I’ve never done an end-of-the-year review before, but artist Pam Lowe recently sent me a message about her history as a quilter and her new painting process that made me ponder my own artistic roots.
I think it’s sometimes valuable to look back as a way of appreciating how far we’ve come from where we began.
Like many women, I started off in the fiber arts. I learned how to knit and crochet when I was a child, and as a teenager I sewed many of my own clothes. From there I graduated to making quilts, dyeing fabric for the quilts, weaving, screen printing and other fiber arts techniques.
But I always wanted to paint. Painting felt intimidating to me. There are rules about how to use the materials, what brushes to use, what substrate to use, and you’re supposed to know how to draw. I didn’t want to take a painting class, because I didn’t want to learn how to paint like everyone else. That didn’t interest me. And yet I was also afraid to get started on my own.
I finally took the plunge in 1998 and decided to try painting, just for myself. No one had to see my work. I bought some acrylics and a few canvases, covered the living room with plastic, and gave it a go. I don’t have pictures of my very early pieces, which were pretty bad, but below are two of my paintings when I was several years into it. I was working on finding my own voice and a unique style.
This first painting is like a Rorschach ink blot, with the canvas folded in half to create a bilaterally symmetric design that I then masked and glazed. The technique of pushing wet paint together to create fractal-type designs is a recurring theme in my work because I’ve always been fascinated with the patterns it creates.
“Tiger,” 22 x 22 inches, acrylic on canvas, 2001
“Self Portrait,” 24 x 18 inches, acrylic on canvas, 2002
It was four years before I had anything worthy of showing. My big break came when I had the idea to weave strips of cut-up paintings together. These pieces were beautiful, but they were heavy and difficult to stretch.
“Sun Dance,” 36 x 36 inches, acrylic on canvas, 2002
As often happens, I got tired of creating the woven paintings, and it was time to move on to something else. I started playing around with the pushed paint technique on its own.
“Shen,” triptych, 44 x 80 inches, acrylic on canvas, 2004
Then I tried pouring paint onto the canvas with pushed paint designs layered on top.
“Sky,” 24 x 30 inches, acrylic on canvas, 2007
In 2007 I heard a talk given by artist John Robertson at one of Jon Swihart‘s monthly art salons. John uses Oops! house paint for his large-scale work, and I fell in love with the idea of using materials that would otherwise go to waste.
I went to Home Depot and bought some Oops! paints. I started off by pouring the paint and manipulating the canvas to create a design.
“Shazaam,” 24 x 30 inches, repurposed acrylic latex paint on canvas, 2007
Later I moved on to landscapes that were also poured and manipulated by tilting the canvas side to side.
“Breakers,” 22 x 30 inches, repurposed acrylic latex paint on canvas, 2008
Next came landscapes with an underlying texture of molding paste and the paint pulled across the canvas with a squeegee.
“Sea,” 36 x 48, repurposed acrylic latex paint on canvas, 2009
Pouring paint onto canvas left a lot of overflow paint on the floor. The wasted paint bothered me, and I decided to try using it up by pushing small canvases face down into the puddles of paint. The results were fabulous, and this lead to larger pushed paintings. Here’s my very first full-sized latex house paint pushed piece.
“Emergence,” 24 x 24 inches, repurposed acrylic latex paint on canvas, 2009
And here’s my most recent pushed piece.
“Mother Mater Matter,” triptych, 36 x 54 inches, repurposed acrylic latex paint on canvas, 2018
Where do I go from here? I’ve come full circle, and I’m incorporating fiber arts techniques into my paintings. This piece features rich rust-dyed marks on raw canvas, masked and layered with latex house paint.
“Biosphere,” 30 x 40 inches, iron oxide, graphite and repurposed acrylic latex paint on canvas, 2017
The painting below was created by first scrunching up the canvas, cramming it into a bucket, and pouring thinned paint over it. The canvas then retains a crinkled texture as other marks are layered on top.
“Tribal Beat,” 30 x 48 inches, repurposed acrylic latex paint on canvas, 2018
Thanks for joining me on this journey down memory lane! I left out many of the tangents I took for the sake of brevity, and I didn’t show my many failures and rejects.
My path with painting has not been a linear progression toward incrementally better work. There have been lots of missteps and downright ugly paintings along the way, which I think are necessary when we take risks, try something new, and grow as artists.
How far have you come on your journey so far? I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts. You can share them with us in the comments section below.
Wishing you many creative adventures for the new year!
With love and appreciation,