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Friday, February 12, 2016

Artist color palettes: Is Less More?

Every artist has a palette -- not just the physical vessel for holding their paint -- but a group of colors they are invariably drawn to over and over. The reasons they continually return to these colors - and how many colors they use - is as varied as the artists' work. 

Anders Zorn, Mrs. Frances Cleveland, Oil
Some famous painters are known for using a quite limited palette of colors. Swedish painter Anders Zorn (1860-1920), for example, was known to have used mainly 4 colors: white, ochre, vermilion and ivory black - which have become known in artist and education circles as the "Zorn palette," with artists and students continually trying their hand with it.

17th Century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (1632 – December 1675) apparently used a palette of lead white, yellow ochre, vermilion, madder lake, green earth, raw umber and ivory black. His color selection may have been influenced by what was - and was not - available at the time.

Johannes Vermeer, Girl With a Pearl Earring
According to The Vermeer Newsletter, "In Vermeer's time, each pigment was different in regards to permanence, workability, drying time, and means of production. Moreover, many pigments were not mutually compatible and had to be used separately or in a particular manner...One thorn in the side of the 17th-century painter was the chronic shortage of strong, opaque yellows and reds...The exceptionally brilliant red and yellow cadmiums, now obligatory paints in any contemporary painter’s studio, had not been commercialized until the 1840s." (

Jackie Afram, Ghost of a Coast, Oil
Today's painters have a much wider palette to choose from, but sometimes are limited by the type of paints they are using. Gallery member Jackie Afram's palette is influenced by her use of glazes. "Because I use glazes in my oil paintings, I depend a lot on transparent pigments." she says. "I use ultramarine blue and burnt umber often for grays and shadows.  While my palette varies, I almost always have cerulean blue, ultramarine blue and burnt umber on my palette.  And I don't think I have painted a painting without white."

Member Deborah Taylor says that her palette is "pretty consistent: titanium white, alizarin crimson, cad red light, cad yellow med, cad lemon yellow and ultramarine and sometimes burnt sienna." She has recently begun experimenting (an artist's greatest joy is in experimentation!) with prussian blue, which she feels may become a staple of her palette, especially for landscapes. "I use it in skies as well as for making greens.  I used it in the far trees in Fort Hunt." 

Debbie Taylor, Fort Hunt, Oil
Gallery member Sandra Hill is a watercolorist, which provides different challenges with the palette, being done on paper rather than canvas. "The watercolors on my palette are winsor yellow, (a very vibrant yellow), burnt umber, yellow ochre, permanent rose, alizarin crimson, winsor newton french ultramarine blue (a sedimentary color), cobalt blue and burnt sienna," she says. "Notice there is no white or black.  Watercolor paper left unpainted serves as the color white.  Greys and deep dark rich watercolors (which approach black) are achieved by mixing colors opposite on the color wheel."

Sandra Hill, Layers of Leaves, Watercolor
Hill says (in contrast to the Zorn method), that as her skills have improved, and her paintings have gotten larger, she has begun to use bigger palettes with larger, and more, paint wells. She says,"There are three ways to alter colors: 1) mixing on the palette, 2) mixing on the paper (wet-in-wet), and 3) glazing (one layer of color is placed over another dried color). And, of course, all rely on using less or more water with less or more paint."  

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director

Friday, January 22, 2016

Calming the Mind: The Watercolors of Lauren Marcott

"Art takes me to a level where I lose myself and time flows easily," says this month's featured artist Lauren Marcott.  "Like yoga, it stills my 'monkey mind.'" 
Watercolor artist Lauren Marcott

 Marcott is noted for her beautiful watercolor landscapes and seascapes. Her subject matter springs from the beautiful places in the world she has lived and visited, such as Japan, coastal areas, Paris and Washington DC,  to name just a few.
"Paris Tribute," watercolor by Lauren Marcott

"I work mostly in transparent watercolor, a medium that refuses to be ordered around, defying my penchant for control and detail," she says of her work. "Watercolor is a portable  medium, amenable to travel, usually worked quickly.  Watercolors can be loose and flowing, deep and rich, sketches or paintings of detail that rival oils.  But to me the true magic of watercolor is how quickly, almost accidentally, it can capture the light in objects."

"Winter in Kyoto," watercolor by Lauren Marcott
 Marcott says she has "sketched since first grade," but only in the last few years has she worked in color. She draws inspiration from many places. She started out at the Bank Street School in Manhattan, where she studied crafts and color and pencil portraits.  She then taught and traveled in Northern Arizona, where she first encountered the unique perspectives and color of the Southwestern desert.

She worked and resided in East Asia and Europe, retiring from the U.S. State Department in 2007, after serving in London, Turkey, Russia, and Ukraine, as well as various places in Washington.  
Since then she has studied watercolor under gifted teachers at the Smithsonian, the Arlington Artists Academy, at Arlington Adult Education and most recently at the Art League.  She visits Paris often, as well as the coasts of New England in summer and Florida every winter -  hence the bistros, seashells and lighthouses that populate many of her paintings.

"Weather Change," watercolor by Lauren Marcott

Gallery patrons appreciate Marcott's subtle color palette, her impressionistic style,  and her proficiency for capturing the essence of place and time in her work. Her portfolio reads like a travel documentary, with the many renderings of scenes from all over the world. Additional works by Marcott can be seen here:

"Capitol Autumn," watercolor by Lauren Marcott

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Zen and the Art of Sculpting Trees: Tom Mulczynski

Wire Sculpture Artist Tom Mulczynski

"Wire is an extraordinarily capable sculptural material - it can at once represent the airy weightlessness of a strand of hair or the taught power of a rigid muscle or rope. It's no surprise, then, that so many sculptors find it to be indispensable for their work." (Viktorija G, Bored Panda, "15 Of The Most Beautifully Twisted Wire Sculptures"
"Nirvana," Wire and Mixed Media by Tom Mulczynski
Gallery Underground member and exhibiting artist Tom Mulczynski has always loved the unique form and natural beauty of individual trees - iconic symbols of life and nature. He began making trees from steel wire in 2008, creating bonsai-sized representations of trees that caught his eye. Drawn to the expressive power of trees and drawing inspiration from the simplicity of classical Zen-inspired depictions of nature, he likes to experiment with different styles and materials to express some basic truth or feeling, like freedom or expansiveness.  He often tries to evoke in the observer a sense of kinetic movement, static grace or gentle spirituality.  He occasionally ventures more directly into abstraction, fantasy and whimsy. 

"The use of metal wire in jewelry dates back to the 2nd Dynasty in Egypt and to the Bronze and Iron Ages in Europe. In the 20th century, the works of Alexander Calder, Ruth Asawa, and other modern practitioners developed the medium of wire sculpture as an art form...Calder’s wire sculptures of this period tended to be portraits, caricatures, and stylized representations of people and animals. While originally believing the medium of wire sculpture to be merely clever and amusing, as his work developed, he began to state that wire sculpture had an important place in the history of art and remarked on the great possibilities that lie within the medium.
"Evergreen," Wire and Mixed Media by Tom Mulczynski
“These new studies in wire, however, did not remain the simple modest little things I had done in New York.[Calder stated]." "They are still simple, more simple than before; and therein lie the great possibilities which I have only recently come to feel for the wire medium... There is one thing, in particular, which connects them with history. One of the canons of the futuristic painters, as propounded by Modigliani, was that objects behind other objects should not be lost to view, but should be shown through the others by making the latter transparent. The wire sculpture accomplishes this in a most decided manner.” (

Mulczynski is a self-trained artist who occasionally dabbles in acrylic paint and other media. While making sure he focuses on having fun and enjoying the process of making art, he nevertheless hopes to inspire in the observer an increased awareness of self and of nature. 

"Contorted Filbert," Wire and Mixed Media by Tom Mulczynski
Mission accomplished - viewers and buyers alike report that Mulczynski's compelling pieces evoke a sense of calm, much the way being present in nature does.

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Fair Winds and Following Seas: the Art of Patricia Andril

Colored Pencil Artist Patricia Andril
The Summer Race, Colored Pencil by Patricia Andril
“Colored pencil drawing has fascinated me since 1998," says Gallery Underground's Featured Artist Patricia Andril. “At that time, I read a review in the Washington Post about the Colored Pencil Society of America’s annual international juried show being held in the Washington, D.C. area. The glowing review included photos of the art, and it was stunning. I had to see that exhibit. When I did, I found that no two artists used the medium in the same way. Some of the pieces looked like watercolors, others resembled pastels - and for the artists into photo realism, their drawings looked like photographs. That was the beginning of my obsession with colored pencil drawing.” 

Colored pencils work well for Andril’s favorite subject: the Chesapeake Bay. Being part of a family of avid sailors, Andril spends a great deal of time on those waters, having spent over thirty years sailing with her family. Her work reflects her interest in sailing, boats and water scenes. In particular, she tries to capture the effect of the wind and of light on the water.
Windward Mark, Colored Pencil by Patricia Andril

Early history of colored pencils is not too well documented. It is known that Ancient Greeks used wax-based crayons and Pliny the Elder recorded that the Romans also used colored crayons based on wax. The first colored pencils appeared in the 19th century and were used for “checking and marking.” Staedtler, the German company owned by Johann Sebastian Staedtler, invented the colored oil pastel pencil in 1834. Production of colored pencils for art purposes started in the early 20th century. The first art color pencils were invented and produced in 1924 by Faber-Castell and Caran d’Ache. Berol started making its color pencils in 1938, followed later by other manufacturers such as Derwent, Progresso, Lyra Rembrandt, and Blick Studio.(
Lanikai Under Sail, Colored Pencil by Patricia Andril
Andril has experience with pastels, watercolor, oil and acrylic painting but using colored pencil is when she is happiest. “You can’t beat the precision of a sharp pencil point!” she says. “Since that first colored pencil exhibition in 1998 I’ve grown significantly as an artist,” she relates. “I now enter that art show annually and have earned my signature status in the organization. When I go to the exhibition I love to hear gallery patrons remark that they are amazed by what you can create with a colored pencil.”

That sharp pencil point creates beautiful scenes of fair winds and following seas, to the delight of the many art patrons who are devotees of her work.  To see more of her work, click here for the gallery's Flickr feed:

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Co-Director

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Discouraged and Delayed, but not Deterred: Driven to Create

A common theme among artists discussing their careers, whether they be full-time or part-time artists, is that people in their lives - parents, friends, sometimes even they themselves - were unenthusiastic about them pursuing an art career.
Looking for Oats by Meg Mackenzie

"At around 15 years old I discovered art class in school as an elective and fell in love with the different media possibilities, says Gallery member Meg Mackenzie. "But being raised in a military family, my father did not think art would constitute a legitimate living wage. I did not really know what direction I wanted to pursue in life. I tried history, math, Russian language, finance..."

Waiting II by Chica Brunsvold
(Acrylic on Paper)
“Even as a preschooler I loved to draw - it was my favorite activity,” echos Gallery Member Chica Brunsvold. “My parents encouraged me and actually hired a teacher for me when I was in junior high school. My interest continued through high school where I took painting courses at night at the University of Michigan. I wanted to major in art but my father, a retired linguistics professor at U of MI, was convinced I would not get an education in the Art School and insisted I attend the Lit School there."

Having been born and raised in the Soviet Union, Gallery member Anya Getter had to chose a more practical path to pursue than the tumultuous world of art. While she had dreamed of attending an art school she choose instead to enter the world of Information Technology. 

Of Two Element by Anya Getter
These artists all took circuitous routes to get to where they are now - motherhood figured prominently in all of their lives. Mackenzie "meandered through a career as a business manager with a defense contractor," eventually staying home to raise her 2 sons. Brunsvold also did some career meandering, albeit more related to art: she obtained an art degree after her father's death, and worked in both the CIA's and Armed Forces' art shops, eventually leaving to raise her daughter.

For her part, Getter immigrated to the United States, married, established an IT career and added a dynamic duo of twins to her family.

However, what was overriding with all three was that they could not ignore their artistic muses. Brunsvold eventually began taking watercolor classes and after the first course, the instructor said she was quitting and wanted her to teach the class. That meant she had to seriously study to be able to guide her adult students. She took lots of classes and workshops and when her daughter went off to college, she immersed herself in artwork.

Do You See What I See By Chica Brunsvold
When she began, considered herself a realist, but it was during the time of abstract expressionism, so she joined in. Even now she says she begins her paintings as an abstract expressionist, but searches for images, as she's still a realist at heart. "My greatest joy is discovering and developing hidden images, usually fanciful and whimsical in nature. My husband was a patent attorney and got me a trademark on the term Zooillogicals (R). I imagine the term may someday be more valuable than my paintings!"

Getter felt the longing of her creative side wanting to be free and found a way to create that related to being a mother. In the beginning, she began experimenting with imaginative decorations for children's jeans and denim overalls. This practice took off with the help of eBay and other mothers looking for unique outfits for their children. This allowed Getter to review her talents and the directions she wished to go in artistically. In 2009, she began more serious work as painter, exploring methods and techniques that communicated her vision. 

A Fine Balance by Anya Getter
(Acrylic on Board)
Drawn to bright colors and whimsical images, she is often inspired by powerful quotes. "Painting is like a meditation for me," she says. "Even though it can get very frustrating every now and then to the point where I can't bring myself to even go near canvas, eventually I return to that bittersweet process, she says "Because nothing is more rewarding than throwing your emotions and thoughts on canvas and have other people 'get it.'"

Mackenzie had a friend who was starting to teach an acrylic course, which Mackenzie eagerly decided to take for a year.  Then in 2000 another friend asked if she would be interested in watercolor classes they could both attend and carpool together. An early passion for horses developed into a successful career painting both traditional and abstract works depicting horses. Her painting "Horse #17" (shown below) just won Best in Show at the monthly juried show "Small Works" at the Art League in Alexandria, VA. 

Horse # 17 by Meg Mackenzie
(Mixed Watermedia)
These artists have all had a winding road to artistic success, but are now selling and showing their work, earning kudos in the form of acceptance into juried exhibitions and awards. Despite early discouragement and delays, when you are truly an artist, you are never deterred.

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Sacred Images: Iconographer Laura Clerici

Iconographer Laura Clerici

"My mother told me that I started drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil," says iconographer Laura Clerici, the gallery's featured artist this month. "I took art classes after school most of my childhood, but gave it all up when I studied at Georgetown and then joined the Foreign Service.  Thirty five years later, while stationed at the Embassy in Moscow, I wanted to take up painting again, so I studied iconography, thinking that a brush is a brush.  To my surprise, I found that I made good icons."

The Annunciation by Laura Clerici
 (Tempera and Gold on Board)
Icons (from the Greek eikones) are sacred images representing the saints, Christ, and the Virgin, as well as narrative scenes such as Christ's Crucifixion. While today the term is most closely associated with wooden panel painting, in Byzantium icons could be crafted in all media, including marble, ivory, ceramic, gemstone, precious metal, enamel, textile, fresco, and mosaic... In Byzantine theology, the contemplation of icons allowed the viewer direct communication with the sacred figure(s) represented, and through icons an individual's prayers were addressed directly to the petitioned saint or holy figure. Miraculous healings and good fortune were among the requests.(Brooks, Sarah. "Icons and Iconoclasm in Byzantium". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (originally published October 2001, last revised August 2009))

"The “Annunciation" (right) is based on a life-sized (!) 12th Century icon now at the Tretiakov Gallery.  "Mary and Gabriel converse in static poses, but the image is still powerful and energetic," says Clerici of the piece. 

Clerici is an iconographer in the Byzantine tradition, but she came by this almost by accident.  She entered the Foreign Service after studying at Georgetown and London School of Economics.  In that capacity she served in Poland during Martial Law, worked as a refugee Officer in Central America, as a disarmament official at the US Mission to the UN during the first Iraq war, then was one of the State Department Officials honored for constructive dissent during the breakup of Yugoslavia.

While assigned to Moscow as American Consul General, she opted to take instruction in iconography rather than classical art studies to resume her art study.  She discovered a talent for the work and found that it helped “center” her during three turbulent years in Moscow.  She continued to study the craft aspects of iconography, often coming to the US for workshops from oversees assignments.   Since her retirement from the Foreign Service in 2006, Laura has concentrated her attention on iconography and working as a volunteer interfaith chaplain at Alexandria Inova Hospital. 
"Resurrection" by Laura Clerici
(Tempera and Gold on Board)

"In 'Resurrection' (left), Jesus breaks the gates of Death and Hell, and he pulls Adam and Even (i.e. humankind) out of their graves, witnessed by Jewish kings, prophets and patriarchs," Clerici explains. 

Clerici says the  'Mandylion' (below) "is an icon historically tied to the Shroud of Turin (which in Constantinople was folded to just show the face) and to images of Veronica’s veil.  A simplified variation of this image is usually the first icon students complete, and it is called 'The Image Not Made by Hand,' referring to the story of Jesus imprinting his face on a cloth (just like Veronica’s) for King Abgar. This title also reminds iconographers of the teaching that the real iconographer is the Holy Spirit and we are merely her tools."
"Mandylion" by Laura Clerici
Tempera and Gold on Board

"Icons are for 'the glory and adornment' of home and church so I strive to capture the jewel-like beauty of Byzantine icons," she says. "Additionally, because the technique I use requires multiple applications of color, creating an icon can be time-consuming, and this gives me the opportunity to sink into myself, a creative mental state all artists hope to achieve.  When someone spontaneously comments 'What a beauty!' the pleasure it gives me is beyond words."

Iconography is a medium which many people have never seen up close; these beautiful images constantly draw people into the gallery to view the fine detail in the stunning work.

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Co-Director

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Rebecca Croft: Pushing Between Dark and Light

Oil painter Rebecca Croft
“Painting for me is a new exploration every day,” says Rebecca Croft, Gallery Underground's featured artist this month, of her process.  “It takes my mind to places that it would never otherwise go.  I love to travel and represent my memories of places in my paintings, expressing nature through color and light with individual brush strokes to represent a place or thing."

Growing up as an army brat, Rebecca has lived in many places in the world, but makes her home in Arlington, Virginia with her husband and two children.  She has traveled extensively and likes to paint from her photos as well as “Plein Air."  Having grown up moving from place to place has obviously inspired Croft to paint the many places she has experienced.  Recent trips to Africa and Italy have brought forth a treasure trove of exotic paintings, including her recent Italy series, hanging in the gallery this month. "There is nothing like visiting monuments at night, " she says. "The Coliseum was just gorgeous all lit up."
Night at the Coliseum, oil by Rebecca Croft

She says of her style, “Influenced by the impressionist movement, I strive to push my paintings more towards the abstract as opposed to realism.  Each stroke should count."

Impressionist Tulips, oil by Rebecca Croft

Croft was always interested in art, and tossed the idea out to her parents as a college major, but they insisted she major in something they felt more confident would lead to a job. So she majored in business, primarily because learning languages came easily to her and French went along with business classes. She did not revisit art again until her youngest child began school full time; she began taking classes in drawing and painting, and a decade later, "my passion has taken me to the place where I want to share my work, and I'm now selling my work in galleries and online venues." 

Trees with Lavender Fields, oil by Rebecca Croft
"Recently, changing my palette has moved me to push between the dark and the light," she says. "Painting requires total focus that brings me total and complete peace. No other endeavor is the same except possibly reading a really good novel that you don't want to end."

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director