My nephew is a funny guy. You wouldn’t think it just to look at him, because straight-faced humor is his forte’. For example, we’re all at a family party a couple of years ago. I’m standing with the adults, chatting about my new Rav4, comparing its mileage with that of my old Honda. Little guy is nearby, listening to all the adult conversation. He decides to chip in. “I get pretty good mileage on my bike!” he announces. “Yeah?” I reply, “What kind of mileage do you get?” “Oh….to the end of the street and back.” We all start laughing! The glint of a smile in his eye is the only hint that he’s not serious. He knew he was being funny. Not long ago my sister signed him up for drama club because she realized we needed to put this wit to work. So, last spring I went to see him and his older sister in their school’s production of Lion King. He played one of the hyenas and could be seen enthusiastically scratching his fleas on stage.
Well, a few weeks ago I needed reference imagery for a portrait demonstration in one of my classes. I’ve painted some of my nieces before but haven’t tackled any of my nephews. So, I found a good photo of him and used it for the project in class. We were studying color schemes. I showed my students how to play with filters and colors in Photoshop to simplify their reference imagery and change their original photos to something that fit one of the color schemes we’d studied. For mine, I went with complementary colors. Complementary colors are “opposites” on the color wheel. I tell my kids, think of “opposites attract”…the quiet guy is often interested in the talkative girl. Each of them brings out the best of the other. The same goes for colors. If you put green next to blue, the two colors (being similar) will kind of blend into each other. But, if you put green next to its opposite (red) the two visually have nothing in common. So, each makes the other look brighter/more vibrant. For this painting, I shifted slightly from the red/green pair to red-violet and yellow-green. When I’d basically finished painting, it needed something to really finish it off and tie the segmented colors together. I took my brush with a pale yellow-green on it, and added just a few swipes of that color into sections of the eyes, eyelid, hair, and background. That did it! When you’re working on a painting, look for ways like that to bring color from one section of the design into areas that don’t have that particular color. Even little touches can help tie everything together and balance the composition.
When I sent the finished portrait to my nephew, I wasn’t sure what his reaction would be. He might think it “weird” that I’d painted his face in shades of purple. But he LOVED it! He apparently walked around saying, “This is Sooooooooooooooooo Good! It looks just like me!” He showed it to the family chiropractor that day at an appointment. And, he sent me a photo, waving at me with the painting in front of his face. Fun reaction! Well worth the effort of painting it.
A couple weeks ago I had an opportunity to do something I’ve never tried before: a time-lapse video of painting! I’ve seen videos of sand art that morphs and changes from one scene to the next. I wanted to try that with a series of 3-4 scenes, painted in acrylics. I chose acrylic because it dries quickly. Once finished filming one scene, I could move right on to the next, painting directly overtop of the first scene. When the project was complete, only 1 painting would exist…the other 3 scenes being buried in layers of paint. This concept intrigued me as an artist. Artists usually create with the intent of longevity. It’s rather freeing to paint something that will only exist for 2 minutes. In fact, the snapshot shown above is only a screen-shot of the paused video. I took only footage (no photos) of each completed piece. Thus, this artwork is all about the process and the story that unfolds from scene to scene.
Though nothing was sketched out on canvas (I did what we artists call “drawing with a brush”), the process began with an evening of brainstorming and sketching. Looking at reference images from online, I chose 4 traditional nativity scenes and planned the layouts in pencil on computer paper. These pencil sketches were placed in front of me while painting, as a guideline for proportions. A friend helped me set up lights for filming. We used my camera, set on a tripod in front of my workspace. The footage is actually filmed upside-down and flipped during the editing process. This allowed a straight camera shot without trying to film over my shoulder or above my head. The scenes are simple, with stylized characters, partly for the sake of time and partly for the sake of children who would be in the audience. Color was also simplified down to monochromatic blues, white, greys. You’ll see me adjust to a brighter blue or darker grey as I’m painting characters, always working toward a balance of light-on-dark or dark-on-light. This way, forms and details stand out against the surrounding colors.
This project was done for my church’s Christmas choir presentation. Our worship leader planned a Chris Tomlin song (Noel, performed by Lauren Daigle) as the background music. Though I’d heard it on the radio before, I hadn’t noticed the lyrics until now. The 2nd verse says:
Son of God and Son of man
There before the world began
Born to suffer, born to save
Born to raise us from the grave
Christ the everlasting Lord
He shall reign forevermore
Come and see what God has done
The story of amazing love!
The light of the world, given for us
Personally, I’ve often pictured in my mind that transition from Creator to creation. Few books or songs talk about it. Christ was there with God, helping to create stars and moon and earth. Now, he slips into fragile human skin: sleepy eyes, tiny toes, and wholly relying on human parents. Meanwhile, his Father sets a new star in the heavens to proclaim the royal birth. “Noel” is from the French for natal – literally: birth. “Born to suffer, born to save” – you’ll see a momentary foreshadowing of this in the final manger scene, though I wasn’t thinking of the song’s lyrics when I painted it. Here, I’ll give a shout out to Jose, who edited footage for me: cropping, adjusting exposure, and timing it all to the music. Watching this video, I hope you’ll enjoy the transformation from scene to scene. More than that, I hope you’ll enjoy the story as a whole: a story woven from before time, when the “light of the world” first made plans to come to earth.
As the daughter of a sailor, I’ve been raised to appreciate quiet time on the water. Yes, there can be the humming vibration of mainsail in a stiff wind. There’s breeze in your face and sun on your hair, the buzz of a centerboard and the glug, glug sound of wake churning behind you. What there isn’t is the scream of a motor or blow-your-face-off speed, where you can’t hear yourself think, much less hold a conversation without yelling. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with my dad were in the quiet of a day out on the water. In a sailboat, there’s time to think, time to be still. You can talk or simply enjoy the silence. You can sleep (and I often have) to the rocking motion, the sun warming your eyelids, the chink of halyards like bells overhead.
Of course, there are days with no wind, when you sit, parched, on the desert island that is your boat. Towels dunked over the side and wrung out on your legs are the “air conditioning.” By the time you finally give up and motor back in, you have sunburnt limbs and stiff muscles to remind you of the day. I remember one afternoon when my dad and his friend went sailing in a shallow bay near North Carolina. The breeze died suddenly, and the adults would not abandon their boats. But we kids climbed out and literally walked past our “sailing” dads back to shore. Sailors can be stubbornly hopeful, determined to wait for the next wind when others would have given up long ago.
For more than 20 years now, the Chicago skyline has been a regular part of my sailing memories. My dad moors his boat in Monroe Harbor from May through October, and we’ll often sail with friends throughout the summer. I’ve experienced the skyline in every light you can imagine: early dawn after sleeping on the boat, high noon with sun beating down, late night as building windows sparkle like thousands of stars against an indigo backdrop, or lit up by the colorful burst of fireworks. But my favorite time is sunset, as the glowing orb of orange seems to melt away edges of architecture. Individual buildings subside into a long Lego outline of purples and greys. Cotton candy clouds taper off in the distance. And a melon light touches tips of waves, contrasting deep aquas all around your boat. The painting above is a composite of a couple photos my friends and I have taken over the years. The painting was completed as a triptych, 3 panels, each 20″x24″. A detail below shows that melting effect I love so much. I hope you enjoy the painting as much as I enjoyed painting it!