Thursday, July 16, 2015

Playing with Peacocks, and Discovering Alcohol Ink

Well, I was going to wait a bit til I had more work done with a new exciting medium that I discovered, but I thought I'd take a break from what I'm doing to put it down in writing.

It all started last spring when I met a fellow artist at an event at the Orlando Museum of Art. I did not recognize her, but I did recognize her work, and as we conversed I discovered that she too was a lover of Yupo paper! As we discussed our techniques, I told her how I was unhappy with some watercolor brands, and asked her what she uses. I learned at that time that she uses alcohol ink! Apparently, though, a lot of people do. It is a permanent medium, unlike watercolor on the Yupo that could, conceivably, be washed away.

This is how it always seems to happen with me- I usually stumble upon something accidentally that the whole world seems to have known since the dawn of time, and I feel kind of silly.

Immediately, I thought of a subject that I had been wanting to capture. When I was visiting an aquarium last spring with my sister, I saw this incredible giant octopus. I stood there mezmerized for what could have been half an hour, and I know she wanted to move on, but I just couldn't stop studying it. So I took a video to capture it a bit.

Well, I figured what an APPROPRIATE subject to test out alcohol ink on, an octopus!! The Orlando International Fringe Festival was coming up, where I have shown my art for several years, and I took that as a goal for finishing the piece to submit for the show. It would be a perfect venue, I figured, since the spirit of Fringe is to move beyond your comfort zone as an artist and discover something new.

I really had no idea what to do. All I knew was that the inks worked similar to the watercolors, except that instead of being soluble with water, I would have to use alcohol, and/or a mixative. I went to my favorite store near me, Art Systems, to see if they had the materials, and I figured it was meant to be because they only had 5 colors, which happened to be the exact ones I would need to complete the work. I did have to pick up a black from another store, but I had most of what I would need. I picked up a spare set of watercolor brushes, and went to work on a new pad of 9 x 12 yupo.

I had looked on the internet a bit, but honestly there was very little to teach me how to do what I wanted, so it was going to have to be complete experimentation. I honestly had no idea if it would work or not.

The first thing I did was to pour out some of the inks in separate wells of a palette, and literally brushed them on the yupo. I discovered pretty quickly how different the alcohol ink was than watercolor (at least as far as using the same brush-on techniques I was used to) because:

1) It dried REALLY fast, even the inks I was using in the wells of the palette, so I had to work very quickly. Once the ink was squeezed out of the little tube, I had only a few minutes to sop it up and lay it down onto the painting.

2) Unlike the watercolor, there really was not a complete "erase" ability. In other words, if you made a mistake and tried to pull up the ink with alcohol, there would still be some pigment left on the paper, it wouldn't be completely white. But:

3) It did allow for layering since it did dry fast.

4) The bad part too was that it was really messy - as in permanent messy- and everything smelled like a doctor's office.

So since I didn't have a lot of time to worry, I just brushed out an abstract version of my octopus that looked like this:

From there, I just played around with squeezing out more pigment, and the only detail I really concerned myself with was the eye. The main reason I thought that alcohol ink would be fun for the octopus was dropping pigment and alcohol for all of the little suction cups, and I was right. 

However, I did learn early on that there was not a lot of control. The size of your "drop" depended on the size of the dropper obviously, and just a little tiny dropper size really bled big. 

I thought about getting anal about it and upset, and figuring out how to fix it, and then I decided to 

So in the end the piece turned out looking like this: 

And I liked it. Keep in mind that this photo really doesn't explain it well. There was a lot of glare as I took the shot.  A better one, though with less detail shows it as it hung at the Fringe Festival a couple of weeks later: 

I titled it "Dancer in the Deep", because it stuck with me that the lady at the aquarium described the octopus we were viewing as having a real personality, and she said she was happy that she was "dancing" for us.

And the cool thing is- the art was claimed before the gallery even really officially opened, and I was told that it went to the Fringe Festival's President of the Board of Directors. I was COMPLETELY HONORED and overjoyed. 

Well, this new medium, with its bold colors and dreamy effects had really taken ahold of me in terms of its possibilities. 

After Fringe, I was floating a bit creatively, and frankly really just busy with the children's book promotions and marketing, as well as beginning some new books. I did not know where I would be heading fine-art wise.

Then I decided to again, follow the feathers.

Before Fringe, I had gone to an event at the Polasek Gallery and Sculpture Gardens where they had brought in some birds of prey to view, they had a bird exhibit, and an exhibit about the peacock as the Winter Park Logo and its history. While speaking with the curator and sharing my "feathers" inspiration (as outlined in this blog previously), she mentioned a place in town where a man raises birds, and she encouraged me to get ahold of him- maybe he would sell me some feathers, and share some info with me that would be inspiring.

I was a bit hesitant to follow that path, as I really didn't know this fellow. But, I took a chance and decided to call him up, and he invited me to visit what he described as his "bird sanctuary". He raises peacocks, and the property was just beautiful, on a lake in downtown Orlando. It was a little sketchy, I'm not going to lie. However, in the end I was blessed with a lot of his spirit and love of nature shared to me. 

The first thing that happened when I got there was that there were a lot of peacock feathers hanging around. He gathered them up, gave one to me, and told me to look at it as I turned around in different angles from the sun. He said that it was impossible to paint it. I nodded my head, but inwardly I decided I'd try to prove him wrong.

He brought me on a tour of his property, including a beautiful lake on one end with some incredible lily pads. 

The flowers were incredible. I wish I could describe it to you, but it really is impossible. He plucked them from the lily pads and had me smell them. I smelled the purple one and can only describe it to you like heaven. And then I smelled the blue one, and again, I can only describe it as heaven, but it was completely different, and I can't explain how that is possible. He had a wonderful way of explaining that that scent was what Moses smelled as a baby floating down the Nile, that brought me to tears. He had, earlier, made honey from those flowers (he showed me where he had kept bees and made honey years ago). Later he put them in water and I got to bring them home!

He had some incredible peacocks outside, and I got a photo of one with his wings open that was breathtaking.

Also I got to have a whole lot of fun with a bunch of baby peacocks, and learned that they are not shy of people, or cameras. :)

Well, when I decided to pick up the alcohol ink again, I wanted to work on all of this, as it was just so beautiful. The flowers were the first thing I approached. I did look a bit more online, and saw a lot of people approaching work with this medium by dropping the color directly onto the paper, thereby sidestepping the problem of having it dry in the wells of the palette. I decided to try that this time. I'm going to post a video I took as I was working, but please keep in mind that I was (and am) still experimenting, and as I look at this now I realize how painfully slow I was still working.

 Also, as I will show you later working from light to dark was something I had not mastered yet, and there are some things that can be done with this. Here I did not use the palette at all. I had bought a couple of more colors, including a green that was more olive-toned. I dropped it down with a bit of the brighter green and in the end realized I had to use quite a bit of alcohol to lighten it.

The piece turned out kind of cool. It didn't look like the flowers I started with, but I don't mind because it's all in the game of learning, and the end work turned out pretty. I called them "Lotus Flowers" because of the biblical reference that was rendered by the bird breeder, and I love all of the spiritual folklore of the lotus flower. It was so neat to see the actual flowers close up at night and open during the next morning. 

The other thing I discovered was that really, working with 91% rubbing alcohol is really the only thing that works. the 70% doesn't cut it for lightening pigment once its down, and the higher concentration really cleans the brushes better.

The next piece I wanted to play with was a peacock feather- something colorful and easy to recognize, and I knew, like the octopus, I could play with it a lot and still have its spirit shine through.

Before starting the new piece I got some squeeze bottles with tiny nibs to use for very small amounts of pigments so that things wouldn't bleed too fast and get out of hand. I also had seen online about using some q-tips, so I got those to experiment too, and laid out everything knowing I would work just as fast as I could, having everything easily accessible. The right kind of alcohol, plenty of paper towels, etc. It was getting easier and I was learning how to be prepared.

After some more research I learned how to lay in some background, lightly, and then go for the layer above. The piece changed a lot as it went but I played just enough to make it look like I had captured the spirit of the feather.  I had so much fun thinking of the spirit of the incredible work of art that God made to hypnotize the lady bird as she looks into those blue eyes, maybe this is what she sees....

Next I am tackling that incredible peacock as he flies. I know that has the potential to be overwhelming but I plan to approach it in the same way as these, with no expectations except to let myself be free and "go with the flow" as it were...

And I like to think that maybe, sometimes, painting exactly what you see is not the goal. Maybe that's how I proved the peacock guy wrong- you CAN paint a peacock feather, if you don't LOOK too much, but FEEL it flying in your heart.