Friday, September 11, 2009

Of Painting, Drawing, and Mixed Media

A long time ago I promised that I'd post images of my "other" work: my paintings, drawings and so forth. So at long last here they are! First, please remember that ALL of these images are copyrighted may not be reproduced at all, anywhere, unless I give you my permission. Sorry to have to say that, but people have stolen my work before, alas. Anyway, many of you may already know I was trained as an illustrator. I had my first professional job even before I graduated from art school, and did that for several years in the early 80s.

This first image is from a small (about 20" x 30") oil painting on canvas called Desert Heart. Don't forget that you can click on the images to see them enlarged. It 's my perennially-unfinished piece, begun around 10 years ago, with some lilies and jewelry still waiting for finishing touches. I did it because I wanted to see just how far I could push the detail on the technical end, but it was inspired by Spanish Colonial religious art and the work of Van Eyck (mainly). Pre-Raphaelite, Symbolist, and any lovely, old-fashioned painting has also inspired my work for years. And I wanted to create a kind of contemporary madonna which incorporated all sorts of spiritual symbols from all over the world, sort of a blessing piece for a home altar.

Closer in, you can see her face and halo in greater detail. If you click on this, it will enlarge to about the actual size it is in the painting. The halo was directly modeled after Renaissance European art, but most of the stones are in my own collection. Her opened gown reveals a heart space that is a fusion of the rising sun and an x-ray image of a beryl crystal. I was really pleased with the way her hand turned out (the one holding open her gown). Hands and feet are awfully hard, and this one just went down so beautifully!

Closer in to her face...notice the red and green eyes! I'm not sure why I did them that way, but maybe it's about the inner fire of spirit. There were no preliminary drawings for this painting, and I just intuitively added details as it progressed, according to whatever struck me at the time. When I get to the finest details like these facial feature, her hair, and the trim on her clothes, I'm using an exceedingly fine brush--only a few hairs to it. My paint is very thin and usually translucent, built up in many, many layers.'s a more recent oil on masonite painting that did have a preliminary drawing, which is now owned by a friend in Albuquerque. It's called First Blessing, and was inspired by one of my favorite novels, The Wood Wife by Terri Windling. Actually, I think it was that novel that drew me down to the Sonoran Desert so intensively; up until that time I was mainly a high desert-redrock-and-canyon-country sort of desert person. But there are so many different deserts!
Anyway, Terri's story is a very satisfying and fascinating blend of celtic mythic tradition and native american tradition (sort of), melded with the desert landscape around Tucson. And there's a Mexical surrealist artist also, who painted wonderfully-described images. It was those images that inspired this painting.
As you can see, she's a deer woman-spirit, related to the one portrayed in White Deer Woman in my Etsy shop. Because she is a spirit of nature, or the fairy world, her proportions waver and look strange to us. Horns are a symbol of sacred power. Initially, she was going to be all white, but I suddenly realized her face needed to be dark...a reference to the Dark Goddess, or Black Madonnas that I love. More earth power. She appears and pours water from a copper bowl onto the desert floor, where an very large ajo lily bursts into bloom.
Below, a detail of the desert behind her. The time is just before sunrise, and I actually travelled down to Tucson to shoot the bajada at that time of day. That wonderful strip of blue-violet shadow with rose and aqua on the horizon is called the "Belt of Venus".
Next is an unfinished painting called Ceremony. It's an experiment with a feeling and with the deep ultramarine our twilight sky turns around winter solstice.

It's a larger piece, around 2' x 4', oil on masonite. The sky was laid in first, and worked up with many very translucent glazes of pure color. The effect is like stained glass, because the white ground beneath the colored glazes reflects light back through them. You can't do this with anything other than oils. Some kind of ceremony or ritual is taking place with the land and with stones, and everything is luminous, revealing its inner light, or life force.

All of the plants in the painting are finished, along with the sky. Seen here is a detail of the agaves in bloom along with a few boojums (which don't ordinarily grow together as far as I know...artist's prerogative!). My monitor doesn't show the colors very well--they all just look blue, but the plant's glows are all in greens and aquas against the ultramarine of the sky.

Here's another detail of the base of the big agave. The figures are just roughed in and not really begun at all, but will still be shadowy and mysterious, I think. I've learned it's better not to try to work everything out before beginning, but rather to let pieces (jewelry and art) evolve on their own. I really must get this one done, though--it's been sitting for years.

This is Threshold, another oil on canvas, smaller than Ceremony. It hangs in my studio, and is based on the badlands of the Blue Mesa section in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. I took many photos there years ago and used them as reference for this "mythic landscape". The cloud, however, was shot right out of my back door one morning.

Detail showing the center of the painting. Like Desert Heart, I fought the nubbly canvas texture every step of the way and afterwards returned to working on masonite. The idea behind the piece is to try and capture a sense of immanence, of an otherworldly or sacred something about to be revealed as one journeys toward the horizon. That's how it feels to walk out in the desert places.

In recent years I've become fascinated by the textures of earth, and worn objects, and ceramic surfaces that come from wood-fired kilns that many potters use here. I wanted my art to look less slick and polished, and more elemental, more like part of the earth. So that was the idea that got me started working on these distressed papers. This is one I'm holding onto for the moment, called Never Look Back. It's another kind of dark fairy tale image, of a girl who's run away from home. She's not a pretty girl at all, just sort of a waif with tangled hair, and she's trying to get far away from some sort of horrible abuse. I know many people who've survived abuse as children, and so this piece is in honor of their struggles.
She's not safe yet, and is traveling through a desert landscape that is full of peril as well as gifts, if she can see them for what they are. The wings of a sandhill crane have sprouted from her back to aid her in her flight--the sandhills are the voice of autumn here in central New Mexico, as they fly to their wintering grounds south of Socorro, down the Rio Grande valley. A figure from old European fairy tales is her guide: a white, crowned snake, who tells her that the past is done, and there's a long way to go still, and she has to keep going no matter what. Snakes, especially in Scandinavia and Lithuania, were traditionally held to be carriers of life force and great wisdom, abundance and blessing. The crowned snake was the greatest of all.
Here's a close-up of the pair. The runaway girl was rendered mostly in Prismacolors, while the snake was mostly painted in white goache.

The lower-right corner, with queen of the night cactus in bloom. They look simultaneously sinister and wildly beautiful, and the flower essence of the queen of the night is taken to help one feel spiritual wholeness, enhance intuition, and put one in touch with deep inner wisdom. So I thought she could use that kind of help. You can see the rough edges I've fallen in love with, and the border I've been putting around all of these drawings as a reference to their storybook-illustration qualities. This one even has a page number stamped below.

Finally, here's a piece, Vigil, I just did very quickly the other day, to show you how things are born with me. This is a large, loose sketch in conte crayon on grey paper, and shows a woman standing in what will probably be granite boulders in the desert, near or just after sundown. When I'm trying to bring an idea through it really is like flying blind, and I just feel my way around most of the time, erasing far more than ends up being on the paper. But with this one, it just looked perfect to me, even without all the drawing problems worked out. Her stance and face were just right, and so I sprayed fixative all over it and there it is. Sometimes the hardest part is leaving it alone!!

She may become a painting herself, some day.
I learned a little about painting while in art school but am mainly self-taught, as with my jewelry. While doing book covers for the fantasy and sci-fi genre in the 80s, I exhibited at a lot of east coast regional conventions and was even asked to be artist guest of honor at a few, and my work won quite a few awards. But commercial work just wasn't for me...and it was the noncommercial work that was winning the awards! I guess the main reason that I switched my focus from 2D to jewelry is that I found I could no longer sit still for hours at a time and work on a piece of art. I got too restless, and bored. Working on the highly-detailed pieces was exhausting and very hard on me physically, especially the neck and shoulders. I found I wanted to make something that I could hold in my hand, rather than just paint it. I can sit for many hours and work on jewelry because so many different activities are involved; with painting, you're just doing the same thing over and over. So now it's become a blend of the two!
If you've stayed with me this far, thanks! I appreciate it, and am happy to share!
Till next time, then,


melanie said...

these are absolutely amazing!! I love the jewels in the halo, and the translucency of the water waif... they're just incredible

stregata said...

Just awesome - all of them! Absolutely unbelievably beautiful!
But my fave is "Never look back" - I love it!! Thank you for sharing!

yohopee said...

Stunning artwork!

denisa said...

i really am drawn to your work...

Carol B said...

these are incredible!

Shay Stone said...

Dawn, your work and the spirit within, blow me away. I've admired your work on Etsy, and now I am seeing your paintings and tears are forming. What an essence you, yourself must hold to create such beautiful things. I look forward to getting a longer moment to go over your blog and continue to enjoy your new work.
Thanks for doing what you do.

fanciful devices said...

hi- i just discovered your etsy (when someone told me my stuff was trabal bellydance-ish, i thought i'd look up the tag). I'm so glad I did! rich earthy wonderfulness! your 'totem' necklace has me dazzled. so unlike anything.

Angela Bell said...

Hello from misty Cornwall,I love your blog and I also love Terri Widlings book The Wood Wife.You can follow my blog if you would like to.It is really a random sort of diary. all the best to you

robin dudley-howes said...

You are amazing. I fell in love with your jewelry on etsy and had to come visit here. Your paintings and drawings are just amazing!