Stick in the Mud

We’ve all been there.  Painting away at a portrait, landscape, abstract, you name it and then it appears on your palette: mud.  You didn’t ask for it to show up but nonetheless there it is AND it’s on your brush.  Does this scenario sound familiar?

You mix colors A and B to attempt to make color C.  You try a few brushstrokes on your painting.
Not quite right.
You add color D to the mix and dab it on your canvas.
DEFINETELY not right.
You try to get back to your starting color so you add larger quantities of A and B back into the mix.  Cover previous brushstroke.
Eh.  Add color E to the now large mix in the center of your palette.  You blindly paint the color on the canvas.
Woah!
Quick!  Add white and some other colors!
Panic sets in and you realize the only color left on your palette is a greyed mauve that bears a resemblance to the vinyl seats in your dentist’s waiting room.

Breathe.  Mud is a simple way to describe an “out-of-place color”.  I was originally going to label mud as an “unintentional color” however many unintentional colors can successfully find their way onto a canvas.  An out-of-place color has no place on the canvas (at least not for what you’re currently working on).

mudWhat is the difference between mud and “mutes”?  

Technically speaking, mud is a “mute” gone rogue.  Mud (especially those large quantities of mud on the palette) comes from color guesswork.  Mutes are colors that have been reduced in intensity.  The most common example to achieve a mute is mixing 2 complementary colors (colors across each other on the color wheel) to achieve a neutral.  The resulting color is lower in intensity, perhaps a little more grey, and still in color harmony with the original color palette.  Working with muted colors can strengthen the power of a painting whereas mud only does the opposite.  Let me give you a fashionista example:
A girl is getting ready to go out for the evening so she opens her closet.  She pulls out her jeans and a bold colored top.  She likes how the top looks so she decides to put on a bright colored hat…and a bright yellow jacket…and cherry red heels…with hot pink lipstick…see where I’m going?  We’ve all seen this person walking down the street – you’re looking at the loud clothes instead of the girl.  That’s the same thing that can happen to your painting.  Mutes are the resting place for those bolder colors.
 Let me propose two questions:  How do we make mud?  Why do we feel the need to use it?  In my mind the second question is more important.  I’ll give you a second to ponder…

I have a couple solutions for you:

  1. Limit you color palette.  Look at what you’ve got squeezed out.  For beginners, if you have more than 5 colors on your palette it is very easy to get in the weeds.  By limiting your color palette to 5 colors or less it is easier to have color harmony.  I like doing this exercise whenever I start a painting:  I pick out the tubes I think I’ll use – maybe about 8 colors.  Then I start eliminating tubes until I get down to a strong commitment of 5.  When working with acrylic I always have white for tinting so I include that as 1 color.  This means I look long and hard at the 4 other tubes I’ve picked.  Without going down the rabbit hole of pigment properties let’s just say that I am a color nerd and I love reading my paint tubes.  I make sure that I don’t have any obvious pigment redundancies (for instance:  I wouldn’t grab pthalo blue AND pthalo green.  I would grab pthalo blue and a yellow that I could mix to create green.  I could then use that yellow with other colors whereas I would be more limited with the pthalo green).
  2. Learn how to mix with a palette knife (this suggestion is  for the acrylic and oil artist).  By mixing with a palette knife you will extend the life of your brushes.  If you make a color you don’t like then just wipe off your knife, no need to constantly clean your brush.  Learning how to properly use a palette knife is an excercise unto itself.  With a little practice the palette knife will save you mixing time as well as assist with paint consolidation.
  3. This suggestion might be the toughest for most…CONTROL.  If you mixed a color that is not going to work then DON’T USE IT!  I cannot stress this enough.  Resist the temptation, put down the brush, step away from the painting.

So what purpose does mud serve?  

colorWhether you like it or not, you are still mixing color and can learn from each of these muddy “mistakes”.  One idea is to keep a sketchbook of your muddy mixes.  You can also do this on a large piece of watercolor paper.  Take notes.  What colors were you using?  To take this practice a little further why not try organizing your sketchbook or watercolor paper into rainbow color categories: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. Where does your color fall?  Is it a purple-mauvie-brown or is it a pea soup green?

This practice will help you to intentionally see the color bias of your mud, how to purposefully recreate it in the future, and how to avoid getting yourself stuck in the mud.

Check out my calendar of events for upcoming classes if you’re interested in learning further in person!

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Inspiration From the Ashes

yellow texture

 Life is a bed of roses!

You know what?  The last time I checked, not all of us live and breathe in a Disney movie.  Sometimes things can look pretty bleak.  It is unfortunate how easy it is to slip into a vicious circle of hopelessness and despair.  We’ve all been there at one point or another and hey, we might slip again in the future.  Perhaps this question sounds familiar: “Why me?” The real question to ask is “What now?”

To give you a little insight on why I chose to write “Inspiration From the Ashes” I thought I’d share something personal.  The past couple months have been a little rocky to say the least.  We recently learned that our pet chicken, Hops, has intentional cancer and we have been in a very sad place.  After a week at the vet we brought her home wondering how many days left we would have with her.  The first night home was sleepless.  We woke up in mini-panics whenever she’d fluff her feathers and we’d stare intently at this poor little bird who would stare back as if to say, “What the heck is wrong with you two?!”  The next day I did what I usually do:  have breakfast with Angel (my umbrella cockatoo), return some e-mails, then check on Hops every 15 seconds to make sure she was doing ok.  It was a nice day so I threw a couple of blankets on the porch and brought Hops outside so she could get some sunshine.  I decided to flip on the electricity and melt some wax.  Hey, I might as well do some art if I’m keeping my chicken company…

3 encausticWhile Hops settled in I looked at my messy, waxy workspace and smelled that wonderful aroma of beeswax in the air.  I learned a pretty cool technique a couple years ago from my R&F Advanced Teaching Workshop instructor, Laura Moriarty.   It’s not my first go-to technique but I thought it would be fun to just practice something outside my wheelhouse.  This particular process is all about texture through repetition of brushstrokes.  With each stroke the wax will catch on the micro ridges that are created.  Eventually a very organic-looking texture pattern builds into a unique (yet somewhat delicate) work of art.  I began carving or incising patterns into the first layer of wax to “train” my brushstroke texture.  A spiral here, a square there, a long “S” shape curving down a panel.  I started experimenting with colors next, “Hops, which one should I use?  Pthalo blue?  OK!”  Beautiful blues transformed into purples, deep oranges into sunburst yellows.  Before I knew it I was hooked.

Time flew by and soon I had created a small collection of mini encaustic “succulents”.  The whole process was very meditative and I used this simple technique to take my mind off my sadness – and it worked!  I would show my small creations to Hops and she’d cluck saying, “Is this something I can eat?”  I came back to the wax the following day, and Hops was content to roost on her blanket next to me.  Soon Hops and I were both in a much better frame of mind.  She was more comfortable at home, eating, dozing, and doing the little things that chickens do.  I was more relaxed and happy to see her feeling better.

The day came when I had to go back to work and I was allowed to bring my chicken-in-a-basket along with me – thanks boss!  I set up a small area for her in the back of the store and my buddies at work got to meet my little friend.  My co-worker’s mom, Kathy, was down the street so she swung by to take some photos and see what the commotion was about.  I told her Hop’s story and how she was at work so I can give her medicine and keep an eye on her.  As it so happens, Kathy is a preschool teacher.  She was so inspired by Hop’s story that she turned it into a lesson for her students.  The lesson was on kindness to animals.  “When your tummy hurts your mom and dad take care of you and make you feel better right?  We need to do that for our animals too!”all hops

I don’t really know why I’m always  surprised whenever I see the magic chickens are capable of.  A lot of times I will hear, “But it’s a chicken!” My usual response is: “Well of course she’s a chicken!  Did you know that chickens purr?”  It all goes downhill from there, quite often with a barrage of iPhone photos.  Perhaps life would be less stressful if we kept our distance from things that make us sad.  You have to wonder if going down that road might make life a little smaller.   Without Hops there would be less art in the world and one fewer lesson on Kindness to Animals.  My animals are extraordinary and what we’re going through with Hops is painful.  It must be a conscious choice to acknowledge the pain but not dwell in it.  This is an hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute effort and maybe we’ll slip once in a while.  We’re not perfect beings – we’re human beings.  What would humanity be without Love?

hops 3

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If there’s a Will, there’s a Way

quick studio

You can paint anywhere no matter the space.  If there is a will, there is a way.

Recently my husband and I made a big move up north toward Sacramento and let me tell you that moving can be a bear.  During this time I’ve been working on a piece that I need to submit to the Triton Museum of Art and the deadline is fast approaching.  My studio is packed in haphazardly labeled boxes scattered around the house and I have no idea where I put my blowtorch.  After a preliminary unpack I was able to gather what I needed to complete this painting.  Let me tell you how much of a relief it was to be using a limited color palette!

Our new house has a delightful little cinderblock porch with an overhang that I was able to set up underneath.  I gathered a few tables, found my extension cords and set up an impromptu encaustic studio.  One thing I failed to mention about our new home is that it is close to a water nature preserve, two ponds and levy, so I quickly became familiar that the mosquito population quintuples around 4 pm (note to self: pick up Deet and Citronella candles at the store).

It is easy to want to just cannonball into a painting but you need to have a space set up where you can successfully paint–and by successfully I do not mean painting a beautiful painting.  What I mean is that you don’t have to go digging around for what you’re looking for to make the next brush stroke.  This can be a frustrating and time-consuming activity that is not at all creative.

I was impatient to begin working so I had my extension cords crossed everywhere, my fuses were blowing and I was beginning to feel the pressure of needing to complete this piece.  When my husband walked outside and saw how frustrated I was he said, “Why not just take a couple minutes and get yourself set up?” What a novel idea! If only I’d practice what I preach.  I did just that and rearranged my cords, drew power from another room, and cleared my head a little bit by refilling my water.  I also grabbed an additional table and organized my tools.  When I came back to my painting I was stepping into a much more “successful” creative space.  I set up a couple of my dining room chairs as an easel to raise the height of my painting and it worked out perfectly.  After these minor adjustments which only took a few minutes I was able to get much farther on my painting than if I had just kept fighting through my inconvenient slap-dash studio space.
encaustic at annies
How can I stress the importance of having an effective area to create?  If you work at your dining room table then clear it off!  Put the piles of mail somewhere else, clear away those dirty plates, and put down your painting tablecloth so you are inspired.  If you live in a studio apartment you can make a small corner of your room your workspace.  If you like working large then work it out!  Is there a spot outside where you can set up a large painting and drop off?  I’m sure you can find something if you want to paint badly enough.  I needed to complete another piece to submit to a show so I hauled my traveling encaustic studio to a friend’s house and set up outside next to her roaring air conditioner.  Not the most ideal working space but I finished the piece and that’s all that matters!

I teach classes at a variety of venues and every classroom is different.  I need to adapt to each space to make it a successful teaching and learning environment for my students and me.  When I do private lessons at someone’s home very frequently do we spend a few minutes organizing their studio space: if they are right-handed we move the majority of their supplies to the right side of their easel or worktable, we will select a limited amount of brushes to work with from the overflowing brush bin.  We will put away the miscellaneous paint colors that we will not be using and only have the color palette that we will be working from in front of us.  Simplify your space and only pull out the tools which the current project requires.  This will streamline your creativity and is as equally important as learning new techniques.

fb studioThis is the way I do it, it is not the only way.  If you have ever seen photos of Francis Bacon’s studio you might say to yourself, “How on earth did he ever get anything done?!”  Well he did!  He created a plethora of amazing, inspirational, and edgy work.  His version of a successful studio is on the opposite end of the spectrum.  On a side note Francis Bacon is one of my favorite artists of all time but I could never work in his studio.  The photo on the left was taken by Carlos Freire of Francis Bacon in his studio, 7 Reece Mews, London.  Everyone is different and everyone works in different environments.  This photo is a perfect preamble to my next point:  Having an effective studio space and having a “pretty” studio space are two different things however they are not mutually exclusive.  Let me help you prioritize: It is more important to have an effective studio space than one that looks good in Better Homes & Gardens.  Get yourself a working environment first, then you can break out the wicker baskets.  Your studio is ever changing.  You have permission to change it whenever you want to make it a more creative space for you.

I look forward to settling into our new home and fine-tuning my studio 2.0.  It’s a huge change and it gives me the opportunity to exponentially grow in my art career so I am thankful.  If I can move a 3 bedroom house, an art studio, 2 horses, a cockatoo and 2 house chickens then I have faith that I can find my blowtorch and finish this painting.  Piece of cake!

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“Life Gets in the Way”

A polite way of saying, “I don’t have time.”  Sure we all need to go to the store, vacuum the carpet, and handle life when something gets thrown in your face.  Doing what you love usually takes a backseat to “life”.  Let’s break this down…

When you think about it, what is life worth living for in the first place?  I would imagine that you would try to spend as much time as possible doing what you love.  Whether it’s being with family, growing a garden, building dollhouses, sewing cat outfits, whatever it is that gives you joy.  In my case, painting and creating art is what I love to do.  And I mean love, like from the bottom of my heart kind of love.  I just know it is why I was put on this planet.  My role on this rock hurtling through space is to create and in doing so inspire others.  Pretty simple huh?  Well if you look at it, it is.  We just complicate the crap out of our lives .  Life is about choices and this morning when I sat down to the computer thinking about how many weeks past since my last blog post I made a choice.  I commonly hear the phrase, “I don’t have time to paint.”  This usually gives way into a recitation of all the incredibly important life-threatening chores that has monopolized their time.  I’ve got to say, it’s kind of irritating to listen to.  Here, let me give you a few examples from a real-life situation:

A:  “What have you been working on lately?”
B:  *sigh* “I’ve been wanting to work on this big piece for a show that’s coming up but I haven’t had the time.  My landlord wants to move back into our house so we have to find a new place by April WITH our horses.  There’s nothing that’s affordable in this area so I’m just looking on Craigslist everyday.”
A:  “Oh man.  Tell me about this piece you’re wanting to start?”
B”:  “It’s going to be a wild self-portrait but I’ve been working a lot so I haven’t had anytime to paint or even develop the idea and it needs to be done next month.  I’m totally freaking out because I also need to buy a new car ’cause mine is dying so now I need a new car AND a place to live AND I need to finish this piece.  Oh, and I need to do my taxes.” *sigh*
A:  “When’s your next day off?”
B:  “Tomorrow but I can’t do anything because I have to clean the house ’cause it’s a mess THEN I have to go back to work the next day.”‘

Kind of draining isn’t it?  It’s hard to be in a conversation with Eeyore.  I’ll let you in on a little secret:  I’m person “B” and I am moving with my caravan of animals, looking for a new car, and figuring out this life-changing piece of art that’s due next month.  Come on, Jaya, pull up your big-girl panties and pick up a brush, who gives a crap if you haven’t vacuumed in a week?  This is life, it’s going to throw you blows in a whirlwind of chaos.  How do you deal with it?  Make a choice.  This is easier said than done…

Excuses!  Excuses!

One of the major blockages to doing what you love is bum bum BUM…chores!  If you look at it, a lot of those mini-crisis situations can be put into the chores category.  I’m not talking about driving someone to the hospital or dealing with an exploding septic tank – I’m talking about chores.  Have you ever read the book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie?”  It starts out with a child giving a mouse a cookie, then the mouse needs a glass of milk.  To drink the milk he’ll need a straw and to wipe his face he’ll need a napkin, etc etc…Should I paint or do the dishes?  If I do the dishes I’ll need to unload the dishwasher.  If I unload the dishwasher I’ll need to clean the kitchen counter.  Pretty soon you’re deriving a plan on how to re-paint the house.  Does this sound familiar?  I made a choice to write a consistent blog meant to inspire others to create and it’s not going to write itself.  Wallowing in whatever chaotic situation you’re in or getting pissed that you can’t find the Windex isn’t going to make it any easier.  This is only expended energy that could have been used to do something that is creatively productive.  The trap to watch out for is using chores (a lot of what people call “life”) as an excuse for why you’re not doing what you love.  This is a pretty scary something to look at under the microscope.  Why aren’t you doing what you love?

Choices

Vanilla or chocolate.  Sweater or jacket.  Cadmium red light or naphthol crimson.  Take out Susan or Karen.  Buy a house or rent.  This job or that job.   What if it’s wrong?  What if you can’t go back?  What will the neighbors think?  This can be frightening.  It’s so much easier to get wrapped up in that comfortable downy blanket of BS instead of taking the leap into the unknown.  Trust me, I’m pretty good at the BS.  Paint something on your day off or mow the lawn.  Even for something as simple as picking up a brush the same drama will show up.  You want to fluster someone?  Call them out.  “How’s that piece going?” See what they say.  I like to cut them off if they start to waffle, “GET ON IT!” Expect a deer-in-the-headlight expression.

I understand that there are these little paper things that come in the mail called “bills”, and I’m pretty sure you need a roof over your head, and clothes on your back, and food in your stomach.  Do what you need to do but remember why you’re on this planet.  I doubt it’s to sit in traffic thinking about how gas is on the rise and how you can lower the interest rate on your credit card.

Life is chaotic.  It’s not going to stop being chaotic.  How do you live with chaos.  What makes life worth living.  Do it.  Now if you’ll excuse me I have to check Craigslist…

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Art Receptions & The Red Dot

Art receptions are like watching Wild Kingdom.  Once you pick out the lions, the gazelles, the hyenas and the vultures, receptions become an entertaining social comedy.  There is an integral element in this group dynamic…so simple yet so infamous, like the Pink Panther.  It is the sought-after and elusive “Red Dot“.  When you’re walking through a gallery and you see that little circle of color next to a carefully printed name plate what do you do?  First off, you look at the price tag.  You do this discreetly of course, you pretend that you’re reading their artist statement or whatever but really, how much was this piece?  Who bought it?  I mean really, who has that kind of money to spend on art?  Do you look a little harder at this piece compared to a non-red-dotted piece?  Of course you do.  Why did they buy this one and not that one?

It is the ultimate artistic status symbol.

The red-dot most commonly makes it’s debut at gallery art receptions.  Art receptions are really quite hilarious and I suggest taking a step back and people watch the next time you go to one.  It does not matter if the reception is in a posh downtown San Francisco venue or at a local co-op gallery.  There are a medley of characters that show up to these things.  Aside from the general public I like to categorize them into these groups:  the artists, the critics, the significant others, the patrons, and my personal favorite:  the grazers.

There is a wide variety of artist personalities but I will focus on my favorite two types:  the “pay attention to me” and the “don’t pay attention to me (but still pay attention to me because I am just so mysteriously aloof)”.  You can usually pick these people out because they will either look like they are way too happy or they are just plain bored.  The “pay attention to me” artist will wear a put together outfit that will look hot in any art review photo.  I fall into this category because I love the spotlight and when I smile the spotlight reflects off my teeth and blinds whoever I’m talking to.  The aloof artist is also easily recognized.  Looking like they rolled out of bed an hour earlier, their casual attire states that they are too good to dress up for their own show.  The latter of these two personalities have a jaded bouquet of poor communication skills.  My favorite part about them is their vague descriptions of why he or she painted a particular piece and that if you can’t understand it then you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

The critic definitely looks like he doesn’t want to be there.  If you see someone standing in front of your piece with a notebook in their hand and a camera STOP the conversation with whoever it is you are talking to and get the gallery manager to introduce you.  It would be taboo if you just sauntered up and introduced yourself – you simply must have a formal introduction, that way you don’t look like an ass.  The critic could care less if you were inspired by the ephemeral artistic juxtaposition of complementary colors that embodies the ideology behind the loss of your pet lizard.  He/she has five more of these things to get to and they are in and out like a fart in the wind.

There will always be significant others hanging out.  Usually they find each other and make a little support group.  This is a pretty funny troop to come across because the friends and family of the artists tell it like it is.  “Oh God, HOW many times have you hung that piece?  Don’t you have anything new?”  The significant other is lucky if they find a bench or chair to sit on ’cause they’re in it for the long haul.  Usually playing with their phone, they can be found in a quiet spot carrying various jackets, purses and handbags.  They are an important support system for the artist.  They will politely finish conversations with complete strangers because the artist had to wander off somewhere.  They are the entourage, they refill the wine, they are the designated driver.

Patrons are more than just people with money.  The key to being a patron is that you actually spend your money.  This person may come to the reception for the art, they might show up for the attention.  After a minute of conversation it is easy to tell which is which.  People will easily mistake themselves for patrons just because they’re dressed nicely and they bought a piece of original art once in 1995.  No, these are called “grazers” (more on them later).  There is a common stereotype that patrons look like bejeweled, uptown folks with feathered hair wearing sunglasses indoors.  This might be the case for some but patrons can be sneaky and look just like ordinary people.  They might talk to the artist, they might not give a rat’s ass why the artist painted what they did.  If they’re interested in a piece they’ll be casual and bum bum BUM…buy it!  And a red dot goes up on the wall.  The red dot adds an interesting energy to an art show.  Watch when this happens – what do people do?  People might stand in front of the piece a few seconds longer.  Like a drop of blood in the shark tank, there will be a buzz.

Grazers love to get in on this action because these people have an opinion on whatever the heck it is they are looking at.  Grazers are fake patrons who talk about money and art and make a scene but never pull out their wallets.  Grazers fall into two types:  the alcoholic and the rich alcoholic.  I call them “grazers” because they come to art shows to drink bad wine and eat free ors ‘derves.  Usually the grazers will mill around the open bar and make conversation with the poor soul who is pouring. “Hmm…this is a Carte Blanche Chateau 45′?  It tastes more like a 46’ if you ask me…”  I will warn you – do not get trapped in a conversation with this personality.  If I am at a reception and I get pulled into this black hole I will use my significant other as a sacrificial lamb if he is near by.   “Have you met my husband…?”  Walk away.  Often times they will have a vocabulary like a walking thesaurus.  The best case scenario is that two walking thesauruses find each other and latch onto one another.   Artist grazers are by far the best to eavesdrop.  I would like to conclude this post with an example of what you might hear:

A:  “Have you seen the latest piece from blah blah blah?  I cannot understand the ephemeral use of the opposing color palette in this particular composition.” (A stuffs Ritz cracker with cheese in mouth)
B:  “Ephemerally speaking, I find a greater offense to be the unbalanced gridlock of negative space.  I mean, my eye is drawn way of course.  Red please.” (B hands glass to bartender)
A:  (chomp chomp chomp)  “But you can’t ignore the nonconformist triadic use of Alizarin Crimson.  I would have composed this with more of an ephemera of Permanent Alizarin Crimson.  I’ll have the white.”  (A hands glass to bartender)
B:  “This is just so temporal.  I mean, the transient nature of the golden means throws this completely off balance, from an ephemeral point of view of course.  Do you have any blush?”  (bartender shakes their head “no”)
A:  “Of course from an ephemeral point of view, duh.  Can you just pour a little red and white together in one cup?”
The gallery manager walks by and puts a red dot next to the name plate.  He/she politely smiles and walks back into the din of people.
B:  “This wine is really good, it tastes more like a Carte Blanche Chateau 46′ though.”
A:  “Totally.”

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Abstract Choices

Cactus Flower by Frank Krause / Final Abstract Study by Jaya King 24″ x 36″

So you’re inspired by a realistic image be it a portrait, landscape, flower, bowl of fruit, your grandmothers shitzu, whatever.  How do you go about abstracting something realistic?  Last month I was inspired by a photograph that a friend of mine took of a cactus flower.  I knew immediately that I wanted to “abstract” this image.  After my “Wax With Whimsy” workshop at Wax Works West earlier this month I was inspired to explore an abstract workshop idea.  It’s still in formulation but I thought that using my friend’s photo reference would be a perfect example of this process.  After the hustle and bustle of the holidays I found a window of time to do my walk-through so I plugged in my hot plates and turned on my space heater.

In my mind there are 2 essential components to a successful abstract and I think of these before even picking up the brush…

1materials.  Color:  LIMIT YOURSELF!  I am wholeheartedly a fan of the limited color palette.  Before buying every color under the sun it is imperative to learn how to work with a simple palette of colors.  This will teach you color mixing and harmony, two key ingredients to strengthening your artistic sensibility.  I ask myself, “Can I simplify my color choice further?  What can I do without?”  I leave the rest of the colors in the drawer.

2.  Composition: Vertical, horizontal or square?  You do not need to match the composition of your reference photo.  In fact, it is an interesting exercise if you play with cropping.  How would you turn a horizontal into a vertical or visa versa?  What I look at even before I begin painting is “where is my negative space?”  Negative space is where the eye rests.  I consider negative space to be just as important as the subject matter itself.  Where is your focal point going to be?

Put it together:  In the case of this demonstration I selected a mix of malachite green, quinacridone magenta, titanium white, pthalo blue, indian yellow, cadmium yellow light, mars yellow light and Mile’s Conrad’s sunset orange.  I decided to keep the horizontal format and have my cactus flower “burst” towards the left of the painting.  This way I can demonstrate an apples-to-apples abstract so you can see creative process side-by-side with the reference photo.

abstract process(1)  I tone my background with transparent colors that I’ve diluted with wax medium.  The piece begins as a sad homage to 80’s spatter paint, oh 90210 where have you gone?  It’s pretty messy in this first stage:  drips and disjointed brushstrokes layering together in a vague semblance of my reference photo.  I continue layering in this fashion, periodically sealing in color with an isolation coat of wax medium, until I see a solid composition form around my focal point.  The colors are fun to move around with the torch but I keep in mind that most of these initial layers are going to be lost.

(2)  When I want to reign in those crazy disjointed colors I begin block in my negative space and reassert my focal point.  In this second photo you can see how I’m using the purples and greens to fill in the gaps.  I am using more opaque colors to add body.  It is also important to consider your brushstrokes.  Notice how my strokes have direction to create movement?  An out of place brush stroke can awkwardly draw the eye off course.  Would a blog post on brushstrokes just be way too technical?  Perhaps not as technical on my future post of how Green Gold differs from brand to brand…ahhh, the color nerd in me.

(3)  Compared to abstract painting I usually fall into the “realist” category.  When you look at my paintings you can see – that is a person, that is a cow, that is a house.  For me, abstracts are a way of flipping a real object inside out.  It is an exercise out of my comfort zone.  In this step I was able to catch myself veering off into realist territory.  I started to get a little more “literal” with my cactus flower and buds at this point so I remind myself that I’m painting an abstract.   I use my torch to release some control.  The flowers melt into themselves and become more of a color suggestion of flowers.  Phew!

(4)  I still feel a lot of busy-ness happening so I tone down my malachite green and make a commitment to my negative space.  You’ll notice that a lot of my initial layers have been covered.  I cannot express enough that art, especially abstract art, is a process.  You’ll create something, you’ll sacrifice it.  In this case I sacrificed some background color.  Remember, it’s all for the greater good!

incision(5)  One of the joys of the encaustic process is carving, or “incising, into your painting.  This reveals hidden layers and creates effects that you can’t get if you’re just applying paint.  There is a delightful sculptural appearance that is easy to get lost in.  I could paint a layer then scrape it away until the cows come home.  This is a close up image of the first incisions.  They create an even stronger sense of movement and there is an interesting contrast between the sharp lines and bold background strokes.  I finish this step by painting color inside the incisions and scrape away the excess.  Now my lines are a multicolored textural element.

Encaustic is a process that can move quickly because the wax cools so fast.  You can immediately layer upon layer because you are not waiting for paint to dry.  Encaustic and abstracts go hand-in-hand which is probably why you see so many of them.  To stand out in the crowd it is important to have your own artistic voice.  To strengthen your abstracts I suggest practicing realistic techniques.  To strengthen your realistic painting I suggest practicing abstracts.  Go figure!  When you sit down to a blank canvas and you plan on painting an abstract, the best advice that I can offer is to release whatever preconceived image you have floating around in your head.  It’s ok to have a plan, be more ok with letting go of it.

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Once Upon a Time…

The Chicken That Saved the DayAs 2014 drew to a close I sat in the break room at work doing what I usually do on my afternoon break:  check my e-mail.  I like to think that there is some philanthropic duke somewhere out there just waiting to send me a check for a million dollars “By golly, she’s the one!”  So while I hold my breath waiting for that to happen I enter as many competitions that I can afford to in the meantime.  One fine day in late December I received an e-mail letting me know that my painting “The Chicken That Saved The Day” was accepted into Incite 3: The Art of Storytelling and I couldn’t help but let out one of my patented high-pitched squeals.  I ran around the corner to my boss’s desk and began jumping up and down waving my arms in the air.  This was a signal to him to stop whatever he was doing and pay attention to me.  Reluctantly he put down his keyboard and leaned back in his chair, “Oh God.  What now?”  After I jump-yelled-air-punched at him he was able to make out “Chicken…Book…Competition” and gave me a high-five.  Now let me describe why this competition was different from any other I had entered…

chicks_n_tomatoesOnce upon a time there was a chicken named Chickey Penny and she lived with 15 other chickens in the backyard of a little house in San Jose.  She was an “aracauna” and had brown feathers with willow-green legs.  She had ear “tufts” and a beard.  She was also the smallest in the flock and the other girls would peck at her.  All of Chickey Penny’s feathers on her back and tail were plucked clean except for one which stuck straight up like a little flag.  One day a girl and a boy moved into the little house and met the flock.  Chickey Penny jumped right up on the fence to say “hello” and it was love at first sight.  Every day when the girl got home Chickey Penz would run up to the gate and try to squeeze through the bars to welcome her home.  She also knew that there was a brown paper bag inside the house that had the most delightful of snacks so soon Chickers just waltzed into the house to help herself.  She quickly learned that the house was a much nicer place to live than in the coop with the other chickens.  Instead of being pecked she was petted and got to sit on people’s laps.  “I much prefer this flock, this will do quite nicely!”

Eventually the boy and girl moved to San Martin with chickens in tow.  Chickey Penny did not ride with the other chickens, she rode to her new home on the girl’s lap while watching the California hills roll by.  When the sun would set and bedtime drew near she would walk down the hallway announcing to everyone that it was time to go to sleep “BAAAACK BAK BAK BAK!”  She would roost on a towel behind the pillows andme and chicks wait for the boy and girl to come to bed.  As the girl would fall asleep she would stroke Chickey Penny’s feathers and she would stretch her neck across the pillow and purr.  Chicks loved the country life and was especially helpful re-dispursing leaf piles throughout the yard.  Seasons changed and years passed.  Christmases came and went and she even put up with wearing painstakingly made ridiculous holiday outfits.  Chickers lived to be 16 years old and was the best friend the boy and girl could have.

One day the girl decided to paint a portrait of her feathered best friend.  She wanted this painting to be special, something that really conveyed Chick’s spirit and especially what she meant to her and the boy.  She knew even before picking up a brush that this would be her favorite painting.  Finally after weeks and weeks, she stepped back from the easel.  “She’s done!” The girl knew that she wanted to share this painting with the world.  She wanted everybody to know about Chickey Penny so she started entering the painting into book competitions.  Years passed and every once in a while Chicks would be in a local art show.  She was happy that people were able to get up close and personal with the painting but it wasn’t enough.  She kept submitting only to receive, “Dear participant, thank you for your entry but we regret to inform you that…”  Until one day in late December with the New Year peeking around the corner…

tom_n_chicks…”The Chicken That Saved The Day” was accepted into Incite 3: The Art of Storytelling and will be roosting on the world’s bookshelves later this year!

Congratulations Chickey Penny!

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Viola

Every once in a while a commission comes my way and I’ll get really jazzed up about the subject matter.  A gal was flipping through matted prints of my acrylic animals during my last show.  After a while she showed me a photo of her pup, Viola.  I’ve always wanted to paint a French bulldog – I mean, how can you not love that face?  We exchanged information and I was crossing my fingers that she’d commission a painting.  I was excited to get a message from her later that day saying “Start!”

Getting readyI am notorious to take forever and a day to complete commissions so it was quite unusual for me to begin gathering materials as soon as I got her message.  From the photo she sent I selected my colors and prepared my canvas.  The only question I asked her was “What is Viola’s favorite color?”  Our animals have favorite  snacks, sleeping spots, tv shows, windowsills to sit on and music to sing along to.  Of course they have favorite colors!  Viola’s favorite colors were soft pink, purple and a touch of peacock blue.

Materials:  12″ x 12″ deep canvas, decorative collage paper, red colored pencil, matte medium
acrylic brushes: very small round, 1/2″ wide bright, 1″ wide bright
acrylic paint:  dioxazine purple, Pthalo blue, titanium white, yellow ochre, cadmium red light.
I always get my materials from University Art Center in San Jose – shop local homegrown businesses and keep our art supply stores around for the long haul!

STEP 1:  I covered my 12″ x 12″ deep canvas with a variety of collage paper in the pink family and glued them in place using matte medium.  Matte medium is a wonderful glue and sealant in addition to being a superb painting medium.  I then stained the collage paper with a glaze of dioxazine purple and Pthalo blue.  I also made sure to cover the sides of the canvas at this stage for continuity.  When everything was dry to the touch (which only takes a few minutes) I sketched Viola with my red colored pencil.

STEP 2:  Dioxazine purple and Pthalo blue make a lovely violet.  Using this combination I blocked in the shadows and darks in varying degrees of saturation.  Viola’s eyes being the darkest point in the painting begin to establish them as a focal point.  I use the matte medium to increase transparency where needed.

STEP 3:  Now I add the highlights by mixing yellow ochre and titanium white.  During these beginning stages I am using my 1/2″ wide brush to keep the brush strokes loose and bold.  It’s so much fun to get the paint on the canvas that sometimes I start to get lost in the details.  By using a bigger brush I can keep myself on track.  I am a sucker for complementary colors – I just love how the yellow and purple play off each other.

STEP 4:  One of the many things I preach in my classes is “Change your water!”  I use a big water bucket so I need to go to the sink less-often.  It’s funny though, changing your water is a refreshing way to clear your mind for a few moments away from your painting.  I’ll usually change my water before I begin the next phase of my project.  In this case, before I flesh out the muscles and the detailing the rest of the fur.  P.S.  STILL using the 1/2″ wide brush…

The final touches…Here is where I use a hint of cadmium red light.  This is a powerful, warm red and I use it sparingly in her ears, nose, around the eyes and in her toenails.  Now I use my smallest round brush to mix a variety of muted tones to add detail.  I am such a fan of using “limited palettes” as my color schemes.  You can’t help but have color harmony if you limit yourself to a few select colors.  I can easily jump between color combinations and tweak by increasing one color or another.  Here are some examples:
YELLOW + PURPLE + BLUE
WHITE + RED + YELLOW
BLUE + PURPLE + WHITE + YELLOW
RED + YELLOW + PURPLE + BLUE
Etcetera!  Etcetera!

In my mind, the eyes are the most exciting element in any portrait, animal or human.  They are my dessert and I like to save them for last.  I’ll know the painting is complete when the eyes are perfect.  The highlight is vital – placement, intensity and color all have to be thought out.  If the highlight is in the exact center of the pupil the painting can look like a bad family photo before red-eye was autocorrected.  If there is no highlight then the subject tends to look a little zombie-ish.  I take my highlights very seriously.  With Viola’s eyes finished I add a flourish of a bow for personality and composition.

“Viola”

When I unwrapped her for my client I could see a wave of emotions on her face.  She held my hand and said, “It’s her!”  I’m so glad that I was able to paint this pretty little girl and capture her personality.  Thanks, Viola, for being as adorable as you are!

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Selling Yourself

Triton gift fairWhen you are in the business of producing art eventually the day will come when you make the decision to sell it.  The watershed moment that opens up the alluring door to possibly making a buck along with the floodgates of white-knuckle hard work.  For many years I have participated in various fairs, pop-up galleries, open studios as well as fine art gallery shows.  Even though each venue is different there is always a common train of thought, at least in my mind, and it can be extremely frustrating trying to unwind this mystery:  “Will this sell?” The mentality behind showing my art is that I’m going to work and my job is to sell my art.  I represent my art and in turn my art represents me; so in a sense I go to work to sell myself.  I get excited when I go to work because I get to talk about my art and inspirations.  Of course the goal is that my infectious enthusiasm rubs off and I make some sales.  No matter how it boils down, if your art has a price tag- you are in retail.  It just so happens that your heart and soul is behind what you are selling and the bottom line falls on you.  The artistic creations that lay before John-Q-Public embody not only your blood, sweat and tears but also your time.  This past weekend I had a table at the Triton Museum of Art’s holiday gift fair and I thought that my behind-the-scenes twist would be an interesting insight into the world of what I call “Selling Yourself”.

Over the past few weeks I had put in long hours of creating small little treasures that one might want to hang up on their wall.  My studio became the usual working wreck as I tinkered away at my encaustic assembly line.  Not to say that I don’t enjoy sitting down at the old drawing board but there was a feeling of being one of Santa’s little elves busily pounding away with their hammer while Christmas grows steadily nearer. When the gift fair morning arrived I loaded my Honda Civic with folding tables, trunks, matted prints, a bin of miniature paintings, bits, bobbles and anything that would possibly draw people to my booth.  I printed up a delightfully formatted and numbered inventory price sheet that described each piece by name, size, and cost.  I was SO organized!  I checked my list twice because once I’m on the road there’s no turning back.  However I also have this irritating tradition with every show that I do – I forget something or another at home.  As I got underway I wondered what it would be?

If you’ve ever been to a show or festival with multiple vendors you might notice that where something would draw you into one booth you might just as easily pass up someone else’s.  What is it?  What makes a passerby stop?  What is it that makes one pull out their wallet?  Well as usual I have a few thoughts on the matter.  It all begins with the set up.  Setting up is a science.  I can easily spend 1 hour arranging tables and drapery.  They’ve got to be right, there has to be a flow, they’ve got to be dynamic (mind you, I haven’t even gotten to the art yet – I’m just talking about tables…)  It’s pretty hilarious really when the vendors spill into the fair with totes in hand and dollies a-rollin’, you just have to laugh at the ensuing circus of where and how to set up.  After doing this for a few years I’ve let my hair down a bit and I like to people watch.  Art club A:  “You’re over here, no I’M over here, didn’t you bring the hangers?  No, I don’t have a hammer!” Glass-blowing association B: “I thought YOU brought the price tags! Where are the tablecloths?” *crash*tinkle*shatter* Craft artist C: “Does anybody have a glue gun?!”  Ahhh…the familiar hustle and bustle!

Triton-gift-fair-4After I’ve arranged my space to perfection I began to set up my artwork which doesn’t take nearly as long.  This year I introduced my mini abstract encaustic pieces alongside the usual matted prints of my whimsical animals.  I made sure that each of my paintings had a small price sticker so I grabbed my price sheet out of my purse…the price sheet out of my purse…where the heck IS my price sheet?  Fabulous – I remember my delightfully formatted price sheet resting neatly in my printer and there it lay.  I can only describe the panic of leaving the essential price sheet at home (especially when one has 20 new small paintings of varying sizes) is similar to locking your keys in the car.  After retyping my inventory price sheet on my iPad the cold sweat subsides and I finish tagging my pieces.  I have a few minutes before the doors open so I visit with my neighbors.  There are a lot of familiar faces throughout the museum so I distribute hugs and see what everyone else has to sell.  At shows like this everybody checks out everybody else’s stuff.  With vendors, it’s all about the displays “That’s a cool table!  Where’d you get those lights?  I like that trunk!  Have you done this show before?  Is that burlap?”  We get ideas then steal them for next year.  Soon the first few guests arrive and begin meandering through the tables, stopping here and there to pick up a piece of jewelry or handcrafted pottery.  The show begins.

Cactus Flower by Frank Krause

As more people fill the museum it gets interesting and the people watching gets better.  There’s a subtle anxiousness that you can sense.  For me it lasts until I write up my first receipt and hand it to my customer – my first sale!  This is called “breaking the ice”.  I look over to my neighbor, Frank, and he gives me a silent fist pump.  I began to find my groove and started to feel like I was back in my own skin.  A lot of my friends visit me at my shows so my excitement grew as the day goes on.  Whenever there is a lull in the crowd I’d chat with my neighbors.  Frank Krause on my left has also shown in the fair before and makes all-occasion cards from his photography.  Every year we’d chat it up about our animals and enjoy each other’s company.  I liked to help him organize his meticulous display of cards and I found a lovely shot of a simple cactus flower.  I don’t know about everybody else but when inspiration hits me it’s like the floodgates open.  I couldn’t put the photo down, I was entranced by the colors and the wheels started to turn.  I got extremely excited about the photo and started to talk very quickly at Frank about how I must use it as reference.  I went through the rolodex of colors in my head and at that point all he could do was laugh at me.  Needless to say, the photo is now residing in my studio next to a carefully thought out collection of encaustic colors.

Triton-gift-fair-pottery
Miki’s ceramic pottery – 2Frogs Ceramic Arts

One medium that I have never really gotten my hands into is ceramics.  The neighbor to my right, Miki of 2Frogs Ceramic Arts,  had a beautiful array of organic looking teapots, serving ware and mini birdhouses.  It was her first time to the gift fair and we also enjoyed visiting each other’s tables.  I was especially drawn in by the subtle textured she impressed upon her creations.  She uses antique embroidery to create patterns and I just couldn’t get enough of this.  Her attention to detail made me want to pick up each of her pieces and turn it over to see what charming design was hiding underneath a cup or vase.  Throughout the fair we’d joke about how many times you go back to “tweak” your display:  you’ve got to adjust your table angle, move around a couple paintings, re-fan the business cards, then move everything back again to it’s original spot a couple hours later.  It’s the silly little things that keep you busy thinking “Maybe if I switch it up a bit I’ll sell something”.  The matted prints must be moved from the left side of the table to the right and placed at a 35 degree angle facing towards the door then arranged alphabetically according to title.  The small encaustic abstract should be jauntily placed near the forefront of the display.  Perhaps I don’t have enough hand-made signs?  Uh oh…here comes a customer – look casual!  Like I said before, hilarious.

I can’t figure out the rhyme or reason as to why what sells.  If sales are low I’ll hear the excuse “It’s the economy” and it really irks me.  You know, it’s been “the economy” for how many years now?  If someone wants to buy a piece they’ll buy it and if they don’t then they won’t.  It’s one thing to create a body of work with the intention of selling but I guarantee you that it will eat you alive if you start dissecting your art thinking about what will make it sell.  Eventually you lose more and more of the raw creative process and that will show in your work.  I know that at times I’ll get myself caught up in a vicious circle thinking that very question.  Whenever I prepare for a show I do take some considerations into account.  For this particular holiday gift fair I know that I am going to display artwork that is in a specific size and price range.  I think that people might be shopping for gifts so I keep the size smaller and the price lower.  I want my art to be easy to buy.  When I’m creating the work I consider how much time I put into each piece because time is money.  It’s not worth it if I pour hours into a piece and then I put on a price tag of $30.  This seriously undercuts the value of my time and I should either re-assess the creative process or save that piece for a different show.   Selling yourself is a business and balancing act.  It’s something that I am faced with everyday.  Past weekends like this remind me of how much I enjoy sharing my love of art with others.  And yes, it always feels a little sweeter when the art ends up on someone else’s walls.

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Thank Goodness For My Studio!

“Things I am thankful for…”  aaahh yes…the stereotypical “Thanksgiving” homework assignment you get every year until you reach high-school.  To be honest, I kept putting off this blog post because I felt like I was back in 5th grade trying to figure out what to write that would be different from everybody else’s paper.  Oh Jaya, still striving for that “A” are we?  Maybe it’s just me but I find that when the holidays come around people get a little bit wack-a-doo.  Perhaps my jaded attitude comes from working retail for 15 years and what I get to look forward to is counting how many times the radio plays “Last Christmas” by Wham.  FYI:  It begins playing the day after Thanksgiving until the morning after Christmas.  Ergo, the holidays are pretty low-key for me.  I get excited when Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s come around because it’s an extra day off to paint.  As this week passed I thought about today’s blog post and how I could really make it stand out.  I do some of my best brainstorming during my commute to work and I kept coming back to one thing:  I need more time to paint.  I love to paint.  I love painting in my studio.  I love my studio.  Thank goodness for my studio.  Huzzah!  Blog post!

studio_before
Before

I’ve always had some sort of art studio/room/allocated creative space but it’s never been extremely effective.  My so-called “studio” was actually the “catch-all” room in the house where I dumped my art supplies and anything else I didn’t want to look at for the next year.  I had to root around for brushes, paint color, or whatever tool I was looking for all the while wiping off whatever film of dust had accumulated.  Why on earth would I want to go in there?  I actually hated going into my studio.  This year I got fed up and finally decided I’d do something about it so I marched into my studio and began straightening.  And cleaning.  And throwing things away.  And organizing.  And labeling.  I could see the floor.  I made a deal with myself:  on my days off I’d spend an hour organizing the studio so it becomes an effective workspace.  My studio became a member’s only club: only the most inspiring implements of creativity allowed in here.  If it’s something I hadn’t used in a while I’d pack it up, label it, and get it out.  It wasn’t too long until my workspace was beginning to look ship-shape and I could find what I was looking for when I walked in the room.  Sheesh, I was actually able to walk into the room without tripping over boxes or canvases or knocking over frames – this was a feat unto itself!  Eventually I began painting the walls, hanging art and feathering my nest.  Not bad!  I might actually get some work done in here…

studio_after
After

As the months passed I grew obsessed with making my studio the best workspace it could possibly be.  ”What do I need to do to make the next time I sit down to create easy and welcoming?”  This is the question I ask myself when I stand in the doorway looking inside.  For example, sometimes I’ll leave paint or tools strewn about the place.  Before I get rolling on another project I’ll put those items back where they’re supposed to go and not in a box, not shoved off to the side.  I know that good studio space is like gold to an artist and not everybody has the perfect set-up of their dreams.  I’m fortunate to have a tiled room that I can dedicate to art and I try not to take that for granted.  This entails respecting the room by using it and keeping it functional.  For the first time in years I’ve spent entire days painting in my studio, relishing in the space I’ve created.  Sometimes my umbrella cockatoo, Angel, will sit on a chair and keep me company.  Usually my girls will roost on my area rug and I will work around them.  When I am in my studio I am focused and the hours pass quickly.

studio_workingI am learning that a studio is a work-in-progress, like a garden.  It is something to be nourished, loved and cared for.  It’s easy to let the weeds grow but you have to keep after them.  It also helps when you have a strong support system which is something else that mustn’t be taken for granted.  I know I do this sometimes, especially with my husband.  Thank you to my family for their continual encouragement in my artistic life, thank you for believing in me, thank you to my patient husband who lets me and my art supplies take over the house.  Thank you for letting me interrupt your movies or televised sporting event to show you some microscopic detail I changed that couldn’t wait until a commercial.  Thank you for being my cameraman, sherpa, fan club, punching bag, personal chef, and technical support.  This studio wouldn’t be the same without the strength of my family and especially my husband.  Ok, enough gooeyness, now pass me a turkey leg!

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