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.

Eirene – Mixed Media Mythology

As I mentioned previously, in addition to taking the year long Life Book and Let’s Face It art courses, I was also lucky enough to win a spot on a course titled Mixed Media Mythology.  Happily this course is much briefer and is self-paced so I can fit it around my other art commitments which, in turn, have to fit around life.  The subjects of the lessons are goddesses from a variety of cultures.  As suggested by my 40 Drawings of Greek Mythology challenge and many of the monsters in my altered book project, I LOVE mythology so this course was very much my cup of tea.

The first lesson I chose to tackle was based on the Greek goddess Eirene.  The lesson was taken by Lucy Brydon and I must say it was a joy to watch video instructions delivered in a Scottish accent.  Brydon likes to incorporate monoprinting with the gelli plate into her paintings so it was great to see that in action.  I have used gelli plate prints in my mixed media work but as a collage element.  This time the printing was done as a layer of the painting.  I really loved the effect and can see me using that again in future.  I also learned a lot from Brydon’s approach to painting hair.

I actually used a recent ink drawing as the inspiration for this painting.  I wanted to challenge myself to meld my style of drawing with mixed media painting, experiment and see how it turned out.  As Eirene was the goddess of peace, my intention had been to incorporate a dove into the painting.  However, I chickened (or doved?) out of it when the time came, too concerned I would paint a goofy looking pigeon and thereby wreck the whole piece.  I, therefore, indicated the idea of peace through using pale, harmonious colours and some olive branches in her hair.

1 Eirene 1

1 Eirene 2

I like how the painting turned out except that the facial proportions went a bit Modigliani on me.  I have thought so before but I definitely need to get an easel so that my perspective in relation to the paper is more accurate.  My standing easel did not survive emigration.  I am considering a table top easel because of the way I work, in fits and starts, as that would allow me to leave it set up longer.

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 #7 – Hokusai

Hokusai was the next artist we studied in our History of Art summer project.  We looked at his woodblock prints, especially his series The Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji.  The boys and I all loved a number of the prints but were all drawn to The Great Wave off Kanagawa and declared it to be our favourite.  We then discussed why that particular print is not only Hokusai’s most celebrated work but also why it has become so iconic.  We personally liked the fact that the print is almost monochrome and that the curving shapes of the waves lead the eye through the image while also framing Mount Fuji.  I also like the fact that the wave dominates the image while the tiny figures, clinging to their boats, are almost lost in the composition, suggesting the power of nature versus the powerlessness of humanity.  Unsurprisingly, we all chose to create version of the Great Wave in the creative part of the lesson.

You will have noted that it is either Minecraft or penguins with my oldest son so I was not in the least bit surprised when he decided to depict penguins in his drawing.  The penguins are surfing and the sun has become some sort of monster.  He did manage to include Mount Fuji in his drawing.  He had noted Hokusai’s calligraphy in a box within the print so he researched how to write “penguin” in Japanese characters and added that to his drawing.  At least, he tells me it says “penguin”.

7 Hokusai - AB

My 8 year old also went with the surfing idea.  I think the figures are either superheroes or ninjas but one is riding a surfboard and one is riding a sea serpent.  I like the fact he has turned Mount Fuji into a character.

7 Hokusai - ET

My 9 year old went a bit mythological with his drawing.  He depicted Neptune commanding the waves so that a figure in the foreground can surf.

7 Hokusai - OA

My 6 year old and I decided to do something a bit different and got out the gelli plate so we could produce some prints.  We used paper to create our own wave shaped masks and stencils with mixed results: they worked very effectively at first but soon ripped when they became soggy with paint.  My 6 year old achieved some really lovely textures with his print and some pleasing sweeping curves with his wave shapes.

7 Hokusai - AR

My youngest son’s gelli plate print was actually far more effective than mine.  My composition was not as effective and, while I had some areas of lovely texture, there was not enough definition between areas of colour.  I decided, therefore, to embellish my print.  Oddly this is not something I had done with gelli prints before.  I normally use the gelli plate to produce papers for collaging with rather than to produce compositions.  I used various shades of blue and white acrylic paint to make the wave shapes more distinctive.  I love using dots in my art work so I used different sizes of dots to create a visual echo of surf and white horses capping the waves.  I used a metallic blue paint for the dots which, along with a pearlescent blue used in the gelli print, created a nice shimmer to the finished piece.

7 Hokusai - Gelli Print - Laura - Full

7 Hokusai - Gelli Print - Laura - Detail

If you would like to see my Great Wave inspired Crazy Bunny over on my art blog, please click here.

Cupcake – A lot on my plate

This week’s Documented Life Project prompts were to use a gelli plate and the phrase “a lot on my plate”.  As much as it would have been fun to try something new or experimental with my gelli plate in response to the prompts, I had to be a realist and I knew that this week I did not have time for playing around with my gelli plate.  I, therefore, decided to use gelli prints I already have.  I mainly use the gelli plate to create papers for collaging so I have a bunch of them all filed away in my colour-coded filing system.  That was what I pillaged for this week’s challenge.  It was then just a case of waiting for inspiration as to what to do with all the papers.

The phrase “a lot on my plate” has mainly negative connotations.  It conjures up feelings of being overwhelmed, exhausted, harassed and stressed.  I know a lot of people do use their art journals as a means of processing negative emotions but I like to mess around in mine in order to have fun.  I did not, therefore, want to document anything regarding the hectic chaos of my life.  So I changed the focus of my thinking from “lot” to “plate”.  Food was the route into an idea.  And then I had a lunch of scones, clotted cream and jam with a friend and I decided that my subject for my DLP page would be sweet-toothed indulgence.

A scone with clotted cream and jam and an accompanying pot of tea was going to be too time-consuming to collage – I had about 20 minutes in which to create this page as I was constructing it while cooking dinner – so I decided to create a large cupcake instead.  I plucked a few gelli print plates from my file box and freehand cut the shapes I needed.  I glued them together as I went and then glued the whole thing onto the journal page.  I finished off by writing the prompt phrase across the page to eradicate some of the white space.

Week 16 - Gelli Plate & A Lot on my Plate