Friday, June 9, 2006

It Was a Sign

7-UP, 2000, Oil on Panel, 11x14

I was happy to see the lovely paintings featuring signs that Jeff Hayes posted on his blog yesterday. As I told him in a comment, I love to paint signs! I haven't done so many lately, because I have been slightly obsessed with horizon lines and tree lines and barns but I have a ton of reference photos of scenes including signs and it is definitely a subject that I would like to focus (obsess) on in the future.

In keeping with the whole sign thing, I thought I'd put up a painting that I did in 2000. This piece was one of about 20 oil paintings that were the first work I had done in about ten years. The girls were very young, but I was itching to get back to oils, plus we had just moved into a house where I had the most heavenly studio. It was a room over the garage, over 600 square feet with knee wall storage. It was so big that I had a painting area, a sewing area (I did a lot of sewing for awhile), where my sewing machine could just be set up all of the time (what a luxury!) a place for the kids to do some art AND a chair and tv, where I did my knitting. I am getting tears in my eyes just thinking about all of that space.

So anyway, as I said, the girls were young, the boys were in school, and I wanted to have a bit of time each day to paint. I found a neighborhood girl who had graduated from high school but hadn't decided about college yet and hired her to come each morning to watch the girls while I painted in my studio. She was great and the girls loved her, but boy, did I ever feel guilty! However, I equally felt like I had to paint again before I got to a point where I wouldn't. So swallowing the ever present guilt of motherhood, I started doing these very precise, very realistic paintings of local buildings. While I enjoyed the "noodling" aspect of working so realistically and it was really a good way to regain my painting skills, after about a dozen of these I was feeling pretty sure that I wanted to be more expressive and less representational. That feeling was confirmed when everyone (mostly my dear friends) who raved about the paintings, included this comment: "they look just like photographs." I know they all meant that as a compliment but it just really made me feel like a fraud somehow. Because the paintings were just not me, not yet anyway. But I included about 15 of these pieces in a show, and even sold a few, at the arts organization where I volunteered, along with about 15 or 20 photographs that Doug had taken. (Did I mention that he is a photographer at heart, currently making a living in a different field?) Look here to see his work.

The process in this work was similar to how I work now, but there were also quite a few differences. About half of them were on canvas (the one above is on panel), which confirmed what I had suspected in college; I don't like the "give" of stretched canvas, nor do I like the texture. The underpaintings were pretty precise, monochromatic renderings, done in acrylic. And the over painting was partially alla prima, using very little paint, and then layers and layers of glazes, many more that I do now. On some of them I used Liquin as a medium, and on others I used wax, which was interesting but I haven't used it since.

Despite wanting to cringe a little bit when I look at this old work, going through this process was extremely valuable to me. I finally figured out that if I wanted the images to be more expressive and abstract then I'd have to do much less exact underpaintings. I don't know if I would have realized that if I hadn't gone through the whole noodling thing first. The underpainting was the place where I'd have to loosen up and so that's what I did. And that has made all the difference.

Um, oh yeah, so my point here was that many of these pieces had signs in them and this building had the best one.

PS. I did get to use some of my favorite kind of frames on these paintings, AND I did not label the back, bad girl, so I am just guessing that the title involves 7-UP somehow.


Jeffrey Hayes said...

Hey Tracy,

Although you might cringe a little, I think it's a very solid and engaging piece, and I like it tremendously. It will be interesting to see what results when you return to this subject matter in your current style.

Love Doug's diner series, BTW

tlwest said...

I Cringe all the time but its the process and not so much the level of art:)

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi Jeff, You are very generous in your compliments I think:-) Actually, I thought it was pretty nice when I painted it, otherwise I wouldn't have had the nerve to show it. I have done few signs over the past few years, probably the most successful one being Milk Barn, posted a few days ago.

I will pass your comment on to Doug. I am trying to get him to start a blog so he can put up his new images, but he is maybe busier than I am.

Thanks, TL, You're right, cringing is part of the process.


there is a great sign near me that I love. its an icecream cone on top of a telephone pole. the icecream shop is long gone. Its so random looking. I should get picture and post it.

Stacey Peterson said...

How neat to see the difference between what you were doing then vs. what has developed into your style now!!

I cringe when I look at paintings I did 6 months ago. I figure that if I ever stop cringing when I look at old work, then I've stopped improving!

Tracy Helgeson said...

Aaron, that sounds cool. You should put it up and let all of us paint it!

Stacers, I left out the part about how I cringe about the more recent work too! But I totally agree with you, it would be sad if we thought our best work was done in the previous years. There are plenty of critics around to tell us THAT.

martha said...

I always cringe when I look at my work. I'm trying to get over it, actually, and see it as a journey instead of a fixed point. I'm fascinated by your process, as it's so different from mine. I rarely use underpainting, and I love the texture of canvas. But I like to build layers and layers of paint, and I think layers of glazes give such a beautiful translucency. I'd love to see some of your work in person.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi Martha, It's funny, I like the canvas texture when I see it with other artist's work, but somehow I just hate how it looks underneath mine. It's odd.

Anonymous said...

i love to read about your work and how you've got to where you are on the journey. How I hate the "just like a photograph" comment too, although I am getting it less and less (so I something must be changing for the better!). Don't cringe ... every artist has stages and THAT will become known as your 'Realistic Signs Period!!!!

Tracy Helgeson said...

Thanks Lesley, glad to know that you are not too happy about the photograph comparison either and that cringing seems to pretty common amongst all of us.

Karen Jacobs said...

'Mothers Who Paint' or 'My Kitchen Studio' ;-) Bet we have a lot of similar stories though I had precious little space for painting and it's a wonder I didn't poison my family with assorted chemicals and food sharing the sink. Good memories and all survived.