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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why plywood?

"Curves" in progress.
"Curves" with 2x4 spacers in progress.

People often ask me why I use plywood as an art material. For me, plywood represents various aspects of humanity's relationship with the natural environment.
It's form contrasts with its texture, the wood grain from its source, live trees. Plywood, like most art materials available today, is one of many commercial products which are formed through the manipulation and control of a natural resource. 

A natural material transformed into a product by an industrial and technological process, plywood is easy to use and readily available, as well as economical and durable if treated properly. 

A disadvantage for me is the high cost of shipping it. This semester I am exploring ways of using small segments of plywood, measuring 22" or less, and attaching them together in order to save on shipping costs. 

My last show of plywood projects was very well-received, so I will continue to work with it in addition to painting on other surfaces.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mixing It Up

"Autumn" Stage 4 Acrylic on Canvas 36" x 48"

"Autumn" Stage 3 - Acrylic on Canvas 48" x 36"
Stage 3 - This painting actually looked more successful reduced to the small dimensions of the blog photo than it did in the studio!

Stage 4 - I  developed the diagonal shafts of light with more gradations. This began as a sketch with the idea of dripping on the diagonal, but I decided to use brushes to apply the paint. I had printed a photo of the canvas in its previous stage and then used colored pencils to suggest the diagonals. Soon I had the suggestion of light filling the central area of the painting.

In both of these works, I am interested in the vitality of the plants growing in neglected areas among abandoned junk. In "Autumn," I used the shape of an old oil tank, often found in rural areas where people leave their refuse. The other item is an old tire, which is still in my back yard. It is waiting to be taken away for proper recycling. The old boards are another feature of the former 'car port' which we had taken down a few years ago. A few of them have rotted nicely into interesting textures for my wooden projects. The garden has been neglected, yet it is furnishing me with material for explorations of humanity's relationship with the natural environment. I have come to a new appreciation of the plants which thrive in the flower beds and the lawn on their own.

"Pods" Stage 5 - 36" x 48" acrylic on canvas.
"Pods" Stage 4 Detail, Acrylic on Canvas 36" x 48"
"Pods" began with horse chestnuts I collected from my neighbour's yard. The green pods are spiny and sharp, but they spring open when they fall to the ground, releasing the shiny, smooth nuts inside. I left them on the window ledge of my studio for a few days and discovered that both the pod shells and the chestnuts dry out and shrink over time. In the painting, I want the pods to seem eccentric and sharp, even "creepy," resisting the touch of people and animals. The leaf shapes are based on the horse chestnut branches I brought into the studio and observed as they dried out and curled up.

I had to leave this canvas on the floor overnight so that it would dry without the splatters moving around. The drips have added energy and vitality to the composition, which was beginning to descend into dark, predictable forms. I have created some vertical drips running down over the upper part of the painting, mostly in the sky. When this doesn't appeal to me, I can wipe them off quickly and add more drops of paint to build up the sky area and the verticals in the background. There may be more work to be done on this painting.

This reminds me somewhat of Lynn Foulkes' use of wooden pieces, although what I have here is just a beginning. Nothing is glued or attached together as I am still developing the idea.
Wood Pieces1 - Natural vs. Industrial (kind of static)
Here I have collected tree bark and rotted wood from my yard. I sealed them with 'Clear Coat' plyurethane. Hopefully no critters from the outdoors have moved indoors from them! I also have a few 'craft' blocks of whittling wood which form a contrast with the rough, natural textures. I'm not sure if this arrangement is dynamic enough to pursue.

Here is another easy landscape use of the bark (too easy perhaps). I would carve into the plywood, perhaps glue some textural material onto it, and treat the surface either with paint or by leaving the project out in the weather on my patio. The bark would need at least one more coat of 'Clear Coat' as it breaks very easily.
Wood Pieces2 - Easy Landscape (too easy?)
I will forage in the yard again and see if I can find some larger pieces of debris. It would be great to create a three-panel project.

Plywood Project - "Curves" with 2" x 4" spacers
Suzanne Gauthier, my mentor, suggested that I use pieces of 2" x 4" as spacers. I agree that these pieces add interest and solidity to the project when it is viewed from the sides. There will also be a couple of spacers on the back of the quarter circle (on the floor) to push it off the wall when the project is hanging. I will sand the edges of the spacers, drill holes in the right places for bolts and paint the pieces to go with the plywood shapes. I will try the same glazes, but I may paint them black instead. I still have the florescent paint in mind for the back, so we'll see what happens!

This relief sculpture also alludes to the natural vs the industrial. The plywood is highly industrialized, but it shows the grain of its original tree trunks. I have modified the surfaces with my router and my paint, which are both technological processes. The black bolts will refer to our desire to contain and control the vitality of natural forms from our environment.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Autumn, Pods and Plywood

Plywood Project "Curves" apr. 22" x 22" when assembled.
Yesterday I painted the panels for my plywood relief project with three glazes. I tried Turquoise mixed with  Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue. I was surprised that the Turquoise behaves as a powerful green. I added Cadmium Red Medium to counteract the intensity, but I still had a strong green. I painted it on and wiped the excess off with a cloth. The next layer was a thin brown; Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue, applied with a dry brush and rubbed with the cloth. Finally, I created a bluish glaze leaning towards violet to cool down the brown. The panels seem to be a cool brown from a distance, but when you are closer, you can see the color and grain variations in the wood.

I roughed up the ends of the carriage bolts with coarse sandpaper and painted them black, so that they are still a part of the project, but not quite so dominant. Next I should decide what to use as spacers in between each panel. My mentor was not impressed with the wooden spools I was using. She suggested blocks of wood instead, which seem to look less noticeable. I have decided that this project will hang on the wall as a relief as I did not spend enough time considering what it will look like from behind or even from the sides.

"Autumn" Stage 2 - Acrylic on canvas 48" x 36."
Today I took the plunge and went back to work on "Autumn," covering most of the background with a thin glaze of white and Naples Yellow to soften and warm it up. I worked on the greys, using brown to pinkish tints, blue-grey and browns. A soft green adds a bit of contrast to the yellow and orange leaves. This is an improvement, however, there is still more to do on this before it is finished. I want to keep the loose approach. Perhaps I will add some judicious drips and splatters.

"Pods" Stage 3 - Acrylic on canvas 36" x 48."
As you can see, I have warmed up the tones with Naples Yellow and white, and added more foliage in the middle ground of "Pods." In addition, varying the greys results in hints of greenish-grey, pinkish-grey and orange-grey. There is a significant amount of thin brown glaze in the dark area in the lower right-hand corner, but it looks densely black in the photo. I may use some drips and spatters on this canvas, but I am undecided. When I see what happnes with "Autumn" I will decide! I am trying to make each project different from all previous ones. I don't plan to drip and spatter on everything this semester.
"Pods" Stage 3 detail
In these details you can see the sketchy application of the paint. It is still quite thin on the canvas surface, leaving the open for adding textures in the paint.
"Pods" Stage 3 detail.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pods and Whisperings

"Pods" Stage 2. Acrylic on Canvas 36" x 48."

"Pods" detail. I like the looseness, but the color is still too strong.
 The paint in phase 2 of "Pods" was loosely applied while observing horse chestnut pods, nuts and twigs in the studio. The leaves were slowly drying out and curling, creating swirls and calligraphic lines. I worked over some of the intense orange leaves to subdue them a bit. The central glowing sun area needs a middle ground in front of it. I may paint some amorphous leaf shapes with less detail than the chestnut leaves in the foreground. More subtlety is also needed.

The verticals in the middle ground could use some textural elements to suggest tree trunks perhaps. Light could be coming from street lamps as opposed to the hazy sun, which seems quite cliché and sci-fi. The greys need more variation; tints and shades with other colors cooling and warming them. Suzanne, my mentor, suggested mixing black and grey from other hues and putting aside the black and white paint tubes. This painting and "Autumn" are the first I have done with Mars Black as my darkest hue. It was an experiment, but I think I went overboard. However, what is on the canvas is only the beginning of the project!

On Friday, while in Halifax, I attended a talk given by artist Rick Leong at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University. It was very interesting to see how Rick takes inspiration from his Asian background and transforms it into his large, whimsical paintings of imagined landscapes. Often he creates an illusion in blades of grass, reeds or twigs, which become hidden images. He also paints misty, amorphous dream landscapes which seem to come from a different stream of consciousness. Much of his work is determined by detailed linear drawings which he transfers to panels and then paints. I found that they reminded me of a lavishly illustrated book I had as a child of Japanese fairy tales.

Rick is artist in residence at NASCAD for the next month or so. I am looking forward to seeing his current projects on exhibit when he finishes them sometime in November. It is so much more informative to see the actual work than to look at digital images or a web site.

Whispering Grass and Silent Water by Rick Leong. 6' x 9'   2011

Curves and Bolts

"Curves" Carved Plywood, Free-Standing 22" x 22"

"Curves" side view

"Curves" Sketch for possible placement of holes and bolts.
The dark dots represent possible holes drilled through the plywood.
The white circles represent the metal bolt ends.
My latest three-dimensional effort in plywood has presented some interesting challenges. I had to work with the materials directly to develop the project and it is still in flux.  After discussing various ideas with Suzanne Gauthier, my mentor, I decided to take the pieces apart. The smallest quarter circle swung down and around on its last bolt, and I was able to stand the whole construction up to be free-standing when I tightened the bolt. If I decide to stand it up, I will need to create some interest on the back of each panel. I have been thinking of it as a relief sculpture hanging on the wall up to this point.

Suzanne felt that the bolts were too much in evidence, but I think this arrangement is an improvement. I may paint the bolt ends in subdued colors, and perhaps drill extra holes in the wood to break up the linear patterns of the grains. I may change the wing nuts I have been using on the back of each panel to a less noticeable type of nut. I am planning to paint the panels in transparent layers of blues and browns until the wood grain is almost submerged under the glazes. All sides of the work will be painted.  I have purchased some florescent paint to use on the back of a plywood project in order to cast a pink or orange glow on the wall behind it. I am not certain whether or not I will use it on this particular sculpture.

I like the contrast of the metal with the wood's surface as well. I think of the bolts representing humanity's efforts to control "nature" and organic processes. The wood grains I have enlarged with the router tool seem to resist the bolts.I hope that there will be some tension created between them. Hopefully I can make it work. If not, there are always dowels and plastic wood paste I can use to fill in all the holes I have drilled! 

Commercially produced wooden spools function as spacers. With this arrangement, they seem to work. I may also try cubic blocks of wood. One of my objectives with this project is to create a sculpture which I can take apart for shipping and reassemble easily. If all of the pieces can fit into a 24" x 24" x 24" carton, so much the  better as I will save substantially on shipping costs.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Symposium d' Art Nature 2012

Michael Belmore with "Residual."

"Residual" seems to glow and flicker in between the stones.

"Pawakan" by Ned Bear.
Paul Griffin discussing "Sarcophagus for an Elm."
The third Symposium d'Art Nature took place in Moncton September 28 - October 7, 2012 at the Parc écologique du Millénaire, adjacent to the Université de Moncton campus. Although I was not able to take in all of the lectures and activities offered during the week, I attended the artist talk given by Rose-Marie Goulet who works in conjunction with architects in designing large public art works. Her most well-known piece is "Nef pour quatorze reines," the memorial to the fourteen women killed by an armed man in their classroom at the École polytechnique in Montréal, December sixth 1989. Another notable work was installed in the Palais Montcalm and Salle Raoul-Jobin, featuring lettering and musical scores. It was interesting to hear the process of planning at the initial stages, when the architects are developing plans for the project. This way, the cost of materials, production and installation are included in the overall budget for construction. It seems that many of Ms. Goulet's projects are funded through the 1% regulation for public buildings in Québec.

Following the lecture, I visited the nine sites outdoors where nature art projects were underway. On Saturday, I returned to see them finished. I was very impressed with the subtlety of Michael Belmore's "Residual." On an overcast day, the effect is more pronounced, as if the stones are glowing with magma inside. Michael creates this with copper leaf, a material he has used on at least 19 other previous projects.

Ned Bear has carved directly into the living tree, which has become somewhat controversial. he has been making these carvings for some time in different locations, presumably the trees are not harmed as long as he doesn't carve too deeply. I am interested to return after the winter to see the effect of weathering on the exposed wood.

Paul Griffin's elm tree trunk is encased in roofing nails, totally changing its appearance. The plan was to set it up vertically once the nails are complete. I fund it more interesting when part of the trunk was exposed without nails. The bark of the tree had been removed prior to hammering in nails. Paul described how his studio had burned down and the wood he salvaged actually led to a new body of work.

Gilbert LeBlanc created a labyrinth based on the maze in Chartres Cathedral, using straw found on site and clipped grass. The idea is to follow the maze while contemplating or meditating. It is fascinating because you cannot see where each path will lead you, although there is a concentric symmetry to teh whole.

The permanent installation by Bob Verschueren is also very captivating. The official unveiling of "Renaître" was taking place with a crowd, so I plan to return to take photos. White stone os various dimensions has been carefully arranged in a low hollow with a pathway through it. When you descend the path, you are enclosed in this mini-environment.

Other installations from previous years encourage contemplation and meditation within the park.

I have also been trying out my new camera at the nature park and in my back yard. I must read the detailed manual before going out again with it, but I am pleased with the results so far! In my studio work I am finding that I am more successful if I use my sketches and drawings as sources. However, I enjoy photography, and sometimes it serves to bring ideas to the fore which I later pursue in drawings and sketches.

Wood has been rotting away in my back yard, becoming an art material!

Peeling paint creates interesting shadows.
Next summer we will have to have this part of the exterior basement wall re-painted!

I've always been fascinated with horse chestnuts and their strange casings.
This one looks like an alien being springing from its interstellar pod.

Butternut trees are a protected species in New Brunswick, Canada.
If only I'd known when I pulled a few out of our lawn!
The neighbourhood squirrel has been busy planting nuts.

Ivy again and peeling paint.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Pods 1

"Pods" Phase 1 Acrylic on Canvas 36" x 48"
Tangled undergrowth and strange, spiny pods in an urban vacant lot form the beginning of this painting. I think of it as an under painting, laying the main tonal areas and suggesting colors which I will subdue with transparent layers subsequently. I want to create the impression of light bathing ambiguous forms  with a few splashes of color. Originally, I planned to paint the spiny seed pods in detail. We'll see what happens as the painting progresses. The orange and pink are too flat and bright, but this will illuminate the shapes from inside through multiple layers of paint as I model them.

I have been working on my latest plywood project, but I need to buy a 3/8 " drill bit in order to proceed with it. Today I purchased wooden spools which will function as spacers between the layers of plywood. I have enough bolts and wing nuts to attach the project together. It will be interesting to see how it balances! Stay tuned for a photo of the carved panels set up with spacers. After drilling holes for the bolts, I can proceed to paint the panels. I bought a new camera today, so I am able to take photos again without resorting to my basic mobile phone.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Plywood and Pink

"Autumn or the Power of Pink"  48" x 36" Acrylic on canvas - phase 1.

Mock-up for the next plywood project.
Each piece measures no longer or wider than 22".

Mock-up with plant forms.

Original Sketch which changed during the process!

After a bout with an abscessed tooth, I am back to the studio. The other day I began working with the cardboard to develop my next low relief project, and I began playing with the shapes. I decided to make some changes to my original idea. I am still interested in showing how the plants resist containment and do their best to break free of the geometric shapes which contain them. The finished project will be bolted together with spacers between the pieces to cast shadows. I decide to use ivy as the inspiration for the leaves as the ferns were too complex for the shapes I have had cut in plywood. Perhaps I will use fern-inspired shapes on a future project. Today I picked up the plywood pieces cut out and nicely sanded at my local frame shape. I admit to feeling ill at ease using power tools. We don't have any at our house anyway!

Today I began a new canvas as well. I like the sketchy quality of the shapes, even though abstraction is not evident. I painted the canvas white to grey to dark grey to begin with. Then I sketched the stems and leaves using segments of ivy vine I brought from home. Next I began thinking of an old oil tank left outdoors in the weeds. The composition needed another vertical, which could become a tree trunk or a square post. I used brilliant magenta at first on the leaves. It really turns me off as a color, straight from the tube, so I washed some yellow over it in places which works better for me. I like the effect, but I will probably work more on it without losing the freshness of the sketch. It felt good to make a picture without over planning it. I have thought about this canvas a great deal before beginning it, but as it formed in front of me, I made new decisions.