Dry Spell

The temperatures, smells, blooms and pollen of an early summer have arrived with sunshine stretching out into the week. This is the time of year when I am preparing for summer and fall art show submissions, which means not much art gets made. However this year is particularly slow in the “create” mode. It’s been and continues to be a full spring of life’s surprises. I wish I could say they were all welcome.

Something which is welcome is the upcoming Al Frescoes plein air painting show at the Coast Collective, which opens tomorrow (Opening night is Thursday, May 17). Both Andrew and I have 2 pieces in the show. Mine were both painted in Jasper last summer. I rarely get the chance to paint with the group due to my work schedule so I’m grateful they still let me show with them. Andrew helped put the show up yesterday and I’m looking forward to seeing it on Thursday night. I hope to see everyone there!

The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s Summer Small Works show opens Thursday, June 7. I have 3 of my favourite small character portraits in the show. This is always a great chance to pick up a lovely little piece at a reasonable price. I hope to see you there as well!

 

So, even though it feels like not much has been happening in the studio, the shows are ramping up. Submissions into the Sooke Fine Arts show have been done and I am preparing for what will be submitted into the Sidney Fine Arts show. This is another busy exhibiting summer and I intend to spend the majority of my month-long summer vacation either outside painting en plein air or inside enjoying the studio. Sigh. I can’t wait!

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A Small Big Thought

As I was transitioning between work items today and scrolled through Instagram, I came upon this quote:

A childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows. ~ John Betjeman

And it struck me that this is what I aim for when I create my art. I want people to experience a piece of work viscerally rather than intellectually, first. I want people to feel something, recall an experience, remember a moment or mood or smell or taste or event; to make a connection between their own lives and what is represented in that work.

And then it occurred to me that with the death of my dear mother-in-law last month, came a lot of personal reflection on what life is all about. And what we leave behind when we depart. If we don’t have children to carry our genes on, what evidence if any will there be of me even existing on the planet? Is there nothing but memories in people who have known me? (as a wee bit Buddhist then that’s okay with me) After all, isn’t life about the right now rather than the past-tense? Of course there is the art but that is also temporary.

But I really do think I’m okay if what my life is about is making a connection with another and effecting their thoughts, emotions, feelings… if only for a moment. Evidence of life.

Sweet Girl
Sweet Girl, charcoal on Stonehenge paper, 12”x12”

Hello Hiatus

It has been a month or so since I posted here. And a month or so since I was in front of the easel. I did make a couple short-lived attempts and we went plein air painting last Saturday. It has been a forced hiatus due to a death in the family. Life interrupts life sometimes.

And now that I am back it is that time of year to start choosing and prepping work for the summer art season. Small works at the AGGV, Sooke Fine Arts and Sidney Fine Arts. They were all fruitful for me last year so let’s do it again! A new one is the Al Frescoes annual show into which I *think* I will put a couple landscapes. I don’t paint with them often because I work Friday mornings. And those will likely be the only landscapes I show this year. This year is all about the portrait! Both painted and drawn. Big portrait year, this one.

In January I bought and prepped 10, 5″ x 7″ panels and rather randomly started painting these tiny portraits. Randomly, without much intent at all except that I had been doing all those charcoal portraits… these are my favourites:

And then there are pieces which happened in between my favourites, which are just different enough, not to fit into the group above. But are still favourite:

And so, now that life has settled back into routine, in between prepping for the shows, I want to get back into the large charcoal portraits. I just need some subjects to photograph. And time. As usual. Goodbye hiatus.

Work in progress

I recently made an order of paint brushes from Rosemary & Co for my standard long bristle brushes and to that order I added a few brushes that I have been wanting to try. I’ve noticed that some fabulous artist’s such as Colley Whisson use very soft brushes, so I added to my order one brush from each of these lines:

And they changed my world.

All of a sudden my portrait painting stepped up it’s game and I’ve started a series of 5″ x 7″ character studies.

The brushes are AMAZING! It is difficult to explain why… they hold a lot of paint, the paint goes on softly and smoothly and the comber helps to soften edges even more. I use the Evergreen primarily as a background brush right now because it is too large for the details of the portrait. The long flat is my main brush and as I said, the comber is fantastic at creating a random softness between two fields of paint. Oh boy, are these brushes a pleasure to behold. So much so that I had to put in another order. I like to work with 3 brushes of the same type and size so that I have one each for my light, middle and dark tones. That way I’m not wiping the brush in between every change of light.

And the little portraits are so much fun to do. I can complete them generally in 1.5 hrs, which is currently about the limit my focus, free time and energy level allows me. I am using random references from magazines and news stories – just as structural guides rather than portrait references. I find I will start a piece and it just doesn’t feel right so I wipe it off and try another. When they are so small like this, I don’t lose much time or effort starting over – it’s actually a good little warm-up exercise. Then when a piece comes together, the person that emerges tells me who they are. Author, policeman, chef, etc.

I don’t really know where I am going with this series but I sure am enjoying the process and the progress that it appears I am making. I do feel it is leading  up to a course I’m taking at MISSA this summer called Charcoal Noir: Creating Compelling Visual Narratives.  My hope is that with the work I’ve been doing on these oil portraits and my charcoal portraits will coalesce with the course into a full-on multiple figure painting or drawing. It’s been decades since I created large-scale figurative paintings and I’m curious to see what I will come up with, especially with these miracle brushes!

 

Smelling the Roses

I’ve started to see some rewards for my focus on charcoal drawing lately; I have figured out what my tools are and how to manipulate them to achieve a desired effect (more on those tools in a later post). And while I am not entirely happy with my ability to nail a likeness on every portrait, I am satisfied that I can work a drawing past a failure point (where I would have given up in the past) and on to a successful piece. When I am drawing someone I know, a likeness is preferred but when I’m simply using a photo or photos as a starting point and structural guide, I’m not interested in a likeness.

This weekend I took on the challenge of drawing from an old photo of a friend when she was a toddler.

Sweetheart
Sweetheart, charcoal on Stonehenge paper, 16″ x 20″

I am very satisfied with the drawing itself but when you directly compare the two, it’s clear what needs to change.

Comparison of photo and drawing

Her eyes are too far apart and the shapes are not quite right. Her nose is too large. Her lips are not quite as pursed. The shape of her head is slightly off at the top… I could go on. I may decide to rework the piece and I may not… I don’t want to lose the lovely marks and textures of the drawing. The question is, will I be satisfied in the long run if I don’t rework her?

What’s interesting is that I’ve never done this kind of direct comparison as a part of the drawing process and perhaps it’s what I should be doing. At least until I get better at finding a likeness… much like how I’ve practiced to the point of understanding the tools, perhaps this is just another tool to use to find what I want to find.

Interesting.

Oh, the Humanity!

I recently watched a documentary which has stayed with me and for the reasons I talk about below, I hope will stay with me for a very long time.

Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable evoked (or perhaps “invoked” is a better word, in this case) very strong emotions as I watched piece upon piece of stunningly beautiful artistry rise from the sea. Up until the very end of the story, I was sucked entirely in to the romantic notion that humanity was capable of such incredible beauty and emotion – captured in such stunning pieces of art and the passion it would take to create and transport such a collection.

And then the end of the documentary arrived and I was stunned that I could have been so naive.

And yet what stays with me and makes me sad, are the expressions of emotion on the faces  and in the gestures of some of those sculptures. That’s what I respond to and was so awed by on the screen – it’s what I strive for in my own work. And now that I’ve seen that movie, I know that I have been too timid; too afraid to put real emotion in my work; afraid that people will not be pleased by my work (will not want to BUY it!) when what I really want is for people to respond the way I responded to the Damien Hurst artwork and story – with awe and strong emotion. If it doesn’t suit their life or interior decoration – be damned.

I need to make the work I want to make, especially given that I have chosen NOT to live my life as a full-time artist because I’m not cut out for that type of struggle, I damn well better make the art I’ve sacrificed that dream for!

What am I doing creating work which doesn’t strive to effect the human experience?! It is time for me to get to real work.

See, she’s too timid:

Portrait of a Young Woman
Portrait of a Young Woman, charcoal on Stonehenge paper, 11″ x 14″

Aspiration for 2018

While the holidays were pretty full of family travel and social highlights, I did manage to get a couple days in the studio to continue my drawing work. I had some fun with a portrait of my husband (below) and a couple attempts at life drawing from photographs which were not at all successful – but good practice! Always!

Portrait of the Artist’s Husband, charcoal on Stonehenge paper, 18”x24”
Portrait of the Artist’s Husband, charcoal on Stonehenge paper, 18”x24”

I’m not one for making resolutions for a new year. I prefer to think about what I’d like the year to contain so I can focus on that over other things, rather than make hard deadlines. Deadlines are for work. With that in mind, I want to attend more life drawing sessions at UVic, since I’m in such close walking distance and because I want to be better at creating consistently successful life drawings. Currently it’s hit and miss. Much like the way I’ve focused on my studio drawing and am having more and more success at completing pieces I am happy with. I feel that I have a deeper understanding of the materials and am able to use them to the effect I want. And now I’d like to have that with life drawing.

An inspiration for that is a beautiful life drawing which Andrew bought me for my birthday. It’s by artist Sergio Lopez . Isn’t she beautiful?!

Classical Pose, charcoal on paper, 18" x 24"
Classical Pose, Sergio Lopez. Charcoal on paper, 18″ x 24″

Expressive Realism

The other day as the endless social media scrolling engulfed my brain, I came upon an artist’s post in which she labelled her work “Expressive Realism”. I’d never heard the two terms combined before and it piqued my interest. So here’s a quick Google response to the combined terms as it relates to literature:

“Definition: Expressive Realism is a fusion of the Aristotelian concept of art as mimesis with the Romantic concept of art as expressing the perceptions and emotions of a person “possessed of more than unusual organic sensibility.”

Characteristics:

  • Expressive realism values richness, honesty, and immediacy and rejects schematism, implausability and ideology.

  • Literature is a reflection of life.

  • Literature is authentic when it describes the world of social relationships or conveys the inner experience (often seen as “universal”) of the individual quest for identity.”

So, does this suit my latest drawing series? Yes, I do believe it does! And it is exciting to encapsulate the awkward place I’ve been where I have one foot in realism and the other in expressionism – not feeling right going more one way or the other.

Now I will go back to the literal drawing board and continue on, already knowing where I was going but reassured and re-inspired! How fun.

In-progress work
In-progress work

Persistance

As per my last post, I’ve decided to focus on drawing again and for a while. I’m determined to keep drawing until my success rate improves. Right now, unless I have one of those surprising moments when the drawing flows off my hand successfully on the first attempt, it takes upwards of 4 “warm-up” attempts to create a piece I am satisfied with. I’m seeing and feeling success and that’s most important. I’m also learning to accept the warm-up period as a part of the process rather than the pain I have to go through to get to where I want to be. And I invested in a large role of delicious Stonehenge paper so that I wouldn’t feel limited by how many of the very expensive sheets of paper I had left (thanks to our sales at the Sidney Fine Arts Show which replenished the art supply fund!).

I’m looking for work which feels loose and simple enough to not look over-worked and which has line and edge quality which is both pleasing and awkward. Some smooth, precise areas and other messy, course areas; Balance and feeling and an interesting person, gesture or look.

And I’ve planted the seed in my mind to create a large work of a combination of drawings of several people – an epic piece. We shall see how long it takes to get me there. And then on to the painting which would come out of the drawing! It may be a long road but at least I am seeing small successes and you know I just LOVE the process.

The Pondering Girl
The Pondering Girl, charcoal on Stonehenge paper, 11“x 14“