Apparently, my muse is telling me to continue with the Pink Houses. They have returned, but I have been working with digital images because frankly, the house has been too cold to work with other materials in the studio area. The temperatures have been sub-zero for a couple of weeks and my house until a couple of days ago, was probably in the low to mid 60’s. So I thought I would play with them digitally. I have also been using a iPad and digital sketch app to see if I can enhance those skills. Challenging to say the least. I find the biggest difference is not being able to use the tooth of a good drawing paper to “drag” the pencil or drawing material to slow down and have control over the marks. The surface of the iPad being glass is so slick and smooth, that controlling the line is one that will take some time to learn.
I’ve never been much of a digital artist, even though I have worked with Photoshop for close to 20 years, it’s been more on the photo editing end, where I remove something from an image or enhance the image for publication. Creating these collage-like images is fascinating, but I think I will research some effects and see where it will take me.
In terms of the Pink Houses, there’s a lot more to explore. I have some pink pigs that may work well with this. We’ll see.
Recently, I invited Laura Grisamore into my art classroom as a guest speaker. Laura is a photographer/photojournalist that does some incredible work. She’s vibrant, engaging, and sucks you into her infectious personality.
During the course of her presentation, she showed a photograph of a tree that she called her “Spirit Tree.” It is a tree that catches her eye and she talked how she thought she needed to capture it with the right sky conditions and finally one bleak day, she finally did, much to her satisfaction. When she mentioned where it was, I knew the tree. It stands strong and alone.
Laura Grisamore Spirit Tree Photo
Laura Grisamore – Photo Fusion of Spirit Tree within animal skull
I mentioned that I had adopted a tree as my inspiration for some recent work. I’ve painted, drawn, painted again and even used seeds for a crop art entry into the State Fair. It is well known to many of the locals, as it also catches your eye as you travel by it. It too stands alone, separated from its kin some few hundred yards away. Some folks have different names for it, but the “Spirit Tree” moniker seems to be fitting.
White Pine – Spirit Tree
When Laura mentioned the Spirit Tree, it reminded me of another artist friend of mine, Ti Besonen, who shared her experiences during a workshop with Hazel Belvo, a painter who often depicts a well known, but protected tree near Grand Marais, called the Spirit Tree. As Ti relayed some of her experiences, I researched Hazel’s work and lo and behold an etching of the Spirit Tree came across my screen that I found to be striking in its similarities of the shape and form of a block print I had done back in the mid 90’s while still an undergrad at BSU (Bemidji State University).
In my print, I had embodied a figure in a tree, as myself, without roots because I would be moving again once I finished my degree at BSU. The print was for a print portfolio exchange titled “Women’s Self-Image” and at the time, having no roots to ground myself represented what my life had been up to that point. (I’ve been a bit more grounded and have not moved for 21 years, but things change, right?)
What’s fascinating is how Laura’s work, takes the two living things and embodies then into her Photo Fusions. Maybe it’s the constant exposure to Mother Nature that we start to absorb its grace and generosity. I’ve been drawing trees since time began I think and have always been connected to them a bit more than even the typical tree hugger would. I cried when they took down a 60-year-old healthy Elm when they did the water and sewer project that required the city to turn the once lush boulevard into a barren wasteland. I was glad I wasn’t home when they made the cuts to the stately structure. It would have been like watching an execution.
The top part of my Spirit Tree is dying, and I imagine within a few years it will crumble and I will feel heartbroken when that happens. Maybe that’s why I’ve adopted the noble white pine that stands along Highway 71 as my artistic muse – it’s spirit needs to live on. I will be honored to take on that responsibility.
Both Laura and Ti have blogs and links to their work can be found under the links.
I’ve exhausted the idea of continuing the Pink Houses for now. I am sure it will return and I did create two acrylic paintings that are located at the Serendiptiy Gallery in Pequot Lakes, MN. Over the summer months, I explored that and then managed to cross off a bucket list item, which was to enter the Crop Art competition at the Minnesota State Fair. I won the blue ribbon for the Novice category and now will I continue? Good question. I have an idea, but will have to start laying it out if I want to enter again.
The subject matter for the crop art was a beautiful white pine tree that is located between Menahga and Park Rapids along Highway 71 in Minnesota. I took a photo of the stately beauty a few years back and during the course of my adventures with the crop art, I found that is a favorite landmark among many locals and tourists of the area. It’s notable because it stands out as the sole pine in that section and has such a beautiful shape. Unfortunately, the top portion of the tree is stressed or diseased and may have completely died off.
The tree continues to be the subject matter of the various media I am playing with which includes acrylic, oil, and some printmaking methods. What I am finding interesting is the media and my hand respond so differently with each different ink or paint I explore that I am embracing the higher power of letting things emerge on their own. I am reminded that I too am always learning just like my students who teach me more than I will ever teach them.
Yesterday, was a prime example. I have students blog and draw weekly sketchbook assignments. As I was working with a student, I used his sketchbook to render a small sample of how they might approach the work. I noticed that they had two of the recent assignments completed in the sketchbook, but failed to turn them in. When I asked about that, they replied with, “I didn’t think they were good enough.” We had a long conversation related to that and I finally said, “if it’s your drawing it will always be good enough.” Now to heed my own words. The top image is an etching on a handmade paper using Akua inks, followed by an acrylic painting on paper. The rest are beginning stages of two oil paintings.
Three months ago I started the 100 Day Project. I decided to explore an idea that has been festering for well over 20 years based on John Mellancamp’s song Pink Houses. I printed, sewed, painted, drew and played. I used some of my starting points to use for demos for student projects I developed for an Experimental Drawing class for high school students. Their projects are fabulous, mine are still in the “discovery” phase. (Maybe I should impose hard deadlines?)
Regardless, I know that I want to explore the theme more and play with the marks I’ve been using for years and years which I deem as a controlled scribble. Sometimes it takes a long time to recognize and embrace what we thought to be useless. In addition to the scribble, the tornado has once again resurfaced and it’s time to embrace that. As a metaphor for chaos, it appears when I am confused and at a crossroads or lacking direction in personal matters. The pink houses (for you and me) reflect so much of the struggles people currently experience just with day to day living. Simple and small, the houses are what’s left of the American Dream that has all but vanished for so many.
The photos below are the closest to a finished product, but I know where I am headed now. Lucky for me, I have plenty of art supplies on hand to make a series of drawings that I will create soon.
As part of a demo for an experimental drawing class, I started layering marks and drawings of a propellor. After several hours and nearly tossing the work completely, I threw down some of the monoprints that I had sewn on to sort through them a bit. I had no idea the two would create the complex work that I do like.
I will continue to work on this, but it may be more of a test work vs. a final art work. The paper used as a support is weak and due to the weight and reaction of other materials, it is buckled and not to my liking.
I’ve been busy. I’m still playing with the Pink Houses but I took a commissioned job for a theater piece that apparently needed me to bring it to fruition. I recently finished the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and am embracing some of the wisdom she shared. It’s a philosophy I can easily sink into and lo and behold, this work came across my path.
The pictures show the 6′ x 8′ canvas which is a “poster” for the production The Elephant Man, performed soon in Bemidji, MN. It’s much further along than this but gives a snippet of how it will look. I took the job with not much time before the show goes live, so my learning curve on this one was huge! I also underestimated the time it would take and the challenges of not having a studio space to accommodate this type of work has been eye-opening as well.
Regardless, it’s been a blast watching this come to life.
The other photo is keeping my Pink Houses project alive. I recycled an old artwork to created a demo for a string art project to show some high schoolers. It’s a throwback to the 70’s, but fun to do something a kitsch.