Monday, January 26, 2009

Memory Lane (Part 1)

Well, I managed to get out to the barn this weekend to retrieve my portfolios of the work that I did in college. Actually I got Doug to trudge through the three foot high snow drifts, shovel out in front of the door and then poke around in our junk filled barn, but whatever. I was busy in the hen house and had my own issues with the snow and cold.

He brought in two portfolios and after going through them I realized that there is still another batch of work somewhere, so perhaps another trip out there is in order. I am pretty sure that I stored quite a bit of work in an old brown suitcase. Awesome storage, I know. Heh.

Actually most of the work is in pretty good shape all things considered. I have moved about 9 times since college and everything has been stored in basements, or attics and now it's been in a barn for almost five years. Many of the pieces are only scuffed because they were not protected by a covering and were rubbing against the back of another piece, but the paint itself looks good, no cracking or peeling. And since it has rarely seen the light of day, the colors have not faded.

Ok, now that I have reminded you all about how NOT to store your art, we can move on. I was an illustration major in college so much of my work seems a bit out of context now. We did a lot of portraits, both from live models and from photographs (I wrote a bit about that here). We also had to put images together, make visual statements for potential editorial assignments (not my thing, but I tried) and we did a ton of figure drawing. Most of the work I am putting up today are portraits, which seems appropriate considering what I have been working on lately.

So here are a few:
Painted from a live model, and it was obviously during the 1980's. I had more than a few jumbo disc earrings like that myself!

From a photo of course, and it looks like I did some scumbling to prepare to make some changes on his chin and in the background. Yet again, left unfinished.

Graphite on Gesso drawing from a photograph. Looks like it might have been for a toothpaste ad. heh.

These were done sometime around 1986, maybe 1987. I had learned how to glaze over an underpainting, in a class with Phyllis Purves-Smith, using traditional methods and I worked in that manner for quite awhile. Struggled is more like it. What I see now is that working so precisely and realistically was totally not right for me. I recall that I enjoyed doing the monochromatic underpaintings but clearly the rest of it wasn't me and I often gave up and left the work unfinished. Same goes for the graphite drawing. It is interesting to note now that I paint in a very loose manner, yet there are places where I can utilize the more exacting side of me too. It's like I solved the puzzle of me. Well, temporarily, anyway; I am sure there will be more shifts in the future.

Anyway, the assignment here:
was to paint a romance novel cover. Our illustration class lugged our supplies to one of the historical buildings in Philadelphia and the models posed in various ridiculous dramatic situations. I was very unhappy with this piece, the figures are SO stiff! BUT it was also kind of a breakthrough for me-I was really excited about how the background looked and how the more simple glazes worked over the underpainting and textured surface (gesso).

That painting led to more work like this: where I was playing around with textures, and more dramatic lights and darks. And for some strange reason I was also perfecting the art of making paint crack by coating a layer of oil paint with matte medium. Eventually the matte medium cracked and then I rubbed burnt umber oil paint into it which gave it sort of an old wood like look. Now you can buy a product that does something similar, but back in the old days I had to find other ways to get the effects I wanted.

This portrait:was done soon after I painted Bette Davis and is directly related to what I am doing today. I got a shiver when I saw it again. I was still using paintbrushes (now I just use a cloth to rub off the paint) and probably turpentine too, so it's a bit tight, but I remember understanding that I wanted to figure out how to add color. I never got to it back then, but it has nagged at me ever since I began painting again and now finally I am beginning to solve that puzzle too.

I have tons of drawings that were done directly from the model, but this is one of my favorites:
The model was a guy who I got to know a bit at the bars, he was a nice guy, AND he had great hair, which is always a plus when it comes to a model! I always wanted to give him this drawing because it actually looks quite a bit like him but he moved away before I was able to and of course I haven't the vaguest memory of his name.

Another interesting thing about looking at all of this old stuff is how bad it is! My perception has always been that the work I did in college was mostly really good, especially this work, the work I chose to save and lug around with me for 20+ years. However, I am less than impressed with it now. I guess that means that I have grown as an artist, since it is usually a good sign when old work is cringe-worthy, but still. Kind of a bummer, you know? Also, clearly I have since developed a very different color sense. The old work sure does look pretty dreary next to what I am doing now and I think that might be a huge understatement.

Anyway, more to come!


Kim Morin Weineck said...

What a fabulous post, Tracy. Thanks for sharing. I loved the insight of your past work. Wonderful!

Anonymous said...

These are great to see. And don't beat yourself up so much about them - they're wonderful in their own different way, and contribute to the story of You.

Hey - which painting did the winner of your birthday giveaway choose? I'm curious!


Making A Mark said...

I think it's always a really good idea to hold on to your old stuff. They tell you so much. As you say you learn all about where you started, how you saw then and how far you've travelled.

I'm still looking for a particular book of my drawings done when I was about 6!

Natalya Khorover Aikens said...

thank you for these great pictures! i have saved some of my work too which is now quite cringe worthy (excellent words btw)... it's good to look at that stuff now and then, and see how far you've come. i do wish i had my drawings from when i was a wee one, i'd love to look at them while looking at the work by my own budding artists...

Unknown said...

You can see the pieces that have driven your interest further, and those you needed to discard, it is uncomfortable and wonderful to see at the same time. (ps, I have a portrait of Baryshnikov done from the same photo)

Anonymous said...

Tracy, I love that you put up your student work! I was going through mine the other day (from about the same period) and it's easy to see the flaws now in our own work we thought was good then. I have a theory that we (or me anyway) have to make a predetermined quantity of not so good stuff to get to that ideal spot of figuring out how to use our unique talents. The predetermined part is the carrot on the stick heh heh.

Sizun said...

Wonderful jouney through time and how you work evolved. Thank you for sharing.

Shanster said...

Wow - very fun and interesting post! Really cool to see the evolution.

I don't mean any disrespect at all by this next thought...

Because I'm not an artist, when you were talking about your older work and how you were a little less than thrilled by it... I had this funny thought about old boyfriends! It just popped into my head for some reason. Made myself laugh... chuckle..

Melody said...

Great post Tracy....very interesting. Wish I could remember where all my old work was. Knowing me it probably got lost in one of our many moves.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Thanks kim, Glad you enjoyed it:)

Julie, didn't i post that? I thought I did. I'll go back and look. I can't even recall right now!

Katherine, yeah, I am glad I have kept what I could, pretty glad I did some editing too! Good luck finding your drawings!

Thanks, Natalya, Maybe you'll put some of your older work up on your blog?

Maryanne, That's funny that you did one too! Mikhail, he sure was a cutie-pie! LOVED doing that painting:))

Deborah, sounds like a good theory. I don't even like some of the work I did 6 months ago and who knows how long it will be before I hate what I am doing now? Always trying to get to the pinnacle.

Shanster, I think one could substitute the word "boyfriend" for work in this post and it would make perfect sense. Good call:)

Thanks Melody, I know moves are tough when it comes to keeping things, so tempting to toss stuff rather than take it along. I can't believe I have this much after how many times I have moved.