Thursday, April 20, 2017

2017 Show Prep Underway

I'm rolling out blog posts rather casually this week as I am currently on spring break and spending most of my time painting. Every October I have a large solo show of my work and with foot surgery again immediately after the school year ends in mid-June, I am trying to get a jump on work for that show. I keep notes on theme and painting ideas year-round but I typically only produce work in over an intense period of two to three consecutive months. It is a habit I have tried hard to break; things would be much more relaxed if I built up my inventory throughout the year. However, teaching (mid-August through mid-June) takes most of my time and energy, leaving little remaining to put into major art projects. In addition, when I work in these blazing bursts of enthusiasm, the pieces seem more cohesive and more joyful.

I've been toying with ideas for this year's show since last October. For a while, I thought I would do a show titled "A Gallery of Rogues," featuring several mini series of portraits in different materials & methods. At the same time though, I actually painted two large pieces that are animal-themed: A Parliament of Hooligans and The Hitchhikers. That was in keeping with other notes and sketches I was creating for a show that harks back to my "Motley Menagerie" series from 2012 but with more storytelling in the imagery.

Back and forth I went, trying to settle on an idea because a solid guiding theme is what fuels show production. I liked the idea of including the yearbook portraits in some form but in the end, I felt much more enthusiasm for returning to painting birds and animals; I had complied considerably more sketches with this critter-focused theme in mind than I had for a collection of portraits. In the end, I guess I decided to combine the two ideas, at least in part. This small canvas (8x8-inch) is one in a series of ten portraits of cats and dogs. I enjoyed painting these pieces immensely and as I worked, that excitement fueled my confidence that I can produce other works that are still in the drafting stage. That's a good indicator that I've made the right decision about this year's show direction.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Big Blooms Redo

Ever since I completed this painting last November, it has been sitting on my easel in my studio and I spent five months walking past it. I wasn't happy with my initial efforts but I wasn't sure how or if I could save the piece so I gave the question over to my subconscious. Two days ago (as usually happens,) I was on the verge of sleep when I realized how I might "rescue" my Big Blooms painting. I pulled it off the easel and began by redoing the background, cutting deeper into the bouquet and trying to create a more abstracted look. There was no anxiety about ruining anything so I just let my whims guide my brush, my pencil, my collage papers.

And this is the result of my experimentation. This version feels lighter and thus, more lively. The arrangement is still awkwardly tilted but now that movement to the left of the canvas seems a bit more appropriate given the rest of the composition. This still isn't quite how I'd like it but it is much closer so I might put it back on the easel for a while to see if any other ideas emerge or I might call this one done and move on. I'm not going to dwell on this single painting for too much longer - I have so many other things to do - but it is useful to revisit old works just to play and learn how to make revisions.

Note:
I used oil pastels on the first version of this painting but because I sealed the pastels with a workable fixative, I could work right on top of those pastels without worrying about the color moving around. I used no pastels in the second version. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Meet Mary Lucy

Sometimes I think it is helpful to approach a new idea as you would a feral cat: with caution, respect, and patience. For me, it often doesn't work to rush headlong into creating when inspiration first strikes; it is definitely detrimental to push ahead when I are overwhelmed (in a good way or bad,) frustrated, tired, conflicted. This is something I have learned over time. When I am feeling stuck, I set the project aside and turn my back. I give the idea over to my subconscious and let it simmer awhile in my brain pan.  And just like a wild kitty that grows emboldened when given some space and gentleness, ideas will often creep back from my subconscious bearing solutions to the roadblocks that had previously stymied my work.

After my last post, I began some serious thought about how I might include my latest yearbook portraits in my upcoming show. They are small (3x5-inches) and would require mounting and/or framing in order to join the canvases I already have planned. I spent the better part of a day online, researching ways to present matted items in art shows and after hours of skimming solutions that were never entirely feasible or visually appealing, the wild idea approached:

"I wish I could do this technique on canvas."

Right away, my critic spoke up:

"That'll be too hard. It will never work. People will never buy these. They'll look stupid."

So I turned off the computer and stepped away from the studio. I watched a movie and went to bed. I lay in the dark, reviewing my day, purposely avoiding any musings on my art or upcoming show. I was just drifting off, listening to Marley Bear gently snoring in the chair next to my bed, when my eyes flew open and the wild idea was before me again:

"Why can't you do this on canvas? You could use metal tape to seal the edges of the Dura-Lar to your canvas, just like you did on the shrine project."

The next morning, I began a test canvas. It is 8x10. I made a good and proper mess and pulled out all the stops to discover how the process and the results would change on a larger substrate. I learned a lot of things. For example, it is very fun to have more room - both on the film and the canvas - to play with color, pattern, and transparent layers but it is easy to go overboard. It is also much harder to glue down a large piece of film versus a small piece. On a larger scale, some of the intimacy of the image is lost and the gloss of the film becomes more distracting. I feel less confident in my ink drawing when it is bigger; mistakes or oddball features are more glaring and irritating. * Hush now, inner critic. *


I'm not sure yet if I will commit this technique to a series of canvases. I'm still courting this wild idea to see if it will become friend or foe. While I'm deciding, here's that test canvas for your consideration. This is 1925 Hughes High School senior, Mary Lucy Brouse from Cincinnati, Ohio. Ironically, her motto is recorded as:

"Diligence and success go hand in hand."

And here's her yearbook description:

"Do you need a tutor in history? See Mary Lucy. Do you want a good dance? Get Mary Lucy. Do you want to know the words of the latest song? Ask Mary Lucy. Do you want to get rid of the blues? Find Mary Lucy."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Vintage Visages Meet Modern Materials

So after spending a fair amount of time drawing from yearbook photos in the last few weeks, I wondered where to go next. To see how far I can take this idea, I want to experiment with many different mediums and techniques. If you can't tell, I've fallen head over heels for yearbook photos and it is going to be hard to tear myself away from those vintage visages to focus on painting for my October show. (I might need to find a way to include them in that event if I can't push "pause" on this obsession.)

For this latest iteration of my yearbook series, I turned to Dura-Lar which is a fantastic clear film that is specially treated to accept water-based media without beading up or flaking off. I have used & reviewed Dura-Lar before but I put it aside at the completion of that "Scraps" journal and the product got lost in my stash. However, Grafix Arts, the company that makes Dura-Lar, posted my review to their Instagram account just a few weeks ago and that reminded me to pull the stuff out and play some more.  In the following pieces, I am also using some lovely vintage index cards I found at my local creative reuse center as well as awesome photos from a 1925 high school yearbook. Such an inspiring combination!


When using Dura-Lar, I play with the front and back of the film as well as the front of the index card the film will be mounted on. It is an interesting challenge to work on transparent material as you have to plan ahead, keeping in mind that each layer will be visible in some way. This photo shows the film near the beginning of the process as I start with some watercolors and stamping.


Once dry, I add layers of print transfers using vintage papers and semi-gloss gel medium. I will also add more stamping, watercolor, and mark-making, trying to keep the center of the piece relatively simple. These are the same films as before but with bits of book pages transferred and then removed in places to ensure natural edges and varying levels of transparency. Look at how luscious and intricate those layers are!


I work on the front of the films with waterproof Sumi ink in a water brush. I freehand the figure based on my photo reference; if I make a mistake, I can wipe the ink off and start again. Once the ink dries, it is relatively permanent. It can be scratched off with some force but will not simply rub off if touched. After the portrait is dry, I begin coloring and embellishing the character using wash tape, ephemera, rub-ons, markers, paint, and collaged paper bits. Things get really fun at this point and it is hard to stop. However, I do eventually reach a conclusion and finish up by gluing the film to the index card.


As you can see, I have done several of these and I have more lined up waiting to worked on. I may mount these in a small book I made; I am also contemplating offering some for sale, mounted on mat board. Each portrait represents someone I "met" in the yearbook. I'm not sure yet how best to tell their stories so right now, I am building up my pile of portraits and waiting for a great idea to emerge.

Note:
This special acetate comes in a package of 12, 9x12-inch sheets or a package of 12, 11x14-inch sheets or a roll that's 25 inches high by 12 feet long.  Each sheet in the pad is interleaved with a piece of tissue.  I mark my desired measurement on the tissue and then cut both tissue and film with my paper trimmer.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Life Picks Up the Pace

Life is about to get crazier for me in the next couple of months. I meet with my foot surgeon this afternoon to discuss my next surgery (right foot this time) which will most likely happen the third week in June. This means I need to get a major jump start on work for my October show since a large part of my summer vacation will be spent recuperating. And since things are changing at work in the fall, I need to spend time developing lesson plans and curriculum for a new art program I'm looking forward to implementing. Of course, I have all my ongoing projects, large and small, in journals and out. It will be good to keep this Soul Stories page about balance in mind as I plunge into the coming weeks. As far as Lost Coast Post is concerned, you can look forward to a bit of everything including show prep, more yearbook portraits, art for sale, journaling, drawing, maybe even some sewing if I can manage it.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Art Projects & Displays at Work

Since I am a bit worried you all might be growing weary of yearbook portraits (I do have more of those to share,) I thought I'd switch things up a bit and show you what I've been up to at work. The Spanish students are just finishing up a miniature shrine construction project crafted from recycled paper gift boxes, tooling foil, and permanent markers. The little "milagro" inside the shrine is created from thin cardboard. These are my class samples. They are quite shiny so please forgive the dark photo; super reflective objects are difficult to photograph.

Next I took that same shrine construction process and applied it to a large bulletin board at school to celebrate the Spanish students upcoming trip to Mexico. That big piece of cardboard in the center is made from a large box that poster board arrived in. The flaming, winged heart shrine is actually three-dimensional (it stands out from the board about three inches) and is made from a beverage box.

I've been doing bulletin boards for teachers and schools since I was in high school myself and it is something I love to do! Bulletin board creation is an excellent large-scale design challenge and I enjoy finding ways to present material in an eye-catching and artistic way. Almost all the elements in my bulletin boards are handmade/hand-lettered/hand-cut which gives them a quirky but unique look. This bulletin board is currently hanging in our library/main classroom (I'm also the school's de facto librarian right now.)

This is a bulletin board I created for our recent hero-themed readathon. It was inspired by multiple hero-themed displays I found on Pinterest. A different "bat signal" went up when it was time to advertise dress-up day.

I keep all the pieces to my bulletin boards when I take them down so I have them for future years and also so I can mix & match parts to make new displays. They are difficult to store but since my school often does the same event/trip/project every year, I can save myself some time by reusing bits from previous displays. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Sometimes Half Good is More than Enough

Half of this yearbook portrait turned out wonderfully and the other half slid off the rails. It started going bad after I was more than halfway finished so it was too late to make the necessary structural corrections. No matter. My goal with these portraits is never a hyper-realistic rendering; instead, I use yearbook reference photos to study value changes in the face and to help generate original character studies. Were I to repurpose this sketch into another project, I would simply crop out the offending bits and use the half I like...easy peasy, nothing queasy.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Using Limits to Be Unlimited

If there's one blog I read with unfailing regularity, it's Daisy Yellow, a wonderful, rainbow-filled site absolutely bursting with sharp wit, deep thoughts, and oodles of art eye candy that both awes and inspires. This is a blog that I reread, one I check in with if I'm feeling burnt out, overwhelmed, or stuck. Tammy Garcia is the owner/operator/artist extraordinaire of Daisy Yellow; she advocates getting out of your own way and just beginning: any where, any time, any how. If you just push your experimentation and let go of expectations, you might make some fantastic discoveries about yourself and the art you make.

One recent Daisy Yellow post that really resonated with me is from late January titled "Art Journal: Echoes." In it, Tammy shows her explorations of a single motif in a wide variety of materials. It is about taking your play deeper and stretching your imagination along many tangents at once with focused intent; you could also label this "Expanding Under Limitations." Case in point: I have a studio so filled with stuff, I often feel stifled, the complete opposite of inspired. However, if I impose a limitation here and there - an image, a technique, a medium - I suddenly feel opened to the potential of all those supplies through that restricted lens. 

As time passes, I find myself more and more drawn to the basic tools of the trade: drawing and painting. I also find myself wanting to follow fewer threads at a time but also seeing how far I can unravel those threads. I spent some time this weekend digging through past work, trying to find where the thread of yearbook portraits began and then tracing the evolution of that technique over the past few years. It was very helpful to take pictures of past & recent work. Next, I placed those images together so I could observe evolution and relationship. I noticed that when I started working with vintage portraits - be they from yearbooks or mugshots - my characters oozed more story, more personality, more life. I was drawing/painting from a reference photo while infusing my unique imagination into the resulting work. Although these portraits are rendered in a variety of styles, they all look like they belong to my portfolio. And even when I am just drawing completely from my imagination, my character framing, posing, and backstory is directly influenced by my familiarity and fascination with yearbook images.

Delightfully, I've realized that there is a lot more of this thread wrapped around my brain. I've started a list of ways I could explore this portrait-making impulse. I am giddy with possibilities. Of course, as you know, (if you have followed this blog for any time whatsoever) I am a pinball artist: I bounce enthusiastically for a while around a specific topic before unexpectedly careening off into a wildly different but equally exciting direction. For a little while anyway though, I can promise my attention is caught in this particular yearbook portrait loop so let's see where it takes me next, shall we?


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Charlotte & Her Pearl-Studded Collar

Another "yearbook series" portrait in this toned tan sketchbook I'm currently working in: Mrs. Charlotte Cooper, Supervising Teacher, First Grade. I love Charlotte's style; she has on a rather fancy pair of horn-rimmed glasses, pearl earrings, and my favorite, her extravagant blouse! No mere string of pearls for Charlotte...oh no! She shows up for picture day in her finest pearl-studded collar! She looks quietly feisty - calm but fierce when necessary - so I gave her red hair to match her personality. These vintage black and white photos allow for a lot of interpretation and imagination, both in image and backstory.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Spot Color Portrait Experiment

I have no fixed, predetermined goal, theme, technique or style when drawing all these portraits. I simply pick a photo that speaks to me and after only the slightest bit of contemplation, I jump in. I'm trying a bit of everything and in the process, I have discovered some new favorite ways of drawing a portrait that I want to practice more. I really loved the value study of Dr. Chester Collins and intend to do additional portraits in that style. Today's drawing is another of my new favorite techniques: an calligraphic ink drawing combined with spot color application.


This time around, I used an old photo I unearthed in a thrift store. I have no idea who this person is but I like the strong shadows, the composition, and the untold story. This lady is all dressed up and seems poised on the edge of going somewhere and she has been captured on film right before embarking on her adventure. After the initial contour sketch in permanent ink, I decided to use spot color on just her skin, leaving the tone of the sketch paper alone in place of coloring her dress. To differentiate the background from her clothes, I added some scribbled pencil highlights behind her. As slow and soothing as it was to draw Dr. Collins, this portrait was quick and energetic. I put on some upbeat music and worked as fast as I could, applying color and marks.

Responding to a Reader Question:

Dear reader, Özge, who hails from Izmir, Turkey, inquired about an idea I had a while back to take my yearbook portraits to canvas in greyscale with a monster twist (as seen here.) Since I'm not sure if anyone checks back to the comments to read reply threads, I thought I'd just reply in a regular post. Full confession: I absolutely lost my nerve with that idea. I also couldn't make those paintings jive with the assemblage characters I did, so I shelved the monster mugshots until a later date (maybe this coming October??) It also occurs to me that I never blogged about how that last show turned out...a bit of a tale and I'll try to remember to post about it soon.

Society 6 Sale Heads-Up:

My deepest gratitude goes out to everyone who visited my Society 6 shop recently! I hope that those of you who ordered pencil pouches have received them and love them! (Shout out to Ellie who let me know her order arrived!) I think it is best to order from Society 6 when you can snag free shipping and maybe even a little bit off your order so here's a heads up that it is that time again: Free shipping Friday March 17 (beginning 12 am PST) and ending Sunday March 19 at midnight PST. In addition, you can get 25% off all pillows.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

How to Live

Switching gears briefly back to art journaling: this is my latest spread in my mini "Unexpected Convergences" journal. I am intently focused on drawing and painting these days but here and there, I pop into any one of the many journal projects on my shelves and play around a bit with mark-making and collage.

At the end of this week, I hope to make some big moves forward on a particular health concern; I am finally having an appointment with a specialist who is qualified to make decisions/perform procedures that could resolve the problem or in the least, provide some answers. I am nervous but staying very busy so I don't have too much time to worry or play the "what if" game. I am so happy to have teaching and my art practice as most excellent distractions.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Achromatic Portrait Play

Next up in my ongoing yearbook-inspired portrait project: Dr. Chester Collins. It took me a few days to get to know the good doctor's face; I spent a lot of time studying his photo and trying to recreate the planes of his intriguing visage in my toned paper sketchbook. In the initial sketch, I ended up changing the tilt of his head and eyes just slightly; he's looking much more directly out of the frame than in his yearbook photo. He reminds me of a few actors in the original Twilight Zone and I love the angles that are somehow soft and welcoming rather than aloof. I think you can see the resemblance between the original photo and my rendering but also that there is enough difference to suggest a completely different person.

Working from black and white photos - especially if you do it often - is a fantastic way to familiarize yourself with what parts of the face are bright and those that fall into shadow. Values - the range of light to dark - are most apparent in these old photos and it becomes just a matter of taking time to truly see those values and slowly build the highlights and lowlights into your drawing. Colored pencils allow for patient, deliberate layering of color so that was my choice of mediums. It is also worth noting that I didn't use a black ink line to detail the face and features before beginning the coloring process. I wanted this to be a soft, realistic, value-dominated portrait and a strong contour line would have flattened and "cartoonized" the image. Once I got all the values in place, I added the slightest bit of color into the doctor's eyes. I have no idea what his eye color was in real life; vintage photos allow for a great deal of creative interpretation. I hope that hint of color brings the viewer right into the center of Chester's face and adds a touch of humanity and life to this mostly achromatic portrait.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Yearbook Photos Call to Me Once Again

Behind the scenes here at Lost Coast Post, life continues to roil with uncertainty and anxiety and lots of waiting...forever waiting it seems. I am finding solace in good, old-fashioned drawing and painting. There is something about the simplicity of supplies and technique that is soothing and absorbing. Mixed media often requires so much preliminary hunting & gathering that I am exhausted and uninspired by the time I actually sit down to create something. On the other hand, the colored pencils are ready to go, right at my table; all I need do is grab a sketchbook, maybe a reference photo, and get to work.

I have begun experimenting with toned paper; all the portraits in this post are created in a spiral-bound Strathmore Toned Tan sketchbook. The paper isn't as heavy as I usually prefer but I remind myself that I am just playing around and try to overlook the slight warp that occurs when I use wet media. And in truth, a short time under a few heavy books is all that's needed to flatten the pages back out again.

Toned paper is lovely in that it allows you to begin in the middle of values. Instead of starting with a stark white background and having to save the highlights and build endlessly up to the dark values, toned paper (in various shades of tan and gray) gives you a head start. I add layers of white to build into the lightest values and conversely, build up my dark values from the middle tone provided by the paper.

In this sketchbook, I am just fooling around with a wide variety of portrait techniques: scribbled pencil, pen & ink (water-soluble or not,) quickie renderings and characters more carefully developed. As I share these drawings, you'll note lots of out-of-proportion features; I seem to have particular difficulty with chins and if teeth are showing....well, things can get a bit awkward. I love them all. I used to be so uptight about drawing people but since I've been working from vintage yearbook photos, I have fallen deeply in love with my portraits and I embrace every crooked tooth and uneven eyeball. You can see more of my yearbook portrait work here, here, and here. Looking through my posts, I can see that this is a subject that is withstanding the test of time. I can also see that whenever I am feeling at loose ends - creatively or physically - these characters from the past are on standby, waiting patiently for their day in the studio and their debut in my art.

Note: I used a photo found on Pinterest for that first drawing of a cute blonde with purple glasses and while I like her, she just doesn't have the same appeal to me as the drawings done from old yearbooks. I think those old black and white pictures allow for much more interpretation and creativity than modern photos. I get to pick the skin tone, patterning and coloring of the clothes, and I feel more inspired to modify hairstyles, poses, and facial features. After I completed that first drawing, I went back to my voluminous stack of yearbook photos and felt back at home with old friends almost immediately.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Soul Stories: When Life Gives You Lemons

Life has been bowling a lot of lemons at me lately so I thought it would be apropos to post this spread from my Soul Stories journal. It is from 2009 but still utterly relevant. This was one of those journal entries that came together quite serendipitously; I remember wanting to answer a question posed in a pain management class I attended ("What positive thing has chronic pain brought to your life?") and within a day or two of beginning work on the pages, I discovered the magazine page featuring a murderous giant lemon in a doctor's office reading material. Suffice to say I nicked that ad immediately for use in my journal. It helps to maintain a sense of humor when dodging life's lemons.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Lost Coast Post Society 6 Shop Now Open!

This is something I've wanted to do for a very long time but I needed to have the right equipment to do it: open a Society 6 shop so I could offer my art on clothes, home decor, and other goodies. Now that I have a camera good enough to take the high resolution photos needed for printing, I am taking the leap.

For those of you who might not know, Society 6 is a company that allows artists to offer on-demand printing of their art. Society 6 does the printing, billing, & shipping, takes their cut for that work, and then I get a bit of money per item sold. I decided to begin slowly with one piece of art at a time on a few things including my absolute favorite - pouches!

In all honesty, these canvas pouches are really my primary reason for opening a Society 6 storefront; I had read good things about the quality of these pouches. I am somewhat of a "pencil pouch-o-holic" so the idea of having my art made into such a fun and useful object was very exciting. I uploaded art and then ordered one for myself to see how it would turn out. I am so pleased! Sturdy and neat construction, three size options (the medium size pouch is pictured,) and excellent printing. 

And bonus! Starting today (March 1, 2017) and running through Saturday March 4 (11:59 pm PST,) you can get free shipping on everything + 20% off pouches! (Clothing, totes, & phone cases too but I don't have any of that stuff yet in my particular shop.) Society 6 offers this type of deal periodically so I'll keep you up-to-date on any sales that are running and any new art I upload. For now, you find my mixed media owl piece, "By the Light of the Moon," in my shop available on select items. (Some products require gigantic and/or specifically-shaped photos so I am starting out with what I can do with the camera/computer/editing program I have right now.) If this seems like a worthwhile way to generate a bit of income from my art, I'll expand my offerings. Seriously though, getting my art officially printed on a pencil pouch is something I'm checking off my "art bucket list!"
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