O.K. confession time..I have been working on an abstract painting for way too many months. Each time I return to this painting I declare that on that particular day, if I resolve just a few more problem areas that my work will be finished! Sometimes I even take pictures of work in progress and look at it on my cell phone in the evening when I am home. I often convince myself that the next time I return to my studio... bingo I will just need to add a little of this or that and I'll be done. But even with some tinkering, that "finish" bell may not ring as I expected. How does one know when an abstract painting is done? One of my mentors said in a critique session "that a painting is not finished...it just stops in interesting places". So with that comment in mind, I'm returning to my studio and I am going to have a talk with my painting and ask it what would make you more interesting?
Many artists will say that all drawing and painting involves some form of mark making. A general viewpoint is that as soon as your brush (or whatever tool you use) touches your canvas or paper, you are making a mark! Marks can be lines, scribbles, scratches, smudges, dots, dashes, patterns, textures. All different types of artists use a variety of mark making approaches in their work. Artists may use expressive and intuitive marks in non-objective work, meaning that the work does not represent anything in the natural world. Or perhaps an abstract artist using a dry brush technique might make short, fast lines suggestive of blades of grass even though that association was not intended. The viewer has attributed their own meaning to the lines. On the other hand, the Impressionists used mark making in the form of dabs, hatching and cross hatching to add movement, texture, light and life to the scenes they depicted in their paintings. Marks can be soft and subtle and barely noticeable in some work or they can be bold and intense, occupying a sense of grandness in a work.
Many members who joined my new Facebook group The Art of Mark Making in Abstract Art ask how they might learn how to transition from painting or drawing realistically to creating non-objective work (abstracts). One of the best ways to channel your inner Abstract artist is to roll out a giant piece of white paper (like the kind restaurants use to cover tables).Then gather all your mark making products such as pencils, pastels, markers, crayons, chalk, charcoal etc. Add a few jars or tubes of acrylic paint with some brushes to your materials stash. Next put on some peppy music. Pin your paper to a wall covered with newspaper or plastic or lay on a protected table. Now...just start scribbling and drawing and making marks like you did in Kindergarten when your inner critic was not yet fully formed. Cover the entire piece of paper with dry media followed by paint. Let the paint dry and add more marks on top of paint. Build many layers. Stand back and look at your work. Keep playing until you start seeing forms, shapes, patterns etc. Ask your self what does it need and continue to edit accordingly. And that is how you start painting Abstracts! Working large lets you work more spontaneously and will help you leave your more realistic side behind.
Artists are always asking each other "so what did you use to make that line ?" Lines always seem to look better on someone else's work. The truth is that oftentimes we are admiring the work of an experienced artist who has developed a certain degree of confidence in their line making. Don't get me wrong, product does indeed matter and I of course have my favorite fine-liner and heavy liner pens and products, but the key to making line and marks is practice not product. Once you have mastered the ease at drawing or scribbling a variety of lines you are probably ready to obsess over the "blackness" of these lines....that is another conversation.
Sometimes all it takes is a slight shift of some of your shapes to create the suggestion of movement or energy in an otherwise still collage. You will see that I tilted the large greenish- grey shape on the left to add some oomph to the composition. It doesn't take much to accomplish an important variance in the orientation of shapes and lines. If I had slanted too many shapes I would be back where I started from with a monotonous composition. It is the importance of surprise that matters. Also important to note is that once I made this change, everything else seemed to feel quite right.
I just discovered Cretacolor charcoal stick (chunky). What an intense black you will get when mark making with this product. As you can see you can produce a variety of applications with this Cretacolor stick from very thick bold lines to thinner and medium value lines and strokes. Turn the stick on it's side and you can cover the paper with sweeping shades of the charcoal allowing for a background covering. Have plenty of paper towels or rags on hand when drawing with charcoal as this is a messy process but also a very exciting way to draw in an abstract expressive way. Cretacolor charcoal is packaged in a variety of ways including just black sticks or other sets which offer a variety pack of colors. You can also buy single sticks. While you can of course wear surgical gloves when working with Charcoal art materials, some artists like to have direct contact with their drawing tools. Be prepared however, to look in the mirror and see your "work" on your face!
How many of us buy art supplies that we put on a shelf or forget about? That is the sorry outcome of what happened to my bottle of Masking fluid....it was neglected after i bought it on a whim one day.. Then a few weeks ago one of my students brought a bottle of Masking fluid to class. She essentially "drew" with this rubber cement like product and then peeled the dried fluid off the paper leaving areas that remained white instead of painted. The fluid is very easy to work with and can be applied in numerous ways from pouring, dribbling or brushing onto work. The results were exciting and I now feel quite confident that I too will soon join the club of artists who use Masking fluid as a resist in Mixed media artwork. My bottle of Masking fluid will soon be cracked open and loved instead of abandoned.
Just like Picasso, I enjoy working on newspaper as a pleasant change from painting or drawing on a plain piece of white paper. There is nothing more satisfying to me than the rich black lines you get from using a Sharpie pen directly onto newspaper. It's fun (and relaxing) to outline the newspaper columns or create new forms and designs covering over photos and advertisements. After working at my drafting table for awhile, the smell seems to knock me over and I know its time to open that window and to take a Sharpie break. Then I might add some acrylic paint to the newspaper shapes using the end of a piece of cardboard, a plastic credit card or even a brush to smear or apply the paint. When the paint dries I might bring back more marks with the Sharpie. Painted papers can be used in collage or as solo pieces of work.
It might seem simple to paint or collage a Minimalist piece, but as many artists have discovered, it is very difficult to be simple! Minimalism looks at how objects relate to the physical space of the paper. Working in a minimalist mode you are eliminating all nonessential forms, colors, elements, textures, features etc. You are bringing your work down to the basics and conveying a calming tone. One way to learn how to "find" a minimalist composition is to take a piece of drawing paper and to randomly and quickly apply paint, marks, scribbles leaving some areas of white space. Try not to think too much when doing this. Next take a scissor and cut the piece up into small squares (without thinking too much...just cut up!) Now examine your squares and isolate compositions which are nice and simple. You can than use those thumbnails for inspiration for larger pieces.
Con-Tact Shelving paper has multiple uses both in the home and in the art studio. Because this shelving paper has an adhesive backing, you can cut out shapes from the paper and position on a Mixed mMedia piece where you would like to leave white space showing. Or if you would like to add a new color on top of an underlying layer, you use your stencil to apply the new paint color. You can buy Con-Tact shelving paper in most home stores. Con-Tact Creative Covering Multipurpose Shelf Liner also allows you to reposition the paper so that you can easily lift off your artwork without damaging your project. Thank you to Susan Spaniol for sharing this technique in our WHAL Wednesday afternoon class on Abstract Mark Making.
It took me decades to learn how to make a mess and to finally relax and to stop worrying that i got paint on the floor ! Of course I needed an art studio with hard wood floors to be able to have the luxury of being able to spill, pour, fling, splatter, spray, tear etc. and not de-compensate over the collateral damage I was creating. I'm not totally freak out free yet...I do like my slop sink white and clean and Comet is my best friend. However with the pleasure one takes with channeling their Abstract Expressionism, also comes the understanding that skilled artists know how to balance chaos and control when making abstract art. Pollack didn't just splatter paint....he was keenly aware of his composition resulting in very organized and successful artwork. Franz Kline 's seemingly impulsive black and white pieces were planned out first. Many Abstract artists work hard at the process of making a wonderful mess, reigning in their work, constructing and deconstructing and ultimately modulating the tensions of spontaneity, creativity and skill.
One of my students introduced me to Honeycomb Boards or packing material in our last Mark Making class. I was so excited about finding a new texture maker, that I had to beg her for a piece for my own work. This versatile corrugated pad is a light weight packing supply which is used as protective cushioning for many industries. The Honeycomb generally has a flat piece of heavy paper on the top of it. You will need to peel the top layer off to expose the Honeycomb and cut a small portion of the packing material to print or stamp with. Apply paint directly onto the Honeycomb with a brush or dip it into a paper plate with paint and then proceed to print or stamp the Honeycomb onto your art work.
When you are making painted papers for Mixed Media collages or working directly on a support (paper, canvas, art board etc.) you may want to add texture to your piece. In MIxed media, many different types of wet and dry media are used to offer a variety of marks, strokes and textures. A really cool way to create texture is to roll your brayer into a puddle of paint and than to roll the brayer again over a remnant of plastic mesh before finally rolling the brayer onto your work. The result will be the creation of nibs on the brush that will create a wonderful pattern once the brayer is rolled onto a Mixed Media piece. You can also try rolling the brayer (with paint already on) onto other interesting objects that you use for texture such as corrugated cardboard or patterned wallpaper samples.
It is amazing how you can create so many interesting marks and textures with common ordinary objects and household materials such as an old plastic credit card. One of my students in my Wednesday WHAL Mark making class introduced me to this credit card technique. You begin by placing paper (in this case we were using waxed deli paper called Kabnet) over an old credit card and making a rubbing with a pencil or black crayon. Plastic credit cards can also be used as "a palette knife" to spread paint on paper or canvas. You can also scrape into a painted paper with the edge of the credit card to create nice lines and marks.
When this gorgeous photo of Lake Teedyuskung at Woodloch Pines's appeared on my Facebook News feed recently, I was pulled into the picture and dazzled by the absolute calm and beauty of this gift of nature. While the political world around me is filled with static and unwanted noise, looking at this photograph is a place to find peace and quiet. Spending decades vacationing at this popular resort, I have painted or sketched this lake scene over and over in all seasons. But this photograph by a gifted photographer unknown to me, taken on this winter day, reminded me that I can always find inspiration and solace in my art and in nature. The photo was also a reminder to me that I must work hard to protect that which is cherished, taken for granted or compromised.
Have you ever thought of your artistic inertia as a blessing and not a curse? Many creative types put a negative spin on such dormant episodes, calling these phases of hibernation "ARTISTIC BLOCK". No, no...these are critical relaxation periods for creative types when their pilot light is in reset mode. Shortly after these "breaks in action" the reset will generate a spark which often results in new ideas, turning points or revisions in one's approach to their work. A lot is always going on inside the minds of true artists. Like a sponge, the brains of creative people seem to be soaking up the world inside and around them. even when they are in a so called quiet period. These phases are not symptoms of inertia but rather recharging sessions which are critical to honor and cherish.
Don't feel guilty if you are a Mixed media artist who pokes through bundles targeted for charity . Even though I donate toys, clothes, linens, household items to local organizations, I also keep in mind whether a particular object can be used in my art making projects and I separate it out form the giveaways. Let's call it like it is, Mixed media artists are scavengers. In the photo shown, I saved this blue game part to use to create circular patterns in my Mixed media collages. While it looks like a stencil, it was actually part of a child's game unrelated to art. You can draw into the circles or paint over the circles leaving an impression with the paint.
Next time you come across remnants of ceramic tiles, take a look at the back of the tile. Often there is a very interesting pattern on the backside of the tile which can be used as a printmaking tool in Mixed media art. In the tile shown, I painted orange paint on the underneath side of the tile and then stamped or printed with the tile onto my work. I will use this tile over and over again, adding different colors when needed. You can also over stamp with the same color creating more patterning and textures on your work.
It is very interesting to sit down with a group of artists during a critique session and to discuss one of the student's work. Discussions generally focus on the assignment at hand (printing without a press) and how each participant met the challenge. In the piece shown, there was even more discussion because this abstract evoked so many different images to the group assembled. Some students saw "fingers", others imagined a Snow-scape or Beach-scape. What type of mood and setting did this piece evoke...mysterious, peaceful, eerie etc. What about this piece led some people to think about it being a landscape (or fingers) ....the horizontal applications of paint, a horizen etc? Lines, marks, shapes, smears, blotches , intensity, negative space and how paint is applied are part of the abstract artist's toolbox. Student work shown.
What a treat visiting Rosalie and Ray Gustafson, both artists who have a whimsical gallery and Frame shop called "Ray's" at 53 Poqonock Avenue in Windsor, CT. Rosalie always shares lots of her art tips and makes you feel right at home in her showroom. The shop is small but carefully planned to make to make every nook and cranny count. Rosalie enjoys variety in her work and often mixes her media to create interesting textures. One of her favorite techniques is to cut a landscape or cityscape design into a piece of Styrofoam (the kind found in the meat section of the grocery store) and to coat with paint and print with. She has done many paintings with a city scape theme that she starts out with the technique just mentioned. Than she collages painted or printed papers onto the original painting.