16" x 20"
painted paper collage on matboard
Happy Spring/Summer to everyone. I can hardly believe that we are approaching warmer weather and a new season. I love the Winter time but understand that it can't be Winter forever. So, on to Spring and Summer!
April was a bit of a blur. I took two vacations, completed my vaccine cycle, and we just had our first close-enough-to-scare-the-hell-out-of-me grass fire. It was across the highway from where I live and up on the ridge. It's going to be a busy fire season I am sure and unfortunately, we are just getting started. But, on to better news.
I have a new collage to share which is a good thing. I wasn't sure I would complete anything for April. (As mentioned in my last newsletter, I have been diagnosed with IBS and I am still finding it challenging to work steadily or consistently.) Luckily, I did finish a piece and am excited to talk about what is going on.
I am continuing to explore the idea of "hieroglyphs". The idea that communication can be represented through pictures, whether those pictures convey letters, words or ideas, is very interesting to me. How language started; how the written word began. Those are ideas that can keep my mind occupied.
For this current collage, I wanted to do two things: use shapes to somewhat represent ideas or even possibly words and then also use those shapes to play around with the design variables of color, value (contrast), and line. I didn't want any of the shapes to overlap (use of space is important to me, design-wise) and I wanted to make sure that I touched on the ideas of repetition and variation. I am happy with the results, particularly the colors. Adding the orange/coral color really tied everything together.
It feels good to me that even though I am distracted I can still access the part of me that is interested in my art. That ability to tap into what drives you is important for anyone who has a hobby or interest that occupies their time. It's when you can't connect with that inner drive/interest/motivation that you run into trouble.
It would be fair to ask at this point if the collage has a particular meaning. Am I trying to say something or tell a story? Not exactly, but, maybe "yes"! If the collage has a "subject" if could have come from several places. Lately, I have been looking at a home improvement book to get inspired for sketching. Some of the shapes are based on tools or figures that I saw. For meaning and reference in my collages though, I do always go back to what I think of as "pseudo pre historic" animals or beings. Lots of the shapes end up looking like creatures to me. My mind wanders to books on evolution, biology or geology. I often lookup images that I have seen on the Internet and have saved in an electronic file. I feel lucky that I have sources to draw upon when it comes time to make and cut shapes.
In answer to that question though, is there a subject for this piece, I did eventually develop an idea of what the collage could be saying. In this case, I drew on a familiar-to-me theme: life on earth and its beginnings. That idea became a kind of reference point for me. I thought about the concept of "synthesis"; how several things can come together to create a kind of new thing or a solution to something. This idea was echoed by me bringing together both harder and softer shapes, contrasting and analogous colors, and lines that are both parallel and directional. For me, that's a kind of synthesis. Not as grand as the beginning of life as we know it but still. Not too bad!
And as always, if you are reading, I'd like to know what it is that you see in the piece. I am never hung up on what people tell me that they can relate to or of what the collage reminds them of. (Except if it is derogatory then don't bother mentioning it to me please.) The point of me making the collages and sharing them is to get my ideas out. What the viewer sees and tells me about is a bonus!
Hope that everyone has had a good month. Get ready for May. Let it be a productive and happy month for us all.
Here Now There
16" x 20"
painted paper collage on matboard
March got off to a slow start for me and honestly, it never really picked up in an artistic sense. I mean to say that I only completed one piece this month. Productivity sometimes slows down and I am learning to be OK when that happens.
Originally when I started the above piece, I was reading Rachel Carson's book, The Sea Around Us. It got me thinking about how life started on this planet; about all of the variables that must have come in to play for life to generate. As far as I know, scientists still don't know how life actually began. There are solid theories of course but just exactly what happened is still a mystery. I began to then think about the diversity of life on our planet. It's astonishing to consider all that is alive here on Earth, from human beings on down to the smallest bits of bacteria. Life, with its astonishing variety and abundance, is complex and amazing.
As I worked along on this piece, I also began to think about the recent landing of Perseverance, the rover that just set down on Mars. We are looking for signs of life on another planet and asking this question: "Does Mars have what is necessary to sustain any kind of life form?" I think that anyone who knows me can guess what I think of this idea, of screwing up another planet. Nevertheless, questioning and exploration seem to be intrinsically settled in our collective psyches and so go we must.
With regard to the shapes and images in this collage, I decided to use the funnel head figure again. I really like this guy. he is sort of my own version of EveryMan. Originally though he was a green color and looked too much like Gumby. Not bad but just not the look I was going for. Many of the shapes in this new piece are taken from my sketchbook. They all sort of look "creature" like to me even though the shapes are derived from other things such as tools or other random marks and ideas. And I have to say that sketching is a great place to look for shapes. It's kind of like having a savings account that you forgot about and then rediscover. Oh boy!
April will be a busy month for me. I am taking two vacations, I have my birthday, and I am getting my second vaccine shot. It's also prime wildflower time so there will certainly be some hiking. All of this is to say that art making may continue to be a little less than usual. I am going to try though to maintain a better routine when it comes to being creative. A routine really helps.
The idea of having a routine brings me to my last point for this post. After nearly two years of struggling and flailing along, I was finally diagnosed with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). The good news is that I don't have a disease that will kill me or alter my GI tract permanently, such as an IBD would (think Ulcerative Colitis). The bad news is that IBS is a condition that doesn't go away and needs to be constantly managed. My entire routine has been thrown off. I do have two new medications that seem to be helping. Relief though doesn't mean that the condition has gone away but only that I have lowered the discomfort threshold. I am hopeful that my creative life (and the rest of my life for that matter) will regain some normalcy.
And with that, on to April! Thank you for reading. Feel free to send me an email here:
Image#2 Here and Gone
16" x 20" painted paper collage
By about mid month I was certain that there would be no newsletter for February. Why is that you ask? Because I didn't think I would have any completed work to show. None. Zip. Zilch. I don't know if I actually am experiencing some mental changes or if it is just too much pandemic time or what but I have slowed down immeasurably.
Luckily, things turned around a bit and I was able to reconnect enough with myself to get some work together. I am pleased with the results. My ideas this month came from something I remember from my childhood. I recall going to museums, looking at the exhibits and seeing cases of artifacts. Tools, pottery, small bits of someone's lifetime, all on display in these flat or standing glass cases. I like this sort of stuff. Dioramas, exhibits, and collections of things always seem to catch my attention. I think I am drawn to the organization; the spatial arrangement of objects. This shows up in my work I think in the way that I arrange shapes and colors and lines on the page. I can look back at many of my collages and see this idea again and again. These current pieces are no different. It was a real challenge to put each piece in what I felt was the "right" place.
In looking back at my notes for the month (I make notations in my sketchbook each day) I can see that I had a few things on my mind. The idea of artifacts is one thing. What is left behind after we are gone? Fossils are another idea. I read a bit in a book a while back about how our civilization, when it is gone, will be just a continuous thin band in the geological record, similar to the K-2/K-Pg boundary, if you are familiar with that idea. I was also thinking about hieroglyphics, writing, and cultural appropriation. (There is more to Egyptian culture than Cleopatra, snakes, and togas.) The concept of deep time was also on my mind as well as the heating and cooling of the earth. I love these ideas; love reading about them and thinking about them. It's what keeps me attached to this world.
All of this is to say that I had some things on mind while I was working and while I can't say that the pieces overtly represent that, I do think they tell a story. It's really up to the viewer to supply the details of what they see.
This month I started to take an online workshop from the wonderful Nicholas Wilton. I just love this guy. I like his work and he really talks my language with regard to design. I had to stop though. First, I became a bit disengaged. And then, it was just overwhelming. It has taken me a long time to develop my own ideas about what I like and to figure out what my own "rules" are. (They are very similar to Nick's principles.) Honestly, I want to continue pursuing what I have put together for myself and as much as I like Nicholas, I felt that his ideas might overtake me a bit, if that makes sense. I absolutely only want to hear my own voice. It's a fragile thing, trust me!
Alright, thanks for reading if you made it this far. Have some comments? Let me know: email@example.com
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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.