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October 1, 2016

It has been a challenging summer dealing with various health issues. But now I have energy again to share some of my life with anyone interested.

Making artwork has never really stopped. Some weeks after the op, I was already painting a copy of a  Matisse stillife. Spring inspired me to paint trees, then I got sick in June and things ground to a halt for awhile. Around that time I started sewing a quilt by hand, having bought 2 packs of beautiful Tilda cotton squares on sale. I liked the slow pace and the kind of mindless precise work.

Fall brought new inspiration. My last post had been in June and, with the onion paintings, I had broken through to a new way of working, .

onions2

Onions2 acrylic

It was kind of intimidating to try and pick that up again, I’d tried and failed a few times. So I decided to ease into painting again by doing something familiar. I feel most comfortable working in defined areas, like patchwork really. My oil pastel drawings tend to begin as grids, so I chose a few of my favourites and began copying them in acrylics.

It is so true that just working, regardless of being inspired or not, most always opens up the next step.

Even though I stopped again after completing these 2 below, doing them launched me into a new phase in my painting. More about that in the next post. Meanwhile…

When stuck in one medium it is often helpful to go to another. I decided to make collages out of some old oil pastel drawings. I did one a day for a week, here they are:


take care, til next time.

 

To the loyal handful of followers, thanks you make it worthwhile. And to new passers by. thanks for dropping in. It feels good to be sharing my joyful discovery painting mystery tour with you.

Continuing with the  ‘Spirit of Trees’ series, I took on an unfamiliar subject this time-  landscape/architectural. This painting is a lesson in overworking, and why it is so compelling, even though 9 times out of 1o it goes wrong. Below is a version I found ok but too fussy (with the detailed roof tiles). I wanted a yellow tree per se. And I wanted to keep it painterly and fresh. But I kept trying to get the whole thing looser, and eventually, I feel I lost the sunniness of this version. See painting under this one.

grandfather tree sunny copy

Grandfather tree sunny        50 x50 cm acrylic

 

grandfather tree greenish

Grandfather tree meets the walking dead

In my search to use my own colours rather than the given ones (see that the warm terracotta from the rooves is replaced by greens), I feel I lost something of the warmth of the first version. It kind of looks eerie, like the light before a bad storm moves in.

Between this phase of the painting and the previous one, I had also painted the sky soft yellow, you can see the remnants of that behind the buildings. That move killed it, so I reinstated the blue. You know what?, it began not to be fun any more, yet I’d started it with a wonderful sense of excitement. I’ve learned ( I hope!!!) to stop when the joy goes underground and painting becomes about trying to ‘correct’ something, or ‘get it right’. The fatal flaw in this painting was that I started with a concept (yellow tree) and didn’t listen enough to the subject or the painting.

A few days later, I got inspired by a photo I’d made of two onions on my work table. I took an old painting and drew right ontop of it, then started in painting rapidly, leaving some patches of background exposed. I loved it so much after the initial blocking in, that I didn’t dare to work on it any more.

onions1

Onions1 acrylic

So I put it aside and started a new one ontop of yet another old painting. I listened better this time and kept the freshness. It is mostly done, see below.

Here is what I learned, the lessons are particular to my own trajectory toward an intuitively sensed goal of where my truest work lies. So maybe they will be applicable to you, maybe not, but here they are:

  • let parts of the painting remain unfinished if that’s what looks right
  • cherish the roughness, don’t try to paint ‘beautifully’
  • don’t try to have everything make sense
  • follow the painting, not my original ideas about it when I started
  • don’t describe, dance.
  • the goal isn’t to get the subject right, but to get the painting to feel good, true

By the way, I feel that this tutorial taught me more in a few minutes than several advanced painting workshops I’ve taken. And buying a brush similar to the one this woman used was also a revelation! Materials help or hinder so much.

Here is the second onion painting, almost done. It makes me very happy.

onions2

Onions2 acrylic

Grandfather tree

April 27, 2016

opa tree

Grandfather trees    acrylic on canvas board

I’ve been working on the Spirit of Trees series. Though none of these are finished, I thought I’d show them in progress anyway. These guys above are massive trees, beeches, I think (?), growing on our neighbour’s patio. They have such presence.

colorsamples

colour samples      inspired by Alexey Kvaratskeheliya

 

Above are colour experiments inspired by the art of Alexey Kvaratskeheliya, see a previous post of mine for details. I’m inspired by the combinations and you can see I’ve been trying out some of them on the foreground of ‘Grandfather trees’.

I’ve worked further on ‘Before trees’, here below:

before trees3

And the third one in progress is this little one:

pastel trees

Pastel trees

 

Before trees

March 19, 2016

Working on the sampler for Jude Hill’s online course I’m following (well, dipping into) is giving me insights into how I work generally.  The idea here is to weave some fabric strips together as a base, and then work on the grid formed by the strips of cloth.

spiritclothsampler2

spiritcloth sampler, in progress

I chose the circle as a uniting theme, but the tree wanted to be there in the middle, and when it appeared, the work stopped being an exercise and connected with my heart.

Someone once commented that I should stop working in all those little rectangles in my art. But this way of working speaks to me, is actually a part of my personal visual vocabulary. I realise I feel most comfortable within defined spaces where I can play with edges, defining them, letting them fade, overlapping. And each square a little story of its own. If you look at Jude’s work, you see her breaking out of the grid repeatedly, but it is there as a strong basis to the design, holding all the separate parts together.

You can see in the next images, how I like to work. I used an old painting(shown upside down) below.

background painting before trees

old painting used as background for Before trees

On the painting below, you can still see part of the neck of the greenish bottle (far right) showing if you look carefully. And other areas have been painted over letting parts of the background show through. Using an old painting as the background determines the palette a bit, and some of the movement.

before trees

Before trees

But I got stuck fairly quickly on this one. It was too familiar and I wasn’t learning much  by continuing with it. Using prompts from Flora Bowley’s book, mentioned in several previous posts, I decided to risk ruining/losing what I had in order to find something new. So I turned it upside down and treated it like a background.

Ah, trees again, they just wanted to be there. To orient between the old and new versions, look for the yellow sun on the painting above, and now you’ll see it peeking through behind the big tree on the left.

before trees2

Before trees, worked on further

Here is a later stage.
So, for me, the textile work at teh top of the page,  and painting are intimately related. They are both about layering, not planning overmuch, following where the work seems to want to go, and being patient with all the twists and turns on the way.

before trees1

Before trees, more definition

Back again

February 15, 2016

Well, I’m back. Words desert me when I try to say anything about the last 8 weeks. I came through a long and tough operation, and am recovering well, though more slowly than I would like.

My work mates in the municipal traffic project sent me a wonderful bouquet, but also a sweet card of a still life painting- by Matisse. I wasn’t familiar with this side of his work.

Matisse still life copy, acrylic on canvas board

Matisse still life copy, acrylic on canvas board

It is such a little gem that it somehow reached through the pain and leftover narcotic stupor to remind me that I was more than my physical situation. And I got the energy to get my paints out so I could copy the still life. I love that, like the original, it is kind of crudely painted (used palet knife on the background), but still holds together.

My painting was already undergoing some fundamental changes. I wrote about those in the last post. One current influence is Flora Bowley’s, ‘Brave intuitive painting’. After some free experimenting according to her suggestions, I find that my  visual vocabulary demands a bit more structure than her layered free form approach. Still, I am learning a lot from trying some of her suggestions to free up the painting experience. Laying down a first layer, for instance, in cool colours, and painting on top with warm ones, letting areas of the underlayer show through. Also she encourages you to not get precious about what is already on the canvas, and to try new mark making on top of what you already have to push the painting in a new direction. Ruining the ‘good’ correct image to reveal more depth and expression.

That is what I’m in the process of doing with the painting here. It was inspired by a bunch of tulips wrapped in dark blue paper. But I felt the painting was a bit too pretty and confined by the realism.

Tulips in blue paper acrylic on canvas board

Tulips in blue paper acrylic on canvas board

So I’ve been breaking it down by using the palette knife in places and obscuring some of the bright colours and hard definition of form. It is still in progress.

Tulips next stage acrylic on canvas board

Tulips next stage acrylic on canvas board

One more thing I wanted to say about influences, I love the work of Jude Hill and am following a sewing, quilting, and appliqué course of hers online.  It is all about layering there as well.

Her approach speaks to me- she doesn’t plan a piece out to the last detail, she has a spontaneous, ‘wait and see what happens’ attitude. It is really refreshing and something I could use more of. Also, she posts her work in progress and you watch it transform and grow. I could do that more.

And I wouldn’t be surprised to see the patchwork and painting starting to influence each other before to long.

More on other new paintings next time.

Painting adventure

December 16, 2015

There is a lot of movement happening in my life, and it is reflected in my painting. I’m leaving old ways of seeing, and familiar approaches, and embarking on ‘The adventure of a lifetime’ (A plug for Coldplay’s new single YAY!!). The freedom I have in inventing when working in oil pastels has finally transferred to paint. I’m working in acrylics because I like layering and they dry fast.

I won’t take you on the complete journey, but this particular stream started months ago. I have mentioned that I do collages for relaxation and processing of any issues up for me. I always really like them, they surprise me and are fresh. So this one, with the painting by Alexey Kvaratskeheliya at center stage inspired me to try an oil pastel painting using the same kind of little shards of concentrated colour as Alexey K.

Happy collage

Which resulted in this piece:

Of dreams oil pastel

Working with colour in this way feels very natural to me. (This piece is in our currently running show at Scherer design store. In a few days they will have our exhibit announced on the site.)

I wondered if I could work this way in paints, but it is different when you can reach for one of 121 concentrated oil pastel colours, or you have to mix them yourself and keep using clean brushes to apply them.

But one evening I took a little piece of cardboard, and intuitively began working in small colour areas. That freed me up to take another step- I took all the leftover colours on my palette and made a background on a previously painted canvas with the partly dried paint and palette knife:

Underpainting with palette knife

Then I painted over it intending to work into the result below, but I like it so much I’m leaving it as is.

Horse acrylic on panel

The next two happened around the same time:

They are both painted in acrylic over previous paintings, taking cues from the background and at the same time evolving their own unique forms.

This method of working really suits me. I work messily and spontaneously on an already painted canvas and things just happen.
Gee that Flora Bowley book mentioned in the last post must really work, I haven’t even read it yet and my work is undergoing a major reorientation! 🙂

All of the preceding are quite small format- around 30 x 30 cm. Then I retrieved one of the fairly free paintings from this summer where I was trying to lose form, and painted over it. The tree emerged, and I worked into it some, but not much. It captures the energy I need most to connect with now as I face major surgery tomorrow. Hopefully I can bring it into the hospital where I can see it.

Tree 1 acrylic on canvas board

Tree 1     acrylic on canvas board

Freeing up

December 5, 2015

Watercolor sticks and ink on canvas board

A new blogger friend mentioned Flora Bowley’s book, ‘Brave intuitive painting’, and I was immediately curious. I looked at her video and knew this way of working would take me forward. In the last months, I kept hitting that edge of letting go, but somehow my training and conditioning wouldn’t let me do that on a canvas!! There was a strict division between the art I did personally, privately- collages to process some issues, or create visions and goals, and various watercolor fantasies. But set that canvas up on the easel, lay out the paints and brushes, and The Professional Artist persona quickly came in to direct the show. ‘We’ll do it like this’, she said. Well, I soon took care of her!

trash prof artistSo then I could get on with it. The piece at the top of this page was inspired by an ornament my Tai Chi teacher and friend Lian gave me (you can just make out the little gold shape to the left of the painting up top). My previous attempts at working loosely were nice but quite chaotic and fragmented. This time, I wanted to work with a single simple shape, the plant reminds me of oleander, which has strong healing properties. I drew the plant on canvas board loosely with walnut ink (very water soluble after it dries) and worked into it with watercolour sticks and brush. I redrew the outlines with acrylic very quickly. Next step was to block in the colour, which I had an idea about before I started.

Applying acrylic wash

And finally I firmed up the colours. I wanted good rich earth colours at the bottom merging into lighter shades and finally some ethereal pastels lighting up the top where the flowers are. It is 30 x 50cm. Interesting proportion to work with. That’s pretty much how I’m going to leave it.

Developing colour areas

 

 

Cherry wood music stand made by Rende Zoutewelle

Cherry wood music stand made by Rende Zoutewelle

This summer, my fine woodworker husband has been working on some music stands. The one pictured above is made from solid cherry. We designed it together early on in our marriage (which is also often a working partnership) and two previous ones have been made and sold, one in mahogany, and a lighter coloured one in beech.

Rende’s workshop is next to the house, so I get to see from close by the magical transformation of planks of wood into works of art. I thought it would be nice to record and share the creation process since most people aren’t familiar with the different skills and the amount of patience involved.

The project is imagined, designed, and drawn and the wood is selected. It needs to be seasoned – dry enough to cut and plane without warping with changes in humidity. Some wood lays for months/years in humidity controlled environments before it can be used.

Rende started with the more labour intensive top- the surface that holds the music. The design was traced on the cherry plank and holes were drilled in the parts needing to be cut out so that the saw blade could be inserted. Note all the hard edges at this stage, it looks like a flat cut-out. Later it will be carefully shaped into the softly rounded, sculpted form you see in the finished version above.

The top is set aside while the base is glued together. It starts out square, and the moveable middle part for adjustable height is already planned in and placed.

Working on the base

Working on the base

Then, the body is mounted on the lathe and turned using razor sharp chisels and gouges.

In this next series of photos, the joints for the legs are made. Slots are routed out of both the leg and base, pins are inserted, and legs are fitted and glued. Like everything else in this process it is precision work. Being even millimetres off at any step will result in something looking crooked or not standing straight.

Once the base is ready, it is time to do the finicky finishing on the top piece. This is where a lot of the patience comes in. The curves are painstakingly carved and smoothed to look like curling branches and leaves. Deadly sharp- (you could shave with them) chisels and knives are used. The forms are sculpted and worked until the craftsman is satisfied. Then they are worked to a still greater degree of perfection, until you really couldn’t find a nick or scratch or chisel mark.

Next comes the laborious hand sanding process. Rende uses strips of sandpaper in a low grade (rough) to get between the tight curves of the design. After having gone over the front,back, and sides, the insides and outsides of all the curls, he sands it all over again with the next finer grade. And finally, when it looks smooth to me, he goes over the entire surface again with the finest grade of paper which is so fine, it almost polishes the wood.

Using narrow strips of sand paper to finish the rounding process

Using narrow strips of sand paper to finish the rounding process

Note all the used strips of sandpaper on the workbench

Note all the used strips of sandpaper on the workbench

Finally, the top is glued onto a support attached to the slender middle column running down the centre of the base. The little knob on the side for adjusting the height is turned on the lathe and slipped into one of the holes on the side.  Then everything is oiled with several coats of Danish oil- a mix of natural oils and varnish. The light looking raw wood warms up into a deep honey coloured shine.

The process takes about two weeks of steady work. Whoever buys it will have a beautiful functional music stand to grace a music room or living room, but also an heirloom that will be in the family for generations.

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Taking risks as a painter

August 20, 2015

Beets from garden - oils 50 X 60 cm

Beets from garden – oils
50 X 60 cm

Have you ever attended a painting workshop and been given a chance to work completely outside of your habitual approach? You’re freed up, you make some pieces that really surprise you during the day, new possibilities suddenly seem endless. You go home on a ‘workshop high’ resolved to start working more freely from now on.

Here you are, back at the studio- there is a blank canvas in front of you, all your materials are there arranged as usual, your workspace is the same. The stimulation of the other people, the instructor, the unfamiliar environment, and above all the uninterrupted time just for you, are in the past. You try to recover that feeling of freedom, but before you know it, you are working as always, wondering how to get out of a rut.

So how does one integrate new insights and experiences into old work patterns and actually begin to let their work change and grow? Many of our habitual ways of working have grown with us and are an important part of making our unique kind of work. But sticking exclusively to one way of working doesn’t lead to the kind of risk taking that is needed for growth and renewal.

I’ll share a recent experience with some visuals which may help.

In my last post on artists needing play time, I spoke of Shaun McNiff’s suggestion to begin working, not out of a concept (the mind), but out of the body- using a movement or gesture and translating that into marks on the canvas. And then using the interaction with the materials to keep taking steps in developing the composition.

I’ve been working in oils commitedly for 4 years this month, completing around 15-20 paintings a year. Mostly I’ve been learning the medium, since in my career I worked mostly in watercolours, drawing and acrylics. I feel constrained by just realistic painting, and have been trying to free myself up to work more loosely, to let go of realistic portrayal and to use colour more intuitively.

The painting of beets opening this post is my most recent one, I liked where it was headed, but it was still too slavish to the photo I was working from. In the weekend, I did as McNiff suggested in his book and used all kinds of media and movement to do a series of free work. Here are the results below.

free expression drawings

free expression drawings

At the time I couldn’t see how to bring what I’d learned into my oil paintings. So I did a series of watercolour stick drawings, but first scribbled and sketched on the paper with white crayons. You can see the white lines showing up through the watercolour sticks since the white wax lines resist the water medium. I liked this effect, and the second one down, I loved for its subtlety and spontaneity.

watercolour sticks and crayon 3

watercolour sticks and crayon 3

watercoloursticks and crayon 2

watercoloursticks and crayon 2

watercolour sticks and wax crayons1

watercolour sticks and wax crayons1

What I wanted to do was bring in that same kind of spontaneous, airy spaciousness into my oil painting. The painting of the beets, by comparison to where I want to go, is very dense and concentrated.I like that but I want to be able to choose that look, not to do it because I can’t do anything else.

I started with a 50x70cm canvas board and began with movements and gestures while listening to music, only having a faint idea of where I might want to go with it (the subject is that Beets revisited). I didn’t do a drawing, just squiggled on some shapes with a brush.
I love the feel of it, I used oils thinned down and let them run. There will be beets and leaves and thicker paint, but it will be very different from the first one. I have no idea where it will end up. This is ‘trusting the process’.

Start of New Beets

Start of New Beets

One more thought to add. What inhibits most professional artists from doing this kind of risky experimentation (it is scary) is the need to stick to the things that sell. I’ll probably be producing substandard work for several months at least while I experiment with this new approach. Another inhibiting factor is your idea of yourself as a ‘good’ artist. Changing your approach is going to produce cr*p for a while. Accept it. It is the only way to move forward and go deeper.

later: I did a little more work on it and decided to just leave it as it is. The qualities it already has are enough for me right now, they remind me of where I’m headed and I didn’t want to overwork it and obscure them. 

Why artists need to play

August 16, 2015

worktable- the good kind of creative chaos

worktable- the good kind of creative chaos

I’m revisiting Shaun McNiff’s excellent book, ‘Trust the process’, first read 5 years ago. The subtitle says it all, ‘The artist’s guide to letting go’. Last time I read it, I experienced his thoughts as a confirmation that art making is completely separate from business. The posts I wrote on it reflected that. But this time around I am gaining so much from his deep understanding of creative processes, writing as well as painting.

One eye-opener for me was his suggestion to see the creative process as involving all of you. Therefore, you can kick-start visual creativity by, for example, moving your body, and taking cues from those gestures to make marks. I did this today,  starting out by dancing to my favorite Andreas Vollenweider CD. I had some good quality smallish watercolour paper and the dancing led quite naturally, still moving, to making rhythmic strokes on the paper with watercolour crayons. Very quickly the paper and tools became too small to contain the gestures I was making, so I ended up on newspaper sized paper using large crayon blocks and  ecoline inks with big brushes. I liked the wax resist effect, but soon I was combining charcoal, watercolour sticks, crayons and ink.

IT WAS FUN!

McNiff says you need to draw on a different set of evaluation criteria to review this kind of work: look at it for spontaneity, freshnesss, rhythm, whimsy. Work in series, let one image lead you to the next, and look at the whole body of work for signs of certain gestures and forms that you might want to repeat or expand upon.

I think you could do this to blast through blocks in any medium. He suggests starting out with notecards and making series of drawings (poems, writing ideas, dialogues, dance moves) on those. But if you want to work big like I did, you can still move from one to the next fairly quickly. Don’t correct or critique while you are working, just keep going and enjoy the process.

I don’t know where what I did this morning will lead, and I don’t care. It brought me straight back to my creative roots that was very moving. There was a sadness there for how I usually hem in my creativity to fit certain ideas I have about being an artist. Working this way was freeing, and I will revisit it and see where the process leads me.

McNiff’s ‘Trust the process’, is highly recommended for aspiring artists and certainly for art veterans like me, who can always use ways to loosen up, but also practical suggestions for further developing their work.