Frida Kahlo Portrait

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.

35 - Frida Kahlo

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.

 

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Dark and Light

Last week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Andrea Gomoll and was all about painting a figure who was caught between an area of darkness and an area of light.  The medium was primarily watercolour, which I always enjoy working with.  I decided to place my figure in the centre of the paper with her hair flowing upwards to create a clear dividing line between the dark area and the light area.  I enjoyed letting the paint in those background areas bleed into one another and create blooms.  I built the flesh tones up gradually, using a neutral palette first and then layering the stronger colours on top, dividing the face between the cool blues of the dark side and the warm yellows and pinks of the light side.  I possibly should have gone more dramatic with the shading and lighting on the face.  I grounded the piece by painting black into the torso area of the figure and then tried to make the background and the figure cohere by adding spatter in white and black watercolour.

31 Dark and Light

From the Ashes

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.

28 From the Ashes

Colourful Picasso Drawing

I am back from vacation (more of which soon!) and am trying to catch up on some of the art lessons and art time I missed out on while travelling.  It is impossible for me to catch up entirely so I have determined I will do 50% of the missed lessons and journal prompts.  That way it forces me to eke out some art time during this busy summer while not putting me under pressure.

I chose this Life Book lesson because it looked like I could easily fit it into a small chunk of time.  I did it in three stages – gesso, drawing, painting – but in total it probably took me about half an hour.  In the lesson, Misty Mawn used Picasso’s line drawing of a female head, part of his War and Peace series.  Normally I would do my own thing but a) I have always loved this Picasso drawing and b) I needed to just crack on with the art so this time I decided to use the same drawing as my starting point.  The drawing – done with Neocolor II crayons –  was quick to do.  The final stage was also quick and easy as I simply filled in the shapes with white paint, blending the crayon.  I usually use Neocolor as a layering element in mixed media pieces or as a sort of watercolour so it was new to me to use them to tint white paint.  I think I will use that technique again.

26 Picasso Sketch 1

26 Picasso Sketch 2

Blue Warrior Woman

Last week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Amber Kuileimailani Bonnici and the idea was to work intuitively to paint a warrior figure, a trope of self-empowerment.  In the past six to twelve months I have gradually come to understand and accept about myself that I just don’t get great outcomes when I work intuitively.  The battle between my head and any gut feeling, between intellect and instinct I suppose, is just too great to be cooperative when I am in creative mode.  Perhaps it goes hand in hand with my style being definitely more illustrative than painterly.  I may continue to experiment with working intuitively when creating random backgrounds or attempting something more abstract but otherwise I have decided that I am going to largely opt out of working intuitively.  I figure there is no point in pursuing something that just isn’t working for me given how sparse my free time for art is.

When it came to last week’s Life Book lesson, therefore, I decided to adopt the central themes and ideas of the tutorial without adopting the same approach as Bonnici demonstrated.  For that reason, I chose to work with colours that instinctively appealed to me.  I have been crushing on turquoise combined with red a lot lately so I decided those would be my dominant colours and I figured the blue skin tones might also be a nod to the woad of a Pictish warrior.  She ended up a bit expressionless or at least set-jawed and stern but I am going to pretend that suits her as a strong warrior type rather than my inability to paint any sort of personality.  One of my sons asked if I was inspired by the movie ‘Avatar’ and another labelled her an “angry smurf” both of which comparisons made me chortle.  Not my best work but not my worst either and at least I am catching up on my weekly lessons after last week’s complete and utter lack of art time.

18 Warrior Woman

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

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