#60 AUTUMN LEAVES I FALL FOR

Clicking on the painting below opens up a window to my leaf related stock images on Getty Images.

My most recent painting is named “Autumn Leaf Medley.”

It was definitely enjoyable to capture so many colors. I filled my palette with eyedroppers of dye from at least 20 bottles in order to create my painting.

My painting of autumn leaves evoked a poignant memory that can be found at this link: “CAN I KEEP THEM FOREVER?”

Below is an image of my painting in progress:

Collecting leaves in Southern California is not comparable to other areas in the United States where autumn leaves are prized for their spectacle.

But I didn’t have to hunt too hard to find examples of the season. I ended up being very inspired by the bland ones, such as the oak leaves. Even though they weren’t initial standouts, their interesting bluish tones really enhanced my painting.

These are some examples of photos that I used as reference for my painting:

Painting autumn leaves was something I have done before. In the 1990’s I had several assignments painting romance covers for Avon Books. To create stock images, I excised individual leaves from the book cover below.

In the 1990’s, I painted another leaf themed romance cover named “See You In September.” Below is the layout for that cover. I photographed my reference and followed my job instructions closely. It was helpful that a friendly art director did me a favor and mailed me a box full of leaves from Upstate New York. I set up my layout and even found a plastic stand-in for the red heart.

Before I had access to incredible digital tools, I used to painstakingly trace my reference photo and then transfer the drawing onto my watercolor paper. It was tedious and time consuming.

And below is my finished book cover. I was supposed to get the original artwork back, but unfortunately that never happened. I was told that it had been lost and I was paid a small sum as compensation.

I love the palette of colors in my newest autumn leaf painting. Lighter veins held challenges and I used a crow quill with liquid frisket to mask out those areas.

Touches of Prismacolor pencil worked really well on many of the autumn leaves. Lighter colored pencils inherently add coolness, which can be advantageous and interesting. It imparts a waxy sheen. For the speckled areas, colored pencil put down first added another dimension, and didn’t bleed when painted over.

I also especially savored painting crisp and subtle shadows with watercolor/dye.

Even though this painting required an investment of my time (about a week), Autumn Leaf Medley was fun to paint. I’m so glad I took the opportunity to create an enjoyable painting for myself!

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#59 LEMON TREE, BRANCHING OUT

The title for this post has me humming the delightful Peter, Paul & Mary song by the same name. But my story about the overgrown lemon tree in my backyard does not carry a song. It does, however, accompany a painting that I finished last week.

The 60-year-old fence that surrounds my lemon tree is barely holding up. In the drabness of my patio, my lemon tree is thriving. It has weathered many years of neglect and remains in its original wooden planter. The roots eventually broke through the bottom and firmly took hold. Without being watered for a decade, it somehow survived.

Gradually, I began appreciating its beauty. I snapped pictures of its blossoms, which I later added into my painting. I marveled at the change when the green fruit hinted slowly toward yellow. And it became handy to have a lemon at my disposal whenever a recipe called for one.

I was now regularly noticing the bountiful fruit hanging on lovely textured branches. It inspired me to create a painting and I would like to share the technical aspects on this post.

I have more poignant memories about this 30-year-old scrawny lemon tree at this link: #581 LEMON TREE.

For me, painting is about seeing contrast, color and beauty. “Lemon Tree” began with a single photo as my reference. The scene was busy and crowded with dirty leaves. However, right away I was intrigued by the beautiful texture of the branches.The glow of sunlight peaking through the leaves was also inspiring.

My original Lemon Tree reference photo

The photo above became my framework to work with. I moved the green lemons on the right to the left side and cropped in the photo.

I have discussed my current watercolor technique on the last few blog posts. What was significantly different about this painting was my desire to “fill the page.” Normally, I paint cutout objects that float or have shadows against a white background.

It certainly took a lot of time to paint all the areas, but with a clear road map I was patient. Sometimes, painting large smooth areas can be much harder than going “inch by inch.” Normally. I utilize frisket film for every delineation. On this painting, I only cut frisket for larger areas.

Creating my “road map” photo-layout required about half as much time as the painting. I worked with Photoshop and used elements from many photos to achieve the composition I desired. I adjusted the contrast and filled in places that weren’t working for me.

My replacement lemon for the “hero.” (I wished I had washed it before taking my photo!)

Blossoms were added in a few places. I had older reference for that.

Below is my photo layout, which I printed out to look at while painting. Years ago, I used to make a tracing, but I’ve eliminated that step by using an inkjet printer to lightly print directly onto my watercolor paper. After that, I went to work using mostly Dr. PH Martin’s dyes, as well as Prismacolor pencils.

Photo Layout

Final Painting; it took me about two weeks to complete.

At this point, I have painted every area except the “hero lemon.”

I saved the “hero lemon” for last because I usually paint the darker areas first. Painting something dark against a finished lighter area runs the risk of bleeding. Painting against something dark could cause some color bleed, but the edge integrity is stable. To combat any color bleed, I place frisket film over painted areas when I do a light area.

Currently, I am using Fabriano 140 lb. hot-press watercolor paper. I was using Arches, but I noticed a lot more bleeding and issues with the handling of my paint. With the Fabriano paper, painting has been much easier.

I usually use the Prismacolor pencils over finished watercolor areas. But for this painting, pencils were ideal for the branch texture before putting down color. I simply defined the bark first using a dark brown pencil, and then I lightly painted over it afterwards. I lightly erased pencil areas in order to get the desired effect I was looking for.

I have recently run into a problem on my stock site regarding whether my work is categorized as photography or illustration. I realize that my illustrations have shifted into a far more photo-realistic realm.

I like to see my painting as a wonderful enhancement of my photographic layout. Even the process of creating my layout requires a lot of artistic skill and digital technical expertise.

In the past, I used markers as a preliminary step. My transition into digital media has been a wonderful exploration. I now see the computer as fabulous for designing my compositions. I am so glad that I embraced the technology that allows my art to be fully explored before I put the time in to paint!

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#58 AN APPLE A DAY – PART 2

A medley of apples that I painted just for fun.

I began this blog in 2010. One of my early posts was #5 AN APPLE A DAY, PART 1 and it was because I had so many assignments illustrating apples.

Ten years after that post, I decided it would be fun to create a Part 2. I’m sharing three assignments that have apple subject matter, as well as a series of new apple illustrations I painted just for fun. For this second part, I will describe my transition to utilizing the digital process for my illustrations.

For more detail about my traditional and digital process combined, here are some other posts:

#47 LAYERS IN MY LIFE, PART 1

#56 IT WAS FRUITFUL BEING AN ILLUSTRATOR, PART 2

#57 TAKING STOCK OF ART AND MY LIFE

The very first assignment where I began my current technical process was a wine cooler illustration for Arbor Mist. I rendered all of the elements separately and then combined them with added shadows on the computer. It is very common for my clients to ask that every element to be fully rendered and on a separate layer. This does require additional time and work.

The “assembled” illustration.

 

I always show many possibilities so clients can pick an element from another layout to revise their choice.

The advantage of working digitally has been fantastic for designing my illustrations. In the past, I would send black and white outline sketches via fax. I had no idea how the color would look and neither did my client. Now I am able to create accurate mock-ups of my preliminary ideas by combining photos with older illustrations. This is definitely an example of “whatever works” for me.

I have illustrated many flavors of yogurt for Tillamook Dairy Company. Apple Rhubarb was definitely an interesting flavor. Below were my layout ideas:

My final artwork demonstrates that there were a lot of changes made after my first round of layouts.

I have a very specific way to create shadows between layers using Photoshop. This has been completely a result of discovery – I am self-taught.

First, I never disturb the main layer. In the past, I used to darken the main layer, but that led to an inability to move elements around or change the design later. So instead, I duplicate the layer and darken the top layer to my desired shadow color. I often increase the contrast by using levels, and then I de-saturate the layer after that to “gray it out.” Sometimes, I use a filter to achieve the color I want.

Once I am satisfied with the shadow color, I select the shadow area and refine the selection edge to soften it. Then I use “inverse” and cut away the rest of the layer, leaving only the shadow. I then lock the two layers together, because if the shadows moves it can cause a problem. If I need to lighten the shadow layer, I sometimes adjust the layer opacity.

The third assignment I want to share, is truly a blend of digital and traditional art. Unlike the other two jobs I’ve discussed, I did not paint anything new for Karen’s Naturals in 2016 because the client did not have a budget for new art.

I began by scouring all of my existing art to find the elements I needed. I created digital clipboards to help me with my layouts.

Whenever a layout was chosen, it actually became the final art. There was still another step, though. I needed to spend time to clean it up. When working on layouts, many times I didn’t finish all the shadows or smooth out cut edges. I also added water droplets later on.

What was truly amazing for this flavor was that on one of the layouts I was able to use an older red apple illustration and convert it to a green one.

Unfortunately, the printing process did not flatter my artwork.

2020 was a big shift for me. I decided to simply paint anything I wanted and put it up on Getty Stock. I did a lot of different apple studies. Apples have wonderful color varieties and their shininess can be unreal (due to added wax in the supermarket). I did obtain some actual apple leaves, which helped to add realism and make my illustrations more interesting.Creating my composition is never as simple as taking one exact photo. My process usually involves combining several.

I was glad I was able to pick a few leaves from a good friend’s apple tree. It was a little tricky positioning a loose leaf near the stem.

A close up.

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#57 TAKING STOCK OF ART AND MY LIFE – PART 1

This past summer, I’ve had a renewed interest in painting. It has not only been fun, but also astonishingly productive. Even as I am painting something, I find myself planning for the next one.

I lovingly study all the varieties of fruits and vegetables in my home. Sometimes I look closely at food I’m cooking and consider whether it could be my next painting subject.

I keep looking at flowers outside and have ideas for those, too. Getting excited about painting again has been a huge change in my life.

My pile of new paintings continues to grow. Each subject warms my heart. I have white boards leaning against the wall in my dining room, since I am photographing there so often. Nearby, I have an eyedropper, bottle of corn syrup (for better droplets) and handheld illuminating light. I am amazed at the quality of my reference photos taken simply with an iPhone. In the past, I had a macro camera lens, lights and other assorted photographic equipment. In comparison, using my phone is a cinch! I like sharing my reference photos. Once I edit them, they appear almost identical to my painting.

For my painting, I chose a pit that was more natural, instead of clean and shiny. My photos are always on the darker side, but they give me plenty of information and are easily lightened.

When I first began painting again, I searched for photo reference left over from older jobs. The pumpkin spice and jalapenos are an example of that.

It was a game changer when I started shooting new reference. Not only was it inspiring, it really opened up wonderful possibilities for me.

In addition to my pile of physical paintings, I had another plan. I submitted my images to Getty Stock. I started out with submitting one image for each painting. But then I realized I could digitally reconfigure the elements into multiple compositions and intentionally planned for this. Two paintings of peaches yielded five stock images.

Shadow or no shadow? I never used to add shadows, but have included them on many of my recent paintings.

My devotion to creating new stock images is new. But I would say that things began to shift a year ago. For most of my career, I sold my stock images primarily on Alamy, which was based in England. I picked Alamy for the sole reason that they were non-exclusive and I could still sell my images on my own, which I did quite often. But I also had about 100 images exclusively on Getty; they were ones I wasn’t attached to. Unfortunately, neither site yielded significant income.

One day, I almost fell out of my chair when I received a wonderful sum of money for a single sale on Getty. That had never happened before. Instead of receiving $5, I received $5,000! Six months later, this happened again.

That was all it took for me to become motivated to accept Getty’s exclusivity. I contacted Alamy and removed my library of images. Then I put them all on Getty, while at the same time adding 100 more.

On my last post, I shared about my three-step process creating my paintings.

a. I edit reference photos until they are crisp enough to render from. I create a light version and print it on watercolor paper.

b. I stretch the watercolor paper and then apply frisket to all areas as a mask. After cutting the frisket with an exacto knife, I paint each area. When dry, I add texture with colored pencil. Pen-white is used for highlights.

c. I scan my finished painting. By moving around the elements, I can also create other stock images.

The two steps that involve Photoshop take considerable time – sometimes even more time than the painting. But it makes all the difference for me to  have excellent reference to paint from.

My reference photo for bell peppers.

What is consistently in most of my paintings, are scattered water droplets. They captivate me and I keep discovering new and interesting ways to portray these jewels. Whether they are running down the side of a fruit or pooling on a leaf, those details are precious for me.

Some subject matter, like mushrooms, hold a different challenge. The scuffs and dirt are what makes them interesting. My painting of three mushrooms was a color challenge because they were relatively monochromatic.

My unedited photo of three mushrooms.

So far, I have discussed painting stock images, but not about taking stock of my life. I will speak to that now.

Just like the music that I rediscovered ten years ago, it seems that “taking a leave of absence” from art didn’t diminish my technical abilities. Instead, I have renewed enthusiasm. At the age of 61, I feel like I am at the top of my game. I am confident that I will continue to improve. This belief fuels and uplifts me.

If I need to see proof, I only have to look at my older images. Below are two examples of an orange and avocado that are also sold on Getty stock. If I compare them to my recent paintings of the same subject, I can see that I’ve come a long way in 30 years!

Above, is an apple illustration of mine that is very popular on the site Pinterest. Just writing about my recent paintings motivated me to specifically create some new images of apples. They will become material for a “Part 2” of an early post on this blog that is named “An Apple a Day.” I decided to paint an apple a day in 2020!

 Here are some of my new apples that will be a part of that post. It has been wonderful for me to see my improvement.

Another shift in my life is related to sharing my paintings. In the past, parting with an original painting was very difficult for me. My paintings were like babies that I didn’t want to lose. But now, I’ve noticed that I receive great pleasure when I gift an original to someone I love.

After giving a painting of three mushrooms to a dear friend, I decided that I would simply paint another one for myself.

These were some of my ideas for a new mushroom painting.

With this painting, I created other stock compositions.

With these two stock images, I differentiated them with a slight change of color.

Having a pristine background requires careful masking.

For decades, I’ve kept my paintings in boxes. The knowledge that my art could bring joy by hanging on a loved one’s wall is much more pleasurable than holding onto it.

If I could sum up this entire post, it would be with this sentence below. 

OUT OF DIFFICULT TIMES – BEAUTY CAN EMERGE.

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