Saturday, March 31, 2007


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

Please update your bookmarks!


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.


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: 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, 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, doing so through 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.


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.

M: 8.5
N: 8.5

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.