Thursday, May 30, 2019

Experimenting: Gouache vs Transparent

Going back nearly 2 years ago, an image got stuck in my mind. If you are an artist, you probably get it -- you see something and you start thinking about how you could paint it. Then 14 months ago I became very influenced by the art I saw in Paris.  The confluence of these ideas continued to float around in my mind, but I have struggled to find the perfect way to create the painting I feel delivers the message in a skillful simplified and flattened way (the Paris influence).

The first attempt at turning these legs in a tree into a compelling painting was successful in some ways, but the composition was not great. There were parts of the photo that made sense, but did not hold true in my interpretation. I had used transparent watercolor, and although it is not entirely true that watercolors cannot be changed or adjusted, it is certainly more difficult.

Not long ago I decided to try an adjusted composition in gouache (opaque) watercolor. The look of gouache is quite different than transparent watercolor, which shows the texture of the paper underneath and has a definite "look" that no other paint has. However, in some ways, the gouache seemed to have more of the elements I was looking for.  It is much easier to create a flattened look. 

So here is the piece, painted with gouache.

I worked on the transparent painting today. By lifting and cropping, I was able to improve the composition and resolve some of the issues that bothered me.



Have you tried similar experiments? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

What If?? How to Take Risks to Add Interest to a Painting

A few weeks ago I created a post titled "Decisions, Decisions." I worked on a landscape piece that was okay, but not really catching my eye.

When an art friend, Geoff Mccormack, made a visit to my studio last week, I pulled a few paintings out to get his opinion on certain pieces. When I pulled out Rogue Bonsai I said that maybe putting a painted window around the main rock and tree would make the painting pop. Then Geoff suggested I add a native bird to the  scene.

So I ruminated: what is the intention of the piece? the tree that miraculously lives year after year on this obelisk of rock. What could help the intent be clearer?  remove some of the outside distraction. What would add an element of surprise? a kingfisher sitting on a branch.

What If??

I felt inspired to make this more interesting, more dynamic and more unique. I took the two ideas Geoff and I had discussed and got to work.

How could I place a bird on this painting which was primarily in the distance? Why couldn't it be far in front of the painting and break up the frame. What If??

I took a piece of plastic and cut out a hole in the shape of a kingfisher, placed it on the painting and then, with a wet sponger, lifted the paint from the bird shape.

Next I taped my frame shape, forcing the focus on the tree and its attachment to the rock.

What If I lighten up the area around the intention and pull out the tree and rock?

An unexpected thing happened as I applied a white wash of gouache mixed with water. Not only did the wash lighten the framed out area, it also smeared the underlying watercolor. After a brief moment of concern, I decided that I liked the ghostlike effect.

The final step was painting in the branch with a kingfisher perched upon it. His colors allow him to blend in, yet he is clearly painted once you see him. Do you?

This is truly a What If painting. I took a decent painting and took the risk of making it more interesting, a bit mysterious, and something the viewer has probably not seen before. What do you think?

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Building a Village in a 9 x 12 inch Shadow Box

Last summer this experimental and interpretive painting was accepted into an exhibit by the International Society of Experimental Artists. It was an odd six or so year project which had started as an unsatisfactory abstract. The abstract waited, cut up and gathering dust until I had the idea last summer to use it to build a painting from memories of Cinque Terre, Italy.

I painted small structures and glued the buildings on a variety of platforms from single mat board to double foam core to create a relief, although the photo does not show this well.

Since the painting came back to me, my husband and I have enjoyed looking at it in our own home. But I have been given an opportunity to show 3 pieces of art at a local residency. I thought the "Cinque Terra Reenvisioned" would make a cheerful addition to the show. However there is only one, and nothing else I've created is similar. The solution--get out to the studio and make 2 companion pieces, "Cinque Terra Reenvisioned #2 and #3."

Step 1: paint and collage a background using the same color palette. 

Step 2: Make appropriately sized architectural pieces (or tiny houses:). 

Step 3: After painting and cutting out the structures, figure out how they will sit on the background. 

Step 4: Start gluing--each piece has to have an appropriate level of platform underneath to rise above the previously laid piece. I learned to take photos on my phone as I arranged them so I didn't have to "reinvent the wheel" over and over.

Step 5: I had two wooden shadow boxes I had prepared with a black paint to receive the two new pieces. It was one last gluing, and I was happy to finish after several days of putting these together. 

Now I have 3 companion pieces to show and I am having carpal tunnel surgery in 2 weeks to cure all the painting and cutting and carving damage I've done to my wrist over the years!

(I wish the lighting was better--the top piece caught all the light.)

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Decisions, Decisions!

Much of finishing a piece of art is about problem solving and making decisions. Being able to look at a painting and trust your own judgement is an important step to make as an artist.  I often reach out to art friends for a critique, but in my heart I know that it is most important to trust myself and respond to my own judgment when looking over a painting. I think I have enough years under my belt to do just that!

Problem Solving

Today I pulled out a piece that I started back in October. I was distracted by many things going on at that time and stuck it in one of my all famous drawers as an unfinished piece. 

So the task this morning was to look it over and see what I viewed as a problem. Once I'd done that, I had to consider how or if that problem could be solved. 

  1. The piece is half and half light and dark.
  2. All the rock parts are similar value -- the one that the tree grows out of stands alone in front of the other rocks.
  3. The dark background is uninteresting.

I pulled out some deli paper collage materials to see if that could help solve some of the issues I was seeing.

But before that, I wanted to see what I could do with a brush and paint.

Problem #1: I brought more light to the top of the tree. I like the 
way the light flows up the rocks, through the trunk of the tree to the tree tops.

Problem #2: By darkening the rocks on the lower left, the emphasis is now clearly on the solitary rock holding up this survivor of a tree!

Problem #3: With more change of value from the lighter tree to the background, part of that problem is solved. I also added white snags intermixed with the dark to repeat the shaggy moss hanging from the lower part of the tree limbs.

As for the collage material, I put it away. this painting now pleases me with the simplicity of the paint. I am especially drawn to the rocks. I love painting this amazing tree on a standing rock we have seen over 20 years of rafting down the wild and scenic part of the Rogue River. It is now known to us as the Rogue Bonsai, seen on the last day of our trip. Today I trusted my own thoughts on how best to use my acquired art skills and convey my feelings about this special place.

What do you think?

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Art Can Be About Sharing and Teaching

People often envision the somewhat crazy, wacky artist as a loner. Van Gogh with one ear chopped off alone in a field painting haystacks, or Jackson Pollack hanging on a swing in his barn splattering paint on a giant canvas.

That is not me, nor the typical artist that I know. We love to share our creative ideas and teach others. So last week I was delighted to have my good friend and excellent artist, Kathy Tiger, come up to my barn studio (where I rarely swing and splatter paint). She is a wonderful watercolor artist, but is now exploring collage and assemblage art.

I first set up my outside studio space with a plastic covered picnic table and the necessary equipment to do suminagashi marbling. (Thanks to fellow artist, Liz Walker, for sharing this fairly simple way to marble paper.) Kathy was like a kid in a candy shop!

First step drop in the ink. and gently swirl it around. 

Next lay the rice paper on the water.
Finally squeal with delight at what you just made!    

I was a bit chilly that day, so we moved into the studio for a gelli plate session. Again, Kathy's enthusiasm filled my studio as she experimented with various colors and stamps.

I can hardly wait to see how she begins using these new patterns and papers in her assemblage art.

She also gave me the gift of her critique of my recent painting, which had a few areas that were perplexing me. After she headed home, I went back out to my studio to create a collage material to add to the painting I'd been working on. The background color was muted some. I made some changes to the forehead and added a subtle collage material to create a better glow to the top of the head and hands. The yellow and white on deli paper just hints at a texture.



My next workshop is now scheduled: May 23, 24, and 25 at the Newport Visual Art Center.
What If? 
Explore the possibilities in this 3-day mixed media workshop.

           Class size limited to 13 participants.
                   Be one of the Lucky 13!

Register today 

"Margaret's wonderful humor and warm teaching style was a joy." Jan P.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A Fun, Friendly and Fulfilling Workshop

As I said in my last post, recovering from my knee surgery quickly enough to hold my workshop at Oregon Society of Artists was a driving force--and I did it! OSA is really great to work with. My assigned facilitator, Jan Premo, was helpful, energetic and full of good observations. Many thanks, Jan.

"Playing with Patterns" is a pretty broad topic when applied to paintings. I decided to focus on using hand decorated collage materials for my demonstrations. I began working from a photo that I took of my granddaughter while she was listening to music. I was drawn to the intensity of her expression and the back lighting.

Day 1 and 2 Demo

Before pulling my watercolor paper out to work on in Portland, I had drawn the figure. (I still use the old fashioned grid method to enlarge an image.) I also decided on a warm pallet, so I had painted the figure with yellow wash. What I wanted to demonstrate to my participants was not only how to use collage materials, but also how to create a background for the figure after the hard work of getting a good drawing of a person. Over the first day, I not only divided up and painted the background, but began the brainiac struggle to make the painting tell the story of a kid loving music. This is the "what if" method I use in my own work.

The collage pieces I used on the figure were made with my personally crafted stamps on gelli plate then printed on deli paper. (Deli paper is interesting because acrylic paint adheres to it, but the unpainted parts are nearly transparent.)

 This is the first time I've used collage on a relatively realistic face, and I like the interest it creates.

Next I painted musical notes on top of a collage material made with gessoed and stamped newspaper.  I felt lucky to have brought lots of prepared papers with me so I  was always able to find the right color for this painting.

The swallows were created with a hand crafted stamp I made prior to the workshop. I did share "how-to" make this sort of stamp and the materials to do so in this class.

Something the class participants were able to see was my own personal struggle finishing a piece. The bugaboo was the right third of the painting. It went through various colors and ideas before I settled on this striped wallpaper idea. And even as I left the workshop on the third day, I was not satisfied that it was finished.

Just yesterday I taped a few cut up collage notes to break up and perhaps connect the wall to the story a bit more.

Does this do a better job of completing the painting and the story in your eyes?

Day 3 Demo

For the last day I pulled out a painting from years past. I had never tossed it or torn it up. There was something that kept it from destruction. When I saw a painting of a church by Van Gogh in Paris last year, I thought of my poor old painting tucked in a flat file.

Continuing my "what if" thinking, I worked over this painting of an old church in Bellfountain, Oregon. Below is a photo of the church--it is still standing.

Bellfountain Church photo
This is a photo of my inspiration by Van Gogh above the painting I am about to revive.

Beginning the revival

After some time with the paint brush, I was able to add color and brush strokes with acryilic that the painting never had as a pure watercolor. Not that I can compare myself with Van Gogh, but I can say this painting is much livelier.

Sharing My Papers

On the last 2 days I spread out all my collaged papers for the participants to use in their work. I have oodles of papers I've made over the years, and I now have motivation to make more! It was great to see how everyone began to utilize the "zing" of collage and/or patterns in their work.

I get great joy out of teaching and sharing the entire creative environment that builds in a workshop. I never tire of the excitement when inventive ideas are pooled.

I am currently scheduling some future workshops, so if you are interested in adding "what if" in creating art, stay tuned.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

New Year--New Knees

New Knees

If you are one of my blog followers, you may wonder why I've not posted anything for 3 months. My answer is simple--new knees. Two days after Christmas, I checked into the hospital to have double knee replacement. Both of my knees were at the bone-on-bone stage.

If you are not interested in the knee experience, feel free to skip down to my Art Life portion.

Did I know what I was in for? Not really, but I knew the recovery from knee surgery took at least 6 weeks until becoming very active, and more to be fully recovered. So I made the choice to have both done and only wipe out a couple of months rather than four to six months. I've also heard of people chickening out on the second knee. Yikes!!

Anyway, I did learn quite a bit the first 3 days in the hospital. You know how medical folks ask you about your pain level 1 to 10? Well, I really never knew what pain was until they forced me up on my legs after surgery! Definitely that was a 10 plus!! Also I was relieved to spend a third night in the hospital. Why you ask? I was so thankful for a bedpan in the middle of the night because getting up on my legs was soooo difficult and painful. TMI? The day you are happy to have a bedpan is one of life's lower points, LOL.

I am not sorry that I chose to do both knees at once. After a week, I was able to begin more exercise and slowly gain muscle strength. What is essential in this process is someone to be an ultimate caregiver, which my husband was. He really stepped up his nursing skills to help me through the hardest parts, then feed and entertain me. Now that I am two and a half months post surgery, I am fully independent and beginning to return to my "real" life. In late February I even drove myself to Portland and taught a three day workshop, which had been the huge goal pushing my recovery.

Art Life

So as I sat in a recliner icing my knees by the hour and day, I began to worry that my art life was slipping away. Yes, I had a workshop to teach (fingers crossed my recovery would allow), but I was not in my studio creating new pieces.

Three great things happened over this time--My piece "Her Future?" piece accepted into the Expressions West Exhibition in Coos Bay by juror Geoff McCormack,

"Teach Me: Niger" was juried into the Watercolor Society of Oregon's Spring show by juror Jean Pederson,

And one of my favorite paintings, "Heron's Winter Dreams" was purchased by a couple who had been attracted to it for a year or more and finally gave it its forever home.

So you really can take a couple of months break and an art life can continue!

Up next: my workshop at Oregon Society of Artists.