Friday, 7 April 2017

Paper Collage by Nancy Standlee

Cupcake by Nancy Standlee
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Pear by Nancy Standlee
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I first did a paper collage for a tourist board client in my advertising agency days. This was in a time before Apple Macs and Adobe Illustrator. I recall my picture having a few boats, a lighthouse, a cliff, land, sea and sky with a few people in a car travelling by road towards a town (I think it was Donaghadee) in the background for a summer holiday. We tore the special coloured art paper so that left an impressive white rough edge and slowly built the landscape up. It was all carefully created and the end result was quite amazing. The client loved it too! I kept the original so it’s in my house somewhere. Check attic!

Many years later the Irish Linen Centre hosted an exhibition of Henri Matisse’s work. The main image used to sell the event was his Blue Nude II, created when he was wheelchair bound and unable to sculpt and paint. He expressed his art with scissors instead and he wasn’t alone. Pablo Picasso got a cut of the action too and well if it’s good enough for these two world famous artists…

I love these cheerful and expressively bold artworks by American artist Nancy Standlee. I will try one of her cupcakes sometime soon. Problem is I need to start collecting/hoarding and then taking scissors to weekend magazines, travel brochures, junk mail and the like instead of dumping them in my green recycle bin! I’ve already started...

For some reason I have hyphenation on in the first paragraph and I can't get rid of it! Annoying! 

Mixed media thoughts

I’ve been going along to SERC ‘Painting for Pleasure’ class for the past six weeks and I still hadn’t found what I was looking for until today when I stumbled across Mike Bernard, a mixed medium artist living in the UK.

I’ve been taking baby steps, looking at gesso and how it might (or might not) work for me. To date my art has always involved me being in control and not stepping outside certain parameters. I have always been faithful to the original scene rather than creating an interesting painting that would express what I think and feel about the scene, the animal or the person portrayed. Well things may be about to change. 

I remember taking part in a debate at the Friday night group I went to last year about what makes a good song. I championed Harry Chapin and his storytelling style but I was made to see that once the story was told, that was it - the morality tale was over. There was no room for ambiguity as Harry had filled in every nuance of the story and left no room for the imagination to come to a different conclusion. Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, Procol Harum’s ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ and Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’ were cited as songs that left you wondering ‘what was that all about?’ I got their drfit and I’m seeing now how it applies to art as well as poetry and other creative life forms.

I am trying to plan out a path now for my mixed media ventures. I want to create a balance between the representational and the more subjective and expressive aspects. Already I have scenes in my head, pictures I have already taken on the North Coast, in St George’s Market and on wet streets.

Mike Bernard mixed media
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I have been looking at YouTube videos, watching Jennifer on ‘The Big Painting Challenge’ and reading online articles  on how I should be approaching mixed media! I'm getting the message! Don’t use small paintbrushes! Use palette knives, lengths of card, small rollers, stippling, impressing, resist techniques – just things that make distinctive marks. I marvelled at a woman who mixed paint on the canvas with her hands and a guy who used a rag to blend and soften and I’m trying to find a path for myself among all these successful artists.

Mike Bernard mixed media
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Aside from three in a previous post I have added several more examples here of Mike Bernard’s work and I know I will never get anywhere close to his brilliance but I’d like to think I might be on the same pitch one day. I look at his paintings and just stare in awe for five minutes and then try to work out his methodology. I look at people who are paper cut outs, twisted tissue paper foregrounds and areas of titanium white that don’t need explanation. He’s using broad areas of colour for his main shapes, with diluted ink, watercolour and acrylic paint and using pens to add lines and details. He’s big on collage, on glueing down newpaper and magazine clippings for background, often to express texture – brickwork on a wall, tiles on a roof or a well worn road. Sometimes the text is relevant to the picture, more often not! I don’t know if he organises his collage to tie in with relevant scenes in his pre-painting sketches – cling film in sea/water areas, a trimmed edge of a newspaper cutting to tie in with a gable wall or crinkled tissue paper for rocks and hills. 

Mike Bernard mixed media
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This is where gesso, PVA (a glue based substance) and matte medium comes into its own. These are going to be my new best friends in the weeks, months, maybe even years to come. They should work well in tandem with my Liquitex acrylic paints and inks. my newly bought rollers, templates and other mark marking objects I am collecting from here, there and everywhere. I am even collecting weekend magazines from newspapers and cutting out useful coloured bits and text galleys.

I think I am good with composition and putting together images with a strong concept and visual appeal. This play on balance and coherence I think will come easy. What might be more worrying is bringing some order into the chaos that a collage brings and some identification of a scene out of the wishy-washiness of an underpainting. I’ll have my work cut out to create a rhythm and a pattern of shapes and colour echoing throughout the work. And then there’s my need to be in control. I have to learn that sometimes the most beautiful things happen when you let go and allow accidents to prosper.

Mike Bernard mixed media
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Speaking to a ‘real’ artist friend about Mike’s work, he saw a problem for me! I always represented true-to-life the colours I saw in my pastel landscapes. I would have to abandon that quest for realism and work with colour in a more contrived way. In short I will also have to cut down on my colour palette. A restrained use of colour can be an effective means of creating harmony and impact in a painting! But what do I know about colour theory? The short answer is zilch! I just might need a knowledge of basic colour principles and an understanding of analogous (new word to me), harmonious and complementary colours. There was a four letter thought ringing in my head. I’m not going back to art college. It’s my party, I’ll break all the rules if need be and I’ll paint all the wrong colours if I want to! My art college bud Geraint would be in stitches hearing me even think like this.

Mike Bernard mixed media
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I probably will work from photographs and you can bet your life I’ll probably sketch it all out beforehand after working up my collage in Photoshop. I’ll be able to clone, add and take away, and work out moods for an autumn yellowy-brown landscape scene or a blue harbour in winter. No point in having a skill if you cannot use it in a different context. I did this with my pastel of Bow Street on a snowy morning last year. The colours in the painting were more exciting and bore little resemblance to the dull morning I actually photographed. Same as my Argory pastel. There was a world of artistic licence used to enliven the result. I have a feeling I will respond in a personal rather than a conventional way. I have been doing it without really being aware of it, but that’s all down to my Photoshop expertise and my intensive preparation beforehand.

How to sex up a boring shot in Photoshop!!!!
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I have no idea what I want to work on. I don’t want to use canvas as I’m restricted to shop sizes and I haven't the time to stretch my own. I'm a busy graphic designer remember! I initially thought correx board with a few layers of primer but it’s maybe too flexible and not got a long shelf life. After reading about artists who work in this field I may use mounting board or if I am daring enough, MDF board, for bigger pieces, prepared with a coating of gesso.

I will slowly find my way. I’ll learn what works for me without getting too bogged down in colour this and colour that and endless experimentation with textures and shapes. I know I have to be patient and respect my learner status at this early stage. The same art friend reminded me of the butterfly. It starts life as a caterpillar, then spins a cocoon and waits for its transformation from slave to Cinderella. It cannot change the order of events not can it speed up the process – it's just the natural order of things. So it is with my transformation. It's waiting in the wings. I just need to be ready for the day and then get on with it. The fluff in the tumble drier can wait!