Monday, August 18, 2008

Paint brushes galore

I got to see "too much of a good thing" in action today. Stopping by a craft store to get a couple of new brushes isn't a big deal for me. I walk in knowing what I want, and quickly get it (as long as it is in stock). At times, sure, I am lured into buying more brushes than I had on my agenda, but overall, I'm pretty good at limiting myself.

I saw something totally different unfold today in the paint supply aisle, however. As I was deciding between a number 5 or 6 round brush, a girl with her class list of the types of brushes she'd need for art class walks up to the paint brushes, and stops, her jaw dropping open. Her mom follows quickly behind, asking her just what is needed. Then the mom reaches out and grabs her daughter's list, trying to see if she can make sense of the teacher's directions. She then makes the amateur's mistake of going for the super cheap-y bagged brush set (bumping into me in the process). She looks it over and says, "I think this will probably have all you need..." But then after a quick over-view, they realize it still falls short of the variety they needed. (Plus, who wants brushes that won't even make it through one painting??? Who cares if they only cost $4 for 5 brushes if they're going to shed all over.)

By this time, I had my number 5 round in hand and had moved on to try to find the next filbert I'd take home with me. The mom and daughter duo were still not agreeing on what to get and were having a tough time deciding which of the brushes were truly "crappy." (As the daughter said.)

At that point, I just couldn't hold it in anymore. I spoke up, and volunteered some information, first showing the daughter the type of brush I think her teacher was trying to steer her away from, and then explaining what a flat brush does and which one is a filbert when they asked a few more questions. They seemed to have things under control, so I moved on to look at the selection of archival pens they had. On the way, I got a little distracted by some yarn on sale... but eventually made it to the scrap-booking section where the pens were hiding.

Right then, mom and daughter go walking by, the daughter waving at me. But then the mom stops in her tracks, does and about-face, and heads back to me. "Can you help us?" She sounded beat. She explained that she couldn't figure out just what brushes would be best and was giving up, but when she saw me, thought she'd give it one last shot. So off we go back to the brushes.

As it turns out, I would have been just as frustrated by the materials list her daughter had been handed. The only size brush that it mentioned was the flat brush, and even then, it said you could take your pick of 1/2" to an inch. The only other things it said was that she'd also need a filbert, a round, and a detail brush of her choice. Yikes! For a first-time high school art student, these kinds of decisions can seem all-important and incredibly daunting, like your future life as an artist depends on the right brushes now. (Or at least looking cool and knowledgeable around your classmates.)

So, we went through what types of brush strokes she'd make with each brush and explained when she might use each. From there, she had an easier time imagining what size she needed, and after narrowing down her choices for her, she ultimately picked some great brushes to get her started. Daughter seemed excited to get started, and Mom seemed relieved that art shopping was finished--my work was done.

So, part of the moral of this story is: it feels really great to do nice things, even if they are really little teensy tiny nice things. But here's the other part of the story that I like so much--That mom. She got frustrated, and she realized quickly that she couldn't help her daughter out with what she knew about art/painting, but instead of just giving up, she asked for help. Now there is some creative, out-of-the-box thinking. Plus, bonus points for being humble enough to ask for help (from someone who looks like a like a little kid) in the first place.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fun with old books

The way I was raised, books were pretty much sacred in our house. When my dad invested in encyclopedias for us kids, we had to wash our hands before touching them. We were not allowed to leave books open and face down, even if we were only taking a short break from them. Even folding the corners of pages in library books that were already well worn was frowned upon. A book was an important thing, and it was meant to last, to impart the wisdom from the pages within for generations. So, anything that might distort, damage, or destroy a book was strictly forbidden.

Even in my art classes in high school, I never thought about using books for anything but what they were intended for--reading and study. Even when we'd make collages, there would only be a few types of things that we were given to cut up. Perhaps some cheap or pop-culture based magazines might be up for grabs, but I never considered cutting up a National Geographic. And, surely a person would never used a bound book for collage material. There were certain things that were off limits.

Since high school texts are reused time and time again, we weren't to to write notes in them or write answers in the quiz portions. So, when I first got to college, I had a hard time even highlighting and writing in books for the purpose of enhancing my studies. Basically, I had a complex.

In college some of my art classes required me to collage. I eventually did start using old National Geographic magazines since they were so readily available at local thrift stores and their images were far superior to fashion magazines. But it was a rough transition for me at first.

Then, my last year in college I took a book-binding class. I got to make books! That was such a joy. However, I did have two projects that required me to alter books that already existed. So I scoured the thrift store for books that looked totally out of date to use. (Things like old psychology texts, or engineering books from the 1960's.) I still have a tough time thinking about taking apart or writing in books that I think someone might still find useful or interesting. But with these books that I felt sure would never find another home, I found that I could cut pages out, glue pages together, paint, draw, and doodle, and collage without feeling like a terrible person.

I was at a friend's place last week and we decided to collage together. I was aghast when he pulled out books to collage from. There were old Time Life books as well as a few other nature/science books in the mix. I don't think I would have dared to use some of those books except for the fact that they were already cut up and there was nothing salvageable about them. That's when I decided to really go for it.

This is what I came up with:

Flight, mixed media

Besides the astronaut, there are two other figures about to take a leap.This was basically a stream-of-consciousness type collage. From start to finish it took me about an hour to put it together and I just grabbed up images that I liked, without really thinking about how they'd work together. (Which explains the imbalance going on...) Most of the images came out of various science books, with that splash of color behind everything as the only thing I got out of a magazine. I've colored in some of the images and added pen and marker to it. I'm realizing what a find these vintage science books really are. They have all kinds of cool scenes and old-school technology. I'm just beginning to scratch the surface. I had a lot of fun with the process, and think I might just do it again soon.

Monday, August 11, 2008

June paintings

Here are the two paintings I did for my mom back in June. They were my first attempts at doing photo transfers. They are also what got me back into acrylic, at least part-time.


First of all, this isn't exactly how this piece looks. I left both of the paintings from this post in Texas and forgot to photograph them. My mom tried her best to get a good shot of this piece, but the area she was working in wasn't cooperating, so there are shadows and light streaks... but I think you can get the general idea from it, so here it is.

For this piece, I painted on masonite board. I laid down some background washes, then did the photo transfer. I finished it by distressing it some and adding a few details, like the trees in the background and the roots at my grandparents' feet. It is approximately 5"x7".

I loved this image of my grandparents because I didn't get to see them like this very much as a kid. I'm pretty sure the original photo of them was taken before I was born. I remember them most clearly as either taking walks with us to parks or to the grocery store, or just hanging out/cooking/and cleaning around their place. As a youngster, I didn't photograph them much except outside of the chapel they went to for church, or at their place, in Warsaw, Poland. So I liked that this captured them happily together near the Wistula river.


Here, I painted on canvas, 9"x9" I believe. Unlike the previous image, where the printout I used was straight black ink, this was a full-color black and white print. The differences are obvious. While some mid-tone values came out(which I liked), it didn't transfer as well (I'm not a fan of that). I didn't really mind that it went purple-ish. I'm into random "errors" in my art, and think that in this case it added to the piece. After doing the transfer, I went back in and added some more detail and some washes and then glazed the thing for good measure.

I wanted to capture a happy moment for my mom with this painting. The original photo was from her visit with Dale to Poland back in 2004. It was taken in their home, but I cut out all of the background that was initially a part of the image to simplify it. I like all of the different prints that they are wearing. In real life they were all kinds of different colors, so I like how the transfer process helped unify them in a way.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Toy Camera

I have fallen for my toy cameras. I started out with just my Holga, but I now have a Windsor as well. There is something magical about a plastic lens, about leaving things open to chance. There are things that happen that you have no control over. At times it just a mess. But sometimes you end up with some really amazing accidents.
Because they are the way they are, you get some weird looks from people. I take them around with me pretty much anywhere I go these days, so I'm getting used to the extra glances or even random questions. "Is that thing for real?" or, "How old are those things?" Sometimes you end up having some pretty cool conversations.
But enough about all that. Here are a few of my latest Holga photographs:

Lehi summer

I love this shot. I had to put my camera over a fence and maneuver the camera around with my arms between some metal bars to get it (a little awkward), but I think it was worth it.


I love how with a Holga, no line is ever really straight. I also like the colors here, as well as the little fluffy clouds over those nearly straight lines.


This shot was taken while walking around San Antonio, Texas. These buildings were tucked away, but we spotted them walking back to our car. It was on color slide film, but I liked this shot better in black and white, so there you have it. I love how grainy it turned out. Oh, and check out the vignetting on this shot. Beautiful.

Fig Tree

This shot was taken on my folks' property in Magnolia, Texas. First, I love that they have a fig tree. Second, I love that I got to eat a fig before the squirrels ate them all. Last, I love how you sometimes get random light leaks and flares when you use a Holga.

That's all I've got for you for the moment. I'll share more later.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Pilot Whales

I made a little painting for Clint's birthday. It was an interesting process. Parts of it came easily to me. I knew I wanted it to be a seascape, and I had some ideas for patterns I wanted to use in the background. I even knew the colors I wanted to use, in general. However, I was stumped about what else exactly to include. I had so many ideas floating around in my head, but I wasn't sure which to settle on. (There may well be other things that come from all that brain-storming. Later.) Well, sneaky me, I asked Clint a few "random" questions that helped me along. His favorite animal, what he could be if he could be any animal, is a pilot whale. I knew this, we'd even talked about this while walking around Sea World. So how did it escape my memory? I'm not sure. I'm glad he played along, however, and reminded me. I took that idea and ran with it.

Here's what ended up in the painting: Sea, sky, kelp, and pilot whales.

2008, Acrylic on canvas

Even just a few years back, it was really difficult for me to do pieces specifically for other people. I don't know if it was so much that I was worried that they wouldn't like it, but maybe that played a part in it. I think there was also a stubborn part of me that had a hard time wanting my art to be overt/easily deciphered, and I felt that art for gift-giving was meant to be easily read by the recipient. I was scared that gift-art would end up being cheesy or inauthentic.

Whatever the reasons, I used to have the worst time trying to come up with ideas when the art wasn't:
1. specifically for me
2. an experiment
3. a way of problem-solving

But these days, things have changed. I did 3 paintings for my family during the last month and a half. Two for my mom, and one for my step-dad. I'll post images of those just as soon as I get the photos of them. (I forgot to take some pictures of those pieces before I left them with their new owners.) Those paintings came surprisingly easily to me.

I can guarantee you that part of the ease and quickness of those pieces can be attributed to the medium I've been using. Until these last few pieces, I worked almost exclusively with oil paints, making a few ventures with watercolors. Oil paint is what I got used to in college, and let's face it, it is still my main squeeze. But I'm making room for other friends. And lately, I've gotten reacquainted with my old friend Acrylic.

Where Oil is nostalgic, and into long slow walks and drawn-out tales, Acrylic is all about life in the fast lane. Acrylic gets to the point. Acrylic has no time to mess around. That used to be a big turn-off for me, especially when I'd gotten so accustomed to my dear sweet rambling Oil. However, I can now see the benefits of having the option of speeding things up now and again. I have to be in a different state of mind with Acrylic than with any other medium, and I think the practice has been good for me.

I expect that I'll continue to get to know Acrylic better, as well as some of my other long-neglected pals from days gone by.