Category Archives: Drawing and drawing techniques

Here There Be Dragons: Utilizing Pareidolia in My Art Process

Pareidolia Clouds at Sunset
August 21, 2017; digital photograph
Rabun Gap, GA
© Amy Funderburk 2017 
All Rights Reserved

What do you see in the clouds above?

I see a giant moose. Or someone with a tiny head, sitting back on his heels while flexing his muscles. And a pyramid in the distance.

The Druids practiced such cloud watching as a form of divination called Neladoracht, so for a recent #FolkloreThursday, I tweeted my question with this photograph. Answers ranged from a horse rearing backwards, to a dog with something on its nose or fetching, to a kneeling, bearded old man in various guises. A couple of folks even saw a Xenomorph – the chillingly aggressive adversary from the Alien movie franchise.

For those responders, I could only predict one of two outcomes: a bucket of popcorn with a movie marathon, or a very bad day.

Pareidolia is the impressive sounding word for something I have done all of my life, always recognizing familiar shapes in the natural chaos of the commonplace. Faces, features, and animals emerge out of wood grain, lichen, stone, and smoke, or dance in the sky as clouds. On a metal dresser at my grandmother’s house, finished to make it look like wood, the twisting would-be wood-grain shapes conjured up all manner of faces and forms to my eye. At my childhood home, the bathroom walls were covered in some truly ugly pink marlite, patterned with a thin, undulating, gold line in a feeble attempt to masquerade as marble. Evoking my visual adventures was this interior design nightmare’s only saving grace.

Merriam-Webster.com defines pareidolia as “the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern.”1 The ink blot tests of Swiss psychoanalyst and psychologist Hermann Rorschach are another example of this phenomenon.

Along with the primal color red and the written word, the human face gets what I call “automatic emphasis” in an artist’s composition. If you don’t want the viewer’s eye to go right to the figure, you will need to do your best to somehow downplay it, because our eye has the tendency to home in on the human face. I have always wondered if this is because we look at our own reflection, then seek out the familiar, or because we are taught to make eye contact when we communicate, but, as cited on Merriam-Webster.com, “The human brain is optimized to recognize faces, which could also explain why we are so good at picking out meaningful shapes in random patterns.”2

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

~ Edgar Degas

In his November 2015 workshop, Water: Reflections and Translucence, artist David Dunlop recommended that artists utilize a “process of reduction and simplification” so as to exploit the brain’s physiological tendency to make sense out of what he called the “tableaux of confusion”. In other words, just as my brain easily sees animals in the weathered texture of my beloved standing stones or cloud formations, the brain has a tendency to make sense out of textured chaos. Such visual cacophony as you would also find in grass or weathered texture, your mind wants to make sense from that visual information. In this way, the viewer’s brain does part of my job for me.3

This is pareidolia.

I bet most of you have also experienced pareidolia, but you might not know that in his notebooks, Leonardo da Vinci recommended this as an observation and creativity technique to up-and-coming artists. As an artist, inventor, and scientist, da Vinci was a tireless observer of natural forms and forces. In one of his notebooks, he wrote:

“I will not refrain from setting among these precepts a new device for consideration which, although it may appear trivial and almost ludicrous, is nevertheless of great utility in arousing the mind to various inventions. And this is, that if you look at any walls spotted with various stains, or with a mixture of different kinds of stones, if you are about to invent some scene you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys, and various groups of hills. You will also be able to see divers combats and figures in quick movement, and strange expression of faces, and outlandish costumes, and an infinite number of things which you can then reduce into separate and well-conceived forms. With such walls and blends of different stones it comes about as it does with the sound of bells, in whose clanging you may discover every name and word you can imagine.”

Little did I know that I have been following da Vinci’s advice all along, though usually in a different way. As an artist, it was only natural to take the brain’s inclination a step further. As I work on a drawing or painting, I automatically make correlations between the random shapes that I am depicting and the forms that I see in them when determining how the shapes interlock to create the whole. This is one of the ways I can best conclude how each area relates to the other and if I am successfully transposing what I see to paper, panel, or canvas.

Fictitious Pictish Standing Stone - in progressFictitious Pictish Standing Stone - in progess detailFictitious Pictish Standing Stone - in progress, detail showing pareidolia

What do you see in the detail shots above of my charcoal rubbing drawing, Fictitious Pictish Standing Stone? I photographed the smallest detail (third image) while looking at the drawing upside down, so you would not otherwise have seen the face that I saw as I inverted my reference photograph while working. In other areas not necessary to describing the features specific to this stone, I have had the opportunity to stay much more general, utilizing Dunlop’s “tableaux of confusion”.

Second Sight/2nd Site
diptych, 12″ x 30″
oil on oil primed linen
©2012 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
The Rollright Stones, King’s Men Stone Circle
Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border, England

I definitely experienced pareidolia when painting Second Sight/2nd Site. When I photographed the stone, I focused first on the subject and then on the background, exploiting limited depth of field with my camera. After printing a reference photograph of the stone the way it actually appears (as seen on the viewer’s left of the diptych), I flipped the other version with the landscape in focus using photo editing software before printing. Once I had both reference photographs in hand, I played with cropping the proportions and the location of the intersection between them until I arrived at a pleasing orientation. To echo the concept of sight, I wanted an arrangement reminiscent of eyes or a mask.

I folded the two reference photos along the guidelines I had drawn, but when I placed the two sides together, I discovered something quite amazing – at the intersection between the two photographs, a perfectly formed swallowtail butterfly appeared at the very top edge of the stone! When painting this, I only had to clarify the bottom forked edge of the hind wing; the butterfly shape was clearly there. Had I cropped and joined the photos in any other way, it would have gone undiscovered.4

I purposefully arranged the diptych to look like a mask or eyes, but otherwise, the butterfly is the only shape within the stone that I intended for viewers to definitely identify. When painting, however, I saw several other forms in the stone that I used for my own purposes of correct pattern placement.

Perhaps you have only looked through the holes or at the butterfly, so take a moment now to look at the stone texture. What can you find? As I painted, I tried to put such things in the left canvas as a fat rabbit with its ears pinned back, an askew skull, and a paw print; and in the right canvas, and a yellow bird, monkey, guinea pig, and a little white ghost, all in their proper places.

Sometimes I intend hidden things to be a visual reward to attentive viewers, but I am delighted when they often find things I didn’t necessarily include. As I look at Second Sight/2nd Site with fresh eyes, I now also see part of a peering kitten and quite a proper dragon on the left. One of my friends sees dragons in just about everything I paint, and now you know how and why. Let me know what you find!

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy


1 “Pareidolia,” Merriam-Webster.com. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pareidolia (accessed December 12, 2017)

2 Ibid., citing New Scientist, December 24, 2011, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pareidolia (accessed December 12, 2017)

3 To read more about my workshop with David Dunlop, please read Say, One Out of Two Ain’t Bad! Tales from my recent art workshops…

4 To read more about the story behind Second Sight/2nd Site, please read Origins of a Painting: Second Sight/2nd Site

Also posted in Art Travels, Creativity, General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Other artists, Painting and painting techniques, Sacred Sites, Travel, Works in progress Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Inspiration in Paradise: A Love Letter to Puerto Rico

Tropical Flower on Wet Asphalt
digital photograph
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved
At the parking area near La Coca Falls, El Yunke Rainforest, Puerto Rico

In December, Jimmy and I took a much-needed vacation to a place where we can just relax and recharge our batteries – Puerto Rico. This was our third trip to the island, so it may surprise you that this destination now ties with both Ireland and England for the number of visits we have made.

We seem to have a thing for islands.

Even though this wasn’t a working art trip, you can’t turn off being an artist – it is in your soul, and always takes hold when you see inspiration. The muse of Puerto Rico never disappoints.

The narrow, cat-filled, cobblestone streets of Historic Old San Juan are lined with textured color: the crumbling decay of buildings perhaps kissed by one too many hurricanes stand side-by-side with restored, repainted beauties, all from a by-gone Spanish colonial era. Without staying here any longer than they seem to, I don’t know how the day-tripper cruise ship tourists can get a true feel for this vibrant city.

This time, we took in Castillo San Cristóbal, conveniently located just a couple of blocks from our bed and breakfast. There was a small arts and crafts fair happening there during our stay, and two of the fort’s stately iguana invaders made for fascinating models. One of these scaly friends may aspire to be the basis for a dragon one day!

One night after dinner, we took a stroll down to the side of the fort, lit only by the cool, almost-full moon on the ocean side, and just a bit of golden street light spilling over on the right. Inspired by the limited range of low key values I could discern, I decided to invoke the Victorian expat artist Whistler and think “Nocturne!” as I quickly drew the 15 minute sketch shown below.

Considering just the touch of light I had to work by, I didn’t really know exactly what I had until I returned to our room! When I saw the drawing, I felt I had responded to the values and shapes in a rather energetic way. As I worked, I couldn’t help but think of the Old Masters creating by candlelight. However, I’m in no danger of reenacting the legend of van Gogh wearing a halo of candles around his straw hat.

Calle Sol, Old San Juan
digital photograph
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

The Mourner, reference photograph
digital photograph
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved
Statue, Cementerio de Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

As our top pick for artistic inspiration in Old San Juan, the sheer magnitude of the Cementerio de Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis makes it a don’t miss – this was our second visit.

Dramatically situated above the ocean, these large grounds are awash with statues of angels and stone mourners. I have yet to visit the renowned cemeteries of Paris, but this Cementerio has set that particular bar quite high.

The oldest section of the cemetery dates from 1863. After photographing just a few potential candidates from among the many beauties there, I spent the afternoon under a hot sun with the figure shown above, first executing a pencil drawing to warm up, then honing my watercolor skills with some painting studies.

It was here under the bright blue Puerto Rican sky that a preference for my beloved panel surfaces by Ampersand swelled to the devoted level of a firm and lasting commitment. As I worked, I completely gave up on the watercolor block produced by a leading manufacturer after it refused to perform remotely how I expected. It simply would not tolerate my predilection for scrubbing and lifting (isn’t that just like an oil painter?), unlike the tolerant Aquabord and Encausticbord Ampersand panels. Indeed, these panels seem to revel in my oil painter-like behaviors.

The Formation of Clouds, reference photograph
digital photograph
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
Pico del Oeste (West Peak) from the Yokahu Tower, El Yunke Rainforest, Puerto Rico

In the El Yunque Rainforest, even if you aren’t up for a hike, you can enjoy lush natural beauty from your car as you drive down the PR 191. Several waterfalls, most notably the impressive La Coca Falls pictured below, are right by the road.

As home of Yuquiyú, the indigenous Taíno tribe’s “Good God,” El Yunque is sacred ground. To protect his people from destruction, Yuquiyú was said to do battle with Guabancex, the fierce Goddess of storms and chaos; her storms were the Juracán. Indeed, the mountains of the El Yunque rainforest do just that, acting as a hurricane barrier to the land beyond.

The Yokahu tower stands guard beside an impressive overlook with a view all the way to the coast. From the top of the 69 foot tall tower, we could see the Los Picachos and El Yunque peaks in one direction, but the real show was happening around the Pico del Oeste, the West Peak (above).

Jimmy realized what we were witnessing – the actual formation of clouds as the sun dramatically sucked up moisture vapor in slow, snaking tendrils. When the light would occasionally break through the sun’s fast-moving, thick cloud collection, it was pure magic. My very quick watercolor pencil sketch felt like a meager attempt to capture just the essence of this ever-changing weather drama in action.

This cloud nursery is the very reason they don’t call it a sunforest, however. As soon as we began our hike down the Big Tree Trail, the rainforest began to live up to its name.

After remembering the old travel adage that it’s about the journey rather than the destination, my perception changed to one of appreciation. I immediately began to notice how eerily limited the depth of visibility was within the canopy of surrounding lush vegetation. We were inside the moisture-laded clouds. You can see what I mean in the photograph below. Art supplies stuffed into my backpack remained unused – nothing like soft rain to impede the creation of a watercolor.

La Coca Falls, El Yunke Rainforest
digital photograph
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
El Yunke Rainforest, Puerto Rico

Value Changes, El Yunke Rainforest
digital photograph
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
El Yunke Rainforest, Puerto Rico

My View of Paradise with Sailboat
digital photograph
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
Our spectacular island backyard, Puerto Rico

School of Blue Tang with Friends
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
Snorkeling in our backyard, Puerto Rico

After leaving Old San Juan, our next stop was one of the smaller remote islands off the coast of Puerto Rico. It takes a bit of extra effort to get there, which is part of what keeps these islands from getting too commercialized. Staying in such an off-the-beaten-path location can give you a different perspective on the elements, even if you are someone who tries to stay in connection with nature as much as possible in a modern world.

Before we left, I was sure to purchase a wide range of watercolor pencils in those saturated blues and greens that unmistakably say “Caribbean.” Of course, snorkeling gives you a window into a remarkable world fit for sprites and mermaids that you can never imagine if you only look at the surface of things. Not to mention, a chance to swim with the unassuming underwater rock stars – the sea turtles!

Since our rental house used a cistern for its water supply, we were careful not to leave water running unnecessarily, and had to use bottled water for cooking and toothbrushing. Nothing makes you even more conscientious about your water use than repeatedly returning to the supermercado for mas agua.1

While you might not normally want any rain during a vacation, after a few days without it, I began to wonder about the water level in our cistern. We welcomed the pattern of quick-moving, brief afternoon showers that started midway through our stay, knowing that they replenished our supply.

This shift in perception to an island mindset about rain was best illustrated during a fantastic local drumming performance. The bayside restaurant that hosted the event had been built with one side open to allow little boats to dock. When a brief shower suddenly blew in, instead of voicing any irritation over getting wet, the drummers simply moved their drums three feet forward, and everyone cried joyously, “Mas agua!”

Underwater Rock Star: Green Sea Turtle
digital photograph
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
Snorkeling in our own backyard, Puerto Rico

Orion and Friends
digital photograph
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
Winter Solstice, Puerto Rico

Of course, these rains are carried on wings of air.

While the trade winds alleviate the need for air conditioning or a clothes drier, when it is strong, the wind is a magpie that likes to steal things. It pulls clothes off the line, hides papers in corners, and folds yoga mats into origami.

It also stole a bit of my sleep. A couple of days into our stay there, the wind got so loud at night that I repeatedly woke up. A pair of earplugs later and this was sorted, but it certainly gave me respect for what it must be like to wait out a hurricane – an infinitely larger proposition than just the harmless rush of a noisy, thieving gale.

At night, we could see the Milky Way, and more stars than you could ever count. My old friend Orion was easily recognizable in the Winter Solstice sky, and perhaps brighter than I’d ever seen him. I could even discern the Orion Nebula without a telescope as the fuzzy middle “star” in his sword. The only light pollution was the warm glow of St. Thomas, one of the US Virgin Islands, at the horizon.

We had the seasonal visual cues of charming holiday decorations, some a bit weather beaten and sun faded. But who knew winter could look like this? Suffice it to say that we didn’t miss the bitter cold snap that hit home while we were in this tropical paradise. But even though the first day of winter here was quite warmer than what I am accustomed to, the days felt noticeably shorter in this place where we wanted to spend all of our time outside.

This is how we were able to mark the season.

Somehow, my conceptual experience of the elements on this trip is going to make its way into the broader scope of my work. Going beyond your daily routine to color outside the lines of life can lead to wondrous experiences that are rich creative fodder.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy

Sunset Behind Cayo Luis Peña from Playa Tamarindo
watercolor study on Encausticbord, 5″ x 7″
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
Culebra, Puerto Rico

Castillo San Cristóbal at Night
December 12, 2016
5 1/2″ x 8″
sketchbook drawing, pencil on paper
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico


1 Mas agua – Spanish for “more water”; supermercado is a supermarket.


 

Also posted in Art Travels, Artists' Materials and Resources, Creativity, Painting and painting techniques, Sacred Sites, Travel Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Art’s Purpose

The Wishing Tree mixed media interactive installation © 2012, Amy Funderburk All Rights Reserved

The Wishing Tree
mixed media interactive installation
© 2012 Amy Funderburk All Rights Reserved

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” – Aristotle

I often engage in fruitful philosophical discussions about art with my sister, poet Julie Funderburk. During the course of one recent conversation, she wrote:

“Art’s most important purpose isn’t about permanence, is it?

Depending on environmental conditions and the techniques or materials used, the ravages of time can take its toll on even the greatest of the Old Masters. Examples like Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper illustrate this all too well. Painted in the late 15th century, unfortunately the mural has suffered extensive deterioration – yet it remains one of the world’s most iconic works of art.

“A beautiful body perishes, but a work of art dies not.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Perhaps in unfortunate cases like The Last Supper, we can consider the ephemeral “beautiful body” that da Vinci speaks of to be fragile substrate and pigment, while the true work of art is the artist’s surviving conceptual idea.

I could list several other cautionary tales of artists whose works typically suffer from deterioration. Mark Rothko used unbound pigments to create luminosity in his oils. Albert Pinkham Ryder’s paintings, due to the artist’s careless use of his materials, are notoriously unstable.

“It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism.” – Mark Rothko

Rembrandt, on the other hand, is considered a conservator’s hero. It was long assumed that he must have used a complex painting medium to achieve his effects. As it turns out, his secrets were simply linseed oil and great technique.1

How does one balance an artist’s drive for creativity and innovation with doing one’s best to foster longevity via the materials and methods employed?

I think the first answer to this question may lie in the intention for the work.

Artist Andy Goldsworthy masterfully uses natural materials such as stone, leaves, and ice, but the way time and elemental forces evolve or disintegrate his elegant works is just as important an element in his creations as the physical components.2

Tibetan Buddhist monks fashion intricate sculptures out of butter as offerings. Their colorful sand mandalas are created and then ritually destroyed.

The purpose of creating the sand mandala is to engender healing and enlightenment. Through its ritualized destruction, the monks then illustrate the Buddhist concept of impermanence.

As an artist who cherishes the ideal of greatest longevity for my work, I purposefully explored the liberating idea of impermanence during the creation of The Wishing Tree installation. Though my team and I coated the pieces of bark with wood preserver, I know the materials will eventually biodegrade. From the inception of the project, I planned to burn the wishes that visitors tie to the removable branches. The ultimate purpose of the installation is community interaction.

Yet despite my initial impulse to explore impermanence, once I had the idea to use the resulting charcoal and ash as a drawing medium to illustrate the participants’ wish categories, I tested the materials for durability prior to making a mark on the first drawing.

I was delighted to find that, once sprayed with a workable fixative, the homemade charcoal and ash seem much more permanent than traditional vine or compressed charcoal.

While artists cannot control future environmental conditions or how a buyer may handle one of our works, if we do due diligence by researching, networking, and experimenting before using new materials, we are doing the best we can to insure longevity.3

If you agree with my sister’s point that art’s most important purpose is not about permanence, however, what do you feel is the primary raison d’etre of my field?

When I asked Julie, she replied:

“Art affects and reflects what is human.”

When she said this, I immediately thought of the title of an old art book: Man Creates Art Creates Man. Despite the gender-specific title, the concept expressed is the same as my sister’s statement.

“Art, like life itself, does not have to be defined or understood to be enjoyed. It must simply be received,” author Duane Preble states.4 “Above all, works of art reflect us.”5

I agree with Julie’s definition. Artists reflect what we – or sometimes our patrons – consider important. We chronicle our environment and what is happening around us in society, politics, or religion.

As Pablo Picasso said,

“Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.”

and

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

How would you answer the question, “What is art’s most important purpose?”


Julie Funderburk is the recipient of a 2015 North Carolina Arts Council fellowship. LSU Press will publish her first book, The Door That Always Opens, in December of this year. Her poems appear in 32 Poems, The Cincinnati Review, and Ploughshares. Her chapbook Thoughts to Fold into Birds is available from Unicorn Press. She teaches at Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina.


1. Virgil Elliott, Traditional Oil Painting: Advanced Techniques and Concepts from the Renaissance to the Present. (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2007), 98.

In this book, Elliott includes a thorough and enlightening section on Rembrandt’s painting techniques.

2. Andy Goldsworthy, Time. (New York: Abrams, 2000)

3. There are a lot of resources available to artists if you have questions about your art materials, though you may find conflicting information. Art making is sometimes subjective like art itself.

Start by contacting the manufacturer of your materials for one of the very best sources of information. Leading manufacturers conduct rigorous testing of their products. The various technical support representatives with whom I have spoken have all been very thorough and helpful. Networking with other artists who use the same materials is also invaluable.

New technology and conservation discoveries are expanding our field rapidly, so even certain information published a few years ago could now stand to be updated. As a good starting point, however, I highly recommend the following book:

Mark David Gottsegen, The Painter’s Handbook. (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2006)

Additionally, an invaluable resource is a forum hosted by the University of Delaware: Materials, Information, and Technical Resources for Artists (MITRA). Look through their copious extant information, or post a question of your own. I highly recommend this website.

4. Duane Preble, Man Creates Art Creates Man. (McCutchan Publishing Corporation, 1973) 5.

5. Preble, Man Creates Art Creates Man, 7.

Also posted in Artists' Materials and Resources, Creativity, General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Other artists, Painting and painting techniques Tagged , , , , , , , |

Say, One Out of Two Ain’t Bad! Tales from my recent art workshops…

Originally published in my December 2015 issue of Off the Easel

Workshop painting ©2015 Amy Funderburk

Workshop painting ©2015 Amy Funderburk

…or the story of how one painting was indeed ugly, but one I rather liked. The biggest benefits of taking those weekend workshops last month were less tangible, however.

If you read my post last month, It’s OK to Make Some Ugly Paintings: the Importance of Artistic Exploration, I was prepared to make some not-quite masterpieces, but to learn from playing.

As I am referencing the adjective, to describe art as “ugly” is in the critical eye of the artist as creator, rather than the opinion of another viewer. If the artist fell short of his or her intentions, that artist might call their attempt ugly.

Art is, if nothing else, subjective.

My article sparked wonderful comments from some of my Twitter followers. My favorite came from fellow artist Karin Feickert, who wrote: “I love ugly or non-standard beauty.” As artist Alice Neel said:

“Nobody knows what makes good art. As an artist, when it happens, you’re grateful, and then you get on with it.”

Open to new creative experiences and prepared for ugly, I took two workshops that weekend. Making my choices carefully, I had selected topics that I thought would inform future paintings. I came to each class prepared with reference photographs, and can safely say that at least the end result pictured above turned out to be a proper study for the ultimate piece. But that wasn’t the true benefit of the weekend.

The first workshop was a full seven hour day on Water: Reflections and Translucence with David Dunlop. His impressive knowledge base in both art history and the Old Masters’ methods, as well as the science of seeing and perception, really gave my experience depth.

I found what David shared to both echo and augment my personal exploration of Old Masters’ techniques and my theories on how to paint faster, but still have a believable or “realistic” looking end result. One such Old Master technique is to use transparent colors within your dark values so as to give them depth, and save your opaque pigments later for the light.

David stressed “following the paint” rather than the reference photograph, and utilizing a “process of reduction and simplification” so as to exploit the brain’s physiological tendency to make sense out of what he called the “tableaux of confusion”. In other words, just as my brain easily sees animals in cloud formations, the brain has a tendency to make sense out of textured chaos. Such visual cacophony as you would find in grass or, say, the weathered texture of two life-sized standing stones awaiting completion in my studio, ahem, your mind wants to make sense from that visual information. In this way, the viewer’s brain does part of my job for me.

This was great news. Perhaps Edgar Degas was alluding to this phenomenon when he said:

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

The other grand pearl of wisdom that David rolled out that I immediately put in my basket was to remove stress for maximum creativity. Apparently, he explained, we have better access to subliminal memory when we are relaxed.

When David mentioned this, I immediately thought of one of my favorite Yogi brand tea tag quotes that inspired my blog post, A Relaxed Mind is a Creative Mind. If we learned nothing else in the workshop, David said, he wanted us to remember to take a deep breath before beginning a painting session.

Whereas David’s workshop was perhaps more cerebral, Linda Kemp’s three hour acrylic workshop on The Painted Nest was unapologetically my playtime.

In the workshop description, Linda’s techniques of concentrating on the negative spaces — she referred to them as “captured negatives” — seemed to be in tandem with my own way of thinking while I paint. She also uses glazes masterfully to push areas back in order to bring other shapes forward.

However, trying to replicate her fabulous splishy-splash method of creating an underpainting structure that she had demonstrated step-by-step with both ease and bravado had me feeling quite like Jackson Pollock — and having a great deal of fun in the process.

There was a bit of a “re-learning curve” for me, as I had not used acrylics at any great length since my college days when I switched to oil. Somewhere between a desire to improve my unfinished, ugly duckling end result from this workshop, and thinking that the faster drying time of acrylics would make them an ideal medium for future studies, I left the trade show with a sack of tubes under my arm.

I confess, I feel the pull to improve on the ugly painting, but upon examination, I find that this drive isn’t just habitual. I don’t feel the urge to make a would-be masterpiece out of it, but rather, I feel I have more to learn from the process.

Coming Full Circle. Writing a blog is not unlike journaling. Just as it is helpful to read back over old personal journal entries to discover connections — what Oprah Winfrey memorably calls the “ah ha moments” — apparently, it’s not a bad idea to review your other writings periodically.

As I recently uploaded my previous blog posts to their new home on my website, I found it extraordinary how entries tied into my article from last month about artistic experimentation, and the very concepts David Dunlop was touting in his reflections workshop.

If you will forgive me for quoting myself, in my post Seeking “whelment,” I share:

“Forgetting that it is about painting ‘the masses, the whole’ as one of the Old Masters said is admittedly one of my heavy things to put down. Why not let the viewer’s brain and eye fill in some of the blanks? There is no need to paint every blade of grass when the viewer could perceive the holistic massed texture of the grass instead….

“Johannes Vermeer painted in this manner — his clean style is what I love about his paintings. Everything you need is there; the extraneous is omitted. He may have only completed 35 attributed paintings in his short 43 years, but visually, Vermeer had no weights around his ankles.”

And from my post, Taming the Inner Critic:

“My studio neighbor recently attended a week-long art workshop. Last night he showed me the results — he’d gotten four new pieces done, and was now applying the concepts in the studio to another new piece. Taking this time away from the large painting he’d been working on for awhile helped him to open a new creative door, as he put it. In his new pieces, I saw an awakening of some dynamic visual breakthroughs. My friend’s inspiration, kindled from working quickly and with freedom during this workshop, was infectious.

“So instead of worrying about what we have to DO, why not just BE, and have fun with it? Let’s all create something experimental, unexpected, and freeing, and in releasing our Inner Critic’s expectation that everything has to be a just-so Masterpiece, who knows? You just might create one.”

David was fearless as he demonstrated his techniques in a variety of painting media. As he said in the workshop, “Embrace the accident — there are no wrong notes. It’s what you do next.”

I am eager to see what comes next.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy


David Dunlop is the host of a national Emmy Award-winning series on PBS, writes an art blog, and offers an instructional DVD series. For more about David, visit: http://daviddunlop.com/ and also look for his presentations on You Tube.

Linda Kemp has published several titles for North Light books, and has been featured in various arts publications. Look for Linda on You Tube, and visit her website: http://www.lindakemp.com/


Above: Workshop painting:
Experimental Study for Reflection
November 13, 2015
oil on gessobord coated with polymer gloss varnish
©2015 Amy Funderburk
All Rights Reserved
Madron Holy Well, Madron, West Penwith, Cornwall, England

Also posted in Creativity, General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Other artists, Painting and painting techniques, Works in progress Tagged , , , , |

Really Seeing a Place

photograph © James C. Williams 2010 All Rights Reserved

Funderburk sketching at the White Horse of Uffington, England. © James C. Williams 2008 All Rights Reserved

First edition originally published March 18, 2014

The last crocuses have now been joined by armies of cheerful daffodils, bluebells, and hyacinths, all bowing their heads today under the weight of today’s sleet and freezing rain, but still promising that spring is on the way.

My friend, Winston-Salem pastel artist Elsie Dinsmore Popkin, said she never felt as though she had really seen a place unless she had drawn it. Elsie passed away a few years ago, but this insight has always stayed with me.

I came across her 1997 Artist’s Statement yesterday when going through some old curatorial files from my days as an Exhibitions Coordinator. In her statement, Elsie also shared:

“I hope that the experience of seeing my pastels will open the viewer’s eyes to her own surroundings, will help her to see and rejoice in the forms and colors and beauty of the world around her.”

Indeed, I share in this intention, and perhaps Elsie’s concept of drawing a location in order to fully connect with it was an inspiration for me when I started a travel sketchbook. Since our first trip to Ireland in 2001, whenever I feel moved by a particular site on our journeys, I will take the time to draw, attempting to harness the energy of the place with my pencil onto paper. When creating final works, I refer to these drawings along with my reference photographs.

As Elsie put it, we try to express “the essence of the landscape,” as if to distill the fundamental nature of a location into a few marks of graphite instead of selecting a single, potent word.

On this St Patrick’s Day, I wish you slan agus beannacht,1

Amy

Irish Gaelic for “health and blessings.”

Image credit: Amy Funderburk drawing in her travel sketchbook at the White Horse of Uffington, Oxfordshire, England; 2008. Photo by James C. Williams, copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved.

Also posted in Art Travels, General art discussion and philosophy, Other artists, Sacred Sites, Travel Tagged |

Painting the negative spaces

 

Snow Shadows  -  digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2014 All Rights Reserved

Snow Shadows
digital photograph, © Amy Funderburk 2014 All Rights Reserved

First edition originally published February 20, 2014

A couple of weeks prior to the deeper snow we had last week, the winter sky delivered just enough to coat the earth in a cold, white, fluffy, two inch blanket.

Each day when I wake up, the first thing I do is open the bedroom curtains and let in the light. That day, I was struck by the pthalo blue shadows cast by the trees on the crisp snow. The whiteness covered the back yard, erasing all the usual terrestrial textures and identifying characteristics, allowing these shadows to take center stage.

What remained were terms that will be familiar to fellow artists — negative and positive shapes.

When I taught a beginning drawing class for adults, my students would consistently gain the most from the exercise on positive and negative shapes. Through this technique, your right brain (where art, dreams, and creativity reside) is highly activated. Participants would always come back to class the following week filled with amazement at how they had learned to see in a new way. A student once described the sensation as seeing more clearly, as if into an additional dimension of depth.

Simply put, if you look at a chair, the chair itself is comprised of positive shapes. The shapes of air around the chair — those that reside between each positive shape and divide each segment of wood, metal, or fabric from the other — are the negative shapes, or space. Each defines the other, and are equally important. Drawing air — how Zen does that seem? How simple sounding a thing, to draw air?

As I reflected on those striking blue shadows cast on the white snow throughout the day, I thought how they were an analogy for what I look for when painting the sacred sites I visit. I seek to depict that which is there, but not always noticed. The subtle or intangible which is often felt, whether consciously or subconsciously, but not always acknowledged or realized. Layers of energetic history charge the air and stoke the fires of imagination. 

I paint the negative spaces.

All the best, and Namaste,
Amy

If you would like to read more about the drawing technique I have described, I highly recommend the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.

Also posted in Art Travels, Sacred Sites Tagged , |