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

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           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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About the Painting, Body of Work, studio practice

What do those lines mean, anyway?

If you appreciate or collect art, you know that the more you understand about the work, the deeper your experience of it. You might want to know the story behind the painting or sculpture, or be curious about the process that brought it to life. Knowing the various elements of art-making is another way to heighten your enjoyment of the work that’s before you, and maybe even help you articulate why you like—or don’t like—a certain work.

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. What brought this topic to mind was that, in reflecting on my own work, I noticed my own repeated use of the element of line. That’s what I want to explore with you today. And since my own work is handy, I’ll use it for examples.

Birds on a Wet Lawn: Earth-Bound

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The high horizon has black birds lined up, going about their bird-like activities, but all earth-bound on the same horizontal plane. This is an exercise in horizontal-ness. (If that’s not a word, I’m coining it now.) Horizontal lines communicate stability and serenity here. Conflict and disharmony are at a minimum. Green lines get thicker, then thinner, then thicker again, twisting ever so slightly as they converge with some blues and a little white with accents of yellow-orange. All move in the same direction. The lines also express the concept of landscape, but a careful, manicured one, not that of a wilderness. You would want to hang Birds where you’d like a sense of calm, with generous space around it.

Strong: Energy and Action

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Virtually all the lines in Strong are curved, long, arching thrusts of action. It is the opposite of serene! The arcs cross at multiple intersections; they clash, compete and collide. There’s an assertiveness about it, supported by the predominant reds that cross the gold and green lines. A trinity of overlapping circles express wholeness and unity, contrasting with all that dissonance. Strong possesses an energizing vibe fitting for a home’s more social spaces.

To Be Continued: Reaching Up

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Like horizontal lines, vertical ones can suggest stability since they are perpendicular to the earth. But there’s something more there, a reaching upward to the heavens. Here they hint of the natural world—trees or grass or stems of flowers. Suggestive of a landscape, but a woodsy one, the green lines contrast with the more organic ones we might see in a garden or the woods. To Be Continued would be at home in an intimate space where you want a natural, even inspirational touch.

You may have different interpretations than my descriptions above –abstract art lends itself to multiple personal opinions–but understanding any artist’s use of line can boost that interpretation–and help you arrive at a deeper appreciation of the work you are experiencing.

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Body of Work, Inspiration for Making Art, My process

Why I took a class in textile dying

Recently I responded to the call I felt to travel to Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico to take an art workshop and soak in the stunning landscape that inspired Georgia O/Keeffe during some of her most productive years.

GRSunset      KitchenMesa

My first trip in 2013, although art-related, had the larger purpose of healing after a traumatic life change. This time, my purpose was to learn something totally different from the painting and assemblage activities that occupy my studio time now. I signed up for “Tie Dye, Shibori, Batik and More,” taught by Valerie Bashaw, an accomplished fiber artist and teacher from Kansas City. I had no idea what lay ahead, but the description promised we would take home a completed piece. That sounded good. I was in.

Val shepherded our class of eight through the ins and outs of rust-dying with junky metal parts; tie-dying (It’s back, you know.); eco-dying using natural elements like flower petals, eucalyptus leaves, walnuts, turmeric, and even dead bugs (cochineal, to be precise); batik, which involves drawing or painting on the fabric with wax; and Shibori, a Japanese technique involving twisting or folding the fabric and binding it before dying. Some amazing work developed as we realized we could combine two or three techniques to create something quite beautiful. And as it turned out, Val over-delivered—all of us produced multiple dyed works, not just the one she promised. My takeaway? Twelve pieces! Not all were successful, but still, the week was productive indeed—and a little intense as well.

 

Several friends have asked, “Why did you take a fabric-dying class? Wouldn’t it have made sense to take the abstract painting class, since you’re an abstract painter?” Part one of the answer lies in how I’ve experienced creativity jumping across apparent divides. For example, reading a poem can trigger an idea for a painting’s color palette. Observing shapes, colors and textures of piles of junk just before heavy trash pickup day can inspire some intriguing photography. Creative thinking in one arena can activate the same in another.

Here’s part two of the answer. Stimulating your brain creates new neural pathways, I’m told. Although it’s uncomfortable at first, being a newbie can lead one down some adventurous roads. An amateur is someone who engages in an activity for pleasure rather than money, or one whose skills may not be of the highest caliber. I fit both definitions in this instance. But the origin of the word “amateur” is a French word for someone who has a “taste for” or a “love of” something. I was (and am) that kind of amateur too.

I’m anticipating a studio day soon when I go solo with some rust-dying (no Val to guide me), and ponder how to integrate the images into a painting or a 3-D work. It will require me to be curious, willing to stumble and make mistakes, unafraid to be an amateur. Such an exercise will nurture not just my artist’s heart, but my human spirit as well.

Now go try something you’ve never done before. Be an amateur.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Body of Work, Pattern in art

Pattern and surprise

Lately I’ve been thinking quite a lot about pattern. I’ve noticed that even from my earliest art-making days, pattern has often appeared to one degree or another. Why? Is it me? Is there some sort of OCD compulsion within that drives me to make rows of dots or spirals or zigzags? Or is there a universal human need for pattern?

I needed to find a clear definition of pattern. Turns out there are many, but out of the eleven I found in Mirriam-Webster, this is the one I found most relevant:

a reliable sample of traits, acts, tendencies, or other observable characteristics of a person, group, or institution: a behavior pattern, spending patterns, the prevailing pattern of speech

Searching a little further, I found this one on Wikipedia:

A pattern is a discernible regularity in the world or in a manmade design. As such, the elements of a pattern repeat in a predictable manner.

Pattern is all around us, in both tangible and intangible forms. Calendars and clocks help us organize our lives. Music and speech depend on the repetition of elements to make sense of sound and language. Research data looks for behavior patterns in humans, plants and animals to make predictions or to analyze the world around us.

Order and predictability are positive aspects of both our personal daily lives and of society at large–to a certain degree. When every day is the same, don’t we long for an interruption, a break, a surprise? Aren’t unbroken patterns with no variety excruciatingly boring? As a lover of order and pattern, how–and why– does that manifest itself in my art?

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Click on images to see larger versions.
Above left: Seeming random lines for a pattern that streaks across a quad of canvases.
Second from left. Dots, stripes and zigzags lend a primitive character to this assemblage.
Third from left. A rectangle filled with rows and columns of dots interrupts a pattern of horizontal stripes.
Right. Variations of mostly green horizontal lines support the row of birds while splatters of color invade on the regularity of the composition.

I’ve reached a fairly simple self-analysis. I have a need for the pleasure that rendering a pattern affords. There’s a meditative quality to it. I like a degree of reliability. Pattern is a useful tool in bringing about order in a chaotic world. Making patterns and viewing them makes me feel safe and secure, but energized as well. (Polka dots may be predictable, but oh boy, do they enliven a surface!) I resist the idea of highly mechanical, robotic patterns though, and always see a human, handmade essence with mistakes and irregularities within the repetition of visual elements. And I need more than just the variation that my human hand naturally produces; I need a surprise of some kind, whether subtle or dramatic. Placing an organic shape like a human face over a background of squares and spirals is one type of surprise. Flinging paint splatters across the canvas over a pattern of criss-crossed lines is another.

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Click on images to see larger versions.

I’ve gained some clarity of my work and my practice as a space where discipline and spontaneity clash to produce unique objects that enrich and interpret the human experience. While the need for pattern may be especially strong in me, I believe that the visual expression of it strikes an unspoken universal chord in many who view it as well.

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All art is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without express written permission. Copyright 2016-2018 Laura Hunt

 

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