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!"
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