Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year we are not celebrating American Thanksgiving, but this holiday certainly brings back so many good memories for me! Every year since I lived in US I spent Thanksgiving with my American families and friends. I am so grateful.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Digging deep

I have been working on my art almost every day this year. I think this has been the most productive year for me so far. We reduced our family's scheduled activities to zero, and apart from school and work, we freed up our schedules to do whatever and whenever. This has reduced the stress levels in our family to a minimum, as well as given us ample time to cook, talk, dine, walk, exercise, and travel together. It has been an amazing year for creativity.

Slowing down has actually unleashed this avalanche of ideas for my art projects. I have blogged about all the paintings I completed for 150 in 150 days project, as well as other mini projects I did this year. Furthermore, while experimenting with different techniques, going all out with color or texture, or minimizing color and working on compositions, I dared to dig deeper and conceptualize more meaningful paintings in my mind. A lot of these ideas are in my sketchbook as seeds for something bigger, and I am starting to finally grow these seeds. The preparations for my January project are already on the way, since December is going to be a bit busier with concerts and other activities we have planned for the holidays.

 I am starting an online class on the 19th with Ardith Goodwin - it will be fun (judging by all the activity on a secret FB page happening pre-class - excited to be part of this dynamic group of artists!)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Greeting Cards, by Natasa Vretenar

This morning was very peaceful with a layer of fresh snow. I realized I have not been painting any snow scenes. As a matter of fact, I tend to paint bright, sunny scenes when winter comes to town. Maybe this season that changes.

I am doing a lot of behind the scenes work - preparing substrates and layering, painting borders etc. I also varnished a few paintings and finished all the ornaments I had to do! I purchased the hanging string for the ornaments as well - so now they will be ready to hang on the tree.

I am pleased to now offer greeting cards as well - they are with images from my 150 in 150 days project this year and are blank inside (14x14 cm square).

let me know if you are interested in getting them at $5 each.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Friday, November 10, 2017

Remembering my first show

My first art show was at the Cherry Blossom gallery in Loveland, CO in 2010. It took me about 4-5 years to show my work from the time I started painting in between work and taking care of toddlers. It was a group show with about 10 or 15 local artists, and I had no idea what to expect. looking back, I don't think I expected much, but I was a bit nervous about putting my work out there for the world to see. A few roosters, lots of trees and sunflowers, some zebras and fish.

A lot has happened since then, and I am painting more than ever before. I am glad I put my work together and showed that night - I sold two paintings and gained some confidence to continue my life as an artist. It was not an easy decision, and it took at least a few more years for me to focus on creating art full time.  It has been an exciting journey and I cannot wait to put down on canvas the next idea floating around in my head!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Snow and cold front

We got winter again on Halloween! It seems like every year it happens regularly. We are getting a hang of this climate after 5 years living in Canada. The temperature dropped overnight and we are around -10 deg C today. I respond with a nice warm chicken soup and a shopping trip to an art store for a few art supplies. Our winter tires are on and seem to be doing a good job on the snowy road.
I even took a short walk today - my toe is getting better and I can walk more normally.

I am continuing my work on different large paintings and smaller substrates for my next big project coming up in January. It is not too early to start thinking about it! I am also wrapping up the last of the ornaments - quite pleased how they turned out!


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Finished ornaments

I finished a whole lot of ornaments this week and am storing them away in boxes until they are ready to be shipped! These are just a few smaller ones, 3" in diameter.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Focus on the positive

I finished another batch of ornaments today and have only another small batch to do. I am taking a break from making them because I want to actually paint something for a change! I think ornaments turned out quite nice, there are several different designs available and I will probably post them online soon.

My toe is getting better slowly every day. I can walk more now.

Life is busy and it is important to stay focused and think positively. Every day is a gift.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Elk Island National Park is only a short drive away from Edmonton and is a beautiful place to visit. We are outside whenever we can be, especially when the weather is good. I feel grateful for the natural beauty we are surrounded by.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Thoughts on being a self taught artist III

Since I love to paint animals, I spend a lot of time in nature and at the zoos. I probably have taken a gazillion pictures of various wildlife. I also watch the birds and bunnies straight from my balcony - there is a lot of action in the field outside my windows. I observe their motion, flight path, feather arrangements, muscles, proportions and color. Because I am quite busy with motherly work, a camera comes in handy (does not have to be a fancy one). For better reference photos it is nice to have a mid range SLR camera like Cannon Rebel with a telephoto lens and a good wide angle lens. Initial investment is maybe pricey but totally worth it in the long run. I have owned my Rebel for 6 years now and it works just as well today as when brand new. I only use my own reference photos for my work. It is good to have a bunch of reference photos to look at any time when I have time to paint. I am also grateful for zoos. At this time in my life I cannot afford (time and money wise) to travel to remote locations and observe animals I like to paint in nature, so zoos are in my humble opinion amazing places to hone my artistic skills.

Online classes with artists whose work I like are another way to develop my own skills as an artist. I just signed up for a year long course starting in November to boost the creative process. Looking forward to it.

In the future, I would love to take workshops with artists I admire. There are many week long workshops and conferences I have put on my to do list, but it will all have to wait until my kids are a bit older. This is definitely the most costly part of one's development as an artist, as these workshops are not available locally. However, comparing it to tuition costs, even workshop costs do not seem so high.

Being self-taught is always a work in progress.
This guy was making really weird motorcycle noises at the zoo in Edmonton! He was agitated and looked quite menacing. He did not appreciate all the visitors to the zoo that day. 

Thoughts on being self taught II

So what is a self-taught artist like me to do, in a city where they do not fit into an art education mold? There are many ways to grow as an artist, and resources are quite readily available.

I am regular visitor to our local library and I study art history constantly - probably not a day goes by that I do not read something related to art, artists from the past and present. I also spend time on social media browsing through new works of my art "friends". I try not to spend too much time on Facebook or Instagram these days, but I enjoy doing it and I have "met" so many wonderful, productive and innovative artists through social media. It can be very inspiring if you don't get too involved and spend too many hours browsing through other people's posts. This part (particularly using the library resources) are free. Furthermore, one can exchange books with friends.

Working daily is the most important thing for me - whether it is just a sketch, or a complete painting, it does not matter. What matters is that I work every day. Sometimes I just manage to write down the idea in my sketchbook, and that is it! For me it is important that I put these ideas down in writing, and sometime later when I do have time to work on a painting, I develop these ideas into a work of art, or even a series of paintings. This also does not require much monetary commitment. Supplies may be expensive for artists, but sketchbooks and pencils (or pens) are not much. Besides, one can buy a lot of paint and substrates for one semester worth of tuition money.
This picture was taken at the overlook above the Bow river and close to Bow river falls. What a magnificent place! Look at all those tough, resilient trees growing from the cliff, the water rumbling, and beautiful mountains in the background!

Thoughts on being a self-taught artist

Education is extremely important in my world. However, being educated does not mean one has to have formal education and a degree. There are many examples of innovative, successful people who never finished college, yet they contribute to humanity by leaps and bounds.

I am a self-taught artist. When I say that to people locally, they usually immediately dismiss me as a serious artist. Some have even suggested I should take classes to learn to paint, or laughed at me etc. It seems that having a degree in art is important in Canada, and I get that kind of thinking. Formal schooling gives a person an experience like no other, and one can grow a lot and learn a lot from attending a University program. Because it is an investment of time and money, degree is viewed as a valuable asset.  From the research I did in Edmonton, I can see that there are just a few professional artists without a formal degree represented by local galleries.

I have looked into going to the University to take classes, because I do think I could benefit from the right kind of instruction. It would be great to hone drawing and painting, color theory, and composition skills with a professional artist.  However, most of the art education in Edmonton is centered around conceptual art and I just cannot get into it, nor do I understand it. I strongly feel that attending the University at this point in my career and in life, would not be beneficial to my development as an artist. I came to this conclusion after attending numerous local art shows and leaving most of them underwhelmed. I just do not get it. I figured out much better ways to use the money I would spend on tuition to better myself as an artist.

So what is a self-taught artist like me to do, in a city where they do not fit into an art education mold? There are many ways to grow as an artist, and resources are quite readily available.

These two hippos were happy as can be that day at the Calgary Zoo. Just basking in the sun and relaxing. My favorite kind of day.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Halloween stuff

We always have so much fun for Halloween. This year we made an Oogie Boogie costume from scratch, and it was as much fun to make it as it is to wear it. The mask making involved making a plaster helmet, foam, duct tape, fake burlap and cutting up an old outgrown Halloween costume (black fabric for the eyes and mouth), and finishing with stitches with black yarn. We are ready to go trick-or-treating!

Here is where you can find detailed info on how to make a costume
Thank you Semrau family!

We did change a few things, we used old sneakers for the feet and glued the fabric to them. We stuffed the hoodie and feet with stuffing from a cheap pillow from IKEA, and hot glued the same cheap three pillows inside the body for added volume.The costume is probably the best we ever made so far!All in all, it cost about $45 CAD (mainly for the fabric and glue sticks and 4 ikea pillows). We had yarn, plaster, scissors, velcro for the back, foam, and old shoes available, as well as a lot of time to make it. It was a great bonding experience with my son too! He made most of the costume and I helped - time spent doing it together - priceless!

We went to two Halloween events to test it and will still make a few modifications to the mask - the plaster was crumbling in a few spots and getting into hair and eyes. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Tempus fugit

I have not completed a single painting this month so far, yet I have been busier than ever doing things related to my art. The last two and a half weeks were filled with substrate preparation activities, building texture on several larger paintings, and last, but not the least - designing and making my Christmas ornaments. I have made adjustments to the the design along the way, and they are looking good! I even designed a fabulous storage system for them (based on my previous success selling my art in Canada, I will need it). Some of them are ready to be shipped to the USA already! I am grateful for my art supporters who continue to encourage me and who buy my art. Without them I am sure I would have quit a long time ago.

With this painting "Halka" I started a year in 2015. It is one of my favorite paintings. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The ornament factory

I am working on the ornaments today again - it is quite a job! There is a lot of work in each of these little ornaments, and each is a unique one. They are turning out quite nice. I figured out a way to make them in small batches and have a system in place to complete small tasks one at the time. It takes a while for the medium to dry ( I like to leave it overnight), and I am doing several layers to make sure all surfaces are evenly covered. Each ornament will be unique and hand made by me.

I managed to stub my toe this morning badly (thought it was broken), so I am not as mobile today as I planned to be. However, I am getting a ton of things done at my work table. It is amazing how a little toe can hurt so much.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Ornaments in progress

I got this idea to make ornaments for Christmas this year from the images of my work I completed earlier in 2017. As with any prototyping - there was some trial and error, but here are a few images of the final products: grizzly bear and hummingbird ornaments.

I am making a few more adjustments to make it look better as I go, but I am confident it is close to the final design. Smaller ornaments will be pretty much the same, although for the first batch of them, I put a nice ribbon on the edge. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Christmas Ornaments

I know it is crazy early to even think about Christmas now, but I got a new project going and will be offering 3" and 4" diameter ornaments this year. I am in the process of making them now and will post some pictures of them soon.

It is getting busy here and I am working on finishing a few large paintings that have been hanging on my wall waiting for several months now! I forgot how much I love to work on large paintings, and I almost forgot how to use my palette knives. It's been too long. I may have to look for some venues to show my work again, as I am running low on storage space!

We are treated to an amazing sunrise view most days - Alberta provides so much color: sunrises, sunsets, yellow canola fields, blue skies, turquoise waters, green trees and grass. I am grateful that we live here and I got to see such amazing nature, most notably the Rocky Mountains National Parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho etc.

Friday, October 6, 2017

New substrates are in, it's prepping time!

I am so excited to get my new substrates in for the next project. A local business cuts them for me (Captive Cutting) and Mark does a fantastic job (quick turnaround time and is willing to take on one of a kind projects).

 I am busy prepping the substrates for now - it will take me a week or so to get them all primed and painted with the first few layers of acrylic paint. I have a whole series planned out and some of the paintings already sketched. There is a lot of planning, sketching, doodling, changing my mind going on before I actually start another series of paintings. I also continually work on other series I started in the past (for example "Let's paint NM" challenge series). I wish there was more time in a day, but I try and do the best I can with what is available.

I have another surprise project going on - hopefully will have more info on that in the next week or so!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Work in Progress

Working on a large painting today - this is a project I have been working on and off since the beginning of this year. It is amazing how fast the time goes when working on something new - I have been on it since early this morning and going strong.

I love it when it is sunny outside - I have learned to enjoy every sunny day we get in Edmonton, and make sure I go outside when it is pleasant and warm (it actually went up to 16 deg C).

Keep making art!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Fall and Winter

Living in the North is not for everyone. We had an abrupt change of weather from Fall to Winter in one day. Wind is blowing and some snow fell down this morning. Canada's nature is amazingly beautiful and I think everyone should try and visit Alberta's National Parks at some point in life. The views are truly breathtaking, and I feel lucky to live in place of such natural beauty. My goal is to work on landscapes for a while, it has been a long time since I painted one.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Mountains and Lakes, by Natasa Vretenar


This is one of the most beautiful places in Jasper National Park - Maligne Lake and the Spirit Island. One can take a boat to get there or kayak to it. It is an amazing, uplifting place. Each of these paintings is 2x6 feet, together 6x6 feet. We were lucky to be able to go there when the weather was sunny and warm.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Collage of 30 paintings in 30 days by Natasa Vretenar

Wow, I cannot believe I actually did another 30 in 30 challenge. I dared to go to a new, unexplored territory and attempted to do 30 figure paintings. I feel that this was a good experiment, to keep things fresh and challenging.

One of the goals for this month was to tone down the intense colors I love to work with, and see if I would survive, or if the world would collapse if I used a limited palette. Well, it turns out things are as they ever were, but I did manage to stick to only a few colors in this series even though I longingly stared at my neon Holbein tubes more than once (per day). I was strong mentally and did not succumb to this pressure from my own gray cells.

Another goal was to try and paint human figure. My friend and I went to Harcourt House figure drawing drop in sessions this month, and that helped me focus on portraying the human body as well. It is not easy to stay focused the entire month on one subject, especially if the subject is out of my comfort zone, so having support from other artists is important to me. As I kept painting human figure, I thought about different ideas that a painting can represent, and the end result is a mix of ideas representing idioms from different languages, proverbs, mythology, different emotions, or stages in one's life. I write down a lot of things in my sketchbook while creating these small paintings, and it is never clear which idea may or may not become a new series of my work.

I am happy I found a way to use the remaining 11" substrates I had left over from 150 in 150 days project. I still have a few of them left, and I would like to paint some flowers on them. I miss painting flowers and landscapes.

I create art, and art brings contentment.

Fertility Goddess Lada, painting by Natasa Vretenar

Friday, September 29, 2017

Thursday, September 28, 2017

It's a stretch II, painting by Natasa Vretenar

It is a final stretch for this challenge. I am spending a lot of time outside because the weather is absolutely amazing this week - trees are turning colors and temperatures are high in 20s!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Psyche, painting by Natasa Vretenar

 The story of Cupid and Psyche is centuries old, but is retold in countless ways in the modern times. Her story tells of dangerous curiosity, tests and punishments, and redemption through divine favor.

It may not look like it, but I put a lot of thought into these little paintings. When I do the small paintings challenge, I am more interested in putting the idea of a painting on a substrate, see how different backgrounds work for different subject matter, how colors interplay. Sometimes a good idea simply pops into my head and sometimes it slowly develops over time.

I am actually finishing up this September challenge today, a bit ahead of schedule. I have been swamped with life obligations and heading out on a mountain adventure tomorrow to catch some trees turning color. Larches should be at peak this weekend in Banff! I am excited about going to the mountains, even if it is just for a long weekend.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Hear no Evil, painting by Natasa Vretenar

"Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety" Confucius

Monday, September 25, 2017

See no Evil, painting by Natasa Vretenar

"Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety" Confucius

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Speak no Evil, painting by Natasa Vretenar

"Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety"Confucius

Saturday, September 23, 2017

No Worries, painting by Natasa Vretenar

Today I went to check out the gallery walk on the 124th street in Edmonton with a friend. There are nine galleries on this block and they offer a variety of artwork. My favorite one was Peter Robertson gallery. Gentleman who was there (not sure if he was the owner) was friendly and welcoming. He introduced us to wonderful work by Steve Driscoll. I wish I saw the exhibit they had last year with water in the gallery - they actually flooded the gallery floor with 6 in of water! Other gallery greeters/owners were not even saying hello to potential customers. This is nothing new here (we have experienced this before during art walks or even opening nights at galleries in Edmonton) and it is definitely something that Edmonton gallerinas could improve on.

There are so many local artists that are amazing, and it is a pleasure to visit galleries to see what is represented here. Unfortunately, not many local artists are represented. Hopefully in the future that may change.

Here is my "No Worries" painting.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Spinning Cycle II, painting by Natasa Vretenar

A male version of the Spinning Cycle painting from a few days ago. It is really important for me to continue working on my art daily. Now that I have decided to not waste my time on applications for shows and grants that will never be fruitful, I have extra time to devote to actually creating. It is interesting how much time I spent on writing applications for exhibits. Even though I got about 50 rejections last year (yes, that is how many I sent out!, and yes it is a lot of work!) I do not see it as a complete waste of time. I spend a lot of time thinking about the show - from the seed ideas to creating art to getting my pieces to be display ready. Writing proposals actually helps me formulate what I am trying to do with my current or a future art series.

I think of these paintings during challenges as seeds for future series in larger format. Ideas jotted down on canvas, while practicing drawing proportions of human bodies, exploring different mediums and colors. Maybe these paintings are not the best I have produced, but they are a beginning of something beautiful.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tranquil, painting by Natasa Vretenar

I cherish the moments when I can sit quietly and read a book. Usually, I listen to the books on CD while I work and it is really rare that I sit down and read.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Spinning Cycle, painting by Natasa Vretenar

Sometimes life feels like you are thrown into a spinning cycle and keeps turning you around.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

It's a Stretch, painting by Natasa Vretenar

Chugging along with this challenge. I am pushing my limits with the figure sketches and drawings and paintings. This entire month is devoted to human figure and I am at times struggling to keep going, but I promised myself I will stick with it and go on.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

A bird in a hand, painting by Natasa Vretenar

Another idiom in English that I think of periodically is "A bird in a hand is worth two in the bush". Similar idiom in Serbo-Croatian is "A sparrow in hand is worth more than a pigeon on the branch".
It warns against taking risks and suggests that you should keep what you have and not risk losing it by going after more. The other reading of the meaning is that it refers to medieval falconry where a bird in the hand (the falcon) was a valuable asset and certainly worth more than two in the bush (the prey). It may well be that both of these meanings were intended by the coiners of this phrase, which may go some way to explaining why it has resonated over the centuries and is still in common use.

This painting only has hands in it so it is not quite a figure painting, but when I thought of a composition for this painting this image popped into my head and voila. Here it is.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Boy, painting by Natasa Vretenar

He has long hair. He is all boy.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Babysitter, painting by Natasa Vretenar

I try to limit the screen time, but it is impossible to completely get rid of the gadgets we use on a daily basis. I tease my family members that their eyes are becoming square from all the staring into the little glowing screen.

Baby's best friend...

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Sisyphus, a painting by Natasa Vretenar

Tasks that are laborious and futile - the bane of a man's existence.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


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