I love the beginning of things - the intro to a good movie, the pre-cursor soak before a pedicure, my first sip from a beautiful beverage created by a talented coffee barista, new relationships, the thrill of the hunt on a thrifting adventure, laughing with the women before Zumba class starts, cracking open a new book and learning a new method or process for creating art.
There's something wonderful about learning a new creative process for me. I like to deconstruct the process, figure out how and why it works, implement it (if appropriate) and decide whether or not it's for me.
Last semester, I took my first college-level art class, Art 3: Introduction to Art + Design. My professor had just moved to the area and was kind, generous with her tailored advice to each individual student and a talented artist in her own right. I immediately loved her teaching style, the way she lectured and explained the different ways we were going to learn about art and design in her classroom. She started with basic design principles and slowly increased our knowledge and practice through assignments that built upon the prior concept(s) and theories that we were learning.
The above work in progress was to paint a master reproduction. This was extremely intimidating, but learning to mix color and pay attention to value was, for lack of a better word, valuable to the process of learning how to paint. I could definitely take these concepts with me as I delve into future painting mediums.
This was my first ever acrylic painting and, I'm not going to lie, it was really hard for this novice painter. I learned so much about brush techniques and color values and working with a varied grey palette (that I had to mix all on my own). In case you might not be able to figure it out (ha!) - Matisse's Pot of Geraniums on the left + my rendition on the right (above).
Next up was learning about vantage points, using graphite pencils to create a value scale, light logic and paying attention to values. We created a grid, drew the image using graphite pencils, mixed greyscale paints and painted according to the light logic. I used our old chicken coop shed as my two point perspective image.
We moved on to learning how to paint a color wheel. This was the only assignment that really baffled me. Color mixing would prove challenging all semester-long for me. I struggled with getting the colors "perfect" and I know that's my downfall. My grade did not reflect my effort, but it did reflect on the semi-finished product I ended up turning in. A definite lesson in not over-thinking it in the future.
Once mid-semester rolled around, Professor McCain encouraged our class to submit a piece of art to the junior college event called LUMAFEST. The theme for this contest was honoring the past (a-la-Day-of-the-Dead style). I shared about my process on a previous blog post and you can read more about it here. And while I didn't win first place, I did learn more about my process in creating this embellished painting of my grandparents. Upon completing this project, it ended up spurring me into a creative phase and inspired a new series of paintings that I'm going to call The Ray of LIght Series. More to come on that that project later this year.
The cross-contour drawing assignment was one of my favorites. I don't have my initial image because my professor is using it for display in the library on campus, but that lesson led us into the next lesson which was cross-contour drawing with line weight and added patterning, mapping and transitions. She encouraged variety and rhythm through repetition. I drew our dog Bodie (above) and added pattern using a .08 black micron pen.
Our final project for the semester would have us utilize all of the concepts we had been learning over the semester and introduce us to the artist Chuck Close.
My research taught me that Close did poorly in school. At the age of 14, he saw a Jackson Pollock painting exhibit that greatly impacted him. That exhibit helped him to determine that he wanted to become an artist. Chuck Close started out at a community college in Everett, Washington and went on to receive his MFA from Yale University in 1964. His early work was steeped in the abstract and he was well known for his photorealist paintings. In 1988, he suffered a sudden rupture to his spinal artery and that would leave him almost entirely paralyzed. After rigorous physical therapy, he regained partial use of his limbs. He would eventually tape a paintbrush to his wrist and get back to work using an optical mixing style that he has become well known for today.
This optical mixing assignment seemed impossible at first, but I knew I had to just tackle it square-by-square. First, I took a self-portrait and then posterized it in photoshop. I then had to trace the image onto Bristol paper and create a grid with small squares over the top of it. I mixed a full palette with warm and cool color shifts. Every square had to have at least three colors in it. Value and light logic played a big role in creating the shifts needed to really capture my own image.
Process is where it's at for me. I learn best when I'm given structure paired with a certain amount of freedom. It's like that in life for me, too. This art class came at a time in my life when I was working through my sobriety and I had just started attending AA meetings. Through the lessons I learned about value, light logic, color mixing and structure, I could apply those lessons to my life, as well. I started to see value in what was bringing me happiness. I started seeing the good (the light) and focused on that light to pull me through my periodic funks and depressive mood swings. I started mixing color into my life with how I dressed, who I was hanging out with and what I was willing to try on for size when it came to new concepts and teachings. By working through these processes, I started to build up some structure to my days and life seemed full of promise now that happier (and sober) days were accumulating.
I'm so proud of the work I've done in both my art class and in my sobriety lately. I'm still taking it square-by-square and I like how it's turning out. Sometimes it feels like I'm learning at a breakneck speed and trying my hardest to absorb the deluge of information and lessons as they unfold. And just like this art class taught me, the full spectrum color wheel is my greatest challenge in life, too. I know I have the primary colors down, but the secondary and tertiary colors (new lessons + relationship shifts) are taking longer to learn how to paint.
It's a good thing I like the process.