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 

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.

Equal Parts

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I’m always so late to updating my blog about these things, but last month I had some work up in a lovely group show focusing on gender-related art called  Equal Parts at Frontal Lobe Gallery in Phoenix. It was a wonderful experience. Not only did I get to have my work up in a really well-curated show alongside some very talented artists, I also even got some of my first real “press” reviews of my work. Thankfully, it was positive!

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I had two “Fixation” pieces up: Fixation: Lip and Fixation: Eye, which were also used as the advertisements/press images for the show:

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I also had my Lipstick triptych on display, since the only other time they were shown was at my solo BFA show, so they needed some more lovin’:

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I think I may have taken it a bit for granted how much easier it was to find open calls for art when I was in an art program; It can be pretty difficult to find those opportunities outside of that supportive environment. Obviously, I’ve learned that it’s worth putting in the effort. I often have to remind myself that just making the work itself is only part of the equation in being an artist you have to actually show your work as well! The experience of showing your work, although always nerve-wracking, can often be incredibly affirming, and I’m happy to say that my experience being in Equal Parts was that and more.

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

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.

Using Crayon with Watercolor

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Lately I’ve been experimenting with using plain old crayola crayons with watercolor. The crayon sort of gets a bad rap- they’re childish, cheap, and used to be racist. But, I always thought, and continue to think, that a box of crayons is one of the more beautiful things one can own.  Seeing them all lined up in the box, the tips sharpened to that vaguely conical point, certainly feels warmly nostalgic to me (they were also my favorite “how it’s made” segment of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.) But, of course, I now find myself working with them in a more “serious” manner:

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Crayon Painting 4 Megan Koth

All paintings by Megan Koth, 2013.

Using crayons with watercolor like this is a great way to do a quick resist, and/or to add interesting linear effects. The crayon marks “blend in” pretty well with the watercolor- I was afraid it may look too garish. I’m even starting to enjoy doing sketches in my sketchbook with them. There’s something very relaxing about using crayons for me, and I’m sure the same is true for a lot of people. They make me want to work more freely and directly- probably because that’s how we all worked with them as children. As artists, sometimes our biggest challenge is trying to grasp that sense of confidence and spontaneity again. After all, as Picasso famously said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

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!

Undergraduate Juried Exhibition

This is oldish news, but back in December (and through to January) I had a piece in ASU’s Herberger School of Art’s Annual Undergraduate Juried Exhibition!

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The inside of ASU’s Harry Wood Gallery.

Here’s a closer view of my piece titled, bluntly, Lipstick:

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Megan Koth, Lipstick, Oil on Canvas, 2012. Better pic in my portfolio.

This was my first time really submitting to a serious group gallery exhibition. As artists, sometimes we take for granted the positive reinforcement that can come from other people’s approval of our work. We tend to get so absorbed in our own (often hyper-critical) head space that we forget that there are people out there who really like what you do. Unsurprisingly, it feels really good to have a successful, knowledgeable person in your field deem your work worthy of some special recognition. And there’s nothing wrong with that!