11 August 2014

Training for the Big Leagues

"Blend" experiment from Tammy Garcia's "Watercolor Playground" Class
I've had some wonderful opportunities lately to learn art techniques from different teachers. I recently decided that I wanted to focus on art journaling. I am becoming fairly comfortable with acrylic paining, but my watercolor technique is fairly amateurish. Watercolor -- for those of you who have not played with it since art class in a K-12 environment -- is a very difficult medium. Just how much water to use or not use is always tricky. And you cannot truly control watercolor, so you have to practice to understand its limitations and benefits. This I know from my brief Intro to Art 101 in college where I got to experiment with new art media every two weeks. I really want to get to know watercolor at a whole new level, so I chose to enroll in Tammy Garcia's online course called Watercolor Playground.  

My first project was Blend, or an experiment in blending pigments painted adjacent to each other in a whole page of lines. I am posting the most successful of my Blend painting so far. This one was done with my very first set of professional grade watercolors which I purchased for taking this class. It was amazing to me how vivid these paints are, after years of using a cheap set that can be bought at any craft store for under $10.  You really get what you pay for when purchasing paints.  While I can see that I still need more practice with blending, I'm definitely improving.  I plan to cut up the practice pages for collages or backgrounds for other artwork.

I also had the good fortune to take a live class taught by Kass Hall, who is an amazing art journal guru hailing from Down Under. What a treat to take two workshops in a day from an artist who lives on the other side of the Globe at my favorite local paper-obsession store, The Queen's Ink. Truly a privilege. What I loved most about taking Kass' workshops is that she did not dictate what the final product should be. She gave us some very good layering techniques to build an effective art journal spread and taught us her secrets of making legible lettering.

Desert Rose, left page, made in Kass Hall's "Lyrically Speaking" class
Kass asked the class to find lyrics to a song or lines from a poem that really inspired us for the first workshop of the day. I chose Sting's "Desert Rose," because it's a favorite of mine and also because Sting's words evoke so many images for me. I brought some collage papers with me that I knew I would want to use, and found elements among those Kass passed out -- clip art from websites and swatches from her own art journal pages scanned at high res. I am pretty pleased with how these turned out.
Desert Rose, right page, made in Kass Hall's "Lyrically Speaking" class
I also took an afternoon workshop with Kass, where she included her technique for drawing faces. I am still working on that spread and will post photos when I feel it's in a more finished state. I am so pleased with my results. I had been avoiding painting in an art journal in favor of separate pages, concerned that I'd mess up a page. I am beginning to feel more confident about what I'm doing after a whole year of concentrated mixed media practice. And if I come up with really ugly pages, I'll just paint over them. I'm okay with that.

So now I have an art journal that will travel with me throughout the next phase of my artistic journey. I hope that it becomes a more frequent practice. I am making plans to incorporate my journaling into my daily life, so stay tuned for more.

Even when I'm away from home, I am still thinking about art. My husband and I visited New York City last weekend to catch the fabulous exhibition on the Italian Futurists at the Guggenheim.  I admired the brash and colorful Futurist paintings when I was taking art history classes, but I had never heard about women being involved in the Futurist movement. In fact the Futurist Manifesto of 1909 is decidedly anti-feminist. Apparently that did not deter Italian women artists from participating in the movement. Benedetta Cappa's work is featured in the Guggenheim's exhibit, and her massive mural scheme for a Post Office in Palermo, Sicily (1933-1934) was the capstone of the whole exhibit.  There's a New York Times article interviewing the show's curator who talks about the work of this amazing artist.

Studio of Andrew Wyeth, Chadd's Ford, PA, Brandywine River Museum
Then, in contrast, we switched from the bombastic Futurist expressions to the more pastoral scenes of days of yore and country life painted by the various artists of the Wyeth family in their studios near Chadd's Ford, PA. The Brandywine River Museum preserves the homes and studios of the Wyeths and offers guided tours. Given how spartan Andrew Wyeth's paintings often are, I was amazed by the chaos in which he enjoyed working. The museum has recreated the whole ambiance with copies. I'm including a photograph of his studio that I took since our tour guide allowed us to take photographs. Apparently he drew many sketches for major works, but then let them fall to the floor of his studio and did not consult them much while he was working. He had already drawn the subject, you see, so the drawings were only the means to his end product.

His father's, N.C. Wyeth's studio was filled with props befitting a practitioner of swashbuckling illustration art: canoes, costumes, marble busts, weaponry and arms, helmets, etc. There is a copy of his final, unfinished illustration of George Washington on his easel, much has he must have left it on the day he died in 1945. I loved N.C. Wyeth's study for a mural of his whole family that the Museum is featuring in the Wyeths' large parlor. It must have been a small space for such a large family, but given how many creative people lived and were raised there it could not have been too distracting.

It is always so interesting to see how other artists work. Studios are a product of the individual who works in them.


  1. I love your water color experiments, Maria! I, too, always found water colors difficult even though I love them. And, your Kass Hall journal pages are wonderful. Once again, I find myself agreeing with you that I fear messing up a page, so I hesitate to start an art journal. I like you're idea of just covering up what doesn't look good!

    1. Well, Maryanne, your color experiments posted on "More Seth" have also been a treat for me to see.
      I think art journaling as used by many of the mixed media artists on the scene right now is a way to experiment and express visually without having the notion that the page has to be "finished." It's somewhere between a sketchbook, a record of daily life, and a dialog with yourself. If the pages turn out well, you can always scan them at high res. I've now seen several professional artists who scan their work and re-use it in other ways.