Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Evolution of an Idea--How I Create Art

I recently spent two weeks in Oxnard, California attending Katherine Chang Liu's workshop.  It is more of an art retreat than a workshop, as Katherine does not demonstrate any art techniques and rarely shows her own work. She works with 20+ artists as we all grow and strengthen our artwork under her tutelage.

What happens for me each time I go to these retreats is that an idea evolves and blossoms. A round shape turns into a salmon egg, which turns into a series of the life cycle of the salmon. A painting of myself under a night sky turns into a series about the decades of a woman's life looking into a night sky--what she sees in the stars and clouds above her.

This time I went in with an idea of painting about the difficulty of girls receiving an education around the world.  I had been focusing on women's issues for some time. I had a folder of photos with me that I'd taken of my 7-year-old granddaughter's hands and upper body this summer. The idea of girls reaching for books was my original idea. So my first painting done in the workshop began there.

Reaching for an Education
15 " x 22"
Mixed Media
As I looked at the many arm and hand photos I brought with me, I was inspired to paint many girls reaching toward a book. As I talked to Katherine about the idea, the book became an aged paper. But what would go on it? As I worked diligently reproducing the photos into drawings on my blank paper, I got the idea of taking fabrics from the top 10 countries where girls are least likely to get an education. Thanks to the internet, I was able to search for these fabrics. As I labored over painting the fabrics, the blank sheet of paper remained a mystery. I didn't want to put words or made up language-looking symbols on it. Finally Katherine made a fabulous suggestion--math symbols! Math is so universal. The final dilemma was figuring out what to do with the arms and hands. I really liked the white against the patterned fabric, but the shapes did not show up well throughout the piece. I did not want this to be about race, so I chose to paint two of the hands dark blue. So this painting, the beginning of my next series titled "Teach Me," came into being.

Teach Me
22" x 30"
Mixed Media

Now that I'm home, the holidays have gotten in the way of my studio time, but I have completed the second piece of this series. This has involved some experimenting. As you can see, this child has braided hair, which is actually braided paper that I collaged onto the child's head. I also ended up cutting through the paper to make the braids more realistic. (This would only work with 300 lb. paper.) This piece has been narrowed down to the fabric of one country, Niger, one hand and one symbol. Can you guess how this series will progress?

Teach Me: Niger
30" x 11"
mixed media

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Taming of "River Dandy"

For many summers Mike and I have rafted on Northwest's wild and scenic rivers. While Mike watches the white water rapids, rocks and white water holes--rowing to avoid catastrophes; I am sitting like the queen of the fleet watching my realm of birds, vegetation and canyons and sky. I always come home with photos I hope to paint. With luck I can produce something personal incorporating a hint of the joy and thrill I feel while on the river.

There are many beautiful and graceful big birds on the Rogue River: great blue herons, bald eagles, kingfishers, egrets. But a cormorant is not one of the more exciting birds. They are fish-eating water birds, mostly brownish black with toes joined by webbing. They often sit on rocks and spread their wings to dry out or warm up, making them easy to photograph.

Five years ago I came home with a number of digitally captured cormorants and chose to paint the bird with his wings spread. I interpreted the fellow in his pose as something of a show-off. In my anthropomorphized version of the bird, he became the "River Dandy."

I had more fun creating collage materials, stamps and other ways to incorporate into the cormorant's closet of fancy attire.

In the end I knew it was too much. The viewer's eye would just go crazy trying to find that "quiet spot" to rest and enjoy the painting. Yet I couldn't let go of every beautiful spot. I was not ready to "tame the River Dandy." Like so many paintings, it went into a drawer, but the image never left my mind.

About three months ago I was looking for a painting to work on my editing skills. I pulled out "River Dandy" and started to add black gesso (an opaque paint) and applied it to areas I considered too wild. I spent very little time at it before I was almost in tears. It was like killing a pet. I almost tossed it in the trash, but reconsidered. Back it went into a drawer. I thought maybe I could reuse parts in a collage or something.

Then a couple of weeks age I pulled the poor "River Dandy" out again. I told myself to put on my big girl pants and act like a real artist.  I began to ask myself how I could tame, but not kill this fellow I'd lived with for so long. I mixed up a gray mixture that I felt complimented all the colors originally used. I retrieved some of the stamps and vivid colors off my shelves and got to work. Even I am surprised sometimes at the attachment that forms between the art and the artist. I am happy I let "River Dandy" hang around for so long. I think he has (and I have) found a spot where he can show off and the viewer can find that "quiet spot" to rest and enjoy the painting.

Let me know what you think.

River Dandy
mixed media
22" x 30"

Monday, October 1, 2018

Curiosity Lures the Artist

Last night, as I walked from my studio back to the house (about 300 ft.) I took a leap back and squealed. This has been my reaction to snakes in the last 15 years. Prior to that, my reaction was running and screaming. My fear was so great that as a teenager I once lept on my dad, practically landing us both flat on a rocky lakeshore. I was sure I had seen a rattler--my interpretation of all snakes.

So back to a slight leap and squeal of last night--that came right before hoping I had my phone in my pocket so I could take a picture. Being an artist has changed how I see and how I react. When I first started painting seriously, I remember driving along thinking about how I could mix colors to represent what I was seeing. What could I add to cobalt blue to make that special dark green that sits on the bottom of a fir branch? On our raft trips, my eyes would always be alert for motion or a shape that didn't quite belong to the landscape. I would walk an extra mile, or go off a trail for a special view that might be turned into a painting.

So a few years back, as I was weeding my garden, I had my initial leap and squeal, but then went into the house to get my camera. Luckily, Mr. Snake stayed around long enough for me to come back, calmly this time, and take a wonderful shot of him winding around my flowering echinacea. I posted the photograph on Facebook at the time, but never painted the friendly garter snake until this past week, when the photo showed up as a Facebook memory. This is not my usual subject matter, but I had so much fun painting him!

10" x 14"
Transparent Watercolor

Other news for the week, "Because Women Marched" has found its home in Klamath Falls. Many thanks to the new owner who appreciated the historical story of this work.

Because Women Marched
18" x 22"
Mixed Media

Also I matted and framed "Women's Work" which will be part of the Watercolor Society of Oregon's Fall Show at Elsinore Gallery in Salem Oregon.

Women's Work
21 x 21
Transparent Watercolor

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Traditional End of Summer--a Rogue River Wild and Scenic Raft Trip

For nearly 20 years Mike and I have rafted down the Rogue River with a group of rafting friends.  The group grows and shrinks depending on friends' schedules, new people invited, and young people getting tied down with jobs and families. Going down the first week of September has been the time frame for the last few years. This year was a group of seven adults on three rafts.

Family--Cathy Page, Dave Johnson and first timer, Becky Garner

Friends--Dawn Pozzani and Norm Michaels

My honey and best rower ever--Mike Godfrey
Before leaving we were concerned about fires and smoke, which had led to us cancelling last year's trip. But as you can see, our launch morning was clear and beautiful. Of course, with white water rafting, there is always a little hard work, minutes of worry, and a hitch or two. As rafters say, just keep the messy side up.

On the first day, there is a short but tricky side channel to maneuver down called Fish Ladder. The options are going over a huge and dangerous drop, or walking through slippery rocks and hard brush while holding on to the rope of your raft. We had three good runs while staying in the rafts. 

However, there was a nasty rock at the bottom that caught two of our rafts. Hmmm . . . what to do when you get stuck.

Mike made me move to the back of the raft to get my weight off the front where we were stuck.

Dave broke Rule 1: Never get out of the raft and Rule 2: Never get out of the raft. Luckily there were no bad repercussions from his actions.

Most of this blog will be photos from the trip. I was so ready for Mother Nature to inspire my art that I took many photos of water, birds and other wild life. You will notice that some of these photos have been manipulated to enhance their drama and readability. Enjoy!



Thirsty and hungry doe with two fawns

Eagle waiting 

A community of waterfowl

Heron posing
Egret posing

Three Lucky Shots

The Last Day

I always look for the lone tree that sits atop an obelisk-like rock. We have given it the names "bonsai tree" or "haiku tree." Year after year it sits with its roots miraculously finding nutrition and water by reaching down the outside of the rock to its livelihood.

I have painted it  twice and the last painting sold just before this trip. It will probably inspire yet another painting.

Although we had experienced some smoke, the last day of our five-day trip, we were heading right toward the rampaging fire very near our take out.

Nearing our takeout point, Foster Bar, the skies were full of smoke.

This helicopter has a snorkle which sucks in the water to be dumped on the fire. It made several trips as we floated past.

A few minutes after this shot was taken, we were pulling out of the river, safe and sound. And for five wonderful days we had kept our messy sides up!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Thinking of Shapes, Lines and Patterns

If you follow my blog and view my art, you know that my paintings are usually content driven: women's issues, the future of children, exploring world problems, or the natural world. But every once in awhile, I head to the studio with no big idea, just the desire to play with shapes, lines and patterns.

I started these 2 small pieces (8 1/2 inches square) as I often do, blocking out an interesting shape with tape, film, contact paper or something similar.

The next step: add texture using a mouth atomizer.

At this point I start to think about what the shapes imply--clown faces? I apply paint, building shapes and strong design. The radiant design was easy to emphasize with some collage materials. Why the tweezers? When working with collage on a small piece, tweezers really help getting each collage piece to the right place.

Here are the two pieces with some metallic gold as a last touch to bring forth an elegance. Somewhere in the process they seem to have developed a bit of an Asian feel and I like it!

I had two similar gold frames to put the art into. The last decision to be made was what orientation made the strongest presentation. Below are the two framed paintings.

Radiation I
Mixed Medium
8.5" x 8.5"

Radiation II
Mixed Medium
8.5" x 8.5"

They are now ready to hang on a wall. Contact me if you have the perfect spot.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Does an Artist Have to Commit to a Style?

I know I am not alone in questioning my dedication to painting in one voice or style. Over 20 plus years of painting I've gone down paths that came to a dead end, yet others branched out to something related, but broader and more fulfilling.

After my trip to Paris this spring, I saw the work of many famous artists whose work evolved over many years. And last week I visited the Portland Art Museum featuring the early work of Richard Diebenkorn. Best known for his Ocean Park Series and figurative work, this exhibit was titled "Beginnings."

So from these early abstracts came these later works:

I am not trying to compare my own work with this artist, but it has given me permission to let my paintings take sashays here and there. I feel relieved in a way.

I am calling my current artwork "Margaret's Careful Period." It seems that my path toward simplification has also led me to a more exact painting style. I don't feel I have to justify it in any way. I will just accept it as a part of my journey.

Both of these new pieces are simplified and carefully painted. Both are related to my recent subject matter of feminine issues (although the tree climber is a stretch.) Perhaps it relates to women being the gatherers. And the art tells a story. I guess I am still on track!

Comments are always welcome.

Women's Work
Transparent Watercolor
22" x 22"

Tree Climber (working title)
Transparent Watercolor
22" x 22"

Sunday, July 22, 2018

A Mid-summer Ending

Our Arizona family comes up to Oregon to beat the heat of the desert for several weeks during the grandchildren's summer break. Their school begins at the end of July, so we had to say farewell (for now) this week. The summer was filled with lots of play on our acres, hikes, fishing, picnics, and, of course, art.

The younger two spent much of their time outdoors. They looked for and caught frogs. made up spy games, utilized the four swings and ran through sprinklers. Marin, at 13, spent time communicating with friends; baking cakes, cookies, and cobblers; and getting craft ideas from Pinterest. She also earned money scrubbing fence with a little help from Noah.

Here are some outdoor highlights. The pond photos make me think of Monet. (The small dory is a new addition to the front pond.)

Toward the last of their stay, the temperature soared to the high 90's, low 100's. Right after I had said to Mike that the young ones had outgrown Legos and Little People, the heat drove Hannah and Noah inside for play and guess what . . .

While out in my studio, Marin asked how I had done a certain painting. It was an idea I got from a book by Betsy Dillard Stroud, so I pulled out the book and we spent the last days using this technique.

Step 1: put down a watercolor underpainting.
Step 2: draw on top of the dried underpainting.
Step 3: mask out the part of the painting you want to keep in the underpainting with gauche (Betsy says use tempera paint which I don't have).

Step 4: let that dry thoroughly. 
Step 5: cover the paper with waterproof ink and let that dry overnight.

Step 6: Hose down the painting. (This is definitely the most fun and exciting part!)

The final step is to touch up, add detail, etc. after the painting has completely dried. 

Marin ended up with a wonderful finished product. For me, it was a fun reminder that there are so many ways to create art.

The end product reminds me of illustrations in books from my childhood.