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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Body of Work, My process, New Art, Pattern in art, studio practice

A new body of work: how and why

A new body of work is my focus this year, as my newsletter subscribers and social media followers know. I even canceled my April Art & Hospitality Happy Hour because I just needed space allowing the work to find its way through the dark woods.

So what about this new work? There’s a short backstory. Over the past four years, my practice has been all about texture, pattern and color. But for a couple years I’ve heard an insistent, whispering voice urging me to bring the human figure into my work. No, not the human figure–rather, the human experience. Couple that nagging voice with the observation by a respected friend and artist that there’s something of myself missing. She knows me well. She knows of my concern about the larger issues of culture and society. Her advice: “Just think about it while you’re painting.” That was it. The path was still foggy, but I took it anyway.

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Figure in progress

I began by making decisions about how the human figure would be painted, acknowledging to myself that I have no interest in creating detailed realistic renderings. I chose to aim for symbolic images that allow us to see ourselves or others in the undefined faces. I look for universality, no matter the color of the skin. Faces can be blue, green, white, pink, purple—whatever works to serve the composition. These archetypal humans live in ambiguous backgrounds that only suggest their surroundings. Collage elements introduce the pattern and texture I have always gravitated to, contributing anchors to the design.

19521 Coffee For Two-Study-lo-sq  19518 Yellow Hat-Study-lo-sq  19524 Human Coming-Study-lo-sq  19517 Seated Girl on Blue-Study-lo-sq

Click on images above to see details.

I can’t claim the work is mature yet. What I have right now is a collection of 25–30 studies where I’ve developed concepts, colors and compositions. Some haven’t worked at all; they will never get the privilege of an inventory number. The works I’m not sure about are parked on my studio table, ripening. Or rotting. Eventually it will be obvious whether they make the cut or not.

What is working well is to reflect on my heart’s concerns while working. My friend was right. The fog is lifting a bit. I continue to create more studies, and from them, I’ll choose some as references for larger work. The process is both invigorating and frustrating as I experiment with ideas and how to express them. I’m wondering what the series will be like in a year, and would be so honored if you choose to join this journey with me.

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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, Body of Work, elements of art, My process, Uncategorized

Discovering texture

Helping people deepen their experience of art is something I enjoy; exploring the various elements of art is one way to do that. Here’s an introductory excerpt from my most recent post.

To set the stage, here are the seven elements required to create art: line, shape, form, value, space, color, and texture. Some artists use all of them in a given work, some may only use two or three, but each artist has her own way of employing the elements and choosing what expresses her intent. The elements required to create art are line, shape, form, value, space, color, and texture.

Last time I wrote about line, an element that makes frequent appearances in my paintings. This time I’ll select another one off the shelf –texture.

The element of texture doesn’t require much explanation. You know when a tactile quality catches your eye, begging to be touched. Running your fingers over a soft blanket, or feeling the rasp of a kitten’s tongue stimulates the senses. A work of art should stimulate the senses as well. It can feature actual texture by using materials with properties appealing to the sense of touch, like burlap or cheesecloth. Using a material that can be manipulated while wet and that holds its texture once dry is another method I use to build actual texture into a work. Real texture catches light and casts shadows.

But sometimes a work simply implies texture. For example, a landscape painting may be perfectly flat and smooth on its surface, but the artist’s skill in rendering the roughness of the rocks or the ripples in the river still call out to the sense of touch. Another way to imply texture is through the repetition of a pattern that contrasts with what’s next to it. This type of visual texture attracts the eye as well. Examples are always helpful. And since my works are convenient, I’ll use some of them to demonstrate.

Actual texture creates shadows.

 

In creating Cliffside, I used a wet builder’s material spread over the canvas, then ran tools of various sizes and configurations to make grooves and spirals over the whole canvas. Does it help you imagine the strata of the stones? This texture casts shadows in the low places and catches light in the high spots. It is about as real and touchable as you can get. (Caution: Fingers can leave behind their oils and be detrimental to the art over time. If you must touch it, use soft gloves!)

I used the same technique in Gratitude for Flowers. I covered the whole canvas with the wet material and ran grooves and patterns in it. By scraping paint across the dried background, I caught the high spots, leaving the valleys with the background color untouched. This creates a quality that would be impossible to duplicate on a flat surface with paint. “Gratitude” features another tactile element. By pouring the lines of the flowers and stems from a squeeze bottle, they are raised from the background to catch the light, adding another dimension over the rough background.

Implied texture creates an illusion

18510 Uphill pro-lo  19511 Red Terrain Pro-lo

           Uphill         Red Terrain

I painted Uphill and Red Terrain on heavy watercolor paper without adding an actual background texture. They are essentially flat. But I implied the roughness and unevenness of the land by using collage elements that visually interrupt the flat surface and convey the illusion of rocks and crevices. A few streaks of color poured from squeeze bottles communicate energy and add texture as well.

The next time you attend an art show or visit an art museum, look for the texture. Is it an element the artist has chosen to use? Is the texture real, casting shadows and catching light? Or is it implied, creating an illusion of texture? What do you like (or not like) about the texture? I hope this helps you discover exciting new things about works of art. 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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About the Painting, Body of Work, studio practice

What do those lines mean, anyway?

If you appreciate or collect art, you know that the more you understand about the work, the deeper your experience of it. You might want to know the story behind the painting or sculpture, or be curious about the process that brought it to life. Knowing the various elements of art-making is another way to heighten your enjoyment of the work that’s before you, and maybe even help you articulate why you like—or don’t like—a certain work.

To set the stage, here are the seven elements required to create art: line, shape, form, value, space, color, and texture. Some artists use all of them in a given work, some may only use two or three, but each artist has her own way of employing the elements and choosing what expresses her intent. What brought this topic to mind was that, in reflecting on my own work, I noticed my own repeated use of the element of line. That’s what I want to explore with you today. And since my own work is handy, I’ll use it for examples.

Birds on a Wet Lawn: Earth-Bound

17384 BirdsOnAWetLawn-lo

The high horizon has black birds lined up, going about their bird-like activities, but all earth-bound on the same horizontal plane. This is an exercise in horizontal-ness. (If that’s not a word, I’m coining it now.) Horizontal lines communicate stability and serenity here. Conflict and disharmony are at a minimum. Green lines get thicker, then thinner, then thicker again, twisting ever so slightly as they converge with some blues and a little white with accents of yellow-orange. All move in the same direction. The lines also express the concept of landscape, but a careful, manicured one, not that of a wilderness. You would want to hang Birds where you’d like a sense of calm, with generous space around it.

Strong: Energy and Action

18441 Strong-lo

Virtually all the lines in Strong are curved, long, arching thrusts of action. It is the opposite of serene! The arcs cross at multiple intersections; they clash, compete and collide. There’s an assertiveness about it, supported by the predominant reds that cross the gold and green lines. A trinity of overlapping circles express wholeness and unity, contrasting with all that dissonance. Strong possesses an energizing vibe fitting for a home’s more social spaces.

To Be Continued: Reaching Up

18437 To Be Continued-sm-wp

 

Like horizontal lines, vertical ones can suggest stability since they are perpendicular to the earth. But there’s something more there, a reaching upward to the heavens. Here they hint of the natural world—trees or grass or stems of flowers. Suggestive of a landscape, but a woodsy one, the green lines contrast with the more organic ones we might see in a garden or the woods. To Be Continued would be at home in an intimate space where you want a natural, even inspirational touch.

You may have different interpretations than my descriptions above –abstract art lends itself to multiple personal opinions–but understanding any artist’s use of line can boost that interpretation–and help you arrive at a deeper appreciation of the work you are experiencing.

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

18464 Cliffside-wp

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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