Friday, February 26, 2010

Vermont, Plan D

Plan D was actually the first project I had planned for my time at Vermont Studio Center. I have wanted to sit down and focus on my mark making for a long time so I merged that with an old concept that I had briefly worked on a few years ago involving small squares of colors. I lost interest in that as it didn't really do what I had imagined it would, but I kept thinking how I wanted to put tiles together. So when the scratching became a stronger element in my work, I combined the two ideas and saved it for Vermont.

Over the past year, I have had all kinds of plans about how to set up the project but eventually I simplified it as much as possible and decided to refocus on the mark making aspect. And because I wanted it to be all about process, meaning I wanted to expand my mark making skills without feeling compelled to refer to those marks in future work, I decided to make it a give away at the final open studio at VSC. In keeping with that I also decided not to document the pieces, and only took a few general photographs of the project as it progressed. I wanted this to be all about my internal process.

So, process. I stocked up on about a million 4 inch squares. Well actually only 120 but it seemed like more. Heh. I also had some larger squares which only made it to the underpainting stage. I had planned to have them all gessoed before I left for Vermont but things got crazy busy before I left and so I ended up having to do all the prep after I got there. Then it took me several chunks of time over a few days to do the underpaintings and I admit to being mighty sick of the whole thing by the time I finished all of those! I didn't have a specific plan about the composition on these and I did do a few that would end up being one color as in my original idea. But I then decided to incorporate some of the more abstract elements that I was also doing in the border paintings; small sections of color at the edges, borders, contrasting squares in the centers, etc. I did at least a dozen of each composition, knowing that color would differentiate them later. By the night of the first open studio, I had all the underpaintings finished along with the first layer of glaze. Unfortunately I don't have a photo of that but this one has a bunch of the underpaintings in progress as well as a few that already have color:

Things in general after that got pretty hectic, I had all the other work going on plus there were artist talks, readings, etc so unfortunately I put off doing the color and scratching on these for just a bit too long. I ended up doing far fewer of the squares than I had planned and on one memorable night I seriously considering bailing on the whole thing entirely. But the next morning life seemed was all bright and shiny again and I decided I could do it after all. (Note to self: Never make any decisions after 1am;) I counted out how many I needed to have finished so that all the residents and staff could each take one and just focused on doing those. I ended up finishing seventy-two of the 4"x4" squares.

It was really a challenge to feel like I was varying the colors as well as the marks in each one. Um, especially after about #43. I settled on making very small shifts in color and by the end, both the marks and the color got pretty minimalist. There are a few squares floating around out there that only have one scratch running right down the center. Heh. I also learned that the most successful marks tended to be the random ones, marks that were not very representational, and that really carried over to the marks I made on the other paintings as well as what I have been doing since I have been home. I tried using some different tools to make the marks, but for various reasons I ended up preferring the little rubbery pointed tool that I was using in the first place.

My self imposed rules for Plan D were:

1. All the give away pieces would be on 4 inch square panels.

2. Because the project was to be all about process I would be giving away all the panels, without documenting them.

3. I also decided that I would stick with the initial colors that I chose for the glazes, no wiping off the paint to change the color and no working back into the painting later. Whatever I put down first, I had to make work. This was somewhat of a time saving rule;))

However, it turns out that the whole thing ended up being so much more than my process and it had such wonderful and unexpected results. In some ways, I think Plan D was really the most valuable project for me in Vermont and gave me some really good things to move forward with.

The unexpected things that happened here were:

1. They looked AWESOME all grouped together! I had always pictured this project as being only squares of solid color so I was very surprised to see how the small patterns on each square formed so many larger patterns. It was also interesting that the panels even worked together at all, considering they were all painted with no thought about how they would fit together later.

2. More than anything I wished I had been able to observe and possibly document the other residents as they were choosing and deciding on which one to take (I wanted to see the other resident's studios so I couldn't be in my studio the whole time). I was able to be there for awhile though and it was really interesting to watch a few people making their choices. Some people would pick out one, then change their mind a few more times before deciding on one, others connected with one particular piece right away. SO much more to do with this aspect of the project!
Matt Clark, Kimberly Dark and Kate McGraw making their choices.

Marcie Kaufman showing me her choice.

3. As I was walking through the other studios, other residents were so excited to show me which square they selected and it was fascinating to find out why they picked a particular painting. I think this was the best part; immediately seeing hearing why and how a fellow artist chose something I had made. Sometimes I feel a bit removed from that aspect of my work; why someone finds a certain piece appealing.

4. I was secretly glad that the all black piece ended up as one of about 10 leftovers. It was my favorite and is now part of MY collection!

So Plan D gave me so much more than I had imagined it would. Now that I am home and eying the balance of the half finished 4 inch panels, I am working on some ways to incorporate these other elements into this fourth new direction that I have going.

Very exciting!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Vermont Plan C

I began the 'People You Know' series during my first residency in Vermont and so it seemed natural to use this residency to continue developing them. I have learned in the last two years that this series is tough and so that is one reason I decided to take a few other projects to work on this time. Most of the other painting that I do, even if it is new to me, usually just flows out of me. The portraits involve much angst and wrestling, and well, they just hurt me sometimes. It is difficult for me to get started on one, even if I have an image I am excited about. Once I get past that part, things get somewhat better although still (unlike the landscapes), I can only do one or maybe two at a time.

In addition I have struggled with the validity of the whole project and the fact that I use found photographs as a basis for the portraits. But finally, I have realized that much of the process in this series involves my choices in imagery. Just as I find scenes in the landscape that I like, I am finding images (in the form of found photographs) of people that appeal to me for some reason and that I feel compelled to express. The paintings in this series are about the photograph first and the actual person second.

And so after many discussions with Doug about this, and then also in talking to the visiting artists at VSC, I am embracing this aspect rather than feeling so unsure and even somewhat guilty about 'copying a photograph'. One of the visiting artists (Jill Moser) suggested that I consider trying to capture the specific qualities of the photos that I choose, such as an object in the background, the faded colors of the print, the patterns in the clothing and other details that make each photo so unique and yet so universal at the same time. I don't think that I will go all out with that because I still want to express myself in this work by making certain changes. But it sounded like a very intriguing direction and so I will be thinking about all that in the next group of portraits.

However, I was pretty far along with this group of paintings when I finally got these fab realizations so the rest of this post will discuss how I handled these particular paintings during the residency. Everyone likes to hear about process, right???

The first few days I was busy with the larger works on paper and I also spent my evenings sorting through the two big boxes of photos that I had brought along. When the works on paper got to the point of needing time to dry, I turned to the portraits and did these two:
I worked on other things while those dried for a few days, then finally gathered myself together and did the color on Deanne, the girl on the right. J.T. came by my studio after I did the first swipe at the color and he gave me some feedback, suggesting I focus on a few details like highlights on the glasses, the earrings, etc. At first I wasn't sure I wanted to do that as I felt that they might begin to look TOO traditional. However, I decided to forget about that and just focus on what was best for this painting and bringing out those details was it.

So this is the finished painting:Deanne Likes Pink, 2010, Oil on Birch Panel, 18x14
And a close up:

I did a few more underpaintings next then got to work on the color on the other lady. This one gave me some trouble. In a way, I was trying to figure out why I was even painting it; this woman is very pretty and is posed in a very traditional way, quite unlike most of the women I am usually drawn to. But there was something about the nostalgic late fifties quality of the color in the photo, the red scarf and also her perky breast. Heh. Then THAT particular feature had to go when I got to the color stage, white shirt with perky breast just did not work in color and so the coat ended up covering it. I am continually reminded that giving up my favorite parts often benefit the whole and this is a good example of that. At least I still had the red scarf! Red Scarf Day, 2010, Oil on Birch Panel, 18x14

The next painting is of Deanne again and I have painted her so many times now that I am thinking that she qualifies for her very own post. Coming soon, k? Anyway, I liked this very straightforward image of her in a mucky colored lazy boy and so it was next. When I got to the color, I was really wishing I had not kept the background dark in the underpainting as I can't really make it light with color without losing the translucency of my glazes. I think it's OK dark but it might have been better with a lighter area. However, I still think this painting is a worthy addition to my collection of 'Deanne' portraits:Deanne in the Easy Chair, 2010, Oil on Birch Panel, 14x18

And the next image seems to be Deanne's mother. She is sitting in the same chair and I have a number of photos of those two in the same rooms. This photo was actually pretty blah but I kept coming back to it and decided that I was really intrigued by the red line going up the center of her clothing and also by her breasts falling down to her sides. This piece is quite different than the others in that it the person isn't really posing and is actually kind of depressing, I believe Doug used the terms 'disturbing' and 'depressing'. I like that! Days of Our Lives, 2010, Oil on Birch Panel, 18x14

Now at this point in the residency, I realized that if I was going to be able to get all these portraits finished before the end of my time there, I would have to get all the underpaintings done PDQ. I spent a bunch of late nights in my studio and managed to get five more finished. I would have liked to have done more but really the most I could do in a day was two underpaintings and some days even that felt like I was really risking my sanity.

So after I had all the underpaintings done and while they were drying, I worked like crazy to finish up all the other work I was doing so I could get it all up on the walls and out of the way. For the last week and a half or so I focused on finishing the portraits and my other project, Plan D (more about that in my next post).

Eventually I got back to the color on the portraits and the next few passed in kind of an overtired, sand in my eyes haze, so I am not entirely sure of the order. I loved the dark blue dress on this big strong smiling lady, as well as the lower viewpoint. I simplified the background and one visitor to my studio said that image seemed like a memory or an image from a dream: Midnight Blue, 2010, Oil on Birch Panel, 18x14

And a close up:

And this piece was actually based on a photo of a seated older couple but I decided that I only wanted to paint the woman. Something about her arms and that insanely large corsage. I totally simplified the background and am pleased with the graphic quality of this image. A nice reminder of the year in college that I was a graphic design major.Wallflowers, 2010, Oil on Birch Panel, 18x14

The next two were painted on the last possible day that I could paint in Vermont so that the panels could be dry enough to pack up. Last week here at home, I finished them up. I learned a valuable lesson on the single woman; do NOT keep such strong shadows in the face at the underpainting stage. It is tempting to leave the shadows in because they look SO good at that point, but they are VERY difficult to handle at the color stage. I have enough trouble with flesh colors let alone doing such shadows too, yikes. But ones of the things that I liked about the photo (besides that most awesome poodle hairstyle) was the strong light. I must have painted the color on that face a hundred times before I finally got really ticked off and just slobbed on one color over the whole thing. That actually ended up working out ok, but I'd like to do better next time. Note to self: resist the allure of the underpainting.Peter Pan Collar Lady, 2010, Oil on Birch Panel, 18x14

This image is actually cropped quite a bit, the photos shows both full figures and it is so funny, the two of them standing there holding flowers. But unfortunately I didn't have a large enough panel with me to do the whole thing, so I decided to crop. This painting has much more detail than the others (the flowers) and is a nice contrast when grouped with the other paintings. In looking at the painting now, I think that I need to work back into the areas where their hands are, it looks like there should be more of an indication of a vase there. On the other hand, I think that the man's left ear is probably the best ear that I have ever painted! We Got Flowers Today, 2010, Oil on Birch Panel, 14x18

A few more things about Plan C:

I also did one more underpainting (of my apparent muse, Deanne)which I could just not do before it was time to leave Vermont. It really bugged me that I just couldn't do it, even though I recognize how crazy it was to feel that way given how much work I did actually complete. But I am over it now and plan to finish it up this week.

I feel like the actual style of painting in this group is a bit more refined than in the previous portraits I have done. I have mixed feelings about that as I really feel that there about a zillion other artists who can paint portraits better than I can. I don't really feel that I am a traditional sort of portrait painter either and I am worried that I may be headed that way. However, I also think that these are a pretty successful group of portraits and so I will try to stop worrying about this aspect. Well, for now, anyway.

All of these are on 14x18 birch panels. I brought panels because I felt this series was further along than the other work I was planning to do there (which is why I did nearly all of that on prepared paper). Also, I received a lot of positive encouragement on these and Brenda Garand, one of the visiting artists reallyreally encouraged me to pursue showing them. So I am planning on doing just that. I may have to start with applying for exhibitions at nonprofits again, just as I did with the landscapes.

And I always seem to put off painting these portraits until I believe that I have enough time to really focus on them. but since they are intense I can only do one or two at a time. I need to stop pushing them to the back of the queue and simply start fitting them in around other work.

There. I have stated goals out loud and in public so I have to pursue them, right???

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Vermont Residency Plan B

The Black Paintings ended up being Plan B (I don't consider this list to be in order of importance). I had done a bunch of black abstract paintings during 2009 (you can see a few of them here) and felt they were going in an interesting direction so had initially planned on making a ton of smaller sized black paintings at the residency.


When I got everything set up in my studio, and really looked at the space again; the big white, beautiful walls and high ceilings, I knew I would have to work bigger there. I wanted to take advantage of the vertical walls, the ability to see all my work grouped together while hanging on the wall and I also didn't want to fool around with cutting up my paper, and having to make a hundred decisions about size, scale, edges, etc. So I decided to readjust my plan, and do the black paintings on the 22x30 sheets of gessoed paper that I had brought and to accept the limitation of working in a vertical format (it could have been horizontal, but I preferred the vertical for some odd reason;)) rather than square.

The first batch of underpaintings that I did were to be color paintings and I had already decided that they would include landscape elements. So it seemed natural somehow to focus on barn like structures, in the Black Paintings. I had done this small painting:last summer which was a bit of a departure from the abstracts, but I kept thinking about it. And at the last minute, I wrapped it up and took it with me to Vermont, so I could have it to refer to.

As with the color paintings I spent a few hours making sketches before diving into the black paint. Again, doing the sketches helped; I felt the images needed just a bit of planning, not a lot but I wanted something to refer to.

This was how the first group of Black Paintings looked:
After looking at them for a few days while waiting for the paint to dry (the black paint takes forever to dry even though I mixed in some Liquin, which at least helped to make the paint easier to move around) I decided that I did not like the sections of white, which is actually not white paint but rather a lack of black paint. I felt it was too harsh and so when the initial layer of paint dried I went back into them and softened the lighter sections. I was pleased with the results of that and when I did the next batch I was prepared to keep the images darker.

The scratches and marks into the paint have much more significance in the Black Paintings and it was a constant struggle to make them subdued yet still important and visible. Finally I settled on making more marks than I might have wanted, and then would either darken them or paint over some of them after the initial layer of paint was dry. Most of the marks evoke windows, doors, roads, telephone poles, etc., rather than the more random marks that I tend to make on the color paintings. The marks will evolve as I keep going with these.

The Black Paintings were tough but exciting too. Even though I had sketches to refer to, I still couldn't really see what or where I should go next with them. I knew I wanted to push the abstract qualities as much as possible, but just couldn't see how to do it until my hands were actually in the paint. Also with these, I couldn't really see where to go next (other than changing scale), whereas with most of my other work I have some sort of idea about where things are headed. It is good to have a different method, I know, and this was good challenge for me, even if it was a bit stressful.

The visiting artists were very enthusiastic about this series, one used the term powerful, which made my ego inflate slightly, heh. And again, as with the color landscape/border paintings, I think scale is important with these, but I am planning to do some smaller ones in the next few weeks to find out. I actually feel optimistic that the deepness of the black will allow them to be strong in a smaller format.

So these are the finished paintings, pretty much in the order I painted them. I photographed each group after I finished so can't be sure of the exact order. They are all 28x20, on gessoed paper and like the other paintings on paper, they are tucked into a drawer until I decide about doing something with them.

Black Painting#1, 20x28, Oil on Gessoed Paper, 2010

Black Painting#2, 20x28, Oil on Gessoed Paper, 2010

Black Painting#3, 20x28, Oil on Gessoed Paper, 2010

Black Painting#4, 20x28, Oil on Gessoed Paper, 2010

Black Painting#5, 20x28, Oil on Gessoed Paper, 2010
Black Painting#6, 20x28, Oil on Gessoed Paper, 2010

Black Painting#7, 20x28, Oil on Gessoed Paper, 2010

Black Painting#8, 20x28, Oil on Gessoed Paper, 2010

Black Painting#9, 20x28, Oil on Gessoed Paper, 2010

Black Painting#10, 20x28, Oil on Gessoed Paper, 2010

Monday, February 8, 2010

Vermont Residency: Plan A

When I decided that I would be going to Vermont Studio Center again this year (I was supposed to go in 2009, but delayed it a year for financial reasons) I realized that I ought to have a better plan in place concerning the work I wanted to do during my month there. Last time my big plan consisted of 'doing some portraits'. I had no back up plan in case I began to flounder with the portraits and since that is exactly what happened (I floundered!), I had to scramble to find some other things to do while I tried to figure out which direction to take with the portraits. I don't want to say that my time at VSC was wasted last time, because by the end of the session I had found an interesting path to the work that eventually became the 'People You Know' series. However, I certainly would have liked to have been more productive during that month.

So, keeping that in mind, I put together a few plans; A, B,C,D, and even an E just in case. My slacker days needed to be over and I wanted to really kick some painting butt while I had the chance! At first I considered the People You Know series to be Plan A, the plan I wanted to focus on. But when I got there I started to work on these abstracted paintings right away, they were bubbling right at the surface for me; images I had been thinking about for awhile, a step back into landscape elements, yet also looking ahead to the more abstract images that I am interested in as well.

I took a few small paintings along with me that I did several months earlier and thought were a good starting point:

but despite having those to refer to, I panicked slightly on the first morning in my studio. After seeing things in my head for so long, I wasn't sure I could translate them into something outside my mind. So I spent that morning doing some sketches just to block out some shapes and edges. I do not normally sketch before I begin a painting as I tend to lose my enthusiasm and spontaneity when I get to the actual paintings, however it was the opposite this time. I did a few sketches and immediately got to work on the first four underpaintings:

I was pretty excited about them, but of course my crazy process makes me have to wait for the next step, so while the paint dried on those for the next few days I began work on Plan B (more on Plan B in the next post) and then started three more underpaintings:

While THOSE were drying I went back to the first ones and added the color glazes. The first two were similar (to me anyway) to the paintings I had brought from home which I used as a touchstone throughout my time working on these. So the first two:

seemed just a few steps away from my Horizon Line series, although later on I would learn that others saw them as very abstract and one of the visiting artists said that she didn't even view them as landscapes at all until I mentioned the influence.

Anyway, the next few had borders:

which as I mentioned in a previous post, seemed window-like to me, I was thinking of the views OUT of the barns I paint, or out of my home and studio windows. Dark inside, looking out to the bright day. But as I did the last one in that group:

I used a lighter color in the border and then I thought of the landscape as an image on a wall, or in a frame. So I tried to push that theme in the last group that I did:

One visitor mentioned that the space seemed to either recede or come forward depending on the color of the borders but then was flattened because of the surface marks when viewed at a closer range. I am not sure if that was meant as a compliment but I chose to take it as one. Heh. And I have decided now that I really, really like that element.

The other border pieces seem to fall somewhere in between indoor and outdoor and I think they became more about color:

And with a few others, I decided to toy with placing the landscapes in the border and indicating the interior as a window referring back to the dark windows of my barns:

Not quite sure that I like these as much but it was interesting to try them and I think there is something there to pursue at some point.

And one last landscape:

Well, at least it looks like a landscape to me, heh.

I did these all on gessoed paper and after masking off a one inch border, the actual paintings are 28x22. I viewed these as fairly experimental so that is why I did them on paper and is also why they are now all tucked away in one of my flat file drawers. It also accounts for my amazing lack of creativity in naming them, untitled with numbers were all I could come up with here! But after I finished these pieces in Vermont, I felt pretty excited about the direction as a whole and so I decided to do a few on some smaller sized panels that I had also brought "just in case". Painting on panel always feels better to me than on paper, and working on a smaller scale was an interesting challenge with these as well. So these are 12x6 and 10x8:

and while they have less 'presence' than the large ones, they have a more intimate feeling, not unlike what happens in my landscape/barn paintings when I change the scale.

I am pretty excited to continue on with this series and am planning to do some more, on panel and in some more mid range sizes although Doug says they should just be big! I think he may be right......

Oh and PS. I did a LOT of scratching in the surface of these paintings too. Just so you know;)