One of my quasi-New Years resolutions for 2016 was to dedicate more time to myself and doing the things I love. Despite everything that life throws at me. One of the first things I did was sign up for a drawing class at a nearby community center. I have taken drawing classes during my childhood and teenage years, but this was a good way to dust off and refine some previously learned skills. The class lasted for about 6 weeks (one evening per week) and then I got caught up in the daily grind again.
However, not long after I decided to focus on beadwork, which I could do on my own at home, I received an email from the artist who taught the drawing class. She was inviting all of her students to her studio in Brooklyn to get a head start on the holiday gift shopping by checking out some of her watercolor paintings. I decided to go – out of pure curiosity about her studio and how she showcases her work as a professional artist. Trying not to be overbearing, I asked her a bunch of questions about shows and exhibits and she was gracious enough to share some information about applying to shows and galleries. That is something I still need to look into.
About two weeks later, I received an email from one of her students, inviting me to a talk about the her artwork and career. Of course, I signed up and went, even despite some time crunch issues at home. Initially, I expected the talk to be a bit of a how-to lecture on selling your artwork. Instead, it turned out to be a slide show of her photos and paintings, that smoothly took us through her story of becoming an artist. Whether you look at art or science, storytelling appears to be a commonly important theme to get supporters, fans and possibly customers. Her story seemed to flow particularly elegantly.
It turned out that she started out as a photographer, traveling the world, trying to discover herself and taking pictures along the way. Initially, she thought that she took pictures of anything that would catch her attention. When she looked back at them later, she discovered a pattern that seemed to repeat itself no matter where the pictures were taken. She mostly photographed naturally occurring or man-made patterns of repetition and mirroring. Recognizing these patterns made her realize that this tendency may have stemmed from the fact that she grew up with twin sisters that provided a constant source of mirroring and repetition.
When she started to paint, she kept this trend by painting from photos and incorporating patterns into her painting borders. One of her larger, life-size pictures shows a horse with a border of about 900 horse teeth. It took her about 9 months to paint it.
As she further explored this medium, she began to experiment with incorporating meaningful patterns into the pictures. For example, she showed a painting of her husband’s grandfather. The painting was an accurate reproduction of a photo, but the grandfather’s shirt was further decorated with a pattern consisting of beer bottle logos, as during the family interviews, she found out that he was a big fan of beer.
In the days of iPhone photos with super high-resolution, there isn’t much need left for accurate representation of painting subjects. It is no longer about how closely an artist will be able to portray their subject, but more about what makes a painting unique. That’s not to say that abstract art is the answer, but I thought that this artist found an interesting balance of blending the truth with her personal style.
What struck me even further was that she openly admitted that she paints from photographs that she projects onto her paper, thereby allowing for greater accuracy. Some artists may take this as heresy, but her position was that she does not need to prove to anyone that she can paint. I greatly respect the confidence that that mentality projects. I can also relate, in that I feel a particular type of satisfaction if I can accurately portray an existing cellular image in my artwork.
The other unique quality about her paintings was her use of white empty space. If you have ever painted with watercolor, you may know that unlike acrylics or oil paints, watercolor white paint does not exist. If you want something to be white, you just leave it and let the color of the paper take its place.
Watercolor is also very unforgiving, in that you cannot paint over a mistake with white paint (or another color for that matter). While in drawing classes (including the one she taught), one of the key lessons is focused on shading and drawing cast shadows, her paintings did not contain any cast shadows, giving them a particularly stark look. Typically, shading is necessary to make an object look three-dimensional. Yet, in these paintings the artist only shaded the objects themselves, leaving the background as a clean, white backdrop. Surprisingly, this made the paintings pop out even more. She also mentioned that she uses this technique to create an illusion of the painting being on the white wall itself, rather than on paper. With her life-size paintings of dogs, wolves and bears, it almost gave an uneasy feeling of the animal walking along the wall in the room. The use of white background and negative space also drew full attention to the subject at hand, commanding the viewer to focus on the intricate details of the painted animal’s fur for example.
As I was sitting there and listening, it occurred to me that we have some things in common. While I have received some training on picture composition, I am not a big fan of an over-cluttered image. I prefer the “lone wolf” approach. Using negative, but in my case, black space around my cells or flowers also makes them pop. So does the use of “negative space” on the frame margins. As I have written in a recent post], I had some half-finished flowers lying around in a box for years, waiting to be incorporated into a bouquet composition. But when I picked them up with my new, less cluttered mentality, I realized that they are great on their own, just as they are. They have enough color and detail to draw in the eye and don’t need to get lost in a crowd.
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