Archive for the 'Technique' Category

Fifth Chapter: Sparring with the breeze…

Saturday, October 5th, 2019

“This idea of having something that isn’t quite in focus, something that isn’t quite understood, is interesting. I think details that are over-plentiful, details that are very dense, are lifelike. They exist in natural environments. Forests have a huge amount of details, because they are not built on a human level, so they are impossible to analyze at first glance, and I think we can only recreate what nature has done already, so I don’t think that the idea of simplifying something is a good thing.”
— Édouard Lock
 

August and September provided a stretch of exceptionally dry weather that was a disappointment for farmers in the Bluegrass, but valued by our intrepid PAACK of regional artists who work out of doors. I was able to create three more satisfying landscape miniatures.

Those who have followed this sequence of descriptions realize it hasn’t been that long since I met the challenge of doing collage en plein air. It has evolved as a gradient progression of discoveries. I’ve learned to think of my application of paper ingredients as a density of “brushstrokes” rather than the placement of simple design elements into a composition. The two-year process has brought my artwork from a crafted illustration with cleanly pasted elements to a more layered, painterly effect. I’m tending to work wet-on-wet, using sandpaper and blades to score and feather edges. The thickness of papers is torn into “veneers” with areas that can achieve a blended translucency, and I’m more routinely taking advantage of recycled tea-bag “skins” to add warmth, texture, or visual softness. I continue to use three different liquid adhesives — wheat paste, white glue, and polymer gel — which offer contrasting levels of stickiness and drying time. I saturate the paper for manipulations not available with dry material and then flatten the surface with a cloth or burnisher, depending on a desired level of dimensionality. Bits of printed text continue to appear as part of my treatment, providing subtle highlights or more overt suggestions of pattern. This growing vocabulary of techniques has given me more confidence to tackle scenes that might have looked too difficult not so long ago. Attempting to “paint” a pond fountain or a rocky outcrop with only paper would have seemed more daunting when I first started to do this.

None of it would be possible without the generosity of those who host our outings. With a spirit of hospitality, the diversity of two farms and a wonderful view of the Dix River were each made available to us for a day. I rely on a square viewing card to select my composition and the all-important place to sit.
 

A point of self-criticism: my plein-air “collage rig” had gradually crept into the forbidden zone of overkill, so I made an effort to lighten my load before our next venture.

My goal has been a self-imposed limitation of studio follow-through, equal to or less than the amount of time I spend at the original site. I was able to meet that comfortably with August Afternoon, for a 50/50 allocation. When completing Fountain and Shadow, I had to suspend my detailed labor on the central tree. I’d prefer to invest less time indoors and was able to do that with Reflection on an Outcrop (a more desirable 60/40 ratio). Having been studio oriented in my art practice, I always need to guard against allowing the concluding phase to upstage a vital plein-air impression. I’ll rely on memory as much as I do an iPhone photo taken on location. It’s also important to remind myself that, as much as I enjoy my “maximalist” propensity, the objective should be a creative interpretation instead of a literal rendering. It is, after all, a collage artwork.

Collage Madness, my joint exhibition with Connie Beale, is currently on display here in Danville, Kentucky at the Mahan Gallery of Boyle County Public Library. It has provided the first ideal opportunity to showcase my approach to plein air collage and I’ll explain my process to visitors at a Gallery Talk on Saturday afternoon, October 19th. I’ve covered a number of bases as an artist and designer, but I have to say that this has been one of the most personally rewarding projects I’ve begun. Perhaps many of you can be there to hear my remarks.
 
 
August Afternoon ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

August Afternoon
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
7.25 x 7.125 inches
available for purchase

 
Fountain and Shadow ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

Fountain and Shadow
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
6 x 6.375 inches
available for purchase

 
Reflection on an Outcrop ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

Reflection on an Outcrop
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
6.375 x 6.625 inches
not currently for sale

new year, new art, new approach

Monday, January 7th, 2019

“The most interesting paradox of creativity: in order to be habitually creative, you have to know how to prepare to be creative, but good planning alone won’t make your efforts successful; it’s only after you let go of your plans that you can breathe life into your efforts.”
— Twyla Tharp

“You take what you know, you take things you are comfortable with, and you throw them into a situation of new things, of things you are uncomfortable with, and, all of a sudden, new connections happen. And then your goal as a creative must be: of having the skill to carry it home without breaking it.”
— Christoph Niemann
 

Brandon Long is making a name for himself as an assemblage artist in Kentucky. He manages to juggle this with being a blogger, an active volunteer, and his full-time role as an outstanding family man. On top of that, he holds down a challenging, “multi-hat” position at our local Community Arts Center. This past autumn, his request to exhibit at their annual winter invitational arrived like clockwork: show the public an entirely new work, no jury evaluation, just put something at the leading edge of your creativity on display. There can’t be a single regional artist receiving that call who doesn’t value it as a rare opportunity.

I’d been thinking for much of last year about another immersion into larger works — not always a comfort zone for a self-described “miniaturist.” Add to that several months of recovery from a knee injury which limited my standing time. I reckoned I was overdue for a boost in the scale of my studio work. When it came time to plunge in, I realized it also was the perfect chance to reassess my current methodology. I wanted to explore a way of developing an abstract composition that was different for me. Could I combine and balance both a rational and non-rational process? By now, I had more than a decent foundation in each, but had never fused them in as mindful a manner as I considered possible. It didn’t turn out to be complicated at all, and yet it was a new approach for me, after more than twelve years as a dedicated collage practitioner.

Deciding to make three works at horizontal, vertical, and square proportions, I began with thumbnail concepts in my journal, moving from tiny doodles, to color sketches, and from there to rough collage miniatures. The activity was deliberate, but I tried to hold it at an intuitive level. After that, I moved to the typical task of preparing the “stretchers,” although nothing would be fabricated from scratch. I found a nearly fifty-year-old, unpainted canvas in remarkable shape. I stretched Pellon® fabric over a discarded picture frame. I paid almost nothing at a flea market for a castoff “student-esque” painting that needed some reinforcement, its canvas re-stretched, plus lots of primer. After sorting categories of available paper scrap into flat boxes, I was ready to explode into routine sessions of Merz assembly, with an occasional reference back to my preliminary ideas. When probing to the heart of intuition like this, a collage artist stumbles upon strange dynamics. For instance, there are times when you’ll ignore an emotion that says “this doesn’t belong,” only to press on and discover that it totally “works” with the next layering of ingredients. Perhaps this is more characteristic of collage maximalism than collage minimalism. I would accept that fully, but it’s fascinating to remain aware of the “joust” between whether to trust feelings or trust pure impulse, and to discern the difference. Finally, there came a point when I introduced the hard evaluation of a visual critique, before finishing with intentional refinements — and even that final stage allows for spontaneity.

It’s not always easy to know when a piece is done, and maybe it never really is. Eventually, an artist has to claim victory and sign the damn thing. I ended up delivering two works to the Center for the “New Year New Art” show, and let Brandon pick one that fit best. It was the square, the one I called Harmonic Squall.

Please give these four details your scrutiny. Let me know what you think, and, if you find yourself in the area, attend our opening reception this Friday evening. It’s always the first good party after New Year’s Eve!
 

Harmonic Squall (detail) ~ collage on canvas by J A Dixon     Harmonic Squall (detail) ~ collage on canvas by J A Dixon

Harmonic Squall (detail) ~ collage on canvas by J A Dixon     Harmonic Squall (detail) ~ collage on canvas by J A Dixon

four
details
from
Harmonic
Squall

Harmonic Squall ~ collage on recycled canvas by J A Dixon

Harmonic Squall
collage on recycled canvas by J A Dixon
26 x 26 inches
available for purchase
 
Purchase this artwork.

Modern Use

Monday, December 17th, 2018

“As long as movements require our attention they are kata (form), when the kata become spontaneous they become waza (technique). As long as we persist in viewing kata superficially, we will begin to think that they are of special importance.”
— Yushio Kuroiwa
 

When explaining aikido, the late martial artist Yushio Kuroiwa taught the practice of rational movement, so that one could spontaneously execute a natural movement as a result. For me, this idea has a distinct parallel to the art of collage, which is based on repetitive experimentation. With study and discernment, the collage artist can discriminate the difference between a superficial composition that was contrived with too much self attention, and an intuitive composition that developed more naturally — an expression of synchronicity — that grew from understanding the essence of creativity.

Kuroiwa encouraged his students to not blindly follow masterful forerunners, but to observe and discover their “causes, effects, and processes of things, and their similarities and differences through experience.” He pointed out that “someone with poor handwriting cannot write beautifully, even when using a good pen. A skilled calligrapher, however, can write beautifully even when using an inexpensive pen. It is not that the pen is good, but rather that the writer’s ability, as a result of long experience, is excellent.”

It is beneficial to keep in mind that even though we are “working artists,” much of our “work” is not significant in and of itself as an artistic product, especially if it is merely a conscious application of formulae largely exhausted decades ago during the formative years of our medium as a modern art. Instead, maintain your drill, your ritual of formation, not to yield marketable artifacts, but to internalize an “organic” process that leads to a rewarding sense — that we have freely expressed the natural ability to create something with real spontaneity.

Thanks for visiting. Now, let’s go make more art . . .
 
Modern Use ~ collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon ~ Danville, Kentucky ~ Kentucky Crafted Mixed Media Artist

Modern Use
collage experiment in monochrome by J A Dixon
8.375 x 11 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

Various and Sundry Scraps ~ No.2

Saturday, October 6th, 2018

Collage is painting, so Cinta can inform and inspire collage.
Many of us wanted to stow ourselves in Teri’s art-supply case.
I’ve lost count of all the things I admire about Sheldon’s artistry.
Cecil: The “spectacularness” of the harmony of all things.
The opposite of collage — two solid hours of Wesley at work.

My thanks to everyone who created these featured videos.

Silk Road Guardians

Sunday, May 13th, 2018

“We have had 6,000 years of history with the horse and only 100 with the automobile.”
— Gloria Austin
 

In the spirit of my preparations for the Derby Celebration, I finished the next miniature in the Silk Road Series. It, too, carries an equine theme and provided me a perfect opportunity to hone my technique for an “apparently seamless” impression when combining a rich tangle of ingredients. There are times when one wants to convey that each element is a distinct part of the composition, and at other times to disguise their individual identity, working with larger visual quantities and textures formed by a composite of scrap.
 
Silk Road Guardians ~ collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon ~ Danville, Kentucky ~ Kentucky Crafted Mixed Media Artist

Silk Road Guardians
collage miniature by J A Dixon
7 x 9.375 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

The “Collagesmith” as Artisan

Saturday, March 24th, 2018

“Even in the absence of inspiration and talent, I think that through sheer craft you can actually create extremely good work, all the time, reliably. Great work is something else. I think for great work you also need a lot of luck. You can only aspire to really good work. The great work either happens or it doesn’t.”
— Christoph Niemann
 

Sloppy collage artwork has never held much appeal for me. Individuals might define “sloppy” differently, so I’ll rephrase that. I have always found well-crafted collage artwork to be the most appealing. In practice, I have aspired to the highest level of artisanship to which I am capable. According to my peculiar notions, the very nature of collage as a “mash-up” of visual ingredients suggests that one resist all the inherent temptations to condone careless techniques. To do anything less is a disservice to the medium, and strikes me as being a bit lazy.

I have been at this long enough to contrast current activity with a study of my “early” work. I perceive it now as more crisp and aligned with my long stint as a designer and illustrator. I remain proud of craftsmanship that continues to challenge my present hand skills. Like everyone who sticks around, I have moved relentlessly toward a period of life when manual dexterity and vision are unlikely to improve. At any rate, clean, precise work is more about attitude and personal commitment than it is about facility. Lately, on the other hand, I have sought a more organic, less contrived look — the impression that a piece is naturally the way it should be, rather than appear too obviously composed and belabored. As I work, I try not to permit the goal of a somewhat softer and cohesive whole to suggest a relaxation of craft. In fact, I have gradually introduced steps in the process that demand extra time and attention: sanding the reverse side of ingredients for adhesive-saturated compression and eliminating white edges on printed scrap to enhance a seamless effect. I combine that with ample burnishing and some hair-dryer prep before curing time under weight, followed by multiple light-touch coats of matte sealant. I would rather be thinking about practical methodology or a musical playlist than what is literally evolving on the surface before me, allowing that to be as intuitive as possible.

And perhaps (just maybe), Lady Luck will smile.
 
Cosmic Crucifixion ~ J A Dixon

Cosmic Crucifixion
mixed-media collage by J A Dixon
2006, 16 x 16 inches
available for purchase

Wetland

Monday, January 15th, 2018

“When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.”
— Ellen DeGeneres
 

Although it was created in the studio, my new collage landscape titled ‘Wetland’ benefits from a summer of plein-air activity. My “painting with paper” out of doors has opened a rewarding area of investigation for my work as a collage artist. I’m pleased to share this piece with the art-viewing community at my first invitational exhibition of the year, the annual New Year New Art show at our Community Arts Center, just a biscuit toss from my home base in downtown Danville, Kentucky. This event has been a fortifying tradition for regional artists, because we can complete our year of work at a risk-taking level, and still know that the result will get a prominent public display. An artist working outside a metropolitan center could not ask for greater support from a local institution.

Based on an excellent photograph by a longtime pal, this artwork was created as an entry for a contemporary landscape show, but the juror rejected it for unknown reasons. I kept it handy for a pair of upcoming open studio events (my participation in the Central Kentucky ARTTOUR and Gallery Hop Stop). Plenty of praise ensued, but nobody took it home, so I decided to make additional refinements, leading up to the deadline for the January exhibition. A full makeover was unnecessary, as the in-process image above indicates. However, I was not entirely pleased with the vegetation at the waterline, above the dark shadow that spans the composition. In this case, less was not more. Additional ‘foliage’ was needed. I also thought that the lower right corner was too abstract. The desired sense of realism would profit from a more detailed foreground. Late-season ironweed, a favorite of mine, seemed a suitable choice. That led intuitively to a few closing decisions in the sky reflection and distant terrain. stash of premium paper samplesNearly all of the ingredients were infused with wheat paste and press firmly onto the evolving surface with polymer gel. After thorough drying, selected areas were lightly sanded and the total surface evenly daubed with a flat sealant.

It is very satisfying to work with a palette of elegant papers, and I am fortunate to have them. Some of you may remember (especially those with a background connected in some way to the graphic arts) the pre-internet days of a more diversified paper industry. Numerous mills and distributors slugged it out in a highly competitive market. Inkjet printing was still on the horizon and multi-color offset printing was expensive. Printing on colored stock was a cost-effective way to get more color into published material. Paper producers went out of their way to demonstrate creative ways to use colored paper and many of us who specified paper for printing projects were lavished with promotional samples. Decades later, I still have a stash from that era, and I rely on it now for my plein-air miniatures and studio landscapes. A piece such as ‘Wetland’ puts this hoard to good use; it would not look the same with scrapbook or construction paper. The richness of premium papers manufactured for fine printing were accented with fragments of dulled foil, tissue, scraps of found packaging, and fragments of typography. After all, it’s meant to be a collage artwork!

The opening reception for NYNA is this Friday evening, 5 to 8 pm. Perhaps I shall see you there to discuss ‘Wetland’ in person.
 
Wetland ~ collage landscape by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Wetland
collage landscape by J A Dixon
21.25 x 19.25 inches
on structured panel, framed
currently on consignment

Creating collage artwork on a book cover

Saturday, August 19th, 2017

“A cold start is a hard start.”
— Stephen King
 

There must be a lot of ruined publications out there, because the “collage on book cover” has become a staple of the medium in recent years. I happen to live across the street from a public library, and I’ve been known to peek into their recycling bins from time to time. If the decisions of libraries are any indication, cast-off books will supply the needs of artists for quite a while, and I’m not talking about just covers. Perhaps the societal move from print to digital has in some measure fueled the explosion of collage worldwide. Much could be said about that alone, but let’s stay focused on the book cover.

As a substrate, it has all the aspects for which a collage artist is looking — strength, durability, unusual textures, and it often provides other desirable features, such as embossing, foil stamping, plus interesting typography that need not be superimposed. I will generally wrap my collage ingredients around the dimensions of the working surface, and this adds an “artifact” quality to the creation, because it takes on the perceptual properties of an actual object. Book covers can lend themselves to this effect.

For me, the book cover also triggers its own unique intuitive responses — unconscious associations that will “jump-start” the process in a more experimental way than the typical “blank canvas,” which invites more initial calculation. Any component of a publication has the vestiges of an anonymous designer’s preexisting sensibility. There is already a context, perhaps a pictorial or narrative allusion, but, at minimum, a tactile or color stimulus. It is not a cold origin.

There are times when a collage at the scale of a book cover will capture a microcosm of “the moment,” whether or not we can interpret all the elements at a rational level, whether or not we can ascribe “meaning” to it. I see many collage artworks that communicate little beyond “disorganization” or “chaos.” But there are others that probe deeper to the heart of something more significant, and are the result of an artistic intent at some level of mindfulness, even if it has not derived from a series of choices that involve an outer, deliberative awareness. Then again, it is dangerous for me to generalize about anything. Each creative process is distinctive. Discover yours!
 
Threshold Of Control ~ J A Dixon

Threshold Of Control
collage miniature on book cover by J A Dixon
7 x 10 inches
 
Purchase this artwork!

This Side of Recklessness ~ J A Dixon

This Side of Recklessness
collage miniature on book cover by J A Dixon
7 x 10 inches
 
Purchase this artwork!

Star of Commonwealth ~ through the glass

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
— Muhammad Ali
 

Let us take “our telescope” and look more closely at the Star. My strong appreciation of fine-art collage is second to none, but there is something equally as satisfying when one is called upon to create an “artifact” that pays tribute to a unique historical or personal legacy. I think that I managed to compile enough ingredients to do justice to the theme of the current exhibition — Kentucky’s 225th birthday celebration.

If anyone asks, “Where is he or she? Why did you not include this or that?” the answer might be as simple as an absence of “stuff.” The reason for that is my firm reluctance to use anything but original source material that would otherwise be destined for the recycling bin or landfill. I cannot bring myself to go online to search for, print, and use digital imagery, even though nearly anything can be “acquired” in that format these days. For me, art is always about constraint. Or, as the late Martin Landau put it, “It’s not about comfort, it’s about discovery.”

Please click on the images below to zoom in on Star of Commonwealth.
 

detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

How can a collage artist go wrong, relying on images of
Kentucky’s two most widely recognized and revered native sons?
For me, Frederick Douglass is the figure who links them best.

detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

One of my organizing factors was to confine the more intense colors to the
‘floating’ star and to use the plank surfaces to carry a more historical tone.

detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Kentucky has one of the greatest multitude of counties for any state in the union.
Woefully inefficient, or one of the better examples of self-government close to
the people? You can decide. I just like how colorful it makes an antique map.
At any rate, the frontier’s exploding population pushed Dan’l toward the sunset.

detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

One of my favorite zones involves a visual juxtaposition of worship, whiskey,
constitution, thoroughbreds, coal mining, confederate leader, battle flag, and a
reference to human slavery. Only the history of Kentucky could contain all that.

Collage En Plein Air ~ second chapter

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

“Detached from judgement, hesitation, fear of failure or imitation, one embraces the moment and the place, as revealed in value, color, and shape — the impossible can happen and the spirit of the place appears as if by magic.”
—Dean Taylor Drewyer
 

I joined the Plein Air Artists of Central Kentucky on one of their regular “art-outs” with a totally different system than I used in my first venture. Louis Degni is marketing an outdoor kit for collage artists that he calls the “St Hilaire System” (named for artist Elizabeth St Hilaire). John Andrew Dixon ~ plein air collage artistHis design may work fine, but the idea of using cups to control available source paper did not appeal to me, so I put together a different configuration based on a re-purposed plastic dish drainer. Using custom-cut folders fitted to the 14 dish slots, I have an array of potential ingredients that are fully protected from the wind. Needless to say, even a mild breeze can play the devil with small scraps of paper. After I got to the site and picked my location, I sorted through a spectrum of colors to choose a palette. John Andrew Dixon ~ plein air collage artist A central compartment between the little folders provides storage for this selected material under the large clipboard that secures my working surface. Bottles with two different adhesives fit handily into what was originally meant to hold kitchen flatware. The scale is ideal for a collage miniature. Additional refinements are anticipated, especially if I decide to increase the working dimensions, but I now have a solid approach that allows me to concentrate on capturing the essence of the scene.

The hospitality extended by our hosts for the day was remarkable. I was free to roam the property and found a grape arbor that had seen better days, but still looked handsome in a patch of sunlight. My subject may have been too complex for the time slot, or, more likely, the process remains slow, since my layering method is still inefficient. I wasn’t able to complete all the foliage on site, so I had to spend some studio time the following day to finish up. I’ll admit to being pleased with the results, although I hadn’t expected to be satisfied with my early attempts. I have no idea where this is heading, but I’m happy to follow my enthusiasm to the next phase!
 

Margo’s Arbor ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

Margo’s Arbor
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
4.625 x 4.625 inches
available for purchase

Local Art-A-Thon successfully concludes

Sunday, May 14th, 2017

I am convinced that supporting the arts makes for a more livable community, and calls for generosity, so I took part in the local Community Arts Center’s Art-A-Thon campaign this spring.Art-A-Thon ~ Danville, Kentucky The CAC funds summer art-camps for young people, plus many worthwhile programs to nurture personal creativity in every segment of a diverse community. As part of the Art-A-Thon, I demonstrated my technique during a full day of arts activities in downtown Danville, working on collage miniatures and putting the finishing touches on my contribution to the Art-full Affair (the other big fundraising event this month, sponsored by the Arts Commission of Danville / Boyle County). More thoughts to come about To Peach Is Owed, my newest collage on structured panel.

My sincere “thank you” to everyone who helped me reach my Art-A-Thon goal. Your generosity is an inspiration! The last time I looked, the Arts Center had exceeded its target by nearly 50%, and my “team” landed in seventh place with $526 raised. Special appreciation to Katie Blake, who sent a generous donation all the way from Alaska!

I kept my nose to the collage grindstone all afternoon
at the local
Art-A-Thon event on Saturday, May 13th,
and put some final touches on To Peach Is Owed, my
donation to the Art-full Affair drawing for art scholarships.
(photo by Kendra Peek)