Wow. It has been about two and a half years since my last blog post. Sometimes life takes over and rocks you around a bit. I thought about deleting this website, but when I looked back at my posts and compared them to who I am today it brings me happiness. Life is a journey, and discovering passions and purpose is a journey too. A lot has changed with me, and my art, so I am going to touch VERY briefly on what happened, what is happening, and what will happen.
Rediscovered watercolor and ink mediums
Created a ton of nerd art (mostly Star Wars) digitally and with watercolors
Went to Hawaii with my friends for a week (woot!)
Did a few art shows with the nerd art and pretty lady art
Met the love of my life
Stopped all of the above around April 2018 because my mom’s cancer went terminal
Took care of my mom who passed away in August 2018
Respite – time to mourn, find happiness again, spend time with my love
October to December 2018 Harvest Festival art shows featuring storybook watercolors
Lost my grandfather and my little fur baby love, Maximus (what a wonderful cat)
Developed a new style of artwork using ink, watercolor, crepe paper, and crystals
January 2019 JOB HUNTING because BILLS and DEBT
Hired at Manresa March 2019 to June 2019
Hired at Lisa’s Tea Treasures June 2019
Moved to a happy home October 2019
Debt free in January 2020! Finally! Woot!
Realized that I need to pursue art, and took a leap of faith to open Art With Erika
Everything happens for a reason. I believe it. I am the queen of pursuing dreams and burying them, and I think it is for the ultimate good. I am more than good at a lot of different things, and having an array of talents and skills made life complicated sometimes because I never really knew what I wanted to do. Now that I had tested different careers and paths and tossed them aside, I feel like I am focused. I have found a formula for what will work for me, and what I love to do, and what I can give back. (The latter being the most important)
I am currently pursuing art full time. This might change, and it might not, depending on how sales rack up over the next few months. I am trying to enjoy the process as much as possible. My website is up and running, I updated my blog, I updated Instagram and Facebook, I am getting all of my ducks in a row. NOW, I can sit down and actually DO art!
What Will Happen
Art With Erika has started. It’s out in the open, it is lovely, and it is a small dip into a collection of whimsical art that I want to dive in to. I am signed up to participate in a few local shows. Lisa’s Tea Treasures in Campbell will be a primary spot to take a look at art prints and cards and make purchases if you want to buy something in person as opposed to my online store. I am very proud of what has happened in the last month, and I am excited to share more with all of you in the future as things progress.
Aside from the art itself, I have become a certified life coach, and am working on getting a master’s certification, so that I might be able to help people find their own artistic purpose. But, details with all of this will come a little later. Art classes and training will probably be offered at some point too.
I also started dabbling in writing, again. Whether or not I will share my poetry openly has not been decided, but it is out there on instagram somewhere if you want to find it.
My focus is ultimately on contentment and positivity. I believe that there is a silver lining with every situation. I do think that sometimes we have to look at dark things and dive deep in order to appreciate what we have in front of us, so that we can move forward. But no one should have to sit in the dark for a long time.
This blog will serve as a home base for all of the activities that I dabble in. I will be updating it periodically with personal dark art projects, personal insights and stories, and things that matter to me most. Not all of this is great for happy whimsical watercolor marketing on Facebook or Instagram, but I wanted the flexibility to help people on a deeper level and in a raw human way, by sharing my own experiences and giving perspective on different topics. I hope you will come back often if this blog speaks to you. If not, I’ll see you on the light and happy side of the Art With Erika platform.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:13
It’s been a while since I have finished something a little more complicated, but I’m so happy with this piece. I’m still trying to find my style, which is a frustrating evolution, but I know that over time something will solidify. I love drawing realistic people, but I am working on simplifying my fashion ladies and experimenting with “flat” brushes. I had to re-draw this one, because the first time around the skin was so detailed with highlights and shadows that it overwhelmed the piece. The flat minimally shaded women stand out a lot more and blend in so well with the rest of the piece. It’s just so colorful and sparkly!
Faith is blue. Hope is green. Love is pink. Each lady holds two jeweled strands that belong to her, highlighted by either pink, green, or blue jewels. If you look carefully you can see colored stones throughout each strand that are shared with the woman beside her. For example, Love (pink) and Hope (green) are sharing two green and two pink jeweled strands; in this way all of them are connected to each other. The height of each lady is representative of her hierarchy; Love is the greatest of the three. Wisteria represents eternity and drapes itself around stone pillars. The purple of the wisteria matches the amethyst stones that hang at the end of each jeweled strand which promote peace and balance.
Over Labor Day weekend writers from all over the world, published and unpublished, participate in one of the most heartfelt, stressful, and ambitious writing competitions of their lives: the 3 Day Novel challenge. With only an optional outline and character backgrounds, to shield and protect themselves, they walk out to the battlefield with the hope that they will return on Monday evening with the remains of a one hundred page novel. It would be messy. It would be bloody. It would have so many typos that the thought of having someone read it…—-shudder. Who, in their right mind, would participate in such a self-mutilating, time sucking, caffeine-fueled weekend of torture? Yours truly, of course! (Those who know me shouldn’t expect anything less, by now.)
Preparing for the weekend was a little more involved than I thought it would be. For three weeks, I worked on creating the outline for the book based on the characters that I had come to know. The four days leading up to the competition would consist of plotting out my characters’ stories, page for page; I filled in little details, scenes, and kept track of the change in mood within each scene – there was a beautiful flow. I displayed it on a massive cork board with index cards and pushpins, so that I could see the overall flow of the book. By the end of the holiday weekend, I would have a one hundred and ten page manuscript! – At least, that is what I thought…
I stocked up on food, so that I wouldn’t have to leave the house. Every minute counted, and wasted time at the grocery store or the nearest fast food joint, held the risk of ‘the loss of inspiration and flow’. I put away my phone, turned on the computer, and sat down to write on Saturday morning.
I had been waiting for this moment the better part of twenty years.
My nose was always in a book when I was little. I was nine years old when I picked up Jurassic Park; after that it was The Lost World, and after that I would read The Andromeda Strain – all by Michael Crichton. Reading made me want to write.
When I was ten, Star Wars made its second appearance in the movie theater, and I wrote my first memorable book, School Wars. It starred my classmates, and featured our teacher, Mrs. Kilbourn, as the tyrannical Gail Vador. It was so popular that the summer school drama class asked me to rewrite it as a play and we performed it on stage. It was my first taste of writing, and I loved it.
In seventh grade I tried to write my first novel, and failed. I was too young but that did not stop me from trying. I still have the notes for each one of my friends who I turned into characters. There was a lot of heavy influence from “The Outsiders”. (S.E. Hinton was my favorite author at the time.)
In high school, I picked up my pen and paper, again. My English teacher was the one who mentioned that I had a lot of promise. She loved my poetry and my short stories. But, like all young writers, I lacked life experience and understanding. I hated hearing that it was too soon for me to write, because I wasn’t old enough, because I wasn’t seasoned enough. I wanted to prove her wrong. I was apparently accepted into a writing program (I found the letters, in the binder holding the research notes for my novel – I forgot all about it, until I stumbled upon them, yesterday) but I never followed through and I never even started writing anything – always stuck at writers’ block. I knew that I had to put away my pride and accept the fact that I wouldn’t be able to write until I was older. I hated that stupid block SO MUCH!
When I was twenty, all of the extra-curricular activities I signed up for revolved around poetry, creative writing, and essays. One of our assignments was to write a scene, an excerpt from a book. We were required to share it with the rest of the class, and I got a lot of positive feedback and a lot of notes. I talked to my teacher after class one day to ask for her honest opinion about my writing. She said that the writing was pretty good, but that the characters were muddled and confusing. She encouraged me to keep going, but told me that there was a reason why so many writers were older: they had more experience with life. They understood life just a little better. They understood people a lot better than a twenty-year-old did. At the time, I thought my writing was good. But, I listened to her words and took a hiatus from writing. I would know when it was time…
The next decade of my life was consumed by my own personal development: acting and psychology, the art of understanding people, and the start of understanding myself and the people surrounding me. My intuition and observation had always been prominent, but diving into myself had been the most difficult battle of my life. When I was twenty-nine, I had a huge breakthrough, and it was at twenty-nine that I revisited my twenty-year-old self and re-read what I had written in that college classroom.
It was shit.
It was the smelliest of shits. I couldn’t believe how shitty it was. I closed the pages of the folder, and sat on my bed. I started to laugh. It was a horrible piece of literature. But, the fact that I could identify that it was a horrible piece of shit, and that I could break down the reasons why it was a horrible piece of shit, made me realize that I could be ready to start writing. After twenty years in limbo, I was ready.
Fast forward to Labor Day weekend, 2016:
It is 8:30pm, on the evening of day two of the three day challenge. I stare at the cork board, plastered with the pristine outline of my 110 page novel. I look down at my laptop screen: page 31.
It’s beautiful. Its margins are perfect, the whiteness of the double spaced ripples glisten over my eyes. It is page 31…but I’m only on page 12 of my outline. Page 12. Page 12 of 110.
It was 8:32pm, when I decided to concede.
I walked downstairs to the freezer, grabbed my pint of ice cream and a spoon, and turned on the next episode of Breaking Bad – season 2, episode 4 – what a kick ass show.
I learned a lot about myself on Labor Day weekend:
I found out that I am a slow, but articulate, writer.
I found out that I pay attention to what my characters are telling me, which tells me that I’m heading in the right direction. (The moment you start trying to force your characters into situations instead of letting them lead you is the moment that you shoot yourself in the foot.)
I found out that if I decide to do this competition again next year that I will need to tell a much simpler story.
I found out that it takes much more than half a page to describe a scene. It takes at least one and a half, which turns my one hundred and ten page novel into a three hundred page novel. But I’m okay with that.
The most important thing I found out was that I do, in fact, love writing. Art has been an active part of my life for as long as I can remember. I have been waiting to write for almost as long as I can remember. It doesn’t matter if anyone ever reads what I write. It doesn’t matter if I get published. It doesn’t matter if I submit my manuscript to anyone. It doesn’t even matter if anyone knows that this is what I like to do. All that matters is that I am enjoying this. I am cherishing the journey with each one of my characters, and thank God I didn’t sacrifice the quality of my characters, or my writing, so that I could bust out this novel in three days! This is so much more fun than I could have imagined. It has been worth the wait.
Without a solid plan, without a sketch to paper, I broke out my paintbrushes to experiment with a few different abstract techniques. I am still trying to discover my flavor as an artist in the abstract realm.
Anything can be used to apply paint to a canvas. It can be a blessing that glorifies your painting or some huge mistake that ruins your work. Using unconventional tools isn’t a rule made specific for abstract art; it can be used throughout every style of art and painting.
I didn’t get too crazy this time around, but I did use my hands as the primary tool for most of the following paintings. Utilizing traditional techniques helps create a solid branch to stand on when experimenting with new techniques.
Imagination can be an artist’s greatest weapon, but sometimes your hands don’t always do what your brain tells them to do…
There were a couple of paintings in this group that started out with a different end result in mind. They didn’t look ANYTHING like what I had imagined, but when I started to make mistakes, I kept going, I kept adding, and the results were so much more entertaining than what I had started with. Sometimes, making mistakes is a good thing. Sometimes, when you are trying to execute a solid idea, and it doesn’t come out right, and that is okay! Just paint over the canvas and start from scratch. This happened for me a few weeks ago, when I painted Envy, in the Seven Deadly Sins collection. Sometimes, you just want to keep going to see what will happen. Regardless of what happens, the artist should always keep these things in mind when diving into abstract art: balance, color coordination, and purposeful execution.
I NEED TO ASK A FAVOR FROM ALL OF YOU:Let me know what grabs your attention. Let me know what colors you like/hate, and give suggestions for alternative colors, if you want. Any and all feedback is appreciated, so much! I have a thick skin, so if you hate it, tell me. If you love it, tell me. If you think it is “just alright”, tell me. I don’t take it personal. Art is subjective, anyways.
My sister-in-law, Lizzie, asked me to paint something for her that was “Big!” and “Gold and Black!” and she wanted “Glitter!” In my last collection “The Seven Deadly Sins” there was one painting that many people gravitated toward and that was “Greed”. Lizzie wanted something that looked like “Greed” but without the yellow and white. She just wanted gold…and glitter.
I am not unfamiliar with large painting projects. In 2011, my dear friend, Nes, and I were commissioned to paint the set of “Cabaret”, which was made up of many gargantuan rolling set pieces. They were more like walls on wheels.
It was quite fabulous playing around with perspective and house paints. Nes owns his own photography company, Fragoso Photography, in the San Jose Bay Area. (You should really check out his work! He does head shots, special events, holidays, and even product shots! He is excellent!)
The canvas that Lizzie picked out was the largest one I had on hand, at 40 inches by 60 inches. I prepped it with black gesso.
Here is the finished painting! “Lizzie”. What looks like black paint on the canvas, in the complete composition, is actually very dark purple. Using subtle hints of complimentary colors works very well in this type of artwork. It isn’t something that most people would be able to see, but if I had used flat black and just gold, the painting would have looked like it was missing something.
When looking at this composition straight on, you can’t really see the small speckles of different shades of gold paint. The glitter almost hides the “speckle” effect.
I was a little hesitant to add the glitter. I was afraid that it would take away from the natural speckle effect of the painting, and a part of me still feels that way, but the glitter is a very fun effect. I might try it out with some other pieces in the future.
With speckling comes a mess, and another ruined shirt, but it is welcome! Sometimes artwork can be messy, which is why it should be done outside. The natural light that you get from being outside in the sun (not direct sunlight, but overcast light or in the shade of a tree) really helps with color blending and the color choices that you make. There are light bulbs that you can purchase that help with indoor painting. But, many lights have a yellow tinge, or aren’t strong enough to project enough light throughout the room to reflect the true colors that you are painting with. So, if you are picky about colors, make sure your work space is flooded with enough natural light…or just go outside and enjoy the air!
A week ago, I was convinced that my “Seven Deadly Sins” collection was painted on fairly large canvases that measured 24 inches by 36 inches. They were large, but the canvas that I used for “Lizzie” was HUGE! It really put size into perspective. I found out that I really like painting abstract art on a grand scale. Truly, it makes me want to re-paint the “Seven Deadly Sins” collection on these large canvases so that they engulf the viewer. I’ll think about it…
I am about 5 feet 9 inches tall. Here I am standing next to this monster! And I feel like it should be even bigger!
The only requirement of an abstract artist is to make people feel. An artist might touch a white canvas with shades of misty purple and powder blue to invoke the feeling of calm, or the thought of peace, or emptiness. These critiques are welcome and subjective. At this point, the artist has done his job: their work is “good enough” to absorb into the public eye, so that they may “feel”.
If “White Fox in a Snow Bank” is deemed the title for the same piece then the interpretation changes. The free-floating composition that was once left to graze the mind is placed in the artist’s mental gate. It is a part of the experience that the artist wants to guide you though. There are large debates in the art community in regards to titling works of art, and it is even more relevant in the abstract world. I think that titling artwork has its place. Sometimes, it is less appropriate. But, this decision should be made by the artist and accepted as an element of the art itself.
The artist should title their piece if they do believe that it will “open the eyes” of observers and guide them, so that they may see clearer, and so that they may be able to further melt themselves within the piece. If the artist believes that titling their work will hinder the excitement of feeling what is on the canvas, and if it is not specifically associated with any other relevant outside items, the work should not be titled.
In the case of my first abstract collection, I have decided to reveal the titles. They are a group of actions and feelings and each one is a part of our lives, in one form or another. The planning process was difficult, because researching the theme hit so many emotional nerves. Focusing on the goodness of people can be refreshing. Diving into the worst characteristics of humanity is gruesome, and those laced in what seems to be goodness makes one reevaluate their own nature. Trying to create art that represented and embodied these feelings and actions was a challenging feat.
The only tangible pieces of research that were obtained for my collection were the assignment of colors and the order of their display. At the time of their “creation”, each feeling had an official hue assigned to it. Their order is from least to greatest.
I hope that revealing these titles will enhance your understanding of the collection, and maybe lift the curtain back so that you may be able to see.
A sin that is the perverted love of good things
Lust is extreme yearning. Because it is the only sin that is shared with animals, and it is a sin of the flesh, it is labeled as the least of all sins. It is more often labeled as a sin of perverse sexual desire, but it can be applied as a yearning for almost anything: lust for money, power, food, the latest iPhone, and so on.
It is the movement of lust, and the feeling of lust, in all of its smoothness and sensuality. It can be the silk sheets of two lovers, or the smooth finish of the next unneeded electronic gadget. Lust is the calm movement of desire, or the supple air of breath from a kiss that is wrong “but feels so right”. Sleek, comfortable, and often described as beautiful.
A sin that is the perverted love of good things
Gluttony is overindulgence. It is consumption to the point of waste. Society often pinpoints gluttony as “eating”, but the sin covers so much more ground. Overeating, under eating, and purging, can all be labeled as gluttony. It is hoarding money, wasting material goods or non-material items. And as a whole, putting your desires and your needs above everyone else and their well-being.
It is too much. It is abundance. It is waste. It is no coincidence that most food companies use a combination of yellow and red in their business logos. Most fast food chains use these two primary colors because when they are seen together they trigger hunger on a subconscious level. It is also no coincidence that gluttony’s color is the combination of yellow and red: orange.
A sin that is the perverted love of good things
Greed is a sin that is linked to material possession. People think of money, gold, wealth, and over-indulgence. It is a sin of desire and cupidity. A person can also be greedy in love, feelings, and actions.
In its purest form I saw greed as wealth. It is yellow and gold, it is diamonds. In our society wealth is beautiful. More is better. Greed is the finish line that no one will ever reach. Greed only spends on what it wastes.
Color: Light Blue
A sin that contains no love or is the deficiency of love
Sloth is to be “without care”. It is the ONLY sin that revolves around a LACK of action. It is the absence of interest. Boredom, apathy, slow responsiveness. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke
I do think that “Sloth” was the most curious and disconnected from the collection for the people who saw them face-to-face. When displayed side by side, left to right, it is the center of the display. It is also the most blinding with its foggy color, and confusing in its lack of movement. It sits there, doing nothing, as if wandering through a mist. The brush strokes are boring, lacking, lazy.
A sin of unnatural love that is directed toward a person in order to harm them.
Wrath is unbridled feelings of rage, anger, and hatred. It is seeking vengeance. It is the “love of justice perverted to revenge and spite”. Anger, in itself, is not a sin. Anger is a natural feeling, but it becomes a sin of wrath when it is directed toward an innocent person, when it is abnormally strong or enduring, or when it fancies overindulgent “justice”. (punishment).
It is decay, rot, death, and blood. It is unfounded war. It is unjustified death. Wrath is an abundance of spilled anger. It is the slitting of the throat of a lover, and it is the pools of blood in fields that were once green. She yells at him. He hits her.
A sin of unnatural love that is directed toward a person in order to harm them.
Envy is the second worst sin. It is the result of pride, the greatest sin, becoming wounded. Envy makes good things feel bad. It lowers another person’s reputation. It finds joy in another person’s misfortune. It grieves at another person’s prosperity and causes sorrow and hatred. “Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.” – Harold Coffin
If you want to know what your greatest desires are, pay attention to who you envy. It calls into question everything that you think you are. It exposes what you value and where your heart is. You experience joy in another’s sorrow, and sorrow in their joy. It is a never ending whirlwind of suffocation and destruction. If you cannot prevail, and become better than the person who you envy, then you try to bring that person down to your level. Envy is the great leveler. It is wanting something you never had.
Color: Violet or all of the colors
A sin of unnatural love that is directed toward a person in order to harm them.
Pride is the father of all sins. It was known as the devil’s most prominent trait and is viewed as the “anti-god” state. All other sin acts out because of pride (which is why purple is used in all of the paintings – what looks like black, in some of them, is purple). It is the abundant admiration for one’s self. It is failing to acknowledge accomplishments of others, and the twisted belief that one is better than others. It is disconnected from people and reality. Pride honors those that the WORLD sees as worthy. It is hungry for attention, respect, and worship. It searches for fault in others.
Pride is deceiving. It is best at hiding beneath good qualities, such as humbleness. It is the donation that you give that flaunts your name so the world may see your generosity. It is the shy individual who is preoccupied with how the world views him, and what he will do when the spotlight is flashed on him. It is the voice inside your head that says “I’m better at that than her”. You don’t even have to speak; it is there. It is self-centered love that sparkles and gleams behind tainted humility. It is all about you.
A collection, like this, starts with notes and sketches. What looks like random spots and lines and colors are planned movement and a combination of elements. There should be cohesiveness in the painting.
Here is some of the aftermath of Wrath. The trees suffered a little with all of my gashing and slashing movements. (It was a lot of fun though.) I might have shared a hand-full of orange paint with the neighbors when I was working on Gluttony, too…woops….
Here they are sitting out to dry, with Greed.
I struggled the most while trying to capture Envy and Pride. I wanted their flow to relate to each other more than between the others. Envy is pride that has been broken. And pride is the root of all evil and all sin. It is fitting that when most people look at Pride, they see the universe. And isn’t that the point? I was very happy with the response to the piece. I felt like I did my job, as an artist.
Envy was the most difficult. It’s okay to make mistakes! How many times was the Mona Lisa re-painted? (too many!) I scrapped the first version of Envy, and painted over it. The flow wasn’t right and the colors were not what I had envisioned, and the texture I wanted was non-existent. When it comes to artwork I rely heavily on instinct. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
I had to sit down and try to revamp what I had wanted. I tried salvaging it, at one point, but it got to be too much. When all else fails, paint over it and start over!
Sometimes you need a little helper to motivate you and keep you going. This is one of my helpers, Ody. (Short for Odysseus).
After all was said and done, I was very happy with the result.
Thank you for joining me on my first journey through abstract art! I hope that you were able to open your eyes a little, like I did, and expand your understanding of the strange and subjective art style. I hope that you pick up a paint brush and try some, yourself! I promise that you will have a lot of fun!
***My first abstract collection is below! “Abstract Art: Part 2” will contain the tutorial and titles for the compositions. Enjoy!***
I FUCKING HATE ABSTRACT ART!
I was never certain when my loathing for the style started. It had always been the primary scent of who I was as an artist: anything but abstract. I do know that my hatred solidified when I was in college and I remember the precise moment in all of its disgusting and jealous glory.
One of my teachers had the class travel to the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in San Francisco. Our assignment was to evaluate our favorite piece of art and our least favorite piece of art. I couldn’t tell you what my favorite piece of art had been, but without taking a millisecond to recall, I could tell you what my least favorite exhibit was.
One would think that the ordinary plaster-white toilet would have taken the prize for first worst place, as he basked in the museum lights, and grinned with pompous arrogance. Fuck that toilet!
I walked into a huge room, and looked to my left, and to my right. The canvases were about five feet wide and eight feet long. Two were spaced the same distance apart from each other on all four walls, and all of them were painted a familiar elementary school crayon color: pumpkin orange, cherry red, cobalt blue, lemon yellow, royal purple, emerald green, fucking black, and fucking white. (The last two aren’t even colors!) I walked around with my mouth dangling. They were PLAIN SOLID COLORS! No texture. No hint of any character, except maybe in their massiveness and hue, or lack of hue…did the artist even PAINT the white canvas?! This artistic experience got so much better, though.
In the center of the room sat a lazy cement block. From the top of that lazy cement block a thick metal rod grew like a flower stem that was on the verge of wilting. A natural sponge, the size of a small watermelon, had been dipped in cobalt blue paint. It was quite apparent that this poor blue sponge had lost all faith in life because he decided that he had no choice but to impale himself on the top of that metal rod. Thus, the art exhibit was complete. Fuck that blue sponge!
Needless to say, the nature of my essay was not uplifting.
My next huge run-in with abstract art punched me in the face two years ago at the Getty in Los Angeles. I walked into a room that hosted one of Jackson Pollock’s famous compositions. It plastered the museum wall and beckoned all living creatures in the general vicinity to come and share in its narcissistic breathing room. My first thought was “it’s so big!” My second thought was “why do people think that this is good? It’s just paint that’s splashed and twirled on a board. Yeah, it’s big. But, why do people like this?!” I wandered through the rest of the museum and left in a rage as Pollock pricked his untalented needle fingers into my brain. FUCK FUCKING POLLOCK!
WHY IS ABSTRACT ART SO GREAT?!
During my journey in “all things art”, I made the decision to explore the abstract world; I tried to figure out what made this sloppy, child-like, finger painting so lovable and mesmerizing to millions of people. There had to be something that I was missing. As I absorbed the characteristics and commonalities that the most famous abstract pieces were composed of, my respect for abstract painting started to take shape. When I started to paint, I understood and appreciated the style.
So, what made good abstract art?
Well, “anything goes” in art. Art is subjective, on all levels. Just because one person likes one style of art doesn’t mean that the next person will feel the same about that style. But, what is consistent across the board, for all good art, is the presence of technique. It is the purposeful application of texture, balance, layers, color compatibility, and the formation of emotion. These categories are all present in good abstract art. What looks like paint splattered on a canvas is coherent. Every stroke and detail should be intentional in its thought. With that being said, famous art isn’t always good art. There are many famous singers who cannot sing well, but they are marketable. Marketability and talent aren’t one in the same.
What looked like blobs of paint colors on a canvas, in Pollock’s painting, were actually layers of compatible colors. They were applied with different tools, in different paint weights. They ended up creating a mishmash of artistic patterns that were executed by the trained, seasoned, and unique movement of Pollock’s arm and body. No artist can replicate another artist’s work without fault, because so much of the character of an artist’s composition comes from unique body movements. No two people move in the same way.
When I look at Pollock’s work, now, I can see the glory behind the artist. He was talented and created with purpose. I can see which colors he started with, what weights the paints were, what kind of tool or surface he might have used to create that kind of stroke with that specific paint color, and in what way he moved his arm based on the splash angles and how the medium hit the canvas. What I didn’t know, until a few weeks ago, was that most people don’t know how to dissect a piece of artwork and analyze the details. But, that didn’t matter. Breaking down the technicalities of a composition was a great skill to have, but I was missing the whole point of abstract art: subjective emotion.
I decided to whip up a collection of seven abstract paintings. Painting a landscape or cartoon characters that formed a story was talented in one way. Painting subjective emotion, was talented in another way.
The following collection of paintings is displayed in order. I would like to invite you to analyze and try to figure out what they are. In my next article, Abstract Art: Part Two, I will reveal the titles for the pieces, as well as the intense planning process that was built up behind their execution. There is so much more to abstract art than meets the eye and I would like to challenge all of the critical purists to explore the medium in the same way that I did. Doing so might end up killing the pride that has clogged your arteries due to your fattening arrogance. And you might have a little fun in the process.
‘Til next time!
24″ x 36″ Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas – July 2016
Titles of pieces and collection to be revealed in “Abstract Art: Part 2”
***A walk through tutorial for “The Mighty Mini Marshmallow” is below! Enjoy!***
It’s about the little things…
My first pen sketch was of a single tree branch. I used black to emphasize the shadows of the branch and twigs, red to emphasize the shadows of the berries on the branch, and a touch of green on top of the red for a little more shadow. From a distance, it looked like a simple branch scattered with berries. It WAS a simple branch scattered with berries. But, when my college teacher took a closer look, he asked me, “Do you know why this is so good?” I shook my head. I didn’t really think about why I did certain things in my artwork at that time, I just did them according to what I felt was right. He continued, “It’s because of the eye candy.”
‘Eye candy’ was a term that my teacher used to describe the subtle and unnoticeable elements of a drawing that brought it to life. Without these elements the piece would be good, but it would fall flat and taste stale; Eye candy gave the composition a playful and entertaining aura. It was the “random” swoop of purple in the shadow of a golden pear, or it was the messy hatched bundle of lines in the shadow of Superman’s face. Eye candy gave the drawing personality, but not in a distracting way.
There were dots in my branch. From a distance these dots looked like solid lines. In reality, they broke up into pinpoints that came together to form a “line”. Green pen created shadows on the edges of the berries; they were also made from dots, and from a distance, they looked like brown lines. If I had used brown or black to shade the berries, instead of layering the green within the red, the berries would have lost their vibrancy. If the dots had been drawn as thin lines they would have been too harsh, the composition would have lost its delicate flavor, and an observer would probably look at the drawing and think that it was nice, but that something was not right.
Eye candy is what separates good artists from great artists. Being a great artist is about detail. It is about listening to your intuition when it says that something minuscule is missing. It is about shading that strawberry with a swoop of purple, green and yellow, and not just black or brown. It is about dots that don’t seem to matter, layer upon layer of colors that don’t even look all that different, and the tiniest textures of paint that only a few people will be able to point out – if they take the time to look up close. Most of the time, they won’t, and that is quite alright. It’s about the little things…
I hope you enjoy the walk through for “The Mighty Mini Marshmallow”!
Sometimes the biggest surprises come in the smallest packages. My sketching started with the tiniest, squishiest, and most unassuming of characters: a mini marshmallow. It was not just a regular marshmallow, but a mini marshmallow. It was tiny, and cute, and the smallest of all of the marshmallows. I like cute…
I thought it would be ironic if he was a super hero. He seemed to be the opposite of everything that a super hero embodied, and he could be a great foundation for an uplifting children’s picture book story! (It is the field I am aiming for, so I ran with it). I added a cape and an “M” symbol for his costume and drew a scribble of light beaming from behind him. I would pretend that this was the cover of the picture book. Because he was a superhero, he needed to be more than just a mini marshmallow, so his title leveled up to “The Mighty Mini Marshmallow”.
I started with a fresh Photoshop document at 300 dpi and worked with a blue pen to sketch out the rough drawing of the marshmallow. It was important that the first sketches had solid proportions and that the movement was what I wanted in the marshmallow and the cape. It was at this stage that foundation for the rest of the drawing would be built. If the foundation was bad the final drawing would be bad, too!
I lightened the opacity of the blue sketch and created a new layer so that I could draw my clean black outlines. I wanted thicker lines to surround the cute marshmallow because he was my main point of interest. (My secondary points of interest were the cape and the “M” symbol.) I also wanted to emphasize the placement of the shadows using different line weights on the marshmallow. I made the lines just a little thicker around the backside of his lower body.
Once the boarder was drawn for the “M” symbol, I used the blue pen, on a separate layer, to sketch out the rough lines for the “M” in the center.
This project was a good exercise in simple line weight logistics. Foreground objects, such as the front section of the cape, would have thicker outlines than objects that were in the distance, such as the back section of the cape. I also used thinner lines to de-emphasize certain elements, like the “M” symbol; I wanted the focus to be on the marshmallow, initially, not his costume. Once I was happy with the line weights I started to color him in!
I used the wand tool and filled in all of the colors on different layers, so that highlighting them and shading them would be easier. These base colors were the “medium tones.” (Not the brightest and not the darkest shades). If I wanted a bright red cape, I would use a handful of shades darker than bright red, so that I could highlight it and make it pop with the bright red, later. This technique gives a little more depth to the drawing.
Before I started shading and highlighting the marshmallow, I dropped some color into the background so that I could weigh out the true tone of the marshmallow’s colors against something other than white.
I was so excited, because I already had a slight learning curve in my shading technique! For my first digital drawing “Going Fishing” I used the shadow colors as the base colors for the cat and fish. I took an opaque white brush and brightened up the whole drawing in a multitude of swoops and layers. I wanted to try something a little different for the marshmallow, this time around.
For each shaded section, I grabbed the base color and made it a few shades darker. I colored everything that had a hint of shadow touching it. I repeated this but picked out a slightly darker shade and colored the darker parts of the shaded areas. I never used black, but only dark colors, and only with an opaque brush at about 15% most of the time. I used this same technique for the highlights but transitioned into lighter colors. The background was layered with more color and an opaque “off-white” brush added bursts of light behind the marshmallow. A halo of glory, in the slightest tinge of orange and yellow, was added around the outline of the Mighty Mini Marshmallow.
At this point, I saved my drawing as a jpeg, and brought him into Illustrator. Photoshop was wonderful for drawing, but it was a horrendous program to use for anything related to fonts and text. (If you ever have to add text to a photo project, do it in Illustrator, lest your letters be pixilated.) I typed out the title of my would-be children’s book, and set out all of the different fonts that caught my eye. Once I found a few, I looked at them on the drawing to see if the feel of each one matched the feel of the composition. Fonts tell a story all their own. Picking the wrong font (or combination of fonts) can make or break your product. Picking the right fonts can bring closure to a piece. Once I found one that was the essence of what I was aiming for, I tested out some colors
Color can be just as important as the font itself so be aware of the balance of the anatomy of the text, your product, and the message you want to convey. Because this font was for a would-be children’s book I decided to go with something that was cute, but strong, like the Mighty Marshmallow, and I chose a color that emphasized the marshmallow, and not the font.
Red is an eye-catching color, which is why so many magazines and companies have red labels and titles. When “The Mighty Marshmallow” title was red, I found that the eye went to the title of the book cover, first, and not to the drawing of the marshmallow. When the title was blue, my eye went to the marshmallow, and then scanned the rest of the space to see what this marshmallow was all about. It’s the little things that make a big difference, and if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. That being said, a publishing company might want to use the red title, because it does draw so much attention and catches your eye while it floats in a sea of children’s picture books throughout Barnes and Noble. For this project I liked the blue a lot more because it wasn’t distracting.
I surrounded the blue font with a boarder of “gold” that matched the marshmallow costume, and rearranged the letters and font so that they weren’t so static; it needed to be fun! I played around with the size of the words. I made “The” (an insignificant word) small, and “Mighty” large, next to a smaller “Mini”, and separated the “Marshmallow” from the adjectives to bring a little more emphasis to the rounded composition of the layout.
I had so much fun whipping up this little character, and as I did, I could see this a small glimpse of this cute story come to life. Maybe I will have a chance to work on developing it, later on. We shall see!
Thank you for visiting! I hope you enjoyed my mini marshmallow walk-through!
***A walk through tutorial for “Going Fishing” is below! Enjoy!***
A year ago I started to explore the field of digital art. Comic book cover artists and cartoon animators made a gateway that had the possibility of using my artwork on a fresh, more vibrant, and true platform. It was a perfectionist’s medium that combined the cleanliness of pen with bold colors, and the flexibility to hit the delete button without a trail of evidence.
When I was young, my father taught me how to draw in basic pencil. We started with lessons in shading and perspective. He crumpled up a piece of white paper and drew every bend and fold of the white ball. It was the ultimate test in still life. I learned to hate still life, because there was no life. There was an undeniable beauty in luscious landscapes and vibrant bowls of the most delicious fruit, but still life left me feeling drained and dull.
Three-dimensional cubes and circles learned to stack together and turned into cheetahs, Shamus, and people. Everything that I drew revolved around movement and life. I liked animals and people. I liked adding eyeballs to inanimate objects so that they became creatures with stories to tell.
Pencil upgraded to the prism of colored pencils, with the occasional vacation to water color and oil paint, and even pain-in-the-butt dry pastel – but only once because it wasn’t pretty.
In college, one of my first art courses was taught by a seasoned animator, who introduced me to the extreme value of black and white. I experimented in charcoal, but found serenity in the detail and absolute commitment of black pen. The dim gray lines of my pencil started to evolve into black ink on the plaster white paper and made the perfect foundation for colored pens, vibrant pencil, watercolor, acrylic, and gauche. All of my fashion sketches, throughout college, were a compilation of pen and watercolor.
Art school didn’t teach me how to draw, but my instructors hammered out my shortcomings. Before, my hands that I drew were always too small, my people were stiff and my movement wasn’t fluid. They taught me how to bring life to my art. More important, they taught me the ins and outs of Photoshop and Illustrator.
I began to research comic book cover artists, and absorbed their techniques in line work and coloring. I watched hours of tutorials on YouTube, and embraced the flexibility of drawing from scratch and improving the cleanliness of my art. Here is a walk through of my first computer composition:
To start, I opened a new file, in Photoshop, that had a resolution of no less than 300 dpi. My canvas was 11 inches by 8.5 inches (standard size of a piece of paper, just to make things easier for me to print, if need be). I started a layer titled “rough sketch” and worked in a blue pen color so that when I traced over it with black, the color didn’t blend into one another.
I didn’t know what I wanted to draw but had started with a little cat body, and it morphed into a cat squatting next to a fish bowl. I brought the idea further. I thought it would be cute to have the cat use his tail as a device to try to catch a fish in a bowl. The basic body and anatomy of the little cat was built beside a fish bowl and dragged to the corner of the canvas so that I could start sketching out the fish.
I like cute and animated. I love fish with big eyes, and I wanted this fish to be surprised at the sight of whatever was dangling off of the tail of the cat. I didn’t want the fish to look directly at the cat, but I wanted him to have a “What the hell is that thing? It doesn’t look good,” expression. I gave him big eyes with small pupils for surprise and fear, and drooping fins for a sense of limp shock and hopelessness.
I had a difficult time sketching out the anatomy of the tail. I wanted the fins to be an extension of the feelings that were dawdling through his little head, but I also wanted the tail to float. Trying to find that perfect balance took a little time because there were so many options. Body composition tells a lot about a character.
After I completed a rough drawing of my fish, I shrunk it down, and placed it in the bowl. I added foliage, a little castle, and the base for the sand and rocks. At first, I had the fish facing the cat, looking up at the hook, but something didn’t feel right. Sometimes you have to dive into the psychology of your characters.
If I had been this tiny fish, I would not have been looking at the hook dangling above, I would have been scared out of my mind and staring into the two huge eyeballs that were looking at me from outside of my bowl. Screw that hook! Who cares about the hook?! But, if I had no clue that the cat was there, and my back was to him, it would make sense that I would look at the dangerous shiny thing that started descending into my fish bowl. For this reason, I flipped the fish around and changed the placement of the pupils.
Once I had my foundation rough sketch finished, I created a new layer titled “final outline”. I sketched out the final lines for my drawing, and changed anything that needed changing along the way.
Line weight can bring a lot of life and depth to the composition of a piece. Traditionally, skinnier lines are used in the background of cartoons, and thicker lines are used in the foreground and around the main figures. Because my cartoon was all one layer, I didn’t have to worry so much about line width except to accentuate certain materials, such as the glass of the fish bowl, or the fur tufts of the kitty cat. When I finished the drawing, I found that the lines for the fish were too thin compared to the cat, so I thickened them up slightly.
I printed out the drawing and took a look at it with fresh eyes.
I made sure to sign it and date it. — So many artists have incredible signatures in the comic book world – they are like little pieces of art. I need to work on mine and make it more personal. (My real signature looks worse than a doctor’s… that isn’t an exaggeration; one of my teachers lectured me in college for my shitty signature. I’m working on it.)
I made new layers and mapped out the base colors. I used the darkest shade of the color that I was going to use for each section. If the fish was going to be a light orange, I would find the darkest shade of that orange and color him in. Rarely is white ever used in its purest form and black isn’t used except for pen work. For the fish’s eyes I used a khaki/tan color for the base because I wanted this color to be the darkest shadow of his eyes.
Here is a screen shot of all of the base colors, without light. Again, these were the darkest parts of the characters and objects. The most important part of this step was to make sure that the colors balanced well with each other. It was time to bring some life into this cartoon!
The only color I used to bring shade and light to this drawing was white. That’s it. I went across each section and made each color brighter and brighter using the white pen tool. I wanted the fins on the fish to be transparent, and I erased a small section of the bottom of the tail to make it look like it got thinner. Here is a detail shot of the fish! If there had been a background you would have been able to see it a lot better. It really is all about the small details, though. I added texture and lines to the eyes of the cat. This was the only time that I used any additional color, and not just white.
After I finished highlighting the drawing I added a little sparkle to the central elements of the drawing.
I wanted people to focus on the hook, the eyes of the fish, and the eyes of the cat, so I brought a little light to these areas, and I also added some white whiskers.
The finishing touch was to add a little reflection on the fish bowl. There is the slightest hint of blue within the fish bowl, to give the illusion of glass and water. The addition of a little of the cat’s reflection, as he pushed his face against the bowl, gave a little breathlessness to the piece. I think it might be my favorite element. It is barely noticeable, but it gives so much in a subtle way.