From floods to Legos to skies – Evolution of a project

A couple of years ago after heavy rains and flooding, I noticed a strange sight while driving over the Yadkin River: a forest under water. The river had overflowed and the trees were standing in a few feet of water. Downed trees and branches were violently shoved up against still-standing trees. I was struck by the sheer power of the water overflowing its river banks and the dissonance of seeing a flooded forest.

 

This image stayed with me for a while and I collected branches which I made into little piles and bundles in my studio. I imagined a huge pile of tree trunks pushed up against a gallery wall and spilling out onto the gallery floor, the pile’s size dwarfing viewers. On an adjacent wall I imagined a wall size video projection of water slowly filling the screen to the sound of water running continuously.

 

Over the course of the next two years I made drawings and prototypes and kept running into the same problem: no matter how elegantly executed, the log stack and running water video created a feeling of dread. I couldn’t reconcile the sense of anxiety the pieces would likely provoke in viewers with my desire to create an immersive and elemental kind of experience in a gallery. Climate change is very real and frightening, but I refuse to subject viewers of my work to feelings of anxiety. As artists we are responsible for how our work affects people, and ultimately I want my work to feel vital and uplifting – even when the work deals with environmental concerns.

 

I sidelined the log pile and running water video ideas and turned to my watercolors to play and think. Watercolor is my “go-to” for figuring things out and generating ideas. I made piles of small playful mixed media drawings and wondered how they would look in a large scale if I made hundreds of them to cover a gallery wall from floor to ceiling – transforming the logs and water ideas to something less heavy-handed.

 

To prototype this idea, I made a hundred and twenty eight tiny drawings with watercolor, ink and colored pencil, and I installed them on a piece of foam core as if it were a tiny gallery wall. I then photographed this maquette with Lego mini figures as viewers to picture how it might feel on a monumental scale. It worked.
lego art gallery
In the spring of 2021, I was asked to exhibit my work at the Sechrest Gallery at High Point University, specifically my large-scale installation Paper Mountain and its companion piece Sky Project. The gallery is big. Even after installing the mountain of paper cranes and filling a wall with the Sky Project video, there was space for more work.  I knew I wanted to include some of my paintings, but there are two twenty foot-tall walls on one side of the gallery. One of these was perfect for a painting installation like what I had prototyped, but it needed to be different. The work I had made for the tiny gallery was very active work, and this needed to be more quiet because it would be near Paper Mountain, a twenty foot tall floating mountain of paper cranes. The painting installation couldn’t detract from Paper Mountain and ideally should complement it.

 

I wanted to make something that would be monumental as I had imagined with my Legos, and it also needed to uplift and encourage minds to wander. I decided to try skies for their universal and poetic quality, and made some prototypes in different painting styles and with different papers. After settling on the type of paint and the application, I found the perfect paper – heavy enough to lay flat on the wall even when coated in paint, the right size and excellent quality. It’s called Yupo, a polypropylene paper that is unpleasant and difficult to use with some mediums, but perfect for this particular project.

 

The project in its current form uses loosely painted skies to create a sense of air and space. The paintings will be hung in a grid 19 feet tall by 17 feet wide, covering one of the gallery walls near Paper Mountain. I’ve named it The space between the clouds.

 

I’m curious and excited to see how The space between the clouds will look installed. I’ll have to arrange the paintings onsite because my studio isn’t big enough to lay them all out at once, and I look forward to that part too.
The High Point University exhibition opens Thursday October 28th and is up until December 18th. The space between the clouds, Paper Mountain, Sky Project and a collection of paintings will be on display at Sechrest Gallery of Art.

 

You can support this project and see images of the work in progress on Buy Me a Coffee where I’ve been fundraising to cover the cost of paper and paint for The space between the clouds.

 

Sometimes you drop paintings on your face

I dropped a wet painting on my face this week.

I’m working on a group of paintings to cover an entire 19-foot tall gallery wall, and I work on them each week in groups of nine. (I’ve completed 45/63 as of today.) At the beginning of each week I start with six paintings on the middle and bottom rows (see below), and when I finish a row, I move it to the top to make room for three more pieces of paper.

On Tuesday while I moved one to the top row, I lost hold of it and it fell on me. Luckily the works are on paper so I didn’t hurt myself, and I managed to wash out the paint from my shirt. I should know better than to wear a good shirt in the studio – even with an apron.

Yesterday I had a meeting at the Sechrest Gallery of Art at High Point University, where I’m exhibiting this project, Paper Mountain and Sky Project and other works starting in October. During the meeting we dialed in the logistics for this exhibit and discussed some other peripheral projects to accompany the show. I’m so excited to share my work in this big beautiful space, to reinstall Paper Mountain and Sky Project and to finally see how my sky paintings will look on a massive scale.

This show will open on Thursday October 28th. Stay tuned for all the details.

On the top right is the culprit – the painting that fell on me!

I am at 79% of reaching my $500 fundraising goal for this project! Can you help me reach the goal?

What happens when a painting doesn’t work?

The 63 skies project is going well! I’m still not sure what to name it, but I’ve landed on how the paintings will look and feel. Here’s how it’s going:

Sky paintings in artist studio

This morning I repainted 3 of the first 4 paintings I’d made because they didn’t feel right. The last one to re-paint is on the lower right. You can see the initial stages of the work in this piece.

For those of you who are curious, here’s what the group of paintings looked like before I re-worked the first four:

sky paintings in studio

I ended up painting them again because I found them over-worked and heavy feeling. Because there will be so many of these extending 19 feet up and 17 feet out, I think they’d feel oppressive on that scale, so instead I opted for a more loose and airy approach.

Happily I’ve already raised almost 50% of the cost of these materials so far! You can contribute to this project on my project page at Buy Me a Coffee. Thank you to all those who’ve already contributed! It means a lot that you believe in my work.

Thanks and have a good week!

On working slowly and enjoying the process… and color

Lately I’ve been living and working more slowly. I realized working at a break-neck speed isn’t sustainable or enjoyable anymore, and that since I work for myself, I could give myself permission to work more slowly. The fact is I will always get my work done, so I can choose to take my time and enjoy the process. I’m not a procrastinator, so it doesn’t make sense for me to anxiously work fast anyway. This is all easier said that done however. I realized I needed to slow down in 2020, but it’s taken me a year to actually put it into practice.

I’m also deliberate about not multitasking if I can help it. Most of the time, genuine multitasking isn’t actually as effective as singletasking for me (not sure this word exists, but I’m using it) and at the end of a long work session of multitasking, while I might feel virtuous, everything feels like a bit of a blur, and the process definitely isn’t enjoyable.

There are certainly tasks I can complete relatively quickly and painlessly, but generally speaking these days I’ve been mindful about my thought processes and the way I do things, and I feel overall more content while working and living more slowly. Except on certain designated bike rides when speed is kind of the point of the ride – that’s different.

On that note, here’s what’s happening in the studio right now. And yes, I did mention that I don’t multitask, but I typically do have multiple projects going on at once. I just don’t work on them simultaneously.

I’m working on a series of landscapes where I’m playing with shapes and colors. I’m working slowly, trying to figure out the kind of color-play I want, refining the edges of shapes, thinking about the feel of the surface…

It feels good to take my time and work meditatively. These are the first two in progress.

I started in reds and pinks and oranges, colors that I knew would be mostly covered up and dissonant with the colors in the finished paintings. I like to allow little sections of the underpainting to show between shapes or through brush marks. Now that I’ve covered up most of the underpainting, I’m reworking the colors to fine tune how they relate to each other.

I’m thinking of what I’ve learned through experience over years of painting and back to grad school in one of my favorite and most challenging classes: color theory. In this class we studied the Munsell color system, which breaks down color into three properties or dimensions: value, chroma and hue. The way I put this into practice as I paint is by making some colors darker or lighter (adjusting the value), making some more or less dull (chroma), and in some cases changing the color completely – like turning a violet into green (the hue).

Because the paintings are paired down with a few interlocking shapes, the colors become even more important. I think that as art becomes more minimal, each decision becomes more significant because everything is there to see, plain as day.

As I make changes in color, edges of shapes shift around too: some edges get more crisp and some become softer. This process is both intellectual and intuitive as I think through what I know about color relationships and how I want the paintings to feel.

These paintings feel like an important bridge for me. For years, I’ve been wanting to integrate the landscape with the geometric work I did in my Little Watercolor Squares series. (See some of the paintings here and the book here.) Last year, I made geometric interiors for my show at Elder Gallery. (See that work here.) These new paintings feel like an integration of all that past work, and that feels good. This work isn’t ego-driven. It’s not trying to prove anything. It just is.

On the other wall of my studio are some small paintings I made to test out compositions and colors for this new series. These little guys will be available at the Ardmore Art Walk on May 8th.

The larger painting on the right is a commissioned piece that’s drying. It was inspired by Amanda Gorman’s Inauguration Day poem.

To be the first to know when the landscapes above are available, subscribe to my Insider’s List here.

Scroll to top