It's very instructive to shift the scale of your work and look at it with fresh eyes. It can be dangerous to venture into a bigger space because of all the unknowns, the terrain is alien. Lately I've had many occasions to look into the unknown. To help me through all the changes around me, I've painted, drawn and made collages. The painting above is a revisit of a smaller earlier version (see image at left) of a scene I painted almost a year ago (I wrote about it here).
I decided to work larger this time, which I find produces effects in the work not possible on smaller scales. A lot of this has to do with how we make marks and how they relate to the bodily movements that produce them. The most recent version has a different presence because of it's size. I find that the bigger the landscape is the more it invites me into what I think the real space would be like. As though the picture has more to say to me for a longer period of time. Similarly, looking up a mountain is different than looking down off the same mountain into a valley. From that high vantage point you might even see that there are even bigger mountains, painted with grander more sublime scenes. It's easy to miss the rest of the world, when we're lost in the shadow of our near-by hills.
A lot of what I've thought was safe in life turns out to be small or just familiar. It's easy to stay where you are, just don't do anything. But when you do this, you miss how wonderful and huge the world around you is. When you work out into the world you discover the beauty there on a scale you hadn't been able to see before. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with being where you are or something being familiar. What I want to emphasize is that that's not all there is. And those things that you know that are familiar and admittedly wonderful and beautiful are things you can come back to again and again. Your ties remain to those people and things that you knew so well and that left a permanent mark on you. But don't miss out on what you could know. And when you've explored that terra nova, you have a new chapter of your story to tell and an invitation to extend to others.
It's been several weeks since I last painted. Overwhelming is a fine descriptor of the semester of teaching I just finished. I picked up an extra class this fall because of staffing shortages at my school and I began to feel the effects very quickly. One effect was a diminished energy level all around. Less reading, less exercising and sadly less painting. But during the Christmas break I have had lots of time to slow down, refocus and devote time to art.
Every time I paint I'm reminded of how therapeutic it is for me, how it heals me from my wounds and exhaustion. I know also that the works I make will continue to have an effect on me and others down through time. This is my legacy. When I was ten years younger I hadn't an idea about legacy and its importance. Art is a way for me to contribute to culture, to make something with enduring presence and formative power. This knowledge of the future world I'll shape helps keep me going.
Click below to enlarge the various states of the painting's development
In the last two weeks I've discovered how much truth can divide a community. I've also learned a lot about organizations and their dealings with their parts (parts being people in most cases). I've discovered that being caught up in a controversy will show you who you can trust.
I've been crushed (I mean this in a profoundly real and heavy emotional sense) by disappointment with some people I thought I trusted and surprised by how individuals came to my defense in a time of trial (I can count these people on one hand). I learned that I valued truth more than policy and that I was willing to give up much to defend what I knew was the case. I know that in the eyes of some I will lose, but I've done right in the sight of God, which is supremely more important. My prideful self tells me to be vindictive and vengeful and I have to constantly fight against this impulse and resist doing evil for evil. There have been few occasions in my life where others have really sought to do me harm. I'm learning that I can take comfort in the truth, no matter what happens, or what the personal cost is.
I've seen a group of people discover their voices. I've seen young people rally around doing the right thing. The line was drawn in the sand and they took sides. I drew great encouragement from this. I became aware of how disconnected and compromised adults can become as they enter more fully into the internal structure and logic of an organization. You will be conformed to the laws that govern those things with which you interact, it is inevitable especially if you are not actively introspective about your environment's influence (99 percent of people). I see that when someone reaches 40 or so years old (a generalization) it is nearly impossible to break them free from the constraints and artificial security that come from conformity to an organization. By way of contrast, I have renewed hope in young people who are still plastic enough to resist the status-quo.
Young people (aka teenagers) are still capable of resisting maintenance thinking, because they largely have nothing to maintain yet. This is both terrible and beautiful. Young people have ideals, and they will hold fast to those, because they haven't had time to accumulate like adults have and put their trust in things, in security, retirement, status and jobs. They are still able to acknowledge those things for which their souls cry out. Oh to re-enter that place in life, that newness in experience. My memory brings me close, but time keeps me distant from this innocence and bliss.
We have to be careful not to miss the definitive moments in our lives for what they are. We are made by them. What we look like on the other side will shape those around us. Suffering brings with it great responsibility to suffer well.
Here are a few things I've worked on this semester. My work load at school has kept me out of the shop more than I would like, but I've managed to put out work here and there. Click images to see the captions/descriptions.
I had the happy occasion a few years ago to discover paper chromatography. When and where I learned of it, I don't remember. Then I learned of its use in separating leaf pigments. This technique is very useful for revealing to students the colored molecules present in leaves that give them their colors at different times of the year.
Separating the pigments in a leaf (or pine needle or presumably any plant matter) consists of pulverizing the plant matter (mortar and pestle works nicely) and soaking the pulp in an alcohol like ethanol or isopropanol, found in vodka and rubbing alcohol respectively, if you don't have access to a chemical supplier. Methanol (wood alcohol) doesn't work as well as those two. Soaking for about an hour is long enough, then you can stand up a piece of paper in about 1/2 inch of the solution against the side of the vessel (paper towels or drawing paper work well). Capillary action will draw the alcohol and pigments up into the paper. The pigments will separate into colored bands depending on size and other factors. Once the alcohol has evaporated, you have an interesting set of bands that fade into each other.
Upon doing this for the first time with leaves, the painter in me couldn't help but notice that the strip of paper I'd used had an uncanny resemblance to a landscape. The different colors had an unmistakable quality that suggested tree lines, horizons and the effects of accumulated atmosphere nearer the bottoms of hills and mountains. This realization delighted me to say the least, in addition to my present and growing fascination with the multiple pigments that made up the color of any one leaf. The experience was multifaceted and profound on a small scale. This led me to intentionally exploit chromatography to produce an overtly landscape quality. I did this by scaling up the procedure larger pieces of paper in a primarily horizontal orientation. Additionally with certain micro-landscapes, I would use only one leaf type or color (sometimes only red maple as in the second picture from the right above).
This experimental journey has heightened my curiosity about the potential of using other plant material and pigments, such as flowers. The possibilities afforded by increasing the scale of these experiments also excites me. I'd like to see how large I can make these (22x30 inches for instance, the standard size of printmaking paper) to see what if any material limitations there are to the process.
Finally the issue of light-fast-ness comes to mind. Inevitable the sun will take its tole on the color as well as the oxygen in the air. The pigments in leaves have always been transitory, recycled from season to season. By trying to fix and preserve them I'm reminded of the constant flow of energy and matter around me and the inevitability of thermodynamics. My appreciation for the beauty of trees has taken on another dimension, the unintended result of micro-revelations. A page within a page of the Book of Nature.
I hurriedly put on my shoes, without socks, grabbed my jacket, wrestled into it, it was raining still, and got my tripods should I need more steadiness than my arms offered. A trip to the airport that night wasn't on my radar, but then at my wife's suggestion, I left my papers and school work and took flight from the valley. I found myself again escaping my routine for something more profound, as though driving up this enchanted road ushered me into my imagination made real. Nothing was promised to me for my efforts and speeding and sliding on the road veneered with the fallen foliage (falliage?)
The sky atop the mountain was thick with a bronze mist, a mustard haze I'd only seen a few times before, but was keen to, for in the past it went before and announced shocking sights. I pulled in close to the fence that challenged my view, so that I could defy the limits of the barb-wire. Climbing to the top of my car for a view of the sky is nothing foreign to me. The wind was persistent yet diminishing from the recent rain storm, yet continually implored me to meet the ground via the chain links. I can only imagine sunsets on the gas giants of our solar system.
This sunset was one of a kind. It was a kind I hadn't known. I don't think it impossible that I should meet its species again, but I treated the encounter as a precious fleeting one. Each blink robbed me of fractions of seconds. Each picture and video stole from me time and attention in which the light could impinge on my vision. Ironically, in an effort to "capture" the experience via technology, I kept myself from total embrace.
My effort to relive the experience two days later culminated in the painting below. (See the time lapse as well)
I'm not really a morning person. What I mean is that sleep is so pleasant that there are few things that will rouse me from slumber and not become the object of my resentment. I never anticipated the fascination I would have with the poetry of the sky or the compositions of clouds. But here I find myself at the crossroads of the scientific, the sublime and sensory. There is something in the vocabulary of vapors that makes me forget the difficulty of pulling myself from the ease of sleep. It isn't hard to embrace rest, it seems rather to hold us.
July 6th, 2014 is when I took the photo for this painting. I was driving with my wife from Billings MT after my sister's wedding. We were on our way to Wyoming to see Devils Tower, a large igneous intrusion, leaving a tower of rock composed of vertical hexagonal columns, some 10 feet wide. My wife knows how enamored I've become with the colors woven into the changes from day to night and night to day. She woke me as we were driving so that I could witness and tell the story of my sight.
I had driven out of Montana for two or three hours before dawn and then been relieved by my wife, who alerted me to the growing spectral intensity. I awoke, from my nap, not disappointed that I was no longer enfolded into an unconscious state, but surprised to behold visions of a world, new and vast and beyond my expectations. The scale of the west dwarfs the everyday. One's visual journey to the horizon is unimpeded by the orogenic uplift. There were shifts in precedent. The soil of my knowledge of sunrises was overturned and tilled into insignificance as I was appeared to by the chromatic chorus I now found.
My lack of expectation proved to be fertile ground for fascination. The occasional car or semi-truck whooshed by, providing a point of reference, something to heighten the perception of the terrible colored wonder I encountered. Here were the products of progress rushing through the expanse of country we call "The West," still imbued with mythology and a rugged mysticism. The highest of human achievements are seen by many as our technological innovations, out cutting edge. But what evidences the fullness of our civilization more, our enthrallment and codependency with machines or our willingness and openness of heart to pair ourselves for a time however short, with a sunrise.
Maybe our highest calling and achievement is in remembering and communion with the primordial. The primitive and the essential and the perennial. Phileo with the fundamental, the foundational. We need to forget ourselves more often.
When I think about whether something is prepared, I necessarily end up thinking "prepared for what?" There is a directionality to preparation. To ready the surface of this painting, I applied matte acrylic gesso to Pescia cotton printmaking paper. This application was a reflection of my intention. I meant the paper to be a suitable surface for pastel painting. By applying matte gesso, I created a surface that was receptive to the medium to come, namely pastel. The surface is prepared for an end. I see in painting an important principle, that of intentionality. When I pause and think, the theme of intentionality emerges from the painting process as a reminder of a general approach I should have toward my various activities.
I prepared a sheet by tearing it down to size so I could again prepare the surface with acrylic in order to present enough "tooth" to the pastel to come, which is part of an aesthetic preparation and composition intended for a viewer. But first intended to be an arena for my own exploration of geological and floral accident and contingency. Increasingly apparent now are the layers and levels and objects of preparation in any aesthetic endeavor. Intention within intention. Ends and means and means to ends.
This picture served the end of drawing practice, that of color experimentation/trial and error, the end of producing a body of work that coheres. This painting has built into it the dual and conflicting intentions of remaining in my possession, while being available for acquisition by another. I intend this scene to impress, move and depict accurately some fraction of topography enlivened by photons, galvanized by green and gold geography.
In intend that you are intentional. Attend to that which you intend.
In the last year I've drawn my hand several times. Each time, I've used the experience to attempt deeper access to the emotions, thoughts and relations to others associated with the gesture before me. In the charcoal above I've revisited a pose I first explored on the left. My goal was to engage with the idea of welcome or receptivity and how we bring about this mood or state of affairs though the configuration of our hands. I'm more and more aware recently of the power of our posture. Our hands comprise so much of or capacity to care, create and configure our world. Our hands communicate our intentions, attitudes and settled tones with respect to others. Like words, gestures bring about states of affairs and I want to be sensitive to how I use them to the betterment of others. As I drew the charcoal above, I found myself overcome with the darkness and despair of certain situations, especially the death of certain important people in my life. I found peace and reassurance in knowing that there is One who enters into our struggles and extends his hand so that we might endure the darkness and emerge into light. By drawing I can fix into an image something profound, I can embed the fleeting into the figures.
I recently finished a commission for my friend's wife on the occasion of her birthday. I like building for my friends because it serves as a catalyst for interaction. I get to share a lot about the building process throughout and bring more people into the world of woodworking through projects like this. The experience becomes more like "working with" than "working for" someone. I also have the satisfaction of knowing my friends will enjoy their piece for decades to come.
As with any project, this one was full of new learning opportunities, challenges and enjoyment. I used a single board for the top, which I cut 4 or 5 years ago and let dry for two years before planing it. The table is made of curly maple and cherry and has mortise and tenon joints like most of my tables. The shelf below is notched into the legs, which are tapered. I cut half blind dovetails for the drawer, which is cut out of the apron. The dovetails were the second set I've cut by hand (the first were 6 years ago), but I could tell that my chisel and saw skills have improved. The finish on this table is wipe on gloss polyurethane, finished with wax to help even out the sheen. The dimensions are 36" high, 12" wide and 42" long. Below are several additional pictures, including the construction process.
Today I finished working on a collaboration with a friend of mine, Caleb. Actually we finished working together about two days ago with construction and I continued with the finish application.
We are both very enthusiastic about coffee. There are several ways to make coffee, each with its pros and cons. The pour-over method lets hot water run over grounds in a filter and out the bottom of some container, such as the one to the left, then into a cup/thermos. This brewing method is preferred to electric/automatic makers because the coffee, once brewed, doesn't sit on the heat (this affects the flavor adversely).
The coffee maker usually sits on top of the receiving vessel, but this can prove precarious especially with tall thin containers like a thermos (which I use every day). Stability can be added to the process using some kind of stand, anything like the one above, which gives the user a larger area on which to set the maker. The cups are set below on the flat continuous surfaces. The box allows for short and tall coffee cups. Now the coffee drinker can enjoy the un-burnt flavor of coffee made this way and a higher degree of safety when using boiling water.
This box is constructed using finger or box joints, which are similar to dovetails in that they interlock and provide a lot of glue surface. Whereas dovetails are uniquely suited to drawers in furniture, a box joint helps the wood worker during glue application and clamp up, by forcing the box sides into 90 degree corners, yielding a nice rectangle with a solid connection between the boards.
The joints are cut in a way similar to dovetail joints, using a hand held router with a bearing guided straight bit. I devised and made the jig myself 7 years ago and this project with Caleb was the second time I'd used it. The results are very nice and tight. The box is finished in satin polyurethane and polished with wax.
This was a fun project and great opportunity to share learning with a friend. I value these opportunities for their tendency to deepen friendships. When we work together and generally share life with others we are blessed and built up. We aren't just putting in hours of work, we are pouring out our lives into others. Like coffee, life is better with friends.
I recently finished a table for my back porch. I had an old table base that had been used to house a radial arm saw. I no longer use the saw so I removed it and was left with a base without a top. Rather than let the base continue to mildew on the deck I thought I'd up-cycle it and make some nicer outdoor furniture with a refined rustic feel.
I wanted something low maintenance and visually appealing. I used a bunch of maple full of knots and coloration from spalting for the top and finished everything with spar urethane, which holds up well to weather. I milled up some fir for the benches as well (which measure about three feet long and 17 inches high) and chamfered the legs' edges. The process of upgrading the table and making benches took about two days. I only had to buy screws and finish.
As long as I've been conversant in 19th cent. painting, I've gravitated toward the paintings of Paul Cezanne. I think it's his ability to get at and distill the underlying visual structure of a view that draws me in. His paintings set up geometric rhythms that seem to vibrate into coherence and an overall thrust. The mountain he paints competes with the sky for its position in space, resulting in an ambiguity about which is closer. The forms of rock and sky compete and trade position. Our minds tell us that the sky is behind but Cezanne gives the atmosphere permission to come in-between us and the peak. His paintings give us a glimpse of the unsoiled world, one with views of perfection.
My own attempt at Mount Sainte-Victoire falls short of the genius of Cezanne. But I am indebted to this man who could fix light in oil, and show my appreciation by emulating his approach as best I understand it. Any painter would profit from a study of a Cezanne work. My own version is from a photograph of the mountain itself, which overlooks Aix-en-Provence, France. My pastel tries like Cezanne to obscure many details, while maintaining the overall force of the scene. I used a combination of Sennelier Pastels and Pan-Pastels in conjunction with some marks made with Sofft Tools. Cezanne's original oil probably measured around 60x80 cm.
A few weeks ago I went up to the Jackson County airport to hunt rainbows. I found the one you see to the left (click to enlarge), which left me very satisfied after waiting around for about an hour post rain storm. I figured the angle of the sun in conjunction with the moisture/droplets in the air would be conducive for bow formation. And I was right!
The bonus for me came later, when the sun was setting. The thick moisture and clouds also made for a great sunset, with vibrant pinks and oranges, which I also photographed (see below) then painted (below original). Quite the eventful evening for the meteorologist in me, and it's always interesting to see my original juxtaposed with the painting.
It's interesting how light and gases conspire to produce their effects. Photons permeating not aether, but atmosphere. Light bouncing and bent, the atmosphere can reflect and rend to stunning effect. I propose a fifth dimension to standard space/time, the affective. Despite what some might say, as my understanding of physical phenomena increases, my wonder at them and their natural beauty is no-wise diminished. My knowledge lends a depth to my appreciation, helps me know where to situate it. My understanding/experiences are like voices singing at/in me. Knowing why the sun's light appears a certain way in relation to the horizon and that its beautiful is like two voices singing in harmony, producing chords of construal. As I understand from different "directions" I find choirs of sorts develop. Sometimes the notes conflict, sometimes they resolve later, only to become discordant again. There emerges perhaps an epistemological symphony.
Changing Gears then...
I've been thinking on and off lately about what "now" means. It seems at first a fairly common sense idea, a useful temporal term. This stems from considering the speed of light and how it mediates vision (supposedly, at least that's the best way I have to understand, not withstanding some sort of "simple seeing" or vision). Side note: I feel like I should be reading Hume right now.
Anyway, what does it mean to see now? Cosmologists would agree that when we look to the stars and nebulae, we are not seeing the "now" or present state of those celestial bodies. We are rather being impinged upon by the light of millions and billions of years past. It seems then the difference between viewing extra-galactic objects and our sun near the horizon is only one of degree, not kind. Seeing happens in time, minute as it may be, an interval is present. Is there then any instantaneous awareness of the world around us? I imagine lots of questions that are given birth by this one, and have no intention of chasing the answers.
When I say I see it "now", I seem to point to something past, not really at a given instant "now." I feel like I have to suspend this thinking anytime I talk about tensed facts (it is now 10:42 for example). Does this make me and everyone else anti-realists with respect to the present? Is "now" one of those "useful fictions" like perhaps numbers? "Now" in an objective sense seems like it must refer to the smallest possible time interval, one that is instantaneous (whether such exists), and not divisible, but all instants seem potentially infinitely divisible (whether actually infinitely divisible I doubt, but never-mind).
So, when I see, how do I describe accurately that state of affairs? "I am seeing the sun lit valley" seems appropriate to the scene above, as it acknowledges at least the ongoing nature of the act, the constant unfolding, as opposed to "the valley is now sun-lit." Now I can't help but notice that one description reflects my internal state of affairs vs. that of the valley.
I suppose that's enough confusion until next time. I am at least sure about my love of art.
These sketches are from my trip to Montana for my sister's wedding. I drew them on a side trip to the Beartooth Mountains while hiking around with the guys in the wedding party. The sketches or 8 x 10", charcoal on paper.
See accompanying Images below
Over the last several months I've been journeying through a massive novel (1078 pages) called Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. The events of the story take place at various locales, including a Tennis Academy, Halfway House, the streets of Boston, a cliff overlooking Tuscon Arizona and various Canadian locations. Much of the plot unfolds at Enfield Tennis Academy, and centers around the activities of the Incandenza family.
On one occasion several of the bright tennis students are engaged in a strategy/war game called Eschaton, which uses various items of sports equipment (tennis balls for instance) as props/weapons in fictional world-scale thermo-nuclear conflicts that are played on the tennis courts. As the game proceeds it degenerates into physical violence communicated with a hilarity that only Wallace could orchestrate. One student ends up with his head through a computer monitor for instance, while trying to roll his computer cart away from the tennis court carnage (the student, Otis P. Lord, was a sort of scorekeeper-official-statistician-rule-keeper of the game).
Given my impulse to make things, and my love of humor/literary references and good stories, I was compelled to give life to my enthusiasm for this book today. I began by not reinventing the wheel. I thought surely someone had already worked out some graphic designs to accompany the book. I was right and settled on a radioactivity symbol with a tennis ball in the center. I pasted the image into word and added the additional lines of text at the bottom of the design.
Like many silk-screen prints I've done in the past, this one was executed using a blank screen with a contact paper stencil. I first traced the printed design onto the correct side of some contact paper then cut it out with an exacto-knife. I cut the film so that the sticky side ends up face up, on the outside of the silk-screen (the side that will make contact with the shirt/print surface). After the one large piece of contact paper is adhered (top right image) I fill in any smaller pieces that fell out in the first round of cutting (the radiation symbol and inner shapes of closed letters like A's). Once I'm comfortable with the level of adhesion and the screen is all taped up, I can print. I used Speedball's fabric ink for this and most printing I do (bottom left). After being ironed under a piece of paper, the design is heat set and ready to be worn and laundered. With a time investment of 4-5 hours and a $4 shirt, anyone can make unique clothing items that tell people more about them than Adidas or Nike ever could.
The top of the world is the atmosphere, not the Jackson County airport, where I took the photo at left. What a wonderful mix of gases (mostly nitrogen) blanket the planet. If not for the properties of water and light, we'd have no spectacular sunsets or riveting sunrises.
On many a summer night here lately, I find myself racing up to the airport around 8:20 p.m., eager to know what awaits my eyes. The necessary conditions to instigate such a dash are cloud cover of about 50% or more, and no other commitments in my schedule. The light show to ensue is worth the 40 minutes of solitude on a mountain top, consistently captivating and predictably pulchritudinous. Only occasionally is the song of the wind broken by another visitor by car to the Airport. Usually the visitor to this visual vista stays for a few minutes with their car running, only to leave, seemingly satisfied with a quick survey of the parking lot, where I soon find myself alone again, my only company the cumulus.
The light that evening was unobstructed by stormy conditions, and pregnant with poly-chrome possibilities, refractions regnant. The day's water vapor had been built up into towering volumes of droplets, ready to reflect back to me the coming colors of the departing sun. The cloud were at first unremarkable, displaying the typical white to gray range. As the angle of the sun relative to the horizon became more acute, yellow began to emerge from the bottom of the clouds, like mustard gas preceding some alien ship or burning meteor. As light typically does during sunsets, it had to pass through thicker amounts of atmosphere as it carved an arc toward the edge of the world. In virtue of this fact, the reflected rays assume a more ruddy hue, so that the last clouds to be illuminated by the sun directly are a pink or red color, eventuating in blues and purples. Shortly before the disappearance of the sun, some of the more distant clouds take on a blue, which contrasts vividly with the emerging ocher. This is because the light they are reflecting is that of shadows. Reflections of reflections of the rest of the atmosphere, which appears to us as blue during most of the day.
Clouds are elusive and their forms fleeting. To view clouds at sunset from the east or west, is to witness a process that has endured for billions of years. This cyclical dance is as durable and aged as the spin of the Earth and the motion of stars, yet new every day, never the same.
I'm usually thrilled to find ways to speed up my work without compromising quality. The less time I spend on making frames, the more I have to paint. Recently I've been using 2 part epoxy on some projects, for both adhesive and gap filling applications. I was skeptical at first, but the more I work with it the more I see its strengths.
Epoxy won't interfere with wood finishes, like regular wood glue will (if not completely removed after drying), it's very strong and seems to hold well. The slideshow above shows the major steps in putting a frame together with epoxy. This might become my preferred way to adhere frame corners, depending on how strong the joints turn out to be. If my results are good I'll use epoxy on corners when I need the frame quickly (24 hours from the time ordered). For this frame I used some poplar molding I milled a while back (I'll end up painting or staining this frame). The whole process from cuts to clamping took about 30 minutes, and I should be able to remove the frame for sanding and finishing in an hour (we'll see).
The epoxy claims a 5 minute cure time (a slight exaggeration I've found, more like an hour to harden) and high tensile strength, which I tend to believe it has, based on my experience so far. Using epoxy with a wood finish like spray lacquer means I can cut out the dry time of conventional wood glue and oil based finishes. In summation, faster woodworking through chemistry.
My latest pastel is a large version of Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park. I did a smaller version 6 months or so back. I am again enjoying the freedom the larger scale affords and the overall impact of the scene. So far I've put in about an hour.
Parting with an artwork is difficult. I end up wanting to keep most of the work I create, and the pastel to the left was no exception. I then heard of an event going on in New York City, and I thought, what a great way to share my work with others (click here for more details). So I sent the landscape and two other small works to the International Arts Movement offices.
Giving away art is bitter-sweet. I know the painting has the potential to bring someone else enjoyment, while simultaneously creating in me a longing for the enjoyment I had in the first place. Repainting this scene (pictured at the top) was a chance for me to be reminded that I can rekindle the first experience and even build on and improve it whenever I want, if I'm willing to work it out again. I was initially only able to see the giving of the art, not the practice I was getting in preparation for the larger version. Creating a work of art doesn't result in the mere out-pour of a visual composition. In the careful act of study, during the process of painting, I find myself accumulating experiences and an understanding of relationships not previously had.
Working larger paid off again (as though I should be surprised). I found myself being less precious with the pastel than with the first, smaller version of this scene (Montana, near Glacier National Park). This was due in part to the use of Sofft Tools, which sped-up the work and gave more painterly expressiveness to my marks. I found that using the right tools let me communicate the unique visual texture presented by different materials. The water vapor of clouds could be shown to posses a gently faceted, round softness, while the blues of the sky maintain a more fluid continuity and eased transitions from areas of differing intensity and hue. I returned to the side of the pastel stick to delineate the edges and cleaved faces of the rock and mountains. The ability to manipulate and control pigments on a surface with my fingers or other tools really lent itself to reproducing the manifold native textures that populate a landscape.
Given the size of the second version, I painted on Ampersand Pastel Board, which has a texture slightly more pronounced than Pastelmat (both surfaces were mentioned and evaluated in my previous 2 posts), with the additional rigidity of a 1/8 inch hardboard. This will allow me different framing options and dimensional stability, despite moisture changes, not available on thinner cards. I plan on framing the large version in a sort of shallow shadow box, with no mat.
Pastel continues to be the most satisfying medium I've worked with as a painter.
I continue to be impressed at the versatility of pastel. Using this medium, I can both draw and paint. Marks are both painterly and lively or grounded and static. Depending on the tool used (Sofft tools, my fingers or the stick of color itself) I can employ and unleash a diverse visual lexicon. This work is on Ampersand Pastel-board (8x10 inches). The surface is gritty, which lends itself to layering. Rubbing the surface with a finger does not easily move the pastel, which is good because it makes the surface more forgiving, and accidental movements on the surface don't accidentally blur areas. One has to be very intentional and smudge an area repeatedly to blend color, unless Sofft tools are used, which tend to grab and move the color quickly.
A few things I like about Ampersand's board are, its rigidity and the firmness with which the surface grit is held to the support. The board itself is 1/8th inch thick, which means it will not buckle, curl or otherwise move. I just have to worry about holding it down, it keeps itself flat. The abrasive surface is very nice to work on as well. The textured particles on the surface do not come loose from the board, unlike something like Sennelier's la Carte Card (which has its own advantages). This means that if I wanted to I could erase areas aggressively and not damage the substrate. It would then be very easy to paint again in the cleaned off area. With each new painting I see the importance of being open to all kinds of mark making, facilitated by tools or not. There is no formula for painting a picture.
Recently I've experienced three novel and important changes to my pastel work; the size of my surface, the type of surface and the tools I use. Most of my work since November of 2013 (around the time I began taking pastel seriously) was 12x16 inches or smaller, due to economic considerations. My reasoning was that I could get 10 sheets of pastel card in a pad for a reasonable price and I was pleased with the results. I was using good materials from Sennelier and my pictures seemed alive and interesting, more so than anything I made in college. Something I neglected though was the importance of working large. Larger scale works allow marks whose scope and thrust are un-attainable on a 7x10 pastel board. There is something more familiar with a scale that mirrors the dimensions of the human body, a spatial sympathy.
The next novelty was my use of Pastelmat surfaces. These heavy coated pastel papers were unlike the gritty Sennelier La carte card I have grown to adore. The surface was not on initial inspection rough or sanded like many other pastel surfaces. Pastelmat has almost a leather like texture to it, with no free abrasive particles to come loose from the substrate, like the cork flakes of Sennelier's card. Pastelmat has an incredible ability to hold onto color, which really surprised me. An area can be rubbed with your finger with much less disruption of the image than you'd get with Sennelier or Ampersand Pastel-board (I am still fond of both these surfaces for different reasons). Pastelmat comes in a variety of nice colors and costs less than Sennelier, so it is in the running for my new favorite pastel surface.
The third new addition to my pastel painting process is the use of Sofft Tools in conjunction with PanPastels. PanPastels are simply pastels in shallow cylindrical containers that are applied with foam applicators. The Sofft Tools are really the star here though. These foam tools offer a degree of control and mark making not permitted by simple use of one's pastel sticks and fingers or other blending devices. Sofft tools allow for much more painterly and expressive marks and don't merely blend the color, but transport it across the surface by really grabbing onto the pigments. Both distinct edges and diffuse, blurred shapes are attainable with the same tool. Additionally large areas can be covered quickly, using just the right amount of pigment, rather than rubbing a stick on its side until there is nothing left.
As I continue to delve into the world of pastel, I am increasingly satisfied with my decision to switch to this medium as my primary mode of painting, and recommend that every painter give it a try.
Coming light, now partake
Lights vectors, photons take,
Information, vision's sake.
Punching through, clouds charcoal blue,
Reflected, refracted, bent-bounced issued through.
Current arrangement of vapor's containment
The values and wavelengths, a visual inveighment
Eviscerated, punctured by rays in this bright stint.
Pink, orange-lemon glowing the orb's infinite glint.
J0hn Hunter Speier
Recent work, and explorations of techniques, aesthetics and poetics.