Marianne Morris | Artist

Living Life in Full Colour

Category: Creative Process

Undercurrent

abstract painting in neutrals and magenta

“Undercurrent”, 12×12″ Acrylic on canvas.

I’m slowly making my way through the pile of canvases I have stashed in my studio. In a perfect world, I’d use up the ones I have sitting around before I go and buy new ones, but I doubt it will work that way. I’ve already got some vague idea about how I want this work displayed, and what I’ve got hanging around isn’t really going to fit. And I usually like to have a selection of small pieces done before moving on to the bigger ones.  There is something about working that way that keeps me in my flow state.

I’ve written before about how working in a series keeps my momentum going. I know that is how my brain works. Being somewhat easily distracted, I know that going off in a different direction can sometimes derail me completely. Even so, I’m looking forward to participating in some plein-air sessions a local artist is arranging over the summer. I like painting landscapes, but hopefully not enough that it will completely distract me. I don’t think I particularly like painting plein-air (which only means, for you non-artist type people, painting outside on location), but I’ve only done it a couple times so maybe I haven’t given it a decent opportunity to enthrall me. It’s worth trying again, and it will get me outside my studio on my days off work. I can foresee this current project becoming all consuming, and the summer disappearing without me taking the time to enjoy it. That won’t do. I’m trapped in a building 40+ hours a week. I refuse to spend all my remaining time indoors.

As I write this, the sun is streaming in my windows and the radio says it’s a balmy 12°C. Ok, maybe that’s not so balmy, but after a Canadian winter, it feels wonderful. I’m going to head outside for a long, meditative walk before I start my weekend work. Hopefully, it will get me into the right state of mind to figure out what I’m doing with the canvas I covered with drywall compound a couple days ago. Because at the moment, I really don’t have a clue.

Hidden Pathway

abstract painting in neutrals and magenta

“Hidden Pathway” 12×12″ Acrylic on canvas.

I work on many paintings at a time. I sometimes have as many as 10 going at once, all in various stages of completion. I find that there will always be one that I don’t like at all, and I am willing to make bold changes because I’m not as invested. It often becomes my favourite.

Right now I have 6 going… well 4, if you don’t count the two I have decided are finished. The three small ones came together fairly easily. The three larger ones are not working. At all. There is one I must have 5 layers of paint on already, and I still hate it. I don’t know why.

I’ve discussed with a few of my artist friends putting together a critique group to help each other when this happens. I know I’m not the only one who goes through this (though I may be the only one to admit it publicly). Sometimes you just need someone else to have a look, and make a suggestion. It really does help. So far though, no one has had time. We all have day jobs, or other obligations, and at the end of the day we are wiped. Myself included. The small, online trial of the group failed miserably, as I was the only one who ever posted anything. After a few months we abandoned it.

I think I need to approach this another way. In reading biographies of famous artists, I know that they socialized with other artists. They hung out together, drank wine together, discussed books and went to events together…. all we ever seem to do here is gather at gallery openings, chat for an hour and retire to our respective homes. While we all know each other, it’s not like we are a cohesive group of friends. Maybe that’s what we need.

Personally, I love hanging out with creative people. They approach life in a different way. A group of creatives can turn an everyday experience into an event. The discussion is lively, they challenge your way of thinking, they are usually well-informed and willing to get involved.  I know that the only way I am going to have that group of friends to do things with is if I step out of my comfort zone and organize something. So that is what I am going to do. Wish me luck.

The Space Between. A meditation.

A meditation on space and connection, abstract shapes in neutrals and bright magenta.

“The Space Between”, 12×12″ Acrylic on canvas.

A while back, when I was off work dealing with some health issues,  I was told repeatedly that I had to reduce the amount of stress in my life. Since I had no idea how to do that, I talked to a councillor who specialized in stress management. She sent me a bunch of books, some of which I’ve read, and advised me to learn how to meditate. Mindfulness was something that would help me immensely, she says, from stress reduction to pain management (I have a back issue that I’ve been coping with since I was a teenager. There are times when I am pain-free, but it’s not a normal state for me).

Since my trip to Portugal in January I have managed to take the chaos of work in stride. I was rested enough that I could ignore the insanity of the deadlines, roll my eyes at the technical ignorance of those asking for the impossible, and laugh with my coworkers over the unrealistic expectations of management.

Over the past two weeks, my vacation zen has deserted me. It started with the shocking news that an artist friend of mine had, quite suddenly, passed away from a heart attack. She was such wonderful company, often when I was dropping off work at her gallery space I would stay for an hour or more to talk, her filling me in on the latest community goings on as other artists would file in and join the conversation. The monday after her funeral, we were informed one of my coworkers had suddenly passed away. The third, because there is always a third it seems,  was my cousin’s child… a mere 26 years old, and only a few short years older than my own son. It has been a stark reminder of the fragility and impermanence of life, and a very clear message to me that I need to spend what limited time I have here with people whose company I enjoy, and doing the things I love.

I decided to try taking this meditation thing seriously. I have tried a few times before, but I’m so easily distracted that after a minute or two I would give up. I’ve downloaded apps on my phone, I’ve tried audio “guided meditation”, I’ve done yoga breathing exercises. The only thing that has worked at all was a guided drawing meditation that I found online. I realized that creating, for me anyway, is meditation. It is the only time I am completely and totally in the moment. I am calm. The next best thing is walking alone outside… I will still often have the story running in my head, but I can sometimes manage to quiet that and observe my immediate surroundings. I’ve done both these things in this past week. I need to get going with these paintings anyway, so incorporating my studio time with meditation may actually be a way to cope that works for me. I guess the only way to find out is to try.

And… I’m off….

Last week I asked for suggestions, and I got a good one from Toronto artist Kevin Ghiglione (whose encaustic paintings I think are pretty amazing. I even own one). Here’s what he said:

Hi Marianne – abstraction will be a great way to present your new bodywork. Why don’t you gather up all of the inspiring photographs from your trip and put together and maybe something will come of that. There will be shapes. There will be colours. Patina. And I’m sure there will be feelings too – both passive and experienced. Try talking it through with a friend or an associate – because when you take all those dreamlike thoughts from your brain and talk about them and explain them – the simple fact of putting these thoughts into concrete words will make it much more concrete for you. I’m really excited what you going to produce!

Always one to try a suggestion, particularly if I’ve asked for it, I gave it a go. I looked through my photos and flipped through my sketchbook. I wrote some stream of consciousness about what I was looking at. I talked, to myself mostly, about what I found interesting and the visual cues that excited me. Then I set about painting.

The blue page I had started already, but had lost the thread of it part way thorough, and put it away. I had it finished within 20 minutes. While I’m not thrilled with the shapes, I do like the way you get the feeling there is something going on behind the surface. The charcoal marks and the spattering of ink peek through what could be a window or a passageway. I’m satisfied enough that I know I want to pursue the idea of covering up and scraping back… kind of like uncovering the old and decrepit under the new and the smooth.

The pink page I started with an idea of how I wanted to approach it, and I think it is my most successful of these experiments. The shapes work, the textures are lovely, and I like the way the linework doesn’t get obliterated by the paint.

I think I’ve got a path now. I’ve prepped some smaller canvases to start… a bunch of 12×12″ and a few 24×24″. I have a few large ones waiting as well, but I want to have a good idea of what I’m doing before I start those. We shall see how it goes.

A fine mess I’ve made here…

journal painting

I painted over this one 3 or 4 times. I’m not impressed, but I finally just decided to move on. Looking at it now, a few days later, I can see what’s wrong with it. Time, I suppose, is the artist’s friend.

While I’m in my exploratory stage, I do my best work when I approach it without any semblance of a plan. Not that hard really, knowing that even when I do have a plan, it very rarely works out the way I think it will.

Working as I do, I always get caught up in something. Sometimes it’s the way the paint is flowing, sometimes it is a subject, or maybe an emotion. I will try to identify what it is that grabs me, and then keep following the thread until I get to the end… or I lose interest, whichever comes first. That may be a half-dozen pieces, or it could keep me occupied for much, much longer. For instance, my Fascinating Rhythm series ended up being almost 50 paintings, and took me close to 2 years.

For this project, while I’ve identified what I loved about my trip to Portugal, I’ve yet to figure out how I’m going to translate that visually. I don’t particularly want to paint a bunch of landscapes. I could, and they would probably sell, but I’m much more interested painting abstracts. Maybe it’s time to forget about doing a concrete “inspired by” kind of collection, and just let its influence come through however it decides to show up. Any of my artist friends have suggestions on that?

ink drawing of a Beagle, Boarder CollieX

This little doggie was distracting me. She wanted my undivided attention at all times.

This week my work time was seriously curtailed by the furry visitor we had. Destiny is a beagle, border collie cross… and spending time with her you could see exactly how each breed influenced her personality. Nose to the ground for the entire time we were outside, going faster than any big dog I’ve walked, but stubbornly refusing to move if she smelled something interesting. That’s so Beagle. Inside, she would stare a hole through me if I was not paying attention to her. She wanted to be in my lap if at all possible. Made it a bit difficult to paint. Still, it was fun to have her here. And it is short term. If she were my dog I’d have to figure something out, but now she’s gone home, and I have a week free before the next one arrives. I’m certain I’ll get my paintings figured out by next week. I need to…. the clock is ticking.

Finding Direction

Visual Journal abstract entry in blue and gold

My intent here was to create a background that I could draw on with ink and white pastel. But I got a bit carried away with the paint.

Somehow I’ve become a carrier of a sketchbook. It’s not something that I’ve done regularly over the years… I’ve always had a sketchbook, and I’ve worked in it now and then, but it’s never been something I always had with me. It would usually take me a year  or more to fill one up. I think it’s because I paint more than I draw, and instead of going out and drawing the world around me, I would take a more “visual journal” approach with a book that could stand up to a bit of abuse.

I’ve been carrying this book around with me for the past two months. It’s almost full. All the practice has been good… I’m most definitely seeing improvement. But I have a show in October, and I need to figure out what I’m going to paint. So I went back to my tried and true, and made myself a little book out of watercolour paper, and started to paint.

Since I’ve been drawing in ink, my first thought was that I could do some mixed media kind of thing, using paint and india ink. I got out my paints and started, thinking I’d do a background, then add in some kind of abstract drawing, and take it from there. It didn’t quite work the way I had planned. I got totally absorbed in the way the paint flowed. I was mesmerized. I had painted something very much resembling work I’ve done before.

Back to the drawing board… this time I started with the drawing. I tried to draw one of the many stone archways I have in my sketchbook, only this time using a stick so I would have very little control over the resulting marks. I just ended up making a mess. The ink spattered and caught, but the shapes were interesting. Once it dried I used paint to try to pull the random marks into some kind of composition. It’s not bad, but a bit too chopped up. I did manage to capture the feel of a passageway though, so that’s encouraging.

I still have a bit of work to do. If somehow I could manage to combine the two approaches into something cohesive, I may have a something I can work with.

Abstract painting of an archway

Again, I thought I’d do a background and draw over top. Again, it didn’t quite work out that way.