Sunday, September 19, 2021

While She Sat in a Drawer Things Got Worse

Every once in a while an older painting comes out of a drawer to reach maturity. My daughter has been helping me build a current inventory of my artwork. As we go through the flat files, she will ask, "What's wrong with this one?" or "Doesn't this go with your ______ series?" So the other day I pulled out this early picture that truly was the beginning of my "Teach Me" series. I had really liked creating it, but it got no appreciation from a critique group, so it landed in a drawer where it has been lying since 2018. 

In 2018 the idea was simply a girl reaching out for a book.
She wanted to learn. (Ignore the odd shadow at the bottom.)

Because it was the start of the "Teach Me" series I brought it to the table to see how I could make more of a story out of it. I had always thought of her as an Afghan child flying across the desert. In 2018 Afghanistan was listed as one of the top ten countries most difficult for girls to get an education and now the future looks even darker. How could I convey that more clearly?

I started imagining a landscape. At first I thought I would make the sky a night sky, but that took away the impact of the flying child, so I settled on a light sky with clouds carrying symbols of an education. I already had symbols in the desert, so turning those collaged pieces into clouds was easy. Last night, as I finished creating a landscape in the lower portion, and white clouds in the sky, it seemed awfully cheerful to me. This morning brought a new twist to the painting. I brought in dark, ominous clouds into the sky, representing the returning power of the Taliban. Now there is a story!

Teach Me-Afghanistan

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

From Birds to Museums with a Simple Tool

 If you are an artist, you realize there are many ways to apply paint to a surface besides using a brush. If you are a home owner/fixer-upper, you know that too: rollers, spray paint, sponges, air brushes, etc. Well recently I've been using a small simple tool to apply paint in a way that delivers colors in a misty way that creates a delicate texture for a background. With patience (letting the paint dry) you can layer one color over another, or darken an area with multiple layers. The tool?

A mouth atomizer: Originally I bought a cheap one which broke after a few uses, so I invested in the Pat Dew's Mouth Atomizer and have had it for many years.

Maybe you have one stuck in a drawer, used it once or twice, but didn't stick with it. If so, pull it out and give it a try again. That's what I did a few months ago when I began focusing on birds. I've been enjoying the results. 

This was made with two spray sessions over a large masked area.

It does take some practice to gain good control of one's spraying, and you have to have a good amount of air in your lungs. It also requires some space that can allow for a bit of watercolor mess and is wind-free. I've started mouth atomizing in the garage. This method also requires some masking and covering of space where the paint is not wanted. 

Nothing fancy here, just freezer paper, paper towels and tape. For larger masked areas, or detailed areas, I use Oramask masking film 813.

I will continue to paint birds, but I had this image in my mind that would be a wonderful way to experiment using this method for an interior subject. Several years ago I was in a museum (I'm embarrassed that I can't tell you where) and I took a photo of a couple. He was sitting under an Alexander Calder mobile and she was talking to him from a standing position. There was just so much space, and they were rather miniature in that setting. The scene was full of shadows and lighting and a simplicity that inspired me to take a photo. That moment was the inspiration for this painting.

The idea was simmering in my brain for years, and using the mouth atomizer was the tool I needed to feel I was ready to tackle this painting.

I started with placing the blue masking film on the white paper protecting the pieces of the mobile, the figures and three paintings on the wall. I used the mouth atomizer from that point on; protecting certain areas, spraying more here and there to create the turn of the room, the great golden light coming in the hallway, and the viewing bench. To create the light behind the man with a softer edge, I used a very fine rice paper, dampened the edge of the shape I wanted, and gently tore the paper leaving a ragged edge. Using the same method of protecting certain areas, I implied the floor and other minor details of the space.

Once I got to the point of really loving the effects I had created, it was pretty nerve racking to peel off the masked areas and paint what was left. Although the people are small, a good rendering was imperative. Also, I had to paint straight tiny lines to connect the parts of the mobile. Then there were the shadows! All of these small parts were make it or break it items. I am a pretty good fixer, but fixing a mouth atomized piece is nigh impossible.

Last night I was pretty darn proud of myself. I hadn't screwed it up with a water drip, or a crooked line, or an awkward figure. But this morning, I started seeing some problems. They were minor, but I called up my good art buddy, Ruth Armitage, asking for advice for the finishing touches. She took to her iPad and showed me some minor improvements using the app Procreate. I followed her advice and made the following changes--I darkened the lower left corner and some of the floor and put a hit of gray on the white mobile parts. 

Under the Shadow of Calder (working title)

Now I can sit back and think of the story this might tell:

-I've seen enough, Honey!
-Because of the Pandemic, only two people are allowed in the museum at one time.
-My feet are killing me.
-I told you it was Modern Art--Mona Lisa is in another museum.

And on it goes. What story to do see? I'd love to hear your interpretation of the painting!

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Failure Can Be "the Mother of Invention"

We are just three weeks from the one year anniversary of our home burning down in the Holiday Farm Fire. Daily trips to "Godfrey Acres" has allowed us to watch the slow, but predictable renewal of nature's greenery. First signs of returning life were songbirds and ferns. It's amazing to see the burned root clumps of a fern sprout new growth.

And after the usual spring volunteering weeds, ivy, and maples came some amazing colors. In the dry heat, petunias started popping up all over. And then I spied an unexpected snap dragon.

And so as I began to add birds to my graphic art this winter, I am now adding flowers that have shown up on the property. Not only on our property, but up and down the entire burned region, sunflowers are not only growing, but thriving.

So now to the title of this post Failure Can Be "the Mother of Invention."

This week I included my first flower to my graphic art and was pretty pleased with the results. The sunflower set in the burned bark conveys a cheerful, more hopeful image of our current state. I wanted to continue with this new addition to my graphic pieces. 

So I chose to put the incredibly determined petunias into my art. (They are labeled as annuals, but the seeds apparently like the challenge of procreation.) I was excited to add the lovely fuchsia colors to my black and white art.

I began with creating a protected area for the leaves and blooms using the blue film as I often do. I then moved on to drawing and patterning the bark of trees in the background of my bunch of flowers. 

After I was done with the graphic work I peeled off the film and saw that the film had roughed up a bit of the paper's surface. But I forged ahead anyway, figuring that it wouldn't matter once painted. I was wrong! The paint did not go on in the smooth way watercolor should and the paint was not as vivid as I had hoped. So as is my want as a stubborn person, I began to think of ways to solve this failure.

I could paint over the vegetation with acrylics. I could try collaging vivid flowers into the painted area. Neither of those ideas seemed to connect with me. In my frustration, I took scissors to the piece and just cut off the bottom. Now what? Again in stubbornness, I refused to give up on the work I'd already invested in, so I had a new idea. I glued black and white upper part onto a piece of black gessoed paper. Viola!! I now had a path to finishing this art.

I would collage flowers and leaves into the black. In a way, it talks more about the reality of seeing these amazing colors arise out of the soot and ashes the fire left behind, than a simply painted flower does. So where I had failed in a part of this creation I came up with a solution. For anyone who thinks cutting, planning and gluing is easy or fast, it isn't. I could have started an entirely new piece and finished it in about a third of the time it took me to think of and apply a solution to the failed piece. Did I mention that I have a stubborn streak?

To end this post,  Good News on the rebuild front. We have broken ground on our house to come!

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts about my art, or my blog, or whatever!

Thursday, July 29, 2021

A New Attraction: Birds on Long and Skinny Paper

I am still on the bird kick. After a week long Salmon River rafting trip, I came home with the big birds on my mind.  We saw bald eagles (both mature and immature), golden eagles and osprey daily. Their flight over my head burned into my art brain and I could hardly wait to put them on paper. Again with a nod to Japanese wood prints, I split my full sheet of watercolor paper in half the long and skinny way. This provides a unique and elegant look in my mind which suits the subject matter well. 

Osprey Above Me (working title)
Transparent Watercolor
30" x 11"

Here's a photo taken on the trip. I think you can see what inspired the landscape part of the painting.

Since getting home, I also finished #4 of the Western Tanager pieces. I have received a lot of positive comments on these and have considered making prints, something I rarely do. Please let me know what you think about the print idea. I guess I'm asking if you might purchase one. 

So for now, I am focusing on the birds that I see with my own eyes and in my own environment. It is important to me to tell an authentic story, even with something so common as a bird. 

Friday, June 25, 2021

More Birds and A Reminder Lesson

The other day, while standing on the deck overlooking the McKenzie River, an orange flash above the water caught my eye. I immediately did a visual search up and down the river (through the leaves of the big leaf maples) hoping to catch an identifying view of what I had just a glimpse of. To my delight, a few seconds later, a western tanager landed in the maple tree, close enough to clearly see him in all his glory.

These birds are among my favorites for two reasons. First of all, they are so flashy with their yellows and reds. (After all, we artists are suckers for color.) Secondly, they are rare enough in the McKenzie Valley that I only get  to see one once or twice a year. They prefer the more open coniferous forests on the east side of Oregon. In any case, this one small guy began a new creative urge. I tore a full sheet of watercolor paper into four 15" x 11" pieces and decided to paint each one featuring a western tanager.

In the last few weeks, I have started using a mouth atomizer as a way to create a gentle color and texture. I've also been studying the beautiful Japanese woodblock prints and mainly focus on the work of Ohara Koson, who used birds and simplicity in much of his art. So given my tools and my interest in Koson's art, as well as this flash on the river, I started a 4 part series of western tanagers.

The Start

The finished painting
Western Tanager #1 (working title)

Western Tanager #2 (working title)

Western Tanager #3 (working title)

With the success of the first three paintings, I confidently began #4. 

Now the reminder lesson:

Watercolor paint is easily reactivated. Even though the gold paint was dry, when I put my damp arm down on the painting to work on the upper portion of the paper, I created much unwanted blobs creating a disturbed area in the otherwise unified paint. Phewee! 
I am pretty good at fixing things, but I could not fix these splotches to my satisfaction. 

So once again the lesson is, always protect areas under the arm or wrist (unless you never rest your arm on the painting ha-ha) with a rag or paper towel.

I now have a new start to the nesting western tanager and I have a protective towel ready!

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Art is My Lifeboat

I have been thinking a lot recently about my fixation with flying birds. They are taking flight in my paintings regularly. Of course, there are many obvious reasons: they are elegant and beautiful, they are part of my daily view, and they are a common subject most humans can relate to. But I know they have become an important symbol to me in the last few months.

Wouldn't I just love to take flight! I'm not a complainer, but I have to say this period of time has been a challenge for both me and my husband, Mike. We have been so attached both physically and emotionally to our home, that being displaced from those roots has been like being thrown to sea where we are riding the waves. There are the hopeful waves, the frustrating waves, the stormy waves, the calm waves. But it seems like there are just way too many more waves in the future than we want until we get to shore again. So that's when I want to fly up into the bright and open sky.

Heading Home
Transparent Watercolor
21" x 29"

I have been looking at many pieces of art that have birds as the subject matter. And as was true for Van Gogh, Bernard, and many other artists, I have been drawn to the wood prints of the Japanese artists.

These two pieces are an homage to Ohara Koson (1877-1945), an artist known especially for painting birds and flowers. I really enjoy painting on long, thin pieces of watercolor paper, a format that suits this theme.  (These paintings have been purchased as a companion pair.)

I do love the egrets and herons, but I see so many songbirds in the trees off the deck of the house we are renting, that I think I may be painting some of those. I have really enjoyed adding the birds to my more graphic art pieces.

Early in the spring, the tree swallows flew into the river area in the hundreds. Their beautiful blues were enhanced by the sunny stream of light hitting their heads and backs.

Then came the violet-green swallows. They became the dominant birds and one little violet-green swallow made a nest in the burned stump just a stone-throw from the deck. Can you spot her little head poking out of the hole?

A few days ago, I was startled by an orange flash flying across the river. A moment later the flash clearly became a bird, as a Western Tanager landed in the tree right in front of me. It is always a special treat to see these birds, as they are more rarely sighted than the robins, swallows and finches. I know that the Western Tanager will be in my featured in my next painting. Perhaps I'll paint a pair coming right near the maple tree I see off the deck. 

These lovely living creatures are a "wave of inspiration." So the waves aren't all bad, and we are navigating through them. I am thankful everyday that art calls to me and presents itself as my lifeboat.

Monday, April 26, 2021

"Don't Rush In," She Said.

I have been working on a number of paintings using the same beginning. I mask off an abstract shape creating a "cruciform" configuration that creates a continuous white form that leaves a bit differently from each of the four sides of the watercolor paper. I am using full sheets, 22 inches by 30 inches, which allows great abandon with the painting of shapes and ideas. After posting a photo on facebook in the beginning of the last painting, a very good artist, Gale Webb, warned me not to "rush in." However, by the time I read her message, I had already finished the painting and it was too late to back up and let things ruminate. 

In the beginning of this piece, I have already designated 3 areas that will get a bird shape: one large at the top, two together creating a different shape and one smaller single bird. I really enjoyed the last painting in which I used these same haunting, foggy, neutral colors to begin with. but you can see it also can leave me with a huge "what next" question. 

*check out  my last post from April 15, 2021 to see the two previous paintings done in the same manner.

In the photo above, I have started a landscape, one that reflects what I see out our windows. Some trees are starting to leaf out, but they have been burned at the bottom and look like lollipops--long trunks with small round tops. Also in this photo is a piece of collage material I put over the painting to see if I'd like the soft yellow. As you will see, I decided that it was a nice accompaniment to the subtle neutrals.

And I was following Gale's advice, working on one idea and letting it settle before moving forward. In other words, this was not an impulsive piece. I did not paint it in one day. 

I began to really like the dreaminess of the piece as it developed. It is surely a combination of what I see and what I imagine. I was giving myself time to develop the backdrop before painting the "stars" of the piece. 

In the end, I imagined this as a moonlit dream, so the birds had to appear as silhouettes. And I also decided to leave quite a bit of white. 

What do you think? Did I make the right choices?

Dreaming of Birds
Watercolor and collage on paper
21" x 29"