Show Rituals & Routines: Part 2

The following is a description of how I develop and work on a show. It is rather lengthy and contains several pop-out links to old posts/artwork so grab a cup of your favorite beverage and read onward if so desired.
A reader asked at one point if I sketch out ideas before painting or if I just "wing it." It depends on the show. Some shows have required endless hours of research and preparatory sketches; several years ago I did a series of works based on historical Chinese cut paper patterns for embroidery. I spent a lot of time looking at copyright-free images and developing new designs and compositions. Ultimately, I think I worked in that style for a couple of years. Sometimes, I just fly by the seat-of-my-pants as was the case with my Facades, Soul Terrain, and Ornithological Oddities series. This year's show, Figmenta, is somewhere in between intense prep and blindly stumbling forward. I've made some quickie layouts for paintings and then more carefully "pre-sketched" the individual elements. I used to battle this crazy superstition that I couldn't draw something the same way twice so I was scared to draw anything in too much detail for fear I'd never be able to reproduce the image on canvas. For the most part, I've moved past that fear, due in no small part, to a dedicated daily drawing practice. For all shows, I keep many large "processing" sketchbooks where I gather my notes, doodles, questions, layouts, visual inspiration & reference, show materials (price lists, artist statements, advertising) and even encouraging emails from friends and purchasers.

Figmenta is shaping up to be a very interesting show on many levels. Typically, when I put together a show, each piece follows a specific pattern of techniques so all the pieces have a cohesive look. However, with the Sparks of Madness show (which followed two years of a show entitled The Motley Menagerie,) that idea of cohesiveness started to breakdown as I discovered that sticking to one "look" was getting boring. I felt like I was chomping at the bit to push beyond the boundaries of my artistic box. As a result, that show had two distinct looks within one show: the very colorful creature paintings as well as the more monochromatic collage/mixed media pieces.

This year, Figmenta may have many series-within-the-series as I have given myself permission to play and bounce from idea to idea. Some of those ideas come from those show sketchbooks and it is gratifying to see rough, unrealized concepts from years past finally become reality.

Once I finish painting a piece, it moves into "review" status which simply means I prop it up on the bookcase that sits in front of the couch/next to the TV so I can see it from a distance whenever I am relaxing. Time and space allows me to see anything that needs to be fixed or added. Some paintings are immediately satisfying but others spend weeks under review as I try to parse out what small element needs adjustment before I can truly call the piece complete. It is important to note that if something is bugging me about a painting, I don't pay direct attention to the piece, struggling to find the error and fix it. This only leads to disaster. I've learned to let my subconscious chew on the problem while I move forward. Eventually, I have the necessary "AHA!" moment and know instantly what needs to be done. Sometimes, canvases will go into review status before they are complete and the reason is the same as for finished works: to problem solve without doing so directly.

Well, this is getting long so I think I break off here for now and return to this topic in my next post in which I present the first major piece completed for Figmenta. (Hint: You can sneak a peek at that canvas in the above photo.) If you have any questions, please ask in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.


Anonymous said…
I am really enjoying the discussion of how you prepare for shows and the links to what you've done in the past. It's so much fun to click through those links - the breadth of your creativity and talent is awesome!