Oregon has had its share of ice this winter, and I took advantage of this unusual weather to do a bit of ice crystal painting.
I wet a sheet of 300 lb. Fabriano soft press watercolor paper, took it outside into the freezing cold, and dropped fluid acrylics and acrylic inks onto the surface, allowing the ice crystals to form patterns on the paper as they solidified. Then I brought it inside and kind of forgot about it, until it was time to do a demonstration for a local watercolor group.
Here is what my ‘start’ looked like after it dried. It’s hard to see in this image, but the paint dried in a crystalized pattern in some of the thinner areas. I love the lacy texture it left in different areas of the work.
1 – transparent colors work better
2 – the paint and ink need to be slightly watery.
This detail image shows part of the painting that has ice crystal formations
I thought I’d share a few in process shots that my friend Liz Walker took during the demonstration. As I worked, I was thinking about my childhood experiences at the local swimming hole on our property. I added calligraphy using a water soluble crayon, and started putting in shapes and color variation. One of my goals was to keep the color changes fairly subtle.
“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight — but never stop fighting.” — e.e. cummings
Finally I started adding small detail using an acrylic marker.You can see some of the areas in the detail shots below.
And I started varying the color more! Jeez – This doesn’t look at all subtle!
Here is how the painting looked at the end of the demonstration.
When I took a look at it this week, I decided that the top 1/3 of the painting needed to be simplified and lightened. Here’s how it looks now! I hope you’ll try ice crystal painting next time you encounter some freezing weather! I’d love to hear your thoughts on seeing the process. Questions and comments are welcome.
“Jump” ©Ruth Armitage, Acrylic on Paper 30×22″
Mist and Moss: new work from the studio
“Mist and Moss” Watermedia on Paper, 30×22″
One of the things I loved about growing up on the farm was that nature was always there to explore. Although I know it is hard to believe now, I was a quiet child. When I was struggling with something, my favorite way to cope was to walk in the forest or sit by a small stream or ditch and observe nature.
Some of my favorite poetry evokes this calming spirit:
“THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS” BY WENDELL BERRY
My most recent painting was an attempt to recreate the feeling of soft fog, mist and moss, without actually rendering a pond, a stream or a fallen log. I wanted the feeling of many interconnected organisms breathing life into a forest. The water, the trees, the animals, the fungi as one breathing unit. Because I wanted the feeling of flowing water, I chose to use a high horizon line as my design.
I hope you will enjoy this peek into my process. I’m using watercolor to begin, and then adding gouache (opaque watercolor) and a bit of Golden High Flow Acrylic. I also mixed in a bit of iridescent pigment by Jacquard. I love the subtle sparkle!
I’d be interested in your feedback on this video. Do you find it valuable? I wish that my setup would allow me to film in the orientation that I imagined the painting, but it was much easier to work horizontally on my table. I decided not to attach music to the video, as I couldn’t find a piece that expressed what I wanted to say with the painting.
If you find it interesting, leave me a comment or a question! Or share this with a friend or on your favorite social media outlet.
Couldn’t everyone use a little balm of Mist and Moss during this chaotic season?
“Mist and Moss” Abstract Watercolor Process with Ruth Armitage from Ruth Armitage on Vimeo.
The hot weather we are expecting makes me long for Petrichor: the smell of earth after rain. The title of this painting evolved as I worked. I knew I wanted to contrast the delicate, shimmery texture of the pastel areas with something dark and heavy. The brilliant orange accents also provide contrast to these areas.
I loved the pastel areas so much, it was difficult to cover them. But, I also am enjoying the drama of the large dark shape. Let me know your thoughts.
I wanted to make the dark and grey areas represent the rain and the chill. In contrast, the light and warm areas represent the smells of the earth. Whenever I sense this fragrance, it conjures a vivid memory from childhood of walking barefoot, across a dusty gravel driveway.
I remember it as the first time I noticed the smell of rain on the dry earth. My sisters and I often had the job of waking up the farm hand that stayed in the bunk house on our farm. Smells seem more powerful in the morning, and in childhood. As adults, I think we often don’t take the time to notice.
“Petrichor” ©Ruth Armitage 21×29″ Watercolor on Paper
In Other News…
There is still time to enter my giveaway… You may be the lucky winner! Click here to enter to win an original oil & wax painting.
Also, in case you missed it, I have new workshops listed! You can paint with me this November in Portland, or next November in Maui! Check out all the details on my workshops page.
Somehow, the realistic paintings of tropical islands never really seem to capture the wonder, beauty, smells and sounds of the paradise that is Hawaii. I’m hoping to inspire you to express the things that make a trip to Hawaii wonderful: relaxation, sweet fruit, warm sunshine, gentle breezes… you get the idea.
In case you’re wondering how my artwork looks installed, here are a couple of photos! Last night I helped hang several pieces in the Barrel House Tasting Room of Tumwater at Pete’s Mountain: the site of the 2016 Street of Dreams PDX. The event opens July 30th. The homes are beautiful and I love getting decor ideas. My paintings will also be in Quintessence on Lot 5. What a great home to showcase contemporary style. I hope you’ll get a chance to see the show, through August 28th, 2016.
“Barn Interior” 8″x8″ Acrylic on Paper $95 ©Ruth Armitage
My Art Means….
Talking about what art means can be a slippery business. Each work of art has two lives: a public life and a private life. When an artist puts the work out for public viewing, whether online or in person, the work automatically gains the meanings that viewers receive from it.
One of the reasons I enjoy writing a blog is that it allows me to share some of the private meanings that I put into the artwork. I think viewers appreciate having the behind the scenes view into what the art means. I even noticed this in my recent workshop with Skip Lawrence. During the critique discussion of one of my paintings, he discovered that elements of the painting were inspired by specific memories, and admitted that this knowledge made him appreciate the work more.
Often one can discover clues to the artist’s intent by looking at the title of a specific work. For example, the rather dark painting at right, “Barn Interior” might make more sense when seen with its title. Perhaps the title might help you imagine soft, warm lighting with mystery, dust motes, straw, gaps in the siding and all the rest of the smells and sounds of an old barn. (I hope so!)
“Fog” ©Ruth Armitage, 8″x8″ Acrylic on Paper
Fog, another painting I worked on in Santa Barbara has a very different, specific feeling. The colors are very close in intensity… all fairly muted. How does this fit the subject (Fog?)
One pitfall that viewers can often encounter when viewing abstract art is the “Rorschach Test” phenomenon. I HATE it when viewers feel obligated to find realistic images in an abstraction. I would much rather have a viewer tell me what they feel. Here are some actual comments that I received from viewers about the painting below, titled “Heat.”
- “Moody & Broody”
- “Very Expressive”
- “This is Moving to me”
- “Love This”
- “Brings to Mind the Fires we get in Southern CA”
- “Reminds me of a raft trip through a burning forest”
Which of the comments do you think I was excited to hear? Which one stands out as not applicable? “Discovering” an object within the painting that does not relate to the title is not the best way to appreciate the work. If one does see subject matter in an abstract painting, best to keep it to oneself.
“Heat” ©Ruth Armitage 10″x15″ Acrylic on Paper, $135
I don’t mean to imply that an abstract work is not successful if the viewer does not understand the artist’s intent. On the contrary, I feel that the meaning of a painting can be one thing to the artist, and something different to the viewer. Although I had a specific memory in mind that inspired the painting “Heat,” I purposely chose a more general title.
Instead of calling it “Campfire” “Forest Fire” or “Fireside” I simply chose the title “Heat” to allow viewers to bring their own experience of fire to the interpretation of the painting. It could also imply emotional heat, both positive and negative. Leaving the title fairly general allowed viewers to imagine all sorts of content of their own.
What kind of interpretations do you make from the three paintings in this post? How important are titles to you in viewing abstract artwork? I love receiving your comments!
Join me this weekend for the opening reception of the Watercolor Society of Oregon’s 50th Anniversary. I will be in attendance as the public and artists view 80 paintings, selected from artists throughout the state by Michigan artist Kathleen Conover. The show runs April 9th through May 23rd, 2016 at the Oregon Garden Resort in Silverton, Oregon.
My painting, below, was inspired by a meadow of spring wildflowers called Camassia. They are a brilliant blue, and often cluster in oak Savannah’s. This particular field is part of Bush’s Pasture Park in Salem, Oregon. Let me know what you think!
“Camassia” ©Ruth Armitage 2015, Mixed Watermedia 11″x15″
Lambs in the Sunshine
I received the best compliment for an artist this morning. A friend was visiting the farm to do a photoshoot with our new lambs, and had not seen my studio before. After we watched the frolicking of the new babies, we took a peek at my messy, messy studio and I showed her some of the work I did in the Skip Lawrence workshop in Santa Barbara.
Two of the images she viewed are related. The first, “Last Day”, was an experiment in using a more structured, balanced, sharp edged shape composition. When I finished this painting, I felt as if the entire time I worked on it, I was wearing a girdle.
“Last Day” Acrylic and Collage on paper 22×30″ ©Ruth Armitage
I still liked the idea of the round shape, the balanced composition, and the movement of color from top to bottom, left to right. So I tried a second painting with more of my normal looseness, a more subdued palette, and similar shape elements and division of space. Here is the resulting painting:
Last Day II, Acrylic on Paper, 22×30 ©Ruth Armitage
The best compliment, one I will treasure, is that the second painting looks exactly like my work, while the first painting looks like someone else did it. It is always such a welcome compliment to hear that your work has a recognizable style. I’ve written about this before, but it is always so gratifying, so I thought I would mention it again! Here is my original post about 7 Compliments Guaranteed to Make Any Artist Swoon… one that continues to draw readers every day.
Artists, what is the best compliment you’ve ever received? Viewers, what similarities do you see in these two works? Which do you prefer? I love getting your comments.