Taking Flight

This is scary stuff, but we are taking quite the trip. We are going to put ourselves out there for all the world see... and maybe even judge, so let's make sure our "seat-belts are securely fastened." Since the last time we met, here, I imagine you have been going about town, jotting things down that catch your eye, or even snapping a quick photo of it and creating an album in your iPhone called "To Paint." That is what I titled my album; I have 228 photos in the cue. Perhaps you didn't take any photos, and you didn't even jot down your favorite views in your notes... That is ok. I would need more PROOF that this whole painting thing is gonna work, too, before I put out any effort. Have a little trust, and faith. I will throw in the pixie dust.

The word that we discussed last time was "RUTHLESS." We discussed being ruthless about jotting down what catches your eye. We need to talk about photography. Or rather, where does photography fit into your new painting practice. In my youth (that was a very long time ago,) I wanted to be an artist.


 Me, When I was a young college student. This was when making a "selfie" required a tripod, timer, and lightening fast posing skills to get back into place with "the look" on my face before the mirror in the SLR flipped up with that addictive sound that meant I had "committed" to using the film.

Me, When I was a young college student. This was when making a "selfie" required a tripod, timer, and lightening fast posing skills to get back into place with "the look" on my face before the mirror in the SLR flipped up with that addictive sound that meant I had "committed" to using the film.

I wanted it really badly. I knew that I had ZERO creative skills. Other than making clothing for my younger sister's Barbies, from my mother's sewing scraps that never quite made it into the waste bin, my creative skills made their appearance in the kitchen. After repeated attempts to convince me to follow the family tradition of becoming a doctor, my parents gave up and succumbed to the standard conversations about the fact that I would make someone a good wife someday. So off I went to college to study something... SOMETHING. But what? I don't think it really crossed anyone's mind at the time what might be best for me. I was firmly ensconced in a "familia latina." I think they were hoping a degree would make me a more viable candidate for marriage- it would "polish the jewel," so to speak. Bless them, I love my parents. 

I was doing my part to be "good," and decided to go off to Boston. I didn't have a firm plan other than finding housing first, food second, and schooling last. Boston was full of schools... I would find something, something to study, something to eat, somewhere to live. And so I did! I showed up in Boston with about $50 in my wallet, and proceeded to luck into the housing part of the equation. Somehow the stars aligned and I remembered reading about a house for foreign born girls that were attempting to better their lot in life. ME! ME! That was me! Apparently, as the story was told to me, there had been a very wealthy Irishman living in Boston while, back home, in Ireland, his kin folk were dying of starvation from the potato blight. As it turns out, one of his nieces inquired wether she could come to the States and live with her uncle as the opportunities were impossible for a young girl in Ireland at the time. He agreed to it, and then, she asked if she could bring her girlfriends with her. I guess that would have shed an ugly light, back in the day, on such a successful man to have a houseful of young girls, so he set them up in a brownstone on Newbury St.- yeah... like THE Newbury Street in, one of the poshest addresses in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston now! Bethany Union, as it is called, was set up as a trust to provide housing for young women at a really low cost of $250 per month, breakfast, dinner, furniture and utilities included, way back when I was young... meaning you probably where in diapers at the time. (The price has gone up, to $700/month, and now tends to house more than just young women getting their education in the city. If you are interested, you may need to do a more thorough investigation as I understand it has changed hands.) Going on then, Bethany Union grew to include 3 entire brownstone buildings that shared common walls. The bottom floor included the living room (where young men could enter during visiting hours until 8 PM) and a dining room that provided both breakfast and dinner five days a week to the 44 girls that lived there. Bare with me, I am getting to my point.

With only $50 in my wallet, I must have looked fairly pathetic for they took pity on me, and let me owe them the remaining $200 and let me in. So as to make up for the difference that I was lacking in funds, I became the "helper" to the cook, Barbara. In my mind I thought of her as "Old Faithful," she could really blow her top if she was pushed to the brink. She was a presence to behold, let me tell you, she didn't take kindly to any behavior that even whiffed of being out of line. She was feared, and actually dreaded, by the girls. She was a VERY large woman, I remember wondering where on earth could one even buy a brazier that would hold such enormous...well,  breasts. "Breasts" seems like such a diminutive body part compared to how dominant hers actually were, but breasts is what they were. They were so huge that I remember them resting up against the lip of a humungous cauldron, dwarfing it. How she never burned them, I have no idea. Barbara, though, had a heart that was even bigger, so much so that it wasn't long before I stopped even noticing her size. At first most of what I did fell under the category of 'worst of the worst chores." The kitchen was in the "dungeon, " with only one wall with a window where I could see the dumpster, a few steps up from my post at the potato peeling station. While I peeled hundreds of potatoes, I watched my impending future as I was in charge of all trash disposal for all 44 girls (can you say "YUCK?".) The rats running to and from the dumpster permanently sealed their impression as disgusting animals in my brain. I just about wore out the floor between the wall where I would grab the filthy dishes from the dumbwaiter, that the girls sent down from the dining room above, and the sink where I washed them. It wasn't long before Old Faithful was able to see that she could get a day off by putting me in charge of the ravenous girls. So I made breakfast and dinner for 44 girls and cleaned up after them. Somedays, when I am actually ready for bed, but still doing the dishes at my kitchen sink, I want to complain about my load of dishes... and then I remember Bethany Union and their dishes and I shut right up. Anyways... if you haven't yet fallen asleep with my story, I became the little hen in that house pecking after the girls to keep things somewhat tidy in the dining room, while day in and day out I worked there in the early mornings and late evenings, doing my best to squeeze in a degree in English on my off hours at a nearby college. These girls were something else. Apparently the word was out about Bethany Union, and all the schools without dorms sent their foreign girls there. Now, Boston is a mecca for universities. And they all have dorms, so why were these girls needing room and board? Because THEY WERE ARTISTS, and the schools they were attending had no dorms of any kind.

Yes, those lovely young ladies were my first introduction to real artists. Their skills were off the charts!!! For the first time in my young life, I was exposed to real artists and I WANTED IN. I wanted to be a part of THAT club. But how could I without even barely legible penmanship, never mind any skills even faintly resembling creativity? I came up with a plan. I needed this plan because my parents were going to wring my neck!

I tend to think I am more brilliant than I actually am - I was the same back then. So here was my plan: I was going to become an artist through the back door. Yup. That was my plan. I figured that drawing was a natural ability one did with ones hands, and the only way for me to have a crack at it was to put something mechanical between my hands and the art. PHOTOGRAPHY, then, was the career for me! I figured I could learn that- it was akin to grabbing the last remaining cans from the just-about-empty-cupboard and fixing a meal. I was grasping for a solution. 

I only ran in to one major hiccup- my parents. They were in such a state of shock... try and envision two hispanic parents trying to convince their daughter of the error in her ways over a bowl of chicken soup at Au Bon Pain. In their efforts to dissuade me, they felt compelled to bring up again the notion of studying medicine. No go. I was firmly entrenched in my plan. They were not. My wonderful, loving, latino parents did the next best thing - THEY SENT ME TO SEE A PRIEST. 

I kid you not. I had to travel all the way back to their home, five hours north, and go talk to their priest. After all, I was a good girl and that was what I was supposed to do. I remember Father Ray asking my mother to wait outside of his office. Once seated in the hot seat, I was glad to see it looked like any old office and their was no confessional in sight. Phew! I was in the clear! After about an hour an half, what must have seemed like an eternity for my mother, we finally came out of his office to find her sitting there with her legs perfectly crossed to the side, grasping the handles on her purse. As my mother quickly, and gracefully, untangled her legs in one fell swoop, she stood up and said, "Well, Father Ray?" I sensed the rest of the sentence was supposed to go something like... "is there any hope for our daughter?" My poor mom. She had no idea what was coming. Father Ray handed her a folded piece of paper, and he said "I have had a very nice conversation with Carolina, and I have suggested a photo school on the coast of Maine that I think she will thrive at. Cue the dead silence.

I had that dead silence filling every last square inch of her van while she drove me home... to my dad. On our way home, she just kept wringing out the steering wheel as if she could squeeze out of it the perfect words she would use to tell my dad our news. We had barely been in the door but a few minutes when my dad showed up. I can't quite recall if he was still in his hospital scrubs or not, but the look of exhaustion on his face was palpable. It got even worse in the next few moments. To make a long story short, they never went back to church again. 

They also told me that I was on my own.

Next stop - photo school:

 Yep, yours truly. We were doing a class on lighting, and my instructor, Lucy Johnson photographed me for that next season's school catalog.

Yep, yours truly. We were doing a class on lighting, and my instructor, Lucy Johnson photographed me for that next season's school catalog.

I ended up getting quite the education at The Maine Photographic Workshops, now called Maine Media since the entire world has seemed to have gone digital. My education there was exactly what I needed. They taught me to see, not just look, but really how to see. Now, this may sound obvious, but what you have to realize is that before attending photo school, I looked at the world and noticed it's beauty, and it's light, but never had I given even half an ounce of thought to the four edges that encased that beauty in a photograph. I now realize that what they were teaching back then was composition.

If you have no idea where to begin in this art path, then composition is the place you want to begin. We need to be hyper vigilant of the fact that we are translating a 3 dimensional world and putting it onto a flat surface. Our job is to do it so well that the viewer looks at our subject and totally forgets about the fact that what they are looking at is on a 2 dimensional surface... they can escape into the new reality you have created. So, yes. We will be working on composition with every single image we photograph, draw, or paint. There is no escaping it.

Having said that, I want to take a few moments and discuss where photography might fit into our path as painters. The big question is, and what I really wanted to title this post, is photography a friend, or a foe? 

There is a real movement out there, in the painting world, where photography for painting is frowned upon. You need to find out your own answer on how YOU feel about photography as an aid, a friend or a foe, in your work habits. 

Since my last post, here in my Field Notes, I have been working on a commissioned painting. I had hoped to get right to writing my next post for our painting journey, but got hit squarely between the eyes with the question regarding photography when I was asked to paint a painting of someone's beloved airplane. They showed me a photo of their airplane and asked if I could paint it... without the pavement that was under half of the plane in the photo. They wanted it to look like the entire plane was parked on the grass... as the front tires were in the photo. In full disclosure, I took on the task a few weeks ago, but kept pushing it off while other "vistas" competed for the attention of my brushes. Before I sat down to write, I knew that I needed to get the monkey off my back and paint that airplane.

So all I had was this photo to go by. I had never seen the airplane in person, or even one that looked like it. I not only had to get the dimensions of the thing somewhat believable, but I also had to invent parts to the scene without any references, and I needed to get all my inspiration from the image I saw in the photo. That is a tough challenge for a painter, let alone a beginning painter like me.  Regardless, in my naive belief in my abilities I jumped in to get it done. I knew that I would feel much better getting to my writing once I was finished with the painting.

So painting I did:

 Jim's Airplane 2017 oil on mounted canvas 9'x12"

Jim's Airplane 2017 oil on mounted canvas 9'x12"


I put my heart and soul into the little painting, but it was not enough. I couldn't FEEL IT. Had I taken the photograph, then maaaaybe. But it had not been my idea, my composition, not even my wish. Like a typist in the days of old, I felt relegated to being the copier. And what is worse; I am not that good at copying anyways. My skills are not there yet and my shaky old hands can't seem to paint a straight line. If you have an image, in photograph form, do yourself a favor and make it one that you took. The colors, in my little painting, were true to the photograph, other than the grass that had been pavement, but I wanted to push it a little more. I wanted to see what was possible. I was at a loss with my brush skills. I, then, turned to my old pals - my soft pastels, and made a second attempt:

 Jim's Plane 2017 pastel on sanded paper 12"x17 1/2"

Jim's Plane 2017 pastel on sanded paper 12"x17 1/2"

I felt, and still feel, quite a bit better about version two. Perhaps because I was not just copying a photograph, but getting a chance to put myself into it. This is where photography can begin to be used as a reference. It felt so good to be working with my pastels... like putting on your favorite best-fitting jeans when they are just coming out of the warm dryer. Soft pastels are like working with chalk. And like chalk, they can get wiped away by a rain shower, or even a clumsy swipe. For some reason the clumsy swipe part happens more often than not, perhaps because of their inherent fragility, I seem to bump into my pastel paintings like a magnet! You must frame them under glass-  a costly part of pastel painting. Unlike regular sidewalk chalk, though, the colors will last forever without fading... and the amount of gorgeous colors that exist in the soft pastel world will make any artist swoon. I was not sure wether Jim would even WANT a painting made with pastels. I figured he would most probably prefer the first one, in oils, so I called it another day and headed to bed.

My head had barely touched the pillow, my breathing had not even begun to slow down, and I said to my husband "I think I need to paint it again."

 Taking Flight oil on canvas 12"x16"

Taking Flight oil on canvas 12"x16"

 I went to the far edge on this one, didn't I... flying off into the sunset of la-la land. Pardon the pun. I just had to push it to see what would happen. Now none of this painting several versions of the same thing is my common practice. Why was I having so much difficulty?

Because the downfall of using photography when painting is that when I use a photograph, I run the risk of being controlled by it. This is what was happening.

You have to ask yourself 'what is it that makes a painting special?' Is it the photographic likeness of it? Today, you and I are bombarded with images about what looks right and what looks wrong... and I am not even talking about body images (there is a topic we can leave to someone else to tackle!) You and I both have seen trees. We know what they look like. When you pick up a brush, if your aim is to make paintings that look exactly like photographs, I will be asking, in my head as I look at your work, why you don't just go into photography. Now, I must interject here. There are realist painters whose work I greatly admire. Their paintings are so precise, that it looks like a photograph. But I don't admire their paintings for that look-like-a-photo quality. I admire those paintings for what they left out. For how they hand picked what would be in the painting, what got stream lined to its essence. I refer you to the work of Jeffrey T. Larson (@jeffrytlarson) or Jeremy Lipking (@lipking) and my personal realist favorite: David Vickery (@vickeryart)... all on Instagram respectively. These painters are MASTERS at their realist art. But they are not just pumping out copies of photos in paint, wether they use them as reference in their work or not.

So I ask again: What is it that makes a painting special? Is it the photographic likeness? No. It is YOU. Don't rob yourself of that by just copying photographs for the rest of your life. John F. Carlson, in 1929, in his book, Carlson's Guide To Landscape Painting, wrote:

We must not imitate the externals of nature with so much fidelity that the picture fails to evoke that wonderful teasing recurrence of emotion that marks the contemplation of a work of art.

I can not agree more. By the way, Amazon carries his book now, and I can bet you that a lot of the good painters in this world have it as a valued member of their art book collection. Get it. 

But I believe we need to go a bit deeper into the issue of wether photography is a friend or a foe for a beginning painter. For centuries, artists have been learning about paintings by copying the paintings of others. Good. I believe in that practice. I copy drawings and paintings, or sections of paintings made by others to better understand how they did what they did, and also to better understand how I work. And one could argue that copying a painting in the 1800's is like us copying a photograph. Yes. I agree with that as well... but. There is a 'but' to this whole thing. At some point, when our skills improve, we are going to want the freedom to paint anything anywhere. When we look at a three dimensional object, say a pear in front of us, we need to translate it to a two dimensional surface. Going from 3D to 2D, like learning a new language, creates a new pathway in our brain. Now I have not seen any scientific data on this... but I CAN FEEL IT in my head once I am done with the painting. Going from a 2D photo to a 2D painting is an entirely different thing going on in my brain. I wonder wether painting from a 3D object will have more emotion, more me, in the painting because I spent more time interacting with the subject... feeling it out. I can feel the heat, the wind, the bugs, the person, or the fruit that I am placing just so to catch the light. It has to be. In real life, in person, I have more of an emotional reaction to a scene than seeing it in a photograph because I am interacting with what I am looking at. More emotional reaction has got to permeate into the painting. But what if I suck at painting? And nothing but junk gets produced no matter my heightened emotional connection? That is where brush mileage comes in. This is a slow moving train, little grasshopper. We must learn to draw and paint with something manageable first - something where we can control as much as possible all the factors. I will be talking about what is manageable next time.

Now you could be reading this and throwing your hands up in the air and heading for the nearest lets-throw-paint-on a-canvas-and-talk-about-our emotions-to-feel-good kind of painting. I did that (Flora Bowley has a class that I took via the internet.) It did not work. I put 100% of myself into it and ended up empty handed other than a few colorful paintings of ...well...paint. I got nothing out of it more than getting over my fears of making a mess and feeling ok about using my previously untouched supplies.  

On November 23, 1978, Philip Guston, a painter and printmaker in the New York School, that went from being an abstract expressionist (like de Kooning) to neo-expressionism, wrote-

No good to paint in the head- what happens is what happens when you put the paint down- you can only hope that you are alert- ready- to see. What joy it is for paint to become a thing- a being. Believe in this miracle- it is your only hope. To will this transformation is not possible. Only a slow maturation can prepare the hand and eye to become quicker than ever. Ideas about art don't matter. They collapse anyway in front of the painting.

We must bring about every ounce of patience with our own selves as if we were teaching a toddler to walk. I expect great things will come out of my dedication to this painting path I have chosen, but my expectations are realistic in that those great things won't happen today, tomorrow, or in the next few years. When that time has past me by, and I can look back on my paintings, I will be able to see the progress. In the meantime I am putting my head down and getting to work.

JD Salinger, in his book Catcher in the Rye, asked "Is fiction more truthful than reality?" Let that quote sink in. When we paint only from a photograph we get a copy. When we paint from life, we translate the world around us. Great - and we are off to painting nirvana!


There is, yet, one more avenue that we have not discussed in this 'friend or foe' discussion in regards to using photography for our paintings. Tom Thompson, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Edgar Degas, and Pierre Bonnard painted some of my all time favorite paintings. I would be THRILLED if I could paint like any one of them. Did they just get out there and paint whatever was in front of them without using any aid, photography or contraption? No. Did they exclusively paint from life? Not all of them, and certainly not all the time. I believe some of them were incredibly adept at painting from memory. For us, this means that we would need to hone our skills (meaning we need to get really good at drawing and painting from life first)  to the point of being able to recall what something looks like, then go to our studios and paint it. Good luck with that! I, for one, am soooo not there yet. Bonnard was a big proponent of using photographs for his imagery, but he used THEM rather than being used BY them. He could extrapolate the most important parts of HIS photos and be inspired by them, bringing bits and pieces from different images to translate his own world to share with us. What is wrong with that? Nothing. You see, we (you & I) are THE FILTER that gets to do the translating. The more polished our skills at putting paint on a surface to do what we intended it to do, the more avenues we get to pick from. I, for one, am all about that kind of freedom. How about you? You may feel one way now, and different later. It does not matter if you change your mind along the way. What matters is that you go through this process with your eyes wide open, and your brain permanently in "clear thinking" mode.

I am pushing myself to learn how to draw and paint well because I believe that SKILLS + YOU= the opportunity to make GREAT art, but you have to be ready for that moment by upping your skill set to be as sharp as possible so that a COMPLETE YOU gets put down on that canvas... even if one has to begin with baby steps.

Enough said. You get my drift. Is photography your friend or foe? Are you ready to get going? Are you ready to take flight?

Lets do this thing!!! 


-on an end note, Jim took all three paintings. That makes me happy. 


May I Take Ten Minutes Of Your Time?

I have our next post ready to go, I just can't publish it yet. It has a painting in it that I can not show you until a client has seen it. I was commissioned to make a painting, and it is vital to the post I want to share with you. We were supposed to get together by now, but his schedule became complicated. 

I expect to see him in a few days.  

In the meantime, I want to share the following video with you. It is about 10 minutes long. Take a break and watch it. I believe we can all find that what he says, is something that we need to keep present on our painting journey. 


So, You Say You Want To Learn How To Paint

So, you say you want to learn how to paint, but you don´t know where to begin. How could you? You "can't even draw a stick figure." If you would rather not give it a try, simply 'Pass Go, and do not collect $200´ and just head on your merry way. That is what I did. I believed myself. I could not draw, and had no earthly idea where to begin to become a painter. I lived that truth for three decades, yes three.  I spent three entire DECADES believing that painting was for others. I loved everything about paintings.  The paintings themselves, yes, of course, but also the life I imagined I would have if I could only paint! The half squished paint tubes laying about, the easels, palettes & copious bottles, the brushes standing at the ready in recycled tomato sauce cans, the canvases leaning up against the walls on the floor, the enormous bulletin board with all my bits and pieces of inspiration pinned right on there to keep reminding me of what I thought was important, the studio with the grand windows, the getting together with my artist chums to discuss at length the intricacies that are a painter's life... right down to the magic sofa where all of my models would lanquish their perfectly supple bodies and recline oh so gracefully while I painted them. Well, I am here to say that I am living a dream life but NONE of those "artist dreams" came true. Not a one.

And yet, I find myself becoming a painter in spite of myself.

Frank Cooling Off Down At The Lake 2017 Carolina Elena oil on mounted canvas

Frank Cooling Off Down At The Lake. 2017 oil on mounted board. 9"x12"

How did it happen? Or rather, "how can it happen for you?" is the real question you have. Learning this art thing is not linear, meaning it does not happen the way most things involving progress do, except in hindsight. Isn't everything, when viewed in hindsight, perfectly clear? This painter's path thing does not mean you show improvement with every step you take. Some of you have been drawing effortlessly since childhood, you are one of the lucky ones and should probably move on to some other post on the web. This post is for people like me... the wanna-be-painters that have no clue where to begin... yet are realizing they have to start somewhere.

In these Field Notes, I am going to share what I know, and what I learn, as I go along. If you are interested in that, I hope to see you here often. Let me know what you are thinking. Your questions, and your frustrations, are the same ones I have had, so ask me. You can comment here, via Facebook, or Instagram. I am here for you. Little by little, piece by piece, I will share openly so that you can find your own painter's path.


Having said that, I have a few thoughts I want to share with you in the next few posts, but we may as well get going and simply jump in with both feet. Becoming an "artist" (that is a BIG word, I know) is not going to be the same for everyone, but I do believe there are some things that we all will need to have in common in order for us to find success. On a side note, when I say "success,' I am not talking about sales in terms of paintings for cash. I am talking about being satisfied with your progress as a painter. To become a good painter, one needs to be hyper vigilant about:

THE 3 R's





Let's begin with RUTHLESS. My little sketch for Penny's Lane, below, is a good example of what I am talking about when I talk about the need to be RUTHLESS as a painter.

study for Penny's Lane 2017 Carolina Elena

Penny's Lane Study. oil on board 9"x12"


You have to be RUTHLESS about giving yourself credit throughout the day... every single time something catches your eye. This goes for me BIG TIME. I have to be conscious of my "self-talk." My self-talk gets me into more dead end thinking than I can shake a stick at. You see, the painting, above (and below) is of a specific place that most never give a second thought to. It is of what my friend, Penny, sees when she leaves her home. Every time I leave her house I, like you, look at my surroundings. I might think about how lovely it is, but then stopping to check it out is not on my to-do list, so I tend to just want to turn the key and get my car started. Before you know it, I am off to the next thing on my list and have skipped the all important NOTICE OF WHAT I AM NOTICING. Sounds silly, I know, but you have to become RUTHLESS about noticing what on earth caught your eye AND WHY. Take it one step further and record it. Be ruthless about recording what you see. Granted, this part, here, is where I am supposed to say "make a quick sketch in your little sketchbook,' but I have found that the stupid little sketchbook only served to reinforce the idea that I sucked at this. YES. Totally sucked. Pardon my language. But how lovely it would be to be the kind of artist that had the drawing skills to create a "lovely little sketchbook." NOT GOING TO HAPPEN IF YOU CAN'T DRAW. So you can do one of a few things: -wait to keep a sketchbook until your drawings skills magically appear on their own, take endless drawing classes until your confidence is overflowing, buy a ton ( and I mean A TON) of gorgeous untouchable sketchbooks that might never get cracked open to see the light of day, or you can do what I do: JOT IT DOWN IN YOUR IPHONE... and turn the key in your car and for heaven's sake get on with your to-do list so that you feel righteous and good about yourself. Wait. Are we not talking about how to become a painter? Yes. Jot down your quick few words, move on with what makes you feel better about yourself and then... and THEN... at the end of the week, or when the notes start to pile up on your iPhone, go back to one of those spots and LOOK. Look at it again. ideally, in the same kind of light, morning or later in the afternoon, bright or not, just look at it again and imagine it as a GLORIOUS painting.


Then go out and paint it even it turns out fairly pathetic, like my little sketch, above. JUST PAINT IT. They say that the act of "judging" is for others, but it is impossible not to look at what you just painted and not judge it. Rejoice in the fact that you actually made it to the point where you got all your gear out there. Applaud yourself for doing it in a place so exposed to onlookers (yikes!) But, wait. what about the other two R's? You need to hold back on the judging until the journey is complete for this little view you picked. Are you done? If you are giving up, then, by default, it is done and ready for judgement by you. But, here is where the second R comes in.


In order to become a painter, we have to be RIGOROUS... and one wee little shot at it is simply not going cut it, dear friend. Nope. You have to try again. LOOK, LOOK, LOOK A LITTLE BETTER. Not closer, per say, but better. Go back on a different day and play the game of COMPARISON. Look at your painting ( or, if you are more like me, the photo you took of your painting that is on your phone,) and compare what you see. compare the view to what you painted... and, then...


2nd attempt at Penny's Lane 2017 Carolina Elena

2ND ATTEMPT AT PENNY'S LANE 2017 oil on mounted canvas, 9"x12"


This time around, I got quite a bit closer to the glorious feeling I had had when I jotted it down in my notes. The shadows had some depth to them. My darks got darker, my color choices better. I had more of the right feeling in it, but my rendering skills (Argh - there is that pesky lack of drawing skills at it again!) really left plenty to be desired. So, we are on RIGOROUS... like in rigorous studying when it really mattered, like rigorous effort when training yourself for a long distance race, like leave the lazy version of yourself aside and BE THE KIND OF ARTIST THAT YOU WISH YOU COULD BE. Do it, even if you have to PRETEND not to be lazy. The more you get yourself into this RIGOROUS mode, the more the lazy person in you will learn to get out of your way.

When I finished the little painting, above, I was feeling pretty smug about it... smug as a bug in a rug...  until it kept looking back at me saying "don't you see it?" See what? I don't know, but it was missing the feeling I get at Penny's of 'trees, trees, trees everywhere.' I had the light, but not the trees. Back down there I went. I felt like an idiot just sitting out there LOOKING, but that is what I did until I realized that my painting was the wrong shape. It needed to be more wide than I had it. Sometimes, "Lazy Girl" tries to fit my scene into whatever I happen to throw in my backpack right before I left the house. Well, I didn't HAVE a long, wide shaped canvas to paint on so I did the next best thing and redid it on paper with charcoal: 

Penny's Lane charcoal study on laid paper 2017 12x18 Carolina Elena

Penny's Lane Study 12'x18" charcoal on laid paper

Are you thinking: "...but...but she can draw!?" Don't go getting your panties in a bunch just yet. It took some time for me to get to where I am and I STILL am in the beginning stages of learning how to draw. Quite frankly, it baffles me. It is definitely one of those areas in which I progress at a snail's pace and in a nonlinear fashion. I just have to bite the bullet and keep working at it. I hope to show you, in future posts, how I am going about learning how to draw. THIS IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE. If the only ones out there that can draw are also humans, then you and I are already miles ahead the rest of the Kingdom for we, too, are humans!! (Who knew we would begin this journey already ahead of the pack!) We have that in common with all the other artists out there. We need to begin somewhere... even if it feels EMBARRASSINGLY PATHETIC. You just need to have trust, faith, and a little bit of pixie dust. WE WILL get there, but along the way we will have to pick ourselves up by our boot straps. This brings us to:



attempt to paint Carolina Elena 2017

-painting a sketch on the side of the road

You know that you WANT to be able to paint, right? I am here to share with you what all artists know: some days are going to feel like you are on the very cusp of a breakthrough... only to realize that you are so far from said breakthrough that it is not even funny. In fact, it is down right scary. It is impossible to be trying to become a painter AND be a wimp at the same time. You make your painting, feel ok about it, but KNOW you are a long way off from that painting in your mind. Below is a perfect example of that:

quick sketch view on the road 2017 Carolina Elena

TOP OF THE ROAD SKETCH, oil on mounted canvas. 9'x12"


This is a little painting sketch I did on the side of the road while simultaneously swatting every darn sweat bee in the county! I could not, for the life of me paint those telephone lines. So I reached out for help. I reached out to the universe, via Instagram, and I asked for help. No less than a couple of hours later, I had at least FIVE fantastic artists offer their advice. I did not just say thank you... I got to work. Between all their sensitive comments, and what my art books offered me, I put my pity party aside and got to it. I took any sketches from the scene, my photos, and my lame attempt of a painting, and got to work in my "studio." I had to slow waaaay down, to a snail's pace to get this done. Below you can see the progression of my next try:

block in for Top of the Road. 2017 Carolina Elena


Rather than spitting out another painting, like I had done with Penny's Lane, this time I got smarter and did my sketch (with Raw Sienna, for those who want to know) first, right on the canvas. It is called a block in. I stretched my scene out wider, and changed the tree shape on the left to consume the telephone wires that were heading off into "nowheresville" in the sky. I, then, painted in the sky so that I wouldn't screw up the telephone lines... and if I did screw them up, I knew I would still have more opportunities to fix it along the way. Notice how my telephone pole is on this pass. I, myself, can be considered a bit heavy, but not so for my telephone poles. Everyone knows what they are supposed to look like. I did not SEE how thick I had painted it until several steps later.

Step 2 Top of the Road 2017 Carolina Elena



I, then, proceeded forth with color. Deep breath. I put in the sky that peeks in through the tree branches in the beginning. I have read that many artists do the opposite and put the sky last. I am still learning, so I may change that habit later IF I find a good reason to. On my first try, in the sketch, my paint was too thick in the sky (as pointed out by an artist that I admire,) so I took care to put down a thinned out mixture of cerulean blue with white. I, then, moved on to the greens. This summer, I learned something important about trees that I had never known before. The darkest parts of the trees are the upright parts, like the trunks (I learned that while doing the charcoal study for Penny's Lane.) In my initial painted sketch, the trees on the left were nowhere near dark enough. I am trying my best to learn about greens. I am giving myself a 20 year period to learn them well. 





Although in REAL life, the trees at the top of the road looked as green as the ones next to me, I had to do what I call a "fake out" and paint them in a more muted, greyed out color so that you would believe that the road went away from me, which it does but had I painted it as I saw it, you would not be able to tell that. So, do as the other artists have shown us how to do...deceive the eye so that your scene becomes believable. Get online, go the bookstore, pop into a gallery, check out a museum, and see how those wonderful artists have been deceiving us. They are MASTERS at it.

Next came the shadows. I mixed my Magenta color with Ultramarine Blue for the darkest road shadows, and added a bit of Ceruelan Blue for the lighter shadows. BTW, I use artist's quality (vs.student grade) paints because I feel that they have a higher pigment to oil ratio. We can discuss oils vs. acrylics another day. I tried my best to keep my road shadows a hair lighter than my darkest tree shadows. Having said that I got a tad overenthusiastic with my purple shadows and they meandered all the way across the street into the grass, whereby they comfortably plunked themselves into place until i noticed my blunder. I had to scrape the purple shadows off that grass and make new, more appropriate, green shadows.

step 4 Top of The Road 2017 Carolina Elena


Next came the clouds... and the dreaded telephone wires (Yikes...the pressure was on!) Clouds have a mind of their own. Even with the slightest breeze, those clouds will downright TAUNT you. When I was out there, the clouds changed shape, or better said - location, every few seconds. When you see a painting out there that has fabulous clouds, I believe it to be because that painter has painted THOUSANDS of clouds before, and he got to the point of painting so well that he can call on his memory of what clouds look like and just go ahead and paint them. I will get there some day. So will you. I did my very best with those clouds. That is when I noticed my overweight telephone pole! How could I not have noticed that before??? I used my cloud paint to bring it back to pole status. I had received a lot of good advice on how to tackle those wires. I ended up "chipping away" at them with more cloud paint, as I already had the lines painted in during the block in. I used the side of my best flat brush to repaint the telephone pole, nice and dark purple, as straight as my shaky old hands could muster. I used a 12" steel edging tool, that house painters use, as a Mal stick to try to steady myself... I was still shaky, but it did help. I tried my best to hold my long, thin, rigger brush at it's very end to gently put in those wires. Admittedly, I had to make little fixes with more of that cloud paint, but I think I got quite a bit closer on this pass. NONE of this would have happened if I had not taken the great advice of those painters whom I look up to. I follow them on Instagram ( @haideejosummers, @clarebowenartist, @artcarolinagreene, @b.baldry, and @dwsmithart, with much respect to all of them.) I should tell you that if you go to my Instagram profile (@carolina_elena_painter) you can look at my follow list. There, you will find a plethora of good painters to check into as I follow mostly other painters... and all of them, with their gorgeous paintings, teach me how to become a better painter on a DAILY basis.

Below, is my final little painting- a tiny little gem that taught me so much.

Top Of The Road 2017 Carolina Elena Oil on mounted canvas 4 1/2"x 12"

TOP OF THE ROAD. oil on mounted canvas. 4 1/2" x 12"

When I begin to sense my very own pity party coming on, I remind myself that the artists I admire WORKED HARD to get to where they are now and they continue to do so day in and day out. I look at my paintings and I see progress. By me being RUTHLESS about paying attention to my own thoughts, watching what catches my eye, and going after it like a dog on a hunt, being RIGOROUS regarding my approach to my learning and working towards improvement, and keeping myself in check by being RESPECTFUL towards the ENORMOUS EFFORTS of those who have gone before me, I should be on the absolutely most perfect painter's path for it is tailored to my specific weaknesses. I can tell you this: I could not draw a stick figure, I could not tell a rigger brush from a flat or a filbert, but I could and DID waste 3 ENTIRE DECADES believing that I did not have that special "something" in me. So, I ask you now, do you really want to be a painter? If the answer is yes, I won't teach you how to paint... but I WILL teach you how to teach yourself. How will I do this? By sharing what I know, and what I learn along my path. I am ABSOLUTELY THRILLED to be on it, for all I ever wanted to be was a painter. 

See you next time,

Carolina Elena