Sunday, June 29, 2008

Art on Demand

A Leaf in Time

The Yahoo group I belong to, Experimental Acrylics, held a painting swap this month and, for the first time, I decided to participate. We needed to contribute four paintings to receive four from others. With two choices, small (4”x 6”) or smaller (Artist Trading Card size 2 1/2 x 3 1/2), I voted for the larger.

But, I could not bring myself to do four original paintings.

The size wasn’t overwhelming. The last few years I’ve sent art postcards to my sister, Maria, and her art friend, Beth. Was it intimidating because the looming deadline? Or the need to do something good other people would hold in their hand and judge?

Field of Gold and Blue

Perhaps I was feeling pressure at work with end-of-year deadlines. Yet, some of my best works came about with time limits. Perhaps I was out of practice doing daily paintings. Yet, I’d gotten confidence with my recent large painting. Whatever was holding me back, I looked through my paintings on watercolor paper, picking out ones to recycle. With a clear 4” x 6” acrylic box frame, I removed the cardboard backing and it became an easy view frame. I could move it around the piece, selecting areas to cut down and become new mini-paintings. This worked better for me, at least this time.

Flights of Fancy

I don’t do art on demand very well. Do you? I enjoy painting alone without others looking over my shoulder or telling me what to paint. After my first exhibit, I was approached to do a commission. It was to be a Christmas present for a relative and I was told some things and themes he liked. It would be a more realistic painting with objects I’d have to research, even if it later became more abstract. The more I thought about it, the more I disliked the idea and had to turn down the offer.

Source of Light

I had the same feelings entering a local photography competition. Bringing my camera to a favorite walking trail everything looked different. Instead of taking pictures for my own enjoyment, they would be judged. Looking through my view finder, trees and squirrels and birds and flowers appeared altered. With every click of the shutter I thought, what would please them (the selection committee) instead of what would please me. It put a spin on every frame I snapped.

So, I guess I’ll continue to choose my own projects and my own themes. It feels more authentic to stay true to my own emerging vision rather than incorporating other’s. Of course, since I don’t paint for a living, I can afford this luxury. Because I have to be so logical and rational at work, I need my art to be the opposite. When I begin a project that feels too methodical or exacting, I will often abandon it. I need the balance of being wild, impulsive, and intuitive in my art.

(the one I kept for myself)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Paper Making Class

About a week and a half ago, I attended a short paper-making class with my friend Nancy. It was held at the Southwest Center of Arts and Crafts and we had access to all their big equipment.

After a brief introduction, we took two wooden saw horses and a piece of plywood to fit on top. Wetting down a large piece of felt (about the size of a full sheet of watercolor paper), we placed it across the opened saw horses and plywood, which acted as a desk. If we wanted to do more sheets, we could add another felt layer, up to a total of three.

There were four large tubs of already-prepared pulp (white, yellow, two reds) and three smaller ones with two greens and a blue. Stainless steel shelves held all sizes of molds and deckles. A goodie bag of textures—plastic grids, polyester lace/fabric, keys, etc., enticed experimentation. A spool of fine filament (think fishing line) was available to dip into the pulp and create fine or thick lines. And we had only an hour and a half to play.

Instead of beginning with simple individual pages, our instructor showed us a complicated folder with pockets, which took me quite a while to understand and complete. It is shown below, sideways, the outside, before I've folded it in half.

What a messy medium this is! There were two hoses, both set on full-force, one at a tub-like sink for rinsing and one hose to wet down felt. Every time you wanted to change colors, you had to wash out your mold and deckle so you wouldn’t contaminate the vat of new color. Some pulp was so thick, it stuck all over your hands and rings. You would pull your mold and deckle through the bin of water, shift it slightly like a gold prospector, and bring it dripping water all over to your felt “desk”. The cement floor had several drains and we were warned to wear waterproof shoes. They weren’t kidding--I had to roll up my jeans as well! For one born under a Pisces sign who loves beaches and water, I was surprised how much I didn’t like working in soaking-wet shoes and hands. I brought my camera to take photos but never had a chance. My hands were always wet, making or elaborating a sheet.

Once time had expired, we stacked all the felts into a sandwich with boards that went into a huge press. It squished out all the water from the papers and the felts, under great pressure. A drain caught the run-off.

Then, we had to slow-dry all the papers. We weren’t able to bring any of it home that day. Removing the sheets onto more sandwiches of corrugated boards, davey boards, and dry felts, we stacked them up next to a box fan covered in plastic blowing steadily for a week. I couldn’t figure out why the teacher said this was an “instant gratification” medium!

Just got the pages back yesterday and these scans don’t really show the intricate elegance the paper has. The irregular deckles, the translucent layers, the feel of the finished product. Okay, now I begin to see the attraction.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Gelatin Printmaking 101

A few months ago, a friend came over and helped me experiment with gelatin printmaking. Although I'd read about it some years ago, seeing the results in "Mixed-Media Nature Journals" by L.K. Ludwig (which I LOVE) propelled me into trying it now. It's a very simple process but takes some thought and prep work. The night before, I made 2 pans of unflavored gelatin using shallow cake tins and assembled a variety of papers to try, including hot and cold-press watercolor paper (artist’s and student-grade, ranging from 80 lb. to 300 lb.), acid-free brown craft paper, vellum, handmade Asian papers with pressed leaves and fibers, and white recycled computer paper. I used Liquitex heavy body artist’s acrylic tube paints and Golden fluid acrylics instead of printmaking ink while Grace tried out her bottles of craft paint. We each had a rubber brayer and some natural items to use.

Our first few attempts were not stellar. But I made a breakthrough when I realized more acrylic paint made a better print. Soon we were into the flow of it, impressed with the performance of simple computer paper and vellum. Instead of buckling, those thinner papers clung to the gelatin and really soaked up the paint. Grace and I pulled at least 20 prints apiece from our separate trays and the results were much better than either of us expected or hoped. Even after my friend left, I found it hard to stop making prints. I felt such an infusion of enthusiasm and happiness and creativity.

Comfortable with color theory and having layered paints before, I didn't find any need to clean off the plate with a wet sponge each time I changed colors, as the book suggested. I started with light colors, moved to dark, and reverted back to light again.

We made some fun discoveries. If we left a leaf on the gelatin and spread paint, it acted as a resist created a white leaf-shaped space in the print. If we removed the leaf and pulled another print, now it showed detailed veins in the leaf. Grace discovered positioning thick 3-D items broke the gelatin more easily than flat impressions such as leaves, but we agreed the cuts themselves created a great design feature.
The watercolor papers, especially the hot press ones, made the best impressions. The Asian paper with fibers made a sturdy, bendable print that I wrapped around my current Journal. The computer and velum paper tended to curl up at the edges once they dried. And the fabric printing was promising—I’d like more swatches to try.

Leaves and coins on vellum

Leaves and bark on lightweight watercolor paper

Leaves and bark on woven cotton fabric

Leaves and grass on 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper

Leaf, grass, and plastic Celtic mold on 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper

Leaves and grass on brown craft paper

Asian fiber paper with leaf prints wrapped around a Journal