While walking through Chelsea on an art tour, I got to meet one of Englands’ leading portrait painters, Nick Bashall. This meeting led to the exciting opportunity to watch this London portrait painter do a live demo.
Chelsea was renowned as the epicenter of Swinging London in the 1960-70s and was home to artists, musicians, and models. Though today it’s a more sedate upscale neighborhood, we were lucky enough to find one artist that still calls Chelsea home. Nick Bashall, a talented portrait painter who has painted British royalty graciously offered to do a head-sketch of my husband during our visit.
It was magical how he transformed paint into living flesh right before our eyes (my hubby also got to watch through a well-positioned mirror.) Nick talked about how important it was to paint from life instead of photographs to capture the essence of a subject truly. The shiny areas in the photo are because the oil paint was still very wet. Nicky’s finished sketch on the left.
Portrait Painted by Colorado artist, Kathy Ferguson
While getting my MFA, I took several figurative and portrait drawing classes. I always worked from photographs as I couldn’t coerce others to sit for me for hours at a time. Watching him work while we watched makes me even more impressed with his talent. If you ever get the chance, I’d highly recommend getting a portrait painted by Nick Bashall.
I created this earlier portrait painting of my husband around 2009. He still doesn’t think he ever looked like this, which is one reason I stopped doing portraits. The model always thinks they look younger, thinner, or less wrinkled. I couldn’t take the pressure to create the likeness they saw in their heads.
How does my student work compare to a famous London portrait painter? My husband is still a handsome devil ten years later, isn’t he? Or should we call him a silver fox now?
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In a previous blog post, I wrote about putting together a travel sketching kit. Here, you can see me putting my travel kit into action. So as not to make the video too long, I sketched the twig before the video started and compressed it into a hyper-lapse format. Watch me use colored pencils as paint with the use of a water brush. Click on photo to start the video.
Travel sketching is fun to do while on vacation. While I don’t consider myself an advanced sketcher, my sketches have a way to bring back vivid memories of my trip, much more so than photographs (which I take lots of too 🙂 Sketching requires me to be wholly present while I explore and record my new experiences.
After much trial and error, I’m happy to say that I’ve finally figured out which sketching supplies to pack, and how surprisingly few I need. Take a look at what’s in my art travel bag.
Spiral-bound watercolor journal. Use one with 140 lb. paper so it’s heavy enough that it doesn’t bleed through and can take water without warping. You can even turn your sketches into postcards to mail to your friends. (Don’t forget to pack stamps)
Mechanical pencil for the preliminary sketch. It never needs sharpening so I can eliminate bringing a sharpener.
Knead eraser. I erase my pencil marks after I’ve drawn over them with ink.
Waterproof black pen (it won’t bleed when wet). I like the Staedtler permanent Lumnocolor fine size.
Water-soluble colored pencils. Mine are Prismacolor, but Caran D’Aches are great too.
Waterbrush. Derwent #2 (brush and water all in one so I never need a water source either).
Small bag to hold it all.
That’s is. In the past, I would bring watercolor paints, a small water container, paper towels, multiple paintbrushes, and more. I’ve found water-soluble color pencils to be a simpler solution. I can layer them to create a wide variety of colors just like mixing paint.
So grab a sketchbook and some supplies, get out there, and have fun! Remember, your sketches don’t have to be perfect; it’s the act of sketching that’s important. It’s calming and lets you connect with the unique and beautiful things in this world. Focus on what moves you, and draw to remember it.
I encourage you to tuck a sketchpad in your suitcase when you’re packing for your next trip and see what pleasure it might bring for you.
This past weekend, I attended a fantastic art workshop in Vermont taught by the artist Claire Desjardin. I have long admired her colorful, organic paintings and the loose, playful style of her work.
Taking a workshop is a great way to grow as an artist. But like learning any new skill, it can also be accompanied by frustration and disappointment. The key to enjoying your workshop experience is to go in with a creative spirit. A workshop is a great place to experiment with new ideas and make new artist friends. It is NOT a place where you can expect to do your best work or come home with finished masterpieces after having mastered the latest techniques. You will likely feel as if you are struggling. That’s because you are. It’s important to just dive in, take risks, and push on with this new approach. Pushing through the struggle rather than succumbing and resuming old practices that are comfortable is the whole reason that you took the workshop.
Another great benefit is that you get to spend concentrated artistic time with like-minded peers. How special is it to have protected time to create; time where you are freed from the concerns of everyday living. Traveling away from home to attend a workshop gets you away from ringing phones, laundry, bill paying, and other distractions. Set aside this opportunity and protected it on your calendar. Attending a creative retreat will help to nourish and replenish your creative soul.
I traveled to Italy this week with my husband and some friends to see Christo’s newest work, “Floating Piers” on the beautiful Lake Iseo. I have always loved Christo’s work and have been fortunate to see his “The Umbrellas” in California in 1993, and “The Gates” in New York City in 2005.
Our group decided we wanted to view this work in every way we could. We started the tour by helicoptering from the north end of the lake, flying over the steep mountains that border this lake before swooping down to circle around the various piers and island surrounds created by Jeanne-Claude Christo. After setting down, we walked the short distance to town to join the thousands of other tourists and walk the 5.5 km of golden fabric covered “floating” piers and walkways that are part of the exhibit.
The walkway is assembled from 220,000 high-density polyethylene cubes that form its 53 foot wide walkways. Its surface is covered with a waterproof bright saffron-colored fabric that contrasts beautifully against the deep blue of the lake. I could see the movement of the water under the pier and feel the rocking of the waves under my feet. One of my favorite moments was just sitting on the edge of the pier and feeling the movement made by the water under me and the walkers around me.
We finished off the tour with a ride on a stunning 1971 Aqua Riva power boat that carried around the piers and wrapped islands in high style before speeding down to the south end of the lake to finish off our tour.
It was a special day with special friends and I feel lucky to have had them with me to share it with. Now I have my fingers crossed to see Jeanne-Claude’s next planned installation in Colorado…”Over the River” hopefully installed in the next few years. Except this time, I’ll experience the art on a white water raft!
This weekend, I visited Storm King Art Center with my husband and friends. Widely celebrated as one of the world’s leading sculpture parks, Storm King Art is located only an hour north of New York City and provides the setting for a collection of more than 100 carefully sited sculptures created by some of the most acclaimed artists of our time. I’ve included photos of some of my favorite sculptures with partial descriptions lifted from the Storm King website.
“Gazebo for Two Anarchists” is one of several works Siah Armajani has dedicated to twentieth-century anarchists—in this case, brother and sister Alberto and Gabriella Antolini, the latter of whom was imprisoned for transportation of explosives in the Youngstown Affair in 1918. The open lattice, or truss-work, suggests incarceration. The two gazebos at each end of the structure appear to symbolize the brother and sister, who are separated but nonetheless connected by the bridge. Each gazebo encloses a large chair with armrests that recall thrones or electric chairs. They are facing one another, suggesting an act of communication.
Chakaia Booker works almost exclusively with recycled tires—slicing, twisting, stripping, weaving, and riveting rubber and radials to create and exaggerate the textures, prickled edges, and torqued forms of her radical refashioning. Booker transforms tires—iconic symbols of urban waste and blight—into extraordinary compositions of renewal. Discarded and now re-used, the tires are metaphors for the modern cycle of industrial manufacture and waste in an era of global expansion. “A Moment in Time” alludes not only to environmental degradation and decay but also to the possibility of transformation and redemption through the artist’s own brand of environmental spiritualism.
George Cutts’s “Sea Change” is composed of two identical, slender, curving, stainless steel poles that turn slowly in opposite directions. The poles are anchored to motorized disks that are sunk below ground and encased in a concrete box. The slow, synchronized rotations of the poles produce fluid, undulating movement as the poles seem to sway and flex, blending the mechanical with the natural. An experienced deep sea diver, Cutts has noted that he intends this lyrical, kinetic sculpture to evoke the motion of seaweed as it moves with the flow of ocean waves and currents
Zhang Huan’s work engages with Buddhist philosophy and rituals and with the artist’s notion that the contemporary condition is continually revitalized through an engagement with the past. Three Legged Buddha—a copper and steel sculpture standing twenty-eight feet high and weighing more than twelve tons—represents the bottom half of a sprawling, three-legged figure, one of whose feet rests on an eight-foot-high human head (a self portrait of the artist) that appears to be either emerging from or sinking into the earth.
The two simple forms of Menashe Kadishman’s “Suspended” engage in a gravity-defying balance that belies expectation. Seen from a distance, atop one of two adjacent hilltops, the sculpture’s balancing act is surprising. Viewed up close, the massive scale of the steel work becomes apparent and its structural viability even more difficult to comprehend. With no visible evidence of the engineering holding the sculpture up, the mass seemed to float freely in space.
In a second sculpture by Kadishman, he focused on nature, particularly on tree and forest themes, and worked on an environmental scale. “Eight Positive Trees” reveals this ongoing fascination, which harkens back to his youth, when, like many other Israeli children, he planted trees throughout the new country.
Grace Knowlton created “Spheres” out of materials including concrete, clay, copper, steel, and iron. All bear subtle and unique imperfections that evidence their hand-crafted origins. The spheres—of widely varied scale—seem to walk a fine line between natural object and work of art when placed in Storm King’s environment. She initially set out to make ceramic pots, until, as she has said, “I got so interested in closing the pots, in making a secret space closed off forever, that it caught me and I never went back.”
Viewed from above, the undulating swells of earth forming Storm King “Wavefield” appear to naturally rise from and roll along the grassy terrain. The seven nearly four-hundred-foot-long waves, ranging in height from ten to fifteen feet high, proceed at the same scale as a series of mid-ocean waves. The resulting effect recalls the experience of being at sea, where sight of adjacent waves and land is lost between the swells.
The individual pickets of Alyson Shotz’s “Mirror Fence” share their shape and height with picket fences enclosing front and back yards all across the United States, but Shotz’s fence is reflective and extends in a straight line, enclosing nothing.
The artist is interested in making objects that change infinitely, depending on their surroundings. The light at different times of day, the weather … what the viewers are wearing, all these are just some of the variables that will make the piece different every time one comes in contact with it.
When conceiving of “Free Ride Home”, Kenneth Snelson first created a small maquette of metal tubes and knotted strings, envisioning what it would be like to walk under and through its silvery linear forms. One of the arches began to take on a descending fast plunge and it reminded her of the shape of a bucking horse. So, Free Ride Home, the name of a race horse, became the name of the sculpture. Inspired by anatomy, cables function like muscles and the aluminum tubes like bones.
“Day Game” slithers, loops, and rises from the ground, its form suggesting an animated quality, as if the steel were electrified by a charge of dynamic energy. Its calligraphic qualities reflect Stoltz’s training as a graphic artist.
You can find out more information and sculptures on the Storm King website. Which ones are your favorites?