Boxwood flute

Boxwood Flute © 2009 Margaret Sloan

This painting is a portrait of a young woman I met at Friday Harbor Irish Music Camp. Her flute was made of boxwood, which has a tendency to warp.  Hers was bent in a charming shape. But, she said, it hadn’t really made any difference in how it played. It was a sweet-toned flute, and fit her playing style very well.

It took me a while to finish this painting, with many sketches and smaller studies. I started off rather badly; the night I began I was exhausted, and there was loud, very interesting music playing in the classroom. I have a really hard time working when music is playing, because my brain stands up and says, hey! There’s music going on over here that you need to come listen to right now! It’s one of the things I know about how my brain works. I can’t have music playing when I’m painting or drawing.

Fear and sketching in Tres Pinos

RichardThis sketch is of my friend Richard. Richard is a versatile musician. He plays Irish music, old time music, jazz. I’ve known him over a decade now, and he has taught me numerous tunes.  I drew  this picture in a Kunst & Papier watercolor journal I won from  a contest held by one of my favorite bloggers, Roz Stendahl. The paper’s not great for watercolor; it doesn’t hold a lot of  watercolor pigment and it buckles. But it’s a nice feeling book to work in, and the paper will take very light washes of color. I like the way the Tombow goes down, and I like the way pencil slides across the paper. The book is sturdy, and fun to carry around.

I love drawing musicians while they play music. Trouble is, I’m shy about sketching in front of people I don’t know. Or even those I do know, unless I trust them—as I do Richard. I’m still working on my chops in the portrait department, and I still feel inadequate. Criticism isn’t helpful.

I am trying to get over this. I’m trying to get over the feeling that people who look at me while I’m painting are grading me or rejecting me. I think it goes back to an old boyfriend who once said, “You’re not going to be one of those artists who draws in public all the time, are you? People will look at you!”

And people do look. They crane their necks to look at you, stand over you and breath on you, make comments. It’s disconcerting. But of course they look at you.  David Hardy, at the Atelier, tells me that people “are fascinated and consider you special. You have added to the excitement in their life.”  What?! Little old me?

I know that other artists aren’t shy. Roz Stendahl goes to places like the state fair specifically to sketch. She writes about these jaunts as if they were an expedition, packing what she’ll need as if she were going to discover and sketch the headwaters of the Nile. I’ve decided to emulate her.

This weekend we’re going to the Good Old Fashioned  Bluegrass Festival in Tres Pinos.I’ve never been, and I don’t play bluegrass music, although I’ve listened to a fair amount of it. My husband will be appearing in his band, Harmon’s Peak. I’m going on a mission: to draw people. I’m going to have to force myself to do it, as the thought of sketching in public like that makes me weak in the knees. What a wuss I am!

I’m planning it like it’s an expedition. I’ve got to choose what medium to work in, and which sketch book I’ll take. Then I have to remember my glasses. And to take deep breaths. And to have fun.

Painting hands

hands playing flute

These are the hands of William Bajzek, a very fine Irishflute player from County Santa Clara (that would be in California).

When you play the wooden flute, you feel the flute vibrate through your hands and the air rush up through the finger holes. A well-made flute feels nearly alive in your hands, ready to start singing at barely a breath of air. When I watch William play, it seems to me that his hands as well as his ears are listening to his flute.

monochromaticstudyI’ve painted this image in watercolor 8 times. The first 6 paintings were one-color value studies, painted on Biggie watercolor paper, 2- up. I was trying to understand the way the values moved across the forms, and how to manipulate the paint. With watercolor especially, you need to have a plan, a framework around which to build your spontanaity, and I’m trying to figure out that plan.

I’m posting just one pair of my favorite one-color studies. I think it’s nice as one color, but I have a color piece in mind.

The first time I tried to use color was disastrous. Lesson learned: start with light value colors first, and progress to dark values. Also, be very careful with staining color, because it’s nearly impossible to remove.

I’m not entirely happy with this first color version, although it has a freshness to it. But the cheap paper buckles unattractively. And I’d like it to be a little tighter, less impressionistic, although I know that is the style in watercolor right now. Somehow I’d like to combine freshness and control in my watercolors.

If you’d like to know more about woodenflutes, you can start at