studio practice

Best moments of 2018

For the past few years, I’ve written an annual review of my studio practice. Having come to this career from one in marketing and graphic design, it appealed to my business side. Parts of it are pretty nerdy–stats on website visits, social media followers, works produced and sold, emails and blogs written, etc. Metrics are important. For example, I was happy to learn that sales for 2018 exceeded those of 2017. That doesn’t mean I’ll be taking a globe-circling trip anytime soon, but I’ve already signed up for a workshop from my favorite famous artist-teacher.

While metrics can range from disappointing to revealing to encouraging, they don’t fill the heart. Writing the annual review does bring other important things into focus, moments I may have forgotten until prompted. That’s what I’d like to share with you today. Here are my three favorite art moments from 2018:

Moment #1. Caught by Green Lines and Pink

Green Lines and Pink-lo

I’ve read several biographies of Georgia O’Keeffe’s fascinating life, and am familiar with her most famous published works. Having enjoyed exhibits of her work at Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Dallas Museum of Art, and Chicago Institute of Art, I’ve been exposed to her well-known body of work. I expected no surprises when visiting the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, last summer. Yet, surprised I was when I encountered this painting, Green Lines and Pink, oil on canvas, 1919. I returned to it several times during my visit, wondering why I had never seen it before. Maybe it was just the novelty, or the sense of discovery. Her subtle gradations, the two sensuous  spheres caught in the folds, the simplicity of the composition, the mystery—all of this caused me to stop for a moment of reverence and wonder.

Moment #2. Practice Matters

practicing

I wrote about this in a previous blog, “Putting the practice into my studio practice.” It’s such a simple but profound concept, to grant permission to make mistakes, to try that same composition or concept again, to see what happens if I paint the same thing again and again. This acknowledges that not every work is wonderful, not every work is worthy of a slot in my inventory. Some will go in the trash or get painted over or end up on the collage materials stack. Some may never see the light of day. Practice must be a significant part of my creative journey. It helps me hone the craft, to be more discerning. I’m grateful for that moment of realization.

Moment #3. Art Builds Community

During the hubbub of one of my studio events, I was struck by the buzz of diverse conversations in the room. People shared their interpretations of the work, what they saw, and why they were attracted to it. Not all interactions were about art, but about everyday ideas and ordinary life activity. New relationships began, old friendships renewed, and guests from all walks of life united in this one social moment–with art the vehicle that brought them together. (Free wine may have helped.) Art has the power to create experiences to be shared by those in its presence. It was powerful enough to make it to my top three favorite moments.

Looking in the rear view mirror holds lessons and insights that inspire me to look forward. I wonder what 2019’s annual review will reveal?

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All Laura Hunt’s art is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without express written permission. Copyright 2018 Laura Hunt

 

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Body of Work, Inspiration for Making Art, My process, Uncategorized

Knowing when to stop

Most of my paintings over the past several years have been abstract, in fact, very much so. They fall into the category of “non-objective abstract” paintings. So what does that mean? Basically, it means the artist does not have objects from the tangible world in mind, but rather is using color, line, texture, and form either as ends in themselves or as the means for expressing an idea. (I don’t know if that definition is acceptable to an art historian, but it works for me.) The viewer may find in the art a hint of the real world, and choose to interpret it with that in mind, but the artist does not necessarily have that intent.

My paintings Strong and Submerged are good examples. Both paintings leave the viewer on her own to find meaning, although the titles are fine clues as to intent. Cliffside is another work that perhaps implies “real” content by the title, but it’s expression, not depiction. I’ve long felt a strong connection to the abstract expressionists, like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell, among others.

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Cliffside

Recently I’ve painted works that could be labeled as “objective abstraction.” In them, it seems obvious that I’ve chosen tangible subject matter, flowers or mesas, for example, but the objects are simplified. While the colors and shapes may or may not be representational of the actual subject, the viewer has no trouble identifying it. Pink Flowers on Green Table couldn’t be much clearer as to content, but realistic detail is at a minimum. Desert Sentinels is obviously a landscape, but again, the effort is to keep details to a minimum while creating the ambience of the stark, lonely desert. One could make an argument that these paintings are tied to the school of Impressionism, but since I don’t regard myself as an impressionist painter, I’m sticking with objective abstraction if attaching a genre is necessary.

I’m distinguishing between the two types of work in order to set up a problem I’ve recognized. Here it is: when painting non-objective works like Strong and Submerged, I know when the painting is done. It’s done when I’ve gone through my process and the end result pleases me. There may be some twists and turns before arriving, but I seldom micro-manage the final stage. No temptation to niggle with the details. I know when I’m done.

This is so much harder to do with tangible content that I want to break down to its essence. Simplification, it seems, is hard. Sometimes I use my own photographic references intending to create a very spare interpretation of, for example, a landscape. That’s how it begins. But as the work progresses, resisting the temptation to add detail is a battle of the wills. One voice whispers, “Over there. Add some green. Maybe a bush or a crevice. Yeah, that’ll make it better.” Then the other voice shouts, “Stop! Stop right where you are! You’re ruining it!”

The second voice is right. At least it’s right for me. I am not a realistic or photorealistic artist. Those are admirable schools of art, but going down the path of adding detail atop detail does not produce works that are true to my heart, that give me joy. My challenge is to forget the reference and let imagination and memory, however hazy, lead the way. The goal is to make a good painting, not to reproduce what’s in front of me.

A wise mentor has said, “Stop when the painting is 90% complete.” Listening to the second voice, recognizing when I reach that place, require self-awareness, sharpened intuitiveness, and growth. I welcome all three.

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Body of Work, Inspiration for Making Art, My process, Uncategorized

Explaining myself

The monsoon season is here. Not that monsoons are a regular thing here in north Texas, but this year’s hurricanes have dumped more than the usual share of sogginess. That, combined with a premature cold front, makes it a pretty good day to be inside making art. Except for one thing. The studio is undergoing some sprucing up; it behooves me to stay out of the contractor’s way and allow him to toil away without my interference. So today, blog-writing it is.

Writing forces me to articulate the internal and external forces that influence, motivate, or get in the way of making art. I seem to find it helpful to explain myself to myself, thus this blog. In doing so, questions arise, like this one. What is it about a new material or surface that pulls me in? There are artists who have painted in one medium, say watercolor or oils, their entire artistic lives. They’ve fallen in love with it, and remain faithful. Because their focus is so sharp, they have become masters of the medium, liberating them to seriously play with content, subject matter, or another element of the process. It’s a respectable and honorable way to do art.

Part of me envies that focus. Don’t get me wrong. My studio habits are pretty good—I show up almost every day. And I can identify common threads in the work—linear elements, long flowing arcs, implied or actual texture, patterns, nature, a strong color palette. I’ve worked with acrylics and mixed media on canvas, not exclusively, although consistently, since 2014 now. But the siren call of an exciting new art supply is hard to ignore.

Metallic paint, for example, contributes spark to a work, and I continue to use it often. But when I tried metal leaf, its properties surprised me, the process engaged me, and the results felt so worth the learning curve. Even though I’m not a traditional artist, working with gold leaf connects me to the makers of gilded frames and religious icons of the past.

 

18461 Submerged-pro-sm-wp

I covered the whole background of Submerged with gold leaf, then painted over parts while leaving others exposed.

 

Canvases are typically rectangular or square. No problem with that. But when I saw the potential of painting on ceramic plates, holding back was not an option. The orb has its own presence, a sense of completeness in itself. Using a familiar process on circular concave surfaces resulted in works that make me smile.

18431 String Theory S-lo-wp

The String Theory series employs stencils, metallic paint, and exuberant laying on of paint.

Then there’s acrylic on canvas, either alone or with other media, which has been a staple in my studio. Until recently, I hadn’t tried acrylic on paper. An enormous “aha” sprang from my core as this simple material opened the door to the concept of practice. (See Putting the “practice” in my studio practice) Now I understand better why the masters created numerous studies before attempting a larger painting. Although good paper is not cheap, it is more economical than canvas, so there’s less pressure to get it right the first time. I just simultaneously painted the same abstract landscape three times! I tried various approaches side-by-side, and each study taught me something I hope will lead to a compelling larger work.

So what about the assemblages? Where does that come from? I’ve always been drawn to interesting pieces of junk–the discarded arm of a chair or a metal artifact from an old machine. Re-purposing them appeals to my practical side, probably from a childhood of farm life where making do with what we had was an everyday thing. I also find that working in three-dimensions requires a bit of engineering, not my natural bailiwick. It’s exhilarating to meet that kind of challenge, and end up with something whimsical and quirky.

18423 Embrace-pro-wp

Embrace started with a discarded box, a weathered ax handle, and leftover wire and connectors.

That’s quite a bit of variation for one studio practice, but I’ll bet there are kindred spirits out there. Writing this tells me I’m not the kind of artist who is aiming to master a medium so much as master a way of being an artist. To me, that means experimentation, self-expression, and the joy of invention. Thanks for humoring my rainy day musings as I explain me to me.

 

 

 

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Body of Work, My process

Putting the “practice” into my studio practice

An online class led by an artist whose work I love and respect has turned my attention to the idea of practice. I found it illuminating that he warms up—practices–every day in the studio before turning to his serious paintings. After decades of being a successful artist, he still practices. Eight quick studies of a pear or a flower or a figure, each one different, but using the exercise to explore, to correct, to learn, casting off what doesn’t meet his standards.

That motivated some self-examination. How often have I plunged into a project headfirst, expecting the result to perfectly sync up with my vision, but wind up disappointed, not just in the painting, but in myself as well? My self-esteem plunges and I’ve squandered time and materials. My artist friend Betsy said, tongue firmly in cheek, “Well, every painting is a masterpiece.” That may be the intention, but how often do I fail to meet my own expectations? Calling it “practice” removes the pressure. Practicing on paper instead of pricey canvas helps.

18474 New Mexico Landscape Study 4-lo        18471 New Mexico Landscape Study 1-lo

New Mexico Landscape Study 4              New Mexico Landscape Study 1

Right now I’m on a practice binge inspired by my summer trip to New Mexico. (See previous blog: Why I took a class in textile dying.) I’ve immersed myself into abstract landscape painting. Although many of my previous abstracts have had a landscape heart with horizontal lines and shapes and references to the land, this is a road I haven’t traveled quite this way. I’ve been doing this for several weeks now, and there are some real clunkers (wa wa wa, descending scale), but I see something happening.

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Red Bluffs

So why do we resist practicing? (Only speaking for myself here. Kudos to you if you’re already dedicated to practicing.) Is it because practice reveals weaknesses? Oh. That’s the point. Practice builds skills. Practice breeds confidence. Practice improves results. Practice closes the gap between so-so and competent, even awesome. And practice assumes I’m going to improve.

So I’ve vowed to practice more. I will give myself time to self-evaluate. I’ll allow—and acknowledge–mistakes. (Let’s hope I notice the worst ones–and learn from them.) I’ll toss out the losers—or paint over them–without looking back. I’ll look for where I need correction or development. I’ll allow the idea to mature and evolve. And I’ll aim less for the masterpiece that for excellence and the pure joy of creating art.
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Join me on Facebook and Instagram for behind-the-scenes peeks and first postings of new work.

All art is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without express written permission. Copyright 2018 Laura Hunt

 

 

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Body of Work, Inspiration for Making Art, My process

Why I took a class in textile dying

Recently I responded to the call I felt to travel to Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico to take an art workshop and soak in the stunning landscape that inspired Georgia O/Keeffe during some of her most productive years.

GRSunset      KitchenMesa

My first trip in 2013, although art-related, had the larger purpose of healing after a traumatic life change. This time, my purpose was to learn something totally different from the painting and assemblage activities that occupy my studio time now. I signed up for “Tie Dye, Shibori, Batik and More,” taught by Valerie Bashaw, an accomplished fiber artist and teacher from Kansas City. I had no idea what lay ahead, but the description promised we would take home a completed piece. That sounded good. I was in.

Val shepherded our class of eight through the ins and outs of rust-dying with junky metal parts; tie-dying (It’s back, you know.); eco-dying using natural elements like flower petals, eucalyptus leaves, walnuts, turmeric, and even dead bugs (cochineal, to be precise); batik, which involves drawing or painting on the fabric with wax; and Shibori, a Japanese technique involving twisting or folding the fabric and binding it before dying. Some amazing work developed as we realized we could combine two or three techniques to create something quite beautiful. And as it turned out, Val over-delivered—all of us produced multiple dyed works, not just the one she promised. My takeaway? Twelve pieces! Not all were successful, but still, the week was productive indeed—and a little intense as well.

 

Several friends have asked, “Why did you take a fabric-dying class? Wouldn’t it have made sense to take the abstract painting class, since you’re an abstract painter?” Part one of the answer lies in how I’ve experienced creativity jumping across apparent divides. For example, reading a poem can trigger an idea for a painting’s color palette. Observing shapes, colors and textures of piles of junk just before heavy trash pickup day can inspire some intriguing photography. Creative thinking in one arena can activate the same in another.

Here’s part two of the answer. Stimulating your brain creates new neural pathways, I’m told. Although it’s uncomfortable at first, being a newbie can lead one down some adventurous roads. An amateur is someone who engages in an activity for pleasure rather than money, or one whose skills may not be of the highest caliber. I fit both definitions in this instance. But the origin of the word “amateur” is a French word for someone who has a “taste for” or a “love of” something. I was (and am) that kind of amateur too.

I’m anticipating a studio day soon when I go solo with some rust-dying (no Val to guide me), and ponder how to integrate the images into a painting or a 3-D work. It will require me to be curious, willing to stumble and make mistakes, unafraid to be an amateur. Such an exercise will nurture not just my artist’s heart, but my human spirit as well.

Now go try something you’ve never done before. Be an amateur.

Join me on Facebook and Instagram for behind-the-scenes peeks and first postings of new work.

All art is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without express written permission. Copyright 2018 Laura Hunt

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About the Assemblage, Inspiration for Making Art, My process, New Art

Transforming stuff: a process

Building assemblages requires a lot of stuff, stuff I collect at estate and garage sales, stuff friends give me when they’re cleaning out closets, stuff I find at my local recycling store, and even the stuff from my own kitchen drawers. Assemblage-building requires a good inventory of flotsam and jetsam, and there’s never quite enough.

foundobjects-lo    18447 book-Detail-

I’d recently collected several vintage books, one entitled When Yesterday Was Young. It became the “starter dough” for this three-dimensional piece. The doll parts made me think of childhood. I found two small wooden boxes, one a little larger than the other. The smaller one fit perfectly on top, and has such lovely dovetailed corners; I knew I had to use it. The doll’s head would fit great on top (with an armature for invisible support), but her long tresses had to go. A pearly pin became a tiara atop the new shorn hairdo that fit my vision. 18447flowers-Detail-To draw attention to the wonderful expression on the face, I created a background of sorts using part of a man’s paisley tie. Some things you can’t explain.

 

 

 

 

18447 heartprincessdetail

A heart-shaped box fit perfectly inside the bottom box. To further the idea of childhood dreams the book title hints at, I attached a smaller “princess” doll’s head inside and surrounded it with some dreamy vintage crocheted lace. The smaller box on top became a framed shadow box for some lovely flowers from an old costume jewelry piece. I attached red disks from an abacus-like toy to a dowel I had painted; this nicely filled the space between the top and bottom boxes. With boxes and book secured to each other, I painted a striped pattern around the front edge of the bottom box, relating it to the striped dowel and adding visual interest.

18447 marble-Detail-

I constructed armatures for the doll’s arms to secure them. Once attached, the arms begged to hold something. The large vintage marble in the right hand reminded me of the earth—big blue marble and all–and the sense of holding the future. That pleased me a lot! But the left hand needed something too; empty just didn’t feel right. My search ended when I found a little metal heart that may have been part of a necklace. It speaks of childlike love, open and ready to share.

18447 heartinhand-Detail

You can see the completed assemblage here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning how this piece came about. The process may sound simple, but it’s not nearly as clear-cut as it seems. There’s a lot of searching and digging for compatible and meaningful pieces that contribute to the concept. Sometimes a piece will stay incomplete on my workbench until the next step reveals itself, which may take days or even weeks. But it’s the discovery and surprises inherent in creating this type of work that make it so satisfying to my artist’s heart.

Join me on Facebook and Instagram for behind-the-scenes peeks and first postings of new work.

All art is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without express written permission. Copyright 2018 Laura Hunt

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My process

Beyond brushes

A stash of brushes, an oval-shaped palette and a pile of rags—they’re some of the time-tested tools that have served artists superbly over the centuries. I don’t see that changing. There will always be painters whose work style, preferred process or desired results make the traditionally-equipped tool kit an absolute necessity, and the culture is better for it.

Then there are artists who can’t help but depart from convention, whose drive to experiment leads them to unconventional tools. Although standard brushes and canvases are very much a part of my own reservoir, I’m drawn to many of the effects achieved with non-standard implements. I’ll share some of them with you today.

Cardboard scrapers

cardboardscrapers-wp    scraperexample-wp

Rectangles of various widths with their corrugated edges can create some juicy paint effects. I like to lay down squirts of two or three different colors, then scrape them across the surface I’m working on. It’s where the colors intermingle that the magic happens.

Squeeze bottles

squeezebottles-wp    squeezebottleexample-wp

(See finished painting here.)

Squeeze bottles–they’re not just for catsup any more. I use them to create long sweeping arcs and curves; sometimes I get a serendipitous splat when the bottle is almost empty. Recently I’ve produced my paint splatters with squeeze bottles and a quick flip of the wrist. There’s a degree of tension between control of the tool and not-so-much control: accidents can—and do—happen. But if you’ve learned to expect it, is it really an accident?

Cheap combs and picks

combs-wp    combtextureexample-wp

(Click here to see the completed work begun above right.)

Texture is a key component of my work. I lay down my favorite texture goo, and before it dries, I use one or more of these combs from the dollar store to make impressions and marks that support the vision. They’re great for making concentric arcs, parallel grooves, and crosshatch patterns.

Paint rollers

roller-wp    rollerexample-wp

There’s nothing like a paint roller for covering a surface quickly! The example above right is one step past laying down the background, but suffice it to say, the three 24-inch square canvases required a lot of paint for good coverage. My three-inch wide roller helped make short work of the background. I’ve even used it in a similar way to the cardboard scrapers by laying down two or three different paint colors and rolling over them to achieve some interesting blends.

I’m always on the lookout for my next “off-label” art tool or material. It’s just one of the things that keeps my studio practice exciting for me. Art should be surprising—for the viewer and the artist as well.

Join me on Facebook and Instagram for behind-the-scenes peeks and first postings of new work.

All art is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without express written permission. Copyright 2017-2018 Laura Hunt

 

 

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