Saturday, April 25, 2020

"Precious" -- A Paralyzing Part of Creating Art

Many of my art friends often use the term "precious" to describe a painting or part of a painting that, as the artist, you fear losing or changing. When you look at something you painted and it just thrills you (becoming precious), it may be nigh impossible to change or edit the art, even when it will take a piece from okay to really good.

This happened to me recently with the painting Teach Me: Unsheltered America. I thought I was finished. I had so carefully painted the details: tent, grocery cart, litter, spray paint cans, figure, etc. However, the feedback I got from artists I trust was it was still too pristine to convey homelessness. I knew at the time, this had become precious. I was scared to touch it. So the painting sat in the studio for days on end.

In the meantime I started painting my backyard on a daily basis. I've always wanted to do this, and with this "stay home" situation, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to give it a whirl. Now these paintings were just quick (less than 2 hours) studies and were not "precious" at all. When I was done with one outside, I had no hesitation to take it into the studio to correct, revise and improve it.

Example 1 of Not Precious. This is how the painting looked as painted plein air. Pretty blah.

And this is is after some studio time of lifting, using gouache (opaque watercolors) over the transparent, and adding more contrast.

Example 2 of Not Precious.  This is the painting of azalea blossoms plein air. Terrible background.

 And this is how it looks after collage, more intense paint, and black background to make the colors pop.

And now back to the original topic, the painting Teach Me: Unsheltered America.

 Teach Me: Unsheltered America, when I was paralyzed.

Teach Me: Unsheltered America, after pushing back the industrial background using a mouth atomizer, roughing up the grass/dirt foreground, and darkening parts of the cement.

Do you think the narrative of the painting is more powerful now?

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

From My Brain to the Paper

I know many great artists create art differently than I do when working in a series. For me there is always learning, investigating and looking for new source material.  I like to dig into the idea and let my brain sort out what I can envision to paint a particular message.  Of course, I create other kinds of art that are painted more quickly,  perhaps less idea driven, but there is a great enjoyment for me to put content and information into a piece.

Teach Me: Liberia
For the past year or so I have been fleshing out my Teach Me series. The flame that lit the torch was reading articles about countries around the world where the percentage of girls receiving opportunities to be educated is tremendously low. As a retired educator, I know that education leads the entire society out of poverty, unwanted pregnancies, and independence.

And so began my paintings featuring fabrics and art, plus a bit of geography from a part of the world where education is very limited for females. The hand reaching for the infinity symbol comes from years in the classroom seeing students' hands spring up in eagerness to share information.

Not long ago, it came to me that there is another group of undereducated girls right under my nose, our unsheltered population. But how would I paint that story?

I began filling in my various ideas with photographs. I drove around Eugene looking at the tents, carts, as well as the people who have no roof over their heads. I asked my granddaughter (she's 18) to come with me to talk to some of the unsheltered. I figured she would seem less of a stereotype than I would on my own. I asked if I could take photographs and engaged in some surprising conversations. At the end of our meetings, I gave out $5 Safeway cards as a thank you for their time. I photographed graffitied walls and bridges as well. Then I printed them all out and started to see the painting take shape in my head.

What I wanted to paint gave me pause. Could I do a decent job of painting a tent and grocery cart overflowing with one person's vital belongings? I ended up doing something that is rare for me, I painted a study of just that portion before putting it on the paper.

Tent and cart study

The study was not perfect, but I could see that I could do it and would be able to pull it off in a better fashion on the full sheet. Next was creating the cement wall where the graffiti would be painted.

Concrete illusion

I use a blue film to block off areas I want to protect. In this case, it was a figure spray painting--my granddaughter posed for this--and the grocery cart. I then used matte medium on burlap to create a great texture that would convey concrete for my graffiti to cover.

Slowly I started painting the real stuff, tent, cart, graffiti.

Too neat

When I checked in with my friend, Kathy Tiger, she said, it's way too neat. Where's the litter, how about some drips of paint?

Almost done

I wanted to add an urban background behind the wall. Houses? Apartments? The winning choice was industrial. Then all that was left was the figure.

I would love to get your feedback regarding this piece, my process, or whatever you might have to say about my art. 

Stay Home-Stay Healthy in this crazy time!