Thursday, July 3, 2014

Asking, "Am I Good Enough?"

There are various things in progress in the studio this week but nothing I'm ready to show, so today I'd like to take a minute and talk about something I've been rolling around in my mind for a while.

This post could also be titled, "The Need For Approval".

"Social media" has been incredibly effective in bringing together artists who, for so many years before its advent, toiled alone in their studios, unaware that there were others who shared their passions and artsy obsessions. I was one of those people, working day and night for years in a vacuum, without any contact with other artists. For a very long time, I didn't even know there were others out there interested in the exact same things I was playing with and teaching to myself.

This was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because I learned my skills without the well meaning but persuasive voices of my peers guiding me and changing my work. A curse because not only was I lonely for the company of other artists, I was deeply uncertain about the validity of my work. Was it good? Would it hold up to the market? Did it have meaning to anyone but myself?

I was lucky enough to be alone long enough to solve most of these mysteries for myself, to find my own answers without outside influences moving me in one direction or another.

Things are different now. So often, I see artists, particularly those new to art but sometimes from veterans as well, post a photograph of their work in progress and ask others, "What should I do next?"

This question actually takes many forms: "I know this isn't very good, but..." and "Should I place this here and that there?" and "Would you use more <insert favorite color here> or <insert favorite collage element here>?" All of these inquiries really boil down to one question: am I good enough?

The impulse to seek out the opinions of other artists seems to be hardwired in our genetics, and in certain situations, can actually be a boon to our work. Honest critique is essential for learning whether we're ready to jump off the cliff into a new direction or if we need to spend more time standing in place, working on what's in front of us. It can offer insight and inspiration, knowledge and the experience of others, and can even help us move off square one when our work has stalled and we can't exactly pin down why.

Our task in navigating online social media as artists requires us to know the difference between asking for a critique, and asking for a direction.

"Does this work impact you emotionally, and if so, how?" will produce a far different (and more useful) answer than, "Should I have used more red?" Yet as a new or emerging artist, we often find it daunting to answer for ourselves whether this piece or that should have more red or less, this collage piece or another, be displayed vertically or horizontally, be abstract or contain imagery.

Asking these types of questions in our online art communities is intensely tempting, but will garner as many different answers as there are people willing to reply. Then the outpouring of opinions of other artists can become overwhelming and confusing, and will almost always prove ultimately to be worth not much more than a grain of salt. And the reason is simple: there's only one person whose opinion matters- our own.

While asking for advice on your next step in a particular piece of work can be valuable, it also has the potential to profoundly impact not only the art you're currently working through, but your future work, as well. Getting into the habit of needing someone else's opinion before you can continue may cause you to alter your work to suit the needs and desires of others, and you may never give yourself the opportunity to reach your own conclusions, depend on your own vision, or learn your own lessons. You could wind up with a dreadful question always hovering at the edges of everything you create: "What would the public think of this??" And trying to please everyone, to make work that you hope will always be universally accepted with a, "Wow, LOVE it!" will force you into a box that will keep your work unfocused, unimaginative, and finally, looking like everyone else's.

Think of it in this way: we can demonstrate to our children how to walk through example, and encourage them with gentle cheerleading, but we can't teach them how it feels to place one foot in front of another, balance just so, and move ourselves forward. Only by learning how to walk on their own can they experience it for themselves and become comfortable and confident in their ability to do it without our help. Otherwise their desire to continue, to expand on the concept of walking by later attempting to run and jump, will be lost. We all know that a parent who carries their child everywhere is robbing that child of a life lesson they require in order to become their true, independent, empowered selves. A good parent understands that there will be stumbles and falls, bruises and scrapes, tears and frustration. But the final goal is always to allow the child to walk unassisted with the confidence that only the experience of doing so creates.

The same is true for making art. Advice and critiques can and should only take us so far in our journey towards becoming independent and empowered artists. Eventually, we all have to take the stumbles and falls, become bruised and banged up, feel the frustration, and shed the tears.

It's the only way to learn.

Until next week, create alone (for a while, anyway!)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Layering and Stacked Journaling

After a lovely 10-day staycation, I took to the studio on Monday morning with a desire for hot colors, complex texture, and layers of delicious pattern.

As I've stated on this blog before, when I first conceived of and began using Stacked Journaling, I had modest aspirations for it: I was seeking an interesting and unique background texture. After working with it for only a few weeks, however, it began to overtake everything in the studio.

Such is the case now, too.


I'm content with this development because it means that I'm beginning to hit my stride again with this technique, one of my main goals for the next year and beyond.

This week, starting occasionally with blank paper, and occasionally with painted or otherwise already printed paper, my self-assigned task was to use SJ to develop rich, layered work.

On some sheets of paper, I began by stenciling.


On others, by brayering color.


  

I moved from one sheet to the next, working about a dozen pieces of paper at the same time, setting aside each one to dry after a layer was completed. 

 
Occasionally, I'd stop and do some SJ with a squeezie bottle filled with paint and then take a print of that fresh paint onto another piece in progress. 


Back and forth I went all week, back and forth, back and forth, until finally, with many of these pieces, I had to force myself to stop.

I used stencils. 


And stamps.

 

And broke out my paint markers to enhance the SJ on a few. 


Looking for finer detail, I even used my dip pen with hi-flow acrylics.

 

Seeking subtlety (yes, again).

 

And uncovering bolder images.
 

I thought it would be difficult, after such a long vacation, to get back into the swing of things, but I found it to be joyfully effortless (this time!)

Until next week, create in layers!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Control, Lack of Control, Results

It's a normal week in the studio when things move in waves- one day you're up, way up, and then the next, you come crashing back down again, and then you climb up again, and then you wipe out, over and over. Never, since the day I decided to make art a serious pursuit, have I had a week that just soared and soared and soared, nor do I ever expect such a miracle to occur. Balancing on top of that wave, allowing ourselves to regularly get soaked and even thrown into the deep water, is the job of studio artist.

Ok, enough philosophy for one week. These were some of my ups and downs, combined with a couple of good soakings.

First was my experimentation in lack of control. I've been using lovely, reusable paint markers lately filled with Golden High Flow Acrylics to accentuate some Stacked Jouranling on painted papers and cradleboards. They give me an extreme amount of control, allowing me to outline the tiniest of negative spaces. But this week, I'm trying out the idea of not having such tight control and letting things get a little loosey-goosey with some thinned white paint in a squeezie bottle.

I tried it first on gel plate printed and painted copy papers, some of which had an SJ background.



 

Next, I took the idea to a much larger piece created specifically to test out this new idea. This is 22"x30" and while it began with layer upon layer of Stacked Journaling, the emphasizing of negative spaces that I did with the thinned paint was on loose single-layer handwriting that was added last.
 

I kinda like it and will play with this idea more in the future.

Next up this week was some stencil creation. A few weeks back, I got a new desktop computer, and in the process, I upgraded from XP to Windows 8.1. Thank goodness I'm familiar with tablets and smart phones, because the interface is so much more similar to those than to classic Windows OS's.

However, while nearly everything went right back onto the new machine without a hitch and ran flawlessly, my Silhouette Cameo was more stubborn. Attempt after attempt to get it running failed, until finally, the only thing that actually worked was getting my printer and my P-Touch label maker set up and running. For whatever reason, the Silhouette liked the printer drivers better than it liked its own.

Anyway, it means that I can get back to experimenting with this machine, which is still very new to me. I purchased it to create my own stencil designs, and while I've yet to figure out how to do that, I've been buying designs from the Silhouette store and cutting them.



The stencil film I'm using, a suggestion from my friend, Lisa Chin, is Grafix DuraLar matte in .005" mm thickness. It's really nice, stable stencil film that the Silhouette seems to love.

The first cut this week was very successful.


I completely love this design and have been looking for one like it for several years.

The next cut was less successful, and it was all my fault. As I was sitting here letting the Silhouette do its magic, I glanced over at it and found that the mat, with the stencil film attached, had gone totally wonky.


Turns out that the reason is because I didn't take into account the difference between the stencil film size (11"x14") and the mat size (12"x12"). Once the cutter got to the portion of the stencil film that hung off the bottom of the cutting mat, it didn't know what to do. It tried to continue cutting, as I had instructed it to, but no longer had the mat to guild it.

Fortunately, this machine isn't as delicate as it looks, and is quite forgiving of boneheaded moves like that one. Panicking, I hit the "off" button, took several deep breaths, removed the stencil film with the mat still attached, and turned it back on again. No harm done, evidently, because the next cut was perfect.


I tried one more cut, something much simpler, which yielded a bonus- a positive and a negative!

 

Playing with them in the studio was a nice break from my more concentrated and deliberate SJ experiments.

These were done on both simple copy paper, as well as a few pieces of multi-purpose fabric thrown in for good measure. 








Obviously, I spent most of my time playing with one of my favorite color combinations!

Starting today, and for the next ten days, my husband and I are taking a 10-day staycation, during which we will be exploring the restaurants of our beautiful city, Houston. We'll hit some of our usual favorites, but we'll also be trying some new places. I might not be blogging during that period, but I'll be back when it's over!!

In the meantime, create without control!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Fast and Furious Collaging

For several weeks, true to the promise I made myself, I have been working and experimenting once again with Stacked Journaling. As valuable as that work has been and will continue to be in the future, completing a finished piece of work is equally valuable.

So this week, I allowed myself to just let go and use all the bits and pieces I've been working on to come together in a couple of fun collages. 

Collaging allows me to shut down the logic centers of my brain and just feel my creativity as if it was a physical force moving my hands. I don't think too hard, I don't correct myself, and I especially don't try to methodically direct what I'm doing. I just cut, paste, pay attention to the process, rinse, and repeat until something coalesces. It truly is fast and furious making, and it's a joy to my soul.

I started with this piece, a stretched canvas measuring 12"x18". I painted the background rather simply to allow the chaotic Stacked Journaling collage bits to pop.


Contained in this piece are bits of fabric, canvas, deli paper, printmaking paper, and watercolor paper. Many began with colorful paintings, others with gelli plate prints, and some even contain some old thermofax screen printing.

After cutting and pasting all those lovely bits of collage material (an activity that makes me feel like a grade schooler again) I had a lot of leftover bits and pieces.

Not content to give up the freedom of expression I was experiencing, I grabbed one of my handmade journals and began using up some of the pieces laying around my work table.

I started with this three-page spread, itself a study for a later piece of work.


Without altering the background colors, I started cutting and pasting again.

Here it is stretched out on my work table, drying.


Fun, fun, fun!

This weekend, I will tackle mounting paper onto the two large cradleboards I showed you last week. In the meantime, create with joy!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Experimentation Continues

So, this arrived in the studio last week.

 

... and how much fun is it to get new art supplies?? A stack of the beautiful, 22"x30" printmaking paper I've fallen in love with, a couple of smaller cradled panels, some paint, and two of these beauties...

 

I'm thinking a diptych, with these laying on their sides butted up against one another might make a very dramatic piece. Their size is so intimidating, though, that I have yet to mount any paper on them. Next week, that will be one of my tasks!

In the meantime, more experimenting with Stacked Journaling.  

The first thing I tried was layering Journaling in black and white paint. I started on one sheet of paper with black, allowed that to dry, and then did another layer of white on top of it. After each block of Journaling was on the paper, I took monoprints with two other sheets of paper. Eventually, I had so many layers on all three sheets, that I stopped bothering to wait for the paint to dry and just Journaled, monoprinted it, and Journaled again, back and forth, back and forth.

 

The top sheet of paper, (once again, 22"x30") was the "original" onto which all of the initial Journaling took place. The bottom sheet, and this third one...


... took only monoprinted images from the first sheet of paper, some of them ghost prints of leftover paint. 

Not sure that I was trying to get to any particular finished result with this experiment, it was just something I'd always wanted to try and my brain kept whispering, "What if..." so I followed along for the ride. I'm thinking now that they might make good grounds for some gel plate printing. That, too, could happen next week.

Also, a new beast grew over the last two weeks, starting with this painting on more of my favorite paper...


Some masking and a lot of Stacked Journaling later, and this is the result.


We are Borg; resistance is futile.

Note if you will, the tiny square on the upper right hand side. 


It was so small that the fine-tipped paint markers I've been using (filled with white Golden hi-flow acrylics) was too fat to fit into those tiny spaces. I broke out my dip pens, poured a small puddle of the paint onto a palette, and carefully traced out the negative areas. I'm a little cross-eyed, now.

Create with tiny strokes!


 
 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Peek-A-Boo

Following through on my 12-month plan, I spent the week working with Stacked Journaling, this time on paper.

Jane Davies introduced me to this spectacular printmaking paper, which I'm able to find at Dickblick.com. It has a smooth surface, two lovely deckled edges, and despite the fact that it's only 90#, shows little cockling or warping when used with wet media.

This week's piece played hide and seek with SJ.

(22" x 30", acrylics on paper)

After layering paint and multiple monoprints of SJ, I finally blocked out some areas to create my composition, and filled in the rest with a light wash of burnt sienna. I'm still not sure how I feel about this piece, or this technique for that matter, but it may provide some inspiration for future work, and that's what my intention of working in a series is really meant to do.

Despite my ambiguity about this piece, it took up most of my work week to complete. In order to help blot some of the monoprinted SJ from it, I used another piece of my new favorite paper to take ghost prints for next weeks' experimentation. I added a light wash of color, but that's all I've had time to do on it, so far.


While waiting for layers of paint to dry, I used this piece of canvas to doodle and off-load excess paint. It's not a piece of art, and it may never become one, but it's a peek into the mind of a distracted artist.


Until next week, create with curiosity!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

12-Month Plan

It's been suggested to me that I try sequestering myself in my studio for 12 to 18 months and focus on working on one series. I very much want gallery representation, and having a consistent body of work to show a gallerist would be a big step in that direction. Also, the discipline needed to create in a series for such a long period would be good for me. The advice seems sound.

On June 21, 2012, I posted my last blog update from my old studio. Before we were relocated and I was forced to pack up my studio, I had just begun hitting my stride with Stacked Journaling. The creative spirit was really flowing through me and I knew that the technique had so much more in store for me. I was excited for the future and the time I knew I'd spend exploring my new technique. And then suddenly, I had nowhere to create. My studio went into storage in boxes, my life was put on hold until the new house was built and I could recreate my studio, and I idled. During those very long, painful months, Stacked Journaling left me. It flitted away like a ghost and I couldn't seem to resurrect it back to life for any pleading in the world.

Now, finally, the shock to my psyche that the move produced has worn off, and once again, I'm finding my groove. It's the perfect time to dedicate myself to my own little innovation, and allow it once more to lead me into unexplored territory.

In that spirit I am making a public promise to myself (I'm much more likely to follow through on it if I share it with others!) that for the next 12 months, the bulk of my studio time will be dedicated to finding new directions for Stacked Journaling. Does this mean I'll never do anything else, never try anything new outside of SJ, put away my art journals, my stamps, and my gelli plate and become boring, old, Stacked Journaling Lady 24/7? Not hardly.

But I'm going to try to follow the excellent advice I've been given as closely as I can. So here's some eye candy from this weeks' work in the studio.

 
(24"x30" acrylic on flat panel)

I've been experimenting with just about anything I can lay my hands on: cradled panels, uncradled panels, sheets of water color paper, copy paper, bits of fabric- all the stuff I have laying around, waiting to be finished.

I invested in some empty markers in various sizes and with different tips, from chiseled to round, and some hi-flow fluid acrylic paints to go in them. Where have these markers been all my life?

 

They are refillable, and with the low viscosity of Golden's new line of hi-flow fluids, allow me to use high quality paints with my Stacked Journaling technique. I've been particularly interested lately in highlighting the negative spaces created by stacking my handwriting. These pens, with their narrow, round tips, allow me to do that and achieve very fine detail.

Here is another experiment with that variation of SJ, on top of a very simply painted background.

(24"x30" acrylic on flat panel)

I've also been working back into pieces that have some monoprinted Stacked Journaling on them.

(24"x30" acrylic on cradled panel)

This is new, yet familiar, territory for me. SJ has been a comfort, a revelation, and a go-to for me for a while but I am excited to see where it leads me next!

In the meantime, happy creating!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Rags to Riches

I am fanatical about designing furniture pieces for my own home. I love that I can take what is essentially trash and turn it into a unique piece of home decor. If I had my way, my entire house would be furnished with rehabbed cast-offs.

For the last several weeks, I've been working on something very special for my front entryway. Looking at a big, blank space under my stairs for the last 18 months really motivated me to get something in there that was striking, yet functional. Although the hallway is wide, it's still a main artery into the house, so whatever sat there needed to be low profile. A long, narrow console table seemed like the natural choice but after months of searching for one, I couldn't find something I loved.

Just when I was about to give up and build my own from parts gathered at my local big box hardware store, my daughter brought my attention to a Kickstarter program for a new product called The Floyd Leg.



Designed by Kyle Hoff and Alex O'Dell, these legs are powder-coated steel, meant to be portable (for apartment dwellers), and allow the user to create a table from any flat surface. Simple to use and industrial in feel, they were perfect for my needs. I donated to the Kickstarter program back at the end of last year and waited, knowing that the legs weren't scheduled to be delivered until April of this year.

The hunt was on for the perfect surface to create my table top. It needed to be long and narrow and after many months of searching and measuring and searching some more, my husband and I found this lovely, ten-dollar shutter at a second-hand store in our favorite Houston neighborhood, the Montrose.

 


More than six feet long, and a slim 12" deep, this beat-up old thing was perfect, with a price that couldn't be beat.

I brought it home and started cleaning years of grime off of it.


One look at it, and I felt I could be about 100% certain that it had previously been painted with lead-based paint. It cleaned up nicely, but I really wanted to get color onto it rather than use it in its high-gloss white state. Since sanding it was absolutely out of the question because of its potential lead content, I knew I had to spend some time experimenting with paint.

The big question then was, how well or badly would my acrylic artist colors adhere? My guess was very, very poorly. You really can't put acrylic or latex paint on top of oil paint and expect any kind of adhesion, but I had to try, anyway.

I decided on which side would be the top, flipped it over, and began experimenting on the back side.

The first thing I did was swipe a thin layer of turquoise green onto a flat portion of the shutter and then allow that layer to dry over night.


The next morning, I tried to scrape the paint off with my fingernail. To my stunned surprise, I couldn't budge the paint. I then took the flat head of a screwdriver and started scratching into the paint. Nothing but the most faint marks, and those I could live with!

Thrilled with my unexpected success, I then added my next color to my experiment, Manganese Blue Hue.


Feeling a little cocky with my success, I allowed that layer to dry for only about an hour and then I applied my next color, Cadmium Yellow Light Hue.


Ohhh purty.

After another hour to allow the yellow to dry, I tried the scratch test again.


Whoops! It failed completely, I was able to scratch the paint right off down to the original finish.

I walked away for another day, then came back the next day, tried my scratch test again, and once more, the paint refused to move. I realized then that the key to making this whole thing work would be to allow each coat of paint to cure overnight.

Since this electric lime green color made my husband's teeth ache, I decided to tone it down a bit. Out came the titanium white. Mind you, I'm still working on the underside of what will become my console table, experimenting.


Ok, not bad, getting there. But then hubby said he wanted a little more brown in it. Brown? Well, ok, but enough with the experimenting, I'm raring to go!!

We flipped the shutter over and I started on it in earnest.

First, the turquoise.



Yes, yes, yumminess. I liked the streaky way the paint was going on, too... I knew that in future layers, it would add texture and depth.

Next, blue...

 

 

Oh yes, looking delicious. I almost could have stopped here, but I promised hubby it would have some brown, so onward into the yellow layer...



Again, I could have stopped here, and was getting a little fed up with the tediousness of painting each little shutter section individually, but not wanting my husband to live the rest life with aching teeth, I pressed on.

A nice staining with burnt umber...


I REALLY liked it at this stage... the lime green I love so much peeking out, but a kind of grungy look all over because of the burnt umber. Hubby wasn't convinced. "Can't we get some white in there, now?" he wanted to know. Well, um, sure, I guess so.


AHHHHHH no, no, no, I hated that. All my hard work getting each layer painted, one layer per day, was now being obliterated! Blue, it needs more blue, bring back the blue, for the love of all that's precious!

 

Oh yes, much better. Much, much nicer. This is where I called a halt- it was finished. 

During this process, which took place over the past two weeks, the Floyd Legs finally arrived! 


Yes, they'd look lovely with the painted shutter.

But how would we deal with the shutters themselves? It was not a flat surface, I'd never be able to put art or knick-knacks on them. The best solution was to have a piece of tempered glass cut to cover them. But I didn't want the glass to cover the whole surface of the shutter, I thought it would add a lot more archetectural interest to have only the shuttered area covered, so I ordered a piece of glass a little more than half the length of the table. And rather than have the glass lay flat on the shutter, I thought I would raise it up a bit with some leftover, brushed nickle drawer pulls I had from some previous Ikea project or another.

Hubby drilled four holes through the shutter for me, and we screwed the draw pulls into those. Four clear rubber bumpers on top of the pulls helps protect the glass from being scratched by the metal pulls, and keeps the glass from slipping off. Then we just laid the glass right on top of the four pulls.


Getting the legs on was a two-person job.


They went on as easily as we had hoped, and now here it is in all it's reclaimed glory, in my entryway under the stairs!





Remember, when you're looking at what others might call junk, there could just be a wonderful and unique use for it in your home!

Reclaim, reuse, and rehab!