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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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

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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.

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Cliffside

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

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

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

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

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

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

Explaining myself

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

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

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

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

 

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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.

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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.

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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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