From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

Archive for the ‘stream of conciousness’ Category

Universal Mother

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Today I went back into the mother’s face to make her more universal.  I want her to potentially be anyone’s mother, or at least to have echos of anyone’s mother.  So… source images from more people.

I was already tweaking Krys’ face to make her more like a particular DaVinci sketch for a Maddona which I thought had a very perfect mother-smile; gentle and calm and patient.  I was also making her eyes slightly more Asian.  Still, I wanted to make sure that the Mother was even more universal.  My friend Amada is not a mother, but she is a nurse and has that serene, gentle patient quality. 

Last Thursday I was able to get some images of her holding another friend’s baby.  There was such a huge difference in her face when she was holding the baby as opposed to posing cold!  I don’t know any African-descended women who have young children right now (at least none who live nearby), so I had to resort to the internet for those images.

I found a couple that had the element I wanted, even similar lighting…. but once you get into detail even small differences in lighting are suddenly HUGE issues!  I already altered the lighting on Krys by ooking at another shot with a worse expression but better lighting.  Trying to blend the different faces with different lighting conditions was a challenge.  Eventually I was fiddling too much and had to work on the background and another piece instead.

 The smile I want is an incredibly delicate thing.  I call it the Buddha smile in my mind.  Sublime, barely there, but infinitely tender.  Tricky.

Funny.  I showed my husband the face and he nailed what it was missing in one- a tiny place that should be darker on the right-hand corner of the mouth.  I changed it in Photoshop to see how it would look, and here it is…

I’m looking forward to getting the next layers on.

Written by Mary Corey March

February 1, 2012 at 11:19 pm


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I got in a little time on Wednesday and more yesterday.  The walls and alley floor are beginning to take shape.  More layers required, but it goes.  This painting is feeling good in its progression.  It’s not fast (not with the amount of layers and detail it will get), but it’s going well.  One of my many source images for alleyways already had a perfect solution to the perspective problem to work directly from.  It was a larger alley opening onto a wide street with a building across the street at the correct scale.  So the suggestion of the street at the end, given a few more cues should do the trick.  I also wanted doorways that were shut.  One source image had a doorway that was actually concreted over, and I ended up using that one.

The main thing that was important to me was the visuals rather than correct perspective, but I like doing both.  I wanted the visual of the perspective being at the angle they are, the sense of possibly being in a dead-end, and possibly not, the size and shape of the windows behind reflecting the sky, and the sense that the mother figure is both possible but somehow detached and larger than life (and slightly scaled up from the figure she is holding).

Written by Mary Corey March

January 14, 2012 at 4:50 am

roughing out the Pieta continued…

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I only had a small window today for the studio, but I am quickly learning not to disdain the small windows of time.  Before I had a child I wouldn’t, for example sit down to a sewing project without at least a 2-hour window.  When she was a newborn I learned to grab 2-minute windows to sew a seam or two.

Today I painted windows (and a building wall) in my small time window- half my previous “smallest painting-time” of 3 hours.  It was productive and I like the look of it so far. The whole piece will be many-layered, and the figures are in a complete under-painting still (so for non- painters, no, they will not be blue!  With a day between me and a hectic yesterday, I’m loving the rough strokes showing the under-painting.

It is an old teaching trick to give students a brush that is bigger than they are  comfortable with to get their mark going (a trick I have used on students often).  I use it on myself yesterday, but I took it up another notch after that and loved the result.  Weirdly, I found that the spacing between the windows I sketched out before was the exact width of that brush.  Interesting. I’m really enjoying this painting now.

Written by Mary Corey March

January 6, 2012 at 8:45 am

Painting Challenge- leaving it rough

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I pushed through a rough spot in the studio yesterday (not least because I forgot my headphones and had to paint through other people’s music and conversations).  I have been struggling with the Pieta painting and how I want to make objects in the alleyway fade in and out of distinction.   I want the figures themselves, especially the Mother figure to be more classical Renaissance in style, eternal-feeling, more real than the surroundings, but the alley/background needs to be less distinct.

It could be blended and fogged, faded, abstract… there are so many ways to go.

Yesterday I had a lot of pent-up, agitated energy.  I almost didn’t paint, but then I felt that it was exactly the energy that should go into the background.  As I started to paint the supporting objects for the figure (a tent-bag, folded blankets, a roll of foam, cardboard sheets) I found myself drawn to a larger brush than usual and went with it.  Bold strokes came out and I found myself loving the space behind them showing the underpainting.

This is hard.

It’s hard to leave those raw marks and not fuss over them.  There is a tendency towards smoothing things out and making them more representational if you know how (something I see when I’m tutoring or teaching a class all the time).    …but when I look at other paintings, those rough ones are the marks I love best.

I think this is my answer.  I’m going to rough it all in in this style, leaving gaps to the under-painting and then pick out tiny portions of objects to add detail to.   I want a little of that dream-feeling that objects only gain detail when you look at them closely and become indistinct otherwise.  I want it to feel in-motion, impermanent, to highlight the rock that is the mother-figure.  I think the “child” figure will have aspects of both.

The whole experience was a uncomfortable and unbalancing, but also refreshing in a way.  It’s a sign of growth- we can’t learn new things when we stay in our comfort zone at all times, and I intend to keep learning.

The painting I find most sublime is when someone can play surprising elements against each other: rough against smooth, figurative against abstract, digital against organic.  It goes with the obsession with liminality and paradox.

Written by Mary Corey March

January 6, 2012 at 1:28 am

Pieta underpainting continues…

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I’m definitely painting faster these days.  I love to challenge myself so much that I forgot how much easier it is when I’m doing something I actually have done before and already know how to do!  If I’m not creating a whole new process, paintings just fly these days. 

Today I had 4 hours in the studio and I completely re-worked the position of the faces and the under-painting for the skin.  I even roughed out some drapery changes.  The halo is a nifty side effect of changing the hair, but will only stay in the faintest suggestion.  The hair itself is minimally blocked out with room to expand.

I think the next thing for this piece is making sure my plan for the space under and to the left of the figures has enough weight to it to balance the right.  More work for Photoshop mock-ups!  So far I’m pretty pleased now that the figures are better placed.

*for more on this painting look under the “Pieta” category”

Last week I had an even shorter block of time in the studio and managed to finish a piece that has been languishing unfinished in my studio for far too long.  It was just time.  I had painted it in my mind ever time I came in, and suddenly I just had to finish it.  It just flowed.  Such a rush to get it out into the world!

There are a number of studies (most famously the basketball one) that show the results of doing a thing after spending a long time thinking through how to do it rather than actually doing it over and over actually gives better results.  I think this is the other half of why my painting is going faster.   I may not have studio time, but I think through all my work a great deal whenever I can, so that when I do get to the studio there is very little searching going on.

The newly finished piece below one shows some of the connection between my fiber pieces, the skin paintings and my sculpted canvases.  To the outside observer without a map, my work may seems less cohesive, but there are very strong lines running through all of it that exist for me.  I think that as I have more time to work the blank spaces connecting all the work in my mind will fill more visibly.  Things that seem unrelated will have more obvious connecting points.

Written by Mary Corey March

December 9, 2011 at 10:49 am


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Sunday night I finished installing the latest iteration of Identity Tapestry.  I was given an extra 3 feet at the last minute.  This caused me some last minute gut-wretching because it was uncertain for almost two days and I had to prepare to do either and didn’t know if my preparations to make it larger were for nothing and I was losing sleep and toasting my fingers for those extra feet.  I had no doubt that longer was significantly better for this piece and well worth the effort.

Mounted Panel, ready to receive the installation

Despite the difficulties in working with an audience, I was more than glad to have help in panel-building and hauling down to LA.  I couldn’t have done it alone.

We made a fancy mounting system for the panel and now it functions almost like a painting.  Suddenly the piece can come off the wall and be moved as a whole.  It changes everything.  It reminds me of the way early paintings were mainly murals and how the first panel-paintings must have been a revelation.

I love the basket.  It looked perfect.  I re-worked it quite a bit from the picture in the last post since I thought it was in danger of emulating a certain Du Champ piece.  Re-worked it looked like it was always meant to be part of the piece.  It adds the element of touch I was wanting- a more organic form working in contrast aside the more technical-looking parts.  It is meant to be a kind of nest or womb, a fit opposite to the stones at the end of the strings which I feel are more like tiny memorials.  My daughter delighted me by asking if it was an egg or a nest.   I think when the yarn is used it will look like it is leaping out of the basket.  I can’t wait to see it in action.

…and no, no photos of the piece yet.  If you are in the LA area (perhaps for PULSE), come and see. The opening is this Saturday from 5-10PM at the OCCCA.

Written by Mary Corey March

September 29, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Process- helpers and observers

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I’ve learned more about my processes this time around… because this time I had an audience.

Trying different arrangements of labels in a 5' x 5' space as well as different placements fo the basket.  This particular arrangement was rejected, and the basket reworked in shape.  The random things I use to help during a process are evident in the child's chair and icecream maker.So far, with the exception of the first time when I didn’t need to build a wall I have had lots of help with each iteration of Identity Tapestry.  People helping me wind 300 balls of yarn, curators who have wall panels built for me, family and friends with tools and trucks and extra hands for transporting parts of the walls and building them.  This installation is not a one-person job.

This time the main person helping was either going to be there for a week in my house or not there at all.  …and so I had an constant observer to my process.

I never realized that I couldn’t have someone who was actually paying attention to my process in the room while I did certain things.  Winding yarn-no problem!   I have happily thrown yarn-winding parties.  Having someone anywhere in the house while I was sculpting?  No way.  I had to chase him out of the house.   Arranging labels was only slightly less private.

I feel the same way about painting, but the studio space is different.  Everyone is working on their own thing and headphones-in is an accepted Do Not Disturb sign.  People come up for air once and a while and look for other people who are also up for air (stretching, eating, cleaning, waiting for gesso to dry…).  There is a sort of signal when other artists in the studio will take their headphones out, put down the brush and be open to discussion, critique and ideas. I like being in an open studio space instead of a solo room for just this reason- people when you want them, a bubble of music when you are working.

Other artists know not to stand right behind your shoulder while you work or ask you questions while you are working.  I have no idea how artists don’t have fits during documentaries on their work (perhaps they edit that out, though I have seen a few cases where they did not).

Mind you… when I teach I hover over students, and when I was a student I was hovered over, but in that context it didn’t bother me.  I was there to learn and I was paying them to teach me and they needed to be right there to do that.

Now?  No.  My studio is mainly a painting space and I do fiber, sculpture and digital work at home.  Alone.  It was an intense learning experience to discover just how sensitive I was about intrusions while working on what I would call “touch” art. When the way I move or feel affects what is coming out of my hands the wrong music playlist can be disastrous.  A person?  Impossible.

So… perhaps I have more Hermit Artist in me than I realized.  At the same time… I could absolutely not do most of this without the support of other people, and I am grateful to have them.

Written by Mary Corey March

September 27, 2011 at 9:05 am

Pieta begun

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I’m doing a mix of more classical painting (mostly Renaissance inspired) with a contemporary setting for the this contemporary Pieta.  The figures will be in an alleyway, the Mother holding a homeless person to her, cardboard, trash and other alley trappings in the background and cardboard bedding in the foreground.. I’m using oil on aluminum panel to further underscore the mix of contemporary and classical, and for the smoothness durability and similar edge to cardboard that the panel has.  I just started the under-painting today.

The title will be “Everyone was once somebody’s Baby”.  It came to me when my daughter was 6 months old.  Every time I passed a homeless person I had to wonder when that person had been a small precious child to someone.  Had they been precious?  They should have been.  Where were their loved ones now?

Up until now I’d been prepping the panel, sorting the composition and continuing to work on the skin painting (behind).  It will get it’s share of added objects (and obviously needs some balancing, but it feels good to start.  In the meantime I can try out variations for the rest of the background in Photoshop over this picture as it is.  I love Photoshop as a planning tool.  I can get a feel for how something will look before I actually build or paint it.

It was good to get to the studio regularly in the past two weeks.  I had thought of moving to a closed space, but I like being able to step back much farther than a small room allows and I feel better in an open space.  I move better and think better.  If I had a closed studio to myself it would have to be much bigger than my current budget could possibly justify.  I envy an artist friend who has a converted barn in the mountains for sculpting and painting.  On the other hand, if I lived where she did I know I would become a landscape painter and that’s just not where I want to go.

Written by Mary Corey March

July 22, 2011 at 8:40 am

New Projects… and “Normal”

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I have an interesting challenge to work on.  An interactive piece that would be up and interacting with hundreds of people a day for a full year.  That is a challenge in itself… but the subject even more so.

The stated goals of the curator boil down to this:  addressing the concept of “normal” as applied to people with a view towards showing it’s subjectivity/relativity and guiding people into a more open and empathetic view of what “normal” is.

My personal challenge is to find something visual to grab onto and make it interactive.  Oh yes… and to pick some smaller facet of the gigantic concept of “normal” to focus on.  There are so many ways to go with this.  I have a hard time with this because I take for granted the subjectivity and relativity to such a degree my whole life that I have to take a step closer in and try to think IN the box so that I can produce the motion of stepping OUT of it.   So as usual, I’m talking to friends and strangers again.

Resulting thoughts: 

In mathematics the bell curve is “normal”- the whole thing including the tiny parts at the tails that might be considered “deviant” when compared to the Mean but without which the curve is no longer “normal”.

It occurs to me that when people talk about normal, they mean the average as in the Mean, but when they talk about Average, it implies a positive-negative scale from “below average” to “above average” and most people want to think of themselves as about average (meaning average is slightly less of whatever quality than they are).  We see this expressing itself tangibly in grade inflation:  a C isn’t actually average anymore, but a sign of failure.

When most of us think of Normal we think of it in contrast to weird, or Deviant.  Normal is almost a center point of any given culture or micro-culture and the farther you stray from it, the more deviant you are from that particular cultural center (which may put you dead-center in another micro-culture).  The weird thing is that this is only the public face of deviant.   There are many “deviant” behaviors which are in fact “normal” by virtue of being practiced by more than half the population secretly (thank you graduate class in social psychology!).  Most of them involve sex.

Which brings us to another thing- context.  Even allowing for culture and micro cultures, many things are still regulated to a time and place: what is perfectly normal at a New Year’s Eve office party is not normal at the office with the same people the following week. Ritual Space (in which I include things like New Year’s, Mardi Gras, football games)  is designed for accommodating things outside the norm in a marked time and place so it doesn’t mess up the everyday Normal.

When trying to grapple with any of this visually in how it applies to people I find myself drawn irresistibly  to fashion over and over again.  It is how we declare ourselves.  When we go into a ritual space, like Prom for example, we put on special clothes to transform ourselves to fit thoroughly into that space.  Hair and clothing are the parts of our appearance that we have some control over, and I think it’s reasonable to say that they have been used since their earliest existence as social indicators: culture, status, micro-culture, profession, marital status, income, religion, hobbies, sexual orientation, gender orientation… there are ways people show all of these things by what they wear.  People protest the status quo through clothing (think about punks and feminists), and they align to it with clothing.

Clothing also goes through cycles of revolution into status quo.  Today the most average, normal clothing you can wear as a man or woman in the USA is probably jeans and a tee shirt… but in the 50’s those were rebel wear, popularized by James Dean in Rebel without a cause and Marlon Brando in Streetcar named Desire.  “Deviant” often becomes normal over time.  There is  a potential to explore that as well.

I realized that in this case, I don’t want to get into physical differences- unless you have surgery it’s not a personal choice.  Far more interesting to me is self-identification and the expression of it.  So… perhaps this is why I’m finding myself increasingly drawn to fashion.  I’ve been to three fashion exhibits in museums in the past couple months.  I make and design more and more clothing… but until my last sculpture it was a hobby.  I don’t know how it will come into this project yet, but I’m convinced that it is the way to go.  We’ll see what form it takes.

By the way- what does “normal mean to you?

Written by Mary Corey March

June 27, 2011 at 11:50 pm


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Suddenly I’m in production mode, application mode and brainstorming for new work mode all at once!!!  It’s a wonderful feeling.  I’m also suddenly wanting to work with structures of painted/dyed/printed-on silk lit from within.

I’m looking forward to the upcoming NYC trip for many reasons:  doing the work and installations, opening, visiting museums and galleries, especially visiting other artists I’ve worked with remotely but not seen much (or any) of in person, visiting the space for another upcoming site-specific installation…

but one thing is almost as exciting as all of his together- a week of brain-space for myself without day-to-day concerns and distractions.  I can have my mind completely in the art.  Excited.

Written by Mary Corey March

February 18, 2011 at 11:53 am