Studio Materials 2

Studio Materials 2

Monday, October 22, 2012

Drawing is the Mother, Painting is the Child

Recently, I was teaching  class with a relatively new student whose goal is to improve her drawing skills. She has innate skills and an observant eye, but needs practice and some range in her mark making language. We had been working on an extended pencil drawing project and were nearing the end of class with a few minutes to spare. I gave her a ball point pen and asked her to play with it, making a variety of marks, values, and layering effects.

She was thrilled with this tool, one she had used her whole life to write with, but now re-examining it with an artist's sensibilities. She couldn't wait to get home and give her children, who she home schools, a chance to make expressive drawings with this everyday item. I was taken by her enthusiasm, and spent the next few days revisiting my own relationship with simple drawing tools. What I realized is that I had allowed that relationship to stagnate.

I had a mentor when I was new to the fine art world, about 20 years ago, who gave me some very good advice. His name was Isa Barnett, a well-known artist in the South West and where I live near Philadelphia, PA. He told me to draw as much as possible. He stressed the importance of drawing not only to keep skills sharp, but to nurture new ideas, exploring inner worlds, and for refilling the creative well. His phrase, "Drawing is the Mother, Painting is the Child," is always included in my pastel course description.

I must admit that I have not followed his advice very often since his passing about a dozen years ago. However, I have not forgotten his urging to keep the foundational elements of creating visual art at the front of day to day artistic process.

It's very easy to get enthralled with new materials, processes, or the notion that our art must be big, bold, and important. My feeling is that nothing is more important that communicating with the simplest means possible. If you can't communicate your ideas with a pencil, how will you convey them with a full palette of paint? Visual ideas are best distilled directly. What could be more direct than a ball point pen?

What simple tools do you use on a regular basis?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Chromatic Shades of Gray

I'm working on a series of landscape paintings in which I am experimenting with working on top of a highly chromatic background color. Ironically, this backdrop allows me to see grey in a colorful way. These paintings have a low horizon line, therefore the cloudy skies I am immersing myself in take up most of the compositional acreage.

When we think of cloudy skies, we tend to imagine them as being grey. The question I like to ask myself is, "What kind of gray?" Is it green gray, purple gray, yellow, orange? When we paint gray, we can, of course, include color into our palette. In fact, I always mix my grays by mixing opposite colors. For example, the warm grey at the bottom of my palette in this photo was created by mixing burnt sienna and sap green, two somewhat opposite colors, helping to create a still warm but more chromatic grey.

When I began work on the structure, I used a purple grey that absolutely sang on the yellow canvas. Immediately, my grey painting had color. What a joy!

Here, the yellow underpainting still shows through quite a bit and I am working to match the chroma of it with greens at the bottom. The "grays" in the sky appear blue and purple.

In this last image, I've adjusted the movement of the blue grey in the middle of the composition, a very important element, and shifted it's location to the left in order to better balance the painting.

The painting at this stage still feels "yellow" but now the background color is more integrated into the heavier layers of paint. It shows through just a bit here and there in it's raw state, yet informs every color choice I have made.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Big Edit

I've been working on some small paintings, some done en plein air, some done in the studio, where my main objective is to simplify what I am seeing. This is no small task. Our eyes and brain are programed to observe the details of life. Editing seems to go against our Human MO.

It helps when I squint my eyes so that I can see the simplicity of the shapes and value structure. Using large brushes, at least 3/4 inch wide flats, has also helped the process of keeping it simple. This brush size still allows for a fair amount of control, but I'm also having a wonderful time creating sweeping, expressive marks which convey the essence of the thing I am painting rather than the details.  So far, I've come up with two 10 x 8 paintings that I am happy with. One was done mostly on location, the other was finished entire;ly in the studio from photographs. Can you tell which is which?


Wednesday, August 1, 2012


About 4 years ago I was feeling rather ho hum about my work in pastels. I had been working with them for about 20 years and felt like a change (go figure). I decided to try my hand at oil painting since I admire so many artists working in that medium. Learning, rather, reintroducing myself to oils was challenging and exciting. My naiveté with making marks in paint as opposed to dry pigment felt childlike and I enjoyed the learning curve I allowed myself. I've explored the full palette of both opaque and transparent colors and enjoy the sculptural quality this medium offers as well as it's sensuousness .

I have by no means mastered the oil medium. I feel I am still in the intermediate stage of my education, so one would surmise that the learning I see ahead of me would keep me engaged. However, for the last few months, I've felt a very string sense of inertia and have not been able to place it's origin, until today. I'm painting for a show in September and am very aware of the looming, heaving deadline quickly approaching  me like a competitive runner lapping me on the track. Seriously, I'm starting today to paint for this show. Luckily, the venue is small, so a half a dozen nice pieces will suffice. I have my ideas; some abstracted florals (the venue is a flower shop) and some abstracted landscapes.

As I was choosing my canvases to begin work, a wilting flower arrangement eagerly waiting for it's close-up on the table next to my easel, I thought, "This needs to be a pastel!" Rather than start with a fresh sheet of paper, I wiped out an older painting that had been taken out of it's original frame. The background color I ended up with once the image succumbed to my 4 inch bristle brush was a glowing reddish orange. "Perfect!" I thought. Where's my charcoal? Like swinging my leg over a trusted bicycle seat, my hand sketched in the foundation for a new pastel painting. Wiping, making marks, wiping again, pushing and pulling the black lines hear and there, then blocking on the negative shapes feels so....right!

After 4 years of working in oils, I forgot I was a pastel painter. Let the dust fly!

Sometimes we move on to new pursuits and adventures. Sometimes it's time to reacquaint ourselves with former passions. What former passions have you reacquainted yourself with lately?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Life Reboot

I'm so glad to be back here. It has been more than a year since my last post and quite a lot has changed since then. If you will bear with me, I'd like to take some time and space to get you up to date, so that subsequent posts will make sense and feel cohesive.

At the time of my last post, June 21, 2011 (Summer Solstice Day) a spiral-shaped bacteria was growing rapidly in my body. Within a month of being bitten by a deer tick, I could barely walk due to symptoms of Acute Lyme Disease. I had severe muscle cramps in my legs, and my brain fog was so bad that I was afraid to drive for long distances. I was sleeping anywhere from 8 to 12 hours a night and would take 2 or 3 hour naps during the day. Needless to say, my life came to an unceremonious halt. I kept thinking, "How can an organism so small make me feel so bad and unable to function."

The good news now is that I am healed, for the most part. I began antibiotic treatments in July 2011 and finished up in April of this year. So far so good. I have residual foot and leg pain that may or may not go away on it's own, but I can live with that. I get regular acupuncture and massage treatments that are very helpful in reducing that discomfort.

The other good news is that I take much better care of myself now than I ever have. I had to stop drinking alcohol during the time I was on the meds. That dry period was so good for me and now I rarely touch a drink. I love my newfound clarity. I eat exceptionally well. I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and participate in a work share. I work on the farm for 4 hours a week and in return for my efforts I receive more fresh, organic vegetables than I can possible consume. My body is rejoicing! Dare I say that contracting Lyme Disease has made me more healthy than I was before.

During this past year I moved back to my hometown, which has turned out to be one of the coolest places to live in the whole country. We are the first Fair Trade Town in the country, where the majority of the shops carry items that are purchased directly from the makers, rather than second or third-hand vendors. I have become active in some other very progressive community initiatives, including a time bank, and tool share. I can walk to most of my routine shopping, to friends houses, and to the plentiful festivals and events on the main drag. The sense of community that I feel here is so satisfying and I finally feel as though I'm where I belong. Yes, you can come home again!

My artwork is...well...a bit all over the place right now. Future posts will get you up to speed on where I am headed creatively. From what I have read from other artists of my age and career stage, I'm right on time. I've entered my Second Creative Adolescence, where experimentation and taking risks are crucial to further artistic evolution and movement. With that being said, life happens too. The bills still have to be paid, the economy is still stagnant in many areas (mine, for sure), and needs require a certain reality check. I have only myself to fall back on. It's a scary yet exhilarating and liberating time of life!

It's a time for new ways of thinking, new approaches to challenges, building new relationships, and accepting the "new normal." It's time for a new blog title! It's a Life Reboot. I would love for you to share some of your Life Rebooting with me here. What no longer works for you and how are you coming to terms with the changes you feel you must make in order to move forward? What are you editing out of your life? What are you adding? Where do we go from here?