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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Warm Ups.

Warm Ups

Like an athlete preparing for an event, I practice my warm ups.

Color grid:
Making a color grid serves two purposes. It reminds me what colors I have, and it gives me a chance to be precise without having to over think what I am doing.
  1. This is my palette: I usually go down my watercolor palette of dry pans, and with a flat brush I paint single squares on a scrap of paper.
  2. Sometimes I'm in a blending mood: I chose colors and with the flat brush I apply them wet and mix them on the paper, again, in a grid of squares.
  3. Watching paint dry: how does my paint sit on the paper? Again, making a square grid with a flat brush, I generously load my brush with color, and apply it very wet, allowing the paint to super saturate the paper. Next to each square, I make another one with the same color but very diluted.
  4. Color play: I select color families and make a grid of them. All my reds, all my purples, all my blues, all my yellows, all my greens, all my earth tones. Sometimes I select complementary colors, sometimes all the warm colors and then all the cool colors.
  5. Living in the shadows: I use a neutral tint to shade my colors, with the original pure color on the left and then several progressions of deeper mixtures of that color with the neutral tint.
  6. There are the colors I'm going to use: I select the colors I intend to use in the painting for which I am preparing, and make a vertical line of them, and hand letter the names of the colors next to each one. 

Little leaves:
  1. Wreath: Using a single stroke of a round brush, I make a wreath. Sometimes I lightly draw a circle in pencil using a stencil, or a compass, or a large coin. First I make a wreath of leaves of precisely the same size, all going in the same direction, and another one where half the wreath mirrors the other half. Then I make a wreath of graduated leaves, each one a smaller copy of the one below it.
  2. Leaves in a spray: I loosen up my technique by painting leaves without a pencil guide, giving them bounce and movement.
  3. Falling leaves: I paint a single branch above a cascade of leaves in autumn colors, allowing the colors to blend on the paper.
  4. Autumn splendor: I paint single autumn leaves from photographs of actual leaves. Nature is more daring with color than I am.
  5. Ferns: I paint delicate ferns, in a gentle S shape, with a curl at the end. I paint very wet, letting colors mix on the paper.

Practicing these exercises gets my hand and eye in shape for painting. It allows me to both unleash my looseness and discipline my control.

This very act of applying paint to paper is a pep talk prelude to my serious painting session. 

It's amazing to use a small hard bound watercolor sketchbook, and fill each page with one of these exercises. When it is full, it can either serve as an inspiration source, or as a cool gift for a friend. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My New Art Supplies

Maybe it was something I discovered in my latest foray into my favorite art supply store.

Maybe I saw it in a post that intrigued me.

Maybe it was the installation that absolutely rivitted me at that last gallery.

Maybe it was that incredible magazine that I revisit again and again.

All I know is that I can't sit still until I actually have that new medium and tool in my own studio. It goes far beyond obsession and avarice. 

What joy it is to open a new tin of watercolor pencils, a new block of special paper, a new and utterly different tool! How excited I become with the possibilities!

Sometimes all it takes to emerge from the desert is to strike off in a new creative direction. 

For most of my life as an artist I was very driven by other people's opinion of my work. It was more than economics. At the back of my mind, even when I was working on something that had not been commissioned, I still contemplated how it could be marketed. 

This is a terrible trap. The art director says "The sky behind the hero needs to be darker." The curator at the gallery says "The blue paintings sold the best. Can you make more of them?"

Yes, I must make concessions in order to sell my work. But after a time, these compromises devour my soul.

Everyday, I set aside time for "me work", creative acts that are solely self-initiated with no thought for remuneration. 

It is in this work that my new art supplies are put to use. I can afford to take risks because there is no possibility of failure. All is exploration and experimentation.

And from this new territory comes the most amazing results!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Childish Pursuits

The things that intrigued and inspired us when we were children still have that power over us today.

As I child I was an avid beachcomber. Living so close to the beach it was easy for me to simply walk a few blocks away and explore the tide line for perfect tiny shells and sea glass. These were true treasures for me.

Here are some ocean treasures I collected when I was 7 years old. I kept them in a special box and as an adult I embedded them in the walls of my seaside themed bathroom. 

Here's a display of my jewelry, some of which I made from sea glass.

One afternoon, when I was a kid, I sat in the yard of the little girl who lived across the street. There were four of us children colouring with crayons in our colouring books. My book was Aladdin and the Magic Lamp. 

I was the kind of kid who coloured the entire page, from edge to edge, until the paper was stiff with wax.

I ran out of pages to colour, so I went home and got blank sheets of paper on which to draw. I continued the story. I invented a story about myself as a magic princess who could do anything she wanted. 

The other children stopped colouring in their books and asked if they could colour the drawings I was creating instead.

One little girl said, "I'll give you a nickel for that picture."

Another said, "I'll buy you an ice cream if you let me colour this one."

A little boy offered, "I'll let you borrow my lizard for a week if you draw a picture for me." 

It was at that moment, at age five and a half, that my professional career as an Artist began. I discovered that if I do what I love to do, I will have money, food, and maybe the loan of a lizard for a week. 

I have not regretted the choice.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Eloquence of Possibility

There they are, in that jumbled pile. The half done projects, the special tools and materials for that particular project that was somehow never completed. The artwork that is almost finished, but not quite.

On my workspace are dozens of works in progress. Any one of them could be completed with a bit more time, but there they are, half formed and unfinished.

They haunt me. And I, I am all excuses and reasons. I'm not in the mood, the light is wrong, my back hurts, my eyes are tired.

If it was a paid commission I would wait until I was down to the wire, then at the last possible moment I would find myself in a frenzy of creativity, spurred by the fear of the deadline. 

But these are my own projects, not made for a patron or a customer, but self motivated pieces of art that have no destination. They may never be framed, printed or sold. They are the pieces which I do for myself.

Without the impetus of a deadline, my work sputters and comes to a standstill. A simple obstacle becomes a reason to stop. It stagnates and just sits there, mute testimony to my lack of engagement. 

Or is it?

What if inside that pile is the next great work of my life?

As I look back over decades of being an artist, I realize that every great work began with an unfinished painting, something that I set aside but couldn't discard.

To me, the unfinished painting is eloquent with possibility. 

And that thought alone is enough to make me reach for the paintbrush.