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Painting the trance with Jesse Reno

by Suzanne Edminster

I took a two-day workshop with Jesse Reno in Portland recently.   In the glare of the plastic-covered hotel conference room, under alarming chandeliers and migraine-friendly  fluorescent lights,  Jesse led us down the rabbit hole to the place where composition meets dreamtime.

On a studio visit to Jesse Reno
On a studio visit to Jesse Reno

Even if you don’t especially want cosmic floating eyes, bitey teeth, and monsters in your work, Reno’s rigorous approach is compelling. Starting with random strokes of paint applied primarily with hands and a few brushes, he asks the students to focus on what is on the painting surface, NOT a pre-formed vision or an invisible viewer or reviewer.  There is no end in sight, only process.   Figures may appear and be obliterated. At least two paintings are started simultaneously.

In focusing only on what is there, Jesse asked us to respond only to the immediate and present world of the painting in any stage of chaos.  One student asked if doing a particular move–some outlining, I think– would “help the viewer.” “F….. the viewer,” he told one student.  Your allegiance is to yourself and the mess on the page.  Another student asked if she could cut out the head of one painting and collage it on another.  (She apparently liked the head but disliked the rest of the work– the common problem of the “precious” spot that dominates the rest of the work.)  He said that she could, but she would be avoiding the problem.  The problem is staying with the process through the dark, murky stages where nothing is working, internally or in the painting.

Reno works with only five colors of acrylic paint, his hands, and a few brushes.  The limitations provide a framework to contain an extremely intuitive approach.  His method is to consider only what appears at the moment, and to spontaneously follow every impulse.  In this sense, it feels like meditation, where one loses focus on the breath and continually brings it back.  At the same time, a governing aesthetic is in operation, an unusual combination with intuition.  Each handstroke produces its own small story, especially as the mind of the painter begins to see figures in the mess.  This method has a distinguished provenance; Leonardo da Vinci espoused  it, even though apparently people mocked it even in his time, given the slightly defensive tone of his quote.

“Look at walls splashed with a number of stains, or stones of various mixed colours. If you have to invent some scene, you can see there resemblances to a number of landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, great plains, valleys and hills, in various ways. Also you can see various battles, and lively postures of strange figures, expressions on faces, costumes and an infinite number of things, which you can reduce to good integrated form. This happens on such walls and varicoloured stones, (which act) like the sound of bells, in whose peeling you can find every name and word that you can imagine.

 Do not despise my opinion, when I remind you that it should not hard for you to stop sometimes and look into the stains of walls, or the ashes of a fire, or clouds, or mud or like places, in which, if you consider them well, you may find really marvelous ideas. The mind of the painter is stimulated to new discoveries, the composition of battles of animals and men, various compositions of landscapes and monstrous things, such as devils and similar things, which may bring you honor, because by indistinct things the mind is stimulated to new inventions.”
― Leonardo da Vinci

I find it interesting that da Vinci mentions “monstrous things, such as devils and similar things,” which are often seen in Reno’s work.   He  mentions composition twice.  Composition– and what lies beyond it– has been a recurrent theme for me this year.  I can’t know the intent of the original Italian, but it inspired me to look into the root of the word.    Compose has some wonderful non-aesthetic meanings:  to be composed, be still and calm.  The root comes from the Latin and Greek.  Com means “together,”, and pose comes from to stop, cease, or to place in repose, a pause, a stop.  Each time we stop to bring elements together, and then pause, we have composed.  We pause or stop together.

Martini amidst the media-- my workshop table
Martini amidst the media– my workshop table

Back to the class.  Reno sometimes models or speaks aloud both his aesthetic and narrative process.   “I don’t like this, so I’ll try a little green.”  “The horseshoe is in the elf’s stomach now.”   My experience was that of following traces of soul or dream which emerge through paint marks, a distinct feeling of scouting or tracking.  One can follow the trace or lose the track and fall off the road.  Sometimes the highway is clear, but often you have to take the machete into the jungle.

When a painting emerges, it has been retrieved by a long and arduous process.  It is full of information for the painter.    The viewer is on his own.  It’s not really about shamans, monsters, animals, tricksters, but about the process by which they emerged— or submerged, or de-composed.

ciggie chick

Chicken with cigarette. A narrative emerges, but cannot be forced.  And the story changes its ending constantly. Slippery paint, slippery slope, a wild ride.

 

 

 

 

 

Saltworkstudio Art Blog turns six.

 

 

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My shadow on Arizona petroglyphs.

Dear interweb world humans, beings, friends, voyeurs, and artists,

Thanks for following me all these years!  It has been a journey reflective of my inner world, a composition of shadow and light, beauty and imperfection.

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Turquoise Window World, an early painting post from the blog

 

It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  I have to break through an invisible membrane of fear every time. As an introvert, sometimes I don’t even enjoy posting carefully edited versions of my life and paintings.  I’ve constantly struggled to be “authentic” with the innately inauthentic medium of social media and blogging.  At times I have been both over and under-attached to your reactions,  first living for them– the fabled “stats”– and then rejecting them entirely.

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Floating beauties from the Naples Archaeological Museum

 

I think the high point of authenticity for me is, ironically, not the art blog, but the Camino de Santiago pilgrim  posts.  I really perceived the blog, during the time of being on the road, as a tentacle of true connection.  I could feel support reaching through it.  The art, if you can call it that, was completely unrevised– the messy notebook pages.

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Portals of color, locked, Spain
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Pilgrim sketchbook, Camino de Santiago

Looking forward, I find myself increasingly interested in pure abstraction and an authentic gesture.  I want distance from approval and marketing and time to develop on my own without outside pressure, time to grow a new set of metaphors. So I’ve decided to take 2016 as a learning year, not showing year.

I won’t be doing open studios, except for our local events. I am going to paint at the Art and Soul Retreat in Portland this March.  These 5 days in a hotel room, painting and sketching, should be fun and instructive.  I’m excited to finally be studying with Jesse Reno.  I think he is a master of staying with the process until the final image, however eccentric, emerges.  I hope to focus on composition with Jane Davies.  I’m looking forward to cooking on the hotel room iron! (Just kidding. Sort of.)  I will be in the Sheraton Airport Hotel, car-free, and am thinking about how to keep costs  low.  It will be a rather fancy art  garret.  I’m bringing plastic sheeting so I can paint in the room if I want, storing the paintings on the extra bed.Let me know if you have ideas for hotel room survival.

At home, projects include new chicks in March, and planters for the heritage grapevines we got as starts from the UC Davis plant ark. The grapes are no longer grown in France,  having been hybridized, but  they are the ones that appear in many old masterpieces.  An ancient strain has been preserved and will grow on our arbor, or so we hope.  The grapes themselves are perhaps these that Monet painted, pale green with a rosy cast.

Monet-Still-Life-with-Apples-and-Grapes-1880

Both chicks and grapes grow fast once they start.  I wish you a surge of new growth as well in the Lunar New Year.

Suzanne

 

 

The Cherubim Experiments and Winterblast

Cherubim 1, Suzanne Edminster

I’m doing experimental mark making and painting.  I start with automatic writing on each surface with drawing tools: conte, graphite, China marker, charcoal, oil pastel.  Then I white or obliterate areas of the writing or painting.  I follow ideas as they arise.  From automatic writing I get ideas and phrases.  An example: “History seeks to remember the mantra.”

I am fascinated with the process of making “sense” of random marks, images, words, and events.   The creativity lies not so much in the painting process as in the slow excavation of meaning out of fields of chance.

As I worked on this series of 3 20″ x 20″ paper pieces, the word “Cherubim” appeared to me.  Originally lions and bulls with wings, they “devolved” into Valentine Cherubs.  Cherubim guard the Tree of Life.   Cherubim guard The Big Chair, that is, God’s Throne:  Chair-u-bim. It seems that floating forms, surreal automatism, and a bit of religious icon are melding in this series.

Experiments are risky.  That’s why they call it “risk taking” and not “sure thing making.”  Below you can see one in progress.  I know they are done when a certain internal narrative about them crystallizes like rock candy in my mind. The point of “finishing” is in my psyche,  not in the painting itself.

Process painting in the Cherubinm series
Process painting in the Cherubim series

I think the real old-style Cherubim would be terrifying, more like wheels of UFO flame or hybrid winged lions, yet we know that sometimes monsters guard the gates we must enter as artists. I go forward with some trust in the process. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, friends.

Suzanne

If you’re in Northern California this Saturday, November 14, come to Winterblast, the best homemade holiday EVER.  I’ll be there with the studio doors open… if I’m not dancing in the street.

Winterblast 2015!
Winterblast 2015!

Big Magic and Big-I Imagination

Suzanne Edminster

Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic on a background of paintings by Suzanne Edminster
Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic on a background of
paintings by Suzanne Edminster

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert, is the latest in a tidal wave of creativity books, and a very fine one.  I believe it will be the go-to creativity guide for the next decade. It was only in the last twenty years that bookstores developed sections devoted to creativity in the written or visual arts.   For many years it was just If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland , Art and Fear by David Bayles,  or The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.   And you never knew what section to find them in the bookstore; they were obscure.  Gilbert’s  message is not new. In fact it is ancient, but is desperately needed today.  Why are we dealing with an erosion in the basic knowledge of how imagination and creativity work?  Is creativity among our endangered species?  Why is a book on creativity a best seller, besides the fact that Gilbert writes like an angel, or a daimon? Anyway, Big Magic was in my bag during my recent open studios.  Interesting that its cover is abstract art.  Hey, I make that stuff.

Over Underworld, Suzanne Edminster
Over Underworld, Suzanne Edminster

I approve of Big Magic and its exploration of Big-I Imagination.  I first learned the tenets of Imagination that Gilbert espouses through studying the Romantic Poets with poet Diane di Prima.  The primacy of Imagination was stressed; the world be damned, and often was. David Meltzer taught gematria and the concepts word-as-creator, letter as energy, word itself creating the universe, for good or creepiness…. go Golem!

Letters create Golem- check out his forehead
Letters create Golem- check out his forehead

I’ve always been lucky with teachers; I was taught about Blake’s Spiritual Sensation. The line was drawn deeply in the existential sand. Imagination is more important than reality.  It creates reality, in fact.  Ideas exist independently of us. The Big-I Imaginations fly, walk, swim, or lump about all on their own, shedding light and shadow, ambrosia and dung.

Blake said Imagination is Spiritual Sensation
Blake said Imagination is Spiritual Sensation

Diane di Prima also taught Western Magical tradition and guided visualization to students back in the 1980s, long before the vogue, as part of her own rich creative resources.  In Big Magic, Gilbert quotes her friend and mine, Caroline Casey: “Better a trickster than a martyr be.”    And Gilbert has the right idea on gods, spirits, angels, archetypes: they are both real and unreal, terribly important and trivial at the same time. Her approach is positive and full of stubborn gladness and a durable mysticism.  I think it is the creativity book for our time, just as The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron touched a nerve in the 1980s. Cameron’s book was based on an archetype of wounding, addiction, and a 12-step style reclamation of damaged creative impulse.  I prefer Gilbert’s straight-ahead optimism and humor.

Here’s what I loved in the book:  The return of the notion of the individual creative daimon or genius. We each have a little whiz-bang spirit assigned to us at birth to guide or goad us.  Ideas have lives independent of us.  Court them, invite them, respect them, don’t ignore them too long. If you lack inspiration, curiosity and showing up are enough. Permission– Bob Burridge’s permission slips for painting, for example. The right kind of entitlement.  Her own experience with the Day Job: no shame,  keep it as long as you need to. Your art is not actually your “baby.”  You can’t dissect, discard, neglect, or chop up a real baby. You can’t ignore it in garages or sell it.

Bob Burridge's Permission Slip
Bob Burridge’s Permission Slip

She’s so funny! How to speak to your inner critic: “It’s best to be insistent, but affable.  Repeat yourself, but don’t get shrill.  Speak to your darkest and most  negative interior voices the way a hostage negotiator speaks to a violent psychopath: calmly, but firmly.”

And when you’re in a lull– as I am right now, exhausted from open studios and down with a cold– she writes, “Any motion whatsover beats intertia, because inspiration will always be drawn to motion. Make something.  Do something.  Do anything.”    And some sort of inspiration has visited… the next step in narrative abstraction, the next series, maybe called “Themis.”  Or not. Or maybe some silly illustrated journaling or un-sellable Metaphoracards. But something, something, to give a little pinch of snuff or spice or something stronger to my daimon.

In Sonoma County, one person in ten describes themselves as some kind of artist.  For each one of those, there may be a hundred who want to be. In the meantime, we swim in a polluted ocean of information and mind-waste created by nameless others.  (I have just read the excellent novel The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.  The book postulates a nightmarish culture where we all must hear everyone’s thoughts, all the time, a decent metaphor for the interweb. Fortunately, in his book, men are more susceptible than women to this infection.)We have become greedy gluttons of instant, fragmented nano-art rather than makers of a modest, enlivening, everyday creation. Everyone wants to be an artist.  Gilbert’s Big Magic could help.

Suzanne– and thanks to the talented Adrian Mendoza for the portrait

Suzanne at Art Trails 2015. Photo: Adrian Mendoz
Suzanne at Art Trails 2015. Photo: Adrian Mendoza

Spiritual Congruency and Road Trips

 

Road to Ojai Foundation
Road to Ojai Foundation

On our road trips last summer, Scott and I developed an idea we called “spiritual congruence.”  Every place, every direction we headed, every style of experience– from rough travel to luxury— moved either toward greater congruity with the flow or time or what was needed… or away from it.  For example, spiritual congruence on a camping trip might produce a campsite like this one, on the Olympic National Park peninsula.

This was a campsite that “just happened” to be open in the busiest campground in the National Park, just when we needed it, without reservation.

Behind our campsite, Olympic National Park
Behind our campsite, Olympic National Park

We first invented the term when we landed at a cabin that looked great on Yelp, but felt really soulless. It was expensive and unsettling… it was supposed to be the “honeymoon cabin” but it was coldly over-decorated in black and grey, graveyard colors, an attempt at modernity and elegance that failed and became merely frigid and depressing. We had hoped for a cozy, kitschy, pine paneled little place. We were surprised at how disturbing it was.  After all, we had weathered true travel crises with equanimity and humor.  But the vibe was bad.  We started talking about it.  There was no congruity with who we were or what we wanted from the trip.  We sacrificed a hundred bucks, took the hit, and checked out.

The last time we experienced this deep disquiet, an anxiety bordering on fear, was on another road trip when we were heading to the Badlands of North Dakota.  We wanted to see Mount Rushmore.  As we drove, an overwhelming oppression enveloped us.  It was so profound that we decided to cancel our trip.  We checked into a motel, where we both had nightmares all night, and turned right around the next day.  Perhaps it was the blood-soaked, coal-ripped country around us, the country of so many Native American massacres.  Or maybe the earth itself was bleeding from strip mining.

road trip 10

Spiritual congruence is a flow state where outer world and inner move together. We got up before dawn to go tidepooling on Beach  4; light, water, and tidal treasures.

Sometimes it doesn’t come too easily.  We were only 10 miles away from Dungeness Point, yet could not find fresh, cooked, whole crab for a whole week.  We only found overpriced restaurants with crab salads and such.  I even tried crabbing, with no luck!  We finally found a roadside stand after hard searching.  We cracked our crab congruency and ate it without butter on paper plates… ahhh.

Sometimes you can make your own little snail shell world so you can be spiritually congruent on the beach even on a rainy day. This setup of campfire in a can, beach shelter, and lowboy chairs makes even a windy, cold day a beach day.

My beloved "campfire in a can"
My beloved “campfire in a can”

 

I am very interested in those states where, even where there might be discomfort, there is a larger flow or current of rightness, agreement, moving together: spiritual congruency.  How can our little lives be folded in like egg whites to the cake batter of the wide and glorious world?  I sense it more in travel than in my daily life.  But it must exist everywhere, in minor and major states of grace.  I think a lot about how to make my life more like the road trip it really is.

Orange wall, purple boots, and an open studio
Orange wall, purple boots, and an open studi

I am open for Art Trails this year in Studio 33 one more weekend, on October 17 and 18.  Come visit.  I have the Camino notebook pages up, and have decided to take the plunge and make a book.

 

A Trace of Gold

 

A Trace of Gold series at La Crema Tasting Room
A Trace of Gold series at La Crema Tasting Room
Selfie with "Phaistos"
Selfie with “Phaistos”

It’s been a summer full of road trips, but my newest show, “A Trace of Gold” is staying put, on view at La Crema tasting room in Healdsburg through September 2015. It has been great to have such an elegant space to display them.  I’m told that tasting room patrons have a few glasses of the outstanding Pinot Noir , then take each other’s photos in front of them. Larger scale paintings– these are four foot by five– take you into totally new spaces.  You enter the particular alternate universe of that painting in a way different from other work.  The broken gold metal leaf catches the light, even in near-darkness.   I painted these to try to catch something both fragile and eternal, like our lives.

Over Underworld at La Crema
Over Underworld at La Crema
Suzanne Edminster, The Phaistos, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas, 48 x 60
Suzanne Edminster, The Phaistos, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas, 48 x 60

Right now I’m writing from Mendocino, artful and artsy, charming and  pretentious.  I’m staying for a night in a watertower art studio– more on that in my next post. This is my third road trip of the summer.  Not to stretch the metaphor too much, but larger work is really a bit like travel that takes you into odd worlds.  It’s the closest we have to time and space travel through wormholes.  The brush is your vehicle, jalopy or spaceship.   Now I really have stretched that metaphor to the breaking point.  Next post will be the real road trips.  Don’t disembark yet.

Lucid Art Foundation: Critique as Mentorship

Suzanne Edminster

It’s easy to make fun of abstract artists. You only have to watch some TV to see the cultural perspective on abstraction.  In sitcoms, Hal from Malcolm in the Middle throws so much paint on a canvas in his garage that the whole painted surface crumbles off in a paint avalanche.

Hal as abstract artist
Hal as abstract artist

In Grace and Frankie, a recent Netflix sitcom, space cadet  Frankie (Lily Tomlin)  paints two dots on a canvas and stares at those two dots for three days, stuck. (This fictional studio led Tomlin’s co-star Jane Fonda into trying painting and ceramics.)  And in Mad Men, Don buys a painting, under pressure, and sits wondering what it is and whether he’s been conned.  (This painting  was created by my friend Karina Nishi Marcus.)

blog mad men painting

No one really can tell you what abstraction is.  You’re doing this passionate, ridiculous, solitary, incomprehensible, contemplative, snake-oil-salesman of a job.  Who can advise you?  Where can you go for professional critique or discourse outside an MFA program?

This Saturday I loaded up my ancient truck with 4 paintings, all large, two new and two older.  I had been accepted as a participant in an ongoing seminar sponsored by the Lucid Art Foundation.  The seminar was held at The Dance Palace at Point Reyes Station,  a renovated church in an idyllic setting.  It’s not a painting seminar:  it’s critique provided by professor and painter Jeremy Morgan.

Morgan verbally examines and critiques your paintings.  I found it more of a mentoring process.  Much of the critique is devoted to sources and origins, or possible artists to research that might have resonate with your own style.  In this way the critique widens its viewpoint  from the art at hand to encompass an expanse of history and connections.  His examination leads not so much back into the paintings as outward from  them into the next possibilities.  My critique took about 35 minutes. Three people were critiqued in the three hour segment.

All participants were handed index cards to write their own notes or observations for the painter.  At the end of the critique, these cards were handed to the artist.   This allows the whole group to participate, but not interrupt the critique.   Some of my cards are shown below, but it was really the critique from Jeremy that felt like a light shining into my process.  I felt my art had been seen.  And looking at others’ art for a long stretch of time felt both intense and satisfying.  We so seldom spend more than a half an hour just being with a painting, unless you’re the one painting it.

Comments on my work from other artists at the seminar
Comments on my work from other artists at the seminar

This reminded me of my arts education in poetry.   I studied in the New College of California Poetics program with poets Diane di Prima, David Meltzer,  and Robert Duncan (partner of the artist Jess), and others.  The poets chose NOT to teach in a creative writing format.  Instead, the classes were devoted to examination of poets and their root sources.  It was assumed that if you were a writer, you would write, independent of a program.  Instead they wanted to offer the heart of their practices, their source material: myth, Kabbalah, deconstruction, archaic history, visual arts, Hermeticism, alchemy, other poets, natural history.   These were the only treasure they could bring us; the rest was up to us.  Poetry is the most abstract of the written arts.  In a strange way,  this odd education equipped me to enter the wilderness of  non-objective painting.

Robert Duncan and Jess
Robert Duncan and Jess

 

Point Reyes Station is idyllic.  I went with Nishi.  Before the class we hit a bookstore and  went cheese tasting at the Cowgirl Creamery, where I bought Red Hawk and membrillo, which I had not tasted since Spain.  The day was beautiful.  The town borders lagoons, meadows, riparian forests, and everything is walkable.  At sunset, eating sandwiches in front of the view, we both said that Turner would have been right at home, notebook out, getting that Claude Lorrain smudge of eucalyptus on the windy horizon.

Point Reyes Station Barn
Point Reyes Station Barn

Find more information on the Lucid Art seminar with Jeremy Morgan.

The Goose Game: Painting by Chance

Suzanne Edminster

I decided to compose two large abstract paintings for The Goose Game series using rolls of the dice and the old European board game, the Goose Game.  I’d let chance dictate the process.

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I used notebook pages and wrote either thematic or painterly elements in a list , randomly numbering them 2 to 12 to correspond with dice rolls.

You can see it’s a real mix: all the way from “use neocolors” to “holy spirit.” This way of working does have a lineage. John Cage used the I Ching to compose music, notably “Music of Changes”, including the notorious Roaring Silence segment. I found out about this during the eighties in New College, San Francisco, where a teacher, either Robert Duncan or Duncan McNaughton, friends of poet and musician Lou Harrison, who apparently also used the I Ching to compose, brought it up in class. Less known is that John Cage also used it to compose prints, monoprints and lithographs, during the seventies, at the end of his life.

john cage two

 

The best article on this I’ve found on John Cage and his use of the I Ching  is on S J Marshall’s fine site, Calling Crane in the Shade.  For painting,  I found the process beautifully meditative.  Quiet and slow, it let each element unfold by itself until I was done with it, with little anxiety or the press of “I could do this, I could change that.” Most important, it gave comfort to be rid of the tumult of “What should I do?”

It was calming and centering to give away the control to a larger element, as I did when I was walking the Camino de Santiago.  The Goose Game is an ancient European board game that has many metaphors for pilgrimage, which is why I chose it. This all sounds so odd.  I find it interesting that abstract composers and artists are drawn to chance in creation.  Something larger moves through us.

I’ll be happy to share more about my process at the opening of The Goose Game, Friday May 1st, 2015, 5-8 PM, in the Backstreet Gallery.  I’m located down Art Alley in SOFA Santa Rosa.  I’ll give an artist talk at 7 PM.  You can play the Goose Game if you visit.

Suzanne Edminster, Wind Over Water, The Goose Game Series.  Acrylic and gold metal leaf on canvas, 45 x 60.
Suzanne Edminster, Wind Over Water, The Goose Game Series. Acrylic and gold metal leaf on canvas, 45 x 60.

 

Foolish Sketching and Big Nature

fools gathering

Fools flocked and chattered in Occidental, California on Saturday April 4 for a traditional Fools celebration.  Susan Cornelis, Carole Flaherty and I went out to sketch from life.  The subjects were moving and in crowds, for me the toughest kind of sketchbook challenge.

 

Carole Flaherty sketching
Carole Flaherty sketching

Susan and Carole have been participating in Bay Area Urban Sketchers Sketchcrawls.  Carole had a lovely setup with her self-designed travel watercolor set and everything clipped and attached to a small drawing board.  Susan loaned me her tiny Pocket Palette to try.  I’m terrible at this kind of sketching, so it was good to do it on a Foolish day when everything was allowed.  This sort of sketching from life takes plein air to a new level.  It is meditative and process-oriented. My style tends to be more of an illustrated journal, with writing and collage.  I kept a sketchbook through Spain, and at other times,  but am entirely untutored in the finer points of more realistic rendering, and am hoping to improve.

 

Fears of Sketching

I might as well make a checklist of my sketching fears, and get them out of the way as soon as possible.  On Saturday I accomplished all of them.

  1. Fear of doing a really lousy sketch.  Check.  Around 5 times.
  2. Fear of doing a really lousy sketch while others sketching are doing better ones.  Check.
  3. Fear of just not being up to the task— moving figurative subjects.  Check.
  4. Fear of messing up pages in a bound notebook.  They will always be there as flubs. Check.
  5. Fear that if I share the messy process of learning, I will be seen as less accomplished in my painting.   Check.

I was happy to have some of my sketching doctors give me a critique, over Prosecco and prosciutto at the Underwood in Graton.  Here are some of Susan’s sketches from the day.  My Rx:  mechanical pencil, slower more continuous lines in ink, some media suggestions.  (I’m hearing that a new-to-me brush pen favorite is the Pentel.)  I’m taking an online sketching class from Marc Taro Holmes which is really excellent.  There is a new wave of arts education and it lives online.  What if we all came to art school with many skills and techniques, and the ways and means, spiritual and practical, of living as an artist were taught by generous, seasoned masters?

I want to sketch people in life, not in a figure class.  I think my best sketches recently were done in DMVs.  It took me 3 tries to get a replacement for the license which was lost or stolen.  Learning to sketch is a metaphor for letting a new identity emerge.  And it’s not always comfortable.

Big Old Nature

fools blog redwoods

My artist friend Laura Foster Corben and I went into a grove of coastal old-growth redwoods on a misty, rainy day.  It used to have the worlds tallest tree at around 380 feet.  Now taller trees have been measured, but these seem tall enough to me. I was struck by the primitive nature of these trees.  Inverting the black and white lets me see the almost palm-like form of these titans in Montgomery Woods State Natural Preserve.

A sunburst or natural altar of giant roots.
A sunburst or natural altar of giant roots.

fools standing stone ring

The eerie magic of the giant redwood forest puts those sketching fears in their proper, tiny place.

 

Turner at the Getty Center, Sketching, and Other L.A. Adventures

Suzanne Edminster

Some days are generous, magnanimous in their gifts of beauty.  We spent last Sunday in Los Angeles at the Getty Center for the amazing show of Turners on loan from the Tate,  Painting Set Free.  The sweep, majesty, and freedom of expression in this exhibit was exhilarating. No photos were allowed, but we did do a little portrait by a poster, below.

Suzanne in front of Turner poster

Turner goats
Turner goats

The exhibit was an entire education in painting. I was surprised to find many late Turners with overtly mythical themes. I was more used to seeing Turner as a sort of visual journalist:  the steam train, the fire, the storm, and so on. The allegorical paintings were fantasies constructed from elements of his imagination rather than “real” landscapes, closer to Claude Lorrain’s beautiful, improbable visions, and often were linked to lines of epic poetry he was reading.  Because they weren’t “real,” you could see how he played with  his favorite elements….. the black smudge tree, a centrifugal swirl,  the blue rectangle mountain. The landscape was never literal and the gods very subtle;  the Zeus and Europa painting had no bull and barely a maiden. It’s no news that Turner, when unrestrained, condensed many motifs down to a beautiful abstraction.

We both enjoyed the Sample Studies,watercolors he did as prototypes for larger pieces to be painted for patrons to order.  You’d choose the one you liked best and he’d do it on up for you.

A Turner Sample Study, Watercolor
A Turner Sample Study, Watercolor

 

Any painting could grow and change organically at any point. At times he submitted extremely rough paintings to the Academy and literally finished them on Varnishing Day. I enjoyed details I  had never seen before: his animals, the characteristic smudge of a foreground tree, a focal point exactly at the center of composition. The whole effect of Turner after Turner was breathtaking. We gawked like the flamingos we had seen at the Los Angeles Zoo the day before.
LA zoo flamingo gallery goers

The Getty Center has a Sketching Room where, in the manner of old, one can copy masterpieces. You’re provided with a drawing bench, a board, and materials. I wish they had more variety, but I chose The Allegory of Magnaminity by Giordano. People wandered in. It seems the general museum public is shocked and amazed at the actual making of a sketch in a museum by normal people. There were 10 drawing stations and they were all full. We sketchers became the exhibit!

Giordano Painting I copied
Giordano Painting I copied

I used the conte and charcoal, then watercolor from my travel kit.

Suzanne Edminster, sketch at Getty Center
Suzanne Edminster, sketch at Getty Center

We ended up at the Armand Hammer Museum of UCLA. It’s an often-missed contemporary art museum that was a knockout. Nestled in Westwood, it has an intimate feeling. Both museums were free, another treat. Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974-1989 was an interesting conceptual show. We were lucky enough to catch the artist in person giving a talk. In my own words, his work is based on playing with and revealing various systems of interpreting visual information. The data that comprised “tree” could be translated by assigning numerical or other values into a grid, a musical notation, or a graph. All of our perceptions are based on a sensory translation of information. He makes his alternate translation visible.

Charles gaines 3
The cultural wildlife was varied: allegorical lions, Turner goats, grid trees, and real flamingos. Only in L.A.!
LA Getty Suz portrait