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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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: email@example.com
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:)
Sometimes change is good. The Blogger platform has served me well now for nearly 10 years. That's a long time. I am ready though to transition to something new. I have decided to switch things over to my website with Weebly. Any posts that I make regarding my work or process will now appear here rather than on my other blog, The Quilted Craftsman. My reasoning for the change is that all of my artwork, my artist statement and history of the shows I have done as well as the small awards I have won are actually all right here on my artist website. Instead of being at my old blog and looking for links to find my work or searching for other info., it can now be found right here in one fell swoop. Additionally, Weebly, my site host, does offer commerce functions should I ever decide to do that. At some point I may try and transfer some of the content from Blogger over to Weebly, posts that I think are important such as the ones pertaining to my finished pieces. Those posts that talk about the "why" and "how" of my art have been some of the most popular and are posts that I think are worth saving here. So, look for those in the upcoming weeks and months ahead.
Do I know if this will work well for me? I don't. Am I going to try it anyway? Yes, I am.
In the meantime, I have been busy working away this week. The above shot shows me in the studio (there's the proof!) gessoing a new board in preparation for making new work. A few months ago I decided to try making my collages on matboard rather than watercolor paper. The watercolor paper ripped while drying one too many times and I had had it with that nonsense. Sometimes being frustrated can yield good results! I gessoed and painted some matboard and with a little trial and error, it has proven to be a good substrate for what I do. And inexpensive too! And in addition to the above, I have been painting more papers for use in my collages. As I run out I make a stack of the leftover pieces and paint new colors from those remnants. I honestly never paint the same color twice though. There is always a slight variation!
Alright, I hope you will follow along with me in this new place. And I hope it will work! Commenting is turned off so if you would like to contact me please send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org