Many of my paintings involve the use of sinuous lines, even when I was trying for more Realism than my usual, such as this detail of “Seekonk River.” This painting actually had a lot more stylized weeds, but I smudged paint over them so they would not be so noticeable. I thought I should stick to Realist rendering. I also felt that somehow such stylization shifted my paintings from fine art into something else. Not craft, exactly. But not fine art.
Now, though, I am moving in the opposite direction, towards much more stylization and use of lines and blobs/dots to create rhythm and movement in my paintings. Because I like doing it. It’s very hypnotic for me, and I enjoy the result. It feels very sensuous. And since my paintings often already incorporate a lot of sensuousness, I might as well boost it.
I went all out with stylization in my most recent painting, “Listening to Trees.” I used all the lines, dots, and blobs a painter could want. I didn’t plan to do that from the beginning. I just noticed how it kept recurring and decided to throw myself into it.
I also allowed the images in this painting to arise from the brush strokes I initially applied to the support. I had no sense of what I was going to paint when I put the paint on originally. I just looked at what I put down and allowed myself to see images in it. I saw a tree-like shape and emphasized that. Then I pulled out the figures, which I knew from my previous thinking about figures in my paintings that I wanted them to be without gender, race, age, nationality, anything. I wanted them to be more like timeless souls than time-bound people. So in some ways, they barely look human here. They are swathed in blankets and leaning towards the tree, all the better to hear what it has to say.
Because a story arose with the images here, about people who gather around trees at night to sit in the silence and listen to what the tree has to say. I imagined a culture that incorporated this as a regular, valued practice.
That meant I also wanted to boost how alive the trees are, even one that has a lot of holes in it. It still has stuff to tell us.
I will be working a lot more with this stylization in the future.
I had a myrtle in a pot that died. The pot sat unwatered for a couple of weeks.
Then I saw that something was growing in it–a seedling. I wasn’t sure what it was or what it could be. I thought for some reason it might be a petunia.
I didn’t know how the seed had gotten into that pot. Later I realized that I regularly dump water out of my seedling trays into flower pots to conserve water. A seed must have been washed out of the tray and into the myrtle pot and decided for some reason to germinate.
Even when it put on its true leaves, I didn’t know what it was. I thought it might be a weed.
But eventually I began to suspect that it was a white henbane. The little leaves were hairy and bit more jagged than black henbane. And I had tried to grow some white henbane a while ago but had run into some problems. My space is not the best for growing plants that are not tropical.
So I thought I’ll wait and see what it is. Might have to wait until it flowers, if it does.
The thing grew and grew. And eventually I was pretty sure that yep, it was a white henbane. The stems are very hairy and the leaves are wonderfully jagged.
Today I was looking at it from across the room and saw something that looked suspiciously like a flower. I walked over to the plant and yes! A couple of white henbane flowers, the kind with purple tubes.
My heart leapt.
Henbane is becoming my spirit familiar plant. I have always loved its scorpionic flower stalks (because I have four planets in Scorpio), its absolutely beautiful leaves, its rep, and the fact that at the same time, it has never just fucked with people like belladonna or not known its own strength like thornapple. It’s like it doesn’t have a big narcissistic ego. Instead, it has been a friend to humans, with dependable medicinal (and magical) uses for many, many years.
And it’s just a beautiful plant, especially IMO the white henbane. This is thought to be the henbane of the witches, because it was used medicinally, it is less noticeable than the black henbane (shorter, flowers blend in more), it has less in terms of alkaloids (less is more in terms of those guys), and it is way more predictable than the other nightshades that contain tropanes.
I’ve grown it in the past and sell the seeds for it. And here it was, turning up against all odds and being wonderfully beautiful.
It was this plant that inspired me to paint “New Growth.” The leaf shapes featured in that painting have nothing in common with the shape of henbane leaves, but the greenness and sturdy, wonderful juiciness–that does have to do with that white henbane plant.
I’m very happy with the way the painting came out, especially because at the beginning, I thought it was trash and that I should just take it off the gatorboard I tape my paper to. But as I went along, I could see where I could go with it, and further, I could see future paintings along the same lines.
I finished it and am pleased with it.
Because of it, I also had an idea this evening after going to the local distillery and getting some candy cane spirits (that I am having with cocoa and vanilla extract right this minute) of doing a full sheet sized painting of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life to enter in the Pawtucket Foundation show. I think I can really do that and that it will be a good painting.
So thank you, Henbane Spirit. You are a kind and happy spirit, and you are helping me. Maybe the gods bless you!
I finished this 15 x 22″ mixed media painting this morning, and I am pleased with it, although I want to take this concept a lot farther. I used granulating pigments in watercolor to do the rocks, with a dark green to represent algae from moisture growing on the rocks, making them more alive. The paper is Arches CP, but I would like to try something similar on Rough in the future. I was using Saunders Waterford for years but I must admit that Arches really does take scrubbing. I scrubbed off a section in a corner with Magic Eraser and the paper was not harmed at all. That would not be the case with Saunder Waterford. I actually quit using Arches back in the seventies because it gave off a sickening smell when it was wet, but I guess either they changed whatever was causing that or I didn’t get the paper wet enough.
I have been doing a lot of dry brush work, and I did that on this one. I started with painting and spraying with a hair mister (these cover a much more with a very fine mist than the ordinary spray mister). Dried it with a hair dryer and then did a couple layers of dry brush to bring out the rockiness of the rocks.
From there I used liquid watercolors and metallic ink to do the symbols. I got interested in asemic writing a little while ago and have done one other painting, Incantation, using that concept. I have wanted to do a lot more with it and chose this painting for that focus. I created the symbols out of my own subconscious rather than using those of a particular culture. I wanted the symbols to be unmoored from any singular meaning so that they could mean for anyone who looks at them–the meaning can be inserted by the viewer.
I used red, black, and green Hydrus watercolors and titanium pigment dispersion with QoR watercolor medium for most of the symbols, but I also chose to use gold calligraphy ink for some of them. I like the effect of metallic inks that they are especially bright only from certain angles and otherwise are not very noticeable. I want this to mean that sometimes we can only know something through a sidelong glance rather than looking at it directly. I also deliberately wiped out some of the symbols to represent how knowledge gets lost.
I think in the next painting I will vary the size of the symbols a lot more and perhaps make some of them transparent.
I’ve been playing around a lot with paints and stuff this weekend as I recover from vending for hours on Friday. I’ve been messing around with combining Hydrus liquid watercolors with tube watercolors and acrylic ink, both on the paper and off (for instance, mixing tube and Hydrus on the palette–makes nice thick paint). This has turned up some fun stuff. I decided that I will use some metallic inks in the next painting, for instance.
I also pulled out my jar of cold wax to once again test it as a finish for paintings using watercolor, acrylic, and ink. Works well but does darken whites a little bit, as I remember. I’m not sure if it’s worth it for me to go down that road. It does allow paintings to be framed without glass or acrylic over them, though.
Some interesting fallout from moving the studio is rediscovering all the stuff I have that I’d forgotten about. One of them is a bottle of QoR watercolor medium, which is the stuff they bind their paints with instead of gum arabic. I remember putting it aside because it has a smell. But my pigment dispersions also have a somewhat irritating smell, and I thought, why not fight fire with fire? So I combined pigment dispersions with QoR medium and got a thicker paint without much of a smell at all. I’m going to go farther with that too.
Some time ago I got interested in asemic art, which features indecipherable writing. I decided to work on that again using these different paints and did a test. I like how it came out.
I’ve been doing a lot of dry-brush watercolor painting, where little water is used. This allows for much more intense color but also certain effects, like skidding the loaded brush over the tops of the paper texture. That’s a neat effect I plan to use in the next several paintings.
Over the past week, I moved my stuff out of my studio and back into my apartment. I was greatly helped by a couple of good friends, who not only helped me get all the canvases out but made me dinner when we were done. So wonderful!
But the last couple days my stuff was still in there, I was very down. I’d had such high hopes when I rented that studio. I thought it meant I was a “real” artist finally, and that I would not only become a much better painter but I would meet other artists and sell more of my work. And live happily ever after.
Well, having the studio did make me much more disciplined about painting. I could not blow off a day of painting when I was paying $325/mo for a place just to paint in. And so I developed a habit of not only painting every day but often twice a day.
The more I painted, the more I learned. I learned a TON about oil painting technique, finding my own way to painting with just walnut oil as my medium, for instance, and gradually shifting from fairly detailed landscapes to more abstract landscapes and full-bore abstract paintings. My pigment choices turned away from earths and shifted to more intense colors, especially vibrating combinations. And I began to experiment with texture. I learned that I could avoid the problem of slow drying paint by working on several paintings at once, and that this actually helped me to get away from a painting so that when I came back to it, I could see more clearly what I should do next.
A couple of times when I got sort of stuck with oils, I turned to watercolor, which I’d used for many years in the past. I experimented with wet-in-wet techniques a lot and enjoyed spraying water all over my small paintings and guiding the wet paint into shapes on the paper. However, I tended to use dark colors with watercolors, especially a very wonderful version of Payne’s gray by Dr. Ph. Martin Hydrus.
In the end, though, the studio had so many problems that I had to leave it: rats, garbage all over, flooding, incredible noise, filthy oil dripping out of the ceiling onto my supplies and even finished work, and finally old lead paint showering all over the entire studio due to work being done upstairs. I had to admit that the problems with the complex had defeated me. I could no longer work in those conditions.
And that made me very sad. I felt like having to move out meant I had failed as an artist.
Then the move itself presented more problems. I realized that I could not go up and down the stairs repeatedly to move my stuff. I had many paintings hanging on the walls of my studio that I despaired of being able to move to my second-floor loft, much less find room to store it all in.
I moved what I could a bit at a time.
Then I fell and injured my knee, making moving a lot more difficult.
I don’t cry very much. But the last couple days that I still had stuff in the studio, I kept bursting into tears about various sad things I would run across, and the last day I just cried and cried, not really knowing what was wrong.
When my friends came to help me move what was left in the studio–all my paintings, primarily–I was feeling very low indeed. But I was so grateful they were there, and I let them do the big stuff, because I knew that at an out-of-shape 66 and with an injured knee, I simply could not do it. It took us the whole afternoon, but we got everything out of there and I was able to leave the keys.
As I walked out with them and our last load, I felt an incredible freedom. I hadn’t expected that. A massive load had been lifted. I felt almost giddy.
No more incredible noise. No more rats or having to deal with flooding just to get to the studio, not to mention water getting into the studio itself. No more garbage filling up the hall. No more crap falling on my paintings and my paints and tools. And no more extra $325/mo rent. That alone was a huge relief.
I’d moved my watercolor stuff over to my loft first, a week or so ago. I wanted to keep painting just to hold onto my sanity. And I was so happy to be able to paint in my loft, even though it was crowded. I thought my cats would harass me, but they didn’t. They had breakfast and slept and I would get to work. Oh my godz how I have worked!
And watercolor has allowed me to work in new ways. I’ve been applying some of the stuff I learned from oils, first and foremost, picking out images from random brush strokes and encouraging them into shape and line and color. This is something I really love about painting. I read years ago about how the Surrealists tried to work from their subconscious, to let images arise. That inspired me, although it was often very difficult for me to allow that happen. It was similar to when I played violin and was unable to do vibrato because I held onto it so tightly.
I’ve also started using a lot of dry brush and avoiding wetting the paper in order to keep a greater amount of pigment on the surface. And this method allows me to even paint over stuff much more easily than is usually the case with watercolor. I am doing more that is opaque, and especially a lot of work with forbidden white. Traditionally, since the 20th century, white has been avoided or even forbidden in watercolor, even though in the 19th century it played a huge role in watercolor. But I began using white in oil paint and decided not only would I continue it in watercolor, but I would make a particular area of exploration for me.
Recently I had resolved that if I wanted to really improve as an artist, I had to start painting for myself instead of for some audience I imagined out there. I kept remembering an interview I listened to with some artist, can’t remember his name or even what kind of art he did, but he said that he didn’t think he became a good artist until he began to paint just for himself. Not that he kept his works or didn’t show or sell them, but that he stopped trying to please people with it. So I have been trying to do that, and I think that has resulted in much better paintings. And I have been very happy that I have already sold at least one of those paintings. I feel like I am digging down into something real in my art.
In retrospect, I can see that the studio really did help me improve as an artist. I learned how to work hard and on a regular basis on my painting instead of just thinking about it. Heck, before I got the studio, I painted typically once a week. Now it’s several times a day. And I feel immersed in it.
I learned how to experiment and explore my medium, no matter what it was.
I am enjoying watercolor so much and feel it has so much possibility for me that I have put off oil painting for now, which also fits the situation of being back in my loft. I don’t have to worry about the smell of drying oil or cat hair getting into my paint with watercolor. And I love that the storage is so simple with paper.
I do have to figure out a way to work on multiple paintings at once, though. I think that has been a very important component of my becoming a better artist, and I don’t want to give it up. I do tape my paper to a piece of gatorboard, but I don’t stretch it, so it should not be a big deal to remove a painting from the board to work on other paintings until I get a few more boards I can keep works in progress on.
I no longer feel sad about leaving the studio. Instead, I feel like I accomplished a great deal there and that now, moving ahead in my loft, I will accomplish even more.
I often get images when I am lying in bed. I guess because that’s when I can release my mind from the mundane.
Tonight I went to bed and had many, many images flowing through my mind of stuff I want to paint. Most of them were pretty abstract, like one I think I’ll call “Current,” which stretches horizontally across a landscape-oriented paper and is a shining swirl of white and grey and orange tied by a network to the darkness around it.
One image, though, was very different, especially for me. I saw a skull-like face covered with thin, leathery “skin” hanging loosely over it, the skin being grey and greenish. The eye sockets empty. Above the skull an ornate crown. At first I saw a crown like filigree, similar to some depictions of the Virgin Mary. But then it morphed into a rippling flame of white and perhaps green. The lower half of the face is unclear or covered by a veil made of something like spider’s web only in the form of energy instead of spider silk. The figure stands in a dark sort of hall with night windows behind her. Light, probably from the Moon, pours through. At the end of the hall is a dark figure, not possible to make out, only that someone is standing with their arms slightly apart from their body as if they are about to do something.
I thought this image had something to do with Sitra Achra (the Other Side), which I have been thinking about lately. In traditional Kabbalah, this is the reverse of the Tree of Life. I have a project in mind related to it. Images connected with that concept in occulture typically feature naked babes with fangs and maybe holding a sickle, but my Queen of the Dead image is nothing like that. To me it feels much deeper.
I thought it was strange for me to see such an image, since when I see images flowing through my mind, I pretty much never see human figures. And sometimes when I do, I dismiss them, because I have not painted many figures in my life and I think they might have appeared because of outside influences (“other artists paint figures, therefore I should too”). I tend to stick to landscapes and abstracts, and I often think that figures are just not me. But this figure stuck and I will definitely give it a try. I’ve been intending to go up in paper size to a half sheet, and this image would work well at that size. So as soon as I finish the abstract I am working on right now, I will tackle it.
I do feel it is much darker than usual for me, but I recall a discussion I had online about dark images and how I felt afraid to paint them because I was concerned that they revealed something negative about me. People said no, that they thought it was a manifestation of the state of our society or even just of the world, which always has a dark side. And anyway, they like dark images.
I noted that in my mind and fell asleep. And dreamed.
I dreamed that I walked into a place where I lived, although in the dream, I knew I had not been there for a long time–years. Off to the right-hand side was a door leading down to the basement. As I passed it, I saw that it was partly open and that there was a light on down there. So I went to shut it, but something on the other side pushed to get out. I could not see whatever force it was–it was invisible. I felt afraid but not terrified. I tried to push the door closed again but the force again pushed to get out.
Then I saw that there was a note stuck to the lintel of the door. I knew my landlady had come in and left it there, and that made me angry, because she had come into my space without my permission. I stopped trying to shut the door and left it partially open. Nothing pushed it any more. I tried to read the note but the writing was smudged blue ball point. What I could read didn’t make much sense–“If you are still going to be in here on the 25th…” and there was much more, but she had written over an image printed on the paper that I couldn’t make out, only the colors of dark blue and smudges of red.
I woke up. And I got up and right away made notes about the dead queen I had envisioned before I fell asleep and the subsequent dream.
I used to have a lot of dreams of houses where the various levels represented areas of my mind. The basement, of course, was for me my unconscious or subconscious. It was often a scary place in those dreams–dark. I think that my decision to paint the dead queen is connected to the door from the basement being pushed open and the light being on down there. There are going to be more images coming up from below. And what is pushing up from there is not a monster but a force.
I know that in the past I did not want to paint any such images not only because I worried that people might think less of me for creating such dark images but also because I thought no one would buy them. But a little while ago I decided that I was getting too old to worry about things like that and that now is the time to paint what I want instead of worrying about what other people want. I think this has already led to a real improvement in my painting, but apparently it’s also going to lead to some dark images coming up from my subconscious–or from the Other Side–a place that is now lit up and not dark or terrifying, although it is still fearful.
Guess I’ve just generally been thinking about death lately. A lot. And because of where I am at in my life now, I feel more okay about bringing that out into my art.
The place in my dream bore a strong resemblance to a place I lived in during the early 90s. It was there that I made the decision to leave academia and go and do something else that I might like to do instead. So it represented a turning away from what was expected of me, to be a professor, and instead to do something for ME. I think that’s why that place became the setting for this dream, which IMO is also about this time in my life, when I am turning away from what is expected of me and instead producing just what I want in my art.
Although I will still paint dream-like abstracts, expect to see some creepy stuff too. 🙂
For a long time I’ve had problems storing my paints in a way that keeps them organized yet accessible. Mostly I just line them up in rows on my table or in the top of my cart, which means they are constantly getting knocked over and out of order. 😦
The other day I was looking for some display racks for the scented oils I make for my non-art shop (Alchemy Works, soon to be turned over to my apprentice, yay!). We’re going to be vending at a big market in a local venue and need display racks. I found some neat display thingies that are usually used to organize lipstick but are perfect for displaying our scented oils.
And that got me thinking that maybe there are organizers for stuff the size of my paint bottles, which are typically 1 oz. And there are! I bought two of these for my paints and if they are good, I will get a couple more. Because I have the full sets of 1/2 oz Hydrus and Radiant liquid watercolors as well as a full set of Bombay inks (not sure if the big ink bottles will fit) AND a bunch of pigment dispersions, with more to come. It would be so nice to be able to find a color without knocking a bunch of stuff over! I hope these things will solve that problem.
I’ve also been using paper towels like it’s going out of style for my oil painting, but for watercolor, I can use big sponges instead and just wash them out at the end of a session. A big relief for me–way less money and more sustainable. I am cooking with gas.
So looking forward to having my art stuff back in my loft again. It will be very crowded until the store is out at the end of December, but I can deal with it for a month. I will post photos when I get things organized.
I’ve been working on this painting for a few days, and although I have learned from it, I am going to quit working on it because I don’t think the issues with it can be remedied.
It’s too busy and the repetition is too uniform, as far as I am concerned. I do like what I did with the use of lines here. But I don’t like much else. It has no center or focus. 😦 Sometimes a painting is not worth a further investment of time, and I think that’s the case with this one. I have to expect that sometimes a painting will just not work. It certainly has happened plenty of times with my oil paintings.
I felt like I’d gotten a bit stuck with oils recently and so decided to try watercolors again. I get a little irritated with my tube watercolors because they are so small and so expensive than my oil paint tubes. I know–I shouldn’t compare apples to oranges. I was wishing I had my pigment dispersions back, and it turned out that I had not in fact thrown them out for getting thick and even hard in the bottles. So I went through them all, adding water where necessary, and started painting with them again, just putting some on my palette and adding some gum arabic solution to them as I went.
I forgot how pleasurable painting could be. The brush moves with hardly a touch and I can paint very fine lines if I want to.
The second painting I did (“Heart of a Doll”) sold within 8 days, which was a great boost to me because I was afraid that I was not going to get anymore sales due to focusing on just what I want to paint instead of what I think will sell. I was faltering due to that fear, even though I kept telling myself that I simply have to persevere and that if I keep to my vision (or at least FIND it), the sales will come. The sale of this painting gave me the confidence to go on and try other things in watercolor.
I’m using up my 11 x 14″ paper and will be moving to much larger sheets when I’ve used it all. I have always been very concerned that people would not buy larger watercolors or that I could not do such paintings, but now I feel certain that I can. I also checked frame prices for large watercolors and they were not at all as bad as I had thought. That was a great relief. In the past I had done things like treat a watercolor painting with cold wax and mount it on a board in order to offer people something they did not have to frame. But now I feel like it’s fine to let people decide how they want to frame it–tons of other watercolorists do that–and it certainly gives me much greater confidence in painting, since I am not good at doing things like mounting paper on board and since cold wax deepens some colors but makes white look grimey. And I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with white, even bought some QoR titanium white (I dislike the smell of QoR) because someone online said it was whiter than other watercolor paints–and it is. I want to use that color a LOT more.
Other great thing about painting on paper is that it is way cheap to ship, and I no longer have to worry about a big bite into my profit on a painting due to absorbing much of the shipping cost of a board or even a canvas. I can go up to 36″ wide and still ship in a 4″ tube. These things matter. To me anyway.
I did run into a huge mess with my studio due to the powers that be in my complex deciding that they had to install walls with steel studs right above me. The noise has been incredible, and tons of lead white paint and filth from the past century rained down all over my belongings, including supplies and even paintings. Depressed me a lot. I felt like just throwing all my paintings out.
I had been working on a watercolor painting I liked but when I went back to work on it after spending hours cleaning the place up, I could not do it. It felt contaminated, so I threw it out.
A few days later, I went back and started something else, also 11 x 14″. No title yet, and still plenty to do:
There are a lot of things I am loving about using watercolor again. Two of them are easy cleanup and no waiting for paint to dry. But more important for me right now, I think, is that using a different medium is allowing me to take risks I wouldn’t take otherwise. I don’t feel guilty about throwing out an unsuccessful painting when it’s on paper, although I bet I will feel differently about that when I get to bigger sizes. But even then I will know that if a large painting is a fail, I can use the back. Can’t do that with other supports.
I was always so hesitant to do larger paintings when I used watercolors in the past. Now I look forward to it.
Lately I’ve been working really hard to let my paintings arise, to allow them to take shape on the canvas instead of attempting to duplicate in paint an image i have in my head. And it has resulted in some paintings that are very abstract and that I do like but which are in some ways quite different from stuff I’ve done before.
And in other ways not different.
I think I am finally digging down into a good deep layer (for me) with my art. Above is something I started yesterday, probably going to be called “Morning Glory” because I began with the image of a morning glory bud, which is a tight spiral. An image I know I will return to. As you can see here, it doesn’t look like a bud. But to me, anyway, it looks like something interesting might well come of it, just like a bud in real life.
When I looked at the jpg of “Morning Glory” yesterday, it reminded me of another painting I did in acrylic on paper almost exactly four years ago: “Night Flight.” I was still using watercolor techniques instead of oil techniques at that point, as you can see. The older painting has more interesting shapes, I think, and the new painting has a much more complex use of color, and there is also the brushwork of the newer painting. So the new painting does represent for me a progression in terms of technique. But is the subject so different?
Here’s another that I am working on right now, “Obsession.” This began with no pre-conceived idea but simply making marks on the canvas with several colors I like. I think you can again notice similarities with the biomorphic forms in “Night Flight.”
In fact, I’ve been painting those biomorphic forms for years.
Here’s another work in progress, “Field,” that is nearly finished. I will most likely shape the blue form a bit more and add some red. This photo shows a qualitative difference with much of my previous art–the texture of the paint. I’ve always painted flat, coming out of years of watercolor. But I’ve been wanting to add texture to my oil paintings for a long time. In some ways, I wish I were still working in acrylic, because that medium allows for adding texture literally to the paint, with sand, glass, iron filings, etc. Without texture embedded in the paint itself, I need to work on letting the brush create texture. I began doing that with my paintings of trees, but this has more texture than those paintings did. It’s hard to resist the desire to conserve paint, let me tell you! I can totally see the rationale of using additional gesso layers to create texture that is then painted over as a way not only of creating texture but conserving paint. I don’t think that method would work for me, because I am badly affected by acrylic nowadays. I am going to look into impasto. Tad Spurgeon’s book has a ton of formulas for thickening oil paint in various ways, and I actually have the ingredients on hand–just haven’t gotten around to trying them, always thinking I wanted to paint flat.
I look at my new paintings and ask myself just how much progress I have made in four years. Part of me wants to say “None,” on account of my continued preoccupation with the same images. But another part of me recognizes just how much my paintings have changed and how much progress I really have made. Yes, I am still interested in the same subject–the hidden, which to me is revealed in ripples and biomorphic forms–but the way I treat those ripples and biomorphic forms has indeed changed and progressed.
And I expect that to change even more in the future.