"Blue" Gouache on board © Joanna Zeller Quentin 2009.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tools of the Trade

Today I had intended to write about inspiration - those artists whose work inspires, educates and inflames me.  But, as is so often the case, the best laid plans can go astray.  As I wandered the aisles of the art store this morning intent on spending my gift certificate (spoils from placing third in this year's Irving National Wildlife Art Show) I took in all the tools of the trade, those amazing but silent raw materials that allow artists to do what they do - create something out of nothing.

Rows and rows of paint tubes in every color of the rainbow.  Stacks upon stacks of paper in every possible texture, size and shade.  Displays of brushes poke their heads up vying for attention, all begging to be touched.  Pastels, charcoal, pens, ink, canvas.  All of it sitting mute on the shelf, waiting for someone to dig into them and make something.  I want to buy ALL of it.

So what is essential to me in my studio?  Understand, my current studio is not ideal.  My husband and I share a studio space, and both of us have a LOT of stuff, so it's a little cramped.  It's kind of dusty (despite my best efforts), the light is nice but uneven, and ... did I mention it was cramped?  But I have my half of the room and he has him, and we've each made the space ours and come here to do serious work.

The whole studio is dominated by a full wall of bookshelves.  All the shelves are overfull, so there are also books stacked sideways on top and lined up on the sides, sometimes two and three rows deep.  All our friends are here: Rembrandt, Sargent, Caravaggio, Audobon, Hogarth, Parrish, Wyeth, Rousseau, and Magritte.  There are shelves devoted to the wizards of Disney traditional (and CG) animation, Byzantine iconography, art nouveau, art instruction, art theory, art history, figure drawing and animal anatomy.  There are favorite books whose pages are smudged with paint or dusty with charcoal, and the books wear those marks like a badge of honor.  Inspiration lives on those shelves, and I cannot count the number of times that being able to reach over and grab a book has saved the day... and the piece.

My drawing/ painting desk is an old architectural drafting table.  The thing is massive, creaky and ancient.  It tilts back and forth and slides up and down, and the surface is a much written upon self-healing matt.  I've got all kinds of stuff scribbled on here, quotes from artists or authors, bits of songs or phrases that tickle my ear, admonitions and motivation.  Since the matt is rubber, the words eventually fade away, and I can either rewrite them or add something new, providing a continuously changing inspiration board.  At the moment, "The Wind of Heaven" is tacked to the board with snap clamps (another essential for me), along with a plastic glove from oil painting and a picture of my little sister.

Directly above my desk is more inspiration.  The cork bulletin board is almost totally covered in tear sheets, photos, show dates, reminders, and a few odds and ends that I rather like.  It's a huge mess, but whenever I try to clean it off all the empty space makes me uneasy, so back go the photos.  Some of these are future paintings, some of them are cool photos, and some of them are photos that would make wonderful paintings (or etchings), if only I could figure out how to do them.  They live above my desk as a kind of permanent "tickle board", and every once in awhile, I can pull a photo off and work a painting from it.

My oils live in a fishing tackle box, a holdover from college days.  Watercolors and gouache have their own boxes, since they don't play together very well, and my desk drawers hold a plethora of pens, inks, framing supplies, office stuff, oil pastels (I now have an entire drawer dedicated to my Sennelier oil pastels, and I am psyched!), painting mediums, and rags.  All of my brushes live on my desk, loosely sorted by size and medium.  My watercolor brushes are kept together in one of my water jars- an antique mason jar that has only gotten prettier with age, paint and use.  I have two good lights and a comfy chair.  The big Epson and my filing cabinets full of carefully sorted reference photos live on the other side of the room.

The only other thing that is absolutely integral to my studio is the dread machine I am typing on.  Not only for the computer-y goodness, but because it holds quite a bit of my music collection, and it has a neat "shuffle" button.  I can't work in silence.  (My husband, by contrast, works ONLY in silence, which explains why the two of us can't work at the same time.)  I listen to a wide variety of music when I'm working (or any time, really), anything from classical to Dixieland Jazz to Eminem.  Right now I'm rocking out to Clare Fader and Janis Joplin, and in awhile I'll pick up a brush and turn on Florence and the Machine and Muse.  (Of course now it just shuffled to Mozart's Requiem.  Of course.)

Today's art store haul included a bunch of yummy oil paints (and I even brought a list to prevent impulse buys!) and two wonderful new long handled brushes, both with excellent snap and a really nice feel in the hand.  I can't wait to dig into my palette later and try them out.  I've got a few paintings to finish (and they're so close to being done!) and it will be a great way to get to know these brushes and for them to get to know me.  I think we're going to be friends.

Turpentine and Ochre

All text and images © Joanna Zeller Quentin 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  www.MoosePantsStudio.com

Friday, October 14, 2011

Best of Both Worlds, or fun/work/fun

I spent today doing art of a different sort.  My project still required an inspired use of color, judicious contrast and value control, a nod towards tactile pleasure, and a desire to produce the best art I was able to create.  But instead of paper and paint (or even pixels) today's art consisted of fine art inkjet printing.

The subject of creating a print from your original artwork could fill a volume - several volumes, in fact - and there are plenty of good books out there on the very subject.  There are also wonderful online communities full of dedicated users who spend countless hours discussing paper profile mismatches, black point compensation and the proper color gamut of alizarin crimson.  There are those who rail against any kind of commercial art printing as a snub to traditional lithography, and there are plenty of people who throw around words like "archival", "giclee" and "limited edition", without any real grasp of what those words truly mean to the artist or their customer.  There is a world of information out there, and it would take several lifetimes to learn all there is to know about this business of printing art.

This is what I do know.  I can finish a painting, photograph it, convert it into a digital file, proof it, color correct it, proof it again (repeat as necessary), and create a beautiful piece of affordable art to pass it on to my collectors.  They get a beautifully printed, high quality "copy" of an original they may not have been able to afford, and I make a little extra money.  It's a beautiful thing.

I'm fortunate that I have the ability to control every phase of my artwork, from conceptual idea to  finished product in the client's hands.  Part of my college schooling was dedicated to computer illustration, typography and design.  While I am by no means a computer artist (but my husband is! www.Gizmoart.net) I view Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and Painter as tools in my arsenal.  In fact, most of my "professsional" life has involved those programs.  Over the past 10 years, much of my work has revolved around the world of fine art printing.  There is still art and artistry in this.  Creating a stunning fine art print is more than just running some great paper through a machine and pushing a button or two.  (And trust me, there's some really, really great paper out there.)  Granted, the technology has gotten much better since the first inkjet printers were introduced and today's machines produce great prints and are easier than ever to use, but an artist's eye is still required to create the perfect print.    

Why would that be?  Because an inkjet print is, at heart, a digital creation.  While the new printers are very, very good, there is still a huge difference between an original oil on board and a series of digitally controlled pigment ink droplets sprayed onto canvas.  The magic of what has happened on your board is digitized, crunched, converted to code and reassembled on a computer monitor with different light, different colors, even a different "white".  It's like comparing apples to... computer generated apples.  Once you've taken a good photo (another art form in its own right) and the image has been reassembled as a digital file, the real fun/work/fun begins.  When the image on your monitor finally matches the original art (variable 1), you must then print the image onto the chosen media (variable 2) and compare.  I usually do side by side comparisons with a red pen handy, and scribble cryptic notes to myself like "not jello-y enough" or "perfect shade for murder".  Then I sit back down at my computer and make my color adjustments, going for a nice refined claret instead of a "homicidal" red, for instance.  After I've corrected the image and saved my corrections as a new file, I print again and compare.  That's the process I repeat as long as necessary.  Simple?  Yes.  Easy?  No.   At the end of the day, the only thing that matters to me is the piece of canvas that comes out of the printer.  That is what is going to my client, and I want it to be the best print I am capable of creating.  

Tonight I'm heading to a gallery opening for a customer of mine.  He knows me from my 9-5, where I work with artists and photographers who print their own stuff, answering questions and giving advice on  papers, printers, varnishes, ICC profiles and color corrections.  On Sunday I have a gallery opening of my own to attend, with two of my paintings (well, a painting and a scratchboard) up for juried awards.  In some ways, it's the best of both worlds, and I am looking forward to both shows.  But right now I will take my freshly created print and inspect it one more time, looking for any flaws.  If it passes final inspection, I'll number it (1/60, for a brand new edition) and finally sign my name, signifying that this, to me, is art.  I made it, I created it, and I am proud to send it out into the world.

"Only the Lonely"  
Limited Edition giclee inkjet print from an original graphite by Joanna Zeller Quentin 2011. 
  © Joanna Zeller Quentin 2011.  All Rights Reserved.
 Limited Edition of 60, signed and numbered by the artist on 100% cotton rag paper, 18 x 24