Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Revisiting Old Sketches

About a year ago my husband bought me some watercolor pencils as a gift. It set me off on a large portrait spree and I used them to draw/paint 6 pieces from live subjects. I did close studies of the people I was drawing and I loved using the pencils because I haven't used pencils since I was a teenager and always thought of it as an inferior medium because it was so simple to use. But being older and wiser I realized that easier is not so bad. I like it when things are easy sometimes, it's like a bonus in life.

It is a very rare occasion for me to sketch and one day I had a brand new watercolor pad sitting in front of me, 15x20 inches and I though, what the hell, why not try to do a quick self portrait study but not worry too much about being realistic. I ended up with an expressionistic portrait of myself that I rather liked. It took me about an hour maybe a little longer to sketch it and I put it aside and never looked at it again.

A week ago I opened that pad planning to use it for the my next piece and saw the old sketch. I didn't want to waste the paper and didn't want to detach it from the pad either. It's a block pad and helps keep the paper from warping when getting it wet so I decided to finish the painting. I started off with just a blueish face. After brushing water over the pencil I added a pattern to the background imitating wall paper using a fabric pattern I have from some curtains I made a while back.

In the spirit of coming back to old things I decided to revisit gold/silver/whatever... leafing. I used this medium a lot during college. I loved the reflective texture and the meticulous process of applying the adhesive, laying the leaf and brushing off the excesses in intricate patterns. I thought this would be a visually impressive but an intellectually simple way of adding something to the piece.

While applying the silver leaf I had much time to contemplate the piece. I think perhaps this is one reason I love the tentative, time consuming mediums. While doing something that is repetitive I have plenty of time to think of things and come up with ideas that may improve either my art, or life in general. In this instance I remembered that all my portraits had unrealistic colors. I always started my portraits with a color scheme in mind and for each color in the scheme I would assign a value, so that instead of using a grey scale for shadows and highlights, or just a value scale in a similar color range I would invent my own value scale using different colors.

In this painting the scale from darkest to lightest is as follows: blue, red, yellow and white.

For the past few months I considered this practice and recognized that in many paintings this sort of approach would be defined as the underpainting. After adding various hews to create depth and represent any reflected colors an artist might add a layer of skin tones. I've been basically dreaming of the day that I could accomplish this level of complexity. This painting having taken me very little time thus far was a good candidate for experimentation. And so I took a peach colored pencil and simply went over every part of the skin and added a thick layer of what was the closest color I had in my collection of pencils to my own skin tone. I was very pleased with the results.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Artistic Process

About three months ago I had a freelance job for a lady who lives in New York. She is a costume designer and was working on costumes for Disney Land in Tokyo, Japan. She provided me with very detailed, photoshop generated mock ups of the costumes she designed and I was to paint them on paper. She later explained to me that I was simply filling in a small portion of her artistic process. First she would design the costumes and plan their colors. Then I would use her computer mock ups and swatches to create the colors on paper. It turns out that the costume makers would use my drawings for color matching rather than the computer generated mock ups because the computer screen shines light through the image and it makes it very hard to interpret the colors in the real world. So my work basically made her imagination's ideal easier to interpret for the costume makers. Then the costumes were going to be made using white material. Then adjustments and remakes would be made. And then, finally, the actual materials would be used to make the actual costumes.

Sometimes one of my paintings for her would take about 20 or more hours to finish. It wasn't because I was slow, but because it was painstakingly time consuming to mix the right shades of colors, check with her via text and photos weather or not the colors were correct and often times repainting the same vestige 4 or more times until I would get the color right. She had something like 60 of those kinds of images, if I remember correctly. I did not get to paint all of them, but I painted quite a few, I think about 16 and it was very time consuming. The incredible thing was that I was not even providing her with a finished product of her brain child. I was only one cog in a big wheel of an artistic process that led to the eventual completion of the project. After working for her and getting insight into her very intricate and time consuming process I came to a realization that there really was no cutting corners when you wanted to get a thing done right.

I've always been under the impression that I should learn to make my paintings quicker. I like to have intricate details, but I should somehow accelerate the making of the details by figuring out some way where they're suggested rather than carefully depicted. Now I know that if I like to have intricate details I should come to terms that those details will take some time to create and it's okay that it will take many hours, because that's how long a thing takes to make if I want it done the way I envision it in my brain. I think my latest piece really shows growth in my willingness to do what I endeavor to accomplish. I've certainly done other paintings in my life that took as long and were quite intricate, but I think this has a larger diversity in depth and pattern and I hope that my next pieces continue to improve.

This current work has taken me at least 30 hours to paint if not longer. A very basic run down of my process is that I choose images to reference when I decide to paint something. Then I combine various elements and use those images when necessary to look at. I use many rulers, compasses and right angles. I switch from tiny to larger brushes and back to tiny ones depending on the size of the surface area I am painting. Sometimes I look at a book of my favorite artist to help me with technique or to simply inspire myself when I'm making decisions on what direction to go to accomplish the best result.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

From Russia to the USA

I started this piece while I was living with my grandma. She has this photo of herself in her 40s that she really likes and she wanted me to paint her when she was still young and beautiful.

I wanted to paint her in her own apartment, using the things that surround her in her daily life and add elements of the house she spent 20 years building in the country side which she has now sadly sold 10 years ago and never stops regretting it. Originally I planned to use her tablecloth from her apartment and paint cherry blossoms and a yellow wooden house for the backdrop.

The design didn't seem as interesting as the scene that presented itself to me in her very own kitchen so I chose to simply surround her with what she lives with now. That way overtime, when she looks at the painting it won't have to hurt her with painful memories of a regretful decision to sell her house.

Boris Kustodeev is a painter revered in Russia for his depictions of beautiful and flourishing merchant wives. One of the most famous of his works and one of my most favorites as well is titled a Merchant's Wife (very original).

I saw it last year during my trip to St. Petersburg and I've wanted to paint something along its lines for a long time now. My painting from today is my first of its kind and I hope to make many more in the future. I love the abundance of the table setting, the picturesque background and the lavishness of the lady's attire. I especially aspire to the depth of Boris Kustodeev's designs.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Back to Art

I've taken a few days since my return to visit some friends and spend some time with my husband and his lovely little daughter. Today I'm mentally preparing to go back into painting starting tomorrow. To get myself motivated I'd like to share this drawing I worked on during my stay in Russia. After I worked for a costume designer in New York, I ended up meeting her on my way to Russia. I spent the night in her home and she was very kind and welcoming.

She gave me a gift of some paintbrush markers from Japan. I've never used them before so I went to town with them in my free time when hanging out at my grandma's. This is a scene from the fairy tale "the Terrible Revenge" by Gogol. In this scene a guest at a wedding at the start of the story suddenly turns into a shapeshifter anti-chirst and everyone witnesses his sudden transformation and the guests become terrified. Using the markers really helped me get away from my usual precision and be more quick and gestural in my strokes.

I've wanted to illustrate this entire story for many years now, but I've still some other work to finish before I can truly invest myself into this series. I have to finish all the Matryoshkas of my friends I've promised them I'd make.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Back at Last

I am so happy to be back home. After staying away for almost two months coming back felt strange. I saw my home with new eyes and I loved seeing it again. I felt the heat and it was brutal. I saw Fourth Av. and it was empty. I thought about the masses of people in the streets of St. Petersburg, especially downtown. I thought of the metro in rush hour and wondered how we were all able to walk in different directions without walking into each other every second, like a bunch of babies playing bumper cars.

At the end of May a gentle white flower blooms called "Under Snow". It usually grows in the forest under the melting snow. I'm not sure how or why it's in this snowless field.

I have often wondered the same thing when walking on the U of A campus between two periods, I think that's usually the 10 minutes before the hour. Everyone is rushing, no one is checking the street before crossing it and bikers and skateboarders are flooding the same paths as the pedestrians in all different directions. Somehow no one ever seems to get hurt and I think the human brain is amazing for being able to navigate through such chaos.

My grandmother can never take a walk without sitting down on a bench for a rest. Here we're sitting in our neighborhood in one of the small refuges from the city. You can pretend you're in the country when you sit here.

St. Petersburg was beautiful because of the pretty buildings, lush summer foliage and aromatic spring time blooms of lavender, cherry blossoms and fresh leaves sprouting on the branches that smell of the gentle green color. St. Petersburg was home because of my grandmother that I know and love and the strangers whose faces I understand with their open frankness and meek soulfulness. Tucson is home because of the large support network of friends and family I am so fortunate to have and because I know where the yummiest food is, where my friends play the best music and where people I know and love show their art.

I wish my grandmother didn't live by herself. I am sorry to leave her so far away where she has no family and most of her friends are already dead.

I am so happy to be back home.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

From Cold to Hot

I've spent May and most of June in St. Petersburg. The warmest it's been here during those two months is 70 degrees, and that was only for one day. I wore my summer dress only once. Some time at the end of May the central heating system in our building was turned off for the summer because the temperatures had reached 65 degrees in the day and at night it did not drop to freezing anymore. For a week the weather seemed to be warming up. Suddenly it dropped down to 48 degrees in the day and no one turned the central heating system back on in the building. It was REALLY cold for an entire week.

At home I wore woolen socks, a sweater dress, a large cotton sweater and a woolen scarf wrapped around my head. I found a Soviet Era space heater in my grandmother's closet. It was made of a bright red plastic on the outside and I was afraid that it would melt if it got really hot. I'm not sure why I thought this, upon reflection I recall that I have plastic space heaters at home which work just fine, although now I question the choice of material. Unfortunately the old space heater was missing a prong in its socket.

I think that if I could add up all the days that were actually warm in the city, they would amount to one full week. And if you counted up the days that I could spend entirely without wearing a coat, it would probably amount to two days. On the 21st, in the evening, I will be in Tucson. I really missed the heat.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Saying Goodbye

I walked out onto the balcony today, on my grandmother's flat on the fifth floor to hang up her laundry. The air is fresh, a cool breeze is blowing and the sun is shining. A beautiful day. Aroma from the lavender is floating all the way up to the fifth floor. It must be pungent down there, on the ground. The radio plays songs from the Soviet Era, the 90s and some contemporary stuff I've never heard. My grandma is fixing a cabinet door she's been waiting for me to come and fix for many years now. I was supposed to fix it today, maybe she'll let me finishing the job. She's upset, she's mad, she knows I'm leaving in less than 48 hours.

View from my grandma's kitchen window on a rainy day (June 2017)

I'm drinking my coffee and crying. She saw my tears fall, she said nothing. What is there to say. She lived through the WWII blockade. She moves on, she can't cry, life does not care for tears. Tears do not feed you, tears do not fix things. I remembered my feeling of love for this country. I've been away for so long that I forgot. But now I remember and I can come back home and carry the painful, aimless love with me.

Marsovo Field and blooming lavender on a sunny day (June 2017)