Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Finishing a Painting After Years

I don't know if all creatives function like myself, but it is super easy for me to get intimidated by a piece I'm working on, if it goes well.  That seems like it should be backwards.  If something is obviously not going well, that seems like it would be intimidating, but usually, I just find that I shift in response to that, or finish it up, and it seems like I generally would end up enjoying that piece after I've had time to think about it (with a couple of exceptions).

But there is one painting in my house that is legendary.  It has burned itself into my children's minds and being ever-present, because I've been working on it for YEARS.  Sometimes it is stacked somewhere, sometimes it hangs on the wall so I can look at it and let it percolate.  Sometimes I'm actually painting it.  Why so long?  For one, it was an original design with an original theme which is new territory, and something that was super important for me to accomplish.  But most of all, it was going far too well, and each time I touched it, I was certain I would ruin it.

The concept:

This concept was based on inspiration found in photography, and the idea is this:  microscopic blocks of life have the same patterns and structures as larger forms of life, and isn't that neat.  More deeply, it is amazing to think about the interconnectedness of living things and how we have all been formed.  

In this case, there is an octopus floating in water with flecks of light that resemble neurons, neurons in what looks like the ocean, and a tree adorned with lights that resembles the inner workings of the body.  

For this piece, I decided to apply the golden ratio, since I believed that this classical form would draw the eye well and provide a unity to a piece that may not make much logical sense to the viewer.  


In the beginning, a long time ago (probably 4 years), I started with the background of ocean/flecks/neurons.  It was important to me that these would appear to glow.

Apparently, my phone at the time was not the best quality.  This background remained the same throughout the life of the painting.  As I was painting the background, I decided to leave a portion of the octopus unpainted, because I had the brain child of attaching an led to the inside of the frame and letting the octopus glow through.  It would provide those spots of brightness.  I believe this inspiration came not only from the intense brightness of the neurons, but also the look of the yellow base through the blue as natural light shone through (while it was on the easel).

I spent some time looking for simple LEDs that function on a solar basis, but have not found any yet.  to me, that would be the perfect set up for this piece.  Or a tragic miscalculation, who can say?

At this point, I was super pleased with the progress so far.  So much so, that I was ready to proceed, and only a little scared to ruin it.  


I started on the octopus proper, and wondered why I decided to paint such a big piece.  

 As I was painting this level, I worked a lot with basic highlight and shadow.  Also shape of the legs.  This is when I started to lose confidence.  The legs were mostly the same-ish size, but there was already some variation that didn't make sense perspective-wise.  Also, there was some dry brushing outside of my established lines for the things.  I wasn't going to let that stop me, though.  I was convinced that the next step could fix all that.  (This is still in the old house, so we're months in to a year in at this point.)

Later middle:

At this point, I was convinced that not only had I screwed it up, but that I didn't possess the ability to execute it in the way that I wanted.  I kept thinking that there was a skill that I could learn that would make me understand how to finish it.

In particular, I wanted a rough texture no the octopus that looked organic.  I considered a few different methods to achieve it.  Spray paint, which I had a burgeoning interest in at this point.  A rough sponging kind of thing could work...but I didn't like that either.  So it sat.  Sat in view, then slowly got moved out of sight, but didn't leave my brain for quite some time.  

In addition, the dry brush strokes around the tentacles never got resolved.  I kept looking at those and thinking that it was too messy to be finished, and that without the paints that I had at the time of the background, it would be very difficult to fix.  Also, I do a lot of color mixing as I lay down my backgrounds, and acrylics dry very quickly.  There is almost no way for me to go back and make an addition to a background blend.  I was very disappointed in my inability to make these lines smooth ( and attempts to correct the this led to a mixture of tentacle thicknesses).  

Because of these issues, I didn't do anything with this painting for a long time, still considering different options and ways forward, and telling myself I really needed to get it finished.  


So I had been offered a wall in the gallery/work space, The Space in Norman, affiliated with The Maker's Market.  Most of the pieces that I was hanging were abstract pouring pieces, and I felt it was important to balance that work with pieces that reflected more of a range of my artistic style and technical skill.  On a sleepless early morning, I pulled out the piece, and I started work.  

Here's what I discovered:  it was practically done.  I looked at it and realized that the reason why I couldn't figure out what it needed was because I didn't want to cover up the gold color of the octopus.  I like to paint smooth figures, and adding roughness is contrary to my impulses.  

Also, looking at the deviations that I considered errors wasn't the same for me.  Recently, I had gone to Ft. Worth, and in doing so, saw great works by very famous artists, and was astounded to see a number of unfinished canvas edges, pencil marks that were blatantly obvious, and paint scrawled out of lines.  I even saw paintbrush hairs stuck in Great Works (tm) by masters!  I highly recommend any painters trot themselves down to the nearest museum that houses classical art and modern art.  You'll be inspired and intimidated and hopefully learn to relax just a little bit.

So, in the end, all I needed to do was touch up some highlight and shadow, add the suckers on the octopus, and I think I was completely finished in two hours.  Think of it.  Parked for two years, done in two hours.  

Granted, I did learn things in that time, though they weren't what I thought I would need to.  I learned to accept imperfections as part of the creative process and a part of the piece.  The overall piece is not designed to be hyper realistic, so it makes sense that there is room for errant brushstrokes.  Also, the piece retains that smooth quality that I really loved, and when you look back at the inspiration collage, it is a good representation of that idea.  

This piece is now hanging in downtown Norman (pictured above), and on the night of my first ArtWalk, was the most popular piece in my exhibition, and has grabbed the attention of at least one person, who has committed himself to one day owning the piece.  

This piece is part of a series, which I can finally continue.  Sneak peek of the inspiration is below:  

Also, get yourself a good camera to take pictures with (see the last pic compared with the others)

Friday, February 2, 2018

Acrylic Pouring.

So I saw the videos on YouTube and Facebook and I got sucked in.  It is fascinating.  It's all set up but the painting is quick, and if you did well it is super amazing, and if you didn't sometimes it still looks great. 

Things I've learned:

1.  Purple and green, not so much

On a first attempt, I tried purple and green, only to find the results horrible.  Case in point, see exhibit A.

My friend Margo, who is very clever, named this one Frog in a Blender.  I'm sure you can see why.  I don't know what moment of genius led me to add red to this particular party, but I deeply regret it. 

After, I added more paint and tilted again, and the title was changed to I Think it is the Hulk, But I'm Not Wearing My Glasses.

2.  Thinner paint is better, because it swirls and mixes better.

3.  Use plenty of paint mixture.

4.  For cells, don't touch or tilt much.  Also, use your silicone. 


5. My ratio is something like 2 parts floetrol to 1 part glue to .5 parts paint, and enough water to make it runny (compare it to melted ice cream--learned that from YouTube).  I use artist's acrylic, student level.  Three drops silicone.  DO NOT MIX THE SILICONE MUCH AT ALL.  VERY GENTLY.

6.  If all else fails, and you hate it, do a swipe. It usually makes it tolerable.


7.  If it isn't tolerable, then wipe the canvas and have a do over.  See Frog in a Blender.

8.  Yellow is so hard to mix.  Also, watch pure reds.  Mix those far more than you think you should.  However, the yellow clumps left behind are pretty cool looking. 

It's a lot of fun, and sometimes they dry different than they started, and the reactions keep happening, so it is exciting to keep checking and seeing what develops.

But you know, it's addictive.  Also, it's the gateway to resin art, and that's when you start dropping the real money.  

I hope you've found this helpful, and if you have questions, please let me know.  Most of these pieces are available on my Etsy.  You can also find my mom's on there. 


Guys! I'm famous!

Frank Oz liked! my! tweet!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

On Fandom and the Internet

Prepare yourself for a treatise on the changing nature of the entertainment industry based on societal changes brought about by the internet:

I've always been a nerd.  If any reading know me personally, they know this to be true.  From an early age, I had attachments to certain forms of popular expression.  For me, it was the Muppets, Hitchhiker's Guide, Saturday morning cartoons, and Little Women.

Each generation appears to be attached to things that represent a shared experience.  It transports each of us to a time when we were of a certain age, or believed in a certain thing.  The power of He-Man, the magic of the Care Bears, that Smurfs were good and Gargamel was bad.  

That seemed to open up once the internet came along.  College was the first time I had regular access to the internet.  I remember my sister and I reveling in the weirdness that was chat.  You could talk to anyone, anywhere, and you had no idea who they were, and they didn't know you.  It gave my sister the opportunity to flex her creativity with the truth.  

However, before too long, I discovered that web pages existed everywhere that were devoted to people's favorite pop culture.  I discovered treasure troves of facts and pictures and stories about Rocky Horror Picture Show.  I still can shout callbacks with the best of them, despite not studying for years.  I even went to live showings out of state, which I would never have known about before the internet.  

Then I discovered Monty Python sites, and greedily devoured that trivia like Garfield with a piping hot lasagna.  Then Mel Brooks.  I still know so much useless information.  

All of my far flung obsessions were available, and I could find the people who shared them.  So, that's my first interaction with a fandom.  While I considered my interests a bit not in the mainstream for my age and location, it wasn't all that unusual.  Some people knew what I was talking about.

My college fandoms faded, and I have been really into different shows or games or other expressions of pop culture in the meantime.  However, it was never as strong as that first brush with RHPS and the internet.  Then, it happened.  Like standing on a high point in the middle of a lightning storm, I decided to watch a show with my daughter.  

Not this one.  I'd seen that long ago.

Be serious.  I was all over that like white on rice.

I liked this one so much, I had a gif.  But also not it.

Say it with me...

I think we can all agree that it was a natural progression.  Also, I seem to have a type (of tv show at the very least).

Getting to know this show, and the cast and crew involved in it, has led me to think about the changing nature of the entertainment industry.  In brief, I'll lay the theory out here, since I've already spent so much time talking about the dark ages of the internet.  I may turn this into a paper of some kind at some point, if no such work already exists.

1.  The more entertainment options that are available, the more a product has to have a strong link with its audience.  It seems like the entire model for the entertainment industry has shifted to captivate the consumer.  It's not enough to have an audience, you must have a fandom.  Fandoms are pushing to bring back shows, keep their shows on air, not to have their favorites killed off or replaced, or who gets chosen for new roles.  As more people have the ability to communicate directly with the creators, creators can gauge the audience for a show or the impact a change can have.  Beyond that, fandoms have successfully bankrolled shows, in a backwards kind of Field of Dreams scenario.  They're here, so you may as well build it.  

2.  Fans expect a more personal connection with their stars.  I think this evolved two ways, but both are connected to the internet.  

Conventions became a thing.  Conventions have been a thing, however, they have started to expand faster than Garfield eating that scalding lasagna.  It went from comic to sci fi, and then you started seeing actors show up*, and then it became normal for a actor to be there because he was famous or had a tie to some sci fi movie.  It still exists mostly under the sci-fi heading, but the convention doesn't have to revolve around the theme.  

Then I found out that these chuckleheads in Supernatural have their own conventions.  (Yes, I'm guilty of watching these on YouTube, and yes, I want to go.)  Both actors and attendees profess how profound and moving these experiences are, and have led to the actors creating several non-profits with the support of their fans, which they call the Supernatural Family.  Fans have the option of not only meeting their favorite actors, but also having limited physical contact and conversations.  

The second aspect of this is that so many individuals are building up a sort of fandom or following on a smaller scale through producing their own materials.  YouTubers, bloggers, and podcasters, have become major earners with potentially millions of followers and now have access to promotion on mainstream media outlets, books being published, and merchandising.  The entire idea of this seems very egalitarian.  The people choose which programs and or people will become popular and, in return, the social media star profusely thanks those individuals for following and asks them to "like, share, and subscribe."  It's a mutually beneficial situation, wherein a follower feels a strong connection to a performer since they are in a way responsible for and integral to that person's fame. Also, returning to the previous point, social media stars are beginning to tour and be booked at conventions, adding to that idea of creating a personal connection to their idol.   

3.  Fandoms create automatic peer groups.  Back in the day for me, it was all that inside information, those tiny little factoids and finding a similarly minded group of people.  It's like belonging to a secret club.  Whovians, cumberbitches, browncoats, family.  Once fandom exists, Instead of liking a thing and then finding people who also like the thing, it seems like it has become a shortcut for finding people with similar interests or values.  Watching this show with my daughter, and descending into the depths of this fandom with her, we have established a sort of short hand that excludes people around us, but intensifies the feelings of closeness between us.  I'm not trying to say it is bad or wrong or anything.  It definitely seems more efficient in a lot of ways.  

As a theatre scholar, I find it interesting that what entertainment is becoming is so much more like theatre.  The reason I fell in love with theatre was because you are in the room with the performers, and if they are doing it right, they are giving you something tangible, and by experiencing this art with them, you're giving right back to them, and it's some kind of magical thing.  That's what I see in Supernatural.  Through social media and conventions and scavenger hunts and calling their fans family and staying on the show despite possible other opportunities, they have created what appears to be one of the most committed fandoms in history.  

Next time, the phenomenon of shipping.  

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Damsel Falls for Dragon

You're in this tower, waiting for something to happen, and there he is.  A huge, scaly beast, and the most beautiful thing you've ever laid eyes on.

Giant Horse Dragon (le Chevon Dragon Long Ma) is constructed by a puppetry company named La Machine.  La Machine is a company of performance artists, who perform though the mechanics of these giant puppetry forms.  The Horse Dragon was built to commemorate diplomatic relations between France and China, but let's be realistic here, nobody wants to hear about that.  The Horse dragon is 16 meters tall, and can gallop, lie down, blow smoke, and BREATHES FIRE.  Yes, you saw that, BREATHES FIRE.

Also featured in the video is Horse Dragon's sister, The Princess.  The Princess (or La Princesse for the French) is also giant in statue, and has been photographed appearing as if she is climbing buildings.  Suspend your disbelief.

These two amazing machines can breathe fire, smoke, spray water, and move in realistic ways and are massively bigger than anything found in nature.  Multiple performers are needed to operate the machines, and they are even followed by their own orchestra.

Aside from the amazing machinery and performance, the company have a park with a time traveling elephant and other carnival curiosities in France.  They have a complex carousel in the works, and they are trying to design puppet like machine birds that humans can ride and fly through the air.

It's incredible to see such innovation take place with one of the world's oldest art forms.  Seeing these images and videos made me realize how much I would  have loved to study this as an element of performance and theatre.

Last thing for now, though I can't promise not to geek out over La Machine in the future, La Machine is bringing the Giant Horse Dragon to Canada for their birthday celebrations.  (As seen in the first video if you were paying attention.)  This is the first time they will perform on this side of the pond, and based on the enormous cost of moving those machines here, it could possibly be the last.

Anyone want to go to Canada?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Book about Jim Henson

OK, everyone, get the tissues ready.

So, those of you who know me, know that I've been a Muppet fanatic FOR. EVER.  Seriously, I take my Muppets very seriously.  I grew up watching The Muppet Movie and The Great Muppet Caper.  I had a vinyl record of the Muppet Movie soundtrack that I wore out on my little Fischer Price record player.  I had a Miss Piggy doll with a purple turban and silky purple gloves; one of the worst moments of childhood was leaving her outside overnight and finding her the next day, victim to the neighborhood dogs.  I discovered David Bowie through Labrynth, essentially, which I'd wager is pretty much the opposite of how other people discovered his music.  I mourned the untimely death of Jim Henson.  I tried to name my son Kermit (his dad saved him from that fate).  One of my happiest memories was graduating college and going to Disneyworld, where I took far too many pictures, and got to actually sit in the Muppet Theatre and watch animatronic Statler and Waldorf.  I think that was more exciting than graduation.  I learned to love the slight shift of the Muppets after Jim Henson's death, and experience the excitement of discovering new sides to their characters.

My boyfriend/significant other/life partner/fonfon ru knows these things, and will give me gifts that find those little bits of joy in my brain that get buried under to do lists and a need to pay bills.  I have the original Muppet Movie soundtrack album again.  We found the exact Miss Piggy doll in a thrift store.  I now have a little Constantine doll to add to my growing collection.  When he heard about this biography, he bought it for me, and I have to thank him for it; this book of voodoo that created some kind of frankenstein of intense emotional experiences.

I'm not sure that I want to write a review.  The whole experience of reading it left me...I guess bereft?  I know that's a dramatic way to put it, but a sadness just lingered.  It's not often I cry about a story, true or not, but this left me feeling rather hollow and strange.  It wasn't even making sense to me, either.

 Things I could identify from the experience:

  • I was intensely jealous of anyone who had the chance to know Jim Henson.
  • I almost wish I didn't really know that he was that loving and that much loved.  I had a super strong feeling about it, from the little I had seen about the man, but having it confirmed was much harder.  
  • I was in awe of the man's energy.  My life in comparison seemed rather empty.
  • I was really glad I didn't have his drive.  I don't want a life that full.
  • I was genuinely puzzled at the idea that some of his work was considered a critical failure at the time, even if I don't necessarily dig all of it.
  • I was a bit disappointed in his desire for the physical, whether it be women or antiques.
  • I was sad for Jane; it seemed she endured a lot very quietly
Overall, it really renewed my admiration for the man and the things that seemed to have leapt, full blown, from his head.  But I was also kind of devastated because I am, and will be, so far removed from that kind of creativity and motion.  That, and other dark, wiggly thoughts that hover on the field of vision as I look around at day to day life.  

His life is not mine to judge.  It was his, and he lived it, and I'd say he did a damn fine job of it, based on the legacy he left and the people who still love him and speak of him fondly.  The pain of experiencing him in this way was different than I'd had before.  It wasn't like the pain of finding out that your parents have flaws.  It wasn't like finding out that your favorite actor is horrible to his family and you can't even enjoy his films like you did.  It was like finding out a fictional character was real, and you would have loved him and been inspired by him (warts and all), but you are never going to get that chance.  (It's like Rose being trapped in that other dimension for all time, and you are the 4th doctor, but you know how great it is going to be.)

So thanks(?) Brian Jay Jones.  It's obvious that the impact was such that I am not even really able to articulate it well yet, and it has been a few weeks since I finished it.  Eventually, though, I think that the collision of the ideas and experiences of this man with my brain will ultimately result in some kind of life change after someone hauls in the jaws of life and helps me sort out what just happened here.  

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Updating an old painting

I'm one of those artists with the stereotypical moments where I'm absolutely in love with a painting, alternating with moments where I want to throw it in the trash and give up painting altogether.  For some time, I would start a sketch or painting, but then I would get frustrated with it and stop.

I think stopping is a good idea, as sometimes a break and time to calm down is the only thing you need.  Heck, I've even put paintings away for months, only to pull it out and decide it isn't so bad, then hang it on my wall and have it be something I enjoy seeing every day.

But the stopping I do most often is stopping because I'm afraid to ruin it.  This was a problem for a while.  I was afraid that my skill was too limited, and I would ruin all the things that I liked about a painting.  For the record, I don't do studies, though I probably should explore that.  This painting hung on my wall for a couple of years.  I'd lie in bed and look at it, and struggle to imagine how to get the effect I wanted.

So I googled it, and it's out there.  Guys, there are tutorials for anything you want to do.  I knew this, of course, but THERE ARE TUTORIALS ON HOW TO PAINT AN OCEAN FLOOR.  That's oddly specific but exactly what I needed.  I picked up this painting and committed to finishing it.

To begin:

This is the start.  The idea I originally had was to paint a female nude in the abstract, resembling a desert and/or ocean floor and have rays come down and the dapple of light on her body.  I got this far and decided I didn't know how to continue, but I liked it enough to not want to ruin it.  

Step 1:

OK, so first of all the color of the bottom is more yellow due to a difference in light sources.  Something I learned from poking around the internet is that I'm afraid of chunks of direct color.  There are many ways that people paint that include large chunks of color or rough strokes, and once detail is added, then the eye interprets them.  It's really interesting.  Using this idea, I used a lot of dry brush for the first time, and it really turned out well.  I like the effect.  

Step 2:

In between steps two and three, I attempted to paint ripples on the main source of light up there, and had to do some repainting, as it looked pretty bad to me.  I was working on the detail idea, but it wasn't working.  That resulted in a bit of a lighter look in the middle.  The instruction on the rays down were to lightly dry brush, and then to blur with another brush with no paint.  It looked thick and streaky and not light at all.  I took a wet paper towel and lightened and that helped quite a bit, so I started painting with that.  It was like finger painting, but with extra dampness.  At first the rays were symmetrical looking, so I added more until it looked random.  I think the end result looks somewhat natural.  I'm not going for photorealism here, but something recognizable would be nice.

I paused here, because my eyes were tiring, and I wanted to be on my game for the next part.  I also wanted to sleep on the light rays, because something about them doesn't seem right to me.  I'll be on Google image search looking at ocean floors today.  I'm going to try for going again tonight.