Friday, April 29, 2016

The Taft Museum (part 1)

Yesterday we went to the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati to see a special exhibit called Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh: Impressions of Landscape. Since Daubigny was an artist I had heard little about, I was surprised to see how his work, over time, transitioned from realism to an almost Impressionistic style. It was clear that Monet was heavily influenced by his work, though I had never heard him mentioned in connection to Impressionism. Daubigny also urged his art dealer to sell Monet's work, telling him that if any of them didn't sell, he would replace them with his own paintings. He resigned in protest from the Paris Salon when they refused to show Monet's work.

 Sunset Near Villerville, Charles-Francois Daubigny

The Banks of the River Oise, Charles-Francois Daubigny

"Before the Impressionists, French artist Charles-François Daubigny pushed the boundaries of traditional landscape. In the 1850s and 1860s, Daubigny anticipated and helped shape Impressionism by routinely painting outdoors to capture qualities of light and atmosphere, by launching a floating studio boat on the French rivers, and by exhibiting sketch-like works that critics assailed as “mere impressions.” He became a mentor, colleague, and friend to the Impressionists, especially Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro." ( )

 Poppy Field, Claude Monet

Van Gogh, of course, took it a step further, boldly putting down distinct brush strokes and using even brighter and more saturated colors than the Impressionists.

 Wheat Field with Cypresses, Vincent Van Gogh

 The progression is pretty noticeable if we look at the handling of similar subject matter by each artist:

 Apple Trees in Blossom, Charles-Francois Daubigny

Orchard in Bloom, Claude Monet

Orchard in Blossom Plum Trees, Vincent Van Gogh

If you're in the Cincinnati area, this exhibit is well worth seeing. I learned a lot about a subject I thought I was well-educated about, and an artist I hadn't really known anything about, and, of couse, the paintings were breathtaking. To see a slide show of the exhibit, go here.

Tune in for my next post, when I'll show you more of the impressive Taft Museum of Art.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Weekly Quick Collage: Landscape I

Landscape I
collage, 4 x 6.75 inches

In honor of Earth Day (yesterday), I thought I would post a landscape. Making a collage in a landscape format seems like it would be fairly simple, but for me it was not. I struggled to find a balance of semi-realistic and abstract elements; I wanted it to read as a collage, but with an abstract twist. This is definitely going to take more practice; I modified this piece several times, until I felt it was as close to my vision as I was likely to get. I'm sure more will follow, as I will tackle this subject again in the future.

I will leave you with some of Wendell Berry's lines to inspire you for Earth Day:

 “The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
― Wendell Berry, The selected Poems of Wendell Berry

“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.”
― Wendell Berry

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

It's That Time Again...

It's that magical time again, when all the plants and trees are waking up from their winter's sleep...

Out at our place in the country, the tiny, delicate bluets are blooming...

... as are the trout lilies...

... and Virginia bluebells...

... and whatever these are...

... and the azaleas are budding.

The water in the Kinneyconick is very clear...

... as the beeches...

... and the hemlocks stand guard...

... and the work on the cabins continues. My husband has reclaimed some huge poplar boards from an old building that was being torn down.

Back at home, the garden has been tilled...

and Brussels sprouts, kale, and lettuce have been planted...

... and much work awaits in the flower gardens.

In the meantime, I enjoy the paper-white narcissus...

... and the beauty of the lilacs in bloom.

Whatever you're doing this Spring, my friends, I wish you a joyous and inspiring one!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Weekly Quick Collage: Golden Day

Golden Day
collage, 4 x 6 inches

“I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.”
― Mary Oliver

“I do not live happily or comfortably
With the cleverness of our times.
The talk is all about computers,
The news is all about bombs and blood.
This morning, in the fresh field,
I came upon a hidden nest.
It held four warm, speckled eggs.
I touched them.
Then went away softly,
Having felt something more wonderful
Than all the electricity of New York City.”
― Mary Oliver; Evidence: Poems

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Drawing Challenge: Prayer/ Meditation/ Still Point

Indestructible Truth
collage, 6.25 x 6.25 inches
ingredients: vintage ephemera, image transfer, ribbon, azalea blossom, feather

The lovely Tammie Lee of Beauty Flows is hosting this week's drawing challenge, Prayer/ Meditation/ Still Point. As soon as I heard what the theme was, I knew I was in; much of my art revolves around these concepts, so it was right up my alley, as they say.

While I worked on this piece, I asked myself what "indestructible truth" actually means to me in relation to the theme of the drawing challenge. When I come right down to it, the only indestructible truth I know, that I feel sure of in my heart and soul, is that everything in the universe is connected to every other thing. Every human being, every blade of grass, every rock, every animal, every tree. When one thing is affected, it can have far-reaching consequences; this is known as, "the butterfly effect". Here's how Wikipedia describes it: "In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state."  I prefer to meditate/pray while outdoors in nature; that "still point "is the moment I feel that connection, or 'become one with everything'. The experience cannot adequately be described in words.

This reminds me of a joke (and who doesn't love a good Buddhist joke, right?) A Buddhist walks into a vegetarian restaurant to order a veggie burger. The server asks, "What will you have?" The Buddhist replies, "Make me one with everything." (Sorry, I can hear the collective groan, but I just couldn't resist.)

Notes on technique/strategies:
Going back two posts ago, I wrote about strategies for pushing your art to another level. I incorporated a couple of them here, one being the "throw out your first ten ideas"idea. I really didn't keep count, but I threw out a lot of them, because I've developed habits of doing the same things over and over, and I felt the work was getting stale. I also limited my materials, in that I decided not to include any representational objects, unless they were real, such as the flower and the feather. Then, just to make it even more frustrating, I tried to limit the amount of compositional elements, because I've been feeling like my compositions were too busy. That required a great deal of restraint on my part; I just had to keep asking myself, "Will this improve the piece, or not?", and frequently the answer was "No!". As a result, I am happier with this piece than some of the others I've made lately.

Dont't forget to visit Beauty Flows for links to more posts on this drawing challenge!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Weekly Quick Collage: Going East

Going East
collage, 6 x 4.25 inches

“I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you're going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.”
                                                                                                               ~ C. Joybell C.

“Sometimes the slightest things change the directions of our lives, the merest breath of a circumstance, a random moment that connects like a meteorite striking the earth. Lives have swiveled and changed direction on the strength of a chance remark.”

                                                                                                            ~ Bryce Courtenay

Sunday, March 27, 2016

How to Push the Envelope

If you've ever felt stuck, like you're basically just doing the same painting/collage/sculpture (or whatever) over and over again, you're not alone. Once you find a technique, style, or process that's successful for you, it's easy to get stuck in a rut. It works, and you feel comfortable with it. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?

This is usually when a little nagging voice inside my head starts picking and poking at me, going, "too safe, too much the same, too easy." I want to be brave, and innovative, to do something new. I want to push myself beyond where I am now, into more unfamiliar territory, to improve and grow as an artist. This is generally way more easily said than done. Humans are creatures of habit, and old habits die hard. So how do we force ourselves to press forward, to abandon what's safe and familiar, to get, for lack of a better word, better?

So here are some ideas I've come across over the years for getting out of that rut. I proffer no guarantees here, but you might find some of them worth trying. 

1)  Brainstorm at least ten ideas, then throw the first ten away.
This really makes you think outside the box. It sounds crazy, but by the time you get to #11, you are so far outside the box, you don't even know where it is any more.  Scary. You are starting to come up with ideas that also sound crazy, and are unlike anything you've thought of before. Try one of the ideas that feels like you are really reaching, and see what happens; you may just amaze yourself.

This assemblage/sculpture/book, called Indigenous, consisted of a wooden box with rocks as 'pages' onto which plant parts and seeds were glued. The rocks had holes in them, and were hung on sticks which went through the holes and into the back of the box. Ironically, they were literally in a box  (haha!), but rocks as pages with plants parts glued on was pretty far removed from anything I'd done up until that time.

2)  Make 50 pieces in one weekend.
This is completely insane, right? At least, that's what I thought when I was given this assignment in graduate school. Not possible. Can't be done. Of course, everyone in the class was freaking out. My logic was, since I highly doubted that I could draw or paint 50 pieces from scratch, to take a shortcut and use what I already had. I pulled out a bunch of old monotypes and started tearing and cutting them apart, then got out the glue and started making collages seven by seven inches square as fast as I could. I did manage to make 50, and some of them were pretty bad. But, much to my surprise, some were really beautiful. This exercise became the beginning of my still-ongoing Transformations series, and my first real foray into collage.

 Transformation 12

Transformation 10

3)  Switch mediums.
Self-explanatory, right? If you normally work in oils, switch to pastels; if you usually do black and white ink drawings, try colored pencils. If you're a collage artist, try linocuts or monotypes. This is guaranteed to force you to change your process, even if you stick with your usual subject matter.

 Air Mandala
Back in my undergrad days, I was working in pastels and colored pencils. I then took a printmaking class, and my work changed drastically. With printmaking, you never know exactly what you're going to get (like a box of chocolates) until you pull the print.  No minute, detailed planning with monotypes; instead, I was forced to learn to give up some of the control, and it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me.

Olivine Angel, monotype with mixed media

4)  Switch sizes.
This can make a huge difference in how you work; the greater the change in size, the more you will have to adapt. I went from making pieces that averaged about 15 by 22 inches (half the size of a sheet of Rives BFK) to doing a series of 3.5 x 3.5 inch abstract pieces I called "Seed Mandalas". This series also represents a change in medium, as I was using acrylic inks for the first time.

 Seed Mandala 15
Seed Mandala 1

Seed Mandala 4
Working very small really makes you pare your composition down to the basics. You have to think in terms of what's essential, and leave out the rest. It forces you to simplify in a way that working larger does not. By the same token, it totally changes your perception if you experiment with making art much larger than you normally would.

5)  Limit materials.
If you limit your materials in some way, you have to expand your thinking. This is easy to do if you're a mixed media artist. For instance, you could limit yourself to using only magazine cut-outs, or only decorative papers, or only vintage ephemera. If you're a painter, limit your color palette to black and white, or to shades of the same color, or choose 3 colors and use only those.

 The Pink Dress


When I began doing my weekly quick collage series, it was mainly a no-pressure way to use up scraps that were laying around after I had finished a large piece. I decided that I would do one each week, utilizing only the materials that were scattered over my drafting table and floor. This forced me to combine things in a way I probably wouldn't have if I'd allowed myself access to all my materials.

6)  The George Costanza method.
This is probably my favorite one, only because it cracks me up. If you are a Seinfeld fan, you may recall the episode where George's life is basically in the the toilet - he has no job, no money, and lives with his parents. Nothing he tries seems to turn out right. So he decides that since whatever he normally does is wrong, he will do just the opposite of what he thinks he should do. I'm not sure exactly how this applies to art-making; you'll have to do a little creative thinking here. Perhaps if you would normally start by carefully putting everything in place before gluing it down, so instead just glue down the first thing you see and go from there?

That's what I did with this piece, and it's not bad, I think, though certainly different from the pieces that are more carefully thought out. I did learn from it, though. Only you can decide what to do the "opposite" of, and what that consists of for you. Or, just laugh at the video and do what you want!