Ink, Watercolor, Oil, & Acrylic

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My Kids

My favorite teacher-movie is the 1939 film Goodbye, Mr. Chips, starring Robert Donat and Greer Garson. (If you’ve never seen it, rent it from the library!!) In one of the final scenes, Chips sums up my own feeling: as teachers we have thousands of kids…many of whom we affect (and are deeply affected by) through the years. For me, “My Kids” can refer to any student I’ve taught, mentored, coached, or worked with at church over the past 15 years. In this particular post, I’d like to introduce you to a few of my Painting 2 kids. These are upper-level painting students. Having learned various acrylic techniques in Painting 1, we work our way through Chinese Ink Brush techniques, India ink, watercolor, and eventually oils in Painting 2. The watercolor portraits below were completed about 3/4 of the way through our semester. The artists have offered to share their work and words here.

Maddie G.

Maddie G Watercolor web

My painting subject is my younger sister; since this was a baby picture Miss Bozarth demonstrated for the class and I that in babies and younger children we should keep the edges soft so it won’t have the feeling of an older person’s skin. Another thing I learned was how dark to make the watercolor. With acrylic I can add white to lighten a color, but in watercolor paintings white is not used as much for lightening the color. I learned that it is about how much water I have on my brush and how many coats I layer. For the red blanket I had a hard time keeping the colors translucent. When I was working on the background I made the mistake of going too dark, but I learned to lift out the color with my wet brush and paper towel. When I was coming near the end of the painting, Miss Bozarth told me to go back and darken the shadows in my sister’s hair and shirt. This allowed a better contrast and brought out the highlights in her face and shirt. I look at the finished painting and see how far I’ve come. I am proud of my piece, but I couldn’t have achieved it without the tools I learned from my teacher. I am looking forward to working with watercolor again in my future!

Kevin S.

Stolle Blue Dog webThis painting is based on a photo of my dog, Banjo. To make it more interesting, I chose to recreate the image in blue. This was done in watercolor with outlines and shadows refined using black ink.

Kristy K.

Kristy K watercolor webI chose this picture mainly because I didn’t want to do skin tones and facial features. It shows my passion for the Chicago Blackhawks and my favorite player Duncan Keith. While doing this painting I learned that watercolor is terrifying to tackle! White watercolor is basically non-existent, and once you mess up, it’s like Sharpie…really hard to fix. I loved doing the wrinkles in the jersey; at times I thought it was real. This was a great learning experience for my first watercolor portrait.

Lauren V.

Lauren Vivian Watercolor webI wanted to make a piece that had a humorous pun and also involved one of my nerdy favorites. I went through my favorite Star Wars characters and remembered the Scout Trooper and connected it with everyday Boy Scouts. So, if the Star Wars universe ever needed popcorn, you’d know what trooper to buy from!

Jessica Y.

Jessica Y watercolor webTitle “Principessa”

Watercolor is a weird medium. Throughout Painting 2, I learned the complete opposite of what I’d learned working months with acrylic. Once you’ve made a move you cannot take that mark back, and you can’t simply cover it with more paint. It taught me how to control my brush strokes and mixing colors. It was sort of a nervous experience to get used to the feeling of watercolor. But once you get the hang of it, watercolor has results that are lifelike. When I was painting my oldest sister, I was happy with this new paint. With each stoke, I was able to capture everything that my sister is. My older sister has always lifted us up when we were down; each one of her words always made you calm. She never gives false comfort; she acknowledges the circumstances, yet she makes it seems as though it isn’t even a problem. She always looks out for others more than herself. When painting her, I tried to represent that very character.
Note: Jessica’s finished portrait is part of her AP Portfolio and was still at the college board when this blog post was written. So, we’ve included a snapshot of her working on the piece while it was still in progress. As her teacher, I must say it was a gorgeous portrait!

Answer Me!

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

“My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me! I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam…”

Oh, the busy-ness of life! How quickly we get sucked into projects, commitments, pressures, and the heavy burden of feeling like a failure when we can’t keep up. Fear of letting others down. Fear of rejection when we can’t meet the standard that seems to be set. Fear that when we miss the mark, God Himself will be standing there, tapping His foot impatiently, saying: “When will you get it together and be good enough?!” I’m not talking about you guys out there in the blog-reading world…I’m talking about myself. But, I have a feeling many others can relate.

That’s why I need passages like Micah 6:3-4,8. God seems ticked off with Israel here: “Answer me!”  He charges His people to explain exactly what burdens He’s placed on them. The charge jerks me up out of complaining mode, forcing me to look back over everything that’s led to my feeling over-burdened/overwhelmed. And, honestly, I can’t answer Him. I can’t continue to complain and rant at my Heavenly Father for long, because He hasn’t placed these burdens on me; most are pressures I’ve put on myself. In Matthew 11:29 Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” It’s not that God promises a burden-free existence. Oxen yoke were designed for two to walk together, sharing the work load. If I’m exhausted, I’m either refusing to be yoked with the God who can make my burden light…determined to prove I can do everything in my own strength. Or, I’m fighting the direction my yoke-fellow wants to take me, and the squirming and wriggling and wandering wears me out.

So, what does the LORD require of me? Micah 6:8 continues: “Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.”  First off, He wants me to look back and see the ways He’s been providing for me all along. I wasn’t a slave in Egypt, but I know the suffocating feeling of being entangled in decisions I thought would free me, which really left me empty and dissatisfied. He disentangled. He redeemed broken relationships. He brought me out into the sunlight, filling my lungs with the fresh air I hungered for. Secondly, He wants me to look right beside me…do I see Him there? If not, I’m probably not walking humbly with Him. Do I trust the God who offers to walk beside me? If not…why not? What am I afraid He’ll keep me from, that I’m so sure I’ll enjoy? Or, what do I fear He’ll make me do that I’m not ready to do? Lastly, He calls me to look around. “Act justly and love mercy” sounds very similar to Jesus’ simplification of all the commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30,31) If we love God with every part of our being (heart, soul, mind, strength), that love will naturally show itself in how we’re treating others. I always wanted justice as a kid…always wanted everything to be “fair”. Of course, my idea of fair consisted of basically wanting things to go my way. Am I acting in fairness to the people around me? Do I love to be merciful? Or, am I stingy with mercy, handing it out only as I see fit; giving it to people I feel deserve it?

Deciding who deserves mercy and justice isn’t my call. It’s a burden I’m not qualified to bear. So, when I’m overwhelmed with burdens, this verse often comes to mind. Then I take a step back, look at things in perspective, and call out to the God who is beside me. “Love your neighbor,” He whispers, “and walk with me, trusting me. Everything else is non-essential. It can wait while you rest. I’ll take care of what burdens you, or I’ll give you the strength to get it done, but for now, your soul needs a break.”

Artistic note:

The piece above was commissioned by a friend who is a quilter. In fact, we did a trade: I painted a favorite scripture in calligraphy for her; she quilted a table-runner for my kitchen table. She specifically requested Micah 6:8 but left all design choices (other than color preference) up to me. Starting with sketches, I researched quilting symbols that could be incorporated into the layout. For the word “God”, I wanted 3 interconnected circles, representing the Trinity. But I needed it to clearly read as G O D. Playing around with line and color, I managed to make it work. The surface is cloth stretched across a canvas and attached using Matte Medium. Matte Medium is a liquid plastic, which looks like glue but isn’t sticky. When two surfaces are coated and pressed together, they dry with a permanent bond. I projected my design onto the canvas/cloth and sketched it in pencil. Painting was done with acrylics, though you can see where I used Matte Medium to attach bits of fabric detail as well. To use my art-geek vocabulary, this is the first time I’ve worked basically in a tertiary triad color scheme. Translation: main colors used were blue-green, red-violet, and yellow-orange.

What I Did on My Rainy Saturday

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

This Saturday’s to-do list included laundry and should have included balancing my checkbook. But checkbook balancing can happen any old day. Rain clouds and wet grass meant no yard work for the afternoon. Sooo…I decided to paint!…no big surprise. I needed a gift idea for a friend, but hadn’t been happy with anything I’d thought of yet. Then I remembered that she’d taken a trip to South Africa with her family last summer. She’d posted pictures on Facebook. Going back to that album, I found a handful of shots with potential for painting. I didn’t really want to paint the typical safari scene. Instead, I was attracted to a photo of sheep on her grandparents’ farm. The dusty grey color palette reminded me of a quote by Andrew Wyeth (Pennsylvania-based painter from the mid 1900’s; son of N.C. Wyeth). Wyeth said, “I’ve been blamed for the fact that my pictures are colorless, but the color I use is so much like the country I live in.” We think of African art as bold, vibrant, colorful. And, yes, the people, the fabrics, the sunsets in Africa are vibrant. But the landscape itself is rather muted…sandy yellows, cream, beige, browns, muted greens. As Wyeth saw the beauty of this color-range in his Pennsylvania surroundings, I wanted to capture the beauty of rural Africa. A sheep pen constructed from tree limbs, with a makeshift gate and tangled wire mesh…using the natural and man-made resources on-hand to make do. This is the art and ingenuity of so many cultures; something we rarely see in urban/suburban America. Besides subject-matter and color scheme, I liked the framing of this particular photo. Fence-post, gate, and roof perfectly frame the sheep, whose interest in her feeding trough has been distracted by the viewer’s camera. Design-wise I could work almost directly from the original photo, without having to make major changes to image or cropping.

Charlotte Africa close webMy palette for this piece consisted of: yellow ochre, violet, grey, with rusty-red thrown in as an accent color. I wanted to build up the surface (creating both real and implied texture) before painting. Not having any modeling paste around, I improvised with spackling. Yes, the stuff you use to fill holes in your wall can also be used to build texture on a painting! Apply it to the canvas/board with a palette knife or fingers and allow an hour for drying-time before you paint. When working with acrylics, adding modeling paste (or spackle) gives a 3D surface-quality that mimics impasto oil-painting techniques. In the close-up shown here, you can see what I mean.

My friend was thrilled with the gift, and recognized her grandparents’ farm at once. So, it was a worthwhile rainy day of painting! Perhaps I’ll balance the checkbook tomorrow.

For the Grads

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

This post is for Lauren, who requested I paint her favorite verse as a graduation gift, and for many other grads I know who look forward with hope to the future. Jeremiah 29:11 has long been a favorite verse of mine. Those of you who know me well, know that I say that about several Bible verses…but that’s because there are so many verses that are an encouragement in every-day life! However, if we’re not careful, Jeremiah 29:11 can become cliché. Its message is celebrated at exciting times like graduation, and hammered into us in difficult times when life is falling apart. We hear it so often that we begin to take it for granted, forgetting why God spoke it in the first place.

Dear graduates, I encourage you not to take this verse as a pep-talk. Don’t cling to it as a wishful thought for a bright future. When you need this verse, go back to the chapter surrounding it. Read it in context. It’s not a verse pointing to a brighter tomorrow, so much as it’s a verse about the God who holds tomorrow. If we’re always looking/seeking for the rainbow and “better days”, then we miss out on what’s right here in front of us. Jeremiah 29:4-7 says: “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters…seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’ ”  What is God saying? He’s saying, “I’ve placed you in undesirable circumstances, and you must choose. Will you trust Me? Will you choose to live life, plant gardens, BE where I’ve placed you and thrive? Will you come to Me in prayer, on behalf of the enemies surrounding you?”

It’s essential that our eyes be fixed on our Heavenly Father. If we fixate on the circumstances around us, we’ll be discouraged and overwhelmed. If we fixate on the elusive “if only”s, then the peace we desire will always be one step further down the road. If only I were married…If only we had children…If only my kids were like other people’s kids…If only I had my dream job…If only I were retired and could travel. A wise friend once told me how she struggled with the “if only”s. As life continued to take unexpected turns, she began to learn that she’d never feel content unless she chose to look for joys in the here and now. With 3 kids ages 3, 2, 1; her oldest having been diagnosed with juvenile Diabetes at the same time that her husband was diagnosed with several food allergies…looking to God for hope, relying on Him for strength day and night, was a necessity. Her experience has helped me let go of my own “if only”s.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13) Seek God with ALL your heart, graduates. He knows when you’re holding back and not truly desiring Him. Trust Him with your future. Trust Him with today.

Back to the Beginning

gpa fishing web

My students are finishing their portraits now, so I’ll be able to share some of their work here soon.  In the meantime, I’ll take you back to where it all began for me.  I was first introduced to watercolors in the classroom where I currently teach…only that was 18 years ago, and I was the student.  My very first practice watercolor isn’t worth showing (though I do show my students so that they can see how awful it was!). The colors were muddy brown. Hard lines framed each transition of skin tone. Eyes glowed blue and buggy in the girl’s head. Then I started the painting you see above: a shot of my great-grandfather fishing in Canada. He passed away when I was 3, but his son (my grandpa) spent hours with us, fishing as his father had fished with him. Anyway, something in me connected with the old snapshot, so I tackled it as my first major watercolor painting. Beginning with the sky and a faint line of trees in the background, I worked my way toward the foreground figure. The entire painting was a learning process. Looking at it, I remember struggles, lessons, techniques. I remember my teacher telling me to use a darker version of each color to create shadows…rather than adding black as young artists are prone to do. In watercolor, you add water to the paint to lighten a color and use more pigment (less water) for the darker, richer tones. Mapping out the shadow shapes in his shirt and trousers, something clicked, and I began to think like a watercolor artist. Translucent layers of blue in the water; leaving white and painting the negative spaces around it to create foamy rapids; dappling shades of green to mimic foliage in the trees…all were key techniques I still use to this day. So, while this painting was merely a jumping-off point for future work, it played a crucial role in my development. As a side note: it did win an award that year, the prize being a nice leather portfolio case for carrying paintings. Below is the original photo reference.

gpa canada fishing

Hands

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

Take a look at your hands.  What do they say about you?  My hands are small but sturdy; usually spattered with paint; hieroglyphs of to-do lists scrawled in ballpoint pen.  Built for basketball and giving solid hugs; the nimble fingers that easily untie knots struggle to extend far enough for guitar chords and piano exercises.  Our hands help tell the story between the lines of our life.

In order to paint a successful portrait, you can’t simply recreate a likeness of the subject.  You need to connect with their story so that you can bring them to life in the painting.  In this case, I had never met my subject.  I’ve heard bits about her life through her daughter, but know very little.  So, I studied the reference image, searching for the story within the photo.  Her hands are what first caught my attention.  Purple veins speak to the delicacy of life, as more of life is behind than before her.  Arthritic knots prove that these hands have worked hard: loving, caring, providing the tough love and rock-solid support that a strong mother can.  Even the position of her hands tells a story.  They’re not in her pockets, not thrown nonchalantly over the back of the bench, nor are they clasped or folded in her lap.  No, they’re relaxed yet ready, resting one on each knee.  They support her posture, which sits up straight and proud in spite of age.  She’s proud, but she isn’t disdainful.  She is relaxing, enjoying this afternoon of sunshine in a park, spending time with her daughter.  We can’t see her eyes, but a smile curling at the corner of her mouth tells of her sense of humor.  She is enjoying this day.

I started this portrait as a demo for my watercolor students.  As they progressed with their own portraits, I’d gather them around for lessons on color, layering, and texture techniques.  For example, her white jeans were a lesson in “white is not truly white” – you must mix greys, blues, or yellows into the white to tone it back and make the shadows seem real.  Her sweater was a lesson in patience: patterns in clothing must warp with the folds of cloth and can’t be faked or rushed.  Face and hands were a lesson in skin tones: don’t go too brown with the shadows or the skin will look muddy and cold; reds and purples are better for maintaining warmth in the shadows of skin.  Finally, we moved to the background: layering dry-brush and spatter textures gives that illusion of rough mulch and leafy trees.  Perhaps I’ll get permission from my students to post their finished portraits on this blog…then you’ll see what they learned from these demos and what stories they chose to tell through watercolor.

Philippians 4:12-13

Several months ago I posted a watercolor calligraphy of Philippians 4:12-13.  Since this is one of my favorite verses, I kept my design sketches, planning to try the same design again in a different color scheme.  Below are the two versions.  You can see how simple changes can really impact meaning.  In version 1, the line “I have learned the secret of being content…” was painted in a pale yellow.  Version 2, I left the letters white, painting the negative space around them pale blue to make them show up.  The word “Christ” takes on a more dynamic role in version 2, using value to create depth and a splash of yellow-orange for color contrast.  Also, in version 2, I wanted to emphasize the all-encompassing “every” within the word “everything.”  This ties in with the wording of verse 12: “any & every circumstance”.  Remember, Paul was writing from prison…at a time when prison did not mean orange jump-suits and three square meals a day.  So, when he says he’s learned to be content in every circumstance through the strength Christ gives him, he means it!  “Strength” was a focal point in version 1.  Version 2 is tweaked to place more emphasis on the source of that strength, namely the cross of Christ.  His perseverance, triumphing over Hell and the grave, is what gives us hope in the first place.  Without that hope; without that victory; the difficulties of this life would continually crush us.

Design-wise, I decided to create a triangular balance with the red-orange color.  The cross in “STRENGTH” and the reference of Philippians form the other two corners of that triangle.  All other words in the design were kept in the blue family, varying values to create contrast as needed.  I’ll admit, I was struggling to get the aqua colors the way I wanted them.  I kept dabbing and pulling green off the paper, trying to lighten letters that were too dark.  In the end, I cheated, using a thin wash of acrylic over top to lighten and brighten the aqua.  So, while it’s basically a watercolor painting, technically it’s mixed media.

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

copyright 2014 Mollie Bozarth

copyright 2014 Mollie Bozarth

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