On Growth

Three years ago I sent myself to a life drawing/painting intensive because I wanted to be able to execute portraits well. What I gained from the experience was a completely new perspective of art that I had never experienced before.

I had very little arts education. I was given the paint and the glue and the brushes and paper and charcoal and all manner of tools to create art with. But I was never taught how to use them. Not well anyway. I never learned how to use the materials and I certainly never learned what had been done before me to capitalize upon.

Now I certainly was taught some things. My college art history classes were a torrent of memorizing dates and time periods. But there was little time spent exploring technique, artists and their contributions. In fact I was so confused and disenchanted with the course that I wrote a paper entitled “Art is Dead”.

I was required to take ONE drawing course in college. I also took a course on color in which we, well, used color. My time in the college art department felt like someone said – “Well in this class we’ll be using color. So do whatever you want that involves color” or “In this class we’ll be drawing. Draw.” And while simply drawing and playing with color have their place and are beneficial, this sort of instruction is not educational. It certainly doesn’t smack of higher education to me.

Imagine if physicists or architects were treated to the same sort of education. Instead they are treated to in depth educations in which the history of what has come before them is discussed in detail. The knowledge that has been discovered, techniques, ideas, hypotheses, the math, the vocabulary, etc. I also studied business and believe me, the courses were much more challenging and abundant with facts and figures and truths.

Art students are expected to simply “express themselves” within the very loose confines of a course. Instead of learning painting techniques based on various masters, I was told to “paint”. While I painted with oils for the 4 years I attended university, I never once learned how to use them. And maybe I was supposed to have figured that out before hand. After all I’m sure the math students had used calculators prior to enrollment.

I think it is very unfortunate that schools are so flippant with their art degrees. And maybe this was just my own experience. But I have talked to many others with similar stories.

So when I decided to revisit my education 3 years ago it was something that I’d been craving for a long time. I knew that there was more and that I had missed something in my arts background. And holy moly did I find it.

What I was introduced to is ancient art knowledge. It is art making that has been happening since the first men recorded dying buffalo on walls. It is observation. It is seeing. It is recording the world through my eyes.

The techniques used to do this have changed throughout the years, but essentially since the beginning humans have observed and recorded their surroundings. The Greeks did it exceptionally well.

When Rome fell and Christianity gained a foothold, it became somewhere between forbidden and frowned upon to make images of realistic humans as we are not supposed to worship false idols. Around this time Islam pushed into what is modern day Europe, also forbidding any recording or imitation of god’s creations. So for a great deal of time, the skills were lost.

In the Renaissance and later the Neoclassical eras observation coupled with skilled recording came back in full swing.

But here’s the thing – all art, all of it, is abstract art. After all we cannot possibly capture the precise reality of a moment. My simply looking at the object of my still life distorts the object. Then my attempt to record the object distorts it. And so people played with this notion and pushed it and pushed it. And some of them stopped looking and turned inward for expression. So things changed, as they do and new art forms were born. And skills were lost. Again.

Historically you’ll find that most artists known for their expressionist and deeply abstract work are well educated in drawing and painting techniques. They have learned the basics and from that place been able to make new choices as to how to use the materials. They built from and distorted what they knew. I get the impression that this foundation is no longer an expectation.

I stopped painting highly abstracted work because I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no foundation that I was working from. And the work was fine. I sold it. People loved it. But, it wasn’t enough. I knew and I know I can do better.

Here are some reasons why I am only painting from life:

First of all I absolutely love it. The hours I spend in meditation and communion with an orange or flower are beautiful. I would meditate all day if I didn’t have other tasks to do. To sit and truly see and appreciate what I am looking at for what it is is absolutely magical. This is primarily why I paint from life.

I see painting from life as practicing to quiet the ego and still the mind. Instead of freely giving into reactionary feelings (anger, red, drip paint, swoosh, push, pull, screams, cries, splash, somber, purple), I am quieting the mind, breathing in and out, staying in the present moment and carefully being with my surroundings. This is a practice I see taught nationwide. It is hurts me that people don’t see the association of their yoga or meditation practice with my own. This is the same practice. 

Then, I am eager to attune my senses to realities that work and are true. I look at my past work and see shapes and shadows that even in an abstracted figure don’t work. And having this understanding is what I believe will take my work to a new level of expression.  Because even in the wildest abstraction, something based in reality will sing more truly, more vividly. I met a man who sells abstractions in Santa Fe. They look like wild landscapes with deep layers and pockets of earthen colors. Every single line he draws is the outline of a figure from life drawing.

If you were to speak with any of my teachers they will tell you that we are painting light. Not flowers or figures. Light. I am seeking to capture the play of the one thing that we truly see. Without it we would see no colors or transitions or separation. The light is all we see.

I don’t know what to make of all of this yet. I only know that right now I am dedicated to following in the footsteps of so many who simply sought to record their experience on this planet. And for now that means practicing my skills and communing with lemons.

Shiny Things

I keep getting the same lesson over and over again – beware of the shiny things.

I have a vision. Work hard, practice, make my shop better and better. In time I do believe I will be selling my artwork regularly and making a decent profit from my store. So far this plan has been working. Every year sales are better. My abilities as an artist are improving and I do have a waiting list of people who want to purchase artwork (lemons…everyone wants a lemon!).

But sometimes I get distracted and I call this my shiny thing syndrome.

Sometimes the shiny things are opportunities that take me away from my studio. A free plane ticket somewhere cool…why not? Sometimes its the lure of a paycheck. I keep thinking I need a “real job” to supplement my income. But what I NEEd to do is ignore these shiny things and stay focused in the studio.

So lets hope this was the last time I needed to learn this lesson! Say no to shiny things!

4 Weeks in Panama

About one year ago, I asked if I could tag along for part of a friend’s adventure to Panama. She had moved to Boquete with her husband, daughter and doggies to experience another way of life for the year. I figured a month painting in  new environment would be ideal. At the time I was still painting in a strongly abstract manner. I had a vision of canvases, drop cloths and a lot of experiments.

After one week at Studio Escalier I knew that my entire understanding of art had changed forever. I am now committed to realism and truly mastering (or coming as close as I can in my lifetime). And as fate would have it, upon my arrival I found myself with the sweetest little room and a north facing window.

I have found that the momentum of painting daily for a sustained period of time is transformative. There is an ease with which I could slip in and out of painting that I had never experienced before.

I only was able to paint for 7 days while here. My husband joined me to explore Boquete for one week. I was also invited to join my friend in Cartagena, Colombia for 5 days following this. Here I am with 2 days to go and some wonderful experiences under my belt.

I began writing this blog just under one year ago with the intention of documenting my “Dharma Year”, a year committed to exploring my purpose and passion. I am determined to continue this practice and build a career as an artist.

Boquete is beautiful. I enjoyed some very challenging hikes and a combination of cool and hot weather (we are nestled in the mountains).

Week 11ish?

Below are the two paintings that I worked on for the last 2 weeks of class at Studio Escalier. I needed a little distance before I posted them. As I was working I became so frustrated and even sad. I felt that I had wasted my time, hadn’t learned anything, the painting was terrible. I had a day where I simply stopped painted and curled up into a ball in the studio.

Looking at the unfinished images below I am now very happy with my progress. I have learned a great deal in a VERY short period of time and feel accomplished. There is much work to do as I continue to develop my abilities, but I can certainly see that it is worth the effort.

I began painting this summer with zero experience in blending colors or how to use the paints properly. In addition to playing catch up with these skills, I was learning an extraordinary way to look at and appreciate light and the body. I think a little time to marinate these things together will be good. In October I will begin a portrait and still life class with Watts Atelier. The adventure continues!

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Week 9 and 10

Well I’ve fallen out of time with my posts here, but better late than never. I hope to access these in the future and think, “Wow, I’ve come so far, I’m such a master that I must hide all of this poor work!” But then I won’t hide it because that’s too much work.

So as I’m writing this  I’m actually 3 days into week 10 it is the last day of the weekend before week 11. I have to reach past the amazing weekend excursion into the distant past to remember what happened. I recall a new pose…yes…

The weekend excursion was wonderful and much needed. I am so happy here in Argenton in retreat mode. It is a very focused environment with few distractions. But sometimes you just need a change of scenery! Getting out is difficult – Argenton is VERY remote and we don’t have cars. Busses are sporatic and mostly unhelpful to go any great distances. Taxis are prohibitively expensive. It took a very motivated person to arrange rental cars that brought us to our destinations.

A group of fellow artists and I visited Il de Re to see donkeys wearing pants, a lovely beach town and enjoy a beautiful warm beach. The second day we visited Tours to see the Tours Cathedral (stunning example of Gothic architecture), Chateau Villandry and enjoyed dinner in Chinon.

The goal for our three week poses is to develop them into paintings (if we like) with the benefit of completing a drawing first. A solid painting starts with a great drawing. I drew, used tracing paper to copy my drawing and then transferred the image to the prepped canvas.

My issues are becoming less extreme. I was able to reign in the arms and legs for both poses and they seem quite proportionate. Most of the corrections I received in my crits were for small details within the pose. Now I’m getting into a shortage of understanding of anatomy. Must remember to TAPER, TWIST and TURN. Don’t worry if you don’t understand that, mostly a mental note for myself.

So Week 9 was characterized by preparing drawings for painting. Week 10 was all about painting. I completed 3 poster studies. One was terrible so I did a second. I think I finally turned a corner with poster studies. No more technicolor crazy colors – keeping things subtle, keeping things similar. Big DUH moment for me.

I was able to transfer my drawings to linen and begin painting. The first two days of painting I was overjoyed and really celebrating in my mastery. The third day I wanted to crawl into a hole and never paint again. I confess I sorta gave up on Thursday and just started “doing whatever”. The instructor mentioned a Manet type quality, which makes me think Impressionism may have come from a feeling of hopelessness rather than intellectual pursuit.

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Poster study one. Bad. Poster study two. Better.
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AM Pose.
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PM Pose and transfer materials.
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Other poster study for AM pose. Ended up deepening all the shadows.

Above picture is the PM painting in progress and about the last time I enjoyed looking at it. But with one week to go I shall press on and keep learning!

 

Studio Escalier Weeks 7&8

I returned from break excited to jump into a two week painting and drawing. While I am improving in my work, I am also improving my ability to see what’s wrong with my work. This can be a frustrating balance as “good enough” really doesn’t make me happy.

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In drawing, I am beginning to discover my specific weaknesses. Namely – I tend to stretch the torso and enlarge the feet. Recognizing this, I made an effort to restrain the legs in the above drawing. My initial choice wasn’t enough, I continued to hack off the knees as the days went on.

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Poster study for the two week painting.

Towards the end of the second week, I was excited to find myself really becoming absorbed by the painting process. I felt like I really turned a corner in my ability to trust myself and see what colors I needed to use. I thought perhaps it was the Euan Uglow book I’d been pouring over one day at break. I find his work very inspirational and adore his resting place somewhere beyond a poster study. I could look at his work for hours.

You can see the same “long limbed” issues in the below painting. If it had been a longer pose or a final piece I would have taken the time to fix them, but my goal was really to focus on color, shadows and light.

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A two week pose.

One of the benefits I was hoping to gain from this program is the ability to sit with a drawing and really commit to accurate, realistic work. I confess I’ve been a lazy artist and have truly wanted to pull myself out of that rut. My time at Studio Escalier has done just that.

In the past, drawing a rose would have been a quick exercise in not paying attention to much of anything. This past week I found myself engrossed in the myriad of details. What I know now is that there is never “too much” detail. I don’t need to be afraid of the depth of the drawing. The trick is to find a place, commit and stay organized. I hope to complete many more such exercises in patience and exquisite detail.

There are three weeks remaining. Today we begin a three week pose for drawing and painting. Our AM sessions are normally drawing, but we will have the option to turn our drawing into a painting in the next week. So I’m hoping to complete two more paintings before I leave. We will see! I am staying committed to the learning experience, not creating precious finished works.

 

 

 

Week 5, Vacay and Painting

Ok, I’m ready to share some painting with you. It isn’t pretty, but it is much better than it was. Don’t forget, you can click on pictures to make them bigger.

But first…

At the end of week 5 the students at Studio Escalier were blessed with a week’s vacation time. In my ultimate wisdom I had chosen to travel to sun and sea in Cinque Terre, Italy. With overcast, cool, rainy weather in Argenton-Chateau, a week of warm bliss was most welcome. It was beautiful.

I stayed with my parents in the town of Riomaggiore. You can see where we stayed on most postcards.

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Dad and I hiked part of the trail that winds along the cliffs. The first part of it was closed due to flood that occurred in 2011. While 17 million Euro (that was the number I thought I heard..seems a little high) was dedicated to repair the trail system, it seems to have disappeared (according to a tour guide I overheard). We were able to hike from Corniglia to Monterosso. The UP was quite steep but manageable. The trails were VERY narrow (in places we had to squeeze by other hikers while gripping the rocks behind them). The view was marvelous. That water…I spent a week floating in it. Incredible.

On the way back I was so happy to stumble upon an Alfons Mucha exhibit (in Genoa). Most people are familiar with his work and it is truly lovely. What really astounded me are his studies. There were a great deal of his drawings displayed. Mucha made a conscious choice to pursue the art nouveau style from a deep understanding of classical works.

ok – Painting…So these first two images show what I have been working on for about 4 weeks. I think they are terrible, but now that I have something slightly better I don’t mind sharing them. We have been working on two types of color studies – poster and rounding. The idea is to record the colors and light correctly to prepare for more in depth painting. So this first group of 3, not so pretty. You can see how my most recent poster study below shows a bit more understanding of color and light. I still find painting to be completely exhausting.

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poster studies

 

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rounding study
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rounding and poster studies

And below is week five’s drawing. In class we are currently working on a 10 day pose. While we are technically only halfway through the course, I feel like the end is just around the corner. I’m hoping that my subconscious soaks up enough information to help me at home!

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Week 4: Plugging away

 
We were so lucky this week – a 5 day drawing pose! I think they get longer from here on out. There are so many little improvements. These lead to such a deeper level of critique.

In the painting realm we shifted to a new technique. This is far easier for me to approach and I’m feeling much better about my work. It isn’t really all that great yet, but I’m seeing a brighter horizon. Homework was to paint an egg, as you can see below. I’m still too self conscious to post pictures of my in class paintings. Maybe next week.

At the end of next week I will be halfway through the course!

This week I participated in a game of Ultimate Frisbee. I have never gotten so much exercise in such a short period of time. I sprinted over 5 miles and I am hooked. I’ve already started looking at San Diego pickup games. I’m getting ready to head out for another round in an hour!

Last night was potluck night in our student housing. It was absolutely beautiful. Everything you could want for a potluck in the French countryside. Cool air, beautiful food, great wine and lovely people.

I’m missing my kitties, Daniel and not much else. I’ve built up to 25 minute runs every other day and 53 pushups. I’m starting to daydream about my life at home and how I can maintain this environment. I’m not sure it’s possible.

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approximately 10 hours

 

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Now I wear hats. Painting gear, ready to go.
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Brushes and palette.

 

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This is my egg study. I won’t say it’s awful, but there is a lot to be desired. Practice.

 

Week 3: Painting is Hard

I don’t have a great deal of experience painting realistically. Ok, I don’t have ANY..you may notice most of my figures are blue, purple or red. And I haven’t used oil paints in 10 years.

This past week has been dedicated to the poster study. My job is to break the form into little abstract shapes and generally paint the correct color.

Every day this week I have felt like I’ve been twisting my brain like a wet towel trying to squeeze something out of it. I go home pooped at 5:30. I haven’t been able to join in the Ultimate Frisbee activities because of the mental energy I’m exerting on color matching.

Additionally I have not been able to stop singing “Golden Brown” by the Stranglers under my breath as I attempt to mix the perfect golden brown.

I think…I THINK… I am approaching some sort of understanding with the paint that is going to get me somewhere in the vicinity of the right direction to accomplish some sort of goal. Today’s painting seemed to have the right lightness/darkness and colors (sorta) but looked like it had been painted on with a chainsaw. I’m not even going to bother with pictures (well that and the paintings are all locked up for the weekend and I forgot to bring them home or take a photo).

My mantra this week has been “Fail Again, Fail Better” a quote from Samuel Beckett and used as the basis for the current Pema Chodron book I am reading. Fail again, fail better. Yes. Will do. Working on it diligently.

On the other hand, DRAWING is in just a lovely little place right now. I have never drawn so well and I know I have much room for improvement. For those of you who don’t spend 30 hours a week in a studio, let me explain to you how figure drawing works.

Throughout the world you will find life drawing sessions. For $15 – $25 I can sit in a room with fellow artists and enjoy the privilege of having a model (real person, preferably naked) to work from. This is steeped in classical tradition. Drawing from life is paramount to the success of any artist seeking to represent reality on any level.

At the public studio sessions the model will twist and turn and offer 1 minute to 5 minute poses as a warm up. The good stuff happens later… The model will settle in for a 20 minute, 1 hour, 3 hour, 536 hour pose, taking breaks every 20 minutes or so then resuming the pose so we may continue our artistic crusade. An artist who is working from life will hire a private model, find a pose and stick with it for 15-30 hours.

The drawings I am posting today were created from 5 hours of drawing over a period of 2 days. Each. I only completed two drawings next week.

Drawing and painting well takes time, effort, rent, food and a live human that demands a living wage for his or her time. It takes education, practice and patience. Painting in this realm requires beautiful and expensive materials. When it comes time to sell the results of this labor, a gallery will take 50% off the sale. On top of this, how often do you really think someone is selling their work?

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Hands down the best thing I have ever drawn. Looking forward to future improvements.

THAT is why art worth a damn is expensive. Consider that the artist also wishes to make a living from this and must charge accordingly. I have never met someone who “just wants to cover costs” in order to go to work every day. I’m sure that person is out there, but personally, I want to buy a luxury now and again or go on vacation. It is supposed to take a human 10 years to master anything. Consider what that time, education and investment is worth in the final product.

In other news, it has been raining daily. Thunder and lightning. I’m in heaven. I’m also very grateful to take this weekend and do nothing that I don’t want to do. Today was yoga, running, meditation, blogging and some calligraphy practice. I think I’m getting better.

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view from the studio.

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Studio Escalier: Week 2

Life in Argenton Chateau is very peaceful.  I have been running regularly and taking very long walks with my roommate. (She has been the perfect match and I am so grateful.) This week I earned myself a wine and cheese dinner.

The wine aisle in the grocery store in incredible. There are at least 4 Grand Cru St. Emillion wines and they are all under 20 euro. I’ll be slowly working my way through the regions. Last week I focused on the Rhone Valley. Maybe I’ll mix it up with some Sancerre. The tiny little regions represented are so cool to see – Clairette de Die, Minervois, St. Joseph – in spades!

The drawings are coming along. I am really in awe at my own progress (I don’t think that’s vanity – just genuine delight!). I have gotten to the point where all drawings created previously (we will refer to this time period as Pre-SE) are mortifyingly off. I will accept them for what they are…stepping stones.

Here we have a series of 2.5 hour drawings from this past week. The model is so elegant, poised, statuesque and strong. I can’t imagine drawing anyone else again. These are still technical drawings, in stages of development. In the coming weeks they will continue to grow in complexity. Click on the image to see a larger version. I know the colors are terrible. I don’t really care enough to fix that. And there are plenty of messy things happening in the below artwork. I’m sharing my progress, not my perfection.

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On Wednesday we began painting. Now in this realm I am COMPLETELY inexperienced. I paint, have always painted, but it has been many years since I’ve used oils, never this high of quality (or variety of color) and I have never given a hoot about representational colors. I think that I will make progress quickly but woa.

 

 

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This is my first attempt at a figure painting in the poster style. Tolerable would be my assessment.

 

 

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This painting was corrected 100 ways by the instructor. Very grateful, something to strive for. Not my work.

 

 

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This morning I completed this practice still life to continue working on technique. Homework!

 

 

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This is where I spend my days.

 

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There is always some delightful detail waiting to be noticed…