Juried Spring Show at Pacific Art League, April 3-23

I’m happy to announce that both of my submissions made it into the upcoming juried exhibition at the Pacific Art League gallery in Palo Alto, California, opening April 3.  I’ve never had two paintings in one show before and I’m excited!  These two pieces will be featured in the Spring exhibition:

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Glory, 24″ x 30″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

This one is from memories of camping in the mountains with my husband.  You can find this painting in my Etsy shop as a digital print or canvas print.  I’ve got a cool time lapse video of this one as well.

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Regrowth, 24″ x 30″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

Regrowth was inspired by the view from a friend’s cabin in Montana, ten years after a forest fire.  Regrowth is also available in my Etsy store as a photo print or canvas print.  Both original paintings will be for sale through the gallery for $1000, although they will not be available until after the show ends on April 23.

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Migraines and Art: Finding the auras in my paintings

A family member recently sent me an article on art and migraines, and reading it gave me the idea to write about my own migraines and how they became a positive force in my development as an artist.  In my teens and early twenties, I experienced frequent classic migraines, and I never had much success in treating them with medication.  Thankfully, as I got older and had my first child, they improved drastically.  After also finding the right combination of diet and daily exercise, I now get them only a few times a year, and they are not nearly as severe.

Migraines can affect people in many different ways, but mine were the classic form; a short visual aura preceding one-sided pain and nausea that sometimes lasted for days.  About 20 minutes before the pain started, I would see a visual disturbance that looked like a cracked windshield in a c-shaped form, scintillating at the edges and spreading out in a circular pattern.  I painted it once to show my neurologist what I was talking about.  This is how it would look on a black background:

Migraine Aura Painting by Kathryn Beals

Aura, 24″ x 24″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

Reading about migraines and seeing other artists’ depictions, I learned that these c-shaped patterns (called scotomas) are fairly common in migraine auras, due to a pattern of changes that occur in the brain during an attack.  It’s still pretty alarming to watch one unfold.

At the same time as I was struggling with the migraines, I was finding my style as a painter.  Like many developing artists, I started to move away from realism and (without making the connection to my migraine auras) began painting these paintings:

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Top left: Wander, 30″ x 40″ acrylic on canvas, top right: North, 16″ x 20″ acrylic on canvas, bottom: Starry river, 22″ x 28″ acrylic on canvas

Later, these:

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Light in the Desert, 20″ x 24″ acrylic on canvas, Sanctuary, 20″ x 24″ acrylic on canvas

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Haven, 16″ x 20″ acrylic on canvas,  Heartwood, 24″ x 30″ acrylic on canvas

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Solstice, 24″ x 30″ acrylic on canvas, Blessing: 24″ x 30″ acrylic on canvas

The migraines got less frequent, but I felt more and more at home painting these surreal skies with circular patterns.  The images often came to me in dreams.  Now that the migraines are mostly behind me, I remember the pain less and the auras more, and I can look back and see them everywhere in my early work. Though scary, the visual disturbances were often beautiful and almost supernatural.

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Top left: North Star, 24″ x 30″ acrylic on canvas, right: Amazed, 20″ x 24″ acrylic on canvas, bottom: Beyond, 24″ x 30″ acrylic on canvas

I don’t miss the migraines, and I’m thankful to be mostly rid of them. However, they gave me a new way of seeing the world, and now I can look back and see them in some ways as a gift.

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Goodnight Moon and the North Star Painting

This is the latest in my starry night camping series, just finished today:

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North Star, 24″ x 30″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © 2015 Kathryn Beals

For this painting, I decided to experiment with more of a turquoise blue.  I have always loved the night sky in Clement Hurd’s illustrations on the last page of the classic children’s book Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, a book I enjoyed when I was little and now read to my children.  The room gets darker and darker on each page until the last page when the lights are out, little bunny is asleep, and the stars are shining through his window:

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“Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.”(Photo from our copy of Goodnight Moon, 1947 by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd, Harper Collins)

I always liked the way the night sky in those pictures is not black but actually a bright turquoise blue. As an artist, it inspired me to try painting a night sky using little or no black.  I want my night sky paintings to have the same calm, wondrous feel as the sky in Goodnight Moon, even in the very different setting – sleeping on a cold mountaintop, instead of safely tucked into a warm bed.

For this painting, I used my usual combo of Anthraquinone Blue, Paynes Gray and Titanium White, with clear glazes of Quinacridone Magenta, but I also tried adding Turquois (Phthalo) in areas to make it more of a greenish blue like in the Goodnight Moon illustration.

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The tent is something I like to add to bring more emotion and connection to a landscape.  This scene isn’t based on any particular mountain or trip, but it reminds me of the feeling of camping in the high Sierras or the Rockies, above the treeline and under the stars.  I didn’t plan on it being a snow painting, but like many of our camping trips, sometimes it turns out that way.

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This painting is available in my Etsy store as a photo print or canvas print.  The original is for sale through my website.

Join me on Instagram!

As part of my slow, late arrival to social media, I recently joined Instagram, and I really like their format for posting quick photos and captions as I paint.  I’ll probably be posting my most frequent painting updates and backpacking photos there, and I’d love it if you want to follow me.

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You can also follow my work on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+, although the updates are less frequent as it’s harder to post pictures from my phone (and I’m often too busy chasing my two young kids to sit down at the computer).

Finally, I also wanted to thank the very kind Kristin Alexandra for nominating me for the Liebster award.  I’m not the prolific writer that she is, and I’m not sure if I’ll get around to answering all those questions, but I really appreciate the nomination and I encourage you to visit her blog to read about her travels.

Moonlit Sky in Smalt Blue, Finished Painting

This is one of my night sky paintings:

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Haven,  16″ x 20″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

I like lighthouses, although I wasn’t thinking of any particular place when I painted this.  I wanted the painting to be mostly about the beauty of the sky, overwhelming the tiny symbol on the horizon, a theme I’ve been working with in many forms.  This painting features a lot of Smalt Hue, one of Golden’s historic colors.

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Smalt Hue is a modern synthetic approximation of the blue color that was once made from ground cobalt glass in 16th and 17th century paintings in place of Ultramarine or Cobalt blue, which were made from crushed precious stones and very costly to use.  Blue is a rarity in Renaissance paintings due to cost of the pigments.  The method of making blue paint from cobalt glass was much less expensive, but the colors faded over time.

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Working with modern paints, I don’t have to think much about the relative cost of the colors on my palette (although some still cost more than others) or worry about the lightfastness.  I still discovered Smalt Hue as a beginner artist because it was relatively inexpensive (as a Series 1 color, it costs roughly half as much as Cobalt Blue, which is Series 8) and I fell in love with the slightly purplish shade for skies.  As you can see from the swatch on the tube, it’s very transparent and easy to layer.

The other main colors are Paynes Gray and Dioxazine Purple, with some Titan Buff in there for the moon:

paynesgray  dioxazinetitanbuff

You can buy this image as a photo print or canvas print through my Etsy store.  The original is not for sale.  

Mt. Whitney, Yosemite National Park, Finished Painting

This is a painting I did a few years ago of Mt. Whitney in Yosemite National Park, California.  I painted it on a travel easel outdoors, near the wonderful Whitney portal store, as my husband was hiking.  We did a shorter backpacking trip in the Glen Aulin area that summer, and did Whitney as a side trip.   I still had too much altitude sickness that day to attempt the 14,505′ climb, but it was fun to hang out at the base that day and paint.

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Mt Whitney, 16″ x 20″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

The painting took about 45 minutes, which was good since it was very hot and bugs kept flying into my wet paint.  I used reference photos to get the distinctive shape of the peaks right, but I exaggerated the colors of the sky and rock for dramatic effect.

We love the otherworldly feel of the high Sierra mountains, and Whitney is an amazing place to visit.  You can also read about some of our other Sierra backpacking trips, and the paintings that came out of them.

You can buy this image as a photo print or canvas print through my Etsy store.  The original is for sale through my website.

Star painting in progress: Is it finished?

This painting has been hanging on my wall in a half-finished state for quite a while, since I can’t decide what to do with it next, so I’m seeking feedback from you guys.

With most paintings, I have a natural moment where I sense that it is done, and I know I should step back before I overwork it.  It is hard to find the balance between making your work precise and polished, and keeping the life and spontaneity in the brush strokes.  I don’t have that sense with this painting yet, but sometimes it’s helpful to seek ideas from fresh eyes.

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This is the painting hanging on a wall in my back yard, so you can see it in natural light.  Overall I like the look and energy, but I’m wondering if it needs something in the foreground, or if it’s something about the colors that is not quite right.  I wanted to try a painting that mixes my two landscape styles; the more abstract, linear hills with the more realistic starry sky.

What do you think?  Should I stop here, or keep going?  Just for fun I’m trying out the poll feature in WordPress, so you can weigh in:

 

Other artists, how do you know when your painting is finished?

Pacific Art League Exhibition January 9-29

Happy New Year!

I just dropped off my newest starry sky painting at the Pacific Art League gallery in Palo Alto. Their annual members exhibition will run from January 9-29.  This is my painting of Mather Pass, from the Pacific Crest Trail/John Muir Trail:

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Amazed, 24″ x 30″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

You can read the original post on this painting, and check out progress photos of the starry sky.  This is from a favorite memory of our highest campsite in the Sierra mountains.

This painting is in my Etsy store as a photo print and canvas print.  The original is for sale through the Pacific Art League gallery for $800.

Finished painting: Light in the Desert

A few years ago I was asked to create a piece on the Nativity story, so I painted this scene:

Light in the desert

Light in the Desert, 20″x 24″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

I wanted to create something peaceful but mysterious, with a dark sky.  I decided to keep the composition very simple and limit the palette to mostly blues and purples, to make the focal star more striking.

As my style developed as an artist, it kind of split into two styles; abstract/surreal and more realistic landscapes.  The more realistic landscapes tell a story or recall a certain place, the surreal ones are more emotional and abstract.   I love hearing others’ impressions of these pieces, and I’ve found that viewers interpret the surreal landscapes in very different ways.

For me, this painting shows a vast desert – sand dunes in the foreground, the star in the sky – and has a dark but hopeful feeling.  Other people have told me that this painting is the moon over huge ocean waves, and it has kind of a scary but captivating feel.  Others have said it is snow-covered mountains, cold and stark.  I like that these images can be different things to different people.

This painting is available in my Etsy store as a photo print or canvas print.  The original is not for sale.  Happy holidays!  I’ll be back to posting in the New Year.

6 Beginner Painting Mistakes that are Easy to Make

This is part of my guide for beginners learning to paint in acrylic, based on my own experiences as a self-taught painter.  These are some mistakes I made when I was starting out, and how you can avoid them in your own paintings.

Mistake #1: Not modifying your photo composition

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I strongly recommend working from photos as a way to improve technical skill.  If left to my own devices, I would probably just paint the same landscapes over and over, but my work doing custom paintings from photos helped me learn new skills and find enjoyable subjects that I never would have tried.  However, it’s important to think of the photo as a starting point, not your end goal.  Many new artists get tripped up trying for photorealism. We have cameras for that.  Move things around, take things out, change the sky, make it your own.

Mistake #2: Cleaning your brush too often

Taking care of your brushes between painting sessions is important, but while you’re painting, resist the urge to clean your brush thoroughly between each color.  Instead of rinsing it off completely each time, just wipe off the excess paint on your apron or a rag, and let a bit of the color stay on your brush.  This will help tie together the colors in your painting, and help you to discover new combinations you may not have tried.

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