Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Yosemite Trickster- Step by Step

Ever since visiting Yosemite National Park this past fall, I've had this image in my mind. I wanted to paint a picture to convey the fabulous slabs of granite that lay in slopes reaching miles toward the wonderful domes of Yosemite Valley. I also wanted to include a raven. We saw so many, and I enjoy painting a representational critter into a fairly abstracted landscape.

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After a rough drawing, my first step is applying natural colored rice paper to the lower 3/4 of the paper. I take a putty knife and apply white gesso to the watercolor paper, then put down pieces of rice paper, smoothing the edges down with more gesso on my tool. For this piece I wanted to represent smooth slabs as the painting comes toward the view, so those pieces are large pieces of rice paper. The upper portion, however, I wanted to imply much smaller bits of rock to give the illusion of distance. For that effect, I wrinkle up the rice paper as I apply it.

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One of the reasons I like this technique is that transparent watercolor is absorbed in such an interesting way. 
The gesso resists the color, while the rice paper absorbs and spreads it. It gives a look I can't get any other way.

So my next step is putting down some background color. The day I want to show is warm and sunny, so that guides my color choices--yellow, gold and orange. I place more orange at the upper left and lower right where my "Trickster" will sit.

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I continue to add darker colors to the rocky ledge going away from the viewer. Later I can lift, or use gouache to lighten my foreground. A lot of this color is sitting on top of gesso which is easily removed.

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Now is the time to lighten the rocks closer to the viewer, break up the rocks in front in slab-like sections. A purplish brown application of lines in uneven application makes the crevices, and lifting and a lightly tinted gouache lightens the areas at the bottom of the painting. Yay, I'm almost done!

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Finishing "Yosemite Trickster" is a matter of painting in trees and shadows on the mountains. I use orange and a subtle blue to reflect the colors I have on and around the raven. I use lines to draw the eyes back, giving the feel of looking into the distance. I also cooled down the mountains with a couple of blue/purple washes. It is a matter of a bit here and there--step back-- a bit of color here to connect the parts of the painting--step back-- reduce this crevice--step back. I continue this dance in my studio until I see nothing that draws my eye to a bothersome point, rather than letting me enjoy the piece as a whole.

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Yosemite Trickster. mixed media, 22 x 18 inches

Let me know if you appreciate reading about my process.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Another Honor--River Strata Takes Flight

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River Strata
Mixed Media
Image 14.5 x 21.5 inches

This weekend I hand delivered this painting to my friend Ruth Armitage, who will ship "River Strata" and ten other paintings by fellow Watercolor Society of Oregon members to Texas. Yes, my river series gets another nod from a juror. I'm delighted that Mark Mehaffey has chosen "River Strata" for the 38th annual Western Federation of Watercolor Societies Exhibition in Richardson, TX. This is the second year in a row I've had a painting accepted and I'm honored.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Personal Symbolism

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Solitary Life
Mixed Media, 22 x 15

Off and on I've talked about my efforts to use more symbolism in my art. Though this painting is representational, it is full of personal symbolism. Some of my personal symbols are easy to explain, such as my use of Native American petroglyph embellishment in my paintings. Or the "Asian" feel of some of my work. But the other day an artist friend posed these questions: I wonder who is this lone tree? You? Your mom? Your daughters, husband?? It seems an important image.

In an earlier post, I talked about this tree on the Rogue River that I find remarkable. It is a real landmark along the river and I've wanted to paint it for 10 years or more--paint it with feeling and in a way to do it justice. All that said, my friend's questions made me think more about it's personal symbolism for me. 

The easiest answer is that it represents the solitariness of life. For me, I realized sometimes in my 20's (in a state of angst, of course) that I am ultimately alone. I have close family, friends, acquaintances that I share my external life with, but my internal journey is always a solo trip. And my creation of art is a solo trip. As a parallel to a human's life, this tree leads a solitary and precarious existance as it clings to the rocks, and reaches so far down to the earth. The roots are a tenuous connection to what the tree needs to survive.

But does this tree represent a person? Well, me in a way, but when I thought of "mother," it struck a chord. My mother is now 97, living in a facility. Her body is wearing out and she is confined to a wheelchair. Her brain has worn out--most times when she sees me she asks, "Who are you?" Alzheimer's disease has taken her memories, and is slowly taking her vocabulary. More and more often she cannot come up with a word she needs to complete the simplest thought. So as her use of her mind and body diminishes, her core organs cling to life. The heart keeps pumping, the lungs breath in and out, her body takes in nourishment and emits waste. For her, this is the final and ultimate solo trip.

For me, there are more trees to come.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Embracing the Asian Aura

It is impossible to ignore the Asian Aura of the gold gessoed paper I've used in my last few paintings. During the Edo Period in Japan, painting on gold screens was one form of art. I do not mean to compare my art to that level, but I did give myself permission to give a big nod to Asian art as I painted another Rogue Tree. I tried to keep several words/phrases in mind as I worked on this: tenatious, solitary, rooted, against the odds. If you read my post When Skills Meets Subject Matter you know that painting this lone tree on the Rogue River is a personal challenge. And here is the start.

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I continued to play around with the gouache on the paper, finding a small craft foam roller a great help in smoothing out the paint.

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At some point between these two images, I entirely washed off the tree leaves and shape. I had envisioned a dangling banner from the beginning of the painting, and last night, tried red with stamping of my Native American theme I'd used on the rock. Before giving it a chance to win me over, I declared it too distracting and painted over it with gold gesso.

In Asian art, a poem might be written on a painting, or sometimes the characters are not only the artist's signature, but also may include the name of the owner, or so I've been told.

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For me, the banner is a spot to add calligraphy and more stamping and patterns. Before feeling this piece closer to finished, I played around with the background and softened some edges of the tree leaves. I intentionally left the trunk, branches and roots flat and in a daring color. What do you think? 

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