Thursday, January 28, 2016

Gelli Printing: Characters Just Show Up

A few days ago I had a whole day with no papers to grade, no housework to do... so what did I do?  I pulled out the Gelli printing plate and messed around for hours!  It was so much fun.

The Gelli Plate is a tool for allowing people to make monoprints at home without a press.  You can find out more (and see tons of cool demos) here.

I like to make prints on single sheets of paper, but I will also just print into my current sketchbook.  At the very least, this can give me an interesting background to work with.

The think about monoprinting is that sometimes pictures are done quickly, after one or two colors are printed.  Sometimes a piece takes more layers before it seems done.  Sometimes, you aren't sure, so you just have to let it sit a while.  And sometimes, blech.  There are failures.  Oh well.  Paint over them.  Or cut them up for collage.  No worries.

The print I want to share to day is one that only has two layers to it.  That means I only ran two "prints" onto the paper before I decided to stop and work with it.  I printed this directly into my sketchbook.

I wish I had taken a scan of it before the animals started showing up.  But the paint had barely dried and there they were, begging me to outline them so they could begin to take life!

One of my favorite things to do is to find shapes, animals and characters from abstract, accidental marks on paper.  I do it with watercolors a lot.  But for some reason, this time it seemed magical.  The five characters showed up, each with a distinct personality and with a voice I can hear in my head.  

Maybe I'm supposed to write a comic with them.  Maybe that's why the letters and numbers are there.

Anyhow, I used paint markers (I have Poscas) to outline the animals and to write in some alphabet stencils.  Then, after that dried, I used matte medium to seal and protect the whole thing.

I am wondering if I should cut it out of my sketchbook and frame it.  I really like it!

I should mention that I really learned how to use my gelli plate from a terrific online course I took with the delightful Carla Sonheim.  You can learn more about her and all her online courses here.

This is one of the best examples I can think of of what it means to scribble with spirit.  It really is scribbling, in that when I put paint down on the gelli plate, I have a notion what is going to happen, but I don't really know for sure.  And I can't control it.  I just have to let it go and see what happens. 

And it's spirit when I sit back and look at the shapes and colors and think to myself, "Ok.  What's there that wants to come out?"  I don't really have a plan.  And I don't really have an agenda.  I just try to be present so that the art can come into the world through me.

It's a different sort of presence and attention than when I am trying to draw something in front of me from life, but at the core, it is the same.  Exciting.  Adventurous.  Meaningful.

And connected to something beyond myself.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Characters Emerge from Blobs

In the last few weeks, when I've had a minute or so, I paint a blob shape on some paper, and then try to make a face out of it.

This is a little game I learned from Carla Sonheim, whose website and books and online courses I highly recommend, particularly for sparking the imagination!

What I particularly like about this at this point in my life is this:  as a novelist, I am working on developing a new writing project.  I'm at the very beginning.  The blank slate stage.  I have some vague ideas.

But what I need are characters.  People who want things, and want them badly, for very good reasons, but who can't get what they want (or need) for a variety of challenging reasons.

So, this little blob imaginary people exercise helps me think about that.  The people appear in the blobs.  Or, more accurately, the characters who are already floating around in my imagination manage to find a way to consciousness through the blobs.

I've already had fun inventing stories about a few of them.

These four seem to go together in some sort of romantic comedy... that involves politically correct food.  Don't ask me why...

They do all seem rather grim in these sketches, don't they?  But somehow, their super seriousness is what them seem like they needed to be in a rom com.   Who knows?  Maybe an ongoing comic strip?  THAT would be fun!

This next batch generally seem a bit more pleased with life.  Should they be in a separate story?  Do they belong with the first group?

I don't know much yet about who any of these characters are, but I'm glad to have captured them.  I've taken notes in my journal about the story ideas they've inspired.  Maybe, just maybe, they'll help me work on my next stories!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Me and The Dogs, a la Scheinberger

Felix Scheinberger is one of my most favorite sketchbook artists.  His book, Urban Watercolor Sketching, lives on my bedside table and goes with me on almost all of my vacations.  I use his work as constant inspiration to loosen up my own line, and capture what I see and how I see it.

I struggle with this, the loosening up part.

Anyhow, here are some loose scribbles I made of myself and my dogs recently.

While on one hand none of us looks much like these scribbles, on the other hand, these scribbles do sort of capture something very true.  Me, out in the snow in my old orange puff coat and bright fuchsia hat, staying out in the wonderful cold until my nose and cheeks turn bright red.  Nik, in his favorite "lounge and listen" position.  Nora, lying there, not really relaxed, but ready to spring up at a moment's notice to do whatever thing happens next.

Each of these took me only a few minutes to capture.

This is what I want to learn to do more of--quickly rendered scribbles that capture something authentic about the subject and about how I see the world.  Little sketches that fit into the tiny chunks of time during a busy life. 

Scheinberger will be teaching a week in my current Sketchbook Skool klass very soon!  I am sure looking forward to that!

I do think that my nearly two years of carefully observed subjects and sketches have helped my quick, loose scribbles be more descriptive of the subjects.  So I will keep doing both as I move into this new year:  pay attention and capture as closely as possible.  Render detail, and lots of it.  And balance that with more of these quick, loose pieces.  Let each influence the other!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Fifty Itty Bitty Paintings, Part Five

On a whim I decided to paint fifty tiny watercolor scribbles in one week, the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve.  What a delight that turned out to be!

By focusing for several days on just my watercolors, I learned a lot about what colors I have and how they interact.

I experimented with a few new brushes, along with some brushes I've had for a while, but haven't used.

I took notes on the back of each painting about what I used, so that when I look back on them, I will know.  I always think I will remember, but the truth is, I don't.  So this note-taking is essential for me.

I painted a lot from my imagination, but based on memories of scenes from my lifetime of walks in the woods.  I did not plan to do that.  Mostly I brushed big swatches of color, let them mingle a bit, then looked for the picture to present itself.

The whole experience felt like a session in a hot tub of creativity and fondness.

Except for the one or two little paintings where I set out to draw something specific (like the mini Cooper in my neighbor's snowy drive, above), this exercise was a sort of Rorschach test for my imagination.  I guess it's no surprise that the delights of my life--nature scenes--showed up over and over.

It is nature that I find my most special moments of connection to that which is all, and which is greater than me.  So as fun and sort of goofy as this exercise was, it had a lovely dimension of spiritual renewal, which I didn't expect.

The authenticity in allowing things to come to the surface... I just remind myself over and over how important it is.

Bringing these images to mind and capturing them quickly, without pressure, in fun colors, in a loose and uncontrolled style, brought me so much joy!

I am definitely doing this again some time.   Maybe with different media?  Or maybe the loose uncontrollable nature of watercolor is part of what made this so much fun?  I'm not sure the precision required for collage or drawing would bring the same experience (for me).  But maybe it would be a different experience, with different delights?

This was a terrific way to end the old year (as I did it in the last week of 2015) and to point myself into the new year--with a new appreciation of what I already have in hand!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Fifty Itty Bitty Paintings, Part Four

This is the fourth grouping of little ATC-sized watercolor paintings I did between Christmas and New Year's Eve 2015.

I did the project as a way to learn more about my brushes and my watercolor paints, how they all interact with water and with each other.

This group I did with my Daniel Smith paints, the few selected colors I carry with me all the time in a homemade travel palette.

If you've looked at my other posts on the first thirty little paintings in this series, you'll see my subjects are starting to change up.   More odd angles and perspectives.  And even one (the second to last in this series) based loosely on fruit (mangoes, that is).

I remember reading once, somewhere, that to really start to get to your unique creative ideas, you have to get past thirty or so initial ideas.  These first thirty or so tend to be derivative and repetitive.  Only if you continue to generate ideas do you reach down into the less available, more unique ideas--most of which never see the light of day.

I wasn't anticipating this when I started, but I think maybe it's proving true!

And, extra happy news:  the next semester of Sketchbook Skool starts tomorrow!   After I finish posting about this project, I'm sure I'll have lots to post from my new semester there, a class called "Expressing."  YAY!!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Fifty Itty Bitty Paintings, Part Three

In this third installment of the fifty ATC-sized watercolors I did between Christmas and New Year's Eve 2015, I explored a different set of colors--some that are a little brighter and more "rainbow-like."

Also, as I worked on pictures 21-30, I started to get different ideas for how to play with the color.  Different shapes started to emerge from my imagination and I got a little bit more bold with my brush.

Again, all of these are from my imagination, and inspired, for the most part, by the landscape of northern Michigan, where I was when I painted these.  Sadly, it had not snowed yet--very odd for December.   And, you'll see, one or two visions of summer snuck into the group as well.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Fifty Itty Bitty Paintings, Part Two

Here are paintings number 11-20 in my series of fifty ATC-sized watercolors, which I completed in the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve, 2015.

I did this as an exercise to learn more about my paints and how they mix.   I also wanted to use more of the colors I own, and not just the 15 or so in my travel palette, which I carry with me all the time.

In this group, after the first two, I focused on colors from a more muted "earth tone" sort of grouping.

Again, all of these are from my imagination, but inspired by the landscapes of northern Michigan.  As I painted these it had not yet snowed the entire fall or winter--very unusual.  Things were looking a little forlorn outside.  Cold and grey and needing some snow!

I learned a lot about colors I have but rarely use, like Caput Mortuum Violet!  If that isn't the best name for a paint...

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Fifty Itty Bitty Paintings, Part One

On Christmas weekend I watched a wonderful video on the Artist's Network TV website (subscription only) called "A Little Watercolor" with Karin Huehold (you can check out a preview here).   The idea is to buy one sheet of watercolor paper, tear it up into 72 ATC (artist trading card) size pieces (2.5 x 3.5 inches), and then paint a bunch of quick, tiny watercolors.

The purpose is to have fun and learn more about how your brushes work and how your colors interact.

I thought this sounded like a good project for my vacation during the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve.   So I decided to try to create Fifty Itty Bitty Paintings before 2016.  That gave me an extra twenty-six cards to share with my family members or use later.

I bought a nice, thick piece of paper, 22 x 33 inches.  I didn't know what I was buying, but later I figured out it was Strathmore Gemini mould-made paper.  Very stiff, and rough.  It held up beautifully when ripping into the small pieces.

Then I bought painter's masking tape in 1/2 inch and 1/4 inch widths.  I wanted to have the nice clean edges that Huehold had in her pictures in the video.  This tape was pretty hard to find--I wound up ordering it from amazon here and here.   I taped the fifty pieces while I hung out with the family, so I was all ready to go!

Since part of the point for me was learning what colors did together on the paper, I wrote on the back of each painting which colors I used.

Here are numbers 1-10.

All of these are from my imagination, but inspired by memories of things I've seen walking in the woods especially in western and northern Michigan.

I'll share the rest of the series in the next few posts!