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

Why I killed the cat

This post demonstrates how one particular painting made its way into being. You’ll see images that mark the journey, full of missteps and bumps, indecision and decision, until at last, a completed work is born.

But first, a little backstory. The inspiration for The Long Wait comes from a photo I captured in a waiting room while my car was being serviced. A woman in a puffer jacket, lost in her smartphone on the sofa near me, grabs my interest —I seem to be attracted to figures in solitary settings. I make the snap and the image goes into my reference library. 

Several weeks later the pandemic hits. Overnight, we attempt to adjust to the loss of so many familiar aspects of our daily lives. As I settle into the studio, attempting a normal routine, the photo of the woman rises above the numerous ideas I’m considering, and I choose it as the taking off point for the next painting. It’s not until I’m well into it that I realize how profoundly it expresses the experience of so many in this moment.

I choose a hardboard panel that had already undergone a considerable amount of experimentation. Torn kraft paper covers the panel, with random patterned papers on top, and a layer of red-orange acrylic paint and maybe some turquoise after that. It seems like a good start. At this point, I don’t know how much of it will be covered up and how much will remain, but I begin, knowing surprises are waiting.

Detail. Sketching in the composition. Its history is showing through with patterns and colors that may or may not remain.
Detail. Roughing in more of the figure. Will that funky chair be part of the story?
Full view. Major compositional elements are in. The green sofa on the right gives some weight to the right side. Since the figure is the center of interest, I pay it some attention. I’m ignoring the funky chair for now. I love orange, but this much hurts my eyes. There is much to resolve.
I’ve gone crazy with patterns. Not surprising, since they often come to the party with me. The shoes shift from a yellow hue to red-orange. A newspaper lies on the green sofa. There’s a Mondrian-style grid representing a window. A plant replaces the chair, something organic amidst all the geometry. The chairs moved–and doubled. Not sure about a lot of it though. There’s so much that’s not working. What to do?
The pattern has to go. I start by covering the floor with a layer of orange. The potted plant is gone, replaced by plants you seen through the window. Pillows on the green sofa help move the eye around. I’ve warmed up the puffer coat to contrast with the cool sofa color. Oh, it needs a cat! On a patterned rug! And another rug to add interest on the right! And a patterned-filled box around the foreground red chair! Well, I did simplify. Just one red chair, not two. But honestly, this has gone south, and I’m not sure how to save it. What was a painting about isolation and loneliness has become one of domestic tranquility–and not in a good way. Do I save the cat or save the painting?
Ahhh! As my wise friend Maureen says, “Details are never the answer.” I killed the cat. I scrubbed the rugs. I dug up the vegetation. Gone. A warmish gray covers the floor, allowing just a tad of pattern to remain and is echoed in the walls in varying values. The gray allows the warmth in the figure to take the stage. Kraft paper textures and bits of patterned paper hint of the painting’s early history. Greenish blue through the window adds depth and a sense of hope to the feeling of isolation. The painting I intended appeared at last. With apologies to my own resident feline, the cat had to go.

Thanks for taking this little journey with me. See details about The Long Wait here.

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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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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, 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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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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About the Painting, Body of Work, Inspiration for Making Art

The place of ideas

The concept for a new painting often arises out of the piece I am currently working on. Completing a painting that features the very stable, quiet and calming forces of horizontal marks generates thoughts about a more motion-filled and cacophonous design, with criss-crossing and arcing lines. (Click on images to see larger versions.)

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Or it may give birth to ideas on how to push the same concept even further. A painting that in its final stages partially overcomes the background may set me toward thinking of a more open, airy design—or other ways of using the background to influence what happens at the end. A black background creates a completely different experience than a white one, and I like to test them both.

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Color does a lot of heavy lifting in communicating the emotional tone of a work, so I’m sometimes drawn to pulling from a different part of the color spectrum for a subsequent piece. Maybe the last piece I completed incorporated reds and oranges for a hot and fiery mood that generates excitement. The follow-up might be a larger painting with a similar color palette, with the larger canvas encouraging an even bolder approach. But it could also mean that cool, quiet blues and greens form the basis for the next work. I followed Fire Dance, for example, with Tsunami.

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I’m not saying that external stimulation doesn’t generate ideas for paintings—it certainly does. Trips to museums, shows, galleries and even a YouTube video session often create a whirlwind of concepts that might eventually make their way into my work. But even so, they must go through an internal blender—no, not a blender—more of a butter churn–before they feel authentic to me.

Truly, ideas come from a deep and infinite universe, both the observable one of nature, objects and humanity, and the invisible one of the heart, the emotions and the intellect—and ultimately from the Creator who has embedded deep within us the power to create.

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All art is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without express written permission. Copyright 2017 Laura Hunt

 

 

 

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Body of Work, Inspiration for Making Art, sketchbook

30 days, 30 faces

In my last blog post, “Going small: a wee little personal project,” I described a self-imposed challenge of populating a small blank book with faces. I committed to drawing 30 faces in 30 days. By then I had a week’s worth of sketches.

I had 23 faces to go. Twenty-three days in which I had to find just a few minutes to play. (Okay, I’ll admit, there were a couple days when I just plain forgot, so I doubled up the next. Commitment is commitment, you know.) And while drawing a face a day isn’t required to be functional in the world, I did come to see it as a form of self-care–care of my artist’s spirit, care and nurturing of my own imagination.

How will today’s face be different from yesterday’s? Will it be the set of the eyes, the texture of the hair, the turn of the lips, the skin color pale or dark, the tilt of the nose? Nature, nurture and life bestow their imprints on our faces in myriad ways. That uniqueness is the most obvious way we recognize one another, but we make little conscious note of it.

Since I used no reference for the sketches, I don’t consider them to be portraits at all. I’m an abstract and assemblage artist, not a portrait or figurative artist. Any resemblance to real persons is totally accidental and unintended. Except for one, which I’m sure you will notice as you flip through the images. Using colored pencils, a medium I hadn’t worked with in many years, was as enjoyable as I remembered. My colored pencils are ancient! Some colors are down to nubs, so I’ve rewarded myself with a new set. Here is the completed 30-day project.

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A few random conclusions:

  • Humanity abounds with infinite variety.
  • Filling up this little book with cohesive yet playful drawings proved quite satisfying.
  • Imagination is a valuable asset. To keep it alive, it’s essential to give it a workout.
  • I hope to be more intentional in my observation of the faces that touch my life.

After a break, I’ll give myself another 30-day assignment, something different from this one, but one that stimulates my imagination–and helps fill up that book in meaningful ways. I’ll let you know about it when the time comes.

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All art is copyrighted (except for that one I alluded to in the fourth paragraph) and may not be reproduced without express written permission. Copyright 2018 Laura Hunt

 

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Body of Work, New Art

Memory-Jogs and the Year-End Review

Even though I’m not so much a looking backwards individual as I am a looking forward one, I do find a review of the previous year fundamental to goal-setting for the year to come. So for a start, I’ve assembled this slide show of some of my 2017 work.

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Some of these works are still in my studio, but many of them have found themselves in new homes where I hope they provide lasting pleasure. The memory jog was fun for me. The images of work created months ago remind me of how rewarding it is to create something that never existed before, and to pass it along to someone who will find meaning in it for years to come. I appreciate immensely the connections that art makes possible.

Besides a visual review of 2017, I also did a written one. I won’t bore you with details, but I’ll share a few of the highlights, some of which didn’t seem significant until seen from the vantage point of 2018.

  1. Cleared out, renovated and set up the workshop
  2. Began creating assemblages (made possible by #1)
  3. Created 36 works (22 paintings and 14 assemblages).
  4. Accepted into four juried shows

Now, looking forward to the broad expanse of 2018 (doesn’t the year ahead seem big and forever?), yes, I have goals, like creating 40 works, adding the 3D work to my website and increasing my email list of art lovers. But one of my most daunting goals is to focus on consistency of expression, to better establish my style and unique voice–challenges many artists encounter! I’m envious of those who make it look so easy.

My heartfelt thanks goes out to all of you for your encouragement and moral support this past year. It means the world to me, no matter what form it took, whether you gave a social media thumbs up, volunteered your help, joined my patronage program, attended an exhibit, subscribed to my newsletter, read a blog post, shared an event or purchased a piece of art, be assured that I notice and feel your kindness and friendship.

A happy, healthy, and blessed 2018 to all of you.

Join me on Facebook and Instagram for behind-the-scenes peeks and first postings of new work.

All art is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without express written permission. Copyright 2017 Laura Hunt

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Body of Work

Common Threads

Artists are by nature experimenters, some more than others. I think I fall into the middle to high end of that continuum. I can be pretty happy creating work in a particular medium for a while as I push its limits. (Actually, it’s probably my own limits I’m pushing.) Then it’s time to shake loose a bit.

I’ve noticed this pattern for a while. For example, I’ve worked with acrylics and mixed media since early 2016 after a couple years using watercolor, collage and stamping. The need to create larger work led me there. But I recently fell prey to the lure of three-dimensional work, and have taken a break from canvases to see where that leads me. (I’ll be back to canvases soon!) I haven’t abandoned one type of work for another, but simply enriched the journey with new tools, a bigger vocabulary, and the challenge of learning new skills.

Now in reflection, I look for threads that connect the seemingly disparate types of work. Below are some examples of shared processes, images, or obsessions that link the body of work.

Here’s a detail from a watercolor/mixed media piece (left) called Woman at the Window (2015) next to a detail (right) from Covered/Uncovered (2017), an acrylic painting. Two years separate the works, but the same passion for texture and pattern appears in both. Spirals and splatters? I can’t help it!

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Weathered, corroded surfaces attract me. The first image below (left) is a detail from Mesa Whirlwinds (2016), an acrylic/mixed media painting. I paired it with Half Memories (2017), a found objects assemblage I just finished in July. Although starkly different at first glance, they share my attempts at making surfaces compelling and complex.

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Comfort and Joy (2015), a watercolor/mixed media piece (left), couldn’t be more different from Dove in Mourning (2017), acrylics/mixed media (center), and Half Memories (2017). Oh, not so fast. What about the splatters in the first two? And do you see the dot pattern in all three?

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I could go back even farther, to my banners and wall hangings of the ‘70s, and my cut paper illustrations of the ‘80s. It’s a bit of a relief to see the common threads. The challenge is to avoid using them as defaults, to stay original, and to keep exploring!

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About the Painting

Four Things to Look for in My Paintings

The seed for this post was planted recently at a group show where my work was exhibited. I was having a pleasant conversation with an attendee, a woman who seemed to be enjoying her time in the gallery. She wanted to know which paintings were mine, and as we strolled around talking about various works, I began to point out several features, especially those that recurred. As our conversation closed, she thanked me in such a genuine way for increasing her appreciation of my work.

Later reflecting on the conversation, I realized that what is obvious to me can be hidden to the typical art lover. So what do I want people to look for in my work? This is a bit challenging, as so much of what I do is intuitive, but I’ll give it a try. Here are the features I’ve identified as being a part of almost every work I create, and how you might approach it.

Texture

Look for the tactile qualities of the work. Is it bumpy or gritty or fine? Smooth passages next to rough ones? Does the texture sit on the top layer of the painting, or at the very bottom? Does paint skip over the valleys and hit the ridges? Do raised lines define elements in the painting? Is there a passage of paint that looks corroded or worn? Do you want to touch the art? (Go ahead; I don’t mind.)

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Detail from Moon Over Canyon

 

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Detail from Deep Water

Pattern

I am drawn to all kinds of visual rhythm. As we respond to the beat in music, tapping our toes or bobbing our heads, so we can respond to the beat of the painting. Find something that is repeated. Do you notice a linear texture, or a swirl of concentric arcs, or a row of trees on the horizon? Is there a pattern of raised dots forming arcs or squares or lines? Is there an allover pattern, or is it random? What does the beat say to you? Straight lines are calm and serene; squares symbolize strength and stability; diagonals connote action; arcs and circles and spirals speak of energy.

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Detail from Dove in Mourning

 

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Detail from Prevailing Winds

Color

I’m willing to try any color or combination that advances the narrative I have in mind or the emotions I want to evoke. Consider how various colors make you feel. Do oranges and reds excite you? Do blues and greens give a sense of serenity? Do neutrals like white, ecru and tan make you feel quiet and calm? Do the colors tell a story, from reds and oranges in one part of the painting, to blues and purples in another section? Do the colors sing with each other in harmony or dissonance?

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Detail from Elements of Time

 

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Detail from Crosswise

Surprise

If you look closely, I’ll reward you with a small surprise, a little like an Easter egg behind the wildflowers. Are those linear elements made of vintage maps? Are there little gold or silver “pearls” tucked into a crevice of the texture? Does a shiny metallic pattern contrast with a softer earthy background? Viewing the painting from across the room is one experience. Engaging closely deepens it.

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Detail from Elements of Time

 

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Detail from My Jupiter

There are art professors, docents, curators, and art historians more qualified than I to teach art appreciation. This is just my attempt to help you enjoy what arises out of my artistic vision. Even though I had something in mind when I created the painting, please don’t be afraid to insert your own narrative. It’s your response that completes the work.

 

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