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.

sun print Moss_ADJ_WWEB

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!

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My Foray into Redbubble (cont.)

I wrote recently about some products I ordered from my shop on print-on-demand site Redbubble. The site had a 15% off promotion recently (sadly, it’s ended now) so I decided to order some more of my products to survey the quality once again (this time I had to pay for everything, boo.) I’m pretty relieved to say that I am pleased with the quality of both products!

The first thing I bought was this throw pillow with one of my watercolor grid patterns printed on it:

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 The pillow and painting for comparison

The printing came out really true to the colors, and at a great resolution as well! The pillow material itself is pretty soft and sturdy. However, since this is a throw pillow, it’s more for decoration than actually lying on to sleep (and it’s dry/spot clean only because of the printing.)

The other thing I got was this tote!

Totes COmposite

     Closeup this time is of the actual tote, not the original painting.

I was a bit afraid that it was gonna be one of those terrible cheapo, super thin totes that get given away for promotional reasons, or that you see for 99 cents at the grocery checkout. I was pleasantly surprised that it was made of a sturdy and thick material- a little thicker than the typical artist canvas. The printing also came out really nice and clear! I got this design partially because, it being a watercolor painting (which are notoriously hard to photograph,) I was concerned with the picture quality. I’m relieved to see that it turned out so crisp!

Overall, my feelings are that Redbubble products are good quality. However, the catch is that they are kind of pricey. For instance, my pillow, with the cover and insert and shipping, came to a bit over $30. Obviously, there are cheaper places to get throw pillows (hello, Ikea!) but here, you’re more directly supporting an individual artist and their work, at a much cheaper cost than buying original art. Overall, I’m just having fun with the whole thing, which is really the important part.

You can visit my shop here!

Back to Watercolor

Lately I’ve been back to doing a lot of small, quick abstract watercolor paintings. I think I need this to wind down after months of working on super structured and planned oil paintings in school. It feels good to let loose for a bit with a low cost, low risk medium. If a painting doesn’t work out, I have no problem throwing it away and starting a new one (something much more difficult to do after investing in a canvas painting.)

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 Untitled, Watercolor and crayon on paper, Megan Koth, 07/2014

I’ve been enjoying using mixed media, like pencil, stamps, and crayon, to add texture and visual interest.

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Untitled, Watercolor, graphite, and crayon on paper, Megan Koth, 07/2014

And I even managed to stumble upon some abstract flowers! Totally unlike me, but I like how they turned out nonetheless.

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Red Posies, Megan Koth.  Prints and more of this available at my Redbubble store!

Doing these little watercolors has always been a kind of palette cleanser for me to do between big paintings. I see it as the painting equivalent of doing stretches before a big race.

(Art)rage Against the Machine

I’m finished taking my second figure painting class, getting more comfortable painting the delightfully and frustratingly complex human form, from life, a few times a week. As I get more and more comfortable handling this subject matter, my mind tends to wander to thinking about just how “far” I want to go in these depictions. Do I want to paint every last color transition, every last hair or freckle? Do I want to do those things just to prove that I can? My answer is obviously no. But then I start to think about photo-realism, its critics, and the idea of an artist “turning themselves into a machine.”

I think that my stopping point with an objective painting is usually once it becomes joyless and nitpicky.

Fig Painting Megan Koth

Sleep by Megan Koth 2014

I’m experimenting with how to handle the background in a more abstract way.

I think this is why I tend to have a bit of an unenthusiastic attitude towards photo-realism (or hyper-realism?) in the pure sense of the word (not to include an artist who happens to use photo-realistic techniques for work that is expressive in other ways.) The joyless, labored-overness (not a word) is just so apparent that it becomes the whole spectacle of the painting. I don’t want to post a picture of someone’s work as a “bad” example, but we’ve all seen the uninspired paintings of boring photographs of stuff on a black or white table, closeups of marbles or other ephemera, and maybe marveled at the technical skill, but then ultimately forgot them.

I have a crazy theory (i.e it obviously doesn’t apply to everyone) that a lot of painters who go into photo-realism do it as a sort of defense against the devaluing of their labor. As any artist is well aware, the general public tends to at least struggle with acknowledging that the labor of an artist has any value at all. “That painting looks so fun and effortless!” they’ll say about anything not rendered to the highest degree. And nobody should be paid for “fun.” Nothing about a photo-realistic painting looks fun or effortless. And people can see that- they can see the drudgery (i.e. “real work”) involved. And thus the “problem” is solved. But at the cost of creating something that is perhaps more memorable, or that really elevates the medium or the consciousness of a viewer.

And at the end of a day, why try to make paintings that look like photographs? You can be as precise as you can, take as many hours, days, weeks as you want, and the “machine” (i.e. the camera) will always win. Because it’s a machine, and you’re an imperfect human being. But that’s okay. It’s okay to show your hand in your work. In our age of chasing the next shiny new widget, it can be incredibly refreshing to see something so distinctly created by a human hand.

Liquitex Glass Beads Medium

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Recently I wanted to try out a new gel medium to experiment with, and decided on Liquitex Glass Beads Texture Gel.

Liquitex Glass Beads composite

Unfortunately, one of the first things I noticed upon using it is that it’s a bit difficult to control. I had a hard time trying to spread it evenly with a brush, as the beads started to collect in clumps, and using a palette knife means that the gel will collect in the space between the beads, losing some of the texture. However, I’ve found that spraying it with some water after using a palette knife is the best way to go (also, you have to remember that the gel will shrink when it dries.) The end result was a pretty cool texture:

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I’m sure if you wanted you could save some money by just buying some gel medium and mixing in some glass beads (or really, anything you wanted), but this medium isn’t really expensive anyways. I think this is sort of a “love-it or hate-it” kind of product, as it’s not really versatile. So, if this particular texture doesn’t intrigue you, there’s really nothing else you can do with the product. I for one can’t wait for this texture to make an appearance in some future paintings!

Abstracting Realism

Last semester, in one of my painting classes, I was given a rare challenge. I don’t tend to be much fazed by the assignments my professors throw at me, but this one was surprisingly difficult. The premise was simple and maybe even trite- take a largely representational/realistic painting and abstract it. I chose Vincent Desiderio’s Sumo:

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Vincent Desiderio, Sumo, 2008, oil on canvas

I was drawn to the sense of movement and weight of the forms, which I thought may translate well into abstraction. This was my result:

Sumo Abstracted Megan Koth (400x318)

Megan Koth, Sumo, Acrylic on Canvas

During the whole process, I was constantly having to stop myself from making it too realistic- pretty much the opposite of what I had planned in my head. I approached the project thinking “I’m gonna make this so abstract as to be mostly unrecognizable to the original.” Obviously, that didn’t happen. I think that challenge came because my abstracts tend to be almost strictly formalist- I don’t look at references or have “subject matter” in mind when doing my abstract work. So, having to look at some serious subject matter while doing an abstract painting was a huge challenge for me.

I’m not necessarily happy with his painting in the sense that I think it’s a really good painting and I would put it in my portfolio or anything, but I’m happy with the painting in relation to the original and the assignment. My current professor said something partly in jest yesterday that I think apt: “your guy’s problem is that you all want to make good paintings.” Sometimes, we have to abandon our tried-and-true tendencies (especially as students!) and be willing to fail, in order to truly be challenged, and therefore to grow, as artists.

Coming Into Focus

Lately, I’ve gotten back into the groove of working more abstractly. I tend to move in waves- I eventually get a bit bored of doing abstraction so I move to more representational work, then the cycle starts again. I’m starting to use less of the liquid acrylics and more paint of tube consistency, keeping my brushstrokes more distinct.

Lake by Megan Koth. Acrylic on Canvas

I’m also becoming even more conscious of color in my abstractions. I can even see a bit of a continuation of my desserts series in my new favor for “yummy” looking colors here.

Pink by Megan Koth. Acrylic on Canvas

I still haven’t completely abandoned my love for working with liquid acrylic and getting those kinds of effects, but I can see my starting to apply paint more thickly as a sign that I’m getting more confident in my mark making. Slowly (very slowly) building up form and color using watered-down acrylic can sometimes be a kind of crutch for avoiding bold, distinct marks. Now, I feel like I’m starting to blend the two techniques together, and am starting to get really excited about working non-objectively again!

Liquitex String Gel Medium

Recently I purchased This because I had a coupon and felt like trying out a new gel medium. I’m not really a huge fan of liquitex as a brand (I prefer golden), but I must say, I’m happy with my purchase! There are some drawbacks, but I’d recommend that any mixed media artist add this to their inventory.

I’d always struggled with trying to use ordinary gel medium to make clean, thin lines of texture. Obviously, it never really worked out. Instead, I just settled with my needle tipped bottle, where I could make these clean lines with liquid pigment, but they weren’t textured. Well, my conundrum was solved with this string gel.

Like the description says, the gel has the consistency of syrup or honey- distinctly different from any ordinary gel medium. It creates strings very easily, just from dipping a palette knife or paintbrush into the bottle.

You can make some really cool, intricate textures pretty easily! It’s fun to use, and all I really have to worry about at this point is not over using it. I don’t want my work to look like some string gel gimmick.

The only issue I’ve run into is when pigment or paint is mixed with the gel to give it some color. I wouldn’t recommend that paint be mixed with it (unless you don’t care about making strings), as it really ruins the texture of the gel, and the “strings” won’t come as easily. However, I’ve found that when you use fluid acrylics, it works a lot more effectively (since fluid acrylics have far less of a “binder” and are more pure in pigmentation.) The only thing I don’t like about this is that you can’t just make a small batch of colored gel, you have to use quite a bit so that you have a big enough glob to produce the strings. Since I’m so stingy with art supplies, this can be a bit difficult for me, but I’ll get over it. I can’t wait to incorporate this gel more into my work!