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 

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(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.

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.

Monotyping

Monotypes are a medium that I have been playing with off and on for a few years. For those who don’t know, a monotype is a kind of print that, rather than being made using a printing matrix (like woodcuts), instead involves basically painting a non-textured plate with inks. The plate is then placed with a piece of paper and run through a printing press, producing a one-time, unique printed image. It’s basically the closest printmaking comes to painting, and is probably the least structured or technical form of it. I personally don’t own a printing press (the small ones run in the thousands of dollars,) but a good friend who is kind enough to let me into her studio every once in a while lets me use hers. Here are some pieces from the most recent session:

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The above was the first one I made. I wanted to see how my recent “Doe Eyes” series would translate from watercolor to printmaking. I basically painted some pretty straightforward, normal eyes and lips and decided to let the press add the more unique, abstracted aspects to the image. This one didn’t satisfy me in that the end result looked too “normal,” so I decided to really glob the ink on in the following prints:

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I added too much ink to the lips, and the run through the press made a really happy accident by creating this tongue effect. Miley Cyrus would love them.

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Above is the “ghost” print made from the same plate. It’s made by running the same plate through the press again. The ink residue left over makes a lighter, ghost-like version of the first print. I often favor the ghost prints over the others.

Maybe someday I’ll have a great studio space and enough money saved up to buy my own press and do these more regularly, because they’re so fun. It’s often exhilarating to see the image that the press will give you. My tendency with painting faces is always to make them look controlled and clean- I have a hard time abstracting them. With monotyping, I can paint a pretty structured image and then let the press create the abstract elements for me!

Watercolor Revisited

I’m beginning to notice a pattern wherein during the times when I don’t quite know what to paint with my “core” work, i.e my oil paintings, I frequently retreat to fiddling around with watercolor. Although, like a lot of painters whose preference is to work in oils, watercolor’s unpredictability and permanence tends to frustrate me. However, over the years of working off and on with the medium, I’ve started to get more comfortable. Not to mention, I work small and on pretty inexpensive (none of that 300lb stuff) paper, so I’m okay with it not turning out great every time and simply being happy when it does.

Previously, I’ve only been interested in non-objective forays into watercolor. Recently, however, I’ve become interested in portraiture. Stylized, of course.

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Doe Eyes, watercolor on hot press. By Megan Koth. Prints, etc. available from my store.

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Doe Eyes III, watercolor on hot press. By Megan Koth. Prints, etc available from my store.

Sometimes, it can be beneficial to use a medium that you’re not all that invested in. Although it doesn’t always work out, during the times that it does, the results can be refreshingly interesting.

 

Artbook of the Day: The Art of Kiki’s Delivery Service

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Ah, Kiki’s Delivery Service. Along with My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki is certainly my favorite childhood movie. I remember seeing a commercial for it either on TV or on a VHS (remember those?) and immediately demanding that we go out and rent it from the video store (remember those?!) My parents would let my sister and I take turns choosing a movie, and every time (to my sister’s annoyance) I chose Kiki– until, of course, my parents just bought me the VHS for my birthday since they’d already paid the cost of the movie many times over in rental fees by then.

So, naturally I own the Art of Kiki’s Delivery Service book from Viz. It’s filled with beautiful concept work, sketches, and commentary from director Hayao Miyazaki and others on the development of the film.

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I totally recognized the above painting from its fully realized use in the film:

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There are also some interesting early explorations of Kiki’s appearance:

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This drawing was one of my faves:

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Looking back, I can see why Kiki intrigued me so much. The fully realized female characters (including the protagonist,) the story of being on one’s own for the first time and finding one’s independence, and the fact that the whole “teen witch” thing is really just a metaphor for being an artist. Kiki has a seemingly innate talent for flying on her broomstick, but gets into a funk and loses her ability. She confides in her artist friend Ursula, and realizes that she needs to find “her own inspiration” to fly. Of course, she eventually finds this inspiration and gets her “powers” back in the end through self-discovery and an act of bravery. I think it’s great that a “kids” movie explored something so complex. And it’s no surprise, being an artist myself now, that I was drawn to such a story!

Artbook of the Day: The Art of Princess Mononoke

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I’ve cultivated an impressive, and to my knowledge, complete, collection of all of the fabulously hefty Viz artbooks on Hayao Miyazaki’s films. However, the artbook for my favorite Miyazaki film, Princess Mononoke, long eluded me because it was never released to the US. That gaping hole in my life was finally filled when my wonderful sister brought me home a copy after travelling to Japan, purchased from the Ghibli museum no less!

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I of course love all of Miyazaki’s films, but I consider Mononoke to be his masterpiece. It just tackles so much from environmentalism, war and pacifism, human brutality, and just… life. Being alive. Heavy stuff, but it’s all told in such a masterful and natural way that I can’t help but choose it as my favorite.

The book obviously has gorgeous images of the hand-painted backgrounds featured in the film…

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… While also, of course, featuring things like character sketches and other preliminary images:

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The only downside to me is that it’s all in Japanese, and my 3 years of studying the language in high school has pretty much dissipated by now. But it’s fine, the images are the real meat of it anyways.

In making Mononoke, Miyazaki has said that he had “started to think about what a villain really was… It was hard to make a villain that really deserved to be defeated; at least, I couldn’t do it.” And it’s true. There is no pure “good” and “evil” in his world- only people with differing motivations. It is this sophisticated and nuanced view of humanity that makes Mononoke a timeless classic.

 

***All Images are my own crappy ones taken of the book

How Artists do Selfies

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Ah, the oft derided “selfie.” Those crazy kids these days with their shallow documentation of their own appearances! No one remembers that the (much longer!) process of immortalizing ones appearance in art is a longstanding, and respected, tradition!

Probably anyone who’s ever pursued art in some capacity has (maybe begrudgingly) had to face (get it?!) the challenge of depicting their own likeness from a mirror. Whenever I was given such an assignment, I seem to remember most of my classmates moaning and groaning while I was at least mildly excited. It just always seemed to me like such a cool, “artist” thing to do, to sit down and paint your own portrait.

Artist self-portraits are also great because you’re basically seeing the face, more or less, that you make when working.

SelfPort_MeganKoth (771x1000)Self portrait by Megan Koth, Oil on Canvas, 18×24″, 2014. 

Apparently, I look pretty stern while working!

However, I understand how it can be scary. The portrait assignment is kind of the perfect challenge for students because it’s a great way of getting them to paint something from life that they actually feel personally invested in. It’s hard to get invested in getting a crumpled paper bag or some random kitchen utensils right (we had some pretty terrible still life setups,) but their own face? Now that’s something a student isn’t likely to want to mess up. There’s also a unique personal intimacy that comes with painting a great self-portrait. I mean, you have to look at your own appearance at a level you never had before- noticing every detail, including every “flaw.” I can see how the latter would make some uncomfortable, and that probably explains a lot of students lack of enthusiasm for the assignment. But I’ve found over the years that painting myself has made me more accepting of the “flaws.” In that way, the self-portrait can end up being much more than just an assignment, but a process of self-discovery and acceptance. Or, if you’re not an artist and just wanna take a picture of yourself because you look fly as hell today, you can do that too.

 

Hilarious top “Mona Lisa” image courtesy of Sangerous on Imgur

My Tribute to Thiebaud’s “Rabbit”

I’ve never done a tribute of any sorts to a famous artist’s work before- yet I see this all the time in art school. I’ve never so much as kept an art book open while working. I guess a part of me thought it was wrong to look at another artist’s work for enough inspiration that it became really noticeable. BUT, I’ve come to realize, that when you really love and admire another artist’s work, sometimes a fun little tribute can be just fine!

In my Painting III class right now, I basically can paint anything I want. I took advantage of this freedom to paint something I’d always wanted to paint but somehow never found the occasion to do so: a hamster. Now, let me explain: I love hamsters. I couldn’t have a dog, or a cat, or any sort of large, allergenic pet growing up. So, I had hamsters, and subsequently came to think of them as just about the most adorable, lovable animals out there.

And then, there’s this painting by Wayne Thiebaud, which shows a rabbit in the most interesting way I’ve ever seen a rabbit (or any cute and furry animal) painted:

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Wayne Thiebaud: Rabbit.

Ever since seeing this painting, I’ve told myself that I would do a painting of my own as a sort of “tribute” using a hamster as a subject. A few years later, I finally did it:

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Megan Koth, Hamster, Oil on Canvas, 2013.

This was something I painted solely for myself, just for fun. I’m in the middle of developing my body of work for my thesis exhibition, so I haven’t painted something just for the heck of it in awhile. I’m glad that I took a break to paint something fluffy (both figuratively and literally) and fun!