Applying art to real life (or Crafting a birthday party)

25 02 2014

So, some of you might be aware that I have two little boys and that my youngest just turned one. I was chatting a few days ago with my friend Pierre Carles and he asked me to document everything in photos for the creative folks like him. So I did, and this post is written specially for him.
As usual I started thinking of a theme, because that helps me focus and choose a palette. For my first child I chose pandas and a palette based on three colors, and we had a lovely party outdoors. Since my little baby’s birthday is in winter, and what a winter we had this year! we had to do everything indoors, and our apartment is smallish, so I would not have a lot of room to play. Because of this, I decided early that I was going to use the food itself as decoration and to bring in some color to the place (we rent, our walls are too white).

So the theme was frogs, my kids love frogs and they are fun, right? And then I thought “hey, frogs and lily pads go together!” so frogs and lily pads it was. I spent some time looking at cupcakes online and deciding on what colors to use. I chose green and light blue (because of the water).

cupcake tower with #1 candle.

cupcake tower with #1 candle.

So, frog cupcakes: my design, easy stuff, I used glace (confectioner sugar and water) and green food coloring, I used green Wilton candy melts for the eyes and candy eyes that I glued with royal icing, I cut a red candy melt in half for the mouths.

Happy frogs (next time I'll get better quality liners)

Happy frogs (next time I’ll get better quality liners)

For the lily pad cupcakes I followed the instructions here, I made my own yellow sugar using these instructions (beware, you do not get edible glitter, just colored sugar!) I used blue icing instead of white, to give a water look, green would have worked for the leaf idea.

These impressed all the moms!

These impressed all the moms!

Then I made flower lily pads with a flower cookie cutter and a large circle cookie cutter, I took a segment off of it. I later decorated them with royal icing, and placed the flower on top of the leaf.

place one cookie on top of the other to give a dimensional effect!

place one cookie on top of the other to give a dimensional effect!

As I was doing all this, my dad was helping blowing balloons, I asked him to make groups of three balloons and use curling ribbon to give a dynamic effect. The added the tableware in matching colors, and voila! The place was ready to party!


The palette was cool, I thought it gave a nice effect in the winter time.


I am by  no means a professional, so things did not look super polished, but the kids loved them!

A nice outcome

20 08 2013

How many times do we get an email saying “I love this piece, can I use it for *insert reason here*”. I got one of such emails last year around December, and like many times before I rolled my eyes, most especially because it was for promotional and or commercial purposes. I have the habit, however, of not leaving unanswered emails and of incessantly try to educate people, I assume most people are not trying to take advantage of the artist but are under the wrong impression that we will work for free because ah, la boheme! This idea is spread by the popular culture and, sadly, many artists themselves…. As if accepting money was prostitution.

So I promptly and politely explained that art is my livelihood, and having to care for two children I really can’t afford not charging for it. But if they wanted they could commission me to work for them. I was surprised when a mail did follow up, very honestly expressing their disappointment at not being allowed to use the Crow Triskele for free but willing to hear about me working for them. Soon we were going back and forth about possible ideas but there was a lack of enthusiasm from their part, they really loved the original piece as it was.


A much better and professional looking image for them.

After a few emails and a good night sleep it finally occurred to me that if they liked the piece as it was then I could refine it, since the original was little more than an advanced draft and very old. My main concern was that the piece they liked is one I offer as a tattoo for free and it is my most popular piece, which brings me business, therefore I was reluctant to let it go. So we decided that I was going to rework the piece to refine it, and that we were going to share commercial rights while I still could continue to offer it as a free tattoo.

Lessons learned :

Do not disregard possible commercial opportunities. While most of the times these kind of mails lead to nothing, this one time not only I got a commission out of it but also I got to forge a positive and amiable relationship with my client.

Be honest but polite. Explain art is your income, people can understand that. Keep the sarcasm to yourself, it is not professional.  Expect honesty in return and respect it, this is a possible client, respect is fundamental in your relationship.

Be willing to find a creative solution to keep both parties happy. You might find out that a little thinking can solve a conflict where a flat “I’m sorry, but no” seems the only answer at the beginning.

Remember that a happy client is a returning costumer and can refer you to others, do your best to offer the best quality possible.

What is up to in my art life right now.

16 10 2012

… Or, what direction I am taking.

I actually think about this quite a bit, where am I going with my art and what I am doing to be where I want to be in the future?

I came to US in 2003 as a grad student and my contract with the Immigration Service was that I was not allowed to work except for the university. I wanted to get my art career started but I really did not want to get in trouble, so I waited until I graduated in 2008 to start doing art commercially. In the mean time, I just tried to learn as much as possible. In May 2008 I graduated and soon after that I started looking for commissions, at the beginning they were small, and even when I knew it is not the best to sell your work for cheap I did not feel I had the level I needed to charge what my friends were charging. This has changed over the years as I am more confident in my skills and I actually have improved a lot.  For a couple of years things worked out really nice, and I was happy to see an increase in pricing and costumer traffic, I did not need to be so active searching for the commissions, because people were actually coming to me! Which left me more time for the artwork itself.

My main job right now. This image was created for the Fortnight challenge at the Sweet Sketch Club:

But then in May 2011 I had my first child, and I decided to be a stay at home mom. Let me make the distinction between “work at home mom” and “stay at home mom”. I have made my main job to take care of and educate my boy, which means that everything else is secondary, this has put art in the back burner. Now, it does not mean that I am not doing art anymore, it means that it has turned into a “When the baby is sleeping or playing alone” deal, which makes time for art much more limited.

I still am open for commissions, but I only consider those that I can do with a relaxed time frame, and I am not actively looking for them. I do not commit myself to tight deadlines because I don’t know if I can reach them and I consider professionalism a very high priority in my work. In the mean time I am doing what I did almost ten years ago: learn as much as I can. I learn different now, I work different now, and I am trying to experiment a lot with my work, aiming for specific goals in palette and compositions.

Also, my priority right now is to keep a strong presence in the art world and even increase it as much as possible. I am working on this blog, started an art Facebook page, I am participating in a couple of collective blogs, and I am licensing my work to PSP Tubes Stop, and hopefully soon another company. Except this blog, all this started this year, as I decided that if I am not going to be doing commissions I better do something to keep mine and other people’s mind engaged with my work. I think the worse you can do in this highly networking era is just to vanish.

February next year everything may change, since a new baby will arrive to our lives, but I will reevaluate then what to do and how to face it. For right now, I am going to keep up at solidifying my work as much as possible.

Personal Challenge: Secondary Triad

29 06 2012

To tackle my second palette challenge I used again the Enchanted Visions Project, I have had in mind for a while this image and I decided to work with a secondary palette: Green, violet and orange. It really proved to be harder than what I originally thought, and I don’t know how well I did honor the secondary theme, but the final image has the energy I was looking for. It, of course, ended up not being like what I had in mind int he first place, but when I envisioned it I was not thinking of limiting my palette choices, so I allowed myself to depart from the original idea in that respect.  It does however show the ecstatic feel that I wanted, the artist envisioning the art in her mind, as in rapture.

Enchanted Visions (c) Constanza Ehrenhaus

That puts my list down by two themes! Yay!

Limited (Circe)
Secondary (Enchanted Visions)
Split complementary

Big group of people
one point perspective
two points perspective

Being unique

23 04 2012

Many times we think that there is nothing new to be done, that we cannot stand from the crowd. Take a look at these creative minds, I hope it brings some inspiration to you!

An interesting take on paper marbling:

Using sand as your medium:

Art in water and ink:

Goddess of Earth Creation

17 04 2012

For my Goddesses of Creation project I started working on the five images at the same time, to try to keep consistency as much as possible, but as usual, I ended up focusing more on one image, less on the other, finding a direction for some images sooner than others, so I did not end up working simultaneously on them. The Earth Goddess was the second to be finished.

Landscape references

To make her more akin to the Earth, I wanted her to be solidly grounded so I did not give it a sense of dynamism or levity, also I wanted her to be pregnant, to give an idea of fullness and fertility, of lush life. This idea was received very gladly by David and Mamiko, and I must confess I also felt very connected to it since I myself was going through pregnancy. For this project I had multiple references I had shot myself on my pass by Kawai’i, the garden island, and I took advantage to study the palette of many of my photos. Because of the iron in the earth and because of the flowers natural to the island, there is a lot of red, my clients also wanted quartz crystals which were to be amber, we went with a predominantly green, amber and red composition.

Palette study.

One of the themes that kept coming once and again during our correspondence was to have a sort of supernatural light ambiance, I thought of using a halo behind her head, that can read as her being the source but also the sun rising in the distance. Having never portrayed backlight (at least successfully) I knew I needed a lot of referencing for this to work. So off I went to the web to hunt down for backlit heads, hair, fabric, skin…

Earth Goddess references, did I mention I do a lot of research for my paintings?

So once the references were gathered I started painting the landscape, suggesting the light from the center and behind the figure. The mountains slope, the plants, rocks and crystals all point toward the goddess, making this a very simple yet effective composition. I also tried to keep cohesion through the use of the little red flowers on the ground, dress and hair.

As I start refining the image and adding details, I also soften the lines, I do this by locking the pixels on the line layer and passing a round brush set to transparency (20-25%) and painting over the lines with the color adjacent in the figure. This will make the image more dynamic.

I do leave notes to myself when I am too tired to go on but I am afraid to forget what I need to do next 🙂

Then it is just a matter of detailing some more, adding the last touches and sending the file to the clients for revision.

Shamrock Faeries: Experimenting with different techniques

13 03 2012

One of the things that I always feel I need to improve is values. Not only I think this but it has been brought to my attention by numerous great artists that I consider my mentors in a way, as Chris Malidore or Karyn Lewis Bonfiglio, and each time they mention it I have to agree completely with them. This it not to say that I don’t feel I have improved much over the years, I have been putting a lot of work into it and I think it shows if you compare my work when I just got started showing my work around the interwebz.

Many great artists, as Henning Ludvigsen work with a technique that involves first working the image in grayscale and solve the values in that phase, and then lay color on top of it. This way the image is strong first and then you can worry about color once you have no worries about the foundation of values, which is what basically makes a good painting. I have seen this technique used over and again and I have tried it a few times unsuccessfully. Somehow the idea of repainting the whole thing in color once you had painted it in grayscale eluded me, how would this be logical at all? How do you keep the underlying values?

As many times happens to me I finally got it by looking at tutorials for the umpteenth time and I realized that you do not cover what has already been painted completely. You use the transparent layers that Photoshop lets you use for you to keep the values below. I wish I remembered who made the tut that made me understand this, I remember she used the base values layer, then an overlay layer for defining light sources and general mood, and then a multiply layer to finish up details with a normal layer. So I decided to try my hand at it doing a Saint Patrick’s themed image.

The thing is that I get terribly bored doing this. What I actually love is the process of painting, and while I have to give you that the values of this little piece are rather good for me, the process itself was rather painful and totally not worth it. By the time I was done sort of refining the base layer I was so ready to be done with it! I kept working with the following transparent layers on top but my heart was not in it anymore, as you can tell. I guess that I will have to keep using the Saturation layer to check the values every once in a while when I paint straight in color, which is what I really enjoy doing, because if I cannot enjoy it, what is the point?

Have you tried this technique before? Is there anything I am missing?