My friend Penny and I have been working on a collaborative project, sending works back and forth, adding layers of words, tissue, paint and so on. These aren’t about making pretty art. They’re about documenting stuff that’s deep, and occasionally dark, that we share.
I commented to her tonight that “we are utterly imperfect and that’s totally ok. There is both beauty and survival in our scars.”. Our scars are physical and emotional, surface and deep.
I have a lot of physical scars; there’s a giant one and around a dozen small ones on my stomach alone. A couple of weird – but thankfully faded – ones on the side of my neck from a central IV line. A big one on my right leg from a total knee replacement and, later this coming week, there will be a matching one on the left knee.
It’s the same with the emotional scars … some are small and faded, others deep and persistently livid. I’ve talked about the cause of some on this blog, others there’s only one or two people who know the story. And there’s a couple of scars I can’t ever verbalise – but I have shared most of it, in writing, and in tears.
Scarred inside and out. And that’s okay. The scars are part of me, just as my art is part of me. Like me, my art isn’t about pretty. It’s not made to match people’s furniture or look cute in a cafe. It’s about telling my story in paint when I can’t find the words and, some of the time, shining light on dark things and bringing a sense of lightness to them.
Penny and I spent a few hours playing with our gelli plates today. We talked about processes, colour/pattern likes and dislikes, and so on. Some really useful things happen when you work alongside someone you trust.
Watching Penny work reminded me of processes I’ve used in the past, but have moved way from. I’d forgotten the sheer joy of putting colour on the plate and pulling a print – there’s no other way to get the serendipitous spots of colour and texture.
Penny had stopped using stencils with gelli printing and rediscovered her love of a particular circle stencil. We talked about how I like quite complex, layered prints, while she likes the clean, clear lines you get from a good ghost print (second pull).
I’ve been watching a lot of Elizabeth St Hilaire’s videos and tried to replicate her process. I didn’t get it quite right, and suspect I’m not starting with a dark enough base, need to think more about value / opacity, and do more layers. I’m sufficiently invested in the outcome that I’ll keep trying.
Here’s a selection of papers I made today using tissue and tracing paper, and one piece of Hahnemule sumi rice paper.
Kraft, not craft! I love the 6×6 Dina Wakley Media heavy Kraft journals. It’s more like cardstock than paper so paint doesn’t bleed through and the substrate never warps. I’m still playing with creating basic backgrounds, exploring colour and pattern. I’ll go back and journal on the pages eventually but for now I’m enjoying pushing paint around.
Most of my art involves layers. Layers of collage, paint, mark making. Hiding things, revealing others, making some areas stand out. The layers are intuitive and unplanned, my hands working back and forth across the substrate.
I was talking to my friend Penny tonight, who is also an artist. She was talking about an aspect of her process that’s important to her. I commented that, when I’m cutting painted paper for collage, I might cut it multiple times, shaving a few millimeters extra off until it feels just right. The shapes are organic, so you’d think those few millimeters wouldn’t matter – but for me they’re crucial.
When I work in layers I’m happy to give up almost any layer, mark, colour if I need to. Nothing is so good it can’t be covered over. I can always paint another one, cut another one. There’s enormous creative freedom in being able to let go. Yesterday I shared online the layer online seen below and said I was going to start covering up most of it. A few people said “don’t”. Too late, it’s gone…
I’ll skip the details but Tony wasn’t great today. He was home for a bit while I was working from home, so I could attend a bunch of local meetings, but I ended up taking him back because he said he felt “absolutely dreadful”. The rest home staff said they’d call me if he got worse.
I felt we’d had far worse days at home but until now he’s been remarkably well in their care so think they got a surprise. As I said to one staff member, he was assessed as needing rest home care for good reason! He’s feeling and looking better now but hasn’t really eaten anything today.
It was an unsettling day, so after dinner I grabbed the new art journal I’ve started and made a bunch of backgrounds. The thing about creating backgrounds is there’s no real thought involved. I grab 3 sprays to lay down some colour, add more colour through a stencil or two, splashes or drips of water to activate the sprays and maybe some dark splatter. It’s about getting my hands busy and distracting my mind. I find it soothing – I believe art is good for the soul (but not so good for the colour of my hands!)
I often use low tack tape around the edges of Fabriano Mixed Media paper then tape it into quarters. I work across the four quadrants as though it’s one sheet, starting with pencil marks, collage, and paint.
If I work towards a finished image too quickly the work feels stiff and boring. That happened today so I grabbed some Dina Wakley acrylic gloss spray and put puddles onto the sheets of paper, moving it around with a brush or just tipping the sheet.
I lost my grip on the bottle and poured quite a lot of Tangerine onto one sheet. Eek! I tipped it around a bit, then used a paper towel to mop some up. I thought it was probably a goner, and would end up being cut into pieces for collage.
But there’s something magic about clean white edges; works that seem blah can suddenly look amazing. I pulled the tape of the 5 large sheets tonight and – go figure – the one with the Tangerine spill is stunning.
In the photos, the one with the mauve tape still in place is a truer colour, the second is done on my scanner which doesn’t capture colour well.
I decided to have a quick count of how many journals I’m using at the moment. It was more than I expected! I’ve got 10 journals on the go, but each one serves a specific purpose.
I’ve got a weekly diary journal. A small journal we’re recording Tony’s journey in. A 6×6 heavy Kraft journal I’m using to explore colour combinations; there’s something lovely happens to colours when you leave some Kraft showing.
A huge Dina Wakley journal that has 3 different types of paper – I bought that size by accident. A small Dylusions one I’m doing this year’s Creative Jump Start in; CJS2021 was in January and February but with Tony’s health I’m doing it slowly this year.
I’ve always got a basic Dylusions and Dina Wakley journal on the go because they are where I play just for the fun of it, but also where I “download my head”.
My art journals are somewhere to download the thoughts in my head without fear of judgement. The pages don’t have to make sense, be pretty or be “art”. They just have to feel right to me.
I use a very intuitive process in my journals, just as I do in my artworks. For me it’s as much about the doing, as the result … it’s more about process than anything else.
Tonight I’ve finished a small black Dylusions journal. I used lots of Dylusions Shimmer paint and Shimmer spray, shaped the page edges and cut peep holes, and generally had fun. I love the final result.
I was talking with my good friend Penny the other night about white space in our artwork. We often use similar colours and methods but our processes and end results are very different.
My art journals are about “downloading my head”l. Often colour and writing fills the page to overflowing – chaos and emotion in 2D. But my abstract landscape art is different; it’s generally my calm, peaceful view to the seen world. I don’t aim to record, but to respond.
Part of that response is a strong need for quiet space, usually white or maybe Titan Buff. I was working on 12 A4 mixed media and, when I sat back, realised I’d put too much colour on too quickly. Tomorrow I’ll look at them in the daylight. Some very strong darks might increase the sense of light, or they might need white paint added back.
On Sunday Penny and I “worked large” at Left Bank Art Gallery. I worked quite slowly for me, adding pencil, paint, and collage layer by layer – working across 8 panels at once. Next adding marks with NeoPastels, oil pastels and Inktense and finally a Posca for white splashes. Between each layer I sat and looked and thought … sometimes I work without stepping away at all, but not this time. I think the extra space around me encouraged a different way of working.
These are cellphone photos in changeable light so not totally representative but good enough for now. The photo without white edges is detail from the main work, which is 50x76cm on Fabriano Artistico paper, so will need flattening a bit.
I’ve always loved mark making; it’s generally how I add my strongest contrasts. I’m excited about these works, which use the colours of Hokitika Gorge but (to me anyway) have a feel of Mana Bay in Patea as a safe harbour.