EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

There’s something about the element of surprise that delights and make you smile. Think of a child watching a magic trick or someone blowing a giant bubble. Creating a monoprint feels the same way to me. You’re never quite sure what the final result will be and new discoveries are always at hand.

A monoprint is a form of printmaking where only one image is made. Ink or paint is applied to a plate (metal, glass or plexiglass) and marks are created by either addition or subtraction. Paper is placed over the surface, burnished and “pulled” by lifting the paper to create a one-of-a-kind print. 

Buttons              ©nancgordon

Buttons              ©nancgordon

The beauty of the monoprint is its versatility. The artist can work and rework the plate using brushes, rags, toothbrushes, feathers, sticks or even your fingers as long as it can scratch the surface. Edgar Degas was a renowned proponent of monoprints and would enhance his prints with pastels. Paul Gauguin, Paul Klee and Picasso (among others) experimented with monoprints and came up with their own methods by adding watercolor, additional ink and other mediums.

I pull multiple prints at a time and usually have the floor covered with them. This allows me to look around and see if they need additional effort. I also work in a specific color palette for each session. I might pick indigo one day and pull upwards of fifty prints. The next time I may use ocher and go back over some of the indigo. Working in this fashion builds a cohesive collection.

There are no “mistakes” when printing monoprints which is freeing. It’s an exploration of color, mark making and that child-like element of surprise.

MAKE A MARK

When you were a kid, you didn't think twice about picking up a crayon and producing marks on paper. It was encouraged and usually displayed on the refrigerator door. Somewhere along the way, you began to feel self-conscious as the end result was often judged by friends for it's representational qualities.

Seated Nude             ©nancgordon

Seated Nude             ©nancgordon

Drawing is all about making marks. They may be thick or thin, interrupted, curved or straight, black or a color, full strength or a tone but they culminate into a mindful image. Practicing on a regular basis helps condition your eyes to examine shape, proportion, spatial relationships and composition. Drawing informs your paintings and is the foundation for them. If the drawing doesn't work then the painting won't either.

As an adult, I draw smudges, blotches, spots and lines. There is something about line I find the most compelling and in as few as possible I try to get across the gesture as well as the volume. I use ink and love the fluidity of it but it's also a demanding medium. If a line is misplaced there's is no going back to correct it. 

Drawing is a discipline critical to any art form. It takes persistence but the rewards are considerable. That long forgotten crayon transformed into another medium for me but still allows me to make a mark.

BOLD AND POWERFUL

Wow! I was spellbound with the Richard Serra prints at the Nasher Sculpture Center. All the pieces in the gallery were black and white and striking as you scanned the room.

 

Between the Torus and the Sphere V, 2006   Richard Serra

Between the Torus and the Sphere V, 2006   Richard Serra

Serra is a sculptor who loves to push the limitations of printmaking and experiment with the process. In a number of prints, he used Paintstik (an oil paint medium) and silica (sand) which were mixed together and put through a meat grinder to achieve remarkable texture. This is a case where you really need to see the prints to appreciate the sculptural surface. 

Untitled, 2008   Richard Serra

Untitled, 2008   Richard Serra

Serra's passion for line evolved into a captivation for volume. Many pieces consisted of large rectangles, squares and circles that expressed visual weight and mass.

Venice Notebook 2001, #16, 2001   Richard Serra

Venice Notebook 2001, #16, 2001   Richard Serra

This exhibit is an extensive study of Serra's printmaking work and defies the very definition of a print. These images were sculptural, weighted and textured. I'll be going back for a second and most likely a third look!

SERIAL PAINTING

Here are the finished Aspen paintings depicting the four seasons! I was able to experience winter, spring, summer and fall (even if only in my mind). I find working on a series helpful for continuity and the chance to expand a concept.

Aspen Four Season series              ©nancgordon

Aspen Four Season series              ©nancgordon

One aspect to painting a series is to have limitations to work within. When I taught a design class, the students would complain about the project restraints limiting size, colors etc. Around the middle of the semester, I would give them a project without restraints. On the due date, they would come in perplexed with the work disjointed. It turned out that being able to do anything paralyzed them. Without guidelines, they became lost.

As an artist, I give myself guidelines. The Aspen trees series were all done in a 9" x 12" format with the same image varying only the seasons. This forced me to change my palette for each painting and figure out a way to go from emerging spring grass to grown summer grass, colorful grass and lastly to the total lack of grass. It became an engaging exercise.

Another aspect of a series is to explore a concept. Here I examined the passing of time. One painting would not address the span of a year but four allows me to show the viewer that time frame.

Finally, a series allows me to delve into a subject matter technically. I examined grass in its life cycle using a palette knife to create the impression of blades and volume. I paid great attention to detail for the types of marks for the flowers, tree bark and sky.

Exploring guidelines, concept and technique helped me create unity and cohesiveness in a related body of work. Stay tuned for more series!

HOLA MEXICO!

I recently checked out the Mexico exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art showcasing Mexican modern art over the course of 50 years. 66 Artists are represented with 184 pieces of art including paintings, photography, drawings, film and sculpture.

The traveling exhibit was initially shown in Paris and Dallas is fortunate to be the only stop in the states. There are master works of art from Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera with many other artists not internationally know. It was the lesser known artists that caught my eye and here are a few of the pieces I enjoyed.

Indian Woman from Oaxaco by Ramon Cano Manilla

Indian Woman from Oaxaco by Ramon Cano Manilla

The Indian Woman from Oaxaca was an exquisite painting by Ramon Cana Manilla. He paid great attention to detail and beautifully arranged the woman to stand out from the background vegetation. This was one of my favorite paintings!

Worker by Oliverio Martinez

Worker by Oliverio Martinez

This small sculpture was well balanced from every angle with a sweeping gesture. I can imagine him sprinting against a deadline for his work.

Mourning for Zapata by Francisco Arturo Marin

Mourning for Zapata by Francisco Arturo Marin

This sculpture was striking from all four sides depicting different scenes of the pall bearers in their grief. The toes and fingers echoed each other and became a pattern surrounding the piece. 

The exhibit was a real coup for Dallas and well done! If you get a chance, run to see it before it's gone!

 

 

WINTER ASPENS

This is the final painting in the four seasons Aspens series. A cool palette leads you into a chilly, wintry day.  The light is diffused and softly falling snow clings to the bark of the trees and the ground. Cool shadows are made up of blues, beige and violet and the sky is a mixture of blues with hints of white. I can imagine being bundled up in layers against the cold surrounded by quiet as the snow gently envelopes me.

Winter Aspens                 ©nancgordon2017

Winter Aspens                 ©nancgordon2017

Throughout the series, I envisioned the temperature, light and colors in my mind to translate them onto paper. This helped me to capture the feeling of the landscape  to convey the shifting seasons.

 

FALL ASPENS

Summer greens are shifting into warm autumn colors in this fall Aspens painting. The grass is beginning to turn towards yellows and reds while the bushes at the horizon line are a blaze of orange. The variegated leaves displayed against a dusky sky point to crisp air and brisk days ahead.

Fall Aspens in process     ©nancgordon2017

Fall Aspens in process     ©nancgordon2017

I'll make additional changes later to bring a cohesion to the entire series. In the meantime, I'm working on the winter Aspens painting with it's cool palette. Stay tuned for that painting next!

SPRING ASPENS

Spring has arrived here in the Southwest and the flowers are popping up. It's been an odd winter (or lack of) with the temperatures hovering in the 70s most days. This inspired me to begin my spring aspens painting to mirror the budding flowers and leaves. 

Spring Aspens     ©nancgodon2017

Spring Aspens     ©nancgodon2017

Yellow greens and a scattering of purple flowers announce the shift from cool winter colors. The soft gradation in the sky indicates a warming trend and overall you sense the appearance of spring.

I'm enjoying working on the same image and transforming it to reflect a different season. More to come in the next blog!

Summer Aspens

This is the first landscape painting in a series of the four seasons. Summer colors are strong with a rich palette. The greens are deep and dark with traces of olive and the grass is tall and lush with a scattering of yellow flowers. A strong blue sky dotted with white billowy clouds draws you into a warm summer day.

Summer Aspens in process       ©nancgordon2017

Summer Aspens in process       ©nancgordon2017

I'll make final adjustments when the entire series is finished to bring a cohesion to the collection. I'm starting spring and fall now. Working on four different paintings with the same image at various times of the year is definitely a challenge. I look forward to sharing the others with you!

 

 

The Four seasons

I grew up in the Northeast where the year was marked by the four seasons. The yellow/greens of spring, the varied greens of summer, the colorful red/oranges of autumn and the cool gray/blue of winter was an ongoing yearly pattern. I miss the seasons (not the ice and snow!) and thought I'd bring them together in a new series of Aspen trees paintings. 

Below are the beginning stages in a 9 inch by 12 inch format on watercolor paper. I have the pencil drawing in place and the value study done.  I've figured out my color palette and am ready to paint! 

The notable changes in weather and light pose an inviting challenge to me. In the ensuing weeks I'll post the watermedia paintings as they develop and you can experience the four seasons with me!

FOREST BATHING

I lived in New York City for twelve years. It was an exciting place but also stressful living amongst concrete buildings, nonstop noise and constant traffic. The West village didn't have any real parks and I missed green space. I later moved to the Upper West side where I had the choice of going to either Central Park or Riverside Park. I found myself wandering or sitting in the parks on the weekends just to be in nature.

nancgordon©2016

nancgordon©2016

I recently came across a Japanese term, Shinrin-yoku, which means forest bathing. It’s contemplative walking or sitting in the forest. It’s not about exercise but a reconnection with nature and has been proven to be therapeutic by boosting immunity, improving sleep and reducing blood pressure. Using all your senses being in the forest or park calms and distresses you. In Japan, it’s considered preventative health care.

I think that’s why I tend to paint flowers and now some landscapes. The meditative aspect of the forest and nature are ever present in my paintings. I find myself at the Arboretum regularly and love to walk around or sit quietly.

The next time you’re stressed take a walk in a park or the woods. Surround yourself with trees and greenery. See if it doesn’t reset and refresh you.

Finished Landscape!

Here's the finished landscape painting from earlier blogs where I showed my progress over the past month. This is an acrylic painting and a larger size than my usual watercolor paintings.

There were quite a few differences in mediums. In watercolor I paint flat on a table where this painting was done upright on an easel.  I didn't have to save my whites with a mask and could revise at will since I can paint over anything in acrylic. I think I hit all the subject matters in this one painting; a building, trees, water and a figure. It turned out much more detailed than I anticipated given all the reflected elements. 

Reflections  30" x 40"  ©nancgordon2016  

Reflections  30" x 40"  ©nancgordon2016  

It was a good exercise in using acrylic as a different medium from watercolor and one I will use in the future for larger paintings.

Max BeckmanN exhibit

This past week I checked out the Max Beckmann exhibit at the Met in New York. It was one of the best shows I’ve seen lately and highlighted seven of the German painter’s self portraits (he painted over 85 of them!). 

Paris Society by Max Beckmann

Paris Society by Max Beckmann

Beckmann painted expressionist images of modern life. He held a great alienation of postwar society and usually portrayed life as theater or circus. Being an ardent painter of the figure, he mixed reality, dreams, the circus and myth into narrative paintings. Intense color and emotion as well as distortion and angularity are hallmarks of his work. 

He was deeply affected by the war and fled Nazi Germany in 1937 to Amsterdam. He eventually immigrated to the United States in 1947 and after a stint in St. Louis to teach, spent his final years in New York City.  

This show celebrates many of Beckmann's paintings done in New York. If you’re planning a visit to the city this is a must see exhibit!

TALLY DUNN GALLERY

This past week I stopped by the Tally Dunn Gallery in Dallas to view an exhibit by the native Texan artist, David Bates.  The show consists of mostly landscapes and still life paintings as well as a few portraits and sculptures in wood and bronze. Bate's work draws from American Folk art and early renaissance art.  His subject matter reflects Southern culture including shrimp boats, swamps, fishing and magnolia flowers. He has a characteristic bold approach to painting with a thick painterly style evident throughout his work. 

Marsh Shrimper by David Bates

Marsh Shrimper by David Bates

I love the overall graphic approach to his paintings. "Marsh Shrimper" virtually glowed off the wall in the gallery due to Bate's palette. The depth of field draws you in and allows your eye to travel throughout the painting.

This exhibit was delightful, engaging and definitely worth a visit if you're in the Dallas area!

 

VALLEY HOUSE GALLERY AND SCULPTURE GARDEN

This is one of my favorite galleries in Dallas. They show high caliber 19th and 20th century art as well as contemporary American and European Art.  They have a special focus on contemporary Southwestern and Texas artists. The expansive 4.5-acre wooded sculpture garden is serene and a wonderful place to sketch or photograph flowers. On top of that, the staff is welcoming and informative. I stop by on a regular basis to view their exhibits and hear about the artist’s process. 

Deborah Ballard sculpture

Deborah Ballard sculpture

I was so excited to find this urban oasis upon moving here. It's a great place to not only observe art but lose yourself in the peaceful gardens. This is definitely one of my go to places to unwind and relax.

LANDSCAPE 3

Here is this week's progress on the landscape painting. Most areas are blocked in and I've begun the leaves. The leaves on the left tree are finished while the leaves on the right tree are blocked in and awaiting definition to show volume. Additional trees in the foreground on either side have yet to be placed as well as the water in the fountain. 

It may be a while till the next stage but stay tuned for the finished painting!

LANDSCAPE PAINTING 2

Last week I began a landscape with the elements sketched in using ultramarine blue on a large canvas. Here's the next step in the process. Notice most areas are blocked in using color to begin defining the shapes.

Landscape in process

Landscape in process

The inside area is actually a reflection in the windows of the building with a tree in the middle ground and it's shadow on the glass. A water fountain appears in the foreground on the right side.

I'll begin the leaves, bushes and water next and will continue to develop the painting. Stay tuned for phase three!

LANDSCAPE PAINTING 1

I absolutely love watercolor painting yet at some point would like to paint much larger. It would be difficult to do that in watercolor. So I’m beginning to use acrylics to paint in a sizable scale. This brings me to a current 30” x 40” landscape painting on a stretched canvas. 

Here is the initial “sketch” in ultramarine blue indicating placement and values. I’m sure it will evolve as I begin the painting. 

It’s a completely different approach from my watercolor paintings. In watercolor, I have everything planned from the design, composition, layout and palette before I even pick up a brush. Then I begin a long process of building up glazes to achieve glowing colors. Here I drew the sketch with a brush onto the canvas using a photo as a visual reference and will paint it as I go along.

I’m working on a number of watercolor paintings and should have a new one soon. In between the many glazes I’ll be working on this landscape and will post my progress. Come along for the ride and see how it develops!

THE ART OF PREP

As a graphic designer, I worked on multiple projects at any given time due to moving deadlines. As an artist, I also do the same. I may work on a watercolor painting in the morning building up glazes then switch to collage or monoprints in the afternoon and end my day working on a blog entry. I find the creative process for each medium spills over into the next and helps me keep a fresh eye. I may discover a process that could apply to another medium and that excitement is rewarding.

I have a great studio but it’s not big enough to include a dedicated area for each medium. I set up and break down each time I move to a different project. I’ve learned to stay organized so I spend my time painting and not setting up and breaking down projects. The key to doing this is preparation, trays and a limited palette. I put all my paints out I need for a particular painting on a tray as well as brushes and can easily move it at will. The same goes for paint and papers for collages. When I work on collages or monoprints I tend to stay in a given palette till I exhaust those colors. Lately I’ve finished approximately 50 monoprints in indigo. Now I’m onto greige (a combination of gray and beige). A limited palette keeps things simple and efficient.

You may think the prep time takes away from creativity but I find just the opposite. Having all my materials ready to go allows me to think about the painting rather than scrambling around the studio looking for a paint color or brush. It’s actually freeing once you get into the habit of preparation.

A KID IN A CANDY STORE

One of my greatest pleasures as an artist and watercolor painter is art supplies. Put me in an art store and I feel like a kid in a candy store! Talk about appealing to all your senses. The smells, touch of the paper, colorful paints and packages, and conversations surrounding the products are beyond enticing to me. 

Art_supplies_1A.png

When I was a student  in New York, I worked at Sam Flax, an art supply store still there on 20th street in Chelsea. I applied out of necessity since I received a substantial discount for art supplies but learned everything there was to know about the products. An invaluable experience I use to this day.

I always remembered how hard it was to be a struggling student and one day in Boston, I listened to two students try to figure out how to pay for supplies needed for a project. They spent quite a while agonizing over the cost of one paint versus another and then discussed which papers would fit their budgets. Unbeknownst to them, I quietly spoke to the sales clerk and continued my shopping. When they finally checked out, they were shocked to find their purchase paid for. I kept thinking how ecstatic I would have been if someone had done that for me.
   
Today, many old, established art supply stores have unfortunately gone out of business. Dick Blick bought up Utrecht, Pearl Paint in NY is long gone and recently NY Central Art (established 1905) closed its doors in July. The internet is swallowing up these stores and removing the experience of discovery and exploration. I admit I’ve scored incredible finds…once I found over 40 four ounce bottles of Golden Fluid acrylics for a dollar a piece! But I would rather have them stay in business and pay full price. 

We all have something that makes us happy and mine is going to an art supply store. It’s not chocolate but nonetheless, my candy high.