Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Shaker Village Inspirations

It's been much too long since my last blog and as I reread previous posts I had to smile. My last post was December 2014 and it was an image from Shaker Village. 

In February 2015, Shaker Village opened studio space to artists and I was selected to participate in the new program. I moved my studio to Shaker Village, East Family Brethren Shop, in April and it's been an excellent experience. 

My studio is flooded with natural light from six 4 foot tall windows. I talked to Shaker Village visitors and I work on new pastels or oils. It's my gallery and my working studio.

When it's just too beautiful to stay in the studio I lock the door and go out to the 3000 acres of Shaker Village property to create plein air drawings. There's nothing like working from a live model - the land.
"Partly Cloudy" 8"x8" pastel

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill is one of my favorite places to work. When I go there I draw "en plein air" and I take lots of reference photos for later studio work especially when the weather in Kentucky does not lend itself to the outdoor experience.

A favorite Shaker song written by Joseph Brackett goes
"Tis the gift to be simple, Tis the gift to be free
Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be"

And I think about choices for subject matter for art. I come down on the side of "simple", not big thoughts or esoteric meanings; just images that touch my heart and isn't that what it's all about. Finding beauty in the quiet places of life.

This is a carriage trail in Shaker Village and it use to be the main road from Harrodsburg, KY to Lexington, KY. The Shakers used it to take their products to market and as I stand on this road I think of all who travelled along it's gravel path.

pastel and alcohol wash underpainting on UART sanded paper

Adding NuPastel and Sennelier pastels for next layers

"Simple Trail - Shaker Village" 8"x12" pastel

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Photos - Reference, Inspiration or Both

When I can't work directly outdoors I use my own reference photos. These are handy when time is short or the light is fading quickly and I don't have enough time to complete a plein air pastel.

I always work from my own reference photos except when doing animal or property portraits for a customer. The photo helps me recall the feeling of the place and reminds why I was excited about the scene. My b/w sketches also help.

But I'm surprised when I view the reference photo after the studio piece is completed and see how much I interpreted rather than copied the photograph.

Here is the pastel "End of Autumn 3" that I showed in the last blog.

"End of Autumn 3" 18"x24" pastel

And here's my reference photo as well as the cropped version of the photo. Cropping in photoshop is an invaluable compositional tool.

Swift Camp Creek Fall Reflections

The completed pastel may seem photorealistic but as you can see by comparing it to the reference photo, the photo is as much an inspiration as a reference.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Working in a series

Sometimes is easier to find your own "visual voice" by working in a series and exploring the same topic from different angles or visions.

"End of Autumn 2"
Last fall I took a series of up-close images of leaves floating down Swift Camp Creek. The topic was mesmerizing, quiet and contemplative. I took lots of photographs just enjoying the process without actually thinking about using the images for a series. But when I loaded the images onto the computer and started enlarging areas and cropping for better composition I realized I had a lot of subject matter that related in a series. 

"End of Autumn 5"
"Nearby Creeks-End of Autumn" series began. As with all efforts some of the pieces are more successful than others but this series hit a high note. "End of Autumn 5" was accepted to the Pastel Society of America annual show in New York and "End of Autumn 3" won 5th place/landscape in the Pastel 100 contest sponsored by Pastel Journal.

"End of Autumn 3"
Years ago a friend of mine sent me a postcard that says, "Success is largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go." I still have it tacked to my bulletin board and think about the low times when I wanted to quit but just couldn't. Glad I didn't.

The entire series can be viewed on my website, Mcdonaldfineart.com.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Wilderness Road Farmhouse

Last night I mistakenly posted on my old Pastel Lessons blog. That's what happens when I post at 10:30 pm.
So here's what should have been on this site.

Last week my husband and I took our mountain bikes to Cumberland Gap area and rode on the Wilderness Trail. I spotted this farm and loved the rhythm of the barns, the golden maples and the farmhouse.

This pastel is done on UArt sanded paper with pastel and alcohol wash underpainting. UArt is very versatile paper which accepts watercolor and thinned oil washes as well as the alcohol type underpainting without warps or buckling. Because it only comes in cream color and I like to have a colored underpainting to make the pastel pop.

After considering what I thought was the final piece I felt like too many of the angles of shapes were headed in the same direction. They needed a counter-balance - not strong, just a subtle shift in colors and shapes. I changes some of the shapes and colors in the foreground field. I think it's finished but with pastel is always easy to rub out and change things.

"Wilderness Road Farm" step one - underpainting

"Wilderness Road Farm" 11"x14" pastel

"Wilderness Road Farm" 11"x14" pastel final

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Autumn Red

This drawing just wasn't working.  I was in West Virginia with my friend Joy and I spotted this group of trees beginning to turn red. There was almost an even mix of red and dusty greens and the light was very overhead. I worked on it and got disgusted. With a paper towel I wiped out my feeble efforts. Yes, sometimes it's a good idea to just start over.
"Red Autumn" wiped out
Back in my studio in Kentucky, I was determined to make this image work. First I studied the photo and did another black and white thumbnail sketch. (I did one on site also, but worked harder on this second drawing and you can see where I erased some of the sketch and redesigned the location of the shapes.
Thumbnail sketch of "Red Autumn"

Next, I started reworking the image focusing on the values from my sketch and changing the main tree to a dominate red.
"Red Autumn" midway finished
In the final image I focused on developing the brilliant reds with late afternoon light and made the tractor path a secondary element.
"Red Autumn & Tractor Path" 12"x16" pastel

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fading Light

"Fading Light" as inspired by a small portion of a photo I took at Shaker Village as the sun set on the west side of the property. 
While studying the photo to use as reference for another pastel I noticed how the light ran across the top of the hillside and illuminated the top of the house. The fields and trees created an abstract pattern of interest.
First I created some black and white sketches to study the shapes and values.
"Fading Light" sketches

Then because the distant scene was colored lightly by fading light and summer haze, I needed to enhance the colors giving me a chance to interpret instead of just copying nature. These little color sketches are only 4"x6".

"Fading Light" color sketches

Finally I chose my favorite sketches and combined the best of each to create a larger 8"x12" pastel drawing.

"Fading Light" 8"x12" pasel