Edges, mark-making and tools

Happy New Year!🎉 Okay, granted I am a little late to the party, but I’ve had a busy couple of weeks moving into a new exhibit space for 2019. More on that soon, but today I wanted to share a bit about mark making, and neat little tool that I stumbled upon along the way.

I didn’t have tons of time over Christmas break to paint, but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been on my mind. I have been thinking a lot about how I can loosen up, to create pieces that are truthful but not quite so literal. One of the things I struggle with is varying not only color but brushwork, so that there is not so much sameness everywhere. I vary brush sizes and shapes, but it still can leave me feeling a little bit like there must be something more. Sometimes I want to push a bunch of paint around and brushes alone don’t always do that.

Then one day, I purchased a Color Shaper. I actually bought this to spread gesso, because I have some pre-gessoed canvases that I bought that have been sitting around in my studio unused because are still a bit too rough and absorbent for my liking.

Before I even used it for gesso, I got curious. I had heard of other artists using these tools fairly extensively for applying paint in their work and I got to wondering whether it might be a useful tool for varying my edges and textures in my painting.

It didn’t really do what I was hoping for. These shapers come in varying degrees of firmness and the tool I ordered was an extra firm. Good for gesso spreading, but not for my painting. Still, I saw the potential so I went back online to see if I could get another one with more flexibility. But before I got that far, I stumbled upon these do-hickeys and fell in love.

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These guys, officially called Princeton Catalyst Wedges, are made of some kind of silicone or rubber and come in a variety of shapes . They are more flexible than my prior purchase but still firm enough to move the paint. They don’t have handles, but frankly I prefer this handle- less variety because it allows for more control.

What does it do? Well, for starters it pushes a heck of a lot of paint around, creating the ability to make bold, impasto passages or thinner, more ethereal ones.

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I can use it to make a fairly straight edge with the straight, thin side of the tool, or use it t scrape down passage to create softer edges.

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I can use it as a blending tool, or a tool to separate out colors and make them stand out. In short, I can use it to exploit the properties of the paint in a way that is a nice variation from straight-on brushwork .

I first ordered the white tool, pictured above, left. Then then I discovered the black, which I like even better because you have greater versatility with both a long and a short edge. “Why not just use a palette knife,” you might ask? Well, I do love palette knife paintings but I always just end up switching back to brushes and reworking them because I have never been quite able to achieve that combination of softness and boldness I aim for. These little tools act like palette knives with more of a brush feel, if that makes sense.

“Coral Reflections, Late Summer”, Oil on linen, 24x36” ©Jennifer E. Young

“Coral Reflections, Late Summer”, Oil on linen, 24x36” ©Jennifer E. Young


I’m still not ditching my paint brushes; they are the work horses in my studio. But I’m having fun playing around with these new tools and exploring what I can do with them in my paintings.

For Everything, A Season

It’s been a difficult year. I guess I’m now at a point where I can finally write it down, but based on the June date of my last real blog post,😳 (aside from the occasional quick announcement) maybe it was already evident. June was when the reality settled in for me and my siblings that it was time to say goodbye (for now) to our beautiful, sweet, smart, creative mother, who had struggled with her illness in an acute form for over a year. I thought I was prepared, but no matter how well you understand the “reality” in front of you, there’s nothing that really prepares you for such a loss. With a little distance and time, I am still realizing how much it knocked the wind out of my sails, and I’ll admit that I am struggling to get my energy and my painting “mojo” back.

If you, yourself, are a creative of any kind, I’m sure you know that feeling of creative flow. It’s so great when it’s present and really kind of miserable when it isn’t. That’s not to say that I haven’t painted at all. In fact, the paintings I’m sharing in this post are from commissions and projects I worked on over the past few months. But it’s been hard to get that momentum going where gears are all greased and the ideas and inspiration just keep flowing and I’m chomping at the bit with my next idea.

I suppose there are art marketing gurus out there that say that you should never admit such things and always put your most successful foot forward. “Fake it ‘til you make it,” so to speak, and only share your successes and never the struggle. That can sometimes be helpful, but it’s not particularly authentic. Let’s face it, the struggle can be real and I would venture to say I am not the only artist who has been in this place.

If you are in this place also, my advice is to be gentle on yourself. Do the work that is in front of you, do what you can, but don’t beat yourself up that it’s just “not happening” for you every time you step in front of the easel (or the potter’s wheel or the computer). Celebrate the moments of inspiration in whatever form and for however long they come. This too will pass, but in the meantime, the only way past it is to get through it the best way you know how.

For me, I’m reorganizing my studio, working on an new inventory management system, and cleaning up the office as a way to clear out both the mental and physical clutter. As a result, I’m holding a holiday sale of smaller (mostly plein air) paintings with some great savings in hopes that I can manage my limited storage space and also hopefully send a few more pieces out into the world. I’m also working on a series of still life paintings, as they are less dependent on time of day and weather. More about that in future posts.

Change is Good (on revising oil paintings)

I’m not afraid of anything in this world
There’s nothing you can throw at me
That I haven’t already heard
I’m just trying to find a decent melody
A song that I can sing in my own company
— Songwriters: Adam Clayton / Dave Evans / Larry Mullen / Paul Hewson (U2)

I've heard it said that there's nothing new under the sun, and that's probably true when it comes to painting. Nevertheless,  I never stop striving to improve, both in terms of technique and in how best to express myself. I want to make work that speaks to me and hopefully speaks to others as well. No one painting can say everything and I don't expect it to. The best paintings say just enough, with sensitivity, but without overstating. 

And then there are the ones that need re-stating. :-/  Often with such paintings it is easier to just wipe down or tear up my first effort and see if I can try again on a fresh canvas. Sometimes though,  it seems worth the effort to attempt a revision first before scrapping the whole darn thing. If the painting is fresh and new, reworking is a fairly easy and straightforward task, as there isn't an under-layer of built up paint to compete with.

But it may not occur to me right away exactly what change is needed, and it's only after sitting with it a while that I want to go back into it again. In these cases, a little bit of elbow grease is required, both to ensure proper adhesion of the new paint layers and to knock down any unwanted texture. 

My painting, "Rugosa Coastline" is a studio piece that was based on a smaller plein air piece I did when I was up in Maine. After a few months of thinking about it I decided that it lacked something that the plein air piece captured. I felt the studio piece was labored, overall too busy, and the colors, especially in the foreground greenery,  too intense for the time of day. So I set to work to see if I could make a few changes, to maybe loosen it up, and tone down the colors to ones more faithful to the time of day I was trying to capture.

First pass of my 24x30" studio painting based on the smaller plein air piece below.

First pass of my 24x30" studio painting based on the smaller plein air piece below.

"Day's End, Lane's Island", Oil on linen, 11x14" ©Jennifer E Young

"Day's End, Lane's Island", Oil on linen, 11x14" ©Jennifer E Young

My first order of business was to knock back some of the texture. Not all texture in the under layer is bad, but if there is  a lot of texture that shows through as a "ghost" image I will sand it down a bit. If it's really built up I may find I need scrape it away razor blade, very carefully, (and pray I don't poke a hole in the canvas). 

Next I will "oil out" to give the new paint layer better adhesion to the partially dried layer underneath. To oil out, solvents or medium (or a combination) is brushed in a thin layer on the surface of the portion of canvas you want to rework. Most often I just use a little Gamsol for this purpose. 

"Rugosa Coastline" (SOLD) Oil on linen, 24x30" ©Jennifer E Young

"Rugosa Coastline" (SOLD) Oil on linen, 24x30" ©Jennifer E Young

The resulting painting was still a bit different than the little plein air piece, but it felt truer to the time and place and to the feelings that I had when creating the painting on the spot. I felt significantly happier with the revised version of this painting, and wouldn't you know, someone else did too? It sold not long after the revision. 

Tune in to part two in my next post, where I'll share another revision I undertook, which ended up with more extensive and fairly dramatic changes. 

On Color and Social Media, Obsession and Restraint

Is it possible to be addicted to a paint color? I'm not sure that's a good thing, as I don't like the feeling of being overly-dependent on anything.  So I am really trying to temper my use, while at the same time exploiting the values of having it around. This also describes my experience with Social Media, and particularly with Facebook. I imagine Facebook still has some value to the small business, but on a personal level, it can prove a real time-waster, not to mention maddening, irritating, and downright invasive. On a personal level it's also a source of inspiration and community and sharing, which is why I joined up in the first place. But it is really hard in this case to exploit the positives while also avoiding the darker temptations and traps, so I am limiting myself overall.

"Afternoon Breeze, Rockland Breakwater", Oil on linen, 20x24"

"Afternoon Breeze, Rockland Breakwater", Oil on linen, 20x24"

For a long time I was resistant to jumping on the Facebook bandwagon. And it could be argued that when I finally did sign on, I may have come in at the tail end of an era where the platform provided a real benefit to small businesses for little to no investment other than a bit of time. As time went on, though, Instagram and Facebook began to replace blogging for me. After all, it was faster and seemed likely to reach many more people quicker than I could through blog subscribers alone. 

"Forsythia and Blue Delft", Oil on linen, 20x24"

"Forsythia and Blue Delft", Oil on linen, 20x24"

That's still an argument that can be made, but aside from the fact that Facebook is very much in the headlines these days, (and for reasons that are not all that flattering to the company) it seems harder and harder to find the same kind of reach that one could find in the good old days. I guess that's by design, in order to tempt users to buy ads. That's fine. It's a business model, and business is business I suppose.

But the price to be paid goes beyond money. It's the price of time, and yes, privacy. Say what you will about the fact that "nothing is private online." I don't argue with that or hold any illusions. I have never taken the silly quizzes or posted anything deeply personal that I haven't minded sharing. I understand that all of my info that I share is "out there". What bothers me is that my privacy decisions affect the privacy of my friends and vice-versa. Not only that but friends of friends. And not only them, but it turns out Facebook will even track the internet habits of people who never signed up for the service at all. That bothers me.  Facebook argues that anyone can go in and lock down third party apps and ultimately control a lot of what is shared. I have gone in and done that as much as I am capable of understanding how to do it. The problem is that in doing so, it renders the ease of sharing posts across platforms nearly impossible without spending an excessive amount of time on it.

Aside from all of that, I've found that my over-reliance on an outside platform to promote my work has resulted in the neglect of my self-hosted blog, and to a lesser extent, my website and even my studio time. I'm so incredibly short on time these days, and, let's face it, even peeking at your news feed or groups makes Facebook  a real time-suck.

Truth be told, I'm not sure how many people even read blogs any more, but I feel they still hold value, and think it would be a good idea to give blogging another shot. My hope is that people who are truly interested in my work will come find me here on my own domain first, with social and search serving as feeders. That seems to be the way it should be, but it's not the way it's been. 

"Winter Light at Stony Run Trail", Oil on linen, 20x24" 

"Winter Light at Stony Run Trail", Oil on linen, 20x24" 

I'm still sharing my work on social media (my preference these days is Instagram) but I'm going to step back from it a bit and give the old blog a little more love. As for the other obsession I mentioned, I have left a few clues for you in this post. These are a few of my recent paintings that I've shared on social media that I had neglected to blog about. The commonality among these pieces is the predominance of that certain color. Any guesses as to what it might be? Let me know in the comments and I'll 'fess up about it in my next post. 

New auctions listed; sale ends December 10th!

I'd like to extend my sincerest thanks to everyone who has bid on my online auctions! If you haven't checked them out in a few days, I have added several more original paintings to my auction site, with subjects ranging from beach to farm to garden. I plan to wrap up this online sale in a couple of weeks, so if you have been planning to bid on one of these paintings now is the time. Here's what's currently on the auction block: