Thursday, April 27, 2017

How I Start Making Art Again

I'm back to painting again, finally! It's almost always in the back of my mind... color, pattern, ideas that slip through my thoughts often too fast for me to hold on to them. So often gone by the time I manage to carve out some time to get out my paints.

acrylic painting abstract figures work in progress
Beginning with an abstract background, I use negative shape painting
to carve out abstract figures. This work in progress will go through
several more layers and stages before it's finished.
I do my best when the paints are always out, taking over the dining room table for days at a time and I can walk right over and start painting without any set-up time. But then life and family need the space again and I pack everything away. I want a space where I can keep the paint out all the time, and I'm slowly transforming our spare room into a space where I hope that will happen.

In the meantime, one of the best things I do for myself when I'm in a creative rut (or just having trouble taking time to myself away from the responsibilities of family) is to sign up for a weekend art workshop. In March I took a class on Expressive Acrylic and Mixed Media with artist Jacqui Beck.

Jacqui was a delightful and very knowledgeable teacher. The time flew by and I would definitely take more of her classes. I'm already somewhat familiar with a variety of mixed media techniques but I learned several new tools to add to my repertoire. Below you can see the start of a painting using techniques taught in Jacqui's class. We started with layers of acrylic paint enriched with a variety of mark-making in order to create an abstract background. Paint is applied by brush, brayer, with custom-carved stamps, through stencils. Marks are made by drawing on top of the paint and by scratching back through layers with chopsticks, plastic forks, or even sand paper.

acrylic painting abstract background layers
Beginning abstract layers of acrylic paint to create an abstract background.
Paint is applied by brush, brayer, with stamps, through stencils. Scratching
back through layers with chopsticks, plastic forks, even sand paper.
The most exciting thing about the workshop to me was on the second day as we moved into exercises to help develop the rich, textured, abstract mixed media backgrounds into a cohesive and expressive painting.

One exercise was to take a photograph as inspiration and to recreate the subject matter of the photo, to capture the shapes, lights, and darks on the ground created in class the day before in order to create something totally new. I chose a black and white photo from her collection of a figure walking out of a dark room through a doorway into bright sunlight.

acrylic painting on paper windows and doorways
Windows and Doorways
11" x 17" acrylic on paper
The other exercise was to attempt to recreate a painting created by another artist that we admired. Like art students of yore who copied the masters as part of their study, this exercise encouraged us to ask ourselves, "how did they do that?" and then explore and experiment. I chose a painting from Cathy Hegman called Red Flags from her series The Weight of Balance. Here you can see where I tried to recreate the composition and the mood, using my own color palette.

acrylic painting exercise based on work by Cathy Hegman
painting exercise based on Red Flag by Cathy Hegman
A note on intellectual property:
In the first exercise, the finished painting is such a drastic abstraction from the original photograph that I believe I can safely call it my own. In the second exercise, even though my painting doesn't have the same deftness and artistry of Cathy Hegman's original, it is still quite obviously a copy of her style, subject, and composition. This exercise is for learning only and I do not in any way attempt to portray it as my original work.
It's been such a relief and a joy to start making art regularly again. There's a sensuality to exploring the relationships between colors and a very satisfying sensory experience to scratching back through layers of paint to unearth  what was buried beneath. I'm so grateful that there is a wide variety of art workshops available to me in my area to help me rejuvenate my creative energy and remember how to take the time to give myself the gift of art practice.

If you are reading this post because you wonder how to get started making art again, I want you to close your eyes for just a minute and imagine giving yourself the gift of a truly delightful art-making experience. Just meditate on what that experience looks like for a moment.

Are you carving a linoleum block at the kitchen table? Are you sitting on your favorite park bench sketching the view? Are you in a class with fellow painters learning new techniques together? Are you in a pottery studio, hands muddy with clay?

Now that you have an image in your mind of what would make for a truly delicious art-making experience, go make it happen! Don't think about the outcome, or get stuck in whether the art will be "good enough." Just take that step towards having a memorable experience, where you feel some true satisfaction at the end of your day.

And last, but not least, stay tuned for more painting updates and a new post on linoleum block printing some time next week, just in time for my one year blogiversary!

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