“I do have high standards. I look at everything I have done and think, ‘Why wasn’t that better?’ Part of my motivation is from crippling self-doubt – I have got to prove myself wrong.”– Michael Palin
It has been one heck of a month.
As many of you may know, I made the decision to take the month of December “off” from my regular work. While some may have thought of this decision to be ‘business suicide’, there were many reasons that I chose to do this;
- Shipping has been dismal – especially in the USA where most of my orders were heading
- I typically work on my business nearly every single day to some extent
- I had many projects that I had lined up that I wanted to work on
- The house needed some things done that I had to catch up on
- I wanted to have some time to actually enjoy the season – which meant cooking, baking, and spending time with my family
- I was – how can I say this? – “tired”
I’ve actually had a great year, and have been kept pretty busy with both my own designs and wood pieces for myself and other fellow designers. However, I did very little of my own designing throughout the year because the time just got away from me. Even though I tried to regulate my work time and allocate some playtime for myself, my conscience just didn’t seem to allow that to happen. If there were orders to go out, I felt somewhat obligated to work on them and get them out as soon as possible. The little breaks that I had in between batches of orders quickly filled up with household chores or I would try to squeeze in some classes from my favorite online teachers. But that time passed very quickly and I rarely got all done that I wanted. Before I knew it, it was Monday and time to start the cycle all over again. It was at times a little frustrating.
Not that I really minded that. I truly do love my job and I enjoy cutting wood for other painters very much. I enjoy the time in my shop when I listen to either audiobooks or music and I reached my goal of listening to 75 books this year. It certainly makes that shop time even more pleasant, as cutting hundreds (and thousands!) of pieces could otherwise be monotonous. Those murder mysteries were delightfully entertaining and brought me to places that I thoroughly enjoyed.
But this last day of the year reminds me that my time off is quickly coming to a close. I hope to be back up in the shop on Monday, as the orders have still been coming in throughout the month. I figure it will take a good week or so to catch up, but then I should be able to get back to designing my next building for my North Star Village and move forward from there. I have lots of other ideas for patterns, too, so I am really excited about getting back to things. I guess that means the time off was successful.
As I look at the (large) pile of artwork that I created over the past month, I do feel that I accomplished a lot. While there were many things that I didn’t get to, there is a substantial amount of things I did work on. I got to play with many of my beautiful supplies and just because the sabbatical is over, it doesn’t mean that the creating will not continue. Much to the contrary. If anything, doing this has encouraged me to be certain to carve out an ample amount of ‘me time’ in the new year regardless of the workload that awaits. I don’t only need this for myself, but also for my business, as I don’t want to take a chance of feeling burnt out. It was starting to feel a little like I was in the middle of November. There were days when I felt I was climbing up a sand dune. I need to protect myself from feeling like that so I can continue to do what I love. I have to maintain a balance.
With that all said, I want to show you what I have been working on this past week. I realize that I missed posting last weekend, but with the preparations for the Christmas weekend and cooking, wrapping, and so forth, I just didn’t want to dash off a post for the sake of posting. I did make a couple of things the previous week and finished up some gifts, and I will highlight them in subsequent entries. But for now, I will focus on a piece that I just completed last night. It took me six days and about 15-20 hours (give or take) to complete it. It is my own original painting and after following many classes throughout the month, I wanted to make at least one good piece completely on my own, using skills that I have learned from my many teachers.
A couple of months ago, I had seen a picture of a snow leopard cub by one of the photographers that I follow on Flickr, Emmanual Keller (aka Tombako the Jaguar: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tambako ) Mr. Keller was also the photographer for the beautiful caracal (Marthe) that I did in pastel earlier this year. You can see the result in a previous blog post.
I debated whether to recreate the cub using oil pastel or soft (chalky) pastel. I actually thought this through for several weeks. There were benefits to both mediums, and I was truly torn. But after doing my Vulture pastel (another previous post, if you are interested) by following a class from Kirsty Rebecca on Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/kirsty_rebecca_fine_art/), and Jason Morgan (https://www.patreon.com/wildlifeart) along with all the wonderful tips that I have learned from my friend and mentor Peggy Harris (https://peggyharris.com/) I thought it was time to spread my own wings and do something completely on my own, pulling from what I learned from these amazing teachers, and letting the chips fall as they may. It was both scary and exciting at the same time.
The first thing I did was start to post my progress on Facebook. This, to me, created an atmosphere of accountability. Not only did I post daily updates on my personal page, but also in my “Let’s Paint (and CREATE!) with Sheila Landry” Facebook group. This kind of helped me to keep pushing forward – even in those moments of self-doubt (there were many!) I knew that if I gave up, I would be not only letting myself down but also those who were cheering me on. I created a collage each day with the days’ progress. I will share them here and explain each of the steps for those who like seeing the process. But first I will give you the particulars:
The painting is created using Panpastels, Carbathello pastel pencils, and Faber-Castell Pitt pastel pencils on 11″ x 14″ Anthracite Pastelmat paper. Pastelmat is the only paper I use for soft pastels because of its unique characteristic and ability to hold the pastel and allow you to add layer after layer and amazing details. I learned this from Jason Morgan and it was definitely a game-changer in my pastel artwork.
I drew the main image onto the anthracite Pastelmat. I then used the Panpastels to lay down a darker background of blues, blacks, and a few rusty reds. I used to do the backgrounds last, but I found it left a ‘halo’ around the subject and it was better to lay it in at the beginning. I could always touch it up later.
The third photo shows me laying in the main markings and adding the reddish base color of the nose.
The fourth photo shows the leopard with the undertones in place. While it may look quite odd, I achieved this by raising the saturation of the reference photo to extreme levels. These ‘unexpected’ colors will give the final animal a wonderful level of depth and act as a kind of road map for the subsequent layers above. Below is the photo with the saturation levels accented.
Note the amazing difference between the undertones of the face and the rest of the body? The face has much cooler undertones and the rest of the body has much warmer tones. While this may look ‘odd’ to you all now, the subtle difference it makes in the final painting is profound.
On the second day, I reestablished the dark spots and markings on the snow leopard that were perhaps covered up by the toning layer. It is so easy to get ‘lost’ in spots and stripes on animals like this. While it may look simple when looking at the photo of the snow leopard, when in the midst of things and trying to figure out the direction of the fur in every area, it can be quite confusing.
I then began on the area I felt would be the most difficult: the left paw that was facing the camera. This part was truly a mind-bender for me. Keeping track of what goes where and is what color and what direction had me scratching my head more than once. But I pushed through, knowing I could adjust everything later on and when I found moderate success, I moved on to start the chest.
I worked more on the chest and moved on to the right paw as well as the back. Most of the right side of the photograph was missing, as there was a tree or something in the photo that I didn’t want to deal with. So I just kind of made things up as I went along. Not all of this area would show in the end anyway, as I want to mat and frame the picture and would lose some of what is on that side. (good! LOL) 😉
I got the main fur layer down, although it still looks quite flat. Nothing is toned here yet, as that needs to be done at the end when everything is in place. So it was time to move on.
Time to begin working on the face. It took the entire day to work on getting the main features established. I did his eyes (for the most part) as well as his nose and the right side of his face. These are actually only two steps, with the larger photo being a close-up of the bottom left photo.
By posting this on Facebook, I could see many things that needed adjustments.
- In the top photo – his left eye is much smaller than his right. The right eye is rounder.
- I fixed this in the close-up, but I could see that his nose is much too heart-shaped and high. It should be flatter at the top.
- The nose is also crooked.
- The mouth looked too low.
- His face had the look of an adult rather than the ‘cuteness’ of a cub.
These may all seem like small details, but they will all make a difference in the final painting. You can see in the enlarged face photo that I did fix the right eye a bit. I did feel at this point that he looked ‘concerned’ though. It was something that I needed to address the next day.
After the fifth day of working on this little guy, I was feeling a bit better about him. While I knew that he wasn’t completed yet, I felt I was heading in the right direction. In the upper picture, you can see where the undertones really came into play. The body is much warmer than the face, which looks much ‘whiter’ and more contrasted because of the details needed on the face. In the bottom left photo, you can see that I began toning the paws and body by adding in the light fur layer.
At this point, I did probably the smartest thing I did in the entire painting – I stopped. I was tired and I had worked several hours on it and I felt I was losing my perspective. I began getting that feeling that I just wanted to get it done, and that could have been deadly. So I stopped for the evening and put it away. I am so grateful I did.
When I showed this collage on Facebook, many thought the painting was ‘done.’ While I was happy with it, I knew that it still had a way to go. Not only the final toning, but stuff like the LEFT eye was now larger (on the bottom) than the right. There were some of the facial markings that needed adjusting. The little guy looked cuter, but not quite as childish as in the photo, which is what I loved about it the most. He also needed his final ‘fluff’ and his whiskers. There was still a long way to go.
I worked on him several hours yesterday and I feel that I corrected just about everything that I needed to correct. At about 9:30 at night, I finally called him “finished”. And here he is:
I am pretty pleased with him at this point. While I can pick on him forever, I think that he is good right where he is. I “may” play with the background just a tad, but I am rather afraid to do that. There comes a time when you have to say, “I did my best” and walk away. I feel pretty good about him and I think I will cut a mat for him and get him under glass today so I don’t poke at him anymore. 😉
I had many feel that yesterday’s photo was good enough to be considered ‘done.’ But I had a vision in my head that was better than that.
This morning I created a side by side comparison of yesterday’s painting and the final one today:
I hope you all see a difference. Not only is the eye better shaped, but the entire face and muzzle is better. The toning is more realistic to the photo and I moved the mouth up just a tad more. I defined the lighter fur and ‘fluffed’ him out as he is in his photo. and – of course – he needed whiskers! I think he looks far more ‘cub-like’ in the final photo than in the previous picture. I hope you agree.
This has been a lovely journey for me and a beautiful way to end my sabbatical and my year. Every once in a while, I need to paint something just for me – using the best of my abilities and knowledge – so that I can remind myself that I CAN do this and I AM able to paint.
It is hard to express the amount of gratitude I have to the wonderful teachers and mentors that I have followed, as well as those who cheer me on and support me. They are all so important to me and my growth as an artist, as I don’t want to paint “like them” but I want to use the tools they provide so that I can paint “like me”. One reason I love sharing is that I want to pay it forward and hopefully, I can inspire others.
Thank you to all my followers and teachers and friends. I appreciate you all so much and I wish you all the best in 2022.
Happy New Year!
Until next time . . .