Buying, Writing, Doing: The Triad of my Present Dilemma

It’s become increasingly apparent to me that it is much easier to purchase art supplies than it is to apply them in creative ways.  It doesn’t seem that this in any way should really be a problem for me:  I did work my way through an AA program in Art (I couldn’t justify it the first time around with my BA, nor at the Master’s level…at least, currently), so I know that there is some part of me that is creative.  I also know that I’m skilled, though as I said before, when I don’t exercise those skills, they’re hidden within me.

Unless I practice, my skill and creativity won’t have the chance to show themselves, or to develop beyond the point they are at, now.  Maybe the problem I’m facing (starting out with incipient projects) is the one faced by writers of all types (which I’m well familiar with, as my BA actually was in Creative Writing):  fear of the blank page.  Or white paper.  Basically, it’s the same thing.

What I can latch onto right now are the exercises which build increasing familiarity with my media. Right now, I am very, very drawn to water-based media (inks, acrylic inks, acrylic paints, watercolors, water-based block printing).  I have a feeling that this is majorly because I don’t like to deal with toxins when they’re unnecessary, and cleaning out watercolor brushes isn’t a big deal to me, at present.

Ah — and, I used to work more in dry media (pencils, pens, colored pencils, most apparently) — until I got tired of the tiny point of contact with the paper (give me brushes) and the graininess of most of my attempts.  (Keep in mind here that my Prismacolors were purchased well before the year 2000, so I don’t have the advantage of the smoother laydown of the new formulations, in that brand.)  In contrast, inks and paints are much more…captivating for me:  they lay down solid, (usually) unbroken, and (usually) more vivid color.

Color is something that I at one time began to organically grow into (toward the end of my stay in Community College) — and then I restarted the Library & Information Science program.  At that point, my energy focused on the goal of gaining an MLIS in order to be able to be a Librarian, so that I could have a steady income stream, hopefully benefits (though I have heard that these are increasingly being cut in Librarianship proper) and work within one of my areas of interest, while also performing a social good.  In my spare time, and with the spare resources I would gain from being an Information professional (or so I’ve heard), I have planned to work on my Art, thus bolstering my psychological resilience.

Right now…it’s hard for me to formulate or say what my point is, within LIS.  It’s where I am now, and it’s what I know, but that doesn’t really count for much of anything when I realize that I’m already at the top of my pay scale and will have to change positions soon if I want to become more efficient at earning money.

What I want to be doing right now, is helping to construct Web pages.  It’s fairly evident, even just through my experience with this blog and my drive to personalize and edit its structure.  It fits in with my other two degrees in the aspect of being production-based, but not entirely so much in the fact that it’s technical.  I presently do not have the ability to customize pages and sites.  If I keep on in the LIS program, I may eventually gain the skills, however:  and a new perspective on the experience of designing for someone else.

I have a feeling, though, that this will put me about even with the youth coming out of high school in this era — technically speaking.  Technology flows on, and keeping current with it is one of the things to which I’ve resigned myself.  Design, however, is a specialty, and requires skills and knowledge that not everyone has.  And, as has become increasingly apparent, it’s not about me or my expression (as versus Art, which seems to require drilling deeply into myself to draw out something that only I can do).

Right now I’m in a class on User Experience, which is an aspect of Design — and it’s very apparent that Design encompasses much more than the utilization of art skills.  Designing is not the same thing as producing Art, unless the person you’re designing for is you.

And writing for yourself is not the same thing as writing for someone else.

I think that if I did not have the fear of repercussions for expressing anything unique, I would have an easier time with both Art and Writing.  But I’m old enough to know that expression begets consequences.  Whether those are good or bad consequences is unknown and ultimately subjective; whether praise or hatred will prevail is yet to be seen.

This could be the reason why I have seen so many take a brash stance against this psychic wall…because if you don’t stand strongly, the force of that wall could crush your light down into a black hole.

Of course, it helps to have solid grounding and conviction in something reasonable, first.

M has expressed frustration that I have been acquiring supplies — particularly for painting — and have not progressed beyond, “little squares.”  (I’m not sure she understands how difficult the medium of watercolor is, however…)

My little squares, though they could be made in a more aesthetically pleasing manner, are doing something for me:  they’re familiarizing me with the medium.  I don’t feel comfortable jumping from having done nearly nothing into a place where I have no ground to stand on and don’t know how to kick or stroke.

Doing that, and working out my familiarization in a way in which I am likely to destroy my first five paintings (if not more), would be…almost traumatic, for me.  So I’m working on little squares.  Little squares, I can handle; and although the progression there is incremental, and likely to hit a roadblock when I try actually using the colors in application, at least it is something, and I’m learning from it.  Without something, I’m paralyzed because I’m being expected to perform as an intermediate or advanced student without having taken beginner classes.

Maybe M can move forward like that; but I’ve noticed that, in her own design work, she doesn’t think ahead.  She plunges forward and then hits a roadblock and doesn’t know where to go from there.  In contrast, I think things out much further, but then am criticized for my tentativeness and my expensive preparations and my lack of starting.

And actually, now that I’m looking at my notes, I can also see a pattern here:  and not just in the delicateness of my process and my work.

I probably write about art so much because it’s easier for me to write about art than it is for me to get up the courage to actually do it.  I’ve been writing nearly constantly, for all of my life.  Writing is familiar to me, and it’s easier for me to do this than it is for me to sit down with a paintbrush, no matter the chances of coming out with something beautiful as an end product (though maybe I will try and keep that in mind as a goal.  I have a chance of making something beautiful if I risk failure.  If I do not, I have no chance of doing the same).

Writing about work, though, is not at all equivalent to actually doing it.

I’ve got to make a number of lifestyle changes relatively soon.  Many of these — most, actually — are related to my mental and physical health.  I need to floss regularly.  I need to brush my teeth and wash my face well in advance of bedtime.  I need to avoid late nights (sugar cravings come on after 11 PM).  I need to drink more water and avoid excess sugar.  I need to shower more often, and to exercise (and stretch) more often and more regularly; and if I can, I ought to try to meditate regularly (doing all of this may allow me to reduce my medications…and drop down a few sizes).

Along with this — I wonder if it would be too much of a strain for me to try and wake up with the Sun, so I have all the hours of the day to do my work and my art, as versus doing art in the afternoon and taking photos in the late afternoon or evening (when it’s dark).  Or, less optimally, doing art at nighttime with less-than-natural light.

It’s something to think about.  Maybe tonight I can try going to bed early, instead of trying to wring all the good I can get out of the day, and see if I am able and willing to get up at, say, 7 AM tomorrow (as I tried to do, today).  And maybe if I have the art play as a lure to get me out of bed…I’ll actually do it.

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Experimenting with camera settings and Photoshop: suminagashi prints

I’ve been taking photos of the last suminagashi batch so that if and when I cut them apart, I won’t miss them.  😉  (Part of the nature of suminagashi is that it never turns out the same way more than once.)  This set turned out much more photogenic than the last — although that may also be partially due to my experimenting with the light settings on my camera.

Today was overcast, so I used the “Cloudy” setting on my camera, even though I was indoors with only window light.  This gave me a batch of photos which appeared dim (all values were shifted towards the black point in the Levels histogram), though I was able to adjust how the computer read the files by using a Levels adjustment layer in Photoshop and hand-tweaking each color layer, which worked out more aesthetically pleasing than letting the computer take care of it through Auto Levels.  I’m actually really amazed that it worked (for most of them, anyway):

Heh!  Nice!  Ah, right:  I’m hoping you can click on the images to see a larger version!

Like I said in the last relevant entry, I changed my working pattern for this set.  I can see where it would be useful to rinse off some of my papers after printing them — two or more got a weird haze of ink over the top (though I tossed one of them because it was so messed up); another got blotched by my not drying excess water, which caused a pooling effect.  Overall, though…it worked!

I’m trying to fight an urge to go back and try this again…mostly because I don’t want to have to clean off the craft table again, but….

(almost the) First linocut done since high school!

I am trying not to title this post “Bahaha,” though I’m sure you’ll be able to sense my excitement!

I was able to take a trip out to the little art store I wished to go to.  Amazingly — I got out of there with a bunch of linocut supplies for under $25.  It probably has to do with the fact that I got a bunch of little tiny linoleum blocks — the one I’ll show here is one of the smallest, at 2″x2″ — and the fact that they were having a sale on the hard pastels I bought — which were the most expensive thing, at under $5 for a set of 12.

Last night after getting home from that trip, I honestly felt like going to bed, but I interrupted myself.  I didn’t want to go and get the art supplies and then never use them, so I started looking through my cheap little notebook at my designs.  I realized fairly quickly that the way I had been sketching was suited to linework, but that printing would probably require a different approach, utilizing blocks of color or tone.  With that in mind, I started sketching — in pencil, albeit in 8B pencil.

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My initial design is at the top of this photo.  Below are iterative versions of it, on tracing paper (center), translucent marker paper (left), and Saral (carbon) paper.

I actually surprised myself with my initial design, as I’d somehow managed to draw a diamond shape which had a little less than 60º as the angle of the inner corner, making 6 petals totaling 360º.

This is the actual first transfer of that image to (translucent) marker paper, on the right:

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I used marker paper because I felt it would hold up better under fineliner (I used a 0.1 mm pen, here), and I intended to fill in areas with black to see what the design would look like in high contrast.  As I was doing this, I remembered some examples in a Dover book on the principle of Notan (balance between positive and negative space), and was curious about what would happen if I introduced shapes pushing from the negative space into the positive space — this is why the petals are notched.  I also realized in this iteration that I needed to pay attention to the center of the star, because if the petals didn’t have a coherent center, it could throw the design off.

I also realized that I didn’t have to echo the almond shape throughout each petal, and wondered what it would look like if I added a recurve to the outer edge of each white area.  So I traced over this shape with the tracing paper (first image, below center), using this idea — and trying to fix the center of the design.  I did this first in 2H pencil. Then on the tracing paper, I went over the lines with fineliner again (so I could see them) and traced over that on the marker paper (first image, below left).  At this point I could color things in without losing any precious underdrawing, so I did.  I had intended to divide the outer rim of each petal into two and let the white space part the outer edge, so that the petals were implied but not fully stated — but when I filled the space in, this detail was not visible.  I also joined the positive space on the outside of the petals to save myself a headache.

Once I was happy with the design, I traced over — I think the tracing paper copy — over carbon paper (Saral paper) with a 2H pencil, on top of my 2″x2″ linoleum block.  On the first image, lower right, you can see what this did to the Saral paper:  it’s translucent where I transferred the carbon onto the linoleum.

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I did not take a photo of my block before carving, but I was very happy with the line transfer.  What I was less happy with were the performances of the carving tools I mentioned before, which are from my high school sculpture and relief-printing days.  Because they didn’t perform all that well, I ended up using an X-Acto craft knife with a #2 blade to do most of the image cutting.  The area around the image was cleared out with a large shallow gouge, however.

One thing I did find to my surprise was that the little subtlety of the curvature of the white area was not immediately apparent in cutting.  I also found that small circular cutouts are difficult to do in linoleum, and that I would have been better off doing something like I did in the outer petal ring and just cut out an almond, without trying for a circle.  When I did try for circles, I ended up cutting out more positive space than I intended to.  This will change in the next iteration of this project:  almonds all the way!  😉

After the cutting was done, I started looking around for my acrylic plate and the hard rubber brayer.  I couldn’t easily find that plate, though — I know where one used to be, but since we’ve cleaned up, I’m no longer sure where it is.  But apparently…we had extra picture frames, and I was able to take one apart and use the glass that would have protected the picture, to roll out my printing ink with the brayer!

This is water-based Speedball printing ink, which came in a small tube.  I’m really thankful that I didn’t have to buy a 1 lb jar to get any ink at all — at first, all I could find were the jars, but then I found the little packs of ink hanging up in the same area.  I picked up a black, then later realized at home that I probably should have gotten white or a color in addition to the black, so I could experiment with duochrome.  But — next time.

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One of the nice things about this ink is that it cleans up very easily with water; on top of that, it seems to be nontoxic.  It also has good tack, meaning that when I put the paper on top of it (I used Stonehenge, which is designed for hand printing), the paper did not move, even as I burnished the back with the back of a spoon to transfer the image from the carving to the paper.

There were barens at the store to accomplish the same thing, but I felt they were overpriced for something that is basically just a flat surface.  Of course, if I’d used a baren, it would be less likely that I would get those surrounding marks on my print (see above) which resulted from both tipping the inked brayer as I rolled it (it’s a tiny print, okay) 😉 and pushing the paper down into the background with the spoon during the burnishing process.

In high school, I think we accomplished the pressing by rolling a clean brayer over the back of the paper.  And, of course, if I used something like a small press, I wouldn’t have to worry about the stray marks at all…although one of the reasons for starting out with block printing is that you don’t need a press.

And, well, now — I have a good bit more insight than I did before on how to do this, and want to retry the carving process.  I have one more little 2″x2″ block of the same type, and found an old opened (throwaway) linoleum block today (it feels like an eraser).  Seriously, though, these things aren’t expensive, something I had to remind myself of before I started carving!  I think the block I carved today cost $0.66 or something like that.

It is pretty cool to see your work result in something, though!  And that’s not a bad try for being (almost) the first time I’ve worked with this technique in 17 years…(and yes, the BAHAHA moment when it works is great…!)

I have a vision, now…

I needed to unwind after the homework I’ve been doing today…so, I completed what I will (for now), of my paint spreadsheets!

What I can say is that with all the paint I have, I really should be painting.  Like, actually painting.  And not. worrying about. running out. of. paint.  Jeez.

I think my oldest gouache (which was what I used in Color Dynamics) dates back to around 2007 (I was mistaken with my earlier timeline: 2009 was when I started looking for a job, not when I started taking Art classes).  The newest paints I have, I purchased this year.  But given how much I’ve painted this year (since my Art program ended), it’s really going to be a waste if I don’t use these before the tubes decay.

(If you didn’t see the backpost, I had a number of tubes of acrylic paint from 2015 which I tried to check on, and either the caps broke [i.e. fell apart], or the necks twisted off of the tubes.  I’m thinking UV damage…)

Of course, this can be remedied by buying empty tubes to put my color into when — not if, but when — this happens again.  I just haven’t done it so far, because I really don’t know what I’m doing (it’s a liability when you’re an artist, to avoid doing something because you don’t know what you’re doing)…but if I can save a tube of paint, it should be worth it.  The only thing lost if I screw up is around $1 per tube…but if I’m successful, I might be able to save $8 of paint.  Not its fault it was packed into a biodegradable…

*pssh*, I’m going to stop there.

The plastics are not meant to be kept around a long time.  And they probably still end up killing sea life…

I’ve been having some fun, though, scribbling around on index cards (I had to use them for a school project), and realizing that I really need not to be fighting myself where it comes to my creativity.  I need to be experimenting and messing up and retrying different things.  For example:  really checking those black Uni-Ball Signo gel pens to see if they’re waterproof (I know the white ones, aren’t).  How much effort would that take?  Really?

A major problem is that I seem to have a predetermined idea of what it is for me to make art, and it doesn’t match my actual working process.

I have an example, a bit hindered by a lack of a photograph, but I keep wanting to draw elements circling around a space.  When I don’t know what to draw, I keep coming back to this.  I allowed myself to go on with it for some time on the back of an index card with a ballpoint pen (because who cares if I screw up an index card), and actually …it looked like something, when I was done.  I felt like there needed to be some focal point that the lines were circling around…but what if there isn’t?  What if there’s just a space?  What if there’s LIGHT?

This was pretty exciting, when I got to it, especially considering that the last time I was earnestly working at art, I had gotten into a “water” mode…I can definitely see this piece as an interpretation of looking up at the sun from underwater.

I probably won’t be able to render that in any form of optical perfection, but I can try and represent it as best I can…and maybe I can devote my 30″x30″ canvas to this, so I can really work large (well, for me, large!).  I think the biggest canvas my travel easel can hold is 34″ on the shortest side, but still:  the largest painting I ever had to deal with was 24″x30″, and I had to cart it back and forth to school.  If I get bigger (like bigger than myself, bigger), I will need bigger brushes as well as a bigger easel, so I’m keeping it mid-size, for now.

I’ve also come to the point of realizing that I can’t just make art when I have a good idea as to what to depict.  I can’t go from full stop to masterpiece, and only paint masterpieces.  It doesn’t work that way.  I need to be putting in time and work like I’ve been putting in with my guitar, or with my writing.  Of course, with guitar practice, I get a physical cue when I haven’t played in too long:  my fingertips start to tingle.  With writing, I become restless when I haven’t written anything.  With art, I just become terrified to start again.

But seriously…there really isn’t anyone here to judge me but me and my parents, and my folks will probably laud anything I do draw or paint as better than they could do.  My teacher used to say, “you are your own first and harshest critic,” and I really think it’s true, at least in my case.