HollyDeanArtist: Often Medieval in Mood: Medieval in Mood Swings

Friday, July 09, 2010

Medieval in Mood Swings

It's hot. Too hot to work. Too hot to eat. Too hot to sleep. Time to write down this chaos that spins around in my head... maybe I will make some sense of it.

I've been working on a commission piece, a fairly large painting with a medieval feel to it. I should take the opportunity here to explain what I mean by that. When I say "medieval feel" or "medieval in mood" I always mean in the romantic sense... not in the unwashed, toothless and plague-ridden sense. Well... obviously.

Anyway, back to my story. Normally I feel stifled when I am asked to do a commission. I find out what the parameters are and abruptly proceed to build myself into a box that I can't think outside of. This is completely my own doing and it certainly makes the going tough while trying to be creative. Luckily for me, the collector who commissioned this piece loves my work and gave me very simple input, trusting me to create a "Holly Dean". She already owns more than one of my paintings and I am thrilled that she wants another. To quote other artist friends who find out I am doing a commission piece, "Oooooo, nice!" As artists we are all impressed when a painting is sold before we even start. It makes for a pleasant change.

 a sneak peak by way of a detail photo - there is lots more to see at the end of this blog

To make a start on this piece, a road trip to Wallack's to buy a 30 inch square canvas was in order. This is our "local" art store near Ottawa which is about 50 minutes from my studio door. Luckily the largish canvas fit in the MINI!

Back in the studio, I chose elements to use as a collage base and adhered them with Golden Soft Gel (Gloss). Some of these would be pushed back under the paint and some would be brought forward as integral images.

Next, I used a wide palette knife to cover the canvas with acrylic molding paste, creating luscious texture. I have been known to use a cooking spatula for this task - whatever works. I covered some areas of the collage elements with the molding paste, deciding on the fly which elements would be important and which less important. I also pushed pieces of wrapping tissue into the paste and stamped into it for other areas of interest. This then needed a day or so to fully dry, so I had plenty of time to him and haw over what colour(s) would be put down first.

I must mention here that creating a piece of art is hard work. Ultimately rewarding (if all goes well) but difficult at every step of the way. It really is one extremely long list of choices. And for me anyway, a balancing act. Textured and smooth surfaces - light and dark areas - organic and geometric shapes and lines - opaque and transparent paints - collaged text and calligraphic words - chaos and order. I blame my being born under the sign of Libra. Yeah, that's it.

Other than decisions based on "opposites", there are plenty of other choices to make. Including what paint colours to use. My client wanted earth tones and metallic embellishments. These colours fall within my usual palette range, so no problem. Except, "Careful, it's getting too green" and "Now it's too brown" and "What about some red - is that an earth colour?" "What about some naples yellow or pyrrole orange?" These are a tiny sampling of the questions that need an answer in order to move ahead. To create. It's painful. Each decision is a "best guess", based on experience or intuition or knowledge or just exasperation. Of course, at any stage the outcome can be changed by altering elements or paint or composition. That is the beauty of mixed media. This evolution of a piece is just as important as the final result. There are layers of archeological choices - some are apparent, some not, but they all have an impact on the piece of art. They create depth and a sense of mystery, even history. Knowing that you have the power to change almost anything until you are satisfied isn't necessarily always a good thing. There comes a time when you have to say, "Get off the teeter-totter and make this work!"

I inched forward with mind-numbing slowness as I puzzled out how to make all the elements work together, which paint went where, which elements to cover up (even though I loved them individually), which to add and where to add them. There were times when I thought, "This just isn't going to work". And other times when I felt, "I love this!" What I probably didn't do enough of was to walk away and stop spending hours trying to figure out one problem. After a particularly frustrating afternoon and evening, I went to bed thinking that I should just paint over the whole thing and start again. Or get a new canvas. Waa, waa, waa! I thought and dreamt about the piece all night long (or so it felt). "What? Can't I get a break from this?" A possible solution did come to me in the night however, so it was worth all the "night turmoil". My right brain finally had a chance to speak up. This is a common experience for my father who often goes to bed with a problem and wakes up with a solution. I had always thought, "Bully for him!" and now it had happened to me. I liked it.

Of course, the first thing I did that morning was to sit down and read. No, I didn't go straight into the studio to see if the solution would work. That would be brave. I picked up Michael deMeng's new book "Dusty Diablos - Folklore, Iconography, Assemblage, Olé", took out my bookmark and picked up where I had left off. I started to read the process of how he had made his "Taxicab Shrine". He talked about how the frustrating part of making art is making a commitment. How he sees the process as a pendulum that swings back and forth, making him want to throw the piece of art out the window with each swing. Serendipity doo dah! I'm not alone in this art-making process! Now I felt braver - part of a tribe. By the way, if you haven't read one of Michael's books, do yourself a favour. He is a wonderful story teller with a wicked sense of humour. And he shows how to do lots of cool stuff. And if you haven't seen his art, well what are you waiting for? Check him out at his new fantabulous web site and his blog. You won't be disappointed.

I have reached a stage where I really, really like this piece of art. In fact I am quite in love with it. Not far to go now and it will be complete. Just the calligraphic words and some paint additions here and there including the metallic embellishments. It has seen quite a bit of the "see-saw"  or pendulum factor. More than most. However, I do recall other pieces that had me in the same state as I worked them through. It's funny - they always seem to be my most favourite creations in the end. So is it worth the struggle? As Buffy might say, "A world of YES!" That's what being an artist is and I wouldn't want to be anything else.

All right. It's time to move away from the cool fan and grab a snack. Hmmm... what will I have -  something salty or sweet? Oh, just shoot me now. A water gun would be nice.

Here are those promised photos:

collage elements, molding paste and the first of the colour. Off to a good start.

more colour. I'm liking this.

lots more colour, starting to bring out feature elements. where do I go from here?
maybe it will come to me in a dream. it had better!

starting to come together at last - adding archeological layers of paint,
geometric and organic line, pushing back elements for balance,
introducing a new layer of collage elements, using colour to enhance others
now we're talking - some patterning, organic vines over the knight,
another collage element for balance. ready for the calligraphy
and metallic embellishments or highlights
Do you have a story to share about making your art? I would love to hear it!


  1. Holly, wow. Just wow.

    A fun read. Thanks for sharing. Oh, and the painting...very lovely.
    Keep it up.



  2. Thanks Jeff! You must be a speed reader ;)

  3. that was a fun read. thanks

  4. Thanks for sharing the creative process and the pictures. The result is worth the struggle and your client is going to be thrilled.

  5. Fascinating read! And I laughed aloud over the "unwashed, toothless, and plague-ridden" comment!



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