Sunday, 31 March 2013

I, Canvas

Painting has never been a strength of mine; I've always enjoyed drawing with pen and pencil more. Unfortunately, this means I have neglected a huge area of potential development and creative expression. I have done a few paintings but usually only when required or requested to. This will be a fairly brief post about my experience painting on canvas.

I think what has typically held me back from painting is a perceived lack of control. Using a pen or pencil feels more precise to me. A paintbrush, on the other hand, takes a greater degree of practice and finesse to master. While I'm not by any stretch a control freak, if I'm trying to translate an image from my mind to canvas it can be frustrating when it just doesn't work. Whether I can't mix the right colour, or can't get the right mix of paint and water, or the brush bristles don't move as I expected, or the paint looks different when it dries, sometimes it feels like an exercise in futility. I know it just takes a lot more practice but it can be challenging to push through that barrier.

The following is a canvas I painting in my final year of school. Not because I particularly wanted to, but moreso because my art teacher strongly encouraged it. I'm grateful because at school it's important to explore and develop a broad range of skills. You don't learn new things by doing the same thing over and over again. The piece was part of a study of Chinese culture, and represents the general attitude of modern China towards its history. New replaces old in the name of progress, often with little thought to the preservation of historical and cultural icons. The most obvious example is the Great Wall - according to the Great Wall Society of China, 50% has disappeared, 30% is in ruins, and only 20% is considered to be in "reasonable" condition. Sadly, the same can be said of many other countries. Often those championing modernisation and development are far better funded and resourced than those defending history and traditional culture.

Chinese Graffiti

Since then, I've rarely had occasion to paint a canvas. I painted the piece below as a request for a friend of my brother based on essentially no specifications - it was just an idea I had in the back of my mind. I used an actual shoelace to add some depth and dimension.


Despite my previous lack of interest and motivation, I plan to paint more in future. Given how challenging I find it, the end result and feeling of completion are always that much more satisfying. Stay tuned!

Future Directions

This world is but a canvas to our imagination.

Henry David Thoreau

Monday, 25 March 2013

Birthday Arty

A few years ago, three of my best friends had a combined 21st birthday party. At the time, I didn't have much money and couldn't think of a worthwhile present in my limited budget. I decided instead to invest my time into creating a personalised drawing for each of them. That way, I could demonstrate their importance to me without breaking the bank or wasting my money on something they didn't really want. If 'time is money' then it wasn't really the cheap option (though, in a more literal sense, it was a cheap option).

I brainstormed ideas about each of them - interests, hobbies, music, sports, and so on - to develop pieces of each person's picture. I wove these pieces together using some general structural elements (e.g. arrows) and miscellaneous objects to make each image cohesive. As an extra touch, I also made the pieces fit together when arranged in series (not perfectly aligned below).

Much to my relief, their response to the pieces was very positive. They were actually received better than I could remember any gift I had given before! I figured there must be something to this, probably along the lines of it's the thought that counts (not how much you spend). I continued creating artworks for my friends' birthdays, with varying degrees of personalisation. It was the perfect solution - it was inexpensive, highly enjoyable, and showed I was putting time and effort into the gift.

I think the emphasis modern society places on money is a shame. While I'm not of the opinion that the entire financial system is a charade, it certainly has its problems (greed, waste, inequality, unnecessary suffering). One that I think is the most unfortunate is the degree to which money is often seen as intrinsically coupled to value. Just because something's more expensive to make or buy doesn't make it better! Buying and owning things of greater expense has come to be seen as a symbol of status, but many real millionaires are rich because they live simply and below their means.

Enough rambling for now, here are some more birthday pictures!

Unfortunately, with other commitments to work around it's impossible to make one for every friend in a year. Even the few shown here weren't all finished within one year. I'm still working on them though!

"All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."

Pablo Picasso

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Photo of the Week #5

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I climbed a hill to see the sunset but managed to choose the first overcast evening of the month. Very nice atmosphere above the city though, warm and windy. Maybe I'll see what I can manage on a clear day!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Every Colour but Grey

Back in 2009 an unusual artist's work caught my eye. I've never spent a lot of time browsing or studying artwork but every now and then I stumble across something that makes me really stop and think about it. Alex Grey's work is vibrant, full of life and energy, and invokes feelings of sublimity. Inspired by a series of profound psychedelic and spiritual experiences, and knowledge gained working with cadavers in the Harvard Medical School anatomy department, Grey channelled a unique style of representing multiple layers of reality.

Grey's work explores themes ranging from birth to death to rebirth and the afterlife - and everything inbetween: spirituality, religion, love, humanity, good and evil, the nature of reality, and artwork itself. His paintings often show detailed anatomical representations, typically blended with religious symbols and spiritual imagery. His pieces look deeper than the apparent surface reality of our world, and open the viewer's eyes to other realms.

Take a look at his work and decide for yourself. Most people either love it or hate it. Here are some of my favourite pieces, representing a cross-section of his 2D work:

The Seer
Vajra Brush
The Artist's Hand
Net of Being

Grey's work has been described as religious/spiritual/sacred artvisionary art, and postmodern art; however, the movement I associate most of his work with is psychedelic artPsychedelic is a term literally meaning soul-manifesting or mind-manifesting (from the Greek ψυχή / psyche, "soul"/"mind" and δηλοῦν / deloun, "to manifest"). It has also been described (here) as:

  • Of, characterized by, or generating hallucinations, distortions of perception, altered states of awareness, and occasionally states resembling psychosis
  • Relating to or denoting new or altered perceptions or sensory experiences, as through the use of hallucinogenic drugs
  • Having the vivid colours and complex patterns popularly associated with the visual effects of psychedelic states

Regardless of the definition, it's a very broad category with significant overlap with other fields (aside from those mentioned above, see surrealism, abstract art, art nouveau, Dada, pop art).

Following are a selection of my own drawings from 2009 inspired by Alex Grey and other psychedelic artists. You can read more about Alex Grey here.

The Birth of Life

Eager Eye

From Another World



Changing Perspective

In a society that tries to standardize thinking, individuality is not highly prized.

Alex Grey

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Photo of the Week #4

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This week's image is much more conceptual and edited than the past 3 (see: #1, #2, #3). I layered several photos of carpet with different contrast, brightness, saturation, filters, and blending modes. The end result is a fiery texture I've uploaded for public use and will probably use myself in future pieces.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Read Between the Bars

For those who don't know, Elliott Smith was an indie musician from the United States. He performed from 1991-2003, initially with the band Heatmiser, then as a solo artist, pioneering his own style of deep, layered music. As a singer and multi-instrumentalist, he had significant freedom to accurately express himself and create interesting, unique pieces. Although he never really achieved mainstream popularity, he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song in 1998 with Miss Misery, featured in Good Will Hunting (an excellent movie, highly recommended).

Throughout his life and career he struggled with severe depression, and drug and alcohol addictions. These issues affected him deeply and are themes reflected in many of his songs. Although the circumstances surrounding his death at 34 from multiple stab wounds to the chest are unclear, it seems an unlikely way to commit suicide...

I was introduced to Elliott's work by a close friend in 2008. Sadly, too late to ever witness a live performance or hope for an album of new music, but certainly not too late to enjoy and marvel at his carefully-crafted songs. If you want to listen to his music, I particularly recommend Between the BarsKing's Crossing,  and Angeles.

Elliott's music helped me get through some tough times in my life, and I created several pieces in tribute to him. Each of the pieces below are inspired by his songs (A Fond Farewell, King's Crossing, and Between the Bars respectively).

The Great Romance

The King's Crossing

Between the Bars

I still listen to Elliott Smith, though not nearly as often as I once did. There is something unique about his sound that I doubt I'll ever get bored of. It's a real loss that he died so young, but without his severe depression, drug and alcohol issues, and volatile relationships I doubt his music would have achieved the quality it did. Elliott was far from the first troubled musician to pass before his time (Elvis, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, The Notorious B.I.G., Whitney Houston, etc.). Others simply had to move on from music in light of their personal issues (e.g. Syd Barrett).

Whether causative or simple correlation, there's a clear link between creativity and mood and substance disorders. It's a topic I find very interesting and will be writing more about in future!

Tribute to Elliott Smith

Kings Crossing

The king's crossing was the main attraction
Dominos are falling in a chain reaction
The scraping subject ruled by fear told me
Whiskey works better than beer

The judge is on vinyl, decisions are final
And nobody gets a reprieve
And every wave is tidal
If you hang around
You're going to get wet

I can't prepare for death any more than I already have
All you can do now is watch the shells
The game looks easy, that's why it sells
Frustrated fireworks inside your head
Are going to stand and deliver talk instead
The method acting that pays my bills
Keeps the fat man feeding in Beverly Hills
I got a heavy metal mouth that hurls obscenity
And I get my check from the trash treasury
Because I took my own insides out

It don't matter because I have no sex life
All I want to do now is inject my ex-wife
I've seen the movie
And I know what happens

It's Christmas time
And the needles on the tree
A skinny Santa is bringing something to me
His voice is overwhelming
But his speech is slurred
And I only understand every other word
Open your parachute and grab your gun
Falling down like an omen, a setting sun
Read the part and return at five
It's a hell of a role if you can keep it alive
But I don't care if I fuck up
I'm going on a date
With a rich white lady
Ain't life great?
Give me one good reason not to do it
(Because we love you)
So do it

This is the place where time reverses
Dead men talk to all the pretty nurses
Instruments shine on a silver tray
Don't let me get carried away
Don't let me get carried away
Don't let me be carried away

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Photo of the Week #3

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I went for a walk through the parklands near the city and took a few shots. It's a little disturbing that I didn't even need to edit the colours for the water to be the same colour as the grass and trees...

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Sounds of Summer

A few summers ago, I felt like doing something different. Something fun. Something bright and colourful!

I've played guitar for over 10 years (not very well) and I decided to blend my love of music with art by painting a guitar. I had never done much painting on paper or canvas, let alone musical instruments, but it seemed like a good idea. If you never try new things you'll never expand your repertoire. I admit it wasn't all that ambitious but you have to start somewhere...

To kick it off, I picked up a cheap guitar from a nearby pawn shop. It didn't sound too good before I started so at least I wouldn't need to worry about ruining the sound (which I did). Leaving the strings on, I sanded off the front of the body of the guitar and applied several layers of white paint as an undercoat. I then sketched out a simple design, picked some colours and started painting.

Applying a few layers each of blue and yellow, I ended up with the bright, slightly psychedelic design below.

The entire process took less than a week - most of which I was watching paint dry. It was quick and straightforward but fun. I currently have a similar project planned in which I'll further explore the process of painting a guitar and blend in concepts of life and nature. Stay tuned!

A painter paints pictures on canvas.  But musicians paint their pictures on silence. 

Leopold Stokowski