Archive for the ‘art materials’ Category

Artemis – Kristin Krimmel’s drawing course

March 22, 2012

Judith’s mark making exercise

Think about it. Humans are the only animal in the animal kingdom who draw. Children, at a very early age, teach themselves to draw. There is a natural progression of mark-making in a child’s development that is so uniform from one child to another, no matter what culture they come from, that it is possible to know whether a child is developing normally or not, just from their drawings. Left alone, children will continue to draw not only as a pleasurable visual activity, but also to teach themselves motor control and hand-eye coordination. When adults begin to interfere by telling a child to stay within the lines, or by “correcting” the child’s rendition of a rabbit or cat or house, then the child’s mind easily shuts down and diverts from the normal path.

I don’t know how many people I’ve met who have been quashed in their artistic development any where from pre-school to adulthood, and they’ve stopped drawing!

My class, this time,  was composed of  mid-life or older adult students who had not had much instruction in drawing but who had a strong desire to start drawing again.

So of course, we began with some non-threatening exercises, making marks, wiping them off, starting again, erasing with an eraser – as marks, not to correct anything – using vine charcoal which is one of the best, most forgiving drawing materials to work with.   You don’t have a drawing if you don’t have a mark on your paper!

Marks in their infinite variety are what make drawings.

An exercise in placement: Karen’s interpretation

Next I talked about composition. I ask the students to take two colours, to place three shapes of one colour strategically, so that the eye travels over the whole picture plane. Then I ask them to do the same with the second colour. Then alternating, always thinking about what the next shape does to lead the eye around, continuing until the background (the white) comes forward.

Karen discovered in her drawing that if the colour didn’t go right up to the edges, the shapes got lost or “fuzzied”  and often left “ghosts”, those lines of white between the colour and the black line, which were not intended, but happened if one didn’t take care of them. This drawing shows both completely filled in shapes as wel as “ghosted” shapes, since I photographed it before Karen had the opportunity to finish the process of bringing the colour up to the line.

An exercise in placement: Mary’s interpretation

Mary discovered, in her drawing, that when a colour is  more intense, solid or saturated, that it pulls the eye towards it. Her white spaces got lost in the final rendition, but the balance between blues and greens is maintained because the textured places are acting like the white spaces would have. I love this drawing. It’s delicate and strong at the same time. The initial placement of lines gives a completely different flow from Karen’s drawing. Mary lines are more static as they are rectangular, whereas Karen’s flow like waves. But in the end, Marys mark making is so varied and dynamic that her drawing does not remain static. It’s full of life.

Other ideas of composition that we discussed were The Rule of Thirds; one, two and three -point compositions; geometric composition, a Renaissance concept using “Divine Proportions”.  If you want to see information on these concepts, look at these other blog entries:
https://artiseternal.wordpress.com/2008/02/03/snow-photos-compositional-notes/
and
https://artiseternal.wordpress.com/2008/02/16/napkin-sketch-2/
and
https://artiseternal.wordpress.com/2008/03/09/the-rule-of-thirds-another-compositional-concept/
and
https://artiseternal.wordpress.com/2008/04/10/divine-proportions/
and
https://artiseternal.wordpress.com/2008/04/14/musings-on-compostion-in-early-photography/
and
https://artiseternal.wordpress.com/2008/04/15/white-rock-photo/

Judith’s composition of cherry blossoms

The last exercise of the first day was to translate these ideas into a finished drawing that kept in mind all the principles of composition that we discussed.  I  had  a package of various photos for participants to chose from, each of which would adapt easily to the things we had been doing up to this point – strong on mark making, composition pretty much already in place. I allowed for the addition of one colour only of chalk pastel. I ask this of the students so that they are not having to complicate the drawing process by adding the problem of colour choices. That’s a whole other ball of wax!

Lorraine’s image of winter fields is made with a multiple use of sinuous marks creating an overall texture,representing long grasses. Underlying the major shapes is a geometric proportion that helps keep this composition moving in a triangular fashion.

Karen’ composition of two trees in a field of marsh grasses

Karen is an avowed abstractionist. She has emphatically stated that she does not want to  draw objects, so this exercise was contrary to her artistic temperament.  I was delighted to see her tackle this exercise by reducing the photograph to its essential elements.  I love the two simplified trees. It reminds me of Milton Avery’s simplified landscapes. http://www.google.ca/search?q=milton+avery+images&hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=gwo&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=np&prmd=imvnso&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=Tn9rT7uTCo_YiAKUoPy4BQ&ved=0CCkQsAQ&biw=1444&bih=642

It’s hard to see on these small photographs how beautiful some of the mark making in this drawing is.  And, I will add, the participants did not have sufficient time to finish their drawings. These drawings are all mid-process.

Judith’s texture sampler

On the second day of the course, we had a short exercise in texture and pattern.

I can explain texture easily as the visual representation of the feel of a surface – rough, smooth, velvety, stringy, hairy, etc.  Pattern is more difficult to define.  Pattern involves repetition of shape or of repeated similar marks. Think of wallpaper, where there is a repetition of a motif. Or polka dots. Or  fabrics.  Pattern can also be a repetition of texture. Where mark making stops being texture and becomes pattern instead is not critical to define. It’s just part of a continuum.

I asked the participants to divide off the page somehow to make little enclosed spaces. In each one, I directed them to fill the various shapes with such things as parallel lines, cross hatching, organized dots, randomly spaced dots, wiggly lines, etc.

Next, we used a still life as inspiration to draw shapes and work with concepts of positive and negative shapes ending in a balanced composition.

I brought an old Chinese teapot in traditional cobalt blue and white, and a bowl that was similarly designed. I had oranges and apples for the bowl, a lamp, a salt and pepper shaker pair, a square facial tissue box in lime green, and a fan. The objects provided a variety of easily drawn geometric shapes and these needed to be composed using the full drawing paper so that the negative shapes and the positive shapes balanced out.  The drawing had to be made in charcoal only; and when I was satisfied that they had a good composition, then they could add colour with chalk pastel.

We started with some blind drawings – the kind where you keep your eye on the object while your hand follows your eye, drawing in line with charcoal, on the  paper. It’s not only a lessons in eye-hand coordination, but a lesson in observation. The better we observe, the better our drawings become. If we never become famous artists, we will have at least gained the joy of being able to see things more richly.


This drawing of an old kitchen scale and a bottle is Mary’s first attempt at this  type of drawing.  I love it because it is simple and in one fresh line describes the object clearly

Kathleen’s drawing of the big teapot works much on the same principal of one single line defining the shape. It’s an energetic drawing with a flourish.

This drawing is Nona’s. She has taken a lot more time to explore the intricacies of of the weigh-scale, including the embossed patterns on the plate and some of the mechanism that is hidden from view in Mary’s drawing.

Judith’s blind drawing includes some of the pattern, which for a purist, steps out of the boundaries of a blind drawing, because it is not just following the shape of the object. But the resultant drawing is rich and fresh. If you put this in amongst a batch of Matisse drawings, you would have a hard time selecting this one out as “not his”.

Next, using Canson Mi-teinte paper, we started our last exercise of the class, as described above.

Of course, I now had a batch of temperamental artist on my hands, as easy to direct as cats! Yes, some drew the objects I had brought, but others found objects that interested them more than my traditional still life. Hooray for independence! You will see that the results are very interesting and include the tea kettle and teapot that we used during our break; and some glass canning jars that are being used as storage cannisters.

This is Karen’s drawing, with the handle of the teapot and the cord of the kettle doing a great task of leading the eye through the composition. It is modernist in subject matter, finding beauty in daily objects – taps, kettles, mugs, and the stainless steel sink.

Lorraine’s drawing brings the eye in delicately on the upper left with the daffodil blooms and stems; then lower, there is another entry leading to the centre of the image with the tissue box. The vase provides a good strong vertical force to counteract the strong shadow forms going horizontally. It’s sitting in the left hand “third” of the drawing.

The top line of the black mass, mid picture plane, takes a meandering walk across the page, sometimes going up, sometimes down, so that the eye stays interested in the picture; and the bowl with its pattern and orange fruit makes a good stopping point to keep the eye looking at the image.

Mary’s drawing of the storage jars and the tissue box  divide up the page nicely. She has started this drawing with a “blind” drawing, carefully searching out the form, and then looking for the shadows that help attach the forms to the page while breaking up the space around the jars. It is in harmonious tonal balance with mid tones, white and dark all having about equal activity in the picture. The two strong black masses (the shadow from the box and the top of the box) do not overwhelm because there is a strong thick line at the base of the jar which pulls the eye to the right hand side.  With the round shapes – the lids and the glass jar bottoms, echoed by the shadows – this drawing has a nice circular flow to it. It’s a very good composition.

I liked the development of Nona’s drawing, too. It’s a simplified line drawing to begin with, then the placement of shadows and the basic light/dark  values complete a good, solid composition; and then the addition of colour and detail draws the eye to the part of the image that interests Nona the most.

I particularly like the traceries of light colour produced by erasing back through the charcoal shadow in the foreground, and the sensitivity that Nona brought to the coloured fruit and the bowl decoration.

It was a fun class and everyone went home feeling they had learned some new things to work with.

If you are interested in taking some courses in a super studio location, contact Artemis Gallery in Deep Cove, just east of North Vancouver.

http://artemisinthecove.wordpress.com/

Advertisements

Jim Gislason

March 12, 2010

Diva, Jim Gislason, Oil on mesh pinned to canvas

About three months ago, I had dropped in unexpectedly at the Elliott Louis Gallery hoping to see the gallery owner Ted Lederer.  He wasn’t there and his able assistant, saying he might arrive any moment, began to distract me with some of the latest work in the gallery.

It was the first time I had heard of Jim Gislason and ergo, the first I had seen his creations.  She explained his technique whereby he prepares a photomontage of images which he then translates into a photo transfer on emulsive film for silk screening, and then he proceeds to force oil paint through the developed silk-screen. It’s a labour intensive process and it requires a complete fore-knowledge of the final image because, at the point in the process that the oil paint is being pushed through the silk screen material, all has to be done at once.

Since he has differing depths of extruded paint coming through, he needs to know exactly at what place he is pushing through with which colour and a fairly precise amount of paint. That’s all rather technical, so of course I was impressed at the complexity of it. Nevertheless, if the process isn’t in tandem with some meaning, then it’s futile to try to impress someone with the number of layers of paint or the hours it takes to dry.

Detail of paint extrusion. Note the icon of Thor’s hammer from the painting Reveille, J. Gislason

Details of paint extrusion and paint manipulation, glazing etc.

At that time, there were only a few of Gislason’s works and I found them quite engaging. I had to refrain from touching them, they were so tactile, yet every inch of each of the works had something more going on in them. The texture was made up of a lexicon of printers’ symbols mixed with new icons made by Gislason himself. He photographs images he wants to use and then reduces them to a size of the printer’s symbols, mixing up the ready made with his home-digitally-made new symbols, and creates a large mass of them.

From far away, the image looks quite serene – large abstract shapes that glow with colours vibrating against each other, which are filled with details on closer inspection.

So are these paintings or are they silk screen prints?

If they must be classified, I’d put them with the former category. They are, after all, made with oil paints, not silk screen inks. Secondly, there is only one image made each time through the prepared silkscreen, thoroughly dried, touched up with more painting on the surface  and then it is removed from its stretcher bars and the screen with its extruded image and additions of paint  are pinned to its canvas lined exhibition frame.

Framing detail, mesh pinned to canvas

When finally the gallery owner came in that day, I was scrutinizing one of these works and was somewhat reluctant to withdraw from the process of inspecting the details of the imagery. After we had talked, he sent me home with his only copy of a printmaking anthology in which Gislason’s work figures along with an explanation of his ideology. Not only is Gislason an artist but he is a wordsmith as well.  His poems are sometimes part of the imagery and sometimes published beside the work of art.

Last week, the e-mail invitation came announcing Jim Gislason’s latest show and the opening reception and I noted it in my day-book. Not long after, I had a separate e-mail from Ted saying, “If there is only one exhibition you come into town for this year, make it this one. No kidding!”

Fortunately, I had Thursday March 11th available and it was a perfect opportunity to do a bit of gallery hopping with my sister who is in town from Rossland for her first solo show.  I had no hesitation. In fact, I made sure we were there a half an hour early so that we could see the show clearly without others to interfere in either our concentration nor our enjoyment of the imagery.

As guests arrived, Ted came by to say Jim Gislason would be arriving shortly and I just had to meet him. When the two of us met, there was a momentary awkward pause when Ted disappeared.  Jim had no idea who I was and though I had become familiar with his paintings I didn’t know what to expect either.

I explained myself – my admiration for his work  and my desire to write about  artists I appreciated so that good work  could become  more widely known. I talked about the layers of meaning that I was discovering in his paintings. He expressed his concern that people would only focus on the technique and not get the messages built into the work.

Work on paper, Jim Gislason from an earlier series. Note the chevron pattern that occurs here in black and white on the left and in grey and white on the right. This pattern recurs in different colours in many of his paintings.

Although there are a few pieces from earlier series,  the greater part of this Gislason  show is themed, Kings and Queens. In each of the newer images, he represents historical faces of either a king or a queen. The kings and queens, he says, are not mythical people or heads of state, but ourselves, living to the greatest of our potential.

The refusal of Charon, Jim Gislason, Oil on mesh pinned to canvas

He has a strong belief in spirituality gained from wide reading and experience in several religious philosophies, Buddhism being the one that more prominently underpins his work.  I asked about one cross-like symbol, but it was, he explained, Thor’s hammer, or a Mjollnir.  The Longships I and II represent a square-sailed Viking vessel.

Longship II, Jim Gislason, Oil on mesh pinned to canvas

I had to look up the reference to Thor’s hammer later as I was unfamiliar with this – so I am providing this quote from Wikipedia:

  • The Prose Edda gives a summary of Mjöllnir’s special qualities in that, with Mjöllnir, Thor: … would be able to strike as firmly as he wanted, whatever his aim, and the hammer would never fail, and if he threw it at something, it would never miss and never fly so far from his hand that it would not find its way back, and when he wanted, it would be so small that it could be carried inside his tunic.[1]

Besides the spiritual aspect, his references are drawn from various iconography – hand lettering print type, the graphic arts, Egyptian and Greek art, modern day traffic symbols, map making and historical painting references, to name just a few.

Shadow Throne, Jim Gislason Oil on mesh pinned to canvas

For instance, in Shadow Throne, from afar, the figure appears to be dressed in a medieval garment with hoops holding the dress out widely from the body. It is, in fact, derived in shape from Velasquez’s Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain.  Up close, though, the panels of the dress are fashioned from antique half- maps of the globe and other cartographic references,  adding depth and richness to the overall imagery.

Detail from Shadow Throne, Jim Gislason

When I was speaking with Jim Gislason, I realized that it would take along time to delve into all the references he uses.  We discussed this briefly. Though it would enrich my appreciation of his work to know what was embedded in the work, at some point, when the artist lets go of his work, i.e., he shows it to the world, then he must let go all the particulars that he has put into it. Viewers come with their own experiences and knowledge. What may  resonate in their minds may not be at all what the artist intended but that does not diminish the work and may in many instances enhance their appreciation.

Medallion, Jim Gislason, oil on mesh pinned to canvas

Detail from Medallion

This is a show worthy of a good long look. Each time one of Gislason’s pieces is revisited, more is found in it, whether be the connections between the numerous symbols used or an appreciation of the paint texture with its glazes and tactile richness, the added elements collaged in or one of his poems that might clarify the image or conversely add some new mystery to it.

In the end, while I marveled at the technique, the focus on that aspect of them quickly gave way to the intricacy of the imagery and the overall abstraction of them.  My favorite paintings are the ones where I can’t figure out how they were made (even though I’ve been told) and there is a mystery in the content. I’ve added these to my favorite list for sure!

The show is on until April 24th at the Elliott Louis Gallery at 248 East 1st Avenue in Vancouver, B.C.

http://www.elliottlouis.com/

Doin’ the digger

January 14, 2010

I’m on a roll!

Paint is flowing!

I’m back doing my construction work.

Here’s a series of images that culminate in my most recent work. I must say that I’m not 100% sure it’s finished. I’ll have to let it sit for a while, but on the other hand, what I have been waiting for has occurred.

I’ve been waiting for a flow of ideas to come. I’ve been waiting for that blessed artistic state where one idea builds on another, where the ideas come as I am painting. I can’t say that they are tumbling out, but at least they are coming faster than I can get them down on canvas, and I’m preparing canvases during drying time so that there will be another one ready for the next image.

This first image is the underpainting with painter’s tape masking the edges. It helps get sharp lines when you are a traditionally messy painter.That’s the prep stage.

First painting stage,

I’ve established the two positive colours and shapes geometrically. Some of this is painted in masked areas, but the black circles, I didn’t have the patience or maybe the ability, to cut a perfect circle, so I just painted it free hand, if you can call it that when you painstakingly try to ensure you do not go outside the lines. Talk about colouring book technique!

And then, third stage, I take off all the tape and see about the balance. Essentially I have composed this image relying on the spatial relationship theory of composition but I’ve also very faintly lined up the geometric relationships as well and have taken some of the key lines into consideration when I considered placement of the geometric figures.

Like those puzzles where you connect the dots, your imagination can make synaptic leaps to reconstruct the digger. It has all the essential elements. But I’m not sure that I want a yellow background in this. I’d prefer a neutral grey – a light one. So I went about trying to mix a large quantity of the neutral grey dark that I used in the previous painting which focused on shapes.

Impossible. In some additions of paint, it looks green, in others it looks brown. I add a bit of this, a bit of that. It’s not working. Finally I decide to go with what I’ve got. I add a lump of yellow ochre to warm it up and it’s not bad. Not perfect, but acceptably neutral.

I start to paint and a funny thing starts to happen. As I am painting, getting up close to the red, the paint colour perceived as neutral starts to become an eye popping lime green. I can hardly paint as the effect of simultaneous contrast starts to play. I get this halo shimmering on the edge, and I can no longer see where the edge is as the eye refuses to compute the two adjacent colours together.

I must say this is probably the hardest painting I’ve done since, as I’m painting, the edges are starting to move. And no, I haven’t eaten anything funny! It’s difficult and amusing at the same time.

I’m tempted to keep the yellow underpainting in some spots and then decide that I will complete the grey background throughout.

By evening, I have covered the entire painting in the grey, leaving only these red and black shapes of the digger, but it’s not even. I was hoping to escape having to mask off all my red and black shapes, but I’m out of luck. When I simply paint around without the mask, I get these halos of scumbled paint.

Scumbling is a method of using your brush on its side with the flat of the bristles, not the point, which de facto give you a textured, messy kind of texture also called scumbling.

I get a call from Mrs. Stepford to come over with the new creation and I go, toting a big green plastic bag with the painting in it and a book on mandalas that I got in some second hand or thrift store. I’m going to give it to Mrs. Stepford because she has just created a school program for all grades that is based on making mandalas. The green plastic bag is a necessity because it’s Wet Coast pouring rain.

Her two painting students are there on the point of leaving,  and Mr. Stepford is hanging in there, signing off his latest stunning photograph which he is giving to the two women.  Mrs.  commands me to bring out the new painting and we all discuss its merits.

I make apology for the scumbling and the halos, but both Mr. and Mrs. rave over the scumbling.
“Dont change a thing!” she exhorts. “I agree!” adds Mr. Stepford. They like the texture and think it would not be improved if I flattened the background to a single tone and hue.

I promise to put it away for a few weeks before I do anything more to it. I had another vision in mind, but I can still try my other vision on another canvas and keep this one.

So here it is at its final stage (for now).

Hitachi Digger – painting progress

January 11, 2010

Hitachi (variation 1, shape), acrylic, 16 x 20 inches

Every little change becomes an artistic decision.

The Hitachi digger has been up on my wall in all its garish glory, an intense cerulean sky, a cadmium red light digger cut with some cad yellow. It’s eye-popping.  It’s an under-painting.  It’s too hard on the eyes with the simultaneous contrast operating at full force, But where to go next with it? What did I want to do with this one when I set out? After several months, I’m still stuck, looking at this rather blatant drawing in colour, not knowing what to do.

Every change in colour shifts the balance, creates new values of weight.

When the gallery dealer came, he had some wry comment about it, then praised the one in greys for its subtleties. Has this influenced my decision to add some grey? And if some grey, then how shall I mix that grey?

I pulled out my painting supplies that had been hidden under the studio table and set up to work in acrylics again. Everything had been put away for the Christmas festivities.

I’ve accumulated some supplies from garage sales and demos at economical cost. The tubes need to be used up; so I started with a Stevenson’s Burnt Sienna and some Manganese Blue but the mixture turns out looking too green a grey. Greys are the hardest to mix because they are so affected by the colour you put them beside.  I had a lump of left-over white from my palette the last time I painted which I kept in a tiny jam jar with a skim of water for just this kind of mixing.
If you put a neutral grey beside some red paint, it will take on a green cast; and if you put a neutral  grey beside blue paint, it will take on a yellow cast to it; so the mixing has to take this into account. It alway takes on the  cast of the  colour opposite from  it on the colour wheel. It may look perfect on the palette, but you place it beside something else and the colour shifts!

Armed with this grey mixture, and lots of it – one doesn’t want to run out mid way and have to remix some paint; it would be impossible to match –  I painted in some of the digger parts in dark grey trying to maintain the fine red lines that were the first definitions on this image of the location of the various parts of the machine.

Here it is with the first grey put in.  It has become heavier at the bottom with the grey and not the ochre. It was insubstantial, floating in the air before, and now it is grounded.

I had to chastise myself as I started to make this painting more and more realistic. I struggled against my own nature when I force myself to abandon the detail and search for the major shapes. I was tempted to use all four colours and then realized that I was tripping down the realism path again. The only purpose of the yellow undercoat is to warm the painting from below.  In the end, I used the three major colours and ended up with this.

Then I went over to Mrs. Stepford’s for a second opinion.  She’s a real treat because she can put words to my paintings that I never thought of and then my paintings sound so brainy, somehow. It’s gratifying and I learn something about myself and my painting and visual thought habits

We discussed the ambiguity of the sky colour and the lack of a definite ground or horizon line. We discussed the weight of the dark colour massing at the bottom and whether or not it adversely affected the overall imagery. I went home to struggle with it a bit more.

Paintings are difficult beasts. Especially pre-meditated ones. Everything has to work together at the the same time

One of my wandering thoughts was “why do I say that I want to do fresher looking paintings, more direct and then keep on tidying up everything until it no longer looks free but belaboured”.  What is the fine line between free and sloppy? What is the defining criteria between child-like and childish? How far can one push it before realism becomes interpretation? Or becomes abstraction? I was plowing through the borders of these things without any answers.

I was remembering one of the very elegantly painted works of Kai Althoff whom I wrote about quite some time back. One of the paintings had this simplicity of shape, but his paint was impeccably even and his lines were equally wide throughout. It seemed almost as if it had been printed, but it wasn’t. It was hand done, but so perfect. Mine’s not perfect. The lines are varying in width and sometimes thickly, sometimes thinly painted. They vary from deep cadmium red to cadmium yellow. Could I just leave it like that?

My shape colours are not flat and even. I’ve allowed the underpainting to show through. I like that because it gives a bit of texture and the paint sometimes glows with the undercolour peeking through. And yes, I can do that. To leave it thus is an artistic decision.

And this is where I have left it. I’ll sit with this version now and see in a week or two if I can live with the work as it is, to date.

Next, I start with this underpainting and second draft of a visual idea.

It’s about metamorphosis. I found that the digger looked quite like a heron with a long red beak and the cables much like river grasses. At this stage, the colours are too flat, too transparent, too much like first draft. There’s no refinement.

I worked at building up the reds, giving the breast of the bird a better shape through modeling it in different tones of red and yellow and this grey which is left over from the previous painting.

I think it’s important to carry over colours or use a limited palette. It ties a group of paintings together.

There is an unfortunate shape  of red behind the Red Crested Digger. It was originally from the cab shape of the digger. Now I want to obliterate it. In doing so, I lose all traces of warmth coming from the underpainting, and the cerulean blue mix that I use to overpaint is a shift from the previous cerulean and titanium white. The whole sky has to be repainted, otherwise the patch will stick out like a sore thumb, but it’s a good trade-off for the overall compositions of the painting. I’m pleased with that change.

And now, the series is beginning to come clear to me. In each painting I am exploring not only the visual reality of the digger but the abstract qualities that drew me to it. And from that, there are new ideas coming to me. This one is about metamorphosis and in graffiti like letters, I spell out that clue in the foreground while the Hitachi graffiti graces the cerulean sky. These markings provide balance. In the final version, below, I have added  red into letters of the grey foreground.  It helps pull the eye into the remainder of the picture and brings more warmth into the image.

It has already given me an idea, even more abstact for the next stage – not on this painting. It’s done. I’m ready to start a new one!

A game plan and some heart work

October 28, 2009

Crossed small

I have been grouching about my painter’s block – my inability to get going on something free and meaningful (to me at least).

Yesterday I began with two drawings in chalk pastel on good paper. The advantage is that not much is lost if it doesn’t work out – the materials are expensive alright, but relatively, a way less than the commitment of materials in oil or watercolour.

Yesterday I accomplished these two drawings. The game plan? Use up some bits and pieces of chalks that were too small to use for a big project, and; work as freely as possible to obtain fresh original mark making.
I have a continuing theme of hearts in my art work. I’ve done them when I have been out of sorts and when I am elated. Each one is intended to convey some state of emotional spirit.

Of course, I don’t do this without other aesthetic considerations operating in the background. I’m sensitive to finding colours that go together and finding movement in the work that will engage a viewer who is interested in the drawing process.

The first that I produced is up above and the second is here:

Far too pretty small

By the time I had finished the drawing yesterday, I felt the work was without substance. The colours went together alright, but they were a bit saccharine and the image too explicit. In the morning when I looked at it again, I thought it was still too pretty, too sweet, and the drawing lacked any depth of colour or tone. It wasn’t worth keeping, as is, so I thought I would just continue on – writing Far too calm, Far too pretty on it. That was my critical feeling about it, so it was fair game to continue on with some text over the insufficient image.

My internal jury is still out on this piece.

Then I went about cleaning up my little tray of  chalk pastels. It must have been sitting in the sun during the summer. Two cough candies had melted in one section and the whole thing needed cleaning out.  I set aside the pieces of chalk that were viable for a bigger project and took the ends and crumbles to work with.

I started on a different kind of paper. The first was Ingres paper and the second was a bit of Canson’s Mi-teint.  On the half sheet, I took some larger crumbs of red and put them under my thumb, moving them around freely, not trying to obtain a shape. I did this with about three different hues.

Just by the rotational movement there were some marks that could be pulled into heart shape, but I didn’t want to impose that shape. It defeats the purpose of working freely and seeing what comes. Along the way, I was unsatisfied with the lack of tonal contrast and I wanted to cover over any obvious shapes, so I chose a light tone – a pink – to draw wider, more gestural strokes. The result helped give tonal contrast and an added benefit that the marks resulted in a figure-like form that appears to be dancing. Had I tried to draw a dancing figure, it would have been stilted and awkward.  This figure carries a feeling of joy with it and the freedom of the marks gives the drawing a lot of movement.

So for all that verbiage, here’s the image:

Dancing small

On the full size sheet, I started by the same process, using crumbs under my thumb.  It was a large format and demanded more attention to where the marks were going.  I’m afraid this one came out too sweetly too. It’s lacking some rigor, but I thought it good enough to leave as is until I can decide whether or not to add or subtract or cover over.  Unlike the green one which was pallid at this stage, this one has some stand-alone quality. I’m not ready to do anything to it yet.

Joy small

I think I’m not fully happy with it because I’m repeating myself with mark making that I’ve done many times before and the hope of this exercise was to get me out of rut. I distrust work that is too facile.

Then I cleaned out the tray, washed it up and saved the powders and crumbs, whatever colours they were, for another drawing. It turned out to serve me well for three drawings, actually. They are very similar.  I like the mark making in this one. I used all five fingers of both hands to move the crumbs around.

There are parts that are crisp and sharp, others that are smooth and blended. Whatever was left over from the first image was placed onto the next sheet of paper and I recommenced. And so, the same for the third piece.

They aren’t strong enough in themselves but there is a lovely fresh quality to these three; and although I did nothing to control the colours I would get, there are some interesting colour passages. I’m only sorry that I didn’t take the time to go downstairs but instead grabbed the closest paper at hand, some Pacan paper which is like cartidge paper and is not strong, nor it  likely to be acid free. I could find no information on this paper on the Internet.  It’s a great paper for student work and for rough drawings.

heart 12 small heart 13 small

heart 12 small

So that’s it. That’s the fruits of my experimenting. I like this last one the best. Now will I be able to reproduce a feeling like this of freedom in another drawing, what ever the subject may be. I must try it with different colours. The pinks are still just a bit too sweet.

Sonja Kobrehel – an artist and a game plan

October 12, 2009

zz 196 small

Lately, time has been flying by. With all good intentions, I took several pictures of Sonja Kobrehel’s work at the University Women’s Club, Vancouver at Hycroft way back in February or March.  The pictures have sat in my picture files since and every time I look at them, I am reminded that I wanted to say a few words in support of her exhibition. The exhibition is over, so I’m too late for that.

It’s never too late, though, to bring that attention of a good artist to my readership. Kobrehel’s work is so colourful and light.

As I was minutely looking at her work during the exhibition, one of my friends came by and said, “I don’t really understand what one sees in this kind of art,” which stunned me. It really shocked me, I think, because I was feeling such  joyousness from looking at it. It reinforced for me a)  that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and b) my art education has been so profound and lifelong  that I see things differently from other people. Sometimes the abstract is unreadable by the uninitiated.

“Why is this work important?” my friend continued. I promised to explain it one day, and perhaps that is what I am trying to do here today.

What attracts me to them is her use of colour and symbols. I went back to her web site:

http://www.sonjakobrehel.com/index.html

That daunted me a bit. I read the accolades and explanations that she already has garnered and I realized that I couldn’t speak to her work on that basis. At least, what had already been written there was more eloquently written than I could, not knowing about her Eastern European background and the iconography, the symbols with which she creates her images. So I encourage you to go there and read about it.

I’m going to shift gear here, so bear with me.

I often have discussions with Mrs. Stepford next door. She is also an artist and she has a fine analytical mind about contemporary art. She was trying to pin down why she likes my dabblings and why she appreciates what I do as an artist.  I just do it, and have the hardest time coming up with a spiel about it that makes it intelligible to other.

She said something like this – that I devise my own game plan and then go about making endless variations on the elements that I have chosen to work with. That I come up with so many variations that sometimes don’t seem to be cohesively connected and then become visible when a whole body of work is seen together amazes her.

So, back to Kobrehel:

zz 198 small

On an imagery level, what I like is that she uses a set of icons, visual elements, that she plays with from painting to painting, arranging them in various compositions, changing their sizes and therefore their importance in one setting as compared to the next in which it might have a much diminished importance, but another takes on a greater power. In other words, she plays with them in unending variation.

The ability to work in series with similar icons or images is an important attribute. It shows that the artist is not randomly daubing paint to canvas but has a purpose, a message that bears working with.

The next reason that I find her work fascinating is that  she is working with images that are not familiar to me and at the same time, there is some archetypal pull, some feeling that in the human experience, the symbols belong to Everyman. There are circles and egg shapes, a fool’s hat, a cross and hook, half-moons, hearts, birds, teapots, ladders. Some are commonly understood, some are esoteric, and according to the web-site, Egyptian or Eastern religious symbols. They are used out of context. That is, the egg is not in a usual egg situation. Ditto for the moon, the hearts, the teapots and the ladders.

What this accomplishes is an image with mysteriousness. Why are these symbols placed one against the other? Do they have a significance? Or, do they add up in a symbiotic whole to a feeling, a sentiment of nostalgia or of well-being, gladness, wistfulness or comfort? It is the ambiguity that draws me in, trying to come to an inner sense for me, of the work that I am looking at.  Ambiguity, for me is a strong attribute of paintings.

I don’t want to be told everything. It’s why I am most often uncomfortable with Realism. Everything is spelled out. It only takes a minute or two to “get the picture”.  The technique of copying nature onto a canvas may be admirable, but it’s just one element in the artists arsenal of weapons.  With Kobrehel’s work, I don’t immediately “get the picture” (and may never ultimately do so) and so it’s interesting to figure out why my initial reaction was to love it. It engages me. It makes me think, not just rationally, but emotionally too.

And when the emotional and rational evaluation of the image is done, I see that, on a technical plane, Kobrehel’s work is also fascinating.

She seems to compose chiefly on the “spatial relationship” method of composition, although the other methods are working too. It’s one of my favourites of all the compositional methods  and by far the most abstract of compositional ideas. The icons are placed about the picture plane to draw the eye around. In one, for instance, there are three objects in the colour red on a largely beige coloured canvas. They act as an implied triangle that leads one’s eye around. Then there are three other objects in a different colour, also acting as a triangle, pulling one’s eyes away from the first, so that the eye travels around and around within the entire image, comfortably being able to stop at this icon or that for closer inspection.

Where large rectangular blocks of colour make up the background of a painting, she understands the visual weight of each and adjusts the size of the shapes accordingly so that the  shapes are in balance.

For an artist (me)  who is familiar with these principles of colour weights, the manipulation of shapes to create balance or imbalance, compositional considerations, these paintings are full of richness underneath the apparent imagery. It’s as if Kobrehel is more concerned with these than the actual icons.

The last thing I am going to mention is technical quality of paint handling.

Kobrehel paints with a build-up of layers with each layer contributing to the final surface quality. It provides a richness of colour, a depth, even if the   colour on initial view looks, for instance, red. That red may have yellows and oranges and cream colours underneath that alter the final quality of the block of redness. It’s not flat.

The colours are fresh and lively. This may seem simple, but it’s not. Too often, colours are overmixed and become as a result rather muddy-looking. Kobrehel’s are clean and light. It’s that quality of colour mixing that keeps these images fresh and happy. Kobrehel also knows her colour mixing so well that one colour never jars against another.  It’s so easy for an amateur to put a lime green against a red, but it will clash and blare like a ill tuned trumpet. When Kobrehel does this, though, the colours sit together like sensitive lovers. They are individual and opposite, but they marry comfortably and easily. This is no mean feat.

The quality of the drawing is also fresh. There seems no hesitation in the markings, but that does not make them simple. The forms, the fool’s hat, for instance, is lightly rounded on the edges giving it a three-dimensional quality. The shadows lurking behind these objects serve to lift them off the page in an optical illusion. The icons live. They pop off the surface and tempt you to touch the canvas just ot make sure they aren’t really trying to escape.

Kobrehel is an adult who has been able to recapture that childlike ability to create her own symbols and express them as a private language. I find her work fascinating to look at.

zz 202 small

I hope this will explain to my skeptic friend and give her something to think about when next she comes in view of a work of art that is more difficult to perceive on first view.

So thank you, Sonja Kobrehel, for making my day – not just in February when I  saw the real thing, but today, as I look at it all again and am delighted by what I see.

At the lake

September 11, 2009

Shuswap - Beach playpen small

I’ve been away for a two week holiday to Shuswap Lake. Our cabin is a time-share one, on lake shore.

In other years, we’ve gone on hikes through second growth forest that haven’t been touched since the early settlers logged it off. Trees are about a hundred years old, and the moss forms a thick blanket over the debris and windfall that has fallen to the forest floor.

Another beautiful trail that we’ve hiked is up one side of a raging river and, after crossing a small wooden bridge,  back down the other. It’s about a four kilometer hike in all, with seven cascades or waterfalls along the way, each as beautiful as the next.

Although I had worked hard at the gym all year to be able to walk these trails again, about a month ago, I pulled a tendon in my knee which still hasn’t healed and so I couldn’t walk anywhere except on the flat. With foresight, I had my painting kit and I took it almost daily to the beach to draw the children playing, the adults lounging, the dogs leaping and cavorting in and out of the water.

I discovered that Art is a hard taskmistress. She doesn’t forgive if you haven’t kept up your skills. My first attempts at figure drawing were disastrous but they improved over the two weeks.

Also, I brought four kinds of paper with me to try.  I’m a firm believer in Arches and prefer the rough texture, coldpress.  I tried their smooth watercolour paper, hot press and found it interesting to work with, much more controllable than I thought it would be. I also had some Legion paper which I have used before, also a smoother paper than the Arches rough. I find it not quite as easy to use. The fourth paper was aa coil-bound Strathmore recycled drawing paper which I used mostly for drawing with a broad graphite stick. I’ll show some of those drawings in a separate blog.

Here are the results:

Shuswap girl w red bikini small

And this wasn’t even the worst one – but after a while, I found this drawing amusing and I like it now. It’s cartoon-like.  I’m going to have to go back to figure drawing this fall.

Shuswap yellow life jacket 2 small

Yellow life jackets small

So these reconciled me with my ability to draw; but they are really small, these are about 4 inches square. If only I could regain this liberty in larger format!

Shuswap red beach blanket small

Shuswap - Beach playpen small

The colourful structure there in the middle is a beach playpen for infants! There were lots of those folding metal tube chairs and I found the patterns of them fascinating. This one was fun for its bright cotton-candy colours.

Shuswap Bathers and Dog 5 x 10 small

but I like the fluidity of this painting much better; and I like the chairs much better. This is that smooth paper and the paints settle differently than the rough. It’s not better or worse, just different – and something I will have to get used to managing, if I continue on with hot press paper.

Shuswap - Pine trees 7x19 small

We took a picnic lunch to the Provincial park which was about a mile up the road. After lunch, my younger sister and I stayed to paint while my older sister and her husband went off exploring by car down the 30 kilometer road to Seymour Inlet.

I used the smooth paper again, and limited myself to a big hogs hair brush to keep myself from getting too fussy. It’s an interesting challenge. At the end, I couldn’t get the effect of the bare branches with my big brush, so I gave in and used a large Kolinsky martin brush with a fine tip to sketch those in. The jury is out on this painting. I haven’t decided whether or not I like it.

Shuswap - Smoke from the Sorrento fire 7x10 small

I used smooth Arches watercolour paper for this. The smoke from the two major forest fires across the lake created fog-like conditions where the trees get cut out in layers. On a clear day, this grouping of trees blends in with the rest of the forest and they are completely unnoticeable.

I tried it again on a different paper and here is the result:

Shuswap  Smoky lake 2009 10x14 small

This one is on Legion paper. It has a blotter quality and absorbs the paint a bit too quickly. But I like the results of both. Because of the smoke, the sky was almost a peachy grey. It was very curious – and hard to mix, but this colour is really accurate for what I saw.

Shuswap - Smoke from the Sorrento fire 10 x 14 small

This is a 10 x 14 inch painting of the smoke welling up from the fire across the lake like a humungous storm cloud.

Shuswap -Cloud at end of lake 10x14 small

And here is the end of the lake after all the smoke had cleared. I don’t think this one is successful. I don’t like how the paint settled but I rather like the sky.

Shuswap lake 2009 7x10 small

And this one is the same view of the end of the lake, on the smooth watercolour paper. Again, I’m not crazy about how the paint settles and I’m still working with  it.  (It’s the journey not the destination that is important, right?)

Shuswap Banana boat 7x10 small

And then the kids had these inflatable boats that looked like bananas!

Shuswap Bathers sketches 7x10 small

This is the last one. I did it before I did all the others, above. It’s a warm up on the smooth paper and these are all fitted into a 7 x 10 piece of paper. Sketches, really.

And that’s all there is!  … in the watercolour category, anyway.

Plein air

July 28, 2009

x 045 small

I was invited to join the local art club’s plein air paint-out today and I accepted. It was in Florence’s back yard – the two acre parcel of the total seven that has been developed with house, Florence’s studio. a green house,  and orchard. It’s very beautiful; very out-in-the country-like. It’s what I remember of my great-aunt’s place before they totally redeveloped White Rock. The house is 1960’s modern, though. It’s a Frank Lloyd Wright type of house, close to the ground, single level blending into the landscape as if it had always been there.

The sad thing is that Florence is now in her eighties; her husband died last year. Her adult children are convinced she must move.  She admits that she can’t manage a seven acre place herself. Her offspring are building her a new place in West Vancouver.

She sighed with little-accepted resignation. “It’s not just the house. It’s thirty years of memories and more. It’s all of my studio, the paintings, the books, the materials. It all has to go.”

I got thinking on the fragility of life, the fugitivity. What is left after a lifetime of work, of raising children, of keeping house and keeping family history alive, of painting and creating?  In the end, you can’t take it with you. But in the meantime, when you are trying to clear it up, what do you do with it? It becomes a problem.

It strikes home. I’ve been working in the last month or so, giving a concerted effort to recycling various things that I’ve inherited that I don’t particularly want to keep. Last week, I found a box of father’s writings. I can’t read them. They’re all in Engineering language. I don’t understand it’s content nor do I have any sense of the importance of it. I think I will call the University and ask them if they want to keep them. The other members of the family aren’t interested; and amongst the younger generation, there is no one likely to develop an interest for them, even later in life.

The thing with plein air or outdoors painting, is that you have to bring everything with you – paints, palette, table, chair, drawing or watercolour pads. I had forgotten a table but I had a cooler in the car which I up-ended and used for one.  The lid of it I used to set my art bag and camera on since the grass was heavily laced with dew still.

I picked a landscape to transfer to my watercolour paper and then  settled myself into my transportable folding chair. The landscape photo, above, is what I chose to paint. Here’s what resulted from my endeavours:

Chez Florence Arches small

While I waited for the first wash to dry, I got out that pad of Yupo “paper” that I experimented with some months back. It’s a slippery paper and if it doesn’t sit absolutely straight as it dries, then the paint goes southwards and loses all its definition. Control-oriented as I am, this is not a comfortable thing for me, but I”m not going to waste the paper, so this was a good opportunity to see if I could get anything with it today.

Here’s the Yupo solution:

Chez Florence Yupo  small

I tried some photoshop adjustments that were not successful. It’s not quite as garish as it looks here.  The blue is less metallic looking, but the yellow is as yellow as what the finished work looks like.

I felt that in neither drawing had I got the branch arrangements right so I went back and did a pen drawing. There was an implied heart shape to it that I felt I did not capture in the watercolour paintings.

Here’s the pen drawings”

chez florence ink drawing

And here I’ve pinked in the implied heart shape:

chez florence ink drawing w colour

In all, I must have had two hours to do all this . Shortly after two, I headed back for home. When I went to get in the car, I burnt my hand on the metal, it was so hot out. Heat gathered all day and in the end I believe I heard 37 degrees was the highest it got.

It’s cooler out now, at half past midnight. It’s so hot nobody wants to do anything. I have the fan on and have reduced the heat in the house by one degree, but it’s not going any lower. Tomorrow will be another scorcher.

Sketching on site

July 24, 2009

20090723 sketch 1

Swatch encouraged me to paint on location. It’s too much equipment for me to carry when the prime purpose of my walk is to walk briskly to get my cardio exercise.

It was an overcast day today, the temperature was in the mid-twenties. I thought I would have no need for a camera and instead I could take  a pocket sketchbook about the size a small Moleskine along with me today. My drawing implement was a Pilot H-Tecpoint V5 Extra fine permanent ink pen – much like the old Staedler technical pens. I stopped a few times along the way, trying to get the rhythm of the place I did a memory drawing of (see last post). I stopped at the chicken feeding spot, too.

Here’s what I sketched. Maybe I’ll colour them in tomorrow.

20090723 sketch 2 20090723 sketch 3

20090723 sketch 4

20090723 sketch 5

The sun came out late in my walk and I regretted not having the camera with me. One of the farms looked so beautiful in the late afternoon sun. The roof took on a reddish colour, more like old rose and it sat there with this soft colour contrasting so beautifully with the freshly mown hay surrounding it. They hay will be picked up tomorrow, I think.

I also saw a family of five in a canoe, each wearing an orange life jacket; and the boat was cadmium red, light. It just looked so beautiful and so peaceful, moving up river, this bright vibrant red and orange, gliding low-down between the narrow gap of the river, the water looking green and the tall river grasses too, but lighter. Yellower.  It would have made a beautiful painting.

And here’s a thought for the day quoted out of the book I’m reading (which I don’t recommend, so far) called Restoration by Rose Tremain. (Penguin Books, 1989).  A foppish, useless rich young man is taking painting lessons. His painting teacher tells him,

“… a picture must be composed so that no part of it is “dead”, so that wherever the eye wanders, there is interest, whether it is in the detail o the hilt of a sword or a minutely rendered rowing boat on a distant Arcadian shore. ”

The young painter goes on to say, “We furthermore approached the question of distance and perspective: how hills, for instance, which are further away will seem paler and less well defined than those which are near, and how the sitter’s nearness and vigour will be emphasised if he or she inhabits a pool of light.”

Just a tidbit to think about.  Certainly good advice for traditional paintings. The rules have changed so much in modern day painting and drawing, that the foregoing would only be one of several comcepts on composing images today.

Painting from Memory 2

July 20, 2009

I went walking early again today. Same place, on the Alouette Dikes. Nothing has changed. The temperature is steady around 25 degrees for an hour and then it heats up. When it does, I refuge myself indoors.

I took another good look at the bridge. It’s a tough composition because the bridge is such a driving horizontal force without a break that it tends to drive the eye right out of the picture. It’s only the surrounding shubbery that could save it.

The other memory describes where the dike pathway  is midway in the image. I see the image as four quadrants, with a centre much like a pin wheel. One is the blue sky with small (distant) cedars on the bottom of it. Beside it is a tall, round shaped tree that does not have a very visible trunk, so it really looks round. The third is the shadow from this tree cast over the ochre coloured grasses.  The fourth is a sunny sweep of grasses down into the hollow, the level of the fields. But now, when I try to draw the pinwheel, I can’t fit these elements in as I saw them. My logic gets in the way. It’s couldn’t have been like that.

As I was walking, I was looking for this spot that I had so carefully memorized. Today I couldn’t find it. Was I dreaming?

Here’s the painting

Mem 2 Alouette Dike 20090720 small