All Dried Up

It’s that time of year. Spring. You know—in with the new, out with the old.

Checking the studio supply cabinet, I found ten jars I didn’t recognize. Lined up in front of me, I have to ask: when did I buy that? It can’t have been ten years ago.

But you know how we creative types love to experiment. We tell ourselves unless we try things out, we won’t know if  we like them. (Which is true, but don’t I understand moderation.) For good measure, I also tell myself that a new brush or paint could make all the difference in my painting.

Today I spent the afternoon trying out various supplies with a hodge-podge of found objects from paint trays to pill packaging to test out the types of texture and markings they would make on board, heavy paper, and Japanese paper. Can you believe I had four—no five kinds of gesso. Who knew they made so many? (Well you did of course.) And then there were tubes of dried paint.

Where does all this lead? Hopefully to extra space on the shelf and to well, shopping.  You know, just a little paint…and maybe more gesso.

A Little At the Time

Continuous Thread, detail, 16″ x 20″, Mixed media collage on deep wood panel

It all started with a piece of hand-dyed fabric made during a workshop in Ohio almost 10 years ago. Months ago I pulled out the box of fabrics I had made and was immediately drawn to the pattern—lace-like, cellular-like, web-like. And then in one of my braver moments (since I usually hesitate about everything) I glued it down to a blank surface. From there the beginning, simple unadorned, but already connected.

A little at the time, I added paint, a piece of a torn calendar, and words from a newspaper clipping (remember those) about the weather. I don’t believe I thought about the time factor while I was painting, but subconsciously it must have been there, why else the weather and the calendar, why not Shakespeare. Oh yes, there is a tiny bit of him as well.

I added more paint and more texture to pull these elements together, but then I left it for months before returning to finish it just a week ago. I found some more of the fabric, a little different piece with circles that seem to fit my musing. Lately, I so often find myself wanting to pull everyone and everything together ( as I know they should be) or alternatively, to escape entirely perhaps using those tiny circles to skip away from reality. But no matter, “Continuous Thread,” is finished.

The title of the piece was borrowed from Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings. In her book she refers to stories and novels following not chronology but rather “the continuous thread of revelation.”

That seems perfect for visual art as well.

Finishing A Painting: It’s Not Magic

Yesterday I spent four hours finishing a painting for a show—finishing a painting that some would say was already finished.  I’m not really complaining since I am delighted to have been chosen for the exhibit, but the task is certainly not glamorous and likely not one that a collector or even exhibit curator thinks about (unless they are also an artist).

By finishing a painting I don’t mean putting leaves on a tree (not to negate something I can’t do well). What I mean is checking the sides for marks, sanding a few spots, repainting those, repainting again when I miss one, waxing, then finally wiring (and making sure the wire is heavy enough for a large painting on board).  Our social media posts seem to only show us smiling with several brushes in our hands and painting with bright colored oils or acrylics —not furiously trying to match a paint color or see through dust spattered glasses with hair tied up on our head.

Finishing a painting is a pretty mundane task, and I’m willing to bet not many artists have assistants to do this. But it must be done and is part of completing a painting for a show or collector. Sometimes I fuss and worry too much over highly textured areas, wondering if I should smooth them down more. But everything most of us do is by hand so it will probably never look perfect. Of course, this isn’t the only routine task we perform. That’s for another blog.

But sometimes I wonder if we shouldn’t show more “real” work pictures (no I’m not brave enough yet) or at least put our glasses and work cloth in the frame (that I can do).

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Home Run, 36″ x 12″ x 2.75″, Mixed media collage on deep wood panel

Having spent my recent Saturday night at a minor league baseball game, I have begun thinking that as an artist I am no different than one of those players dressed in a striped uniform. I too must warm up, size up the opposition, determine how to play the game, learn from and correct my mistakes, and still pull off a win before the 9th inning.

Play Ball

Last Saturday we got there a few minutes early and everyone seemed to be frantically throwing balls to each other. But I could tell something else was also happening. I knew that with every throw they were also checking out the opposing players as well. It’s what I do every morning in my studio. I look at what’s on the easel or table and hope I’ve left myself a note as to my thinking the day before. If not, I miss the ball and have to chase the grounder. Do I start by reviewing new art by artists I love? Do I write about the art I am working on? Do I sketch? Do I start with a collage or just random painting? Sometimes it feels pretty frantic, so I imagine it looks that way as well. And yes, at some point during the day, I will definitely check to see what other artists are up to, though they are not opponents since no one is keeping score. Are they?

Right Off the Bat

It is always important to determine direction—to know what to do next. Am I working on a new painting or finishing one that is not yet complete? If I have made mistakes (never…), can I correct them easily or will it stretch into overtime. Every once in a while, a painting will come together quickly. It is probably because I have carried the image around in my head subconsciously for days or weeks. You would think that such a painting would be my home run.

Out of the Ballpark

But my home runs are different. It not a hit the first time I come up to bat. It’s the third or fourth time with 3 balls and 2 strikes. It’s the painting that I struggle with the most and that finally comes together. The others are just base hits, a double or a triple. When you put hours and hours into a piece and it finally feels right—when you know it’s good, that is the home run. Then you really feel as if you’re floating around the bases to home.

Sometimes I do strike out. And every once and while, I give up on a particular piece. It seems overworked and tired. But I immediately start again, sometimes on the same piece with a different twist. You see just like baseball, art gets into your blood. It becomes essential to your everyday life. There is no season; it’s a year-round pursuit. You are always in training, always playing the game.

So when do I get the striped uniform?

The Color Purple

Leap of Faith, 30″ x 30″, 2014; Riverview II, 15.75″ x 15.75″, 2018; and Fight Song, 36″ x 24″,2017,©Patricia Steele Raible.

One of my favorite books in the 1980s was Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” and I was even more impressed by the movie. In this particular case though I am literally talking about Golden’s liquid violet dark. It isn’t a color I use very often, but I think perhaps I should.

Why Purple

What else can I say about say about the color purple? If it is dark, it is the color of eggplant. If it is pale it is the last wisp of sunlight on a summer evening. Besides the violet dark, you find both a light violet, a medium violet, and a pale (which I quite like). But as you know, it is just as easy to mix it.

So purple is a color that many believe is feminine. But I would counter that purple is also the color of bruises—bruises perhaps gained from athletic endeavors (and yes, plenty of women are athletes).  I would also counter that using purple requires a lot of imagination. 

The Advantages of Purple

Purple is becoming a color I turn to when I am not satisfied with what I see on my easel. When a painting’s too humdrum (For now, humdrum is still in the dictionary, still a word.) I also try to use purple when a painting starts to look too realistic. I am not criticizing realistic, I just don’t do it well. This is pushing me into a new habit: using purple in place of colors on what I call a “messed up painting.” If there is a dark brown or dark blue, I use dark violet. If it’s a neutral gray I mix an amethyst and if it is a light green or gray a light or pale violet.

Purple Has An Attitude

I believe it really helps to change to colors that you aren’t as comfortable using. After all, painting is about experimenting. For me, changing colors can mean that instead of an abstract landscape that leans toward realism (and not good realism), suddenly I will have a completely different painting, one that has a bit of an edge, a slight attitude. It’s smiling, wearing sunglasses, and also has a definite smirk.

Ah, the color purple.

Whose Story Is It

Embrace, 39″ x 34″ x 2.75″, Mixed media on board, ©Patricia Steele Raible 2019

Sometimes I feel that I am not so much the painter as the conduit for a painting. That is the case with many of the pieces in my current series about dementia. “Embrace,” the one you are viewing here, is about my personal journey with my mother, but it is also about other people. First, it is a story created by people who traveled the same path before me, though with less science and perhaps less support. It is also a story about those that traveled with me, those that cared for and about my mother. Finally, it is also about the people who are still on this path.

My Story

To me an embrace is normally a good feeling, a comforting feeling. But the term also describes how the lead and partner function on the dance floor as they glide across the floor. I always thought dancing was magical. Yet, after taking lessons, I found out about the hard work and frustrations as well as the rewards.

My husband and I were taking ballroom dance lessons just about the time my mother was diagnosed with dementia with Lewy Bodies. My father had already died; my brother was in another state and ill as well. So her care fell to me. I usually just take charge, but that doesn’t always work with someone whose judgement is impaired. She resisted strongly; I became frustrated. Much like a dance, we went back and forth and back and forth. I came to wonder was I her lead, or her partner?

Her Story

In reading Daniel Siegel’s The Developing Mind, one quote stood out : “A story is created by both teller and listener.” The quote made me question if this could also true of the visual story in my paintings.  When I paint, is it my story alone or is the viewer involved?

With my mother I attempted to understand how she was feeling? But I also realized that my capacity for endurance, pain, and suffering was different from hers or even my husband’s. I was left with my imagination and hopefully, my empathy. But I did wonder how she felt about being told she must move into assisted living, that someone would to be there when she showered to make sure she didn’t fall, and when she toileted to keep her clean.

Their Story

So what about the viewer or the listener?  I now recognize their part and know that they can add to the story or even change it.

I look at myself and other artists as both archeologists and architects.  We are diggers of history and truth, gatherers of ideas, and manipulators of bits and pieces. Perhaps none of my of my paintings are completely my own for I am history, a bit of this and a piece of that, a part of her and some of them.

Elevator Speeches for Introverts…Like Me

“Seeking Warmth,” 20″ x 16″ x 2.75″, Mixed media on Deep Wood Panel,
©Patricia Steele Raible 2019

I really don’t like elevators with or without speeches. They make me nervous, and no matter how hard I try to relax I always feel like I’ve left my legs on the floor where I got on. So I tend to smile nervously, face the door, and think there is no way I can turn and talk to another passenger.

No Infomercials

Having read advice in books and blogs from quite a few marketing gurus, I’m always thinking about what I should say when someone asks what I do. If I say, “I’m an artist,” I am usually asked a follow-up question about what kind of artist. If I say mixed media and leave it there, I know I’ve missed out big time. I have learned that this is an opportunity to share myself and to get to know someone if only for a very short time.

If you listen to the experts, they would have you prepare a two-minute statement that tells someone “why you create.” Unfortunately, I have found that doesn’t work for me. As an introvert, I come across as stilted, pompous, or stuffy. What I’m learning to do instead is tell them something about my current work. Chances are I’m excited about it and that comes through in my body language. It doesn’t come across as prepared or memorized.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

I’ve got less than a couple minutes, so I have to keep it really short. Second, if I want this to lead to a look at my website, a visit to my studio, or a possible friendship, then I need to know at least one thing about this person. So after describing my most recent work, I ask a question. “Are you involved in art, who is your favorite artist, what kind of art do you like?” Then I have a real conversation that I can continue briefly when the door opens or I can exchange information for a later date.

In my excitement talking about what I am working on, I have to remember not to overwhelm them. They don’t need an artist statement or a curriculum vitae. I try to connect with them by using descriptive language they can understand. If they seem sincerely interested, I invite them to a show or just to my studio.

Being Real

While I believe in being as prepared as possible, a canned elevator speech just doesn’t work for me. I can’t make it sound authentic. I have found it is far more important for me to be genuine—to be myself and talk about something that I am passionate about. That makes me sound…well, like me.