“DRIP BIG OR GO HOME!!” Process=Risky Business

I finished!! At 3:42 the morning of critique!! 😀 sooo happy!!

This is my finished product!! YAY!!

I have to say, “Hold the Birdcage” photographs really well…personally, I think I could go on adding layers of paint for at least another week or so to just the birdcage and the feathers….

Anywho, let’s talk risk. As defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Risk. n. 1. possibility of loss or injury: peril 2. someone or something that creates or suggests a hazard

Risk meant different things to each individual in our class, depending on what her unique style was. Risk could be letting loose and slapping ink on the paper or getting more concentrated and exact with brushstrokes, eliminating all linear borders (yet maintaining division between forms) or putting those edges and line segments back into the painting.

“The idea of risk is being open to it, which leads naturally to creativity, liberation, movement, compelling uniqueness. Visual problem solving shifts the way you see.” –Nell Ruby

My personal risk was to be more realistic and representational, duplicating forms in their exactness but relinquishing such details as the birdcage wires in order for the piece to work cohesively, not be loaded down with too much detail in one particular place. Other than replicating the values and intensity of hue, I really didn’t want to refer to the still life that much at all. My freeing moments came in how I chose to create my values, which eventually required me to maintain this multi-layered, multicolor shading and mark making motif throughout all of my forms.

Challenges in my painting that my peers noticed were with realistic representation of the objects, contrast between forms and the busy background, and the boxed in feather–it’s too confined within the space as compared to the rest of the subjects in the painting, very vertical, tight and isolated. I find it interesting that during our session of “speed dating the paintings,” for some of us, that which was found to spark interest and ultimately resolution, was also a challenge. For me, the tie-dyed background (I didn’t alter that wash much) was gorgeous, animated, fascinating, and visually conflicting.

Ironically, I found that what I spent the most time drawing representatively ended up being mostly muted out [birdcage], and that which I spent the least amount of time drawing wound up taking the most time to paint in sharp detail [hand, feathers].

Gala made an observation that really resonated with me, that one “seemingly non-consequential risk made something else [that] I liked not work.” I related perfectly!! Oh that box!! That Birdcage!! Even the hand, at first,posed this problem, but then its coloring became a motif for the rest of my painting…

Even the materials we used for this project were risky: gesso on ink, water-soluble crayons, watercolor paint (which we have established has a mind of its own) in combination with all of these new, mostly unfamiliar materials.  For me, when making the ostrich plume in the frame box, I found that gesso on ink didn’t work out; I added crayon and watercolors in vibrant hues and distinctive line, which actually overwhelmed the composition.

Perhaps Erica summed up the experience best. She compared this risk-taking process to Chinese handcuffs:

“The more you fight, the tighter it gets, the harder it gets to escape.”

Quoth Nell, “This is NOT a class about imagination, except in a way that directs how you are seeing.”


Dana Dance Party pt 2

Creeping into the weeeee hours of the morning…Erica and others have left, so that it’s me, Vy, and Suzy still in Dana…Crank up the tunes!!! We started blasting Vy’s Surprise retro playlist and really loosening up, from our boots to our flailing limbs, from our abundant laughter to our less tight brushstrokes. It was a PARTY!!

At this point, I really thought I had little work left ahead of me: I had to finish resolving the rest of the birdcage, add in the feathers (which I was dead set on adding absolutely last; I had stumped myself earlier by placing in large strokes of blue and a contour scribble of magenta). But NO!  Actually I ended up adding wash after wash of ink to the birdcage in order to replicate the darker values that would be in a normal cylinder, smothering out nearly all of my action painting and drips from earlier…Then, at Erica’s insistence, I washed the frame box in cadmium red light, then again in ochre. I admit, I absolutely loved the results!! The box did not wind up dominating the painting, as I thought it would when I brought it out of the foreground; instead, it was finally able to hold its own stance and still be cohesive hue and value-wise with the top pf the birdcage and the multicolored hand.

Next to conquer: the feathers within and outside the frame box. I did not really know how to work with the blue I initially put down; there was a lot of staring…and assisting Suzy…and goofing off:

OOH LOOOOK!! The bleed on this palette was so pretty, we all photographed it. Feel free to oooh and awh.


Back to reality. It seemed all of us present had to own our singular frustrations with specific details: Suzy needed to nail the reflections in the bowl within the hue she chose to represent it; Vy didn’t want to ruin her painting by tossing colors in the background; I had no idea how to make the feather multicolored, like the hand, wrist, arm, birdcage, and the cup. I didn’t want to delete my feathers altogether, but they COULD NOT be the focal point of my painting, No I say!

SO…I went back in the concentric rings, making bold lines with crayons (recalling Nell after I put a sky blue mark on the top of my skull: “YES!! LEAVE IT, DON’T TOUCH!! PERFECT!! Trust your instincts, you’re being instinctual!! RISK, MORE RISK!!”

And returned to the feathers in the same manner as my hand…

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I really just let things happen at this point with the painting: tilted the whole board at different angles, just to see what that would do, or moved painting upside down and painted against the grain..I attempted to remove the stop out but it just left ugly rips, taking the paper AND the color!! Suzy discovered that the liquid gum paste was actually WAAAAY more reliable, as in leaving your paper in one piece…

3:42 a.m!! SOOO FLIPPIN DONE!!

Dana Dance Party!!

PB&J, 90s R&B, 6 women, 2 still lifes and giggles. This is a late night at Dana, with me, Erica, Vy, Emily, Ellie, Suzy (and for a while, Victoria also, watching over us in her Senior Studio above us) working triple overtime to wrap up these mixed media paintings for class. Each of us had our own issues to resolve: Erica had a checklist; amongst her tasks was making the bowl more reflective; Vy was adding in blue flowers and some level of “risk;” Em was making the left side of her piece more unified with the leg shapes on the right. Suzy was resizing her bowl and fluttering in feathers with a dry brush (seriously, I still haven’t figured out how to MASTER that technique-wise!!)

I was engaging in my perpetual boxing match, double teamed by the box and the birdcage!! Ugh!! What I understand thus far in working through this extensive process, is that hours of work have to pause occasionally, so you can take a step back, let parts dry and see the impact of your last actions…it’s a chess game where no one wants her painting to declare “Checkmate!” Also, it helps to migrate around the room, giving suggestions to your peers and helping them resolve their own conflicts, or bearing witness to techniques you may have not thought of using before yourself. Music helps me make a personal breakthrough when I am stuck.

Nell had told us to keep the elements and principles of design in mind as we continued to work into our paintings. She and I took a good 10 minutes to just stare at my painting thus far:

The birdcage &box had yet to be resolved...

 Nell (very loosely interpreted here, just a tad): Well, what you really want to do is create space  in your work…Your background is so active, loose and free, and that’s great, but then you don’t want to lose your forms. This hand? Beautiful. This cup? Fabulous. Don’t do the birdcage. Don’t do the rings, they take away from the painting…You ought to make more cohesion between the box and the rest of your picture…Since the box and the background are the same intensity and value, they both recede, and you want them to come forward, have  the box come forward from the foreground…Don’t use the crayons to make your edges, use the watercolor to make implied lines, like the handle of your cup…


Me (out loud): Okay…but I really want to keep the ink splashes!!

[I had had an epiphany the day before and slung yellow ochre ink on the birdcage, Jackson Pollock style, to imitate the wires, the drips looked pretty amazing! In utter rage at the box and birdcage, I scribbled multicolored highlights and shadows into the hand using]

Nell: It needs to be more opaque…

For me, as far as that darn box was concerned, I did NOT want to put any edges in!! My fear was that I would not be able to go back to how it appeared before–in fact, that was my struggle for all the forms in my picture that seemed complete to me. (Hmm, now I know how Erica feels when she says she’s done and Nell makes constructive criticisms LOL.)

I did go back into the birdcage, reluctantly and begrudgingly, grumbling to myself; I coated over my pretty epic splashes with white ink–and learned, hey, this is pretty translucent, not as opaque and obliterating as gesso or gouache–I think I cross gesso and gouache in my head, so that I have this irrational prejudice against gouache!! EPIPHANY!!

Oh and I added the top of the skull at the bottom of the page…then played with the texture of wet crayon rubbed on the semi-dry gesso…

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Spelhouse Adventure

FIELD TRIP!! WOOT WOOT!!! Prompted by our general discussions in class, Nell invited members of our class to an art talk being held at Spelman College Museum of High Art, at 15×15: The 15th Anniversary Acquisitions Exhibition. So, after much searching in attempts to gather us all together, Erica, Vy, Nell, Belinda and her ball of sunshine Olivia, Ellie and Victoria, and me were off to West End!!

There was hilarity all night between getting lost and tons of inside jokes, great food and of course GREAT ART!! The exhibition featured artwork created by or about Africana women; common themes were historical objectification, embracing their beauty, position within the working class, and traditional roles within the community. An English professor at Spelman was having a discussion on that last subject, linking the artworks surrounding us with the book and the film entitled, “The Help,” and her research into the backgrounds of  Africana women who worked as domestics in post-WWI America.

We perused the exhibit after the talk was over:

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I was inspired!! Looking around at all those various paintings, mixed media, sculptures, photographs, silkscreens, digital imaging, I found the subject of my art paper, which accompanies our third painting:

I am interested in you doing some deep looking
at the works to see the way these artists use color as planes to structure
the work. Specifically, write about the idea of SUGGESTION vs. (&?)

Part 1: INVESTIGATE: As you look at the work consider the
following questions: What sort of color palette is used? Are the colors
bright or muted? Primary or tertiary? What is going on with value? Is there
strong or limited contrast? What is the flow or navigation of your eye
across the page? Can you describe the visual hierarchy or “pieces” of the
painting? Is the way you navigate the page the same as the subject
depicted? For example, does your eye stop and stay contained when you come
across literal objects? If there is a boat, for instance, what is the
relationship of color and value where the edge of the boat (or whatever
object) to the ground that meets it? Is there a variation in the color and
value of the object from one place to another or is it all the same? What
would you say the unifying formal principles of the work are? Is there a
relationship between how the artist is using color, texture, value, light,
line and space to the literal subject he/she is depicting? For example,
does a dark or low contrast value palette inform the visual experience of a
figure with her head bowed? If so, how? “formal”=Form

Part 2: WRITE: Write a paragraph about the idea of suggestion vs description in your painting.
[depending on the conclusions you reach, the word “versus” may become
words like: or/and/but/with] Use your investigative material evidence to
come to a thesis about how these two words interact in your work.

I chose “Out of My Blues” by Lucille Malkia Roberts to be the subject of my paper…I also decided that the topic of  my Africana studies paper would revolve around these women artists’ experiences and how those aspects of life impacted their work: art imitates life=missing voices from American history..so yeah, lightbulbs flicking on all over the place.


PLAYTIME!!! continues

We are exploring technique much more thoroughly. From now on, we are no longer strictly beholden to the still life except for retaining realistic values; we are not using local color, but responding to the painting according to the washes we laid down. More feeling good, more making discoveries of what one media does in response to another. The crayons we have remind me of my good ol’ water-soluble oil pastels, and yet these crayons are unique in how they mix with gesso to create this opaque paint. kinda of like a watered down acrylic–the closest we get to acrylic this semester. Surprisingly though, I wanted to do a lot more layering with watercolors and experiencing the AWESOMENESS of the crayons…gesso takes out too many details; it really does serve as a sort of white out, but then it’s harder to make the values blend without creating harsh lines…

I also used the stop-out rubber cement a lot more: It dries clear so that I can add more layers of wash or pigment and see whether or not I want to remove the stop-out so that the old layer shows through…According to Nell,

We are creating this dialogue and interaction with the painting. Still moving with the good feeling positively, and still keeping the edges of the forms–you don’t want to lose your forms!…Figure out what things you want to recede, and what you want to come forward. You do this by really pushing your values.

The wash of the ink casts an undertone, warm or cool, to whatever you place on top of it…It’s really going to be a crazy construction project of pushing to reality and working from the ground up, getting edged to my limits, possible cursing and talking to myself…but I’m ready!!! This seems like the kind of project I want to throw myself into…

Challenges thus far: How shall I successfully nail the details of the birdcage? Namely, the top and the wires? The frame box in the picture needs to be resolved also; the wash I used is especially bold and dark, but it creates this “deep vertical line that draws the eye away from the rest of the painting and stop right there.” (Nell) Thus far, I spread some of the magenta from the box over to the birdcage, after gessoing it out [Wordpress tells me gesso-ing is not a word. Well it is today, take that, conventional English!]

I want the focal point of the painting to be the hand, first and foremost; ideally, the eye should follow from the hand, wrist and arm, down to the birdcage over to the feather, and up to the cup–Hopefully, having this plan will guide me in my variety of frenetic mark making so I don’t get carried away…

PLAYTIME!! With Crayons and Paint!!

Let me just say, THESE ARE THE ABSOLUTE BEST CRAYONS IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD!!!!!!!!! OH YEAH!! I Made a superlative statement, Crayola can take it to the bank and CASH IN!! or not, considering I’m not complimenting them…

Water soluble wax?!! SHUTUP OMGAWSH!!

Step 2 of this painting was to apply color. I got sooooo excited and even more motivated to finish the [painfully] precise sketch. We are going to be layering on hues and values using watercolors, ink, paint, gesso, resist (liquid gum paste, rubber cement), the aforementioned water soluble crayons…

Today we began with colored inks, no black allowed because it would deaden the space, said Nell. The whole point of being so uptight about the exact location of objects and the borders between forms was to make definite borders for the get loose part.  Adding washes in huge divisive planes of color was much needed liberation after such stifling guidelines from representative drawing!! Whew!! Let ’em be as saturated or diluted as you like; let ’em drip and bleed into each other, EXPERIMENT!! Use what feels good to you!  (Nell suggested 3 major planes but I believe we could have more? I think there were supposed to be background, foreground, and middle ground.)

I wet my paper liberally by section, before applying ochre, red, green, blue and purple inks. Purple and green inks combined creates this dark olive green for most of the foreground; blue-green bled into the darker green from the top of the page. The hand and the arm I painted a very diluted red mixed with yellow. The birdcage was ochre and green—SUPER fun to paint!! Here I let the water drip in different rivulets, then added ink with small brushes. It was sooo gorgeous to watch but then I went overboard and lost the dripping paint effect 😦 I added more saturated ink drips in green, ochre, and purple. I wound up with a very tie-dyed looking paper, that reminded me of my potato from project one.

Key to producing fascinating effects on the paper was the vertical position of the paper clipped or taped to easels. The viscuous properties of liquid media could take over and release control from the artist–super infuriating when working in small details with watercolor, but not so much when making huge, vague, playful washes….

I really enjoyed playing with water today! I’m slowly beginning to change my thinking about “right” and “wrong” approaches to art….

My Worst Nightmares: Fingers &Feathers &A Birdcage!!!

Playing catch up is NOT fun. Just for the record. It is about as much fun as coughing up half a lung in an ocean of fleece blankets and Kleenex (what I did the class before).

I felt largely discouraged coming into class today: I’d moped through breakfast, been shown Erica’s brilliantly executed blog, and I’d been faced with the daunting task of observing a still life, drawing it true to life, on a huge (30″x36″ roughly?) Archer paper, and [today’s assignment] adding on large planes of color with ink.

I was behind everyone else, having yet to actually get the supplies, select a still life, or begin sketches. I chose a scene in which there was a wooden frame box, an ostrich plume, offwhite teacup, a wooden marionette hand and arm looped through the top (handle?) of a wooden birdcage.

Nell told me to focus not so much on the objects themselves, but on the negative spaces BETWEEN the objects. The setup I chose gave me ample angles and practice with porportions and scale; “use the string” was a continuous refrain in my mind as I worked back and forth. Quick How-to guide to the string:

Step 1. Squint eye at still life.

Step 2. Square body, and straighten arms.

Step 3. Pinch off relative unit of measurement within the setup.

Step 4. Try to keep “correct” angle that you will inevitably lose once you pick up a pencil and begin to try to draw it while still holding the string, possibly. Step 5. Get frustrated. Step 6: Pull hair and walk away slowly, grumbling to self.

It was a loooong class….The most infuriating aspect of the drawing part of this project? Making sure everything was anally precise, right down to line segments, angle measures, and realistic depiction to a T–drawing STRICTLY from representation. Could I even remotely deviate by not drawing the birdcage with all of its wires, or could I at least abstract it? Could I draw just half of the hand, as I had started out?

Nell replied, “PSSHT. Stop stalling! Get back to work!” which I took as a resounding NO.

The horror of the blooming birdcage!!! So many–too many–thin, parallel lines that turned at an angle into intersecting segments, too many concentric circles! Cue suggestions by Nell:

Redo the rings on the top of the birdcage (make them lighter, because they aren’t helping), and use the string to reevaluate the distance between one part of the ‘circle’ (resembled more of an ellipse) and another. They come closer together in the ‘front’ and grow farther apart on the ‘sides.’

So I spent the better part of an hour attempting to exact both the location of the 4 rings and their sizes relative to each other. (come to think of it, was it a full hour, perhaps? I lost track of time once music was on and I could be more absorbed, less tense.)

Choosing to include all of the wooden hand and wrist turned out to be a great choice!! The fingers and the length of the hand beyond the digits served as really useful units for scale conversion, especially when drawing the SYMMETRICAL top of the birdcage, the frame box and the teacup.

In order to more realistically achieve the shape of the feathers, I contoured them into the space. I love this scene’s balance of sharp angles and edges, contours and curves, and the complex negative spcae formed by the fingers and the feathers.

College Night at the High!!


It. Has happened. Once a semester, the High Museum of Art in metro Atlanta opens its doors for college students to hang out for $7 admission, beautiful art, great crafting, awesome free concerts/step shows, and general socializing, from 7 to midnight.

Did I mention FREE CONCERTS?! Of course, you’ve paid admission, but this scene is definitely for you if you have eclectic taste in music, particularly underground, independent artists who perform live.

Based on the featured exhibition, Radcliffe Bailey: Memory as Medicine, we made memory boxes from genuine wooden/metal cigar cartons!! I mean the real deal, handmade in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and decorated with various paints, magazine cutouts, feathers and fabrics…SO!!  Introducing my Swag box. aptly named for the company plaque on the mahogany box:

AAAAGH!! Not the String!!

In painting 2, we are supposed to apprentice with our classmates somewhat in order to learn/discover how to execute the styles that stood out to us from our last painting, while still working from direct observation. The concept behind this painting even sounds invitingly cool: Create a scene with cinematic scope–that is, with a close-up, a middle-ground object, and a far-away object. Further instructions: Pay attention to scale, values with respect to distance (Things that are further away are duller and more faded.)–oh and my favorite: Use “the string.”

The string is literally an 8 inch piece of cotton cord, beige-white-gray depending on how often you use it, nothing particularly special about it, except that it proves very useful in measuring proportions between one object and the next, distances, and angles. I did like the string before I really reeeeally had to use it….

At first, I combined objects that were not in the same window of view. There was, for example,  small wooden doll parts in front of me on a table, a random ceramic flowerpot holding tree branches, and the bell tower in Main, as seen though a Dana window (I was on the 3rd floor…)

randomized study=no string!!

But then, I got bored, urged by an impulse to find something interesting, and hark!! I find this odd, shiny, porcelain iguana shoe:

  This is my first sketch of the iguana shoe–a LIE.

That’s right!! According to Nell, this particualr shoe was a disgracfeul lie, a misrepresentation of the complex object before me, a fantasty from my mind of what I knew a shoe was SUPPOSED to look like, when in reality, the heel, the back of the shoe were probably VERY foreshortened.

So I started over, in sheer frustration, because I had already internalized the idea that I had messed up.

Ah well, break out the string, with which I measured every angle, every exact shape, and every highlight…it was an interesting combination of blind contour and color-by-numbers gridding…

to be continued…


Cinematic Scope: The Iguana Shoe

Some may see me choosing a single object as the focal point for a triple ground perspective as a bit of a cop-out. I actually found it quite challenging to have a single, mostly reddish, iridescent object represent a close-up, a foreground, and a far-off object simultaneously—it actually requires so much foreshortening, angles, and scale, one odd highlight shape compared to another. I LOATHED that string by the end of this assignment, yet I know its intrinsic purpose was to force me to very carefully, reeeeeeeally look at, around and through the shapes dancing in front of my eyes.

There were so many colors within one hue! Red had crimsons, greens , blues; yellows had ochres and violets reflected in different places. A major challenge was working backwards to depict highlights, and mapping out values that never flowed together and overlap…In order to put the highlights in, I used  liquid gum paste FOR THE FIRST TIME to “stop out” the white spaces. Now, this gum paste dries on in this light turquoise color [I panicked a LOT. A LOT: Aaaaaah!!!!], but then I found it rubs off very easily. You can put in multiple layers and still have pure white—or whatever wash–underneath.

Thus far, it really doesnt look like a shoe...

I executed color placement pretty well; my favorite spot was the top left corner of the shoe, where I began to layer the crimson and the burgundy…My original plan was to transfer my sketch in my sketchbook (9’x12″) to the Archer pad (3″x8″), but time wasn’t realy on my side. With all the layering to be done to nail down the vivid colors, I could easily have spent another 2 weeks on this painting alone.
Essentially, I need to finish the shoe, and put it on watercolor paper.

One of my favorite pieces was Hannon’s. Key to her entire work was the geometric shapes; they unified the work and gave it a theme. A suggested challenge for her was to lighten the black lines, make them less stark so that the window could stand out as a window, more obviously, and not be a grid.

That shape at the bottom, it's a KEY!

Suzy had a “happy accident.” 🙂
Quote of the day: “Never ‘should’ on yourself.” –Nell Ruby