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.
This month’s Life Book theme of Growth has meant lots of flower paintings. I am not remotely competent at drawing flowers let alone painting them. While this means I should probably just challenge myself to practice them, I don’t have time for all of the things I want to draw and paint so I just steer clear of the subjects that don’t particularly engage or inspire me creatively. Recognising, however, that I have now skipped a few Life Book lessons, I decided to push myself to completing last week’s lesson.
It was taken by Roben-Marie Smith and was all about creating an abstract flower painting through layering collage and paint. When I started experimenting with mixed media, layering was something I really struggled with. I made a lot of mud, a lot of mess, and found it difficult to make everything cohere into one complete piece. In recent months, however, I have found myself actually quite enjoying layering and especially if what I am aiming to achieve is a more grungy and abstract look. I, therefore, did not struggle with the layering aspect of this piece but again the flower element defeated me. I honestly think my 7 year old son could have done a better job of painting these flowers. Sure, I was aiming for an abstract, non-realistic flower look but these bright blooms just look daft. Well the lesson was worth doing if only to reinforce that I am getting better at layering and that flowers are still very much not within my wheelhouse.
The week 15 theme for Colour Me Positive was Happy. The accompanying quotation was courtesy of Buddha: “There is no path to happiness; happiness is the path”. What Buddha failed to mention is that the path sometimes has roadblocks of despair and sometimes you trip over rocks of stress or have to wade through the mud of life’s challenges. Can you tell I am not a sunny optimist? I may not be in possession of a sunny disposition but I am generally a happy person. There are lots of things that make me happy from the big things – my husband and sons – to the little things – like birds singing outside my window – but I had absolutely zilch in the way of inspiration when I sat down with my art journal to work on my prompt page.
Faced with zip visual ideas about happiness, I decided to challenge myself to just do something abstract. I just started playing around with ink, putting no thought into it whatsoever, just going with the flow. A bit of stamping, doodling, and spattering later, I decided to stop and leave it alone. I like the colours. They make me happy. That’s all I’ve got in response to this art journal page. Not my best effort. Going with the flow and doing something abstract maybe isn’t my thing.
It was time to have a go at sculpture with our History of Art project as we turned our attention to Alexander Calder. We looked at his kinetic sculptures and at his massive stationary sculptures focusing in particular on the interaction between different shapes and the shapes created by the negative spaces between them. As our response to the lesson, we contemplated making mobiles but then we settled on building a sculpture as a group project. I write group but yet again my 9 year old opted out. I have had my boys sculpt with clay and found objects before but we took a different approach this time. They cut shapes out of coloured cardstock and then slotted them together. The boys cut up all the shapes so my only contribution to the creativity in this lesson was to help them slot the elements together.
I used our study of Paul Klee to teach my sons about the colour wheel and the way in which artists can utilise colour theory in their artwork. They knew about primary, secondary and tertiary colours already so we had a quick refresher on those. We then discussed colour values changing tones and shades depending on the addition of black and white and their use in monochromatic colour schemes; analogous and complementary colours; colour triads; and warm and cold colour schemes. I then introduced the boys to examples of Klees paintings and we looked at the way in which he had deployed colour theory in each painting, sometimes using more than one kind in the same painting. We chatted about what impact each colour scheme had on the viewer of the art work, their interpretation of and response to the imagery.
My 12 year old decided to draw a Minecraft Creeper which is predominantly green. It usually has black detailing but he decided to use complementary colours and so those details became red.
My 9 year old also used complementary colour theory. He dashed off a quick abstract drawing using blue and orange markers. I think the shapes were also inspired by Klee.
My 8 year old drew a trio of dancing zombies, each one using elements of a different type of colour theory: tonal values, triad and analogous.
My 6 year old just had fun exploring juxtapositions of different colours. He drew a monster onto a book page I gave him.
Googling “colour theory” and “Paul Klee” had led me to find a website with a fun lesson for kids involving them creating versions of Paul Klee’s cityscapes using book pages as a substrate. I decided to use that as the basis of an art journal page – hoping that I might inspire the boys to try something similar. I used the complementary colours of green and red since both are colours I don’t use much.
My kids returned to school at this juncture in the project so we will be picking this History of Art project up on weekends and breaks from school until we complete it. We just plain ran out of time. The best laid plans of mice and men – or of mothers and art supplies.
Staying with non-representational art, next up in our History of Art project was Piet Mondrian. The boys immediately grasped the elements of his distinctive style and they do seem to be more enthused when an artist has a strong, clear style they feel they could replicate. They liked the use of primary colours against stark white and bold black and the way in which many of Mondrian’s later works were reminiscent of street maps.
Again, my 9 year old invested minimal effort in his art work. I think it is very much time for him to return to school. His drawing, therefore, was a simple smiley face. He wondered what the effect would be of using any three random colours instead of the primaries so dipped his hand into the bag of pencils with his eyes closed and ended up with blue, brown and orange-red.
My 6 year old started off not using a ruler so that gave me the opportunity to teach him how to use a ruler for drawing straight lines rather than just for measuring or underlining. He used Sharpies which created very bold, vibrant colour but he found it difficult to stay within the lines – though I suspect partly that was by choice.
Given that Mondrian worked in straight lines and geometric shapes, a homage to his style lent itself perfectly to my oldest son’s love of drawing Minecraft characters. He opted for a Ghast because the tentacles form rectangles. Like his youngest brother, he opted to use Sharpies. I think it is a really effective drawing. Maybe Mondrian would have loved Minecraft.
My 8 year old unleashed his imagination and drew the outline of a small monster which he then filled with free-hand drawn squares and rectangles. I think it’s great.
I decided to paint a female face using Mondrian’s use of line and primary colours. It looked like a terrible mess until I added the black lines. That pulled the piece together.
When it came time to create something inspired by Kandinsky, I think it is fair to say that my middle two sons did not apply themselves, distracted as they were by a desire to play with a new Disney Infinity figure. The 8 year old borrowed Kandinsky’s use of concentric circles and extended it to triangles and squares but abandoned the drawing before he had done much more than the line work. The 9 year old drew some concentric rings and a line of stars but was exceptionally scribbly with his colouring.
The 6 year old opted to use watercolour to create his concentric circles. I love the colours he chose. He also realised that he could wet the paper and then add pigment to the wet area to see how it spread and it was fun to see him make that discovery.
Inspired by my Kandinsky Crazy Critter, the 12 year old decided to use shapes and lines in the style of Kandinsky to suggest the form of a penguin. I think the result is really pleasing.
I created a grid of imperfect concentric circles in my art journal and painted them with watercolour. I worked on the page while cooking dinner which was a little chaotic but stopped me getting too uptight about it.
Having all caught up with my DLP art journal prompts, I have turned my attention to catching up on all my missed Life Book lessons. The first lesson I tackled was delivered by Flora Bowley and was about painting intuitively and layering a painting by adding, removing, covering up and revealing elements. While I feel I am getting better at intuitive painting that works towards a more focused objective – such as creating a face – I really do not seem to chime with intuitive abstract painting. It is definitely useful to learn what one is not good at as well as what one actually has potential in. Intuitive abstract painting and I don’t create much spark of potential.
Life Book lessons have taught me that artwork often goes through an ugly phase and that it is necessary to just keep ploughing forwards so that all the disparate, clashing elements pull together into a cohesive and visually appealing whole. This piece, however, went through an ugly phase which I added to and took away from and still it was ugly. I added and removed some more. Still ugly. I scraped white paint across the whole thing. Much paler but no less ugly. Smeared more paint on. Better, much better, but still ugly. Then I was bang out of time so I quickly did a bit of utterly thoughtless printing with objects and mark-making.
Ugly but lesson completed. Lesson learned. Mission accomplished and I am totally OK with it.