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.

Note:
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.

Note:
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.
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