Winter Solstice Portraiture

Mr. Jobe Surveying his Winter Orchids. Acrylic on canvas.
Mr. Jobe Surveying his Winter Orchids. Acrylic on canvas.

I started this portrait of my live-in, unpaid studio model on the Winter Solstice, intending to compose a painting that looks forward to warmth and growth during the cold, bleak Minnesota winter. I thought about styling this as a somewhat abstract, cubist composition, but was lured into classical representation instead. While this type of portrait is not necessarily my forte, it has been a fun and challenging project so far, and I’ve frequently found myself lost in the long moments of focus/meditation on careful color mixing, delicate glazing and developing depth. In the end, I want the subject to have a glowing, warm feel radiating from the center of the composition, in stark contrast with the hard, chilly light of the surrounding seasonal blues. As I work, I’m trying to channel portraits by Degas and Manet, to name a few. At this phase of the painting, I’m ready to break from reliance on the photo reference and deepen some stylistic elements, embellish the scene and let the visual poetry play out.

“It is all very well to copy what one sees, but it is far better to draw what one now only sees in one’s memory. That is a transformation in which imagination collaborates with memory.” – Edgar Degas

Ending the Year with a Splash

Lepomis gibbosus (Pumpkinseed Sunfish). Acrylic and ink on canvas. 12" x 16"
Lepomis gibbosus (Pumpkinseed Sunfish). Acrylic and ink on canvas. 12″ x 16″

I’m closing out 2017 with this playful painting of Lepomis gibbosus, the Pumpkinseed sunfish. Also known as pond perch, common sunfish, punky, sunny, or kivver, these freshwater fish of the Centrarchidae family can be found in many of Minnesota’s lakes and streams. A coworker of mine has a fishy theme going in her baby’s crib room and asked for a fun, fishy piece to go with it. I decided to channel the Pumpkinseed’s likeness for its playful colors and goofy, chunky shape. Fun fact: the Pumpkinseed uses uniquely adapted teeth to feast fancily on escargot!

Beyond fish, 2017 has been a smashing year of art progress for me. Reviewing the last twelve months in my art journal reveals so many successes. So much having happened, I felt the need to reflect on the year in a blog post to capture all my thoughts in one place. In my formal art practice, I have achieved my goal of working with higher contrast, more risk-taking and experimentation with color, and creating the illusion of depth more effectively than ever before. I explored ways of working that I was not entirely comfortable with (cubism, landscape, realism), challenging myself and interrogating my own assumptions along the way. I showed new and old work in three different exhibitions. Additionally, I crushed my previous records for commission earnings, having finished ten distinctly unique pieces of increasing size and complexity. Lastly, and most valuably, I became a member at Vine Arts Center, and joined a committed and dynamic collective of artists working to bring art to the Twin Cities community in a variety of fashions. This has allowed me to more fully submerge myself in art dialog and discourse, an energizing and renewing process. A big factor contributing to this progress is at long last I have the right work-life balance required to generate new art and keep up with marketing it. Thanks, nursing school! Finally having a dedicated studio space is also a mega factor in the equation, not to be overlooked. Most importantly, there are people around me who support my art, come to my shows, ask good questions about my process, and get excited about what I’m making next. Art is a conversation – I am deeply appreciative of everyone willing to have that conversation with me.

Alongside these successes, there were a few goals I did not meet. I had good intentions to participate in community art events and collaborate through shared projects. I ran out of time! Moving into 2018, I hope to ratchet up my arts involvement by participating more in community art events. I also may have worked too heavily on commissions and not pursued my own creative projects fully enough. With many ideas floating around in my head, I’ll be sure to find a way to get more of them onto the page, paper, board, canvas, or what have you in 2018. Another goal I have for 2018 is to find a way for my art to add value or perspective to the conversations happening all around us in our social institutions, our media, or political theatre, our environment and universe at large. With all this in mind, I must remember to stay humble, to focus on the core of what energizes me about art, and to keep talking about art with anyone and everyone.

Oh, and one more non-art-related resolution: to get out there and eat all the escargot I possibly can, preferably with some uniquely adapted teeth.

Cubism’s “Greater Context”

Three Figures. Charcoal and conte crayon on drawing paper. 14" x 17"
Three Figures. Charcoal and cont√© crayon on drawing paper. 14″ x 17″

Here is a preparation piece/study for an upcoming project I am doing for a friend. I had another friend model and tried to render the figures in three separate perspectives using a cubist sensibility in my analysis and reworking of the visual field. I am so satisfied with this composition and treatment of the figures that I am considering making a full-size painting out of it, but perhaps it is best left alone as a study.

I started reading about cubism in the past couple of weeks to understand the theory behind this distinctive style. While I have not always been a fan of the blocky, dead-feeling paintings of Georges Braque and Jean Metzinger, the cubism of Picasso really speaks to me, perhaps because it seems almost decorative in the same vein as Gustav Klimt, alive with color and movement. What I found in my reading described the cubist’s attempt to portray a greater sense of reality by presenting a subject from many sides/perspectives, and in turn creating with the visual field a “greater context” around the subject for the viewer to have a fuller experience of the art. Within cubism’s paradigm is also a theme of temporal shift, with a subject changing slightly through different points in time. This last idea struck home with me as I recognized my own interest in early attempts at “time lapse” painting, which I termed “progressive” painting at the time. What I find fascinating about cubism is the attempt to imbue the static media of paint with the inherent transitional qualities of living structures in time and space.

Working and thinking through cubism comes at a time when I try to find a “greater context” for myself, both in my art and life in general. My RN job is challenging but I’m finally creeping up the learning curve and trying to get more involved with our unit. I’m reaching out my feelers for arts organizations to volunteer and contribute in meaningful ways, instead of painting in obscurity. As Summer fades, I feel a slight pressure to get more irons in the fire to keep me busy and warm through the long Minnesota winter.

 

Figure Study: Spacing, Tracing, Placing, Human Face-ing

Figure & interior study. Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 18" x 24"
Figure & interior study. Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 18″ x 24″

Returning to figure work with this study of a certain live model in my partially re-packed apartment a few weeks prior to moving. It is beyond exciting to come back to the classic and familiar gestural sketch of art school, and then combine that sensibility with my slow but eager, semi-abstract exploration of figure in relation to space and place. I’m trying hard to transmit how the sunlight filtered by the tree outside my window washes into and fills up my living room, now rendered a “transitional” space as recognizable domestic shapes are packed up and stacked in boxes and piles to the right. Transition or “interval” is central to my exploration of the time inherent in painting. This piece reminds me of an older figure study, but my risk-taking with color has certainly evolved. A time of change is ripe fruit to crack open, let the creative juice flow.

Coagulation Studies: Blob Job

Coagulation Study 2. Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 8" x 10"
Coagulation Study 2. Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 8″ x 10″

A few new acrylic blobs for you this week! Thinking about cells, fragment poetry, cascades, automatic art, classification and taxonomy, time and transformation, decoupage, the border between painting and sculpture, bug collections, miniature paintings, sedimentation, among other things.

Traction in Abstraction and the Budding Shape of Life

Flying Shapes (working title). Acrylic and ink on canvas. 18" x 24"
Flying Shapes (working title). Acrylic and ink on canvas. 18″ x 24″

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.

Ideals to Action

Seated figure (study). Conté crayon, charcoal on heavyweight paper. 14" x 17"
Seated figure (study). Cont√© crayon, charcoal on heavyweight paper. 14″ x 17″

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.

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Returns

Base painting for Returns
Base painting for Returns

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.

Study: Eros Bendato Screpolato

Study. Charcoal on heavyweight drawing paper. 14 x 17"
Study. Charcoal on heavyweight drawing paper. 14 x 17″

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

Life Drawing in the Home Studio

Study, Pregnant Woman. Charcoal and conte crayon on drawing paper. 14″ x 17″

First live model session in my home studio setup was very successful. I kept thinking this must be one of the only occasions during which one can acceptably sustain eye contact with another human for more than a minute. Or even several seconds.

A Sense of Place

In-progress Portrait. Acrylic on canvas. 11 x 14

Truth: it is hard to find time for painting in the crush¬†of full time work and full time school. Fortunately, another truth exists: the harder it is to find time to paint, the more I want to do it, and I fantasize about long hours with my easel, surfaces, brushes… Knowing my capacity for hedonism, I shouldn’t worry about losing my craft. But starting this piece, I¬†was more than a little wobbly getting back to the¬†process. For now, this is just an under painting, and I’ll be working on layering in richer color, more exacting line work, a truer depiction of my friend in the foreground. The¬†stiff, scary Chucky Doll face I unintentionally rendered¬†will need to be worked over.¬†The distinctive¬†bridges in the background create movement and ground the portrait in Minneapolis and the¬†Mississippi. Continue reading

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

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

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.

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.

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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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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