art process, Inspiration for Making Art, studio life, studio practice, Uncategorized

Studio life, self-isolation and hope

COVID-19 has ushered in a whole new world for all of us, to state the obvious. Everyone is adjusting, whether it’s learning how to work from home, managing remote learning for the kids, or dealing with the physical distance between ourselves and our fellow human beings. You may be dealing with all of that and much more. Some of my colleagues with rented studio quarters have had to pack up their supplies to move home, and are in the midst of improvising spaces to continue working. Most artists have faced the cancellation of events, which for many represents a significant loss of income.

I don’t want to repeat or add to the litany of woes we hear daily. I’d like to keep hope before us. I need it, and I’m guessing you do too. So here are a few of the upsides for me in the time of coronavirus.

I have more time to devote to my practice. I’m not running errands or attending events. There’s plenty of food in my kitchen, and using curbside pickup when supplies run low is a real time-saver. I miss grocery-shopping, but I have no problem living with this temporary adjustment if it keeps more people safe.

Priorities shifted when I cancelled my studio event. I had planned to revamp my art inventory system after that, but since I’m not rearranging the studio or buying party supplies, this project rose to the top. This cloud-based inventory system will save me time and frustration later on. I’ve been able to enter all my 2020 work into the database, and most work from 2019. Another benefit: revisiting every piece has forced me to look at each one critically. After a time, I recognize some no longer pass muster or feel at home with my current body of work, so I’ve removed them from inventory. House-cleaning is good.

Real, in-the-moment conversations are gold. So much of our communication today is via text, email or social media. I’m not saying it’s bad to use any of them. But a real life, in-the-moment visit, voice-to-ear, ear-to-voice, heart-to-heart, can warm my innards exponentially more than text on a cold screen, no matter how friendly. Video conferencing and chat apps have connected me with my friends, family and colleagues several times this week. As artist friend Gwen commented, “Physical distance doesn’t have to mean social distance.” We are fortunate. During the time of the Spanish flu, the nearest comparison to this pandemic, this was not possible.

Pressing pause creates the internal space necessary for art-making. When an artist prepares for an art event, the pressure is on. A certain number of pieces need to show up on the walls, and a lot of it had better be new. People expect that. Now the calendar has cleared. There’s time to assess, to nurture, to think—or not. There’s time to absorb, to be the sponge that soaks in inspiration and ideas. There’s time for them to hibernate, until the season is right to wake up and cause a ruckus in the studio.

Good things continue to happen. Watching my young granddaughters show off their nascent ukulele skills over FaceTime. Getting a walk-through of my son’s new home, also via FaceTime. Receiving notice of acceptance into two exhibits this week. Such bright spots keep my spirits buoyed.

I’m not a Pollyanna. I get that both short-term and long-term, there are serious outcomes ahead. But we are resilient people. We can cope. We can be strong. We can love our neighbors and even from our confinement, we can do good. What are the upsides for you? What made you smile this week? Tell me in the comments below.

20607 With-wp

With.


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art process, Body of Work, Inspiration for Making Art, Viewing art

Naming the baby

Titling my work is not an afterthought, but a significant step in my art-making. However, there are times when I struggle with it, even though I’ve been a word nerd since childhood. In considering this subject, I wondered what some of my colleagues thought, so I invited their voices into the discussion.

While attaching titles to creative works serves to differentiate them from others, artists often go beyond the practical. What is the purpose of titling a work of art to you?

Carol Stalcup, who creates abstract emotional landscapes, enjoys naming her work. “It’s a fun part of the process for me, and I see it as a way to communicate with the viewer, maybe draw them into more dialogue with the visual image, to ask more questions about it, to find more ways to connect to it.”

Betsy Horn paints stylized depictions of Texas state parks. For her, the primary purposes of a title are identification of the place, or communication of an idea having to do with the place or the painting.

Cityscape watercolorist Heidi Russell uses titles as a way to “inform the viewer what’s on my mind.”

“I title my work to add my own voice to my visual art. Its ‘name’ adds identity,” remarks Helen Searl regarding her watercolor landscapes and cloudscapes. “I believe that it helps create mood, bringing my vision to life.”

Kay Briggs, known for her seascapes, adds to the conversation: “For me, a lot of it is because it is “expected” of you. However, it also much easier to track the history of your paintings when you  give  them names/titles and attempt to maintain a list. I photograph paintings once I have set them aside to let them ‘mature.’ Not only is this useful as another way of viewing the entire painting, but often I have to look at the data embedded in the photo to date them.”

Here are my thoughts: For me, titling is an extension of the creative act, a way to add meaning rather than description—although I’ll have to admit, sometimes description seems the way to go. I want the title to help the observer relate to the subject or to raise questions—without imposing too heavy-handed an interpretation.

Naming a work Untitled has been a common practice among contemporary artists. How do you feel about Untitled as a title?

“I am not a fan of using ‘Untitled’ except in rare instances,” Helen remarks. “It creates a void in the work for me as though showing it was a last minute rushed idea without careful consideration. An extreme example: Your newborn leaves the hospital named: Baby Boy! Well, maybe that’s a bit much, but art is important, and a name (or title) adds to the significance.”

Betsy and Kay, on the other hand, are okay with the practice. “If an artist uses ‘Untitled’, it doesn’t bother me.  It’s the artist’s choice,” says Betsy. Kay adds, “I am ok with it, but it would make record keeping a bigger pain.”

“I understand why some artists do it, but I find it a little frustrating, as if the artist closed a door of possibility on communicating with the viewer,” states Carol. “But maybe some people just don’t like tying in visual images with words like I do!”

And Heidi thinks it’s, well, “boring.”

I may eat my own words, but I’ve been known to say, “You will never see ‘Untitled’ on any of my works.” I sometimes need a little help understanding the artist’s intent. Titles can help. But the viewpoint that a title can stand in the way of the observer and the work is one I respect.

The average museum or exhibit visitor may have thought little about what goes into naming a work. How do you arrive at titles?

Not surprisingly, intuition is key to arriving at a work’s moniker. “If the painting communicates a title to me that is more than identification of the place, it’s an intuitive thought,” says Betsy.

“I allow the title to reveal itself to me,” says Helen. “It’s more of a feeling or thought put into words than a process.”

“I struggle with titles”, says Kay. “On my sea life paintings it is easy to go with the name of the fish, but often to the general public this would not be informative. I lean toward using titles that have a twist to the meaning or that play off the behavior being depicted.”

Carol’s process involves intuition and sometimes a certain amount of time and space. “Even if a painting is more representational than my usual abstracts, I wait for a title to come to me,” she says. “I think about what kind of energy or emotion seems to dominate in the image. Then I try to translate that into a title that may point the viewer in a direction but leave the ending wide open so that the viewer can make the art about their own experience. So now it becomes a conversation. Sometimes the title comes really fast, sometimes it takes longer. Then I think about what if I encountered the painting for the first time with that title, what does the title make me notice about the work, or in myself? I have noticed that occasionally I change titles after a period of time, sometimes having forgotten my original title. Once I get the right title I never forget it, it belongs to the piece like any brushstroke in the work.”

In naming my own work, I consider the subject’s context and the emotion it evokes. I often turn to the thesaurus or my “Word of the Day” app to stimulate my word-smithing, especially when the title doesn’t just announce itself.

There are challenges to this part of making art. What’s the hardest thing about titling your work?

“Waiting for it,” states Betsy, alluding to patience being part of her process.

Helen finds it simple. “Usually once the work is complete I can quickly give it a name.”

For Carol, the difficult part is striking a balance between “conveying what I see in the image (or experienced in the making of it) and having it be wide-open (ambiguous?) enough for the viewer to connect with their own experience.”

What Heidi finds challenging is the experience of working with words. “I’m generally not good with words.”

Procrastination is Kay’s challenge. “It is easily put off, and I am better at that than anything else.”

In titling my own work, words with the depth of meaning I seek are sometimes elusive. Art often expresses things that language does awkwardly or inadequately. This is where I have to trust viewers. The work isn’t really complete until it’s shared, and I love hearing the meanings others bring to it once it’s out in the world.

Thanks to my artist friends for their contributions. Your opinions on the topic are welcome, whether you are someone who makes art or simply enjoys the art others create. Feel free to comment below.

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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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