Shortly after the last blog I wrote, my Opa passed away. He was such a pillar in our family, and so it was a great loss to lose him. It's hard to express in words the feelings this stirred up in me. Losing him meant losing not just a special family member, but also losing a connection to my heritage. It's that feeling that life will never be the same again. Who will tell us the stories of adventures growing up in Paraguay? What it felt like escaping persecution in Russia? How to grow sweet potatoes from a ring of vines? Who else will be as impressed with me when I try to play the mandolin?
As I was sorting through photos to put together the slide show for the funeral, I instantly fell in love with two photos of my family from the 1950's having a picnic in Niagara - a year after they all immigrated from Paraguay. It features my Opa, Oma, my mom, my uncle, a few of my great Uncles and Aunts, and my great Opa and Oma. It shows the classiness of that era - wearing sunday best out for a picnic. They brought out their good china, and their wooden chairs. What a beautiful time to live. What a challenging time to live also. I felt the appreciation for what they all did for us... the sacrifices and adventures they lived so that their (our) future generations would be able to live this 'privileged' life.
I found that the best way to remember my Opa and this special heritage was to devote my creative energy to capturing this moment in time. I felt such an instant passion for this art project... the passion I had been waiting for! I began by sketching out the 'characters' with watercolour:
Next I drew out in detail the image on a large wood panel - which I husband built for me. It's approximately 3x4 feet. He painted about four coats of primer on it first.
For this painting I wanted to experiment with a different method... which was perhaps 'risky' (trying something new on a beloved project). I used acrylic paint - which I haven't used since high school. I did a combination of watering it down, and mixing it with a glazing medium. When watered down acrylic paint acts much like watercolour paint. I love this look! As for the glazing, I did multiple thin layers of colour. With the exception of fixing areas, I didn't use white at all. For example - for the flesh tones, I did layers of blue, yellow, red, umber... in this way I approached the painting like I would a watercolour painting.
In the next photo it shows how I first established the tones with pure raw umber paint:
Because this was a whole new method of painting for me, I had to re-do many areas... sometimes as many as 3 or 4 times. Acrylic paint is so tricky! And especially when mixed with a polymer medium... it dries almost as soon as it touches the panel. And so if I wasn't happy with an area, I re-gesso'd it over and over again will I got it 'right'. I eventually embraced the 'rustic' feel of it, with all of its imperfections. I loved the challenge. The background took me 3 tries to get it right:
I ended up combining elements of the two original family photos I found... plus added in a personal detail that the family will appreciate. I'm happy with how it turned out. I'm excited to be working on the next painting in the similar style... another family portrait from the 50's. Stay tuned for updates on the next project!
For well over a year I spent my studio time experimenting with a vast array of art mediums/styles. I have played around with watercolour, paper cutting/sculpture, cardboard sculpture, paper mache, and embroidery. I have experimented with watercolour on wood, and watercolour on canvas. Now, after all that varied creative output, I find myself in a very strange place as an artist. I have never felt this before! I suppose it's a form of creative block. It has left me feeling rather frustrated, as I have a well of creative energy, thoughts and concepts, but feel I currently lack the ability or 'know-how' to get it out in a visual way.
Having discussed this with a couple of fellow artists, and having read some on-line material addressing this common situation that other artists find themselves in, I finally have a plan. First of all, I'm going to lay-low online for a while. I'm also going to spend more time in my studio. Even if its just for 30 minutes a day. I'm realizing that until now, I haven't worked hard at the 'process' of art. I want to spend much more time sketching out ideas, and researching methods. I need to be more mindful of the process, rather than being focused on the end-result. I plan on using a lot of paper, and going through many canvases as I work through this creative block. I recently discussed this with one of my art students. She said that when she faces this dilemma, she just keeps making "crappy art" until eventually something turns out right. This made me laugh! Its so true. I have a specific concept of what I want to create visually, but it may take lots of trying, and trying again, to get to where I want to go.
Well I'm off to spend my last hour of the day (before I have to pick up the kids at school) in my studio now with a cup of tea and some chocolate.
Last week I spent some time with the students in the Grade One class in the local public school. The art lesson was based on the art of the Russian 19th century abstract artist Wassily Kadinsky. From past experience with the grade one class, children of that age love experimenting with paint mixing. Some children at that age haven't had too much experience yet with mixing paint. The teacher had also been recently teaching the students about 'lines', and primary and secondary colours. So considering all of these things, I was lead to have the children 'copy' one of Kadinsky's familiar abstract paintings.
The children began by dividing their paper into 8 squares (which was a true feat for many of them!). Then they each had the primary colours to start with. As I saw the children progressing with their paintings, I added white, and then eventually black, to their palette. I didn't want to add white and black too soon for fear that their paintings would be dominated by those colours.
The instructions were for them to simply have fun mixing colours - but to do so 'strategically'. They weren't to just mix all 3 colours together right away to make a 'sludge' colour, but to consider how the different colours mix individually with each other. They were to paint the rings of the circles each separately.
I had fun last month building a cardboard house. My girls had fun building their own houses also. This made me realize the sometimes unintentional influence I have on my daughters. The art projects I work on often have this sort of impact on them.
March 2 is the birthday of Dr. Seuss; and so with that in mind, since the class will be celebrating his birthday for the month of March, I chose a Dr. Seuss themed art lesson for the Grade One's today. I also wanted to mix in some colour theory. With a review of the colour wheel, I introduced them to the idea of opposite colours. Then I had them draw out their own fish.
Once they had finished their fish and cut them out, they drew a line design of their choice on the paper. And then I had them choose two opposite colours of their choice; blue/orange, red/green, or yellow/purple. They painted their background with these two colours:
The last step was to glue on their fish drawing. They look great!
A couple times this week I enjoyed some quality drawing time in the woods. I've been spending the last year or more devoted to painting the trees in the woods, and I have strongly felt the need to take a breather from oil painting in my studio. Typically I work on a larger-scale, I wanted to step back and work on a smaller-scale. I'm fascinated with detail, and especially with the challenge of capturing that detail in art form. So I packed up a simple sketch book and my favourite 4B and 6B pencils. It seemed so suitable to be out in nature, as I attempted to draw nature. I also had the perfect soundtrack around me - the singing birds, the bullfrogs, the squirrels scampering around me. Well, that, and also I did sneak in time to listen to the new Coldplay album. Here are some of the drawings I completed.
I am very excited for this new purchase that just came in the mail. Dennis ordered a new trail camera. The old one wasn't working anymore (or rather was working too well, taking pictures every 4 seconds whether there was movement or not). So I'm thrilled to get it up and running this week, to see what creatures it can capture with lovely spring flowers budding all around the woodland floor.
Yesterday I volunteered in my daughter's Kindergarten class. I introduced them to the artist Monet. Beforehand I expected to lose at least half the class's interest in the art project I wanted them to do with me. I assumed that some of them would be bored, and be distracted etc. I'm so glad to say that I was very wrong! I began with explaining briefly who Monet is. And then step by step I walked them through a mixed media art project. We started with paper, then added chalk, crayon, paint applied with a towel, then finally, paint applied with the hands. They ended up with a child's take of Monet's classic water lilies under the bridge. Each of of them stayed interested in the project (25 4-6 yr olds!) and seemed happy with their final artwork. I loved seeing them having fun with the project. I went away with paint all over my hands, paint on my volunteers tag (oops! forgot to wash it off), and paint on my clothes. I will most definitely to do this again soon.
PS I got the idea from here - http://tr.pinterest.com/jacquecre8joy/inclusion-kindergarten-art/
This was guilded by my husband Dennis. He was inspired by the guilding he did at the Acqua Restaurant.
I live in Southern Ontario on a farm with my husband, Dennis, and our two daughters. Painting out of my studio on our farm allows me to stay close to my family and to be surrounded by the natural landscape that continues to influence my work.