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: