How do you sign your art? Twice in the past few weeks I have had conversations with friends about a work of art they own or saw elsewhere. In both instances they were interested in seeing more of the artist’s work with an eye to a possible purchase. There was only one problem- the artiss’ signatures were completely illegible.
I had terrible handwriting in elementary school and erased holes through my papers. My parents and I spent many hours at the kitchen table practicing with adaptive grips they seemed to collect at teachers’ meetings. What finally did the trick was a calligraphy workbook I traced & copied every night for a good part of seventh grade. So my signature and handwriting are readable now, if not as beautiful as my mother’s.
My mother was a stickler for good penmanship. There was not a superfluous flowery gesture to be found, but it was graceful and textbook perfect. She was a third grade teacher and did not hesitate to discuss my college president’s silly row of loops with him, or our state representative’s scribble. She told him “I know I taught you better than that!” .
I understand why people take signature shortcuts if they are signing autographs frequently, or signing books on a book tour. I admit to rolling my eyes at artists who make their signature line particularly angst-ridden- smeared, erased, re-drawn, in some dramatic fashion. I don’t care for giant names in contrasting color that draw attention away from the work. But neither do I want to search for it. When I find it, I want to be able to read it. Most of us are not going to ever be so well known that a few coded marks are instantly recognizable (and easily forged).
For my art, I want my name to be discreet but legible. I want my viewer to know my name so they can find me again. How do you sign your art?
Here is one of the illegible signatures in question-
School is about to start. My supplies have arrived and I have been in my classroom unpacking, wondering why I got four bottles of spray canvas tightener- or rather-what very important thing did I think I was ordering instead! Oh no!
I can hear the squealing tires of my creativity and energy being suddenly re-directed. I don’t want to fall out of the slowly improving art making discipline I worked on all summer. Later in the school year when things are humming along it isn’t that hard to come home and paint, but the first few weeks? Good luck with that. I know I have to maintain my own painting these first few weeks in order to set a pattern for the year. So what to do? My plan is to go small. I have a batch of ACEO-sized ampersand panels, and some even smaller squares. I tried painting on one last night and found the pre-gessoed surface unpleasant, an unworkable combination of sticky and slippery, so added my own layer of Utrecht gesso. Adding a process step really wasn’t part of my plan and I want to be wary of potential procrastination-inducing hurdles, however small. So I gessoed 20. That should keep me going. I’m thinking working so small will be enjoyable and not overly time-consuming, but still reward me with finished works.
I’m also doing this because I want to paint a little more thickly. I like my paintings where I see the brush strokes, as in this one of the water lilies I was surprised to find in Yellowstone, br />
and this one of poppies in Giverny. I want this looseness to come more naturally, and I am hoping these little paintings will help because I really can’t get too fussy at that size. Or maybe I can, we’ll see.<
In any case, here is my first tiny oil painting from today-
1. On my own, either out in the field or alone in my studio. I mostly paint in gouache or oil, work on my large ongoing mosaic project, or perhaps carve a woodblock for printing.
2. As a teaching artist. Over the course of a year my students range from Kindergarten to 12 grade. Scatter in a few adults and that is my year. The processes and media range from drawing to clay animation to silk marbling to stone carving- always changing and always a new challenge. Seeing former students teaching younger ones is very gratifying.
3. The third category is making art in community, like yesterday.
Sunday, 9-5 was my time slot for the 2014 Monothon at Artspace at Untitled in Oklahoma City. Every year the experience is different – we are either upstairs in the most beautiful and inspiring workshop space I have ever seen, or downstairs in the less beautiful but still well fitted (and cooler) shop. Yesterday we were six artists working downstairs. The goal is for each artist to create two to four monoprints, and the studio chooses one to sell at their fundraiser later in the year. Long periods of silence are interspersed with conversation and commiserating. We usually end up helping each other work out technical issues with the inks and press throughout the day. We used Akua soy-based inks and Revere paper. I like Akua, although their ever-changing formula keeps mastery at bay. My only complaint is their colors are a little muted, especially the warms and whites. For school I prefer Akua for an entirely different reason–it only dries on paper.
I attempted one monoprint based on a rainy street at night I saw in New Orleans a few weeks ago, and one of the huge clouds I saw looking towards Santa Fe from Taos earlier in the summer. My cousin Brian Landreth was also working and added some finishing touches to that one.
Group studio experiences like this are an important and often overlooked part of building community among artists, especially in places like Oklahoma where we are far-flung. It is so good and nourishing to have a few hours to meet, re-connect, and work, and it us a great way for young artists or people new to the area to get acquainted. I find it much more satisfying than standing around making brief small talk at openings, and I never fail to learn something.
What other ways have you experienced this kind of artist community-building?
So far this summer I have visited and sketched or painted in some very distinctive places. The first was Taos New Mexico. Taos has long been a destination for artists and all lovers of beauty. I was happy to find that popularity hadn’t turned it into a theme-park version of itself. It seems like a town with a real sense of community, and good people who work very hard to make it a pleasant place to live for all levels of the society there. Unlike some other cities with lots of art, galleries in Taos are friendly and welcoming. Often one of the first things I was told as I stepped through the door was “these are local artists”, or New Mexico, or the region. It was great to be in a place where local art is so strongly presented and supported. Almost every gallery promptly recommended at least one other gallery as well. Kent and I make a point of greeting shopkeepers as soon as we enter their space, and in Taos that led to some very entertaining conversations!
I painted one morning at the Rio Grande gorge until sunburn made me stop. I was distracted by watching beautiful tiny tiny birds on the rocks. They were so tiny! Although the chain link fence was ugly, I have long-ago memories of a gust of wind blowing a watercolor down into a gorge in Colorado, so I appreciated its function if not its form.
The skies in New Mexico are beautiful, and the clouds move quickly. It was a good idea to start with a value study because the light changed dramatically in no time at all.
That same afternoon I painted a watercolor of the mountains from the much more comfortable vantage point of the Taos Mesa Brewing Co.. No great final result to show but it was fun. I am very aware that working plein air makes me slow down and observe in ways I simply don’t seem to do without colors to mix. Inside the Brewery was a poetry workshop, and outdoors we enjoyed watching a crew build a large new performance stage area. If we lived in the area I’m pretty sure this would be a regular stop. It has an air of continual creativity I find very attractive.
Our visit coincided with the annual re-mudding of the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos. It was very interesting to watch the all-volunteer crew at work maintaining this treasure. The church was begun as early as 1722, and besides continuing to be an active congregation in the Taos community, the building has been a popular subject for painters and photographers. Most people think of Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings, but Ansel Adams’s photographs of the same general time period are also very influential. I must confess my embarrassment at realizing I had driven right past it years ago- it is definitely not where I thought it was!
The reason for my visit was to attend the opening of “After Dark III“, a national juried show held at Greg Moon Art. This show focused on a wide interpretation of the theme, and I am proud to have had two paintings included in such a strong and varied show in such a beautiful place. I appreciate the opportunity and the good excuse to take a road trip to New Mexico. I hope we will be out there again soon.
Friday night I opened the first show of oil paintings since, maybe ever. I have had solo shows of acrylics, mixed media, and woodcut prints. I’ve been included in shows of fine art books and even fiber. But somehow I have never had a gallery show of oil paintings.
Last fall I decided to just use oil or gouache, and to turn away from abstraction to painting what is around me. It is how I started making art and I decided it was pretty stupid for me to care anymore what anybody thinks about it. If I never sell another thing, that’s ok, but I’ll try.
When I was invited to take a wall in a gallery nearly three hours away near the Great Salt Plains, of course I accepted. Thanks for asking! Wow those are some bad roads, but a very good space. bright, loads of natural light, spacious, and super clean. When I go back I will plan time to paint at one of the bird watching outlooks for the lake at the salt plains.
One of the most important qualities, or habits of mind, an artist develops is perseverance. If I didn’t understand what is on my easel right now, I’d quit, wipe it off, turn it to the wall, paint over it later. Earlier this week I quit a painting but I knew why, it was a drawing problem. Some things I just have to draw from life, so I must wait until those flowers bloom again. The rest of it was ok. Well, ok-ish.
But this painting is different. It is a night scene, and I’m working from life plus from both daytime and night photos. The subject is a zoomed-in view of what I see off my back porch. My neighbors houses, my storage shed, and in the distance one of the biggest oil storage tank farms in the country. Today we had great crazy clouds, hail, high winds, rain, and a few counties away, tornados. No earthquake for a few days at least (It’s supposed to freeze tomorrow) So I’m trying to paint the tank farm view with storm clouds. I am leaving out the sofa-recliner one of the neighbors dragged out to the alley a couple of weeks ago. I claim artistic license!
I love how intense and varied the blues are on snow in shade. They range from intense ultramarine to almost purple, to almost green. And they change quickly in the very early morning or late evening.
For this picture I did the ground, snow, trees first. It was a rather typical dawn that day, so I can add that any time.
Spring is here, I’m looking forward to painting outdoors, when the Oklahoma wind allows!