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Studio Update Summer/Fall 2019

Updated: Dec 20, 2019

My process, production, and progress notes for the semester.

The color value and organic shape of these random blue droplets of paint caught my eye.

Where to start? It's hard to know what will inspire me in the studio. Sometimes it's a color, like the blue drips in the photo above. Other times it's when I'm out on an inspiration gathering walk, or I am looking at another artist's work. Either way, I have recently come to realize that there is a contradiction to the process that I have developed in my work. This contradiction, some of which--like the random blue drops (above) created unintentionally on the under-papers beneath something else that I am working on--relies heavily upon chance, but eventually as I continue to add layers and detail to the painting, it also involves intention and a deliberate process.

Usually, very early in the painting process, I find that relying on the unplanned and random marks that I create in various ways through movement, experimentation with different mark-making tools, and an expressionistic technique allows me to just get started. This also takes the pressure off having to know exactly what it is I want to do, and it frees my mind, allowing me to create from an intuitive, experimental, almost meditative space. There is yet to be any narrative or fully formed idea behind the work, so it starts out being about the process, the materials I use, and the act of pure creation.

Honestly, it took me a very long time to get to the point where I could just let go like this, because relying on chance is the opposite of being in control, and it can be extremely hard to let go of control. But more importantly, I find that it is through this process of letting go, that some of the most interesting and sublime parts of an artwork are created. I don't think that I could ever achieve some of the many moments of beauty and unique detail that I do in my work if I created from a fully intentional space.

The beginning layers on four large 36" x 36" paintings.

For the body of work that I created over the course of this semester, I not only relied heavily on chance in the early layers that I added to the canvases, but I also pushed myself outside my comfort-zone even further by experimenting with working in a much larger scale than I have ever worked in before.

Due to the limits of my small basement studio space, as well as the logistics of actually getting the work to my next MFA residency in January 2020, I decided that I would put four canvases together to create one large 6 foot by 6 foot painting. This allowed me to work on the canvases all together, but to also manipulate each one individually when needed. I will also be able to break them down and ship them all in one smaller box to the residency.

Work in progress 1. A middle stage of the process after adding a few layers of color, marks, drips, and splatters.
Work in progress 2. After rearranging the order and orientation of the canvases, more paint layers, and the addition of handmade collaged papers.
Work in progress 3. Getting closer to a resolution after once again rearranging the order and orientation of the canvases, adding more collaged elements, hand-lettered text, and paint.

Finally, I get to a point where I can no longer rely purely on chance and gestural mark-making, and I know that I need to spend some time really looking at the work. I must think deeply about what I need to do next. This can be hard, because it's usually somewhere smack dab in the middle of the dreaded "ugly stage" of the process, and I have to fight the critical voice in my head that is urging me to destroy it all and just start over. But I know that if I can push through this uncomfortable phase, if I can be patient, that through thoughtful observation the painting will eventually reveal to me what I need to do.

This series of paintings took a little longer to reveal its secrets though, and I was starting to get frustrated and worried that I was never going to figure out in what direction I needed to go next. And unfortunately, when this begins to happen, it can become creatively paralyzing. So in order to avoid this, I decided to step away for a while, spend some time ruminating on a solution, and to work on something totally unrelated in the hopes that I could come back with fresh eyes and new inspiration.

A few black and white handmade book pages.

I decided the best way to clear my head--a palette cleanser if you will (pun intended)--was to start work on a new handmade artist book using a minimalist color palette of black, white, and silver. This project was as far away that I could get creatively from the large scale, color saturated paintings.

And luckily, after a few good days of working in this separate headspace, it somehow worked to give me the distance I needed to come back to the other body of work and to find a resolution.

A few of this semester's tiny abstract paintings created concurrently with the larger scale works.

It seems that the solution to my creative block was there all along, but it led me to another contradiction in my developing art practice. And this contradiction lies in the physical size of my artwork (i.e., small versus large).

I have written before about the part of my studio practice that results in the creation of this ongoing series of "tiny abstract paintings." They are small--4" x4"--but they can still take quite a long time to build up all of the layers and interesting level of detail because ultimately, I am relying on almost the same process to create them as I am in creating my larger scale artwork.

It had occurred to me before that the tiny abstracts could be a source of inspiration for other work, and I have used certain aspects from them as a jumping off point in creating other paintings, but I have never tried to recreate a whole tiny abstract painting in a larger scale. I have really always thought of them as more of an offshoot or byproduct of my main studio practice, which is in creating larger paintings.

And then I remembered something that my studio mentor, Zoë Charlton, said to me in her last studio visit. She asked me: "Why can't you do what you are doing here [in the tiny abstracts] over here [on the large canvases]? Eureka!

The tiny abstract painting that I decided to use as inspiration for the final layers of my larger body of work.

It occurred to me that I already had all of the rich detail in the under-layers that I had been laboriously creating all these month, but that I just needed to pull them all together in a way that visually made sense in order to find a final resolution, and one of the tiny abstracts that I had been working on alongside the bigger work could provide the roadmap that would allow me to do this.

It was a challenge to distill down some of the frenetic, visual detail from the smaller work and to translate it onto the larger canvases, but eventually the basic structure from the small painting started to emerge onto the larger one.

Work in progress 4. Using a "tiny abstract painting" as a guide I added more detail using multiple mediums.
Work in progress 5. The tiny abstract in front of the finished painting.

I have decided to call this series Organized Chaos. It's an apt name for the work, but maybe also for my emerging creative process.

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