Sunday, March 27, 2016

Abstract Painting: Pheonix Rising

"Phoenix Rising", 12x12" mixed media on canvas. Available. 

I have recently been in touch with an artist friend I haven't talked to in a while. He asked to see what I've been up to lately, so I sent him a few photos.

"What happened to all the colour?!"

Ok, so it's been a long while. I think the last time he saw my painting, I was working on my music series.  So yeah, this stuff is really different. My friend is a very accomplished artist. He shows across the country and his work sells well. If he sees fit to offer advice, I am going to listen carefully... and take notes. He recommended I work on my compositions a bit more, add some colour, maybe loosen up a bit with my use of line. All things I notice in other artist's work, but haven't been focused on in my own.  I've been so intent on how a piece makes me feel that I've been ignoring a lot of the design stuff I've learned over the years.

I didn't have to consider what he was saying for long, I knew immediately that he was right. I got out some books and reread the chapters on composition. I watched a few youtube videos on the use of value and design in visual art. Refreshed my memory on the "rules". Then I prepped a couple small canvases and got back to work.

It's hard to keep all this info in the back of my mind while I'm working. I've very much an intuitive painter. For this piece, I asked a couple local artist friends to take a look and offer a critique when I was at a mid-point, just to keep myself on track. That's something I miss about school... oh, not those scathing critiques where everyone in the room tells you how you totally missed the boat on this one, but the helpful, thoughtful comments that direct you out of a problem when you are stuck and ready to get out the gesso.

Most artists work in isolation to some degree. It's helpful if you have other artists around to bounce ideas off of, to share information, and to just talk to. But I've found that since I left school, getting any constructive criticism is extremely difficult. People are so afraid to hurt each other's feelings that they won't offer an opinion that could honestly help the other person improve their work. Even in a workshop environment, I've found that instructors are quick to point out the parts that are working well, but tend to avoid the part that isn't. Of course any advice has to be welcome and considerately given. Not personal or confrontational. If things are done with consideration and in the spirit of helpfulness, the whole critique process can be pleasant for all participants. And we can all learn to be better artists.


If you are in the GTA, I will be exhibiting at Arts on the Credit, April 9-10 at the Waterside Inn in Port Credit. I'll have a whole pile of new work on display, along with 40 or so other artists and fine crafts people. It's always a good show.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Art Journals: Working through mistakes

An entry in my larger mask journal... I've got two going at the moment. This one is made from watercolour paper.
One think I like to do in my art journals is experiment. I come across a lot of different techniques in my reading and online exploration, and I've got a list of things I want to try. Sometimes it takes me ages to get around to trying something. Sometimes I try it out and like the effect, but it doesn't necessarily work with what I'm doing at the moment, so I set it aside until I need it.

This page started with an image transfer of a photo I found online. I didn't really remember how to do a transfer... It had been a while, and though I remembered the basics, I figured I should try it out and make sure I didn't forget something important before I included the technique in a workshop I was teaching. So I had my background painted and collage done, and placed the image where I wanted my transfer. The next day I took off the paper and... it looked pretty bad. The image I used had a lot of tone. I hadn't adjusted it to have more contrast. And my background was too dark. I could hardly see it. 

I decided I was going to figure out a way to make this work. I got out my paints and slowly built up the form... highlight, colour, highlight, colour... until I could see the image. He still looks like he's in the background. Maybe looking through a window? Or a ragged hole? So on the facing page I drew the mask, in the foreground. Almost like he had removed it and set it aside. I think I am satisfied with this page. It may not be particularly beautiful, but it speaks to me. 

I could have just as easily painted over the entire thing with gesso. It would actually have been a lot easier to do that. But I think what was there wasn't awful, it just wasn't what I had planned. By looking and thinking and figuring out a way to make it work I not only salvaged the page, I created something unique that would communicate something about my life. And that's what art is. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Abstract Painting: Where Spirit Meets Bone, Part 2

"Where Spirit Meets Bone", Diptych, 60x40", Mixed Media on Canvas. Available.
The original drawing for this piece came from a video of a couple dancing. They were connected, yet separate... two people that seemed so much a part of each other, I couldn't really imagine them as single entities.

It's funny how certain images and ideas trigger other thoughts. They were young, they moved so gracefully, but what came to mind was my parents. My mom is here, my dad is gone... but they are still so intertwined in my memory that I suspect they will always be like one unit to me. Trying to get this idea across... visually... that was a tough one. I decided to accentuate it through the format. Each canvas is successful on it's own, but they look like they belong together. They look better together. I won't separate them... as far as I'm concerned, this is one piece. But once it's out of my hands, it's out of my control.

The right side alone... still works as an
individual piece, but definitely works better
with it's partner.
Doing the original drawing I took a similar approach. I held one watercolour crayon in each hand, and followed the dancer's movements simultaneously. It was difficult to watch them both at the same time... I set myself up at a distance and tried to concentrate on the motion as a unit, not as individual bodies (If you want to try something that really gets you into the present, try doing that. It's impossible to think about anything but what you are doing...).

As I couldn't do more than glance at my actual drawing while I was working on it, my starting point was somewhat unplanned. Anyone who has followed along for a while knows this is an ongoing trend in the way I work... give myself a problem, then work my way out of it.  I find that while I am a decent problem solver (at least as far as visuals go), staring at a blank canvas with a world of possibilities open to me will cause me to freeze up. There are just too many choices. I love those creative exercises where you just scribble a few lines, then try to make an image out of it. Having that limitation put on myself will spark my creativity. Once I figured that out, it seemed I was away to the races. I'm hopeful that creative blocks are a thing of the past for me. Of course nobody knows what the future holds... but I have some tools at my disposal to help me work my way out of whatever life throws my way.

If you are in the Toronto area, I will be at Arts on the Credit, April 9-10 at the lovely Waterside hotel in Port Credit. It's always a wonderful show, with over 40 artists showing off their latest work. Drop by to check it out, and be sure to say hello.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Abstract Painting: Where Spirit Meets Bone, Part 1

"Where Spirit Meets Bone", Part 1 of a Diptych, 30x40" (complete piece is 60x40"),
Mixed Media on Canvas. Available.

Stage One: the two canvases together barely fit on my
easel. I'm thinking a triptych is probably out of the question.
A couple months ago, I decided that I needed to do something large.  I've been working small for years... the largest I'd venture was a 30x40" piece I did last year. Problem is, I can't fit anything larger than that in my car. Even that is tight. But I wanted larger. I wanted something substantial. I wanted something that screamed "I'M HERE".

I have been working in series for a long time. I like to work that way. I get started on something, and I can just keep going until I get bored... which can take months or longer. I worked on my music series for probably close to 2 years.  Maybe, I thought,  I could do two pieces that worked together. A diptych. I hadn't done one of those before, and once I got the idea into my head, I couldn't get it out. I was going to have to do it.

Next stage... building the layers...
I had a couple large canvases hanging around I had gotten on sale about a year ago. They were just sitting there. For a year. That's crazy. I was doing well using up my stash of supplies... it was time for me to use these big canvases. Put together... 40x60"... oh my, that is an intimidating size. I decided to approach it just the way I work on a small piece.... Pick a colour and just start.

Once I got going it went pretty well, even if it did take a fairly long time.  I have been working away on this piece for what feels like ages: one canvas, then the other, then I'd put them together and make sure they work. It got difficult near the end, when I needed to have them together to put on the finishing touches. They barely fit on my easel (which is huge... when my husband built it for me I thought he was crazy making me something that big. You'll need it eventually, he said....). They seemed to take up most of the small room I work in. To get a sense of how they worked from a distance I had to move them out into the main part of the house and look at them from the end of the hall.

Anyway... I'm happy that I pushed myself to do something a little out of my comfort zone. Once it was done I felt a huge sense of satisfaction. I will do it again... but probably not soon. I have a spot to hang this one, but don't have too many walls big enough to accommodate a piece this large. Next week I'll post the other half, a shot of the two canvases together, and a bit about the imagery. If you are in the Toronto area, I'll have this and many other abstract paintings with me at the Arts on the Credit art fair on April 9 and 10, 2016. Come on out and say hi.