I hesitated for a long time to experiment with abstraction. Here’s a secret: a lot of us so-called realists believe, deep down inside, that abstraction – good abstraction – is really hard and we lack the imagination to develop our own visual language. At least, that’s what I thought before I decided to play with it in a serious way.
But now that I’ve completed forty-two of my illumination studies, plus a half-dozen small paintings for this series, I can definitely see something emerging.
Certain shapes, colors, and feelings pop up again and again, like a recurring dream or obsessive doodle drawn over and over. And, in spite of my fear that abstraction would not feel true for me, I see many echos of my past work in them, even echos of my realistic paintings. I feel ready to explore this language more in a larger piece.
Here is my latest batch. As always, you can find these and the rest of the series in my Etsy shop.
It has been a busy week around here. Still recovering from our trip to Berlin, my husband and I are now getting ready to go back to the States to visit family in New Mexico. I feel like I blink and the day is gone, and then the week is gone and there are so many things I need to do. I had two blogging goals for this week: write a post about our amazing street art tour in Berlin, and write an update about my newest watercolors.
I wish I could write more about Berlin, including our visit to the Martin Gropius Bau museum to see Ai Weiwei’s show. But I’ll just slip in one of my favorite pictures from the trip: me in front of the Brandenburg Gate!
So, on to my new studies.
As you know from my previous post, this series is a new direction for me, inspired by my meditation process and forms found in nature. I have become especially intrigued by little sphere and canoe-shapes, which I continue to play with in various forms.
I don’t exactly know where all this is going right now, but I can say it’s just fun not knowing. Letting go a little bit and just feeling free. By the way, all of these are available in my Etsy shop.
One idea that has come to me again and again is the idea of an exploding or broken mandala:
In others, I’ve just been experimenting with interactions between spherical shapes and the little leaves or petals that are beginning to form a motif through the work.
Then I decided to march them across the page in “streams.”
Next, I tried muted colors and then “zooming in” on the shapes.
When we get back from New Mexico, I hope I’ll feel refreshed and ready to blow these ideas up into bigger works in acrylic and maybe even spray paint.
So, I’m still on a high from our trip to Berlin over the long weekend. The most amazing part? This street art tour and workshop. I found it doing a simple Google search and clearly it was a steal so I booked it right away and could barely sleep I was so excited about it…. because I am just that much of an art nerd!
I don’t know what I expected from our guide, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Rob (not his street moniker) was an experienced graffiti artist who got his start in Perth, Australia before spending the last four years in Berlin. He had a deep knowledge of the history of street art and graffiti in an international context and an insider’s knowledge of the Berlin scene. We jumped from neighborhood to neighborhood, via train and bus, to see all the best and most interesting pieces.
It was interesting to me that I had already seen most of these online, just as I have seen just about every piece by Banksy, but never in person. Street art, above all other media, seems to straddle the line between personal, hand-created art and digital art because it depends on digital dissemination for its audience. And truly, I was amazed by some of the work we saw. I still maintain that seeing an artwork in person is by far the best way to experience it.
This building shows some of the more daring methods used to create graffiti, namely, either dangling upside down over the side of the building or repelling down the side, spray-painting as you go. But my favorite pieces show not just conquest of heights, but true artistic skill and imagination. This piece, by ROA, depicts species that were once native to the area of Berlin but have now vanished. He painted this entire piece free-hand from a cherry-picker.
This piece by Os Gemeos (the Twins) is in a neighborhood where many immigrants live and seems to depict a man who is possibly of Middle Eastern or North African descent. One of the first things I noticed about this was how different his two hands are, especially with a shortened fingernail on the left and a longer middle finger on the right hand.
This was the newest piece we saw, by Alice Pasquini. It is a charming and beautifully- painted series of sketches from her sketchbook. I like how she has taken a simple subject – a friend’s casual portrait – and turned it into something so sweeping and permanent.
If you have people in your life who are less inclined to view graffiti as art, you might want to take them on this tour. I’ve had a number of conversations with my husband, a former police officer, about whether various kinds of graffiti are legitimate or ethical. This tour gave us both a lot to think about. I think it’s interesting that the Berlin police have only 35 people devoted to combatting graffiti and tends to view it as a non-harmful crime. When people are caught, they are often only subject to a rather minimal fine. In my view, that looks a little like tacit endorsement. Berlin officials must be aware that street art and the graffiti on the Berlin wall are a huge part of the history and character that draws tourists to the city to begin with. So, they are reluctant to quash it as long as property owners refrain from pressing charges, which is the case most of the time.
After the tour, Rob took us back to the Black Market Collective in an old factory in former East Berlin where we, in his words, got to “create badass street art” of our own.
Step one: cut out the stencil. Step two: Spray paint the background. For this, we learned about a number of techniques including how to create a fade of one color into another and using various household objects to stencil graphic shapes into the background. Mike used a piece of a floral-patterned doormat. Since I was doing a picture of Spock, I created a fade and then used a hanger to stencil in the oval shapes in purple and green. It ended up looking like a strange, space- agey honeycomb pattern. Step two: Spray paint the stencil. I just love what Mike chose — a British cop with a baton in front of a psychedelic background. It actually says a lot about my husband, who is just as much of a paradox! Step Three: Rob showed me how to create some star shapes in the background using different methods. One was to simply splatter paint to create galaxies. The other was to press the can cap down upside down in a short spurt to make a comet. This was my favorite part of our trip to Berlin by far. I mean, how often do you get to create your own piece of original art to take home as a souvenir? And now that I feel more comfortable using spray paint, I’m seriously considering using it in some of my new paintings…. stay tuned for that!
I have been hard at work on my new series of abstract paintings, inspired by my meditation practice and the forms and colors I love in nature. As I step back to peruse my latest work, I will say these pieces are heavily influence by spring bursting forth where I live and a new, corresponding energy springing up in me.
You can see my first blog post on this series and the earliest paintings here.
This is the first time I have seriously worked in abstraction and it is amazing to me how a visual language is emerging, day by day. Certain colors and shapes tie these paintings to my representational art in strange ways. There are certain shapes that are emerging over and over, communicating different things and mimicking different ideas, especially spheres and circles, “canoe” shapes, petals, and seeds.
By the way, all the paintings you see here are available in my Etsy shop.
I feel so many vistas opening up working in this style. It’s very exciting!
I’m trying all kinds of new things. I’ve been practicing printmaking for a little over a year now and I’m also starting to play with abstraction in a serious way. By serious, I don’t mean dabbling here and there, toe dipped tentatively in the water. No, I think I may be ready to go all in.
When this thought occurred to me this week, I didn’t feel oppressed or panicked (like I sometimes feel about being a representational painter forever). On the contrary, I felt relieved and liberated. It opens up so many new avenues for me, infinite pathways, ideas, and concepts to play with. I had begun to feel very tired of realism and its confines.
Now, I know there are many artists who do both, Gerhard Richter being one of them. If he can swing back and forth between realism and abstraction, I think I can manage it too, if it feels right for me.
For now, I’ve started a line of inquiry that I think will keep me busy for awhile. I have enough ideas I can officially say this will be a substantive body of work including both small works on paper and larger paintings ….and I am excited about it!
Here is an early preview of the small studies I’ve been working on this week. Each of these studies is about 5 x 5 inches and in watercolor and gouache.
I know these pieces are mine because of the palette, the gestures, the shapes – round shapes – I seem to be drawn to round shapes whether they are marbles, doughnuts, or spherical forms made of feathers or leaves or petals.
I have a friend who suggested I aim to do about a hundred of these and see where it takes me. Even doing nine of them has open up my eyes to the different possibilities of form, color, and metaphor.
I will say this hasn’t been a sudden transition for me. I recently read that the painter Dan McCaw (no relation that I know of) refers to the practice of “sending out scouts.” This means you do a one-off piece every now and then to see what’s ahead, kind of like the wagon trains and cavalries used to do in the Old West. I have been doing very embarrassing abstract paintings for years. I never wanted to show them to anyone for one reason or another. Some felt too personal or worse, they didn’t feel personal at all because they seem to be imitating someone else’s work. Still, in everything I did in those days, there were distant echoes of other themes that would pop back up in my work, both the abstract work and the realistic work.
I’ve learned to be more comfortable with making art as a lifelong process tied very closely to a person’s inner growth and maturity. I’ve also learned that to make abstract work that is true and personal, you have to spend time learning your own inner language. If you make enough work, the language will emerge on its own. I am going to dedicate myself to that now.
How about you? Do you prefer representational work or abstraction or, like me, do you love both?
What is resingrave, you ask? It is a relatively new printmaking material, invented as an alternative to boxwood hardwood, an endangered species. It consists of an epoxy resin surface, which is bonded onto a wood block or masonite. It is difficult to carve, but it yields a lovely embossed surface on the paper and it offers the opportunity for fine detail.
Carving the resingrave took some getting used to. I have done woodcuts before but never on wood as hard as this. It is also quite slippery, so care and steadiness is required if you don’t want your hand to slip and ruin the carving!
I didn’t want to get bogged down in a difficult image on my first try, so I decided to do something small and simple. This image of a deer standing on a moon with its head lifted is something I’ve been doodling since I was in college. For some reason, I decided to revisit it and it turned out to be a perfect test for this new medium.
I bought the Resingrave blocks from McClain’s printmaking supplies website. I also bought some carving tools and a little faux-leather sandbag to steady the block during carving.
To make it easier to see the carving, I used a purple sharpie marker on the surface.
It often happens that you need to carve a little more after you first proof your image. I think this may be especially so with resingrave when you are working with detail, volume, light, and shadow. I had to carve more into the deer’s coat to expand the lightened area and I didn’t know that until I had made a proof.
I thought this image would look good in a midnight blue on this Stonehenge paper, which is called “fawn.” It has a gray-beige cast to it. I had to first wet the paper in a pan of water. After some trial and error, I figured out I needed to wet one piece at a time, dipping it in the water just briefly and then inking up with a LOT of ink before printing. Before long, I was really rolling.
No corrections or fixes. I think it’s fine as is:
Not sure what to titles these yet. What I do know is that I’m eager for more. Because there are also thin resingrave plates (the thickness of masonite), I should be able to do more on my little letterpress at home as long as they are pretty small. The only challenge will be the difficulty of carving without having a thick block to hold on to. Proceed with care!
Well that’s all for now. As always, you can find these little prints in my Etsy shop. And again, thank you so much for your help and the use of your printing press, Mirka Hokkenen Kim. You can see read her blog and see her amazing work here: mirka-h.blogspot.de.
“Beer’s intellectual. What a shame so many idiots drink it.” ~ Ray Bradbury
Today I’m excited to show off my new print celebrating beer. You can find this print in my Etsy shop here.
This is the third in my series of prints celebrating the “six beverages that changed the world.” I have a hard time figuring out which of those beverages are my favorite. What makes me happier, a perfectly brewed cup of coffee in the morning or a nice Italian red with rich pasta? A pint of IPA sipped in a quiet English pub? A good Bourbon, cozily sampled with friends in an upscale bar? A Coca-cola with a burger and fries?
Clearly, each of these drinks compliment different times of day, moods, and atmospheres. It’s no wonder human beings had to keep inventing new libations to love. For me, a beer is best enjoyed after a hard day’s work. It’s the kind of drink you have with others, in public settings, a friend’s barbecue or a bar. At least in America, it used to be considered a working man’s drink, emphasis on the man. Women didn’t drink beer. They sipped wine or cocktails. Now every gentrified neighborhood in the country has its own microbrewery with a loyal following of self-proclaimed beer snobs, both men and women.
My husband and I are just such snobs. Yes, I’ve come a long way from my youth when I thought all beer was supposed to taste like Bud Light. But I digress. Imagine how much fun Mike and I have had sampling different beers in England, Germany, and Belgium.
This is why I was excited to find this quote by Ray Bradbury when I was playing around with ideas for my beer print! Yes, beer can be as sophisticated, varied, and complex as wine.
Now on to the process.
First, I had to play around with a couple of sketches. I decided on a composition with the beer bottle on the side and the lettering curved above and below. The words “what a shame” would be on the beer bottle itself, so that the eye flows from the top to the bottom of the piece in a kind of backward “c”. This was a difficult quote to incorporate into an image, because it is not just one sentence. That’s why the beer label proved useful in the design. I wanted the image to have a rustic, old-timey feel, so I chose a lettering that reflected that. The spiraling design in the background is the most unusual part of this and my favorite.
Since I wanted to use three colors, I used two plates. The first one (on the left in the picture) would print first in yellow, then I would carve out everything I wanted to remain yellow when I printed on top in light brown. The second plate would be for the rest of the lettering. Step one, step two, step three.
Coming up with the yellow color was the hardest part of the inking process. Because my press is too small, I printed this in a friend’s studio. (Her name is Mirka Hokkenen Kim. She’s a brilliant artist who has taught me a lot about printmaking and you can find her work here.) I thought I mixed enough color to bring with me, but I quickly ran out. We tried to mix up some new color, but her white was a different brand and it kept coming out too orange. After trying and failing to get the same color, I eventually had to run home and grab my white ink and bring it back with me. You live and you learn, I guess!
After the yellow, I had to carve out the areas I didn’t want to print in the second round. This is why this is called “Reduction Printing.”
Next I printed the light brown. Then I switched to the second plate and printed the second shade of brown. The second shade of brown was also tricky to mix. At first it was too black, then too red, then finally just right.
I don’t know why I didn’t think about attributing the quote until so late in the process, but at the end, I had to carve out a stamp so that Ray Bradbury’s name would appear on the prints.
And then…. drumroll please…. the final touch was adding these red foil stars. I can’t take credit for the idea. It was Mirka’s suggestion and she was right on the money because I think they look totally snazzy!
And there you have it!
The other prints so far in this series are listed in my Etsy shop.