Moving at the speed of time

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This week, I celebrated six years of marriage with my husband. It seems like I have been married for much longer because it is hard to imagine life before it. Futhermore, I can’t believe I am still in my twenties (but if you are a former student, I lied and told you I was 32; why is it that people only take you seriously if you are thirty-something?). This decade has brought staggering changes, as everyone can probably say of their twenties. And I still have another year to go! Time: maximized fully.

This drawing, however, has been slow. Slow as my pregnant waddle-walk. I just realized I started the oil-pastel version when I found out I was pregnant and researched the material I was using for safety. The soft pastel version was under way even before that. So that puts it at around seven or eight months in the making. In that span, I grew a human being and moved house, so I guess that explains it. Time: dragging feet.

It is time for some goals. If I say it out loud, then it is real and I have to do it. This drawing will be finished by the end of June. Another drawing will be finished before I give birth. Then I know what comes next: postpartum hibernation. Time: doesn’t exist.

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These oil pastels are growing on me. And look! a color gradation. Not so stiff any more with this medium. The expectations are starting to open again. Maybe it was drawing the window to the sky, but I am looking up at last. Time: back in the current.

As I thought back to our wedding this week, I remembered a hymn from our summer morning ceremony:

The sands of time are sinking, the dawn of heaven breaks;

The summer morn I’ve sighed for – the fair sweet morn awakes:

Dark, dark hath been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand,

And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

Kathryn

The Eventual Accumulative Effect

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It is 12:48 pm, and I have just cleaned up from lunch, changed a diaper, negotiated how many books will be read before naptime, read aloud a book about truck noises, sang “The Wheels on the Bus,” and tucked in my two-year-old for a nap. I immediately pull out my drawing and start work again. My mind must switch gears quickly, and sometimes it lags behind. And at any given moment around an hour or so later, it will have to snap back when he wakes up. That one hour is important. That one hour becomes 7 hours in a week, which is the avenue to a complete drawing. Hours upon hours.

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When I was in Orkney in Scotland in 2008, I was captivated by the stone structures all over the island, some built as long ago as 3,000 BC. Everything the people built was from stones: walls, houses, settlements, monuments. One by one, they built their ancient settlements by finding and stacking stones. You see the parts, and you see the whole. Stones upon stones.

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The efforts of faithfully accumulating and arranging become a lasting monument to your people and your life, for the tourists and the historians and the descendants to look upon. How else could it have been accomplished if not by steadily putting one stone on top of another?

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(Sean Scully, folks. Another painting I’m glad to have seen.)

Kathryn

Drawing Comparisons

I am happily back at work in my studio. My family has settled into our new temporary location, and I love it for several reasons. For one, it is so small that it is incredibly low-maintenance, leaving more time for fun things like drawing. Another perk is access to a pool, which we go to almost daily. My studio is now my kitchen table, and I am working on one thing at a time. I love how focused I feel on this drawing now.

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In case you need a reminder, this is the watercolor sketch of the drawing in progress. It is called “We built it with our collection.” I do love the watercolor medium for the amazing color shifts. When I was flying back from San Francisco, I saw the landscape from my window seamlessly change from coastal to desert to prairie. There was this one beautiful river that elegantly faded from deep blue to bright red as it picked up clay. Visions like that really make my heart jump, which is why I questioned today my choice in medium. If there is a way to accomplish that with oil pastels, I am not at that level yet. I really want to press on with them to see what happens. Also this image needs something clunkier, heavier, rougher (or else I would just be repeating what I already did). I want to see what happens when I draw my watercolor painting with oil pastels, using those subtle color shifts as a guide.

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The drawing should start to move faster as the shapes become larger (I have to work left to right because of all the scraping), but here is where I am with it.

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Last night I struggled with the two oranges. One is supposed to be a pink-orange and the other a red-orange. It is NOT the same thing but close, and it was making my head hurt trying to figure it out. I just had to stop.

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In conclusion, I am not comparing myself to Diebenkorn, but I will just say I am so glad I saw this painting in San Francisco.

Kathryn

Great Expectations, Part 2

(Hello again!)

Five months into the year, I’m happy to say some things have panned out (while others have not). The opportunity I wrote about earlier did not work out. I was hoping to get a three-month artist residency on the isle of Skye in Scotland for this summer, but I was turned down (sad face). That was disappointing, but not devastating. In fact, it was for the best, since I am now halfway through my second pregnancy! We are expecting another boy in September. This was another hope I had for this year, and it IS happening.

So in that light, I have slowed down some. Pregnancy is of course tiring, but so is being a regular adult. Sometimes life squeezes out the art. Gone are the days of being in art school with nothing else to think about except how long I can paint without stopping for food. I guess that means I’m a grown-up now. I haven’t worked for a couple of months as my little family has packed up and is transitioning to a new house. In that time, I have spent many hours at my parents’ house. Just so happens my mom has a great sewing machine and I MUST make something. This is what happens when I don’t have my art supplies. I applique designs on my son’s clothes just for fun.

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My favorite: the Matisse paper-cuts reference. (It’s okay if you are laughing at me.)

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Another outlet has been teaching elementary art for the first time. I normally teach college courses, so it was stretching my brain to change to preschool. They were great little artists, so uninhibited and creative.

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The greatest oasis during this two-month dry spell was getting to travel to a big city and see art with my very own eyes. I was a bridesmaid in a dear friend’s wedding in San Francisco. After a decade of admiring the Bay Area painters (they were the reason I first wanted to be a painter), I got to actually go to the Bay Area! We had one day to see the city before commencing wedding festivities, but our quick graze of the city did not disappoint. 

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The hills and the lighting made for beautiful layering.

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And THEN. And then I got to the art museum. Here is a Bischoff painting I was already familiar with before seeing it here, but the tiny picture in the book does not compare to standing in front of it (and now here is a tiny picture for you to see). I felt surrounded by the painting.

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I could get really close.

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Loved this Diebenkorn. What always drew me to his work was his paint application. That complex white at the top? That has as much to do with how he applied the paint as it does with the colors he chose to put together. Thin, thick, grabbing wet paint underneath, quickly, deliberately.

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I also enjoy the way Diebenkorn composes. A dense collection of shapes and paint that fans out exponentially to larger shapes, in this case making a landscape.

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De Kooning: “Flesh was the reason oil painting was invented.” Yeah, I miss it.

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Stella: “A painting is a flat surface with paint on it — nothing more.”

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Scully: “Abstractions that long to be figurative”

And then upon returning to Jackson, I got to have a local experience with great art. The Mississippi Museum of Art has an exhibit right now on European Expressionists. My favorite was a portrait by Millet from when he did portraits. I felt like I was getting to see more obscure art by great artists, which can be just as rewarding as seeing the “famous” paintings they did. You should go see it if you get the chance.

The hardest part about being away from my work for a bit: I can’t just be normal. I can’t just enjoy the time off. I am fidgety and try not to be moody (well, I am pregnant too). I want to work again. I will be back at it soon. Until then, I guess my son will be well-appliqued!

Thanks for reading. The blog is officially back.

Kathryn

Work-life balance

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(The lower left of the composition)

Slooooowwwwllllyyyyy making my way through this drawing. I cannot emphasize enough how slow this medium is for me after working with chalk pastels. A typical day for me (when I am not working at my part-time job) leaves me about an hour and a half of work time. This is just reality when you stay at home with a young child (who is two years old now!). So if it takes me about 15-20 minutes per color to get it right, well you can see why this is taking so long. And then the color may still not be quite right but I cannot figure out how. I have to work in one direction because the residue marks the paper so easily. In some cases, the stain doesn’t budge, but I am just letting things like that happen and save the evaluation for the end.

What I’m doing is very mechanical, executing the plan, making very few decisions. Actually that is relaxing. I listen to a podcast and simply enjoy time to myself. It doesn’t frustrate me too much to know that while other artists are finishing work at a rate much faster than mine, I am inching forward. I am just happy to have a work in progress, to be going somewhere even if it is in the slow lane. It is not about cranking out the work right now. It is about being able to be a mother and an artist, knowing that having a young child at home is a special, wonderful, hard, trying, beautiful time that will not last forever.

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(This is what I scrape off my blending stump every time I apply a color)

I feel that even though the scale is tipped more toward life than work, just know that I am content, and that is huge for an artist, for me.

Kathryn

(Disclaimer: I am not asserting in any way how women should attain a work-life balance, or what I think you should or should not be doing, so please don’t get all mommy-wars on me.)

A break, and a new start

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I didn’t quit, in case you were wondering. I don’t hate oil pastels that much. I just don’t love them yet, and I was putting the whole thing off. It’s amazing what I can find to do instead. But I’ve started this thing now. At first it was painfully slow, taking an hour to get the first color. Actually I’m still not sure I got it right, but it is close enough to come back to later. A palette knife was the game-changer, since I can scrape away what annoyed me the most about the medium: the smears. I’m still struggling to get an even tone. But I sort of like the resulting texture. It reminds me of a grainy old photograph.

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Here is the original again. I’m starting at the bottom left and working up.

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And maybe I’m starting to enjoy it more than I want to admit. I think the break was good for me. It gave me enough time to forget soft pastels and to anticipate working again.

Kathryn

Trying

ImageOil pastels are about what I expected: waxy, blotchy, frustrating, weak. I watched some tutorials before I started experimenting, and I know just from watching others that it could be because my pastels are of average quality while the other artists were using very excellent quality oil pastels. They blended like butter; mine blend like, well, crayons. But even if I spent $300 on a new set instead of the $X amount I spent on these, I don’t know that I would be convinced. These are fine enough to get started.

ImageI began by mixing colors from the drawing I would like to make on regular drawing paper. It is a bit blotchy, but darker colors are decent. The “texture” I will call it (rather than blotchiness) could work to my advantage in this new drawing. I reminds me of the surface of rocks.

ImageLight colors require a reversal of my way of working in pastels. Usually I put the darker undertones down first, then go on top with the lights to smudge it all into a nice light color. Oil pastels require me to put the white down first and work the color into it. In the photo, the color on the left was made dark to light; the right one was made light to dark.

ImageBlending with a blending stump takes a lot of time to get a fairly even tone. And then you have to be sure to smudge off the excess or it just cakes and smears into the color. This is also different for me. I have never been one to clean my brushes between colors or wash my fingers between pastel smudging. I like to leave it there and let it play into the next color.

This is a bigger change than I wanted to believe. I am moving from velvet and butter and blending to faux leather and wax and smearing (ugh that just SOUNDS terrible). However, I’ve not given up on this new medium yet. I would like to try a full drawing first. They ARE safe for me and my family for my in-home studio, they ARE able to make complex colors, and they DO the job.

Sometimes I just need a pep-talk,

Kathryn

Detox

I had a very unfortunate but timely realization that the pastels I have been using these past few months could be creating a toxic environment for myself and my family. I just happened to be looking around for any safety warnings about pastels last week and found that the dust it creates with pigment and fillers is unsafe for a home environment. Yikes. But I take comfort in two things: I didn’t use them for very long (two drawings) and most of the colors I used were from my “nontoxic” box.

I had to do some painful tasks this week. I had to throw away my in-progress pastel drawing. I then decided to rid my in-home studio of all toxic materials that I will probably never use again (even if they were in a box stored somewhere, all of it is gone). If it had dangerous components and could be airborne or create fumes when in use, it is gone forever. I have gradually been taking steps toward safer working materials since I got pregnant with my son, changing the way I work for the safety of my family. This is just one more thing to cross off the list. I will not be using pastels as a woman with more potential pregnancies and children. It is not worth it.

Of course, this is disheartening. Now what? I searched for options. I didn’t even want to use nontoxic pastels because it still makes dust. I was really enjoying where my work was heading and how densely the pigment sat on the paper, so I wanted to find something that could match the intensity. (For those wondering, it is the pigment that is the real danger in most art supplies.) I didn’t want to use watercolor for these drawings even though it is safe (they already have watercolor versions). I have decided to try oil pastels, which I have never used in my life. They do not create dust. They are glorified crayons. I have no idea what to expect, but I do expect my work to change. Who knows, maybe this could be a good nudge in the right direction; but if it is not, there is no going back.

My husband, he is such a good art husband, he ordered me some oil pastels on eBay in the midst of this detox meltdown. We didn’t want to sink a lot of money into a new set of oil pastels if they weren’t right for me. So I sit and wait for them to arrive. I clean my house thoroughly. I purge my studio of more useless things. It feels good. Hopefully, the new pastels won’t be thrown into the useless pile after giving them a try. Because if this doesn’t work, I’m unsure of my next move.

It has been tough to realize I could have been harming my family’s health (pastels are considered safe if the studio is not in your house and you wear a mask and studio clothes which are worn only to work in), and that as a result I cannot do what I do, and that I have to make a big change. I welcomed the initial change to pastels when I stopped oil painting (too much for my schedule as a mother, needed something quicker), but this is one that feels more like an interruption. Why even bother? I ask myself. I told my husband I should give up or take some time off. He said oh please don’t. I must make art somehow. Maybe in my push to try yet another way, I will find another invisible step which I didn’t know existed. There is a whole new territory for me to wander through.

Detox complete,

Kathryn

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More pouring, less snoring

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If you are not a local reader, you may not know about our weather these past few days. Just on Saturday, it was 75 degrees and sunny, then it started to rain. And rain. And rain. And then the temperature dropped to thirty-something. This change in weather prompted a runny nose in my kid, which also meant we had to be shut-ins and not meet up with other kids to play, and not even step outside to run around in the cold, wet mud. When he doesn’t have a lot of activity, he does not nap easily, if at all. My little sleep bandit is at it again, it seems. So here we are, reading books and playing trains and making pretend food, and then we do it all again (which apparently, is not enough activity to make sleep easy).

ImageI glance at my started drawing now and then, evaluating it from a distance, but this one may take a while. This has all been a grand exercise in patience. Not only am I waiting for chances to draw, this drawing is intense. There are so many small shapes to work through that it is slower than the previous ones. I am also waiting to hear news about various opportunities that I mysteriously mentioned in my last post (isn’t it infuriating?).

Waiting. It isn’t something you can do. It is what you don’t do. It is what you try not to think about or anticipate or imagine. It is cuddling up with my two-year-old, smelling his sweet skin, and being oh so glad.

I guess the snoring can wait this time.

Kathryn

(PS, If you have any recommendations about artists that I should see, please leave tips in the comments or on my Facebook page. That could be a good way to spend the time and I am fresh out of ideas. Thank you!)

Great Expectations

I love the newness of a new year. Especially now in the days when the date is in the single digits- it is just a wee baby year right now, and it has its whole life ahead of it. While I haven’t painted in the studio again yet, I have been busy with various things that take up time on the laptop. I don’t want to go into too much detail yet, but I have a lot of hope for this year. I have sent in one particular application that has gotten me pretty excited. I will tell you about it when I get rejected/accepted. But that isn’t the only thing I have on the table for this year. I’m looking forward to many opportunities and changes; hopefully most of them will pan out.

Filling out that application was a much easier task than normal, which I can credit to this blog. Having a journal of my studio means that my thoughts have already been articulated and I don’t have to stare at a blinking cursor (as much). Writing about my art comes hard sometimes (artist statements, anyone?). Applications are no fun, because they take so much effort and rejection is common. The thing is, I really want this opportunity. I was talking to a wise, dear, and well-read friend about my desire for this to happen, and she told me about a passage in a book this brought to mind about hope. The character in the book really desired something, and she talked about letting the hope materialize and then pass through her instead of lodging in her head and making her miserable. What a great way of thinking about our longings. It is good to dream and hope, but instead of letting it become an obsession, let it pass on by. If it happens, great! If not, then it has left room for another.

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My next piece will be taken from this painting. It is called “We built it with our collection.” It is meant to be like a home or something valuable built over time, with bits and pieces gathered for the intention of building. And that window to the clouds? The building is not complete; it has left a view toward the sky. It reminds me of the days when I am looking down all day cleaning or child-caring or cooking or driving or emailing, and then I go outside and look up. I see the vast sky that changes constantly, trees reaching toward it, birds soaring through it, and I feel better. I get to see something BIG. This window is a lot like the window in the kitchen by our table. It is a high window, and many times throughout the day I stop to look through it at the sky. The moment of natural beauty uplifts me, and as humans, aren’t we quite suited to look up?

“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!”
– Søren Kierkegaard

I hope this new year is the year of the possible,

Kathryn