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.

House on the Green Hill

The Art Journal Adventure prompt for last week was to use horizontal and vertical elements.  Perhaps it was because I had recently been reading Dylan Thomas’ poem ‘Fern Hill’ to my 11 year old son but the idea of horizontal and vertical lines automatically made me think of fields in a verdant green landscape and a little house nestled beneath a hill.  The idea seemed simple enough but it literally took me a full week to take the page from inception to completion.  Each colour of acrylic in the patchwork landscape represents a quick burst of art action in my daily schedule.  Worked on in such short bursts here and there throughout the week, it took an awfully long time for the page to fill with colour.  Thankfully, once all the painting was done and dry, the finishing touches were completed quickly.  That was just the case of doodling with paint pens while watching the news and drinking a cup of tea one morning.  It was those little details that pulled the page together and made it a coherent, stitched together quilt of a landscape rather than a chaotic mish-mash.

13 Green Hill Landscape

Rib Cage

Knowing me as you do, you may not be surprised to see the direction I took this week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt.  The prompt was “Opening” which could be used in either a literal or metaphorical way or both.  I immediately visualised a rib cage opening to reveal a heart.

I used Dylusions black marble paint to coat my page because it creates a really rich black with a lovely smooth finish which is perfect for drawing on with paint pens.  The approach I took was the exact same as the one I used to create the Lady Death page in my other current art journal but this time I kept it the doodles much simpler because I wanted to get the whole thing done and dusted within one week’s rations of art time.  I think it goes without saying that I did not use any references when illustrating the skeleton.  Anatomical accuracy was not remotely going to happen.  The rib cage I drew – however short of a few ribs – opens like window shutters to reveal the interior of the body.  I knew I wanted to include the heart as a reference to the idea of opening up to someone, thus connecting the literal and metaphorical possibilities of the prompt.  Having drawn the heart into the centre of the opening, however, I decided that there was too much empty space.  I, therefore, added a pair of lungs.  I repeated the pink and red colours elsewhere in the drawing of the skeleton to make the interior and exterior visually coherent.

I had a lot of fun creating this journal page and hope you find it fun to look at.

11a Open Ribs to Heart

11b Open Ribs to Heart

Shark Reverse Silhouette

This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was to incorporate a silhouette as part of the art journal page.  Some weeks I read a prompt and have no ideas and some weeks I read a prompt and am overwhelmed by too many ideas at once.  This was an example of the latter.  There were so many ways I could have taken the idea of a silhouette.

I had a page already underway in my art journal that was going nowhere in particular but where I had plonked a wine label slap bad in the middle.  I had actually intended to glue the wine label into my rainbow themed art journal but I guess I was rushing and it was late at night so it ended up in my regular art journal.  There were also some scraps of text paper already adhered to the page, leftovers from some other project.  I decided that should be the background of my silhouette page.  But then I realised that the wine label would likely end up completely covered up.  That was when I decided I would create a reverse silhouette with the surrounding area being black and the chosen shape emerging in negative rather than positive.

Something you may not know about me is that I love sharks (and whales).  It has been a lifelong thing.  I would actually dearly love to dive with sharks but its the claustrophobia of scuba gear underwater that deters me.  Despite the fact – or maybe because – I doodle sharks frequently, a shark has only put in one solitary, rogue shark appearance in my art journal.  It was a messy collage of torn paper that resulted in a rather dorky looking shark.  After adding a light paint layer over the collage, therefore, it was just a case of quickly drawing out a shark silhouette shape and then painting black into the negative space.  Quick and easy.

10 Shark Reverse Silhouette

Lady Liberty Weeps

***NOTE: This blog post is about my art work.  This is not a political post and I am not inviting political discussion.  You are, of course, entitled to hold different political opinions from me and I respect that.  I, therefore, ask that any comments left on this post are similarly respectful and civil.  Any nastiness will be deleted.***

 

This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “Travel”.  Normally my imagination would be sparking and fizzing with ideas about dream destinations and bucket list travel plans or else memories of wonderful travels from times past.  However, the prompt happened to be revealed on the exact same day that President Trump issued his revised Travel Ban.  As such, my creative impulses took me in an entirely different direction.  As an immigrant, legal permanent resident in America, I felt compelled to follow that impulse.  The result is a depiction of Lady Liberty weeping.  I drew the face rapidly using black acrylic paint (having roughly mapped out only the proportions) and, once that was dried, I added some Dylusions spray ink in teal and turquoise to suggest verdigris and add some additional visual texture.

9 Lady Liberty Weeps

Colourful Hands – Art Journal Page

As a family, we Picts are usually in rude health.  We rarely get sick and until this year one of my sons had never had a day off school ever.  This Winter, however, has been a relentless battle against germs.  While Mr Pict and I have escaped the various plagues, our four boys have been felled by one thing after another.  My preschool students have also been dropping like flies.  The whole community apparently needs to be disinfected.  This week, my youngest son came down with a vomiting bug for the second time in six weeks.  The only slight silver lining to having to take time off work for nurse duties is that, between looking after the little chap and bleaching and boil washing, I could grab some time to play around in my art journal.

This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was to transform the edges of the page by shaping them.  I was glad of this prompt as it represented a nudge to try something new.  I usually operate pretty strictly within the boundaries of the page, neither extending it with a tip-in or subtracting from it by removing areas.  I sat at my art table, struggling for inspiration, and saw the shape of my hands on the blank page.  I decided that my hands should be the shape I created.  I simply drew around my hands and cut out the shape.  I painted both sides of the hands with black acrylic.  Once that was dry, I used my Dylusions paints to add dots all over the hand shapes.  I like those paints for the vivid colours and for the thick texture so they worked perfectly for this particular job.  Now I just need to figure out what, if anything, to do with the reverse side of the hands.

8a Hands - Shaped Page

8b Hands - Shaped Page.jpg

Pink and Purple Abstract

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.

5 Layered Abstract in Pink and Purple