Sunday, September 30, 2012

It's All Abstract

These images are details; I haven't shown you the paintings yet. They are sections taken from the four other plein air paintings I did at Waskesiu a couple of weeks ago. The details relate to a conversation we had in the Abstract Expressionism class back in August. It was a conversation that not only validated some of my own thoughts, but actually clarified my thoughts which were, up until then, rather incoherent in my own head. :)

The instructor, Alicia Popoff, is a very accomplished and well respected abstract artist, but she absolutely wanted everyone in the class to create the work that they wanted to create. Although the class was focused on Abstract Expressionism, she wanted to be clear that if we were more comfortable with a representational approach, then we were welcome to work that way. She didn't want us to feel bound to abstraction. Now here is where I felt like standing up and hugging her... she said that in reality, to a greater or lesser degree, ALL painting is abstract!!! Whaaaaa???!!! Lightbulbs!!!

She said that as soon as you take something that is three dimensional in life and reproduce it in two dimensions that it is automatically abstract. Even if the work is representational. Even if. WOW. Now obviously there is a huge, huge difference between Christopher Stott's photorealistic work being abstract and Jeane Myers' expressive work being abstract, I get that, but still- I loved this statement!

As I mentioned, I have had similar, incoherent thoughts in my head regarding my own art, so to hear a real, live, professional artist say this! Well, it was a huge moment for me! HUGE!

Yes, I am a representational artist, but I have often felt that when I break my work down what you have is a bunch of abstract marks that add up to create the story of the landscape. And that is what these details are... abstract glimpses of paintings... finished paintings that hold the full story of what I saw and felt when I was on the beach for those days in September. And they are kinda abstract!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Little Moody

A Little Moody
6 x 6"
oil on board
© Nicki Ault, 2012

This has been such a busy year and after I finished my 30 paintings in 30 days project I seemed to have let the 6x6" paintings lapse. Other commitments prevailed, but two weeks ago when I went to Waskesiu Lake for a bit of quiet time and to help clean-up the cabin for the winter, I did some plein air painting. I ended up with 5 new little paintings and this was one of my favorites. I love the colours- quite different from my other skies. It is simple, but dramatic. Our skies this summer have been tricky for a painter... especially plein air. Why, you ask? Well it seems they were either bright blue skies with not a cloud to be seen, or they were tornado-watch kind of skies which are usually accompanied by a ridiculous level of wind. Either way not optimum for painting!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Day Four- The Forgotten Painting

Dogwood Arrangement: Winter Walk By The Mendel
22 x 28"
acrylic and oil on canvas
© Nicki Ault, 2012

How about that? I forgot about this painting... and I really like it! I painted it later on Day Four at the art class at the Kenderdine Campus in August. It was inspired by a section of another painting of mine from earlier this year (called "Surround Me"- see below).

I found an area in the lower portion that I thought could be an interesting composition and then painted it on a 22 x 28" canvas (the original painting was only 10 x 10"). I enjoyed playing with the colours, leaving the pink/red branches quite vibrant and then finding muted colours for the negative spaces - like the soft greens, blues and yellows.

The art show at Agar's Corner yesterday was a lot of fun and the weather was perfect for a drive to the country. I sold a couple of small paintings, but even more exciting was that I met some very interesting people: a man from Vancouver who is a professional photographer of art and who is planning to be back in January to hold a workshop on photographing art. I also met a man who has a business that takes groups out on canoe excursions. I spoke to him about the idea of taking plein air painters out! Not that I know how to canoe, but I could learn! I also met an 80 year old woman who told me that when she was 16 she took art lessons from Gus Kenderdine, the man for whom the Kenderdine Campus is named. Wow... talk about history! To top it all off I had a chat with my Grade Twelve art teacher who I don't think I have seen since graduation and I also saw my Kindergarten teacher! The visitors made the day a true success.

Here are a few photos for your viewing pleasure... 

my set-up

the funky disco ball above my space
(likely left behind after a wedding... lucky me!)

that hung out with me all day!

he was a great conversation piece
but I finally shut him down when he somehow
managed to crawl up the back of my neck!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Art At Agar's This Weekend

This is where I will be on Saturday! I will have my portable wall of little paintings and some other pieces for show and sale. It is lovely out at Agar's and was very busy last year. Take a short drive out of town and enjoy a great mix of original art! As well, the tea house is a delightful place for lunch or a snack.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Day Five- Bare In Front Of You

Bare In Front Of You
20 x 20"
acrylic and oil on canvas
© Nicki Ault, 2012
This is my final effort of the week. I spent a good part of the last day experimenting and building up the layers to create the effect of the distant branches. I am extremely happy with how it turned out and in person you really get a sense of depth. I had this one framed and right now it is in the Mendel Member's Showcase, so you can see it there until Oct. 7.

Here are a few stages...


Initially there was a lot of glazing and layering, mostly with acrylics, although I did tint some gesso and use that at one point.

I moved outside when I began working with oils to strengthen up the branch system and cut in the blue of the sky. The class was focused on acrylics because there were a few people who were allergic to oils, but for this last piece I was really itchin' to finish with some of my favorite blue oil paints.

I felt so good at the end of the day. I felt like this result was my style in the sense that it is recognizable, but it is painted in an expressive, somewhat abstract way. This tangle of bare branches represents so many things that went on within me during that week at Emma Lake. And obviously stepping out of my comfort zone in front of a new group of people is one way that I felt "bare". I have to say, though, that there could not have been a better group of people with whom to have had the abstract experience. I think we are planning to have a group show of the work that was produced, both in our painting class and in the welding class, and I can hardly wait to have that experience with them, too.

I hope you have enjoyed the paintings and the recounting of the week's events. I am sure I have forgotten a few things so I'll put them in other posts as I think of them.

I just returned from a short, solitary painting trip up north where I helped close my parent's cabin for the season and had some alone time. That experience and the resulting paintings are next!

P.S. Thanks for reading theses posts which have been a bit longer than usual.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Day Four- SOGOTP

20 x 16"
acrylic on canvas
© Nicki Ault, 2012

Ta Daaaaaa!

The morning of Day Four was spent doing a bit of a critique and talking about inspirations; things that get the ideas flowing or get us in the right zone or mood to paint. For me it is obviously nature- especially wild spaces with little sign of human presence. I take a ton of photos and use those as tools to inspire my work. Many of us also said that music was an important part of our inspiration/mood setting process. (Here is a link to Jonas Gerard painting to music- I love it). And of course other artists inspire me- including many of you who read this blog (thank you!).

Our exercise idea for that day was to shift and exaggerate, perhaps with the scale, colour, value or maybe with blending or not blending. We were to shift something dramatically in the painting, possibly heightening the intensity of a colour.

As I mentioned in the last post I was determined to step beyond my comfort zone and get a little crazy with the abstract business, but I needed to get away from the studio and find solitude. I decided to drive to Spruce River which is a place of endless inspiration for me and although I intended to go alone I came across another artist who was having a tough time. At first I was blathering on about what a gorgeous day it was and then when I actually looked at her face I realized she was upset. Who hasn't been there? Man, I think in 2007 I cried the entire week when I went back to the campus after a six year hiatus! You gotta release it! Anyway, it seemed that she was in need of some Spruce River therapy, so I invited her to come with me. We had a wonderful time and each found our own quiet place in the forest along the river to do what we needed to do.

And what did I do? A really horribly awful, brutally ugly reflection of horizontal branches in the river. BAD! When I got back to the studio I really couldn't have hated it any more than I already did so I decided to SOGOTP (shit or get off the pot)... pardon my language :o) . No more messing around- I decided to go abstract all over it!

I tried hard not to care about the outcome and just tried to enjoy the experience of experimenting. I began blocking areas with dark colours and isolating a few of the marks I didn't mind- mainly the green/yellows. Really I just mucked around and played, which was obviously very fun. I actually painted this horizontally, but when I was finished a new artist friend came over and started turning it from side-to-side to see how it "read" from different positions. We settled on it this way. Thanks B.C-W.!

And that, my friends, is as wild and crazy as I got all week! The last day produced probably my favorite painting of the week, but it was actually more based in realism and I will show it to you next time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Day Three- Painting On Fire

On Fire Revisited
16 x 16"
acrylic on cradled panel
© Nicki Ault, 2012

I did a painting two summers ago at one of my favorite painting locations, Spruce River, P.A.N.P. and I always loved it... but I let it go... and I know it is loved in it's new home. It was called "On Fire" (below) because on that particular day the way the sun was illuminating the rotting leaf debris under the water's surface honestly made it look like the river was on fire. It was beautiful. Stunning, really. The images in my mind and the photos I took that day still roll around as possibilities for paintings. I have always wanted to try "On Fire" on a larger scale and since we were given a bit of freedom on Day Three I decided to do just that- paint a larger version. 

On Fire
8 x 8"
acrylic on board
© Nicki Ault, 2010

As the day came to an end I was pleased with what I had painted, however quietly inside myself I kind of felt like I took the easy way out. I really hadn't challenged myself in the sense that I had a certain comfort level with what I painted that day- and I didn't come to the class to be comfortable. My goal was to challenge myself and I hadn't really done that, so at day's end I secretly felt like I had let myself down. Sure enough after looking at my work that evening a friend (kindly) made a comment that he had seen this type of work from me before.

Dang! Busted!

I said he was right and I already knew that, so get off my back already!!! Ha! No I didn't say that, but I did say I was aware and that I was already planning to push myself big-time on Day Four. 
And I think I did... you can judge for yourself when you see my next post... so come back ya'll!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Day Three- A Rediscovery of Sorts

River Dance
24 x 36"
acrylic on canvas
© Nicki Ault, 2012 

The morning of Day Three was spent talking about the large number of acrylic mediums that are on the market and their possible uses. Our instructor, Alicia Popoff, uses a variety of them in her work to create different textures and effects. I haven't experimented with them at all, so I found it quite interesting and even overwhelming. I had no idea of the possibilities! Golden products alone completely blew my mind- as did the artist friendly nature of the company. After lunch we were encouraged to continue with something that interested us and Alicia generously offered us the opportunity to try some of her acrylic mediums. I, however, was still feeling ever-so-slightly intimidated by my straight forward paints that I decided not to add anything more to the mix! :) 

After coming off Day Two, which was a bit more of a stretch (albeit a baby one) for me, I decided to spend the afternoon revisiting the way I handled my abstract reflections in the past. I hadn't done one for so long that it was a bit of a rediscovery of sorts. In fact, in these first three days I felt like I had been reacquainting myself with my acrylics because I have been painting with oils almost exclusively for the last 10 months. I had brought a canvas with a very bad painting on it (it definitely could have held a prominent place in the MoBA) and covered it with black gesso. I had done some small 8x8" reflections on dark grounds before, but never a large one. All of that black staring back at me was a little bit, well... dark, but I hoped once I began layering the colour it would dance against the black. And as I painted  began to remember- these reflections require many layers of colours and glazes. It's a bit of a push/pull to set the colours down into the water and also to let the "light" sit on the surface. A lot of back and forth. Mmmmm, I had fun!

I did a second painting on Day Three which I will show you next time. For now I am going to make another attempt at falling asleep! I went out with some girlfriends tonight to share some exciting news and I made the unfortunate decision not to order a decaf "London Fog". I hope to share the news with the rest of the world very soon!

Also, note the addition of some dates at the top of the blog. Today I dropped off two paintings for the Mendel Member's Showcase which is opening this Friday evening between 7 and 9 p.m. The show will then run for about three weeks until Oct. 7.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Day Two - The 1,2,3 Exercise

16 x 16"
acrylic on cradled panel
© Nicki Ault, 2012

I showed you the above piece in the last post. It is here again because it pertains to the exercise we were given on the second day of the class. The instructor, Alicia Popoff, called it the 1,2,3 Exercise. The idea was to do three paintings: the first painting was to be done quite quickly and realistically, the second painting was then to use the first painting as a reference and begin to abstract it, the third painting was to ignore the first painting entirely and use the second painting as a jumping off point to really abstract what we saw. Pretty cool. She said you could actually reverse the exercise as well by first making an abstract painting, then move to a second painting by trying to find an image or direction in the first that would lead to a more recognizable painting, and finally in the third painting you would create something more entirely based in realism. Again, pretty cool.

Well, after following the rules rather rigidly the first day I loosened up and wasn't quite so by-the-book the second day! I decided to stay away from realism and I used the larger "reflection" you see above as my first painting. I found an area I liked in it and tried to create a more abstract painting with the lines and shapes. I also did a positive/negative flip, making the lines light white/gray instead of dark and the negative spaces a bit darker in colour compared to the first. This is the way I painted it:

Take Two
12 x 9"
acrylic on cradled panel
© Nicki Ault, 2012

 But I actually like it this way a bit more:

...possibly because the horizontal lines are on the bottom as are some of the darker colours. The blocks of yellows and oranges are actually the under painting showing through.

My third painting actually ended up being another detail of the first painting rather than a more abstracted version of the second painting, so I didn't really follow the instructions like the good student I was on Day One! I would still like to do that third step of the exercise with both of these paintings and really see what I could do to abstract the heck out of them! That may be a goal at the studio in the near future after I get a couple of projects off my plate.

Water Lines
16 x 20"
acrylic on canvas
© Nicki Ault, 2012

I didn't feel quite so frozen on Day Two and I am sure going out to paint en plein air the night before helped. Finding a familiar thing to cling to with the reflections gave me the stability I needed and then I was able to play and experiment with that in the 1,2,3 Exercise. These are nothing like the abstract reflections I have done in the past, so I ended the day feeling like I stepped forward.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Day One Continues With Two More Paintings

Roadside Water
6 x 6"
acrylic on board
© Nicki Ault, 2012

I was feeling a smidge deflated as the first day of the Abstract Expressionism class wrapped up. I felt overwhelmed, out of my league and a general sense of "What am I doing here?". As if knowing it would help, a friend offered to take me out plein air painting after supper and before the light was gone for the day. A little flash of excitement went through me and I asked him if he could take me somewhere with water which he said was no problem. You see, in that moment I realized water has inspired some of the only abstract work I have done and maybe, just maybe, it could be a jumping off point for me now.

We drove around and checked out a few locations (with the added bonus of also seeing a deer, porcupine and some buffalo) and settled on a marsh that was a new spot for him too. It was a bit of a gray evening, but calm and beautiful. The water was very still so I focussed on the lines of the dead, water-logged trees in the reflection. I did this quick little study (above) and then I pulled out a larger support and did a similar composition, but used more colour. 

16 x 16"
acrylic on cradled panel
© Nicki Ault, 2012

It was fun and time went so fast! The light really began to fade... and the mosquitoes were appearing. As I finished, I wasn't even sure anymore what colours I was mixing. How much fun is that?!!! I really need to paint outside more often. I love it all: the sounds, the smells, the changing light, seeing animals... the pure adventure of it. Happy!

I went back to campus feeling rejuvenated and like maybe I would be able to get into this abstract business after all.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Day One, Abstract Two

acrylic on canvas board
© Nicki Ault, 2012

This is the second exercise from Day One at Emma. To be honest I can't recall the specifics of the exercise and my notes are at the studio, but we were supposed to continue working with the shape theme as before. For this one I decided to try some layers of drippy washes and glazes underneath and then use rectangles to describe more recognizable tree forms on top. I was not thrilled with this result at all, but when I showed my kids, my youngest asked if he could put this one in his room! 

I really struggled through this first day of abstraction. Part of this struggle involved the fear of working in front of a new group of people and then being analyzed, critiqued and judged by them (but we were all in that boat together). Another part of the struggle was that I was feeling a bit paralyzed by the strong desire to do a really good job and paint some awesome abstracts! However, even more than all of that, a thought came to me later in the day as I realized how much time I had spent staring blankly at my materials. My epiphany was that creating an abstract painting was so wide open that I actually found it restricting. Abstracts can be anything and that was just too overwhelming - I didn't know where to begin. I talked to the instructor, Alicia Popoff, about this struggle and she certainly empathized. She said we would be discussing that very thing in the coming days and we would talk about inspiration. She also made it clear that I needn't feel pressured to only create abstracts in this class- I could do more representational work if I wanted. As tempting as that was I knew the reason I was taking the class was to step out of my comfort zone, so I would press on like a good little abstract student! :)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Here Goes With The Abstracts!

 Literally Shapes
acrylic on paper
© Nicki Ault, 2012

Okay, I've spent two weeks decompressing after my week at Emma Lake and I am ready to "put it all out there"! First I have to say that I could not have had a better week- for lots of different reasons. The Kenderdine Campus is truly one of my happy places. Alicia Popoff had been on my radar for awhile as being someone I wanted to learn from; I had heard such good things about her as an instructor. She is a wonderful abstract artist who sees the world in a gloriously quirky way. She builds layers of textures in her work through different mediums and various techniques and I love her colour choices. Anyway, when I saw she was teaching a class called "Abstract Expressionism" at Emma Lake I decided my time had come to learn from her.

The first day she sent us out to explore the forest around the campus looking for shapes. We were to focus only on the outlines of shapes and hopefully find one or two shapes to focus on. We took our sketch books and had roughly half an hour to gather some information. I reverted to my school day "good student" mode and took her very literally, wanting to stick to the rules! I immediately got stuck thinking solely about geometric shapes - organic shapes didn't even enter my mind!!! Honestly! For someone who enjoys using her right brain, I sure got caught up in the left hemisphere for this exercise! I did a sketch of the rectangular boards of the dock and the circle shapes of the buoys and then I wandered in to the forest and did a couple of sketches of trees... focusing of course on the rectangular trunks, long thin branches and even the rectangular negative shapes between the trees. Back at the studio we were to then take one shape that appealed to us and create a piece of art by repeating that shape in a composition.

I spent a good chunk of time staring at my blank paper not wanting to make a wrong move. Sometimes there is nothing more daunting than a white sheet staring back at you! Finally, just to get started, I decided to put a wash of yellow on the paper and then it made sense to choose a limited palette otherwise I would have been there all day staring at all my tubes of paint. Eventually I began with the rectangles, thinking about the tree trunks, negative shapes of the forest and the horizontal branches.

Afterwards I had a good laugh with another artist in the class- the only male and a lawyer- because we were the only two who were so literal with the rules. Everyone else was much more free and interpretive and, well, abstract-y in their thinking! Ahhh, day one jitters got the best of me!