Monday, May 17, 2010

Glass Powder Painting : Part One

 In  my Designing With Glass class I attempt to relate the classic elements of design (point, line, form, shape, color, texture, etc) to the elements of glass (frit, stringer, slumping, cutting, paste, etc). In a recent class a student told me that she was a shape and color person. This is a very significant step on the journey of locating yourself on the pathway of self expression, because exploring just one element can be endless. Engravers play with line for their whole career. Rothko's color fields were based on the elimination of almost all of the elements of design save color, and he spent all of his final years exploring the raw experience of color.

Being able to identify which elements are central for you enables you to focus on those who have forged the path ahead of you, and who have spent their life's energy focused on a particular use and subset of the elements of design.

I'm not as brave as Rothko yet. I still need some sense of form, a recognizable subject. Color and color alone as the subject may be where I end up, but I'm not there yet. In the above digital abstraction from a photo the obvious subject is the tree.The abstraction process started by shooting very close to the ground with a wide angle zoom set to around 13mm. The image at the right is the original. I wanted to work with blue and yellow and it is a simple Photoshop process to change the colors. A little Topaz filter plug in magic and there you have it... digital art. (Art or not is a totally different topic)

This spring I visited Minnesota's Bluff Country in the southeast corner of the state along the Mississippi. I've been studying landscapes and have a high regard for the landscape painter Wolf Kahn. The landscape for me is my 'excuse' to lay down fields of color. I've noticed that the more form (the illusion of three dimensional shapes) I bring into an image the less it resonates with me. The same is true for the line, shape, texture and the rest. For me, all of the elements of design must become subservient to color. Wolf Kahn comes close, but he has a predominate formal subject too often, and a lot of his paintings seem muddy IMHO.

I went to the bluff country to find rolling vistas, but found that sitting high in the hills on scenic overlooks gives such a removed, distant and impersonal  feeling. I needed to get into the landscape, be part of it, and not aloft looking down. I traveled to the Amish country of southwest Wisconsin and found more suitable locations within the rolling hills and valleys. One creek valley in particular was strikingly pastoral, even otherworldly as though I had just transported myself into the English country side. These hidden acres nestled in a gentle rolling valley provided a quality of light and shade, sound and echo, and misty coolness totally opposite of the American farms up on the treeless and sun bleached hill tops - farms stripped of every form of variation in the relentless pursuit of agricultural efficacy.

There have been romantic painters of landscapes of course, but I seldom personally experienced for myself what they might have chosen as a subject worthy of portrayal. We can too easily romanticize the Amish life style, even make it ionic, and in some sense make it unreal and removed from our sense of reality. But here they were before me, living in their world hidden, but yet in plan site for the few who would venture onto this dusty and uneven gravel back road.

Driving very slowly I drank it all in. I saw small boys playing baseball with comical over sized mitts covering their hands. They were dressed in the typical light blue shirts, straw hats and black pants which made their mitt covered hands all the more conspicuous. An outfielder waved to me as I drifted past slowly. A school bell tolled only twice, breaking the aural calm momentarily. Children ran towards an unpainted weather worn school house as the bell's chime reverberated and faded into a valley being reborn in these those first days of spring.

I parked my car just to sit and take it in. I couldn't believe that these people lived here, actually passed their lives day by day in such a place of simple beauty. A horse and buggy approached, but was still a long way off as the sound of hooves against the gravel road preceded it. I dared not stare at them as they passed. This is their place, their country, and I did not want to intrude any more than what I already had.

There was only one small road that traveled through this hidden valley. A petite but vibrant creek danced and curved along the roadside. Its gurgling intermixed with the distant echo of a shrill cardinal, nearby chatter of wren song, and the gentle repetitive cooing of morning doves on a branch over my head. Cows roamed and grazed freely in naturally manicured pastures of unattended mixed green vegetation. One bent to drink from the cool clear creek water, making a bull frog leap into the water, ceasing its deep throated mating call. How remarkably different I thought as compared to how the cows lived just several miles away on American farms of mud pens, filthy trough water, and year old dry hay flung about on the baron dirt for them to eat.

I don't think I could ever compress how I felt in that valley into a painting. The experience made me realize that some sort of subject in a painting may be a necessity in order to illicit from the viewer any feeling even remotely like what I felt in that place. Could color alone ever do it without a formal subject?

I took my digital art and made a 36x30 pastel of it in preparation of doing it in glass (see above). The title of this piece is Approaching Autumn Storm. My personal aesthetic tends towards abstracting things to there simplest form. Having a formal subject, as much as I like one, is a crutch for me at this point. I repeatedly choose compositions with a formal subject and I'm repeatedly dissatisfied with the result. This pastel confirmed my feelings. After completing it I have no desire to continue onto glass.

Many of Wolf Kahn's paintings achieve, in my view, the balance I am seeking between a pure color study and a painting with a recognizable subject. The subject serves to accent what is already there without it, that is, fields of color. The subject is a modifier, an enhancement of the underlying color study which is actually is the true subject.

The photo for this digital art piece (above) was taken in the Amish valley. Looking at Kahn's work as a guide I should be able to abstract this further into pure color fields then lay in the trees in a very loose manner so to not overtake what is for me the true subject - a joyous feast of color.

So, now onto the next exercise.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

One Year Anniversary : The Meanng of Life

It is not quite a year since I quit my day job and just slightly more than a year since this blog was started. Many of my friends, so they say, are envious of my leaving work, but we all are too well aware of the hazards of not being steadily employed. All in all it has been a smart move, the bank account is still dwindling, but there is steady income albeit a fraction of my IT salary. This Fall maybe a bit overwhelming with teaching engagements almost every day of the week including weekends.

My Designs For Good adventures have changed direction over time. Initially when I was still employed and the bank account was fat, I gave products and services away because that was what I wanted to do, I could afford to do so, and it was good marketing. Over time as I began to expect and need some kind of compensation in return the direction of Designs For Good began to change.

Have Kiln Will Travel was my solution for a sustainable way of using my talents to provide my income while helping nonprofit and charitable organizations raise funds. The fused glass event/class which is the basis of  HKWT has been very successful, more so than I ever thought. My greatest surprise however has been how much I enjoy teaching, and how it feels a natural thing for me to do.

My life long measure of what activities are appropriate for me has been very simple... Does the activity drain me or give me energy. Funny... I remember very early in life how I learned this guiding principle. At the end of summer kids get tired and bored in the autumn heat. Having played their hearts out over the summer the various games just don't seem exciting anymore. I recall sitting in the yard with some friends, and I began to pull out my matchbox car collection which we would regularly play with for long hours in our imaginary city of made up businesses and adventures. My friends looked at me with disapproval and said they just didn't want to play with the cars. My reply, having seen this in myself more than once was - if we just start playing then it will BECOME fun. After playing for ten minutes or so one of them looked up at me and said... hey, you were right!

Watching the ebb and flow of energy in my life has made me what I am. I react to it as it directs my actions. I believe that this sensitivity to one's rise, fall, and realignment of energy is the answer to the age old question of (and hopefully not sounding pretentious) the meaning of life. There are many spiraling deeper meanings and levels to what I just said, but on the most basic level.... if you just start playing.... it will become fun.

Of course having fun isn't the measure of all things. Life is more complex than that. However, the sensitivity to and your ability to be guided by your energy flow is an ever deepening connection between who you are and your potentiality. That is, your ability to become something richer than you are now by bending your will to the energy that you are, and can more completely embody. Hmmmm... Embody is a very appropriate word here.

HKWT has not been wildly successful in fund raising thus far. I have only started that journey however, a journey that will require me to seek out and to work with governing boards of the organizations which I want to help. What HKWT has done - to me - has changed my direction entirely.

When I quit my job I was toying with a half dozen ideas. Photography was one of them. I love picture making and could sit endlessly playing with my digital darkroom. I did nonprofit work by shooting events and providing free prints, my time, and helping with marketing. However, because I was looking for a sustainable relationship many of my ideas didn't pan out once I actually started working on them. You can give things away endlessly, or, what I should say is.... professionally you can't give things away endlessly, and in the end those you work with must value your work, and yes, compensate you for it.

But that's the rub for everyone isn't it. How do you do what you enjoy and get paid for it?

There is no magic formula of course, and the path will look different for everyone. That is why so few find, and more importantly, stay on the path. No one, save yourself, can direct you. The refinement and balance of your energy with the realities of your life is the magic, and a trick you must relearn and perform every day of your life.

I've never been a morning person, and maybe will never be, but lately I've been playing with and somewhat succeeding at getting up early. Why bother? The answer is that the quality of my alertness and sense o f well being is enhanced if I get to bed earlier and don't stay up late drinking beer and watching reruns.  It is a calculated trade off. I enjoy staying up latter and totally unwinding from the day, but that has to be compared to the quality of being in the morning when I get to be earlier. Right now, I'm siding with getting to bed early. Every event, task, and interaction presents an opportunity for realignment.

I still don't know where I'm going, and that's a good thing. For now, I have refinements to make for HKWT, and because of that path I am now becoming a very good teacher.... so they are telling me. I have hopes of being able to pay the bills here forward, and look forward to wider horizons as I mature on this new path. I will remain vigilant towards the necessity of meeting the bills and then growing back my savings.... but dare I say that is only a goal, and not a directing principle which has control of my life.

Strictly from the fun point of view, aka where my highest energy level and excitement is.... I have started a series of glass powder paintings which will be the most grand works I've done so far... at least in my mind's eye, because thus far they have not 'gone to glass' yet. The digital art studies for these can be seen at my main web site. I'm still in process of abstracting the photos. They will become richer in color and more dramatic as I play with the sense of light and color contrasts. I will then take them to full scale pastels, then finally to glass.

Maybe these will open new doors, new departures points, or, maybe they too well be a completion and resolution. It is hard to say until they too have become embodied as their energy embodies me.

Happy Trails To You!