Product Review: Prima Complexions Palette and Jane Davenport Pastel Palettes

Yesterday I posted photos of two mixed media paintings I did in Andrea Gomoll’s Faceinating Girls Around the World class. It was a great class, and I took it for several reasons.

First, I like Andrea’s style of teaching. She’s perky and explains what and how she is doing what she is doing with detail and enthusiasm. You can tell she loves what she does.

Irish girl watercolor Hollifield

Irish mixed media girl by Suzanne Hollifield created in class Faceinating Girls Around the World

Second, I wanted to practice using watercolor on portraits, and this class focused on skin tones for different races. I’ve done a class like this in acrylic, but watercolor seemed really interesting. Andrea was using Prima Watercolor Confections, of which I have several as well as all of the Jane Davenport watercolors. I printed the pigment sheets for both brands and substituted or mixed for the complexion colors if I needed to. I ended up ordering the Prima Complexions palette as it was easier to have it than to keep mixing.

It turned out that I was really glad I made the purchase. While more experienced watercolorists can create flesh tones by mixing primaries and/or complimentary colors, I enjoyed having the premixed palette. Of course, these watercolors are not Daniel Smith quality. Neither are they Daniel Smith prices. They are around $24 for the palette of twelve half-pans. I thought they were good quality at a reasonable price. They had enough pigment to cover smoothly and were not overly grainy for portraits. They both blended and layered easily.

Third, Andrea is really a mixed media artist. Although watercolor is her primary medium, she uses other media, too. She’s fond of stamping and has her own line of clear stamps that feature her signature cute girls. She uses stencils with both acrylic paint and modeling paste or gesso in her backgrounds. She is fond of bling in the form of glitter and sparkle gel. She always adds pen in the end. In this class, she used Pan Pastels to enhance the complexions of the girls.

Light skinned African American girl by Hollifield

Light-skinned African-American girls by Suzanne Hollifield created for Faceinating Girls Around the World

I didn’t want to shell out the bucks for Pan Pastels. I’ve lusted for them, but I don’t do enough pastel work to justify the expense. Fortunately, Jane Davenport has just introduced a Pastel Palette line, and I was lucky enough to find them on sale at Michaels for 60% off. Needless to say, I bought all four palettes, and since each has eighteen colors, I ended up with fifty-four pans of color.

The JD Pastel Palette worked great. I don’t know how it compares to Pan Pastels, but for my purposes, I was quite pleased. They didn’t seem a creamy as Andrea’s Pan Pastels, but after I got the “new” off the top, they spread well. On the page, they added the color lightly enough that I could layer and not worry about ruining the piece with a streak of color that was too intense. Once I applied fixative, they stayed put.

If you are on a budget like I am, I recommend you check the JD Pastel Palettes out. Michaels has frequent sales on them. You might get a deal like I did. You might want to go the Jane’s website as well. She has some great videos on how to use these and other of her products.

Chinese girl by Hollifield

Chinese girls by Suzanne Hollifield created for Faceinating Girls Around the World

Finally, I took the class because I wanted to work on my own style of faces. Andrea paints girls you recognize when you see them. I could name a hundred other artists whose portraits are immediately identifiable as their work. Some are whimsical; some are realistic; some are illustrative.

I think I’m more illustrative, or at least that’s what I aspire to be. I don’t have the patience for purely realistic works, and I like cute girls. Real people are rarely cute. I love those old forties and fifties posters and ads when artists drew the models and actresses instead of photographing them. I wish I could paint like that. The books I go back to over and over are by Andrew Loomis and Jack Hamm. The hair is wrong, but I love their faces. I have real trouble with wonky-ness though. One side is always a bit off.

Nevertheless, using the Prima Watercolor Confections Complexions palette and the Jane Davenport Pastel Palettes have helped me achieve my goal of creating my own style a little more I think. I recommend both products to you.

Claiming the Name “Artist”

Yesterday I wrote about getting ready for my first art exhibition and thinking about how to price my pieces. Our group, Uni4Artists, can submit thirty pieces, which means each of the members can submit two or perhaps three, depending on how many of us submit. This is an annual event at the Morganton Jailhouse Gallery and includes a reception and citywide art crawl. Last year, I was impressed by the turnout and by the art submitted by our members. In fact, I was humbled.

As I’ve mentioned before, I started painting in 2016, after I moved my massage practice and needed something to put on the walls. My point is that I am a less experienced artist than many of the others in the Uni4Artists. While I know it is death to artistic expression to compare myself to others, I’m also aware that I need to be careful to neither overprice nor underprice myself. Likewise, I have very few pieces that are truly original. I am sure I suffer at least a little from being overly attached to the pieces I think are worth submitting, and I’m trying to be mindful that I may not able to evaluate their value accurately. To my credit, I’ve asked for help.

The show last year got me thinking about originality and the point at which you stop feeling like a student and start feeling like an artist. All my classes have been online, and except for a few dud teachers in some collaboratives, I’ve learned a great deal from all of them. In the beginning especially, I did a lot of copying, which is an excellent way to learn, but you can’t sell paintings you’ve copied from a teacher, no matter how good they are. While I was copying for the most part, I felt like a student, and I resisted venturing out on my own. Some of my excuses were valid; some were born of fear of failure.

Portraits from watercolor class

Dark-skinned African-American girl and Native American girl for Faceinating Girls Around the World, a class taught by Andrea Gomoll. I copied her techniques for skin colors and layering of watercolors and some of her mark making and background design techniques. I tried to make the look of the girls my own. However. I would not feel comfortable selling either of these pieces, but I do feel like I got good practice.

For the last year, I’ve been trying, more and more, to do my own thing. That means I’ve got more than a few pieces that just aren’t very good and lots and lots of practice pages and canvases that are just meant to be practice and were never intended to be sold. I’m okay with that. Somewhere along the line, I decided I had to let myself make a mess. “It’s only paint and paper” someone said. I still copy, by the way, but I do it when I’m intent on learning a technique or on imitating a style before adapting it and making it my own. The best of both worlds occurs when I can learn the techniques but put my own spin on the lesson, like in the portraits above. I think anyone who sees them would recognize those as my girls and not mistake them for Andrea’s. (The teacher was Andrea Gomoll.)

Toward the end of last year, I decided not to sign up for so many classes and to really work on developing my own skills and style. This year, I’ve spent a lot of time with watercolors, a medium that until now I haven’t really enjoyed. I’ve also spent more time painting flowers and animals. I learned last year that I like story art, and I like combining nature and people. Although I miss some of the teachers and fellow students with whom I’ve traveled these last few years, setting my intention to develop myself as an independent artist and working toward that end feels right. I’m dreaming of the day when I will have trouble deciding which of my many originals I might want to submit for exhibition. I already feel like an artist.

Selling Art

Girl and hawk original by Suzanne Hollifield

Original oil pastel by Suzanne Hollifield

Last year I was invited to join a local art group named the Uni4Artists (the Unifour is what we locals call four of the adjacent counties that make up our cultural/geographic/economic area). The artists in the group create in a variety of mediums, and I’ve enjoyed our meetings a great deal. I still feel like a newbie, but I am getting more comfortable. The other artists are warmly welcoming, and because we alternate meeting locations between three venues, including a museum, a gallery, and a teaching studio, I’m exposed to a variety of professional and student art.

One thing the group does is participate in at least two shows in which artwork may be sold. I had no idea that galleries were so strict about the criteria for submissions. For example, last year, I didn’t submit anything because all paintings had to be framed, and they had to be wired for hanging, Gator hooks were forbidden. Who knew?

Over the past year, I have bought some frames, and I’m now watching YouTube for instructions on how to make exhibition-ready pieces. Most of my acrylic pieces are not varnished, which I’ll have to do if I decide to submit one of them. The piece I’m using as a logo for this blog is a possibility, but I won’t submit it without doing some more work on her nose and eyes. I can do noses better now, and this one is too wide. The eyes aren’t sparkle-y enough either. They aren’t alive. I’m glad it isn’t varnished yet, but time is wastin’ if I’m going to use this piece.

I have no idea what to charge for a piece, and the price and other information has to be turned in in ten days. I personally think the cost of the painting needs to be at least as much as the frame. Again, I’m back to YouTube and the group. In fact, we were supposed to have a program on framing, pricing, and photographing our art a couple of months ago, but it was canceled because of sleet. I needed that program. I don’t know yet whether the frame is always sold with the painting or not. (Note to ask that!)

On one hand, I’m excited to be putting pieces of my art in a show. Even if it doesn’t sell, it feels like I’m really able to call myself an artist. On the other hand, I’m truly nervous about getting the details right. Of course, it won’t be the end of the world if I don’t. Let’s get this in perspective, Suzanne. The worse that can happen is they won’t hang my pieces. But somehow, knowing how to prepare and price my art seems like the final piece of really calling myself an artist. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

A Blog a Day

I started this blog because of a challenge in 2017 from one of my online art teachers, Effy Wild, who is a master of art journaling. Twice a year, in April and September, she challenges her students to blog along with her every day for a month. It is truly a challenge for me because although I used to write all the time, I am finding that as I grow older, my right brain is becoming more and more dominant, and my left brain doesn’t really want to form logical paragraphs.

I’ve been thinking I should start writing in this blog if for no other reason than my art has improved. I was actually shocked to see how long its been since I’ve written anything- shocked and a little embarrassed. I can do better that this.

Suzanne Hollifield original watercolor for a class taught by Ildiko Karsay called Nature Art, Spring 2019.

Indeed, my art has improved. I’ve become independent, and I’m using more mediums regularly. If I copy now, it is so that I can learn instead of because I can’t produce anything of worth on my own. That’s been both liberating and satisfying. I’m learning to use Photoshop to combine elements of reference photos, and I am using collage in the same way. I’m painting flowers and animals as well as faces. I’m happy.

Sometimes I will hear teachers talk about how art helps with getting the pain out on the paper. This is true. I have certainly worked through depression and anger by arting it out. However, more often painting is pure joy for me. I don’t really care if others like it although I’m happy when they do. It’s just that when I paint an apple and it actually looks like an apple, or I do a pastel owl that is delightfully quirky and fun, I feel joy. I have lots of my paintings in my home. They make me smile. Undneath some of them, especially the art journals, are some writings where I poured out my soul, but always by the time the last of the paint dried, I felt happy.

I encourage you to try to draw even if you think you can’t. Start with stick people or cartoon people. Lots of folk art looks fairly simple in style. It is the joy in the painting that make it worth something. Do it for fun. If you can’t do that, buy a coloring book. Give up that idea that you aren’t artistic. It just isn’t so. You might find joy is as nearby as your pencil.

I love the Arthurian legend

Mixed media painting of Celtic woman

“Ganieda” inspired by Annie Hamman, Life Book 2017, lesson 13

The prompt for day fifteen of the Artfully Wild Blog Along is to share something about myself that is not widely known. For most of my adult life, I have been captivated by the Arthurian legend. 

During my early teaching career, I was a certified exceptional children’s teacher. However, my undergraduate degree was in secondary English, so to earn extra money in the summers, I taught sophomore English in summer school, which lasted six weeks. Before NC changed the tenth grade curriculum to world literature, it was a survey literature curriculum and included selections from the Arthurian legend by Malory, Tennyson, and T. H. White and also had in the textbook the short novel by Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. 

I also showed clips from a half dozen or more films of the story, including Knights of the Round Table, The Sword and the Stone, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Excalibur, Camelot, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and an outstanding British film with very authentic costuming called The Legend Of King Arthur, which I found today on YouTube, although the quality is very poorI fell in love with this ancient story, which has been told and retold over so many centuries in so many variations.

I probably own close to two hundred books based on the legend. Most are novels, but some are history or literary criticism, and there are quite a few that relate to the story and its offshoot, the legend of the Holy Grail, as a path to enlightenment. Both stories are examples of the hero’s journey and are metaphors for the unfolding and development of the Soul as it gains knowledge/wisdom. There are even magical societies with rituals based on one or the other of the legends. The troubadours of the Middle Ages kept the stories alive throughout Europe, and even in countries far removed from Britain, there are versions. The Church might have liked to squelch the legends as too pagan or too gnostic, but it contented itself with Christianizing the primary elements.

If there was a real King Arthur, he probably was a Celtic warlord, perhaps with Roman ancestors, living on the western coast of Britain during the time the Angles and Saxons were settling the east coast. Roman influence still existed, but Roman soldiers had gone back across the channel to defend the continent against their own Germanic invasions. The best modern retellings, in my opinion, are set in this period of the late Roman/Dark Ages rather than the later Middle Ages when the stories became popular in the French court. 

I could go on and on about aspects of the legend. That I have this obsession and have read so very many books of all different types about the legend is something very few people know about me, and even fewer are interested in learning. Indeed, I miss having a classroom full of sixteen year-olds who are, so to speak, a captive audience. 

My favorite retellings of the legend are Marion Zimmerman Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Mary Stewart’s four-book Arthurian Saga, and Stephan Lawhead’s six-book Pendragon Cycle (I especially like the first book set in Atlantis). If you want a good story, give them a try or watch one of the many movies. There are several newer ones since my teaching days.

Defeating the Darkness Within

Collage of girl with flowing hair

Like my last post here, I’m behind on the prompt/daily nudge train. I read blogs written by other people in the “Blog Along with Effy” group, (which, by the way, is worth joining even if you don’t want to write, just so you can read the amazing blogs being produced in the group), and I suddenly start thinking about what I’d say to the nudge. So here I am on day six, discussing day five’s prompt: What is something you struggle with? What battles are you fighting that most people know nothing about? What’s something about your life that makes you feel weird, or different or isolated?

It was amazing to read a couple of other people say that they either often or occasionally had suicidal feelings as a regular part of their inner dialogue. They had no intention of acting on those thoughts, but the demon thoughts were there. What???? I am not alone??? I am not some totally strange (deranged) Pisces Enneagram Four INFP with suicidal thoughts who is relatively happy and has no real intention of offing myself. I just think about it a lot…especially when I get stressed and usually in the morning…I am not alone?

I never tell anyone about those thoughts. For one thing, I was a public school teacher for thirty years, and have lots of teacher friends. We were taught to take such thoughts seriously and to report them immediately when expressed. I’m not sure anyone would really understand the difference between the inner wimp who just wants to give up but is basically impotent and the real inner devil who can push one into the deepest despair and consequent action. Fortunately, I know the difference, and I know when I need to seek help.

So what pushes me to feel this way? Day four’s prompt was about stress, and I’m going to address that here, too, because usually I get those sucky thoughts when the stress gets too much to bear. Money stresses me out for one thing. I have a huge amount of debt, and I don’t seem to have the self-discipline to pull myself out of it. Some of that is hiding my lack of cash from others by charging, some of it is a certain OCD about books, art supplies, shoes, etc. You get the picture. I also have a rather weird self-defeating attitude that if I actually had money, my friends and family might only value me for what I could give them instead of for myself. I think that comes from of my earliest relationships with men, which is a whole different story.  Anyway, being short of cash can really send me into a tailspin of depression even though my finances always work out, and I actually have a very good credit rating. 

I am a codependent person. You may have deduced that. I can worry about my friends, and I can really obsess about family.  I am much better now that I used to be, thanks to Al-Anon, which I really credit with saving my sanity. I am now able to set boundaries and walk away from the most toxic people. When I don’t though, I can start feeling life isn’t worth living, especially if I start taking criticism too much to heart or thinking everything is about me. I can also do it when I start thinking I can fix other people instead of making them responsible for themselves. Those are red flags for me. It shows that I am really stressed and I’m reverting to earlier, self-defeating behavior instead of taking care of myself. It’s a message to me to step back and regroup.

I’ve got lots of ways to deal with my stress and my depression. I love reading both fiction and non-fiction. I go on spiritual retreats, and I live only about an hour away from the Blue Ridge Mountains (roadtrip to Boone or Asheville). I love watching old movies and reruns of old favorite TV shows. Painting has become more than a hobby, it’s a necessary part of every day, and I draw, art journal or paint something every day. I enjoy genealogy and have traced both sides of my family back to the 1700s when they came to America. I get a massage every two weeks and go the the acupuncturist monthly. I used to go to an energy healer monthly, but she moved, so I am looking for someone new. When all else fails, I lie in the floor with my dog and cry. Then I call a friend and cry. Then I call the doctor if I still need help. I know if I wait it out, I will be okay. I alway am. Always. And in the end, I always get up and want to live. 

So What?

Girl with andy Warhol quote

If you’re reading my blog, chances are you are participating in the September blog challenge begun by Effy Wild. I’ve read some incredible posts as a result of her prompts, and the one she posted yesterday has really challenged me: “Write about something you used to believe that you no longer believe and how that shift in belief has changed things for you.”
I used to believe that I had to have a man, or more accurately, to be in love with a man, to be happy and fulfilled. Indeed, I thought I wouldn’t be a whole woman without a man. In my teens, it was a near obsession. Girls often got married right out of high school where I lived. Not having a boyfriend felt to me like being totally rejected as a female. It created real fear and panic that I was unworthy of love.

I’m not sure where that kind of thinking came from. My parents loved me. I wasn’t abused or mistreated. I had friends. I made good grades and did things with other kids. I just thought if I didn’t have a man, I wouldn’t be worthwhile as a woman.

I was born in 1951, that generation which grew up with the Cleavers, then James Bond and Star Trek and finally The Sensuous Woman and the Equal Rights Amendment. To say we received mixed messages about a woman’s role would be an understatement. I also grew up in the South with middle class parents and in a middle class community. My generation was the first in my family to go to college. My parents and my cousins’ and girlfriends’ parents were overprotective and expected me to marry and have children. About half of my cousins and family friends did exactly that.

I did get married while I was in college to my high school boyfriend. We should have broken up instead of getting married. He was a fun boyfriend, but he was not a fun husband. Four months after we married, my mother died. Then I had to go back to college for my senior year and student teaching. It was no way to start a life together. We actually lived together a total of eight months, and that was off and on. There were lots of fights. Some were violent.

After we separated, I continued to look for love. I really thought I would find “the one” and then everything would be okay. I’d get married, be a good wife, have children, keep the perfect house, take great vacations, etc. etc.  In fact, I did fall in love again, really  in love, but I think I knew from the beginning that it wouldn’t work out because he didn’t want to get married. I was caught in a dilemma: stay with the man I loved and miss out on the life I wanted or leave him and maybe get neither. I was too afraid to take the risk to get the life I wanted. The irony is that in the end, he left me, and I still ended with neither.

After that, I had other relationships, but I began to realize that I couldn’t depend on someone else to make me happy. Some of that was because I had begun to do a great deal of inner work, and I faced some of my fears of abandonment and being less than. Some of it, maybe a great deal of it, came because I began to see myself through my own eyes and not through someone else’s.  I stopped putting up with things that drove me crazy just so I wouldn’t be alone. I set boundaries and felt good when I maintained them. I found I actually enjoyed doing my own thing on my own terms.

The really odd thing is, I think I have more love in my life now than ever before. I think about the people I love without constantly worrying they will stop loving me if I don’t live up to their standards. In fact, I wonder how I could have ever have loved someone who demanded such a thing.

I still believe all you need is love, but I don’t believe you have to have another person to make you happy. Oh, certainly, certain people can bring you indescribable joy and satisfaction, but if you aren’t able to find happiness within yourself, it is unfair to lay that burden on another person. It just won’t work. I enjoy the people in my life, but I also enjoy my solitude and independence. Even during my occasional bouts of depression, I am more apathetic than unhappy.

Let me be clear though, it isn’t that I don’t have people in my life that I love and that I need and would miss if I lost them. Likewise, there are people I’ve lost whom I miss. It’s just that my happiness is not dependent on some other person in my life. There is an inner core of strength inside me that just wasn’t as available to my conscious mind forty years ago as it is today. For that gift, I am thankful.