desert horned lizard is not one of those.)  You can see a video with a Regal Horned Lizard which sprays blood here.  (If you are in to that sort of thing.)  The young horned lizards have smaller horns, and tend to get snapped up quickly, so the horned lizard will lay lots of eggs.  Cool-looking critter.

I am sure many of you are preparing for some fourth of July festivities.  Therefore I won't go on and on.  I will simply leave you with one more painting from the mixed media series and a photo of the native Antelope Ground Squirrel, wish you a happy fourth, and sign off!
Cute little bugger, but they are destructive, too.  They will climb up into your car and chew on important wires.
"Tail Therapy."  Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 9 x 12 inches.  ©Karine M Swenson 2011