Friday, October 28, 2016

Measuring Progress Over Time

"End of Summer VII" 21" x 21" 
I finished a painting today.  It's a little like giving birth, a sense of exhaustion along with "WOW! Look what I made!" Not all paintings arrive with that impact, this particular one did.  Facebook has been offering up photos from the past and one caught my eye, a photo I posted of artwork I was working on one year ago.  I was surprised when I saw it. What a measure or marker it made compared to where I am right now.  It's a measure of  how my thoughts have matured and the expression through painting right along with it in one short year.

"Peoples of the Earth IX" 21" x 21" 
Over this past 12 months I've started to use weaving in my paintings.  I was very influenced by my visit in 2015 to the US desert southwest, both Arizona and New Mexico.  Those visits started me thinking of how much the human race has impacted the earth.  I saw how a single tire track through the desert landscape could alter it because of the fragile microsystem on the surface, how footprints (hoof prints) would only create pools, tire tracks create rivers.  I saw how civilizations vanished because they tried to control their environment which failed utterly as conditions changed.

"Weaving the Desert" 
The weaving represented, from the first tentative uses, the story of how we humans are tied to the land and to nature and how, because of our influence, the weaving of human life on earth and earth itself starting to pull apart, become distorted. Within this year, as well, is an increasing sense of my personal age, how I am in my ending years.  All of this is being conveyed in all that I create.

A short series called "Peoples of the Earth" began.  It quickly featured a barred moon, a barren tree of life. Fran Larsen challenged me to understand all the symbols I use.  Catherine Chang Liu told me to plan my work, not to waste time hoping something will turn out and to combine my love of spontaneous with the discipline of pouring paint.  Both of those ladies have influenced my approach to  my work through this past year.  The second series became "End of Summer".  It doesn't just suggest it's autumn - it also suggests the end of my passage through life.

The Journey Series of the past 4 years continues, I think, just with closer looks and a little more discipline.  We all have friends who help us on our way.  I have numerous.  I am very blessed.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

On Creativity and Belief

From my Morning Pages journal of January 29, 2001, I found this entry on creativity and belief:

"Peoples of the Earth XII"
…Big wind storm this morning, trees outside are really rocking, clouds are screaming across the sky. The branches that form the lady’s face in the tree outside are moving, making it look almost animated, as if she’s moving and talking, laughing. I could have a conversation with her this morning. “Good morning, Lady” I say. “Good morning, sweetheart” she replies. “I see it’s a windy day so you are able to move and speak with me.” “I can speak with you always. Just usually in the whisper of light breezes or hushed in soft air flows. Today I can sing and shout and you can notice that I am doing so.” “Yes, I can hear you way up here in my house. The sound of your laughter comes in through the door and through the skylight.”

“Tell me” I say “who are you?” “Why I am as you see me” she replies, “the Lady in the Tree is the name you give me and that is who I am, nothing more. I see you every day that you see me. If you don’t see me, then I don’t exist.” “You mean you exist only when I see you, the rest of the time you are not there?” “Right, the rest of the time, the thing that’s me is just branches on a tree. You see me, you give me life.” “Huh. Aren’t I powerful though! Like painting, I create you when I see you and that’s when you come to life.” “That’s right.”

"Peoples of the Earth IX"
“Well, this is interesting, having a conversation with a tree.  What should I ask you? What do you see up there?” “That’s two questions, which one do you want answered?” “How about: what do you see up there?” “I see the earth and sky, birds, flowers. I watch the neighbors come and go, I peak in your window and watch you write in that book, (and) when you look up I smile and wink.” “Aren’t you smiling and winking all the time?” “No, just when you look up. You can’t prove otherwise. When you look at the page, I only exist in your head.” “So I’m purposefully not look at you, I’m still talking to you and you’re still talking to me.” “I know. People would say you’re crazy or having delusions, having a conversation with a Tree Lady, whose face you won’t even look at right now.” “There, I peeked to see you laughing and nodding and smiling.” “Yes, I know, I saw you.”

“So what” Tree Lady says, “would you say to the accusation that you’re crazy having a conversation with a face you made up by seeing a space in some tree branches. You’ve even named me, given me a voice; you must be crazy!” “You and I both know the truth of this conversation” I say, laughing.  “I have three blank pages to fill every day and I don’t have great 3-page-long thoughts every day, so if it takes an imaginary (there! I admitted it!) conversation with a lady’s face I imagine I see in the tree branches (outside the window where I write) to fill up these lines, then, yah sure you betcha I’m gonna having a nice long chat with the Tree Lady.  Or with the pen. Or with the chair. Or with the coffee cup which announces ‘I’m 40 and damn proud of it!’ I only need to keep that cup another 28 years and it will be true. The cup will be 40. I hear the whistle of your laugh at the door, Tree Lady. I see your lips move and your eye wink. Belief is a powerful thing.”

I end this story with a quote by Mary Oliver from her poem 'The World I Live In' : 
"only if there are angels in your head will you ever, possibly, see one."   

Friday, July 29, 2016

Stretching, Reaching, Growing

In June I took two consecutive workshops at Sitka Center for Arts and Ecology near Lincoln City, OR. Neither of the workshops were about painting. The first was "Poetry Meets Weaving," a 3 day mixed media class led by Carolyn Drake. The second was "Landscape and Memory," a 2 day writing workshop led by Nancy Linnon.  

I liked the concept of weaving to poetry, especially because I'm noticing, reading, and trying to write verse. I thought the writing class might be beneficial for the same reasons. For the weaving class, I chose Elizabeth Bunsen's delightful poem from the book "Storytelling With Collage":
once upon a time 
there was a girl who lived by a lake
whose pockets gathered seedpods and stones
dancing barefoot in moonlight was her habit
sunshine sparkling through laundry gave her delight
she sang with the wrens
the crows called her by name
clouds shared their secrets on her walks
one slow and quiet day
she circled
round and round and round
a bluebird dropped a feather
a feather striped with sky and sea
and tipped with a piece of the moon
of course
this feather found her pocket
the girl smiled
and dreamed a dream of blue

In the writing workshop I discovered that my habit of writing 3 pages every morning made me very comfortable doing the spontaneous 10-20 minute writing assignments as well as reading them aloud when it was my turn to do so. Until those workshops, I had not imagined myself  a writer or someone who made artwork to poetry. Now I know I can do both. My self-image has been stretched and has grown over the summer. I hope your summer has been just as fruitful.          

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Value of a Good Workshop - Meucha and Linda Rothchild Ollis

Linda and I are both expressive and intense.
One difference is she needs a mic
(very soft spoken and gentle) and I do not.
I’ve just returned from a 3 day workshop with Linda Rothchild Ollis at Menucha Retreat in Corbett, OR.  The workshop was called “Stronger Design: Before and After” and the description fit with what I felt I need at this time.  The workshop was full at 18 artists.  It began late Sunday afternoon May 15th and ended Wednesday afternoon, May 18th.

When I signed up in January I was initially put off with the idea of sharing a room with complete strangers. Menucha is owned by the Presbyterian Church and, I discovered, run much like the Methodist church camps of my youth (except no tents, outhouses or homesick kids). One big benefit of holding the workshop there was that I was in the same building, whether in the workshop, in the dining hall or in my bed.   I shared a room with only one person (some had 2 or 3). The room had a bathroom right outside the door.  We roomies were respectful of each other’s privacy and nocturnal rhythms. Meals were very good with generous servings. We all volunteered as table “hosts” for two meals and I found that being a “table mommy” was a lot of fun with very little work.  We could leave our materials and possessions around in the studio or public areas and not worry.

My friend and table mate was Mary Rollins who took
this great shot looking down at the workshop area from
a balcony above.  
At the time I began the workshop I had just finished pouring a painting modeled after a collage I’d done a week earlier which I called “Peoples of the Earth I”.  During the first day I thought about and worked on 2 sketches for other derivatives. However I never actually started the paintings.  The process Linda took us through was completely absorbing. I let go of all other plans and ideas and just went with the flow.  We began with analysis of award winning paintings, using tissue paper to see large shapes, values and composition (without the trivial detail).  Then we stepped it up by evaluating our own work and learned how to expand our design skills using nonrepresentational pencil, paint and collage techniques. 

I came home with several thoughts.  I had become too focused on producing paintings that might lead to the next competition entry.  My work had become tedious which is reflected by the end product.  Linda taught several interesting methods designed to increase awareness of potential compositional forms, exercises designed to (if you will forgive me) “expand our minds”.  I had forgotten how to “play”, how to paint and create without concern about whether I would produce a competition worthy product or a painting someone wanted to buy. I came home excited, rejuvenated, and ready to add some new practices to my routine, try some new materials and, perhaps most important, I was out of my rut. 

From the first day I heard about the workshop to the day I got home (yesterday) I had a feeling that some powerful guiding energy was moving me along, presenting just the right stuff at just the right time. Linda proved to be just the right fit, in tune with where I am, and just the right instructor.  We had 18 participants and they were all positive.  The energy that flowed around in that group was nothing short of astonishing.   The work produced was as varied as the group and the talent in that room was amazing.  And Linda just gave and gave of her time and herself.  We all benefited.  We all came home blessed.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Value of Negative Spaces

"Vernal Equinox II"
the negative sky shapes
holds space for the trees
Recently I attended a meeting of a local critique group.  One of the participating artists had some very nice pieces with good use of clear color against neutrals and large negative spaces. The paintings were of children in various poses.  In my opinion the artist had a nice sense of placement of the figures on the page, both in size and location, creating lovely “negative” spaces that contributed to the “story” the piece was suggesting. Many of the critique group suggested that the pieces cropped, tighter and tighter, in towards the figures.  I disagreed.  I felt the artist did a great job of creating more interest in the subject through her use of generous negative space.  For instance, one painting was of a very young child seated feet out as toddlers do, finger drawing on the ground.  The figure was in the bottom part of a vertical sheet of paper leaving the top half empty.  To me that space told the story of the child growing and standing and filling that space. Cutting that space out lost that part of the story and reduced my interest in the painting. 

"Wishes On The Wind V"
lots of negative space
at play here
 Later I was thinking about the value and contribution negative spaces can make in a painting.  A simple definition of “negative space” might be the areas around a subject. Not all paintings have a “subject”. Not all have a “focus” either. For those works that do, the negative space is what is left if you cut out the subject.  It can be very little or a lot.  There are artists whose work is as much a work in the negative spaces as in the positive, or subject matter.  A few I can quickly name are Will Barnet, Milton Avery, Modigliani and Mary Carlton. Is negative space a component of design? Yes! It’s part of “shape”. Composition is simply an arrangement of shapes. Shapes themselves can be busy, quiet, light, dark, soft, hard, small, large, simple, complex, organic, geometric, singular, repetitious, etc.

As an artist I LOVE shapes. They are spaces that can be empty or be filled with color or texture or to contain line or to be defined by line. They can blend smoothly into one another or contrast sharply. After the experience at the critique I am more aware of the positive value of a negative space, that space I'm creating with all my other shapes. I will use them, create them, more thoughtfully in the future. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

New Thinking - New Learning

I just finished reading "Big Magic" by Elizabeth Gilbert. I found myself nodding, smiling, laughing out loud, and most of all agreeing with what she has discovered and written down, that embracing creativity for itself and for the joy it brings is the biggest and best thing you can do with your life. Don't look to some goal, like being in MOMA or at least in the next local show or paying the bills with your art or selling something, anything, ever. You might. You might not. Look instead to the incredible joy and creativity art brings into your life, think how empty your life would be without it, and just go for it.  You will be less if you don't.

This month has been one of great personal learning. I mentioned in my last blog post that I'd bought "Storytelling With Collage" by Roxanne Evans Stout. I have several new Facebook friends because of this book and I am enjoying their creative posts. These friends routinely post things they call "assemblages" or "bundles". These can be permanent or very ephemeral. I challenged myself to create a new one every day for a month. I find I do them at the end of the day, that they are impulsive and creative and that other people like them when I share a photo on Facebook.  Which I like.  

Along with this new practice, I've taken up reading "verse" or poetry, especially that by Mary Oliver and writing something, some verse or saying or some words, every day. in a small book I dedicated to that purpose and called "Verse A Day". I decorate every page, and every day I write something, either in verse or perhaps something I wrote down long ago. I find I do this in the morning.

I'm 67 years old right this moment.  I think I am learning more every day than I ever did in my life except perhaps infant-hood when I had to learn to crawl, stand up, understand words and feed myself. It's what Elizabeth Gilbert tells us in her book: if you embrace, accept and love your art then it will embrace, accept and love you right back.

Where will this take me?  Who knows?  Who cares? Will I be famous, make money, accept awards?  I don't think it matters.  What matters is that every day I show up and every day my creative spirit shows up and every day we commune: this, how about that, and then what and so on and on. And it gives me great joy.  

Monday, February 29, 2016

Understanding Myself Through Art

I finished a collage today.  The collage came together rather suddenly after waiting up on the shelf for almost two years when I had woven paper cut from an old watercolor into a mat, fastened it to tin foil, glued it down on a sheet of 300# watercolor paper, 30" X 14.5" colored with tinted white gesso. And then I had no next step.

A new book arrived the other day, "Storytelling With Collage" by Roxanne Evans Stout.  Inspired by what I read, I went in the studio and immediately saw objects I'd kept because I felt an attachment to them.  I got the collage off the shelf and added the copper bird and the origami sun.  I knew I wanted to echo the copper, the silver and the green so I called a friend who uses fabric in collage.  She arrived yesterday with an armload of possible pieces and I began my first collage work with fabric.  The collage also had another "first": using a lovely purple thread my same friend had given me earlier I had stitched the copper bird and 4 wooden beads onto the paper. Stitching on a collage was something I'd never considered before reading Roxanne's wonderful book.

I completed the collage and photographed it, rather roughly since I plan to frame it and keep it.  I posted the photo on Facebook and a wonderful artist friend, Margaret Stermer-Cox suggested it could be a "totem".  I sat down and examined that idea.  A "totem" is a spirit being, sacred object, symbol, or spirit guide.  A "totem pole" (and therefore a collage) has no religious significance and can feature numerous designs and can tell stories.  My totem is "bird" and has been since I first identified it years ago.  I had forgotten this and did not connect my use of a copper bird with my own totem.

In this collage a bird tops the design and is tied to the work, literally, with seeds or eggs.  I would say that's me.  Next is a clear geometric pattern, warm over cool, copper over green over blue/silver which ties to the words: "Thoughts of Spring.  Rebirth. New Growth. New Beginnings.  Coming Summer Heat.  Retreating Winter Chill" which follow.  Next is the origami Sun in the green of new spring growth with a sparkly gold center.  Finally the fractured pattern, a reminder of the fragility of life, how easily torn apart it can be.  This echoes what I've explored in my Desert Series, the lesson of the earth.

This collage most certainly is a "totem" and a story type.  Roxanne pointed out in her book: "A collage is a story of this moment in time".  As I studied this collage I realized I've been ahead of myself and of my conscious thought all along.  I knew this was the trend two years ago.  I just didn't know how to express it.  So I learned a lot about myself and my art today, through the help of my friends.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Heavy Thinking - Too Many Questions, Not Enough Answers

"Feather Moon 1" 14" X 21" poured watercolor
Oh, the questions!  Is this painting too simple?  Is this complex enough to draw interest, inspire "stories"?  Can I do this another way?  Will a juror notice this or dismiss it?  In the past two years my work has gone through many changes.  The most radical have been in the past 9 months as I have begun to use pouring both watercolor and acrylic pain to express my thoughts through simplified representational shapes.  Along with that change I began to self-evaluate at a more intense level.  How can this be better?  What can I change to make this work more engaging?

A few days ago I was writing exactly these thoughts in my journal.  There are several good offers of workshops I could attend in 2016.  I was considering a couple of them.  At this stage, I do not want to learn how someone else paints or thinks.  I want to learn how to make my own work better.  I want to learn to answer all these questions.  If there are methods I do not know now, that's what I want.  I turned on Facebook that morning and saw a promotion for a workshop that actually echoed the exact words in my journal.  A new, to me, instructor, Linda Rothchild Ollis, is giving a workshop in May at Menucha, a retreat on the Columbia Gorge.  It only took a few minutes to decide this is for me.

"Untitled 4" 21" X 29" Poured Acrylic 
Menucha is associated with the Presbyterian Church.  Rooms are shared, at least 3 per room. Meals are provided with a selection of 3 or 4 choices.  The bathrooms are shared .  There is wifi.  There's also coffee both in the rooms and in the central hall (cash only, they caution).  I am such a creature of habit.  I get up around 5AM, make my k-cup of coffee with heavy cream, spend 45 minutes to an hour in my chair writing my journal.  Then I depart to my computer for news and then into my studio for early morning work.  All of this is done in quiet, no talking, no music, no noise, except for a morning greeting with my husband, perhaps comments in passing.  By going to Menucha for three days I will not have my normal routine. How will that go?

As happened this time last year before ISS at Taos, NM, the thought of this workshop commitment is already pushing my work, answering some questions, raising some new ones.   I have the materials list, I am guessing at some of the uses.  I have more than 3 months of painting between then and now. Given how swiftly my work changed in the past two years I cannot begin to imagine where I will be by mid-May.  Which raises a final question:  how can I possibly plan?  I see now, more than ever, that "be here now" is the best advice.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Changing My Perspective

"Untitled I" 21" X 29" acrylic on paper
I've been really "stuck" for almost a month.  I'd run out of ideas, enthusiasm, and energy.  The holidays were busy and I wasn't in my studio enough to continue the creative process that had carried me through 2015.  When I was at work, I found myself "pushing paint around" with no real ideas, no inspiration.  It became a frustrating cycle and I couldn't see a way to break out of it.  

A friend had given me a couple of inflated exercise balls to try out as a desk "chair".  I've just started using the smaller one to do passive reclining back stretches.  When I'm doing a stretch, everything in view is "upside down".  As I was stretching yesterday morning I looked back at a line of coats hanging in the entry and noticed a rather pleasant abstract composition created by the bottoms of the coats and the wall.  I got my camera, took a photo, rotated it 180 degrees.  Then I took a pen and drew the idea onto a 300# full sheet that was covered with paint from previous days.  I made changes, of course, but I finally had an idea, a direction, a goal.  The painting was completed in a matter of a couple hours, paint nearly mixing itself, happy accidents occurring all over the place.

Coats as viewed from my exercise ball
I put the painting in a mat and was considering it this morning.  It inspires me with a number of different ideas, approaches, interpretations.  All it took to break out of the stagnation I was in was a different perspective, an upside down view of things.  This painting is a very simple "compressed space" or layered composition, one of the most basic designs, often used in landscapes.  To me, it suggests rocks, perhaps a canyon.  Certainly not coats viewed upside down!  

Now I have a plan forward, ideas to work from.  How this will all fit together remains to be seen but at least I'm out of the mud, figuratively and literally speaking.  Happy New Year.