Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Untitled 71

Pastel on Sennelier LaCarte, approx. 3" x 3.5".

Battling the migraines again. Two nights ago was the worst one ever, and that's saying a lot. :(

Loriann asked me to talk a bit about my process with this Strata series. 

I first cut a square or rectangle of LaCarte, which is still my favorite pastel paper (though PastelMat was great for the cloud paintings). I then grab whichever color calls to me. Some days it's a neutral, some days it's something highly saturated. I put down that color as one of the two main blocks. Then I grab a second color, whatever seems to be calling me. It may be similar to the first, or very different. When it's quite different, I often think it will end up being more of a challenge to make the painting work, but that's not necessarily the case at all.

Really, I just go on like this. Once I have the two main color blocks, I again grab whatever feels the most appealing at the moment, or whatever it feels like the painting needs. I try not to think about it. When I analyze or take time to ponder, it kind of kills the color magic for me. I'll make a thinnish or thickish line, and then again my hand hovers over the pastel boxes until something calls out, or I'll look at the painting for a while and realize it's asking for a certain color... 

This process goes on until the painting feels complete to me. Sometimes I'll love it, declare it done, but then can't resist trying to add just one more tiny little line--and ruin it completely. Other times, I'll think it's done but then some random crazy impulse seizes me and I grab a color that actually feels all wrong--it's surprising to me that this ruins the painting only about half the time; an additional quarter of the time it has a so-so effect, and a quarter of the time it just makes the painting in a way I never would've expected.

While I'm working like this, putting down a line and then responding to it by deciding whether to add a new line and if so, what color and how thick or thin, I start noticing that the painting has a definite feel to it--serene, say, or vibrant. If it's too serene, I might add something vibrant, or vice versa. Or just let it have its head and see where it might go. If I kill the freshness by going over lines too often (many of the lines you see are the original line, though sometimes I go over parts of lines), the painting dies immediately.

I probably have success in perhaps one in seven of these Strata paintings. Since they're small, I don't feel too bad about tossing them if they don't work. I don't rework pastels, unless it's a very occasional tiny piece of a line. I seem to have some sort of belief that if it doesn't work, it wasn't meant to work, and there's no point belaboring it; better to start afresh. In the same vein, I never try to copy myself. Yesterday I made one I absolutely loved. Of course I tried to add just one more tiny line...and the painting instantly expired. Sigh. But I don't try to go back and fix it, nor start a new pastel using the same colors. If I start a new pastel, it will genuinely be new, with no lingering thoughts (hopefully!) about the painting that just died. I try to be zen in that way.

Some of these look geological to me (hence the series name Strata), some look like landscapes or waterscapes, some just feel like pure color exploration to me. Some end up with just a few lines, or really a lot of lines, some with broken lines, others with intact ones. Some end up feeling calming, others provoke excitement. I feel that each piece I begin knows what it wants to be, and it's my job to midwife it and try to not to squelch its identity as it grows. I'm having fun.


Mojito (aka the Moji Monster).

It's so boooooring to wait while your little brother has his bath.


At the weavers' center, Hyderabad, India.

More art on my website:


Mona said...

Jala, I'm so sorry about the migraines, hope it eases up! Really enjoyed reading about your process on this series, and #71 is a favorite. Zen was exactly the word coming into my mind about this series.

Just love all three of today's photos in your post too, esp. the cats.

Sheila Vaughan said...

It's so rewarding and exciting to follow our instincts in a painting - listen to the intuition which I believe is always there. We are so used to "planning" in our lives that I think we have learned to squash the most important aspect of painting.
Awful about the migraines. I hope it gets less severe for you as time goes on. Sometimes that happens.
Wonderful pic of beautiful Mojo.

Caroline said...

It is very interesting to read about how you are creating your beautiful series of paintings. I think the size of the works is good too, you can afford to be bold and work spontaneously. If they don't work out then it doesn't matter you can simply keep working on another. I was wondering if you had your materials out ready on a table so that each day you can sit down and get on. Or are they portable so you can move from room to room or even go outside and work.

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

these spare strata pieces are lovely and zen. I think you have a great thing going.
Are the migraines related to stress about little Gadjo or something you've had all along?
Wishing you painless peace.

SamArtDog said...

I really like these Mexican blanket ones. This pair of complements you use is a favorite.

What an adorable picture of Mojito!

Caroline said...

I visited here today especially to say I hope you feel better soon. Instead I got talking about paintings!

Karen Bruson said...

So sorry to hear about your migraines. Beautiful pastel. Gorgeous photos of your little darlings.

Sonya Johnson said...

Great discussion on your process for this series. It always amazes me how a single stroke of paint or pastel can really make a painting. In something as small as these, I can see how it would kill it as well.

Sorry about the migraines...just awful :(.

Today's animolecule pictures are adorable.

Jala Pfaff said...

Hi Mona - Thank you! Glad you enjoyed reading about the process. This one's a favorite of mine too.

Hi Sheila - So true about painting. And the migraines, yes, they seem to be mostly hormonal, so only x more years to go...?

Hi Caroline - Indeed. And yes, I have the pastels always out on a corner of my big work table. But when I'm doing oil + cold wax, the pastels edge ever closer to the edge of the table, until they're cowering in a pile of boxes...and then I need a break from oil and come back to the pastels and have to kind of try to find room for them on the table again. I do pastels in a very small space compared to most people.
Thanks also for the well-wishes. It's a great sign that you got distracted by my art. ;)

Hi Mary - Thanks, glad you're liking the series. The migraines are something I've been dealing with for about 5 or 10 years. Stress can certainly be a trigger, though I think they are mostly hormonal.

Sam - Those complements are a favorite of mine too. Can't stay away from 'em. Moji is a handsome devil, isn't he?

Hi Karen - Thanks very much for all of it!

Hi Sonya - It's so true, and fascinating, about painting. And yep, migraines suck big-time. Ah, these animolecules...they kill me.

ELFI said...

mon désir, aller une fois en inde, voir l'impression de tissus et les batiks de prés.. said...

Thanks for talking about your Strata process. I like the Strata series very much.

Mojito is gorgeous!!!!!

The kitties ain't bad either.