Tag Archives: bride

I use organizing principles not fascism in painting

Seasoned painters know that it pays to have a plan, an organizing principle to guide creative decisions at the easel.

Even stream of consciousness artists start off with an idea or feeling in mind. And a conceptually driven artist, even one like me who is working from Fluxus boxes set up in the studio, has to have an idea on how to build an image from the ground up.


Here’s how I got from the box still-life to my finished painting, Alchemical Bride 24 (Sojourner Truth). 

Firstly, I reversed the bride, so the small figure was in front and the large portrait in back. The picture still bent in half, but now I had an all-seeing eye looking at me. Cool!. After a number of sketches, I zeroed in on the green reflections from the plants in my studio as a color prompt.

With green as my anchor color, I picked out a quadratic color scheme to complement the hues I saw in the box, and nudged others to fit my chromatic key.

I believe in organizing principles to guide my brush. But I don’t think artists need to become goose-stepping fascists, mindlessly following some art historical rule. That kind of rigidity is for theorists, not for those who actually practice. The easel is where the rubber meets the road, and any painter worth her salt won’t give up what will best serve her painting because of a rule!

The Rule of thirds

Take the Rule of Thirds, a universally appealing way to distribute focal points in a painting, for example. To find my true thirds, I diagonally divide my painting in half in opposite directions. I then divide each leg in half, to find the “eyes” of my thirds. In my composition, the “eyes” are marked in red.

I wanted to create a strong movement from the bride’s vigilant and actively staring eye, to her hands, folded and waiting for action. A narrative suggested itself in these two gestures as I thought about the historical figure of Sojourner Truth. So I stressed the top right and lower right “eyes” softening the other two with shapes, moving with the rhythms of a Fibonacci spiral.

Fibonacci Spiral and the Golden Rule

Now look here, I free-handed my Fibonacci spiral, so it’s not a mathematically correct spiral. No doubt, there’s a theorist out there clucking tsk-tsk with disapproval. Know what I say to that? Jimmy-crack corn and I don’t care! My painting is alive and bristling with color, textures, values, and implied narratives. And it moves with the rhythms of the spiral despite the organic imperfections of my hand.

I use chromatic keys and compositional devices as organizing principles like an artist, not like a fascist. Discerning mathematicians and art critics need not freak out.

New Alchemical Bride Drawings and Prints

Alchemical Bride Drawing 1, Gouache on toned paper, 12″ x 9″

Carl Jung interpreted the process of alchemy to that of individuation towards the Self, and the Alchemical Bride series takes a look at this alchemy through a feminist lens.

Alchemical Bride Drawing 2, Gouache on toned paper, 12″ x 9″

Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s just the transition from teaching to time off, I haven’t much felt like painting in oils. Instead, I have been really enjoying the immediacy of making marks. To me that inevitably leads to drawing and printmaking.

Alchemical Bride Drawing 3, Gouache on toned paper, 12″ x 9″

Drawing with a brush, like in the three pieces above is a nice bridge between the layering of marks and medium that oil painting entails. This is different from engraving, where I take a sharp burin and gouge out the lines that will hold ink.

Alchemical Bride engraving 1

The speed of the mark as well as how hard I press determines the darkness and character of the mark.

Alchemical Bride engraving 2

Other factors that impact the resulting image include the color of ink and the paper used. For example, Alchemical Bride engraving 1 is printed in Lampblack on a rice paper that while very strong, appears fragile due to its thinness and translucency. By contrast, the bright red ink on the warm white paper of ALchemical Bride engraving 2 lends a sense of heat and pressure to the image.

Alchemical Bride engraving 3

In Alchemical Bride engraving 3, I mixed my own red and decided to push the heat of the image further by printing on a yellow/tan paper. I wanted the weight and temperature of the inks and paper to increase the squeezing effect on the smiling bride created by the dark marks of the hair above left and the refractions below right. Squeeze!

Alchemical Bride engraving 4

In this last image, I mixed red and green inks to create a chromatic neutral grey that left a plate tone in each chroma. This way you feel the green and red but don’t really see them creating a tension that alludes to the chemical processes in alchemy.