Twice Honored

I am pleased and proud to announce that my award-winning watercolor "Eat Chicken" is being purchased for Chattanooga's Erlanger Children's Hospital Outpatient Center. It will be part of the hospital's award-winning permanent art display, with other fine paintings. The Arts at Erlanger program has received national recognition, and is an important component of the new Children's Hospital's innovative family-friendly environment, designed to engage children, distract them from their illnesses and meet the complex needs of families and physicians. I can't think of a nicer venue for my colorful and somewhat whimsical painting, where it can bring a few moments of joy to those who need cheering up, young and old.

Artist's Concept of new Chattanooga Children's Hospital
The purchase is made through a generous grant from the Lyndhurst Foundation in memory of the late Martha Joan Clark of Chattanooga. Kevin M. Spiegel, president and CEO of the Erlanger Health System, said, “We are building a Children’s Hospital uniquely designed for the community we serve. This memorial gift, which reflects the many artistic and cultural contributions of Martha Joan Clark, will be part of our new hospital for generations to come.” The 90,000 sq.ft. Children’s Hospital Outpatient Center is scheduled to open at the end of 2018. It is Phase I of a new Children's Hospital and will be its entrance and main lobby.

"War Path", an award-winning watercolor by Joan Clark

Now I have been twice honored in the memory of artist Joan Clark, who died in the spring of 2017. My Best Of Show award for "Eat Chicken" was The Joan Clark Memorial Award, created when the family requested donations to the Tennessee Watercolor Society as remembrance in lieu of flowers. I never had the pleasure of meeting her, but my research reveals that Joan Clark was a beautiful and caring person, a talented award-winning artist, and a gifted woman in many other pursuits.

Scratching Again

I feel like I've been a bit spastic with my art recently - jumping from watercolor to acrylics, working on paper, canvas, and panels. Whatever I am working on at the time is my favorite. There are so many different art materials and methods I want to try, and it's a continuous learning process. Perhaps someday I'll settle down and concentrate on one medium and one surface; I'm still figuring out what kind of artist I want to be when I grow up!

"Hair of the Dog" is done on a different type of clay panel from my recent painting "Just Jasper." The latter was done on Aquabord®, a panel with a layer of white clay with a slight texture. This time I've used a product from the same manufacturer - Ampersand Art - called Scratchbord®. It is a panel of hardboard coated with very smooth white kaolin clay then sprayed with a thin layer of black india ink. India ink can be thinned with water when wet, but is not water-soluble when dry, so this panel's surface can be painted over with water media. The black surface is etched into with a blade or other abrasive tool to reveal the white clay layer. The panel can be painted also and any area of white will accept the color. Scratching through the painted area will reveal the white again, so different values can be created this way. The board can be re-inked, re-painted, and re-scratched multiple times to build texture, value, and details. The black surface left as the background creates a very dramatic image, since it is so bold and stark. Furry and feathered critters are a natural for this surface, but any subject can be rendered.
Of course, starting with a solid black surface requires a bit of reverse thinking - negative thinking actually. It's a subtractive process, where different etching and abrasive materials will reveal the white surface. In traditional watercolor, the paper is left unpainted for the whites in the painting. The transparency of the watercolors  also allow the bright white paper to show through and add luminosity to the painted areas. I've tried to capture luminosity on white canvas by using acrylic paints transparently also, as with my recent painting "Sunny Side Up." Using Scratchbord, the black is the undisturbed area and the whites can be revealed at any stage. It's a whole new ballgame.

I watched videos, read tips and tricks, and reviewed beautiful artwork for my first attempt on this surface. Some scratchboard artists create finished art in black, white and grey tones… doing fine textures like crosshatching and stippling to make a wide range of grey values. Others use paints or colored inks, letting them dry then scratching through the colors to build up textures, tones and contrasts.

For my subject, I selected with a close-up side-view reference photograph of my dog Maggie Mae's face. She has beautiful large, captivating eyes. The fur around it goes in different directions and has different hues. I had read that the india ink coating could be removed with rubbing alcohol, and decided this would be ideal for the area of her eyeball, rather than trying to rub off the black layer with steel wool or sandpaper or scratching tools. I also heard one artist used her saliva rubbed into the india ink to create grey tones!

My Scratchbord was a small square, just 6" x 6". Making Maggie's face larger than life, I wanted her eye to be the center of attention To transfer my image to the Scratchbord, I used Saral white carbon transfer paper, to make white marks on the black surface. Then I lightly scratched the transferred white lines with an x-acto #11 blade since the transferred white can wipe off. The x-acto knife is the tool I used most on this painting, along with a wire brush tool sold by Ampersand which has numerous wires in one holder, and a fiberglass brush which creates soft white areas. I also carefully removed the india ink layer from the eye with a small paintbrush dipped in rubbing alcohol, blotting away the black ink carefully as it dissolved. Image #2 shows the first round of scratching, as I tried to mimic the direction of the fur and vary the length, depth, and closeness of my strokes. You might also notice that I accidentally made a light scratch in the top left, the area I wanted to remain solid black - I'd need to figure how to conceal that mistake. After scratching, I wiped the surface with a lint-free dampened soft cloth, to remove any bit of residue from scratching.

After doing my first round of scratching, I decided to use acrylic paints to add color. Once dry, acrylic paints do not dissolve with water, and I knew I'd want to do more than one layer of color. With watercolor pigments on a scratchboard, painting over the surface can re-dissolve the colors previously painted, and I didn't want this to happen. Sometimes this property of watercolors can be advantageous; areas already painted can be re-wet and removed.

I selected acrylic pigments which are naturally very transparent, like Quinacridone Gold and Nickel Azo Yellow. I thinned my Golden Fluid Acrylics with Golden Glazing Liquid and water to create even more transparency and keep their application thin. By nature, acrylic paints dry as a polymer film. Applied too heavily, they can be difficult (if not impossible) to scratch through. Also, I wanted enough transparency so the under-layers of black and white to show through the colors. I applied more paint than needed so I would be able to scratch away to create fur textures. As always, I was anxious to paint Maggie's eye, since that always makes an animal portrait come alive. The blue areas around her eye are done with Payne's Grey, a lovely cool dark blue.

After the first painting stage I wait until the paint is totally dry, since the clay layer softens with the moisture. Once again following the contours of the fur, I scratched through the colored layers. Once again, I followed with paint application. I few last details and Maggie was done. To fix that mark in the black top right corner, I used a rough sponge with black india ink and dabbed the whole black area. My mistake was covered and the black-on-black texture was only slightly noticeable.

After 24 hours of final drying, I sprayed the Scratchbord with Krylon UV clear matte finish, doing 3 separate coats. This protects the surface and allows the artwork to be framed with no protective glass. I was delighted to see that the spray also made my repair job on the black corner even less noticeable.

My first attempt at scratchboard came out as I hoped, but I realize I am still at "scratchboard 101" level. I'm blown away by scratchboard art I've seen on Pinterest and YouTube, with extreme fine detail and realism. I'll develop my own scratchboard style, striving to improve with each painting. I'd like to try other subjects besides animals, even though that's one of my favorites. You can click on the photo of my painting to enlarge it, but the photo of the finished art with the dollar bill shows you the actual size of "Hair of the Dog."

I've just purchased a few more Aquabords and Scratchbords, so you'll be seeing my future attempts. There's a terrific sale on Ampersand products through the end of this month (Sept '18) so if you are motivated to try scratchboard check Jerry's Artarama in Knoxville. I look forward to seeing other new scratchboard art among my readers!

Capturing Light

For my newest painting I had two goals in mind: (1) to use acrylic paints in a highly transparent way, and (2) to use an odd shaped canvas I've had among my art supplies for too long. The canvas is three feet wide and a little over a foot tall, so I decided to use it horizontally and create a painting of a big backlit red poppy from my garden.

To begin, I reviewed many poppy reference photos in my file and chose a single flower with its delicate frilly petals outstretched in the sunlight. The image included a lovely blend from reds to purples that make this poppy variety so striking, as well as a tiny peek at the central yellow stamens and their shadows at the base of the flower.

For my composition, I positioned the flower off-center, and added poppy leaves from other photos with similar lighting. The bigger group of leaf shapes on the left provide balance, and work with leaves on the right to frame and point toward the poppy flower, my obvious focal point. The background would be mostly black, but with out-of-focus areas of distant greenery and blue sky, mostly around the flower for additional emphasis.

After drawing my design in pencil on the white canvas I could tell my pencil lines were too dark, knowing I wanted to apply the acrylic paints very transparently. So I painted the entire canvas with a thin layer of gesso, enough to better conceal but not hide my guidelines.

Just as with watercolor pigments, there are different levels of opacity with acrylic paints. I use Golden Fluid Acrylics and routinely mix them with Golden Acrylic Glazing Liquid in addition to thinning with water. This probably stems from my love of watercolor painting and my preference for working with thin layers of color and glazing one color over another. But this time I really wanted to push the transparency of the medium.

This painting progressed from the left side to the right, and I honestly can't explain why! Once the left leaves were painted I was anxious to see if my plan for dramatic backlighting was going to work, so I painted opaque black around the leaves. Viola, seemed it was going in the right direction! In the photo collage you can also see how I blocked in areas of Cerulean Blue Chromium lightened with white gesso above the flower, then later softened these blue and leafy green areas into small out-of-focus splotches within the black background. I often use small stencil brushes to create the soft edges, pouncing them on the canvas.

The flower itself was a joy to paint. Even though this is a bold red poppy, the sunlight through the petals greatly lightened their hues. The main red paint used was Napthol Red Light, which tends to be opaque. I thinned it with just a little water for the darkest red areas. In the lighter parts of the petals I mixed the red with some Quinacridone Red (leans toward cool pink) and Nickel Azo Yellow which are naturally very transparent, and used the glazing liquid too. The purple on the lower part of the flower is Permanent Violet Dark, applied very thinly. Pure white on the tips of the petals, which are unpainted areas of the white canvas, intensify the effect of the midday sun.

Once I had reached the right edge of the painting I felt that the leaves were in too much competition for attention with the flower. I liked the leaf highlights, but I thought I needed to make the leaves less contrasty. So I used my transparent greens over the leaf shapes, preserving just a few little white highlights. I glazed the sky blue over some parts of the leaves also, since a cool blue pushes an object back visually. I also used less diluted sap green with black to make some of the leaf edges disappear into the background (creating "lost edges" as they are called in art circles). Oops, along the way I made the stem of the poppy too dark, so I lightened it up again to anchor the flower down. I toyed with fiddling around more, perhaps darkening the leaves, but decided to declare "Sunny Side Up" finished.

One of the most-asked questions I get about my art is "How long did it take you to do that painting?" Since painting is my pleasure time, I don't want to punch a time clock and track my hours - I'd be scared to, since the price on an original painting would calculate to a pitiful hourly wage! For this painting, however, I can give a rough idea of the elapsed time. Not counting the time I spent creating the composition and transfering the drawing to the canvas, I worked on the painting over the course of 9 days. Some days I didn't go near it, and other days I'd spend between 2 and 6 hours. So that's the best answer I can give!

An Old Friend Revisited

When I opened a new package of three little Aquabord™ panels, I thought I was trying a new painting surface… a thin layer of fine white kaolin clay on a hardboard with a pebbly texture, heralded as ideal for use with watercolors. The surface absorbs watercolor pigment similarly to cold-pressed (textured) watercolor paper, but the paint can be easily removed. It's sometimes known as scratchboard, and when I was a kid we created our own by covering heavy paper with strokes of colored crayons, topping with a solid layer of black crayon, then creating colorful art by scratching through the black layer. With the more sophisticated Aquabord, the surface be scratched with a sharp instrument like an xacto blade or rubbed off with an abrasive like fine sand paper. In addition, simple re-wetting will lift the paint off to a nearly white surface. You can even wipe out a whole watercolor painting by rinsing the board off! When finished, an Aquabord panel can be sealed and then framed without matting or glass - which was really appealing to me, since I do all my own framing.

Sleeping Ginger    © Judy Lavoie 1997
I generally create my watercolor paintings on heavyweight (300lb.) watercolor paper, often using a knife blade and other abrasives to reveal some white paper below, so Aquabord seemed a natural for me. But before I started a new painting on Aquabord, I was looking for tips on the website of the manufacturer, Ampersand. To my surprise I discovered that "Aquabord" was formerly called "Claybord™ Textured" - an art surface I had used over 20 years ago! My first use of Clayboard was "Sleeping Ginger," a portrait of my beloved English Springer Spaniel painted in 1997 with black ink. I loved how I was able to scratch down to white for details like the whiskers and wet nose, rub away with steel wool for a soft edge as on Ginger's white fur and reflection, and etch off some ink then glaze to create the textures of fur. 

Her Highness     © Judy Lavoie 1998
The following year, I used watercolors on Claybord Smooth to create "Her Highness." The unique properties of Claybord allowed me to wipe away pigment to create light blades of grass overlapping the lioness, and scratch out fine fur, whiskers, and white highlights on her eyes. I did a few more scratchboard paintings, including some using acrylic paints, before I moved on. I'm not really sure why I abandoned it!?!?

I looked through my reference photos to determine what might be some fun new paintings to try on the 7"x5" Aquabord panels. Since I've been painting all my recent watercolors with limited color palettes, I challenged myself to create two new paintings of very different subjects using just 3 primary colors. In this case, I used American Journey Sour Lemon (Hansa), Rambling Rose, and Joe's Blue (Phthalo), the house-brand from Cheap Joe's Art Stuff. I used a small round mixing palette set up like a color wheel, with the center for mixing all three colors. I had previously done a mixing study with these pigments, so I knew I could get clean, non-muddy mixes and a good range of hues. I also pulled out my box of scratching and etching tools, which had been gathering dust among my art supplies.

I decided to paint a little landscape of the upper Tellico River as it tumbles over rocks in the Cherokee National Forest, here in SE Tennessee. I liked the way the bright sunlight highlighted tree branches and how the moving water sparkled - ideal for revealing the white clay below my paints. The collage below shows the Aquabord panel with the painted image on the left, and the panel after I revealed some of the white clay in the center. In some places, like in the grass in the foreground, I did a transparent glaze of paint over the scratched-out blades of grass to make them light green. "Up The Tellico" is a much smaller painting than I usually do, and it was fun and quick to create. I was ready for more.
Up The Tellico      © Judy Lavoie 2018

For Aquabord painting #2, I reverted back to an animal portrait (one of my favorite subjects), using a casual photo of my cat Jasper while he lounged in the rocks near a bed of irises. Cats are a fun subject to paint; their faces are cute and interesting, they strike great poses, their eyes are hypnotic, and their fur provides lots of textural interest. "Just Jasper" was painted with the same 3 primary watercolors as "Up The Tellico," with lots more hues and values mixed on the palette. Once painted, the surface took lots of scratching. I used a few different pointed tools and small strips of 150 grit sandpaper to create the fine fur. To soften the edges of Jasper's coat and make the fur look fuzzy I used a small fiberglass brush, a tool sold by Ampersand. A key to making captivating eyes is to add the white highlights, and that's a breeze with this clay panel. I'm still trying out different abrasive tools, and I've ordered a few more for future use.

Once completed, a watercolor painting on Aquabord can be sprayed with a clear acrylic. Krylon UV archival spray was recommended and worked well on these. With the paints sealed they are waterproof and the surface of the panel can be safely cleaned with a damp rag. No matting, no glass - yeah!

I'm anxious to continue my Aquabord experiments, so you'll be seeing more soon. I have a small Claybord Black panel begging to be used!

My Five Minutes of Fame Is Extended!

A fabulous story about the 2018 Tennessee Watercolor Society Exhibition has just been published in Nashville Arts Magazine. The author quoted curator Terri Jordan of The Customs House Museum in Clarksville TN (about an hour from Nashville), the host site for the Exhibition. Her words about my painting Eat Chicken are so complimentary! Also in the article are lots of comments – specifically about my painting – from the show juror Lian Quan Zhen. I'm so delighted with what was written that I've extracted text from the story (below) to share my happiness with all. Click this link for the entire online story.

….Painter Judy Lavoie won Best in Show for her 22″ x 30″ painting Eat Chicken, which possesses an incredible luminescence created by colors that gleam like opals. "Clearly, it is just a magnificent piece," says Terri Jordan [Curator of Exhibits at Customs House Museum and Cultural Center], of Eat Chicken. "It’s just such a familiar scene that it’s a pleasing piece, but then you get up close and start looking at how talented Judy is with her use of the medium, the flow of color to color. She’s a very confident painter, and I think that comes out in her use of color. It’s just beautifully done."

Lavoie painted the piece by using only three primary colors—Winsor & Newton’s Antwerp Blue, Winsor Red, and Winsor Yellow—which she chose because they blend well into bright secondary colors rather than into muddier browns or grays. To achieve her desired aesthetic, Lavoie employed a variety of techniques, including masking, pouring, drying, and finally, direct brush painting. It was her first time to paint what she calls “farm critters” up close and, obviously, she chose wisely.

The exhibition’s juror was Lian Quan Zhen, an international watercolor artist and instructor whose own paintings are Impressionistic in style…. He says, "If they paint what they see, it’s just like a photo; it’s what they see. But if they paint what they want to see, they put a personal touch on the painting."

Zhen is also attracted to paintings, such as Eat Chicken, that use color in a creative fashion. "Sometimes color is boring, as with cows," he says. "With Eat Chicken, you never see cows in real life with that much color, in general. You almost have to be drunk to see those things! It’s a creation; this is not just a simple copy."

Every juried piece in the show is by an artist who has mastered the medium and watercolor techniques. But that alone isn’t enough to take the top prize. Zhen was also looking at composition, as with Eat Chicken, which maintains a strong design through the use of the farm gates for framing and the slightly off-center cow as the subject that grasps the viewer’s gaze. Then, of course, a painter must imbue his or her painting with life.

"They must capture the essence of the subject," Zhen says. "Like the cows: You can almost talk to them and they want to talk to you. There’s life in them. This is a higher level. This means you captured the spirit or the essence of the subjects."

Most important of all? Zhen says that any painting that wins Best in Show must have a specific style that is distinct to the painter. "The Best of the Show is personality," he says. "When people look at paintings from the masters, they don’t even need to be told, ‘This is da Vinci’ or ‘This is Renoir.’ They recognize the personality. So, above all, is personality. Sometimes painters can be very high level, but they lack personality...."