About artfulbarb

I’m a teacher, artist, grandmother, mother, and wife, presently making my home in Lexington, Kentucky. Creating art and teaching it to others helps me deal effectively with life’s high points and challenges.

Thoughts on Fall

Autumn is always my favorite time of year. Thanks to the colorful leaves, I find myself surrounded by beauty everywhere I go. The air is crisp and cool, making long walks joyful. Then there’s the food: Apples, pumpkin bread, spiced wine and cider…. need I say more!!?
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The monumental events of October include watching my grandsons jump into leaf piles, gather apples, and dress up for Halloween. At ages 3 and 6 “trick-or-treat” is still delightful for the boys and all who are lucky enough to witness the magic.

Happy Fall to you and yours!

Thanks for listening,
Barb

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The Art of Football

Fall and football have always provided me with such joy and entertainment.  Obviously the colors of fall would entice any painter to paint, but why be drawn to football?  I guess the answer is I grew up with it.  Watercolor painting of two hummingbirds holding up a blue banner that says My parents lived in Ann Arbor, MI while my dad attended the University of Michigan Law school.  I spent ages 3-5 romping the campus.  I’ve always loved the feeling in “The Big House”, U of M’s beautiful stadium.  When the Wolverine band plays “Hail to the Victors” I still light up and cry.
Watercolor painting by artist Barbara Bromley of a bobcat with the word
As I consider life transitions, I can’t help but mention how many college teams have been added to my cheering list over the years:  Grand Valley State University, Western Michigan,  University of Georgia, Universities of Texas – Austin and San Antonio, and of course the great Michigan State Spartans.  I followed in my brother’s footsteps to attend MSU in East Lansing.  I met my husband and earned a degree at this gorgeous campus.
Watercolor painting by artist Barbara Bromley of two hummingbirds holding up a blue banner that says
When I cheer for the various colleges attended by loved ones, I’m also cheering for my family and our shared love of learning.  I have “woofed” with my younger brother while watching the GA Bulldogs, toasted wine with my older brother after the Spartans beat Ohio State 28-24 in 1998, taking on their rightful position as season-spoilers.  I cried when my babies graduated from UT and UTSA.
Watercolor painting by Barbara Bromley, with a hand-lettered
Now that my daughter is a professor at the University of Kentucky, guess who has gained my loyalty?  One artistic benefit of this is my new love of painting bobcats.  Go WILDCATS!  Go BIG BLUE!  (except when you’re playing the MSU Spartans)

Thanks for listening,
Barb

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P.S.  –  Here’s me, my husband (right) and brother celebrating MSU’s 1998 football victory over OSU.

Photograph of artist Barbara Bromley, her husband (right) and brother (left) celebrating the Spartan victory over OSU in 1998 collegiate football

Unlikely Friends

The dogs in this painting/card are named Mufasa and Rafiki.  As the card suggests they are truly friends.  They are friends because they live together, and to a large extent because they are both dogs.  Friends - A watercolor painting by artist Barbara Bromley with the word "Friends" hand painted, and two dogs who are looking at one another. I met them when I first submitted a rack of my cards to the Decorator Warehouse in Lexington.  Mufasa and Rafiki are “store dogs”, happily spending their days with shop owner Natalie.

Ironically and more unexpected friends:  Sam, our family dog many years ago, and “George”, the orphan baby blue jay.   These two became friends as I nursed George back to health.  I fed George every day with Sam, still a puppy, watching.  As the jay learned to fly Sam became very interested, especially when he saw the bird poop on my friend’s head and my drawing in the same day.  A watercolor painting by artist Barbara Bromley showing a dog and blue jay looking at one another. When he was ready we released George near the town home where we lived at the time.  When I walked Sam the blue jay would follow us, flying high in the sky.  When I swam in the complex pool, George perched nearby on the fence.  When I opened the door to our house, George would fly inside take a bath in the small tub of water on my drawing table.   The entire neighborhood came to know and delight in seeing George and Sam frolic together.

It was the perfect yet dangerous (for George) friendship, a result of how a baby bird imprints on whoever it spends time with, in our case a dog and humans.  Following this imprinting experience with George I learned how to care for wild animals in a way to prevent such connections.  My ignorance in George’s case gave us the opportunity to really appreciate the antics of George the Jay, and our puppy Sam.

Thanks for listening!

Barb

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Free as a Bird

Watercolor painting of birds perching on the hand-lettered text Watercolor painting of a Red Tailed Hawk, by artist Barbara BromleyWatercolor painting of a bluebird, by artist Barbara BromleyI have been a birder for as long as I can remember. Chasing after birds as they flew actually made me feel free and unencumbered. It was the birds of prey that caught my attention first. The hawks and owls with their fierce eyes were a pleasure to sketch and paint. In Florida I discovered brown pelicans, watching in wonder as they dove beak-first into the ocean to catch fish. They way their bodies “kerplopped” into the water in such a bizarre fashion intrigued me. Then there were the Osprey diving feet first to grab fish with their talons. Sometimes they misjudge the size of their prey and are pulled under the water to certain death.

When I met my (eventual) husband Steve, I found a fellow bird lover in his mom, who introduced me to wrens, finches, and bluebirds. We observed these lovely critters together as they fed from the feeder just outside the large picture window of her Michigan home. Winters were hard, but the birds in her area thrived thanks to the massive quantity of seeds in her feeder. Who needed TV? We had ready entertainment watching a great variety of birds just outside the window.

Watercolor painting of a Rufus hummingbird, by Barbara BromleyIn Texas the hummingbirds provided me with a favorite subject to sketch. I’d work on five different drawings in various poses as the hummers got “nectar” from our feeder. Every year a male black-chinned hummer would arrive perching on our peach tree waiting for females. After mating, off he went to chase another! The females laid eggs then raised two babies alone.

Watercolor painting of a Rufus hummingbird, by Barbara Bromley

While living in Texas our entire family observed the pea-sized eggs in a nest constructed of spider silk and lichens. As the young hummingbirds grew the silk stretched to accommodate their growing bodies.

photo-hummer-on-nestP1Another Texas favorite was the roadrunner, which mates for life. I observed one wandering about seeming greatly disturbed only to find his dead mate close by, the victim of a fast-moving car. It always amazed me to know that roadrunners are capable of working together to kill a rattlesnake, not quite the cartoon image from long ago…

In Massachusetts the nuthatches caught my eye as they moved down a tree trunk head-first. Another treat was watching marsh wrens at Great Meadows. When the babies were fledging the parents had to come out of their hiding places in the reeds to feed them. I was ready with camera and sketchpad!

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In Kentucky it was the common mallard ducklings that ticked my fancy. The young would follow their mommy anywhere including a busy street. I’ve also been shocked by the number of cooper’s hawks winging their way through housing developments instead of the forests for which their wings and tails were designed.

Get ready for my next blog about birds I’ve know “personally”.

Happy Birding to ALL!

Artfulbarb

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Happy Birthday Sam!

Our eldest grandson turns six tomorrow, August 10.  Happy Birthday Sam!

Watercolor painting of grandson Sam on his sixth birthday

One day Sam, you will understand how you helped turn our “world” into one filled with magic and wonder.  You weren’t the first to do that however.  Your uncle Nick and your Mom were, but they weren’t as perfect as you!  Perfection is reserved only for GRANDCHILDREN.

“Being a grandmother is our last chance to act like a kid without being accused of being in our second childhood.”  – Janet Lanese

My current life is filled with proof of the above quote.   The bird on my head in the photo below is just the tip of the iceberg. Thanks to you Sam, I have photos of me playing in the dirt, climbing on a playscape, and hiking up a slippery hill with the hope that I land on my feet instead of on my rear end.

Photo from Louisville KY zoo, of grandson Sam, and Grandmother Artful Barb, who has a bird on top of her head

Then there are the times we spend together where every piece of art equipment in the house is used to create a joint masterpiece.  Let’s face it:  you can never have too many art supplies!

Finally the magic of baking.  You on the stool and me trying hard not to sample too many goodies.      The clean up was always interesting.  It appears that you cook just like our master chef – Grandpa.  Always focusing on the creative part, not so much on the aftermath….

Very soon we’ll be eating cake, singing happy birthday, and generally celebrating your big day.

With any luck my “elephant memory” will hang on to your special day to relive the magic again and again.

Love, Grandma.

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Art Exhibits – Past and Present

Art Exhibit Barbara Bromley Artist's AtticArt Exhibit Barbara Bromley Artist's AtticI’m participating in a new joint show with a fellow watercolorist Bernice Wood at the Artists Attic in Downtown Lexington.  This event has made me consider all of the shows I’ve been involved in over the years, along with the changes I’ve witnessed.  Recently my shows have taken place in areas where I’ve just moved and know virtually no one, at least in the adult world.

As I look back at the 80’s and 90’s in Austin TX, I realize how fortunate I was in my youth.  At age 24 I joined the Capitol Art Society, a wonderful group who welcomed me, mentored me, and cheered for every success.  Our group shows were magical, and took place in stunning venues.  We had a coop gallery too.  Artwork sold well for all the artists.  Ironic for me since my work at the time showed a lack of experience.  Before I left Austin in 2007 I enjoyed art shows where lots of hand-colored limited-edition prints of birds sold.   Austin was filled with bird lovers.  It’s hard to say which was more enjoyable:  The engaging bird-related conversations, or the art sales!

Art Exhibit Barbara Bromley Artist's AtticAfter moving to Concord MA in 2007 I met new fellow bird and art lovers.  I had a show the first year I lived in the area.  It inspired two commissioned pieces and sales of several small hummingbird paintings.  Before I left the area in 2013 I’d had several shows.  More importantly I taught watercolor and drawing to dozens of students, many of whom became friends and soul mates.  I learned new skills –  How to paint landscapes and flowers in order to teach my students.  This learning/teaching experience made me a better colorist than I’d ever been.  During my seven years in MA I definitely witnessed a drop in sales for all artists, and was thankful to be a passionate teacher.

Art Exhibit Barbara Bromley Artist's AtticFast forward to 2013 and our move to Lexington KY where horses, not birds, rule the roost.  Oil paintings are much more common and popular than watercolors.   I’ve met a group of delightful and talented artists at the Artists Attic.   Out of 26 members only two of us are watercolorists.  Artists in all media have seen a drop in sales over the past decade.  The reasons are numerous:

  • The economic downturn
  • A flood of competing visuals on social media
  • Modern digital cameras allowing easy creation of personal and inexpensive artwork
  • Mobile devices and apps which allow easy creative manipulation and sharing of photos

Art Exhibit Barbara Bromley Artist's AtticSadly at the peak of my ability as a teacher and painter, I’m struggling to find students in the area interested in learning watercolor and drawing.

Art Exhibit Barbara Bromley Artist's AtticThe current exhibit at the Artists’ Attic has given me an opportunity to show my best work.  Compliments abound!  Like all artists I appreciate the sentiment, but these days such sentiments rarely turn into sales or opportunities.

The one thing moving through the U.S. has shown me:  Change is the only constant and I need to adapt in order to survive and thrive.

Art Exhibit Barbara Bromley Artist's AtticTo that end:  Horses, UK, and the beautiful Kentucky countryside will join birds and people in my paintings.  A love of learning has always been one of my biggest passions, so bring it on in the Bluegrass State!

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Mini Lesson – Painting the Cat

I should clarify the title:  we’re not literally painting the cat 🙂 🙂 🙂   This “mini-lesson” shows step-by-step how I created a watercolor painting of my cat, Abby.

  1. Begin by sketching the cat with an HB pencil.  Make sure your drawing is accurate!  Lighten the pencil lines by dabbing at them with a kneaded eraser.  Contrary to what most books say, once wet, these lines can’t be erased completely.

    Pencil sketch of cat, in preparation for painting a watercolor

  2. Mix the following puddles (a puddle is paint mixed with enough water to dilute it to the desired value):
  • Cobalt blue + Brown Madder (warm purple mixture)
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Burnt Sienna + Raw Umber
  • Burnt Sienna + Raw Sienna
  • French Ultramarine + Payne’s Gray + a bit of Alizarin
  • Sepia + French Ultramarine
  • Alizarin Crimson + French Ultramarine (make two puddless:  One very dilute warm & one cool)
  • Alizarin Crimson + Burnt Sienna
  • Raw Sienna + Ultramarine (very dilute for the cat’s eyes)
  • Viridian Green
  • Winsor Green
  1. Mask out small detail areas which you wish to remain white.

Use liquid frisket and a cheap brush coated with standard bar soap to “paint” these white areas.  When the frisket is dry it will look and feel a bit like dried rubber cement.

  1. Next I paint the base washes of the cat.

Base watercolor wash of a cat, in preparation for painting a watercolor

Glaze water over the entire cat until it glistens evenly;  drop in the following colors and combinations based on where they can be seen in the cat’s face:

  1. For the eyes use the diluted raw umber/ultramarine mixture;  then drop in viridian green;  add the pupil using sepia/ultramarine.
  2. For the ears paint the raw umber/burnt sienna mixture;  then drop in the cobalt/brown madder mixture;  finish with the ultramarine/Payne’s Gray/Alizarin mixture before the ear dries.
  3. For the face and body let raw umber/burnt sienna bump into ultramarine/Payne’s gray/alizarin, allowing the colors to blend alongside each other.
  4. Add Winsor green and drop in viridian for the collar.

** If necessary wet a section at a time to keep the paper wet while painting the cat.  It’s important that you paint wet-in-wet not wet-in-dry!!

  1. Allow all initial washes to dry completely.  Never paint into an area that has started to dry.
  2. Rub off the frisket to expose white areas.
  3. Add the final details:
  1. Use sepia/ultramarine for dark black highlights.
  2. Use Alizarin/burnt sienna for reddish highlights in fur
  3. Use a second glaze of raw sienna/burnt sienna and raw umber/burnt sienna to form the area around the mouth and nose.
  4. Use a 2nd glaze of alizarin/burnt sienna, cobalt blue/brown madder, and raw umber/burnt sienna for hightlights in the cat’s ears.
  5. The collar tag is created using alizarin crimson.
  1. Finally if you have lost whites such as the whiskers use a rigger brush and a diluted mix of permanent white gouache to paint over the watercolor.

Final watercolor of a cat.  Part of a mini-lesson tutorial for this blog artfulpassages.com

Hope you enjoy!  If you have any questions at all, please use the comment form below.

Thanks, and happy painting!

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The Little Things ARE the Big Things

Watercolor painting of an uncle making soap bubbles for his nephewwI have always known that little things matter.  Recently I’ve remembered that the little things often ARE the big things.

After a week spent vacationing in the Whalen House in Grand Haven MI, my mind replays lovely memories.  There were gorgeous sunsets, incredible views of Lake Michigan, and the red light-house just across the road from our rented cottage.   All glorious, ostensibly big things.

But what stands out two weeks later?

  1. Watching my eldest and his wife make soap bubbles with their nephews.
  2. Seeing the delight on my daughter’s face after she returns from geocaching with her boys.
  3. Sitting in the sand with my extended family, visiting while watching the grand kids build sand castles.
  4. Watching the love of my life, Steve, grill for the billionth time for his family (sometimes “mad skills” mean lots of work…)
  5. Photographing little items that might be fun to paint, like the tea cup covered with clover decorations that I discovered in the living room.  It will please the Irish in my family so much!
  6. Visiting over wine and pie in the “man cave”, a little hut outside the main cottage.

Most of the things listed could happen anywhere.  Often business encroaches on the important “little things”.  Today I remind myself again to do better:  listen more, send more notes, respond to emails more quickly, etc., because the little things really are the BIG things.

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Best Friends – the furry kind

“Whoever said that diamonds are a girl’s best friend….never owned a dog”

Watercolor painting of the word "Believe" with a Golden Retriever as a backdrop

I believed in Daisy, and I’m pretty sure she believed in me!

You often hear individuals describe themselves as a dog person or cat person.  I’ve always considered myself a dog person with a capital D!  I grew up with collies.  The “dog love” of my life was a golden retriever named Daisy.  She started out as my kids “best friend” but became mine when they grew up and left home.  Daisy turned gray with me and limped a bit, having sore hips just like me.  When I drew or painted she sat at my feet moving closer and closer.  This was very comforting except for the following moment.  Stop reading if you’re squeamish!   I had just sharpened 25 drawing pencils and placed them graphite point up in my pencil jar.  The bathroom was calling my name.  I took one step away from the drafting table.  As I put my foot down I nearly fell because it landed on the dog.  I heard a loud yelp.  To avoid hurting Daisy I dropped my hand toward the drafting table for support, and it landed on guess what?  Yes indeed all 25 pencil points!  Who said art was painless?!  It took an hour or so to pull the graphite points out of my hand.  Daisy was loaded with empathy.  She  acted a bit sheepish and concerned.

Watercolor painting of a three-colored cat named Abbey, sitting in a window sill looking out

Abby loves to stare out the window

Presently I’m a cat owner (or is she the real owner?).  Our three year-old adoptee Abby can probably avoid getting stepped on because cats are quick and limber.  Thanks to my husband, children, and a mostly friendly Abby, I have recently come to appreciate the finer attributes of cats.   I still miss the empathic love I felt with Daisy by my side, something I’ve never quite felt from the often aloof Abby.  Cat, dog, or whatever furry friend you may have, there is nothing quite like the love of a pet who can’t talk back.

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