One From the Vaults: Seated Figures

Imaginary Figures. Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 36" x 48"
Imaginary Figures. Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 36″ x 48″

A larger painting from the same time that I was working on “Man With Drapes” and other figurative work inspired by Egon Schiele and some other artists I was thinking about a lot at the time. In this one, my approach was high energy but I admittedly wasn’t thinking through the content, and was not referencing any real models. I think the goal of this piece was more or less to figure out a way of working.

Untitled (Absence Study)

Untitled (Absence Study). Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 16" x 20"
Untitled (Absence Study). Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 16″ x 20″

After all these years
Does the ocean seem any wider?
Can your thoughts go back that far
Across the tracks and shorelines?

And all the times you crossed
Did you make the crossing for me? Was it real?
I guess there is no difference now, where the water’s so deep, and
Your feet can’t touch the sunken sand

River Dogs

River Dogs. Acrylic on canvas. 14" x 11"
River Dogs. Acrylic on canvas. 14″ x 11″

My parents have always raised Golden Retrievers as family pets, pretty much becoming third and fourth children. In our family, they are hunters, rough-housers, mattress hogs, spoiled brats, and friends.

Painting from a photograph on this one, but trying to keep it as lively as possible with light, natural color quality and vibrating brushwork. I started with a pastel lavender under-painting and I’m slowly building up the other colors around it. Water is always challenging, but a great exercise in color and motion.

Mega Kicks!

Er qi jiao
Er Qi Jiao. Acrylic, ink, graphite on canvas. 8″ x 10″

O Feiyue shoe, how can I express my love for you? These paintings are about the ubiquitous canvas and rubber martial arts shoe. My goal is to have four of them to arrange in a set. I have gone through so many pairs of these things since I started martial arts training, wearing holes into the soles on cement, replacing material with duct tape and random extra shoelaces, clumsily teetering around while wearing a fresh pair.

I suppose these qualify as a type of still life, but the Feiyue shoe does not like to be still. No, the shoe demands the dynamic! In accordance with the shoes’ wishes, the paintings recall Kung Fu kicking techniques. An appropriate set title is thus, Mega Kicks! These shoes were made for kicking, and that’s just what they’ll do. And, one of these days, these shoes are going to kick all over you. This post is done.

Xuan Zi. Acrylic and graphite on canvas. 8" x 10"
Xuan Zi. Acrylic and graphite on canvas. 8″ x 10″

Study: Crushed Bird

Study. Graphite on newsprint. 18" x 24".
Study of a crushed bird. Graphite on newsprint. 18″ x 24″.

First drawing using an improved studio space in my new apartment. This study comes from a photo I printed from an article online awhile back – I believe the photographer’s intent was to capture the effects of wind turbines on wildlife. I find the image at once raw and elegant.

Transitions: mudarse; 29; art crawl

Coucher. Charcoal on heavyweight drawing paper
Coucher. Charcoal on heavyweight drawing paper

It’s been a daft time with moving my home to a new (and greatly improved) space, but my new art “studio” area is finally all set up, much more sunny than it was before, and I’m ready to get working on lots of new ideas. Turning 29 tomorrow, and a page is turning. Isn’t 29 supposed to be the best year? Here’s a quick sketch of my boyfriend catching some zzz on the couch, aptly titled “Coucher.”

Quick plug – checked out the Saint Paul Art Crawl yesterday for the first time, exploring the different artist lofts and studios in the Lowertown area by the old rail yard. We came across lots of interesting work (audience participation written prayer flags for endangered species, glorified crafts, etc.), and several really compelling things. There were some “street stages” which were essentially wooden soap boxes for the public to use in whatever performative way they wanted. I elected to squat and devour some ridiculously good food truck chicken wings. I spent a lot of time in Caroline Mecklin’s studio considering her work and what I could learn from it. Visit her here: www.mecklinart.com

“Wild Things” to “Lisa Frank-enstein” – Dynamo II: The Epic Journey

Dynamo II. Acrylic, charcoal, aquarelle, collage on canvas. 36" x 60"
Dynamo II. Acrylic, charcoal, aquarelle, collage on canvas. 36″ x 60″

Migration, exchange, transformation, and natural cycles all take central roles in this new large piece I just finished. I’m feeling good about the final composition/content, which seems to be a sort of “Lisa Frank-enstein” multi-phased inner tube journey through dream territory, symbolism, and imagination. The loon and the salmon both make epic journeys during their lifetimes, interacting in a larger wheel that mills out change, promotes adaptation and learning.

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Schematix / Studio Nights

Dynamo II Schematic. Ink, colored pencil, mechanical pencil and embellishments on copy paper. 8.5" x 11"
Dynamo II Schematic. Ink, colored pencil, mechanical pencil and embellishments on copy paper. 8.5″ x 11″

My treatment of this migrating bird palm tree schematic draft is a hybrid of planning, playing, experimenting with shapes and colors, and journal entry. The thoughts and feelings I have about the work are sort of just poured onto this little sheet of paper and I decide how to use them on the larger piece as I go. It’s another kind of painting palette, maybe, but sans le paint.

Sometimes I have to make a rough draft. Or anyway find a visual means to process the themes in a miniature format before tackling a big working space in the confines of a small studio. This particular piece will eventually be projected onto a 5 x 3 foot canvas so I’ve been playing with this small copy paper version as a way to organize the elements. Honestly at times this feels counter-intuitive, because an energizing part of my work is the reactionary process with changes and transitions. Part of this, though, is that this is a previous painting I’m reworking (see my much earlier post about Shadow Palm, which will essentially be the under-painting). As with any rough draft, though, I can count on the final composition to look and feel much different from the initial, procedural steps.

Inkjet cutouts. T'ai chi poses.
Inkjet cutouts. T’ai chi poses.

Finding enough – time – to work on art is the biggest barrier to my practice. Between work, increasing need for sleep, all the personal relationships, worries about school, the daily grind of household and general life/hygienic upkeep, art somehow tends to fall down the priorities ladder to my unending guilt. I know someday I will have more time for art, but it is not an excuse to put it on the back-burner now. Despite this priorities pattern, I’ve been dedicating at least every Wednesday evening, without too many expectations. Last night for instance, I didn’t get much real “painting” in, but I did cut out a lot of cool inkjet prints of myself in various t’ai chi poses for collage elements, as well as work up the above schematic – in which some epic migrating waterfowl are centrally featured!

Snapshot of cutouts collés. Inkjet print on canvas with Liquitex heavy gel medium.
Snapshot of cutouts collés. Inkjet print on canvas with Liquitex heavy gel medium.

At times, when feeling guilty about not doing it, art-making becomes a chore. To get past that, I try to just allow myself the “studio time” to do whatever I want with (like cut out nearly nude pics of myself), as long as it is in some way art-related. It’s kind of like stretching; it’s not a full workout, but it’s getting ready for the real stuff. Every artist needs time to reflect, to spread out their tools and their inspirations, and just do what feels fun or productive for that particular mood or moment. Art should never feel like a chore, and when it does, I can’t see how creativity can thrive.

Dynamo I: All My Relations

Dynamo I (All My Relations). Acrylic, charcoal, ink, collage on canvas. 36" x 36"

Here is where I’m leaving this painting for now. Dynamo I is the first stage of a three stage project I’m doing on large canvases that emphasize nature, color, and increasingly concerned with the concept of “energy exchange” – in natural systems and in organism interactions. There is a little bit of my bio-nerd coming out in this theme … It’s fascinating to observe the world this way and to recreate the exchange of energy in the act of painting, which is itself a form of exchange and re-genesis.

Why “dynamo?” Strictly speaking, “dynamo” indicates a generator of some sort, which converts electrical energy to mechanical energy. I once came across this word in a short story, used to describe a dark forest ravine. I never got away from the imagery of this ravine filled with the energy of frog croaks, insect whirrrs, leaves rustling, water flowing etc. Earth/Nature as limitless battery, endless potential for conversion, transformation and sadly, exploitation …

I finally put the “legs” on this painting last night, which means I painted the canvas sides, and I’m ready to table it for now and see where the next two canvases go before I decide that it’s work ready to show. That being said, it’s neat how complete the piece feels when the sides are actually filled in … :)

Cellular Respiration System

Cellular Respiration. Highlighter, colored pencil, ballpoint pen on cardstock. 5.5" x
Cellular Respiration. Highlighter, colored pencil, ballpoint pen on cardstock. 5.5″ x 4.25″

Cellular Respiration: “The series of metabolic processes by which living cells produce energy through the oxidation of organic substances.” – American Heritage Stedman’s Medical Dictionary

Dynamo Closeups

Just a couple quick photos from painting session a few nights ago. The sheen from my acrylic extending medium gives some unexpectedly rad effects on collaged cutout embellishments … Qué rico … Publishing from phone for first time … XD

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Scaturiginichthys vermeilipinnis

Scaturiginichthys vermeillipinnis. Mechanical pencil, colored pencil, gel pen on card stock. 5.5" x 4.25"
Scaturiginichthys vermeillipinnis. Mechanical pencil, colored pencil, gel pen on card stock. 5.5″ x 4.25″

The Red-Finned Blue Eye, one of the most threatened species on the planet, inhabits just four springs in Australia and is preyed upon by invasive species. It was discovered and described in 1990. There may be only a few thousand individuals surviving today.

Made this post card to participate in the Wet Paint Summer Post Card Project.

Time Warp! / Looking Back

Early figure work, approximately 2008. Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 48" x 36"
Early figure work, approximately 2008. Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 48″ x 36″

And now for a post about art from the (not so) distant past … Six years ago, I was in art school stretching my own humongous canvases, spending hours and hours pondering and journaling on the perilous possibilities of form, content, and the place of painting. This is a piece I’ve been living with ever since. I think I’ve shown it maybe three times, but for the last several years it has occupied a lonely place in my bedroom. I recently re-hung it on a wall, where paintings belong.

Reconsidering this painting now, having lived with it for so long and having hauled it through at least four different apartments, I have a very physical connection with it. When I was making it, I was really focused on the process, and color/composition work often were placed on the back burner. I was muddling through this sort of “constant revision” approach where I would begin something but refuse to become committed, obscure it, and start again, with the result being a sort of time warp where you can see the flux of several different sketches without a necessarily recognizable “finished” product. Adding to this, I think this particular piece was based on live models, but every 120 seconds or so they would change position, adding to the time lapse effect. This way of working I think was a precursor to my concept of “progression” or “progressive” painting, wherein the process is paramount and the “end” of the work is slippery.

However “unfinished” it was at the time, I haven’t touched it in several years and I think I can say that I probably will not return to anything on this particular canvas … So be it … Let’s call it done!

A Total Ecology of Painting

Work in progress. Acrylic, charcoal, compressed ink on canvas. 48" x 48"
Work in progress. Acrylic, charcoal, compressed ink, aquarelle on canvas. 48″ x 48″

“Wandering” / “Exploring” / “Essaying” / “Probing” … These are just a few ways I could characterize my approach to painting, especially when working in a relatively larger format. I don’t rely on a lot of planning but rather sort of let my process guide me through the work. In this piece, there are several overlapping sketches and paintings … you can see the initial stages in my previous post “About: Color.” I work through these quickly at first and then slowly consider what is emerging, making decisions on the fly. In this way, the different levels of the painting tend to merge and present themselves all at once, which for me is a potent way of tying time together and presenting this work as an idea/process that may suggest something pointed or simply observe in a non-linear fashion. I often feel my role in a painting, and certainly in large works that fill my entire scope of vision, is that of the explorer, as ready to discover as I am to make formal decisions about the direction of the piece. Central to the way I work – and to the practice of painting itself – is the idea that whatever happens remains visible … Decisions made in the past remain in existence and are presented all at once to the viewer, which separates painting from most sculpture, video, performance, etc.
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Manual to Waking Life

10 Juillet.

1. Allez le soir avec ton père dans un lac profond. Faites certain de vous habiller bien. Il vous faudra savoir nager. N’oubliez pas vos gants hivernaux.

2. S’il pleut, repérez le mât. Montez-le. Vous pourrez vous en servir d’une roquette en boîte. Montez à fin de toucher la source de la pluie. Regardez fréquemment en bas.

3. A l’apogée, reconnaissez votre propre père.

Lac

Color Calisthenics no. 2 / Zamioculcas zamiifolia

Color Calisthenics no. 2. One hour color study of Zamioculcas zamiifolia houseplant. Concentrated ink stick, aquarelle, acrylic on mixed media paper.
Color Calisthenics no. 2. One hour color study of Zamioculcas zamiifolia houseplant. Concentrated ink stick, aquarelle, acrylic on mixed media paper.

Continuation of series of color “calisthenic” exercises. Finding it easy and freeing to refuse commitment and have fun with the possibilities. Focus of work here is exaggerating unlikely colors perceived in the subject and extending their range using wide artistic license and some imagination. Trying not to get too hung up on details, suppressing analytic sensibilities while working the surface. Side note: Zz plant is toxic to kitties meow.
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Color Calisthenics

Color Calisthenics no. 1. Acrylic, aquarelle, ink on mixed media paper
Color Calisthenics no. 1. Acrylic, aquarelle, ink on mixed media paper. 40-minute exercise.

An artist friend, Anna, told me – making resolute eye contact – that I need to electrify the apparently drab color palette I have allowed myself to succumb to. We were having an “art day,” which means we get together on her covered patio with Molly, her incredibly cute dog, chat for awhile, have a coffee, spend way too long getting our works space and materials set up, and try our damndest to advance our current projects while sort of cheering each other on. Anna was flinging colors around on a silk canvas in wide bars so vivid you could have mistaken it for a black-light luminescence poster we all know from our teenage years or stoner friends. I, five feet away, was scribbling blue ink into a tiny patch of bare canvas and diluting it with medium-heavy titanium white, carefully planning which color will come next, wincing at the surface like a math problem. I wasn’t having any fun with that, and predictably, I found myself staring at the colors an hour later and wondering how I had come up with such a stereotypical, elementary pairing of orange and blue without much else going on. Anna was right, I think, as she hands me a white wine spritzer (choice Art Day drink – or we are just women-around-thirty). My color capabilities have become flabby. Glug.
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Periplaneta americana: la cucaracha!

Periplaneta americana underpainting
Periplaneta americana underpainting. Acrylic and graphite on watercolor paper.

This was a quick project that I’ve put aside for now, as predictably I have moved on to something else I find a little more interesting than a painting about this ubiquitous insect. Cockroaches live all over the world and come in several species, the worst of which I hear are migrating to my part of the world at a terrifying pace. The initial inspiration came from finding some small specimens in my sink and my subsequent battle with the seemingly limitless reinforcements that back up their fallen compatriots. Luckily, there are some handy dandy and non-toxic ways to deal with minor infestations of them.
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Art and Kung Fu … Tiger Style! (Rawr!)

Tiger Claw
Charcoal and conte crayon on Strathmore drawing paper. 14 x 17 inches

“The Year of the Hobbyist” – a personal auto-characterization of my last approximately twelve months. My sister has made plenty of snarky comments about the several pass-times I have picked up and tried to juggle, not without mocking for the ones I have let fall into the dirt. She’s right, though … I recently bought a guitar and I was good about breaking into it, practicing for the first few weeks, only now for the last several months it has been leaning against my living room wall like another still tableau instead of an instrument. I purchased a French-made tagine with (feebly sated) ambitions for Moroccan cooking, a fishing pole hungry for more fish, running shoes that could at this point have seen a little more pavement, and a small fish tank with five tiny tropical fish (to whom I will say I am hopelessly devoted). However, one new thing in my life that has persisted is kung fu. Today, after nearly one and a quarter years training at the local dojang, I am fairly obsessed with it.

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Winter’s Mirror – Selfie Portrait

Selfie portrait
Selfie taken with phone, sketched on newsprint

It has been awhile since I posted anything, but that’s not to say I haven’t been busy. This time of year in Minnesota, the dark winter days are dragging on and each week brings a fresh few inches of snow, which now is melting into deep black pools of chilled, creeping mud. The last several weeks have been cold enough that it’s not worth leaving one’s apartment save for the most obligatory of activities. The Midwestern cabin fever has certainly set in.
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Des couleurs, des corbeaux

Color and form progression
Color and form progression

In my relationship to color, I have never been careful.

I’ve just arrived at the end of my next session on this painting, and I can see some rudimentary color “themes” coming forward and some birdlike things happening with form. I began developing the color fields and establishing the noisy, frenetic lines of the tree branches – the painting has begun to take on a more significant weight. The experimentation with hue usually takes place right on the surface of the canvas, and if I don’t like what is happening, I treat it as a challenge that must somehow be incorporated or subordinated.
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About: Color

Initial color progressions
Initial color progressions

Starting a new painting is exciting. There are so many possibilities to consider, and watching where the piece begins to move, stepping back every twenty or so minutes, helps decide whether the formal decisions are beneficial or useless. The composition of this piece comes from a photograph I took in a friend’s backyard after I helped him dig a ditch for a French drain at his new house. I was exhausted and sweating, and looked up to see sun filtering through the changing leaves of Minnesota’s autumn. I snapped a quick picture and translated the tree forms onto this square canvas.

My formal goal with this piece is only to explore the possibilities of color, starting with stark fields in a slightly geometric formation, and build them slowly to maximize subtleties. I have a lot of ideas for how to proceed as the colors develop, but for now I’m enjoying the simple rapports between the hues and tones cutting up the white space.

White space can be intriguing in its absence (as I wrote in my last post) however when I start again with a solid idea, it’s a race to get rid of it, to fill up that void with something physical, workable, without destroying the potential of the surface. The image is taking form and life and breathing all that open, white air to begin its own progress towards something unique in its own. The artist is the image’s careful guide, in this case.