Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Playing my way through the pain

This December I'll be Artist in Residence on a cruise sponsored by Semester at Sea through UVa.  We'll be traveling to the Bahamas, Jamaica, Colombia, Panama (going through the Panama Canal), Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Mexico and California.  It will be 25 days long.  It feels like one of the thrills of my life!  I love to travel but felt like perhaps my travel days were mostly over.  This awakened my Wanderlust again for sure!

I'll be teaching classes around the concept of a Visual Journal.  I'll teach Zendoodles (patterns) to decorate the journal with, Composing Photographs Successfully, Blind Contour Drawing, Modified Blind Contour Drawing, Drawing Basic Shapes, One Point Perspective, along with the basic concept of Visual Journaling.  Since I've never kept a Visual Journal, I thought it would be a good idea for me to keep one between now and then!

Generally when I use a sketchbook, I am very careful to create beautiful drawings which I'm comfortable showing others.  I put myself under pressure to make them "good" and don't give myself any room to play or experiment.  I bought a gorgeous leather-bound journal when I was in Venice.  I'm proud of myself for actually using it, but, again, I've only used it to make beautiful art (or as pretty as I can make it!)  I decided I need a change of pace.

While shopping for supplies for the classes for the cruise, I glanced through some of the lesson plans Dick Blick offers on their website.  One of the ones I happened upon is for making a sketch book using raw canvas and acrylic paints.  It looked simple enough so I decided to modify it and make one just like the one I got from Venice except with a canvas, not leather, cover.  And I'd get to decorate it however I wanted. 

I thought about doing the color field art like Dick Blick suggested, but that didn't interest me so much. Instead I gravitated to doing patterns all over it.  That took a couple of days but provided me with so much pleasure and concentrated joy.  I did do a color field painting on the inside but then decided I didn't like it at all - too busy and uninteresting so I painted over what I'd done with purple paint on one side and red on the other.  I put quotes which are important to me there so I can read them when I need inspiration or courage or whatever.

Then I went to the local art store, Main Art, where they have a terrific selection of papers and allowed myself to get whatever spoke to me.  $50 later, I had about 8 different kinds of paper.  The primary one, and what they used in the Venice sketchbook, is RFK Rives, but I also included some MiTientes pastel paper in different colors, some mulberry paper, other Asian papers with cool patterns, tracing paper, glassine, parchment, watercolor paper, Denril (used with markers, I think), and who knows what else?!  I spent the rest of that day tearing the paper to the right size to fit into the book (10"x14" - one page is 10"x7").  Then I grouped those into 4 sheets each which folded over to make 16 pages (2 sides of 8 pages each).  I asked Chris to show me how to use the drill press then used it to drill holes not only in the cover but also in each of the 8 packets of pages (I have approximately 128 sides of paper to use in the finished journal - some packets have more than 8 pages because some of the papers are very thin.)  Then I went to Michaels where I found some thread/string that seemed strong enough to use to bind it then figured out how the other one is bound and sewed up my journal.  I hope it'll hold!  If it doesn't, I can always re-do it.

Pleased with myself, I was ready to sit on my laurels for a while - months - years - who knows? - and admire my pretty work, but I recognized the trap I was setting for myself - this is a journal to USE! not one to just look at and smile cuz it's so pretty.

I boldly did a gesture drawing of the roses Chris gave me for our wedding anniversary last week - mostly wilted, but still pretty - then painted it with watercolor.  Then, boldly, I wrote all over the page.  I wrote a promise to myself that I will use this journal for PLAY and EXPERIMENTATION.  Anything else is a cop out and will be a betrayal of what it is for.   I'm going to make notes on each picture about what I'm doing and why,and I'm going to use all sorts of different materials. 

The second one I did was a total experiment - on parchment, I wrote with  Micron pens I'd found at Michael's on sale -  orange and green - and drew impatiens from a planter on my deck.  This morning I painted them with watercolors.  I found out that parchment isn't all that fond of liquid, but the colors show up brilliantly, and the watercolor dries faster than I expected it would given that it just sits on the surface for a while and puddles.  It's very different than watercolor paper.

Here's what my studio looks like now.  It's a mess with everything sprawled around me, but I love it!  Color pencils, acrylics, pastel pencils, brushes of every description, a book to look at, my journal, drawing tools, flowers, micron pens, a plethora of toys!

I also decided to copy a picture by Frank Lobdell.  It's from a book Chris gave me for Christmas.  Lobdell does figurative work and abstracts with patterns so Chris thought it might give me some ideas as to how to combine the two or move between the two or whatever.  I don't like his work a whole lot, but it was helpful to copy the picture.  I find that to be a good exercise because I learn how other artists work - it makes me use different materials in different ways.  For this one I used acrylics, pastel pencils, color pencils, charcoal pencil, and even a conte' crayon.  After I finished copying his, I decided to play with the concepts on my own.  That's the piece on the right.  I don't consider it finished, but I had fun working with it and look forward to getting back to it tomorrow.  That's the best feeling - looking forward to getting back into the studio the next day.  I've missed that lately.

I'm intentionally not cropping these pictures and making them all pretty, because that's precisely NOT the point!  It is incredibly difficult for me to let myself be messy and to do something which doesn't look precisely perfect - or as perfect as I can let it be.  I think that's one reason I've been in a slump lately - I haven't been allowing myself to experiment or to make mistakes.   I've been creating beautiful work, but the parameters I've been giving myself - to accurately represent what's in front of me - have been stultifying.

I'm also taking Figure Drawing at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond.  You might think I'd be good at that already, but frankly, I'm not.  I can copy 2-D things that are in front of me.  Drawing from life is not yet in my skill set.  I'm rectifying that.  Thomas Van Auken is the teacher I'm working with.  Thankfully he's very good.  He has us doing gesture drawings out the wazoo.  I've already used up most of a pad of newsprint in 2 weeks.  That's fine.  I'm also going to the Friday evening sketching sessions which anyone can come to so I can get extra practice.  I am determined to learn to represent the figure in a way I adore from life.

It's been a very difficult few weeks, feeling somewhat depressed and frustrated and in a lull, but I feel like following these gentle leadings and letting myself PLAY will be the key to moving through the muck and stuck and into something fun and interesting and compelling again.   

Hopefully this sense of adventure will keep me from looking like the self portrait I did last week and will keep me feel enlivened and curious and joyful.  That is, after all, the reason I quit my well-paying job to do my art full time - because the joy I felt doing it overrode any objections I could possible experience - if I'm not letting myself feel that joy, I should move on to something else.

It's painful for me when my creativity and drive are subdued and I can't access them.  I have learned to just let myself ride it out, but that doesn't mean I like it!  I'm hoping that treating myself gently and letting myself play will be the key to transforming the pain into joy.

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