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.

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.

 

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!

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     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!

My Foray Into Redbubble

Recently I joined print-on-demand website Redbubble, (and I was even featured on the homepage!) I’ve been pleased with my experience thus far.

Basically, the gist of RedBubble is that you join (for free) and can upload your artwork to be sold and printed on a variety of products (prints, totes, tees, whatever you want to offer.) Then, when someone orders one of your designs, it is then printed and shipped to the customer. Overall, the website seems to make most of its sales through tee shirts. You seem to get what you put in. If you really want to make money there, you have to market it yourself (which I’m too lazy to do, really. Er, I guess that’s what I’m doing right here…) I think it’s a good tool to have if you ever want to order any prints of your own work, or to have somewhere to send people who are interested in your work, but who can’t afford originals. For instance, the family member who’s always asking you to “paint something” for them.

I think they felt sorry for me not having sold anything, because recently a representative of theirs was nice enough to randomly send me a voucher for $50 so I could buy some designs for myself (which was super awesome of them to do.) It took me a while to decide, but I eventually settled on getting a phone case (because I needed one, and wanted to see how the printing came out) and a tee (because they offer a baseball tee- my favorite kind! Never enough love for the baseball tee.)

This is the design I got on the cell phone:

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I was really impressed with the printing quality- I was a bit worried about how a watercolor painting would show up, but it came out crisp.

I also ordered a version of my ocarina painting on a baseball tee:

Ocarina Tee and pic_Megan Koth

I was really pleased with the printing quality on the tee as well!

The only downside I suppose is that the products are a bit pricey- no $10 tee bargains here. my baseball tee runs at $28.64, and that’s before shipping. But you are getting a quality product, not to mention, something really unique and quite literally made for you and at your request (“printed on demand.”)

Overall, I don’t expect to get rich through this, but it’s a fun thing I think for artists to invest some time into, if just to get your stuff on some nice products, and to have a place to refer friends who want something of yours but aren’t ready to take the plunge on an original work just yet.

You can visit my RedBubble store 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.

Using Yupo

It doesn’t happen very often that I use an art material I’ve never heard of  before. However, I recently was introduced to yupo paper. There are plenty of fancy papers out there, but this one is pretty unique: it’s made out of plastic. Yupo watercolor paper is made of polypropylene, is water resistant, and very durable.

Yupo Self Port Megan Koth (399x500)

This is a quick self-portrait I did on the stuff. I used watercolor and acrylic, and as you can see, the paper retains the integrity of your brushstrokes sharply. The paper, before being sealed with a sealant, can also be wiped clean as many times as you want. It makes painting something like a self-portrait, something we have the tendency to nitpick over, with watercolor a little less daunting

I think Yupo is  great because it combines the need for intelligent working with materials/decision making with the option of completely erasing what you’ve done and starting over. A great way to practice with watercolor! Although, the paper isn’t absorbent AT ALL. The paint just lies on the surface. But, for all you paper fetishists out there, or water media aficionados, it’s definitely worth trying out.

Hayao Miyazaki and the Splendor of Nature

Viewing a Hayao Miyazaki (or really any Studio Ghibli film) undoubtedly involves awestruck wonderment at the beautifully hand painted backgrounds. I recently had to watch most of his films again for a research paper, and even though they’re all very familiar to me, I remained captivated as a viewer. Watching his films is like living in a painting for a few hours.

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All gifs courtesy of Studio Ghibli gifs

All of Miyazaki’s films are a visual treat, and always include lush landscapes that celebrate the beauty of the natural world- which are reflective of his own environmental concerns. I admire how he combines the Kurosawa-esque shots of sweeping, dramatic landscapes-

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– with more intimate shots:

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The environments are so immersive, and the fact that they’re entirely created by artists, rather than a set designer, lends them a more magical and fantastic quality, despite their obvious painstaking realism. I guess the realism anchors the more fantastic elements:

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Overall, Miyazaki’s films all reflect a deep appreciation and respect for the natural world, and the importance of preserving it. He’s stated: “For me, the deep forest is connected in some way to the darkness in my heart. I feel that if it is erased, then the darkness in my heart would also disappear, and my existence would grow shallow.”

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Being Free with Watercolor

Watercolor is a difficult, temperamental medium, as anyone who has had the pleasure (or displeasure) of working with it knows. I’ve only pretty recently started to use watercolor, and transcending the frustration can be hard sometimes. I find that when I’m working representationally I tend to become the most frustrated. I realize that every mark I make will be on the page forever- never to be undone. I feel anxious and inhibited- the opposite of how I feel working with acrylic or oils. I’ve found that I can overcome this anxiety by working freely and abstractly with watercolor. Here are a few of the experiments that I’ve done recently that I think turned out pretty well:

Here, I started with just thin glazes and gradually built up the form in the middle, then I had a little fun adding the thin lines with a squeeze bottle (using watered down acrylic paint.) I made the dotted brown lines by soaking a textured yarn in some pretty highly saturated watercolor, and simply laying it down on the paper until it dried. Using golden fluid acrylics like watercolor also works as a great substitute, and takes away some of the anxiety that people like me have with the combination of permanence and translucency of watercolor.

Here, I scored the paper beforehand with an ExActo blade. I then worked with some light washes, letting them gradually settle into the gashes. I then used the marks that emerged to inform my next decisions. I chose to further emphasize them with the orange marks.

This one didn’t turn out so well. One has to be careful when working with watercolor that, since it’s translucent, every layer builds upon the last, rather than cutting through or covering the previous layers. Unfortunately, the result of not being careful is getting mud. There’s always acrylic to fix the problem, which I think is my next move on this one.

I think that so many art students have anxiety about watercolor mostly because their only real experience working with it was in a studio class, with all the restrictions that that experience usually brings (in mine, we weren’t allowed to use any opaque medium, including gouache.) Unfortunately, many of these students leave that classroom with absolutely no desire to use watercolor again. Revisiting watercolor on my own has been a great decision, and one I think that more students should consider doing as well. Who knows, it might be fun!

Sketching in Watercolor

I’ve started to really warm up to watercolor lately. It still gives me some anxiety- I worry too much about not being able to “go back” like I can with acrylic-, but I’m getting better. I’ve found that when I decide to sketch with watercolor I can be much more relaxed, and therefore more free and spontaneous. Since I’m not worrying about ruining a finished piece, I feel like I start to use the medium more effectively. I really treasure this sketch that I did in the “secret garden” on my college campus. I like it more than the finished painting even!

Even though the door/windows are crooked, and the shadows are inaccurate, I feel like I really captured the feel of the place, which was very relaxing- It was a nice, calming space (on a nice, cool day!) I look forward to letting loose more in the future by sketching in watercolor, gaining more confidence in the process.