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Sketches from Photographs

July 24, 2019

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For the last couple of weeks I’ve mostly relaxed, spent time with family and done a little work on my website at www.ralphparkerart.com. I did pull out the pens and watercolors the last couple of days and did a little doodling from photographs. We’ll be home next week and I’ll get back to the big “mural” paintings among other things.

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I’ll probably play with a couple of these a bit more, adding a bit more color variety.  I enjoy this kind of work, and with years of travel photos, I have plenty of images to work with.

 

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The Studio

June 26, 2019

Very often when I post photos of painting being done in the RV, I tend to crop the photos quite a bit.  But that doesn’t really give an idea of how much space I’m actually using.  Here are some photos that show a little more.

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For this project, I’m using the french easel.  I have two old large bath towels that I put down to protect from spills and drips.  I’m a pretty neat painter, so that’s not a big issue, but you can bet that the first time I don’t put the towels down, I’ll drop something really colorful.  And since I’m using acrylics, that would not be good.  On the left side of the leather rocker where I sit is a slideout with a small desk, and wall-mounted TV with a cabinet below.  I’ve tried a lot of different arrangements, but this one seems to be working best.  The laptop with reference photos sits on the desk.

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Working with the 30″ x 40″ camvas can fill up some space in an RV, but when one has a very understanding and supportive spouse, it can be done.  The dark blue chair at the desk faces the room for a reason.  It’s also covered with a towel, and when I want to get some distance between me and the painting I can set it on that chair and step back a reasonable distance to study it.

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I’ve used a variety of mixing palettes over the years and at the moment I’ve reverted back to the aluminum pan.  Acrylics dry so fast that I’ve had a lot of wasted paint; this allows me to snap the cover on the pan and get a couple of days out of a blob of paint.  The box with all the paint tubes was rescued from an antique/junk shop for less than $20.  It’s solid wood and a bit heavy, but it holds far more paint than I thought it would.

The downside of painting in your living space is that things have to be closed up and put away when it’s time to just live life.  It’s a pain, but I’ve got it down to about a five minute process.  The most time-consuming thing is folding up the french easel legs.  All of this stuff fits under the desk when not in use.

The painting on the easel is about to be painted over and started again.  This is kind of painting is still new to me and I’m still trying to figure out how to make it fit my vision.  On the floor is the beginning of ideas for a second Star Wars panel.

I’m finding that I’m typically good for 3 to 4 hours of painting a day, although there are times when I’m focused and things are moving along and may spread several more hours over a day.  This is truly a major project for me.  It’s frustrating at times, but I’m enjoying discovering new capabilities.

 

Project Progress

June 17, 2019

I’m making progress on the second project painting.  I’m finding that getting the composition the way I want it in a painting like this takes some time.  Simple sketches only go so far because they don’t show how much visual space each object takes up.  That means an investment in time and paint to get the object laid in, then more time and paint to make changes.   Paint, repaint, repeat.  It isn’t finished, but at least we can see this one taking shape.

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The project will reflect the interests and activities of the client family.  This painting touches on a very special trip they took with their young son.

The completed project will consist of  two rows of four paintings each.  With the first two paintings on the top row  well along, I now have to decide whether to start work on the bottom row or keep going with the top row.

Stay tuned.

Back In The Saddle

June 10, 2019

For some reason, old cowboy songs started playing in my head when I sat down to type this.  There’s an old Sons Of The Pioneers song (yes, I’m that old) titled Tumbling Tumbleweed.  It popped into my head as I was trying to think of what I would say about being away from this blog for so long.  I could say I’ve been “…drifting along like a tumbling tumbleweed…” but I figuured most of you have never heard of the song.  Then I decided that since I’ve gotten started on a major painting project the old Gene Autry song Back In The Saddle Again was appropriate.  (Yep, Gene Autry… google it)

If you’ve followed along, (and bless you for waiting) you know that my wife Nell and I live in a Fifth Wheel RV in a nice RV park northwest of Austin, Texas.  And you know that I draw, paint and create books in the RV.  For those of you who are new, here’s what that looks like:

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I came out of hiding to share this project with you because it’s something I’m pretty excited about.  Now in my 75th year, I was beginning to lose a little artistic steam.  This work came along at exactly the right time.  It started out with someone saying “I’ve been thinking I’d like to have a mural on the upstairs game room wall.”  My response was “I’ve never done a mural.”  I wasn’t counting the Egyptian mural we did on the wall of my grade school classroom one year.  As I recall, we used an overhead projector for that.

As we discussed the current project over several conversations, the client accepted that a mural painted on a wall of his house wouldn’t move with him and his family.  The solution we came up with was a collection of large paintings hung close together on the wall.  There will be eight 30″ x 40″ paintings on a wall that is 9 feet high and 18 feet long.  I looked it up.  It’s called an octaptych.  The subject matter in the paintings will represent the family’s wide range of interests.

The first painting (below) is at the 80% stage.  That, of course, is the stage where all the little details and cleanup wok still need to be done.  Here’s that first painting:

brown star wars paintingThe client is obviously a huge Star Wars fan, so I chose to do it first.  The painting below is very much still in progress, but it’s coming together.  It’s intended to be placed  to the left of the Star Wars one.  When finished, it will reflect some of the family’s special travels.

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I’m really enjoying this for several reasons.  First, it’s the largest painting project I’ve ever done.  Second, while there has been some collaboration, I’ve pretty much got a free hand.  And third, almost all of the subject matter and the styles are very different from anything I’ve ever done.  (I can’t imagine when I would have ever painted the Roman Forum or the Coliseum.)  I’m looking forward to seeing all this come together.

I’ll try to do better at posting.

 

 

A New Acrylic Painting

October 18, 2018
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San Gabriel Cliffs, 16×20, Acrylic on canvas

Sometimes a painting just doesn’t work. The beauty of acrylics is that a canvas doesn’t have to be wasted. I painted over a painting that just didn’t do anything for me and ended up with something worthwhile.  This wasn’t actually a complete overpaint. The river bed survived, but there were trees where the cliffs are now.  Odd trees that were totally different from any I had ever painted.  So I painted over the entire right side of the painting and eliminated a badly painted cow .  This painting has received such a nice response on Facebook that I’ve entered it in the Bold Brush Online Painting Competition.  You can find it here:

https://faso.com/boldbrush/painting/159366

If you’re so inclined, you can even vote for it.  Your vote doesn’t win my anything, but it will make me feel good.

Paint On.

Just In A Slump? Are You Sure?

September 14, 2018

If you’ve followed along here for very long, you know that I have multiple artistic interests.  Sometimes I don’t feel like painting, so I pick up pencil and pen and do some sketching.  I may work on storybook art, or draw an old barn or conjure up an image of an old gnarly, twisted tree. Maybe work on one of at least two books I have in mind. If I don’t want to do one thing I do something else. My mind rarely rests and I’m always working as an artist in my head. But recently something had changed.

I had been told that, after my heart surgery it might take a year, but I would feel much better than before, I’d be a new man.  At the one year mark this past June I did feel pretty good. Then things started to go downhill. Not dramatically, not instantly, just a gradual awareness that the renewal had been a bit short-lived. Our trip to Ohio during the summer included a day trip to Chicago. Hoofing it along the Miracle Mile was difficult. I chalked it up to just not quite fully recovered yet, even after a year.

In the last month or two, I’ve felt my creativity slipping. There was an occasional burst when I produced a nice piece of art or two, but in between those I struggled to maintain interest. Sometimes even sketching didn’t give the result I was used to.  I began to feel that old artist nemesis The Slump rearing its ugly head.   Maybe I just needed a change of pace, a new interest. I had finally replaced my electronic keyboard while in Ohio.  A few years ago I had learned a few chords and was able to play a few old standards, even wasn’t too bad at improvising some jazzy blues stuff, purely for my own entertainment. Then I had given my Yamaha keyboard to one of my grandsons when we moved into the first motorhome and after several years I had recently begun to miss picking out a tune. So I bought a new keyboard while in Ohio and have been relearning some things. YouTube is a great resource for just about everything and I have found musicians posting all kinds of “how to” videos with just what I need.  At the same time, I dug out a Blues Harp harmonica from the back of a cabinet. It’s still shiny and new. Again, more videos, especially some that might teach me to bend notes.

Still, although the learning process was beginning, I found I was spending more time watching the videos than I was actually playing.  And while I had a full stock of sketchbooks, watercolor paper, pens, pencils, paint and brushes, I couldn’t conjure up anything exciting to work on. I also began to find myself getting a bit winded when I did little things that really didn’t require that much energy.  And my legs felt tired at times.

Saturday, a week ago as of this writing, Nell and I went to the grocery store.  Back home, I carried the groceries in while Nell started putting things away. Three trips to and from the car, five steps up and down… and I was exhausted.  In fact, I had to sit down. I was out of breath and my limbs felt heavy.  After a few minutes things settled back down.  On Sunday morning, I decided that my problem was that I had not been exercising, not even doing much walking, and I needed to get back to it.  So we went to the gym to put in some treadmill time. I set the treadmill on my usual incline and speed and started walking. In less than five minutes, I was out of breath and getting dizzy. I stopped and climbed down off the treadmill and quickly made it to a machine with a seat. I felt like I needed to lie down, but I was afraid to. My body just didn’t want to function. Nell looked at me closely and said I was gray. “We’re going to the emergency room.” She announced.  After a few minutes, I was able to walk to the car and we headed to the hospital. All I could think of was that my afib (atrial fibrillation) had returned.

All a person has to do in an emergency room, especially a nearly 75 year old, is use the words “short of breath” and “dizzy” in the same sentence and one is immediately whisked off to an examining room. An EKG showed a good sinus rhythm with no indication of afib. I think the ER doctor keyed on the fact that I had a history of heart issues. Even when an x-ray showed nothing and the EKG was normal, I was considered a cardiac patient. I was quickly admitted and installed in the cardiac wing of the hospital. I was hooked up to monitors and the usual blood tests were run. We were at Seton Medical Center (Williamson) so I knew I was in very capable hands and my cardiologist’s office was in the building next door.

Eventually, a doctor who is part of the group that includes our primary care physician and which has a strong focus on seniors, came into the room. After a quick introduction, she asked “Has anyone told you that you are anemic?” Now, I must confess that I had always associated the term “anemic” with weak, undernourished and frail.  And while I was admittedly weak at the moment, I was definitely not undernourished or frail. “What does that mean?” I asked. “Your hemoglobin level is at 7.4.” she said. “The normal level for a man is between 14 and 16. Think of it as a car about to run out of gas. If you were below 7, I would be ordering a blood transfusion.” Apparently, I had been losing blood and I wasn’t bleeding outwardly anywhere. I was kept overnight so I could be monitored.

The next morning, my blood level had dropped to 6.5. A doctor with the same group, one who had kept tabs on me after my heart surgery a year ago, came in and we talked. This doctor had given me good advice a year ago and I trusted him completely. I was started on a blood transfusion and on his advice I agreed to an endoscopy and colonoscopy.  The purpose was to find some indication of a cause of bleeding in my gut. I was given two units of blood to replenish some of the loss and an infusion of iron to get my body started on producing more. That afternoon, Monday, I began the dreaded preparation for the colonoscopy.

My blood level went back up to 9.2 and the procedures were done on Tuesday morning. By Tuesday evening I was eating solid food and feeling much better. Wednesday morning I walked around the 3rd floor ring five times. The procedures found no cause of blood loss in my gastrointestinal tract. While that does mean there is still a question regarding the cause, the good news is that a) there are no issues with my heart; and b) there are no serious concerns regarding my colon. On Wednesday I was released from the hospital and while I’m still not 100%, I feel much better and am optimistic about the future. I had a follow up with my primary care doctor yesterday and they took another blood sample. While writing this, I’ve just learned that my blood count is now up from 9.2 to 9.5

Why tell you all these details?  I think it’s important for people, especially creative people to be aware of what their body may be telling them. Blood produces oxygen and oxygen fuels the body. A loss of blood can affect everything from the tips of our toes to our brain. The doctors agreed that this condition was not only affecting my breathing and my extremities, but also possibly slowing down my brain function as well. Ergo… a slump in creativity (and maybe along with it some loss of dexterity).  A huge clue should have been that while I wasn’t feeling creative I also wasn’t feeling like doing much of anything else either. Sure, the flu can do that to us as well.  But in the absence of flu-like symptoms, it just might be wise to visit your doctor anyway.  This may have been happening over a period of time, but when it really hit, it hit fast!  I just thought I needed more exercise when it turned out that exercise was the last thing I needed at that moment. I didn’t have enough fuel to support that exercise.

There is no doubt that we all go through slumps from time to time. I think we artists generally can recognize it for what it is: maybe a little burn-out or exhaustion or distraction. But we also need to be aware that if that slump includes other symptoms, especially loss of energy, it’s time to get checked out. So there you go.  My sermon for today.

I wish all of you good health and creative days ahead. As for me… it’s time to test out my shoulder. I’ve got an acrylic painting of the North San Gabriel River that’s been sitting for months and needs to be looked at and worked on.

Art on.

Big Red… a gouache painting

August 28, 2018

I posted an image of this barn a month ago, a pen & ink and watercolor sketch.  This old barn really grabbed me, so I decided to do it again, larger, in gouache.

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Big Red, 10 x 16, Gouache on w/c paper

It’s a bit tighter than the sketch, but I wanted to see if I could still paint one of these in pure gouache and capture the character of this old structure.  Unlike most of my earlier gouache paintings, I didn’t use heavy paint on this one.  In fact, I pulled out an old plastic gouache palette and did the entire painting with thin, revived paint that had dried in the palette.  Simply rolled a wet brush around the paint piles until I had a usable consistency.  Toward the end I did squeeze out a little titanium white to give a couple of colors a little more light.

An artist friend is headed to Wyeth country.  An oil painter, he’s reviving his watercolor work and, like most of us, is a big Andrew Wyeth fan. What better place to gain inspiration than the actual locations where Wyeth painted.  Not to be a copycat, but to give myself a challenge, I think I’ll go at another barn, again in gouache, and try to explore something resembling a Wyeth color palette.  I don’t think my friend will object, and I need the challege.