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Making (Another) Mess for Your Soul’s Sake

I have fallen in love with a new kind of art material. (This happens to me often.) It is called Yupo. It isn’t really paper. It’s actually a kind of thin white plastic. I love it for watercolor abstracts. I can wet it completely or selectively, and then let one or two colors run where they will. I let it dry, use a wet sponge to wipe off the passages I don’t like, and then add more. It is a very spontaneous and joyous way to work.

Chartreuse Abstract Watercolor Background Stock Photo 84285301 : Shutterstock.

In a way, it is like writing a first draft of a novel during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). You can let the material take you wherever it wants to go, and then, later, go back and rework the parts that don’t fit.

The link leads to a vibrant piece I did in almost pure chartreuse. My dad, a California Scene Painter and amazing watercolor craftsman, would roll over in his grave. He hated that color as much as I loved its outlandish French name.  If you want to see more of this series, they are all on Shutterstock.

After a long pause, spent writing, I have returned to painting and have found my voice as an artist. This is reflected in my latest work, The Saddlehorn Series. Sometimes, I still do pieces like this for warmups. I submit photos of them to Shuttertock and other stock sites. Graphic designers use them as background elements.

Yupo is expensive, so I wash the watercolor off and reuse most of them. (If you want to try this technique, the fact that you can re-use the “paper” makes it even easier to make a mess. You have nothing to lose.

While you’re here, take a look at my Saddlehorn Series. It continues the thread I started when I was still in college with the hilarious “Walnut” and continued with the Walnut Canyon Series and The Bridge Series. Here’s the link: https://lindaarmstrongsportfolio.wordpress.com/

Acrylic on Canvas 16″ x 20″

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Make a Mess for Your Soul’s Sake Part 1

Artists sometimes have trouble loosening up. It’s tempting to give in to self-criticism, doubt, and perfectionism. Writers use timed challenges like the month-long National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo to overcome these blocks. Illustrators have yearly challenges too, but this calendar presents one of my solutions.

When I get stuck, I pretend my subconscious mind knows what I’m supposed to paint and all I have to do is choose a couple of colors, a prepared support (paper or canvas), and work as fast as I can. The only rule is to cover the entire surface with paint within the given time, usually ten minutes or less.

I know, as a writer, that when it comes to revision, time is a creator’s friend, so I put the finished pieces away and don’t look at them for at least a week. Then I put them out and see what’s been going on in the back of my head. Now, I understand that the right side of the brain and subconscious stuff has been debunked by the latest scientific findings, but this way of working has been helpful to me.

Sometimes, I just use colors left on my palette from previous painting sessions. Other times, I choose two or three fresh colors, straight from the tube.

Once, I painted a group of improvisations at a local art and music street festival. I used jazz the band was playing as inspiration.

Another time, I cut out random words from a magazine, then pulled out one each day as a theme.

“Love” Acrylic on Canvas. Improv Series

I’ve been doing paintings like this since I first started working as an artist in the late 1980s. I still do them sometimes. They don’t fit in with my current Saddlehorn Series, at least not directly, but they are an important part of my process.

You might enjoy doing them too.

See my latest work, The Saddlehorn Series

Improvisations 12 Month Calendar from Zazzle.com.

Calendar featuring 12 improv abstracts by Linda Armstrong
This collection of my Improv acrylics is always available with the correct dates on Zazzle.

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Like Hilarious

This is not my “hilarious” walnut painting. It, mercifully, is lost (at least for now.)

While visiting my daughter recently, I thumbed through her bathroom literature. (Yes, I know, but things take time, especially after hours on a train, and I am easily bored.)

A New Yorker cover caught my eye. I had the same issue at home but hadn’t read it all the way through. The colorful illustration seemed to represent flowers but was actually inspired by sea creatures. (Of course, I later told my offspring about the flowers and she rolled her eyes, but both of us are used to that.)

In the art news section of the magazine, an announcement seemed placed just for me. (Come on, I know it wasn’t. I’m not that nuts, but there is such a thing as serendipity.) A show was opening later in September featuring the work of Latvian artist Vija Celmins.

Memory yanked me from the tiny cosmetic-cluttered bathroom in a Denver apartment to an easel-forested art classroom in Los Angeles. A striking young woman with cropped dark hair, a trendy skirt and 4-inch French heels (the kind with ankle straps) leaned against the doorframe.

She said samething like, “Hi, if this is Painting 101 (my memory is fuzzy), I’m your instructor. I’m Verna. On second thought, you’d better call me Miss Celmins.”

It only took a minute. I wanted to be her. That afternoon, before my shift at Ontra (a Hollywood cafeteria), I went to the beauty school and had my shoulder-length hair lopped off. (I tried on some shoes like hers too, but the straps cut into my ankles every time I took a step.)

Over the course of that semester, we learned about her local adventures. Her Los
Angeles was so different from mine. Once, for example, she dressed up as a boy and hung out at a waterfront bar with the sailors, fishermen, and dock workers.

So much for being her. I could never do anything like that. I felt brave walking three blocks in downtown to change buses. Still…I wanted to be her.

She gave us the best assignments. They were challenging and practical. From her, I learned to put together bars, stretch a canvas, and prime it. (She had us use unflavored gelatin and three layers of white acrylic house paint. It was cheap and produced a gorgeous surface.)

The best assignment, though, seemed absurdly simple. It was to paint an object. Most students in the class arrived at school in cars. (It was Los Angeles, and ours was a commuter school. No dorms.)

I had no such advantage. My trip involved three or four buses (depending on how far I was willing to walk.). My object had to be small. Very small.

My dad (Charles F. Keck, for the curious) was a high school art teacher. I had always been a disappointment to him art-talent-wise, but when I asked for advice, I became just another student and he was happy to oblige.

He suggested a walnut. We had some in the kitchen, probably leftover from Christmas. I cracked one open. It was very small and handy. Unfortunately, as I later discovered, it was very complicated.

One day in class I was struggling with my ghastly greyish brownish tan-ish oil painting of a gigantic walnut half when I felt a presence behind me. It was Celmins.

That was fifty years ago, but I remember exactly what she said. “Like, that’s hilarious.”

At the time, I didn’t know how to take it. I was embarrassed and feared for my grade. But now, thinking about her wonderful, meditative masterpieces of stillness in that Manhattan retrospective and my own scattershot life, I know what she meant.

It was a walnut. It was a brain. And it was, “like hilarious.”

I will never be her, and that’s okay.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

In case you don’t know who Vija Celmins is, this is she:

https://www.christies.com/features/Expert-view-Vija-Celmins-10902-7.aspx

When she taught our class, she wasn’t famous. She was having one of her first shows at a gallery on La Cienega, the old art district in LA. Her paintings then were black and white images of moving things portrayed in absolute stillness–planes in flight and a bullet propelled out of a gun.

Anyway, although she leaves the time she taught us off her resume, I am SO grateful for everything she shared with us.

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Featured

Letting Go

Getting Rid of Old Works to Make Room for the New

Earlier this year, I decided to take my artwork seriously and signed up with not one, but two art business coaches, experienced gallerists and patient teachers. Both told me (and all of their other coach-ees) the same thing. Art lovers expect a consistent, recognizable style. I knew they were right, so when COVID19 kept us home in March, I went through all of my online sites and took everything down except my latest works, abstracts in the Saddlehorn Series.

I am very excited about these pieces and am working to complete a group of twenty to submit to brick and mortar galleries soon, but that leaves me with a lot of older art stashed around my house.

For a few years, I was represented by Orlando, a great gallery in the San Fernando Valley (LA), but Bob and Don only worked with local artists, and as soon as our daughter graduated from high school, we moved to Colorado.

That sounds abrupt, but it wasn’t. An entrepreneur with a small chain of supermarkets wanted to build one on the corner where our California bungalow was located. His real estate agent had negotiated deals with our neighbors, and one by one the houses started coming down. Our daughter still had a year to go at Eagle Rock High and, understandably, wanted to graduate from there.

The real estate agent threatened to call friends on the City Council if we didn’t agree to sell right away. I called the entrepreneur. He agreed to delay the sale until we were ready to leave. We loved Highland Park, and I had friends in the amazing Arroyo Arts Collective, as well as my gallery, but we also had a home in Colorado, where we spent summers. (My husband and I both taught elementary school.)

So, that’s why we moved, which brings me back to my cache of unsold art. I started selling work in galleries in 1989 (more about that in another post), but I spent more time learning and creating than marketing, so there was a lot to pack up when we left LA. Here in Grand Junction, there were no contemporary galleries, and there was a lot to do just getting used to our new home. So the artwork sat.

Now I have a problem. Some pieces do fit in my new style. I painted abstract detail works from the beginning.

Walnut Canyon #3 32″x34″ Acrylic on Canvas

I did the Walnut Canyon Series in 1989 after a trip to Arizona for a writer’s conference.

Cliff House, Mesa Verde Acrylic on Canvas

The Mesa Verde Series came before that, in the 1970s. Both these early series were based on original photographs. I didn’t realize there was such a strong a stylistic thread through the pieces I did over the years until I pulled them all up on my computer.

Those and the Bridge Series I did in the nineties form a direct line to the work I am doing now.

Triple Arch Acrylic on Canvas 40″ x 30″

Unfortunately, my inventory also contains works in other widely divergent styles (We artists have to feel our way sometimes.) It’s time to get rid of those, but I like them and don’t want them to disappear completely, so I’m going to start sharing them, a group at a time, with stories about how and why they were made. I’ll post them for sale as prints before I dispose of the originals.

After, with my brother, trying to decide how to deal with the rest of my dad’s paintings, I realize someone has to sort out this body of work. That somebody is me, and the reality of mortality, thrown into relief by the COVID19 crisis, has made it clear that the time is now.

(If you are interested in purchasing any work featured in this series of posts contact me and we can talk.)

A Man with a Stuffed Owl and Other Characters

Man with a Stuffed Owl Fine Art Poster from Zazzle.com.

In the 90s, I joined a small group of artists at a nature center on Mt. Washington near downtown Los Angeles. There was a little farmhouse with a kitchen and a small barn that had been donated to the city. The artists were a fascinating group.

One had done artwork for NASA and, during the time I know him, flew to Amsterdam to see the Vermeer exhibit. He did gem-like miniature portraits in oil and had organized the group. He also arranged for the space.

Another was a prominent just-retired television producer with an outrageous sense of humor and a free-wheeling drawing style.

A third was a glamorous Russian painter with an exquisite home in The Hills. Other members came and went. One of these was an artist who drew Pasadena nightclub patrons in bistre on vellum. We met periodically, and I don’t remember exactly how often. I think it was every other week. We each posed for a three hour session. If we could convince friends or relatives to take our turn, that was fine, too. In this picture, you see the couch we sat on. The stuffed owl belonged to the nature center.

I call this group of drawings my Elyria Park Series. Most of them are pastels on Canson Mi Tientes paper. I liked the rough, textured side in mid-tones. You can see others on Zazzle. I have some on Red Bubble, too.

After a long pause, spent writing, I have returned to painting and have found my voice as an artist. This is reflected in my latest work, The Saddlehorn Series. I enjoyed drawing and painting people, but I’m not doing that anymore. Check out my current work at https://lindaarmstrongsportfolio.wordpress.com/

My Bridge Series

In The 90s we still lived in Los Angeles.We often walked our dog along the Arroyo Seco between LA and Pasadena. I took pictures of the spectacular arched bridges spanning the valley.and had prints made at the local drugstore.

One of the photos I took under the 210 freeway bridge in the 90s

Around that same time I attended a touring Impressionist show that included a series of bridge studies by Gustave Caillebotte

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IA video showing most of my Bridge Series paintings

Somewhere in the back of my brain these things connected and I started a series of large acrylics on canvas.

“Chord” Acrylic on Canvas part of the Bridge Series

Like the previous Walnut Canyon paintings and my current Saddlehorn Series, these paintings feature the play of light and shadow on solid, often ignored surfaces.

“Triangle of Light” Acrylic on Canvas

They were completed soon before we moved to Colorado. Some of them were shown in a restaurant in Pasadena before we left, but they have never been in a gallery. They are large, and at the moment, most of them are rolled up.

After a long pause, spent writing, I have returned to painting and have found my voice as an artist. This is reflected in my latest work, The Saddlehorn Series. If you visit my portfolio page, you will see how the visual ideas I was working with in The Bridge Series have developed further in this new work. https://lindaarmstrongsportfolio.wordpress.com/

My Angel Series

While I was still living in Los Angeles, I attended figure drawing groups several times a week. At first, I worked in pastel on toned Canson Mi Tientes paper.

After seeing a Picasso charcoal drawing on canvas at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, I decided to take a stretched canvas and some charcoal to a session instead of paper and pastels. (I will post pictures of those in a later blog.) It was a lot of fun, and I did that for a while.

(Here’s a link to one of The Norton Simon’s gorgeous Picassos. https://images.app.goo.gl/QG4KqTZsgHLVsKzk6)

My gallery at the time thought they were interesting, but suggested I add color. I fixed the charcoal and added transparent acrylic washes. That was a lot of fun, so I did that for a while.

Then, at a group session, I noticed one of the other artists was making some nudes into angels for his Christmas cards. Hmm, I thought. I’ll give it a try. I studied reproductions of angel paintings and discovered that angels have birds’ wings and fairies have insect wings. I practiced drawing them.

The next time I went to a figure group, I was still doing my drawings on canvas. One of the guys suggested I try stretching a different kind of cloth. Hmm.

Well, at the time our daughter was making costumes for her high school production of the Scottish Play (not going to jinx myself.) We went to the garment district in downtown LA. While there, I discovered polyester lining fabric. Hmm, I thought. It has a nice texture. It’s strong and will last through a nuclear blast, why not?

I stretched and gessoed a bunch of the stuff. The next time I attended a figure group, I took one of my prepared panels. That night, I started a series of angels in charcoal and pastel.

These works were completed in the mid-nineties.

When we moved to Grand Junction twenty years ago, I did a few more angels as a demonstration at a local Christmas art and craft show. I hired a model and did drawings and paintings live.

This mixed media image was created from four sketches painted in acrylic on canvas. I photographed the painting, then modified the image in Photoshop.

I no longer do paintings like these angels. Click the link below to check out my current work: https://lindaarmstrongsportfolio.wordpress.com/

A recent painting in my Saddlehorn Series
One of my current paintings. Though I have done many figurative drawings and paintings, the theme that runs through my work from the beginning is seeing closely–abstract details loosely based on original photographs.

I’ve Updated My Portfolio at Fine Art America

I’ve posted some of my Saddlehorn Formation photographs on the site and will be adding more. I plan to change them out periodically to keep my profile there fresh.

Here’s one of the photos I added there. It’s called “Angled Rocks.”

https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/l-armstrong

Introducing the Saddlehorn Series

After years of focusing on writing, I am turning back to art.

This new series of acrylics on canvas is based on photographs taken while spending time at the Saddlehorn Formation in the Colorado National Monument.

aggression

As you can see from the example above, these weathered ancient sandstones fracture and shift in exciting ways.

The compositions I create by taking, editing and then reinterpreting the photos speak to my experience with harmony and violence, seemingly conflicting aspects of nature that together comprise its beauty.

I have worked in similar series before. In the 80s I photographed and painted sandstones in Walnut Canyon, Arizona. In the 90s, I did a series of bridges in Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco. Now I am bringing everything I have learned to this magnificent Western Colorado landmark.

New Lives in Familiar Waters: Releasing Razorback Chubs at James M. Robb Fruita State Park

Getting ready for a morning walk last week, I reached for my camera. Changed my mind. Same old route. I already had too many shots of the river, lakes, and cliffs.

Well…

Okay, you’re ahead of me.

As usual, my husband and I drove out  James M. Robb Colorado River State Park. We headed to the boat launch ramp. It’s fun to watch rafters inflate their craft, then load them with coolers, tents, kids, and dogs for a canyon float down to Loma or farther to Westwater, Utah.

Today there were no rafters. Instead, as we watched, a white truck carrying a rectangular tank backed toward the murky water. One of three men in wildlife management uniforms attached a large pipe to the back of the tank.

fish-and-wildlife-truck

“Are they putting fish into the RIVER?” That was my husband saying aloud what I was thinking. We’d seen similar crews stock lakes before, never the Colorado River. It didn’t seem to make sense.

chub-release.jpg

That was just what the guys were doing though. In no time, a stream of fish-speckled water arched out the tank into the river.

DSCN0548.jpg

Through a shouted conversation, I learned this was a restoration effort. The fish were razorback chubs (suckers). Native to the Colorado, these once-common critters measure up to three feet long. They can live for decades.

DSCN0544.jpg

This batch had been raised at a hatchery near Horsethief Canyon on the other side of the river. The “little guys” were about a year and a half old. Though several studies are underway to find out how many chubs make it to adulthood, nobody’s sure yet.

Luckily, my husband had his camera. I learned a lesson. Nothing is common or usual. You never know what you’ll see.

For us, it was a batch of now-rare native fish starting new lives in familiar waters.

(Photos by Alden A. Armstrong copyright September 23, 2019,  Used by permission.)

 

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