The shifting marks
The lights, the darks
Enter the air, cumulus voluminous.
The refracted arc
Water drop's spark
No real location, fragile coloration.
The time-angle perfect, for red and azure's trick,
Ground and sky interface, sharing in light's grace.
Delineated, undersides shaded
Rolling on now, wind current aided.
The storm? Over.
Sun's new disclosure.
The table saw has limitations, like any tool, but some of those can be overcome with tricks of the trade. Table saws are primarily meant to make strait cuts (ripping) but by clamping a piece of wood at an angle and taking other precautions, the saw can be used to make simple but elegant cove molding. This makes sense from a financial standpoint, as a comparable molding prefabricated would cost around 3-4 dollars a linear foot. By comparison, a board foot of rough sawn cherry can be had from 2-4 dollars, so the saved money is worth the effort. Additionally one isn't limited to a single cove size. By simply increasing the angle of the board away from parallel to the blade, the cove will take on a gentler, larger curve. And if my lumber supplier doesn't have molding in the species of hardwood I want, I can simply begin with a board of my choice, with custom results.
The reason I made this molding is because I'm in the final stages of building a cherry mantle to be installed over a rock fireplace. It's the second mantle I've worked on (see my earlier post) and it's sure to be an improvement over my first. The main improvement consists in how I attach the cove molding to the underside of the top board. Rather than relying on the 45 degree beveled surface on the back of the molding as the only point of attachment, I'm going to secure a strip of wood (to the large flat area) that effectively extends my glue surface and gives me a place to install screws (I'll explain this more in a future post with additional images). The result will be the lack of nail holes through the front of the molding, and tighter corners on the sides of the mantle. I'm excited to see how this turns out and look forward to making mantles a regular addition to my woodworking repertoire.
For a while now I've wanted to consolidate my writing about art and furniture from past blog posts. In the file below I've compiled all the blog posts from my old wordpress site, which spanned most of 2012. The site is still around, but I don't actively post there,(www.speierworks.wordpress.com). In the future I plan to collect the work from 2013 as well. I might end up with enough material for an e-book, so stay tuned. In the mean time, enjoy some of my early adventures in writing with the free download below.
(I originally posted a longer version of this on my old Wordpress site around Christmas 2012)
This was one of the most labor intensive, ambitious projects I've undertaken. I continue to learn through mistakes and see the value in failure. I heard someone talking about something called “failure value” the other day and it appeals to me in light of all the things that go wrong in life. Its ok to mess up as long as I gain something from it and grow through careful reflection. I like to impress upon my students the importance of learning through mistakes and seeing the value in not getting and answer “right.” I prefer they see how they got where they are and that there was value in reaching the apparent dead end. I found myself at many apparent dead ends this go ’round. Holes where there shouldn’t be holes, split boards where no splits were welcome. All valuable lessons I’ll carry with me into the next project.
I think like lots of folks, I like to have plenty of control over things and outcomes. Woodworking is a good exercise in realizing how little I control in the grand scheme. Things move, swell, crack, don’t fit together, I bloody my knuckles and hit my head on things, inhale too much dust and smash my fingers in the cold (a terrible delayed pain sensation). I’m sure my experience is not unique, I mean that of frustration and occasional futility. The constant tug of entropy on our lives. But what we gain by putting energy back into the system and fighting against it. There is value in failure, satisfaction in completion.
To think of color as a degree of darkness adds light to our total visual understanding. Viewing one color can also be thought of as the absence of perception of the other colors "out there." If color is understood in purely physical terms, then white light is merely a combination of the components of the visible spectrum. It follows that any individual color would be the result of somehow restraining the expression/presence of the others. Painting affords a record of what was and equally important, what wasn't bound up in an experience.
Color choice in painting doesn't simply aid in the recording or one experience or enrich the possibility of memory, it results in an art-ifact that has potential or power to further elicit response in a viewer. The pigments and marks on a support after the art making process have assumed a structure and communicate spatio-visual relationships with each other. They exist now to impress/impinge upon and inform/form the next viewing/viewer.
Marks are filters and mirrors. Light comes to a surface and at that interface there is an energy transaction occurring. Light not reflected is absorbed, increasing the temperature of the surface ever so gently and imperceptibly. The reflections re-tell and reconstruct the story or experience of the artist, a sort of transverse translation. The transformation from sight to thought to mark to reflection to perception to reception is surely altered in virtue of the degree of mediation from the source. The meaning/essence is not lost though. As with any language/mode of transmission there is usually sufficient lexical overlap for an intended construal, you just have to work at it (ART-WORK).
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Color is hard to define. Often our attempts end in ostensive definitions, or instances of pointing, and this isn't the only philosophical consideration that emerges when attempting to understand color. There's also the issue of demarcation, or making distinctions between and among things by listing some set of essential characteristics (blue is a color that evokes such and such an emotion or is the color of the sky). Ask a physicist what blue is and he'll tell you it's electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength between 450 and 495 nm (Each nano-meter is 1/1,000,000,000th of a meter). But why? Why not 449-496? In this instance we find the perennial "problem of the heaps" among our colored confusion.
Whatever color is, it must at least be understood in terms of relationships. The drawing above used more than 20 different "blue" pastels." Individually each hue (color) looks blue and seems like a clear case example, as opposed to being green for instance, or purple. But when all of the versions of blue are combined into one space, they begin to demand an understanding dictated by their relationships to other blues. Some look more purple, or some look greener, and then some blues have the addition of white pigment, which adds further complication and nuance to how we construe them.
The tendency to read colors in terms of their relationships to others is important in composing a picture. Consider the color of the paper above, a warm cream color (a variant of orange), interacts differently with the various blues differently than a "neutral" gray or black would. This choice of surface color is not without consequence. If an artist has a somewhat muted palette of colors, they can be accentuated and keyed up by using a surface that has a greater degree of neutrality. This is especially useful if you're using less expensive pastels, whose pigments tend to be less vibrant. The toned down color range of many pastel papers helps to direct attention to the colors used. I don't see much use for example for white paper or colors close to it, when painting with pastel. White papers reflect all or much of the light back to the viewr and tend to overpower the pigments in use. This visual competition can be mitigated by using neutral grays, blues or browns. The toned down quality of these surface colors will compliment the pastels instead of diminish their brightness.
Color relationships should be explored for their tendency to create different effects or evoke certain sensations or emotions. Complimentary colors (red and green for example) tend to create tension when juxtaposed. Similarly orange and blue. Complimentary colors are found by selecting one primary color (red, blue or yellow) and pairing it with a mixture of the remaining primary colors (yellow set against red+blue or purple). The pairs always include one primary and one secondary color. These color arrangements, like sequences of words in combination with vocal inflection and tone, should be studied and practiced to the point of near mastery if an artist is going to be capable of expression through visual means. The painter who understands color relationships is like the musical composer who knows how and why to use a minor second or perfect fifth; both are in a position to make a lasting aesthetic impression and shape the imagination.
Noise is often thought to be an auditory experience exclusively. But I think its helpful when considering a visual encounter to employ a sensory analogue for seeing. Noise is apparently derived from the Latin nausea, which itself doesn't require explanation, but which adds a rich nuance to my understanding. Bad art (qua Thomas Kinkade) makes the mistake of capitalizing on noise and distraction, constant sleight of hand, chromatic charlatanism. As though it beckons the viewer, "look here, now here, now here!" There is no rest for the viewer, no invitation to contemplate. Bad art is like advertising, it punches you in the nose and is obvious and beats you with banality. The only complexity employed is in its design to fool and manipulate you. It tells you how it should feel or what experience to have.
I think good art is suggestive of what we already know, it slows our attention and brings us face to face with ourselves and some aspect or the wholeness of our humanity. It is a reminder of our uniqueness as humans insofar as we are consciously endeavoring to create things and think, talk and feel about them. Good art reflects a far reaching intentionality of an artist who is creating out of care for culture and individuals. Pictures aren't necessarily created for something, for an end, as mere or even primarily utility (this point is articulated well by Makoto Fujimura). Good art is born out of love for something and especially others. This love takes on weakness, it under-girds, edifies.
I painted the flowers above for my wife. I was inspired by the work of Edouard Manet, who is one of the best painters of flowers I've seen. He didn't waste time bogged down in the details, though he was surely more aware of them than most. Manet taught me to focus on the essential as it relates to the whole. Painterly Parsimony would describe a quality in his work that I want in my own. Too much concentration with detail suggests an overwhelming concern with how the artist will be received, which I think is a disordering of priorities from the primary importance of how the picture will affect the viewer. The shift of concern is from outside to inside. From them to me. Detail fixation constitutes an evil species of worry, on elements that aren't essential, and that might end up detracting from the overall thrust of the picture. What I'm suggesting here is that we keep in view an Ocular Occam's razor.
There is a danger though...While it is important to focus and return to the big picture, the details cannot be ignored wholesale. They are after all the parts of the whole, and the whole is at least the sum of the parts. I observe that my own tendency is to forget/ignore certain particulars altogether, failing to consider whether or not their inclusion is necessary for success. I might have for instance, simply blocked in the large shape of the roses in a single color, without any attention to the internal complex and delicate folding that characterizes a rose. This would have saved me time and I could have "finished" the picture faster, but the effect would have been diminished. Appropriate attention to detail often sacrifices efficiency and expedience to include those marks and visual cues that will invite the viewer into a particular experience, one ultimately constructed for them and their care.
In college I did a series of drawings/art-works that relied heavily on processes out of my control. I did things like freeze ice-cubes with ink in them, then let them melt on paper, leaving marks behind, or drip ink in front of a fan to be blown onto paper. In doing this I introduced a greater degree of mediation into the process, removing myself to a greater extent. I couldn't be as sure of the outcome, which bred uncertainty and excitement in me. Unfortunately I no longer have any of these works.
With the recent snow, I wanted to revisit the above-mentioned art making strategy. I used the process of melting or fusion as the primary means, coupled with gravity and capillary action, to move pigment and dyes around the surface of the paper and canvas I used. The consistency of snow will almost certainly produce different results than something like a cube of ice, in virtue of its voids and grain size. Snow has a unique porosity to it after sitting on the ground for a day and night and I wanted to incorporate this quality into the work. Snow isn't readily available year round so the pieces are unique in another way, namely the timing of their production. These pictures are constrained in ways by the seasons, temperature and moisture levels that art-works produced indoors aren't. Leaving them outside overnight meant that if the wind blew, a piece of canvas could be carried away and lost, and one was. This wasn't an issue with the paper though, as I taped it down.
As I made these pictures, which took on a nebulous almost stellar quality, I thought about the degree of my intervention in processes already in action. The snow was already melting, gravity was and is always pulling, the canvas possesses a certain inherent affinity for water. Then I come along and configured certain initial conditions and arrangements so that a causal chain was set into motion, the results of which I could only vaguely anticipate. This process prompted me to think about the fact that so much art is not different in kind as it is in degree from other art.
There are certainly unknowns associated with even the commonest processes, such as drawing with charcoal. I don't know when and if the compressed carbon will break or if the tape holding down the paper will shift and come undone when I'm erasing, I have to develop an intuition through re-visiting the experience over and over. Surely if I let enough snow melt with colors on enough occasions I would also develop an intuition for that process, producing more predictable results. I wouldn't say that developing an intuition, to an increasingly greater degree, would constitute bringing a process under my control. Rather cultivating an intuition results in a fuller participating with the forces already at work in the creation of something new.
When I make art, I almost always anticipate responses to it, this work being no exception. I could imagine someone saying something like "my child could do that," and in fact have heard this response to many pieces of abstract art in the past. In general I find that the aversion many people have toward abstract art is a product of unfamiliarity and fear of difference. I had the same aversion when I was younger and as I painted more I found a familiarity with the discipline's "vocabulary" growing inside me. Along with this emerged an acceptance of the fact that I couldn't always articulate (with words) the experience of a painting. So I've decided that in the future when someone suggests an "abstract" art work could be produced by his child I will say, "Of course! he is an artist too!" The sooner we develop the capacity to traffic in the inexpressible the better.
I'm interested in how others work. That is, where they work, how their space shapes and is shaped by their work. This is where, during the last several snow days, I've spent lots of time working. Work is strewn/placed around the room as a result of my current lack of storage solutions (given the delicate nature of the art surfaces) or the mere fact that I enjoy my own paintings and drawings. They continually work on me, and offer reflective episodes. Different views afford different opportunities to be re-inspired, or invitations to revisit a topic/subject or approach in whatever I'm working on. A work space should be inviting but separate, welcoming to collaboration, focused and concentrated. Dense with possibility. What do you make/create? Where is this space? What is it like?
Nephew or niece, I cannot yet say,
this life grows and glows, will soon crawl & play.
The value inherent is-has-will exceed measure,
no point of non-life, your mother's great pleasure.
What days lie ahead in rearing this child,
we will soon see played out, for hours and miles.
Your uncle John loves you, dear sweet unborn one,
And so did you Father from when you'd begun.
The books behind me
included I see,
A look in the mirror
Is it now clearer?
My setting requires not,
that my garb inspire thought,
if the shirt here
enfolding my arms,
blocks out winter's cold, its temperature harm,
Late nights do isolate my vision,
carved out there in char, spacial revision.
Shaping again, draw and configure,
The onset of sleep, taxing my vigour.
Draw more now draw more,
my hand pulls me fore,
Fighting a battle-against-paper my sword-
-is the carbon enfolded-in-the arranger-of-word,
my grip persisting to finish my chore,
Draw the eyes, they were last, looking-in-carbon lore.
Grasping, with Acuity
Sharpness in mind, a grasping defined
the focus of hand demarcated by line,
Tactile precision a reflection of vision
which gestures do we use for spatial derision?
Bring marks to a focus to tell of the locus
of your hand's design, your hocus, your pocus,
The spell that you cast with symbols, your past,
their weight, time now stained, enduring, will last.
Today, my friend "Brother James" came over and we printed some shirts. We've both been interested in comic art since childhood and it continues to be a strong shared interest of ours. Something we like to do when we get together is discuss how to take comic-art to another level or put a new spin on something that's been around for years. This could manifest itself in making a painting from a printed comic-book image, or using a watercolor image as source material for a pastel drawing. In this case I adapted an image printed commercially onto a shirt (that I found online) for the silk-screen printing I'm set up for, which is very basic.
Screen-printing is a fun and fast paced process, filled with unknowns, which makes for an exciting time. Its hard to know for instance if ink is building up somewhere you can't see, ready to blob out and surprise you with a mark you didn't intend. It was nice to have James around as my extra set of hands; I would pull the squeegee and lift the screen, and he would set the prints aside and hold the screen for each print. He and I hadn't really worked in tandem like that on a common task and at that pace since we worked at the Mad Batter together years ago. During that time I learned more about cooking from James than I did in most of my other food-service experience. I was also reminded today of the rhythms of work and how they work themselves out during the experience. Its easy enough to start a task with a grand design in mind, but when the rubber hits the screen and the ink's-a-slidin', the process quickly lets you know how its going to be. Jumping into the process shows you were mistaken in your first impression and that you must adapt to the pressure of the situation. In this case the ink was flowing and drying, so we couldn't stop and have a long conversation about how to best navigate the process. We had to be flexible and know how to read each other in the moment, not an easy task, but made easier by working with a great friend who knows you well.
As an artist, its rewarding to share methods and techniques with other artists (James included). By doing this sort of activity together with a friend I am hopefully opening up expressive avenues to someone who might not have utilized a particular medium before. One of the great things about being in friendship or community with others is the chance to share experiences, skills and life in general, resulting in all parties involved living in a more fulfilling way. When I find things that enliven and enrich me, I want to share them with the important people in my life. Today was no exception.
Table dimensions, approx 2'x3', 18" high. Walnut and glass
Frustration, difficulty and growth are my companions when building furniture. However, at the end of the project, I often find satisfaction, relief and wisdom waiting for me. I've mentioned before that sometimes I think I'm too impulsive to build furniture, because of the planning involved. I rarely build with a plan, I rather find myself in a sort of conversation or negotiation with material, temporal and spacial constraints as I bring to life what I'd imagined. I find myself stopping and re-evaluating a lot, thinking "this won't/can't work" or "what have I gotten myself into?"
I find that even though planning could often save me a headache or two, I would sacrifice some spontaneity, which is something I like present in the process. Planning in certain ways introduces a mechanical restriction on my improvisatory leaning. So I find myself being pulled by impulse/inclination and bound by my situation. This is inevitable, though I'm regularly found surprised by it. I'm very selective about remembering that I am situated.
Make it, in time.
Give shape, by mind.
Soon gone, not mine
Recompense, now thine...
The Medium in the Message, a Poem
the image remains,
lasting mental texture
For memory's sake
pastels image make
compounds off the surface
gravity surely takes
Built into the surface
detailed mind excursus
pigmented, visual, fusion assures us.
The Scaling of the Soul
Two senses of scaling-
steps up/down declensions
the image, I hope sticks
plant life on slopes thick.
-John Hunter Speier
I've always found layers interesting (see the collage page), so much so that this imagery works its way into my drawings and paintings. I see in layers potential for different textures, transparencies, boundaries, and visual presence, not to mention chronology. The effect of creating a layered space suggests some kind of temporal ordering of events. Experience reinforces in us the idea that things that happen earlier than other things occur closer to the bottom of the accumulation.
Much like sediments layered in horizontal beds that eventuate in rocks, layers are intimated by mark/color placement. In geology, this history-as-vertical-position, (vertikalegeschichte) is known as the principle of superposition. So in this way the sort of image above operates in ways a geological history would. A fundamental difference being that rocks form from the bottom up and my images often begin from the "top" down. The construction of the picture is near to far, as though reverberations move into the past by way of quasi-concentric shapes. The formation of the drawn image is in opposition to that of the collage, which doesn't permit construction from top to bottom (so far).
When I make a layer or apply a shape (by whatever means) I want it to endure (at least partially) through the change of the whole image, to continually influence/contribute to the construal of the whole. By being able to put the "bottom" lower-most elements in near the end of the picture's development (chronologically) I'm able to construct an experience/history on a time scale that runs conversely to that of the intended viewer's. What will become read as the most recent in a series of receding events, was often drawn first, of technical necessity.
This isn't a rule though, merely a tendency observed, but one born out many times in my work and interesting because it makes me think of the order of causation. We tend (rightly so) to think of the past as it informs and shapes the present and future, whereas in the work above, the present-most-current has the ability to affect that perceived as past. A temporal travel (travail even?) made possible by very few experiences, moving near to far, now to before.
My fascination with layering continues/extends into thoughts about past events and their present effects. Collage lends itself to obliterating past events on the surface. Simply paste over the past. The enduring presence is limited to slight embossing of the layers above by the edges of those below. Oil pastel in contrast affords a fluid revisiting of earlier efforts. Successive layers of oil pastel obscure but don't completely restrict unearthing of the past (albeit incomplete). What already happened must be uncovered carefully by scraping away (sgraffito) the present experience shaping/distracting element. Only through the sometimes-near-trauma of removal from the present do we access the "past" or minimally its stain/echo. Once uncovered we can let it endure as a visual reminder of what's transpired and, if appropriate, a revived shaping influence on the present and future.
Like sounds, visual impressions act on us differently depending on how far away we stand, how we're feeling, where we've been and what we love among other things. We are differently abled in our aesthetic aptitude and there is a shape to our retinal receptivity. Color juxtaposition has the effect of creating in us one of a number of sensations, emotions, or other states of consciousness. Cool next to warm creates a tension, wherein one color recedes and another appears to advance.
More intense values have a greater presence than less keyed up, related colors. This is seen in the golden orange of the center mountain against the earthy red in the range behind it. Our eyes can become conflicted while seeing. A seen object , understood monolithically, is an occasion for visual ambiguity, when said object presents to us a pair of colors which seem not to occupy the same plane, such as an area of cool purple and burgundy against a rusty orange. We have to make sense though of this tense color relationship, given our cognitive commitment to the mountain's underlying geological unity. This relationship challenges a conventional idea of light and dark as white and black. Shadows are areas reflecting less light than those lit directly, but which have their own subtle light from reflected sources and through atmosphere (which isn't without color and its own effect on us) to our visual apparatus.
Squinting at an object is often associated with seeing less of it and viewing it more incompletely. The truth is that one can see certain aspects of an object more fully when squinting the eyes. Mountains with their darker sides, avoided by light's directness, when viewed through windows partially closed appear to us with the bluer quality that more fully characterizes a shadow. Our atmosphere is blue and as we gaze into thicker regions of it up into space, the color intensifies. As we look into shadows we are met with the light from those surfaces traveling through thick atmosphere that is being reflected and refracted, just like the light from the sun bouncing around in that blanket of gas on the Earth. When understood and embraced as important colored elements, shadows begin to reveal their secrets, hints of green and purple and blues. We don't treat black like the unique color it is with its own life and effects, rather we deal with it in a far too utilitarian way, valuing primarily its usefulness as something to darken other colors. The best painters use(d) black sparingly (with exceptions of course; Rembrandt, Goya, Velasquez and Manet to name a few). The skilled artist knows that shadows are created by mixing complimentary colors. Darken yellow with a bit of purple for instance, or tone down an intense red with the addition of a green, not black.
Though I've given seeing much thought and consideration here, our understanding of a painting at an analytical level is doomed to incompleteness and inadequacy. Art isn't meant for this "register." Color relationships aren't merely understood by cognition. A history of interactions with color has to be developed and nurtured. An appreciation for subtlety and nuance accompanies chronic chromatic encounters. Trial and error are invaluable experiences/tools for understanding how to develop a capacity to evoke emotions with coloration and to have one's own emotions stirred upon receiving pigmented poetry.
These three paintings illustrate an important tool or concept one should consider employing in a work of art. The first painting (the square one) utilizes muted or toned down colors, those which have been mixed. This use of color is analogous to a piece of music played at piano or mezzo-piano. The second painting, with the violin shape in the right foreground is more akin to a piece of music played at forte. The colors are uniformly "loud" and overall intense. The final painting with collage exemplifies a more balanced piece in terms of color use, with key areas of pure color among more subdued tonality. These statements are more observations than prescriptions, which a painter should be aware of when composing a piece. The desired result will dictate the tools and methods of working and color application. The options and color choices are almost beyond imagination.
The reaches of our imaginations were (are?) vast and seemingly without limit; we created the world! We were however tethered to the drudgery of spelling tests, diagramming sentences (did that matter at all?), getting in line and reading "X" number of library books per month. Do teachers have any idea what stories are being told daily in a child's mind and to his friends? To what extent do they crush the tendency they wish to cultivate, that is genuine creativity and valuation of stories?
As a child I felt the world's demands on me and to an increasing degree as my awareness of it (the world) grew and I became more "thrown-in." My drawing has always been constrained, consciously or otherwise, like probably any artist's. Many of these constraints are self imposed in order to avoid risk of failure, failure for example to create an original pose or purely imagined setting and scenery, to portray visually and in two dimensions. This safety-in-risk-aversion has lurking behind it the possibility of success and breakthrough. Triumph, even insight. And what is the cost really, of a "failed" drawing? Shouldn't a component of my success be the earnest trial and effort, the development of willingness to do something different and more extensive? What safety is there in this comfort so conceived?
Part of what makes Comic Art successful and engaging is its ability to transport the viewer beyond the ordinary in terms of human ability, powers, scale and stories. We often find ourselves seeking something greater, unknown, unfamiliar and beyond our experience. A "being in the world" beyond banality. As various creatures (human and otherwise) slumber in their hibernation this winter and in their day to day routines, I find myself re-emerging, unseasonably and unexpectedly, to rediscover a re-imagined world.
My time off from my job as a Science teacher has given me several days to devote to making art. Here is a collection of the Pastels I completed this winter break. Most of the images are from National Parks. I plan on making several more images in pastel in the coming months, inspired by Natural Park Scenery.
This is the first of a few posts on the construction and finishing of a combination coffee table/display case. The piece will be made entirely of walnut, with a glass see through top. In this slide show I give short descriptions of the main steps involved in the table's construction.
J0hn Hunter Speier
Recent work, and explorations of techniques, aesthetics and poetics.