Friday, January 28, 2011

The battle

A fuzzy distraction named Pono
 The sun wakes me up - that and a dog, breathing stinky breath in my face.  The minute I open my eyes, his tail starts to wag.  I climb out of bed.  One of the first thoughts is about upcoming exhibits, and the art in progress in my studio.  Caffeine comes first, then a walk or run with the dog.  Feed the dog, feed myself.  I wander into the studio as I wait for hot water to boil for tea.  I NEED to paint today.  The dishes must be washed.  The bed gets made.  I shower and dress, brush my teeth and floss.  Then, I realize that there are emails to be answered.  The gallery needs an image of one of the new paintings.  I have to confirm dinner plans.  I boot up the computer, feeling itchy as the hours pass.  I am still not painting.  I finish the work on the computer and go into the studio.  The dog needs to go outside.  I take him out.  I go back into the studio and pick up a brush.  The phone rings.  I set the brush down.  I finish the phone conversation, and pick the brush up again.  I study the painting on the easel.  The music playing is bothering me.  I set the brush down and search for the perfect music.  (There has to be music in our collection that will help me paint.)  I find something and push "play."  I pick the brush up again.  I mix paint.  I don't know what to do with the painting on the easel.  I take it off the easel.  I put another one up on the easel.  I sit down, studying this new painting.  I don't know what to do with this one either.  I take it off the easel.  Now I am getting irritated with myself.  I put the first one back up on the easel.  I mix more paint.  I decide to draw for a while.  That will most certainly help!  I sit at my desk, open the sketchbook and draw.  That helps.  I stand up, pick up the brush AGAIN, and decide it's now or never.  I make a mark.  I make another.  The music ends.  I have to find more music.  I set the brush down.  I play with the stereo.  I pick the brush up yet again.  Where was I?  I look at the painting.  I make a mark.  The painting is getting worse.  I set the brush down and go into the kitchen.  Pour more tea.  Eat a cookie.  I wander into the bedroom and realize the laundry is spilling over the top of the basket.  I could start laundry.  No, I need to go BACK IN TO THE STUDIO.  This is getting painful now.  I pick up the damn brush one more time and decide it doesn't matter, I just need to paint.  Ugly painting or no.  I make a mark, then another....  

At last.  I am working. 

Joshua Tree, morning.  Charcoal on paper, 7 x 5 inches.  ©kswenson2011
Have a fantastic weekend, you crazy cats!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A thousand words

After the Rain, oil on canvas.  12 x 9 inches.  ©kswenson2011

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sketches and drawings

I have several sketchbooks.  A big one, for use in the studio.  A REALLY big one, for life drawing sessions.  A small one, that I swore I would only use for drawings done out of my head.  Another small one, for travel, and for my haiku poems.  I think I have one or two others, each with its own purpose.  This excessiveness is because I am always trying to get myself to draw more.  I think there is a difference between a drawing and a sketch.  A sketch is quick, done to capture as much information as possible in a short amount of time.  It is not something you would necessarily use an eraser on.  It is loose and full of energy.  A drawing is something where you are trying to work out problems - whether they be composition problems, proportion, or a value study.  I usually spend more time on a drawing, and some of my drawings I consider finished works of art.  But that's just me.  I am sure others have their own definition of the difference between a sketch and a drawing. 

My studio sketchbook is filling up with one-line drawings done to help me loosen up and practice my hand-eye coordination.  Since I have been painting rabbits, many of the pages are filled with little rabbits.
These one-liners are done quickly, with a ball point pen.  I do not lift my pen, and I try to spend more time looking at the rabbit than at my paper.  You can see the distortions that are a result of this approach.  Speed is the key, with these little one line sketches, because I want to stay loose.  I often remind myself to breathe.  My favorite medium for these quick little sketches is a ball point pen.  For drawings, I prefer charcoal, which feels more like paint to me. 

Morning Joshua Tree.  Approx. 4 x 3 inches, charcoal.
The above charcoal study I consider a drawing.  Even though it is small, I worked out the values and composition.   This was not actually done in a sketchbook, but on a small piece of leftover printmaking paper. 

Usually, I safeguard my sketches and drawings.  I think there should be something that I do as an artist that doesn't have to be put on display for the public eye.  That way, I don't feel pressure to produce a beautiful sketch or drawing every time.  For every successful drawing, there are a pile of unsuccessful ones, and those can stay hidden in the sketchbook, or be crumpled and thrown in the trash.  (the REALLY bad ones might even be torn into shreds before I throw them, satisfyingly, in the garbage.)  Every now and again something good comes from all of this scribbling.  I don't mind showing the good ones.   The rest of them will live their lives in secret.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Abstract Art

I have been thinking about my art, and why I paint what I paint.  In particular, I think about why I love to paint abstracts.  I am obsessed with pure abstraction - where there is no reference to recognizable objects in the final painting.  Even though I also paint things I see around me, like in my recent paintings of the Joshua Trees or the rabbits in my backyard, I am most excited by the non-representational paintings I make.  I also find the abstract paintings more challenging.  I am sure many will be surprised to hear me say this.  I think painting a person, in some ways, is easier than painting an abstract.

Imagine painting a person.  (or an apple or a tree.)  You are able to look at the person as you paint, and whenever you get lost with your painting, you simply compare the actual person to your painting.  You can see where you are trying to get.  The person is there, where you can see the color, shapes, weight, etc.  Even if you never perfectly capture the person's likeness, you keep painting and practicing, and you do get closer and closer each time.  There are thousands of books out there about techniques for making your painting of the person look as much like the actual person as possible.  Thousands of artists before you have painted people.  You can take classes from other artists who paint people and learn ways to make your painting even more convincing.   You can take a few photographs of the person, and use them once your model has tired and gone home.  The destination is visible, the path is well-traveled.

The paintings I am obsessed by, where I am not painting a chair, a tree, a person, or some other recognizable object, do not have a clear destination.  I do not start out knowing where I am going.  I don't see a finished painting in my head before I start, nor do I look at something while I paint, to guide me.  I am not traveling a well-worn path.  Sure, there have been many other abstract expressionist painters before me.  I am not trying to make paintings that look like theirs.  I don't really know where I am going, nor do I understand how to get there.  Not only do I find this kind of painting more challenging than a realistic or representational painting, but for me, there is a better relationship between this kind of painting and my own life.

If you had asked me what I thought I would be when I grew up, I would have said "a dancer," or maybe "a gymnast."  I really can't remember what else I wanted to be when I was a child.  If you had asked me where I thought I would live, I may have said, "South Dakota," or "Montana."  Most of the things I imagined my life would be have not happened.  My life has not taken a predictable, well-worn path.  It has not had a clear destination.  I have wandered.  I have gone in unexpected directions.  I have lived in several different states, one of which was an island.  The only thing about my life that has become recognizable is change.  I like the parallel between my crazy, unpredictable life and my crazy, unpredictable art.  I have challenged myself with making paintings that have the serenity and tranquility that I crave as well as making paintings that have the drama of uncertainty.

"Blue Portal."  Oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches.  ©kswenson2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Warm Days

This photo was taken last fall, before the cold weather came.  I see this jackrabbit quite often, with its split left ear.
 A few gloriously warm desert days have produced a spring fever that may have no cure.  I watch the birds, who are already planning their nest under the eaves of our house.  They wake me in the morning with their chirping.  I take Mr. Pono outside and play endless games of "fetch."  (I am not sure it can really be called "fetch" with Pono, because he has his own rules about how to play.)  We go for long walks and runs.  Sometimes, we just go outside together, bask in the sunshine, and look at the desert.  Well, I look at the desert; Pono sniffs things and pants.  (For dogs, sniffing is superior to looking.)  I have been dreaming of spring wildflowers and hot summer days.  The inevitable desert wind will soon shatter the haze surrounding me, but for now, I am enjoying every moment.

Don't despair, the lure of the studio is just as irresistible as the warm air outside, and I have been painting.  I am getting new work ready for February.  February 5th is a gallery crawl in downtown Joshua Tree, and I will enjoy the good fortune of having work up in two different galleries that evening!  JTAG will have some exciting new abstract works that are a result of a collaboration between yours truly and Tina Bluefield, a fantastically talented painter and friend.  We have painted 14 paintings together, with each of us working on every painting.  The collaboration has been so fun, and I have learned so much, seeing how another artist works.  I can't wait for these paintings to be hanging on the walls of a gallery.  I will also have some of my paintings of the desert hanging at True World Gallery, including this new cottontail painting: 
"Hot summer's Day."  Oil on canvas, 8 x 10 inches.  ©k.swenson2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Happy New Year!

Here it is, eleven days into the New Year, and already I feel like I am running to catch up.  I couldn't find refill pages for my day timer at any local stores, so I ended up ordering them online.  I am still waiting for them to arrive.  (This is one disadvantage to living in a small town.)  I have been working on my goals for 2011 for about a month, and I still haven't entirely resolved them.  I have three exhibitions coming up in the next two months, and I haven't finished the paintings for them yet.  I also have a ton of work to do on this blog, my website, etc.  Yikes!  But M leaves for Thailand tomorrow night, and then I will be glad for all of these busy tasks to take my mind off of the empty house.  I know I will catch up soon.  I always seem to pull it off, magically, somehow. 

I have had the urge to paint large, and here is the first one of the large paintings:
"Beginnings."  Oil on canvas, 48 x 48 inches.  ©kswenson2010
What projects or goals are you going to pursue this year?