I’ve been thinking about the importance of play in art.
I feel pulled in many different ways on a daily basis. There’s so much to get done – writing and organizing social media posts, updating my websites, applying for exhibitions and grants, nevermind painting. And what about family, bills, exercise, and a balanced life?
I noticed one of the first things to go in my art practice was the action of play, as in anything I do simply for the joy of doing rather than a means to an end. It rarely feels like ‘play’ when I’m trying to create a successful piece. I worry about messing up when time is so valuable, and I want the final product to be great. Yet I know that failure is a good thing. Some of my best works have come from creating something new when things didn’t work out.
I needed to get out of my studio and away from distractions to truly immerse myself in ‘playtime”. So last week I took a collage and paper-making class with Suzanne Siegel and Jane Davies. I set a goal NOT make a finished piece of art. The idea was to try as many new techniques as possible and to start a lot of work without trying to complete any of them. It was a success, and I’ve come home with piles of messy, weird, and uniquely printed papers and painting starts. Will I continue working on them? Perhaps a few, but mainly the purpose was to explore and have fun. Now I just have to bring that into my daily art practice.
What have you done recently for yourself that qualifies as ‘playtime’?
This past weekend, I attended a fantastic art workshop in Vermont taught by the artist Claire Desjardin. I have long admired her colorful, organic paintings and the loose, playful style of her work.
Taking a workshop is a great way to grow as an artist. But like learning any new skill, it can also be accompanied by frustration and disappointment. The key to enjoying your workshop experience is to go in with a creative spirit. A workshop is a great place to experiment with new ideas and make new artist friends. It is NOT a place where you can expect to do your best work or come home with finished masterpieces after having mastered the latest techniques. You will likely feel as if you are struggling. That’s because you are. It’s important to just dive in, take risks, and push on with this new approach. Pushing through the struggle rather than succumbing and resuming old practices that are comfortable is the whole reason that you took the workshop.
Another great benefit is that you get to spend concentrated artistic time with like-minded peers. How special is it to have protected time to create; time where you are freed from the concerns of everyday living. Traveling away from home to attend a workshop gets you away from ringing phones, laundry, bill paying, and other distractions. Set aside this opportunity and protected it on your calendar. Attending a creative retreat will help to nourish and replenish your creative soul.
I am experimenting with acrylic poured painting, a style of painting where the paint is poured onto the canvas and the paint manipulated by tilting the canvas. It’s different from painting with a brush in that the outcome can never be planned, and all sorts of interesting things can happen. However, a downside of poured painting is that it can use up a lot of paint and that can get expensive when using professional quality materials.
Luckily, these poured paintings seem to work just as well with cheaper brands like Blick Studio and Amsterdam Standard Acrylics, generally marketed for the budget conscience student or beginner artist.
One of the first things I do when getting new paint is to make a color chart to see what is looks like on paper (it’s too hard to tell in the tube). I paint a black line first, then over that, I paint a swatch of each paint color. If the paper covers up the black line, then the paint is opaque. If I can see the black line, the paint is translucent. I use this information to know which colors will cover up other paint, and which ones will make nice sheer glazes over other colors.
It’s also an indication of density which is important in poured paints. Opaque colors are usually denser and will “sink” while lighter translucent colors will float to the top of the paint pour on a canvas. Stay tuned, as I will be posting some of these poured paintings in the weeks to come.
For Christmas this year, I got a new iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil. It’s been sitting around because I wasn’t really sure how to use it as an art tool. Stop lollygaggling! As Nike says, “Just do it”! So I did.
I just signed up to take an online class by Ivy Newport call “Paint and Pixel”. It’s about learning to make art using your iPad. I thought this would be a fun way to learn more about digital art creation process. It sure beats reading the manual! Check out www.ivynewport.com for all her classes. This class is an online self-study type course with a Facebook support group for more personal interactions. Want to join me? I’ll post some of my work once I get started.
I am a member of an artist group in Long Island City (where my studio is located) that meets monthly to support each other, discuss art and our artwork. Recently, our fearless leader (thank you, Phoebe) organized a field trip to two museums in Long Island City. We started at the SculptureCenter at 44-19 Purves Street. “SculptureCenter’s space was built as a trolley repair shop for the subway system in 1907, but never used as such. In the 1940’s, the building was used for the manufacture, assembly, and repair of derricks, hoist, and cranes, which the facade reflects with the original signage from that era”(1). Most of the sculptures displayed were a little too avant-garde for my taste, but I loved the building space with its exposed original brick and steel construction.
Our second stop was at MoMA PS1, “an exhibition space that devotes its energy and resources to displaying the most experimental art in the world. A catalyst and an advocate for new ideas, discourses, and trends in contemporary art, MoMA PS1 actively pursues emerging artists, new genres, and adventurous new work by recognized artists in an effort to support innovation in contemporary art”.(2) I found the artwork at MoMA PS1 to be more polished and the conceptions behind them better expressed, but still very experimental. My favorite work, a brightly colored web by Escobedo Soliz Studio, was strung in the entrance courtyard. “This woven canopy encourages visitors to slow down, potentially reframing how they interact not only with each other but also with the landscape and sky”. (3) I relaxed outside with my art group at the museum’s cafe to enjoy this canopy, a cold beer, and some great conversation.
What museums, galleries, parks, and other sites are in your neighborhood that you’ve never explored?
(1) www.sculpture-center.org, (2) www.momaps1.org, (3) the information plaque in the courtyard.
I like to step back from time to time from creating my own paintings and learn something new from the exercise of copying another artist’s style. My paintings these days are very labor intensive with all the paper cutting and piecing I am doing. I’m looking for a method to help me speed things up by using larger, bold marks in my work. I recently came across the colorful paintings of Erin Fitzhugh Gregory and thought I would see what could be learned from painting in her loose, juicy style. Though I usually paint with acrylics, I switched to oil paints for these still lifes . It was fun trying to emulate her bold brushwork using thick, colorful paint. I struggled to capture Erin’s free, lively style where she represents a flower with just a handful of brushstrokes. Still, I did learn to focus on each brush stroke, getting it right the first time and then leaving it alone in its simplicity.
Of course these exercises aren’t for sale seeing as they are copies of another artist’s work. If you like them, you can buy your own Erin Fitzhugh Gregory original or canvas print at www.efgart.com.
A special thank you to Erin Fitzhugh Gregory for permission to post this blog topic.
I like to paint on cradled birch panels. I like how the 2″ depth lets me show a painting without the need for additional framing. The advantages of using wood panel instead of canvas is that the wood surface gives me a hard, inflexible material on which to painting. Working on canvas, especially large ones, is like painting the surface of a trampoline and it is too “bouncy” a painting surface for my tastes. I’m starting a new 4′ x 4′ painting today so I thought I would show you how I make the cradled panel for it.
First, I cut the top panel out of a sheet of 1/4″ birch veneered plywood and the sides and braces out of pine 1 by 2’s. Then I paint the pieces with 3 coats of white gesso. Next, I attach the cradled sides to the panel using wood glue and clamps. To keep the panel from warping, I also add a center brace and corner braces . I counter sink nails at all the joints for even more stability and patch the holes with wood putty. Last, I add more gesso over the nail holes. Voila! A new painting panel waiting for painting and paper.
The last time I wore a cap and gown to graduation was in 1985 (29 years ago!), long before marriage or kids, when receiving my MBA from Wharton Graduate School. This time around, my husband and two of my three children were there to cheer me on as I received my diploma for a Masters in Fine Art from the Academy of Art University. It was such a rush walking on stage to receive my diploma. I have to admit, it never gets old. What should I major in next?
More good news…I sold another painting this week to a previous collector. Some paintings are harder to let go of than others because they have special meaning for me. “Exodus” is one of those paintings as it is the first painting I did for my master thesis. This painting tells the story of an autocratic society where the citizens’ lives are heavily controlled under the guise of security and “the greater good”… (i.e. “1984”) Some citizens choose to risk escaping into the unknown, forfeiting a life of safety and order for the chance at personal freedom. And I’ll bet you thought it was just a painting about seed pods!
Like the seed pods, it is time for “Exodus” to escaping the confines of my studio and enjoy the freedom of a new home.
I had my MFA dissertation presentation today (called a Final Review at the Academy). In front of a group of three professors, I had to present my thesis, my artwork and the concept behind it all. Though I was well prepared, I was still nervous. I am happy to say I passed with flying colors. I received some great feedback and direction for my future career as an artist. I am looking forward to mulling this advice over once I stop celebrating. Now it’s just one more month of class, six more paintings and I’ll be wearing a cap and gown again at a graduation ceremony. I can’t believe it has been 29 years since the last time I did that!