For most of 2016, I’ve had this canvas on my easel. I worked on it very slowly, adding layers upon layers of colour. For long stretches of time it just sat there in a semi-finished state while I looked and it and thought about it. What was nice in working on this piece was that I didn’t rush myself into shaping it into ‘something’. I let it be what it grew to be and only in the last stages did I really shape it into the beastie it is now. Because I didn’t rush it, I was able to bring to this piece some of the techniques I’ve practiced this year with the gouache.
This piece is called Drako, for obvious reasons (because it looks like a dragon). In terms of the inspiration behind it though, there was a phrase that had come into my mind in the early stages, ‘sometimes you need a map’. That’s because this canvas started out as something very different (tones of pink) and after the canvas sat abandoned for a really long time, at the beginning of this year I took it in a very different direction that eventually led here. Each piece in a sense is a voyage of discovery. More often than not this is an exercise in getting out of my own way to allow the image to form into something cohesive instead of forcing it in one direction or another.
My existential art map is something I’ve developed over the years and actually over the course of writing this blog to date. Writing my reflections on each piece has helped me map out my process. It gives me faith that in those moments when I stare at the canvas and think – my god this is garbage – that if I keep going, it’ll move past garbage and become something I’m happy with.
I feel good about ending 2016 on this note. Thanks for tuning in.
As a creative person, I am my father in girl form. I’m not sure if I’ve become more like him, or if I’ve only now noticed. Growing up, I spent a lot of time playing with the gadgets and ornaments I found around my dad’s study. When I had outgrown playing with his glass figurines, I would do my homework at his writing desk while he worked on his computer. His study was the perfect retreat because I was the only one who dared to disturb the peace of his sanctuary. His study was the most productive place to be because he had every article of stationary or tool one could ever need. Many of his tools are even self made for specific purposes.
When I was a little girl, my dad made various creative versions of christmas trees. I loved that. He made one out of chicken wire and toilet paper for a couple of years. It was way prettier than it sounds. It was my favourite tree. I attempted to make an origami something this year as a stand in for a christmas tree. It turned out being quite pretty though not very christmasy.
The process of making it and deciding on the materials to use reminded me so much of my dad. It really made me miss being home this year for Christmas. When I started making it, I realised that I already had all of the materials that I needed to make it. It appears that I’ve begun to create my own ‘study’ that is well stocked with art and craft tools of every variety I can think of.
I don’t know when I started trying to recreate his study, but its a place in my heart that I attempt to recreate wherever I live. It’s my base.
After making the hanging thing and cleaning out an art box, I came across some off-cut squares of watercolour paper I’ve had hanging around in my art storage for over 5 years now. I kept them thinking that they’d make lovely little ‘moments’ one day.
This holiday vacation, I used them all. I got out my stained watercolour brushes from my dad’s old orange tackle-box and got to work with the gouache paints he sent to me for christmas last year.
Today I sat reloading ink into my fountain pens (just like my dad taught me) and I realised that I owe him the biggest thank you. Thank you Da for making me who I am. I see you everyday in many of the things that I do, think and say. I’m older now I guess, so I can see it all much more clearly. You made me who I am and I’m not sure how to say thanks for that. But I’ll try anyway. I love you. Thank You.
Absence. For the latter part of last year and the first half of this year, I have felt the absense of something inside of me. It is as if there was now room in my mind where there was none before. Over time I have come to recognise that absence of drive as the absolute lack of desire to create something ineffable, wordless and beautiful. At first I fought it and tried to jump start my creativity into making something worthwhile. Then, slowly and regretfully, in lieu of that innate artfulness, I turned to working on developing different skills. It turns out that I really can’t just sit still. I love making things, even if they aren’t deeply emotive. I’ve been sewing and working on a realistic painting, based on a photo I took long ago. Will post more on that later.
For the past few months I’ve also thought about this blog and wrote nothing because I thought that I had nothing to share. After a friend prodded me to share the things I was talking to her about, it made me reconsider what I think of as blog-worthy. I mean we all go through creative dips and swells. The truth is though that in the midst of this latest dip, I had half convinced myself that I was done – that that part of me had run out like a fully tapped fount. It seems like an overly dramatic conclusion now. At the time though I was responding to how different I felt inside my own head. All ambition and purpose, was replaced by indifference and boredom.
I quit my job in Kitchener in March and moved to Toronto. I’m working in Architecture still, in a quite different job. I’ve been living with some friends from school. During this time in Toronto, I’ve felt the beginnings of inspiration again. Slowly those feelings have increased and with the encouragement of my roommate, who is also an artist, I’ve started making art again. Last week I made my first painting after a long stretch of absence.
I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do when I sat down to paint. All I knew was that my hiatus was over and that it was time to pick up a brush and make something new. I have ideas again – all kinds of lovely things that I can’t wait to try out. I’m also less scared of making mistakes. With this has also come a kind of faith that I can trust even the dips in my cretivity because I am not a vessel that can be emptied.
I’m now four classes in to my oil painting class at OCAD. For starters, my teacher is amazing. I’m more than a little star struck. Not only is his work stellar, but he’s also a really great instructor. His name is Bogdan Luca. His work reminds me of waking from a really intense dream and not being sure of whether I am awake or asleep.
This year, in my own artistic journey, I’ve endeavoured to learn more about color. I feel as if I’ve finally made some real headway in that direction. Learning about colour feels like seeing the world as I’ve never seen it before – in higher resolution. At my painting class we’ve often been challenged to create grey tones that are in a sense colourless. The word grey is really a catch-all for the myriad of tones that cannot be described by any other colour reference. The world of grey can simultaneously be tinted to be brownish or reddish or bluish or yellowish – all depending on how you get to that colour mix. I finally understand why my art teacher forbade the use of black to mix colour all those years ago – because when you learn how to arrive at certain tones without black, there is a depth of colour that becomes discernable. It seems as if your eye can somehow detect the many tones within the single pigment. This world of grey constitutes a great deal of what we actually see.
The mind autofills so much of our interpretation of what we see. A wooden table appears at first to be brown – but when you pay attention to what your eyes actually see, without letting your mind interpret it for you, the truth is that the reflection of light off that table is what describes its form. Therefore what one paints is the reflection of light, married with its shadows. This is the world of grey.
Shades of Grey – no black used
Im not sure as yet how this relates to abstract painting. All of our classes have focused on still life painting.
In terms of oil painting, I’m really enjoying the medium. Unique to oils is a depth of colour rendition that is quite lovely.
I have two more classes in this course. It’s been thoroughly worth the investment of time, money and travel. Working in a studio environment this way is so satisfying. At the end of each class I feel thoroughly spent in an altogether pleasant way.
This weekend was my first oil painting class at OCAD in Toronto. I’ll be attending classes once a week for the next few weeks. The class was extremely satisfying in ways I hadn’t anticipated.
Sometimes, it’s as if my conscious mind is the last to know what my creative mind wants. I can recognize now that I’ve been craving instruction like this for a while. Over the past couple of years, as a means of broadening my artistic palette, I’ve tried focusing on different types of expression. For example, for a while I focused on drawing and painting animals. I tried a range of animals from pictures and then worked on horses from life drawing. For a period after that, I spent time focusing on versatility of colour use.
I’ve found that learning new things, and sometimes re-learning old things, is really intrinsic to creative development. I’m happy for this time, where I can focus on developing my technical painting skills afresh. Sometimes I forget how valuable it is to work on those skills – often times favouring composition or imagination, over technical ability. I suppose that’s the downside of being self taught.
Through looking at students work in the art school and listening to my professor I understood for the first time the real value of technical ability in painting. At any given moment, a person is the sum of their embodied genetics and experiences. For an artist, one’s work is no more or less than a reflection of that moment of self. The work that you make is the manifestation of that momentary distillation of self. The acuity of that expression is only possible through a marriage of perspective and skill.
On the studio side of things, at the moment, I enjoy the process of working with oils. I don’t know what it will be like, working with them on reflective pieces, since I’ve only just begun to experiment. I imagine that the longer drying time would lend itself to a different sort of process than I’m used to with acrylics. With the little I have done so far though, I really enjoy how the colours spread and blend.
More than anything, it feels amazing to be taking a class in a real art school. I know my class is not an undergrad or masters course, but to have instruction in that kind of facility, from a real professor, feels amazing.
I’ve been following (somewhat obsessively) news about the 276 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram. From the time I learnt of it, my mind has been alternately ablaze with outrage and hope for the girls recovery. Although this story has aroused a frenzy of international attention, there have been so many other deaths and lives changed forever by the atrocities committed by this group. At a certain point however, in our world of sordid war making, we’ve become numb to the statistics. One reads 276 kidnapped school girls, but what does that even mean? One reads 300 villagers killed, but what would that feel like? Although the numbers are merely a means of conveying quantity, I can’t help but feel that one human being is much more significant than the number 1 conveys.
On thinking about this, I’ve started putting together my current painting. What does 276 young school girls captured by islamic militants with a penchant for rape and brutality look like? Each girl would look different. Each girl would have a whole unique life and anatomy as well as a whole string of relationships with the people around her. The girls kidnapped were between 16 and 18. These would be girls with hope for their futures, standing on the brink of adulthood.
I imagine myself with my high school classmates at that age. What would we have done if approximately one quarter of our school had disappeared? How would I and my friends have reacted at being corralled by these monsters? Naparima Girls’ High School’s entire raison d’être is to educate young women to be the brightest in the country. My classmates and I were all so lucky to be born in the Caribbean and not in place that is hateful toward women and education. Although it comes with it’s own baggage, being a West Indian woman is a great and powerful thing. I’m not thankful enough for that fact.
So that’s where I am. The canvas is ready and I’ve started working through some sketches. I’ll post some pictures as the painting progresses. This one may take a while.
Thanks for tuning in.