Xan’s Art: Blog

Wrapping up the marathon? Maybe?

I finished the portrait of RedFawnMom’s Lucy on Friday, and I think that might wrap up this marathon. Maybe. Big stuff a-foot. Maybe. More on that in a minute.

Meanwhile, here’s Lucy:

As usual, the jpg doesn’t capture much subtlety. The green background came out especially luminous, which made me happy. I was going for a light-through-leafy-hedge sort of feel, in a non-representational sort of way, which worked nicely. Lucy’s dense, champagne colored fur and gentle gaze made her a pleasant companion for the last week or so. I hope her mom will be pleased for a long time to come.

Now, as to big things a-foot.

For one thing, it’s about this time of year that I begin to think about this year’s crop of holiday cards, believe it or not. That August print deadline rushes up pretty fast, what with everything else that has to happen in the mean time.

For another, I wandered into a gallery in Fairhaven (Olivia Cornwell: Excellent Works of Art & Craft – website in development) where the owner and I fell into comfortable conversation, then an exchange of business cards, which led to her interest in me as an artist. Long story short(er), we’ve come up with a bunch of directions we might work together on, from a logo for a charitable effort she’s working on, through some book illustration, to a few concepts for series of paintings for possible representation in her gallery. She’s quite the powerhouse, formerly of Little Rock, Arkansas, which is apparently quite the collectors’ mecca (who knew?) She’s just begun her gallery here, and is feeling her way into the market, but if anyone can make a go of it, I think Olivia can.

Plus, she’s a dog person, so, you know, that’s good right there, right? 😉

My mind is spinning with concepts and ideas for paintings now. They’re still in gestation, but I spent yesterday afternoon out taking pictures for reference, and then more conversation with Olivia that may have taken me in a slightly different direction with the ideas I’d been cooking already.

For me to enter the gallery world is … flabbergasting. Now, I’m not there yet. But just to be thinking in the direction of non-commissioned work is still pretty new, and, yes, scary. But sort of thrilling, too. H is supportive, as always. *picture me going all mushbally here*

So, wish me luck as I venture out on that teetery tightrope!

Oh, and this is weird, but I simply can’t seem to reply to your comments in the comment field. Probably a browser issue. >:~{ But, I read and appreciate them! Thanks for taking the time to make a comment and let me know what you’re thinking. Maybe I should just use a different browser for this, eh?

Happy Spring!


Well, after losing a couple hours’ work when H overloaded the vacuum and my computer crashed on the power surge (augh), I still managed to wrap up the caricature (again!) today. Donna is happy with it, so I’m happy!

I promised I’d show you, so here she is: Buffy!

Tomorrow, it’s back to painting IRL. I’ll post more as that one progresses.

Finally back to my Portrait Marathon!

Well, finally, right? I had some graphics work, and some design work, and some accounting (retch!) work to do, but I finally got back to little Treasure, here. Robin, Treasure’s mom, is on her way back from earthquake-torn Chile, but still got to see this photo of the painting on her travels. Amazing how far, and how dependably, internet technology reaches! (Did I just prove what an old lady I am? 😉 )

Anyway, I’ll miss her toothy little glare in my studio, but I’ll tell you a little secret (don’t tell anyone, now!); I kept the first version, the one I showed you in my last post, for myself! I just liked the watercolory underpainting so much I decided to start fresh for Robin!

So, now I’m waiting for the next couple people on my list to get back to me about whether they even remembered they signed up for this marathon, and still want their turn. In the mean time, I thought I’d catch you all up.

Like I said, I had a couple graphics jobs. One was designing the new Hope for Hounds collar trim. I couldn’t show you before it was released, but now I can.
Here’s my design:

And here’s how it came out as collars! (Alisha tells me the colors don’t show quite right, and are a little closer to the teal and cream-beige than the white and blue it looks like here.)

Oh, and you can click on the picture to be taken to the site where you can purchase the collars! 😉
It looks like they were able to weave in all that fine sharp detail! Amazing. We decided to do a design based on old-school tattoo iconography. It was a fun challenge.

Ah! I just now got a request to do a caricature for a very nice lady for whom I’ve done caricatures of her other pups. This one is going to be Buffy, the new girl, and she sent me so many adorable pictures I don’t know what to do with myself! I’ll post it when I’m done.

Portrait Marathon

We lost one of our family in November. Little Happy,

our retired brood mama greyhound just couldn’t fight her way past the illness that had ruined her innards for years before we got her. She leaves a hole familiar to anyone who’s ever loved and lost a pet.

Her illness also left us with a great, big, fat vet bill. In an effort to recover from that blow, I started a portrait marathon. Small paintings, 5″ x 5″, acrylic on canvas, for $50. I started with 10, but got so many sign-ups, I decided to just keep going. I’m now on the first portrait of Round 2. To see the completed portraits, you can go here.

Right now, I’m working on RobinW’s greyhound, Treasure (also a retired brood mama!) You can see the reference picture there on the left. This is where I’m at as of this morning:
The background is pretty much done, and the underpainting is in. I decided to edit out all the collar and cape (yes, that’s a cape) stuff around her neck and shoulders, so you could concentrate on her arresting gaze. And her funny toothy Mona Lisa smile! I kind of like it like this, in a way. Very water-color-y, but it’s obviously not done, so back to work I go! I’ll try to stay up to date with these here. Let my family at least see what I’m up to! 🙂 Hi, family!

Bye bye, Happy.

Getting back to the ART part

This blog has had a rest. We all need a rest now and then, right?

When I started this blog, it was going to be mostly about my art. Then it turned into a sort of open letter to my family, with pictures. My muse had gone walkabout, so there was precious little art to blog about anyway!

I did manage to get my holiday card designs done, though. Six of them, no less! Every year, Alisha (2 Hounds Design) and I (Xan’s Art) choose from our long list of ideas to offer several card designs. We call our partnership Grey Matter.

This year, in addition to the 6 new designs, we bowed to pressure from our fans for a multipack. We put together TWELVE different designs in one pack.

Something for everyone on your list!

I re-learned something this year. Or re-remembered it, I guess. The less cards I send, the less I get. And I LOVE getting cards! So, I’ll be sending out lots this year, even joined the card exchange on Greytalk.

Well, it’s art time again! Miss Muse has found her way home, and I put her right back to work.

My current project is to create enough art to participate in a show, which I will arrange myself. It was originally scheduled to be right after Thanksgiving, but logistics kicked my hiney, and left me no time to make any art. So, it’s been re-scheduled for the kinder gentler spring of 2010. Yeay! I can do some art!!

The concept for the show is a benefit for a feral cat rescue organization in Whatcom County, WA. For all that kind of show/concept/etc. info, go see my laboriously produced (I’m SO not a web designer!) website for Sudden Gallery.

On to the actual art stuff!
I have a bazillion ideas for what media I want to use for this show. I’ll be thrilled if I actually get to play with more than 2 or 3. Right now, I’m focussing on linocut prints. I’m having a wonderful time with the actual carving, now that I’ve kind of got the hang of it, and despite a few inadvertently self-inflicted cuts and stab wounds. My first block was a good learning piece, but not really show-worthy. My second is definitely showing improvement. Check this out.
Here’s the block, carved and ready to print.

Here’s the first test-print.

I haven’t decided yet how I’m going to do this. I’m thinking of printing it on cool and groovy hand-made paper with flotsam in it, and a bit of color, or on hot-press (smooth) watercolor paper and coloring it by hand with colored pencil. Watercolors would be nicer, but I printed with water based inks, which means it would just smear the ink. Unless I do the water colors first, then the print. I’m thinking about that, too.

It’s not all art, though. Well, put another way, art is where you find it! Look how pretty this birch (?) looks against the dark sky, with the late afternoon sun sliding in from the side and lighting it up.

That’s from our walk on the Railroad Trail yesterday. That’s H there in the yellow jacket.

Fall means mushrooms! There’s one place we always look for shaggy manes (no, I won’t tell you where! ;P ), and we were lucky enough to find several. Looky!


So, back to the drawing board … and the cutting board!

Some ART, finally!

(Apologies for the lousy photos! I used my phone camera for most of these, but you can still get the basic ideas I’m trying to share!)

An artist friend of mine, Billie, did this sweet little Etude of my darling Wabi,
Billie's "Etude" of Wabi
which I insisted we trade for.

Those of you who know me have heard allllll about my total artistic block, lately (for most of the last year!) What to do?? I wanted to do a portrait of her little Buddy dog, but … there’s that little issue of The BLOCK! :^P

I had decided to try some new media, new anything, to see if I couldn’t loosen up The Block. I wanted to do some sculpture, and paper mache seemed like a pretty inexpensive way to achieve 3-D without dipping into the bank account during the learning curve.

I decided to try a “bust” of Buddy, hopefully getting across a particular expression that Billie likes,
showing his little lower canines sticking up (like my own Wabi’s!)

I played around some with making pulp, which was fun, but it was so goopy and rough. I experimented with building up using wadded paper, then paper strips,
then details in the pulp …
Maybe the toilet paper core wasn’t such a good idea for the muzzle!
Or just pure pulp …
(Yes, that’s a mouse, not Buddy! I said I was experimenting!)
😛 Not too happy with any of this! (There’s that learning curve, eh? Well, hopefully there’s a curve!)

So, I did some research, and came across this marvelous artist doing fabulous paper mache sculpture. Luckily for me, Jonni also posts tutorials in her blog. Bingo. I decided to try out her techniques on my portrait of Buddy.

With the experience of two failed heads behind me already, and the weirdness of the idea of a dog’s head on a base (hang it on the wall like a hunting trophy? set it on the coffee table staring up at you?), I decided to go for the whole body pose.
“Rub my tummy!” Love it!

Using Jonni’s technique of the cardboard cut out guide and armature, I drew out cross-sections of the body with the neck and head, then all four legs and the tail, and cut them out of cardboard.

Then I started adding wads of paper, keeping in mind the underlying muscles and bones, etc., wrapping it all together at this stage with masking tape.
Know what? Masking tape is sticky! 😛 Kind of a pain when one hand is trying to hold a wad of paper that wants to unwad and fall off, and the other is trying to tear off a useable piece of sticky tape, and then put it somewhere other than your hand! But, how fun to see the flat cut-outs become the fully dimensional dog, even at this rough stage!

Here it is, pretty well taped up and ready for the first layer of paper mache:

I decided early on that I’d forgo the details like toes and claws, and concentrate that level of detail in the face. I did, however, decide I couldn’t leave out his little hoo-hoo. So, there it is. (Funny story about that. I had to remove it and start over as it got … quite large, with the added layers of paper! A bit too … erm … distracting.)

Jonni says she likes to use brown paper bags, but apparently Trader Joe’s uses mighty thick paper. It was very unfriendly. I happened to have a lot of white newsprint-type paper that came to me as packing material. It made wonderful paper mache; very melty, and looked so nice right off the bat. Kind of like porcelain.

At this stage, I had to give it a rest to dry. But I just was NOT happy with this head! It was too big. It looked like a Boston bull terrier or a flying pig. Well, one of my mottos is, If it’s not right, it’s not right. The next morning, I took my bread knife, and decapitated poor Buddy.
Yet one more head to the waste pile!

I was especially not looking forward to doing the ears over. That was a process of using stiffer paper (a flour bag, in this case), cutting out an ear shape, with tabs to attach it to the head, curling it around, and taping it down, before building it up with paper mache. Tricky, but at least I had learned to tear up lots of tape bits to be ready when needed!

Okay, so I redid a smaller, narrower muzzled cardboard armature, wadded and taped it up, leaving room for the bulbous eyes to be added on as details, which is part of where I’d gone wrong before.

Paper mached the skin, detailed the eyes and muzzle, got those ears done. The eyes I tried to get to show the white cornea/inner lid (whatever that is!), so the direction of the gaze would be obvious when painted later. The eyelids and eyebrows were liberally soaked and shaped from paper and the flour paste. See below for a close-up of the face details.

I found a paintbrush extremely useful for forming the paper into tight areas, like around the eyes, ears, nostrils, lips, and in the folds where the limbs join. I also ended up keeping a damp rag near to occasionally wipe off the accumulated goop drying on my hands and between my fingers.

Break for drying. Oh yeah! I put Buddy in the oven to dry at 225’ F, as suggested in Jonni’s tutorials. Do you know the smell of toasting paper and flour? That smell right before it catches fire? ;P Buddy was too big to truly fit, so I had to leave the door open a bit, and tented with foil to hopefully keep most of the heat in. I think it confused the thermostat. Anyway, it didn’t actually burn, just … got dark and toasty, and only in a couple places!

At this point, Jonni suggests using joint compound (used on drywall, before painting) to smooth out the sculpture. That was the part I was very interested to try, since smoothing was a big concern of mine. I ended up spreading it on full strength (not diluting it as suggested), mostly with the back of a spoon, and smoothing it with a damp paintbrush. The challenge, as it turned out was to avoid getting little voids or bubbles under a skin of compound that showed up later when sanded. But it was fun!

Sanding was less fun, but very rewarding, nonetheless.

Next layer of paper mache went pretty quickly, but I took the opportunity to fill in some areas that I thought were skimpy. Especially the belly, which I wanted to be irresistibly round. Then I wanted to do yet another smoothing layer of joint compound. Then sanded again. At this point, H commented, “This project is getting a little obsessive, isn’t it?” Heh heh! Well, I was using it to learn, too!

Maybe he was objecting as much to the total use of the kitchen counter for several days. ☺

Finally time to prime! Since the primer is white, and so is the joint compound, I wanted to see where the primer was, so I tinted it with India ink. Buddy is mostly black, so I figured that would get me that much closer, anyway.

I rested him on a pillow wrapped in a plastic bag while I worked on the underside, to protect his breakable top side stuff (legs, ears, facial details).

Once Buddy was all primed, the surface looked to me like ceramic, or plaster. Like a bronze casting positive. I said so to H, who had apparently said so some time before, and I forgot. (Xan forgot something? SO unlike me!) Well, NOW I thought it was a good idea! 🙂 Though it was hard to let go of the painting details I wanted to do (pink showing through on the belly, whites in the eyes…). I went online again, and found a metallic finish in a water-based acrylic solution that got good reviews, called Sophisticated Finishes. I chose their blackened bronze, and H managed to find it for me at Michael’s. It was exciting painting it on! The coverage was amazing, like painting with liquid bronze! I did one layer of their sealer as well, for a final effect of a big bronze casting, very shiny, with the pinkish highlights and greenish-black shadow tones of bronze. Or dark chocolate. Well, either way, pretty good!

Here’s the final product.



A little closer up on the face:

Buddy is a cute little guy. I get to meet him and his mom in person in October, and I can’t wait!
Hope you enjoyed the ride with me. I love comments! Like, suggestions what to do with these extra dog heads!