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.
Last week’s prompt for the Art Journal Adventure was to incorporate a list. I am a big list maker. It helps me process things mentally as well as being an organisational tool. I always have several lists on the go at once. Most are traditional paper-based lists but I also maintain some as computer files. I sometimes get a bit control freaky about my lists. I am one of those people who writes their shopping list according to the different sections of the supermarket – nothing freaky about that obviously since it is just common sense efficiency – but if I accidentally write an item in the wrong area of the list or if I don’t have enough space to neatly add an item into the correct area or if I just make some other sort of error, the handwriting equivalent of a typo, then I have to write my shopping list out again until I have a “fair copy”. I have sometimes written a shopping list out five times just to get it perfect.
I could have used the evolution of a weekly shopping list as the basis of my art journal page but I am not sure how visually interesting that would have been. Instead, because I am still focused on travel – since we just got back from our road trip and since my kids are going off, in pairs, on vacation with their grandparents – that was the subject my mind drifted towards. I decided, therefore, to record a list of the US states I have yet to visit. It is very much on my bucket list to visit all 50 states. Mr Pict is actually only missing three (North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Alaska, since you didn’t ask) and maybe for that reason he doesn’t quite get why I am obsessively intent on “collecting” more states. Upsettingly, before I undertook this journal page, I thought that as of last year’s road trip I had been to 31 states. However, when I added up the number of unvisited states on the completed page, I had twenty. What? That couldn’t be. I thought I had been on 25 states prior to last year’s road trip where I then added six more but it transpired my base calculation was incorrect. A previous art journal page had led me to think I was on the half-way mark back then. Nope. I had included New Hampshire which I actually have no claim on. As I have explained before, in order to claim a state I have to have done two of three things within its borders: pee, eat, sleep. Although I have been in New Hampshire, I did not do two of those three things. I, therefore, cannot claim it and am reduced to just 30 states visited with 20 left to go. This art journal page is, therefore, a sort of check list I can return to after future travels around America.
Now I need to devise another road trip that has a route through as many of these states as possible.
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.
This week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Tracy Verdugo and involved creating a self-portrait. Verdugo actually demonstrated three different approaches to painting a loose self-portrait and each looked interesting and like something I would like to try (though maybe not using my own face over and over). She also based her paintings on selfies she had edited using various apps. I don’t have any photo editing apps on my phone and did not have time to download and experiment with them so I just used an unedited selfie as the basis of my painting.
I did start out very loose, using ink to block in certain shapes and areas before dropping very liquid watercolour into the painting, but somewhere along the line things ended up getting very illustrative and tight again. No matter what I do, I always seem to get “locked in” when painting even when I am trying my hardest to stay loose – such as, for instance, using large brushes as I did with his piece. It is also not a strong likeness and I guess that is OK because I am not a portraitist but it is still a bit ridiculous that I don’t know my own face well enough to capture it more accurately. In this self-portrait, I think what particularly went wrong is that I reduced the area of my forehead (which is so big I call it a fivehead) and I slimmed down my cheeks. Maybe I was subconsciously flattering myself.