The Rewards of Sharing

"Dual Duty," 16" x 20," mixed media on deep wood panel
“Dual Duty,” 16″ x 20,” mixed media on deep wood panel

Sometimes I forget to share. I stay in the studio painting and don’t enter shows, teach classes, or volunteer to talk to groups. It becomes a bad habit.

Yesterday, because my husband promised, I gave a short artist’s talk to a group of seniors like myself. It was meant to inspire them to share their own life stories and changes in their lives, but I think it inspired me more.

I only talked and answered questions for about 30 minutes and took three of my recent paintings. The talk was mostly about my love of art, how it had been part of my life since my twenties, and more important in the last 10 as a full-time artist. But I also talked about process and how I painted these three pieces in particular.

As I was driving home one of things I noticed was that as I talked I got more excited about my work. Talking about my art seemed to stimulate me. It was as if talking about these paintings in a new series not only gave me more confidence but also clarified what I was doing and nudged me forward. I wanted to go directly to the studio.

I think sharing is important no matter what you do with your time. You would be surprised that so many people are interested. “Show and Tell” is not just for kindergartners.

 

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Positive from Negative

 

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Unfinished paintings making positives using negative space.

“What do you do with everything that is cut away?” she asked Tilman, thinking now about the negative space of stone sculpture, the stone that is discarded, thinking too about how she had thrown away huge pieces of her own early life…”
from The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart.

 With both my only parent and only sibling ill, there is a lot of sadness in my life right now, weighing me down, making it hard to focus on anything—even art. But because art keeps me sane, I have turned to it in bits and pieces, usually ending up in a mess of color and movement. For days I let these paintings on paper lay around, but this past week I decided to find out what if anything was important in these painted, collaged pieces.

So I started with grey paint and the basic rules of visual composition, reminding myself that positive space was the primary focus of a picture and the negative space was the background or the space between objects. I had always thought of negative space as quiet space, but obviously less important than the positive shapes.

But the more I painted, the more I wondered: Should there really be a difference between positive and negative space in importance? Can you have one without the other? In order to tell a complete story, don’t you need both? None of the pieces that are pictured are finished or may never be, but the exercise reinforced to me how critical negative space is in my paintings and how it can highlight the positive.

 

 

 

Effort Not Attainment

“It’s about effort, not attainment.”

NoGoingBack
“No Going Back,” 14.75″ x 14.5″, Mixed media on deep wood panel

 

You know how you hear something, but don’t fully take it in. Then some time later, you finally really hear it. Yesterday in yoga class this happened. As encouragement the instructor said, “Its about effort not attainment. I wish I could tell you I was focused on my yoga practice, but all I could think about was my art.

You see, rarely do I start a painting, complete it, and know it is finished. And many times I “beat myself up” because I can’t just get an idea and execute it perfectly. Many times in many paintings I make two or three tries and not just at one area, but two or three entirely new beginnings.

The one pictured above may not be finished yet, but has been “completed” at least four times—wrong colors, image not right, texture not right. It started in my journal, went to paper, went to board, went to board again with numerous changes between. During my session with Katherine Chang Liu in April, I shared this “problem.” She immediately dismissed it as a “problem” and encouraged me never to give up on a painting. She said she continues to work until she knows it is right.

Art can be “play” because it is so engaging, but it is also work that requires study, skill, and most of all effort. Namaste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where Am I Going?

MendingFencesinsert
“Mending Fences,” mixed media on board, 11″ x 20″
journal
Journal entry “Mending Fences”

 

Sometimes I just put paint on paper, moving it here or there, adding a bit of this or that. Sometimes it works out. Most of the time, not so much.

Of course, that’s not true for everyone. Plein air painters produce their best work onsite. And I’ve seen some other wonderful painters who seem to start with one element and just take those twists and turns in the road one at a time until bang—they are in New York or Los Angeles.

If I do that I’m in the middle of no where in Iowa (and yes, Iowa can be lovely), but it’s probably the middle of winter. And while it may be beautiful, it has no focus. I’m one of those artists who needs to have some idea of where they are going, just a bit of a road map. Otherwise, I wander off tract. I see that nice tree over there or perhaps a lovely lake and take a hike. I know that many artists do studies, and I’ve done a few. But the best method for me seems to be a middle ground.

I’ve found that working on ideas in my journal helps me solidify placement of elements, color, markings. With a few little things worked out, I can concentrate on the idea behind the painting and on the emotions and feelings. Hopefully, this produces better strokes, more complicated markings. Doing this also helps when I am in a period that I feel stuck. “I am working,” but because it is in a journal, “I am not exactly working.” Somehow this frees me.

This method has its drawbacks. I can’t be as spontaneous. And don’t think it doesn’t mean I won’t have to redo a painting—but it is a place to start and a way to keep on track.

So what’s your successful method?

 

Over and Over

Changing just one thing can make a difference.

Over and Over, 18" x 24", Mixed media on paper
“Over and Over,” 18″ x 24″, mixed media on paper

You know how a tune gets locked in your head, an “ear worm” they call it. I am particularly susceptible to any kind of “worm” whether a tune or a behavior. I seem to get locked into action or inaction.

I have been trying to discover how we free ourselves from repeating behavior that we know isn’t good for us, whether it is obsessing over a problem or just painting in the same way we always have. One suggestion was to change just one thing. In my yoga class the instructor often says something similar. She suggests moving the right arm out as you lift the left leg or putting the arms in front rather than behind in “child’s pose.”

I normally paint on deep wood cradles with a highly textured substrate. So I decided to paint on paper. It appears to me this one change has made me focus more on markings, which may well be a good thing.

Oh, I guess I did change two things. Instead of my classical or new age music, I listened to a bit of country. Go figure.

Perhaps you might try changing just one thing in your art or your life—or two?

No Destination

borderlandwandering
“Untitled,” 16″ x 20,” mixed media collage on deep panel

The week has just started and I am tired. To say it has been difficult to concentrate on art the last few weeks is well…an understatement. Illness, my own upper respiratory infection and my elderly mother’s increasing anxiety, has consumed me.

Finding myself the bad guy is not a new role, just one that comes and goes. And no matter how you feel at the moment, you really don’t want it to return. You want all hatchets buried, all peace pipes smoked. But usually, life doesn’t work that way even with the most optimistic outlooks. To keep my own head about me, I paint.

Lately, I have been working on paper, which doesn’t create my usual amount of texture. But it still allows quite a bit, just more visual than tactile. And because there is less preparation, I can work in the moment. Luckily, most of the layers also dry a bit more quickly as well.

This one, as yet untitled, is likely part of a new series. I feel myself moving a brush, a pencil over the paper as if it is a landscape I want to explore—even though there is no definite destination.

Do we need one? Can’t we just begin a journey and see what will happen, where we will go if we follow a line?

 

 

Covering Everything With White

seeinginadifferentlight3detail
“Seeing In A Different Light III,” (detail of 4-sided painting 36″ x 8″ square), mixed media on wood

As I painter I know that if there is an area I don’t like in an artwork, I can cover it with white and begin again, another chance if you will. Here in the South of the US, January seems to be symbolizing that chance—a bit of a “do over” if you will. But the interesting thing is that no matter how much we cover, what is underneath is still there. A snow-covered roof may look beautiful, but if it leaks; it leaks. There is only so much covering you can do.

In my artwork I have found that after a while the paint won’t stick very well, and you have to dig deep and sand carefully to get solid surface on which to build. Perhaps it’s time to take stock, to use this as an analogy for my life as well as my work.