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, December 8, 2017

Georgia on My Mind...O'Keeffe that is!

"I found I could say things with color and shapes
that I couldn't say any other way --
things I had no words for."
Georgia O'Keeffe

Not long ago I mentioned my plans to make an "O'Keeffe pilgrimage" in the spring.  My tennis buddy perked up and said that I must have seen the current exhibit at the Reynolda Museum in Winston-Salem.  I had not but the sun barely set before I had made reservations, signed up for a lecture and booked a package with the nearby Graylyn Estate owned by Wake Forest.  Be still my heart, lots of history and art accompanied by haute dining and fine wine!

It was hard not to sit down and read the entire 300 page catalogue they gave us upon check-in but I resisted as our timed tickets were coming due.  The Reynolda House, (of course of RJ Reynolds fame) is not a huge venue, much of the home is left intact, furnishings et al, as part of the exhibit, so tickets are timed and many of the rooms (small turn of the century bedrooms) are closely monitored for capacity.  

What a treat this proved to be.  The curator, Wanda Corn, proposed the exhibit using clothes left by O'Keeffe as a springboard to all manner of insight and discovery.  There is no way I can do proper justice to Corn's work, or her breadth of knowledge, in a short blog.  But this was without a doubt one of the most interesting pathways I have ever followed into learning more about the life and work of a major artist.  I will try to share just a few "take aways" in no particular order.

  • O'Keeffe was an accomplished and prolific seamstress from an young age.  Early photos show her preference for a streamlined style of whatever the current fashion and a reduction of the styles to neutral colors and natural materials.  She somehow had the patience and skill to pin tuck entire blouses making them into the shape she desired. Later this knowledge lead to a highly discerning preference for well made, exquisitely designed clothing.

(p 96 exhibit catalog)
Alfred Stieglitz, photographs, 1918

Her many years of modeling for manager and husband, Alfred Stieglitz, taught her much about image projection.  The black and white photos he took have intentional structure and shape and while it tested her patience to model as he directed, the experience proved to be valuable in the future design and maintenance of her public persona.  It is rare to find a photo of her in anything but black, almost never does she look directly at the camera, her head is always a shape designed to convey a mood etc.  Because she is, throughout her life, very controlling with other photographers who came to capture her (including Ansel Adams, Arnold Newman, Cecil Beaton...), she maintained total control of the public image she wished to project.  I told my husband that she certainly understood "branding" before that word was bantered about.

(sorry it is wonky, the person in front of me wouldn't schooch over!)

  •  Despite her penchant for being photographed in black and white, I did learn that she and I share a love for the color red, no doubt one of the reasons she chose to move west for half of her life.  Knowing this made it interesting to look for red throughout the exhibit.
  • Even as she controlled the images of her that circulated publicly, it was widely known that she was not one thing in private and another in public.  O'Keeffe always seemed to embody her preference for minimalism and shape whether it was in her art, her homes, collections or her wardrobe.  
            " ...never allowed her life to be one thing and her painting another.  She has never left her life in disorder while she sat down to paint a picture that should be clean, simple, and integrated.  To her art is life; life is painting."  1927, friend, Frances O'Brien

My photos are not quality, nor comprehensive because I was too preoccupied in absorbing every morsel to remember to pop out the camera.  But my notes (taken in the dark lecture hall) are endless.  I could share so much more about a most intriguing view of an artist I only thought I knew..  But one final tidbit:

(photo from exhibit pamphlet)
Pool in the Woods, 1922, collection of Reynolda House Museum of American Art

When I came across this piece in the exhibit I noted it was owned by the hosting museum.  I asked the knowledgable guard how many more pieces they owned and he smiled.  "Only this one," he answered.  "The curator wanted it in the exhibit so the Reynolda agreed on the condition that the entire exhibit, when ready, would visit.  Other than Brooklyn and Boston, this is the only eastern location Living Modern will appear."  (please click that link to view a short video I just found from the Brooklyn Museum)

Wow.  My lucky day!  As you are reading this the exhibit has left Winston-Salem; but it is worthy to note that the Renaldo was able, right after we left, to negotiate one additional week of scheduling for this magnificent show.  The attendance by southern art enthusiasts had far exceeded their expectation.

and of course: P.S. - remember how much you have read about the taboo sexual innuendos in her paintings of flowers?  

 Sooo, that's HER story and I'm sticking to it!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Sticking with it: Painting with Sticks?

“Faites des lignes. Faites beaucoup de lignes.” 
("Draw lines - draw a lot of lines")
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres - 1780 – 14 January 1867) 

This was advice given to an art student named Degas very early in his painting career.  I think it is still worthy today for anyone who wants to make art.

my collection of "tools"

When I made the decision to pursue art I asked Sandy Johnson, Melbourne, FL,  for private lessons.  One day she sent me to her garden to find a couple of sticks.  That day she insisted I set aside the brushes in favor of painting only with sticks.  I wasn't quite sure at the time what I was supposed to learn, but I diligently complied and although frustrating, I painted that day using a stick.

So in my voyage to rekindle a spark, I remembered this class and set about collecting a variety of sticks to work with.  Yes, I put it off for a bit as I remembered how maddening it was to get the shapes I saw in my minds eye but I finally pulled out paper and paints and got busy.

scratch, scratch, scratch

found some buds that were softer

ok, not too shabby
I like the roughness

While I was in the mood (or mode) I kept on, changing out paper and reference photo.

not my favorite stick!  right about now I am having visions of
the cavewomen, using sticks to carve art into the walls of
their homes and realizing that altering the stick with
fire or pounding the tips with stones would produce
a slightly different mark for their work

I cannot be critical of the's from a stick for gosh sakes....

one more

I began making notes on the paper around me to capture my thoughts as I happily disposed of the sticks and here is what I jotted down:

  • use all parts of the stick, turn it, find the edges, try it flat
  • be content to suggest, details are almost impossible, stay loose
  • color mixing is not precise, can't be done very thoroughly but leaves an interesting combo of the colors used
  • select only the most essential parts of the subject to render, reduce it to the shape
  • this is messy, paint is everywhere and either wear gloves or be content with the mess

I think those are good notes for painting with a fact, they are critical things to remember.  Well, maybe not the messy part but all else should apply if, IF, the painting is to remain interesting and artistic.  Maybe that is what Sandy was trying to show me?

No more sticks but I certainly hope the notes I made stick with me.  (uuuugh!)


Friday, November 24, 2017

Eco-dyeing with Fall Leaves

 Nature's first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. 
Her early leaf's a flower; But only so an hour. 
Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, 
So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay. 

Robert Frost

Nothing gold can stay.....unless you capture the image!  Autumn gives us all a thrill and I knew I could preserve some of it when I was seduced by eco-printing.  My friend Barbara must take full blame for my obsession with this technique as she wore the first scarf I ever saw done this way and I pestered her until she revealed the secrets.

I have posted some note cards I made using a similar process but several readers have asked me to do a blog and explain more!  I will do so now. Keep in mind that I am far from an expert but that with an adventurers spirit anyone can give it a try.  If you take a notion to try please reference "eco-dying" or "steam printing leaves" on google or pinterest.  You will get lots of helpful info.

Gathering the leaves, foraging, is the fun part although it is trial and error as to what will print.  Wool and silk (proteins) are most easily printed after mordanting with an alum mix that is dependent on the amount of fabric you soak.  This was a fun way for me to learn my leaves and trees and the most dependable in western NC are sumac, sassafras, beech, alder, japanese maple, sugar maple (actually almost any maple), geranium, red cabbage leaves, marigold petals and rose leaves.  Oak was a bust for this experiment.  

After the mordanting process we stretched out the wet silk and arranged the leaves, "earth side down," on top.  Sometimes we just scattered, other times I tried to intentionally make a design.

two silk undershirts

Then the fabric and leaves get rolled tightly around (for us) a PVC pipe or a length of branch.  This is secured with a tightly wound string.  Now processes take a twist.  Barbara's instructor seals the bundle in shrink wrap which is really cool.  My notes never indicated that as necessary so I skipped it.

sorry no pics of using the shrink wrap

Now if you have an electric turkey roaster that you can dedicate ONLY to dyeing drag it out.  I, on the other hand, jerry-rigged a steamer with an old covered roaster, glass jars to lift the fabrics and a hot plate to heat it all up.  Again, methods differ: immersion dyers set the entire bundle in the water, steam dyers prop it up out of contact with the bath.  I have done both and see very little difference.  

my pseudo-electric roaster without lid

Heat it up to a good steaming and....again, methods differ: if wrapped in shrink plastic steam it good for one hour; I have done the 2 hour method.  Some artisans swear you should leave and open in the morning (which I do with my paper prints), others urge opening as soon as cool to the touch (which is really fun if you are impatient like me).  

unrolled shirt with leaves still on it

Everything I read however does agree on one thing: do not rinse or wash your fabric for at least 48 hours after unrolling.  I have never done otherwise so I cannot say with any certainty that the print will disappear if you wash sooner.  Why risk it?

silk scarf drying

Since I like to use silk products I noticed that they seem to lose the "hand" after this process (the soft, draped feel of silk) and I discovered a product called Milsoft NB.  Used as directions suggest in a final rinse restores the gorgeous fabric to its original texture.  I buy most of my scarves and shirts from Dharma on-line.

So what do you think my precious daughters-in-law will say when they get these for Christmas?

Probably "yuck!" It is an acquired taste....but hey, these are undershirts, right? no one ever has to really see them and yet those sweet gals will be all warm and comfy.  Or if they take up deer hunting they will have their camouflage ready to go.  

I'm thanking Barbara over and over again for opening this magic window for me.

However you celebrated Thanksgiving I know that you had much for which to be grateful. Wishing you creative weeks ahead.

Foraging for Color,

Friday, November 17, 2017

Lost in White Abstraction

“Women think of all colors except the absence of color. 
I have said that black has it all. 
White too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.” 
― Coco ChanelChanel

Remember I left you at:

12 x 9 canvas

I liked messing around in the playground of white so I decided to return to this start of a collage.  In the abstract world of art there are certain recognized patterns of design that have proven to be basic to the balance of an abstract.  The cruciform is one of those and you can see it above in the off center cross made from crumpled tracing paper.

some patterns of abstract design

 I went on to finish it:

and before too much evaluation or judgement, I started another:

again, a 12 x 9 canvas

with some soft molding gel I added some texture
which is hard to see in this photo

and...calling it done.

I'm not sure how I feel about these...other than to say I am glad I dabbled.  I really prefer minimalist abstract art and there isn't much about me that is capable of producing "minimalist" anything.  

I don't really feel finished with this experiment and I'm not certain whether it is the lack of an identifiable subject, the absence of strong color or the idea that it doesn't have to "be" anything that appeals to me from an execution standpoint.  I don't think they represent Coco's "perfect harmony" but who knows?  I'm a little too close to really judge at the moment.  Guess I will run it up the flagpole, hold off on banishing them and see where it leads.  They are not secured in the frames so no commitment there.  Let me know what you think.  

Back to the Lab,

Friday, November 10, 2017

Is White the Absence of Color?

"...The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for
some way, and then dipped suddenly down,
so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think
about stopping herself before she found herself
falling down a very deep well." 
                                                      from Alice in Wonderland,        
                                 Lewis Carroll

It is a very deep well indeed....with all kinds of underground systems leading to new and unusual places.  I was playing with natural dyes:

upper L to R: goldenrod, red cabbage with vinegar, red cabbage with
ammonia, walnut hulls and avocado pits and skins...

and I found the subtle colors soothing.  This was not my usual bursts of magenta or lime green and yet these were refreshing, calming.  Which got me to thinking about the absence of it white?

That question caught my eye as I was surfing through program offerings on PBS and I watched one that involved a challenge from an art professor in working with white.  He talked about white being relative.  One only has to go to the paint store and ask for "white" to learn that there is at least "50 shades of" white.  Which lead me to begin thinking about experiments using white.

(See where the rabbit hole tunnels can turn back now!)

Which led me to reclaim an old painting with the intention of playing around with....white? whiteS?

the green tape is to protect the frame as this painting was apparently glued to the frame...? So I covered over the old piece.

I began to play with different shades of white...using up some old paint on the palate and employing a few toys: credit card to scrape, a rubber nib, a roller and a small sponge.  I wasn't sure where this was going and I was trying hard not to let that major issue get in the way.

Oh dear, Joni Mitchell is now singing "...they paved paradise..." and that becomes a working title.  I'm afraid that now I feel bound to come up with something.  Shoot.  We will see.  Time to let it dry, it feels a bit busy to me. Perhaps move on to a "white" collage.

12 x 9 white canvas back to the oil.

More white and I'm not liking this at all.  I'm a bit scattered without some sort of a plan....

 from bad to badder or worse to worse-er?

Calling it quits.
Unless I have a wild inspiration soon this will be headed right for the dumpster.
HOWEVER...not all is lost.  I learned that I (that's me, not everyone) need some semblance of a plan before I begin.  No problem diverting from it but with no plan I just get tangled up in the weeds.
AND, I liked working with these various shades of no color.  It's a "try again."  With a plan.

Going to go dig out the beginnings of that white collage and see where it goes...I did start with a standard abstract format referred to as the cruciform.  Now watch me take off....

Dabbling WithOut Color,

Friday, November 3, 2017

Ch Ch Changes

"All children are artists.  The problem is how to
remain an artist once you grow up."
"The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls."

I thank you for the wonderful responses I got to my plea for patience as I try to find my way (again).  Encouragement, confidence, recommendations and understanding all flowed in from readers who "had been there" or simply understood.  Those words meant a lot, I'll be rereading them in the months to come as I wander and wonder what is ahead.  THX!

And as long as we are thinking about changes, and while I had the gumption that 
something radical had to happen quickly...I pulled down a piece I did in January 2016 that just never hit the mark.

I wrote about this piece in a "never say never" blog.  I love the colors, I liked the subject matter but why, oh why, do I have half a bovine walking off the upper left quadrant?  Had it been canvas I might have sliced and diced but I also knew that the remaining cow could stand a little more meat on his bones.

I printed a photo of the piece and with colored pencils begin to cover up the left cow just to get an idea of how much space I might have after "erasing" it.  There was room for something else so I went ahead and painted out the offending rear end.

And it sat just like this for days and days waiting for an inspiration.  A barn? a fence? so I went hiking and wouldn't you know, another up-close and personal confrontation with a field of cows.  They were docile so I tested my luck and being alone, took many more photos of the one subject I swore I'd never paint.

As I began sketching in the young friend here on the left I also made adjustments to the original cow.  This was one of those "nothing to lose" experiences since the first attempt was a dust gatherer as it was.  "Just go for it, learn something," I said.
So I did.

I'm liking it so much better.  It may hang around while I decide whether or not I am finished.  The younger cow on the left might need to become stronger but I also think its nice to make one of them more dominant in emphasis.  At least I got rid of the cow who was trying to leave the scene.  I relearned a very elementary composition rule that it always helps to be reminded of.  AND I proved that I could radically change a piece with very little harm done.  Whew.  Not as bad as I had dreaded.
Good lesson.

Wonder what else is gathering dust and could use a make-over?

Empowered by Color,
p.s. I have no idea why there are several fonts and alignment changes in this piece.  The computer got ahead of me and would not conform.  Sorry!