Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Interview with Ruth Armitage

For some time I've been following Ruth Armitage's blog Not only do I enjoy Ruth's art, but also her insights and slice of life entries. The other day I read an online interview she had with another blogger and decided I would like to be interviewed as well. This was quite a challenge. Here are Ruth's questions to me and my answers.

"What led you to pursue art seriously?"

From childhood I had an interest in artistic and crafty activities. Like many people, I never thought pursuing art seriously was a logical choice. When my personal life hit a particularly crazy period, I decided to “gift” myself with trying out watercolors. I had always been attracted to the transparent, jewel-like quality of watercolor paintings. I soon realized that painting would keep me sane. It is a form of meditation, where everything else falls away and I truly live in the moment. Nothing exists but me and the paper in front of me. I took classes with a couple of different Eugene artists and really clicked with Lois Enman’s teaching style. She encouraged me to see what worked in a painting that may have only had one good square inch. I got brave enough to take a class with a nationally known artist, Frank Webb. That was a very intimidating but life changing experience. I felt like I had left grade school and hit college, all in one week in Bend. Seeing a master of watercolor like Mr. Webb opened my eyes to what was possible. I met another emerging artist Diana Madaras ( there who turned me on to The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. By reading and following The Artist’s Way, I was able to call myself an artist for the first time. Lois encouraged me to apply to WSO (Watercolor Society of Oregon). I got in on my second try and even had a painting in a WSO that first year.

My next baby step was asking Lane Community College if I could teach a watercolor class in their continuing education program. I was amazed when they said “yes.” From there I looked for opportunities to hang paintings and found there were many venues available. Sometimes people even bought a painting! I continued my art life as an evening/weekend pursuit until I retired from my daytime career to join my husband in Hawaii. There I had time to paint all day every day if I chose to. I read several books about art as a business and finally had the courage to present my work to a gallery.

So I have given you a very long answer to a short question. But there was never a moment I decided to take art seriously, it was a series of events and small steps leading to where I am today—still on that journey.

How does your process differ when working in illustration (if at all)?

When I was asked to illustrate the book Rain or Shine as a collaborative effort with the author Hilary Horder Hippely, I had no idea of how to go about this. One would think it would be just a matter of drawing and painting pictures, but nothing is ever as simple as one thinks. First of all, someone else was creating a story and I had to search for images to enhance the story from my own mind. I had to create characters that I could portray throughout the book with consistency. I was given the page breaks in the story from which I would create a scene from that part of the story. I had to learn about making and presenting a dummy book for the publisher. Just figuring out the size of the illustrations and the type of paper to work on was a challenge. I used the internet to find photo resources such as a particular gesture I had in mind for a character, or what tomato leaves really look like.

Although creating the illustrations were a departure from what I was painting at that time, it helped me flow into a new stage of my personal art. The illustrating gave me the courage to begin painting more from my own ideas without the structure or security of reality or reference photo. My Crow Man series exists because of my illustration experience.

Rain or Shine can be purchased from:

I love your tropical paintings. What took you to Hawaii, and how much
time do you spend there... how does your location change your work?

My husband’s work took us to The Big Island of Hawaii. I lived there for two years, and had the opportunity to become a full time artist. I went back in June for an opening at Chase and Hanes Gallery in Hilo, Hawaii. I also taught a workshop in Hilo at that time. For my birthday (and to get out of the cold) my husband and I are about to return to Hawaii for a two week vacation. I hope Hawaiian visits stay in my life for a long time.

As for how the location changed my work, I’d have to say that my palette was most profoundly different. My Northwest palette tended toward cooler, more neutral colors. When I settled into the tropical climate, Alizarin Crimson moved aside for Windsor Red and lots of it. Almost overnight my paintings became much more vivid, and always had red in them. When you live in the heat, your paintings reflect that in the color choices.

Naturally the subject matter changed also. I painted the required waterfalls, but also enjoyed painting the older more modest Hawaiian homes in their tropical setting. And it was in Hawaii that I began my abstracted Volcano series with the wild, exploding ink patches and hot earthy colors.

Which artist has had the most impact on your work?
This is a very difficult question to answer and I really can’t confine it to one artist. I have great admiration for Frank Webb’s work. He is such a master of transparent watercolors and though he is an excellent draftsman, his paintings are never stiff, overworked or overly realistic. He often departs from local color to make his paintings dynamic and whimsical. All of these traits are things I try to emulate in my work.

I also have had a serious flirtation with the Canadian painters—the Group of Seven. These turn of the last century artists painted landscapes in very simplified shapes and bold colors. Many of the paintings from this group just take my breath away.

Most recently, I have turned to the work of Henri Matisse for inspiration. Now that I am moving deeper into patterns, I enjoy looking at his work to observe the both subtle and bold use of pattern. I also am emboldened by his ever evolving work. He moved from realistic paintings, to flatter modernistic pieces, to cut and paste work. His efforts to continually challenge and question his own vision and willingness to change his art are qualities I aspire to.

If you could immortalize one member of your family in a portrait, whom would you paint & why?
I recently did a painting of my mother where I tried to convey a combination of the many parts of her life. I must say, it is not a good painting, but it is the start of something I will return to. I chose her partly because of her longevity—she just turned 93. I have known her for most of those years, and have seen the chapters of her life. She’s gone from child to nonagenarian, wife to widow, working to retired. She’s lived through the great depression, become a grandmother and great-grandmother to a tribe, she’s seen a daughter die. She now has dementia and her daily life is shrinking to the confines of her condominium and the visits of a handful of people. If I could capture even some of that in a piece of art, wouldn’t it be something!

1. Post a comment here to let me know you want to be interviewed.

2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. (I get to pick the

3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.

4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone
else in the same post

5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five

Monday, January 26, 2009

With a Little Help From My Friends

As you know from my last blog entry, I've had some questions about finishing my pieces. I so appreciate getting feedback from viewers. I also get so much help from the critique group I'm in.

The critique group met on Friday and here are some before and afters.

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Shore Leave 14 x 20

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Shore Leave (edited) 14 x 20

The changes I made to this one: reclaiming white on the uniforms, graying down the trees, pushing back the street scene to the right, and intensifying the pattern between the male and female groups. Improved?

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Harvesting Light 14 x 20

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Harvesting Light (edited) 14 x 20

The changes I made to this one: pushed back the rows of color by putting on a transparent wash, darkened the tulips being carried toward the bottom of the bunch being carried, adjusted the worker to the left of the main figure, and reshaped the tree in the background in the far left.

I saved the best for last-- remember this one?

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I think this is the version I last posted. My friend Ruth suggested that I should continue the pattern into the figures to keep consistency in the piece. I began cutting skinny pieces to add detail to the figures.

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I had added pattern and worked on the figures when I went to my critique group. First I was so thankful for the very positive remarks about this work. Mostly the group told me it was nearly done and to do very little to the finished work. I had already decided to carry the whites that go across the painting through the heads to the edges of the piece, and the group agreed that would be a good addition. I also added a detailed piece to the male middle sailor to imply his shoulder/arm. I used a pen to hint at the edge separating the center and middle female figure's pant legs.

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Sound Bites 18 x 22

This is the piece I'm submitting to the Watercolor Society of Oregon's Spring Show. Can you believe this stared with a drawing and a colorful, but failed painting?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Catching the Creativity Train

To view an enlarged image, just put your mouse on the image and click.

A while back, Mike and I took a trip to San Francisco. It happened to be Fleet Week (many ships come in and lots of sailors take shore leave)and I took a few photos that I thought I'd enjoy interpreting on paper.

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I used the photos as references, but then simplified, abstracted, rearranged to come up with the following painting.

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Shore Leave 14 x 21

As you can see, I used patterns to create the urban setting I was looking for. And I felt I captured the flirtiness between and male and female figures, or rather the attempts to flirt and the rebuffs, so the painting tells a story and has a freshness--isn't overpainted. However, in the end, I was disappointed because overall it looks like a fairly ordinary watercolor painting.

I really wanted to try something exciting to jump start my creativity and challenge myself beyond the safety zone. I still was interested in the youthful, uniformed figures, so I drew them on a fresh piece of 17 x 22 watercolor paper.

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I then ratted through some old paintings and came upon one with great color, but little point or content.

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Nature Abstract 14 x 22

I had very little in mind other than the idea that I wanted to include some white space with created pattern and a warm color to cool colors scheme to further emphasize the rejection from the women in the piece. So I just started to cut and paste.

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The more I cut and pasted. the braver and more excited I got. By the end of 3 or 4 sessions of pasting and weighing down the newly glued pieces, I had finished the collage part.

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And so the piece now sits in my studio waiting...waiting for me to figure out how to finish this work. How much detail should I add to my sailors? Should I do it with paint or ink or both? Should I add more pattern to the collaged parts? Should I eliminate or soften some of the patterns from the old painting parts? I'd love to get your thoughts.

Luckily, I meet with my critique group on Friday and if I haven't already finished the piece, I can rely on many suggestions from them, I'm sure.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Welcoming in the New Year

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Years ago I gave up New Year Resolutions because they were doomed to failure. I resolved to lose weight yearly, yet remained round. I resolved to exercise regularly, yet my genetic default trait was still sedentary. You know how it goes. Year after year the resolutions would rack up in expectations of me becoming a different person. Quite depressing if you ask me.

But three years ago I began my year with something I found both doable and uplifting. It wasn't exactly a resolution, but a commitment to dealing with things in a better way. I dedicated myself to working on forgiveness. I don't mean to make this sound pompous or overly serious. I simply found that holding grudges and beleaguering over wrongs or slights from the past just made ME feel bad and kept a nastiness in my being. It's an ugly thing for one's spirit. It is not something that I really could entirely accomplish, but being mindful of the harm not forgiving did to myself and the lack of change it instigated in anyone else, helped me move forward in having better relationships and feeling more positive about myself.

This year I added another similar goal to my own reactions to others and that is to assume that the other person is doing their best.

I grew up in a family that enjoyed analyzing family member's and friend's behaviors and circumstances, which led to assigning motives to almost any action. One way of looking at this sort of analyzing is that it is a way of trying to understand the world and how people operate in it. But another way to look at it is that it is a way of making yourself feel superior. In reality, most of those analyzing sessions put the person under scrutiny into an inferior position. Their decisions were poor ones and we (the analyzers/gossipers) would do so much better.

So now I have added another way for me to be mindful--assume the other guy is doing his/her best. That should free up my mind for thinking about more useful things rather than filling it up with how my friend, neighbor, relative is messing up.

Okay, enough about my self-improvement program.

This has been a celebratory few weeks: Christmas, New Year's, and a 39th wedding anniversary on January 2. I just have to say, I am a lucky, lucky woman to have stumbled into what has turned out to be a wonderful, life-long relationship. Mike is a great companion and we still respect, love and appreciate each other.

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I'm going to end my blog with a slice of life true story. Today Mike went into town with a bunch of errands he hoped to complete before a dinner meeting this evening. One thing on his agenda was to get a hair cut. Several times he's had his hair cut at a small, one-woman operated salon/barbershop in a rural shopping center, so he called to see if her shop was open today. The woman's grandson answered and told Mike that his grandmother (the hair dresser/barber) had died recently. She had some pains around Christmas and saw a doctor soon after. She was told she had cancer, with just a few weeks to live. A week later she died. She was about our age.

I'm going to live to the fullest today, and assume I'm doing my best! I hope you do too.

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Our place a few nights ago.