Here are a few of the artworks I’ve recently sent to Joseph Gierek Fine Art (www.gierek.com) for the upcoming Holiday Art Show. I’m sure you’ll notice my “still life” object practice work now combined with characters. Yes, I’m trying to make every element count toward the visual story. You know, like a writer tries to make every word count.
As you know I’d illustrated some of Chef Kim Mahan’s recipes. Well another chef – Chef Sebastian Carosi – saw the work I’d done for Chef Mahan and asked me to come to a photo shoot today. So I went and drew pictures of Chef Carosi’s Roasted Butternut Squash Soup – as it was being professionally photographed.
I took my favorite waterproof ink pen, my watercolors and some paper. I drew and painted – a lot – while dodging to keep out of the way of photographers, assistants and Chef Carosi, who was doing last minute soup garnishing just prior to placing a beautiful bowl of soup under the bright photographic lights.
Here’s a couple of pages of what I did – and a bit of the equipment I did it with:
I did many more drawings than what is shown in the photo. During a break the Chef and I talked about what I’d done… He liked my “soup as a sunset” visual story/metaphor. But he really likes my hand-written recipes and characters. So in my studio I’ll do a redesign and create a “character” out of one of the ingredients and hand-write the recipe data.
We finished up the photoshoot (and I did more drawings) and then we all ate soup.
Oh my!!!! Smooth, creamy, earthy… like a hug for tummy and soul. Now how to translate THAT into artwork???
Anyway here’s a link to Chef Sebastian Carosi – he likes to use locally sourced ingredients, some from his own garden, some foraged from the local PNW landscape and some purchased from local companies like Jacobsen Salt and Fairwinds. There was also a local cheese that we sampled. I meant to look at the wrapper or at least ask again for the name of the cheese maker. But in the fast-paced photoshoot food-illustration event I forgot.
Still it’s been a delightful day of drawing soup and soup ingredients and meeting new people! What fun!
Will draw more soup tomorrow…
Update: The cheese I referred to above was from Ferndale Farmstead
Typically I paint food and drinks from my memory and imagination. Sort of. I take my sketchbook along and draw from life what I’m eating or drinking. But when I get paints out in my studio to do a “real” fine art piece I’m winging it from my sketchbook-aided memories of the food flavors and presentation. Recently I’ve done something different.
I’ve been working from “live” models in my studio. Here are my models as they came from the store:
You see, I’ve been thinking of that moment during a nice dinner out, when the waiter brings you some after dinner mints, and you sit with your friends munching them and gentling into the rest of the evening. But I can eat mints pretty quickly. (Mint is one of my favorite flavors) And in such a situation I’m usually focused on the conversation. So have I ever really looked at a mint? I mean really looked?
I bought some mint candies as art models for the serious artistic meditation thereof. And while I did look at (and eat) them I still ended up somewhat “winging it” when creating these paintings:
I think as paintings they worked out okay. While I tried some different colors (the purple, the teal and the orange) I feel I conveyed the minty goodness of the candies. I also think I managed to imply a story in each of them, at least an implication of people eating the mints.
At any rate I have really looked a mint now. Really looked.
Beauty and wisdom are all around us if we’re attuned to look for them. Like a mystery story detective looking for clues we train our eyes to “see” what is there. This is partially a function of he way our brains work. We see what we expect to see. How broad or narrow that expectation is affects what we will see. It’s all too easy to “see” only to-do lists and drudgery in daily life. It’s too easy to “see” beauty only in dramatic once-in-a-lifetime vacation places. Yet our view can be broadened so we can see beauty in the fruit at the local market – and find wisdom on our coffee cup.
I see my job as an artist as a practice of seeing beauty in ordinary places and things; of telling the stories of the beauty and the wisdom I find. To help others to see the beauty too.
Beauty and wisdom can be too easily ignored, lost and forgotten – and when that happens life can seem dull and drudgery filled. This is why we need to constantly train our eyes and minds to look around our mundane lives and see the beauty, the wisdom. It takes repeated practice. It takes detective work.
Dr. Bob Hoke (the psychiatrist I illustrated a book for) had a phrase for this phenomenon of the mind “When the student is ready the teacher will appear. And sometimes the teacher has been there all along waiting patiently for the student to become ready, to notice and remember to notice again the next day.”
Here are some beautiful ordinary things I remembered to see – and what I thought about them:
Life’s A Bowl Of Cherries, Stems, Pits and All – At the farmer’s market during Rainier Cherry season I saw a father teaching his very young son how to pull a stem off, chew the cherry, extract the pit and put the stim and pit into a cup. it reminded me of how we have to be taught how to deal with the adversities in life, how to cope with the pits, how to focus on and remember to enjoy the good things.
Coffee City – I’ve been thinking of how much our lives are reflected in the objects we own, save, give away or dispose of – and the many mundane moments out of which a life is made. Perhaps choosing carefully what we focus on, choosing what encourages our “better angels”, choosing what becomes mundane is what makes for a good life. These thoughts began when I was having coffee in one of my downtown coffee shops, staring at the highly polished surface of the ceramic coffee cup which reflected the surrounding city-scape. It was an ordinary moment that elevated my spirit. So I made this painting in order to remember.
More info about my upcoming art opening is available on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/events/2217205128523609/
True confessions: since the opening party is tomorrow night I am having a bit of the “will anyone come?” jitters. No matter that I’ve been having one person exhibits for many years, many times a year, or that all events have for the most part been well attended – even knowing all of that as opening night nears I get a little nervous. (“Will anyone else see….?”) The exhibits matter to me. They’re risky on many levels. That’s part of the exhilarating fun of living the artistic life.
So, yes, I can see the beauty in my nervousness.
There was a time when I felt that writing words-in-a-row about visual art was rather like using lemon juice to describe honey. But somewhere along the way I realized that being a professional artist out in the “real world” meant I didn’t have to write as if I were in an academic university. That was a relief. And I realized that writing about visual art was like combining multi-media or like a playwright creating a musical theatre piece about a historical event.
It’s genre bending/blending.
So I began practicing writing about my own visual art in an everyday conversational way. When I’m coming up with my artistic ideas I write by hand what I’m thinking and feeling as I’m drawing in my sketchbooks. Later on I use that hand written data to write more formal “blurbs”, or story-clues, about what inspired each of my artworks. I say “more formal” because the blurbs are type-written, the spelling has been checked and the original hand written data has been neatened/edited/condensed. These “blurbs” are often printed and posted near my artwork in exhibits. In my writings I largely leave off the technical points of artistic technique because the majority of the time I’m talking to the general public. (Of course if I’m asked about art techniques I’ll gladly share details!)
In Sept I’m doing a one-person exhibit titled “Story Stuff” at Caplan Art Designs (I wrote more about that in a post titled Cozy Mystery Story Stuff). Here are a few of the artworks and the “blurbs” (story-clues?) I’ve written that will be alongside the art at my exhibit:
Near Forest Park – I enjoy hiking in a large forest in the middle of an urban city (Portland Or). I love it that I can pop out of the dense forest, get a coffee – or boot laces – and then resume my hike.
A Novel Morning – One of my favorite things to do is to go to Powell’s bookstore, find a new-to-me novel and then get something in the café. The “text” in this painting is re-combined and paraphrased from “Death at La Fenice” by Donna Leon.
Good Morning – What constitutes a “good morning”? One of my answers is plenty of coffee and enough leisure time to work the daily newspaper’s crossword puzzle.
During my exhibits I’ll often see people reading the blurbs and then looking more closely at my artwork – and sometimes they’ll approach me and talk about the topic within one of my paintings. It seems that my “multi-media” pictures-plus-words exercise is helpful for starting conversations at least.
What are your thoughts about combining writing and visual art?
In September at Caplan Art Designs www.caplanartdesigns.com I’m doing a one-person fine art exhibit titled “Story Stuff”. And you can thank the literary genre of the “cozy mystery” for it.
You see I enjoy detective novels and movies. I particularly enjoy cozy mystery novels because I like the inherent premise in them that a regular person living an ordinary mundane sort of life can use reason and logic to resolve problems.
After reading and watching a gazillion mystery stories – I realized how often some small object; a receipt, a coffee bag, or a whiskey tumbler is the clue that solves the mystery. That thought inspired me to try telling visual stories with “just stuff”. So for this exhibit I’ve selected things from my daily life and arranged them in my imagination, along with color, light and texture, in such a way that the viewer can deduce a story; they can “read” my visual description of how things are and which things matter. The viewer becomes the story detective/character-actor.
In some of my works I’ve also invented a character-actor – a cat or a dog – who plays a more obvious part in the story. Anthropomorphic animals are a way to make it plain that the artwork is a visual story. These particular animal characters are created and chosen because their breed characteristics add elements to the tale. The viewer is still the detective – there’s just more actors on stage.
I’m merging fine art techniques, and fine art genres of “Still Life” and “Animals in Art”, with literary and mystery genre concepts. I also love food, drinks and books – they are the elements of everyday Pacific Northwest life which for me is the stuff of stories.
Here’s (ahem) a short story collection from my upcoming exhibit:
I do better now, writing words-in-a-row, than I did once upon a time. Reading text has never been a problem for me – but speaking, and writing. Whew! Lets just say good speech therapists, theatre-acting coaches and writing class instructors are worth their weights in all the precious things in the world combined. As a kid practicing speaking by reading aloud from a comic book or a picture book felt less intimidating than reading aloud from a text-only book.
Even today I enjoy visiting art museums and galleries and looking at the artwork first, reading the labels last. I enjoy looking at coffee-table books with big glorious pictures – forming my own thoughts first – reading the words later.
Nowadays I read plenty of books cover to cover that have text only, no pictures at all. I even give demo’s and talk in front of 200 or more people without as much as a blink. (Wish my 10 year old self, who threw up at the thought of giving an oral book report, could see me now!)
So it has become a philosophical point to ponder with me – when is text important? When is an image important? When to have the words? When to have the pictures? How much of either?
For example I love it that signs for the restrooms are often pictograms. You can “read” them no matter what your language – or your linguistic skill level. Much of our international travel culture utilizes visual maps and non-verbal way-finding signs for things like hospitals, airports and government buildings – using pictograms rather than single language dependent text.
As I’ve worked on a new artist book containing my cat themed fine art I’ve thought a lot about whether or not to have text along with the images. If text – how much? Text located where in the book?
When I did my book “Dogs” I had the text at the end – and didn’t include much of it there either. The majority of the book is images.
On the one hand I spend quite a lot of time coming up with the titles for each of my artworks and it seems almost a shame to not list the titles. But I’ve often noticed – at museums and galleries – that people read the label-wall-text and sometimes forget to look at the pictures.
So sometimes I deliberately create text for use in my fine art gallery exhibits… just to be contrary. I’ve even created whole artist books with text and sketches to accompany my fine art exhibits. But sometimes I omit text completely and rely on my art images alone, the curious can ask the person running the gallery for more info. In this way I purposefully encourage people to verbally-talk with each other. Which way I go – words and/or pictures – often depends on the exhibit.
Like I say for me the words and pictures question is an ongoing, almost daily, one.
People seem to enjoy my Dogs book as it is – largely without text. And I’ve noticed that I’ve sold that book fairly well in non-English speaking countries. People of all ages seem to like it. So….
“Cats by Sue Clancy” will be largely wordless too. Here’s what the cover will look like:
The book is square, 7×7 in, 18×18 cm and 22 pages – full color. Here’s an early-reader link to the book http://www.blurb.com/b/8837851-cats In fact “Cats” has even fewer words than “Dogs” does – but more pictures in full color.
I’m sure I’ll continue to have this words and pictures discussion with myself in every book and every art exhibit I create. But I’m curious about your thoughts: do you look at words first? Or pictures first? What are your thoughts about wordless books?
Rainier cherries are still available for sale here in the Pacific Northwest. They’re everywhere. Yesterday I saw a father and his young son eating cherries from a bag. The father was coaching the son on how to carefully chew the cherry, extract the pit and spit it into a cup.
Watching that reminded me that we have to be taught how to deal with the adversities in life, how to focus on and enjoy the good things, how to pull off the unwanted stems, to watch out for the pits and learn to cope with them – but to remember the enjoyment.
Here’s a painting I just finished titled “Life’s A Bowl Of Cherries, Stems, Pits And All”
It’s my birthday so you get a present! Because you’re a regular reader of my posts, here is a free downloadable e-book copy of my “Running Around Loose” sketchbook. It’s a pdf file, click RunningLooseVanEd1byClancy to download the book for free (it’s a birthday gift!). I’ll include a few sample pages in this post so you’ll have some clues as to what you’ll get when you open the file. Enjoy! And thanks again for looking at my stuff!
Now please pass the strawberries and whipped cream.
It took some doing but I finished the painting I was working on in my last post (here). I’ve titled it “A Novel Morning”. It is 24 inches by 18 inches – acrylic and gouache on board.
The text in the painting was paraphrased from Dona Leon’s book “Death at La Fenice” – the first book in her Commissario Brunetti series. I adjusted the text for artistic reasons too numerous to write about in detail here – mainly because I’m lazy about typing words in a row – the gist being that I wanted to convey visually what I find alluring in Leon’s novelistic work; i.e. I love the food connection.
And I included the Powell’s bookstore receipt in the painting because one of my favorite things to do is go to a local bookstore, find a new-to-me novel, visit the in-bookstore coffee shop and consider the author/book carefully. That’s my idea of heaven.