Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Goodbye to the Glass Block Building

Emphemeral art by Damon Thomas 
from the last student exhibition

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. After much soul searching following an art-filled trip to Italy, I went to check out the Glassell School of Art. It was on a weekend so there wasn't much action there as I looked around at the art on the walls and imagined the goings on in the various classrooms. I asked a cute young guy with paint on his shirt for directions, and as he walked away I thought, "wow, I just talked to a real artist!" I hadn't been in an art classroom for more than 20 years. Still, the sights, smells, and the incredible joy I felt, were all very familiar.

A colorful mural by Daniel Anguilu
Almost a decade later, the Glassell School of Art at the Museum of Fine Arts-Houston is planning a big redo. The current building will be demolished and replaced with a new state-of-the-art (literally) facility with much more space for classrooms, studios, galleries, and offices. I have mixed feelings about this of course. I love the old "glass block" building for all of the memories it holds and it's creaky artsyness. However, having taken many classes there and teaching there, I am well aware of its shortcomings—copious water leaks, a freaky air conditioning/heating system that made everyone either too hot or too cold, and general lack of sufficient space for a world-class art school. As sad as I am to see the old building go, I know the decision to replace the building wasn’t taken lightly.

So look for me there on demolition day. I will most likely be crying my eyes out as I think about how the glass block building changed my life.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

How'd You Do That? Part Two

A page from Colorscape
Live saving book!
We pick up where we left off last time and now turn to color picking, color mixing, and painting the painting. Color is critical to my work so I spend lots of time deciding on color palettes for my paintings. I love bright, saturated colors but use more muted tones in my work to create a more quiet mood. One of my favorite resources that I use is a book called Colorscape, which groups colors into categories like: Music, Lakes and Rivers, Spring and Summer, Cooking and Seasoning as well as by country. I'll usually have an idea of what color family I want to focus on and then look at this book to find just the right hue.

Obsessive color mixing
Once I find the hue that I want, I get to mixing the paint. As you can see from this picture (right), color mixing involves a lot of trial and error. I first have to find my primary hue and then see how it works as a desaturated tint. Then I make a test color study on gessoed canvas. I don't have the patience to make a smaller practice painting before committing to the final painting so I just cross my fingers and hope for the best!

Painting in progress
I've recently embraced "painting by numbers," meaning that I plan out the colors and assign them each a number. I then write numbers on my blown up sketch and follow it as I paint. It is much easier than looking at my reference photo and trying to figure out if an area is a "4" or a "3." I know that it sounds complicated but it has really simplified things for me.

After countless hours, the painting is complete! Here it is:

Rising, 2015

Saturday, May 9, 2015

How'd You Do That? Part One

I am in the throes of working on a new series of paintings based on gangly, gnarly, and craggy trees. It's taken a while to get here, with lots of experimentation. I've started two other series that I still want to pursue at some point, but I feel positive that the trees are what I am meant to work on right now. Oh what a feeling!

Reference Photo
I thought it would be fun to share my process as I make a new painting. I have already shared my "complicated and grueling" process once before for the New American Paintings blog, so instead of going into the technical stuff here I will be sharing more of the "why."

I have looked at the reference for this painting every day for seventeen years. There are three old crepe myrtle trees in front of our house that I have always loved, but have now taken on a new significance to me. These trees, with their twisting limbs resemble hands and fingers reaching to the sky. This is significant because as an artist, my hands are my lifeline and the thought of losing use of them is a scary prospect.

Sketchbook Drawing
With just about all of my paintings, I work from reference photos. I would love to be able to work directly from the source but I live in Houston. It's hot, there are mosquitoes, and did I mention the heat and mosquitoes? I'm tough in many ways but not that tough! I use the reference photos to do my initial drawing and decide on a composition. Next I have the drawing enlarged and then transfer it

Enlarged drawing with "Paint by Numbers"

onto my canvas. (There are a number of complicated sub-steps in between which were covered in the New American Paintings article!) I'm sure that I could simplify the process and make my life easier. What fun would that be though? I did finally stop growing and harvesting the cotton, spinning the yarn, and weaving the fabric into canvas that I stretched on my hand wood-worked frames.

 Next time, I will share the final steps of color picking, color mixing, and painting the painting, and why I continued to make things so complicated.  Stay tuned...

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Joy of Slogging

Fallen, 2015
Sometimes the act of creating is effortless and pure joy and sometimes it's a slog through the mud. It seems to me that those slogs are a necessary part of the process and help you appreciate the moments of flow. The past several months haven't necessarily been a slog but more of a time to experiment and let my art lead me where it needs to go. 

I started a series of industrial paintings based on the corrugated metal buildings near my studio and stopped after the first painting. I also began a series of abstracted rice silo paintings and finished two and a half of them. The reason is that I couldn't get another theme out of my mind: the crepe myrtles in front of my house. When I look at these gnarly trees, I envision fingers and limbs reaching toward the sky, calling out for me to paint them. And once I started, work seemed to be less of a slog.

As I was finishing the painting shown here, I turned it on its side to finish some details and then sat on my couch to rest for a moment. When I looked up, I realized that it was it was finished, thanks to this new orientation.

I will get back to those two other series' in a while!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Studio Music

My Messy Studio Table
Half of the battle of getting to work once I've finally made it to the studio (after getting caught up in distractions like cat feeding, email reading and the vortex of Facebook) is choosing the perfect soundtrack to complement my practice.

This usually involves scrolling through my iPad and not being in the mood for ANY of the 3,989 songs on there. Eventually I will hit on something intriguing that I haven't listened to over and over again, or find something that I have listened to over and over again but can't get enough of and the music and work will finally begin. No more excuses!

My playlist is eclectic. I am a punk rocker from way back but have gotten old and less angry so my musical choices are mellower these days. At the moment I am on an country-ish jag and am listening to the Avett Brothers, Gillian Welch and a couple of songs from the soundtrack of "Nashville," a TV show that is my current guilty pleasure, solely for the music I swear! Also on heavy rotation are: St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Fleet Foxes, Joy Division, Florence + the Machine, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, the Shins, Danger Mouse and Danielle Luppi, and when I need a serious pick me up, Wild Flag and Flogging Molly.

I can't imagine painting without musical accompaniment. Since I'm also a lapsed musician, it's like the best of both worlds. Now if I could also write while painting and singing, my head might explode!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Precise Women

Work in Progress and Electric Substations Behind
I've started a new series of paintings based on industrial scenes. There is an abandoned rice silo next to my studio that is my latest inspiration. A few years back, I did a series of electric substation paintings and I found all the mechanics and wires oddly intriguing, probably because I was looking at them from an artistic rather than a functional standpoint. I'm equally intrigued by industrial sites and rusty warehouses, and have been looking at the work of the "Precisionists" for inspiration. Precisionism was a painting movement in America from about 1915 to 1941. The best known Precisionist was Charles Sheeler, whose work I love, others include Charles Demuth, Ralston Crawford and Joseph Stella. What surprised me was that there were several female Precisionists as well including Elsie Driggs, Virginia Berresford, Imogen Cunningham, and most notably, Georgia O'Keeffe, before she moved on to her more famous organic themes. From what I've read, Elsie Driggs wasn't concerned about the politics of the time or the "masculinity" of her subject matter but rather the stylization and the shapes that could be found in industrial scenes. I can definitely appreciate that.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Why Anyone?

Cool Looking Crepe Myrtles
The time after my first solo show has invoked what I imagine what most bands feel like after they release their first album. They have spent their lifetimes building up to that big break and once they have released the album and it's successful, all they hear is "when is your next album coming out?" and "what are you working on now?" While I didn't spend my lifetime preparing for my show, I was immersed in the series for three years. I went through the during the show publicity and chatting it up period, the post-show exhaustion period, the post-post show giddiness of "that was a really cool experience" period, and now I am in the experimenting, exploring and figuring out what am I going to do next period.

Life and its various curve balls have come at me while I have been working on ideas, sketches and studies. I have begun teaching at the Art League, which I love, and I've been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which is just bullshit and has me an alternately stoic superwoman who isn't going to let a stupid disease stop me from doing anything to a bawling mess trying to pull it together so I can leave my car to go into the grocery store to buy a dozen eggs.

The good news is that this bullshit disease has been caught early and I'm not dying and it's chronic but treatable and it could be very much worse and I can still paint and draw with minimal pain and I know that I should be very grateful because other people are going through much worse shit than this, but all the rationalizing in the world doesn't stop the fact that I have to process this before I can move on. Don't worry, this will not turn into a "why me" or disease chronicle. Anyone who knows me knows that I don't give up easily or ever, so I'm sure that this will eventually register as just another minor blip on the radar. Right now though, it's fresh and I've gotta get it out so I can get back to painting those pretty pictures!