Saturday, March 31, 2007

CrashOctopus.com

I MOVED!

The CrashOctopus Blog, An Ode to Art and Beer, is now being updated at CrashOctopus.com.

Please update your bookmarks!

Thanks,
Meg

Art Blogging

I began "An Ode to Art and Beer" with a few specific goals in mind. First, to rate beer - for anyone who drinks it. Second, to discuss art - for anyone who loves how-tos, WIPs, and lessons learned. There are so many "art bloggers" out there whose sole focus is showing artwork. It's a great venue to keep collectors and fans up-to-date about what you have on the easel, and to sell art. However, I focus my blog on the process of making art, not the end result.

I'm on a journey of learning. My successes and setbacks as an artist are being recorded with the hope that someone will find the information useful in their own journey. My "Links" section contains the blogs of other artists whose goals are similar - they aren't just there for the end result. That said, I would like to post more often than weekly, but time is precious. So I'm considering throwing in some completed artwork posts during the week, and continuing with the beer and "lessons learned" posts on the weekends.

My desire for constructive criticism also gave me an idea: to set up a website for all of us artists who want to improve, where we could get valuable critiques and do the same for others. That'd be the sole purpose of the site. If any of you readers are interested in participating in a site like that, please comment & let me know.

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Nathan's foray into website design introduced me to the realm of Wordpress. I have long felt restricted by the formats Blogger allows, and having built my own website, I knew I could do a lot more outside the confines of Blogger. I downloaded Wordpress and have a new blog URL: CrashOctopus.com. I've migrated all the relevant archives and comments, so it's an exact copy of the Blogger site. This site will remain as-is, but I won't post here anymore. Update your bookmarks now to see new content!

With the freedom of hosting my own blog, I'm also looking into making money with it. It will come in the form of Sponsored Links, so that whenever I talk about a particular product, I'll link to a site where you can buy it. I will also have a "Meg Recommends" page with all past product links. For example, dickblick.com has an affiliates program, and if a reader buys a product after clicking the link on my blog, I get a small cut. So, if you want to buy something at dickblick.com, doing so through CrashOctopus.com pays me. (bwahaha!) If you do, I'll bake cookies for you.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Gouache Supports, Part 1

O Gouache, most versatile of mediums, bestow upon me the strength to remain calm and encouraged despite the fact that you frustrate me daily.

*sigh*

Yesterday I spent 2 or 3 hours working and reworking a simple ocean background. The gouache wasn't behaving. Or maybe I just wasn't handling it properly. But it brought to my attention that although gouache can be used on just about anything, not all supports are created equal. I was able to spend hours reworking because my support could handle a lot of abuse.

I've used gouache on a bunch of different supports. Specifically, nine, with one waiting in the wings for its debut. Ten supports are far too many to rate in one blog entry, so this week you get half of them, hence the "Part 1." I won't go into too much detail here, so if you want more info, let me know!

First: Watercolor papers. Most of the advice you'll find says to start off with watercolor paper. Good advice, but "watercolor paper" has a bunch of variation. I've tried three kinds.

Strathmore 400 Series Cold Press: I've only tried the blocks. They come in weird sizes, like 13x17". They're toothy and durable. The surface is fairly rough, and the gouache tends to puddle and granulate if too wet. It scrubs well, and can take a fair amount of abuse. The paper buckles even in block form. Strathmore's Aquarius II paper is smoother and more flexible, but although the packaging says you don't need to stretch it... it still buckles under a wash.



Work on 400 Series
Work on Aquarius

Arches Cold Press Cotton Rag: This paper holds gouache very well. I toned a piece months ago, and it stayed relatively flat. I painted over it with great success. I had to lift a few times to fix mistakes, and the toning didn't lift, just the new paint. I didn't scrub much because of the toning, but I bet the paper would handle it well. My only complaint is that it buckled a bunch... but then again, I didn't stretch it first.


Work on Arches Cold Press

Sennelier Hot Press Cotton Rag: Another great gouache support. It's a verrry smooth paper. I have a small landscape-shaped block, and although I used washes and wet-on-wet, it didn't buckle at all. The gouache responds very well to brushwork on this paper - it blends more than lifts, which is a breath of fresh air. I haven't found a downside to this one yet.


Work on Sennelier Hot Press

Bristol Board
: I've worked on Strathmore 300 and 400 vellum and smooth. They're both very smooth surfaces, and work well with one opaque application of gouache. The final result looks very smooth and velvety. Bristol board can't handle washes or large applications of color - it just curls up. Because of this, I've only done a few color tests on it, so I don't have any finished works to show you.


Crescent Illustration Board: Make sure you check out the link for this one. It is an awesome matrix of all of Crescent's flavors of illo board and their compatible media. I have used #300 and #1. The #300 is single-sided, and it is nice and sturdy. It reworks pretty well, but I didn't test its scrubbing capability. It warped severely under a wash, but didn't buckle. The #1 is excellent. It warps just a tiny bit. It's very thick, so it can handle a lot. It reworks very well. Crescent rates these boards "marginal performance" with watercolor and gouache, but in my opinion, the #1 is better than the #300, and both are pretty darn good. Plus, the #1 comes in 22x30" sheets that you can cut to whatever size you like.



Work on #300
Work on #1

Well, that's it for this week. I'll post "Part 2" next month.

Left Hand Blackjack Porter

Today's beer is the last of the Superbowl beers: Left Hand Blackjack Porter. It was the best of the three, although not our favorite from this brewery. It does have a cool label, though:


To help describe this beer, I'm creating a new term: the “First Taste.” It is defined as the immediate impression of the beer, and lasts for a very short time before the full flavor hits your tongue. You could also associate it with food - some foods taste strong at first, but the taste fades away to nothing by the time you've eaten the whole pint of ice cream in one sitting. Anyway, Blackjack Porter's First Taste has a lovely hint of chocolate. The overall flavor is very mild and smooth. It's a bit like Guinness, but a milder. The aftertaste is bitter and strong.

A pretty good beer, but after tasting Left Hand Milk Stout and Imperial Stout, we were expecting better.

M: 7.5
N: 7.5

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Adventures in Cameraland

Last weekend, I finally got up the courage to go out with my camera, local homicides be damned. It was a beautiful day - about 70 and sunny. The bulbs in my yard were blooming, and the trees were starting to bud. It had rained the night before, and the air was fresh and clean.

My SLR, two rolls of film, spare batteries, and I set off for the wooded area near our subdivision. It's mostly a thin strip of trees between backyards and a busy road. Since I tend to traipse no matter where I live, I'd already been back there several times. Last summer, I found an entire army of wild blackberries.

This time I went farther than I had before, and was richly rewarded. I found beautiful, deserted areas of woods with leaf litter so deep that I sunk in with each step. Although it had rained, the leaves and needles were so thick that when I sat on the ground, I stayed dry. I found lots of the small wonders that I usually photograph, like pinecones, flowers, and birds. The bugs were scarce, since it was so early in the season.

I broke the boundaries of the "known" and hiked off into the unknown. I got some shots of chickadees who were too mad at me to fly away - they must have had a nest nearby. I found old evidence of carnage -- piles of fur and a skull gnawed beyond recognition. I walked on and suddenly an owl lifted itself through the canopy, circled, and flew off. I think it was a Barred Owl. The only other time I've seen a wild owl was when my dad nearly hit one with the rental car while we were driving at 3am in Washington State. I saw a creek fall into an underground sinkhole and flow out 10 yards further down. I saw anthills as big as a burn barrel. I knew there were snakes around here, but I'd never seen one until today. It shook its rattleless tail at me for a few seconds before slithering into a hole in the ground. A sampling of what I saw, courtesy of Google Images:



I did get a few nice photos, but most of the beauty of the trip was in the experiences. Being outside, getting lost in nature within a mile of your house, losing 3 hours in an instant, watching birds' courtship. Seeing the things I'd never seen before.

There's beauty everywhere. It's right under our noses, but we rarely see it.

Lagunitas Imperial Stout

One of the half dozen beers we bought last week was Lagunitas Imperial Stout. It wasn't available in 4- or 6-packs, only in those really huge bottles. (Well, maybe just 22 oz... but too much for one person to drink before it gets warm.) Nathan and I each got a nice-sized glass of beer from it.


It's delicious. The website has an interesting description of it, but it doesn't describe much about the beer itself. Unless you consider adjectives like "bourgeois," "belligerent," and "scary" as appropriately indicative of beer flavor. I'd describe it more as sweet, light, and fruity... for a stout. It has a tiny bitterness that doesn't linger and a pleasantly weak and short aftertaste. It is a bit bitey, but in a fresh fruity kind of way, not a "whap you in the teeth" kind of way, as kay-bot so delicately commented. It's not thick, heavy, or syrupy like so many dark beers. All in all, an excellent stout.


M: 9
N: 9

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Eyes Have It

If, while arting, one chooses to portray a member of the Kingdom Animalia, chances are an eye or two will be necessary. Maybe even eight. No matter the number, a piece of art with eyes has arguably more potential for charm and emotion than other genres of art. I'm not ragging on landscapes or still lifes, but living things draw our attention and our hearts. It's why the human figure is portrayed so often. It's why we love our pet dogs and cats more than our houseplants (if we aren't N, that is. He loves his Starfruit tree "Fwang" [yes, he named it] more than just about anything).

Whether of a person, a pet, or wildlife, art with eyeballs is tough. The eyes are the key. They are the conduit between the artist and the viewer; the soul of the art. If you get them right, nearly all other mistakes can be forgiven. And if you screw them up, then forget it. It won't matter if everything else is perfect, the piece won't work. That's why some artists complete the eyes first thing, so if they screw up, they don't have much to redo.

I don't usually do the eyes first - in fact, I often leave them until the end. I love adding the soul to a piece by working on the eyes. Leaving them until the end keeps me motivated. Often I'll think, "I'm nearly done, and this still looks like crap!" Then I fix the eyes and everything works. Some good examples of eyes that make the piece work, even though there are flaws in other areas:
Eyes that don't really work, and bring the whole piece down:
At this stage, I seriously considered changing my skin tone to pallid deathly green and writing "BRAINS!" across the top in bright red. They're all shiny from the flash, but even without that, I look like a zombie. After some good advice from WetCanvas and some plain old *looking*, I got them better. And yes, this is the dreaded self portrait in oils. It's done enough, and I'm not opening those tubes again, ever (or until I forget that I hate them, which will probably be next week).
So, eyes matter. The few portraits I've done are of people and animals I knew well, or see every day. Their eyes were very familiar. After I got a few nibbles on portrait commissions, I wondered, would I be able to get their eyes right? I don't even know these people! Hell, I can't even get my own eyes right, and I see them every day. Maybe this time, I'll do the eyes first.

Highland Oatmeal Porter

So yesterday, we stocked up on six (six!!!) different kinds of beer, three of which we've never tried before. We had to buy them yesterday, because the great state of Georgia doesn't allow liquor sales on Sunday. I have never understood this rule - if you're desperate enough to be drunk for church, you've probably planned ahead.

Anyhow, this week's beer is Highland Oatmeal Porter - both bottled and on tap. We've had both versions before - the tap version at the North River Tavern and the bottle from our most favorite of liquor stores, the Beverage Resort.
The bottled beer is smooth and a tiny bit sweet. It has a medium-dark flavor, not too heavy. After the first taste, the sweetness sinks in a bit, and is then followed by a bright aftertaste that gets bitterer as you go. An interesting beer.

The tap is a bit better than the bottled version. Could be that we're biased towards freshly pulled pints as opposed to bottles that have been sitting around for who knows how long. This one is a little bright and bubbly, with the same slight tang as the bottle, but with less of the bitter ending.

Tap:
M: 8.5
N: 8.5

Bottle:
M: 8
N: 7.5

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout

When I was out of town last week, N called me just to tell me that he'd discovered the beer of his dreams. He was at Taco Mac and had just tried Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout. He wrote about his experience here. As soon as I got back, he took me there so I could try it.
It wasn't the beer of my dreams, but it was a good one. It had the odd trait of being very very smooth and still packing a kick. The flavor intesifies as you swallow, but it's smooth all the way down. As N put it, the taste sinks in. Bubbly and high gravity, but not overpowering. A very good beer.

M: 8.5
N: 10

No, I Don't Like Oil Paint

Every medium I've tried has given me an accurate first impression. Sometimes my opinion evolves (see posts on my first and second attempt at pastels), but by the second try, I know how if I'll like it. And, no matter the impression, I never abandon a medium, because I'm an optimist. Also, because I paid good money for the supplies, damnit.

My very first experience with oil paints was a class I took in some woman's basement when I was ten. I have one oil painting from that class, and it's pretty good. I don't remember much, except the part when the teacher tried to help and ruined a cool textural effect I'd created. Also, there was a bully in the class. It was traumatic.

The oil painting:
My second experience with oil paints was 3 or 4 years ago. I signed up for a community oil class at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Their class selection is great, and I've taken several there. The oil class was just OK because the instructor wasn't very good. He didn't explain anything about the oil paints themselves, which made it hard for me to understand how to use them. He just said, "do what I do"... and we did, and my results were worse than the flowers I painted when I was ten:
That class left a bad taste in my mouth too. It was at least 3 years until I re-opened up those dusty tubes of oil paint. Last summer, I broke them out for the hell of it, and painted this. It was a blind three-color experiment (I picked three tubes with my eyes closed, plus limited amounts white, for my palette). It turned out just OK.

I broke them out again last week, because I had a bite on an oil commission. I needed to practice the blasted things. I decided on a self-portrait on canvas, and toned it a nice greenish blue. I had leftover blue, and being the stingy artmonger I am (see first paragraph), I decided to use it to tone something else. Wasn't enough for a mid-sized canvas, but you can't put oils on paper... hmm... ah, Claybord! I have lots of Claybord!

The only small pieces I had were Claybord smooth, which is so slick that you could slide across it in your socks if you were 2 inches tall. The Ampersand website suggests you prepare Claybord Smooth before using it with oil paint, since it has no tooth and dries so quickly. Well, I didn't want to mess with the gesso, so I didn't prepare it. And guess what... Ampersand was right.

The quick-drying part is great! Part of the reason I dislike oils is the ice-age duration you have to wait for them to dry. However, the slick part wasn't so good. Putting it on thin or thick, the stuff streaked because of the lack of tooth.
Streeeeeeak, streeeeak, streeeeak.

So yeah, I'm still working on that self-portrait, but I really don't like oils. With all respect to the wonderful Larry Elmore, who extolled their virtues, I don't think their wonderful blending ability makes up for all the annoyances. They smell funny, they require messy mediums, they don't clean with water, you can't use them on regular ol' paper, some of the accessories are toxic (dryers, turpentine), they take six months or more to dry (six months!!!), and they require varnishing. Give me good old water-based, quick-drying, non-blending gouache any day.

However, I will continue to work with them, because I paid good money for them, damnit.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Coopers Brewery Best Extra Stout

The next Superbowl beer is Coopers Brewery Best Extra Stout. It's imported from Australia, and therefore costs an arm and a leg.
It doesn't taste too stouty, but it does have that bitter stout aftertaste. The aftertaste starts before you even finish swallowing, and lingers for a good long time. Don't drink it after eating anything sweet. Bleh.

The first taste is bright, with a hint of sweet, and lively. It's tangy in a pleasant way, sort of like a tart piece of fruit. It's a refreshing beer, and not as heavy as most stouts. But, since I prefer the sweeter stouts, I think there's room to improve. However... there's a kangaroo on the American bottle, so it gets coolness points.

M: 7
N: 6.5

Pastel Addiction

If you remember, the last time I posted about pastels, I ragged on them pretty hard. They're messy, blocky, and not made for fine detail. In other words, they make life difficult for perfectionists. Like me, for instance. But after Bugsy, pastels started stalking me. Well, no problem, I thought... I had one sheet of pastel paper left to use, and a set of cheap chalks.

But that wasn't good enough. No, I went and bought a pad of Canson paper and 40 half-sticks of Sennelier. Each half-stick is about an inch and a half long, and costs $1. I've got the pastel monkey on my back, as all those smug pastellists said I would.

So, what I learned this week: It's a lot harder to indiscrimately throw dust everywhere when it costs more than gold. The Sennelier sticks are soft and buttery; the tactile sensation of drawing with them is hard to describe. It's like drawing with high-quality, vibrant sidewalk chalk, but instead of that harsh scraping, you can barely feel the chalk touch the paper. Smooth. But because they're so soft, they get used up quickly. With Bugsy, I'd lay down layers of chalk, rub it in, and let the dust fall. With these sticks, I don't want to waste any of it. So here's part of the background of the color study I just finished:
The tooth of the tan paper shows through because I didn't want to waste chalk. I just dusted lightly over the paper. Another area, this time of the main subject, shows the tooth full, simply because I went over it so many times, trying different colors.
Today's lesson: Art suffers if you think about how much the supplies cost. But are we in the business of being art purists, or are we in the business of being in business?

Oh, and don't ever pick up a pastel stick unless you want to be helplessly addicted for life.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Tap and Bottle

Last weekend, N and I went to a bar where they had about 3 million beers on tap. Well, maybe more like 54. But either way, at most bars, if you ask for a dark beer other than Guinness on tap, they may have Newcastle, or suggest Killian's. Right.

So, needless to say, we were impressed at the North River Tavern in Sandy Springs, where they have at least half a dozen dark beers on tap. They even had a few of our favorite bottled beers. So between us, we sampled five dark beers on tap. We'd had four of them in bottles before. The differences were interesting. N discusses our experience in detail here.

I'll be rating the beers on tap as their own entities. The four we'd had already were quite different from their bottled brothers. Today's focus: Left Hand Milk Stout on tap. Sound familiar? It should; we rated it here.
Since I gave the bottled version a 10, I can't rate this any higher... but I want to. It's just as tasty as the bottle, with no bitterness at all. It's smooth, sweet, and delicious. It's hard to beat the freshness of a beer that's just been drawn, and I like this one more than the bottle because of that. It also seems a bit smoother.

I'd drive the 45 minutes in a heartbeat for this beer. It's gooood.

M: 10+ (10 bottle)
N: 9.5 (9 bottle)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Scanner Ate My Shading

In this modern world of illustration, the final product the artist delivers is often in digital format. Since I am mostly a traditional media girl, this means scanning. And to me, scanning means losing a lot of subtle detail.

Maybe it doesn't have to be this way. But with my digital toolkit, I have problems that make me pull out all my hair to distract myself from the fact that the scanner ate my shading. Again.

On the illo board, the pencils trace a delicate shaded gradient from oh-so-light (I usually do not leave bare paper) to pleasant, deep dark. The scanner reads this beautiful physical effect, gets jealous, and spits mush onto the screen. Perhaps it is trying to get me to hold it tight like I do the pencils, or is getting revenge for all those times the cat violated its space. Until I figure out what's bothering it, mush ensues:
The lightest lights look totally white, although they are ever-so-slightly tinted on paper. The darkest darks are medium grey. If I try to correct this with the scanning software or the Gimp, I can get a nice, deep dark:
But lo! The lights are still very light. Since the lovely light pencil strokes at the bottom have turned dark too, this means I lose the gradient that was so delicate in the mush version. No matter what tools I try, digital tweaking cannot achieve an effect to match the paper.

Granted, your final product must look good when printed, so I tweak until I get the most printable version. It doesn't hold a candle to the original. I think this is a universal problem with reproductions. Someday, the genius nerds of the world will come up with a way to tame my scanner's jealousy, and when that day comes, I will lift up an offering. Maybe I'll burn the scanner.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Bridgeport Black Strap Stout

One of the beers we cracked open during the Superbowl last weekend was Bridgeport Black Strap Stout. Unfortunately, none of the Superbowl beers were anything to write home about. But neither were the Superbowl Bears, ha ha. *sniffle*
Bridgeport Brewery is in Oregon. They say the name of this beer comes from black strap molasses. Having licked molasses from a bottle once, I can understand why I don't like this beer all that much. (Tasting pure molasses isn't recommended, bleh. If you're going to lick bottles, stick to syrup... or vodka.) This stout sort of tastes like chocolate bread; you know the kind - it has cocoa in it but isn't sweet. Not like chocolate muffins - which are Satan's perfect baked goods of temptation - but more like a chocolate bagel, if you can imagine that. It has a wheaty aftertaste and a small tang. Pretty boring.

M: 7
N: 5

Art Contracts

This week, I drew up my first contract. I have some potential logo design work, and the client dug up a good contract example from the great vast Internets. I liked the cut of its jib, so I used it as a guide and wrote one for my business. I also created one for fine art commissions.

I haven't put it into action yet, but here are a few things I included in the contract:
  • Deadlines: How long I have to generate thumbnails, how long the client has to make changes to / approve thumbnails, how long I have to finish the art
  • Purchase Options: Original, prints, print rights (first print, one-time print, ongoing print, royalties)
  • Final Product: Original, prints, high-res file
  • Rights and Usage: Who owns what, my right to display on my website and make my own prints
  • Copyright
  • Alterations: I get dibs
  • Contract Agreement: can be done via e-mail
  • Termination: If one side or the other doesn't deliver on time, if I croak, etc.
  • Payment: I require half as a deposit and half when done but before I deliver the final product (i.e. I send a low-res jpg showing the final, they send money, I deliver)
I tried to cover everything that could bite me in the ass later. I used knowledge of the process that I got mostly by example; friends, art boards, and sample contracts online. I also used the Graphic Artist Guild's Guide, which is a great purchase for any artist.

I'll let you know how it goes. Comments, suggestions, additions? Anyone?

On a side note, I varnished two paintings yesterday; one on cheap board-mounted canvas and one on cheap stretched canvas. The varnish made the board warp and the canvas sag on the stretchers. I wonder if this is solvable, or yet another inevitable side effect of buying cheap supplies. People say, buy cheap stuff if you're just starting out! See what the medium is like! Great advice, but after you use the cheap stuff once, you're intimately connected with the reason why it's cheap, and you want better stuff. The problem is, you have a whole set of pastels that you've used once, and what do you do with it?

Oh yeah, I updated my website on Friday. Go visit! www.meglyman.com

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Excuses and Fan Art

Right, so, this week's beer rating is postponed. The thing is, I ran out of beers for which I wrote down comments, and a girl can only drink so many beers a week. I have 35 beers on my list, 23 of which are rated, but only 13 of which have comments. I started rating before I started taking notes.

The good news is that we bought 3 new beers this week: Bridgeport Black Strap Stout, Left Hand Blackjack Porter, and Cooper's Brewery Best Extra Stout. By the time the Superbowl is over, I'll have 3 new fully-commented ratings for you. And no more excuses.

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Speaking of the Superbowl, my team is in it for the first time since I was too small to care. After we moved to Chicago in '86, I became smitten, and all the time between now and then, the Bears have consistently let me down. Now they're going to Superbowl XLI, and although my hopes aren't too high, I'm proud of them for getting this far.

This is my first piece of original Fan Art. I've done things for Star Wars and Samurai Jack, but they've just been copies of stills or promo photos. This I invented on my own. It came to me shortly after it sunk in that the Bears were actually going to win the NFC championship (I was giddy with glee). It took 2 weeks to formulate and execute, and it's my first finished piece of digital art. After many hours the last two weeks, including 15 hours yesterday, it is done. It was hard. My wrist nearly fell off.

To: My favoritest team ever, da Bears
cc: Their loyal fans, at home and displaced
Subject: The Littlest Fan
Love,
Meg

link to a higher-res image: [link]

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Guinness Extra Stout and Digital Art Blues

Guinness Extra Stout is the lesser known relative of Guinness. You know, if Guinness were a tall, fit, handsome movie star, Extra Stout would be his short, stocky, non-famous overlooked brother. Most grocery stores around here have it. It'll be the dark-glassed, yellow bottle-capped six pack next to the Guinness. It is a short beer - the bottles are smaller. It doesn't have that fancy doohicky in the bottle to create the head, either. But it packs a punch.

It tastes just like Guinness (really, big surprise, that), but there is more of that taste in each sip. As if its flavor is denser. It's a bit stoutier, with a tang. I can't access the stupid Guinness website without getting cookies, so I haven't checked, but I think it has more alcohol than regular Guinness. A good beer to go with a meal, especially pizza. Mmmmm, pizza.

M: 6
N: 7.5

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After my in-your-face experience with pastels last week, I was ready for a break. Pastels are a very hands-on medium. After each session, I had beautifully colored dust on my hands, arms, elbows, fingers, face, and under my fingernails. I wore the same sweatshirt each time, and it'll never be the same. My nose-blowing was multicolored. There was dust all over my art table, supplies, lamps, and floor. I'm not sure if it bothered me or not; the jury's still out on whether I like using pastels. But it was enough for one week.

So, I got out my trusty tablet with intent to work on the winoctopus. Then I remembered that I promised to do new stationery for my dad's business for Christmas, which, you'll notice, was a month ago. So I began working on that. The biggest thing I've learned from it (painfully, I'll add): the GIMP is not a good tool for drawing straight lines.

I'm not sure whether Photoshop or some other non-open-source program for Mac or Windows could do it better; no experience with those. I'm a Linux girl all the way. But oy, this project had me wishing for the days when I had access to AutoCAD and Unigraphics. I would have had it done in 1/10th the time.

I could press shift to make the paintbrush tool do a straight line, but there were no detents and the line was faint, more pixels wide than the brush, and would change thickness halfway through. It was so annoying. If I didn't have my tablet, I would have given up long ago to go find new wrists, since mine would have fallen off.

Lesson: Anything with geometry will be done with good old-fashioned pencil, paper, and ruler, then scanned. My wrists will thank me.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Butte Creek Organic Porter and Artistic Courage

Butte Creek Organic Porter is this week's beer. It hails from California, and reminds me of all the good things about the state - sunshine, rolling hills, and warm evenings. It is, of course, organic, which means they use no pesticides or chemicals to grow the ingredients. Its flavor is sweet, smooth, and crisp, with a light tang and aftertaste. It just goes to show that wholesome ingredients = good beer. It also proves that just because something is organic doesn't mean it has to cost an arm and a leg - it is very reasonably priced, and cheaper than a lot of the beers we've reviewed.
M: 8.5
N: 9

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I'm still working on that pastel piece from last week, but I have no new insights or complaints. So this week I'll wax philosophical.

Artistic courage is a many-faceted part of being an artist that few people discuss. I thought I had a good handle on it, until yesterday, when I made my first sales call. Oy.

The courage I do have, I apply to the works of art themselves. I'm not afraid to waste film, paint, paper, etc. I'm not afraid of an empty piece of paper - in fact, I look at it as a challenge. When something is going through an "ugly" stage, I never for a moment fear that it won't work itself out. And if it doesn't... no big deal. I've learned from the experience and improved myself as an artist.

But then there's the other part of arting - selling stuff. I'm excellent at posting things on the Internets, but lousy at promoting. And having a bunch of people you don't know "favorite" your art or photos is great, but gets you zero dollars. So I must sell myself, and that, I'm afraid of. Yesterday I called up a small store in Laurens, IA, where my family lives and the subject of many of my photos. I asked the owner if she'd be interested in selling photos of local scenes... and she was wonderful, helpful, and a joy to work with. It turned out well, as I told myself it would. But it took a long time and a lot of courage for me to make that call. This part of artistic courage is something I need to practice, and although it probably doesn't come naturally to many artists, I haven't seen much written about it. Anyone have any insights?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Left Hand Milk Stout and Pastels

Left Hand Milk Stout is a delicious delicious beer. It tastes like liquid milk chocolate. Like chocolate milk, but with alcohol. Like that time we made shakes with chocolate ice cream and Kahlua, only better. Like ordering a tasty chocolate treat at the soda fountain, but beer. Oh so good.

We've tried a couple beers from Left Hand Brewing, and they're all good. My only complaint is that their website requires Flash. Bad web design practice. But this beer could atone for so many wrongs. It's like a get-out-of-jail-free card. And it came with a sticker!


M: 10
N: 9 (Stingy, no? He has given a few 10s... one is on another Left Hand beer)

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I have never before tried soft pastels (I did oil pastels once when I was, like, 8). But after seeing many great pastel works in the WetCanvas wildlife board, I picked up a cheap set of 24 and two giant toned pastel papers. I chose one of my many to-do art projects and got started with my new supplies. And I can't say that I'm enjoying it too much.

Getting used to a new medium takes time. But my main problem with pastels is their chunkiness. I can't sharpen them to a point like a pencil or a paintbrush. The end is a huge square hunk. You *can* sharpen them, sure, but then half the stick has become a pile of dust that you may or may not manage to use before your cat sneezes on it.

I've finished the background by blending (pastels blend very nicely) with tissue paper, q-tips, and a sponge brush. All the dust is either worked into the paper or I've tapped it off. The subject, however, needs detail that's hard to get with a chunky tip. They say you can use Colour Shapers to push the dust into fine lines, so I'll try that... but there's always dust left over. Blow it? Tap the paper? Whatever you do, don't touch it or it comes off on your fingers.

I used the rough side of the paper because some genius put an indelible price tag on the fine side. I think the fine side would have been easier to work with. Also, pastels require a dedicated shirt. I don't think the pigment dust will ever come out of the sweatshirt I'm using. I look like a chimney sweep.

After all that, though, I can think of one good thing to say about pastels - their colors are so very bright if you don't dilute the dust. Just don't breathe on it, ever.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Guinness and Gouache Portrait WIP

How could I keep a blog about dark beer and not include Guinness? When I was first introducing myself to beer in general, Guinness was the only dark beer I knew. My first pint was an entirely new experience. I won't go into the Guinness details, since most people are likely to know them already, and if not, go here.

Guinness will always have a place in my heart, but after having tasted so many other dark beers, it doesn't stand out. It's smooth, and actually quite bland compared to some. It's a drinkable beer - you can have it with dinner - as opposed to some that are an experience, or a dessert, by themselves. Rating:

M: 7
N: 7

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Gouache Portrait WIP - the last installment, I promise

This is simply a visual step-by-step of my portrait of Grandpa. Other than the toning wash, all the steps show opaque application with very little blending. The background was done with layered washes, dabbing, and a sponge. The illo board I worked on curled up after the first wash, so the photos are a bit distorted. It is also why the first picture includes a beer bottle.

And the final result: link