When Someone 'Gets' Me....
I am not talking about gazing deep into the eyes of a soulmate. I am talking about when I sell a piece I almost didn't offer for sale....
What do I mean? Sometimes a piece is just a little too weird. Crazy colors, a mundane subject, too abstract, it was too easy. The last one is a big one. I am pretty sure I am not alone when I doubt the value of a piece if it just kind of fell off the brush. Those magic moments when a painting “paints itself”. So cliché but so true. How can I defend such a ridiculous statement? Simple, I have tried to recreate some of these – and I CAN NOT. There was magic and alchemy involved.
But I should really trust the magic. I give up trying to guess what people will like and even more what people will buy. More than a few times people have latched on to a piece I almost didn't bother to bring! Maybe they watch as I flipped through paintings still in the box, or I decide to hang it 'just for me'. They ask to have a closer look. Then it reminds them of something or someplace, and it's sold.
Don't get me wrong I always like the piece, or it truly would have gone in the garbage. If I kept all my failed attempts I would run out of room for the new stuff. It's just a surprise and exciting that someone sees it the way I do.
The bottom line – someone got it. They saw the gem that it is. The one-of-a-kindness, the flow of the pigment, the magic that happened to create this very special piece. Or maybe it just matched their sofa. Either way, a piece of my heart is on its way to a new home.
Here are a few examples of beautiful misfits that found loving homes:
Lollipop Trees and Other Disasters
I am a teaching artist, so I see my share of beginner mistakes. Knowing better and doing better are not the same thing, so I am not above executing my own cliches and faux pas. This week I am featuring – the lollipop tree. Yes, this is my painting... No, I did not do it on purpose so I could write about it.
Sometimes my hand seems to have a mind of its own. We are prone to making the kind of mark we are used to making. Habits are hard to break. Did you ever get a new hair style and within a week it looks the same that it always did? We revert back to old ways pretty quickly.
What do you keep doing that you wish you could stop?
If you are trying to do something different, good for you. Don't be too hard on yourself. We seem to think that learning is for children. Or perhaps learning and making mistakes to be more exact. I promise this is not the case. Professional athletes practice, professional musicians practice. Everyone wanting to improve must practice and thereby somethings fall short. Balls are fumbled, notes are missed, voices crack. It truly happens to everyone, so get yourself a lollipop and go ahead and paint another tree.
This Saturday you can find me at The Allegheny Fire Police Craft Show at 27 Crescent Street, Pittsburgh PA 15223 (Etna Ball field) for 10:00 – 3:00 If you are there, please stop by to say Hello.
When you Hit a Plateau
An artist's journey is just like life - learning, practicing, playing, improving working. And just like life, sometimes we feel like we are going backwards, sliding downhill, loosing grip on what you used to do well, what used to feel good and come more naturally.
I have a theory about this. As you learn and seek to be a better artist, you are trying to incorporate more knowledge, more techniques, more possibilities. Or maybe you are trying to correct a 'bad' habit. I say 'bad' because this is art, not chemistry. Nothing is going to explode if you mix the wrong thing. Still maybe you realize something you do is hindering something else you would LIKE to do.
So now you are ready to create with new perimeters swimming around in your brain. The times you try to do something new you are likely to 'see' the TRY. It might look forced, overworked or just plan wrong. Don't despair, remember you are trying to learn something new – good for you.
I like to draw an analogy to watching my daughter play soccer. In the young years I called it the 'swarm of bees' technique. Every kid on the field is following that ball trying to get a foot on it. This is an important learning stage. They are practicing kicking, dribbling, and if you are really lucky - passing. My girl followed that ball with the kind of killer instinct that can not be taught!
Then they had to start playing positions. Suddenly, she was so focused that some of the joy came out of it. She looked awkward and slow and far too reserved. But she was learning. She had new rules she was trying to incorporate. That takes a lot of focus.
Eventually, she got it. The new perimeters became the second, second nature. And she looked good out there again. And most of all – she enjoyed it again.
So push through those tough patches. Don't give up on trying to improve – you can do it. It just takes practice. Practice until it becomes the second, second nature. Enjoy that phase. Celebrate by painting and painting and painting. Then try to improve again..
This Saturday "Invasive ll" will debut in North Hills Art Center's show, 'Art of the Earth'. This piece is 24 x 18, it is fragmented into 6 pieces - 3 up, 3 down. It is pictured in my backyard among its inspiration. Yep - I have bamboo in my backyard, yep - it's invasive. Trust me, buy the painting, do not plant your own bamboo. In my defense, the bamboo lived here before I did. I just try to keep it at bay, it's not easy.
All sales from the "Art of the Earth" show benefit Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve, and the artist. I wanted to submit 'Invasive ll' for this event, because Beechwood Farms works hard to educate the public about the danger of invasive species. My kids and I spend a lot of time at Beechwood. We even enjoyed visiting the goats hired to clean up some invasive plants a couple of years ago.
'Invasive ll' is mounted on reclaimed elections signs (see pervious posts to learn more) making it truly Art of the Earth.
I will have 2 other works in the show too - 'The Thaw' and 'Seagulls at Dusk'. These paintings are also mounted on reclaimed election signs.
I am one of 70 artists on exhibit in this show of 153 pieces - That's a LOT of Earth love.
One more note - A free ASWP Household membership ($50.00 value) is included with the purchase of any artwork from this show, courtesy of the Audubon Society of Western PA.
Putting it All Together
Paintings successfully displayed unframed – check. Fragmented design successfully executed – check. Now I'll circle back to wanting to have an Eco-friendly presentation. Next step – fragmented design on election signs. I did it!
Introducing - The Thaw. This monstrous piece is 38.5 inches tall by 21.5 inches wide. There are three levels of panels. The plastic signs have unfinished edges, so I wrap all the edges with artist's tape before I affix the painting to the substrate. I also cut the substrate slightly smaller than the painting, ensuring that you can't see the plastic peeking out from under the painting.
Below are some photos. The final photo is of the back of the artwork. It is wired and ready to hang and given its large size - remarkably light weight. The second to last photo is under direct light, so you can more easily see the layers.
Learn even more about The Thaw here.
Blazing the Trail, part 2
Once I learned I could safely display watercolor unframed, I wanted to revisit the 'fragmented' idea. I had a full sheet watercolor painting that was part of the Imagined Woods Series. I decided to give it a try. This time the painting would be on wooden panels rather than in rickety frames, I could use wood glue and screws, rather than fairy dust and good intentions (first version).
I loved it, and I learned so much. In the future, I needed to think about how the piece would balance. If I want it to be displayed at a gallery, it must hang straight from just one hook. This one worked out, but I realized that it could have been an issue.
This piece debuted at Ruckus Coffee Gallery, in Shaler. They were newly opened, and I was honored to be their very first artist to display in their cafe gallery. The piece did not sell while on display, but a man got in touch with me hoping I still had it so it could Christmas gift for his wife. They had seen it at the cafe, and she really liked it.
Success! People liked the fragmented painting.
The next question on my mind was - what would it look like to plan a painting with the intention of fragmenting it?
Blazing the Trail
I am a teaching artist and often students will ask, “Can I do this?” Sometimes the answer is, yes, but the answer is rarely no. More often it is an admission that I have not tried that. Sometimes it is, “It did not work for me, but it might work for you.” Who knows what is possible? I tell students all the time that no one ever invented something new by waiting for someone else to tell them how to do it.
Art does not always offer definitive answers. This isn't chemistry, nothing is going to explode. Given that freedom – try it!
Applying this spirit to my own work:
Years ago, I had the idea to create fragmented or fractured works. I had seen this done with mass produced pieces, but never with watercolor. This was also when I thought the only thing to do with watercolor was to frame it. If you are new to my blog, take a look at my original post - “Why I hated the medium I Love”, posted on 1/25/22 and subsequent posts to learn about my process.
Here is my very first effort for this project. Circa 2015!
I don't mind how it looks. You can see early hints of the Imagined Woods Series. However, I used Ikea frames and my own ingenuity to put them together; consequently, it quickly fell apart! Lol.
Fear not, more sophisticated (and sturdier) versions were on the horizon, I just didn't know it yet.
The Hazards of Scaling Up
I look at a 7.5” X 5.5” painting that was pure magic. I was playing (one of watercolor's most valuable learning tools) with 2 new pigments. I would love to do this again – but big, really really big. Like, as big as the table big. What could go wrong???
Nearly everything. But we can give a go, right? First let's trouble shoot.
The second try was better. However, the original was light and airy, the second try was too contained. The edges all curled in on each other. The bright spot, literally, was the addition of a Pearl EX pigment to the sepia. I loved the sparkle and that lead to other experiments and more play. You'll see where this lead in a future post.
A Community Collaboration
aI am excited to be part of Second Harvest's Thriftaversary! One year ago, they opened their doors to become a clean, beautiful and high-quality thrift store. I love to shop for second-hand for many reasons, but I am actually pretty picky about where I spend my precious time. I love shopping at Second Harvest. I believe in their mission, I find lots of great stuff there and it is neat and organized.
So here is the collaboration. They delivered some less than glamorous furniture pieces. I got to refinish them any way I wanted. My partner in this adventure was, local art hero, Nanci Goldberg, FCASD art teacher and owner of Ketchup City Creative. The refinished furniture (pictured), will be part of the silent auction at Second Harvest. The auction will be open from March 14 through March 19th. Money raised by the auction will benefit Ketchup City Creative.
The dresser was inspired by my Imagined Woods Series. I began painting the series during quarantine at the beginning of the pandemic. Things were stressful and everyone was home. I wanted to paint, but I just could not sit, concentrate and plan a painting the way I preferred. It was painted now or loose the opportunity.
This urgency forced me to work quickly, so I fell back on a favorite theme – forests and trees. I started with an atmospheric background by dropping color into the sky. I dragged my brush through the paint while it was still wet, to suggest distant trees. After it dried, I added a second layer using a watered down version of the color I would use for the tree trunks in the foreground. Finally, I painted the foreground when the previous layer dried.
I experimented with colors, shapes and sizes. I played with the season and weather conditions. I let my creativity take the reigns, and I love the results. Some of the paintings are dark and foreboding, others are light and hopefully. All of them hint at a distant light – the hope for the future.
I'll have some of my paintings from the series hanging in the store during the week of celebration. You can see the full Imagined Woods Series here.
Hitting the Mother-lode
Back to the drawing board.... The drawing board again was Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse. The bulk section is a wealth of materials and, as the name suggests, there is often a lot of it. This trip I paused in front of the CD bin. Could I affix round paintings to a CD? How would I hang it? I loaded up a bag, on the way home, my mind was churning out ideas. Designs, connecting them to make bigger designs, I was excited to get started.
Paint, cut, affix, drill, varnish, hang... It worked and they were a big hit during the holidays! Here is the direct link to my current inventory in my Gallery/Shop.
Months later I was looking for something that would fit a more traditional rectangular shape. This time I noticed some plastic corrugated lawn signs. Sadly, these were not in the bunk section. But I grabbed a few, so I would have enough for experimenting.
This worked too. How exciting! There was a wealth of signs, especially post-election. So many of them are specific to the person, office and year. They do not have a future use for the candidates. My first round of signs came from history making group - Sharpsburg for All.
Click here to see all the Eco-friendly and ready to hang paintings in my Gallery/Shop.
Melissa Tai is a lifelong creative, nature lover & tree hugger.