A blog about art.
| 10 May, 2013 06:38
Venice prep sketch by M. Pia De Girolamo © Strathmore 400 sketchbook paper 14" x 11"
Though I work in an intuitive manner, as spontaneously as possible I often use a visual trigger as a jumping off point. It might be a place I visited, or just my backyard, in whatever season it happens to be. I will do sketches of the place from life, sometimes more realistically than I usually work and sometimes in a more impressionistic or abstract manner, just focusing on color or shape. When I come home and am back in the studio I will do color sketches based on the memory of the place, occasionally referring to my plein air sketches. In the studio these often become more infused with what I feel about the place or, they may serve as a vehicle for what is going on in my life at the moment.
In the color sketches from the studio above and below, you can see an example of the process I am describing:
Venice Prep Sketches by M. Pia De Girolamo © Aquabee sketchbook paper 9" x 6"
After doing many drawings and sketches on paper I may then jump to canvas. Though the sketches are guides I never try to reproduce them. They are useful in practicing how to manipulate the colors, gestures or shapes that I might use in the larger painting, kind of like when you practice moves in a sport.
Here are the final paintings I did after doing the sketches:
Venice 1 by M.Pia De Girolamo © Acrylic on Yupo 26" x 20"
Venice 2 by M.Pia De Girolamo © Acrylic on Yupo 26" x 20"
Venice 3 by M.Pia De Girolamo © Acrylic on Yupo 26" x 20"
| 18 April, 2013 06:56
Rose Heart by M. Pia De Girolamo © Acrylic on canvas, 30" x 40"
To recap my last blog post: I sometimes have difficulty reconciling the right and left halves of a horizontal painting. The following are some things that I do to get both sides to agree.
Sometimes it means bringing a color over from one side to another and working it into the rest of the painting. Loosening up an area that’s very sharply delineated or firming up an area that’s a bit too diffuse may be what’s needed. Coalescing lots of little fussy shapes into a larger more coherent whole or…conversely, throwing a shape into an amorphous area might be the right thing. The important thing is to take the plunge, notice what happens, see if it feels right or not, notice and follow any path which that gesture opens up.
Using acrylic paints as I do requires a particular way of working, because they dry quickly. I will extend drying time using various types of acrylic media, thicker paint, and a spray bottle with water. (Note: there are “open” acrylics-Golden makes one such line-with a slow drying time but I have not used them). However, for me it’s both the challenge and joy of acrylics to work quickly, getting down the most spontaneous, intuitive moves, gestures and marks that I can.
Because I don’t usually finish a painting in one session, when I go back in I must be open to recommitting to working on the whole painting. It’s usually difficult to work on just one area and not have it look out of balance (unless of course that is your intention!). Sometimes working on one area is all the painting needs but the point is to at least be open to the possibility of allowing the whole painting to evolve into something else.
Every artist works differently of course and this is just one way that works for me.
Please feel free to add your insights.
Next Post: Using preparatory sketches for intuitive abstract paintings: Is that “allowed”?!
| 27 March, 2013 16:31
Wild Heart by M. Pia De Girolamo ©, Acrylic on Canvas, 36" x 48"
When I use a horizontal canvas, given that I am working abstractly and not directly from a pre-designed still life or fixed landscape (other than hazy ones that might be in my head) I often have some difficulty reconciling the right and left halves of the painting. Try as I might to follow the dictum of “working on the whole painting” I seem to end up with two distinct zones which I must tie together in a way that looks unforced.
With a square canvas, unless I purposely decide to make the center the focus the issue is to pull away from the center while still getting all the parts to work as a whole. For me working on the square canvas is less problematic.
Sometimes these painterly issues may mirror existential issues and it can be a creative starting point for both a personal as well as an artistic exploration. (I”ll refrain from inserting a smiley face here).
Often I will like one side and not the other, or I’ll like both sides but they don’t mesh. Before resorting to cutting the painting in half, I set myself the task of getting the two sides to agree, which means that both sides will have to change (a nice metaphor for conflict resolution in general). I ask myself if I’m doing the right thing, changing what seem to be two good paintings into one that might not turn out so well. Mostly, I take the leap and in the end I am pleasantly surprised in getting both sides to “talk to each other”, with no regrets on my part.
Next Post: Some things that I do to get both sides of a painting to “agree”.
| 14 February, 2013 12:38
Byways by M. Pia De Girolamo © ,Acrylic on canvas, 48" x 48"
Most of my paintings, though abstract, reference the landscape. Occasionally a figure or part of a figure works its way in, sometimes by choice and sometimes by chance.The painting above is one of those. I started with some large shapes that reminded me of figures and though they changed in size and number the figurative quality of some of the forms remains. I see figures settled into a landscape. This was not just my impression; viewers who were unaware of my interpretation independently said the same thing.
It’s been a season of change in many ways and I think in this painting I affix those I love into the landscape of my heart.
| 17 January, 2013 10:43
Raven at Lost Lake, BC, Canada. Photo by M. Pia De Girolamo
This summer, during a trip to British Columbia, I had the rich experience of observing ravens and many other animals and seeing them appear in the art and stories of the First Nations (indigenous people of Canada). On a hike around a mountain lake, I came upon a large, stoic raven that seemed completely unconcerned with the human activity around it. Drawn to the bird’s striking appearance and solid sense of presence, I began painting a series of ravens, while reading about their behavior and learning about the symbolism attached to the bird. In Pacific Northwest myths, the raven is seen as a catalyst of change, an assistant to the Creator, a mischievous trickster, as well as a bringer of knowledge and light. In other world mythologies, the raven symbol also has mixed connotations, including associations with ill-fortune as well as with wisdom, thought and memory. It seems to me that the raven is both yin and yang (pardon the cross-cultural symbol-mixing here) and basically stands for life in all its complexity.
What's Up? by M. Pia De Girolamo. Acrylic on canvas. 30" x 24"
In retrospect, the raven as subject matter for my painting proved to be an apt symbol for the past 7 months. A continual series of ups and downs became the new normal, with lots of changes and unexpected events, good and bad, to deal with. As a result, getting into the studio was harder (but fortunately not impossible) and writing blog posts…well, I wrote the last one shortly after the election in November.
Ravens, by M. Pia De Girolamo. Charcoal on paper. 22" x 30"
But it’s a New Year and I’m just about finished cleaning out the studio, throwing out the accumulated detritus of the past year in order to make space for new paintings and drawings to come.
| 14 November, 2012 07:38
Fall has Arrived by M. Pia De Girolamo, Acrylic on Yupo Paper.
Art has a purpose-actually many purposes. I think its first “purpose” is just to come into existence “ad maiorem Dei gloriam”, or “for the greater glory of God”. Let me clarify: I believe it glorifies God by its very existence and not by its subject matter.
And, if one does not give credence to a higher power, then art exists because it can, out of sheer “orneriness”, like the rest of organic and inorganic matter, arising and taking hold, like the flower growing out of the crack in the sidewalk, against seemingly impossible conditions.
Art’s other purposes are many and vary according to the artist. All flow from the intense desire to create. These purposes include and are not limited to:
To give praise.
To possess (think of the Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea--artist sculpts statue, it comes alive and he marries her!)
To communicate and connect.
All or some of the above may be present in one artist in varying amounts or at various times, think Francisco Goya, Picasso, Kathe Kollwitz for example, whose work includes powerful paintings and drawings documenting societal injustice and the horrors of war among a range of subjects.
Often the arts are overlooked, derided or ignored…until they cause trouble. Hence, a two-year prison sentence for the band Pussy Riot in Russia for their anti-government protest performance in a church, death threats to a young Nepalese artist for paintings perceived by one group to be blasphemous, harassment and jail for the Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei for being a thorn in the side of the government. All are cautionary tales for us to safeguard our inalienable right to express opposing ideas in any medium, a good thing to remember and be grateful for as we head out of another election cycle and into Thanksgiving.
| 19 September, 2012 09:26
Leaving Home by M. Pia De Girolamo. Acrylic on Canvas. 36" x 72" (diptych).
Nearing completion recently of one of my paintings-two actually, since it’s a diptych (interesting in and of itself, I'll explain later)-it dawned on me what it (and probably most of the work I’ve been doing the past 6 months) might be about. When I was almost done with this painting I realized the composition resembled my design for my son’s “going away to college party” invitation. It was then that I knew that all the abstract forms suggesting doorways, pathways, and boats, etc. that I’d been working with recently were probably coming from that bittersweet realization that it was time for my eldest to leave the nest. Though they are of universal and ongoing concern, themes of the change, transformation, and movement showed up in my paintings at this time because of my son's impending departure. At least that's what I think.
As I wrote this post a thought arose that the fact that I painted a diptych is significant to me also. A whole made up of two parts, it reflects the child leaving home but remaining part of the family. And as you can see I called the painting “Leaving Home”. I’ll let you interpret it as you see fit but I’m sticking by my story.
| 22 August, 2012 07:17
Window to a World by M. Pia De Girolamo, Acrylic on Canvas 36" x 36"
I’ve been thinking a lot about particular issues that come up during painting. Last month I wrote about the experience of having a painting come together really fast and having to deal with trusting whether or not that result was true and final, or whether it was too superficial and called for more depth.*
The flip side of this problem is getting “stuck“ in a painting or maybe feeling that you have ruined it. For example, you have committed early to a shape or composition and but then find yourself “working against it”. You may be obsessing about one area you are not happy with, or trying to preserve another area you love but is not working with the rest of the painting. Of course there’s always the option of moving on to another canvas, or painting over and starting again. For me it is often instructive to take up the challenge of “painting myself out of a corner” after having painted myself into it.
In the case of an "offending area" I am finding that it is helpful and instructive to work “with it” as opposed to “against” it. For example, I recently put down a layer of texture in a circular shape on a canvas. But when I started painting I found myself ignoring the textured circle. Taking the painting out of the studio and placing it in my favorite viewing spot showed that the texture, paint and forms were fighting each other. Perhaps I had committed too early to the textured circle. I was just about to add texture to the whole painting to “correct” it, when it came to me to just let it go and “embrace the circle” again and incorporate it into this painting. I could always do another one without it. Once I did that, the painting fell into place for me. And then I knew it was done.
*Painting Possibillities Part I: "Did I Just Paint That?"
| 06 July, 2012 07:59
Trio by M. Pia De Girolamo © Acrylic on board 14" x11".
I recently posed this question to fellow artists on my FB artist page and my Linked In Abstract Painting Group: “When a painting comes together really fast & easily from the beginning, a) do you say a silent ‘thank you’ & stop, b) say ‘too easy’ & keep working on it then and there, or c) put it away & reevaluate later?” Everyone’s responses indicate that this is a familiar experience and a mysterious one (ie. as one person put it "why do some paintings paint themselves and others are more of a struggle?"). It’s been interesting and instructive reading people’s comments on the issue.
When this happens I am alternately overjoyed and a little queasy. The latter feeling is unsettling because I don’t want to appear “ungrateful to the universe” for this gift falling in my lap. And I know that this seeming effortlessness is the result of much cumulative effort and investigation over time. So what's the approach that works for me?
I will sleep on it. I will place the painting in another room where I have a wall on which I prop up paintings in progress. Sometimes a change of venue changes the way you look at something. I look at the painting along with other paintings. If it can “stand up to them” even in simplicity, it’s done. If it pales in comparison perhaps it is not “done”. I then can see if there’s not enough “there” there. And I will also ask for opinions from one or two “trusted advisors”. They don’t have to be other artists necessarily. They can be family members (if in general they like your work) and you have given them permission to be “brutally honest”. Ultimately of course the final decision must be yours. If you “ruin” a painting by going back in, chalk it up to experience and learn from it.
| 12 June, 2012 15:29
From the Sketchbook, Red Rocks in the Desert Outside Las Vegas,by M. Pia De Girolamo © 2012.
Red Rocks in the desert, bordering a nonfunctioning golf course. I love the colors.
I recently tagged along as "the spouse" at a medical meeting held just outside Las Vegas. I had never been to the city before and naively did not anticipate how disorienting it would be and how it would induce such a roller coaster of varied reactions.
Driving towards the city from our resort hotel located about a half hour out of town, I could see Las Vegas rising out of the dusty plain of the desert. After reaching the outskirts and driving through several miles of low houses and strip malls, massive casinos began to loom and in short order we were sucked into a disorienting vortex of buildings, billboards and fake monuments. The desert was gone, replaced by an alternate reality that could have existed anywhere including the “holodeck” of the Starship Enterprise. Fake Paris, fake Venice, fake New York! Buildings with gold-mirrored windows! Buildings that lean outward! Notice all the exclamation points!!! Las Vegas is the architectural equivalent of using all caps when you comment online. It screams "YOU ARE HAVING A GOOD TIME!!!!" constantly, whether you believe it or not.
Golden Buildings reflecting the Las Vegas Sunset.
Leaning Buildings, Las Vegas.
How different is the approach to another "V" city of even greater "fabulosity"-Venice. One of the most satisfying ways to enter Venice is to approach via water taxi from the Marco Polo Airport. As you glide over the calm waters of the lagoon, the shimmering vision that is La Serenissima grows ever larger and more solid, until you are upon it and the mass of pink and pale orange cream and terra cotta palazzos then parts and you enter a watery maze of canals. You feel lulled into a dream and yet you know it's real.
Venice is just as much of a man-made construction as Vegas but Venice incorporates the water as much as Vegas keeps the desert out. The water is the lifeblood of Venice, the canals its vascular system moving people and goods throughout the city. You can hear the sounds of the water, watch it change as the light changes, smell it (according to some) if it gets stagnant in summer, contend with it during the periods of “aqua alta” when the winter tides are high and the people cross the squares on temporary walkways elevated above the flood. Downtown Las Vegas on the other hand separates itself completely from the desert so it can keep people captive, distracted and entertained.
I have to admit that the forms on Las Vegas Blvd have some coherence. There is something compelling and exciting about the jumble of mammoth buildings and “monuments” on The Strip. It’s as if some giant child set down building blocks and toys to construct a make-believe city. There is a pleasing randomness that echoes towns and cities that have evolved over a longer time. And there is a sense of fun and tongue-in-cheek humor that undercuts the overbearing nature of the monumental architecture.
Replica San Marco Campanile and Rialto Bridge, Las Vegas.
However, one of the things that bothers me most about Las Vegas is all the energy and money that has gone into copying other places; an indoor-made-to-look-like-outdoor Venetian street, a Rialto Bridge replica placed next to a San Marco Campanile replica, and so on. Picasso said that “good artists copy, great artists steal”. There’s too much copying in Vegas and not enough stealing. “Stolen” elements are those that are taken and then transformed into something completely new, which doesn’t seem to happen a lot in Vegas.
We went down to The Strip two nights in a row and made reservations for brunch the last morning. Later we reconsidered and cancelled, too tired to endure a third assault on the senses. I couldn’t wait to get back to the very real and often graceful Philadelphia.
And by the way while “Leaving Las Vegas” was easy, it’s pretty hard to say goodbye to Venice…
| 16 May, 2012 10:44
Gray Seashore by M. Pia De Girolamo 2012 © Acrylic on Canvas 36" x 36"
I do most of my work in the solitude of my studio. It is quiet; I don’t play music (except once in a great while). I do hear bird sounds and the wind or rain and I have large windows that look out onto some backyard woods. I am not a complete recluse, however; I very much enjoy the company of friends. They feed my soul and I hope I feed theirs.
Just a couple of days ago I caught up with an artist friend who I had not seen for many months and had not even talked to by phone or email, which was unusual. I knew she must have had a lot going on. She was on my “to call” list and I finally was able to cross that item off. I found out that she had been deeply involved with helping her daughter who was anticipating the birth of a child. There had been some frightening moments but all was eventually resolved happily just a week or so ago.
My friend is a few years older than I am and has gone through some soul-trying times that have shaped her. I find her perspective invaluable. It is obvious that she has done the hard work of self-examination because when she speaks I know what she says sounds right and true. She is a joyful person and I’d call her an “enlightened” one as well.
We speak about family, art, our former careers and our present calling. We’ll look at each other’s work, talk about the nitty gritty of technique, and swap info about the best places to look for deals on supplies. We examine artists whose work inspires us and investigate venues where we might show. Together, we weave a complex fabric of past, present and future that we can wrap around ourselves like a blanket as we go forward with our lives and work.
Friends do not just show up at one’s door announced these days. It takes a conscious effort to keep up with them. I have found that the throw away line “we’ll have to get together soon” must be accompanied by an immediate setting of a date, otherwise, the intended meeting never materializes. We’ve all got work to do, but good friends make our lives richer and I’m convinced that they make our work better too.
| 30 April, 2012 13:56
My friend, artist Tom Hlas has written 2 blog posts recently at http://tomhlas.com/blog/ that have got me thinking about the issue of originality in art. In his posts “Too Much Art” and “The Bigger Picture” he expresses the worry that his work (beautiful, by the way) may look too similar to that of another artist, and that looking at other artists’ work may be too influential on his own.
Recalling Precious Moments w You by Tom Hlas © 2009 Acrylic on canvas 18" X 18"
We know that originality is a concern for even the most famous artists since they have left us many pronouncements on the subject. For example, Picasso is quoted as saying “…since of necessity my vision is quite different from that of the next man, my painting will interpret things in an entirely different manner even though it makes use of the same elements.”
Arshile Gorky deliberately imitated Picasso’s still lifes in order to understand the master’s work. "Gorky’s rejection of originality as a goal…also deeply affected [his good friend] de Kooning. "Aha, so you have ideas of your own", Gorky told de Kooning when he first looked at his work. "Somehow," said de Kooning, "that didn’t seem so good." The critic, Harold Rosenberg notes that this exchange transformed de Kooning’s approach to painting and prompted the realization that “Even inventing a thing that had already been invented was an act of creation." (from de Kooning, An American Master, by Stevens and Swan, p. 103)
There was a time when the ability to make art that looked like someone else’s was the paramount goal. It amazed me to find out that ancient Egyptian art remained essentially the same for about 5000 years! Imagine the poor ancient Egyptian artist who dared to draw someone’s full face; surely he was doomed to “swimming with the crocodiles”! Byzantine icon painters created highly stylized figures in a traditional manner. The apprentices in the ateliers of the great Renaissance painters had to learn to paint like their masters-so they could help finish their massive works. Even when the revolutionizing modernists came to the fore in the 20th century, representational art was declared passé and many felt an artist had to paint abstractly in order to be taken seriously.
Sunflower by M. Pia De Girolamo © 2012 Monotype on paper 30" x 22"
Our society on the other hand imposes its own tyranny,ferociously prizing that which appears original, different and new--every few months, it seems. Got the latest iPhone/iPhone app anyone? Again, an artist counters with a wise observation to keep things in perspective. Robert Rauschenberg reminds us that “Having to be different is the same trap as having to be the same.”
(Robert Genn’s “The Painter’s Keys” http://quote.robertgenn.com/auth_search.php?authid=75 was the source of the quotes by Picasso and Rauschenberg).
| 12 April, 2012 14:15
Through the Veil by M. Pia De Girolamo © 2012 Acrylic on Canvas 36" x 36"
An artist, Joyce Wycoff, who I follow on Twitter and Facebook wrote a blog post http://joycewycoff.blogspot.com/2012/01/artist-statements-evaluation.html about creating a strong artist statement. We corresponded about ways to craft a good one and she suggested a helpful (and fun) exercise which consisted of writing down at least 15 sentences describing "why I am an artist".
I made my list and recently while revisiting it, I noticed certain words and phrases which jumped off the page and I highlighted them. Here they are:
Bursting to come out
I'm sure the artists among you will claim all or some of these powerful words but I think that many apply to the experience of the viewers of art as well. The viewer, when really engaged with the art, will feel the same things as the artist who created it.
| 25 March, 2012 10:34
"Pompeii" by M. Pia De Girolamo © 2012. From sketchbook.
Acrylic paint, Mixed Media, 9" x 12"
When I was a kid, there were few things I liked better than buying a new sketchpad. I’d feel the paper, testing the weight and texture between my fingers. It had to be not too thin, not too thick, not too smooth, not too rough-as in the Goldilocks story, it had to be “just right”. I relished seeing the clean white pages and couldn’t wait to mark them up with the drawing pencil or pen and ink.
Nowadays, I like to be able to use a variety of media like watercolor, acrylic, and glues in my sketchpads. I can also be pretty strenuous in making marks on the paper with pencil, pen or water-soluble wax crayon (Caran D’Ache crayons are wonderful-pricey but worth it). The paper has to withstand the handling without tearing and with minimal warping, if I use liquid media.
After testing a bunch, over the years I’ve hit on 2 sketchpad brands that I use consistently. The first is Canson’s Mix Media (yes, it says Mix Media and not Mixed Media, maybe it’s a translational thing because I think they’re French) in 9” x 12” size. The second is Aquabee‘s Super Deluxe pad in 9” x 6” size, which is great to fit in a pocketbook or if I’m traveling and bringing only a small bag. Both are designed for wet and dry media. The larger Canson pad has perforations so you can easily rip out a nice drawing and give it to someone as a gift! Both papers are acid free and so should not yellow over time.
"Ship" by M. Pia De Girolamo © 2012. From sketchbook.
Caran D'Ache water soluble crayons. 6" x 9".
It’s fun to experiment with different surfaces but it makes life easier when you have “go-to” items that you can reach for time and again and be assured of consistent results.
| 12 March, 2012 14:41
Door to the Desert by M. Pia De Girolamo 2012©
Acrylic on Canvas 36' x 36'
In my last blog post I mentioned starting a group of paintings and monotypes that “talk to each other” and mesh texture, graphics, color, form and space.
Windows by M. Pia De Girolamo 2012©
Monotype 30' x 22'
I’ve been working with earth tones, reds/oranges and complementary blues. The Akua soy-based inks I use for the monotypes layer beautifully like glazes in painting and really glow. I am using a variety of techniques in the paintings including some glazing, sgraffitto, addition of texture mediums and collage.
You can see the first results here http://www.piadegirolamo.com/gallery/78721/New%20Work.
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Calendar Of Posts
- Preparatory Sketches in Abstract Painting
- Two Sides to Every Story: Reconciling different parts of a painting-Part Two
- Two Sides to Every Story: Reconciling different parts of a painting-Part I
- A Valentine's Day Meditation
- Consider the Raven: Looking Back on the Old Year While Facing the New.
- Art and Free Speech: Some thoughts about the "purpose" of art.
- "Leaving Home"
- Painting Possibilities Part II: "Painting Myself Out of a Corner"
- Painting Possibilities Part I: "Did I Just Paint That?"
- Vegas vs. Venice. And the Winner Is...