art process, Body of Work, Inspiration for Making Art, My process, studio practice, Uncategorized

Linking studio to community

My last post was an exercise in reflection of the year just past, to find themes and threads that linked my art—or demonstrated its evolution—from January through December. (A Janus look at 2019’s work) Now it’s time to peer into the mysteries that lie ahead.

Of course, it’s impossible to see the future clearly. But I’ve found a helpful tool that gives me guidance, a signpost of sorts for life as I would like it to be. For several years now, I’ve chosen a theme for the New Year. The year my husband died, I chose “Simplicity. ” It was obviously a time of grieving, accompanied by dozens of details related to doing life without my soulmate. So many decisions I had to make that year were in uncharted territory. But “Simplicity” kept me focused on making healthy choices for myself as I navigated my changed circumstances.

“Practice” became my 2019 theme. (Putting the practice into my studio practice) Practice offers substantial rewards—confidence and opportunity come to mind. All the hours spent sketching, drawing, painting, taking classes—in general, putting in the studio time—meant that if I anchored myself in a student frame of mind, I couldn’t help but improve. It’s a natural consequence. Just as regular exercise benefits the body, regular practice of the artistic disciplines produces benefits as well. Through repeated effort, my style and voice would evolve and express itself more authentically. Through repeated effort, my skills would advance. Through repeated effort, the next stage of my life as an artist would reveal itself.

To think I’m done with practice would be self-destructive. A commitment to lifelong learning never hurt anybody, and the lack of it serves no one. But with practice as a given, where do I go now?

Practice is internal, solitary and quiet—at least when viewed from the outside. It’s time to balance that, an inner voice tells me. Yin needs yang. White needs black. Savory needs sweet. So after some consideration, “Community Connections” is my 2020 theme. Why? Because it faces outward. Because it’s not so quiet. And because it includes others. I already see hints of this motif beginning to animate itself in my life. I don’t know what’s in store, but I’m looking forward to where this year will take me. I can’t wait to experience the ways in which my community and I will interact in 2020. I’m pumped!

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A Janus look at 2019’s work

January inspires reflection and anticipation. I’m reminded of January’s namesake, the Roman god Janus, known for sporting two faces on one head, one face looking back to the past, the other forward to the future. This time of the year, we’re all Janus, aren’t we? This post will have a looking-back theme, specifically regarding the progression of my work during the past year.

Early last year, I responded to an inner calling to include figures in my paintings, to express universal narratives. (You can read the backstory here.) The transition from abstract work was awkward and clunky as I felt my way through the challenges and joys of figurative painting, but it was a rewarding one. It gave me focus and the opportunity to infuse the work with my DNA.

I chose works from each quarter of the year to represent studio activity at the time. These three are from the January, February and March of 2019. I choose to keep my figures symbolic and archetypal; the faces are obscured or indistinct to communicate universal experiences. Colors pop against each other; backgrounds are abstract and expressive, with collage animating the surface.

Human in Transit
Yellow Hat: Study


The representative paintings from April, May and June (below) show that collage and intense color remain consistent elements. My figures remain symbolic, but I’m dipping my toes into the pool of portraiture. The self-portrait is one of the first I’ve done in several years, serving as a refresher course on observational work. I discover Caran d’Ache crayons during this period, which give me tools for making marks. Self Portrait and Morning Coffee both have mark-making in the backgrounds. In Morning Coffee, the outlining of the figure appears here for the first time. I notice an attraction to the effects of light and shadow on the face and figure.

Pink Hoodie

Morning Coffee

Self Portrait with Orange Scarf

Works from July, August and September (below) show a continuation of the archetypal figure as well as a continuing interest in the human face. Faces and figures in ambiguous backgrounds are a solid part of my studio practice by now. I’m becoming more intentional about outlining both face and figure. The line flattens the subject in space and conveys a sense of universality. I begin to include the use of vintage black and white reference snapshots in my processes, as I did in Desert Visitor. (Reaching into the family archives.) Mark-making and patterned collage elements animate the backgrounds and help reveal the subject’s personality.

Costa Rican Boy

During October, November and December, I continue to mine a rich collection of family snapshots, while also looking for evocative faces and gestures in everyday life. I stumbled over corrugated cardboard as a painting surface (From waste to obsession). A trip to Caprock Canyon brought Texas iconography to the fore after a long absence, bringing surface and subject together in Quitaque Cowboy and Where’s My Horse? Revealing the cardboard’s fluting adds a rough texture that makes my heart happy. In Before I Knew Her, (read previous blog) I use crayons again for expressive mark-making combined with collage for a lively background. A tiny black and white snapshot inspires Fleeting Moments where I’m learning to use acrylic paint markers as possible replacements of Caran d’Ache crayons for making marks. The contrasts of light and shadow continue to appear.

I hope you’ll forgive the navel-gazing, but channeling of Janus by looking backward was instructional and affirming for me. I’m seeing direction and focus that doesn’t ignore my experimental nature. It will be fun to perform this same exercise January 2021. Do you notice something I didn’t? I’d love to read your comments.

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From waste to obsession

Sometimes I become thoroughly fascinated with a new art supply. Cardboard is my latest love. I’m enamored with ordinary, common, boring corrugated cardboard—as a painting surface. I know, I know, it won’t last forever; it’s acidic; and it’s obvious I didn’t order it from mypriceyartsupplystore.com. But it’s become a favorite of mine. And it all started as a response to over-packaging and the gift-wrapping of my leftovers.

Out-of-town friends had come to visit, and since they’re from another part of the country, another friend and I decide to take them to the Reata, an iconic Fort Worth restaurant known for its high-end classy ranch food. Very Cowtown. Proportions are generous, to say the least, and a good time is had by all. Unable to clean up my huge veggie plate in one sitting, I ask to take the leftovers home. They disappear to the kitchen, and then reappear at the table in a sleek black Styrofoam clamshell box. That box is encased in a lovely, brand-conscious, corrugated cardboard sleeve. I accept it as graciously as possible—it does feel like a gift–take it home, and polish off the veggies the next day.

Now my leftovers have a leftover. The unrecyclable clamshell goes into the trash, but the cardboard sleeve remains. It seems a shame to toss it after such a laudable but overzealous branding effort. My first instinct is to paint something on it, which I do. It’s just for fun, but the exercise assuages my guilt for participating in this snippet of annoying consumer culture.

ReataCardboard-sm

I disassembled the cardboard sleeve and flattened both sides, then made it up as I applied paint, just enjoying the process.

Lest I sound too self-righteous, I must admit I’m as much of a consumer as any other American; this made evident by the packages that land on my porch from time to time. It appears to be a reliable supply chain. Over the next few weeks, I begin to chop up the cartons into various sizes, stash them on my art cart, and start playing.

I discover how much I enjoy the feel of paint on the brown paper surface, the way the ribs show through, the mid-tone color of the Kraft paper. I like the way the stenciled words and numbers sometimes peek out from behind the paint. I delight in peeling away the paper skin to reveal the fluted layer underneath. Acrylics and mixed media work well on the surface, but pastels and colored pencils are compatible too. It even does double duty as a way to clean my brushes. While it hasn’t replaced cradled wood panels as a mixed media surface, for now, corrugated cardboard is my go-to base for small studies. Here are a few. (These and other works can be see in person at my Dec. 7 Art & Hospitality Happy Hour. See details here.)

WomanKnitting-lr

Woman Knitting. Acrylic on 6″ x 6″ cardboard.

CowboyPointing-lr

Cowboy Pointing. Acrylic on 6″ x 6″ cardboard.

WomanWithCup-lr

Woman With Cup. Acrylic on 6″ x 6″ cardboard.

Cowboy-lr-sm

Quitaque Cowboy. Acrylic on 10″ x 10″ cardboard.

I eye my deliveries differently now, checking for box damage, scuffs, and tape, evaluating packages as potential art supplies. Stop. I know what you’re thinking. “I’ll save all my boxes for Laura.” Uh, no thank you. They pile up all too quickly. So dream up a second use. Religiously recycle. Make a sculpture. You could even paint on them. Maybe you too will join the Corrugated Cardboard Fan Club!

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All art is copyrighted by Laura Hunt, and may not be reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

 

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About the Painting, art process, Body of Work, elements of art, Inspiration for Making Art, My process, Uncategorized

Reaching into the family archives

I have long had a fascination with the family photographs nested in repurposed shoeboxes—men standing next to horses or cars; sisters posing together on the porch; my hat-wearing uncles standing in a row, from tallest to shortest; youthful flappers mugging for the camera. These snapshots tell of a different time, true, but it’s the humanity of the subjects that makes them so compelling and relatable. I’m drawn to them not just for the family history they represent, but also for the mystery of how things were before I was born.

Some of the figures are clearly identified, others I can only guess at. Either way, I am moved to honor their one-time presence on earth by using some of the snapshots as painting references. This image of a man holding a little boy while standing ankle deep in the waves is one I’ve always loved.

It is a mystery. Who is the man? Who is the toddler? Where are they? My hunch is that it’s my father with my much-older brother, but it could have been an uncle and a cousin. The features are not clear, but even if they were, family facial characteristics were widely shared, making positive identification uncertain. Those who would know are gone.

The site may be Gulf of Mexico at Galveston. Definitely not the ocean on either coast. The farmers in my family hadn’t the means to travel so far from their Texas homes. But a case could be made for Padre Island, since one branch of the family lived—and still lives–in the lower Rio Grande Valley, an easy day trip to the island.

With those questions still unanswered, I began to ponder the symbolism that could be drawn, and how I could express that. The universality of the story stands out. The rolling surf intimidates the little one. The father rolls up his khaki legs, scoops the boy up and wades into the water. They turn to face the camera, someone snaps the picture, and its grainy black-and-whiteness offers this gift to later generations.

I decide to create two interpretations of the image. For both, I focus on the father-son relationship by choosing a vertical format that minimizes the water. One composition closes in tightly on the figures. I paint the sky dark, a dramatic contrast to the hats and white shirts. Looming clouds hint of a threat that brings out the father’s protectiveness. I use a limited palette of yellow ocher, Payne’s gray, titanium white, and a hint of turquoise. Some dot-patterned collage elements and pastel crayons animate the waves. I title this one “Deep Into Fatherhood.”

 

For the second painting, I move a little farther back, allowing the sea behind the figures to establish the setting. I flip the background values, dark on bottom and light on top. Here I imagine the boy has never seen the ocean. There’s delight in the sight and sound of waves. The dad stands strong and ankle deep in the constantly swirling surf. The sky is bright—no storm clouds here. It’s time to enjoy the moment. I stick to the limited palette and use collage elements and pastel crayon to express motion in the summer clouds and the water. I name this one “First Trip to the Beach.”

I have more images from the family photo treasure chest that tug at my heart. I’ll delve into more of them in future posts.

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All art is copyrighted by Laura Hunt, and may not be reproduced without express written permission.

 

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Viewing art, Viewing art in person

Five reasons to see art in person

With the Internet and its progeny, social media, entrenched into our daily lives, images greet us at every turn. And images related to the fine art world are a ubiquitous part of that ecosystem. Not only does every serious artist have a website where digital reproductions can be viewed and purchased, there are large libraries of both historical and modern masters to be found at the drop of a search term. Add to that the use of Instagram and Facebook to disseminate artists’ work, and it’s safe to say we see far more art on the Internet than we do in real life.

Even art competitions gather entries digitally. Here’s an excerpt from a typical Call for Entries:

Work will be juried from images submitted only through the gallery’s online submission website. Images must be JPEGs with a minimum width/height of 800 pixels, maximum size 3MB.

Jurors of art competitions decide whose work is accepted or rejected. Chosen for their credentials and reputation in the art community, they base decisions on factors that include consistency across the works, the quality of the art, and the “wow factor,” all of which they must ascertain from “JPEGs with a minimum width/height of 800 pixels, maximum size 3MB”. Even in a world where visual literacy is highly valued, pixels are the standard.

I’m not writing to denounce the pixel as our main means of viewing and enjoying art. My practice has benefited from the electronic and digital tools integral to 21st century life. Hundreds, even thousands of potential art collectors can see a new work seconds after I’ve uploaded an image while sitting at a desk in my air-conditioned workplace. Instead, I want to encourage the direct engagement with art. Here are some of the benefits from seeing the work in person:

1. A truer color experience. Screens slightly skew colors. That’s because screens rely on three colors, red, green and blue, to communicate color through a sort of pointillist method. For example, a tiny red pixel next to a tiny blue pixel will mix in your eyes to be perceived as purple. When you see a painting in person, there are no pixels translating for you. I’ve often had studio visitors comment that the work is more beautiful in person than on the screen. When there is no barrier between you and the artist’s intent, the experience is direct, personal and immediate. And all the color your eye can perceive is before you.

2. A deeper sense of texture and form. Digital photographs struggle to convey it. For many artists, texture is a primary element of their work. They want you to feel it (with your eyes and your heart, not your hands), the ridges and valleys, the brushstrokes, the odd materials and the joy—or angst—that form the work.  The sculptor wants you to walk around the work and understand its three-dimensionaity. Even when the artist’s style includes the smooth application of the media, that too, is better in person. Smoothness is a texture.

3. The opportunity to ask questions. You may be led through an exhibit by a museum docent. You may visit an art festival or an opening at a gallery. You may attend an open studio event. Someone there has insight into what you are seeing, eager to answer your questions. Even when it’s work you’re not attracted to, experiencing art in person deepens your understanding of it. It engages you with the art, the artist, and the culture we swim in.

JesseandMeStudio

4. A catalyst for social interaction. While it can be a beginning, visiting art websites is not conducive to building relationships. You’re likely to do it alone. You’re stuck with your own ideas about the sculpture or painting. No matter how profound, your ideas are better shared where they can enhance a discussion. Even on social media, comments tend to be brief. It’s not that insightful remarks don’t occur, but dialogue is limited, body language and inflection non-existent. Instead, imagine a live conversation in front of a Gauguin at your local art museum where you ponder out loud with a friend the implications of leaving your family for a faraway island to paint. Now there’s an issue to grapple with!

GalleryCrowd

5. The sense of the maker’s presence. It was on a museum visit many years ago that I first encountered this phenomenon. Standing in front of a painting by Picasso in a San Antonio museum, I suddenly was overcome by the thought that I stood in relation to the painting exactly where the long-deceased artist would have stood while painting it. For one intimate, chill-bumped moment, I was not just swept back in time, but also attuned to the mortality of the artist and the relative immortality of the art. Seeing Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring affected me similarly. These moments will not come to you digitally.

Now, go see that museum exhibit. Take the docent-led tour so a real human can guide you. Make that open studio your date night. Listen to what other visitors say, engage with the artist and spend time with the work. Visit the art festival that comes to your city every year, and converse with artists whose work you enjoy. And instead of asking them how long it took to create the work (answer: a lifetime), ask what inspired them to make it. Their answers will enlighten you. Most importantly, let art engagement on the screen lead to art experiences in real life.

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All art is copyrighted by Laura Hunt, and may not be reproduced without express written permission.

 

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About the Painting, art process, elements of art, Pattern in art, studio practice, Uncategorized

Why collage?

It’s likely that one of your early art creations as a child was a collage. As teenager or adult, you may have created a vision board from stacks of magazines. Armed with glue stick and scissors, you searched, cut and glued until you achieved a representation of your ideas. Collage—what an accessible and enjoyable medium!

The word comes from the French word “coller,” meaning “to glue.” Pablo Picasso and his cohort Georges Braque were among the first to make serious use of paper or wood elements in their work. They opened the door for other artists to use this versatile technique. You might enjoy learning about later collage artists here.

I love collage, too. During one period of my art career, I created illustrations and greeting cards entirely from cut paper glued to illustration board. Cowboy Ballerina became part of a poster celebrating the Texas Sesquicentennial. (Even back in the 90s, I must have had a thing for polka dots.)

CutPaperBallerina-wp

Cowtown Ballerina

When I turned to watercolor as my preferred medium, it seemed only natural to lay down strips of vintage maps over the paint as I explored mixing my media. Aspen Energy surprises and entertains by using map strips for tree trunks in a grove.

Abstract watercolor painting, aspen trees, blue, silver, green, vintage maps, stamping, aspen trees

Aspen Energy (in private collection)

In 2015 I began working in acrylics. It’s no surprise that collage elements appeared in this work as well. I create most of my own collage elements, plotting out checks, dots, lines and other patterns, sometimes on white paper, at other times on paper in hues compatible with the color palette. Vintage maps still appear from time to time too, as well as old images from my family collection of photos.

So what’s the appeal of collage? While it’s largely an intuitive choice for me, there must be something behind that, so I began to consider what collage brings to the work. You may have other ideas, so you’re invited to add to the discussion. I’ll start with these three.

Collage brings the opportunity for abstraction. Laying on patterns at any phase of the painting compels me to think more deeply about not just the composition but also how the patterns contribute symbolically to the work. Rather than painting parts of the composition, I prefer the surprise and expressiveness collage endows. In Red Terrain, overlapping stripes suggest gullies and rocks. In Yellow Hat, patterns bring to mind tote bags and architectural features.

19511 Red Terrain Pro-lo-wp

Red Terrain (details here)

19518 Yellow Hat-Study-lo

Yellow Hat (details here)

Collage equals experimentation. Paper scraps can be shifted around and tested before committing. Do stripes work better than dots? Are checkerboard patterns the best choice? Would a strip of a vintage map work well here? In Coffee for Two, the answer is “all of the above.”

19521 Coffee For Two-Study-lo

Coffee for Two (details here)

Collage contributes tactile qualities. Paint applied to a surface is obviously a tangible material. The layering on of other elements such as paper patterns, vintage maps or even strips of acrylic skin ramp up the texture and materiality of the art. In Summer Peak, strips of maps and patterns plus rough handling of paint played the dominant role in deepening the experience of ruggedness.

19526 Summer Peak-Study-lo

Summer Peak (details here)

Are you a collage lover? What is your favorite work of art that uses this expressive technique? Share its appeal for you in the comments below. And thanks for reading.

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Inspiration for Making Art, Uncategorized

A ladder and two kids

I recently traveled to The Netherlands. Although the timing was right for tulip season, it was also the perfect trip for an art nerd. Of the seven museums my traveling companion and I visited, five of them were art museums. From Van Gogh to Vermeer to Rembrandt to Banksy, inspiration greeted us at every turn. But inspiration finds us in unexpected places as well. In one instance, the source is framed by the bicycle culture of Amsterdam and a pick-pocketed passport.

Yes, on the third day of the trip, a ride on an over-crowded tram resulted in an empty purse pocket and unplanned outings to the police department and the U.S. Consulate. As I waited for step two of the process of obtaining a temporary passport (just in case I decided not to stay in the EU), I fell into conversation with other Americans in similar situations. One such individual was a young expat who had moved to The Netherlands to be with her Dutch husband. I asked her what were the biggest adjustments she had to make as she learned to live there. I was especially curious about adapting to the way people move—on two wheels. “It was very hard at first,” she replied. “But now I can ride a bicycle carrying a ladder and two kids.”

Yes, the Dutch do seemingly impossible everyday tasks on bicycles. Not only is it a way to ably cope with living in a densely populated country, it also keeps the air clean and, I dare say, contributes to good health. Cycling there is not just for the under-30 crowd; young and old alike cross the canals and navigate the streets, living their daily lives on two wheels.

bikesoncanal

View from the canal

bikeparkingNL

Double-decker bike parking

I laugh as I picture the young woman with the ladder and two kids on a bike! But I also consider how often I face something in the studio that appears impossible. “I can’t save this painting.” “It’s impossible to make the painting look like what’s in my head.” “I’ll never be able to paint a figure as well as (fill in name of current artist hero).”

I imagine she endured some of her own negative self-talk as she learned to make bicycle transportation a natural part of her life. I’ll bet she practiced. A lot. And now it’s second nature. So the lesson for me is, keep practicing. Paint that figure over and over. Explore that theme over and over. Experiment with that color palette over and over. One day, it will all become second nature, and I’ll be able to carry my artist’s equivalent of a ladder and two kids on a bike.

See related post: Putting the “practice” into my studio practice

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