Sunday, September 07, 2014

Abstract Painting

"Abstraction demands more from me than realism. Instead of reproducing something outside of me, now I go inward and use everything I've learned thus far in my life."
~ Susan Avishai



For those of you who have been on the edge of your seats waiting to hear what my next big adventure is: it's been delayed. Again. And yes, I'm frustrated. 

Moving on.

I took two workshops along with my classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts this summer. One of them was an abstract painting workshop taught by Kassem Amoudi (who also teaches at the Woodmere Art Museum, the Main Line Art Center, and the Wayne Art Center for those of you in the Philadelphia area who might be interested.) I've never tried abstract painting before and was excited to stretch myself in a different direction.


We started out with a blank canvas and were instructed to make random charcoal marks on it. We used acrylic gel medium to seal the charcoal so it would not smudge during the next steps.


Thin washes of color were randomly applied to areas of the charcoal.


Thicker areas of color were added.


I tried adding some splatters, with mixed results.


I was trying to bring out shapes that I saw in the painting as it developed.


Further refining the shapes and color blocks. I was encouraged to enhance the areas that looked like figures. I saw one area that looked like a dog, but once I developed it I didn't like it, so I covered it over.



At this point, Mr. Amoudi recommended I stop painting. Knowing that I tend to overwork things, I listened to him and put the paintbrushes down.

Considering this was my first experience with abstract painting, I'm actually pretty pleased with the result. It was exhausting though. Everyone in the workshop was mentally fried by the end of the day. I had never really thought about it before, but it is much harder to make something out of nothing than to paint what's in front of you. And it is especially hard to avoid making what we were all referring to as "bad motel art".

Here are a few artists that I really like whose work is either abstract or includes abstract elements: 
Brian Rutenberg 
Dafila Scott
Ewoud De Groot

I think I'd like to explore abstract painting further... after a long rest.



Thursday, August 21, 2014

More Etching And A Little Woodblock Printing

"The true method of knowledge is experiment."
                                                 ~ William Blake




I think the worst thing about going away is when you come back and settle into your old life it's as if you never left. Except for all the unpacking we've yet to get through, being home is making me feel like this summer in Philadelphia never happened. Luckily, I've got all the new knowledge and artwork to prove to myself that it did happen.

During the last two weeks of my printmaking class at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, we worked independently on whichever printmaking methods we wanted. I knew I wanted to experiment more with etching, particularly the inking process to see what different effects I could get. I played with multiple colors of ink and on some of the prints I took a Q-Tip and wiped away the ink in certain areas to try to get a highlight effect on the shells.



 


We also worked with woodblock printing, which I liked very much. I had assumed that carving into wood would be harder than carving into a linoleum block, but I was surprised at how easily it carved. I was also intrigued by the idea of brushing the wood with a wire brush to bring out and print the wood grain along with the carved image.




This barred owl image was a lot of fun to carve. I then inked the block with two different colors - black on the owl and a very dark blue on the sky. As you can see, the inks ended up looking pretty much the same. Overall though, I felt this woodblock print was successful enough to whet my interest in more experimenting at home.

Back in the Spring, I had hinted that there were multiple big adventures coming up for me. My time at PAFA this summer was just the start. Things are about to get really busy around here...

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hummingbirds


Dinner on the wing

I had promised you hummingbird pictures this summer, but I've discovered that ruby-throated hummingbirds, or at least the ones at my father-in-law's place, are very camera shy. The female hummingbird seems a little less concerned about my presence than the male, so I managed to get a few decent photos of her from a respectful distance. The male, however, is very nervous and will even scold me if I'm on the far end of his flightpath to the feeder. I only managed to get this one blurry shot of him through the kitchen window, but at least his gorget was brilliant. 

 
All that sugar makes for a very high-strung bird

There seems to be just one male and one female hummingbird here. There could be other individuals that I'm not able to differentiate from each other, but since I've never seen any battles between two males or two females, I'm guessing there's just one of each. If the male catches the female at the feeder, he will chase her away. I find this interesting because where we live, rufous hummingbird females will chase away the males. Male and female hummingbirds will only associate with each other to mate, otherwise they are very antagonistic towards each other.


Pen & ink drawing of some hummingbird nestlings

I found this old pen & ink drawing I did years ago of some nestling hummingbirds. Unfortunately I can't remember what species they were. My cousins had a cabin in northern Idaho and a hummingbird built a nest and raised two babies right outside their window. We were lucky enough to visit just a few days before the babies fledged. The tiny delicate nest made of lichens, moss, and spider webs was a marvel of engineering.

I'm being lazy today and not including a quote with this post. I hope you'll forgive me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Adventures in Intaglio Printmaking

"I don't like to say I have given my life to art. I prefer to say art has given me my life."
                                                                                                                  ~ Frank Stella


Finished print on drying rack

One of the classes I'm taking this summer is a printmaking class. Printmaking has always fascinated me, but I've only had the chance to dabble in linoleum block printing and that was a few years ago, so I jumped at the opportunity to explore printmaking more.

Currently we are making intaglio (pronounced in-tahl-yo) prints, an Italian word for etchings or engravings which in its essence means "to cut into". In a nutshell, an image is cut into a copper or zinc plate, ink is applied and then cleaned off, leaving a residue in the cut areas. When damp paper is placed on top of the plate and forced into these cut areas by the pressure of the printing press, the ink transfers onto the paper and creates a print of the image. If a plate is cut into by hand, the process is known as engraving. If the plate is cut into by acid, the process is known as etching. In my class, we're using acid! 

Here's the etching printmaking process, step-by-step. You may recognize the image I'm etching from a shell drawing in a previous post.

Ready to begin the etching process!
A jig is made to keep the plate from moving when I transfer the drawing onto it.


Rolling on the acid resist.
 The whole plate is covered in asphaltum; an acid-resistant substance made from tar.


A printmaking sandwich.
The asphaltum-covered plate is returned to the jig, a piece of plain newsprint is placed over the plate and the drawing is traced on top of that.



The first reveal.
The pressure of tracing the drawing transfers the asphaltum onto the newsprint, which gives you a rough idea of what the final print may look like. Wherever there is asphaltum on the plate, the acid can't reach the zinc and that part of the print will remain blank. Where the asphaltum is removed, the acid will eat away at the plate, creating an area where ink will collect. You have to be careful when handling the plate because it's very easy to accidentally touch the asphaltum and end up with a fingerprint etched into your plate!



The acid bath is in an enclosed booth with ventilation and glass shields.
I donned safety goggles, long thick protective gloves, and a big protective apron before heading to the acid bath. My plate luxuriated in the acid bath for about 6 or 7 minutes. Once the plate comes out of the acid bath, it is important to wash off any acid residue so you don't accidentally get any on yourself.



The post-bath plate
It doesn't look like anything has happened to the plate at this stage...


The squeaky-clean plate
...but when the asphaltum is cleaned off, you can see where the acid ate into the exposed parts of the plate, leaving an etched image.


Inked and ready
 Ink is applied all over the plate and then wiped off, only leaving ink in the etched lines.


The amount of pressure this press can generate is mind-boggling
The plate is placed image-side up on a printing press, damp paper is placed over the plate, and big thick felt and wool "blankets" are placed on top to protect both the plate and the roller when the whole thing is run through the press.


The big reveal!
The final step is the "reveal" - the moment you get to see what all that work produced! There's a buzz of excitement in my class every time someone pulls their print off the plate because you really don't know exactly what it's going to look like. My first print was a little too stark, so when I inked the plate the second time, I didn't clean it off quite so thoroughly and got a nice faint tone in the background. If I wanted to, I could also reapply asphaltum to the plate and add more details, run it through the acid bath and try printing it again.

I'm really enjoying intaglio printmaking, but obviously this is not something I'd do in my home studio. Somehow I don't think our landlord would be too keen on the whole acid bath thing.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Paintings and Drawings

"Practice doesn't make perfect. Practice reduces the imperfection."
                                                                                      ~ Toba Beta


Chambered nautilus study in colored pencil

My father-in-law's shell collection continues to inspire me. My enthusiasm has caught on and now he is searching the house for long-forgotten boxes of shells to give me. He found one box the other day that included a magnificent chambered nautilus shell.

The nautilus is a cephalopod like an octopus or a squid, however its tentacles do not have suckers. It is also the only cephalopod with a protective outer shell. It has changed very little over the millions of years that it has existed, so it is considered a "living fossil".

My nautilus shell model, I fear, was store-bought. To stem the decline in nautilus populations, some countries have banned the commercial trade of nautilus shells, but others have not. I will try my best to make lots of beautiful art with this shell, as I would never buy one myself.


Plate of Shells - 6 x 6 acrylic on canvas panel

Here's a little painting I did of an assortment of shells. The plate wasn't perfectly flat in the middle, so the shells sometimes rattled and shifted positions when I would walk around near the little table I had them perched on. The painting was really finished 2 hours before I put down the paintbrush, but I kept fussing with it and of course ended up overworking it. Oh well.


After 5 weeks of class, my first figure painting in oil is done.

I finished my figure painting in class at PAFA. We'll start another painting with a new model this week. I'm excited to try a new painting, but this week also marks the half-way point of our summer adventures. Nooooooooo! How can it be halfway over already!? I haven't even gotten my fill of East Coast pizza yet - and believe me, I've been trying!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Seashells

"I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
                                                                                                                       ~ Sir Isaac Newton

Just a few specimens from my father-in-law's collection

My father-in-law was an avid scuba diver and underwater photographer for over 30 years and traveled to many different locations to dive. When he wasn't diving, he would walk the beaches looking for interesting shells. Over the years he built up quite an impressive seashell collection. I'm finding his collection quite inspirational.

I've been doing a little research about other artists who were inspired by shells. Probably the most well-known painter of shells was Georgia O'Keefe who created a number of beautiful shell paintings along with her more famous flower paintings. Not so well-known, the Dutch artist Adriaen Coorte painted intimate still lifes featuring seashells back in the late 1600's. I find these still lifes intriguing in their simplicity and beauty, unlike Balthasar van der Ast, another Dutch painter from around the same era whose still lifes are overflowing with not only shells, but also flowers, fruit, and insects. Sometime during the early 1900's British artist Glyn Warren Philpot who was best known as a portrait artist, used a limited palette to paint a lovely still life of shells, perhaps as a break from painting faces. I'm certainly finding shells a pleasant subject to draw and paint.

Study of Babylonia species in graphite.


Detail from shell painting. Acrylic on canvas board.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Many Changes

"Every grain of experience is food for the greedy growing soul of the artist."
                                                                                                               ~ Anthony Burgess


One Liberty Place in Center City, Philadelphia

I've been having trouble sleeping lately because my brain won't shut off. I go through my bedtime routine, and when I close my eyes my body wants to sleep, but my mind is merrily chattering away. So many ideas, questions, new things to think about.

I had hinted at some new developments a few posts ago. Well, I'm in the midst of them now. If you didn't recognize the photo of the city building in that post, it was the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. I'm taking classes having my mind blown there. I've gone from someone who always claimed, "I don't paint people" to painting live models, from an artist who has never touched oil paints to one who loves oil paints, from a devotee of natural history subjects to someone who sees a potential painting in everything; animate or inanimate. No wonder I can't sleep!

The early stages of my first painting of a person. It's actually looking reasonably human-like!

I'm also working on building a new portfolio website to replace my woefully outdated one. It's a one step forward and three steps back process, but when I finally get something to work the way I want, the sense of accomplishment is enormous (as is the sense of frustration moments later when something else fails miserably). My portfolio is exclusively natural history-related, however I find myself wondering how that will evolve with all these new influences.

My tireless brain has also been thinking about whether "Inner Artist" really fits me anymore. A lot has changed since I started this blog back in 2006. I regularly teach art classes and workshops now, I sell note cards of my work locally (and am considering the Zazzle or Etsy route in the future) and I'm immersed in artistic development more than ever.  So I'm on the fence about whether to continue with "Inner Artist" or update my blog to reflect the artist I am now.

Lest you think I've suddenly gone completely off nature, I will end this post with a bird photo. Every morning I am delighted by this catbird who serenades me at my father-in-law's place, where we're staying for the summer. I hope to post some photos of ruby-throated hummingbirds for you soon, as we put up a feeder and had hummers within two days.

The next American Idol



Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My Favorite Woodpecker

"Without birds, trees would be very lonely and men too!"
                                                        ~ Mehmet Murat ildan



I won't say that woodpeckers are my favorite birds since there are so many fascinating types of birds; pelicans with their built-in fishing nets, hawks with vision eight times better than ours, hummingbirds that hold their nests together with spider webs, but woodpeckers are up there on my list. However, I can unequivocally say that, from the first time I saw them featured on a nature show, the acorn woodpecker has been my favorite type of woodpecker.

My first sighting of an acorn woodpecker was outside of Portland, Oregon a few years ago. The single dejected specimen sitting motionless high up in a tree was a far cry from the lively and comical birds I expected. Maybe it had been a particularly gloomy winter in Portland that year. After fifteen minutes of observing this bird and seeing nothing more exciting than it turning its head once, I walked away hoping that my second sighting would be more in line with what I had heard about acorn woodpeckers.



It's taken a few years, but recently I was in California and finally had the good fortune to spot more acorn woodpeckers - this time a group of them checking out a power pole near our hotel. They were everything I'd hoped for: gregarious, vocal, colorful. They didn't seem to mind all the traffic speeding beneath them, either. The fifteen minutes that I spent observing this group before they flew off to a grove of palm trees more than made up for my first sighting.

One of the fascinating things about acorn woodpeckers is that they hoard acorns by drilling individual holes in trees or telephone poles (or wood siding) to store each of their hundreds of acorns in. I didn't get to observe this behavior, but this 3 minute video from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has some nice footage. I'm hoping that if I'm lucky enough to see acorn woodpeckers a third time, I'll get to see their acorn storage system in action.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

And Now For Something Completely Different

 "Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the "Titanic" who waved off the dessert cart."
                                                                                                                               - Erma Bombeck




It would be a far stretch to say this has anything to do with Art or Nature, but I had to share a recent find that I spotted out of the corner of my eye in an antique store. I believe it's a handkerchief (or perhaps a napkin/serviette, but the material is very thin) from the '50s or '60s. I get such a kick out of this. What a hoot! Particularly because the box of candy and butter are marked "DANGER" but the cake, pie, goose liver pate, chocolate bar and milkshake are not.

If you've seen one of these before or know more about this vintage piece, do tell!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Upcoming Adventures

"It's easy to get bogged down in the circumstantial and mundane, but if we connect to our passion, that in itself will be regenerative."
                                                                                                                      ~ Nina Simons

The arrowleaf balsamroot is blooming in the foothills, at last

How is it the end of April already? I've been burning the candle at both ends, that's for sure. After attending my second mind-blowingly inspiring Susan K. Black artist workshop last Fall, I made a pledge to myself that I would stop making excuses, stop worrying what people think, and focus on developing my art into a full-fledged career this year. I haven't been particularly productive in terms of creating art (or blogging!), but I've been busy with a number of other art-related activities.

I've been teaching art classes and workshops in area art centers this Spring. One of my favorite classes that I've developed is a beginning drawing class. It is so wonderful to see people who swore they could never draw producing really lovely drawings in a matter of weeks. I love to teach, and apparently the participants actually like my teaching, because I already have requests for more classes in the Fall.

I'm working on a total overhaul of my website. I bet you didn't even know I had a website. That's because it's so old and clunky that I've been embarrassed to even admit I have one. Time to fix that!

A few months ago, I dropped off my business card at a local coffee shop that I really like. They feature local artists during the monthly downtown art walk. Last month they contacted me when their scheduled art show fell through and I was able to pull together a substitute show for them at the last minute. I made some sales during that show and now they want to carry some of my work in their shop.

As if all that wasn't enough, I've been planning and coordinating a series of adventures that will start over the next few months. Here are a few hints as to what I'll be doing:

 Adventure 1:
Hint: The building on the left is home to the oldest one of these in the US.
The sculpture in the middle and the building on the right are new additions to this.
I'll be most involved in the building on the right.

 Adventure 2:

Hint: That wall looks awfully blank...


And if these clues haven't been enough to inspire you to stay tuned, I'll post a cute photo of our cat in a shameless bid to keep you coming back because there's plenty more cute where that came from.

She needs her 16 hours of sleep a day.
How do I get in on that racket???


Friday, March 28, 2014

Random Things

"Life is painful. It has thorns, like the stem of a rose. Culture and art are the roses that bloom on the stem. The flower is yourself, your humanity. Art is the liberation of the humanity inside yourself."
                                                                                                                                  - Daisaku Ikeda

Finished or not finished? That is the question!

A friend recently complained that my blog posts have become rather sporadic. She's got a point, for sure. I've been painting a lot, but I don't seem to end up with anything interesting to share.

Work on the flamingo painting continues sporadically as well. I can't decide if it's done or not. I hope to enter it into a show in May, so getting it finished sometime in the near future would be a good thing. I don't want to end up overworking it. Somebody please make me put the paintbrush down!

Speaking of paintbrushes, you may remember my bout with tendonitis last year. I'm doing fine now, but if I hold my paintbrush or pencil too tightly for too long, I get little warning signs in my wrist. I noticed that the thicker the handle of the paintbrush, the less I have this problem, so I wrapped the handles of my smaller brushes and my pencils with sports tape to build up the grip area and it seems to help. I got the idea from the artist Andrew Denman. He has a series of videos on YouTube documenting his impressive work on a special commission. I noticed in one of the videos that his paintbrush handles were wrapped. I thought it was a great idea. Even if you don't already have wrist issues, it's probably a good move to wrap your paintbrush handles if you paint a lot to prevent repetitive motion problems in the future.

The birds are starting to return to our area from their winter vacation, so hopefully I'll have more frequent and interesting posts soon. Thanks for hanging in there with me.



Sunday, February 23, 2014

New WIP - Eastern Kingbird

"The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky,
from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web."
                                                                                                                ~ Pablo Picasso


5"x7" work in progress of an Eastern kingbird.

Started a new little painting this weekend. I'm a big fan of limited palettes, and the blues, grays and whites of this scene really appeal to me, especially after all the bright colors in the flamingo painting I'm (still) working on. 

Detail showing sun on feet and barbed wire.

This piece is also turning out to be a great exercise in values and temperature. Of course I don't use any pure white (even though the camera makes it look like I did). Titanium white mixed with a little yellow ochre and/or cadmium yellow light gives a nice sunlit effect for my brightest, warmest whites. Ultramarine blue, burnt umber and Payne's gray make a great dark, without resorting to pure black (I don't even own a tube of black paint). Then the mid-tones are all sorts of purpley-grays and brownish-grays - mostly warm in temperature because of all the reflected light. You can see some of the purplish tones in the detail shot of the bird's underbelly.

My next task will be to get the values right on the clouds and the sky. I've never painted a piece where the sky was so dominant. In my mind, I see the sky as going on forever. I hope I can somehow capture that feeling in paint, without competing with the bird. I wanted to wait to hone the sky until I had the bird's values pretty well set.

I might be cheerfully babbling on about color and value, but my old companion Self-doubt has been keeping me company a lot lately. I was on such a roll before the holidays, and then what with travel and family and festivities, I ended up not painting for about a month. Ever since I got back into the studio in mid-January, I've been struggling. It's as if I took years off, rather than just 30 days.

Then we had Chinese take-out the other night and this appeared in my fortune cookie:



 Does this mean there's hope for me yet?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Living Gem

"What is magic? In the deepest sense, magic is an experience. It's the experience of finding oneself alive within a world that is itself alive. It is the experience of contact and communication between oneself and something that is profoundly different from oneself: a swallow, a frog, a spider weaving its web..."
                                                                                                                        - David Abram


A tiny masterpiece of color and aerodynamics that eats mosquitoes! Can it get any better than that?

I can't say it much better than the David Abram quote above, but I often think about how much richer people's lives might be if they noticed things like the sun hitting the iridescent feathers on a violet-green swallow. There's magic all around us, if only we'd look.

My model was a photogenic violet-green swallow we chanced upon one day at Lake Como in the Bitterroot National Forest, when we still lived in Montana. (Yes, I miss Montana.)


Study of a violet-green swallow (6" x 6" acrylic on canvas board).

I finished this portrait of that swallow back in November, but didn't post it then as I wanted it to be a surprise Christmas present for dear friends.

What magic have you experienced lately?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Old Drawings and Etchings

"Humans who spend time in the wilderness, alone, without man-made mechanical noise around them, often discover that their brain begins to recover its ability to discern things."
                                                                                                                       - Robert Anderson

From original illustrations by Mrs. J.C. Melliss for her husband's book
on the natural history of the island of St. Helena, 1875. Courtesy of the British Library.

The British Library recently announced that they have added over a million images to their Flickr Photostream from their collection of 17th, 18th, and 19th century books. Many of these images are of natural history subjects and are exquisitely drawn. I don't have the patience that these artists had, nor their technical and fine observational skills, but I could spends countless hours looking at their work. If you are an old drawings and etchings enthusiast, you might enjoy checking this new resource out.

From original illustrations by Mrs. J.C. Melliss for her husband's book
on the natural history of the island of St. Helena, 1875. Courtesy of the British Library.

The other thing about this work that intrigues me is what went into their creation. These artists went on expeditions for months or even years to paint and research. Often the final work was done back home from collected specimens, as well as meticulous notes and field sketches, but many of them were painted in situ under challenging circumstances that we modern artists probably can't fully imagine.



Illustration from 1855 of New Zealand moths.
No artist listed. Courtesy of the British Library.

All of the images are downloadable from the British Library's site and free for anyone to use, so think of the creative possibilities!