Tuesday, November 10, 2015

I am so sorry that I have not posted anything on my blog lately.  This summer and fall has been insane.  I had 17 shows, a new sip and paint company to run and my usual waiting list of commissions.  I have decided that no matter how busy I am, I am going to at least post something on here a few times a week, even if it is just to say hi and let you know what's going on.

As busy as I have been, I have been trying to devote at least  a half hour or more to study.  I use my facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/Paintings-by-Emily-Christoff-354496231352637/ as a short blog post, so you can read some of my study there as well as see more of my recent work.

Today I devoted an hour to the study of William Merritt Chase.  I am pretty familiar with most impressionists, but found that I was very lacking in my know how about Chase.  He created some brilliant pastels that to my eye look very contemporary in their approach.  He was a teacher, the creator of an art school, father of 9 kids and a huge influence on many mid 20th century artists.  Here is just one of his pastels that I fell in love with.  After studying an artist I always print at least one of their paintings and stick it up on my studio wall.  I am going to print this one.

William Merritt Chase, Meditation, c. 1885/1886, pastel on paper, Private Collection
His rough treatment of the back ground surrounding the tight realism of her face reminds me of the work of David Kassan, one of my very favorite modern day painters.

Read more about Chase at http://artseverydayliving.com/blog/2012/10/arts-everyday-living-william-merritt-chase-artistic-companion-week-fast-facts/. or just google his name and enjoy the many images that will pop up.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

"Zebra and Clouds" by Emily Christoff, from the workshop of Leslie Harrison
A few weeks ago I attended my first workshop since art school in 1987!  Most of my learning since then has been from books and then later from the internet, so this was very refreshing for me.  The instructor's name is Leslie Harrison.  She has published a well known book and has been successfully selling wildlife paintings in pastel on velour paper for around 40 years.  She was a great teacher and the class of around 20 artists all seemed to enjoy her lessons very much. I urge you to purchase her book, "Painting Animals that Touch the Heart".

I took notes.  My  handwriting is horrible, so when I got back to the hotel I typed out her lessons as close as possible.  These notes are the way that SHE paints, so keep that in mind.  Out of respect for Leslie I have not posted photos of her own drawings or included the exact outline of the class.

First we did a demo of a Zebra eye, just to get used to the paper.  The second half of the 3 day workshop was spent working on the 16 x 20 zebra portrait.

 Zebra eye study with Leslie Harrison, drawn by Emily Christoff.  8 x 8".  Pastel on gray velour.

Carbon tracing the map
·         Once you put a line down on the velour paper it is impossible to erase, so use care when mapping out the under drawing. Carbon paper works better for tracing on velour than graphite paper, which tends to leave smudges which can not be erased.
o   If you choose to draw the image from eye, draw it on regular drawing paper and then trace this drawing onto the velour.  This will avoid creating unwanted lines which will not be able to be covered or erased. (Personally I like to scan this drawing and then print it right onto the velour paper.  My printer can print anything up to 13  x 19".  My printer is an Epson Artisan 1430.)
o   If you choose to trace a photo, create a black and white image on standard copy paper.  Print a second image in full color on good paper to use as your reference photo.  (Personally, I prefer to use my computer for my reference photo since I can zoom in to see details.)
·       Tape the carbon paper on top of the velour, then tape the photo or first drawing on top of this paper so that you can trace it onto the velour.
o   Lift the carbon paper to check your progress as you trace.
o   Use a 9b (very soft), graphite pencil to do the tracing to keep from pressing too hard and damaging the paper.  You will most likely still leave a dent when tracing even if you are careful.  This dent will disappear as you progress and paint over it.
o   When done tracing the image carefully remove the black and white photo and the carbon paper and discard.  You now have a very faint gray drawing on your gray velour paper.
o   Use white graphite or carbon paper when drawing on darker paper.
Detailing the preliminary drawing
·         Using a Generals 6b charcoal pencil or a 9b graphite pencil, carefully continue to map the painting by eye after removing the carbon paper.  Do not fill in darker values with this under drawing or attempt to create any texture or detail.
·         Use a white General’s pencil to fill in the white stripes on the animal.  If you use multiple layers as instructed, the white highlights will show throughout the entire painting process under all of the layers which will save your map throughout the process.  For this reason use the white pencil carefully since you will see the mark under all of the rest of the painting.
Base layer
·         Cross hatch with the side of the pastel to cover the surface over the entire paper. (Cross hatch means that you draw vertical strokes and horizontal strokes on top of each other.) Apply this chalk all the way to the edges, right over your preliminary drawing. We used 727 Rembrandt , med gray/blue. (almost the same color as the paper itself)  This will fill in the nap of the velour.
o   Always use blue gray for a base when doing subjects with white topical values.  (Topical means the color that an object is, such as the sky is blue or my shirt is red etc.).
o   (I tend to use too much chalk so I would keep this step very light.)
·         Harder pastels works best for the early base coat.
·         Rembrandt pastels come with a shellacked outer shell. To eliminate the waxy shell on the side of the Rembrandt rub it against sandpaper. NuPastel does not have this wax shell and can be used on it’s side very easily.
·         To steady your hand rest the heal of your hand on the paper. Avoid pressing too hard with your heal which will leave a mark.  Use a black sheet of cardstock over your painting to protect it from dirty hand smudges and to avoid eye glare. 
·         If you do crush the paper try to use a finger to blend out the marks and scratches. For the most part once you make a mark it is there permanently.
·         Do not draw hairs or details until the very end of the painting.   The basecoat will be darker than the final painting so that you can apply lighter hair texture on top of the base.
·         Note that many artists will apply the base tones of the background at this time too.  This will allow the artist to add strokes of hair over the background.  (We did not do this in our workshop, but I usually add some background before I go into detail of the animal.)
Paint the medium values 
·         Use a combination of dark browns and blues to indicate the shadows.  You do not want to use pure black or pure white until the end of the painting. Layering blue and brown on top of each other on the velour makes either warm or cool grays.  Use more brown for warm tones or more blue for cool tones.
·         We used 339.3 Rembrandt and 283 Nupastel for the browns.  For blue we used Rembrandt 508.5 and Nupastel 305 which are both Prussian blue.
·         Use the side of the pastel in soft cross hatching strokes to make the shadows very soft.
·         When creating shadows use soft transitions, no heavy lines or hairs.  Everything on animals have soft edges and no straight lines.
Paint the darker values
·         Using Rembrandt 704.3, (dark gray), emphasize the darker shadows
·         Be careful not to go so dark that you lose your preliminary map.
·         The animal will appear to be too dark at this point.  This is the “ugly” stage of the painting, before you add color or high contrast.
Paint the black values
·         Using Rembrandt 700.5 black and Nupastel 229 black, create soft edges into the darkest parts, cross hatching, keeping soft shapes with no detail.
·         Define and correct the map as you go, keeping it soft. Let the brown/blue peak through the black.  Use very little pure black.
Sharpen your Nupastel to create fine detail.
·         How to get fine lines with NuPastel hard sticks on velour.
o   Sharpen the edge of the pastel on sand paper to make a square edge. Use these 4 sharp edges along with pencils to create fine lines.  This seems to work better than sharpening the pastel stick into one point.
o   Hold the back end of the pastel, not close to the tip.
o   Use a lira, (pastel holder), to extend the length of the pastel stick.
Paint the light gray values, starting to add texture to the white fur.
·         Use a medium gray first applied softly, then lighter gray with texture over most white stripe shapes.
·         Use Nupastel 249, med gray, and 219 warm toner grey on top of the white stripes in short, random strokes with a sharpened stick of pastel.  Make the strokes in the direction of the fur.
·         You don’t want sharp details and fur everywhere, give the viewer’s eye some rest and be selective when choosing which parts of the fur to detail.
·         Use a red plastic value finder to check your values.  The animal will still appear to be too dark at this point.
Drawing the fur on the highlights of the black stripes
·         Hatch short hairs with an orange pencil on the highlights of the black stripes.
Highlighting with white
·         Sharpen your white Nupastel into points.  Randomly apply white to a few of the brightest areas of the painting including the highlight in the eye.  Be very selective on where you apply pure white.

Detail the eyes with a brown iris and white highlights.
·         If you want to show medium highlights in the eye use a light blue to indicate the reflection from the sky.
·         Draw the eyelashes.
 ·         The eye highlight can be done with dot of acrylic paint.
·         Draw light green around the zebras.
·          Use dark warm green to outline the mother.  Use black to darken areas of shadow.
·         Use a light grass green to draw random strokes of grass.
o   Use unpredictable strokes, some short some long etc.  Cover the hooves.
o   Grass becomes thinner, cooler and lighter as it progresses up the landscape.
The mane
·         Darken the darker stripes, lighten the lighter stripes using white and black pencils.  Use Light red to indicate the bleached tips
Sign it using a micron ink pen and a ruler.
·         Don’t use a sharpie marker, it will fade.
As a general rule of thumb, you want to change at least 10% of your painting when working from a photo or another artist's painting if you wish to show it in public.  For this reason I added an entire background  and  also added reflective highlights and additional pops of color compared to the workshop.  I wanted to make the painting my own but still learn from the master.  It looks beautiful in its new frame.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

How I illustrate a childrens book.

Work in progress for the book, "And Candy Lived", by Carole Sarkan
As I enter the final stages of illustrating my latest book, "And Candy Lived", a sequel to "And Candy Smiled", by Carole Sarkan, I am finding that it is very challenging  to keep the two books consistent. When I did the first book in 2010 I had never illustrated a book (or anything for that matter) and had never used photoshop. I have grown tremendously as an artist since then in many ways, so keeping it the same is tough. The first book was sent off to the Caldecott people in 2011 and went through the entire nomination process right up until the final handful of books. It surpassed somewhere around 3000 books to get to that point if I understand the process correctly. I don't really get how it works since I had never heard of a Caldecott nomination until I was told it was in the running. I guess its a pretty big deal in the book world. It didn't win of course, but its still a huge honor for a self published book painted by someone who has never illustrated a book before to be recognized. Lets hope and pray that I can achieve the same magic with this  next one.  I don't really care about winning, but I am excited to have learned something new. Here are few pages from the first book, published in 2011.  These are the images before being digitalized.  To see the final results go to www.andcandysmiled.com.

I specifically have not done much study on how to illustrate a book. I may be wrong about this, but I am hoping that my lack of knowledge will keep my illustrations unique from other books. Instead of doing what other illustrators do  I just do what feels right. I had this same attitude when I illustrated my second book. This book was also a learning process.  "Savannah of Williamsburg", written by J.S. Devore, was already a published success, but it did not include illustrations.  (http://www.amazon.com/Savannah-Williamsburg-Blackbeard-Pirates-Squirrel/dp/1427609764)  The author commissioned me to create 20 illustrations for them which will be published in their new digital book sometime soon.  They were looking for something with pen and ink with a wash on top, sort of like Winnie the Pooh or Beatrice Potter.  I had not worked in pen and ink in many years but hey, pen and ink they want, pen and ink they get.  Here are a few examples of the book. 

Many people have asked me to describe my process for book illustrating.  Its hard to describe something that I am just winging, but I will do my best.  First I collect photos.  In the Candy books I used photos of random English Springers then gave them Candy's likeness. Giving them her likeness basically  meant removing one of the legs and matching the spot patterns.   I had many photos of Candy that I used directly as well and also had the pleasure of meeting her.  Meeting her was important to me.  I wanted to capture her spirit, not just her likeness.  I also used photos of random people and gave them the likenesses of Carole's family, but used photos of the Sarkans when ever possible.  Below are examples of all of the photos used to create the last page of "And Candy Smiled".  It was supposed to look somewhat like a scrap book with Poleroids taped to paper.  The older the photo the more yellow I painted it.
Some random dog I found in a google search.  I altered his appearance to look like Candy.  I used this reference photo for the bottom right image on the last page by illustrating him next to Christine.
Another random photo that I found on a royalty free web site.  Again, I altered her appearance to look like  baby Christine and altered the dog to look like baby Candy.  This image was used for the top left of the final page.

the last two photos are of Christine which I stole from her facebook page. (with her mother's permission of course).  This was used  as references for the bottom right image on the last page and the upper right image. .  I think she was around 15 in these cute selfies, so I aged her for the bottom right image of the final painting.  I knew she had her heart set on going to OSU, so I painted her as an OSU student.
Page 26 using all of the photos above combined. This is the painting before the photoshop final alterations.  The final page looked entirely different.
Important note to new artists.  If you use a random photo off of the internet you must alter it significantly.  I think the legal amount of change is 10%, but I usually try to change 50%ish if I don't have written permission.  I also purchase photos from Dollarphoto.com.  I am purchasing their copyright permission and royalties, so I can copy them as much as I wish.

Next I combine the photos on photoshop to give me a "book dummy".  These early compositions have text so that I can visually see the book. The publisher will add the final text, so I eliminate the written part after this step. Once satisfied I print each image out then tack them to my wall to visually see that they flow. After tweaking these photo collages I use velum to trace the tricky parts and add my whimsical touches by eye.  If you look closely you will see that I did much more by eye than by tracing.

Photo collage for page 11, 12 of "And Candy Lived"  The random lines were added on photoshop before printing.

sketch of page 11
sketch of page 12.  As you can see I made major changes from the photo collage to the drawing.  I eliminated the flowers, lost the tunnel and turned the body of the dog.

 Once I am satisfied with all 27 velum sketches I scan them back into the computer again and clean up the lines.  I print my own sketches, which are reduced to 50% opacity, (lightened up), directly onto Strathmore 140 lb watercolor paper.  Each sheet is enlarged to around 12.5 x 16.2" so that I can really dig in there and get the details. Once I start painting I shut my brain down and just go for it.  What comes out comes out.  I think that my art angels and spirit guides take over at this point.  (long story)This is where I am at right now, which brings me back to the WIP at the top of the page.  It is of page 11.

So, after painting all of the pages I scan all 27 of them back into my computer yet again.  To do this with the larger sheets I have to scan them in pieces and knit them back together on photo shop, because I am too cheap and lazy to take them to a printer who might have a larger scanner.   Now I sit down with my bamboo Wacom tablet and zoom in tight to clean up the paintings.  Cleaning means eliminating drips, cat hairs, spaghetti sauce stains and smudges.  (I don't always stop painting to eat, I just chew and paint!)

Once each painting is cleaned and resized to 8.5 x 11, I digitally cut out the painting so it resembles a sherenshneitte.  On the last book I literally cut them out with a knife, but then had to cut them out again on the computer.  Not doing that again this time!  That will save me at least a few weeks of work.  I will layer the "cut out" paintings on top of a textured mat board and add shadows so that the painting will appear to float over the board.  At this time I will add the boarders and other little things like textured dots and such.

I save each painting at 300 dpi, put them on a cd and mail them off to Carole, who is waiting patiently for the end result.  She will take it from there by working with the publisher.

It takes me about 80 hours per page to create each painting.  It is hard work, so I am not sure that I will illustrate another book after this with everything else in my art life going so well.  I wish I could clone myself so I could do it all!
Finished book cover for "And Candy Smiled".  This is what is sent to the publishers after about a year of work.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"Napping Fox" 11 x 14" Pastel on Paper, animals

"Napping Fox"  11 x 14"  Pastel on Velour
I have been working on making paintings that show the inner glow, the energy so to speak, or the creature, human or plant that I am drawing.  I have always thought that the animals and people in my life had an aura about them.  Some are good, some are not good at all.  I want to show this aura in my work so that I am sharing not only the physical appearance of the subject, but it's relationship to the environment, and its spirit.

You can bid on this little guy on www.dailypaintworks.com.  Just search for me at Emily Christoff.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Art school of hard knocks: What I am learning about showing at art festivals.

Aren't these photos a hoot?!  The bottom one was taken last December at 2nd Sundays festival in Williamsburg, VA, The top one was taken when I was somewhere between the ages of 18 and 20 while sketching at Cedar Point in Sandusky Ohio, in the mid 1980s..  Thanks Rita Kirkman for the old  photo of me hunched over and looking agitated at you!  Ah those were good times. 
I have learned so much over the 30 year span of my career as a portrait artist, but it seems like the more I learn, the more that I realize that I don't know.  As you know from reading my past blogs I have been trying to change my career from being a quick sketch artist to fine artist, but it is much easier said than done.  For my entire career I did very inexpensive quick portraits from life, and inexpensive portraits from photos.  My typical client was of the working class and had little extra money to spend on art.  The fine art shows that I started doing in the past year is geared towards an entirely different client base, but I find myself still thinking as a line artist.
In order to learn and grow I have been trying to meet as many 2d artists as possible at the shows and  pastel community web sites so that I can pick their brains and get redirected.  2 weekends ago I set up for my first out of town art festival in Arlington Virginia.  Some artists had a great show, some didn't sell a thing.  I sold a few prints, but not enough to pay for booth space and hotel.  The next weekend in Virginia Beach the weather was horrible.  Most artists, myself included had no sales the entire weekend.  This was only my 4th show outside of our local 2nd Sundays festival.  My wallet is horribly dry but the knowledge that I received at these shows was invaluable.
At Arlington I was set up next to a lovely man from Williamsburg.  Not only is he a show vet of many decades, but he is also the board of director for a very prestigious art show that I have applied to.  I totally expect to get rejected from it again, but I thought it was a great opportunity to find out why I was rejected last year and most likely  will be again this year.  He was kind but very honest which is exactly what I needed.  Thank you God and the universe for putting our paths together.
He seemed to remember my booth shot from my application.  He said that it will hurt my ability to get into shows because, well, it was pretty lousy.  He said that I need to take all of the glass out of my frames, set the entire booth up in the back yard and take it again.  When you use a booth shot from a show it will have all sorts of distracting things in it, like your cooler peeking out from under your panels and the reflection of me taking the photo. The reflections were so distracting that you couldn't see the art in the photo.  Reduce the amount of work on the walls and make it look clean too he said.  Another artist told me that most artists don't even hang the quality of work that they show in their applications. 
This is the booth shot that I used on my 2015 applications for shows.  The photo was taken in the fall of 2014 but other than new frames, this is pretty close to how it looks now.
He also said that people do not go into caves while visiting a show.  I actually heard this many times from other artists over this weekend and the next.  Our display is black, our tent top is opaque so the interior looks like someplace that Gollum would be very happy to call home.  (Yessssss my precioussssss... )  My neighbor and several other artists had some great suggestions for lighting it up with out having to pay for electricity.  Eventually we will need to replace the dark panels, but that's not in the budget at around $2000.  A new tent with a skylight is a must, but we priced that at about $1,600.00, so that will have to wait.  A marine battery, adapter and clip on lights will cost around $300.00.  I will put off groceries for a few weeks if I have to, but we are getting lights before our show next weekend in Richmond. 
We also need to replace all of the standard glass with AR glass.  Anti Reflective glass will make my pastels look like they do not have glass on top of them.  Now, when viewers look at my work all the see is their own ugly mugs staring back at them. The company that makes AR glass is called True Vue. http://www.tru-vue.com/products/ar-reflection-free/  They only ship to frame shops.  There are no frame shops in town that sell it, so I will need to make a drive to Richmond or Virginia beach to get it.  I cant seem to get a price on it on line, but I am estimating that a single sheet of 11 x 14" glass will be around $100.  I have around 40 frames that will need replaced.  One pastel artist said that she has good luck with acrylic instead of glass.  I will check that out too, but I heard that it acts as a magnet and will end up covered in pastel dust.  She suggested visiting http://www.pictureframes.com. She said that she only stacks them upright or flat, never upside down to reduce dusting.  Duh... I should have figured this out ...sheesh. Ok... good to know.
I was also scolded many times by my fellow show artists that my prices are way too low.  They explained that in order to sell pieces you actually have to price them far above what you think is reasonable.  I had mine priced at $2 per square inch, making an 8 x 10" drawing $160.  I need to triple this I guess.  It is too high to attract the working class buyer who I love so much and far too low to attract the collectors and people with money to spend on art, who I really REALLY want to get to know better.  I heard many times over the past 2 weekends that the middle class no longer exist, so don't worry about appealing to them.  Who knew?  I was also told to have one large piece with an astronomical price tag.  Everything else will look low compared to this.  The people who see that price tag and run out of the booth complaining about my price are not the ones I want to attract anyhow.  the others will see my other smaller pieces at a much lower price and feel good about their purchase. The man who told me this made $7000.00 the last 2 hours of the show, then as he was fully packed up and ready to drive home David stood there with his mouth open and watched him sell an additional $3000 piece!  He carves fish out of driftwood.  His show piece was priced at $16,000.00 and drew people into his booth like flies to a hog.
I learned some new things about prints.  One man I met is a 20+ year vet who does photo realism with egg tempura.  He and his lovely wife were an endless font of helpful knowledge.  They urged me to call them in the future when ever I need help and I look forward to keeping in touch with them.  Most of his work were prints that had been  signed, and professionally framed by his wife.  He was selling mostly prints, but at the same price that I was selling my originals.  He might have had a few originals up, priced very high.  He said that it doesn't matter if you make your own prints at home using an artisan printer or have them made by a print shop, as long as the paper is archival and the ink is pigment based.  He said that it is becoming very trendy in New York to purchase signed prints and told me, with a look of awe, that A Chuck Close print just sold for $9000 at the MOMA.  The MOMA does not call them prints, but calls them "archival pigment based reproductions". He said that it is stupid to call them gicilees because that term was used to make the word "print" sound fancy, and has no special meaning . It just refers to any print made using an inkjet printer.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gicl%C3%A9e OK, I am hopping on THAT band wagon!  I don't have any signed prints framed on the wall but I will before next weekend.  I use a home printer called an Epson Artisan 1430 inkjet printer which prints up to 13 x 19".
Mr. Egg Tempura also told me that asking questions was the best way to learn about this industry, and said that he wished that he and his wife did that in the beginning.  They didn't start to see a profit until after about 2 or 3 years.  He said to try every show that seems appealing, then do it again if it is profitable.  Do NOT base your choices on other artist's experiences, especially if they are selling jewelry, sculpting, abstract paintings or a craft, as these are far removed from what I do.  Also, do not base your attitude about the industry from talking to other artists.  I met a man Saturday who told me that he and his wife have been selling for almost 30 years at shows, and that 2d art was dying and there is no future in doing art shows if you are a painter.  Mr. Egg Tempura finally got it out of me who told me this and he and his wife were hoppin' mad.  His wife hissed that this dude tells everyone this and it is a total lie.  They know his wife and she is as successful now as she was 30 years ago, he is just mad because he wants to retire. wow.  This couple also said that no matter how good or experienced I am I will get rejected from shows for no apparent reason, and the shows will never tell me why.  Many artists had some humorous stories of being rejected from shows even after winning poster contests for them and such.
One thing that I did get from every artist who I asked for a critique and information from was that the quality of my work was absolutely not an issue.  Even the board of director said that my work was outstanding.  He apparently saw my web site as he was researching me for consideration to his show a few weeks ago.  He said that I really need to show my glowing fruit still life, so guess what I will be working on this week.  Mr. Egg Tempura said that he has never seen animals drawn so beautifully.  His wife pulled me aside and said that her husband does not ever compliment artists.  Ever.  I needed to hear this.  At least I know my work is doesn't suck too bad.

Monday, January 12, 2015

"Winter Wolf" 12 x 16" pastel on velour paper

"Winter Wolf"  12 x 16" pastel
I really enjoyed working on this painting.  It was the first time that I had tried my hand at using velour paper.  Velour paper is exactly how it sounds.  It is soft and fuzzy, just like the pant suits that my grandma Hazel liked to wear back in the early 80s.  Velour is not easy to work on however.  You can not do a pre-drawing on the paper, because you can not erase, and once that mark is there, its pretty much there for good.

The trick to working with out that very important value underpainting that  have come to count on is to do it on another sheet of paper to work out the details, then transfer it to the velour.  One artist recommended tracing her own drawing using carbon paper.  I tried tracing using this method and made a hot mess.  Ok, so that didn't work, now it is time to get extra special creative.

I often do my preliminary sketching on photoshop using my bamboo tablet.  I had to learn the tablet thing when I started illustrating kids books, and I am in the process of doing a book right now.  Naturally my brain put two and two together and I came up with an idea that works quite well.  I did a prelimary drawing, to size, on the tablet.  This drawing is also a value scale.  I can alter the color of this value monochromatic drawing to what ever I want, then print it, yes I said PRINT IT, right on the velour.  It is still my own drawing, it just transferred really well.  I have an artisan printer to make my own laser prints for shows, so I can print my own digital drawings up to 13 x 19" on any paper I want.  Problem solved.

Oh, by the way this is not my photo.  I purchased this royalty free photo reference from Dollarphoto.com.

I will tell you more about working on this crazy paper in a later blog.