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.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Giving New Life to an Older Painting

Almost a year ago I painted the third painting with the "Food Web" theme. I liked parts of it, but felt that overall, it had less strength and certitude than I wanted. Like many "so-so" paintings it ended up in a drawer until this week. Out it came a couple of days ago for a fresh look. I wanted the background to have more oomph. I decided the blue separating the rock said nothing to me. I wanted the whole piece to be more vivid and fun.

I am posting the before and after, so you can take and look and decide if it now has the confidence a painting ought to have. I am also posting the two earlier "Food Web" pieces.

Before, Untitled

After, Before Columbus
22 " by 30"
Transparent Watercolor

Food Web,  18" by 22"

Food Chain, 22" by 15"

Monday, July 28, 2014

Blue Moon Heron II Accepted into Watercolor West Exhibition

I had good news last week regarding Blue Moon Heron II. This transparent watercolor piece was accepted by juror Judy Morris into the 46th Watercolor West International Juried Exhibition. This is my first time being accepted into this exhibition, so I feel especially honored.

So why do I compete? This is a question I ask myself over and over. Today's answer is that it helps me understand my own improvement as an artist. In the past six months, I've had three paintings accepted into National and International shows, one acceptance into a state show, one painting purchased for a college permanent collection, and two paintings in a University exhibition. My interpretation of these accomplishments is that my efforts in the studio continue on an upward climb. I also am gaining more confidence in my own decision-making regarding my art. Always looking for approval from others can lead to stagnant work. For me, forging on in my own experimentation and interpretation brings me greater satisfaction, more fun, and (apparently) greater recognition.
Blue Moon Heron II
Transparent Watercolor, 22 inch by 18 inch

Monday, July 14, 2014

Lifting, Layering and Stamping--Giving New Life to a Static Painting

Last November I painted the version on the right of If Herons Dream. At the time, I was totally enamored by the two herons in the foreground. I also liked the simplicity of the barren areas in back of the birds. Creating this painting was somewhat stressful because it is transparent watercolor plus the method of application is not forgiving of errors. I entered it in a couple of competitions and it was not accepted in either show. So it has been sitting in a drawer for a few months until I pulled it out the other day and looked at it with a fresh eye.

If Herons Dream, After
30 x 22 inches, transparent watercolor
Although I still liked the composition and my subject matter, I realized it was quite static. That is really not my style. I started looking at the painting as a skeleton and my mission became filling it out, sweetening it up, making it move, and putting the MSG stamp on it. Now the upper image no longer lives in reality, only virtually. I'd love to hear what you think of the transformation.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Niggling" a Painting to Completion

"Niggling" is a term the wonderful artist Carla O'Conner uses to describe the artist's last touches to a painting. This is where you stand back and look for the parts that niggle or pester you and you know you have to dig into the tools and adjust the painting to make it stronger.

Encounter is a painting that I've been looking at for a few weeks now. I've had it propped up in my viewing spot, giving me the opportunity to let a lot of niggling take place. With the critiques from my art friends Ruth Armitage and LaVonne Tarbox Crone I have made both significant and minor changes.

In the last two days, I finally got rid of my layer of clear water. It took me awhile to realize that I wanted it there, but it didn't belong there. The herons are the story, and the nearly white water competed with the story. The incorporation the mucky wet area into the water certainly gives more power to the birds. I also worked on bringing more of the oranges down into the lower abstracts, softening corners and making the shapes more organic.

Another art friend, Kathy Tiger, who takes a philosophical approach to critiquing art, asked me what I thought the layers or strata I often use represent in my life. I'm still pondering that one!

Let me know if you prefer the before or after. (Click on an image to enlarge.)
Encounter, After

Encounter, Before