Sunday, 29 April 2012

An intimate Perspective on Norman Rockwell

    A Painting by Norman Rockwell
Friday evening, Wilma and I went to take in an extraordinary event at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG). It was a talk entitled: “An intimate Perspective on Norman Rockwell” by Norman Rockwell’s youngest son Peter Rockwell.
For me this was a must see. I had admired Rockwell’s art forever. Since I can remember seeing art I always recognized, closely examined and imitated his art. For me as a kid it was a few things. First and foremost was the way he added interesting details to his pictures. For example in the picture above you have the book at the side with book marks. The glass sitting at a slant in the open book, and it creates interesting tension. “Will that thing fall off?” is the question and you are curious. It was these additional things that I was so attracted to in his work.
It was also the way he drew his scenes with a clear hint of a cartoon style. I love cartoons and for me I saw an artist mixing “real” art with this cartoon style and be successful at it.
His art gave me a lot of ideas on how to draw interesting pictures.
The other thing about this was that it was one of his children doing the talk! How often does this happen? Therefore, I expected some kind of “inside” information on this amazing artist.
First, about the venue. I could not believe the seats. They are unlike any theater venue I’ve ever seen. You can easily “rock” on the chair and that’s very nice. Secondly they turn side to side but the extraordinary thing was they can spin right around, yes exactly, a whole 360 degrees. This certainly brought out the child in us and we began commenting and chuckling with strangers as we experimented spinning on our chairs. It was delightful and refreshing. We were immediate groups where the row ahead could turn their chairs backwards visiting with us while sitting in their chairs in comfort and ease. What a great idea for an art gallery venue.
Peter Rockwell is the youngest son. He was born as his father was entering the height of his career and it was obvious he was very familiar with how his father worked. He mentioned how they as kids were always welcome in his father’s studio which was just behind the house. Also, he (and his brothers) often posed for his father in preparation for painting his Saturday Evening Post covers.
Here are a few things I took away from his presentation.
First, that he was a workaholic. He worked seven days a week.
He painted only “positive, feel good” pictures. Even if the subject was difficult or negative he would try to paint it in a way that saw good things in the story.
His paintings were a story. He tried very hard to make the story clear, understandable and believable to the everyday person.
The biggest thing for me this time was learning abut the amazing process he went through in the creation of every piece. Generally the process began with several ideas rendered as rough sketches in charcoal. These he would show to the Post editor for his approval. Then he began with taking photos of most every aspect of the picture. The still life, the characters, the setting etc. That sounds pretty normal but this would include details like several series of photos of each area mentioned. Like several options of clothing for the human subjects of the painting, several ideas for the setting etc. So you can see how this could become quite a time consumer. Also, if down the line the outfits did not seem to work in the picture and he had other ideas, new photos were taken. Then he worked with charcoal working out the placing of everything in the painting. This would also take time as he did several of them, roughly at first but finally when things were coming together he’d do a complete one with all the details, then came the painting process. Apparently he used a “Dutch” method of painting, layering the colors till he got the right tones. to give you an idea of the care he took in makeing things just right,  in one painting, he painted 18 versions of one persons facial expression before he was satisfied it was just right.
As you can see, this was a time consuming process. He was to make one image a month for the Post, but usually finished only 8 – 10 paintings per year.
By the way, Peter Rockwell is also an artist, a successful sculptor.
What an inspirational evening and show! After the presentation we had some time to see the exhibit, but it was too much to quick. I will be going back myself when I have no time constraints and “linger”.
“By all this we are encouraged. In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his sprit has been refreshed by all of you.”  2 Corinthians 7:13

Friday, 27 April 2012

Rope Making Detail # 3

What a week I’ve had, highlighted by attending a presentation at the WAG by Peter Rockwell the youngest son of the American iconic artist Norman Rockwell, talking about how his father did his art. Soooo inspiring. I’ll do a report on that anther time.

But, back to our business of finishing the rope element of our sculpture.

Now that we’ve done all the twist lines we need to prep for the final touch which will make the clay look like a rope. First, we wet the rope to soften the surface for this final touch. We take a brush, dip it into water and paint the water onto the clay. Depending on how dry the coil is we may have to do more than one application.

Then, we pick up the special tool you see on the photo above.

A comment about tools for use in working with clay. One thing I have been taught by one of the teachers I respect a lot, Jordan Van Sewell, is that he continually harped on the idea that the tools for working with clay can come from anywhere. We do not, he insisted, need to purchase many of our tools. Often them most valuable ones come from common items around the house. Even things we might be throwing out. For example a piece of plastic may have a surface design on it which can be pressed into the surface of clay for a unique finish. A toy, a broken piece from some forgotten item, whatever can become the ceramic sculptures best friend. In this case, a comb scores big-time in bringing things to a spectacular finish. On half of the teeth on this piece of come I’ve taken out every second tooth and this part has become the tool for “scoring” when attaching two pieces of clay together. This half you see on the photo above has all it’s teeth and will be used to produce finishing touch on the rope.

What I suggest is making the scratch lines a bit slanted on the raised sections of the coil. This suggests the smaller twine twisted to make the larger elements of the rope. It may feel awkward as the comb is sometimes hard to handle in such seemingly small tight areas. Take your time, find the right grip and angles as you go along to get the effect you need. There will be some places you will have to resort to a knife to make the same affect in some of the more difficult places. Basically you work from the back or top of the rope around to the front with short strokes. Then, just like with the carving tools move ahead and work back from the bottom us. You will, as you proceed decide on the pressure and number of strokes needed to get the effect you wish. Wet the rope more if necessary.

When you have done the whole rope, go back and check where more work may be needed, especially in the carving parts making up the twists. Then get a knife and finish up the corners you could not get into with the comb. Be careful to simulate the results of the comb with this tool.

Then, because the comb can be cumbersome, again clean up the nicks you might have made on other parts of the sculpture with your whetted fingers.

Ladies and gentlemen, with that we have finished the rope and the sculpture.

Clean up clay debris on and around your sculpture.

Celebrate the completion of this stage of the project by taking some pictures of the piece.

Now wrap it up again so all the elements of the piece can come to the same level of dampness. This will prevent cracking as the whole sculpture slowly and uniformly dries in the days ahead.

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.”
Genesis 2:2

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Rope Making Detail # 2

This is the kind of rope
we will be making.

Welcome back to the rope making business.

Visualise entering the studio, turning on the lights, our worship music and standing in anticipation before the wrapped up sculpture. Take a deep breath and begin unwrapping the plastic, revealing the creation. You fold the plastic and begin turning it around slowly on it’s lazy-susan to take in the piece and see that all is intact. Especially the new coil, is it all in place? Did the supports deep everything together? Whew, all is well.

We gather our tools for this specific task. Fill a plastic dish with fresh water and settle down on our stool for the work ahead.

First, we must mark out a uniform distance between the twist lines on the rope. This is basically a judgement call and is up to you. Just know that the further apart the lines are the more horizontal they will be. The closer together, the more near vertical they go. Then there will be more of them which will mean more detailed work. I chose a tool with a certain comfortable width and I used it to mark ticks all along the coil as to where the twist lines will be.

Then, on the left you see how l then drew the twist lines all along the coil. Remember, as you go along you are placing pressure on the clay coil. Make sure you are placing your free hand behind the coil in the looped areas to prevent cracking/breaking the clay rope. I always begin each line at the top/back of the coil, (right of the tick) come around over the top through the tick. (going right to left.) Then for the rest of the twist line I begin further down the rope (left of the tick) on the bottom side and make the line going up to join the first. (going left to right) This will give you an idea of how the spacing you have chosen will look. Make adjustments now before you have gone too far. It is relatively easy to erase the line by simply wetting your finger and running over the clay coil. Make new ticks and begin again. This can save you a lot of time if you adjust early.

Next, we use a round cutting tool and follow the twist lines cutting a dip or depression into the rope. You will need to judge the depth of this cut. At first it will feel like it leaves sharp edges but that will be taken care of in the processes to follow. Chose a small round cutting tool. Again, like when the initial guidelines were made you will begin at the upper back of the rope, then moving right to left, come over the top, turning the cutting tool with your fingers as you go, to stay in the centre of your line, and ending on the outside centre of the rope. Now you go to the underside and come up moving from left to right, cutting to join up the earlier cut. Glad you understood that!

Following this, use a tool shaped like a “V” and carve a small depression into the centre of the dip you just carved. This gives the twist in the rope definition. Again, it need not be deep, just enough to indicate a division between the twists.

Now, all of this takes time and means some focused energy. You get into the work, into your right brain and time is forgotten.  Suddenly you might realise your thirsty or tired and find you've toiled for an amazing amount of time and you realise you really need to take a break. I've sometimes argued with myself, like come-on you wimp...what's your problem?

Meanwhile your hands are shaky, your eyes begin to have trouble focusing, a muscle in your back might begins to complain, and you might even begin to rush, trying to finish the whole piece or section your working on. You cannot afford any of this happening as the work will deteriorate quickly if you do not stop. It is important to remember this is not a contest of endurance. This is not a speed drill. It is not even a competition. This is a part of a work that needs a rope represented just right. There needs to be a unity of “finish” in the work. If the piece is impressionistic the whole thing usually needs to be just that for the unity of the piece. If it is realistic, then the same holds true. Know that any particular nuance in that rope says something and will affect the message of the sculpture as a whole!

Also, this is for your fulfilment and enjoyment. Have a coffee, take a short walk, call a friend or just do a few exercises, stretches etc. Then, you can continue and you will be in a great frame of mind.

Finally, this piece is a message from you, the real you, to the world. You must know that your feelings and mental state will be communicated in and through the work. We must know the deference between the pain we may wish to express and the pain we create in the process. We must come to understand that and how it affects our attitude and the way we do our work. 
OK, I think we have done a lot of work today, so let’s go through the end of session procedures. First we clean up all the little pieces of clay we cut off and are lying about. Grab a small dry brush and sweep them out of crevices and off the sculpture. Then we check places where we nicked or scratched any other part of the sculpture with our tools and repair these areas. Usually wetting our finger and rubbing over the nick will smooth it out. Now wet some paper towel pieces, place them on plastic under the sculpture to keep it from drying to fast while it is wrapped up. Check to see if any supports need to be returned. Then lightly spray the whole sculpture and wrap it up in plastic. Wash up the tools, shut off the music, the lights, and we are ready to go.

We will continue next week Friday morning.

“Also, I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you.”
Exodus 31:6  

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Rope Making Detail # 1.

We can certainly do a lot of talking about the theory of creativity and art but there comes a time when things have to actually get done. We do eventually have to do the creating part and make something appear that was wasn’t there before. So, this weekend we are going to get practical.

The worship music is playing softly (IHOP), we are sitting on our stool and we are going to work at detailing rope.

First, let’s talk about what happened day before yesterday. There are a few  preliminary steps we need to mention. I had to decide where and how the rope would lie on the sculpture. You can see in the photo above, how the piece of string is draped over the sculpture. After I’d decided how it would lie I rolled the clay and placed it according to the plan.

As you do this decisions need to be made, such as how thick should the rope be? I also had to consider how the placing of the rope would enhance the sense of movement. I draped the clay rope onto the sculpture’s arms and decided where the rope would touch the sleeves. I applied wet clay to these spots and to the coil, then gently pressed the coil to the sleeve without deforming it. I then strengthened the bond with extra clay under and behind the rope to secure it firmly to the sleeve. This extra clay could later be carved down so it would not be either visible, or if visible accepted by the viewer as part of the sleeve. This was done section by section as the rope was too long to apply in one piece.

Now please understand. The new “fresh clay” coil needs to dry to a “leather hardness” before we can do the detailing on it. That means it needs “time”. And we all know what time dose to us. We find as the years go by things begin to sag. Usually we do the normal stuff like buying special supports to hold things up, exercising, and maybe for some it means getting face-lifts, may I say, not necessarily just on our faces either! You get the point. So, in a similar fashion I braced up the wet clay rope at the loops as I went along so gravity and shrinkage would not pull it apart while it dried. These braces (supports) were custom made for each loop. I always have “anti- sagging supports” in the form of Styrofoam available for just such situations.   

Now, the plastic wrapped sculpture has waited for two days. The rope will now have dried to the “leather hard” stage and be ready for the detailed work to make it look like real rope! Sunday morning we’ll unwrap the plastic over the sculpture and get busy.

“When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.”
Psalm 94:18

Sunday, 15 April 2012

What Do I Know?

Self Portrait
Living with the unknown with an uneasy comfort!

A book by David Ulrich, “The widening Stream; The Seven Stages of Creativity” has a lot of enlightening things to say about creativity.
     “Creativity is a way of life and is not the exclusive domain of artists, writers, and scientists. It is the birthright of every human being. To live a full, productive, and satisfying life, and to make a meaningful contribution to others, one must discover and employ this most distinctive of human capacities: the ability to create.” David Ulrich.
     Our creator is creative and being created “in the image of God” mankind has been given this gift and therefore has the desire and the need to create and be creative.
     My life has touched on every one of his seven points in some way or other but right now I’m in his stage four, “Retreat and Withdrawal” stage. It actually began while my art show was going on. I seemed so wrapped up and concerned about the show that my creative process just kind of ground to a halt. I noticed this and wondered about it, but put it off as temporary and making sense under the circumstances.
     Now I see that it was a time where I stepped back, thinking about my work, not only in individual pieces but really for the first time as a whole. In light of the response to my work on opening night I had to re-consider what I’d actually done. The degree of impact and emotion was striking and I needed to ruminate and seek to understand how that happened. What in fact had I done and how had I done it? Also, is this good? Is my creative work doing what I want it to do? I have also come to the uncomfortable conclusion that possibly it’s not about me but that I am simply a messenger. That brings with it another whole raft of new considerations.
     “For such a time as this...” I hear my friends tell me. This is appreciated and I believe it to be true only in that then I must continue mining my inner “something” to produce the visible “something’s” that will tell stories that need to be told, at this particular time.
     You can see the clarity there on my part eh?
     I have come to a place where I realize like most things, I have to come to accept and really embrace the discomfort and the “not knowing” aspect of my creative process. It is that, I guess, what creativity is about. It would not in essence be “creative” otherwise.
     “You have heard these things; look at them all. Will you not admit them? “From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you.” Isaiah 48:6

Friday, 13 April 2012

“Creativity” Means finding my Inner Child

Drawn "live"
Two things happened this week that have me traveling on the “What is Creativity” journey. Both events had to do with children.

First, as you know I was asked, on Good Friday, if I would be willing to do something for the children on Sunday morning. I was to draw a mural for “the big plan” while the narrator read what the big plan was to the kids. Wow!

I had a very busy Saturday, working, cleaning, doing quotes and so during coffees and lunch I read the narration and made plans for my sketches. Sunday morning before going to church I counted the drawings and made a grid on the drawing surface for a guide to prevent myself from ending up with the drawings all crowed on one side. That would not look good. Left brain stuff! Anyway you see the results above.

What was most fascinating was the curiosity of the kids. After it was all and the kids were making their way out, many stopped and stood in front of the mural, quietly, seemingly carefully, examining the work. What were they thinking?

The second event was Wed. night. I was back at “The Mix” where the kids painted the cups they fashioned out of clay a few weeks earlier. Yes, the cups were creative! The theme was “my cup is running over” and all kinds of stuff was made to bubble up and run over the edges of those cups. Also, lots of designs were carved into the sides of the cups. Of course I did explain how to make bubbles and fountain effects etc., whatever I explained was fashioned in abundance and more.

They had no fear. Their hands and fingers were busy. They had clay doing things no one has ever thought of! It was fun. It was an adventure. It was in a word “Creative” beyond measure. (If in fact it can be measured.)

This week these creations had been bisked and were now to be painted. It all continued in the same vain. All colors of the rainbow were provided and they were all used. Cups got painted, clothing got painted, even faces had paint streaks on them. There were cups of every color and design. A veritable feast of color for the eyes. I’m so sorry I did not take a picture of them. It was awesome!

After they had finished their cups, they gathered around and I shared a few thoughts with them. I simply had to tell them that the best and greatest artists in the world were in fact, sitting right in front of me. That they were amazing artists and that what they had done was what true “creativity” was all about.

As kids they do things that are naturally creative. They have the freedom and ability to play. They have no embarrassment of abandonment. They can move into their right brain without effort. They have a freedom and fearlessness an artist would die for. I told them that from now on I would try to bring out the child in me when I do art. They are my new art mentors.

Picasso said: "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."

“...Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me...for it is the one who is he least among you who is the greatest.”
Luke 9:48

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Preliminary Plans for this Morning!

What a week!

First of all you will notice there was no blog yesterday morning. Sorry, about that. My computer was not sitting in it’s usual place to remind me of my committed obligations in the blogging department of my life.

We did though have great weather this week. Actually for a few weeks then suddenly last night it snowed! Slightly. Even now, as I write I see it’s minus 1degrees, which is unusual. Weird saying that in Manitoba at this time. But that’s how it’s been this year. Mild.

Wilma launched her website this week and had a launch night where a few of us bloggers got together. I’d set up my computer with a projector and we all took turns bringing up our blog sites. It was a “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine” kind of evening. It was fun, informative and also a lot of fun, OK, I already said that. It was also very encouraging for all of us. A great way to launch a website.

Meanwhile, after everyone said good-bye, I noticed my computer had changed. Nothing but huge print and icons! And try as I might I could not change it. None of the usual ways of adjusting the size of things would take. After hours of struggling with it over the next few days did nothing to change things. It was awkward and unreasonably difficult to do anything on my computer. Everything was so huge, only a small portion of the normal screen was visible on the screen. It was time to call in our techie team, it was time to call Odia our daughter to the rescue.

Wilma was scheduled to go to Altona on Thursday night for the usual, of late weekly Amity Publishing “IT” meeting. Which really is a meeting where Odia continues working on Wilma’s Website to develop it further. So she took my computer along for her to work on. Reports I’ve heard up to this point include references to the difficulty it was to wrestle the thing (my obstinate computer) back into shape. That was a relief. First, relief that it was hard. (for once it was  not simply an obvious solution I’d missed!) Secondly, that I had my computer back. Yea.

Well, my computer, a laptop, is situated in our living room. Moves from table to visible storage slot as need of usage arises. Upon her return Wilma dutifully placed the computer in it’s traveling bag into my office. And, that is where it’s been till this morning. When, shortly after the alarm rang it occurred to me with horror, I haven’t written my blogs! “Ahhhhhhhhhhh.” I scrambled out of bed hearing muffled sounds something like “What?, What?, What?” from the other side of the bed!

It’s been an unusually different kind of week or two for us, this week. There’s the allergy thing which makes me weirded out. Tired, runny eyes, not wanting to see anyone etc. Had a few medical tests about “other things” come back with news that I’m ageing. Surprise surprise. Saturday, (yesterday) I put in about 11 hours working on my business, doing quotes and cleaning at two different places. Also this week, for the first time, attended the annual “Clifton Studios Art Co-0perative” business meeting. Then, Friday I got a panic call from the children’s department in our church, Would I be willing to draw pictures while the speaker tells the kids the “Big God Story”. (Basically a 15 min. or so summary of what’s in the Bible) So all day yesterday (my busy Saturday) during coffees and meals, I was busy planning and sketching drawings that would reflect his talk. I’ve got the large paper now in the house and will be planning the “places” of the many little drawings on the sheet, before we go to church this morning. Talk about walking into the unknown! So exciting.

I managed to get to my studio one day this week and continued details on the “Mercy Flight” piece.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, as they say. Next week...things should be back to normal! That’s a joke. We are picking up Syras and Natasha from the airport next Friday night! Cannot wait.

“Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight”
Luke 24:31

Sunday, 1 April 2012

How Much are We Missing?

My Church needed a picture of me,
so I decided I needed an angel to accompany me.
"Just to be clear", the angel is the one in the drawing behind me!

I have been thinking lately about things beyond our senses.

Just yesterday Wilma mentioned an option for a design we were discussing with a contractor and I missed it. (Probably doing something I should know a man cannot do, “multi-tasking”...trying to plan a cabinet while listening to the hockey game!) I only discovered I’d missed it as we sat before the cabinet maker and discussed “our” plans, which were now new information for both the cabinet maker and myself! So, I joined the cabinet maker in questions of understanding and clarification! Dhuuuu...

Point? We don’t see or hear everything! We have no idea how much we are missing!

Some animals, see in the dark, we need flashlights. Some have a much wider pitch range of hearing, we as human in comparison are almost deaf, and so they are able to hear sounds we will never hear.

How much are we missing? Like right now I hear sounds outside my house. I know someone is there. What they are doing I cannot tell. Who they are I do not know. What are they wearing, I’d have to guess. Unless I get up and look outside the window and see something I will only have to imagine and make assumptions as to all the above questions.

My Bible and my inner experiences tell me there are forces and beings that exist beyond, in a world we cannot see or hear. Namely forces for good and forces for evil that have fought since the beginning of time over us as humans. We sense their presence, hear their whispers and urges and we do make decisions. I, (we) sensed there presence, especially during the trial. Forces for good and evil battling it out, one side attempting to lure us into rage and the other protecting us.

I have begun doing a series of large charcoal drawings dramatising this world we cannot see but know is there. It’s an experiment of “what if it looked like this?” It’s not theology, it’s “what if?” Paul encourages us metaphorically to “put on the whole amour of God” for our own success in this battle. Angels and demons are usually portrayed using swords, shields, spears and the like. Is it possible they use other methods of warfare? Might an electrical charge be their way? Maybe they use something like “the force” we saw in “Star Wars”?

So here is my first effort to “see” what it is we might be missing.

“Therefore submit yourself to God and resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
James 4:7