Like most people the white emptiness of a sketchbook page can intimidate me. Even with years of dedicated practice starting a new sketchbook or even a page can be a hurtle. I purposely purchase sketchbooks whose binding design inherently makes it difficult to tear out pages. I tell myself, and my students, that to tear out pages is to deny yourself the joy of seeing your own progress. Sigh, but which one of us does not have pages in are history that seem best left not revisited. Oh well, that's my mantra and I'm sticking to it, because I'm pretty sure it's good for me in the long run both artistically and humility is supposed to strengthen everyone's character, right?
So how to get past the whiteness and emptiness of the page? I've developed a few strategies:
1. Pre-painting a background color on a page. I find a better quality sketchbook allows you the freedom not to worry about it falling apart from months of hurried stuffing into this bag and that as well as being toss, dropped, and generally abused. In addition, acid free, mixed media (for both wet and dry media) paper allow you the freedom to use what every media you need/have for the situation and subject. I usually pre-paint a least a dozen pages in my sketchbook, some solid backgrounds, other I create shapes and half sheets with painters tape. I always keep complete blanks in between the painted pages, just in case! Then I choose the page that seems best suited in situ. I am sure to date my sketches because this of course means that you work is not in chronological order.
2. Decorative papers. Think "scrapbooking." My love of Asian Art led me to the practice of framing, edging and even binding in pages with decorative papers. Occasionally, I create pages with various shapes of pattern and then work my writing or drawing as part of an overall composition.
3. Sketches, seconds, and mementos, again scrapbooking techniques. Loose trace paper sketches can make wonderful overlays that you can incorporate into an overall page design and still include notes if you like. Printing seconds, works that you are less pleased with`, or loose small works (like postcards) with can be mounted and framed, or trimmed and employed as decorative elements. The same can be done with greeting cards. I recommend using a standard PVA white glue (like Elmer's) instead of a glue stick. Glue sticks are convenient and can work well on travel. However, I have yet to find the one that doesn't eventually give up after a few months.
4. Lastly, I am quite fond of little panoramic, accordion sketchbooks also known as Japanese albums. I have had good luck with Pentalic and Moleskin brands for mixed media work. One word of caution here. Be sure the buy two books, if possible, or remove one or two panels of the book you have purchased and rebind with a simple tape binding in order to have pages to experiment on. I have worked on some beautiful handmade papers but, fought them the entire time because I was really asking the paper to do something that it didn't do well. For example, Crow quill pen on soft cold press paper or ink washes on paper with little or no sizing so the bleed was difficult to control.
With these panoramic books, I like to keep a few blanks on hand as well as several with different pre-painted backgrounds. I prefer watercolor, experimenting with different effects like tea staining, salt, and plastic wrap. Sometimes simply daubing the wet wash with a sponge, or tissues can give a wonderful effect. Some are washed with non-staining pigments so I can lift later to obtain highlights. Others I just see what happens. I do try to keep a record of what the washes and effects are however, in tiny notes in pencil on the back of the page for future reference.
Above are some samples of all the techniques I have described above. Since it is summer, I make the most of my addition time to prepare a number of pages and books for the upcoming busy months. I hope this helps you overcome the white emptiness and feel free to share in the comments below any strategies/techniques you have discovered!
Pretty much everything with a friend is better and art is no exception! It was great fun a few weeks ago to be hostess to the Art Ladies, as we've come to call ourselves. This was the brain child of my printmaking mentor, just like mind women, getting together to draw on a Saturday morning once a month and then share over lunch what we made. Only our second outing, the group decided to explore my home Scientists Cliffs for sketch subjects and fossils. It was a wonderful exercise in appreciation to see where I live from the eyes of newcomers to the landscape. Also, it was a nice kick in the pants to myself to pick up my sketchbook and pencil here at home more often!
I feel in love with a wild grape vine while on the beach which turn into an ink line study that I'm hoping will be a fun start for a new printmaking project.
When I was a sole proprietor I learned very quickly there are many compelling reasons, besides monetary ones, for accepting a project. Experience/education in a specific field, and desire to work with a certain expert/client were all lures when I reflect on past commissions. There also was the hope of exposure to a broader audience, and meaningful purpose that peaked my interest. And last but certainly not least, love for the work itself. These are all important "rewards" that go beyond a simple paycheck. Of course, the best projects are some combination of all the above. A sense of doing meaningful work as well as a sense of accomplishment/acknowledgment and growth are essential in any profession no matter how grand or humble by societal standards.
This past month my colleague, who is a composer and our department chair, asked if I would be interested in participating in creating a gift for two administrators that were leaving the school where we teach. He noted that these two administrator had spent literally years working together across a table from each other. This inspired him to create a work of "table music." Now, I was a dutiful, albeit less than diligent and inspired music student in my youth and had never, to my knowledge, encountered this term. So, if you are reading this and feeling suddenly ignorant don't...I had to have it explained to me too.
Table Music or Tafelmusik in German originated during the mid 16th century and became popular through the 17th century at feasts and banquets. According to my colleague and the composer, these compositions were intended to delight and entertain. That being said, the sophistication and skill necessary in composing this musical parlor game astounds me! Here's how it works: There is one sheet of music between the performers sitting across the table from each other. I read/perform it as the music is written facing me and you read/perform it as the music reads facing you at the same time. Together we make Tafelmusik.
My colleague asked if I could calligraphy the final sheet music. The plan was then for another colleague, with far greater digital technical skills than me, to scan the sheet music and then laser cut it on to stained wooden plaques to be presented as gifts. How could I say no? This was new territory for me for I had never created music calligraphy before, it also was a chance to work closely with my two colleagues each in an area of expertise they possessed that I did not so I knew I was going to learn a lot! And lastly, there are few things more meaningful than being part of creating a gift.
Above you can see the gallery of my progress and hear Rob Redie's original composition "BeaLize." Rob made the composing seem as if it was fun and easy for him. But, isn't that always the way when someone is truly talented? For me, there were a number of challenges. The main one was my coming to understand how the music was structured and the different measures and notes related and aligned with each other vertically. The visual hierarchy of line based entirely on line weight was deeply considered as well. This was of special interest to me as it was a different way of using this visual tool than in my previous drafting experience. I also came to a deeper understanding of musical notation in general, which is an entire language of line, exquisitely beautiful lines. Working this way I had many hours to consider how we express ourselves through a seemingly endless variety of line, a very abstract and symbolic form of communication for our most concrete ideas. There is a terrific short video from PBS Art Assignment on the subject of abstraction and how it is not as foreign to our sensibilities as we might first think.
So there it is, one of those rare and wonderful times where I had the opportunity to do something new for my portfolio, learn from experts, work with great people doing something I love to do for a meaningful purpose. It was a good project!
There is nothing like Springtime to inspire me to go walking and biking with my field kit. Pictured here is my kit which I purchased from Cheap Joe's Art supplies. You will notice that it is a converted traveling bar for two. I was unaware of this when until it arrived. The dead give away was the inclusion of the metal swizzle stick! When it first arrived I had a good giggle about this, but believe it or not it has proved to be a wonderful artist's toolbox! Since it is "for two" if you do opt for it to serve a duel purpose, just be sure to label your water container, ha! ha!
My first bike ride out for this season I was captivated by a cheery tree. There was something poignant and lovely about this time worn little tree blossoming into life again. As I drew, I was thinking a great deal about two artists I admire: William Hamilton Gibson and William Trost Richards: in particular, their sketchbook works. I truly aspire in my own works to their mastery of minimalism in media, line, and value in capturing the essence of their subjects. The more I draw and paint the more it seems to me that the great modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was so right, "Less is More." Despite the fact that it seems strange to compare 19th century painters with a 20th century architect. And although I am by no means an expert, I know this seems to be true of poetry as well. Exact word choice and the ability to be expertly concise lends great power to the poetic work. This struck me recently as I have been reading Rilke's The Book of Hours (Babette Deutsch's translation). It is a beautiful series of poems that celebrate God, humanity and the artist as the most conscious aspect of humanity. What truly astounds me is the spontaneity with which both painters and this poet created. It seems to me that this too is the hallmark of a great master of one's chosen medium.
My minimalist tendencies continued when I awoke the next morning to find my cat in a state of feline bliss while napping in our bed. Sometimes a line it seems, like the right word in the exact spot, can speak volumes about your subject. At least that was my goal in sketching him and it gave me great appreciation for the wonderful cat sketches in ink by Theophile Alexandre Steinlen.
To see more of Steilen's works check out this blog post from the Met:
One would think with all this advance "think time" the opportunity to paint landscape would be completely embraced. However, just the opposite was true. Being concise has never been my strong point in either word or deed. When faced with an entire landscape I was truly stymied. Even the inspiring landscape of River Farm on the Potomac River could not aid my lack of skill! So despite this, I embrace my "Inner Bob Ross" and sallied forth. One can't disappoint the artistic spirit of one of the most well-know artist/educators of the 20th century after all.
I would love to say that I'm proud of my work, but in this particular case I am choosing to focus on the creative process. So, what did I learn? Well, I was reminded that humility and a sense of humor are absolutely necessary as an artist! That River Farm is a beautiful and artistically inspiring landscape that I would love to revisit. That I was indeed fortunate to be surrounded by like minded artistic companions. I learned too that I did possess juuust enough self-discipline to turn my back on rows and rows of breathtakingly beautiful tulips, suppress my detail oriented eye and engage in a new broad perspective: landscape painting. Lastly, but, most importantly I learned that landscape is all about values, and not color.
But, of course, the very weekend next bike ride I sat for a pleasant hour and painted this fine fellow on the side of the road. It felt like such a compliment that he dozed off as I painted.
However, don't worry, I haven't given in to my baser desires and abandoned landscape painting. For some strange reason, I've always wanted to become proficient in this, so expect more attempts because after all Einstein said: Genius (or rather mastery) is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration, and I have the summer ahead for that!
It was an amazingly informative afternoon with regards to developing my visual arts curriculum. But, as an artist myself, and new to printmaking I was amazed at his interest in so many subjects from the religious, to classic literature themes, to poignant domestic scenes, all framed within the African American experience. I was also stuck at how he was constantly looking at art and experimenting with his own work. He was amazingly productive and often his techniques highly complex requiring a great deal of technical skill. It was inspiring too to discover that he never quit his day job being a social worker. I think my biggest take aways were the gestures of his figures as well as the use of line and planes of color. I know I'll be digesting what I saw and heard for many days to come! My favorite images from the exhibit, all screen prints, are below:
Last week I had the opportunity to attend a basic book binding workshop. The workshop instructor was the experienced artist, book binder, and calligrapher, Joan B. Machinchick. What I truly appreciated was the workshop pamphlet that Ms. Machinchick created for each student, complete with Japanese Stab binding! This was most appreciated because I often find that in note taking during workshops I often miss an important part of the demonstration. This way I could just listen and watch. Under her guidance, we created simple two signature sketchbooks using marbled paper as the cover. The project is shown here:
My design based on a number of different references from various French and English illuminated manuscript styles, decoration, and fonts. I first sketched it in pencil. Then, using transfer paper traced the final image on to 90 lb. watercolor paper. This was a cold press, however, in the future I will use hot press to insure as smooth a paper surface as possible in order to capture the detail and such a small scale. Note this image is only 4" tall! The gild was a liquid decorative gold paint applied with a watercolor paint brush. However, I have used real sizing and faux gold leaf. This process is faster more convenient for capturing small detailed areas. Also, the liquid leaf does not demand the expertise necessary for applying gold leaf well. The final was painted in watercolor and then outlined in India ink.
Recently, I had the good fortune to attend an afternoon workshop with the wonderfully talented artist, Jean Brinton Jaecks to design and paint an initial letter in the style of medieval manuscripts. This workshop was part of the Mitchell Gallery's (on the St. John's College Campus, Annapolis, MD) latest exhibit "Painted Pages." To see more about the exhibit click here:
The images on top are my project. The gallery of images below that are the step by step workshop demonstration. Ms. Jaecks used watercolor pencil. I am hoping to create more images based on these techniques, so stay tuned!
In my own work I seldom, if ever, find inspiration in societal observation or headline news. However, I greatly admire those who can and do employ their art in a meaningful manner as statement with regards to powerful social commentary and in sharing their personal experiences and musings of their own conscious. The recent Faculty Student Show at the Fashion Institute had several moving pieces that I wanted to share. I hope you find the work and artists' statements as the wonderful examples of the power of art to inspire compassion and understanding that I did!
It was so exciting to stumble across this exhibit while I was researching the works of MC Escher of my drawing class. Thankfully our students and my colleagues are always willing to travel for art, despite winter weather, crazy schedules, and long bus rides. With my recent discovery of woodblock printing techniques, this was more than timely!
The exhibit was a true retrospective highlighting many, if not all, of Escher's masterworks. I am always particularly grateful when curators also include sketches, a discussion of major influences, as well as the artist's own words. This exhibit did that and more.
I was simply in awe of the detail, and technical prowess of Escher's design process and technique. I was not aware that so many of his works were multi-block prints. I also have been inspired to explore lithography as well as etching from the works I saw. I The pursued his work through travel, commissions, and book illustration projects, very affirming as a working artist myself. Escher was an incredibly hard working artist. He often wrote how he worked carving blocks in his hotel room or on board a ship turning sketches from the day into prints by night. He also had his ups and downs financially and with critics. Occasionally, had moments of great self-doubt and disappointment, but through it all he kept working and found joy in his family life. He had a wonderful rhythm of travel for inspiration and then periods of intense hard work in his studio at home followed by exhibitions. He enjoyed success and acceptance of his works in his own lifetime. It is somewhat refreshing to read about the life and works of an artist that is not overshadowed by hardship, struggle, and strife and the focus is on the work, his inspiration, and his process.
Escher lived quietly and worked consistently. He also took risks by undertaking personal projects that little promise of financial or critical rewards, as in the book of Dutch aphorisms he illustrated for a friend. Once, lacking sufficient funds to travel, he wrote a ship company suggesting that he create individual views of the various ports of call on their itineraries in exchange for his passage. Much to his surprise the shipping company agreed and he traveled to Italy, the country he truly loved, as well as Spain once again.
The works in the exhibit were arranged chronologically. From this it was easy to see how his travels and home life shaped his works. The exhibit designers included "experiences." These activities were fun, hands on, and emphasized the visual perception and artistic principles which Escher was mastering in various phases of his work. I also appreciated the many person photos and process photos included in the exhibit as well.
Escher's deep understanding of the rules of visual perception and his mastery of play with them are not merely delights to the eye. They are doorways for us, the viewer, to see the world through Escher's eye and to see the world in new and unexpected ways. For me, in a world so in need of understanding and embracing perspectives outside our own personal experience, MC Escher and his work provide an important lesson in what it means to truly see.
It was a terrific group of students and colleagues and a great day! Here are what were for me some highlight images: