Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Playing with some new ideas

From my sketchbook.

When talking to a group of artists on Zoom recently, we were discussing what kind of art is selling these days. As we are all abstract artists, and abstract can be kind of a tough sell, it's something we all think of from time to time. Maybe, just maybe, I need to do something else for a bit. I can still be a painter, but a little bit of something recognizable may be the thing that moves my work from not selling to selling. 

Last year I thought I'd see if my understanding of abstract composition could make me a half-decent landscape painter. I did a bunch of pieces... not from photos but from the memories of my travels. They are not as abstract as they could have been, and probably should have been. I actually got grilled at a show by a "proper" landscape painter,  because my pieces "didn't make sense". My values were wrong, you couldn't tell what season it was, if that's a rocky shoreline what are those marks supposed to be? Yeah, whatever. Go back to your own booth, buddy. 

Quite obviously (and like everybody else), I've been spending a lot of time at home lately. My workload (for my day job) has been kind of hit and miss... some days I am so busy I don't have time for lunch, and other days I have a couple hours free with nothing to do. I have to stay near my computer in case a rush job comes through, so I figured I'd start a new sketchbook project. I can start and stop on a dime with no cleanup, it's portable, so I can sit in my car and draw if I'm bored (that's still self isolating), and I can work in the evenings when there's not enough time to paint. Its good to keep my drawing skills up, and sometimes just drawing something will trigger an idea. And then I have plenty of space to see if I can get somewhere that might work. 

Also from my sketchbook
One thing I do, which might be a bit out of the ordinary, is take one word and expand on that word until I run out of ideas. I've done it a couple times, and ended up with some small series. The word I chose for this one was "Bloom". Specific enough that it gives me a place to start (flowers, obviously) but vague enough that I can go off on a tangent if I feel like it. And according to at least one of my friends, florals are among the top sellers, worldwide.

I started this project just before Easter, when it was still pretty chilly outside. My first drawing was of an Easter lily, a flower. The magnolias are booming now. Oh how I love magnolias. I've done a half dozen sketches of those. 

When I was around 9 or 10, my mom planted a magnolia tree in our front yard.My parents lived in that house until I was in my late 20s, and that tree was glorious by the time they moved. Every spring there would be this enormous cloud of white and pink, and then came the rain of petals that would last for days. When the windows were open, the smell was heavenly.  To this day, when I see a magnolia tree in bloom, I think of my mother. I imagine I always will.

So now, in my brain, magnolias are connected with motherhood and aging women, and when I think of that I think of the ancient symbols for fertility, then sacred goddess worship and all the symbolism associated with that.... and here I am drawing celtic knots intertwined with magnolias. 

I have no idea where this is going, but that's half the fun.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

on Combining Obsessions...

"Waiting for Persephone", 10x10" mixed media on 1.5" wood cradle panel. 

I'm really into mythology.

It started in grade school when I had to do a project based around a greek myth. The stories were riveting, the characters oh so captivating. It led me down a rabbit hole. Now, in my 50s, I have books on most of the major mythologies that I've collected over the years. Christian, Greek, Roman, Indigenous, Celtic, Norse... similarities in the tales and the characters led me to do some reading on Archetypes and Jungian theory, which in itself is really interesting. Like I said, rabbit hole.

I have never really incorporated any of this knowledge into my work before. It's not that I hadn't thought about it... I've made tons of notes in sketchbooks over the years trying to figure out what kind of imagery I could create that could speak about these myths. Nothing ever jumped out at me as a good idea. In fact, nothing really even made it past the initial concept phase. I didn't want to be pegged as a religious painter, no matter what religion. Many of the stories are far too violent for my aesthetic. Then there was the issue with models and symbolism and cultural appropriation... I just didn't ever get far enough into it to get all the problems worked out and figure out how it would work. 

But... abstract? Hey, that could totally work.

Connecting shapes and colours to an ancient story could be a really interesting exercise. And the feeling is important, because my paintings centre around what feelings I can evoke as much as telling a linear "story".  I started off with one piece, my 'Persistence of Artemis", and that led to this one, and yet another still .... I'm pretty sure I can make this a series with lots of variety. Even if it ends up being short lived, I think I'm going to give it a go and see how far I can take it. If nothing else it will give me an excuse to dig out all my books and reread my favourite tales. 

This painting is based upon the story of Persephone, who is from the Greek mythos. Persephone is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter {everyone knows who Zeus is... Demeter is his wife, goddess of the harvest and agriculture). Homer describes Persephone as the formidable, venerable, majestic queen of the underworld, who "carries into effect the curses of men upon the souls of the dead". I will go into more detail about this particular story in my next newsletter... I think it will be fun sharing these myths with my readers and trying to explain how my painting portrays it. If you're interested and want to read these stories, you can sign up on my website. 

Monday, February 3, 2020

On Being a Reluctant Vegan

"Grey Area", 8x10 mixed media on wood panel. Available. 

I'm not vegan.

Not entirely anyway. But my son is, and as he still lives with me, I've had to learn a whole new way of cooking. People ask me why I cater to the dietary whims of a 22 year old... tbh, I wasn't necessarily enthralled with the idea at first. As a youngster he didn't like anything so our meals became somewhat repetitive, and I had gotten out of the habit of experimenting. But just the same, I do enjoy cooking, so I chose to take on this new challenge, instead of just letting the kid fend for himself... which he could do, but he's had stomach issues for a good chunk of his life and this diet seems to really help him feel better. If I can help with that, why wouldn't I?

As a day job, I've worked in packaging graphics for 20 or so years, most of that time spent doing food packaging for major corporate brands. One thing about that... with reading ingredients and filling out at Nutrition Facts tables, along with retouching the photos so they look "appetizing", I tend to avoid processed food. I'm on an anti-inflammation type of diet because of a health issue, which generally means avoiding sugar. And since sugar is ever present in processed food, it's easier to just avoid it than to try to figure out which brands I can eat (and stuff is reformulated all the time, so you can't exactly figure it out once and forget it).

Putting the two things together means I end up spending a lot of time in the kitchen. We're a healthy family, and eat lots of vegetables... always have... but making sure a male in his early 20s who doesn't eat animal anything gets enough protein means I had some research to do.

I'm managing pretty well. We're eating a lot of beans these days, and I've figured out ways to cook tofu so that it is actually edible (sorry tofu lovers, but I've never been a fan). I even made my own seitan, which is a high-protein meat substitute made with wheat gluten. My kid actually loves it (but it is a bit time consuming. Luckily it freezes well, so I'll make a big batch and have enough to last a few weeks).

Thing is, I also want to have a life and create some art. While cooking can be fun, there are days when I just want to be able to throw something healthy together in less than a half hour and be done with it. I've figured out a few of those as well. A family favourite is Nasi Goreg... or Indonesian fried rice, based on a recipe I found online (there's a youtube video here, should you be curious). The chef, Gaz Oakley (who has some amazing recipe videos should you be interested in learning to cook vegan), claims this is a "15-minute meal". Takes me that long just to get all the vegetables chopped and the rice on. I first made it his way and it really does taste better, but it took me closer to 45 minutes. So I've altered a few things to speed it up a bit, and this is what I make on nights my art group meets or I have a painting in progress I really want to get to. I put the rice on first or use leftover rice if I've got it (leftovers actually work better.. the rice is dryer so fries up at the end better), and everything is done quick like a bunny.

I'm going to include the recipe here, since I have altered it from the original. I've included a link above to Gaz's youtube video, so you can see how easy it is to make it the original way. Just because I can't be bothered to make my own Sambal doesn't mean it's difficult.

Vegan Nasi Goreg

2 cups Long Grain Rice
3 tbs Simbal (I use the rooster brand that I get in the asian section of the supermarket. Apparently, it's widely available, though it took me a while to find it. It's just chili paste. We like medium hot... you could use more if you like it really hot)
sesame oil
5 cloves garlic, because we really like garlic and I'm not making my own simbal
1 Onion, sliced
a couple carrots, sliced
1 cup Peas, defrosted
1 Red Pepper, sliced
some green beans, chopped
whatever other veggies i have in the fridge that are in danger of rotting. You can put anything in this dish and it really irks me to throw out food
Handful Toasted Cashews
3 tbs or so of Soy Sauce. I actually don't measure. I just pour it on till it looks right.
Vegan Protein... Tofu cubes or cubed seitan is usually what goes in for us

Put your rice on, heat up your pan or wok
I usually put a tsp of veg oil in, then add my simbal and let it cook for a minute or so
Throw in your veggies, starting with the ones that cook longest. So, onions and garlic first, carrots, peppers, whatever... peas last.
Sometimes I'll brown my tofu or setien in another pan, sometimes I'll throw it in at the beginning. Seems to be fine either way, but crispier if browned separately. Probably because I have two pans to monitor, and I'm just not that good at multitasking, so it sits longer. Or it could be my cast iron frying pan. I love that thing.
When the veg looks cooked I'll add my rice and soy sauce and add a drizzle of sesame oil. Then toss it all together and let it brown up a bit.

That's it, all done. And it's really delicious. Give it a try on your meatless Monday.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Where the Music Came From: Working through Depression with Art

"Building Theologies of Metal and Earth", 10x10" mixed media on 1.5" wood cradle panel. Available.
There was a time in my life when I was a really unhappy person. Around that time, we had just discovered that even though I was able to produce one perfect little being, the process was something that could never be repeated. And because of issues with childcare, I was working part-time on an afternoon shift where I got very little sleep and even less social contact (with the exception of my son, who was a joy, but talking to an adult now and then may have helped my mental state). I also have an issue with chronic pain, and for a while that pain seemed pretty unbearable. That on it's own was pretty exhausting. Sleep deprived, feeling like crap, and being the primary care-giver to a young child left very little time or energy for the pursuit of things like art, so like a responsible adult, I put my paints away and settled in for a life centred around taking care of other people's needs.

After a few years of this... and the chronic exhaustion that came along for the ride, my doctor put me on an anti-depressant, sent me to a psychologist, and gave me a reading list of books that might help me out. I tried desperately to remember things I enjoyed... before. Music had been a huge part of my life up until all this had happened. I had played a couple instruments, and had recorded music playing all the time. I decided this would be a starting point, and from there I eventually found my way back to my art, and through a lot of trial and error, figured out a way to make it work within in the constraints of my life.

"Chasing the Gypsy", 16x20" Acrylic on Canvas. Available.
My series of musician and dancer paintings evolved naturally. I had started drawing again, and gotten into art journaling while listening to music. Learning to work intuitively, I found jazz led me to paint bright, happy images and made me feel better over all, so I continued with it until I found my groove. By the time the series was done (which consisted of about 50 paintings in all), I was pretty much back to my old self and excited about life again.

These days, whenever I feel like I just can't deal, I head into the studio. It has not only become a regular part of my life, it is the way I express everything. I have art journals and sketchbooks that I work in when I only have limited time, and I work on my larger pieces at least a couple times a week.

With everything that's been going lately, it feels like the world is on a path to self destruction. Between the fires in Australia and last week's events in Iran, it would be easy to slide into pessimism and darkness. One of my coworkers at my day job had people on that plane, so it's hit a bit close to home for me. Every one of us has been shaken up... it's been a little too easy to imagine what it would be like to be standing in her shoes. How does one even begin to support someone in that situation? It's so tragic... I imagine it will take her years to recover some semblance of normalcy, if she ever does.

There have been numerous studies focused around how creating helps people heal from trauma and loss.  I hope, eventually, my coworker finds her way to some kind of healing, and if I can help with that by giving a little creative guidance, I will.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Where to find Inspiration

"Between Deception and Truth", 8x10" mixed media on wood. Private Collection.

Anyone else find winter completely draining? I'm pretty sure my problem is the lack of light from the really short days. The freezing rain/snow/ice combination doesn't help, because even when i can get outside during the daylight hours, I don't want to. There were quite a few years where I would just kinda shut down during this time, and not paint at all. That just made the situation worse, so I don't do that anymore. Instead I bought myself a big-ass sunlamp and plunked it on my studio table, so when I work I can kinda feel like i'm sitting in the sun. It helps.

I remember when I set out to make the move from dabbler to professional artist I talked to a gallery curator about what they expected from their artists. He told me he expected new work on a regular basis, and a working professional painter should be producing around 50 paintings a year. I thought he was joking. At that time I don't think i had 50 paintings all together. It's been the better part of a decade now and I've done 40 or so a year for the last couple years. Most are small, but when I started my main concern was how the hell I would be able to come up with ideas for that many pieces, every single year???

I've found it's not as hard as you would think. Here are a few ideas that have helped me.

Work in a Series

If you have been following my work for a while, you will have noticed that I have different series. My musician/dancers totalled about 50 paintings and spread over a couple years. Then I did the portraits... there were 12 of those. When I moved on to the movement abstracts, I did one after another, each one taking an element from the one before. The landscapes numbered about 35 before I went back to abstract ( I'll go back to those, but not just yet). My 100 square project is 100! Even with these black and whites I'm now on about my 15th. I regularly have about 5 going at a time, usually in a similar colour scheme so I can switch from one to the other when I get stuck. As long as I have something "in progress", I'm good to go.

Carry A Notebook

I carry a notebook in my purse. I used to keep a sketchbook with me... sometimes I still do, but I what I found I used it for was mostly for jotting down things that came to mind while I was doing something else and not for actual sketching. The one I carry is quite small, about the size of my phone, that I got at the dollar store. I have pages of one word things like "butterflies", or "golden yellow and deep blue". Notes about some interesting thing I stumbled upon. And little line drawings that mean nothing to anyone else but get turned into abstract paintings. I know that if I'm ever stuck, I can get out this notebook, flip to a random page, and have somewhere to start. I've got a pile of them now, in a box in my closet. I keep them because every time I do a major clean and get to the box, I flip through them and re-discover things I had forgotten all about. It can send me off in an interesting, new direction.

Figure out what you like

You'd think this would be self explanatory, but it actually isn't that easy. I love abstract art, but not all abstract art. I like big spaces and loose lines and bright colours combined with neutrals. I also love realism but don't have the patience to do that. I tried it, and hated every minute. Everyone has a different thing that turns their crank... I have a photographer friend who focuses on macros of small natural details. That's her thing, and they are awesome. Her other stuff is good, but those detail shots are amazing. I know when i'm bored by my work it will always show and it's time to move on to the next thing. It may drive collectors crazy, but it keeps me interested.

Nurture your other interests

I like to read. I read everything... novels, history books, political magazines, whatever. I also like to go hiking, and I enjoy kayaking. Sometimes those other things work their way into my paintings one way or another. Many of my landscapes are based on places I've been during these excursions and have found inspiring. Even my abstracts are based on things I've discovered while i've been out in the world. Titles can be plucked from a book i'm reading or music i'm listening to . What I'm getting at is that painting does not exist in a vacuum. It is a reflection of the artist, and what I love about life will show up in my work. If I'm obsessed with Egyptian mythology, why would that not provide me some interesting inspiration for my painting? Likewise, if you've all but forgotten about the world around you, your work will eventually all start to feel the same. You've got to fill that inspirational well, or it might just run dry.

Hope this helps my artist friends out there. I think writing about stuff I wish i had know when i was starting my creative journey is an avenue I'm going to explore this year. I still sometimes figure things out and wonder how the hell I managed to be not know this thing after so many years in the art world. It's the "well, everyone knows that, right?" assumption... the answer is usually no.

I'm probably not going to go back to a weekly schedule on this blog.... I'll likely keep to a bi-weekly or monthly post. The break has done me good, but as the world has moved away from the blogging universe to podcasts and videos, there doesn't seem to be much need for me to add my voice here. I do post on social media pretty regularly though, so if you are interested in following what I'm doing that's always an option.

Hope everyone's 2019 ended on a lovely note. I'll see you more often in 2020. Here's to a new decade!