Tuesday, December 24, 2013

There's More Than One Way to Skin a Mole

At our recent Artists' Lab, we were greeted by Marty Harris, a local artist and creator of the Moly_X international sketchbook exchange project. At one time Moly X had 1500 members and 400 books being exchanged. The name is based on the Moleskine (pronounced Molaskeena) journals that have been around for hundreds of years, albeit in a somewhat reinvented form.

Marty shared the concept of a journal exchange project for lab participants. The project will also include the artists' labs in Madison and Milwaukee and will enable us to collaborate with them on the creation of sketchbooks on the theme of light. I am thinking it will also give us an opportunity to explore ideas we may wish to develop further for our larger work in the final exhibition. That seems like an appropriate use of a sketchbook and hopefully the interplay with our fellow artists will prove to be freeing. The challenge will be to resist the idea of it as a finished piece of art as that brings a weightiness to this project on light. Light, light, light I repeat, hoping a light attitude will allow me to play.

The journals will not be completed by the time of the exhibition, but will be a part of the exhibition in whatever form they are in at that stage. While Marty is an illustrator he advised us that few of the participants whose work he shared had that background. Lest we be too intimidated, he advised us that he had selected some of the better ones as examples. The journals lend themselves to a variety of media, certainly drawing, writing, collage and photography.

Marty shared examples that were on a variety of themes. Some had done illustrated cookbooks, others alphabet books. There were portrait books where one could do a portrait of oneself or of the person who started the book. He suggested that we think about how we can tie it together with color, perhaps putting down a background to help others get started (see below). One had dots scattered throughout to give it a kind of rhythm (left). Some used a theme like trees, others used wrapping paper as a background. One book was based on Jonie Mitchell's album "Blue".

Marty also suggested 3M super 77 adhesive spray to affix an image in the book. It is also useful in repairing errors which he assures us can be easily rectified. It isn't necessary to work directly on the book, we can also paste something into the book or over our initial efforts. And if necessary we can cut out the page and overlap the remaining two pages to reconnect the book.
Marty showed examples of what has been done and noted that many in the group of artists who worked together communicated via blogging. While we are working with Madison and Milwaukee, some artist groups have been between artists in different countries. Here's a blog that includes some artists whose work he shared, spanning Turkey, Belgium, Australia and Spain.
We then each received our accordion moleskin journals with instructions to decide on a theme and then do 2 or 3 pages for our initial entry, either consecutive or scattered throughout.. We broke into groups to brainstorm ideas for topics using the broader theme of Light. "Shadow... emergent... reflection" we called out as Marty moved about the room offering such phrases as "deer in the headlights". To get us thinking, it was suggested that we come up with phrases that use light in some form, eg. light-hearted, light-headed, light on your feet.
So now I'm nervously contemplating what to do with this tiny journal that still feels a bit like a ticking time bomb, waiting for an errant line. I think I need a real sketchbook to sketch my ideas for this one. There's more than one way to skin a mole.
To view information on lab artists and lab discussion links and handouts, please go to the Jewish Artists' Laboratory website.

*The Jewish Artists’ Laboratory is an arts initiative through the Sabes Jewish Community Center featuring 25 artists exploring the theme of Light through study and art making. The project is funded through The Covenant Foundation and similar projects are being done in both Milwaukee and Madison. Artists explore how the theme of Light is relevant to Jews and non-Jews, to religious and non-religious, to the community and to the individual, to the artist and the non-artist.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Layering and Digital Mixed Media

The Artist Lab gathered recently to discuss the concept of layering. This was a particularly timely topic as we reflected upon the idea that Hanukkah adds an additional light each evening, creating a layering of light.

Avi began our evening by discussing the creative process, offering her process as an example and in the spirit of Hanukkah breaking it into eight steps. Her process began with vision, but vision wasn't enough to move her forward. For that she needed hope, an emotion towards her idea that caused her to want to act. After vision and hope came the third step- diving in. She then moves into excitement which of course is followed by suspicion or perhaps dismay. It just isn't working right, maybe it feels false. If she's fortunate she then moves to clarity, finding what works and expanding on it. Then comes the fun state, Obsession! This is the favorite stage of many artists when you can't wait to get to the studio to work. Finally the last stage of resolution when you know it is done.

So expanding on the idea of Hanukkah I found myself wondering which step represented the shamash which gets it moving and settled on "hope" which ignites vision. Now that I added the shamash and promoted "hope", I have one more candle to assign and that is the truly last step, kvelling -enjoying and savoring our creation. The human equivalent of "God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good."

Avi then invited us to think about our own process, noting that it may differ by medium. Within small groups we discussed our individual process. Painters had a somewhat different process than photographers. Photography is often more spontaneous in capturing the moment while painters spoke of painting out images and trying to step back to an earlier stage, knowing where they were going only after they went too far. Some spoke of sacrificing something to give a painting spirit and in fact many of us seemed to build up our image by painting over our false starts. I do find that when I get comfortable with the idea of destroying my painting, I often move it forward. Destruction and creation are flip sides of the same coin and perhaps one feeds the other, making room for new growth.
The second part of our session involved a workshop led by Bonnie Cutts, a Golden paint representative and a working artist.

 In the spirit of the evening, Bonnie began her talk with her own menorah story. She recalled a two story menorah in Oxford, England where she watched a rabbi light the menorah via a cherry picker. Bonnie packed what is normally a much lengthier talk into an hour and we concluded that a more extensive working session in the future would be beneficial.

Our ultimate destination was digital mixed media, so she began with an intro to the different types of materials we would use in conjunction with them. As she lavishly poured paints onto paper to illustrate, she passed them around for us to feel the ease or resistance of the paint.

We began with binders. Oil paint uses linseed oil, watercolor uses gum Arabic and acrylic uses polymer medium as binder. It is the binder that allows us to make a brush stroke. Paint dries darker with acrylic because the white evaporates out of it. Some colors have more binder and less pigment which makes them more transparent. Gels can also be used to create glazes and texture. You can paint over gel, mix paint into gel or put gel over paint.

Fugitive pigments fade and they are no longer made. Instead you will find hues that are made in a lab. Fugitive colors include alizarin crimson and manganese blue.

Heavy bodied colors include yellow ochre and nickel azo yellow. These are more like oils.
Bonnie also talked about open acrylic colors which dry more slowly. I've made use of them and like them as you can work with them longer. It extends the use of acrylics giving some of the benefits of oils.

Fluids are still heavily pigmented, in fact they are the same heavily pigmented paint as Heavy Body, just formulated to be 10 x thinner. You can mix them 10 parts water to 1 part paint for a watercolor like application.

High flow acrylic has been on the market for six months. The paint looks different depending on the ground and is very fluid.

She also showed us the Golden Interference acrylic which is iridescent with a bit of flip in it between opalescent color and its complement. It has reflective properties and interacts with light. Over white or light colored surfaces the Interference color is less obvious, but the flip effect is more obvious. The reverse is true over black or dark surfaces. Interference acrylics are 87% gel, 12% interference and 1% color.

Bonnie then turned her attention to grounds, the surface on which we paint. You can use an absorbent ground like watercolor paper. When working with a ground for pastels you can tint the surface.. Golden has a number of different grounds which Bonnie introduced. They can all be used in lieu of gesso which is the most common ground.

You can make a skin with any of the grounds and then use them to print on with an inkjet printer. You will need to apply 2 coats of a Golden's Digital Ground for Non-porous Surfaces, allowing the first coat to dry before applying the second coat.
You can pour the ground on a silicon cutting board, freezer paper, heavy plastic or glass. She cautioned us against using plexiglass as it will stick to it. There are five factors that affect the speed of drying; temperature, air flow, humidity, how thickly applied and what you apply it to.

When dry you peel it up and tape it to a carrier sheet to feed it into a flat bed printer with the tape side down. Bonnie used painter's tape and taped the bottom and one side. She then provided us with three options for skins that she had already made. One was on cheesecloth so had a very rough texture, one was an acrylic ground for pastels and was opaque and one was a soft gel that was quite transparent. We had been asked to bring a high contrast 8x10 photo which she then placed face down in her Epson NX415 printer as we crowded round.

Bonnie began by feeding the feeder sheet with the skin into the feeder tray with the tape at the bottom, set it at 75% to fit the image on and magically our image appeared on the ground. You can see how she taped it and what it looked like when it emerged in the image below. You can then paint behind the image or on top of it to create various effects. Before applying liquid to the image you will first want to fix it with an archival spray fixative. As the fumes are not good to inhale you may prefer to use a gel top coat, but must apply it very carefully so as not to move the ink. For more information consult the Golden site where they provide considerable detail on how to use digital products in your artwork.

To view information on lab artists and lab discussion links and handouts, please go to the Jewish Artists' Laboratory website.

*The Jewish Artists’ Laboratory is an arts initiative through the Sabes Jewish Community Center featuring 25 artists exploring the theme of Light through study and art making. The project is funded through The Covenant Foundation and similar projects are being done in both Milwaukee and Madison. Artists explore how the theme of Light is relevant to Jews and non-Jews, to religious and non-religious, to the community and to the individual, to the artist and the non-artist.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Look to the Skies

This is the time of year when one could begin to question why sane people choose to live in Minnesota. As I drove to work this week I watched the temperature on my car thermometer drop to 2 below. And then something appeared that felt like compensation for stepping into the deep freeze. Before me was what looked like a rainbow! But there had certainly been no rain.  Later I heard this phenomenon identified as a sundog and in fact it is a phenomenon of light so seemed appropriate to share in this blog whose very focus is light. I learned that a sundog is an ice halo and what I had observed was only half of the larger image, there is one on each side of the sun. The following day I saw another sundog and this time knew to look for its mate.  They get their rather unusual name from their position as they are thought to "heel" at the side of their master. The scientific name "parhelia" means beside the sun. Sundogs occur when the sun is low and are made from light refracting from ice crystals during very cold weather. The crystals act as prisms and bend the light with a deflection of about 22 degrees. They can also form a halo around the sun.

(Image credit and copyright: David Hathaway/NASA/MSFC)
I was curious about whether there were any mentions of sundogs in the Bible as I would think such phenomenon would have been viewed as signs or omens at that time. Sure enough I found the following reference by meteorologist Freeman Hall to Ezekiel who saw them as visions of Elohim. He spoke of " two concentric wheels 'so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four' The record also tells of a throne above the shining vision, like a sapphire stone. Hall's meteorological explanation was that the eyes may have been mock suns arranged on concentric halos, and the throne the colorful arc that can appear as an upside down rainbow above the halo. When I sought out the original text which describes imagery in the sky, I found these descriptions which certainly sounded like sundog imagery:

1:27 And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it.... I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.

1:28 As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about...

As I searched for images I found some very complex ones that could easily have engendered the vision of which Ezekiel spoke.  The one above was taken in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

So surely such images inspired artwork.  Sure enough there is a painting originally based on an event in 1535 over Stockholm.  While the original painting by Urban mÃ¥lare is lost, here's a copy of the Vadersolstavlan from 1636 by Jacob Heinrich Elbfas.

So next time the temperature drops, look to the skies.