Join me....

I believe that art enriches and informs our lives everyday in many positive ways. Sharing those experiences, whether as an artist or as an appreciator, is part of the pleasure. I welcome your comments and hope you find something of value: a laugh, an insight, a new idea or just a happy moment. Enjoy art!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Making Art from Pieces

"I am learning everyday to allow
the space between where I am and where
I want to be
to inspire me and not terrify me."
Traci Ellis Ross

Every morning of our mosaic week at Wildacres, our instructor Pam Brewer put a quote on the board for us to think about during our day's journey.  She knew we had a steep learning curve. But all 10 of us rose to the challenge trying very hard to put aside the terrifying aspect of what we had to do and the time we had before us and, instead, enjoy the act of creating and getting to know each other.

Our mission was to create a mosaic totem...something yard worthy and meaningful (or not) and every single piece had to be constructed.  Totems are an interesting subject in and of themselves and I could have spent hours researching the symbols and their subsequent meanings.  But I decided to choose three B's of gardens: birds, butterflies and bees (and maybe a blossom or two and a garden goddess?)
The above photo is all of us cutting our shapes from insulation board and carving out channels for the pvc pipe to fit through.

These "shapes" got glued together and wrapped in sheetrock mesh tape before coated in fiberous surface bonding mix.  This photo shows my pieces that are double coated and ready to dry and two others where you can see the insulation board.

After everything dried it was time to nip and glue using quickrete to hold the pieces onto the form.

It helped to lay out a design on paper before attempting to assemble.  We needed to have additional shards available and remember that we had a 2" edge to cover along the sides.  The collection of material was wonderful: we brought and shared tiles, broken pottery, intentionally made pottery, thrift store plates and all manner of lost and found objects.  We hoarded, nipped, and shared, repeat, hoard, nip and share!

The base of this "object d' arte" was a work in progress as we had to build on it every day.  With concrete we made a form around pvc pipe which would hold a length of rebar on which everything got stacked.

Did we have fun?!?

one of Pam Brewer's pieces designed for a totem
to be in a pet memorial garden

Then it was on to grouting, cleaning and packing up.  What a lot we accomplished in just a week.  We even had time to learn a bit about mosaic and to visit Pam's wonderful studio for more inspiration.

One of my favorite pieces was this cardinal I made, it happens to be a blue bird on the other side and I think it is full of personality!

Here is my totem in the sweet husband spent quite a bit of muscle installing it.  Each side is different and colorful and reminds me of a great week of creative pursuit with new friends.  I also love that each symbol holds a very significant meaning for me (this side shows the dragon fly on back of the bee) and many of the shards I used represent different people who gave them to me.  

I'm hoping my fellow nippers will send me photos of their work installed so I can share them with you.  Every single piece was different and there was a lot of creativity buzzing around our room.  I loved making beautiful art from discarded parts and pieces.  Constructing a beautiful whole from broken parts should always be our goal.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Limited Palate Painting

While color intrigues me, I am learning that
unless you have control of the color it can
totally overwhelm a painting.  I have been trying
 to learn how to limit my palate and become intimately
familiar with how color mixes.

For this limited palate experiment I selected 3 analogous colors (next to each other on the color wheel) and the complimentary color to the center one (in this case, the purple).  Add to this the ingredients for mixing black (burnt siena and french ultramarine) and a white, and I have all of the tubes I would use for the entire painting.  No, this was not my comfort-zone palate.  Game on.

I laid out the colors and began to imagine what I could mix up from different quantities of each.  Once a lovely color is found you can lighten it and get several tones from it.  This part is really fun.
The hard part is reproducing in a large amount something that suddenly works in a small bit.

My subject, the entrance view to the Santa Elena Canyon, was already laid out on my 24" x 24" canvas in the three tones of black and white.

done with a black charcoal, medium and white oil

Now I went in with large swatches of color mixed from the limited palate and staying carefully within the tones I had established with the charcoal and white above.

you might be able to see some texture I laid down in this first pass:
I used a roller, made scribbles with a rubber tip and drew lines with my palate knife

I kept mixing and began to add some dimension to the grassy bank, put a little more interest 
in the front bank and tried to get a handle on how the rocks would jut in and out.

I like working on dry layers (this helps preserve the texture which will eventually show up better) so by necessity I worked slowly and methodically.  I would eat my lunch talking to the piece trying to determine what would be tweaked on the next round, the next day. Again, I had to use only the few tubes of paint I had laid out.

Here's the final...maybe.

24" x 24" oil
Santa Elena, incomplete

I'm not so pleased with the mound of the upper left rock....which was going to be my focal point.  I need to redefine it in some way that is believable (the top edge really softens near the sky) but still remains an eye grab (lightest light next to the darkest dark).  But otherwise I think the piece hangs together nicely.  Perhaps some of that lighter gold up there will help?  See?  The problem solving is actually fun when you have limited tools at your disposal.  

Right now I have a totally different piece underway with the exact same palate.  Stay tuned to see how different it is in coloration.  


Friday, September 29, 2017

Chasing Shiny Objects

Like a dog who hears the word "squirrel" I am
often, too often, chasing after new and different
things.  I just have an insatiable curiosity where "making" is
concerned.  As rationalization, I have convinced myself
that every new experience only informs and 
enhances whatever I paint.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it!
So this week I am off at a retreat learning from the masterful Pam Brewer how to make a mosaic garden totem....which everyone needs.
Let me share an ongoing project that I somehow backed into...natural dyes.
I got very interested in eco-dyeing but will save that for a later post.  Following research on that topic took me to the possibility of making dye from flowers, nuts, spices and leaves.
I had to try.

Needless to say I have a very patient husband who was a bit surprised when, expecting dinner, he saw this instead.

I won't even begin to share with you all of the steps as there are many, many tutorials on-line.  So many, in fact, that after a while they start contradicting each other and one decides to just go balls to the wall and experiment with abandon.

Two things to remember:
1- Natural fabrics/products are the only ones that dye well and these are divided into two very different categories: protein (wool, silk and such) and cellulose (cotton, bamboo, hemp) and both are treated uniquely.  Make note of which you are dying.  Don't mix them and expect similar results.
2- Almost all fabric (and most paper) needs to be treated with a "mordant" before dying; that is a "chemical" wash (which could include vinegar, alum, soda ash, cream of tarter...) that will help the fibers bind to the color.

Now for the fun:

That gorgeous crimson in the pot above was my fav color and biggest disappointment!  After tediously preparing pokeberry potion and watching the color emerge I nearly cried when it all washed away upon rinsing.  And I tried every recommended trick known to the on-line dye world.  Boo.


The absolutely most satisfying experience was using
tumeric from the spice cabinet.  Beautiful yellows on cotton did not wash out (altho the inside of my dryer is now golden due to my enthusiasm in "heat setting" the color.  It was a winner.

walnut bark

Promising but disappointing was a huge vat of walnut bark a woodworking friend offered when he learned what I was trying.  He had made a liquor based in ammonia and it was ready to go.  It made a lovely deep brown which also rinsed out to a (hard to photograph) a tea-colored stain.  Again on cotton:

I did have some fun however putting the walnut on top of some tumeric and then hitting it with bleach.  

black beans

After a so-so run with dye from black beans (blue or purple on cotton) I decided I was ready to move to silk and wool. Now I am busy looking into new formulas which will include walnut hulls, red cabbage, avocado pits with skins and some goldenrod.  I can't wait.  Not that I have anything in mind for these sample pieces but just imagine if I can properly dye wool and knit a scarf from naturally made dyes.  Cool, right?

This blouse (from my get-rid-of stash) is my favorite piece from this venture.  

I'll share my next results...I really enjoy seeing what colors are produced by the strange chemistry of nature.  It makes you wonder how folks first stumbled on these processes and how they tweak them for permanent results.  It also makes me think hard about how I might use these swatches (and failed experiments) in some artistic piece down the road.


Friday, September 22, 2017

Foundations and Values

Analogies and metaphors have always played 
an instructional role for me to understand something new.
Lately I have come to think of "value studies" in art like
 underwear, or perhaps even the footers, of a painting.
In other words, a critical part of making the final effort hold together.

Recall these value studies done in the Andy Braitman workshop:

The two pieces on the left were both started from the same photograph and done in three values: dark, middle and light.  From this foundation I had a recipe for making the final effort hold together and flow as I had predetermined I wanted it to go.  Let me show you how each piece took on its on look.

Using the same color palate I decided to take one piece towards the cool and the other much warmer. Putting away my reference photograph I got bold and let the rocks and water take on their own forms.    Even the background trees and skies began to be different in each painting. The key was to keep the darks in the black zone, the light colors in the white areas and tie them together with mid tones of different colors.  

I love the idea of layering colors as I build the piece overall.  It takes a lot of patience to paint, sit back, think, let dry (while I literally write down notes so I don't forget them) and then start again.  I found that the slower I went the more I had a cohesive plan to execute.

This piece is 30" x 24" and definitely has a cool, closed-in feel to it.  I think I have "been here" many times on my hikes.  The water moves gently and has lots of colorful reflections in it and the rocks have a mossy feel to them.  On the other hand...

This version feels more exposed to the sunshine to me.  The water is moving fast and furious and I can hear the water falling as the sun heats up the rocks.  At about this stage I set it aside and my kind husband gently informed me that my crashing waters had no discernible other words, they did not read true.  And I agreed: water flows downhill, not up!!  

I thought about the changes and, not losing the energy of the foreground, was able to paint a more believable flow upstream.  I still feel the sun in this version although there is very little sky to confirm it.  I feel like I have been here as well.  Both locations are clearly different although they started with the same reference photo and then took off in different directions.  As long as a landscape is reasonably believable and touches something we can relate to (moss, heat, cool, sounds of water and such) it can be "of" any place you want it to be.  

I like both equally but you might prefer one over the other.  Can you articulate why?


Friday, September 15, 2017

2017 Eclipse Revisited

OK, I'm a tad disappointed, I thought more visual artists
(and poets and dancers) would be documenting their
creative reactions to the 2017 phenomenon, the eclipse.
Maybe makers are still processing and digesting; maybe
there is work yet to be created.

Gene Smith prepared with filters to capture the event

I am often accused of being overly-enthusiastic.  Guilty.  But in checking around with all my arty friends as well as on the web, I am not finding too many others who documented our recent eclipse.  Many for-profit organizations produced tee-shirts and posters but I was looking for artist reaction.

However family-DNA proved strong as, unbeknownst to me (and totally unprompted by me), my sister did choose to make a mark on the occasion producing one of her clay bowls in commemoration of the event she experienced at the Washington DC zoo.

AmyH, Washington DC potter
untitled, thrown bowl, 2017

Cool, huh?  And I called my photographer buddy, Gene, to see if he got creative that day.  He did not disappoint:


just a few of the pieces he did
Gene Smith, photographer

There is/was a quilt ART project spearheaded by NASA which is really open to all media (not just quilting) but will be displayed as a collage or quilt when finally assembled.  Pretty nifty idea and I hope folks respond.  Check out the link to read more about it.  And then I found this:

Isn't this pretty?  It's a quilt square designed by Susan Davis from Bozeman, MT.  You can see her work and/or order a pattern for this commemorative design here.  It is part of her Awareness & Special Days collection.

My Uncle is a woodworker and alerted me to this:

This is a mirror crafted by John Lucas, a wood turner from East TN, a part of his galaxy series and done especially to commemorate this years eclipse.  I tried to get a link here about him and his work.

My search efforts were meager at best, and yes, I am still processing and wondering how to work the event into future art pieces of my own.  If you missed my blogs, Eclipse I and II, find them here and here.  So I guess I should promise now to drop the subject?  Three blogs? O.K., I'll let it rest a bit.  

How are you going to spend this glorious, last week of official summer?  My heart goes out to those in TX who are still sifting through the aftermath of Harvey, so much to remind us that Nature is still in charge.  


Friday, September 8, 2017

Creative (and Empty) Bowls

Deal-makers aim for "win-win" as they believe
that means both parties get a benefit.
Sometimes, the stars align and a particular project
turns out to be a "win-win-win-win..."
Such was this year's fundraiser for "Feeding Avery Families."

Our quasi-official clay group (from 3 different states) scheduled our second annual Mudfest to coincide with our leader's (Mother Mud's) favorite community project: Empty Bowls.  Since the indefatigable Patti Conner-Greene spearheads the construction of clay bowls in the Avery County High School art classes she had also challenged us to each make one or more bowls to donate to the fundraiser.

The Mudpuppies
pottery support group and creative muses

Opening business included lunch, catching up and a birthday celebration.  While we were prepared to spend some time experimenting with "pinch pots," we first wanted to present our wares to the "Head of Pottery," Ms. Conner-Greene, the bowl collector.

I show you first my humble piece as I don't consider myself a potter and was really flummoxed by the task at hand.  It would not have taken too much for me to hide it and not "go public".  Live and learn.

Amy bravely unwrapped her efforts and began discussing techniques used and what she learned.  She talked about certain pieces that did not meet her "standards" and might be held from donation.

Lisa began sharing her work and soon we were all laughing and oohing and ahhing and trading "secrets" for how to get certain results.  We giggled over how much better the potential rejects looked out of their home studios....

Patti convinced us that despite our initial reaction to appearance she really loved, but even more, wanted, needed each and every bowl.  There was little time to hem and haw so back into the boxes and the bowls were off to the next day's event.

I'll save our pinching experience as well as our field trips for another time.  Fast forward to the day of the event and we see three (non-professional) potters arriving to volunteer for the event.  

 Barbara assisting a donor select a bowl

a view of the many bowls donated and Amy answering questions

Attendees make a donation to the organization in exchange for selecting a handmade bowl and then they sit down to enjoy a range of soups, breads and desserts.  Craft it and they will come: donors poured in to support the cause.  

Are they aware of what else they did?  

They gave a handful of fledging crafters the greatest high a maker can receive: they valued the product.  Professional pots mingled with first-ever pots, wondrous bowls cohabited with the humble, earth tones sat in harmony with wild colors.  But each one was lovingly picked up and handled with respect.  Our Puppies gave up guessing which one a donor would finally choose; each and every bowl seemed to ring the chimes of someone.  It is an understatement to say that the newbie potters saw their own work in an entirely new light.  The love of a stranger made a huge impact.  The adoption of one's potential reject changed its status forever.  Watching someone willingly select something you made provided a rush of adrenaline that is rare and wonderful.

Lisa rearranging the display as inventory diminishes

Long before the event was to serve its last bowl of soup the available "empty bowls" dwindled.  For the first time there was not a single hand-made, donated pottery bowl to pack up and store: they were all in new homes.  And, before even adding in anticipated funds from a silent auction, the event organizers were counting over $10,000 raised towards helping feed needy families in Avery County this winter.  Certainly a huge benefit for the organization and the citizens its serves.

Patti has often shared the generosity of high school students donating their first bowl as opposed to keeping it, and she told stories of the classes at the senior center making and giving a generous amount.  But she could not have predicted the numerous benefits participating in such a project would hold for each of us.  I'm not sure any of the Mud Pups have touched ground yet.

Take away on paper?  #1- When you compliment someone's art you are giving them a priceless, precious gift and encouragement to continue. #2- Never, ever underestimate the ability of your work to please, get it out there, let it will find a friend.

win-win-win-win-win....such a deal!