Art on a Rainy Tuesday

Today is the first day of fall, and here in Texas it is finally cooler and a bit rainy. “Hygge Weather,” I call it, and for this year at least, at my house late September to late February is “Hygge Season.” No one knows what Halloween and the holidays will look like, but we can be pretty sure that being cozy at home is still the best way to go, at least for those of us city-dwellers. So, I decided to try and take a bit of control over these things we can’t control, and embrace the positive.

Yesterday, in my Instagram archive, an interesting post popped up from seven years ago. I was in East Texas at The History Center in Diboll, TX, researching for the novel I was working on at the time. (And technically still am, as I put it away with about a third of it left to finish.) My research was centered on the more salacious bits of East Texas history, not something I’d really make into a print. At the same time, that research is still very valid, as I still go back to the materials I copied to check my facts around locations, names and milestones as I create art around and write Pine Curtain Stories. I put my novel away when my professional career started to ramp up, and I didn’t have any time to devote to it. I had often regretted not finishing that story. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I have many fewer regrets because I see that time wasn’t wasted. The work I put in then is helping me now, and who knows, maybe I’ll eventually drag my book back out and finish it, too. So, if you’re struggling or feel like you’ve wasted creative time on a project that fizzled out, don’t worry so much. Put it aside and revisit it from time to time, and life may surprise you.

As I keep returning to Homer as a creative focus, the concept of Ghost Towns rattles around in my head. Ghosts of the past, ghosts of what might have been. Literal ghosts? Some say yes. And yet, to me, it never really felt sad or like it has dwelled in missed opportunities. Homer’s population is small, for sure. It has hovered between 350 and 500 for most of my life. But it has always been so busy and vibrant. At the same time, it was definitely insular, “the bubble” as I call it, and I did have a hard time acclimating as my life got bigger. So, in a way, those woods and fields are also full of ghosts I loved and then left behind.

So, how does this circle back to art? As I have mentioned before, for me, art helps me make sense of things that are hard to process and harder to articulate. When I am making a print or painting, especially for this project, it opens up new parts of my mind to communicate with, and to communicate without overthinking. At the same time, art begets art, and when I am working on a piece, thinking about the story behind it, my mind is more open to ideas about future pieces, or stories, or research I want to go back to.

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

All in how you look at it

Gel Print plate with acrylic painting, post-printing.

I’ve wanted to create on bigger canvases for a while now, and made my first 16 x 20 print using a large gel plate. I wasn’t sure how it would go, as I had only printed on paper, and never paper as large as this canvas.

As with my other work, I wanted to keep it loose and a little abstract. I enjoy it when the piece tells me where it’s going. But where was this going? For a while, it was hard to tell. Maybe nowhere good!

I added layers and pattern until I was happy with it. But as I became happier with the flowers, I realized there was still a lot of space to fill. My flowers looked like they were floating in space! Not the look I was going for. And yet, I knew if I wasn’t careful, I would overwork the piece.

I walked away for a few hours, then came back and started to rotate the canvas, something pretty easy to do with these more abstract pieces. I also added some marks, which I admit are not my best work. 😀 But, that’s okay, that’s why we experiment!

I turned it on its side, and found the perfect spot for a vase or pot to go. So, that balances out the painting a bit more, and now I can begin adding the finishing touches and fix the marks that I don’t like as much. This is still a work in progress, for sure.

The lesson here is to look at your art from all angles! I stared at this painting for a while before I realized I could turn the actual canvas. It was that easy to change perspective and find a solution. Especially in more abstract works, don’t forget to use ALL of the tools in your box, even the ones that in hindsight, seem pretty obvious.

Working on a larger piece is fun, and poses new challenges to overcome. My biggest challenges were filling the space, and balancing enough definition to make it look “finished” at that size, while keeping it in my loose style without going too abstract. In general, I like the piece and think it’s a great start. This is more for practice and won’t be for sale, but I plan to have at least three large canvases available when I open my art shop next month.

Art on a Monday

Abstract floral monotype by Stephanie Khattak.

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
― Thomas Merton , No Man Is an Island

It’s Monday in “Studio No-Name,” and I’m still thinking on what to call my creative space. It won’t be Studio No-Name!

The process of naming my studio makes me think of the saying, “you must name it to claim it.” I have struggled with “claiming” my identity as an artist over the years, for all the reasons that many people do. I’m not conventionally educated. It’s not my primary income. I’m just not “there yet.” It doesn’t feel like “work”. But art is art and artists are artists. I think it’s important to take steps to legitimize the work that we do, whether our pieces are hung in galleries, displayed proudly at Mom’s house or decorating our own spaces. I’m trying to be better at claiming my practice, and so should you! (Even if we’ve never met, if you’re an artist, I suspect that you can relate to this.)

With that in mind, earlier today, I renewed my Texas Visual Arts Association membership and made a spreadsheet for places to submit work to in the next few months. This isn’t something I have done before, and I’m excited to try! It’s not an easy season of life to be an artist, especially an emerging artist, but opportunities are still there.

I have started a series of work that will be ready for sale in October. I closed my store at the beginning of the year, but I miss having it as a goal to work toward. The sales are nice, of course, but so is the self-directed goal of making enough work to post.

Because my Pine Curtain project is so specific, those pieces won’t be for sale, at least not right away. So, that frees my mind to switch to different subject matter and processes for a while. The above abstract floral is one of a few smaller works on paper that will be available, and I am also working, for the first time, on some larger pieces!

Art Studio Joy

Desktop view

“We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.”
Bob Ross

There is so much room for JOY in art, something that I too often mentally push to the side, overpowered by the daily details and challenges of being an artist and owning an art-centered business. But, when I step inside my studio, see something amazing at a museum or gallery, or discover a new artist whose work speaks to me, even if I’m low on motivation or inspiration, joy appears.

Recently I discovered a local artist’s blog. They write about their studio time, commissions they are working on, sketchbooks and inspiration. No monetization links or newsletter subscription pop-ups, no “thought leadership…” just a working artist who likes to make art, write about art and share their art. How much more simple could it be? But how compelling it is! As soon as I see that the artist has posted a link to their blog on Twitter, I click to read it. This person is not an art influencer in any sense of the word (and that’s a compliment) but I so love to live vicariously through them. And they have inspired me toward a different perspective.

Writing and art. Thoughts. Ideas. That’s what it is, for me and for you and for everyone who creates online, really. These are your creative treasures, don’t reduce them to “content.” And it’s important to remember that just because you create something doesn’t mean you have to to attach a performance metric to it.

But like many other creatives making their way in this digital world, I find that those are hard habits to break. For me personally, it’s hard to pursue an interest or new project without immediately thinking “can I monetize that?” “Can I build consulting services around it?” Which is great for the business side of my life, but not so much the creative.

At the end of last year, I thought that 2020 would be a “sabbatical year,” and well, you know, LOL to that. I picked a word for the year in March and then just didn’t do anything else. And, it’s fine, mostly. But there are still a few months left in 2020, the world still spins (for now!) and I can still add something positive to my life.

My husband continues to work from home and the kittens still live with us, so I’ve been doing a lot of hopping from room to room with my laptop, phone and reading glasses throughout the workday. One goal I have in the spirit of art bringing joy, is to spend more time in my studio not only as a place to make art, but also just as a place to be; to work and write and enjoy life. It’s small and messy, but it has big windows and a comfy couch, and I should be in here more often, if only because being here makes me happy.

The kittens are too little to be invited in, but my little house panther wants it so badly! He bangs on the door and one by one, pulls down the stack of books I’ve placed in front of it to avoid seeing his paws and face in the crack and feeling guilty. It is like being in the panic room of a horror movie when the goblin is bashing its way in. I do see his paws and I do feel guilty! But too bad, Beans! I’m claiming my space and tuning you out, or putting you in the cat room for a few hours. Your sister, too, because you both cry when we separate you. Sometimes it’s okay to redirect distractions, not to be more productive, but just to be happier.

Panther Paw

I just love art, and it started to feel silly and disconnected for me to approach my personal art, experiences and thoughts as only things to build a business around or market my work through. How about building a joyful, creative life, which is really what we artists and art lovers long to do? Regardless of the subject matter (not all art is joyful, of course) we love our happy little art accidents, the game-changing breakthroughs and successes, the inspirational discoveries we happen upon and the communities that we work in. Why undermine those joys just because we also want to support ourselves?

Going back to my new favorite art blog; the artist recently named their studio, and I’m inspired to do the same. It’s a fun thought exercise, and really helps add to the sense of place. I haven’t decided on a name yet. In my very early days, I was MollyPop Studios (RIP). I’m not sure that fits anymore.

For the next little while, as I create and read and think, I think it will be fun to consider, not necessarily in regards to a business name attached to the art itself, but as the physical place where I work from. A word or phrase that resonates with me as an artist. A place that feels like home.

Print Portraits

Acrylic monotype print in progress by Stephanie Khattak
Acrylic monotype print in progress by Stephanie Khattak

My mom came for a short visit a few weekends ago, and brought another stack of family photos. It included these 1940s-era portraits of my grandmother and great-aunt, both of whom I was very close to.

Creatively, I thought that the portrait style would work well printed from my round Gelli plate. Personally, I enjoyed making these because it gave me the opportunity to remember my MiMi and Auntie, and think about what their lives may have been like when they posed for these photos and all the hopes and dreams they had for themselves at that time. My Auntie outlived my MiMi by 32 years, but I think they both had really good lives that they enjoyed and were proud of. That’s comforting to know as I am painting and printing their portraits and thinking of them, and still missing them, too.