pandemic, studio life, Uncategorized

Wallow, then rise.

How artists are living their lives during this public health crisis is as varied as their DNA. Most are mourning the loss of opportunities to share their work with appreciative audiences. Some feel a surge of creativity. Some find it difficult to focus on art. Some are seeking balance amidst home schooling, working from home, and meal preparation. Some have lost access to their studios and are making art at the kitchen table. Some just can’t make it work at home. Some have lost the jobs that enabled them to pursue art in the nooks and crannies of their daily lives. Some haven’t skipped a beat. It is okay to be any one or all of these.

But whether it’s now during the pandemic, or later when health and stability return, artists will do what they do. They will reflect. They will comment. They will interpret. Trust me, no matter what the genre, COVID19 is not far from the artist’s mind, even when the work may appear to be a form of escapism. No judgment here on art as an escape from sadness and loss—it’s a healthy response.

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Girl With Mask, detail

Sometimes awareness of deep injustice and the reality of separation from loved ones are enough to make you want to cut off your ear. Pandemic as subject has certainly crept into my work, as in these two small works on paper. Girl With Mask expresses a dark humor moment with a Vermeer-inspired parody. The knowledge that millions of workers do not have the privilege of working from home inspired Risk vs Benefit.

The work currently on the easel and nearing completion expresses themes of loneliness and isolation. That work, still untitled, was going to be the focus of this post. I was going to show you my process, warts and all. And I will do that. Maybe next time. I find though, that as I write these words, that plan has become tone deaf to my own inner state. Sometimes when things are bad, it’s perfectly okay to just wallow in it for a while. For a while. Then we shake it off, having acknowledged the depth of the absurd reality, the pain, the suffering of our fellow human beings, and we do the best we can to live our lives as authentically, as compassionately, as lovingly as we can.

Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Observe social distancing. These are acts of love.


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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, 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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Uncategorized

A Janus look at 2019’s work

January inspires reflection and anticipation. I’m reminded of January’s namesake, the Roman god Janus, known for sporting two faces on one head, one face looking back to the past, the other forward to the future. This time of the year, we’re all Janus, aren’t we? This post will have a looking-back theme, specifically regarding the progression of my work during the past year.

Early last year, I responded to an inner calling to include figures in my paintings, to express universal narratives. (You can read the backstory here.) The transition from abstract work was awkward and clunky as I felt my way through the challenges and joys of figurative painting, but it was a rewarding one. It gave me focus and the opportunity to infuse the work with my DNA.

I chose works from each quarter of the year to represent studio activity at the time. These three are from the January, February and March of 2019. I choose to keep my figures symbolic and archetypal; the faces are obscured or indistinct to communicate universal experiences. Colors pop against each other; backgrounds are abstract and expressive, with collage animating the surface.

Human in Transit
Yellow Hat: Study


The representative paintings from April, May and June (below) show that collage and intense color remain consistent elements. My figures remain symbolic, but I’m dipping my toes into the pool of portraiture. The self-portrait is one of the first I’ve done in several years, serving as a refresher course on observational work. I discover Caran d’Ache crayons during this period, which give me tools for making marks. Self Portrait and Morning Coffee both have mark-making in the backgrounds. In Morning Coffee, the outlining of the figure appears here for the first time. I notice an attraction to the effects of light and shadow on the face and figure.

Pink Hoodie

Morning Coffee

Self Portrait with Orange Scarf

Works from July, August and September (below) show a continuation of the archetypal figure as well as a continuing interest in the human face. Faces and figures in ambiguous backgrounds are a solid part of my studio practice by now. I’m becoming more intentional about outlining both face and figure. The line flattens the subject in space and conveys a sense of universality. I begin to include the use of vintage black and white reference snapshots in my processes, as I did in Desert Visitor. (Reaching into the family archives.) Mark-making and patterned collage elements animate the backgrounds and help reveal the subject’s personality.

Costa Rican Boy

During October, November and December, I continue to mine a rich collection of family snapshots, while also looking for evocative faces and gestures in everyday life. I stumbled over corrugated cardboard as a painting surface (From waste to obsession). A trip to Caprock Canyon brought Texas iconography to the fore after a long absence, bringing surface and subject together in Quitaque Cowboy and Where’s My Horse? Revealing the cardboard’s fluting adds a rough texture that makes my heart happy. In Before I Knew Her, (read previous blog) I use crayons again for expressive mark-making combined with collage for a lively background. A tiny black and white snapshot inspires Fleeting Moments where I’m learning to use acrylic paint markers as possible replacements of Caran d’Ache crayons for making marks. The contrasts of light and shadow continue to appear.

I hope you’ll forgive the navel-gazing, but channeling of Janus by looking backward was instructional and affirming for me. I’m seeing direction and focus that doesn’t ignore my experimental nature. It will be fun to perform this same exercise January 2021. Do you notice something I didn’t? I’d love to read your comments.

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Uncategorized

From waste to obsession

Sometimes I become thoroughly fascinated with a new art supply. Cardboard is my latest love. I’m enamored with ordinary, common, boring corrugated cardboard—as a painting surface. I know, I know, it won’t last forever; it’s acidic; and it’s obvious I didn’t order it from mypriceyartsupplystore.com. But it’s become a favorite of mine. And it all started as a response to over-packaging and the gift-wrapping of my leftovers.

Out-of-town friends had come to visit, and since they’re from another part of the country, another friend and I decide to take them to the Reata, an iconic Fort Worth restaurant known for its high-end classy ranch food. Very Cowtown. Proportions are generous, to say the least, and a good time is had by all. Unable to clean up my huge veggie plate in one sitting, I ask to take the leftovers home. They disappear to the kitchen, and then reappear at the table in a sleek black Styrofoam clamshell box. That box is encased in a lovely, brand-conscious, corrugated cardboard sleeve. I accept it as graciously as possible—it does feel like a gift–take it home, and polish off the veggies the next day.

Now my leftovers have a leftover. The unrecyclable clamshell goes into the trash, but the cardboard sleeve remains. It seems a shame to toss it after such a laudable but overzealous branding effort. My first instinct is to paint something on it, which I do. It’s just for fun, but the exercise assuages my guilt for participating in this snippet of annoying consumer culture.

ReataCardboard-sm

I disassembled the cardboard sleeve and flattened both sides, then made it up as I applied paint, just enjoying the process.

Lest I sound too self-righteous, I must admit I’m as much of a consumer as any other American; this made evident by the packages that land on my porch from time to time. It appears to be a reliable supply chain. Over the next few weeks, I begin to chop up the cartons into various sizes, stash them on my art cart, and start playing.

I discover how much I enjoy the feel of paint on the brown paper surface, the way the ribs show through, the mid-tone color of the Kraft paper. I like the way the stenciled words and numbers sometimes peek out from behind the paint. I delight in peeling away the paper skin to reveal the fluted layer underneath. Acrylics and mixed media work well on the surface, but pastels and colored pencils are compatible too. It even does double duty as a way to clean my brushes. While it hasn’t replaced cradled wood panels as a mixed media surface, for now, corrugated cardboard is my go-to base for small studies. Here are a few. (These and other works can be see in person at my Dec. 7 Art & Hospitality Happy Hour. See details here.)

WomanKnitting-lr

Woman Knitting. Acrylic on 6″ x 6″ cardboard.

CowboyPointing-lr

Cowboy Pointing. Acrylic on 6″ x 6″ cardboard.

WomanWithCup-lr

Woman With Cup. Acrylic on 6″ x 6″ cardboard.

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Quitaque Cowboy. Acrylic on 10″ x 10″ cardboard.

I eye my deliveries differently now, checking for box damage, scuffs, and tape, evaluating packages as potential art supplies. Stop. I know what you’re thinking. “I’ll save all my boxes for Laura.” Uh, no thank you. They pile up all too quickly. So dream up a second use. Religiously recycle. Make a sculpture. You could even paint on them. Maybe you too will join the Corrugated Cardboard Fan Club!

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

 

 

 

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

Reaching into the family archives

I have long had a fascination with the family photographs nested in repurposed shoeboxes—men standing next to horses or cars; sisters posing together on the porch; my hat-wearing uncles standing in a row, from tallest to shortest; youthful flappers mugging for the camera. These snapshots tell of a different time, true, but it’s the humanity of the subjects that makes them so compelling and relatable. I’m drawn to them not just for the family history they represent, but also for the mystery of how things were before I was born.

Some of the figures are clearly identified, others I can only guess at. Either way, I am moved to honor their one-time presence on earth by using some of the snapshots as painting references. This image of a man holding a little boy while standing ankle deep in the waves is one I’ve always loved.

It is a mystery. Who is the man? Who is the toddler? Where are they? My hunch is that it’s my father with my much-older brother, but it could have been an uncle and a cousin. The features are not clear, but even if they were, family facial characteristics were widely shared, making positive identification uncertain. Those who would know are gone.

The site may be Gulf of Mexico at Galveston. Definitely not the ocean on either coast. The farmers in my family hadn’t the means to travel so far from their Texas homes. But a case could be made for Padre Island, since one branch of the family lived—and still lives–in the lower Rio Grande Valley, an easy day trip to the island.

With those questions still unanswered, I began to ponder the symbolism that could be drawn, and how I could express that. The universality of the story stands out. The rolling surf intimidates the little one. The father rolls up his khaki legs, scoops the boy up and wades into the water. They turn to face the camera, someone snaps the picture, and its grainy black-and-whiteness offers this gift to later generations.

I decide to create two interpretations of the image. For both, I focus on the father-son relationship by choosing a vertical format that minimizes the water. One composition closes in tightly on the figures. I paint the sky dark, a dramatic contrast to the hats and white shirts. Looming clouds hint of a threat that brings out the father’s protectiveness. I use a limited palette of yellow ocher, Payne’s gray, titanium white, and a hint of turquoise. Some dot-patterned collage elements and pastel crayons animate the waves. I title this one “Deep Into Fatherhood.”

 

For the second painting, I move a little farther back, allowing the sea behind the figures to establish the setting. I flip the background values, dark on bottom and light on top. Here I imagine the boy has never seen the ocean. There’s delight in the sight and sound of waves. The dad stands strong and ankle deep in the constantly swirling surf. The sky is bright—no storm clouds here. It’s time to enjoy the moment. I stick to the limited palette and use collage elements and pastel crayon to express motion in the summer clouds and the water. I name this one “First Trip to the Beach.”

I have more images from the family photo treasure chest that tug at my heart. I’ll delve into more of them in future posts.

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

 

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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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