So it's been a while.
That is, as I have said, what having a full-time job will do to you. I'm actually working RIGHT NOW, thanks to being stranded at home by a hurricane.
And I finally finished a big oil painting! Up top here is Sing Sing Kill, which is named for the stream that runs through town and empties into the river. "Sing Sing," like the prison, is the Anglicized version of the Iroquois name for the region, meaning "stone on stone," and "kill" is the Anglicized version of the Dutch word for stream. I pass where the stream empties into the river every day at the train station, and it's kind of a shady, dark little place tucked between the tracks (which go over the stream), a water treatment plant and some old warehouses. But it's still pretty and full of wildlife. This painting was inspired by the river and its ecosystems, which I see every day from the train. It's a weird and forgotten place, but very pretty in a decaying sort of way. It seems that paintings like this are the evolution of the Home body of work, which seems to be branching out into dreamier places. The painting was also a real bitch to photograph thanks to glare, awkward brushstrokes that messed up the lighting, and hurricanes.
Below is a watercolor. I was never really into drips, but this was a planned drip, so I'm okay with it. I tend to need to plan things completely or they turn into formless disasters. Anyway, I'm calling it Double Shell Homunculus after the Homunculus Nebula.
So, thanks to my impromptu vacation, maybe I'll get a chance to do some more painting. Yay!
This is the newest in the larger-scale oil paintings I've been procrastinating working diligently on. This one is the largest, at 4 by 3 feet, and represents a few experiments.
For one thing, it's painted on silk. Normally I work on printed cotton--stuff that I can find for fairly cheap at the local sewing supply store. I bought this piece at Mood Fabrics in the city and loved the pattern. Unfortunately, it's not smooth but has a sort of crinkled texture, which means that the painting has vertical lines running through it. Lesson learned: Buy untextured fabric.
Silk, at least this silk, is also way more delicate than cotton, and so stretching it was kind of a pain because I was constantly afraid of tearing it, resulting in kind of a loose canvas. The texture also caused a it of a problem here because it allowed the fabric to stretch, but not quite evenly.
This painting also features a collage in fabric. I had a bunch of oddly-shaped scraps lying around and thought to put them to good use. I think it turned out okay for a first attempt, though I think if I were to do this again I'd try to integrate them a little more into the composition.
So as far as the painting itself is concerned, it's sort of a sequel to Big Wind, which I already think is positive in terms of its meaning, but this one is even more so. Look, renewable energy! And plump birds! Life is obviously good here. I was inspired to do something with wind turbines after looking at/reading about/writing about them so much for work, I decided I really liked them. They're so white and streamlined and smooth, so seemingly at odds with natural forms, and yet they manage to fit into natural settings so well. NIMBY might beg to differ with me on this, but I like them.
I've also noticed I'm becoming more atmospheric lately when it comes to skies. This isn't a great example, though, as I didn't want to cover up the fabric too much.
(...also I don't like this new layout very much, Blogger. Why the small font so unreasonably small? Why are there enormous spaces between paragraphs?)
Finally, a new oil painting. I have been shamefully remiss about painting, and so I'm thrilled to have a new one.
The working title for this is just "Little Maskies," which is stupid, but I'm having a hell of a time thinking of anything decent. It's oil (stand oil glazing) and glitter on canvas, and is based on a photograph I saw on Boyfriend's aunt and uncle's refrigerator in Pennsylvania. It was of their relatives or something on Easter, during an egg hunt, and they were wearing these weird masks and looking unsmiling into the camera. I only had a quick impression of the original, and this is what it became.
Photographing it was a pain; stand oil is so shiny that it's nearly impossible to get a picture without a glare. Even if you think the light is diffused and indirect, it'll show up as a huge, distracting glare in photos. After about 24,596,984 times, I finally got this one, and there's still a glare on the left side. But it's okay.
I've lately been into paintings with large areas of amorphous, atmospheric, washy colors, which are dominating the projects I'm currently working on. I have two actively going and two more in the unstarted phase. I haven't worked with stand oil in a while and I'm excited to start up again.
In terms of the themes I usually work with, this one is a bit different. I'm categorizing it under the Home collection, but it has a number of differences. For one thing, much of the Home body was not created using stand oil, and none of them involve glitter. Glitter has been heretofore reserved for the Trash collection, but it shows up here, in the masks. The figures are different, too. They share some of the silhouette qualities of hoodies, but, obviously, have no hoods. They still, however, retain their air of mystery, having part of their heads/faces covered.
I also have a real thing for trees silhouetted against the twilit sky. It's just so pretty.
I had some trouble classifying this painting (and I do so love to classify), because its attributes fall into both the Home and the Medieval categories of my painting. It's on fabric, and features the painting style that I usually use for the Home pictures, but the clothing and composition, as well as the inspiration, are more in keeping with the Medieval style.
The title, Ai Vis Lo Lop, is Old Provencal and translates to "I saw the wolf." It's also the title of a song, which was the inspiration for this piece. Here are the wolf and the fox, meeting under the tree. There's also a rabbit mentioned in the song, but I think they ate it. Fun fact: the term "seeing the wolf" was also a slang term for losing one's virginity. So take that as you will.
I had a lot of fun painting this one, and I'm very happy with how the faces came out in particular, and I tried to keep them as close to the sketch as possible. I really like using pink in faces. That's me on the left as a little black fox, and Beastie on the right as a gray wolf. This was also the first time since I was about six that I've drawn anybody with animal ears, and I was a bit apprehensive about it, especially after seeing all the furry/anthro/neko-neko-kawaii bullshit the Internet has to offer. I like them, though, and I was thinking of it in terms more of medieval-style pageantry than literal anthropomorphism.
While rummaging around in an antique shop in Cold Spring, NY (which by the way has about 10,000 antique shops, but this was the only good one), I found a pile of old photographs going for 25 cents apiece. I bought 25 of them, and talked the woman down to $5 for the lot. Some of them are nice the way they are, and I think I'll just mount them on some nice paper, but some, like these, seemed to need some embellishment.
Here are three of the decorated ones. They are collaged mainly with tracing paper that has been colored with pencils, as well as cut paper, and I've used ink, lead pencil and pen as well. In order, they're called Garden, 1945, and Wonder. I did not label 1945; it came that way. Wonder is my favorite so far, as I feel it really captures what I think of when I think of 1950s America, full of youth and hope and earnestness, but with this undercurrent of fear and impending doom. Wonder is sort of a child's idea of war and widespread destruction as something far away, almost like a fairy tale, romanticized in movies and television and abated in the adult world by those romanticized accounts, and by the idea of being righteous and wholesome. While the kid is thinking about war, it's clear that that kid is still innocent to its realities, but the point is that the society prefers to think of war as a fantasy.
The photos are images of various families, like the people seen in the first and third photo here. I have a few of the woman in Garden, one of which had been hand colored. There are also a few that appear to be photos of someone's WWII combat tour, a mountain, random awkward snapshots of babies and girls and families, and a very faded and weird-feeling nineteenth century group portrait. I would guess that they range in time, excluding the one from the 1800s, from the 1920s through the early 1960s. The woman at the shop told me that most came from a particular estate, and that she knew some information about the woman whose estate it was. I like to think this woman is the woman seen in the first photo here, but there's no evidence for that.
They were someone's memories at one time, but their original meaning has been lost, I suppose. All that's left of what they used to be is the image itself, without further context; all we can understand about them is what we see, and of course what we bring to them, because we are lacking any other information. All you can do is look at them and react emotionally, since that's all you have. And that's what I did here, essentially. I attempted to capture visually the feeling that each photo gave me. Garden is a family blooming out of the snow (see the dog at the far right, just next to the woman's shoulder), 1945 is a summer after a conflict, and Wonder is a child's brightly-colored imaginings about the world at large.
I was also pleased at the preexisting hoodie these pictures gave me.
This is the first larger-scale oil painting I've completed in a while, thanks to things like working and being a semi-responsible semi-adult. But here it is, 34 X 40 inches, oil on canvas. Its name is Bloodgood. Why? I was watching an extremely stupid game show and the contestant's last name was Bloodgood (she was not smarter than a fifth grader, FYI), and I thought it was a good name--far better in fact, than this particular woman deserved--and this was the image that sprang to mind when I thought about it. Strange how things work out.
It's far more graphic than I usually work, which comes with its own set of difficulties, like keeping lines and color areas clean and clear and sharp, and using rulers to make sure lines are straight and match up properly. Creating the large background areas was also a challenge, as the color had to remain consistent. The pattern shapes were made using a stencil.
I'm happy with the result, and especially with the lollipop trees to the left, there. Usually, I have the image of the completed painting in my mind from the outset, and I work until I reach that image. Bloodgood was one of those paintings that worked out very easily, coming to its conclusion without much stress.
Finally an oil painting!
This is Big Wind, which is actually the title of a song by Myshkin's Ruby Warblers (but that is not, sadly, up on YouTube), but it seemed apt for this painting. It's oil and collage (dyed leaf skeletons) on fabric and is the first of a subseries within the Home series. This subseries, "Storm Country", is based on the Little Apocalypse monotype series, specifically on one print bearing the same name.
The idea is the decay of Americana, and the future of what was once the promised land. The three paintings star two exterminators, who I've been calling Sarah and Miranda without knowing which is which, who live in a blighted landscape of severe weather and the fossils of the homesteaders who went before them. Here's one of them taking daily meteorological measurements, gauging the day's weather. The thermometer/barometer set-up, the pinwheels, the sunflower and birdhouse are taken directly from the print. The whirligig, next to the pinwheels, is modeled on one I saw on Antiques Roadshow one time.
Appropriately, it is raining violently and occasionally hailing as I write this.
I very much like ovals. They're instantly decorative and pretty, and there's something charmingly old-fashioned about them. They make me think of cameos and lockets and old photographs. I think it's a lovely format. Oval stretchers and canvases, however, can be quite expensive and hard to stretch.
So instead of buying oval canvases, which cost $25 each, I decided to experiment and bought a package of six wooden embroidery hoops of the same size (6 by 12 in. diameter) for about $13 in total from Create For Less, which is a pretty cool crafting site. Many hoops are plastic these days, but they still make wood ones. Embroidery hoops are simple to use, and for painting I recommend tightening the screw with pliers to keep the fabric as taut as possible. Even with this extra tightening, though, expect the fabric to buckle slightly, especially after priming. There isn't really a way around it.
I originally only planned five of these oval paintings, though I do have an extra hoop kicking around, so I may do another in the future. These are made with scraps of fabric from other paintings and projects (like that dress I said I'd make like two years ago). Being small, they were rather painstaking, but they are easily portable and very lightweight--they can be hung on a tack.
I find the embroidery hoops to go well with the concepts I've been working with in the Home body of work--domesticity, tradition, and safety, as well as a nod to children's book illustrations. I also got to give each figure a carefully planned-out set of clothing and accessories.
From the top:
Father's Daughter was the first one I thought of, and is admittedly a bit hipster-ish. But I like it anyway. The deer refers to my dad again, but I think I'm beginning to separate deer into Dad deer and Me deer.
Next is Rabbit Eater, the only male in the bunch. So called because he's going to eat that rabbit. This is the same subject known in other works as "Beast Boy."
Of A Feather is a double self-portrait, and while it would be nice and simple to say that each figure represents a side of myself, that is not the case. Two aspects, maybe, but even then, that's not quite accurate. I think it's really just a nice tea party of narcissism.
Everything Must Someday Die features a cute little skullhead. I kind of picture her in the "goldengrove" of Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Spring & Fall" , except that instead of weeping for the passing of time and the concept of death, she's joyfully part of it.
Finally comes The Smell of Decay, with an exterminator, looking grim and destructive. As exterminators do.
I plan to hang these as a set--they look better together than alone. More big paintings coming soon!
I would like to start off this post by saying that I hate painting on circles. Seriously. Circles are just awful. Someone bought me a circular canvas about, oh, six or seven years ago now, and except for the layers of erased charcoal smudges, it's still blank.
Circles are stupid.
They just are. I have no issue with ovals, and none with squares or rectangles. I can create a composition on any of those shapes just fine, but not circles. Everything magically looks cheesy on a circle. If it's a regular composition, like a portrait or a scene, you think, okay, but why is it on a circle? Why not on some rectangular shape? How is the circle relevant to the image? Or, worse, people try to get clever with circles and paint things like planets or celestial vistas or something and they always turn out just embarrassingly trite. I've seen some abstract work turn out successfully on circles, but I'm not an abstract painter. And meanwhile, I have this 18-inch circular canvas kicking around and I kind of just want it to go away.
I think the only time a circular composition is justifiable is when the circle on which one is painting is an object, rather than merely a canvas. This, for example, is the sawn-off base of an old Yule tree that I found in the yard. It's small size (about 3 inches in diameter--yes, I have little hands) and its nature as being a slice of tree trunk saves it from Circle Doom. If this was on a larger canvas, it would be kind of a fail. I was thinking of doing more of these, since we have some ancient firewood in the basement that I could cut up. But that means using the beastly circular saw (irony!) and I never really feel like doing that. Yet another reason why having a band saw would make my life easier.
So this is the Bird Girl. I was thinking of screwing a hook into the top (it's about half and inch thick) and making her into some kind of ornament, but for right now she lives on the kitchen table.
A while back I posted this painting under the tentative title The View, which I didn't like because it reminded me of that talk show with Barbara Walters, and I'd like to keep her as far away from my artwork as humanly possible. I also posted this on deviantART. It's kind of a silly place sometimes, and I'd like to see less "artistic nudes" if you know what I mean, but I've gotten to see the work of some interesting people and gotten friendly with a few of them.
Anyway, on dA, I told people to suggest new titles and today I got one. The lovely and talented Lolita A GoGo suggested The Valley, based on the landscape and the V shape between the two skullheads. Since the landscape is based on where I live (in a valley), I thought it was perfect. So this painting is now officially called The Valley.
...I mean, why wouldn't you? They're always smiling! I'm tentatively calling this painting The View, but as that's the name of a fairly odious daytime talkshow, I'm not sure if I can commit to it. Hopefully something better will come to me, but for now, that's it's name. Actually, though, in speech I rarely call any of my paintings by name, and would refer to this one as "that one with the skullheads and the red floaty trees." Something about calling my paintings by name in a conversational setting seems pretentious to me.
My camera, in other news, is working when it feels like it, and thankfully felt like it for the shooting of this painting. My current hypothesis? Gnomes.
Back from the madness that is the holiday season, I've finally completed some more large paintings. Also, my broken camera decided it was tired of being a drama queen and now works again. I hope this is foreshadowing of the rest of my encounters with technology--that if they break I can just ignore them for a while and they'll fix themselves without requiring effort or money on my part.
Actually, more than likely, my luck with technology has all been spent up and my next blog post will be scanned in at the public library after I had to write it on a typewriter.
So! Onto the artwork. The two seen here are additions to the Home collection, and are finally finished after much deliberation. On top we have The Storm Gatherers. This is one of the rare instances when I've made up an image to go with a title, rather than the other way around. The title comes from a Henry Darger piece, which is actually titled A Storm Gathers but, like I often do, I read it wrong and thought it said something cooler. The end result is this painting, 44 X 46 inches and about three thousand pounds of stand oil glazes. It features a theme I've been liking lately, which is an organized group of small girls, who seem unassuming but who are probably up to something nefarious, in this case, summoning a storm with the help of lightning rods, weather vanes and a barometer. A similar clutch of these girls can be seen in The Harvest. Most of the girls are based on photographs of me when I was little, and the outfits are actual clothes I've owned, namely ballet recital costumes and summer dresses. Stylistically, this painting echoes The Discovery of a False Moon in its glazy, open field-setting.
Then there is Outlands, whose bizarre size (8 X 18 inches) was dictated by the size of the fabric on which it is painted. This fabric was not purchased, but rather came from an old skirt of my mother's, so I didn't have the luxury of choosing a reasonable size. I wanted to do this painting for a long time, but couldn't find small enough stretchers until recently. Also, although I like the way it came out, I don't recommend painting on old fabric; it gets fuzzy and when gessoed (gesso'd?) the fuzziness ends up as stiff lumps and detail work is very difficult. There is also a hole in the fabric, which is hard to see but obviously not ideal, and overall the fabric is worn and not as structurally sound as new fabric. But I still like it. The figures are taken from photographs of my mother (in the white shirt, center) and some friends from her Brownie troop on a field trip in the early '60s. Like the ones used in the Huntington paintings, the photos are kind of weird and don't have a feeling of being in a specific place.
In keeping with the season, I've decided to share some images of both the bounty and the desolation of autumn. Or something. Top: The Harvest, 40X42 in. Bottom, 10X10 in, untitled as of now. I've always liked the fall--I find it refreshing after the summer, like a new beginning, clearing away the old brush and the humidity of the past year. To say that these were made in the fall, though, would not be entirely accurate--the untitled one was made over the summer. I have four other 10X10 canvases that have, over the years, experienced many incarnations. The latest have been these, in the "medieval" style (note humpy black body-masses), with lots of stand oil. I work on these rather casually, usually when I'm done with a larger project and need something to do with excess paint (which is really expensive and so throwing it out is an option I try to avoid). The one you see here is the only one I consider to be complete.
The Harvest is the latest member of the Home family, done on patterned fabric with collage elements. I think it's most similar to The Homestead stylistically, and I've used the same photographs. Like The Homestead, the idea is an ending, or a transition from one phase to another, but the past remains present (in both senses of the word) in the physical features of the place. The mood, obviously, is slightly different; lately I've preferred larger groups of figures to just one. I've been interested in the idea of a cultish little group, something like these skullhoodies, a united force.
Plus they have cake.
Long ago, like, sometime in July, I introduced the the hoodie as a staple of my painting symbolism. Here are some more of them. These, like The Protector, The Discovery of a False Moon, and the other paintings on patterned cloth, these three are part of a body of work I call the Home project, which I discussed in the same posting in which I discussed The Protector as being a study of origins, so to speak, exploring the symbols developed in childhood and how they inform life as an adult. The images concentrate on memory as a space, with the objects within that space taking on a symbolic existence, standing in for people, concepts and emotions. HINT: The hoodies are all me. I wear hoods a lot.
From the top:
The Homestead, oil and collage on patterned cotton. Featured here is a homey bird, a plump, goose-like fowl that symbolizes being at home and being content there. We also have more floating trees, which are less involved with symbolism and more a reflection of how I remember treed areas--I can visually recollect the canopies, but often the trunks get forgotten. Basically this is what it looks like in my head when I remember areas with trees. I'm not weird you're weird. Anyway, incorporated into the image are scans of nineteenth-century photographs. (The originals are mounted on a thick cardboard, and I didn't like the idea of using the originals anyway) The photographs came in an album as a gift, and I am completely unrelated to any of the sitters. The painting is about the concept of home, what makes a home and what happens to a home when it is left and its inhabitants forgotten.
The Reunion, oil and collage on patterned cotton. I still don't know how I feel about the name. Besides just being a hoodie, this one is a skullheaded hoodie, or a skullhoodie. I amuse myself. The general reaction, when I showed this, was "Oh, how cute, a little fawn--WHY DOES SHE HAVE A SKULL FACE THAT'S FRIGHTENING." Collage elements are silver leaves, bought on a whim from an art supply store. This is something of a companion piece to the painting below, and deals with the idea of reconnecting with the past version(s) of oneself as a result of introspection, or as a link to personal understanding.
The Bone Gatherer, oil on patterned cloth. Hoodies and deer again. This is kind of the precursor to The Reunion, about delving into, and at times confronting, one's past as a way to figure things out for the future. It's the same hoodie, too, although in The Reunion she seems to have lost her boots. I'm quite pleased with the way the birch trees came out--they have many a layer of white and purple-black glaze.
So basically, the Home project is something of an attempt to communicate to the outside world what it looks like in my head; these are, in a way, still shots of how I remember and imagine (and some combination thereof) things. I'm surprised, in a way, but also quite pleased, with the fact that I am finally able to create these images. There are more Home pieces in the works, though I've been shamefully remiss about my painting. This whole having-a-job thing really cuts into my painting time...
Due to the fact that I have not yet installed a decent photo editing program onto my new computer, I can't upload the new photos of the newest (complete) paintings without their having a weird white space where I've cropped the pictures. So here is the latest of the old photos, a painting called The Protector. As we saw in The Discovery of a False Moon, there are some floating trees. Unlike some of the other symbols, I don't really know why I like the floating trees so much.
The figure on the left is a Hoodie. I started drawing these hooded silhouette girls about a year ago, and they are essentially symbols of myself--shorthand self-portraits, I guess. The deer-headed man is my dad, because I associate him with deer. Disney's Bambi was my favorite movie as a child, and Bambi's family structure basically mirrored my own at the time. Therefore my dad has antlers. I also was under the impression that Bambi started life as a girl and grew up to be male. Anyway, deer and hoodies, as well as some other symbols, show up later in the body of work that includes The Discovery of a False Moon, the Huntington paintings, and Croton Point, that is collectively called Home. The concept behind Home is memory and personal symbolism, or the way that children, and later adults, use specific images and objects to inform more nebulous aspects of their lives. For me, for example, deer with antlers are symbols of my father. Home is still in the works, with a few more paintings planned. I seem to have three veins in which I work: the Home style, sort of soft and faded, with dense patterning and natural settings, the medieval style that has broad areas of jewel tones, and a bright pink and glittery style that I haven't unveiled yet (mwahaha) that I'm calling the "trashy" style. There are similarities between the three modes, and the symbols found in Home appear in the others, and I think to an extent they each reflect an aspect of my person.
The Protector is oil and neo-megilp glaze (yes, that is really what it is called and I have no idea why). Neo megilp was called "atmosphere in a bottle" by a painting teacher of mine and she was quite right. It creates a soft, filmy glaze and it dries fast. I love stand oil, but the speed at which this stuff dries is amazing. The patterns on the figures were traced from a piece of wrapping paper.
So as soon as I can figure out/feel like getting the other pictures together, I'll put them up. Till then...
I've always liked patterned fabric. I have, currently, an overflowing grocery bag full of scraps of old clothes stuffed in the back of the terror-jungle that it my closet. I've made a few quilts with them, starting from the traditional patchwork squares to the one I'm currently "working" on (quotes signal that in this context, "working" means "leaving it sitting on my dresser for the past six months") is more of a landscape, complete with silver raindrops (old curtains left over from when my room was space-themed in middle school) and elephants. Anyway, that's not the point. The point is that I like patterned fabric because for me, it evokes memory, the way that old clothes and blankets do.
For a while, I was in the habit of painting very intricate patterns in the backgrounds of my paintings. You can see some of them in the Woods series that I discussed earlier. It was, to put it bluntly, a pain in the ass. So one day in the summer, I stretched and primed these three canvases--er, non-canvases. Huntingtons I and II are primed with clear gesso, which I don't recommend as it dries to a weird, sandy sort of texture that is difficult to work with, particularly on a small scale. It can also fog up the fabric itself. Croton Point is primed with acrylic gloss medium, which s nice and smooth and wonderful. (Note: If you choose to try this, be sure to coat the front and the back of the cloth several times with the priming medium, as fabric like this is much thinner and has a more open weave than canvas.) They are quite small, the largest of them being only a foot square.
Painting on fabric is really fun. For one thing, the painting surface becomes part of the image, and you can fade it in and out of the painted areas with a pretty nice effect. These are all based pretty literally on photographs. Huntington I (Shadows), top, and Huntington II (Starfields), center, are taken from photographs of my mother and aunt as kids with some of their younger cousins. They're weird photos, in that little square 1960s format, taken by kids in strong summer sunlight, lending them a strange and spontaneous sort of quality. Croton Point, at the bottom, is based on a photo taken by me, of my friend and his now-ex-girlfriend, about two years ago. The weird brown animals are my own invention. Fittingly, my mother brought me the fabric samples of the Huntingtons, and the green piece I bought at a vintage shop in New Paltz. These are the first paintings in which I dealt with memory as a place, and I took a fairly literal approach, using photographs, which are what people commonly use to preserve memory.