New firefly painting, step by step

Hi!  I’ve been pretty busy with baby #3, but now that he’s coming out of the newborn phase I’m finding time to paint a little bit.  Here’s a painting I’ve just completed:

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Fireflies, 16″ x 20″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © 2015 Kathryn Beals

Here’s a photo of me painting with my little guy from my Instagram:

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You can watch a very quick demo of the process below, or click through to read the steps in more detail.

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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.

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:

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

Winter Night Sky Painting: Wander

This is another painting from a snowshoe trip in Yosemite a few years ago.  We had a long trip in to a stone shelter hut, and due to bad snow conditions it took much longer than we expected.

It was close to midnight when we were still a mile or two from where we needed to be, and we had that exhausted tunnel vision that comes at the end of a long hike at high altitude.  Suddenly we looked up from our plodding snowshoes and saw an amazing sight around us – a burned forest covered in snow, silent, under the moon and stars.

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Wander, 30″ x 40″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

Sometimes I need these moments to remember why I love the backcountry, and why it is worth it to be out in the cold in these amazing places, and not home in my warm bed.  We stopped and looked at the stars for a long time before continuing on.

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Juried show in Palo Alto: Landscapes, Seascapes, Urbanscapes

I’m excited!  One of my new paintings, Wonder, just got accepted to a juried art show in Palo Alto for the month of October.  This show is at the Pacific Art League gallery and is titled Landscapes, Seascapes, Urbanscapes.  The reception is on October 10 from 5:30-8pm, and the show will run until October 31.

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I spent a bit of time this afternoon getting the edges touched up and applying some protective polymer varnish to get it ready for the show. This painting is in my Etsy shop as a digital print or canvas print, and the original piece is for sale through Pacific Art League.

Also, as of today I now have 10 followers on WordPress!  Thanks for helping me get my new blog started.  You’ll notice I just added a Like button on the sidebar for my brand new artist’s Facebook page. Help me get that one into double digits too!

Finished Snow Painting: Solstice

I just finished this painting yesterday:

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Solstice, 24″x 30″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © 2014 Kathryn Beals

This is from memories of winter camping in the Sierra mountains with my husband.  I actually started this one a few years ago, got frustrated and put it away.  I dug it out yesterday and tried again, and I was much happier with the result this time.

I originally made the tent way too big, so I painted over it with the dark blue/black, let that dry and then painted it in again in a smaller size.  This is one of the reasons I love painting in acrylic – it’s easy to fix mistakes.  I should have taken progress photos, but this artist has a great tutorial that shows a similar fix.

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Finished Starry Night Painting: Beyond

This is one of the new paintings in my night sky series:

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Beyond, 24″x 30″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © 2014 Kathryn Beals

I like to have a personal symbol in my landscapes to lend an emotional connection to the scene.  This time instead of a tent, I painted a rowboat.  This is a lake in British Columbia that I used to visit with my family.  One night when we were camping, I went out in the rowboat with my brother at midnight and watched the stars.  It actually looked very much like this, and in moments when I need calm, I like to imagine this place.

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Starry sky painting, step by step

This is my most recent painting, another in my night sky series.   I just got a new video camera for my time-lapse paintings, and I’ll be posting the full video from this one soon.  Here’s the finished painting:

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Passage, 24″x 30″, acrylic on canvas, copyright © 2014 Kathryn Beals

This is a memory of camping in northern Alberta, Canada, one of the most beautiful places I have ever lived.  Here’s my step-by-step process below in video stills:

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I started with my large filbert brush and quickly painted on layers of blue and white in a circular pattern.  This is a mix of Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo blue and Anthraquinone blue, mixed with Titanium white and Carbon black.  I didn’t worry too much about the shape and blending at this point, I just worked to quickly get the canvas covered in color.

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