16" x 20"
painted and frottaged papers
A Way Forward
16" x 20"
painted and frottaged papers
It's always difficult to start something a little new after you have done something for a while that seems to be working. Such was the case this month as I found myself pivoting once again in a slightly different direction with my work.
The first piece shown is in the same style in which I have been working for a while now. It was completed after several weeks of work. It's no secret that the Pandemic has derailed us all. Recent events haven't helped either with focusing. Additionally many people still have to deal with personal problems on top of everything else, myself included. So, January was a slow month for me, work wise. I am happy with this piece though, both because of what I learned and also because of what I decided the piece could be about.
In making this collage I learned a little more about combining patterns and colors and values (light and dark). Those are hard variables to manipulate and I continue to try and get better at this skill.
The inspiration for the piece was a little easier. I drew on some reading that I have done recently about genes, the human genome, and migration: essentially, how our genes may have been dispersed throughout our collective (man's) history. It's fascinating to think about the intersection of geology (think about Pangea) and the evolution of man. All of the natural forces that have come into play to allow man to travel around the Earth, dispersing his genes. I think this is particularly important in light of all of our issues around race and gender and who we are as a society. How we relate to one another and see each other. How we want to be going forward. Those are big and deep questions and certainly not ones that I can answer with my art. But, I can think about them which is important.
The second piece shown above alludes to what I was writing about earlier in the post. I now find myself once again trying out a new idea but combining it with an older way of working. As much as I love the frottaged papers that I have been making, I dearly miss the solid colors that I have used in the past. I wanted to get back to them but wasn't sure how without feeling like I was moving backwards. Ideas come together though and I started to think about hieroglyphics (I watched a NOVA special about writing), narratives, and using the picture plane differently than I have been. (Remember that the picture plane, the way I see it, is the flat piece of paper or canvas that you work on.) I like the idea of telling a story with art. Even if it is only a story that you get or if the viewer gets a different story, I still really believe in this effort to communicate somehow, creatively. I decided to just use simple shapes, mostly separated from each other on the page, and see what story I might tell. And though I like my initial efforts, it isn't exactly what I want. So, I will be trying again with another piece very soon.
With that said, I want to mention this point since I keep learning and relearning it. In many cases, it's important to try something new and give it an honest evaluation. I have made and done many "first efforts" with my art only to realize that I was going in the wrong direction. You really need to have a "screw it, let me just try this" kind of attitude. The honest evaluation isn't whether or not the finished product is any good (it likely won't be) but how did you feel while you were making it? Do you like using those materials? Does the piece reflect your own ideas or those of someone else? While making the piece were you wildly uncomfortable in a good or bad way? Is there anything worth pursuing? These are questions you can't answer unless you try whatever it is that you are thinking about. I know I like the hieroglyphic idea and I know I like the drawings that I have done in my sketchbook (I didn't show these) with colored pens. So, how to translate that to the finished collage? Or, do I just like the drawings? Or, do I just want to go back to using solid colored paper? Those are all questions worth asking and trying to find out about. It's not brain surgery. The patient is not going to die. Just make the work and ask the questions and see what happens.
OK, on to February. Please feel free to email if you would like.
16" x 20" mixed media collage
16" x 20" mixed media collage
Like But Not Alike
16" x 20" mixed media collage
Well. The worst year that I can remember has finally come to an end. In theory anyway. The Pandemic continues on unfortunately. There is some hope up ahead though with our new president coming on board and I am looking forward to some normalcy and perhaps some positive changes for all of us. I hope.
December was a tough month for me. I did manage to make some work that I am very pleased with despite being distracted and disconnected from any kind of inspiration. These kinds of "dry" times pass however, and I am hopeful for better creative experiences in the coming year.
What's new in my studio:
One of the things that I did manage to do in December was to experiment with using my frottage work. Frottage is a kind of "rubbing" that is done with pencil or crayon using a piece of paper and a raised surface. If you can imagine laying some paper on something that has a raised pattern, such as a wicker table, and then rubbing back and forth with a crayon to create a pattern, then you will have gotten the idea of what frottage is. With previous collages, I have only been using a little bit of these papers here and there. I really wanted to start using more of them and then eventually do a whole collage using just these papers. The crayons that I have look great when used on a white surface but they also look good on a painted piece of paper too. There really are lots of possibilities.
The other thing that I managed to do was to start using spray paint in my work. Spray paint you say? Crazy, right? Well, not so nuts really. I love the results of the spray paint which can look very concentrated in color or kind of hazy. The crayons glide very nicely over the surface too. The spray paint has a real advantage for me in that I can get the same color over and over again. (I normally mix all of the colors I use which means I never get the same color twice so if I run out of a piece of painted paper I am sort of screwed.) I like too that I can buy it locally at the hardware store. Why not?
What Is The Work About?:
Despite being distracted and a little out of touch with my normal inspirational sources, I found myself gravitating towards some familiar ideas. I have read several books now all with some common themes: genetics, evolution, and heredity. I also continue to be interested in anatomy and physiology and big questions like, "Where did we come from and why are we here?" Many of the ideas that I run across would be hard for me to literally translate into a collage. So, to simplify things, I tend to think more in terms of lines, shapes, and colors. Genes and chromosomes end up being small squiggly lines. The human circulatory system translates into "tubes" and stalks. Genetics show up as repeated motifs in different sizes and colors to denote variation while repetition of shapes come to mean heredity. I even managed to sneak in an upside down "fish" which, while a little controversial, helps me to consider our heritage and alignment with fish as one of our ancestors. And many of the shapes that I use which just sort of "come about" tend to remind me of human internal organs. I think the art you make should reflect your own ideas, preferences, and concerns but still appeal to the viewer in whatever way that they interpret things. In other words, if you see something different from what I do, that's totally cool!
I think it's wonderful that other artists list their accomplishments for the previous year and their goals for the upcoming year. For me, I am just happy to still be interested and working. Engagement with myself, my work and enough forward momentum to keep at it is enough for now.
Happy New Year to everyone reading. May we all be blessed in the year to come.
From Top to Bottom:
In The Beginning
All Are One
All images 16" x 20"
painted paper collages,
frottage and washi tape
It's nearing the end of the calendar year and my blogging feels like it needs a change. In particular, my way of sharing my artwork has become a little dissatisfying. As much as I love and appreciate all of the comments I receive on FB and Instagram, I always feel like I am throwing my work "out there" kind of randomly. My efforts don't feel terribly targeted. Perhaps now is the time for a different approach. With that in mind, I am trying this month to be a little more direct in the way that I show my new work.
As scattered as this year has been, November was a good month for me, artwise. With the above pieces, I am trying a slightly different way of arranging my images on the paper. When I began making collages, all of my shapes were quite geometric, cut using a ruler and a knife. They were arranged as if on a grid. (Picture a piece of graph paper and then imagine adding a cut out square to that page, lining it up precisely with the lines of the grid.) The result here is that your precisely cut shapes need to be placed on that grid so that they don't appear crooked. As much as I loved that order and precision, it's fairly difficult. I longed to be able to just draw organic, non rectilinear shapes by hand and cut them freely with scissors and arrange them willy-nilly on my board, regardless of any underlying "grid."
This seemed kind of impossible at first. Drawing is not my strong suit as an artist. I was quite afraid that people would know this and laugh at the shapes that I drew. I gradually began to realize though that drawing, per se, wasn't the skill I needed. Confidence and effort were called for. I began though by doodling shapes in my sketchbook. I looked at the work of Keith Haring, the ultimate doodler (in my opinion). I disregarded all of the things that told me "no" and tried out some freely drawn organic pieces in my work. It's taken a while, but I now draw what I want confidently and without too much embarrassment! If it doesn't look exactly like the photo or image that I am observing I am OK with that.
I am happy to report that I really love the pieces shown above. The titles tell you a little of what I was thinking about when I made the work: how our world began, how life as we know it may have arisen, how we are all of a common ancestry, regardless of our skin color, and how the passage of time contributes to such variety of life that we see around us. I have read several books on genetics and evolution this past year and so those subjects are always on my mind. As always though, I know that the viewer will bring their own interpretation to the work and hopefully make their own associations.
If you have an opinion or an observation about these pieces, I hope you will drop me an email: email@example.com. Even if you want to know something different from having read this post or just want to say "hello" that is OK too. Thank you for reading and following along.
Coming To Get You
16" x 20"
Painted Paper Collage on Board
As I work on these pieces I generally make notes in my sketchbook about ideas that may have inspired me or even about some of the next shapes and colors that I might want to use. The notes help me to remember at the end if I was after something specific or what I may have been thinking about. It's a useful practice and I recommend doing it as you go about your creative endeavors.
For this piece, I started with some "prompter" ideas. How are all vertebrates alike? How are mammals alike? Well, I quickly abandoned these questions and focused in on some things that I was watching on TV and reading about instead. I saw a PBS special on TV about the gene (human genome) and I also watched an additional special on a related topic, gene therapy and the future of gene manipulation. It's exciting but very frightening technology. Like anything else, there is plenty of room for abuse.
While this piece is not meant to convey any specific idea in a serious way, I did choose some images that reminded me of things that I learned about and which caught my attention: genes, the human body (the spinal cord in particular), CRISPR technology and the CAS9 protein, and parasites. (I read a book about parasites as well. Good stuff!) I guess I can't get over the idea of just how active our existence is. There is so much in motion on the most microscopic level (and also on the more visible, macro level) that I just have a very hard time grasping what is actually going on. We definitely do not live in a static world, that is for sure. I don't know if my work reflects something about this or not; I am not consciously trying to portray that incessant activity going on all around us. The work is busy though, I know that. And I do want viewers to wonder what is going on in each piece. It's always a good thing for me when the viewer can supply their own narrative.
OK, I have been doing some work in my sketchbook with small, layered collages. I have also been hand printing papers with my gelli plate and I have begun making some frottage papers as well. That's been really fun. I have been using some artist grade wax crayons for the frottage and things are working out well. I am starting to get more comfortable with mixing plain colored paper with printed paper. It's kind of been a long time in the making!
As always, thank you for reading. Let me know what you think about the above piece.
Here's The Plan
16" x 20"
painted paper collage on matboard
Of Unknown Origin
16" x 20"
painted paper collage on matboard
I have two pieces to show this time!
The first piece was inspired by having just read the book, Fantastic Voyage, by Isaac Asimov. Science fiction was never my thing so reading this book was a little odd. It was referenced though in another book that I was reading and so I thought I would give it a try. I really enjoyed it and used some of the imagery in the first piece shown. If you haven't read the book, the premise is that a team of scientists gets injected into a man's body in order to "operate" on an inaccessible clot. They travel through the circulatory system, through the heart, into the lungs and eventually make their way to the brain where they blast the clot with a laser. Improbable but very fun. I was taken with the idea of the floating red blood cells, the various organs, pathogens, and the general mayhem and resolution that ensued. Even if this subject matter isn't your cup of tea I hope the piece still provides visual interest.
The second piece was a kind of carryover from the first piece. I referenced the brain idea again, added some general DNA shapes, some creatures, some white blood cells engulfing pathogens, and included some flies. The flies are in reference to Thomas Hunt Morgan. He did groundbreaking research in genetics, showing that genes are located on chromosomes and that genes can be linked, meaning that they can be inherited together. It was an expansion of Mendel's work.(Mendel was the monk who studied peas and wrote about heredity.) I also included some molecule shapes. They are made up compounds of course. Did you know that all molecules are composed of atoms? A compound is composed of different molecules. Not all molecules are compounds however. A molecule can be composed of only one type of element, such as hydrogen gas. Very tricky for someone that barely passed chemistry in high school!
I won't ever be the type of artist who makes work that is socially significant or that has a political impact or is groundbreaking or life changing. That isn't who I am. Hopefully, though, the pieces are interesting enough to look at and to spend time thinking about in their own right.
I will say however that I am always interested in some idea or topic. When I work, I am normally considering something. For these two pieces, I thought about man's unending need to learn, advance, and to manipulate his environment. We don't ever seem to be able to stop wanting to get to the bottom of things. That's fine (and necessary) but the results can be catastrophic. Knowledge is critical but it can be abused. One day, it will be our undoing.
On that note, thanks for reading.
The Case of The Wandering Organ
16" x 20"
painted paper collage on matboard
I think I have spent too much time watching Perry Mason and reading Nancy Drew! The piece above is based on several different ideas that came together. Here they are in no particular order. Tell me what you think.
Quite a few years ago I had an acquaintance tell me that they had been to their naturopath for a particular problem. The practitioner noted that my friend's organs were out of alignment. The naturopath proceeded to realign and move her organs back into place. (For the record, I did ask my own doctor about this. It isn't possible of course for your organs to "move around" on their own. They are "fixed" in place by all sorts of things-muscle, tendons, ligaments blood vessels, etc. They are of course responsive to our own movements such as our breathing but in general, your liver is not going to end up right next to your bladder.)
So, that was one thing on my mind. The memory was prompted by something I had read concerning the location of the soul in our bodies. Where does the soul reside? Through the ages there has been much speculation: the heart, the liver, the brain, etc. Where does your soul live (and the subsequent question of what happens to it when you die)? I am a literal person so all of a sudden I pictured organs and your soul taking a trip through your body, willy nilly, not anchored to any other part of your anatomy.
Ultimately though, while making the piece, I reflected on just how astonishing it is that we exist at all, given all of the things that must come together in order for us to live, wandering body parts notwithstanding. So many things can (and do) go wrong. To say that the generation of life is a complex process is a whopper of an understatement. All of the events that must happen so that any creature can be born is really beyond my comprehension. There is no way I could make a piece of art that expresses my amazement at what it really means for us all to be alive (and to be dead as well). Instead, I will settle for putting together shapes and colors and telling myself a few stories as I go along. It's all I can do.
Thanks for reading,
Feel free to send me an email:
I was kind of stalled on starting another piece. In my studio I have shelves where I can view my current work. I kept looking at my most recent pieces which use the organic shapes to form a kind of "living organism." I have really enjoyed these pieces but was secretly wondering where I was going with them. Was I going to keep going on in this way? How many more will I do? I am not bored but where am I headed?
Thinking and reflection are good tools for anyone to cultivate but especially creative types. It's good to know what you like and why you like it. If you can name these things and talk or write about them then they provide a pathway forward when you are stuck. (I am skeptical of other creatives that can't or won't talk or write about their work. It makes me wonder.) Anyway, I realized that I was kind of missing what I think of as a more 'narrative" style piece. Now, I am not good at literal narrative work nor am I good at absolute abstraction (think Franz Kline and his action paintings.) My ideas fall somewhere in the middle and mostly reflect things that I have read about or seen. Somehow those things mix around in my head and come out in shapes. It's very personal for me but I think enjoyable for the viewer who can put their own interpretation into the piece. Everybody gets their views validated if that makes sense.
The above pic shows the sketch that I did to get started. I didn't have anything in mind but simply started pulling out leftover shapes from my box. I started cutting them and arranging them until I had a loose composition. I felt that there was something viable and decided to just proceed. You know, what the hell right? As I worked on the piece, what emerged for me was a kind of a whale image and a person that I thought was inside. Well, I thought of Jonah and the whale from the bible. Everything else flowed from that: the ship that Jonah escapes on, the leaves from the tree that God sends to shade Jonah's body, and some hands and wind that are sort of tossing the boat about. (Listen, I had to look up the story in the bible OK? I didn't know any of it either.) Because I am me though I also added other stuff: a nuclear reactor/beaker shape that holds some bacteria, some amoebas/mitochondrial shapes at the bottom, and some irregular cell shapes at the top. Oh, and there is a worm/serpent lurking in those leaves. As I said above, it's all the stuff that I have been thinking about. I like that I blended science and religion. It makes me chuckle a bit. I think they go hand in hand very nicely:)
Tell me what else you see. I'd like to know.
16" x 20"
Found materials collage on matboard
What the hell are found materials? Glad you asked! I did a little something different for this piece and used the pages of some magazines for my collage material. I had some initial misgivings but I am glad that I pushed on with the idea. I like the results.
There were a couple of problems right off the bad. One, magazine pages are very thin. They tend to tear easily when cut and the cuts made with the scissors aren't really clean. The scissors need a little resistance to make smooth cuts (curves). Good quality construction paper is the perfect weight. Watercolor paper is too thick really and magazine pages are too flimsy. Sigh.
I eventually solved the problem of having just the right thickness by adhering the magazine pages to construction paper. That seems easy enough right? Not! The pages kept buckling and drying with wrinkles and air bubbles. I tried different combinations of various glues using both wet and dry paper. Believe me, if there was a particular scenario, I tried it! I finally hit on the idea of using a spray adhesive (Elmer's). This allowed both the magazine page and the construction paper to dry together at the same rate. There was minimal wrinkling once I smoothed things out with a stiff piece of plastic and let everything dry. I then went back in and applied a varnish to protect the paper from water and light. There was quite a bit of wrinkling too at this point but things eventually dried flat. The magazine pages cut nicely and I am happy overall with the way things look.
The second problem is really more aesthetic I guess. Not many of us are going to rise to the level of Robert Rauschenberg or Romare Bearden, both of whose work I have seen in person. There is something about how "neat" the finished pieces look. When other people use different collage materials (such as magazine or newspapers or printed items) it looks great. Somehow when I do it, I feel it doesn't. So, I wanted to be careful with using collage materials that I didn't paint myself. What I learned (again) isn't so much that it is the material that makes things look amateurish and sloppy but how those materials are used. Maybe I am not explaining it well but I want something pretty, something lively, and something that looks "finished" and "professional." Anyway.
I titled this one "Nexus" because I had this idea of connectedness as I was working. Each of the shapes used relates (hopefully) to the other shapes, either through color relationship, or value contrast or similarity, or line direction. Each piece is great by itself but ultimately all the pieces have to work together. They have to like one another and be friendly! I also think that many of the shapes look like creatures in some way. It's my belief that all living (and dead) things are connected on some level, be that evolution or heredity or something else. So, that connectedness and subsequent intersection is what I was thinking of as I placed each shape.
OK, if you made it this far, thank you. Drop me an email and let me know what you think.
In The End
16" x 20" Collage on Matboard
Reclaimed packaging and magazine pages
The above piece was completed yesterday. July has been a tough month for me. It took me a while to start something. Not because anything bad happened but because my anxiety and depression have gotten the better of me. Consumed by inertia, I really haven't been doing too much in the way of artwork, or anything else for that matter. But! This new collage has revived me somewhat. Sort of like one of those sponge animals that get soaked in water so they can expand. Does anyone remember those?
I had the idea for a while to try and use some of the leftover packaging materials from the food items that we buy. Every time I toss some cardboard packaging in the recycling bin I kind of wonder about it. Could it be used somehow by me in my art making? (I wonder too about the enormity of the waste that we make as a society, don't get me wrong. I am just saying that I also thought about making something out of this waste.)
I scavenged some packaging and started to experiment a bit with it. There is some criteria for what I can use. The material needs to be varnished (this allows me to wipe the glue off of the finished shape with a damp cloth. The varnish resists the water). I also need to be able to cut the material easily, making cleanish lines. So, the packaging can't be too thick or more than my hands can handle. Lastly, the issue of matching the material to the substrate is important. If the cardboard is too heavy will it not adhere to the matboard? Will the shapes and the board and the glue all flex together once the board is ready for handling and framing? (Remember that these shapes are adhered to matboard which is about 1/8" thickness. I don't want them popping off if I handle the board and bend it a bit.) So far, so good. Everything seems to have passed my initial tests.
Working with letters and writing and graphics was interesting. It was a challenge to try and get words and writing going in a direction that I thought would work. Those things do create a direction much like a line does. Values were a challenge to work with as well. I used the mono function on my camera a lot. I drew on the other guidelines that I normally use with my work: hue relationship, chroma, and value. I also added a few new "rules" to my repertoire. These shapes create a kind of "density" when they get grouped together. Think about a pile of laundry versus a pair of socks. Same thing. So in addition to the other things I look at I also started to examine this newish idea. For me, it really has to do with proportion and use of space. Everyone has their own tolerance for this. (I have seen artists who shove a bunch of elements into one corner of the canvas and try to get the remaining background color to sort of counter balance that mass. I always wonder about this.) I came to the conclusion while working that it's important to develop your own "rules." These should be guidelines that make sense to you and that you think up on your own through working and experience. Whether or not anyone else agrees or gets it, is kind of irrelevant. As long as you can draw on the logic and talk about it out loud, then I think you are on the right track. Anyway.
Let me know what you think about any of this. Thanks again for reading and looking. My work is available on my site now. I have a new "shopping cart" function and secure checkout using PayPal. It can all be found right here. I also added a page about how to buy. If all else fails, send me an email!
16" x 20" painted paper collage on board
Recently, I began going back through my old posts on my previous blog, Quilted Craftsman/Libby Fife Fine Art Studio Blog. I was looking for posts in which I wrote about my ever evolving process of art making, how I learned about using my materials, personal insights, and any information on classes that I taught. I wrote a lot about all of these things and then some! All of the reviewing made me realize that writing about my art has helped me to understand how I got to where I am right now. I can see the progression of my skills, what and who influenced my style over the years, and most importantly, how I arrived at my current style. If I hadn't written about any of it, I may be hard pressed to remember the details!
My review of old blog posts included reading about the making of the above piece. It's a good example of transitioning from directly painting landscapes on canvas using big shapes. An example of that style is shown in the image below, made in 2015. It is as good a comparison as any showing how I got from one place to another to arrive eventually at my current style today. It's easy to see that I was already in love with hard edged solid shapes; big representative forms, and color relationships. Conceptually, it wasn't much of a leap from this piece to the one shown above at the beginning of the post. The real leap came in the use of materials.
I made the Connections piece with paper that I had painted and then affixed to the board with rice glue. It was one of the first times I had used painted paper shapes rather than painting directly onto the board. I remember (and wrote about this too) that I had been looking at Matisse's work (his cutouts), that I had been very frustrated with having to use tape to paint "clean" shapes like I wanted (hard edged images) and that honestly, I couldn't stand to paint one more landscape! (I love other people's landscape paintings, just not mine!) I really wanted to use different shapes, make different marks, and use personally representative imagery. I wanted the work to be more about what I was thinking and not just me looking at a pretty view.
In any case, I finished that above piece and was very happy with it. (I still am too.) It uses all of the design principles that I love so much: proportion, direction, variation, and repetition. The colors are crisp against that white background which is something I really enjoy visually. My work went on in this way through 2016. I switched to some other ideas for 2017 and 2018 but came back to this one in 2019. I never gave up using painted paper, however. That has been a constant and I know it's unlikely I will ever go back to painting directly.
My point, and I am sorry it took me awhile to reach it, is that writing about (and reviewing that writing) is a worthwhile exercise. I suppose that people can just remember in their heads what happened but I am not one of those people. I have kept a sketchbook for the entire time I have been making art which is over 10 years now. (I came to this creative thing late in life!) I have also been blogging for that same time too. Both practices have been invaluable. They may both be out of date at this point but I don't care. I think the very act of writing itself is the key. Writing connects you to something inside yourself in a way that almost nothing else does. Yes, personal reflection and talking with others is important. Taking in outside information and being interested in the world around you is important. Those things are in fact necessary precursors to writing.
But isn't it egotistical to focus so much on yourself, your art, and your processes? Maybe but how else can you know about you? I have run into more artists who can't articulate what their art is about or why they make art or even what they see in other people's art. This is a shame, really. My opinion is that writing would fix this problem!
So? Go forth and write! Grab a pencil and notebook. Get a fancy sketchbook and beautiful pen. Go to your computer/phone/I Pad or whatever. Look inward and get going before it's too late!
Thanks for reading.