I tend to save old paintings in a stack in my garage and often revisit them years later to see if I want to salvage or repurpose them in some way. Several months ago, I dug this painting out of the "scrap" pile and made some modifications to it. Originally it was called "House of Cards" because at the time (10 years ago!) I was painting a series about luck. This painting has been sitting in my studio for a few months, but I picked it up the other day and had an "aha" moment. Now, in the midst of a worldwide corona virus pandemic, the painting seems to reflect our current social isolation (everyone is spaced far apart). Eerie, right? My paintings often tell a story, but I hadn't realized how the story can change with the passing of time. "Story" paintings can take on a whole new meaning when viewed in a different context.
I have been marbling (using watered down acrylics sprinkled into a tray filled with carrageenan) since I discovered this magical technique way back in 2006. As I transitioned from painting in watercolors to painting in acrylics (on paper or canvas), I looked through piles of my old watercolor paintings and decided to marble over them and give them a whole new look.
One of my more successful "do-overs" was a neutral toned landscape. I chose a reddish brown color to do the initial marbling, and then, as you can see in the images below, I rotated the painting to make it a vertical. Responding to what I saw on the paper, I composed a diagonal grouping of red tulips and did freehand painting using diluted washes of acrylic, making sure I varied my reds.
At the very end, I wasn't satisfied with the bright green leaf I'd painted in, so I collaged a piece of marbled paper onto that leaf shape and the piece was finished. I posted it on facebook and a client bought it right away! "Red Tulips and Green"; acrylic marbling/collage on paper, 10 x 14".
noun: outburst; plural noun: outbursts
a sudden release of strong emotion.
"“she screamed at him about it one day,” said one source who witnessed the outburst"
For the past 22 years, I've enjoyed the privilege of being able to paint nearly every day. It's a habit I don't even have to think about--I just show up and get right to work. Truth be told, it feels more like "play" than work. The act of painting allows me to take thoughts, ideas, feelings, and things I've read or heard, and create a visual framework that tells a story.
Many of my painting titles are taken from songs or books, or snatches of poetry, or a phrase I heard on the radio. I'm always in a state of readiness, taking in the sights and sounds that are going on all around me. Admittedly, I have to edit and filter down all of these influences in order to focus on what I want to paint and how I want to communicate with my viewing audience--that's where the real creativity begins.
I've always built up my paintings in layers, making many changes made as I go--until I feel satisfied that there's nothing more I need to add or remove. But this process can take months from start to finish, and partially relies on input from some of my trusted fellow artists in my critique group. This process works well and has yielded some of my best works---but it takes patience and time to get to where I can call a painting truly FINISHED.
In the past few months, I've experienced what I can only call "outbursts" (artbursts?) wherein I'm doodling on my paper palette paper, rolling black acrylic paint around with a sponge roller (the kind used to paint interior house trim) and suddenly I see a painting forming right on the palette paper! I quickly seize on this, and start wiping away parts of the black paint to form a figure, and I use the remaining paint on the foam roller to create an arm, a hip, etc. Within minutes, I've got a simple figure painting with great light and dark values and minimal color (black/white/grey). I stand back and realize there's nothing else I need to do to finish this--it's done. (The most recent example of this process is "Dispossessed", acrylic on paper, 12 x 18".)
It's a breathtaking and oh-so-brief experience that makes me feel I've discovered some hidden secret to the (painting) universe. It does no good to ask myself how it happened--I'm just grateful I recognized this different way of seeing/painting and made it part of my repertoire. It's a reminder that I need to continuously sharpen my skills of observation; like a chemist in a lab, I am experimenting with my materials to discover what happens next!
It has been an eventful teaching summer for me here in the Pacific Northwest, as I taught 3 suminagashi marbling workshops in 3 months (in 3 different Oregon towns). I enjoy sharing this water-based method of marbling with other creative folks---we all hunch over our marbling trays, deep in thought as we watch the ink droplets spread and form concentric circles. There's nothing else quite like it.
What I love about sumi marbling is that it's different each and every time I do it. I'm still learning new things as I mix the various ink colors together to form new hues, test out different rice papers (and even a brand of watercolor paper that seems to accept the ink better than others). My student bring in unusual papers--maps, Braille paper, old book pages--and we try them all, making note of what works and doesn't work. After we've marbled for a day, I do a slideshow and then a demo on how to paint/develop the marbled papers into finished paintings--my favorite part of the process.
One piece I'm particular proud of (because I had to wrestle with it to cover up some of the black sumi ink swirls) is a painting I call "Thoughtful Scholar #4". It's a take on a series that I've done in watercolor and acrylic marbling---but this time I used very monochromatic (green) colors. It has a fuzzy, soft, restful quality---which is exactly what I was trying to capture in the curve of the woman reading her book. I've included a step by step gallery of images so you can see how this painting started and how it ended up.
I start out with the suminagashi marbled rice paper, and carefully glue this thin transparent rice paper onto 300# watercolor paper so that it's sturdy and rigid--easier to paint on later. I use a mixture of Elmer's glue and matte medium--spreading it out all over the watercolor paper with my fingers, and then I gently place the dampened rice paper onto the glued surface. I work from the inside out, smoothing out any air bubbles that might form until my rice paper is flat and glued down securely. I let it dry for 30 minutes and then I apply matte medium to the entire surface and let that dry for another hour or so. Then I am ready to draw on the dried paper (using a soft water soluble watercolor crayon). That's when the magic happens and I turn a very chaotic suminagashi pattern into an organized painting! I cover up lines and streaks I don't like with several thin layers of white gesso, letting the layers dry in between. Then I proceed with whatever acrylic paints I want to use on the painting. It is a very intuitive process and I can change my mind as I go--just by adding more acrylic paint. Once I've covered up the suminagashi pattern with paint, though, I can't get it back. I can, however, add patterned collage papers, so that's always an option. The sky's the limit!
Slideshow: Process for Thoughtful Scholar #4; sumingashi marbling/acrylic on paper, 9 x 12"
I often get asked "how do you manage to be so creative?" and "what's the *secret* of your success?". Earlier this month, I gave a presentation at the Watercolor Society of Oregon's Spring convention in Portland, Oregon, and tried to address those questions in a lecture/slideshow format. WSO asked me to give the talk again at the Fall Convention in Bend, so I'm guessing that it resonated with this group of artists.
I titled my talk "Under the Influence(s) Of…" and here are some of the excerpts, quotes, and main points:
Last year I had paintings juried into seven consecutive national shows, which prompted WSO to invite me to share the secret of my success. As I thought about how to approach this talk, I concluded that we artists are faced with at least three main challenges:
Looking beyond just my own journey, I interviewed 3 other successful WSO artists (Ruth Armitage, Margaret Godfrey, and Geoff McCormack) and found that they developed their own style in part by learning how other artists resolve problems in their own work.
So what do these artists have in common and how might you achieve similar success? I aim to take you on a visual adventure---charting each artist’s creative journey through use of their images, ideas, and sage advice.
The artists I’ve interviewed for this talk have several things in common:
Obviously this is the high-level part of the talk; I included a lot of comparison images (my painting next to a painting by the artist who influenced me). If you are interested in having me give this talk to your art group, please contact me!
Two of my favorite quotes from the presentation are:
The difference between a master and a beginner is this: The master has failed more times than the beginner has ever tried.
If you give up on your [art] when you aren't happy with it, then all you ever learn is how to start. You never learn how to finish. –Ira Glass
I've been a member of NWWS since 2003, and have had many paintings accepted into their juried shows over the years. They are based out of Seattle which is a 3 hour drive from Portland, Oregon, but every time I've attended their exhibits, I'm always impressed with the quality of the artists' work, and honored to be a part of the show. When the NWWS president emailed me to ask if I'd be interested in doing a live demo for their member meeting Feb. 26, I jumped at the opportunity. Despite the previous week's snowstorm we had a good turnout, and I enjoyed sharing my methods and philosophy with the attendees. It was very satisfying to talk to other artists after the demo, and I received several enthusiastic emails the next day from artists who said I'd given them plenty to think about.
Here are the step by step images of my demo painting: (full disclosure--I finished the painting once I got home, as this method is not one that can be completed in an hour). Click on each photo to see a full size view; I've included captions with a description of what I did in each step.
"Left Holding the Bag"; acrylic marbling/collage (acrylic skins) on watercolor paper, 10 x 14" © 2019 by Liz Walker
I paint nearly every day, and last year I produced a whopping 440 paintings. I sometimes paint on canvas, but mostly on paper (which I frame and mat under plexiglass). Of those 400+ paintings, I end up with 20-30 paintings that I’d call “show-worthy”. That gives me a lot to choose from when I put together a show. I was originally set to exhibit at the Calvin Gallery in Tigard, Oregon with another artist, but she had knee surgery so I quickly rose to the challenge and created a solo show: 34 paintings which filled two 20 foot walls.
The reception today was splendid--I saw a lot of artist friends and neighbors, and I sold two paintings! I was asked to give a few remarks to the audience, and here are a few highlights:
Most of my paintings don’t get finished in a day or even a week or a month. I often start a painting and then find I have to set it aside for a month or two, or even a year or two before I figure out how to FINISH it.
You’ll notice that my people paintings don't strive to be realistic or anatomically correct---I leave that to more accomplished painters. Although I admire realistic paintings, I will take a painting that tells me a good story over one with perfect technique any day of the week.
People sometimes ask me why I don’t paint facial features on many of my figures. I feel this makes the person look “sad” or “happy” and I don’t want to tell you how to feel when you look at my painting. By painting a blank face, I’m leaving the story of the painting open for discussion and personal interpretation.
In closing, I want to leave you with this: think of a painting as a conversation between the artist and the viewer—my job as an artist is to invite you in to my painting and get you to stay there awhile before you move on to the next piece.
This past week, I had the honor of serving as juror of awards in a local exhibit at the Oregon Society of Artists in Portland, Oregon. I've been a member of OSA for almost 19 years, and have won many awards in their juried shows, so I'm guessing they figured it was now MY turn to GIVE awards to other artists.
This was my second experience as an art juror, and I enjoyed the task of going through 120 paintings to select 9 award winners (1st, 2nd, and 3rd place, as well as 6 Honorable Mentions). I approached it as I do all shows---a quick sweep through the entire show, to see what jumped out at me visually, and then a slower, more careful look at each piece.
The "200 Under 200" show is unlike OSA’s other juried shows because there’s no “elimination round”; so all the submitted paintings are displayed. That means the juror has to consider each painting—in all sorts of mediums and styles—and give awards to just 9 works.
Here is most of what I said during my gallery talk--in a room full of artists and their families and friends who attended:
I want to say a few words about how I jury a show. If I am familiar with your work, I’ve probably seen your best paintings, and I know what you are capable of, so you may have to work a bit harder to get my attention.
And it goes without saying that you should never try to paint FOR a particular juror—half the time you’ll be wrong about what it is you think the juror likes. I’m going to give you the same advice I give myself: paint a LOT, learn to recognize your best pieces, and then submit those to shows. I paint about 380 paintings a year (mostly on paper) and of those, I end up with 20 or so that I’d call “show-worthy”. That gives me a lot of paintings to choose from, and takes away the stress of having to produce a painting FOR a specific show. And I’m never rushed trying to finish something at the last minute for a deadline.
As I walked through the gallery, I noticed paintings that might have been a tad stronger if the artist had made a few different choices. But those choices are up to the artist, not me. I know several artists (including myself) who thought their painting was done, but set it aside for a month or two, or even a year or two and then went back to it and made small changes, and put it in a show and it won an award! I call that “circling back” and it’s a very effective method of taking what’s already good in a painting and making it even better.
I’ve heard some jurors say that they will never intentionally give an award to someone they know, but I disagree with that. Why would I penalize an artist JUST because I know him or her?
My goal is to select the works that I feel are the strongest when compared to others in the show. I’m judging the art, and not the artist.
How do I make my selections? I start by looking over the whole group of paintings, then I walk through the gallery several times before I stop in front of the paintings that visually catch my attention.
The obvious criteria—good color, composition, and design, and handling of the medium—have to be there. But more than that, an award winning painting (especially the top 3 prize winners) has to ENGAGE me and make me want to keep looking at the piece. There should be something that delights me, surprises me, or makes me wish I’d thought of that idea, chosen that subject, or used that technique. I will take a painting that tells me a good story over one with perfect technique any day of the week.
I want to leave you with this: think of a painting as a conversation between the artist and the viewer—your job as an artist is to invite the viewer in to your painting and get him to stay there awhile before moving on to the next piece.
We live in such a fast paced world--one in which technology often takes the place of face to face interactions. As I write this (on a computer) I've got my facebook page open and my cellphone turned on. I'm definitely not anti-technology, but I still believe that when groups of people come together--in person--to form community, good things happen.
As an artist, I retreat for long hours alone in my studio because I need that solitude to create my paintings. But after a day or two of painting, I'm ready to meet up with my trusted artist friends for a bit of show and tell! I am a member of FOUR critique groups--all different, all essential to my growth as an artist---and I benefit greatly from receiving (and giving to others) comments about the work. We're often too close to our own artwork, so getting suggestions from other artists can improve one's work immeasurably.
But an artist's life is not JUST about painting, critiquing, or even getting into juried competitions. Sometimes we have to step out of our carefully crafted life and give back to our art community--even when it takes time away from our art-making.
In summer of 2016, I got a call from the International Society of Experimental Art (ISEA) President Patti Sevensma. I am a Signature Member of ISEA, although I'd never attended a symposium (mostly held on the east coast each fall). Patti noticed that of the 400+ ISEA members, fully 40 were from Oregon. As such, she wondered if I'd be willing to host ISEA's 27th annual symposium Sept 21-27, 2018 in Oregon. I've led other local conventions (and swore to never do it again) but she won me over and I agreed to be the symposium chair. We located a great venue (Runyan Gallery in Newport, Oregon), a stellar juror, Ruth Armitage, and secured a nearby hotel (Hallmark Resort) for the reception and banquet. So far, so good.
Fast forward to 2018 when the nuts and bolts of this project went into overdrive and the real work began. Living 2.5 hours from Newport meant I couldn't just pop into town whenever I needed to, so I enlisted the aid of a Newport artist, Cynthia Jacobi, whom I knew from my statewide art organization, WSO. She was my boots on the ground gal, and she put me in touch with local contacts who could steer me in the right direction. Cynthia even agreed to temporarily store the 50+ shipped paintings in her garage until we could transport them to the gallery on hanging day. We soon realized we'd need to hire a man with a truck to transport those HUGE boxes because they were too large for our vehicles! It was all a huge learning experience, and I admit to be overwhelmed at times.
On a particularly exhausting day this summer, an art friend (who has done her fair share of volunteering in many, many art groups) gave me some good advice: "I have always felt that everything I have given as a volunteer, I have received back in friendships, networking and opportunities."
Was chairing this exhibit/symposium a lot of work? Yes, indeed---no question about it. But I found a way to fit it into my busy life, and still manage to paint, ship accepted paintings to shows, attend critique group meetings, and generally keep my head above water. In the end, I'm proud that I was instrumental in bringing a prestigious, one-of-a-kind mixed media show to Oregon, where it will be viewed and enjoyed by artists and visitors throughout the state. It will truly be an exhibit to remember.
For more information about ISEA, visit their website: https://www.iseaartexhibit.org/
We artists toil over paintings, get them prepped, framed (and sometimes shipped, if the exhibit is in a far away city) and then we have to decide whether or not we'll attend the opening night reception at the gallery. For me, this issue suddenly got complicated after a surprising string of acceptances at shows in CA, AZ, WA whose receptions are on the same weekend!
Most of the time, I confess, I tend to skip art receptions in far-off locations because, well, I'd rather be home painting in my studio. And the time and expense involved in overnight travel is no small matter. But this spring, I resolved to attend two out-of-town receptions and I'm glad I did.
The first was in the small coastal town of Coos Bay, Oregon--located 4 hours from my home in Portland. Their annual Expressions West show is a regional show and the 65 selected paintings hang in the Coos Bay Art Museum (a beautiful historic building that used to be a large post office). Each painting was given ample wall space and its own spotlight! My husband and I attended the Friday night reception and mixed and mingled with artists from all around the state. A group of us all went to dinner afterwards, and had further conversation about art and life. We met a couple who told us how they met years ago at work and married later (after their spouses had died). We even visited their home on Saturday morning to see the miniature electric train set that the husband had built in his shop. I stopped in to a local art coop and spoke with some of the artists there--it's always good to see what other artists are up to--and then we went back to the museum after lunch for the juror's walk-through of the show, in which she described what she liked about each of the paintings. My husband and I talked about art and artists all the way home in the car,
The second reception (which I am attending tonight) is two hours away at the Emerald Art Center's 13th annual Spring Show in Springfield (near Eugene). I am only familiar with a few of the artists in the show, and the juror, Randy Meador, is a watercolorist from Texas (where I grew up). I decided I'd like to see the show in person for a change (and not just from the catalog, as I did last year).
Both of these shows, it should be pointed out, are "all media" shows and include watercolor, oils, acrylics, and collage. This is different from the mostly watermedia shows that I typically participate in, so there's often no "apples to apples" comparison of paintings. The juror does his/her best to select paintings from the bunch and bestow awards according to his/her aesthetic ideals.
So I will put on my fancy shoes, and attend tonight's reception (even though part of me really would rather be home painting in my studio). I look forward to meeting and talking to new artists about their work. Here's to learning to celebrate!
Artist Liz Walker
I'm a painter/art instructor who lives and works in Portland, Oregon.
All images and text copyright 2012-2019 by Liz Walker
Site Last Updated:3/26/2020