The fruit of winter’s labor: A painting of red Indian corn

"Red Indian Corn" colored pencil and watercolor on paper, 30" x 22", by Wren M. Allen.

So many details! Working on this 30″ x 22″ mixed-media (colored pencil and watercolor on paper) painting, “Red Indian Corn,” challenged and developed my rendering skills.

I’m so pleased to share this image with you all! This depiction of an ear of red Indian (or decorative) corn has been challenging me all autumn and winter long. First came the difficulty of composing the contour drawing, with the wildly flying dried leaves of the husk. Then figuring out how to render the glossy texture and subtle colorings of the kernels became an obsession. My final quest was balancing the pale, dramatic movement of the husk against the weight of the darker column of the cob.

This particular ear of corn ignited my inspiration over the other corn cobs I bought at an Española farm stand because of its wild, waving leaves curving around the vertical cob in a perfect example of Matisse’s “arabesque”. My working title, in fact, was “Wild-Haired”.

At the beginning of March, I realized I might actually be able to make an exhibit submissions deadline if I could complete the image. All my creative time this month has been devoted to this beauty, instead of blogging or working on my classwork for Lisa Coddington’s spring bulbs course. Time well spent, I’d say! 🙂

A great weekend to all!

Tools of the trade: Using a smartphone to record progress

Botanical painting of red Indian corn, work in progress. Snapping a photo of daily progress in the studio helps with motivation.

A snapshot a day keeps discouragement away when working on big projects.

Painting a botanical art plant portrait is a slow and laborious process. Details build up slowly, almost invisibly. It’s easy to lose motivation when it seems like nothing is happening on the paper and there’s still so much more left to paint.

To combat discouragement, I like to take a quick snappy on my iPhone of my current project at the end of each work session or day. This gives me concrete evidence that I’m making progress and motivates me to get back to the drawing table the next morning.

Using a camera to record work in progress is a time-honored habit among artists. Hilary Spurling has described how Matisse would photograph his day’s work on his late Blue Nude painting before his assistant would wipe the canvas clean for the great artist to start fresh the next morning. Picasso took snapshots of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as he worked on what was to become the world’s first Cubist painting.

Do you take snapshots of your work in progress? What mental tricks do you use to keep yourself motivated while you work on a major project with lots of details?

Hello Soul, Hello Mantras: Using intentions while painting

Painting intentions can have many variations. In this watercolor and colored pencil painting of red Indian corn, I am focused on rendering the textures.

I find that painting intentions work best when they relate to the subject at hand–in this case, detailed rendering of an ear of Indian corn.

One of the key aspects of Kelly Rae Roberts’ Hello Soul, Hello Mantras e-course is the notion of working with intention. Kelly Rae encourages her students to put stickies with their intention for the painting session before they begin to work. The idea is to create a guide for how you want to feel while working on your painting, and a goal for things to learn about yourself while in the act of painting. Some examples might be: “Cut loose!” “Dance with the paint.” “There are no ugly colors!’

In other words, the focus of the intentions is on the act of painting and the painting session itself.

For me, this has been difficult. I really like to set my focus on the work of art. In the case of the mantra paintings I prefer to think about the mantra itself. Certain phrases suggest certain textures or colors. Maybe a mantra about flying would have a blue and white color scheme or fluffy, feathery textures in the background?

When I’m working on a botanical art painting, my intention is to render the subject with its textures and colors.

Currently, I’m working a watercolor and colored pencil portrait of an ear of Indian corn.

My intentions while painting are some key words about the two halves of the vegetable.

While working on the leaves, I think, “Crispy. Brittle. Ribbons.” For this ear of corn, I think of the leaves as “Wild-haired.”

My intentions for the kernels are, “Juicy.” “Glass.” “Jelly.” “Glow.”

These intentions influence how I apply the colors, the shape of the marks I make, the color combinations I choose.

You can use intentions while you work in so many different ways!

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