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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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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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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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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.

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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