Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Painting Fun with Grandchildren

It is fun to paint with grandchildren, but mine paint fast and furiously. I end up with a LOT of “abstract” paintings by them. For even more fun, I take some of these and try to make landscapes out of them, utilizing mostly negative painting.
One of my favorite childhood games was “Squiggles.” My sister and I would each draw a random squiggle on a piece of paper, trade papers, and try to make something out of each other’s squiggle. Of course, we tried to make our squiggles as complex and impossible as we could. That was the challenge, and some of my grandchildren’s paintings are pretty challenging.
Here are some photos of this activity. Ryan paints with both hands. I did not take photos of their “underpaintings,” but here are the landscapes I created out of their paintings.

Two Fisted Painter

Autumn Sunset

Mauve Afternoon

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Painting the Same Design Four Ways

Here is a step-by-step demonstration of how to do negative painting with abstracted figures. The principles John Salminen taught in the DVD mentioned on November 16 (Insights from Nonobjective Painting) are utilized in this demo.
I was doodling while watching TV and made some interesting abstract heads. I was interested in just how much one could distort the features and have it still read as a human head. I decided to overlap three of these doodles and found the resulting design to be pleasing. I would make four copies of the design and experiment with different color combinations and value patterns.
Here is the drawing with the lines drawn in Magic Marker. It is taped to a window. I also put a plan for the layers in with the first layer being a circled number one, the second indicated by a circled number two, and so on. When you draw with Magic Marker, be sure to have heavy paper or layers of newspaper underneath, since it will make permanent stains through the paper onto your furniture if you don’t (as I learned the obvious way).

Here a 9 x 12 piece of 140 pound Arches paper is taped over the design on the window. As you can see, you can easily see the drawing through the watercolor paper and you can lightly pencil in your drawing.

In this demo, I chose the five analogous colors, green, blue green, blue, blue violet, and violet, for a predominantly cool painting. You will always have a pleasing color combination if you choose five colors that are next to each other (analogous) on the standard color wheel. Then you use the complement of the middle color as an accent color to liven up the painting through contrast. In this case, that would be orange, the complement of blue, the middle of the five colors. 
I taped my watercolor paper to a board at about a 60 degree angle so washes would flow. For the first layer of the demo painting, I loosely painted sap green over everything but the small pieces I wanted to remain unpainted, so I could decide at the end what to do with them. Sap green is a good granulating color, so you get some organic texture to contrast with the geometric design. 

After the first layer dried, I painted transparent cobalt blue with a bit of opaque green all over everything that was not to remain green, the lightest value. You can see there are two green shapes, one large, and one rather small. I plan to leave one of the eyes green for a very small third shape. The shapes have variety, and the middle one is irregular and interesting. According to Salminen, some shapes of the darkest dark should go around this shape. But since I am painting negatively, this will have to wait. As you can see, with just two layers, the painting already reads as three faces.

After the second layer dried, I put on the third layer of ultramarine blue mixed with a bit of cerulean, all over everything that was not to remain light blue. Again, I have three light blue shapes remaining that show variety of size and complexity. 

After the third layer dried, I put mineral violet mixed with a little opaque pale violet on everything that was not to remain dark blue, as the fourth layer. I also put mineral violet on the darkest dark shapes that abutted the pale middle shape.

I went on to add a fifth layer of some ivory black without waiting for the fourth layer to dry, because I wanted softer edges away from the center of interest. I also put in a few small black shapes around the big middle shape.

THEN, I added my accent color, bright orange, on three of the spots I saved as white. I mixed a little orange in the background and over the pale green shape. I did a few details, and then I evaluated with a mat.

And with the mat I could see that I had too many hard edges, so took a wet elephant ear sponge and blurred some, below:

I painted three more versions of this drawing. Here I used these five analogous colors: yellow orange, orange, red orange, red, and red violet, with blue green as the accent color. The accent color is the complement of the middle of the five analogous colors. Complements are directly opposite each other on a standard color wheel.

This one uses the five colors from orange to violet, with cerulean as the accent. Red is the middle color, so green would be the complement, but sometimes it’s good to use a “split complement” -- one color over from the complement. Cerulean is a sort of greenish blue.

This one includes yellow green (leaf green), green (sap green), blue green (turquoise), blue (cobalt blue), and blue violet (ultramarine), with red orange (organic vermillion) as the accent color. 

You might try this yourself. It was an enjoyable experience to experiment with colors and values and negative painting in a series of almost identical drawings. I may put a couple of them together in a diptych and call it “Facebook Friends.”

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Always Evaluate with a Mat

It's amazing how if you put a mat around something, it suddenly looks like Art. It isolates it, and lets you see it without interference. That's why it is so important to evaluate your paintings with a mat periodically as you paint, so you can see what you are creating without all your painting stuff around to distract you.

Sometimes my grandchildren paint with me. I like to mat and even frame their efforts, because it often looks quite good that way, and it makes them feel like their creation is being taken seriously. Below on is a painting done by my granddaughter when she was two. She said it was a flower.

The painting here was done when my grandson was 18 months old. I asked if it was a mountain, and he said "Unh."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Bottle Tree Answer to the Titanic

After my titanic doubts about the value of art yesterday, today's L.A. Times had an article that answered them. It was about artist Elmer Long and his Bottle Tree Ranch. He started sculpting bottle trees in his yard in the desert after he retired. After creating hundreds of his artworks, he said, "It changes you. It changed me. I'm a much better person than I was."

Here is the link to the article:,0,4510530.story

And here is a link to a YouTube video about Elmer Long:

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Orchestra on the Titanic

Painting makes me happy, but sometimes I feel like a member of the orchestra playing while the Titanic sinks. The list of terrible problems our country and the world face is long; global warming and environmental destruction, the ascendance of belief over evidence and the rise of fundamentalist religions, the reversal of progress in terms of social justice, the over-privileging of corporations, and over-consumption are just a few.
As an artist, am I distracting people from what they SHOULD be paying attention to or providing meaning or comfort in the face of disaster? Global warming is now inevitable, and it will wreak havoc on human society and nature, destroying a lot. There ARE things we could be doing to mitigate the disaster. Should we all focus all our energies on that? Or is there a worthwhile place for artists?
Would the Titanic’s orchestra members’ time have been better spent towards rescue efforts? Maybe some of them would have survived. But the overall outcome would not have been much changed. And we remember them! We remember them as courageously doing what they loved in the face of death.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Risks of Personally Expressive Painting

The teachers I most admire, such as Skip Lawrence and Christopher Schink, urge students to make their work more personally expressive, more uniquely “theirs.” I think I have finally managed to do that in a few recent paintings. These paintings are full of personal symbols, and they tell a story about a meaningful moment in my life. The unexpected side effect of doing such paintings is that I’m very reluctant to part with them or even to exhibit them!
It feels a little like selling my soul to take money for personally expressive paintings. It feels slightly exhibitionistic even to show them to people. It seems odd, but I don’t mind when people don’t like these paintings; I feel more uneasy when they DO. I suppose it is the risk all artists must take -- to share one’s intimate feelings and private thoughts to anyone who cares to look, to be revealed before the whole world.  I will take that risk right now, and show one, titled “Dancing in My Red Dress.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Insights from Nonobjective Paintings

John Salminen has an interesting hour long dvd lesson on nonobjective painting. It’s called “A Designed Approach to Abstraction with John Salminen.” To very briefly summarize, he demonstrates first drawing overlapping shapes onto watercolor paper, then choosing a fairly central interesting shape to leave as the lightest light and painting in a few small shapes with the darkest darks around it, and then working around the painting, coloring in shapes in various ways to modify the values from dark to light and from light to dark. 
After seeing this lesson, I tried to create several nonobjective paintings in this way. I found that doing nonobjective paintings (or “abstracts” as some people call them) taught me insights about the principles of design that I did not figure out when painting subject matter. In addition, they were fun to do, and I recommend trying nonobjective painting as a way to focus on design. Later, maybe I can figure out how to make nonobjective paintings expressive of an emotion or thought as well.

Here are a few of my nonobjective paintings:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Struggling with Collage

There are some artists, such as Gerald Brommer, Jacki Long, and Joan McKasson, who make collage look fun and easy. And they get fantastic results and great texture with collage.
Now I am a bit of a neatness freak. I keep my work space uncluttered, I always put out fresh paint, and I keep my palette clean. Nevertheless, collage calls to me.
Every time I have tried collage, using matte medium or diluted white glue to apply colored tissue or painted papers to the surface of a painting, I have found it to be disturbingly messy. My workspace ends up looking like an explosion in a confetti factory, I have sticky stuff all over my hands and arms, and I invariably ruin at least one article of clothing, even when I wear an apron. 
In frustration, I tried to figure out a neat, clean way to do collage. I ended up using a glue stick to apply cut up pieces of old watercolor paintings to a piece of mat board. Then I tried wadding up wet Masa paper to create texture, painting it, tearing it up, and using the glue stick to apply it to watercolor paper. These two methods seem to have potential for me.
Here are two paintings, self-portraits, that were made from cut up pieces of old paintings applied with a glue stick:

Here is a mixed media painting with some wrinkled, painted Masa paper applied to watercolor paper with a glue stick:

Here is an earlier painting done by collaging Chinese papers with matte medium in the usual way. The collage is subtle and adds texture to the greenery of the plants. I made a terrible mess, but the painting was a success and sold for $450!

"California, Here I Come"

Monday, November 14, 2011

Feeling Entitled to Paint

My happiest times are in the midst of a painting, when playing with my beautiful watercolor paints. I forget my worries; my arthritis pain disappears; I feel alive and just plain happy.

Yet sometimes I am plagued with self doubt and I don’t feel entitled to paint all I want. I think it would be better if I spent all this effort on environmental and social justice causes, in order to improve the world for my grandchildren. When I first retired, I volunteered at such organizations, but I did not enjoy it. In fact, it felt like WORK, perhaps because my career had involved a great deal of community service.
My “solution” to this internal conflict is to donate money to good causes and to spend my time, a far more precious commodity this late in life, on painting and with family.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Painting in the Negative

Some people have difficulty with "negative painting." Some people, like Canadian artist Linda Kemp, paint entirely 100% in the negative. If you paint a subject, say a flower, directly, putting down yellow petals and an orange center and a green stem, you have just engaged in positive painting. Negative painting involves painting AROUND the subject. Gerald Brommer said he doesn't care for the term "negative painting" and prefers to call it "painting the unoccupied space."

Carrol Wolf said that someone told her that negative painting was like drawing. With drawing, you put a line around the outer edge of something. With negative painting, you put paint around the edge.

Here is a little demo of negative painting:

First, start with an underpainting of colors you like thrown onto wet paper. I used yellows. Let it dry.

Next paint orange all around a tree shape. You can take the orange all the way to the edge of the paper or just let it blend away. It doesn't matter, because most of it is going to get covered up. Let that layer dry. Let the paint dry between layers for hard edges. Painting on top of wet paint makess for soft edges.

Now paint quinacridone violet around two more tree shapes. Note how there now appear to be two orange trees that are behind the pale tree. Also note how parts of the orange trees show through the branch holes of the pale tree.

Next, paint red around some more tree shapes. Note how there now appears to be a row of violet trees behind the orange and light trees.

Now use ultramarine to suggest a row of red trees.

Finally, use an opaque paint, such as jaune brilliant, for the sky, leaving the ultramarine to look like mountains behind the trees. A few dots of jaune brilliant between tree trunks may suggest light shining through some trees way in the back.

"Little Trees"

Here are some of my paintings using Linda Kemp's 100% negative painting method:

 "Flame Trees"

 "Forest for the Trees"

"Mauve Evening"

And here is a floral painting done entirely by "painting the unoccupied space":

"Winter Whites"

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Summer of the Grid

During the summer of 2011, I worked on trying to make my paintings less descriptive and more expressive by trying various ways of breaking up the picture plane and figures within it. I ended up experimenting with grids and even collage. Being a neat freak, I find collage too messy most of the time, but I found using a glue stick to collage painted Masa paper to be within my limits. I also tried stamping. Here are some of my efforts: