January 2009

How I learned to stop worrying and love oil paint

In October, I took a painting workshop in Vermont with Eric Aho.

My parent’s first saw Eric’s work at Spheris Gallery, then in Walpole, NH. I really admire the way he uses techniques of “abstract” painting— loose application of paint, obvious brushstrokes— to capture how a landscape really feels.

For our first exercise, Eric had us mix up five color from the landscape, then paint three small paintings in just over an hour.  This was a lot of fun and helped me loosen up.  Many thanks to Bobbi, another workshop participant, who let me use some of her paper.  

Eric’s way of painting is the opposite of what I had been doing.  He uses paint straight from the tube, paints all in one sitting, and layers thick colors over one another.  As a result, his paintings look like…oil paintings.  They have a lot of texture and variety to the brushstrokes, and a lot of depth.

While we were painting, Eric would come by to chat and offer advice.  One thing he pointed out was that all of my brushstrokes were about the same size.  This wasn’t surprising, given that most of my brushes were also about the same size.  ”What you need to do,” he said, “is get a great big brush, and a really fine brush, and put those next to each other.  That will give your painting more contrast.”  Being a Huge Nerd, I thought to myself: oh, he means I need a broader distribution of spatial frequencies.  How sensible!

Here is my first attempt to paint in this style:

When Eric came around to look at this one, I lamented that all of my brushstrokes looked pretty similar. Well, he said, that’s because you are holding the brush like a pencil.  Try holding it differently, and standing differently.  And he proceeded to demonstrate.  Can you tell which brushstroke on this painting is Eric’s?

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A new hobby

Here is my side of our studio:

And here is what used to be David’s side:

David said I could get a sewing machine if I would hem his pants for him.  Despite the fact that he has managed to turn up more pairs of pants than I thought he had, I still think I got the better end of this deal.

I blame pattern review for this new obsession, as well as the following blogs: Miss Celie’s Pants, Two On Two Off, Sewing in the City, and Diary of a Sewing Fanatic

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Learning to paint, part I

A year ago I got the idea in my head that I wanted to paint in oils.

I took one oil painting class back in high school, and another the year after I finished college. But I never really got into it. Oil paint was messy. Set up and clean up took forever. I spent ages mixing up colors only to run out a few brush strokes later, then found myself totally perplexed as to how to mix the same color again. Anyway my colors were never very good. 

My first oil paintings this year were translations of watercolors I had done.  
 

 

I think the colors worked okay. Since oil and watercolor contain similar pigments, the recipes I used for the watercolors translated fairly well to oil. But the paintings look kind of flat. Since the watercolors were small, I could fill in a large area with a wash and have that contrast with the more detailed areas. In the larger oil paintings, you can see the brushstrokes everywhere, and its pretty much the same brushstrokes all over. Also, I basically treated the oil paint like watercolor, thinning it down with a lot of medium, doing a layer in one color, then letting it dry for a week before adding the next layer. This fit well with my weekend painting schedule— and helped contain the mess— but it meant that there wasn’t much texture to my paintings— something I admire a lot in other artists’ oils.

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How do mice spend their time?

 

When I was six years old I wanted to grow up to be a teacher or a mouse. I had a vague idea of what a teacher did from kindergarden but really I had no idea what being a mouse entailed. Now, thanks to Evan Goulding and Katrin Schenk at UCSF there is actual data available!  Evan and Katrin built a system to monitor what mice do when left to their own devices.  And they asked me to illustrate their results for their paper in PNAS.

Turns out that, like me, mice spend most of their time at home sleeping.  The small amount of time remaining is spent eating, drinking, or getting to the places where they eat and drink.  Seems like the mouse career option would have a been a good fit after all.

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