History of Art #26 – Magritte

We moved on from Chagall’s symbolic dreamscapes to Magritte’s surrealism.  We started off by looking at a few of his paintings and having a chat about them, sharing ideas as to possible interpretations.  We looked at “The Treachery of Images” and discussed the idea that the representational nature of art (the pipe is not a pipe but a painting of a pipe) immediately detaches the art work from reality.  The other painting we discussed at length was “The Son of Man” and had lots of ideas about why their is an apple in front of the face: gravity and scientific discovery, original sin, spherical shape like the globe, and an apple being the artist’s favourite fruit.  We also observed recurring themes in Magritte’s work: obscured faces, cloudy skies, birds, and bowler hats.

The it was time to start creating works inspired by Magritte’s art.  As I suspected would be the case, the boys all chose to work on drawings inspired by “The Son of Man”.  My 12 year old continued with his penguin series and gave his penguin a bowler hat and a face partly obscured by a fish.  My 8 year old drew a self-portrait with the face obscured by a slice of pizza, his favourite food.  My 6 year old drew a tiny drawing of a figure with his face covered in chocolate cake.  My 10 year old drew his favourite food – my homemade chicken curry – descending from a cloudy sky but he’s not happy with his drawing so I agreed not to share it on the blog.

26 - Magritte - AB

26 - Magritte - ET

26 - Magritte - AR

Since I already did a version of “The Son of Man” for my Magritte inspired Bunny, I decided to take my inspiration from another painting, “Sky Bird”.  I decided to play around with masks on my gelli plate again, as I had done with Hokusai’s Wave, with a bird shape in a day time sky and the negative space as a night sky.  I then embellished the bird using paint pen.

26 - Magritte - Sky Bird - Laura

History of Art #8 – Audubon

The next artist we studied in our project on the History of Art was John James Audubon.  I used it as an opportunity to talk to the boys about artists making studies from nature, a visual record of the natural world, and of the idea of making a collection by working in a themed series.  We watched the many species of birds that visit our bird feeders for a while so that we could reflect on observation skills.  We then looked at Audubon’s prints of the same birds we had seen in the garden plus a few more exemplars.  The boys then had free rein to create art inspired by a bird – real or imagined – of their choice and in any medium they wished.

No surprises that my 12 year old decided to draw his study of birds through the lens of Minecraft.  It’s a Minecraft chicken I believe.

8 - Audubon - AB

My 6 year old has a real bug for painting now so he painted a portrait of one of the birds we saw in the garden.

8 - Audubon - AR

My 8 year old used chalk pastels to create a funky bird from his vivid imagination.  He even thought to smudge the chalk pastels to create a tail.

8 - Audubon - ET

My 9 year old is a fan of the Hunger Games triology so he drew a blue jay and a mockingbird getting married so that they could create a mockingjay baby.  It’s bird algebra.

8 - Audubon 0 OA

I meanwhile decided to create an ink drawing of a hummingbird filled with doodles.

8 - Audubon - Hummingbird - Ink - Laura


The Documented Life Project theme continues to be concerned with adding texture to art journal pages.  This week we were encouraged to use modelling paste.  I do not own modeling paste as I doubt it is something I would make great use of.  The Art to the 5th ladies had helpfully suggested some alternatives for those of us who do not possess that product.  However, I did not have an appropriate substitute nor the time to learn how to make my own modeling paste courtesy of YouTube tutorials.  I decided, therefore, to just focus on the phrase prompt for this week which was “rising to the occasion”.

Mulling over the phrase for a while as I went about my chores, I happened to be tidying up around a sculpture I own which is titled “If I Rise on the Wings of the Dawn”, taken from Psalm 139.  Ping!  That was my idea.

I created a rough bird shaped mask from a piece of scrap paper and placed it on my art journal page.  I then used watercolour paint to spatter all over the page.  Mr Pict says that spattering and dripping is becoming very much my “thing” with art.  I definitely enjoy it.  All that spatter left behind the negative space of the bird.  I then drew in a little female figure using a light blue pen.  I kept the figure quite simple, almost naive, and wanted to create the impression of soaring.

I rather like how it turned out and I think I will use the spatter technique to play around with negative space in future too.

Week 20 - Rise

Blue Jay

This week’s Documented Life Project prompt was to “sketch what you see right now”.  I envy those who have a designated creative space because  moving my stuff all over the house can be annoying, especially when I have limited time.  I happen to work at our breakfast table, which is in a corner of the kitchen where two walls are lined with windows.  That at least has the advantage of lots of natural light.  Just outside my kitchen window there is a bird feeder that gets lots of feathered visitors every day.  I love to watch them flitting about while I am cooking, cleaning or sitting in the kitchen.  On a daily basis I see blue jays, cardinals, tufted titmice, two varieties of woodpecker, chickadees and finches visiting the feeder.

When I sat at the table to sketch something, there happened to be two blue jays flying back and forth between the bird feeder, the nearby trees and the ground.  I, therefore, decided to sketch a blue jay.  I have actually only once drawn a bird from life before and that was someone’s pet parrot so this was my first time drawing a wild bird from life.  I had to move my pencil across the page at high speed and use all my observation skills because the blue jays did not stay still for long.  I then quickly washed the colours in using watercolour.  The whole watercolour sketch probably took no more than ten minutes from start to finish.  Once it was dry, I framed the drawing with some tape – largely because the page was frayed and scruffy from me working on an adjacent page – and I added in some writing about the blue jay  to fill up the white space and make it more of a journal page.

Week 43 - Sketch what you see - 2

All Things Fall

Today is officially the first day of Autumn.  Autumn is most definitely here.  While my children are still going to school in shorts and t-shirts, they are quite chilly on the morning walk; duvets have replaced sheets on the beds; dusk is falling earlier and the daylight is golden; I am drinking more hot tea again; the oak tree deposits acorns on my head every time I am pegging out laundry; and, of course, the trees are really shedding their leaves now.

This week’s Documented Life Project prompt was “splatters and drips” so with such a broad topic I was free to create on any subject I chose and I decided upon Autumn.  Autumn – or Fall as it is of course called in America – is my favourite season.  I love all the warm colours, that intensely golden light in the afternoon, the strong shadows, mugs of tea and hot chocolate, all the holidays and festivals, cosy clothes, and a ready excuse for getting into my jammies earlier in the evening.  With my inspiration sorted, I decided to challenge myself a bit.  Of late I have been defaulting to drawing a lot in my responses to the Project and have taken a step back from actually experimenting with and exploring mixed media.  It was, therefore, time to shove myself back in that direction.  I decided to collage.  My earlier attempts at collaging have been less than stellar.  I was pleased with how my Phoenix turned out but that was a collaging anomaly for me and was also a very controlled approach to collaging.  Needing a bit of help, I turned to a collaging tutorial on the blog, Inner Graffiti, and decided to use that artist’s approach as my guide.

I knew I wanted to work with Autumnal colours but challenging myself still further I determined I would work with orange because it is not a colour I am naturally drawn to.  As per the tutorial instructions, I rummaged through my stash of papers and odds and ends to find materials that worked within that colour scheme.  The author of the blog takes her time to lay things out and work out the composition before fixing everything to the page.  I was a disobedient student and did not do that.  Short on time, I just went for it.  I started by gluing down large pieces of paper.  These were pages ripped from magazines, pages from an old book and some ephemera such as a car park ticket and a wine label.  I then added some smaller items, such as postage stamps, paint chips and some items received in Happy Mail*.

Then the splattering and dripping commenced.  Normally, as you may have seen from my Drawing a Day posts, I am very controlled and precise in my approach to my art.  Letting go entirely and just seeing what happens, therefore, does not come naturally to me.  However, I rather enjoyed just spattering the ink and paint around.  My orange Winsor & Newton ink was dripped onto the page in droplets and then I used a straw to move it around on the page.  With the orange paints and the gold paint, I daubed some on a medium sized brush and then flicked the brush in order to create random drips.

Then my inner control freak reasserted herself and I pulled it all together with a bit more precision.  I cut a bird from origami paper and placed it at the top of the collaged stack, as if it was nesting in ephemera, and outlined it with brown ink to make that component stand out.  Finally I stamped “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”, quoting from Keats’ ‘Ode to Autumn’ around the edge of the paper. Done.  Still not an amazing collage but certainly a leap forward in terms of attainment for me.  And I enjoyed it!  So I definitely need to keep trying with this collaging malarkey.

Week 39 - Splatters & Drips

My DLP challenge page was not my only Autumn creativity this week.  I am also participating in a Fall themed swap with a group of mixed media artists.  My partner sent me a set of beautifully decorated tags, each a miniature work of art, and which my children instantly coveted.  In return, I decided to embark on making my first ever twinchies.  What’s a twinchie?  It’s a bigger version of an inchie.  No?  Me neither until just over a week ago.  An inchie is a work of art measuring 1 inch square and a twinchie is the same thing but 2 inches square.  Working at such a small scale was an interesting creative challenge and was also a fun way to experiment with different mixed media techniques and approaches.  In no way do I feel that my twinchies meet the quality of the tags I was sent but I had fun making them and hopefully my partner will find them fun too and find a way to incorporate them into her work or use them in some other way.  I rather think I could become obsessed with twinchies.  But not inchies –  twinchies were small enough for me, thanks.

2014-09-23 10.25.07 2014-09-23 10.25.21

*Happy Mail was not something I was aware of at all until recently.  It is art, art supplies and ephemera swapped with other artists through the post.

Flaming Phoenix Art Journal Page

I have birds on the brain (and maybe a bird brain) at the moment.  I am loving seeing all the birds visiting my garden – and was especially excited when hummingbirds started to appear – but cannot always identify them since a lot of the species are obviously very different from those in the UK.  I, therefore, bought a guide book to the birds of North America.  I am excited to move into my new house for very many reasons but among the things I am looking forward to is being able to sit in my kitchen and watch birds visiting the feeder just outside the window.  I may be on my way to becoming a twitcher.  I also have birds on the brain because I am working through some bird design ideas for my next lino block print.  I am even contemplating branching out into using more than one colour.

So when the latest challenge from the Documented Life Project was released this very morning, I was instantly visited by the Mixed Media Muse and knew precisely what I wanted to create on my Art Journal page.  With two children playing the PS3, one viewing YouTube videos on my Kindle and the other at a birthday party, I also had the opportunity to crack on and create.  Ah, the serendipity and luxury of inspiration and opportunity colliding!

The challenge was to “use your underpaper in a creative way”.  Despite being a moderately messy artist, I don’t tend to use underpaper; I just wipe my kitchen table a lot.  Note to self: start using underpaper.  Nevertheless, I interpreted the challenge as meaning that group members should be encouraged to use all of those bits and bobs that are generated as a side effect of the intentional creativity whether that be underpaper, used paper towels or wet wipes, scraps and cut off odds and ends.  What I had that fell into that category were pieces of paper covered in paint from cleaning my brayer and lifting off remaindered paint and layers of ghost prints from the gelli plate.

My idea was to create a Phoenix.  The idea came to me instantly, partly because of the bird obsession I am nurturing, but for other reasons too.  In September, I am going to be launching into a Drawing a Day challenge and my kids have set the theme as being Mythology so I had mythological beasts roaming around in the recesses of my mind.  It also seemed appropriate to use a phoenix, that symbol of resurrection, of regenerating something out of destruction, for a challenge that was essentially about recycling.  I would like to claim that the phoenix might also symbolise the year I have been experiencing and relating in this blog, of starting over, experiencing new things, but I had no such profound thoughts until after the fact.  Still apt though.  Mostly, however, the phoenix idea probably came immediately to mind because my sons and I are all Potterphiles and, of course, a phoenix plays a small but recurring and significant role in the plots of those novels and films.

I started by rooting through all my gelli print papers to find the unintentional prints and found two that I thought would work perfectly for the phoenix.  One was a sheet of paper I had used to keep cleaning my brayer but the final layer was created by mopping up the remaining paint when my 7 year old used a flame stencil.  The other sheet was created by lifting off a few ghost prints from the plate when I was printing with leaves.  The paper colour was red and I also thought some of the shapes created by the leaf veins might be suggestive of feathers.

Wishing to avoid returning to my default position of just having white paper as the background, I decided to create some pattern.  By happenstance, I had just taken delivery of some new stencils – the first I have ever bought – and among them was a “stacked triangles” one which I thought would be fit for purpose.  I am an inexperienced and inept stenciller to begin with but I made things even more difficult for myself by not using stamping ink (I don’t have the correct colours) and instead using the cheap kids’ tempera paint that I enjoy because it is so translucent.  I applied it with a sponge and, as expected, the lines were not very crisp but that didn’t really matter for the effect I was trying to achieve.  Or maybe I’m just slapdash.

I freehand cut out a body and head shape from the flame paper.  I wanted to make more use of that paper not only because of the flame shapes but because I liked the fact there were contrasting cold colours beneath the oranges of the flames.  I then freehand cut large, medium and small feather shapes from the remaining flame paper and the red paper.  Once I had a stash of feathers (and in the end I made too many) it was time to start constructing the phoenix which was really just a case of gluing and layering until I was happy that it looked phoenix-like.

I stamped on a circular pattern to surround the eye and then used black and white gel pens to pick out the actual eye.  I used the same black pen to create the beak, legs and talons.  I then wanted to add some gold to represent the embers of the flames and also because I happen to like gold.  I stamped some gold through the same stencil so that it layered on top of the painted triangles.  I then sprinkled some of the gold paint over the bottom portion of the whole page so as to create dots and spots of gold.

Week 33 - Use Underpaper - Finished Phoenix Page Week 33 - Use Underpaper - Gold Details Week 33 - Use Underpaper - Phoenix Body and Feathers Detail Week 33 - Use Underpaper - Phoenix Head Detail

He maybe looks like a phoenix-budgie-chicken hybrid but I am pretty chuffed with how the page turned out and I am especially pleased that I completed the challenge within hours of it being revealed because I actually eked out some creative free time.

Whale and Caged Bird Lino Block Prints

I have been trying to grab a little bit of time each week for creativity.  I find that focusing on something artistic for even a short period of time is calming and acts to decompress me.  Art is something I enjoy, love and am passionate about but I am also realising that I find it to also be therapeutic.  In Scotland, I went to my Art Club’s Life Drawing class which meant that at least once a week I was spending time doing something creative just for myself.  I have not found a life class here, unfortunately, but art journalling and participating in the Documented Life Project means that at least once a week I am taking some time out from all of the hustle and bustle of family life to devote to something creative.

I am enjoying mixed media work far more than I expected to and I am enjoying the stimulus of learning new techniques and working with unfamiliar materials or even familiar materials but deployed in a new way.  Nevertheless I am finding that I still revert to drawing and ink work.  I guess that is my comfort zone.  Just before leaving Scotland, I was starting to get back into lino block printing which I had not done since my teens.  That, therefore, is something I am trying to develop again so I am trying to make time to develop designs for block prints and ever so often I even find time to carve a block and print.  I have not discovered a local source of lino blocks yet so I have been working on smaller pieces of lino than I am used to but actually I am enjoying the challenge of that restriction and the smaller scale also makes it easier for me to start and finish a piece within the time I have set aside.

My first two efforts at this smaller scale (15cmx10cm) were of a whale and a bird in a cage.   If you are a regular reader of my blog, you might recognise the bird design from a page I did for the Documented Life Project but I have not shared the whale print on the blog before.  I might experiment with creating a monoprint background for printing the whale onto at some point.  I happen to like the texture that results from the imperfections from my cutting which is why I don’t cut away until every single positive is gone from the negative spaces.  I re-print and re-cut until I get a result that I am happy with.  Perhaps it is because I tend to be very precise with my drawing and ink work that I enjoy the imperfections of the block prints.  In the case of the whale print below, I clearly didn’t use the baren at a consistent enough pressure when pressing the print so there is a patchiness to the ink.  If I was creating that print with a view to selling it then I would print it again but since this print was just for me I actually quite liked the effect as it made me think of the scarred and barnacled surface of a whale’s body.  In any case, I am pretty pleased with how they both turned out.