I participate in a Secret Santa holiday gift exchange with a group of friends. I gathered together a collection of gifts for my assigned friend with ease, as she is very easy to shop for, but I realised that I did not have an appropriate greetings card to send. A couple of years ago, we decided to stop sending holiday cards. We wanted to reduce our carbon footprint and more meaningfully invest the money that would have been spent on cards and postage (and international postage is expensive). We, therefore, donate the money to a charity every year instead. I wanted to send some kind of card or letter to my gift recipient, however, so I decided I would deploy my art skills to create a card. The time between being assigned a friend’s name and having to send the parcel was very tight so I decided to keep things simple with a quick mixed media painting. I have been transforming my preschool students into Elves so that gave me my inspiration: I decided to create a portrait of my friend as a festive Elf. Her favourite colours are red and hot pink and her eyes are green so that gave me a (coincidentally festive) colour palette to work with. I am not a portraitist but I actually managed to create a good likeness of my friend. She should be able to recognise herself. I hope it makes her giggle when she opens the parcel and finds this personalised greeting inside.
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.
This week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Misty Mawn. Misty Mawn is a mixed media artist I had heard a lot about so it was fun to experience a lesson with her and learn what her approach to art is. Hers is a much looser, much more painterly, much more intuitive style than I know I am capable of so the lesson really dragged me out of my comfort zone.
This is one of those pieces I regret not taking progress shots of because at no stage did it ever resemble or even predict what it was going to end up looking like. My initial sketch was actually a self-portrait (without glasses) and actually a rather good one so I wish I had thought to take a picture of that. It was, however, never my intention for the final painting to resemble me. Instead I was using my face as scaffolding to underpin the other layers. As soon as I started applying paint, with a large brush, the quality of the drawing disappeared and it became a mess. I was not happy with either my mixing of flesh tones nor my mark making with the brush. It was a complete and utter mess and I seriously doubted in my ability to refine that layer enough to make it worth persevering with and progressing. I managed to refine it a little more by switching to a medium brush and by improving the flesh tones but it was definitely in the “ugly stage” by then. I admit that it was then that I threw in the towel. I could not get the painting to emerge as anything worthy of escaping the trash bin using a painterly, loose approach and acrylic paint. What I decided to do, therefore, was use other media and revert to my drawing skills to pull out the facial details and make the painting cohere. That saved the day and saved the piece from going in the bin.
As an aside, the green and pink colour scheme definitely speaks to my longing for Spring. I am so done with Winter and its bleak, grey, dull days.
Last week’s Life Book lesson was with Annie Hamman. Between Life Book and Let’s Face It, I have watched a lot of Hamman’s tutorials and have done most of them. I really like her style and approach to her artwork. She strikes the perfect balance between working purposefully and intuitively. While my style is completely different from Hamman’s, I do aspire to a balance between those two modes of being intentional and being intuitive so I do enjoy her lessons.
This lesson was essentially one about painting over collage. Hamman referenced the fact that we often tend to construct faces that mirror our own features and that is something I have noted about my artwork and have made mention of on this blog. I, therefore, decided to run with that idea and started with a sketch of my face (sans glasses) and then worked on the face more intuitively so that the traces of my face remained yet it was not a true self-portrait because other elements had drifted away from replicating the proportions of my face. It was me yet not me. It was a self-ish portrait.
I am making a real effort to be much more positive about my art work experiments, a little more gentle on myself, striving to focus on the successful rather than flawed elements within each piece. I will, therefore, state that I am happy with the collage background for this piece, a mixture of origami papers, washi tape and postage stamps. I was also pleased with the skin tones I mixed as I actually managed to get the shade and tones to align with my own skin colour.
I mentioned how rusty my art skills were when posting about Pink Girl. Well, a little bit of drawing and watercolour was not enough to bring my skills back to their former standard. It seems that two weeks of no drawing might necessitate at least two weeks of art practice to restore me to my former ability. I write this by way of introduction to my first Let’s Face It artwork since our road trip because the outcome was hideous.
The lesson was taken by Lucy Brydon and incorporated gelli printing on tissue and painting on top of a tissue background. The current theme being to paint faces and hands, it was necessary to build a hand into the composition. I went wrong in so very many ways. The skin tone is ghastly, almost cadaverous, because I did a terrible job with the underpainting and layering. I tried warming it up by plonking more media on top of the acrylic but that just made her less corpse-like and more deathly ill. I also totally screwed up the proportional relationship between the hand and face. The detail of my gelli prints was entirely lost to the extent that I may as well have skipped that stage of creation, though I do quite like the texture of the background. I like the red hair against the green (though the hair lacks interest and texture) but I think I did a better job with this colour palette way back in the second lesson. In short, this painting is a hot mess. Even my kids, normally my best and most committed cheerleaders, looked at this painting and screwed up their noses and struggled for something positive to say. It was frustrating as I spent more time on this painting than I really had free and it all feels a bit like time wasted but I need to remember that even my most rubbish paintings, even my mistakes, are learning opportunities.
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.
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.
This week’s Let’s Face It lesson caused me to reflect on how I have been approaching both my online art courses. In my determination to not purchase materials I am unlikely to use and in my pragmatic need to fit the lessons into my available free time, I have found that most lessons find me improvising, adapting the lessons to fit my circumstances. It has led me at times to question the value of the lessons since I am not always truly trying a new approach, experimenting with an unfamiliar medium. On the other hand, however, the lessons do inspire and encourage me to try new things and in doing so help me tweak my own style, help me find elements for my art that I either had not known about or did not know I would enjoy. Furthermore, in moulding the lessons to suit me, I am better able to hold true to while developing my own style. There is definitely something to be said for that.
This week’s lesson was taken by Robin Laws and should have involved manipulation of digital imagery and layering with and painting over collage. Despite that being the focus of the learning, out of necessity and inclination I undertook neither step. I did, however, draw my inspiration from the lesson: Laws’ exemplar was created using soft, pastel tones and – since I usually paint in bold colours – I decided to challenge myself to use paler shades and I set myself the additional challenge of including the ear, not doing my usual thing of covering it with hair.
I do think my proportions are getting better when drawing a face in profile and I am also growing more confident with making the faces I paint look more like the faces I draw, making them work with the more illustrative style I enjoy. As I also find that I am much more interested in depicting faces than bodies, I have increasingly found myself reducing the torso portion of the bust to a much more simplified shape. I think my husband’s Roman nerd influence is discernible as I have taken my inspiration from Classical herma. Incidentally, the shades in this painting are actually paler than they appear in the photograph. My husband thinks she looks a bit like Angelina Jolie. I don’t quite see it but I will take the compliment anyway.
Last week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Jenny Grant. Her style was described as ethereal yet grungy so that was the objective of the lesson, to use her approach to layering to create an outcome that was a bit grubby and messy yet aesthetically appealing. Given my history of making mud when using more than a couple of layers, it was a challenging balance to strike.
As per normal, I deviated a little from the tutorial partly through pragmatism (I do not own all the required materials) and partly through choice (so that I can make the lesson fit my own style). The colour scheme was inspired by the top I happened to be wearing at the time but pink and turquoise seems to be a palette I keep returning to anyway. I, of course, enjoyed all the opportunities for dribbling and splattering. I think the trails of ink are my favourite element of this piece. Hopefully the close up shows that I used pearlescent paint in the hair and eyes, aiming for the sheen of those areas to counterpoint the darker areas of the painting.