Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was to use black. I know a lot of artists who avoid black, including some who think black should never form part of an artist’s palette, but I am not one of them. You may have noted that I use black a lot. In fact, I have no doubt that black and grey probably feature more in my artwork than any other colours (and, yes, I know black isn’t technically a colour but whatever). I like to use it along with a pop of colour. It’s kind of one of my jams. I am quite comfortable working in monochrome. It may be partly laziness and partly down to limitations of time but I like working with a very limited palette. All of which is to say that for me to use black was not much of a challenge really. My challenge, therefore, was to create visual interest and texture while only using black and grey. I used the Ecoline liquid watercolour used in my previous art journal page for the background. Once I added the black, I realised what a warm grey it is but I opted to use it because I liked the way it pooled to create blossoms and blooms for a bit of soft visual texture. To create the visual texture on the figure’s clothing, I did the old sprinkle salt onto wet watercolour trick. I went entirely overboard with the salt, however, as I was rushing to get out the door to my youngest son’s Open House night at school. Better than ingesting that quantity of salt I suppose but it was definitely too much. No time to even attempt to rectify my action, of course, so I let it be. It definitely resulted in visual texture, that’s for sure.
Happy New Year!
My final Art Journal Adventure prompt for 2017 was “Endings and Beginnings”, obviously an apt subject for the turn of the year. This year there will be no page in my art journal that sets an inspirational, aspirational or encouraging word to focus on, no listing of goals, nothing like that. I have never been one for setting resolutions but I have previously fallen prey to setting myself goals. I am increasingly failing to achieve (m)any of the goals I set for myself. Apart from participating in and completing a set of drawings for Inktober, I achieved not a single one of my goals for 2017. Not. A. One. In fact, I still have a goal for 2016 that I did not complete in either that year or last year. So my sole goal for this year is to not set myself up for failure.
Therefore, my turn of the year art journal page is neither about reflecting on the year past or looking ahead to what 2018 might have in store for me. Instead, I chose to focus on the theme of beginnings and endings, of cycles of time, of opposites, of cusps, alpha and omega. This is what I came up with: two figures in a composition that has echoes of yin and yang without the required geometric precision. Once the figures were dry, I decided to unify them in some way and plumped for writing. I defaulted to my own handwriting, albeit a little higgledy-piggledy, for the phrase “Alpha & Omega” but I think my own handwriting works effectively enough in this piece.
Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “puzzled’. It took me the entire week to find time to sit down with my art journal as all my free art time has been spent on Inktober and my contribution to the Brooklyn Art Library Sketchbook project (which you can see on my other blog). By that time, however, my creative cogs had been turning for long enough for me to have arrived at an idea. I decided that I would create a self-portrait because sometimes I am a puzzle to myself and, like a jigsaw puzzle, I am made up of many different pieces. Taking that idea further, I decided that my substrate should be a collaged layer of pieces of paper. And taking that idea further still, I thought it might be fun to break my face down into elements of shapes and forms rather like a Picasso portrait. I remember as a child that the thing I found most engaging about Picasso’s art was the way that my eye could take in all of the information and my brain would then reconfigure everything so that I could understand what I was seeing, what was being portrayed. It was like resolving a visual puzzle.
Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was the last in the series provided by my friend Jana. Her prompt was “changing seasons” but her tutorial also focused on demonstrating eco-dyeing. I was inspired by both. Unfortunately, it was one of those overwhelming weeks – a pretty stressful one actually – where I had very little time for art. I, therefore, recognised that my ability to dye papers within that week was going to be pretty limited. I have wanted to try eco-dyeing since I saw a blog post by Claudia McGill all about making parcels of materials that would leech colour into paper over time. Jana demonstrated a sped-up process that produced similar results. I am definitely going to give it a go. I just need to have a chunk of time in which to gather my materials. So, in the mean time, I resorted to dyeing book pages – some of which were already a little foxed – using tea, coffee, and steeped onion skins.
I had a page in my art journal that I did not know what to do with. It was the reverse of the page that I had handstitched so it was full of ugly, messy knots and stitches. I decided it could form the basis of a textural background for this page. I scraped gesso across the page roughly so as to somewhat embed and fix the thread of the stitches and I kept the gesso rough and splotchy so as to add more literal and visual texture. I then scraped across some light brown paint to create a neutral tone in the background, especially given that the “changing seasons” prompt was making me think of the colours of Autumn – and man am I looking forward to Autumn. Thinking of the glow of Autumn light, I scraped some bronze paint across the page and spattered gold paint at the top and bottom. All that remained was to decide how to incorporate the eco-dyed paper into the page. I decided upon circular, hoop shapes because I was thinking about the cyclical nature of the seasons. I cut some in different sizes from the dyed papers and adhered them to the page. Part of me thinks the page needs something more but I was out of time and out of ideas so, therefore, for now at least I consider this art journal page done.
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 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.