Tag Archives: abstract

Mexico: Learning and Growing and Headed in Two Directions at the Same Time

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(Part 1 of my recap of a week in the Boca de Tamatlan artist retreat)

The heat must have gotten to me — or was it the cold?

Whichever it was, I blinked my eyes and was painting wild abstract watercolors in a tiny and completely charming fishing village in Mexico with a fabulous maestro I had never heard of before but should have.

Winter is beautiful — really, it is. The weather cannot be controlled, so we’d better embrace it. Still, looking out my studio window on one of the coldest Februarys on record, I snapped. Due to some work commitments, my sweetie was not able to take time off, so I started Googling artist retreats somewhere warm and sunny. Before I knew it, I was booked to take off in ten days to Casa de Los Artistas.

I can only say it was not a disappointment. In fact, I urge you to book your time there next year. I sure hope to.

The place felt like a fantasy. Lush, tropical river valley spilling into the Pacific with little boats, dogs and frolicking children sprinkled about. Throw in some Ranchero music and the sound of waves crashing and you have the idea.

The best part, the jewel, is the artist retreat in this paradise. All art, all the time — or almost. My maestro for the week was Sterling Edwards. Though I had not heard of him before (which is not a surprise, as I am not a watercolorist and he is), he was, simply put, a true maestro in every sense of the word. His work, I can say with confidence, is brilliant. (Don’t take my word for it: Look him up!)

abstract3815-3I was so happy he was a giving and open teacher. But watercolor? Me? I hadn’t studied watercolor since college — a very long time ago — and I quickly abandoned it for oil color, then acrylic. Still, something in me said it would be good for me, stretch me and expand upon the discipline that I had returned to in while studying in Florence last September.

And it did. Also, as an artist, I want to remain open and not fall into any boxes or comfort zones.

The first thing that happened was that I was humbled. My skills from all these many years as an acrylic painter were not translating to watercolors. Perseverance really is so crucial in art, as in life, and I did keep at it.

Sterling is a wild watercolorist. Disciplined? Yes, but his freedom kinda blew my mind; he got really abstract and reminded me of how important it is to simplify. It is the essence that matters, not every detail of a given scene. Then he went full-on abstract.

abstract3815-5I want to be an abstract painter when I grow up. It just hasn’t happened for me. As I have written before, abstract painting is HARD. Your kid cannot do that. The reason it is hard is that there is no information in front of you. When I draw, it is so relaxing. I have a photo in front of me and I copy it. Usually sitting down with a cup of tea. I don’t have to make anything up. It’s right in front of me. But abstract is all about your imagination. It is also deeply personal. It’s about getting everything inside of you outside of you.

My art in recent months has been heading more in a direction of realism. Now, as a painter that values keeping a painting VERY painterly (as opposed to wanting it to look like a photo), it might be a stretch to use the term “realism,” but I have been drawing more with my paint and tightening up a bit. I promised myself this would help me when it was time to go abstract and it will, it has. The more you can automatically use your skills, the better they are all around. Practice, practice, practice! So I find myself headed in two different directions at once. Tightening up, drawing and abstracting. Wheeeeee, it’s good to be a artist!

Stay tuned on this journey, as I’ll be writing more about the Casa and painting. This is only Part 1.

As always share your own experiences or comments below. I love hearing from you all.

Realism vs. Abstraction: Not So Black-and-White

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Day 1

My dad called me the other day.

“Mom showed me your recent drawing on Facebook — my daughter’s got talent!” he exclaimed.

The drawings in question were a response to a “B & W Challenge,” where I was supposed to post a black-and-white photo every day for five days. I desired to really challenge myself, so I opted to do five black-and-white drawings instead of photos. I did these works in a more realistic fashion than my paintings.

When my sweet Papa — who has always encouraged me and always praised my work and meant no harm at all — said this of the drawings, I was a little bummed.

Why? Here’s the secret: I want everyone to know what I did in these drawings was, for me, easier than the work I do with my paintbrush every day. I felt disappointed in my dad’s words because I know most people who have not studied art think, “The more realistic, the more talent.”

Yes, making art that is realistic does take talent, but not imagination, and imagination is hard. Copying from reality is easier than doing a work of art that includes your feelings and personal interpretation and is more abstracted. Say what? Yup, it’s true, and here is why: When I do a realistic work, I am copying what already exists. I look at the photo in front of me and render it. The information is all there. I don’t have to use my imagination at all, just the skills they taught me in art school. Please understand that I’m not saying it doesn’t take skill to work realistically, I’m saying it doesn’t take creativity and imagination. I’m saying it’s a skill that can be taught. Imagination can only be exercised, but not taught.

In college, there were the inevitable people who wanted to skip all the rules and move right into abstraction. I understood this. I, too, admired most painters who abstracted in some way, who were “painterly” in their approach, with a kind of freedom that hyper-realism doesn’t allow for.

But I found quickly the abstract works by students who had not yet learned the rules lacked something; frankly, they lacked a lot. That knowledge goes deeply against that old saying “My kid could do that.” Abstract work done without skill doesn’t show up in your local museum; you can tell the difference. I remember thinking in art school that if I wanted to move into work that was more abstract and expressed more how I felt about something than what a camera might record, I had better learn the rules first. Learn the rules — then break the rules, from a place of knowing.

It is the breaking of the rules that we modern artists spend the rest of our artistic journeys working on. It’s the exploration of ourselves in the backdrop of the idea or scene. The reinterpretation of what exists. What exists is already there; it’s your artistic interpretation that you must invent, and invention is hard.

Thank you for coming along for the ride on this wild journey of artistic exploration; learning the path wouldn’t be the same without you, the viewer. And next time you hear someone say, “My kid could do that,” please do hand them a canvas, paint and brush and invite them to try, while reminding them: “But your child did not do this, and this artist did, after much study and work.”*

Cheers to the artistic process, the breaking of the rules, and the magic you find in between the two.

*Before I sign off, I have to add that when I shared my disappointment and explanation with my dad, a former art student, he said, “I know all that, honey. I love your work — I just liked the surprise of these drawings!” Fair enough, Papa, fair enough!

Day 4

Day 4

Descriptions of the drawings:

Day 1: Cow …

Day 2: … and more cow!

Day 3: Bull

Day 4: My hubby took this mans photo in Ethiopia several years ago, and I have wanted to draw him ever since. I loved his quiet dignity and kind gaze, along with lines on his face that tell a story he was too young to be in a position of telling.

Day 5: Another photo my sweetie took of a compelling face, this one from Italy. In America, we seem to have a problem with age, but I think we are wrong. It is these lines that compel, that tell a story of where we have been, what we have learned. These are the faces I most enjoy drawing. Faces with history.