Saturday, April 26, 2014

Meet Susan!

We present the second installment in our "Meet the Artist" series. Each week, we take a few moments to shine the spotlight on one of our own, learning about what inspires us, our favorite colors and subjects ... or just some fun facts about us.

Today, it's all about Susan. Like Ken last week, Susan's known for her fearless love of color. She is also known for her prolific output. She's only been painting for 6 years, but the number of paintings she brought in to share surpassed some of us who have been  painting three times as long! Think we're kidding? Just look! She started by hanging some of her 18"x 24" paintings on the wall...

... and quickly ran out of space, so she started filling the tables.

... and even stacking them in piles when she ran out of table space, as you can see above!

Let's get started with Susan's history. Over 20 years ago, she dabbled in oil painting, but found the slow process and long drying time didn't appeal to her. She just hadn't found the right medium. In 2004, she was visiting Venice and got the urge to paint the watercolor! Her journey had begun.... in more ways than one. The Venice trip was one of a series of annual trips she takes with her sorority sisters. Two years later, in Mexico, a cruise ship painting instructor got her even more interested in watercolor. And two years later, she enrolled in our class—and the rest is truly history!

She started with the same exercises we all do, learning color theory and developing technique. But then she was off and running, painting anything and everything that caught her eye. Her earliest paintings showed a love of pattern that was influenced by Gustav Klimt, combined with a love of story. This can be clearly seen in Bamboo Forest below, one of her earliest milestones.

Her next breakthrough came when she discovered plein air painting on a beach in the Philippines. The speed and immediacy suited her perfectly and Baloy Beach (below) was only the first of many plein air paintings she's become known for.

Since then, she's documented a variety of subjects ranging from her neighborhood, Chicago monuments like the Bean, all the way to exotic vacation locations like Egypt, China and the Philippines. Yes, the same sorority sister vacations that brought her to watercolor now provide her with subject matter.

But most of all, Susan paints stories. Her art tells what's happening in her world....the first snow of the season, the Blackhawks parade, dance ceremonies at Daley Plaza, anniversary flowers and first's all fair game.

Which brings us to what she's working on this year, based on a trip to the Philippines.

And what does she do with all her paintings? Well, she exhibits some. Besides our Chicago Artists Month show, she's been in other group shows—at  the Philippine consulate, the Skokie library and the Daley Center/City Hall pedway. She's sold paintings and even raffled some off at a birthday party (lucky Sara won a lovely floral).

But there are plenty more, as you can see. And rather than leave them in shopping bags at the back of her closet (we won't mention names!), Susan believes in seeing, using and enjoying her art every day. She's repurposed her paintings onto mugs, trivets, even vinyl tarpaulins, like her Great Wall of China below....

... but mostly, she makes her series of paintings into calendars. You can see some of her 13 volumes spread out below (yes, we know she's only been painting for 6 years....she has several calendars for some years).

They revolve on themes like her trip to China....

...and Egypt (notice the preliminary sketches? Very cool!)...

...and her most recent featuring a year of Pat traveling the world in all her sartorial splendor.

And we, her classmates, are lucky enough to have received her calendars in recent years. How cool is that?

To summarize Susan, looking back at her body of work, we've noticed

  • Her favorite subjects may vary, but they are all things that are happening to her in the moment. Looking at her paintings in chronological order is like a visual diary. But what they all have in common is a strong sense of story. Her paintings are about people and life and something's always happening.
  • Susan's all about color! She has two large palettes with the bright vivid colors she loves—one basic and one advanced. Oh, and all the colors are clearly labeled. It's the accountant in her! Susan is also a big fan of complementary colors. Look at her paintings—if she uses a red, you can bet it's tempered by a green.
  • Susan's style is very painterly. She doesn't go back and fine tune; she's not one for endless subtle washes. Maybe it's the plein air background or maybe it's the accountant background. Regardless, she paints fast and makes each brushstroke count. 
  • As for size, Susan is flexible. She favors 18" x 24" and 9" x 12" paintings, but she's also been known to paint small postcards all the way to wide panoramic banners.
  • Finally, Susan paints in series. Whether it's her latest vacation or Pat's latest outfits, she typically explores her subject in a series of 12 or more paintings....and then she makes a calendar!
We had a great time looking back over Susan's career. In six short years, we see a considerable body of work by a consummate storyteller. She's definitely progressed over time, but you can instantly identify her paintings as her own. Makes us eager to see more.

And come back next week to meet another one of us!

April 26, 2014

Easter break is over and we're glad to be back! We're excited about so many things—spring, sunshine and Susan. Yes, today is another "meet the artist" day and today's artist is Susan. Like Ken, she brought in a stack of paintings—more than enough for a separate post. So that's what we'll do. Relax and enjoy our paintings of today and then tune in again tomorrow for a chance to Meet Susan.  It'll be well worth the trip (especially since it's virtual)!

But for now, our paintings. As usual, we seem to have painted to a theme (or themes). There's lots of green, color and exuberance—along with some incongruous pairings. And we start and end with orchids. First up, Mark pairs an orchid with the Bulls logo and finds an odd but wonderful synergy. We're all hoping he revisits this one and explores it further.

Meanwhile, Sara adds a background of buildings to her chorus line of trees and changes the whole feel of the painting....but manages to keep the wonderful exuberance. Isn't this the very essence of spring?

Meanwhile, Ken captures that same exuberance in his cityscape. Maybe it's the spring green, maybe the lively patterning, but these buildings just say "spring in the city."

And Abla continues with the greenery, but she paints a domestic rubber plant.

And now that we've put some distance between us and winter (no matter how small that is) we can join Vivian's cat in admiring her green wreath against the first snow of the season. Looks like someone has her 2014 Christmas card finished about organized!

But enough snow...back to tropical climates. Don't you just love the textures in Steve's merman painting—the water, the sky and the distant rocks? Makes us eager to see what texture he's got in mind for the scales and tailfins.

Susan (our artist of the day....remember, come back tomorrow to learn more about her) takes us to a market full of life and color.

....while Elaine uses equally lively colors to add life to ancient Roman heads.

Another "oldie but goodie" is the upside down drawing exercise. Here are two you'll probably recognize if you're at all familiar with Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

And we finish where we started....with an orchid. This is just the preliminary sketch, but we love the composition and look forward to seeing the color go in.

Artist of the day. We had books today...about Symbolism, Lee Bontecou and the great urban migration. But no one had a chance to read any of them; we were so busy learning about Susan (and painting our own masterpieces, of course). Maybe next time....

Getting to know Susan! You recognize her paintings when you see them in our lineups. They stand out for their bright and lively color—even among all the other brightly colored offerings. Yes, we're continuing our series by featuring Susan. It's your chance to get to know her a little better. Learn about her inspirations, her color choices and her favorite subjects. Come back tomorrow to look at Susan and her history as a painter.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Meet Ken!

Today, we begin the first installment of our latest series. Today's all about Ken—and there was so much good content that we had to do a separate post! As we promised, you'll get to know each of us a little better, one by one. Each week, we'll take a few minutes to learn what inspires us, why we paint what we do, our history....or just some fun facts.

Today, we feature Ken as our first artist. This seemed right, as he's our longest-running artist, having painted for about 20 years. He's an award-winning artist with several solo shows under his belt. Faithful blog readers recognize his distinctive, colorful style. Perhaps you're wondering how he developed that style.

Well, that's exactly what he discussed in today's short talk—and what we're going to share with you now. Ken brought props, too—a small selection of paintings from about 2005 to date. So, while we're not looking at the full history of Ken, it was a great retrospective.

We begin with one of Ken's favorite subjects....his cat(s). During a time in his life where he was very busy, he selected a photo of something he knew well (his cat) and did a series of about 12 paintings exploring Annie in technicolor.

Then Ken developed an interest in portraits, but felt he didn't know how to paint faces. To teach himself, he did a series of paintings based on photos by Julia Cameron.

Having mastered portraits, Ken got the gardening bug. Despite prior protestations that he had no interest in painting flowers, he was enamored of his morning glories and tomato plants and—you guessed it—another series ensued.

Winter came....the morning glories died...and Ken revisited his cat paintings. Only this time, he went more abstract, zooming in on the cat's eyes.

Shortly after that series, Ken combined his interest in printmaking with his paintings. Moving closer to abstraction, he overlaid a grid of linoleum stamps over cats...

...and then, over women.

In a logical next step, Ken kept the stamps and returned to his tomato plants. This time though, he emphasized the grids and patterning and integrated the two elements...

...followed by a "crazy cats" series which featured rich, densely patterned cats.

Ever fascinated by abstraction, Ken's next step was to eliminate any realistic subject and concentrate on the paint itself...the composition and colors, how they filled the page, how they blended and moved and flowed...

...culminating in a painting where Ken kept working and working, documenting each step. This painting took 7 whole weeks to paint (and became notorious as a weekly subject of conversation). Notice the complementary colors? This has always been a hallmark of Ken's approach to color.

Having taken this series as far as he could (or cared to), Ken returned to a subject dear to his heart....his cats. This time, he had new models, Buddy and Sweetie, and he painted them in an abstract style that emphasized their relationship. At the same time, he rekindled his love of pattern, particularly stripes, as you can see in the background.

In fact, he was so interested in stripes, he returned to totally abstract paintings featuring just stripes. And it was around this time that Ken began to explore earth colors like ochres, siennas, umbers, and off greens like hookers and sap green. He liked the slightly muted, "dirty" colors he got...different from his previous rainbow palette.

Ken decided the stripes needed more structure, so he confined them to shapes from an old series of trolleys (abstracted, of course)....

 ...and then to shapes on a grid (with the stripes themselves creating the grid, in some cases)....

 All this culminated in a series inspired by Rothko. It started out very structured....

...and progressed to a much looser exploration of color blocks, like his famous wavy bacon painting.

Notice that Ken's still not over his fascination with stripes. They've become finer and subtler in this series where he revisits one of his favorite models.

And even when he tries something completely different....landscapes....Ken can't escape the stripes.

His next series is about urban, rather than rural, landscapes, featuring views from his window. (But he still sees his world with stripes.)

All of which brings us to his current urban landscapes, part of the same series, but incorporating patterns beyond stripes.

So what have we learned about Ken? Some things that are evident when looking at his entire body of work are:
  • Ken has several subjects he loves (cats, trains, women, trolleys and stripes). He returns to them again and again, approaching them from a different viewpoint each time. As a result, they are always fresh and different.
  • He limits his variables in other ways besides subject matter. Notice that he regularly paints on the same size and type of paper and he has a palette of colors unique to him. Only when he knew them well did he branch out to test new colors—one at a time, but in families.
  • Notice, too, that Ken paints in series. He gets an idea and develops it in a series of about 8-12 paintings....and then he moves on. As things change in his life or he gets new inspirations, he incorporates that into his paintings. Change, but with a common thread.
Whew! Wasn't that an interesting journey? All these paintings are uniquely Ken, but you can see how he's progressed over time. Makes us eager to see what's next. And it builds anticipation for the artists to follow (although Ken certainly has set a high bar for the rest of us!).

Keep watching this space to meet us all.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

April 12, 2014

We are looking to reach 70 degrees today, so it's officially least until the cold front moves in on Monday. But until then,we're opening our jackets and breathing the fresh spring air. Even mother nature is celebrating, sending up shoots and early blooms. We even saw a daffodil today!

Is it any wonder we feel compelled to bring out the light, happy colors and paint nature? From Sara's chorus line of dancing trees...

through Abla's lovely single bloom...

and Vivian's glowing sunrise, we are all about the beauty of nature.

And, like Spring, we're all about new beginnings. First, an exuberant color wheel. Like all of us who have gone before him, Hector's learning all kinds of things about colors....their relationships, strengths, weaknesses and more. And creating beauty in the process....

But just because you're no longer a beginner, that doesn't mean the learning and experimenting stop. Here, Steve mixes colors to find the perfect color for his mountains and lava rocks....not too plum, not too green, just warm and earthy enough.

I know we promised you'd see sea or sky last week, but Steve fooled us all and went with the mountains and rock. It's also a chance for him to experiment with a new medium (granulating medium) and try a technique new to many of us—salt. Notice the texture in the foreground? It's kosher salt sprinkled onto freshly applied paint. Once it's bone dry, he'll brush it away, revealing a pattern of starlike texture. Keep watching.

Elaine's experimenting, too—with Yupo. It's a type of paper and, like many of us, she has a love/hate relationship. Yupo is actually plastic, not paper. It's super slick (like hot press paper on steroids) and the paint behaves very differently. It moves and runs and sits on the surface; it dries slowly and doesn't blend or absorb the way it does on paper. There's no glazing or layering with Yupo—every stroke has to count. It's a great way to develop deliberate, thoughful brushwork. (Maybe that's why Elaine's doing statues; the paint moves so much, she appreciates that statues don't.)

John's experimenting with his story, too. He's not sure where it's going yet, so we just have to wait and see. Although, the woman seems to be exhibiting some level of angst or despair...

We're also thinking of places far and near. Mohammed's Dome is gleaming ever more brightly as he adds the blue complement.

Susan's still exploring tourist sites in the Philippines...a system of caves accessible by boat and Vigan, an old Spanish-style village. 

And Ken? He's fascinated by the world just outside his window.

Getting to know Ken! If you love the last two paintings, you'll be excited to learn that we're finally starting the series we promised. One by one, you'll get to know each of us a little better. Learn what inspires us, why we paint what we do, our history....or just some fun facts. Ken's the first artist up. Most appropriate, as he's been painting for about 20 years and has quite a history. He's an award-winning artist and has set the bar quite high for the rest of us today. His short talk was so full of content, it deserves a post all to tune in tomorrow to learn more about Ken and his incredible journey to the last two paintings above.

We're off next week, but we'll see you in two weeks, on April 26. And, of course, look for the Ken post tomorrow (or within a day or two, anyway). We know you want to learn all about him—believe us, it'll be worth the visit! Meanwhile, here's hoping the Easter bunny treats you well.