Art Journals

Teetering on the Edge of Paradise

Acrylics on gesso textures with sequin collage on 10X11″ watercolor paper

Here am I teetering 

On the edge of paradise

Feet in the sand head in the jungle

Wondering what 

Creatures will be in the greeting party

Will they bring shells and slimy treats

Or stand apart wary

Of me the uncivilized

Of other language, flora and fauna

As I stare open mouthed

Offering for now a mute greeting

We played with gesso textures in Muse Group today. This piece was a part of my demo. I knew better than to resist the urge to go tropical, on the verge of a trip to Mexico. I leave tomorrow for one week. There’s way too much ocean and jungle cycling through this overheated mind of mine right now to think that anything else would emerge in a Muse inspired piece. 

The lesson, Decalcomanie, was one that I cherish for its serendipity of textures – . You slather some gesso onto your paper randomly or in a shape and place another piece of paper on top. Press the sheets together, by hand or with a roller. When you pull them apart you have some kind of texture, often coral-like. The thickness of the gesso determines how pronounced or subtle the texture is. Let it dry and you now have two beginnings to fun acrylic mixed media paintings. Add collage and dry media and you’ll have a hard time stopping. But you’ve got two textured beginnings, so do a second!

This piece started as a kind of sampler for different applications of acrylic texture, so you’ll see some stenciled texture, which I also demonstrated. When the gesso was dry I wet the whole piece and floated fluid acrylic color on, using the tipping of the paper to move and blend the paints and reveal the textures. Voila! a jungle appeared. And what is a jungle after all, but a tumble of textures.

I’ll see when I get there. Back to packing. 

For some other examples of this technique visit these other posts here and here.

 

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The Latest Drip Creatures

I started a new Playful Muse workshop series yesterday with an enthusiastic group of artists. As soon as they introduced themselves I realized that they would have no problem with the Drip Creature lesson I’d planned!

My demo consisted of the usual; painting a water shape and dropping in inks and gesso and then moving it all around with fingers, rollers, splatters, scrapers, etc. making sure to get some dripping off the paper to suggest possible legs. The only thought in my mind was to not make it look like yet another bird. No problem. Mr. Hiveskeeter appeared after a few minutes.

Do you sometimes get a glimpse of something shining with possibilities? I mean an idea, that is not clear to you yet, but holds enough promise to make you want to fly with it? Well Mr. Hiveskeeter did! I wonder what it was he really saw. You can always ask your critter to talk to you and they will answer. Or just speak for them!

painting with water shape, acrylic inks, gesso and collage on watercolor paper, finished with fineliner pen

Looks like you just got a bright idea, one to stick in that beehive of yours to keep for later. And you are so pleased with yourself, so utterly delighted that your bizarre attire is coming to life as well. Soon those buttons will pop and wings sprout and that stick of a body will become exotic and fly you off to not-yet-known locales where your Heaven Bank Notes are worth more than here. And the sages will be sharing the secrets of life, longevity, and more. . . 

I know, sounds a bit like a fortune cookie, but that’s what happens when you find a pack of Chinese blessing money in your collage file!

One of my favorite poet philosophers, John O’Donahue wrote that “The imagination is drawn to what is awkward, paradoxical, and what’s contradictory. For the imagination contradiction is interesting. The imagination can dwell with contradiction and deepen it because it has a loyalty to the deep unity where everything comes together.” So I always suggest to students that they let themselves search out and find that which is a bit strange, in collage or word and see what they can do to find a place for it in the art. Sometimes the stranger it is, the better it works.

Each creature yesterday was different and each spoke to us in the writing with unique messages, blessings, and perspectives that the group could enjoy.

This was my warm up drip before the class. Yet another bird, I thought at first, til I saw the dog face emerge! Nothing profound here, just a character introducing herself as Birdog.

There’s More to Sight Than Eyes (again)

I was just sitting down to figure out what I would teach for the first lesson of The Playful Muse workshop starting this week. I always like to start a mixed media series with fun paint application techniques to loosen us all up. Drip creatures is one of my favorite lessons because it’s silly and profound at the same time! So I looked up past blog posts on the Drip Creature theme and found this one from seven years ago. Lo and behold, it revealed my uneasiness about recent murky vision. Turns out that once again this is exactly my concern today! So here I am reposting it and letting it both speak to my fears and give me a much needed prayer of hope.

 

(from the 2016 post) I thought I was just being playful with this one, picking up an old class demo of a kind of ink drip creature. And then, no kidding, it started to talk to me about something I needed to hear!

I can see you sitting there, thinking about your eyes, one clear and one struggling to see through spots and threads and the murky patch.

Look me in the eye and repeat after me: I can see just fine. This cage of one eye is translucent and does not a prison make. I have three eyes to take the place of the one

and the world keeps opening.

Drip creatures tend to be a combination of many species and so they exist outside the realm of waking mind where we have convinced ourselves that things are a certain way that we can explain.

Yes, my left eye has a retinal occlusion for which there is treatment. . . of sorts, and yes I must be reminded not to worry, but to notice all the ways my other senses and brain fill in the blanks, giving me for the most part decent sight. I won’t soon forget this colorful and bizarre image, like something right out of a dream, or perhaps a prayer. (end of 2016 post)

 

And now (2023!) dealing with cloudy vision again, I feel so comforted, remembering that I have three eyes, and the world keeps opening!

If you want to try your own (prophetic!) drip creatures, look at this post for some simple instructions and give it a try!

Wintertime birds and trees

fineliner pen and watercolor in hand.book w/c journal

Two days before Christmas the ground was frozen solid and icicles cascaded from bird feeders. The suet basket outside my studio window was swarmed by a band of tiny birds unlike the Juncos and Chicadees, Finches and Sparrows I’d been seeing. The winter light was low, and they were so fast and their heads so thoroughly embedded in the suet that I couldn’t see their heads or any species identifying details. They had enough shape though to venture a color sketch!

And God Bless my birding mentors, this group of savvy women I occasionally go birding with. On Monday this week I joined the monthly meet up and sure enough, my simple description was enough for them to venture an ID. Bushtits! These tiny birds crowd-cluster a feeder, just like the one above, with tails helter skelter. As we walked along the trail, sure enough the little guys made a frenetic, tittering appearance in a tree.

As a beginner birder I used to think birding was just about seeing and hearing a bird and knowing its name. But the behavior angle is even more interesting, especially with these Pacific Northwest gray skies, when any but the brightest colors against tree branches is hard to discern. 

And leaves that remain on trees masquerade as bird shapes! Location and type of movement can be the final identifier.

No, this picture was not taken at 5pm. It was 10am. Could you ID these birds? Too big for Bushtits. Robins probably.

 

We were at Pioneer Park which is 5 minutes from my house. At first the bird activity was minor, so I paid attention to the vegetation, which is so dramatically different from other seasons. And my mind was brought back to the crinkled masa paper painting I’d just finished. When you wet the paper and crinkle it, you get a complex filagree of spidery texture. And that turns into instant vegetation when paint is added.

acrylic paint on crinkled masa paper mounted on w/c paper

It becomes impossible to not see the branches and trunks and brambles and . . .birds! I turned a dark smudge here into the crow I’d imagined and otherwise let the imagination take over.

You can see more examples on my blog here and here I learned the technique from master artist Cheng-Khee Chee a good twenty years ago and have been exploring with it ever since, often in Muse Groups, but also on large abstract canvases. The Masa paper is inexpensive and available online and in large art supply stores if you want to give it a try.

Merry Christmas!

The Arctic Bomb Cyclone, oh my! I hope you’re escaping the worst of it, and on target with holiday plans? Yesterday my trip out to the icicle-bedecked bird feeder, where starving birds were grabbing the very last of the seeds, became a daring rescue mission. The driveway was a sheet of glass ice, and my footprints decorated the lawn, as I crunched my way across with the fresh seed.

I warmed up the studio and hunkered down to try out some crinkled masa paper painting. But I kept getting visions of homeless people trying to stay warm on the streets of downtown Olympia, of refugees fleeing humanitarian crises stalled at our border in freezing temps and without shelter, and of Ukrainians facing a winter of power outages and genocide from Russian invaders. My first painting got very dark and I found myself cutting out skeletons for collage! Luckily I also ran across a print-out of one of my favorite Rumi poems, The Guest House.

So I want to share the paintings and the poem that inspired them, turning the black funk that had settled on me into hope. 

acrylic on crinkled masa paper and collage mounted on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-Jelalludin Rumi

 

I was enjoying painting our snow covered Pacific Northwest forest scene, when a storm-tossed body of water appeared, and I thought of  these folks at our border. . .all the hazardous crossings; mountains, jungles, desserts and dangerous bodies of water.  Fear alone could not make it possible for them the survive the cruel journey. In interviews with refugees one hears that in the midst of all that sorrow there is hope, that “the crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house. . .may be clearing you out for some new delight”. 

I’ll be sharing more about crinkled masa paper soon. I’ve cycled back to it several times over the years and am aways delighted with the textures one achieves with such ease. 

At home here our Christmas plans have become more modest this year. Ben is staying in North Carolina and braving the sub- freezing temperatures. Thank goodness he didn’t try to get on an airplane! And Andrew is recovering from one of the not-Covid other viruses going around. So it’s just the two of us to stay warm and watch the birds mobbing the feeder. 

Sending Christmas blessings for you and your family and good wishes for the new year! Thank you for being here with me. It means a lot.

 

Asemic Writing with a Folded Pen

You should see my husband Bob’s studio! Every month he’s playing with new materials to add to his already prolific printmaking repertoire. With the frigid weather lately I avoid a trip outside and instead go through his studio to get to mine. With his tantalizing array of paints, inks, pen and tools, occasionally I find something to borrow.

Knowing that I love words Bob had turned me onto the word asemic.  Applied to writing it writing that is unreadable but makes the reader hover in a state between reading and looking and is therefore highly attractive to the reader’s eye.

We tried it out in a Muse Group lesson last month. Then in playing around with Bob’s new calligraphy tools I paired it with an abstract ink pour using a folded pen or ruling pen.

Chinese ink on gessoed paper with asemic writing using a folded pen

Ruling pen rules

Curves round and cups

Spills in brazen

Bold black

No words here

Just an up in your face

Look at me!

Can I rule like you?

Draw attention

To my humble

Piece of parchment

Gather up awe

Drink it in

If your Muse-mind is making up a story about this piece, I’d love to hear it! And you may have just come up with another idea for something to put in your Christmas stocking. These folded pens are inexpensive fun!

Join The Playful Muse in January/February!

If you are local to Olympia, Washington, I hope you can join me in the new year for another Playful Muse mixed media painting series! The banquet of new lessons this round will include acrylic textures, crinkled masa paper, creating patina, transparent glazing, and lots more to tickle your creative spirits. If you type any of those terms into the search window on the right you will find examples of the lessons from previous years, as well as student work. All levels of experience are welcome!

For more information and to register contact me here by email or phone.  

And if you’re not local, I hope you’ll join me here where I share the lessons on the blog!

World on the Move!

acrylic inks and paint, collaged textured paper on 10 X 11″ w/c paper

World on the move

Mass Migration

In peaceful flight or famine and plight

Through nourishing rainfall or missiles in skyfall

Emigration, Resettlement

Expulsion, Exodus, Ejection

Dispossession, Displacement, Dispersion

Evacuation, Banishment 

                    Extinction. . .

Watch out! This is what can happen when you cut up an old painting that’s going nowhere. It starts to find kinship with this moment in history and acquires a mind of its own. Or so it seems.

Process: I liked the textures and colors of the “old painting” and started cutting out some bird shapes and then one turned into a building and another a kind of avian-human that requested a colorful hat. 

The first underpainting was this one, and a storm developed. Not surprising, since we are in the dark stormy part of the year when you’re liable to freeze or blown, or get very wet if you go outside.

It was the scene I needed for the creatures I’d cut out. Some were simply pieces left on the table in the jumble of cuttings. They became a kind of graveyard or decomposing of organic matter, benevolent in itself, but slightly disturbing in context.

I have lived with these pieces for part of a week and am ready to put them to rest now. But you never know what might come next?!

Muses Do WORDPLAY

Last week was class three of a three-week series of The Playful Muse mixed media group. We’re adjourning for the holidays and I will be teaching a six week version of (always new) mixed media lessons in January and February. I wanted to share the students’ Wordplay pieces here since each one is not only totally original and unique, but a rich palimpsest of its own! (See yesterday’s post for more on that lesson)

by Muse Jan
by Muse John
by Muse Nancy
by Muse Helena
by Muse Lorna
by Muse Lorna

I hope you’ll try it too and would love to hear your experience!

For more on creating a palimpsest as an intention for mixed media pieces, visit this blog post for more.

WORDPLAY

demo for Muse Group last week

Over the years I have taught several different lessons on adding words to mixed media works. You can add words at the beginning, middle or end of a painting, starting with them, inserting them into various layers and ending with them, often after you’ve done a free write to discover embedded meaning. In these ways the art becomes a palimpsest, like the early manuscripts, which were covered over so that successive entries could be made. It contains the history of layers of creation as you see visible traces of earlier forms. Don’t we all love the mystery of embedded secrets and surprises? We want to stay a while, looking and puzzling it out.

For this lesson I suggested starting to get ideas by going through a magazine and finding text that intrigues and cutting it out. I quickly found the words that intrigued me in a bold title Object as. . . and later in the article cut out fit in and unpack. That was enough to get started picking a color scheme and applying paint wetly with brush and a linoleum stamp before drawing in the letters O-B-J-E-C-T in various random ways using brush, alphabet stencil, upper case, and lower case letters. 

While the group got started with their word play piece I dried the demo, which seemed more like a random doodle sampler. But it looked like it might be a fun challenge to make it into “something”!

fluid acrylics, gesso, black ink on 10 X 11″ watercolor paper.

Is this a riddle? Then I object! This chaos is too absurd for me. and so I must deduce that I do not fit in? Surely too round for the square, too tall for the medium, too clever for the mediocre, too mediocre for the brilliant, too soft for the hardy, and too hard for the sensitive. 

If the object is to fit in then I object!  And yet. . . 

Unpack this a bit more. . . .unpack it letter by letter, and give it some space. There may be a way to be an object without objections. A single breathing human specimen who survives the storms of life with no objections, like the Buddha himself, being subject and object in blissful union.

Ah but still . . . I object . . .as . . .(you figure it out!)

Is this just a bit of word-silliness? Perhaps. But then maybe this kind of play dislodges some part of brain sludge that makes room for, at least, the next attempt at original thought! One hopes.

Stay tuned. Tomorrow I’ll share the WordPlay of the other Muses this week.