Friday, February 27, 2009

Scissure - A reader's cool input

I got some intriguing email the other day from Judy, a self-professed "frustrated gallery-owner-wannabe." She loves to follow artists, and had some interesting feedback for me about Scissure, my last post. As she said, "I took the liberty of cropping this painting (I LOVE THE COLORS!), and I wondered what you think of it. It has so much movement, and I love both your original and my cropping of it. I’m an asymmetrical kind of character, I guess." I totally didn't mind her doing this, and here's her cropped version:

Connie Kleinjans fine artInteresting! I wrote back to her and said "In most cases I don't like exact symmetry either. There's a book called The Simple Secret to Better Painting, by Greg Albert, and his theory is that, in composition, you should never make two intervals the same. This applies to shapes, colors, values, etc. I tend to follow the 1/3 rule and put a fl point at one of the intersections of an imaginary tick tack toe grid placed on your painting. I violated that in this painting because, well, maybe at first because the center is where the colors fell in the original composition. But also, to me it seemed like with a monolith composition it asked to be centered. I could be wrong. The way you cropped it gives it a more organic feel."

I love that Judy wrote me, and I love that both croppings work. Judy, it was wonderful to hear from you.

(BTW, for the last few months I've been associating text with the image so that when you hover your cursor over it, a small message appears. No biggie. Just something fun.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Connie Kleinjans fine art30 x 40 x 1.5", acrylic and mixed media on stretched canvas

Taste in art is interesting, with this work being a case in point. I find it my most monumental piece yet, with a kind of a grandeur, but it's also a bit disquieting, because it makes me think of a wound (that was almost my first title). But it doesn't appeal to my husband Mike as much (not to say that he dislikes it, just that it doesn't do as much for him as for me). While I might choose to stick with my own sense about a painting, I honestly find his input valuable. First, I have not yet plugged in with a local art group, so my impulses and tastes are growing in isolation, with only input from Mike and the wonderful visitors to this blog. :) But second, Mike has never studied art. He's an engineer. So, to me, he represents both another perspective and also the audience.

That, of course, brings up the perpetual issue: audience. I don't know about you, but I sometimes find concern for my audience creeping in when I paint. Then I make decisions based on some concept of what I think will sell or will appeal to a lot of people, or something. But you can't do that! At least, not a lot. The point of creativity -- any creativity -- is to make it honest and make it yours. Recently I spent time just noticing when I was taking salability into account, even subtly. When that happened, my comeback to myself was, "Yes, but do I like it?" This can be hard for people (especially women?) who are raised to think of others, to keep the harmony. And it can also be hard because this is a kind of expensive hobby if I don't sell anything (I haven't seriously launched that effort yet).

Here's a nice quote from Art & fear (yes, they use the ampersand and the lower case on the front cover of the book):
Fears about artmaking fall into two families: fears about yourself, and fears about your reception by others. In a general way, fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.
So, going back to the beginning of this entry, if I ultimately need to make my art mine, why do I need input from others? Hmm. I haven't spent much time on this, but it feels like I need a little input to stay grounded and not float away in my own conceptual world. And, frankly, I'm insecure enough to need a little validation sometimes. So, perhaps (as in many things), the answer is the Middle Path, the eternal balancing act, yin yang. As they say, "Moderation in all things, including moderation."

But I do like "Make it honest, make it yours." Of course, maybe they're the same thing. Kind of.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Connie Kleinjans fine art11 x 14 x 0.75, acrylic on stretched canvas

I seem to be in love with drips. I used them for Red, a couple of posts earlier. I've been doing them using an eyedropper I got for earlier projects. This looks almost like a Japanese screen painting I've seen, but I can't nail down what painting that is.

Going on with waxing philosophical, I find myself pondering the concept of "pretty." To my eye, some of my abstracts are pretty, and some aren't. I like pretty, given my druthers, but I don't want it as a goal. Sometimes it's satisfying to be edgy or dramatic or a little wacky.

Art has so many purposes and definitions. I know that I've seen art that's wonderful, but I only need to look at once; it's made its point. Other art is purely decorative. I'm probably closer to the latter camp, but I hope I'm offering a lot to look at. After I posted an earlier painting, a friend commented that her eyes wandered all over it. I liked that. I think I like richness and having a lot to see. The author of a book I have said someone told her he felt he could just fall into her paintings. What a cool concept! I'm not sure how to do that, but I do love rich colors and a lot of subtle detail.

This week, at least.


Connie Kleinjans fine art12x12x1.5, acrylic on stretched canvas

This one was quick. I've been doing my paintings in two layers: the first puts down something, anything; the second is the dialogue, where I work with what's there to turn it into the final composition. But on this one I liked my first layer. Well, I did add the red, and beef up the gold paint (the dark yellow you see is gold). I named it Floe because it reminds me of turbulence in icy waters. (Of course, now I see a white whale in front, but that's the thing that happens with abstracts: people see shapes that remind them of things.)

I'm finding that abstract painting is challenging my internal concepts about life and happiness. I've had an unvoiced belief for years that "If only I could paint more, then I'd be happy." But in the moment, while I'm painting, I don't feel it as happiness, as in grinning like a maniac. Rather, I seem to get kind of vulnerable. It feels like I have to sustain an openness, but also keep my artistic sense tuned so I can build a painting I'm satisfied with. The inner dialogue is kind of instinctive: yes, no, yes, yes, oh no!, maybe, hmm [page pace pace], [get tea], [mix up some new color and apply it], yes, hmm, yes, no... I spend a lot of time dissatisfied, but somehow in tune with myself. I wonder if this will change over time?

So I'll reiterate my favorite quote, said by Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille:
There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at anytime. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Connie Kleinjans fine art36x36x.75", acrylic on stretched canvas

I'm not sure why I'm calling this one Red. I mean, it's mostly red, but not entirely. There was a point during its evolution where I wanted to call it I Tried to Paint a Red Picture and Look What Happened. But it seemed to want to be named Red.

OK, as I move forward, I'm getting the sense that I'm starting to play it safe now. This might be kind of a safe painting. But at the same time, I love the richness. The colors have a lot of depth coming out of layers and layer of translucent paint. While I was painting it, I found myself feeling this kind of ache for the richness of it, if that makes sense. Then again, I wander craft fairs and look at colors and feel textures (I love booths where they make carved wood items, and sand them until they're like silk).

OK, this went through a bunch of iterations. I worked on the first during the workshop at the end of January. It was pretty much a lot of interesting texture I made by spritzing rubbing alcohol and splashing colors around. It was cool looking, kind of, but mostly texture:

It's OK. It's wallpaper. So I decided to use it as a take-off point at home, choosing a palette and finding shapes to simplify. Eventually it turned from a bunch of amoebas into a bunch of squares (the circular line was my prep for the following step):

I wasn't happy with it. Too square, too clunky or something. The blue square that's kind of akimbo wasn't helping. If you could cut off the rightmost 8 inches it looked OK. So, pfeh. I tried adding a circle and reversing the colors on either side of the line. It came out kind of like this (I know I don't have the color balance right):

Totally still not there. I returned to my theory: simplify, simplify, simplify. So I started to add transparent red to it. I love alizarin crimson. I also started to play with the drips, and kept adding and adding them until I built up the texture. But you could still see some of the underlying layers, which was part of the depth. I added the square elements at the top of ground it (otherwise it's wallpaper). And I added the focal point just right of center. Et voila.

However, there is zero of the original painting. I wonder if I need to work on my process.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Connie Kleinjans fine art18x24", acrylic on stretched canvas

So, what do you feel while you're painting? When I first started painting again after many years, I was euphoric. Of course, eventually I got used to it and it faded. But doing abstracts feels right. (For now.) There are times when I get into kind of a hyper place, and paint with an intensity that, to my vague embarrassment, others in workshops have commented on. It's not always like that, but I'm again having those little electric charges of excitement, when I see something that looks right. "Oo! That's cool!"

Do you play music while you're painting? I've always found chamber music to be good. I like mostly non-verbal, or at least non-English music, since words often interfere with my focus. The right New Age music is good. At the recent workshop I learned about Paul Schwartz and am rapidly collecting his albums. I especially love Ombra Mai Fu on the Aria 3 album. Here it is on YouTube. While looking into that I found Libera, an English (I think) boy choir. This piece -- Far Away (also on YouTube) -- is stunning. I seem to be into sacred texts at the moment. Except that I've played low-key Hawaiian slack key the last couple of mornings (John Keawe). Hmm. And the other day I put on my favorite R&B collection. The intro to "Soul Man" is the most bodacious intro of any song, ever.

OK, now, about this painting, as usual the final artwork has nothing to do with the original composition. I had a meandering rock wall, and put down some painters tape before painting, just to get some variety in edges. Then I simplified. It feels like a waste of effort, but it's nice to have some of the richness under the surface. I named it Battlements for the tooth shapes at the bottom that look like castle battlements. The arc pulled this together, though, and the colorful bits look kind of like fireworks. I can imagine a story there.

Of course, someone else's story would be something else. Abstracts look different to everyone.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Connie Kleinjans fine art
16"x20", acrylic on stretched canvas

I'm seeing patterns in my imagery. Like the one I posted on 2/5, this one has shapes that are like continents. Or maybe clouds. I'm also learning my process. What I do is, I start with an underpainting, then I work with that. When I finish, I keep expecting some of that to be visible in the final effort. I have to say, though, that I pretty much cover up all the undercoat paint. I guess sometimes some shapes remain.

So what happens? A conversation. The underpainting dries, and I go back and look at it from all four orientations. I start to find shapes in it, and I bring those out, usually applying paint with a piece of an old T-shirt (I use brushes if I want some precision). Each time I add paint, the composition shifts, and it suggests the next thing to do. Eventually, I've covered up all of layer one.

But I gotta say, the main thing I do seems to be to simplify. There's a life lesson there, somewhere.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Connie Kleinjans fine art36x36, acrylic on .75" stretched canvas

How do you name a painting? I've been finding something in the painting that suggested a name. This one was first Landslide (I'm not sure why), then it changed my mind. Of course, at some point I thought the red shape in the middle looked like a heart, and during the workshop someone saw a chicken in it. (Heehee.)

Anyway, as I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I kind of erupted in abstracts at the end of last week's workshop. This was the third of the three that I felt worked. Now, I took ten canvases this size and painted nine of them, but I'm not sure I'll blog the others as they currently are. One reads as totally a class assignment. Another one seems trite to me. Of course, the nice thing about abstracts (at least, as I'm executing them) is that, the richer the underpainting, the more it contributes to the final painting.

I don't know what happens with others during intense painting periods, but one side effect for me is that my mind races and I don't sleep well. I stay up late and wake up early. And that brings up the next topic. Mental chatter.

Before Bob Burridge, the workshop teacher, starts a day of painting, he journals his automatic thoughts in his sketchbook. He just scribbles down whatever is in his mind, and might not bother to separate the words or add punctuation. (This might be something from Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones.) He says this allows the thoughts to fade (I guess they feel acknowledged), and leaves him focused on painting. So, during the week of the workshop, there was one early, early morning when I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep. I tried the journaling technique, and it worked. Not instantly, mind you. But I was able to go back to sleep eventually.

OK, back to this painting. Now, I love to experiment. And there are books out there that suggest experimenting with techniques like scrunching up plastic wrap or waxed paper and placing it in a pool of paint and removing it when it dries. Or you can buy tools at the hardware store -- like grout spreaders -- and use them to make parallel lines. Or you can add sand to the paint. And so on. I love these things, but I'm noticing that if that's all I do when I create a painting, then the painting lacks heart. But if it's a springboard, then it works.

The effect I used in this painting was blue painter's tape. The teacher said he normally didn't like it when he saw it in paintings, but he thought it worked with the palette. Of course, what he said also seemed like a gentle warning that it's been done. After all, at the beginning of the workshop he also said that everything has been done by someone, so get over it. The important thing is that you do what's right for you. This gorgeous quote speaks to this:
There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at anytime. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others. If I add something to my time, then that is my prize.
- Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille

Friday, February 6, 2009


Connie Kleinjans fine art36x36, acrylic on .75" stretched canvas

This painting is another of the ones I did at the very end of the workshop last week. Bob Burridge, the teacher, bless his heart, was kind enough to say "It blew me away." He also said, "You're a good surprise." I think his stuff is heading more toward the dissonant abstract (or whatever you call this kind of thing where it ain't decoration and it ain't necessarily pretty). He seems to have a real instinct for when a painting has what he calls fire in the belly. And, yes, when I was painting these things, I almost vibrated with the intensity of it. I think the drips make this one: light drips over dark, and dark drips over light. And maybe the weird palette. And the focal point that's way up at the upper edge.

A friend who subscribes to this blog wrote and asked if I have a theme or similarity in composition. Good question. Ideally you should have a concept you're exploring. I'd like to be able to say that I'm, oh, expressing anguish at man's inhumanity to dogs or some such (well, mistreated animals is a hot button of mine). But what I'm finding is that I have a process, and I do the process, and it helps me figure out what I like about it. It's kind of backwards. My process is this: 1.) I do an underpainting that lays down some color and patterns. To do this, I choose a palette and start with a very rough sketch of somewhere I've hiked or visited. I slather paint on it and manipulate that (scratch, spritz alcohol, tip the canvas, etc., etc.). Then I let it dry. 2.) I then go in with very wet paint, which I smear on with a piece of cloth (I like to cut up old T-shirts that would otherwise be donated), and sometimes a brush, or the edge of my fingers or whatever. And I start to simplify. That's when the dialogue with the painting starts. Hi! How ya doin'? (Not really.) How's the palette working? What's too complicated? What colors are distracting? How can I take advantage of the underpainting? And I build the painting that way. And I like to add the grace notes; the little spots of high color.

OK, back to the question of having a concept. I want to write an artist's statement, and today I've been paying attention to what I like, and what I've been doing intuitively. I'm finding things like this:
  • I like organic marks, not highly labored paintings.
  • I like to see some of the artist's process, some sign that a person was there.
  • I like a sense of honesty. I don't like to be manipulated.
There's more. Maybe I'll write more about it when more becomes clear. But try going to Ebay and searching for "abstract painting." There are a lot, and, to my eye, very few have soul.

Anyway, I don't know if that's enough of a concept. Maybe it's enough to slosh paint around and focus my intensity on the canvas. I'm pretty sure that the paintings (so far) show zero sign of the beautiful scene that formed the underpainting. But maybe it's enough that the idea was there? I don't know.

Also, by the way, one weird thing that's I've found is that, even though these are the first abstracts I've done using this process, there's something familiar about it. And I think it comes from my doodling. Off and on through the years, I've found myself playing with cross hatching or crayons or whatever. And I've looked for patterns that were there and emphasized them. That's kind of all I'm doing here.

OK, one more thing. And it's about being an artist and facing fears. A couple of years ago I was so excited about painting small still lifes. Then, eventually, it petered out. Now I find myself afraid that this will fade, too. Of course, what makes it fade will probably be the desire (need) to do something different, but my emotions don't know that. They're afraid my creative drive is going to dry up. I hope I can come to trust that something new always comes up. It's the artist's life. Wear protective clothing.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"New World Order"

Connie Kleinjans fine art
36x36, acrylic on .75" stretched canvas

When you blog your art, it behooves you not to be too negative about your work, even if you can't quite resolve something. After all, who wants to turn readers (and potential buyers) away? So in recent months, I've been feeling more and more dissatisfied with my small still lifes. Now, don't get me wrong; I still think there's something exquisite about appreciating the beauty of small things in our lives. But painting them was making me feel more and more cramped. I had to do a handful of cramped paintings, before I could come out with something painted the way I want to paint: free and creative and with some zazz to it.

So, I looked around. I noticed an artist whose work appeared in a number of books I have showing techniques. I checked his site, liked what I saw, and learned about a workshop where you'd learn to paint larger and looser. That sounded great, so I decided to sign up for a workshop. The artist is Robert Burridge, and I took the workshop last week (Jan 26 to 30) and it was great fun.

Not only was it fun, I also made a couple of conceptual leaps. First, I watched Bob's demos, and saw this wet and wild and loose way of painting -- he does a lot with paper towel, her heaven's sake! -- and leapt into it. Now, I'd brought ten (!) 36x36" canvases as a statement of intent, and I wanted to use them all, if I could. So I sloshed paint around; I spritzed it with alcohol; I scribbled with water-soluble pencils. The results looked cool. The problem was, they felt like technique rather than an expression of me, if that makes sense. No soul. Heck, anyone can slosh and spritz.

The next leap came when I began to grasp how to take my rough paintings, and simplify so that I had an interesting composition, with layers and depth. I think it was because of one specific demo Bob did, where he took a complex painting and found its compositional soul. That evening I stayed until 9 pm and did three large paintings (well, I finished two), which is astonishing from someone who was having trouble finishing a 6x8" painting every day.

I am amazed. Ultimately, in four days, I did nine 36x36" paintings (some might not be worth blogging), as well as some sketches on paper. I swear, once I got it, the stuff just poured out of me. The one in this post is my favorite.

I drove home (five hours) late last Friday. Saturday I just crashed all day, probably the result of workshop intensity on top of a cold. Since then I've been clearing out a space in the basement. I need a place where I can put out the bigger canvases, and not worry about getting paint on anything valuable. So I'm getting rid of a lot of boxes, and vacuuming up years of cobwebs.

So, what were a few amazing things about the workshop?
  • Bob just squeezes paint onto the tabletop anywhere he wants, then mixes the colors and water, and dives in, fast. This is so alien to someone who reads about how you should always put your paints in the same place so you can find them without thinking.
  • As I said, he uses paper towels a lot. I find they shred on me, so I'm using cut up old T-shirts.
  • He uses a lot of white! And occasionally black! And his paintings certainly aren't washed out.
  • He'll work on 2, 3, 4, or 8 paintings at once, some on watercolor paper, and some on small canvases. You know how, by painting every day, you learn a lot? Imagine doing your daily paintings side-by-side, and exploring several painting questions all at once.
  • He answered tons of questions from everyone. At his recommendation, I am most of the way through Art and Fear.
  • There's more, but I'm really sleepy and want to get this out.
So if you liked my small still lifes, I'm sorry but I don't think I'll be doing many for awhile. I actually don't know where this is going, but I'm way excited. But I guess I'm learning that there's an inner drive, and you really need to listen to it if you want to do work that expresses you. And in order to do that, you find whatever resources you need to get you moving down the path.