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Painting cows: Going afield for inspiration, and preparing for an exhibition

The Nashville area has become a special place for me. Two of my sisters and my adorable nephew and niece are there, so it’s become a go-to spots for family travel. And just outside Nashville, I have discovered the wondrous Holly Belle on Instagram. Even if you didn’t grow up with a dad that brought home a baby cow in the back of the station wagon (true story!), Holly’s “puppy cow” jumping around in the dining room of her house is sure to make you happy. Her mini cows have inspired my paintings and drawings in the recent past, and I have three paintings of cows started, shown above in various states of completion.

Now I want your opinion—since I received official word that I will be included in a group exhibition at  Arcadia Gallery in Los Angeles, I think at least one of these cow paintings will be included in my submission. I have a lot of work ahead of me and want to focus on the best prospects, so do you have any favorites so far?

Please visit my Into the Country series to see more paintings of animals.

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Children of Artists, Miniature Portrait Painting of the son of Barbara Robertson

Portrait of Sean

Sean, the happy kid featured in this month’s monthly miniature, is the son of artist Barbara Robertson. I was first introduced to Barbara in the basement at the Seattle Art Museum many years ago and have been following her brilliant career every since.

There is a fear for many women that their career will not recover after being put on hold to raise kids. That is no less true for artist moms, who deal with the additional challenges in being a woman artist who have historicaly been less recognized in museums, galleries and art history publications. Every step forward in a victory, and Barbara is another inspiring example that it can be done. Among other things, the story she tells below highlights how powerful it is to have a role model. Thank you Barbara, for being another incredible inspiration!

Paintings in this Monthly Miniature series fall somewhere between commission work and my original works. Like a commission, source images for these miniatures may come from family photos or be taken by me. But whereas I involve clients in my commissions, both in selecting photos and composing the painting, I take full control in the Monthly Miniatures. Most parents see these portraits for the first time when you do, here in the newsletter. I love the process of composing a painting in collaboration, but having complete freedom gives me a different connection to the painting, and it is helping me develop confidence in my choices.

Barbara (far right) pictured with her family. Her son Sean (left middle row with green hat), husband, step children, grandchildren and nieces and nephews.

Words from Barbara, on being an artist and mother:

When my son was born, I really didn’t know what it was like to be an artist, or anything else, except being a young girl. I had wanted, and dreamed, of being an artist since I was fourteen when I met my first professional, working artist. I was full of the enthusiasm and optimism of youth.

She was the mother of my best friend. I had not dreamed of being a mother. But when I had my baby at age 19, at least I had a great role model for how to be an artist and a mother. My friend’s mother had a studio in her home, with a door that she kept closed; her own private space. I was often invited in to see her work and receive her advice when I was in high school.

My baby was a surprise, of course…who plans a baby at 19? I was a freshman in college, so had taken a few introductory courses and loved it. I was determined to get my degree in art and determined to get my MFA, which I did. It took me ten years, going part time, to get my BFA. I was so naïve, that I did not know that no one takes you seriously as an artist if you are a woman and certainly not if you are a mother. If someone had told me that, I would not have believed them. I had my friend’s mother as an example and I just proceeded as if I had no impediments.

By the time I was in graduate school, my son was ten, and being a parent and a beginning artist was much easier but still a challenge. I was always juggling commitments to find time to make some art. My son often came to UW with me in the evenings and rode his skateboard down the halls of the art school building befriending and charming some of the other students.

Being a young parent definitely has its advantages; you can carry your child around for a long time without getting tired, have endless energy and certainly no carpel tunnel stress that most mature mothers experience. You have lots of stamina and optimism but, the downside is that you are not very smart. And you don’t know what you don’t know. I’m pretty sure that was a disadvantage for him. So my son and I grew up together. He went everywhere with me and lived around creative people and “alternative” life styles and was always a welcome part of the group. This has, I think, contributed to him being a tolerant, wise, independent and intelligent person. As he got older, I devoted more of my time to my art and I think that he thinks that having an artist mother is a natural thing. He is a self -employed craftsman and an amateur chef.

"Rough Cut 3" acrylic and collage on paper, 44" x 30", by Barbara Roberts

“Rough Cut 3″ acrylic and collage on paper, 44″ x 30”, by Barbara Roberts

Barbara Robertson

Seattle based artist Barbara Robertson is known primarily for her work in experimental printmaking. Recently, she has expanded her practice to include digital animation and sound installations. Awards for her work include grants from the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture City Artists program, 4Culture Individual Artists award, 4Cullture Artists Projects grants, Artists Trust GAP grant, a KALA Art Institute Fellowship and the Neddy Fellowship from the Behnke Foundation.

In 2004 her work was included in “Events,” a collaboration with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Joyce Theater, New York. In 2012, her work in animation was exhibited at the 4Cutlure Electronic Gallery in Seattle, in 2012 at “aproject space” in Seattle, Washington, at Trykk 17 Art Center, in Stavanger, Norway and at the Eleftherias Art Center in Athens, Greece.  In the winter of 2013, her animation “Three Phases,” was exhibited on a large outdoor screen at the Gates Foundation in Seattle.  In 2014, three animations and one work on paper were part of a large special exhibition at the Tacoma Art Museum, titled “Ink This! Contemporary Print Art in the Northwest.” Robertson’s work shown in 2014-2016 as part of “The Intersection Between Science, Art and Technology” exhibition at the American Embassy in Bern, Switzerland. In 2015, her work in animation and print was exhibited at “Impact”, Hangzhou, China. Three animations were shown in 2016 at 4Cullture’s E4C electronic gallery.

Robertson’s work is included in private and public collections including the State of Washington Percent for Art, King County Public Art Collection, the City of Seattle Portable Works Collection, Harborview Medical Center, Tacoma Art Museum, University of Washington Special Collections, US Trust and Safeco Corporation. She has a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Washington, Seattle. She established the print art program at Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle, served on Pratt’s board of directors and is the founder and past president of Seattle Print Arts. In 2016 she curated and organized a satellite exhibition in conjunction with the Seattle Art Fair, “In Context” exhibiting large scale work by thirteen regional artists. In 2017, her large scale, sight specific animation installation, “Architectonic” was exhibited at Oxbow Art Space in Seattle.

 

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Oil and Water Do Mix! A Pet Portrait Oil Painting of a Water Dog

Sarah and her aunt commissioned me to make this pet portrait of Ruby as a gift for Sarah’s parents. Sara is my husband’s best friend, she was the “best man” in our wedding, and I absolutely adore her. I never got to meet Ruby but I’ve heard lots of stories about her. Though it’s been years since she passed, she is still missed by those that knew her. I put a lot of care into each painting I make, but knowing the family personally, knowing firsthand how much Ruby was loved, really reinforces my mission of creating these paintings with a sensitivity to the bond between people and their animal friends. You can see the love that Ruby gave back to her family in her happy smiling face. I hope the painting brings them all much joy. Please take a look at my Pet portraits gallery to see more examples of my work.

A Painting More True to Life than a Photograph

This painting evokes Ruby’s puppy-like zeal the way only an original painting can. Since it’s painstakingly created layer by layer, I’m able to pay careful attention to all the details that make Ruby “Ruby”. Sometimes these details even get missed by the camera. The main image I used for the portrait showed Ruby’s eyes to be dark brown. But in the other images, and in everyone’s memory, her eyes had a golden glow, which I worked to capture. Though I can sometimes get all of the information I need with just one image, working with several and getting lots of feedback is important to my process.

I had the added honor of witnessing the happy couple unwrap Ruby’s portrait. People often write that seeing their portrait for the first time brought tears to their eyes, but seeing them both burst into happy tears was a special moment for me. See them below in a photo taken by Sarah, with the framed portrait of Ruby.

couple posing with their commissioned pet portrait, a gift from their daughter, painted by Rebecca Luncan

From the Family

You are a very talented artist and you captured the heart and spirit of our wonderful four-legged sweetheart, Ruby. We really love the painting. Thanks again, very much.

Doug, Gloria & Sarah

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Memorial portrait of Jackson, painted in diptych as puppy & dog

Clark worked hard to make this pair of portraits happen! They were an anniversary gift, and getting all the old photos of Jackson scanned and mailed in secret took time and cunning. Clark was up to the task though, and he supplied me with lots of great images. Although we talked at first of painting Jackson as an adult, he sent me a few pictures from his puppy stage as well. I couldn’t resist mocking up a puppy portrait—the images were too adorable! Clark was tempted too, and instead of one portrait, he commissioned two paintings, each from a different stage in Jackson’s life.

Framing the Portraits

puppy pet portrait oil painting framed by Rebecca Luncan

“Jackson as a Puppy” oil on copper, 6″ x 6″

I sent Clark a selection of frames to choose from and he picked a 1 1/2″ wide natural wooden frame. The color brings out the warmth of Jackson’s Golden Retriever silky coat, and the pair of portraits look great together. Take a look at my Pet Portraits Gallery to see more examples of my work, and visit the Commissions page to learn how to commission your own pet portrait oil paintings.

pet portrait oil painting of golden retriever by Rebecca Luncan

Portrait of Jackson
oil on copper
6″ x 6″

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Miniature Portrait of the Daughter of an Artist

Childern of artists, Miniature Portrait 

Tim Marsden used to say my dog Buster made him want to have a dog. His daughter Olwyn, the subject of this months miniature portrait, is the kind of kid who makes you want to have a kid, like the opposite of birth control.

When I first met the Marsdens at Seattle’s SOIL Gallery, Olwyn was still in a stroller. Tim and I became friends and soon hatched the plan to start Artnight. We met like clockwork to make art, each Thursday night for 14 years, and Artnight grew to over a dozen artists.  

It’s hard to fully express how meaningful that time was for me, to work in a studio full of artists, inspired by the driven people creating all around. I was privileged to watch artists mature, develop themes in their work, and perfect their craft.

Since moving north years ago, Artnight is my greatest loss. This is so hard to write. Until now, I have not realized how much I have missed my friend. While this series is about artists inspiring me to take up the challenge of parenthood, of all the artists participating, none has inspired me more than Tim.

I love spending time with Tim and Sandy. They are a warm and loving couple, and it just feels great to be around them. Tim loves nothing more than telling a funny story to a room full of people, and Sandy is Tim’s straight man. But nobody makes Tim laugh more than Sandy.

Whenever Artnight got together at Tim’s studio, Olwyn joined the group to work on her own projects. Even then, Olwyn was like a little adult to me. I don’t talk about my friends Tim and Sandy and their daughter, but rather my friends Tim, Sandy and Olwyn. Now suddenly my little Olwyn is all grown up and going to college. I don’t know how Tim and Sandy are managing it.

Olwyn is confident and headstrong and knows her mind. She is also funny, insightful and warm. I have painted the whole family over the years (including their late dog Nippy), and this is my second painting of Olwyn. See all my paintings of the Marsden’s in my previous post.

Olwyn and Tim playing with artist, Christian French’s UFO (photo Christian French)

Olwyn and Tim playing with artist, Christian French’s UFO.

From Tim:

After Olwyn was born both Sandy and I both worked part time (I was working a little less than part time, more like infrequent time) until Sandy returned to a more typical schedule. We are both happy we did. The front loading of time with your kid is best done right away and I am sure it helped with the strength of bond we all feel as a family. At the time I was renting studio space from the Two Bells, a small shop front right on 4th Avenue. Olwyn would be in a playpen we had set up in the studio and we would put serious miles on the stroller, running errands and just generally getting overstimulated until Sandy came home. The studio was right next to the apartment as well so everything was within striking distance. Apart from a fairly short stint of having a studio in a factory under the West Seattle bridge I have always had the good fortune to have my studio in the house. While there are a few restrictions borne of such a situation, the pros far outweigh the cons. It also means there is art hanging around all the time which I am certain has had a massive hand in Olwyn’s attitude to the Arts and also in how she navigates the world.

Olwyn’s presence rarely, if ever, interfered with with making art. There was no censorship for young innocent eyes, no closed door policy and she was always encouraged to work on her own projects or give me a hand stretching canvas as well as other studio practices. Having to work another job interfered far more with the making of work than having a child. Actually, the Art Museum was a pretty good place to work when Olwyn was younger and sometimes she would join me in the storage areas and write down accession numbers of pieces in the collection. Olwyn has strong memories of the Museum storage right up to the point that she was no longer welcome.

Much like if you are raised by wolves, you are not afraid of wolves, so it is with artists and their offspring. Olwyn is neither intimidated by or afraid of art. She sees it for what it is, an exploration of our world through a variety of different means- some more than successful than others executed by human beings as best they can. Warts and all we are all just people…making stuff.

Tim Marsden

"Short Stories" exhibit at Studio E Gallery

“Short Stories” exhibit at Studio E Gallery (Photo: James Arzente)

Tim Marsden has been a practicing artist for over 30 years. In that time he has shown work internationally but has been based in Seattle since moving from Europe in 1997. Primarily trained as a painter, Marsden’s work has expanded to embrace a number of different media, including but not limited to, sculpture, drawing and animation (film). Marsden’s interest in narrative has been a major influence on his work and he uses storytelling in a variety of different ways to explore the foibles and absurdities humans are subject to.

His most recent show entitled “Short Stories” was an installation composed of a number of stand-alone pieces (each composed of a number of stand-alone pieces) in order to create an overall composition in the exhibition space. Artistic influences are far too numerous to mention, although Goya, Turner and the German Expressionists are ever-present ghosts at the feast. Outside of visual art Marsden is also influenced by literature (Notably Nikolai Gogol) and films, again most notably Ealing Comedies. Marsden is currently working on a body of work tentatively titled “Sardine vs. Anchovy, two books of recipes (one in collaboration with Chef Chavez from the eponymous restaurant) and an installation (show) imagining a personal world to which you are all invited.

The Children of Artists Series Begins: A Portrait of my Son

contemporary Miniature baby painting, Portrait of my son by Rebecca Luncan

Portrait of Isaac
oil on copper
4″ x 4″

A portrait of my Son: My newest and greatest inspiration kicks off the new Monthly Miniature series

My first Monthly Miniature of 2017 is a portrait of my son Isaac. I was worried about how I was going to balance motherhood with being an artist, but I’ve been amazed at how well the two are coming together. And how could I not love making this painting? I think every artist parent wants to capture all of their favorite expressions in their little muse. I’m so happy I could record, one careful brushstroke at a time, his sweet little six month old face as it was becoming more aware and loving by the day.

For Isaac’s portrait, I chose an image of him looking directly at me. Those of you with kids might be able to remember back to those very early days when something as simple as a direct gaze was a small miracle. Most babies first make eye contact around 4-8 weeks but it’s not uncommon for it to happen as late as 3 months. Isaac was on the later side and didn’t make eye contact frequently when he was little, so when he did, it was very special.

The Children of Artists: A New Monthly Miniature Series

With this series, I celebrate those who have taken on the parenting challenge before me. They’ve given me the courage to trust that, with determination, I could be a mother and continue to make my art. I will paint a portrait a dozen different artist’s children. The Children of Artists explores my wonder at watching someone grow and develop, and loving them more than I could have imagined. I meditate on balancing two great passions. And I thank each artist I know who continues to work, particularly those who manage to raise children at the same time.

Visit my commissions page to learn about commissioning your own miniature portrait.

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Antique Frame Transformed for the August Monthly Miniature with French Polish

The discovery and restoration of a meticulously crafted, one hundred year old frame for Charlemagne in Profile

My sister is passionate about antiques. Most weekends will find her traveling to different auctions, estate sales, and antique shops, on the hunt for something unusual that catches her imagination. About a year ago, she called me up, excited about a sale of wooden frames produced by the The Castner Picture Frame Company in the early 1900’s. The company meticulously produced frames from scratch for more than a century before shutting down. The Mohawk Building in Cincinnati was left with thousands of uniquely designed frames ranging drastically in size and level of detailing. Wooden frames aren’t a rarity, but wooden miniature frames most certainly are, and here they had them them in abundance!

We excitedly talked on the phone and texted back and forth as the date of the sale approached, and she ended up buying around 60 small frames. I was mostly interested in small circular frames, but thankfully, she couldn’t pass up some beautiful wooden ovals as well. Most of the ovals are unfinished,

Theresa's careful assortment

Theresa’s careful assortment

while the circular frames are almost all primed for painting or gilding. What a rare opportunity! They clean up beautifully, and I’ve treasured each one as I painted or polished it to fit portraits of people and rabbits.

All of the rabbit monthly miniatures are framed in one of these frames, but I chose to highlight this one in particular because the transformation was so dramatic. It was so dirty and covered in mysterious spots that I had little hope in finishing it, but as I worked, the spots disappeared, and the grain became richer and more beautiful with each step of the process. It’s my favorite so far, and I chose to use if for this minimal painting of Charlie, the simple white background allowing the frame to shine.

French Polish: Step-by-step

French polishing is a technique of finishing wood with shellac as the main ingredient. This technique was popular in the late 1800’s for furniture but it is often overlooked in contemporary furniture finishing due to it’s low resistance to damage from water and heat as well as its labor intensive application process. It is still a favorite for musical instruments because of it’s unique ability to be be applied effectively in extremely thin coats leaves musical instruments with a nice clear sound. Many fine woodworkers also continue to use it, especially on antiques because the rich depth of the finish is difficult to rival with modern materials. As my frames shouldn’t come into contact with either heat or water, it’s an ideal finishing process for me.

Materials

  • shellac*
  • pumice
  • Renaissance  wax
  • denatured alcohol
  • cotton batting (or cotton balls)
  • soft cloth or cheesecloth
  • sandpaper (280, 320, 400 and 600 grit)
  • 2 cheap 1″ – 2″  brushes
  • walnut or olive oil
  • dust mask

*I’m using a premixed solution but you can buy shellac flakes and dissolve it yourself

Step One: Clean

Clean the surface with denatured alcohol and a soft cloth.

Step Two: Sand

Sand the frame with progressively finer grits of sandpaper (starting with 280 and progressing to 600).

Step Three: Rub with Alcohol & Pumice

Make a fad by wrapping your soft cloth or cheesecloth around a wad of cotton that has soaked in alcohol. You can now sprinkle a bit of pumice on the frame, making sure to wear your dust mask. Rub the frame vigorously with the fad, and if it starts to catch on the grain, add a drop of oil.

Step Four: Rub with Shellac

Make a new, second fad, this time soaking in shellac instead of alcohol, and again rub vigorously with as random a pattern as possible. Reapply shellac to the inside of the fad (by dipping the cotton ball) as needed.

Step Five: Repeat, then Dry

Repeat steps three and four a few times, letting it dry for several hours between coats. Pay careful attention that you don’t get too much shellac building up on ridges and valleys of the frame, as you will want these details to stand out. The process of working the abrasive pumice and shellac alternately is called the “British Method” of French polishing. The alternative, using both the shellac and abrasive at the same time is the original, or “French Method”.

Let dry overnight.

Step Six: Final Rub with Alcohol

Make a new fad using just alcohol, and gently glide it over the surface. You want to remove any oil that may be on the surface and even out the final coat of shellac. Don’t press so hard that you begin removing the shellac, however. At this point, the frame just glows, and it’s hard to stop touching the silky-smooth surface. But stop touching for now, and leave it overnight.

Step Seven: Wax and Buff

Brush on a very very thin coat of Renaissance wax. Let it dry for 10 minutes, then buff it off with a clean cloth or a stiff brush. Give it another 24 hours to dry and your frame is finished! Now you can touch it.

Finishing miniature frames

Shellac: Yes, it’s made from bugs!

The critical material for a french polish is shellac. Made from lac, an amber colored resinous material produced by the female Kerria lacca insect, which forms a tunnel around the insect and serves as a kind of cocoon to incubate the eggs she lays. Shellac is a non-toxic material that’s even rated as food-safe by the FDA and has a plethora of wide-ranging uses. Not only to be found in furniture, it can also be found on your jelly beans, guitar, and in nail polish. It’s relatively easy to harvest by scraping it off the bark of the trees, and refining can simply be done by heating it over a fire then filtering once it liquefies to remove any stray insects or bits of bark. It has been used for centuries to polish furniture in the native countries of these insects, Thailand and India. The french polishing technique, which became prominent in the 18th century, is still commonly used to polish furniture and musical instruments throughout the world today.

Rabbit oil painting miniature by Rebecca Luncan

Charliemagne in Porfile
oil on aluminum
3.75″ x 2.75″

Paintings of Rabbits: A New Miniature Painting, Every Month for One Year

Rabbit miniature oil paintin on aluminumg by Rebecca Luncan

Ellie, oil on aluminum, 4 1/2″ x 3″

This miniature painting of a rabbit marks the beginning of a big commitment.

It may not seem like much in the world of countless artists hosting “daily painting” blogs, but it’s a big deal for me. While continuing to make all of my other, larger works and commissioned pieces, I will make one miniature painting of a rabbit every month.

This first miniature is of my bunny Eleanor, who sits under my desk with her brother Charlie when I paint. House rabbits are a bit of work to keep out of trouble (chewing anything from cords to sofas) but once you get them trained and your house bunny-proofed, they’re a lot of fun. Having a rabbit run and leap onto the rug in front of you makes it all worth while.

Thanks for looking and I hope you check back the first Monday of the Month to see more of the miniatures as they progress!

Hand Finished Antique Frame

Each of the paintings of rabbits will be framed and ready to hang when posted. Although they are very small, they sometimes take a surprisingly long time to paint. I’ve also been known to spent almost as much time on the frame, so it adds up to a lot of work. The frames for this series were sent to me from my sister, Theresa, who found dozens of unfinished, dirty and wonderful wooden frames from the 1920’s. Below you can see what the frame on Ellie looked like just before the wonders of the french polish.

Antique Frame - French Polish in progress

Antique Unfinished Frame – French Polish in progress

 

International Portrait Competition Entry

Portrait painting of Molly in her barn in by Rebecca Luncan.

Vigil (Molly), Oil on Aluminum panel, 15″ x 15″, 2015

I’ve been busy working on a portrait of Seattle floral designer and dear friend, Molly Jackson. I just submitted it to the Portrait Society of America’s International Portrait Competition. It’s my first time entering, please keep your fingers crossed for me!