Saturday, May 20, 2017

Eleven Years Today

As of today, this humble collection of data bytes has existed on the Internet for 11 years. I've had plenty of moments over the years where I questioned continuing but this space has grown on me. Here I share my art, my thoughts, my time, my worries, my challenges and by some miracle, there are people who show up to read those musings. 

Compared to many of the art blogs that remain active today, Lost Coast Post is decidedly longform (I love to write) and non-commercial. I have slowly increased the exposure I give my work-for-sale and I include product links for stuff I use & love; it is a matter of economic survival. However, first and forever foremost, I deal here in inspiration. Whether you need a little push to try something new or continue along the path you've chosen, whether life is relatively easy or whether it is studded with obstacles, I hope that this space encourages you to rally onward.

Like most blogs, my comments section is generally soft-spoken but the words you do leave behind after a post lift my spirits. A few send lovely personal emails telling me how much you love LCP and some drop a bit of financial support into my tip jar. I am grateful and humbled by it all. Thank you for your readership, whether you've just discovered Lost Coast Post last month or whether you've been along for the ride since 2006 (is there anybody in that category out there?) Let's keep forging ahead...

Friday, May 19, 2017

Learn When to Let Go & When to Hang On

Art and work and the race to summer break (and my 13th surgery) continues at a breathtaking pace. I am getting better at taking time outs to just breathe and re-gather my wits so I am surviving the daily chaos reasonably well. However, even though my foot will be trussed together with more than a dozen stitches after June 27, I am looking forward to downtime for a couple of months, sitting on the couch, binge-watching Netflix, doodling, and planning for the fall. There's lots of fresh changes coming at work; I am very excited to begin writing lessons and creating class samples & step-outs. These surgeries are never fun and often become complicated but I am going to try to make the best of it and keep my chin up.

My series The Lost Aesops is still alive. This piece, completed on an 18x24-inch gallery-wrapped canvas, is titled "The Raccoon and the Balloon." The moral of this pictorial fable might be something along the lines of Learn when to let go and when to hang on. This canvas is quite a bit bigger than my first ("The Tortoise and the Hares") so a bit of the patchwork busyness is lost. I did want to evoke a feeling of spaciousness as is appropriate for the sky and a smaller substrate might have made the piece feel cramped. The balloon needed some room to soar.

Again I restricted my color palette. My color choices represent a loosely interpreted accented analogous scheme. Analogous colors are lie next to each other on the color wheel and usually the artist chooses three colors for her scheme. I traditionally choose four colors; in this case, I used yellow, yellow-orange, orange, and red-orange. Accents are usually chosen from directly opposite the analogous colors and my predominant accent is blue in varying tints (white added) and tones (grey added.) There is, of course, some green present so the rigor of the scheme starts to break down. The overall look though feels restrained to me; I am trying to rein in my usual "all rainbows, all the time" approach to color choice.

Fun fact: I do actually use a handheld color wheel while painting. Back in art school, it seemed like every class I took required the creation of a color wheel and I grew to dislike making them. However, I saved all of those wheels and use them often to this day.

I just finished a third Lost Aesop this morning. A fourth is already sketched and waiting for paint. I'm not sure if I will do a fifth but there is still time for an idea to come calling. I need to move onward and I am beginning to feel a pull towards other things. As I've said, I'm a "pinball artist" and I get restless when I linger on any one task for too long. I guess the raccoon's lesson is also my guiding philosophy. I'll hang onto this idea as long as I can and then I'll let it go in order to land somewhere new and different.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Sketching Memories

I read somewhere once that it is hard to remember the pain of childbirth clearly because your body is then flooded with happy-making hormones so you can bond with your baby. Hmmm...something similar happens with the school year as the beginning and even the middle is so wonderful and then I realize I had forgotten the INSANITY of the last few weeks. The energy level is somewhere between whitewater river and simmering volcano. I come home exhausted, thankful to just stare at a blank, white wall for a while in utter, blissful silence. Then, as time for art-making is ever dwindling, I peel myself off the couch and stumble to the studio table a few feet away to recharge.

I've returned to my sketchbook in anticipation of teaching observational drawing again in the fall and I love the peaceful, engaging effort of looking and really seeing all while trying to record the lines, shadows, shapes, and colors before me. I'd like to do a sketchbook filled entirely with drawings of toys; a while back I was completely inspired by my wind-up collection sketches. Here I begin that project with sketches of some toy cars that belonged to my youngest brother Sam, whom I lost to a rare brain cancer when he was eighteen. These cars were passed along to my son Daniel. Daniel has long grown beyond pushing toys in the dirt and making engine noises in some great construction yard of his imagination but I can't bear to throw these playthings out. Through them, I touch my brother and don't want to let go.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

In Which Young Ideas Have Growing Pains: Part 2

(Part 1 of this post series here)

My sketchbooks and journals are essential studio tools; they are repositories for ideas and a fantastic place go digging for inspiration. (Hint: The more you self-reference, the more unique your work will be to you.) Almost exactly a year ago, I did some loose sketches for a series on canvas featuring whimsical animals involved in silly situations. I've stacked animals before in my work so these sketches were not entirely unfamiliar territory. I doodled critters upon critters employing various means of transportation but it all seemed a bit too cute and I didn't have time to waste trying to fix the issue. 

Fast forward to three weeks ago when I returned to those idea seeds to see if I could bring something forth from them after all. I doodled a bunch of rabbits and decided to zero in on my idea for three bunnies riding the back of a giant tortoise. I chose a tall and narrow gallery-wrapped canvas (12x18-inches) and sketched my central figures. The initial painting went well. I quite liked my rabbit arrangement and thought I was proceeding along swimmingly. Then the speed bump in my process appeared. It took me almost an entire day to paint the turtle and at the end of the evening, I knew it wasn't right. My goal from the outset had been a whimsical approach and while the bunnies were working, the turtle seemed too realistically positioned and the shell texture was a disaster. I snapped a quick photo of the canvas at this stage right before I gessoed over the problematic parts.

Before I began again, I decided to take a look at some primitive landscape art, both traditional and contemporary. Much of primitive work, either with or without animals, has a flat depth of field. There's not a lot of deep perspective. Think of a landscape folded forward toward the viewer, foreground, middle ground, and background lying directly on top of one another. It conveys layers but not real distance between the layers. My tortoise needed to be flattened. (Ironically, I got it right in my initial layout sketch.)

Primitive landscape art also tends to be busy with lots of little details to capture one's attention. Once I had figured out the redo of the tortoise, I needed to figure out how to fill the space around the central characters. I wanted it to be interesting but not distracting, flat but not boring. My "World Within" journal provided inspiration for the solution. My later work in that journal featured collage-constructed animals surrounded by a pieced border. I thought I could use that border idea but also knew the journal version was too busy. So I made the "pieces" more regimented and quilt-like. Ideas for the patterns in the individual sections were pulled from yet another sketchbook. 

I also decided to use toned colors throughout this canvas, something I've never done before. Typically, I paint with what comes right out of the tubes but for a more primitive look, I mixed grey into everything to dial down the brightness. I limited the overall palette as well, managing to completely avoid using my beloved quinacridone magenta. These color choices resulted in a fresh, new look while retaining my usual approach to creatures and critters.

I also wanted to tie this canvas to another already-completed piece that will hang in the same show. Remember "The Hitchhikers?" I really loved the little row of houses and simple "lollipop" trees on that piece so I decided to repeat that motif in my new work. Repetition - whether of pattern, image, color, line quality or shape - is a great design principle that creates visual connections within a single piece or between multiple pieces, something that can be important when hanging work for a show. (And, as I've said before, referencing and repeating yourself is the best way to develop your own style.)

Besides the whimsical trees and houses, I also decided to repeat the checkerboard line in all subsequent canvases in this series. Because all these little ideas finally grew up and became something brand new that I felt was strong enough to sustain over a number of pieces.

When I finished this canvas, I showed it to my son and he said it felt like an alternate version of the classic Aesop fable, one where the rabbits decide they can win the race and expend less effort to boot if they simply ride the sturdy tortoise all the way to the finish line. And so this series is now called "The Lost Aesops." (If I was being cheeky, I'd call them "Alt-Aesops" but despite the temptation, I'll leave politics out of it...except to say my first title for this painting was "The One Percenters.") In the end, I'll give each piece a title but the moral will be up to the viewer to discern. This first in the series is named - of course - "The Tortoise and the Hares." The second piece is already complete and you'll get a peek at that next week.

I hope this lengthy two-part breakdown of my design and problem-solving process is helpful to those of you wrestling with how to develop new work while either developing or maintaining a "look" that is uniquely yours. Write down every idea, no matter how small or silly. Those are your seeds. Find those common threads running through your work over the years and pull them together. That will be your lattice on which new ideas will grow. New and old will come together to make exciting forward progress in your art practice!

Monday, May 8, 2017

In Which Some Seeds Sown Long Ago Finally Sprout: Part 1

One of my favorite parts of my own working style is that I leave a lot up to my subconscious. I sketch, jot down brainstorms, make lists, do research, and play randomly, gathering seeds for future projects. It took a long, long, LONG time to do this on a consistent basis, to store ideas for a later date rather than strong-arm those passing notions into something before they are really ready. (Just because it is the first idea, doesn't mean it is the best idea.) This is big part of why you see me working in so many different styles, mediums, themes, and techniques all at once. My brain moves fast as does my interest so I try capture what I can and then move on.

I treat ideas like a gardener tends seeds. I sow the idea seeds in my subconscious and walk away, like bulbs you tuck into the ground in winter with a hope and prayer that you will see something of your efforts in the spring. I never know what - if anything - those seeds will become, either alone or in concert with something else. The majority fail to germinate; they are dead-on-arrival, just some passing fancy that doesn't stay on my radar for a variety of reasons. Rarely, an idea becomes something greater than its beginnings almost immediately. Most of the time though it can take years before something sprouts and I finally have that beloved "A-Ha!" moment. Almost always, those freshly risen ideas are never what I expected them to become...sort of like thinking you are planting pansies and ending up with roses.

A little over two years ago, I did a small series of sketches of primitive woodland animals, trying to distill the essence of the creature in as few lines as possible. Usually, I feel it necessary to convey every detail but here, I wanted to see if I could step back a bit from all that obsessive detailing and draw something very simple. I really liked my efforts but I couldn't see where to take these doodles at that time so...onward.

Last year, before I settled on the assemblage series, Figmenta, I did a bunch of very rough painting layouts all centered around animals. I had some bare-boned concepts but nary a unifying theme, style, or technique in sight. Figmenta, on the other hand, came together quickly and since I didn't have a lot of time to spend dithering over what I was going to do - I had to just get to the "doing" part - I turned the page on those sketches and moved on once again.

This year, I decided fairly early in the show prep process to return to an animals theme, seeking to pull on the energy and enthusiasm I had for the two-plus years I worked on The Motley Menagerie. I keep a private sketchbook/journal just for show development and one idea was to do a show entirely of portraits. As most steady readers will know, I've been immersed in yearbook-inspired drawings for quite some time so a portrait-focused show was not far afield. Since I don't feel up to doing human portraits on a scale larger or more public than my journals, my show concept quickly morphed into a collection of animal portraits.

I like to work in multiple small series united under a single, umbrella title. At this point, my 2017 show title still eludes me but for now, that's fine. I've been happily painting a series of cat and dog portraits while plotting some more "Woodland Hoodlums." (Yes, the Hoodlums were originally planned to be part of Figmenta but the assemblages asserted themselves early on and I simply followed their siren call.) Since I was looking for more sketch inspiration for the Hoodlums series, I returned to my "idea seed catalogs," aka my sketchbooks and journals.

I began playing again with simple drawings, focusing this time on bunnies as prompted by those 2015 doodles and my quickie layout ideas from a year ago. My head started buzzing because I felt something trying to break through. I thought maybe it would be good to just start a canvas with this fresh impulse in mind, even though it was going to take me away from the "portrait" part of my focus. You have to learn to recognize when your subconscious is ready to share with your conscious mind and take action. If you see a hint of green in the dirt, for goodness sake, get thee a watering can! So I began to paint, swearing to myself that I was going to take just a little time to see if anything of substance would result; if not, I would get right back to my other, already-in-progress ideas...nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that. It turns out, something new and fun was waiting for its time in the sun...

Part 2 posts on Wednesday...

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Another Junkyard Mutt

There's a lot going on in the studio right now but no time to edit pictures and write detailed posts. I haven't forgotten about you all though so for today here's another sneak peek at new work for my October show. This is one of ten in my "Alleycat/Junkyard Dog" series painted on 8x8-inch canvases. I'm not sure yet how I am going to name these although I am leaning toward giving them "adoption numbers" so people can name them themselves.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Furry Friends Fresh off the Easel

Here's a couple more peeks at work for my show coming up this fall. This year, I thought I'd return to painting animals, birds, and other creatures; it is a theme that seems to be popular with show attendees and certainly is popular with me in the studio. When one of these faces starts to come to life on canvas, I get very excited and that energy propels me fairly easily through having to make a lot of pieces so my show can look comfortably "full."  As I have done in the past, I am working in a few small series that ultimately will hang together in October. These small canvases (8x8-inches square) are from the series I'm tentatively naming "Alley Cats & Junkyard Dogs." (Everything is "tentatively named" at this stage in the process. I mostly name stuff after everything is finished.)

Cats are always warmly received and this year, I will be presenting more than a few cat paintings. However, for the first time ever, I am also painting doggie faces and it has been so much fun! We all know that cats and dogs have very different personalities and I have discovered that they each have a unique feeling on canvas as well. I'm not sure why I haven't painted dogs before except perhaps for the fact that I am probably best described as a cat person. I realized though that I had unintentionally pigeonholed myself. I will coo over a cute dog I see on the street to the point of embarrassing both myself and the owner but it never occurred to me to try adding dogs into my art. Even in my sketchbooks, dogs rarely appear. Well, after the first couple of dog portraits in this series, I am hooked and thrilled to find something new (to me) to paint.

I took some decent photos of these pieces and will probably try offering this series printed up on tote bags and square throw pillows over at my Society 6 shop. I'll give everyone a heads up when I manage to get around to that. Life's quite busy right now - honestly, when isn't it - so I am juggling as fast as I am able.

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.

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.

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!"

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Stormy Weather

Art-making (and life in general) is moving very slowly these days for a variety of reasons. I'm still trying to get back into the flow of work after nearly two and a half months off and I have a tremendous amount of work to do for the next semester of teaching. The weather is also contributing to my internal "dragging" feeling; we've had day after day of grey skies, high winds, and flood-threatening downpours here on the Pacific coast of California and after a while, it feels like my mind is wrapped in an irritating, itchy, and damp wool blanket. *ugh*

Unfortunately, this feeling of "slowness" is coming at a time when I actually need to do more. There is a good possibility that I'll be having another major foot surgery this coming June or July. My next show is due up on the wall in October. Since my usual summer show preparation will be supplanted by post-op recovery, I need to get the work for that show done now. These two opposing forces - the urge to move quickly versus the feeling of inertia - are battling it out in my brain. In the interest of shaking loose my momentum and inspiration, I've been painting in my journal as a precursor to on-canvas work. Typically, I never make painted studies before I commit to canvas. I often do preliminary sketches but I don't make fully-realized paintings in advance of the "final draft." However, desperate times call for desperate measures. I have a fairly solid notion of the theme of this upcoming show but the details (individual series, techniques, subjects) still need refinement. This little portrait is in my small Unexpected Convergences journal. That is also unusual for me; my show prep notes and sketches usually have their own separate notebook but here, I just wanted to get my brushes moving while I had any semblance of interest in painting.

Fallow times in the studio happen. Just as it storms without, it can storm within. For myself, I find that it's best to work as much as possible at the edges of the tempest rather than waiting for perfectly calm days. A swish of the brush here, a swipe of paint there and soon you're back in the studio and making art no matter the weather.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

10 Ways to Do Art When You Don't Feel Like Doing Art

There are a great many things in my life that can get in the way of art-making. My hands are often shaky, weak, and painful (Parkinson's/Kienbock's.) Sometimes migraines make it impossible to tolerate light, sound, or movement. After surgeries (I've had 12 so far,) I have to spend a great deal of time with the wounded limb elevated, making it difficult to sit at my studio table (plantar fibromatosis/Kienbock's.) I deal with extreme fatigue, a consequence of all these health issues combined. To be honest, there are days when these problems do curtail my art life but mostly, I fight through and find ways to make art anyway because art makes my life worthwhile. Art fills my days with joy, excitement, and contentment so whenever possible, I try to find small ways to stay connected with my artistic life regardless of how I feel. This post lists some of my strategies for continuing to make art even when art is the last thing I feel like doing.

1) A Work of Art Doesn't Have to be Monumental:
While laid up after my most recent surgery, I made tiny (1-inch square!) drawings of everything I could see from the couch. I drew the frames in my sketchbook before the surgery and completed all the thumbnails over a period of several days. Thumbnail drawings are a fantastic way to practice composition and observation skills. They can be precursors to larger works when you are feeling more adventurous or thumbnails can just be an aimless but soothing "pencil-scratching-on-paper" distraction when you can't do anything else.

2) Sticky Fingers Can Soothe a Worried Mind:
I am slowly smothering in paper scraps (like many of you, I'll bet) so when I'm not feeling creative, I just spend time creating scrap paper backgrounds in my journals. I grab one of my many scrap boxes, a foam brush, glue, and journal. These backgrounds will wait patiently for a day when I am ready for a longer, more involved studio session. You could make scrap backgrounds in different color ways or use only certain materials such as vintage book papers.

3) Look To Your Library:
How many of you have waited excitedly for the latest book release, danced around your studio once that book was delivered, flipped through its pages, maybe even marking some pages to return to, and then tucked away all that incredible inspiration on the shelf, ultimately forgetting you own that book in the first place? Yep, me too. So, if you are confined to couch or bed, get reacquainted with all those art technique books you own. The things that you found so inspiring all those weeks, months, years (!) ago are still there. Take advantage of forced downtime to unearth lost treasures in your home library.

4) Keep Your Brushes Moving:
If you want to paint but are having trouble settling on a direction or if health issues are keeping you from more in-depth work, pick a few paint colors, grab a palette, and start experimenting with color mixtures. Make notes. Name your newfound colors. Develop fresh color combos. I keep a separate journal just for this purpose. This is also a good place to practice brushstrokes and brush handling.

5) Gather Ye Roses While Ye Wait:
There are times when health problems simply take over. Maybe you have to burn a lot of energy going to doctors' appointments and having tests or maybe you hurt too much to focus properly. Spend some time digging through your collage stash and just pin up anything that makes you go "Oooo!" Don't overthink this process; just relax and allow your brain to react. The inspiration board you create will be a useful tool later when you are able to be fully present in your studio: it will keep your inspirations front and center so they don't slip away while you are otherwise distracted.

6) Lose Yourself in a Word Salad:
One of my favorite "Want to Do Something but Don't Feel Like Anything" activities is clipping words from magazines. This process generates fuel for found word poetry and journal page titles while simultaneously pruning the stacks of paper products in the studio. While you're at it, clip images too and pin those up on your inspiration board! 

7) Become a Pattern Junkie:
This exercise comes from the delightfully playful Carla Sonheim and her book, Drawing and Painting Imaginary Creatures. Check your shelves because this might be one you bought a while ago and forgot about. Basically, over a series of three to five squares, you build patterns a step at a time. I like to have a bit of extra fun and name those patterns. This is a great way to practice layering different colors and materials. The resulting patterns could be used later to make your doodles extra interesting. (Think patterns for fur, skin, and clothing)

8) Craft Some Stash:
The very best way to develop your own unique style and "look" is to make sure your own hand is visible as much as possible. Each time you use a heavily-branded and recognizable product from another artist, you slip into the background of your own work a little bit. If you feel up to being in the studio but not quite ready to dive into an involved project, try spending time creating your own art supplies. Cut your own stencils. Carve stamps. Create your own personal collage sheets or even your own paintbrushes. These personalized tools will help your art stand on its own and be uniquely you.

9) For the Love of Swatching:
This activity is my number one, go-to task when I am uninspired and/or overwhelmed. I love just sitting with a pile of supplies, sorting and sampling them by color, making notes. It is incredibly calming and astoundingly useful. It also serves as a gentle reminder that I have A LOT OF STUFF and that I don't need more. Sometimes I end up with swatch pages that are out-of-date and need to be redone. Those old swatch sheets look great cut up and added onto journal pages or mixed media canvases.

10) Go in Search of Beauty, Sweet One:
Health issues (or really any stressful life event) can sap your creative energy as you necessarily withdraw from the studio to take care of business. As soon as you can, get back to the world, camera in hand, and go for a walk. The pictures you take can be reference images for future drawings and paintings. The vitamin D you absorb and the endorphins you generate will lift your spirits. The fresh air will clear your head. Look for great color combinations, cool textures and marks, strange people (who won't notice or care that they are getting their picture taken,) contrasting values, interesting compositions. Print and pin the photos on your inspiration board. Draw little thumbnails. See if you can recreate the patterns you discover. Carve a stamp based on an awesome mark you find. Try mixing up a batch of a color that made you swoon.

Know that everything you do - even if it seems small - to keep in touch with your inner artist during difficult times will help that artist resurface after the bad days pass and you are ready to begin again with the joyful business of art-making.
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