Friday, October 3, 2008

Art, motorcycles and pickles?!

I have Bob Dylan to thank for the sheer astronomical numbers of times I've tried to come up with an idea and the word that popped in my mind was 'pickle'. Today I happened to hear the Pickle Song (I don't wanna pickle, just wanna ride my motorsickle) and listened to the story in the song, wondering why that word sticks in my mind so much.

The whole premise of the story is that he wrote the song on the way to what he thought was certain death, as the last song he wanted for posterity, and even though he had some time (it was a long way down lol) he didn't rush what he wanted to say.

Beyond being hysterically funny (maybe you have to be a 60's child to really appreciate it) it's useful imagery. Although I've never painted a pickle (or sculpted a pickle) it's still the image behind my work, because every time that word pops in my head it tells me I'm just trying too hard, to just let go and create what appeals to me at the moment. At the moment I'm doing that with my Jammins'© characters.

 I was at a point (and had been for a solid year) of not creating any artwork at all. It mostly had to do with health issues, but I also questioned where my creativity had gone in my overall body of work. Just doing a good job at something may be satisfying on an accomplishment level, but not always on a fulfillment level. So one day I bought some plain old Sculpey, just to see if I might have something to say in another medium. 

I thought I'd do a figure, just to see if it would take the molding and if the molding quality itself was worth pursuing. Hmmm, I thought, male or female? 'Pickle' my mind said. So ok, lets just start with a face and head. Hmmmm...androgynous...that's an interesting look. No ears? No eyeballs? hmmm...maybe this being sees with it's heart and soul and has no need for these appendages. 

I got done with the head and it was pretty appealing to me. But I was at a loss for where to go from there. So I set it aside for the next day. When I sat back down with it I just grabbed a big chunk of clay and started to push it around the neck, no idea where I was going with it. And darn if it didn't form a simple gown encased body with the cutest little hands and feet. And it seemed to be totally jamming to it's own little vibe. 

The one power that I've found art to have is that once you have created something, it exists. This little creature was not the only one of his kind. He was a manifestation of my/our inner child and his whole being was joyous and simple, yet somehow in a deeper way there was a message in how he and the other Jammins'© see the world. 

It's a good message and I want to help spread it. So it doesn't really matter if it's not considered fine or 'serious' art. I've seen the real inner child in someone come out when they saw a Jammins'© and if for no other reason, I will make as many Jammins'© as are waiting in line to be created, just to see that reaction time and again.

So see? Pickles. You gotta grab your muse any way you can get it :)

The Art of Critiquing

Artists can be hard on themselves and usually it's about the things they feel they're not 'good enough' at. Critiques can be helpful if they involve seeing an overall picture of the work, not just the good or bad points.

The same critique techniques can be used by the artist to evaluate their own work by following a general criteria to look at key points. 


Did you convey the inspiration that compelled you to paint the subject? If it was a portrait, does it catch the likeness, or the character? If it was a certain light did you give it the drama needed to be focal? If you feel you did not catch the mood, then it's time to look and see how technique can help in the next piece.


The eye seems to be drawn to certain placements more readily than others. Even though beginning artists tend to plop things right in the middle of the page it's not the best place for a focal point. There are points like on a third mark (mentally divide the page into thirds and place your subject on one of the intersecting lines) that give paintings interest. The Golden Ratio is another method of placement.  You don't have to follow an exact rule but the important thing is that there's a flow that keeps the eye moving around the painting. You can control how someone does this by using a lot of different techniques. 


Technique is not only about how well you wield a brush or a tool. Art is an illusion and there are ways to manipulate your medium to help with that illusion. Do you have hard and soft edges? This helps the eye move, fades certain areas into distance or less importance and accentuates areas of more importance, bringing them forward. Placing something to stop the eye is important too, especially if something in your work is pointing the eye out of the picture. A well placed solid object can halt that escape. 

Are you using color to your advantage? Warms and cools help with depth, contrasting colors bring excitement, harmonious colors keep, well, harmony throughout. Grays made from colors work as neutrals, mud is failed neutrals that jar.

Do you have a distinct focal point? This is not necessarily a complete object...but the 'impact' point of the artwork. To get a good focal point play up that area, subdue the rest to it.


Perhaps this is the most important much can throw the flow off...a line/edge that is too long or short for proportion, an angle that isn't quite right on a shape. Look for what you don't see, negative shapes are just as important to flow as what a viewer can see. 

Using the critique

Perfection is unattainable, but improvement on the next piece certainly is within your reach and if you fairly critique your work and use it to improve, then it has an accumulative effect over time. You can't fix everything at once. Choose one thing to work on, research it, practice it, use it to advantage until you've 'got' it. Then move on to another area to work on. Before long you will see an overall improvement on your work and you will have the necessary skills to create any illusion you want.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What is Fine Art?

There's a question for the debate forums! 

Here is Wikipedia's definition of fine art. It starts out as a simple distinction between aesthetic and utilitarian. But just as in real life, the definition seems to get murkier as it goes deeper into discussion, and where it gets tied up the worse is when it's about which work should be included. Is it traditional art only? Only traditionally recognized mediums? 

Artist probably argue over this more than non-artists. It's hard to get recognition in a market geared a certain way, so perhaps artists just want to know where they fit in. I think most of it is elitism though, both in artists and collectors. 

Rather than look at a certain style or medium, I like to look at an artist's mindset. First, I do think workmanship has a lot to do with how I think about a piece of art. It doesn't matter if it's a technically difficult realist oil painting or a color splashed abstract, fine delicate sculpt work or rough hewn bold figured clay, there's a difference between what I consider fine art and ordinary art. If you can see shortcuts, i.e.: sloppiness, then it's not 'fine'. If an artist doesn't care enough to take the time to make their work the best it can be, then why should I care about it?
Note that I am not talking about degrees of roughness, that's style, not workmanship. 

When looking at mindset then, I can see that the artist cares that their work is to the highest degree possible. That fact alone elevates work into the fine art category for me. There are artists that feel this way, but may not have learned the technique necessary yet, so to me they are budding fine artists...on their way, but not quite there.

And I do not exclude any medium there is that can be used to express an artist's vision, traditional or not. I feel sorry for people that have closed their minds to certain mediums because they're not considered acceptable. I have found fine art not only in traditional guise but more obscure media like digital work, carpentry, food and ice carving and tattooing. There's more, but these come to mind when thinking of artists that are hungry for respect for their work.

There'll always be a fight for recognition of an artist's work one way or another. The point is that getting lost in semantics will get neither the artist or the collector anywhere. To me, plain and simple, fine art is something aesthetic that makes me draw my breath in when I first see it. Sometimes sheer craftsmanship will have that effect, sometimes it's concept or subject matter done a certain way. In the end fine art has that extra piece of heart and soul in it that sets it above the rest.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Why I create art

Hmmm, you think that vocalizing the why of creating would be an easy thing for an artist. Ha...ask any artist that has had to create an artist statement just how hard it really is to explain. And not only that, many artists can't even articulate it to themselves! Why is that?

Well, firstly, creating is a compulsion. Your mind is just geared towards wanting to paint, sculpt or craft and so you just do it. At first it's just exploration and then when you're not satisfied with the results it's about learning technique. It's tied in with concept and creativity and maybe you don't even think about it, you just do it. 

When asked to do an artist's statement then, the words just aren't there. You resort to what others have said for your example...sometimes simple, some times just a lot of fancy words but not really what your reason is. You wonder if they even know why they create.

I've come up with a lot of things myself over time..mostly things to do with what I was trying to say with my work. I'm not really sure I even nailed that...if you've got something to say there has to be a reason you think it's important. I never really could nail the reason I painted or sculpt.

And then while sitting outside today admiring how nice the grass looks it came to me; as usual, in a very round about way. You see, when we first got our home I had that pride of ownership that comes with owning your own home (really huge after living such a large part of my life in a tent or wheeled vehicle). I wanted to take care of the place, even stretched our poor budget to keep on a company to continue taking care of fertilizing and weeding. 

Then I watched the yard get worse each year. had to be me! Not enough water, too much water, didn't aerate, allowed the thatch to get too thick...on and on until both the lawn and I were worn out. I finally decided the company I paid had no real idea of what they were talking about. So I decided to take over.

It's been an enlightening experience. At first I was nervous as heck that I'd kill the grass and way too eager to kill anything that wasn't supposed to be there. Then I seeded in new grass in a couple areas...this in the high desert in the summer. First try in the spring fell apart once the heat set in, the second try this fall has gone well. 

Along the way I learned. Formulas don't have to let things tell you what they need and that takes observation. Some things that I didn't think belonged were actually helpful...clover acted as nursery plants, shielding tender shoots from the sun and they feed nitrogen into the ground. And some wonderful wildflowers have crept in here and there and I've let them be. I do hand weed and spot spray for the bad pricker type stuff, and invasive things like wild morning glories (though I've left some spots for even them). I only fertilized in the beginning of the year and made sure the water needs were met. My lawn looks the best it has ever looked...thick, green, lush.

Boots loves to roll on his back in's a daily routine. Yesterday a friend came over and flopped down on the grass to enjoy it. I sit in the shade on the grass with Boots on a hot day and just enjoy its scent and softness. Thinking about this made me realize that I didn't do all this work to have a lawn for bragging rights (although it really does look nice). I did it for the pleasure of the sensation a lawn can bring, to myself and others. 

And boom...the thought flew in my head that that is why I create art (and so funny, because I'd just articulated the fact about liking to bring pleasure to others with my art in a letter to a friend and didn't even get what import it had). It's also funny that creating art and tending a lawn have so many things in common...quite the learning curve. 

In my art I tend towards lighter subject matter...I want to bring a smile of pleasure to someone's face. I also want people to see that there is always a lighter side to be found and to seek it themselves. That is purely why I create art. Simple, eh?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Another this and that art related subjects

Well, it's time to change the art site of the week, I hope you enjoyed seeing Lisa Lorenz's wonderful work. 

Now I'd like to introduce Mark Malone , this week's artsite. I've always liked Mark's work for it's power and potential. He has a distinct style that carries through his oil paintings, sketches and digital work and I've enjoyed watching him work to make his own unique artistic vision work into any subject he chooses. Hope you enjoy.

Here's a link to sculptor Javier Marin too, his work astounds me with it's sheer power. The size and scope of his work, though extremely different in style, puts me in mind of the historical period when huge sculptures ruled the environment they sat in. 

And on an entirely different note, check out the miniature work of Michelle Bradshaw , the first piece I saw of hers was East of the Sun West of the, amazing details. 

I guess I just love all sorts of sculpture styles and size really doesn't matter. What I do like is seeing an artist's distinct point of view done with great technique. It's sort of like sneaking into a person's mind and getting to rummage! 

Having a hard time classifying my artwork

Last night I was telling Chopper about a piece I wanted to sculpt that had several elements, he thought it was rather complicated and wondered why I wouldn't just paint the scene instead. That conversation got me on a train of thought.

Most of my miniatures are one piece, and actually the one I'm planning is going to be one solid piece, but with many components. All the elements will be miniature but the height will take it out of that classification. But this piece won't be that tall, surprised if it even reaches a foot high, which is still a rather small sculpture. 

Then I started to wonder if I'm creeping into the diorama aspect of sculpting, but I'm not building walls around my scene so it doesn't quite fit there either. And then there's the definition of sculpting itself, which comes from the Latin meaning 'to carve'. I don't carve, I hand build. 

I'm in murky territory with my medium too...plastic is not a traditional sculpting medium. My Jammins' characters are not true human forms, but they don't really fit into the fantasy category of art either.

It all takes me back to my oil pastel days, they're called pastels, but aren't really. And there was always the issue of pastels being classified as drawings or paintings. Then I moved on to oil sticks and even though they were oil paints, they were the odd man out too. And then there's always arguments over styles of painting and which is best.

Do I just have a different drummer I listen to? An aversion to doing things the same way others do?'s just finding what materials work for me that fit the image in my head, which isn't exactly traditional itself.

So where am I going with this? Well, it seems to me that I'm spending too much time and energy worrying on the wrong things. I like what I do, I'm compelled to do it and I can tell by the reaction to my work that I'm on the right track in my goals as an artist. In the end does it really matter where something 'fits in' ? 

It seems to me the whole idea of being an artist is about sharing your unique vision with others. If you run with the crowd you'll never stand out from the rest. It's not about an ego trip either...I think that art should be a gift to others, it should bring something special into their life...a new way of seeing. 

It's not exactly a 'build it and they will come' sort of pursuit. It is important to know who your audience is and how to reach out with your work so they will find it. The point I'm trying to make is that, as an artist you can't allow yourself to be boxed in by labels. Do your thing and make it work.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Art of Punting

When Chopper and I get in a tough situation and don't really know a solution, one of us will say to the other, 'Well, we'll just have to punt.' The best description I could find for punting (a football term) is  'You may have to give up the ball, but you can make it a lot tougher for the other team to get it to your end zone.' 

Sometimes when creating art you get to a problem that seems insurmountable, but you have no choice except to find some kind of a solution, or the whole piece won't work. That's when you have to stop thinking in a linear pattern and go outside the box. It may not be the original intent to work that way, but it may keep your work from fighting you as you go.

For example: I'm trying to get a character sculpted that has a twist in the center of their body which sets their head 'just so' and windmilling arms. I don't like using armatures for two reasons...first, I like to be able to adjust position and can't if it's too stiff and second, I also tend to get carried away when sculpting and since my clay is so malleable I'm likely to undercut or push something in right to the armature sometimes. I work small, so it's usually not a problem when it comes to bearing its own weight. 

I also usually lock down the bottom of the piece (which helps to hold it in place) to an upside down plate which works as my turning wheel. On this sculpture I can't because it is two pieced and I have to pick it up and put it with the other piece constantly to check for fit. Eventually the two will be joined on a single base. So I have to sculpt it in my hand...the heat from my hand softens the clay, so eventually I lose my twist or the angle of my arms. 

I don't like to fire my pieces before I have it pretty close to the final product. Polymer clay will get hard in a freezer, but will soften within about 15 minutes after you pull it out to work on it. So there's no way to set the shape permanently except by heat. And even though I can sand, carve or add more clay after it's baked, that's a lot of un-necessary work when it's rough and pitted. 

Another issue is that I don't want to get the shape, put it in the freezer to set and then put right in a hot oven. Mind...I've done that before, we're talking low heat here, and all I've gotten is a little water in recesses when it's done. But a niggling voice in my head says that one day I might just get a cracked or exploded piece doing things this way. 

So that's my dilemma, how to set the shape, keep it until fired, and still be able to work it. Well, that's where punting comes in. I obviously have to do something or I will end up with a position that isn't exactly what I feel the piece needs. The longer I fight it, the worse things will probably get.

So...first I have made the decision that getting the shape set permanently  is more important than having a lot of hard shaping work ahead. The trouble is that I still have a soft piece in my hand, how do I shape it to work with the other piece exactly how I want it and then not have it sag in the oven?  I have wire, but it's thin and bendable and good for joining, but not supporting pieces. Think, girl, think!

My eyes fall on my supply of toothpics...I use them as a roller to smooth areas, to mix a paint or indent a corner. They're longer than the arms (which aren't even equal length yet) but hey...I can always cut off the ends when the piece is hard, or if I'm really lucky, pull them straight out (yah, right). 

That works and I think I've done enough in the shoulder and back area to be able to work with the position. So it set it next to the other piece and darn if I haven't lost a little of the twist to the waist, which controls the angle of the head. Double punt! Do I grab my hair dryer and try to set it while holding it, once I have it in the right position again? Noooooo....I don't like crispy fingers. How do I keep that position? 

Well, sorry little guy, but I think if I jam another toothpick up from your posterior through the back while it's turned just right, it might just hold long enough through the baking to lock things in place. As I write this, it's still a mystery how well it's worked, the bake cycle is done, but not the cooling. 

If there was a slight sag I may be able to work with it or I may have to do some shimming with fresh clay. I'd wanted to join the fresh clay to the base (made of the same material and therefore chemically fuseable and better so wet to wet or wet to dry), but I'll have to use a very thin sheet and a very solid bond to both surfaces anyways now, so the shimming will just be a logistical issue. 

Maybe using the toothpicks sound like a simple solution that anyone would think of right off the bat. But the problem is that I had it already in my head that I didn't want to fire this piece yet and that set fact wanted to push away any creative solution I might come up with. By at least allowing myself to entertain the idea in order to save my work, I allowed myself to cast around for obvious solutions. There's times I've walked through the house several times, just opening cupboard doors and drawers and looking in supply boxes, hoping something my eyes land on would give me a hint of how to fix something.

When you run into a problem you have a few options, you can see if what you've got will still work, even if it's not exactly what you envisioned it may be a happy accident that actually improves the whole thing. You can give up and say this is too hard, I must not be good enough to do this, and then, of course, your work will never reach the heights you've hoped for. Or you can punt, either finding a way to make it work or a way to approach things differently that will work.