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.

19521 Coffee For Two-Study-lo-sq  19518 Yellow Hat-Study-lo-sq  19524 Human Coming-Study-lo-sq  19517 Seated Girl on Blue-Study-lo-sq

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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Body of Work, My process

Putting the “practice” into my studio practice

An online class led by an artist whose work I love and respect has turned my attention to the idea of practice. I found it illuminating that he warms up—practices–every day in the studio before turning to his serious paintings. After decades of being a successful artist, he still practices. Eight quick studies of a pear or a flower or a figure, each one different, but using the exercise to explore, to correct, to learn, casting off what doesn’t meet his standards.

That motivated some self-examination. How often have I plunged into a project headfirst, expecting the result to perfectly sync up with my vision, but wind up disappointed, not just in the painting, but in myself as well? My self-esteem plunges and I’ve squandered time and materials. My artist friend Betsy said, tongue firmly in cheek, “Well, every painting is a masterpiece.” That may be the intention, but how often do I fail to meet my own expectations? Calling it “practice” removes the pressure. Practicing on paper instead of pricey canvas helps.

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New Mexico Landscape Study 4              New Mexico Landscape Study 1

Right now I’m on a practice binge inspired by my summer trip to New Mexico. (See previous blog: Why I took a class in textile dying.) I’ve immersed myself into abstract landscape painting. Although many of my previous abstracts have had a landscape heart with horizontal lines and shapes and references to the land, this is a road I haven’t traveled quite this way. I’ve been doing this for several weeks now, and there are some real clunkers (wa wa wa, descending scale), but I see something happening.

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Red Bluffs

So why do we resist practicing? (Only speaking for myself here. Kudos to you if you’re already dedicated to practicing.) Is it because practice reveals weaknesses? Oh. That’s the point. Practice builds skills. Practice breeds confidence. Practice improves results. Practice closes the gap between so-so and competent, even awesome. And practice assumes I’m going to improve.

So I’ve vowed to practice more. I will give myself time to self-evaluate. I’ll allow—and acknowledge–mistakes. (Let’s hope I notice the worst ones–and learn from them.) I’ll toss out the losers—or paint over them–without looking back. I’ll look for where I need correction or development. I’ll allow the idea to mature and evolve. And I’ll aim less for the masterpiece that for excellence and the pure joy of creating art.
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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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