Join me....

I believe that art enriches and informs our lives everyday in many positive ways. Sharing those experiences, whether as an artist or as an appreciator, is part of the pleasure. I welcome your comments and hope you find something of value: a laugh, an insight, a new idea or just a happy moment. Enjoy art!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Choosing Vagueness

A painting requires a little mystery,
some vagueness, some fantasy....
Edgar Degas

Yes, that's a repeat seems to resonate with me these days.  I'm liking my paintings unfinished  or at least more unfinished than I am accustomed.  I'm not sure why...perhaps I like the vagueness or perhaps I am afraid of ruining them with too much forced detail.  But it seems like I want to quit earlier than before.

Here's an example.

On the Marrakech theme: Hiking in the Atlas Mountains was an especially memorable day for many reasons.  One of which was this man shepherding his goats.  He barely moved but his eyes were everywhere and he cautiously watched me as I approached.  I paused to get my breath, survey the goats (who were prancing over the steep mountainside) and I screwed up my courage to indicate via pantomime my question about taking his photo.  He barely nodded.  I clicked.  And we went back to our business.  It was with fond memories I approached this depiction.

roughed in

defining the shadows

calling it done

And I'm going to leave it there.  Perhaps the background could have been even more unfinished.  And by "finished" I mean the "addition of detailed definition."  It is the tendency of many painters to paint every leaf on every tree.  Lately I have been thinking about which trees to indicate and which ones to leave out altogether.  

I will be exploring this "unfinished business" more thoroughly in the weeks ahead.  Maybe I should call it less finished as opposed to more unfinished??  Degas had it correct with "a little mystery, some vagueness..."

Do you like it all spelled out in a painting or do you prefer filling in the details yourself?  


Friday, March 9, 2018

Building a Book

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” 

I have not read Mr. (now deceased) Adams' books but I really related to his quote above.  In fact, I always feel that if a project is not complete before a deadline then I am really totally behind.  Makes no sense, it's just how I am.

To that end I am thrilled to hear the whooshing noise of a deadline go by as I finalize the last of several paintings and drawings I am doing for a friend's book on Marrakech, Morocco.  Not stealing her thunder nor revealing the gist until she (and others) hear their deadlines whoosh into publication, I nevertheless less will share some of the pieces I've sent.

grinding argon nuts in the Atlas Mountains, oil

camel waiting for a rider, pen and ink

mint tea service, oil

Mosque entrance, w/c in sketchbook

the rug souk, oil

pen and ink, portal

conundrum: I like the unfinished nature
of this piece so it is resting.
As the "real deadline" is actually another week away I
have time to tweak and cogitate... that sound.

Next on the list.


Friday, March 2, 2018

Painting a Memory

A painting requires a little mystery, 

some vagueness, some fantasy. 
When you always make your meaning perfectly 
plain you end up boring people. (Edgar Degas) 

Or you could end up boring yourself.
I recently had the urge to paint "some fantasy" as a way to remember a wonderful trip we had with friends to Isla Mujeres in Mexico.

the colors of the island were my favs, bright and eye popping

And the most unusual thing we kept seeing were the wild iguanas.... they were always sunning themselves and looked liked a cross between an alligator and a dragon.

we photographed this fellow on our way to the grocery

The iguanas just screamed to be painted.  They seemed to represent a bit of our vacation and a lot of fantasy.  Choosing a large, 48" high and 24" wide, gallery-wrapped canvas, I treated myself to working on it little by little dragging out the fun and letting the creative muse have her way.

My photo was pretty poor and with such a large canvas I felt better drawing it out on paper to judge proportions.  I also noted there was a lot of "undecorated" space that might need some help. 

Can you guess what inspired the colors?  This guy could only live on a Mexican island.

I found it difficult to imagine how that critter crawled up the concrete wall so I was concerned about getting his feet and claws positioned properly.  Then I gave up...this was for fantasy not a scientific illustration.

The patterns I invented on portions of the tail remind me of the wonderful Mexican tiles we had all over our apartment where we stayed.

I couldn't decide if he was a friendly soul or not but I stopped short of giving him a grin.

Iguana Be Me
48 x 24, gallery wrapped canvas, acrylic

And now we rest.  Until....

I couldn't resist!  he needed more of a scene so I added these pods...makes the wall look a bit more interesting.
Since I have an idea where this fellow is going to hang, let's mark him SOLD!


Friday, February 23, 2018

Willing to Fail

A math professor at Williams College bases ten percent
of his students' grades on failure.
Mathematics is all about trying out new ideas -- new formulas...
and knowing that the vast majority of them will be dead ends.
To encourage his students not to be afraid of testing
their quirkiest ideas in public, he rewards rather than punishes them for 
coming up with wrong answers.

from Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit

Ms Tharp continues: "If Leonardo and Beethoven...failed on occasion, what makes you think you'll be the exception?"

I am trying to embrace this.  Honestly.  But it is much harder than it sounds.

Playing a wrong note is one thing....hauling off failed canvases is quite another, at least to me.

But back to the willingness to fail.  

I have become more aware of the emotion expressed in certain pieces of abstract art ( - mainly because I have become more aware of abstract pieces in general.)  But none of my attempts seem to satisfy me.
So again I try...willing (almost expecting) to fail.

Some warm ups by cutting up pieces of patterned papers in black and white:

These exercises are a wonderful way to experiment with pattern and variations of size and contrast.
Just make a pile of different paper "fabrics,"  then cut and paste (photo below).  No subject, no message, I just wanted to make the final configuration pleasing.

Time for something large and in paint. So I started with charcoal and a fixative on a large square support and blocked out shapes inspired by a photo of heavy clouds rolling in over a field.  Somehow I lost both photos.  Then I lost my nerve and put the painting away for quite a while.  I was totally indecisive as to how to finish it.  

Fast forward to this week: I've been working in turquoises and oranges and they give me such a rush of energy that when I spied that forgotten board leaning against the wall I grabbed it and began painting.  I let the underpainting guide my response to dark and light but used only the colors I was already using for another piece.

I was liking this ...a lot.

A Perfect Storm
24 x 24 on board, painted 3/4" edge, no frame

It would be a bit presumptuous of me to claim this a "perfect abstract" but it was a perfect storm of energy, color, preparation and nerve.  It is going to remind me to be fearless.  And it is not going off to the dump anytime soon.

Finally, I have framed and hung the abstract masterpiece below where I see it daily when I leave for my studio.  The wild abandon, the obvious lack of constraint and the vibrant colors all say "GO FOR IT."  

Go For It
mixed media abstract, 12 x 9
done by my 2 1/2 year old grandson

I can sum up my week's lesson this way: Go for it and you might create a perfect storm.  Or not!
Either way, a math professor at Williams College is wise enough to give you credit if you fail.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Please: Try this at home

I hope never to be accused of being an art snob.
Any process, any material, any level of
effort used in the production of visual arts gives me
a good warm feeling.  No judgement should
be made when the process brings pleasure.

And while I firmly believe that mantra I find myself standing in judgement, and thus in the way, of my own creative efforts.  And so I confess.  As I talk the talk I need to remember to walk it.

So please, in the name of "good, warm feelings,"let's try this at home.  I was skeptical...but it really was fun.

I signed up for a "print making"class at the college and was mildly disappointed when the teacher passed around styrofoam trays the first night.  You know, those environmentally horrid picnic plates that are cheap, white and made of styrofoam.  (I save trays beneath meat and prepackaged fruit, but use them as disposable palates for paint. ) See? I was already judging and getting in the way of possible pleasure, shame on me.

trim off the edges so that a flat piece remains

We were instructed to "draw" on the flat side (inside without trademark) of the tray and then go back over the drawing using a ball point pen pressing into the foam to make an indentation.  This would make our first printing plate.  Yeah, right. I confess to feeling that this was a tad elementary and not what I signed up for.

But...I could not have been more wrong: magic unfolded and it was chock full of important lessons.
Not only will I do this again, but I will save trays to do this with the grands on a snow day.  If you don't "draw" make swirly lines or geometric patterns.  Change the size of the tray (cuts easily with scissors) and make several smaller stamps to layer on top of each other.  Oh the places you can go!

GATHER:  foam tray or plate
ball point pen
brayer or wide paint brush
acrylic paint or printing ink
palate to spread paint, can be another plate or freezer paper or piece of glass
paper or cards to print onto
sense of play

I now understand that this simple exercise is done to illustrate
the printing of negative and positive spaces; what we "take away" (via the pen-made indentations)
will actually be the lines that become positive spaces.  What is
left (the areas of foam untouched) will be solid paint

Roll on the paint or ink covering the "plate" as evenly as possible.  Lacking a brayer just use a wide brush to smoothly cover the foam with paint.  You can turn the plate over onto the paper or, easier yet, leave the plate ink side up and gently lay the paper on top of it, pressing evenly over the back of the paper.  You can even smooth it out with a credit card or a clean brayer.  Carefully peel the paper off, holding the plate down and lay aside to dry.

my first print
negative space (the dark green of the paint) is what I did not etch out
with the pen

Another lesson learned here is that the left becomes right and the right left...important to realize if you are using words or want a directional emphasis in the final piece.  The first couple of impressions are not as lovely as those following.  I noticed the bottom edge was raggity and would need further trim.  But hey, not too bad for being a skeptic.

The class oohed and ahhed as prints were made.  Doubters became believers.  We now had a foundation on which to base our next pursuits.  Relative questions could be asked.  Below is a sampling of results (with the artists' permission of course).

Andi is rolling ink onto her cut tray

She places the tray ink side to her test paper and

with a clean brayer gently presses the design onto the paper

holding the paper down she carefully pulls back the styrofoam for the reveal

Anna Lise cut a dog for her first print, see the tray back, use other side

isn't this amazing?  a pro job from a recycled tray, color me impressed

So why don't you find a ball point pen and make a birthday card?  An original.  The cost of cheap paint will be far less than a Hallmark version.  Have fun.  Try this at home.

Carving in Color,

p.s. my experiment with leaving comments bombed.  Off to research.....

Friday, February 9, 2018

Festina Lente

 Several years ago we quit making new year's resolutions
in lieu of choosing a word we would try
to live by.  It has been more 
productive for us and we enjoy exploring that word and
all of its nuances for an entire year.

My word(s) this year is:

For the literal definition of this greek phrase and its latin translation go here.    As I begin to focus on this term I am finding additional references to it almost everywhere: slow food (art), hurry slowly, meditative walking and so on.  Even my favorite buddy Austin Kleon addresses the idea here.  And I found a podcast devoted to the subject here.

I am trying to capture the essence of this word everyday not only in my work and pleasure but in my head has always been about a mile ahead of my feet and I'm finding that is not the best way to get around anymore.  Join me in slowing down and getting more done!  Or did you choose a different word for 2018?

Before I share my "slow art" I want to try an experiment.  Many of you have noticed that you are unable to comment on my blog so that others can see it.  I get many responses via email but it is nice to be able to have a conversation on reactions to a subject.  I have tinkered with the settings a bit (all greek to me) and hopefully have adjusted that.  Try commenting directly on the comment section of the blog (if you receive by email you may have to click over to the view on-line) and lets see if we can share our thoughts.  Of course I love getting your private input but I often learn a lot from readers and it is nice to be able to see it all.

Finally, my "slow art" in January.  We headed to Florida for a week of camping, beach strolling and reading in warm weather.  I did not take my studio with me and of course my hands got itchy to create.  So on a long leisurely beach combing walk I collected many shells which all had one thing in common: a hole!  Most of course were made by sea creatures sucking out the little animals living inside but some had the wear and tear of the ocean creating a hole in them.  A few sticks, some rocks for balance and a ball of jute from the dollar store....I was in creative heaven for several days working on my wind sculpture below.  Slow, meditative, challenging, and satisfying.  Festina lente.  Enjoy.

my pockets filled and dumped 
sorting through my gathered treasures

imagining a layout
auditioning sticks

art installation at the campsite
the rock and sticks on the left had to be
added for balance...gave the piece a very
"primitive" look