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Break the rules?

April 9, 2015

Woven triangles

“Woven Triangles” – oil pastel from my sketchbook

I have always wondered about the rules for making art. Here are some I’ve been taught (and used):

  • Use energetic, thick/thin, broken lines to suggest strong emotion; light, elusive lines to suggest delicacy and tentativeness.
  • Use complementary hues in unequal amounts (a main color and an accent) to make colors “pop” on a canvas.
  • Create a focal point in a painting so that somebody viewing it knows what’s important and doesn’t get confused about where to look.
  • Create a path (e.g., zigzag, diagonal, cruceiform) through the composition so viewers can get “in” and “out.”
  • Vary the size and kinds of shapes, along with the treatment of their edges, to create more visual interest.
  • etc.

As useful as rules can be, it’s always tempting, and equally useful, to break them. That process of considering and breaking rules can result in new challenges and in new interpretations of why and how to make art. What would happen if you followed anti-rules for awhile?


No expectations

March 8, 2015

Doodling in black and whiteI started with no expectations, and I got so caught up in playing with black and white (my last post) that I’m still at it—a good reason to look through old work or your sketchbook to revisit ideas. At the very least, more exploring might be in order.

One of the things I like about dividing space on paper with tape is that it is rich with possibilities for interpretation. I’m drawn to Diebenkorn’s  Ocean Park series, and these little black/white vignettes that I make suggest architecture or the reduction of buildings to mere intersections of their components, much like Diebenkorn’s paintings and drawings reduce the landscape to its basic geometry…not that these aspire to Diebenkorn heights.

Work from Richard Diebenkorn

Two works from Richard Diebenkorn: Ocean Park and an untitled Ocean Park drawing

I started with paper (300 lb. watercolor paper, around 8 x 9 inches) that had several coats of white gesso, followed by taped off sections that I covered with black gesso. To that I added more tape to create divisions, then white and gray gesso. I like the randomness of taping without a template or plan. It creates wonderful surprises.

Beginning with tape...

Once I pull off the tape, I sand the surface so it adds a bit of erosion or wear. I’m going to finish with some collage elements and then mount these on panels. I like the starkness of the gray/black/white palette and the way the shapes divide up the space.

Black and white studies, painted with gesso


Re-investing in an idea

February 20, 2015

Sketching some ideas about triangles

Sketching some ideas about triangles


Lots of ideas are floating around (a plug here for storing ideas in a sketchbook to be retrieved when the doldrums hit), but nothing is really getting me going. So I think it’s a good idea to do something that I like just to play, to get myself back into “artmaking headspace.”

Normally I work in layers with organic shapes, but I painted three geometric pieces awhile back when I was stuck and wanted to do something different. Here’s one of the three:

"Red" black/white/gray gesso, acrylic on paper 9x32

“Red”; black/white/gray gesso; acrylic on paper; 9×32


…fun to tape off sections and just start building patterns by painting with gray, black, or white gesso. The red acrylic was a little accent that I added last. Since I had some small squares of the same paper, I used basically the same process to play around, but with more random alignment of shapes within each small square:

Two studies based on earlier series; black/white/gray gesso on paper; each piece is 7.5×7.5 


Sanded surface of small study, to create more textural interest

Sanded surface of small study, to create more textural interest

These looked more interesting to me than the first set…so I took the idea a bit further and started sanding the surface after painting so it would not be so tidy. Here’s are two of the small squares, one with the addition of a collage piece:

I’ll work on these some more and see where they go…

The gap between thinking…and creating

February 15, 2015
...a painting done over an old painting as part of a workshop exercise

Trees…a painting done over an old painting as part of a workshop exercise

I have been kind of scattered the past few months. A little too much in my head, which wasn’t joining up with the rest of me in the studio. I do love thinking, puzzling out ways of making art, reasons for making art, and speculating about the fuel that propels me. But sometimes that intellectual process substitutes for the nitty gritty of making art. What has been helping me lately is setting deadlines.

Deadlines for finishing specific pieces help push me through the hesitation or fear that a piece may not turn out the way I was expecting, and help keep me going rather than getting stuck (very important if you are a terminal procrastinator like me). Of course it’s important to believe your own deadlines.  I do that by matching them to submissions for shows or finding other external mile markers.

I found this statement by JOSH SUNDQUIST in Fear.less May 2011 that resonates for me:

 “Determination is the result of desire. If you are pursuing a goal and find it too frustrating or discouraging, there’s a chance that the goal is simply something you don’t care enough about.  That’s not to say you ought to sit around and say, “Let me just find something else to do with my life” but if the “how” of accomplishing your goal feels too large, it might be the “why” of that goal is too small. The sense of discouragement may be the result of insufficient emotional reasons behind the project, and determination is founded on those emotional reasons. What backs up determination is the realization that frustration and discouragement are normal. At the start of a new and challenging endeavor it’s easy to think, “I’m going to be super successful the first time out, it’s going to be awesome!” But there is always disappointment. Genuine preparation involves accepting that things are going to go wrong and deciding to get up from each fall until you cross the finish line. A key part of determination is making a conscious effort to persevere in the face of adversity.”


...from my sketchbook

…from my sketchbook

One step at a time

December 13, 2012

Small oil pastel sketch of boxes

A few thoughts about getting unstuck:

  1.  Having a deadline helps—for instance, getting work ready to submit for a specific show can be a great catalyst. Even if you are not getting ready for a show, you can set goals for finishing specific pieces. I use a Google calendar to keep me on track.
  2. Looking at other artists’ work gets me jumping with ideas. Start a scrapbook with pictures of other artists’ work that you like. You can use it to stimulate ideas for your own work.
  3. Don’t be afraid to repurpose your own art work. I save everything. Sometimes the edges of one picture that were torn off for a collage get incorporated into another. And cutting up old drawings can be a rich source of images.
  4.  Think about progress differently than as a linear path. Art is not the same as life. It’s more like soup—it gets richer the more ingredients you add. Envision it more as if it were an enrichment…as a pool, each experience creating a ripple like a stone dropped into a pool…ever-widening circles that dissolve into a larger reality.
  5. Small pencil sketch of random doodlingStop thinking about legitimacy. Be confident—not of some artificial artist role you’ve dreamt up and are wiggling around inside of, but because you are creating from the heart with truth. So, if I am making art and writing authentically FOR ME, that’s enough. It may be great or it may be humble, but it’s mine. That’s a good place to start…and stay.

What about the electronics in your life?

November 26, 2012

Mixed media drawing from artist's sketchbookIf making art is about tuning into an inner understanding of reality (your own way of seeing and processing the world), then it seems possible that electronic gadgets and tools might create some static that interrupts the reception. When do electronics cease being a tool and, instead, become a distraction?

It’s way too easy to get caught up in technology as if it had a value external to its actual usefulness. It seems likely that, at the height of exposure to multiple electronic inputs, that the human brain simply cannot take in that much information, relearn that many operating systems, or respond to that much stimulus on a daily basis. Whew. In spite of the urge to participate (as marketing ploys for social media suggest), one can be Facebooked, Twittered, internetted, and e-mailed to distraction.

And here’s where I’m going with this: making art should engage the same filtering system. More techniques, more supplies, more styles can carry the same threat of overload. As many possibilities there are for adding new electronic resources to your gadget stable, it is equally possible to be influenced by art marketers to attend more workshops, buy more new materials, and experiment with new styles to get you out of your rut. I think it might be wise to apply a “filter” to put electronics into a more subservient role and stop them from hogging one’s creative energy.

Conte crayon on 4 cradled panels, each 12x12 inchesSometimes a good old pencil on a blank piece of paper holds limitless possibilities. So, don’t be afraid to return to basics and work within limitations. They might just prove fruitful.

A disturbing (?) notion about talent

November 20, 2012

Sketchbook drawing in oil pastel showing "stuckness"

Here’s the crux of it: talent has to be practiced. Daniel Coyle in The Talent Code  says that “Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown.” I buy that to some extent, but his premise and supporting research go far beyond the notion of work, work, work in your studio to find your style, make your mark, create work that is personal and meaningful… and I’m only on page 57.

The idea is that you have to work smartly. Work on the edge of obstacles or your perceived limits so that you encounter problems, go backwards, go forwards, make mistakes, and correct them. It’s called deep practice. The result is that those nerve pathways that you use in the practice begin to build more myelin coating, and more myelin coating results in faster response and more skill.

The good part is that we all have the opportunity to become good at something, and there is research that supports engagement and practice rather than talent to do that. The bad part is that the effects of age, past experience, etc. on creating that skill haven’t been answered by page 57. In other words, is there a point at which the return on deep practice is reduced? Hmmm.

Back to practicing more drawing for me–to regain skill in transferring a notion or idea to canvas, or maybe just to reassure myself that I still CAN draw something when I want to, since I work mostly in abstract layers, accidental images, and collage.  That’s a whole ‘nother puzzle.

Sketchbook drawing in oil pastel of triangles--right side up and upside down

practicing triangles…

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