Tag Archives: #contemporaryart

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California watercolor artist Mike Bailey once said in his workshop that artists should keep going back to their old works and find inspiration there. In the past, that’s something I rarely did. My own works used to make me sad. If they are good, I feel like I haven’t made any progress, and if they are bad, I am bad. Last year when I started my social media presence: this blog and my Instagram, I managed to go through some of what I had done with Mike’s words in mind. It took some getting used to, but after many self-pitying moments, I saw sparks. There are things that generate ideas, things that remind me of techniques I learned and forgot, and things I simply want to re-do.

One of the sparks is an old abstract acrylic painting “Waterfall”, a design still excited me:

Landscape, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30, 2017
Landscape, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30

I kept the design, but drifted away from the primary colors and brought in the fluidity of the watercolor medium. Here’s the new version:

Waterfall 2, watercolor on paper, 22 x 28 in, 2020

The new piece entered the juried Watercolor Group Show at Blue Line Arts Gallery last year and is also part of the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society 53rd annual show. SCVWS is rolling out the participating artworks on Instagram now.

The “treasure hunt” will keep going! 😁

Earlier this month I also submitted a self-portrait to Art Room Gallery’s Portrait Show, and received an “Honorable Mention.” Here’s the artwork:

Decision, watercolor on paper, 9 x 13 in, 2021

As I mentioned before I have been focusing on portrait this year. Though techniques are still my major concern, and I understand it takes far more than the a few months to grasp it, I do often think about if I could go deeper than just the face. “Decision” is an attempt to bring out a bit of the inner world of the subject.

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I recently became a member of the Pacific Art League and joined their 99th Anniversary Exhibit, “Beyond 2020.” My painting “Sail” was selected into the gallery show, and will be on view at their Palo Alto gallery till January 2021. Here’s the piece:

Sail, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24 in, 2019

The painting was inspired by a still life study I did before:

Still life, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 in, 2019

My still life study was focused on how to paint white with color, but I found the way the lines curved, meandered and crossed very intriguing. After the painting was done, I kept looking at it and tried to follow those lines in my mind and in my sketchbook. The objects gradually disappeared and the lines and shapes led me to new ideas, and eventually, a new painting.

Pairs (IV), Ink Resist Revisited and Reuse Old Paintings

The first one is sumi ink, and the second one is ink resist with gouache. Both are on watercolor paper and they are separately composed.

Caroline, ink on paper, 9 x 12in, June 2020
Thoughts, ink and gouache on paper, 10 x 14 in, June 2020

A few notes:

  • The ink I use is from a Japanese dollar store called Daiso, and it’s really cheap.
  • You can manipulate the ink to some extent while it’s wet but when it’s dry, you can’t lift it as watercolor.
  • For ink resist with gouache, please see my previous post “Try New Things (1).”
  • The second painting is done on the back of an old painting (of a broccoli). When I soak the gouache painting in ink, I got some unintended texture. It’s probably because of the unevenness of the paper. I might have done some lifting or scrubbing for the old painting. I decided it didn’t hurt.
  • In general it’s fun to think about how many ways you can deal with a subject.

Now a few more words about old paintings. Good watercolor papers are expensive, so I never throw away old paintings, no matter how ugly they are. There are always ways to reuse them:

  • The obvious one is to paint on the back. If the paper is not flat, you can soak it in water, then lay it flat and add some weight on it (or re-stretch it). Sometimes the texture of the paper on the back is different. It’s still workable.
  • Another way is to examine the old painting and see if there are some elements can be used. The flames in the second painting was modeled after the leaves of the broccoli on the other side. Look at it upside down, side ways, hold it up against strong light, you may discover something different.
  • You can also directly use it. Tear it apart and make it into a new collage.
  • Take a picture of it and manipulate it into a new digital art with Photoshop, Procreate, etc.
  • These methods are not exclusive, and that one piece of paper can generate many artworks!

Life Drawing Gone Crazy in a Crazy Time

I’ve been taking a life drawing class at a community college this year. My professor is great at teaching and extremely knowledgeable about anatomy. This is her last year at the school and she planned a happy ending to her teaching career and a smooth transition back to a full time artist. Now she has to move her class online through Zoom, and for someone who’s not particularly tech savvy, this is not easy. It’s been a couple of weeks now, but our class is still not on track. Meanwhile, she has found some really good materials for us to practice on our own. Here’s a list of stuffs she recommended and/or I’ve been using:

  • Proko – by Stan Prokopenko. It contains some of the best instruction videos on figure drawing. Enough free stuffs, but if you pay, more structured lessons and practice materials. I personally have been using this site for a while, and am a big fan of their Draftsmen Podcast.
  • Love Life Drawing – Great advice for beginners or artist seeking improvement.
  • New Masters Academy – They have a subscription plan that allows access to tons of good art classes or master classes. The free stuffs including many timed life drawing videos featuring photos of clothed or nude models.
  • Croquis Cafe – Videos and photos of models for life drawing. This is probably the closest you can get online to a real life drawing experience. Great models and so many to choose from. My only problem with it is that after they moved to Vimeo, the streaming is less smooth.

This is not just a time for staying in, but also coping, adapting and discovering!

Here’s a quick drawing I did:

Shanon, Charcoal on paper, 18 x 24 in.

Obviously, it asked for more. Hence:

Shanon, Gouache on paper, 18 x 24 in.

Try New Things (2) – Ballpoint Pen

I’ve seen many people doodling and sketching with ballpoint pen before, but I never tried. I like the flow and the fineness of a micron or sharpie better. A ballpoint pen is just something you use for it’s conveniency and economy, right? How far can you push it as an art tool? Well, according to British artist James Mylne, this far:

James Mylne (b. 1981), Polo Pony 1 (2008), Ballpoint pen on paper

Look at the range of values a single Bic Cristal could deliver!

No, I am not going to attempt that. I have neither the skill nor the patience. Mr. Mylne’s drawings average 60-100 hours per piece, with the longest 310 hours. While photorealism is probably always time-consuming regardless of the medium, ballpoint pen is extremely tricky because it’s a one way street. You can only go from light to dark, no erasing, no lifting, no painting over.

Still intrigued, I decided to at least give sketching with the Bic a try:

Portrait of a man, ballpoint pen
Portrait of a man, ballpoint pen, 2019. Model from NMA.

And here’s what I learned:

Compare to micron or sharpie, the touches are closer to those of using a graphite pencil. Especially in shading, with good control, you can go lighter than an ink pen, and build up a wider range of values.

Just like a micron or sharpie, since you can’t erase, it exposes all the weakness in your drawing. You need to be mindful about each mark throughout the working process. Scary, right? But also good learning opportunity. If there’s a unwanted mark, the only remedy is to work it into the drawing somehow. This is challenging, may not be possible sometimes, but lots of fun. A few missteps can lead to something unexpected:

Portrait of Jorgie, ballpoint pen
Portrait of Jorgie, ballpoint pen, 2019 Model from Croquis Cafe

Don’t forget to keep a tissue paper handy because you need to constantly remove the buildup at the tip.

By the way, do check out James Mylne’s gallery. It’s not just photorealism, but also a lot of humor.