When is a work in progress finished?

More than six months ago I started with an idea by adding modeling paste in the form of vertical textures to represent a build up of drips and when I completed this stage, the surface was painted over with acrylic and fine tuned with a number of glazes in oil. Since then it remained tucked away with the other unfinished canvases, along with the blue painters tape still attached to the sides, despite considering it was a finished painting. Still I could not shake the feeling that there was more that needed to be said, even though having followed through on the original concept on all points.

Three weeks ago while working in the garden, I came across a number of very delicate roots from a birch tree that had invaded a flowerbed I was preparing for spring. Upon closer inspection of these roots, I noticed there fragile structure and felt they resembled arteries and veins and could be used in a painting, considering I still had not dealt with the open-heart surgery in artistic terms. While I continued gardening, the mind was actively involved figuring out ways to work with these wonderful roots, when the painting from months ago came to mind.

A few days later I pulled the canvas, dusted off the sides and experimented with a few strands of roots to see how they would interact with the textures. Once satisfied that this would be the path to take, I proceeded with my usual cautionary attitude, covered the surface with regular gel medium and strategically placed the roots onto the medium. That evening I studied the results, analyzing every aspect of the progress, only to decide to wait until morning, when under natural light I could best judge the next step to be taken.

With a fresh perspective I concluded a few more roots would need to be added, especially one that would rise off the surface and so appear three-dimensional, now that I had planned to introduce tissue paper into the mix and did not wish for it to be just a cover. Once the new pieces of roots had adhered and dried to the surface, it was time to add the buff coloured mulberry tissue paper.

I had used tissue paper before as a top layer in which I tore numerous small openings, allowing the textured surface beneath to poke through; it was this approach I was now embarking upon for this canvas. After covering the surface the artwork was set aside, in order to contemplate on the current process and instead of overnight, the canvas remained set aside for almost two weeks.

Though there were still some technical issues to be resolved the art work in progress finally had achieved a level of completion in which it could be considered finished, now that the relationship of surface texture and the roots all interacted with their new skin. All that needed to be resolved was making the suspended tissue paper stronger, then protecting the entire surface and settling upon a title.

Well that was yesterday . . .

After further serious contemplation I decided one more layer of mulberry tissue was required since too much of the roots dominated the surface visually and I still had not achieved the desired effect.

The process of the second tissue paper layer needed to be applied with greater control since there were areas that did have the desired look and were not to be covered. This would mean tearing up larger sections of tissue paper and adding them as if composing a puzzle until a homogenous look was achieved so that it did not resemble having been patched.

Now that I consider this canvas a finished piece of artwork, I view it not as a success nor a failure, but rather a study in the process of materials and their relationship with one another. For it has spawned numerous ideas on how to improve upon the relationship of the materials used in this artwork when considering another canvas that deals directly with my heart and the surgery I underwent.

Art is a process, nothing more. A process of adding, subtracting, subtracting and adding until the artists hand stops, pulls away and the artist takes a step back.

Now I just need to settle on a title; any suggestions?


A fable to inspire a life

There are books that mirror our lives,
as there are books that have an impact upon a life

More than just few years ago when I was perusing the nature section of our local bookstore, that I came across a book called The Man Who Planted Trees. It is a rather thin book, with the pages amounting to no more than the thickness of a pencil, even after having been padded with numerous wonderful woodcut illustrations by Michael McCurdy, in this reissue honouring the twentieth anniversary when it was first published by Chelsa Green Publishing Company as a book. Before the first publication in book form, the short story, or fable as some would call it, was first published in 1954 and appeared in Vogue magazine.

The Man Who Planted Trees, cover
1985 Paperback edition, second printing

The short story by French author Jean Giono brings to life a Shepard who plants acorns every day over a period of thirty years, every time he went on his daily walks, transforming a scared landscape from years of war into a forest of hope. The books fable has mirrored my attempts to plant as many trees as possible.

The Man Who Planted Trees, cover
Hardbound version, first edition, April 2005

For as long as I can remember, I have had a personal relationship with trees. At the age of twelve I came home with a small young cutting of a branch that I had broken off from a larger branch and stuck into the ground behind our ascending staircase to the house front door. The location was by no means ideal, but this little patch of land was mine to do with as I choose. Within two years the branch had grown considerable, reaching the top of the staircase, By the time we moved out a year and a half later, it was more like a mature tree, still having more to grow before being fully grown as a eucalyptus tree.

inside view, pages 28-29
Hardbound version, first edition, April 2005

These days, for almost a decade now, I have raised trees from seeds. Beginning with seedpods from a California buckeye chestnut, gathered from the wild and transplanted into large 25-gallon nursery buckets, where they remained for two to three years. After achieving the desired height, they were planted on our hillside, others passed along to friends and even sent overseas while still a seedpod, but showing signs of life.

close-up view, page 11
© Michael McCurdy - All rights reserved

This year’s bounty of seedlings has exceeded any previous year. From a dozen plus California buckeye chestnut, there are about a dozen and a half Chinese Elm, ranging from a foot to two feet in size. My most prized are Japanese maple, grown for the first time. They’re still very delicate when compared to the other two species, never the less precious.

As autumn’s curtain call is fast approaching, the garden was blessed with this year’s first rain after have suffered a two-year drought and water rationing. This major storm was the remnants of a Pacific typhoon that stretched beyond its normal travels, reaching our coastline with its gentle fury, filling our streams and lakes with water.

close-up view, page vii
© Michael McCurdy - All rights reserved

The Man Who Planted Trees — twentieth anniversary edition
Jean Giono with illustrations by Michael McCurdy
Chelsea Green Publications Company: Link
ISBN 1-9311498-72-5

Some additional links to check out

American Forests: Link
National Alliance for Community Trees: Link
National Arbor Day Foundation: Link
National Tree Trust: Link
National Urban & Community Forestry Advisory Council: Link
Trees for the Future Organization: Link

Tree Canada Trust: Link

The Woodland Trust: Link

Information on the author Jean Giono and The Man Who Planted Trees

The Man Who Planted Trees text and authors biography: Link
The animation video of the story being read in French: Link
Copyrights vs the stories freedom: Link


Seeking a more personalized blog appearance

I am aware that I have not posted in these last twenty-one days or so and though like a number of new bloggers who make a good start only to fizzle out after a few weeks or months, I can assure that is not the case here. During my absence I have been busy visiting other blogs, studying their designs and layouts, occasionally commenting and exchanging correspondence, including posting a few days ago to The Artist Within Us, my other blog. On top of all this, there was a major distraction, as our daughter Ariana was now moving away from home to attend the University of Santa Cruz and though it is only 94.3 miles away, we are now experiencing the ‘empty nest syndrome’, even though our son Armont is still living at home, attending a college near by. Then last Tuesday we all celebrated his twenty-first birthday and all along it felt like we just brought him home from the hospital where he was born. In the meantime I have been reworking my two sites, developing a third, assisting my friend Ian and his blog Abstract Minimalism, which is about half way where we would like it to be. So you can see, there has been a lot of excitement around here and the dust that was stirred up, still has not settled.

You might have also notice the masthead has been changed from a water lily, to reflect the new season in which we find ourselves, with a photograph of a red Japanese maple growing in our front yard. Normally I like everything tack sharp and with no motion, but the breeze was blowing and my inner voice—to which I do not listen to enough—kept insisting I continue. Even the sidebar here and at my other blog has been revamped, not once but twice, with a few more adjustments due in the next couple of weeks, for a total of six redesigns since I started in April. This included just adding a number of photographs to break up the text flow. So where is all this going?

Apart from the author’s voice setting the tone of a blog, there is also the design of the site, which reflects a person’s personality. Take for example Lorraine Stobie, a mixed media collage artists, whose site Creative Daily was professionally designed by Trudi Sessons of Two Dresses Studio, who’s expertise in digital manipulation of multiple images and objects I have a great respect for. She not only took into account the visual aspects of a good blog design, like its flow, usage of colour and overall readability, but also Lorraine’s personality and the type of artwork she does.

This was achieved by including elements that are part of Lorraine’s life and were then arranged in a collage that enhanced the blogs visual appeal and placed off to the sides of the main page. However the full effect of the collages artwork only comes to shine when viewing Lorraine’s ‘biography’ page, which can be reach by a separate link that is located towards the top of the sidebar.

Even here the biography icon and other, like ‘Email Me’, ‘Inspiration’, ‘Archives’, and others, are all carefully designed with a repeating diamond pattern that is also used for Lorraine’s signature at the end of each post. In the end, the site sets itself apart from others, like a persons individual thumbprint, while retaining similarities to other crafting blogs.

In contrast to Lorraine’s bit of whimsy and special airiness is Layers, an artists whose work I greatly admire. Donna’s blog takes a different approach, by making use of the sidebar with photographs of her life, her surroundings and her interests, all of which is supported by her posts with images and the stories she tells. Her blog takes on a more Spartan approach, or if you will, a Wabi-Sabi sense of design, with a background colour that suggest one has entered into a blog with a Zen atmosphere; all of which reflects back to her style of artwork.

Though Donna’s artwork is comprised of richly layered metaphors, symbols, and a personal mythology, these appear at first glance in contrast to her Zen surroundings. This symbiosis of an oxymoron may have you scratching your head, but it is the very essence that comprises Donna’s spirit. Like most artists, she is a deeply complex individual with a ‘want and desire’ to absorb herself into her surroundings, emerging from it with new energies and ready to express her personal creative vision.

From these and other sites I have leaned a great deal and though I have thirty years experience as a graphic designer in collateral material and books, designing for the web or a blog is very different, even though there are a few similarities. So for now I continue making adjustments to my blogs, double-checking that both sidebars match in their placement of specific elements, while fine-tuning other aspects of the sites so that your visit will be a comfortable one.

Apart from having been preoccupied, I have managed to savor a few moments here and there, doing photography and exploring techniques I last used over thirty years ago, but now capturing images digitally with minimal application of software. My paintings on the other hand progress with their usual steady slowness, trying to overcome the fear of a wrong move and hoping for that touch of blindness in which inspiration takes over and the hand moves in charge of itself.

In the meantime I reflect upon a comment made to my previous posts at The Artist Within Us, about influences, an influence as far back as ones childhood and now having an effect upon the art one creates, Donna replied and in part said: “. . . the more personal your work becomes the more connection there is with others.

Postscript: Earlier in the day, under natural light, I had photographed a crane fly on a painters canvas drop cloth and by the evening decided to play around with it. After scanning envelops of letters from a previous relationship, some thirty years ago, I began extracting a number of these various elements and rearranging them on to the photograph of the crane fly.

Tipula abdominalis — Giant Crane Fly
Digital Multi-medium, October 9, 2009

Blogs mentioned in this post

Trudi Sessons — Two Dresses Studio
Lorraine Stobie — Creative Daily
Donna Watson — Layers
Ian Foster — Abstract Minimalism
My other blog — The Artist Within Us