Sunday, October 31, 2010

Routine, Discipline and the art of being an artist

Something came up recently and I've been thinking about it: this notion of discipline and the value of either taking time off after you produce a body of work or pushing on, and leveraging that energy into the next body of work.

I believe - strongly - in work. I think the cultural myth of artist as dilettante is the opposite of what's required to produce good work. I think good work comes when you paint every day. It's not glamorous or exciting. It's lonely. Sometimes it's tedious, sometimes it's amazing but just like any work, it happens daily.

Here's a great article, one of my favorites, because it discusses Chris Ofili and a number of other well-known artists in the context of their discipline. They all go to their studios and paint every day. It's what works.

Click here to read Wake Up. Wash Face. Do Routine. Now Paint. by Michael Kimmelman, May 5, 2005, New York Times.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mt. Baker from Margaret's at the Whatcom Museum

Mt. Baker from Margaret's. ©2010 Lisa McShane. Oil on Linen Panel. 9" x 12".
Mt. Baker from Margaret's will be in Art + All That Jazz, a benefit for Whatcom Museum. It's one night only: Friday, November 12 from 6-9 pm. If you're in Bellingham, please come! There will be amazing art for purchase.

This is a plein air painting - different from my studio work. This was painted in Skagit Valley looking at Mt. Baker to the northeast on a sunny afternoon. When you watch Mt. Baker in the light of the Skagit Valley, it changes color about every 5 minutes.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rattlesnake Mountain from Mesa

Rattlesnake Mountain from Mesa. ©2010 Lisa McShane. Oil on Canvas. 24" x 44".
Working to capture that warm, late evening sun in eastern Washington. Rattlesnake Mountain is the prominent landscape feature for 60 miles or so in every direction and I've been painting it from all angles.

This painting, Dusk Falls on Rattlesnake and Red, is from the other side.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Winter Wheat on the Plateau

Winter Wheat on the Plateau. ©2010 Lisa McShane. Oil on Linen Panel. 24" x 36". 
This is the land my great-grandparents settled almost 100 years ago. My grandparents farmed the land, my mother and her 4 siblings grew up there, my uncle Dale farmed the land for decades and today my cousin Dan and his wife live there and harvest the wheat. In 2005 WSU released a new strain of wheat named after my uncles: Bauermeister Hard Red Winter Wheat.

This is an arid land. It's not irrigated and farmers here rely on winter and spring rains for winter wheat to grow. This painting is at harvest when the wheat is absolutely ripe and golden yellow. In the distance you can see the canyons and coulees cutting through the land. If you look close you can see the neighbor's farmhouse. The farms here are very large and the homes have always seemed like islands in a sea of wheat.

This August we had a family reunion at the farm and on the way there my husband and I had a flat tire along Crab Creek road near Sentinel Gap. We arrived late, just in time for the photos. Because of our tire we ended up spending the night at the farm so I spent my time visiting with my cousins and having my cousin Jim and then my husband drive me around the roads so that I could see dusk fall on the wheat fields. It was beautiful.

These plateaus are high and you can see Rattlesnake Mountain and even Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier in the Cascade range. The contours of the fields highlighted by the setting sun were remarkable.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Five Mile Road

Five Mile Road to the Blues. ©2010 Lisa McShane. Oil on Linen. 24" x 24". 
This is a painting that I started during the studio tour simply so that I could show people an underpainting. It moved much more quickly than most paintings, possibly because I'd been drawing this composition for a couple of months in thumbnails, not quite settling on the finished size.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sentinel Gap + Art in the Embassies

Sentinel Gap. ©2010 Lisa McShane. Oil on Linen. 24" x 36".
This is Sentinel Gap, a break in the Saddle Mountains where the Columbia River punched it's way through during an ice age flood. The power of water.

I got an email last week that was such fun: the Art in the Embassies program would like one or two of my paintings for the Yemen Embassy.

The new Ambassador was recently assigned and the curator at the State Department is putting together an exhibit of paintings that will be in Yemen for the Ambassador's Tour of Duty. I'm thrilled to be part of this and love that people in another part of the world will see my landscapes. They pull art from museums, galleries and artists for these unique exhibits to share American art with the world and I'm honored to participate.

I'm not sure what landscapes will be heading to Yemen but the curator was interested in Sentinel Gap. I have several larger paintings of western landscapes in progress and nearly completed in my studio right now so we'll wait a couple of weeks before deciding. I'll definitely let you know which painting(s) make the big trip!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Raining and Pouring Paintings

River of Gold. ©2010 Lisa McShane. 12" x 20". Oil on Linen Panel.
I've been working on about 10 paintings for more than a month now, painting, glazing, scumbling, day after day. Yesterday 5 of them were complete.

When it rains it pours.

This one was started in August after seeing the Skagit River turn to liquid gold as the sun set behind it. You can see another version, Summer Night, Skagit River, here.

This is a painting that I often talked with studio visitors about during the recent studio tour. It's striking and people were drawn to it but there was something about it that was missing for me. This past week I made the darks darker, glazed the bottom of the river in a red/orange/purple, and added sunlight in a few more places. Now it works.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Poplars Above the Snake. ©2010 Lisa McShane. Oil on Linen Panel.  16x20".

2015 Update

One of the questions that came up several times during the Studio Tour was that of framing.

- Do I frame my own paintings?
- Where do I get my frames?
- Why do I use black frames?
- Where did I get that sweet gold frame?

Yes, I frame my own paintings. Yes, I think artists should frame their paintings as a way of reducing costs and making a living at their profession. Yes, I think buyers of art should take their work to a local frame shop for framing.

It took me awhile to figure out how to frame my work. First, I decided to make my own frames. After all, I was a sculpture major and I've got skills! I bought stock lumber (1 x 3's) and painted it black to make simple butt frames. It looked all right, but it doesn't provide the same level of protection because the frame is attached directly to the side of the stretcher bars. Over time, that pulls on the canvas. Ideally, the stretched canvas sits - floats - inside a frame and is not directly attached to its frame.

I then bought a special miter saw and framing stock and tried making my own frames. The miter saw is now in the basement with cobwebs. This was not the best use of my time.

Next up I started looking online to see what my options were. I explored a wide variety of websites that sell frames made to order. I talked with other artists locally to get their input on the various sources.

Here's my experience:

Web Picture Frames
. They are fast, affordable, good selection and they're in Eugene, Oregon. I've used them for the traditional frames (panel depth with a rabbet) for my last two shows and I've been really happy with the service and quality.

Metropolitan Frames. Gorgeous for solid wood floating frames. Customers like these frames.

Frames by Mail. This is on the east coast and I've ordered a lot of small frames from them for daily paintings. They have a wide variety of frame molding in stock. The website is a little unwieldy and they don't have much available for stretched canvas. Most of their offerings have a shallow rabbet so work only for works on paper or panels. Where they've done well for me are on a couple of frames that I ordered with linen liners. Those were lovely. But since then the quality and turnaround has been less reliable. Still, if I had a small work on paper that needed a mat and a frame I'd probably order from them.

Frames Destination. This is a nice outfit in Dallas. Their frame selection was recently expanded but their focus is to frame photographs. When I need a simple black or dark brown frame fast, this is my source and there is one line of wood frames deep enough for 3/4" canvas. Plus whenever I've called, the owner answers the phone and when I've asked, my order has gone out the same day I placed it. I like that.

Franken Frames. I placed my first order with them about a week ago, for floater frames for some larger paintings, so I'll report back on that. But artists I know in Bellingham swear by this company. They're in Tennessee.

My Framing Tools. You need the right tools and they need to be handy because you frame more often than seems reasonable. I do this in my kitchen, on a long buffet counter. I now keep the tools in a nearby cupboard. Here's what I use:
  • Drill with drill bit. Since everything requires the same size screw, I just keep it together now.
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Roll of wire
  • Wire cutters
  • D-ring Hangers to attach the wire to the side of the frame. Buy this in large quantities.
  • Point Driver. I use the Logan dual drive point driver and I love it. When I framed my first show last December I didn't want to invest in a point driver and spent two days on framing as a result. So yes, I love the point driver. 
  • Cork or plastic bumpers for the bottom corners. I don't like the frame to rub against the wall.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How to Make Linen Panels

Surfaces, brushes, paints and mediums. Those are the materials of an oil painter. Each of those elements are important to the finished product. One of the very best painting surfaces is an oil or alkyd primed linen mounted to a panel. For my larger paintings I stretch linen or canvas over wood bars, size the fabric and then prime the surface with an oil primer. But for smaller paintings I prefer the linen panels for several reasons:

  • Less fragile. When you're storing or moving paintings, this is important.
  • Easy to handle.
  • A nice stable surface with no movement. There is no flex when you paint on it and later, that makes them more archival.
  • You can achieve a gorgeous surface effect.
  • You have more frames to choose from (and yes, panels must be framed!)

Linen panels seem complicated to make but they're not. It's easier than stretching canvas or linen and a much higher quality surface than buying stretched canvas. And the beauty of making your own panels is that once you have the materials assembled, making them is quick. Now that I keep the materials in stock in my studio, I can make a panel in the evening and start my painting the next day.


  • GatorBoard. This is a stable surface made from extruded polystyrene foam between two layers of wood-fiber veneer. Yes, it looks like you're painting on styrofoam but get over it. You're not. Yes, you can use a smooth plywood instead. I'd varnish the plywood before gluing. I buy my GatorBoard from Foam Board Source. I use the 3/16 thickness for anything up to a 16x20 and larger than that, I use the 1/2". I prefer the natural color. Shipping on this product is expensive!
  • Oil or alkyd primed linen. I love the 359 Alkyd primed linen from Wind River Arts in Texas. It's the kind of surface art dreams are made of. There's also a variety of lovely oil or alkyd primed linens from you can purchase from Utrecht. For all of these, you can either get a small sample or purchase small panels ahead of time to try them out. A roll of linen is a big commitment so I recommend you buy a variety of panels and paint on them to see which you prefer. What's that you ask? Can you substitute acrylic primed fabric? No! 
  • Miracle Muck Glue. I buy mine by the gallon from Source-Tek. (And yes, you're not imagining it, they do have the worst shopping website in the industry.) Shipping is a killer on this product and I have to plan ahead so I'm not shipping this in the winter (freezing ruins it).
  • Small paint roller with a short nap. Get this at your local hardware store.
  • Condiment bottle. This will help you apply the glue evenly. Can't find a condiment bottle? As it turns out, you can use a sippy cup! (See below.)
  • Brayer or rolling pin. To evenly press the linen onto the panel and roll out any air bubbles.
  • Weights. To weigh the panel down as it dries. I use my largest art books and put hand weights and small bronze sculptures on top.
  • Scissors, a box knife and a straight edge.
Here are the steps, photos follow:
  1. Cut your GatorBoard to size. Use the straight edge and a box cutter.
  2. Cut pieces of linen slightly larger than the GatorBoard. I cut mine using good scissors about 1/4 inch larger on each side. When I cut the linen I roll it out on my kitchen table, put the panels on top, and cut around them. Very easy.
  3. Put the miracle muck in the condiment bottle and squeeze it onto the GatorBoard in a spider web pattern all over. 
  4. Spread the glue evenly onto the GatorBoard using the paint roller.
  5. Put linen primed side down and place the GatorBoard glue side down on top. Flip it, use the brayer or roller to firmly press the linen onto the board.
  6. Place weights evenly on top and let it set at least overnight until dry.
  7. Trim the edges.
  8. Paint!
The photos below are all courtesy of Deborah Paris, who taught me how to make the panels at a painting workshop in her studio in Clarksville, Texas. 
Supplies assembled in Deborah Paris' studio. You can see the roll of linen on the left, the cut linen under the gatorboard, the miracle muck glue, the small paint roller and the green sippy cup for distributing the glue. And bonus: note the gorgeous underpainting on the shelf on the left.

Deborah Paris distributing the glue on the gatorboard. In the background you can see her bookshelves FULL of wonderful art books and on the wall, some of her best paintings. Her studio is an incredible space!

Rolling out the glue. You can see the spiderweb pattern that she used to evenly distribute the glue.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Update on Studio Tour!!!

Beautiful New Frames from Mountains Edge Frames -!

Whoa! Stop the presses! My gorgeous new frames from Mountains Edge Frames arrived today. I tore into the box, framed my paintings and hung them on the wall.

It's the top image - these are my three latest paintings. I can't wait for people to see these.

Studio Tour This Weekend!

Studio Wall
Studio Wall w/ small paintings
This Saturday and Sunday, 11 to 5, my studio will be open for the Whatcom Artists' Studio Tour! I hope you stop by. I have a number of new paintings that I'll be hanging this afternoon and I will be doing a painting demo most of the time.

Tomorrow my friend Isabel Vanderslice will be assisting me. We hope someone buys a painting with a charge card so that we can use my new iPhone app to charge it!