Monday, March 29, 2010

Motivation Monday

Are you scared by your artwork? Humm, maybe you should be!

I hope you will be inspired and motivated by the following quotes from artist Sharon Knettell:

"I think life is so freaking short, I don't care if anybody doesn't like my art. When you get older, you lose your fear of the audience, the critics. You have to go to the point where your ideas scare and challenge you. 'I can't do that' - well why not? There are so many images you dismiss because you think you can't do it or it won't work. You just have to say, 'What the hell!' and leap."

I couldn't agree more with Sharon. Why not get committed to losing your fear of the viewer of your art and instead get scared by your challenging ideas? I promise you that when you stretch yourself to reach for what you think isn't possible, you will experience new levels of energy, aliveness and motivation. You might just scare yourself right into your next masterpiece!

(Sharon's quote is from the March 2010 issue of the Artist's Magazine.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

erasing coloured pencil, presentation reminder, growing new subjects

crocuses in my backyard this morning

A comment left with my last post, leads me to discuss the topic of erasing with cps. Last time, I mentioned that I had made changes to my work by using my electric eraser to erase cp pigment from the surface of my Colourfix paper. I want to be clear that there are other ways to lift pigment. In fact removing pigment is really what cp artists do to correct work because erasing doesn't work. Using a regular eraser and a rubbing motion will only smear the pigment and might possibly damage different types of paper. (the exception is if you only have a bit of pigment applied to the paper and you have used light pressure)

With printmaking paper, I like to use reusable adhesive, sometimes known as mounting putty. I dab the paper with a wad of reusable adhesive and the putty removes the pigment. You can use a kneaded eraser in the same manner. I also like using transparent tape and masking tape. They differ in their degree of tack. Sometimes you want a lot of lifting power and sometimes you want less. As a matter of personal preference, I don't like using my electric eraser on printmaking paper. I find I like the subtle control of tape the best.

When using a sanded pastel paper, such as Colourfix, I like to lift pigment with my electric eraser. It does the job really well and doesn't harm the surface. Having said that, do experiment with any removal techniques on scrap paper. You don't want to eat a hole in your paper or lift up fibers.

If you are interested in my upcoming presentation for the Nepean Fine Art League, please be reminded that it is tomorrow night, Tuesday March 23, 2010.

'Blue Blooded' shall have to wait in the wings while I get ready for the presentation. I also have to get my CPSA submissions ready later in the week. Dealing with my parents' home has started once again as well. I was out of town on the weekend in order to get the house opened up. My husband and brother-in-law installed new toilets while my sister and I sorted more stuff in the kitchen and elsewhere. I return this weekend. It shall be a busy year but hopefully the farm will sell sometime in 2010.

When not in the studio, I have been growing new photo references. (Remember my 'peas in a pod' piece?) :-) Last fall, while sorting stuff at my parents' home, I decided to rescue an old shelving unit from the recycling pile. I hauled the dusty, dirty beast back here and asked my husband if he could transform it into a plant growing thing. With the purchase of some 'plant and aquarium' bulbs and some inexpensive shop light fixtures, I now have a bit of a grow operation in my basement. No marijuana though! Just plant seedlings, around 600 of them. I have planted veggie seeds such as cauliflower, tomato, hot peppers, yellow peppers, squash, etc. as well as some flower seeds. Of course I shall be sowing lots of vegetable seeds directly into the ground but these seedlings will help get things in the garden off to a faster start...some new subject matter for future veggie art I hope...

We had a bit of excitement yesterday when I started a fire in the woodstove and a starling flew out, past my face and into the house. Nothing quite like a soot covered bird flying around, banging into the walls and the ceiling! Thankfully, there was a happy ending, the bird made it out alive and the walls required minimal washing.

Finally, thoughts from some Monday morning musings...While having an early morning coffee, I noticed an ad for a visioning workshop in the artsy publication I was reading. The description of the event mentioned how it was useful to aid people in knowing what they want. Humm... my mind started musing about how this seems to be a first world affliction, this not knowing what you want business. In developing countries people know that they want clean water, adequate housing, food to eat, education for their children. Here, we need to attend workshops to know what we want. Interesting isn't it?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

finding my inner Mediterranean...

Blue Blooded, most definitely a work in progress!

Here is a 'warts and all' picture of Blue Blooded. Yes, it had become a mess. When I work with paint I am often guilty of working too quickly. I overwork my canvas and in the joy of flinging that paint around I end up with "Yuck!". That doesn't happen when I work with cps. Well, not until this week. I got working so fast on this Colourfix paper that I quickly lost my senses and boom, crash, I stepped back and thought "Yuck this isn't working!" (It wasn't just the warm weather that sent me to the patio with a glass of wine - yesterday's post.)

So today, I put the paper on my teaching board (yes, I put my St. Pat's party boa in the studio for a bit of decoration) and I 'sucked it up' as it were. I admitted that pressing on wouldn't save it. I had too many goofy busy bits and I had lost sight of all of the veiny, sinewy, curves that I had wanted to convey. So, I rolled up my sleeves, heaved a sigh and reached for my electric eraser. Time to remove the warts in my 'warts and all'! Within minutes my pleasure with this piece returned. With the offending bits removed it was time to refocus and to get sensuous. Those curving lines had to get put down.

It was time to find my inner Mediterranean! First up, to set the mood I lit some incense. I have several kinds in the studio. The one chosen today is called China Moon. It is a "vibrant musk" and for mood it is all about "sacred sensuality and Feng Shui balancing". Well, that musky, sensuality bit seemed just right! Next, I hunted up some Mediterranean music - a CD of Mediterranean guitar by Pavlo. Cranked up, this seemed just right too. I worked standing at the teaching board so I could step back often for a better view...and so I could dance. I was wiggling my hips (channeling my inner Flamenco dancer) and snapping my fingers. I am sure it wasn't pretty but hey, I fortunately don't share my studio space with anyone! :-)

And woo-hoo, now Blue Blooded looks like this...

Blue Blooded, work in progress, coloured pencil on Colourfix paper, 19" x 17"
Copyright Teresa Mallen

There are still a couple of things to tweak but I am liking the curves and the overall composition again. I like where it is going. Whew! The moral of the story, face the truth. If you have to go backwards by erasing, do it. Sometimes it is the only way forward.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

coloured pencil presentation, art conference

Happy St. Pat's Day!

Here are some art events that you should make note of if you are within driving distance of Ottawa. First up is a coloured pencil presentation that I shall be giving on Tuesday March 23, 2010. My presentation is part of a regular series of presentations put on by the Nepean Fine Art League. The event takes place at 7:00 p.m. at the Nepean Visual Arts Centre located at the Nepean Sportsplex. You do not have to be a member of the Nepean Fine Art League, nor is there any admission fee. Please note that if you visit their link provided above, they have the date as 2009 not 2010 - ignore, they have been advised but it would seem that change is difficult. :-)

My presentation shall involve all sorts of things to do with working with cps. There will be a discussion on pencils, different papers and other supports plus a discussion of coloured pencil tips, tricks and techniques. If you are free and in the area, do join us. Please introduce yourself. I would love to meet you!

Next, I want to make you aware of an information packed, one day art conference that will be taking place in west Ottawa (Carp) on Saturday June 12th (9:00 - 4:30). The Cocktail of Art Mini-Conference is being presented by the West Carleton Arts Society. There is a long list of guest presenters and a range of topics that will please all artists. Here is a sampling: explore the world of e-commerce and on-line selling (think Etsy), enjoy demos given by a rep. from Golden Artist Acrylic Colours, learn about how to earn passive income from your website (think Google ads), delve into the business of art - things like handling commissions, grant opportunities, art exhibits, marketing, etc. and finally unleash your creative potential guided by Canada's first accredited facilitator of The Artist's Way.

The cost of the mini-conference is just $40.00 and lunch is included! For all of the details and registration info. click here. Space at the conference is limited so to avoid disappointment, do register early. I look forward to seeing you there. Again, please introduce yourself so we can chat!

This is definitely a St. Patrick's Day for the record books - it is tee-shirt and shorts weather here in Ottawa (which is way above our normal temp.). I had to get outside so I left my work on the drafting table and I headed out to the patio furniture. I am sitting outside, surrounded by birds at my feeders, my dog is snoozing in the sun, red squirrels are scolding me and I am enjoying a glass of red wine (which my hubby and I made by the way and it is actually very good). Oh and if anyone is wondering, the St. Pat's Party was fabulous. I can't believe how wonderful our neighbours are. And now a day like today - life is very, very good. :-)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

psychedelic blue blood...

Blue Blooded wip, cps on Colourfix paper, 19" x 17"
copyright Teresa Mallen

Here is my newest piece, obviously in an early work-in-progress phase. I am working in coloured pencil (of course) and I am once again using Colourfix sanded pastel paper - this time in a blue colour. So far I have transferred a loose drawing onto the paper and right now I am pretty much drawing this as I go.

During my residency month, I spent some time revisiting my inspiration file and the photos I have filed on my computer for 'some day'. Some of you might remember my Swiss Chard Mosaic piece from last year, or as I like to think of it: my funky chunk of chard.

Swiss Chard Mosaic, Copyright Teresa Mallen

Well, I still have the photos from the Swiss Chard photo shoot and the one below caught my attention. (You might notice that this chard has a white stem. I took photos of both Rhubarb chard and this white stalked variety on the same day. Of course it was the Rhubarb variety that I used for my inspiration in the piece above.)

When I zoomed in on the photo, I noticed the image below. Immediately I 'saw' veins and blue blood! Woo-hoo, fresh inspiration for new work.

Right now my work in progress looks a bit more like 'Into the Blue Forest We Go' rather than 'Blue Blooded'! I also find it reminiscent of the psychedelic graphics of the 1960s. :-) I promise there has been no taking of LSD in the studio!

I eagerly wait to see what happens next. I am happy to work with a new palette of colours and I am also enjoying working on curves versus the linear quality of the cellophane piece. I find part of keeping things fresh in the studio is to work on something substantially different, in various ways, from piece to piece.

I probably won't get back to the blue blood until next week. Tomorrow I am off to buy pencils and then groceries. Following that, I shall start some serious cooking. My husband and I are hosting a pre-St. Patrick's Day party on Saturday night for 20 of our neighbours. We moved to this part of rural Ottawa two years ago and since then we have been very warmly welcomed. We are surrounded by eclectic folks - lots of horse lovers, retired but very busy couples and younger couples, all of us loving the rural lifestyle. So I shall be cooking up huge helpings of Irish Stew and buscuits, lots of decadent desserts (a white and dark chocolate cheesecake that is so rich you feel like you might just pass out) and of course there will be lots of Guinness to wash it down with while the Irish tunes play on the stereo. Spring has arrived early this year, there is much news to catch up on, a neighbour has come through a successful cancer surgery and another neighbour is moving after the death of her partner. We have much to celebrate and it shall also be a bit of a farewell party. Life is good! Have a great weekend everyone.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Cellophane rocks!

Continuing on with my cellophane inspired abstract...above is a picture of how things looked as my first layer of coloured pencil pigment was going onto the paper. At this point I was trying to follow my road map of white lines (my transferred drawing). As I worked, I ensured that the white lines were going to be covered. If I thought the transferred lines were too heavy, I lifted them with masking tape. I did not want them to show in the finished piece.

I worked on a drafting table but I put the piece on an easel to make it easier to photograph. It was also nice to get a vertical view every once in a while. Due to the size of the paper, I worked half of the time with the piece upside down on my table. This was so my arm wouldn't have to rest on the paper. I modified the drawing wherever I thought it was required as I went along.

The following picture shows the piece after more colour had been applied. I used Prismacolor and Derwent Coloursoft pencils. Some artists find the Prismacolor Lightfast line of pencils to be a bit dryer than the Premier line. I like the Lightfast pencils and any extra dryness works well on this sanded paper. I really like the Coloursoft pencils on the pastel paper. I also like that you can obtain lightfast rating information for each pencil from their website.

The next photo shows the work after I had worked it up to a more orangy red stage. At this point I taped the paper to my white board stand (used for teaching). I needed to work standing up so I could step back often to see how things were developing. Again, due to the size of the piece, I couldn't get a sense of the overall work without frequently backing away from it. As I looked over the piece I was checking to see if something was sticking out that shouldn't be, did something look weird, was there an undeveloped area, did an area bug me for some reason, how did my eyes travel over the image. I looked for lifeless spots, I checked the composition of the piece and I examined the relationships amongst the colours.

Taped to the right hand side of my sheet of art paper, you can see my reference photo that I printed out to use as a guide. It isn't a great photo (I just printed it off on some regular printer paper and the image was blurry due to the enlargement) but it was sufficient for me to grasp the direction I wanted to go in with this piece. I found it helpful to study the character of cellophane, that is I got familiar with how cellophane crinkles and folds and how it captures and reflects light. This was very useful information when it came time to suggest this in my art.

Here is the finished piece! I have entitled it: Cellophane Symphony. Please keep in mind that my goal was not to render a realistic image of cellophane, rather I wanted to use colour, line and form to create an abstraction of cellophane. For some reason, when I look at the piece, I think it depicts what sound looks like (gosh it is hard to describe this sort of stuff in words). Specifically, when I look upon the art, I make a mental connection with the sounds that an orchestra makes and as I listen to a lot of classical music while I work it seems appropriate for this to be a Symphony.

Cellophane Symphony, coloured pencil on Colourfix paper, 23" x 14" (58cm x 36cm)
Copyright Teresa Mallen

I know that this compressed image leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to getting the full effect of the piece. Here is a larger image of a small section of the work.

I like how coloured pencils can yield pigment rich paintings like the one above and yet also execute a soft image like my rose below.

Center of a Rose, coloured pencil on Stonehenge, 18" x 8".
Copyright Teresa Mallen

So what about my original flame idea? Well, I enjoyed working on this cellophane piece so much that I intend to return to those flame reference photos for future work. I had no idea I would like working with such a subject. I guess it is because I enjoy patterns and shapes. Normally I am drawn to the patterns and shapes of nature - the lines and patterns found in wood, acorn caps, snake skins, etc. Working on a human made, plastic subject is the opposite of what usually interests me. I did find the cellophane quite beautiful, especially as it looked in some of my photo set ups. Often cellophane is overlooked as just the packaging around a gift. Making it the inspiration for a fine art piece seems like a sort of redemption.

Next up is a piece inspired by blood and veins...nothing gory though, I promise.

P.S. As Cellophane Symphony is a piece that I will probably be entering in an exhibition or two, please refrain from leaving comments that are of a critical nature (for example: suggestions on how you think it might be improved). Work entered into shows should be solely the work of the artist. While this piece is finished and I would not change it on anyone's advice, I still wish to be clear about this. Having said that, should you wish to comment that you think the piece is fabulous (without any helpful suggestions), I am sure that wouldn't be breaking any rules. :-)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

in the beginnng...

cyclamen in my studio this morning

That's where it all starts - at least for me it does. The spark of inspiration for my latest work came from viewing the work of another artist. Several months ago, I saw a picture of an abstract oil painting that caught my eye. The artist had used the word cellophane in the title. After reading the title, I looked back at the painting and I 'got it'. While I cannot remember what the painting looked like, I was captivated by the idea of creating a painting that in some way used cellophane.

This bit of inspiration stayed with me as the months passed and one day an idea popped into my consciousness - 'Wouldn't it be neat to do a piece depicting flames using cellophane?' !!! I started to think it through. What would I want something like this to look like? When I started to imagine a finished piece, I didn't see it as being a literal depiction of flames but instead something that suggested flames while rendering cellophane - but again I wanted a more abstract rendering of cellophane rather than something heavily realistic.

Now I had my concept, my starting point. To get started I would need some cellophane. Not just any old cellophane but cellophane sheets in the colours that I wanted to use in depicting fire. I headed out shopping and realized that cellophane isn't as easy to find as I had thought it might be. I came home and looked on-line. I wasn't impressed with my options. So I tried the shops again. Finally, in a party supply store a sale clerk directed me to a corner where a box on the floor held some discounted, discontinued rolls of cellophane. With great joy I discovered a few rolls that had the colours of dark red, orange and yellow that I was looking for! I purchased the cellophane and headed out to my vehicle with a big smile on my face. Now I had the goods I needed to get started...

Setting up a still life
- here is a picture of just how goofy things got in the studio.

I ended up folding and stuffing cellophane into a vase in order to create the flame shapes I wanted. Things didn't go too well. I fiddled and fussed. I poked and creased the cellophane but I wasn't seeing what I was looking for. This phase took a long time - actually the longest I have ever spent on setting up a still life. I took photos, adjusted the background, adjusted lighting and used tape to get the cellophane to behave. The photos weren't good enough. I was getting frustrated. I even resorted to staring at the fire in the woodstove to refresh my concept! Perseverance is everything and and over the course of a few days I eventually had lots of photos.

Now it came time to sift through the photos. I edited them by cropping and adjusting colour hoping to find an image that was 'it'. Again, this is the longest I have ever taken at this phase. Fortunately after several hours of playing with the photos I realized I was suffering from over choice - I had too many good photos!

I didn't see this one coming but I ended up falling for a piece that didn't depict flames! It didn't suggest something other than flames to me either. I just really liked this particular shot of the bunched up cellophane. I decided to trust my instincts and to go in this new direction. Going with the flow and all... :-)

So what makes an image 'it'? When I create a still life, I am assessing images for things like overall statement, impact, flow, composition and interesting light patterns. At this stage I am asking 'What is the story I want to tell here?' 'What is this image saying to me? What is it about?' I am looking for an image that gives me something to work with. I then use the image as a base to work up from up. Once I start creating the drawing, I can adjust the image to create better flow, or to improve composition, etc.

Now that I had my reference photo, it was time for the next step, executing a drawing. I love drawing and capturing all of the lines and negative spaces amongst the shapes was delicious. Before I started, I needed to have an idea of how big to make the drawing. I took a sheet of 28" x 20" paper as my guideline and made my drawing smaller than that. No fancy tricks here at the drawing stage, just me, a pencil and paper.

Once I had a drawing that I liked, I copied it to a sheet of tracing paper. I could have done my original drawing on tracing paper but I don't like using this to create my drawings - I am not keen on the feel of the paper nor do I like erasing on it. Yet I do like the softness of the tracing paper for the transfering part.

The following photo shows me at the transfer stage. If you would like detailed step by step instructions on how to transfer an image to coloured paper, click here to go to the February 2009 edition of my Newsletter. Just scroll down to the question section.

Of course before I could start transferring, I needed to choose the paper. I knew I wanted to use a coloured ground for this work. I also wanted it to be a sanded surface. I got out all of the sheets of sanded pastel paper that I own that were in the right size and I looked for a colour that I thought would work. A blue sheet caught me attention. I decided to look for other colours at the art supply store. More shopping required. I brought home a few sheets of different colours to try. Using the edge of the papers, I tested several of the coloured pencils that I knew would be used in the dominant colours of the finished work. I was comparing how the pigment looked on the different coloured grounds. I ended up deciding on an eggplant coloured paper. Specifically the paper is Art Spectrum Colourfix Pastel Paper (a very permanent, lightfast, coated paper with what I find to be a delightful toothy surface).

In the photo below, you can see my drawing has been placed over the transfer paper and I am ready to transfer the drawing to my Colourfix paper.

Here is how the paper looks with my line drawing on it. For an idea of scale, my drawing is 23" x 14" (58cm x 36 cm).

My next post will show the remaining steps. From inspiration, to the photo shoot, to editing, to the drawing - finally the work was at the stage where I could get working with my cps!

Monday, March 1, 2010

reporting on my residency experience...

It must be March. My house is a jungle of flowering bulb plants. Who says winter has to be dreary? :-)

Here I am one month much for my intention to post some updates as the weeks went by. If I had to sum up my residency in one word, it would be 'fabulous'!

Here is a breakdown of the activities I pursued during my fabulous month:
  • My main goal was to spend time on my art and I did. I logged in many hours at the drafting table and it was most delicious.
  • I dusted off and read books on the art and careers of some of my favourite artists.
  • I purchased art magazines and read them.
  • I got out old art magazines and reread them as well.
  • I attended a presentation given by a very accomplished artist which was most inspiring.
  • I took lots of reference photos. I edited some of the photos into images that I will be working on in future.
  • I sorted through stuff in my studio.
  • I revisited my business plan and made decisions with regards to future activities.

My greatest success in February was in focusing on my art. They say that it takes a month or so to develop new habits, well I wanted new habits. I hoped to to strengthen my ability to put my art time first and I wanted to let go of habits and tasks that were not really serving me. I went cold turkey on computer time. I didn't read any blogs in February (okay, I read two posts that popped up in my google alerts in my email). I checked my email as little as possible and I only responded to the absolutely necessary messages. I was completely unprepared for the amount of time this unleashed in my life. I was shocked. I became intoxicated, drunk on the possibilities. I could have spent more time on art but I decided to be decadent across the board. I actually played the piano instead of just dusting it! I read books!! Lots of them. I can't remember the last time I had been to the library.

I am very grateful for this unexpected revelation. Lesson learned. Now the challenge will be to maintain my new habits! :-)

Oh and I did get skating on the Rideau Canal. Ottawa has the world's larges skating rink which winds through the city for 7.8 km (4.8 miles) . This year marks the 40th anniversary of this maintained ice surface. Part of the experience is to take a break and have a snack. The photo below shows me ready to tie into a BeaverTail (a delicious whole wheat pastry stretched into the shape of a beaver's tail, served warm and topped with goodies like cinnamon, butter and lemon, yum). I shared it and a hot chocolate with my husband.

Below is a picture of one of the resting areas on the canal. There are picnic tables, places to buy food and fire pits. We know how to do winter! :-)

While I didn't post any updates, I did take some pictures of a work in progress. My next post will have lots of photos detailing the work I put into my newest finished piece.