My new painting, Breath of Spring, began as an experiment with line in my workshop at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. One can’t help being influenced by the landscape there. However, in keeping with my series, this work was inspired by memories of the landscape on the farm. Spring breezes always brought out scents of the season…. Mud, blossoms, fresh grass and a chilly breeze are things that I thought of as I worked on this painting.
Breath of Spring, Acrylic on Paper 15″x22″ ©Ruth Armitage SOLD
The gold colors of the background remind me of bare winter branches covered with lichen and moss. Linear elements refer to tree branches and wetlands.
A New Discovery
One of the things I love about teaching is that because I am not trying to make a finished painting, I often take more risks than I would normally take. In this particular painting, I had borrowed a ‘coke bottle’ pen from fellow instructor Rebecca Wild and I tried using it with sumi ink. That wild experiment was so chaotic that I used a brayer to roll the light gold color over most of it, allowing only hints of it to peek through. The resulting texture was so attractive to me. Another discovery occurred during one of the line exercises I set in class. The small, staccato-like white marks grew out of that exercise.
Give it a Try
If you enjoy painting, you might like to try the same exercise.
- Assemble as many mark-making tools as you can find: brushes, pens, pencils, sticks, pastels, crayons, graphite, charcoal, black and white paint, etc.
- Begin by making marks that vary from thick to thin.
- Experiment with clustering the lines together, and then letting a few stand alone.
- Vary the direction of your lines.
- Use some broken lines and some continuous.
- Try for a wide variety.
- As you work, you might consider veiling or obliterating some of the lines that stand out too much.
- Restate some of the lines with a different media.
- Change medias frequently.
- Listen to music as you make lines inspired by the rhythm.
- Make lines that imitate letter forms, but are not legible.
- Use your non-dominant hand to draw several lines.
- Make a few lines to convey anger, calm, confusion, movement, etc.
- After about 15 minutes of work, step back.
- Decide which lines felt most comfortable to you, and which ones are new to your vocabulary.
This exercise is adapted from Steven Aimone’s Book “Expressive Drawing.” I seem to have misplaced my copy 🙁 If you have seen it, please let me know!
Finally, last call to submit images for the reader’s gallery! I appreciate your time and readership.
Missing in Action! Reward for its return!
Art Isn’t Paint
Teaching students what art IS often involves me teaching them what Art Isn’t. One of the reasons I share my process through demonstrations is to make it clear that my decision making process is driven by the ideas behind the art. Students start to see that I’m not thinking about what the right way to express something might be. Instead, I’m considering how I feel about the paint and the story behind the art.
I love this quote by artist Phillip Hicken. Perhaps he and I think along the same lines because we both might be considered colorists. Phillip Hicken (1910-1985) was a painter and printmaker from Nantucket. He worked as a printmaker in Boston and for the WPA. His work shows subtle color nuances inspired by the Nantucket area. You can see several examples of his prints and paintings on my Pinterest Board on Color.
Although I had a clear idea for the painting below, I’m trying to decide on the best title. I’m considering both “Where There’s Smoke” and “Conflagration.” Please leave a comment below to vote for your favorite title!
One of my jobs in summer on the farm was to ride on the tailgate of the pickup holding a lighter. I used a drip torch of diesel fuel, lighting the dried straw as the field was burned to rid it of pests, diseases and straw. It was a dangerous but thrilling job, and I’ve tried to express the chaos and movement that I witnessed as the flames raced toward each other in the center of the field.
There were also accidental fires in the fields, which were even more frightening. Having been this close to the power of fire that is out of control, I have been a keen and somber witness to the London conflagration this past week. I cannot imagine the agony that those who died there endured. It is even more dismaying considering the economic status of the victims. We can only pray for change as a result of the tragedy. I rarely get on a ‘soapbox’ here, but it is not a coincidence that fire has been on my mind in the studio.
Reader Appreciation Gallery
Finally, don’t forget to send me images of your work or work you’ve collected for the reader appreciation gallery coming toward the end of this month. Email images to: Artist Ruth5405 @ (gmail.com) – removing spaces and parenthesis. I’m excited to see work by many artists and friends. Your comments and responses keep me engaged in this forum and I appreciate you!
Portland Open Studios: Save the Date!
The Portland Open Studios board has been hard at work and Guides are available now! New this year is a section about artists who teach – a great resource. Mark your calendar now for two consecutive weekends: October 14-15 and 21-22, 2017, 10-5 pm. I’m excited to participate again this year and hope you’ll stop by to see what’s new in the studio.
“Conflagration” Acrylic on Paper, 30×22″ ©Ruth Armitage
“Slow Growth” Acrylic and Collage on Paper, 22×15″ ©Ruth Armitage
Though it may not seem like it to others, my work has been undergoing Slow Growth in the past year. This is a bit like seeing people’s kids once every six months and marveling at how they’ve changed. Only the parents know the infinitesimal daily changes that have added up to one big growth spurt. Because I pick and choose what to show on my website, one might think that these changes happen easily, or overnight. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I found myself mentioning to recent workshop students that one reason I teach is to force myself to become more comfortable with not KNOWING how a painting will turn out. I practice not KNOWING whether a decision is the correct one as I make it. Demonstrating for my classes forces me to pretend to be brave, and to make brave decisions. I have to stick to the plan as a good example for my ‘kids.’
About this painting
This piece grew out of a blind contour drawing that I used to create abstract shapes. Perhaps you can see the more geometric shapes near the bottom that were inspired by a building on the Sitka property. Maybe you can also see some of the foliage and limb shapes that move upward. This is not a realistic painting though, so it is ok with me if you don’t!
I rarely leave the white of the paper in my work, so this painting is unusual. I loved using some of the more spontaneous marks scratched into the wet paint, and the beautiful textures in some of the collage papers. Cutting out some of the strong black shapes from paper was more challenging, but I like the strength of those shapes in contrast to the more nebulous texture and color.
Sometimes I think we don’t even realize our own growth in art. We get wrapped up in the immediacy of the current work. It is difficult to see our current work in perspective. I think it is also difficult for students to see our work in perspective. They don’t often see the failures that led us to the point of a lesson, how we have struggled or where we’ve been influenced. As always, I appreciate those who add to the conversation by leaving a comment!
Send Me your Images
Don’t forget to send me your images of art you own or art you’ve made for the Reader’s Gallery blog celebration! I need them by June 25th please. Include your name, media, title and size. You can email them to me at ArtistRuth5405 (@) gmail (remove the parenthesis and spaces and add .com at the end.) You might even include a sentence about change and growth!
Most serious Artists and Collectors agree that focus is important for an artist’s body of work. Focus provides continuity from one painting to the next, and allows the work to hang together when presented en masse. But how does one go about creating a focus in their work? And for collectors, how does one amass a collection that works together? Here are a few ways to cultivate or create focus.
1. Focus on Subject Matter
Probably the most common way that collectors create focus is to concentrate on collecting a particular type of work. Some are drawn to landscape, while others prefer abstract or figurative paintings. Similarly, artists often gravitate toward particular subject matter.
My own work has always focused on narrative, despite the genre. The earliest still life paintings incorporated objects precious to me that told a story. The “Haunting Aunties” figurative paintings also tried to convey a sense of storytelling about family history and bonds. My current abstract work is also based upon narratives surrounding my rural upbringing and connection to the farm where I was raised. Because I know what my main interest is, I can delve into sub-plots and explore different stories in an in-depth way.
2. Focus on Design Elements
One thing I try to convey in my workshops is that each artist may be drawn to different means of expression. Some artists prefer to emphasize color, while others may be more interested in using line. Collectors may also have some of the same predilections. One patron may prefer to collect work that is bright and colorful, while another may prefer black & white photographs or drawings, yet another person may be drawn over and over to primitive pattern work or sculpture.
I have a strong bias toward using color. Warm and cool contrasts have always captivated me, and my eye is always drawn to new color combinations. I’m currently focusing on using subtle color contrasts wherever I can.
3. Focus on Style
Even if an artist decides that they will focus on the landscape, for instance, various works may not be cohesive in a body of work because of different styles. For instance, a single realistic black and white landscape would stand out from a group of colorful abstracted landscapes. If an artist is true to their own vision and pursues a style that fits their temperament, the work is more likely to be cohesive. By committing to working in a specific style, the artist’s work will gain focus. Collectors often prefer to purchase work in a certain style as well.
Currently, my focus in on an abstracted, almost non-objective style. Within the spectrum of abstraction, I tend to fall toward the very abstract, even though much of my work originates in a very real subject.
4. Focus on Medium
Many collectors prefer to collect the majority of their work in one medium, such as watercolor or oil or sculpture. Artists, too, can often be known for their work in one medium.
Personally, I have enjoyed exploring watercolor, gouache, collage, drawing, acrylic, encaustic, cold wax and oil. Although my work spans many mediums, my application of the various types of paint or pigments often makes it difficult for viewers to tell what the medium is. This is because my brush-work, palette and shapes are fairly consistent between mediums.
5. Focus on a Series
Many artists make work in a series, each individual piece relating to the broad idea and yet differing from its companion pieces in varying degrees. The individual pieces may focus on different facets of the idea or different conditions. The artist Claude Monet is an artist who worked on different series during his career. His most famous may be the Water Lilies – a series of work inspired by the lily pond in his garden. He also painted a series of work exploring different light conditions on haystacks and on Rouen Cathedral.
For me, painting work in a series give me an opportunity to experiment with color and to explore different facets of the broader idea of my farm upbringing. My earlier series the “Haunting Aunties” explored the influence women, especially women in the family, have on each others’ lives.
An example of focus in a series
Here is a peek at how working in a series helps me to refine my ideas. Below are three paintings, all of the same subject. These paintings all began in my workshop in Springfield – The ABC’s of Abstraction. They became increasingly abstract as I worked on them. I began with the idea of painting my dad’s shoe and pant leg from memory. He used to keep cigarette butts in the cuff of his jeans to avoid fire danger in the summer. This idea is a potent memory of my dad.
I began with the image on the left. It focused on the leg of Dad’s Levis, and you can see the white cigarette butts in the cuff shape near the bottom. The second image shown is actually the third painting of this subject. In this painting I decided to focus more on the shoe, even though the cuff and cigarettes are still there. I also emphasized line more in this image. The third painting is titled Effigy. An effigy is a symbol of a person, often used as a monument and sometimes the ‘butt’ of angry demonstration. I thought the title fit the almost iconic representation of this symbol for my dad. I feel this image still has echoes of the previous images, but I like the abstraction – how the paint is beautiful on its own without the subject matter.
How have you found focus in your work or your art collecting? Click below to leave me a comment or share with a friend.
“Damn Cigarettes” ©Ruth Armitage, 2017, 22×15″ Watermedia on Paper
“Dad’s Shoe” ©Ruth Armitage, 2017, 30×22″ Watermedia on Paper
“Effigy” ©Ruth Armitage, 2017, 30″x22″ watercolor on paper
“Abstract literally means to draw from or separate. In this sense every artist is abstract… a realistic or non-objective approach makes no difference. The result is what counts.” (Richard Diebenkorn)
Art supplies are magic. They can make even the most unimaginative artist want to pull up the nearest easel and start creating. Like the smell of a new box of crayons at the beginning of the school year, new art supplies really stir my soul. If I’m in an artistic slump, visiting an art store or a trade show gets my creative juices flowing.
At our convention for the Watercolor Society of Oregon we had a fabulous trade show this month. I was able to learn from representatives for Winsor & Newton, Daniel Smith, DaVinci, Strathmore and many more. I tried new colors, learned about old ones, and sampled brushes and papers to my heart’s content.
I even brought home some new things to try!
There was only a slight danger that I would fall in love with something totally new, and switch the course of my artwork forever. After all, the supplies only get you started on your art journey. What keeps you coming back for more is the content or essence, the meaning in the art.
Art Supplies Aren’t the Only Answer
Read more about this subject: Don’t Dilute Your Aesthetic Urge. I enjoy demonstrating my techniques in watercolor, acrylic, oil and mixed media. But, what really gets me excited in teaching is to see students take risks of expression. These brave souls challenge themselves to make a statement that is truly personal. They often find a way to express themselves that is unique and new. That is the ultimate goal of working with new materials.
I’ll be sharing my process for painting with Oil & Cold Wax medium this Saturday at Art Extravaganza! Read all about it in this earlier post. The event is another opportunity to learn about materials, experiment, and network with other artists.
Six Reasons to Stop By:
- Product Demonstrations
- Door Prizes
- Pop-Up Store by Merri Artist
- Panel Discussion by CERF
I hope you’ll find yourself dreaming of new creations and Art Supplies after this fun event. Bring a friend and Join me!
Can’t make it, but want to learn more?
Think about joining one of my upcoming classes: Click here for a full listing. Here’s another fun post from the archives about taking art classes. Or Sign up for my email list to read about other opportunities.
WFWS42 and WSO’s 52nd Annual Spring Exhibition
The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art hosts “Pour It On! Watercolors from the West.” This exhibition features work from the Western Federation of Watercolor Societies and the Watercolor Society of Oregon.
On view from April 8 to June 19, 2017, “Pour It On!” is three shows combined into one.
Work on view explores the range of water-based media, including acrylic, casein, collage, gouache, tempera, and translucent and opaque watercolors. Here is a link to one of the paintings I’ll have in the show.
The exhibition will open with a free, public reception on Friday, April 7, from 6 to 8 p.m. I hope to see you there! Invite a friend and share this post on your favorite social media. On Sunday, April 9, at 2 p.m., McGuire will lead a tour of the exhibition.
“Rust” ©Jeannie McGuire
This project has occupied my time for the last five years or so. I’m thrilled to see it coming together in such a fantastic way. Each year, a different regional member society hosts the Western Federation of Watercolor Society’s annual juried exhibition. This is the first time that the Watercolor Society of Oregon will serve as the host and we are excited to help bring this show to life.
About the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
We are grateful to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art for its support of the exhibition. The University of Oregon’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is a premier Pacific Northwest museum for exhibitions and collections of historic and contemporary art based in a major university setting. The mission of the museum is to enhance the University of Oregon’s academic mission and to further the appreciation and enjoyment of the visual arts for the general public. The JSMA features significant collections galleries devoted to art from China, Japan, Korea, the Americas, and elsewhere as well as changing special exhibition galleries. Additionally, the JSMA is one of seven museums in Oregon accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.
The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is located on the University of Oregon campus at 1430 Johnson Lane. Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for senior citizens. Free admission is given to ages 18 and under, JSMA members, college students with ID, and University of Oregon faculty, staff and students. For information, contact the JSMA, 541-346-3027.
Watercolor Society of Oregon
To top it all off, WSO also sponsors their bi-annual Watercolor Convention in Eugene, April 7 – 9, including watercolor workshops, lectures, paint-outs and more. Ms. McGuire leads a 5 day workshop March 27th – 31st. Finally, more information is available on the WSO website: www.watercolorsocietyoforegon.com or on the WFWS website: www.wfws.org.