Color in the Lines, Dammit

I subscribe to Taos Magazine. It’s a tourist magazine, really, which is disappointing. It showcases artists, craftspeople, galleries and restaurants. This month there is an article on coloring “outside the lines.” This is a thing I’ve noticed for a while, that there is a perceived virtue in coloring “outside the lines.” It’s a metaphor for originality and non-conformity. But…

I remember coloring books. It was not easy to learn to color inside the lines. I remember a friend — Susan Cobb — who lived up the street and she had taken this to a higher level. Once she’d colored inside the lines, she outlined the shape in question with the same color, pressing harder on the crayon. It had a lovely effect. I imitated her, but I took it a little farther. If the shape were light green, I might outline it in dark green. She, in her turn, imitated me.

It takes discipline, a well-trained hand and eye to color inside the lines. It doesn’t take much to color outside the lines. A two-year-old who doesn’t know how to hold a crayon can do it. Yeah, I hear you, “How do YOU know the two-year-old doesn’t know how to hold the crayon? He’s holding it HIS way!” I’m sorry, but you need to teach that kid when he’s ready or he’s going to be VERY frustrated that he never makes progress and that his crayons keep breaking.

“See Picasso’s work?” said my dad one day. “He couldn’t have done this,” he pointed to an abstract woman’s face that I later learned was a linoleum cut, “without being able to do this.” He showed me a very realistic portrait of a woman. “An artist needs the discipline and ability before he can make the choice. Picasso was so good, he could choose.”

 

gertrudesteinpicasso

Gertrude Stein by Picasso — among other things, look at that HAND.

 

People argue endlessly about what makes good art. I honestly believe that I know good art but really what I know for sure is what I like. But as a writer and a painter, I know that discipline is a big piece of the puzzle in coming up with something really good. My dad was completely right. Only a master can choose.

Lucio Means Light

The occurence of love is often suprising, precious, random. Some of the loves in my life have been sweet beyond belief, and one of those was Lucio.

Lucio was a little boy who lived down the street from me when I lived in the “hood.” He was Mexican, his status was not quite up to Donald Trump’s idea of “legal.” He lived with his grandma and several animals — also not quite legal in the city limits, ducks, chickens, a small pig, a dog and a cat. His aunt and her little daughters lived next door. I first knew him when he was six or so years old. He came up the street to visit, sometimes with another little kid, sometimes by himself.

He liked to draw and when I was doing art in my garage, he liked to draw his own pictures while I did whatever project engrossed me at the time. Then, of course, he got deported.

A few years later (!) Lucio was back. He was twelve! Almost as tall as I. There had been major changes in my world — my marriage had broken up, and I was teaching a lot more to hold life together. Still, as before, I was doing art work in my garage. Lucio asked about my ex and I said, “It didn’t work out. He left a couple years ago.”

“That’s too bad,” said Lucio. “But you’re still here. You need someone to take care of you.”

“I’m fine this way,” I answered and we both nodded.

The project at the time was “Barbies’ Battle of the Bands Benefit Concert for Cellulite Victims” and involved two stages, instruments and costumes for eight Barbie dolls. I didn’t finish the project; I got to the last part — sewing doll clothes — and realized that wasn’t happening.

Lucio hung out while I was drawing guitars. Then, one day he said, “Aren’t you kind of old to play with Barbies?” I cracked up and tried to explain it was sculpture; I wasn’t playing with Barbies. I gave up the project anyway and starting painting a mountain at Zion National Park. Lucio had no objection to a 42 year old woman painting a mountain.

One day Lucio came up with a brightly painted blue, purple and white wooden push cart, the kind used in Tijuana by street vendors. “My grandpa died and left me this,” he said. It was truly amazing. I believe Lucio saw himself as having inherited the family business and having become a man because the next thing he said was, “I want to take you out for lunch.”

I was mildly dumbfounded (if that’s possible). “Ok,” I said. “Where? Did you ask your grandma?”

“Yes.”

There was a new restaurant (Mexican) a few blocks away. Lucio had it all planned out He’d saved his money, too. We walked over to the restaurant, ordered our lunch, talked about art, school, whether there was a ghost in the crawl space of my house. The food was pretty good the usual Baja/Tijuana cuisine that I did, finally, get used to and even miss now that I’m back in the land of hot green chile and sopapillas.

We walked back home and Lucio said, “I’ve wanted to take you out for a long time.”

I said, “Thank you, Lucio, it was fun,” realizing, suddenly, that I’d been on a date with a 12 year old.

Not too long after, Lucio, his grandma, his aunt and his cousins were all deported. I never again saw my young prince or his beautiful cart.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/06/07/rdp-7-purple/

Personal Art History — Suffering for Art

The first time I heard the word “patina” was in a high school art class. We’d just done clay sculptures and fired them. The next step was to paint them, but we didn’t call it painting them. We called it putting on a patina. The goal was to make the clay look like bronze.

My teacher did not like me or my work and made no bones about it. He often asked me what I was doing in the art room since I had no talent and I just bothered people.

I don’t know what he saw when he saw me. I don’t know what my behavior was like, but probably very obnoxious. No idea. I wanted attention from my teacher, but all I got was negative attention. “You have no talent,” he said. “I don’t know why you hang around here.”

We had open scheduling so we could just GO to the art room at any time there was no class in session. I did that, but I also went to class. I had a lot of projects in my mind. I did all the assignments — but probably NOT like he wanted me to. He was very, very nurturing and helpful to those he believed had talent, but he hated my work and disliked me.

His own work? In my opinion (even then) everything he painted looked the same. He was of the Western Impressionist school and the colors he used were out of nature’s paintbox for the most part. Yellow ochre figured prominently Yellow ochre is a GREAT color, but not the only one… He, naturally, used large brush strokes, painted directly, and so on, but he encouraged my brother and his friends who were cartoonists. Clearly the man was NOT invested in teaching everyone to paint just like he did.

So…I soon donned the patina of the high school graduate and went to college. I was determined to major in art. I wanted to be a sculptor.

My sculpture teacher told me I had no talent for sculpture, and he said I should stick to drawing which (he said) I was good at. He was explaining this to me as we talked about a drawing I’d done that was taped to the wall in the hallway of the art building next to the soda machine.

“Professor,” said one of my classmates who HAD talent, “I’m so sorry, but I tried to buy a soda and the machine exploded all over some chick’s picture that’s taped to the wall in the hallway.”

The picture was drawn in pencil which isn’t all that water soluble, and was actually improved by the patina of Pepsi.

My drawing teacher, on the other hand, was a real teacher. She watched me drawing one  afternoon in class and assessed the problem instantly. Fear. I’d been brow-beaten into a kind of secret artistic existence. This emerged when I attempted to make art. Our work says a lot and our working process maybe says even more. I was going at a piece of paper with a #3 pencil from 9 inches away. Way too close, way too light, way to tentative. I was a conundrum. I wanted to draw, I wanted to be an artist, but…

“Put that down,” she said of my pencil. “Wait here.”

She returned with a small can of black tempera and a small can of white tempera and a 2 inch brush. “Draw,” she said. “Stand back here where you can see something. And you need to get some better paper.”

She set me free.

Over the years I’ve confronted this over and over. Other artists sometimes have strong feelings about my work. I don’t know why. First, whether a person has talent or not they should make art if they want to. There’s no law that says a piece of work anyone does — even Leonardo — is going to be any good. Second, there are a lot of artists out there whose work I absolutely hate. Yet, they are considered to be great artists (Frida Kahlo tops that list). Is my opinion important in any way? There are other artist whose work moved me at one point in my life and now I think it’s “Meh” (Georgia O’Keefe for example).

This weekend my friend L painted rocks with me. She was trepidatious. She might get it wrong. I got a rock ready and sketched the reindeer, just an outline, with the nose. She sat down and grabbed an acrylic pen. I’ve learned they don’t work that well on rocks. “Use this,” I said, handing her a brush and some tan paint. The paint flowed perfectly into the shape on the rock in seconds. Then she wanted darker brown for the antlers and was going to mix black with the tan. “I’ll mix you some darker brown,” I said. “That black is a higher quality paint than that tan and will just be black.” So I mixed some brown. She painted and began to relax, finally putting an evergreen wreath on his head. 🙂

Then she wanted to do a wreath, but she just had a white rock. “I think you can handle that,” I said. “It’s just a wreath.”

“Yeah, I think I can draw a circle.” She picked up my drawing pencil and drew a circle, very tentatively. I pointed out that the rock was a long oval so maybe she wanted to leave room at the bottom for a bow.

She went at it and was suddenly INTO it. “I’m going to make a peace wreath,” she said — and did! Then she wanted to put leaves on the wreath. She dipped the brush in green and started to “draw” leaves. It wasn’t working.

“Here, let the brush do the work,” and I showed her how to use the side of the brush to make leaf-like blobs.

Then I thought about all that is involved in learning to paint.

How to mix colors, how to use colors, what a brush can and cannot do, what things ACTUALLY look like vs how you KNOW them to be (a tree doesn’t look like myriad leaves attached to branches. It looks like a blob of colors). There’s so much more, and it all takes time and practice.

I’ve had a hell of a time in my life selling a story. My life as a writer (everyone has always said, “Martha Ann, you’re a writer not an artist”) has never “taken off” but I’ve sold a lot of paintings. As I told my friend this weekend, “Just have fun. It is the least important thing in the world.”

Except to the person who loves it and we never know who that is, who that will be.

My friend’s rocks were found by a little girl during the Christmas parade… I think my friend is now a VERY successful artist!!!

Lois Rocks 1

Lois Rocks 2

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/patina/

Magnet

It’s a bit earlier than I usually write this and a bit earlier than I usually get up. My brain is still dreaming though I’ve managed to make coffee and breakfast and feed the dogs. Unfortunately, my favorite part of sleep is the hour or so before I get up and that would be going on right now. But I like this time of day.

I was thinking about routine. I like routine and so do the dogs. If anything, they are more tied to doing this thing at this time than I am. For me it’s a scaffolding on which I can hang adventure, and today I’m going to Taos with a friend. It’s a 1 1/2 hour drive from here. My friend is an artist — usually she works with fiber and makes “wearable art” — and has work hanging in two galleries. For the last month she’s had a large wall show hanging in one of the galleries and we’re going to take it down.

I never imagined I’d live where I do. In my memory/imagination Taos and Santa Fe were exotic locales one went to for special reasons or because one was very lucky. Even when I was looking at Monte Vista on the map before moving here, I never put it into the bigger picture, looking beyond the boundaries of Colorado.

Taos has been a magnet for artists for a century or longer. I imagine everyone connects it with Georgia O’Keefe. It’s strange to think of D. H. Lawrence having lived there, but he did. What a jaunt from the coal mines of Yorkshire, England to the high desert of northern New Mexico.

The photo above is wild mint growing beside the ditch next to the Monte Vista golf course. When I crushed a leaf, the fragrance was very mild but definitely spearmintlike, the leaves are a little bristly and the flowers are a magnet for the bees.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/magnet/

What’s Art, Anyway?

Last week I had lunch with new friends here in Heaven. They are all artists. We talked about — or expressed ourselves — about what makes art. Some cried out against landscapes. Some cried out against something else. Some expressed the opinion that certain photographs and certain kinds of paintings were steps in the “progress” one makes to become a real artist. Some cried out against painting from photographs. One of them and I agreed that if an artist isn’t pushing themselves, it’s boring.

I came home inhibited. I paint landscapes. I paint other things, but I do paint landscapes and I thought they were art because they’re not easy for me. I also paint from photographs — I consider many of the photos I take to be sketches from which I’ll paint at some point. I don’t see why anyone should sit in a mosquito infested field with a sketch pad and go home and paint from it when they could just take a photo. I do other paintings, too, but painting landscapes and painting from photos improve my technique with the brush and with color.

The great thing of painting, for me, has been freedom, but now I feel less free. As I listened, I also thought, ” These guys have been to school and gotten advanced degrees in art. I didn’t do that.”

As far as getting along with my art teachers, I’m 2 for 2. My experience of “studying” art can be distilled into Stephen Crane’s poem.

“Think as I think,” said a man,
“Or you are abominably wicked; you are
a toad.”
And after I thought of it, I said, “I will, then, be a toad.”

My artistic heroes are the guys who painted day in and day out whatever someone told them to paint because they needed to earn a living. Those guys would have mastered the craft in ways most modern artists never need to. When I was wandering around in Verona, I went to the cathedral and went through the oldest part of the church. The cathedral was an architectural concretion. There were workmen restoring frescoes that were more than 1000 years old. A canvas tarp hung between the passageway and their work to help keep their work clean. I sat down outside the tarp and listened to them talk.

They weren’t talking about the meaning of art or if they were or were not artists. They were talking a bit about the materials they were using (native ochres, mostly), but for the most part they were planning their weekends.

I envied them their skills and training, but, as Goethe wrote, through our lives — especially in our youth — we look ahead down myriad pathways. We go a little way on one and then the other before we find the one that fits us best. He was in his late 30s when he turned away forever from the possibility of being an artist. He was in Italy when he made this determination about himself. He’d lost interest in writing. He was weighed down by Sorrows of Young Werther and the resultant fame and the numerous copy-cat suicides. He wanted to write something else. He wondered if he could. Some months in Italy, and he found his way back to unfinished projects — Tasso and Iphegenia among others. The drawings he’d imagined he would do as a record of his Italian journey became the job of a young German artist, Christoph Heinrich Kniep.

I have a beautiful little book of Goethe’s watercolor sketches of places in Italy and Switzerland, some of which I have seen in real life, too. My favorite is his sketch of the Rheinfall. I have seen the Reinfall several times and it makes me happy to be able to look at the vision Goethe had while he was there.

He wrote about it, too, in Faust II, and I recognized it right away in his words — it is also my very favorite passage in all that Goethe wrote — and it is a painting in its way.

The waterfall I now behold with growing
Delight as it roars down to the Ravine.
From fall to fall a thousand streams are flowing,
A thousand more are plunging, effervescent,
And high up in the air the spray is glowing.
Out of this thunder, rises, iridescent,
Enduring through all change the motley bow,
Now painted clearly, now evanescent,
Spreading a fragrant, cooling spray below.
The rainbow mirrors human love and strife;
Consider it and you will better know:
In many hued reflection we have life.

A landscape.

A photo of the Rheinfalls -- there is very often a rainbow.

A photo of the Rheinfalls — there is very often a rainbow.

Suspend the Fear of Consequences. Just Draw

I never had a talent for being 5’8″ and slender. I’d still like it but all the practice in the world won’t make THAT happen.

Other talents? My high school art teacher (who said I had no talent for painting) said there’s no such thing as talent, genius or inspiration. He’s wrong, of course, and contradicted himself, but he’s partly right. I draw pretty well, but  I started drawing as a little girl. At a certain point my dad told me to draw an iris. I think I was six or seven. I intuitively sat on the ground, looked at an iris and drew it. I didn’t draw it out of my head or from memory. I drew the iris in front of me.

I also copied a lot of pictures other people had done — in third grade I copied Japanese prints of  Geishas. I now know that I had access to them because 1) my third grade teacher needed a way to manage me while she taught the other kids, 2) the heads on the girls I was drawing at the time looked like Geisha heads to my teacher. Ultimately, when it comes to composition and design, I couldn’t have had better examples.

antique_signed_japanese_woodblock_geisha_girl_portrait_print_nr_1_lgw

In college (during my brief stint as an art major) I liked life drawing very much. That’s where I learned to see movement. Up till then — though I didn’t know it — I had only drawn things that were inert.

I don’t believe that everyone is an artist, but, at the same time, I’m not sure I know what an “artist” is. It’s only very recently (the last five years) I’ve dared use that word to refer to myself, and that came about when I did a painting I recognized as art.

Guatay Mountain in Spring

Guatay Mountain in Spring

Three things happened here  — the concept, brushwork (and the paint!) and the use of color came together to capture more than just a trail in dappled sunlight.

Is this “talent?” Or is it something else?

I think it’s that from the beginning drawing and painting have been fun for me. That first iris I drew as a little girl made me love irises more than any other flower. And while iris are supernally beautiful, I think the real reason is that in the process of looking intently at the iris, I was suddenly secondary to the flower. That was my first experience with that kind of seeing and I liked the way it felt.

People ask me if I can teach them to draw, and then I see them get stressed. I see that they WANT to draw, but somewhere down the line they got the idea that they have to get it right. They tense up almost the same way i do when confronted by dealing with money in the shop. I almost always say, “You could probably draw if you drew all the time and suspend your concern over the consequences.”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t worry how it comes out.”

That isn’t easy, and sooner or later we DO have to “get it right” but it’s a long road to that place and the journey should be fun, the ideal Sunday outing with detours, distractions, segments of “Wow!,” unexpected challenges and some perfect moments.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/practice-makes-perfect/

My Brother Was “the artist in the family”

Daily Prompt: What’s your favorite way to express yourself, creatively?

Only non artists “express themselves.” Artists do what they cannot help doing and no amount of pressure from inside or outside will stop them. In a sense, I now feel there’s nothing LESS relevant than self-expression. Anything we do will express who we are, and in ways we probably don’t even understand. This painting, for example, of cornflowers. I seriously set out ONLY to paint cornflowers, still, they couldn’t have been painted this way by anyone else.

Oil on panel. A bee actually tried to land on the painted flowers, so I knew I had the color right.

Cornflowers

***

I started my adult life (college) as an art major. The thing is, my mom strenuously disapproved of this and made sure it didn’t happen. I majored in English because, in my family, well, here’s the story.

Abstract Expressionism Christmas 1981. Denver, snow on the ground. Clear, still, silent, star-lit. Kirk and I take a walk after dinner. My brother is an artist living in the moment of grand opportunities. A visit to his apartment in Colorado Springs requires painting animation cells for a feature length fully animated film, Leafy Wanders in Space, Leafy being my brother’s two-dimensional alter ego. This year, his wife and daughter are having Christmas dinner at his mother-in-law’s house. His father-in-law hates him and once went after him with a shotgun, so Kirk is with my mom and me.

I’m a visual artist, too, something I was never supposed to bring up, acknowledge, admit to, or otherwise claim as an aspect of my identity. It is OK if I write, but if pencil hits paper and drags behind it a line that does not turn into a word, I have overstepped my boundaries. One summer afternoon my grandmother Kennedy upset everyone by proclaiming, “Martha Ann is the REAL artist in the family!”

Artistic vision is highly individual, but still artists can be competitive, and my brother is even though our work is completely different. He is primarily a cartoonist; his other work is illustration. He loves book illustrations of the ’30’s, the work of Howard Pyle and Disney’s cell animation. He believes in studying anatomy in order to draw the human figure then carefully rendering the proportions with a pencil or crow-quill pen on Bristol board. I believe in grabbing a conté crayon, looking directly at naked people and capturing the life behind the flesh in gleefully drawn gesture drawings on rough newsprint.

Earlier that year — much to his horror — I had a one man show of my paintings, mostly gouache on paper, flat paint, flat surfaces; figure paintings of headless bodies. I sold two before the show opened and more at the show bringing in a few thousand bucks. I thought that was pretty good for a one shot deal. It was more than I’d made from writing. “The thing is, you’re an abstract expressionist,” he says suddenly. I do not know what that is. Anyway, I had moved from painting to linoleum cuts. I didn’t have very good tools, but I use what I have and have a lot of fun. I am about to have more fun because, in the next few days, I will get better tools and my brother will teach me how to sharpen them. He smokes a pipe; it keeps his hand warm inside his coat pocket. His hair is short and curled; he is clean-shaven, lean and very handsome. He is my best friend.

The snow crunches as we walk. I talk to him about art and everything I am thinking. It was during those days that I got the idea that art and god were some how entwined. We laugh. “Well, Martha Ann,” he says, “if you’re looking for God, you need to play Black Sabbath backward at 78. And you need to get some emery paper, honey.” Hilarious and deeply profound. The search for god has always involved arcane and absurd ritual (like listening to Black Sabbath backward at 78) and the sharpening of tools, the perfecting of craft. Well, there it was.

Fafner - work based on a dress and pendant I had as a college student, my short career as an artist's model, and a guy who took photos of me after a modeling session

Fafner

Oil on panel, metallic paint (fun) Based on a night I spent in Munich.

Danae

Learning to paint reflections -- the waterfall near my house. Oil on canvas, sold last year.

Descanso Falls

Mysterious painting that came from godnose where. Oil on panel.

The World is Out There

Ironically (or is it?) I have made all of $150 from my writing. I’ve made several thousand from my painting and my work has been in several juried shows. Still and all, none of this (thank you mom!) has been done “for” money. The best thing she ever did was abuse me out of following my dream. Sometimes having a dream is more necessary to life, to survival, than living the dream.  And at this point in my life, understanding that self-expression is inevitable, I try to express more than just myself. After all, part of my SELF is my relation to the world. Any real art is a journey beyond the self into a larger world. I’ve learned this in both my writing and my painting. It might be Ariadne’s thread.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/daily-prompt-express-yourself/