Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Inner Conflict

Inner Conflict, Graphite on Paper, 6"x9"

My latest finished piece. I didn't do much more with this one after I included it in the Spontaneity vs. Structure post. But I put the finishing touches on it and scanned it for better quality. I titled this after the conflict that I have between spontaneity and structure, as well as between organic and geometric. Perhaps this will be a new series.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Challenge #12: Embracing Imperfections

Many of us exert a lot of energy in our quest for perfection, but accidents, change, and imperfection are a part of our lives. These things that are beyond our control can bother and stress us. They can gnaw at us and nag at us. Learning to accept and embrace these imperfections can be quite a challenge.

How do you embrace imperfection in your life? If it’s difficult for you, what is behind the difficulty? If it’s easy for you, why is it so? In what small ways have you or can you accept the accidental, the imperfect, and the impermanent?

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Compartmentalized 8.5"x12" Watercolor pencil and colored pencil on paper.

I just finished this piece. With it, I wanted to explore a single shape and single color. I first built layers using only an indigo blue watercolor pencil to establish the basic composition. Using light values as the foundation layers, I built successive layers of darker values. I then used indigo blue colored pencil to straighten and strengthen lines, darken shadows, and develop the image further looking for the push and pull that I so enjoy in my work. To deepen the shadows even further I used black colored pencil, and to establish highlights I used white colored pencil. I am fascinated and captivated by the sense of space.

As I worked on this piece along with others recently, I began to realize how these drawings are very much a form of meditation and focus for me. I get so into the process - the physicality of mark making - that my mind can focus sharply, but not on the particulars of the drawing. Mentally, I seem to step back from the drawing, and I draw and shade as if on auto pilot as thoughts fly through my mind. The clarity that the drawing induces allows me to sort through the myriad of ideas, to make connections, and to create a better understanding of myself, my art, and my life. It's a form of clear and deliberate self-talk - not the rambling, confused self-talk that normally goes through my mind. It's a relaxed, yet intense state of mind, and the world seems to melt away. My mood lightens, and time slips away unnoticed.

The image is a result of the process, and it is not predetermined or planned in any way other than those first choices of color and shape. I let the work develop spontaneously as my mind flickers through the thoughts and emotions of the day. And even when I am in the more controlled stages, when I lay in the careful shading or precisely draw the edge of a form, I try to be somewhat removed from the drawing, while remaining connected to the process. My mind constructs and connects. It deconstructs and disconnects. It reconstructs and reconnects. All in the quest for clearer understanding.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Challenge #11: Change

Everything changes. It’s a natural law that objects, people, situations are impermanent and are always in a state of flux and change. At times, change is lightning quick and takes place in a flash. Other times, change is continental drift slow and seems to not be happening at all.

How do you react to change in your life? How have you changed over the course of your life? Do you anticipate change and actively participate in the changing world and your changing self? Or do you deny change and passively ride along as things change around you? How open or closed are you to change?

Reflect on the role of change in your life and how you react to it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Spontaneity vs. Structure

After writing the Conflict and Dualism post and working on some more work, it dawned on me that even some of my working methods contain this duality between spontaneity and structure. Although they use slightly different materials, the artwork in this post and in the conflict post all use the same process.

The process is quite simple.

I often work with water soluble pencil - both watercolor and graphite. I relish the control of drawing and shading with them at first, but I also enjoy the painterly quality when water is brushed over the pencil. I frequently use multiple layers of water soluble pencil to begin pieces allowing each layer to dry before adding a new one. I work quickly and spontaneously with the water soluble material, but at a certain point, I feel the need for more control, sharper edges, and more defined values. I then switch to regular graphite or colored pencils that allow me the precision I desire. I darken areas making them recess into the space. I straighten edges and redefine areas, shapes, and lines that have been lost. It is a slower and more tedious process, but I love the outcome.

I used water soluble graphite pencil in the piece above to lay in the foundation of the piece. Notice that many of the edges are uneven, that there isn't much contrast, and that the swirly lines are barely there.  I started the piece below at the very same time as the piece above using a similar technique. I built layers of straight lines, rectangles, and organic lines with the water soluble graphite pencil. Once I felt that I reached the limits of what the water soluble graphite would allow, I reworked the piece with a variety of regular graphite pencils to define the spaces, lines, and values. It is nearly complete in the photo below.

This method of working allows me to find a balance between the spontaneous and the structured, but I often get very caught up in the fine detail in the final phases of a piece and can spend hours working on a very small area. I have to force myself to move on and to be less of a perfectionist. Time and time again, I have been very pleased with the results.

Below is a photo as I worked on the main focal point.

Challenge #10: Personal Tragedy

I originally posted this last Thursday, but Blogger had some issues, and it looks like this post was lost.

We get set into our routines and find comfort in our everyday rituals. Days, weeks, months, and years pass as we live out our lives. Every once in a while, though, we are jolted out our comfortable lives when tragedy strikes. Personal tragedies can be huge, life altering events, or they can be minor inconveniences. Either way, they are a disruption to the flow and movement of our lives having the power to alter the direction we are moving.

Reflect this week on your personal tragedies – big or small, and see how they have shaped and changed your life.

What are some of your personal tragedies? How did you cope? How did you get through it or are you still going through it? How do these tragedies still ripple through your life? What strengths did you find that you did not know you possessed? What lingering fears and doubts still pop up in your life? How do you respond when tragedy strikes?

Remember to share a link to your response in the comments.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Conflict and Dualism

Unearth, 8.5"x12", watercolor pencil and colored pencil on paper
Over the years I have noticed that my art has often followed in dualistic or opposing tracks - i.e. non-representation vs. representational; organic vs. geometric. I have been on a quest to bring such disparate concepts together just as I have tried to bring together the disparate parts of my self - to make myself whole. But at times the concepts must stand alone, and that brings me to two recently finished pieces which richly illustrate this dualism.

Geometric shapes and forms are man-made, smooth, and crisp. As a concept, the geometric echo structures and systems in the human world. As a visual element, the geometric add structure and predictability to a piece. I use geometric shapes and forms in my art to reflect on the nature of the routines and rituals that I go through everyday and to provide structure to the art. I am a creature of habit eating the same breakfast nearly everyday, going through the same morning ritual. My life is structured and scheduled, especially as a teacher where my day is scheduled into periods and classes that meet at the same time everyday. Routines, structures, habits, and systems are very important in my life.

Yet, there is a contrasting side to me and my art.

Organic shapes and forms are natural, uneven, random, and flowing. As a concept, the organic echo growth, spontaneity, and change in the natural world. As a visual element, the organic provide movement and flow to a piece. I use organic shapes and forms in my art to reflect on the spontaneous aspects of my psyche and the ties that I have to the natural world. Though I am a creature of habit and structure, I am open to change, growth, and the accidental. I embrace the spontaneous action, the accidental mark, and the serendipity in life. I look to expand beyond the structures and restrictions of my routines and grow to my fullest potential. Change, evolution, growth are all undeniable parts of my life.

Nest, 6"x9", watercolor pencil and colored pencil on paper

In my art, I dig deep within myself attempting to reconcile these opposing forces into a cohesive whole, or at least to balance the forces of structure and change - of ritual and spontaneity.

I seek balance.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Paper Relief

I've been slowly working on new art to get ready for June's Studio Tour. I want to have a variety of pieces for visitors to peruse and hopefully buy, but it has been slow working. Things are extremely busy, but I have found some time here and there to make some smaller pieces which I will be sharing soon.

One piece that I do want to share is an 11"x14" piece (pictured above in process) that I worked on during my Spring Break a couple of weeks ago. Ever since making my first Excavation painting (pictured below) that used paper relief as a structure on which to paint, I've been fascinated by the process, but I haven't had much time to make many of them. With the time over break, I finished the relief part using different materials than I've used before. I used Strathmore Imperial 500 hot press watercolor paper and Golden Matte Soft Gel Medium to create the relief. Both the paper and medium resulted in a smoother surface that I am hoping will work better when I begin applying the acrylic paint. The next step is to lay in the basic colors with glazes of paint. I'll post updates as the piece progresses.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Challenge #9: Perfectionism

In our quest to do anything, whether it is art, relationships, or cleaning the house, a sense of perfectionism can hold us back, cause us anxiety, and consume a lot of time as we work to get things just right. Fear can grip any of us. We worry what others will think, fear that we will not be good enough, compare ourselves to others, and doubt our own skills. The pressure to be perfect in art and in life can stop us before we ever begin or sidetrack us as we go along.

What grip, if any, does perfectionism have on your life? How does it affect you, your art, and your life? Why does it matter what others think? Why is it that you at times feel that you are not enough? Why is it that you can only see your faults and not your accomplishments? What would truly happen if your were not perfect in your art or in your life?

Remember to post a link to your response in comments below.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Car Shopping

I must first start by saying that given that this is a blog dedicated to my endeavors in the visual journal, it may not be the the most appropriate place to write about what follows, but I need a place to share this.

I hate buying a new car, but after 13 and a half years, and 180,000 miles, I decided to get a new car. I gave up my much beloved Honda Civic (pictured above) for a new Honda Fit. Yes, I'm a Honda guy, and the new Fit is a very cool car. But despite loving my new car, I hated buying it. And I think that my pain boils down to one simple fact. Car dealerships are big businesses whose main concern is to make as much money as possible, and for me I do not have the patience for such mentality that places profits over people. Not only do they want your money, they want and waste your time all so that they can try to sell you additions, packages, and plans that you do not want or need. And in doing so, they keep you waiting and eat away at your time without ever going out of their way to expedite the situation. I simply want to go in and buy a car. I want the price to be the price - no extra fees, no extra options, and no games. Just tell me the price and don't try to tack on anything extra.

Over the last week and a half, my wife and I have spent nearly nine hours sitting in two different dealerships, and driving approximately 450 miles in 5 separate trips to the dealerships. I am not fond of car dealers in the least.

My wife and I began our car shopping about a week ago when her car was having its latest bout of issues solidifying its unreliability and signifying that it was time for her to get a new car. So after a little research, we drove to the Honda of Dulles. Let me say that again, Honda of Dulles. (I repeat it because I would not recommend anyone going there to buy a car.)

We spent about and hour and a half there test driving the Fit, completing the credit application, and getting a feel for pricing and such. The sales man and sales manager began to pressure us to leave that night with a new Fit even though we had mentioned several times that we wanted to do some more research and contact our preferred lender to see what they could do. All the while they kept pushing their finance rate incentive saying that we wouldn't have any problem qualifying, but never giving us a definitive yes that we did qualify. We left that night making an appointment for six days later stating that we knew we wanted the Fit, and had every intention of buying one.

Two days later, when my car began having its issues, we decided that it was time for me to get a new car as well. So, we called the dealer, and said that we had every intention of coming in at our scheduled appointment and leaving with TWO new Fits, and we let them know the colors and trim models we wanted. Not once was there a mention of the fact that they either did not have those colors in stock or that they had limited numbers. Also, when we asked for a quote, we weren't given one and were only left with an explanation for their reluctance. Despite these little things, we went to Honda of Dulles filled with excitement about our new cars. But that excitement began to ebb as we spent three more hours negotiating a price and having a preliminary meeting with a finance person only to find out that they had neither car in stock, and could only get them the next day from other dealers. So we went home that night without new cars.

The next day, we called up, and said that we were on a very tight schedule, and that we only had  certain amount of time, I was told to come in early and get the paperwork started and my wife could come in and basically sign the papers, and we'd be all done. Well, I basically sat around for 40 minutes waiting even though I said that I'd be there at 1 PM. My wife showed up just as I was meeting with the finance person, and we figured, OK sign some papers and we're out of here with our new cars. But incorrect information, computer glitches, basic confusion, and reprinting forms again and again because of mistakes led us to walk out even though we were almost done with the paperwork on the first car. Six hours of wasted time - well, actually 11 hours if add in the 5 hours of driving back and forth.

A phone call to Criswell Honda in Germantown, MD, another dealer even further away, got us a slightly better price and they had two Fits in stock that we liked, but only I could go that night. So I drove an hour, and had to go through all the same typical car buying stuff - credit application, trade-in appraisal, and financing. However, with the price already negotiated, Kellie of Criswell, expedited the process.

The only minor thing was when it came to signing all the forms. And this is a criticism of the car dealership business and not of Criswell Honda. Jessica the financing agent was great, pleasant, and moved through things quickly. I was patient knowing that she was required to inform me about these things. But I just don't appreciate car dealers in general trying to get me to buy all of this extra stuff - security systems, extended warranties, road hazard protection, and such - as I am trying to read, understand, and sign the fifteen documents I need to sign. I speculate that they get you in a small room after you have already invested a lot of time and are feeling a bit exhausted with it all, and try to hit you up knowing that many people will say yes to nearly anything if they are weary enough just to end it all the sooner.

But like I said, Jessica was great, and we got everything taken care of for my wife's car. I hope that Jessica didn't feel like I was upset with her or the dealership. I had a lot of residual anger, frustration, and fatigue from the other dealership, and just a lot of frustration with the nature of the process. But I left with my new car (below).

Joanne got her car the next day, but of course, it was a 2 hour round trip. But we quickly signed the papers, and were able to basically jump in her new car and go. So, I am thankful for Criswell Honda for a much better experience. But I still hate car buying.

Perhaps it could be more like computer buying. When buying a computer, you go in, you see the base price for the model that you want to buy and the list of prices for all the upgrades and added features. You have it all laid out for you so that you can quickly compare prices and features. Computer stores will also have some literature to take home or info on their website so that you can make an informed decision. But I guess that if car dealers gave you the information upfront, gave you time to think about it, and didn't fatigue you and pressure you, they wouldn't be able to make money.

So, I hate car shopping, but love my new car.