So Simple a Beginning
16" x 20" painted paper collage
The title comes from The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. I didn't set out to use that quote as the basis for this work but it was the idea that arose about halfway through the making of the piece.
As I was working, I tried to get a grasp on the several different ways that I start a piece. Sometimes I already have a title in mind along with different images that I want to use. Sometimes too I just start with random shapes and no idea at all in mind. Those are sort of the black and white, cut and dried ways of starting. The other two ways are a little more gray. I may start with a few different images in mind and maybe a loose idea. Things evolve from there and firm up. Conversely, I might just have a shape that I want to use and once I use it and add other shapes a story might suggest itself. I am always looking for a solid way to start that won't be so damn hard so this thinking and analyzing is meant to help me get going when I feel like I can't.
The above piece has some ideas for me. I like the idea of the spine and the pelvis connected. I turned the pelvis into a kind of flower shape. I used strawberries to stand in for the heart and the pink circles are a nod to the intestines but also to a crawling sort of bug that you might find in the garden (or the intestines!). The green "netting" is meant to stand in for blood vessels and capillaries. The blue squiggles below could be intestinal ideas or maybe even some of those little villi that line the gut. There is the pink rectangle breathing life into all of it while the yellow and black border reminded me of a National Geographic magazine. They are all "Libby" kinds of things and I would expect the viewer to get their own ideas of what might be going on. Speaking of which, if anyone is reading, let me know what you see!
Are we the center of the universe? That is the question that started the above piece. While I know that we are not the center of the universe scientifically speaking, it seems to me that we often act that way as a population and country. Our own wants and desires matter the most, sometimes to the detriment of others.
Recently I have been reading books that have to do with man's impact on our world. Species are interdependent. When the population of one changes, that affects all of the other populations that interact with it. Such is the case with the Brown Tree Snake. It was brought to Guam accidentally in the 1940's and has been wreaking havoc ever since. Trees and birds have been greatly affected (some are extinct or near extinction). I am not sure that anyone could defend the loss of habitat and species that has taken place.
For the above piece I wanted to use imagery that was related to extinction or over population. I also wanted to reference the sun as a rather large portion of the piece and the blue "eggs" which to me are either eggs or connected bodies of land. (Much of what we know about species migration comes from the ideas of various parts of the world being connected or disconnected at one time or another.)
The images I worked with are based on several books that I have read in the past couple of months. As mentioned above, the books mostly concern man's effects on the environment. I picked symbols that I thought might be recognizable in a general way but that would remind me of some of the things that I had read about.
I chose the snake image to represent the Brown Snake mentioned above. The flower is a plumeria which is an endangered species in the state of Hawaii. The "boar" image represents the overpopulation of that animal, also in the state of Hawaii. And lastly the bird is the endangered Hawaiian Honeycreeper, a beautiful bird that comes in an astonishing array of colors with a wonderful variety of specialized beak lengths. My "man" figure is upside down and disconnected with the weight of the bird resting on his head, both literally and figuratively. The red lines represent gates that are both open and closed, signifying in my mind that closing out or opening up areas to different species is damn near impossible. Conservation is a hard issue and it isn't always about keeping animals in zoos or protected and enclosed areas; it's also not always about keeping animals out.
With each of the last several pieces I have used more and more specific imagery. I keep telling myself that I won't do this anymore; it's too goofy. Maybe not though. It's what is coming out and maybe that is alright. The pieces are connected to what I am learning and some of the shapes and figures make me laugh. I thought that I couldn't possibly include disembodied legs and yet I did. There they are and they work as a design element. Go figure.
Thanks for reading. Please send me an email with any comments.
It's hard not to think about how much time I spend on the computer or my phone, tracking down things that we want or need or trying to answer questions or just checking in socially to see what people are up to. All of those hours can't ever be gotten back. Frankly, it depresses me. On the other hand, it also prompts some thinking and apparently, some art making.
On my walk last week, I thought about the Internet and how much of a "rabbit hole" it is. A person could certainly fall into this hole and not know up from down, wrong from right or reality from fantasy. The situation today reminds me of the novel, Alice in Wonderland. Poor Alice! She starts out as a logical young girl but gets drawn into a complete farce of an adventure. Things are the opposite of how they should be and things happen that shouldn't happen. Anyone else out there feel like Alice at times? I certainly do.
It seems to me that there is a parallel between this whimsical and satirical novel and our current obsession with The Internet. Technology has changed our lives in so many ways. It feels like the world is topsy turvy at times. Our ability to discern the difference between reality and fantasy is fading quickly. Much as Alice does in the novel, we have come to accept the hyperbolic, the ludicrous and the ridiculous as perfectly OK. Outlandish behavior and talk seems to be the new normal. Where will it end I wonder?
For the above piece, I knew I wanted to use some particular imagery that represented things from today and things from the Alice novel. I started with the idea of how we get our information. The computer monitor/television set with rabbit ears and antenna are representative of new and old technology. The clocks (in graduating sizes) both represent how we spend our time but also make reference to the novel where Alice continually grows and shrinks. Additionally, the novel was written in 1865 and so I used the time for each clock to show that. The green "rabbit hole" on the left side, the water at the bottom (Alice cries so much that she swims around in her own tears), the Cheshire cat, and the flowers are all images from the novel. (I refrained from putting faces on those flowers!) They all represent the absurd that is taken as the normal.
The most difficult portion for me was the "two Alice" image. I am very self conscious about adding figures yet I really want to do this. So, I tried and am happy with the results. Alice's experience is so disjointed. I felt that having Alice in different parts (her skirt, her profile and her neck/torso as the monitor stand) would at least convey the idea of her strange experience. For me, our experience on the Internet is similar. I have one life on the computer and another life with Rich and still another life outside of all that when I leave the house. Sometimes it feels chopped up. It doesn't matter though because at the end of the day, we must face ourselves (like Alice facing herself in the above piece) and decide what is "really real."
It's always tough when an artist has an idea in mind. Did they get the point across effectively? Honestly, I am not sure it really matters for me. For me, images are personal and specific. Will this piece be understood differently by different people? Certainly. Perhaps even misunderstood. That's OK. Right now, it just matters that I followed through on my thoughts and made some art to reflect that.
I didn't mention everything about the piece so if anyone reading sees something or wants to chat just send me an email. I hope the piece (and the post) spark some ideas!
By now, I have read a lot about creativity. How-to manuals from successful artists are popular (as well as online articles from amateurs) and from what I can gather, there are some common denominators to the creative process. By far my favorite, and the one I use most often, is the bringing together of two disparate ideas to create a third and new idea. This third idea is an idea in and of itself, may contain elements from the first two ideas, but is essentially its own entity. I think we all do this in one form or another. My personal take on this process involves collecting different ideas and seeing what might fit together. Not forcing things but just seeing how the tumblers fall into place (if they do at all which is a post for another day). Sometimes it works and sometimes, well, not, so much.
For the above piece, I was on my walk and the title just kind of popped into my head. From there, I started thinking about some programs I have been watching lately on NOVA. I watched a series of programs about the planets and a couple of documentaries about the Apollo missions-essentially how we got three guys to the moon and back, safely and in one piece. There was also a program some time ago that I watched that had to do with the meteor that scientists think killed off the dinosaurs (and everything else for that matter). I have read a book about evolution and am currently reading a book about Abraham Lincoln and Darwin. In short, I had collected some materials. I think it isn't surprising that the title of the piece, the idea, came to me like it did.
I'd like to say that I wasn't stuck about halfway through but that would be a lie. What I figured out was that being too literal hangs me up. I wanted to duplicate the Apollo 11 spacecraft, all of its components. In the end, it wasn't necessary to be that specific. I also couldn't make the gingko leaves work with the rocket as I had originally planned. So, I had to let go and rethink the idea. I'll pass along this piece of free and good advice: next time you are stuck, ask yourself this question:"If I didn't do this, what else could I do?" In other words, if you let go of a set idea what else could be possible? What else can you make room for? This really works, trust me.
In the end, I was pleased with my thinking. I didn't abandon my original idea but just edited it and added to it. Being flexible enough but firm enough in my thinking helped. I am happy to reference space travel in a general way and ultimately, the piece made me think about quick time and deep time, space travel versus meteors and evolution/extinction.
I'd be curious to know what others get out of this piece. Even if it just appears whimsical and pleasing, let me know.
PS-The blue "shelf" in the lower right corner is a nod to Jackson Browne, songwriter extraordinaire, and his song "Leaving Winslow" in which he sings about the disappearing Greenland shelf.
painted paper collage on matboard
12" x 16"
It's funny because this piece was just supposed to be a way to use up leftover scraps after the last piece. I started by adding a few shapes here and there. Nothing much was happening though until I added the large and central green leaf shape. That was interesting (kind of bold because of the darker value and size of the shape) but then I added the pink curve beneath the leaves and well, I was off and running! It looked like a person with a hat and I couldn't help but laugh at that.
Over the course of a couple days I kept adding random, small things. Nothing big though to pull the piece together. There wasn't a cohesive storyline yet (I am not sure there is now) but in my mind I had sort of a "prehistoric/garden/floral" theme pictured. I added shapes that I thought might fit that idea and things started to come together.
As I began to wind up the piece, I knew that the large green leaf shape felt empty. (There was nothing inside of it yet.) It seemed like a repetition of the flower motif would work but my laziness prevented me from digging in to that decision. I tried other things but nothing really clicked. Finally, I just bit the bullet and tried out one flower shape. I knew it would work and so I cut more flowers, arranged them and added the centers. It really pulled everything together and gave an "overallness" to the piece that I wanted.
It seems that I am always learning (and re-learning) things while I work. This time it was the lesson that the easiest solution is not always the best. The best solution in this case required drawing and cutting and time which wasn't easy for me. I am glad though that I just sucked things up and did those flowers. The piece makes me laugh a bit and makes me happy and really, that is all I want these days.
In other news, I am not sure if I ever mentioned that at one point I had some items on Redbubble. People could select from some images and purchase cards or prints. I am thinking about doing this again and have actually added some new images. I know I need to improve my photography though and am starting to work on that. Stay tuned though for some progress reports!
OK, hope everyone reading has had a creative week. Feel free to email me with comments. Thanks for having a read!
More Than Meets The eye
16" x 20" painted acrylic collage on mat board
Last week while driving I happened to look at the side of the road. All along the fence lines were stands of sunflowers. For some reason that I can't explain, I envisioned a sunflower as a human heart; sort of like if your "emotional center" was actually a flower.
I held onto that idea for a little while and then added to it. We had a momma quail on our front porch. She had made her nest in one of the flower pots and was sitting on about 10 eggs. It was a bad spot to pick, however. We have had roofers at our house and so there was a lot of noise. I was afraid the mom quail was going to abandon the nest. She was a trooper though and earlier this week her eggs hatched. It was some kind of miracle!
All through the experience though I thought about this quail's instinctive devotion to those eggs. I began to think about what would have happened had her nest been discovered. Would other birds or animals have eaten those eggs? I had learned earlier in the week through some unrelated research that alligators will make their homes underneath trees where birds are known to nest. The alligators want any "dropped" eggs and so protect the birds from predators. The birds in turn supply the alligators with eggs that aren't going to make it, for whatever reason.
It's a long and drawn out explanation on my part, I know. What I want to illustrate though with all of this is the fact that my mind wandered, made associations, and put several elements together to come up with the above piece. I am not thrilled that I am looking for imagery these days to start a piece since I have had success with just putting down random shapes and then coming up with meaning afterwards. I did realize though in the making of this piece that it is OK to work both ways (and every way in between!). It's fine to follow through with an idea even if it is different from what you normally do. I was not confident about including that crocodile/alligator image but I really wanted to and so I did. I hope the piece reads simply enough and that it is engaging.
OK, hope everyone has had a productive and creative week. Thanks for reading and let me know what you think via email or FB: firstname.lastname@example.org
I have been keeping a sketchbook since I started making art about 10 years or so ago. It's a wonderful way to keep track of anything you want. Some days I only log the date and a few sentences about what I did in the studio. Other days, my entries are longer and more detailed. One of the things I do consistently is to make notes about any pieces that I am working on. These notes help with blogging (remembering details) and they also serve to show me how my thinking evolves as I work each piece.
The above piece started with those red ovals. Originally I imagined them in a line, straight up and down. When I tried out this idea I really hated it. Large straight lines are really hard to work with. As I moved the pieces around I realized that they could be in a flower formation. Duh! I glued that idea down and then I was stuck. Really well and truly stuck!
I must have stared at the piece for one solid day, making notes and thinking and sometimes doing other things outside the studio. I was also a little under the weather that weekend and as I lay there kind of dozing off, my mind was free to imagine all sorts of things. I remembered that my friend and I had had a conversation about the magic 8 ball. I wondered later what might happen if the ball had a lid and you took it off. Would it be like Pandora's box?
Over the course of the weekend I just started to free associate, for lack of a better term. I thought about snakes and man eating plants, I pictured butterflies and parts of the human body, like the brachea and trachea. A snippet of Sting's song, The Lazarus Heart, came into my mind. (In the song he references a wound from which a flower grows.) I also began to think about adding a figure to the scenario. I remembered Stephen King's book, Bag of Bones. The plot of that book involves a widowed writer at a haunted cabin called Sara Laughs. I hadn't made this connection before but the character's deceased wife was trying to have a baby before she died (and possibly having trouble conceiving). I thought about the biblical story of Sarah and Abraham, in which Sarah laughs at God when he tells her that she will bear children at an impossibly advanced age. I mention all of these details to show how making art is often like pulling various unrelated threads together. The threads may seem unrelated at first but I think one of my tasks is to pull those threads together and to make something totally new from them.
I hemmed and hawed about using the figure (seen at the right side of the piece). I had some other elements in place by then but couldn't move forward. I kept wanting to use the figure and thinking that it would look stupid if I tried it. Finally, my decision was made once I realized that I could scrap the whole piece if I wanted to, if things didn't work out. That was very liberating. It would only be a few wasted days, no big deal. Self doubt should never be a sticking point. The attitude must always be one of "screw it, I am gonna give this a try."
Everything else came together easily once I got the figure situated. I am pleased with the results which is good. The piece is something that I would like to look at for a long time.
Alright, thanks for reading and if you have a comment send me an email: email@example.com
What is that expression about getting dressed and when you think you are done, remove one item of your outfit? I feel like this applies to editing my art and it is what I have been doing with the last several pieces. I have come to the conclusion that more (or less for that matter) is not always better. It's very subjective, I know, but this is what is guiding my editing decisions these days. I feel strongly that editing is an essential skill, unique to each person's own sensibility but not without an effect on the viewer.
As I make these collages, the title often comes to me about halfway through or near completion. Rarely ever does the title come first prior to me even putting any shapes on the paper. It did this time though and I can't exactly say where it came from. Honestly, I was just on my morning walk and all of a sudden the title popped into my mind.
X-Ray machines and biblical stories naturally suggest their own motifs so those ideas prompted the shapes that I came up with. I found myself thinking about a number of things. I am going to list them just for fun:
X-Rays, X-Ray frame
pelvis, spine and bones; hand under an x-ray machine; circulatory system
microscopes, cells, glass slides
serpents, eyes, apple cores (temptation), fig leaves
pink "bubbles", red dots to represent cells
Not all of these items made it into the piece but I did think about them while working. I realized too that with each piece I do, I am becoming more comfortable with a loose representation of an idea or object, maybe even an association that only I might make. I think this is really critical, having confidence in your own ideas. People are not shy about telling you what they see or feel when they look at your art and if that bothers you (particularly if you disagree), then you are going to be in trouble.
There were also some technical things that I learned this time. It is important to not only have papers painted in a variety of colors but also to have a good mix of values of each of those colors. This helps to broaden your choices. In addition to that, I also utilized tracing paper over my piece to draw some design "solutions." I got quite stuck at one point and the tracing paper really helped. Lastly, I used some of the doodles and shapes that I draw in my sketchbook. These came in handy not only to start the piece but also to provide some ideas when I didn't quite know what to do next.
All in all, I would say that this particular collage offered some good learning opportunities for me. I hope that each piece teaches me something otherwise I would just be going through the motions and what's the point of that?
Alright, thanks for reading. Please send me an email if you have a comment: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Not So Peaceful Garden
Painted Paper Collage 16" x 20"
Original post appeared 6/23/19 on The Quilted Craftsman
The title of the above piece comes yet again from something that I read in my book on evolution (Carl Zimmer). In the book, the author references a quote made by Darwin to the effect that while we love to hear the birds singing happily in the garden and their music signifies the presence of life, we must also remember that the very life we hear is also bringing death to the worms and the insects being eaten by those birds. I thought those two ideas held together simultaneously merited some real thinking on my part. That's an important idea not to be missed.
I admit that though that while I am making these pieces, I have nothing much in mind to start with. For example, I didn't set out to make a piece of art about life and death occurring simultaneously. It is just what I happened to think about as I was working away. What actually got me going was another idea from awhile back and that can be attributed to a Stephen King short story called Chattery Teeth. Based on that reading, I had made a little paper sketch of a pair of orange "chattery teeth" and I liked that so much that I really wanted to use the imagery at some point. Well, this piece became that point! I knew too that I wanted to use some flower images. Earlier in the week I had seen some wallflowers while on a hike. I loved their four petal formation and bright orange color. (Plus, who doesn't love a wallflower?) So, on to the piece they went. The two blue shapes that sort of resemble a bird and fish were "accidental" in that I had cut several shapes earlier in the month and these two shapes evolved from those other shapes. Nothing was planned, in other words. It just evolved! (How fitting, no?)
Admittedly, at some point, I felt that a kind of "garden" theme was emerging. Not a peaceful, relaxing garden but a garden with a somewhat sinister subtext. I like that idea a lot (too much time with Stephen King) but if I had set out to do that at the beginning this piece would never have been made. I mean to say that I am not sure if I could make a second or third piece and make this a series. I couldn't be deliberate. It's likely though that in the future this idea will crop up again. I don't think ideas or creative impulses really ever go anywhere. We always circle back to them eventually in one way or another.
Alright, I really hope everyone has had a productive week, creatively or otherwise. Thanks for reading and commenting. Or emailing. Emailing works just fine:)