Last week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Connie Solera. It was a bit too “art as therapy” for my personal taste but I was inspired by the imagery of the painting Solera demonstrated and decided to create my own twist on the idea, moulding the lesson to fit my own style. There are many layers in this mixed media painting, more layers than I typically work with, but I enjoyed switching between the chaotic looseness of the background and the more tight illustration of the female figure curled up inside a pod shape in the centre, even if it probably makes the piece visually unbalanced.
This week there were two Life Book lessons. I only had time available to tackle one of them so I opted to respond to the lesson taken by Tamara Laporte which involved creating a mixed media portrait of Frida Kahlo. I am absolutely not a portraitist. I cannot capture people’s likenesses accurately at all. The idea of even attempting to portray someone as immediately recognisable as Frida Kahlo was pretty intimidating but that was precisely why I decided to dive in and give it a try: growth through challenge.
Frida Kahlo seems to be pretty zeitgeisty at the moment. I am seeing lots of homages and merchandise here and there. I confess I am not a massive fan of Kahlo’s art. I appreciate it and recognise its worth but it just doesn’t speak to me in the same way that the work of other artists does. I actually find her more inspirational as a person than I do as an artist. As such, I didn’t have an immediate idea of how to portray her. I flicked through some photographs of her and scribbled down some ideas and sketches – the hair style, the daring clothing that emphasised her female sexuality, the use of bold colours. All of those found their way into my finished piece. Laporte had incorporated a parrot into her portrait of Kahlo and I took that idea and turned it into a parrot wing. I had also thought I would add some big jungle leaf shapes into the background, a feature I noted in several of Kahlo’s self-portrait, but in the end I decided that it would all get a bit too busy and let it be.
I am not sure how I feel about this piece yet. I think I need to give it some time before I make a judgement about its successes and flaws. My husband, who has a minimal interest in the history of art, immediately recognised this as being a portrait of Frida Kahlo, however, so at least I must have somewhat met the challenge of painting a passable likeness.
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.
There were two lessons last week for Life Book, one taken by Whitney Freya and one by Samie Harding. There was absolutely no way I was going to find time to tackle two different lessons. I thought I would choose to work on the one that appealed most to me but, in actual fact, neither really chimed with me enough to stand out. One was abstract and one was very “art therapy” in its approach and neither of those things really inspires my creativity. I almost decided not to work on Life Book for the second week in a row but then I had an idea: I could combine the lessons. I could use some of the approaches from the abstract lesson to create a background and could use the concept of a totem animal from the other lesson as a jumping off point for the subject matter. Of course, being me, I had to put my own twist on things and – as such – I turned my bear into a silhouette contain a skeleton. You wouldn’t know it to look at it, but I did have a quick google to have a photo reference for the bear’s skull. I actually had a lot of fun creating this painting so I am glad I found the mojo and the time to actually work on Life Book after all.
This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “opposites”. I ran through a lot of ideas in my head before choosing to depict Night and Day as female figures. This was something I had tried before in my Rainbow Art Journal but I had not been satisfied with the result. This was an opportunity to revisit the subject and hopefully accomplish a better outcome. Whereas before I had worked across two pages, this time I confined the composition to a single page. To further enhance the concept of opposites, I placed the figures top to tail as I knew I had liked that composition when I used it in my most recent Red Riding Hood page.
To create a bit more visual interest to the page, I adhered some collage materials as a first layer and ensured that those still showed through subsequent layers in places. While the composition and colour scheme places the Night and Day figures in opposition to each other, I also wanted to connect them, because they are cyclical, so I drew their hair swirling into the sector of the other and had the metallic dots sweep across the diagonal dividing line in places.
Last week’s prompt for the Art Journal Adventure was to incorporate a list. I am a big list maker. It helps me process things mentally as well as being an organisational tool. I always have several lists on the go at once. Most are traditional paper-based lists but I also maintain some as computer files. I sometimes get a bit control freaky about my lists. I am one of those people who writes their shopping list according to the different sections of the supermarket – nothing freaky about that obviously since it is just common sense efficiency – but if I accidentally write an item in the wrong area of the list or if I don’t have enough space to neatly add an item into the correct area or if I just make some other sort of error, the handwriting equivalent of a typo, then I have to write my shopping list out again until I have a “fair copy”. I have sometimes written a shopping list out five times just to get it perfect.
I could have used the evolution of a weekly shopping list as the basis of my art journal page but I am not sure how visually interesting that would have been. Instead, because I am still focused on travel – since we just got back from our road trip and since my kids are going off, in pairs, on vacation with their grandparents – that was the subject my mind drifted towards. I decided, therefore, to record a list of the US states I have yet to visit. It is very much on my bucket list to visit all 50 states. Mr Pict is actually only missing three (North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Alaska, since you didn’t ask) and maybe for that reason he doesn’t quite get why I am obsessively intent on “collecting” more states. Upsettingly, before I undertook this journal page, I thought that as of last year’s road trip I had been to 31 states. However, when I added up the number of unvisited states on the completed page, I had twenty. What? That couldn’t be. I thought I had been on 25 states prior to last year’s road trip where I then added six more but it transpired my base calculation was incorrect. A previous art journal page had led me to think I was on the half-way mark back then. Nope. I had included New Hampshire which I actually have no claim on. As I have explained before, in order to claim a state I have to have done two of three things within its borders: pee, eat, sleep. Although I have been in New Hampshire, I did not do two of those three things. I, therefore, cannot claim it and am reduced to just 30 states visited with 20 left to go. This art journal page is, therefore, a sort of check list I can return to after future travels around America.
Now I need to devise another road trip that has a route through as many of these states as possible.
One of the reasons I enjoy participating in Life Book is that it exposes me to different techniques, media, and approaches I may not have stumbled across or thought of one my own. This lesson with Jamie Dougherty was one such example. Had I not watched the video, I may never have thought to turn ash into paint. You can see the ash layer was used in the torso of the figure I painted. The whole idea of taking ash and turning it into something new suggested the flame colour palette for the rest of the piece. I am actually really pleased with how this piece turned out. I have managed to find a comfortable balance between my illustrative style and using mixed media techniques. It just feels quite “me”. I may not use ash in my art work again (aside from the messiness, it had my kids turning into pyromaniacs) but I am now inspired to think about other things I might be able to transform into paint.