Saturday, May 30, 2009

No painting today...

No, my friends, I'm engaging in serious domestic fun -- scrubbing the floors. Gack!! But you have to keep up appearances. At least that's what I've been telling myself for the several weeks I've been trying to talk myself into this awful task. I've also been reminding myself how great I'll feel when this is finished. (Well maybe not immediately, but after liberal use of anti-inflammatory drugs!!)

On the topic of general maintenance, I've had several emails from people telling me they're having problems viewing my blog and/or leaving comments. Some people see the blog momentarily and then it drops out. Others are fine until they click on the comments link, at which point the blog crashes. I've tried one solution that was supposed to fix this, but that must not be the whole problem. The other troubleshooting suggestions would appear to involve just about everything but performing animal sacrifices, so I haven't been eager to delve into them. However, I have removed a few of the sidebar gadgets to see if that makes any difference.

Would you please send me an email at
chrisbeck.1661 at

if you're currently having problems viewing my blog?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Mozart or Beethoven??

Capt. Hook in progress, 4" x 4"

It's said that Mozart could sit down and compose even the most complex symphonic music without hesitation and produce a flawless score, free of corrections. Beethoven, on the other hand, was said to struggle with everything he wrote, suffering through multiple revisions of scores (with much wailing and gnashing of teeth) before he considered them finished.

I am definitely a Beethoven. I seldom put a wash down on my paper and walk away satisfied with the results. Revisions pile on top of revisions. Colors get pushed around, shifted in hue, and lifted back to reveal what I want my painting to say. There are probably times when I should just hang it up and start over, but I'm too stubborn to admit defeat.

So it is with the current small painting. Paint has been washed on, scrubbed off, painted over until I'm tired of looking at it. I've started modelling parts of the bird into the third dimension, but there are still lots of details needed to complete the painting. Masking fluid has been removed from around the eye and on the body, but not from the beak at this point. I thought I'd show you where I am with it tonight and then I'll do one more post when it's finished.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Now with beak and crest...

Capt. Hook in progress, 4" x 4"

As you can see, I'm not progressing with any great speed on this. I added some stronger color to the body and also did the first washes on the beak and crest. I generally mix up a couple of puddles of color when I'm working on an area with shading and often use two brushes, switching back and forth to model the form. But I also freely mix in additional pigment if I'm not getting the results I want, so it ends up being a little more spontaneous process most of the time. The shading on the beak looks quite harsh right now, but I'll add more form and refine the details in subsequent washes.

For those who are interested, I've used new gamboge, cobalt blue, cobalt green, quinacridone gold, quinacridone sienna, brown madder, winsor violet, and french ultramarine blue. The blue shadows under the beak are a bit more subdued than this photo suggests and will be further deepened before I'm finished.

We interrupt our regular programming...

...for a short rant about Firefox!!!

For weeks, I've been getting the little pop-ups that say Firefox 2-point-whatever is no longer supported, switch to Firefox 3. I fell for this routine sometime last year and the result was that Firefox 3 went into some wormhole in the universe and retrieved bookmarks that dated to early in the reign of William the Conqueror. I finally had to trash the upgraded version and go back to my trusty Firefox 2. I guess they had a change of heart and continued to support version 2 a while longer, but apparently those happy days are over.

My husband had installed Firefox 3 on his computer without incident some months ago, so this morning I finally clicked on the button to download and install Firefox 3. And there it was once again -- a completely different toolbar -- this time filled with bookmarks that haven't seen the light of day since King George II was in power. Back to Firefox 2 for the moment (thank goodness for backups!!) and plotting my next course of action.

We now take you back to your regularly scheduled show...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Picking up where we left off...

Capt. Hook in progress, 4" x 4"

Once the paper was stretched and completely dry, I taped the borders using white artist's tape. The idea is to give a clean border, but paint always manages to sneak underneath the tape in some places. Still, it gives me a reasonably tidy edge.

You can see that I've masked a few areas -- a large section along the beak and smaller dots that will become the centers of highlights. I used Winsor-Newton colorless masking fluid which I started using after reading a post by Connie Williams on masking techniques. I have to give a shout out to Connie -- although I've been using masking fluid for ages, I learned several valuable tricks from her tutorial. I absolutely love the Winsor-Newton product, although my old favorite -- Incredible White Mask -- is still the perfect choice for some of the abstract work I do. (A note about brushes for masking fluid. I like Cheap Joe's Uggly brushes, but you can use any inexpensive synthetic brush. I find the white synthetic brushes are best. For some reason, they withstand the masking fluid better than standard tan brushes. I always use dish detergent to prep the brush and I rinse it frequently in a bucket of soapy water.)

I've also put in the first pass on the body color. This is the point at which I invariably despair, but I know from experience that I can resolve the problems with further washes.

See you soon with the next installment.

Blogger blunders...

I've had reports of problems viewing my blog and leaving comments. The very helpful Nitecruzr suggests removing the "Followers" gadget, so I have done that. Rest assured that you will still be following my blog and anyone who wishes to begin following the blog can do so by clicking on the "Follow Blog" link in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. If I find out that the problem has been resolved, I'll add the gadget back in so everyone can see the followers list again.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Starting from scratch...

Capt. Hook in progress, 4" x 4"

I've been preoccupied with concerns for my dad and what's going to happen to him when he finishes his course of rehabilitation therapy. We're at that point where "assisted living" enters our vocabulary -- to the great resistance of the ones who need assistance. To say my mind has not been on painting is a definite understatement. So I thought that I would force myself to get back into the studio by taking you on a step-by-step walk through the creation of one of my little birdie saltshaker paintings.

What you see here are the first, second, and third steps in the process. I start by creating a drawing that I transfer to tracing paper using a Pigma Micron pen. I generally use the 02 pen (0.3 mm line) unless I have an extremely detailed drawing, in which case I use an 01.

Then I tape the tracing paper to my lightbox and tape a piece of 140 lb. cold-pressed paper over it. Using an HB pencil, I lightly trace the image. When I'm finished, I "blot" the excess graphite off the surface using a kneaded eraser. That prevents graphite from contaminating the painting and also makes the lines faint enough that they don't attract attention in the finished painting. The next step -- soaking the paper to stretch it -- permanently fixes the pencil lines, so it's important to make sure your lines are quite faint before you soak the paper. You won't be able to erase them after the paper dries.

I soak the paper for 5-10 minutes in cold water, let the excess water drip off, and staple the paper to a support. In this case, I'm using gatorboard, but I sometimes use wooden boards that I've coated with several layers of polyurethane to make sure they're waterproof. (Just a note of caution -- the polyurethane must be fully cured before you use the board. I once had a student who attached her paper to a still-tacky board and ruined both the paper and the surface of the board.) I lay the board flat, someplace out of the way, and let the paper dry thoroughly.

I'll post more pictures as work progresses. Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day...

When I was growing up, Memorial Day in our town was a little like a scene from Lake Wobegon -- marching bands, decorated veterans, Gold Star Mothers. But it was a day for more personal memorials too -- people made a point of taking flowers to the cemetery to honor loved ones who were no longer with us.

First Sunday Walk to Newton, October 1910

Although the details of my grandmother's life surrounded me, I never had the pleasure of knowing her. My grandfather Fred, on the other hand, was my favorite companion and best friend when I was a small child. He made up silly games, taught me the names of colors, showed me how to make simple drawings, comforted me when I was hurt, and provided unconditional love.

Fred with his sister and a friend

I recently discovered pictures of him as a young man in a photo album that had been created by one of his sisters between 1910 and 1914. His playful, kind nature shines out through these old photos and reminds me of what a special person he was.

At Camp Peanut, August 1910

A word about the photos: Each year, the family chose a different lighthearted name for their week together at a local resort. "Camp Peanut" was the name they chose in 1910. "Sunday Walk" chronicles the first walk to visit relatives who lived about 7 miles outside of town. My grandfather was in his mid-20s in these pictures.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Challenge #4...

Red Anemones (detail), watercolor
Chris Beck

Xochitl (detail), watercolor
Pablo Villicana Lara

Thanks to Pablo's ingenuity, our mutual lack of time this month is being turned into a unique challenge -- Crop 'til You Drop!! -- featuring snippets of larger paintings. Because we both draw heavily on elements of our heritage -- different as they are -- we decided to make this a tribute to our grandmothers.

My grandparents built the house I grew up in -- my parents moved in with my grandfather after my grandmother died -- so there were lots of her things around when I was a young child. She had always loved her flower gardens and vases and pretty tablecloths, and even though the elements in my painting "Red Anemones" never belonged to my grandmother, they are vivid reminders of her.

Although Pablo gets a lot of comments on the hair in "Xochitl" (pronounced So-Shee-tl -- which means Queen of Flowers), he says "I was really more interested in painting the embroidery because not only was it challenging, but it brought me back to days of watching my grandma creating magical flowers with her needles and colorful threads. I could go on and on about Little Shell and all the magic she did, from healing babies to her famous tamales, but I'll save that for future paintings."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This week at Brush-Paper-Water...

Cabins in the Sky, 20" x 20"
Nancy Calhoun

I'd known Nancy Calhoun for many years, but it wasn't until we started working together in a cooperative gallery that I really got to know her. She's a delightful person and a wonderfully creative artist, pushing the technique of masking and pouring her paintings to create incredibly detailed finished works. In addition to her experimental approach, Nancy is also an excellent traditional watercolorist -- painting scenes from the Sierras as well as her signature bears.

Please take a peek at Brush-Paper-Water to see more of Nancy's paintings and then link over to her website to see the whole range of her work.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Celebrated Jumping Frog...

Ribbit-ribbit, acrylic on canvas, 6" x 6"

Mark Twain's story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" inspired the Calaveras Jumping Frog Jubilee, a contest that began in 1928 and has been held every year since. Today's newspaper featured a story on the record-setting jumper from 1986, charmingly named Rosie the Ribiter. My mind drifted back to a simpler time...

Back in the 70s, friends who were renovating a home invited me to draw something on a blank wall that had been taped but not yet painted. Although I don't remember why, I drew an anthropomorphic frog who was burning her bra. (What can I say? It was a time of liberation!!) My friends laughed and, a day or so later, painted over the frog with primer. As soon as the paint dried, Ms. Frog reappeared. "Not to worry," said my friends, "we'll put two coats of the finish paint on and everything should be fine." First coat dried, Ms. Frog reappeared... second coat dried, Ms. Frog reappeared... I think you're beginning to get the idea. As I recall, it took something like 20 coats of paint before Ms. Frog's reappearance was so faint that only the in-crowd could find it. They christened her the Phantom Phrog and, by extension, me too!! And then people began giving me frogs -- plastic frogs, carved wooden frogs, stone frogs, plush toy frogs -- endless numbers of frogs. I will admit that I collected a few myself.

The acquisitions dwindled over the years, but I still have a fondness for frogs, so when I saw this little charmer on eBay, I jumped at the chance to bid. (Sorry, I couldn't resist!!) I painted "Ribbit-ribbit" as part of a series of vintage tin toys last year during my "acrylics phase."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Journaling Thru Cancer...

Grapes and Pears, 3" x 4.5"

This is the first painting I completed when I picked up a brush again in 1996. Although I'd concentrated on watercolor in college, I had taken a slightly different route in life so I could pay my bills, working as a graphic artist and doing fine crafts such as jewelry and art quilts on the side. In 1995, I was just beginning to have some success on the show circuit with my quilts when I suddenly became ill with some mystery malady. My first concern was that a cancer I'd had in my 20's had reappeared, but that was not the case. Test after test failed to reveal the source of the problem. After a year of fatigue and pain, I finally decided to sign up for a weekly painting class -- hoping that a regular schedule would provide the incentive to work even if I wasn't feeling great. I'm happy to say that it was a success and the start of a very fulfilling journey.

I'm sharing this part of my life, which I generally keep to myself, because I just met fellow watercolorist Ricky Holtman a few days ago and he's currently dealing with treatments for cancer. Ricky has started a blog -- Journaling Thru Cancer -- to share his experiences and motivate other people to take part in their own healing process by journaling and making art. Please take a moment to link over to his journaling blog and from there to his watercolor blog -- The Pointed Brush -- and website too. I know it would mean a lot to him if you have the time to leave a comment.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Eye-candy Thursday

This climbing rose is known as Jacob's Coat. I think the folks who named it are a little shy on their Biblical scholarship -- I'm pretty sure it should be Joseph's Coat. In any case, it fits the description of a "coat of many colors" -- starting out with lemon yellow flowers that turn deep rose with exposure to the sun. You can see that the buds are intensely red on the outside, but that color is not visible once the rose is open. A few hours after I took these photos today, the roses were mostly rosy with only the deepest part of each petal remaining yellow.

I don't usually publish my photos, but I've decided that in this case anyone who wishes to use these photos (or part of them) is welcome to borrow the images. I simply ask that you credit me with the source photo if you do paint from them.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Happy dancin' again...

The Artist's Magazine, June 2009

I've known this was scheduled for quite a while now, but there's something about seeing it in print that finally makes it real. I'm so honored to be featured in The Artist's Magazine's "Competition Spotlight." Hope you'll pick up a copy and also take a peek at all the other fine articles in this issue.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

This week at Brush-Paper-Water...

California Moment, 8" x 22"
Rosanne Seitz

I met Rosanne Seitz many years ago when I went to San Luis Obispo to work with a printer on my first giclée prints. At that time, she had a small gallery next door in a renovated building that functioned as an arts complex. I admired her paintings tremendously and also her incredible energy and dedication to the arts in the San Luis Obispo area. Rosanne sent me several stories of her plein air experiences, one of which is included in her feature on Brush-Paper-Water, and I'd like to share another of them here.

"After painting on the Twin Oaks Ranch, I drove up farther on the ranch road and found a group of turkeys under an oak tree quite close to the road. I stopped to take photos and they started walking quickly towards me (thinking I had food). They were upon me in an instant, going under a barbed wire fence. I slid into the drivers seat, not sure what to expect, and turned on the Prius engine (very quiet). They hung around the car. I started going forward very slowly, not wanting to hit one. They parted but kept pace with the car. I drove a bit faster and some dropped away but several kept going. I went faster and faster and two kept pace, running as fast as they could, keeping even with the car. Finally, going about 30 mph, I won the race with the turkeys."

Please link over to
Brush-Paper-Water for more of Rosanne's work and a link to her website.