Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Page from Monet's Playbook

In the middle of his career, Claude Monet, embarked on the discipline of serial painting in which he painted the same general subject over and over for weeks on end. He was obsessed with color and the effect that changing light throughout the day had on a single scene. In his first series, he chronicled the gradual transition of shadow to light and back to shadow as the sun rose and set over a field of haystacks. It marked a transition in his painting career as well. Before these paintings, he was living the life of a starving artist; afterwards, he began to make a good living.

I'm intrigued by his reason for painting the same subject repeatedly. His goal was to visually catalog every possible light combination through changing seasons and through the course of a day. It's brilliant, really. By painting something familiar again and again, he removed a couple of big elements from the equation. The shapes and overall composition would become almost second nature after a day or two, so that he could focus on value and color and mood.

I've begun painting the same scene again and again. I'm fairly comfortable with the subject, so it's been useful for waking up the brushes and my eyes. The message of the little piece is "Relax," which is a concept I struggle with. I don't know how long I'll continue this daily routine, but for now, it's serving a purpose. I'm hoping that I can find a looser style and gain some confidence in using fewer brush strokes and more interesting colors to communicate shape and shadows. I tend to overwork my pieces, and I think a lesson from Monet's Playbook might help me to relax and focus.

I am making these in a standard ACEO size, 2.5"x3.5". I might end up offering these for sale in the shop that I hope to open soon.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Letters on a Saltwater "Sea"

Here are a couple more saltwater "tiles" in a favorite color scheme. I'm hatching a plan to mount these. A cousin inspired me to try this months ago, and I'm finally getting around to it. Thanks, Lisa!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Saltwater Trials

I've been experimenting with different ways to use salt in making background fields for some small art pieces. I made a reference card for myself, since I'll never remember otherwise. I think I like all five examples and can imagine I'll find uses for them all. I was surprised at how different the effects are with the same four ingredients: paper, water, paint, and salt. The order made all the difference. Of course, the paper stays the same (at the bottom of the stack), but it did make a big difference whether the paper starts out wet or dry.

So, here are the results:
The "C" overlay is an example of how the techniques looked in use on a 3"x3" piece. I'm pretty sure the kind of paper makes a difference, too. I'm using my favorite paper, which is Strathmore 140 lb. mixed media. I love the smooth texture, which works well when you do a lot of lettering as part of a piece. This paper holds up to a lot of abuse, like when you scrub the salt off.

Here are close-ups of the two basic sequences: salt down first, followed by color and color down first, followed by salt.
Salt followed by color

Color followed by salt
I found all this fascinating. I'm sure others, who spent more time in art school than I, already know all this. It was kind of eye-opening for me. When you're self-taught, you miss things...P.C. things...pretty cool things.

Monday, October 7, 2013

I Have a Style?

As friends and family discover that I am starting a business to market my artwork, they invariably ask the question, "What kind of art will you be selling?" They ask this in the kindest way, and I assume they expect me to have a ready answer. If only I did! I realize that I need to work on articulating this, first to myself and then to others. And, since it's dangerous to speak before you know what you're talking about, I need to do some research first. I need to research me, the artist.

At first I assumed I could simply ask myself, "What kind of style do you want to produce?" as if I needed to find a style. But, that seemed like the wrong question. I need to recognize that I already have a style. People have been telling me what they think of my style. I've heard it a lot recently. When they mention it, I think to myself, "I have a style? Really?" Well, apparently, I do. I have a style. There, I said it! I just need to name it, accept it, and above all, trust it.

Common Art

I decided the best way to study my actual style, not my wannabe style, was to look at my artwork. I approached my artwork the same way others have: as benevolent observers who, after seeing one piece they like, go searching for more, and who sometimes dig even deeper to find out about the person who created it. I have a fairly large body of fresh artwork. I've produced over 100 small, square paintings in the last three months. (All of the illustrations in this post are from that collection). I decided they would be a good representation of my overall style, so I used them to make my observations.

I can confidently say that my style lies somewhere just south of the border that separates fine art (north) from folk art (south). It's just a metaphor. I'm not saying there is no fine art in the literal south or folk art "up north." I do not believe that the opposite of fine art is unrefined art. Rather, I think of it this way. If you were to start down a straight road, going away from fine art, you'd be traveling toward increasingly accessible art, or what I call common art. If you travel all the way to the end of that road, you end up in a child's bedroom, where genuine art is being created with crayons and construction paper. Common art is accessible in both technique, for those who might want to attempt to create it, and it is also accessible in aesthetic, for those who merely appreciate it for what it is: something they recognize, something they like, something they have. Even though I appreciate fine art, I do not love it as much as I adore common art. I sense near-divine beauty in the ordinary. This is where illustration comes into my style. Because of my adoration of illustration, especially the kind that makes a children's book come alive, I have become an illustrator almost by accident and certainly because I was trying to imitate what I loved most.

Wordy Art

Words find their way into much of my art. This is not accidental. It isn't that I believe the image cannot speak for itself; it's that I absolutely love the act of rendering letters by hand. I have been doing it for fun since I was very young. I see written words, the actual shape of the letters and words, as a separate art form. Of course, I'm not the only one who sees this. Indeed, even in this age when computers can easily and precisely lay out fantastic type in any design and size, hand lettering has held its own and is even preferred by purists like me. Have you been to a small coffee shop recently? I'm convinced they hire at least one employee just for his or her ability to write artfully on a chalkboard! I am thrilled that, in this tech-saturated age, hand lettering has not died out, but is rather expanding as an art form. Do we thank the millions of scrapbookers for this? Or, the graffiti artists (yes, "artists")? Or, Starbucks for bringing coffee (and coffee shops) back from the brink? I could obviously philosophize about hand lettering endlessly, but I'll move on.

My personal style of hand-lettering has been honed over decades. It crisscrosses between the extremes of fine-art calligraphy, with its myriad rules and literal guidelines, and common-art graffiti, where anything goes and goes ON anything. Somewhere between those two extremes, my style happily plays, sometimes following rules and sometimes making them up as I go. I'm not into Zen, but I can get lost in the very act of rendering words on paper. It is meditative for me.

Smart Art

I value wit, so there's frequently a clever component in my art. Can I say that without sounding arrogant? Hopefully, I can. I like to think about things. Okay, that's understated. I like to over-think...everything! It would be hard for this aspect of my personality to NOT find its way into my artwork. I also like to be challenged intellectually. I love to learn new things. I think I will always love the challenge of the next new thing to be learned.

The 100+ small paintings that are informing this search for my style were created in response to a list of art prompts (see my Everyday Matters entries here, if you're interested). Something I've always known about myself is that I don't like to enter through the main door where everyone else is going. Nowhere is this more evident than when I am responding to an art prompt. I will intentionally NOT do the predictable drawing. Perhaps I'm just rebellious. Perhaps I have a pathological, youngest-child need to be noticed. Or, perhaps I just like clever, side-door approaches. Yeah, that's it! I strive to be clever. I am hard on myself, so I never think my artwork is quite clever enough, especially compared to other "smart art" that I see. This might be a universal occupational hazard for artists. We can't stop looking, admiring, and comparing. There is a word for this tendency. It's called inspiration.

Happy Art

And now, for the too-personal portion of this already-too-long post. My art is generally lighthearted. I, however, am not. My artwork is much happier than I have ever been. I really only noticed this disparity recently. Whereas many artists produce art in "periods" that mirror their moods, as with Picasso's lengthy Blue Period, I do not tend to do that—not yet, anyway. Instead, I find myself sub-consciously trying to create what I wish existed. Like most people, I would like to be happier than I am. During the hours that I'm working on a painting, I'm living in that painting, and because I'm the artist, I decide how happy that place will be. You might call that head-in-the-sand "ostrich art," but for me, it's just a lot of free therapy. It goes something like this: I paint something I like; I greatly enjoy the process; I generally like the result; I frequently get positive feedback; and I'm motivated to paint something else I like. Rinse and repeat. And, little by little, the happy art makes the artist happier. There's a lot to be said for this course of treatment!

Add It Up

That's what my study of my artwork told me. After all this contemplative research, I finally have an answer for the question, "What will you be doing at Blu Jar Studio?" I will be producing Common Wordy Smart Happy Art. If there's a way to express all that with a single word, that would be great. Anyone want to take a crack at it?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Happy Marriage of Friends

A very good friend of mine got married yesterday...sort of. The legal wedding took place back in February in a private ceremony. Yesterday was the public ceremony, and it was a beautiful thing. Both she and her husband lost their previous mates to cancer in the last five years, and it was wonderful to see my friend and her new husband "find" each other as soul mates, even though they've been friends for many years.
Abe and Dianne's Barn
My friend asked me to design a custom guest registry artwork for her special day, and it was an honor to do so. Her husband was a pig farmer for many years and is still working in the pork production industry, and she is an extremely talented amateur photographer. The piece is called "Pigs and Pix." It draws together some of the facts of their life: his pigs, her photography and love of nature and cats; their connection to church where they met, and the colors of October in Lancaster County, where they've lived their entire lives.
Buggy and Church
Guests signed their names with silver metallic pen in the clouds above the landscape, making them a "great cloud of witnesses" of the special union of two friends in holy matrimony.
Pigs and Pix; 18"x24" watercolor on 140 lb. hot-press