Feeling Better

After 7 days in the hospital I was good to go home at last– to my family; people, fuzzies and friends– to recuperate. With the help of my loved ones, a little red wine and some medicinal herb, I was able to put the past week behind me and heal pretty quickly.

After a week or so at home, the surgical pain was gone and I was eager to get back to painting. Although I was still in a cast, my arm was bandaged nearly straight (approx 90° angle) which allowed me to paint– broader, looser strokes anyway. I managed to work on the farm animal diptych begun in November from the Painting With Attitude class with Nancy Mitchnick. A couple weeks later, the stitches were out and I was freed from the cast. I completed the painting, which my older son has endearingly named, “Barnyard Surprise!”


In early March the “Gang of 4” met up for a luncheon at the BBAC in my honor. It was so great to see my art friends and catch up. The girls brought/made little thoughtful gifts for me — I was so touched! Nancy gave me two metal Milagro pieces; a small arm and a larger hand.

Milagro translates to “Miracle” in Spanish and these small trinkets have been part of Latin American culture for centuries. Traditionally used in religious prayer, a Milagro may be given to a loved one to convey a sense of well-being or well- wishes.

I strung them together with a personal zodiac necklace of mine and added a few extra colored beads to create a new piece.


In addition to the Milagros, Nancy gave me an awesome palette knife and a mini Isabey painting brush! One of my favorites!! Laura brought delicious strawberry preserves for everyone, Kristen painted a mini-milagro canvas of an arm, and Cynthia (who is an incredible dressmaker) hand-knitted a pair of arm cozies for me!! You can see all the wonderful gifts in the last picture — Zoe the cat approved! It was such a wonderful afternoon and I truly feel blessed to have these incredible women in my life!

Diptychs

Our next assignment, and last for me, would be a diptych. Wikipedia defines a diptych as, ‘an artwork consisting of two pieces or panels, that together create a singular art piece that can be attached together or presented adjoining each other’. Earliest pieces were frequently hinged and depicted biblical or religious themes. Diptychs often represent opposition/contrasting objects or elements. A triptych (three panels) might represent a sequence or a change; like those prints you see in stores of the different seasons.

I couldn’t really decide on an idea for the diptych so I went with a picture I’d saved to paint some day. The image is of several farm animals standing together and taken by well-known animal photographer Rob MacInnis.

We worked on our pieces for the next several classes. These were to be our pièces de résistance — our masterpieces! Below you can see a few of the multiple iterations the animals went through as I tried to figure them out.


Unfortunately I wasn’t able to complete the diptych by the end of class term, but I did finish it up in the new year! More about that in my next post. Stay tuned…

Historical Art

One of our assignments focused on historical art. We were to paint something that we were drawn to from history; e.g., Japanese/Chinese scrolls, African or Native American designs/patterns or even a particular wallpaper pattern. Nancy gave so many examples, but I couldn’t find a one that I was particularly fond of or drawn to. So she helped me find a beautiful Kimono Dress online whose colors and pattern I liked. I focused on a small section and with large brushes on wood panel, I began painting.

I’ve never painted on paneling and it wasn’t the easiest. Although it had been gessoed, the paint didn’t want to flow easily, or maybe it was just me; afterall I hadn’t worked on anything that size before and maybe subconsciously I was intimidated not only by the scope, but the subject, since it was just chosen, I didn’t have any time to noodle it over — plan my attack– if you will. Looking back, yet another exercise in stretching that comfort zone I guess.

Kimono — 18″ x 48″ Oil on Wood Paneling

It’s not like anything I usually do, and when class came to an end, I wanted to paint for 5 more hours to get it up to my standards but I couldn’t. My family liked it, so I left it alone. But part of me wants to gesso over it and make something new. Any thoughts?

Paint

We talked a lot about the PAINT itself. Nancy was interested in how we ‘laid out our palette, moved the paint around, messed with it and put it on.’ She would say that we have to ‘attack’ the paint, not mix it gingerly, all willy-nilly; after all the goal is to create an original chemical compound from two or more — you have to use strength to recombine the molecules.

This idea of ‘recombination’ had never occurred to me. Now, every time I mix paint, I think of her words and remember how vigorously she mixed the paint and try to do the best I can with my messed up arthritic hands/ wrists/ elbows— it’s not easy. Instead of the effort and force shown, I mix the paint for longer hoping to achieve the same effect. It’ll have to do.

We did class exercises in Fast and Ugly and Pale Tonality using large canvases and brushes in order to get more fearless and “push the paint around more.” One of our home assignments was to make a small copy of a Van Gogh since he was a master ‘paint pusher’. I chose to copy one of his self portraits on a small square canvas. I used quick visible strokes and worked way faster than I usually do. In the end, he looked like a skinny version of himself, but I kind of liked that.

The experience of making the paint becomes part of the subject of the painting…if it is any good at all…

beautiful paint is honest paint…

and the great artists are our teachers…

Whose paint do you love the most?

NMM

6″ x 6″ Oil Painting on Canvas adapted from Van Gogh Self Portrait

Painting with Attitude

The name of our class was Painting With Attitude. Each week we were treated to new “Nancy Notes”– a bit philosophy, a bit about art – a bit about our upcoming class assignment. Here are a few of my most favorite nuggets from the third week of class.

Get The Paint On…

20” x 20” Oil on Canvas

…Your’e going to paint with strength and vigor…and not be afraid of making a mess of it…I hope we don’t have to get drunk like those dreadful painting parties….”

To the left is my completed assignment for the week. Began in class and finished at home.


“The way paint gets onto the canvas…attack… advance…softly… intensely brave…capable of being reworked.. scraped off and put back..but mostly with intention, force (light or heavy), fearlessly, serenely, but NOT tentative and weak…Or so thin that it’s barely there…

We have to go back…It is your nervous system that you need to connect to, your touch, your aggression that so many of us don’t allow ourselves. It isn’t easy to make gentle work that is strong… all the forms depend on each other… There is a way to be in the moment, conscious, where every mark does something…

One of the tests of a good painting is ‘how long can you look at it?’, Hang your work on the wall…if you get tired of seeing it after a few weeks or notice you never look at it…Well?

What makes the art we love so possible to never get tired of… has to do with the state of the artists mind as the work was being made …the kind of connections that were happening between the eye, and the hand and the mind.

“Why are mistakes so scary? Why does getting it ‘right’ mean only how it looks and not how it feels? What happens when it feels great but looks a mess? What do you have to do to make the paint alive and as necessary as the picture you are trying to copy? How do you the means and the subject to be equal to each other?

“When it works is it Magic?”

“How can you stand it when it is strongly painted but ugly?”

Can you leave your comfort zone? How far? A little tiny bit… a jump off a cliff? NMM

Painting Again — Finally

This Fall, I was finally able to find a good class fit at the BBAC and begin taking a painting class with an incredible instructor, Nancy Mitchnick. Before class started, I researched Nancy and was blown away by her credentials and was a bit intimidated, but the second I met her, I felt I had met a kindred spirit and knew immediately that I wanted to be friends with this incredible woman!

Nancy is a well-known artist originally from the Detroit area and was part of the “Cass Corridor Artists” in the 1970’s. She has taught art all over the country, including CalArts, Bard College, and Harvard.


Of course it wouldn’t be my life if I didn’t have some kind of accident. Two days before class was to begin I misstepped, in my own house this time, and fell really hard on the step that separates our dining room from the living room. Again, my bad knee hit first, then my right arm, then my head hit the corner edge of the wall. I was all alone, the boys were out joy-riding. My head was bleeding profusely and I just sat there crying holding my head. Thank goodness they came home within a few minutes, I was too shaken up to move. Once I was “fixed” up, I began to wonder if the universe was trying to tell me something. Afterall, this was the second time, in a row, that I had a bad fall just before art class was to begin. I thought about cancelling — again, but decided against it. “Universe be damned — I was taking that $%@#ing class, and you couldn’t stop me!”


And, I’m so glad I did! Our class was very small– just four students, all women, plus Nancy. It was the perfect size to get to know each other and become more than just a “class”, we became Nancy’s “Gang of 4” as she would often refer to us. Each Wednesday, I was truly excited to see what Nancy had in store for us! Of course coming from mostly an academic setting, Nancy was a task-master, very different from what we were used to at the arts center. But I loved it and felt like I was back in college again — only this time I was doing what I truly loved!

One of the best parts of the class wasn’t the class at all, it was receiving Nancy’s Notes via email a couple days prior to class. At 72 Nancy had accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience, not only about art, but life in general, and her weekly notes were a little peek into her brain– rambling and unorganized — but always thought provoking. I usually had to read them a few times to weed out the nuggets! They’re so fun that I’ve actually kept the collection.


One of our first assignments was to paint some type of material or fabric. My in-class attempt was terrible, so I scrapped it and painted a piece at home. The fabric I chose was a colorful zip-up sweatshirt/ jacket that I bought at an art fair years back. I hung it and using a picture frame mat I visually cropped the subject into an interesting and manageable size.

Work In Progress

Abstract Figures

Last week I took a 3-day workshop on abstracting figures. I’ve been wanting to really loosen up in my work and have this idea of just slapping on paint, stepping back, and voila, I’ve created a masterpiece! While I know that’s a pipedream, I’d like to work towards it anyway. So, this workshop was exactly what I needed to push me in the right direction.

Our instructor, Leslie Masters, is a wonderful older lady whose been around forever and styles herself in the most quirky bright-colored clothing; all shades of pinks and oranges! She tough but sweet at the same time and you can tell she really knows her stuff!

The first day we talked about Picasso and Matisse and started with contoured line drawings of faces from magazines. I chose a beautiful Asian model and copied her face onto tracing paper starting with simple line, more detailed line, straight lines, and curved lines. From there, we chose one to paint, using bold blocky strokes focusing on the value and shapes. Below are my classmates works from the first day:

(Side note: most everyone in my class worked in acrylic or watercolor. Acrylic lends itself to these exercises very well – working in oil was much more difficult.)

The following day we began with looking at Pop Art especially Peter Max. I was not familiar with his work and didn’t really care for his style; flat, colorful with black outlines – very cartoony, 70’s psychedelic; think Beatles Yellow Submarine.

Our task for the morning was to work with a partner and transfer an outline of our profile onto a canvas, then create a bubbly landscape in the background that followed the curvy lines from our portrait. I must have missed the memo, because I used straight lines to create my background. I didn’t get too far with the painting and I’ll probably gesso over this one and use the canvas for something else. However, I loved the way some of my classmates turned out. Here is my partially finished design/painting.

In the afternoon we created figure collages based on images from magazines focusing on the large shapes. Next, we painted the figures in an environment – channeling the abstract artist Richard Diebenkorn.

The third and final day was really fun!! We were channeling de Kooning and our task was to create a large, loose, messy, abstract figure painting using house paints and large brushes. I chose to paint from a favorite picture of my young son when he was about 4 years old. Below is the original picture and my abstract interpretation: my pièce de résistance!

In the afternoon, we each took turns showcasing our works from the three days and gave a brief synopsis of what we learned, what we liked / didn’t. It was a great foray into abstraction; I learned several ways to approach the subject without feeling overwhelmed, great techniques to get started, and about several abstract artists. Now, I can take what I learned and hopefully approach my paintings a bit looser. We’ll see, stay tuned!

Hey there, Dahlia

A few months ago, my friend posted a beautiful picture of a Dahlia flower on Facebook. To date, I hadn’t painted a close-up lone flower – the fear of all that detail – but I have seen many artists accomplish the task beautifully and I felt up for the challenge. What could be more perfect for Spring?

The Dahlia originated from Mexico and was discovered in the 16th Century by Spanish adventurers. There are over 20 known species resulting in thousands of hybrids. The Dahlia is unique because it has six genes rather than the standard two found in most flowers; therefore it can take on a myriad of shapes, colors, and sizes.