Thursday, September 27, 2012

Welcome to the Forum

24"h x 30"w marker and oil on canvas
I am part of an NF Forum on Facebook. People post their struggles and hardships dealing with a life of NF or being the parent of a child with NF. After awhile the posts start to blur, I forget whose child had what wrong with them, or which person is going to what doctor. Somebody is getting their leg amputated, someone's child has learning difficulties, someone has to pick between becoming deaf or dying, etc. It can be inundating, overwhelming and it never stops. It just keeps going on forever as people keep posting. The posts themselves look like a blur in my newsfeed. Sometimes I don't even look at the forum because I don't want to read about all the horrible manifestations about NF or whose tumor suddenly turned malignant. This week I discovered that one of the kids on my list of portraits to paint for my Many Faces of NF project is dying. I never painted his portrait because I have 15 people in front of him to paint. I felt terrible and now I feel like I should let some time pass for his mother to grieve because it would be in poor taste to start asking her questions about her son while he is on his deathbed. No, I can't imagine it nor do I pretend to know what that is like. It would be insulting for me to even pretend that I can comprehend that. I will now have to paint his portrait as a NF Memorial many many months from now. It's hard. It's just very hard.

Zoomed in so you can read the text
How does this relate to my artwork? I have been thinking about text a lot as it is incorporated with imagery. My advisor told me to look at the work of Sean Landers. I like his technique even though I am not all that interested in most of his images. I read many articles about them and I rather enjoy what he is doing and he seems extremely fascinating, but in the end, I still do not find his actual images to be ones that personally engage me. I should qualify a bit further that I think I enjoy his process more than I enjoy his final product. I think this is actually fairly common for me in art. Oftentimes it is the process or technique that is appealing even if the end result isn't what grabbed my attention.

So, in the spirit of borrowing, I decided to log into the forum and start meticulously copying all of the posts in the NF Forum (leaving out the authors). The forum on FB is completely open and public which means anyone can read these posts. Once someone posts in it, they know that anyone, including people not in this group, can read what they have written. This key element also gave me the sense that if people were comfortable posting these items, then they expect the world to read them. If it would have been a private group, I would have not used the posts.

So, up close you can read each text, but as you stand away from it, it all just looks like a blur of lines. This is really no different than the postings. They blur, I forget and sometimes I don't want to read them anyways.
Another zoomed in shot of the text.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Draw Everyday! HEY...Wait. Why are You Not Drawing?

Draw...draw...draw everyday! You must get better and better. Don't skip a day. Isn't this what every teacher has been telling us ever since we started drawing?

Practice..practice...practice... I do just that. Now, to be fair, I am also slightly nutty about drawing. I think I might be addicted to it. It is immediate. It is accessible. It lets me enjoy the present. I am fully immersed in the joy of the moment when I sketch. And, I know that I can spend as little or as long as I want to on it. I have sketchbooks all over my house and even carry one in the car just in case my car breaks down or I get into a traffic jam. Hmmm....Perhaps I should also think about making sure I also have jumper cables?

I also happen to love the notebooks of DaVinci and I love looking at people's sketchbooks where the text and sketch become a piece of art together. I always have. I've also always loved comic books and graphic novels and anything where imagery and text come together.

And, after looking at some of the artists that incorporate text and imagery. I noticed that most of them use text as a graphical element to support the main visual which would be the painting. I am  mostly thinking of the artists Sean Landers and Jenny Dill for example.

So, what if I reversed the relationship of text and imagery. If I can, I will use the series of life drawings I have done the past 2 weeks as a "ground" and simply write on top of it. Again, I do not know how this will work or if it will look like a big mess, but it does bring the idea that Barry Schwabsky introduces in the book Vitamin P: New Perspectives in Painting introduction:

"The fact that fewer and fewer art schools require their students to enroll in departments of painting, sculpture, or printmaking; in the new "deskilled" academy, there is typically one overarching department, of say, visual arts, whose students are expected to apply ad hoc whichever technique happens to be the most appropriate to a given project."

Beth Campbell's "potential future" drawings
I'm mostly interested in his last statement of "apply whatever technique happens to be the most appropriate". With that in mind, I am opting for doing a collage of my own drawings and then painting a thin wash of burnt umber over the top. After that is finished, in the spirit of Beth Campbell's "potential future" drawings I have decided to start with the premise of "I Need to Draw Every Day" This started many different branches and threads of thought as to why I do or do not draw everyday and the reasons for so many roadblocks or successes.

This may seem like a very easy thing to do. It's not. To take all the studies and drawing that I had created for two weeks and then to glue them all down and paint over them actually took a leap of faith. After all, I was proud of all of these sketches. Now, not all life drawings turn out. Some are just really awful. The terrible drawings get thrown out or I let me boys draw all over them or sometimes they even color in the "nudes" all sorts of different colors. I sometimes wonder if that will land them into therapy someday. Will they be lying on the therapist's couch saying "I had to sit in a basement studio coloring in naked people as a child!" Oh well, maybe it means they'll be fairly well adjusted. Either way, I'm sure in about 20 years my boys will gladly let me know of all my "parenting mistakes"...hahaha....

Okay..back to the topic. When I look at this piece now, it reminds me a lot of an artist I discovered at the Des Moines Art Center last month. His lectures were so dynamic and the chalkboard so covered in thoughts, arrows and diagrams that the chalkboards themselves became an art object. And, in order to really view the work and read it, the viewer needs to get close to it. When viewed from a distance, all of the text on my piece starts to blur, but if the viewer gets close then he or she will see what goes on within my head and all the tangents that can spring up anytime I start with the thought "You Need to Draw Everyday".

24" x 28" drawing collage, oil paint, marker

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Don't do that, but you must do this, but not that, but always this. Now paint.

"The Rules of Painting" 4' h x 5' w - oil and marker on canvas
I have been studying Michael Fullerton's work, not because I think he is amazing on any sort of technical level, but because I find his work extremely amusing. The fact that an artist would do an entire show titled "Get Over Yourself" and include stilted portraits of Rothko and Carl Jung looking pretentious makes me laugh. I sometimes think we get so terribly serious about our work that we can become terrible bores. Now, this isn't to say I don't take my work seriously. I take it very seriously. So seriously that I sometimes am so paralyzed by how serious all of these rules and regulations are for traditional painting that I'm not sure I ever let any of my personality show through.

So, perhaps it's still a little of Artist Michael Fullerton's humor still lingering, but I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if I created a painting (and still focusing on the methodology of painting not caring about subject matter) and tried to intentionally break all the rules that have been so firmly ingrained. What if I culled through old notebooks and wrote down the notes of the "rules of traditional painting". What would happen if I took each one and broke it. It might turn out. It also might be a big piece of junk. But, at least I know that if it is junk, I'll just paint over it later.

Here are some quotes from notebooks from all sorts of teachers. Some are from my days at the atelier and some are from Boston and some are from colleagues and some are my very own quotes that I tell my students. In essence, I am taking my entire painting experience and quotes and sorting them all out and writing them onto the canvas. I then start to paint over them. Really there are no rules anyways, just tools. Simple tools to help an artist get better, but not hard fast rules.

In Process - A little over 4 feet long by 3 feet high for now.
 I just wrapped the canvas around some plywood
so maybe it will be longer.
In fact, I rather like when students don't even know the rules because they have no idea that they are breaking them. I've had students do all sorts of stuff that I say "Wait..what are you doing? Why are you doing that?" They'll shrug and say "I don't know, I don't know what I am doing". seems to me that if you don't know what you are doing it really means you don't know you are breaking any sort of traditions which is equal parts frightening (as an instructor) and exhilarating (as a student). So, since I know the "rules" I think I'll just write them all out with a big permanent marker and just simply break as many as I can. At any rate, it may be the first time I've actually smiled and laughed while painting.

Hmmm...that leads to the next question: Why are we as artists such a serious bunch anyways? Don't pretend to not know what I am talking about. We have all been to the art openings. Sure many great  artists are wonderful and humble folks but there are those other artists. You know who I am talking about. We have all seen the serious artist floating around the room, wine in one hand, pontificating about how profound they are while wearing tight fitting black turtlenecks, little rimmed glasses and a haircut that would make Vidal Sassoon take notice.

If I ever become that pretentious artist, slap me in the face. But after you've rattled me back to my senses, you owe me a drink. After all, you just spilled my wine all over the floor.

The quote reads "Control your brushwork. It Shouldn't look like you just had a seizure with oil paint". Yeah..that's actually my quote. I tell that to my students who start going nutty with their backgrounds when we are doing traditional oil painting.
When asked about glazing - David Leffel grinned and said jokingly
"Why don't You just paint it right the first time?"
 Look, I love glazes but that quote still just cracks me up.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Combination of Two Ideas

22" x 28" oil on board

22" x 28" oil on board. Completed in 2000 + Orange Head Study

Over a decade ago, I painted a still life with objects given to me while being apart of an art club. It was a fun idea and it got all of us painting the same items, but with our own interpretations. At the end, we had a group show and everyone could see the other artist's creations and arrangements of the still life objects. The show was called "Still Life in Motion". I did the following painting for it.

22" x  28" oil on board. Completed 2000
I enjoyed being apart of the show as it really got me excited about painting and gave me some creative parameters to work within. I also met some amazing artists and gained some great friends out of the club. As an art teacher, I love these sorts of show ideas and projects because it gets people thinking and creating. The results are typically not quite as important to me as the process and ideas and getting artists together to talk about art and to brainstorm is always fun.

However, in the end, no one bought my painting at the reception (although receptions full of artists tend to result in low sales..haha). I wondered at the time if it was because I bought the grapes from Hobby Lobby and they were plastic and I painted them to look, well, like plastic. Many years later a friend asked me if she could hang it in her church's library. I gave it to her and quickly forgot about it for over a decade.

About 6 months ago, my brother said "Oh, I have a painting for you". I was genuinely interested because I had no idea what he could be referring to. Here comes this painting back into my life again. Apparently there were church renovations going on and the painting no longer had a home. My friend told my brother that she was worried that it might get damaged and wanted to make sure I got it back safely. That is very kind. But when I looked at it now, I thought "YIKES...this is really bad!" Then the next thought was "Oh dear God! I have to take this awful thing home!"

I got great amusement looking at it again. I suppose, at the time, I was just hoping people wouldn't mind the candelabra being uncomfortably cut right down the candle or perhaps that ellipses didn't really have to be painted convincingly. I was also unimpressed with my drapery which was a silky cloth that I just painted so opaquely that it looks more like a heavy bedspread. The candles were not lit because my husband wasn't so sure that I might not burn down the house since I tend to get distracted fairly easily. Hahaha....

I thought to myself  "Great, I can have this painting haunting my studio". Then I realized that it was time for this painting to go, but why would I want to burden a Goodwill with it? Don't I know, deep down that no one else wants this in their home either? So, I took out my painting exercise from awhile ago: The man with the orange background.

16" x 20" color study
So, what would happen if I merged the background of a still life from my former painting life with the explorations of portraiture that I am currently interested in? Wouldn't that be the same as creating interesting texture in the background, just as John suggested? Notice the color study has no interesting texture, although it has better brush handling.

Honestly, the first mark is the hardest. I had to take that still life out of the frame, clean it off, etc. Then I took an enormous amount of cadmium red light mixed with cadmium orange medium and started blocking out the head.

Then there is that moment when you realize that you have completely ruined the 'finished' painting. Now, since I hated it anyways, it started to become fun to get rid of those lame grapes. It was very difficult to paint a portrait over a dark still life without gessoing any of it. But I just kept at it.

Well...after much time and much cadmium can see the results.

Do you think a church would like to hang this one up for another decade or so?