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

Why I killed the cat

This post demonstrates how one particular painting made its way into being. You’ll see images that mark the journey, full of missteps and bumps, indecision and decision, until at last, a completed work is born.

But first, a little backstory. The inspiration for The Long Wait comes from a photo I captured in a waiting room while my car was being serviced. A woman in a puffer jacket, lost in her smartphone on the sofa near me, grabs my interest —I seem to be attracted to figures in solitary settings. I make the snap and the image goes into my reference library. 

Several weeks later the pandemic hits. Overnight, we attempt to adjust to the loss of so many familiar aspects of our daily lives. As I settle into the studio, attempting a normal routine, the photo of the woman rises above the numerous ideas I’m considering, and I choose it as the taking off point for the next painting. It’s not until I’m well into it that I realize how profoundly it expresses the experience of so many in this moment.

I choose a hardboard panel that had already undergone a considerable amount of experimentation. Torn kraft paper covers the panel, with random patterned papers on top, and a layer of red-orange acrylic paint and maybe some turquoise after that. It seems like a good start. At this point, I don’t know how much of it will be covered up and how much will remain, but I begin, knowing surprises are waiting.

Detail. Sketching in the composition. Its history is showing through with patterns and colors that may or may not remain.
Detail. Roughing in more of the figure. Will that funky chair be part of the story?
Full view. Major compositional elements are in. The green sofa on the right gives some weight to the right side. Since the figure is the center of interest, I pay it some attention. I’m ignoring the funky chair for now. I love orange, but this much hurts my eyes. There is much to resolve.
I’ve gone crazy with patterns. Not surprising, since they often come to the party with me. The shoes shift from a yellow hue to red-orange. A newspaper lies on the green sofa. There’s a Mondrian-style grid representing a window. A plant replaces the chair, something organic amidst all the geometry. The chairs moved–and doubled. Not sure about a lot of it though. There’s so much that’s not working. What to do?
The pattern has to go. I start by covering the floor with a layer of orange. The potted plant is gone, replaced by plants you seen through the window. Pillows on the green sofa help move the eye around. I’ve warmed up the puffer coat to contrast with the cool sofa color. Oh, it needs a cat! On a patterned rug! And another rug to add interest on the right! And a patterned-filled box around the foreground red chair! Well, I did simplify. Just one red chair, not two. But honestly, this has gone south, and I’m not sure how to save it. What was a painting about isolation and loneliness has become one of domestic tranquility–and not in a good way. Do I save the cat or save the painting?
Ahhh! As my wise friend Maureen says, “Details are never the answer.” I killed the cat. I scrubbed the rugs. I dug up the vegetation. Gone. A warmish gray covers the floor, allowing just a tad of pattern to remain and is echoed in the walls in varying values. The gray allows the warmth in the figure to take the stage. Kraft paper textures and bits of patterned paper hint of the painting’s early history. Greenish blue through the window adds depth and a sense of hope to the feeling of isolation. The painting I intended appeared at last. With apologies to my own resident feline, the cat had to go.

Thanks for taking this little journey with me. See details about The Long Wait here.

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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.

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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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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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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.)

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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.

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Red Terrain (details here)

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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.”

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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.

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

 

 

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