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My Collage

Recently, I took a challenging course offered by the Oregon Society of Artists via Zoom called Mind Boggling – 2D Collage offered by Poca Kim. The strategy of the art course is to learn how to take an artist’s earlier paintings and artwork and make them into new art by cutting them up and designing a collage. Poca Kim brings excitement and humor into the room while she works with us to develop our collages.

For the class, I chose to cut up several watercolors of nature scenes that I had completed and then reshaped them into a collage of a child playing an instrument.

I chose this theme for my collage because owing to the coronavirus pandemic, children are staying home. School is often canceled, or attended only on-line. Children’s play is built around what they can find in their homes to play with, as they cannot play with others so easily owing to social-distancing. I wanted to build a collage based on this idea, using several watercolors that I had earlier painted of nature scenes.

Having prepared the collage of the dancing child, I then decided to have the child be a type of “Pied Piper”.

Sketching over the rough collage
Pandemic Home School Child
Pied Piper Child

Looking at what happened during this class, I personally prefer the painting that I have called “Pandemic Home School Child” to the final painting that I did for the course called “Pied Piper Child.” I prefer the roughness and chaos of the “Home School” painting which is more in line with the chaos and playfulness of kids. This does not mean that I needed to stop at one point in this class project rather than going to the next. Each stopping point is providing a kind of wonder of its own. Classes are supposed to make us think, and consider new options to our art goals.

Here are some of the things that I learned from this very interesting collage class.

First, the technique of using my old painting for collage pieces was very different than cutting and using other artist’s work or magazine art to make a collage. There was a personal touch to cutting up my own paintings as I remembered making the marks.

Second, while cutting up my art pieces and moving them into the collage, I also considered my previous work as it related to color, shape, brush marks and line choices, without thought to the final illustration for which they were originally used. It amused me that even after the paintings were cut up and moved around, they still looked like my personal work to me. I liked the idea that these earlier works resulted in useful images for the collage. It taught me that the lines themselves, the color choices, the movements of the brush across the paper all had subtle meanings that reached beyond the simple original illustration.

Third, using the collage as a starting point made up of pre-constructed materials encouraged me to creatively move beyond old paintings and discover new value in their colors, lines and brushwork.

Fourth, I focused very steadily on the composition for a considerable amount of time, freely moving pieces about to fashion my idea, before moving on to the painting itself. The activity of working through my compositional ideas via a collage left everything open and optional, shifting the composition again and again, as long as I did not glue anything down.

I think the concept of abstract art is starting to take shape in my mind more clearly through this collage and I want to work on it further.

Having completed this first assignment for the class, I am thinking of doing this collage-painting again, but this time even more abstractly, using acrylics.

This new goal is leaving me a bit stumped at the moment, but with time, I think that I will figure it out.

Taking this course with Poca Kim has made me ask, how does one’s mindset shift meaningfully from the art of illustration to that of abstract art, or vice versa? What role does structure and composition play in all of this?

I am finding that physically moving the composition around meaningfully via the collage is one way to consider this important question.

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Recently, I participated in an excellent online art workshop designed and led by Ruth Armitage called Land Lines. It was a “three-day exploration of personal mark making inspired by the landscape”. The workshop offered an opportunity to experiment with using a variety of marks and lines in new ways. For the duration of the workshop, I decided to focus on my backyard garden as the art topic.

I brought my own piece of landscape art of my backyard garden to the workshop, figuring that I could use it for comparative purposes.

Backyard, oil painting

In the workshop, I tried to get a better grasp of Ruth’s techniques and perspective regarding the use of lines and marks in art, as she is a well-known artist of abstract paintings. When we received our workshop painting assignments, I chose to continue painting this same scene of my backyard garden, more abstractly, using as many aspects of Ruth’s workshop techniques as possible.

After a number of presentations and short tasks, Ruth asked us to paint, relatively quickly, several paintings using varied lines and marks. For her workshop assignment, I submitted three of the assigned paintings for review, all inspired by my garden backyard scene. The three pieces are shown below.

Painting 1, Garden Sanctuary, ink, acrylic, watercolors.
Painting 2, Winter Garden II, mixed media
Painting 3, Garden Springs, watercolor and ink

You may ask, “What happened?”

These are very different from the oil painting I carried in to the workshop depicting this same garden area. Let me explain.

The entire purpose of this exercise was to reach out into new territory. So I did.

Ruth’s focus on marks and lines at first sounded simple. But in fact, it was very challenging, and often left me wondering, what exactly is a land line? When is a mark or a line not a land line? Do lines or marks have multiple meanings in the same art project? Why do I need them at all? What if I just avoid marks and lines and work in smudges or color? What about texture? How do marks, lines, texture and color work together and when are they failures to communicate?

At times, this resulted in me being more puzzled than I was before I started. Taking a workshop can be a humbling experience. It is true of every excellent course or workshop that I have ever taken, that I leave knowing much less than when I arrived.

For her assignment, I started to describe the garden scene by using bold geometric lines using a large yellow Y shapes of sunlight to divide the chairs and table from plant life. I viewed these landscaping lines as compositional

Then I decided to add marks and lines into the painting to depict plant life, over the larger composition of light streams that I had used to shape the painting. At this point in the workshop, I started to lean on lines and marks, along with color, to express how the garden varied.

At this point, I took time out to paint a watercolor version of how the garden looked from a plant’s perspective which turned out whimsical and just plain fun. Without realizing it, I had also changed my perspective on what I was doing from the original oil landscape painting to imagining other perspectives.

This watercolor sketch that I did is painted from the perspective of looking at a plant almost from the position of the ground.

Garden Plant, watercolor

After that, I made a more complicated sketch of trees, plants, table and chair. Not particularly happy with the end result, I decided to cut it up into pieces and see how it would look in a collage. Now that was brave! But it was also a reminder to not get too serious when trying to learn something new. From that experience, I decided that I was busy making lines. However, I needed more work on the meaning of lines.


Collage made from cut up pieces of my painting

At that point, I moved to imagining my little garden as a sheltered place bordered by fences, and edged with wild flowers, tiny branches and bushes. I felt the presence of the streets surrounding our fenced in garden. I thought of the garden surrounded by city streets and at one time covered with spring snow. Hence the painting titled Winter Garden.

I moved to viewing the garden from the perspective of our bungalow home, and considered the way in which the sky and the land related to early spring. See the painting, Garden Spring.

At that point, I decided to paint the garden as an oval sanctuary, or an icon.

Pink over brush of icon

Frustrated, I brushed in a larger set of compositional lines by adding a large pink shape over the garden. It was a personal statement on my part, saying that I needed a more stable place to describe the inner sanctuary aspect of my garden.

Then, I decided, over the same painting, to bring color, texture and line into the iconic inner sanctuary of the garden using the color blue and adding marks to show the garden’s intricacy. The painting ended up being simple in line, highly textured, using acrylic, water color and ink. See the painting, Garden Sanctuary.

My conclusion is that there are many more ways to depict a little backyard garden, and many more paintings to go.

It turned out that Ruth’s assignment to paint three or four paintings simultaneously while considering lines, marks and landscapes was very helpful, reducing the need for perfection and enhancing the need for experimentation.

Art, for me, is a continual process of learning, sketching, and imagining new ways to relate to my surroundings. Having painted a place, I feel much more intimately attached and familiar with it. Seeing it through multiple perspectives via this workshop has only strengthened my attachment to it. Added to this enjoyable process of painting my backyard garden, was the additional pleasure of learning new approaches and techniques of abstract art while doing it.

With respect to the workshop being conducted via the internet, I am grateful that Ruth and other artists continue to go forward with art workshops using the internet while under the current conditions of a pandemic where we are all under stay at home measures and social distancing. Under these new conditions, I found certain aspects of an online workshop very enjoyable. First, there was no commute. Second, I could walk away from the workshop and come back and continue at my own pace without interrupting anyone else. Third, there was time for thought. I was less hurried. I was also less self-conscious because if I did’t like what I was doing, I could pitch it and do it over, sight unseen.

There are some obvious disadvantages, as well to an online workshop. First, it required a quiet place in my home, without distraction, so as to not be interrupted by our regular activities of daily living. Second, I lost the opportunity to meet new artists. Third, we used text messages to speak with each other, thus losing the spontaneity of facial expressions, gestures and voice.

A Zoom meeting at the end helpfully brought us together for review of our work and allowed a more interactive discussion of each artist’s work with the instructor, while allowing other artists to observe.

Trying to use other artist’s perspective and techniques may feel awkward at first, but it leads to new understandings and broader perspectives on what is possible. I will be drawing and sketching for months to come, and no doubt will refer back to this workshop on lines, marks and landscaping, many times over.

Coincidentally, I got a Mother’s Day package in the mail a few days ago from my children and when I opened it up, it was a beautiful book, The Human Planet, Earth at the Dawn of the Anthropocene. The book highlights over 30 years of aerial photography across seven continents, completed by George Steinmetz, exploring the human imprint on climate and the natural world, with explanatory text provided by Andrew Revkin. The arrival of this book could not have been more timely. The landscape is both photographically real and artistically abstract, offering many opportunities for imagining new ways to paint landscapes from an aerial point of view, with lines.

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Community Spoons

The art of crafting started thousands of years ago using readily available materials such as grasses, bushes, branches, trees, rocks, pebbles, sand and the like. We can still see ancient crafting and art projects displayed in natural history museums such as the American Museum of Natural History.

Recently, our South Abaco island High Banks Arts and Crafts Group has tried to find ways to do arts and crafts on the island of The Abacos using readily available natural materials. Large parts of this island and many of its people were injured by Hurricane Dorian. Access to a variety of stores is now limited. Many things islanders use for arts and crafts are from materials, shared and exchanged with neighbors. Part of the challenge on an island is searching for the material to work with. Instead of going to stores, we often head for “the bush” and search for more readily available materials found in the nearby natural coppice.

Nearby Coconut Palms
Basket hand woven from part of a coconut frond

We take a single frond from a Cabbage Palm, or from a Coconut Palm, leaving the palm intact and ready to make more fronds. Or we find a branch on the ground, or get a piece of wood from someone who has just trimmed a tree, leaving the tree alive and growing. We cut a small branch off a bush. Or we cut a few tall grasses to use for weaving. These are the materials for our art projects.

Cabbage Palm Frond
Basket woven from Palmetto Palm Fronds

Carving your own spoon is a very basic and purposeful activity. Making your own beautifully carved spoon from a branch found nearby, while asking a friendly neighbor to help cut the branch into a useful shape before you start carving, is artistic, social and fun. Carving spoons and then presenting some of your newly carved spoons as a gift to the neighbors who helped prepare the wood, is pure satisfaction.

And it is what we call a Community Spoon.

Future community spoons
Buttonwood branch cut and shared by a neighbor
Cut with a saw into a spoon shape by another neighbor
Being hand carved by a wood carver, not yet finished

Stay tuned for more arts and crafts adventures.

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After the Storm. Watercolor on paper

Living on a small island for part of every year leads an artist to think about ways to use local and natural resources, rather than trying to purchase and import all our art supplies. It has become even more imperative now that our island has endured a terrible hurricane. We wish to do no more harm and perhaps even in the process, replenish available natural resources.

We all are thinking about solar energy. Most of us don’t want to replicate the energy uses of the mainland onto our fragile island. In addition, many of us are using these moments of reconstruction to think of ways to do our arts and craft more naturally, using locally available materials. Must we always import supplies?

What does this island have that we might use as a natural resource for our crafting and art work? Can we take it, use it for art and then have it some day return to the soil without causing any more damage to this exquisite and ephemeral island?

Poised to Sail. Water color on driftwood taken from the beach

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Cement Art

Plant potter, made out of cement

How much do I love cement? Let me count the ways.

First, it is readily available and not terribly expensive. We can find it in hardware stores and often have it sitting available in bags in our garages and sheds.

Second, it is easy to mold. Pour wet cement into a small prepared mold and in a matter of a few minutes, it is hardened. This has both upsides and down sides. It does not pay to be indecisive or not yet have your mold ready when you are about to pour the cement. Molds must be planned well ahead of time.

Third, when it dries it is unbreakable. What can I say? Cement is hard!

Fourth, once hardened, it provides a smooth surface for painting. Shown in the photo, as an illustrative example, is a cement plant pot that I painted with a small brush using acrylic and permanent ink.

Fifth….is the unknown asset yet to be discovered when crafting with it. Which is why I am writing this blog. I think this would make a great project for our little island art group to work on together.

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Carving My Own Spoon

Recently, I took a piece of crudely chopped maple wood and carved out a spoon that is now a happy member of my kitchen wooden spoon collection. It is the one and only spoon that I have ever personally carved out of wood.

Newly carved spoon hanging out with older kitchen spoons

I learned how to do this when I took an introductory class, a Wood Spoon Carving Workshop taught by Emilie Rigby at Assembly PDX in Portland, Oregon.

Rough wood

Having carved my first spoon under Emilie’s auspices, I now imagine numerous ways to use a block of wood and a carving knife for all kinds of projects, including carving more spoons.

Tools

Base on this introductory workshop, I have learned a few things about wood carving.

First, carving provides excitement and danger. One must be brave to use knives this way. We are warned about the many possible ways to injure ourselves if we do not use our carving knives carefully. We practice holding the knife so that fingers are out of the way. We learn to stay clear of our partners and to properly sheath knives when not in use. We wear a protective glove on the hand holding the wood block. At first I carve, holding my breath, hoping the knife makes it to the base of the wood without hitting anything other than the wood in front of us. As I gain some experience, I breathe more normally.

The second thing that I learned is that the process of carving is like a form of meditation. The slow movement across the wood, the emergence of the spoon out of the wood, has a sort of ephemeral quality about it.

Third, wood is a flexible and beautiful medium to work in. It has a lot of character that emerges as you carve.

Beyond that, I am too much of a beginner to say much more.

However, I did purchase my first hook knife which is used for hollowing out spoons and for many other things, so clearly I do believe that there is a future for me in wood carving.

Hook Knife for working on curves

Below, is an introductory video of spoon carving, for those who might be interested to try it.

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We had an afternoon to share, my granddaughter and I. She said, “Grandma, how about art?” I said, “Sure.”

We gathered up some watercolor paper that is cut for making cards, brought out our brushes, inks and acrylics. We covered my kitchen table with an old plastic shower curtain that I use to protect my good table. We grabbed an empty and cleaned up peanut butter jar to use for water, and started to work.

She used some shells and a sand dollar we had picked up at the ocean for her inspiration. I looked out our kitchen window at all the angles. She decided to play with the starfish and then shifted the shapes and began to ink them in. I played with lines and angles, thinking about some of the wonderful drawings my artistic neighbors did when in the Abacos as they drew lovely, simple, angular paintings of island homes.

At some point, we spilled the water and also knocked over the blue ink. But it mopped up easily, given the plastic shower curtain we had used as protection. We cleaned up the mess and kept right on painting.

Several hours later, we took turns walking into in the other room and holding up the other person’s painting for them to see, more objectively.

We got hungry, ate lunch together and talked.

It was a perfect day.

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Bye Bye Birdie

Starting a water color painting is like beginning a relationship.

At first, little is familiar but for the simple attraction.

What follows is a portrayal in watercolor, of seeing, feeling, hearing, touching, imagining this bird over a period of shifting time. Some of what I draw is real; some is not. Over time as I work with this painting, my perspective changes, colors shift, the focus drifts, speculation occurs on what actually matters. Details that are not noticed, at first, suddenly matter. My imagination takes over for a while as I freely add my own personal perspectives on what I see or imagine about this bird and its location.

Eventually, tired of details, I am relaxed by the big picture and remember perspectives, one after the other, left and right, upside down, viewed through a larger kaleidoscope of ideas, shapes, colors.

Then comes the longer-lasting part, the part when we say goodbye. This painting may be given as a gift, or sold to an interested person, photographed and shared with a wider audience, or even put aside, leaving me wondering if there is something more that I should do with it, be with it.

Good friends of all kinds must eventually leave, move on, go to new places, change environments. Life is nothing but change. What remains are things remembered, lost thoughts regretted, happy memories jumping up and cheering from time to time.

A picture is truly a thousand words. And words are thousands of pictures.

Bye bye, birdie. It was real nice knowing you. I hope you like your new home.

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And what changed?

I like painting from different perspectives, each one more abstract than the last.

These three are titled “Overhang”, watercolours by MJ Chamie

First, I draw or paint a scene in some detail, doing pencil sketches, or painting while working with values, shadow, color, choice of detail.  At some point, I stop.

Then I may do a second painting using pens or brushes and focus on the overarching theme, letting imagination do the rest.  

Finally, I shape these ideas into a single thought and paint something that is closer to a symbol, like a hieroglyphic.

This is my usual approach to art, and it feels like I am having a discussion with the painting while doing so.  If I ever come back to a place that I have painted, it feels so familiar and welcoming to be back.

In the examples below,  fascinated by the arches of trees over the walkways of South East Portland,  I walked through a place that I chose to paint.   At this location, it felt as though the trees were communicating, whispering, as they arched over the walkway.  

It is one thing to capture the detail, and another to capture the feeling.  

IMG_6901

Photo taken by MJChamie.

Dark overhang of trees in South East Portland, Watercolor by MJChamie.

This thought resulted in a Haiku poem and watercolor that I painted. It says,  “Silence abounds here. I feel its cover and stop. It whispers with me.”

Setting the tone and level of detail in any painting is part technique and part personal judgement. I like the struggle of figuring this out, while knowing it is clear that there is no exact right or wrong to this.

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I like the drips and drabs that occur on the sides of paintings, before they are cleaned up and framed.  The side patterns suggest the artists’ level of enthusiasm.  They also show the timing of the oil’s placement on the canvas through the layers of paint left dripping over the sides.  For example, the artist may have done the paint mixing on the canvas itself using various brushes and strokes, rather than through mixing oils beforehand and placing the color on to the canvas.  These differences would be more clearly seen on the unfinished sides.

The sides of canvases may be more influenced by gravity rather than brush strokes and are essentially happy accidents of the artist, capriciously highlighting the color palette.  The drips and drabs of  along the sides may also complement that painting itself, acting as a frame.

Below is a mixed media painting on canvas on display at the New York Historical Society. When I saw this painting by Karen Schwartz, I stopped to appreciate her work, and then spent additional time looking at the sides, thinking about her wonderful approach to painting this picture of Eleanor Roosevelt.

I particularly like the way the dripping sides of the canvas have framed the oil painting and am glad that the artist did not cover it, or paint over these designs, but rather considered it part of the painting itself.

What do you think?

Source of painting: https://www.nyhistory.org

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