"I long so much to make beautiful things. But beautiful things require effort and disappointment and perseverance."
- Vincent Van Gogh
Maybe simple is the right idea, but perhaps it's not so "easy". Simplicity is exactly what I'm going for. Colors are placed onto a grid to perform their interaction of color, their visual dance, and lead the eye to follow rhythms and pauses within the composition, allowing the viewer ultimately to go deeper within the artwork.
When I begin a new painting I think a great deal of how I want the painting to feel, and how to go about making that happen. Following that, I choose a color palette that complements the concept that I am about to explore.
In all my work I plan out a simple roadmap that often takes a diversion, leaving room for spontaneity and some color adjustments.
Next, I draw a grid of the composition (the plan) with a pencil and a straight edge onto the canvas. I write some color "notes" onto the canvas with a pastel pencil. The notes are a guide for possible colors I could use; they help me to progress into a direction for the feeling that I want to convey.
I use masking tape to mask the edges of the color blocks, mix each color block separately and apply the oil paint with my painting knife. It is very meticulous. For some reason I love this aspect of it. After painting 3 - 4 color blocks, I pull up the tape.
The paint must be bone dry before taking the next step, taping over an already painted edge in preparation to paint a new adjacent color block. Note that in the above photo the tape is pressed onto some of the dry, previously painted color blocks. You may also see some of my "notes" written on the canvas.
In this photo I am pulling up the tape, and all is going as it should be. On some occasions I have moved ahead with the painting too quickly because it felt dry to the touch. This causes some of the previous painted color to pull up off the painting with the tape, causing me to experience that sick feeling in my gut. After this happens, I need to repaint the previous color block which requires more drying time, meaning I have to wait an extra week or more to proceed with this area of the painting. It is more than frustrating, believe you me. I see that the painting is teaching me that it wants more time. It wants me to be more patient.
I find the thrill of pulling up the tape to reveal the beguiling interaction of color is worth every tedious step. When it's right it is ultra satisfying.
"The meaning of a word - to me - is not as exact as a meaning of a color.
Colors and shapes make a more definite statement than words."
- Georgia O'Keeffe
"A colorist loves colors as a writer loves words. It is the love that comes through when the mind gets out of the way. Don't think too much. Trust your instincts. We all have the colors needed to make beautiful paintings. I try not to worry about what I do not know, what I have been unable to teach myself. My inabilities serve me better than my abilities. Art is not something that is learnt and then practiced, it is a form of communication and one is always trying to say something clearer. The mind messes up love and it messes up painting."
The thoughts above, by Ken Kewley, are from an excerpt of a lengthy article that I very much resinate with, as an artist who works primarily with color. I took "written notes" from the article, and ended up rewriting practically the whole thing. It's true, the mind is always trying to say something clearer, or in an alternative, or an additional way. My main indicator of not over thinking is an extremely satisfying feeling, a spark, a deep peace, a freshness, like feeling of fresh air wafting through the room.
Even still, I get stuck sometimes, usually toward the end of the painting when I have to ask myself just what the heck I'm doing, why I love this so much. And then it's patience that is required along with my own love of the art of balance.
Patience, my dear Watson. It's only a matter of time.
"Art enables us to find ourselves & lose ourselves at the same time."
- Thomas Merton
We are not only two artists under one roof, we are married.
I create inspirational paintings, and my husband, let's call him "Josef", he creates visually as well, with food, but just as importantly with the palette of taste, flavor, relish, tang and smack.
Our house is relatively small, and the entire domicile is my art studio, and a placeholder for my paintings that are awaiting their journey to an exhibit, a personal space or place of business.
Josef and I compete for this space. During the years that he worked in the restaurant, the Green Music Center, Meals on Wheels and for the Schulz family I had the run of the place. Well, things just don't stay the same, and our home has become a shared working community, because he runs his business out of this dwelling as well. Some days we step all over each other, but time has taught us pretty much how to dance around it in respect to when one of us needs quiet, a listening ear, a trained eye.
We hang out on the patio relaxed and happy, talk about the people he met that day, among them, the three chefs from France, the happy local regulars, and "restaurant row", where the three former, well known Sonoma County chefs are still at it, but in a different way. Not glamorous, but still creative and connected with their audience.
We are artists. We take our creations where they can be viewed and drunk in, and tasted and savored, to connect. We add something to people's lives that was not there before. We rely on our wits and on the gifts and kindness of life, and the love of family and friends. I love our life, and express my gratitude for your gift of attending one of my art shows or teaching me to tap dance or cook, or who spent some time sharing a part of your life with me. In appreciation to the artist in all of us,
"Live what you believe . . . make your whole life your art."
- Sue Bender
Delighted - oil on canvas, 36 x 36 x 2 in
"Live what you believe - make your whole life your art" is a quote that has stuck with me over decades. I think about it a lot, and realize that it sounds like a HUGE task, but maybe it's more like a lot of little tasks strewn out over the years. Maybe this endeavor is what gives a juiciness to my life.
You likely already have a great deal of knowledge about art. You have an interest in art, that's why you are here reading this article. But have you ever thought of your self as an artist, a creator of sorts? Trying not to be too simplistic, you may be really talented at creating an atmosphere to live in or to work in. Creating and building viable relationships out of the blue is another.
And then, the vegetable garden, how is it laid out? Straight rows? Or is it a "wilde garten" like my husband's, each form of vegetation giving way to the other. I am a "straight row" kind of person, as you can imagine, however, I am fully intrigued by Josef's magic with methods that don't make sense to me.
We can think of a myriad of creative endeavors, but how do we make our whole life our art? I have an inkling that we can achieve it by listening to that still, small voice inside of us. We do it by taking moments, not hours, to make one small change, and much of the time it is done naturally without even noticing the effort.
I believe that art is an important and fundamental part of life. Create. Make a change. Sing. Do something beautiful, but not only that, do something silly, goofy, something meticulously crazy, and add a little juicy goodness to your life.
Josef Albers is my most influential example of color theory, and whose thoughts I continually reflect upon, especially, "Every color is affected by the color next to it." The feel of a color changes, becomes less or more brilliant, less or more red, blue, green or whatever, depending on what color is sitting right there next to it. Those are the thoughts that I engage in as I paint my artwork, both Impressionist and Modernist.
The color swatches above are from one of my favorite art books, Paintings on Paper - Josef Albers in America. Albers is the mentor I turn to for color inspiration when it comes to what one can do with paint, and how one can analytically make color harmony decisions. The book is full of color studies, and notes written in both German and English that are small and a bit cryptic. I often pull out my magnifying glass and to enlarge the writing and try to more clearly understand it.
Josef Albers came from out of the Bauhaus era. His teaching posts at the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College and Yale enabled him to pass on his theories to several generations of artists and designers, from Max Bill and Mark Rothko to Eva Hesse and Ray Johnson.
The book is beautiful, and finely produced. It was published for an exhibit at the Morgan Library. I'd say it's for people who really want to investigate color and to have a deeper understanding of it.
Below you see a detail of a painting that is in process and currently engaging my senses. Greens, underrated, and lots of times painted with an over the top intensity.
I love working with them and yet have avoided featuring them in a painting for some reason. Following this creation, I can see more of them lining up in the future, waiting for me to paint them. The trick for me is to emphasize the color green without overloading the painting with it. And yet, that could be a great exploration as well another time.
I'll be back soon with more to show you.
I got inspired to create a painting titled "Heart Beat" at winter solstice and completed it at the entry of spring. I wanted to create a painting with a fair amount of depth, and while at my easel, imagined that I was inside my body listening to my own heart
beating, and feeling the blood pulsating through me. I imagined the areas of oxygenated blood, contrasting with the deep, dark tissues and organs in the darkness of my anatomy, quietly sustaining the fragile physical balance. I explored the inner core, emotions and psyche of my being.
The painting was a good companion for a longish winter with many dark and stormy days, finding the dreary, very cold and wet weather to be a basis to contemplate the state of one's being. The color relationships of the reds and mixed blues were extremely enjoyable to explore, very cathartic. Cadmium red and Cerulean Blue were the most used tubes of paint.
The slide show demonstrates the various stages of the process. Masking tape goes on the canvas before a painting session, and it is pulled off as soon as the session is complete. The colors of the paint are selected for their reaction to each other and the mood that I'm channeling.
My mother and father grew up in Kansas and in upper northeast Texas during The Great Depression, and simultaneously, the Great American Dust Bowl. The Herculean challenges of these times were miserable and demoralizing.
Despite that my parents' respective families experienced resilience and determination and happy times as well. One of my aunts personally recounted a memory of seeing pies cooling on the railing of the front porch on Sundays when they went to church.
Mom and Dad got married after WWll and moved to California. It must have felt like heaven, a brand new life in a brand new place. My dad worked over 30 years for the Southern California Gas Company. My mom, Maxine, raised my brothers and I, and later ran the kitchen at a large church and nursery school. Their practicality, fortitude and ability to make life cheerful were a result of the character that was formed in their earlier experiences.
My parents had a high school education. Our family lived simply and always had plenty of healthy food and pies. I recall my parents loved Fritos and bean dip. We lived in the San Joaquin Valley, where my eyes continually drank in the Sierra Nevada, vast fields of cotton and alfalfa, and orchards of oranges, walnuts and plums.
Grandmother came to live with us for a few years when I was ten. She shared a room with me, and I believe we both secretly longed for rambling conversations with lots of giggles, but she was the quiet type . . . like her granddaughter. When I could, I hid away in my room, sat on my bed and secretly drew 100's of pictures on white bond paper.
How does one become drawn in to being an artist? Does one's childhood need to have artistic advantages, tremendous talent, trips to the art museum, tons of praise and fostering at a young age? Although I was a well-loved child, those were not a part of my experience. However, my eye was unsuspectingly pulled in to beauty and design, and I came to seek more and more of it.
How we get to where we are in life is fascinating to me. A one step at a time process, one little step starts it all. The pressures and influences, the lucky breaks and the long, dry spells are the yin and yang of our development, our life long road that requires grace and love and passion.
I write this article to those who have a passion for art, but think they have no great talent for it. I believe that art comes from out of our life experiences and personal relationships. For me, it is from the time that I shared my room with my grandmother and the view of the vast, expansive fields and orchards.
I woke up one day and from the depths of me came the words, "I am an artist." I just knew, and accepted it. If that happens to you, take a step, smile, and get ready for one crazy beautiful ride.
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An aside: I strongly recommend reading Timothy Egan's book, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.
I wish I had learned directly from my mother and father what their experiences were from their point of view. They never said a word about it.
When my friend recently called to tell me she had retrieved my old view camera out from storage, I was ecstatic! I opened the wobbly case and found it to be encrusted with grit in some of the nooks and crannies. Seeing it sitting on the chair in my home now, it causes a gut reaction as it brings me back to a time when I had to learn to maintain my creativity while learning a complex technical procedure.
While slogging away at photography school, my emphasis was on portraiture. I remember the expansive studios and tungsten and strobe lights where we photographed portraits and product shots, but I was more drawn to the natural light from windows and the outdoors. I was the champion film developer in the darkroom and helped out students whose sheet film got surge marks which were visible when when the negatives were printed on photo paper. I learned negative retouching from Kitty West to bring in a little extra cash.
Following graduating from Brooks, I went on to join in a partnership at a portrait studio that I co-owned and managed in Marin County for over twenty years. My experience taught me a huge appreciation for well executed photography and cinematography. It is certain that photography developed my eye for design, and even more so, enhanced my ability to see the nuances of various types of light and its simple truth. It's always been the light,
Much appreciation to my mom and dad for believing in me and giving me my start.
I believe that color is the only reason that I was drawn into art. I remember at a very young age cutting out pictures of jewel toned gems on paper and pasting them onto a golden paper crown, salivating. Not drooling, just responding to something that really drenched my psyche with deep, creative bliss.
Over the years I have lived a creative life, have taken art classes in high school, and graduated from Brooks Institute of Photography. But really, color didn’t play a tremendous role just yet.
When my daughters were in school, I took a few classes from The Secret Garden in Kenwood, and learned about tole painting on boxes. The moment I started moving the red paint around, painting those little red strawberries, I was hooked. Again, salivating. I painted a few boxes, lots of fruit and a Santa Claus. I was certain that I was destined for something much more significant and seriously went about the process of learning how to paint, and I wanted to paint well.
After taking many classes from SRJC Art Department and loving every minute of it, I sought out a painting instructor under whom I could study. Susan Sarback is a master painter and colorist who paints in the lineage of Monet. After ten years, I learned everything I needed to know about color from her. She also opened my eyes to the color theory of Josef Albers, and between the two, I became very competent in the mastery of color.
When I am painting I am actively looking into color, and it feeds me. Over time I have been curious how and why it speaks to me so deeply and wonder if I am just one lone, color geek. I doubt it, since it is a key ingredient in the field of design.
Here’s What Color Has Taught Me About Myself:
We are all born with a unique blend of attributes, strengths and sensitivities. How fortunate we are when we can see the subtle beauty that lies beneath the obvious, and cultivate an inner oasis of innovation and creativity.
Luminous Color Explorations