As someone who is really into illustration, I very much struggle with creating abstract art. That was precisely why I pushed myself to actually do this week’s Life Book lesson, which was taken by Jodi Ohl. I find that I now enjoy the process of working in an abstract method, of layering and mark-making, of using colour and texture rather than shape and form. However, because I have no real feel or instinct for it, I never know when I am “done” with a piece. My impulse is to add some sort of representational element to provide the piece with a focal point but often, when I have done so, I regret it because it doesn’t cohere. I worked on this piece gradually over the course of three days, adding bits and pieces whenever time was available to do so. Each time I returned to my art table to work on it, I had a sense that it needed more and had an idea of what to add – some dribble here, a few marks there – but then I reached a point where I didn’t know what to add. Did that mean it was complete? Or did it simply mean that my well of inspiration had run dry for this piece? Or was I just fed up of working on this piece and wanting to move on to something new? Any or all of the above? I decided this piece was done. Maybe I will circle back to it at some point and add something; probably I won’t.
I was so happy when I viewed this week’s Life Book lesson because I knew I could actually get my response completed within the week and that, in turn, motivated me to find the free time required. The lesson was taken by Melissa Dinwiddie and her ethos was all about being playful and getting the creative juices flowing by working on quick, minimalist pieces. Further, the media used were ink and watercolour which are comfortably within my wheelhouse. The lesson still presented a challenge to me, however, in that I don’t find I have an instinct for abstraction generally. I, therefore, decided to work with my non-dominant hand in order to ensure that my mark making was loose. It was a whole lot of fun and very relaxing so in the end I created four pieces, each measuring 4.5 by 6 inches.
This week’s Life Book lesson was way out of my comfort zone. The tutor was Wendy Brightbill and she demonstrated her process of creating an abstract work of art through layering of different media and finding the tipping point between working intuitively and pulling it all together with intention. Intuitive and abstract are both things I really struggle with. I am, after all, a control freak and more of an illustrator than anything else. But that is the point in following an art course that has such diverse teachers – it forces me to try new things and experiment a bit. My piece did not evolve well. I loved the first layer and then it just got uglier and messier and more incoherent rather than cohesive. The thing that finally killed it once and for all was that I was way too “blocky” when applying some acrylic paint. I tried some dribble to make it more organic again and then, rather inevitably for me, some spatter. All was in vain. Those chunks of colour were neither geometrically precise enough to be part of the intent of the piece nor random enough to work with the previous layers. My choices were to either scrap the whole thing and forget about it (since I had no time in which to start over) or to just keep trucking and at least produce a finished outcome. I decided on the latter so I grabbed my paint pens and started doodling. It was still an ugly mess of a piece but I did at least really enjoy the doodles. I was adding the doodles while making dinner which meant I didn’t have the time to overthink what I was doing which was actually quite liberating (if one ignores the stress of multi-tasking). That doodle layer was, therefore, enjoyable. I do like the colour palette and think that works and I may repurpose this painting as the cover of a completed art journal.
I had decided that this year I would play around in my art journal whenever possible but without recourse to prompts. However, some friends from my “art tribe” convinced me that I should check out Art Journal Adventure and I decided to participate in a dip in and out fashion. I recognise that I am someone who, in my present hectic circumstances, needs an occasional poke and a prod to actually find the time to just be playful with my art and that is something that journal prompts encourage me to do. However, I am also going to attempt a themed art journal for the first time and will dip into that when the mood and mojo arises. From time to time, I may well incorporate the Art Journal Adventure prompts into my themed art journal.
I got off to a good start as far as being flexible with participation goes because I did diddlysquat with the first week’s prompt. I did, however, make use of this second week’s prompt. It was pretty simple – the focus was to be on texture. I am not one for adding much dimension to my art work – I am definitely a 2D person – so I focused on creating visual texture as opposed to anything tactile. I had a half-finished page in my art journal that I hated. It had been malingering in the journal for several months but I opted not to rip it out because I rather liked the art work on the reverse side of it. A couple of months ago, when I had some surplus black acrylic, I smeared the paint across the page. I decided, therefore, to return to that page as the starting point for my “texture” page. I added some torn paper collage, spatter with pearl blue paint and white paint, printing with found objects, dribble, and finally some alphabet stamps. It was all a bit random and abstract so I chose to give it a focal point by adding the word “Focus” which is my word for this year. As art journal pages go, it is pretty mundane and mediocre but it is a massive improvement on what was beneath that black paint so I am happy.
I am continuing with Life Book this year. My schedule is swamped and I struggle to find adequate free time but I felt like committing to an art course would actually compel me to carve out a decent portion of time each week for art because my art time is hugely beneficial to me. As with previous years, the first lesson involved selecting a key word for the year in order to establish some sort of intention. In 2015 I chose the word Balance and that actually did help me be mindful of the need to keep all areas and aspects of my life functioning and progressing. Last year I chose Momentum. That did not work quite so well, largely because I was trying to bring order to a couple of things I really had little or no control over and had to devote a lot of time and energy to something that was mentally exhausting and soul-sapping. Goodbye and good riddance to 2016.
This year I have settled on the word Focus. I feel the need to simplify and streamline my life, slough off the extraneous things that drain me and leave me frustrated and unfulfilled or at least suck up valuable time and instead invest my time and energy in the people and things that bring me joy, have value, and make my life better. In short, I need to focus on the things that matter most and stop being depleted by the things that don’t. Let’s see if I can manage to do just that in 2017.
Last week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Donna Downey. It was all about being playful with colours and mark making, and layering with paints and shapes, to create a colourful and abstract piece. I managed to keep my control freakery in check and let my inner child go wild with colour but I maybe got a bit carried away and the result was a tad messy. I also struggle with creating abstract art because I get too stuck in my head and end up with strong visual ideas that lend themselves to more representational or figurative art. That was precisely what happened with this piece too. I, therefore, just went with it and produced a more whimsical female figure whose form contains the shapes of a whale’s tail, leaves, and a heart while the space around her head contains two birds. I always enjoy painting negative spaces so that the background becomes the positive image so that was the element of this lesson that really appealed to me and made me feel relaxed.
This week’s art journal page is going to take some explaining. The Colour Me Positive prompt was “best”. I was a bit stumped and was letting the idea of best rattle around in my head for a bit and then I thought of the idea of being the best possible version of me by being a bionic me. Immediately I got excited about the idea of drawing me as a version of the Steve Austin. I would be the Six Million Dollar Laura complete with a natty 1970s jumpsuit. However, I have been doing a lot of illustrating in my journal of late and thought maybe it would be an idea to try something different. So then I thought about just illustrating the wiring and circuitry of a bionic person. Except I don’t get too excited about technical drawing. So then I thought about turning the idea of the circuitry and robotics inside a bionic person into an abstract pattern.
I happened to be working on this journal page when I was with my art journalling meetup group. We meet in a coffee shop so there are limited resources and a need to avoid making a complete mess. I just had my travel art kit with me too which limited my options for media. Sometimes that is a benefit though as it helps me narrow my focus and just get on with it. This was drawn using pencil and then filled with watercolour pencil which I then activated. Once that was dry, I used micron pens to outline the shapes again. I liked playing with all the negative spaces and turning my circuit board idea into a sort of visual mosaic. It was the perfect page to work on while I was with my art group as it didn’t require much in the way of concentration so then I could chat and look at other people’s art work.
I still have that Bionic Me idea rattling around in my head, however, so I may just have to illustrate that at some point.