This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was provided by my friend Jana. Jana has a way of creating wonderfully curated collages with mixed media elements and lots of visual texture. She produced one such piece as her exemplar for her guest blog post. I aspire to put together collages as wonderful as the ones Jana produces but I am not there yet. I don’t have a collection of ephemera to riffle through either, just random papers. I, therefore, decided to use Jana’s page as jumping-off inspiration rather than strictly adhering to the prompt.
I did technically start the page with a collage but it was just a case of roughly adhering some book page scraps to the journal page and then knocking the whole thing back with a layer of white acrylic. I loved the colour scheme in Jana’s collage so I too opted for a palette that was monochromatic and neutral with a pop of red. What I was really taken with was the use of stitching as a mark-making tool. I am not someone who has much skill or ability with fabric arts or textiles and my sewing skills are limited to hand-sewing and are very basic. I, therefore, would not normally think to add stitches to my art journal pages but that was precisely why I wanted to do so in response to this prompt. I really enjoyed it as a different way to add marks to the illustration and what it contributed in terms of a different visual texture.
The only upside to my husband working out of town all week is that it freed up my evenings for some art time which meant that for the first time in what feels like ages I actually managed to complete two art lessons, one for each of the year long courses I am enrolled in. The Let’s Face It lesson was taken by Annie Hamman and was about painting a figure with hands in addition to painting the face. Hamman’s approach to painting is very, well, painterly. It’s fascinating to watch the way she builds up and refines that layers of paint so that precise features gradually emerge. I, however, am not remotely painterly in the way I handle paint. Despite having had regular practice since I first started exploring mixed media, I still have super limited skills when it comes to handling, manipulating and applying acrylic paint. Try as I might, therefore, I just could not refine the paint layers adequately enough so I diverged from the lesson (having already skipped a collage layer to save time) in order to use some other media to add the detail to the face and fingers. Looking for the positives, I am fairly pleased with how the hands turned out in this painting. I think the scale and angles read as correct. I took the photo of the finished painting with my phone rather than my DSLR so in reality the flesh tones are a bit warmer and the disc behind the head is metallic blue. My 11 year old commented that she looked like a female version of Jack Frost so I decided to go with that interpretation and title this piece Frost.
It has taken me almost two weeks to complete this Let’s Face It lesson but I’ve done it. It took me almost a week just to find time to watch the lesson video and then, despite skipping some steps of the process demonstrated, it took me a further week to get the piece completed. The lesson was taken by Deanna Strachan-Wilson and was about creating a simplified form of a female figure in a layered piece. One of the corners I cut was in not drawing a figure based on a photograph and instead drawing from my imagination. As such, my proportions are not realistic and I very much simplified the profile of the face plus I added a wing to balance out the composition. I actually preferred my piece before I added gesso to the figure but I wanted to try and stay true to the methods of the lesson where I could since I had jettisoned other steps. I do, however, like the warm, grungy sepia, vintage tones of the piece and especially the washes of bronze and the spatters of gold.
By taking short cuts, I actually managed to find time for two art lessons from last week. It also helped that my kids had friends over to play so they were occupied and I could find a chunk of time in which to sit at my kitchen table and get arty and make a start on this piece.
Last week’s Let’s Face It lesson was taken by Kara Bullock and was more practice in drawing the face along with hands. It also involved using white gesso to paint the face and hands in greyscale. That was not something I had done before and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Perhaps that was because it almost felt like drawing with gesso rather than treating the gesso like paint. I do also really like creating pieces that are monochromatic or have very limited palettes so I added very little in the way of colour to the areas of flesh in the figure and face and I kept the background grungy and neutral. The background that Bullock demonstrated in the tutorial was really very different from the one I ended up with but it was the creation of the background that was my major shortcut for this piece so I had to try something new. Her background had been pretty textural and grungy, however, so I tried to generate that same sort of feeling but in a different way. By way of contrast to all the texture and grunge, however, I added a disc of bronze paint behind the figure. I do love to add discs and halos surrounding the figures in my art work. I don’t know why. I just go with it.
Apparently this week is the last that will focus on profiles in the Let’s Face It course. Phew. Profiles have definitely not been easy. A face in profile has a strong outline but getting the proportions right is something I seem to find very tricky indeed. I do think, however, that concentrating on profiles over the last few weeks has taken my abilities a step forward and I think this week’s painting is my best profile so far.
The lesson was taken by Kara Bullock and – as with her previous lesson that led me to create Girl in Grey and Gold – the idea was to paint all the tonal values in monochrome and then add a splash of a single vivid colour. The work of art that formed the basis of Bullock’s tutorial involved painting butterflies but I knew I would find that to be a struggle. Painting aesthetically pleasing butterflies and flowers in acrylic is probably a stretch for me right now. My solution, therefore, to make the colour element in the composition work was to create a diadem of red leaves. The leaves still are not great but I am pretty confident they are better than either flowers or butterflies would have been.
This might be my last profile for this particular course but I am going to continue to practice them. Over on my Pict Ink blog, I have embarked on a project to draw 100 ink and watercolour illustrations of faces – coincidentally also all a balance of monochrome with splashes of colour. My objective is to build my skills with constructing a wider variety of faces and to improve my ability to draw expressive faces.
I have a clown phobia. It is part of a more generalised phobia of circuses but, while it is possible I would be able to just about tolerate a circus, there is no way whatsoever that I would be able to tolerate a clown. It doesn’t have to be a creepy clown or a miserable clown. It can be a jovial clown one would happily hire to entertain a group of kids and I would still be a wreck. I think a lot of people who suffer from coulrophobia (the official term for a clown phobia) were triggered by some exposure to horror movie clowns, maybe on the cover of a video or a poster. I, however, have had my clown and circus phobia from prior to ever seeing such a thing. While I cannot say for sure, I think it was one specific trip to a circus that was the kernel for my fear.
I was probably about five and visiting my grandparents in Aberdeen and my parents took us kids to a circus that had set up near the beach – a beach my Dad was always phobic of because of childhood tales of white slavers pinching kids from the shore and which I always hated because it was always freezing when we went. But I digress. The circus was awful. It was cheap and nasty and stank. I have a strong smell memory of the reek of damp straw, the tangy ammonia of pee, and of animal faeces. The smell of damp straw still makes me gag a little as a result. The quality of the show was abysmal. Each performer was playing multiple roles inside and outside of the show ring so, for example, the woman who was the dog trainer was also the lead acrobat and the assistant for knife throwing and had also sold us the tickets at the door. Jack of all trades and absolutely master of none. It was slipshod and ramshackle and woefully amateur. One of the things I remember about the same small troupe performing all the roles was that they would rush to change costumes as if that would stop us from spotting that they were understaffed. And the reason I remember that is because the men who were the clowns were in costumes and make-up that was disturbingly haphazard and ragged. It was the face paint that got me. It was all splatter and smears. It was entirely disturbing. I am actually feeling a bit queasy just conjuring it up in my mind’s eye in order to describe it. It freaked me out. I wanted to leave immediately that they appeared. I had entirely reached my limit for tolerating the circus. The freakily faced clowns pushed me over my threshold. But for whatever reason, we stuck it out. My clown and circus phobia was born.
All of which preamble is to explain that this week’s Let’s Face It lesson got right under my skin because, upon opening the email, I was faced with a painting of a female clown. Nope. No way. There was just no way I was going to paint a clown, even a pretty one with very minimal make-up, just a red nose and painted cheeks. Absolutely no way. I watched the video by this week’s tutor Olga Furman up to a point and, when I felt she was getting into clown detail territory, I had to quit watching. I know it is illogical, entirely silly and immature even, but that is what makes it a phobia, right? So once again I improvised. The essential elements of the lesson were to paint the portrait in greyscale and then add a small smattering of colour to the face and to have the monochrome elements stand out against a bright background and clothing details.
I did not do very well with this lesson. Mostly it was because I was in a rush (again!) because with my kids with me 24/7 now my art time has been reduced, and I also knew I had to get the piece finished in one sitting as I had to tidy away my art area to make room for guests who are visiting this weekend, but partly I think I just wasn’t “into” the lesson because I kept thinking about ruddy clowns. Fingers crossed for no more art lessons involving clowns then.
This week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Pam Carriker and revolved around a selfie. Now I do draw self-portraits from time to time because I am an available and compliant model but I am really not my favourite subject. There is nothing interesting or inspirational about my face. I have no compelling bone structure. In fact, my face looks like it was hewn from a potato. Which is OK because I have intelligence, wit and charisma on my side. Ha ha! For this exercise, I chose to avoid the complications of painting glasses so I used a selfie sans spectacles which confirmed to me that I actually look better when I wear glasses as it gives my face more proportion and interest. So, yes, selfies are not my favourite subject but I appreciate they make for a good exercise.
The print of the selfie was transferred to the paper using a simple but effective technique which ensured the proportions of the face were accurate. This proved to be interesting as my husband and three of my sons all remarked, when looking at the finished piece, that my cheeks are chubbier in real life. The approach to the painting was grungy which I enjoyed immensely. Lots of dribble and mess and scrunging the paint around. I also liked that it was largely monochromatic with just a little pop of colour here and there. I chose purple because it is my favourite colour. I would say that the finished piece resembles me but is not a strong likeness. In that regard, it makes me think of those drawings of suspects created from eye witness statements: it is close enough to identify it as me but things are awry enough for it to be not quite right.