Making abstract art is difficult. Trained mostly as a representational painter, I have always found navigating the ambiguity of abstraction a murky, sometimes arbitrary task. However, that foggy negotiable space is crucial to what I admire in painting, and factors into the creative process I’m developing. I’m often seeking a particular balance between real and unreal, objective and subjective, visual equivalents of prose and poetry. Thus these days I have committed myself to explore terra incognita and foray into non-representational pursuits when I’m not painting a cute doggie.
Why is abstract painting so challenging? [Start stream of consciousness on the subject of abstraction.] Without a reference, there are endless options, and I’m repeatedly puzzling over the questions: what am I doing? Why am I doing that? How does this relate to the concept I am trying to convey? Should I even be thinking about this so hard? What is life? What the f*ck? Mostly, I end up sort of making progress on a general concept, and then find myself working through several aesthetic “problems” that I try to address using my creative process. The biggest question here is “what do I do next?” When I’ve hit a rut and I’m thoroughly in the weeds, I’m usually trying to find an interesting way to create visual balance or break through that particular point in the painting’s creation. The tricky thing is finding a solution that makes sense with the original concept and so forth, which may in turn create another aesthetic “problem” to be solved. The second tricky thing is going through these cycles in a way that is not something trite or [insert distasteful word here]. Maybe I’m not sure how to describe what I’m specifically avoiding. Probably kitsch. There are more unmentioned tricky things.
As you can see, I still have not fully jumped off the cliff. The “abstraction” above involves some very recognizable shapes: craggy peaks, a glacial lake from high above, water reflecting the sky, some distant road networks. The chevron-esque shapes invoke migrating birds, hang gliders, proteins folding into themselves, or chromosomes. This unfinished piece is somewhat related to a concept I have been working on called the “shape of life,” or critical, redundant shapes and patterns in nature that iterate at microscopic and macroscopic levels and carry meaning. More to come on this at a later time.
Today I am wrapping up this colorful portrait of Oreo, my coworker’s adorable bichon poodle (Poochon?) I began this piece with a standard grid and built into a loose, colorful underpainting. From there, I made small adjustments until the colors were just right to match my colleague’s home decor, jumping off the canvas in high contrast sage, rust red, sunny yellow, and umber-stained cerulean. As I have done in previous work, I developed a color palette using Adobe’s Kuler tool with input from my client, then worked within those tones as I layered using the “heavy over lean” technique.
I received this portrait commission a few days ago, and had fun with the composition and colors! The most challenging aspect was converting the neutral gray tone of the uppermost comforter into more visually appealing hues. The lines and shapes of the drapery challenged me to concentrate on the drawing through all stages of the piece. While putting on the final layers of paint, I actively worked against my instinct to preserve thick, dark, illustrative lines around everything. This tendency is evident in many of my other paintings, and I believe it originates from my “comfort zone” of line drawings. Other considerations: working on creating the illusion of space and depth, as much as a zoomed puppy close-up will allow. See the underpainting below.
Growing up, we spent two weeks every summer hiking in the Southern tip of grizzly country, the Mission and Swan mountain ranges of Northwestern Montana. Crashing through the mountainside bramble towards the high glacier lakes, we watched for the bear signs: slobber on the huckleberry bush, foul-smelling scat full of indigestible berry husks. We wore jingling bells to reduce the chance we might surprise a foraging bear, carried one loaded magnum in case the worst transpired. At the cabin, we devised an elaborate “bear escape” plan, should our homestead become the target of a hungry ursine burglar. Pervasive in our Montana stories, the grizzly bear was (and still is) a powerful and ominous force in the back of our minds. Luckily, we have not yet initiated the bear escape plan, nor required the loaded magnum on the trail! Continue reading →
I finally “finished” this painting after tabling it 2+ years ago. Sometimes, it takes a long time of living with artwork on your walls, glancing at it every day, before it becomes clear what to do with it next. Now I’m looking back at what I wrote about the work in 2014:
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 the 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 … 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.
Lone Pine Mountain Devils – small, elusive amalgams of quadruple-winged bat, squirrel, and lizard – roost in the shade of a tall sequoia. In the latest additions to my cryptozoology illustrations (above and the Ozark Howler), I used toner gray Copic markers to add painterly layers of depth and reduce the work of endless cross-hatching.
A mini portrait of my cousin Kirstin, preparing for her first baby, who will arrive in the next few weeks. I first met toddler-Kirstin at a wedding – she was a curly-haired fireball in a white skirt, and we tore it up. Growing up, Kirstin and I sketched gargoyles, invented games with old tools in the garage, pretended to be mer-children, strung wild daisy-chains, plucked handfuls of Indian paintbrush bouquets for Grandma, terrorized our little sisters, hiked in the mountains, and choreographed dances to Disney movies, Ace of Base. The hard, inevitable facts of growing up make these kid memories sweeter. In reflection, these scenes seem to be from a different place – an alternate reality bordered by long hours, long summers, recesses, a cabin in a valley, and family gatherings with Kirstin’s mom’s fabulous cheesy potatoes. Despite the oft-bleak adversity of adult life, not all is lost – when we catch up today, we revert to our goofy childhood selves. Thankfully, we can remember. Mostly, we laugh!
A shadowed, awakening figure rises, recoiling from an intruding “cloud” of morning light. Like smoke or vapor, an effulgence diffuses in through her open window. Her exterior and interior surroundings take shape in response to obliterating illumination – only enough to deepen the mystery of her tiny bedroom and den, which probably yes definitely has hardwood floors and some random, empty (spooky) tables.
This tableau is a large-format piece from 2008, my last year of art school. Scribbles about the progress of this work (eye-opening to look back on now) include thoughts about form and figure construction, the nature of light, and how to technically depict certain “fantastic” qualities of light.
Chupacabra. Micro pigment ink on drawing paper. 5″ x 7″
Behold the dreaded Chupacabra, blood sucker of Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. Best encountered at night, the Chupacabra should not be confused with manged canines or raccoons. Enthusiasts may observe the characteristic trio of puncture marks on victimized animals, the carcasses completely drained of blood.
Finally finished this figure study I started ~ 14 weeks ago. This work captures the naked likeness of my favorite model, hanging out in the sunny corner of my makeshift studio space. Since completing the study, I have moved on from this composition to a few other rapid figure drawings/paintings, which has been great practice in formal figure drawing skills. During a recent chat with the model pictured here, the topic of school words came up. I have not the faintest idea about my university’s motto(s) or words; in the past eight years I’ve attended six schools and feel decidedly disconnected from any alma mater. In contrast, his school experience was more Hogwartsian, and part of the university’s legacy is in its words: ideals to action.
The Thunderbird is an enormous avian cryptid resembling a vulture, sometimes depicted with reptilian or Pteranodon-like features. Reports of Thunderbird sightings and encounters extend back centuries. In the ancient world, giant mythological birds were referred to as Rocs. This cryptid’s name draws from American Indian legends of a large spirit bird (Lakota: Wakį́nyąn) associated with thunder, lightning, and the cardinal direction West.
“Martini” is a commission for a colleague in need of a Christmas gift for her mother! This pup is a member of the Papillon breed – the name is French for “butterfly,” referencing the breed’s distinctive outstretched ears and stringy hairs that trail below. Continue reading →
Another semester of nursing school is slowing down, which means I’m finding oodles of time to catch up on my oft-neglected creative projects! I’m celebrating my return to art with some abstract work in this playful piece.
This is a re-worked old abstract piece that I got sick of (see left), looking at it for a few years hanging in my bathroom. The colors were too muted, the paint accumulation too thin. In the end, I let remnants of the old piece peek through the new one.
Emerging darkly from the petrified air, a wooden plaque carved onto Smokey The Bear warned fire danger was “extremely dry, extremely high.” No campfires, no grills, no cigarettes, no huckleberries under the desiccating pines of Northwestern Montana. Grandma had texted (expertly, with many emojii) “we can’t see our mountains!” The drive up highway 83 this year, approaching our mountain refuge, was brimming with smoke. Flowing downwind from blazes in Idaho and Washington, the roil blotted out Montana’s Big Sky, tainted the Sun and Moon with toxic orange, and sent Glacier Park road-to-the-sunners scrambling back to the drawing board, travel guides and gas station free attraction brochure stands. Continue reading →
This monumental cranium, titled Eros Bendato Screpolato (Bandaged, Cracked Eros) by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj has rolled onto the front lawn of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (now referred to as “The MEE-yah”). Our plan to sketch a naked human in the drawing studio fell through, so we spent an afternoon on the wet museum grass, sketching Eros’ bandaged cranium in bronze instead. Continue reading →
My grueling Summer semester is almost over, meaning I can soon dust off my easel and re-connect with my other journey of art! Here’s Percy, the family pet of my friend Emily’s brother. I had lots of fun with texture and color on this one… I’m getting pumped to paint more animals in the very near future!
No longer unfinished art as of 5/21/15. This cat face was a nightmare! It feels so good to peel off the tape and see the crisp white borders and put a little signature at the bottom :) Satisfaction. At left: progress on cat portrait… The graphite plan and under-painting. Layer-by-layer glazing approach helped build up colors and thicker surface of the final painting. The biggest challenge here was getting the paint cat to resemble the real cat – minor variations in face structure and lines have a huge impact on recognition, just like on human portraits!
Starting off my pet portrait commissions journey with this fun small-format piece for my boss. I think it’s supposed to be a Jack Russel terrier, and maybe the pooch has some other genetic factors going on.