Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Creating the Feathers

This post is a follow up (Part II, if you will) of the previous. I am just compelled to start with this poem, that I'm sure you've all heard, by Emily Dickinson.

"Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me."

Hope comes to me these days, as discussed in the previous post, many times in the form of "the thing with" feathers, whatever the invisible thing that is, and I'm not asking any questions. I'm flying with it. And another thing. That poem means a LOT to me. I love that little bird.

So here's a post all about the creative process based on what I've been experiencing-

Originally, following finding many of those feathers discussed in the past post (with the exception of those white ones), I had conceived the idea of using the mixed medium process of gesso on board, followed by acrylic, and topped with pastel. Before I started, however I was inspired by that photo discussed in the blog post dated 10/28,  and finished that piece first.

That's just how it goes sometimes, you plan on doing one thing, something else steps in, and you've gotta do that first before you can do what you had originally planned. I've learned that IT IS TOTALLY OKAY NOT TO TRAVEL IN A STRAIGHT LINE. (that's just me shouting at myself, btw)...In fact, walking in a straight line is pretty boring. And depressing. And it isn't the way it's supposed to be when you're an artist anyway. You're supposed to go with the flow instead of trying to fight it.

SO, I finished that piece of the Gapstow Bridge, which turned out just the way I wanted because I was so inspired by that image, and I allowed myself to veer off-course. AND, I even learned so much about the process. So I got all of my feathers together. My original concept had been to try to make a really cool arrangement and paint them. This is what they look like:

Pretty cool, right? And so I plowed ahead, sketched the feathers, got the board primed with gesso and started an an acrylic underpainting.

However, I hit a roadblock there and I wasn't sure why. I mean, I knew that I absolutely did not like the background color I had chosen, which was supposed to eventually look like grass, and I was debating what to change it to. But things kept getting in the way of this, or I kept LETTING things get in the way of this, and I didn't want to. This box of feathers and the unfinished painting kept getting moved from the drafting table to the kitchen table to my "over-messy-storage-room-of-a-studio" that needs to be cleaned..Life happened and Thanksgiving happened and the whole time I just longed to do this. But it was just getting too overwhelming and I couldn't wrap my brain around it. Everything- the shadows and colors and complexities.

So I did something I don't normally do, that I need to do more of. I allowed myself to set it aside, promising myself that I WOULD pick it up later. That's when I started to find those white feathers.

During FAVO a few weeks ago I had done a concept sketch of one of the white feathers on a black background. I knew that would eventually be a piece, so why not do it now? I could experiment with how the mixed media technique worked while at the same time, making a clean, bold statement.

By the time I found that white feather on my barefoot walk in the park, it was time to get it done.

I found an old scrap mat board to work on- it's about 7 1/2 x 12, and it was black. At first I thought that would mean I wouldn't even have to paint a background, but as it turned out the "clear gesso" isn't completely clear and you can see it on a solid matte black board. I went ahead and painted a background, but chose that instead of pure black I'd take the opportunity to go with a deep grey-blue so that I could put in just a hint of shadow- I'd need that shadow to be just a bit darker than the background. I put the feather on a notebook I had in similar color to help me see the shadows.

Next I worked with a light layer of white acrylic, followed by a thicker and thicker layers. I used medium to help me, but quickly realized that I needed to work faster than I had thought before it dried! I had found an old mascara brush to use to help me with the texture and oh my did I have fun!

For the spine of the feather I globbed a bunch of paint with medium and used my palette knife to taper it.

After the paint dried it was time to apply the chalk pastel. Looking at the feather closely, I noticed that it really didn't look as "white" as that paint did. I learned that next time I could try to scrape more with that mascara brush to see through to the background. But here, I used a light grey chalk mixed with white chalk and rendered in the variations of grey. I went ahead and added some water with a brush to blend it in since there was too much texture to blend it dry.

I think the most fun I had was scrubbing in that white chalk at the bottom of the feather to make those fluffies. That's also my favorite part of the feathers! :) I kept that chalk mostly dry and blended with my fingers or just left un-blended. When I got done with the white and grey chalk, I went in with some black, both paint toward the top half of the feather, and some chalk- the pastel black is really very rich and helped me bring out a three-dimensional look under the 'fluffies'

This painting is of that feather that I had found on that barefoot walk. I started and finished it Monday. The blog post which was written just before this one was finished the same evening, just after midnight, in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. Later that day, (yesterday), I was at the grocery store. There was a nice young lady in the line ahead of me, with very short hair, and I was surprised to see that she had a tiny feather tatoo behind her ear. I'm not normally a tatoo lover, but this was not only a coincidence, but it was really neat, the way it followed the shape of her ear and just hid behind there. Of course I had to comment, and we struck up a conversation. Apparently she had it done to honor her Native American culture. I talked with her about how I'm learning about the meanings of feathers due to my work, and asked her what she knew about the feather she wore. It was a raven feather, which I found out is sacred to the Native Americans as "Creation and Knowledge- Bringer of the Light" It was curious though, because it wasn't black. Guess what color it was? No! It wasn't white either. It was RAINBOW colored. That's another thing that made it so pretty.

And I never told you the name of the park I was walking in when I found that feather. Yup. "Rainbow Park". I'm not making this up.

And as I said last time, I am not trying to figure out why these things happen; I am just smiling, and taking it as a sign from the angels that I've found my next foothold. So, on I go, following the feathers of hope in the serendipitous scavenger hunt of this amazing, curious, bizarre, blessed, and sacred life of art!

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