Monday, April 29, 2013

Earning My Fins

It's that time of year again when I make a notch in my belt and mark off another successful and grateful year on the planet. It will also be official on Tuesday: twenty-three years after leaving the teaching profession I will finally be "retired" and can begin to collect my pension. I wouldn't get overly excited about this financial independence. The amount being deposited in my bank account will maybe cover my monthly art supply bill, but isn't that wonderful? I am finally doing the thing I should have done all those years ago, studying and practicing what I love the most, but now the thing I did as my second choice (heck, maybe it was my third or fourth) will be helping me foot the bill. I am, month by month, class by class, fleshing out the path for this "retirement" adventure in the world of creative expression.

When I last left you I had shared many of the products so far of my "Year of the Giraffe" creative muse (with creativity guru, Carla Sonheim). Somehow I missed pulling out a few of the most creative of these, my four new friends from her "Imaginary Creatures" class. They delighted me so much when they showed up on the page, that I can't wait to incorporate them into some other artwork. I am also thinking it is time to update my Etsy store with some new sets of greeting cards, so look for them there soon.

"Have You Seen My Comb?"

"Just Washing Up"

"No Match for Rabitoid"

"What's Not to Love?"
While I was working on these guys I spent quite a bit of time experimenting with layering of mixed media. Most of what we use in Carla's classes is water based, but there is also Prismacolor colored pencil and permanent black fine marker. Learning to work until the effect and balance desired is achieved is serving me well, as I realize that an artist may not know how to get where they are going until after they have arrived. Trial and error is a big tool of the trade and nothing to be ashamed of.

Today is the start of week four in "Mermaid Circus" with Teesha Moore and Jane Davenport, our most excellently talented and hardworking teachers. The amount of truly fine video lessons they are providing makes failure a non-option, and the generous video tours of their journals and their process is a major inspiration and confidence booster. What I have achieved in three weeks is astounding, although the number of projects they have planned for the eight weeks is so great it will probably take me the rest of the year to complete. I am not concerned, because although I can see great progress in my work, I also see what skills are weak, and I intend to move directly into a series of classes with Jane to boost them.

I love the warmth of this beautiful Fabriano watercolor paper, pure and clean just waiting for what will come (since at this point we had only a little clue).

Although I may not have time to work in the second shaped book during the run of the class, I had to try my hand at designing one for my beloved hippos and their giraffe friends. Note the cover is a blow-up swimming pool for a merhippo to frolic in.

Meanwhile, April's "Once Upon a Giraffe" month continued with writing and illustrating a three panel cartoon: "Stasha Tales: The Treadmill".

While out searching for paint pens and other mermaid necessities, I ran across this very lovely lesson book for Zentangles, which not only teaches the patterns, but goes on to show how to make them art. Of course, in the midst of overload, I added one more thing to my schedule.

Teesha started us off in our shaped (and now colored) mermaid books with a lesson in collage. Had a blast and fell in love with the possibilities.

And as you can see, I am already using my Zentangles in my art, in this case a lovely belly tattoo for my unnamed queen.

A closeup of her face shows the use of paint pens and metallic markers along with Copics to turn her blue. The coral formation behind her will be part of the landscape of the inside back cover.

And here she is in all her glory swimming in waves of discharge screen printed fabric I made a couple years ago. 

Week two was Jane's turn to teach us a different mermaid style. She wanted us to be able to paint over previously drawn artwork, but since many of us have not done face drawing before, she first gave us a lesson. The pencil drawing on the right was done as a base, then I traced out the basic shapes and features on another sheet of paper.

After a session with learning to blend Copic markers, plus some pencil and a bit of paint pen for those gorgeous green eyes, she was ready to reduce, print and collage. (Now I have this face in my "portfolio" of faces to use again and again.) The colorful painting she leans against was shown last time. 
Starting to design the mermaid, we added our photocopied face, and laid out other collage elements to tell the story. Jane's girl had a tattooed sleeve, and many of ours followed suit. I got to spend a fascinating half hour or so perusing tattoo magazines at a local bookstore before choosing a couple I found useful.
First layer of paint to block in the body and background colors.

The face, now painted over the marker drawing, the tail fins (from a previous painting) attached, and more colors added for texture and cohesiveness.

The completed page after many hours of work: "She Was Particularly Fond of Hippos". (The hippo is from a previous watercolor painting, and over-painted in the same manner as the face.)

Two weeks, two pages!

Meanwhile, back in Giraffe World, we were writing poetry!
I had made this stamp earlier in the winter, and decided to make some more to help illustrate my poems.

I used the new Moo carving blocks I had bought but not tried, and they cut like butter. So quick and easy. I made the giraffe stamp from my one-liners exercise, and the eye and tail from my giraffe parts for the "Flower Crazy" class. Again, finding my style, reusing my designs. Things are starting to fit together.

I wrote five haiku-like poems, and made a sixth page as an introduction.

The backgrounds are painted with my newly purchased Golden Fluid Acrylics and Liquitex Soft Body Acrylics. Both are densely pigmented and lovely. The lettering was done with my Pentel Pocket Brush. Some of the highlights are done with a lovely neon yellow paint pen by Molotow, but unfortunately it didn't scan true.

I am practicing developing this writing style as my own. I quite like its loose, modern, and poetic feel.

Learning that an effective journal page can be quite simple.

The second assignment in week two was fancy lettering in a "circus" style. Teesha provided a wonderfully detailed lesson (as in: watch her do this entire page on video while she talked) and I pretty much copied her technique. Here I have laid out all the lettering with a minimal amount of embellishment.

The letters fleshed out with drop shadows added.

The page complete with colored pencil shading, additional gel pen and paint detail on the main title, sparkly gel pen around the bottom line and the border, and overpainting on the last line to make it appear to be under water.

While I was contemplating how much I was enjoying the lettering lesson, a high school friend reminded me of our yearbook, for which I was the art editor, and designed the cover art as well. Well, lookie here! Who was into telling stories in lettering, 60's style?

Several classmates have chimed in to tell me just how innovative everything was about our yearbook design, from landscape orientation to color to almost everything inside. (And yet I didn't go on to an art career. Silly me!)

In week three, we began working in a hardbound journal format. I purchased the new Strathmore 500 series with mixed media paper. Loved it! The paper took both the wet paint background and the pen media beautifully, although I have a lot to learn in handling drawing and painting over magazine cutouts. Somehow, with my longing for the warmth of spring to arrive, I created a mermaid scenario of warmth and light under the sea.

"The Keeper of the Door at the Mermaid Palace" was an obsession from start to finish. I learned so much; had such a good time. Looking forward to many more adventures in creating new realities.

When I took on this new class and its odd theme, I really had no connection to either the circus or mermaids as beloved muses. It didn't take long to realize that inspiration is everywhere, the more unlikely, the more it can spur the imagination. I have a feeling, that just like the love poems to my giraffe, I will now have an ongoing love affair with creatures both under the sea and the big top. My tail fins are all aflutter. I must be off to create my newest best friend.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Crossing Boundaries

Busy times! Keeping me off the streets. Keeping me out of trouble. I had to edit my enthusiasm a lot, and still I found thirty-two photos of artwork to show you. Just artwork; no cute kitties or handsome husband enjoying front porch wine while the sun sets. (Weather has been a bit problematic for that, but soon, I implore, soon!)
No, the late arrival of spring has mostly kept me inside and focused. As has my loyalty to my class assignments, and the momentum that "The Year of the Giraffe" is bringing. I often stop in the afternoons for a bit of unbridled motion with my Zumba DVDs, and lust after the bods I will never again own, but generally I am grateful for my fitness and good health, and truly thankful for my daily dose of art.
Although I haven't had the time to do as much as I'd hoped so far, I did toy some more with the Sketch Club program for my iPad during the mixed media giraffe month of February, producing a digitally altered image of two of my conte crayon sketches from January/draw. I know I will eventually love having this medium in my arsenal, but right now I am back to mostly old school.

On March 1, Strathmore Artist Papers started their series of online month long workshops with something really new to me and appealing, lessons with Robert Joyner on "Abstract Fine Art Painting". Unfortunately, after the first week, and the purchase of a beautiful wood easel, I ran out of time and energy to keep up. I WILL be going back to these lessons soon. (Remind me I said this. I should say that the easel, taking up good space and sitting by my elbow as I type, keeps reminding me.) 

Week 1: Getting to know the materials

About the same time, my creative arts ringleader, Carla Sonheim, foolishly waved at me the chance to repeat some of her classes I had taken previously (and loved) for FREE! It felt like an opportunity that could not be missed because I was a bit needy for concrete direction, even though I like to go my own way within the guidelines. Good chance to start to weave my arts into one big theme: "giraffe world." From now on I was going to find a way to connect things, to cross boundaries and find my themes, my symbols, my inspiration. Trying to move from technical learning to ART. It's a process, but I'm feeling progress. First off, "Faces 101".
I made eight of these and, like a mother, I love every one.

Meanwhile, month three in Year of the Giraffe was all about sewing. For many classmates, this was a completely new challenge. For me the challenge was letting go of perfection, trying to design as I went and accept what happened. I still managed to make a character who is neat and precise and sturdy, but she is a character and I was very pleased with the results. (Maybe someday I will learn to make a "rag" doll, but  it so goes against the grain for me to sew sloppy when I've had a lifetime of learning perfection.)

We received suggestions, but mainly we designed our own patterns.

I had to learn how to make a mostly flat figure 3D by adding a gusset.

Meet my darling Stasha!

She has nose-trals and a tongue and she's somewhat flat so she only has one ossicone.

Here she poses in front of a garden painted armoire.

The second of the repeat classes was "Flower Crazy." Because Carla has the class research flower-like shapes both in nature and man-made objects to use for inspiration, I figured there was nothing more perfect than giraffe parts to fit the bill.

Spots, ossicones, and ears...

eyes and tails (in a field of bubbles).

Working on some gesso-first textural pieces inspired by my journal sketches of parts.

A swirl of leaves in the shape of giraffe eyes with long lashes.

Less obvious influence, but still more stylized than last year's .

In week three we did our painting on birch plywood and I took a break from animal parts to look for traditional floral inspiration. This change in style coincided with the beginning of the "What If? Diaries" on Jude Hill's private blog and class, where we are contemplating "white" as a design and materials source. The progression of paintings I did that week took me to a less colorful finish as I thought about the mysterious nature of white and led to a painting chosen for Flickr Explore that I am getting prepared to add to a white "What If?" art cloth.

Inspired by an antique tin ceiling tile.

The riot of watercolor is hidden under the gesso texture.

The final painting is a bit more neutral, dark and moody than most of my work, but it feels clean and exciting to me.

In week four, collage served as the basis for finding our flowers, and yet I was able to see a giraffe in the first one and some eyelash and ossicone inspired plant shapes in the second.

In April, our giraffe art has turned to writing, actually storytelling, in the form of   four one week assignments that for now are including drawings. Week 1: "Giraffe Invention" is detailed in two journal pages, then illustrated below. the crossover this time is a big one. I have just joined an eight week class with Jane Davenport and Teesha Moore called "Mermaid Circus". The story below has me taking my Stasha and some beloved hippos (a lifelong muse) to join the circus. And even though the class begins with the premise of mermaids, there will be giraffes and there will be hippos in my art!

My wonderful group of textile design companions, Designing Women, took on the project last meeting to work from a favorite print fabric and "ghost" the design outward in paint and stitch. Since I wasn't totally into this concept but wanted to work on something similar that could be applied to the White concept class, I chose to explore a personal symbol of sunrise/sunset in small pieces of hand painted (with procion dye) charmeuse, and create a series of three "poems". I am excited beyond all expectation with how they are coming along, ghosting the lines from the inspiration pieces, and yet moving on to something much more complete and yet abstract. They are speaking to me and yet they are not literal, and this is something I have been trying hard to learn. I believe it is that crossing over of boundaries. Pulling ideas from everywhere that help me find what I want to say and how to say it.

The backround fabric is from a silk broadcloth shirt, the assorted other pieces and bits from a session with rust and one with flour paste resist.

In this piece and the next I am using some procion dye drawn linework from a challenge project with Melly Testa.

And finally, the "Mermaid Circus" has begun. We have had a spellbinding first week of art and friendship and stirring the pot to mix and match and look for our own inspiration. You know what mine will be, but neither of us knows where the alchemy will take it. Come back soon to see my first painted books as they progress. I promise there will be magic!