Watercolor Process – The Birth

“Iron Dragon” from the Reef Series

People often ask how I create my watercolors. Next time I perform this process I will make a video but here is a description in the meantime.

I cover the floor with as many pieces of high quality watercolor paper that I have room for. I thoroughly wet the paper(s) with water by either using a spray bottle or large 4″ brush. This wetting is a throwback to a time when I soaked paper for printmaking. Next, I mix the colors I that feel or look good to me at the time. No planning, but I do select color based on how I am feeling at the time. I use the tools at hand, literally my own hands work the large washes along with huge mop brushes, but there are fingerprints, and a sleeve dragged (possibly) through the work during the original throwdown of paint onto paper. The brush does a loose dance and my fingertips direct the magic. I allow the wind, sand, bark or other fragments of the life from Gaia come into the work. Mother Earth has her hand in the painting as she allows a leaf to settle or insect to walk across the paper. Often I find objects or materials to use as resists. Some resists are added supplies from the kitchen–often an experiment and sometimes products that I have used before. Salt is a common additive, but oats might be chosen instead.

I allow the paint to pool in deep rich colors or pale watery shades. Then I leave. I rest and let my creations solidify. Usually, I sleep and dream about what is brewing on the paper, my dreams are strongly connected to the work at hand. I have contemplated how much my dreams direct the paint but it is speculation. My imagination though is given wings to soar from the dreams which in turn helps the creation move further along. Sometimes, at a point of partial drying I check back and add more pigments, squeezing the drops out of the brush and allowing them to fall, gravity does the work. Although I often work in series, every piece has its own method, its own manner of coming into being even though they are pointed simultaneously. They are living creatures that continue to thrive under my guidance. It is an intuitive process. I feel connected to the work and allow the paintings to emerge–letting the melange of images come forward and speak out. But its only the beginning. They need time, to flower, to open: to be interpreted further. After all the paintings are dry they are stacked and weighed to keep them flat until I am ready to proceed with adding ink. In Part 2 I will discuss the next layer – Inkwork.

Origins

"Music Taking Off" Watercolor and Ink on paper 2014.
“Music Taking Off” Watercolor and Ink on paper 2014.

Recently, this question appeared on my social media wall “alison, i’d love to know the artists who resonate the most with you…your work really is so incredible. influences? i know you said you’re self taught but i keep thinking i see threads of various artists in your work and i’m wondering if i’m correct.”

Today, I am still not sure about which artists influenced me. I was so busy working at full time jobs and my spare moments were spent making art that only occasionally would I see art made by other people and it wasn’t my focus. It never occurred to me to study other peoples work. I have my own ideas–why would I need to look at someone else’s ideas? I wanted to explore and figure out why this color works here or there, how this shape bumped up against that shape creates a certain feeling. I was not dealt the career card as a patron of the arts. The career card I was dealt was to be a Creator. Anything else doesn’t satisfy me. Its all I can do to wait until every event is over so I can get back to paint, sketch, plan, draw, sew and tinker with artwork. Being a Creator is the most important task on earth. I can imagine what you’re thinking, artists don’t save lives or rescue people, which are of course very important tasks. But I see it differently. Whatever objects have lasted for centuries that human hands created are collected and cared for. Museums and private collections are filled with items that human beings made and left behind. Some are practical and some are fancies of imagination. But no matter, they are valued. What I make is what civilization craves. The visually delicious colors of my palette, the feel of the surface I paint on, the softness of the cloth are a few things that drive me to create. Perhaps I am self absorbed, but I am here to create!!

The concept of art came to me as though it was just a part of me–but writing and reading were much the same. The earliest memories I have are of sunlight coming through leaves and creating sparkling color. After that, I began making marks and using colored crayons and pencils but most importantly the way it made me feel–as though I could create anything and the simple joy of holding onto an object that made lines or scribbled and filled in areas held so much pleasure. I grew up in rural Bucks County, in an old house with a big lawn, garden and woods. I rambled along in our old house and drew and colored everything in my path—until my mother explained that the walls were not to be drawn upon. That left me with one choice, hide the work behind the sash of the doorways. That was not what the adults expected. I burned my fingers and the bridge of my nose trying to get sticks to burn in the fire so as to draw black marks on old stones. The scar is still evident on the bridge of my nose. Our family books were fair game as I drew and colored in the borders of pages with colored pencils. Compulsive Artist comes to mind as an adult, but as a child I just pressed forward until paper, felt markers, crayons and brushes came regularly into my hands. Then at age 4, I entered school, very unwillingly, and saw a portrait of George Washington which I promptly copied. It looks like it was completed by a teenage student rather than a kindergarten age girl.

Where does my talent and drive come from? Agnes, my grandmother wove braided rugs and was renowned for her use of color and balance. Often I am compared to her, we share our countenance and acumen, and especially the same eye for color and natural sense of balance. My grandfather, Bryan would take us on explorative walks in the rural area where we lived, played music and talked to us of lofty ideals and philosophy. When I drew a portrait and painted the face green, my mother defended my choice to any naysayer and that was that. Riding my horse throughout the Bucks Country countryside is where many of my images come from today. I spent a multitude of hours inspecting ice formations, leaves, rocks, bark, mushrooms, field grasses, insects and more. Everything was fascinating to my eyes–I still fall in love with the earth and its plant and insect life every time I get to inspect the beauty of it all.

In high school I was tested and scored into the .01 percentile for spatial relations. The counselor suggested that I could play chess and be good at logic and math. Which is true. After high school, I worked in a greenhouse and attended local life drawing sessions at an old church down the street. These were wonderful sessions with live models, we paid a few dollars and could sit and draw and paint for 3 or 4 hours. My favorite technique was to use big loose watercolor washes to describe the figures before me. Visiting the art store and library were my main sources of information. Once being too broke to get supplies, in desperation I took some india ink from an art store without paying for it. That thievery has haunted my memory for most of my adult life.

Around the age of 20 I visited the Smithsonian and saw Japanese woodcuts and was curious enough to look up information at the library. I went to a lumberyard and bought a plank which I had them cut into 12″ sections and proceeded to cut with lino cut tools. The blocks were then printed with a bamboo baren and pulled by hand. My first woodcut is called “For Timothy” and was a gift to my dying cousin. Moving to Charlotte led me to find an artists co-operative that had a printing room with presses and every supply available to use, plus books on how to make etchings and lithographs. I spent several years there teaching myself several different printing techniques. The final works in that studio were experimental. When I was cleaning up color inks I printed monotypes from the leftovers. These prints were discovered by a local anchor person and they did a newscast on me. One artist whose work I admired at the time was Georgia O’Keefe because there was a calendar hanging up in the co-op. I took a class in 1989 in ceramics because I was tired of printing chemicals. The ceramic process did not suit my character.

I relocated to New Jersey in the mid-90’s and taught myself oil painting and then watercolor and pen and ink. I hung work in galleries and sold some of the paintings. As usual working a full time job left me only a few hours a week to make art. Not long afterward I got married and moved frequently due to my husbands job. During these years, I became an award winning pie baker, beekeeper, organic flower grower, embroiderer and worked in threads, learned to knit and spent any extra time time painting in watercolor and ink. The mobility of small watercolor pans and pen and ink really worked for my lifestyle. In 2004 we lived in the Lehigh Valley for about 8 months. I took 2 classes at the Baum School fully intending to work toward an art degree. I put a portfolio together and was accepted to Kutztown University. Life took a weird turn and I became very ill and was unable to attend college. We moved away and then a divorce in 2010 brought me back to the Lehigh Valley. At which time, I began to use textiles and quilting as a medium. I taught myself how to sew with a machine, cut fabric and quilt. Painting in watercolor was continued and the watercolors were exhibited as well as the works in fabric. In 2013 when I packed up my Allentown studio, I taught myself to use pastels because they were the only tools not packed away. Right after that, upon moving into the Banana Factory studio, I decided to paint more often. The small size of the new studio determined the next move, the decision had to be made: oils or acrylics. I had never used acrylics in a major way and decided that would be the method due to the ease of cleanup. I still work in many mediums. I still don’t know the names of many artists. Whenever I had the chance to see the paintings of Van Gogh in the Netherlands I did. When I was in St. Petersburg, Fl, I went to the Dali Museum. Whenever I was in an art store I purchased supplies that looked interesting and experimented and taught myself to use them. Before the world wide web and search engines I learned to work with the materials and tools that artists use because that was all I had.

I wanted to respond right away to my friend who asked the question, but life got in my way first. Tonight, I found in my response that my art has little to do with other visual artists.  It is more about my early life, my family and just being alive on earth: a speck in the universe who wants to leave her mark.

Photographing Artwork

I look forward to this event more than most tasks concerning the business of art. Yesterday morning I was able to spend several hours collaborating with my photographer Ken Ek who makes my art look the best it possibly can. We met about 2 years ago and he started photographing my textile art and watercolors. Every time I complete a series the first thing I do is have Ken come into the studio. First I cannot say enough good things about Ken, his work ethic is exemplary and his skill set is varied, he has a great eye for color and finds creative ways to place the work in its setting to show it to best advantage. He is not just a technical wizard but a creative one too.

The new flower series, Bloemen, was done yesterday with a few pieces of miscellany thrown in for good measure. Working with Ken is such an inspiration that I am starting a new series of prints that will be photographed soon and I am planning on having him work on the older prints from my early years as a printmaker. Documenting art is something I don’t take for granted, its one of the most important tasks associated with my business. If you are fortunate enough to be close to KenEk Photography by all means call him soon and make plans to have your work photographed. But where ever you are find a good photographer and have your art documented.

On another note, I also use several online servers to preserve the photos for future reference. I don’t use hard media anymore, but I do have external storage drives that I can back up to if needed. Stay tuned to see the new work photographed properly and my website updated in blooming color.

Flower Cafe series.

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This is the third painting in a series I started this week after a long cold winter. The studio needed a swift clean up which I did while some backgrounds I painted earlier finished drying. Then I set to work laying out some ideas that I sketched while in bed with the flu this year. Once backgrounds are set, I choose paint colors and mix them in small batches. Then make notes in the sketchbook near the sketch about the colors and using a small hog bristle brush, I paint color mixes and tints on the page for reference. This painting is titled ‘Flower Cafe 3’ and is 18″ x 24″. I hope to finish this piece soon. The completed pink painting is 6″ x 6 ” titled ‘Flower Cafe 2’. The cream and white piece is 8″ x 10″ and first in the series.

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The Other Key

Recently I acquired a large vintage wooden flat file and was thrilled with it, had it refinished and found the missing (hidden) key. When it was finally delivered, it wouldn’t fit through the studio door. I was a little upset, but thought, oh well its not meant to be mine–because it would not fit through any door of any building I could conceivably move it into. Yes, friends and family all tried to come to forth to rescue said treasure–but no door could accommodate it. So, I put it on the block, but I had a chance meeting with the previous owner and mentioned the problem. He revealed the box had one more trick to reveal–it comes apart with the removal of two bolts. I will number the drawers and remove them, remove the large bolts and collapse the box, move it in and re-assemble it in my studio. Even better.

Hiding in the Petals

Hiding in the Petals
Hiding in the Petals

I am working on the old wooden table from the Log and Stone house today. The windows are open and I am surrounded by the gardens: the birds chippering lingers on the fresh air. The drawing that I am playing with this morning is a flower somewhat like a magnolia flower, although its as folkly abstract as most of my drawings are. I so admired the large waxy magnolia blooms when I lived in North Carolina. I can imagine the little creatures shyly cloistered in the petals and making their home in the tree.

Recently I got a bottle of Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Ink in Violet, or as my friend Cleveland named it Vivacious Violet and a booklet of Strathmore Drawing paper in the 4″ x 6″ size. I thought that I would use the violet ink everyday and complete a series of 24 small drawings. I also got a bottle of green ink. So far, 3 are done and 2 are in the hands of some very special people.