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.
Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “lift”. I like prompts that can be interpreted in multiple ways and I actually had lots of ideas tumbling about and doing backflips in my head for this one. While I was not lacking in ideas, I was lacking in time. Again. I think when school and work finish for summer, I am going to be crawling across the finish line.
In the end, the pocket of time that opened up was when I was stuck in the waiting room of an orthodontist’s office. That gave me a chunk of time but meant I had to use portable, non-messy art materials. I also had to be able to work on my lap since I had no table. I, therefore, decided to draw a whimsical self-portrait illustrating some of the things that I find uplifting – not the really big things like the important people in my life but the small everyday things that give me a lift when I might be feeling glum or stressed or fatigued by life. As such, in one hand there is a cup of tea and a scone with clotted cream and jam. That treat is like an edible hug. In the other hand and in the hair are creative tools to represent that my treasured art time helps me decompress and recharge my batteries. Finally, there is a bird feather in my hair. I love to sit with a cup of tea at my art table and watch the birds visit the feeders I have set up on the other side of the window. That represents that quiet time.
It took me a full week of working in short bursts to complete last week’s Life Book lesson. I know I frequently mention how busy my schedule is but last week was truly, utterly, completely ridiculous. I needed teleportation or cloning skills to make it work. Since I don’t possess superpowers or ethically questionable advanced science skills, what I did instead was rush around, stress myself out, and try to reconcile myself with the fact that I would have to drop some really very important commitments. It really ought to have been a week when I accepted that there was zero time for art but I decided that I might risk imploding if I did not have some small gobbets of art time to aid me in decompressing throughout the week. Across seven days, therefore, I gradually added to the piece, little by little, in the tiny rations of available free time I had. The quality of my work may have suffered as a result but it may just have prevented me from spontaneously combusting from stress.
The lesson was taken by Vicky Papaioannou and involved created a whimsical sort-of self-portrait that conveyed a message about creative ideas, energy, mojo flowing from the creative person. My sort-of self-portrait ended up being a much younger, slimmer, more attractive me but I think there is enough of my features and proportions in there for it still to be a “selfie”. What is artistic license for if you can’t make yourself much more bonnie? My creative flow is represented by the hair – also a fudge of reality since my hair is not that long and is salt-and-pepper rather than black. I added a pen, pencil, and paintbrush to the hair by way of illustrating my creativity and stamped the phrase “create something every day” onto the figure’s torso – going horribly wrong with the stamping since I smudged the lettering. Never mind. I think the phrase was quite apt given my context.
What a difference from one week to the next – last week was an art time famine and this week I have managed to squeeze in three different doses of art time. This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt to use colours outside your comfort zone. Since I had enjoyed the abstract lesson from Life Book so much this week and had found it so quick and easy, I decided to take a similar approach with my art journal page. I again chose to use my non-dominant hand and used a wooden skewer dipped in ink. I could tell just by glancing at my set of watercolours which colours I used least because they had barely been touched: green and orange. I decided to throw in some yellow for a third colour and to connect the green and orange. Not wanting to create another abstract and not knowing what else to draw, I settled on a self-portrait. I really enjoyed working in this way. It was quick, easy, and relaxing. I will be squirreling away this approach so I can use it again in future.
This week’s Art Journal Adventure offered a prompt that simultaneously served as a suggestion for overcoming the intimidation of a blank page and that was to use text pages as a starting point, a first layer. Fear of the blank page is not something I find to be a struggle; my challenge is always finding the time for art and adequate time to develop something to completion, even in my art journal. I have, therefore, been trying to follow the advice of Sue Clancy and her method of working in short bursts. I usually try to find a block of 15-20 minutes minimum in which to have a short burst of art time but some weeks I have to work in even shorter gobbets of time. What I am finding is that even micro bursts are effective in keeping creativity flowing and stopping the art muscles seizing up from rust.
This art journal page, therefore, was built up over three very short bursts. In the first, I quickly adhered some dictionary pages to the page in my journal. That took somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes – however long it took for a pot of pasta to boil. The second burst was under 5 minutes and that was drawing myself as a Book Worm. The final burst was probably ten minutes in which I added the colour using a variety of media. The resulting page is simple but I think it is fun. Had I decided that I needed 25 minutes to create this journal page, I never would have found the time last week; however, by finding small pockets of free time here and there throughout the week, I was able to gradually build the page up so long as I kept it simple.
As indicated, this is a self-portrait of myself as a book worm. I have always loved books. Some of my happiest childhood memories are of poring through books in the library and making my selections. I once ended up in hospital with a concussion because of reading: I was walking in Edinburgh with my nose in a book when I walked at full speed into a concrete lamppost. I was always a voracious reader who could gobble up a several books in a week. Even when I was teaching High School and was incredibly busy with little free time, I could read a book a week. In the past decade, however, the rate at which I can consume books has tapered off. I still read daily but not for the duration I was once able to. Nevertheless, since reading remains one of my favourite pastimes, I still think I qualify as a Book Worm.
My schedule was utterly slammed this week. Every space on the wall calendar was crammed with appointments and commitments and things that needed to be done. I thought there was not the remotest chance I was going to get to even view this week’s Life Book lessons let alone sit down and do something creative. However, two things happened this week that utterly jiggered my schedule and caused a great deal of hassle – one of my kids was off school sick for two days and then we had a snow day – but which actually meant I had more time stuck at home. More time at home meant I could actually get stuck into the lesson and art time was probably just what I needed to take the edge off the stress of a totally bonkers week.
The lesson was taken by Tamara Laporte. Tam always provides wonderfully in-depth videos for her lessons but there was no way I was going to find time to both view the videos and then still have time to create. I, therefore, read the accompanying PDF, modified the lesson by eliminating certain stages, and got stuck in. The crux of the lesson was a self-portrait scaffolded on an image transfer. I have never had much success with image transfers but I thought that was precisely why I should have another crack at it. The outcome was not ideal – I think I spread the gel medium too thinly in places – but is definitely the best I have produced so far so represents progress.
I then proceeded to paint on top of the image transfer and this was where I diverged from the lesson. I did not have time for layer upon layer of media so I limited myself to acrylic paint, Neocolor II crayons, and Inktense pencils and blocked in areas of colour and built up the detail of my face.
The idea of the painting was to include personal, symbolic elements and text alongside the self-portrait. It is not really my thing to be that personal and emotional with my art work. Art is definitely therapeutic to me but only in terms of the act of creating. I don’t need it to be a form of processing and expressing my thoughts and feelings and I am also too intensely private. I decided, however, that the self-portrait did need some finishing touches so I added some collage elements in the form of butterflies and leaves formed from text pages. All of those things could be interpreted as things that are important to me as a person – words and learning, growth, and change.
I managed to scrape together some time in which to tackle last week’s Life Book lesson. I did, as I often do, skip some steps and take some short cuts but I did follow the essence of the lesson. The lesson was taken by Ivy Newport whose encaustic artwork has impressed me for quite some time. This particular lesson functioned for me as an introduction to encaustic art but – as eager as I am to give that technique a try some time – there was absolutely no way I was going to eke out the time and organise the resources to incorporate that layer. Some time I will have to give it a whirl but that time is not now.
The idea of the lesson was to fuse a self-portrait with the figure of an angel and it was also another opportunity to try paint over collage. I find sometimes painting over collage works well for me and other times it really doesn’t. I have to get better at observing why my process goes one way or another. As it happens, this one fell somewhere in the middle – I didn’t get any annoying bubbles or ridges in the wrong places but I wish I had fewer straight edges among the collaged papers and instead had rougher torn edges. I have not worked in pink or orange for a while so I challenged myself to use those colours. I also challenged myself to keep the spectacles in the self-portait instead of cheating and depicting me in a way I only look when sleeping or showering. When my husband came home and saw this piece on the easel, he congratulated me on the strong likeness I had achieved in my self-portrait. I had to laugh. Of course it is a good likeness: I painted over a photograph of me.