Thursday, May 31, 2012

How To Make a Backyard

When we first moved into our house in the Barnum West neighborhood, our yard was kind of a wreck. The previous owners had covered up the original pergola with a really crappy plywood storage shed, replaced the lawn in the backyard with a foot or more of sand to hold an above ground pool (a pool that didn't even exist by the time we moved in), and neglected what they hadn't ripped out or covered in concrete or sand.
The only things we could keep alive were thistle and paper wasps. Even the shed itself was falling apart. The roof kept blowing off every time the wind kicked up. The red trellis is from the edge of the wooden deck, also falling apart. When the mister and I decided we wanted to adopt a dog, we decided she would need a better yard. This was about three years ago.
We took down the shed, painted the pergola, took the rails off the deck, and planted two cherry trees, another peach tree, three aspens, two lilacs, a rose of sharon, two arbor vitae trees, and some mystery flowering shrub, a second strawberry patch with miniature roses, and, of course, grass.

That's our dog, Lulu, hanging out by the fireplace, showing off her backside. It's a rather nice little spot to have a cookout now. The photo on the right was taken this morning. Three years later, the lawn shows signs of being home to an 80lb dog, but everything is getting so big and lush! It's a mess of green, just the way I wanted it. And, now I am free to spend my time outside where I belong: the garden.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Secret Life of a Blog Photograph

The sorts of blogs I enjoy are beautiful. They're like delicious birthday cake for my eyeballs. And, though I love useful things and entertaining things and informative things, I secretly mostly love beautiful things. It's why I paint. And, it's why I desperately want to learn to make my own blog beautiful. 

Obviously, there is a lot more to having a beautiful website than merely taking nice photographs. But, it's a pretty good place to start. And, I've learned some good basic lessons to help guide my efforts in the future. Maybe they'll help you on your endeavors too!

The Secret Life of a Blog Photograph

A handmade life, a crafty life, a delicious life, or an adventurous life can be messy. Making a cake, for instance, is a messy business, as is making the dinner you might eat before you enjoy your first slice of cake. And, if you're graced with a quaint little kitchen with a sink, a stove, and about two feet of counter space between them, you'll realize that the reality of your cake is a bit unattractive and would make for pretty much the worst blog photo ever.

But, that's not all. In spite of having colored your cake a lovely shade of pink with charming blue icing, even the cake itself is pretty gross-looking in a photograph. 

So, you clean up and try again. The dishes are clean, the leftovers are in the fridge, the counters have been scrubbed!'s still not awesome. Suddenly, you realize that your coffee pot, bless it's caffeine-making heart, is hideous. Your pepper shaker looks inappropriate. Suddenly, you're self-conscious about the state of your stove-top burners. And...

...It's still a gross-looking half-eaten cake.

This is when all of your crafting and cookery skills fail. You've made something lovely and perhaps delicious. But, it sure doesn't look lovely and delicious on your blog. Now, you must begin the process of artful arrangement. Or, posing, if you will.

The secret of good blogging photographs can be found in the artfully arranged crumb and sprinkles on the plate of a cake. You wipe off the natural smeared icing and bits of cake crumbs, because it looks gross. You replace it with a purposeful and neat little crumb and sprinkle. It no longer looks gross. It looks inviting. Like magic. That is artful arrangement. The Italians call this sprezzatura.

Next come the props. I don't have room for flowers on my kitchen counter and there is no reason whatsoever to keep a tea towel under my cake stand. I did it because it adds color and texture and interest to the photograph.  The spatula practically calls out, "Come! Eat a piece of cake! Help yourself!" And, I discover, it might be time to rethink the glass dome.

I have much better lighting closer to the window above the sink, so I drag everything over a bit, chasing the light. It's looking nicer already.

What is the perfect perspective for photographing a cake or a craft? There is no rule. One must experiment. Some angles will show great detail or form, but the light might be wrong, or maybe the light is best from the precise angle that shows the worst view of the object. Experiment! It's not like we have to pay for camera film anymore...

And, do remember that not every photo must be taken with your object front and center. Play with cropping as well! I took 77 photographs in 30 minutes of this silly cake. Most of them were unattractive for one reason or another -- blurry or weird-looking -- but with that many pictures, something is bound to look nice.

You can't tell from these photographs, but the walls in my kitchen are the prettiest shade of butter yellow. It gives all of my photographs a yellow tint, unfortunately. I've used Photoscape to remove the yellow color cast, making my photo look a bit more like my cake does in "real life."

Before you put away your camera, don't forget to maybe try some close-up photographs. They're often quite cool.

At last, you're ready to sift through your photographs and pick your favorites.

It's quite the process, but no one ever said beauty was easy.

The moral of the story is that there is a difference between making a beautiful painting, craft, or culinary concoction and photographing that painting, craft or culinary concoction. It's an entirely different beast. But, having an awesome and beautiful blog requires both.

Here's to trying harder!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fairy Tale Castle No. 2

Fairy Tale Castle No. 2, Framed
 Last year I was asked to do a painting for the children's section of a darling old Carnegie library in North Denver. After much thought, many drafts, and far too much procrastination, I have finally finished!

Here is Fairy Tale Castle No. 2!

I wanted to make something... well... generic isn't the right word. I wanted to make a painting that could be a part of any number of stories, something pretty to give a bit of form to the vague imaginings swirling through the library. This here is a castle to defend from dragons, a castle with magical gardens and secret doors, a castle home to fair ladies and elaborate tournaments, or enchanted and filled with curious creatures. It's there to be a window to whatever story the patrons want to tell or hear or read. I hope it works!

Happy Paint Party Friday!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Paint Party Friday on Saturday

Ellie, 8x10 acrylic on canvas paper

I'm a tad bit late for Paint Party Friday, but I wanted to get a scan first! Here's my rainy Monday painting, Ellie.
It promises to be another gloomy weekend here in Denver, but I hope you have a nice weekend, regardless of your weather conditions!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Rainy Day Painting

I've been listening to Azure Ray, reading some J.D. Salinger, and admiring too much Yoshitomo Nara this weekend. This is how my painting turned out as a result. It's been raining in Denver off and on all weekend, which is good for gardens, but always leaves me a bit lackluster. I wouldn't survive in Seattle.

Ellie, 8x10 acrylic on canvas paper

I left her a bit more flat than my other recent paintings. It seemed to fit her mood. It reminds me of how Bilbo Baggins described himself: "I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter, scraped over too much bread."

And, of course, cloudy Monday mornings are somewhat less than ideal for photographing paintings indoors without a fancier camera than I happen to possess. I'm sure I'll get a scan soon though.

Here's hoping the week is a little sunnier!

All the best,