The full spectrum

There is no progress to report from the studio, because I haven’t spent time working in there. I did, however, clean it from top to bottom in preparation for a new drawing. That felt really refreshing. The pastel dust was getting pretty thick. And then I deep-cleaned my entire house (it involved borrowing a steam cleaner) since we are having more people over than usual for the Christmas season. Those two things right there made me feel more energized.Image

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I have also spent a good deal of time decorating the house for Christmas. This part is a lot of fun for me. I don’t have to think about it too hard, and the simplicity of combining colors and textures with no expectation of profundity is a nice break from the studio. The more frugally and creatively, the better (like making construction-paper ornaments, for example). It is fun to go beyond red and green for Christmas. I guess you could say I use a full spectrum of colors. Just for kicks.

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My mother made a lot of my clothes when I was a kid, especially holiday clothes. Fortunately, she also taught me to sew. And almost without thought, I found myself doing the same thing for my son. I was in a craft store for something else, and some Christmas material caught my eye. Without thinking, I took two bolts to the clerk, asked for a yard each, and went home to make two pairs of pants for a size 2 toddler. Just like that. Because that’s what you do, make Christmas pants, of course.

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I also hosted a cookie-decorating party this weekend. It was so much fun to glop purple and blue icing onto a snowflake-shaped cookie while hanging out with friends and sipping on hot apple cider.

Oh, did I mention finals? Grading my finals for my Beginning Drawing class was quite a task. It involved grading portraits, sketchbooks, averaging grades, posting them, and then returning the material all within a 24 hour period. Whew!

All of this takes time. Naptime, after bedtime, here and there. It is nice to stretch out a little, make the Christmas season fun for my family, and mentally rest from my studio. I guess a more serious artist would never take a long break for such things. This is probably why you will never see my work hanging in a museum. A part of me really enjoys sewing and baking and homemaking (not in a polished 1950s kind of way, but think more 1920s homesteader). In some ways I get to be the full spectrum of myself: mother, homemaker, friend, wife, hostess, artist, professional, teacher. Any other time of the year, I wouldn’t put as much thought into decorating or baking, but it is fun to tap into it. I couldn’t do ALL of this year-round, but I do especially enjoy this festive time of year.

At church yesterday, I had a range of emotions: joy, hope, sorrow, peace. The music was beautiful and the homily was uplifting; I cried, laughed, left with hope. I hope your Christmas is FULL and festive, restful and exciting.

“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'”

Have a merry Christmas,

Kathryn

The conversation

I don’t enjoy being negative. I really mean that. It is sometimes too easy to cast a hipster sneer at what is unfashionable. Last week when I was thinking about Bierstadt’s paintings, it was only in the spirit of learning from them, not bashing them. While some young artists may not care for them because they are not “in” right now, I didn’t care for them because I thought they weren’t truthful (just go back and read it). I talked about how it was a similar enhancement that you may find on the cover of a magazine where the woman is photoshopped. I think I crossed a line there when I said I equated Bierstadt to fashion. Perhaps that was too strong. Obviously Bierstadt was a very skilled painter. What I meant was, as sensational as the paintings are, he often made mountains taller or water bluer, all because that’s how he thought they should be. Maybe that is okay if he named them something other than the place he claimed to represent, perhaps a mythical place. They are technically very good paintings, and the irony is that I do like looking at them even thought I already told you the reasons I don’t respect them (but hey, I do buy fashion magazines occasionally).

I would also like to say how much I appreciated the feedback I received on that post from many friends. I mean that too. Because I really want to know any changes I could make in my thinking or in the end results – my art. Starting a conversation like that and then being able to have someone reciprocate means the world to me, since I pretty much paint alone. One commenter said something that I am still trying to figure out for myself: doesn’t every artist change change or enhance the subject in some way?

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(It was ideal, Pastel on Rives BFK, 22″ x 30″)

I have just finished this drawing, and this conversation still goes through my head. Obviously I have changed the place too. I have changed the colors, simplified the features (though kept the same structure). Bierstadt’s paintings probably have a greater likeness to the original landscape than my paintings do. He made more of a landscape painting than I will ever make. So what now?

I guess we are trying to say two different things with our landscape paintings. He was saying that this place is extraordinary and you should really come see it and be in awe of it. I am saying this place is amazing but you are only seeing it in your imagination or from the perspective of desire.

I am not trying to “win” here, just want to learn more with each drawing. I want to make truthful art with which a viewer can deeply connect. Thank you for reading, thank you for commenting, I love our conversations.

Kathryn

Pressing on

There are many things that are presently going right for me as it pertains to my work in the studio. The kiddo has adjusted to his new nap schedule, so I get that precious time back in the studio before I go off to work (with him in tow), and he is happier, and I am happy he is happier. Never would I have imagined that 94% of being a parent is worrying about sleep (my sleep, his sleep, is he getting enough sleep, why won’t he sleep, why won’t he sleep without me, why does he wake up so often, why does he sleep so lightly, why did he sleep so long oh no is he alive, and so on). But yes! He is back to regular sleep, I am back to regular studio.

I also discovered that if I stream radio shows, I can defeat the distractions and keep on course. There are so many things telling me to stop. Like my studio being a mess. I hate it so much when it is a complete wreck, but it is nothing less than that right now. Also like being tired, and the fact that thinking about how to make a certain color just right is mentally exhausting and that is entirely what I am doing right now. All of the conceptual and compositional elements have already been worked through; now the hardest part is evaluating the colors on my study and transferring them to the drawing.

I haven’t spoken much about the concepts behind the art yet, mostly because I feel silly when I do so. Not because it is a silly thing to talk about, but because it comes out in pretentious art-speak before I know it. It’s like I can’t even help it. Grad school probably did it to me, or maybe I did it to me. But I am ready to go there.

When I was making this watercolor series that I am putting to pastels, I was returning to photographs and sketches I had made of my time in Scotland (where I lived during grad school). I was remembering my time there, but the memories were idealized. I was aware of that, almost encouraging my memories to be so unscathed. Of course no matter how wonderful a place is, it isn’t perfect. When I look at the photos of the North Sea in Shetland, it is easy for me to forget how freezing cold I was (I packed poorly even though it was summer there), and how seasick I felt on the ferry back to Aberdeen. But none of that comes to mind when you really miss a place. And when I was in Scotland, I would remember my home in Mississippi with longing for its people, its food, its culture, its warm weather, quickly forgetting all the frustrations that come with all of those things (you know for me to miss the heat, I was REALLY cold there).

Where I’m going with this: longing for a place makes you see it in a different and half-true light. I wonder at what makes people decide to move to another place in search of a better life. My husband and I moved to another country so I could go to grad school, and I certainly had a grand view of it in my mind before we went. What makes a person uproot and search for something better? A sense of adventure, a desperate situation, an eye on a prize? What happens when they see its shortcomings? Maybe they find the ideal place to live, then they must make the best of it when they discover the truth about its imperfection.

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The piece I’m working on is called “It was ideal” and is a simplified landscape with a view toward where the water meets the sky. But it is a polished gesture of the place. Sort of like an illustration in a children’s book or a cartoon. It has enough to indicate a place but not enough to give you a realistic sense of being there. It is a mind’s eye view of the place you want to go, already realizing it won’t be quite as good as you long for. In a way, this whole series is about longing.

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Like the longing it took for a person to uproot his/her family and walk west with a covered wagon hoping to find that golden piece of land. Hoping for that opportunity you couldn’t find here, so you must go there. I really liked the film “Meek’s Cutoff” by Kelly Reichardt. It was the stunning cinematography that got me, along with the painfully realistic perspective of moving west by simply putting one foot in front of the other, complete with a squeaky wagon wheel. I also liked that it was a Western from a feminine perspective (many scenes with dresses blowing in the wind, see above). (Don’t watch it if you like action movies.) I bring up this movie because it struck a cord with me. I think I watched it three times in a row. It really showed how strong a longing for another place would have to be to undertake such a journey. And the hardship they endured along the way – before it was over, they were just wondering if they could even find water.

I’m not saying this piece is there yet. Part of reusing the watercolor is to take it further. Is it getting closer to this idea of longing for a place? Will it only be seen as “a pretty landscape” or will it resonate on a deeper level? How can I be truthful in my art (i.e. showing the stunning cinematography along with the squeaky wagon wheel)?

One foot in front of the other.

Kathryn

A peculiar miracle

“Painting seems like a peculiar miracle I need to have again and again.” — Philip Guston

Sometimes I am not sure which I love more – painting, or having painted. As I look at the last completed drawing, I feel satisfied at how it fell into place. I believe the composition worked even after making it larger, and I was afraid it may not. I think it works because the colors are heavier and deeper and compensate for the larger size. I love pastels for that reason. The pigment both sits on top of the paper and goes deep into the image.

While I am glad to have made the image, I can’t stop there – I need to make another one! And so I have. Another drawing is under way. The rough draft goes so quickly, it makes this slow painter feel super speedy. The image below is where I am headed with this.

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Looking forward to that major transition from red to blue at the top.Image

Once I get the drawing on the page, I get to treat it like a big coloring book.

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Again and again.

Kathryn

Brought to you by Thomas the Train Engine

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(“We made a discovery about ourselves” Pastels on Rives BFK, 22″ x 30″)

I finished my drawing! After a premature awakening from his nap, I was worried that it would be yet another day before this was complete, but fortunately Thomas bought me some time. Sometime I will have to show you a video of him dancing to the theme song. It will make you chuckle. I did have to take a few breaks to retrieve snacks and play trains, but I didn’t mind.

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I enjoyed working in this medium, and I look forward to practicing more, learning more, making more like this one.

Time for me to go play trains again! Thanks for reading,

Kathryn

Slow and steady

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Last week I was forced to SLOW DOWN when I got sick and had to sit at home for a while. I watched a lot of TV and ate a lot of soup. I have fully recovered. After a time of sitting and being lazy, I tend to hit the ground running the next chance I get, ready to get going again with life again. I think I was too eager today to get this blue section finished, because my hands were clumsy and I was rushing. I have found that when I treat my art like something to check off a list, bad things happen.

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The blue stripe in the middle was too purple, too chalky, too cool, and I had to fix it FAST before my son woke up and I had to rush out the door to work. So I picked up all the colors pictured at the top and started scratching away at it. Adding that rusty red color was a good idea, but I didn’t apply it so evenly. It got blotchy.

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I had the right idea, but I need to take my time in the future. Chip away at it. Steady my hand. Focus on the task at hand. Etc.

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This might be like watched a turtle sprint, but I will finish this drawing eventually!

Kathryn

Train of thought

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(J.W. Waterhouse, “The Lady of Shalott,” 1888)

Tonight, while I was hanging out with my husband (and checking Facebook, ahem), I noticed that he had changed his profile picture to a mock campaign blurb: “Strange Women Lying In Ponds Distributing Swords 2012.” If you didn’t know (I had to ask to remember) it is from that Monty Python Holy Grail movie. Then I laughed because I remembered. Then he ran through the skit real quick in his crotchety-medieval-English-lady voice and I laughed again. “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government” as the movie says. Then thinking on King Arthur, images of paintings of mythological stories started flipping through my head (I know, NERD). Then I thought of the Pre-Raphaelites. If I still lived in the UK I would probably have gone to see the show at the Tate Britain in London all about the Pre-Raphaelites, but I live in Mississippi (the show is still up, UK friends).

All that to say, I am so glad I thought of them tonight! They give me a lot to think about as I work on my current pastel drawing. The Pre-Raphs, who some consider to be the first “modern artists” (see this great article : http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs/were-pre-raphaelites-britains-first-modern-artists?utm_source&utm_medium&utm_campaign), did break a lot of ground in painting. For one, all of a Pre-Raph painting is painted with the same amount of attention, and they are very detailed. Before, acceptable paintings were supposed to have important areas and unimportant areas, some parts in the dark shade, some jutting out toward you. Very dimensional. But it was good for me that the Pre-Raphs came along, because now I am able to make flat, “all-over” paintings too if I like. I say “flat” as in all of the painting is at the surface. You do not feel as if you can see deep into the back (all done on purpose, for me and for them). The intensity of all the detail keeps all of the painting in your sights.

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(J.W. Waterhouse, “The Crystal Ball (with Skull),” 1902)

Sometimes, the subjects remind me of stained-glass figures, with lots of detail painted into an iron-pane outline.

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(J.W. Waterhouse, “Flora and the Zephyrs,” 1898)

Some dismiss these paintings as pretty and mythical, but what’s the point? I think they are more truthful than our modern eyes may first think. Yes, they are pretty, but they also can be sad, frightening, melancholy, mournful, exhilarating, even monstrous. Behind the beauty, death and mortality loom in most of the paintings. They are beautiful paintings with a dark side; they are flat paintings with many dimensions.

I love it when art history pops into my head.

Kathryn

Some History

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I just might finish this drawing tomorrow. I wasn’t even supposed to finish it at all, but due to a hand-full of reasons, this piece will be all my own rather than a collaboration. It was going to be hard to leave it after taking it this far anyway. As I was working on it, I flipped back through some photos and sketches that influenced the original watercolor painting in the first place. One being the memory of (but revisiting this photograph of) the turbulent North Sea from my days in Scotland (above).

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Here is a calmer view. The colors of northern Scotland still come into my work. They may never leave my color memory. At least I hope not.

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Some recent color studies I did of day and night. I didn’t finish the series (yet) but the stripes of color did make their way into the watercolor painting.

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The watercolor painting where I first made this particular composition.

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An oil painting from grad school that seems to have passed some shapes on to this painting. I like to look back to see how my paintings keep certain characteristics.

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Some sketches from the local natural history museum, where I drew some fossils.

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Where I am with it now. Nearly there!

Have a great weekend,

Kathryn

 

Keeping Up

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Do you ever feel that life is like a treadmill moving at a slightly faster pace than you can run, but if you don’t keep up, you will fall flat on your face?

I have no progress to show from my studio this week. As I said in my last post, I started another part-time job, so now I have two. A great perk to the already nice job is that my son can come with me as I work. Unfortunately, he is not napping in his usual afternoon time. Poor kid is all messed up. Tonight, he fell asleep on the way home and is currently asleep in his bed with all of his clothes on (even his shoes). Also I am all messed up. We have eaten Little Caesars more than I would like to admit, have not done laundry,  dishes have piled up, I have forgotten things, let friends down.

I think both me and my son like being at home, so we are tired from leaving the house four days a week. I draw my energy from being by myself at home (introvert here). So tomorrow, I will be at home all day to be my normal self and to catch up on life and art.

I leave you with this painting by Manet called “A Bar at the Folies-Bergere.” I always liked it for the composition, with the barmaid in the center of the painting, as if you have just stepped up to her bar. She looks tired, like her treadmill is moving a little fast too. I can’t compare my life to hers, I guess I can just relate to being tired and trying to juggle lots of things. Also, she looks miserable, but I am not miserable. My jobs are much nicer than being a barmaid, and I still get to do what I love in life and be with the people I love.

Here’s to tomorrow,

Kathryn

The use of black

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(Caravaggio, “St. Matthew and the Angel,” 1602)

I decided to keep working some more on the collaboration drawing. I started a part-time job this week and never made it to the art supply store to get some more paper to start a new drawing. And all I could think about was finishing the black section across the bottom. So I did.

I do not usually have such a dark section in my paintings, but I am glad I am starting to bring more blacks in to my images. They went through a very light, ethereal phase. It is good to give my work a bit of the “monstrous.” Not that black is always associated with sinister. Caravaggio used black to show seriousness, weight, importance, sacredness, drama. In the painting up top, the black is infinite and timeless. Serious black.

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(Francis Bacon, “Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (From Muybridge),” 1961)

Francis Bacon used black more on the surface. I say “surface” because you do not get the sense that it goes back forever into infinity. It is colorful and textured, and it is suffocating, entrapping, streaky, scary, monstrous (all on purpose, i.e. I approve). Sinister black.

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This is a painting from my graduate school thesis. I am not comparing myself to these great painters, but instead using their work to help evaluate my own (just to be clear). This painting is called “Genesis.” This black is not sinister nor serious. Instead it is sort of dancing. Happy black? I wouldn’t go that far, but maybe primal black, formative black, expectant black.

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And now here is the work-in-progress black. This black is not infinite, but it is serious. It is on the surface and colorful, but not sinister. It is not deep, but it is weighty.

It transitions from red at the top down to blue at the bottom. That shift in color was very fun to do. 

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This black is going to be like the bass section of a choir, supporting and anchoring the highs and mids as they belt it out.

Serious, monstrous, and supportive, all at the same time. At least that’s the idea. Up next: working out those highs and mids.

Kathryn