Thursday, July 28, 2016

Down the Rabbit Hole

If I'm lucky, there comes a time during every show production session that I become completely absorbed in the work to the exclusion of all else: other art projects, laundry, meals, Netflix, errands, sunshine, blogging. Until about two weeks ago, I was beginning to wonder if I was going to find that sweet spot in creating work for Figmenta, my solo show in October. I told myself that I was still recovering from an especially difficult teaching year, that it was just taking time to rebuild my energy and focus. I told myself that an ongoing battle with severe tendonitis and increasing tremor were slowing me down but that I was still making progress, albeit at a snail's pace.

And then, finally, I fell down the rabbit hole. However, the hole didn't appear where I expected it to and I am doing some serious pondering about what it all means.

I had been casually preparing a bunch of small canvases after completing two large pieces but after the first couple of layers, my interest stalled. I'd look at my stack of blank canvas and feel like I had to drag myself across the room by my elbows to them. So, in the spirit of moving onward, I turned my attention to my sculpture/assemblage project based on an idea I jotted down in 2012. It's an idea that's been patiently brewing in my brain pan for the last four years but simultaneously going nowhere. Since Figmenta is all about honoring my artistic whims, I had finally decided to bring this idea out of the show workbook and into reality.

I worked on the individual parts assembly line-style so it took a few weeks for everything to arrive at the same point. The heads were sculpted, dry, painted, and varnished. The edges of the wood blocks were covered in tissue paper and then the fronts & backs were covered with paper as well. Holes were drilled and screw eyes attached, four at a time. I could begin assembly.

And that's when the rabbit hole opened beneath me. Most of the last two weeks, I've spent upwards of ten hours each day playing mad scientist. Metal and wood bits cover nearly every inch of my studio table with the exception of Marley in his box and the tool jars that take up most of the righthand corner of the table. Somewhere in that pile of embellishments there are pliers, glue, wire cutters, a small hand drill, scissors, and a cutting blade that I hope I remembered to cap. There are itty bitty screws, brads, eyelets, random coils of wire, game pieces, and gears galore. As my actual workspace shrinks, my joy expands. Whenever I create something particularly amusing, I actually cackle aloud: "Heh, heh, heh." Time begins to slip slide away.

At first, I was just assembling the two parts I had completed: heads and bodies. But as I worked, characters and their stories began to emerge. I have moved into the deeper levels of the rabbit hole and as I continue to fall, I am starting to evaluate where I might land. Initially, I thought these "Cyborg Relations" would just be scattered in amongst my paintings, oddities for distraction and amusement. Now though, I am wondering if perhaps these might become the main attraction. Other than my very first show in May 2002 and a small show of the robot army in February 2014, I've always shown paintings. Both shows of my 3-D work were in tiny venues. Do I dare try to base a large solo show on my assemblage work? Hmmm...the wheels are turning frantically in my head.

My new friends await their arms and legs. I have two heads to redo since I discovered I am not in love with them. Other ideas are starting to surface. I am making copious notes and sketches. Unless I am seized with new enthusiasm for painting, it is very possible that Figmenta is going to turn in an unexpected direction. I'm not closing any doors yet; it's too early to make any drastic, final decisions. For now I'm just going to enjoy the descent into all-consuming fun.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


I will never tire of the sculpting process and this is my favorite part. As I work the clay, the characters I envision begin as ghosts; since I do no sketches prior to smoothing the clay onto the armature, I have no concrete idea what the final piece will look like once paint is applied. I have to believe that my subconscious will guide my fingers towards a character that "works" in the end. As I add the shading and details, the sculpt comes alive and if I've trusted the process, the resulting character feels like it existed fully visualized all along. It is as close to magic as I can get in my studio.

I think at this point I can reveal that this series is called "Cyborg Relations" and that it's destined to be part of Figmenta; however, I'll leave it at that until all the heads are painted and I'm ready to start bringing the parts together into the final forms. I do hope the process will start moving along at a faster clip once the heads are complete since that is the most time-consuming part of this project. I feel like my distraction-free studio time is slipping through my fingers and that I don't have much done. I need to keep focusing on each individual work day and not get mired in the gradually-rising anxiety within as summer winds down and show premiere date looms with the onset of fall. 

Thank you to all for joining me on this journey and for your enthusiastic and encouraging comments. Creating a large body of work for a show can be a lonely, exhausting endeavor and it has been nice to have a cheering section as I try to bring Figmenta to fruition. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Figmenta Rises Bit by Bit

I'm a bit behind here at Lost Coast Post because work on the show has complete command of my attention right now. If you were to wander through my studio, it would probably seem as if I'm not making much progress: there are unfinished projects all over the place. Currently, nine small canvases are drying in my tiny kitchen so that I can move on to the next stage with them. I try to end each day with a painting session after the dishes are done so that everything can be dry and ready to go in the morning. However, dinner might have to be take-out tonight so that I don't have to disturb my work.

In between painting sessions, I am working on an assemblage series. In my previous post, I showed you some plain wood blocks. All those blocks are now covered in paper: fronts, backs, and sides. I won't be touching them again until I get into the final assembly stage but I am eager to see how these work together with the heads I'm creating in clay.

Yesterday I completed the last 5 (out of 13!) sculpted heads and in about a week, they should be completely dry. Meanwhile, I'll start painting & embellishing the ones that are already dry, a fun but lengthy step-by-step process. I'm excited though because as I complete the heads, this project will really start to crystallize and come alive. This idea has been a long time in coming (my first sketch for this series dates back to 2012) and it is a more than a little thrilling to see that random note becoming reality. My show title, Figmenta, is becoming more appropriate by the day, as I transform scattered figments of my imagination from barely-articulated whims into real life objects. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that in the next few weeks, I'll have a lot more completed pieces so my usual panic about not having enough to hang will diminish. For now, I just need to keep working away on all the individual parts and trust that things will start to come together.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Hmmm...I wonder what these things will become? Some blocks of wood...

A fantastic collection of metal, plastic, and wood bits & bobs (what's in this picture times five)...

Sculpted heads waiting for paint...

'Tis a mystery to be revealed on a future date. The wild ride that is Figmenta rolls onward...

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Research Question

Need to do a little research for my show...if you have a moment (and are willing to engage your imagination,) please answer the following question in the comments:

Based on what you have observed, when animals wear hats, how do they usually wear them? (I understand the type of animal, length of ears, and hat style creates a lot of variables but generally, when considering some common creatures - cat, dog, raccoon, fox, rabbit, bird, etc - what do you think is the most typical practice:

A) Hats are known for being uncomfortable. The hat is pushed down onto the head with ears poking out (if long enough) beneath the brim.

B) The ears are stuffed up into the hat so as to keep them warm and dry. This is the point of a hat, silly.

C) Animals have special milliners who craft ear holes in their hats; because of this accommodation, ears remain proudly on display whilst wearing hats.

D) Proper hat-wearing etiquette demands that the hat be set at a jaunty angle, covering one ear and perhaps concealing the other.

E) Hats are sort of a nuisance when one has ears on top of one's head; any hat worn by an animal must perch carefully atop the head, in between the ears.

F) What a ridiculous question! Animals don't wear hats!

If you have observed any hat-wearing options in the field other than what I have listed above, do tell. Thank you for your participation!

EDIT: Yes; I know "real" animals don't wear hats. However, I live a lot in my imagination and a world of story. In case you hadn't noticed, dreaming up fantastical characters, realms, and possibilities fuels my art and life. I thrive on silliness. To answer this question, you'll have to suspend disbelief, logic, reason, and reality. And then, go read Wind in the Willows...

A Parliament of Hooligans

as yet untitled; 12x36-inches gallery deep canvas; acrylics & vintage paper
Work on my show, Figmenta, is progressing very slowly but steadily. This is the painting I completed last week, the beginning of a series I'm calling "Woodland Hoodlums." This piece in particular is going to be titled either "The Hooligan Gang" or "Members of Parliament." (A group of owls is called a "parliament.") Figmenta will be different this year in that instead of consisting of a single, cohesive set of paintings, the show will be comprised of several series, each with its own look and technical style. I'm a bit worried that the final pieces will all look a bit disjointed when hung together but 1) it is too early to worry about that, 2) right now I just need to do the work, 3) my old way of doing things was boring me, and 4) I am giving in to my every whim, every figment of an idea that is floating my way. 

Next week, I will start working on some smaller pieces - preparing multiple canvases at once - so hopefully, I will move more of my canvas stash from the "blank" pile to the "done" pile. This photo captures the stack of small canvases waiting-in-the-wings; I have some large ones as well but I'd like to get these small pieces done first before I turn my attention to something really big and complex. We'll see how far I get in the next few weeks...

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Figmenta Begins...Sort Of...

Every show I do has a "lead" painting, a piece that is hung front and center in the show along with the show sign. Usually the lead painting is the first canvas I create at the beginning of show production, the piece that I love best, the piece that best represents the theme and spirit of the show, and the canvas that inspires & informs a bunch of follow-up work. Approximately two weeks ago, I completed the first piece destined for the Figmenta show in October based on the sketch you see here. As a part of show prep, I've been doodling painting ideas for several weeks and this was the piece I decided to begin with when the school year ended. Sometimes I create more detailed sketches of individual parts of a painting but often, I work off of these very vague blueprints so a certain amount of serendipity remains while I'm working.

Contrary to my personal traditions, this will not be the lead painting for Figmenta. This painting has been "under review" for a while now and I'm still unsure whether or not I even like this canvas. Since I completed this piece, my idea for the show has shifted and this canvas doesn't really "fit" now. Currently, I don't really have any desire to turn this into a series. These things happen. I like to have the theme/technique completely ironed out before I start painting but sometimes, new ideas start to flow once I'm engaged in the process. Figmenta is also very different from previous shows so I'm venturing into unknown territory; backtracking and unexpected route changes are inevitable. That said, I hate to waste canvas and I don't dislike this piece so much that I want to paint over it. In time, I may even fall in love with this big blue kitty. For now, I am going to pursue my other ideas and hope to come back to this one. As long as I can create a couple of other pieces that echo this, it will probably end up on the wall.

The piece is called The Hitchhikers and it is painted with acrylics on a 15x30-inch stretched canvas with a 1-1/2-inch deep cradle.
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