Owl Creek Studio Newsletter – Spring 2022

cherry blossoms in Victoria, spring 2022

Hello and welcome to the spring edition of my art studio newsletter! Thank you for your continued interest in my art practice. I have new art, photos, personal thoughts and learning adventures to share with you!

It is now the month of May and on Vancouver Island spring is a feast of blossoms, earnest birdsong and fresh green growth everywhere. With the burst of new life comes the uplifting longer daylight hours, warmer days and I always start to feel better.

I’m going to be honest here and share with you that this past winter was particularly tough. I was quite unwell in February and March, until a trip to Creston and some deeply quiet time in the mountains gave me the rest and healing I needed. I’m still on the mend but I feel much more like myself now, and I continue to draw strength from intentional “nature therapy”, time spent outdoors walking, taking photographs, sketching and painting, or just looking at the beauty of it all.

I bring up my chronic illness and the various waves of difficulty it causes because it is directly relevant to my art studio business. The Internet has been watching me as I work away on my business, and all those clever algorithms keep sending me business courses and other media about how artists are pushing their limits, working harder, posting more, marketing harder, achieving success and making big sales with their studio business. While all those tips and courses are useful for me, they lack any representation of artists with disabilities who, like me, must set a slower pace in order to sustain their well-being. I can’t compare myself to able-bodied artists who post on social media multiple times a day and make tons of sales. (Honestly, how do they even find time to paint?) I cheer them on but I have to remember that I walk my own unique path. I have had some sales and commissions, and I must celebrate each one as the achievements they are. I also want to focus on how the artist’s journey isn’t necessarily a commercial one. It can be deeply personal growth, exploration, therapeutic creative play, skill-building and practice. A person can have a lifetime of artistic satisfaction regardless of commercial success. That being said, here is what I’ve been up to for the past few months!

Serenity

I was very fortunate and grateful to have a special request for a painting from my counsellor Kathlyn McHugh. She wanted a nature image that feels spiritual, serene, uplifting, with some similarities to the “Night Vision” print I sent out at Christmastime. So I borrowed a little from the fantasy art genre to sparkle up a rugged west coast scene of wild eagles. Have you ever seen northern lights in the daytime, or a rising moon that big? Me neither, but this is how it would look! I get to visit the painting in Kathlyn’s office every time we have a session. She says her clients enjoy the painting as a way of grounding and calming.

Kathlyn holds her finished painting.

Here is a slideshow of all the painting stages I went through to create “Serenity”. The artwork is 16×20 inches, acrylic paints on cradled birchwood panel that I primed with transparent gesso sanded satiny smooth before painting. I started with a full size drawing, transferred that to the panel, then began painting each section in layers. The fine details required intense focus, and were deeply satisfying. I’m proud of this piece and I’m glad it has found such an appreciative home where many people will enjoy looking at it while they heal. Thank you Kathlyn!

Doggy Donuts and Prairie Dog Dreams

My dog Elska might be the most important person in my life. (I could get in a lot of trouble here haha!) My obsession with her graceful beauty, sweet personality, goofy lack of dignity and bizarrely flexible pretzel body have become a major theme in my artwork for the last year.

Elska on Royal Bay Beach, Colwood, BC, spring 2022.

The most popular listing in my Etsy store is my “Baker’s Dozen” print, featuring a collection of silken windhounds lounging on delicious donut beds, plus two tabby cats cozied up in a donut hole. This print has found its way to Maryland USA, Budapest in Hungary, and a tiny village in Sweden where a new silken windhound breeder is raising her very first litter of puppies. I thank my international customers who go to extra effort to purchase my art! I have learned that yes, I can use PayPal for international orders, and shipping through Canada Post works just fine! It feels great to send my little “art puppies” out into the world!

“Baker’s Dozen” – digital art print, 2021

I will soon be listing an archival, fine art quality, larger version of “Baker’s Dozen” in my Etsy store. A giclee print produced on acid-free fine art paper, this high quality print will last much longer than my original poster series which were produced on a laser printer. So if you’re a serious fan of my doggy donuts you may want to consider ordering a giclee print of “Baker’s Dozen”. I will send out a brief update to let you know when the prints become available.

The “Baker’s Dozen” print was my first exploration into creating silken windhound themed colouring posters, and eventually a colouring book. In this vein I drew another digital illustration that I am calling “Prairie Dog Dreams”. I imagined my dog Elska Chinook as a fantasy silken winghound, with the wings and tail of a prairie hawk, small enough to nestle amongst the spring crocuses.

“Prairie Dog Dreams” – digital art print, 2022

I drew this artwork with my stylus on my iPad. The drawing became very elaborate and very detailed! Every stroke was produced by the motion of my hand, not computer generated. Being a bit of an old school artist the resulting digital image doesn’t quite feel real to me until I see it printed on paper. I was very excited to get two giclee prints made of the final illustration! I decided to hand colour one of them with pencil crayons, and that is still in progress as you can see here.

“Prairie Dog Dreams” – hand-coloured digital art print, in progress, 2022

The other “Prairie Dog Dreams” print will soon be listed on my Etsy shop. So far I only have a single print available so if you’re excited to own this special black line illustration you’d best jump on it the minute I post the listing! Don’t worry, I’ll send out an announcement when I update my shop. I’ll eventually make more prints of this artwork, but for now it’s a really limited edition!

I have further plans to develop this image into an original painting, perhaps even an oil painting if I’m really ambitious. More about oil painting later. Now’s the time to talk about watercolours!

Watercolour Originals

Back in the middle of winter I started making some small watercolour and mixed media originals, just 5×7 inches. I painted four at a time without a plan, just splashing spontaneous colours and forms onto the paper. Once the washes were dry I worked into them again with black and white inks, and coloured pencils, creating some unexpected semi-abstract gems that came mysteriously from my subconscious. Who knows what they are saying? Take a non-verbal peek behind the curtain at my inner creative life!

These original paintings will also be available in my Etsy shop very soon. They’re small enough to be affordable, putting original artwork within better reach for aspiring collectors. I’m going to make more of these. 

While we’re on the topic of watercolours I’d like to share a few pages of my watercolour sketchbook with you. It can be fun to get a glimpse of how an artist hones her skills and ideas. I like using my sketchbook to test colours, paint spontaneously and experiment. I’m especially pleased with my waterfall painting. I decided make a larger version of this on a sheet of Arches watercolour paper. That painting is still in progress, but it all began with this image in my sketchbook. The other sketchbook pages could be the seeds for something bigger too.

“Waterfall”, sketchbook, 2022
“A Prayer For Salmon” – sketchbook, 2021

Owl Letter

While we’re on the topic of watercolours and artists, I’ll share this special letter with you that I made for my artist friend Beth Doman. We’re calling it an “owl letter” – Harry Potter reference – because of the owl that fell down her chimney last year. It left through the front door, unharmed, but sadly did not deliver the hoped-for Hogwart’s School of Magic invitation.

Beth and I have been supporting each other as artists for several years now, and during the pandemic Beth ventured into the realm of watercolours for the first time. She discovered that she’s quite a brilliant painter (my words – she’s quite humble) and launched an Etsy store herself! We have been doing many parallel things and cheering each other on – this has been wonderful and crucial support! In that spirit we agreed to send each other a supportive “owl letter” that welcomes the fledgling artist into the fold of a secret artists’ society. Here is the letter I made for Beth.

“Owl Letter for Beth” – watercolour and ink on tea-stained paper, 9×12 inches, 2022

Beth Doman’s art will be in a number of shows coming up, including the Fernwood Art Stroll (June 11&12, 2022 https://www.fernwoodartstroll.ca/) and a summer-long gallery exhibit at the Port Alberni museum (https://playinpa.ca/exhibits/). She’s constantly painting new west coast scenes, wildlife images and pet portrait commissions. Here is a link to Beth’s Etsy shop!

Exploring Oil Painting

Recently I was given a generous supply of oil painting materials, including paints, brushes, knives, easels and pochade boxes (for painting outdoors), and stacks of painting books. I send much gratitude to Elizabeth (Liz) Lesperance, a world-class wildlife and Western horses painter. She left this earth a more beautiful place with her art and will be missed. Last time I saw her she asked me not to forget her, and I replied, “how could I forget you? You’re the most talented painter I’ve ever met.” And that’s the truth. Liz could paint the beauty of a horse, anatomically correct and shimmering in afternoon light, like no one else could. Her wildlife paintings and dog portraits are also incredible. She passed away a few weeks ago, with friends by her side. Liz lived at my dad’s property in Creston for the last ten years until moving to a supportive care facility a few months ago. She worked in the spacious studio, sometimes with her horses looking in the doorway to see what she was doing! As I use her brushes I can feel her standing behind me, watching approvingly as I take baby steps into oil painting. Thank you Liz!

I have avoided oil painting for the longest time, even though I was surrounded by artists using the medium, including my paternal grandfather Franz Stengl. I avoided oils due to the stories of toxicity and health issues associated with solvents and other painting products. But now there are many non-toxic alternatives available! I’m learning how to protect my health properly so there is no reason to avoid this juicy, delicious, rich and traditional paint! I’m diving in.

I made my very first oil painting when I was about 6 years old, then proceeded to paint my arms and legs. Almost 40 years later I’m trying again, this time with more caution but just as much enthusiasm! 

Here are my first few oil painting adventures. They are small. “Winston in Doggy Heaven” is 9×11 inches. “Sunflower” is 4×4 inches. “Mountain Sunset” is about 5×7 inches. More to come! I’m taking online painting courses, researching and getting the necessary non-toxic products and protective measures, and trying things out at a small scale. A lot can be learned from making little paintings! When I feel confident enough in my skills then I will offer oil painting as an art commission option. Until then, practice practice practice!

“Winston” – oil on wood panel, 9×12 inches, 2022
“Mountain Sunset” – oil on panel, 5×7 inches, 2022

Photos to share

Lastly I want to share a few photos with you that I’m pleased with. I’m not a professional photographer, and I have much to learn but my camera is definitely an essential tool of my art practice. I make a point of using my own photos as art references as much as possible. I hope you enjoy this small selection.

River otter, Taylor Beach, Metchosin BC, 2022
Elska on Royal Bay Beach, Colwood BC, early spring 2022
Elska on Mill Hill with camas flowers, spring 2022

My next endeavour will be to update my Etsy shop with all my new projects. I will send out an announcement when the update is complete! In the meantime you can still visit my shop because I have lots of great giclee prints, handmade prints, art posters and colouring posters available right now.

Thank you for taking this illustrated journey with me through my latest art adventures, and for supporting the arts in your community. I hope the spring is unfolding beautifully for you in your part of the world. Wishing you all the best!

Caroline Stengl

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