Thursday, April 30, 2009

By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea

Today I feel as though I'm floating along in a sea of choices. I'd love to feel decisive and directional, but my little boat is bouncing to and fro on on waves of ideas and options. Since I've made a commitment to not rush this process and allow the work to ripen slowly, I'm sitting and waiting for that moment of feeling sure about choosing a course, and then I'll grab the oars again.

This is one of the samples that worked out best yesterday. Some experiments didn't work at all. The rich, warm rust and soft brown colors will look good against the golds and greens. The letter forms integrate well into the surface, but still add definition and interest. Tomorrow may be the day I take the leap to start painting this new layer.

This is one language reference in my sketchbook that I considered for this piece. I do like the way the whole body of text forms an interesting shape on the surface and the rich red-rust tones in the rocks.

Here's the reference that keeps drawing me back. These are incised letters on ancient Etruscan pottery fragments that have been pieced back together. I love the shapes, edges, textures -- basically just about everything about it!!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Update and Progress

Because a lot of the coppery color didn't show up when I steamed and washed this fabric out the first time, I applied another layer of texture with several shades of rust.
Hopefully this warm coloration will still be there tomorrow after the piece gets steamed and washed out again. Then, a new layer -- building a layered surface is a slow process!

In between printing and painting, I've been working in my sketchbook, playing with ideas and materials that are new to me. Working with the oil pastels (right hand page) is particularly enjoyable because they can be blended by rubbing. I created a repeating stamp pattern for the page on the left which was fun too.

Monday, April 27, 2009

One Near the Finish Line, One Still Running Laps

If you had been at my studio today, you would have seen me take a very deep breath before I silk screened the final elements on this new work. It took a while to let that breath out! Once I did, ahhhhhhhhhh...

This piece is ready for the addition of stitching. In my imagination, I'm toying with the idea of hand stitches accentuating those lovely rippling horizontal lines in some way.

Completing this one isn't a priority, though , so it's back to the other work that I'm creating (for the Australian exhibition) when I return to my studio tomorrow.

Now I have to consider how best to add the letterforms and cracks on its surface that I envision. Here's one Etruscan letter sample utilizing wax resist, which is looking a bit too clean and crisp to read as ancient. Your opinions are welcome! Tomorrow, more experiments with other techniques.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pecking and Scratching

For two days I felt as though a tornado-like vortex of creative energy had seized me and lifted me into the air. I mixed dyes and colors like a wild woman, working the silk surface on my print table with textural marks and colors. It had sat untouched on the print table for days and suddenly I felt so connected that I barely noticed the passing of time.

The cloth draped to the floor on both ends of the table. I slid it over and back to work on each end.

The details on this piece, before it dried and I could steam and wash it, were enticing and exciting. The concern at this point is what the dyes will look like once the steamed piece dries, since the colors always lighten slightly.

When I completed steaming and washing the first layer and put it up on my design wall to evaluate the progress I was pleased with it, but a bit puzzled by the length. Sorry, my flash keeps washing the full piece out. Why did it seem so long for a 120" piece?? Then I measured it with a tape measure and found out it is 168" long, so I will eventually cut off one of the two ends.

Here's a detail that's a bit more true to the current color and marks and patterning. The surface will evolve as I add more layers, but it's almost exactly what I had envisioned as I was working on it. My inspirations for this piece are ancient Etruscan funerary pot fragments with bits of text incised on their surfaces.

Today I'm doing samples and considering how to get these language marks onto the surface. I've been drawing and painting letterforms with various tools, from sumi brushes to reed pens, knowing that eventually some tool will create marks that convey the spirit of the work.

Here's a detail of another idea I also tried today on my sample cloth -- which is turning into a lovely piece in its own right -- painting on some angled and/or horizontal striations across the long, vertical surface that will suggest fissures or cracks.

Eventually there will be a click and connection and I'll be off and running again, but for now I'll just keep scratching around in the dirt and pecking at possibilities for "what comes next."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


One day up, one day down, so goes the creative life. On Sunday I soared, capturing a much desired interplay between lights and darks, graceful transitions in line and interesting shapes.

On Monday I tried to do some stitching at home, but had a hard time with concentration and my efforts felt flawed; it was one of those "learn what not to do" days. They happen. I do trust that the frustration does lead to new insights and creative resolutions; it just didn't happen yesterday! So today I'll set those pieces aside and return to painting and printing.

Here's another detail that DID excite me on Sunday:

Today I'll return to this piece, create language marks in several of the darkest areas and choose where and how to add more color. I feel like a hound that's caught a scent and is howling to get off the leash!

This experimentation will help me work out the ideas for a piece that I'm creating for an Australian museum art cloth exhibition. It must be 37.5" x 118" when finished. But here it is at the very beginning:

This silk broadcloth, nearly 140", drapes over both ends of my print table. The extra length is for color and pattern sampling. Not much to see here except the size of it! It has a first layer of resist and a very subtle application of a light gray rag rolled pattern. I've mixed some earth-toned dyes in varying hues and depths of shade. Today another layer of pattern -- and color!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Small Works for Open Studio Nights

Letterscape, 11.5" x11.5", by Jeanne Beck, 2009.

$75, includes shipping

I'm altering my studio practice to make time to craft small experimental works that can be priced very reasonably. This one is 11.5" x 11.5", silk broadcloth that's been dyed, discharged, painted, overprinted, foiled and machine stitched. It will be mounted on acid free paper or mat board; I'm still working out how to present and package these.

I'm going to sell a variety of these small works at our Hidden Hungerford First Friday Open Studios. The works will range from $20-75 and I'll put some of them on the blog so non-local people can purchase them.

Of course some of my larger works will be on display as well. Down the road I'll invite guest artists each month to exhibit with me.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Robert Genn's newsletter broaches the subject of dissatisfaction and includes a quote from Thomas Merton;

"Paradoxically, I have found peace because I have always been dissatisfied. My moments of depression and despair turn out to be renewals, new beginnings. If I were to settle down and be satisfied with the surface of life, with its divisions and cliches, it would be time to call in the undertaker. This dissatisfaction which sometimes used to worry me has helped me to move freely and even gaily with the stream of life."

Normally I would claim to happily embrace dissatisfaction as a part of a creatively engaged life. It does propel new investigations and new discoveries; it is part and parcel of the cyclic creative process.

But I've been trying to work out some new ideas on paper using watercolors -- using them to flesh out and develop ideas rather than yards and yards of cloth -- and working with them feels awkward and uncertain. When I look at them after I'm done, I'm totally dissatisfied with the results.

A realization suddenly dawns that I hate to confess. I have no idea what I'm doing!

I, who profess to explore and experiment and applaud artistic practice for the sake of learning, want to pick up my brushes and apply watercolors and inks to paper with the same confidence and skill that I apply paints and dyes. Immediately. Effortlessly.

It's akin to thinking that because I speak English fluently that I should easily and effortlessly be able to speak German.

So,what to do? Give up and stick them away in a drawer? Take classes to learn the basics? Find some good books on the subject? Just keep chipping away, practicing them until the unfamiliar becomes more familiar?

Good suggestions all;I have a variety of options to help me feel more comfortable.

The real issue I'm facing is my attitude. I need to let go of how these practice pieces turn out and just be willing to learn from them. Already I like the way I've been able to partially erase some of the acrylic ink letter forms on the gesso coated paper.

Already I like that I can re-wet a surface and remove color. It's worth sticking with this!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Shou/Last Light of Autumn in the Sky by Itchiku Kubota

When I found out that forty landscape kimonos by Itchiku Kubota were being exhibited at Canton Museum of Art in Ohio, I knew I had to drive there from New York and see them. Yesterday I spent hours with these masterful works, absorbing each detail in an exhibition where happily I was able to lean in and be only inches away from their surfaces. I was able to dwell on each detail of the dyeing, stitched resists and hand embroidery, take notes and absorb the incredible workmanship. I knew I was in the presence of a person of great vision.

Thirty pieces displayed in the exhibition are from Kubota's Symphony of Light. The artist envisioned creating a panoramic series of 75 kimono that would hang side-by-side and depict the changing seasons. Kubota completed 30, the autumn and winter series, before he died in 2003.

In the video that accompanied the exhibition, I learned that Kubota began these master works when he was 60. With gentle humor, he said that he must chase away the Grim Reaper and live to 100 to be able to accomplish them.

My understanding is that the artist left explicit guidelines and drawings with his sons, who are undertaking the completion of the work that their father began.

Friday, April 10, 2009

When to Pause, When to Stop

This printed and painted silk work is resting for the moment, waiting for me to decide if it is complete. When I start feeling confused and uncertain about a work in progress, I step away. Choices made in confusion or frustration seldom succeed.

Knowing when to stop and when a work needs "something more" is a continuous challenge. A single additional element can bring a piece to life -- or become a gnawing distraction. Will the work feel clear and strong or miss the mark? Those questions always circle beneath the surface.

The energy that connects an artist to a work in progress can create a giddy state of elation one minute, disappointment and frustration the next. When the level of engagement is high, options and ideas can roll through the maker's mind with a dizzying speed. That focused concentration and energy become True North for most artists -- so we return to our studios day after day, to the failures and frustrations and elated moments because it fully engages every cell and fiber of our beings to create. An addictive elixir.

Painters often paint an area one day, passionately inspired, only to walk in and completely alter the surface the next day. Like moving waters, the currents change, swift one day, quiet the next.

People sometimes think artists who work abstractly just throw some marks and colors on a surface and pronounce it "art." For the artist, creating the work is like crafting a contained universe where every shape and mark have a relationship and connection to every other one, where the presence or absence or marks, shapes, colors and lines all contribute to an overall visual experience and yes, a story. The artist has a vision, an idea, a story to tell -- and abstract work requires more effort to "read", but for the maker, creating a visual language to express ideas is worth the work and effort.

Whatever I decide about this particular piece, I can mine its surface for successful ideas to bring to a new work, a starting point in an ever deepening and fully engaging process.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Homecoming: Reentry

I feel a voracious need to talk about art, think about art and immerse in making which no doubt stems from the stimulation of my recent travels. Meeting and working with talented students and sharing in each one's discoveries and new insights -- this all combines to stir up the embers and fuel a new blaze inside of me.

After a few days to rest and unpack over the weekend, I've been back in my studio for several days, surrounded by the works-in-progress that I left in varying stages. Yesterday this Seeds piece drew my attention. Unlike the others in this series, I had masked off large areas of the silk so the black dyes would print a random, interrupted pattern. Yesterday I silkscreened silvery gray paint very lightly over the partial black shapes.

I also filled in the pattern, so once again there are rows of seeds, exposing or shading the original black prints. This second layer adds a lot of interest. Now the work will rest for a day or two as I consider additional layers and what color accents will go on the surface.

Here's a worthwhile new site to visit and explore that has lots of video clips and interviews with numerous artists. It's called ArtBabble.

While at the site I found a great clip called "Meet Grace Hartigan", an interview with this process-oriented abstract painter. Highly recommend that you check out the site and this artist's work, there's a lot of concentrated energy on her surfaces.