Posts Tagged ‘family history’

Change it? Okay, YES, Change it!

August 26, 2019

“But will it be any better than it was before? Will I ruin it trying to make it into something I couldn’t quite achieve the first time around?”

Those are the questions I was asking myself this week in the studio.

Nascent WEB

Nascent, a mostly graphite, white conte, and ink drawing on a 50 x 36 sheet of Mylar, (as of February 2014).

It is not all that frequent, but sometimes when I finish working on a piece I have a nagging feeling that there is another solution available; a different way to wrap up a piece, not always better but a resolution that I haven’t yet discovered.

IMG_5916 WEB

That is exactly how I felt about Nascent, a drawing from my Natural Family History series. I had originally worked on Nascent in late 2013 and early 2014. I knew almost the moment I had “finished” it that there was at least one more way to solve the content vs structure issues of this drawing. Back then, I had to move on at that very moment so I put it in its designated storage tube and tried to mentally leave it there.

Now, I have to tell you that I didn’t feel as if I was being called to come back to the piece. It wasn’t bad a bad piece; there were things that were quite well done. But, every time I saw the digital reproduction of this drawing, I just knew that I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t explore some of the possible changes. Of course to do so meant a risk, taking a chance. I could destroy the very things that I did find satisfying about this piece. There was some quite delicate drawing and a use of negative space that created a nice tension between the human figure and the lone stem and opening bud of Queen Anne’s Lace.

IMG_5925 WEB

Facing that fear isn’t always easy to do.

Truthfully, most of the time I decide to just ignore the fear. That has come easier and easier as I’ve gotten older. I have ruined countless paintings, drawings, sketches and studies in my life. If it comes to it, what’s one more? I haven’t died or even broken any limbs botching a piece of art. The studio or the sketch board is the one place that, no matter what poor or brilliant path I take, the repercussions are all in my head. The piece can be screwed up and no one will chastise me for it. I might lament the loss of materials when I use up a large  expensive batch but I can’t say that the time was misspent though; I’m bound to have learned something even if the work is a horrible failure.

So, as you can see below, in the early stages of the reworking of the drawing the biggest and most noticeable changes are the inclusion of a lot more imagery based on the Queen Anne’s Lace plant. I have added several more partial renderings as well as hints of an entire field of them. These were derived from photographs and sketches I have made the past few years of this wild native in the fields and roadside all around me.

In the studio, I have continued to use graphites, conte, and lacquer and non-lacquer based India inks. In the section seen below, I have also been using some “new to me” acrylic inks, particularly a transparent burnt umber that I find to be particularly appealing.

IMG_5926 WEB

Near the center of the sheet of Mylar there are now quite a bit of subtlety rendered plant forms added into this new version of Nascent.

Eventually, I also added more bits of plants imagery behind and below the drawing of my Mom (as a late pre-teen) on the left. You can also see that I have added a map of the coastline and harbor of Kinsale, Ireland. She was born there  and, during the years of WWII, her mother brought her younger children (my Mom and my Uncle John) from London to escape the Blitz.  After doing so much work on the plants and adding the map, I increased the level of detail in the image of my Mom just a bit too.

So, here is the piece as I took it off the drawing board. Is it done? I don’t know yet. I am again putting in it’s tube though. And I will be taking it along with twelve or more studio studies and about 15 or 16 other of my large drawings on mylar, all fellow members of my “Natural-Family-History” series, to exhibit at Troy University in Troy, Alabama.

Nascent, (2014-2019) WEB

Nascent, in it’s current state, (2013-2019).

It is a bit of a trek to get there, but certainly not any longer than this piece has taken to get where it is today. The journey I and Nascent have been on are well matched. I have known for a while now that neither I nor my work seem to change smoothly or effortlessly … but both do show up and eventually benefit from challenge!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It is good to have my studio back up and running and to be working on larger mylar and paper pieces again!  Don’t worry though, I’ll keep working on my mixed media panel pieces too.



POSTSCRIPT

Below are a few pics of the exhibition at Huo Bao Zhu Gallery on the Troy University campus. I have not been back to see the exhibition yet but they did decide to use the newest version of Nascent in at least some of the PR for the show. I will be on campus late next month to talk with art students as well as other members of the university and the community. I will also go back for the formal reception and a gallery lecture in late November.

 



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Going from study to “finished piece” … and back again!

January 9, 2014

Earlier this week I posted about a work (the working title was “Vixen”) that I finished a bit before the end of 2013.

Voxis Vulpis, mixed media on Mylar, 2013

Voxis Vulpis                                                            (the previous working title was “Vixen”)                                                         60×42, mixed media on Mylar, 2013

That piece is part of my on-going Natural-Family-History series; a group of large to installation sized mixed media draws that incorporate and align images from nature/natural history and from my family history as well.

Most of the time I work up the constituent parts of the drawing’s content pretty fully; If for no other reason, it becomes necessary to do so because of the size of these works. Most of the time though, I don’t plan the entire composition. It isn’t that I can’t. I certainly have worked that way in the past. I taught my students how and why it can be such a great practice.

Instead, I have been using a modified, jazz influenced praxis. Utilizing a hybrid hand-digital sketching process for the parts of the drawing, I can then create digital enlargements. Then I work up multiple sizes of the visual elements. With these and projections, I can experiment and improvise … sliding the pieces around as if in a collage.

Now, that has been the practice of late. But ever-so-often I do back track to a more traditional way of working and produce some  1/4 to 1/2 scale studies. In fact, the mylar drawing, Voxis Vulpis actually began as just such a study on paper. I thought it might be interesting to look at how I tried  to work up the image/idea. And how the study went so very badly … and made a come back … as a very different work!

view of studio wall with study, sketches and visual resources

View of studio wall with the 36×27 inch study on paper after I erased the fox image.                                          Notice the red pencil sketch of the seated fox looking leftward and also the visual resource photograph of a fox as well

early stages of a study for "Vixen" 36x27 mixed media on paper

early stages of a study for “Vixen”                                                             36×27. mixed media on paper

To the  left is a view of the studio with the study at an early stage of the process. Note the visual resource photo and the red sketch of a seated fox pinned to the wall. The messy, playful, nearly random staining underlayer is visible … as is basic drawing of the Hawthorn branches, leaves and thorns that had been begun for the top section.

detail of the study, using a raking light to reveal remnants of the erased head of the fox

detail of the study, using a raking light to reveal subtle remnants of the erased head of the fox

If you look carefully in the lower right hand area of the study, you can see remnants  of the drawing of the seated fox planned for this section of the of the composition. The B&W image to the right may help you see the erased head, snout, and nose of the fox just a bit better.

Upon reflection, I made a pretty massive change in the direction of the image. I thought the scale to be all wrong and I was also disenchanted with that pose. I even began to dislike the drooped head posture for this piece.

After erasing the head and body of the fox, I planned to add a different version of the fox. As I made that decision, I also began working up the additional design elements on the larger mylar piece this study was the preparation piece. As I worked on the larger work, I made the decision on the version of the fox I wanted to use; one that was in a standing position with the body oriented towards the viewer’s right … but the head still looking left.

I also altered the idea of the Hawthorn branches and thorns from being done in tonal dry media … into creating them with a rich black ink.

At this point I abandoned the study.

A bit later, as I was working on another large mylar piece, I looked across the studio and saw the unfinished study still up on a wall mounted drawing board. Whether by serendipity or some internal decision making process that I was not aware of, I decided to give that sheet of paper another go.

Since I was working on a 10 ft drawing that was going to need a bird known as a Tufted Titmouse, I figured I would try adding one of those to the composition. I had drawn some before … as studies for the larger work … but had not yet included one in a composition. So here was a chance to do so despite this piece being very different than the mylar one.

My First Encounter with the Wild 36x27, mixed media on paper, 2013

My First Encounter with the Wild 36×27, mixed media on paper, 2013 

Once I added the perched Tufted Titmouse work needed some more darks through the middle section. After working up the darks in the middle and some additional changes to the top register of the page, I backed off. I let a couple of days go by … looking from time to time while in the studio. After some small adjustments … I stopped  “tinkering” and decided it was done.

Now that it is complete, I realize that it isn’t really like either of the finished works it helped me prepare for anymore. That’s ok. The “study” went it’s own way and is now an independent work. I like it enough that I think that I’ll include it in my upcoming exhibit at Mary Baldwin College.

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Drawing, more than process. Honestly.

October 20, 2013

For-Scythian Suite, detail #1

For-Scythian/Forsythian Suite, detail

Last time I wrote about the process of drawing.

I wrote especially about my process; what I assume echoes many others studio practice. But I didn’t even mention content.

When I teach, students always want to talk about content. When I am showing my work, I always get questions about content: “Why did you choose that subject?” or “What moved you to work with that image?” Even my fellow artists almost always ask a “What’s up with that?” kind of question.

For years, I didn’t answer that question well. If at all.

I could have been to young and naive, to unsure of myself to have anything to say. Maybe I really didn’t think that I should even talk about subject matter back then. Perhaps I was playing out the mid-20th C. art world game of being above the idea of image and subject. It certainly never came up much when I was studying in college during the mid to late 70s. I have heard a lot of artists, then and since, say that art should speak for itself … that they shouldn’t have to explain anything. When I returned for further study during the late 80’s, folks wouldn’t quit talking about content. But they were abuzz with deconstructing meaning, not talking directly about content or subject matter.

Formalist and Post-Modernist strategies are quite exciting; I enjoy discussing and using both. I also value direct, straightforward discourse, heartfelt honesty. Years and years ago, a director at a community art center/arts council called not being willing to explain my work in ordinary terms a form of snobbery. Intellectual snobbery and arrogance to be precise. (Guilty as charged Sally!)

Well, about ten years ago, I started this series of large drawings. The subject matter is, frankly, probably the most important part of the whole series. The subject is not just the process. It is not just the design. The subject incorporates all that … as well as the images in the pieces … AND the alignment of the images that I am bringing together.

I have come to title this series “natural FAMILY history.” It is comprised of images from nature, signs and symbols taken from weather, history, science, and culture, as well as totemic and/or visually recognizable representations of my extended family members. The drawings, combining/aligning such diverse … maybe even disparate … images into complex but approachable compositions … are about the convergence of personal history and natural history.

Vixen (a working title), unfinished, detail 1 mixed media on Mylar

“Vixen” (a working title), detail 
unfinished, mixed media on Mylar

I can not any longer avoid talking about the images. How could I; these are the people, the events, and the ideas that have brought me here. They are the family and the places that have sustained, supported, and challenged me. This is about love and pain, disappointment and total joy … a reflection of my journey and of my being.  These are the images I will carry with me to wherever else I may go.  So the drawings are hopefully … essential and intrinsically humane; an attempt to be honest about not just art … but about life itself.

So, yes , the design, process, and materials are fair game … so is the imagery and what I am trying to say or to trying to explore with the imagery.

And I will talk about them with anyone.

Ask away!

Drawing Close and Being Transparent.

October 10, 2013

Studio View, with early stages of Vixen (left) and For/Scythian Suite 1 (rt.)

Studio View, with early stages of Vixen (left) and For/Scythian Suite #1 (right)

Years ago, an artist friend, colleague, teacher, and mentor of mine, Clarence Morgan, noted that I really get excited about drawing.

Today there is still real truth to that. The rush of emotions … joy, surprise, and elation at the sight of marks dancing across the page … just feels SO right, so rewarding. As I work through the stages of a drawing, when it is really going well, it almost seems that the image is forming itself. It is almost like “we” are intimate friends, even lovers, leaning in close, whispering … suggesting, teasing and coaxing each other where to go next.

At other times, it is really much more like a wrestling match, as if the drawing and I are locked in a struggle. In that analogy, we are very close again … but this time pushing, pulling … working against each other in an attempt to get the “other” out of the way, out of some unseen box, across some unknown finish line.  Frustration at the lack of understanding, cooperation, or completion. A contest of wills. You see, I tend to be the stubborn aesthetic arbiter; sometimes insisting on being in conscious control. Now that can be a problem … a big problem!

detail, For/Sythian Suite #1 Mixed Media on Mylar

detail, For/Sythian Suite #1 (unfinished)
Mixed Media on Mylar, approx. 84×40

This image is part of one of my large mylar drawings. It is one of several pieces from my Natural-Family-History series that are in the studio right now.  It has had moments of struggle as well as those quiet moments of intimate partnership. I hope it finds it’s way to a good, maybe even an ecstatic conclusion.

Every once in a while it makes me think (feel … might actually be a better word here) as though my job as the artist is to become transparent (just like the Mylar I am drawing on!) and let the drawing come to life all on its own.

Seeing may be a form of thinking (Arnheim). Even so, I know the physical act and the materiality of drawing isn’t thinking; but that doesn’t preclude that I want to understand something of the ideas, the wisdom, imbedded in the materials and the images themselves … wether they are my projections on them or something inherent within them. (Watch out there  … I seem to be channeling the shades of Santayana and Aquinas both with that statement!) Nor does it mean that I will be immediately satisfied by the wisdom presented to me, pushed into my grasp by the drawing process. I will trying to bend it, somehow, closer to my will, to my thought … to an outcome that I had expected, that I want/wanted to accept. I may or may not get it all the way there. I could lose the contest. Just as often though … having to give in, letting the work have it’s own way … I am enlightened by the image, by the process, and/or the materials. I am transformed by the work/working as much as I have created the art work.

Whether like lovers or wrestlers, in either case really exciting things can happen.

As I said, Clarence noticed that I really get excited about drawing … at times even above and beyond my deep attachment to/involvement with painting. So, YES, Clarence was right. It is the balance of intimacy and power in the acts of drawing, whether in the small scale sketches or the larger works, that I love.

Thanks for the insight old friend.

For-Scythian..., detail E2

PS: if you want to find some of Clarence’s newer work, you might start with …  http://www.clarence-morgan.com

Phew! … and Wow!

October 26, 2010

This tree!  While this shot is on a blustery, dark day … on a sunny morning it is glorious. Frankly, as I eat breakfast, I could sit enthralled for an hour or so.  It is so much visual fun to see the progressive bathing of the leaves in ever brighter light. Maybe that means I am really easily entertained or I am just a natural contemplative.

On the exhibition preparation front, I am so glad today is here. A few more hours of trying to get the last piece for the Greer Museum show done (always wanting JUST ONE work to be nearly perfect).  Silly me … will I ever learn?  NOT likely. After one more class this evening, and despite the oncoming windstorm, it is off to West Virginia for the night and into Ohio on Wednesday.

The 20 foot (see the sheetl rolled up top?) piece below was in its last stages yesterday … but the images, textures, and maps are not fully integrated.  Now the last few lines are, maybe, in place. I think it still needs something. I guess I will just have to see it installed to figure that out. But for now, Phew!  I am done. The reception is Thursday evening.

New work on Ohio walls!

October 7, 2010

Entente Cordiale

They are UP on the wall.

Both shows … the mylar drawings and the small panel          paintings too.

Many, many thanks to both Dennis and Margaret!

Well, I have to get back  to the studio and the classroom … so …  ‘Nuff said for now.

Landscape Revelations show

Delayed, As If In A Thicket

IT IS DONE! Well, mostly.

June 5, 2010

I spent six years making art in a wonderfully well lit studio in a very accessible location. The high ceilings and tall windows looked out over the townscape and the surrounding hills and mountains too.

And while I was done in that space by the end of december, the vagaries of winter weather were slowing down the renovations and construction projects in the new space quite a bit. Nothing like close to 50 inches of snow that won’t melt to keep excavations from taking place. Everything was stuffed in all the nooks and crannies or piled in the middle of the floor!

Well, construction is done … and the spaces have been outfitted and arranged pretty well. I am even making large scale works again.

To be sure, the studio will need some electrical and lighting upgrades as time goes along. But for now, I am really excited. Next time I will post some new photos and some art works too.


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