Monday, December 15, 2008


Here's what I've been furiously trying to finish before the holiday- I made this painting much faster without the same under-painting as the others, and it's also the first one that isn't a rectangle. The square is pretty simple- I'm 100% sure that I'll push the shapes of my canvases next semester. Cheers-

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Here's my latest.... This picture really caught my eye for the interesting shapes, patterns and bright colors. I'm not 100% on the boys yet but I'll try to retool things a bit before the January residency. As always, feedback is appreciated-

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Semester Review Paper

This semester of work has been very challenging. From my reading and writing I
have learned much about the cultural identity of the 1950s. In the studio,
I've had moments of great creativity and moments of unbearable frustration.
The most difficult task for me has been incorporating the feedback I received
from last semester's work into my new paintings. It took me three months to
discover that I was making work to fulfill those suggestions, and in doing so
had lost the joy in making the work I wanted to make. Ultimately, this
difficulty has made me stronger, and though I am not 100% satisfied with the
body of work as a whole, I feel I'm moving in the right direction.

When I left the last residency in June, I had a lot of great feedback to work
with. Sorting through such a wide range of suggestions was hard because they
concerned so many different aspects to my work. The first aspect was the
content itself. My work from the first semester was scattered, using reference
imagery from both advertisement and candid family photos. I knew that the new
work would need more focus, so I made the decision to avoid advertisement and
posed photographs all together. From an idea standpoint, this forced me to
consider the deeper meaning of my subject and to seek images that were

I started by working exclusively from old family photos. At first, I found it
freeing to work in a way that was at least partially autobiographical, since
these photos depict my extended family in the 50s. However, after a month of
working with them I started to get tired of seeing the same people and feeling
a sense of attachment to them. I felt constricted to the photo and found
myself worried that my family would see them merely as portraits. Through
this, I've discovered that its much more beneficial for me to work from an
unknown source, one which can be altered if needed. I've discovered that much
of my work is about the unknown story behind the characters in my paintings.
Knowing the story somehow takes the fun out of making them.

I worked hard to make improvements to the technical application of paint and
surface. My first semester work was very thin and far too transparent. At the
time, I was painting on store-bought stretchers and using a wet on wet
technique my previous mentor suggested. I liked painting with thinned paint.
It allowed me to work quickly and capture energy in my brush strokes. The
finished product though, was very flat and I knew that I had to use much more
paint and add greater texture. I was encouraged to work on gessoed birch
plywood panels, which I did at the beginning of the semester.

As for my palette, my 1st semester paintings relied heavily on ochre to imply
faded color photos and tie the pieces together. I was challenged at the June
residency to avoid the color this time and look closer at the true palettes of
old photographs. This has turned out to be a great suggestion, as my palette
has become dustier and also more vibrant.

My mentor, Patricia Canney, had some good early suggestions. She agreed that
the ochre in my previous work was too strong and that I needed to use much
more paint. She also echoed a lot of what was said at the residency, namely
that my study works from semester 1 were a lot more interesting than my
paintings on canvas. She felt that the under painting on these studies made
the difference, especially the little bits of rough color that show through
other layers.

I decided early on to paint the surface with shapes of color before adding
thicker paint. On my first 2 paintings, I filled in the surface with layers of
underpainting and then used a palette knife to add textured paint. While I was
pleased with the colors I was achieving and the compositions I was making, I
found that working thick changed everything. My natural tendency with thick
paint is to overwork areas of contrast and detail. The problem is that I just
haven't had enough experience with thick paint to know what to do. My mentor
and I came to the same conclusion: I just needed to paint a lot more to learn
how to do it.

After almost 2 months of work, I found myself very frustrated. Among many
failures, I had two 18" x24" paintings that I found mildly successful. The
rest were stiff and simply didn't work at all. My frustration took a toll on
my creativity, and for a while I felt completely lost. I didn't know what I
wanted to do or how to do it- all I knew was that applying all the new
suggestions to my old ways of working wasn't coming together at all.

In the 2 or 3 weeks that I felt unable to work, I went back to notes from the
residency and pondered a roadmap to my thesis. While the thesis is still not
set in stone, this helped me to see what wasn't working and focus on a new
direction. To start with, the birch plywood panels were a source of
frustration. While far superior to pre-made stretchers, they were heavy and
time consuming to prepare. I was spending a lot of time making them, only to
make bad paintings. I decided to use gesso board panels. Though pricey, they
are a beautiful surface and they saved me a lot of time. The birch wood panels
will eventually get reused.

I also decided to approach scale differently. After the June residency, I was
set on the idea of working at least 18" x 24" if not larger. I agree with
others who have noted that my images would work differently if they could be
huge, and I still see this as a possible direction. After feeling blocked in
my work, I realized that the larger scale would have to wait. Larger paintings
aren't any better if the work is poor. Instead, I went smaller, which I
anticipate will bring a strong reaction in January. The new work is 16" x 20",
and one painting is 9" x 12". I fully expect to work larger down the road, but
for now, I need to paint and advance my ideas, and working smaller has allowed
me to do that. I don't regret the decision in the least.

I talked extensively with my mentor about cropping and composing images. She
is quite good at identifying great composition, and she gave me some great
suggestions for zooming in and out to make the images more interesting. I
searched for new images, and from thousands of stock pictures on the internet
and in old books found interesting compositions that worked. Finally, I looked
at a lot of working artists for inspiration. I discovered a painter who primes
his canvas in bright red before painting cityscapes. When he is finished, the
red is almost completely gone, except for small bits that remain in the
outline of shapes. These miniscule areas of red, though almost unnoticeable,
make a big difference.

With these new ideas, I started work on 6 new paintings simultaneously. In the
past, I have often worked each piece to completion before moving on. This
time, I bounced from one to the other, which allowed me to avoid much of the
frustration I had been feeling. A huge discovery from my mentor along the way
has been Galkyd Gel, which increases the lucidity of the paint while allowing
it to retain texture. It also dries much faster than adding oil. Using the gel
allows me make larger easier strokes. This is where my studio work is
currently at. I am enjoying the process of making new work, and had to fail a
few times along the way to understand what I didn't want to do.

In addition to all the work I've been doing in my studio, I've also been
reading and writing for the academic component. I spent most of my first
semester researching contemporary artists that were new to me. This semester,
I was anxious to look at artists I really admire, including Hopper, Beckmann,
Wood, N.C. Wyeth and Rockwell. While I enjoyed reading books and looking
deeper into these artists, it was tough and a little bit of a stretch to apply
their ideas to my work. I learned the most about Rockwell and his way of story

The best insight came from reading selective essays on 1950's American
consumerism and watching the TV series "Mad Men". Reading "The Man in the Gray
Flannel Suit" was also most helpful. These sources helped me to see the
disconnect of the period; the way consumerism changed people's priorities. All
of a sudden, people in post-war America had money and access to whatever they
wanted. This led to an outward display of contentment and pleasantness that
was at odds with much of life. This disconnect is something I'm very
interested in, not just as part of the American 50s but in how it relates to
our world today. This has added a fresh perspective to my work. I hope that in
some way my future work can speak to this idea in more significant ways.

My work addresses the American myth of the nostalgic 1950s. I'm interested in
comparing reality to that myth and exploring how it appeals to people. I am
not interested in criticism of the period or politics in relation to the idea,
but rather in presenting an image in an appealing yet vague way that begs
viewer interaction. The difficulties I faced in working these last months
have taught me much about the creative process and helped me to further refine
my ideas. I cannot wait to get feedback on these new paintings and start the
process again with a greater understanding of my abilities and intentions.