Monday, May 14, 2018

A Year of Watercolor – 5/14/18

5/14/18 – A Year of Watercolor

There are many ways to measure growth because it’s always happening, we’re always changing.  Our bodies, hair, fingernails but also, our attitudes toward things, how we handle problems, how we perceive ourselves.  It’s an interesting part of being human, being self aware, having the ability to see the course we’re on and make a conscious decision to stay on it or take a sharp turn.

I think anyone passionate about their work spends a great deal of time analyzing it.  At least that’s true for me; I remember the satisfaction in college of hanging a finished piece or an edition of prints on the wall and reveling in that feeling of success and completion but, also wondering what I could’ve done differently, what I can change for the next project, what I could try that I haven’t thought of before.  Eventually after a series of decisions, we get to a place we can see what the next few steps might be but, more importantly, we get to see how far we’ve come.

I find myself today at the 1 year mark of moving in with my boyfriend, Brian and setting off on the journey of being a working artist.  I was never a painter in college but, it made sense to take a small palette of watercolor paints with me on my bicycle trip in 2016.  I did some small, quick sketches along the coast to coast journey and when I came home to live with my parents again, watercolor was a very easy medium to set up on my kitchen table between breakfast and dinner.  It wasn’t the ideal studio space but, it was all I had.  However, I think a person’s potential is limited by the space they’re allotted to grow in, and while my kitchen table worked fine, a whole studio dedicated to my painting practice gave me a lot of room for my roots to grow.  

Below are a handful of the first paintings I made at my kitchen table after coming home.  I made small work very cautiously, often outlining in pen the key elements I didn’t want to lose track of when the water and paint hit the paper.  While I was very proud of the results of my exploration, I knew I barely scratched the surface of knowing what the hell I was doing.

'A Mysterious Ripple Made Me Question Everything' 6x8"

'A Brief Moment of Clarity Has Left Me Questioning Reality' 7x10"

'I Heard a Gentle Voice' 6x8"

'Among the Ancients' 7x11"

That’s part of life though, right?  There’s no excitement in pursuing something if you're already proficient in it.  I don’t remember learning how to speak but, don’t you think there was some excitement and satisfaction in being able to translate your thoughts and feelings into words that your parents or sibling could understand?  I feel that excitement when I set out to try something new in a painting and I end up with the results I was aiming for.  

I’ve dedicated a lot of time in the last year to making the images I see in my head.  Lots of days in the studio, plenty of good, plenty of bad and just as many abandoned paintings as finished pieces that I’m happy with.  No matter what you’re passionate about, stopping to reflect and appreciate the hard work you’ve put in is an important part of growing; it’s like checking in with the compass and the map, even if you don’t have a destination in mind, you don’t want to be wandering in circles.

Below are a handful of the paintings I’ve started and completed in 2018 so far.  I have a better sense of the trail I’m following but I’m also becoming more aware of the smaller paths that branch off and take me to new discoveries.  Some paths dead end while others bring me back after seeing things I never would’ve seen had I not wandered off.  It’s an interesting journey, this whole artist thing and I can’t even imagine what I’ll have to look back on in ten years from now.

'The Same Old Moon in the Ever Changing River' 16x20"

'Nature's Cathedral Spires' 11x14"

'The Sudden Burst of Warmth, is the Earth Blushing?' 22x30"

'The Silent Spinning Universe is Drowned Out by the Last Crackling Embers' 11x14"

Please visit to see a complete collection of watercolor paintings from 2017 and 2018.  Feel free to get in touch about visiting my studio and starting a conversation about the creative process; learning from and inspiring one another is one of the greatest aspects of being an artist.

Friday, April 6, 2018

A Day with Big INK – 4/4/18

'The Big Tuna' printing press

It’s hard for me to sleep in unless I have to wake up to do something that I don’t want to do.  That honestly hasn’t happened too often lately.  I wake up and stretch and eat breakfast and drink coffee and go into the studio and create.  But seriously, I actually would’ve loved to sleep in a little bit today after such a long and exciting day yesterday and yet, I found myself on the floor at 7:30, reaching for my toes.  As I was down there, I noticed a few wood chips still embedded in my rug and I just had to laugh and smile–remnants of a project that had been coming together slowly over the last few months that all added up to an unforgettable day yesterday.

Haig holding up a print from his 7 foot woodblock

Earlier this year, my former printmaking professor, Haig, told me about an upcoming event at Salem State, the school I graduated from and where he still teaches.  Big INK, a mobile printshop led by Lyell Castonguay and Carand Burnet had plans to come to Salem to share what they’re most passionate about: large-scale woodblock printing.  The duo travels from New Hampshire with their portable printing press, appropriately named ‘The Big Tuna’.  While it is still 500 pounds, it may be the only printing press in the country that can be readily transported to print woodblocks up to 8 feet long.  Watching them set this thing up in the room was like seeing a couple kids unfold a plastic table for a lemonade stand; it truly seemed so simple but, the capabilities of this press are mind blowing.  

McKenzie rolling up her 6x2 foot woodblock with ink

Lyell and Mckenzie holding up her print titled, 'Listen'

Along with myself and Haig, a handful of other printmakers, both professors and students, began the process of designing, drawing, and carving our own woodblocks months ago.  I’ve only printed something this size (3x4 feet) once before and it’s actually been years since I carved and printed anything at all.  I was a little intimidated but, I knew I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.  I’m sure we all endured the same struggles while we worked to get these blocks ready: the immense decision to come up with an image worth spending so much time with, the physical fatigue of cutting away the wood for hours on end, dealing with knots and inconsistencies on the surface, maybe cutting away something unintentionally and fearing that the image might be ruined...  Art is something a lot of us make because we just don’t know how to process the world without it.  But sometimes it gets to us and gets us down, even fills us with doubt.  I think being isolated in the studio can be hard sometimes as much as it’s something all artists strive for.  It’s good until it doesn’t go right and then there’s no one around to relate to your frustration or your mistakes, no one to remind you that as important as all this may seem, we’re all just playing and having fun.

Mike and his first woodcut titled 'Queen of the Night'

While some bad days in the studio are part of the artist’s reality, days like yesterday with Big INK are a reminder that interacting and working with a community of artists is more rewarding than any good day spent alone in the studio.  Seeing the woodblocks everyone had spent months on was so exciting and working together through the whole process –from laboriously inking them to peeling the paper off for the first time– was so joyful whether we were printing my image or someone else’s.  Whether it was a combination of too much caffeine and not enough sleep or some sort of reaction to the ink, there was something in the air yesterday in those rooms we were working in, this whirlwind of excitement that I’ve only experienced when the passion of one person is matched by a roomful of people all working toward the same goal.  I’m very grateful I got to be part of such an experience even if I never get those wood chips out of my rug at home...

My 3x4 foot print titled 'There's Nothing As Comforting as Warm Light on a Cold Night, Other Than You'


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

3/21/18 - Remembering, Reflecting, Rewriting

It’s been more than a year since my cross-country bicycle journey came to an end.  I still remember waking up for the last time in Joshua Tree National Park.  Covered in a blanket of gray clouds, the sun was not there to greet us like she usually was.  It was by far the dreariest day I had seen in my month of staying in the park, a sign that our plan to leave that day was the right choice.  

Vinny and I crawled up off the ground and sleepily started packing up.  When the first few rain drops fell, we started moving much more quickly.  Driving out of the park for the last time was an emotional experience that the heavy wind and rain emphasized quite nicely in a sad sort of way.  Our 2.5 day drive to Austin, Texas had begun.  From there, Vinny would travel South to Mexico and I would fly home to Massachusetts.  

I was truly excited at the time, I had accomplished what I set out to do and the most rational thing next was to go home and process everything that had occurred.  At the point of walking through my front door for the first time in 7 months, everything I had seen and done on my journey was such a blur, a long strip of film balled up and stuffed in a box in a drawer in a desk in my head.  But now, more and more, I can simply close my eyes and find myself reliving all the little moments of my trip in great detail: the feeling of crossing into New York realizing I wouldn’t be back in Massachusetts for a long time; rolling over the hills lined with corn in Illinois and Iowa; the subtle shifts in the landscape once I entered South Dakota; the moment I saw the Pacific Ocean in Oregon and all the miles I rode next to that great expanse of blue all the way down to SoCal.  I’m still transported when I listen to music I heard on the seat of my bike and just the smell of peanut butter brings me back inside my tent where I ate many sandwiches topped with m&m’s or trail mix.

It’s almost eerie in a way to be able to jump back in time with such clarity by a sound or smell or simple thought.  I can understand how soldiers coming back from war find it difficult or impossible to return to civilian life.  At least my trip was a positive experience.  And its positive effects on my life seem to be getting clearer and clearer.  Since I’ve been home, all I’ve been doing with my time is making art.  Lots of images just came out of me as I was trying to get back in the habit of drawing and learning how to use watercolor.  I just wanted to make pictures.  But now, a year into making art full time and rewriting my artist’s statement for maybe the fourth time, I finally see how much that bike trip has influenced my life and how much of painting is processing the memories and emotions experienced on that ride.

It’s hard to remember what life was like before I left for the West coast, it really is.  My life was a certain way for so long and having such an intense experience makes me feel like a different person now.  Maybe it’s just that some part of me is more alive.  After graduating college I did not have the same dedication to studio time as I did when I was a student.  In fact, I felt devoid of all ideas, direction, and inspiration, lost in the act of “trying to make a living” through an unsatisfying job.  After a few years, I didn’t quite know what I wanted, I just knew I didn’t want what I had.  And so began the planning for the trip of a lifetime.  I pulled a U-turn on the dead end road I was driving down; or maybe I just parked the car and left in the opposite direction on my bike.

All I know now is the act of making art is an attempt to portray the power of the journey, the spiritual evolution that can occur in a person when they give in to the unknown and allow it to guide them.  Without my cross-country ride, I don’t think my life would be the way it is now, pursuing a career in art, full of fire and inspiration, a healthy relationship with myself and a wonderful relationship with a man I love that’s been blossoming almost since I came home.  A lot of great things can happen when we make the changes we feel are necessary in our lives.  However, a lot of tension and anxiety can build and consume us if we don’t go after the things our heart truly wants.  You might not know what you want but, acknowledging you have something you don’t want can be the first step of a new and exciting journey.

What follows is the latest concoction of words I’ve used to describe my intentions in making the art that I am making, thanks for reading:

A journey begins with a conscious decision to stray from the path that we tread every day, a willingness to encounter the unknown and allow it to guide us in hopes of discovering a better understanding of life and ourselves.  I once felt trapped by the decisions I had made and in trying to work my way out, everything changed.  Life seemed to unfold before me in ways I had never experienced or imagined possible and I portray the feeling of liberation and continuous mystery of life in my art.

My paintings depict figures wandering through dramatic and colorful landscapes often pulled from my imagination based on memories and emotions felt on my own journey.  The inhabitants of my images are often a smaller part of the composition which gives the environment it’s own presence and power over the figure.  Humans aren’t as dominant in the world as we like to believe, there are forces much greater than us and we can see evidence of that in all the diverse and dynamic landscapes Mother Nature has shaped.

I want the viewer to feel small, like standing on top of a mountain or at the roots of a mighty redwood; the same feeling you have in your gut when you realize you’ve never been so far away from home and suddenly you get a sense of your scale: a tiny spec, untethered, roaming across a world that, by chance, came to be and has existed for what seems like an infinite amount of time and will outlive us for even longer.

Jump to my Gallery or Website to see or read more.