“Out to Sea” was an experimental piece of artwork. The beauty of nature is what inspires me to paint, but I thought for a change I’d attempt to illustrate humanity’s precarious relationship with the natural world, and how our carelessness, greed, or reckless behavior can destroy life and beauty. This is the first piece in an in depth study of this sort of subject matter. The following is a bit of my thought processes and techniques of this new medium I discovered.
After hearing how the plastics we were sending overseas for “recycling” were being dumped into the waterways, I knew I wanted to create a piece about the plastics polluting our oceans. I started planning a limited palette watercolor painting featuring plastic milk jugs and a disposable water bottle along with some sea life. I collected plastic milk jugs for my reference material and began my painting. I sketched in my design and began laying in the initial washes. Everything was going fine, but the painting just was not speaking to me. I left it for awhile and walked away, ruminating how I could make it different.
Then I had an idea! A Max Ernst piece (Two Children are Threatened by a Nightingale), which combined painting and wood elements, gave me the idea to combine acrylic painting with 3-Dimensional objects. Why not use my subject matter as part of my painting? The next painting session I spent cutting up my jug and trying out ways to arrange it on canvas. Two jugs later I had my composition. I cut one in half vertically and used the bottom half of the other. I glued them onto the canvas using E6000, the strongest glue I knew existed.
Then I had a problem. How was I going to make the plastic look like it’s floating in water? I remembered seeing wire mesh, so I purchased Amaco WireForm® contour mesh and had it shipped to my door. (I have three young children, so I don’t have time to run to the store.) Using the wire mesh, I “sculpted” wave-like forms around the bottles and pinned the mesh onto the back of the frame. Then I took heavy gesso and coated the wire mesh. I let this dry overnight before spreading on another layer of gesso with a palette knife. During the second coat of gesso, I sculpted ridges and swells to make the sculpture seem more wave-like.
After this second coat of gesso, I could paint the seascape. I worked the painting dark to light, like I would any other acrylic painting. When I felt I was nearing the completion of the painting, I mixed gel and white paint together to paint the foam on the crests of the waves using a palette knife. I’m pretty happy with the result of this little experiment and am in the process of trying a new composition. I’m using the wire mesh again but this time added papier maché to the outside of the wire mesh before I gessoed it. I hope to share that one with you when I am finished.
Although this new process has been exciting and challenging, beauty and symbolism keep calling to me. We’ll have to wait and see how these various themes all end up working together.
In October 2015 my water series, Water: Chaos and Creation, featured in a solo exhibit at The Delaplaine Art Center in Frederick, Maryland. While several of the paintings have been sold since then, a few still remain in my collection. Water continues to be featured in many of my paintings, so I thought I would share a bit about the significance of my water series and what was intended in the original exhibit.
Water is vital to our very being. It is cleansing, washing away dirt and grime. But out of control water can be destructive. In some creation mythologies water represents the chaos before creation, but becomes a life-giving source when order is established. Water is also beautiful – a mirror reflecting the light and colors around it and ever changing. This poetic beauty of water and its symbolic nature are the major sources of inspiration for the paintings in my water series.
My series of water paintings seeks to capture the abstract qualities of water and reflections, shapes and forms that will change in a fleeting moment. Moreover, these paintings are imbued with a deep appreciation for creation and a love for symbolism and allegory. Together these paintings visually narrate a story of water and creation. Several of the paintings illustrate the early chaos of the unformed world through designs that lean heavily on abstraction (i.e. Fury of Water I, II and III and Sunlight Dancing on Still Water). As the “world” takes form and is given order, the paintings take on a more representational style (Creation Emerging). Much of the content of the paintings as well as several of the titles (Springs Gush forth in the Valleys) were inspired by descriptions of water in the Psalms.
Although my exhibit was almost five years ago, I still find myself inspired by water – both the symbolic attributes of water as well as its abstract form. Water finds its way into many of my paintings, even if it isn’t the main subject matter. I imagine that I will continue to revisit the theme of water as my paintings continue to evolve through the years.
This blog is to give you a little glimpse into my studio. I both paint and teach drawing and painting, so I will be sharing anything from the meanings behind selections of my work; tips and techniques that artists can use; projects for your children to do at home; and an occasional write up about an art exhibit you can visit. I hope many people who enjoy art can find something of value in my posts.
During normal times I would be teaching multiple art classes during the week as well as working on my own artwork. While we’re all shut in at home during this time of quarantine, I thought I’d share a couple projects children and adults can do at home for fun on their own. This one isn’t a project I typically teach in my studio. It was originally developed as a summer camp project but only works if you have more than one day to work on it, because the glue needs to have time to dry. The dried school glue on the black construction paper takes on the look of leading in stained glass. For this project you’ll need the following materials:
black construction paper
pencils: HB and 4B or 6B
oil pastels (Pentel Oil pastels are an inexpensive brand I use with my kids)
A print out of one of my designs or a drawing of your own
These templates below are for you to use in your own designs, if you wish. These drawings were inspired by art in the illuminated manuscripts from the British Isles. My templates on this site are for your personal use only, not for commercial reproduction. Enjoy!