Posts Tagged ‘John Hancock’

Large Landscape Works on Paper

April 11, 2017

I am always on the lookout for interesting art work … in person or out in the digital universe.  Recently, while trying to find examples of engaging artworks for my students to connect to, I came across the work of Michelle Lauriat.

Michele Lauriat, Phil's Hill (#3)

Mixed media, 90×55, from the Phil’s Hill series

 

Frankly, I was surprised and so very excited to find her large works combining drawing and painting on paper. I think my pleasure was so intense because she works much as I do in my sketching … but does so on such a larger scale. The work also reminds me just a bit of the image making path that I was on in my early 20’s.  So, I feel enthralled by the newness and freshness of her work while also sensing a degree of aesthetic kinship.

 

 

Mixed media, Echo Lake Series, 55×42

Ms. Lauriat’s pieces hover between drawing and full-bodied painting; making use of discrete but rich patches of color as well as subtle staining of the surfaces. Using copious amounts of negative space along with fields of color and value, she carefully articulates space/depth and a tentative feeling of solidity. While there is much visible evidence of early exploratory gestural mark making that she has left exposed and even foregrounded, there are also areas that she fills with marks and passages that hint at or describe perceived textures and also bolster the visceral activation of the surface design of her work.


I see Lauriat’s working method combining a decisively bold, and at times elegant, editing process with an eye for richly observed and rendered details from the natural world.  The results are exquisite combinations of mimetic accuracy and dramatic abstraction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her website is visually easy to explore and she blogs at … http://blog.michelelauriat.com

Enjoy!

 

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Urban Sketches; Color or Not

February 14, 2017

This past week or so, I have been working on sketches, lots of sketches … and yesterday I executed a very quiet one.

I had walked through town, past the shops and restaurants along the pedestrian mall, across and under the railroad tracks a few times, and even as far east as the old coal tower. I visually explored, looking for new ways to see the familiar sites. I tried to look deeply; I sketched and even took a few photos to perhaps use as reference for later in the studio. The one image that most intrigued me was far from the obvious. I even worked it up in a manner that I only rarely use.

Stopping in a small public park near my old studio, I began, and almost completed, the piece on site. The park is dedicated to the memory of a regional war hero and it has a traditional and quite handsome equestrian statue in the middle of the park. What interested me though was the sunlight bathing the delicately carved white stone base as well as the winter shrubs surrounding the statue.

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Winter Shrubs in Lee Park (pencil w/ink and ink wash, 5″x11″)

Using the thinnest of graphite lines, I began laying in the divisions of space. As I did so, I also began to create light but articulated lines to describe edges of bare branches. While I was doing most of the pencil work, I decided to create a pale grey ink wash. In a very old fashioned manner, I layered the wash many times … very slowly building up pretty subtle value shifts as each layer of wash dried. To add contrast to the nuanced values of pencil and wash, I added a lot of fairly small black ink marks using the fine point of a cartridge brush pen. Though I might touch up some part of the sketch later, for now I believe it is done. (If you have an opinion about it being done or not, do let me know.)

As I said, this little ink and pencil piece is quite a bit different from most of my current sketch work. A more typical piece is the one I did a building just four blocks away or the one of the coal tower.  Most often, I add watercolor over pencil and sometimes I will add a touch of ink … either with pen or brush. I tend to work fairly quickly once the drawing is “blocked-in” to my satisfaction. I usually strive to keep the end result loose and painterly as you can see below. This time, for the piece above, I was using aa much slower and more patient process.

west end of the cville mall, 2016West End of the Mall (watercolor and ink over pencil, 5″x7″)

 

 

 

I am always a bit surprised at the variety of the stylistic choices I see in my sketches, the wide array of strategies I employ as I begin working with an image. Loose vs highly controlled; rich color versus open space and limited hue or tone. As a much younger artist I worried that my work was “all over the place” or too “unfocused.” Eventually I learned to look to one of my heroes,  Richard Diebenkorn, as an example. You can see some of the variety within his sketches at the following address:
[ http://hyperallergic.com/231403/a-lifetime-of-sketchbooks-from-postwar-painter-richard-diebenkorn ] So, I don’t worry about that issue any more.

For me, it is time to get back out there and make some more images. Well over half of my studio pieces are begun with the research of urban sketching or plein-air studies!

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Coal Tower, Blustery Day, watercolor over pencil, 5″ x 11″

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Working up a Watercolor Sketch … or is it a small Watercolor?

October 21, 2016

Last Wednesday and Thursday, I was supposed to be teaching a plein-air watercolor workshop at a regional art center. That plan didn’t quite gel; I took the now unscheduled time to work unfettered as a gift from the universe and I painted outside in the wondrous fall air! I even had some extended time to paint some in the studio. It was a nearly perfect compensation!

While working on one smallish piece, I assumed that I was creating a watercolor sketch.  Soon, I began to question if that was what I was doing. You see, I am not always sure when a watercolor sketch really becomes a small painting. I have been drawing, working with sketches, making paintings, and sometimes a lot of other types of art as well, for many years now. But I am still not sure where, or even if, there is a line somewhere between those watercolor sketches and watercolor paintings. ???

Let me back up and set the stage. Earlier in the week I had been helping some adult students with techniques and processes used to work with watercolor on wet paper … what many call wet-on-wet or wet-into-wet watercolor. If you have looked at my work, you know that in my pure watercolors, I mostly utilize what is known as the wet on dry techniques.  But as I do every so often, I responded to all the wonderfully rich and soft colors that Autumn has served up this year by making room for some wet surface painting.

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Beginning as I usually do, with a brief pencil line drawing … I was soon adding some delicate layers of color … mainly to the slanting ground of the hillside, the bushes along the “ridge-line” of the hill, and the foliage and trunks of the most forward cluster of trees. These forward trees’ trunks, branches, and leaves cover almost two-thirds of the top tier of the watercolor.

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As this completed my initial mapping of the image, I quickly moved on to adding some rich golden yellow color into background on the upper left side.

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Before the thick golden yellow dried, I moved in with two very dark green, one a bit blue and more neutral … the other a bit darker but a “purer” green.  As I watched this new rich green-yellow mix began to set up and dry, I turned my attention back to looking at and working all around the image, finally concentrating on the far right side of the image … especially the deep background visible under the canopy of main “central” trees as an area of shadowed blue and violet-blue.

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At this point I wasn’t yet sure if:  #1) I wanted to make the dark bright trees at the center as bold as the ones to the left … or #2) if I wanted to paint a deep blue violet into the now bright wet blue on the right side of the composition. NOT making a nearly instantaneous rational or intuitive decision was my first hint that I might now be painting rather than sketching.

Instead of tackling that decision … choosing one of those two major options … I once again began to “play” some more all over the image, making small tweaks to the  composition. I also spent some time working on the small bushes that appear out from under the central trees, descending along the hillside in front of/below the still extremely wet dark yellow-green mass that I had painted just a few moments before.

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I scrubbed out most of the dull rose hue I had started with in the main clump of bushes. Next, I made a darker mauve-burgundy blend that I pushed into the other reddish plants along the edge of the swelling line of the hill. Finally, I scraped and scuffed the paper of the main bush before applying a purer, warmer red … as well as a few touches of the burgundy.

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Well, as so often happens … life and many other tasks intervened in the process of finishing this piece.  Dinner finally called. The next day, my students, doing necessary work out in the yard, a few household tasks, visiting with family … even another painting or two begged for my attention!

A couple of days passed before I returned to work on this little image. Luckily for me, I had made a photo or two of the location … as well as having a clear memory of my slightly agonized struggle to clearly see and process the image on location.  I carved out an hour or so to reconnect with all that and spent a bit of time looking at what had started as a simple sketch. It was time to finally commit and finish it!

Above the Rockbridge Line, watercolor w/pencil on paper, 6.25x9.75

Above the Rockbridge Line, watercolor w/pencil on paper, 6.25×9.75

About 20 minutes of painting spread out across an hour and a half or so of evaluating … as well as drying time between new color layers and it was done!

As I said at the beginning, I am not sure when a watercolor sketch crosses some type of delineation and becomes a small painting.  In this case, I am sure of two things …

… 1) This was excruciating and deliciously fun …

and …

… 2) I would rather know which one YOU think it is, a sketch or a small watercolor?

Please let me know!

 

 

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A trip to Water Colour anyone?

May 17, 2016

It is SO nice to get a note or postcard in the mail, especially if it has some fun or exciting art image(s)! And while I can’t pin it to my studio board … I can savor an e-message or even a digital post about art almost as much.

That was why I was happy to get a post from Mari French today.

Mari is an English artist whose blog I follow. Her quick sketches are forcefully simple, very direct, and often really spot on; joys to see!

Old landing stage and channel markers. Sketchbook, Mari French 2016

Old landing stage and channel markers. Sketchbook, Mari French 2016

Mari’s more extended works seem to flow out of her mode of sketching and making studies. To me the larger pieces are rich and sophisticated in terms color and design.

Salt & sand series,#2. Mixed media on paper, 70x50cm. © Mari French 2016

Salt & sand series,#2. Mixed media on paper, 70x50cm. © Mari French 2016

Ms. French’s blog today showed some of her pieces and other’s works included in the 2016 Royal Institute of Painters of Water Colour exhibit. She focused on several artists, especially those working in minimalist or boldly conceived abstraction; styles which she obviously enjoys/has a deep interest in … her work show an obvious affinities for those approaches. [Get a look at her post by clicking here: Mari French’s most recent blog ]

You might also consider linking to the exhibition of that show’s website too. [a link to the 2016 R.I. WC Exhibit]  There you can peruse the other watercolour (watercolors), gouache, and acrylic paintings that members of the Royal Institute are displaying this year.  It was a wonderful treat for me to see some very exciting new work by folks that frankly, I never meet … even if I travel to Britain again any time soon.

Now, any group show has a few works that are completely and totally respectable efforts, but sadly … way too predictable.  However this is a really fine show; there really are large percentage of works that are absolutely exquisite in their craftsmanship, design, or handling of content.  And a few are so amazingly simple in their execution that they astound.

Sails across the Marshes, Norfolk, by Fred Beckett

Sails across the Marshes, Norfolk, by Fred Beckett

Mountain Village, by Ralph Dalzell

Mountain Village, by Ralph Dalzell

One or two (look for pieces about topiary prisons by Karen Charman) are even funny; beautifully fresh takes/touches on the best visual traditions in early and mid 20th century illustrations, comics, and cartoons. That type of work intrigued me as a kid; Ms. Charman’s pieces do the same today.

Ultimate Humaliation Topiary Prison, Charman-Karen-

Ultimate Humaliation Topiary Prison, Karen Charman

Take a digital trip, Fares are low. The rewards are really high!

 

The Showers of April … Have Brought Opportunities and Gifts in May!

May 5, 2016

Better news!

My last post talked about how the winter and early spring had been rough … with all the demolition in the studio and the storage areas.  Well, my tiresome kvetching … and the demolition process are done and the major reconstruction is almost over too!  When the space is all new and fresh, I’ll gleefully post those images.

Now, as April has wrapped up and the rains have brought us into May, I seem to have a lighter heart and and a less frenzied head.  Frankly, it didn’t hurt that I’ve been having some fun and some good luck as well. Many of you know that I really love to go sketch outside. Working with pencil, inks, watercolor, or gouache … I make lots of small pieces.  It always feel so good to get lost in that work.

Sometimes I will even whip out a panel or a larger sheet of paper and complete a whole painting on the spot.  Working that way reminds me of my Saturday forays into downtown Wichita (yes, I lived in Kansas for a few years) to draw the stately brownstones … or of the watercolor classes that I took back at Valdosta State.  I used the “plein-air” process for ten years as my primary painting strategy.  And while today I mostly use it to help prep for studio pieces, I still get a kick out of making a good small sketch.

 

View North, Spring, WEB

A recent quick watercolor sketch, 11×17

Well, I participated in a couple of Plein-Air Paint Outs and Quick Draw events in our region recently.  Painting while dodging the frequent rain showers … and meeting and talking with new colleagues was a joy.  The energy and camaraderie were really nice too.  Of course it didn’t feel bad for the old ego to hear a few nice comments and get a little recognition from one’s compatriots after a long day out making art!

 

 

Lynchburg Quick Draw

the artist Grey Dodson and I at a Quick Draw event

 

As I said above, I use these types of sketches, studies, and small plain air works as references for my studio pieces.  I am exhibiting some of those more involved studio works this coming month too.  The exhibit is happening at The Gray Gallery, a fairly new venue in Winchester, VA.1459915120

It is a two person exhibit, titled Structured Environments ( http://www.the-gray-gallery.com/exhibitions ) featuring Kung Chee Keong’s and my work.  I have about a dozen pieces in the show, all from my Shaped Landscape series.  The newest piece … finished just a few days ago … is actually a reworked triptych that I started over four years ago. In my eyes, it has always been only “almost” right since I stopped working on it.  I recently had a few ideas for how to improve the design and to make it a lot better.  I am pleased with the new version and I am really happy to see what others think.

I like Keong’s images a lot too, they have lots of movement and energy.  It is an interesting pairing.  These bodies of work will likely create a neat visual dialogue for the viewers; they do for me.  The exhibit is now open and the reception is on Friday, May 6th. The show will run through May 28th. If you are in the northern Shenandoah Valley this month, please do stop by the Gray Gallery and take a look.  The gallery is on Cameron Street in Winchester’s Old Town district … a beautiful and very walkable downtown.  Enjoy the art and, if you have time, maybe grab a bite to eat while you are there.  Make it a day!

works from The Gray Gallery Exhibit Structured Environments

“Autumnal Abundance”, one of my pieces (left), a work by Kung Chee Keong (right) from The Gray Gallery exhibition                               Structured Environments

As you see, a few weeks have gone by and life turned another corner. This corner, this turn, has lots of spring showers, thunderstorms, and even downpours to dodge … or to dance in. Whichever approach to dealing with the rain, it is a hopeful season. More later!

 

 

 

Curating the NEW WATERCOLORS exhibition at SVAC

February 1, 2016

Every now and then a really engaging and fun project comes along.

This time the project wasn’t in my studio or in the studio with some of my excellent students. Rather, it was curating the New Watercolors exhibition at the SVAC (Shenandoah Valley Art Center); it was a really wonderful challenge.

As the works came in from up and down the mostly east coast states, I was really pleased with the quality and variety that I saw before me. When all the work had arrived, I found myself in a bit of a quandary; I could frankly see two or three versions of the show based on the work I had. In the end though, I chose to simply pick the best pieces from each of the major themes and ways of working that the artists had placed at our disposal. The seventeen artists included in the show were: Randy Akers, Ananda Balingit-LeFils, Carol Barber, Jane Forth, Rachel Gaudry, Carl Gombert, M. Colleen Harrigan, Scott Hillman, Annie Parham, Chee Kludt Ricketts, Susan Crave Rosen, Beth Shadur, Jane Skafte, Amy Smith, Chhiv Taing, Steven Wolf, and Junko Yamamoto. Each works in an exciting, new, and/or experimental ways with aqueous media.

The piece that, at first, will 11,-STEVEN-WOLF-copy-copy,-WEBprobably seem the most traditional in the show is one by Steven Wolf. He is an artist living in Virginia. An artist well versed in the classical techniques of painting, Steven subtly eschews that way of working in his piece, Row of Burnished Trees,

Upon close inspection, you way notice that he has layered his aqueous media over a toned ground; something not seen very often … and often frowned on by many modern watercolor “traditionalist.” In fact though this is a practice that goes well back into the history of water media painting. It gives Steve’s color passages a subtle, and I think, evocative quality.

A number of artists in this exhibit sent in pieces that made use of collage in some manner. This past century has seen artists of all kinds and techniques embrace the concept of collage; from the Surrealists and Cubists of the early 1900s to todays mash-ups and sampling in the performing arts. Collage has become a basic tool for artists.

4,-Harrigan-copy-copy,-WEBColleen Harrigan’s Cape Pogue  is a classic collage with its torn and layered paper merging seamlessly with rough and irregular brush marks to create a Martha’s Vineyard seaside. This work is an interesting take on the watercolor seascape; it is a somewhat more quiet and calm version than one would seen from John Marin’s collage like arrangements of color in his watercolors of the coast. While I suspect Marin’s work has informed Ms. Harrigan, it is just as likely that the late seascapes of Homer or Sargent may have been in her visual memory as she navigated this supple composition.

A totally different approach to collage and water media is evident in Jane Skate’s Four Sisters. The multi-panel piece appears to be a joyously abstract tour de force of swooping, flying shards of color contrast with solid and stable shapes and richly layered hues holding the piece together behind all the action. I have seen her work before and know that her abstractions 16,-SKAFTE-copy-copy,-WEBoften stem from careful observation of spaces and objects. Here, anyny references here alludes my eye … and I get lost in the contrast of ragged vs clear edges, the complexity of the color harmonics, and the dynamic movement of shapes.

There is one artist in the show who has taken the idea of collage deeply into his working methodology. You may not recognize it at first though. Carl Gombert layers objects and images on a surface with the abandon of a collagist, but his liquid layers of color may be hand applied or may be stamped onto the surface. And right beside these layers of color you may find rhinestones, glitter, and broken pieces of mirror. Mr. Gombert’s subject matter, 5,-GOMBERT-copy-copy,-WEBwell lets just say it is as much influenced by street art, circus advertising, and tattooing as it is anything one might find in a curiosity shop or a 1950’s variety store. His four foot tall Explanation does not fit the standard idea of a genteel little watercolor. That is part of why it is such a wonderful addition to this show!

A very different way of working is evident in a few pieces included in this exhibit. Many artists have begun to paint more frequently on non-paper surfaces in recent years. After centuries of using traditional white papers in the western and asian traditions, artist have begun to explore woods and plastics, even glass as a painting surface for watercolor and other aqueous paints.

One of the artists in this show, Amy Smith, is working on the new plastic sheeting known as Yupo. It is a synthetic fibers material that acts much like paper but has a surface that will not absorb the liquid paint. Due to this, the color sits up on the surface, remains much more vidid in hue and intensity, stays wet longer, and can thus be manipulated much more freely.  6,-AMY-SMITH-copy-copy,-WEB

This can scare some artists. Not Ms. Smith, whose Solid As A Rock is a rather raucous jumble of rich color. She has taken watercolor’s liquidity and given us as much “chunkiness” as it is probably able to manifest.

 

 

A very different sense of design

20,-TAING-copy-copy,-WEBand surface is presented by Chhiv Taing, in Rue Graveolens, which was created by layering aqueous color on paper and translucent film and combined with colored film as well. These are not just layered, but cut into sensuous shapes. The layered density creates a sense of weight and heft while the translucency of all the materials clearly  communicates an airy quality. That contact, and the delicacy of the shapes and hues makes for a joyously realized image.

Perhaps the most intriguing work for me was in some ways the simplest of the works that came into the exhibition. It was sent to us by Junko Yamamata. The work, titled 05, was created using paint and ink on strips of an oriental style paper mounted on wood.  Despite the relatively small size of the work, Yamagata has created a forceful and dynamic presence through the sheer intensity of color and the utter intentional clarity of shape.

 

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As I said, this has been a wonderful experience for me; visual surprises almost always are!

The exhibition, at the Shenandoah Valley Art Center, located in Waynesboro, Virginia, opened on Saturday, December 5th, 2015 and ran through January 23rd, 2016. If you would like see more of the works from the exhibition, there are several ways to do so. The large and small printed catalogs are still available at Blurb.com. There also two ways to get to see all the images for FREE as well; you e-mail me and I can send you a pdf of the catalog … or for those who would like an e-book version,  you can also download the free one from Blurb.com site.

New Watercolors (smaller book)

The link for all of the Blurb.cpm books and the free e-book is:

http://www.blurb.com/search/site_search?search=new+watercolors%2C+hancock

 

 

 

New Work; From Plein Air Sketch to Finished Pieces

August 5, 2014

I love mixing and matching … aligning and contrasting. I do it with media. I do it with imagery and content. I’ll even use that way of working with design and stylistic approaches. Mash-up isn’t quite the right word; it is the right concept though. Maybe I am overly invested in both classicism and the early modern.

one of the studies, a reference photo, and an early stage of “Trees In Pacific Afternoon Light”

This week, as I prepare the last pieces for a two-person exhibit at a college in North Carolina, I have had several pieces that have been a hard to bring to fruition. One of them seems to have hit upon a happy ending … the other two, I am still struggling with.

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watercolor study, 5 x 11, from a sketch made looking across a wall from the Getty Villa

The first, an image that started as a sketch out in S. California, became a small series of watercolor studies. Soon, using the rough sketch, studies, and a dozen or more reference photos … I began the painting on an aqueous media panel.

the central image, 3rd stage ... watercolor on a 12 x 12 panel.

the central image, 3rd stage … watercolor on a 12 x 12 panel


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

None of my photos captured the almost golden light I sensed that afternoon as I prepared to enter the Getty Villa. But working from my sketch and color notes … I played about until I got an image that did portray the felt color of that afternoon.

A few days ago, as the painted section with the trees neared completion, I added a few passages of gouache, hoping  to increase the solidity of  the bare tree branches located in the blue violet shadow on the lower left.

the panel, taped for laying in color across the top register. The representational content is 85% to 95% complete

the panel, taped for laying in color across the top register. The representational content is 90% to 95% complete … ?

Yesterday I decided to stop working on the trees; not permanently … but to begin deciding what to do with the upper third of the image. I flirted with at least six or seven possibilities. Maybe a very thin red horizontal band and a muted blue grey above it? Two blue bands with several small vertical shapes in rich yellow and dark muted green clustered in the upper right corner? or perhaps in the upper left? In the end, I decided to keep this one more simple. Two tonally related but different blue bands, the darker and more intense one across the top.

Here it is with the color bands completed. I  still think that a combination of small staggered vertical bands, interrupting the major horizontals. might be interesting. But, for now, I’ll leave it as it is, tidy-up up the “loose-ends” and move on.

 

Almost completed panel!

An almost completed panel!

I do like it. Maybe I can be happy with this one as it is.

 

IMG_2329As I said above, the other two are proving to be much harder to bring to a satisfactory conclusion.

Like the painting above, I have reference sketches and photos from last fall, as well as compositional studies for this painting. The finished maple tree in autumn was to have a strip (possibly broken into a few vertical blocks) on the right side … and maybe a “free floating” block of color somewhere inside the composition in the lower left. I was pretty sure of what I wanted it to look like; now I have almost no clear vision of how it should end up!

 

The next one, a smaller horizontal piece, was started in the summer of 2012 … and I never really quite loved it.

On the Edge, Late Summer (as "completed" in 2012)

On the Edge, Late Summer  (as originally “completed in 2012)

Here it is to the right. What I liked was the general rhythm of the stalks across the field. But despite the passible late summer humidity-laden coloration, it doesn’t feel like the design is dynamic enough.

Below is the new revision so far. Originally the red-violet band was wider … the width of what is now both the dark olive green and the red-violet color panels. The newly white area is going to get a drawing of the same heather (maybe two drawings?) at earlier stage(s) in the plant’s growth/maturation process. I have left the white a bit translucent so that a “ghost” of the original color and drawing do show through.

summer 2014 revisions, so far

the summer of 2014 revisions, so far

 

Maybe I am being indecisive. I do know that I am being pretty picky (or is it just being fickle?).

As I said Mash-up isn’t quite the right word for my combination of classicism and the early modern. I am not sure what is the right description … but I will post progress on these two a bit later.

Exhibition of Sketches open, Reception today!

May 2, 2014

Sometimes little things are really quite important. Certainly the smallest thing can be extremely satisfying.

I have a new show opening today in Charlottesville, Virginia at Angelo (on the downtown pedestrian mall). It is a wonderful small venue. The show itself is also small, just 14 pieces. All the work is quite small too!

After my big shows of really BIG drawings earlier this winter, it is really a nice treat to put up these smaller, more intimately scaled pieces.

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And these works are interesting and exciting to me precisely because they are more personal, intimate, and quick in terms of the art making. All of them are landscape sketches, most started and finished in one session … with the simplest of materials. There are a few that are almost panoramic in vision despite their very small scale.  A few are really close-ups of landscape details. Most of them though are fairly typical landscape images … at least they are typical to my eye.

The best ones are done very quickly and quite simply.  A few have a hint of Demuth or Marin (not so much Homer or Girtin this time) … and just maybe the quickness (if not the sublime quality) of a Turner watercolor.  The less successful ones may help me create better larger works but, of course, I don’t share those. They are now “working” sketches. You would have to come to my studio or one of my classes to see those.

The ones at Angelo for the next two months are, I think … pretty good.

If you are near Charlottesville sometime between May 1st and June 30th, please take a look and tell me if you agree.

(PS It would be wonderful to see you at the opening too … sometime between 5:00 and 7:30.)

 

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Sketches!

April 26, 2014

It has been a busy Spring.

Winter hung in there and made it a longer chilly start to the spring season than usual. That means the garden and plants need some extra care, some extra work this year. I have not gotten all the gardening tools properly prepped for the season yet either.

Instead, I have made lots of changes to my classes at the college. (I do so hate to get stale in the drawing class studio!) At the other end of the professional duties, my exhibition schedule and speaking engagements have kept me hopping. The traveling was fun, even as we dodged the worst of the snow and ice storms!

NW Hillside, Pines and Fenceline

NW Hillside, Pines and Fenceline, watercolor over pencil, 5×11, 2014

Now, at the core of my artist life, the making of artwork, things have again settled into a pattern. Yes, a slightly a-rhythmic pattern … but one I am trying to keep moving along. Not in the studio very much; I have been working outside whenever I could … wielding pencil, ink-brush pen, and watercolor. So much so that my students have remarked that they have seen me along the roads close to campus and further afield. They think it is quite funny (¿amusing or weird?) when they spot me sitting on the cold ground in 40 F/5 C degree weather; standing at my sketching easel in 30 mph/50 kph winds.

But it is part of what I do to prep for new work; my version of hunting and gathering … seeking out new images, interesting visual material.

I have other ways of generating visual “primary sources”, but working alla-prima, en-plein-air … is so mentally refreshing.

It grounds me.

preliminary sketch for "South, Off Jarmin's Gap Road

preliminary sketch for “South, Off Jarmin’s Gap Road

Sometimes the work comes out totally fresh and clean. Almost sparse/spartan in its finished state. Other times they are labored, even overworked. Unclear. Those are not as exciting, but they still teach me something, challenge me to think, re-think their source and what it is I find engaging and exciting about it.

Hilltop Pine, Across From Rockfish Gap

Hilltop Pine, Across From Rockfish Gap, ink & watercolor over pencil, 5×11, 2014

Whichever one it is, clear, clean, and well executed … or overthought and overly fussy … I am happy to be seeing, reacting, and thinking about images outside. Just pass me my hat and my sunscreen!

 

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Two shows Delivered … resetting the studio for work!

February 3, 2014

Installion, of a large drawing

Installion of a large drawing

Excited and exhausted; to say the very least.

During January I installed two large exhibitions in two weeks. The installations went well. I was really quite happy with getting to see the works up on the walls together!

One exhibit had an opening reception that was very well attended, I got lots of questions and discussion, and folks seemed to have a splendid time. So I walked away with good feelings … relieved, happy and even a little euphoric.

IMG_2705

view of part of the exhibition at Mary Baldwin College

Answering some questions at the reception

Answering some questions at the reception

To be honest though, when that kind of scheduling happens, my studio and my life tend to get pretty … no … really messy.

As the two shows loomed on the horizon, I began to focus more and more on the logistics of finishing, prepping and packaging for transport. At the same time I was continuing to make the last few works for each show. This left me a bit crazed and frenzied at times. I was switching back and forth between production mode and thinking about logistics. I wasn’t putting supplies and equipment back in place at the end of each session.  The studio got way out of hand!

Normally, once a show is up, I start to wind down.

Even the prep table and storage areas became really messy

Even the prep table and storage areas became really messy

When some of the exultation and weariness begins to abate, it is usually time for that reflection to begin … to take stock of where my work is/is going, to decide if I need to shift directions, alter my course, or adjust my strategies. That is usually a very good thing for me but I have to admit that more than once I have let myself fall into some type of post-show stupor and have had a hard time getting back to a steady working routine.  This time, I really couldn’t stop … the other show had to get out the door in less than a week!

So I kept moving.

Now the second show in Pennsylvania is up … and I am noticing an interesting turn of events. Even while working on and installing the Pa. show, the heightened analysis process that I use after completing milestones/projects had begun. So, instead of collecting my thoughts while I was puttering through the studio doing some straightening up … I was already in full reflection mode when I walked back into the studio upon returning.

All the drawing ables, supply tables and chairs are full of stuff!

All the drawing tables, supply tables and chairs are full of stuff!

The practical tasks seemed, this time, to jump into sharp focus and to hand. First, the studio needed re-organizing and cleaning. Working in mixed media, if everything isn’t put away after a few sessions, it can leave the materials in a disheveled heap. It was a bit of real jumble as you can see here!

One messy wheeled table (sort of a mobile taboret)

One messy wheeled table (sort of a mobile taboret)

There were transportation and packing materials to properly store. And I have to make some sense, some order out of all the resource images, sketches and photos … as well as pieces of plants, dried seedpods, maps, and other studio materials to file away or re-evaluate for use soon. (I am not sure I have ever really gotten a good filing and storage system for doing these items!) I usually look about and see if there is something that I think that I need from old resources or need to go get/create at this point.

While I am getting things in order … it is good time to do a materials inventory too. Whether there is any income from these shows or not I’ll need replenish my stock, to order some fresh supplies and repair/replace any damaged or broken equipment.

So as tools, supplies, resource images/objects, are sorted out, the periodic cleaning MUST take on a high priority! I expect that it may need an even more intensive version this time ‘round. I would call it a “spring cleaning” but we are still in the depth of winter.

As I said before, I usually build to all these tasks as I reflect on my direction. This time, the practical/logistical tasks are happening at a quickened pace. It sort of reminds me of my German colleague and friend Brigitte Weyer, who moved into a new town, home, and studio … and was painting within two or three days. Even with some of the boxes still packed.

It seems as though I am resetting for new work already!

The studio is getting back to a workable state!

The studio is getting back to a workable state!

There are two medium size drawings that I need to switch out the glass for sheets of Plexiglass (aka: Acrylic glass, Acrylite, Lucite, Perspex) so they can be shipped. And I have already prepped two large Mylar sheets … because I’ve set some ideas into motion for several large drawings

I am also feeling the need to be working on my aqueous media painting … the works on panel and paper. I have a major multi panel painting in the works and three or four smaller single panel pieces roughed in. I need to start applying some color layers. That feels exciting just thinking about it!

Look closely, I have already started laying in the first color passages!

Look closely, I have already started laying in the first color passages!

There are some large watercolors on paper in the pipeline too. I am also really chomping at the bit, anxious to get outside (even in spite of this much colder than average winter) to begin working on new small sketches and studies.

Once I have really gotten all these moving … I will, as is my praxis, let the work lead the way; letting each of these strands of working weave themselves into an organic and fairly seamless whole.

There is a good lesson to take-away from this experience. I have known for many years that I need reflection time … but I do want to avoid the post show let-down and stupor induced paralysis it can bring with it. My scheduling of these two exhibits right on top of each got really messy. You could ask my wife. Perhaps though, it taught me again to NOT completely stop … to not let rethinking and re-ordering become a false reverie.

I have new works up and running. The studio is coming along. And we are planning a few trips (combining art and personal fun) and a vacation too.

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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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So far, it is just called “Vixen” …

January 6, 2014

I am sure about one thing in this drawing. I was really, really scared to work up an image of the fox.

I often use bird images in my drawing for the Natural-Family-History series; I see lots of birds everyday. Even if and when I have to do research on the look and habits of a particular species or the visual differences between genders of mature/immature birds … at least I see many, many birds all the time. I have been watching birds, their behaviors, and trying to understand their relation to their habitat since I was about 12 years old.

But foxes? I seldom see a fox.

Studio view, with Vixen at first stage mixed media on Mylar

Studio view, with “Vixen” at its first stages
mixed media on Mylar

In this series animals are used symbolically (Purely visually? Not so much). Here the fox is a totemic image … a stand in for someone very important in my life. When the subject and I talked, we discussed the images that I could  use; I wasn’t surprised by the suggestion of the fox.  I was Just unsure how to incorporate the image. And I wasn’t used to drawing this four legged creature … an especially shy and reclusive little predator.

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

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

Despite my trepidation, the fox is, frankly, the perfect totem for this person. Shy and reclusive I have already mentioned those; audacious, agile, quick witted, and tenacious are other common attributes that people throughout history and across cultures have seen in the fox. The one I think of most though is … graceful; especially when the word is well used to denote a natural combination of power and beauty.

The other imagery falls into into basically two categories: intricate, abstracted geometric structures and evocations of autumn. The scarlet hawthorn with it’s late summer to fall bloom and fruiting, the heart of an apple, and the fiery coloration are all appropriate, just like the fox,  to communicate, through visual analogy, the temperament and character of this family member.

'Vixen', detail A3, WEB

You can see I have also included some text. It is a bit of a wordplay actually. Vox. Vox ≠ Fox … and it was an unexpected, almost quixotic metaphorical turn in my head. And it is beginning to suggest a a more “finished title to me. I’ll leave that one for your imagination.

'Vixen', image A1, WEB

Well, this one seems to be about finished. Other than the fact that I like the intensity of the parts but I am uneasy about the “crowded” nature of the composition … I am not sure what I think about it yet. I do know that I have worked on it enough for now. Maybe I’ll come back and alter something about it later.  First, I am going to go back to the study I did on paper and eliminate the fox in that one. More about that in my next post.

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Of Tattoos and Miracles

December 9, 2013

about “Tatoos & Miracles”

First, NO, I don’t have any tattoos of loons or anything else. No, I don’t want one either. But, in recent months I have sometimes posted about the art in my Natural-Family-History series. Those large drawings on mylar are created to give me a place to connect my ideas and reflections about family and place. The drawings are a sort of multi-voice dialogue between scientific and totemic, mimetic and poetic imagery. Sometimes I have been hard pressed to articulate what I am doing … or at least why.

This blog (published by Muddy River Muse), at first seemingly unrelated, is on target; so on target because … better than anything I have written thus far … it hones in on a major part of what I am doing.

I too am looking for, trying to create, “outward signs.”

(I have some new Natural-Family-History series drawings progressing through the studio right now; more on them in the next few days.)

Muddy River Muse

Like all good little cradle-Anglicans of my day, when I reached the age of 12 I signed up for Confirmation class. We met crammed into a too-small but oddly symbolic “upper room” off the church balcony. I remember exactly two things from my weeks of Confirmation prep. The first is the lesson where we read and discussed the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. The minister who taught the class took it upon himself to challenge us with some liberal theology, and pressed the point that perhaps there was more than one way to make a miracle. Perhaps Jesus didn’t conjure extra loaves and fishes out of thin air after all. Perhaps when the members of the crowd observed one person sharing the provisions he had brought, they were inspired – or shamed— into digging into their packs and bringing out their own secret stash of snacks to…

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Stanley Spencer; Modernist & Realist

November 24, 2013

Self-portrait, Stanley Spencer, 1914

Self-portrait, Stanley Spencer, 1914

Some Realists make work that reminds me of wonderful and simple sugar candy; a rush of pure visual excitement, easy on the eyes, and nothing complicated. (Yes, I know it isn’t easy or uncomplicated to paint that way; just try to create a delicate and sensual confection like Fairfield Porter’s work!)

Then there are Realists so enigmatic that their work creates all kinds of quandaries which rattle about in my head for a long time. Those are the Realists that I love most.

In the States, I immediately think of the works of Andrew Wyeth or of Raphael Soyer. The former stretches credulity and design into a wonderfully complex matrix. Soyer, seemingly effortlessly, pushes you towards his subjects personal space … involving you, almost uncomfortably in their lives somehow.

In England, I am entranced by the life and art of Stanley Spencer. His work, to my eye at least, stands as a very modern type of realism. Maybe not the rough, even harsh newer realism of Lucien Freud but still modern and engaging. (I haven’t yet read anything to tell me that L. F. was influenced by Spencer, but I suspect that he was.)

Terry's Lane, Cookham circa 1932 by Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959

Terry’s Lane, Cookham, c. 1932

Spencer, as an artist who matured within sight of the first World War nearly a century ago, certainly had access to both the grand traditions of the past and the visual ideas of the new century at his disposal. He continually experimented with elements of both in his art.

We can see in his drawing and painting that he had the training we would associate with that tradition. We also see in his work that he had an eye for composition that was not traditional … he crowded the viewers perception, pushed his subject into our world, dragged us into his equivocally desolate and lush visions.

So to, in his life, he experimented and fumbled … ending up in a bit of a peculiar place when it came to relationships. That may have been why he lived so much of his life in and around the village of Cookham; midway between London and Oxford, a place where he could work out his own direction.

nude-1935

Nude, 1935

In the end his work did not seek refuge in some safe and comfortable romanticism for days gone by. Neither did he unquestioningly embrace and advocate everything that was new. Instead, he engaged in the tumultuous negotiations between past and present, internal and external … that we all carry within us.  You can see current events of his day in his work and timeless subjects. Not the same old take on those subjects … rather he looks upon them with a very personal perspective, and giving them a modern if sometimes quavering and enigmatic voice.

Spencer’s work and his life are not quickly or easily understood. He is not “pure and simple” unless by that you mean he is himself. That is possibly why I keep wanting to look at his work so much. To get a better insight into his work try taking a look at the site below: http://modernbritishartists.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/stanley-spencer-heaven-in-a-hell-of-war/ Rickett's Farm, Cookham Dene 1938 by Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959

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An Imperfect drawing! Leonardo?

November 3, 2013

Leonardo

Leonardo da Vinci,                        “Head of a Young Woman”, 1480s (Study for the Angel in the ‘Virgin of the Rocks’)

Imperfect? A Leonardo drawing? Yes. Thankfully and beautifully, yes!

(Notice the imprecise … the MULTIPLE misplaced imprecise lines in this drawing. This is Leonardo! What is up with this? Is it a forgery? Why are we forced to look at imperfection and call it great art? Why is it even in a museum if it isn’t perfect?)

You know, we humans often get it wrong. We work so hard at doing something perfectly. We assign so much prestige and even power to creating art that is “perfect!” Have you ever looked at a work (perhaps your own) and praised its mechanical, photographic precision? Or perhaps you remember bemoaning or besmirching a work that wasn’t precise enough to your eye?

We praise the precision and ignore the perfectly wonderful. I have a surprise for you and all the folks who read this … Perfect is not spelled P-r-e-c-i-s-e.

(I can now hear some of my former students chuckling in the distance, colleagues snickering around the corner, my own illustrator daughter rolling in a fit of raucous laughter.)

Don’t get me wrong, I love precision … I have taught that it is a virtue to be sought after. In the right time and place, it can be gloriously beautiful. It can also be boringly mundane.

Somehow the human hand, the human heart, the human mind creates beauty without being precise. Maybe a hint or a heaping helping of precision is there … sometimes none at all. But compelling images and beauty can find ways through with or without precision!

I could go on and on, droning through this idea. To understand/solve this quandary, we are going to have to really see what is going on here. Perhaps a better course would be to steer you to a better source. If you are of a mind, try this blog …

http://hyperallergic.com/91475/single-point-perspective-the-most-beautiful-drawing-in-the-world

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

Before color? Yes! (Well, at least sometimes.)

September 8, 2013

Ok, you want to start a painting?

There are lots of ways to begin … almost as many as there are artists out there.  It helps to see some of the ways that artist have worked before.

One way that was used in the Renaissance involves the use of a “underpainting.” The underpainting method used most often back then was to create a full fledged rendering of the image in value.  This technique, known as grisailles … creating a black, white, and grey painted image, was used to establish the image over which layers of color would be applied. Some of the upper layers of color might be opaque … but for the most part the new layers were translucent or even transparent. When opaque layers were used, the value of new upper layer was matched as closely as possible to the value established by the lower underpainting.

a grisailles underpainting Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery,, 1565

this is a grisailles underpainting       by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.        (Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, 1565)

While this method of underpainting fell out of favor (many early 19th C Realists and the Impressionists would complain that it was like painting on brown gravy), it never went away in art schools that favored what they term “traditional” art.

As artists have sought out ways to use the western figurative tradition (either as “traditionalists” or as Post-Modernists) this technique has had a resurgence in popularity.  The example below is an “in-process” detail of a painting by the contemporary artist Joe Forkan. It is  in fact a modernized re-working of not only this technique … but also a visual re-interpretation of Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus.

detail-dude-Supper copy

You can see the image on the left is mostly in grey and the image to the right has brighter, richer color added over the layer of underpainting. While a comeback for this method has been seen in recent years, many artists today, preferring a more direct and immediate technique, don’t use the full fledged grisailles underpainting technique. And unless we are lucky enough to see a demo of the process or happen upon one in a museum, art viewers seldom get to see what is under that imagery.

There are other interesting underpainting traditions … and also quite a few direct painting techniques that do not use any under-painting at all! While my usual working methods fall into that latter category, I do enjoy the results my students get when we use grisailles for a while. Sometime soon I will show you a some other underpainting techniques used by a few of my artist friends.
PS: To get a look at the whole painting by Mr. Forkan, connect to his blog: http://joeforkanblog.com/?p=623
More … later.

Back to “bigger” paper …

September 4, 2013

I make images.

Duh, I make images. Sometimes though I make images that you could almost call objects; like my shaped panel painting. Most of the panel paintings are just that, paintings on panels. But the ones I bolt together into non-rectangular shapes might qualify even more as “object” than image. Other works that might be considered as “objects” are the larger of my mylar drawings. the ones that cascade off the wall or ceiling and onto the floor.

But for many years, I worked on paper. Sometimes pretty big paper.

I regularly worked on paper that was 40×60 or 30×90 or larger. Starting in the 1990s, I usually worked on paper sheets that were a bit smaller … measuring around 30×40.

Abundance,-26x40,-watercolor-and-pencil-on-paper,-2012-13,-WEB

Abundance
Watercolor and pencil on paper, 26×40
(as of September 1st, 2013)

Well every now and then I return to that 30×40 way of working. I am not sure if I do it for comfort? … as a self-diversion? … or if there is a deeper reason?  I just KNOW that sometimes I want to work on a single large uninterrupted sheet of paper. The expanse of the surface excites me; the response of wet color or dry mark to the paper entices me. More easily than any other medium, working on a beautiful sheet of paper with materials I enjoy, I become entranced. Reverie!

This piece, Abundance, had it’s genesis a while back, late in 2011 if I remember. It began on a crisp, cool clear day in a narrow glen of western-central Virginia, below a mountain ridge known for it’s ski resort … Wintergreen. I was with my wife and “mi mum” and we had stopped for lunch when I spotted the wild looking group of bushes and a gnarled tree. The grey, nearly leafless bush was full of red berries. There were so many good vantage points with this subject. But … I was with family … so I made a quick sketch and several photographs. The little finished sketch was exhibited in a show during the fall of  2012.

Group-of-Sketches-on-the-wall,-WEB   Below-the-Ridge,-Nellysford,-WEB

This larger painting I began while that show was still up. I even showed it, in a less finished state, in December and into January of this year.  But, when it came back to the studio, I just wasn’t sure that it was done.

I set it on a drawing board in my studio and I looked at it. I looked at it from January to June.

Let me explain my quandary. I am frankly always leery of overworking a piece but I want to create a visual feast as well.  I do subscribe to an esthetic common in traditional oriental painting … leaving white space in a work, going for an understatement. It is also at the core of early western classicist’s and early modernist’s desire to seek and to express what they view as the essential in an image/object. Probably that is why I am so very drawn to the works of Charles Demuth and Paul Cezanne. They made lots of marks and layers (visual feast) … but always seemed to leave room for the work to breathe, for the viewers eye to roam, and the viewers minds to complete the image (essence). To me, it seems rude and silly to beat the audience into submission by rendering every single detail.

Even when I was young, the end results of demonstration artworks in “how-to” art books felt disappointingly over-done. (I usually liked the work at step #3 or #4 better than #6+) Well, with this one, I feel like if I take it much farther … it will be overworked. Can’t have that!

For now, I have moved it to a less active corner of the studio. I will look at it for a while again; just like I did from January to June. Hopefully I will decide more quickly than that if I want to return and do something else with this piece.

Yes, I do think it MIGHT be finished.  What I am asking is … is it essential? … is it a feast for the eyes?

New Paintings, Watercolor on Panels

September 13, 2012

I am happily exhausted. And the studio is a raging mess. I delivered a solo show Monday and yesterday … a show with 44 pieces.

Lately I have posted images of the quick sketches … wash and brush drawings and quite a few of the watercolor and pencil pieces too.

Creekside Ferns
Watercolor on Panel, 12×12

But I have been working on some paintings as well. Each of these pieces are aqueous media on (Ampersand) panels. As with the two images below, most of the pieces for this show are done in traditional transparent watercolor. I will admit though that a few also have a touch or two of gouache; what the English waterclourists referred to as “body color.”

(Actually, using body color IS the older traditional method, but it had fallen out of favor for many painters during the last 100 years or so. For me, if it was good enough for Richard Parks Bonnington and Winslow Homer … I can use it too.)

Misty Mountains, Crozet
Watercolor on Panel, 12×12

Asian Dogwood Pods
Watercolor on Panel, 12×12

As is usual for me of late, there is also a little bit of a twist. In some of the paintings I have employed the strategy of including blocks of color; color passage that both obscure parts of the subject matter in the painting … and which actually set up some type of color harmony within the composition. Those pieces are single panel images (like the Creekside Fern one at the start of this blog) and also multi-panel works. These paintings are actually mixed aqueous media; making use of watercolor, gouache, acrylic and even a latex based paint.

The show is open today and  I have just seen the installation. Quite pleased is an understatement; I think it is really well done. The front gallery, where all the paintings on panel are displayed, is a large, open, and airy space. Most of the smaller watercolor studies and sketches are displayed is an intimate little gallery, a space flooded with soft light. In this smaller space about 20 works are arranged and clustered rather pleasingly. And in the transition space between the two galleries there hangs two very large watercolors on paper and a grouping several of my small works too.

The exhibition runs through November 9th at the Staunton Augusta Art Center. For those of you who are local, the opening reception is Friday, September 14th, from 5-7.

Now, about that messy studio …


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