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.
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.
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.
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 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.
There were two lessons last week for Life Book, one taken by Whitney Freya and one by Samie Harding. There was absolutely no way I was going to find time to tackle two different lessons. I thought I would choose to work on the one that appealed most to me but, in actual fact, neither really chimed with me enough to stand out. One was abstract and one was very “art therapy” in its approach and neither of those things really inspires my creativity. I almost decided not to work on Life Book for the second week in a row but then I had an idea: I could combine the lessons. I could use some of the approaches from the abstract lesson to create a background and could use the concept of a totem animal from the other lesson as a jumping off point for the subject matter. Of course, being me, I had to put my own twist on things and – as such – I turned my bear into a silhouette contain a skeleton. You wouldn’t know it to look at it, but I did have a quick google to have a photo reference for the bear’s skull. I actually had a lot of fun creating this painting so I am glad I found the mojo and the time to actually work on Life Book after all.
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.
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.