16" x 20" painted acrylic papers
I should have named this The Image That Almost Wasn't. It's very easy to get trapped into a way of making work that is familiar and comfortable. It feels very safe right? People have liked your work before and they will probably like it again...so long as it doesn't change. This is external validation/permission type stuff though and has nothing to do with making art that comes from another part of your brain. It's the part of your brain that says, "Oh yes, I'd really like to try that." and "Well, let's just see what happens." and "If it sucks, then it sucks and no big deal." That's the part of your brain that you want to listen to because listening to it will help to nurture it and will help you to make work that feels like you, even if it is not at a Picasso level of skill. As my friend Carol has told me, your work matters because it is your work. (More or less, this is what she offered to me in the way of help.)
For months now I have been making these doodles. They are an offshoot of when I used to quilt and I did allover patterns of meandering quilting. The doodles turned into drawings of sorts that were informed by stuff that I saw: alphabets, animals, and other images in my environment. The doodles also were a nod to my reading. Figures showed up that look vaguely like fishes, birds and other sorts of creatures. I love the idea of an imaginary world that has some realistic underpinnings. I also love the idea of creatures interacting together. I could never deliberately draw that sort of thing though but the doodles are a kind of "gateway" into a quasi-drawing kind of world. Whatever shows up, shows up. I really like the surprises that happen. I also really like that I am thinking in the same sorts of terms as when I make more structured and intentional work: hue, chroma and value. Direction, repetition and variation, proportion, that sort of stuff. It's really important to me that the thought processes that I worked really hard to establish remain in play when I make any kind of art-no matter if the shapes are geometric and structured or more biomorphic like in the above piece. I call this singularity in approach and thought "staying on the bus" and it is a direct result from having read this article by James Clear. Along with some other free and sage advice I have received over the years, this piece of advice is always one that I come back to. (And if you haven't read the article I suggest you give it a read. If you know an artist who is struggling to "find their voice" this may be the break that they need.)
In any case, I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. I am now interested to see if I can do this type of work again and how I might mix it up. In other words, what is going to happen next and how can I make that happen.
Happy New Year to all reading and to those of you that have paid attention to my posts and work this year. Your efforts are appreciated!
Before The Deluge
12" x 16" Painted Paper Collage
As I make these pieces, I take notes in my sketchbook/journal. The notes help me to remember what I was thinking about during the process of putting the piece together. The above work was started with a doodle drawing that I did based on shapes from the Hebrew alphabet. I meant to follow that drawing exactly since I really liked it. I can see from reading my notes that although I had a sketch as my guide, I was nervous that the piece would just become a collection of shapes with each shape not being related to the other-no cohesive narrative in other words. I always worry about deviating from a good plan and I become anxious about a lack of some sort of narrative or "structure" for these collages. I should know better by now because a kind of story generally emerges whether I follow the original plan or deviate from it.
As I was working myself into a lather about all of that, I started to tell myself a little story. It involved Noah and the flood, fossils, and the gathering up of all of the creatures on Earth. I put the drawing aside and began to focus on the shapes, both the positive ones and the ones being made in the negative spaces. I came up with some symbols that I wanted to use and some other details that I wanted to add. I am pleased to have used some of the drawn characters that I sketched a while ago. (These are the ones in my sketchbook that were just for fun and I didn't know what I would do with them.) As I finished things up, it seemed to me that I had gone past the constraints of the drawing, as much as I liked it, and had gotten somewhere else that was equally as good as my original idea. For me, just as good.
I can see that I am going in a particular direction with these last several pieces. I have done some thinking and writing about this but haven't solidified anything yet. I am going to keep working and to keep an open mind. It's easy for me to cling to what has worked for me in the past rather than slowly and incrementally moving in a different direction. I'll just have to see.
Hope everyone had a nice holiday. Thanks for reading.
Creature Feature 2
16" x 20" painted paper collage
Earlier in the year I started making funny little paper collage creatures. They were only for my sketchbook and used leftover shapes from my finished pieces. It was just a fun way to learn about color and to see what appeared when various shapes were thrown together. I just couldn't see how to use them in my work outright, as shapes unto themselves. So, I set the idea aside.
Later on in the year, I bought Carla Sonheim's book, Drawing and Painting Imaginary Animals. The exercises were fun to do. In one of them she has you looking at sidewalks and asphalt to find "animals" in the cracks and crevices. I made up my own exercise using crumpled paper and rubber stamp ink. I found animals in the lines created when I rubbed the ink across the creased paper. Again though, I couldn't see how to use the little creatures that I drew.
All of the fiddling that I did with the shape creatures kind of lead to just some general doodling. I am an inveterate doodler from way back. (I used to doodle on my underwriting worksheets when I worked in a bank.) It's actually more noodling than pictures of anything specific. It does remind me of Keith Haring's work, though my scribbles are certainly a pale reflection of his ideas. I also accidentally found the work of Inez Johnston and rediscovered the work of Carla Accardi.
All of this is to say that I felt I had permission to turn my doodles and paper creatures into something. The outcome may not be as sophisticated or well done as the above artists but I felt it was important to at least try.
I like what came out, though it was a nerve wracking kind of process, not knowing what I was doing exactly. I started with my doodles and picked out a shape here and there. I drew the shape and refined it till I had what I wanted. I then transferred the shape to the painted paper and cut and glued. I used the same sets of questions that I always use regarding color relationship, value and chroma. I tried to pay attention to the repetition and variation among the colors and shapes and I employed the dots to bring in a kind of line movement. These are all things that I try to do with my regular collages. So, I feel my sensibilities are intact and it's only the shapes that are evolving. Things did get a little busy but that is OK. That happens to me sometimes and I don't exactly mind. The board is only 16" x 20" after all.
So now what? Do I try this again? I think so, yes. I enjoy the doodling and would like to continue with shapes that are more curvilinear rather than rectilinear (though a good mix of two is useful). I think I captured a kind of narrative though maybe not anything definite. I do love that the paper creatures are interacting though it isn't quite like one of my reference objects.
16" x 20" painted paper collage on matboard
This piece started with a random word generator web site that I found on the Internet. I used the site to randomly generate words based on syllable length and what letter they started with. I then used select words to create images and a sort of story.
I was really sort of stuck for how to begin and this idea of a word generator helped quite a bit. Selecting images to represent some of the words like midnight, medicine and media was fairly easy. But then I also mixed in some childhood memories of my grammar school. The building had black and white linoleum floors and prior to the demolition of the upper story, the hallways were a kind of mint green color. I was also sort of inspired by the book, Goodnight Moon. The illustrator used a kind of purple blue color to portray the night sky through the window. The Brownie camera and hands were images that I have been wanting to use. I guess the piece ended up being a kind of mash up of my thoughts which I think is just fine.
I tried a new to me media this time. It's called Duralar and it's a kind of acetate replacement material. It comes in both clear and matte forms. I am always looking for ways to draw freely with my acrylic pens without drawing directly onto the painted surface of the board or the shapes that are glued down. What if I screw up, which frankly, is very possible. The Duralar was meant to bypass that possibility. The clear version was very difficult to see to cut. Also, though the glue dries clear, you can still see it through the material. The matte was OK to cut but I still had the same problem with the glue showing. The whole thing sort of turned into a craft project (no insult intended to crafters, OK?). It's OK though. I am glad I tried it and who knows? Maybe it has other uses that I don't know about yet.
I am gathering ideas for my next piece. I also need to paint papers. I have accepted that some days are better than others; my connection to my art waxes and wanes. The only thing that matters I think is that I am thinking and gathering ideas, even if it is only through finding words or images. Put it this way. You can't draw money from your savings account if you don't make regular deposits.
Alright, send me an email if you like. firstname.lastname@example.org
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!