Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Stages of Creation: Part 1

There is much that happens before a painting is completed, posted on my blog and loaded to my website, or various print-on-demand sites. I thought it would be helpful to my clients, those interested in my work, and to other artists to share my creative process with you. Over the next few posts, I will be giving you the step by step process of how I create my art.

Part 1: The Germination Stage

Here you see my desk with many of the tools I use to brainstorm and come up with ideas and compositions. Many times, I already have a picture in my head of what I think I would like to create. Other times, I have no image, but an idea of a theme or a subject. In either case, I need to refine the image or develop the idea into something workable. It is rare that I can actually recreate the images in my mind to my satisfaction, so research helps to develop something more workable.

You can see several books that I reference for ideas. In this case, I have an idea to create a painting based on myths and totemic relationships to the goose. I look at books on folklore, mythic traditions, field guides, and studies in biological behavior. I use the computer to do some additional research (see the pages of notes on the right). I compile all this information and write about it in my journal, which you see in the center. On the left are small thumbnail sketches that pop into my head as I research and write my notes.

In the back are CDs of music that I listen to while brainstorming. Music is a very helpful tool in creating my art. Sometimes music is a direct source of inspiration, like the band Boann's Clan was when I worked on my painting Boann: Transformation of a Goddess. They had a CD that was about the life of Boann. I am not always so lucky to find such perfect music, however, and usually find music that is relaxing and inspiring. Music helps me to set a mood and atmosphere for creation. I often listen to the same music over and over while working on the same piece. No matter what I am doing, or what other jobs that might take me away from working on my art, I can put in the CD and I am right back in the same space I was the day before.

Occasionally, I will stop, do some meditation, and let the information I have gathered interact and merge in my subconscious. This helps with developing images and gives my intuitive side an opportunity to offer input. I am much more interested in allowing the subconscious have a more prominent role in the development of my work. The research I do helps to ground my work and gives it the potential to reach a wider audience. My intuitive side, helps to personalize the gathered information, so that my work remains original.

Lastly, there is a cup of tea. There is little I can do without a pot of tea nearby. Those who know me, know about this minor obsession of mine. It doesn't matter what kind of tea: green, black, white, oolong, etc. Though I do tend toward the blacker, more robust teas at this stage of the creative process. The lighter teas like green and white are more favorable at later stages of creation, as they tend to be less stimulating, and allow me to connect more directly to painting as it is being created.

Next Step: The Growing Stage


Monday, April 28, 2008

Socially Responsible Art Products

As part of my on going exploration of earth friendly art materials, I looked into Golden Artist Colors. I use Golden products for my acrylic paintings, including paints and mediums, as well as for varnishing all my pieces. I like the quality and consistency of their products. But, with my new mission, whether I like a product or not isn't enough of a factor to keep me using the product. The company has to offer more.

I went to the Golden website and found an extensive section on social responsibility . That section describes such "green" initiatives as the Seconds Program, explained on the site:

GOLDEN has an overall "green" attitude; everything that we are striving for as far as our formulations are concerned is geared toward environmental friendliness. This includes the ingredients that go in our paints, the wastewater we generate making our paints as well as cleaning out equipment, and any waste we may generate in between or after that process goes to good use in our Seconds Program. The Seconds Program is a way for GOLDEN to support artists and keep product out of the waste stream. Employees, along with local and artist communities, are offered products from the "Seconds Program." The Seconds Program offers paint that does not meet GOLDEN standards at little or no cost to artists or non-profit organizations that can greatly benefit from the program.
Golden produces a newsletter titled "Just Paint", and in issue #18, there is an article that explains the company's new water reclamation process. Water is a necessary component not only for the artist to use paint, but also in the manufacturing of paint. Golden has installed a Reverse Osmosis (RO) filtering system that reuses over two-thirds of the water used to clean production equipment. They also utilize RO in a wastewater treatment process that filters out the solids of acrylic, pigments and other materials from the water. That water is then sent to a city treatment plant where the remaining chemicals are removed. Please see the newsletter for the complete explanation of the RO process.

Additionally, the website has extensive instructions for artists about how to reduce waste of materials and how to dispose of waste materials in an environmentally sound way. To fellow artists, please do check this section out. Even if you don't use Golden materials, many of the suggestions are applicable to other mediums. I use some of the cleaning techniques recommended by Golden in my studio, but will begin practicing even more waste-reducing techniques.

I wrote to the company inquiring about the possibility of Golden producing a line of colored inks. I received a prompt and friendly reply indicating that their line of Airbrush Colors are essentially inks. I was sent a packet of informational materials on Golden products, newsletters and hand painted color swatches of many of their paints. I have since purchased some samples of the Airbrush colors and will experiment with them to see how they work in comparison to the inks I currently use.

Because of Golden's commitment to social and environmental responsibility, I am happy to continue to include their products to produce my art work.

I am still waiting to hear back from other companies I have been using, if I don't hear back in another week, I will send out one more inquiry. If I do not receive a response after the second inquiry, I will write a letter explaining that I will no longer use their products until I have heard from them regarding their environmental policies.

I will keep you updated!


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ériu – Queen of the Emerald Isle

Ériu was the sovereign earth-mother goddess of Ireland. She was one of a triad of goddesses: her sisters, Banbha and Fodla, were also goddess queens of the land. Ériu was married to the King Mac Gréine (Son of the Sun), who was himself the son of the Dagda, the father god of the Tuatha dé Danann.

When the Milesians (the humans) came to the Emerald Isle, they were confronted by the three sisters, each of them offered the island in exchange that the land be named after them. Banbha and Fodla became poetic names for the island, while Ériu became the chief name. We now know the land as Ireland, the root of the name coming from the name Ériu.

Ériu was an earth goddess, and this painting focuses primarily on that aspect of her. I wanted to tune in to earth energies rather than focus on form. As I worked on the piece, I filled my mind with images of Ireland, the land itself, and its plentiful plant and animal life. I used a photograph of a moss and lichen covered rock in Ireland as a guide to the composition. The range of colors in the painting reflect Ireland’s lushness and richness of life.

Ériu was also considered a solar goddess, through her marriage to Mac Gréine. When Ériu, as queen, conferred the land to the new human king, she offered him wine in a golden cup. Wine was the symbol of the earth, rich with life and plenty while the cup symbolized the sun, the source of illumination and healing. By using glazing techniques, I incorporated qualities of the sun in the painting as well. Glazing requires very thin layers of color layered over each other. The light shines through the transparent layers to the white canvas below, when the light bounces back, the colored layers blend, creating the different hues. I used only Hansa Yellow Light, Phthalo Blue, and Alizarin Crimson in the paintings. I didn’t mix colors on a palette. All the different colors appear solely from light blending together the multiple layers of color.

Ériu was also a goddess of sovereignty. In ancient times, the Celtic kings were married to the goddess of the land. It was the king’s responsibility to please the goddess, to make sure no one died in childbirth, that the food should grow plentifully, and so on. If the goddess was happy, the people thrived and were happy. If the king was unable to fulfill these duties—the king would be overthrown, having lost favor with the goddess.

I think about how such beliefs truly bonded people to the land they lived on. It was much more difficult to disrespect the land, or to take without first obtaining the permission of the land itself. How many of us today take a moment to consider how our actions affect the land we live on? If we thought of the earth as a living being would it be as easy to treat it so poorly? Imagine how much better off the environment would be if we each thought of ourselves married to the land?


Prints are available at Fine Art America 

(Ériu: Queen of the Emerald Isle, 30” x 30”, acrylic on canvas)

Monday, April 21, 2008

So what kind of art is it gonna be?

Many of my collectors have come to appreciate my work through the abstracts I have been working on for the last few years. I also have a base of clients who have long enjoyed the representational work I do and at the same time there are others who respond strongly to my Asian-inspired brushwork. So, what is going on here? Some have asked about my varied styles of work. Shouldn't I just pick one? Do I have a problem making a decision? I realize that from the outside it must be somewhat confusing. So, I decided I should explain a little about my art and where it comes from.

Most artists develop a style, then focus on that style, refining it, and simultaneously guiding and being guided by that particular style. The style of art that a particular artist works in, becomes their mode of expression, of documenting their relationship to a particular thought or idea. If the artist is serious about their work, their style will evolve over time, sometimes dramatically, other times very subtly.

Perhaps because I am a self-taught artist, my style developed out of an intuitive relationship to my art, rather than from any formal structure. From an early age I felt a need to express myself through art, even if at the time, I wasn't quite sure what it was (or that I was) expressing. My deep love of nature gave me a subject to focus on as I learned different tools and mediums to create my works of art. I even turned to writing for some time, when I felt my relationship to art becoming strained and forced.

To me abstract, representational, or brush painting styles are all very strongly connected. They do not appear very different to me at all. I have called myself an interstitial artist, because I never felt I could classify my art within a particular group. Lately, I have been thinking about the idea of my art being intuitive. Perhaps Intuitive-Interstitial? But, why apply any labels? Regardless of what I am creating, I strive for the piece to be authentic. I utilize a lot of meditation, either before or during my painting that helps to keep me connected to that authentic source, be it Spirit, God, Unity (again, more labels).

The art I create is challenging. It pushes me. Sometimes it is agonizing, verging on painful, but when the painting is finished and it successfully resonates with that authenticity, I experience joy. This joy grows stronger when I learn that my work reaches and affects others in a positive way. I know then, that I listened well to that inner voice and remained true to the Source that makes each of us both unique and the same.

Originally, when I posted my work on my website, I grouped it all together because, to me, it all seemed the same. However, I realize that the connection, from the outside viewer, may not be so clear. But please don't let the separate galleries keep you from seeing those relationships. If you go to my page on Fine Art America you will see that I didn't separate my work. Each piece on that site has a description about it that gives background about the development and what the painting means to me. Perhaps, from there, you too will see that each piece is both unique and the same.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Conscientious Art

At the end of 2007 I had mentioned that I would be exploring art materials that are earth-friendly. This is no small feat, as many artist materials are notoriously hazardous. It's bad enough that materials are expensive! At any rate, I think it is my responsibility, not just for my own health, but for the good of everyone to explore earth-friendly options. I have been contacting my suppliers of art materials and exploring their "greenness". The first company I heard back from was Ampersand Art Supply, who produces the watercolor boards I use.

Here is the letter that they sent to me:
Thanks so much for contacting us about our products. As we continue to grow this company, we are always looking for new environmentally sound alternatives to the materials we currently use as new information is made available. We use the most advanced and safe technology available in the world of wood painting panels today. The hardboard we use is made from renewable wood, meaning that the trees processed into the wood fibers are harvested and replaced with new ones. Also, these Aspen fir trees, that have a lower acid content than any other tree, are grown in the US, so that we are not affecting the growing problem of shrinking rain forests around the world. The wood fibers we use are made from waste from the lumbar industry, so in a way, you could say they are already made from recycled materials. [I had asked if they use recyled materials in any of their products] Also, our wood products do not contain any chemicals (VOC) that emit harmful gases that can cause cancer like formaldehyde or any others that can contribute to global warming like methane.

We use only safe water soluble raw materials in our coatings instead of solvent based materials which prevents problems locally (Austin, TX) with soil, groundwater and any other run off problems that could potentially happen with unsafe materials. The clay we use is a raw material that is mined only in the US from a more than abundant virtually endless supply (for the small world of art materials) - its not processed in a way that will affect the environment negatively. It's kaolin clay (naturally acid free and neutral pH), no color or hazardous chemicals added.

As we move toward the future, we are always testing materials that are safe for artists, will last according to museum standards and that have the least amount of impact on the environment. It could be that the wood materials we use will be replaced with a recycled product more along the lines of recycled plastic or metal - we're still looking into this and are always open to new ideas that we can test.
I was pleased with the response I received, and glad to know that the company that produces a product that I really enjoy using is conscious of minimizing their environmental impact. I am still waiting to hear back from Fredrix the company that produces the canvas I use, as well as the ink and watercolor makers. I will update you when I hear back from them.

But, you can be certain, in the meantime, more of my work will be made utilizing Ampersands clayboards!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Boann: Transformation of a Goddess

My latest piece titled Boann: transformation of a Goddess is completed. It was part of a commission that began almost a year ago. The process of completing the work was rather demanding but ultimately inspiring. The research, meditation, and painting process itself all became fuel for many more projects that are now been developed. And, yes, there are some new abstract pieces on the horizon for those who have been inquiring!

This painting depicts the transformation of Boann, of the Tuatha De Danann, into the River Boyne. The story of Boann is a fascinating one. There are several interpretations and, as is often the case with Celtic mythology, they often contradict each other. Here is the story based on my research and how it assembled itself after meditating on it:

Boann’s husband was Nechtan, who was keeper of the sacred well Segais (the Well of Wisdom). Around the well grew nine magical hazel trees, from which grew magical crimson hazelnuts. The nuts fell into the well feeding the five colorful salmon that lived inside the well. Each salmon represented wisdom obtained through the five senses and had distinctive crimson spots on their bellies from eating the hazelnuts. All, but Nectan and his assistants, were forbidden to approach the well.

This restriction irked Boann, and she decided one day to approach the well. To spite her husband, whom she believed greedily coveted the well, Boann approached the well counter clockwise. But what she didn’t know is that the well itself had specific conditions in which one could gaze into it. One must approach clockwise three times before looking straight and steadily into the well or one’s eyes would burst from the power of the wisdom contained within.

Boann peered cautiously into the well, which caused the water to rise angrily and it took one of her eyes. Because she approached the well counter clockwise, she had further angered the waters and so the well erupted with a torrent. Boann fled from the rushing waters losing an arm and a leg before the angry waters reached the sea, leaving behind a 70 mile long river, now called the Boyne River.

Having lost one eye, one arm, and one leg, Boann was transformed. She existed from that point on somewhere half in and half out of the physical world. She became the soul of the river, but also something much more powerful. For when she released the waters of Segais, she freed the salmon of knowledge into the world. Now humans had access to the wisdom reserved only for the gods. Anyone who ate the flesh of the salmon, instantly possessed the knowledge they contained.

Boann then became the patron goddess of poetic and spiritual inspiration. Her influence bridges the gap in the wisdom of mind to allow the feminine nature in each of us to stream into our being. Her sacrifice represents the transformation of the self that is required for wisdom to enter. Her essence is present in all rivers. To call upon her, one must simply invoke her name while sitting next to a river and listen with a clear mind and an open soul. Her gift of wisdom will transform you!

The original has been sold. But prints and greeting cards are now available!

(Image "Boann: Transformation of a Goddess" by DoAn. Copyright 2008. All Rights Reserved.)

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