Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Monoprint Madness!

The day after Christmas, there was no way in hell I was going anywhere near a retail establishment. As far as my domestic chores, I had decided the dust bunnies weren’t going anywhere and I needed to have some art time.

First, I finished off my volunteer sign-painting project (I put the free in freelance). Whew. What a relief to put that behind me. Then, I was free to unleash the dam of creativity that had been held back by obligation and holiday festivities (not complaining—just sayin') for what had felt like forever.

While in my self-imposed art deprivation period, I’d been thinking on what to do next. At first, I was craving the sensual pushing around of paint that acrylic affords. I had purchased some new brushes just before Christmas that were aching to be used and I was dying to try out. New brushes are a big deal for me. I have some—now that I think of it—that date back to brick-sized cell phones and the dark days before the internet (gasp). 

Despite the call of the brushes, deep down I really wanted to go back to experimenting with monoprints and monotypes. And so I did. 

Remember the boot? Well, it was time to put that drawing to use. I came across a technique where the paper is taped to one side of the plate. This maintains a static position so you can transfer multiple layers of registered color to the paper. From there, it’s FM (freaking magic), as you attempt find the perfect balance between paint, paper, and their respective moisture levels.

It's hard to tell, but my drawing is sitting under a plate of glass.

I started with a piece of glass as my plate. I painted the plate with watercolor, flopped the paper onto the plate and rubbed the back of the sheet vigorously. My first efforts were less than stellar. 

The paper wasn’t taking the paint. Instead of flowing onto the paper (like the book where I got the idea), it was mooshing it around on the surface of the plate and leaving weird sucked up pools of color.

Oh crap. This isn't working very well.

It was time to break out a more viscous paint. Unfortunately I had my oil-based printing inks mixed in with my water-based inks. Oops. No wonder I couldn't wash the color out of that brush. Yet this material faux pas became a happy accident as I discovered the oil-based paint was adhering better to the paper. Another oops—in my enthusiastic rubbing of the paper, I managed to crack my glass plate in half.

OK, you might not believe this, but now we're starting to get somewhere.

Once I’d done all the printing and plate damage I could do, I went back into the piece with Prismacolor, a waxy pencil that can fix a multitude of misprints and art accidents. I like the vibrant color and dramatic values.

10ish" X 12ish"
The fine blue line across the pole is where the plate cracked. Yikes.
This was printed on a heavy laid-pattern watercolor paper. See how the texture shines through?

Next, using a piece of Plexiglas for my plate, I redrew the image (backwards) directly on the surface with a litho crayon (think grease pencil or China Marker). I painted the image with turpentine to melt the lines and added tone with highly diluted oil paint. 

New plate, new technique.

After several impressions to develop the form and value, I set the print aside to dry and then tinted it with watercolor.

12" X 16" - Monoprint
I love the loose drawing-like quality of this piece. I also like that it is not backwards from my original drawing.

On the final piece, I brushed oil paint onto the plate in a thick layer. I blotted, wiped, and scraped away the paint; then, added value with washes of thinned paint. The blue in the background is also diluted oil color. I refined the image slightly with a litho crayon and watercolor.
12" X 16" - Monotype
I think this one is my favorite. Remember, with monotypes, there is only one. Each time, the image was re-drawn.

 It was a delightful afternoon of experimentation. By dinnertime, I was covered with paint up to my elbows with several smears decorating my cheeks. I was akin to a pig deep in a trough, paint flying instead of slop—although that might be debated by some. Ahhh. It was good, good fun. 

Until next year,

Friday, December 16, 2011

Out of My Element

This time of year, it’s more likely that I’m painting frosting on cookies than applying paint to canvas. Holiday prep takes away much of my art time—although I'm not complaining—I love the holidays, but I get a little crazy when I don’t have my studio time.

This year, in addition to the normal holiday activities, I have a volunteer project that is keeping me busy. I’m painting a sign that will be mounted on a small billboard at the entrance of town. The billboard welcomes folks to town and also serves as the gateway to our new Village Hike and Bike Trail.

Had I been asked to design and paint a woodsy kind of sign that represented our little mountain community, I would have been the perfect gal for the job. This project, however, is outside my skill set. It involves enlarging and recreating a sticker that declares Wrightwood as the Land of Four Seasons. Having “real weather” and trees that change color attracts a lot of people to our town—and that’s why we love it here.

Well, I must say this project has been a struggle. The stylized pine tree in the middle was a snap, but the fine serif lettering encircling it—not so much. I have some major performance anxiety going on with this project. It’s not the people in cars whizzing by that will notice my lame vibrato letters, it’s the walkers who will pause and say, “Boy, they sure didn't hire a very good sign painting company for this.”

My hope is to finish it up this weekend. Paint, touch-up, and repaint—repeat as necessary—until the type looks like type instead of burbles. So, until the paint fumes start to get to me, I'll keep at it.

Meanwhile, that boot has been on my mind. The golden highlights of the sun where it lights the leather, the tidy eyelets, and the toe—molded by sweat into the shape of the wearer’s foot, scuffed by hard use. I know it will be an acrylic painting, because I'm craving the texture of paint pushed around by a stiff brush. Plus, I have some new brushes I’m dying to try out.

Sometimes my best paintings are the ones that burst forth after art deprivation periods. This year our last holiday hurrah is Christmas Eve (Quiche-mas Brunch for friends and family), after which we will enjoy a quiet Christmas day at home—just the two of us. If we’re lucky, it will snow. Clint will curl up on the couch with a book and I’ll head up to the studio for some creative time.


Friday, December 9, 2011

I Draw Everything But Flies

I think I first knew I wanted to be an artist when I was in second grade. When I finished coloring the cornucopia the teacher had mimeographed on the construction-paper cover of our Thanksgiving “What I'm Thankful For” booklet, I was quite impressed by my use of color and careful outlining of each component. It was so lovely, I wrote on the cover, just below the image: “For Sale”. I was thinking I could get about four bucks for it.

A few years later, when I was about 11, while working on my Animals in Pastel series, brightly colored cartoon-like images that flouted the conventions of realistic color, I declared to my parents that I was going to be an artist. My dad had a big grin on his face and said, “I have the perfect slogan to put on your signs.”

As soon as he said that, I knew it was going to be something embarrassing—or horrifying, or scary, or disgusting. I was an extremely sensitive child—overly so—I’m sure my family would say. My dad was an earthy, salty guy who came from the wrong side of the tracks as a kid. He didn’t pull any punches and called a spade a spade. Although I loved him dearly, he was a constant source of mortification for me. I never knew what he was going to say next—or to whom.

“I draw everything but flies,” he said, after a dramatic pause. Of course he was teasing, but I was beside myself. “Dad, I can't put that on my signs. That’s weird!”

The consummate salesman, he proceeded to outline the benefits of such a clever saying. I squirmed and murmured something acquiescent, but inside, I was not convinced, and determined that I would find a way to NOT show him my signs, which would NOT be tarnished by such a crude slogan.

And so today, I do pretty much draw everything but flies (having grown up terrified that if I did not bathe frequently enough, that prophecy would come true). Although most of the works I’ve shared with you are paintings, often there is a great deal of drawing that goes on in the development of a piece.

Drawing is the way to figure things out, understand the shapes, the light, and relationship of the two to one another. Drawing helps me figure out my composition and often leads me to the medium I will choose. In the background as I sketch, I’m thinking about which method and medium will take me where I want to go. Do I want to push around acrylic paint to create texture, flow brilliant transparent color across a page, or scrape away ink from a plate to create a less refined image?

There are times when the drawing stage is very short. I know exactly where I want to go and with which medium. Other times, I'm drawing and re-drawing for a while until finally, I feel I'm ready to move to the next step. Occasionally, I get stuck mid-painting, and have to stop to do another drawing to work out the problem spot.

Here's my current study, a boot someone slipped over a post on a gate at a cemetery out in the middle of nowhere. It seemed like a funny place to leave a boot, that's for sure. Once upon a time it wasn't nowhere; it was the Kern County Seat. Now it’s just a wide place in the road, known as Havilah. It's in the mountains between Bakersfield and Tehachapi along a road that winds through classic California hills sprinkled with oaks.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this yet, but when I get there, I’ll share it with you.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Different View

We wound our way through the outer edges of Durango, past houses framed by woods and snuggled up to sweet meadows gone golden, where deer gave us just a glance, and dropped their heads once more to graze quietly.

We were ooo'ing and ahhh'ing and dreaming—as usual—about winning the lotto and buying a place with some land around it. There would be a really big garden for me, and a workshop for Clint. Maybe some chickens and a few goats. 

The road took a sharp bend and rose over an old stone bridge softened by lichens in every shade of green. A plaque declared gold had been discovered there a long time ago. The road found the highway and we headed north to Silverton.

The road between Durango and Silverton is a picture postcard the entire way. We’re talking a John Denver song kind of landscape. The mountains tower over thick stands of pine and aspen; a creamy fondant of snow covers all but a little of the ground and ridges. The exposed rock and patches of soil are a warm and rich contrast in the morning sun.

I have never seen aspens bunched as thickly as those we saw along this road: straight, smooth, and bright, with warm halos of tiny naked branches, dense as hair. I imagined the trees in spring, an intense swath of green, glowing against the red and gold earth.

The shapes of these mountains are very different from the ones at home; stacked plates of sandstone, instead of shards of schist. These are old mountains that have seen many things and have many stories to tell.

How do you take something that grand and postcard-like and paint it so it’s new? How do you transform it from a Scenes-of-America calendar image or set it apart from the “Great Photos You Must See” e-mails?

I can't tell you how many paintings of aspens I saw in Colorado and Arizona; and they all looked the same. I know I’ve painted “the aspens” in the same way. But, once you’ve done that and gotten it out of your system, it’s time to move on to new ways of expressing things that have been painted a billion times in the same way—that is if you want to grow as an artist.

There are plenty of artists who find a theme that appeals to the masses and proceed to paint the same subject over and over—simply because they can sell the crap out of these cookie cutter paintings and make millions (treacle-y storybook cottages with glowing windows and heavy-bodied Native American women studying pottery come to mind).

As for me, I’m still working on that puzzle—growing as an artist, not painting cottages—and probably will be for the rest of my life.

When I approached this subject, I decided to break the larger image into four small canvases (5" X 5"). It’s a quadtych. Kind of like a diptych, only doubled. I wanted to make each painting stand on it’s own AND work as a unit. I know it's a little hard to see here, and they need a few finishing touches, so you'll just have to come to my next show to see the final result. What do you think?