Monday, February 14, 2011

valentine cliffs

We took a Valentine's Day hike today, a 3-1/2 hour round trip up Calf Creek to its lower falls and back. Wine, cheese, bread, and an apple made up our lunch.  Chosa bounded gleefully all the way, outrunning us at least 4:1. We were the only visitors in the canyon, and the hawks greeted us with shrieks that made us wonder if they were protecting nests.

Lower Calf Creek is a gorgeous canyon, part of the Escalante - Grand Staircase National Monument that Clinton set aside toward the end of his presidency.  If it were anywhere else, it would be a monument all its own. But within the context of southern Utah, it has a lot of competition.  For a fuller description and a photo of the falls, go here, or Google Calf Creek Falls.

Lower Calf Creek is one of my favorite walks, and in the sunlight of a clear and crisp winter day, I found plenty of fodder for my cliff textures fascination.  I snapped photos left and right.  The images here are examples of the beauty that I find in these sandstone curtains. The ancient layers of rock have been twisted and expanded and compressed over the centuries, have cracked and crumbled, and the visible surfaces are streaked with desert varnish in multiple layers.  The texture can range from creamy smoothness to jumbled chaos.  Every facade is different, and changes with the light and the season.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

early morning thoughts

With Jeff’s talk resonating in my mind, I woke up early and found myself thinking about my work. What is my passion? Representing sandstone on canvas (board). Why? It (the sandstone) has spoken to me since high school, here outside Sedona. I need to keep that passion up front in my mind as I work. And it’s not only the sandstone, it is also the sky, so much a presence here in the southwest. Not only how beautiful and mysterious it is, but also that it requires looking up, and how important that is to me. It’s so easy to get focused on looking down.

I also need to create a syllabus for a 5-day workshop in cold wax techniques that I may teach at our high school this spring, and am musing about sequence and emphases. There will be lots of hands-on, but I need to start each day with a focus and a demo.  For example, Day 1: Cold wax, its properties, and how I use them to represent sandstone, sky, and space (that has a nice ring to it). Strata in the earth and strata in the painting process. Two-dimensional visual strata in traditional painting, and the use of cold wax, which allows three-dimensional strata building. Day 2: Color fields and support size/shape. Opaque versus transparent paint. Value. Warm and cool contrast. Detraction methods. Day 3: Marks and expression. Additive marks and detractive marks. Confinement (support edges) and freedom. Vertical versus horizontal orientation. Representation versus abstraction. Day 4: Thinking outside the frame. Using non-traditional natural substances.  Observation, interaction, conversation. Getting to a message. The path of the eye. Rotating the support. Day 5: Getting to finished. Keeping it fresh. Using mirrors.

Messages to myself in my own work: Go deeper. Ask why I like something in a piece and pursue it. Look for interesting serendipity and take it further. Remember underlying principles and build on them without letting them constrain. Explore embedding. 

Find new techniques to build cliffs. Sandstone and sky. Forget foreground. Go deeper into layers and colors of sandstone. Think of past cliffs and do the layering in cold wax. Bring more pieces of stone into studio. Use and vary cliff colors. Build, scrape. Think in vertical and horizontal, with arcs, slopes.

How to do sky in cold wax? Think depth – the deep blue behind and beyond the “surface” we see. The pale blue of day sky. The sky colors at day beginning and day end. The patterns and textures of clouds and storms. The smoothness of clear sky.

I remember meeting two women at the Escalante art festival last fall who had stopped to see my work in Torrey. They told me about peering at my cliff paintings and asking themselves, “How did she do that?” Jeff talking about wanting people to feel uneasy when they are with his work, to wonder about it, and his seeking effects that would provoke that reaction. I want a similar response, more of the “how did she do that” quotient like the ladies expressed last fall.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

considering mistakes

I had the pleasure this evening of listening to my artist friend Jeff, who is a gifted and accomplished ceramicist, photographer, and teacher, speak about his work and the sources of his creativity (see some of his most recent work here). He was being honored with an award of excellence from the high school that we both attended. His main theme was how fascinated he has always been with his two mediums (clay and photography) and how he explores and experiments and pushes the envelope until a “mistake” happens, and then he seizes that moment to turn the “mistake” into a new impetus for creation and exploration. His talk was passionate and straight on, eloquent in its intensity and wisdom, and an inspirational lift from the mundane issues of day-to-day artmaking. He gave what we do a new perspective for me, one that made me ask myself what my own passions are, while at the same time reviving and clarifying those passions. Sandstone. Texture. Beauty. Solidity. Balance. Jeff’s talk made me realize that I can stop feeling apologetic about my art, and stop questioning how others view my creativity and my commitment. Instead, as he said, I can just renew them, constantly, and pursue them, with passion. I owe him great thanks, and will tell him so.

Monday, February 7, 2011

away from home

I am visiting a friend in Sedona, AZ, a familiar, periodic trip that I make. The 8-hour drive south is frequently a meditative one, on roads lightly traveled, through the Grand Staircase country of southern Utah and northern Arizona. I went to high school just outside Sedona, and my friend is also a former teacher of mine from those years. Her house is almost a second home, and the chance to visit with her, as well as the change in climate and scenery, are always welcome.

Thinking about my painting today as the miles rolled by, ideas came to mind that I want to record here, since I won’t be back in the studio for a week. The start I made on “arc”, with the rough drawing at its bottom layer, is interesting enough that I wonder about making that base layer a black/white (well, low value/high value, anyway), more detailed layout for later layers to cover up and reveal. I think it is worth a try. The only question is how much of an actual drawing to make, whether to go into detail (which would require more detailed brushwork than the spirit of cold wax as I interpret it provides), or perhaps just record broad value blocks, similar to those of “arc” but taking them a bit farther. More to experiment, here.

Another idea to record for future reference: to keep going with layers until I am satisfied, to not accept as final a stage with which I am not completely happy. I was showing an 8"x8" (posted here on September 29th) to an artist friend of mine tonight, telling him I wasn’t sure it was finished, and he asked what I might do with it to take it further. It was a wonderful question, and forced me to really think about what the options are. I managed to come up with four, each better than the previous, until now I am eager to get back to the studio and back to it ( I’ve been letting it sit for several months, not knowing what to do). It’s wonderful what having a fellow artist to talk with can do….