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.
11" x 14"
painted paper collage on matboard
This piece was meant to be a companion piece to this one shown here. I started to work both of them at the same time which is something I don't normally do. When I start to do something that is out of the norm for me, I often have to stop and ask myself why it is that I am deviating from my routine. It's important to be honest about things. Maybe I am genuinely interested in another approach to working on these pieces. I search inward to see if this feels right. If things don't feel kosher, then I look a little more. More often than not I uncover a hidden motive. This time I realized that I was working two pieces at once because I saw someone else do this; someone who is a professional painter with more experience than me. I also felt a little pressure to produce more work. God knows why but it's true. So, I stopped. I covered up the other piece and just worked on one piece at a time. That felt more like me.
There are reasons (and benefits) to work two or more pieces at once. I think the thought process has to do with efficiency and cohesiveness. Perhaps if you are an artist who needs to generate work for a show or gallery this practice could make sense, time wise. It could be that if you have multiple pieces in process in front of you, making marks on them at the same time, then they are bound to come out together as a related group. You might be trying out one idea in multiple ways or maybe are experimenting with a few materials to see what they can do over a broad swath of applications. Whatever the case may be, I am certain there are benefits to having several pieces going at one time.
For me though, I am not a multi tasker anymore. I can do one thing at a time and that is it. Working on one collage, finishing the idea, and then moving on to the next thing is the way I work best. Yes, I get ideas for other pieces as I am working so I write those down for later. That is what my sketchbook is for (it's a journal as much as a sketchbook). Or maybe I have a question that needs investigating (I ask a lot of "what if?" type questions as I work) or I learn something about new materials to try. I write all that down and deal with it at a later time. Really, it's just one thing at a time and that's that. It makes me a slow producer but that will have to be OK.
I often write these posts with three types of people in mind: myself of course, interested laypeople/other creatives, and beginning artists. I mention beginning artists but I don't mean those with a fresh BA degree. I really mean people that have been at their art for awhile and who are getting back into it. Or maybe just those of us who work on their art steadily but have questions. I honestly mean for my reflections to be useful. So, if you are reading and you can think of someone who would benefit from the discussion, please tell them and give them the link to my blog. I am trying to get my writing (as well as my work) out there in order to connect with others.
Thanks for reading,
work for sale
To Life! 1
11" x 14"
painted acrylic paper on matboard
work available here
The title seems a little optimistic for me. I didn't quite mean things to sound like a toast or a pronouncement.
Really, the title refers to what this piece is based on which is the beautiful structures of the amino acids, often called the building blocks of proteins. In general, I love looking at the chemical representations of molecules, how they are built and what form they take. To me, these structures are beautiful and very artistic in their own way, both balanced and efficient.
My life is filled with rabbit holes and in doing a little poking around on the Internet, I came across a depiction of the molecular structure of the amino acids group. Amino acids are often called the building blocks of proteins. The above piece is based on the amino acid called asparagine. In general, I understand that amino acids have been here on earth since life began. Anything that old can't be too bad!
It's important to note that I don't fully understand this subject, not even close. I do know however, (I hope), something beautiful when I see it and that is how I feel about these structures that I am beginning to learn about. There is meaning here. The fact that our bodies (and all life forms on earth for that matter) are creating all of the time, taking in nutrition and energy, building up and tearing down, and engaging in unseen processes, is really amazing. It feels ancient and important somehow. Amino acids are a part of this process. I may not grasp the whole process but I can see that it is beautiful in some way.
In making this piece, I wanted something to reflect that beauty. I wanted to respond to what I was feeling regarding these molecular representations. I chose to do this through using colors that are clear, bright and contrasting; by making lines that are flowing; and by cutting and placing curvilinear shapes that interlock together in a pleasing way. In the end, I don't think an artist ever comes close enough to what they want to convey. I think you can only try to be present when creating and hopefully a little of your efforts will show in the final work.
Send an email if you like!
Work available to purchase
The Not So Peaceful Garden
16" x 20"
Painted paper collage on matboard
Many moons ago, when I first started college, I felt I needed a way to keep track of assignments, tests, and studying time. (This was before the personal computer really took hold and before I Phones took over. People actually wrote things down...) I bought a little lined notebook, and kept track of the days, noting what homework I had to do and when and what days I needed to study for a test. This system suited me well as I am a list maker and am task oriented. To this day, thirty plus years later, I still have a physical notebook that I write in and use to keep track of things I want to do for the day or the week.
When the Pandemic was first hitting and people were beginning to go into lockdown mode, all of my social media feeds were filled with productivity. People were cleaning out closets, baking up a storm, inventing clever family games and doing all sorts of nifty stuff. The novelty of being at home was on full display. I then waited for the shoe dropping to begin. After several weeks, the reality of the situation sank in and some of those busy folks were a little quiet. How come you wonder? I am going to tell you. IT'S HARD BEING AT HOME ALL DAY! There. I said it. And yes, I am yelling.
Why is it so hard? My own experience tells me that part of the difficulty lies in having unstructured free time. Many of us, myself included, have been very used to a structured work/school environment. Do this thing at 9AM, do that thing at 11AM, eat lunch at 1PM, do something else at 2PM and go home at _______ (insert appropriate time). When you don't have that sort of schedule, things can fall apart. This is particularly true for us creative types who may have a loose schedule to begin with. When you are already stressed about the Pandemic, going into the studio to "create" can seem overwhelming. Where do you start?
You start right here. Make a list! But, you might ask, what if I am stuck? What if I am depressed and can't get started on anything? What if, what if, what if? I will say it again. Make a list!
Full disclosure here. I am not a Life Coach, nor a psychologist nor any other kind of therapist. I am, however, a depressed and anxious person who is at home all day by herself. I know well about which I speak. Getting going is not easy. It isn't impossible though. There is a way to begin and I will share that now. This is what I do to get going. I get out my notebook and start with the date and day. I write that down. Next, what small and finite tasks do I want to do today, particularly as they relate to creativity? Here is a sample: I want to write a blog post, for starters. I have my topic picked out. I want to add four items to my shop that are for sale. I need to prep one board for painting and cut out two sheets of shapes. This may be enough for the day. I also include a few backup items just in case there is more time or something falls through. The tasks aren't really in an order of importance but if I wanted, I could number them or label them as "A,B,C, etc." I give myself permission to do as many tasks as I can reasonably handle in addition to my other household responsibilities (someone has to make dinner and feed the cats). I also give myself permission to lay down and take a nap with the guiltless understanding that some things may not get done. Or, maybe the nap is the incentive to get everything done!
In any case, having a list of items (tasks) to do has been immeasurably helpful these last couple of weeks. I have gone from flailing around, feeling unmotivated, to enjoying a reasonable degree of steadiness and a genuine uptick in productivity. I think the reason is that the tasks are finite and specific and small. (This is something I learned in my former career: goals must be measurable, specific, and achievable.) They have a start and end time. I can also roll them to the next day (without guilt) if necessary. At the end of the week, I can look back and see what I accomplished. And, as I mentioned, there has been some increase in creative productivity. Imagine if your artist's list included "do five quick sketches" and "gesso four canvases" and "watch one instructional video." That would be a fun morning (and a full one at that!).
Two Things: First, list making (tasks) will help you to see that you needn't be in your studio 24/7 (unless that is what you want). You may want to select a certain number of days (I selected 5 days a week) to be in your studio/creative space. I pick my tasks accordingly, knowing that I have the morning and some of the afternoon in which to work. If you have ten tasks picked out and only 2 hours, don't make those tasks complicated. Second, no list will help you if you abhor list making! (Never say never!) If you feel creativity is stifled by having to do tasks, well, I can't help you there. (It isn't true but it may feel true to you.) I can only say that if you feel you aren't in your studio enough or you don't know where the time went or you aren't sure why you haven't completed any new work and the Covid Virus is getting you down, you may want to consider this list idea. At the very least, the concept is an extension of the idea that "idle hands are the devil's workshop." Or maybe it's more like "priming the pump" or "paying into a savings account." Or maybe it's like my late cat Toby who used to get things started with a bite. He would nip you to get you to pay attention to him. It worked every time. Just turn your stalled creativity and list making efforts into a series of small bites and you should be good to go! You are welcome!
Got a comment? Send me an email. firstname.lastname@example.org
I now have work for sale on my website. It's all right here!
Example of Framing Possibilities for my latest piece,
Together as One
11" x 14" painted paper collage on matboard
In the ten years that I have been making art and have been showing it casually both on the Internet and in person, things have really changed. Significantly! It's nearly impossible to keep up with the pace and I don't pretend that I do a good job with this at all. As I have gotten older, staying on top of things, the changes in technology, has been especially difficult. As I write this post, I am using a computer (desktop) that does not have a camera. Oh My God! That means I can't Zoom with everyone and also can't do a ton of other things that I don't even know about. (I can Facetime with you though, I do have a Smartphone and the money to pay for that data!) I can navigate the Internet really well and I try to see what other artists are doing-what programs and services they use, what their websites look like and what they do with their marketing. (PS-I hate those pop up notices that interrupt me, begging me to sign up for a newsletter or mailing list. Stop that right now!) I try to follow along with hashtags, basic current language and terms, and I know that I need better photos. Way better photos! Still, I manage to show my work to friends and family and I normally have a pretty good idea of what people are talking about. Mostly.
With all of that said, it's not total Fred Flintstone time around here. I have relied on some resources that still appear to be relevant, even by today's standards. I thought I might share those resources and if you are reading and know of any other artists or creative types who may need an idea of where to start (or at least a reliable source) then I have three companies to recommend.
Weebly: I use Weebly for my website building. They host my site and help me to re-register my domain name every three years. I brought my domain name to them independently and they help me to maintain it. I will be the first to say that I have only scratched the surface here. I know my website could use some 21st century-2020 updating, i.e. it could be slicker and more sophisticated. Weebly's platform could help me with that should I decide to go further. My website choice is free but there are several paid options that offer more. You could completely run your online store with this company. The ease of use is the main attraction as far as I am concerned. Weebly uses a drag and drop system which allows you to select features, drop them onto pages, and then populate those features with whatever you want-photos, text, etc. It's very easy and the whole system is reasonably intuitive. As I said, my own site looks pretty simple but yours doesn't have to. The site can be made as sophisticated as you like. I have had 50/50 luck interacting with the company. Still, I am satisfied so far and intend to develop a "shop" page shortly. (It is connected to PayPal and it will be super easy to use.)
Moo: I use Moo for my business cards. I get the basic cardstock, 25 cards in a package. These are not inexpensive I don't suspect but they are awfully nice. I am not sure if business cards are out of date or not but I like to include them with correspondence and if I am out and about, I like to give them to people when they ask me what the Hell I do all day long. Moo offers a variety of products and I wouldn't hesitate to order any of them. Their customer service appears to be good too. (I had a misprint one time and they sent me new cards at no cost, no problem.) The communication about orders is also good and the company appears to respond to emails pretty quickly.
Matboard Plus: I have been using Matboard plus for many years now and have been very happy. Shipping is pretty quick, maybe a week or so, and nothing has ever arrived damaged (knock on wood). Their communication with orders is also good. (Am I the only one who hangs onto emails until their order arrives?) Their products are priced closely with those at Dick Blick-mats, matboard, plastic sleeves, backer boards, and show kits. I know that when people buy artwork they want to frame things themselves. That's cool. When I used to sell in person though I felt that having a prematted product helped the customer to envision the final artwork better (the matting made a better presentation for works on paper). With all of that said, I have been satisfied with the service and products thus far.
Perhaps my recommendations, comments, and choices are dating me. So what! They do work. I would add that these aren't the least expensive options and there are most certainly other companies out there who do the same thing, maybe even better and cheaper. If there are or if you have a resource that you love to use, I would be happy to know about it. I like to share:)
Together as One
11" x 14"
painted acrylic paper collage on matboard
This week I worked on the above piece. It helped to have something concrete and specific to do.
Some noteworthy things about this collage. For starters, it is smaller than what I normally do. I thought that working smaller might help me to work a little faster. I should know by now that this isn't true for me. Small pieces take just as much time as larger pieces for me. In the long run though I think having a variety of sizes to offer will be better.
I used the pieces that were remaining from the last collage. I had quite a few extra for some reason. The color combination really appeals to me. My next project though will use different colors. I already have them all picked out. The shapes just need to be decided on and cut and then also I need to paint some more papers. Everything takes some time.
The above piece is based on the molecule ethyl 2 cyanoacrylate commonly referred to as "superglue." Glue of course is used to join things together and so that is how the title for the piece came about. I also think it is a fitting title given what is happening in our country now. When I was younger I was much more of an optimist I think. Still, there is always hope.
Please let me know what you think. And, if you are reading and know of anyone who might enjoy seeing this piece, please pass along the link!
16" x 20" painted paper collage on matboard
EIt seems like this piece took me forever. There was a long time when I was just gathering and painting paper. Then the shapes had to be cut. Since I hadn't been sketching a lot, I needed to sketch some shapes. More cutting. More painting of papers. Honestly, I have been very slow lately. Once I started placing and gluing shapes however, the pace started to pick up.
This piece is a departure from how I normally work. Hardly ever do I have a design or idea in mind when I start. I have colors and shapes that I have selected but that is it. For the last two pieces though I have started with a loose sketch. It's because I have become enamored of molecules. More specifically, I love the structures of compounds. (Loosely speaking, molecules are two or more atoms of the same chemical that come together. Compounds happen when different molecules join together to form a new chemical, like H2O.) Compounds, molecules or chemicals -whatever!- are such beautiful structures. There is an inherent efficiency to their forms with both a simplicity and a complexity of configuration.
When I first started thinking about this, about using chemicals as inspiration for my collages, I wondered if it would work. Specifically, would I like following something that was already drawn? Would I become entangled in following the picture too closely and lose any kind of spontaneity in decision making? That honestly didn't happen so good news there. I always tell myself (out loud) that it is OK to not follow the sketch or plan or whatever I feel bound to. I have been happy so far with having a kind of roadmap to follow as I work. And the list of chemicals are endless. So, for now I am hooked. Incidentally, the chemical compound that my piece is modeled on is the drug Remdesivir. The title of the piece reflects one of the possible uses of the drug and the controversy surrounding the decisions being made about who is eligible to receive treatment. These are very hard times we are living in and that is an understatement.
Now, on to the real thing I want to discuss. I realized with this last piece (once and for all) that I am not a "concept" artist. When I start a new piece, I am not trying to portray or make something that has explicit meaning or portrays something specific, like a landscape. I liken this to the horse-before-the-cart analogy. The artist sets out to show something specific; to represent something. It's a logical way of working and one which many artists (other than me) employ effectively. My process is to ascribe meaning to something as I am working on it. It's a cart-before-the-horse approach. Sure, I may use shapes and colors along the way to portray something specific. This can be seen in much of my work from 2019 shown here. But I rarely ever these days set out to illustrate a point, concept, or to make a specific design. With the piece shown above, I am not trying to say anything in particular about the drug, Remdesivir. I simply liked its design and felt that my shapes would work nicely within its general armature. At most, I would say the colors I chose support some idea of "softness" which I feels fits in with the concept of compassion. Additionally, there are some circles loosely represented which for me can refer to the circular nature of arguing for or against something, of fighting through "red tape" to get something or of "jumping through hoops" to make something happen. This is all analysis after the fact, mind you. everyone needs to look at the piece and decide on their own what is happening, if anything.
So, what I want to know is this. If you are reading and are a creative type, particularly a painter, I would like to know which camp you fall into. Or even if you just want to comment on any of the above. Drop me an email or leave a comment on IG or FB.
Thanks again for reading!
Painted paper collage
16" x 20"
Quite a while ago I had cut out some shapes from solid colored paper. I had an idea but never followed up on it. The shapes sort of languished on my floor as I worked on monoprinting and making pieces from those prints. At the end of April, after my last piece, I began to wonder about those solid shapes. What could I do with them? I really missed what I perceive as the clarity of those solid colors. They give a different effect from the monoprinted shapes I think. I was nervous though about trying something different. I felt that my last several pieces were good-a step in the right direction. Should I deviate from that idea?
And then, just by accident, I happened across an image of a psilocybin molecule. Totally unrelated right? Sort of. As I started to investigate psilocybin, I came across other molecules. They all seemed to have these beautiful structures. You can see one here and here. I hope that I have a real appreciation for all sorts of beauty in all kinds of places and in all types of things. Images of molecules really speak to me somehow; their order and arrangement, not to mention how their atoms come together and break apart. (You can read more about molecules here.) I am not a chemistry person (I barely squeaked by in high school chemistry class) but I can appreciate these ideas on a general level.
So, I began to think about using these structures as a basis for making my pieces. They looked an awful lot like what I was trying to do already, which is to make some kind of sense and order out of all of these shapes. I had been moving towards a more formal arrangement of the shapes already but was a little stuck. Molecules and their inherent beauty are a good answer for me.
Psilocybin as you might know is the compound found in magic mushrooms. I don't have too much curiosity about the use of psychedelic drugs other than to know that the drugs have had many purposes throughout history and are used by different cultures around the world. I will settle for just admiring the beauty of their molecular structure!
And while my final piece doesn't follow the shape of the compound exactly, it works well for my purposes. I wanted a dominant area and then some subordinate areas. Linking everything together was challenging and I kept some areas separate from each other. Hopefully the piece is balanced. I will be trying the idea again soon and will make modifications. For now, I am happy with the initial efforts.
16" x 20" painted paper collage
For this piece, I found myself returning to some older habits of color selection. While I think those habits worked fine for the pieces that I was doing at the time the ideas didn't really produce great results for this particular style. I found myself really needing a wider variety of hues and values. Oftentimes I just don't know if I have enough shapes, colors and values to complete a piece. For this piece I had to improvise a bit. I am happy with the way things worked out but next time I plan to have some more options on hand before I start.
I was also reminded of how important it is for me to know about the materials that I use. Through trial and error I have found a way that works for me with regard to painting papers, using paint and cutting out shapes. I very rarely deviate from what I have learned and how I use my materials. This time though I decided to add some patterning to one of the papers using stamps and ink. I had forgotten that dye ink is water soluble so I figured I better spray the paper with an acrylic matte spray to prevent the dye from running. (I wipe off the glue with a paper towel from the paper pieces and board once I am done placing each piece. The paint and whatever else on the paper needs to be permanent so the water won't screw it up.) Well, it sure didn't work! I ended getting ink all over the pieces and having to carefully wipe everything off. Not great but in the end everything was fine. next time, I will use pigment ink which is permanent.
Anyway, apart from that SNAFU, it was exciting to add some stamp work into the picture. I am always afraid that adding stamps will make the piece look kind of "campy" but maybe I need to rethink how I use the stamps rather than just dismiss the idea altogether.
The name for this piece comes from what I was thinking about when I was adding each piece. I kept looking for shapes that would "connect" with one another, kind of like doing a puzzle. What fits? What doesn't? So for me, it was like I was making connections.
Alright, thanks for reading and looking. It seems like hard times are ahead for many of us with Covid-19. I hope everyone is staying well.