Same Colorado Trip

 

We recently spent a week in Colorado where, yes, the scenery was beautiful,  no, the altitude did not affect us, and yes, the tour of Colorado’s most interesting crop was – interesting; but I have to tell you my moment to remember story.
 
Our Colorado friends found us a second floor room at a lodge right outside Rocky Mountain National Park.  It sits on one of those fast moving rocky mountain streams that provide background noise to sleep to. Because of the heat wave, our windows and sliders were wide open.
 
Around 1:30 am I was awakened by a horrible animal cry!  I got up and looked out the window into the darkness beyond the light that illuminated the walk beneath our room. The cries got louder and I could see a shape about the size of a fox pacing by the waters edge. it was obviously in distress.
 
About a minute later, I looked down onto the back of one enormous mama bear. Biggest I have ever seen and obviously not in captivity. She jumped the chest high fence into the thicket, the cries ceased, she (out of my range of vision) jumped back and, followed by her baby , proceeded back to the parking lot where I later learned she reunited with the two cubs she left behind to rescue her baby.
 
My heart rate returned to normal.  I returned to bed.  When the couple on the first floor heard how close the mama bear came to their wide open slider, they re-evaluated being first floor with an open door.

I brought my art supplies to Colorado hoping to paint by the side of the river while our group learned to fly fish. Well, I didn’t learn to fly fish, but I didn’t paint much either.

It was a learning experience though. I learned I am not a plein air painter. I don’t enjoy the process of hauling my stuff to a location and then preserving the memory on canvas. My iPhone does that. Rocks are hard to sit on, flying insects are a bother, keeping palette, water, and canvas or paper under control on an uneven surface is impossible. And the worst of it is that the final product is terrible. So back to the studio!

Visiting Colorado but no plein air painting

Artistic Rambles: Why the Sketch Was Better

Sketch was BetterI have been working on my painting for three days, weeks,months and it still doesn’t work. Why? My sketch was really incredible.  My sketch was better.  I  loved it.  But what could’ve gone wrong.

This happens to artists all the time and sometimes the error is that you probably never checked to see if your sketch’s proportions matched your canvas.

In my case the vertical sketch was thinner than the canvas. Therefore my two lady figures were not positioned perfectly. They were a bit farther apart and I was futilely trying to correct the design by filling in the area between them and it didn’t work. The interesting posture of one of them was gone.  No matter what I did with color- more red more yellow, etc.  I had lost the flow.  Plus the acrylic paint was gumming up on the canvas creating bubbles and losing vibrancy.

But I persisted. Usually persistence is a good thing – right Elizabeth Warren? Not in this case.

My fluid ladies were becoming awkward bias relief sculptures. They could not be deader than if I had taken a knife to the canvas.

But I persisted. At this point I pitched the brushes and tackled the colors with my gloves.  I started smushing paint around knowing nothing good would come of it. I even squirted expensive pigment right on the canvas – a sign of desperation.

Deep down I knew it was over. I thought about how an artist I knew had labeled some if his failures “sailors” because he took them to the beach and “sailed” them into the bay.  I am too much of environmentalist to do that. It would be just my luck the wetter paint would slough off revealing the original failure and some beach-goer would find it, dry it out, and with my luck I would see it at his retirement party. Thankfully unsigned.

There are many reasons a painting will never be as good as the sketch . What I have talked about is basically a design problem. Face it folks, bad design equals bad painting.

Epilogue
I used up my paint smearing it on the canvas and started a more textural painting.

 

dividing line

 

Afternoons with Gloria

Starting 2018 – Desire for Change

Summer Thoughts Sketch and Desire for Change

I think there may be a general misconception by the public. They see artists like me, who tend to get involved in what we loosely call creative pursuits, simply plodding along.  We go from one brilliant idea with a beginning, middle, and end.  We pause.  And then proceed to the next brilliant idea. Well, obviously most ideas are not brilliant.  However when we are in the inspiration phase, sometimes we feel that it could be the best work we’ve ever done.

Surprisingly to some, there are a lot more lengthy pauses where we feel, not just uninspired, but scared to death there will be no more brilliant ideas.  That the best we can hope for is to regurgitate the things we’ve done before, the tried-and-true, the successful (monetarily speaking).   I say we and I probably should not. Because this is just the way I feel.

So that was a lengthy lead in to the feelings I am having right now. I can always go back to painting the themes that people seem to recognize from me. But that is playing it safe. And you don’t learn and you don’t excel by playing it safe.  I’ve got a desire for change.

Then a painter like myself sits back and says, “All right so how do I not play it safe? 
What do I do differently?
Do I change my theme, my subject?
Do I change my technique?
Do I get more rigid or more exuberant?
Do I paint larger or smaller?
Do I tell a story or paint a feeling?
Do I paint more abstractly or with more representation?

Is the best really yet to come? I don’t know those answers right now, but I have to believe that the best is yet to come.

Fear not! I will continue to paint, because I can’t not paint. And you will be the first to know if I succeed in becoming inspired again. And it may be in the realm of technique and approach rather than subject.

I know where I play it safe. I know when I am painting for the public. But I also know that I am not getting any younger and I do not want to be merely spin my wheels.

If I want meaningful I have to give myself permission – to experiment, to waste paint, to fail.

Wish me luck!

How Do I Get My Painting Subjects

Ben Plays the Sax

Several years ago I wrote down my thoughts on my art process.  Much of it is still pertinent so I thought I would share them.   Since then, I have evolved some,  have made some changes,  and will share those thoughts later.

Many people have asked me how I paint my subjects and where do I get reference material.

Although it would be far easier to have a photo to copy, most of my work evolves from bits and pieces pulled together from a vast “morgue” of reference material that I have accumulated over the years. 

My Own Photos

The majority of the photography is my own. I took so many classes in photography at Thomas Nelsen Community College, I almost had to declare a major. After a masters degree in counseling from William and Mary, I did not need another degree.

Some of my music paintings are based on musicians of the past.  The subject matter is obviously culled from photos that have appeared in the media. But I am not a slave to any photos.  My work in its final versions bear very little resemblance to the material I use.

My Quick Drawings

I have the ability to draw well and fast.  I honed those skills during the 12 years I worked as a newspaper artist illustrator.  With the pressure of those incredible deadlines,  you either did the job fast or ( but there was no “or”)  the paper went to press without them.

My Process

I start with multiple photos usually laid out on my studio floor.  From there I develop a small color sketch.  Many of my music paintings are quite complex.  I am placing and rearranging the musicians until I am satisfied with the layout.

Then I introduce color. Many old photos are in sepia or black and white so the colors are selected by me.

The dancers series began when my husband and I took ballroom lessons for 3 years. We attended the dance parties and the ballroom exhibitions  (this was before the advent of digital cameras so I took lots of really bad photos and then I camcorded some dances). As I needed more info I would pause dance competitions on TV to see the moves I might want to paint.  An artist cannot take artistic liberty with dance positions. 

An art director once wanted to reverse a dance image for a magazine cover. Fortunately I got to review the changes first!   Because I cannot put the ladies right hand on the man’s left shoulder!  I can change attire and colors and design and exaggerate, but there are reality issues. Reality applies to musical instruments as well. I believe my work nudges abstraction, but always has a core based in reality.

My Color Choices

I do not use traditional color wheels.  I paint rather spontaneously and impulsively. An artist has to know the rules and then be comfortable breaking them for the goal of movement, power, and personal color.

My Methods

I have used latex gloves so I can paint with my fingers.  I have used sponges and old credit cards and modeling paste – whatever achieves the goal of painting something that excites me.

Rambles from a Jazz Festival

I am not unfamiliar with painting in public:

  • courtroom,
  • Virginia Living Museum,
  • art shows,
  • plein aire workshops.

But painting the musicians at the Jazz Festival in Duck, NC was a first for me.

Even though I was in a more isolated spot near the stage, I later discovered people were watching my art progress from the audience. Many stopped to chat as they walked to other areas of the green.

During my time at the Jazz Festival, I had the good fortune of meeting both locals and visitors and even the Chief of Police who shared my Bridgeport, CT heritage.

My biggest hurdle at this outdoor event in early October was how fast the acrylic paints dried even in the high humidity. I found I can be more successful in getting the painting how I would like it when I start by drawing with either India ink or acrylic using a smaller brush.

Next, I slopped on paint even when the sketch was still wet. Not overthinking color and doing what I call “brain stem painting” (i.e. painting by instinct which usually gives me a greater feeling that the end result will work). For me, “brain stem painting” means an emotionally positive feeling rather than an intellectual one.

If I really wanted to be a performance artist I would strap long handled brushes to my hands and have quarts of paint in buckets set in front of a huge canvas. That would be cool and probably messy!

Painting at the Duck Jazz Festival

Artist Sketch Rambles

Artist Sketch RamblesI keep a folder of 8×10 and smaller incomplete sketches and carry it around with me. Many times they spark something and I will often paint over them. Over and over.

When I am feeling ambitious, I organize them according to category:  women, women and the beach, women at a wine bar, women on cave walls, women in cave walls playing musical instruments. You get the picture.

I also print out photos of my paintings in progress. Sometimes I realize (too late) the best work should have been left alone.

Rethinking and painting over a work is something I do when I am second guessing what others might think. This is always wrong.

Yet many times, even I, at late middle age (I am an optimist),  paint with someone looking over my shoulder  – metaphorically speaking.   Like my husband suggesting, “It needs more red.” Or perhaps a friend commenting, “What’s that curvy line all about?”  But I’m just considering what they may remark.

Then I look at art painted by others that works for me.  I know I could critique the heck out them, but my corrections would only make the spark disappear.

The answer is to paint until I feel that any more intellectual effort will deaden it and then stop.  Then check back a few days later and any real problems will shout at me. But if I still like the painting, I will leave it alone. Art (unless you were hired to do something specifically) is for you and not the world.

Once in a blue moon, I haul out some art books to try to understand color better.  You know.  Fill in the blanks of info I never learned. because I did not go to art school.

Primaries,

tertiary,

split tertiary,

squared infinity (just joking) and it all looks so mathematical.

I look at the paintings shown as examples and frankly most are so boring. Maybe I am just too critical, but it seems to me once you have painted for years, you should have some intuitive feeling about what clicks for you.

One story sticks with me…

The widow of a famous painter (whose colors were incredible) was asked what color theory he used. She responded that he did not have one.  He just kept painting until it felt right. Bingo!

So after several hours of painting color sketches using the books’ suggested pigment combinations I put it all away. They sucked.

No real lesson here.  Just a nudge to fellow artists who struggle with color to just persist.

(Love that -just persist- SHE PERSISTED – might make me a t-shirt)

Rambles Art Kids and Painted Antlers

Painted AntlersToday I hired my two neighbor kids , a brother and sister ages 8 and 10, to paint gesso on some canvases. They did a great job. They got the first coat on at least seven canvases.

I needed their help, but mostly I wanted to teach them about the act of doing art not just the painting techniques you learn in classes. I wanted to teach them about the preparation, the application, the reason for applying a base on a canvas (or on the deer antler they had given me) prior to painting, and of course the clean up.

They were surprised how much you can accomplish in an hour without racing and being sloppy. I set the timer for one hour and went through the whole process of setting up dropclothes on my deck, putting on old t-shirts and plastic gloves, getting out plastic containers,  brushes etc .

They were very attentive.

I told them the difference between being paid by the piece or by the hour, and how they would be assessed for their work. They worked quite hard and deserved their pay.

When they return from their vacation I will give them each one of the canvases,  I hope they will paint a memory of their trip out west as well as enjoy their painted antlers.  Hopefully they will continue to want to work for me!

Saying Goodbye to a Great Influence

This morning I learned that Fred Adair has died. Fred was my professor and mentor when I was at the College of William and Mary for my MEd in counseling and guidance. He was the one who supported me during those crucial days in 1972 when I was a feminist in a conservative area (I was removed from my internship at Warwick High School because of my progressive thoughts on women).  He helped me decide to pursue art instead and to accept the illustrator position at the Daily Press.

Fred was the essence of everything superlative one could say about another person. Kind, intelligent, funny, supportive … I could go on and on. We kept in touch throughout the years and I will miss him.

Message from W&M Provost

Artist Sharing About Life, Part 2

This continues my sharing from Part 1Go there first is if you haven’t already.

I drew everything that could not be photographed.

Rock concert and loss of hearing? No problem.  I used Edvard Munch’s “scream” running away from the musicians in the background.

Gay marriage in the 80’s?  No problem.  I asked two staffers to hold hands while I drew as fast as I could.

There were no iPhones and no time to process photos so I sketched very quickly- everything from religion and science, to politics and editorial cartoons.

I was allowed to go outside the building on location to sketch films like the George Washington mini-series and a film about crabbing.

I flashed my press pass and talked my way onto the Colonial Parkway in Williamsburg after it shut down for President Reagan’s visit. Me and hundreds of turkeys. 

I drew a revolutionary re-enactor in Yorktown while he told me about his messy divorce.

I talked my way to the top of the five tallest buildings in the area to sketch what I saw.

I learned to have someone evaluate my drawing for those stupid little mistakes, that in our haste, we sometimes forget we do; like making a common object resemble a genital organ.

I sketched in the jail, talked my way onto a Navy shuttle to the Canadian Tall ship, The Blue Nose, to sketch.  I figured I could talk my way anywhere!

I did courtroom art for the daily paper.

This is a specialty that no one trains for. You just do it. I did interview the dean of courtroom artists and she told me she gained expertise in art school by drawing the bodies in the morgue. Just like the stories you read about the old masters in Europe.

The courtroom is probably the most difficult of drawing situations. Utter and complete quiet. (They hated anyone who used Magic Markers because of the squeak)  I was fixed in the seat I chose or was able to squeeze into and drew from there – whether I could see anything or not. The one lesson I learned was that everyone who speaks to a crowd (lawyers, judges, etc.) always reverts to their familiar  poses. If they are fond of folding their arms they will eventually go back to that position so I would make numerous “starts” and go back to them to complete them when the person went back to the position.

Trial Art for Artist Sharing about life

I was only asked to draw the courtroom cases if they were brutal, gory, or important.

In one dismemberment case, a witness was asked how tall the victim was and he responded by using his hands to gauge the size of the suitcase the body parts were stuffed into.

In another murder case the forensic dentist was testifying how the bite marks on the victim’s thighs were from the teeth of the accused.

John Walker was on trial for spying for the Russians, but I drew the Arthur Walker spy trial. Arthur was his brother who appeared on the first day bedecked in a full toupee.  He shed it the second day and through the rest of the trial f0r a little loop in my drawing.

Never draw a judge with six fingers.

I learned many things about accuracy.  This is especially true when the drawing is on the front page of the daily newspaper above the fold. I got lots of critiques from the public. 

I studied photography with David Levinson. 

He was a photographer who led the professional world in NYC.  He pushed us into thinking and doing photography way past what we ever thought we would be able to do. Suffice to say he made people cry. But the work people did was incredible. 

I attended Thomas Nelson Community College to gain some expertise on photographing for reproduction. No one does that anymore since the computer does it all for you. But I did take photography classes.  I learned the old fashioned way with dark rooms and chemicals. I set up a lab at home and my poor kids were banished from the bathroom. 

I chose JoAnn Falletta

Downbeat - more artist sharing about lifeI decided I was going to do a series of women of accomplishment in traditionally male jobs,  I chose JoAnn Falletta, the conductor of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, as my first subject.  She was also the music director for the Long Beach California Symphony Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. I cannot begin to describe her swath of accomplishments.

When I finally pursued my project long enough and hard enough, I was put through to her at last.  She allowed me and my 35mm camera onstage during the rehearsal of the Bruckner 4th.  I could not use a flash. 

The resulting photos showed a sweep of her baton.   The sound reverberating on the stage and through the floorboards where I sat in the violin section will always be a high point in my memories. This experience started me on the road to adding movement to my art and still continues to influence me today.

An Artist Sharing About Life, Part 1

Artist sharing about life at SWCCA few weekends ago,  I gave a talk at Southwest Virginia Community College just before taking down my art display. You think college, you think college students, but there were alas only two that Sunday afternoon. But who could blame them.  It was a gorgeous spring day in the Virginia mountains.

I was going to lead with a brief … what can a wrinkled old artist from Newport News teach you about the art you will be creating in the future …  then taking back the word “wrinkled” in lieu of texture which is much more artistically valued. Everyone in my audience was wrinkled.  Instead I was forced to finesse that opening a bit. 

I almost broke out in a sweat.

I was thinking back to a  time when I was doing my art without an iPhone camera for photos and no scanners for the art to be published.  It was a time you were required to actually draw.  There was no social media and Google to expand your files of ideas and reference material.   I am not sure any current college-age student would even begin to appreciate the difficulties in reproducing art (which is what I did for 12 years as a newspaper illustrator). Wait.  I am getting ahead of myself.

I was a commuter to college. 

Campus was two buses each way. Since my immigrant parents did not think continuing education was a good thing for a girl who should get a job, bring home her paycheck and live at home, I managed to pay for college through scholarships.  In my scholarship application, I wrote about being a first generation American and my life.  Guess I pulled enough sympathy from those who did the selecting that I got my education taken care of.  I  also worked after classes to have pin money.

I majored in Psychology. 

I was naive.  I loved the course selection, but did not realize you can do nothing without obtaining a graduate degree.  I got a job at Electric Boat in New London, Connecticut.  I spent my time there organizing the library for the Human Factors section.  It was books and papers.

About the jumper off the sixth floor?

I met a submarine doctor.  We got married, and moved to Houston.  There I worked at a charity hospital as a psychiatric social worker.  Once again, I had no experience.   I screened patients who had mental issues. 

Lock your door there’s a guy with knife.
Did you hear about the jumper from the 6th floor?
Good news is he did not land on the folks waiting for the bus.
Very interesting place.

I also schlepped patients from the ER to the mental institution. 

How do I know he is mentally ill?
Talk to him for 5 minutes. 
He’s probably just an alcoholic (think not really dangerous).

Me, a 28 year old mom, with complete strangers in the backseat of our Chevy Malibu.  Me, signing my name, affirming they needed to be committed. I almost breakout just thinking about it.

Then we moved to Duke and then to Virginia. 

By now I’ve had 2 babies.

Everyone at that time was a stay at home mom, but I enrolled in William and Mary College for a Master’s Degree in Guidance and Counseling.  It took 4 years.

The Feminist movement just beginning. I was active. I got fired from an internship at a local high school for encouraging girls to ask for a shop class. The girls came to me. But the principal and the department heads were very threatened.

All in all, my hard-earned degree did not matter since I took a part-time job as an illustrator for daily paper.  Actually, it was more like the morning and evening paper with full-time work for part-time pay.  But I loved it.  Every story for the newsroom was a challenge. 

Stay tuned for more in Part 2 next week.