Choosing the Threads

Well, got over my angst and am now continuing onward renewed. It was valuable to say the least. Along with the energetic shift came time to reflect, and look at what the heck is going on with my work life. When one is painting representationally, the notion of ‘what to paint’ often comes up. Do I paint what sells? Do I paint what my galleries want? What my aunt, sibling, grandfather…fill in the blank..would like to see? I am not sure how common this is, but some of my decision making as far as  direction, is to to see what came before. This isn’t just with paint. It also can refer to bodies of work.

The patterns I’ve been looking at lately stem from the very beginning of my yesteryear as an art making person. I believe that what we dwelled on as children is a very good indicator of what we should be doing as adults. Just my own non-scientific theory. I used to spend hours drawing people, and not just those I knew. I was very clued into making faces up. This past year I have thought about this, and decided to try it on for size again. It worked pretty well with a few of my small pieces, “The Memory of Water” for one. I had a photo of the pose, then totally changed the likeness. Fun.

However, it wanted to creep into my commissioned work, and let’s just say that wasn’t helpful. People would like their portraits to actually LOOK like the person portrayed.

My personal work involved getting to know my models and having that inform my direction to a large degree. Their likenesses were pretty much there.

Now, something is changing again. I want to pick up that thread of childhood and allow the paintings to exist in how it comes to me, reliant on internal movement, and not necessarily what I see, or even what I know. Ok, so it’s a little scary to even write about it, truth be known. But my attention has been placed there to explore further. I have to make peace with the thought that via the medium of all kinds of paint application, ‘my people’ want to be seen.

Hypotheticals here: What happens if we are driven by forces outside of ourselves? Are we truly the artists the rest of the world thinks we are? Are we in panic mode, risking injury to our states of mind by being so hungry for success as defined by these forces? Yes, we often have chosen Art as a way to Live, but at what ultimate cost? How much do we really need materially? These are questions I ask myself a lot.

For me, The Threads at first are simply the foundations of art building, the paint, the process. Then the portrait changes and beckons to me as the maker to move differently than expected. Sometimes it even works. I have experienced the hell when it doesn’t, but that moment passes and a new way to see the piece is just beginning to take root. A New Thread is found. My job, is to pick it up and just try. No guarantees, no pressure to make it look a certain way. Just Try.

Next thing I know, I see that a tapestry has begun to take shape. I try with all my internal might to trust that it will hold, and not unravel. That my first thought, that first gently woven thread, was the right choice to begin with. That the outside world really has no place here, at the moment of creation.

Go forward from YOUR start, and no one else’s. It takes time to embrace your own vision and believe in it. Don’t pull the thread. Yet. (That’s a whole other topic…)

What to do with Angst

This year will go down in my art files as the Year of the Tantrum.

The studio is still reverberating with the echoes of one meltdown after another. Lest you think I am a whiner, let it be known that my older brothers called me ‘Cry Baby’ growing up. That should clarify things. Suffice to say I have gotten a hold of myself in adulthood. Mostly.

I have been alluding to a busy year, and it’s true, it has been very busy. I won’t list all the ways. Pretty much non-stop action in paint and life. In fact, I’m ready to end this year early so I can loll around like a beached whale soon. But not until November when my deadlines are met. I am blaming the busyness for most of my angst. Most, but not all.

So what happened you ask? Well. Let’s just say I found myself playing the art tape I didn’t want to play: “Nit Pickin’ Fuss Budget”. It’s how I used to paint before I discovered I didn’t want to anymore. Small brushes, obsessing over details, rendering with paint instead of painting with paint…all the things I swore I would stop doing. I won’t blame it on one project. All of them had some variation of this theme this year.

A few days ago I decided I needed a break from paint, and picked up the charcoals instead. I wanted to clean the slate of my mind, and focus on just putting things down as I saw them, and no one else. Honest portrayal of a familiar face. So I did. Then I looked at it.

Rendered.. TO. DEATH.

I wiped it off no less than 3 times. Oddly, I didn’t mind. “Now I have a base”, I said to myself and the mice. “We’ll start again tomorrow.”

So I started again, and guess what? I did it again. Now I’m really mad. I grabbed my drawing rag and wiped it off left to right starting below the eyeballs. I put the rag down and left.

Giving myself more distance, I gathered my thoughts and decided what to do. I can either:

A.) Go deep into study mode and nitpick again, wondering while doing this if my son is flossing every tooth while at college.
B.) I can just forget all that and express quickly, accuracy out the window.
C.) I can see what happened with fresh eyes and decide what to keep, what to push further, what to let go.

So, I sprayed it with some fixative. And it splattered. Yeah. Deciding this was yet another joke from the universe, I chuckled aloud. Good thing no one heard me around here. It got out of control.

Lesson learned. There I go again, acting like the planned-filled painter I am not. The only Plan I have been trying to embrace is to not get stuck. Keep moving. All year, I have been pulling myself out of stuck.

But here’s the real lesson for me: That’s just how it goes.

There will always be angst.
There will always be splats, moments of anger, extreme frustration.
Yes, all this happens with creating I’ve found. None of it is easy, and it’s not always fun.
(See how I whine?)

Following the same trails never take me to a new place. A big wipeout is nothing more than a temporary setback, a chance to begin again. That’s the key. It is so easy to just give up, get sad, repeat myself over and over beyond what my natural mark making is. It’s ok to have a style, but the key is to change it enough with each piece to make it interesting For You First. If we aren’t interested in our own work while making it, who the heck else will be?

The gift of angst. Wallow just long enough to get out.. Then begin again.

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Marks with Purpose Alright

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Well this one really is.

I wanted to do this portrait of my son at this milestone of his life, in this pose. He’s heading to college very soon, and taking his very direct gaze with him.

Little did I realize when starting this piece that a lot of internal combustion would occur. That the words that rumbled through my head as I gazed into those eyes would make an appearance in the drawing. For awhile, it was all words creating the portrait.  Every prayer I knew, every mantra, every affirmation I could possibly think of.  Stream  of consciousness thoughts, letters, memories, positivity the name of this game until my mind was quiet again. My heart still.

There is always fear at the edges of parenting, and that keeps us alert. I was noticing all that and allowing whatever emotion to come up and have its way with me because that’s what I want my work to do. Shake me up sometimes. And this has. In ways that serve my courage.

Then the marks took over. Often contained and deliberate in detail, then released into imperfection and embedded in the surface deeper still. Some were changed, erased and softened. Other times, the words rubbed in. As if I could physically shove them into his head with every ounce of love I have. With this drawing, I believe that my intentions for him will reach his heart whether he knows what I’ve written or not. Sealed in. Safe.

The Words Often Stay.

Some are visible, most are not. But they are understood in that Within that counts.

 

Ok. He can go to college now.

 

 

 

 

Going Small Part 2

I’m back. Processing this whole process thing again. As much as I talk about the power of intuition, there is also a part of my method that begs for analytical observation. I sit on the couch for this part. So, here I am reviewing my decision to work on a smaller scale. It helps me to do this in the middle of things to stay grounded. The balance I’m forever seeking in art and life.

This whole desire to go small strikes me as very ironic. Twenty-five years ago, artist friends were beseeching me to work large. I couldn’t get my nose away from my tiny little pieces to save my life. Something in me needed that intimacy with the work. A similar thing is going on now. So far, no paint on my nose. Thumbs up.

The work I’ve started lately are not sketches this time. The idea is to make them as full of weight as my larger work. There is a door trying to open up within a new room in my art house and like a good listener, I’m picking up different methods to help me do that. More specifically, the order of things I do is changing, and a tactile application of paint is becoming important. I’m diving right into thicker paint (not super thick, but more than usual) I’m using my fingers a lot (yes I wash my hands a lot too). I’m using palette knives, the oldest of my old brushes, a plastic roundish tool thing I don’t know the name of to push paint with, rags to push paint with. A spray bottle filled with some solvent, oil, and a touch of water to spontaneously spritz with. (just a little bit) Cold wax medium, which equals drier paint. Who knows what else I’ll find to try. So far, I’m not complaining too much. Another thumbs up.

This all relates to one of my popular Rants in The Art World to let go of our well laid plans sometimes. I believe, the vision we create in our heads about what we want our work to look like can often trip us up, and limit us. Leaving it open ended allows a new vision to come to light, something perhaps even better than our minds can conjure. It’s a subject that is close to my heart. Someone whose work I greatly respect actually stopped painting because they couldn’t make a piece like the one they created in their mind. I find that really tragic. Our minds can play tricks on us, including making us feel inferior.

This body of work will still continue on the trajectory of my observations of the strong female within the natural environment, and what the language of paint can offer to the experience of being with a painting. It all relates to the evolution, and perhaps revolution, of my learning as a painter. I’m amazed at how much there is to know.

Here’s a detail of one underway. 11×14 on panel.

 

 

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I Want to Know

I’m sitting here rather sore from a daily 90 minute yoga practice that I’ve been doing for 5 days straight, with more to go this week.  Kind of a yoga boot camp of sorts. It’s called Ashtanga Yoga, mysore style,  for those who may be wondering. This is one of the ‘original’ forms brought to the west about 50 years ago. Not very popular with westerners, but it seems to be growing. It’s a rigid form requiring a great deal of stamina, strength and flexibility. I am finding it’s just what the doctor ordered for my sanity, and for my art.

Yes, the art. All these elements are inextricably connected for me. (I know, I know..I keep saying that)

Now mind you, I have been a physical fitness geek of sorts since I was 19 years old. NOT an athlete by any means, but a so- so runner for a while, a gym-goer- exercise- class- type- person. I tried all the fads, so why not yoga when it hit the scene. Little did I know what would happen. It changed my body, my brain, right alongside my art.

I won’t list all the ways.  It’s truly a mystery how it happened, why it happened, and why it still is after all this time (10 years). All I can say is, it worked for me in profound ways. Try it for yourself, but stick with it. Perseverance counts.

What’s my point? This blog is basically a catch-all of all the insights I’ve gained in the effort to improve my work. It’s not just about acquiring all the right tools of the trade, the skill set of a painter. You can find all kinds of art blogs about process. Sure  that’s important, but something more has to go on in there; ‘there’ being that piece that comes through your work establishing a connection to your viewers.

What is it? What do you bring to your art that triggers a response in people? Is it all calculated and planned? Is it conceived way before you make contact with your canvas?  I ask this because I am interested in how other artists approach their process. How you come to the creative mark. Feel free to share. Not a whole lot of that goes on out there.

To explain in a nutshell, what yoga has done for me is given me courage. I have to tell you bluntly I never had it. I was the shy, quiet kid afraid of everything. So here I am in middle age taking on a physical practice (geared toward younger bendier people) that is often bringing me to tears in fear. This cracking open in a physical sense is lending a hand to the ‘other sense’, the one that is hard to describe, but instrumental in my work. I am willing to try things now. I don’t worry about the outcome so much. I am learning to surrender, because I simply cannot muscle my way through every pose, every brushstroke, every worry, every conflict in life. It makes for a harder yoga practice. It definitely makes for a contrived piece of art.

The ‘What’ will be different for everyone, I know this. Not everyone has the gift of a healthy body. Not everyone has the desire to bring their life INTO their work. There are those that observe and document, and perhaps step away from the process in some way. This too, of course, can be very powerful, and relevant to these times we live in, if it is approached in a sincere way.

How do you access your core, your reasons for creating in the first place?

What is the change you want to bring into the world, through your work?

This curious mind wants to know.

Going Small

I recently completed a Teeny-For-Me piece for the Portrait Society of America’s 6×9 Mystery Sale. The complaining was endless. What happened was, I lost touch with my more controlled self. The one that liked to work in a chair at the easel, and enjoyed the idea of someone being nose to nose with a piece to truly experience it.

Once it was finished, and well received, it dawned on me I needed to do this more. Not only for folks who often ask for pieces at a smaller price point, but for the flexibility of my paint chops. I should be working in a variety of sizes to keep my language alive.

That said, I did not want to make something as complex as my usual work, only smaller. I wanted a slightly different approach, a more controlled outcome. My perimeters were to work in 2 stages. One, the alla prima stage, for no longer than 2 hours. Two, the final stage, which would include glazing and whatever else it needed. That’s it. Subject matter would of course be simplified as well. For me, there is nothing worse than painting a teeny tiny eyeball with single hair brushes. Won’t happen.

So, here are my first two oil sketches underway after stage one. If you are interested, in about a week or so, I will be posting one at a time on Ebay, starting bid to be @250. for each plus shipping. Unframed. These are oil painted on 8×10″ linen panels. (Those 3 inches made a difference!)

Please look me up on facebook for the when. And thanks for your support, as always.

 

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