Ha ha! I’m laughing to myself, wondering if that title will get google hits. I know that owls are a hot item these days; I like to say that the most hipster image would be an owl with antlers and an old timey mustache. Fads come and go but some things will always be cool to me: robots, dinosaurs, plaid flannel shirts, hot rods and owls (those come to mind easily…).
When my mother was a girl, my grandfather (we called him pa-pa, but in the Carolinas that’s “paw paw” with extra twang on the second one but I can’t figure out how to spell it phonetically) was driving home (I picture his patina green 70ish Ford pickup) and a Great Horned Owl flew into the side of his truck, broke it’s neck and died. Pa-pa brought it home and my Mom was able to get a close look and has loved owls since. The poor owl dude was taken to the York County Nature Museum in Rock Hill, South Carolina. I’d like to think it’s still the same owl on display.
Mom got lots of owl presents and when people brought souvenirs back for her they were owls. We can all relate to this right? (There was a time when I got dinosaurs, smiley faces, aliens, animaniacs– and that was just since college, haha!) I guess the trick is to not become disenchanted with imagery that makes us happy, but to be choosy about the quality of the items and imagery we surround ourselves with.
I’ve always thought of owls as mom’s thing. I never really drew or painted them. They’re not easy to capture (in likeness, but probably they are sneaky in the wild too.). Their shape is amorphous and their feathers tend to be tree bark camouflage which is like painting bark and moss texture…also, I think, is challenging. So, I tend to focus on the stylized parts like swoopy feathers and extreme eyes and beak, also the shape of the larger feathers. That’s what I’ve done with this most recent batch. My only other owl art has been even more stylized or even cartoonish (like the 3D owls made out of 8-Track, Cassette, and 7″ records).
Owls became my thing when I realized that it’s my totem animal. Like i said, I always thought it was mom’s thing but then I just kept seeing them(sometimes in unlikely places) at significant moments.They’ve sat in trees near me or swooped me and screeched, glided by at eye level and turned to look at me under a full moon – usually when I’m having an epiphany of sorts. This makes sense in nature; however, it’s happened in cities too. A Great Horned Owl swooped down and screeched when I was in East Los Angeles.
So, yeah. Owls are rad. Embrace the things that you love, that make you feel good, and don’t sweat the cheesy impostors that come and go in waves of pop culture.
Here’s a few owls:
I used this photo to paint my piece for “The Bird Show”. He and his buddies were out in the yard at the last house I lived in. I can hear them in my neighborhood now but haven’t seen them. Here’s the painting:
The 8-track owls (Analog Owls) look like this:
I’ll have some of these for sale at the art show on the 30th of January at The Goodfoot in Portland.
I’m going to talk about my art show progress tomorrow. I want to share more owl photos, so I’ll share the ones related to my show. I’m excited with my new imagery and I’m going now to finish drawing a squid fighting a sperm whale!
The owl at the top, is one of my pieces for the first Big 100 show.
I remember the day that Mt. Saint Helens erupted. The big one, on May 18th, 1980. I have a photo album of newspaper clippings and a small canister of volcanic ash. It was a big deal for me as a kid. I didn’t make a specific decision to paint volcanoes, but somehow it keeps happening. (why doesn’t spell check catch “volcanos”? I really want to spell it without the e.)
This digital drawing was the springboard for this recent series:
I grew up in the cold war, but never really worried too much about the Russians bombing us. I have friends that had “day after” type dreams fairly often. Me, not so much. I had a fair grasp of Mutually Assured Destruction. In recent decades, I’ve had a fair amount of dreams where volcanoes are erupting, including some flooding, landslides and Pompei-esque ash fallout. I don’t consider them nightmares though. Not so much scary, as intense. It’s a reality it the Pacific Northwest (and all of the Pacific Rim). Before we were here and long after…
Over the last few years, I’ve done some album art for bands that I know and love. The requests for imagery weren’t specific in every case; however, some sort of volcano was the final result for these three! The image of the Cascade Range going off is something that I’ve been thinking about for some time, and that was part of The Health Dose back cover (and cropped for the front, below right). Mt. Saint Helens worked her way into the Fulero//Lehe cover (below middle, “Cocoon”). For The New Up “Gold” (below left), it was maybe a crater, but could also be a volcano.
Once again, I’ll mention that each piece in my new series has at least one volcano in it. I’m not sure how long that will be necessary, but for now, I like it (and the reference to “views of Mt. Fuji”). There’s somewhat of a narrative that is evolving around it, but I’m not ready to get into that. 😉 So far, I’ve represented Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Bachelor. I think I’ll add a few more locals. Maybe Adams and Rainier.
So, Here’s my work progress:
Jan 10: Today, I shopped for vinyl masking film and some cool spray paint colors. I worked the ol day job. I went by the goodwill and did some treasure hunting (I’ve been learning to fly my new remote control gyrocopter. Score!!). I gessoed up some black on 20 panels and painted outlines and a background on a giant squid painting. (both the squid and the painting are giant…) It was a studio session night with the homies, painting and eating snacks.
Coming up: Owls…
In college, I was a printmaker. I carved woodblocks, etched copper plates, printed from linoleum and lithograph stones, and pulled silkscreen prints. In the last decade, I’ve mostly been a painter; although, printmaking still affects my technique. Much of the masking work that I do with tape or vinyl film is derived from a reduction printmaking process. (Glossary: “Reduction” – With a reduction print, each color is created from the same block. Each color is printed, the block is carved with more detail, inked again and then the new color is printed on top of the previous – usually on paper. The entire edition must be printed at once, because the block is permanently changed with each color. A truly “Limited Edition”.)
In addition to techniques, I’m drawn to the idea of editions, multiples, and variations (which are all concepts that are part of printmaking). Katsushika Hokusai is an artist that, for me, exemplifies the concept of exploring a theme. Having one thing that ties together a series, a springboard for experimentation, helps me narrow down the possibilities when deciding on imagery. The images above are from Hokusai’s “36 views of Mt. Fuji”. He also published “100 Views of Mt. Fuji”. I’ve repeated imagery in paintings because I like the context of using different colors, media, pattern on the same composition because it gives me a reference point for the subtleties, or even effectiveness, of each.
You’ll probably notice the influence of the Hokusai graphic print style, in my paintings. Also, once I realized that I had started several paintings with volcanoes in them – which reminded me of the Mt. Fuji series – I decided that I would include volcanoes in each pieces. I like the Mt. Fuji reference. I should probably write about volcanoes next…
Jan 6: I spent the day cleaning up the stencil design for my commission, then cutting the vinyl mask, and painted into the wee hours. I met with Johnny Luczycki, to discuss ideas about collaboration images and process/style.
Jan 7: I worked my day job. I shopped for Gesso (Glossary: “Gesso” is a painting primer that will prep nearly any surface for painting. It seals the surface and contains some grit that helps give “tooth” to the surface to help the paint adhere.) and tried to locate some soft block printing material in larger sheets. I didn’t find what I needed. Worked my night job.
Jan 8: Worked my day job. Bought some black gesso since I’ll be starting out with dark colors, this will make it easy to cover. I napped. I painted some panels with gesso. I’ll need a few coats, plus sanding between coats to get the surface smooth.
Jan 9: Tired. Slept late. I’m going to gesso the rest of the panels tonight. Make a shopping list for tomorrow. I need some things before the weekend!
Next…What’s up with the volcanoes? maybe actual art images from this series…
I’ve learned that one of the best ways to get inspired to start painting is to prepare the support. (Glossary: “Support” – I like this generic term for the substrate that will be painted on. It can be a stretched canvas, panel, paper, found item, etc.) Building and priming the supports is a great way to get into the studio or workshop and get hands on; it’s a great way to brainstorm and think about sizes and composition while completing necessary prep work.
Most recently, I’ve been working on wooden panels. It’s rigid and great for masking, stenciling, and cutting directly on the surface. I can really work the surface, sand, distress, scratch, etc. without stretching or ripping that might happen on a canvas. I like the simple presentation of a cradled plywood panel. (Glossary: “Cradled” – a simple frame creates depth to the sides and strength to the support. The panel is attached to the front of the frame so the painting surface extends edge-to-edge.)
Materials: I’ve been using Luan Mahogany plywood for a few years. It’s lighter, stronger and not much more expensive than masonite. It wont swell from moisture like masonite (pressed saw dust panels). The appearance of the mahogany surface can be really striking and stains nicely. I like to take advantage of the woodgrain. The first pieces in this newest series presented a few challenges because of al the sanding that I did, trying to get a super smooth surface. The top veneer of Luan is thin and porous and sanding made it reee-eally thin at times. I had issues with the veneer lifting/tearing off when I pulled the adhesive mask that I use for stenciling. This round, I’m trying new wood products. I chose a thicker pine plywood with only three layers that are fairly thick; also, I am using a very straight grained fir for the sides to prevent warping. The materials were more than twice as much, but still very affordable because I’m building them myself.
I had the plywood cut to size when I bought it. I cut down all of the sides on a miter cutter, prior to assembly. Using sizes that share one dimension, made production simple (36×24. 24×18, 18×12, 12×12). Also, very little waste. The entire sheet of plywood was used. Next, I routed, glued and pinned the corners like a picture frame. Once all of the frames were assembled, I glued the top of the frame and set the panel on top, lined it up and nailed it on (with an air powered brad gun). I’m priming the surface on these so I’ll be filling the nail holes. Glue and clamps would work if I didn’t want nail holes to show on a natural woodgrain surface.
Jan 3: I purchased lumber. I worked my day job. I read a book. (I’ve avoided the uber-distraction of internet TV so far, this month.)
Jan 4: I cut down frames for cradled sides. I drove to the Pearl District and picked paintings up from a show, ate chinese food, drove home and napped. I went back to the shop and assembled panels. I worked night job.
Jan 5. I’ve slept most of the day (remember, night job…) and played some drums. Now I have some design work to do for a commissioned painting that needs attention.
Coming up: illustration techniques, more materials, thematic ideas…probably more napping.
Time passes quickly and things have distracted me from this blog. The Globe closed in late 2011 so my curation of that venue ended. Also, I bought a house and began setting up my new studio space. I’ve been busy; however, most of my sharing has been via Facebook and Instagram. One of the reasons that I began this blog was to share some of my process and that’s what I’m here to do this month. I have an art opening on January 30th and will do my best to share the progress and process via images and technical descriptions. I’ll be open to questions, feedback, suggestions; I’m down to talk shop and hear any ideas you’d like to share. At this point, I’m not even sure if anybody is going to see this, so it’s an experiment.
This art show will be a good way to share how I focus on a series. I have some finished pieces, that haven’t really been seen and I’m going to use this series as the basis for my work this month. There may be another series as well, but I’m going to just see how it goes. I’ll talk more about these pieces later — That’s my owl in the photo.
Here’s my progress so far:
Jan 1 – I slept in. It was a late night at work on NYE and I went to bed after sunrise, then slept past sunset! In the evening, I made a list of finished pieces that are new and ready to show. There’s 8 from the new Volcano series and stash of figure paintings that I’m not sure about including. I also brainstormed imagery for new work and made a good list. I’d like to paint an elk, some squid and octopus, maybe some salmon.
Jan 2 – I worked my day job and planned out cuts for wooden panels and linear feet of small lumber for cradling the sides. I build my own supports and have been researching smoother surfaces and denser wood for the sides, to prevent any warpage over time. I like the 24×36 inch size and want to add some smaller sizes so there’s a good range of price points.
coming up: building, prep work, more media, images
Sometimes artwork just makes more sense when put into context! As I’m writing this, there are 15 abstract landscapes hanging at The Goodfoot and they are labeled “Abstract Landscape #3” etc. and I’ve started thinking that the typical viewer isn’t going to spend enough time with them to figure out that they are worked up from satellite photos. I think they look a bit like sixties geometric art, which is cool; however, I find it more interesting to know that they are real places that exist in Oregon.
I’ve wanted to paint versions of large scale man-made compositions, since flying home from Los Angeles years ago and photographing suburban cul-de-sac patterns as we flew north. Years later, Google brought us Google Maps and Google Earth and now we can fly everywhere, looking for pattern and composition. I started with Oregon and was drawn to the irrigation circles created by agriculture in the dryer central regions of the state. Many of the screenshots that I snapped are areas near Klamath Falls and Christmas Valley. I took notes on the locations; in retrospect, I wish that I’d copied down latitude and longitude coordinates. In the future, I’ll be more specific with my titles!
My process involved cropping the screenshots from Google Maps, printing black and white versions at 8×8 inches, and using an architect ruler to scale the 8″ size up to 24″ square. Then I just used a pencil and T-square to map the fields and roads as closely as I could. The circles were traced around vinyl records of various sizes and some other circles I had around. The painting was done in many transparent glazes, sanding in between. I used masking, stenciling and both acrylic on a brush and airbrush. My goal was to stay close to the original color scheme and light/dark values. Here’s some Google shots vs. my final paintings. Obviously the Google shots are on the left. I’ll label each one with the approximate location in Oregon. Have fun spotting differences!
I tracked down all of the locations and linked them to the captions but for some reason, they aren’t working; if you copy the caption and paste it into Google Maps, each one should take you to the location so you can browse around the surrounding areas if you like. I’d love to see some of your favorite compositions as well and if you are in the area, photos from ground level would be pretty sweet too!! Enjoy!
We are approaching the final two weeks of the current show at The Globe. It has been a hit and we held it over for another month. I have artwork up; however, I’m also the curator (isn’t that convenient?). The other featured artists are Hans Fuson and David Walker. The opening night was super fun and you can check out Hans’ photos here.
I’ve been wanting to show Hans Fuson’s work for a while! He makes some amazing lightbox creations that merge various technologies. He utilizes old-school and contemporary sign-illumination techniques, such as internal and external neon and LED lights. The imagery is created with techniques ranging from hand painted and hand-cut vinyl to high-tech digital photo-transparencies. Most of these fine art pieces are priced lower than a generic sign for your quickie mart, using the same technology (priced nicely). The glow from the neon and LED has such an impact, lighting the artwork from within and accenting every reflective surface in the room with subtle hints of color.
Thematically, Hans leans toward natural shapes and imagery. These digitally manipulated flowers, lit with electronics, and organic abstracts with Tron-like glow all suggest the merging of nature and technology.
I included circuit board artwork that was created for the Manor of Art at Milepost five, a couple Summers ago. These vinyl circuitry patterns are manipulated from actual circuit-board photos and reduced to vector art, mirrored and repeated. The effect is that they are possibly hand cut (actually cut by computer guided plotter) and hint at woodcuts, weavings, and woodgrain. Additional images of embryonic babies, wired into motherboards, suggest that maybe computers are learning how to be more human. Maybe humans are acting more like computers.
Tying it together, we have five paintings by David Walker. I like to call these Circuit-trees. They are exactly that, evergreens painted with the pattern of so many interwoven circuits and roots wired into the ground. These are the thematic link. Technology becoming Nature.
This show is hanging thru March, at The Globe (2045 SE Belmont, Portland, OR).
…some talk about stylistic choices.
I’m working backwards in time here, which is interesting to me, because these posts will appear in reverse order. When I sort some photos, I’ll talk about my creation process but for now I’d like to talk about my idea process during this series. Originally, my idea was to grid out nine panels 3×3 on the wall; however, I decided that should happen later and focus on color more than texture. These 8 panels (the ninth, incomplete) became quite textured as I compulsively added layers and pattern and I thought it best to display them so the audience can get close to each of them, as they have their own features.
Each of the eight started exactly the same, with a panel of mahogany plywood that was sanded and the sides boxed in. The same image (face) was mapped on all eight and, from here, the styles began to diverge. I have no concrete plan of execution when I begin, other than the starting point. Chance comes into play.
The first composition that I mapped was “Bump”. Using a slide of the very first painting in which I used this image, I project and trace the contour. Even my hand movements during this process, begin to create individual form. When I completed this linework and turned up the lights, I realized that the image was shifted about 8 inches to the left from where I’d intended. I bumped the panel! So, I decided that would be a good place for some text. The word “Bump” has so many connotations, that I couldn’t pass. When choosing a color scheme, I picked sexy colors that might be used in lipstick and eyeshadow. Bump alludes to dance clubs, sex, drugs, and loud music, so it seemed appropriate.
Several more motifs developed after I had added the first two or three layers of color. I set all of the pieces outside, and stared them down while drinking my morning coffee. I made notes that I taped to the panels, based on the current feel of the color and how attached I was to the current level of awesomeness in the natural woodgrain or staining/glazing effect. I chose some warm and cool colors when shopping for this series, and began thinking about relationships and harmony. Color theory came into play here, more that usual. “Made It!” is essentially two themes: secondary colors (triad) and alternating stripe pattern. There are two shades of each color. The text/title, unrelated to the color scheme, refers to following thru with an idea. (Well, I guess I did follow thru with this theme, but it can relate to bigger issues…)
“Too Subtle?” is focused on analogous color (colors adjacent on the color wheel), in this case they are red/orange/yellow. I limited my use of pattern and alternated opaque color with transparent, which maintained the natural woodgrain. With some of the panels becoming quite abstract and pattern heavy at this point, it was important for me to keep a few pieces more simple and the values correct, so the face is more apparent.
“Maybe Knot” is one of the pieces that developed because of the woodgrain. There is a wonderful burl on the right side, which is somewhat obscured by the blue faux woodgrain. This piece was designated as blue/orange color scheme (complimentary colors) and the text was originally “knotty”, because I love the pun; however, I don’t like the way the word looks when I write it out. I like the balance of patterns here: dots, stripes, natural and faux woodgrain. All of my text was handwritten and stencil cut on the surface, some in positive and some in negative.
The faux woodgrain is a new technique for me. I’ve been interested in trying it for some time and have often talked about it with my friend and collaborator, Natalie Oswald. She uses it so effectively that I’ve witnessed people viewing a painting with pink woodgrain over collaged vintage magazine pages and say “Oh, I love it when people paint on wood.” No joke. In this faux piece, I attempted to give clues, by going against the natural grain at first, but then also alternating direction in other layers, and using very unnatural colors. I believe the early notes suggested “blue green pop”. I couldn’t bear covering the orange stain and natural/faux woodgrain combo, so the end scheme seems to be secondary-triad-with-some-blue…or (i’m nerding out here) purple/blue/green analogous with blue’s compliment: orange. That makes things symmetrical on the color wheel. I really think about these things…I know…maybe too much. Just wait, I’m working on converting these color harmonies into musical chords and vise versa. It will get nerdier.
The early notes that I made for “Spark” suggested that I exploit the iridescent copper that was used in the early washes, and I’d planned on adding some light blue to mimic patina. After a few more layers, some subtle woodgrain and richer colors, I was really getting the feeling of scorched wood. So rather than basing my color harmony on theory, I worked to suggest flame, singed wood, glowing coals and billowing smoke. The faux woodgrain, here, doubles as flame, the lips are dotted randomly to hint at glowing embers, and that copper underneath works to give ita all some glow. I enjoy the feel of this piece and will most definitely approach future pieces with this idea of mood.
A somewhat different approach was taken with this piece. I kept the palette simple: red/purple/blue (analogous). “Twice” describes the fact that I basically painted it two times. I did no spraypainting and did not mask the edges of any layers. I masked vertical stripes, evenly spaced, and then painted it all somewhat loosely, with a brush. Then I pulled the tape, and covered the stripes that I’d just painted and then re-painted everything (in the previous covered stripes). The result is two paintings, that occur in alternating stripes. It’s a pretty pleasing effect that I’ve been wanting to try again, since one of my collaboration experiments with Natalie. This was also a much less tedious process, since I didn’t have to apply and peel so much masking tape.
It is interesting to me that “Crushed” seemed to get more compliments than the other pieces at the show. I think this is partially because my light and dark values are fairly accurate and the face reads easily. The simple palette is very close to so many of the early works that were done with this same composition, back around 2000-2003. It interests me that crushed is a word that means almost opposite things, but both are feelings that can be attributed to releationships/love. This is the last piece for this batch of eight, and the approach was slightly different, because I was not trying to keep any of the woodgrain in this one, or any of the early washes or glazes, which were not very interesting. My masking technique for most of the pieces works somewhat like this: I mask everything out, leaving only the area I’m going to paint, then I paint it, then I remove all of the tape and remask the area so that it is protected as I move on to new areas. (More on this in the future.) With “Crushed”, I worked in a sort of reduction process, like a woodblock print, painting a layer and covering it, painting the next layer and covering it and so on until it was all finished. Then I added the text, which is freehanded and hand cut.
These are some of my thoughts about each piece and the reason they look the way they do. I’ve not talked much about my masking techniques, glazing, color mixing, paint choices, mediums, stencils, etc. but I will in future posts. I’ve taken a lot of photos throughout the process, with this series and with many other paintings. I hope that you found this interesting; if so, please let me know and feel free to ask questions! Cheers!
Art Show: Goodfoot. (Portland, OR)
Showing now through March.
I’m excited to have a featured show at the The Goodfoot. Curated by Jason Brown (and Chris Haberman), it is one of my favorite art venues in Portland. I’ve been a fan of the Goodfoot Lounge since they opened ten years ago, enjoying the live music in what some have called “Portland’s Livingroom”. The upstairs, however, is a few years newer, more spacious with high ceilings, and ample wall space. The reputation as “an artist hang-out” seems appropriate; it’s definitely one of my hot-spots.
This show features Adam Sheppard, Johnny Tragedy, Tripper Dungan, and Joel Barber (That’s Me). Although, our themes and styles vary, we all sure like to use color! My contributions include my “Interface(redux)” series, which was finished moments before the show opened, and a recent series that I call “Just Add Water“. It’s satisfying for me to show these two series together, as they represent abstractions of two elemental subject matters: landscape and the figure.
This is a paragraph from the artist statement for the show:
Joel’s work has often paired mechanical techniques and graphic design style with painterly texture, and natural material such as woodgrain. The influence of pop culture, graffiti art, and graphic design affect his interpretations of traditional landscape and figure. Visually, Barber dwells in the area where there is an oscillation between the paint on the surface and the image contained within.