Fjellhytte (Mountain Home) Still Life

Fjellhytte Patio Progress
Fjellhytte Patio Progress

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

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.

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.

“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.

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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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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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.

M. lucifugus: cauchemar

myotisLucifugusDone
Myotis lucifugus, or the little brown bat, is the most common species of mouse-eared bat in North America. Several encounters with these guys have made me quite familiar with them, from having to trap them in my apartment building – scary – and let them go outside, to watching them zoom around in the evening catching mosquitoes before a movie in the neighborhood park. From the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources “Living With Wildlife”:

  • Bat Fact 1: Bats will not fly into our hair.
  • Bat Fact 2: Bats are of benefit to humans.
  • Bat Fact 3: There are ways to get rid of bats without killing them.

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Shadow Palm


Shadow Palm (working title)
This is a large painting started in my bedroom. I had this big canvas leaning against my wall and woke up one night to see shadows playing on the surface. I decided to trace the shadows in the middle of the night, which were coming from light outside interacting with my palm tree (now dead!), and begin a “progressive” painting with multiple sessions of tracing and then painting. It’s still not finished, but it makes a nice decoration for now. Hoping to “finish” it this summer.