Flowers II (2020)

I started Flowers II in 2018. I didn’t like how I painted the flowers, initially, so I did some editing. Then, when I was [overwhelmingly] happy with the flowers, I wasn’t sure how to paint the vases. I was a wee bit nervous about getting the colors wrong so I decided to put it off to the side and wait for myself to calm down.

For a brief moment in 2019, I had the idea of painting the vases in monochrome, specifically, with Lipton Tea.

I first made a master copy of the outline of the flowers and vases. I then planned out which parts would have how many layers of tea. The more layers the darker. I used Frog tape to cover the areas that would be lighter than other areas and then removed the Frog tape one set of areas at a time, as I applied more and more washes of tea.

I may have given certain areas a bit too much tea because a part of the surface, at the bottom, has spots. Moreover, with so much tea, the Frog tape let some of the tea seep under the edges so the lines it created weren’t very clean.

I want to say that helped take the pressure off of not “ruining” the work, but I still wasn’t sure how to do what I did for the flowers as I might for the vases.

This last week, I finally said F*** it and stuck to the most obvious choices. (I had to let go of the ambition to go beyond what I was already doing and to just complete what I’ve started.)

I first aimed to make it look like the original, so the only change would’ve been the flowers. But, using watercolor pencils, I couldn’t find the right combination of colors to have the same color scheme. Eventually, I realized I wasn’t thinking about the wash I’d made with the tea. It goes very well with the red of the flowers but it also makes the entire color scheme more somber or “rustic.” (The original Flowers II has no wash so the background is bright white and the color scheme is bright and cheerful.)

Going through so many sketches, I could also see the benefit of having a lighter hand. (It’s more delicate and makes the vases more of a supporting element for the flowers.) I decided to use each color twice, making it either lighter and more transparent or darker and more opaque.

To make it lighter, I applied the pencil lightly over the surface and then wet the brush without dabbing it (much) to give the area a wash, and then dabbed the area dry with a towel. To make it darker, I applied the pencil more heavily. I also wet the brush and then swiped it across a dry towel before applying it to the area.

Once I had an idea of what the colors would be for a single vase, I used the carbon copy I made in 2018 to produce the outlines for a study that included all the vases.

I used the following colors from a set of 72 watercolor pencils by Arteza: Lime Green (a600), Pear Green (a603), Shamrock Green (a605) and Fern Green (a612).

Flowers II (2020) 18″ x 24″ Ink, water color and tea on paper

There’s a small part of me that wants to color in the centers of the flowers on the top row to follow through with what I was doing with the tea. But … It might make the work a little off balance and make me inclined to add a leaf on the left side. Or I may be over thinking it and should just be happy with what I have.

Influences

I was thinking mostly of Joan Miro’s The Poetess and other similar works. But I’ve been browsing Saatchi’s website and, clicking on the subsequent ads that show up in my hotmail account, I discovered Ebru Acar Taralp, who has a style that seems to be very similar to what I’m doing with Flowers II (and Trees). There’s also green composition by Rafa Mateo.

I want to say I’ve seen a couple of other artists making it a part of what they’re doing, but I don’t remember their names. Well, all this to say, It must be a thing.

Salvaging Old Drawings: Fire Balloons

 

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Figure 5c

Like the initial drawing for Solar Flare, the figure above is an old drawing which I want to make use of. I’ve been thinking of creating layers and using sketches as elements in a larger story.

In my sketchbook, the figure fills the page, but it’s like the detail of a larger image. You get a character and not a full vignette, much less a full story.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, Oracle.JPG

The challenge of creating a story for the element goes hand in hand with the challenge of making the new drawing look like everything in it was meant for one drawing. I was looking for something simple and which the figure could naturally support. I randomly thought of fire balloons.

I prepared the paper with tea and created my first layer, which were lines depicting clouds, in the style of old Chinese paintings and painted with coffee.

I then made a carbon copy of the figure with the idea that it would act as a double image: an oracle and a fire balloon on fire.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, sketch (1).JPG

Midway, I thought of titles, but I may have gotten ahead of myself or ahead of the drawing. I thought of “Oracle on fire and there are people watching,” and I let the words guide me, because I couldn’t think of how to complete the drawing and sketched in silhouettes of people on the bottom.

I put it away for a couple of days and when I was ready to paint, I realized it was too much or it felt contrived or it didn’t seem like the drawing was developing organically in that way. (I can’t quite articulate the problem, but people on the bottom was not the right choice.)

So I replaced them with a close up of one of the balloons, which gave me an opportunity to have two elements interact.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons

I knew, even while painting it, there were too many colors or it’s not a unified color scheme, and I definitely need to spend some time developing basic skills in watercolor. However, having completed the drawing, I could look at it critically. I could also look back at the process, which has revealed to me a few things.

Elements

New elements, like the wisps of smoke near the figure’s head and the fire/smoke in the balloon at the forefront of the picture look pretty and I’m already using them effectively as elements in this drawing, so I know I can use them again in other drawings.

They’re simple and can be used as building blocks, unlike the oracle, which seems too complex to use again in the same drawing without it looking like wallpaper or contrived in some way.

Line

In the original drawing, the lines in the bodice of the figure feel like lines from another drawing, so it looks confused.

However, if the bodice is really a balloon and the smoother lines are really fire and smoke, there would naturally be tension between the two elements, and using different lines for each can be seen as supporting this tension.

Story

It’s in the context of the story that this can work. It makes use of the structures that are already there and helps explain them.

There’s also the theme of Man vs Nature, and thus the oracle. Fire balloons are sent to float up into the heavens with the hope of granting wishes, while an oracle is burning. Or is the message too didactic?

The oracle having a girl’s face seems a little too explicit. Maybe I should focus more on the fire and less on the oracle… but the face is what’s pretty about the oracle. … Maybe it’s the hair, which looks too much like hair. Yes.

I’d forgotten the initial drawing had the face as the centerpiece and everything flowed from the figure of the girl, so it looked too much like a girl. It demands your attention and competes with the fire balloon as the center of everything, when it’s not anymore.

Color

I originally had the figure in red, but decided midway that it would be difficult to use it and have an overall unified color scheme, so I added blue to make it purple.

I’m not very good with colors, and it’s something I need to work on in terms of finding what I like. You have to like what you draw in order to gauge whether or not it’s getting better or worse each time you edit the piece.

I tend to approach my work with the idea that Less is More, and for this drawing, as with many others, I want to show off the line. I tend to use the variety of colors (if there is a variety) to help me do this.

Like Flowers II, each color can help a viewer keep an eye on an element while it interacts with another element.

The elements for this drawing are Fire (bodice of the oracle, bottom fire balloon), smoke, fire balloon (intact), fire balloon (not intact) and Oracle. (Some parts double as parts of two elements.)

Technique

Layering two colors of ink looks really cool.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, Edit 1 sketch

So I decided to limit the colors to red and black (Fire vs Smoke vs Fire Balloon) The smoke and fire balloon will both be in varying hues of gray, which suggests the fire balloons, even the ones intact, are floating up like the smoke; they are both the color of ash.

This makes room for the color of the clouds, which are painted with coffee.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, Edit 1, sketch 2

I had considered not having clouds and actually freaked out a little when I added them midway, because they seemed to be overwhelming the figure, but after applying ink to the bottom fire balloon, it all balanced out again. One of those things you don’t know until you try.

Because they are in a different color and are a different style of line, they do not readily interact with the figure and fire balloons, and therefore add another layer or the illusion of depth. They also make the transparency of the ink more noticeable, which underscores the idea of the fire balloons being beautiful and fragile, which creates tension with their being dangerous and their power to wreak havoc on the environment when their thin shells inevitably burn and start fires elsewhere.

WIP

I still have to finish the larger balloon and add and color in a few smaller balloons but the overall idea is there.

 

Materials: Tea

Lately, I’ve been working on developing some basic skills, which when done well, can go unnoticed when looking at a work of art; but if not done well, can be a distraction. I’ve also been trying my hand at using household items.

Specifically, I’ve been practicing the art of preparing paper and using a ballpoint pen as the primary medium, as well as tea as a wash. I’ll start with the tea.

I’ve learned that not all tea is created equally. Below is a picture of  Lipton Tea (left)  and Best Tea, a Taiwan brand that is made from dried whole leaves.

Gaa Wai, tea washes (1)

Lipton Tea photographs very well, because it’s more saturated in color. It would certainly be a great “dupe,” if you like using tea as a wash (I know, so niche) but are on a tight budget.

However, when applying either one, the Best Tea — like the skills of a practiced hand — was not distracting, while Lipton tea was. First, looking at the tea again, we can see that Lipton is opaque, while Best Tea has some transparency.

Gaa Wai, tea washes (2)

Also, because Lipton is darker, it’s easier to leave streaks while applying it as a wash, while Best Tea goes on smooth, whether or not you are skilled at applying washes.

I admit, I need a little more practice, as I initially just slathered on the wash with multiple brushstrokes before moving further on down the paper, as opposed to applying one brushstroke and adding more wash, so that there was always a bit of liquid at the edge of the wash.

There’s a video of Shahzia Sikander applying a tea wash in this way in “Spirituality” on Art 21‘s website. I did this for the Best Tea (bottom right). Again, it’s very subtle, between washes, but you have a lot of more control.

P1010201

Lipton Tea (top, applied 2-4 times), Best Tea (middle left, applied 5-6 times), Best Tea (bottom right, applied 2 times) and a sheet of printing paper (bottom left). There are ranges of 2-4 and 5-6, because when I used multiple brushstrokes, it was like I was applying multiple washes… ?

It doesn’t show up on camera, but when in person, you can see subtle bands of discoloration on the paper with Lipton Tea. Below is another side-by-side comparison but in different lighting. Best Tea is on the left and Lipton is on the right. Both were given the same number of washes, and Lipton of course takes fewer washes to show a difference.

Gaa Wai, tea washes on watercolor paper.JPG

I guess if you want to save time and money and aren’t adamant about having a uniformly applied wash, you should choose Lipton. But I like how subtle Best Tea can be. You have to apply it a few more times, but you have more control over the final outcome.

Next: Materials: Ballpoint Pen