Sunday, December 07, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
I decided to paint ten days after I had arrived to Puerto Rico. I was too busy before, and Ike was passing through the northern coast. It wasn't until we got to Vieques, a little island off the eastern coast, that I was able to pull out my watercolors. Medialuna, a gorgeous beach facing the Caribbean sea, had been occupied by the US Marines until four years ago but now was deserted. Viequenses do not see September as part of the beach season, and there were no tourists but us. We had been careful to get there before 8:00 AM, because later on the combination of high heat and humidity (both over 90) would prove too much even for a tropical girl like me.
If you are a careful observer of color, you cannot help but feel overwhelmed the first few days of your visit, as you quickly realize that your temperate climate/polluted air color scheme will no longer do. In the tropics, frequent rain washes the air, and colors are more brilliant. Folliage near the equator irradiates and reflects light with such enthusiasm, you will reach for your shades. One strategy is to allow your brain (not really your eyes) to adjust over a few days of just observing. Your eyes may be busy registering the new environment, but it is your brain who decides the changes you'll make in your approach.
After a few days, you discover shadows are dramatic in tropical sunny weather, sunrise through sundown. Contrast is so high, those very dark shadows seem to swallow reflected light. They are also quite mobile because the sun seems to move much faster through the sky near the equator. Sunset starts at around 4:00 and by 6:00 you can no longer paint because it is too dark out there. I paint them like I would paint a solid object, but this means marking their position early on and not being shy with values.
If the weather suddenly changes, that is, if clouds obscure the sunlight, or if sunlight makes a brief appearance in an otherwise overcast day, I wait, sometimes until the next day. I've found it pays to start several paintings almost simultaneously in different areas, that way if one location does not work out you always have another. Because of the sun's speedy trayectory, watercolors involving architectural elements typically take me at least two days. If I draw and lay the first layers on the first day, I can focus on those fugitive shadows on the second day. I find that I can better convey volume with this method, instead of trying to "cram" everything in a two hour session. Just because it is a watercolor does not mean it has to be painted in a flash.
Area there any advantages to tropical plein air? Well, the high humidity level means a low evaporation rate. You can take your time with washes and other aqueous effects. You can actually think more about your wet-on-wet interventions. Your paint stays wet on the palette, facilitating color mixes and saving you paint. You don't have to worry about cold weather or temperature changes ending your session. And you can paint in your suimsuit if you'd like!
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Some folks rely on UPS stores to provide them with hard-to-find boxes, and if they're in a pinch, the packing itself. Others go to places like Office Depot and Staples, where you won't find cheap or unusual boxes, but you can find packing tape, markers and wrapping foam. If you're a purist, there are a couple of companies (Ashley Distributors, Navis) who will sell you small amounts of museum-quality packing supplies for museum prices. I decided I would buy these materials from Uline since I was in it for the long haul, and I am already paying for storage. Prices are much better, but everything has to be bought in bulk. Because of this, many supplies have to be shipped by truck and this is more expensive. However, I have saved a lot of time with boxes that have the dimensions I need, and I can get ethafoam's cheaper cousin, plank foam, in many forms. Don't buy packing tape from them though, because you'll be buying a minimum of a hundred or so rolls and they do have a shelf life. Uline also makes crates in standard sizes and they do take orders for custom dimensions. I will always prefer making my own crates, but if you're in a time crunch, it's nice to know you can order them. One last thing about Uline: They make these neat shipping labels that you just slap on the box and can be reused. I use them to identify the artwork in each box. The alternative is too time consuming.
The whole thing took us three days. The first day was for creating the labels and assembling all of the materials together in one area. Each label included the packing and unpacking instructions, because the paintings will be going to other exhibits later on.
The second day was spent assembling the boxes and placing the paintings inside. This meant that the inside of the boxes had to be padded with plank foam. The plank foam came in 4 x 4" cubes with adhesive on one side, and I had to find a way to place them in a cost-effective way. I placed corner protectors on the framed paintings, wrapped them in craft paper, tied the package with string and labeled the wrapping.
The third day was spent transporting the paintings across the Oakland bridge in my Toyota truck. Sarah and I had to move the boxes from my studio to my truck, and lash all eight boxes together in a wind-resistant way. To give you an idea, I used a mattress box to fit the two largest paintings. Some of the boxes were telescopic and this meant they weren't closed in a traditional way. We were always concerned that the wind could lift the top of those boxes, but fortunately that didn't happen. Upon arrival, I pulled out my hand truck to move the boxes from the truck to the second floor of the building, where the gallery was located. Because the hand truck was brought in the same truck, I was careful to bring a hand truck not heavier than fifty pounds, the maximum weight I can handle. Good thing my puppy is about the same weight, I already had practice!
Needless to say, after such a weekend, I was exhausted and came to realize why packing services charge what they do. Even I could have used a week in Sedona after my packing adventure.
Monday, August 25, 2008
It feels wonderful to have received such support from friends, colleagues, family and total strangers interested in art. They asked very interesting questions. My only regret was to not have had enough time to go beyond, "Hi, thank you so much for coming!" due to the opening's popularity.
Sunday, August 03, 2008
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Meanwhile, my partner Sarah is framing all fifteen paintings in my studio, no small feat if you consider we do not own professional framing equipment. Doing this is preferable to sending them to a shop, as a framing shop, even a discount one, charges four to five times as much. So we bit the bullet and got an early start.
Linette Morales will be the curator for this show. She will come to my studio mid-July to help me select the paintings that will make Compass Point's small space. My graduate school friend Martina Ayala, a producer and community activist, will promote the show in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
I have been working on both the series statement, and on a reflective essay based on the series's effect. The series statement will be available at the opening, but I am not yet sure of where I would post the essay other than my web site. I did read it to an audience gathered at the writing retreat I was recently coordinating and got some suggestions. However, I do need to start writing the press release.
Monday, June 23, 2008
We were very pleased with those interactions, but it was very hot and past 5:00 pm. After this time, all the galleries were closed, and so we looked across the street and saw Ed Larson's sign: "Jesus said buy folk art," so of course we found ourselves at The Stables, which turned out to be a collection of seventeen working artist studios. Ed's studio was closed and so were most of the others, but then we glimpsed an open door amid a few heavily impastoed canvasses hung on the outside walls. One of them was a giant rose. The paintings intrigued me, because they weren't folk art, they were not art school art, or self-taught art. They were a hybrid of all of the above. Nobody responded when we called, so I peeked in and saw... a grand piano, in a room just like I had seen in a book I have about Santa Fe artist studios.
David Vigil stepped out of the adjoining bathroom just before we were getting ready to walk into his studio. He had a Kool-aid orange mane, brown skin and abundant chest hair: The Lion King. Fortunately we did not hear a roar but a laugh (I can be charming when I need to), as we hurriedly explained we were curious. After a brief interview in which our provenance was examined, he engaged us in a conversation on the nature of his recent work as artist, writer and composer. I found him quite endearing, not jaded or cynical, in the way he addressed these two women tourists after so many years of selling art out of a studio. We talked quite a bit about creativity. After his young musician collaborator Victor arrived, he mentioned some video clips of his music on You Tube and said he was a happy person. Warning: do not click if you don't like jazz.
We crossed the street again and sat down at the bar inside Geronimo to ponder our encounters. Fiercely air conditioned, this restaurant had a very nice wine list, but that would be another blog entry.
Monday, April 28, 2008
One of the first strategies I used was to search for a "friendly medium." I was aware of my difficulties with charcoal, pastels, conte crayons, and anything else involving rubbing or erasing. I sought a medium with whom I was more familiar in an effort to even the playing field, as drawing the figure or a landscape with a time limit was overwhelming enough. I gravitated towards water media because it enabled me to cover large surfaces quickly. I knew how to mix paint and water to achieve the desired values. This is not to say I discarded dry media. I used charcoal for 1 minute gestures.
I also limited myself to value studies for a while, in watercolor and acrylic. In an effort to keep things simple, I did not use any color, just black and white paint, or ink and water. As I felt I was starting to achieve enough contrast and good midtones, I gradually I introduced ochre, red, and eventually blue. I still paint the figure with a primary palette. It is true you end up having to mix all the colors that you want, but it is a good way to quickly reach the values you want without a lot of fuss, and there can be quite a range of expression with just those three colors and white.
Larger paper sizes gave me enough room to work on the nuances in value of the bone and muscle structures I was translating onto two dimensions. This is specially true of the value studies, which required more space. Smaller sizes limited the amount of detail I could render, and thus made it easier to work in color. For example, I use smaller canvases when painting landscapes in oil and acrylic. I have come to believe that the more difficult or the less time you have to complete a piece, the smaller your paper or canvas has to be.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
My background in education keeps me eternally interested in how people learn. I keep several visual and written journals because I like to see if there is an evolution in my painting, because I want to keep track of ideas, and because I like to record what I think about other people's art. I see my own learning process as "strategic, " that is, as the search for approaches compatible with my values and ideas as a painter. Notice I didn't say that I see my art as strategic. It works for me to notice the approaches I use and why. Here's an example:
When I started to engage in figure drawing weekly about two years ago, I was very unsatisfied with my drawings. I had a clear idea of what they should look and I was not even getting close to what I wanted. I was so carried away with the excitement of having a live model that I would end up with distortions and missing body parts (the time limit is short). I could say that at this time, drawing the figure was exciting to the point of being overwhelming. After all, it had been exactly 25 years since I had drawn the figure with any kind of limit. Those who study standardized test performance will tell you that time limits will bring on anxiety and a decrease in the accuracy and quality of the response.
During those first weeks, my challenges were many. I had to draw a complete gesture in one or two minutes. I was expected to draw a credible figure with muscles in 5 to 20 minutes. The drawings had to resemble the model and convey the space and weight taken by the model's body and pose. During the next few days I will write about the strategies I used to assist my learning. Again, by strategies I mean the approach used to surmount a problem, more than a specific technique or material.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
This last purpose is why I put myself through the pain of sketching with oil in this brief period. It can be frustrating, because the medium was not created for this purpose. Try layering oil paint that has not dried. Try wiping off mistakes you've made in a strong color. Try finishing in 20 min. using a format larger than 11 x 14. Impossible! But so many decisions are made during the first 20 minutes of a painting, that it is worthwhile to learn to make them efficiently and successfully.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Saturday, February 02, 2008
I do it in part because they are underrepresented in formal portraiture. I have always done portraits of people of color in oil. But until I saw the portraits of African Americans that Beverly McIver was showing at a show in Sacramento, I did not understand what exactly was it that I was looking for. I wanted to give the sitters exactly the same choices someone with more means might have had had they commissioned a portrait from me, but I also wanted to have more emotional involvement in those portraits. I also wanted to give them the experience of sitting for a portrait in which they would not be treated as the exotic other.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Alain de Botton
I had spent three days last winter, making sure the same morning light passed through our deck door (the setup was on the floor), in order to paint them. This watercolor went to a group show with very strict size limits. Zillions of other pieces, not bigger than 90" in perimeter shared space with these pomegranates. However, at the show many assumed I had used a reference photo. Maybe I need to start placing a comment with the title and dimensions, "no cameras were harmed in the making of this piece."
There is a time and a place for reference pictures in everyone's oeuvre. In my case, I don't use them when the subject is accessible enough, stable enough, to withstand a couple of days of scrutiny. Too much is missed. Color in all its glory, and the "air around it," to use someone else's phrase.
On the other hand, give some of us a palette and a bit of time and the lure of all that detail and sensory overload will lead to seductive tangents. The inclusion of detail where none should have existed may become a detriment for the overall impression the painting makes. The choice is ours.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
This is one of the windowsills in my studio, and the seven objects are placed on top of the only bookcase. The unopened bottle of rose we bought at Domaine Chandon, in Napa. I took the grapefruits and pomegranate from our fruit basket, and the candle was given to me by a colleague when I worked at Sacramento State University. The black curtains were sewn by my mom because sometimes the blue window light interferes with paintings I have started indoors. I finished it two weeks ago.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
I seldom have the patience to find a decent composition, a skill I need to work on. But something I've realized is that it takes me an average of two hours to paint each object in a still life. This oil is 24 x 36," a manageable size. Still lives beyond these dimentions pose other challenges and as a result take more time.
Instead of cotton duck, the support is engineered birch. I am enjoying painting on this surface, but had to switch to sable brushes so that I would not end scraping 30% of the paint surface with each stroke of the hog bristles.