November 2009

In Chicago

When I think of a city, the first one I think of is Chicago.  I grew up three hours north of here, my uncle lives here, I went to college here.  Clearly its colors have made an impression on me.  But I still can’t wrap my brain around its size.  It always seems like this was a city built for some larger beings than us.  The city is full of these immense horizontal spaces, gorgeous and empty, too exposed for people to feel comfortable.

I was hoping to get some good reference photos but my viewfinder just seemed too small.  We had a great trek across the city, though.  We started on the south side, having lunch with a friend who had just started her lab at the University of Chicago, and ended the day up in Andersonville with a friend starting his lab at Northwestern.  In between we stopped at Hema’s for what is still the best Indian food I’ve had.  With both friends by the end we’d broken out our notebooks and fallen to brainstorming about experiments.  This is by far and away my favorite part of science.  Of all the creative endeavors I’ve tried, its the easiest to do with other people.

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A little bit of progress

After moaning for weeks that I hadn’t done any painting this year, and I that had yet to develop a personal style, I did two things this weekend.  One was to upload a bunch of my artwork to Flickr.  Which reminded me just how much art I have.  It was nice to see all in one place, and to be able to organize it into sets.  Check it out.  I also added a nifty app to the sidebar which shows a selection of stuff and also links to my photostream.

I also finished another oil painting.  And I’m not sure why but this one really looks to me like my watercolors and sketches.  Probably because of all the dark line work— I just can’t keep myself from drawing on the canvas.  I’m always operating under the delusion that as I get better at oils, my paintings will start to look like the paintings of artists I admire.  When in fact they will just start looking more like my sketches.  That’s okay.  I’m really happiest and more comfortable with a sketchbook; all the prints and paintings are just ways to make those sketches more permanent.

And, so the sewing folks don’t feel left out I also added a patternreview app that links to my sewing projects.  Including a link to the magical disappearing dress post.  I also finished the muslin for my mom’s dress just in time for Thanksgiving.  So hopefully I’ll have fitting pictures next week.

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Cities again

When I was in grad school I became obsessed with drawing cities.  I loved their intricacy.  I loved their detail.  I loved the way all their pieces fit together to create three-dimensional paths.  But all my cities were in black-and-white.  And then I took this illustration class where my teacher said I really ought to learn something about color.  And I put the cities away because I didn’t know how to draw them in color.

As anyone who’s been reading this blog knows, I am also obsessed with grays.  And it turns out that cities are full of luscious lovely varied shades of gray.  After a couple years of painting grays, and one year of sewing them, I feel ready to tackle cities again.  This time in color.

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Where are you going with that?

Creativity, as the saying goes, is a lot like a shark.

There have been periods of my life when I drew obsessively: in high school, the year after college, the last two years of graduate school.  And periods when I drew very little.  During the obsessive periods I was usually trying to work something out.  First how to draw a face from a photograph.  Later how to catch something quickly in a few lines.  The last three years I’ve been trying to learn something about color.  And then I’ll feel like I’ve figured something out.  And then I won’t want to draw anymore.

I know my artwork isn’t where I want it to be.  I can see people working at a much higher level.  But I don’t know how to get there.  I don’t even know how to articulate what it is I need to work on.  Maybe its that I need to “develop a personal style.”  But I hate that phrase.  It suggests that I need to make things that all look the same.  And I can’t think of a better way to stop painting than to try to turn out a consistent product.

I keep whining to David that I need a teacher, or a mentor, or a community of some sort to help me get some direction.  But I haven’t really found that here yet.

So in the absence of any of those things, I’m going to try to give myself some direction.  Here are some of the things I want to work on this year: I want to learn to see an image in terms of the brushstrokes I’ll use to create it.  I want to overcome my fear of thick paint.  I want to add texture to the surface of my paintings.  And I want to learn to express depth. (The spatial kind, not the emotional one).

A lot of these things have grown out of sewing.  In drawing I am always trying to ignore the details and focus on big shapes. But what sucks me in about a piece of fabric is always its texture.  When I manage to put texture into a painting I can see people respond to it.  I love a painting that looks like some place and that also really looks like paint.  But it doesn’t come easily to me.  My inclination is to paint thin, save pigment, and keep control over the painting.  This year I’m going to try to let that go.

Sewing is also the first 3-D art I’ve done.  Part of the fun is trying to work out how to turn a 2-D shape into a 3-D form.  And now I’m trying to figure out how to make paintings that go back in space.  Part of what attracted me to the last three images was the glitter in the distance where you can’t quite make out what is going on.  Its funny that in a painting, space is created through texture.

So that’s my attempt to give myself direction.  Sorry for the lack of pictures in this post.  But what is the internet for if not airing your navel-gazing?

What about you?  What are you working on?  How do you keep yourself moving forward?

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Matching

I’ve been working on two things recently: a dress and the figures for a manuscript.

Apparently now I match my data.  Creepy.  At least my labmates said the figure looked “very professional.”

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Drawing from photographs

“If you have to draw something that stands still, for goodness sake draw a sculpture.”

My drawing teachers tended to discourage drawing from photographs.  Their basic point was valid.  When you take a photo, you let the lens and sensor do a lot of interpreting for you.  We know the eye does things a camera doesn’t— pick a different exposure for each part of the image for instance.  And I still have a visceral distaste for photorealistic paintings.  Not that I don’t admire the skill involved, but why bother to paint if it ends up looking exactly like a photograph?

On the other hand…

I’ve been finding recently that there’s not enough information in my sketches to complete a print or painting.  Especially as the paintings get larger.  For example, here’s a sketch I did in Vermont this year while standing in the backyard.  Part of what makes the sketch work is the negative (and unfinished) space in the foreground.  But in a painting or etching I would have to deal with that space in some way.  And there’s nothing in my sketch to help me do that.

Not to mention the days when its freezing, or raining, or snowing, or I’m on my way to work or out walking with friends, and the light is fantastic but I don’t have time to bust out the watercolors, at least not without severely pissing off my companions or my boss.  Or the fact that my wonderful husband gave me a camera last spring that just happens to fit perfectly in the front pocket of the jacket I just made.

So I’ve been drawing and painting from photographs recently.  These were done in the comfort of the living room.  In front of a nice roaring fire.

What do you think?  Can you tell the difference?  Do they look too much like photographs?

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