Girl with Golden Disc – Finding my own Style

I have been experimenting with mixed media for over a year now which has involved trying new things, different approaches to creativity and unfamiliar media.  This has necessitated me trying to find my own style when working with those media and tools.  I am also now a third of the way through the Life Book course.  Being exposed to different tutors with their diverse styles and differing approaches to creating art has also meant trying on new styles.  It is a case of seeing what fits and what doesn’t, which approaches mesh with my own style and artistic taste and which don’t work so well for me.

I have been finding that when I get the most frustrated with attempting something new it is either because it is pushing me way out of my comfort zone – which can yield positive results – or it is because that style or approach just doesn’t connect with me so effectively.  When I am at all disappointed in my response to a Life Book lesson, I have to take a step back and figure out why.  I have to ask myself which elements I like – perhaps a colour scheme or some mark making – and what aspects are leading me to feel “meh” about the piece.  I am coming to the realisation that working intuitively is not successful for me because I always get back inside my head.  I am just too much of a control freak to let go to the required degree.  What I am, therefore, attempting to do now is find the balance between being intentional and then being playful within the parameters of what I am aiming to do.  I am also accepting the fact that my natural style is that of an illustrator.  Whether I am at the whimsical or realistic end of the spectrum, I default to a more illustrative approach rather than a painterly one.  That is completely fine by me.  It is a style I enjoy and it is where my strengths are as an artist.  All the practice with acrylic, however, is definitely helping me hone my skills with that medium.  I still have a long way to go but I have come on in leaps and bounds since starting the Life Book course.

I have, therefore, decided that – as and when time allows – I am going to revisit some of the Life Book lessons and see how successful I am at adapting them to my own style and to my own approach, meaning that balance between intentional and intuitive.  The first one I decided to revisit was actually a recent one, a lesson by Tamara Laporte on intuitive portrait painting.  My control freakery had completely asserted itself during the painting process and my style was, therefore, far too tight and rigid as a result.  I reflected on the resulting painting and analysed what worked and what did not work.  I liked the composition with the head on the right side of the paper and I liked the circular “halo” around the head.  I also liked the 3/4 facing portrait and the use of drips and splatters.  What I did not like was the hair or the geometric shapes.

I, therefore, used the elements that I had found to be successful and ditched the rest.  I wanted a more muted, neutral colour scheme so I went for browns but mixed with metallics – bronze and gold – and I worked as intuitively as I could manage on the background of the left hand side by dripping and splattering, my concession to a lack of control.  I allowed the spatter to continue into the hair of the figure in order to unify the two sides of the piece.  I am much happier with this version.  It is much more “me”.

Girl with Golden Disc A - Full

Girl with Golden Disc B - Close Up -

Girl with Golden Disc C  - Face


Quick, Intuitive Paintings

This week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Alena Hennessy and the subject was intuitive painting.  As I wrote in my last post about Life Book, intuitive painting does not come easily to me.  In fact, it does not really come to me at all.  I really struggle with it.  I am a control freak and  – as someone who draws rather than paints – I am not used to working in a looser, more fluid, instinctive way.  I like to plan things, to have a vision of where my art work is going.  Sitting down with a bunch of art materials and just seeing what emerges from playing around with them does not come naturally to me.  I was, therefore, very glad of the opportunity to learn another approach to intuitive painting.  We were instructed to set a timer and give ourselves just fifteen minutes to complete a painting, then ten and finally just five minutes.  The pressure of time meant I was forced to get out of my head and just go for it, layering paint down, using different tools, just doing whatever came to mind until the alarm went off.

This was my fifteen minute painting:

Week 16 - Intuitive Painting - 15 minutes

This was my ten minute painting:

Week 16 - Intuitive Painting - 10 minutes

This was my five minute painting:

Week 16 - Intuitive Painting - 5 minutes

I am not sure how successful I was in the end.  I think I did let my control freakery get in the way and impose some order on the painty chaos, especially in the two longer pieces.  However, I think I did take a step in the right direction so that maybe I have some prospect of building intuitive elements into my art work even if that aspect of the work is balanced out by the more controlled art work.


PS  I am working on a 100 Artworks Challenge at present which you can follow over at my other blog, Pict Ink.

Primavera – or control freak painting

Last week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Tamara Laporte.  The aims of the lesson were to paint a 3/4 portrait, use black and white against bolder colour and use contrasting shapes within the piece.  Another aim of the lesson was to paint intuitively, to go with the flow and do whatever comes instinctively with the media you have to hand.

I enjoyed the practice of drawing the 3/4 portrait, getting the angles right, practicing blending some skin tones again.  My style of drawing people still leans towards the illustrative but that is OK.  That is clearly just my style.  I wish I had made the hair a bit fuller and more fluid, more Pre-Raphaelite rather than the straggly hair I have painted.  I think I found all that stark black too intimidating and tried to keep it to a minimum but I should have just gone with it and been bold.  I do like the use of the white circle around the head and then the contrasting zig zag of triangles at the edge of the paper to tie the two sides of the composition together.

In terms of intuitive painting, I failed big time.  The one intuitive element for me was really the colour choice.  My mind is clearly on Spring as I went with shades of green and then pops of bright pink in a floral design using the dots that I enjoy doing so much.  However, you can see just by looking at the finished painting that I have been far too rigid.  My mark making is too crisp.  This – in short – is what it looks like when a total control freak attempts to paint intuitively.  I think I may well add this to the list of lessons to come back to towards the end of the year long course to see if I have progressed, in this specific case to see if I have become freer and looser.  Happily this week’s lesson is all about very quick, intuitive painting which sounds like just the lesson I need.

Week 15 - Black and White - Contrasting Shapes - Angled Profile

Posting Parcels

Brace yourselves, Readers, for the excitement of this blog post for today I undertook a visit to the Post Office to send two parcels.

No really.  That’s it.

Here’s the thing though: I have now lived in Pennsylvania for almost seven months and today marks the first time I have ever posted a parcel in America. I have mailed things in envelopes and I have sent postcards but until today I had not had cause to actually go into a Post Office and send parcels.  Now we get to how neurotic I am.  I realised, as I was writing the addresses on the parcels, that I actually had no clue how to request the mail service I needed.  Both parcels contained works of art that I had been commissioned to undertake so I had to send them as securely as possible.  Obviously I knew exactly what to request in Britain but I had no idea what language was used to describe that same service here in the US or even if such a service was offered.  I started to have visions of long queues forming behind me as I tried to explain to the postal person exactly what I needed to happen, possibly entirely lost in translation.  I have always tended towards the neurotic because I am a control freak and abhor public displays of my ignorance because it signifies a lack of control.  Now, being an immigrant, I find myself frequently being drawn up short by the basic things I do not know, things I have taken for granted for so many decades of my life that I cannot actually recollect having learned them in the first place.  Basic life skills and knowledge accumulated over decades, largely be osmosis, are very challenging to replicate in a condensed period of time.  It is made worse by the fact that, at my age, people around me must assume I ought to know what I am doing and yet there I am asking basic questions of people and offering the explanation that I recently moved here from Scotland to mitigate against my ignorance.  So, yes, the prospect of standing at the head of a line of people and needing to be talked through how to post a parcel made me feel like a twerp.

So I hit up the mommapedia by posting my query on Facebook so that my American friends could Babel-fish translate what it was I needed to happen to the parcels into a succinct phrase I could request of the postal person.  I had an answer in mere minutes.  Neurosis quelled.

As it turned out, I was the only customer in the Post Office.  I would not have had an audience for my display of ignorance after all.  The lady on the desk understood my request and everything went tickety-boo with the parcels of art work being allocated tracking numbers and detailed receipts issued.  Job done.  So long as the parcels arrive in one piece.  Whole other neurosis there.  Not even thinking about it.  Much.

Be less of a line and more of a scribble

Being an immigrant is challenging psychologically as well as practically, logistically, legally and in all those everyday ways.  It is especially challenging for someone like me: a complete control freak who craves stability and security.

The decision to move here was a leap of faith and – as an atheist – I mean a leap of faith in ourselves to have arrived at the right decision, to have conducted adequate research, to have the capabilities and strengths to seize and make the most of the new opportunities we were creating for ourselves.  I don’t like unknowns, however, so this leap of faith was also a leap in the dark.  My husband is ceaselessly chipper and bouyant and glass-half-full so largely my leap of faith involved just trusting in his judgement and allowing myself to be carried along by his positivity.  I, of course, did all the control freak stuff: endless hours spent on the internet researching things to the nth degree.  And I do mean the nth degree: I even researched whether Americans use rotary clothes lines because the ability to line dry clothes would help our electricity consumption.  Seriously.  I am a planner and Mr Pict is a doer.  That’s what makes us a successful couple: we are compatible where it matters and contrast and complement each other where it matters too.

I live my life in lists.  I generate dozens of them each week.  Shopping lists organised according to different sections of the supermarket, To Do lists, wish lists of books, lists of movies I want to see, even lists written on my hand in case I forget the most urgent items from all my other lists.  I am a planner.  I need to have a plan.  I need to know what I am doing, where I am going, how things are going to work.  Voyages into the unknown are inherently not my thing.  For every vacation we take, I create a spreadsheet of all the things we might possibly do in that area with columns for opening times and prices and directions.  For a vacation in Rome, I even created a colour-coded map that linked to a colour-coded and indexed spreadsheet.  That is me accepting different possibilities and not being too controlled because I accept it is not an itinerary but a list of options.  That’s as into the unknown as I usually voyage.

Yet here I am in a country I have never lived in before, operating in systems I have no experience of, driving on the other side of the road, having to translate myself into different vocabulary, navigating a different education system with my kids …. Every day is about an encounter with the unfamiliar and the unknown.  For a control freak, that is an assault on the psyche.

Furthermore, a lot of our immediate future is not clearly mapped out and that makes me hyperventilate if I dwell on it to much.  We cannot buy a house here until our house in Scotland sells and releases our equity so we don’t even know where we will be living a year hence.  We have a house here but it is not our home.  That then leads us to scour our budget to determine the impact of paying rent and mortgage for longer than anticipated.  And what if we cannot find a house within the catchment area of the boys’ school?  Or even an affordable house that can accommodate us all within the school district?  That degree of uncertainty transforms a control freak into a wing-nut with ease, especially a glass-half-empty control freak like me.

I recognise that for the sake of my sanity I have to relinquish control.  I have to accept that we did all of that research and all of that debating and weighing up the pros and cons and arrived at the decision to emigrate with good reason and that those reasons are still good.   All of the things on the pros list still hold true.  I have to, therefore, learn to just go with the flow during this turbulent transitional period and trust that all the hurdles will be overcome, all the niggles smoothed over and our leap of faith will be justified and vindicated.  Going with the flow.  That’s pretty much an alien concept to me.  I have to stop trying to impose control on things I have little or not control over.  I have to stop trying to structure things that are too undetermined to be lassoed into any sort of organisation.  I need to learn to relax into life and let it happen to me.

So while I’ve been pondering this aspect of my psyche, I have also been trying to have another crack at art journaling.  The art I normally produce expresses me in so far as it is about the things I enjoy, the things that interest me but it is not candid or revealing and is not “about me” so that element of art journaling is something I am having to come to terms with.  However, my style of art is also very graphic and controlled.  I work up sketches and then go on to produce a completed work with intention as to what the outcome will be.  Yes, in my art work I am also a complete and utter control freak.  I do not go with the flow in my art work either.  Trying a bit of this and a bit of that and seeing where it takes me is not how I work.  Because my style is graphic and cartoonish, even at the sketching stage I am quite rigid.  The loosest I ever get is with very short life drawings.  But art journaling is about not having an intention or having a vision of the completed page before you commence working on it.  It’s about just letting the art work flow from you as you produce it.  That presents a major challenge to a control freak like me and, as such, I am finding it to be a struggle.

So earlier today I looked at a blank page in my art journal with all of these thoughts in mind and this is what I created:



It’s something to aim for, a reminder to try and just go with the flow a bit more, rely on my instincts in life and in my creativity rather than relying on my intellect and knowledge.  I think it is a good “note to self”.  But what does the control freak in me do?  Well if you look closely you will see that I erased not once but twice my initial scribble patterns because I did not like the shapes they created on the page.  So much for going with the flow, eh?  And in a moment of distraction I inserted a comma where there should not be one.  As someone as anal retentive about punctuation as I am, that almost had me tearing out the page and shoving it in the recycling bin.  The only thing that stopped me was that the reverse of the page has a collage of New York city on it.  But that comma scoffs at me for my moment of distraction, for my loss of control, and goodness it annoys me.  But I need to go with the flow in that regard too: I need to accept that along the way in experiencing anything new there will be mistakes.  Yes, even I will make mistakes.  I cannot control everything.

I need to be less of a control freak.  Let’s see how that goes, shall we?