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.
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