Art Failures as Learning Opportunities

Some weeks my creative mojo is sorely lacking.  There can be many contributing factors, of course, but there are short periods of time where whatever I put my hand to is mediocre at best.  Last week was one such week.  I do remember the many times I experience success with my art and I also value the calming, restorative, recharging effect of having worked on art even when the outcome isn’t what I would hope for.  Nevertheless, last week was one of those weeks where nothing I did in terms of art was pulling together.  The pieces never emerged from the ugly phase.  They just got uglier.

The first piece was produced in response to a Life Book lesson taken by Jodi Ohl.  It was all about adding typography to a colourful, layered background.  Layering has long been one of my art nemeses so I knew it was going to be a challenge.  Sometimes I rise to the challenge but not this time.  The palette of bright colours I added worked with each other for maybe two layers and then they started to fight with each other and then they somehow lost their vibrancy and looked not so much like mud but like sludge.  I tried to knock back areas by negative painting in thinned gesso and that only served to make everything look more dull and grey.  In a last ditch effort, I added some Neocolor II inside the feather shapes, trying to obliterate the underlying layers.  That pop of colour rescued the piece from going into the trash but I still found the whole piece to be unsatisfactory.  Having used gritty gesso, I decided not to waste the nib of any pens on this piece and instead stamped out lines from the famous Emily Dickinson poem around the feather shapes.  I was glad to see the back of this piece and move on to something else.

15 Layered Feathers

Alas, the thing I moved onto was a page in my art journal, a response to the Art Journal Adventure prompt for the week.  The idea was to use curvy and round elements.  I had not used my gelli plate for a while and the youngest kids were up for having a play with it too so I decided that that would be my tool and technique for this week’s page.  I have not experimented much with printing directly into my art journal from the gelli plate so that was my personal challenge.  I chose to push the journal down onto the plate.  Perhaps things would have worked out better had I flopped the plate onto the paper instead but I doubt it.  I cut out some circles and curvy arch shapes from shipping envelopes to use as masks in different layers.  The first couple of layers looked pretty good but there was not enough interest for me to quit while I was ahead.  I pushed on with a further layer and obliterated what had been a nice little area on the page.  That was annoying but I pushed on hoping that subsequent layers would lead to some other interesting shapes and textures and contrasts emerging.  Unfortunately, that was not what happened.  I think I need more regular practice with gelli printing in order to develop some skill with it, some idea of how to achieve different looks rather than my haphazard, slapdash way of doing things.  I got to the point where I was sick of the sight of the page so decided that was a good reason to stop.  I finished it all off by gluing down some of the circle masks I had been using.

14 Curves and Circles

It was not a good week for art, therefore, but I am choosing to focus on the positive of the flaws and failings being learning opportunities.  I have, as stated above, learned that I need to actually plan out what I am doing with the gelli plate rather than just shoving elements together and hoping for the best.  The solution is more practice.  I have a small gelli plate so perhaps I will keep that to hand and have a play with it more frequently to see if I can develop some sort of process that works for me.  I have also learned that layering remains something that I struggle with and I should probably just conclude that it is not my thing and stick to techniques that do work for me.  Investing time and energy into approaches that result in pleasing outcomes is ultimately going to be more fulfilling than trying to learn a technique that eludes me.  It is OK for me to hone the skills I possess instead of chasing after the ones I don’t.   My mojo will return.

House on the Green Hill

The Art Journal Adventure prompt for last week was to use horizontal and vertical elements.  Perhaps it was because I had recently been reading Dylan Thomas’ poem ‘Fern Hill’ to my 11 year old son but the idea of horizontal and vertical lines automatically made me think of fields in a verdant green landscape and a little house nestled beneath a hill.  The idea seemed simple enough but it literally took me a full week to take the page from inception to completion.  Each colour of acrylic in the patchwork landscape represents a quick burst of art action in my daily schedule.  Worked on in such short bursts here and there throughout the week, it took an awfully long time for the page to fill with colour.  Thankfully, once all the painting was done and dry, the finishing touches were completed quickly.  That was just the case of doodling with paint pens while watching the news and drinking a cup of tea one morning.  It was those little details that pulled the page together and made it a coherent, stitched together quilt of a landscape rather than a chaotic mish-mash.

13 Green Hill Landscape

Rib Cage

Knowing me as you do, you may not be surprised to see the direction I took this week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt.  The prompt was “Opening” which could be used in either a literal or metaphorical way or both.  I immediately visualised a rib cage opening to reveal a heart.

I used Dylusions black marble paint to coat my page because it creates a really rich black with a lovely smooth finish which is perfect for drawing on with paint pens.  The approach I took was the exact same as the one I used to create the Lady Death page in my other current art journal but this time I kept it the doodles much simpler because I wanted to get the whole thing done and dusted within one week’s rations of art time.  I think it goes without saying that I did not use any references when illustrating the skeleton.  Anatomical accuracy was not remotely going to happen.  The rib cage I drew – however short of a few ribs – opens like window shutters to reveal the interior of the body.  I knew I wanted to include the heart as a reference to the idea of opening up to someone, thus connecting the literal and metaphorical possibilities of the prompt.  Having drawn the heart into the centre of the opening, however, I decided that there was too much empty space.  I, therefore, added a pair of lungs.  I repeated the pink and red colours elsewhere in the drawing of the skeleton to make the interior and exterior visually coherent.

I had a lot of fun creating this journal page and hope you find it fun to look at.

11a Open Ribs to Heart

11b Open Ribs to Heart

Pearl Girl

Last week’s Life Book lesson was one I really struggled with.  I had never taken a lesson with Lindsay Weirich so it was great to see a different approach to art demonstrated.  The lesson involved using pearly paint and gouache.  I have a little of the former but none of the latter so I improvised and used other media.  Stenciling was involved and I suck at stencilling but I decided to force myself to not skip that stage.  It started well enough with a pleasing blend of blue, pink, and yellow pearl paint; but then it entered an ugly phase and – when I tried to rescue it –  into an even uglier phase until it looked like sparkling sewage.  It took layer after layer of paint and more time and effort than I actually had available to try and eliminate the glittery poop stage and haul it screaming and kicking back into something half decent.  Then, frankly, I was all out of time and all out of willingness to invest in this one piece.  Time to stop flogging the dead horse and move on to new and less poopy pastures.

11a Pearl Girl

Shark Reverse Silhouette

This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was to incorporate a silhouette as part of the art journal page.  Some weeks I read a prompt and have no ideas and some weeks I read a prompt and am overwhelmed by too many ideas at once.  This was an example of the latter.  There were so many ways I could have taken the idea of a silhouette.

I had a page already underway in my art journal that was going nowhere in particular but where I had plonked a wine label slap bad in the middle.  I had actually intended to glue the wine label into my rainbow themed art journal but I guess I was rushing and it was late at night so it ended up in my regular art journal.  There were also some scraps of text paper already adhered to the page, leftovers from some other project.  I decided that should be the background of my silhouette page.  But then I realised that the wine label would likely end up completely covered up.  That was when I decided I would create a reverse silhouette with the surrounding area being black and the chosen shape emerging in negative rather than positive.

Something you may not know about me is that I love sharks (and whales).  It has been a lifelong thing.  I would actually dearly love to dive with sharks but its the claustrophobia of scuba gear underwater that deters me.  Despite the fact – or maybe because – I doodle sharks frequently, a shark has only put in one solitary, rogue shark appearance in my art journal.  It was a messy collage of torn paper that resulted in a rather dorky looking shark.  After adding a light paint layer over the collage, therefore, it was just a case of quickly drawing out a shark silhouette shape and then painting black into the negative space.  Quick and easy.

10 Shark Reverse Silhouette

Roots and Branches

For this week’s Life Book lesson, the tutor was Effy Wild.  The visual elements of the lesson were connected to some introspection but I mostly choose to gloss over the more art therapy aspects of Life Book and just focus on the art.  I also did not have time to view the video demonstrations so I relied on the accompanying PDF to provide me with an understanding of the steps involved.  As always, my finished outcome looks little like that of the tutor but I utilised techniques and approaches that she demonstrated.  I think the finished treeis reminiscent enough of a plump baobab tree that I wish I had thought of the resemblance sooner in the process and made it completely like a baobob.  It was at its core an exercise in patchwork collage and negative space.  I used bronze paint over the collage layer for the tree trunk and gold for the leaves so that it would glint in the light and because I look for any excuse to use metallic paints.  The tutor’s version incorporated text.  I wasn’t feeling that way inclined but do feel my piece lacks a focal point.  I just need to ruminate on it for a bit and return to it once I have an appropriate epiphany.

10a Roots and Branches

10b Roots and Branches

 

Lady Liberty Weeps

***NOTE: This blog post is about my art work.  This is not a political post and I am not inviting political discussion.  You are, of course, entitled to hold different political opinions from me and I respect that.  I, therefore, ask that any comments left on this post are similarly respectful and civil.  Any nastiness will be deleted.***

 

This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “Travel”.  Normally my imagination would be sparking and fizzing with ideas about dream destinations and bucket list travel plans or else memories of wonderful travels from times past.  However, the prompt happened to be revealed on the exact same day that President Trump issued his revised Travel Ban.  As such, my creative impulses took me in an entirely different direction.  As an immigrant, legal permanent resident in America, I felt compelled to follow that impulse.  The result is a depiction of Lady Liberty weeping.  I drew the face rapidly using black acrylic paint (having roughly mapped out only the proportions) and, once that was dried, I added some Dylusions spray ink in teal and turquoise to suggest verdigris and add some additional visual texture.

9 Lady Liberty Weeps