Flowers and Portraits: Why I Post Flowers

Bouquet with mask and flowers for Purim, watercolor
I painted the bouquet of flowers (note the purple irises and the mask) that I bought from Roberts Florals in Highland Park, New Jersey on Purim. My guests enjoyed the bouquet along with the meal. I am relatively pleased with the result of the painting.

My current ultimate goal is to get better at painting portraits. I am confident in my flower painting abilities. I could improve in details, but I do not strive to be a realistic floral artist. One reason I chose to paint the bouquet is it was a good warm up to painting after Shabbat and after a week of little painting in general.

Why I failed miserably at 100 people week

Early in March there was a competition to draw or paint 100 people in a week. My start was delayed by Purim; I had lots of preparations to do for the holiday, and guests showed up to entertain us at our seudah (festive meal). Finally, I went out one day with my sketchpad and doodled quite a few people. I did not care much for the result, so it is not getting posted here. Then I ran out of time to go outside and look for people. So I went up to my attic late one night, and I took down several photos of people that I found inspirational.

How 100 people week Inspired Portraiture Adventures

boy showing a flower to a chicken, gouache painting
One of the photos that I found was one of my sons showing a dandelion to a chicken. I did one quick sketch; the proportions of the head were off. I started another. I continued painting into the night, and I am please with the result: gouache media, lots of strokes and movement. I like how the light falls on the figures and the variety of hues established.

Here is another portrait that I did, from an old black and white photo of a relative eating soup. This portrait is also done with gouache. Maybe I will do another version in the future with more attention to the background.
man in hat eating soup

More Flowers to Show

Whenever I go shopping with a certain friend, I am done long before she is. No problem! Each store seems to have a section of flowers. So I put my paid groceries in the car, and I return to draw with a Uniball pen whatever strikes me in the store. Often, the flowers stand out. Here are a few of my favorites:

buy local flowers
This one was painted after another one that had the brand name of a large chain store got rejected from an online shop that sells artists’ goods. Lesson learned: buy local flowers. Advertise local stores. No need to ruffle the feathers of any large chain stores.

flowers with palette
I often like painting a palette of colors near my watercolors. This palette compliments the flowers nicely, organic flowers shapes near geometric squares.

More on Painting Flowers

I am reading Painting Flowers in Watercolor with Charles Reid, a classic in the watercolor book world. Two ideas that I look forward to incorporating in future watercolor floral sketches or paintings:
1) Pay attention to negative shapes that the flowers make almost as much as to the flowers themselves. Do not overwork the details. Paint the background along with painting the flowers. The background should not be an after thought.
2) When painting the background, don’t do one solid expanse of one color. Do a variety of color in a mix that compliments whatever flowers one is painting.

Charles Reid uses a lot of cadmiums in his palette (Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Orange). I will substitute colors in my palette, probably Hansa Yellow (light, medium, or dark) and New Gamboge. One exercise is to paint daffodils. Another is techniques for white flowers. Daffodils and magnolias are in bloom now. Hopefully, I will be able to experiment with his ideas.

It is now the Jewish month of Nissan. In Nissan we celebrate freedom on Passover. We are also commanded to say blessing on a fruit tree when it shows its first blossoms. I will be looking around my neighborhood for all kinds of blossoms for blessings and for sketches.

Adar Art, Purim Theater, and a Torah Parade

Purim mask, hamantaschen, wine
Why is Purim theatrical? To learn about the hidden Purimspiel (Purim play), visit Bubby’s post “All the World is a Hidden Purimspiel“. Why do I start a post by linking to another post? Because this post on Sketching Out is really just an excuse to show you some of my latest artwork related to Purim.

This year we were fortunate to have two Adars, two Jewish months that contain Purim. This is to fix the lunar calendar by adding an extra month (sort of like February 29, but Adar II lasts for a whole month). It seems the joyous month of Adar is a great way to do that. The first Adar has a day known as Purim Kattan, small Purim. I did the painting at the top of this post in an attempt to do a tiny Purim, but it really does not look all that small.

The expression one says at the beginning of the month is: When Adar Enters, We Increase in Joy. Mishnichnas Adar Marbin B’Simcha.
adar magical - when Adar comes, we increase our joy
I sent this to friends at the beginning of Adar (which had two new moons this year — two beginnings of Adar!).

Another expression for this time period is: V’Nahafoch Hu. May all the evil decrees be turned around! I used this to decorate the gifts of food that I give to my friends (Mishloach Manot or Shaloch Manos).
Turn around the evil decrees -- boy playing flute

Two weeks ago a surprise parade came down my block. Our local shteibel was celebrating a new Torah (Hachnasat Sefer Torah). I did a drawing of a father and daughter dancing down North 8th. I later did a watercolor painting of the big float that passed in front of my house.

father and daughter dance down North 8th Avenue

Torah on parade, North 7th Avenue, Highland Park, New Jersey
What I like about this painting is the use of color on the main subjects and leaving the rest simple and monochromatic. I am learning not to worry about all the details of each person.

Mask for Purim

Purim is on Sunday. It is one of my favorite Jewish holidays – it gives me the opportunity to be creative. The other details one needs in order to get those creative juices flowing: time, energy, inspiration.

Every year for Purim since my children were little, we have decorated oatmeal containers, filled them with treats to eat, and given them out to our friends. The giving out of food gifts is specific to Purim – it is call Shaloch Manot (or Mishloach Manot) – literally, sending of gifts. This is the first year none of my children are available to help me – the two eldest are no longer living at home, and my daughter started high school with a rigorous academic schedule, a school play and a Shakespeare mini-competition. So I decided to work on the containers on my own.

Here they are so far:
Purim containers

I did not use any photographs as I have in the past. I covered each one with my Purim wrapping paper. I did use my Esther points at Haman watercolor illustration that I made last summer. I decided it needed something green. So last Sunday while my daughter was working on her computer on an assignment that she did not like and wanted my company, I decided to work on my computer and create a mask with some green. That’s the mask on top of this post.

Explanation of the mask: part of Purim is dressing up. It’s not at all a requirement, but many children and some adults do enjoy this part. Purim also has themes of “hidden” – there is a custom of eating kreplach, for example, which is basically a wonton (and a wonton has “hidden” meat). Esther had to hid her identity in order to save the Jewish people. When one wears a mask, one is hiding a bit of oneself.

Watercolor Sketch: Esther Points at Haman

Esther points out Haman
I started this sketch of Esther pointing out Haman to Ahashverosh of Persia way back in December. It is based on an old painting – if you want, you can look it up. I liked the idea of the boldness of Esther. Is she someone to emulate? Can we find evil and point it out? Even if it means risking out lives?

The story of Esther is told at the Jewish holiday of Purim, which usually falls in the early spring. So you would think December would be enough time to finish a sketch? Mind you, this isn’t a full-scale oil painting, although I think portraiture (especially three people) is much easier in the medium. Well, December rolled in January and February, when I went with my daughter to Israel. Then I got offered some great website work when I returned … I am still working quite a few hours a week for a school at Rutgers University. Fast forward … daughter went to camp, husband took son to college orientation in Maryland. I’m home alone … what do I pull out, but this painting! Started it again. The first time Haman turned out like a blob of black. I intended to give him a three-cornered hat instead of the Dutch feathered cap in the painting I used as a model. Maybe next time.

I will now spend a bit of time poking around for inspiration for a new watercolor sketch. Suggestions welcome.

Review with Purim Presents

Purim containers - mishloach manot shaloch manot
Every year we decorate old oatmeal containers (and sometimes matza meal containers) with pictures and coat them with modge podge to create Purim gifts. We give these away to some of our friends. This year, my son decided to put comics and homemade Purim cards on his containers. My daughter opted for photos of her friends on her containers.

Elsewhere in the Blogosphere

  • Learn about how you can help agunot (an agunah is a woman who’s husband won’t give her a get, a Jewish divorce) on Mom in Israel’s post.
  • Purim in Jerusalem lasts for several days – the real Purim day in Jerusalem this year is today, Friday. Watch the fun on Real Streets of Jerusalem.
  • On the blog Jewacious, there are often fabulous reviews of interesting books. For example, here’s a review of An Italian Renaissance: Choosing Life in Canada, by Robert Eli Rubinstein. “He writes forthrightly, but beautifully, detailing his parent’s journey to Canada, to start life anew, and unbeknownst to them, in a city that was filled with antisemitic individuals. His family and the other Jewish refugees were known as “greenies”, a derogatory term, and one used frequently when being spoken of. “

Purim Illustrated: Esther Points

Purim 2011

Purim, the Jewish holiday of costumes, festive food, hamantaschen and the Book of Esther, falls this year on March 20. We have begun preparing our annual oatmeal containers that we decorate, fill with edible treats and hand out to a few friends. My daughter created the scene above; I scanned it into the computer, and we plan to print it in a variety of sizes to paste unto the containers.

If you are celebrating, have you done anything to get ready? Any thoughts on the upcoming holiday? Questions?

Purim is Coming

Purim drawing 2010
Purim is a holiday in which we read the Book of Esther (twice, once at night, once during the day), give charity to the poor, share food baskets with friends, wear costumes (at least many of the kids do and a few brave adults) and eat a feast in the afternoon. My daughter made this drawing yesterday to put on oatmeal containers that will be given to her friends (see last year’s decorated containers).

Can you name any of the characters in her drawing? Here is the Book of Esther.

For more posts with a little or a lot of red, visit Ruby Tuesday:
Ruby Tuesday

Ruby Tuesday: Purim Presents

purim presents mishloach manot
Our family decorates oatmeal containers with colorful pictures and scraps of wrapping paper. We modge podge (a kind of glue) the containers, fill them with treats and give them to our friends. This custom is called Mishloach Manot, and it is part of the celebration for the holiday of Purim. On the container at left you can see King Ahashverosh by his red throne.

Hamantaschen Recipes

hamantaschenHere are some ideas on how to bake hamantaschen, the delicious pastries served on the upcoming holiday of Purim. These three-cornered baked goods can be filled with sweets, jam, prune, chocolate chips or even savories like spinach. Hamantaschen are Eastern European in origin; Jews of Sephardic origin (originally from Spain) make Orejas de Haman, (Oznei Haman in Hebrew) or Haman’s ears. Hamantaschen are supposed to resemble Haman’s hat (he was the bad guy in the Book of Esther).

Ilana-Davita also posted a hamantaschen recipe.

A Simple Jew asked: What is the origin of pastry dough hamantaschen ?

Do you have a food tradition for Purim?

Be Happy Adar Is Coming

Purim is Coming, watercolor by Leora Wenger, 2009
Purim is Coming, watercolor by Leora Wenger, 2009
The Jewish month of Adar starts this week. When Adar comes, our sages tell us, we increase in happiness. Just as in the Purim story that we will read in the middle of Adar our fortunes turned from bad to good, so we should turn around our sadness into happiness.

Two thoughts on how this happiness needs to be tempered:
1) This year marks the first anniversary of the terrible murder of 8 teenage students from Merkaz HaRav in Jerusalem.

2) It is a custom to drink alcohol on Purim. However, one must always take care of one’s health and the health of others. Therefore, if you or family members do not know how to drink responsibly, don’t. We don’t need the happy day of Purim to turn to tragedy.