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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Do Artists Need Solitude to Work?

I happen to think so, although it may depend on the artist and what type of work they do.

Time alone in the studio (except for the dog, of course) is an opportunity to relax into a flow of consciousness. To let words and linear thoughts drift away. This state feels freer – nobody is watching – nobody is judging – it’s an anything might happen place to be.

Solitude helps me to get into the creative flow. Like falling asleep – they say that falling asleep takes about 7 minutes - I find it takes a certain period of time without interruption. An interruption means the whole process must start over again. For me settling down to work is preceded by a period of puttering around. I used to view this time as procrastinating, but I’ve learned that it is an essential part of getting to work. I flit about the house fiddling with this and that, putting things away, but gradually thinking less and less about what I’m doing while my mind is pulled toward what I’m going to work on. I end up finally in front of the easel, setting up the palette, mixing a color, these are the final acts of tinkering – I’m already almost oblivious to the world around me and on the way to becoming fully absorbed in interaction with paint and the surface.

Oddly I often find it helpful to have the TV on, tuned to something I don’t feel compelled to pay attention to – usually a talk show. This seems to serve to keep the literal part of my brain occupied; it’s like sending a talkative child off to play, leaving me free to work. .

And getting that time to work, undistracted and focused, requires saying no. Saying no to distractions, interruptions, and disturbances. Email must be ignored, the phone left unanswered – just for the time being.

“The primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid: the state of being alone." James Baldwin

Robert Genn has a whole page of quotes about solitude and art.

Friday, April 24, 2009

“Trace in the sky the painter’s brush, the winds around you soon will rush." *

Trace in the Sky  © 2010 Katherine Kean
oil on linen  30 x 40"

This is my latest work in progress. I saw these storm clouds roiling in the sky above the local foothills. This painting is part of a new body of work dealing with natural atmospheric phenomenon, elements such as wind, rain, clouds, vapor, ash and so on. I’m especially interested in those elements in transition or having an effect on one another, such as volcanic steam coming up against a building rainstorm.

I feel like this particular interest began on a trip to Hawaii last fall. I was staying on the rainy side of the Big Island – that’s the opposite side as the tourist side - and I got to witness these daily weather developments and sudden changes. It was quite a contrast to the parched drought conditions of Southern California that summer. Tinder dry is how the media likes to describe it and indeed I did return home to wildfires. It was all pretty exciting.

This is a larger size canvas for me, it’s 30 x 40” – not huge but it does take a little longer than others and a certain kind of energy. This feels like it is finally getting close to completion – another couple of days should do it. I want to add a lot more emphasis to the lighter cloud areas with highlights that will emphasize the motion of the cloud formations. I find that kind of addition to detail is fun work once I get into the rhythm of it. The rest will get some glazing to saturate and deepen some of the darker areas that might benefit from a heavier feeling.

*I found a webpage with a whole collection of weather sayings along with explanations and the title of this post comes from one of them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Artwork Inventory Forms


Picking up where I left off in the post below - this is what I came up with to track artwork inventory.

I modeled this form after the artwork inventory file cards I used to use. The William Soghor Company made the file cards with a 5 x 8” opening at the top right corner that holds a 35mm slide.

I prefer a loose-leaf binder to a card box. I like that I can insert additional documents in the binder and keep everything together if I want; items such as contracts, invoices, or consignment forms. I like the extra room available on a full sheet of paper in case I want to make extra notes. I am using this form for now as a quick manual method to keep track of work that may be moving around a lot, from studio to show to stacks, etc. Eventually, expanded information is compiled that may include any information pertaining to any mediums or special materials used or whether the painting is varnished. This will include notes about which exhibitions each work appeared in and who else exhibited alongside, as well as any publications or reviews. The location notes are important for work that is out, but also for work that may be stored; indicating where that is, whether it is in the studio, a closet, a spare room, or a storage facility. The information may be valuable for the artist or the gallery, and at some point for the collector or a museum. It also helps establish validity as a business for tax purposes and is essential in the event of an insurance claim.

I've posted a blank artwork inventory form on Google Docs that you can print out or save to your computer and use.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Stacking, Storing, Labeling: Inventories and Juried Exhibits


Lightfall oil on linen 40 x 18"

Yesterday I labeled and wrapped 5 paintings to take to the gallery. Last month the office and stacks of the gallery were demolished and a new, more efficient layout constructed in its place. The new design increases the capacity of work that the gallery is able to have on hand. In addition there is a monthly group show hung in the North gallery. Even though I am not planning to have a show until late next year the pressure is still on to produce fresh work. I am also going to have to update my inventory method in order to keep track of what painting has been exhibited where and when. I have several versions that I keep on my computer, but lately I've been thinking that it might be a good idea to have a three ring binder and a page for each painting. I used to keep a system like this before. I had special large index cards that had a slot at the top for a slide. The front of the card had all the info about the painting; title, size media, and date and the back listed the exhibits and the current location of the work – the provenance.

In the meantime I have work in the Art Slant online showcase. You can view this month’s painting entries here. My regular Art Slant profile is here. Viewers are allowed to vote, however it is my understanding that this is a juried competition so the voting has no impact on which work is chosen as winning entries.

While we're on the topic of juried exhibits, TAG Gallery has just announced the 2009 California Open Exhibition. The exhibition dates are August 19 - September 5, 2009. You can download and printout a prospectus online. Even though it is called the California Open the competition is open to all U.S. residents.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Blog About Blogs I've Been Reading Lately

Tower watercolor 9 x 3"

Most of the bogs I enjoy reading on a regular basis are art blogs and the majority of those are the blogs of individual artists. In addition to these I follow a couple of cooking blogs, a couple of gardening blogs, a blog about dividend investing, and two or three miscellaneous blogs, not the least being Zen and the Barefoot Joggler, I’ve found a wealth of information there, from tips on lucid dreaming to where to find a push ups plan.

I like to read the artists’ blogs just to see what other artists are up to. My favorite posts are the ones where the artist is writing just as if they were speaking to you in person – it feels as if you’ve just dropped by their studio. You may get a privileged sneak peek at what they’re working on as well as finding out what’s going on, whether they’re up or down, happy or tired, excited about some good news, or dreading a deadline.

So you can see what I’m talking about, here are a few links:

Works By Tracy Helgeson is not only fun to read, but has wonderful artwork, as well as occasional how to info, for examplethis post about painting the edges of finished panels for display.

Visiting Laurel Lines, the blog of Laura Frankstone is like having permission to peruse her sketchbook/diary/ travelogue. This post talks about her plans to draw and paint water themes.

Soliloquy, the blog of Los Angeles artist Cassandra Tondro shows her continual discovery of materials and processes, like this one with bark, flowers, and pomegranate rind.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Top Ten Eleven Artists I Have Found To Be a Large Influence

Study in Blue Katherine Keanwatercolor 17 x 13"
I have been thinking of the artists whose paintings I like the most and that I feel are a large influence on my own work. I am most attracted to the work of landscape painters, and those that convey a subjective, emotional response to nature – as well as work that includes symbolism. In their work nature is given a grand scale and for the most part the human element is diminished or left out altogether.

I’ve compiled this list (which I have edited drastically, because the long list would go on for many, many pages) including contemporary as well as historical artists.

1. J.M.W. Turner for his prolific virtuosity, for painting nature’s moods, and for making light the subject.

2. Caspar David Friedrich for his use of symbols, his symmetry, and emotional content – his romanticism.

3. Albert Pinkham Ryder for painting nature’s moods.

4. Charles Burchfield for the playfulness of his nature paintings and for visualizing sounds.

5. Agnes Pelton for her vision, for her symbolic representation of an alternate reality.

6. Georgia O’Keeffe for her clean lines, rhythms and color harmonies.

7. Gerhard Richter - if I can just pick out a few from his vast repertoire: the clouds and the seascapes: moody – dramatic- luminous.

8. Wolf Kahn for his color and abstraction.

9. April Gornik: for the beauty and the drama and the scale.

10. Sharon Ellis for the sense of ecstasy boldly expressed, for the symbolism.

11. Tula Telfair for a grand vision of nature convincingly portrayed.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Vacation Painting: A Break From the Usual

A former mentor, Linda Jacobson, introduced this term to me. Linda facilitates monthly meeting of artists in her studio to look at and offer feedback on each other’s work. I was a member of Linda’s monthly Art Forum meetings for many years.

A vacation painting is a painting that is different from your usual work in any of a number of ways: they might be a different medium, size, subject or palette. The idea is that it is a break from the usual and serves as a way to loosen up, explore, and have fun.

Maybe because I just got back from a vacation, this past week I’ve been working on small scale watercolors; under 8 x 10”. They still have a landscape theme, but with a different focus then the other series I’ve been working on.

It has been awhile since I’ve worked in watercolor and I appreciating the spontaneity and fluidity as well as the fast drying time. I seem to work in short, tense bursts and I like the elegance of watercolor brushes and getting to make long continuous strokes, as well as allowing the color to flow into pre wet areas.

These haven’t reached their potential, but I like where they’re headed.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

More highlights from Mexico - Guanajuato


One of the highlights of my trip last month was a visit to Guanajuato, the capital city of the state of Guanajuato in Mexico. This city is built on a mountain side, has working silver mines, and is accessed through a labyrinth of tunnels that run underneath the city - mostly one way tunnels mind you!


I looked on the internet for artist's interpretations of the city and see a Craigorio Hauquitz mentioned on many websites. This artist is apparently a German-Slovakian Mexican sculptor/painter. I was very curious to see his work. Nowhere however, could I find an image.

We did visit one mine, a part of which is pictured below. We didn't go inside since it's a working mine, but enjoyed the view of the grounds and panaorama of the city. There were vendors outside the mine selling scrap material, including lots of large crystals and jewelry made from the "scrap".


Guanajuato is also the home of a very unusual mueum - the Museo de Momias. This museum houses the dearly departed exhuned after their families are unable to pay a grave tax on their funeral plot. Some combination of dryness and minerals in the ground has naturally mummified them and now they are on display.

This seems to be something that people will go to see once. It wasn't too terribly gory - there was a school field trip going through shortly after we arrived, although it bothered me that some of the mummies were not that old, but had been buried in the 50's. This seems to change it from something that might be considered historical and scientific to something more creepy or disrespectful. I don't know why - just a feeling that elapsed time creates a boundary of it's own.

Friday, April 03, 2009

A Goodbye to Cole

Cole, one of my three pets, has passed on at the veterinarian's office on Tuesday morning.

Cole was born wild, almost twelve years ago, and captured along with his mother and siblings. Two of the litter, Cole and his brother Porter, came to live with me. I had a spare room that has a loft and I put the two in that room at first, with food and water, to allow time for the other pets to get used to the idea of them. After a couple of days I left the door to the room open and sat with my dog Zeke at the end of the hall opposite the spare room. After some time, two curious little kitten heads gradually emerged at the top of the ladder leading to the loft. Bit by bit they descended the ladder steps, eventually arriving at the floor. Slowly and tentatively they crept down the hall while Zeke and I sat motionless. At long last they approached and then boldly pushed themselves into Zeke's fur and instantly bonded with him. After Zeke was gone and Bear came along a couple of years later, they accepted him as well.
About a year after that Porter disappeared, probably a victim of the coyotes that inhabit the nearby canyon. Cole managed to evade the coyotes even though he hunted every evening. In fact he didn't need me at all up until he got sick. He could find enough water and food for himself and even enough to share with Bear on occasion. His list of hunting conquests was impressive, including rats, mice, rabbits, gophers, snakes, the occasional lizard, and once, sadly, a young hawk. He had a cat door and came and went at will, but he always came home at night. If he wanted attention he would gently, but firmly, bite my hand until I woke up.

Cole was diagnosed with kidney failure in January and began a regimen of prescription food, medication, and fluid treatments. He had to have an abscessed tooth removed and during surgery a feeding tube was implanted in his neck so he could receive nourishment while his mouth healed. Maintaining him during his illness was time intensive and complicated. He had to have water every hour, and food every four hours. He had medication twice a day and eventually another medication an hour before meals. His neck had to be cleaned and disinfected every day and the yards of soft stretchy gauze that held his tube in place had to be changed. The overwrapping comes in assorted colors and I thought he looked very dapper in the red. He had routine visits to the vet for subcutaneous fluids. While I was away he stayed in the hospital so that his treatment could continue. His attitude during this intense human intervention was incredibly sweet and cooperative. Even though he occasionally growled his disapproval - especially at the vet's office, he never lashed out or so much as snapped at anybody.

It was quite an experience to take care of him and I was happy to continue with it as long as it made him feel better - anything to keep him happy and comfortable. He slept a lot near the end. Sometimes I'd have to wake him up to feed him. I would hold his head up with my hand while feeding him. One day while leaning his head on my hand he placed one paw over my arm and then the other and fell asleep. There was nothing else to do but just lie down next to him while still holding his head so he could finish his nap. I will miss him greatly now that he's gone.