Paintings and Journeys by Leslie

Open Door, 2012

In July and August I took the advanced painting class that Lisa Congdon and Mati McDonough offer called Beyond the Basics. The approach in this class was a little different than in the original Get Your Paint On, instead of doing one painting per week for five weeks, we worked on one or two paintings slowly over the five week period. Each week we completed one stage and built up the canvas as we went.

Rolling Hills and Houses, 2012I hadn't taken a painting class before Get Your Paint On and it hadn't occurred to me to create a painting in stages, slowly building up the layers and carefully refining the shapes and colors as I went. It seems so obvious now, but you know what they say about hindsight. You can see an animated gif of the four stages I took Rolling Hills and Houses through. To see the four stages of Open Door, scroll to the bottom of the post. I love watching them cycle through the stages, to see how they go from rough, washy images to a clear, sharp and solid paintings.

It was so helpful to slow down the process and really take my time. This approach ensures that there is room to make mistakes and fix them as you go along. Paint can always be painted over and the richness that develops as you layer paint is really incredible. I feel like I am finally grasping concepts that will help me illustrate the ideas and scenes in my head and I look forward to continuing to paint.

For these two paintings I wanted to illustrate the idea of being on a journey and to also continue with the house and feather themes from two paintings I made in the first GYPO class. Open Door is a little more obvious and the concept began with the door handle. I modelled it after the door handle in my old room of the house I grew up in. I wondered, what would be inspiring to find behind a door you opened at the beginning of a journey? For me, it would be an old letter from a friend offering advice, a compass to find my way and a feather so I could fly. It's up to you what is inside the box. Maybe an invisibility cloak, or puzzle pieces, or even a sledgehammer. The box contains whatever it is you need on your journey.

In the second painting I wanted to visually represent the six stages I feel like I have passed through in my own life. The small house on the left represents my childhood. The house on the bottom right represents my teen years and has a distorted perspective from the rest of the houses, the next house up with a huge red roof represents my college years that had so much learning and thought. The house with the glowing yellow roof is my amazing time working as a designer in New York City and the house on the top right represents me as a mother. My motherhood house has a small roof but a huge main floor full of love. The last house on the top left is where I am at now. It's the biggest and most balanced of them all.

I'm really happy with them, I feel like I was successful at making these paintings into what I wanted them to be, but I still have that feeling of seeing other paintings and wishing I had made something else instead. Isn't it weird that despite what we accomplish we still wish we had done something more or something different? These paintings are far more colorful than the type of paintings I am drawn too and they feel like they are missing some kind of sophistication or coolness. I don't know, maybe it's my own internal critic but I suppose I simply must keep working. I'm pretty sure that the more paintings I make, the better they will be.

I'd love your feedback. I mean, if you think these paintings suck please don't tell me THAT, but you know, constructive criticism would be awesome. Thanks friends! Your input and support is always so valuable to me.

Getting My Paint On: Weeks Two, Three and Four by Leslie

Get Your Paint On - Week 4: Composition

The painting class I was taking, Get Your Paint On, is over but I still have to finish my final painting. (EDIT: Here is my final painting for the class!) These are the paintings that I completed for weeks two, three and four and I am quite proud of them! (Week One is here.) I got some excellent feedback from my classmates and instructors in the Flickr group, and despite the madness that has been the last few weeks, with travel and life, I was able to get everything done and be happy with what I was able to produce. 

The painting above went through a remarkable metamorphosis, starting out as this. I had no plan and I just kept painting until I was happy with it. If I painted an area I didn't like, I would just paint it out with white or titan buff. I did that a lot, and the texture was built up and I really liked the layering process. I hope in the future to be able to direct myself more toward a goal like this, rather than flailing around and not knowing what I am working towards, but for now I am just enjoying the discovery and the process of painting. Here is what Lisa had to say about my painting,

"Wow. That's what I said when I saw this just now for the first time. I think you have some real talent as a painter, Leslie! The colors and composition here are just amazing. The texture is also fantastic. I love the little moon too. My only suggestion is that the barn/house is a tiny bit vast and takes over a bit. I am wondering if the space would be broken up a bit if you added a window on the side the same color as the door? but further up? I think that would help the composition slightly. - Lisa"

For the painting below, the beach scene, I actually did have a clear idea of what I wanted to paint. I sketched the scene out on paper first and I knew exactly what kind of colors I wanted to use. I really enjoy the color mixing process and I think all the experience I have had as a photographer and designer really helps me here. I see and think in colors all the time. I was so thrilled to see that this painting was selected by Mati and Lisa to be highlighted in the final class blog post! I included what they had to say about it below.

Get Your Paint On - Week 3: Color #1

From the Flickr pool: "There is quite a lot I like about this painting, Leslie. I love the colors, first. It's a really nice balance of warm and cool. I also think the composition is exquisite. I love the juxtaposition of the diagonal line with the straight line and how the line of the sign mirrors the diagonal line of the beach. The tiny ship is just the perfect amount of detail. This is very Edward Hopper to me. Anyhow, my only feedback is that I'd like to see more shading on the sign to make it appear as if it's popped forward a bit. The tricky thing is we haven't "taught" this yet, so I hesitate to even give this feedback! I'm wondering if even the slightest, thinnest dark great line around the edge of the sign would help move it forward a bit? Other than that, I think it's almost perfection. - Lisa"

From the class blog: "Here are some things that make this painting successful:
+Color: Variations in blue. Nothing is entirely flat. And yet it has a soft, flat feel to it. Balance of warm and cool colors, but cool dominates. 
+Composition: really wonderful placement of everything -- from the sign that is slightly diagonal to mirror the beach line, and the horizon line with a ship far in the distance. Nothing competes in this painting. Everything is in perfect balance.
+Consistency: This painting is consistent. It's flat but it's also painterly (which is really hard to pull off successfully) and every element has the same level of paint application and brush stroke. I feel like every inch of the canvas got the same attention. Nothing is "underworked". 
+Subject matter: this painting is narrative. We are forced to ponder: "what's happening here?"
Awesome piece. - Mati and Lisa"

After all that positive feedback on both paintings I felt awesome, and thought that maybe I can do this art thing in a meaningful way, along side my photography. The feedback is invaluable and has increased my confidence in my painting abilities, but even without that I think I would have felt proud of what I had created. I knew that I had gotten these paintings to good places, where I was happy to show them and I was proud of what they looked like.

My fish painting, below, was fun to do. I almost didn't post it because it was kind of an after thought, but I am glad that I did. It got a lot of reaction on Facebook actually, from friends that were not taking the class. I painted it at the end of the day, to use up some paint I had left from the beach painting. I was just scrubbing paint on the canvas and then I added the fish shapes in a moment of inspiration. I enjoyed it, and I guess it shows. Sometimes you work so hard to pull something out of you, and sometimes it just flows.

Get Your Paint On - Week 3: Color #2

Get Your Paint On - Week 2: Inspiration (Ed Ruscha)


These last two paintings were done for week two. The assignment was to choose a painter who inspires us and I chose Ed Ruscha. I've loved his work for a long time and it tied in nicely to the typography work I've been doing. I also used a photograph I had taken, of a sunset over New York, as the inspiration for the background. The process of taping out the words was tedious, but for the first time I used a bone folder to "seal" the tape edges and prevent any paint from leaking under. It worked! I really loved painting the skyline and the windows and I think I am going to try painting a few more skylines. I do prefer the realism of the skyline and the technique for painting the sky in the canvas on the left.

Overall I have learned so much! Just getting a push to paint once a week was helpful and Lisa and Mati gave plenty of guidance and examples of techniques and styles. The positive feedback was the best, to hear that I have talent is a huge motivating factor for me. I know I love to paint and when I push myself past the ugly I can get it to a nice place. The key is to just keep working on it!

If you are thinking of doing a painting class, but can't commit to attending a class every week in person, this is a great self-paced and easy environment to learn. As it is with these online courses, you get out of it what you put into it. I'll be signing up for the advanced class in the summer, to learn more about shading, creating dimension and deciding on subject matter. I can't wait!

Get Your Paint On: Week One by Leslie

GYPO Week One: Gee's Bend Inspired Painting #1 by Leslie

I started a five week online course called Get Your Paint On and last week I created two paintings (the first one is above and the second one at the bottom) inspired by the Gee's Bend Quilts (see them below, here and here). First, if you have not heard of them, they are incredible folk art quilts from an isolated area in Alabama where most of the population is descended from slaves. The traditions and skills associated with making these quilts have been passed down from generation to generation and remain a cornerstone of the community. The quilts are bold and graphic and have a beautiful aesthetic that is very similar to abstract painting. I love how loose these designs are, unconcerned with straight lines, but instead focused on color and pattern.

These are three of my favorite quilts:

Rachey Carey George (born 1908). Work-clothes strips, c. 1938. Denim (wool trousers, mattress ticking, cotton). 82 x 72 inches. The Collection of the Tinwood Alliance.

Annie Mae Young, born 1928. Work-clothes quilt with center medallion of corduroy strips, 1976. Denim, corduroy, synthetic blend, 108 x 77 inches. The Collection of the Tinwood Alliance

Rachel Carey George, born 1908. "Housetop"--sixteen-block "Half-Logcabin" variation sashed with feed sacks. ca. 1935, cotton sacking material and dress fabric, 86 x 86 inches. The Collection of the Tinwood Alliance

Aren't they incredible? I had heard about them before but I loved taking a closer look and using them as inspiration for my own paintings.

In the class Lisa Congdon and Mati McDonough have been sharing tons of information about their own work, process and materials, plus introductions to artists that they love and admire. There is a private Flickr group, where everyone can share their work and solicit feedback. It's a positive environment suited for any level painter and it's been fascinating to see how so many people, from all corners of the world, interpret an assignment and make it their own. I love the ability to learn with a multitude of people, while staying at home and having the flexibility to meet the demands of my regular life.

GYPO Week One: Gee's Bend Inspired Painting #2 by Leslie

The process of painting is a difficult one, one that take many years of practise, and despite my desire to teach myself to paint, and the few projects that I have done over the last two years, painting really is something that (for me) is better within the structure of a class and in a community environment where I can get feedback. I think I will learn a lot in the next month. This week the assignment is to select a painting/artist to be inspired by and I think I have settled on Ed Ruscha. I've loved his work for a long time, and was lucky enough to see some of his paintings in person in NYC a number of years ago. I still have not figured out which of his paintings to choose as my inspiration, but I have a couple of favorites.

I really do love this creative process, although I am often weighed down by the "why" of making art. I have to remember that "just because" is enough of a reason sometimes. There doesn't need to be a point or a purpose, as long as I enjoy making it. I think that is why I love the class environment so much, it gives me a reason to just explore and try new things. They will be offering the class again in the future, I know that there will for sure be a summer course called "Beyond the Basics" that is a continuation of the course I am in now.

Do you paint yourself? What are your inspirations and favorites?

I'll leave you with this great video, with audio by the fantastic Ira Glass, about being a beginner in creative work. Mati shared it in the course today and it's important to remember this wonderful advice anytime you are learning and doing creative work. Ira Glass is a writer, so he talks about creating stories, but you can switch it out with whatever creative pursuit you are following.