Productivity is never pretty around here. Making art is like childbirth to me. I start out hopeful and full of promise. At some point it makes me sick (I call it the “ugly phase”), but I keep going, knowing it’s worth the struggle. And toward the end, I will do anything – endure any torture – to get this thing finished and out of my space.
I have been finishing three new comissioned pieces – I just returned from installing one, and two more are awaiting delivery this week.
Meanwhile, my studio is ashambles. Unlike childbirth, there is no nesting going on here, just complete violent, creative chaos.
As I came back into the studio this afternoon, the amount of stuff I have strewn everywhere is insane. Paint, dirty brushes, bits of cut paper all over the table and floor, awaiting placement on some collage or journal.
Project ideas, notes scribbled on lined paper that was torn out of some book. Scissors, glazing medium, screwdrivers, nails, art supply catalogs, plastic bags, ideas for teaching art projects…
But it means I have been making art, and that is good.
The A/C went out last week, just in time for summer’s last stand. Fortunately, I am married to quite a handy man. He’s helping me out by installing a fan today. Come on, cool weather, I need you.
And, athough I’m exhausted, I’m really thankful for this hot mess of a studio.
“It’s one of my theories that when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.” -Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist
Dear twenty year old self:
Hi, hope you’re having a good day. Looks like your classes are going pretty well. (Don’t worry, sculpture isn’t my thing, either). I will say you need to go to bed earlier, so you aren’t so tired in the mornings. Those early classes are kicking your butt.
I just wanted to tell you that I think overall you’ve done some nice work. Something to keep in mind during critiques: It’s just their opinion. The other kids in class are at the same level as you. And most of them are probably going to end up working in education or some kind of sales job anyway. Do your thing. Keep working hard. Don’t worry so much.
While you’re at it, get to know your teachers. Ask some questions. Go to some art openings. Get involved in the art scene. Those other things you’re into can wait. SHOW YOUR WORK. Keep learning, stay humble, but own it. Stop caring what they think.
Switching from Art Ed to Art History was a pretty good call, I guess, but I know you really wanted to do Drawing and Painting. Well, we know that’s not justifiable to you-know-who, but you’ll get there eventually. It’s going to be an interesting journey for you. You’re going to have to go through a lot of stuff to get there. Don’t give up. And by the time you figure it out, you’ll actually have something meaningful to say.
So keep up the good work. When you’re in the Art Building, take a deep breath and remember that smell — oil paint and potential. And thank that janitor that lets you paint all night there when you’ve got the painting due tomorrow.
“One of the hardest things in the world is to see yourself objectively. I’m not sure it’s even possible.”
I recently (last week) decided to start doing at least one self-portrait every year. I’ve only really done a few “official” self-portraits in the past. Of course, each work of art has my heart and soul in it, but there are some that are more personally reflective than others. Let me share them with you.
Here’s the earliest self-portrait I can find, made in August of 1988, when I was fifteen. I hadn’t had a lot of artistic training up to that point, but I think I got a pretty good likeness. At least that’s how I remember myself looking. (Check out those bangs!)
I’ll continue by skipping the horrible self-portrait I did in college, the result of a class assignment. A family member owns it now and will not let me take it back and destroy it. Or atleast paint over it. If I have anything to do with it, that painting will NOT make it into the art history books. It’s humiliating on so many levels.
Here’s a charcoal self-portrait I did several years back when I was teaching and my students were working on self-portraits. I didn’t put a date on this drawing, but I’m pretty sure it was made in the fall of 2001, right after 9/11. I was expecting my second child and had lots on my mind. Maybe that explains the serious look.
Here’s something that started out as a self-portrait, but ended up not as an image of me, but a reflection of how I felt at the time…
This was begun in 2006 (top), when I was going through a very difficult time in my life. The title was always the same, “Ou est la joie de vivre?” Translated from French to English, it means “Where is the Joy of Life?” It’s also a play on words, because the collaged images that I used were taken from a wallpaper pattern called ‘Joie de Vivre,’ which shows families happily working and frolicking, just happy to be alive, I guess. No worries in this ideal world. I worked on this painting over the next three years, keeping the collaged elements, but at some point I took out my likeness and replaced it with a woman who is turned away from the viewer. Possibly the journey in this painting is more valuable than the end product. But I think that’s true for all of my work.
Last year I made this 4×4 inch collage entitled “36” that I consider my self portrait for 2009. It’s definitely more lighthearted than some in previous years, thank goodness!
This painting, although I wouldn’t consider it a self-portrait, has a lot of personal connections. Also completed last year, “She Comes from Texas” uses the image of the Venus de Milo as the main subject. The title comes from a collaged passage, located below her feet. It is a quote Ernest Hemmingway, which I found in another book, written in the 1950s. It says, “With us, if a girl is really beautiful, she comes from Texas and maybe, with luck, she can tell you what month it is. They can all count good, though. They teach them how to count, and keep their legs together, and how to put their hair up in pin curls.”
Obviously, the point here is the irony, but I think the quote hit a nerve with me. Growing up in rural Texas, I often felt that I was viewed this way by the men and boys I grew up with. In our small-town culture, the main way I saw males communicate with females was through teasing. Most of it was light-hearted, but I tended to take things very personally, and really never felt very good about it. I learned to smile, though. As a matter of fact, one of my nicknames given to me from male coaches as a teenager was “smiley,” (in addition to “stubby” and “air head deluxe”). I thought that most men thought I was pretty dumb. Wonder why?
So here is my latest “self-portrait.” I’ve been working on it for a few months, but just completed it yesterday. There’s a lot going on here, but I think that is the perfect reflection of who I am right now. There is charcoal, paint, furniture molding, computer keyboard parts, a playing card, and collaged wallpaper. The central figure doesn’t look anything like me, but I think she reflects confidence. I’ve been growing in that this year. Probably my favorite part of this is the blue square behind the girl’s head — it’s a Post-It Note. Any mother or ambitious woman can relate to needing constant reminders, all over the place, all the time. It’s definitely been one of those years for me.
It will be interesting to see how my life, my style and my self-perception changes over the years. I’ll keep you posted.
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.
Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
I like my work best when I let myself be free and loose, and not getting too attached to what’s on the canvas at any given moment. Sounds fun, but it really isn’t that easy to do. I have to keep reminding myself “Don’t be afraid to mess up. It’s just paint.” To really make progress, I have to get into this certain frame of mind, where I’m immersed in the paint, and not really thinking about the outcome. It’s a place of subconscious that I haven’t been able to explain…..until today.
When I found this quote yesterday, I didn’t know who Scott Adams was, so I did a little research on him today. Turns out, he’s the creator of the “Dilbert” cartoon. I checked out his blog (www.dilbert.com), and guess what he posted about today? He talks about his theory that artists get “Crazy Eyes” when they’re in the creative ‘zone.’ You can read about it here. http://www.dilbert.com/blog/entry/crazy_eyes/ Really funny stuff.
Yep, that’s a good way of explaining it — crazy eyes! That “sort of glassy, unblinking, dreamy, scary look” when someone is lost in their own imagination. I’ve never checked out my eyes in the mirror when I’m in that zone, but I can only imagine that they must look crazy. I think my husband has noticed it. He’ll say something like, “I can see your wheels turning.” Usually, in a matter of minutes, I’m in my studio, with paint on my feet and in my hair. Fortunately, some of the paint lands on the canvases I’m working on as well.
That makes me think about this painting that I finished this last month. It’s inspired by a Crazymaker that I know (a term coined by Julia Cameron in “The Artist’s Way,” and not at all the same as Crazy Eyes). This Crazymaker had been making quite a bit of crazy for me over the past several months, so this painting was my therapy to work through some frustrations. I scraped on a background layer of color, then added some personal thoughts with charcoal. The next part is kind of a blur, because I let myself just let go and not worry about how it came out. I had nothing to lose. This painting came together quickly and I couldn’t have created it if I had been trying. I just let myself make some mistakes, and artfully chose the ones to keep.
Some trivia: Scott Adams grew up in Windham, NY, and I grew up in Windom, TX. Quite a serendipitous day.
It has finally cooled off here– no more 100 degree heat. The mornings are a little chilly, and the afternoons are warm with a cool breeze. Amazing what that can do for your outlook. Perfect weather to make some art!
Within the past few weeks, I’ve completed about two dozen new works of art, from tiny 4 x 4″ works, to larger paintings and mixed media pieces. Some of them I started several months ago, and others I started and finished within a couple of days. I wanted to share a couple of the “before” and “after” pics with you.
Here’s a photo of some ‘works-in-progress’ that I posted on my Facebook page back in July. I had been having fun layering paint, spraying the wet paint and watching it run. I didn’t really know where I was going with these paintings, but I like to work on top of a layered background anyway, so at least I had a starting point.
And here’s how they ended up–
This painting, “Home” started out as the painting on the far left (above). As you can see, not much of the original underpainting is left, and the canvas was turned horizontally rather than vertically. The layered underpainting did help create a jumping off point. I started scraping layers of paint on top of it, and added layers of glazes for depth. I was encouraged by my friend Robyn to do a larger version of ‘Home,’ as the first one was just 6 x 12.” So this canvas seemed to be a good fit.I changed up the colors a bit, but I’m really pleased with how it came out.
This one started out as the painting in the center (top photo). Again, not much of the original layers are showing. I absolutely love the deep turquoise blue. I don’t think the photo shows the colors very well — I may have to get one of my professional photo friends to help me out with a better shot. It’s got a nice, glossy varnish on top that brings out the juicy colors. I did a little writing in charcoal between the layers of paint, and that’s where this painting gets it’s title, “Give Yourself Freedom.” I think I was listening to a Tivo’d episode of Oprah late one night, and got inspired by that phrase, which struck a chord with me, because I think much of what holds me back is not restrictions given by anyone else but myself. Just in case you can’t tell, the white spot on the canvas is actually a keyboard piece that says ‘enter.’
As far as the third painting from the studio shot (the one with the figure in the top photo), it’s still a work in progress. I think I’ve almost worked it to death. We’ll see if it survives or gets reincarnated.
(Update: The third painting did, in fact, get reincarnated – only the bird survived. It is now “The Progression of Things.”
I am interested in taking art historical depictions of women (typically created by male artists) and keeping the overall composition, but changing the meaning entirely. These women are no longer in the background; they are no longer simply seen as allegories of beauty and desire. They are now active participants in their own life, everyday women with interesting stories to tell.
Stylistically, I prefer looser lines and more abstracted forms than used in traditional paintings. I am influenced by the modernists: Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Valadon, and Toulouse-Lautrec, to name a few. I feel a connection to their liberated use of color and simplification of forms. In this particular work, I first layered paper onto the canvas. The underlying image (a photograph of a sculpture that I took while in Boston) shows through only near the bottom of the composition — the dark areas in the female’s dress, and under the red garment of the child.
Another influece on my art is stained glass windows. I believe this comes from my background in Art History, and eventual travels in Europe. Each panel of stained glass tells a story through simple lines and bold colors. Likewise, each canvas or panel of my work captures a simple moment in time (a conversation, an exchange between mother and child), and elevates it to a moment of the sublime. Although I use the “aura” or halo in some of my work, it not meant to be religious, but rather to bring to light the sacred acts of everyday life. Using these female subjects, much of my art work deals with my interpretation of my own life: my role as mother, daughter, and wife.
Pablo Picasso said, ” Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.” For me, at least, this is true.
So, I’ve been working in my studio. Earlier in the month I spent a great deal of effort fretting about what to make. That’s really a bad state to be in. Wanting to make art, but not knowing what to make. Fortunately, I got myself together, and gave myself a reminder to just enjoy the act of making art. Quit worrying about the outcome. Then I let myself play.
Before I knew it, I was brushing, scraping, spraying, glazing, running, layering, and gluing. I made myself conscious of how the paint moved on the canvas. I stuck my fingers in it, and it felt good! I watched it run as I sprayed water into the wet paint. I saw the color change as I glazed over the yellow paint with a dull purple. I set it aside and begin again on a new surface. The monster had been unleashed.
Right now, I have four new large canvases and twelve new small ones in the works. While I wait for the inspiration for a new image to hit, I continue to play. Laying the foundation. Painting layer after layer. Building up texture. Building up layers of meaning. Maybe the image I create when I am playing will be the end result, or maybe it won’t even be visible by the time I am done. Who knows? I have to trust my instincts and know that my subconscious is a better artist than I’ll ever be.