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Zinnias, 24 x 36 inches graphite on paper. Using an eraser just as much as the graphite, marks are initially roughed in to fill the page with enough smudges and dark tones to work with; some removed, some detailed. Initial plans were to create a drawing with about 4 inches of grey tones bleeding into a colorful central square to be drawn and painted with watercolor pencils, similar to Chrysanthemums,with borders more defined. However, I got lost in the fun of drawing, and too much graphite would muddle colors. In future I would simply outline the subject lightly first, then add colors, gradually filling in tonal details afterward. Back to the drawing board!
Chrysanthemums, work in progress; see previous post. Above: color details of 85W x 45L inches graphite, colored charcoal / dry pastels on white 100% cotton
When working with a large format, it’s easy to overwork the smaller areas. They’re like little compositions on their own. The trouble is, they may seem successful close up, but may not contribute to the overall balance and flow of the larger piece. Above are some examples, where I’m now reluctant to change what needs to be changed…but I will. Back to Art 101: It’s absolutely necessary to stand back often and study the entire composition from afar.
When you throw in a factor like color, there’s no turning back. I had a specific purpose for this drawing though; to fill a wall space in an otherwise fairly monotone, contemporary room. After much deliberation I kept with the original plan, which was to create a look similar to a black and white photo where one color highlights the main subject only. It was time to dive into the unknown.
It’s obvious that introducing color has compromised some of the original spontaneity, so to recapture some of that energy, I carefully try not to disturb what’s left of those livelier marks, and enhance some with little sparks of color. Isolating red, and only red to the central main flower sapped all the attention, so I’ve added more colors to it and the surrounding elements than initially planned. To continue risks ruining what is working, but there is no satisfaction in quitting, especially when the leaves on each side of the main flower look like wings! Back to the drawing board…(but not for much longer).
June 26th update: Hopefully those leaf-wings are no longer dominant! Now, after a period of study, just a few more strokes of primer in the right places may bring out more depth around the main flower.
Chrysanthemums, 45L x 85W x 3D inches, graphite, charcoal and primer on 100% cotton, work in progress
Rather than priming the fabric first as usual, water and primer are painted to enhance the graphite while the composition works itself out. It’s been all about getting lost in the improvisation and surprise! Grass blades are implied by the buildup of thin streaks throughout, which also serve to balance and energize the work, plus add slight cubist effects.
This is will hang in a contemporary-style room. If color is used at all it will be limited to red, yellow and green areas near the large main flower. Parts of the surface may be left raw, so to set the finished piece, the entire back will be primed and the front will be sprayed with fixative.
The chaos of this past year, moving to Oregon from Texas, has truly put my artsy artist’s statement to the test; that ‘creativity is an attitude toward life’. I’m accustomed to creating chaos in my artwork, then resolving it. With too many move-related priorities and unfinished renovations, no wonder I’ve felt increasingly disoriented. The good thing is that observations never stop, even if the focus on art-work has to.
Zen Garden 10, 40 x 60 x 3 inches mixed media on canvas.
The final stages of paintings are often finished as they hang on a wall. As seen in a realistic room setting, it will be easier to spot a clearer path for the eyes to follow and make the composition more interesting. Some colors need to be re-enhanced to add more depth and definition. The texture continues around all 3″D edges. All paintings in the Zen garden series are wired to hang in any of 4 orientations; vertically or horizontally. Below: details of left central portion as seen in the above .
Zen Garden 09 work in progress, 48 x 21 x 2 inches Mixed Media on canvas
The perfect painting in a room can elevate the atmosphere of the whole floor, and sets the tone for showing off the entire house. With selling the house in mind, I’m trying to choose a decent painting for our living room, but the only one that really looked good there was Zen Garden #2. It sold, so I decided it’s worthwhile to make two more for the series - even though painting walls is the order of the day.
Zen Garden 10 outline, 40 x 60 x 3 inches Mixed Media on canvas
Painting is always meditative, but I find it especially so when creating pieces in the Zen Garden series. This kind of work does not present the same kind of emotional concentration or intellectual challenges that other paintings do. There are few struggles and hardly any decisions to make, except to find cooperative materials. Once the outline is accomplished it’s pretty straightforward compared to other forms of painting. The outstanding difference is that each stage in these 3D paintings requires time and patience to allow areas to dry before proceeding. The Zen Gardens can be drying in stages while other work gets done too, and the multi-tasker in me is quite happy to be accomplishing many things at once!
Art supplies are expensive. Most will last long enough to justify purchases, and much of the time you get what you pay for, but some items are ridiculously overpriced. Keeping material costs down is essential so they aren’t reflected in the final price, but quality should never be compromised. Still, there are ways to get around any dilemma, and there are alternatives for everything.
When I started the Zen Garden series ten years ago using modeling paste and textured gels, jars were about $15 for 250 ml. Since then I’ve experimented with various unusual materials, and shopped everywhere to compare prices. It’s still more economical to purchase brand-name products in larger quantities – if you can find them. There are some fun mediums available now too, like gel with tiny glass beads in it. Prices for art supplies do not seem to waver over time in either Canada or the U.S., so I reserve the brand-name mediums to sculpt the rocks and highest quality paints do the finishing touches. Here I’ll share a few of the trade secrets I’ve discovered over the years, and you can create your own Zen garden painting.
As a base for the raked sand mixture, it’s worth purchasing a large 2 gallon (7.58 L) pail of textured paint. I purchased Behrs at Home Depot in Canada, and it looks like Ralph Loren has the market cornered in the States. Watered-down drywall plaster can be used also, but I recommend attention to how heavy the piece may be when it’s finished. Mix in copious quantities of white glue, large containers of white or light-colored acrylic craft paints, and anything water-based that will extend the liquid mixture and bind well with the dry ingredients. Sand, even popcorn kernals and/or rice can be added for texture. Other objects can be incorporated too…just use your imagination. For example, and this is my most valuable secret, unscented kitty litter from the dollar store, the non-absorbant kind, looks exactly like tiny stones and is light in weight.
Zen Garden 09 details: applying mixture with a knife, sculpting rows
The mixture can be put in a ziplock bag with one corner cut out, but I discovered that it’s more efficient – however messy – to spread small portions out onto the surface with a knife and hand-mold it. Keep a wet cloth handy to wipe your hands and the utensil often.
Drywall plaster makes nice-looking rocks, plus it cracks well for a parched-earth look, use sparingly because of added weight. Wood filler is a lighter alternative, much less expensive than professional brand gels and mediums. Modeling pastes do not lend well to sanding or carving when dry, but wood filler can be sanded and re-shaped. Also, if it dries out completely, chop it up, add water then seal the container for a day or so. This is where you can experiment with whatever helps acheive 3D effects. Art, craft, hardware, department stores and dollar stores carry generic brand basics, so it’s worth researching and shopping around.
When it’s all dry, rocks and other details are outlined and painted with pure colors, then all covered with a coat of primer. The colors are all reapplied to further enhance rocks, then brushed white, skimming across the entire surface. This process is repeated until you are pleased with the results by a final coat of white with remnants of the layers of colors poking through underneath. As far as acrylic paints, you do get what you pay for, but price differences are mostly due to pigment quality and viscosity, which, until final stages is not really an issue. Inexpensive acrylic craft paints are perfect as a filler (only).
Zen Garden #10 (above and left) is already quite heavy, so about 1/4 of it will be painted rocks, keeping the sand patterns to a minimum. There is enough mixture that could dry out if it’s not used right away, plus it’s great to make multiples while all the mess, materials and utensils and are out, so I’m doing two simultaneously. There may even be enough for 3!
The neccessity of work, especially if it’s at home, seems less like a chore if you dangle some kind of carrot for yourself every day. Sometimes having too much to do is more exhillerating than exhausting. Each day, though work as an artist can be considered by others as play, the energy, motivation and circumstances are unpredictable.. It takes self-discipline to find a way to go with the flow and still get work done. The good thing about this occupation is that it is flexible in every way. The creative compulsion seeps into every other activity, and there is almost no way to not add a little something extra.
Above: Sept. 12th detail
Morning Light 02, above: upper detail of 60 x 40 x 3 inches acrylics on canvas in progress, comissioned work (NFS)
Phase 01, 03 and 07 show various changes and adjustments made as I attempt to paint Morning Light 02 as close as possible to the original version. As this is a unique individual painting in its own right, copying is not the goal. As work progresses, the most important thing is to find the same light and etherial qualities as in the first version.
“Art is a human activity having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to which [humanity has] risen.”
Creating art is always a personal endeavour, and every so often I’m drawn to study only for the deeper experience of it; for the kind of education and understanding that can’t come through reading or any other means. Here is a painting I started in May, along with links and information about a unique culture, a group of Russian immigrants who made significant contributions to Canada and the development of the Canadian prairies. Next week I’ll be driving up to Alberta through Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan where some of the Doukhobors, whom I’ve just recently learned are part of my own heritage, settled during the 19th century. Upon returning from this final leg of summer travel there is another painting commission to complete, so I’ll be blogging regularly again and finishing this painting in about two months.
“Toil and Peaceful Life” (quote, Peter V. Verigin), 24 x 36 x 2 inches acrylics on canvas. Study only, NFS, work in progress: There are harsh contrasts and colors at this stage, so am planning to paint over the whole surface with my friend Virginia’s white wash formula (1/2 guesso, 1/4 matte medium and 1/4 water), then will gradually bring out details again by scrubbing areas away with a wet cloth and repainting as well. Further layers of siennas, umbers, pale yellows, unbleached titanium washes etc. will be treated the same way.
When the light bulb on my sewing machine burnt out - it won’t work without one - I could have hopped in the car and driven three blocks to go buy another, but instead made due hemming a garment by manually spinning the wheel on the machine. I had already started the above painting referring to an old photo of 16 Doukhobor women pulling and two men directing a plow as they tilled the land in southern Manitoba, Canada’s eastern-most prairie province, during the late 1800′s. This is one of the more powerful images portraying the character of the Doukhobors, who left their homeland in Russia because of religious persecution, never allowed to return, becoming the largest mass immigration in Canadian history.
I’ve often wondered how it must have been for women in the past, considering all of the chores that raising a family and taking care of the home must have entailed. On top of that, there was little relief from extreme weather conditions as, for example, during the heat of summer all of these responsibilities were done wearing long dresses, petticoats and bonnets. I guess it was with this in mind that I endured impatiently sewing my jeans without electricity.
The small amount of soil I turn over in the garden is planted mostly with flowers. The few veggies that are novel to watch grow from seed to fruition are not crucual to the survival of my family. While I’m purchasing ready-wound thread on a plastic bobbin, I can select from a number of food choices and shop during any time of day, 24 hours a day in a 7 day week. Todays’ lifestyles are so far removed from the realities that pioneers in any land must have faced. Living in small communities where all could share the work as well as morally support each other made complete sense. So it was for the Doukhobors, living a philosophy very similar to the Hutterites, the Mennonites, and the Amish.
Photos are photos and paintings are paintings, but as traditional artists we can take advantage of the art of photography as inspiration to trigger motivation and memories, recreate impressions, and refer to for details. If photos are used as reference, very soon after painting begins I rely on and respond more to what’s happening on the canvas. For some time before putting brush to canvas, every detail of a subject adds to an internal mental picture, one that gradually envisions the painting finished to a certain degree. In some cases I’ll work from pictures of historic art or artifacts as educational studies, or from a client’s photo if they commission the reproduction of a favorite scene. Always though, the resulting art is an emotional translation.
The first thing that strikes me in the enlarged re-re-reproduced print I’m working from is how little the quality of the image matters. The shadows on the faces of each individual say it all. Some appear curious about having their photo taken, and most are more concerned about the task at hand. Though the image is crude by modern standards, and maybe even partly due to it, we are able to share the raw truth of a moment in one of an uncountable number of cultures throughout human history who worked so physically this way. For most of our time here on earth, we, like all of nature, knew we depended on the land, and it truly was survival of the fittest. I can only hope to capture the calibre of this story as well as the photo does.
Sometimes a painting can never be as effective as a photo, particularly when it comes to human portraits. In intances like this, there is so much value in “the journey” of your efforts. Painting such a scene, it really is like being transported. Of course the goal is to make the work successful, and artists all hope and plan for sales, but we also need to make time for creating work that feeds our soul and brings us back to the inner sources that pulled us into this not-always-externally-fulfilling vocation in the first place. When I recommend forgetting the rules and listening to your own, that’s what I mean. Even if you have never tried to paint or draw before, or you think you don’t have enough skill, you are as capable as anyone if you are spurred on by your emotions toward subjects you love, using whatever methods you enjoy.
Facebook – group intro:
“Toil and Peaceful Life”
The name Doukhobor means “spirit wrestler”. Although many of their beliefs descended from Christianity, being a Doukhobor is more of a way of life than a religion. Doukhobors are a group of pacifists that came to Canada from Russia to escape persecution for their beliefs at the end of the 19th century. The most well known leader of the Doukhobors was Peter ‘Lordly’ Verigin. The Doukhobors established communites across Western Canada, many times cultivating land that was not seen as desirable. There are still reminants of Doukhobor villages primarily in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
“…The settlers found Saskatchewan winters much harsher than those in Transcaucasia, and were particularly disappointed that the climate was not as suitable for growing fruits and vegetables. Many of the men found it necessary to take non-farm jobs, especially in railway construction, while the women stayed behind to till the land…”
The Doukhobors: 16th Century Russia to Canada, 2010
The origin of the Doukhobors is fairly dubious, but some information dates the culture back to 16th and 17th century Russia. Deeply spiritual, the “Doukho-borets”, which literally means “spirit wrestlers”, rejected common orthodox practices of organized religions and society, including the worship of icons and individual land ownership. As pacifists, their motto was “Toil and Peaceful Life”.
After refusing allegiance to Tsar Nicholas and military service, in 1895, they burnt all of their weapons in response to this. (The date, June 28th, has become a day of celebration of their humble roots.) Facing persecution for their beliefs, over 7,000 Doukhobors sought refuge in Canada starting in 1899.
The Doukhobors’ passage across the Atlantic Ocean was largely paid for by Quakers and Tolstoyans, who sympathized with their plight, and by the writer Leo Tolstoy, who arranged for the royalties from his novel Resurrection, his story Father Sergei, and some others, to go to the migration fund. He also raised money from wealthy friends. In the end, his efforts provided half of the immigration fund, about 30,000 rubles.
* Multicultural Canada http://multiculturalcanada.ca/node/48207
With sympathy from the Canadian government, for a $10 fee each adult male was intitially provided with 160 acres of “free land” on the prairies of central Canada; present day Saskatchewan and Manitoba. They were expected to live on and break the land, plant crops, and eventually apply for a patent to own it.
During 1906, a new Parliamentary Minister revised their previous agreement to laws that commanded a pledge of allegiance to the Crown or else lose their homesteads. In 1907, 2,500 homesteads were cancelled, causing communal splits into three distinct groups. The largest group of Doukhobors, incuding Peter Verigin, the man who had re-documented and defined their Orthodox faith, moved to British Columbia. The “Sons of Freedom” also went to B.C., but were radically different than the Community Doukhobors. They actively protested (sometimes nude!) issues arising from Canadian governmental control over their way of life, creating misunderstandings and negativity toward Doukhobors in general that remain to this day. The “Independents” maintained their homesteads in Saskatchewan in compliance with the new Canadian laws.
1908 to 1912: Peter Veregin’s group purchased land in the West Kootenays, B.C. and developed large communal enterprises. The Doukhobors now call themselves the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB), situated in Brilliant, B.C..
2D Pine Cone, diagonal 28 x 28 x 1 inches, acrylics on woven canvas, gallery wrapped sides painted, signed on the back so as not to intrude on the design. This is the 2nd attempt with larger woven canvas strips, hanging diagonally on a superimposed blue background.
More often than not, allowing some imperfections to show through says “a human made this”. Still, quality ought to be the result, and it wasn’t working (see version #1 below). The crooked pattern on the first woven canvas was impossible to correct, which I tried over and over many times. Then I made pine bristles from threads pulled from the sides of the canvas, painted various shades of green: time consuming and experimental, and also not successful, so I started all over with a new rewoven frame, above.
There were second thoughts about opting to go the imperfect route in the weaving process right from the start. The canvas strips are not all the same size, a deliberate choice, and I assumed it wouldn’t matter, but the pattern of scales relied on the woven accuracy. The color combos are interesting, but things should be a bit straighter.
March 6th and 7th: 2D Pinecone, 28 x 28 inches, woven canvas strips, acrylics. Work in progress shows 1) weaving and 2) a very rough paint-sketch on the primed canvas.
No title yet, work in progress: 36 x 48 x 2 inches acrylics, will sculpt edges of leaves with modeling paste medium on canvas. Gallery wrapped sides painted. The watercolor classes really helped with awareness of color choices, keeping those colors pure and marks fresh, and also a desire to leave more abstract elements alone; less realism and more expressionism. All of those things will be magnified in this painting.
After today, blogging and Artwork will be infrequent until mid-January. Driving up to western Canada, there will be plenty of snow-covered trees and winter photo opportunities along the way to Alberta, B.C. and back. Working up until the last possible moment, I started this painting of purple Maple leaves that were seen in Madison, WI during late August. Modeling/Molding paste will be applied, then painted with acrylics when dry, this will be a 3 dimensional (ish!) painting, similar to Polypore Fungi (also see this earlier posting of that painting).
Happy Holidays everyone!
The Fourth of July 02 - Orange Milkweed, Kentucky (sold) 15 x 22 inches watercolors Above: finished, below: Nov. 19th almost finished
Driving from Texas to Ontario one summer I had to pull over to take photos and a closer study of the vivid orange bouquets growing beside the highway in southern Kentucky. The colors are irresistible, and this is not the first or last time I’ll portray this subject. All plants and trees contain medicinal and useful chemical properties in their leaves, stems, roots and flowers. I looked up Orange Milkweed in the most informative books about plants, The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism edited by Malcom Stuart, which contains details about every plant I have ever sought to find information for. According to it, Appalachian Indians made a tea from the leaves to use during religious ceremonies. One common name for this plant is Pleuracy Root, as it is still useful to treat infections of the respiratory tract including pleurisy It is used as a diaphoretic, antispasmodic, carminative, expectorant… Whatever! Color also has enchanting, supernatural energizing properties!« Previous Entries