Last week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Connie Solera. It was a bit too “art as therapy” for my personal taste but I was inspired by the imagery of the painting Solera demonstrated and decided to create my own twist on the idea, moulding the lesson to fit my own style. There are many layers in this mixed media painting, more layers than I typically work with, but I enjoyed switching between the chaotic looseness of the background and the more tight illustration of the female figure curled up inside a pod shape in the centre, even if it probably makes the piece visually unbalanced.
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’s Life Book lesson was one I really struggled with. I had never taken a lesson with Lindsay Weirich so it was great to see a different approach to art demonstrated. The lesson involved using pearly paint and gouache. I have a little of the former but none of the latter so I improvised and used other media. Stenciling was involved and I suck at stencilling but I decided to force myself to not skip that stage. It started well enough with a pleasing blend of blue, pink, and yellow pearl paint; but then it entered an ugly phase and – when I tried to rescue it – into an even uglier phase until it looked like sparkling sewage. It took layer after layer of paint and more time and effort than I actually had available to try and eliminate the glittery poop stage and haul it screaming and kicking back into something half decent. Then, frankly, I was all out of time and all out of willingness to invest in this one piece. Time to stop flogging the dead horse and move on to new and less poopy pastures.
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.
This month’s Life Book theme of Growth has meant lots of flower paintings. I am not remotely competent at drawing flowers let alone painting them. While this means I should probably just challenge myself to practice them, I don’t have time for all of the things I want to draw and paint so I just steer clear of the subjects that don’t particularly engage or inspire me creatively. Recognising, however, that I have now skipped a few Life Book lessons, I decided to push myself to completing last week’s lesson.
It was taken by Roben-Marie Smith and was all about creating an abstract flower painting through layering collage and paint. When I started experimenting with mixed media, layering was something I really struggled with. I made a lot of mud, a lot of mess, and found it difficult to make everything cohere into one complete piece. In recent months, however, I have found myself actually quite enjoying layering and especially if what I am aiming to achieve is a more grungy and abstract look. I, therefore, did not struggle with the layering aspect of this piece but again the flower element defeated me. I honestly think my 7 year old son could have done a better job of painting these flowers. Sure, I was aiming for an abstract, non-realistic flower look but these bright blooms just look daft. Well the lesson was worth doing if only to reinforce that I am getting better at layering and that flowers are still very much not within my wheelhouse.
Having decided to pick out two lessons to “catch up” on missed art lessons, the second one I picked was another Life Book lesson. I wanted to tackle this one as the layering and creation of texture would present me with challenge and, therefore, learning opportunities but the inclusion of figures meant it was a subject (unlike florals) that automatically appealed to me.
The lesson was by Gillian Lee Smith and I really enjoyed her approach to building up layers and balancing out dark and light elements throughout that process. Once I got the background to a level of grunginess I was happy with – and I used shades of brown for a sort of vintage, sepia feel – it was time to work on the figures. I did not have the materials required for the method Smith demonstrated so I had to improvise. I also decided not to incorporate more than one figure and just focus on one face. I think it was the whole sepia tone thing as it made me think of a carte de visite photographic portrait. I really enjoyed the process of pulling the figure out from the background through use of light and shadow, white paint and black ink. I am not overly keen on the outcome – she looks a bit spectral to me, like something you might find hanging on the wall of a haunted house – but I really did like the process and felt I learned quite a bit from it. Something to return to in future and try again.
This week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Renata Loree. I loved that it was a lesson about layering with watercolour because watercolour and ink are my artistic comfort zones but layering with several layers is not. I, therefore, felt like this was a good opportunity for making some progress with that aspect of my art work.
The concept behind the lesson, as I understood it, was to depict a figure with an integrated mandala representing energy and light radiating outwards. I did not even attempt a mandala because, as I have proved, they are not really within my wheelhouse. I, therefore, drew concentric rings so that visually I could aim for a similar concept of radiating or spiralling outwards. It is not clear in the photo but there is silver paint in the centre of the circle and its very perimeter. I really enjoyed the layering process and it was all going well right up until the point where I added neutral colours for the skin and hair tones. That was when it all went a bit muddy and murky. I should have stuck with it all being in cool colours. The additional challenge of the lesson was to draw a face tilting upwards. I ended up with a face that just looked squished and weird. Fail. Bizarrely, I thought the hand was going to give me the most trouble but it ended up being my favourite part of the piece. Lessons learned aplenty.