Saturday, November 13, 2010

When a perfectionist paints ...

Now that I'm 102 years old I'm finally figuring out some of my more frustrating quirks.

There is a collection of canvases that remain only half-way painted ... that grows in size year after year.  Partial images, random flights of whimsy long ago abandoned when I promptly fell out of love with an idea I'd formerly been so attached to and smitten with.  They taunt me from the corner but I never toss them.  I'm not sure why ... as a dear friend once advised me that holding on to such things was really just a reminder of perceived failure.  So much better to clean house and move on.

I think I have nursed hope that I might "get back together" with a few of them.  There are parts and pieces that still resonate with me.  Fragments of concepts I'd love to resurrect and revive.  Just this past year I finally completed a piece that had been particularly cruel with it's taunts over the years.  For over 5 years it had lived in the corner--a partially rendered idea that I still enjoyed, but despaired over the chosen execution.  If I had tossed it, then I never would have seen it rise like Lazarus when I finally felt the drive to make it complete.  It happened in stages.  A year ago I completely painted over and began again ... but didn't finish it.  It took a year to see it to fruition.  Now it's like this personal symbol of joy to me because it restores my hope that not all lost causes remain truly lost.

But back to what I'm recognizing about myself.  I'm a perfectionist (which I already knew).  I'm impulsive (which I already knew).  What I didn't realize was how these two qualities can cause a bottleneck to my creative flow.

I don't do well with planning things out.  I don't typically sketch or layout a concept.  I just dive in.  And sometimes it works out beautifully ... while at others I get halfway in only to suddenly see that the composition lacks and I regret the placement of a body, hand or entire piece.  This is how my work ends up in purgatory.  My perfectionist self can't stand to complete something that isn't without flaw.  My impulsive self stands sheepish in the corner wishing it was a little better with strategy.

This is why I'm finally keeping a journal again after years of going without.  I think it's the only way the impulsive and the perfectionist within can live in harmony.  I am trying to view it as an exercise ... rather than a jumping off point for actual paintings.  If I can fool my impatient half into seeing it as work altogether of its own, then perhaps the graveyard of unfinished work will slowly shrink in size until it's gone.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The setting is everything ...

I just finished a number of little home decor projects.  Setting is everything for me.  When it's time to paint or draw I've always had a need to be surrounded by things that bring me comfort as well as inspiration.

These bell jars were a really happy find.  I love the idea of "specimens" and apocethary jars & test tubes.  I found these with cast iron bases deeply discounted and snatched them up.  The question became "What to put in them?"

I settled on a combination of antique books (which I've collected for as long as I can remember) and the skulls of various carnivores (the examples here are a racoon and a coyote).  Add a little red moss ... toss in a skeleton key ... and they look like museum relics just waiting for rediscovery.  I made sure to place them with candles and a glass encased jellyfish.

I took an old apple crate and repurposed it by painting and distressing the interior & exterior.  Inside I placed a backdrop of "the sacred heart" (I'll never shake my obsession with catholic iconography and symbols) as well as a myriad of some of the strangest purchases I've ever made (but I proudly stand behind them).  After buying a set of vintage apocethary jars on Etsy, I went to one of my most favorite shops in LA.  They sell everything from antique taxidermy, to skeleton replicas, sea shells, victorian photographs, shadowboxes full of exotic insects and anything related to natural history.  I filled the jars with an assortment of finds from the shop ... badger toes, baby starfish, princess fish, coyote canines, beetle wings, etc.  Then, I labeled each jar with an "made to look antique" hang-tag ... using a flourishing script.  I threw a shadowbox with an exotic butterfly and a large dried out starfish inside ... and *viola* ... ok, I'm not sure what it is exactly but I am sure it's awesome.

I have a few other projects ongoing ... but essentially, I'm injecting some inspiration into my creative environment.  These things will make me feel at home ... and motivated.

p.s.  This is quite possibly the most bizarre and amusing receipt I've ever gotten.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I find myself envying a lot of young artists today.  With what the internet has become, we are all far more exposed to the kinds of art out there ... the kinds of imagery ... the vastness of ideas.  It's easier to sense and believe at a very young age that your strangest concepts and ideas have a place in this world and an audience who will be eager to embrace it.  No ... I may not be four hundred years old, but at 31 I'm definitely aware of the fact that I could be farther along with my own artistic evolution if I had not been so afraid of my own instincts early on.

When I attended art school the digital age was only beginning to emerge.  So, I avoided the graphic design classes and pridefully insisted that all my work would be done with my own two hands.  And though I still hold a fondness for things hand rendered, I now recognize my own arrogance.  Couple that with the fact that internet was still dial-up and there wasn't google or the wealth of sites and blogs full of imagery and art that exist now ... and you'll understand why my view of the art world was painfully small.

I felt very isolated in my classes where my professors insisted that I was far too much of an "illustrator" and not enough of a real "artist."  I began to believe I was less and that my work did not belong in a real gallery.  My need and love for stories was a compulsion, and even though I felt shame every time a professor critiqued my work for being so illustration based I balked at doing what seemed to garner their praise.  I'm not an abstract painter.  I'm not interested in creating pretentious pretenses for minimal line work.  I felt very "pedestrian" and unworthy of the art world.

One professor mercifully gave me the advice "To stop listening to the negative."  She was a masterful painter (with work in the Smithsonian) who--despite preferring medium and subject matter in sharp contrast to my own--valued the unique and wanted her students to hone in on their own personal style instead of emulating anyone else.  I was grateful for her kind words and encouragement, but I still felt completely aimless.  I never finished art school.

I remember the first time I became aware of the Pop Surrealist movement.  I chanced upon the work of Mark Ryden & Audrey Kawasaki and almost fell over.  These were ILLUSTRATORS but they were also fine artists.  Their work told stories and conveyed feelings.  I reacted to the personal discovery like a starving child.  This led to internet searches (which had vastly improved in the years since leaving school) and the scouring of art magazines.  In time, I became aware of a whole world I had never known existed.  There were artists like me who loved the graphic image, comic book art, advertising art, book illustration ... anything that illustrated an idea, a point or a story.  I felt so relieved to know my work might actually have a place somewhere.

I have the confidence now, but what I'm really confessing here is jealousy.  If 21 year old me existed in 2010, she'd go to art school confidently painting her dark and tragic stories.  She'd maintain her sketch diary and realize it's value.  She'd display her work boldly because she'd know there was an audience for it.  She'd commune with other artists who inspired her through the online community and subsequently more in real life.  By 30 her own work would have evolved and grown so greatly.  Instead, I was a repressed Southern Baptist struggling with pure guilt over being artistic (long story) and desiring an artistic life who also felt apologetic for the kinds of dark matter she wanted to paint.  I was lacking confidence and in total denial of my own instincts ... I hadn't even BEGUN to have my identity crisis yet to even know what my choices were.  The truth is that I wish I might have realized the world that existed beyond my own front yard and maybe had more of an inkling of what I both could and desired to become.

Nomi Chi is an example of what I envy (  She's around 21 and brilliant.  I first saw her work in a group exhibition here in Los Angeles.  Her work is so distinct and unique ... a style all her own.  I love the way her work seems drawn by compulsion.  There is a fever to the way her pictures tell their stories.  She went into art school this year with such a strong existing artistic identity that I can't begin to imagine what her work will be like when she graduates.  I'm filled with envy, and yet extremely glad for her.  She's going to do big things.

This might sound more negative than I intend it to--it's more a reflection on what was and what is.  I'm actually realizing how motivated I'm becoming and recognizing that time is not to be wasted.  Now is all that truly exists at this moment anyway.  Guess technology is good for the artistic identity.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

On being a bibliophile ...

I adore books.

I own far too many for a gypsy, like myself, to tote around the continent.  But I can't abandon them.  There is something so comforting about a book ... old or new.  I love turning pages.  I love reading for hours and hours.  I'm even strange enough to admit I like smelling very old volumes.  My boyfriend will be the first to tell you that he HATES it when we accidentally discover an antique bookstore when out & about.  If I'm allowed to enter, I'll disappear for hours.  Is it sad that my dream home would look like the old book store in The Neverending Story?

Recently I've been introduced to the iPad.  Oh, the iPad.  Instantly addicting and part of the technology advances that have given us mass cultural A.D.D.  Gone are the days when I can easily lose myself in a book for hours on end ... I'm constantly distracted by the urge to check email, my favorite blogs or waste time on the internet.  Even when I'm painting I experience this need and find I can no longer lose myself in bouts of pure art making.  This bothers me.  I don't like that I've literally rewired my brain to constantly expect a wide variety of stimulation.  The internet is so non-committal.  I can flip to this article and that site ... closing a window and opening another every time my interest wanes.  I see the problem and I'm not quite sure how to fix it.  I long for the days when I could create art without any need to deviate.

Regardless of the allures of the iPad, I don't use it for what was promoted as its primary purpose.  I have zero interest in reading books off of it.  I want pages to physically turn.  I want to feel the heft and weight of a novel in my hands.  I need the satisfaction of watching my bookmark travel the depth of it.  And a part of me fears that if I abandon the physical reading of books, then someone might stop printing them.  Or perhaps they'll become treasures like dinosaur bones ... only for the wealthy and museums to own.  I'm deeply paranoid if you can't tell.

Which is why it makes me happy to see the work of Su Blackwell  (  It's as if she's determined to remind the world that books are special ... that they are true works of art.  Her pieces are gorgeous and delicate compositions that come spiraling out of the very books they are inspired by.  I want to hoard her pieces the way I hoard my antique books ... put them on display and just stare at them for hours.  What an absolutely exquisite way to remind people of the world that exists within the binding.  My iPad doesn't terrify me quite as much when I know Su is ensuring reverence for the physical book lives on.

Friday, September 24, 2010

To be inspired & to inspire ...

I've been blown away by the work of Chris Berens (visit his site).  I don't even know where to begin.  He draws his own inspiration (light quality) from Vermeer and Rembrandt ... but the average eye would never see the correlation at first.  His work is very much his own.  I consider myself very creative, but his process is so unique and so tedious that when I first read about it, all I could do was ask myself, "HOW DID HE EVEN CONCEIVE THIS TECHNIQUE?!"

Essentially, he paints with the hand of a master.  His subject matter is all manner of beasts, Madonnas and children.  The resulting images feel both surreal and photographic.  You'd swear that they'd been created on computer, in photoshop or digitally manipulated.  They have not.  The paintings are astounding.

He uses inkjet paper (very thin plastic basically) and paints on it with oils and ink.  Due to the slower drying time, he can proceed to manipulate these mediums for several days.  Once the images are done, he then cuts out the pieces he likes.  He peels the paper off the back of the inkjet sheets leaving just the thin layer of painted plastic.  Taking these pieces he collages them onto a board.  He is able to layer the pieces in a way that achieves unbelievable depth and which creates dimension.  The collage winds up feeling like one solid piece, but when you look closely and see all the separate and layered parts you are left astounded by how he's managed to achieve such a lush and cohesive image.  They are haunting and beautiful ... and something completely unique to Berens.

I love artists like Berens because they remind me that drawing inspiration from other artists does not require becoming a pale and lesser version of said artists.  With talent and skill, you can borrow major concepts or techniques, but still create something so vastly different and of it's own ilk that no one even thinks to draw an immediate parallel.

When I still lived in Nashville, other artist friends of mine and I would roll our eyes when bands would constantly answer, "Our sound is like Coldplay meets U2."  It was annoying because at 21 I didn't understand why everything had to be compared ... and I heard those comparisons as saying, "We are emulating Coldplay and U2."  And some bands were just emulating.  But as I get older I finally appreciate the concept that the most skilled artists (musicans, painters, writers, etc) are able to take elements from other artists they love and marry them into their own work without being too overt.  Comparison is no longer insulting ... if anything, it can be validating.

All good art should inspire more art.  We should be happy to give credit to what inspires us ... and in turn be proud when told we have inspired.

Every now and then inspiration can cross genres of art ... which is always impressive.  Music has definitely influenced my own paintings from time to time ... my time in Nashville surrounded by musician friends gave such strength to the stories I was painting.  But it's rather rare to blatantly see inspiration when paintings or sculptures influence other art forms.  I've long been a fan of Scott Radke (visit his site)... and this dance troupe (children) performed a piece inspired by his beautifully strange sculptures.  I love it!  View the video here ...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Animals, Insects & Art (oh my!)

I love natural history ... animals, shells, bones, feathers, plants, etc.  I love the Tesla/Industrial/Steampunk idea, when not too heavy handed ... things that are industrial, technological and the fantastical ... the epic quality that you find in sci fi.  When you blend both natural history and steampunk, you leave me very happy.  Two things that shouldn't go together, in fact, blend together rather well.

Mike Libby caught my eye a few years ago ( and I've been following him ever since.  The simple act of finding a dead beetle and toying with old watch parts has led to the most beautiful collection of work.  The mechanical parts truly seem to power the creatures ... and Libby has found a way to make "bugs" beautiful again.

Then there is Jessica Joslin (  Jessica sets the imagination on fire with her creations.  Blending actual skulls and skeletons with those she makes herself (you can never tell the difference) she builds wild menageries of brass/mixed metal and bone.  I had the pleasure of seeing her work in person recently, and I fully expected one of her cats to slink across the room.  There is this gorgeous and magical quality to everything she creates ... instead of macabre, you get the sense that these creatures are about to spring to life and let you in to a world you imagined as a child.  Tim Burton should be using them in his films.  Simply beautiful.

Libby is most focused on the internal--his clock parts hint at the delicate systems powering small beetle bodies.  There is something there reminding you that our own parts are just that delicate--all creatures are perfect machines inside.  Joslin utilizes the industrial elements in a way which mirrors natural movements and aesthetics... brass feathers may not allow you to fly, but they sure are beautiful.  Joslin & Libby are examples of how you can harness nature itself when creating ... and they successfully remind the viewer how splendidly beautiful animal and insect life really is.

Nature IS art.  Taxidermy isn't macabre ... when handled correctly it's a celebration of the greatest art there is ... nature itself.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sketchbook Discipline

I have been drawn recently to Stella Im Hultberg's blog due to her posts that chronicle her sketchbook renderings.  I used to keep multiple sketchbooks and fill them daily with images, doodles, concepts and even quotations that I found inspirational or motivating.  It is very true that keeping a sketch diary helps stimulate and spark new ideas for paintings and more serious work, but somehow maintaining that discipline over prolonged periods of time evades me.  Every so often I will declare that the time has come for me to keep a "daily" paintings diary.  This usually lasts a few weeks until I'm distracted by other real-life demands.

Stella has made me long to hone my discipline again.  It's been very fascinating to see her work evolve as she's been doing these sketchbooks.  I find myself wishing I could purchase the pages out of it and hang them on my wall, although the paintings she's doing as a result would make me happy as well.

Thanks for the visual motivation, Stella.  Time to start journaling and sketching again ... on a more regular basis.  Fine art work always benefits from routinely practicing and brainstorming.

A sampling from Stella's sketch diaries ... more work found here:  Stella Im Hultberg