Monday, May 30, 2011

Not Representing Anything

I enjoyed a brief little article in ArtSlant about painting abstract works (link below). It may be especially interesting to people who find abstract work intimidating because there appears to be nothing concrete to get one's head understand. But this article points out that even when the artist tries to be completely abstract there is always an element of "representation" meaningful to the artist...even if he doesn't realize it is happening. We paint who we are, can't help it.  Likewise, the viewer can choose to interpret the work in response to his own life experience. It becomes an interactive experience from all perspectives.

ArtSlant:  On Not Representing Anything

The painting above is an abstract work done progressively by 5 different painters in one of my Tao of Painting Workshops. The paper had marks on it to start and each painter took a turn at responding to what was in front of her, so there are 5 personal commentaries in this work.
What does it communicate to you?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

An alcohol-induced accident...

Reflecting.  12" x 12"  Pastel
This pastel had been hanging around the studio for months. It was started as a snowy landscape. I disliked it very much. Often with such problem pieces done on Wallis paper like one I just rub out the image and start painting again. The ghosting left from the first image is often inspiring and leads to something exciting. On this one I decided to drench it with alcohol spray...what possessed me I don't know.

I've long used alcohol to set a first layer of pastel. It does a nice job and dries quickly and takes a new thick layer of color beautifully. Sometimes I will put lots of alcohol to turn the pastel the consistency of paint and then paint into it with a brush. But this time I turned the piece upside down and just kept spraying and spraying until the colors ran together, dripped and splattered. The paper was buckled and warped. It was soaked and took nearly an hour to dry.

Hmmm. In addition to the dripping and running of colors, the texture of the Wallis kind of lifted in places. It looks and feels very sandy, not buttery like a normal pastel. I went into it gently with soft pastel in just a few places to accent a line or a shape, but mostly this is as I found it when dry, with just a tad of cropping.

I love abstractions but keep flip-flopping about whether this is anything beyond just interesting. Comments are welcome.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

When a Painting Connects

A Monet Day, 24" x 24", oil on panel
It's such a joyful experience when a painting connects with someone. Such was my experience at a recent artwalk in downtown Bangor which resulted in the purchase of this painting:  A Monet Day.  The buyer is a friend of a friend who has recently moved to Maine. While I had met her before, this visit to my art walk exhibit was the first time she had seen my work. She asked for the full tour, painting by painting. She is an art collector and especially loves to own works by artists she knows. When we arrived at this painting, she really responded to it: the colors, the fluidity of the marks and glazed areas. I told her that last summer I had spent a few days painting at the Lily Pond in Stonington, Maine. I had done several paintings on site, one from which this larger one was conceived. She knew the place. While new to living in Maine, she's had a brother here for years, and on her very first visit years ago, he took her to the Stonington Lily Pond, his absolute favorite place. She had been looking for a very special birthday gift for him, and this, she decided, was it!  I took it back the my studio to frame and now it is in her home, waiting to be delivered to him.

I learned how important it is to talk about a work. Prospective buyers like to hear the story of the work, the place, the process. You just never know how the story will resonate and make a connection.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Painting with Abandon at the Tao Workshop

 The Tao of Painting Workshop yesterday was such fun. Lots of energy with everyone looking to work with the natural flow of creating art works. The morning was spent working in group exercises designed to relieve all painters of the potential for judgment and comparison, the fear of the blank canvas, and rules. For the paintings shown here, each participant was given a sheet of multi-media board that had random painted marks (each board different). They were instructed to focus, react and respond to the marks presented with their own addition of color, line, or texture in any medium. A variety of painting tools and media were available and had been experimented with in an earlier exercise.  After  +/- 5 minutes of work, the boards were passed to the painter to the right, and this "round" continued until each board had been worked on by each painter.  We all liked the results of this particular exercise so much that we decided to donate the set of 5 to the Bangor School Department fundraiser for Japan relief. Kal Elmore, a workshop participant and art teacher at Bangor High is facilitating this donation. Participating painters in addition to Kal: Christine Swersey, Deb Jellison, Linda Miller, and Darlene Smith.

The afternoon was spent applying the experiences from the morning exercises...painting a still life, and finally to a work from memory or imagination.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Tao of Painting Workshop, Saturday April 9

DreamWork  24" x 18"   oil on panel
I've developed this workshop to share with painters the joy I find in working more intuitively; in developing a dialog with the painting so that it seems to paint itself. It's a process that I strive to accomplish every time I paint, but it takes practice, and I am not always able to achieve the level of mindfulness and focus that is necessary. I've found there are three factors that subconsciously get in the way and always lead me to "safe painting":  fear of failure, criticism/judgement (by self or others), and rules of art.

We will explore ways for the painter to work past these barriers toward a more natural, responsive, expressive process, and find the balance between playfulness and skill. When it works, painting becomes a vibrant and powerful experience.

Tao:  the art or skill of doing something in harmony with the essential nature of the thing; the process of nature by which all things change and which is to be followed for a life of harmony.

This workshop is for painters of any level and in any medium, however I recommend quick drying media such as watercolor, acrylic, gouache and pastel. Mixing media will be encouraged. Bring drawing supplies too such as charcoal and colored pencils. We will not be focusing on technique here. Focus will be on freeing oneself to let go of safe painting.

For more information, or to register Click Here

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The End of My Purple Passion

Purple Wood, Oil on panel, 9 x 9.75"
About a year ago my palette consisted of bright reds and purples almost exclusively. I just loved the combination especially with a splash of cad yellow deep. This piece is from that period. Never quite satisfied with the composition it's been literally hanging around my studio for me to look at once in a while.  Finally yesterday I added the tree in the foreground and toned down some of the purple haze in the back woods. I've decided it's done, and that I'm done with this palette for good.

At a painting workshop last summer with abstract painter, Jon Imber, he was critical of my purple rocks, purple trees, and I was banned for the week from using purple. He wanted me to tone down my palette in general and use colors and tones seen in nature. This proved to be a wonderful challenge for me and taught me a lot about using these potent colors more judiciously. Earth tones, greys and blacks in a composition will enhance a rich, brilliant color and make it more meaningful to the composition. In my newest works I am putting this to practice with much gratification.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pastel Workshop - A High Energy Day!

Pam Dunphy
 It was a lively workshop day yesterday with 4 attendees of varied levels of experience. We experimented with a variety of papers to understand how surface affects the pastel application. Pastels come in so many degrees of softness, and we tried them all to gain understanding of which is best for a particular desired result. Underpainting techniques were also explored. We definitely packed a lot into one day and I am so thrilled with the pieces that were taken home. There was a lot of working outside one's comfort zone, essential for growth. Here is one selection from each person, top to bottom:

Helena Bosse

Pam Dunphy is a mixed-media artist, an expressive realist. This was her first experience using truly soft pastels and she exploited the medium beautifully in her bold, exciting style.

Helena Bosse's oils and watercolors are saturated with wonderful light, ( and she brought that to her pastels too...also a first experience with very soft pastels.

Bob Littlefield
Bob Littlefield, with a fine hand for detail and realism focused his day on simplifying the landscape to its essentials, using large shapes of color and varied expressive marks. This piece has great depth and lovely light.
Christine Towne Swersey

Christine Towne Swersey has just recently begun to explore art making and mediums. The deliciously rich color and texture of soft pastel brought out her expressiveness. This beautifully simplified landscape exploded with color and energy.

I wish I could post everything, as it was a very exciting and productive day. Thanks to all for participating.

For info on other workshop offerings, click here.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Crazy for Glazing

Tidal Pool  Oil on panel  24 x 24"
I've studied the work of abstract painter Emily Mason (see Midnight Oil, below) for a long time, enamoured by her brillant use of thin glazes juxtaposed with broad bold thick brush marks. She's been at it for a lifetime so I know these decisions come to her intuitively. I've been patiently experimenting hoping to come to it in my own way.

Midnight Oil  -  Emily Mason
Glazing is applying very thin layers of color over other dry (or nearly dry) thin layers. Soft flat brushes work best...sable being ideal but Richeson makes a nice line of synthetics that work fine for my needs right now.  The process results in a deep, rich luminosity. The old masters practiced glazing of course, Vermeer being the glazing king, painstakingly applying layer after layer of translucent color with fastidious intention. But I don't see it a lot in contemporary painting.

Well, I sure don't work like Vermeer, nor do I come close to Emily Mason. Still, glazing is starting to work for me and I can't get enough of it.  

Like most of the paintings I'm most pleased with, Tidal Pool (top) started much differently and slowly morphed into this composition. Rubbing out parts and glazing over with new colors, shapes started to emerge and I followed them. It started to remind me of Monhegan shores. Two more are in progress with a similar palette and I'm proceeding in the same slow and patient way, hoping for a series, but really just hoping that there will be at least two that will please me as much as Tidal Pool

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Alla Prima Oil Workshop Successes

LeeAnne Mallonee                                           

Kris Whitney                                                    
The first of my five workshops - Alla Prima Oil Painting - was such fun.  A great group of painters ranging in experience from one total newbie to oils one third-time attendee to this class, and three in between, renewing oil interest and learning this wet-on-wet process. Everybody went home happy with at least two paintings, some with three. All these pieces are 6 x 6" oil on panel using walnut oil as a medium.

Gail Hipsky                                                     
From top to bottom: LeeAnne Mallonee, an abstract painter accomplished in encaustic and caran d'ache, applied her vibrant, sensuous style to the alla prima process beautifully. Kris Whitney, known for her beautiful seascapes and highly expressive abstracts, typically works in acrylic. She painted a luminous, atmospheric Monhegan.  Gail Hipsky, a pastel painter, worked in oil for the first time ever! Gail's work always has fabulous color, energy, and composition, but this is great paint handling for her first time with the medium.

Terri Sanzenbacher                                             
Terri Sanzenbacher attended this workshop for the third time. The day just wouldn't be the same without her. This still life is so delicious with her rich color and bold brush. Francine Frank used generous amounts of walnut oil medium to obtain these lush colors bleeding together in places and the unplanned, but much-loved drips. Such a lovely dreamy quality.
Francine Frank                                          

I'm so happy to be able post a sampling for each workshop attendee. It was a great way to spend a cold Maine day.

Contact info for the artists is as follows:
LeeAnne Mallonee:
Kris Whitney:
Gail Hipsky:

Next up:  Pastel Painting, February 26 which is now full.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

When Making a Living and Making Art Collide

Like many working artists, I have a variety of revenue streams from which I make my living. Art sales alone are not enough...yet.  In addition to teaching and conducting workshops, I do occasional graphic design projects (my livelihood before taking the leap).  The challenge for me is to be disciplined in how I carve up the time, in order to stay consistent with my studio practice and maintain my networking and marketing efforts. I've been pretty successful at doing this despite the inevitable ebb and flow of the outside work and associated deadlines. But the past few weeks have been different. A feast of graphic design has hit me, along with an unusual illustration commission (see above) and my time has been fragmented and consumed beyond control. Regular studio practice has suffered and so has my daily work on little oils (also a good source of revenue).

The image here is a portion of a 9 X 12 illustration for a new line of tortilla chips. I have also designed the new retail bags (3 varieties). This is one of three such illustrations to be done. I'm drawing from life in colored pencil in a style I haven't used in a very long time. Typically I'm striving to resist detail!

So, as I look yearningly and excitedly at all the new paintings I have underway, I need to keep reminding myself that this will pass, and the resulting cash will sustain me for several months. Then I can paint with abandon.

As insecure and unpredictable as this way of life is sometimes, I wouldn't trade it for anything else.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

While the rest of the world watches SuperBowl...

....I'm blogging! Am I un-American? Not that I have anything against the SuperBowl or watching it, in fact I think the gatherings sound fun... I just don't know anything about football, nothing at all. And, I don't have a TV. So, this is a nice quiet time for me to catch up on tasks.

My weekend was full of small tasks, one being uploading a new page to my website just for pastels. I thought it would be important to have an area designated to that medium as I've been invited to be guest artist for the Pastel Painters of Maine's Plein Air Weekend Retreat in early June.

While preparing the page, I remembered this work, "Island Hopping," which was done for an exchange my pastel class does every holiday season...a really lovely little tradition we have. So, I had to borrow it back briefly to photograph it. It's actually my most recent pastel work.

Well, on to the next item on my list.... hmmm, wonder who's winning?!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Letting go of what's precious

Late last fall I spent a day at Schoodic Point and was drawn to the cuts of ledge along the shore road (most people are drawn to the wild surf crashing against the rocks). When I got home I was eager to attack a canvas to express my experience. I had just started working with a galkyd mix medium which gives the paint an incredibly smooth fluidity. I went at it without intention of depicting reality.  I worked fast, splashing paint around and I was very excited with where this took me (top). I immediately photographed it and sent it to my dear friend, painter, and respected art historian/teacher (she looks at art all day long) for her kind but honest critique. I knew there were parts unresolved but I was so in love with some of the passages that I didn't know what to do without ruining those precious parts.  Here's what she said:   

"Wow - great start! I do agree with you that you need some further work at the botton left. I also think you need to resolve the central portion. Remember that I am just viewing a digital shadow of the actual work, but to me, there is a mushy kind of disconnect between the blue/grey foreground and what is going on in the middle and deep distance. Now if you are going for abstraction that is not an issue, and I also think even so the composition reads as top central triangle of blue/pink, slashes of yellowy green meeting in the center and more structured block like forms at the base. I think you could firm up the composition to get a stronger sense of form  no matter which way you are heading with this. As it stands now to me, everything is falling off to the left and I am just longing to get a sense of structure. Does any of this make sense to you?Maybe if you counter the dominant stretch of yellowy green running in from the left downwards with something to pull the energy back into the work?"

Hmmm. My heart sank but I knew she was right. Lack of structure in my work is the biggest criticism I get and something I always struggle with, being so involved in color. But I didn't want to touch it. I didn't want to lose the fluidity, the spontaneity.  But I've also been told by many a teacher and mentor to NOT get attached to parts of a painting and try to work around them. It never works, and I have confirmed that before. So, I let the painting sit for many weeks. I looked at it frequently but separated myself emotionally from what excited me about it. One day, I just knew what it needed and launched in as though it was a whole new painting. (bottom) There is very little of what I loved about the original left, but it is a far superior painting. And I like it more than the original stab. This is what my friend said:   "Oh! Divine, dreamy marvelous beautiful!"

Moral of the story:  don't let anything about painting become precious and untouchable.

Finished painting:  On the Rocks, 14 X 18, oil on canvas panel

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Donating Art...Singing the Blues

It seems there is no "off-season" when it comes to getting asked to donate art for non-profit fundraisers. And while most artists I know, including myself, are active in their communities and generous with their time, it does become difficult when asked so frequently to donate pieces of art.  Here are my two main beefs:

1. Most of the time, the auctions include all kinds of stuff—from trips to heating oil. The art is beautiful and provides a lovely visual backdrop for the event, but the attendees are not primarily art buyers. If they bid on a piece they are hoping to get it for a song...partly because they aren't appreciative of the value.

2. It is expensive to frame a work and often the piece sells for less than the cost of the frame. I feel that I would be better off keeping the work to sell at full price and send a check to the nonprofit for something close to what the piece would bring.

There have been a few events in which the group splits the take with the artist  50/50 or 60/40.  That is helpful in a couple ways. It recognizes the value to the artist, and it encourages artists to donate better work. But this seems to be rare.

I am honoring my donation commitments made so far this year, but would like to outline some criteria for future commitments. Maybe it considers the level of marketing exposure offered; maybe it's purely philanthropic, driven by the cause itself; maybe it considers the quality of the event; or maybe I simply limit donations to "all art" auctions, and write a check to the others. 

I would love to hear how others handle this dilemma. Meanwhile, this is the piece I just donated to our community's Symphony Orchestra fundraiser.  "A Monet Moment,"  8 x 8" oil on panel, framed.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Responding and Being in the Moment

I always finish our 8 week pastel sessions with a group project. This time, we had been working hard to get out of our comfort zone, looking at things in a new way, and striving to work more intuitively. So, we finished up with a "painting in the round" sort of exercise. Each student (10) was given a blank sheet of Wallis and was instructed to make some marks with no intention; any color, any style of mark. After 2 minutes each student handed their sheet to the person to their right. That person would then respond to what was on the paper. This continued around the table until the paintings ended up back with the person who started it. The experience was freeing. No ownership. No intention. No wrong or right solution. Each person had his or her own dialogue with what was presented at the moment. Most found it exhilarating and a confidence builder in trusting their intuition. These are a few of my favorites.