Avoiding Ungapatchka in Your Artwork

Avoiding Ungapatchka in Your Artwork

ungapatchka: Yiddish word to describe something ridiculously overdecorated, excessively ornamented or kitsch.

This summer I learned a new word from one of my students. Ungapatchka caught my ear for two reasons: firstly, it is so much fun to say, and secondly, the word sounds like the thing it describes. Since I was a Literature major in college, I am a big fan of new vocabulary. Watch this space, because I have a few more vocabulary additions in store for the blog!

My student felt everything in her painting was too cluttered and loud, lacking unity. I’ve often felt this about work in progress, and the thing I do to remedy it is to simplify. Recently a friend mentioned that in general my work could use more emphasis on the focal areas and more mystery in the rest of the painting. Mystery is the opposite of Ungapatchka! So, I have been trying to simplify and unify areas of my work. I want to make sure that one area is strongest and the other areas are sublimated.

If an abstract painting is too cluttered, it draws the eye away from the focal area of the work. While some contemporary painting celebrates busy, all-over pattern, I don’t think my skill set supports that kind of style. I want much of my painting to feel soft, muted and quiet in support of the parts of the work that are most important in contrast, shape or movement.

Watch Me Simplify

Here are a couple of videos of me working on an oil & wax piece. You’ll notice that early on, I’m making pretty drastic changes in the layers, while toward the end of the process, the changes are much more subtle. The earlier work looks more ‘Ungapatchka’ to me. What do you think? The second video is longer. Watch as I make some stronger changes, then subdue them by taking off the paint I just put on. (If the videos are not displayed in your email, click here and here to view them on the web.)

What do you think?

Should we avoid clutter in our work at all costs, or do you agree with Mae West?

“Too much of a good thing can be wonderful!”
-Mae West

Upcoming Exhibits:


Nature Perceived- Randall David Tipton, Don Gray and Ruth Armitage

Grants Pass Museum of Art, February 23 – March 30, 2018. Artist’s Reception: Friday, March 2, 5-9 pm.


Celebration of Creativity

March 1 – 4, 2018 – Southminster Presbyterian Church, 12250 SW Denney Rd., Beaverton, OR 97008

First Look Gala – Thursday, March 1, 7-9 pm, View other hours on their website here.


H2OMG – Muckenthaler Cultural Center, Fullerton, California

February 1 – April 8, 2018 – More information here.

Procrastinators Unite and a New Strange Creature

Procrastinators Unite and a New Strange Creature

As procrastinators go, I would rate my ability to ‘do it later’ as above average. That doesn’t mean that I don’t aspire to become a better procrastinator. This trait is vital to my success as an artist. You may be wondering: ‘Is she serious?!’

Procrastinators Unite

Yes! Let me explain. Artists must wear many ‘hats’ to sustain their small business. Marketing, networking, framing, presentation, book-keeping, graphic design, reproductions, and (in my case) teaching. I forgot to mention one other very important thing: making the art! It is easy to lose sight of the importance of regular studio time when faced with that long list of business oriented work. Add in household duties or a small farm, as I do, and you have many choices for how to spend the few productive hours in a day.

One way that I cope is to joke with myself about being a ‘good procrastinator.’ I’ve even set goals to become better at procrastination. I’m not talking about wasting my time… I’m just choosing to put off things that can wait till less productive hours. For example, I can do laundry in the evening when my brain is fried. Or I might postpone writing a blog post until I’ve finished new work.  Another great way to procrastinate is to put off running errands until you can consolidate several into one trip. This is especially beneficial for those of us who live far from a Metro area.

In all seriousness, I like to enter my studio with the goal of just fooling around for a little while. Giving myself strict productivity goals often seems to backfire. Forcing productivity turns off the part of my brain that just wants to play with color. Being responsible is not for day-dreamers like me. (At least not while I’m in the studio.) I love Mary Oliver’s take on the Artist’s Task – part of the collection of essays in Upstream. Read her view on solitude and responsibility here. Un-interrupted by my more responsible self, I’m free to chase ideas to my heart’s content.

I’m not good enough at procrastination to go full blown ‘Instant Gratification Monkey’ like Tim Urban. If you haven’t seen his TED talk, do yourself a favor and hop on over to take a listen. This is the self-defeating phenomenon described in Steven Pressfield’s War of Art – when someone is resisting doing the difficult thing. Ultimately I’m trying to fool myself out of ‘resistance.’ If I can trick my mind into feeling like I’m playing hooky from important jobs, then the artwork becomes the instant gratification!

Are You Procrastinators?

When do you procrastinate? Does it help you or hurt you? How? I’m fascinated by how each of us self-manage. If I were a negative person, I’d be beating myself up right now. I’ve started 6 blog posts today, and finished only one of them. However, I choose to look at the glass as half-full. I have the start of 6 fabulous essays ready to be fleshed out. I’m excited to add to the ideas that came up while I wrote this post.

A New Strange Creature

"Do Not Hesitate" ©Ruth Armitage, 2017, Watercolor on Paper, 11x15"

“Do Not Hesitate” ©Ruth Armitage, 2017, Watercolor on Paper, 11×15″

I’ve put off the real reason for this post long enough! I’ve been in the studio and here is the latest and greatest. This new abstraction was inspired by a memory of chasing the cows when I was a kid. Our fences on the farm were more like suggestions. The cows frequently escaped their pasture and wandered around. This summer day, it was my designated job to get them back into the pasture. We had seen the herd near a slough in the center of a large field – probably 200 acres. Normally I’d do this job on foot, but I was getting older and smarter, so I took my horse! I was about 11 years old, and riding bareback.

As I approached the slough, the scent of wild mint wafted through the warm air and I felt happy. Suddenly, the neighbor’s giant Polled Hereford bull ambled out of the thicket of brush and lily pads. Fear and panic surged through me as I quickly decided that even on horseback I didn’t want to tangle with this creature. I did not hesitate: I escaped with my horse and called for reinforcements.

Trying to paint this memory, I knew that I wanted the peaceful and fragrant greens, contrasted by the sinister blacks and bolts of red fear. I tried to channel both the peace and the fear – thinking about a poem by Jane Hirshfield titled “Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World.” 

Give it a read, then let me know your thoughts about the poem, the painting or procrastination. I hope your New Year’s resolution involves hanging out with procrastinators like me! Finally, don’t wait: tomorrow is the final day to enter my giveaway! Click here to enter: http://rutharmitage.com/solstice-giveaway/

Solstice Giveaway

Solstice Giveaway

Happy Solstice! Thank you for being a loyal visitor to my site. I’ve been reviewing how my blog and website have grown since I began in 2007. This month my site had almost 80,000 visitors. That’s a far cry from my humble beginning when I had a modest 371 visitors – my whole first year’s traffic totaled 3,738 visitors. Persistence has paid off! So thank you for reading, visiting and sharing this little slice of the internet.

I wish I could send every one of you a gift, but I do want to treat one special reader with the gifts pictured above. First, you’ll love the DVD of Carla O’Connor’s design process in Gouache – opaque watercolor. Carla is one of my favorite artists and teachers and Creative Catalyst Productions are always top notch. Even if you’re not an artist, it is fascinating to see how someone puts their paintings together. Next, I’m including a small 8″x8″ print of one of my cold wax paintings titled “New Green.” It is printed on a cradled panel and ready to hang or frame as you see fit. Finally, I’m tucking in a box set of 8 notecards featuring my artwork – 2 of each design. If you are the lucky winner, I’ll notify you via email and send this off to you anywhere in the continental US.

Enter below, and share this post with your favorite social media. I truly appreciate your support.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A Solstice Blessing

“We need society, and we need solitude also, as we need summer and winter, day and night, exercise and rest.” – Philip Gilbert Hamerton

I wish you both solitude and society – time to evaluate where you’ve been and to plan where you’re going. And I wish you all the good things that life can offer – each in its time.

The Seduction of Praise

The Seduction of Praise

Praise and success are a tricky thing for the artist. While everyone wants to be successful and praise is seductive, the nature of art is so subjective that there are many definitions of success. During the creative process, we run the risk of becoming perfectionistic if we allow thoughts of success to overpower the idea at hand. We all know that perfectionism is fear, and bold creations cannot thrive in an atmosphere of fear.

“We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

I have been re-reading “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. I find it difficult to maintain a regular studio routine during the holidays. Well, let’s be honest here. I always find it hard to maintain a regular studio routine. That’s what the book is about. I’ve been trying to balance making time for artwork with preparing for the Christmas holidays. At times like this I’m thankful to have a dedicated studio space where I can retreat, even for short periods.

Another reason that praise or success can be a fickle mistress is that it breeds pride. Pride is different than self-confidence. Hubris, or pride, is the most serious of the 7 Deadly Sins. I’m not talking about feeling the humble joy of success. Hubris is more about egoism, or undeserved self-aggrandizment. I have seen many artists hamper their own creative growth because of pride. Pride demands that we ‘save face’ and avoid failure. The creative process demands that we risk failure to grow and change.

“Success leads to the greatest failure, which is pride. Failure leads to the greatest success, which is humility and learning.” – David Brooks, The Road to Character

Artists must always monitor the evaluation of their own work. One must be unflinchingly honest – we have to maintain a healthy amount of self-esteem to even attempt self-expression. But we must avoid hubris or false pride in order to maintain humility and openess to the creative process.

Avoiding Seduction – Keeping it in perspective

Everyone loves to hear that their work touched someone. Sales tell me that someone loved my work enough to live with it. I also receive positive feedback from social media and from juried shows. But by the same token, I know that I need to remember:

  • Moma probably won’t be calling me next week
  • Most juried shows contain one or more paintings that don’t impress me
  • Most people are happy with hanging wall decor from Target or any other Big Box Store

All this is to preface the announcement that I will have work in another upcoming juried show:

“Jump” ©Ruth Armitage, Acrylic on Paper 30×22″

Ratindra Das has accepted “Jump” for the 9th Annual Signature American Watermedia Exhibition in Fallbrook, CA. I’m honored to be in great company. Artists must be a signature member of a Watercolor Society or Group to enter this show. So, the competition is tougher to get in. Standards for achieving signature membership vary.  Generally it means your work has been accepted into more than one exhibition or has passed a review board.

The show will run February 4 – April 15, 2018

Open Daily February 4 through April 15, 2018 | Mon – Sat 10 am – 4 pm | Sun Noon – 3 pm

The Janice Griffiths Gallery @ The Fallbrook Art Center
103 S. Main Ave, Fallbrook, CA 92028

Flower Power

Flower Power

When we were kids in the 70’s, Flower Power was all the rage. Even though we grew up in a farmhouse from the 1800’s, my mom made one of our bedrooms into a brilliant, day-glo, funky room with flower-child wallpaper. Memories of that bedroom inspired me to make this painting. Although it was a tiny room, the wallpaper made it bright and sunny. We had sheets on our bunkbeds with artwork by Peter Max, and my mom even painted the wood floorboards with psychedelic flowers in hot pink and orange.

“Flower Power” ©Ruth Armitage, Watermedia on Paper, 11”x15”

“Flower Power” ©Ruth Armitage, Watermedia on Paper, 11”x15”

The painting is a bit subdued compared to the riot of color in that room. But you can still see the curves and lines of the flower petals and the bright coral-pink that I began with as an underpainting. I especially love the little bits of black in the focal area. I have a vivid  memory of reading on the top bunk and rubbing my grubby, dirty feet on the papered ceiling. Those were barefoot summer days. I’m sure my mother was revolted – that made it even more satisfying. I must have been nearly a teenager. How did she survive 4 girls!?

How does it feel to you?

I hope the final image feels a bit nostalgic, graceful, yet real. Let me know your thoughts, or share a memory from the 70’s. My friend, Pam, commented on facebook: “Beautiful: imagination, movement and fairy tales.” I like that!

Painting in Paradise ReCap

Painting in Paradise ReCap

Painting in Paradise was a blast!

Mahalo and Thank you to our hosts, Mickey and Albert, for sharing a studio that was almost paradise with us. You took such good care of us: the meals were delicious and the weather could not have been more perfect.

I really enjoyed getting to know each of the participants. Some were return students, while others were first-timers. Everyone did fantastic work. I think we all enjoyed the two days spent on location. Our first day out of the studio we spent in old Lahaina town. The morning was spent beneath the enormous banyan tree. Our assignment was to emphasize texture – and inspiration was everywhere: bark, leaves, shadows and aerial roots! It was fun to hear the comments of the public – especially the young ones. After lunch we moved a bit north to the lawn behind the library. This cool open area overlooks an historic birthing stone and vistas of the waterfront, boats and surfers.

Back in the studio, we took inspiration from fresh-picked tropical flowers from the garden. We also worked on water, sky-scapes, color, line, composition and design.

Our final day we spent on location near Baby Beach. We didn’t even come close to tapping all the subject matter at this great location. We lucked out and heard a nearby drum performance from the Buddhist temple when we arrived. One artist chose to paint the historic Chinese cemetery, one artist painted the pier, and everyone else enjoyed the view of Lanai, boats and wind-surfers. We loved seeing all the beach-goers – and they loved seeing the artwork in progress.

I guess we’ll just have to come back!

Next time, maybe we will work on portraying the Buddhist Temple and some of the colorful feral roosters! There was so much subject matter to choose from at this beach.

I loved how each artist’s work was a unique reflection of their vision and creativity. Reviews have been coming in and everyone loved the locations… some wanted to paint out every day! But many people liked the lectures and classroom time too. All in all, Painting in Paradise was just what the doctor ordered: inspiration, time to paint and beautiful locations for working. If you were there, I’d love your comments… and don’t forget to send in your review! If you’d like to join us next time, be sure to sign up for my newsletter to be one of the first folks notified when registration opens: Click here to subscribe to the newsletter.

We are hoping to come back next year to soak up more inspiration and sunshine. For now, memories and our paintings will be our souvenirs.

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