Why I’m Not Here + Intuition, Velcro, Broccoli

Lovers Mongrels Curs #1 M.H., Acrylic on canvas 28x22"

"Lovers Mongrels Curs #1 M.H.", Acrylic on canvas, 28x22"

It’s not what you might think, based on the above work in progress. It’s that I finally started the series of paintings that I’d been waiting on for over a year. I hadn’t realized it, but I was waiting for the painting to tell me how to paint it (see below about intuition and broccoli).

I’m just having so much fun with the series  and haven’t wanted to use time I have for painting being on the computer. Also I wasn’t sure if I was ready to post what I’m working on yet. I’m also not sure how much I want to share about each painting and the series as a whole, except to say that it’s sort of auto- and bio- graphical, about the men who’ve played a role  in my life, hence the title of the series: “Lovers, Mongrels and Curs.”

This painting  is the first in the series and it is still a work in progress; a little sketchy but I like it that way and may just leave it…or not.

I followed the saying, “If you don’t know what to do, just wait until you do,” instead of forcing the start of the series. It just took some down time to conceptualize how the series needed to be painted and for the ideas to bubble up (literally: I was on vacation, lying on my back on the deck of my little, private, open-roofed, hot-tub room at Albany Sauna, watching the clouds float by overhead while the hot tub bubbled beside me when it came to me that the series needed to be painted large, in acrylic.)

I wanted to work on two paintings simultaneously,  side by side on the wall so first thought of using gessoed paper or unstretched canvas, finally settling on stretched canvases. But how to hang them?

Using Velcro to Hang Canvases on the Wall  for Painting

After some brainstorming I found an easy way to mount two canvases side by side on the wall without harming the wall or making holes with nails.

hanging 2 canvases

2 canvases mounted on bulletin board with Velcro

I applied a few strips of Velcro along the top rail of my 36×48″ metal framed bulletin board already hanging on that wall (the cork is covered by a sheet of paper pinned to it). Then I measured and matched the other half of the Velcro strips to the backs of the canvases and stuck them together. To stabilize the canvases a bit I put a few large push pins along the bottom and sides. It’s working great!

Listen to Your Broccoli, colored pencil, 16x14"

Listen to Your Broccoli poster, colored pencil, 16x14", created after reading Bird by Bird in 1994

Intuition: Listening to Your Broccoli

As Annie Lamott said in Bird by Bird: Some instructions on Writing and Life:

“There’s an old Mel Brooks routine, on the flip side of the ‘2,000-Year-Old-Man,’ where the psychiatrist tells his patient, ‘Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.’ And when I first tell my students this, they look at me as if things have clearly begun to deteriorate. But it as important a concept in writing as it is in real life.

It means, of course, that when you don’t know what to do…you get quiet and try to hear that still small voice inside. It will tell you what to do. The problem is that so many of us lost access to our broccoli when we were children. When we listened to our intuition when we were small and then told the grown-ups what we believed to be true, we were often either corrected, ridiculed, or punished. God forbid that you should have your own opinions or perceptions–better to have head lice.

. . . So you may have gotten in the habit of doubting the voice that was telling you quite clearly what was really going on. It is essential that you get it back.

. . . Get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side.

. . . Get your intuition back and make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn’t nourish you. . . Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.

. . . If you don’t know which way to go, keep it simple. Listen to your broccoli. Maybe it will know what to do. Then, if you’ve worked in good faith for a couple of hours but cannot hear it today, have some lunch.”

Painting Camellias with Mariah

Camelia #3, Watercolor on paper, 4x6"

Camellia #3, Watercolor on paper, 4x6"

Last night my step-granddaughter Mariah, a brilliant, almost 10 year-old artist with an enviable  sense of design and assurance and confidence in her work came over for a visit while her parents went out to dinner. Even though she she was sick, she was still up for doing some drawing and painting.

We picked a few camellias from my tree and got to work (or was it play?) drawing. She wanted to use acrylics; I fooled around with gouache and watercolor. Here’s her painting:

Mariah's Camelias, acrylic on paper, 8x8"

Mariah's Camellias, Acrylic & graphite on paper, 8x8"

And here are the two I did last night. (The one at the top top of this post I did this morning, with the flowers beside the window. I wasn’t ready to stop painting these pretty flowers, the first of the flowers to bloom in my garden.)

Camelia #2, watercolor on paper, 6x4"

Camellia #2, Watercolor & ink on paper, 6x4"

Camelia #1, Gouache on paper, 6x4"

Camellia #1, Gouache and graphite on paper, 4x6"

I really don’t like the way using white with gouache looks so chaulky.  I much prefer the clear lights in watercolor that you get by leaving areas white or only lightly glazed with color.

Monoprint Experiment with Golden Open Acrylics

Paint on plexi plate 3

Paint on plexi plate 3

After watching a demo of how Golden’s new Open Acrylics can be used for monoprinting (since they stay wet 10 times longer than regular acrylic paint) I was excited to give  it a try. I love monoprinting but working with oil-based inks can be messy and the cleanup isn’t fun so using acrylics seemed like a great option.

I think Golden’s Open Acrylics have a lot of promise as a painting medium, and seem to combine good features of oil and acrylic, but I wasn’t at all happy with the way they worked with monoprinting. As a matter of fact, these two preliminary painting layers (above and below) on the plexiglass plate, pleased me much more than the prints I pulled from them. I had much better luck previously when I used printing inks (see previous posts  Persimmon Monoprint, Magnolia Monoprint and Turtle to Swan monoprints).

Paint on plexi plate 2

Paint on plexi plate 2

Below are steps along the way:

To read the details about the photos above, or find out how you can watch the video demo that inspired me to try this by artist Tesia Blackburn,  please click Continue: Read More

Practice with Acrylics: Blending and soft edges

Acrylic-blending Acrylic-watercolor

Acrylic on gessoed canvas and watercolor paper (R)
To enlarge, click image, select All Sizes

(I know this isn’t much to look at, but it’s what I did with my art time today — practiced making soft edges using dry brush, blending with wet-in-wet and other techniques, and painting watercolor-style washes using acrylics thinned down with water and “Acrylic Flow Release.” It’s harder (but not impossible) to make the kinds of beautiful soft edges and blends that can be done easily in oil paints (these samples are neither beautiful nor soft as I’d like, but that’s what practice is for). I was surprised how easy it was to make clean flat washes using acrylics as watercolors.

I’ve just started reading “Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting,” originally published in 1929. Even though he’s incredibly opinionated and assumes all artists are men, I’m finding his observations to be really interesting and often astute and applicable today. Here’s a few tidbits from the first chapter, “How to Approach Painting:”

“The art of painting, properly speaking, cannot be taught, and therefore cannot be learned. I believe about art, as I believe about music or architecture, that the only way to study is to practice; and that any good teacher can point out certain intellectual or technical “makings,” certain helps that will give a fulcrum to the lever of practice.”

“No one can teach ‘art.’ No one can give a singer a glorious voice, but granting the voice, and emotional sensibility, a teacher can teach a man to sing…”

“A snapshot is a correct rendition of physical fact…but the camera does not have an idea about the objects reflected upon its lens. It does not ‘feel’ anything, and will render one thing as well as another. This ‘idea,’ or thrill is the unteachable part of all art.”

“The beginner in painting begins by copying nature in all literalness, leaving nothing out and putting nothing in; he makes it look like the place or person or thing. By and by he will learn to omit the superfluous and to grasp the essentials and arrange them into a more power and significant whole. And it is wonderful to know that these ‘essentials’ will be essentials to him only (and herein lies the secret of orginality). Another man will choose another group of essentials out of the same fountain of inspiration.”

These hit home for me, especially the last one. Do you find them interesting? annoying? inspiring? helpful?

Devil’s Tongue (aka Snake Palm) again

Devils Tongue Again

Acrylic on mat board, 27 x 13″
To enlarge, click image, select All Sizes

I hadn’t posted anything for a couple of days because I’ve been working on this painting instead of daily sketches. I was determined to finish and post it today, and did, even though the photo isn’t great. I worked from a watercolor I did on site, and a bunch of photos I took of this odd stinky plant on a walk a few weeks ago. I did some sketches for composition, trying to make sense out of all the crazy foliage happening in the photo and to decide what to emphasize, eliminate or move. I did a couple of small value studies too. Then I just had at it, working very loosely in acrylics. To check values, I set my camera to black and white and took a picture. I could immediately see I need more light areas and where. I painted in layers, using thickened and thinned paint in many layers and glazes.

My main goal with this painting was to experiment with trying to make acrylics work like oils (except without the toxic solvents, lengthy clean-up and slow drying time). There was a ton of learning that went on as I worked on it.

I’ve done a lot of reading on acrylics, much of it contradictory or out-of-date information but finally found an excellent new book called “Acrylic Revolution” by a Golden Acrylics (the brand I’m using) working artist named Nancy Reyner. It’s the book on acrylics I’d been hoping for. Detailed up to date information about how to properly work with the various mediums and paints to do whatever you could dream of doing and more. It’s a great book and tomorrow I’m going to experiment with some of the techniques in it to try to better understand how to do some of the blending techniques and ways to get soft edges, to be able to work more like oils.

Update: This is a Dragon Arum plant (Dracunculus vulgaris), not as named in the title of the post.

Cactus Flower Again

Cactus Flower Again

Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 16″
To enlarge, click image, select All Sizes

I started this painting a couple weeks ago and posted it in progress here and also did a watercolor from the photo here. Originally I was going to block in the shapes and colors in acrylic and then paint the final layer in oils but enjoyed working with the acrylics and stuck with them. I think it’s finished, though it might benefit from some cleaning up and touching up here and there.

I was listening to a digital book from Audible.com called “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert while I painted. It’s a sort of spiritual travelogue of her journeys to Italy, India and Bali. I actually preferred a book I listened to previously on a similar theme: “Holy Cow” by Australian, Sarah Macdonald. Both women are journalists who find themselves in India because of relationships. Gilbert is running away from a bad breakup and Macdonald is following her journalist lover to India where he is a stationed as a reporter. Both managed to get book deals to write about their travels and their spiritual seeking. Holy Cow is funny, interesting and irreverant while Eat, Pray, Love takes itself and it’s spiritual quest much more seriously.

My favorite book I’ve listened to lately was “Water for Elephants” by Sarah Gruen. More about that another time…

Eggs and Cactus Flower in Acrylic

Eggs-acrylic

Acrylic on canvas board, 10 x 8″
Click image, select All Sizes to enlarge

This weekend I again tried working in acrylic and oils, doing this practice still life of brown eggs in a white bowl in each medium. I wasn’t happy with the way the acrylics weren’t letting me blend and the hard edges I ended up with. The oil painting is still drying, waiting for another layer.

But then tonight, although I thought I was too tired to do anything, I got inspired to start another painting –this cactus flower–in acrylics, with a plan to do the first loose wash to block in the painting in acylics (to avoid turpentine washes with oils) and then paint over it in oils for the final layer because I prefer the gooshy slipperiness of oils and the ability to blend and have soft edges. I started the painting with acrylics, squirting in a bunch of glazing medium and using gesso instead of white paint and lo and behold I had something very much like oils, blending beautifully. Here’s the painting in progress:

cactus-flower-in-progress

Acrylic on canvas, work in progress 12 x 15″

So now I think I’ll finish it in acrylic and see how it goes. The other thing I’ve figured out with these paintings is how differently I need to approach color mixing with watercolor vs oils or acrylics. With watercolor I tend to paint in layers, striving for getting the color right on the first try but inevitably doing many layers, building up the darks and saturated colors.

Working opaquely with oils (and to some extent acrylics), especially when trying to work alla prima (completing a painting in one session as one does painting outdoors without letting the paint dry), it’s pretty critical to mix and apply the right color the first time, not diddling around with a dab of this and a dab of that. It really forces me to accurately gauge the colors and values of the colors I see or want to use, getting the dark values right first.

One more thing I learned…I discovered I’d been saying to myself, “I’ll never learn how to mix colors in oils” so every time I caught myself thinking that I changed the thought to “I can learn this!” and now I think I’m getting there.

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