5 Studio Life Hacks

Okay, so you've been painting for a while, finding your style, and you notice half the art crap you buy you never use, and others, tools and colours emerge as your loyal friends. Some seemingly unlikely, become lifelong friends. 

5 Studio Life Hacks

 

1. Bluetooth headphones

These haven't been around for that long, but we've become fast friends. You have to wonder how many in-ear and out-ear headphones that have died in the name of art creation. I've killed a few dozen, not to mention the amount of times they've nearly killed me by tripping over their cords, or been strangled in the tangle of cords and jumpers. Or the times they killed the music when my iPod/iphone bungee-jumped into the loo in the defrocking process. 

cordless.jpg

 

2. Sticky-roller

Dust, brush-hair, human hair, clothes lint and human lint… they're all on your paintings people! You can't get rid of all of it, but this ingenious sticky-roller, that you usually use to de-lint clothes, should be your go-to tool for extracting the nasties. It will quickly become your second-best friend in the studio. Use it between dry layers, and prior to varnish.

stickyroller.jpg

 

3. Correction Pen recycling

You could spend hundreds on re-fillable drafting pens, but for me, nothing beats the nib of a $2 correction pen for fine detail. To fill with your favourite ink, or fluid paint, you first need to get inside and clean out the white stuff (clean out with turps). That's not easy… I tried pliers, biting and all sorts to get the nib off. It turns out, canvas stretching pliers (the ones with the silicon rubber innards) will do the trick. What luck, huh?! You may already have some of those in the studio. 

 

4. Neck-noodle

Especially handy in this polar vortex we Australians are suffering through right now ;) Luckily, I have experience painting in such extremes. It's a scarf, that you wear around your neck, but it doesn't have any ends! It's sewn up! No more dangling material in paint, and tripping over your clothes while you keep your neck warm. You laugh now, but that's because you don't have one yet! 

necknoodle.jpg

 

5. Baby Oil

It's a wicked brush cleaner. There's something about the type of oil (it being made from a mineral oil) that bonds paint oil to regular detergent, and therefore allowing you to wash out with water rather than turps. It means you can use your brushes for oils and water-based paints in the same sitting. 

babyoil.jpg

So there you have it. 5 of my life hacks. Do you yourself have some? Something you do that's MacGyver-esque? It doesn't need to be art related. Feel free to drop a comment here on the blog. I'd love to hear from you, hacks or no hacks :) 

 

Identity Crisis: Am I an Abstract Painter?

Some time ago, I had a conversation with a friend of mine that went something like this...

“How do you know when a painting is finished?” (I get this question often) Then I reply: “when all the elements are in balance and the painting makes sense visually” Her: “But if it’s an abstract piece, who else is going to be able to tell if the  makes sense? Aren't you the only person who can see that?  Which leads me back to my original question: how do you know when a painting is finished?” (actually it was longer and more involved than that, but that was the gist). 

…and this had me stumped.  I've always believed there is a human visual-balance gene that innately allows us to recognise when something is OUT of balance. When something is in balance, it’s so natural to us, that we don’t see it. It doesn’t occur to us to notice balance. To try and translate this anthropologically, I’d say it has something to do with proportions in the human body (i.e. Da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’), or it could be referred to scientifically as something to do with the Fibonacci sequence found everywhere in nature. I don’t measure this when I’m painting, I’m just working until I no longer have this sense of visual disharmony.

This is all just a theory though. And my first question is: is this true? Do we all have this visual-balance/imbalance gene? I don’t know, and maybe some of you have thoughts on this, and if so, feel free to discuss below. :) 

The second lot of questions raised was: can I really call myself an abstract painter if I place so much importance on balance? Is my more representative work (the stuff that’s clearly "something") even close to abstract? There are so many reasons why I shouldn’t classify myself as an abstract painter, yet I relate strongly to others who do.  Am I an abstract painter? What is abstract?

Abstract art uses a visual language of shape, form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world.
— Wikipedia

I have classified my work as numerous genres - surrealist, semi-abstract/representational, psychedelic, organic abstract, organic psychedelic, abstract expressionist. To some, I must sound confused! It’s not necessarily because I’m cantankerous over being pigeonholed, or that it’s just hard to pigeonhole my work, it’s also, and perhaps more so due to the pigeonholes being hard to pigeonhole. But you know what? With the advent of the online art market, categorisation is becoming increasingly important. When uploading art to any online gallery, including Saatchi, eBay or Artfinder, or even 'tags' here on this blog/gallery, we are asked to categorise. And why is this? Because this is how Google finds us. 

Always, on these online galleries, when selecting a category for your work, there at the top of the alphabetic list, is ‘Abstract’, right above Cubism, Dada, and Expressionism. But is 'Abstract' a category? Should it be labelled as a genre? 

Admittedly 'abstract art', in Western art, does represent a time/movement that coincided with changes and advances in science, and philosophy that began in the late 19th century. And the genre that we now know of as abstract art, connotes to that period of time. But abstract art, abstraction, and even something so totally (so I thought) contemporary as organic abstract (ie. allowing the materials to flow and form under their own steam) have been around since - well forever (see below vessel - dated 25 B.C.). 

Greek or Roman, 25 B.C. - A.D. 25 Glass 5 1/8 in.

Greek or Roman, 25 B.C. - A.D. 25 Glass 5 1/8 in.

Nonetheless, 'abstract' is thought of as a genre, and 'abstract' and 'representational' in this world of genres, are antonyms. It’s this notion, that then identifying as an abstract artist has left me felling uneasy. After all, many of my works are obviously representational, and those that aren’t are still so thoroughly obsessed with balance that the elements within take the form of traditional landscapes. But then again, and here is the conflict, this notion feels limiting, and 'abstraction' by definition should be limitless. Abstraction is a very abstract concept… naturally the most abstract of all concepts :)

All art is abstract. A painting of a person or a still-life is a two-dimensional representation of three-dimensional reality and therefore infinitely abstract.
— Jerry Saltz
'In a Heartbeat' 140cm x 120cm, Acrylic on canvas. 2014

'In a Heartbeat' 140cm x 120cm, Acrylic on canvas. 2014

Let’s take the example of my most recent piece ‘In a Heartbeat’ (above). I caught myself saying this is the most abstract piece I’ve ever painted. But why? Because it plainly fits the criteria. It “uses a visual language of shape, form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world.” But then a friend and fellow artist visited the barn and said “It’s like you’ve painted living tissue. I can almost feel it beating off the canvas”. This painting is a representation of living tissue… or of ‘life’. For my most abstract painting, it couldn’t be more representational. 

Here’s another example to add to the confusion. In this case of ‘Sticky-rice Landscape’, my most representational work, couldn’t be more abstract. It is fundamentally a painting of clumps of sticky-rice. Yet I spent laborious hours making identical marks in rows of abstract patterns and layers. It was stripped down to the very basic element of white elongated ovals. 

'Sticky-rice  Landscape' 110cm x 80cm, Enamel on canvas. 2012

'Sticky-rice Landscape' 110cm x 80cm, Enamel on canvas. 2012

So, it seems abstraction and representation, although antonyms, seem to coexist. But it's more. I've come to regard abstraction not as a thing, but a process on a thing... an element in a painting, representational or not, can be put through a process of abstraction to point that it's unrecognisable, and then brought back again, similar but for ever changed. A metaphor that comes to mind, is when you double translate an english phrase. i.e.. write an english phrase into Google translate, translate into another language, then translate it back to English.. you never do get quite the same phrase. So abstraction is not a genre, but a process. 

Abstraction is one of the greatest visionary tools ever invented by human beings to imagine, decipher, and depict the world.
— Jerry Saltz

I think this led to my biggest recent realisation, which in retrospect seems obvious - The abstraction process breeds innovation. 

Take the Sticky-rice example. From this process of stripping down, I formed patterns that I then went on to use in all my other works, including representational works. It was painted in 2012, but I use those same patterns today. Interestingly, it was in the limitation of this piece (working with white elongated ovals), that forced me into abstraction.

And then take ’In a Heartbeat’ - by being utterly free-flowing and forming, non-representational, balanced elements, it was revolutionary (in relation to my own practice), aesthetically, materially and conceptually. This is a very new piece, so I'm unsure of how it will influence any future work, but it was the freedom in painting this piece, it's abstract intention, that has highlighted new directions for future works.

So, I guess, in answer to my question “am I an abstract painter?” the answer is yes, but what’s most important to me as the artist, is not how the end product is categorised, but how it came to be. I am an abstract painter because the process of abstraction is vital - it’s the innovation resulting from the abstraction process that nourishes all other areas of my painting practice, including representation. 

Thank you for reading my rather lengthy, self-indulgent post :) I hope it was of some interest to you... perhaps you can relate? Or maybe you can answer these questions differently. It's a very big topic, I know. 

 

The Nature of Paint

Lately I’ve been somewhat obsessed with my new Instagram account (you may have noticed)… I hadn’t realised how powerful a documentary tool it could be both in framing what I see for people who follow my work, and for me personally as a diary… and like a diary, it helps nut things out and opens new directions. Here is an expansion of recent instagrams, and explanation in relation to my process and what makes me tick.

It may or may not be obvious, but I don’t always paint with brushes. In the process of creating images, I utilise the chemical properties of different paints. Furthermore, I employ nature (to mimic nature): gravity, heat, ice, precipitation, and I put to use the camber and undulations of the ground.

Paint can flow like the water it represents...

(Detail of a work in progress)

(Detail of a work in progress)

Paint can grow like trees and wilt like flowers...

(Base layers of 'Enchanted Swamp')

(Base layers of 'Enchanted Swamp')

Paint can expand and flower...

(In studio experimentation)

(In studio experimentation)

It can combine with other paint products, like algae and fungi which combine reciprocally to form lichen...

(Detail of 'Eco Echo III' - yet to be finished)

(Detail of 'Eco Echo III' - yet to be finished)

Paint can reflect the fractals of micro (cellular) and macro (galactic), just as they reflect each other...

(Segment of 'Catch My Drift') 

(Segment of 'Catch My Drift') 

My process directly relates to my themes and interests, and much of what inspires me is within the act painting itself: what I see in the ‘accidents' created is what appeals to me in nature, and vice-versa, what interests me in nature, I like to find and frame in paint. It’s a symbiotic and circular process, if that makes sense. :)

I hope this was interesting for you, and please leave a comment as I would love to hear your thoughts. I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions about abstraction lately, so that post is coming up. Also, if YOU have an arts related blog, feel free to post a link for me to visit and see what you’re up to. Ciao for now, and thanks for visiting. :)

(Oh, and you can find me on Instagram by clicking the camera icon below right).