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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Inspiration for Making Art, Uncategorized

A ladder and two kids

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

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

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

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View from the canal

bikeparkingNL

Double-decker bike parking

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

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

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

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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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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, 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.

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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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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