Man’s Best Friend – a Flying Dog!

Animals are so much fun to paint, especially a dog. Dogs have so much personality! They remind us of ourselves. Their antics are a relief and a laugh in our stressed out, high pressure world. Dogs come in so many shapes, sizes and colors and make us laugh and cry. They engage us with affection, protection and calmness. I’ve painted a few dogs and even a wolf in the last couple of years

But what makes dogs so special to me is the absolute love, loyalty, and joy they have for their owners.  The excitement a dog has for you when you come home just can’t be matched. Our kids, co-workers and spouses may take us for granted sometimes, but not our dogs! They have boundless love and enthusiasm.

So last year when we ran our free pet portrait contest, I got lucky. You read that correctly, yes the winner was picked by a machine and they soon will be the fortunate owners of a beautiful pastel of their dog, but truly I got lucky! Why?

When you are an artist, some commission photos are better than others and some are downright difficult. But when I saw the “machine picked” winner, I thanked the Lord!

Here’s a picture of Doc and as you can see, the photographer marvelously captured Doc with all four feet off the ground!

To give you an idea of this stunning feat, look at the size of Doc with his owners.

He is a BIG dog. Average weight for the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is 132-154 pounds. You can read more about them here.

The prize was to be an 8 x 10 pastel, but I just couldn’t do it. To do Doc justice, I just had to use 14 x 11 painting grounds. Here is my start:

I reformatted the view of Doc to make him front and center, to show that amazing joy and love running right toward the viewer. Here he is with a start of some color

Now I’m gaining a bit more locomotion on his coloring and personality, but the tongue and details are yet to come

Here is Doc below finally finished in all his delightful glory. Such a magnificent creature designed by our Lord to give us joy and fellowship.

Dogs are often called “Man’s Best Friend”, and for many of us, that statement certainly rings true. But at the end of the day, a dog is still just a dog. What if there was a friend even better?

I believe the best friend we could ever have is Jesus. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:15

How magnificent that the Creator of the universe truly wants to be “Man’s Best Friend.”  Surely Job (Job 37:5) was right when he said, “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.”

Write and tell me about your pets or your relationship with God. Feel free to drop in a picture of your own furry friend! And if you don’t consider yourself to have Jesus as your friend, I’d love the chance to talk to you about that too!

 

What will you create this year?

You may have heard the phrase “New Year, New Décor.” My question would be why take someone else’s idea of décor?  Don’t settle for copying another’s style. Create your own!

Yes, you can create!

You’re probably saying to yourself, “What in the world is Laura talking about? I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” Well let’s dream a little bit, PERHAPS:

  • You’ve wanted a room in your house that speaks peace to all that enter.
  • You’re looking to get energized in 2018.
  • You’ve really wanted to do something with that old photo of your parents before it disintegrates.
  • You want to reaffirm the love you have for your children, grandchildren, pets in a special way.
  • You’ve got a drab room you need to clear up or clear out. You just need a fresh vision.
  • You want to create your own special space or a space for someone you love, small or large.

create 1

Creating doesn’t necessarily mean do-it-yourself. You can co-create. All you need is a starting point, an idea, a dream, a vision, a color.

create 2

Art has the opportunity to translate those thoughts, that vision, and transport you to a special place. The world would be a lot duller and colorless without art. A painting can spruce up a dark room or calm you down in your frenzied world. Thomas Merton said, “Art enables us to find ourselves, and lose ourselves at the same time.”

create 3

If there is something in your heart or head, your past or future that you’d like Laura to create in oil, pastel, or acrylic? I’d love to discuss it with you.

I get such joy when I am able to take the dreams of someone and create something that puts all those thoughts on canvas. Here’s a little clip of the unveiling of one of my most recent creations: SarasotaWaterfall

create 4

Keep in mind that the outer you is always a reflection of the inner you. So strengthen your outer self by thinking on “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things”. Philippians 4:8 

When is a dog not just a dog?

I am a dog person. Many of you will not remember the song, “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” But, let’s acknowledge the fact that most of us wouldn’t sell our dog (or dogs) for anything. Ken and I have three long haired Chihuahuas. A pack, nicknamed by my stepson as the “Terrible Trio”. Indeed, they are naughty and yappy. I will acknowledge that; but they are also loving, entertaining, and they make us happy.

Which brings me to the saga of painting Emma.

Emma the dog 1

Emma is the darling companion Mary and David Flowers, church friends. Not just any dog, she is a Boston Terrier who rules the roost with energy and antics.

My motivating question when I paint is always, “how can I portray the true personality of this person, dog, cat, whatever?” Sorry photographers; but a photo is a flat reality. 

True art intensifies the real inner persona of the subject. It makes you want to know more…he, she or it should jump off the canvas and say something that is beyond the norm of “she’s a nice looking lady”, “he’s a cute dog”, “it’s a pretty scene”, etc. It’s a forever painting that somebody will want when a loved one dies. I’m not trying to be morbid, but paintings should be evoke emotion, have meaning.

So for me, Emma was more than just a dog. Emma had to recollect mischievous love for her owners, especially Mary.

When I paint a commissioned painting, I always ask for at least one photo from which to paint. This was the photo I was asked to paint:

Emma the dog 2

On the surface, it looks nice, but it’s a nightmare for a painter.

First, it’s not just a dog in the photo. On the viewer’s right is a hand! Yikes. Emma looks brown in the photo; but she’s obviously a Boston Terrier and they are black! There is little or no contrast in the blacks, the shadows are muted and not true to color.

Am I losing you? Then of course there is that teeny tiny Harley Davidson logo on the hat–all on an 8 x 10.

What to do? Pray, face the fear and begin!

Emma the dog 3

I wanted to make her coat silky and lustrous, showing a lovely under coat of browns, blues, and blacks. I want the collectors to feel as if they can reach out and feel their dog’s coat and the blanket. So I developed four levels of pastel (you can see those swatches on the right).

Emma the dog 4

I know Emma is playful, so I wanted to develop a little action in the background to suggest her energy and character.

Emma the dog 5

No white fur can be painted in until Emma is almost finished.

Now we are close!

Emma the dog 6

Not done but closer. I’ve got to polish up the fur, nose and logo! More hours, but worth it, she’s a doll. I’ve grown to love her as I paint her and that’s important.

With a mat and frame, Emma will be a darling keepsake.

Love is a growing thing. Most people don’t realize that. We tend to think of love as an emotion, but it’s not. I can say that after 34 years of marriage. Love takes patience, kindness, attention to the little things. Just like painting Emma.

Do you have a loving friend or creature that I can give life to through a painting? Then let’s talk! You can leave a comment or send us an email. And be on the lookout for a follow up post when she’s all finished!

The Most Dreaded Question

Just a warning. I’m going to do a little fist pounding in today’s blog! It’s about the most common question I get. Can you guess what that might be?

Is it: when did you first start drawing, painting, etc?

Or how about: why did you decide to paint that?

Maybe: what is that – oil, acrylic, pastel, watercolor?

How about: why do you work in pastel so often?

Perhaps it’s: why are paintings so expensive?

dreaded question

NO, IT IS NONE OF THE ABOVE. The question I get most often is “how long did it take you to paint that“? I’m going to say that this question drives me crazy. For so many reasons.

First, I don’t punch in and punch out with a time clock when I paint.

I sometimes paint in my dreams.  Creative ideas and thoughts come to me when I wake up or before I go to sleep, or perhaps driving somewhere. I pray over my paintings, cry over my paintings, get mad at my paintings, ask God for inspiration with my paintings.

Often, I may write the approach down, sketch it, redraw it, put things in different places and put it in little thumbnail sketches.

dreaded question 2

I may decide I dislike the idea and throw it away. Sometimes, I may want to combine certain media and need to research them to make sure the elements are stable. All too often, I may start the painting one way, scrape it down and finish it another way. Then I may spend countless hours doing a painting then dislike what I’ve done and relegate it to a closet.

But I don’t hate that closeted painting. Instead, I treasure what I’ve learned.

I know one thing. All the thumbnails, sketches, difficulties, failures are part of what makes my art me. My artistic endeavors fuse, making for better art each and every time.

Right now I am working on 4 paintings. One is an oil portrait of a man I call Harry. One is a pastel portrait of a Boston Terrier. Another is a mixed media of water lilies which is a preliminary painting of a much larger 2 ft x 4 ft painting I have been commissioned to do and one is a large still life of flowers in acrylic. Only one of them is working out the way I want it to. I guess you could say I am working on 5 because I’m thinking about one in my head too.

When working on a painting, you can encounter many problems, that truly is the “agony and ecstasy” of art. It doesn’t go as well or as easy as people think and if it does go really well, really easy, it’s probably not my best work.  Recently, I was working on a painting for client’s bedroom:

 

I was working on a deadline and I was close to being done. But I didn’t like one whole section. So I painted totally over it. My husband and brother-in-law were aghast. They thought it was fine. I didn’t!

One of my favorite artists, Everett Raymond Kinstler, a highly accomplished portraitist, states in his book Painting Faces, Figures, and Landscapes of a watercolor portrait: “The final watercolor portrait was my fifth attempt, after tearing up the previous four because I failed to get a likeness or because the painting had lost its freshness.”

Kinstler inspires me and gives me hope. He states he is reluctant to give demonstrations. He calls them “stunts and ego trips”, “speed of execution mean[s] nothing”.

“Spontaneous painting is the result of years of experience.” Everett Raymond Kinstler

While, I’m no Picasso, perhaps this story will give you a flavor of what I’m try to say:

Picasso was sitting in a Paris café when an admirer went up to him and asked if he would do a quick sketch for him on a paper napkin. Picasso politely agreed, did a quick sketch  and handed back the napkin — but not before asking for a rather large amount of money.  The admirer was horrified: “How can you ask so much? It only took you a minute to draw this!” “No”, Picasso replied, “It took me 40 years”.

I’m not sure why people like to ask this question to artists but as of yet I haven’t thought of a glib, quick answer, but I’d sure like to hear your thoughts.

A Wonderful Reunion

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a surprise reunion with someone you loved and lost?

Unexpected, joyous…a warmth in the heart. At least that is what I hope for Ian when he sets eyes on his beloved dog Sally in this painting.

Ian reunion

This painting of Ian was commissioned as a surprise from his sister-in-law Joy and I was excited to create this for many reasons. This is an international painting, as they live in England. Second, I love making memories come alive for my clients. Time stands still and yet travels right into the heart when a painting speaks to him or herIan’s beloved dog is no longer with him, but what a sweet reunion he will experience through art.

Simply, when I paint, it delights me to delight the viewer. 

The painting should be in Ian’s hands by the end of this week. So I’ve included a few progress shots for his family and you.

reunion progress 1

The challenges of developing a painting stroke by stroke are well worth the effort. Pastel is such a vibrant medium and I really wanted to show the tender love these two had for each other.

The way they look at the camera together mirrors a long and loyal relationship.

I am very much believing that Ian will be totally surprised at seeing his special friend come alive.

An Easter Reunion

It’s one thing to see a painting of a friend you think you’ve lost forever, but it’s another to see that friend resurrected and very much alive after he has been in the grave for 3 days!  What a reunion that would be!

Imagine the heart palpitations, the joy, the disbelief, the overwhelming feeling that it really can’t be.

That’s what Mary saw as she lingered in the garden, looking for her loving friend Jesus’ body. But it wasn’t his dead body she found. He was alive! She saw him, she spoke to him and he said, “go and tell the disciples that I am he, I am alive!”

Yes, she saw him with her own eyes. Some say, seeing is believing, but Christ emphatically told one of his disciples, Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29

That should give us all hope this wonderful Easter week.

Perhaps you have not believed, but are ready to now.  Realize that according to Jesus and His word, you are blessed! Talk to a friend, visit a church, email me at laura@lgabel.com.

Procrastination, Ponderings, and Perfection?

I am a serious fan of procrastination. I probably shouldn’t admit that – and I certainly wouldn’t advocate procrastination as a way of life for my children or my students. But alas, procrastination has been my pattern for decades; you can ask my thesis advisor how that worked out for me in seminary!

On my neat and tidy editorial calendar, Tuesday afternoon is blocked off for “blog writing,” and that is normally how the week goes. Yet this week, it is now Wednesday afternoon and I’m just now putting words on paper. Sometimes, my procrastination is due to writer’s block. But not this week.

In fact, I’ve had this blog post in my draft folder for almost a year. It’s been started at least three times, but never finished. The original working title was “Work hard. Have fun.” My daughter has taken ballet for three years now, and that was what we would encourage her to do when she danced – work hard and have fun.

procrastination blog

Since I was intending to write about ballet, I wanted to include some artwork of ballet dancers.

Who better to feature in a ballet blog post than Degas?

Dancers in Pink, Edgar Degas
Procrastination wins round one

In just a matter of minutes, I found myself lost in literally hundreds of beautiful paintings in stunning pastel colors, the rich hues perfectly capturing the grace, elegance and poise of the dancers.

Four Dancers, Edgar Degas

And so the post didn’t get written. Take two on writing, take two on browsing through masterpieces. Procrastination wins again.

Now it’s the third attempt, and this time, I decided to follow advice I often get from Laura (which is oddly similar to what my thesis advisor said when I captured by procrastination in seminary) – “just write something!” So I started thinking, “maybe getting sidetracked by Degas’s art isn’t a problem; maybe it’s not simple procrastination.” What if my eye is captivated by beauty and that beauty is more interesting to me in the moment than using the beauty as an illustration?

Can we enjoy beauty just for the sake of beauty? Since this is an art blog, you may guess that my answer would be “yes!” And indeed, it is – an emphatic YES! Of course! Beauty is meant to be enjoyed! We were meant to love that which is beautiful. What beauty captivates you?

Oh, and my little ballet dancer? Well, Degas never painted her, but I sure have enjoyed watching her dance. And I think she’d make a great painting subject!

Joy for the Sad

There are some paintings you just can’t part with. The painting below, “I’ll Fly Away” was really my first pastel painting. 

© Laura Gabel, "I'll Fly Away". Pastel on art.
© Laura Gabel, “I’ll Fly Away”. Pastel on art.

I didn’t like pastel, I thought it was messy, dusty and difficult. I persevered somewhat, but my teacher Laurie McKelvie was so passionate and so encouraging I just had to plod on. Kudos to her; I ended up loving pastel, learned about the amazing history and longevity of pastel, and developed as a pastel painter. But this blog isn’t about that story, as wonderful as it is.

I wouldn’t sell this painting, not because it’s my first, but because it is somewhat autobiographical. It’s really about the story of how I saw myself.  I was determined to compose and design a painting that portrayed the old me. My art was born out of some very raw pain, sadness and hurt. If you are not familiar with how I came to art very late in my life, please do read my story

When you look at the painting you see a young, unhappy girl gazing at the bluebird, wishing and hoping she could fly away. Believing that beauty was somehow in her future, that freedom was right around the corner. Sadness and pain is on her face but the bluebird is her hope of transformation. 

Finding True Joy

We hear so much about “Joy to the World” during this season and the joy of our Savior’s arrival is real. But as the light of His birth grows brighter and brighter, as we draw nearer to Christmas day there are others, for whom the days grow darker. Sadness overtakes them, loneliness beckons, darkness tries to overtake the light. 

But a prophet (Isaiah 61:1-3) promised that Jesus would come to comfort all who mourn, to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. That promise is real! In fact often when people see this painting they can’t possibly believe that this was me! But it was.

Here are some things I learned during this transforming time:

  • Misery loves company and it’s usually the wrong kind of company! Choose to be with those that will feed your soul with joy, not your sadness.
  • Practice looking for beauty in nature. Peace can be found in the quiet contemplation of His creation.
  • Concentrate on what you have rather than what you don’t have. This is important! All advertising points to what you must have in order to make you happy. But as we all know, the happiness of a new phone, car, dress doesn’t last long. So as my good friend Pam says, “turn your wanter off!”
  • Focus on the Light of the world. 

joy to the world

I’d love to know what you think of my first painting. How have you learned to repaint your life?

 

The project pile or the trash heap?

Let’s face it, some days are better than other days; some projects roll out smoothly and others don’t.

But I’m one of those persistent types, I keep at it, which is good, because determination over talent can often carry the day. But other times, like with this painting “Pepper Harvest” I learned an equally important lesson.

project or trash
© Laura Gabel, “Pepper Harvest”, soft pastel, 14 x 16. Private collection

Have you ever felt like you wanted to take a hammer to it, burn it, stomp on it, just get rid of it? That’s the way I felt about this still life.

We are often tempted to scrap, dump, throw away a project that doesn’t seem to be going our way; it’s grinding and hard and no matter what you try, it doesn’t work. 

Artists are notorious for condemning their own work. Fortunately I’m a thrifty artist, and paint, pastel, canvas, and paper are costly, so I scrub a lot of projects away in the sink. 

This time however, I just put the pepper painting away. Yes, I removed it from my sight, I set it aside. As a matter of fact, I forgot all about it.

Then I found this old project again one day when looking for something else. I decided to just use it as a “practice piece” but as I started painting, to my surprise it seemed easy…hmmm. I wondered why? Was it:

  • Time? Perhaps I had strengthened my skills during the interim.
  • Distance? Perhaps I just needed a different perspective on it.
  • Desire? Perhaps I just really didn’t want to paint these peppers at that time.
  • Break time for the mind? Over-thinking or pushing too hard can often have a negative effect.
  • Purpose? As I practiced on it, I became more excited by it because I knew that I could make a special someone happy with it!

We can’t always take an extended breather, sometimes there are deadlines. But going on to do something different even for a day or two can sometimes make big a difference!

It’s really a life long skill to enjoy, acknowledge, and give thanks to God for those times when all seems to be working well and smoothly. It’s also good to remember that every situation is an opportunity to learn. There is wisdom in knowing when to rest and wisdom in knowing when to persist. Luckily scripture tells us we can seek wisdom (James 1:5) and God is happy to oblige!

Take a minute and tell me about a stalled project you’ve encountered and what you’ve learned from it. Or maybe you’re still stuck and we can help you get a fresh perspective.

What makes a work of art great?

Name the greatest works of art of all time… Where do you even start? You could try googling it, and you’ll get a variety of answers. Some even overlap on the works selected. How do you determine what goes on such a list? Is it simply works of art people are most likely to recognize? But wouldn’t that make the list one of popularity and not necessarily of greatness? Great works of art

Or perhaps it’s impossible to even talk meaningfully about which works of art are great. After all, isn’t “beauty in the eye of the beholder,” so that what I think is great, you may not find great at all? So who’s to judge what is great and what is ordinary? Shouldn’t we just learn to appreciate “art for art’s sake”? 

great works of art
© Laura Gabel, various works in acrylic

I mentioned previously that I recently read Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible which has me thinking a lot about how we view and appreciate art. Schaeffer argues that art has value in itself, which sounds suspiciously like “art for art’s sake.” But he is careful to explain that he does NOT mean that art cannot and should not be evaluated apart from any message it might convey. Nor does he maintain that works of art can be reduced solely to the message the artist wishes to communicate. Artists such as DaVinci, Picasso, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and countless others were all trying to communicate something through their art, but their art was also more than just the message.

Great works of art
© Laura Gabel, various works in watercolor and charcoal

Art has value because it is a reflection and product of human creativity. Humans are created in the image of a Creator God, and when we create art, we reflect His creativity. But that does not mean all art is equally valuable. Certainly skill sets of artists differ. My five-year old’s drawings do not have the same value as the Mona Lisa. Additionally, not everything we humans create is morally or ethically true, good, or beautiful. We live in a broken world, and too often, the expressions of our creativity are broken as well. 

Great works of art
© Laura Gabel, various portraits in pastel

Several years ago, my then-four-year-old daughter wanted desperately to attend an art camp. Funds were tight for our family, so I decided to create our own art camp at home using some online materials. One thing I really appreciated about the curriculum is that we considered not just individual pieces of art, but also artists and their bodies of work. We learned why Picasso used different colors in different periods, or how Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings developed over time, or why Michelangelo gravitated towards sculpture. Knowing artists helped us understand why they created what they created, which in turn helped us appreciate and understand their artwork. The artwork was valuable as art, but we valued it more appropriately when we understood what the artist was doing. 

Great works of art
© Laura Gabel, various works in pastel

So what are some of your favorite works of art? Who would you consider a “great” artist? As interested as I am in the who, I’m even more interested in the why. What criteria would you use to label something as great? How might your perspective change if you were looking at an isolated work rather than an entire body of work? Browse through Laura’s gallery. What do you learn about her and her perspective from looking at her collected works? We read every comment, so we would love to read your thoughts!

 

Are you a passionate person?

I love people that are passionate. It’s refreshing to meet folks that are “into something”! For the most part passionate people are interesting and engaging. My husband is one of those people. Once he takes an interest in something, there’s no stopping the vast amount of research and knowledge that he can consume. He educates me and we have delightful conversations filled with strange facts and cool ideas.

So I’m dedicating this blog to one of his latest “animal loves.”  I decided I would paint this creature as a partial surprise for my husband Ken, meaning, that I would let it develop a bit before he would see it. 

Additionally, I thought it might interest you to take a closer look at my creative process on this creature and the dialogue about how it should look:

Passion unfolding in 9 steps:

Step 1: it doesn’t look like much, the creative process is ever so disturbing.

What's Your Passion?

Step 2: I sketched him in…but forgot to take a photo. That’s what happens when you get carried away, you just jump in–Passion!

NO PHOTO Available

Step 3: Laying in some values of lights and darks.
What's Your Passion?

Step 4: Getting garishly bright! Have you guessed what he is?
What's Your Passion?

Step 5: As you can see from above, our little creature had a purple mouth, but now I’ve darkened it. 

The plot thickens, Ken views him, he likes him BUT said that he looked like he had bit of an unfriendly mouth. Naturally, we had many interesting discussions about making creatures in our own image!! What's Your Passion?

Step 6: Did you get it right? This creature is a Red Panda! Here is a picture of the real thing, and he doesn’t look all that friendly to me. But there are many cute pics of this mammal as well: What's Your Passion?

Step 7: Well, after all it was Ken’s picture so I had to make him a lot more loveable! Can you see the change in him?

What's Your Passion?

Step 8: OK, now we’ve got some background painted, a bit too bright though, our smiling Red Panda needs to be the star:
What's Your Passion?

Step 9: Finally, here he is in the flesh, no I mean in pastel! The creative process is long, arduous, filled with many twists and turns and lots of changes too.  It’s great to be around someone that stimulates and challenges you and that’s what happened during this painting.

What's Your Passion?
© Laura Gabel, “Red Panda 2”. Pastel on UArt, 16 x 13. Private Collection.

I was passionate about doing a good painting but not consumed. Being consumed by something, anything isn’t truly healthy. What do I mean? It’s easy to idolize something you’ve made, done or admire.  But the Bible, with good reason cautions us keep away from anything that might take God’s place in our hearts (1 John 5:21). At least for me, when He is first place in my life, everything else falls into place.

What do you think about passionate interests versus all consuming passions? Do you like Ken’s Red Panda? Did you guess correctly?