Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My first advertisement for my artwork in the May 2013 Issue of Visual Language Magazine

I've never had an advertisement for my artwork before so this is a first.  I'm on page 99 of the May 2013 Issue of Visual Language Magazine.  It's an online art magazine and the ad is a link to my website.  It'll be interesting to see if there's any significant bump in my traffic and contacts.  I'll keep you posted.

Here's the link to Visual Language if you'd like to check out the magazine for yourself: http://visuallanguagemagazine.com/issues.html

Friday, April 26, 2013

Sleep (painting the nude in soft pastels)

Soft pastels are one of my favorite mediums. The colors in pastels, particularly the earth tones, blues, and reds, are among the most vivid colors you can find in any medium. Pastels are very versatile and lend themselves to a wide range of techniques. You can blend them for a smooth and fine finish, layer and scumble them for texture with or without fixative, and even liquefy them into a kind of paint-like paste with water.

Edgar Degas was the early and undisputed master of the pastel medium, and his vivid ballet dancers and nudes are among my most lasting influences. Life drawing was a big part of my foundation in art school at Lamar University. Lately I've been inspired to get back to working from the human form.

This is a small 8" x 12" pastel painting of my favorite model. In what seems like life coming round in a perfect circle, Elizabeth was also one of my favorite models twenty years ago when I was in college. She has amazing, tight spiral curls of red hair and a statuesque, curvy figure. All that red is perfect for pastels!

For this painting I chose a textured, middle grey Strathmore paper to start. I was envisioning the scumbled, heavily textured surfaces of Degas' work.

I began with a charcoal drawing. A careful drawing isn't necessary, but for this drawing I decided I wanted to be fairly specific and certain of the anatomy and composition before I added color.  Sometimes in pastel I'll start by loosely blocking in colors, while other times I'll do a solid drawing in charcoal, sanguine, or even pencil first.  Pastel is very forgiving especially in the initial stages and allows for experimentation and changes in approach.

After I was satisfied with the drawing, I used Nupastels to lay in the initial color. Nupastels are firm, hard pastels that work well for under layers because they don't clog the tooth of the paper and go on relatively clean.

Often I'll work a second layer of softer Yarka or Rembrandt pastels right on top of the Nupastels, but after letting this one sit for a day I decided I wanted to have less of the broken, grey texture of the paper showing through and more subtle transitions of color.  I used a stomp, some tissue paper, and even my fingers to blend and smudge the pastel and unify the surface a bit.

A light spray of Krylon workable fixative darkened the colors and gave the surface back a little fine tooth for the top layer of soft pastel. I don't ever use fixative for final layers of pastel because it does alter the colors, but I discovered early on that fixative can extend the range of colors you have to work with, effectively doubling every stick. A color sprayed with fixative will darken in value. The exact same pastel stick scumbled on top will be lighter, more vivid, and lend a unique sheen and depth to the hue.

To finish this painting I turned to the softer Rembrandt pastels and used a variety of techniques to layer color on color.  Some areas have a somewhat linear hatching technique with clear strokes, while others use the flat side of the pastel to lay in strong, solid patches or lightly scumble across the top.  A wide range of tones in the flesh ranging from subtle peaches through vivid reds and pinks to violets and very light blue highlights lends a shimmering quality to the skin.  I also lightened the background and played up some blues and greens to really set off the red of her hair and the body pillow she's hugging.

Mark Nesmith
Pastel on paper
8" x 12"

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Help Deliver Christmas - an auction and golf tournament fundraiser

In a week that's been full of bombs and explosions and general unhappiness in our country, it's good to remember that there are still ordinary, everyday people doing incredible and wonderful things for others. 

Twenty years ago some friends from a local bar in Beaumont, Texas got together and decided they should do something nice for Christmas.  They put a little money together and gave some less fortunate folks a decent holiday.  They had no agenda or ideology other than doing something nice for someone in need.  I doubt they put much thought into a lasting legacy or anything, but twenty years later the tight knit group of regulars and employees at The Pacesetter Lounge are still continuing the tradition.

Each year they raise money in a variety of ways, everything from a golf tournament and charity auction to a bikini car wash.  What started twenty years ago with the money a few people at the bar had in their pockets has grown to about $40,000 a year in donations.  The money is used to provide Christmas for around forty families and to help support other local charities like the food bank and Boys Haven.  For Christmas each child gets a few very nice items from their own wishlist along with some clothes and shoes.  They even have Santa Claus deliver the presents to the families at their home!

I found out about this event this past Christmas when my friend who manages the bar invited me to their present wrapping party.  A few dozen of us sat around the bar wrapping each present and loading up the truck that would serve as Santa's sleigh.  It's a very inspiring thing to be part of, and this year I'm adding my talents, such that they are, to their auction to try to help raise money.

I'm donating the paintings below along with a coupon for a free portrait.  The golf tournament and live auction takes place this weekend at the Idylwild Golf Club in Sour Lake, Tx.  The auction takes place after the tournament and has lots of unique items including artwork from several area artists, vouchers for a performance from a popular local band, and plenty of sports paraphernalia and  even some golf clubs.  If you'd like to find out more about the golf tournament and auction or even just like to donate to this wonderful cause contact Shirley Reece at 409-835-3768. 

Sunrise, Lake Mineral Wells
Mark Nesmith
Oil on Canvas
24" x 30"

Winter Thaw
Mark Nesmith
Oil on Canvas
18" x 24"

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

New Charcoal and Pastel Drawing of Water Lillies - Pink Ladies

Pink Ladies
Mark Nesmith
Charcoal and Pastel on paper
18" x 24"

Here's my second version of water lillies done in charcoal with a little pastel. This time I've added pink to the flowers and a bit of green to some of the pads and the water. I'm really enjoying the not quite monochromatic look of these, somewhere between a drawing and a painting. I think I want to keep at this for awhile and see where it goes.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

New Charcoal and Pastel Drawing - Tinted Lillies

Tinted Lillies
Mark Nesmith
Charcoal on Paper
18" x 24"
Drawing has always been my fallback.  I spent my childhood filling pages of my schoolwork with pencil drawings, but I didn't discover charcoal until my first art class in college at Lamar University with Larry Leach.  I quickly fell in love!  Charcoal, and later pastels, became the bridge to painting for me.  It would still be a year later before I took up oil painting, but charcoal allowed for a painterly approach I hadn't known before.

One of my favorite things about charcoal is how you can push it around on paper.  A swipe with the palm of your hand or a tissue creates smudges, blurs edges, and can add atmosphere and subtletyb to a drawing.  Using an eraser to draw and carve back into the smudges of dark dust to pulls out highlights and allows you to add and subtract. All of this feels very much like the way oil paint responds, the scraping out and repainting and gradual build up of layers,  but without the brush (although I have used a brush with powdered charcoal too!)

This drawing of water lillies started out as a straight charcoal, then progressed through stages of smudging and erasing until much of the original drawing was little more than a ghost.  I then went back at the darker areas and defined some edges with charcoal before heightening the lights with white chalk.  Finally I added a bit of yellow and green pastel on the blooms and the pads.  I think the final result has a lot of the subtle shifts of edges I strive for in my paintings, and the alternating layers created by adding charcoal, blending and smudging areas, and subtracting and carving out lights with an eraser lends a kind of velvety patina to the surface.  I'm kinda digging it and have already started another similar piece.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Keep Running Boston

Keep Running Boston
Mark Nesmith
Pencil on Paper
8" x 10"

Like most people I was shocked and saddened when I first heard the news about the bombings at the Boston Marathon.  It's horrible to realize that there are people among us capable of such senseless atrocities.  With the media storm and investigation into the bombings in full swing everyone seems to want to know whether this was indeed an act of terrorism or just a random lunatic.  While I understand that the answer to that question could have repercussions in the national security arena, in the practical scheme of things it really makes no difference.  There is no explanation that can make sense of this tragedy.  For those killed or injured in the explosions and for their friends and families, nothing will make their loss easier to bear or understand.  My heart and my prayers go out to them all.

I've never run a marathon but it has crossed my mind a time or two.  I understand and respect the drive and focus required to take on such an undertaking.  Not quite two years ago I took up running.  I was overweight, had high blood pressure, and was very unhappy at work.  I had made some gradual changes in my life to improve my health and had managed to lose twenty pounds or so by adjusting my diet, but it wasn't enough.  One day I came to the realization that to really make a difference I needed to do something more drastic.  On Christmas Day of 2011 I started the Couch to 5K (C2K) program and never looked back.  In two months I was running three miles every other day. 

A few months later my life took an unforeseen turn for the worse.  When my marriage first started to fall apart I was a wreck.  My wife seemed to wake up one morning and decide she no longer wanted to be a part of my life.  She started disappearing and stopped spending time with me or our kids.  I tried my best to take up the slack and to keep things as normal as possible for my children, but I wasn't sleeping much and it all weighed heavily on me.  I got us into counseling but she quit after just a few weeks.  She stopped sleeping at home and left all care of our kids to me.  I wasn't sure how I would survive, but I knew I had no choice.  I had to be there for my kids.

My brother and sisters were amazing, but they were hours away, so on a daily basis I was very much alone with my children.  Ultimately I found two outlets: God and running.  Running had always been a chore to me, but somehow during those months I began to crave my time on the road.  It was like meditation.  My jumbled mind was free while I pounded out the miles and I would make it back home rejuvenated.  I often ran in the early morning or late at night while my kids were asleep.  Though there was no saving my marriage, in many ways running helped save me.  Now I'm 100 pounds lighter and feeling better than I have since I was a teenager.  Even more important than my health and new found sexy body (HA!), I found myself again and gained some much needed peace of mind.

When my kids were small one of their favorite movies was Finding NemoNemo's mom died tragically, and Nemo's dad Marlin never quite got over it.  He lived in fear and tried to keep Nemo sheltered away from the world.  Then one day Nemo was taken by a scuba diver.  Marlin is faced with two choices: give up his son forever or face his fears and get him back.  Against all odds this little clown fish navigates the ocean, surviving sharks and turtles and whales to make his way to Sydney where Nemo is living in a dentist's aquarium.  Along the way he makes a friend, the forgetful but hopelessly optimistic Dori whose mantra is "just keep swimming."   When Nemo hears that his dad is coming to rescue him, he makes his way out of the aquarium and reunites with his father.  However, the happy ending is quickly in peril when Dori is swept up in a fishing net along with hundreds of other fish.  Escape seems impossible, but little Nemo swims into the net and helps get all the fish swimming down together.  Divided and acting on their own the fish were easy prey, but united and working together with a common goal they were strong and manage to break the net and gain their freedom.

We the people of these United States are much like the fish in the net.  Sometimes our own personal agendas and desires keep us apart and weaken and divide our country.  But when we unite, as we did in the aftermath of the World Trade Center bombings on 9-11, or when faced with the evil of men like Hitler, we are the strongest nation the world has ever known.  The bombings in Boston were horrible and an act of cowardice.  The truth is that no matter what we do as a nation to protect ourselves, there will always be a few people who seek to cause harm to others and spread fear.  There are always going to be a few fanatics and lunatics among us, but I believe that the good in this world far outweighs the bad.  When faced with tragedies and atrocities like the bombings at the Boston Marathon, we all have two choices.  Like Nemo's father Marlin, we can choose to bury our heads in the sand and succumb to fear, or we can choose to just keep swimming, or in this case, keep running.  We must do what we can to prevent such atrocities from occurring, but more than that, we must keep living our lives, working together for a common good, move forward, and share what love and joy we find whenever we can.  Love hard while there's love to be had.  That's what being human is all about.

Keep running Boston, and I'll lace up my Nike's and run right along with you.  I hope the rest of you will join us.

Friday, April 12, 2013

New Charcoal Drawing Swamp Thing (Big Thicket Cypress)

Swamp Thing
Mark Nesmith
Charcoal on Paper
22" x 30"

 I've always loved the woods.  I spent most of my childhood days roaming the woods behind my home and building forts.  I vividly remember countless field trips to the Big Thicket during summer camp, and the many YMCA Indian Guide camping trips with my father in the piney woods of East Texas.  As an art student at Lamar University I used to take day trips to hike the Big Thicket trails and fill up my sketchbooks with studies of trees and swamps.  My favorite has always been the cypress sloughs.  There's something that feels so ancient, almost primordial, about the cypress trees emerging from the shallow water.   It's almost like you've suddenly stepped back in time and are getting a glimpse of the world before humankind and the progress of civilization began to tame the wild. 

I've made a few attempts at oil paintings of the Big Thicket over the years and never really been satisfied with them.  To me the flickering light filtered through the canopy of trees and the rough texture of the tree trunks lends itself beautifully to charcoal.  Here I've used vine charcoal, compressed charcoal, and even a little Conte crayon and made liberal use of magic rub and kneaded erasers.  In the background I've all but erased the trees carving away at their mass with erasers to simulate the way bright daylight seems pierce the darkness of the forest and dissolve the leaves and branches overhead.    

If you've never hiked the trails through the Big Thicket you need to put it on your to do list.  It's a short drive from Beaumont north on Hwy 69 just past Kountze to the visitor on FM 420.  It's one of the most bio diverse areas in Texas and makes a great little picnic day.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

DIY rolling artist palette and work table with shelves

Like many artists these days I find myself trying to make the most of my small studio space.  While I lived in North Texas I was kind of spoiled.  I had a 400 square foot studio next door to my home complete with a kitchenette and a bathroom.  I had plenty of counter and floor space to utilize for my paints and pastels. After moving back to Southeast Texas I find myself living and working in a small efficiency sized apartment.  At the same time I'm trying to get back to making larger paintings again so I really needed to have space for a good sized palette and paints, brushes, solvents, and mediums.  

I started looking around at artists taborets and rolling work tables and found them too expensive to be practical.  It seems if something is labelled as art studio furniture or art materials it automatically comes with a pretty hefty markup and price tag.  Even basic rolling shelves and carts from the big discount art stores online were in the neighborhood of $200 with several above $400.  I considered buying lumber and building some shelves from scratch, but then it occurred to me to look around at the office supply stores and in the home furnishings departments of stores like Walmart and Target.  I considered everything from rolling computer desks to kitchen carts and tool boxes.  I checked Lowe's and Home Depot and even Harbor Freight and found there are numerous items marketed for home use or DIY workshops ready made that would function well in an art studio.

I almost purchased a rolling computer desk from Office Depot but then decided it was a little short for my uses.  I'm a tall guy and generally paint standing up so I wanted something that stood around waist high.  My only other requirements were that I could put a glass palette on top and have some shelves for paint, brushes, and solvents, and that the shelves are pretty durable. 

I finally decided on these metal shelves from Target.  The brand is Room Essentials and they come in different widths and numbers of shelves and are also available in black.  I purchased the wide three self system in chrome.  I also added the industrial 4 inch casters.  The shelves require no tools to assemble and the casters screw directly in to the bottom of the legs. Each shelf is rated to hold more than 300 pounds. I also bought a roll of shelf lining for the bottom two shelves.  The shelves are modular so I can add additional units later if I want.  Target has all of this together in one location in the store so it was a one stop shopping kind of thing.  The total cost for the shelves and liner was right at $60. 

For the top shelf I cut a piece of 1/2" plywood to fit to lay a sheet of glass on for my palette. The whole system is very sturdy and rolls easily (the wheels do lock in place if I want).  I have ample space for mixing my paint and storage of brushes, large tubes of oil paint, and solvents and medium.  I even found a plastic sheet cover that slides right over the whole cart when I'm not using it.  I'm planning to paint the plywood a medium gray and want to get a bigger sheet of glass for the palette.  I figure I'll also add some offset clips or mirror clips to hold the glass in place on the plywood. 

This was incredibly easy to put together and a quick DIY project for just about anyone.  The shelves, casters, and lining were all done in about an hour.  The only part I needed tools for was cutting the plywood, although if you don't have access to a circular saw or table saw you could buy plywood at one of the home improvement stores or a lumber yard and have them cut it to size for you.  All in all I think it's the best palette system I've ever had, and the bang for the buck can't be beat.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

New charcoal and pastel drawing Angry Bird

Angry Bird
Mark Nesmith
Charcoal and Pastel on Paper
22" x 30"

My daily commute along IH 10 from Winnie to Baytown where I teach takes me past the Old and Lost Rivers and the marshes and wetlands that make up the area.  I often stop for a quick photo as the first rays of sun at dawn cast their warm glow along the water and the reeds and grasses near the bridges.  This morning as I passed I caught sight of a heron, not necessarily an unusual sight in Southeast Texas.  White herons seem to be nearly as plentiful as people where I live, but this blue heron captured my attention with its striking contrast of red and blue and it's Karate Kid like pose.  I snapped a couple of quick photos with my phone and drew a quick pen sketch and continued on to work.

  I recently grabbed a few sheets of Canson printmaking paper on a clearance sale at Michael's,  so at lunch I grabbed a sheet out of the trunk of my car and started this drawing.  Most of the drawing was completed with a bit of Conte crayon and a Ritmo charcoal pencil.  After getting the bird in place I smudged it around and used a kneaded eraser to pull out some of the lighter edges of the feathers.  I used a few soft pastels to add just a hint of color. 

When I first saw this bird he looked to me like he was about to kick the daylight out of someone or something.  I tried to play up the angry bird aspect in his eye and in my rougher handling of the charcoal. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Charcoal drawing for new painting

Although in recent years much of my work has been focused on the landscape, I've always been fascinated by the human form. Portraits and nudes were my earliest inspirations and much of my study in art school at Lamar University revolved around life drawing classes.

Although I've continued to draw and paint portraits over the years, I haven't done any nudes in quite awhile. Recently I've been feeling the pull towards figurative work again and even started making it to the life drawing sessions at The Art Studio in Beaumont to get back into practice.

This is the charcoal drawing for a painting I'm starting of my friend and favorite model. She has amazing spiral curls of red hair and a beautiful, statuesque figure. She used to model at the studio back when I was in college and I must have done dozens if not hundreds of drawings of her back then. Seems fitting that she's the inspiration for my return to the figure. I'm planning to play up some deep red and purple hues throughout this painting to accentuate her hair.

Originally I left out the dresser in the background but really wanted to include the framed nude drawing she has so I added it later. I didn't really care for it at first so I gessoed it out, but then decided the composition needed it so I drew it back in again, although I moved it a bit to the left this time. I also moved the drawing from the left to the right side of the dresser which seems to give a nice counter balance to the weight of the dark headboard and pillows on the bed.

I'm pretty pleased with the drawing as a whole now and have toned the canvas so its ready to start painting when I get back from my weekend trip.

This canvas is 24" x 48" and will be the largest oil painting of a figure I've done in at least a decade. With me luck!

Friday, April 5, 2013

New portrait drawing Queen of Hearts

This started innocenly enough as a pretty straight forward portrait, but as began working on her incredible hair I realized some of the shadow areas I was drawing resembled hearts so I just went with it LOL! I think I'll call this one "Queen of Hearts." It's sepia chalk with a few touches of charcoal and white conte on 18" x 24" paper.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Bolivar Flats

Here's a new 12" x 16" oil painting on canvas from my recent trips to Bolivar Flats near Galveston. This was painted in two short sessions over the past two days in between working on some larger paintings. Lots on people put down Texas beaches, and it's true that there's often too much liter and waste lining the beach, but I've always found the wild, overgrown patches of the less touristy beaches like Bolivar Flats to be sublimely beautiful. I really love the rhythm of the tall sea oats against the flickering bright light reflecting off the sand.