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!
Through nourishing rainfall or missiles in skyfall
Expulsion, Exodus, Ejection
Dispossession, Displacement, Dispersion
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?!
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)
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.
Here we are in the studio with lesson two of the Playful Muse series: making marks on brown paper with sticks, bamboo pens and strange nibs, fingers, etc. My Muse Group friends in Sebastopol will recognize this lesson from my visit last March! We in the Olympia Muse Group chapter had fun with it too! Just getting started with it in this picture.
Everyone got a long sheet of brown craft paper to make random expressive marks on, the idea being that interesting things would happen spontaneously, and could be cut out and used as collage pieces in another work.
One suggestion was to try writing, preferably with unusual implements, in an invented style. This practice has been called asemic writing, defined as
a wordless open semantic form of writing. The word asemic means “having no specific semantic content”, or “without the smallest unit of meaning”. With the non-specificity of asemic writing there comes a vacuum of meaning, which is left for the reader to fill in and interpret. [Wikipedia]
In other words, Asemic writing is sort of a tease. In wanting to make sense of it, because it is, after all, writing or appears to be, we go out on a limb and come up with some sensation at least, that feels like meaning and we like it!
In preparation for the class I tried a number of mark making approaches with Chinese black ink, charcoal and gesso. I just love the combination of those three. Included is asemic writing. And the general effect is, well, very Wabi Sabi!
Here they are laid out together with some other possible collage pieces tucked in. This shows step two, which is to find some other collage pieces that may interact in some way with the exploratory beginnings on the brown paper. The linear thinking part of the brain goes into overload trying to make sense of all this confusion and blows a fuse.
Now you’re free to cut things out, move them around, and reassemble, still holding off trying to make logical sense of what the poetic pictorial mind, heedless of logic! is constructing.
She speaks with two voices in song
One a night creature on transparent wings
Sprinkling stardust and hooting
The other appearing as a saint
Or a goddess made of saplings and mist
Both writing their names in ancient
Tongues on the forest floor.
I always stick to the 10″X11″ size watercolor paper format for the finished pieces and put them in a loose book format. This archives them with the writing. At this point I have 48 books worth or 760 pieces I call Conversations with the Muse! and all of them archived on this blog. But this format is not for everyone and my students have adopted many different formats.
Here’s some more of the Olympia students’ mark making play. Wouldn’t you love to have at it?!!
If you’re up for it, I’ll take you through the machinations of a mind steeped in the mysteries of Muse-ing, which is no other than common ordinary imagination set free with almost unlimited art supplies at hand! I’m tuning up now to teach my first in-person Muse Group since the pandemic started, and at the mere though of it the wild horses of imagination are off and running at breakneck speed. Woooo boy!
Starting with no brushes here. They are way too left brain for a spontaneous start. The aim is to cause something unexpected to happen. Squirting ink from a dropper, dropping gesso in tiny blobs, smooshing with fingers, spritzing with water, scraping with a cerated tool and a palette knife. Letting it dry and then gazing and free associating. What forms do you see here? A sun god, an octopus, a barking dog or wolf? But don’t get too attached.
I could have stopped there, but wanted to have some more mixed media fun. In a magazine I found a vessel and wanted to fill it with something. The underpainting was not cooperating with this new plan, so I unearthed some acrylic “skins” (dried poured acrylics) and started cutting and finding shapes. I wanted a story to evolve, but this took some time, moving pieces around, discovering the lucky accidents of small pieces which could be put together into abstract bird shapes. Then I got stuck again and decided to try to write about this evolving story and see what it was about.
Finally I had my story but needed the separate parts to hang together and talk to each other visually. So back to the collage to find some screen material, one of my most favorite collage materials! The bottom needed anchoring with more black acrylic, but in a way that harmonized with the circular swirl of marks on the page. Some of the black screen needed painting with the white gesso to show up against the dark segments. I was in pure design mode.
And finally the voice said, you can stop now. And there you have it. You may have stopped much sooner, and that would have been “right” too! Here’s the final version of my writing, tweaked for external consumption. Although it’s not specifically mentioned here, you may find yourself making the connections with things going on in this time of proximity to election day. I certainly did.
A cart upset
And cargo released
These eggs of questionable parentage
Now rumbling into
Bewildering atmospheric haze
Their wild permutations defying
Sanity and Reason
Even the solitary high flyer could not make sense of it
The Muse Group is not something I could keep to myself. For sixteen years this mixed media practice I called Conversations With the Muse was a staple of my art life. Emphasis on group here. You can’t have one if you paint alone. The creative energy is far stronger with the muse energy of a group. And I just couldn’t wrap my mind around teaching in front of a computer and camera. So finally next month I’ll be offering The Playful Muse: Mixed Media Painting, a three week series before the holidays ramp up. It will be live, in-person for people in the Olympia area, but I will also be blogging about the lessons if you want to follow along! Here’s the flyer and information about how to register for those of you in the area.
I was invited by some new friends to do a demo at the meeting of the Jubilee Art Club last week. They had a beautiful set up with space for social distancing and an overhead mirror so that everyone could see. I knew they were a group of mostly experienced artists who would appreciate the focus on creative process and expressive painting, so I shared my experience with the Muse Groups.
I brought my inks and gesso and demo-ed that fun way to short circuit the left-brain thinking mind by squirting inks and gesso onto wet shapes and moving them around with a scraper, a roller and fingers. The results always lead to a group hallucination which is a hoot and makes people realize that art making can be fun and profound at the same time!
The best way to attract creative energy to a new art studio is to invite The Muses to come and play! Luckily my sketch buddies were game to join me and even engage in a Muse-full afternoon of meditation, mixed media art play, writing, and sharing the results! The studio is just big enough for four of us to comfortably work together. No lessons needed for this group of artists who dove in with no reluctance that I could see!
We started with fluid acrylics and inks on a wet surface, squirted, brushed, scraped and rollered on with some gesso for more texture.
Spring has its goblins hidden among the blossoms
Their eyes are on YOU
They float banshee-like on gentle breezes
Fertilizing soil and seeds
Buds with time release nutrients
Blooms with no choice but to burst
Scatter to the ground too soon
Pink and white petal tears stoking passions
Aches of restless hearts
Goblins know all about fleeting beauty and its price.
And here’s a look at the others’ art!
Spring has now got a toehold in my studio, simultaneous with the draw of the spring garden through the windows. A sweet battle to engage with!
The postscript on the week in California – the piece I painted that day with the Muse Group. And as I harvested these words during our 5-minute free write, I was surprised by the timer going off just as I wrote the words “thank you Muses!” Indeed!
Now the paints are unpacked in the studio; today was a birdwatching day; and the charms of the north country are beguiling me once again.
As soon as I got back home to Olympia over a week ago I was able to move into the art studio that I have been waiting for with great anticipation for the good part of a year. I’ll be sharing some pictures of that soon. But I am now finally getting around to sharing the last chapter of my California visit: an in-person reunion with my beloved Muse Group in Sebastopol.
Since I moved away nine months ago, these ladies, dear friends all, have continued to meet and share their passion for creative expression through mixed media art making. When I said I was coming to town for a visit, they rented a space at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts so we could do a Muse lesson like I used to teach before Covid. It was a rare treat for us all, vaxed and boosted and careful as we all are, we shared time and space and summoned the Muse! I shared poetry and we meditated. Then we stood up and put the whole body into expressive mark making on big sheets of paper with sticks and brushes and fingers while listening to music.
This group no longer needs instruction for these techniques! We moved seamlessly into more painting and collage and then finished with a free write, harvesting words from the images which had come through us.
The day was a great gift to all of us. For me it bestowed blessings on a return to the mixed media Muse work I’d practically abandoned for the past months when my studio was under plastic in the garage. Now I can’t wait to get back to it as I unpack all the inks and acrylics and textures and papers and collage items! And this group will of course continue their rich creative collaboration with each other!