Saturday, December 28, 2013

Art on Me

Snowflake Nail Art
No one is ever going to come to me for fashion advice or tips for buying and using cosmetics or really anything that has to do with personal style. I'm hopelessly conservative in the way I dress and accessorize. I choose almost entirely solid-colored separates for my wardrobe, not because I don't like patterns, but because I just don't want to fuss with my clothes.

So, why did I paint my nails blue and draw snowflakes on them? Well, it's more than the onset of mid-life panic. At least I hope it's more than that. 

I bought the blue nail polish months ago to use in my studio. It's one of two colors in my brand, and I thought it would be useful. I bought green, too, which is the other key color in Blu Jar's palette. Will my nails be green this spring? Who knows. The truth is I never intended to use the polish on, you know, me. 

I did recently decide, though, that I want to take on some challenges in the new year. I refuse to call them resolutions because that will doom them to failure, for sure. I just want to push myself in some new, and probably uncomfortable, directions. Let's just say it's for the sake of my business, which will always need a fresh, creative shot in the arm, if it's going to work for me. I have learned that I sort of have "artistic ADHD." I've always preferred starting things over finishing them. Call that a character flaw (I do), but for my business, I want to try to use that tendency to serve the work. 

For me, this means: 1) I don't want to take on BIG projects unless I'm absolutely crazy about them, because it's really hard to maintain the enthusiasm the art deserves when new ideas are popping (and they always are); and 2) I want to start BEING an artist in my "real life"--you know, the one I live outside my studio. That's where the blue nails come in. 

I want to make more artistic statements and use fewer words to do it. I want to give myself things to look at when there is no obvious design around, because design wakes up my spirit. Design births more design, and it all nurtures the designer in me. I've ignored this phenomenon for too long.

So, 2014 will be the year of Me, the Artist, being more okay with and intentional about living out the role of "Artist" and more grateful for and dedicated to the God-given passion to create.

More Art on Me
More evidence that I'm breaking out of the fashion "box" I've lived in is my wrist full of beads. I have always loved and collected beads. I've been restringing, rearranging, and adding some new beads to make lots of stretchy bracelets, I've been mixing and matching them, regardless of whether they entirely match my outfits. Hey, everything goes with denim!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

There Be Penguins Here

This is my first penguin painting, but it won't be my last. I had great fun taking this piece from concept to the final application of textural details. The white details on the parent penguin were achieved with a tiny brush and opaque acrylic ink, which is a relatively new product for me. I especially enjoyed designing the baby penguin's snow suit and the pattern that shows up on both scarves.

I'm still trying to decide how I will use this piece. Will it end up on a series of frameable cards or will I sell the original as is? Hmmm. Not sure yet. I'm kind of kicking around the idea of doing a penguin calendar. This would be January.
8x10 watercolor on 140 lb. paper

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Ninjas of the Cold

I'm finally back in my studio after two weeks away from my brushes and paint, and I'm painting penguins, of all things. Penguins know how to survive the cold. I wish I did!

After all the warmth of Christmas is past, as it soon will be, it seems that there's nothing ahead except weeks of cold. I'll be calling this piece, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" as a reminder to grin and bear it...and bundle up!
8x10 watercolor on Canson Aquarelle

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Blue Cotton Towels

A miniature painting of these towels was a big hit when I posted it on Facebook, so I decided to paint a larger version and put it in the shop. It is available with or without the blue mat. See the full listing in my Etsy shop.
Blue Kitchen Towels; 8x10 watercolor with optional mat

Monday, November 18, 2013

Mr. Jefferson's Livable Artwork

I live a few hours away from Monticello, the estate of Thomas Jefferson. Last year, on a VERY hot day in July, we had an impromptu family reunion there. I drove down from Pennsylvania with my kids and my sister drove up from North Carolina with my parents. We toured the house and drank lots of water! I love the place!

Jefferson was such a clever and creative person, which is obvious when you tour his house. He created many functional things to make life easier. They were his works of art, and he lived among them.

One of the words I use to define my artwork is "livable." I love the idea of art being comfortable and soothing and fun. Of course, there is a place for confrontational art and art that teaches, and I am okay with that. But, for me, the best kind of art becomes a part of your life and family. Some people feel that way about their books. Jefferson certainly felt that way. His house is decorated with lovely leather-bound volumes, and I'm pretty sure they were more than decorative pieces to him. He wrote in a letter to his good friend, John Adams, "I cannot live without books."

I have several family members who share that sentiment, so I created a piece that features the saying with books lined up like colorful jewels. Prints of this 5" x 7" painting are available in my Etsy shop: The paper is cut to 8" x 10", providing a nice, wide border around the artwork for matting and framing.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Nearing the Top of the Learning Curve...I Hope!

Well, my online shop has been open for one week, and it's been a very busy several days! In the business world, busy is good! I've received so many nice comments and lots of visits to the shop. I also received just the right amount of purchases for my first week. If there had been many more this week, I would not have been able to keep up.

Every task is new, and every new thing has several OTHER new things to learn and arrange and set up. I'm sure it will start to feel somewhat routine eventually, but for now, I'm still heading up the learning curve. I am really looking forward to being able to focus on painting some new pieces soon.

The best seller so far; 2.5" x 3.5" ACEO watercolor

I'm still posting pieces that I finished painting during the summer. The ACEOs have been the best selling items so far, and the "Perfect Sister" design (above) has been the best of the best. ACEOs are small and affordable and essentially fill the role of "the adorable puppy" in the art world. If you're unfamiliar with ACEOs, you'll just have to visit the shop and read about it in the item descriptions. See, I know that eventually I must get you to click away from here and head over to the shop, so go ahead.

BUT FIRST, take a look at the items (pictured below) that I've been working on for most of today. I call these Quilt Corners. There are four in the set, and they represent the four seasons. They are available as a set of four or individually. I have loved fabric since I was very young. I used to enjoy making real quilts, but now I'm enjoying painting them even more. I love designing my own fabrics for my painted quilts. The only thing I miss is handling the fabric, which any quilter will tell you is a very important part of the experience!

Quilt Corners; 5..5" square watercolor prints
Okay, NOW you can go shopping! Here's a link to the shop: Blu Jar Studio on Etsy.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Made to Order

Thread Collector ACEO, 2.5"x3.5" watercolor original
The paint is barely dry on this piece. It will be heading to California on Monday. I sold it on Etsy this morning, and painted it this afternoon. That's how "made to order" works for me. I listed pictures of a previously painted piece that serves as the general reference for future originals. Of course, no two will be exactly alike, but they will be similar. Here is the piece I painted several weeks ago and listed on Etsy a few days ago.
In the description of the item, I explain that I will be painting a fresh piece "to order" when someone chooses to buy this piece. If the customer receives the piece, and doesn't like it, they may return it for a full refund.

I have relisted this piece. And, again, it will be made to order...maybe for you! Click here to see what's available in my Etsy shop.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

One Little Button--It's a Big Deal

It only took five months to click the little button that says, "Open Your Shop." Anyone who knows me knows that I usually have no trouble pressing buttons. It's kind of a joke among my peers and former co-workers. But, pushing this button was a little terrifying. It means I'm really doing this. And, I am.

I managed to get 15 items listed, which is slightly less than my goal. It was a chore to get the first few items ready, but it finally started to get a little easier at around number 13 or so. All the while, my fears mounted. "Am I doing this right?" "Will anyone even like my stuff?" "Ahhh. Why is this so hard?!" The fears are strangely reassuring, because all artists go through periods of fear. It's irrational, but it's there.

Seriously, I'm not usually this neurotic or worried about my abilities, but somehow this is different. It's mine. All mine. It will be what I make it...or it won't. So, I humbly point you to the virtual storefront of Blu Jar Studio. I hope you find something you love or at least some potential of things you'll love in the future.

Click here to look around my new shop. I wish I could offer you free coffee and donuts, like you get at a proper grand opening, but alas, you'll have to go to your own kitchen for that. You're better off. I make terrible coffee!
Blu Jar Studio logo

Monday, November 4, 2013

It's About Time and a Dream

I've been working hard, trying to get my online shop ready for its grand opening. I've set Wednesday, November 6, as the day the shop opens, no matter what! It won't be fully stocked, but there will be some variety of items and a few items in each of three price points (under $10; under $30; and over $50). This was a goal I had from the beginning. Come to think of it, I don't even know what "fully stocked" will mean for my shop, so I'm just going to go with whatever is ready to sell on Wednesday, and go forward from there. When is going forward ever a bad idea? :)

It's taken much more time and effort and raw brain power than I ever thought it would just to get to this point. But, creating my own kind of art and making it available for sale has been a dream of mine for a long time. So, it's been about time--lots of time--but it's been about many other things as well. I'm learning a lot about myself through the process, namely that I do not have a natural mind for business. That has been the biggest challenge, but the lessons learned will serve me in the future, I am sure.

Now, back to work!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Page from Monet's Playbook

In the middle of his career, Claude Monet, embarked on the discipline of serial painting in which he painted the same general subject over and over for weeks on end. He was obsessed with color and the effect that changing light throughout the day had on a single scene. In his first series, he chronicled the gradual transition of shadow to light and back to shadow as the sun rose and set over a field of haystacks. It marked a transition in his painting career as well. Before these paintings, he was living the life of a starving artist; afterwards, he began to make a good living.

I'm intrigued by his reason for painting the same subject repeatedly. His goal was to visually catalog every possible light combination through changing seasons and through the course of a day. It's brilliant, really. By painting something familiar again and again, he removed a couple of big elements from the equation. The shapes and overall composition would become almost second nature after a day or two, so that he could focus on value and color and mood.

I've begun painting the same scene again and again. I'm fairly comfortable with the subject, so it's been useful for waking up the brushes and my eyes. The message of the little piece is "Relax," which is a concept I struggle with. I don't know how long I'll continue this daily routine, but for now, it's serving a purpose. I'm hoping that I can find a looser style and gain some confidence in using fewer brush strokes and more interesting colors to communicate shape and shadows. I tend to overwork my pieces, and I think a lesson from Monet's Playbook might help me to relax and focus.

I am making these in a standard ACEO size, 2.5"x3.5". I might end up offering these for sale in the shop that I hope to open soon.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Letters on a Saltwater "Sea"

Here are a couple more saltwater "tiles" in a favorite color scheme. I'm hatching a plan to mount these. A cousin inspired me to try this months ago, and I'm finally getting around to it. Thanks, Lisa!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Saltwater Trials

I've been experimenting with different ways to use salt in making background fields for some small art pieces. I made a reference card for myself, since I'll never remember otherwise. I think I like all five examples and can imagine I'll find uses for them all. I was surprised at how different the effects are with the same four ingredients: paper, water, paint, and salt. The order made all the difference. Of course, the paper stays the same (at the bottom of the stack), but it did make a big difference whether the paper starts out wet or dry.

So, here are the results:
The "C" overlay is an example of how the techniques looked in use on a 3"x3" piece. I'm pretty sure the kind of paper makes a difference, too. I'm using my favorite paper, which is Strathmore 140 lb. mixed media. I love the smooth texture, which works well when you do a lot of lettering as part of a piece. This paper holds up to a lot of abuse, like when you scrub the salt off.

Here are close-ups of the two basic sequences: salt down first, followed by color and color down first, followed by salt.
Salt followed by color

Color followed by salt
I found all this fascinating. I'm sure others, who spent more time in art school than I, already know all this. It was kind of eye-opening for me. When you're self-taught, you miss things...P.C. things...pretty cool things.

Monday, October 7, 2013

I Have a Style?

As friends and family discover that I am starting a business to market my artwork, they invariably ask the question, "What kind of art will you be selling?" They ask this in the kindest way, and I assume they expect me to have a ready answer. If only I did! I realize that I need to work on articulating this, first to myself and then to others. And, since it's dangerous to speak before you know what you're talking about, I need to do some research first. I need to research me, the artist.

At first I assumed I could simply ask myself, "What kind of style do you want to produce?" as if I needed to find a style. But, that seemed like the wrong question. I need to recognize that I already have a style. People have been telling me what they think of my style. I've heard it a lot recently. When they mention it, I think to myself, "I have a style? Really?" Well, apparently, I do. I have a style. There, I said it! I just need to name it, accept it, and above all, trust it.

Common Art

I decided the best way to study my actual style, not my wannabe style, was to look at my artwork. I approached my artwork the same way others have: as benevolent observers who, after seeing one piece they like, go searching for more, and who sometimes dig even deeper to find out about the person who created it. I have a fairly large body of fresh artwork. I've produced over 100 small, square paintings in the last three months. (All of the illustrations in this post are from that collection). I decided they would be a good representation of my overall style, so I used them to make my observations.

I can confidently say that my style lies somewhere just south of the border that separates fine art (north) from folk art (south). It's just a metaphor. I'm not saying there is no fine art in the literal south or folk art "up north." I do not believe that the opposite of fine art is unrefined art. Rather, I think of it this way. If you were to start down a straight road, going away from fine art, you'd be traveling toward increasingly accessible art, or what I call common art. If you travel all the way to the end of that road, you end up in a child's bedroom, where genuine art is being created with crayons and construction paper. Common art is accessible in both technique, for those who might want to attempt to create it, and it is also accessible in aesthetic, for those who merely appreciate it for what it is: something they recognize, something they like, something they have. Even though I appreciate fine art, I do not love it as much as I adore common art. I sense near-divine beauty in the ordinary. This is where illustration comes into my style. Because of my adoration of illustration, especially the kind that makes a children's book come alive, I have become an illustrator almost by accident and certainly because I was trying to imitate what I loved most.

Wordy Art

Words find their way into much of my art. This is not accidental. It isn't that I believe the image cannot speak for itself; it's that I absolutely love the act of rendering letters by hand. I have been doing it for fun since I was very young. I see written words, the actual shape of the letters and words, as a separate art form. Of course, I'm not the only one who sees this. Indeed, even in this age when computers can easily and precisely lay out fantastic type in any design and size, hand lettering has held its own and is even preferred by purists like me. Have you been to a small coffee shop recently? I'm convinced they hire at least one employee just for his or her ability to write artfully on a chalkboard! I am thrilled that, in this tech-saturated age, hand lettering has not died out, but is rather expanding as an art form. Do we thank the millions of scrapbookers for this? Or, the graffiti artists (yes, "artists")? Or, Starbucks for bringing coffee (and coffee shops) back from the brink? I could obviously philosophize about hand lettering endlessly, but I'll move on.

My personal style of hand-lettering has been honed over decades. It crisscrosses between the extremes of fine-art calligraphy, with its myriad rules and literal guidelines, and common-art graffiti, where anything goes and goes ON anything. Somewhere between those two extremes, my style happily plays, sometimes following rules and sometimes making them up as I go. I'm not into Zen, but I can get lost in the very act of rendering words on paper. It is meditative for me.

Smart Art

I value wit, so there's frequently a clever component in my art. Can I say that without sounding arrogant? Hopefully, I can. I like to think about things. Okay, that's understated. I like to over-think...everything! It would be hard for this aspect of my personality to NOT find its way into my artwork. I also like to be challenged intellectually. I love to learn new things. I think I will always love the challenge of the next new thing to be learned.

The 100+ small paintings that are informing this search for my style were created in response to a list of art prompts (see my Everyday Matters entries here, if you're interested). Something I've always known about myself is that I don't like to enter through the main door where everyone else is going. Nowhere is this more evident than when I am responding to an art prompt. I will intentionally NOT do the predictable drawing. Perhaps I'm just rebellious. Perhaps I have a pathological, youngest-child need to be noticed. Or, perhaps I just like clever, side-door approaches. Yeah, that's it! I strive to be clever. I am hard on myself, so I never think my artwork is quite clever enough, especially compared to other "smart art" that I see. This might be a universal occupational hazard for artists. We can't stop looking, admiring, and comparing. There is a word for this tendency. It's called inspiration.

Happy Art

And now, for the too-personal portion of this already-too-long post. My art is generally lighthearted. I, however, am not. My artwork is much happier than I have ever been. I really only noticed this disparity recently. Whereas many artists produce art in "periods" that mirror their moods, as with Picasso's lengthy Blue Period, I do not tend to do that—not yet, anyway. Instead, I find myself sub-consciously trying to create what I wish existed. Like most people, I would like to be happier than I am. During the hours that I'm working on a painting, I'm living in that painting, and because I'm the artist, I decide how happy that place will be. You might call that head-in-the-sand "ostrich art," but for me, it's just a lot of free therapy. It goes something like this: I paint something I like; I greatly enjoy the process; I generally like the result; I frequently get positive feedback; and I'm motivated to paint something else I like. Rinse and repeat. And, little by little, the happy art makes the artist happier. There's a lot to be said for this course of treatment!

Add It Up

That's what my study of my artwork told me. After all this contemplative research, I finally have an answer for the question, "What will you be doing at Blu Jar Studio?" I will be producing Common Wordy Smart Happy Art. If there's a way to express all that with a single word, that would be great. Anyone want to take a crack at it?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Happy Marriage of Friends

A very good friend of mine got married yesterday...sort of. The legal wedding took place back in February in a private ceremony. Yesterday was the public ceremony, and it was a beautiful thing. Both she and her husband lost their previous mates to cancer in the last five years, and it was wonderful to see my friend and her new husband "find" each other as soul mates, even though they've been friends for many years.
Abe and Dianne's Barn
My friend asked me to design a custom guest registry artwork for her special day, and it was an honor to do so. Her husband was a pig farmer for many years and is still working in the pork production industry, and she is an extremely talented amateur photographer. The piece is called "Pigs and Pix." It draws together some of the facts of their life: his pigs, her photography and love of nature and cats; their connection to church where they met, and the colors of October in Lancaster County, where they've lived their entire lives.
Buggy and Church
Guests signed their names with silver metallic pen in the clouds above the landscape, making them a "great cloud of witnesses" of the special union of two friends in holy matrimony.
Pigs and Pix; 18"x24" watercolor on 140 lb. hot-press

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Landscape of Love

You've probably heard the expression, "It was a labor of love." It usually refers to some project that is more difficult than usual but that is accomplished gladly anyway because it's done for a loved one and from a heart of love, not duty. Well, I'm in labor right now...with no medication! I've never liked painting landscapes. I leave landscapes to others who do them well. I avoid them almost completely, but alas, I must deliver a landscape...soon.

A good friend is having a big event to celebrate her recent marriage, and I agreed to paint a custom piece of artwork for her guests to sign. I've made two of these kinds of pieces in the last year, and I know how much work they are. Trying to make them reflect the actual bridal couple is challenging, but fun. Until an idea finally starts to emerge, I'm terrified that I won't get a good idea. So, I procrastinate and worry. These wedding artwork pieces are stressful labors of love. That is why I give them as a gift instead of selling them. That is why I don't really offer to do them for just anyone. That is why you must be a good friend or a close relative!

Below is a small color study for what will be a much larger piece. It's obviously unfinished, and I might decide to not finish it. I'm on a deadline and need to move to the final piece soon. When I'm done, I think I will maintain my discomfort with landscapes and large-scale painting in general. I'm out of my comfort zone, for sure. It's a good thing I love you, Dianne! And, I really do! Dianne and her husband grew up in Lancaster County. He is an expert in raising pigs; she is an expert photographer. They met at church, and their celebration will take place at the beginning of autumn, hopefully as the trees are just turning brilliant.
Landscape of Love; 9"x12" watercolor study

Monday, September 16, 2013

Almost Three-Cornered

I'm inching ever closer to finishing the series I'm calling "Quilt Corners." These four are the four seasons. I started them while I was on vacation a couple weeks ago and finally got back at it today. These will likely end up for sale in the form of framable cards and possibly as resined magnets and cabochons. I might eventually sell the originals, but I'd have a hard time breaking up the set. We artists can certainly get attached to our work!
Quilt Corners; 7x7" watercolor on 140 lb. mixed media paper

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Big, Bad Entrepreneur

So, apparently, the Big, Bad Wolf was a small business owner. And, I relate to him.

Do you ever get that feeling that you've been working harder than you can ever remember, but you're getting nothing all the way done? I get that feeling a lot lately. I am working really hard to launch my business, but every time I turn around, I run into five more tasks that I need to address before I can move forward. Every interruption is interrupted by three other interruptions. It's very unsettling.

My goal was to launch by September 15, but that's unlikely. So, I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll.......blow past another deadline. But, I'll keep huffing and puffing.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

About the Name

I've always loved antique glass. The more humble the piece the better. Even though I do appreciate cut crystal and fancy stemware, I'm much more drawn to pieces that have been heavily used or that I am not afraid to use. Alas, the ordinary jar. Canning jars and simple, colored bottles are exceptionally beautiful in my opinion. Something about their being useful adds to their allure. I suppose that could be a metaphor for all of life in some way. Being useful makes us feel alive and real. There's something not quite right about something that CAN function but doesn't.

When my daughter decided to use old, blue glass canning jars to decorate her wedding, I was thrilled. The gears in my artist's brain started turning immediately. I had ideas before I even knew what I would do with them! As it turned out, the jars featured prominently from early on when I designed invitations that featured a watercolor painting of a blue canning jar with the couple's last name and wedding date on it. The calla lilies were a consolation to my daughter, who wanted the real thing at the wedding, but settled for cheaper flowers. A smaller, blue glass bottle containing two lilies made it onto the RSVP cards. Both pieces showed up again on the artwork that wedding guests signed at the ceremony.
Means Wedding Jar; 5x7" watercolor
Lily Couple; 4x6" watercolor
Means Guest Artwork; 18x24" watercolor
Earlier this summer, when I decided to start marketing my artwork, it made sense to me to incorporate my love of common glassware and a bit of the lovely memory of the big family event we had just experienced into the naming of my new venture. Blu Jar Studio was born.

My goal for Blu Jar Studio is to produce art that is fun, accessible (read "affordable"), and livable (meaning you like it enough to live with it). My favorite things to paint are common items, mostly found around the house, and I hope my paintings will appeal to others like me, who see beauty in ordinary and useful things. I am an illustrator, first and foremost, so I plan to focus on that strength. I doubt you'll see very many grand landscapes or large pieces of fine art at Blu Jar Studio. But, it's very likely you'll see plenty more jars and maybe a bottle or two!

Below is a sample I'm working on for the soon-to-be Blu Jar Studio shop on Etsy. This jar commemorates my own wedding back in 1986. Maybe you know someone who would like a jar commemorating their "big day." Maybe it will even be filled with a bouquet of favorite flowers! Stay tuned. More details are coming soon.
Horst Wedding Jar; 5x7" watercolor on mixed media paper

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Back in March, I quit my day job to focus on my daughter's wedding in June. Then, I spent the entire summer of 2013 getting ready to start my own business to sell my artwork online. The business will launch sometime in September, I hope. The whole process has been quite an education. Most of it has been fun and exciting, but certain aspects have been terrifying, like communicating with the federal and state governments and opening a bank account. There's just something about banks and governments that make you feel small and a little bit afraid that "you're doing it wrong." But, I've plowed through all the legal jargon and made decisions about what to call myself, what to call my business, and how to tell the world about it. One of the first big challenges was the brand design. I worked on it for weeks, but I'm please with how it came together. I'll explain the rationale and the process in a future post, but for now, here it is:
Blu Jar Studio logo