The Muse of Spatter

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I really do enjoy a bit of spatter in my art work so I was very happy to learn that spatter was the basis of this week’s Life Book lesson.  The lesson was taken by Mandy Van Goeije and was about starting loose and abstract and then finding some form within that abstraction to turn into an illustration, generating text to support that illustration, and layering watercolour and other media on top of a splattery, puddly watercolour background.

I decided to use the primary colours for my spatter because it was what was demonstrated in the tutorial and because I recognised that it was a palette that I don’t often use.  I often add spatter at some stage in my art work but it was a twist on things to actually use the spatter as the starting point.  I am not someone who tends to get creatively blocked because of having a blank page but I imagine this is a good way to get past that problem.

16a Muse of Spatter

Once I had the spattery layer, I had to look for shapes and forms within it that suggested the starting point for an illustration.  It is human nature to see facial features in inanimate objects (a quick google told me it is called “pareidolia”) and it is something I certainly do.  When looking at my spattery layer, however, the form I saw emerge was a human figure – a tilted head surrounded by red hair and, in the negative space – upraised arms and hands.  I think my brain determining I would see a human figure is probably an extension of the same phenomenon that has people seeing faces.  When coming up with the story element of my art work and the text, I decided my figure should be the Muse of Spatter and wrote “The Muse of Spatter dances wherever she pleases and creates from chaos” as I felt that basically encapsulated the theme of the lesson and what I created as a result of it.

16b Muse of Spatter

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

Rainbow Art Journal – Criss Cross

I love the combination of red and turquoise.  I love turquoise generally but there is just something about the combination of those two colours that really makes both sing, perhaps because it is an unexpected palette that works surprisingly well.  It’s a palette I have used quite a few times in my art work so when it came to the red pages in my Rainbow Art Journal I knew that turquoise would put in a guest appearance.  This piece turned out to be reminiscent of my Resting Acrobat from a few months ago.  I think that previous piece is more successful overall but the face is better in this piece since I managed to keep it closer to my original sketch and not let the proportions wander.

11b Criss Cross

Wonky Home

Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “Home”.  That can be interpreted in many different ways, physical, emotional, geographical, and it is a theme that has cropped up a few times in my art journal since I started keeping one a few years ago.  This time, however, I decided to keep it super easy and just draw a house, just a quick and simple illustration without putting too much thought into it.  Partly this was so that it would be a challenge to me to work more intuitively and not get so trapped into my head trying to get an idea in my mind’s eye to appear on paper; partly it was because I was so short on time and so this drawing was done, from start to finish, in a mere twenty minutes courtesy of two pre-inked fountain pens (the inks being Noodler’s Bulletproof and Lamy Pacific Blue in case you are interested).  Since I knew I could not even attempt precision, I thought I would accentuate the inevitable weird angles and wobbly lines and produce an entirely wonky house.

12 Wonky Home

Girl with Antlers

Last week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Annie Hamman.  I really love Hamman’s paintings and enjoy watching her process but it is a style and methodology I can never get to work for me as I am neither painterly or loose enough in the way I handle paint.  I have, therefore, really enjoyed the previous Annie Hamman lessons I have worked on but I always end up with something much more rigid and controlled than the anticipated outcome.  This lesson was no exception.

I enjoyed all of the techniques deployed in the lesson, such as painting over collage and painting negative space, but I was neither intuitive or loose enough in my mark making.  That’s OK though.  That way of creating just isn’t me.  What was disappointing was that my choice to use blue for underpainting and layering up the shadows of the face didn’t dissipate enough in subsequent layers and the flesh tones ended up sallow and sickly looking as a result.  (Incidentally, the phone photo makes the colours much paler than they are in real life because the light levels have just been so dreary here lately.)  I am, however, happy with the negative painting around the antlers, the pushing back of and forward from the collage layer, and the gold of the halo.  I think this is another one of those lessons I will attempt again, perhaps in my art journal, as I liked the approach and have hopefully learned something from the underpainting oops.

13 Girl with Antlers

Rainbow Art Journal – Little Red Riding Hood

My Rainbow Art Journal has segued out of its initial black stage into a red phase, as you may have observed.  I knew that somewhere in this section an interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood would appear because she and the wolf are characters who have cropped up time and time again in my art work over the years.  There is a definite connection in terms of palette and pattern between this new painting and a previous art journal page from 2015 but stylistically they are quite different.

I don’t know why I have always been drawn to Red Riding Hood as a fairytale because I was so wee when my moderate obsession started.  I do like wolves, love werewolves, and the psychological possibilities of the story of a girl journeying into the wilderness to confront and overcome a dangerous aspect of that wilderness.  With this art journal page, I wanted to depict the idea of the innocent girl and the bestial, primal wolf being interconnected, almost like a yin-yang balance.  That gave me the idea for the composition.  I actually thought to take some process shots as I worked on the double page spread over the course of a couple of weeks.  From the basic sketch, I then blocked in large areas of colour using acrylic paint.  I find that getting that one layer down really helps me as it creates a uniform surface on which to build additional layers and use a wider variety of media and it also immediately eliminates the white page so that I can more easily push some areas into the background while bringing other areas forward for emphasis.  It was then just a case of working away on the piece in little rations and gobbets of time, building up the tones and details.  I think of all of the Red Riding Hood pieces I have ever created, this is my favourite so far.

10a Red Riding Hood

10b Red Riding Hood

10c Red Riding Hood

10d Red Riding Hood

10e Red Riding Hood