Something Old, Something Blue

Okay, I am officially addicted to cyanotypes. The rich, Prussian blue, the high contrast style, and that lovely vintage feel come together to create such a unique final result that can only be achieved using this historic medium.

Cyanotypes were invented by Sir John Hershel in 1842, as a way to reproduce notes and drawings (blueprints!) This photographic process involves combining potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate solutions, and applying said solution to any absorbent surface- ideally paper or fabric. Objects or film negatives can then be placed on top of the sensitized surface, and exposed to sunlight. The surface is then rinsed with water and viola! You have a cyanotype!

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I made this one using a perfume bottle!

I’ve spoken before about how I love making monotypes to wind down from working on larger oil painting projects. Cyanotypes provide that same spontaneous thrill that comes from not knowing exactly how an image will turn out.

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This one was made using moss

You can buy kits with paper already sensitized with the chemicals (“sun print” kits,) which is what I used to make the above. This is a great way to try out the medium for cyanotype n00bz, but I personally got frustrated by how crappy and flimsy the paper is (it curls and buckles and you can never get all the little ripples out.) I decided to go hardcore and buy the real chemicals. Now, I can work on my favorite watercolor papers- which means I can work into my prints!

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worked into this one with some colored pencil

I’m excited to see how I could integrate this more into my core work. Right now, I’m just enjoying the thrill (and lamenting the occasional frustration) of experimentation with an unfamiliar medium. I get so overloaded with seeing digital photography everywhere online that it feels refreshing to make photos using such a highly tactile analog process!

Be Still My Art!

First of all, I apologize for the terrible pun- gotta find some way to jazz up the ol’ still life. Still life, as a genre, sort of gets a bad rap- traditionally it’s ranked dead last in the hierarchy of artistic genres. We were once sworn enemies, only for Wayne Thiebaud to forever change that. Most of my senior work for my BFA was paintings of objects (not fully posed in a still life, but still with the same idea.) But since graduating I’ve taken a bit of a break from painting objects to painting faces. So, it was pleasantly refreshing to take a still life workshop at Scottsdale Artist’s School to revisit the unique challenge presented by the genre.

I gained a real appreciation for the complexity that exists even in really “standard”  traditional still life setups. You not only have to “pose” objects in an interesting configuration, but you have to consider the relationship between those objects (is there enough variety of shapes, textures, colors, etc?) as well as light the scene in a way that will showcase them to their fullest potential. Just finding objects that would relate to each other effectively was a big challenge.  As with making any piece of art, no matter the style or genre, it all just boils down to problem-solving.

After a lot of mulling and moving different objects in and out, I eventually arrived at this setup:

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I loved the yellow bowl, and kind of tried to find objects to complement that. I decided that the purple onions were a natural source of contrast, while still having a similar shape. The leaves would draw the eye down to the focus of the piece.

The class was taught by modern master of the still life, Jeff Legg. He was a fantastic instructor, and I love that he spent so much time doing demos for us. I got to see him make multiple paintings (pretty much) from start to finish and was excited to experiment with his own way of working influenced by the old masters. His technique is so different from my own way of working- in that it involves a lot of glazing, working from a toned canvas, and the use of black, which I tend to use sparingly at most- that it felt refreshing to try something different.

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And here is the finished product:

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oil on canvas

I’m pretty happy with the result! I’ve definitely learned to appreciate what a privilege it is to be in a classroom setting and to have an (immensely skilled!) instructor sharing with you and looking at your work. Even if you’re an incredibly self-aware person, you still tend to fall back on working in ways that feel comfortable and/or familiar. That’s why we all need to dive into something new every once in awhile, if just to keep us on our toes!

Burn After Painting

I’ve always been a bit of a pyromaniac. According to my mom, toddler-aged me loved to hold things against our living room lamp’s light bulb to set them ablaze. I actually ended up burning a hole in the upholstery of my Dad’s office chair once. I think it was a scientific curiosity more than anything- to watch the always unique distortion the flame provided to every victim I could offer up. I never would have thought that my proclivity for burning things would eventually coalesce with my art-making practice, but surprisingly, it has.

A common chestnut imparted by art professors is the idea of avoiding “preciousness” in your work. I was always warned not to see the work that I made, especially in class, as being too “precious” to mess up. It’s great advice, as you don’t want to let the fear of messing up a “good” painting through taking an artistic risk to prevent you from seizing said risk and, hopefully, arriving at a “great” painting. What bigger risk is there than providing the very real possibility of burning your entire painting to a crisp?

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 video of burning here . Diamond: Burn I | watercolor, crayon on burnt paper| 10×10″

I’d made a large-scale diamond painting on canvas a while ago, but I still didn’t feel that it really fit in with the rest of my work. I knew there was something else I needed to do to this diamond to make it say what I wanted it to say. Then I started to play around with some little sketches, and eventually the famous tagline “diamonds are forever” came to mind. Then I started to think about how my own work is, broadly, about beauty and the construction and maintenance of it, and how ephemeral those things are by their nature. Juxtaposing something that, at least through marketing, is thought to be eternal with a very obvious sign of decay seemed worth exploring. I applied this same general concept to my “Doe Eyes” series as well.

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video here. Doe Eyes: Burn I | watercolor, gouache, crayon on burnt paper | 5×7″

I’m excited to continue to explore this series of experiments. There’s something so beautiful about watching the paper curl and buckle under the flame. It’s unpredictable and uncontrollable- and I’ve actually ended up over-burning a few paintings that I had to throw away. After graduating (almost two years ago- hoo boy,) I’ve found myself drawn to approaches to painting and  art-making where I relinquish a pretty high level of control over the final product- such as with my monotypes, water media, and now, the unholy power of the flame.

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gif via tinarannosuarus 

Body Image and Life Drawing

Recently I started to do some portrait modelling at an art school. I’ve been on the artist side of this equation many times, but this is my first time being the model. Remaining still, being stared at, and sitting and re-sitting in the exact. same. position. for extended periods of time is definitely harder than it looks. It’s also weird to walk around the room and see other people’s paintings of me, even though I paint myself all the time. And it’s just nice to be in the classroom environment again.

I didn’t opt to do nude modelling, since I was kinda unsure about doing it and that’s something you need to be REALLY sure you want to do (I had a few models in college that were clearly very nervous and uncomfortable which then creates an uncomfortable energy in the room.) But I did get to talking to a few of the more seasoned models at the school about their experiences. We talked about how life drawing/painting classes are a truly  unique context to see a naked body in, while also being probably the most positive and affirming. I honestly think everyone should take one of these classes if they can.

A life drawing class at Vassar, from the 1930′ s. Image via

So many people aren’t used to seeing the naked human form, especially the naked female form, in a non-sexualized context. So, when I took my first figure drawing class my sophomore year in college, I guess there was some initial awkwardness. Life drawing is a different kind of objectification- you’re seeing the body as it really is, as the point of the class is to replicate what is in front of you with observational accuracy. You break down the body into shapes, planes, values, etc. just as you would with any still life of actual objects. Simply as a fellow human being with a body of her own, observing a variety of body shapes like this honestly made me feel more comfortable in my own skin. Seeing that everyone has somewhat uneven skintone, birthmarks, scars, stretch marks, and other features that we all stress waaay too much over and will oftentimes illogically think that we’re the only ones with these flaws, feels almost therapeutic.

I’ll leave you with Stephen Colbert (as Chuck Noblet in the excellent Strangers with Candy) doing life drawing modelling because… reasons ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

gif via

(Art?)book of the Day: Counting with Wayne Thiebaud

Okay, this isn’t a traditional artbook, per se. I mean, most art books cost upwards of $60, have 100+ pages, and tend to come in at above a 1st grade reading level. This book meets none of those criteria, but, yknow, Wayne Thiebaud. ‘Nuff said.

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It’s exactly as the title suggests

This book is just too adorable to pass up. So, even though I have managed to reach the age of 23 with the ability to count to 10 (still working up to 20- I’ll get there,) I still love this simple little book.

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It’s kind of funny how well Thiebaud’s work fits in with such a childish concept. I call him a “painter’s painter” all the time, as the subtleties in his approach to everyday objects tend to be more readily appreciated by fellow painters. But obviously, his bright color palette, along with his playful subject matter totally fits with a children’s book concept.

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*spoiler alert*

Thinking back, I realize that what I probably most remember from my favorite books as a kid is the artwork (I’ve talked before about my love for Leo Lionni’s charmingly simple  illustrations in particular.) What better way to introduce children to amazing artists than through a counting lesson? I don’t need to count to ten to know that Wayne Thiebaud is number one in my book. (Sorry, that was terrible.)

Obligatory Reflections

Even though my rational side understands that the concept of a “new year” is just an arbitrary marker of the passage of time, which is itself a human construct and we will all die alone in the end…. I admit, I become much more reflective during this time of year. I can’t help but look back at the work I’ve been making and the progress that I’ve made as an artist.

2015 was my first full year of being a post-BFA graduate. I was thrust into “real life” without the constant supervision of my professors and peers. Upon graduating,  I essentially felt like that guy from the first Jurassic Park movie who, upon sitting down for a leisurely poo, watches all four walls of his little outhouse fall to the ground around him like Popsicle sticks, revealing a hungry T-Rex just outside its (in actuality, probably cardboard) walls. To make matters worse, and more comical (in the movie at least) his pants are down. In this metaphor, the T-Rex is REAL LYFE!!11! Just a few hours after graduating, I remember sitting in my room when a wave of dread and panic came over me. I couldn’t help but think that the T-Rex of REAL LIFE was going to thoroughly kick my ass and I would end up one of the many BFA grads who ends up not producing any new work shortly after graduating. But really, nothing so tragic or dramatic has happened. I’m still making work, and even thought it doesn’t always feel like it, said work is developing.

I went through this whole year making work in a pretty wide variety of media- everything from watercolor, oil, acrylic, various other painting mediums, mixed media, even embroidery.

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a sampling of my “2015 best 9” posts on instagram, which showcases the variety in my work this year pretty well.

I kind of have 3 main “series” of work that are in progress. Because of this, I basically felt like I was all over the place, because I kind of was, medium-wise.

I have my “Doe Eyes” series, which really just started as small sketches, but gradually turned into a series of small mixed-media works on paper:

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Doe Eyes: Green Mascara | gouache, watercolor, crayon on paper | 5×7″

Then, I have my Fixation series, which is mostly done in acrylic paint/mediums on canvas:

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Fixation: Eye III | acrylic, false eyelashes on canvas | 12×12″ |2015

Finally, I have my “Clown” series, which is the most recent. It’s a series of self portraits:

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Self Portrait: Clown III | oil on canvas | 20×30″

All three of these series, although different medium-wise, share a common thematic concern: they all have to do with feminine beauty rituals: the type of beauty that is dabbed, smeared, and applied. It’s not like I’m never conscious of this commonality while painting, but I can’t help but feel like I’m all over the place when I’m jumping from watercolor to oil to acrylic gel. I even went through some old portfolios and ended up destroying a lot of things from school in the name of new year’s cleaning (sorry, Mom,) where I also ended up finding a lot of examples of me exploring these kinds of ideas as early as freshman year of my BFA. It’s interesting to see how far back the core ideas for work that feels “new” often go.

So, 2015 was a year of experimentation, but experimentation with a pretty focused set of concerns and ideas. That seems to be a pretty good place to be in. I’m also pleased to say that I sold my highest volume of work this year at Art One Gallery. I still have a long way to go in my burgeoning art career, but I look forward to continuing to explore and develop in 2016, hopefully with less existential fear of T-rex attacks.

Transforming Reference Images

Now, I’m a firm believer that absolutely, any 2-d artist should be able to work from life, and should whenever they can (these skills are essential in simply being able to paint well. Full stop.) BUT, there are always going to be those situations where it just makes more sense to work  from a photograph. Now, some artists (especially the more “old school” ones)  take issue with working from photographs as opposed to direct observation. But I believe that one can work from a photograph while still making a great painting that isn’t a mere copy of the reference image.

For example, I did a painting of a grenade using a reference photo. I found it simpler to do this because of the placement (flat on a table) and lighting I wanted would be easier to reference from a photo rather than having to do a setup where I would somehow have to position my face directly parallel to a table while trying to paint.

Grenade Reference

The photo gave me the key information I needed- things like proportion, angles, major color/value changes. But as you can see, the finished painting isn’t an exact copy of my reference:

Grenade THIS (800x798)Grenade, oil on canvas, 12×12″, by Megan Koth

I think a good rule of thumb is to not spend too much time looking at the reference itself. Especially once you’ve got the key information down, you have to look at the painting that you’re making, and make decisions based on how to make your painting a successful one- not a mere copy of the reference photo. Basically, as I go, I look less and less at the reference (it helps that all my reference photos quickly become obscured with paint smudges anyway.) The camera can be the enemy of a great painter, but it can also be a great asset. Like most tools, it’s all in how you use it.

 

Art Entry Fees are Too. Damn. High!

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I’m sure any artist who has ever looked into entering their art into juried shows has balked at some of the prices to simply SUBMIT to have their work considered. It seriously stinks. I’ve seen price tags as high as $60 to submit TWO images! That’s how much it costs to apply to some graduate school programs! Rabble rabble, I know, but it does suck when you’re an artist without a lot of money to just gamble away on these things.

As I always do when I feel righteously indignant, I googled “art entries too expensive,” and I found this great interview with Lori Zimmer, a Brooklyn based curator, writer, and art consultant. I really agreed with what she said regarding art entry fees:

“…but to tell them oh, well, ya gotta pay me. That’s a little too greedy for my tastes. I understand that you have to pay your staff and you have to pay people to look at things, but if there’s no return, where does all that money go? If 1000 people enter and they each paid $45, where does all that money go? And then if you’re selling the work on top of that?… It just seems a little greedy to me.”

And I’m sure in some (hopefully not most) cases, the high prices being charged are not even proportionate to the qualifications of the jurors. I think that there’s an unfortunate trend where even really inexperienced curators/ galleries with really unimpressive qualifications are still demanding high entry fees simply because that’s what other juried shows/competitions that they want to compete with or emulate are doing.

I can obviously understand what is most likely the original argument for charging jury fees- that it discourages mere hobbyists or people who are less than professional from applying by requiring that entrants put some skin in the game. But I think in some cases it has the opposite effect- you get only the people who are so desperate to have their work shown somewhere that they’re willing to fork over $50 to just have their work looked at and possibly rejected. I mean, curators and other arts professionals aren’t impressed by someone with a bunch of pay-to-show vanity galleries on their resume, so why is it suddenly different when you have someone willing to pay to enter a juried group show? Professional artists are savvy businesspeople. Unless your jurors have some truly impressive qualifications, they’re not going to see the benefit of gambling away their hard-earned money just to possibly be rejected. And if they are accepted, to then have to pay shipping and insurance costs on top of the initial entry fee adds up to a lot of money invested. The quality of work received would probably be better if the entry fee were something affordable- like $5-10, or if there were only a fee to those selected.

As artists, we’re asked constantly to gamble away our money, time, and skills in the hopes of it leading to regular work, a sale, or even just nebulous “exposure.”  If an organization or gallery truly cares about giving emerging artists a chance, then they need to stop forcing them to take on all the financial risk from the get-go.

Playing Designer

One regret I have in regards to my time getting a BFA is that I never took a real graphic design class. I did some mild stuff while taking an animation class, but I still felt pretty unfamiliar with the likes of Illustrator and Photoshop. I’ve learned a thing or two about a thing or two by trial and error (or, rather, I NEED TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO DO THIS NOW THE SUBMISSION DEADLINE IS TOMORROW-esque urgency), but didn’t take the time to really indulge the genuine design-ey inclinations that I have until I graduated and opened up my humble little store on print-on-demand site redbubble.

Like a lot of young girls who were into girly things, I went through a phase of wanting to be a chic fashion designer. A desire I mostly explored by playing the Barbie Fashion Designer CD-ROM game for hours on end:

barbiefdSo.Much.Printer.Ink.Wasted

When I started my store and saw that I could put my work on things like tee shirts, pillows, and (newly) pouches, all these long-buried emotions came roaring back. Problem is, a lot of my work just doesn’t, well, work on things like tee shirts. So I’ve been playing with how to make painterly graphics to mix and match with by painting with acrylic on duralar transparency:

Duralar GREEN STROKES_Hmm..I simply paint on the transparency, scan it at a high resolution, and  rid of all the white/ close to white areas (super simple, as my skilz still aren’t too impressive.) Then maybe some mild cleanup and color adjusting. I know this is total baby stuff, but I really enjoy playing around like this. I had this one printed on another baseball tee (MY LAST ONE, I SWEAR) and it surprisingly came out pretty true to the bright colors in the file (which won’t always happen when printing on shirts.)

Green Strokes Tee

I’m goin’ all the way to the top for you, Barbie. I really like that I can use the skills that I already have (painting) with a little graphics know-how to make these fun little designs.

If you’re so inclined, you can purchase my tee shirt [here] or peruse my redbubble portfolio [here]

Artbook of the Day: Vision and Revision

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Since I love playing with monotypes, and since I am so enamored with everything by Wayne Thiebaud, I immediately fell in love with this book while browsing amazon. Not many people know that Thiebaud actually has made a sizable body of work in printmaking.

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Wayne Thiebaud, Sardines, watercolor over hard-ground etching, 1990

It’s interesting to see his trademark subject matter and aesthetic translated into this medium-  a medium that is in many ways similar to painting. Interestingly, part of the “revision” of these works becomes apparent as Thiebaud works into the prints with other mediums, like pastel and watercolor:

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Wayne Theibaud, Six Candied Apples, watercolor over hard-ground and drypoint etching, 1990

The forward, written by Thiebaud, starts:

“I think the most compelling part of drawing and painting is the continuing thrill of learning how they can be made. Working on prints is an extension of this constant search.”

It’s this clear enthusiasm for the formal, raw process of painting that makes Thiebaud so easy for me to admire. A true painter’s painter… Who also makes amazing prints.