Author Archives: Pamela Atkinson

About Pamela Atkinson

My paintings focus on colors ability to surprise, comfort, and evoke mystery and memory. Using both watercolor and acrylic paint, I work with emergent forms to explore the seen and unseen world around us.

Painting and Process

 

Nascence, (Coming Into Being), Acrylic on Canvas, 22" x 30", © 2015, Pamela Atkinson, Pam Atkinson, pamelaatkinson.net, pamelaatkinsonart.com, Painting, Watercolor, Acrylic, Art Workshops and Classes, Riverside CA, Southern CA, Visual Artist, Children's Art Classes, Art Camps

Pamela Atkinson, “Nascence, (Coming Into Being)”, Acrylic on Canvas, 22″ x 30″, © 2015

I’ve been known to find artwork from a few years ago and not remember making it. Looking at it, I wonder why I didn’t value it more. Could the answer be that I wasn’t ready to accept the direction it was taking my work? Was I so involved with my current thoughts that I didn’t want  the distraction of a new concept?

Making a painting is like going on a long trip; what you discover along the way can surprise and delight, and sometimes dismay, but it’s always exciting, and in the end it’s worth all the effort and that’s why I paint.

I’ve read many books that say you need to plan the composition and value placement so that your work looks cohesive, and as a teacher I believe this. But if I follow this advise it leads to stale looking work; stiff and lifeless. I’ve planned paintings in this way and the work was successful but the painter was bored! Where were the surprises and what about the mystery? The adventurous way, and my preferred way of working, is to see where the process takes me. It’s my belief, that since my paintings come from my thoughts there is a built-in harmony between my various artworks. But I know that to pull this off you need good solid knowledge of art making techniques and time spent experimenting with different materials. Art history is crucial, it teaches you to appreciate what you’re seeing and the people who have come before you. Without all of this you are flailing around with a paintbrush in your hand.

I hope you enjoy my newest painting (above) and that it speaks clearly to all who patiently look. It represents energy in it’s raw form becoming something beautiful and strong. It takes determination and patience to create a painting but the final work is well worth the journey.

I’m always curious about other artist’s creative processes. Please write a comment about your artwork and include a link to your site!

The Big Ta Da!

“The difference between art and science is that science is what we understand well enough to explain to a computer. Art is everything else.” -Donald Knuth, American computer scientist, mathematician, and professor emeritus at Stanford University.

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This student is in the 7th grade.  His compositions are always unusual and well thought out and his brushstrokes create a sense of movement throughout the composition.

Parents love the performance, the big game, the recital; it’s a chance to have their child in the spotlight and have bragging rights, too! I love theater, dance, and music and I enjoy seeing children on stage, and all are important components of a well-rounded education. But what about the visual arts? There is rarely applause, but painting, drawing, and sculpture are just as important to the education of a child and to our society as the performing arts. The joy a young child feels when they create an artwork is magnified by the fact that their creation can be shared with their classmates and family. The knowledge that your art can bring joy to others is empowering. It’s an opportunity for a child to have a positive effect on their world.

Why should children participate in art class? Creating a painting is personal; the artist can communicate feelings they may have no words to express. Gaining an understanding of their emotions can help a child develop compassion and caring for others and for themselves.

DSCN7343

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These third grade students were given the same instruction and viewed the same examples, but the three paintings are all unique.  No two children are alike and their artwork shouldn't be either.

These third grade students were given the same instruction and viewed the same examples, but the three paintings are all unique. No two children are alike and their artwork shouldn’t be either.

The abilities of their classmates have a strong effect on a child’s sense of worth. Excelling in a subject and being proud of your work is crucial to self-esteem. By focusing only on Science and Math we leave a large percentage of children vulnerable to making false assumptions about their ability to succeed in the world. Developing self-discipline and the courage to keep going is something that the visual arts can develop in a child. Creating more and more artwork, the student’s skills and understanding of the process of making art develops, as does their ability to communicate their thoughts and ideas.

Arts education is crucial if we are to have a society that is literate, able to solve problems, and think creatively. These skills are needed in the rapidly changing 21st century. The procedures used in making an artwork are a mixture of knowledge; some of it technical, acquired experience, and on-the-spot intuition.

It’s my belief that everyone can learn to draw, paint, or make a sculpture, but most children are never given the intellectual tools or the opportunity. Creating artwork takes an accumulation of experiments to reach the place where all the elements and principles come together for success. This process should start early and continue through elementary school at the very least. Years of exploring and experimenting will help a child develop an understanding of what it means to be a creative thinker. Practice is important; not everything that’s created will become a finished artwork, but each attempt will be a step in the development of skills and  expand the artist’s knowledge. Art can set students on a path that leads to a life of creative thinking, problem solving, and the joy of making and appreciating art.

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This student is in the 5th grade and she has a well-developed sense of style. All the artwork in this post was created by students from All Saints Carden Academy.

 

Private Lessons

Teaching is an active profession. Filling my time in the classroom is never a problem, I’m always moving from one student to the next; fetching supplies, showing new techniques, and discussing what the kids are creating. Sometimes it’s hectic, but I enjoy my students’ creative enthusiasm. It suits me and contrasts nicely with the quiet time I spend making my artwork.

Then there are the private lessons. In the beginning, I had doubts that I could quietly observe and guide only one person. What would I do with all the spare time? It turns out that these hours are some of the happiest of my work week. I’ve gotten to know some wonderful people and share their artistic successes.

Self Portrait, Age 12

Self Portrait, Age 12

Above is a self-portrait by one of my favorite students.  She has just turned thirteen and is smart and creative, and we have an excellent rapport. She challenges me but also respects my advice. We first met when she was nine and I’ve been working with her for a little over three years. She may want a career in art and I want to give her a good start; lots of basic knowledge balanced by her interests and curiosity. One of the ways we’re marking her progress is that she periodically paints a horse.  

Horse painted in the 4th grade.

First Horse, painted in the 4th grade.

It was one of the first images she painted with me and repeating it was her idea.  She’s serious about her artwork and is willing to take time to build a strong portfolio. This first picture, above, is well composed and the pink horse is delightful.  For the latest depiction, I wanted her to create a grayscale painting and use glazes to add the color.  It’s an old technique, but the understanding gained was worth all her hard work.

Grisaille underpainting.

Grisaille underpainting.

The final painting.  Glazes of color were used over the underpainting.  The musculature of the animal shows through sheer color.

The finished painting. Glazes of color were applied over the underpainting so that the  musculature of the animal shows through the sheer color.

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Her lastest painting is a watercolor. It’s a wonderful tribute to a dog friend who passed away. Much love and care went into making this special work.

I’m amazed at how her technical ability has grown over the past three years and I’m looking forward to seeing how her talent evolves.  She has the intellect  and the drive and her portfolio is off to a good start!

Studio Space

I enjoy reading Hyperallergic’s A View from the Easel. Artists send in images of their studios along with a written description. I like the messy spaces the best.  They make me wonder what’s going on under all the stuff, and I’m envious of the people who have a huge space in which to spread out. It got me to thinking about own my workspace, which I love but have never called a studio. It holds my easel, a large work table with space for my paints, computer, and stacks of miscellaneous items from my current projects, a bookcase, and a smaller table for my watercolors. I share the space with our dog Louie and his toys. The space in front of my easel is his favorite daytime location.

Louie sharing his space with Floating, acrylic painting on canvas, 30″ x 40″, ©2015

Louie sharing his space with “Floating”, acrylic painting on canvas, 30″ x 40″, ©2015, Pamela Atkinson

It’s a sunny space.  I’m grateful for the floor to ceiling windows, except in the summer when it gets too hot. From early morning the light filters into the room and illuminates my easel. I’m addicted to the light and all the shifts and changes it makes throughout the day. I used to paint through the night under bulbs balanced for daylight,  I still use them to work on my watercolors, but for my larger paintings there is nothing like sunshine. The light helps to define the colors and show off the many layers of pigment I use to create the forms. In return, when the light begins to dim the mood of the painting shifts and the colors take on a mysterious glow.

I’ve always liked working at home. I get feedback from a very knowledgable man and our dog keeps me from taking my painting too seriously. Where do you do your best work?  I’d love to hear, please leave your comments.  

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But I Don’t Need Any Paint!

I’m a paint snob! I only like quality brands and Golden is the only acrylic paint I use. Their fluid acrylics are the best and I can’t do without the Acrylic Glazing Liquid. Depending on the look I want: I paint it on the canvas before I add color, I mix it into the pigment to make it more transparent or to create a glaze, and I use it on top of the paint to blend it. These paints are easy to use and create consistent results and I recommend them to my adult students.

Going to the art supply store is one of the fun things we do on the weekend. It’s a toy store for artists but because my favorite store is 50 miles away, I make sure that my inventory of both acrylic paint and watercolor doesn’t get low. I don’t need paint but Golden has a new line of watercolors called QOR, and I couldn’t resist!  I purchased the High Chroma Set of 6 colors which contained Green Gold, Quinacridone Gold, Transparent Pyrrole Orange, Cobalt Teal, Dioxazine Purple and Quinacridone Magenta, in 5 ml tubes. The advertising copy says they are “amazingly brilliant” and its true! I’ve used most of the major brands of watercolors and these react in a different way and the colors glow!

For my basic palette, my favorite brand is DaVinci, the paint is high quality and the tubes are large, 37mL, and like Golden, they have always been helpful when I’ve had questions about a product.  Lately, I’ve been using Daniel Smith Watercolors because of all their unusual colors. I’m an artist who prefers to use 5 tubes of paint or less in a painting, so it’s fun to add in colors like Indanthrone Blue and Perylene Maroon.

Most quality brands of paint handle in a similar way, but QOR moves differently on the paper. Gum Arabic is the binder for watercolors but QOR uses a unique product.  There is a nice introductory video on the QOR site that explains the difference.   I needed to make a couple of adjustments to my technique to get the colors to flow one into another without hard edges. With the QOR colors it took more effort to accomplish the fluid look I want, but once I got used to the way it applied I didn’t have a problem. Watercolors come in transparent, opaque, and granulating which look uneven on the surface of the paper, these qualities give a painting its  character. I didn’t use any granulating pigments in the painting below, but the Cobalt Teal (included in the set) is  granulating and Semi-Opaque.  All the pigments I used were transparent, except Dioxazine Purple, which is semitransparent.  The colors are bright and clear and mix well with each other and they all have a similar intensity which gives the painting a contemporary look.

All the Stars int the Universe, Watercolor, 9" x 12", © 2014

Pamela Atkinson, “All the Stars int the Universe”, Watercolor, 9″ x 12″, © 2015,  Print available in Pamela’s Etsy shop.

I’m looking forward to trying some of the other QOR colors. I like the clean, bright quality of the paint. But I need to remember, that I don’t need any more paint!  

What’s your favorite paint?  Have you tried QOR?  What do you think?

First Day Jitters

 

Self Portraits, created by students from Saint Francis de Sales Elementary, 2013/14 school year.

For the last few years, I’ve been teaching art at two different schools. Getting to know the kids over a period of time has its advantages.  I appreciate Sally’s beautiful line drawings and  Thunder’s colorful and bold designs and it’s easy to guide students to a deeper understanding of art making when you know them and how they approach an assignment.  I’m delighted to see all the kid’s skills develop and that moment, around the 4th grade when those who were struggling to understand observational drawing finally grasp how it works, makes me as happy as it does them. Most of my students apply what I teach them and build on previous lessons, and because of this, their artwork is confident and inventive. This year, I’ve added a new school to the mix. One of my teaching partners, Sofia Atmatzidou-Eulgem and I are creating  an art program for 230 students grades Kindergarten through 8th.

I’m working with the 4th to 8th grades and any nerves I felt at meeting the kids were soon forgotten. Most of them were enthusiastic and extremely polite and my first day went by in a flash. The students seemed happy to have the opportunity to draw but there are those few worried students that I hope to reach. They were too well-behaved to groan outwardly, but wrapping their arms around their paper to shield it from my view is a sure sign of discomfort and one student erased his whole drawing as the rest of the class was turning in their work.  My drawing pencils and I caused some kids to want to be anywhere but in there seats.

Art is a funny thing, most people think you’re either born with the ability to create or you’re not. That everything an artists makes is easy to do and looks amazing when completed. If this were true, the world would be a much more visually exciting place. But art making requires knowledge, thought, ability, perseverance, and the courage to evaluate what you’ve created and make changes when necessary, all skills I try to convey to young artists.

I want all of my students to learn and have a wonderful experience, but most of all I want the worried kids to know that it’s not about being the best, it’s about enjoying the process.

Check out http://creativekidshavefun.com to learn more about our programs and to view our student’s work.

 

What Gets Your Creativity Flowing?

Moon Moss Season Set

Pamela Atkinson, Set of “Moon Moss” prints, digital prints of original watercolors, each image measures 7″ x 9″. Original watercolors and prints available in Pamela’s Etsy shop.

What gets your creativity flowing? For me, it might be the weather. I’m a California girl by choice, not birth. Originally from Illinois, I came here after hearing talk of not one more snowy winter! My parents had had it! Since I was a child, I had no say in the matter and off we went to sunnier climes. But I’ve always felt the loss of the seasons; flowers blooming, leaves falling, and even the snow (or the romantic idea of snow).  A feeling that the passage of time means something more than people changing the strings of holiday lights around their houses from pumpkins to icicles. Now, in the ever sunny and hot environment in which we live, I long for a change that doesn’t come.  Yes, it gets cooler but not cool enough. And so, every year, I strain to feel the crispness of autumn in the air and watch for the pattern of the light to change. It signifies for me a chance to dig deeper into myself and create.

What sparks or inhibits your creative output? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Creativity Versus Formula

Aiden, is in the 7th grade and created this unique silhouette portrait.

Aiden, is in the 7th grade and created this unique silhouette portrait.

Gavin, a 5th grader incorporated his interests in building and Legos into his background.  By personalizing his portrait he adds interest and meaning to the final design.

Gavin, a 5th grader incorporated his interests in building and Legos into his background. Personalizing his portrait  adds interest and meaning to the final design.

Discovery and growth are an important part of the art making process. I want my young students to use their imaginations and develop good visual problem solving strategies. One of my strengths is being able to analyze and make suggestions that can enhance a painting or drawing while helping a student to see more deeply and evaluate their own work.

Technique is important, but it usually develops with time and experience.  I find I need to repeat specific techniques or principles several times to get people to try something new. One of my adult students told me it took her hearing and seeing a new concept three times before she began to incorporate this knowledge into her own work. I don’t know if this is the case for all, but my observations tell me it’s true.

Skye is six and  has developed an unusual  brushstroke technique.  She puts a brush in both hands and dips each in a different color.  She  is able to blend and layer the pigments using her unique physical abilities to amazing results.

Skye is six and has developed an unusual brushstroke technique. She puts a brush in both hands and dips each in a different color. She is able to blend and layer the pigments using her unique physical abilities to amazing results.

Today, I wanted the kids to layer tempera paint so that the first color applied shines through the subsequent layers of pigment. It’s a tough concept but its fun to work on mixing the paint on the paper and not on a palette, and the results are a more complex color story. It saddened me to see that several of the paintings had a formulaic background. I don’t teach to a recipe, so they learned this elsewhere.  These paintings lacked spontaneity and personal style. I like to look at a student’s work and know who the painter is without looking at the name. The children are all unique personalities and that should come through in their choice of color, their brushstrokes, and even in what they leave out of the finished work. It’s a lot easier to have students follow directions and make a painting that looks just like the example, but what are they really learning?

To view more of my student’s work, visit http://creativekidshavefun.com.

Excavation

I’ve never met a creative person who isn’t a bit of a pack rat and I’m no exception! For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reliving my creative past; in other words, I’ve been cleaning out closets. Excavating, evaluating, and marveling at the amount of stuff I have accumulated. I knew I’d been saving things in case I needed them but some of the things I found were long forgotten and sometimes, even now, impossible to part with; like the scrapbook of ideas I made when I was 20. I don’t recall making it but it is so me that it’s surprising; the person I am now and the person I was aren’t that much different. I went so far as to put the book on the throw away pile but I had second thoughts and it’s nestled on the top shelf of the closet destined to be found again sometime in the future. A sweet reminder of my youthful style.

Pam and work 1985

Thank you Janice Mercure, you took this picture of me (Pamela Atkinson) and one of my handmade paper reliefs a long time ago and it was one of the things I was happy to find.

Over the years, my artwork has gone through changes and the supplies I unearthed reflected my interests and preoccupations. I found the best work I made in college and photo’s of artwork I’ve sold. These things will stay but I’ve been ruthless and only the treasures I’ll be happy to find in the future are packed away.  My twenty year old silk screen inks are at the toxic waste disposal.

Reflecting on how my style has changed and being able to look back on what was happening in my life when I created the work is a bonus.  Finding the elements that tie my diverse body of work together is fun and not surprising.  I started out as a painter and became a fiber artist, who became a paper maker,  who went back to painting.  I want to always be a painter.  I feel fulfilled using a brush and pigments.  My stint as a fiber artist in college had more to do with a supportive professor and a hospitable creative environment.  A good teacher can make a big difference in a artist’s life.

The ideas I want to express have changed overtime but the core thoughts are ever-present.  A curiosity about the unknown, the spiritual, femininity and strength are as important in my work now as they were in the beginning.

Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear if time has changed your artwork or not.

 

 

Tribute

It is with great sadness that I write this post, one of my painting students passed away last week.

About twelve years ago, I received a call from a woman who wanted to come to my watercolor/acrylic painting class and paint with oils. I said no. I explained that I hadn’t used oil paints since high school and wouldn’t be able to help her. She came anyway! And boy am I glad she did! If she’d listened to me I would have missed meeting a generous, thoughtful, sensitive woman, who spoke her mind without apology.

Classes come and go, and I was no longer teaching adults when I got another call. Could I come and work with a small group in her home studio? Of course I said yes, and three years ago I began what her son called “Tuesdays with Laurie.” Laurie referred to the group as the “Golden Girls,” three unforgettable women, all with different painting styles, and all dedicated to supporting each others efforts.

Laurie painted places she had visited and cared about; pictures with meaning and memories. She appeared to have no angst or fear about starting a new painting and worked to make each canvas the best it could be, even reworking paintings she had done in the past to get them just right. She was always on the look out for inspiration and loved the look of laundry hanging on a line.

When you work with people over a period of time you get to know them; where they grew up, the places they’ve lived, the people they love, and how they feel about life. I’m lucky to have gotten to know Laurie. She was irrepressible. I will always remember her joy, laughter, and curiosity.  Laurie Chamberlain, you will be missed and I will remember all you taught me!