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

A new body of work: how and why

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

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

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Figure in progress

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

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Click on images above to see details.

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

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

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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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