The Painting Years: A little paint, a little paneling

31 12 2011

This family quote, “a little paint, a little paneling,” originated with my dad. He probably learned it from his mother, perhaps. I just did a Google search on that quote and believe it or not, the only two entries that reference it are on this blog!

On family vacations, when we would invariably pass by a dilapidated house or barn, held up with just a few boards and rusty nails, and showing sky through the roof, my dad would point at the structure and quip, “a little paint, a little paneling,” as if that was all it would take to make the hovel presentable. I still use that quote today and since we can safely assume my dad invented the phrase, I will give you permission to use it as needed. Just remember who invented it and give credit where credit is due. Or, you could make a donation through PayPal to the King of Texas each time you use it. The King says a quarter per use (he acknowledges it is a tough economy for his subjects) would be greatly appreciated. Donations would help with the upkeep of the castle (he is retired and on a fixed income, you know).

It would certainly be appropriate with this sketchy painting done in thinned-out oil paints on an 11×16 canvas. I’m not sure what I was referencing when I painted it—it could have been an exact copy of a painting or even sketched from a photograph in a magazine. I’ve always liked loosely painted subjects and that’s the style I tend to lean toward now when I do paint.





The Painting Years: Texas Bluebonnets

31 12 2011

This tiny painting measures just 4×6″ and is an original oil painting that I did when I was about 17 years old.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.





A brief lesson in composition by Brian Loflin

30 12 2011

Brian Loflin, a professional photographer living in Austin, Texas, was my boss umpteen years ago (I shant say how many lest I reveal my agedness) and is my photography mentor and lifelong friend. I met him when he was doing a fashion photo shoot for Jones & Jones, an upscale department store at La Plaza Mall in McAllen, Texas. This was one of my first jobs out of college and I was hired to do fashion illustration and write newspaper and ad copy. I was asked to assist Brian and since I had a yen for photography, I relished the chance to do so. Not long after, he offered me a full-time position, and despite the long commute, I accepted without hesitation.

I worked with Brian on myriad advertising and marketing projects and acquired so many skills in the year I was employed as both a graphic designer and photography assistant at his studio, Loflin & Associates, in Brownsville, Texas. I drove from my tiny hometown of Donna, Texas five days a week to Brownsville to work. It was approximately 60 miles each way, so that was a roughly two-hour commute, as traffic wasn’t heavy in that area. If I had to commute 60 miles in the D.C. area, it would take me well over two hours each way, I’m certain. I didn’t mind the commute (especially after my dad offered me his bright orange diesel VW Rabbit to lessen the cost).

Under Brian’s watchful eyes, I became very proficient at b&w film developing and printing, learned a lot about studio lighting for both products and people, went stark crazy learning how to spec type for brochures (this was covered wagon days, well before Jobs and Wozniak offered us Apple and desktop publishing), and accompanied him on unusual photography excursions such as the workings of an aloe vera plant from the field to the final product (fascinating!) and the christening and photo inventory of the world’s largest offshore drilling rig (exhilarating!).

In this recent posting on his natural science photography blog, he offers a brief lesson in composition. Enjoy!

http://bkloflin.wordpress.com/2011/12/29/its-snowing-somewhere/

Brian and his wife, Shirley, have published three books: Texas Cacti: A Field Guide and Grasses of the Texas Hill Country: A Field Guide, both published by Texas A&M University Press. Their latest book, Texas Wildflower Vistas and Hidden Treasures, will be hot off the press shortly. Their Grasses book recently received the Carroll Abbott Award from the Native Plant Society of Texas.





The Painting Years: Landscape with deer

30 12 2011

This was a 24×36 oil painting that I copied from a small postcard in Lila’s “morgue file.” I don’t remember the original artist’s name. I was immediately drawn to it because of all the blues and greens. It was a monumental undertaking because of all the details and all the color mixing. I most certainly didn’t complete this one in two Saturday sessions! I was so tired of it at the end that my father tried to bribe me with money to finish the deer in the background with more details. I had completed the one on the far right and was so exhausted that I just painted brown amorphous shapes in for the others! (Maybe one day I’ll surprise him and finish it. Hmph.) He just told me that this was yet another painting that Lila advised me against attempting. Well, except for not finishing the deer, I showed her, huh?





The Painting Years: Apple harvest

30 12 2011

Here’s one of my favorite oil paintings. I don’t recall the artist who did the original. I was probably 15 or 16 when I painted it. This is an 18×24 canvas.





The Painting Years: Birds in flight

30 12 2011

Here’s another painting I copied while studying with Lila Prater in Weslaco, Texas. I was about 15 when I painted this 18×24 canvas.





The Painting Years: First florals

29 12 2011

Yesterday I organized my father’s “framing shed” workshop and found some of my old oil paintings that I painted from about ages 12-17. The two paintings below are framed and hanging in the house. Discovering the unframed paintings instigated this trip down memory lane and I thought I would share some of my first paintings with you.

My parents took me to the Lila Prater Studio in Weslaco, Texas, for an interview with Lila when I was just 12 years old. I had already been drawing since elementary school and they wanted to further encourage my interest in art. Lila had a strict rule—no students under 15 years old. Classes ran from 9:00 a.m. to noon every Saturday and she discovered that most younger students don’t have the attention span nor inclination to give up a Saturday morning to paint. My dad showed her my portfolio of drawings and I remember him saying, “she’s not like other kids.” (She’s still not!)

Lila decided to make an exception and give me a spot in her Saturday morning oil painting class. I remember there were about five or six students at the time. I was the youngest at 12, the next was a young man who was about 17 or 18, and the others were in their 40s and older. I don’t remember all their names, but I remember some details of my fellow painters. One dark-haired woman, possibly in her late 40s, always dressed up for class and never spilled one drop of paint on her white-colored clothing. She wore a simple white smock/apron and never got paint on it either. I, on the other hand, occasionally used my clothing as a wipe rag (much to my mother’s chagrin).

Another woman, probably in her 50s or 60s at the time, was a retiree named Violet Treasure, who wore her silver hair in a bun perched on top of head. Hers was such an unusual name that I thought it couldn’t possibly be her real name. I did an online search but can’t find anything about her, unfortunately, but I never forgot her name. She painted on really large canvases and almost always painted female nudes. She was a supremely talented painter. I marveled at her use of color—where I tended to see skin as one tone of beige, her brush strokes infused purple, lilac, pink, green and every other hue into the figure. I would learn just how difficult this was when I attempted to copy a painting of a young Native American girl. Initially, my subject was just one shade of brown (think coloring book style) and it was just so flat and uninspiring. Under Lila’s patient guidance, my subject’s skin began to reflect all those colors that Violet used in her paintings. I never did master skin tones but I had an instant respect for Violet’s painting skills.

The young man’s last name was Somerville (or Summerville), but I don’t recall his first name. My dad, who was in Customs at the time, worked with his father, Red Somerville, who was an immigration officer at the port near Nuevo Progreso (which was a mere eight miles from where we lived in Donna, Texas). I remember how slowly he painted and how meticulous he was. He hardly uttered a word while he was in class—he was too intent on replicating works of the masters. (He would have done incredibly well as a forger!) One painting I remember him copying was The Gleaners, an oil painting by Jean-Francois Millet. I always aimed to finish a painting in one or two weekends (impatient even at that young age, I was). He, on the other hand, spent three hours painting just the hands of the wheat gleaners! I marveled at his patience and expertise. When I moved on to a new painting instructor in a different studio, he was still working on his copy of The Gleaners!

There was a pass-through from Lila’s studio to her dining and living room, where her husband, Neil Giles Prater, was bedridden with a long-term illness. I just did a search online and learned that he died at age 83 on June 10, 1977 of pneumonia.

I actually spoke with Lila sometime in the 90s and she was about 92 years old then. She was in an assisted living home and had lost her eyesight. She remembered me and some of the images I painted. I just did a search and found that one of her two daughters passed away in 2010 and the obituary indicated she was preceded in death by her parents, Lila and Neil. Further research revealed that there was a Lila V. Prater, from Weslaco, Texas, who lived to 107 and died in 2003, and I’m pretty certain she’s one and the same Lila Prater. 107 years old—amazing, isn’t it?

Lila had a huge filing cabinet that she called “the morgue,” where we could sort through and find an image to paint. As a rookie, I invariably chose images to copy that were well out of my scope, and Lila would encourage me to pick another. Sometimes she won, sometimes I did.

My first painting was a landscape, and the very next painting was the first floral piece below, done on an 11×14 canvas. When I picked the painting I wanted to copy, she said it was too soon for me to do such a detailed work. I pleaded with her, stating it was to be a gift for Mother’s Day. She relented and I faithfully replicated the work. When I was 15, I painted the second floral, a 24×36 canvas, as a present for my mother.

By copying the work of other artists, I learned myriad painting techniques and color combinations. Lila also taught me how to use the grid method to enlarge or transfer an image to a canvas. Learn more about the grid method here. For this posting, I’ve made both images the same size, although there is a huge difference between them in reality—11×14 vs. 24×36.

I studied under Lila’s direction for about five years and rarely missed a painting session. She was a wonderful teacher and gave me a great foundation in painting. When I was about 17, I began taking lessons with another instructor, Richard (last name escapes me) in Donna, Texas. His teaching method was vastly different from Lila’s—he didn’t allow us to copy anything and we had interesting exercises like using limited palettes of black and white paint only. We did a lot of still life set-ups with fruit, bowls, vases and figurines.

Re: framing—my dad would buy really beautiful but very inexpensive frames in Mexico to showcase my paintings. I remember that we would swap them out whenever I painted something new that matched the color of a particular frame!