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.
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:
“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first” – Dr. Bob Hoke. That quote is one of many from my book Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit that I’ve found helpful in my life as a professional artist. [a link to that book is here: https://store.bookbaby.com/book/dr-bobs-emotional-repair-program-first-aid-kit]
When I begin any commissioned portrait of someone’s special dog (or cat) I make a series of practice sketches of that breed before I attempt a likeness of the special dog. Yes, I’ve been doing these portraits for years but I still find it helpful to start with the basic characteristics of the breed. Then I can look at someone’s special dog and see what makes that dog unique.
I’m currently working on a commissioned portrait that has a schnauzer in it. Here are a couple of practice schnauzers (not pictured are about 5 other practice pieces).
All of this talk of “practice” has reminded me of a story Dr. Bob told that is not in the above mentioned book. That story went like this:
Once there was an Emperor who had a pet rooster. He decided he wanted a portrait of his beloved rooster to be painted by the best artist in his land. One of the artists was invited to the palace and was asked to make the portrait. The artist agreed, saying that he would need 3 months in order to do it. Then he would return to the palace and paint the portrait in front of the Emperor. The Emperor was pleased. The artist went back to his studio and worked hard every day for 3 months. Then he returned to the palace, as agreed, with his art materials. The Emperor had his pet rooster brought before the artist. The artist watched the rooster for a while and began to paint. In about 3 minutes the painting was finished. The Emperor was thrilled with the portrait and asked for the artist’s fee. The artist named what sounded like a large sum. “What?!” bellowed the Emperor “That only took you 3 minutes to create! Why do you want so much money? Are you trying to swindle me?” The artist requested that the Emperor travel to his studio by way of a reply. Reluctantly the Emperor did so. When they arrived and the artist flung open the doors of his studio the Emperor saw thousands of rooster drawings. The artist described his work history and extensive training and while the Emperor marveled at all of the rooster portraits the artist added “The portrait of your rooster has actually taken me a lifetime to paint.” The Emperor happily paid the artist’s fee.
You can see more of my dog practice work in my newest book “Dogs by Sue Clancy” https://store.bookbaby.com/book/Dogs-By-Sue-Clancy
When I was a little kid I remember once telling my Grandmother “I’m bored.” She asked me to look for and find the smallest object in the house and bring it to her. After some time I found a safety-pin about 1/2 inch long and about 1/4 inch wide. She said “I’ll bet you can do better than that.” So off I went again searching. I came back with a needle. It was a bit longer than the safety-pin but much skinnier. Which led to a philosophical discussion of what constituted “small”.
I was not bored any more that day!
Fast forward a hundred years or so and I was working with psychiatrist Dr. Bob Hoke who wanted to publish a book that could be available for his patients. The question was how to “keep the young adults from getting bored” as many of them were not great readers of prose in general and certainly not of books about how to develop and maintain good mental health.
Dr. Bob was a story-teller and holding peoples attention in person was no problem for him. It was in writing where he thought he got “too didactic”. We hit upon the idea of doing a book in a primarily graphic-novel comic format. (That idea became “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” – more info is on my artist book webpage https://sueclancy.com/artist-books/)
As a result of my work with Dr. Bob on that book (and other projects) I began to focus much more on the “small details” within my fine art work as one way of communicating a story, developing a character and, yes, keeping a viewers visual interest.
So as I’ve been working towards my new book – the one that I’m thinking of calling “Dogs” – I’ve been thinking about which dogs I’ve drawn in ink that include small details, surprising details and even hidden subtle details.
Last evening I was looking up something in a book called “Drawing Masterclass” and I read this (again): “Animals as subject matter for the visual arts have a longer history than any other subject. The first images drawn by the human race depicted the animals that were hunted for survival [cave paintings]…. There is no period in art when animals have not played a major role.”
In my fine art animals become characters; my creative process is much like the way a novelist creates a character, a compilation of authorial thoughts and observations – a “collage” of them you might say – merged into one person/character within their story. I create anthropomorphic animal characters because I see humans as part of the natural world and the natural world as part of humanity. I’m inspired by both nature and culture.
So when I do animal portraits, people are there too. When I do a portrait of a particular dog, for example, a particular person (someone, or several someone’s I saw in real life) is also reflected. It becomes a visual story of that animal and that person. I define “story” as a plot where there is some surprise. The surprise in one of my visual stories might be the realization of how a human can be like a dachshund.
For example in my artwork titled “Happy Hour” (see image below) inside I sometimes feel happy and excited like my dachshund Rusty looks when he is bouncing around wagging his tail and dancing for his supper. (Places and objects enter in to my visual story creation too but that’s another discussion.)
My gallery agents often explain to clients that I create (as special commissions) portraits of pets as their pet owners; an imaginative merging of pet and person. And that’s true.
Here, so you can see what I’m talking about, are some of my animal portraits currently available at either Caplan Art Designs www.caplanartdesigns.com and at Joseph Gierek Fine Art www.gierek.com – please contact each gallery for more details.
I was looking in my files for some dog photos and found this graphic narrative I’d written and drawn some time ago. Since I’ve recently been practicing my “short narrative/ flash fiction/ nonsense” on this blog I thought you’d enjoy seeing this effort too!
Here is the long awaited video of my artist book “A Fish Story” – first I had to catch it (make the video), then I had to grill it (edit it down to one minute – the gallery wants all videos at a minute or less) then I had to de-bone it (remove the sound) after a next-door friend said he could hear his electric sander in the background of the video. (Q: How does a deaf person edit sound on a video? A: Verrry carefully with help from spouse and friends!) But finally… here is A Fish Story!
As I’ve been sharing on my blog today – www.sueclancy.com – I’m working on a pop-up book titled “A Fish Story”. In the photos below I’m living dangerously; I’m taking my now-dry pages and binding them carefully so that the parts that make the movable pop-up parts will be hidden – but will still allow for movement. In one of the photos you can see some of the hidden works before it’s hidden. I call the binding “living dangerously” because I’ve spent months at hand making each page so one slip of my knife now, or a mistake with the binding, and a page is dead! Some people sky dive or bungee cord jump or visit with elderly relatives… me, I bind a pop-up book. Whew!
As I posted to my www.sueclancy.com blog a bit ago I’m working on a pop-up book titled “A Fish Story”. Here is another photo of some freshly made (caught?) page spreads; the page at the top has a fishing line that moves, the page at the bottom has a fish that moves. In the photo I’m checking to see that the movable parts still move even after swimming in all that glue!