I have not been doing a great job of keeping up with Life Book lessons and, as such, my mixed media skills are getting a tad rusty. A quieter weekend than usual afforded me the opportunity to tackle the most recent lesson. I took the concept of that lesson and put my own spin on it. I have been doing a lot of drawing lately – for my extended Inktober and the Brooklyn Art Library Sketchbook Project – so the drawing that underpinned this piece was actually really strong. I am, therefore, frustrated that I completely lost the quality of that drawing as I layered media on top of it. It proves the point, however, that I have allowed that particular skill set to rust up. Still, as disappointing as the outcome is to me, I enjoyed spending a decent ration of time sitting at my art table this weekend.
I have not found time to tackle a Life Book lesson in a good few weeks now. I decided, therefore, to break my drought with a lesson by Wendy Brightbill that involved creating an abstract piece using liquid media and mark making. I am happy that I took time out of my massively busy life to work on this lesson as I did enjoy the process. I have been heavily involved in illustrations for months now, including my contribution to the Brooklyn Art Library Sketchbook Project and Inktober, so it was a nice break and pretty liberating to do something completely different, just sploshing watercolour around without a great deal of thought. I have to state, however, that I don’t especially like the finished outcome. Hate is too strong a word but it really is not a piece I want to look at again. This piece was definitely about the journey rather than the destination.
I have had an exhausting week, physically and mentally. Being crazily busy is my norm but this week has been beyond the norm. I almost fell asleep on the sofa one afternoon. Whenever everyday life gets a bit overwhelming, I know I have to try and scratch out some art time as a way to find balance and decompress. That is why I decided to tackle this week’s Life Book lesson. This week’s lesson was taken by Annie Hamman. I have viewed and responded to a few art lessons taken by Hamman by this stage in my exploration of mixed media and I decided some time ago that her style of painting, her technique, was not something that was going to work for me. I want to hone and develop my own style of art, after all, so pushing myself to try a mode of painting that prevents me from achieving that goal makes no sense. I, therefore, pick and choose elements from the lesson that I can utilise for pushing my own creativity while ignoring the aspects like layering paint with a palette knife.
When I thought of a figure who was serene and peaceful, I thought of one whose arms were crossed because she was not busy doing something. Hands at rest. In my busy week, idle hands would definitely be a luxury. The female figure I painted ended up looking a bit huffy because of the pose but that doesn’t matter to me because I know what made me choose that position for the hands. I tried to keep the colour palette light and pale to suggest calm. The finished piece makes me think of my Twilight Garden painting from last year. I take that as a good sign that I am developing my own style – or at least one of many of my styles.
While my art time is limited, I am still beavering away with my Brooklyn Art Library Sketchbook project, approaching the half-way mark. You can see what I am up to on my other blog and on Instagram.
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.
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.