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.

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.
Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

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.

ABOUT:BLANK

About:Blank
About: Blank

One of the greatest and most valuable gifts of painting is the relative ease with which one can simply wipe the slate clean and start anew. Palette knife is the tool – I chop into the surface with rays of pure white gesso and efface all that was there before, smothering the old composition, which fades into a place of secondary importance, an array of thoughts now removed. With each bolt of new paint, the material matrix breathes again, and the islands of old charcoal and color shrink down until they are obscured by broad blinds of new paint.

The newly blank field is at once a chance to forget the old and begin with a fresh absence, a novel idea in a consciousness too often cluttered with useless nostalgia, hapless could-have-beens. When the blind patching is complete, there is a moment of satisfaction in nothingness, and an urge to stop just there, existing within the transitional space. This is the space of balance after withdrawal, and the measured breath just before the next effort. The ecstasy there is the elusive sense of endless opportunity within the walls of the canvas. It is often most difficult to begin again and fill the space with a new idea that will grow and learn and change, and perhaps become redundant.

I’m questioning every time if it is possible to prolong the sense of unknowing and suspended creative potential. Is it even plausible in panting, which produces an obligatory fixed image?

What a shock to make the first mark in that clearing and let the new imaginary shapes take life, physical form. And always, in my work, where the initial becomes an echo, the old redundancies may ascend again to inform the new.

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.

Continue reading