July 18, 2011

Art Sabbatical

So I've been away for a little while, having just taken a month off from tattooing so I'd have an opportunity to work on my personal art for a bit, and I was hoping to return with all sorts of new achievements and some personal paintings to show off. Frustratingly, my art sabbatical didn't quite go as planned, and despite the fact that I did nothing for a whole month other than sit in my little 'office' and draw/paint/read/take notes, I actually accomplished very little; most of the drawings I did are now filling up my recycling bin. All I really have to show for that time, aside from a notebook full of ideas that are primarily still half-baked, are three pieces, two of which were in the works before I took my break. The first piece I finished was a coloured pencil  illustration of my belly dance teacher Melusina, which she intends to use for a new business card and website:

While I am actually happy with how this turned out, the process of creating it was an epic disaster from start to finish, and it ate up an entire week of my break as a result. This image was in fact my third attempt, because I started two before it that both failed for various reasons, the main one being the paper I used. I won't go into a boring rant about art paper here because it's really not very interesting, but I will say that I have now learned a few painful lessons about the importance of choosing the right paper for my art work, and this drawing was the first. The second lesson was delivered during the final stages of the next piece I completed, which was another Amanita Muscaria mushroom:

You can't actually tell from this photo, but the paper in all the dark areas around the cap of the mushroom is torn to little shreds due to the paper being too soft for intensive pencil work. It's not a complete disaster because it's only by looking at the original in direct light that it shows - but it's still a massive bummer after 20+ hours of work, and it renders the original unsuitable for exhibiting. From now on, no matter what anybody tells me, I shall refuse to draw on anything less than Arches cotton rag watercolour paper - the only paper I've ever been truly happy with, and seemingly the only one that can withstand all the layers of burnishing and erasing required for this kind of pencil work. This is the kind of stuff that makes me wish I'd gone to art school, so maybe I'd know what the hell I'm doing.

So just in case those previous disasters weren't enough, I also ruined probably the best drawing I've ever done, and one that my botanical drawing teacher was hoping I would exhibit next year:

That stain there is coffee that dripped from a spray bottle I use for doing coffee washes on my paintings, and in all likelihood, it's never coming off. Be very glad you weren't all here to see the sad, teary tantrum I threw when I discovered that this had happened. I swear there's some kind of curse attached to my artwork because this kind of thing seems to happen to just about everything I do. Over the course of many years I've had art stolen, water damaged while in a gallery,  pissed on by my cat, and thrown in the bin (thanks Mum) along with all the indignities I seem determined to subject it to. Sometimes I think it's remarkable that I even persist with making it.

So anyway, as for my third accomplishment, that didn't quite go as planned either...but I've grown to expect that now so it wasn't such a big deal. I actually feel ok with how this one came up in the end, and the only real issue I had was due to an experiment I tried with using a sepia toned black ink rather than straight black.

(I'll get a better photo of this soon.) For this sort of work I always outline and shade the whole painting with varying dilutions of indian ink, then paint over that with watercolour; I thought using sepia would give the whole image a sort of subtle warmth, but in reality it just muddied the colours and meant I had to paint over a few bits with opaque ink, which is kind-of a no-no in watercolour painting. But who gives a shit, right?

This is the first in a series of paintings I'm working on that are based on poisonous/healing/visionary plants and the folklore surrounding them. Some of you nerds out there (I'm looking at you, Jeanne) will recognise these flowers as Wolfsbane, more commonly known as Monkshood, which is one of the most poisonous plants in the world. The mythology surrounding Wolfsbane includes everything from people using it to kill wolves, to people using it to protect themselves from werewolves, and most excitingly to me, people using it to become werewolves. The idea that witches practised lycanthropy by donning wolfskins and employing toxins from magical plants may seem far-fetched, but it's certainly a more interesting and inspiring reality than the one I encounter most days, so I'm choosing to indulge in it.

Aside from this excellent book I've been reading, I think some of my love for themes of this kind comes from one of my all-time favourite movies, Altered States, in which the main character experiments with altered states using psychedelics and isolation tanks. In one particularly memorable scene, he reverts back to a primitive being and breaks into the local zoo where he kills and eats an animal with his bare hands. For the uninitiated:

Ken Russell is fucking awesome.

So aside from doing the above pieces, I also started a series of drawings for another new series based on cats, sketched out some ideas for a potential folklore-themed flash set, received this extremely beautiful Austin Spare print from Shaun for my 30th birthday, and became infatuated with the Legendary Pink Dots. Some more stuff has happened since then, but it can wait for another post.


Anonymous said...

your art is amazing and you have such a wealth of talent, don't give up on it! I can't draw for shit so there needs to be people out there that can, and do! Anyone would be happy to hang that picture, coffee stain be damned! It's beautiful

Amy Duncan said...

thanks so much for the kind words! and let me assure you that I would never actually give up on my art... to do so would drive me mad, even more so than making it does! I'm glad you enjoy my work, coffee stains and all.

wandering genie said...

AMY. that painting looks fucking amazing finished! and I actually really love the sepia in the sky where you can see the black shadows of the wolfsbane in the background. I realllllly love how this one came out and how the little details go beyond the boarders and stuff.

But I also know what you mean about experimenting and wishing you hadn't because I often do the same thing! happens when you're too busy for studies and do overs and stuff.

The way you do watercolors with a base layer of shadows is really interesting to me. I actually never learned how to watercolor so I've always winged it (very poorly)

Also <3 Ken Russell

Amy Duncan said...

thaaanks miss jeanne! I'm so glad you like the wolfsbane one. I don't know if my brain is just broken from having stared at it for too long, but I feel really surprised by howe many people have repsonded positively to it...maybe it came out better than I thought. I'd be super happy to trade it for one of yours if you're keen!

I definitely think watercolour is one of those mediums you need to learn - just a short course or something to show you a few techniques, because without knowing what you're doing it's super difficult! not that that way I use it is particularly correct or anything...but learning what paint and brushes to use, and how to get the paint to do what you want it to is really hard to figure out on your own.

I think my use of black and grey linework and shading under the colour is probably subconsciously an extension of my tattooing, because that's more or less done in the same way.

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