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Archives: January to April 2011

uh oh
Wait, what?

Oops. It's April and I'm still on this page. You're cool with that, though. Things just get busy. Creative independent sorts of folks just have too much going on. I'm writing more than usual, but that writing is getting posted elsewhere, since it's about other things. The writing itself is the art.

I'm still crocheting rectangles, but they are becoming complex rectangles, and are not what I would call art just yet, except for maybe the expression of wanting to wear something one-of-a-kind. I stitched together a cool little pocket fish the other week for painting, but where is my camera? I can't show you just yet.

Oh, speaking of those, I've decided to refrain from painting the new stuffed animals on panel for awhile. Painting on gessoed hot press watercolor paper is so much more liberating, and that is what I need right now. The new creature paintings need to be not so tight. Therefore, I need to be able to mess around, and I can do that on paper.

I'm writing essays and poetry on a more regular basis. And pushing the boundaries of what I know in web design. And I need to do a photo session soon, but that's just for research. I want to photograph this one place before spring gets too far sprung, so I have something new to paint in terms of landscape.

I'm not feeling like critiquing the art world right now. I feel pretty distant from it at this time, and more and more in tune with actual artmaking. Maybe it's this season, dragging the remnants of a too long winter behind it. The usual restlessness takes hold and I can't be bothered with the old things anymore. I just want to move forward.

some of what makes me tick
A question of influence

I was recently asked by a current art student to list my three main influences in being an artist. Just three. That's like asking me what my favorite color is. Well, I haven't got one. How is that even possible, when there are so many wonderful colors to choose from?

So, here are the notes for my influences, just in case you need some kind of a clue for what makes me tick:

1. Artists – I first think of Georgia O’Keefe, Diego Rivera, Jean-Dominique Auguste Ingres. What all three have in common — Clarity. I go for clarity, depth, tension and paint. The older, historical artists did not have access to paint the way we do, so for contemporary art, I need to see paint. That doesn’t mean thick and gloppy, but it does mean brushwork — I need to see the artist’s hand in the work. I have to see a story of some kind, or if abstract, it has to affect me in some way.

2. Musicians – Joni Mitchell, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Pink Floyd, Throwing Muses, Tori Amos, Tool – That is; dark Joni, dark Cure, dark Tori. Any music that is dark, complex, intelligent and unusual gets to me, preferably in minor keys.

3. Nature – Most of it. I am especially drawn to forms in plant life and shells. And landscape too, especially when you can tell we are actually on a planet, like the New Mexico desert where you can see the forms of the surface of the earth.

4. Life Events – Much of it.

5. History – Enough of it.

6. Muse (which is something else altogether) – This is the relatively unexplainable process of inspiration and flow. I’m not interested in pinning it down. I just acknowledge that it’s there. I would also add to this; my very strange and subtle sense of humor. Which is why I am so very picky about which stuffed animals I paint.

creative fun from almost nothing
States of being – Exhaustion and fatigue

Exhaustion and fatigue are states of extreme physical and/or mental weariness due to overexertion, illness or lack of sufficient sleep. You feel completely drained, like you have nothing left to give to yourself or anyone else.

There will be times when you will be too tired to go into the studio. Sometimes you just have to push yourself, so that you will get past the point of exhaustion and hopefully catch a second wind. Sometimes you just have to go and take a nap.

To depict exhaustion and fatigue, portray someone or something as literally being drained and emptying out. Show something as drooping or melting, not from heat, but from a complete lack of inertia. Fatigue is not blank, but emits a heavy feeling, an opaque heaviness in color and feel that is heading towards the bottom. Exhaustion is a sense of being depleted, with energy leaving or already gone.

Depict a landscape with everything almost horizontal, not dead, but lying down. Have a reclining figure so tired that they are sinking into and below the settee. Paint a flat navel orange, so overwhelmed with fatigue that it cannot possibly be round anymore.

Exhaustion and fatigue guidelines:

• Regular portrait: Place the person’s face below center and/or off to the side, but not off the picture plane. Use at least 50% different shades of gray, both warm and cool.

• Challenge portrait: Use lots of bright, cheery colors for the person’s clothing, as well as in the background. Locate their face above center.

• Regular abstract: Have most of the weight of activity sit below center. Use at least a 75% minimum of grays and browns in your piece.

• Challenge abstract: Create a composition of at least 90% bright primary and secondary colors. Include lots of circular shapes and forms.

• Craftwork: Create something that is bottom heavy and is desperately fighting to be vertical, but has little choice to be anything but horizontal. Use mostly dull, tired and opaque colors.

Every month a new creativity lesson is posted. See the archives for the full series. See September and October 2009 for further explanation on how to use the exercises.

Go to Painted Jay Publishing for the whole book:
www.paintedjay.com

sprouts
Inching towards spring

I've been a busy kitten, and I'm a little behind on posting. One of my upcoming projects is to learn Wordpress 3, so this blog will eventually be moved over to that platform. Comments! Subscriptions! More stuff! Woo hoo!

Meanwhile, here are some Bright Pink Smile entries that are in various stages of being written, and will be coming soon:

• Why looking at art, any art, no matter how awful, is good for you
• Haiku about painting and being a painter
• Thoughts on the rising cost of art supplies
• Thoughts about the rising cost of entry fees
• Paddle painting
• Egalitarian meritocracy
• When alla prima was king
• About control versus letting go

Tulip Bulb Trio by Alexandria LevinSprouts. Things evolving and twisting and doing whatever that can to grow, to arise, to break free. Turbulence. Springtime.

The painting to the right is a not-so-good reproduction of a painting of mine called Tulip Bulb Trio, painted in 1998. This was an early-stage painting of my most recent body of work, now in transition. My next challenge; folding the representational work into the abstractions I've been experimenting with for the past year and a half.

drab and gray
Restlessness

There are four wet painting surfaces doing their very best to dry in my tiny little studio space. It will be at least another few days until they are dry enough to go back into. I do my very best to keep envisioning a larger space where many more paintings are going at once. I’ve got the ideas and not much else. It’s driving me nuts.

When paintings are wet, I’ve got stuffed creatures to create, poetry to write, and yarn to tangle with. When a few other practical projects are out of the way, I will pull my long-neglected dulcimer out of the closet and see what kind of noise I can make from it these days. The music I hear in my head is neither quiet nor demure, so this should be interesting. I wish I liked to draw, but somewhere along the way in my education I learned to dislike the process of drawing. And anyway, it’s not calling to me.

I’m in the early stages of turning my creativity book (it’s in the column to the right somewhere) into an ebook, or at least a PDF book, and then eventually an ebook. There are a bunch of other computer-related projects, some other writing to do, things to study. Naps to take. It’s still winter. Okay, any exuse for a nap.

And it still continues to be winter. This has been a long one. I am tired of the drab city gray that surrounds me. It's not the overcast weather sort of gray that bothers me. I actually like that. Clouds are my friends. Too much sun can act as a spotlight, shining it's uncaring focus on things. It's the cement and concrete and cinderblock that pile up and get to be too much. Something new is howling out to me. I am reaching out the best I can, but I don't know exactly where. Or how. Or when.

creative fun from almost nothing
What to do with all this winter

Really. There is just too much winter this winter. Welcome to the early years of climate change; more precipitation than normal, excessive mounts of unusual weather, strange weather patterns, and too much heat in the southern hemisphere this time of year.

So sign your petitions, write your letters to the editor, organize, and do something each month to help mitigate the situation. We can have mild climate change, or we can have extreme climate change. We choose.

Meanwhile, there’s artwork to be made, and you are having a creative block. That's no good. Take what is around you to get things started. Your art can make a statement, or it can be just for the pure joy of creative expression. Either way, here are some winter-inspired ideas to get those creative juices flowing. Any of these ideas can be applied to abstract or pictorial work:

• Polar Bear in a Snowstorm. That used to be the joke about fresh, unpainted canvas. But seriously folks, white on white artwork can be a lovely challenge. Think about how many shades of white there are, plus texture, form, surface, dimension, anything... This will work in almost any medium.

• Clear like ice. Think about the lack of color, or vague hint of color that is ‘clear’. Use clear materials like glass, acrylic sheets and tubes, beads and cellophane to create something that is cold and beautiful as ice.

• Use the various shapes of icicles to inspire your artwork. Again, this can work in any medium, in either two- or three-dimensions.

• Explore interesting ways to photograph snow close-up. Find little compositions in the details of the world. There is information on finding small compositions here.

• Knit, crochet, weave or sew a scarf (which is a cold weather accessory to keep yourself warm) that visually describes the cold in an abstract way. Try not to rely on just using cool colors or white, but think of shapes and textures that describe the cold.

• Want a challenge? Describe the idea of cold without using white or blue. Instead, use only warm colors. Do a collage using warm weather and tropical images, but work it to express the feeling of cold.

Painted Jay Publishing
www.paintedjay.com

rabbit rabbit rabbit
Xin nian kuai le!

Another new year! I get three a year, lucky me. But except for wearing red sweater and socks I am not doing much else, as in most years. I sure would like that to change. I have family in northern New Jersey celebrating tonight, as traditionally as one can celebrate in northern New Jersey. It would be really nice to join them, but the way up there is fraught with ice, so that is not happening.

Xin Nian Kuai Le is how you say "Happy New Year" (or "new year happy") in Mandarin. My sister-in-law speaks Mandarin. I lived in San Francisco for many years, where most people speak Cantonese, so I was accustomed to hearing; "Gung Hay Fat Choy!", which means "may prosperity be with you." 

It's the year of the rabbit. Rabbits and bunnies have played prominently in my work, mostly due to my commentary on another holiday. These two here; Long Ear Bunny and Lavendar Rabbit, are not holiday-related. They are just bunnies.

May prosperty be with you. May prosperity find its way back to all of us. And I hope you have a new year happy.

the bluebird of snappiness
Chugging along

It's funny, or not so funny, not really ha-ha at all, but for the past few years, both the gregorian new year and my birthday year, my years have begun with worse than a whimper. I get sick, throw up, feel like crap, annoying things happen, bad things happen... And then this year, something different happened. The first few days of 2011 were the same old same old, yes, but halfway through the first week of this year, stuff straightened out. I'm not going to go into details... there's too much detail and I can't remember half of it at this moment. But it's as though something shifted.

It's not all hunky dory, but I'm still moving forward. Which has become so much easier now that my feet are healing. They are also near frozen at this very moment, but that's a given in January, working in a thin-walled sun room and all. The sun is down. Maybe it's a moon room. A cloud room. A frost room.

A lot is getting done. Creativity is happening. Paintings, both representational on panel and abstract on paper, are coming along. It's pretty good work. You'll see it soon. Poems and essays are getting written, photos are being cropped and organized, hats are being crocheted, and new stuffed critters are coming into being. I've got a few good design projects at this time, and internet teaching is going well.

Earlier today I finished a painting of this blue bird creature thing. Not a great painting, no real breakthroughs, but a good little painting, nonetheless. The abstract work is what is pushing me right now. Otherwise, real breakthroughs will happen when I have a studio with some elbow room; more work going on at once, and larger pieces to boot.

Not complaining though. I do what I can with what I've got. That, and continue to dream. And quadruple my efforts for some real change. These first few weeks have already proven that things can shift for the better on nothing but one thin dime.

creative fun from almost nothing
States of Being – Curiosity

Curiosity is defined by the persistent quest for knowledge. A curious person wants to know things, not out of nosiness or intrusiveness, but for the sake of understanding the world. Someone with an actively curious frame of mind will seek different ways of viewing and comprehending things, and will not simply accept the surface presentation of whatever it may be.

Curiosity is an impetus to continued growth as an artist. What about this, what if I try that, what if I look at this some other way? How about if that shade of green is slightly different, or if this tree bends the other way, or if it is dusk instead of the middle of the day, or if I use six lines here instead of five over there? What if I made frames out of clay instead of wood, or if I add wire to my weavings. Curiosity keeps pushing the imagination and gives life to continuous variation.

Having a robust curiosity is the benchmark of a true artist, in my opinion. And despite the rumors, curiosity is a sign of intelligence, the same as asking questions is a sign of intelligence. Those who demonize curiosity, are those who do not want you to know more about the world around you.

Do art that is about asking questions. Don’t give away any answers, but leave the meaning open-ended, so that viewers may come to their own conclusions. Create curious work. Use interesting materials, show new ways of looking at things, take an unusual approach to your medium. You are not looking to create confusion. Do not make a mess. Just make something a little odd or open-ended, whether in meaning, material or aesthetics.

Curiosity guidelines

• Regular portrait: Show something mysterious or unusual in the background. Place a curious expression on the person’s face. Have them wear something unusual.

• Challenge portrait: Do a straightforward, no-expression portrait with a plain background.

• Regular abstract: Create a composition that is neither overly simple nor complex. Have at least one element overlapping another, and include a twist (use your own definition of twist, whether visual or in meaning).

• Challenge abstract: Do a color field piece. Have a minimum of 90% of the surface be one relatively solid color.

• Craftwork: Use three contiguous colors (from the color wheel) such as green, yellow-green and yellow, and one other color that is complimentary to one of the three, such as red-violet. Have the piece appear to be one thing, while functioning as another, such as a vase that is really a pillow. Curious, yes?

Every month a new creativity lesson is posted. See the archives for the full series. See September and October 2009 for further explanation on how to use the exercises.

Go to Painted Jay Publishing for the whole book:
www.paintedjay.com

snappy new year
Overdue for a really good one

cropped Red Thing by Alexandria LevinIt's day three of the new gregorian calendar year and all I want right now is a nap. It could be because I am somewhat busy with all kinds of projects, a few of them even paid. Or it could be because I was woken up once again at some unearthly hour this morning by our upstairs neighbor. And then the sun poked me in the eye a whole bunch, just to make sure I wasn't going back to sleep anytime soon.

We hung out with a few friends on New Year's Eve, and the subject of resolutions came up. I'm happy to say that I can walk again, about a mile at a time now before the pain sets in; therefore I know I will be getting more exercise no matter what. And anyway, I prefer the word 'goals' to 'resolutions'. The difference is one of getting better as opposed to correcting something that is deficient in oneself.

So, I discussed goals. There are goals you have complete control over, such as; I will write a minimum of twelve really good poems this year. I can do that. And there are goals for which you have some control over, and others for which you have none, but are still possible somehow and you really, really, really want to have them happen.

Funny thing. I felt absolutely no need to make any goals concerning the creation of artwork. That would be like setting a goal for eating fruit, or wearing a sweater when it's cold. It's a given. Not an issue. I'm going to paint and that's that.

Painted Jay Publishing, offering books for artists and other creative folks, by the author of this blog. Available in print and ebook formats at paintedjay.com
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