Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fiddlestick Hollow: Searching for My Secret Key

Previously published on July 30, 2012:

"Style has no formula, but it has a secret key. It is the extension of your personality, the summation of this indefinable net of your feeling, knowledge and experience."    Ernst Haas 

As I begin my illustration journey, I am taking a hard look at children's books that inspire me.  Illustrators stick within one particular style and medium; they need to be recognized on sight by their work.  There are a multitude of mediums that can be used for illustrating books, from painting to collage to printmaking to drawing and on and on.  The trick is to develop a look that will become a visual signature.  When publishers match up illustrators to authors (provided the author isn't also the illustrator), much consideration is given to how well the illustrator's style complements the story.

Here's my dilemma: as a mixed media artist, I dabble in all sorts of mediums and techniques.  I need to narrow my focus so I can practice and improve my illustration skills.  The "jack-of-all-trades" mantra of the mixed media artist just won't work for illustration.  Instead, I need to be a "master of one."  But which one?

This much I know at this point: I will definitely be working in water-based media, not acrylics.  In my sketchbooks, all of my drawings are rendered in traditional watercolors (or water-soluble tools like AquaMarkers) and pen & ink.  My first focus in college was scientific illustration with colored pencils so I frequently utilize pencils (wax-based like Prismacolors & water-soluble like Inktense) as well.  I think that any collage that enters my illustrations will play a secondary role.  I will most definitely not be using photography or sculpture; when others use those mediums for illustration, I love the results but I have next to zero experience with either.  I want to at least begin with familiar, comfortable territory.  I'm not looking to reinvent the wheel.

Once I figure out my own unique tool kit, I'll spend most of my time developing, refining, and perfecting my own illustration style.  How will I draw faces and bodies?  How will I shade?  How will I render backgrounds?  Will I work with a limited palette or every color of the rainbow?  Will my look be whimsical or more realistic?  (Look at any of my work and that question has already been answered!)  There are so many questions and the answers will arise over time through faithful practice and eager exploration.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Fiddlestick Hollow: Outlining How to Get This Journey Underway

Previously published on July 22, 2012:

"My goal is to surprise myself." - Peter William Brown

That quote is probably the best short & sweet summary possible for what I wish to do during this new adventure.  However, I know it would be helpful for me to map out what I'd like to accomplish.
  • I want to become proficient at rendering faces showing a wide range of emotions.  Pick up almost any picture book and the blank, staring face so omnipresent in today's mixed media work is practically nonexistent.  The same holds true for comics.
  • I must become much more at ease with drawing bodies in a multitude of poses.  That is going to be a serious challenge as I've never taken a figure drawing class.  Practice, practice, practice!
  • I need to move from just drawing to illustration.  There is a difference.  Just like drawings, illustrations can be simple or elaborate and can be rendered in any art medium.  However, illustrating is about helping to tell a story, without or without accompanying text.
  • I need to work on rendering environments for my characters to inhabit.  One look through my sketchbooks and you think all my characters are posing on snow drifts.
  • I need to ease gently but firmly into a daily writing practice, pulling the stuff in my head onto paper.  I haven't written much fiction in a very, very long time so I'm pretty rusty.
Those are some hefty goals.  Notice that "getting published" is nowhere on this list and there's a couple of reasons why: 1) I seriously need to build some skills and confidence before I even think about sending out manuscripts or portfolios and 2) I don't want to have "getting published" as the yardstick for whether or not I've succeeded.  Right now, and for a good long while, I want to focus on the journey.

Friday, July 26, 2013

An Intro to Fiddlestick Hollow

Note: After much deliberation, I have decided to collaspe my two blogs into one.  Lost Coast Post will remain and will slowly transform to include my Fiddlestick Hollow work.  More on that in coming weeks but for now, I wanted to introduce the what and whys of Fiddlestick Hollow to those of you here who may have missed the postings.  For those who happened to check in on my alternative world, please bear with me as I get the two blogs merged.

Previously published July 19, 2012:

“It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” Ursula K. LeGuin

For the better part of 12 years, I've been guarding a secret dream and not really doing much about it except keeping it warm.  However, in recent months I've experienced a shift in my thinking and I think it's time to give this dream the attention it is due.  Sometimes, if we hold something too close, it can suffocate and expire right inside our watchful hearts.

Character Development Notes for Fiddlestick Hollow
Let's go back to the beginning.  Back in 2000, as I began my journey towards an art degree, I created a little realm called Fiddlestick Hollow.  Initially, it was populated with talking insects dressed in elaborate Victorian clothing.  My brother teased that it was "like the movie Archanophobia but with more flowers." Anyway, I did A LOT of work on this make-believe land:  developing characters, mapping key landmarks, researching insects, brainstorming names for critters & places.  And then I just abandoned my creation.

There are so many reasons for my decision to stop work on this project.  Some reasons were incredibly valid and others were simply imagined justifications.  The bottom line, no matter my reasoning, was that I closed the sketchbook on my dream and walked away.  Over the years, Fiddlestick Hollow expanded to house any creative writing/illustration project I considered too foolhardy or impossible to pursue.

Fast forward to late 2011/early 2012:  I realized that I was opening my sketchbooks more than my journals.  I was dooding new characters every day.  I had been seized with fresh enthusiasm for old projects.  All the beings I had tucked away in Fiddlestick Hollow were shouting in one, collective voice:  "Set us free!"  Slowly, I began to reacquaint myself with the world I had abandoned and in the process, I realized it was really about setting myself free.

I have always dreamed of being a writer & illustrator of children's books and it is time for me to begin exploring that possibility.  I have no experience, no connections in the industry, no idea where to begin, little confidence, lots of hesitation, and certainly no assurance that this dream will ever come true, no matter how hard I work.  Perhaps all I'll end up with are privately-viewed stories for young relatives.  Maybe I'll just have a bunch of sketchbooks filled with little characters.  Those things have their own value.  Where I end up matters not.  What's important is that I am honoring my soul's desire and that is really what it is all about...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

An Open Letter to My Followers

Dear Friends,

I know I said that I was taking a little blogging break but I've been doing a lot of thinking and that means changes are coming.  Trouble is I'm not sure how this blog is going to fit in with those changes and I desperately need your input.  If there was ever a time to comment, this is it.  Your comments will help me decide what to do...

A little over a year ago, I started a new little blog called Fiddlestick Hollow.  At the time, I was just beginning to ramp up my cartooning/illustration practice and thought that it would remain a separate and distinct part of my overall art life.  As they say, what a difference a year makes!

I am now fully immersed, every single day, in illustration.  My new journal project features not a single drop of paint.  Multiple mixed media layers are a thing of the past.  It is not, I suspect, what most of you are used to seeing here.  

So what do I do? Do I place all the illustration work at Fiddlestick Hollow (as I originally planned) and post here only if I have the more "traditional" journaling and painting work to show OR

Do I just let the changes sweep through Lost Coast Post, no matter how radical?  What would I do with Fiddlestick Hollow which still holds a huge part of my soul?

See, what you are witnessing here is the raw, convoluted, uncensored transformation of an artist's practice.  I am not static but dynamic and how I work is transforming to something new and different.  This is not a sudden change but one that has been at least a year in the making.  You've seen glimpses of it here and there as I shared my robots and little monsters.  However, I'm talking illustration day in and day out.  There will still be painting work to show but as far as journaling as I have in the past...well, for now, that has come to an end.  I am becoming someone new.

Question is:  Are you up for the ride?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Summer Break

"Up Out of the Darkness"; 12x24 inches; acrylics
I'm taking a break from blogging for about two weeks as I celebrate my 44th birthday and work furiously on a new journal.  I just need some time away from writing deadlines, photo editing, and post planning.  If you're feeling starved for Lost Coast Post love, search for more about your favorite topics in my sidebar and dig up some old posts to read.  I'll be back, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on August 1st.  Till then lovies, take care and stay creative!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Big Fish in a Very Small Pond

as yet untitled; 20x20 inches; acrylics
To be honest, this blog post is a bit late because I'm totally caught up in a new journal project (WhooHoo!) and I forgot to get this post written.  More to come on that soon but for now, here's yet another painting.  This one owes a great debt of gratitude to Dina Wakley's "Boulders" stencil which I used to simulate the pebbles in and around the pond.  This is one of those canvases where, halfway through, I think to myself "What was I thinking?!"  I'm not sure if this one is completely done but I am letting it rest for now so I don't run the risk of overworking it.  Oh, and I realize those are some big fish for that size pond; it's meant to be a mandala of sorts...more symbolic than literal. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Time to Refill the Well

"Dwell in Possibility"; 18x24 inches; acrylics
My painting fever of the last couple of weeks has cooled to normal and I haven't painted in several days.  In fact, I've done no art whatsoever.  I guess I needed a break after throwing myself at the paint and canvas with wild abandon.  As I've said, my impulse to paint comes and goes on a whim so I am hoping I get back in the mood before my show in October.  The desire to paint isn't something I've been able to force so now I wait until inspiration strikes again.

I'm also in between journal projects and I have been aimlessly casting about for the next big idea.  I know I don't want to start another long-term journal so I've been brainstorming possible themes for a small journal or artist  Maybe I'm just burnt out in general.  Luckily, a dear art friend is coming to visit this week and I am always deeply inspired by her presence.  It's time to refill the well, folks and nothing does that better than a kindred spirit.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Something of the Marvelous

"Something of the Marvelous"; 18 x 24 inches; acrylics
I hope, dear readers, that you are not growing weary of my pictures of paintings because I really don't have anything else to show right now.  I've been painting to the exclusion of all other art forms and I feel the need to follow this passion for as long as it burns in my heart.  I've been trying to slow myself down with other, non-art pursuits, such as jigsaw puzzles and word searches, so I don't burn myself out.  (I actually have continued to journal in what I call my "daily diary" but those aren't pages I typically show here on the blog.)  I have many other art projects on the "To Do" list but I know from experience that I have to keep my nose to the easel, so to speak, while I feel energetic and inspired.  That could mean I have another week of intense painting in me or another month.  I try not to overthink things and just go with the flow.  I am grateful for your visits and comments; they make me happy, happy, happy! 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How I Paint

"Let the Beautiful Stuff Out"; 18x24 inches; acrylics
On Monday, a lovely reader asked about my painting process so I thought I would talk a little bit about how I work.

I choose both color scheme and focal point ahead of time based on the size and shape of the blank canvas.  Since I present all these pieces together, I also consider how the new piece will fit into the show as a whole (Do I need more small canvases?  Have I painted enough birds?  Do I have too many blue pieces?)  As far as subject matter, I am working under the show title "The Motley Menagerie" so all my work features an animal or bird of some sort.

When doing the background, I choose about 3 to 5 colors and just play willy nilly.  In the back of my mind, I keep an eye on where I will place the focal image so I don't create some overly obnoxious doodle right where the head of my creature will be.  Most canvases have dozens of layers of painting and doodles and stenciling and text.  Frequently, I will work for hours on a background only to cover the entire thing in another layer of smeared paint to begin again.  I like to wipe off the paint in places so previous layers show through.  Sometimes I work reductively, painting out the focal point from the background I've completed and sometimes, I simply paint the critter right on top of the background.

While the background work is very rapid, serendipitous and large motor, the work on the focal point is very much about slowing down and intimate detail.  I look at preliminary drawings and layouts I've done in my sketchbook and then sketch the image onto the canvas with either white charcoal or erasable colored pencil.  I fill the entire image with an initial layer of white paint which makes subsequent colors brighter.  Typically I paint the final images with a quarter-inch angled brush, blending the acrylics as I go.  Most importantly, I frequently stop and let the painting "rest," putting it up where I can look at it from a distance and evaluate my progress.  I've learned to do this the hard way; I've ruined too many pieces trying to work nonstop from beginning to end.

Once the focal point is complete, I go back into the background, adding and subtracting details.  I get rid of things that compete with the painting's subject matter and add stuff around the edge of the canvas to keep the eye contained within the painting.  I work on the sides of the canvas as well.  Once I reach a point where I feel the painting is complete, I let the painting "rest" again for a day or two, displaying it prominently in my home where I can again look at it from a distance.  I only sign a painting once I've lived with it for a while and feel that it is really, truly finished.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Taking a Breath

"She is Fierce"; 18x24 inches; acrylics
My painting fever has cooled slightly after completing seven large, extremely detailed pieces.  I'm taking a breather to sketch and plan for my next round of painting.  (I just purchased 21 new canvases so I have some work ahead of me!)

I am also making time for pure play, creating some jewelry for myself and crafting a few robot sculptures.  So far, this has been the best summer I've had in a long time.  I am just following my instincts and doing what sounds like fun in the moment.

The one thing that has fallen by the wayside (with the exception of my daily "diary") is my art journaling.  I guess I'm sort of in between journals right now.  Ah well, when the impulse to journal strikes again, I have several journals waiting patiently for my attention.

Friday, July 5, 2013

On Painting

Paint like a fiend when the idea possesses you.  - Robert Henri

I've always wanted to be a painter.  In art school, I focused on scientific illustration and printmaking.  However, I always envied the painting majors; they seemed to be the most free-spirited and imaginative of all the art students.  I took both beginning and intermediate painting in college, but I never considered myself to be very good.  I couldn't quite let go my perfectionism and self-criticism enough to allow myself to explore the medium fully.

Painting can be like a roller-coaster ride. For me, it begins with great anticipation and excitement, followed by hills one must chug up with effort, and valleys to glide down into with ease. The grand finale is the final decisive details that make the painting sing - it is like the ultimate grand hill that thrills you and spirits you to the end of the ride.  - Anne Hudec

 My painting "moods" come and go.  Sometimes, as now, I am filled with energy, inspiration, and confidence.  I attack canvas after canvas and take the mistakes in stride, unafraid to simply gesso over failures and then keep going.  I feel different when painting than when I am art journaling or cartooning or sewing.  There is an electricity in the air.  I feel as if I am walking a tightrope and to stay on the rope, I need to focus on the paint strokes.  In my eagerness and intensity, I get very physically close to my paintings and have to force myself to take breaks and evaluate my work from a distance.  It is as if I am being drawn into the canvas, into the little world I am creating.  It is magical and frightening at the same time.

My eyes make little paths for my brush to dance on... She dances like no one is watching. It is freedom. It is pure love.  - Melissa Jean
I feel closer to my paintings than my journals, even though I pour my heart and soul into both.  Art journaling comes relatively easy; painting is full of sweat and tears and angst. Perhaps that's why I don't find myself "in the mood" for painting very often.  Painting touches upon tender spots that most of the time, I'd rather not poke.  However, when I am suddenly overwhelmed by bravery, I pick up a brush and begin.  I know not how long the impulse will last.  That's OK because in painting there is only the moment. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Only in Still Water

"Only in Still Water"; 18"x24"; acrylics on canvas
It has been at least a year since I've felt so much like painting...maybe more.  I am moving into my second week of fevered days at the easel.  I feel other projects and challenges crowding my periphery, hoping that I'll notice that I am woefully behind.  Right now, however, I just want to paint and so I am temporarily suspending my participation in the 365/2013 project and Index-Card-a-Day.  I do so with a smidgen of guilt that is quickly eased by the swish of brush against canvas.  As surely as I know my name, I know that painting is calling me right now and I have to be true to that instinct.  Will I get back to those challenges?  Perhaps yes, perhaps no. 

The title of this painting, Only in Still Water, comes from the following Taoist proverb:  "No one can see their reflection in running water.  It is only in still water that we can see."  When I paint, time seems to both stop and slip away faster than ever.  I feel it is time to strip away all other distractions and simply give in to the longings of my heart.  As I pare down the things that are making demands for my attention, life becomes quieter and my vision clearer.  And then I paint some more...    

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

An End to Unexpected Convergences

I have finally reached the finish line of my "Unexpected Convergences" journal.  I began this journal on November 13, 2012 and the concept was that I would, for once, throw everything into one big journal rather that my usual practice of compartmentalizing each different theme and/or technique.

I worked in one of those Dylusions journals and I have to say that I half love, half hate this journal.  I love the manila cardstock pages which stand up to an incredible amount of paint and abuse without significant warping.  I also love the roomy size of this journal.  On the other hand, I hated the white drawing paper part of this journal and after the first section, I tore the rest of that paper out.  I also hated the sheer enormity of this journal; it seemed to go on forever!  I guess the quest for the perfect journal goes on...

As far as the journal concept - everything in one place - that seemed to work although there were times when I wished some pages were in their own separate space so I could go deeper into an idea.  I can always do that now with separate, smaller journals so it's all good.

I have another Dylusions journal on the shelf waiting for an idea.  I'm pretty burnt out on the "journal-has-to-be-a monumental-volume" concept, preferring to work now in short-term, limited theme journals so we'll see if I work in that fresh Dylusions journal anytime soon.

For a look at almost all the pages from my "Unexpected Convergences" journal, click on this link to be whisked to that particular set of pics in my Flickr photostream.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Only the Half Mad

"Only the Half Mad", 22"x28", acrylics on canvas
Most days in the studio tend to be filled with small projects: journaling, softie sewing, index card art, random cartooning and doodling.  However, when I get in the mood to paint, I paint like a madwoman for days on end, getting up early and staying up late, taking breaks only for meals and neglecting everything else.  This continues until I burn myself out and then I often won't paint again for months.

I've spent the last week in one of those crazy painting moods.  I have my biggest show of the year in October and typically I wait until late August, early September to get started.  Every year, I vow to start earlier so I have more work to hang (the venue is huge!)  This summer, I am actually following through on that pledge!  This is one of six paintings I completed last week (at a rate of one a day!)  I'm behind on everything else: daily journaling, the index card challenge, mail art exchanges...right now, I am consumed by the urge to apply paint to canvas.  

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