Sunday, February 7, 2016

New Work: Running Through It

Running Through It
12" x 16" painted acrylic papers on wc paper
It doesn't bother me anymore when Rich walks into the studio to look at my work and make comments. I want him to say what it is he sees. If nothing else his observations provide for some good comic relief. It's not possible to take myself seriously these days. So, he walks in and I ask him what he thinks of this piece shown above. He says, "Oh, the balls now have caps." Fair enough! (Though I prefer to think of them (the balls) as heads with safety helmets but that is just me!)

Some Composition Issues:
I used similar colors for this piece as I did for the last one. I decided to emphasize the warmer colors though and play down the blues. I sort of did that I think. There is more of a warm feeling for me anyway. Something interesting though that I learned had to do with colors being dispersed throughout the piece. Originally I didn't have any yellow strips on the right side and there were no yellow shapes either. Those orange red bars seemed to be screaming at me. It seemed like kind of a contrast/saturation issue but then I thought that it was more of a color distribution/dominance issue. I decided that the yellow needed to be the dominant color and be placed throughout the piece in varying amounts. It is like Carol's mention in an earlier post of the "mother color" in a way. And I think this would apply to those of you who would be painting landscapes. An overall color feeling is very unifying. For me, I think it was a good solution. I also like the shape that was created with the addition of the yellow on the orange-red bars.

The Title:
Originally for this piece I had been thinking about the phrase "x marks the spot" in reference to the men who went out to find the best location for the placement and building of Hoover Dam. (I think I read in one of my books that as the dam was nearing completion some workers found the original stakes/markers made by that survey crew.) When I was about halfway through the piece I began thinking more about how the Colorado River drops in elevation as it progresses through the various sections of land and canyons. I also considered how the river is over allotted and over used. (So far as I know this is still the case to this day.) The title then has a dual meaning. It refers to both the river running through the land and also the way in which we as a population are running through this resource. And I am OK with people not getting that from looking at the painting itself. Whatever anyone gets out of it is fine and if you are reading and would like to say what it is you see then please leave a comment. I want to know.

I learn something small with each of these pieces that I make. It isn't painful anymore either when I make blunders (knock on wood) and maybe that is because I have made them so often now! That sense of being able to fix things or at least muddle through is invaluable. It makes the process much more enjoyable. 

OK, I hope everyone has had a good weekend. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

New Work & Loosen Up!

Good Guys, Bad Guys
image size 12" x 16"-
painted acrylic papers on watercolor paper

The above piece was completed a few days ago and is a riff on my last piece shown here. I wanted to use the same colors again but in different proportions. The piece began as a smaller paper sketch using scraps from the last project. I am not sure about everything but I do like the inclusion of more "biomorphic" shapes. 

An Idea About Loosening Up.
Recently I read once again that another artist was trying to "loosen up". In the past, for a variety of reasons, I have been dismissive of this comment. I have negative connotations, stemming from my childhood, with both the phrase and the idea. At this point though, after hearing the phrase so many times in the art world, I'd like to understand just exactly how this directive can be applied to painting. There must be some merit in the idea if everyone is talking about it. It might pay to consider some ways in which a painter might loosen up or even conceive of the idea of loosening up. What could that look like? 

When I hear the phrase, I tend to first think about the abandoning of any game plan. Does this mean then that a person paints something willy nilly, without any kind of a plan? I suspect that people believe creative types are very spontaneous. In reading a fair amount of artist interviews given by contemporary painters though, most of them say that they either start with a very detailed plan and leave themselves open to the possibilities of change or that they start a painting in an open ended fashion and continue to hone in on their ideas. Even an action painter has to prep a bit before they run up to attack the canvas. They at least have an idea of which section they are heading for with a loaded brush in hand. Their next mark might be a total surprise but it's likely based on the last mark. 

Another approach would be that painters abandon any sorts of "rules" that have been established through the ages. Things like rules based on the color wheel, design set ups, and rules regarding how to avoid tangents. Personally I tend to think about about edges and color usage. I admire painters who handle edges in a variety of ways. And I admire painters who seem to make their colors sing without shouting. Are those loose qualities? Did they just happen spontaneously, emerging out of the artist's brain without any practice or thought?

The phrase could also mean a relaxing of standards. Just do what you feel regardless of the outcome. This idea has some merit also. Perhaps it is the closest thing to someone realizing their creative vision. But what about craftsmanship and skill and learning? What if what comes out isn't exactly what the artist wants? What about people's perceptions?

Myths of any sort are tricky to grasp. They can explain any number of real events or tangible visions or even vague ideas. They can even help to dispel something that isn't true. What then does it mean to loosen up? I wonder if people could really mean that they want to somehow advance their painting skills but don't really know how. Or maybe they don't really know how to articulate that vague feeling of dissatisfaction, of wanting to paint differently, to make better paintings, or to somehow enjoy the process more. I almost wonder if people say the phrase because they don't quite know what else to say? Or it is something that is expected? We do those sorts of things. Sometimes phrases are just a starting point for a larger discussion. Or even an excuse to look inward more closely for personal and meaningful answers to a very complex question. So the next time you use this phrase, consider what you really mean. What are you trying to actually say? It's worth a thought I think.

If you have something to add please let me know. I am always interested in adding other viewpoints to my database of ideas. And I will probably write about this topic again soon:)

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

January 2016 Wrap Up Post

image size 12" x 16" matted to 16" x 20"

Every Last Drop
12" x 16" matted to 16" x 20"
Trouble in Callville
image size 12" x 16" matted to 16" x 20"

image size 12" x 16" matted to 16" x 20"
The end of every month is always a surprise to me. Seems like it was just Christmas! January is nearly over though and I want to share what happened in my studio this month.

1. Precarious: The first piece references some aspects of the reading about Hoover Dam that I have been doing. The building of the dam is fascinating and the sheer magnitude of the project is overwhelming to contemplate. One of the things that stood out for me was the question of safety on the job site. The imagery I chose drew on some ideas about workers, scaffolding, and accidents.
2. Every Last Drop: Inspired again by my research on Hoover Dam, this second piece uses simple and personal symbols to represent water, sun, the company that built the dam, and the workers themselves. The title refers to the numerous and seemingly endless ways that the water of the river is parsed up and distributed, used and reused again until it trickles to the Gulf of California. Look closely at the piece to see the two letter "H's" that I used to reference Herbert Hoover. Hoover was a controversial player in the building of the dam. Naming the dam was hotly debated for a time because of this aspect. Ultimately, Hoover's name was given to the structure.

3.Trouble in Callville: This piece was also inspired by my reading about Hoover Dam and refers to the little town of Callville. The small town was near the building site that was immersed under water when Lake Mead was created. I again drew on my ideas about worker safety, the river and people to come up with the images and colors for this work. 

4. Transcontinental: Hey! No Hoover dam references. This time I was inspired by the history of railroading in the United States. Directly related to my interest in all things water, the history of the railroads really is about connections, including bringing people to the West and "connecting" them with new frontiers new ways of life and a seemingly endless supply of resources to support those things.  I used images to reference bridges, tunnels, bodies of water and land.

Coming Up:
Guess where I am going? My husband and I have organized a trip to Hoover Dam! I am particularly excited because of my interest in the river and the structure of the dam but I am also really looking forward to visiting Utah. We will be exploring Zion National Park. The landscape there is something I am not familiar with and so I really hope to be inspired by it. Stay tuned for details!

Try This Now!:
I do something creative every day. How about you? No time you say? Can't draw, you say? Forget it! Have you looked at adult coloring books? They are a wonderful idea and a great antidote to the "I can't draw" or "I am not artistic" statements. Pshaw! I found an article here that describes the idea of the coloring book as an artistic outlet for supposedly non-artistic types. Check the article out if you can. Coloring is such a wonderful and easy way to express yourself. You get to use whatever media you like (pens, crayons, paint, etc.), choose whatever colors interest you, and pass the time making creative decisions. It's my opinion that creativity is for everyone. My definition of being creative is the notion that you are bringing together many different things to create something new and unique. Coloring books offer this kind of opportunity I believe within a structured framework of an already finished drawing. No pressure to draw but tons of freedom to choose colors and mediums. Check out Amazon or other retailers for all sorts of choices.

I'd like some feedback about offering "unstructured "classes" in my home studio. I would be looking for those of you who have unfinished painting projects and could benefit from some on-on-one collaborative sessions. The sessions would be about two hours as needed, would be reasonably priced, and would be a nice back and forth kind of idea. If you might be interested or know someone who could benefit can you please get in touch with me? (Because it is my home studio, I would need to already know you or to be able to connect you with someone that I know.) 

Once again, thank you for following these posts and for supporting my art making endeavors. And get yourself a coloring book. You won't regret it!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

New Work: Every Last Drop

Every Last Drop
image size 12" x 16" matted to 16" x 20"
acrylic painted papers on wc paper

This is the nineteenth piece that I have made in this particular style, using painted and cut paper. It feels to me like I am making things that I never would have had the patience to make painting directly onto canvas or paper. I think I am just marveling at how a change in one's approach can completely send one in another direction, possibly in the "right" direction. It can even solve problems and allow a person to move forward with ideas that seemed impossible to begin with. To me, it's proof positive that the creative process is both fluid and permeable. One needn't be stuck with a particular method of working, style or even medium. As long as new ideas are permitted to enter the process, different and more satisfying results can be achieved. A person's art or art making should never become stagnant. There is just no reason for this. (PS-I wrote this in the AM and it sounds a little high flying now in the PM. I really do mean it though!)

With the above piece, I used a completely different approach of assembly. I had two specific problems to work out. First off, over the past several months, I have created some drawings that I really love. Their overlapped and more organic shapes though present a problem with construction. Generally, I make a drawing and then just cut the paper, eyeballing it, and affixing the resulting shapes to the larger watercolor paper. These drawings though need precise and specific shapes, overlapped in a definite sequence, in order to work. It took me awhile to figure out what to do. I finally hit on the idea of simply transferring the initial drawing onto the larger paper. From there, I traced each shape onto my painted papers and then cut out that shape and placed it on the larger paper (in sequence). For me, it was very challenging to see which shapes to cut and place first. It is a lot like quilted applique. You really have to think in terms of layers and subsequently, how pieces will interact with each other.

The other real challenge was color. Somehow, I have gotten away from an initial colored drawing for guidance. It was this piece of the puzzle that I was really missing. Without the actual colored "sketch" I was having a hard time figuring out what colors to paint my papers. With the colored sketch as guidance (and a more simplified approach to using color that I also developed) I was able to see what colors to paint my papers. I also made a "scale" of the resulting colors using little swatches. I could see right away if I had enough of a value range and contrast. 

More High Flying Thoughts!
I'll be the first to admit that this approach isn't for everyone. It's actually just for me! And that is what makes art so unique I think. Everyone really has their own approach that is born of taking ideas from many different sources. You end up creating your own unique concoction of solutions and approaches. With that said though, there is some basic stuff that everyone can use (and that I think we all use). Even if you are a plein air painter and don't paint directly onto the canvas and use a thumbnail sketch instead, you still need the ability to transfer that thumbnail sketch to a larger canvas. (and the vision to see if it works as well as the ability to "correct" as you go.) If you paint with oils or even use pastels, you could premix some colors and use a gray scale to check your values. If you are a quilter, making small swatches of fabric on a card and then photographing them in black and white can tell you in an instant if you have a good enough value range. Even if you paint abstractly and intuitively, you still have to deal with shapes and marks and colors. How to make them proportionate? How to get the image and idea and feelings from your head onto the canvas? I really believe firmly that there are some core skills involved that transfer across the board, regardless of style or medium or specific approach. 

What I Learned and Want to Pass Along:
I learned (again) two last things that I will pass along. First, don't become attached to anything! One little mark or shape that you love and can't possibly part with might be holding you back. Just consider if you can get rid of it. What might happen? The second thing is this: details come last and can really tie a piece together. Not excessively fussy details but rather a judicious array and use of details is what can really sew things up. My piece didn't feel complete to me anyway until I started to add some smaller details like lines and smaller, repetitive shapes. It seemed to me that those touches really helped to direct my eyes around the piece as well as tying things together.

And for those interested (and if you made it this far) the piece was inspired by my reading of the making of Hoover Dam. It's true that the dam is named for Herbert Hoover whose involvement and support of the dam was controversial. Politics right? The second thing is something that I learned about the Colorado River itself. It is considered to be the most extensively controlled and litigated river in the world. Seven US states and two Mexican states depend on this water in some way. The title for the piece comes from some of the ideas that I have formed about the river.

OK, thanks for reading and please leave a comment if you would like. Hope everyone is having a good week so far.

Monday, January 18, 2016

New Work: Trouble in Callville

Trouble in Callville
image size 12" x 16"
acrylic painted papers on watercolor paper
The above piece was started last week before we went on vacation. Even though I left the piece in what I thought was a good spot, I had some trouble connecting with it when I got back home. Anyone else have this happen?

My inspiration comes from my reading about Hoover Dam. I am particularly interested in the author's descriptions of the various accidents, hazards, working conditions, and subsequent deaths from working in the desert on this huge project. What an undertaking the dam must have been. Really, I don't think a written description can do it justice. 

In any case, I learned a little bit about the group of companies that came together to build the dam. No one company was able to fund or build it so six companies/individuals came together to form a conglomerate. They called themselves Six Companies, Inc. and were responsible for working with the Bureau of Reclamation (US Government) to get the project completed on time. It isn't hard to imagine what might have occurred on the job site when a group of high powered men, working under tight deadlines, tried to make as much profit as possible. 

The title for my piece references a small town, now submerged under Lake Mead, that was quite near the railroad line operated by Six Companies during the building of Hoover Dam. My original idea for the piece was simply the two figures, one standing and one falling, and some references to railroad tracks and the name of Six Companies itself. It came together at the end when I read about Callville. I sort of made up a little story in my head, connected to the workers at the dam and the hazardous conditions. There actually was a company town called Boulder City I believe and so I built on that idea too. It all makes sense to me at least!

Lastly, I am having real trouble with using color. I stalled and stalled and even when I finally decided on something, I still changed my mind. I don't actually know what is wrong but I know it is connected to how I started to learn to paint. I learned from direct observation of color, trying to recreate those ideas. I also learned in an academic way, studying the color wheel and learning a little bit about color theories. I also mix my colors from the primaries-no black and no earth tones. I have some hang ups to be sure! So, now I am trying to figure out how to sort this out and to use what I see as a negative as a positive instead. And incidentally, I am not sure how people have managed to show up in my work. I have an idea though and I will talk about that in another post. Maybe!

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Friday, January 8, 2016

New Work: Precarious

12" x 16" acrylic painted papers on wc paper
The above piece was completed this week and is based on my reading in Colossus by Michael Hiltzik. The book describes the planning and building of Hoover Dam. If you aren't familiar with the dam or the history surrounding it this book is a great introduction. One of the ideas that really stuck with me was the issue of safety. It's really impossible to imagine what these men were asked to do in the desert, in the heat, and under some of the worst working conditions imaginable. The descriptions of the various accidents was horrific. And while my piece may seem playful or not too serious, I am not slighting the gravity of the subject.

I chose some imagery that I thought could represent some of those ideas that were more factual in nature: the four tunnels, the cliffs and the pulleys installed between them to carry loads of cement, the workers themselves, the sun and the water. I saw several photos showing the scaffolding and other building structures required to work on the project. And I chose colors that to me represent water and desert and heat.

OK, I had a hell of a time with this piece. The  drawing was pretty good but going to color presented me with a complete balled up mess. I really lost my way and finally just chose colors that I thought would be pretty together and representative. Once I got out of that mess I was good. The piece went very smoothly thereafter.

A Story:
When I was in high school I had a teacher for US History who was a little kooky. She might be described as a Berkeley hippie; a real free spirit. We had an assignment to write an essay on a topic of our choosing. No subject was given and we were to pull together whatever thesis we wanted and support it with whatever reading and research we wanted. Being a literal and unimaginative person, I had a very hard time at first not having a subject given to me. It was the first time I had encountered this type of writing but interestingly enough, not the last. In college (the second time around) I had yet another history teacher who gave us all the same type of assignment. Six papers to be exact and all with a free form thesis. (Honestly, as if I had no other classes.) My point is that this way of writing has served me well. Creativity is nothing if not pulling loose and disparate ends together to come up with some kind of a whole. And that is how I am viewing these pieces that I have been doing. I seem to be pulling bits of information together from different sources and coming up with one finished piece of art. Does anyone else see their creative process like this?

OK, I sure hope everyone has had a good week. Thanks for reading and for maybe even answering that last question.

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Work: Transcontinental; A Question!

image size 12' x 16" painted papers on wc paper
The above piece is based on a paper sketch that I did during December. It had seemed as if I had finished several pieces that had nearly become too fiddley-too many little shapes trying to compensate for a design that needed to be firmed up in an overall way (rather than overcompensated for). The paper sketch was an effort to simplify and I really liked the results. Doing a larger finished piece made sense and so I started in on this one earlier this week. I just wanted to use shapes and colors that I like but when Rich walked in to the studio he said that he saw trains and mountains and wheels. So, then I got into that idea and Transcontinental was born!

I'll mention that I had some surprise results. In the lower left corner where the white "wheels" are, I originally had that greenish blue directly up against that reddish orange. I couldn't believe the way the two colors optically resonated! It was nearly painful to look at and it certainly was distracting. The white wheels were intended to tone that down. I also learned about attaching shapes and the "weight" that can be created. That black half circle on the right side was originally just hanging there with no lines attaching it to the light green rectangle. It looked fine but then I started to see railroad tracks! I also felt like I wanted to create movement upwards and somehow support the weight of the shape. So, I added those black vertical lines which turned out to work well I think. And lastly, I added the orange circle in the far right corner as another balance to the vibrating red and green-sort of a less chromatic complimentary color combo.  

I mention all of this not to show that I am clever or something but just to illustrate the point that painting and designing are active things. The process is really one of question and answer. And I am going to say this. I am wary of any artistic person who says that they know exactly what they are doing-that there are no unanswered questions, that they could make art in their sleep or that there is no uncharted territory. Bull*&^%!

OK, I said it. And now, I have a question for anyone interested. That red/green optical resonance thing made me consider something. I like the colors that I put together but have I been missing something? I wonder if my mixes and placements of color have just been off the mark all along or if I have unconsciously (or consciously) mixed color and placed it to avoid anything too harsh. I guess my question is about conscious versus unconscious intent and maybe even skill level. If anyone has any thoughts let me know.

OK, thanks for reading and commenting. I hope the New Year is off to a good start for everyone.