Wednesday, January 18, 2017

In situ: mounted and hung

Pleased to report that most of my recent collages and paintings have found a good home. Above, you can see some of the Touchstone series showcased on a living room wall. I find that presenting these on a black-edged birch cradleboard is very effective. The black edge seems to add something to the work. It's also less expensive than framing, looks contemporary, and is easy to transport.

Others in the series are happily displayed on a bedroom wall, where they benefit from some small spotlights.

And these "colour field" studies add a bright focus to this living room wall. All of the works in the selection above are made with three colours, each from the same palette of six: turquoise, yellow-green, yellow-orange, red, violet and warm grey. Also, each of the pieces is made with only three shapes, all rectilinear. The small spotlights help them be seen to their best advantage.

Another advantage of this kind of mounting is that I can mount a new piece directly on top of an older piece. This helps ease the storage situation a bit.

You can learn more about how to mount your work this way in a video from Jane Davies.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Abstract & Geometric, by Martha Sielman

So pleased to get my hands on this inspiring new book by Martha Sielman. Since 2004, Sielman has served as the executive director of SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates), and now she has drawn on the work of SAQA members to compile a visually stunning volume devoted to art quilts, available from Amazon.

"These engaging works of art represent a range of styles across the abstract art spectrum. Gorgeous art quilts – 300 of them, bursting with color – capture the work of 124 major quilt artists from 18 countries. In-depth interviews with 29 of the artists help us understand their inspirations, their techniques, and their challenges.
"...Participating artists come from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, the UK, and across the US."
I enjoyed the range included in this collection, from the complex, layered and intensely-worked (like Deidre Adams' painted pieces) to the clean, direct and spare (Karen Schulz's, for example). Both rank among my favourite artists. And on a personal note, one of the pages is devoted to Spontaneous Combustion, a striking piece by Helena Scheffer, dear friend and fellow member of Text'art.

Spontaneous Combustion, Helena Scheffer

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fun and Games with Google's Search by Image

I consider my son to be fairly internet-savvy, so when I discovered that he wasn't familiar with Google's Search by Image feature, it made me think the subject might be worthy of a post.

Let's say you've come across an image of a painting on-line, but it's not attributed to the artist, and you're curious to know more. For instance, here is Perspectives, by Jean-Paul Riopelle.


  • Drag and drop the image onto your desktop. 
  • Open your browser to
  • Drag and drop the image into the search box.
The result will be something like this:

Not only will you find multiple sources for that image, but with any luck you'll find out the name of the artist, the title, size, date and location of the painting, as well as similar paintings, some by the same artist.

This can be useful for visual artists like me, who post images of our work on-line. I can quickly determine whether my image has been pinned on a Pinterest site, or indeed if my work has been appropriated by some greeting card company.

Sometimes the results can be quite hilarious. When I noticed a lot of traffic for a blog post of four recent paintings, I did a Google Search by Image. Here is one of the paintings:

Touchstone series

Google's "best guess" for this image was "Reebok latest shoes". Thoughtfully, a link to the relevant website was included.

A second painting,

Touchstone series

yielded results that included a photo of a swan and of a snowman's face.

It was gratifying when the third of my images was recognized as a "painting", with images of other (random?) paintings offered for comparison.

How ever did we manage before Google?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Creativity for Life

The beginning of a new year often finds me reaching for a book to inspire my continuing journey in art. Past favourites include Art & Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland; Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert; and The Confident Creative, by Cat Bennett.

This year I decided to re-read Creativity for Life, by Eric Maisel. Its subtitle is "Practical Advice on the Artist's Personality and Career from America's Foremost Creativity Coach".  Maisel, a psychotherapist and teacher, is the author of more than 40 books, including several novels.

What does "creativity for life" mean? In the book's introduction, Maisel makes the helpful distinction between artful living, art-filled living, and art-committed living, categories which are not mutually exclusive.
"First, it means that creativity can permeate one's life, that a person can be creative in the way she handles her job, solves problems around the house, plans menus for dinner parties, or takes in a sunset. She manifests the qualities of a creative person, like imagination, resourcefulness, self-direction, and so on, and shines them like a beacon on whatever she thinks about or tackles.... [She is] 'everyday creative' or engaged in 'artful living.'
"Second, it means that people who love things like art, music, literature, science, and, more broadly, gorgeous, thought-provoking, evocative things, want them in their lives. They want a life full of foreign movies, intellectual puzzles, and natural beauty. They love it that bookstores, museums, and concert halls exist, and they love it that they can fill their living space and their spare time with art.... This is an 'art-filled life' or 'art-filled living'. In this sense, having 'creativity for life' means filling all your days with art and the joy that art brings. 
"Third, it means that a person can spend a lifetime creating in a particular domain, a domain to which she decides to devote herself. She can be creative as a violinist and devote herself to music. She can be creative as a writer and devote herself to writing novels. She can be creative as a research biologist and devote herself to scientific inquiry.... This is an 'art-committed life' or 'identifying as an artist.'"
This third avenue is the focus of the book.

What is creativity? In Maisel's view,
"...People are artistically creative when they love what they are doing, know what they are doing, and actively engage in art-making. The three elements of creativity are thus loving, knowing, and doing; or heart, mind and hands; or, as Zen Buddhist teaching has it, great faith, great question, and great courage."
Maisel goes on to explore the artist's personality, specifically a list of ten traits.
"It seems contradictory to call an artist both shy and conceited, introverted and extroverted, empathic and self-centred, highly-independent and hungry for community – until we realize that all these qualities can be dynamically present in one person."
This realization can help the artist to understand puzzling contradictions in his personality. Maisel cites as examples the musician who wants to perform his music, but is terrified by public performance; the painter who possesses the vain hope of a quiet life, but whose active mind prevents her from feeling relaxed even for a minute; and the author who needs solitude in order to write but also needs a wide and busy social circle. Maisel also deals with the characterization of some artists as being "difficult". He explains that,
"The artist lives in a state of greater dynamic tension than the nonartist and so is likely to demand more, desire more, withdraw further into herself, witness better, laugh harder, and bellyache louder. This may not be easy for anyone to take – the artist included – but it reflects not just one quality like selfishness or narcissism but a whole array of interactive qualities."
Maisel discusses the obstacles to achieving success as an artist, and the difficulties of supporting oneself through one's art.
"It is easy to picture a culture in which art and commerce are not connected and equally easy to picture a culture in which everyone has permission to create, does in fact create, and is supported in their creative efforts. Ours is not that culture. You can live an artful life and an art-filled life without worrying about the connection between art and commerce, but if you intend to live an art-committed life, then the challenges that we've discussed in this chapter are yours to face."
Throughout the book, Maisel peppers his text with quotations from artists of all mediums and many eras. One of these quotes is of particular interest to fibre artists. He cites the American visual artist Elaine Reichek, who said,
"It's political to choose a form that is a craft –  not painting, not sculpture, not in the tradition of high white art." 
My re-reading of Creativity for Life has illuminated my own path. In fact, I have just ordered another of Maisel's most popular books, Coaching the Artist Within.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Methods & Materials class, Part 2

In November, I reported about my experience with the first session of Methods & Materials in Acrylic, a class taught by Melanie Matthews at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Melanie is a "Golden Certified Working Artist", so she has lots of expertise with acrylic paints and knows how to make them behave.

Hilda af Klint, Svanen (The Swan) No. 17 , 1914-15

Melanie structured the second session so that each of the six three-hour classes was inspired by the work of a particular artist. By learning about Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862 - 1944), we were introduced to the colour wheel, variations of which featured prominently in her work. We began with three primaries and mixed multiple secondary colours. It's remarkable to see how this little-known artist grappled with a hard-edge, "target" style of abstraction more than 100 years ago.

Pat Steir, Waterfall, 1988

The second class was devoted to Pat Steir (American, born 1940), whose use of dripped paint suggests falling water. We used this opportunity to prepare our canvases with three different tinted substrates (light molding paste, coarse molding paste, and acrylic ground for pastel or AGP). Each went on a little differently and produced slightly different effects as a base for the dripping. We tilted the prepared canvas on a supporting board, dribbled on high flow acrylic, and encouraged the paint to flow downwards with a spritz of water.

Viktor Vasarely, Hexa 5, 1988

Stencils were provided for the third class, which allowed us to produce a Victor Vasarely (Hungarian, French, 1906-1997) type of geometric design. We played with the concept of colours advancing and receding, and with the suggestion of form using dark, medium and light values.  We made transparent paints more opaque with the addition of Titanium White. Vasarely is known for his hard-edge paintings, but our time was limited and so we didn't have a chance to use painter's tape and gel medium to create a true hard edge.

Georgio Morandi, Still Life, 1951

Georgio Morandi (Italian, 1890-1964) is known for his still lifes, which use a very limited neutral palette. In the fourth class we learned how to mix complementary colours (for example, Prussian Blue and Burnt Sienna) and tint with lots of white to create a range of interesting neutrals.

Morris Louis, Para I, 1959

For the fifth class, the focus was on Morris Louis (American, 1912 - 1962), who celebrated transparent colours by painting broad swaths of them on raw canvas. We diluted our paints with Acrylic Flow Release OR clear Palmolive dish soap solution OR diluted alcohol, and observed how each affected the dispersal of the paint. The idea here is to reduce the surface tension of the High Flow acrylic paint so that it penetrates the raw canvas, staining it rather than simply lying on the surface.

David Salle, Mr. Lucky, 1998

For the sixth and final class (which I was unable to attend), we looked at how the artist David Salle (American, born 1952) chops up seemingly disparate images from a variety of sources and assembles them in a new way. It was suggested that students select parts of their various assignments and juxtapose them with each other. Stretching canvas on stretcher bars and mounting on panels was also demonstrated.

Though I wasn't particularly satisfied with the canvases I produced, I saw the classes as opportunities to explore the nature of the materials. I've included my exercises below. Melanie is a knowledgeable and energetic teacher with a good strategy for presenting the techniques.

transparent and opaque paints, primary and secondary colours

dripping dilute paint onto three different tinted surfaces

tints and shades to create a shifting sense of volume

mixing subtle neutrals from complementary colours

staining the canvas by adding dispersing agents to paint

And with Golden supplying all the paints, pastes, gels and mediums, we felt free to explore all the possibilities presented.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Celebration: Ten Years

Each year, Galerie Beaux-Arts des Amériques puts out a limited call for entry on a specific theme, and this year the subject is "Celebration", as the gallery marks its tenth year. Entries focusing on the number 10 are also encouraged.

Ten, acrylic collage on watercolour paper,
mounted on wooden panel, 20 x 20

For the last two years I've happily had my submissions (in fibre) accepted and sold. This year I'm taking a chance by entering an acrylic collage, an extension of my "Touchstone" series.

Ten (detail). Notice the pattern created by repeating the numeral 10.

Entrants are required to mount their work on a 20" x 20" wooden panel. This gives the exhibition a nice consistency when the works are displayed. The gallery not only offers a well-lit, white-walled exhibition space in a trendy downtown neighbourhood, but produces a high-quality printed catalog of the show and features images of all the accepted works on their website.

My artist statement for the work reads:
More information about the show to follow.  Whether or not my piece is juried in. (sigh)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

More Collage Papers

Sometimes if I'm in a bit of slump, I find it helpful to get into my studio and do something that's not too demanding. Making collage papers is an ideal project for those times when I'm procrastinating or "stuck". It's also a good way to use up the paint left on your palette.

A few months ago I got my hands on "Collage with Color", a book by Jane Davies, published in 2005 and now out of print, but still available on Amazon. Some of the techniques suggested include
  • sponging
  • palette knife application
  • spattering
  • stenciling
  • stamping
  • brushstrokes
  • spritzing and blotting
  • drip transfer
  • sgraffito
  • gesso resist
  • combing
  • masking
  • crayon resist and more!
I began by using paper from a sketchbook pad, though many of these techniques would also work on cloth. I also found an old jar of "clear gesso". A bit like modelling paste, this can be applied to the paper with a brush or a credit card, and then textures can be created by scratching, combing, or stamping into the wet product. Once dry, opaque and transparent pigments can be applied in a variety of ways to add depth and interest.

Here are a few of the collage papers I recently made:

clear gesso applied with brush in basketweave pattern;
painted yellow and scraped; orange paint circles stamped on

"sgraffito" technique with a comb dragged through clear gesso 
to create horizontal and vertical curves;
yellow, then orange, paint applied and scraped

Lego-type board pressed into wet gesso randomly, then dried;
paint applied with sponge.

comb dragged through wet gesso in basketweave pattern;
paint applied then scraped off

No gesso used here.
The black paint was applied by stamping with the eraser end of a pencil.
The streaking of transparent paint (thinned with glazing medium)
over opaque paint makes an interesting surface.

stamp pressed into wet gesso;
finished with at least three colours of paint

as above;
the horizontal and vertical bands are made by
scraping the surface with a credit card

This one began when used as a blotter to lift paint from another paper.

And this one began when a stencil loaded with paint was pressed
onto its surface. More stamping followed.

Transparency-on-transparency works its magic.

Sometimes a little "mess-therapy" is just the diversion we need to get back into the studio. And it's always great to have a supply of interesting collage papers on hand for future projects.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Christmas!

John Henry Twachtman, (1853 - 1902), Winter, oil on canvasundated,
from The Phillips Collection, Washington DC

Best wishes of the season to everyone.

May the year to come bring peace, love and joy to us all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

More in the Touchstone series

Encouraged by the reception for the first 15 in my Touchstone series, I have made four more.

There is something addictive about making these little 10 x 10's, mounted on birch cradleboard. The varying density of the white fog background gives a little mystery to the compositions, and the various shapes, some collaged, some painted, relate to each other with a precarious balance.

Stability/instability, bright/dull, solid/ephemeral/patterned, heavy/light, distinct/indefinite: all come into play in these pieces.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas cards 2016

Once again my thoughts have turned to making something special for Christmas. Each year, I try something a little different, and many of the friends and family on my Christmas card list tell me that they collect the cards, year after year. This time I've decided to share some of the process of making my fabric postcards.

I get pleasure from using up what I have on hand. The variety of materials I have stored away in my studio always surprises me.

I began with a photo I took of a stone angel in a cemetery, possibly at Highgate, just outside London. I cropped the image and used software to transform it to a sepia monotone.

In a drawer I found some sheets of sheer organza, backed with paper, made especially for the printing of photos with an ink-jet printer.

Above, you can see how each sheet of organza yielded six images. On the right is a transparent organza photo, peeled off the backing, with a narrow margin on all sides.

I used a pencil to draw the outlines of the multiple postcards, measuring 6" x 4", onto the cotton print. I left a little space between the rectangles.  Rummaging in my printing supplies, I discovered a set of silicone printing letters, complete with a transparent acrylic block, the perfect size for the four letters in "noel".  Using an ink pad and a plastic-covered, cushioned printing surface, I carefully printed the word vertically along the right-hand side of each rectangle.

At this point, the length of cotton was "batted up" with a thin polyester batting, and the organza photos were stitched into place, by machine, through both layers.

When I ran out of the cotton print, I reached for a length of hand-dyed, caramel-coloured cotton. The individual cards were then cut out. A stiff, fusible interfacing (Timtex?) was cut into 6" x 4" rectangles, as was some heavy-weight watercolour paper. The final "sandwich" was layered: cotton (with the organza appliqué), stitched to thin polyester batting, then the fusible interfacing, and finally the watercolour paper, all cut to 6" x 4". Because the interfacing was fusible on both sides, a warm iron applied to the sandwich secured all the layers together.

The edges of each card were finished off with a blanket stitch on my trusty Bernina. I used a "dijon"-coloured calligraphic marker to address the cards and write a little message to each recipient.

With a stamp affixed to the paper side, these Christmas postcards bravely ride "bareback" through the postal system. I like to think that they bring a smile to everyone they meet on their journey.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

In The Gallery with Cineplex

John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902), Snow, ca. 1895-96, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 in.
(part of the exhibition The Artist's Garden: American Impressionism)

Once again this year, the Cineplex chain of Canadian movie theatres offers their "In the Gallery" series of films about art. The chosen films for 2017 are:
  • The Curious World of Hieronymus Bosch, December 14 and January 8
  • Botticelli - Inferno, January 18 and 29
  • I, Claude Monet - Exhibition on Screen, February 22 and 26
  • Revolution - New Art for a New World, March 8 and April 2
  • The Artist's Garden: American Impressionism - Exhibition on Screen, March 22 and 26
  • Michelangelo: Love and Death - Exhibition on Screen, June 14 and 18
For more information, please visit their website.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Profiled! in Art Quilting Studio magazine

Getting my name on the cover of a magazine? Pretty special! I am thrilled to have been profiled in the American magazine, Art Quilting Studio, Winter 2017 edition. The eight-page spread includes 8 photos of my work, and the quality of the reproduction is spot-on.

The article itself is beautifully written by Ricë Freeman-Zachery. I have scanned the article, below, so you can see for yourself what all the fuss is about. Just keep scrolling down until you come to the enlarged text.