Monday, August 31, 2015

Snippets: Weeks 33 and 34

This Snippets journal tries my patience these days but I am forging ahead, determined to make it through to the end of the year. In truth, I'm free to quit this any time. My journals are bound by me; I am not bound by my journals. However, I'd like to see this volume through to the end just to have a complete picture of 2015. I like the results when I complete a spread but the collage aspect of this project is wearing on my nerves. I want to make a clean break to focus primarily on drawing and painting but Snippets has me still plugging away on something that is more collage-based. It splits my brain in half. Oh well...eventually I'll figure out a compromise that will revitalize my enthusiasm or I'll get to December 31 and breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Note: Thank you to Tammy of Daisy Yellow for the "Breathe" postcard! I've had it pinned on my inspiration board for a long time and finally decided it deserved a permanent home in my journal. In addition, the little Buddha image arrived via Connie Rose on a wonderful piece of mail art and it too needed to live in my journal. Thank you ladies!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Strange Fowl and Back to School

"The Strange Fowl Quintet Prepares for Rehearsal"; 18x24; acrylics - SOLD
The last two weeks have been a whirlwind with the onset of the new school year. I think I am only breathing between staff meetings, supply assessment and ordering, lesson planning, syllabus-writing, school clean-up and organization, bulletin board-making, and classroom decorating. It is always a challenge to slide from the lazy days of summer back into the barely controlled chaos of the classroom environment but this year is especially tough as my hours and responsibilities have increased right up to the edge of my physical tolerances. I come home exhausted. There's no art-making happening (other than school-related), no cooking, cleaning, conversations, errands...nothing on work days besides work. If I'm not at school, I'm a couch zombie. Students begin on Monday but it will be another week before the regular daily schedule commences. (At my school, the first week is used for community-building.) I am hoping against hope that once a routine begins, I'll be able to settle more gracefully into my role and then find the time and energy for my private pursuits. In the meantime, brace yourself for a wobbly posting schedule here at Lost Coast Post...I'm busy trying to find my way. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

King Boris the Blunderous Finds a Home

I've only shown a few of the paintings I did for the Sparks of Madness show so here and there, I'll post one or two when I don't have time to do anything else. I started back to work this week and so far, I am exhausted...and there aren't even students on campus yet! I hope this is just some sort of adjustment period and that I'll find my footing in the teaching world again after a rollicking good time this summer, making art to my heart's content.

This piece, acrylics on an 18x24-inch canvas, is titled King Boris the Blunderous Practices Balancing. King Boris took his time appearing to me; I had this canvas up for a couple of days, turning and twisting, looking for something in the background until I was on the verge of despair. Then, at about 3am, in the slow glow of the white lights that circle my studio space, I spied him, tiptoeing through an ancient forest, a little birdie friend accompanying him.

I know the purchaser of this piece and know that it is destined to belong to a little boy named Arden. Arden's grandmother took him to see the painting and ever since, Grandma has been spinning stories about King Boris and his birdie friend they named Natasha. It seems King Boris is a sweet-tempered, helpful chap who goes about rescuing wayward animals in the forest. Arden has no idea that Boris is actually coming to live with him at Christmas time and I would pay good money to see the reveal on Christmas morning.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Snippets: Weeks 31 and 32

I'm easing back in to projects other than painting...sort of...the new school year has begun but it is still two weeks before students are actually on campus. This means I'm in a two-week sweet spot where I am able to enjoy the remains of summer break while preparing for teaching. So I'm doing a little bit of everything which includes journaling. Here's my latest Snippets spread:

If you've been following the progress of my Snippets journal, a 365 project for 2015, you might realize that something is amiss. If you say "Hey?! Where's weeks 29 and 30?" you are absolutely right: there are two missing weeks. This is what that spread currently looks like:

In my push to complete work for my show, I set aside almost everything else. I lost two weeks on my Snippets journal because something else got in the way. This inevitably happens on extended projects and there are a couple of ways to cope. I could just play catch up and pretend I actually did those entries on the days in question. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that approach; I know people do it all the time when participating in Project Life. The other option is to acknowledge the missing weeks and do something else in that space. I've decided to go with the latter choice; I want to remember that in the summer of 2015, there were two glorious weeks in July where I lost myself in the studio. I have plans for this spread and I'll post another shot of these pages when they are complete.

Bottom line: Don't let getting behind discourage you from moving forward.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Tender Post-Show Musings

I painted furiously for about two and a half months, ultimately completing 37 acrylic and mixed media pieces for my 2015 show titled Sparks of Madness. I began my journey with this project when a monster unexpectedly appeared on canvas last fall. Up until that point, the creatures who live inside my imagination have only come out to play in my private sketchbooks but suddenly, one poked his head out and said "It's time you let us out into the world so others can love us too." I doubted the wisdom of this idea throughout the entirety of my show preparation; my creations are like family, deeply personal, and I wasn't sure how they would be received. I didn't want to experience the bite of rejection or worse, the cold shoulder of indifference. It turns out I was so completely, wonderfully wrong.

The show went up on the wall Sunday, August 2 and the reception was this past Friday evening. The event began at 6pm. Many of the venues include wine pourings for charity and live music. I have no say in what musicians play during the month I am showing (although I will try to change that in the future.) This time, it was a quintet of very stern-looking ladies (and one gentlemen) in period costumes playing authentic Renaissance tunes on many strange but beautiful instruments - recorders, krumhorns, and viols - all gleaming dark wood and polished brass. It was pretty music, unique and lilting. It was easy to imagine a gathering of lords and ladies, in stiff velvet and crinoline, dancing practiced routines at a polite distance. As you might imagine, this high brow music was jarringly juxtaposed against my "punk rock" art on the walls, a collection of decidedly less than high brow creatures with snaggle-toothed grins, pointed horns, and bulging eyes. Throughout the evening, several people commented on this disconnect between music and art; next year, I will try to convince my host that perhaps more upbeat accompaniment would make a better pairing with my whimsical, energetic style.

In the end, however, I think I can say that the stars of the night were my babies on canvas, my shy sparks of madness who made their debut while their creator nervously watched from a couch some distance away. I like to sit where I can plainly see faces but not hear commentary; when someone wants to talk to me, the store owner sends them my direction. Otherwise, I want people to feel free to react however they are compelled, not taming their response to appease the artist hovering nearby.

And the response was exactly what I hoped for: smiles, laughter, close examination, excited conversation. People leaned in to read a title and then realized each piece had a unique, silly name. Many proceeded to read all of the tags, looking from the label to the creature, connecting with the characters I had put on display. One woman stopped and thanked me for the "joyfulness," a wide smile and twinkle in her eyes. One couple walked in and audibly gasped "Wow!" A little thrill ran up my spine. This...this is why I make art to send out into the fray.

It was, of course, also thrilling to see the little red "SOLD" dots scattered throughout my show. By the end of the night, I had sold half my pieces; that makes 19 in just twelve days. The smiles the cake, the sales the icing. I know that several pieces are destined for children's rooms. I hope those kids make my creatures their own, inventing new names and wild adventures for the sweet monsters who will guard their bedrooms. Many other pieces are going off to live in living rooms that celebrate art and color and smiles. 

A couple people asked "Will there be more?" Yes. There are so many more where these came from. I've learned my lesson. Trust your gut. Follow the urging of your heart even when your brain tries to reason you away from the leap. These truisms aren't always true but this night, they were. From the moment that first monster appeared almost a year ago, something quiet stirred inside me and I am so glad that I finally listened to that whisper (and the encouraging shouts of friends, known and unknown, near and far.) To you and them, a thank you.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Glass Sketching Continues

Here's another installment in my sketchbook exploration of glass. I felt like I could have worked on this painting for days as every time I looked down and looked up again, I saw something new. I chose this bottle for its lovely shape and the complexity added by the glass stopper. I've included a photo of the bottle so you have an idea of what I was looking at and how I translated that onto the page. If you'd like to paint or draw this bottle, you are welcome to use this photo as a reference. Your sketch will have a slightly different quality if you work from a photo rather than life but this picture might be useful for practice. 

For more tips on sketching from life, check out this vintage post from my Watercolor Wednesday series.

I painted this in watercolor using primarily M. Graham's Neutral Tint and Payne's Gray from Winsor & Newton. There are also small touches of white gouache and a tiny bit of sap green; glass picks up colors from items surrounding it and those colors shimmer within the glass itself. As you can see, I have white cardstock underneath and behind the bottle to reduce the complexity of those inner reflections. In addition, although you can't tell from my reference photo, the bottle is slightly elevated up off my studio table so I wasn't staring down at it. I lit this bottle from the left and worked on it in one session so the shadowing remained consistent.

I feel like I overworked the cast shadow and didn't quite capture the intensity of that cast light on the paper but otherwise, I am pretty pleased with this sketchbook entry. Typically, I add a title and some notes to my pages but I left this alone once I finished. I wanted the page clean and uncluttered so my painting is simply signed and dated. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Through a Glass Darkly

I've finally rested my palette and brushes after a whirlwind summer painting for my show. Everything is up on the wall (37 pieces in all) and it is time I move on to other things. Interestingly, this is the first year I am actually sad to stop painting; usually, by the time I get the art hung, I am completely burnt out on the entire project.  This year though...I'll wait to see how the show is received but I may need to continue painting creatures here and there to satisfy this inner urge to let the monsters out.

Anyway, I have one more post coming about my show (once the reception is held) and then the content of my posts is going to shift. The new school year is looming and I need to start preparing. First and foremost, I need to get back into regular sketching since I am going to be teaching that for an entire year as a companion element to my Art of the Americas course. (The idea is to work up to a travel sketching project in Mexico next June.)

While I paint like a fevered madwoman, I draw with exactly the opposite mindset. I've loved painting all summer but at the same time, I've been craving the quiet respite of my sketchbook. It is time to spend a few hours a day simply sitting and looking and recording. And first up on my agenda is an exploration of glass.

Glass is a difficult but exceedingly lovely surface to render. Every glance at your subject reveals details you didn't notice before. Those details shift and transform with even the slightest change in lighting. It is an exquisite drawing challenge. 

In this sketchbook page, I began my glass bottle series by exploring how well the depiction of glass translates in various mediums. Outlining an object tends to flatten it out visually but an initial outline does make it much easier to draw the object in the first place. I think it is best to start learning to draw by using contour lines to define the shapes you see and that's an approach I'll use with my students. However, I have a feeling that I will continue to practice rendering objects in value only. It is a technique that takes me back to those years of scientific illustration in art school.

My scientific illustration professor taught that while we may think we see hard lines when we look at an object, we are actually seeing a contrast between a light value and a dark value. In other words, he felt that there are no actual lines but rather that all lines are perceived. On assignments, he allowed students to lightly sketch key shapes but then everything - lines included - had to be crafted with an intricate map of values. For example, if we thought we saw lines in the petal of a flower or the wings of an insect, we were not allowed to "draw" the lines. We had to pair light-valued shapes with dark-valued shapes to create the illusion of a line. This is a tedious approach but I find myself relying on it when working in my sketchbook. It is probably why I prefer the drawings without the black contour lines. Now that I think about it, I might pull out some of that old classwork and take some pictures as I'm not sure if I've ever posted any of that here and it may be of some interest.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Serendipithon Sundays: Handmade Foam Stamps

Welcome to the debut of another semi-regular feature here at Lost Coast Post: Serendipithon Sundays. In these posts, I hope to inspire you to spend a little weekend time making your own tools and supplies.

Put quite simply, serendipity work is the art of happy accidents. It is art that has no underlying plan or goal; you just start making and see what develops. I love serendipity work when I'm feeling bad. I can play in the studio, aimlessly slinging paint and creating marks. It keeps me quietly and gently engaged in art and as a bonus, I end up with unique materials that can be used in other projects.

Yes, you can just buy tools and supplies...saves time and looks professional. My studio is full of fun and fantastic stuff I've purchased. I love craft stores just like everyone else. These days, however, my priorities have changed and I crave the imperfect perfection that only my own hands can craft. Every wonky line and crazy background is mine and mine alone. To me, a single sheet of my own hand-decorated paper has more depth and personality than an entire ream of commercial scrapbook paper. I feel a deeper connection to my work when I utilize as many self-generated images and materials as possible. Making my own supplies saves me money and allows me to quickly create tools specific to my wishes and needs. No time wasted searching for the perfect supply. 

When I sit down for a serendipity session, sometimes I make tools (stencils, stamps) to use in making supplies (papers, collage sheets, tapes, transparencies.) Sometimes I make the actual supplies. It depends on my interest level in the homemade tools I already have on hand. If I am bored of the handmade stuff I already have, I sit down to make a fresh batch. (Handmade tools can deteriorate too over time with repeated use so sometimes it just becomes necessary to make replacements.)

Today, I'm hoping to inspire you to make some of your own foam stamps. The "how to" of this project has been done to death in all the leading mixed media books out there. It is very, very simple: cut and punch shapes from thin, lightweight foam and hot glue onto a piece of sturdy cardboard. It is a super cheap way of adding stamps to your stash. The foam sheets aren't more than a $1 at craft stores and cardboard is readily available for free. (The backs of paper tablets are perfect for this project.) The hardest part of making these stamps is cutting the board with a craft knife. It is very painful for me to grip anything tightly for any length of time...just a heads-up if you have hand problems. You really do need thick cardboard for best stamping results so if your hands are compromised, limit your stamp-making session or better yet, enlist someone to do the cutting for you. 

Don't these stamps look delicious once they've gotten all painty?! These stamps make the best impressions with either very juicy ink pads or paint. I don't worry about getting foam stamps super clean since they are so easy and cheap to make. Since it isn't possible to create very detailed stamp images, I stick with basic shapes and symbols in various arrangements, perfect for layering when creating serendipity papers and backgrounds. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mama Tempest

"Mama Tempest Scolds the Littles"; acrylics; 11x14 inches
Just five more show pieces to complete, sign, varnish (black & white ones only,) photograph, name, price, label, and hang. Then I absolutely have to move on to other things, projects that took a backseat to the painting fever (I'm looking at you, Snippets journal), ideas that have waited patiently for their turn in my mind's spotlight, and most importantly, prep for the upcoming school year (all I can say about that right now is "Yikes!")

The official "reception" for Sparks of Madness is Friday August 14 but it is sort of anticlimactic as the show is currently available for anyone to see as long as the business is open. However, on the second Friday of every month, local businesses stay open into the evening, host artists and musicians and offer wine tastings to benefit charitable organizations. Some people wait to look at the month's featured artists until that night, making an event of it. Sometimes it is busy and sometimes it seems like no one much cares. I've never shown during August so it will be interesting to see how attendance rates this month in comparison to later in the year.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Sparks Fly Out into the World

"The Shekel Brothers"; mixed media; 12x12"
Well, the Sparks of Madness show went up onto the walls yesterday afternoon and despite my (usual) worry that I wouldn't have enough pieces to fill the space, it looks pleasantly full. I hung 31 pieces and I have six more in varying stages of completion. Next Sunday, I'll pop in to add them to the show. I'll have to tweak the current arrangement to make them all fit in a visually pleasing manner. Actually I should say that my "installation assistants" (aka very good friends who support my artsy endeavors) will adjust the display as I am banned from climbing ladders given balance issues. I just stand back and command "To the left!" "Up just a bit!" "No, back the other way!" "Stop! That's perfect!" I'll post pictures of the show in a future missive, maybe after reception night.

At the last minute, I decided to give all my pieces elaborate, silly titles. I'm hoping this will help draw viewers up to the works to read the tags and perhaps connect more deeply with individual characters. This particular piece is entitled "The Sheckle Brothers" which may or may not be a sly reference to the wretched Koch brothers. (I just in this very moment realized that I spelled "sheckle" wrong. *sigh* That's going to bug me the entire week. I'll have to fix that even though I'm willing to bet few people will notice.)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sunday How Do You...Choose What to Pursue?

Today's "How Do You...? feature centers around a question my dear friend Ellen recently posed to me and it is a topic I've been pondering intensely as summer winds down and the new school year approaches, full of new opportunities and challenges. In the face of reduced time for personal art-making, I am trying to pin down my approach to this dilemma so I can make the most of my available time and supplies:

How do you choose lines of artistic pursuit with so many areas to choose from?

My studio is packed to the brim. My primary work space occupies almost half of my upstairs living space (which includes the kitchen, half bath, and what the landlord calls a "living room.") I call it my studio. I have another room downstairs for little-used or overflow supplies (what is supposed to be my bedroom) as well as an office at work for all my teaching supplies. All in all, like many people, I have too much stuff and I am actively involved in reducing my stash. Right now, the upstairs studio is filled with all those things I feel I can't live without and represents a vast range of interests: journaling, sewing, sculpture, painting, illustration, jewelry-making, and book-making. And, since I am sure that I have enough books to call it such, my library is upstairs as well. So this begs the question: when time and energy are limited by health issues and the demands of everyday living, how do I focus on a particular area when I am surrounded by possibilities?

Before you can figure out how to do something, it is important to figure out what that "something" is in the first place. Here are some things I try to distinguish between when looking at the range of options spread out before me:
1) Fleeting fads vs. long-term love affairs: (i.e. Indian loom beading vs. drawing)
2) Daily activities vs. short-term projects (i.e. journaling vs. prepping for a show)
3) Hard focus vs. soft focus tasks (i.e. scientific illustration vs. doodling)
That last point of distinction - hard focus vs. soft focus tasks - is the most important for me. Hard focus tasks are ones that take the most concentration, enthusiasm and/or energy. Hard focus tasks also most often have a specific end goal or singular result. In contrast, soft focus tasks are things that I can do without much thought, projects that are repetitive and soothing. Soft focus projects often are ongoing, things I can pick up and put down over and over again within losing ground or momentum.

Since journaling for me is a soft focus task, I can do that while watching TV or waiting at an appointment. I do soft focus tasks when I'm not feeling well. I save my uninterrupted studio time for those hard focus tasks (sculpting, painting, illustration, sewing) that need the most attention and practice. This means that feeling good or feeling bad, I'm almost always still making art.

Once you pinpoint what it is you'd like to accomplish in your studio, you need to devise an plan that will support your goal. Here's some ways to approach the problem:

Tactic #1: Explore a Single Theme in Multiple Media aka Mastering the Imagery
I am doing this right now with my creatures. I draw them, paint them, doodle them, collage them, write about them, sculpt them, and have plans to sew them.

Tactic #2: In a Single Medium, Explore Multiple Themes aka Mastering the Medium
I used to swing back and forth between this approach and the former but it's hard to limit myself to one medium. I want to play with them all! I also feel like I get less done overall. I'm OK with being a jack of all trades but a master of none.

Tactic #3: Exploration Time Frames
I never had much success with doing this but I know a lot of people do. With this approach, you give yourself a time frame (whatever feels natural) to explore something specific (i.e. for the next month, I will make books or for six weeks, I will study and practice watercolor.)

Tactic #4: Go Where the Whim Takes You
This is, of course, another valid approach to art-making. Wake up and follow your gut. In my case, I have specific goals and projects that I wish to see to fruition before my fine motor control deteriorates due to Parkinson's Disease. I have to use my time wisely (both day-to-day and long term.) For me, it is not an option to wander aimlessly in my studio on a regular basis. I could dabble here and there in a bit of everything but I would never complete anything and I would never dig very deep into any particular subject or medium. There are days of course when that is all I am able to do but as a general rule, I try to pursue just one or two things at a time. The more limited my time, the more focused I need to be.

NOTE: I have found that "following my whim" often dissolves into games entitled "Gather Rather than Do," "Mimic the Teacher," and "Stack the Unfinished." While those pursuits are fun in the moment, ultimately I find them to be unfulfilling. 

Some other considerations/strategies:
Eliminate distractions.
Get rid of supplies that you never use, things you tried but hated, and supplies for things you used to do but got burnt out on. I've pretty much accomplished that but the problem is that my favorite mediums seem to require lots of pieces! Yes, I can mix all the colors I need from just red, blue, and yellow but where's the fun in that?! Fortunately, I feel like I've reached to point where the only supplies I now need to purchase are replacements for stuff I use up. Otherwise, I'm fairly sure I have enough art-making fuel for three lifetimes.

Recognize and honor ideas that just won't go away. 
Here's a classic example from my life. I've had this idea for a circus-themed journal or storybook (created entirely in black, white, grey, cream, red, silver, and gold) for almost sixteen years. I've collected an entire box (well OK...boxes) full of papers, fabrics, trims, and embellishments in that color scheme. An entire stack of books in my library is devoted to circus-themed novels and non-fiction books. I have written bits here and there on the story for years. This is an idea that will not die and I know at some point, I need to find a way to tap into that reserve of supplies and thought. I may not know why that idea is so important but its persistence in my peripheral vision is something that cannot be ignored.

Where I'm at Now in This Decision Tree:
I am keenly interested in bringing the characters and stories in my head into the real world (no matter how they are received by the public.) I am also determined to push my fine motor abilities while I have them so that means lots of drawing, painting (on a smaller scale,) sculpting, and some sewing. I especially enjoy Tactic #1 mentioned above so I will continue character creation across multiple mediums including watercolor, acrylics, pencils, markers, clay, fabric, and paper. I will continue my efforts to purge the unwanted and the unnecessary. And, most importantly, I will always try to move forward by listening to my body and making the appropriate adjustments for the energy, pain, physical ability, and focus level of the moment.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

ICAD 2015: Closing Thoughts

Daisy Yellow's Index-Card-a-Day challenge is over for another year and here are my thoughts on how this project went for me:

  • I completed, photographed, and blogged 49 cards. I have another 14 that are backgrounds only. Those cards are "unfinished" simply because I was completely focused on work for my upcoming show. Once my show is up and I can relax, I may add more to those cards or I may leave them as is. I feel no pressure either way.
  • I did NOT number any of my cards. My goal was to complete seven per week and that system worked well for me. (I already have a well-established daily art practice so that component of the challenge wasn't something I needed to meet.)
  • In fact, this year, the challenge progressed smoother than it has in all previous years. I picked seven cards at the beginning of the week, applied paint here and there in the course of that week while working on art for my show, and on the last day, I finished off the set. Easiest-peasiest method ever!
  • To stay organized, I made a little chart for all nine weeks of the challenge with columns to check off for prepping, finishing, photographing, and blogging my creations. This made it easier to keep up with the documentation of my participation (something I often find harder than the challenge itself.)
  • This year I expanded the definition of "card." In addition to standard index cards, I also used recipe, flash, bingo, playing, and library cards. Sometimes I cut those cards down to 4x6; mostly I just used the cards as I found them. The little bit of text behind my painted backgrounds added an extra layer of interest and I got to dive into my collected but neglected stash of cards.
  • I LOVE the cards I created this year and I cannot wait to incorporate them into my journals!

As much as I love this challenge, I'm not sure I'll do it again next year (something I say every year.) Besides the fact that I may be laid up next summer with yet another major foot surgery, I am feeling an intense pull towards other projects. ICAD does eat up valuable studio time; this year, however, I felt like I was finally able to find that balance between doing the challenge justice while still focusing on other things. Never say never! 

For those of you joining my ICAD party late, here's links to all my previous "ICAD 2015" posts (all links will open up into a new window):

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