Thursday, October 23, 2014

More Small Works on Paper

Yesterday my good friend, Ruth Armitage posted a link to to a book "Daily Painting: Paint Small and Often to Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Artist." You know how something said, or an article you read, or (in this case) a book title is just what you need to spur you on?

Seeing that book title was a good reminder to me that I don't always have to go to the studio and create a masterpiece. Sometimes it is just a wonderful thing to experiment and paint for the fun of it. The idea of having fun with some small works on papers really appealed to me. As I was searching through my file drawers, I came across some pieces that had not been successful, but already had paint and collage on them.

Sometimes I find it easier to work on "stuff" rather than start with white paper. So I tried to capture some more successful parts of these 12 x 15 inch papers.

Old Work

So this was reduced to

Cropped Old Work

Ponds #2,5 x 7 inches
Which became this finished small work on paper.

Ponds #3, 5 x 7 inches
Here are a couple more examples of the small works on paper I did today.
Ponds #1, 8 x 8 inches
I'd love to hear your comments about these works on paper!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

No More Denying--Fall Is Here

Hannah, Queen of the Hay
There are a few things that emphasize the fact that the season has changed from summer to fall. One is getting over to the Eastside of Oregon to bring home hay before the rain starts. Early this week the weather predictions stated that we could expect rain on Tuesday, continuing through the week. So on Monday morning, Mike hitched up our raft trailer to go over the mountains to get hay.

We've been going to the same farm between Sisters and Redmond for the last few years, so one call gave us the thumbs up for picking up a ton of good Eastside hay for Little Bit.

Mike was back home in the early afternoon, ready to hoist the bales into the barn loft. In years past, we would use a horse to pull the bales up (true horse power). But this year Rachel stepped up offering to do the pulling.

Here is where I have to add a note that one year ago Rach would not have had the stamina, strength or coordination to do this task. It was just a year ago that Rachel and her husband, Josh, along with Mike traveled to Chicago to try to get into a stem cell transplant study for Multiple Sclerosis patients being done there. After the rejection from Chicago, she eventually was accepted into the program being done in Seattle. 

Now, just 6 months after treatment, she is so much better, and the recovery will continue for the next 6 to 18 months. How fortunate that she was given this treatment and the outcome is simply hard to believe! Dare I use the word "miracle?"

With Mike in the loft stacking the hay bales, me on the trailer pushing the bales to Rachel, and Hannah cheering us on, we had the whole task done well before dinnertime.

The loveliest part to the day was getting the gorgeous vine maple leaves into a vase on the mantle. Mike never forgets to bring me some!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Artwork on Paper--Making it Small

Artwork on Paper--Small vs Large

I recently attended the Watercolor Society of Oregon's Fall Convention which is a wonderful way to connect with other artists, get inspired by other's artwork, and have a weekend of fun. Although I did not have a piece in the show, it is a great showcase for Oregon artists and the larger artwork usually stands out. Because I like to enter my art into competitions and I find it very comfortable to paint on a full sheet (30 x 22 inches), I most often paint large.

However, when I got home from the conference I learned that one of my small paintings had sold at Excelsior Inn Ristorante. I currently have a group of framed 7 x7 inch pieces, so I wanted to replace it with the same sized work. It seemed like a great opportunity to continue my salmon life cycle series and see what I could do with a small square.

Salmon's Journey
7 x 7 inches
Artwork on Paper
There are several neat things about doing a small piece.
  • I can use it as a study for a larger piece
  • I can hone my skills with acrylic
  • It is easy to use fixative (varnish) and mount without mat or glass
This painting will be framed, placed on the wall Friday and sell at Excelsior for under $100--affordable artwork on paper!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Limiting Elements and Subject Matter

One of the most important things I learned at the Ventura workshop I attended in August is that the more I limit the elements and subject matter of a painting, the more creative I become. A smaller focus really forces me to think of new ways to "talk" about a topic.

A couple of years ago, when I started my River Series, I limited my work to abstraction of nature and Oregon wildlife. This focus lead me to a higher quality of paintings and greater rewards in the competitive field of watercolor.

Life Cycle Imperative #3
30 x 22 inches
The series, Life Cycle Imperitive, that began in Ventura has limited my work even more. The elements of the last few paintings are rocks, salmon and salmon eggs/smolt/fry. The question I face with each new painting in this series is, "how can I express something new and different with these three elements and symbols?"

The last works I did in Ventura were very minimalist. The colors were subdued and they had an ethereal quality.

The new painting I am posting today has veered away from the delicate. I wanted to continue using the kimono composition, but make it more organic. I used rocks to form a redd (a spawning nest) with the salmon swimming above in an almost robotic fashion. The painting started with another water-like wash above and below the fish. When I was close to the finish, the painting had a very pastel look. It lacked drama and interest. Also, I was a bit surprised by how much realism I had put on the paper. I am much happier with a more stylized and abstract look to my work.

After some contemplation, I decided that getting rid of the pale background would make the rest of the painting "pop." It takes a bit of courage, but I took a pure black gouache (opaque watercolor) and painted the background a mat black. To me it created a much more dramatic and less realistic painting. It went from pale and pastel to eye-catching. Sometimes it pays to take risks and do something different.
Life Cycle Imperative #5
30 x 22 inches

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ventura Adventure--Part II

Life Cycle Imperative #1
After my introduction of salmon eggs into the first painting of the workshop, Katherine gave me an "A+" for a unique idea she'd not seen before. She is very much about setting an artist's work apart from others. She wants her workshop participants to find ways to set their work apart from other artists and be recognizable as their art.

So after my first painting and some angst about where I would go next, Katherine met with me again. We looked at Life Cycle Imperative #1 and again I was given a challenge. How could I take 3 symbols and make a painting out of that? Katherine suggested I use the salmon eggs, rocks and an unusual shape as a format for my work. The term "surrealism" had come up in my first day's talk where Katherine said my work was slightly surrealistic.

Life Cycle Imperative #2
Watercolor 30 x 22 inches

My second painting started with the idea of a kimono. I wanted to paint again my open-winged heron that had been subject of an earlier less successful painting. How could I make that surrealistic? My roommate/art friend Kathy Tiger and I discussed it at some length, throwing ideas around. Finally it came to me that the real heron could walk from it's realistic landscape into the fabric of the kimono, joining it's partner who was already at home in the kimono shape. I included the falling salmon eggs again, and put five subdued stencil images to indicate the brocade fabric a kimono might be made of.

The more I worked with the salmon eggs and used my iPad to look at images and read more about their breeding habits, the more I realized that the life cycle of the salmon is very representative of all living creatures' journey, including humans. The eggs struggle to hatch, the smolt and fry dodge nature's predators to mature, swim out to survive in the ocean for a few years, take the swim of a lifetime to return to the river and very spot where they hatched, lay their eggs/fertilize their eggs and then provide their offspring the nutrients to thrive and grow by dying. So in a very symbolic way the salmon egg epitomizes life and death itself.

With much greater thought, I began to strip my paintings to a very minimalized image: rocks, eggs/smolt/fish, water/air. I made a smolt stencil to decorate my stylized rocks. Katherine called this one a poem and used the word ethereal.

Life Cycle Imperative #3
Watercolor, 30 x 22
My last piece came home a bit unfinished, but again it is quiet and mindful of one message. We all answer to life's imperative commands. In this one the salmon is leaving her eggs behind, seeking the end of her life cycle.

Life Cycle Imperative #4
Watercolor, 30 x 22

I came to Ventura with the notion that I would begin a series of paintings of and about my daughter and her last year of struggle, treatment for MS, recovery and my parental grief, support, and effort to make it all happen. At the end of the two weeks I realized that I had done just that in a deeply symbolic way.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My Ventura Adventure--Part I

After two weeks in Ventura, CA, a week and a half waiting for my art box to return to me, I finally have my paintings and art supplies home with me in Blue River. This morning I photographed my paintings and thought more about what I learned while there and how it might affect my art-making.
Katherine Chang Liu and yours truly

Katherine Chang Liu is the mentor for artists using all sorts of media--found object assemblage to traditional painting. She does not teach any techniques, nor does she show her own work even though she is a well-known and gifted artist. I was one of only three "newbies" in the class of 29. Many artists have been studying with Katherine for years.

Every day started with a program of images Katherine collects from a wide range of artists from all over the world. Each program embodies a particular genre of work such as new realism, working with shapes or assemblage. By the end of the two weeks I felt like I'd taken an advanced course in Modern Art along with the many studio hours of creating my own art.

On the first day she advised the participants to clear one's studio from all other artists' work. She feels strongly that an artist needs to eliminate other influences in order to find one's own source for creating art. So right away I started thinking about the many times I've "borrowed" ideas accidentally or on purpose. That led to digging into my brain, trying to figure out just what would be my own unadulterated creation of art. This is heavy stuff!!

In the first two days, Katherine schedules a private meeting with each artist where the artist shows 6 images of their work to discuss and set a goal for the first week. I had planned a particular avenue to travel in the two week, but Katherine veered me off that course immediately. She challenged me to take one of my River Tapestry series paintings and turn it into a vertical painting, which she told me was my natural bent for creating art.

The other observations she made about my work are that my art is based on thought, not reaction and  I use a lot of symbols and icons in my work. She noticed that I used circular shapes in many of my pieces and suggested I think about something circular to place in my river series. I especially liked her comment, "You are sitting on the bridge between realism and abstraction."

River Tapestry #4
Because I was there to listen and learn, I released myself from what I thought I would do and set about painting a vertical piece incorporating elements of the River Tapestry series and filling my circles with a river related symbols. To the left is the piece I was challenged to use as inspiration for a vertical piece.

Life Cycle Imperative #1
Mixed Media, 30 x 22 inches

And here is the first piece I painted in the Ventura Workshop. I included water, stenciling, rock, fish from my previous work and added a new element--(get this) salmon eggs. I learned to respect and relate to the salmon's life cycle over the next 10 days, which I will talk about in my Part II post. I'll also show the other paintings that came from this beginning. I was surprised and perhaps you will be too.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Heading Off to Art Camp

To be honest, the title of the blog is deceptive. I do not need to take bug repellent, hiking boots, canteen, tent or sleeping bag. I will not make a lanyard or write home. I hope I won't cry every night.

What feels like going to camp is that dangling of the unknown. Am I up to the tasks ahead of me? Will I fit into the group I'm about to join? Will I be able to get swept away into the new environment? Did I pack everything I need?

What I am about to do is fly to Ventura, California for a two-week art workshop with the famous Katherine Chang Liu. This is unlike many workshops in that I will not be taught techniques or new ways to paint, rather I will be guided to know more about myself, why I paint, and what direction I'm heading. Here is the list of daunting questions I've been asked to think about in preparation.

Regarding the eight images I'll share with Katherine:

My idea behind this body of work in general (my content):
Questions I have about the work: 
What I am satisfied about my work in general:
What I am dissatisfied with my work in general:
Changes I wish to make, or challenges I want to give myself regarding my work:

On Monday I sent a giant package of art supplies to Ventura. I'm confident I have paper, paint and burshes. What I'm more worried about is having the small things that I'm used to having in my studio: special little scratcher things or a little bottle top to make circular marks. And more importantly, will I arrive with my creative, artistic brain ready to be activated?

My huge box of supplies:

After my two weeks, I will post and let you know how it went. Mostly I look forward to so many days in a row where art will be my primary concern and where I can paint, draw, write or think without interruption.

Here is a small cutout of my latest work. Just a teaser until I'm ready to post the whole painting.