September 24, 2015

India Palace

I like to go to India Palace to place my to-go order, because it gives me time to sketch, and because they always give me some sort of a refreshment. In this case, a mango lassi!

September 23, 2015

Watercolor Sketches

I love this page in my sketchbook. That’s all watercolor, no pen or pencil. It’s a technique I’m really enjoying and encouraging in my Fast Sketching class – mostly making lines with watercolor.

It took me so long to read that book, which I started in Iceland, took to Singapore, but didn’t finish until I got back home. I spent a lot of time with it, and I love the cover, so I sketched it.

September 22, 2015

Medicine Still-Life

A little bout of bronchitis necessitated a lot of prescription medication. And coffee. What was I going to do, not sketch it?

September 20, 2015

Speaking of Reading...

Speaking of reading, last weekend I went to the Mid-South Book Festival and attended panel discussions by these local authors: Richard Alley (my brother!), Heather Dobbins, Craig Meek, Margaret Skinner, David Williams, and Brandy T. Wilson.

I sketched Brandy (right), and moderator Pat Mitchell (left).

Still Painting, and Reading


It has been a few weeks since I got back from New York to deal with my painting slump here at home, and since then I have painted several times, and it has felt good and I’ve been happy with it. I’ve also been reading about art.

When I was in New York I bought a few books, including The Happiness of Burnout, about an artist who suffers burnout. The title spoke to me but as I started reading it, I couldn’t figure out if this book was for real or not. At first it read like a fictional book; maybe I found it questionable that there was an artist who was so successful at being an artist that he suffered from burnout.

Turns out I just don’t know very much about contemporary European artists. The artist Jeppe Hein is, in the words of the Public Art Fund website, “one of Denmark’s most celebrated contemporary artists.” (I guess Denmark celebrates their artists?)

Another reason that I couldn’t figure the book out at first is because the translation is not that great, so some of the language is a bit stilted.

Despite my skepticism, and the not-great translation, and the fact that I could not wrap my mind around all of the philosophical concepts (lots of talk of “becoming”) – that is to say, despite my own short-comings – I enjoyed the book, and I did learn from it. In addition to weaving in psychology and philosophy, Janning compares Hein’s experiences with burnout in fiction, including Graham Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case, which predates the coining of the term “burnout” (thanks, Wikipedia!).
Just leafing through it to help write about it, I’m finding useful passages like this one about Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, “…Esther Greenwood becomes alive at the very end, where she steps out of the role that society has given her. The last line is full of suspense, because being alive, she knows that things might go wrong, she is no longer playing a role where she pretends everything is fine. But they are not; she will have to make them so.” She will have to make them so! This chapter, “Happiness?,” describes how happiness is a skill, “a manner of being that requires hard work and time. It must be learned.”  

I’m not saying I’ve got burnout, but as an artist who has anxiety and constantly questions what I’m doing and why, I found much of this book helpful. As I said, Janning delves into fiction, which I think is one of the greatest tools that we have to teach us how to be human. He also describes how and why yoga and meditation helped with Hein’s anxiety, and with refocusing on what is important in his life and his artwork.

Using my bookclub’s rating system, I’d give this book a solid 3 (would recommend to a friend).

September 18, 2015

Watercolor Necklace, Still-life, and Chopsticks

Necklace by Kong Wee Pang/Taro Pop Studio – they sell new designs at the Cooper Young Festival every year. I can’t wait to see what this year’s will look like! When I put this necklace on with a red shirt that morning I knew I’d have to sketch it at some point. I did this in my car at lunch, looking at the rear-view mirror.

Back at work I had an accidental but not unusual-to-see still life on my desk, so I drew it.

September 17, 2015

Constant Sketching vs. Painting Slump

A couple of people that I’ve talked to about my painting slump – people I am very close to and whose opinions I value – have pointed out to me that in the past year I have created a lot of art without painting (mostly sketching), and that I have facilitated the making of art by other people. That is all true. However, there is a mental difference between sketching and painting. I had not put a lot of thought into the differences until I tried to explain the difference to some friends.

Sketching is purposefully easy to do by being portable and accessible, and is not intended to be finished work. I sketch when bored, when interested, when anxious, when waiting, eating, talking, stopped at a train, etc. It is about whatever is in front of me at the moment, and it serves the purpose of keeping my hand and my eye active, of recording my day, and being a constant source of practicing art.

Painting seems to use a different part of the brain. It is much less about the immediate, and more about everything I have learned and experienced and seen over the course of my life, and everything I know about things and people that came before me. So that is a lot.

Painting is just more in-depth, particularly the way I do it by working in a series – I might have ten paintings started that all relate to each other, and even though I can only paint on one at a time, I’m working on all of them.

The act of painting satisfies a need in the same way that the act of sketching satisfies a need, but those two needs are a little different.

Facilitating the making of art by other people, whether by teaching art or by organizing the Symposium or by curating an art exhibit, is incredibly rewarding, but doesn’t have any impact on my own need to make art. It just makes me feel good. That’s not true, I do learn a lot, which is also important.

So, thanks to my kind loved ones for trying to make me feel better, and for helping me to see why I need to keep up my sketching and my painting.




Starting a New Sketchbook

After we got back from our trips I went back to the book I’d been using before the trip, and I filled it up pretty quickly in that week. I started this new one maybe a little too enthusiastically, squeezing lots of sketches and notes on one page.

September 16, 2015

Studio Night Update: Epilogue

Monday, back at work after my New York trip, wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be – I was still on a bit of a travel high, rather than being pouty like I usually am when I return from a trip. Of course the slump was still on my mind, but I had started thinking of it as a mindset. I need to be in the right mindset for making art, as my mindset in the past year has been more like, “Crap gotta do some stuff where did the time go this used to feel so leisurely.” Here again is where rule 3 comes into play: Calm the F Down.

When it came to be Tuesday Studio Night, I was actually kind of nervous. Is this going to work? Am I going to fail and feel terrible about myself? Immediately when I got home from work I changed my clothes and shut the door and got to it. First I had to move things around – that tiny room is a mess! And I had to set up an area to work on these small paintings – they are 8” x 8” value studies for that series I keep talking about – and for such small paintings there’s no need for me to stand at my easel.

So I did all that and I painted. Any time I paint, I feel better. I started one, finished one that I had started previously, then went back and finished the first one. These are oil paintings, but they are studies so the intention is not for them to be very layered, which is how I would normally approach a painting. And because of that, I was able to finish them and have a real sense of accomplishment! But my sense of accomplishment is tempered with knowing I need to keep this up, and that it’s a whole process, not just me getting in there one night and actually painting. But I still posted a picture of my two little paintings to show the internet that yes, I painted!



Birthday Sketches!

My birthday was on a Sunday this year – I wish it was every year! We started celebrating on Saturday with cupcakes from Muddy’s.

On Sunday we just hung out at home, drinking coffee and reading. That’s my favorite way to spend a Sunday!


Except I did have to make a trip to east Memphis, but it wasn’t all bad – I got more coffee to go with my cupcakes!

This post brought to you by exclamation points.

September 15, 2015

Studio Night Update, Part 3

Sunday was reserved for John Singer Sargent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but it started with me trying to come up with a concrete solution for my slump. Even though I know there is no concrete solution, I kept coming back to that thought, so I had to tell myself again to Calm the F Down and enjoy my last day and my bagels and lox at the Applejack Diner, and the Sargent exhibit at the Met.
























I love the approach to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I usually end up taking the 6 up to (I think) 77th at Lexington, then walking west to 5th Avenue at Central Park. Then I get to walk along Central Park until the giant temple of art looms to my left. I love it! There are hot dog carts in front and people on the steps and fountains and buses and people and people and people. Inside it’s just people.

The first thing I noticed in the Sargent exhibit was the painting Ramón Subercaseaux in a Gondola. I knew I had seen it before – it’s a small, sketchy painting with barely an indication of the gondola and canal, and a man sitting on a bench facing the viewer. I looked at the label for the painting and it said it’s on loan from the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, TN. I knew I’d seen it before!



Another thing I noticed is how much Sargent uses black when painting portraits. So many subjects were in black clothes. What I don’t understand is how he has darker black paint and lighter black paint – not gray – lighter black!

The hands he painted were so simple yet so real. His paint application almost seems lazy at times, but all of the hands read as very expressive hands. The other thing I especially noticed was the balance of loose and tight paint, of detailed areas and not-detailed areas.

My favorite thing in the exhibit was a small pencil sketch of the same woman from the Madame X painting, lounging on a couch, mid-conversation. The label beside it read: 
“A prolific and successful painter in oil and watercolor, Sargent seems to have sketched almost incessantly.” Yes! 


And that was it! Essentially the end of my trip. I won’t bore you with how much I enjoyed the combo bus ride/walk back to my hotel to pick up my bag (I said goodbye to each New York thing), or with the craziness of the system for taking the NJ Transit to Newark Airport from Penn Station (because it all worked out). I got home about 10:30 on Sunday night, and I was happy to be there.




Tiny Watercolor and Art Exhibits

At the end of the first week back to work after our trips, I was a little run down and still coughing from having lost my voice in Singapore. I consumed A LOT of hot tea during that time.


After work I went to a couple of art openings. First at City & State – I was a little early for the opening, so I got to watch them add the finishing touches to Thomas Ascott’s exhibit while I drank a cortado and pretended to still be on vacation.


Kong Wee Pang and Jay Crum had an exhibit at Crosstown, and I wanted to sketch this installation of prints so badly, but I don’t like to sketch at art openings because it makes me feel like I’m going “HEY LOOK AT ME I’M AN ARTIST TOO” so I tried to commit it to memory and draw it once I got to my car. I am terrible at that.

September 14, 2015

Studio Night Update, Part 2


























On the Saturday of my New York trip, after a quick visit with the New York City Urban Sketchers (in Madison Square Park, where Fata Morgana by Teresita Fernández was installed) and a walk on the High Line (my first time!) I went to the new Whitney Museum of American Art. I was so excited! I spent about an hour on the 8th floor (starting at the top, working my way down), and spent some time with several paintings. One thing I love about the Whitney is that they tend to feature artists whose names are less well-known to non-art majors, or to some art majors because in my case I had not heard of Rice Periera or Oscar Bluemner, but I enjoyed spending time with their work.

Then I went out on the 8th floor terrace, which is when I fell in love with the new Whitney. Because of the relatively short buildings in the Meatpacking District and Chelsea, you can see layers and layers of New York Buildings. You can see a little bit of the Empire State Building. It's amazing. 







I spent two hours on the 7th floor, discovering amazing woodcuts by Chiua Obata, and getting to see Jacob Lawrence's War Series (no text, still narrative, more painterly, more complex). I sketched the sad eyes of Arshile Gorky, and how Edward Hopper painted every upper floor window differently in Early Sunday Morning. Then I walked into the most beautiful museum gallery I've ever seen. I gasped! It was the total sum of the artwork, the way it was displayed, the size and scale of the room and the use of the size and scale, and the light coming from behind the wall where Lee Krasner's incredible painting was installed. Each room (or "chapter" of the exhibit - again with the narrative!) was named after an artwork in it, and this was titled New York, N.Y., 1955, after a painting by Hedda Sterne. The gallery really felt like the title.





Then I had a snack in preparation for the rest of it. I needed fuel before taking in all of that Pop art. The simplicity of some of that work astounds me. Some of my notes include: 
“thinner underpainting under the big thick juicy strokes… it looks like the abyss down there,” (Wayne Thiebaud, Pie Counter)
“straight up red yellow blue” (James Rosenquist, Brook Street Trucks After Herman Melville)
“how is it so simple?” (Alex Katz, The Red Smile)

What occupied my mind for a good part of that day was: How do I go back? There is so much visual stimulation in New York, and I was able to appreciate it so fully being there by myself, I wasn't sure if I could be without it.






To be continued...