Friday, January 28, 2011

More illustrations for the horse book. The author wanted a couple of ancient art pieces, depicted in paint for clarity and emphasis. The first, an image from a cave wall, was fairly easy and fun to do...

The other was a particular section of the Bayeux Tapestry--she wanted it bright, and bold, as though we were seeing it freshly-embroidered, so a photograph wouldn't do, even if good detail shots were available on the cheap (which they're not).

I have a pretty good sense of how quickly I can paint something of a certain size, and had this been a painting of a photographed scene, I could have done it in a day-and-a-half's long work. So I had presumed, after an cursory examination of the Tapestry's simple forms and limited palette, that this would go even quicker.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Turns out replicating another person's gesture, spindly lines, and erratic color choice, on a mostly two-dimensional image that is just textured enough to catch light like a three-dimensional object...well, it's a different set of challenges. So four days later, still not altogether satisfied with the result, I'm feeling a little humbled. Here's how it went, anyway:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Luthing update! (If "luthing" isn't a word, it should be.)

I've forgotten to bring my camera for the last couple of work sessions, but progress has been slow enough that there aren't many narrative holes to fill. Basically, I got two wedges of spruce (cut from the same trunk so that the grain lines are mirrored), planed the thin edges, and glued them together with hide glue--these pieces will eventually form the front face plate. Then I planed one side of the (now-unified) piece. (The other side was left uneven, which doesn't matter, as it will be carved away.)

I used a pencil to trace the rough shape of the plate, giving my template a wide birth of a couple of centimeters--to offset any potential bandsaw accidents--and then cut around it. That brings us to the point where I picked it up this morning:

...the point that I'd been waiting for...because, finally, it was gouge time. (I would, at this point, do the Gouge Dance, but let's face it--that's just dangerous.) It's my favorite tool, and facilitates my favorite parts of the process--the energetic and dramatic ones.

Having used a compass to trace a 6-mm line all the way around the thin edge of the plate-to-be, I gouged from that line in, toward the center, always cutting upwards in order to leave plenty of wood for the steep convexity that's so important to the look and sound of the instrument.

Once you figure out how to identify and work with the direction of the grain on the various curves and angles, the wood flows around the blade in a really satisfying way: smoothly, but with the subtle, rippling texture of resistance--like riding a bicycle on a newly-paved road, or ripping a piece of silk.

(Of course, until you get in the groove, this process still has its share of difficulties.)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

So, having finished up my time at UNM, I had to clear out my studio in the Annex in December. I had accumulated pretty impressive masses of stuff in there, but thanks largely to friends who agreed to house the majority of the furniture, it's been a surprisingly easy transition from roomy-campus-studio to tiny-apartment-studio.

Now, I have two small niches from which to work at home. One:

Can you see the massive old packer trunk filling the space under the drafting table? It contains all of the paintings, organized and taped up in bubble wrap. The table's oversized drawer holds all of the works on paper--Tamarind lithographs and the like.

But most of the serious work happens here:

(In this portion of the post, the part of Cedra will be played by a small dog)

It helps that the work is small--these spaces suit my needs pretty effectively for the time being.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Some of the illustrations for the book I'm working on are more engaging than others. The simplest ones tend to get the most enthusiastic reception, and I understand why; they're immediately comprehensible, and they often involve animals, which are just sort of instinctively interesting to look at (this is why the average family frequents public zoos more often than it attends public statistical demonstrations--although the Albuquerque-wide "Multiple Regression Analysis and You" festivals have been making rapid gains in popularity in recent years). I'm guessing that has a lot to do with subconsciously identifying and being drawn to eyes/faces, which is why mascots are so often used to grab attention and deliver messages. Maybe I should have developed D'nae (the plucky little DNA strand who teaches every protein that they play a vital part!) at the beginning of this project.

But for now the ones I'm proudest of--the ones that take the most work and thought--often aren't given much attention when someone rifles through the pages. Their role is to introduce concepts, so it's a spoonful-of-sugar-helping-the-medicine-go-down thing. I think the reason I like them so much is that the original sources they're based on are so opaque--and making the information more accessible feeds my need to improve things. Here's a copied page from a genetics text that was recently passed on to me by the author I'm working with (I don't know whose work it's originally from, I'm afraid, or I'd attribute it).

While this illustration isn't terrible, I dislike it for a number of reasons. It's clumsy in its organization and cluttered in its content. So the first thing I did was sketch ideas for restructuring the information--something that would make the categories a bit easier to grasp at a glance:

That seemed clear enough, I thought, and used it to built a digital draft, assembling bones of the information to come, establishing a color scheme and spacing.

(Pretty nice supercoil there, right? Oh yeeeeeah)

Then I sweated over (well, neck-strained over, anyway) getting the important bits right, bright, and polished.

So there! It's not going to win any Most Cuddly contests, but I think it's clearer than the original. And prettier, if I do say so myself. And I do!

(Though not in meetings.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

While walking in the park near my house yesterday, I was lucky enough to come across a sparrow skeleton--past the messy parts of decomposition but still hanging together. It was too beautiful not to draw, so I brought it home (hooking a stick gently through its ribcage so as not to handle it):

(can you see all the tiny vertebrae still intact? Incredible)

And did this tonight--a drawing, probably the first of what will be many pieces based on the bones.

I'm really amazed at the dynamism of the form--the evocative ambiguity of it, the movement and rhythm, the contrast of textures and densities. A very rewarding examination!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

These two quotes were eventually dropped from the final version of my qualifying paper...but struck too close to my heart not to publish somewhere.

Is it not peculiar that we perceive our whole life clearly and distinctly when we see thick clouds, now reaching past the moon, now their edges gilded by the moon, now completely devouring the moon? It seems to us as if we could write our whole life's story in such pictures. [Philipp Otto Runge]

Snapshots are like little devotional pieces that people have in their environment and look at....these are the likenesses of family and friends, preserved in remembrance of them. The paintings are like that a little too, but they are less private. That may be our deepest desire, not to be private. To be public, open to the world.  [Gerhard Richter]

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Today I resumed my apprenticeship in the violin shop. There's a very long way to go on this instrument, which I started before the break; but that's good, as it gives me the opportunity to begin documenting fairly early in the process. This particular violin-to-be is unique in that it is a) for me (for to have!), and b) the first one I'll be doing every step of the work on myself--and as such, progress will be painfully slow for those readers not measuring in geological epochs.

Here's where things stood when I started this morning. Most of what you're seeing here--though it is deceptively violin-shaped--is a form; its only function is to shape and support the ribs through the next several steps.

[Flashback: I made said form by clamping together two pieces of plywood, tracing the shape of the violin from a Guarneri blueprint onto them, and cutting the shape out on the band saw. I bolted the plywood layers together, then cut corner blocks (which you can see supporting the corners, the top, and the bottom). Those spruce blocks, unlike the plywood, will be part of the finished instrument.]

Peter gave me some strips of very fine, wildly-flamed old European maple to make the ribs out of, and I sanded them to the appropriate thickness, then shaped them around a hot iron (manipulating them with a thick strip of lead, which supported it and conducted heat from the back). We then glued the ribs into place around the outside of the form--being very careful to only glue the maple to the corner blocks, NOT to the form itself (which we'd rubbed paraffin into, as a precautionary buffer). [Aside to the interested reader: hide glue has many distinctive properties that make it desirable for these applications...but its aromatic aura is not chief among them.]

That brings us to today. From a massive block of willow, we cut a thin panel; I sanded it even thinner, then cut the panel into several 7 mm strips. Once glued in, these will serve as liners, adding further structural support to the ribs. I also unbolted and removed the top half of the form, in preparation for that process.

A note: I'm very grateful to Peter for his generosity with time, tools, and materials (and equally grateful to his students, for sharing his divided attention). Every step of the work that I do "all by myself" represents a through and detailed demonstration (sometimes repeated several times) on his part beforehand.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

I've been thinking a fair bit about the Seven Sutherland Sisters, thanks to a card I received from my friend and mentor Tim Tracz this week.

Officially they were a singing group, but are best known (probably because photos speak louder than non-existent recordings) for having loads of hair, and the publicity photos of the time show them all arrayed to its advantage--backs to cameras and looking over their shoulders, or turned sideways with the tresses draped around them like mantles. Even outside the Barnum and Bailey circuit, the women led bizarre lives, with their fair share of family madness and eccentricities.

It's been interesting to see them promoted simultaneously as "the seven most pleasing wonders of the world," and freaks of nature, in the same material. It's a dynamic that interests me for personal, as well as intellectual, reasons. How does one reconcile being both fascinated and repulsed by something? When does plenty become excess and the beautiful become the grotesque? What is the appeal of an image (or a person) that is mostly hidden by something? How do our most pronounced characteristics come to represent us as symbols?

I think it's a rich and layered subject, and as such, has a lot of potential for painting fodder.

If I do a series based on them--as I'm thinking now I might--it won't really be about them at all (though their lives were certainly weird enough to merit some history-style work), but about the physical/social masking of personality, and the inherent strangeness in that. I'm doing some studies to see if the idea translates at all, before I get too invested; I've done two today.

I don't know. We'll see.

Interested parties may also note that I'm using myself as a model for several of these figures.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Two things.

One, I finished putting together the digital reference draft for the next piece. It'll be biggish, 15" x 46".

I'll get started on that as soon as I pick up the support from my carpenter next week.

Two, I made good on my resolution to shoot some character photos today, due to some excellent timing and luck in finding out about a regional comic book/film convention. It was a good place to shoot--for one thing, everyone (including myself) is dorked up in costumes (my favorite being a nine-year-old girl with a sonic screwdriver), so visual imagery is rich and silly and colorful (and sometimes creepy). For another, there is an expectation, not just an acceptance, that everyone will be photographed at such events, and their images bandied around afterward. So no-one gets weirded out by the camera (nor are they likely to object later if they show up in someone's artwork).


I don't know when/if characters based on these people will pop up in paintings anytime soon, but they're archived and there should I need them.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Painting update! (Pretty much) finished!

It's not completely finished, but in terms of posting documentation of it, it might as well be. All the things that remain to be fixed are small enough that they won't be visible at the size I post...I'll wrap it up after I add some hair/facial details, and some stronger direct light on the figures...fiddle with the angles of cast shadows...that sort of thing.

I think I'll be satisfied with it once I've stepped away from it for a while.

Today, if all goes well, I'll go visit my carpenter Greg and give him specs for the next one. Itching to get started.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I've mentioned before that my paintings rely heavily on photographs, combining imagery from different periods of my life. This fall it occurred to me to worry that I might run out of photographic sources--so I gave myself an assignment: to attend a minimum of one event a month that's outside of the scope of my normal day-to-day, with the express intent to document it.

So when my friends Alex and Mary visited in October, I brought the camera along when we visited the Earthships community near Taos...

In November, Lauren and I helped slaughter turkeys for Thanksgiving at our friend Kat's communal farm, Sunflower River...

At the cusp of the new year, Hilary and I drove up to Ghost Ranch for the snow...

And last week, we went to check out a place along the Rio Grande where the bosque had been cleared and burned (near another choice location, the glass fields)...

I'm pleased to have adhered to this so far, and I've gotten a lot of good visual fodder--but while the recent string of landscapes is going to make for very useful sets, I think I'm going to need to go on more character-scouting expeditions in order to people them. As such, my goal within the next couple of weeks is to attend a human-centric event...preferably one where said humans wear strange costumes of their choosing. I'm eager to see what I can find! (SciFi convention, anyone?)
UNM's Land Arts of the American West has finally revamped their site, and it looks great!

Three excerpts from my journal are scattered throughout...along with a few photos, in which I am identified as "Student."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Illustrations, chugging along. I've been revamping some of the earlier pieces I did some months ago, and am so doing am really pleased by the clear improvement I can see with my photoshop skills--what I was capable of then, what I am capable of now. I'm a fair bit away from establishing the perfect balance of painting and digital painting, but I'm pleased to be able to see growth.

skulls on tabletop


elliptical orbit

A very successful meeting today with both the book's author and the paleontologist she's consulting for accuracy. He was complimentary of the work, but was also able to point out some corrections that needed to be made (mostly in charts and such)--in other words, the perfect balance of useful!

The end of the project is coming up fast. I have two of the 35 left to finish, and after that, only corrections at the suggestions of reviewers and editors.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

In an article for the Alibi this past week, David Leigh made a brief list of his favorite art happenings from 2010, "a year of exhibitions, performances and people that have come to define the alternative position our city is carving out in the larger art world."

ROYBGIV and the Anasazi, photograph by John Bear

The list consisted of Patrick Nagatani's show at UNM, 516 Arts' entire year of programming, Dave Hickey's migration to Albuquerque, the Tamarind Institute's 50th Anniversary, Frederico Vigil's mural at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, J. Lynn Johnson's show at Revlis, and the ROYGBIV graffiti controversy. And then, after the phrase, "other noteworthy things": Matt Mullican's paintings at Richard Levy Gallery, and...

....MY show at the Harwood!

It's a small mention, but when included amongst such company, the context is enough.

Now to go marinate in self-congratulation for a while. I until my Textbook meeting this afternoon.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sometimes I forget what a real pleasure it is to just draw! Also, how beautiful bones are. I really enjoyed rendering these horse (and horse ancestor) teeth.

This is a good reminder, once this commission is fulfilled, to take some time to do more graphite drawing. It soothes a different beast than the painting does.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The painting continues....

Just people and finishing touches left, now. Hopefully only a few days' work...