Monday, May 30, 2011

Adventures in Gelatin

I'm trying something new: gelatin monoprints. Yep, prints made from a plate of gelatin—as in J-E-L-L-O—only using the unflavored type of gelatin. I've had a book on this technique for a while, but it requires some preparation before you begin the art part. Warning: If you are considering trying this, you should know there will be yucky, boogery globules of gelatin everywhere.

First, it calls for a piece of Plexiglas that serves as the surface for the gelatin plate. Next, you create a frame out of modeling clay. The frame holds the gelatin, which is dissolved in warm water and then poured onto the plate. You must be sure there is a good seal so you don’t have gelatin leaking out from underneath the clay (speaking from experience).

The surface must be level, which in this house, is a challenge. When someone says, "Please pass the salt", we turn it on its side and let it roll to them.

Here you can see where I've created my dam and leveled the surface using an assortment of shims and paper. One thing important to remember is to remove the level from the Plexiglas before you pour the gelatin onto the plate. I was so excited when I got to this point I almost forgot. I would have been in big trouble with the Toolmaster.

The gelatin is poured and must sit overnight to set up. Then, the clay is removed, leaving jagged edges on the gelatin plate, which is part of the charm.

Using water-based paint (watercolors, temperas, inks, etc.), you paint right on the surface of the gelatin. It's a little tricky because if the surface gets too wet, the plate dissolves. A sheet of paper is placed over the painted surface. Gently, but firmly, you rub the back of the paper to transfer the paint.

On the first print, I discovered I had not used enough paint. I painted the plate again and transferred it to the same sheet. It's easy to register the plate to the paper, so you can overprint images multiple times to experiment with layering the colors. Well, that was so much fun, I over did it, therefore, there are no successes to share of this image that started out so promising. Part of art is knowing when to stop.

I found myself caught up in the color results and obsessed with unusual texture created by the brush strokes and the plate. (BTW, if you look close you can see the globs of gelatin that came off the plate edges and on to the paper.) I tried three different kinds of paper and varying amounts of paint and water—that gelatin plate was rode hard and scraped away wet when I was finished with it.

It's going to take some time to get a good piece with this technique. For now, I'm just trying to figure it all out and see if it's going to work for me. I was thinking about this...why would an artist try something that is just going to make it more difficult to create art? I'm using paint I rarely use (semi-opaque tempera) on an unpredictable surface that reacts differently than anything I've ever worked with in the past.

When I showed Clint the results, the same thing must have been going through his head. He said, "Why are you doing this? What's the point?" Good question. Because it's a new technique that adds a new dimension to my work. Uh...because it adds surprises (good and bad) and a loose and spontaneous feel to my work…because it's fun. He wasn't convinced. He picked a chunk of gelatin out of my hair.

I think this technique may lend itself to work that is more abstracted in nature. A wilder, looser version of what you may have seen from me in the past. The next plate is curing…stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Close to the Mountain

Whitney Afternoon
6" X 9", Watercolor

On our last trip, we were the closest to Mt. Whitney we had been since our hike last fall. Whitney towered over our campsite, seeming close enough to touch. Saturday, we got even closer when we drove up to Whitney Portal to have lunch. Seeing the trailhead again brought back a rush of memories: this place marked the beginning and the end of the trip—this was the place where I was filled with fear, anxiety, elation, pride, and love.

I was overwhelmed with emotion.
(Bob: “Sioux, are you crying again?”)

When I am close to Whitney, I feel the mountain’s presence strong within my soul. And all of us that were there, we have a kinship. We have shared sweat and tears. Whitney gave us leave to climb onto its shoulder and look out over the world. It did not break us; it nurtured us and made us stronger. I will always have a bond with the mountain and with the dear ones who were there with me (and got me there in the first place!).

Saturday afternoon as the sun worked its way to the west, Whitney was lit through gaps in the clouds that had gathered over the ridge. The light kept changing as the clouds shifted. We contently sat in camp and watched the show above us. The sun was warm and intense, the breeze cool. We quietly drank in the surroundings; you could feel the collective peace.

I broke out my watercolors and predictably; the wind kicked up, tossing most of my gear off the table. I set up once again, with my palettes tucked under a tie-down strap. This was a "flow" painting. It was quick and effortless. The spirit of the mountain was with me.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Alongside an Old Friend

11" X 14", Watercolor

This weekend we went back to Tuttle Creek, our favorite campground outside of Lone Pine, and discovered it closed for renovation. Renovation? Oh no! We liked it the way it was—quiet and rustic, appealing to hardcore campers and fisher folk.

And here's why—aside from its charming creek, there is no potable water there. You have to bring your own. This discourages many people (good!). 

Then there are the pit toilets—fragrant, but charming. The wind whips through there like a bullet train, so the camp hosts have placed rocks on top of the rolls of TP. I imagine this began after a high wind combined with an open door or two caused the mother of all toilet-papering, launching streamers that could be seen from the top of Mt. Whitney.

So, we settled on another campground nearby that is known to be busier, with closely spaced sites. On the plus side, it offers a spectacular view of Mt. Whitney and the especially-inviting Lone Pine Creek.

Lone Pine Creek was our companion on much of the hike up Whitney. It’s an old friend. In this stretch of its journey, the creek is picturesquely shaded by willows. The banks offer plenty of comfy spots to sit and commune with nature. It’s positively idyllic. Running down a terraced slope, the creek is stocked with colorful boulders that create frothy patches of fluorescent white water.

I found a soft spot just inches from the water where I could enjoy the view upstream a stair step or two. It was peaceful and inspiring. I was a bit nervous about someone or something (a bear!) sneaking up on me, because the roar of the water rushing over the rocks combined with the rustling of the leaves overhead erased all other sound. It was the perfect white noise, erasing all but pleasant thoughts.

Water is challenging to capture with paint. It can be darn near every color of the rainbow, from the palest green, to deep moss and amber; glints of turquoise and blue dancing in the foam. The shadows were moist earthy browns darkening to indigo; the rocks bright reds and golds in the sun, curving into velvety darkness under the veil of water pouring over them.

It was heavenly.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Hello to Spring and Eye Stoppers

Signs of Spring
Acrylic and Watercolor on Paper
9" X 12"

Spring makes me want to paint flowers. The urge actually starts in late winter, when I think spring will never come. Especially when I go off the mountain and down into the LA Basin, where it is green, green, green. Will we live in a world of grays and browns up here forever? Winter without snow has its own soft, subtle, and soothing palette, but after a while, I crave green.

Our first hint that spring is coming is the sprouting of our daffodils. Then, after the buds unfold, a spring snow predictably smothers them. Yet, the strongest plants refuse to be subdued—though they might lay limp for a few days, reeling from the shock, they rise once again to bob in the breeze. I think there is a lesson there.

This painting sat in the viewing area for about 30 seconds when Clint spied a “eye stopper” shape. Although unnoticed by me, once he pointed it out, it was all I could see. It became the parsley in a model’s smile, a dignitary’s unzipped fly. I couldn’t wait to get back up to the studio to fix it.

There are a number of “eye stoppers” that can sneak in and potentially ruin a painting: a weird juxtaposition of lines or shapes that confuse the eye, or rendering that is too regular, too symmetrical, or too similar to something else in size, shape or color (Is that a penis next to that mountain?).

It’s an element that sticks out like a sore thumb to you or someone else viewing the painting—especially the “someone else”—because they haven’t been looking at the darn thing for hours and hours. For the artist, this is akin to a typo in the front-page headline; the obvious error missed by the proofreader and caught by the pressman who can’t spell his way out of a paper bag.

Sometimes you can fix it, sometimes you can’t. I lucked out.

That’s why it’s always a good idea to have someone else look at your work. Someone that is honest with you and observant (thanks, my dear).