Creative reality check

St. Simons Marsh - acrylic and pastel, copyright KJ Gatten

St. Simons Marsh – acrylic and pastel, copyright KJ Gatten

Too many ideas, not enough hours

Really? It’s been months since my last post? Not that there’s been a lack of creativity or inspiration; there’s always plenty of those things to go around. What I’m short on, though, is time.

I know I’m not alone. When you run out of hours in the day but you still have things on your list, what do you do? Like everyone else who is trying to fit way too many things into every 24 hours, you have to pick and choose. Do I write a blog post? Or do I work on a painting? Or maybe do some laundry?

Cool of the Evening - St. Simons, acrylic and pastel, copyright KJ Gatten

Cool of the Evening – St. Simons, acrylic and pastel, copyright KJ Gatten

Or do I take off and visit the coast? Now there’s an easy choice. Most of my muses live in the marsh so every now and then they call my name and I have to make a trip. This past spring I went to see, breathe in, and get inspired by Georgia’s Golden Isles.

Christ Episcopal Church - St. Simons, acrylic and pastel, copyright KJ Gatten

Christ Episcopal Church – St. Simons, acrylic and pastel, copyright KJ Gatten

I took my sketchbook and planned to spend hours sitting and sketching the coastal details I’d been missing so much. But after living all those years in Charleston, how could I forget about no-see-ums, those nasty little gnats that are nothing but wings and teeth? Luckily, I also took a camera.

Line in the Sand - St. Simons, acrylic and pastel, copyright KJ Gatten

Line in the Sand – St. Simons, acrylic and pastel, copyright KJ Gatten

So when I got back to north Georgia I combed through my photos and came up with some I wanted to paint. I laid down quick backgrounds in acrylic – mixed with some ground pumice to give it tooth – and finished the paintings in pastel. Nice way to visit the coast, again.

Note to self: Set your priorities and take care of the important stuff, but never underestimate the importance of creative time.

Turn down the lights

Egret at Dusk - colored pencil, copyright KJ Gatten

Egret at Dusk – colored pencil, copyright KJ Gatten

Capturing light and inspiration

If you’re looking for inspiration, sometimes you can find it just by changing the light. This is a painting I did from a photograph that actually was taken at dusk, but the light was so dim it was hard to see any detail. By working with colored pencil on dark paper and exaggerating the light, I was able to crank up the drama.

Full Moon at Folly - colored pencil, copyright KJ Gatten

Full Moon at Folly – colored pencil, copyright KJ Gatten

Here’s another example of working with colored pencil on dark paper to set the scene. The photograph that inspired this painting was taken at the beach during a full moon, but light-colored and metallic pencils sit on top of the paper and heighten the feeling of moonshine.

End of the Line - acrylic, copyright KJ Gatten

End of the Line – acrylic, copyright KJ Gatten

On a trip to New York City I took lots of photos to work from later. In this one, the subway was dark and ominous to begin with – plenty of drama all on its own – but I added some metallic paints to capture the shine and glow of the train.

Last Light - Beidler, copyright KJ Gatten

Last Light – Beidler, copyright KJ Gatten

The photo for this painting actually was taken during the day, but I changed it to a night drawing. Again, using colored pencil on dark paper automatically added drama. The shadows are actually parts of the paper with no pencil on them at all.

The nice thing about being a painter (as opposed to a photographer) is that we don’t need to let a little thing like reality stand in our way. Resource photos are just a suggestion, the beginnings of inspiration. We can let that inspiration take us anywhere we want.

Note to self: change the light, change the mood, capture the inspiration.

Get help with the hard stuff

Circle the Dragons - watercolor and ink, copyright KJ Gatten. Click on image to view in online shop.

Circle the Dragons – watercolor and ink, copyright KJ Gatten. Click on image to view in online shop.

Title first, then paint

Want to fill an artist with angst? Tell her she has to come up with names for all her paintings…and she can’t use “Untitled.” Seems like it shouldn’t be such a big deal to name a painting, but for me it is painful. Here’s a solution: come up with the name first, then paint something to fit!

I can’t take credit for this idea – my husband is the one who started it. He’s a wordsmith, so every now and then just for fun he will throw a title at me. Like this one I wrote about in an earlier post, “Circle the Dragons.”

Aquavert - watercolor and ink, copyright KJ Gatten

Aquavert – watercolor and ink, copyright KJ Gatten

Here’s another one: “Aquavert.” Has to be a gregarious fish, right? This one gave me a chance to do some squiggles, which I also wrote about in an earlier post.

LunaLuna - watercolor and ink, copyright KJ Gatten. Click on image to view in online shop.

LunaLuna – watercolor and ink, copyright KJ Gatten. Click on image to view in online shop.

This is one of his best efforts: “LunaLuna.” How often do you get a chance to paint your favorite insect AND your favorite celestial body, all at the same time?

From time to time, he also offers this service to my artist friend, Ginny. Like the infamous “Herd Shot ‘Round the World.” Hard to believe, but I don’t think she ever used that one.

Once my resident wordsmith has done the hard work of coming up with a title, I’m left with only the joy of deciding on a subject, working out the composition, and splashing paint on paper. Such a deal.

Note to self: Enlist help to get the hard stuff out of the way, then settle down and enjoy the rest of the process.

Mix it up

For the most part, I subscribe to the “less is more” or “KISS” philosophy. Keeping life as simple as possible is the path to sanity. But when it comes to art, sometimes you need to mix things up a bit. Sometimes it takes the combination of two kinds of media to get you where you want to go.

Winding toward the Wando - watercolor and acrylic ink, copyright KJ Gatten

Winding toward the Wando - watercolor and acrylic ink, copyright KJ Gatten

How do you know when to combine media? Here are a few reasons to go down that road.

Way up the Wando - watercolor and acrylic ink, copyright KJ Gatten

Way up the Wando - watercolor and acrylic ink, copyright KJ Gatten

1. When you want to keep it loose but need just a little detail. These two marsh scenes are good examples of that. I wanted the sky, water, and marsh to be very loose, but I used colored acrylic ink and a dip pen to pepper in some detail – just enough to give the paintings dimension.

Sweet and Savory - acrylic and pastel, copyright KJ Gatten

Sweet and Savory - acrylic and pastel, copyright KJ Gatten

2. When you want to save time and money. Most of the time when I do a pastel painting I use this cool technique: I mix some ground pumice in with acrylic paint, then paint my background with the mixture.

Sanded pastel paper is expensive, but ground pumice is cheap. I got mine from a hardware store (in the paint aisle) – that one little carton has lasted me for years.

Mix enough pumice into your acrylic to give it plenty of texture, but not so much that it becomes too dry to apply (just add some water if it does).

Then paint onto watercolor paper. You can create an entire scene to use as a backdrop, or just a toned background as I did here.

Heron in Flight - watercolor and colored pencil, copyright KJ Gatten

Heron in Flight - watercolor and colored pencil, copyright KJ Gatten

3.  When you want to create contrast. In this case, I wanted the background to be very watery – the blurriness adds to the feeling of flight – but I wanted the Great Blue Heron to be detailed, frozen in mid-air. I painted the background first, using masking fluid to protect the area for the heron, then finished with colored pencil.

Using too many tools from your toolbox can result in mayhem, but combining the strengths of just two different media can work to your advantage.

Note to self: every media has its own strength – make that work for you.

Repeat yourself

Puffers Squared - watercolor and ink, copyright KJ Gatten

Puffers Squared - watercolor and ink, copyright KJ Gatten

Well, I guess if it’s good enough for Andy Warhol, it’s good enough for me. I understand the appeal – working with repeating images is just so much fun. I could have done a painting with one lonely puffer fish, but four puffers – all using a different color palette – was irresistible. And they have squiggles, too – I wrote about the importance of squiggles earlier.

Rush Hour - watercolor, copyright KJ Gatten

Rush Hour - watercolor, copyright KJ Gatten

Maybe it’s just something about fish. After all, they travel in groups.

Central Park Fountain - acrylic, copyright KJ Gatten

Central Park Fountain - acrylic, copyright KJ Gatten

Repeating architectural details are among my favorites. They create such wonderful shapes and shadows.

Ribbit, Ribbit - watercolor and ink, copyright KJ Gatten (click on image to view in online shop)

Ribbit, Ribbit - watercolor and ink, copyright KJ Gatten (click on image to view in online shop)

And sometimes, it’s just the right thing to do. How could there be only one frog in a painting entitled, “Ribbit, Ribbit”?

The next time you’re thinking about painting something and looking for inspiration, let your imagination take you to a place where the images repeat. If one is good, maybe two, three, or four of something would be even better. Thinking about repeating images can open up a world of new possibilities.

Note to self: go ahead…repeat yourself.

…and the other gold

All roads lead to Rosemary

All roads lead to Rosemary

How far would you go to see a friend? I drove exactly 251 miles yesterday, and would have driven a million more to spend the day with my old friend, Rosemary. And by “old” I mean the length of the friendship. It has nothing to do with the age of the people involved, of course.

Good food

Good food

In the 1990s we worked together for several years in a dictatorship – oops, I meant to say “office.” Along with Franny and Sue, we were partners in crime, bonding under those trying circumstances. Truth is, we would have bonded anywhere. But she moved away, then I moved away and every now and then we drive to a point halfway between our new homes for a day of talk, food, and buckets of laughter. Yesterday was one of those days.

Fast talk

Fast talk

As always, the talking was fast and furious.

The art of putting on lips

The art of putting on lips

So much to catch up on, so many memories to revisit.

We had a good, long lunch then after the waitress came by twice and told us to “have a nice day,” we got the hint and moved the party to the coffee shop down the street.

But not before Rosemary did the ceremonial putting on of the lips. No gathering is complete without that.

All good things must end

The perfect ending

Neither of us wanted the day to end. We drug our feet and put it off as long as we could. Well, we had to wait out the thunderstorm – it wasn’t safe to be driving in that. But once that blew over, we knew it was time to go. Lots of hugs (I learned long ago not to wear post earrings when I visit Rosemary – her enthusiastic hugs will push that post right into your skull), lots of plans for the next visit.

Our bodies need fuel to keep going – nutrients, calories, fat, and  fluids. But our spirits need fuel, too, and that food is joy. My spirit is so full of joy after yesterday, I think I’ll go into my studio and find a way to put it on paper today.

Note to self: don’t forget to feed your spirit – go out and find yourself some joy.

One is silver…

I embarked on a new adventure seven years ago when I moved to Atlanta from Charleston, my home of 30 years. New place, new home, new job, new people. Back in South Carolina, I had friendships that spanned decades and fueled my creative endeavors. What would I find in Georgia?

I found the Clementines! You can read a little about how this group found each other in an earlier post, and see how we came to be painting homemade paper bowls on a day in July. Here’s the rest of the story:

Minutes of the oval-table Clementine crafting/gardening/cooking/talking birthday club:

A little slice of heaven

A little slice of heaven

Group assembled PROMPTLY at 11 at the cottage garden home of Pam and Cherie. 

Group hugged and air-kissed for approximately 30 minutes ’til all were properly welcomed.

Hard-working painters (and one critic)

Hard-working painters (and one critic)

Eventually painting proceeded. Topics of discussion included a little bit of everything, with some this-and-that thrown in on the side.  By the way, did you know Laura had an accident?  

The fruits of our labors

The fruits of our labors

In short: everyone looked healthy; Marti and Jeff are going to Bali and Gawabli next  June; Laura, Cherie and Pam will go on their annual St. George pilgrimage in October for two weeks; Alice and Bob can’t go anywhere unless they get a ‘cat-pass’ from their kitties; Larry and Charlotte are dog sitting with no vacation; Kathy and Jeff…well I don’t know where they’re going next.  

Laura's Uncle Ziggy

Laura's Uncle Ziggy

We all painted our little hearts out, except Laura who took a different path this time and created a patriotic  Uncle Sam Ziggy thingy.  

Susan will be expected to produce her paper mache thingy at next meeting.

Delicious food (gluten-free, dairy-free cake!) and beautiful flowers

Delicious food (gluten-free, dairy-free cake!) and beautiful flowers

Menu was in honor of Kathy’s birthday with Mediterrenean cuisine which the rednecks in the group (Alice) couldn’t say, much less spell. 

After a multi-layered Cherie cake, which again was made of things Alice had never heard of (dacquoise – isn’t that  what you call the cleavage of a large breasted French lady?) and lemon pie, we took a walk to the cutting beds to ooh and aah at Pam and Cherie’s zinnias.

Next meeting will be in August for Pam’s birthday at which time an attempt will be made to teach the dyslexic crafters in the group how to knit a cat bed. 

Love yall, it really was a GREAT day and I enjoyed the heck out of it.  –Alice

Thanks for taking the minutes, Alice. I couldn’t have said it better myself. :~)

Note to self: make new friends – they’re precious as silver (the kind that doesn’t tarnish).

Zoom in for a closer look

Sometimes a fresh perspective is all you need to get your creative juices flowing. And that new point of view may be closer than you think. When it comes to inspiration, sometimes it’s all in the details.

Georgia River Birch - watercolor and ink, copyright KJ Gatten

Georgia River Birch - watercolor and ink, copyright KJ Gatten

When you paint a landscape, for instance, it’s easy to overlook the incredible beauty of a single tree. Zooming in on a stand of river birch, you see an amazing abstract of texture and color.

Palmetto Series - watercolor and gouache, copyright KJ Gatten

Palmetto Series - watercolor and gouache, copyright KJ Gatten

Is there anything I love more than palmetto trees? Some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard was on a hot summer night, sitting on the Battery in Charleston, listening to palmetto fronds rattling in the thick ocean breeze.

Winnie - watercolor, copyright KJ Gatten

Winnie - watercolor, copyright KJ Gatten

A close look into a kitty’s face and you see her whole personality…a little crazy, a little timid, but also very sweet.

So don’t just stand back, waiting for something to call your name. Step a little closer and discover the magic in the details.

Note to self: Look for the inspiration hiding in the details.

Show your colors

Oh say can you see - watercolor and ink, copyright KJ Gatten (click on image to view in online shop)

Oh say can you see - watercolor and ink, copyright KJ Gatten (click on image to view in online shop)

Patriotism as inspiration? Sure! Anything you feel passionate about can be channeled right into your creative process. For a number of years, I lived near the ocean. I love the natural beauty of the coast. And I still tear up when I hear our National anthem. So, for me, white sand dollars + red fish = a new take on the American flag.

Stripes and stars - watercolor and ink, copyright KJ Gatten (click on image to view in online shop)

Stripes and stars - watercolor and ink, copyright KJ Gatten (click on image to view in online shop)

When I think about a new art project, I try to let my imagination roam and just see where it lands.

When I think about the 4th of July, I think of our flag.

The flag is all stars and stripes…what creature in nature has a lot of stripes?

Zebras! Who says the stripes have to be black?

Just add a couple of stars and this zebra is decked out for Independence Day. It could have been worse (skunks have stripes, too).

 

What’s next? Don’t look now, but here comes…

Sandy Claws - watercolor and ink, copyright KJ Gatten (click on image to view in online shop)

Sandy Claws - watercolor and ink, copyright KJ Gatten (click on image to view in online shop)

Holidays hold a lot of emotion and memories for all of us. See if you can use those feelings to generate some inspiration.

Note to self: find your passion and translate it into creativity.

Nurturing nature

According to the experts, creativity is not something you inherit. It’s not in your genes and no one is born with a creative advantage. Okay – if I take a look at my own life, I can buy into that.

The creative Gatten clan (that's my dad petting the dog)

The creative Gatten clan (that's my dad petting the dog)

I had a really creative mom (I wrote about her in an earlier post) and my dad’s side of the family is thick with creative types. I have three aunts and an uncle uncle who paint. One cousin was an artist, one is a photographer, and another is a stained glass artist. My grandma even tried a sketch or two in her day. Looking at all these relatives, it seems like I might have inherited some kind of artistic bent, until you consider music.

My grandparents (left) were part of a musical group in the late 1940s.

My grandparents (left) were part of a musical group in the late 1940s.

Grandpa wasn’t a painter; music was his thing. There was an organ and a player piano in the living room and on Saturday nights the place came alive. Whoever was there picked up an instrument – banjo, mandolin, ukulele – or sat down at a keyboard. The singing and playing went on all night. Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey. Good Night Irene. My dad was one of those Saturday night musicians. He could pick up just about any instrument and make it sing. If creativity was packed into DNA, I would be a great musician. But although I was raised with music all around me, I don’t have an ounce of musical talent. As the saying goes, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

So maybe those researchers are right and I wasn’t born with a creative gene, but I sure was nurtured.

The cowgirl from Ohio

The cowgirl from Ohio

I can remember the first bit of art instruction I was given. It came from my dad. Like a lot of little girls, I was in love with horses. I had never been around a real horse at that point in my life, but I had lots of plastic toy horses (not to mention my Annie Oakley pistol and gun belt with real plastic bullets). I would sit and sketch my horses, which all looked like stick figures until my dad leaned over and gave me some guidance. “Look at their legs,” he said, pointing to my toys. “See how the sides of their legs are darker, more shadowed? That’s what makes them look round.” A light bulb went off in my little head and I began to look at things differently in that moment.

Still Life - pastel on newsprint, copyright Delmas L. Gatten

Still Life - pastel on newsprint, copyright Delmas L. Gatten

I know my dad doesn’t think of himself this way, but he’s an artist, too. I have a stack of pastels he painted long ago, all rolled into a tube. He used newsprint so they’re very fragile, but I carefully unrolled and scanned a few of them so I could share them here.

OT Gatten - pastel on newsprint, copyright Delmas L. Gatten

OT Gatten - pastel on newsprint, copyright Delmas L. Gatten

He painted these while he was in the Air Force, a few years before I was born. He was stationed in Arizona for a while and a lot of them have a southwestern theme, but this one is of his dad, my grandpa.

Treescape - pastel on newsprint, copyright Delmas L. Gatten

Treescape - pastel on newsprint, copyright Delmas L. Gatten

Today is Father’s Day, so I guess that’s why I’m writing about my dad now. But every time I talk to him, every time I  use shadows to give things shape, every time he gives me words of encouragement, I am mindful of how much he nurtured my creativity and allowed it (and me) to grow. Thanks, dad. xoxoxo

Note to self: always nurture creativity, in yourself and in others.