Saturday, October 17, 2015

Manchac, Louisiana

Phil took me out to paint on location for the first time in almost 2 months, and we went all out!  All the way out to Manchac that is, which is about 40 minutes northwest of New Orleans.

Manchac is located between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas in Tangipahoa Parish. From where we set up on a narrow island on the Owl Bayou, we could see the underside of Highway 51 to the east, and the residential area only accessible via boats to the west.

I painted one of the unused boardwalks.

Manchac Boardwalk
oil on canvas, 14"x18"
Phil said that this painting looked tonalist. It definitely has a lot of grays instead of intense color.  I had never really thought about characteristics in paintings in terms of tonalist vs. colorist in the past. But now I enjoy looking at Whistler's nocturnes and Twachtman's landscapes more than before.

I hope that the cross-contour lines show how this short boardwalk twists in different directions. The boardwalk in real life looked beautiful in the dappled sunlight.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Thoughts on (Cheap) Brushes

Looking for different types of painting brushes on-line on a budget is not easy. At all.

I'm still in the process of learning how to paint, and learning how different types of brushes work. The best way to find out is to I guess use different types of brushes myself, right?

Each brand makes so many varieties of brushes. Sure, some websites nowadays mention the length and the width of the brush head because sizes in numbers don't mean anything. And they usually say 'long handle' or 'short handle.' That's it? I want to know how long your long handle is, on every brush size. I want to know if the handle becomes extremely skinny two inches away from the ferrule or gradually becomes skinny towards the end of the handle. How springy is a 'superb spring'?

I was spending too much time sitting at the computer instead of painting. So I went down to two different art supply stores just to take a look in person, and ended up buying 6 brushes in 2 varieties only because they were $3.99 each.

Big mistake.

Although I was aware of short life expectancies of cheap brushes, the way their lives ended one by one within days of each other was so funny that I actually laughed out loud en plein air a couple of times. And I'm known for not laughing out loud enough in hysterical situations.

the first casualty, death by decapitation

It's too bad, because I really liked these brushes - not too stiff, not too soft, with 'superb spring' one might say. But we weren't meant to be together, for more than two weeks.

this happened to the rest of them

Was it me? Honey talk to me. I'm begging you.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

DIY Paint Brush or Painting Pouch (Or Handmade Bubble Mailer)

Getting ready for air travel is a lot more complicated these days than let's say back in February 2001: My husband and I took a trip to Japan together for the first time, and we had a huge bottle of shochu in our carry-on luggage on our way back to the U.S. There were gallons of (somewhat) flammable liquids on that transpacific flight.

I've been doing some research on flying with my painting gear, and I almost gave up couple of times. But hey, painting on location seemed like a nightmare especially without a car, but it hasn't been that difficult once you got what you needed to make it happen. So here is what I did today in preparation for my upcoming painting trip - I made a paint brush pouch using double bubble insulation material, insulation tape, and velcro tape.

why don't I just buy a nice brush wallet at art supply stores?
I didn't have time or $20.
Recycled plastic grocery bags have been my brush bags of choice. You just cover your brushes with leftover paint at the end of the painting session, double bag them with grocery bags and stick them in the freezer at home. My teacher Phil had taught me well: the brushes last longer that way and you don't have to clean 15 brushes every night.

Obviously you shouldn't take a long trip with oil paint-covered brushes so I washed them today. Now what? I have to pack them nicely into my checked baggage so that the airport security won't declare them weapons.

scissors, a sharpie and a ruler are my friends forever
Some of you may be thinking, but wait, is using reflective material a good idea for air travel, even in a checked luggage? The answer is no, and it is a horrible idea. But my suitcase will be inspected anyway with all the paint tubes and palette knives and whatnot, so at this point it doesn't really matter. All I can do is label everything so that it is obvious to the security personnels that they are for painting and not to harm anybody on the plane.

I can hear you saying, why don't you just use a bubble mailer? Sure. But I didn't have one around. Instead I already had this huge roll of insulation material that I bought to make giant pouches to fit my large paintings. By the way those pouches really work well for both framed and unframed paintings because they are basically, you guessed it, reusable giant bubble mailers. Although not suitable for shipping, in-town delivery to art fairs, galleries, etc. is a breeze thanks to my lovely shiny insulation buddies.

The material cost here maybe much greater than a $20 brush wallet with nice zippers, if you had to buy everything I mentioned. But as I said, they were already here at home, and you can make about a hundred little pouches with one roll of insulation. Plus I got to make things myself and pretty soon this brush pouch will be covered with my fat sharpie doodles. You can't do that on a fancy brush wallet, can you!?

finishing touches: two pairs of velcro strips
this even fits inside my palette!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

City Park Pigeonnier

City Park in New Orleans has a house for pigeons called Colombier de Carol. What a nice name!

Colombier de Carol
oil on canvas, 18"x14"

To be honest, I didn't know what the structure was for when I was painting it. The human-sized door was open and some park workers were mowing the grass behind me, so I assumed it was a really fancy storage. Then I realized that this brick hexagon building had 10 small holes on each wall, with tiny wooden balconies for birds to sit on. There was also a plaque that explained how this pigeonnier was donated to the City Park in 1928 by Felix Dreyfous, and was named after his granddaughter Carol. It is located behind the Casino building (where Morning Call coffee stand is) on a small island called, what else, the Pigeon Island.

Although there weren't any pigeons around at that time, I can't imagine how many pigeons might come home to this when the sun goes down. Or maybe they aren't fond of this house and never come home - it looks too clean, doesn't it?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Magazine Street Parade

There is a song called Bourbon Street Parade - it's a second line staple in New Orleans. Although official parades rarely go down on Lower Garden portion of Magazine Street (except for the huge St. Pat's Day parades), there are quite a few small parades every once in a while.

I was painting in my old 'hood in Lower Garden District, on Magazine at Euterpe, with my teacher Phil on a Friday morning. At about 10:30, I noticed a bunch of people gathering around in small groups along Magazine St. just standing and waiting. One woman parked her gigantic SUV right next to where I was painting, idling her car, for half an hour. She was texting the whole time, and looked like someone who never had to be a foot away from an idling SUV in 90 degree heat for half an hour in her entire life. And suddenly she shut off the engine, got out, and walked away, leaving her SUV parked on the corner, right on top of one of those yellow diagonal lines indicating "you shall not park here. it is a corner." 

Then a parade came down the street. It was a last-day-of-school parade from the International School. Everyone was dressed up in pseudo-traditional outfit representing different countries that they recently studied about.  They teach all subjects in French and Spanish, but the first country represented in the parade was... Japon!

A little girl handed me this without explanation.
I had to smell it to know it was a coffee bean.

stilt walkers ended the short parade.

back to painting

I had to finish up in a hurry and forgot to put balcony railings. Oh well.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Rusty Fence in Mandeville, LA

The city of Mandeville is located on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain, right on the foot of Causeway bridge that runs in the middle of the lake. Causeway is an extremely straight, two-lane highway with no shoulders.

After an agonizing 40 minute drive from New Orleans, you'll reach a quaint residential area overlooking the big lake. Lakeshore Drive runs alongside the shoreline, and a couple of nice restaurants cater to the residents. And their ground floors are 15 feet above ground. 40 steps of stairs will prepare you for a guilt-free meal.

When hurricanes hit New Orleans, except for the famous one that came in 2005, we typically experience street floods caused by pumps not pumping rain water fast enough out of the bowl in which we live. But if you live on Lakeshore Drive in Mandeville, you would see lake water gushing into your homes. When the flood insurance rate went up across the country, what most residents and restaurants on Lakeshore Drive did was elevate the existing structure. Some rebuilt from scratch with grand staircases leading up to the main entrance.

And others decided not to deal with any of it, and put the vacant lot for sale.

Rusty Fence
oil on canvas, 36"x24"

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Zorn Palette in New Orleans Urban Landscape

Only 4 tubes of paint, yellow ochre, red (vermillion), white and black, are used in what they call the Zorn Palette, named after Anders Zorn, suited for portrait painting. This palette is too limiting to be used in painting landscapes, especially because New Orleans' ridiculously blue sky can not be created with black and white, and foliage won't have its vibrancy with the greens created with black and ochre. But I tried it anyway.

Shadows on Lowerline
oil on canvas, 18"x24"

Circle Bar
oil on canvas, 16"x20"

Shadows on Lowerline (top) is supposed to be a sunny day painting, but because of the absence of blue sky peaking through the trees on upper left corner and the bright green leaves on the trees, it almost looks like a nocturne painting with the shadows cast by a streetlight, reminiscent of the "day for night" strangeness of old film noir or French New Wave films.

On the other hand, Circle Bar came out better because it was a cloudy day with warm milky sky. The local colors of the two buildings helped as well.

It is exciting to see what 4 tubes of paint can do!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Shades of Green

It's early summer in New Orleans and all the different shades of green are giving me a headache. Really. I'm allergic to oak trees and weeds and other things commonly seen in the outdoors. And I have trouble painting trees and grass... Man it's hard.

Bell Tower from Audubon Park, New Orleans
oil on panel, 12"x16"

Oak Tree in City Park, New Orleans
oil on canvas, 18"x14"

Shades of Green, Audubon Park, New Orleans
oil on canvas, 14"x18"

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Shadows-On-The-Teche Plein Air 2015 (part 2)

The inaugural Plein Air Competition was organized by Shadows-On-The-Teche, a historic house and garden in downtown New Iberia, La. From April 11 to 18, the participating artists were allowed free entry to the area's historic sites, including Avery Island and Tabasco factory's Jungle Gardens, and Jefferson Island where Rip Van Winkle Gardens is located. 

Both Avery Island and Jefferson Island are salt domes, and according to the Iberia Parish's travel guide, there are five "islands" in the region. They "rise up above the grassy marshlands and prairies that surround them. From 50 to 100 feet above sea level, these areas of high ground are sitting on top of mammoth, immovable columns of salt, which hold them up above the surrounding countryside. These monoliths of salt are two to three miles wide and five miles or more in depth."

The judge of the competition and my teacher Phil Sandusky had told me about Rip Van Winkle Gardens and that's where I painted first, with fellow painter Peg Usner, while our husbands chatted over iced tea off camera.

Peg and I use the same palette & easel set up,
made by Art Box & Panel

Lake Peigneur
oil on canvas, 14"x18"

April 12 - Above is a view of Lake Peigneur, from one of the many structures in Rip Van Winkle Gardens. It was raining and we painted under the awning of a banquet hall. The brick chimney in the middle of the canvas belongs to a house that sunk into the lake in 1980. I didn't know about this when I painted the chimney, but there was a man-made disaster where "a Texaco oil rig accidentally drilled into the Diamond Crystal Salt Company salt mine under the lake." (wikipedia)

Long story short, the lake drained into the salt mine, creating a waterfall that swallowed 11 barges and a backwards flow of the salt water from the Delcambre Canal and Vermilion Bay. Amazingly, all of the salt miners and oil rig workers escaped and there were no injuries.

April 13 - I was all alone with no car. And it rained cats and dogs in the morning. So I set up inside the screened porch and painted what was there.

View From Porch I
oil on panel, 12"x16"

Luckily the rain stopped after lunch and I took a 20-minute hike to the Amtrak station in downtown New Iberia. It was extremely windy and I set up in front of a huge blue dumpster but had to hold onto my easel the whole time I was painting.

photo by Kathy Chassee

The Erath Building
oil on canvas, 14"x18"

The Erath Building has nothing to do with Amtrak, but it is right in front of the station. It was built in 1880s and the front of the building currently houses an art gallery.

April 14 - I woke up to thunder, lightning, and buckets of rain. It was porch painting time again.

View From Porch II
oil on panel, 10"x8"

In late afternoon I walked to nearby City Park to scout some locations. The flash flood warning was in effect but the rain had subsided.

April 15 - finally a while day without rain!
I set up under a little shelter in City Park. The ground was saturated and fire ants were everywhere. And off course the trash bin right next to me was full of stinky garbage... why do I always set up next to trash bins and dumpsters?

Footbridge in City Park
oil on canvas, 14"x18"

Then there was a welcome party at Shadows-on-the-Teche, with shrimp jambalaya and huge fried shrimp.

photo by Kathy Chassee

April 16 - Phil and I set up to paint the same subject which was the Minuteman Furniture Restoration on Julia Street. It rained on and off but we were under the awning of a church across the street. The whole time I was painting, I kept imagining the members of Minutemen restoring furniture, humming to their songs coming from the radio. I always have music playing in my head while painting, usually some Nick Cave songs.

Minuteman Furniture Restoration
oil on canvas, 14"x18"

April 17 - Painting submission deadline for judging. After turning in 2 paintings in the morning, I made Phil drive us to Konriko Rice Mill, the oldest operating rice mill in the US, to paint one last time.

Konriko Rice Mill
oil on panel, 12"x16"

April 18 - I took a day off from painting. We drove out to the Avery Island and walked around Jungle Gardens. At night, there was the gala and auction of submitted paintings at Clementine restaurant in downtown New Iberia. Jerome, the mastermind of this plein air event, bought one of my paintings - Thank you Jerome!

In order to participate in this event I had to miss two group show openings that I was part of. Although the house I was staying in made me feel like I was stuck in a Twilight Zone episode, it was a fun experience. It was my first plein air event, and I'm glad I did it. I felt privileged to be in the company of great artists and great organizers. A big thank-you to Jerome, Pat, Kathy, Joy, and Phil. Congratulations to Mary Monk (1st place winner), Richard Abraham (2nd place), and Hilari Baranco (3rd place)!

Number of plein air paintings made: 8
Number of lunch visits made to Bon Creole: 3
Number of shrimp eaten: dozens and dozens, large and small
Locals who gave me nothing but kind and encouraging words in passing: countless

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Shadows-On-The-Teche Plein Air 2015 (part 1)

A plein air competition took place on April 11-18 in New Iberia, La, and I was lucky enough to be a part of this inaugural event. About 30 artists from south Louisiana and St. Paul, MN participated in this competition and my teacher Phil Sandusky was the judge.

Shadows-On-The-Teche visitor center

poster for the event!

artist's pass got us into historic houses and gardens for free

New Iberia is a little over 2 hours' drive west from New Orleans, and I had visited its historic downtown twice before, during my post-Katrina refugee days almost 10 years ago (we lived in nearby St. Martinville up on La 31 for 4 months). And what was different this time?

cue "Storm Warning" by Mac Rebennack

Solid dark clouds with rainstorms. Oh and some thunder and lightning, as well as a flash flood warning almost every day. The sun came out behind thick clouds for about 4 hours total in 7 days. It rained so hard for so long, the toilet stopped flushing in the low-lying area where I was staying. Naturally the water on Bayou Teche was unusually high.

the most inaccessible handicap parking

nutria! and little... ducks?

On Thursday afternoon, Phil did a painting demonstration in the rain under the Steamboat Pavilion in Bouligny Plaza right next to the bayou.

initial block-in

adding electricity


I will upload some of the paintings I've done during the event on the next post. Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 5, 2015


The last time I was painting with 6 other people at Audubon Park in New Orleans, I heard a golf club hitting a ball, then "fore!" - followed by something coming through the oak tree branches above.

Luckily the ball went past me and hit the ground 15 feet away.

Audubon Park has a golf course that is always full of local and visiting golfers. I don't know how to play golf but I can tell by the number of times I heard the word "fore!" that most players there aren't going pros anytime soon.

Japanese Maple
oil on panel, 16"x12" 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Orange Street, New Orleans

Orange Street in New Orleans is only 9 blocks long, but has a long history. According to John Chase's book Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children, the street was named "because it ran through the orange grove which the Jesuit fathers planted when once this region was part of their vast plantation." The region now is part of Lower Garden District, where you see street names like Race, Annunciation, Market, St. James, St Thomas, Celeste, and Constance. Only after I read the book in 1998 I found out why that coffee shop on Race at Magazine was called Rue de la Course. (The cafe is now called Mojo.)

That whole area has seen a renaissance since Louisiana's tax incentive towards film productions brought in young people from out of town, who have jobs and enough money to eat out and buy new clothes. After we moved out of that neighborhood, at least 2 Vietnamese restaurants have opened up, as well as one super high-end coffee shop, hip clothing boutiques, salons, iPhone repair place, a pub, more clothing boutiques, more coffee shops, a bike shop, and a crap load of Air BnB hosts.  The houses are being fixed up and repainted, and it just feels a lot livelier now than when I lived there.

Orange near Constance, New Orleans
oil on canvas, 18"x24"
I have a stack of reference photos that I flip through when it's raining, or when the windchill is below 30 degrees. The painting above was done this morning when it was sooooo cold, my husband looked me in the eyes and said "you know it's like -1 degree celsius," in case I didn't understand the seriousness of the windchill in fahrenheit. So I stayed inside and painted from a photograph, probably about 3 years old. I've painted the same block, around the time that photo was taken.

Purple Wall on Orange Street
oil on canvas, 18"x24"
It must have been a trash pick-up day.