Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Getting Ready for Christmas

Only six and a half weeks before Christmas, only two weeks before the shopping season officially opens.  I’m working on Angel ornaments and dolls which means painting has been put on the back burner for now.  My next exhibit isn’t until March but I will have to get crackin’ once the holiday work is done. 

These are the first of the angel ornaments… I still have more in process and with each one I discover another way to do something so they are all very different.

angel ornaments

And the bottle doll… this is the first one done and I learned a bunch about how these can go together.  Now I have to get busy on making some for the gallery.

Dream Doll done

I also have to share some of the exercises my beginning watercolor students have been doing.  In addition to learning how to use the medium, I’m also working on getting them to think a little differently about their work.  Every week we do some sort of exercise that forces them to let their left-brain thinking go and realize that they they don’t have to stay in the lines to make a good painting.

student's work

Friday, October 22, 2010

Holiday Gifts

It’s past time to be thinking about making gift type items for sale this holiday season,  I’m starting anyway.  Last month I did a couple wine bottle dolls using the bottle cut in half.  I thought about using the top of the bottle next until I walked into my studio recently and noticed this bottle.

message in a bottle inspiration

This is not a very good photo, the bottle sits on top of one of the tall bookcases in my studio.  I made it years ago and never did anything more than put it up there.  On another shelf sits a stump doll I made a couple years ago; she won an award and I realized she had a shape rather like a wine bottle, no legs.   Hmmmm …  maybe I could put a head on the cork. Oh yes, and then perhaps one of the many inspirational quotes I collect can go inside the bottle… another prototype is now in process and I’m really liking this one….

message in a bottle in process

Still a ways to go on her but I know the head works.  This one will stay here with me.  I’ve got a small collection of wine bottles but I’ll need more and I think something other than Chardonnay, this one has very droopy shoulders.  Guess I need to drink more wine

Monday, October 18, 2010

West Virginia Retreat

I’m just back from a week spent with 6 wonderful women that I graduated from high school with.  We’ve all taken different paths in life yet the bond remains strong 53 years later.  In this first photo 6 of us are headed off on a hike while our hostess takes her afternoon nap.

the walkers karen donna suzannne janice jackie helen

She and her husband bought this lovely spot in West Virginia as a place for their large family to gather because they are scattered around the country.  Fortunately for us, it’s large enough for us to gather too. 

Our week was spent just relaxing, enjoying conversation, cards and our surroundings….


view from the porch

I took along sketching supplies and some wine glasses and glass paint so everyone could paint their own glass.  Everyone had fun doing the glasses and I did a bunch of zentangles and a few sketches.  The sketches haven’t been scanned yet.

the wine glasses

zentangle 1 zentangle 2

It was a great week, I feel blessed to have these women in my life.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Citra Solv and The New York Times

I promised Citra Solv that I would do  a mini tutorial on how I used its product to alter the look of the pages in the New York Times Magazine.  It occurred to my addled mind that some of you might also be interested.

The supplies I use… a squirt bottle, Citra Solv and the magazine. 

citra solv 1

I know some artists use National Geographic and Citra Solv; however, the only magazine I’ve ever found to give me the results I’m looking for is the New York Times Magazine.  I need to do more experimenting with National Geographic.

I hang the magazine using clips on a small rod in my studio, a clothes line would also work.

citra solv 2

If you use a clothes line you can lay the magazine out flat and spray each page, then hang it over the line.  I hang it like you see above and then lift all of the pages and begin lowering them one by one, spraying each and then let it drop.

citra solv 3

I let them hang all day or overnight before opening the pages to see what I got, sometimes I hang it back up and spray again.  These are examples of the results from the one I’m spraying above.  Some of these I’ll leave as is, some I’ll spray again

ny times page 1 ny times page 1b ny times page 3  ny times page 3b ny times page 2 ny times page 2b

ny times page 4

I’ll use the resulting paper for collage, mixed media work and to cover wood frames. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Sketchbook Project

sketchbook project

I signed up this morning after reading about the project on Diahn Ott’s Facebook page.  I’ve been a member of The Art House on-line cooperative for awhile so I knew about the project and every now and then I’d think, yes, I should do that because I do a lot of sketching.  Reading Diahn’s post and the interesting theme she got grabbed my attention again and this time I acted on it.  My theme is “In Five Minutes.”  Details about the project are here if you’re interested in participating or if you just want to know a bit more about it.  Once the sketchbooks are done they will be traveling around the country.  One stop is Chicago and I plan to see them when they are there.

I’ve also started a studio Facebook page, Helen Percy Lystra Studio, where I will be posting what’s going on in the studio.  Currently I’ve got three paintings in process and my mind is churning around two more.  I’ve agreed to do a water themed exhibit in March so that will be my concentration for the next several works.

pirate 2

These are reference photos for one of the paintings though I may not be able to put it in the exhibit.  This is “Pirate”  A Seawind Ketch that we sailed for 15 years.  She may have to hang here at home once the painting is done.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Rusty Old Truck and Journaling

9 11 wde

This rusty old truck was one of the images over at the wetcanvas weekend drawing event.  I love texture and old rusty stuff so I had to do it.  I’ve also discovered that I really like doing a watercolor sketch right over the top of my journal entries.  They aren’t covered up, it’s all still readable… if I don’t care if someone reads it.  If I do care a little gesso over the writing takes care of it and that makes for a totally different look that I also like very much.

7 11 for notes Pears for Jamie

These journal pages originally were just for my own pleasure and to be sure that I do make some sort of art every day no matter what else is on the docket.  I’m thinking that they might make nice note cards to sell on Etsy.  I may to more fruits and veggies since the flower season is pretty much done here in my corner of the world, except for the fall mums.

Meanwhile, I’ve also started two new paintings… here’s the drawing for one that will be a 16” x 16” watercolor.

lis gas can  my outlineMore on that as the work progresses.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Wine Bottle Dolls

Last week I had a couple of my creative friends over for lunch and stimulating conversation that always happens when creative friends gather.  The next day I went to the opening of a new exhibit at the Gallery Uptown here in Grand Haven, more stimulation. 

Several weeks ago I had the idea that a wine bottle bottom might make a doll body so I asked a glass artist friend to cut a couple bottles for me.  Saturday I finally got around to doing something with them.  One is a garden doll with beer bottle caps for legs and a polymer clay head.  (I drink the wine but the bottle caps come from friends.)

garden doll


The second doll is still in process.  I decided mid-dollmaking that she would be a bell; however, not having planned that in the beginning she has no way to hang.  That doesn’t matter to me since she’s the experiment.  I’ll rig some way for her to hang and I already have an idea how to do the next one so it can hang properly.

bell doll

I’ve also decided to use both parts of the bottle next time… that way I don’t have to make a neck.

Today is grey and wet here so I plan to stay inside.  I’ll work on her and maybe even get started on a painting I have had sketched ready to do for a very long time.  It’s time to get back to painting.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Citra-Solve and the New York Times Magazine

Today was a grey, rainy day here in my corner of the world so I decided I needed to bring some color into it.  I have several small frames ready to do something with so today I decided they should be covered.  I pulled out some New York Times magazine pages that had been treated with Citra-Solv and found some wonderful greys and some beautifully muted colors.  That was it… I spent the day covering small frames and one block of wood that I found in a dumpster.  I know the frames will get small watercolor paintings when I get some done.  The frames will also get an encoustic finish.  The block of wood is another story… a coat of clear Gesso first and them we’ll see where we go from there.  Meanwhile, here is a photo, not very clear but you can see the colors, aren’t they wonderful?!

citra solv

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

More Monoprints

I’ve been neglecting my blog… for that matter I’ve been neglecting a lot of things; however, I have been working… some.  I’ve also been enjoying my grandson which is an excuse but truth.  He’s also the reason I got started on these monoprints that I am really enjoying.  It’s late and I’m tired but I did want to get a note on here to let everyone know I’m still here and to post a couple of the images I printed when I got back from my week long retreat at Spider Lake.  More on that later.  For now… a couple of imagesAnnie's Angel

Doorway in Provence

Just Sittin'

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Forgeries and The Magic in Paintings

“A painter who wants to involve viewers emotionally needs to leave us some work to do ourselves.  Once having collaborated, we find ourselves hooked.  A painstaking, seemingly perfect depiction of reality has its charms… but a painting that contains less hard information may nonetheless seem more real and compelling.  Consider a Manet oil of horses thundering down the track, all blur and commotion and energy.”  The quote is from The Forger’s Spell, a book  about VerMeer forgeries.  I thought it was a very good book, interesting in that I learned a lot about art forgeries and what well may have been the first acrylic paint. 

As for the art forgeries, now that I’ve read this I believe I have seen at least one Degas forgery.  At the time I saw the painting my first thought was that Degas was probably turning over in his grave thinking surely he should have destroyed this one.  Now that I’ve seen photos of some of the VerMeer forgeries I wonder how anyone could have thought they were VerMeer. Then I had another thought about art and art snobbery but that’s a whole different topic.

What I’ve been thinking about recently is the thing this was so hard for me to learn to do in my paintings.  I wonder if other artists struggle with it too.  I’m thinking of the quote above and two I have on my easel … “If it becomes too real it loses the magic,”  Claude Monet and “Don’t draw the object, design the page,” Alex Powers.  And from another book I just finished, The Swan Thieves, “That little bit of mystery every painting needs to be successful…”

I still struggle with it; that’s one of the reasons I was so pleased when I finally figured out a way to lose some of those edges in my painting and still do a very detailed , no magic about it, drawing.  Once the drawing is done, transfer it to the watercolor paper and begin a process of masking and pouring.  I haven’t done a painting in awhile because I have my grandson here a couple days a week.  That prompted me to start doing more sketching which is always loose. 

hearthstone 6 17 birch 7 23

Monday, June 28, 2010

A week as Artist In Residence

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been back for more than a week already and still haven’t posted anything here.  I was privileged to be one of two Artists In Residence at the Terrace Inn at Bay View, a Methodist Chautauqua between Petoskey and Harbor Springs here in Michigan.  Artists, if you would like to know more and maybe participate contact Patti at the Inn.  She hosts a different artist every week during the season.

My week – I did a few plein air pieces which is something I haven’t done in a few years and I do want to get back to.  Here they are – by the 5th one I was almost satisfied with what I was getting.

back stair

the bay memorial garden on easel

the weathervane at boat house

memorial garden 2 

I also did some sketching.  I’m happier with those results.  Maybe I should think sketch when I do a plein air piece.

6 17 2 6 17 birch 6 19 more birch

6 17 garden

This year the weather wasn’t very cooperative, wet and cold the first 3 days so we took in some lectures.  Lou Seipel was the speaker for the week we were there and her topic was Bridges out of Poverty.  She was a very dynamic speaker and interesting.  Like everything else, communication is key to helping.  We can’t fix but we can learn how to help by learning to communicate.  If you’re interested, there is a website,

I also worked on some monoprint plates but haven’t printed them yet, when I do I’ll post them.   As I was looking through my file for the images from last week I saw the earrings I made with my friend Annie’s help.  I do slide off the  page now and then and these earrings are a testament to that… copper, etched with my designs and finished with heat and colored pencil…

dangle earrings

Friday, June 11, 2010

A bit of history about watercolor

Did you know that watercolor painting goes back to the caveman?  He mixed blackened charcoal with water to draw on the cave walls.    I’m headed up to Petoskey, Michigan, actually to Bay View which is a Methodist Chautauqua.  I’m one of two Artists in Residence at the Terrace Inn there and on Wednesday I have to give a talk and demonstration.  I’m going to talk about the history of watercolor and thanks to a bit of my own research and that of a good friend, Sandy Meyer, I think I can pull it off.  I’ll also do a demonstration of the watercolor monoprint process I use because it’s something anyone can do.

But more on the history;  modern use of watercolor began in England in the late 1700s.  Until 1766 watercolors were basically pigments mixed with water-soluble gum and had been sold as dry lumps which had to be grated, then mixed with water.  William Reeves found that honey mixed with gum arabic would stop cakes from crumbling apart and allow them to be molded into regular shapes.  His brother, a metalworker, made molds and in 1766 Reeves and Son opened a company supplying the army and East India Trade Company with the first watercolor paint boxes.

In 1832 Henry Newton and chemist William Winsor added glycerin to the pigment which kept it moist.  Now watercolor no longer needed to be rubbed with water to loosen the pigment but could be used straight from the pan.  Then in 1841 the first collapsible tube was made.  By 1846 Winsor and Newton took off with the idea and started selling all their artists paints (oils included) in tubes.

Interest in watercolor grew rapidly here in the United States and in England.  Many American artists were influenced the the British artists who came to the United States to record its natural wonders and beauty.  By the late 1800s American had inherited from the British a mature technique with unique properties but what they did with it was pure Yankee Ingenuity.  American watercolors exploded in all directions.  Between 1870 and the 1920s some of the most important American artists were using watercolors:  Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer, James Abbott McNeil Whistler and John Singer Sargent.

Today there are more artists using watercolor than any other medium, even though it is believed to be the most challenging medium.  It’s advantages:  it’s instantly ready to be used, easily cleaned up with water when done and there are no chemical hazards involved with it… an ideal medium.

Here’s another of my watercolor monoprints and if you’re interested, I’ve posted several on my website that are available and affordable.  Here’s a link,

Blue Bottle Club

Friday, May 21, 2010

A bunch of boats & a bundle update

First the bundles; I checked them last Saturday after a week of rain and saw that even though I had coated the matboard substrate front, back and sides with a sealer, a week of rain had the paper separating from the board center.  No matter, I am looking at what happens and not worrying about what happens.  I’ll be checking again tomorrow.  This week has been mostly sunshine though it did rain today.

The rest of the week has been spent working on more monoprints, getting ready for another exhibit that opens June 4.  Six from this week are boats or boat related…

Life Saver's

In The Weeds


Three Oldies Number Ten Number Two Buoy

Some time ago I set up an Etsy Account but I haven’t put anything up for sale on it.  I’m thinking of putting some of my monoprints on there.  Has anyone else done Etsy and if so, what do you think?