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.
Last week I had ten minutes of art time. Ten. That’s all, folks. In a week that included an unplanned hospital visit, house guests, and a funeral on top of all my usual commitments, obligations, and time suckers, I was not only pushed for free time but also brimming over with stress. I felt like it might just save my sanity if I could find some way to dig out 20 minutes for art. That turned out to be ambitious and I got 10. Knowing I didn’t have time to do anything too involved, too messy, or too detailed, I turned to the Art Journal Adventure prompt and opened up my art journal to a blank page.
The prompt was to feature scallops on the page. Yum. Scallops. I don’t think I have eaten any since I left Scotland. Divine wee morsels that they are. When I thought of scallops as a shape rather than a food, I thought of the way child-like clouds are drawn and that gave me the inspiration for my page. With no time to draw or paint, I quickly cut out some scallop-fringed cloud shapes from old book pages and adhered them to the top of the page. I then added stripes of Neocolor II crayons and outlined the clouds with Stabilo All. Both of these activate with water so I sprayed liberal quantities of water on the page, then tipped up the art journal to let it all run and dribble and drip. And that was my 10 minutes all used up. I left it to dry overnight and was actually fairly satisfied with the result given the (lack of) time and effort invested in its creation. And it just goes to show me that a) I can put together an entire art journal page in very little time indeed if I keep things simple and work efficiently and b) even a little bit of art time can balance out a stressful week.
This week’s Life Book lesson was way out of my comfort zone. The tutor was Wendy Brightbill and she demonstrated her process of creating an abstract work of art through layering of different media and finding the tipping point between working intuitively and pulling it all together with intention. Intuitive and abstract are both things I really struggle with. I am, after all, a control freak and more of an illustrator than anything else. But that is the point in following an art course that has such diverse teachers – it forces me to try new things and experiment a bit. My piece did not evolve well. I loved the first layer and then it just got uglier and messier and more incoherent rather than cohesive. The thing that finally killed it once and for all was that I was way too “blocky” when applying some acrylic paint. I tried some dribble to make it more organic again and then, rather inevitably for me, some spatter. All was in vain. Those chunks of colour were neither geometrically precise enough to be part of the intent of the piece nor random enough to work with the previous layers. My choices were to either scrap the whole thing and forget about it (since I had no time in which to start over) or to just keep trucking and at least produce a finished outcome. I decided on the latter so I grabbed my paint pens and started doodling. It was still an ugly mess of a piece but I did at least really enjoy the doodles. I was adding the doodles while making dinner which meant I didn’t have the time to overthink what I was doing which was actually quite liberating (if one ignores the stress of multi-tasking). That doodle layer was, therefore, enjoyable. I do like the colour palette and think that works and I may repurpose this painting as the cover of a completed art journal.
Last week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Jenny Grant. Her style was described as ethereal yet grungy so that was the objective of the lesson, to use her approach to layering to create an outcome that was a bit grubby and messy yet aesthetically appealing. Given my history of making mud when using more than a couple of layers, it was a challenging balance to strike.
As per normal, I deviated a little from the tutorial partly through pragmatism (I do not own all the required materials) and partly through choice (so that I can make the lesson fit my own style). The colour scheme was inspired by the top I happened to be wearing at the time but pink and turquoise seems to be a palette I keep returning to anyway. I, of course, enjoyed all the opportunities for dribbling and splattering. I think the trails of ink are my favourite element of this piece. Hopefully the close up shows that I used pearlescent paint in the hair and eyes, aiming for the sheen of those areas to counterpoint the darker areas of the painting.
It is Week 51 of the Documented Life Project. The weekly prompts provided by the group have not only encouraged my experimentation with art journaling but have also given me the impetus to create at least one item of art per week. I have, therefore, decided to follow the Project into 2015 and will see where it takes me. I shall, of course, continue to share my output – the good, the bad and the ugly – on this blog. What will be fun next year is that my 7 year old son has decided to take up art journaling to and is going to respond to the prompts alongside me. He’s going to be my little creative buddy and I am sure his partnership will provide me with extra inspiration.
This week’s challenge prompt was simply “Arrows”. I personally was quite glad of such an open and vague prompt as it enabled me to produce a quick, simple page in a short space of time. Time is a rare commodity right now as there are so many festive treats and chores filling up my schedule. Perhaps because we are on the cusp of a new year, the word “arrow” automatically made me think of direction. Where will life take me next year? What will I find in my near future? What direction might my art take? What new challenges and opportunities will I face in the coming year? And perhaps because I am immersed in children’s literature or perhaps just because it really is a splendid quotation, my mind immediately settled on the lines from Dr Seuss’ book ‘Oh! The Places You’ll Go’:
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
I used watercolour to paint a warm hued background and then used metallic and dayglo gel pens to doodle in a scribbly style all over the page. I wanted to be a bit looser in my style than I usually am but my scribbles were rather too unintentional and, therefore, too ugly so I grabbed some more watercolour and dribbled it down the page in an attempt to try and subdue some of the ugliness. In vain. Where dribbles failed, perhaps splatter would succeed. I grabbed some small pots of paint and flicked and spattered strong colours onto the page. Where some of the paint accumulated in large droplets, I decided to try and create some splattery dribbles by blowing at them through a straw. Alas, the paint was too thick to move much so all that I accomplished was the creation of some rather big blobs. I then took an arrow stamp and some black ink to create a line of arrows marching up the left hand side of the page and wrote the Dr Seuss quotation in the remaining space. Once more, the “font” is merely a more controlled version of my own handwriting but I figure I should just go with that for now until time allows me to properly practice typography. I allowed key words to be emphasised by their scale on the page and by having the other words in smaller, upper case letters.
Despite its messiness, despite all its shortcomings, I am quite pleased with how this page turned out. I certainly learned that creating aesthetically pleasing splatter is more difficult than it looks.