Thursday, April 21, 2016

"I See You" Step by Step

29 x 22
Mixed Media
Earlier this month I posted a painting of a woman lying under a starry sky. Although I really like this painting--the idea, the feeling of being mesmerized by the night sky, I wanted to improve the design elements.

I visited with an art friend, Geoff McCormack, who is not only a great artist, but also a computer whiz. He put together a few images to help me figure out a less static figure and a way to make the painting less divided into half.

I took photos throughout the process of creating the second painting, so I can share my process with you.

Steps 1 and 2: First I determined the curve of the earth and blocked that edge off with tape. You can not see my drawing well in this photo, but the figure has one foot above the horizon line, so I have used masking fluid to protect that and all the stars.

Next came many layers of a blue mixture (transparent watercolors) applied with a sponge to get the depth of color I wanted. After those layers were done, I added one last layer applied with a mouth atomizer to make the blue as consistent as possible.

Step 3: After removing the tape and masking fluid from the stars, I outlined the figure with masking fluid to protect the edges from the texturing of the earth.

Step 4: I took a thin rice paper and applied it with white gesso to the earth area. I ripped up fairly small pieces and crumpled them as I applied them.

Step 5: While the rice paper/gesso was drying, I worked on the sky. I colored some of the stars and added the constellation Cassiopeia. By creating a figure in the sky the painting shows a deeper connection between the human and the universe.

I was perplexed about painting the constellation without a drawing (graphite doesn't show up on deep blue paint). It came to me that I could draw it with a white chalk pencil, then go over it with white ink.

The Milky Way was added by spraying gouache with a toothbrush.

Step 6: I started painting earth with transparent watercolors. The first layers of color really show off the roughness the gesso and rice paper can create. Of course, it was too much contrast with the sky, so I moved on to painting layers with acrylic paints to unify the texturing.
Step 7:  Because I am most comfortable painting with transparent watercolor, I moved back to my W/C palette to paint the figure. As that moved along, I starting thinking about what color to paint the nightgown. A color that was harmonious with the sky would connect her more to that, a gold would connect her more to the earth. Decision time!
Steps 8: Now on to the finishing touches. The sky figure got a second outline of a turquoise chalk, because the pure white ink did not have enough impact. The figure ended up with a split colored gown (thank you, Ruth Armitage). She is not stuck to the earth, nor is she floating up to the sky. She is connected to both. The earth's edges got darkened with the gowns lavender color, enhancing the curvilinear line and breaking up the shape a bit.

Is it done? I'm thinking of adding some more sprayed stars on the right of the sky, but I'll sit on that idea for awhile.

I See You
29" by 22"
Mixed Media

Friday, April 15, 2016

Priming the Pump

My followers know that I was on a trip to SE Asia not long ago. Traveling to another part of the world filled my eyes, brain and emotions with many images and ideas. In a way, being over-saturated with images and ideas can make it hard to sort out what I might paint and how I want to express it on paper.

"Priming the pump" this past week meant doing some small, crisp, and realistic paintings. I started with one drawing which I thought I would incorporating into a large piece. When I finished the drawing, I fell in love with the simplicity and lines. I decided to let it become a work on paper using pen and ink and acrylic paint. I was so happy with that first piece, that I chose two more images to treat in a similar fashion.

Here are the first three 8 1/2" x 8 1/2" paintings. I have matted them with a light grey mat with black liner, which gives the colors a chance to "pop." The final simple black framed piece  is 14 1/2" x 14 1/2."

Vietnam: Laundry Day

Vietnam: Woman Sculling on the Mekong Delta

Vietnam: Old Friends in the Garden

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Fine Art vs Decorative Art

fine art
  1. 1.
    creative art, especially visual art, whose products are to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content.
    "the convergence of popular culture and fine art"
  2. 2.
    an activity requiring great skill or accomplishment.
    "he'll have to learn the fine art of persuasion"
decorative arts
  1. the arts concerned with the production of high-quality objects that are both useful and beautiful.

Many years ago, in the beginning of my art journey, a world renowned instructor told me that a painting I had created in his workshop was a nice "decorative" piece. Being a self-educated artist, I had a pejorative idea of what that meant My interpretation was that it was cute, sweet, something you'd hang in the bathroom. It was not the thing I was striving for.  And I did not have the guts to just come out and ask what he meant. 

Over the years I have learned that it was not a condescending remark. I have attempted to get a better grasp of the meaning and difference (if there is any) between "fine" and "decorative" arts.

When I google famous artists considered "decorative" artists, the names of Klimpt, Matisse, and Tiffany come up. Many items considered decorative art are both utilitarian and beautiful. (I guess a painting could cover up a hole in the wall, making it utilitarian!) Decorative art is often associated with the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements. "Artists drew inspiration form both organic and geometric forms, evolving elegant designs that united flowing, natural forms with the more angular contours." As always, art was moving in a different direction, letting go of some of the more traditional ideas of art--making room for modernism. 

In any case, I now feel fine creating art that is more decorative. Who wouldn't want to be in the same category as Klimpt and Matisse?

Most of my studio time is spent doing what I would call fine art. I am going for that "imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content." I have an idea or story I am trying to incorporate into my paintings. I am typically more content oriented. This is the more cerebral me. 

Other days I am just happy to create something more spontaneous and decorative. The two pieces posted here were done on previously marbled paper. Being springtime, I felt compelled to create flowers and used collage materials made with deli paper and gelli plate. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Telling My Story in Art: Titles

My friend Ruth Armitage recently created a post "My Art Means Something." Among other things she talks about choosing a title for a piece. I often wrestle about finding the right title for a painting myself.  As Ruth states, "I feel that the meaning of a painting can be one thing to the artist, and something different to the viewer." Although my work is not abstract like Ruth's, I do debate about how much information I give my viewer with a title, because I want them to connect to the painting. I want the art to bring up their own memory or spark something in their imagination.

This painting was one I struggled with trying to find the right title. Although the memory that inspired this was about being lost in a department store, looking for my mother, it really uncovered and suggested so many deeper and important ideas. I do not want to have the title limit what the viewer might feel or conceptualize.

She's Allowed
28" x 21"

The title that has struck the right chord for me is "She's Allowed." It doesn't really matter what this child is doing, she is just a child who is allowed to be herself! Thanks to my art friend, Sandra Neary and Elizabeth Gilbert via her book on creativity,  "Big Magic," I have come up with a title that allows the viewer to make up their own story about this painting. Please wander in and think about a time when you were a child and what memory this brings up for you. You are ALLOWED!

So now I am looking for a title for my recent painting capturing a memory from this last summer. I could tell you the story of laying out under the stars on the Rogue River, but I'd rather you think of a time you connected to the Universe via the night sky. Do you have a title for me?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Telling My Story in Art: "the rest of the story"

This has been an interesting painting to put out to the viewing audience. It has stirred up many stories and evoked many ideas and feelings in viewers. Before I tell you what inspired this piece, I'll share some of the ideas and comments I've received. I have been amused, touched and surprised.Best of all, I've discovered of many ideas that were not present when I began the painting. Sometimes I get deeper meanings from my own paintings as time goes on.

Because the main figure in the painting has her back to the viewer, her emotions are not revealed, yet she is a powerful little person. Most people interpreted her as happy. Many people thought of her as leading a choir, which makes sense because the women I borrowed from Gustav Klimpt are in a choir. Some comments were about her self confidence: every woman in the painting is accepting of her, and she is drawn to all the figures.

One of the most interesting ideas is that it elicits a political theme because of the red, white, and blue. Is it the "Year of the Woman?" Will the young voters put the first woman into the White House?

Some people wish they could have been that little girl. One of my sisters thought it was me running toward my older sisters. Another friend thought the little girl might just take a 90 degree turn and run another direction. She's a little teaser.

I purposely chose to put a uniform undemonstrative face on all the women. I thought about the 1950's and all women wearing dresses off the rack. If you lived in a small town, you might only have one or two stores to shop in. It would be likely you would see your friend wearing the very same dress.

Some of the painting was done from an artistic viewpoint, such as the red shoes. The repetition is very pleasing to my eye. Some clues were added as afterthoughts. The red shoes were confusing, so I added the sale sign and dollar signs to the shoes to indicate the women were shopping.

So here is the memory that sparked this painting. When I was three-years-old or so, my mother and I were in town shopping at the "Golden Rule" department store. It had a lot of sections to it, because it sold everything! It was easy for a little kid to wander off and loose sight of the parent and visa versa. So I did wander off and started to feel lost. My mom was wearing a navy blue polka dot dress, so when I spotted her dress, I ran up to her and grabbed her around her legs. When I looked up, to my dismay, the face at the top of the dress was unknown to me--it was not my mother, but another woman in a navy blue polka dot dress!

I find it totally amazing that one moment, one memory from over 60 years ago inspired this painting that has so many layers and deeper meanings. Thank you to those who have looked and shared your thoughts. So far, the painting goes untitled.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Telling My Story in Art: Borrowing and Struggling

Yes, I know, all my art tells something about me. But this is different. I am now actually painting memories of my own human life. And now I am brave enough to let me be a human figure, not a heron or salmon or rock or rapid.

Gustav Klimt - Beethoven frieze (detail) 01The inspiration for this painting came to me in Ventura, CA, last July. I wanted to paint about a specific memory of mine and had an idea that I wasn't sure how to express on paper. I wanted a row of women, but was not clear on how I might do that, nor how the rest of the painting might fit together. I don't know whether it is synchronicity or coincidence or Big Magic, but soon after my idea started brewing, I came across this image of Gustav Klimpt's Beethoven frieze. If Klimpt could do it, I could borrow the idea. Viola, I had the beginnings of this painting.

In early December I actually started drawing out my ideas. A row of women wearing identical navy blue polka dot dresses. They are shopping, all with identical shoes in hand. A little girl is running toward them.

And then it came to putting it all on a full sheet of watercolor paper. I had so much to block out and save to get the depth of color I wanted in the dresses. I used contact paper, tape and masking fluid before applying any paint.

Then I began the process of layering blue after blue after blue. Each layer has to dry completely before pouring on the next. I have learned to adjust the color as I go, adding reds or yellows to the intense blue to get just the right navy blue.

I must say there were many issues and corrections I had to make with this painting. First, I had a severe masking failure because I used very old clumpy fluid. (Just a small issue that comes with living an hour from town. I didn't want to give up studio time to go by new!)

Once I got that far, I had to peel off and begin to paint. My intentions were to make this a transparent watercolor painting, but that was ended by the masking fluid failure and I had to move on to gouache to regain the skin of my figures.

I did want a flat painting and really limited my using any dimensional means to tell this story.

At this point I had only given the little red sweater some dimension by making it a cable knit. You'll notice that the flooring is totally flat: I did not add any slant or perspective to it. I was now needing to decide "to face or not to face" the woman.

I tried subtle eyes, nose, and mouths; but even though I tried to make them look alike (my intention) they all had subtly different personalities.

Away went those faces and I settled on the half faces with lips that you see below. Then, while on our trip to SE Asia, I came to grips with the last needed details, a sale sign and shoe tags, which I added just a couple of weeks ago. The painting is now finished. I really want to know if it brings up a memory or a story within you, my reader. Please send me the story this painting tells to you. I will reveal my story in the next post! I'm also waiting for the right title. My working title is "Into a Sea of Polka Dots."

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Competitions--Entering, Rejections, and Acceptances

Lately I have been getting more of the R (rejection) letters than the A (acceptance) letters. I've consoled myself by acknowledging that I am in a transitional period.  I have been moving from river flora and fauna to more figurative work. The transition is challenging, and I have been slowly getting better at finding my voice in this new body of work.

Finally I received an "A letter" from the NWWS 46th International Open Exhibition. My painting, Enduring the Cure, was one of only 56 accepted paintings by Juror Jeanie McGuire.

After its creation, I did not post the painting or send the image out to a competition because it was about a personal experience with my daughter.** (I posted just this snippet on the right on Facebook quite awhile ago.) Finally I became comfortable with giving it a public presence.

The painting is full of symbolism and personal emotion. I felt that it had a unique presence that would not only tell part of my life story, but would resonate with almost anyone.

It has had a transformation from the original painting. Although I loved this from the beginning, I came to see the painting as too busy. You can see that the final painting has quiet corners, letting the viewer sink into a more intimate look at the figure and blanket. That is the story.

It is this edited painting that I have submitted to two other competitions before getting this acceptance to the NWWS Exhibit. The acceptance of this piece gives me confirmation that I successfully communicated  with at least one juror.

My good friend and fellow artist, Ruth Armitage told me, "Have faith in a good painting." I'm glad I took her advice. She will be giving a talk "Oh Boy! Another Rejection!" at our upcoming Watercolor Society of Oregon convention. I plan on getting a front row seat.
Enduring the Cure
Gouache on Watercolor Paper
Image 29 x 22 inches, Framed 36 x 29 inches

**Two years ago my daughter went through a radical procedure of chemotherapy and stem cell transplant to cure Multiple Sclerosis.