Monday, May 23, 2016

A Frenzied Four Weeks Begin

Just four weeks now until the school year is over. These are the most hectic weeks as students are especially restless; they sense the impending summer vacation like sharks scent blood in the water. They are scrambling to finish end-of-the-semester work and participating in traditional end-of-the-year field trips and school-wide events. Today, my art students begin a three-week field/urban sketching journal in which they will carry around a small watercolor journal and supplies for 21 days, recording the people, plants, landscapes, objects, places, and events they encounter. It is their final project after a year of study in observational drawing.

As for me...if you said that it seems that I've been bouncing all over the studio lately, dashing in and out of projects...well, you'd be exactly right. I've settled into the habit of randomly selecting a sketchbook or journal each morning and working in that particular book as long as my schedule and attention span allows. I work for about an hour prior to work and a bit after. And since my teaching gig is also part "artist-in-residence," I work on my own art here and there while at school. I believe it is important for students to see their teacher practicing her own art for many reasons. Most importantly, it shows students that regular practice is the key to good art, NOT natural talent (a common misconception among middle/high school students.) My classroom mantra is that "talent" is merely aptitude in a subject studied with passion (a good attitude) and persistence (devoted practice.) I work to dispel the notion that some students are simply more gifted in art than others and that all others are simply pretenders. This is not something I have to deal with at the elementary-school level; young kids are enthusiastic and fearless experimenters. That carefree mindset, however, shifts as students approach middle school and they face more peer and academic pressure.

In other news, I devoted two intense hours this past Saturday to finding the title for my upcoming show. The show title/theme is an important thing I usually finalize early in the show preparation process; this year, the title was very slow in coming and I felt my momentum starting to grind to a halt without the guidance of a central theme. I had a few ideas but nothing satisfactory. So I made myself sit down and get to the business of discovering what this show needed to be named. To this end, I do what I call "word-sifting." I make long lists of words and phrases that I love, working through a vintage thesaurus to find obscure synonyms and a dictionary (bound not electronic) to research word origins. I work in a zigzag but forward fashion until I stumble upon the perfect word(s) to encapsulate my intentions for the show. Once I settle on the show title, I tuck it away in my brain and heart like a precious seed. In private, it will take root and begin to weave its way through each piece I produce. When I feel that title/theme is strong enough, I'll bring my title out into the world. Show prep for me is rife with small superstitions and odd rituals. As the next four weeks tick down, I'll be spending most of my free moments moving through those studio traditions so I'm ready to hit the easel once the last student skips out the door toward summer.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Hacking the Studio: Vol. 2

Welcome again to a new feature here at Lost Coast Post where I share the little things I use and do to make my studio more user-friendly. Today's episode is really about "hacking" one particular product: the watercolor field box you receive when you purchase a set of pan watercolors by Prima. 

I have a few travel watercolor sets but they are all plastic and none of them quite meet all of my personal requirements: one is too small, another too big. None of them have the color selection I'm looking for when I go out and about to sketch and paint. Then I read about these new watercolor sets by Prima and I decided to take a chance. This purchase was really all about the box the paints came in; I'll talk about the actual paint in a bit.

This is a fantastic little travel paint box. It is 3-inches high by 4-3/4-inches wide and about 3/4-inches deep. It fits comfortably in my hand (a must given all my grip issues) and has a wee fold-out metal ring on the bottom that I slip my left thumb into so I can hold the palette with my left and paint with my right. It opens up to reveal two mixing areas and 12 half pans of watercolors. I bought the "Decadent Pies" palette which features colors great for landscapes and portraits (including 4 metallic paints.) All the edges of the tin are rolled so there are no sharp parts.

As I said, the tin comes with 12 half pans of watercolor. You can fit another 7 half pans down the "center aisle," giving you the opportunity to expand to 19 colors. In case you are unfamiliar, half pans are tiny plastic boxes (3/4-inches high x 1/2-inches wide x just over a quarter inch deep.) You can purchase pre-filled half pans from any of the leading paint companies like Holbein, Winsor & Newton and Sennelier via most art supplies stores. Pre-filled pans can be expensive: a half pan of Holbein cadmium red, for example, is about $15.50. (Generally, as the paint pigment quality goes up, so does the price.)

As an alternative to pre-filled pans, you can purchase empty half pans and fill them with paint squeezed from tubes. You can use paint directly from your pre-existing stash and create any palette of colors that you desire, arranged in any order you like. I eyeballed the Prima watercolor tin for just that purpose. 

Without any hacks whatsoever, you can expand this tin from 12 to 19 colors just by adding 7 half pans right down the middle of the box. I wanted to push the total number of colors just a wee bit further. However, the removable tray that holds the pans had rounded corners. So I took a hammer and gently flattened those curves so I could slide in 2 more half pans - top and bottom rows - for a grand total of 21 colors! 

I chose to keep the 12 Prima colors and then added a couple more greens, two yellows, two reds, a teal, and a couple of shadowy colors. In the future, I will probably remove the Prima pearl white as white isn't really used in traditional watercolor techniques anyway. I'll fill the gap with some other color I think is missing from my overall palette. The half pans aren't fixed so I can add, remove, and rearrange to my heart's content.

Now...let's talk about the paints that come in the Prima set. There are three different sets (Classics, Tropicals, & Decadent Pies.) Each set is about $25.00. The paint is mostly opaque and non-granulating. In the case of the blues and greens in Decadent Pies, the color is intense (so much so that I suspect the use of dyes rather than pigments.) Here's the big HOWEVER...not a stitch of information regarding pigment content, lightfastness, or toxicity is provided. The colors are not even named, only numbered. It is standard practice to provide pigment information for most paints listed as "artist grade" and most definitely for those labeled "professional grade."

For everyday purposes and everyday painters, lack of information on the pigments used probably isn't that big of a deal. Journals aren't exposed to light on an ongoing basis and fading is kept to a minimum. Professional watercolorists and/or people would want to sell original watercolor works should not use these paints; you could paint something, scan, and then sell prints, a technique that is advisable anytime you use products not rated as "professional" in work to be sold in its original form. To be fair, Prima is marketing these paints to the craft/journaling/scrapbook/coloring book crowd and NOT to professional watercolorists.

But back to the box...this is why I purchased this particular product. It really is a wonderfully sturdy little travel box and now, hacked to my whims, it is pretty much the watercolor box I've been looking for over the past few years. I love how the metal feels in my hands; the plastic field kits always felt awkward. Remember though, that's just my particular quirk. There are some great travel watercolor sets on the market. Just use whatever encourages you to get out and paint.

EDIT: Someone asked where you can find the Prima watercolor sets. They can be scarce and/or overpriced on Amazon. I got my set at Frantic Stamper...

2nd EDIT: SInce they seem to be available now at Amazon at a good price, I have included an Amazon affiliate link to the Prima sets within this post. Just know that the price can fluctuate so shop around for the best deal.  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Flirting with the Light

My pre-show explorations continue. For my next show, I'd like to do more painting with tools other than a brush, add an assemblage "show-within-a-show" (more on that eventually,) and I'd like lighten up my work. I use a lot of color but many of my pieces consistently lean toward darker values. I always thought that the monster theme was best served by a dark palette (it felt natural) but I've been wondering whether or not that is actually true. So, before show work starts in earnest, I'm playing with more white. As I experiment, I realize how little white I actually use in my work; I'm even a bit uncomfortable which just might mean I'm on the right track. This is another "messin' around" page in a large Canson mixed media, spiral-bound journal. I like how it turned out so I think it's time to get brave and if a monster can emerge surrounded by light as easily as it does from the dark.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Inching Towards a More Painterly Approach

This little fellow is the first in what I hope will be a series of experiments in painterly creature creation. As I've said, I start serious studio time in mid-June, the moment the school year ends. Now is the time to work out the details of my new show so I can be as productive as possible in my nearly three months of blissful vacation.

Looking back on my painting work over the years, I see an almost compulsive need for smooth, polished painted works. I can't abide seeing brushstrokes. However, when I asked myself how I could freshen up my painting practice, how I could improve my creatures, I knew immediately that I needed to change how I apply paint. My creatures are a little weird, edgy, wonky and they are begging for a painting style that serves to strengthen that impression. I think adding more texture and imprecise lines/shapes could be exactly what my characters need.

As you can see, I have a way to go. Although I used something other than the bristles of a brush (palette knife, fingers, brush handle) to apply paint on about 80 percent of this piece, it still doesn't have much visual or actual texture. I tend to smooth out the surface by overworking things; it is hard for me to let imperfection stand. Still, he does have a slightly different look so I think I'm moving in the right direction....just need to carve out some more time to practice.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Protector. Avenger. Detective. Champion.

Still just spending my spare moments messing around with paint and paper, using this time to work out details and techniques before I hit the ground running full speed with show production once work ends in six weeks. At that point, I'll be in the studio all day, every day trying to make good use of my 2-1/2 months of vacation. There'll be a few doctors' visits too as I've had to put off a few things until work obligations are complete. But mostly, it will be lots of long, lovely hours spent painting monsters. (Just might be constructing some creatures too...)

The only point of this random page was to practice working with a palette knife. I'm changing up how I render my creatures and critters (less polished/more painterly) so I've been reacquainting myself with using something other than brushes to apply paint to canvas. I'm also working more with heavy body acrylics which hold peaks in the paint, allowing for more texture. All of this experimentation will come in handy when I sit down to get serious about pieces for my October show.

Of course, I couldn't resist adding a little character, a wee forest guardian who steadfastly defends the majestic redwoods with his tiny spear and flowered helm.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Revelations of a Journal Page

So this is one of those journal pages where I think "What in the hell was I thinking!?" I'm just messing around in this large mixed media journal but this page is waaay out there. I think it really shows how uncomfortable I've become with collage as a primary technique to create focal imagery and in that respect, this page is very instructive and encouraging. It feels more natural (and fun) now to draw and/or paint an image than to construct it from bits of images from someone else, even if I render those images unrecognizable from their original incarnation. I'll never abandon collage all together: I still love to use collaged papers in the backgrounds of my paintings and I have several smaller journals with collage as the central technique. However, when it comes to creature creation, I am finally at a place where I love and trust my ability to generate imagery from my imagination. That has been a long-term goal of mine that I've voiced here & there over the years at Lost Coast Post. I still utilize references to get proportions correct (Dover is the best source for copyright-free inspiration) but this page, in all its awkwardness and wackiness, helped me realize that I've reached a place where I can make the things I imagine come to life AND like them!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Newest Members of the Menagerie

I recently took my art students through the creation of clay animals sculptures inspired by the wood carvings of Oaxaca, Mexico. As usual, the kids rocked the project (pictures forthcoming once the varnishing process is complete.) I always manage to create lots of samples as I progress through a lesson plan so this newest set of clay creatures is what showed up when the samples were finally finished.

My poor llama suffers from an embarrassing overbite so she thought perhaps a side view would be the most flattering. I took pictures of her buck teeth but she implored me not to post them ("Once on the internet, it's there forever," she gently reminded me.)
Mr. Armadillo is all stretched out here so you can admire his lovely spots courtesy of the end of a paintbrush. This guy was fun to welcome to my growing clay menagerie as I enjoyed trying to create something a bit more realistic-loooking.

Finally, a common cat and dog showed up, dressed in uncommon colors and patterns. The pup has a perpetual playful tilt to his head that "Hey! Can you  play?" I have been experimenting with tilting the heads of my creatures, whether I'm working in pencil, pen, paint, or clay. A little shift of the head to the side and the characters seem a bit more lively, cheeky, and present.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Filling Spare Moments with Play

Just under a month to go and I'll be able to throw myself full tilt into work for my show. In the meantime, I'm just messing' around in various journals: flinging, brushing, scraping, scratching paint. Here and there, I glue down a bit of tissue or image. I make marks, alternating between methodical and maniacal. I double back and add more paint. In short, I'm just playing, biding my time until I can get focused. Play is important though as it is the headspace in which I make new discoveries and develop fresh direction. This is one of those art play pages in a large (11x14 inch) mixed media journal. The blue feather image is a sun print and the swirly mark is a hand-carved stamp.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Hacking the Studio: Vol. 1

A new post series begins today called "Hacking the Studio," a series of teeny-tiny tips on organization and supplies from my studio to yours. 

Boxed Alphabet Soup:
I love using clipped letters to create a "ransom note" look in my journals. When I'm not feeling up to anything that requires a lot of energy or focus, I sit quietly and cut up old magazines, harvesting any usable letters for future projects. When I have a satisfying pile of letters, I store them in a large index card file box that holds one envelope for every letter of the alphabet. When I want to spell something out, I just dig through the necessary envelopes; this makes the process a lot faster and I can see at a glance what I have available. Other artists organize their clipped letters in clear plastic tackle boxes. Do whatever works best for you. (I must admit here that I have a series of organizational envelopes for clipped words as well, sorting those by parts of speech but that might be a bit too obsessive for most works though and makes found word poetry a snap! (In browsing my archives, I discovered I wrote about this process way back in 2009. Click this link for more info!)

Hair-Raising Book Tamers:
We all know that feeling of accomplishment when we complete a journal or book project, its pages bursting with artsy goodness, the covers bulging wildly with accumulated creativity. Rubber "book bands" are available at craft stores but they can be pricey and eventually, the rubber breaks down and the closure fails. As an alternative, purchase a multi-pack of sturdy, colorful hairbands at the dollar store. There's usually a wide selection of styles and colors to choose from and they work wonderfully to keep your overflowing journals in check. I find that hairbands last longer than simple loops of rubber and if they do break, they are inexpensive to replace.

Poster Fever:
My very favorite substrate for creating serendipity papers are posters and flyers I've scavenged from local bulletin boards. The text and imagery ultimately peeks through the subsequent layers of paint and marks, providing visual depth and interest. I try hard to only pull "expired" flyers advertising events that have already happened; it is not unusual for me to take note of posters I want and to revisit the board on the day the event is held just so I can snag the poster. I've even had stores hold posters for me when they clean off their bulletin boards. Sometimes I do see something I want badly - a poster with especially cool graphics, colors, or text - and I just might...possibly...manage to get said poster in my hands before its advertised activity takes place. I soothe my conscience by acknowledging that there are typically multiple copies posted throughout my town, sometimes even on a nearby telephone pole. I've noticed that the super fabulous posters often disappear quickly anyway so I suspect there may be others around town with the same idea. So if there's something that really catches my eye, it's "first come, first serve."

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A History of Shows

A Selection of Pieces from My 1st Show
This October, I will be hanging my 10th original solo show. I've had more shows than that over the years but I'm just counting those times when an entirely new set of artworks first debuted to the public.

My very first show (May 2002) was entitled Menagerie and featured a series of creatures created in wire, polymer clay, beads, and charms. I was working on my studio art degree at Humboldt State University and I answered a call for portfolios and artist statements. Those portfolios were reviewed and from those submissions, a group of students were chosen to have solo shows in venues around campus. For my "portfolio," I chose to make a handmade storybook that featured photos of the clay characters I had been making alongside an original story that linked all of the pieces. For the show, I mounted the pieces in a line on black velvet-wrapped boards and together, they represented a story from dawn to dusk.

It took a long time for me to do my second show. I had moved from polymer clay work to mixed media canvases with an Oriental flare. The canvases were piling up and at some point, I worked up the nerve to take some of them into a local business that participates in the monthly art walk in my hometown. I just walked in without notice, paintings wrapped in brown paper, and asked if they would be interested in having them on their walls. I booked a show on the spot. (Here's my blog account of that moment from way back in 2007.) 
Show Signage Over the Years

I am now in the development stage for my 10th new body of work. My ideas are exciting and I can barely wait for the free time to see those ideas become reality. (Just eight weeks until summer vacation!)

My basic goal for each show is to push myself in new directions. I knew right from the start that I didn't want to present the same style, technique or theme every year as many artists do. At this point, the place in town where I regularly debut my new work has no idea what I'm hanging one year to the next. And yet, they say that no matter how different the theme or medium, all my various shows "still look like me." I love that! It gives me tremendous freedom to play, to take risks, to expand beyond my "box" and past my fears.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Encouragement from Dreamland: A New Tapestry Will Be Woven

I rarely have symbolic or prophetic dreams; mostly my sleep is filled with bizarre mashups of whatever science fiction or action flicks I consumed that day. I do a lot of swimming, running, and acrobatics in my sleep (which is probably inspired by the restless, jerky legs that PD brings to my nights.) If I'm lucky, Daniel Craig makes an appearance, doing his smokin' hot James Bond thing. However, I have had a handful of dreams over the years that I've considered important, messages from my subconscious that require closer examination. I write those dreams down in detail immediately upon waking so I can preserve that gift of wisdom from myself.

Last week, I dreamed I was standing on the second floor of a huge factory, leaning on a railing that bordered a metal walkway that overlooked a large machine. The machine was a giant loom and to each side of that were smaller looms. There were workers in greasy overalls working and they all looked like me. I couldn't make out what was being woven on the large central loom but on the smaller ones, I saw bits of my previous work represented as large rugs or perhaps wall hangings. The workers were unraveling those pieces of my art like you would a sweater. Stretched canvas paintings, doodled drawings, clay sculptures: all were being teased apart into piles of colorful thread and those threads were being fed, all at once, into the mechanism of the central loom. I saw a shuttle flying back and forth, seemingly of its own accord and something, something marvelous but mysterious, was spooling out the other end. And that's it; at that point I woke up, frustrated that I hadn't been able to see further but I guess I can't expect for it all to be handed to me. I think my subconscious believes I need to figure a few things out for myself in the light of day.

This dream is particularly on point for me as I begin preparing for my October show. I am working out the inclusion of assemblage and sculpture alongside my paintings. In truth, they are not new ideas but rather past explorations from previous work, public and private, that are exciting to me again. I like to constantly reinvent myself and I do that by mining my past interests for future inspiration. I take that "old" work and weave it into my current set of passions to form something brand new. In that way, I strengthen my unique look (aka "style".) I can put up a completely different show every year and yet, it still has my mark. 

Any time I contemplate something new, I go through a very specific set of emotions. At first, I am wildly enthusiastic, brimming with energy. And then, as I approach actually following through with my ideas, I get scared, doubtful. I begin to question myself, wondering if perhaps I am overreaching, caught up in a fanciful notion with no hope of success. This dream came to me right about the time I was starting to pull back from my initial decision. My subconscious stepped in and sent me a little message across the void: "Hey now! Don't back down! You are on the right track. Something new and beautiful will be born from the old."

Note: The project pictured is my sample for a high school art lesson in which we created painted wall hangings inspired by Zapotec woven rugs. Once I brought my sample home, I embellished it further to help it fit in with the vibe of my studio. The inspiration for this project originally came from this DIY post from Alisa Burke.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

New Ideas Brewing While I Rest

I'm in the middle of my spring break, girl cat curled beside me while I wait out the pain and swelling from a cortisone shot I received this morning for a new fibroma that has developed in my left foot. Aside from this little glitch, it has been a relaxing, productive time. I'm working on several post ideas and tomorrow, I'm sure I'll be back on my feet and taking pictures for those posts. I'm also moving deep into prep for my October show which is super exciting as I am taking another wild risk with technique and theme. Some of you have asked me to describe how I prepare for an art show so I thought I'd do a series of posts detailing my process. While school is still in session (just nine weeks remain in the school year,) any major production work will wait until mid-June but there's plenty to do before I start devoting consistent studio time to this project.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Cats Come Back the Very Next Day

Hold on to your hats folks and grab the water hoses! I'm about to set your inbox on fire with a second blog post in the same week! *gasp* I just wanted to pop in and clarify a bit about my cat drawing project. It is titled "52 Weeks of Cats" and it is NOT a 365-project (or in this case, a 52-weeks-straight project.) My goal is to spend 52 weeks total drawing cats. It will definitely not happen within the space of a single year but probably two. My only rule is that when I begin working on a two-page spread (there are 52 spreads in my sketchbook,) I must finish that spread within 7 days time. I might draw 15 cats or only two (one per page.) Any media, technique or style is fair game. I make notes along the way about what works and what flops.

I am experimenting with many, many ways to illustrate cats and a lot of my doodles begin with a random watercolor blob or crazy scribble. Hence, the oddball shapes and decidedly uncatlike creatures. (The large colored cat in this page began as a sketch with my non-dominant hand.) As with almost everything I do, I begin with play - lots of it - and wait to see if something cool or useful develops out of my playtime.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Hanging in There

You know those motivational posters from the 80s featuring a terrified kitten clinging desperately to a tree branch by its front claws, the words "Hang in there, baby!" emblazoned across the bottom of the poster? Yeah...that's me. Four Three days of work now stand between me and an amazing ten days off. After that, it's nine (long and unbroken) weeks until summer vacation. I am counting every single second. I need this summer in the worst way. I still haven't decided on whether or not to postpone another needed foot surgery for one more year but even if I have surgery, I know I'll relish the opportunity to sit around for days on end, doing absolutely nothing. The very thought gives me chills of delight.

I am behind on everything: homework, housework, art, appointments, emails, errands, blogging, breathing. I feel like I am in a constant state of breathlessness as I whirl from teaching day to teaching day. When I'm off, a different type of busy rules as I try (usually fruitlessly) to get caught up on household stuff that I only stare at on days I'm teaching. Here and there, I squeeze in a bit of art but it is disjointed and unfocused as my mind is always elsewhere. The photos in this post are from a project I've been working on quietly since the beginning of the year, a journal strictly for practicing the drawing of cats. I started off like wildfire and then, as I was required to burn brightly in other capacities, this sketchbook was placed on the back burner. It is a fun project and I'm getting much more comfortable illustrating cats (which is the point.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Still Here (and Some Shakespeare)

Dearest Readers,

I'm checking in to let you know that I've decided to continue blogging. Thank you to everyone for your sweet, encouraging comments and good vibes (I felt them! I really did!) I concluded that my biggest barrier to blogging isn't a lack of interest, ideas, comments or follows but rather a critical lack of energy, time, and decent health. Work took a strange turn late last year when I became a one-on-one aide to a 7 year-old special needs child in addition to everything else I am already doing at the school. It has been a heart-warming task but mostly heart-breaking and it is taking every ounce of willpower I have to keep going. I'm locked in to this assignment until mid-June so I am just taking it moment by moment.

Because life isn't complicated enough, this week, a bad tooth that has been lurking in my head for over a year, finally decided to make my life truly miserable by creating a throbbing, golf ball-sized lump on my chin. There is no local care for adults with dental issues and insurance via the state; all are referred to clinics out of the area and where I live that means 200 mile round trips (at least) and outrageous appointment wait times. Want to pay cash? Well, that's an option...provided you have the cash. Having this tooth fixed by an oral surgeon (which is required since the problem is below the gum line) would cost a minimum of $3000; it's $725 to have it pulled (under sedation.) Let me take a moment to stifle a rant regarding health treatment for the poor and medical highway robbery...*ahem*...OK...I'm good....

Long story short: I will be trying to get some work photographed and posted for sale in the coming days. The posting will be available on an "Opt In" basis; in other words, it will be on a separate page at Lost Coast Post, not here on the main page. As I have said, I like to keep this space relatively free of relentless product-promotion even if I would like to or need to make a bit more money from my work. Thus, things like online classes (if I ever get there...that's the goal) and art for sale will always be announced here but kept on a separate part of the blog; if you're interested, click on through. If not, just move onward.

Again...I was so touched by all of your wise, so supportive...Thank you to those who have left a little something in my tip jar. Thank you to those who simply make time in their busy lives to read Lost Coast Post quietly but faithfully. I have a few new posting ideas and work to share but things are a bit on hold while I sort out immediate concerns. I'm going to stick with my once-per-week blogging schedule while school is in session but right now, I don't think I can even tell you what day that might be. Thank you again for being here, rain or shine, good days or bad.  It means the world.

PS...The Shakespeare portraits by my fabulous art students have nothing whatsoever to do with this post except that I wanted you guys to see their whimsical wonderfulness. I do this caricature project every year in conjunction with the students' study and performance of a Shakespeare play and the resulting work always makes me smile! 
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